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Very old," assented the girl, sadly ; “ Too old to be hard and cruel, dear father. Well, I am going; I shall return presently.”
· Rachel," he called after her, “if you meet your husband bring him back here with you”—but the tender message never reached her ears, for she was already out in the wild night.
It was difficult to keep her footing; the wind blew her hat from her head, whirling her garments round her so that they impeded her progress as she threaded the path leading from the end of the village over the cliff-side to Bracelet. Yonder the Swansea lights burned clear; above in cloud-patched sky a few stars and the moon were visible; below in the boiling sea, whipped into fury by the gale, wave chased wave in a white passion. Rachel had only one thought, to look over to the Mumbles Head from Bracelet in the direction whence had gone the rowing boat wherein her husband only held the oars. She gained the end of the path and, it being low water, stepped down upon the sand of Bracelet Bay. Out near the Mumbles Head she thought she discerned the brig ; yonder, too, breasting the violence of wind and wave, her eyes, sharpened by anxiety, traced the little boat; whilst in her ears the Mixen-bell rang and rang, as the sea swept over the buoy to which it is attached, tinkling its musical warning of the dangerous mixen sands upon which many a goodly vessel has foundered ere now. There were other people down here in the bay, a handful—a few sailors and
To this woman Rachel spoke.
“ What boat is that ?" pointing to the struggling speck. She would not admit yet to herself that it could be her husband's.
"She be making for the Princess, Miss," replied the girl, respectfully and tenderly. Rachel saw then that it was Ryly's wife who answered.
“ Is your husband here ? ” she asked. She stood unbonneted in the bitter wind, very calm and pale. All those who turned and looked upon her face, thought it showed like the face of a wraith tossed suddenly amongst them.
Ryly's wife touched her husband's arm. “It be Mrs. Jack Deane," she whispered. “Poor thing, poor thing !"
The young girl who had been married that morning addressed herself to the dredger calmly
“Ryly,” she said, “ will that boat reach the brig ?”
It was a downright question. What could he do? How could he tell her the truth ? How could he tell her a falsehood ? Seeing how she repressed her emotion, how brave she was, how steadily she looked him in the face, he could utter nothing but the truth.
“ It's a gale such as we havn't had for many a winter,” he replied. “ 'Twill be a miracle, miss, if she weathers it.”
"You mean no boat will live in such a sea ?" “ Ma'am, I'm afeared she'll not do it,” and tears filled his eyes. "O, my God !” cried Rachel, utterly overcome, “What shall I do?"
Ay, what could they do, any of them; how make way in a storm like this to save one who had no claim even upon their sympathy; how risk their lives, precious to mother and wife and child, co-equal with this one, without chance of safety or reward.
Rachel raised her head. “Can you do nothing ?” she said vehemently. “I will give you anything you like to ask ”—but even as she spoke, she contradicted the assertion in the same breath: “No," tightening her hands in an agony. “I cannot ask you to face such peril for me-I have nothing to offer you.” “It's not the money, Miss," respectfully spoke Ryly.
“ 'Tis, ye see, that we couldn't get the Mumble boat round the Head o' a night like this, and even if we did, maybe afore we seated a crew, she'd go to pieces.”
He meant the boat out there, indicating it with his thumb as he spoke. At the close of his sentence, a figure none had noticed particularly, scrambled down from the grassy hill side on to the pebbles, and thence on to the sand.
* Fifty pounds !” said the new-comer. “Fifty pounds !-on my solemn word and honour, to the crew that will attempt to save that boat."
It fell with a strange sound upon the ears of those who heard it, the reward offered by this trembling voice. Immediately every one present recognised the miser, Petworth Deane, but there was no one present who trusted his word, or believed in his honour.
“Fifty pounds!" repeated Petworth, with all the energy he could muster. To the depths of his heart he had been, at last, profoundly touched, having followed his daughter, unseen, to this place, and being the witness to her misery. Rachel drew close to him ; the woman Ryly gazed at both, her eyes charged with sympathy and pity.
“Fifty pounds !” shouted Petworth, through the awful raging of the storm.
“Come, that's handsome, that is," muttered one of the men,
“He don't mean it, not he,” rejoined another; “ 'Twill be a regular case of dare death, and the devil to pay."
“ Indeed, I am sure he means it,” said Rachel, passing her hand within her father's arm. " And it will soon be too late to offer aid.”
Her quiet words carried more weight than would have done tears or entreaties. Nevertheless, no one moved.
Then, gently putting her hand aside, Petworth Deane stepped forward. As by one touch of tenderness, Lady Macbeth redeemed her womanhood, so he redeemed his cruelty by one act of heroism effected in the last hour of his life.
“ You are a set of cowards," he ejaculated, the words rapidly and distincty uttered, " a set of cowards. You are lusty, strong men, in the prime of life. You are acquainted with the sea, you are habituated to peril, and here you stand watching a boat go down, without one attempt to save her, and that in face of this poor woman. Shame on you! Old as I am, and feeble as my hand is, I will show you that I can hold an oar yet, and that even in a gale like this I will front the danger, rather than look upon misery here," waving his hand towards his daughter, " and the unaided peril there," pointing to the boat, which the waves threatened every second to engulf. There was something almost fine in his face, and voice and gesture, as he stood white-headed in their midst, crushing the sand beneath his passionate tread.
“ This is no time for wasting words," he went on; “I have offered you a reward. I repeat it. Who will endeavour to save that boat with me?"
The example was magnetic. Ryly answered immediately, “I will." His wife wreathed her fingers tightly round his arm.
“ But not for the money,” he added. I ain't one to touch the money, as you know, Mr. Deane, but I'll go.”
" And I!"_" And I!" echoed the other two, none now holding back. Sarah Ryly clung desperately to her husband.
" We've not been married o'er a week," she moaned.
“ Can I see the old 'un go, and stay behind myself, to the Mumble boat, lads ?" turning to his companions who felt he, by his great strength and his reputed courage, was master of the occasion.
“ We've not a breath to waste." Then, to his wife, “Ye'll go home along wi' Mrs. Deane, dear. O we'll be bound to come back," and he kissed her pallid face, she now offering no resistance, but standing beside him in passive silence. To the old man he said in a low voice, audible to his ear only, “Sir, we are men enough wi'out ye.”
“I go!” said Mr. Deane, obstinate to the last, and he too turned and kissed his daughter; after which brief wordless parting they were over the cliff-side and lost to sight in a twinkling.
Hurrying to the beach, the old man managing wonderfully to keep pace, they loosed the Mumble boat from her moorings, and in very few moments were riding the top of the wave. All the conversation I have recorded as passing between these few human beings, occupied but several minutes.
The two women left standing together on the sand at Bracelet Bay, both women, both wives, remained mute some time, neither addressing the other. In more fashionable parlance, both were brides. The marriage symbol had circled the finger of the one for a week, of the other for a day. Both by to-morrow's dawn would, in all probability be widowed. Could any two women have had more in common to unite them? To both, that stormy water carried all that was nearest and dearest in the world ; between anxiety for a husband and a father, Rachel Deane might fairly have given way. But she did not; she neither wept nor fainted. She noted presently that Mrs. Ryly shivered, and was ashen pale, and she took off her own shawl and attempted to lay it across the poor woman's shoulders. “I do not want it," said Mrs. Ryly, huskily, without removing her eyes from the sea. She offered no thanks; she could not forgive this lady who was the cause of her trouble. Rachel, feeling that silence would be the safest bond between them, spoke not again, but stood utterly still, gazing out intently upon the water. But very soon there came a time when the dredger's wife forgot her own anxiety in pity for her sweet-tongued companion. The waves made a clean breach over the boat, engulfing her for a brief space in the maw of the sea, and when she re-appeared, floating on the top of the wave, she was, they knew, bottom upwards.
Sarah Ryly burst into tears. She felt it was all over with the one who had rowed for his life; both felt it was all over now. The stoutest swimmer had no chance in such a sea.
• The Lord have mercy on ye, dear heart !" sobbed the compassionate fish-girl, stretching forth her red, rough hand. Rachel bowed her head over it, pressing it to her lips. Even now her noble thought for others dominated.
“ Let us run to the beach," she said, for her part in the sorrow was not yet over. “Perhaps we may be in time to stop the other boat from starting."
The other boat! The three simple words recalled to Ryly's wife the imminent danger that threatened her husband. The two poor women looked into each other's eyes.
"Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” wrote unhappy Pope. “ Yes, it may not be too late," echoed Sarah, and forthwith they made haste to reach the beach from which the two dear to them had, several minutes ago, set forth; Petworth Deane's aged hand grasping the tiller.
The woman Ryly turning her back upon the water, said to Rachel, fiercely
“ Mrs. Deane, my lad'll come back; he'll be bound to come back. He said so hisself, `He went out only to save your husband.'”
“My poor girl," answered the girl-widow, shivering, "I pray it may be so."
"And if he don't,” with eyes like a panther's, “ 'twill be all along o* you, Mrs. Deane."
“Hush !" cried Rachel, “ have I not enough to bear ? I have a father to lose !"
“Ay, to be sure," said Mrs. Ryly, awed by the sorrow that was lying " too deep for tears."
“Shall we go to the house and get a flask of brandy?” said Rachel, presently, with that clear practical wisdom which is equal to any emergency, is innate in some breasts, never to be taught even by sad experience, and which looks cold, perhaps, but is not so. “ You will not leave me to go alone, Sarah ?"-recognising the truth that the best kindness she could show her companion would be to give her some nominal office to execute for those who were out upon the main—"They will need it, poor fellows, by and bye."
So they went together, quickly, across the beach to the village and entered the little house formerly occupied by Petworth Deane, from the windows of which you look out upon the bay, seeing the undulating chain of beautiful Welsh hills, the quiet landscape lightened by flames from the works and the broken Swansea lights. And then young Mrs. Deane's strength utterly gave way, and she lay for hours in a state of insensibility from which it seemed nothing would rouse her any more. In great terror, with every tender care, the dredger's wife tended her throughout the night; she could not leave her so, to the mercy of one silly child who was all the servant the establishment boasted; and when consciousness returned with dawn and they could travel back to the beach they learned all the bitter truth—how the Mumble boat had been stove on the Mixen sands, how one only had come back to tell the tale, that one being neither Thomas Ryly nor Petworth Deane.
Mr. Jarvis, the friend and lawyer of the Deane family, Mrs. Boome and Jane Tyler, had met together by Rachel's request for the reading of the will. Rachel, in deep mourning, received them in the room which was the common parlour, her sweet gentle face worn into a far older expression than was customary to it, by reason of the great calamity she had recently suffered. Mrs. Boome glanced towards the whist-table whereon the will was laid, and tears rose to her eyes.
“ Ah, poor fellow,” she said, drawing out a handkerchief from the pocket of a bag she carried in her hand, “he was uncommonly fond of a rubber."
“Yes, we had many a nice game," murmured Miss Tyler, feeling it incumbent on her to make some remark relative to the deceased.
“He had his faults, I don't mean to deny that," charged Mrs. Boome, “ but I've known men who weren't any better," with a dash of irony in her voice, glancing triumphantly at Jarvis.
“One does not willingly dwell on the failings of a man who is gone