In a trice they had flung her over the low rail into the sea; two sprang in and pulled hard for the rapidly sinking ‘Swan.’
All the time the guns ashore were rapping and roaring. The sea was thick with spouts of foam as shells big and little struck the surface.
‘This infernal searchlight!’ growled Roy. ’They’re rotten shots, but they’re getting the range now.’
They were. Just as the dinghy drew alongside the ‘Swan,’ another 6-inch plunged straight into her, amidships. It must have exploded in the engine-room. The ‘Swan’ and all in her vanished from the face of the waters, and when the smoke cloud lifted, the dinghy, upside down, with one man clinging to it, was all that was left.
‘A rope. Give us a rope!’ shouted Roy. Some one ran forward, but even as they did so a smaller shell caught the funnel of the ‘Maid’ and carried two thirds of it away. With it went the man with the rope.
At the same moment the survivor who was clinging to the dinghy let go his hold. Stunned by the concussion of the previous shell, he was sinking into the depths.
‘I can’t stand that,’ cried Roy, and with one spring was overboard and striking out hard for the drowning man.
The racket and roar were appalling. Some field batteries behind Kephez had joined in, and the whole night echoed with the quick crashes of the guns, while the air was full of the train-like rattle of flying shells.
But in all the confusion Ken kept his head. Catching sight of a coil of line on the deck close by the forward hatch, he sprang for it, made one end fast to a bollard, and with a shout flung the other towards Roy.
It fell short, but Roy saw it and with a great effort reached it.
‘Hang on!’ roared Ken at the top of his voice. ‘I’ll pull you in.’
[Illustration: When the men return from the trenches, they find sea-bathing most pleasant.]
[Illustration: French and British sailors are friends in play-time as in war-time.]
He had hardly began to haul when the end came. A shell bigger than any yet took the ‘Maid of Sker’ amidships. There was a fearful explosion, Ken felt himself hurled forward, and next moment the chill waters of the Dardanelles closed over his head.
Gasping with the sudden shock, Ken struck out and got his head above water. Only a few yards away, he saw Roy still clinging tightly to the survivor of the dinghy’s crew. He swam hard towards him and managed to reach him.
‘You!’ gasped Roy, who hardly seemed to have realised what had happened.
‘The trawler’s gone,’ panted Roy, as he lifted one hand and dashed the salt water from his eyes. ’Big shell got her. See, she’s still afloat, but sinking fast.’
Roy gave a groan. He seemed to be nearly at the end of his strength.