“Men!” repeated the minister in horror. “Men! Great God! and are we to stand by here and see them die without lifting a hand? Why, it’s barbarous! It’s—”
Winslow seized his arm and pointed.
“Look!” he shouted. “Look at them! How much good would our liftin’ hands do against them?”
Ellery looked. The undertow, that second, was sucking the beach dry, sucking with such force that gravel and small stones pattered down the slope in showers. And behind it a wave, its ragged top raveled by the wind into white streamers, was piling up, up, up, sheer and green and mighty, curling over now and descending with a hammer blow that shook the land beneath their feet. And back of it reared another, and another, and another, an eighth of a mile of whirling, surging, terrific breakers, with a yelling hurricane whipping them on.
It was soon over, as Gaius had said it would be. A mighty leap of spray, a section of hull broken off and tossed into view for an instant, then two of the masts went down. The other followed almost at once. Then the watchers, most of them, went back to the village, saying little or nothing and dispersing silently to their homes.
During the next fortnight John Ellery conducted six funeral services, brief prayers beside the graves of unknown men from that wreck. The bodies, as they were washed ashore, were put into plain coffins paid for by the board of selectmen, and buried in the corner of the Regular cemetery beside other waifs thrown up by the sea in other years. It was a sad experience for him, but it was an experience and tended to make him forget his own sorrow just a little. Or, if not to forget, at least to think of and sympathize more keenly with the sorrows of others. Somewhere, in England or Ireland or scattered over the wide world, there were women and children waiting for these men, waiting anxiously for news of their safe arrival in port, praying for them. When he mentioned this thought to the townspeople they nodded philosophically and said yes, they “presumed likely.” As Captain Zeb put it, “Most sailors are fools enough to get married, prob’ly this lot wa’n’t any exception.” It was no new thought to him or to any other dweller in that region. It was almost a fixed certainty that, if you went to sea long enough, you were bound to be wrecked sometime or other. The chances were that, with ordinary luck and good management, you would escape with your life. Luck, good or bad, was the risk of the trade; good management was expected, as a matter of course.
Mr. Pepper made no more calls at the parsonage, and when the minister met him, at church or elsewhere, seemed anxious to avoid an interview.
“Well, Abishai,” asked Ellery, on one of these occasions, “how are you getting on at home? Has your sister locked you up again?”
“No, sir, she ain’t,” replied Kyan. “Laviny, she’s sort of diff’rent lately. She ain’t nigh so—so down on a feller as she used to be. I can get out once in a while by myself nowadays, when she wants to write a letter or somethin’.”