“Send the master over next, you lubbers, or we’ll cut the line. Do you hear?”
There was no reply or, if there was, it was drowned in the wind. Lessingham gripped the fisherman by the arm.
“Whom do you mean by ’master’?” he demanded. Dumble scarcely glanced at his interlocutor.
“Why, Sir Henry Cranston, to be sure,” was the agitated answer. “These lubbers of sea hands are all coming off first, and the line won’t stand for more than another one or two,” he added, dropping his voice.
Then the thrill of those few minutes’ excitement unrolled itself into a great drama before Lessingham’s eyes. Sir Henry was on that ship as near as any man might wish to be to death.
“’Ere’s the next,” Jimmy muttered, as they turned the windlass vigorously. “Gosh, ’e’s a heavy one, too!”
Then came a cry which sounded like a moan and above it the shrill fearful yell of a man who feels himself dropping out of the world’s hearing. Lessingham raised the lantern which stood on the beach by Jimmy’s side. The line had broken. The body of its suspended traveller had disappeared! And just then, strangely enough, for the first time for over an hour, the heavens opened in one great sheet of lightning, and they could see the figure of one man left on the ship, clinging desperately to the rigging.
“Tie the line around me,” Jimmy shouted. “Let her go. Get the other end on the windlass.”
They paid out the rope through their hands. Jimmy kicked off his boots and plunged into the cauldron. He swam barely a dozen strokes before he was caught on the top of an incoming wave, tossed about like a cork and flung back upon the beach, where he lay groaning. There was a little murmur amongst the fisherman, who rushed to lean over him.
“Swimming ain’t no more use than trying to walk on the water,” one of them declared.
Lessingham raised the lantern which he was carrying, and flashed it around.
“Where are the young ladies?” he asked.
“Gone up to the house with two as we’ve just taken off the wreck,” some one informed him.
Lessingham stooped down. Willing hands helped him unfasten the cord from Jimmy’s waist. He tore off his own coat and waistcoat and boots. Some helped, other sought to dissuade him, as he secured the line around his own waist.
“We’ve sent for more rockets,” one man shouted in his ear. “The man will be back in half an hour.”
Lessingham pushed them on one side. He stood on the edge of the beach and, borrowing a lantern, watched for his opportunity. Then suddenly he vanished. They looked after him. They could see nothing but the rope slipping past their feet, inch by inch. Sometimes it was stationary, sometimes it was drawn taut. The first great wave that came flung a yard or so of slack amongst them. Then, after the roar of its breaking had died away, they saw the rope suddenly tighten, and pass rapidly out, and the excitement began to thicken.