Robert Coverdale's Struggle - LightNovelOnl.com
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The assaults of the sea had strained heavily the raft, which he had not been able, for want of nails, to make strong and secure.
Robert's heart beat with quiet alarm as he realized that there was small chance of his frail craft holding together till he reached shore.
The danger was hardly realized before it came.
A strong wave wrenched apart the timbers, and Robert Coverdale found himself, without warning, spilled into the sea, a mile and a half from land.
Instinctively he struck out and began to swim, but the distance was great and he was impeded by his clothes.
Looking neither to the right nor to the left, but only straight ahead, he swam with all the strength there was left to him, but he found himself weakening after a while and gave himself up for lost.
THE HERMIT OF THE CLIFF
The last thing that Robert could remember was the singing of the waters in his ears and a weight as of lead that bore him downward with a force which he felt unable to resist.
But at the critical moment, when the doors of death seemed to be swinging open to admit him, he was firmly seized by a slender, muscular arm, extended from a boat shaped somewhat like an Indian canoe and rowed by a tall, thin man with white hair and a long white beard.
In the dusk our hero had not seen the boat nor known that help was so near at hand. But the occupant of the boat had, from a distance, seen the going to pieces of the raft, and appreciated the peril of the brave swimmer, and paddled his boat energetically toward him just in time to rescue him when already insensible.
Pale and with closed eyes lay Robert in the bottom of the boat. The old man--for so he appeared--rather anxiously opened the boy's shirt and placed his hand over his heart. An expression of relief appeared on his face.
"He will do," he said sententiously and turned his attention to the boat.
Half a mile from the cliff on which stood the fisherman's cabin was another, rising to a greater height.
To this the stranger directed his boat. He fastened it and then, raising our hero in his arms, walked toward the cliff.
There was a cavity as wide as a door, but less in height, through which he passed, lowering his head as he entered. Inside the opening steadily widened and became higher. This cavity was about ten feet above the sandy beach and was reached by a ladder.
On he passed, guided amid the darkness by a light from a lantern hanging from the roof. The front portion of the cavern seemed like a hall, through which a narrow doorway led into a larger room, which was furnished like the interior of a house. Upon a walnut table stood a lamp, which the stranger lighted. He took the boy, already beginning to breathe more freely, and laid him on a lounge, covered with a buffalo skin, at the opposite side of the apartment. From a shelf he took a bottle and administered a cordial to Robert, who, though not yet sensible, mechanically swallowed it.
The effect was almost instantaneous.
The boy opened his eyes and looked about him in bewilderment.
"Where am I?" he inquired.
"What can you remember?" asked the old man.
"I was struggling in the water," he answered. "I thought I was drowning."
Then, gazing at the strange apartment and the majestic face of the venerable stranger, he said hesitatingly:
"Am I still living or was I drowned?"
He was not certain whether he had made the mysterious passage from this world to the next, so strange and unfamiliar seemed everything about him.
"You are still in life," answered the stranger, smiling gravely. "God has spared you, and a long life is yet before you if He wills."
"And you saved me?"
"How can I thank you? I owe you my life," said Robert gratefully.
"I am indebted to you for the opportunity once more to be of use to one of my race."
"I don't understand how you could have saved me. When I went down I could see no one near."
"On account of the dusk. I was not far away in my boat. I saw your peril and hastened to your assistance. Fortunately I was not too late. Do you know who it is that has saved you?"
"Yes," answered Robert.
"You have seen me before?"
"Yes, but not often."
"How do people call me?"
"They call you 'the hermit of the cliff.'"
"As well that as anything else," said the old man. "What more do they say of me?"
Robert seemed reluctant to tell, but there was something imperative in the old man's tone.
"Some say you are crazy," he answered.
"I am not surprised to hear it. The world is apt to say that of one who behaves differently from his fellows. But I must not talk too much of myself. How do you feel?"
"I feel weak," answered Robert.
"Doubtless. Swimming against such a current was a severe strain upon your strength. Let me feel your pulse."
He pressed his finger upon Robert's pulse and reported that the action was slow.
"It means exhaustion," he said. "You must sleep well, and to-morrow morning you will feel as well as usual."
"But I ought to go home," said Robert, trying to rise. "My aunt will feel anxious about me."
"Who is your aunt?"