Read CHAPTER VIII - THE LIFEBOAT IS LAUNCHED of Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point Nita / The Girl Castaway, free online book, by Alice B. Emerson, on

The announcement quelled all the jollity of the party on the instant.  Heavy even lost interest in the sweetmeats before her.

“Goodness me! what a terrible thing,” cried Helen Cameron.  “A ship on the rocks!”

“Let’s go see it!” Busy Izzy cried.

“If we can,” said Tom.  “Is it possible, Miss Kate?”

Heavy’s aunt looked at the butler for information.  He was one of those well-trained servants who make it their business to know everything.

“I can have the ponies put into the long buckboard.  The young ladies can drive to the station; the young gentlemen can walk.  It is not raining very hard at present.”

Mercy elected to remain in the house with Miss Kate.  The other girls were just as anxious to go to the beach as the boys.  There were no timid ones in the party.

But when they came down, dressed in rainy-weather garments, and saw the man standing at the ponies’ heads, glistening in wet rubber, if one had withdrawn probably all would have given up the venture.  The boys had already gone on ahead, and the ship’s gun sounded mournfully through the wild night, at short intervals.

They piled into the three seats of the buckboard, Ruth sitting beside the driver.  The ponies dashed away along the sandy road.  It was two miles to the life saving station.  They passed the three boys when they were only half way to their destination.

“Tell ’em not to save all the people from the wreck till we get there!” shouted Tom Cameron.

None of the visitors to Lighthouse Point realized the seriousness of the happening as yet.  They were yet to see for the first time a good ship battering her life out against the cruel rocks.

Nor did the girls see the wreck at first, for a pall of darkness lay upon the sea.  There were lights in the station and a huge fire of driftwood burned on the beach.  Around this they saw figures moving, and Heavy said, as she alighted: 

“We’ll go right down there.  There are some women and children already ­see?  Sam will put the horses under the shed here.”

The five girls locked arms and ran around the station.  When they came to the front of the building, a great door was wheeled back at one side and men in oilskins were seen moving about a boat in the shed.  The lifeboat was on a truck and they were just getting ready to haul her down to the beach.

“And the wreck must have struck nearly an hour ago!” cried Madge.  “How slow they are.”

“No,” said Heavy thoughtfully.  “It is July now, and Uncle Sam doesn’t believe there will be any wrecks along this coast until September.  In the summer Cap’n Abinadab keeps the station alone.  It took some time to-night to find a crew ­and possibly some of these men are volunteers.”

But now that the life-savers had got on the ground, they went to work with a briskness and skill that impressed the onlookers.  They tailed onto the drag rope and hauled the long, glistening white boat down to the very edge of the sea.  The wind was directly onshore, and it was a fight to stand against it, let alone to haul such a heavy truck through the wet sand.

Suddenly there was a glow at sea and the gun boomed out again.  Then a pale signal light burned on the deck of the foundered vessel.  As the light grew those ashore could see her lower rigging and the broken masts and spars.  She lay over toward the shore and her deck seemed a snarl of lumber.  Between the reef and the beach, too, the water was a-foul with wreckage and planks of all sizes.

“Lumber-laden, boys ­and her deck load’s broke loose!” shouted one man.

The surf roared in upon the sands, and then sucked out again with a whine which made Ruth shudder.  The sea seemed like some huge, ravening beast eager for its prey.

“How can they ever launch the boat into those waves?” Ruth asked of Heavy.

“Oh, they know how,” returned the stout girl.

But the life-savers were in conference about their captain.  He was a short, sturdy old man with a squarely trimmed “paint-brush” beard.  The girls drew nearer to the group and heard one of the surfmen say: 

“We’ll smash her, Cap, sure as you’re born!  Those planks are charging in like battering-rams.”

“We’ll try it, Mason,” returned Cap’n Abinadab.  “I don’t believe we can shoot a line to her against this gale.  Ready!”

The captain got in at the stern and the others took their places in the boat.  Each man had a cork belt strapped around his body under his arms.  There were a dozen other men to launch the lifeboat into the surf when the captain gave the word.

He stood up and watched the breakers rolling in.  As a huge one curved over and broke in a smother of foam and spray he shouted some command which the helpers understood.  The boat started, truck and all, and immediately the men launching her were waist deep in the surging, hissing sea.

The returning billow carried the boat off the truck, and the lifeboatmen plunged in their oars and pulled.  Their short sharp strokes were in such unison that the men seemed moved by the same mind.  The long boat shot away from the beach and mounted the incoming wave like a cork.

The men ashore drew back the boat-truck out of the way.  The lifeboat seemed to hang on that wave as though hesitating to take the plunge.  Ruth thought that it would be cast back ­a wreck itself ­upon the beach.

But suddenly it again sprang forward, and the curling surf hid boat and men for a full minute from the gaze of those on shore.  The girls clung together and gazed eagerly out into the shifting shadows that overspread the riotous sea.

“They’ve sunk!” gasped Helen.

“No, no!” cried Heavy.  “There! see them?”

The boat’s bow rose to meet the next wave.  They saw the men pulling as steadily as though the sea were smooth.  Old Cap’n Abinadab still stood upright in the stern, grasping the heavy steering oar.

“I’ve read,” said Ruth, more quietly, “that these lifeboats are unsinkable ­unless they are completely wrecked.  Water-tight compartments, you know.”

“That’s right, Miss,” said one of the men nearby.  “She can’t sink.  But she can be smashed ­Ah!”

A shout came back to them from the sea.  The wind whipped the cry past them in a most eerie fashion.

“Cap’n Abinadab shouting to the men,” explained Heavy, breathlessly.

Suddenly another signal light was touched off upon the wreck.  The growing light flickered over the entire expanse of lumber-littered sea between the reef and the beach.  They could see the lifeboat more clearly.

She rose and sank, rose and sank, upon wave after wave, all the time fighting her way out from the shore.  Again and again they heard the awesome cry.  The captain was warning his men how to pull to escape the charging timbers.

The next breaker that rolled in brought with it several great planks that were dashed upon the beach with fearful force.  The splinters flew into the air, the wind whipping them across the sands.  The anxious spectators had to dodge.

The timbers ground together as the sea sucked them back.  Again and again they were rolled in the surf, splintering against each other savagely.

“One of those would go through that boat like she was made of paper!” bawled one of the fishermen.

At that moment they saw the lifeboat lifted upon another huge wave.  She was a full cable’s length from the shore, advancing very slowly.  In the glare of the Coston light the anxious spectators saw her swerve to port to escape a huge timber which charged upon her.

The girls screamed.  The great stick struck the lifeboat a glancing blow.  In an instant she swung broadside to the waves, and then rolled over and over in the trough of the sea.

A chorus of shouts and groans went up from the crowd on shore.  The lifeboat and her courageous crew had disappeared.