In the naphtha some one’s voice belched through a megaphone; he laughed outright now. Come and get him, if they wanted him! He would give them as merry a dash as possible. His boat raced madly through the water—nearer, yet nearer the green light. Now a large dark outline loomed before him; he would have to stop, to come about in a moment, or—A great wave struck him, half filling his boat, but he did not seem to notice.
A dazzling white glow suddenly surrounded him; from the naphtha a search-light had been flashed. It fell on him fully, sprinkled over on the wild hurtling waves beyond, and just touched the side of the outgoing vessel. Mr. Heatherbloom looked toward the vessel and his pupils dilated. The light leaped into the air with the motion of the naphtha, and, in an instant was gone, but the impress of a single detail remained on his retina—of a side ladder, lowered, no doubt, for the woman, and not yet hoisted into place on the big boat.
The wildness of the sea seemed to surge through Mr. Heatherbloom’s veins; he did not come about; he did not try to. Now it was too late! That ladder!—he would seize it as they swept by. Closer his boat ran; a swirl of water caught him, threw him from his course. He made a frantic effort to regain it but without avail. The big steel bow of the great boat struck and overwhelmed the little craft.
On the Nevski, the lookout forward walked slowly back and forth. Once or twice he shook his head. But a few moments before the yacht had run down a small boat, he had reported the matter, and—the Nevski had continued ahead, full speed. She had not even slackened long enough to make the usual futile pretense of extending assistance to the unfortunate occupant, or occupants. His excellency, Prince Boris, evidently did not wish, or had no time, to bother with blunderers; if they got in his way so much the worse for them. The lookout, pausing to stare once more ahead, suddenly started. Though apathetic, like most of the lower class of his countrymen, he uttered a faint guttural of surprise and peered over the bow. A voice had seemed to rise from the very seething depths of the sea. Naturally superstitious, he made the sign of the cross on his breast while tales of dead seamen who came back played through his dull fancy.
Once more he heard it—that voice that seemed to mingle with the wailing tones of the deep! The little swinging lantern beneath the bowsprit played on his bearded face as he bent farther forward, and, with growing wonder not unmixed with fear, now made out something dark clinging to one of the steel lines that ran from the projecting timber to the ship. It took the lookout a few moments to realize that this dark object that had a voice—albeit a faint one—could not be other than a recent occupant of the small boat he had seen disappear. This person must have leaped upward at the critical moment, and caught one of the taut strands upon which he had somehow managed to hoist himself and to which he now clung desperately. It was a precarious position and one that the motion of the yacht made but briefly tenable.