Half an hour later, with many precautions, for the wind he prophesied was already troubling the sea and sending little splashes of water over the stern of their deeply laden boat, they were fast to a line thrown from the deck of the three thousand ton steamer Castle, bound for Natal. Then, with a rattle, down came the accommodation ladder, and strong-armed men, standing on its grating, dragged them one by one from the death to which they had been so near. The last to be lifted up, except Thompson, was Benita, round whom it was necessary to reeve a rope.
“Any use?” asked the officer on the grating as he glanced at her quiet form.
“Can’t say; I hope so,” answered Thompson. “Call your doctor.” And gently enough she was borne up the ship’s side.
They wanted to cast off the boat, but Thompson remonstrated, and in the end that also was dragged to deck. Meanwhile the news had spread, and the awakened passengers of the Castle, clad in pyjamas, dressing-gowns, and even blankets, were crowding round the poor castaways or helping them to their cabins.
“I am a teetotaller,” said second officer Thompson when he had made a brief report to the captain of the Castle, “but if anyone will stand me a whiskey and soda I shall be obliged to him.”
Although the shock of the blow she had received upon her head was sufficient to make her insensible for so many hours, Benita’s injuries were not of a really serious nature, for as it happened the falling block, or whatever it may have been, had hit her forehead slantwise, and not full, to which accident she owed it that, although the skin was torn and the scalp bruised, her skull had escaped fracture. Under proper medical care her senses soon came back to her, but as she was quite dazed and thought herself still on board the Zanzibar, the doctor considered it wise to preserve her in that illusion for a while. So after she had swallowed some broth he gave her a sleeping draught, the effects of which she did not shake off till the following morning.
Then she came to herself completely, and was astonished to feel the pain in her head, which had been bandaged, and to see a strange stewardess sitting by her with a cup of beef-tea in her hand.
“Where am I? Is it a dream?” she asked.
“Drink this and I will tell you,” answered the stewardess.
Benita obeyed, for she felt hungry, then repeated her question.
“Your steamer was shipwrecked,” said the stewardess, “and a great many poor people were drowned, but you were saved in a boat. Look, there are your clothes; they were never in the water.”
“Who carried me into the boat?” asked Benita in a low voice.
“A gentleman, they say, Miss, who had wrapped you in a blanket and put a lifebelt on you.”
Now Benita remembered everything that happened before the darkness fell—the question to which she had given no answer, the young couple who stood flirting by her—all came back to her.