In the wan light, the faces of the men must have been grey. Their eyes must have glinted in strange ways as they gazed steadily astern. Viewed from a balcony, the whole thing would doubtlessly have been weirdly picturesque. But the men in the boat had no time to see it, and if they had had leisure there were other things to occupy their minds. The sun swung steadily up the sky, and they knew it was broad day because the colour of the sea changed from slate to emerald-green, streaked with amber lights, and the foam was like tumbling snow. The process of the breaking day was unknown to them. They were aware only of this effect upon the colour of the waves that rolled toward them.
In disjointed sentences the cook and the correspondent argued as to the difference between a life-saving station and a house of refuge. The cook had said: Theres a house of refuge just north of the Mosquito Inlet Light, and as soon as they see us, theyll come off in their boat and pick us up.
As soon as who see us? said the correspondent.
The crew, said the cook.
Houses of refuge dont have crews, said the correspondent. As I understand them, they are only places where clothes and grub are stored for the benefit of shipwrecked people. They dont carry crews.
Oh, yes, they do, said the cook.
No, they dont, said the correspondent.
Well, were not there yet, anyhow, said the oiler, in the stern.
Well, said the cook, perhaps its not a house of refuge that Im thinking of as being near Mosquito Inlet Light. Perhaps its a life-saving station.
Were not there yet, said the oiler, in the stern.
As the boat bounced from the top of each wave, the wind tore through the hair of the hatless men, and as the craft plopped her stern down again the spray slashed past them. The crest of each of these waves was a hill, from the top of which the men surveyed, for a moment, a broad tumultuous expanse, shining and wind-riven. It was probably splendid. It was probably glorious, this play of the free sea, wild with lights of emerald and white and amber.
Bully good thing its an on-shore wind, said the cook. If not, where would we be? Wouldnt have a show.
Thats right, said the correspondent.
The busy oiler nodded his assent.
Then the captain, in the bow, chuckled in a way that expressed humour, contempt, tragedy, all in one. Do you think weve got much of a show now, boys? said he.
Whereupon the three were silent, save for a trifle of hemming and hawing. To express any particular optimism at this time they felt to be childish and stupid, but they all doubtless possessed this sense of the situation in their mind. A young man thinks doggedly at such times. On the other hand, the ethics of their condition was decidedly against any open suggestion of hopelessness. So they were silent.
Oh, well, said the captain, soothing his children, well get ashore all right.
But there was that in his tone which made them think, so the oiler quoth: Yes! If this wind holds!
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