A team of heavy horses pulled the boat down the slipway. Blue Dolpnin hit topaz water and men unhitched those animals. Cox fired up the engine but men pulled on oars to increase their speed. Waves struck her bows. The lifeboat met them like a marine battering ram. Spay wet Nye's face. Swells lifted the boat. Curves in her cobalt hull looked clean and eligant. There was a knife among the equipment she carried.
Usually it was hard to spot casualties at sea, even for condor eyed Cox. Heads bobbing just above water were easily hidden by the waves. It was like looking for a kayak in the Atlantic. This time it was easier for a parachute had spread over chilly water. The crew spotted it close by the pier, pulled on smooth oars and headed towards it. A biplane circled overhead.
When they arrived the soldier was thrashing about in panic. His eyes bulged and his arms flailed on the surface, sending up white spray. A cry of terror erupted from his throat. Nye saw how young he was; they were close in age. Blue Dolphin halted alongside the soldier. Millward and another man leaned over her side, grabbed soaking arms and pulled on him. It proved impossible to haul him aboard. Nye wondered if this man was going to die in front of him and he shuddered.
Then Nye noticed something. A rope from the parachute was wrapped around the casualtie's left leg.
"I'll get the knife, I'll get the knife!" Nye shouted, then he did so. He leaned over the side and his colleagues lifted that soldier as far as possible. Nye brought cold steel down on wet fibres and severed strong rope. Those other crewmen pulled hard. Their biceps bulged. Blood vessils stood up from sun tanned skins. Sweat drenched their hair. They managed to haul the young man aboard.
Nye put the blade back, then grabbed a towel and rubbed the casualtie's dripping head and shoulders. His crewmates lifted blankets and wrapped them round the parachutist, who trembled from head to foot. Young lips had gone blue and wet skin felt cold. They asked "are you all right?" but he couldn't reply. He stared with glassy eyes that struggled to focus. They had to get him ashore and to hospital or he would die of cold. Cox turned Blue Dolphin and headed for dry land. The boat left a long trail of foam, like a phantom sea serpant. Nye pulled on a heavy oar.
When they reached dry land a group of anxious people awaited them. Some were civillians but others were clearly soldiers. The latter took charge of the casualty and ushered him into an ambulance. A sergeant paused to thank sweating lifeboatmen, then ordered civilians to stand back. Cox gave him an account of the rescue and the casualtie's condition. After that paramedics drove away, taking the parachutist to hospital.
Cox turned to Nye and said "well done Morgan. Then he added "its a good job that boy's in the army or he'd never pay the doctor's bills."
"Why couldn't he?" Nye enquired.
"I know his Dad and he's from a poor family."
"Couldn't he use your Medical Aid Society?"
"Back home all our men paid into it regularly. If anyone fell ill or got injured the Society paid for their treatment. Medical treatment was free at the point of delivery. Everyone who paid in could claim support, even if they'd fallen on hard times."
"Sounds like a good idea son, but we've nothing like that here."
Nye felt startled and a little unnerved on hearing that. What if he sustained serious injuries on a shout? Then again, his crewmates would be in the same position and it wasn't putting them off. As Blue Dolphin was pulled up the slipway another man grinned at him and slapped him on the back. A second ruffled his hair. He would stick with them. Nye looked forward to telling Cathy about today's rescue, if only she would listen. His pulse quickened.
She had heard about the shout and that he was on it, and so was close by already. They walked towards each other and met on the sea front. Hotels and guest houses looked down on them. A motor car drove by and pigeons took flight from in front of it. The sea wall made an eligant curve like an embrace. Cathy looked worried, then relaxed, quickened her pace and threw her arms around him. He gripped her and kissed warm, smooth skin. At first her heart was pounding but then it settled down.
Nye gave her a brief account of the rescue accompanied by calls of gulls. Then he murmured "come and meet me here after work and I'll tell you more."
"Is that more about the shout or more about yourself?"
Nye hesitated, then replied "maybe both."
They parted for the time being. Nye entered the station and changed ready for labouring. Cox stood beside him, beneath timber rafters.
"Well Spaniel," said Cox, "it looks like you measure up to her."
"What do you mean?"
"You don't know yet, do you? For the last few months of the war, Cathy Bladen worked in a flour mill. One day a fire broke out in the mill. I don't know all the details, I wasn't there when it started. Everyone was panicking or so I'm told. They tried to keep order but people ran out screaming. Fire engines went careering through the streets. People ran to see if loved ones had got out. I went to see what was 'appening. There was a column of smoke higher than any of the buildings round 'ere. It looked as if Satan was sittin' on this town.
"At first Cathy ran like everyone else. Then there was a bottleneck when people tried to get through a doorway. Cathy turned and saw a workmate of 'ers wasn't there. She charged back into the flour mill, through clouds of smoke. She dropped onto all fours so she wouldn't choke, crawled around and found this other girl on the floor. Later it turned out she'd bin trampled in the panic. When Cathy found 'er she was alive but unconscious. Cathy took hold of 'er and somehow got 'er out of there. The mill roof caved in soon after they escaped. People jumped back screaming when that 'appened. An ambulance came and took the casualty away, but it was your girlfirend who pulled her out of that inferno."
Nye's jaw dropped and a tingle went down his spine.
"Why didn't she tell me?"
"I don't know Spaniel," said Cox as other men left the station. "You'll have to ask her."
"Did the other girl survive?"
"Yes and she's recovered now."
That evening Nye and Cathy met near the station as arranged. On the beach, a row of black seaweed lay on the tideline like a jet necklace. A cold wind brought rain and drove them inland, amongst hotels and guest houses now half empty. Dusk was underway. Autumn had arrived like a punch on summer's jaw. They ordered food in a warm chip shop, then sat down to eat. A plume of steam rose from behind the counter like a specteral column.
"Cathy, why didn't you tell me you saved another woman from a burning mill?"
There came a loud scraping noise as someone pulled a chair out. When it stopped she answered.
"I didn't want you feelin' you 'ad to do better than me, did I. That 'ud put you under extra pressure when you were trainin' wouldn't it. I was worried you'd try too hard or take a risk you weren't ready for. I couldn't do that to you Nye."
"What!? I wouldn't be that stupid."
"A lot of men would be, I'm sure of it. You're a good man Nye, but you're a man and not many men are perfect."
He paused for thought with vinegar on his tastebuds. Nearby glass steamed up. Perhaps she had a point. It didn't matter now for he had proved himself.
"I should tell you this," Nye said. "The man we rescued is in hospital but he's getting better. I'm told he'll make a full recovery."
"Thanks for tellin' me, that's good news." Cathy ate a piece of hot fish, then asked "is there something else you'd like to tell me?"
"Yes but can I say it in private?"
"Okay you can."
How would she react when he told her? "I've done nothing wrong," he told himself silently. "But would other people see it that way? What if he finds out where I am? He'll come after me and drag me back by force."
To be continued