“Ye must swallow some more o’ this,” he said, “’Twill take the chill out o’ ye.”
The girl opened her lips obediently and swallowed a little of the spirits; but her crystal gaze did not waver from his face.
“Am I saved?” she asked, quietly.
“Aye, ye bes saved,” answered the skipper, more than ever confused by the astonishing clearness and music of her voice and the fearless simplicity of her question. He scrambled to his feet, holding to the stump of the topmast with his right arm (for the spar whipped and sprang to the impact of every sea upon the hull), and looked at his men on the edge of the cliff. He saw that they were shouting to him, but the wind was in their teeth and so not a word of their bellowing reached him. By signals and roarings down the wind he got the order to them to bend a heavy line on to the shore end of one of the light lines attached to his waist. He dragged the hawser in with some difficulty, made it fast to the cross-trees, and then rigged a kind of running boatswain’s chair from a section of the loose rigging. He made the end of one line fast just below the loop of the chair on the hawser. The second line was around his chest and the ends of both were in the hands of the men ashore. Without a word he cut the girl’s lashings, lifted her in his arms and took his seat. He waved his left arm and the lads on the cliff put their backs into the pull.
The passage was a terrific experience though the distance between the cross-trees and the top of the cliff was not great. Neither the girl nor the skipper spoke a word. He held her tight and she hid her face against his shoulder. Fifteen of the men, under the orders of Bill Brennen, held the shore-end of the hawser. When the mast swung toward the cliff they took up the slack, thus saving the two from being dashed against the face of the rock, by rushing backward. When the mast whipped to seaward they advanced to the edge of the cliff. Five others hauled on each of the lines whenever the hawser was nearly taut, and paid out and pulled in with the slackening and tightening of the larger rope. But even so, the sling in which the skipper and the girl hung was tossed about desperately, now dropped toward the boiling rocks, now twirled like a leaf in the gale, and next moment jerked aloft and flung almost over the straining hawser. But the skipper had the courage of ten and the strength and endurance of two. He steadied and fended with his left hand and held the girl firmly against him with his right. She clung to him and did not whimper or struggle. A group of men, unhampered by any duty with the ropes, crouched and waited on the very edge of the cliff. At last they reached out and down, clutched the skipper and his burden, and with a mighty roar dragged them to safety.
Black Dennis Nolan staggered to his feet, still clasping the girl in his arms. He reeled away to where a clump of stunted spruces made a shelter against the gale and lowered her to the ground, still swathed in blankets.