“Iss, a dozen or more. I saw ’em ’pon the road, a minute back, like emmets runnin’.”
“‘Twas very nice feelin’, I must own—very nice indeed—of Gauger Hocken to warn the church-folk first; and him a man of no faith, as you may say. Hey? What’s that? Dost see her, Zeb?”
For Zeb, with his right hand pressing down his cap, now suddenly flung his left out in the direction of Bradden Point. Men and women craned forward.
Below the distant promontory, a darker speck had started out of the medley of grey tones. In a moment it had doubled its size—had become a blur—then a shape. And at length, out of the leaden wrack, there emerged a small schooner, with tall, raking masts, flying straight towards them.
“Dear God!” muttered some one, while Ruby dug her finger-tips into Zeb’s arm.
The schooner raced under bare poles, though a strip or two of canvas streamed out from her fore-yards. Yet she came with a rush like a greyhound’s, heeling over the whitened water, close under the cliffs, and closer with every instant. A man, standing on any one of the points she cleared so narrowly, might have tossed a pebble on to her deck.
“Hey, friends, but she’ll not weather Gaffer’s Rock. By crum! if she does, they may drive her in ’pon the beach, yet!”
“What’s the use, i’ this sea? Besides, her steerin’ gear’s broke,” answered Zeb, without moving his eyes.
This Gaffer’s Rock was the extreme point of the opposite arm of the cove—a sharp tooth rising ten feet or more above high-water mark. As the little schooner came tearing abreast of it, a huge sea caught her broadside, and lifted as if to fling her high and dry. The men and women on the headland held their breath while she hung on its apex. Then she toppled and plunged across the mouth of the cove, quivering. She must have shaved the point by a foot.
“The Raney! the Raney!” shouted young Zeb, shaking off Ruby’s clutch. “The Raney, or else—”
He did not finish his sentence, for the stress of the flying seconds choked down his words. Two possibilities they held, and each big with doom. Either the schooner must dash upon the Raney—a reef, barely covered at high water, barring entrance to the cove—or avoiding this, must be shattered on the black wall of rock under their very feet. The end of the little vessel was written—all but one word: and that must be added within a short half-minute.
Ruby saw this: it was plain for a child to read. She saw the curded tide, now at half-flood, boiling around the Raney; she saw the little craft swoop down on it, half buried in the seas through which she was being impelled; she saw distinctly one form, and one only, on the deck beside the helm—a form that flung up its hands as it shot by the smooth edge of the reef, a hand’s-breadth off destruction. The hands were still lifted as it passed under the ledge where she stood.