She understood instantly, and, with a single swift glance at her dimly revealed figure, West straightened up, bearing the full weight on his shoulders, every muscle strained to the utmost, as he thus pressed it over inch by inch across the wooden barrier. Twice he stopped, breathless, trembling in every limb, seemingly unable to exert another pound of strength. Perspiration dripped from his face, his teeth clinched in desperate determination. At the second pause, she was beside him, pressing her way in also beneath the sagging burden. He felt the pressure of her body.
“No, no; I can make it alone,” he panted indignantly.
“Not so well as we both can, working together. I am strong, Captain West. Try it again now, and see.”
Suddenly the great unwieldy mass moved, slid forward, poised itself an instant on the rounded rail. The yacht rolled sharply to port, flinging both on to the deck together, but sending the raft crunching overboard, clear of the side. West grasped her, and dragged her to her feet. His one thought was that they were actually going down, but, even as he held her in his arms, ready to leap out into the black water, the shuddering vessel, with a last despairing effort, partially righted herself, and staggered on.
“The rope,” he questioned. “Did you lose grip on the rope?”
“No, it is here. I can feel the jerk of the raft.”
“Thank God for that; let’s pull it closer to the side. We can’t wait to take anything with us; even if I knew where provision and blankets were, I could never find them in this darkness. I would not dare leave you to search; another dip like that must be the very last. Here, let me hold you up; can you see the raft?”
“Yes; I’m sure it is just below; why I could almost touch it.”
“Can you jump to it from the rail? It is either that, or the water. Are you afraid to try?”
“Afraid—no. Hold me; yes; that way, but—but what are you going to do?”
“Follow, of course; but I shall take to the water. There are no oars here. Nothing to use as a substitute for them. I’ll have to swim, and push that old ark as far away as possible. When the yacht goes down, the suction is liable to swamp us, if we are close in.”
“But I can swim, Captain West.”
“I am glad to know that; but now you do just as I say. There is no necessity for both of us getting wet through. Are you ready?”
She poised herself, held steady by the grip of his hands, her eyes on the dark outline of the floating raft. There was no hesitancy, no questioning.
“Say when,” he said sharply.
She sprang outward, and came down, sinking to her knees, and clinging fast, as the raft bobbed up and down under her sudden weight, dipping until the water rolled completely over it.
THE COMING OF DAWN