There were more people in the grocery store than Felicia had ever seen there, for it was near the closing hour. She was obliged to wait much longer than she had expected. When she returned to the wharf, Ken was not in sight. Neither was the Flying Dutchman.
“How queer!” Phil thought. “Ken must have taken her out. How funny of him; they knew I was coming right back.”
She sat down on a pile-head and began humming to herself as she counted over her packages and added up her expenditure. She looked up presently, and saw Ken walking toward her. He was alone. Even then, it was a whole second before there came over her a hideous, sickening rush of fear.
She flew to meet him. “Where’s the boat—Ken, where’s the boat?”
“The boat? I left her temporarily tied up. What’s the mat—” At that moment he saw the empty gray water at the pier head. Two breathless voices spoke together:
“He was in the boat,” Felicia gasped hoarsely. “I ran back after the groceries.”
Ken was at the end of the wharf in one agonized leap. In another second he had the frayed, wet end of rope in his hand.
“That salvaged line!” he said. “Phil, couldn’t you see that only her stern line was made fast? I left her half-moored till I came back. That rope was rotten, and it got jammed in here and chafed till it parted.”
“It’s my fault,” Felicia breathed.
“Mine,” Ken snapped. “Oh, my heavens! look at the fog!”
“And the tide?” Felicia hardly dared ask.
“Going out—to sea.”
A blank, hideous silence followed, broken only by the reiterated warning of the dismal siren at the lighthouse.
“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. A boat would have to comb every foot of the bay in this fog, and night’s coming. How long have you been gone?”
Felicia looked at her watch. She was astonished to find it had been over half an hour.
“Heaven knows where the boat could have got to in half an hour,” Ken muttered, “with this tide. And the wind’s going to sea, too.”
Felicia shook him wildly by the arm. “Do you realize—Kirk’s in that boat!” she moaned. “Kirk’s in that boat—do you realize it?”
Ken tore himself free.
“No, I don’t want to realize it,” he said in a harsh, high voice. “Get back to the house, Phil! You can’t do anything. I’m going to the harbor master now—I’m going everywhere. I may not be back to-night.” He gave her a little push, “Go, Phil.”
But he ran after her. “Poor old Phil—mustn’t worry,” he said gently. “Get back to the farm before it’s dark and have it all cheerful for us when we come in—Kirk and I.”
And then he plunged into the reek, and Felicia heard the quick beat of his steps die away down the wharf.
The harbor master was prompt in action, but not encouraging. He got off with Ken in his power boat in surprisingly short order. The coast guard, who had received a very urgent telephone message, launched the surf-boat, and tried vainly to pierce the blank wall of fog—now darkening to twilight—with their big searchlight. Lanterns, lost at once in the murk, began to issue from wharf-houses as men started on foot up the shore of the bay.