Page:In the Roar of the Sea.djvu/278

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The word had gone round, none knew from whom, that the vessel had been lured to her destruction by wreckers, and that in a few minutes she would be boarded by these wolves of the sea. The captain, who should have kept order, had disappeared, the mate was disregarded, there was a general sauve qui pent. A few women were on board. At the shock they had come on deck, some with children, and the latter were wailing and shrieking with terror. The women implored that they might be saved. Men passengers ran about asking what was to be done, and were beaten aside and cursed by the frantic sailors. A Portuguese nun was ill with sea-sickness, and sank on the deck like a log, crying to St. Joseph between her paroxysms. One man alone seemed to maintain his self-possession, a young man, and he did his utmost to soothe the excited women and abate their terrors. He raised the prostrate nun and insisted on her laying hold of a rope, lest in the swash of the water she should be carried overboard. He entreated the mate to exert his authority and bring the sailors to a sense of their duty, to save the women instead of escaping in the boat, regardful of themselves only.

Suddenly a steady star, red in color, glared out of the darkness, and between it and the wreck heaved and tossed a welter of waves and foam.

"There is land," shouted the mate.

"And that shines just where that light was that led us here," retorted a sailor.

The vessel heeled to one side, and shipped water fore and aft, over either rail, with a hiss and heave. She plunged, staggered, and sank deeper into the sand.

A boat had been lowered and three men were in it, and called to the women to be sharp and join them. But this was no easy matter, for the boat at one moment leaped up on the comb of a black wave, and then sank in its yawning trough, now was close to the side of the ship, and then separated from it by a rift of water. The frightened women were let down by ropes, but in their bewilderment missed their opportunity when the boat was under them, and some fell into the water, and had to be dragged out, others refused to leave the wreck and risk a leap into the little boat. Nothing would induce the sick nun to venture overboard. She could not understand English; the young passenger addressed her