Chapter 36

For two days Maud and I ranged the sea and explored the beaches in search of the missing masts. But it was not till the third day that we found them, all of them, the shears included, and, of all perilous places, in the pounding surf of the grim south-western promontory. And how we worked! At the dark end of the first day we returned, exhausted, to our little cove, towing the mainmast behind us. And we had been compelled to row, in a dead calm, practically every inch of the way.

Another day of heart-breaking and dangerous toil saw us in camp with the two topmasts to the good. The day following I was desperate, and I rafted together the foremast, the fore and main booms, and the fore and main gaffs. The wind was favourable, and I had thought to tow them back under sail, but the wind baffled, then died away, and our progress with the oars was a snail’s pace. And it was such dispiriting effort. To throw one’s whole strength and weight on the oars and to feel the boat checked in its forward lunge by the heavy drag behind, was not exactly exhilarating.

Night began to fall, and to make matters worse, the wind sprang up ahead. Not only did all forward motion cease, but we began to drift back and out to sea. I struggled at the oars till I was played out. Poor Maud, whom I could never prevent from working to the limit of her strength, lay weakly back in the stern-sheets. I could row no more. My bruised and swollen hands could no longer close on the oar handles. My wrists and arms ached intolerably, and though I had eaten heartily of a twelve-o’clock lunch, I had worked so hard that I was faint from hunger.

I pulled in the oars and bent forward to the line which held the tow. But Maud’s hand leaped out restrainingly to mine.

“What are you going to do?” she asked in a strained, tense voice.

“Cast it off,” I answered, slipping a turn of the rope.

But her fingers closed on mine.

“Please don’t,” she begged.

“It is useless,” I answered. “Here is night and the wind blowing us off the land.”

“But think, Humphrey. If we cannot sail away on the Ghost, we may remain for years on the island - for life even. If it has never been discovered all these years, it may never be discovered.”

“You forget the boat we found on the beach,” I reminded her.

“It was a seal-hunting boat,” she replied, “and you know perfectly well that if the men had escaped they would have been back to make their fortunes from the rookery. You know they never escaped.”

I remained silent, undecided.

“Besides,” she added haltingly, “it’s your idea, and I want to see you succeed.”

Now I could harden my heart. As soon as she put it on a flattering personal basis, generosity compelled me to deny her.

“Better years on the island than to die to-night, or to-morrow, or the next day, in the open boat. We are not prepared to brave the sea. We have no food, no water, no blankets, nothing. Why, you’d not survive the night without blankets: I know how strong you are. You are shivering now.”

“It is only nervousness,” she answered. “I am afraid you will cast off the masts in spite of me.”

“Oh, please, please, Humphrey, don’t!” she burst out, a moment later.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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