Alan faced his cabin door. He knew what had happened. Someone was overboard. And in this moment all life and strength were gone out of his body, for the pale face of Mary Standish seemed to rise for an instant before him, and in her quiet voice she was telling him again that this was the other way. His face went white as he caught up his smoking-gown, flung open his door, and ran down the dimly lighted corridor.
The reversing of the engines had not stopped the momentum of the ship when Alan reached the open deck. She was fighting, but still swept slowly ahead against the force struggling to hold her back. He heard running feet, voices, and the rattle of davit blocks, and came up as the starboard boat aft began swinging over the smooth sea. Captain Rifle was ahead of him, half-dressed, and the second officer was giving swift commands. A dozen passengers had come from the smoking-room. There was only one woman. She stood a little back, partly supported in a man’s arms, her face buried in her hands. Alan looked at the man, and he knew from his appearance that she was the woman who had screamed.
He heard the splash of the boat as it struck water, and the rattle of oars, but the sound seemed a long distance away. Only one thing came to him distinctly in the sudden sickness that gripped him, and that was the terrible sobbing of the woman. He went to them, and the deck seemed to sway under his feet. He was conscious of a crowd gathering about the empty davits, but he had eyes only for these two.
“Was it a man—or a woman?” he asked.
It did not seem to him it was his voice speaking. The words were forced from his lips. And the other man, with the woman’s head crumpled against his shoulder, looked into a face as emotionless as stone.
“A woman,” he replied. “This is my wife. We were sitting here when she climbed upon the rail and leaped in. My wife screamed when she saw her going.”
The woman raised her head. She was still sobbing, with no tears in her eyes, but only horror. Her hands were clenched about her husband’s arm. She struggled to speak and failed, and the man bowed his head to comfort her. And then Captain Rifle stood at their side. His face was haggard, and a glance told Alan that he knew.
“Who was it?” he demanded.
“This lady thinks it was Miss Standish.”
Alan did not move or speak. Something seemed to have gone wrong for a moment in his head. He could not hear distinctly the excitement behind him, and before him things were a blur. The sensation came and passed swiftly, with no sign of it in the immobility of his pale face.
“Yes, the girl at your table. The pretty girl. I saw her clearly, and then—then—”
It was the woman. The captain broke in, as she caught herself with a choking breath:
“It is possible you are mistaken. I can not believe Miss Standish would do that. We shall soon know. Two boats are gone, and a third lowering.” He was hurrying away, throwing the last words over his shoulder.