But one bright day of this gay summer of anticipated bridal, Luke Merlyn went with his father, taking the fishing-nets, and a dozen men beside sailed or rowed out from the moorings; and all that went returned, save Merlyn and his son,—returned alive, but rowing desperately, sails furled, rowing for life in the gale. Nearly all the women and children of the Bay were down on the beach at nightfall, watching for the coming of husband, son, and brother; and before dark all had arrived except Merlyn and his Luke.
The wind was blowing with terrific violence, and darkness fell on the deep like despair. But until the windows of heaven were opened, and the floods poured down, Clarice Briton and her father, and the wife and children of Merlyn, stood on the beach, or climbed the rocks, and waited and tried to watch.
There was little sleep among them all that night. With the first approach of day, Clarice, who had sat all night by the fire watching with her fears, was out again waiting till dawn should enable her to search the shore. She was not long alone. The fishermen gathered together, and when they saw the poor girl who had come before them, for her sake they comforted each other, as men dare,—and for her sake, more than their own, when they saw that there had come in to shore by night no token of disaster. Doubtless, they argued, Merlyn had put into the nearest port when the sudden storm arose. As the day advanced, they one after another got out their boats, and rowed down the bay, but did not take their nets.
Bondo Emmins went out with Old Briton, and Clarice heard him say, though he did not address her, that, if Luke Merlyn was alive, they would never come home without him. Now Bondo Emmins never loved Luke Merlyn, for Luke won every prize that Bondo coveted; and Bondo was not a hero to admire such superior skill. When Clarice heard his words, and saw that he was going out with her father, her heart stood still; it did not bless him; she turned away quickly, faint, cold, shivering. What he said had to her ears the sound of an assurance that this search was vain.
All day there was sad waiting, weary watching, around Diver’s Bay. And late in the afternoon but one or two of the boats that went out in search had returned.
Towards evening Clarice walked away to the Point, three miles off; thence she could watch the boats as they approached the Bay from the ocean. Once before, that day, under the scorching noontide sun, she had gone thither,—and now again, for she could not endure the sympathy of friends or the wondering watch of curious eyes. It was better than to stand and wait,—better than to face the grief of Merlyn’s wife and children,—better than to see the pity in her neighbors’ faces, or even than to hear the voice of her own mother.
The waves had freight for her that evening. When the tide came in, and her eyes were lifted, gazing afar, scanning the broad expanse of water with such searching, anxious vision, as, it seemed, nothing could escape, Luke Merlyn’s cap was dashed to her very feet, tossed from the grave.