Women's Short Fictions: A Nineteenth-Century Online Anthology--return to Index

Out of the Sea

by Rebecca Harding Davis (1831-1910)

Text from Atlantic Monthly, 15 (May 1865), 533-550

A raw, gusty afternoon: one of the last dragging breaths of a nor'easter, which swept, in the beginning of November, from the Atlantic coast to the base of the Alleghanies. It lasted a week, and brought the winter, — for autumn had lingered unusually late that year; the fat bottom-lands of Pennsylvania, yet green, deadened into swamps, as it passed over them: summery, gay bits of lakes among the hills glazed over with muddy ice; the forests had been kept warm between the western mountains, and held thus late even their summer's strength and darker autumn tints, but the fierce ploughing winds of this storm and its cutting sleet left them a mass of broken boughs and rotted leaves. In fact, the sun had loitered so long, with a friendly look back-turned into these inland States, that people forgot that the summer had gone, and skies and air and fields were merry-making together, when they lent their color and vitality to these few bleak days, and then suddenly found that they had entertained winter unawares.

Down on the lee coast of New Jersey, however, where the sea and wind spend the year making ready for their winter's work of shipwreck, this storm, though grayer and colder there than elsewhere, toned into the days and nights as a something entirely matter-of-course and consonant. In summer it would have been at home there. Its aspect was different, also, as I said. But little rain fell here;  the wind lashed the ocean into fury along the coast, and then rolled in long, melancholy howls into the stretches of barren sand and interminable pine forests; the horizon contracted, though at all times it is narrower than anywhere else, the dome of the sky wider, — clouds and atmosphere forming the scenery, and the land but a round, flat standing-place:  but now the sun went out; the air grew livid, as though death were coming through it; solid masses of gray, wet mist moved, slower than the wind, from point to point, like gigantic ghosts gathering to the call of the murderous sea.

"Yonder go the shades of Ossian's heroes," said Mary Defourchet to her companion, pointing through the darkening air.

They were driving carefully in an old-fashioned gig, in one of the lulls of the storm, along the edge of a pine wood, early in the afternoon. The old Doctor, — for it was MacAulay, (Dennis,) from over in Monmouth County, she was with, — the old man did not answer, having enough to do to guide his mare, the sleet drove so in his eyes. Besides, he was gruffer than usual this afternoon, looking with the trained eyes of an old water-dog out to the yellow line of the sea to the north. Miss Defourchet pulled the oil-skin cloth closer about her knees, and held her tongue; she relished the excitement of this fierce fighting the wind, though; it suited the nervous tension which her mind had undergone lately.

It was a queer, lonesome country, this lee coast, — never so solitary as now, perhaps; older than the rest of the world, she fancied, — so many of Nature's voices, both of bird and vegetable, had been entirely lost out of it: no wonder it had grown unfruitful, and older and dumber and sad, listening for ages to the unremorseful, cruel cries of the sea; these dead bodies, too, washed up every year on its beaches, must haunt it, though it was not guilty. She began to say something of this to Doctor Dennis, tired of being silent.

"Your country seems to me always to shut itself out from the world," she said; "from the time I enter that desolate region on its border of dwarf oaks and gloomy fires of the charcoal-burners, I think of the old leper and his cry of 'Unclean! unclean!'"

MacAulay glanced anxiously at her, trying to keep pace with her meaning.  "It's a lonesome place enough," he


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said, slowly. "There be but the two or three farm-keepers; and the places go from father to son, father to son. The linen and carpet-mats in that house you're in now come down from the times before Washington.  Stay-at-home, quiet people, — only the men that follow the water, in each generation.  There be but little to be made from these flats of white sand. Yes, quiet enough:  the beasts of prey aren't scaret out of these pine forests yet.  I heard the cry of a panther the other night only, coming from Tom's River: close by the road it was:  sharp and sorrowful, like a lost child. —  As for ghosts," he continued, after a thoughtful pause, "I don't know any that would have reason for walking, without it was Captain Kidd.  His treasure's buried along-shore here."

"Ay?" said Mary, looking up shrewdly into his face.

"Yes," he answered, shaking his head slowly, and measuring his whip with one eye. "Along here, many's the Spanish half-dollar I've picked up myself among the kelp.  They do say they're from a galleon that went ashore come next August thirty years ago, but I don't know that."

"And the people in the hamlet?" questioned Mary, nodding to a group of scattered, low-roofed houses.

"Clam-fishers, the maist o' them.  There be quite a many wrackers, but they live farther on, towards Barnegat.  But a wrack draws them, like buzzards to a carcass."

Miss Defourchet's black eye kindled, as if at the prospect of a good tragedy.

"Did you ever see a wreck going down?" she asked, eagerly.

"Yes,"— shutting his grim lips tighter.

"That emigrant ship last fall?  Seven hundred and thirty souls lost, they told me."

"I was not here to know, thank God," shortly.

"It would be a sensation for a lifetime," — cuddling back into her seat, with no hopes of a story from the old Doctor.

MacAulay sat up stiffer, his stern gray eye scanning the ocean-line again, as the mare turned into the more open plains of sand sloping down to the sea.  It was up-hill work with him, talking to this young lady.  He was afraid of a woman who had lectured in public, nursed in the hospitals, whose blood seemed always at fever heat, and whose aesthetic taste could seek the point of view from which to observe a calamity so horrible as the emigrant ship going down with her load of lives.  "She's been fed on books too much," he thought.  "It's the trouble with young women nowadays."  On the other hand, for himself he had lost sight of the current of present knowledges, — he was aware of that, finding how few topics in common there were between them;  but it troubled the self-reliant old fellow but little. Since he left Yale, where he and this girl's uncle, Doctor Bowdler, had been chums together, he had lived in this out-of-the-way corner of the world, and many of the rough ways of speaking and acting of the people had clung to him, as their red mud to his shoes.  As he grew older, he did not care to brush either off.

Miss Defourchet had been a weight on his mind for a week or more.  Her guardian, Doctor Bowdler, had sent her down to board in one of the farm-houses. "The sea-air will do her good, physically," he said in a note to his old chum, with whom he always had kept up a lingering intercourse; "she's been overworked lately,— sick soldiers, you know.  Mary went into the war con amore, like all women, or other happy people who are blind of one eye. Besides, she is to be married about Christmas, and before she begins life in earnest it would do her good to face something real.  Nothing like living by the sea, and with those homely, thorough-blood Quakers, for bringing people to their simple, natural selves.  By the way, you have heard of Dr. Birkenshead, whom she marries?  though he is a surgeon, — not exactly in your profession.  A surprisingly young man to have gained his reputation.  I'm glad Mary marries a man of so much mark; she has pulled alone so long, she needs a master." So MacAulay had


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taken pains to drive the young lady out, as to-day, and took a general fatherly sort of charge of her, for his old friend's sake.

Doctor Bowdler had frankly told his niece his reasons for wishing her to go down to the sea-shore.  They nettled her more than she chose to show.  She was over thirty, an eager humanitarian, had taught the freedmen at Port Royal, gone to Gettysburg and Antietam with sanitary stores, — surely, she did not need to be told that she had yet to begin life in earnest!  But she was not sorry for the chance to rest and think.  After she married she would be taken from the quiet Quaker society in Philadelphia, in which she always had moved, to one that would put her personal and mental powers to a sharp proof;  for Birkenshead, by right of his professional fame, and a curiously attractive personal eccentricity, had gradually become the nucleus of one of the best and most brilliant circles in the country, men and women alike distinguished for their wit and skill in extracting the finest tones from life while they lived.  The quiet Quaker girl was secretly on her mettle, — secretly, too, a little afraid.  The truth was, she knew Doctor Birkenshead only in the glare of public life;  her love for him was, as yet, only a delicate intellectual appreciation that gave her a keen delight.  She was anxious that in his own world he should not be ashamed of her.  She was glad he was to share this breathing-space with her;  they could see each other unmasked.  Doctor Bowdler and he were coming down from New York on Ben Van Note's lumber-schooner.  It was due yesterday, but had not yet arrived.

"You are sure," MacAulay said to her, as they rode along, "that they will come with Ben?"

"Quite sure. They preferred it to the cars for the novelty of the thing, and the storm lulled the day they were to sail. Could the schooner make this inlet in a sea like that?"

Doctor Dennis, stooping to arrange the harness, pretended not to hear her.

"Ben, at least," he thought, "knows that to near the bar to-day means death."

"One would think," he added aloud, "that Dick Bowdler's gray hairs and thirty years of preaching would have sobered his love of adventure. He was a foolhardy chap at college."

Miss Defourchet's glance grew troubled, as she looked out at the gathering gloom and the crisp bits of yellow foam blown up to the carriage-wheels.  Doctor Dennis turned the mare's head, thus hiding the sea from them; but its cry sounded for miles inland to-day, — an awful, inarticulate roar.  All else was solemn silence.  The great salt marshes rolled away on one side of the road, lush and rank, — one solitary dead tree rising from them, with a fish-hawk's uncouth nest lumbering its black trunk;  they were still as the grave; even the ill-boding bird was gone long ago, and kept no more its lonely vigil on the dead limb over wind and wave.  She glanced uneasily from side to side: high up on the beach lay fragments of old wrecks; burnt spars of vessels drifted ashore to tell, in their dumb way, of captain and crew washed, in one quick moment, by this muddy water of the Atlantic, into that sea far off whence no voyager has come back to bring the tidings.  Land and sea seemed to her to hint at this thing, — this awful sea, cold and dark beyond.  What did the dark mystery in the cry of the surf mean but that?  That was the only sound.  The heavy silence without grew intolerable to her: it foreboded evil.   The cold, yellow light of day lingered long.  Overhead, cloud after cloud rose from the far watery horizon, and drove swiftly and silently inland, bellying dark as it went, carrying the storm.  As the horse's hoofs struck hard on the beach, a bird rose out of the marsh and trailed through the air, its long legs dragging behind it, and a blaze of light feathers on its breast catching a dull glow in the fading evening.

"The blue heron flies low," said the Doctor. "That means a heavier storm.  It scents a wreck as keenly as a Barnegat pirate."


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"It is fishing, maybe?" said Mary, trying to rouse herself.

"It's no a canny fisher that," shaking his head. "The fish you'd find in its nest come from the deep waters, where heron never flew. Well, they do say," in answer to her look of inquiry, "that on stormy nights it sits on the beach with a phosphoric light under its wing, and so draws them to shore."

"How soon will the storm be on us?" after a pause.

"In not less than two hours.  Keep your heart up, child.  Ben Van Note is no fool.  He'd keep clear of Squan Beach as he would of hell's mouth, such a night as this is going to be.  Your friends are all safe. We'll drive home as soon as we 'ye been at the store to see if the mail's brought you a letter."

He tucked in his hairy overcoat about his long legs, and tried to talk cheerfully as they drove along, seeing how pale she was.

"The store" for these two counties was a large, one-roomed frame building on the edge of the great pine woods, painted bright pink, with a wooden blue lady, the old figure-head of some sloop, over the door.  The stoop outside was filled with hogsheads and boxes;  inside was the usual stock of calicoes, chinaware, molasses-barrels, and books;  the post-office, a high desk, on which lay half a dozen letters.  By the dingy little windows, on which the rain was now beating sharply, four or five dirty sailors and clam-diggers were gathered, lounging on the counter and kegs, while one read a newspaper aloud slowly.  They stopped to look at Miss Defourchet, when she came in, and waited by the door for the Doctor.  The gloomy air and forlorn-looking shop contrasted and threw into bright relief her pretty, delicate little figure, and the dainty carriage-dress she wore.  All the daylight that was in the store seemed at once to cling to and caress the rare beauty of the small face, with its eager blue eyes and dark brown curls.  There was one woman in the store, sitting on a beer-cask, a small, sharp-set old wife, who drew her muddy shoes up under her petticoats out of Mary's way, but did not look at her.  Miss Defourchet belonged to a family to whom the ease that money gives and a certain epicureanism of taste were natural. She stood there wondering, not unkindly, what these poor creatures did with their lives, and their dull, cloddish days;  what could they know of the keen pains, the pleasures, the ambitions, or loves, that ennobled wealthier souls?

"This be yer papper, Doctor," said one; "but we've not just yet finished it."

"All right, boys; Jem Dexter can leave it to-night, as he goes by. Any mail for me, Joe?  But you're waiting, Mother Phebe?" — turning with a sudden gentleness to the old woman near Mary.

"Yes, I be.  But it don't matter.  Joseph, serve the Doctor," — beating a tattoo on  the counter with her restless hands.

The Doctor did not turn to take his letters, however, nor seem to heed the wind which was rising fitfully each moment without, but leaned leisurely on the counter.

"Did you expect a letter to-day?"—in the same subdued voice.

She gave a scared look at the men by the window, and then in a whisper,—

"From my son, Derrick, — yes. The folks here take Derrick for a joke, — an' me.  But I'm expectin'. He said he'd come, thee sees?"

"So he did."

"Well, there's none from Derrick to-day, Mother Phebe," said the burly storekeeper, taking his stubby pipe out of his mouth.

She caught her breath.

"Thee looked carefully, Joseph?"

He nodded. She began to unbutton a patched cotton umbrella, — her lips moving as people's do sometimes in the beginning of second childhood.

"I'll go home, then.  I'll be back mail-day, Wednesday, Joseph.  Four days that is, — Wednesday."

"Lookee here now, Gran!" positively, laying down the pipe to give effect to his words; "you‘re killin' yerself, you are.  Keep a-trottin' here all winter,


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an' what sort of a report of yerself  'll yer make to Derrick by spring?  When that 'ere letter comes, if come it do, I've said I'd put on my cut an' run up with it.  See there!" — pulling out her thin calico skirt before the Doctor,— "soaked, she is."

"Thee's kind, Joseph, but thee don't know," — drawing her frock back with a certain dignity.  "When my boy's handwrite comes, I must be here.  I learned writin' on purpose that I might read it first," — turning to Mary.

"How long has your boy been gone?" asked Miss Defourchet, heedless of Joseph’s warning "Hush-h!"

"Twenty years, come February," eagerly volunteered one or two voices by the window.  "She's never heerd a word in that time, an' she never misses a mail-day, but she's expectin'," added one, with a coarse laugh.

"None o' that, Sam Venners," said Joe, sharply.  "If so be as Dirk said he'd come, be it half-a-hunder' years, he'll stan' to 't.  I knowed Dirk.  Many's the clam we toed out o' th' inlet yonner.  He's not the sort to hang round, gnawin' out the old folk's meat-pot, as some I cud name.  He"--

"I'll go, if thee'll let me apast," said the old woman, humbly curtsying to the men, who now jammed up the doorway.

"It's a cussed shame, Venners," said Joe, when she was out.  "Why can't yer humor the old gran a bit? She's the chicken-heartedest woman ever I knowed," explanatory to Miss Defourchet, "an' these ten years she's been mad-like, waitin' for that hang-dog son of hers to come back."

Mary followed her out on the stoop, where she stood, her ragged green umbrella up, her sharp little face turned anxiously to the far sea-line.

"Bad! bad!" she muttered, looking at Mary.

"The storm?  Yes.  But you ought not to be out in such weather," kindly, putting her furred hand on the skinny arm.

The woman smiled, — a sweet, good-humored smile it was, in spite of her meagre, hungry old face.

"Why, look there, young woman," pulling up her sleeve, and showing the knotted tendons and thick muscles of her arm.  "I'm pretty tough, thee sees.  There's not a boatman in Ocean County could pull an oar with me when I was a gell, an' I 'm tough yet," — hooking her sleeve again.

The smile haunted Miss Defourchet; where had she seen it before?

"Was Derrick strongly built?"—idly wishing to recall it.

"Thee's a stranger; maybe thee has met my boy?"—turning on her sharply. "No, that's silly," — the sad vagueness coming back into the faded eyes.  After a pause, — "Derrick, thee said.   He was short, the lad was, — but with legs and arms as tender and supple as a wild-cat's.  I loss much of my strength when he was born;  it was wonderful, for a woman, before;  I giv it to him.  I'm glad of that!   I thank God that I giv it to him!"—her voice sinking, and growing wilder and faster. "Why! why!"

Mary took her hand, half-scared, looking in at the store-door, wishing Doctor Dennis would come.

The old woman tottered and sat down on the lower 'rung of a ladder standing there.  Mary could see now how the long sickness of the hope deferred had touched the poor creature's brain, gentle and loving at first.  She pushed the wet yellow sun-bonnet back from the gray hair;  she thought she had never seen such unutterable pathos or tragedy as in this little cramped figure, and this old face, turned forever watching to the sea.

"Thee doesn't know; how should thee?"—gently, but not looking at her.  "Thee never had a son; an' when thee has, it will be born in wedlock.  Thee's rich, an' well taught. I was jess a clam-fisher, an' knowed nothin' but my baby.  His father was a gentleman: come in spring, an' gone in th' fall, an' that was the last of him.  That hurt a bit, but I had Derrick.  Oh, Derrick!  Derrick!"— whispering, rocking herself to and fro as if she held a baby, cooing over the uncouth name with an awful longing and tenderness in the sound.


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Miss Defourchet was silent. Something in all this awed her;  she did not understand it.

"I mind," she wandered on, "when the day's work was done, I'd hold him in my arms, — so, — and his sleepy little face would turn up to mine.  I seemed to begin to loss him after he was a baby," — with an old, worn sigh.  "He went with other boys.  The Weirs and Hallets took him up; they were town-bred people, an' he soon got other notions from mine, an' talked of things I'd heerd nothin' of.  I was very proud of my Derrick;  but I knowed I'd loss him all the same.  I did washin' an' ironin' by nights to keep him dressed like the others, — an' kep' myself out o' their way, not to shame him with his mother."

"And was he ashamed of you?" said Mary, her face growing hot.

"Thee did not know my little boy," —the old woman stood up, drawing herself to her full height.  "His wee body was too full of pluck an' good love to be shamed by his mother.  I mind the day I come on them suddint, by the bridge, where they were standin', him an' two o' the Hallets;  I was  carryin' a basket of herrings.  The Hallets they flushed up, an' looked at him to see what he'd do; for they never named his mother to him, I heerd.  The road was deep with mud; an' as I stood a bit to balance myself, keepin' my head turned from him, before I knew aught, my boy had me in his arms, an' carried me t' other side.  I'm not a heavyweight, thee sees, but his face was all aglow with the laugh.

"'There you are, dear,' he says, puttin' me down, the wind blowin' his brown hair.

"One of the Hallets brought my basket over then, an' touched his hat as if I'd been a lady.  That was the last time my boy had his arms about me: next week he went away.  That night I heerd him in his room in the loft, here an' there, here an' there, as if he couldn't sleep, an' so for many nights, comin' down in the mornin' with his eyes red an' swollen, but full of the laugh an' joke as always.  The Hallets were with him constant, those days.  Judge Hallet, their father, were goin' across seas, Derrick said. So one night, I'd got his tea ready, an' were waitin' for him by the fire, knittin', — when he come in an' stood by the mantel-shelf, lookin' down at me, steady.  He had on his Sunday suit of blue, Jim Devines giv him.

"'Where be yer other clothes, my son?' I said.

"'They're not clean,' says he. 'I've been haulin' marl for Springer this week.  He paid me to-night; the money's in the kitchen-cupboard.'

"I looked up at that, for it was work I'd never put him to.

"'It'll buy thee new shoes,' said I.

"'I did it for you, mother,' he says, suddint, puttin' his hand over his eyes. 'I wish things were different with you.'

"'Yes, Derrick.'

"I went on with my knittin'; for I never talked much to him, for the shame of my bad words, since he'd learned better.  But I wondered what he meant; for wages was high that winter, an' I was doin' well.

"'If ever,' he says, speakin' low an' faster, 'if ever I do anything that gives you pain, you'll know it was for love of you I did it.  Not for myself God knows! To make things different for you.'

"'Yes, Derrick,' I says, knittin' on, for I didn't understan' thin.  Afterwards I did.  The room was dark, an' it were dead quiet for a bit; then the lad moved to the door.

"'Where be thee goin', Derrick?' I said.

"He come back an' leaned on my chair.

"'Let me tell you when I come back,' he said. 'You'll wait for me?' stoopin' down an' kissin' me.

"I noticed that, for he did not like to kiss, — Derrick. An' his lips were hot an' dry.

"'Yes, I'll wait, my son,' I said. 'Thee'll not be gone long?'

"He did not answer that, but kissed me again, an' went out quickly.


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"I sat an' waited long that night, an' searched till mornin'.  There's been a many nights an' days since, but I've never found him.  The Hallets all went that night, an' I heerd Derrick went as waiter-boy, so's to get across seas.  It's twenty years now. But I think he'll come," — looking up with a laugh.

Miss Defourchet started; where had she known this woman?  The sudden flicker of a smile, followed by a quick contraction of the eyelids and mouth, was peculiar and curiously sensitive and sad; somewhere, in a picture maybe, she had seen the same.

Doctor Dennis, who had waited purposely, came out now on the stoop.  Miss Defourchet looked up.  The darkness had gathered while they stood there; the pine woods, close at the right, began to lower distant and shapeless; now and then the wind flapped a raw dash of rain in their faces, and then was suddenly still.  Behind them, two or three tallow candles, just lighted in the store, sputtered dismal circles of dingy glare in the damp fog; in front, a vague slope of wet night, in which she knew lay the road and the salt marshes; and far beyond, distinct, the sea-line next the sky, a great yellow phosphorescent belt, apparently higher than their heads.  Nearer, unseen, the night-tide was sent in: it came with a regular muffled throb that shook the ground.  Doctor Dennis went down, and groped about his horse, adjusting the harness.

"The poor beast is soaked to the marrow:  it's a dull night: d' ye hear how full the air is of noises?"

"It be the sea makin' ready," said Joe, in a whisper, as if it were a sentient thing and could hear.  He touched the old woman on the arm and beckoned her inside to one of the candies.

"There be a scrap of a letter come for you; but keep quiet. Ben Van Note's scrawl of a handwrite, think."

The letters were large enough, —printed, in fact: she read it but once.

"Your Dirk come Aboord the Chief at New York.  I knowed him by a mark on his wrist — the time jim hallet cut him' you mind, he is aged and Differentt name.  I kep close,  we sail today and Ill Breng him Ashor tomorrer nite plese God.   be on Handd."

She folded the letter, crease by crease, and put it quietly in her pocket.  Joe watched her curiously.

"'D' Ben say when the Chief ud run in?"


"Bah-h! there be n't a vessel within miles of this coast, — without a gale drives 'm in."

She did not seem to hear him:  was feeling her wet petticoats and sleeves.  She would shame Derrick, after all, with this patched, muddy frock!  She had worked so long to buy the black silk gown and white neckercher that was folded in the bureau-drawer to wear the day he'd come back!

"When he come back!"

Then, for the first time, she realized what she was thinking about. Coming to-night!

Presently Miss Defourchet went to her where she was sitting on a box in the dark and rain.

"Are you sick?" said she, putting her hand out.

"Oh, no, dear!" softly, putting the fingers in her own, close to her breast, crying and sobbing quietly.  "Thee hand be a'most as soft as a baby's foot," after a while, fancying the little chap was creeping into her bosom again, thumping with his fat feet and fists as he used to do.  Her very blood used to grow wild and hot when he did that, she loved him so.  And her heart to-night was just as warm and light as then.  He was coming back, her boy: maybe he was poor and sick, a worn-out man; but in a few hours he would be here, and lay his tired head on her breast, and be a baby again.

Joe went down to the Doctor with a lantern.

"Van Note meant to run in the Chief to-night," — in an anxious, inquiring whisper.

"He's not an idiot!"

"No,—but, bein' near, the wind may drive 'em on the bar.  Look yonder."

"See that, too, Joe?" said bow-legged


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Phil, from Tom's River, who was up that night.

"That yellow line has never been in the sky since the night the James Frazier —Ach-h!  it's come!"

He had stooped to help Doctor Dennis with his harness, but now fell forward, clapping his hands to his ears.  A terrible darkness swept over them; the whole air was filled with a fierce, risping crackle; then came a sharp concussion, that seemed to tear the earth asunder.  Miss Defourchet cried aloud: no one answered her.  In a few moments the darkness slowly lifted, leaving the old yellow lights and fogs on sea and land.  The men stood motionless as when the tornado passed, Doctor Dennis leaning on his old mare, having thrown one arm about her as if to protect her, his stern face awed.

"There's where it went," said Joe, coolly, drawing his hands from his pockets, and pointing to a black gap in the pine woods.  "The best farms in this Jersey country lie back o' that.  I told you there was death in the pot, but I didn’t think it ud  'a' come this fashion."

"When will the storm be on us?" asked Mary, trembling.

Joe laughed sardonically.

"Haven't ye hed enough of it?"

"There will be no rain after a gust like that," said MacAulay. "I'll try and get you home now.  It has done its worst. It will take years to wipe out the woe this night has worked."

The wind had fallen into a dead silence, frightened at itself.  And now the sudden, awful thunder of the sea broke on them, shaking the sandy soil on which they stood.

"Thank God that Van Note is so trusty a sailor as you say!" said Mary, buttoning her furs closer to her throat.  "They're back in a safe harbor, I doubt not."

Joe and Doctor Dennis exchanged significant glances as they stood by the mare, and then looked again out to sea.

"Best get her home," said Joe, in a whisper.

Doctor Dennis nodded, and they made haste to bring the gig up to the horse-block.

Old Phebe Trull had been standing stirless since the gust passed.  She drew a long breath when Mary touched her, telling her to come home with them.

"That was a sharp blow.  I'm an old Barnegat woman, an' I've known no such cutters as that. But he'll come.  I'm expectin' my boy to-night, young woman.  I'm goin' to the beach now to wait for him, — for Derrick."

In spite of the queer old face peering out from the yellow sun-bonnet, with its flabby wrinkles and nut-cracker jaws, there was a fine, delicate meaning in the smile with which she waved her hand down to the stormy beach.

"What's that?" said Doctor Dennis, starting up, and holding his hand behind his ear.  His sandy face grew pale.

"I heard nothing," said Mary.

The next moment she caught a dull thud in the watery distance, as if some pulse of the night had throbbed feverishly.

Bow-legged Phil started to his feet.

"It's the gun of the Chief!  Van Note's goin' down!" he cried, with a horrible oath, and hobbled off, followed by the other men.

"His little brother Benny be on her," said Joe. "May God have mercy on their souls!"

He had climbed like a cat to the rafters, and thrown down two or three cables and anchors, and, putting them over his shoulders, started soberly for the beach, stopping to look at Miss Defourchet, crouched on the floor of the store.

"You'd best see after her, Doctor. Ropes is all we can do for 'em.  No boat ud live in that sea, goin' out."

Going down through the clammy fog, his feet sinking in the marsh with the weight he carried, he could see red lights in the mist, gathering towards shore.

"It's the wrackers goin' down to be ready for mornin'."

And in a few moments stood beside them a half-dozen brawny men, with


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their legs and chests bare.  The beach on which they stood glared white in the yellow light, giving the effect of a landscape in Polar seas.  One or two solitary headlands loomed gloomily up, covered with snow.  In front, the waters at the edge of the sea broke at their feet in long, solemn, monotonous swells, that reverberated like thunder, — a death-song for the work going on in the chaos beyond.

"Thar's no use doin' anything out thar," said one of the men, nodding gloomily to a black speck in the foaming hell.  "She be on the bar this ten minutes, an' she's a mean-built craft, that Chief."

"Couldn't a boat run out from the inlet?" timidly ventured an eager, blue-eyed little fellow.

"No, Snap," said Joe, letting his anchor fall, and clearing his throat.  "Well, there be the end of old Ben, hey?  Be yer never tired, yer cruel devil?" turning with a sudden fierceness to the sly foam creeping lazily about his feet.

There was a long silence.

"Bowlegs tried it, but his scow stud still, an' the breakers came atop as if it war a clam-shell.  He warn't five yards from shore.  His Ben's aboard."

Another peal of a gun from the schooner broke through the dark and storm.

"God!  I be sick o' sittin' on shor', an' watchin' men drownin' like rats on a raft," said Joe, wiping the foam from his thick lips, and trotting up and down the sand, keeping his back to the vessel.

Some of the men sat down, their hands clasped about their knees, looking gravely out.

"What cud we do, Joey?" said one. "Thar be Hannah an' the children; we kin give Hannah a lift. But as for Ben, it's no use thinkin' about Ben no more."

The little clam-digger Snap was kindling a fire out of the old half-burnt wrecks of vessels.

"It's too late to give 'em warnin'," he said; "but it'll let 'em see we're watchin' 'em at the last. One ud like friends at the last."

The fire lighted up the shore, throwing long bars of hot, greenish flame up the fog.

"Who be them, Joe?" whispered a wrecker, as two dim figures came down through the marsh.

"She hev a sweetheart aboord.  Don't watch her."

The men got up, and moved away, leaving Miss Defourchet alone with Doctor Dennis.  She stood so quiet, her eyes glued on the dull, shaking shadow yonder on the bar, that he thought she did not care.  Two figures came round from the inlet to where the water shoaled, pulling a narrow skiff.

"Hillo!" shouted Doctor Dennis.  "Be you mad?"

The stouter of the figures hobbled up.  It was Bowlegs.  His voice was deadened in the cold of the fog, but he wiped the hot sweat from his face.

"In God's name, be thar none of ye ull bear a hand with me?  Ud ye sit here an' see 'em drown?  Benny's thar, — my Ben."

Joe shook his head.

"My best friend be there," said the old Doctor. "But what can ye do? Your boat will be paper in that sea, Phil."

"That's so," droned out one or two of the wreckers, dully nodding.

"Curses on ye for cowards, then!" cried Bowlegs, as he plunged into the surf, and righted his boat. "Look who's my mate, shame on ye!"

His mate shoved the skiff out with an oar into the seething breakers, turning to do it, and showed them, by the far-reaching fire-light, old Phebe Trull, stripped to her red woollen chemise and flannel petticoat, her yellow, muscular arms and chest bare.  Her peaked old face was set, and her faded blue eye aflame.  She did not hear the cry of horror from the wreckers.

"Ye've a better pull than any white-liver of 'em, from Tom's to Barnegat," gasped Bowlegs, struggling against the surf.

She was wrestling for life with Death


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itself; but the quiet, tender smile did not leave her face.

"My God! ef I cud pull as when I was a gell!" she muttered. "Derrick, I'm comin'!  I'm comin', boy!"

The salt spray wet their little fire of logs, beside which Snap sat crying, —put it out at last, leaving a heap of black cinders.  The night fell heavier and cold;  boat and schooner alike were long lost and gone in outer darkness.  As they wandered up and down, chilled and hopeless, they could not see each other's faces, — only the patch of white sand at their feet.  When they shouted, no gun or cry answered them again.  All was silence, save the awful beat of the surf upon the shore, going on forever with its count, count of the hours until the time when the sea shall at last give up its dead.

(Story continued--click here)

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