Chapter 139145697

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Chapter NumberXII
Chapter TitleA LONELY WATCH.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139145697
Full Date1889-12-21
Page Number11
Corrections0
Word Count3904
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946)
Trove TitleMiles Dunlop's Mistake
article text

Chaptjjb XII,

A LONELY WATCH.

•' Next Him, high arbiter,

Chance governs ejl."—Milton

«»Dearlie, Dearlie ! I say, Dearlie, ate you asleep?"

Tom was knocking at Deatlie'a bedroom door and calling to her in low bat

energetic tones so as not to arouse the rest of the house. It was the night of the 26th December, and the wind was blowing a perfect hurricane round the hotel. It was howling and shrieking in every cranny and corner, and Dearlie thought at first that Tom's energetic knocks were but another phase of the storm. Christmas had had but one bright spot for her, and that was the arrival of the box containing Dnniop's presents. The children had been wild with delight. Miss Popharn aud Helen had been pleased and gratified, and her own pleasure had been unspeakable. Helen bad for once broken through the reserve that had arisen between them, and thinking of her own letter, not unnaturally prophesied that Duniop would be down that day. The steamer was late, and Dearlie, waiting anxiously with a beating heart, scanned thefacesof the new arrivals,"but though many men came down for their holidays, he was not amongst them. Christmas Day brought a fresh batch of excursionists, hut still the one loved face was not there, and Dearlie crew sick'with the bitterness of hope deferred. She looked white and ill, with dark rings round her eyes, on Monday morning, and her aunt wondered what was the matter with the child, and sent to Melbourne for a tonic. Dearlie smiled at the thought of a tonic as a cure for the heartache, but said nothing, and went down to the pier with the rest of them to see the old Williams come in with a load of excursionists. The water is so shallow and the pier so awkwardly built at Portsea that it is but seldom a steamer comes in only on high days and holidays, and then ail the inhabitants turn out, according to the custom of seaside places, to see it. Dearlie looked eagerly at the people crowding the gangway, and then half smiled as Bbe reflected it was a bootmakers' picnic, and Duniop was not likely to he there. But when he did not come by the Ozone in the afternoon site gave up hope— the hope that had been far stronger than she imagined—and only longed to creep away and cry out her disappointment all by herself. But such a course was impossible. No one is less alone than the daughter of a large family. She lives, as it were, with the eyes of her brothers and sisters always upon her. She is not free for a moment, and Dearlie was no exception to the rule. Her bedroom she shared with her two younger sisters, and until they went to sleep she must be smiling and happy, ready to answer childish questions and sympathise with childish woes. Even when they were asleep she was hardly mistress of her own actions, for Winny shared her bed, and she could not toss and turn as her restlessness prompted her to do tor fear of waking the child. She could only lie and stare at the ceiling, listening to the howling of the wiud, and wiping away every now and then the tears that would come despite common-seuse views and all resolu

tions to the contrary.

At first she did not hear Tom's knocking, or thought it hut part and parcel of the storm outside, but, at last, a louder and more impatient— "Dearlie, I say," made her start out of bed and open the door.

She looked very pretty as she stood there in. her long white dress, holding the flickering candle in her hand.

"Is it you, Tom? I thought so. Come in quick, or the wind 'ii blow the

candle out."

" Crumbs! ain't it a night?" said Tom, who was tally dressed, coming in and shutting the door behind him. " I didn't think you'd be undressed so early."

"Early! it's after 12."

" Is it? Well, look here, I came in to see if you'd go to the back beach ; the surf will be grand."

' Tom, it's so late." "It's full moon." " But, aunt "

"Oh, hang Aunt Pop. We'll slip out quietly ; and who's to know we've been out at all ? Get into your things now, and I'll wait for you at the bottom of the stairs. And, I say," be added, putting his head in at the door again, "never mind you bat, it'll only he blown to kingdom come in next to no time. 'Tie a handkerchief over your head. Don't be all night nowwith which parting injunction he banged the door so hard that Dearlie made sure her sisters would wake. On the whole, she would have been rather glad if they had, for the midnight excursion did not recommend itself to her very highly; and she would gladly have backed out of it had it not been for fear of offending Tom. It would never have occurred to him to show the like consideration for her, and she would not have expected it of him. Men rarely guess how often their sisters and wives give upamalt desires for their sakes; so Tom growled at the time Dearlie kept him waiting, though she bad not been the ten minutes he himself had allowed ; and it never once occurred to him that it was against her will she accompanied him at all. Once outside the wind was so strong she felt she never could accomplish that half hour's walk through the heavy sand that lay between them and the back beach. It was lull moon ; hut driving clonds, which were racing across the sky before the furious wind, obscured its light, and the way before them looked dark and lonely.

"Ob, Tom," said Dearlie, struggling to keep1 down her skirts, "it's awful, Hadn't we better go back

" What rot! It's not going to rain. Come on, we'll be down in the hollow presently, and in the scrub you won't feel the wind."

So Dearlie bent to it bravely, but by the time they had got as tar as the old black man's cottage she repented once more, and wanted to retrace her Bteps; but Tom was marching steadily on ahead, and paid no heed to her feeble protests. Down in the hollow beyond Baptist's Cottage the wind, as he bad prophesied, was not quite so strong, but still it howled and shrieked around her, and certainly gave her no time for reflectiona of any sort Once in the shelter of the scrub, she insisted on sitting down for a moment to rest; and when they went on again, took care to keep close to Tom, for the ti-tree and the wild currant bushes that made up the dense scrub looked indescribably weird and lonesome, now sharp cut and clear in the moonlight, now, as a cloud obBcured the moon, uudistinguishabie in the gloom. Aa they approached nearer the ridge which bid the sea, the booming hollow roar of

the breakers almost drowned the howling of the wind ; hot even now Dearlie |

would have turned back bad she dared. The loneliness, the noise, the moonlight alternating with darkness, filled her with awe unspeakable: she felt as in a dream, and would gladly have wakened to find herself safe in bed beside Winny. As they reached the top ol the rise that overlooked the Southern Ocean, a magnificent spectacle burst on their view. The southerly wind bad lashed the sea into fury, the immense waves broke on the beach with a roar like thunder. The fitful moonbeams every now and then made all things bright as day, tipped every wave with eilver and white, and lent an unearthly beauty to the huge rock to the left of them, which all visitors to Portsea know as London-bridge; though it might just as well be called the Great Pyramid. It was floodtide now, and the water entirely surrounded it, breaking high against its iron sides and whiriiug roaring through Thames Tunnel

"How, dear, was it worth coming to tee?" shouted Tom, to make his

voice heard above the din.

She nodded her head, and slipped her hand through his arm, for ahe could not shake off the senee of awe and tear that waa upon her, and rather thought to herself she would enjoy it a great deal more to-morrow morning.

"Ob, Tom, Tom,1" she hod had to put her mouth close to his ear, " think Iff the poor fellows at tea."

"Crumbs! they're all right What a silly you are I"

The moment was not favourable for conversation, but Dearlie made •bother effort

"Thoee off this coast. I mean."

" Well, they're affright, tooI bet you sixpence. Don't you think nation know their own business ? Come down on the beach.'

" No, no. We can see better here. Don't you think we'd better go home

now.'

"Ina minute. I Bay, isn't it jolly? What would Aunt Pop say ? Crumbs!

wouldn't she be in a wax?"

''She is kind, Tom," remonstrated Dearlie, who, ever since that glimpse behind the scenes, had bad a more tender feeling for her aunt, and thought pitifully of her spoiled life; "she does mean to be kind."

" Oh, I dare say, but —>. Hi, heigh, look at the falling star."

"Tom, Tom," cried Dearlie, in an agony of terror, "it wasn't a star, it

was a rocket."

"Gammon 1 ltocket, your grandmother! Where'd a rocket come from

out there?"

"From a ship—a ship. Oh, and she's driving on these cruel rocks. Oh, the poor things, the poor things ; God be pitiful to them ! There is no help on such a night" And Dearlie's pent up feelings fonnd vent in tears and sobs as she flang herself on her knees and wrung her hands.

" You're right, Dear. By Jove i there's another. My! That went high ! But it's no good. They must be drowned for a certainty. There isn't a boat, and it 'ud only be dashed to pieces if there was."

" Oh, Tom, all the Cheviot people weren't drowned." " No; but '

" The soldiers brought rockets from Nepenn, Tom, couldn't we go for

the soldiers now ?"

" It's eix miles there. We'd better go and rouse out Portsea first." " Aud leave those poor souls to die alone ? Oh, Tom!"

" Well, we can't help that. It's . Oh, crumbs! of course we can light a fire. It mayn't do much good, but -

" It'll let the poor-souls know some one's thinking about them, and they're not quite alone. But, the wood, Tom—the wood and matches V"

"Plenty of driftwood on tne beach, Dear., and I've got matches. Come on, old girl, we'll work like niggers, and when the fire's alight you can stop and mind it, and I'd cut away to Portsea."

Dearlie never quite knew how it was they managed to build that fire so quickly. They raced down the steep, sandy hillside, and she entirely forgot her former fears as .she searched eagerly along the Bhore for wood. They found plenty, spite of the uncertain light, and piled it up in a great heap on the beach as near as they dared to the. hillside. Tom was for building their fire on their former vantage point, but Dearlie, thinking of the furious gale that was howling ronnd them, feared leat they Bhonld set fire to the scrub, and thus involve the whole peninsula in danger &n^ difficulty. Some of the wood was heavy and awkward, and in cold blood sbe knew she never could have stirred it, but excitement lent her strength, and soon their fire was ready for kindling.

" I'll break up this cask," ahonted Tom, " it's jolly rotten, and by jingo won't it burn. Come and shade me from the wind, Dear. Hang it all, what a brutal night," as one match after another went out in the wind. "I've only two more left. Ah, there now," asthe tiny flame caught atlast the dry le&vea and pine wood splinters ; "there now, I believe it's going to bnrn."

They crouched down closely over the slowly increasing flame to keep the wind away till their fire should have gained strength enough to profit by it, and Dearlie, looking over her shoulder, saw another rocket cleave through the sky and drop with a Bhower of sparks, it seemed quite close to her.

" Poor souls, poor souls !" she said, " Ah, Tom, if we can only save

them."

"We'll do onr best," said Tom, who was wild with excitement, and felt like a hero already. " There, Dear—there's your fire fairly caught now. Look out for your dress. Hurrah, there we are ' Crumbs, you could see it twenty miles away! Now I'd better be off."

Once it had a good hold on the drift wood dried by the summer sun, the furious wind but fanned the fire to greater fierceness, and it leaped and danced, and caught at the brushwood brother and sister kept piling on the j flames, dimming the moonlight, and making a brilliant epot against the dark

hill side.

"I'd better go," said Tom again. "Poor beggars, they've given up the rockets. I guess they haven't got any more. Dear, you'll stop and mind the fire. Yon won't be frightened, wiil you ?"

" N—n—o," said Dearlie doubtfully. " Run, Tom, run, be as quick as you

can."

. She watched him till be disapneared over the hill, and then set to work with a wiil to gather fresh brushwood, and to search more eagerly than ever for pieces of wreckage to keep up the fire. She could not help feeling lonely and frightened, the only living creature it seemed on ail that desolate coast, ber only company the crackling fire and those drowning sonls far out at sea. It would be nearly an hour before anyone could join her, she reflected. If only they might be saved—if only—would prayers of hers avail she wondered—but she must keep the fire up—she had no time to kneel ana pray, and then she remembered Tom's school motto—the motto he was so proud of, "Laborare est orare." "To labour is to pray." Well she would work hard enough if God would only give her those men's lives, and sbe toiled on bravely through those minutes which seemed to fly on leaden wings. Even now tbey might be beneath those Btormy waters never more to be seen of men till the sea should give up ber dead, and she strained her eyes seaward, the moon emerged from a Hying cloud, and as she wiped the spray from her eyes she thought she saw on the crest of a wave a dark lump

whicn to her unaccustomed eyes might have been anything from a fishing j

boat to an ocean steamer. Then with another reflection on her helpless ness she turned to her work again. The wind was chill, though it was the end of December, but Dearlie did not feel it Exertion and excitement Bent the blood bounding through her veins, and she was soon glad enough to (ling off the jacket she bad battened so closeiy round her when first she set out. Her hands were torn and scratched, aud her limbs were beginning to ache with the unaccustomed labour ; still she kept ber fire up. Where was Tom? Oh, where could he have got to ? She pictured him stumbling and falling in his headlong race through the scrub, spraining bis ankle, breaking his leg perhaps. Should she not go in search of him ? Then just as she was preparing to start, a shout from the hill above made her look up, and to her intense relief a little knot of men came rushing down to her. Tom, breathless and wild with excitement, led the way, and the others followed—half a dozen men from the hotel, and the rest fishermen, who had been roused by Tom's frantic cooees.

" We've sent to Nepe&n, Dear," he shouted breathless as lie reached his sister's side. " It's all right The soldiers have & rocket or some jimmy fixing of that sort there, and they'll be here soon."

" It's five miles," sighed Dearlie, sitting down and leaning back against the hillside. Plenty of willing hands were there now to take her place, and the fire was blazing and crackling away bravely. An old fisherman came and stood beside ber, and putting up his hands to shade his face from the wind, strained his eyes out into the darkness.

" Can you see her, Mr. Williams?" asked Dearlie eagerly. "I thought I could just before the moon went under a cloud.'

"Ay—ay, missie, she's there sure enough. I seed ber mysel' a minute back. Sbe ain't very big, I'm thinking—a ketch or a schooner maybe. She've got on the tail of the reef beyont London-bridge, and you couldn't hardly see her if the moon was bright, for the waves I guess is just

abreakin' clean over ber."

"Isn'tthere a lifeboat?" asked Dearlie, who, woman like, considered that a lifeboat must necessarily inaure safety.

"Ay, miss, at Qaeenscliff, and they might ha' seed the rockets just as you seed 'em, but Lord love you, missie, a boat couldn't live here let alone the fact that they couldn't get through the Rip on a night like this with the wind

in their teeth."

" Then—then taust they drown ?"

"No—no. God forbid I If they can only bang oh till it's a bit light, we'll get a line aboard, please God."

It was astonishing how the news of the wreck seemed to have spread. The number of the people on the beach was increasing every moment. There were several women among them how, and Dearlis from her vantage point noted Dr. O'Hea in a somewhat incongruous costume, consisting of over coat, smoking cap, and pyjamas, rushing about directing the building of a fresh fire. With him was young Dalrymple, and that young man in the ex citement of the moment forgot their present strained relations, and dropped into the easy familiarity of former days.

" Why, Dear," be said, "they tell me you stopped and kept that fire op all by yourself. What a plucky little beggar you are." '

And Dearlie smiled in epite of herself. Less than a month ago she hat. been "my dearest" and "my darling';" that very morning it was "Mite Nairn" in coldest tones, and now it was "Dear, you plucky little beggW."

How slowly the night wore on. The people sat about in groups sheltering as well as they could from the storm which showed ho signs of abating.' There were three bright fires blazing now on the beach, fed by eager helpers,

who felt sadly it was the only thing they conld do, and who trusted that the' beacon lights might bring some spark of hope to fainting hearts. From the wreck came no more rockets—no sign of life—all on board might long ago have gone to their last account, and only some of those watchers'were able to cheat themselves into the belief that they, like Williams, saw a dark mass out beyond London-bridge.

The soldiers came at last, after what seemed an interminable time, though iu reality it was barely two hours since Tom had' given the alarm at Portsea,

"More than an hour to wait," said Dr. O'Hea, with a sigh. " We'can't do any more until daylight nnlesB they give us a sign from the ship. The boys have everything ready to throw a line, if only we knew where to throw it;' but they're as silent as the grave."

" Doctor, they may be all dead," said Dearlie, in an awed tone.

"Faith, no, BweeteBt girl; it takes a lot to kill a man. lie's a tough sort of customer—sailors especially—and I'll be bound they'll all turn up alive. There 1 look at that now. What did I tell ye?"

A burst of wild cheering broke from the crowd as a bright blue light was burned out on the darkness.

"Now, now," shouted the men, and another wild hurrah rang out as a. rocket rushed out seaward, leaving a trail of sparks in its course. Dut they had miscalculated the distance—the wind was against them—and as the rocket fell short a groan took the place of the cheer.

"Again, again; try again, They're burning another light, poor

And again and again and again they tried, and failed each time.

"I think we'd better wait till it's lighter," said the man in charge. "I really think we had. We can't judge the distance in thedark."

" They're burning another light," cried twenty voices at once.

"They're afraid she'll break up. She can't last till morning, a bit of a thing like her. Try agaiD," urged the fishermen, who spoke with BOme knowledge; "try again."

So the order was given, and once more the fiery messenger sped forth on. its errand of mercy. There was a momentary pause—an awful pause—for everyone knew that if they failed this time they must wait for the daylight,

and the fishermen freely expressed their opinion that long before daybreak: there wonld be no one left to save. A moment passed, and then the soldier announced in terms of suppressed excitement—

"They've got it!"

Such a cheer as rose on the air. High above the howling of tiie storm it

rose. Those half-drowned sailors out in the breakers beyond London-bridge. might almost have heard it. Breathlessly they watched as the light line (lew out and was replaced by a stout rope, and that again by a hawser strong enough to bear a man's weight.

"They're knowledgeable men aboard, missie," said old Williams to Dearlie. "There goes the cradle. When it comes back we'll know all. about it." v ?

It came back almost quicker than she could have thought possible, and twenty willing men rushed down into the Burf and carried up to the fire the. slight figure of a boy, half drowned and half dead with fear. They poured, brandy down his throat, and anxiously questioned him as to the ship and

her crew.

'"The Two Brothers,'from Port Albert with produce," be managed to. gasp at lash

" And the crew —the others ?"

The cradle was on its second journey back now, and halt the people ran down to meet it, while the rest crowded round the boy.

"IIow many are they?" they asked.

"There was four more," lie said, "but I think the skipper's gone. There's a gent aboard—a core us wanted to get ashore at Portsea, and he'il have bis

wish."

The cradle had reached the shore again now, and wet and weary, blinded with the salt water, and dazed by the glare of the firelight, Dunlop was helped to land. Strong arms held him up, some kindly hand offered him a flask of brandy, and then as the firelight tell full on his drenched and dripping form Tom caught Bight oi him and shouted in his excitement—

" Why, it's Mr. Duniop! Dearlie, Dearlie, Dearlie, we've saved Mr. Dunlop i"