"What's that?" asked the young reporter, pausing.
"She's firing for help," replied the fisherman. "Can't last much longer now."
"Can't the life savers do anything?"
"They'll try, as soon as they can. Hard to get a boat off in this surf. It comes up mighty fast and heavy. Have to use the breeches buoy, I reckon. But come on, and I'll lend you some dry things to put on."
Five minutes later Larry was inside the hut. It was small, consisting of only two rooms, but it was kept as neatly as though it was part of a ship.
In a small stove there was a blazing fire of driftwood, and Larry drew near to the grateful heat, for, though it was only late in September, it was much colder at the beach than in the city, and he was chilly from the drenching.
"Lucky I happened to see you," Bailey went on. "I went down to the train to get my paper. One of the brakemen throws me one off each trip. It's all the news I get. I didn't expect any one down. This used to be quite a place years ago, but it's petered out. But come on, get your wet things off, and I'll see what I can do for you."
Larry was glad enough to do so. Fortunately he had brought some extra underwear in his valise, and, after a good rub-down before the stove, he donned the garments, and then put on a pair of the fisherman's trousers and an old coat, until his own clothes could dry.
As he sat before the stove, warm and comfortable after the drenching, and safe from the storm, which was now raging with increased fury outside, Larry heard the deep booming of the signal guns coming to him from across the angry sea.
"Are they in any danger?" he asked of Bailey, as the fisherman prepared to get a meal.
"Danger? There's always danger on the sea, my boy. I wouldn't want to be on that vessel, and I've been in some pretty tight places and gotten out again. She went ashore in a fog early this morning, but it will be a good while before she gets off. Seven Mile Beach hates to let go of a thing once it gets a hold."
It was getting dusk, and what little light of the fading day was left was obscured by the masses of storm clouds. The fisherman's hut was on the beach, not far from the high-water mark, and the booming of the surf on the shore came as a sort of melancholy accompaniment to the firing of the signal gun.
"Where is the wreck?" asked Larry, going to a window that looked out on the sea.
"Notice that black speck, right in line with my boat on the beach?" asked Bailey, pointing with a stubby forefinger over the young reporter's shoulder.
"That thing that looks like a seagull?"
"That's her. You can't see it very well on account of the rain, but there she lies, going to pieces fast, I'm afraid."
"Why didn't they get the people off before this?"
"Captain wouldn't accept help. Thought the vessel would float off and he'd save his reputation. The life savers went out when it was fairly calm, but didn't take anyone ashore. Now it's too late, I reckon."
As the fisherman spoke a rocket cleaved the fast-gathering blackness and shot up into the air.
"What's that?" asked Larry.
"She's firing signal lights. Wait and you'll see the coast-guard send up one in reply."
Presently a blue glare, up the beach not far from the cottage, shone amid the storm and darkness.
"That's George Tucker, burning a Coston light," explained Bailey. "He patrols this part of the beach to-night. They may try the boat again, but it's a risk."
There was an exchange of colored lights between the beach patrol and those on the steamer. Larry watched them curiously. He tried to picture the distress of those aboard the ship, waiting for help from shore; help that was to save them from the hungry waves all about.
"I wonder how I'm going to get news of this to the paper," Larry asked himself. He was beginning to feel quite worried, for he realized a great tragedy might happen at any moment, and he knew the Leader must have an account of it early the next morning, for it was an afternoon paper. The managing editor would probably order an extra.
"Couldn't I go down to the life-saving station?" asked Larry. "Maybe I could go out in a boat and get some news."
"They wouldn't let you, and, if they would, you couldn't send any news up to your paper from here to-night," replied the fisherman. "The nearest telegraph office is closed. Better stay here until morning. Then you can do something. I'll fix you up with oilskins after supper, if you like, and we'll go out on the beach. But I don't believe they'll launch the life-boat to-night."
The storm had now settled down into a fierce, steady wind and dashing rain. It fairly shook the little hut, and the stove roared with the draught created. Bailey soon had a hot meal ready, and Larry did full justice to it.
"Now we'll go out on the beach," the fisherman said, as he donned his oilskins, and got out a suit for Larry. The youth looked like anything but a reporter when he put on the boots and tied the yellow hat under his chin, for otherwise the wind would have whipped it off in an instant.
They closed up the hut, leaving a lantern burning in it, and started down toward the ocean. Through the darkness Larry could see a line of foam where the breakers struck the beach. They ran hissing over the pebbles and broken shells, and then surged back again. As the two walked along, a figure, carrying a lantern and clad as they were, in yellow oilskins, loomed up in the darkness.
"Hello, George!" cried Bailey, above the roar of the wind. "Going to get the boat out?"
"Not to-night. I signalled down to the station, but they flashed back that the surf was too high. We'll try the buoy in the morning, if the ship lasts that long, which I'm afraid she won't, for she's being pounded hard."
"The station where they keep the life-boat is about two miles below where we are now," Bailey explained to Larry. "We'll go down in the morning."
Suddenly a series of lights shot into the air from out at sea.
"What's that?" cried Larry.
"It's a signal that she's going to pieces fast!" cried the coast-guard. "Maybe we'll have to try the breeches buoy to-night. I must go to the station. They may need my help."
As the beach patrol hurried up the sandy stretch, Larry had half a notion to follow him. He wanted to see the operation of setting up the breeches buoy in order to make a good story, with plenty of details. He was about to propose to the fisherman that they go, when Bailey, who had gone down to the water's edge, uttered a cry.
"What is it?" called the reporter, hastening to the side of the old man.
"Looks like a life-raft from the steamer!" exclaimed Bailey. "She must have broken up. Maybe there's some one on this. Give me a hand. We'll try to haul it ashore when the next high wave sends it up on the beach."
Larry strained his eyes for a sight of the object. He could just discern something white, rising and falling on the tumultuous billows.
"Come on!" cried Bailey, rushing down into the first line of surf, as a big roller lifted the object and flung it onward. "Grab it and pull!"
Larry sprang down the sand. He waded out into the water, surprised to find how strong it was even in the shallow place. He made a grab for the dim white object. His hands grasped a rope. At the same time the fisherman got hold of another rope.
"Pull!" cried Bailey, and Larry bent his back in an effort to snatch the raft from the grip of the sea.
At first the waves shoved the raft toward them, then, as the waters receded, the current sucked it out again. But the fisherman was strong and Larry was no weakling. They hauled until they had the raft out of reach of the rollers. Then, while there came a wilder burst of the storm, and a dash of spray from the waves, Bailey leaned over the raft.
"There's a man lashed to it!" the fisherman cried. "We must get him to my shack and try to save him! Hurry now!"
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