The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
To Carroll's delight, Orde returned unexpectedly from the woods late that night. He was so busy these days that she welcomed any chance to see him. Much to his disappointment, Bobby had been taken duck- hunting by his old friend, Mr. Kincaid. Next morning, however, Orde told Carroll his stay would be short and that his day would be occupied.
"I'd take old Prince and get some air," he advised. "You're too much indoors. Get some friend and drive around. It's fine and blowy out, and you'll get some colour in your cheeks."
After breakfast Carroll accompanied her husband to the front door. When they opened it a blast of air rushed in, whirling some dead leaves with it.
"I guess the fine weather's over," said Orde, looking up at the sky.
A dull lead colour had succeeded the soft gray of the preceding balmy days. The heavens seemed to have settled down closer to the earth. A rising wind whistled through the branches of the big maple trees, snatching the remaining leaves in handfuls and tossing them into the air. The tops swayed like whips. Whirlwinds scurried among the piles of dead leaves on the lawns, scattering them, chasing them madly around and around in circles.
"B-r-r-r!" shivered Carroll. "Winter's coming."
She kept herself busy about the house all the morning; ate her lunch in solitude. Outside, the fierce wind, rising in a crescendo shriek, howled around the eaves. The day darkened, but no rain fell. At last Carroll resolved to take her husband's advice. She stopped for Mina Heinzman, and the two walked around to the stable, where the men harnessed old Prince into the phaeton.
They drove, the wind at their backs, across the drawbridge, past the ship-yards, and out beyond the mills to the Marsh Road. There, on either side the causeway, miles and miles of cat-tails and reeds bent and recovered under the snatches of the wind. Here and there showed glimpses of ponds or little inlets, the surface of the water ruffled and dark blue. Occasionally one of these bayous swung in across the road. Then the two girls could see plainly the fan-like cat's-paws skittering here and there as though panic-stricken by the swooping, invisible monster that pursued them.
Carroll and Mina Heinzman had a good time. They liked each other very much, and always saw a great deal to laugh at in the things about them and in the subjects about which they talked. When, however, they turned toward home, they were forced silent by the mighty power of the wind against them. The tears ran from their eyes as though they were crying; they had to lower their heads. Hardly could Carroll command vision clear enough to see the road along which she was driving. This was really unnecessary, for Prince was buffeted to a walk. Thus they crawled along until they reached the turn-bridge, where the right-angled change in direction gave them relief. The river was full of choppy waves, considerable in size. As they crossed, the Sprite darted beneath them, lowering her smokestack as she went under the bridge.
They entered Main Street, where was a great banging and clanging of swinging signs and a few loose shutters. All the sidewalk displays of vegetables and other goods had been taken in, and the doors, customarily wide open, were now shut fast. This alone lent to the street quite a deserted air, which was emphasised by the fact that actually not a rig of any sort stood at the curbs. Up the empty roadway whirled one after the other clouds of dust hurried by the wind.
"I wonder where all the farmers' wagons are?" marvelled the practical Mina. "Surely they would not stay home Saturday afternoon just for this wind!"
Opposite Randall's hardware store her curiosity quite mastered her.
"Do stop!" she urged Carroll. "I want to run in and see what's the matter."
She was gone but a moment, and returned, her eyes shining with excitement.
"Oh, Carroll!" she cried, "there are three vessels gone ashore off the piers. Everybody's gone to see."
"Jump in!" said Carroll. "We'll drive out. Perhaps they'll get out the life-saving crew."
They drove up the plank road over the sand-hill, through the beech woods, to the bluff above the shore. In the woods they were somewhat sheltered from the wind, although even there the crash of falling branches and the whirl of twigs and dead leaves advertised that the powers of the air were abroad; but when they topped the last rise, the unobstructed blast from the open Lake hit them square between the eyes.
Probably a hundred vehicles of all descriptions were hitched to trees just within the fringe of woods. Carroll, however, drove straight ahead until Prince stood at the top of the plank road that led down to the bath houses. Here she pulled up.
Carroll saw the lake, slate blue and angry, with white-capped billows to the limit of vision. Along the shore were rows and rows of breakers, leaping, breaking, and gathering again, until they were lost in a tumble of white foam that rushed and receded on the sands. These did not look to be very large until she noticed the twin piers reaching out from the river's mouth. Each billow, as it came in, rose sullenly above them, broke tempestuously to overwhelm the entire structure of their ends, and ripped inshore along their lengths, the crest submerging as it ran every foot of the massive structures. The piers and the light-houses at their ends looked like little toys, and the compact black crowd of people on the shore below were as small as Bobby's tin soldiers.
"Look there--out farther!" pointed Mina.
Carroll looked, and rose to her feet in excitement.
Three little toy ships--or so they seemed compared to the mountains of water--lay broadside-to, just inside the farthest line of breakers. Two were sailing schooners. These had been thrown on their beam ends, their masts pointing at an angle toward the beach. Each wave, as it reached, stirred them a trifle, then broke in a deluge of water that for a moment covered their hulls completely from sight. With a mighty suction the billow drained away, carrying with it wreckage. The third vessel was a steam barge. She, too, was broadside to the seas, but had caught in some hole in the bar so that she lay far down by the head. The shoreward side of her upper works had, for some freakish reason, given away first, so now the interior of her staterooms and saloons was exposed to view as in the cross-section of a model ship. Over her, too, the great waves hurled themselves, each carrying away its spoil. To Carroll it seemed fantastically as though the barge were made of sugar, and that each sea melted her precisely as Bobby loved to melt the lump in his chocolate by raising and lowering it in a spoon.
And the queer part of it all was that these waves, so mighty in their effects, appeared to the woman no different from those she had often watched in the light summer blows that for a few hours raise the "white caps" on the lake. They came in from the open in the same swift yet deliberate ranks; they gathered with the same leisurely pauses; they broke with the same rush and roar. They seemed no larger, but everything else had been struck small--the tiny ships, the toy piers, the ant-like swarm of people on the shore. She looked on it as a spectacle. It had as yet no human significance.
"Poor fellows!" cried Mina.
"What?" asked Carroll.
"Don't you see them?" queried the other.
Carroll looked, and in the rigging of the schooner she made out a number of black objects.
"Are those men?--up the masts?" she cried.
She set Prince in motion toward the beach.
At the foot of the bluff the plank road ran out into the deep sand. Through this the phaeton made its way heavily. The fine particles were blown in the air like a spray, mingling with the spume from the lake, stinging Carroll's face like so many needles. Already the beach was strewn with pieces of wreckage, some of it cast high above the wash, others still thrown up and sucked back by each wave, others again rising and falling in the billows. This wreckage constituted a miscellaneous jumble, although most of it was lumber from the deck-loads of the vessels. Intermingled with the split and broken yellow boards were bits of carving and of painted wood. Carroll saw one piece half buried in the sand which bore in gilt two huge letters, A R. A little farther, bent and twisted, projected the ornamental spear which had pointed the way before the steamer's bow. Portions of the usual miscellaneous freight cargo carried on every voyage were scattered along the shore--boxes, barrels, and crates. Five or six men had rolled a whisky barrel beyond the reach of the water, had broached it, and now were drinking in turn from a broken and dingy fragment of a beer-schooner. They were very dirty; their hair had fallen over their eyes, which were bloodshot; the expression of their faces was imbecile. As the phaeton passed, they hailed its occupants in thick voices, shouting against the wind maudlin invitations to drink.
The crowd gathered at the pier comprised fully half the population of Monrovia. It centred about the life saving crew, whose mortar was being loaded. A stove-in lifeboat mutely attested the failure of other efforts. The men worked busily, ramming home the powder sack, placing the projectile with the light line attached, attending that the reel ran freely. Their chief watched the seas and winds through his glasses. When the preparations were finished, he adjusted the mortar, and pulled the string. Carroll had seen this done in practice. Now, with the recollection of that experience in mind, she was astonished at the feeble report of the piece, and its freedom from the dense white clouds of smoke that should have enveloped it. The wind snatched both noise and vapour away almost as soon as they were born. The dart with its trailer of line rose on a long graceful curve. The reel sang. Every member of the crowd unconsciously leaned forward in attention. But the resistance of the wind and the line early made itself felt. Slower and slower hummed the reel. There came a time when the missile seemed to hesitate, then fairly to stand in equilibrium. Finally, in an increasingly abrupt curve, it descended into the sea. By a good three hundred yards the shot had failed to carry the line over the vessels.
"There's Mr. Bradford," said Carroll, waving her hand. "I wish he'd come and tell us something about it."
The banjo-playing village Brummell saw the signal and came, his face grave.
"Couldn't they get the lifeboats out to them?" asked Carroll as he approached.
"You see that one," said Bradford, pointing. "Well, the other's in kindling wood farther up the beach."
"Anybody drowned?" asked Mina quickly.
"No, we got 'em out. Mr. Cam's shoulder is broken." He glanced down at himself comically, and the girls for the first time noticed that beneath the heavy overcoat his garments were dripping.
"But surely they'll never get a line over with the mortar!" said Carroll. "That last shot fell so far short!"
"They know it. They've shot a dozen times. Might as well do something."
"I should think," said Mina, "that they'd shoot from the end of the pier. They'd be ever so much nearer."
"Tried it," replied Bradford succintly. "Nearly lost the whole business."
Nobody said anything for some time, but all looked helplessly to where the vessels--from this elevation insignificant among the tumbling waters--were pounding to pieces.
At this moment from the river a trail of black smoke became visible over the point of sand-hill that ran down to the pier. A smokestack darted into view, slowed down, and came to rest well inside the river-channel. There it rose and fell regularly under the influence of the swell that swung in from the lake. The crowd uttered a cheer, and streamed in the direction of the smokestack.
"Come and see what's up," suggested Bradford.
He hitched Prince to a log sticking up at an angle from the sand, and led the way to the pier.
There they had difficulty in getting close enough to see; but Bradford, preceding the two women, succeeded by patience and diplomacy in forcing a way. The Sprite was lying close under the pier, the top of her pilot-house just about level with the feet of the people watching her. She rose and fell with the restless waters. Fat rope-yarn bumpers interposed between her sides and the piling. The pilot-house was empty, but Harvey, the negro engineer, leaned, elbows crossed against the sill of his little square door, smoking his pipe.
"I wouldn't go out there for a million dollars!" cried a man excitedly to Carroll and Bradford. "Nothing on earth could live in that sea! Nothing! I've run a tug myself in my time, and I know what I'm talking about!"
"What are they going to do?" asked Carroll.
"Haven't you heard!" cried the other, turning to her. "Where you been? This is one of Orde's tugs, and she's going to try to get a line to them vessels. But I wouldn't--"
Bradford did not wait for him to finish. He turned abruptly, and with an air of authority brushed toward the tug, followed closely by Carroll and Mina. At the edge of the pier was the tug's captain, Marsh, listening to earnest expostulation by a half-dozen of the leading men of the town, among whom were both Newmark and Orde.
As the three came within earshot Captain Marsh spit forth the stump of cigar he had been chewing.
"Gentlemen," said he crisply, "that isn't the question. I think I can do it; and I'm entirely willing to take all personal risks. The thing is hazardous and it's Mr. Orde's tug. It's for him to say whether he wants to risk her."
"Good Lord, man, what's the tug in a case like this!" cried Orde, who was standing near. Carroll looked at him proudly, but she did not attempt to make her presence known.
"I thought so," replied Captain Marsh. "So it's settled. I'll take her out, if I can get a crew. Harvey, step up here!"
The engineer slowly hoisted his long figure through the breast-high doorway, dragged his legs under him, then with extraordinary agility swung to the pier, his teeth shining like ivory in his black face.
"Yas, suh!" said he.
"Harvey," said Captain Marsh briskly, "we're going to try to get a line aboard those vessels out there. It's dangerous. You don't have to go if you don't want to. Will you go?"
Harvey removed his cap and scratched his wool. The grin faded from his good-natured countenance.
"You-all goin', suh?" he asked.
"I reckon I'll done haif to go, too," said Harvey simply. Without further word he swung lightly back to the uneasy craft below him, and began to toss the slabs from the deck into the hold.
"I want a man with me at the wheel, two to handle the lines, and one to fire for Harvey," said Captain Marsh to the crowd in general.
"That's our job," announced the life-saving captain.
"Well, come on then. No use in delay," said Captain Marsh.
The four men from the life-saving service dropped aboard. The five then went over the tug from stem to stern, tossing aside all movables, and lashing tight all essentials. From the pilot-house Captain Marsh distributed life preservers. Harvey declined his.
"Whaf-for I want dat?" he inquired. "Lots of good he gwine do me down here!"
Then all hatches were battened down. Captain Marsh reached up to shake the hand which Orde, stooping, offered him.
"I'll try to bring her back all right, sir," said he.
"To hell with the tug!" cried Orde, impatient at this insistence on the mere property aspect. "Bring yourself back."
Captain Marsh deliberately lit another cigar and entered the pilot- house with the other men.
"Cast off!" he cried; and the silent crowd heard clearly the single sharp bell ringing for attention, and then the "jangler" that called for full speed ahead. Awed, they watched the tiny sturdy craft move out into the stream and point to the fury of the open lake.
"Brave chaps! Brave chaps!" said Dr. McMullen to Carroll as they turned away. The physician drew his tall slender figure to its height. "Brave chaps, every one of them. But, do you know, to my mind, the bravest of them all are that nigger--and his fireman-- nailed down in the hold where they can't see nor know what's going on, and if--if--" the good doctor blew his nose vigorously five or six times--"well, it's just like a rat in a hole." He shook his head vigorously and looked out to sea. "I read last evening, sir," said he to Bradford, "in a blasted fool medical journal I take, that the race is degenerating. Good God!"
The tug had rounded the end of the pier. The first of her thousand enemies, sweeping in from the open, had struck her fair. A great sheet of white water, slanting back and up, shot with terrific impact against the house and beyond. For an instant the little craft seemed buried; but almost immediately the gleam of her black hull showed her plunging forward dauntlessly.
"That's nothin'!" said the tug captain who had first spoken. "Wait 'til she gets outside!" The watchers streamed down from the pier for a better view. Carroll and Miss Heinzman followed. They saw the staunch little craft drive into three big seas, each of which appeared to bury her completely, save for her upper works. She managed, however, to keep her headway.
"She can stand that, all right," said one of the life-saving crew who had been watching her critically. "The trouble will come when she drops down to the vessels."
In spite of the heavy smashing of head-on seas the Sprite held her course straight out.
"Where's she going, anyway?" marvelled little Mr. Smith, the stationer. "She's away beyond the wrecks already."
"Probably Marsh has found the seas heavier than he thought and is afraid to turn her broadside," guessed his companion.
"Afraid, hell!" snorted a riverman who overheard.
Nevertheless the Sprite was now so distant that the loom of the great seas on the horizon swallowed her from view, save when she rose on the crest of some mighty billow.
"Well, what is he doing 'way out there then?" challenged Mr. Smith's friend with some asperity.
"Do'no," replied the riverman, "but whatever it is, it's all right as long as Buck Marsh is at the wheel."
"There, she's turned now," Mr. Smith interposed.
Beneath the trail of black smoke she had shifted direction. And then with startling swiftness the Sprite darted out of the horizon into full view. For the first time the spectators realised the size and weight of the seas. Not even the sullen pounding to pieces of the vessels on the bar had so impressed them as the sight of the tug coasting with railroad speed down the rush of a comber like a child's toy-boat in the surf. One moment the whole of her deck was visible as she was borne with the wave; the next her bow alone showed high as the back suction caught her and dragged her from the crest into the hollow. A sea rose behind. Nothing of the tug was to be seen. It seemed that no power or skill could prevent her feeling overwhelmed. Yet somehow always she staggered out of the gulf until she caught the force of the billow and was again cast forward like a chip.
"Maybe they ain't catchin' p'ticular hell at that wheel to hold her from yawing!" muttered the tug captain to his neighbour, who happened to be Mr. Duncan, the minister.
Almost before Carroll had time to see that the little craft was coming in, she had arrived at the outer line of breakers. Here the combers, dragged by the bar underneath, crested, curled over, and fell with a roar, just as in milder weather the surf breaks on the beach. When the Sprite rushed at this outer line of white-water, a woman in the crowd screamed.
But at the edge of destruction the Sprite came to a shuddering stop. Her powerful propellers had been set to the reverse. They could not hold her against the forward fling of the water, but what she lost thus she regained on the seaward slopes of the waves and in their hollows. Thus she hovered on the edge of the breakers, awaiting her chance.
As long as the seas rolled in steadily, and nothing broke, she was safe. But if one of the waves should happen to crest and break, as many of them did, the weight of water catching the tug on her flat, broad stern deck would indubitably bury her. The situation was awful in its extreme simplicity. Would Captain Marsh see his opportunity before the law of chances would bring along the wave that would overwhelm him?
A realisation of the crisis came to the crowd on the beach. At once the terrible strain of suspense tugged at their souls. Each conducted himself according to his nature. The hardy men of the river and the woods set their teeth until the cheek muscles turned white, and blasphemed softly and steadily. Two or three of the townsmen walked up and down the space of a dozen feet. One, the woman who had screamed, prayed aloud in short hysterical sentences.
"O God! Save them, O Lord! O Lord!"
Orde stood on top of a half-buried log, his hat in his hand, his entire being concentrated on the manoeuvre being executed. Only Newmark apparently remained as calm as ever, leaning against an upright timber, his arms folded, and an unlighted cigar as usual between his lips.
Methodically every few moments he removed his eyeglasses and wiped the lenses free of spray.
Suddenly, without warning, occurred one of those inexplicable lulls that interpose often amid the wildest uproars. For the briefest instant other sounds than the roar of the wind and surf were permitted the multitude on the beach. They heard the grinding of timbers from the stricken ships, and the draining away of waters. And distinctly they heard the faint, far tinkle of the jangler calling again for "full speed ahead."
Between two waves the Sprite darted forward directly for the nearest of the wrecks. Straight as an arrow's flight she held until from the crowd went up a groan.
"She'll collide!" some one put it into words.
But at the latest moment the tug swerved, raced past, and turned on a long diagonal across the end of the bar toward the piers.
Captain Marsh had chosen his moment with exactitude. To the utmost he had taken advantage of the brief lull of jumbled seas after the "three largest waves" had swept by. Yet in shallow water and with the strong inshore set, even that lull was all too short. The Sprite was staggered by the buffets of the smaller breakers; her speed was checked, her stern was dragged around. For an instant it seemed that the back suction would hold her in its grip. She tore herself from the grasp of the current. Enveloped in a blinding hail of spray she struggled desperately to extricate herself from the maelstrom in which she was involved before the resumption of the larger seas should roll her over and over to destruction.
Already these larger seas were racing in from the open. To Carroll, watching breathless and wide-eyed in that strange passive and receptive state peculiar to imaginative natures, they seemed alive. And the Sprite, too, appeared to be, not a fabric and a mechanism controlled by men, but a sentient creature struggling gallantly on her own volition.
Far out in the lake against the tumbling horizon she saw heave up for a second the shoulder of a mighty wave. And instinctively she perceived this wave as a deadly enemy of the little tug, and saw it bending all its great energies to hurrying in on time to catch the victim before it could escape. To this wave she gave all her attention, watching for it after it had sunk momentarily below its fellows, recognising it instantly as it rose again. The spasms of dismay and relief among the crowd about her she did not share at all. The crises they indicated did not exist for her. Until the wave came in, Carroll knew, the Sprite, no matter how battered and tossed, would be safe. Her whole being was concentrated in a continually shifting calculation of the respective distances between the tug and the piers, the tug and the relentlessly advancing wave.
"Oh, go!" she exhorted the Sprite under her breath.
Then the crowd, too, caught with its slower perceptions the import of the wave. Carroll felt the electric thrill of apprehension shiver through it. Huge and towering, green and flecked with foam the wave came on now calmly and deliberately as though sure. The Sprite was off the end of the pier when the wave lifted her, just in the position her enemy would have selected to crush her life out against the cribs. Slowly the tug rose against its shoulder, was lifted onward, poised; and then with a swift forward thrust the wave broke, smothering the pier and lighthouse beneath tons of water.
A low, agonised wail broke from the crowd. And then--and then--over beyond the pier down which the wave, broken and spent but formidable still, was ripping its way, they saw gliding a battered black stack from which still poured defiantly clouds of gray smoke.
For ten seconds the spectators could not believe their eyes. They had distinctly seen the Sprite caught between a resistless wall of water and the pier; where she should have been crushed like the proverbial egg-shell. Yet there she was--or her ghost.
Then a great cheer rose up against the wind. The crowd went crazy. Mere acquaintances hugged each other and danced around and around through the heavy sands. Several women had hysterics. The riverman next to Mr. Duncan opened his mouth and swore so picturesquely that, as he afterward told his chum, "I must've been plumb inspired for the occasion." Yet it never entered Mr. Duncan's ministerial head to reprove the blasphemy. Orde jumped down from his half-buried log and clapped his hat on his head. Newmark did not alter his attitude nor his expression.
The Sprite was safe. For the few moments before she glided the length of the long pier to stiller water this fact sufficed.
"I wonder if she got the line aboard," speculated the tug-boat captain at last.
The crowd surged over to the piers again. Below them rose and fell the Sprite. All the fancy scroll-work of her upper works, the cornice of her deck house, the light rigging of her cabin had disappeared, leaving raw and splintered wood to mark their attachments. The tall smokestack was bent awry, but its supports had held, which was fortunate since otherwise the fires would have been drowned out. At the moment, Captain Marsh was bending over examining a bad break in the overhang--the only material damage the tug had sustained.
At sight of him the crowd set up a yell. He paid no attention. One of the life-saving men tossed a mooring line ashore. It was seized by a dozen men. Then for the first time somebody noticed that although the tug had come to a standstill, her screw was still turning slowly over and over, holding her against the erratic strong jerking of a slender rope that ran through her stern chocks and into the water.
"He got it aboard!" yelled the man, pointing.
Another cheer broke out. The life-saving crew leaped to the deck. They were immediately followed by a crowd of enthusiasts eager to congratulate and question. But Captain Marsh would have none of them.
"Get off my tug!" he shouted. "Do you want to swamp her? What do you suppose we put that line aboard for? Fun? Get busy and use it! Rescue that crew now!"
Abashed, the enthusiasts scrambled back. The life-saving crew took charge. It was necessary to pass the line around the end of the pier and back to the beach. This was a dangerous job, and one requiring considerable power and ingenuity, for the strain on the line imposed by the waters was terrific; and the breaking seas rendered work on the piers extremely hazardous. However, the life- saving captain took charge confidently enough. His crew began to struggle out the pier, while volunteers, under his personal direction, manipulated the reel.
A number of the curious lingered about the Sprite. Marsh and Orde were in consultation over the smashed stern, and did not look as though they cared to be disturbed. Harvey leaned out his little square door.
"Don' know nuffin 'bout it," said he, "'ceptin' she done rolled 'way over 'bout foh times. Yass she did, suh! I know. I felt her doin' it."
"No," he answered a query. "I wasn't what you-all would call scairt, that is, not really scairt--jess a little ne'vous. All I had to do was to feed her slabs and listen foh my bell. You see, Cap'n Ma'sh, he was in cha'ge."
"No, sir," Captain Marsh was saying emphatically to his employer. "I can't figure it out except on one thing. You see it's stove from underneath. A sea would have smashed it from above."
"Perhaps you grounded in between seas out there," suggested Orde.
Marsh smiled grimly.
"I reckon I'd have known it," said he. "No, sir! It sounds wild, but it's the only possible guess. That last sea must've lifted us bodily right over the corner of the pier."
"Well--maybe," assented Orde doubtfully.
"Sure thing," repeated Marsh with conviction.
"Well, you'd better not tell 'em so unless you want to rank in with Old Man Ananias," ended Orde. "It was a good job. Pretty dusty out there, wasn't it?"
"Pretty dusty," grinned Marsh.
They turned away together and were at once pounced on by Leopold Lincoln Bunn, the local reporter, a callow youth aflame with the chance for a big story of more than local interest.
"Oh, Captain Marsh!" he cried. "How did you get around the pier? It looked as though the wave had you caught."
Orde glanced at his companion in curiosity.
"On roller skates," replied Marsh.
Leopold tittered nervously.
"Could you tell me how you felt when you were out there in the worst of it?" he inquired.
"Oh, hell!" said Marsh grumpily, stalking away.
"Don't interview for a cent, does he?" grinned Orde.
"Oh, Mr. Orde! Perhaps you--"
"Don't you think we'd better lend a hand below?" suggested Orde, pointing to the beach.
The wild and picturesque work of rescue was under way. The line had been successfully brought to the left of the lighthouse. To it had been attached the rope, and to that the heavy cable. These the crew of the schooner had dragged out and made fast to a mast. The shore end passed over a tall scissors. When the cable was tightened the breeches buoy was put into commission, and before long the first member of the crew was hauled ashore, plunging in and out of the waves as the rope tightened or slackened. He was a flaxen-haired Norwegian, who stamped his feet, shook his body and grinned comically at those about him. He accepted with equanimity a dozen drinks of whisky thrust at him from all sides, swigged a mug of the coffee a few practical women were making over an open fire, and opposed to Leopold Lincoln Bunn's frantic efforts a stolid and baffling density. Of none of these attentions did he seem to stand in especial need.
The crew and its volunteers worked quickly. When the last man had come ashore, the captain of the life-saving service entered the breeches buoy and caused himself to be hauled through the smother to the wreck. After an interval, a signal jerked back. The buoy was pulled in empty and the surf car substituted. In it were piled various utensils of equipment. One man went with it, and several more on its next trip, until nearly the whole crew were aboard the wreck.
Carroll and Mina stayed until dusk and after, watching the long heavy labour of rescue. Lines had to be rocketed from the schooner to the other vessels. Then by their means cable communication had to be established with the shore. After this it was really a matter of routine to run the crew to the beach, though cruel, hard work, and dangerous. The wrecks were continually swept by the great seas; and at any moment the tortured fabrics might give way, might dissolve completely in the elements that so battered them. The women making the hot coffee found their services becoming valuable. Big fires of driftwood were ignited. They were useful for light as well as warmth.
By their illumination finally Orde discovered the two girls standing, and paused long enough in his own heavy labour of assistance to draw Carroll one side.
"You'd better go home now, sweetheart," said he. "Bobby'll be waiting for you, and the girls may be here in the crowd somewhere. There'll be nobody to take care of him."
"I suppose so," she assented. "But hasn't it been exciting? Whose vessels were they; do you know?"
Orde glanced at her strangely.
"They were ours," said he.
She looked up at him, catching quickly the wrinkles of his brow and the harassed anxiety in his eyes. Impulsively she pulled him down to her and kissed him.
"Never mind, dear," said she. "I care only if you do."
She patted his great shoulders lightly and smiled up at him.
"Run, help!" she cried. "And come home as soon as you can. I'll have something nice and hot all ready for you."
She turned away, the smile still on her lips; but as soon as she was out of sight, her face fell grave.
"Come, Mina!" she said to the younger girl. "Time to go."
They toiled through the heavy sand to where, hours ago, they had left Prince. That faithful animal dozed in his tracks and awoke reluctantly.
Carroll looked back. The fires leaped red and yellow. Against them were the silhouettes of people, and in the farther circle of their illumination were more people cast in bronze that flickered red. In contrast to their glow the night was very dark. Only from the lake there disengaged a faint gray light where the waters broke. The strength of the failing wind still lifted the finer particles of sand. The organ of the pounding surf filled the night with the grandeur of its music.