31. The Life-Line
On the coast of Angleshire the weather in the early days of September had been stormy.
With the south-west wind had come deluges of rain, not a common thing for the time of
year on the east coast. Stephen, whose spirits always rose with high wind, was in a
condition of prolonged excitement. She could not keep still; every day she rode long
distances, and found a wonderful satisfaction in facing the strong winds. Like a true
horsewoman she did not mind the wet, and had glorious gallops over the grassy ridge and
down the slopes on the farther side, out on the open road or through the endless grass
rides amid the pine woods.
On the Tuesday morning the storm was in full sweep, and Stephen was in wild spirits.
Nothing would do her but to go out on the tower of the castle where she could walk
about, and leaning on the crenellated parapet look over all the coast stretching far in front
and sweeping away to the left and right. The prospect so enchanted her, and the fierce
sweep of the wind so suited her exalted mood, that she remained there all the morning.
The whole coast was a mass of leaping foam and flying spray, and far away to the
horizon white- topped waves rolled endlessly. That day she did not even ride out, but
contented herself with watching the sea and the storm from the tower. After lunch she
went to her tower again; and again after tea. The storm was now furious. She made up her
mind that after dinner she would ride down and see its happenings close at hand.
When she had finished dinner she went to her room to dress for her ride. The rush and
roar of the storm were in her ears, and she was in wild tumultuous spirits. All her youth
seemed to sweep back on her; or perhaps it was that the sickness of the last two years was
swept away. Somewhere deep down in Stephen's heart, below her intention or even her
consciousness, was a desire to be her old self if only for an hour. And to this end
externals were of help. Without weighing the matter in her mind, and acting entirely on
impulse, she told her maid to get the red habit she had not worn for years. When she was
dressed she sent round to have out her white Arab; while it was getting ready she went
once more to the tower to see the storm-effect in the darkening twilight. As she looked,
her heart for an instant stood still. Half-way to the horizon a great ship, ablaze in the
bows, was driving through the waves with all her speed. She was heading towards the
little port, beyond which the shallows sent up a moving wall of white spray.
Stephen tore down the turret stair, and gave hurried directions to have beds prepared in a
number of rooms, fires everywhere, and plenty of provisions. She also ordered that
carriages should be sent at once to the fishing port with clothing and restoratives. There
would, she felt, be need for such help before a time to be measured by minutes should
have passed; and as some of her servants were as yet strange to her ways she did not
leave anything to chance. One carriage was to go for the doctor who lived at Lannoy, the
village over the hill, whence nothing could be seen of what was happening. She knew
that others within sight or hailing would be already on their way. Work was afoot, and
had she time, or thought of it, she would have chosen a more sedate garb. But in the
excitement no thought of herself came to her.