Mr. Christie and I stood near them, and he spoke from time to time a word of encouragement and hope to the anxious women beside him. As the light increased the wind dropped somewhat, and the gale seemed to have spent its violence. We were thankful to notice, that although the sea was still very rough, and would be so for hours, the wind was gradually subsiding; instead of howling and shrieking, as it had done the whole night long, it was dying away with gentle moans, like a child weary with passion who is crying himself to sleep. But still there was no sign of the boats.
The women on the shore were wet through, and Mr. Christie tried to persuade them to go home. Their men would want good fires and hot tea on their return, he told them, and they ought to make ready for them. I was glad to notice that one by one they followed his advice, and turned to climb the hill towards their cottages. Then we turned also, and went back to my lodging. We crept into the room, and found old Betty asleep in her chair, and Polly holding the little hand in hers as the child slept.
‘Have the boats come, sir?’ she said as we went in.
‘Not yet, Polly; but please God they will come soon.’
We sat down beside her for a little time, but we presently heard a shout from the shore.
‘Thank God,’ said Polly, ‘he’s come!’
The child seemed in some strange way to have heard that shout, and to have understood its meaning, for he opened his eyes and said, ’Come, daddy, come to little John.’
We hurried down to the shore, where a large crowd had already collected. The whole of Runswick Bay seemed to have gathered together in that short space of time. We could distinctly see the boats far out at sea, but wind and tide were with them, and they, were coming rapidly nearer. What a night they must have had, and what a welcome they would receive from the watchers on the shore!
‘How many boats went out last night, Bob?’ said one man as they drew nearer.
‘There was eight, Jem,’ he said—’the Jane Ann one, Lady Hilda two, the Susan three, the Mary Ann four, Princess Alice five, the Lightning six, the Eliza seven, the Alert eight.’
‘Are you sure, Bob?’
‘Quite sure, I saw them start.’
‘Well, there’s one missing, Jem,’ he said; ’catch hold of this glass, and just you count.’
‘One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.’
There was one missing, and I felt that I knew which it was before they came in sight.
It was the Mary Ann.
ASK WHAT YE WILL
We had run down the hill as quickly as we possibly could, but we were in no haste to return. We waited until the boats were drawn in, and the worn-out fishermen had come on shore. They knew nothing of the Mary Ann; they had lost sight of her soon after the beginning of the gale. They told us they had had an awful night, and had thought they would never reach home in safety.