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   Chapter 36 A CRY FROM THE SEA

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 11853

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Miss Panney left Thorbury the next morning, but she had to go without seeing Phoebe, who did not appear at the station. She arrived at Barport in the afternoon, and went directly to the house of the friend to whom she had written, and who, it is to be hoped, was glad to see her. She deferred making her presence known to the Bannister party until the next morning. When she called at their hotel about ten o'clock, she was informed that they had all gone down to the beach; and as they could not be expected to return very soon, Miss Panney betook herself to the ocean's edge to look for them.

She found a wide stretch of sand crowded with bathers and spectators. It had been a long time since she had visited the seashore, and she discovered that seaside customs and costumes had changed very much. She was surprised, amused, and at times indignant; but, as she had come to look for the Bannisters, she confined herself to that business, postponing reflections and judgments.

Her search proved to be a difficult one. She walked up and down the beach until she assured herself that the Bannisters and Miriam were not among those who had come as lookers-on, or merely to breathe the salt air and enjoy the ocean view. When she came to scrutinize the bathers, whether they were disporting themselves in the sea or standing or lying about on the sand, she found it would be almost impossible to recognize anybody in that motley crowd.

"I can scarcely make out," she said to herself, "whether they are men or women, much less whether I know them or not. But if the Bannisters and Miriam are among those water-monkeys, I shall know them when I see their faces, and then I shall take the first chance I get to tell them what I think of them."

It was not long before Miss Panney began to grow tired. She was not used to trudging through soft sand, and she had walked a good deal before she reached the beach. She concluded, therefore, to look for a place where she might sit down and rest, and if her friends did not show themselves in a reasonable time she would go back to their hotel and wait for them there; but she saw no chairs nor benches, and as for imitating the hundreds of well-dressed people who were sitting down in the dirt,-for to Miss Panney sand was as much dirt as any other pulverized portion of the earth's surface,-she had never done such a thing, and she did not intend to.

Approaching a boat which was drawn up high and dry, she seated herself upon, or rather leaned against, its side. The bathing-master, a burly fellow in a bathing-costume, turned to her and informed her courteously but decidedly that she must not sit upon that boat.

"I do not see why," said Miss Panney, sharply, as she rose "for it is not of any use in any other way, lying up here on the sand."

She had scarcely finished speaking when the bathing master sprang to his feet so suddenly that it made Miss Panney jump. For a moment the man stood listening, and then ran rapidly down the beach. Now Miss Panney heard, coming from the sea, a cry of "Help! Help!"

Other people heard it, too, and began hurrying after the bathing master. The cry, which was repeated again and again, came from a group of bathers who were swimming far from shore, opposite a point on the beach a hundred yards or more from where Miss Panney was standing. The spectators now became greatly excited, and crowds of them began to run along the beach, while many people came out of the sea and joined the hurrying throng.

Still the cries came from the ocean, but they were feebler. Those experienced in such matters saw what had happened, a party of four bathers, swimming out beyond the breakers, had been caught in what is called a "seapuss," an eccentric current, too powerful for them to overcome, and they were unable to reach the shore.

As he ran, the bathing master shouted to some men to bring him the lifeline, and this, which was coiled in a box near the boat, was soon seized by two swift runners and carried out to the man.

"Fool!" exclaimed Miss Panney, who, with flushed face, was hurrying after the rest, "why didn't he take it with him?"

When the bathing master reached a point opposite the imperilled swimmers, he was obliged to wait a little for the life-line, but as soon as it reached him he tied one end of it around his waist and plunged into the surf. The men who had brought the line did not uncoil it nor even take it out of the box, and very soon it was seen that the bathing-master was not only making his way bravely through the breakers, but was towing after him the coil of rope, and the box in which it had been entangled. As soon as he perceived this, the man stopped for an instant, jerked the line from his waist and swam away without it.

Meanwhile a party of men had seized the life-boat, and had pushed it over the sand to the water's edge, where they launched it, and with much difficulty kept it from grounding until four young men, all bathers, jumped in and manned the oars. But before the excited oarsmen had begun to pull together, an incoming wave caught the bow of the boat, turned it broadside to the sea, and rolled it over. A dozen men, however, seized the boat and quickly righted her; again the oarsmen sprang in, and having been pushed out until the water reached the necks of the men who ran beside her, she was vigorously pulled beyond the breakers.

The excitement was now intense, not only on the beach, but in the hotels near the spot, and the shore was black with people. The cries had entirely ceased, but now the bathing-master was seen making his way toward the shore, and supporting a helpless form; before he could touch bottom, however, he was relieved of his burden by some of the men who were swimming out after him, and he turned back toward a floating head which could just be seen above the water. He was a powerful swimmer, but without a line by which he a

nd any one he might rescue could be pulled to shore, his task was laborious and dangerous.

The boat had now pulled to the bather who, though farthest out to sea, was the best swimmer, and he, just as his strength was giving way, was hauled on board. The lifeline had been rescued and disentangled, and the shore end of it having been taken into proper charge, a man, with the other end about him, swam to the assistance of the bathing master. Between these two another lifeless helpless body was borne in.

As might have been supposed, Miss Panney was now in a state of intense agitation. Not only did she share in the general excitement, but she was filled with a horrible dread. In ordinary cases of sickness and danger, it had been her custom to offer her services without hesitation, but then she knew who were in trouble and what she must do. Now there was a sickening mystery hanging over what was happening. She was actually afraid to go near the two lifeless figures stretched upon the sand, each surrounded by a crowd of people eager to do something or see something.

But her anxious questioning of the people who were scattered about relieved her, for she found that the two unfortunate persons who had been brought in were men. Nobody knew whether they were alive or not, but everything possible was being done to revive them. Several doctors had made their appearance, and messengers were running to the hotels for brandy, blankets, and other things needed. In obedience to an excited entreaty from a physician, one of the groups surged outward and scattered a little, and Miss Panney saw the form of a strongly built man lying on his back on the sand, with men kneeling around him, some working his arms backward and forward to induce respiration, and others rubbing him vigorously. It was difficult for her to restrain herself from giving help or advice, for she was familiar with, and took a great interest in, all sorts of physical distress, but now she turned away and hurried toward the sea.

She had heard the people say there was another one out there, and her sickening feeling returned. She walked but a little way, and then she stopped and eagerly watched what was going on. The bathing-master had been nearly exhausted when he reached the shore the second time, but he had rallied his strength and had swum out to the boat which was pulling about the place where the unfortunate bathers had been swimming. Suddenly the oarsmen gave a quick pull, they had seen something, a man jumped overboard, there was bustling on the boat, something was pulled in, then the boat was rapidly rowed shoreward, the man in the water holding to the stern until his feet touched ground.

The people crowded to the water's edge so that Miss Panney could scarcely see the boat when it reached shore, but presently the crowd parted, and three men appeared, carrying what seemed to be a very light burden.

"Oh, dear," said a woman standing by, "that one was in the water a long time. I wonder if it is a girl or a boy."

Miss Panney said nothing, but made a few quick steps in the direction of the limp figure which the crowd was following up the beach; then she stopped. Her nature prompted her to go on; her present feelings restrained her. She could not help wondering at this, and said to herself that she must be aging faster than she thought. Her distant vision was excellent, and she knew that the inanimate form which was now being laid on the dry sand was not a boy.

She turned and looked out over the sea, but she could not stand still; she must do something. On occasions like this it was absolutely necessary for Miss Panney to do something. She walked up the beach, but not toward the ring of people that had now formed around the fourth unfortunate. She must quiet herself a little first.

Suddenly the old lady raised her hands and clasped them. It was a usual gesture when she thought of something she ought to do.

"If it is one of them," she said to herself, "he ought to know it instantly! And even if it isn't, he ought to know. They will be in a terrible state; somebody should be here, and Herbert has gone to the mountains. There is no one else." She now began to walk more rapidly. "Yes," she said, speaking aloud in the intensity of her emotion, "he ought to come, anyway. I can't be left here to take any chances. And if he does not know immediately, he cannot get here today."

She now directed her steps toward one of the hotels, where she knew there was a telegraph office.

"No matter what has happened, or what has not happened," she said to herself as she hurried along, "he ought to be here, and he must come!"

The old lady's hand trembled a good deal as she wrote a telegram to Ralph Haverley, but the operator at the window could read it. It ran: "A dreadful disaster here. Come on immediately."

When she had finished this business, Miss Panney stood for a few moments on the broad piazza of the hotel, which was deserted, for almost everybody was on the beach. In spite of her agitation a grim smile came over her face.

"Perhaps that was a little strong," she thought, "but it has gone now. And no matter how he finds things, I can prove to him he is needed. I do not believe he will be too much frightened; men never are, and I will see to it that he has a blessed change in his feelings when he gets here."

Miss Panney was now allowing to enter her mind the conviction, previously denied admittance, that no one of her three friends would be likely to be swimming far from shore with a party of men. And, having thus restored herself to something of her usual composure, she went down to the beach to find out who had been drowned. On the way she met Mrs. Bannister and the two girls, and from them she got her information that two of the persons were believed to be beyond any power of resuscitation, and one of these was a young lady from Boston.

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