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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tides Of Barnegat - Chapter 21. The Man In The Slouch Hat
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The Tides Of Barnegat - Chapter 21. The Man In The Slouch Hat Post by :MalcolmL Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :2526

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The Tides Of Barnegat - Chapter 21. The Man In The Slouch Hat


The wooden arrow on the top of the cupola of the Life-Saving Station had had a busy night of it. With the going down of the sun the wind had continued to blow east-southeast--its old course for weeks--and the little sentinel, lulled into inaction, had fallen into a doze, its feather end fixed on the glow of the twilight.

At midnight a rollicking breeze that piped from out the north caught the sensitive vane napping, and before the dawn broke had quite tired it out, shifting from point to point, now west, now east, now nor'east-by-east, and now back to north again. By the time Morgan had boiled his coffee and had cut his bacon into slivers ready for the frying-pan the restless wind, as if ashamed of its caprices, had again veered to the north-east, and then, as if determined ever after to lead a better life, had pulled itself together and had at last settled down to a steady blow from that quarter.

The needle of the aneroid fastened to the wall of the sitting-room, and in reach of everybody's eye, had also made a night of it. In fact, it had not had a moment's peace since Captain Holt reset its register the day before. All its efforts for continued good weather had failed. Slowly but surely the baffled and disheartened needle had sagged from "Fair" to "Change," dropped back to "Storm," and before noon the next day had about given up the fight and was in full flight for "Cyclones and Tempests."

Uncle Isaac Polhemus, sitting at the table with one eye on his game of dominoes (Green was his partner) and the other on the patch of sky framed by the window, read the look of despair on the honest face of the aneroid, and rising from his chair, a "double three" in his hand, stepped to where the weather prophet hung.

"Sompin's comin' Sam," he said solemnly. "The old gal's got a bad setback. Ain't none of us goin' to git a wink o' sleep to-night, or I miss my guess. Wonder how the wind is." Here he moved to the door and peered out. "Nor'-east and puffy, just as I thought. We're goin' to hev some weather, Sam--ye hear?--some WEATHER!" With this he regained his chair and joined the double three to the long tail of his successes. Good weather or bad weather--peace or war--was all the same to Uncle Isaac. What he wanted was the earliest news from the front.

Captain Holt took a look at the sky, the aneroid and the wind--not the arrow; old sea-dogs know which way the wind blows without depending on any such contrivance--the way the clouds drift, the trend of the white-caps, the set of a distant sail, and on black, almost breathless nights, by the feel of a wet finger held quickly in the air, the coolest side determining the wind point.

On this morning the clouds attracted the captain's attention. They hung low and drifted in long, straggling lines. Close to the horizon they were ashy pale; being nearest the edge of the brimming sea, they had, no doubt, seen something the higher and rosier-tinted clouds had missed; something of the ruin that was going on farther down the round of the sphere. These clouds the captain studied closely, especially a prismatic sun-dog that glowed like a bit of rainbow snipped off by wind-scissors, and one or two dirt spots sailing along by themselves.

During the captain's inspection Archie hove in sight, wiping his hands with a wad of cotton waste. He and Parks had been swabbing out the firing gun and putting the polished work of the cart apparatus in order.

"It's going to blow, captain, isn't it?" he called out. Blows were what Archie was waiting for. So far the sea had been like a mill-pond, except on one or two occasions, when, to the boy's great regret, nothing came ashore.

"Looks like it. Glass's been goin' down and the wind has settled to the nor'east. Some nasty dough-balls out there I don't like. See 'em goin' over that three-master?"

Archie looked, nodded his head, and a certain thrill went through him. The harder it blew the better it would suit Archie.

"Will the Polly be here to-night?" he added. "Your son's coming, isn't he?"

"Yes; but you won't see him to-night, nor to-morrow, not till this is over. You won't catch old Ambrose out in this weather" (Captain Ambrose Farguson sailed the Polly). "He'll stick his nose in the basin some'er's and hang on for a spell. I thought he'd try to make the inlet, and I 'spected Bart here to-night till I saw the glass when I got up. Ye can't fool Ambrose--he knows. Be two or three days now 'fore Bart comes," he added, a look of disappointment shadowing his face.

Archie kept on to the house, and the captain, after another sweep around, turned on his heel and reentered the sitting-room.


"Yes, captain." The surfman was on his feet in an instant, his ears wide open.

"I wish you and Fogarty would look over those new Costons and see if they're all right. And, Polhemus, perhaps you'd better overhaul them cork jackets; some o' them straps seemed kind o' awkward on practice yesterday--they ought to slip on easier; guess they're considerable dried out and a little mite stiff."

Green nodded his head in respectful assent and left the room. Polhemus, at the mention of his name, had dropped his chair legs to the floor; he had finished his game of dominoes and had been tilted back against the wall, awaiting the dinner-hour.

"It's goin' to blow a livin' gale o' wind, Polhemus," the captain continued; "that's what it's goin' to do. Ye kin see it yerself. There she comes now!"

As he spoke the windows on the sea side of the house rattled as if shaken by the hand of a man and as quickly stopped.

"Them puffs are jest the tootin' of her horn--" this with a jerk of his head toward the windows. "I tell ye, it looks ugly!"

Polhemus gained his feet and the two men stepped to the sash and peered out. To them the sky was always an open book--each cloud a letter, each mass a paragraph, the whole a warning.

"But I'm kind o' glad, Isaac." Again the captain forgot the surfman in the friend. "As long as it's got to blow it might as well blow now and be over. I'd kind o' set my heart on Bart's comin', but I guess I've waited so long I kin wait a day or two more. I wrote him to come by train, but he wrote back he had a lot o' plunder and he'd better put it 'board the Polly; and, besides, he said he kind o' wanted to sail into the inlet like he used to when he was a boy. Then again, I couldn't meet him; not with this weather comin' on. No--take it all in all, I'm glad he ain't comin'."

"Well, I guess yer right, captain," answered uncle Isaac in an even tone, as he left the room to overhaul the cork jackets. The occasion was not one of absorbing interest to Isaac.

By the time the table was cleared and the kitchen once more in order not only were the windows on the sea side of the house roughly shaken by the rising gale, but the sand caught from the dunes was being whirled against their panes. The tide, too, egged on by the storm, had crept up the slope of the dunes, the spray drenching the grass-tufts.

At five o'clock the wind blew forty miles an hour at sundown it had increased to fifty; at eight o'clock it bowled along at sixty. Morgan, who had been to the village for supplies, reported that the tide was over the dock at Barnegat and that the roof of the big bathing-house at Beach Haven had been ripped off and landed on the piazza. He had had all he could do to keep his feet and his basket while crossing the marsh on his way back to the station. Then he added:

"There's a lot o' people there yit. That feller from Philadelphy who's mashed on Cobden's aunt was swellin' around in a potato-bug suit o' clothes as big as life." This last was given from behind his hand after he had glanced around the room and found that Archie was absent.

At eight o'clock, when Parks and Archie left the Station to begin their patrol, Parks was obliged to hold on to the rail of the porch to steady himself, and Archie, being less sure of his feet, was blown against the water-barrel before he could get his legs well under him. At the edge of the surf the two separated for their four hours' patrol, Archie breasting the gale on his way north, and Parks hurrying on, helped by the wind, to the south.

At ten o'clock Parks returned. He had made his first round, and had exchanged his brass check with the patrol at the next station. As he mounted the sand-dune he quickened his steps, hurried to the Station, opened the sitting-room door, found it empty, the men being in bed upstairs awaiting their turns, and then strode on to the captain's room, his sou'wester and tarpaulin drenched with spray and sand, his hip-boots leaving watery tracks along the clean floor.

"Wreck ashore at No. 14, sir!" Parks called out in a voice hoarse with fighting the wind.

The captain sprang from his cot--he was awake, his light still burning.

"Anybody drownded?"

"No, sir; got 'em all. Seven of 'em, so the patrol said. Come ashore 'bout supper-time."

"What is she?"

"A two-master from Virginia loaded with cord-wood. Surf's in bad shape, sir; couldn't nothin' live in it afore; it's wuss now. Everything's a bobble; turrible to see them sticks thrashin' 'round and slammin' things."

"Didn't want no assistance, did they?"

"No, sir; they got the fust line 'round the foremast and come off in less'n a hour; warn't none of 'em hurted."

"Is it any better outside?"

"No, sir; wuss. I ain't seen nothin' like it 'long the coast for years. Good-night," and Parks took another hole in the belt holding his tarpaulins together, opened the back door, walked to the edge of the house, steadied himself against the clapboards, and boldly facing the storm, continued his patrol.

The captain stretched himself again on his bed; he had tried to sleep, but his brain was too active. As he lay listening to the roar of the surf and the shrill wail of the wind, his thoughts would revert to Bart and what his return meant; particularly to its effect on the fortunes of the doctor, of Jane and of Lucy.

Jane's attitude continued to astound him. He had expected that Lucy might not realize the advantages of his plan at first--not until she had seen Bart and listened to what he had to say; but that Jane, after the confession of her own weakness should still oppose him, was what he could not under stand, he would keep his promise, however, to the very letter. She should have free range to dissuade Bart from his purpose. After that Bart should have his way. No other course was possible, and no other course either honest or just.

Then he went over in his mind all that had happened to him since the day he had driven Bart out into the night, and from that same House of Refuge, too, which, strange to say, lay within sight of the Station. He recalled his own and Bart's sufferings; his loneliness; the bitterness of the terrible secret which had kept his mouth closed all these years, depriving him of even the intimate companionship of his own grandson. With this came an increased love for the boy; he again felt the warm pressure of his hand and caught the look in his eyes the morning Archie congratulated him so heartily on Bart's expected return, he had always loved him; he would love him now a thousand times more when he could put his hand on the boy's shoulder and tell him everything.

With the changing of the patrol, Tod and Polhemus taking the places of Archie and Parks, he fell into a doze, waking with a sudden start some hours later, springing from his bed, and as quickly turning up the lamp.

Still in his stocking feet and trousers--on nights like this the men lie down in half their clothes--he walked to the window and peered out. It was nearing daylight; the sky still black. The storm was at its height; the roar of the surf incessant and the howl of the wind deafening. Stepping into the sitting-room he glanced at the aneroid--the needle had not advanced a point; then turning into the hall, he mounted the steps to the lookout in the cupola, walked softly past the door of the men's room so as not to waken the sleepers, particularly Parks and Archie, whose cots were nearest the door--both had had four hours of the gale and would have hours more if it continued--and reaching the landing, pressed his face against the cool pane and peered out.

Below him stretched a dull waste of sand hardly distinguishable in the gloom until his eyes became accustomed to it, and beyond this the white line of the surf, whiter than either sky or sand. This writhed and twisted like a cobra in pain. To the north burned Barnegat Light, only the star of its lamp visible. To the south stretched alternate bands of sand, sky, and surf, their dividing lines lost in the night. Along this beach, now stopping to get their breath, now slanting the brim of their sou'westers to escape the slash of the sand and spray, strode Tod and Polhemus, their eyes on and beyond the tumbling surf, their ears open to every unusual sound, their Costons buttoned tight under their coats to keep them from the wet.

Suddenly, while his eyes were searching the horizon line, now hardly discernible in the gloom, a black mass rose from behind a cresting of foam, see-sawed for an instant, clutched wildly at the sky, and dropped out of sight behind a black wall of water. The next instant there flashed on the beach below him, and to the left of the station, the red flare of a Coston signal.

With the quickness of a cat Captain Holt sprang to the stairs shouting:

"A wreck, men, a wreck!" The next instant he had thrown aside the door of the men's room. "Out every one of ye! Who's on the beach?" And he looked over the cots to find the empty ones.

The men were on their feet before he had ceased speaking, Archie before the captain's hand had left the knob of the door.

"Who's on the beach, I say?" he shouted again.

"Fogarty and Uncle Ike," someone answered.

"Polhemus! Good! All hands on the cart, men; boat can't live in that surf. She lies to the north of us!" And he swung himself out of the door and down the stairs.

"God help 'em, if they've got to come through that surf!" Parks said, slinging on his coat. "The tide's just beginnin' to make flood, and all that cord-wood'll come a-waltzin' back. Never see nothin' like it!"

The front door now burst in and another shout went ringing through the house:

"Schooner in the breakers!"

It was Tod. He had rejoined Polhemus the moment before he flared his light and had made a dash to rouse the men.

"I seen her, Fogarty, from the lookout," cried the captain, in answer, grabbing his sou'wester; he was already in his hip-boots and tarpaulin. "What is she?"

"Schooner, I guess, sir."

"Two or three masts?" asked the captain hurriedly, tightening the strap of his sou'wester and slipping the leather thong under his gray whiskers.

"Can't make out, sir; she come bow on. Uncle Ike see her fust." And he sprang out after the men.

A double door thrown wide; a tangle of wild cats springing straight at a broad-tired cart; a grappling of track-lines and handle-bars; a whirl down the wooden incline, Tod following with the quickly lighted lanterns; a dash along the runway, the sand cutting their cheeks like grit from a whirling stone; over the dune, the men bracing the cart on either side, and down the beach the crew swept in a rush to where Polhemus stood waving his last Coston.

Here the cart stopped.

"Don't unload nothin'," shouted Polhemus. "She ain't fast; looks to me as if she was draggin' her anchors."

Captain Holt canted the brim of his sou'wester, held his bent elbow against his face to protect it from the cut of the wind, and looked in the direction of the surfman's fingers. The vessel lay about a quarter of a mile from the shore and nearer the House of Refuge than when the captain had first seen her from the lookout. She was afloat and drifting broadside on to the coast. Her masts were still standing and she seemed able to take care of herself. Polhemus was right. Nothing could be done till she grounded. In the meantime the crew must keep abreast of her. Her fate, however, was but a question of time, for not only had the wind veered to the southward--a-dead-on-shore wind--but the set of the flood must eventually strand her.

At the track-lines again, every man in his place, Uncle Isaac with his shoulder under the spokes of the wheels, the struggling crew keeping the cart close to the edge of the dune, springing out of the way of the boiling surf or sinking up to their waists into crevices of sluiceways gullied out by the hungry sea. Once Archie lost his footing and would have been sucked under by a comber had not Captain Holt grapped him by the collar and landed him on his feet again. Now and then a roller more vicious than the others would hurl a log of wood straight at the cart with the velocity of a torpedo, and swoop back again, the log missing its mark by a length.

When the dawn broke the schooner could be made out more clearly. Both masts were still standing, their larger sails blown away. The bowsprit was broken short off close to her chains. About this dragged the remnants of a jib sail over which the sea soused and whitened. She was drifting slowly and was now but a few hundred yards from the beach, holding, doubtless, by her anchors. Over her deck the sea made a clean breach.

Suddenly, and while the men still tugged at the track-ropes, keeping abreast of her so as to be ready with the mortar and shot-line, the ill-fated vessel swung bow on toward the beach, rose on a huge mountain of water, and threw herself headlong. When the smother cleared her foremast was overboard and her deck-house smashed. Around her hull the waves gnashed and fought like white wolves, leaping high, flinging themselves upon her. In the recoil Captain Holt's quick eye got a glimpse of the crew; two were lashed to the rigging and one held the tiller--a short, thickset man, wearing what appeared to be a slouch hat tied over his ears by a white handkerchief.

With the grounding of the vessel a cheer went up from around the cart.

"Now for the mortar!"

"Up with it on the dune, men!" shouted the captain, his voice ringing above the roar of the tempest.

The cart was forced up the slope--two men at the wheels, the others straining ahead--the gun lifted out and set, Polhemus ramming the charge home, Captain Holt sighting the piece; there came a belching sound, a flash of dull light, and a solid shot carrying a line rose in the air, made a curve like a flying rocket, and fell athwart the wreck between her forestay and jib. A cheer went up from the men about the gun. When this line was hauled in and the hawser attached to it made fast high up on the mainmast and above the raging sea, and the car run off to the wreck, the crew could be landed clear of the surf and the slam of the cord-wood.

At the fall of the line the man in the slouch hat was seen to edge himself forward in an attempt to catch it. The two men in the rigging kept their hold. The men around the cart sprang for the hawser and tally-blocks to rig the buoy, when a dull cry rose from the wreck. To their horror they saw the mainmast waver, flutter for a moment, and sag over the schooner's side. The last hope of using the life-car was gone! Without the elevation of the mast and with nothing but the smashed hull to make fast to, the shipwrecked men would be pounded into pulp in the attempt to drag them through the boil of wreckage.

"Haul in, men!" cried the captain. "No use of another shot; we can't drag 'em through that surf!"

"I'll take my chances," said Green, stepping forward. "Let me, cap'n. I can handle 'em if they haul in the slack and make fast."

"No, you can't," said the captain calmly. "You couldn't get twenty feet from shore. We got to wait till the tide cleans this wood out. It's workin' right now. They kin stand it for a while. Certain death to bring 'em through that smother--that stuff'd knock the brains out of 'em fast as they dropped into it. Signal to 'em to hang on, Parks."

An hour went by--an hour of agony to the men clinging to the grounded schooner, and of impatience to the shore crew, who were powerless. The only danger was of exhaustion to the shipwrecked men and the breaking up of the schooner. If this occurred there was nothing left but a plunge of rescuing men through the surf, the life of every man in his hand.

The beach began filling up. The news of a shipwreck had spread with the rapidity of a thunder-shower. One crowd, denser in spots where the stronger men were breasting the wind, which was now happily on the wane, were moving from the village along the beach, others were stumbling on through the marshes. From the back country, along the road leading from the hospital, rattled a gig, the horse doing his utmost. In this were Doctor John and Jane. She had, contrary to his advice, remained at the hospital. The doctor had been awakened by the shouts of a fisherman, and had driven with all speed to the hospital to get his remedies and instruments. Jane had insisted upon accompanying him, although she had been up half the night with one of the sailors rescued the week before by the crew of No. 14. The early morning air--it was now seven o'clock--would do her good, she pleaded, and she might be of use if any one of the poor fellows needed a woman's care.

Farther down toward Beach Haven the sand was dotted with wagons and buggies; some filled with summer boarders anxious to see the crew at work. One used as the depot omnibus contained Max Feilding, Lucy, and half a dozen others. She had passed a sleepless night, and hearing the cries of those hurrying by had thrown a heavy cloak around her and opening wide the piazza door had caught sight of the doomed vessel fighting for its life. Welcoming the incident as a relief from her own maddening thoughts, she had joined Max, hoping that the excitement might divert her mind from the horror that overshadowed her. Then, too, she did not want to be separated a single moment from him. Since the fatal hour when Jane had told her of Bart's expected return Max's face had haunted her. As long as he continued to look into her eyes, believing and trusting in her there was hope. He had noticed her haggard look, but she had pleaded one of her headaches, and had kept up her smiles, returning his caresses. Some way would be opened; some way MUST be opened!

While waiting for the change of wind and tide predicted by Captain Holt to clear away the deadly drift of the cord-wood so dangerous to the imperilled men, the wreckage from the grounded schooner began to come ashore--crates of vegetables, barrels of groceries, and boxes filled with canned goods. Some of these were smashed into splinters by end-on collisions with cord-wood; others had dodged the floatage and were landed high on the beach.

During the enforced idleness Tod occupied himself in rolling away from the back-suck of the surf the drift that came ashore. Being nearest a stranded crate he dragged it clear and stood bending over it, reading the inscription. With a start he beckoned to Parks, the nearest man to him, tore the card from the wooden slat, and held it before the surfman's face.

"What's this? Read! That's the Polly Walters out there, I tell ye, and the captain's son's aboard! I've been suspicionin' it all the mornin'. That's him with the slouch hat. I knowed he warn't no sailor from the way he acted. Don't say nothin' till we're sure."

Parks lunged forward, dodged a stick of cord-wood that drove straight at him like a battering-ram and, watching his chance, dragged a floating keg from the smother, rolled it clear of the surf, canted it on end, and took a similar card from its head. Then he shouted with all his might:

"It's the Polly, men! It's the Polly--the Polly Walters! O God, ain't that too bad! Captain Ambrose's drowned, or we'd a-seen him! That feller in the slouch hat is Bart Holt! Gimme that line!" He was stripping off his waterproofs now ready for a plunge into the sea.

With the awful words ringing in his ears Captain Holt made a spring from the dune and came running toward Parks, who was now knotting the shot-line about his waist.

"What do you say she is?" he shouted, as he flung himself to the edge of the roaring surf and strained his eyes toward the wreck.

"The Polly--the Polly Walters!"

"My God! How do ye know? She ain't left Amboy, I tell ye!"

"She has! That's her--see them kerds! They come off that stuff behind ye. Tod got one and I got t'other!" he held the bits of cardboard under the rim of the captain's sou'wester.

Captain Holt snatched the cards from Parks's hand, read them at a glance, and a dazed, horror-stricken expression crossed his face. Then his eye fell upon Parks knotting the shot-line about his waist.

"Take that off! Parks, stay where ye are; don't ye move, I tell ye."

As the words dropped from the captain's lips a horrified shout went up from the bystanders. The wreck, with a crunching sound, was being lifted from the sand. She rose steadily, staggered for an instant and dropped out of sight. She had broken amidships. With the recoil two ragged bunches showed above the white wash of the water. On one fragment--a splintered mast--crouched the man with the slouch hat; to the other clung the two sailors. The next instant a great roller, gathering strength as it came, threw itself full length on both fragments and swept on. Only wreckage was left and one head.

With a cry to the men to stand by and catch the slack, the captain ripped a line from the drum of the cart, dragged off his high boots, knotted the bight around his waist, and started on a run for the surf.

Before his stockinged feet could reach the edge of the foam, Archie seized him around the waist and held him with a grip of steel.

"You sha'n't do it, captain!" he cried, his eyes blazing. "Hold him, men--I'll get him!" With the bound of a cat he landed in the middle of the floatage, dived under the logs, rose on the boiling surf, worked himself clear of the inshore wreckage, and struck out in the direction of the man clinging to the shattered mast, and who was now nearing the beach, whirled on by the inrushing seas.

Strong men held their breath, tears brimming their eyes. Captain Holt stood irresolute, dazed for the moment by Archie's danger. The beach women--Mrs. Fogarty among them--were wringing their hands. They knew the risk better than the others.

Jane, at Archie's plunge, had run down to the edge of the surf and stood with tight-clenched fingers, her gaze fixed on the lad's head as he breasted the breakers--her face white as death, the tears streaming down her cheeks. Fear for the boy she loved, pride in his pluck and courage, agony over the result of the rescue, all swept through her as she strained her eyes seaward.

Lucy, Max, and Mrs. Coates were huddled together under the lee of the dune. Lucy's eyes were staring straight ahead of her; her teeth chattering with fear and cold. She had heard the shouts of Parks and the captain, and knew now whose life was at stake. There was no hope left; Archie would win and pull him out alive, and her end would come.

The crowd watched the lad until his hand touched the mast, saw him pull himself hand over hand along its slippery surface and reach out his arms. Then a cheer went up from a hundred throats, and as instantly died away in a moan of terror. Behind, towering over them like a huge wall, came a wave of black water, solemn, merciless, uncrested, as if bent on deadly revenge. Under its impact the shattered end of the mast rose clear of the water, tossed about as if in agony, veered suddenly with the movement of a derrick-boom, and with its living freight dashed headlong into the swirl of cord-wood.

As it ploughed through the outer drift and reached the inner line of wreckage, Tod, whose eyes had never left Archie since his leap into the surf, made a running jump from the sand, landed on a tangle of drift, and sprang straight at the section of the mast to which Archie clung. The next instant the surf rolled clear, submerging the three men.

Another ringing order now rose above the roar of the waters, and a chain of rescuing surfmen--the last resort--with Captain Nat at the head dashed into the turmoil.

It was a hand-to-hand fight now with death. At the first onslaught of the battery of wreckage Polhemus was knocked breathless by a blow in the stomach and rescued by the bystanders just as a log was curling over him. Green was hit by a surging crate, and Mulligan only saved from the crush of the cord-wood by the quickness of a fisherman. Morgan, watching his chance, sprang clear of a tangle of barrels and cord-wood, dashed into the narrow gap of open water, and grappling Tod as he whirled past, twisted his fingers in Archie's waistband. The three were then pounced upon by a relay of fishermen led by Tod's father and dragged from under the crunch and surge of the smother. Both Tod and Morgan were unhurt and scrambled to their feet as soon as they gained the hard sand, but Archie lay insensible where the men had dropped him, his body limp, his feet crumpled under him.

All this time the man in the slouch hat was being swirled in the hell of wreckage, the captain meanwhile holding to the human chain with one hand and fighting with the other until he reached the half-drowned man whose grip had now slipped from the crate to which he clung. As the two were shot in toward the beach, Green, who had recovered his breath, dodged the recoil, sprang straight for them, threw the captain a line, which he caught, dashed back and dragged the two high up on the beach, the captain's arm still tightly locked about the rescued man.

A dozen hands were held out to relieve the captain of his burden, but he only waved them away.

"I'll take care of him!" he gasped in a voice almost gone from buffeting the waves, as the body slipped from his arms to the wet sand. "Git out of the way, all of you!"

Once on his feet, he stood for an instant to catch his breath, wrung the grime from his ears with his stiff fingers, and then shaking the water from his shoulders as a dog would after a plunge, he passed his great arms once more under the bedraggled body of the unconscious man and started up the dune toward the House of Refuge, the water dripping from both their wet bodies. Only once did he pause, and then to shout:

"Green,--Mulligan! Go back, some o' ye, and git Archie. He's hurt bad. Quick, now! And one o' ye bust in them doors. And-- Polhemus, pull some coats off that crowd and a shawl or two from them women if they can spare 'em, and find Doctor John, some o' ye! D'ye hear! DOCTOR JOHN!"

A dozen coats were stripped from as many backs, a shawl of Mrs. Fogarty's handed to Polhemus, the doors burst in and Uncle Isaac lunging in tumbled the garments on the floor. On these the captain laid the body of the rescued man, the slouch hat still clinging to his head.

While this was being done another procession was approaching the house. Tod and Parks were carrying Archie's unconscious form, the water dripping from his clothing. Tod had his hands under the boy's armpits and Parks carried his feet. Behind the three walked Jane, half supported by the doctor.

"Dead!" she moaned. "Oh, no--no--no, John; it cannot be! Not my Archie! my brave Archie!"

The captain heard the tramp of the men's feet on the board floor of the runway outside and rose to his feet. He had been kneeling beside the form of the rescued man. His face was knotted with the agony he had passed through, his voice still thick and hoarse from battling with the sea.

"What's that she says?" he cried, straining his ears to catch Jane's words. "What's that! Archie dead! No! 'Tain't so, is it, doctor?"

Doctor John, his arm still supporting Jane, shook his head gravely and pointed to his own forehead.

"It's all over, captain," he said in a broken voice. "Skull fractured."

"Hit with them logs! Archie! Oh, my God! And this man ain't much better off--he ain't hardly breathin'. See for yerself, doctor. Here, Tod, lay Archie on these coats. Move back that boat, men, to give 'em room, and push them stools out of the way. Oh, Miss Jane, maybe it ain't true, maybe he'll come round! I've seen 'em this way more'n a dozen times. Here, doctor let's get these wet clo'es off 'em." He dropped between the two limp, soggy bodies and began tearing open the shirt from the man's chest. Jane, who had thrown herself in a passion of grief on the water-soaked floor beside Archie, commenced wiping the dead boy's face with her handkerchief, smoothing the short wet curls from his forehead as she wept.

The man's shirt and collar loosened, Captain Holt pulled the slouch hat from his head, wrenched the wet shoes loose, wrapped the cold feet in the dry shawl, and began tucking the pile of coats closer about the man's shoulders that he might rest the easier. For a moment he looked intently at the pallid face smeared with ooze and grime, and limp body that the doctor was working over, and then stepped to where Tod now crouched beside his friend, the one he had loved all his life. The young surfman's strong body was shaking with the sobs he could no longer restrain.

"It's rough, Tod," said the captain, in a choking voice, which grew clearer as he talked on. "Almighty rough on ye and on all of us. You did what you could--ye risked yer life for him, and there ain't nobody kin do more. I wouldn't send ye out again, but there's work to do. Them two men of Cap'n Ambrose's is drowned, and they'll come ashore some'er's near the inlet, and you and Parks better hunt 'em up. They live up to Barnegat, ye know, and their folks'll be wantin' 'em." It was strange how calm he was. His sense of duty was now controlling him.

Tod had raised himself to his feet when the captain had begun to speak and stood with his wet sou'wester in his hand.

"Been like a brother to me," was all he said, as he brushed the tears from his eyes and went to join Parks.

The captain watched Tod's retreating figure for a moment, and bending again over Archie's corpse, stood gazing at the dead face, his hands folded across his girth--as one does when watching a body being slowly lowered into a grave.

"I loved ye, boy," Jane heard him say between her sobs. "I loved ye! You knowed it, boy. I hoped to tell ye so out loud so everybody could hear. Now they'll never know."

Straightening himself up, he walked firmly to the open door about which the people pressed, held back by the line of surfmen headed by Polhemus, and calmly surveyed the crowd. Close to the opening, trying to press her way in to Jane, his eyes fell on Lucy. Behind her stood Max Feilding.

"Friends," said the captain, in a low, restrained voice, every trace of his grief and excitement gone, "I've got to ask ye to git considerable way back and keep still. We got Doctor John here and Miss Jane, and there ain't nothin' ye kin do. When there is I'll call ye. Polhemus, you and Green see this order is obeyed."

Again he hesitated, then raising his eyes over the group nearest the door, he beckoned to Lucy, pushed her in ahead of him, caught the swinging doors in his hands, and shut them tight. This done, he again dropped on his knees beside the doctor and the now breathing man.

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