It was emphatically "a dirty night." The barometer had been slowly but persistently falling during the two previous days; the dawn had been red and threatening, with a strong breeze from S.E.; and as the short dreary November day waxed and waned this strong breeze had steadily increased in strength until by nightfall it had become a regular "November gale," with frequent squalls of arrowy rain and sleet, which, impelled by the furious gusts, smote and stung like hail, and cleared the streets almost as effectually as a volley of musketry would have done.
It was not fit for a dog to be out of doors. So said Ned Anger as he entered the snug bar-parlour of the "Anchor" at Brightlingsea, and drawing a chair close up to the blazing fire of wreck-wood which roared up the ample chimney, flung himself heavily down thereon to await the arrival of the "pint" which he had ordered as he passed the bar.
"And yet there’s a many poor souls as has to be out in it, and as is out in it," returned the buxom hostess, entering at the moment with the aforesaid pint upon a small tray. "It’s to be hoped as none of ‘em won’t meet their deaths out there among the sands this fearful night," she added, as Ned took the glass from her, and deposited his "tuppence" in the tray in payment therefore. A sympathetic murmur of concurrence went round the room in response to this philanthropic wish, accompanied in some instances by doubtful shakes of the head.
"Ay, ay, we all hope that," remarked Dick Bird. "Dicky Bird" was the name which had been playfully bestowed upon him by his chums, and by which he was generally known. "We all hopes that; but I, for one, feels uncommon duberous about it. There’s hardly a capful of wind as blows but what some poor unfortunate craft leaves her bones out there," with a jerk of the thumb over his shoulder to seaward, "and mostly with every wreck there’s some lives lost. I say, mates, I suppose there’s somebody on the look-out?" "Ay, ay," responded old Bill Maskell from his favourite corner under the tall old-fashioned clock-case, "Bob’s gone across the creek and up to the tower, as usual. The boy will go; always says as how it’s his duty to go up there and keep a look-out in bad weather; so, as his eyes is as sharp as needles, and since one is as good as a hundred for that sort of work, I thought I’d just look in here for a hour or two, so as to be on the spot if in case any of us should be wanted."
“I’ve often wondered how it is that it always falls to Bob’s lot to go upon the look-out in bad weather. How is it?" asked an individual in semi-nautical costume at the far end of the room, whose bearing and manner conveyed the impression that he regarded himself, as indeed he was, somewhat of an intruder. He was a ship-chandler’s shopman, with an ambition to be mistaken for a genuine "salt," and had not been many months in the place.
"Well, you see, mister, the way of it is just this," explained old Maskell, who considered the question as addressed more especially to him: "Bob was taken off a wrack on the Maplin when he was a mere babby, the only one saved; found him wrapped up warm and snug in one of the bunks on the weather side of the cabin with the water surging up to within three inches of him; so ever since he’s been old enough to understand he has always insisted that it was his duty, by way of returning thanks, like, to take the look-out when a wrack may be expected. And, don’t you make no mistake, there ain’t an eye so sharp as his for a signal-rocket in the whole place, sees ‘em almost before they be fired, he do."