All was now easy. At a nod from Jim young Zeb passed down a second line, which was lowered along the first by a noose. One by one the whole crew—four men and a cabin-boy—were hauled up out of death, borne off to the vicarage, and so pass out of our story.
Their fate does not concern us, for this reason—men with a narrow horizon and no wings must accept all apparent disproportions between cause and effect. A railway collision has other results besides wrecking an ant-hill, but the wise ants do not pursue these in the Insurance Reports. So it only concerns us that the destruction of the schooner led in time to a lovers’ difference between Ruby and young Zeb—two young people of no eminence outside of these pages. And, as a matter of fact, her crew had less to do with this than her cargo.
She had been expressly built by Messrs. Taggs & Co., a London firm, in reality as a privateer (which explains her raking masts), but ostensibly for the Portugal trade; and was homeward bound from Lisbon to the Thames, with a cargo of red wine and chestnuts. At Falmouth, where she had run in for a couple of days, on account of a damaged rudder, the captain paid off his extra hands, foreseeing no difficulty in the voyage up Channel. She had not, however, left Falmouth harbour three hours before she met with a gale that started her steering-gear afresh. To put back in the teeth of such weather was hopeless; and the attempt to run before it ended as we know.
When Ruby looked up, after the crash, and saw her friends running along the headland to catch a glimpse of the wreck, her anger returned. She stood for twenty minutes at least, watching them; then, pulling her cloak closely round her, walked homewards at a snail’s pace. By the church gate she met the belated Methodists hurrying up, and passed a word or two of information that sent them panting on. A little beyond, at the point where the peninsula joins the mainland, she faced round to the wind again for a last glance. Three men were following her slowly down the ridge with a burden between them. It was the first of the rescued crew—a lifeless figure wrapped in oil-skins, with one arm hanging limply down, as if broken. Ruby halted, and gave time to come up.
“Hey, lads,” shouted Old Zeb, who walked first, with a hand round each of the figure’s sea-boots; “now that’s what I’d call a proper womanly masterpiece, to run home to Sheba an’ change her stockings in time for the randivoose.”
“I don’t understand,” said his prospective daughter-in-law, haughtily.
“O boundless depth! Rest the poor mortal down, mates, while I take breath to humour her. Why, my dear, you must know from my tellin’ that there hev a-been such a misfortunate goin’s on as a wreck, hereabouts.”
He paused to shake the rain out of his hat and whiskers. Ruby stole a look at the oil-skin. The sailor’s upturned face was of a sickly yellow, smeared with blood and crusted with salt. The same white crust filled the hollows of his closed eyes, and streaked his beard and hair. It turned her faint for the moment.