Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point/Chapter 9

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"Oh! isn't it awful!' cried Helen, clinging to Ruth Fielding. "I wish I hadn't come."

"They're lost!" quavered Mary Cox. "They're drowned!"

But Heavy was more practical. "They can't drown so easily—with those cork-vests on 'em. There! the boat's righted."

It was a fact. Much nearer the shore, it was true, but the lifeboat was again right side up. They saw the men creep in over her sides and seize the oars which had been made fast to her so that they could not be lost.

But the lifeboat was not so buoyant, and it was plain that she had been seriously injured. Cap'n Abinadab dared not go on to the wreck.

"That timber mashed her in for'ard," declared a fisherman standing near the girls. "They've got to give it up this time."

"Can't steer in such a clutter of wreckage," declared another. "Not with an oared boat. She ought to be a motor. Every other station on this coast, from Macklin to Cape Brender, has a lifeboat driven by a motor. Sokennet allus has to take other folks' leavin's."

Helplessly the lifeboat drifted shoreward. The girls watched her, almost holding their breath with excitement. The three boys raced down to the beach now and joined them.

"Crickey!" yelped little Isadore Phelps. "We're almost too late to see the fun!"

"Hush!" commanded Ruth, sharply.

"Your idea of fun, young man, is very much warped," Madge Steele added.

"Haven't they got the wrecked people off?" demanded Tom, in wonder.

At the moment an added Coston burned up on the wreck. Its uncertain glare revealed the shrouds and torn lower rigging. They saw several figures—outlined in the glaring light—lashed to the stays and broken spars. The craft was a schooner, lumber-laden, and the sea had now cast her so far over on her beam-ends that her deck was like a wall confronting the shore. Against this background the crew were visible, clinging desperately to hand-holds, or lashed to the rigging.

And a great cry went suddenly up from the crowd ashore. "There's women aboard her—poor lost souls!" quavered one old dame who had seen many a terrifying wreck along the coast.

Ruth Fielding's sharper eyes had discovered that one of the figures clinging to the wreck was too small for a grown person.

"It's a child!" she murmured. "It's a girl. Oh, Helen! there's a girl—no older than we—on that wreck!"

The words of the men standing about them proved Ruth's statement to be true. Others had descried the girl's figure in that perilous situation. There was a woman, too, and seven men. Seven men were ample to man a schooner of her size, and probably the other two were the captain's wife and daughter.

But if escape to the shore depended upon the work of the lifeboat and her crew, the castaways were in peril indeed, for the boat was coming shoreward now with a rush. With her came the tossing, charging timbers washed from the deck load. The sea between the reef and the beach was now a seething mass of broken and splintering planks and beams. No craft could live in such a seaway.

But Ruth and her friends were suddenly conscious of a peril nearer at hand. The broken lifeboat with its crew was being swept shoreward upon a great wave, and with the speed of an express train. The great, curling, foam-streaked breaker seemed to hurl the heavy boat through the air.

"They'll be killed! Oh, they will!" shrieked Mary Cox.

The long craft, half-smothered in foam, and accompanied by the plunging timbers from the wreck, darted shoreward with increasing velocity. One moment it was high above their heads, with the curling wave ready to break, and the sea sucking away beneath its keel—bared for half its length.

Crash! Down the boat was dashed, with a blow that (so it seemed to the unaccustomed spectators) must tear it asunder.

The crew were dashed from their places by the shock. The waiting longshoremen ran to seize the broken boat and drag it above highwater mark. One of the crew was sucked back with the undertow and disappeared for a full minute. But he came in, high on the next wave, and they caught and saved him.

To the amazement of Ruth Fielding and her young companions, none of the seven men who had manned the boat seemed much the worse for their experience. They breathed heavily and their faces were grim. She could almost have sworn that the youngest of the crew—he had the figure "6" worked on the sleev of his coat—had tears of disappointment in his eyes.

"It's a desperate shame, lads!" croaked old Cap'n Abinadab. "We're bested. And the old boat's badly smashed. But there's one thing sure—no other boat, nor no other crew, couldn't do what we started to do. Ain't no kick comin' on that score."

"And can't the poor creatures out there be helped? Must they drown?" whispered Helen in Ruth's ear.

Ruth did not believe that these men would give up so easily. They were rough seamen; but the helplessness of the castaways appealed to them.

"Come on, boys!" commanded the captain of the life-saving crew. "Let's git out the wagon. I don't suppose there's any use, unless there comes a lull in this etarnal gale. But we'll try what gunpowder will do."

"What are they going to attempt now?' Madge Steele asked.

"The beach wagon," said somebody. "They've gone for the gear."

This was no explanation to the girls until Tom Cameron came running back from the house and announced that the crew were going to try to reach the schooner with a line.

"They'll try to save them with the breeches buoy," he said. "They've got a life-car here; but they never use that thing nowadays if they can help. Too many castaways have been near smothered in it, they say. If they can get a line over the wreck they'll haul the crew in, one at a time."

"And that girl!" cried Ruth. "I hope they will send her ashore first. How frightened she must be."

There was no more rain falling now, although the spray whipped from the crests of the waves was flung across the beach and wet the sightseers. But with the lightening of the clouds a pale glow seemed to spread itself upon the tumultuous sea.

The wreck could be seen almost as vividly as when the signal lights were burned. The torn clouds were driven across the heavens as rapidly as the huge waves raced shoreward. And behind both cloud and wave was the seething gale. There seemed no prospect of the wind's falling.

Ruth turned to see the crew which had failed to get the lifeboat to the wreck, trundling a heavy, odd-looking, two-wheeled wagon down upon the beach. They worked as though their fight with the sea had been but the first round of the battle. Their calmness and skillful handling of the breeches-buoy gear inspired the onlookers with renewed hope.

"Oh, Cap'n Abinadab and the boys will get 'em this time," declared Heavy. "You just watch."

And Ruth Fielding and the others were not likely to miss any motion of the crew of the life saving station. The latter laid out the gear with quick, sure action. The cannon was placed in position and loaded. The iron bar to which the line was attached was slipped into the muzzle of the gun. The men stood back and the captain pulled the lanyard.


The sharp bark of the line-gun echoed distressingly in their ears. It jumped back a pace, for the captain had charged it to the full limit allowed by the regulations. A heavier charge might burst the gun.

The line-iron hurtled out over the sea in a long, graceful curve, the line whizzing after it. The line unwound so rapidly from the frame on which it was coiled that Ruth's gaze could not follow it.

The sea was light enough for them to follow the course of the iron, however, and a groan broke from the lips of the onlookers when they saw that the missile fell far short of the wreck. To shoot the line into the very teeth of this gale, as Cap'n Abinadab had said, was futile. Yet he would not give up the attempt. This was the only way that was now left for them to aid the unfortunate crew of the lumber schooner. If they could not get the breeches buoy to her the sea would be the grave of the castaways.

For already the waves, smashing down upon the grounded wreck, were tearing it apart. She would soon break in two, and then the remaining rigging and spars would go by the board and with them the crew and passengers.

Yet Captain Abinadab Cope refused to give over his attempts to reach the wreck.

"Haul in!" he commanded gruffly, when the line fell short. Ruth marveled at the skill of the man who rewound the wet line on the pegs of the frame that held it. In less than five minutes the life savers were ready for another shot.

"You take it when the regular crew are at practice, sometimes," whispered Heavy, to Ruth, "and they work like lightning. They'll shoot the line and get a man ashore in the breeches buoy in less than two minutes. But this is hard work for these volunteers—and it means so much!"

Ruth felt as though a hand clutched at her heart. The unshed tears stung her eyes. If they should fail—if all this effort should go for naught! Suppose that unknown girl out there on the wreck should be washed ashore in the morning, pallid and dead.

The thought almost overwhelmed the girl from the Red Mill. As the gun barked a second time and the shot and line hurtled seaward, Ruth Fielding's pale lips uttered a whispered prayer.