“It seems puzzling, does it not?” Lessingham agreed. “I shouldn’t worry about the first, but this last little episode takes some explaining.”
“If anything further happens this evening, I think I shall go mad,” Philippa sighed.
“And something is going to happen,” Lessingham declared, rising to his feet. “Did you hear that?”
Above even the roar of the wind they heard the brazen report of a gun from almost underneath the window. The room was suddenly lightened by a single vivid flash.
“A mortar!” Lessingham exclaimed. “And that was a rocket, unless I’m mistaken.”
“The signal for the lifeboat!” Philippa announced. “I wonder if we can see anything.”
She hastened towards the window, but paused at the abrupt opening of the door. Nora burst in, followed more sedately by Helen.
“Mummy, there’s a wreck!” the former cried in excitement. “I heard something an hour ago, and I got up, and I’ve been sitting by the window, watching. I saw the lifeboat go out, and they’re signalling now for the other one.”
“It’s quite true, Philippa,” Helen declared. “We’re going to try and fight our way down to the beach.”
“I’ll go, too,” Lessingham decided. “Perhaps I may be of use.”
“We’ll all go,” Philippa agreed. “Wait while I get my things on. What is it, Mills?” she added, as the door opened and the latter presented himself.
“There is a trawler on the rocks just off the breakwater, your ladyship,” he announced. “They have just sent up from the beach to know if we can take some of the crew in. They are landing them as well as they can on the line.”
“Of course we can,” was the prompt reply. “Tell them to send as many as they want to. We will find room for them, somehow. I’ll go upstairs and see about the fires. You’ll all come back?” she added, turning around.
“We will all come back,” Lessingham promised.
They fought their way down to the beach. At first the storm completely deafened all sound. The lanterns, waved here and there by unseen hands, seemed part of some ghostly tableau, of which the only background was the raging of the storm. Then suddenly, with a startling hiss, another rocket clove its way through the darkness. They had an instantaneous but brilliant view of all that was happening,—saw the trawler lying on its side, apparently only a few yards from the shore, saw the line stretched to the beach, on which, even at that moment, a man was being drawn ashore, licked by the spray, his strained face and wind-tossed hair clearly visible. Then all was darkness again more complete than ever. They struggled down on to the shingle, where the little cluster of fishermen were hard at work with the line. Almost the first person they ran across was Jimmy Dumble. He was standing on the edge of the breakwater with a great lantern in his hand, superintending the line, and, as they drew near, Lessingham, who was a little in advance, could hear his voice above the storm. He was shouting towards the wreck, his hand to his mouth.