When Sim Udy and Elias Sweetland dashed in from the shore and swam to the rescue, they found the pair clinging to the line, and at a standstill. And when the four were helped through the breakers to firm earth, Zeb tottered two steps forward and dropped in a swoon, burying his face in the sand.
“He’s not as strong as I,” muttered the stranger, staring at Parson Babbage in a dazed, uncertain fashion, and uttering the words as if they had no connection with his thoughts. “I’m afraid—sir—I’ve broken—his heart.”
And with that he, too, fainted, into the Parson’s arms.
“Better carry the both up to Sheba,” said Farmer Tresidder.
Ruby lay still abed when Mary Jane, who had been moving about the kitchen, sleepy-eyed, getting ready the breakfast, dashed up-stairs with the news that two dead men had been taken off the wreck and were even now being brought into the yard.
“You coarse girl,” she exclaimed, “to frighten me with such horrors!”
“Oh, very well,” answered Mary Jane, who was in a rebellious mood, “then I’m goin’ down to peep; for there’s a kind o’ what-I-can’t-tell-’ee about dead men that’s very enticin’, tho’ it do make you feel all-overish.”
By and by she came back panting, to find Ruby already dressed.
“Aw, Miss Ruby, dreadful news I ha’ to tell, tho’ joyous in a way. Would ‘ee mind catchin’ hold o’ the bed-post to give yoursel’ fortitude? Now let me cast about how to break it softly. First, then, you must know he’s not dead at all—”
“Who is not?”
“Your allotted husband, miss—Mister Zeb.”
“Why, who in the world said he was?”
“But they took en up for dead, miss—for he’d a-swum out to the wreck, an’ then he’d a-swum back with a man ‘pon his back—an’ touchin’ shore, he fell downward in a swound, marvellous like to death for all to behold. So they brought en up here, ‘long wi’ the chap he’d a-saved, an’ dressed en i’ the spare room blankets, an’ gave en clane sperrits to drink, an’ lo! he came to; an’ in a minnit, lo! agen he went off; an’—”
Ruby, by this time, was half-way down the stairs. Running to the kitchen door she flung it open, calling “Zeb! Zeb!”
But Young Zeb had fainted for the third time, and while others of the group merely lifted their heads at her entrance, the old crowder strode towards her with some amount of sternness on his face.
“Kape off my son!” he shouted. “Kape off my son Zebedee, and go up-stairs agen to your prayers; for this be all your work, in a way—you gay good-for-nuthin’!”
“Indeed, Mr. Minards,” retorted Ruby, firing up under this extravagant charge and bridling, “pray remember whose roof you’re under, with your low language.”
“Begad,” interposed a strange voice, “but that’s the spirit for me, and the mouth to utter it!”
Ruby, turning, met a pair of luminous eyes gazing on her with bold admiration. The eyes were set in a cadaverous, but handsome, face; and the face belonged to the stranger, who had recovered of his swoon, and was now stretched on the settle beside the fire.