If George had but listened! It was so easy, after all. The sand-bank still slid past them, but less rapidly. They were close to it now, and had only to lie still and be drifted against the leaning stanchions of the wreck. Taffy flung an arm about one and checked his way quietly, as a man brings a boat alongside a quay. He hoisted Joey first upon the stanchion, then up the tilted deck to the gap of the main hatchway. Within this, with their feet on the steps and their chests leaning on the side panel of the companion, they rested and took breath.
The child burst into tears.
Taffy dragged off his own coat and wrapped him in it. The small body crept close, sobbing, against his side.
Across, on the shore, voices were calling, blue eyes moving. A pair of yellow lights came towards these, travelling swiftly upon the hillside. Taffy guessed what they were.
The yellow lights moved more slowly. They joined the blue ones, and halted. Taffy listened. But the voices were still now; he heard nothing but the hiss of the black water, across which those two lamps sought and questioned him like eyes.
“God help her!”
He bowed his face on his arms. A little while, and the sands would be covered, the boats would put off; a little while. . . . Crouching from those eyes he prayed God to lengthen it.
She was sitting there rigid, cold as a statue, when the rescuers brought them ashore and helped them up the slope. A small crowd surrounded the carriage. In the rays of their moving lanterns her face altered nothing to all their furtive glances of sympathy opposing the same white mask. Some one said, “There’s only two, then!” Another, with a nudge and a nod at the carriage, told him to hold his peace. She heard. Her lips hardened.
Lizzie Pezzack had rushed down to the shore to meet the boat. She was bringing her child along with a fond, wild babble of tender names and sobs and cries of thankfulness. In pauses, choked and overcome, she caught him to her, felt his limbs, pressed his wet face against her neck and bosom. Taffy, supported by strong arms and hurried in her wake, had a hideous sense of being paraded in her triumph. The men around him who had raised a faint cheer sank their voices as they neared the carriage; but the woman went forward, jubilant and ruthless, flaunting her joy as it were a flag blown in her eyes and blindfolding them to the grief she insulted.
It was Honoria’s voice, cold, incisive, not to be disobeyed. He had prayed in vain. The procession halted; Lizzie checked her babble and stood staring, with an arm about Joey’s neck.
“Let me see the child.”
Lizzie stared, broke into a silly, triumphant laugh, and thrust the child forward against the carriage step. The poor waif, drenched, dazed, tottering without his crutch, caught at the plated handle for support. Honoria gazed down on him with eyes which took slow and pitiless account of the deformed little body, the shrunken, puny limbs.