It seemed, as she stood there shivering, covering her eyes, an age before the crash came, and the cry of those human souls in their extremity.
When at length she took her hands from her face the others were twenty yards away, and running fast.
THE SECOND SHIP.
Fate, which had freakishly hurled a ship’s crew out of the void upon this particular bit of coast, as freakishly preserved them.
The very excess of its fury worked this wonder. For the craft came in on a tall billow that flung her, as a sling might, clean against the cliff’s face, crumpling the bowsprit like paper, sending the foremast over with a crash, and driving a jagged tooth of rock five feet into her ribs beside the breastbone. So, for a moment it left her, securely gripped and bumping her stern-post on the ledge beneath. As the next sea deluged her, and the next, the folk above saw her crew fight their way forward up the slippery deck, under sheets of foam. With the fifth or six wave her mizen-mast went; she split open amidships, pouring out her cargo. The stern slipped off the ledge and plunged twenty fathoms down out of sight. And now the fore-part alone remained—a piece of deck, the stump of the foremast, and five men clinging in a tangle of cordage, struggling up and toppling back as each successive sea soused over them.
Three men had detached themselves from the group above the cliff, and were sidling down its face cautiously, for the hurricane now flattened them back against the rock, now tried to wrench them from it; and all the way it was a tough battle for breath. The foremost was Jim Lewarne, Farmer Tresidder’s hind, with a coil of the farmer’s rope slung round him. Young Zeb followed, and Elias Sweetland, both similarly laden.
Less than half-way down the rock plunged abruptly, cutting off farther descent.
Jim Lewarne, in a cloud of foam, stood up, slipped the coil over his head, and unwound it, glancing to right and left. Now Jim amid ordinary events was an acknowledged fool, and had a wife to remind him of it; but perch him out of female criticism, on a dizzy foothold such as this, and set him a desperate job, and you clarified his wits at once. This eccentricity was so notorious that the two men above halted in silence, and waited.
Jim glanced to right and left, spied a small pinnacle of rock about three yards away, fit for his purpose, sidled towards it, and, grasping, made sure that it was firm. Next, reeving one end of the rope into a running noose, he flung it over the pinnacle, and with a tug had it taut. This done, he tilted his body out, his toes on the ledge, his weight on the rope, and his body inclined forward over the sea at an angle of some twenty degrees from the cliff.
Having by this device found the position of the wreck, and judging that his single rope would reach, he swung back, gained hold of the cliff with his left hand, and with his right caught and flung the leaded end far out. It fell true as a bullet, across the wreck. As it dropped, a sea almost swept it clear; but the lead hitched in a tangle of cordage by the port cathead; within twenty seconds the rope was caught and made fast below.