Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point/Chapter 7
THE SIGNAL GUN
The train did not slow down for Sandtown until after mid-afternoon, and when the party of young folk alighted from the private car there were still five miles of heavy roads between them and Lighthouse Point. It had been pleasant enough when Ruth Fielding and her companions left Cheslow, far up in New York State; but now to the south and east the heavens were masked by heavy, lead-colored clouds, and the wind came from the sea in wild, rain-burdened gusts.
"My! how sharp it is!" cried Ruth. "And it's salt!"
"The salt's in the air—especially when there is a storm at sea," explained Heavy. "And I guess we've landed just in time to see a gale. I hope it won't last long and spoil our good time."
"Oh, but to see the ocean in a storm—that will be great!" cried Madge Steele.
The Stones' house had been open for some days and there were two wagons in readiness for the party. The three boys and the baggage went in one, while the five girls crowded into the other and both wagons were driven promptly toward the shore.
The girls were just as eager as they could be, and chattered like magpies. All but Mary Cox. She had been much unlike her usual self all day. When she had joined the party in the private car that morning, Ruth noticed that The Fox looked unhappy. Her eyes were swollen as though she had been weeping and she had very little to say.
For one thing Ruth was really thankful. The Fox said nothing to her about the accident on the Lanawaxa. She may have been grateful for Ruth's timely assistance when she fell into Lake Osago; but she succeeded in effectually hiding her gratitude.
Heavy, however, confided to Ruth that Mary had found sore trouble at home when she returned from Briarwood. Her father had died the year before and left his business affairs in a tangle. Mary's older brother, John, had left college and set about straightening out matters. And now something serious had happened to John. He had gone away on business and for weeks his mother had heard nothing from him.
"I didn't know but Mary would give up coming with us—just as Lluella and Belle did," said the stout girl. "But there is nothing she can do at home, and I urged her to come. We must all try to make it particularly pleasant for her."
Ruth was perfectly willing to do her share; but one can scarcely make it pleasant for a person who refuses to speak to one. And the girl from the Red Mill could not help feeling that The Fox had done her best to make her withdraw from Jennie Stone's party.
The sea was not in sight until the wagons had been driven more than half the distance to the Stone bungalow. Then, suddenly rounding a sandy hill, they saw the wide sweep of the ocean in the distance, and the small and quieter harbor on the inviting shore of which the bungalow was built.
Out upon the far point of this nearer sandy ridge was built the white shaft of the Sokennet Light. Sokennet village lay upon the other side of the harbor. On this side a few summer homes had been erected, and beyond the lighthouse was a low, wind-swept building which Heavy told the girls was the life saving station.
"We'll have lots of fun down there. Cap'n Abinadab Cope is just the nicest old man you ever saw!" declared Heavy. "And he can tell the most thrilling stories of wrecks along the coast. And there's the station 'day book' that records everything they do, from the number of pounds of coal and gallons of kerosene used each day, to how they save whole shiploads of people——"
"Let's ask him to save a shipload for our especial benefit," laughed Madge. "I suppose there's only one wreck in fifteen or twenty years, hereabout."
"Nothing of the kind! Sometimes there are a dozen in one winter. And lots of times the surfmen go off in a boat and save ships from being wrecked. In a fog, you know. Ships get lost in a fog sometimes, just as folks get lost in a forest——"
"Or in a blizzard," cried Helen, with a lively remembrance of their last winter's experience at Snow Camp.
"Nothing like that will happen here, you know," said Ruth, laughing. "Heavy promised that we shouldn't be lost in a snowstorm at Lighthouse Point."
"But hear the sea roar!" murmured Mary Cox. "Oh! look at the waves!"
They had now come to where they could see the surf breaking over a ledge, or reef, off the shore some half-mile. The breakers piled up as high—seemingly—as a tall house; and when they burst upon the rock they completely hid it for the time.
"Did you ever see such a sight!" cried Madge. "'The sea in its might'!"
The gusts of rain came more plentifully as they rode on, and so rough did the wind become, the girls were rather glad when the wagons drove in at the gateway of the Stone place.
Immediately around the house the owner had coaxed some grass to grow—at an expense, so Jennie said, of about "a dollar a blade." But everywhere else was the sand—cream-colored, yellow, gray and drab, or slate where the water washed over it and left it glistening.
The entrance was at the rear; the bungalow faced the cove, standing on a ridge which as has been before said continued far out to the lighthouse.
"And a woman keeps the light. Her husband kept it for many, many years; but he died a year ago and the government has continued her as keeper. She's a nice old lady, is Mother Purling, and she can tell stories, too, that will make your hair curl!"
"I'm going over there right away," declared Mary, who had begun to be her old self again. "Mine is as straight as an Indian's."
"A woman alone in a lighthouse! isn't that great?" cried Helen.
"She is alone sometimes; but there is an assistant keeper. His name is Crab—and that's what he is!" declared Heavy.
"Oh, I can see right now that we're going to have great fun here," observed Madge.
This final conversation was carried on after the girls had run into the house for shelter from a sharp gust of rain, and had been taken upstairs by their hostess to the two big rooms in the front of the bungalow which they were to sleep in. From the windows they could see across the cove to the village and note all the fishing and pleasure boats bobbing at their moorings.
Right below them was a long dock built out from Mr. Stone's property, and behind it was moored a motor-launch, a catboat, and two rowboats—quite a little fleet.
"You see, there isn't a sail in the harbor nor outside. That shows that the storm now blowing up is bound to be a stiff one," explained Heavy. "For the fishermen of Sokennet are as daring as any on the coast, and I have often seen them run out to the banks into what looked to be the verv teeth of a gale!"
Meanwhile, the boys had been shown to a good-sized room at the back of the house, and they were already down again and outside, breasting the intermittent squalls from the sea. They had no curls and furbelows to arrange, and ran all about the place before dinner time.
But ere that time arrived the night had shut down. The storm clouds hung low and threatened a heavy rainfall at any moment. Off on the horizon was a livid streak which seemed to divide the heavy ocean from the wind-thrashed clouds.
The company that gathered about the dinner table was a lively one, even if the wind did shriek outside and the thunder of the surf kept up a continual accompaniment to their conversation—like the deeper notes of a mighty organ. Mr. Stone, himself, was not present; but one of Heavy's young aunts had come down to oversee the party, and she was no wet blanket upon the fun.
Of course, the "goodies" on the table were many. Trust Heavy for that. The old black cook, who had been in the Stone family for a generation, doted on the stout girl and would cook all day to please her young mistress.
They had come to the dessert course when suddenly Tom Cameron half started from his chair and held up a hand for silence.
"What's the matter, Tommy?" demanded Busy Izzy, inquisitively. "What do you hear?"
"Listen!" commanded Tom.
The hilarity ceased suddenly, and all those at the table listened intently. The sudden hush made the noise of the elements seem greater.
"What did you hear?" finally asked his sister.
A distant, reverberating sound was repeated. They all heard it. Heavy and her aunt, Miss Kate, glanced at each other with sudden comprehension.
"What is it?" Ruth cried.
"It's a signal gun," Heavy said, rather weakly.
"A ship in distress,," explained Miss Kate, and her tone hushed their clamor.
A third time the report sounded. The dining room door opened and the butler entered.
"What is it, Maxwell?" asked Miss Kate.
"A ship on the Second Reef, Miss," he said hurriedly. "She was sighted just before dark, driving in. But it was plain that she was helpless, and had gone broadside on to the rock. She'll break up before morning, the fishermen say. It will be an awful wreck, ma'am, for there is no chance of the sea going down."