Chapter XLIX: A Voyage in a Coffin Ship

Ezra was a strong swimmer, but when he had shaken himself free of the boat, and kicked away a seaman who clung to him, he made no attempt to strike out. He knew that the waves would bear him quickly enough on to the rocks, and he reserved himself for the struggle with them. A great roller came surging over the outlying reef. It carried him in like a feather and hurled him up against the face of the cliff. As he struggled upon its crest, he mechanically put out his hands and seized a projecting portion of the rock. The shock of the contact was tremendous, but he retained his grasp and found himself, when the wave receded, standing battered and breathless upon a small niche in the front of the rock which just gave him foothold. It was a marvellous escape, for looking on either side he could not see any break in the sheer declivity.

He was by no means safe as yet. If a wave had landed him there another might come as high and drag him away. Looking down he saw one or two smaller ones break into spray far below him, and then a second great green billow came rolling majestically towards him. He eyed it as it came foaming in, and calculated that it would come at least as high as his knees. Would it drag him back with it, or could he hold his own? He braced himself as firmly as he could, placing his feet apart, and digging his nails into the inequalities of the rock until the blood gushed from them. The water surged up upon him, and he felt it tugging like some murderous demon at his legs, but he held on bravely until the pressure decreased. Looking below the saw the wave sinking down the face of the cliff. Another wave overtook it and welled it up again, and then from the depths of the green waters Ezra saw a long white arm shoot up, and grasp the edge of the ledge upon which he stood.

Even before the face appeared the young man knew that the hand was his father’s. A second followed the first, and then the old merchant’s face was uplifted from the waves. He was cruelly bruised and battered, and his clothes had been partly torn away. He recognized his son, however, and looked up at him beseechingly, while he held on with all his strength to the ledge of rock. So small was the space that his clinging fingers touched Ezra’s toes.

“There’s no room here,” the young man said brutally.

“For God’s sake!”

“Hardly room for one.”

The merchant was hanging with the lower portion of his body in the water. It was but a few instants, but the old man had time to think of many an incident in his past life. Once more he saw the darkened sick-room, and his own form standing by the bed of the dying man. What are these words which ring in his ears above the crash of the surf? “May your flesh and blood treat you as you treat her.” He looked up appealing at his son. Ezra saw that the next wave would lift him right up on to the ledge. In that case he might be hustled off.

“Leave go!” he cried.

“Help me, Ezra.”

His son brought down his heavy heel upon the bloodless hands. The old African trader gave a wild shriek and fell back into the sea. Looking down, Ezra saw his despairing face gazing at him through the water. Slowly it sank until it was but a flickering white patch far down in the green depths. At the same instant a thick rope came dangling down the face of the cliff, and the young man knew that he was saved.

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