The skipper and his four companions returned to the cliff above the wreck, the skipper striding ahead, silent, deep in a mental and spiritual unrest that was thought without reflection. The others followed, whispering among themselves but afraid to question their leader. The wind had fallen to a breeze by the time they reached the point of the cliff overlooking the slanted deck of the stranded ship. Also, the seas had lost much of their height and violence, and the tide was ebbing. The group on the cliff’s edge eyed the skipper inquiringly, furtively, as he joined them. He strode through them and looked down at the wreck. His face lightened in a flash and his dark eyes gleamed.
“What did I tell ye!” he cried. “Now she lays steady as a house, all ready to be gutted like a fish. Pass a couple o’ lines this way, men. Take in the slack o’ the hawser an’ make her fast to yonder nub o’ rock. Nick Leary, follow after me wid that block an’ pulley. Bill, rig yer winch a couple o’ yards this way an’ stake her down. Keep ten men wid ye—an’ the rest o’ ye can follow me. But not too close, mind ye! Fetch yer axes along, an’ every man o’ ye a line.”
Three minutes later, the skipper was sliding down the foremast, with Nick Leary close above him, another man already on the cross-trees and yet another in mid-air on the hawser. The skipper reached the slanted deck and slewed down into the starboard scuppers, snatched hold of a splintered fragment of the bulwarks in time to save himself from pitching overboard, steadied himself for a moment and then crawled aft. Leary, profiting by the skipper’s experience in the scuppers, made a line fast to the butt of the foremast, clawed his way up the slant of the deck to port, scrambled aft until he was fairly in line with the stump of the mainmast, and then let himself slide until checked in his course by that battered section of spar. Taking a turn around it with his line, he again clawed to port, and scrambled aft again. His second slide to starboard brought him to the splintered companionway of the main cabin. Here he removed the end of the rope from his waist and made it fast, thus rigging a life-line from the butt of the foremast aft to the cabin for the use of those to follow. It had been a swift and considerate piece of work. The men on the cliff cheered. Nick waved his hand to the cliff, shouted a caution to the man at that moment descending the foremast, and then swung himself down into four feet of water and the outer cabin.
“Where be ye, skipper?” he bawled.
“This way, Nick. Fair aft,” replied the skipper. “Keep to port or ye’ll have to swim. I bes in the captain’s berth; an’ here bes his dispatch box, high an’ dry in his bunk.”
Nick made his way aft, through the length of the outer cabin as quickly as he could, with the water to his chin as he stooped forward in his efforts toward speed, entered an inner and smaller cabin by a narrow door and finally swam into the captain’s own state-room. He grasped the edge of the berth in which the skipper crouched.