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32. 'To Be God And Able To Do Things'
When the swimmer saw the light he looked up; even at the distance they could see the lift
of his face; but he did not seem to realise that there was any intention in the lighting, or
that it was created for his benefit. He was manifestly spent with his tremendous exertions,
and with his long heavy swim in the turbulent sea. Stephen's heart went out to him in a
wave of infinite pity. She tried to use the trumpet. But simple as it is, a trumpet needs
skill or at least practice in its use; she could only make an unintelligible sound, and not
much even of that. One of the young men said:
'Let me try it, my lady!' She handed him the trumpet and he in turn used with a will. But
it was of no avail; even his strong lungs and lusty manhood availed nothing in the teeth of
that furious gale. The roof and the whole house was now well alight, and the flame roared
and leapt. Stephen began to make gestures bidding the swimmer, in case he might see her
and understand, move round the rocks. But he made no change in his direction, and was
fast approaching a point in the tide-race whence to avoid the sunken rocks would be an
impossibility. The old whaler, accustomed to use all his wits in times of difficulty, said
'How can he understand when we're all between him and the light. We are only black
shadows to him; all he can see are waving arms!' His sons caught his meaning and were
already dashing towards the burning house. They came back with piles of blazing wood
and threw them down on the very edge of the cliff; brought more and piled them up,
flinging heaps of straw on the bonfire and pouring on oil and pitch till the flames rose
high. Stephen saw what was necessary and stood out of the way, but close to the old
whaler, where the light fell on both of their faces as they looked in the direction of the
swimmer. Stephen's red dress itself stood out like a flame. The gale tearing up the front
of the cliff had whirled away her hat; in the stress of the wind her hair was torn from its
up-pinning and flew wide, itself like leaping flame.
Her gestures as she swept her right arm round, as though demonstrating the outward
curve of a circle, or raising the hand above her head motioned with wide palm and spread
fingers 'back! back!' seemed to have reached the swimmer's intelligence. He half rose in
the water and looked about. As if seeing something that he realised, he sank back again
and began swim frantically out to sea. A great throb of joy made Stephen almost faint. At
last she had been able to do something to help this gallant man. In half a minute his
efforts seemed to tell in his race for life. He drew sufficiently far from dangerous current
for there to be a hope that he might be saved if he could last out the stress to come.
The fishermen kept watch in silent eagerness; and in their presence Stephen felt a
comfort, though, like her, they could do nothing at present.
When the swimmer had passed sufficiently far out to be clear of the rocks, the fire began
to lose its flame, though not its intensity. It would be fiery still for hours to come, and of
great heat; but the flames ceased to leap, and in the moderated light Stephen only saw the