“Oh, Nance! Nance! God keep you! God keep you! God keep you! Dear one, God keep you! God keep you! God keep you, and bring you safe to land!”
He was numb with kneeling. If one had come behind him and cut off his feet above the ankles, he would have felt no pain. He felt no bodily sensation whatever. His body was there on the rock, but his heart was out upon the black waters alongside Nance, struggling with her through the belching coils, nerving her through the treacherous swirls. And his soul—all that was most really and truly him—was agonizing in prayer for her before the God to whom he had prayed at his mother’s knee, and whom she had taught him to look to as a friend and helper in all times of need.
He did not even stop—as he well might have done—to think that the friend sought only in time of need might have reasonable ground for complaint of neglect at other times.
He thought of nothing but that Nance was out there battling with the black waters—that he could not lift a finger to help her—that all he could do was to pray for her safety with all his heart and soul.
Then, after an age of this numb agony of waiting, a tiny bead of light flickered on the outer darkness, as though Hope with a golden pin-point had pricked the black curtain of despair, and let a gleam of her glory peep through. It swung to and fro, and he fell forward with his face in his ice-cold hands and sobbed, “Thank God! Thank God! She is safe! She is safe!”
When he tried to get up, his legs gave way under him, and he had to sit and wait till they recovered. And when at last he got under way along the ridge, he stumbled like a drunken man.
He tangled his feet in the blanket and fell in a heap. He wondered dimly where the cloak was—remembered Nance had worn it till she took to the sea—and stumbled off through the dark again to find it. Nance had worn it. To him it was sacred.
When he got back with it, he wrapped it round him and crept into his shelter and slept like a dog.
HOW THE OTHERS CAME TO MAKE AN END
He woke next morning with a start. The sun was high, by the shadow of his doorway; and by that same token the tide would be at half-ebb, if not lower, and the gates of his fortress at his enemy’s mercy.
He picked up his gun, listened anxiously for sound of him, and then crept cautiously out, with a quick glance along each slope.
Nothing!—nothing but the cheerful sun and the cloudless sky, and the empty blue plain of the sea, and the birds circling and diving and squabbling as usual—and Nance’s little parcel lying where she had dropped it. He had had other things to think about last night.
The composure of the birds reassured him somewhat. Still, they might have landed on the other side of the rock and be lying in wait for him.