“It’s not a man, sir, is it?” observed Robertson after a minute’s pause.
“I cannot make it out,” replied Forster; “but I rather think that it is an animal—something living, most assuredly.”
In another minute or two the point was decided; they distinguished a large dog bearing something white in its mouth, and making for the shore where they were standing. Calling to the poor beast to cheer him, for he evidently was much exhausted, and approached but slowly, they soon had the satisfaction of seeing him pass through the surf, which, even at this time, was not heavy in the cove, and, with the water pouring from his shaggy coat, stagger towards them, bearing in his mouth his burden, which he laid down at Forster’s feet, and then shook off the accumulation of moisture from his skin. Forster took up the object of the animal’s solicitude—it was the body of an infant, apparently a few months old.
“Poor thing!” cried Forster, mournfully.
“It’s quite dead, sir,” observed the fisherman.
“I am afraid so,” replied Forster, “but it cannot have been so long; the dog evidently bore it up clear of the water until it came into the surf. Who knows but we might restore it?”
“If anything will restore it, sir, it will be the warmth of a woman’s breast, to which it hitherto hath clung. Jane shall take it in her bed, between her and the little ones;” and the fisherman entered the hut with the child, which was undressed, and received by his wife with all the sympathy which maternal feelings create, even towards the offspring of others. To the delight of Forster, in a quarter of an hour Robertson came out of the cottage with the intelligence that the child had moved and cried a little, and that there was every chance of its recovery.
“It’s a beautiful little girl, sir, Jane says; and if it lives, she will halve her milk between it and our little Tommy.”
Forster remained another half-hour, until he had ascertained that the child had taken the breast and had fallen asleep. Congratulating himself at having been the means of saving even one little life out of the many which, in all probability, had been swallowed up, he called to the dog, who had remained passive by the fire, and rose up to return home; but the dog retreated to the door of the cottage into which he had seen the infant carried, and all attempts to coax him away were fruitless.
Forster summoned Robertson, to whom he gave some further directions, and then returned to his home, where, on his arrival, his old housekeeper, who had never been awakened from her sound nap until roused by his knocking at the door, scolded him not a little for being out in such tempestuous weather, and a great deal more for having obliged her to sit up and watch all night until his return.