Five minutes later he opened a door looking out over the black sea, bracing his arm against it. The wind tore in, beating his whitening beard over his shoulders, and with it came a deluge of rain that drenched him as he stood there. He forced the door shut and faced Alan, a great, gray ghost of a man in the yellow glow of the oil lamp.
From then until dawn they waited. And in the first break of that dawn the long, black launch of Olaf, the Swede, nosed its way steadily out to sea.
The wind had died away, but the rain continued, torrential in its downpour, and the mountains grumbled with dying thunder. The town was blotted out, and fifty feet ahead of the hissing nose of the launch Alan could see only a gray wall. Water ran in streams from his rubber slicker, and Olaf’s great beard was dripping like a wet rag. He was like a huge gargoyle at the wheel, and in the face of impenetrable gloom he opened speed until the Norden was shooting with the swiftness of a torpedo through the sea.
In Olaf’s cabin Alan had listened to the folly of expecting to find Mary Standish. Between Eyak River and Katalla was a mainland of battered reefs and rocks and an archipelago of islands in which a pirate fleet might have found a hundred hiding-places. In his experience of twenty years Ericksen had never known of the finding of a body washed ashore, and he stated firmly his belief that the girl was at the bottom of the sea. But the impulse to go on grew no less in Alan. It quickened with the straining eagerness of the Norden as the slim craft leaped through the water.
Even the drone of thunder and the beat of rain urged him on. To him there was nothing absurd in the quest he was about to make. It was the least he could do, and the only honest thing he could do, he kept telling himself. And there was a chance that he would find her. All through his life had run that element of chance; usually it was against odds he had won, and there rode with him in the gray dawn a conviction he was going to win now—that he would find Mary Standish somewhere in the sea or along the coast between Eyak River and the first of the islands against which the shoreward current drifted. And when he found her—
He had not gone beyond that. But it pressed upon him now, and in moments it overcame him, and he saw her in a way which he was fighting to keep out of his mind. Death had given a vivid clearness to his mental pictures of her. A strip of white beach persisted in his mind, and waiting for him on this beach was the slim body of the girl, her pale face turned up to the morning sun, her long hair streaming over the sand. It was a vision that choked him, and he struggled to keep away from it. If he found her like that, he knew, at last, what he would do. It was the final crumbling away of something inside him, the breaking down of that other Alan Holt whose negative laws and self-imposed blindness had sent Mary Standish to her death.