Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point/Chapter 10
THE DOUBLE CHARGE
But again the line fell short.
"They'll never be able to make it," Tom Cameron said to the shivering girls.
"Oh, I really wish we hadn't come down here," murmured his sister.
"Oh, pshaw, Nell! don't be a baby," he growled.
But he was either winking back the tears himself, or the salt spray had gotten into his eyes. How could anybody stand there on the beach and feel unmoved when nine human beings, in view now and then when the billows fell, were within an ace of awful death?
Again and again the gun was shotted and the captain pulled the lanyard. He tried to catch the moment when there was a lull in the gale; but each time the shot fell short. It seemed to be merely a waste of human effort and gunpowder.
"I've 'phoned to the Minot Cove station," the captain said, during one of the intervals while they were hauling in the line. "They've got a power boat there, and if they can put to sea with her they might get around to the other side of the reef and take 'em off."
"She'll go to pieces before a boat can come from Minot Cove," declared one grizzled fisherman.
"I fear so, Henry," replied the captain. "But we got to do what we can. They ain't give me no leeway with this gun. Orders is never to give her a bigger charge than what she's gettin' now. But, I swan——"
He did not finish his sentence, but gravely measured out the next charge of powder. When he had loaded the gun he waved everybody back.
"Git clean away, you lads. All of ye, now! She'll probably blow up, but there ain't no use in more'n one of us blowin' up with her."
"What you done, Cap'n?" demanded one of his crew.
"Never you mind, lad. Step back, I tell ye. She's slewed right now, I reckon."
"What have you got in her?" demanded the man again.
"I'm goin' to reach them folk if I can," returned Cap'n Abinadab. "I've double charged her. If she don't carry the line this time, she never will. And she may carry it over the wreck, even if she blows up. Look out!"
"Don't ye do it!" cried the man, Mason, starting forward. "If you pull that lanyard ye'll be blowed sky-high."
"Well, who should pull it if I don't?" demanded the old captain of the station, grimly. "Guess old 'Binadab Cope ain't goin' to step back for you young fellers yet a while. Come! git, I tell ye! Far back—afar back."
"Oh! he'll be killed!" murmured Ruth.
"You come back here, Ruth Fielding!' commanded Tom, clutching her arm. If that gun blows up we want to be a good bit away."
The whole party ran back. They saw the last of the crew leave the old captain. He stood firmly, at one side of the gun, his legs placed wide apart; they saw him pull the lanyard. Fire spat from the muzzle of the gun and with a shriek the shot-line was carried seaward, toward the wreck.
The old gun, double charged, turned a somersault and buried its muzzle in the sand. The captain dodged, and went down—perhaps thrown by the force of the explosion. But the gun did not burst.
However, he was upon his feet again in a moment, and all the crowd were shouting their congratulations. The flying line had carried squarely over the middle of the wreck.
"Now, will they know what to do with it?" gasped Ruth.
"Wait! see that man—that man in the middle? The line passed over his shoulder!" cried Heavy. "See! he's got it."
"And he's hauling on it," cried Tom.
"There goes the line with the board attached," said Madge Steele, exultantly. The girls had already examined this painted board. On it were plain, though brief, instructions in English, French, and Italian, to the wrecked crew as to what they should do to aid in their own rescue. But this schooner was probably from up Maine way, or the "blue-nose country" of Nova Scotia, and her crew would be familiar with the rigging of the breeches buoy.
They saw, as another light was burned on the wreck, the man who had seized the line creep along to the single mast then standing. It was broken short off fifteen feet above the deck. He hauled out the shotline, and then a mate came to his assistance and they rigged the larger line that followed and attached the block to the stump of the mast.
Then on shore the crew of the life saving station and the fishermen—even the boys from the bungalow—hauled on the cable, and soon sent the gear across the tossing waves. They had erected a stout pair of wooden "shears" in the sand and over this the breeches buoy gear ran.
It went out empty, but the moment it reached the staggering wreck the men there popped the woman into the sack and those ashore hauled in. Over and through the waves she came, and when they caught her at the edge of the surf and dragged the heavy buoy on to the dry land, she was all but breathless, and was crying.
"Don't ye fear, Missus," said one rough but kindly boatman. "We'll have yer little gal ashore in a jiffy."
"She—she isn't my child, poor thing," panted the woman. "I'm Captain Kirby's wife. Poor Jim! he won't leave till the last one——"
"Of course he won't, ma'am—and you wouldn't want him to," broke in Cap'n Cope. "A skipper's got to stand by his ship till his crew an' passengers are safe. Now, you go right up to the station——"
"Oh, no, no!" she cried. "I must see them all safe ashore."
The huge buoy was already being hauled back to the wreck. There was no time to be lost, for the waves had torn away the after-deck and it was feared the forward deck and the mast would soon go.
Ruth went to the woman and spoke to her softly.
"Who is the little girl, please?" she asked.
"She ain't little, Miss—no littler than you," returned Mrs. Kirby. "Her name is Nita."
"That's what she calls herself."
"Nita what?" asked Ruth.
"I don't know, I'm sure. I believe she's run away from her folks. She won't tell much about herself. She only came aboard at Portland. In fact, I found her there on the dock, and she seemed hungry and neglected, and she told us first that she wanted to go to her folks in New York—and that's where the Whipstitch was bound."
"The Whipstitch is the name of the schooner?"
"Yes, Miss. And now Jim's lost her. But—thanks be!—she was insured," said the captain's wife.
At that moment another hearty shout went up from the crowd on shore. The breeches buoy was at the wreck again. They saw the men there lift the girl into the buoy, which was rigged like a great pair of overalls. The passenger sat in this sack, with her legs thrust through the apertures below, and clung to the ring of the buoy, which was level with her shoulders.
She started from the ship in this rude conveyance, and the girls gathered eagerly to greet her when she landed. But several waves washed completely over the breeches buoy and the girl was each time buried from sight. She was unconscious when they lifted her out.
She was a black-haired girl of fourteen or thereabout, well built and strong. The captain's wife was too anxious about the crew to pay much attention to the waif, and Ruth and her friends bore Nita, the castaway, off to the station, where it was warm.
The boys remained to see the list of the crew—Captain Kirby himself—brought ashore. And none too soon was this accomplished, for within the half hour the schooner had broken in two. Its wreckage and the lumber with which it had been loaded so covered the sea between the reef and the shore that the waves were beaten down, and had it been completely calm an active man could have traveled dry-shod over the flotsam to the reef.
Meanwhile Nita had been brought to her senses. But there was nothing at the station for the girl from the wreck to put on while her own clothing was dried, and it was Heavy who came forward with a very sensible suggestion.
"Let's take her home with us. Plenty of things there. Wrap her up good and warm and we'll take her on the buckboard. We can all crowd on—all but the boys."
The boys had not seen enough yet, anyway, and were not ready to go; but the girls were eager to return to the bungalow—especially when they could take the castaway with them.
"And there well get her to tell us all about it," whispered Helen to Ruth. "My! she must have an interesting story to tell."