It was terrific. The thundering crash and smothering jar nearly paralyzed me for a moment. In the dim glare I could see rails, stanchions, boats, rigging, all in the furious white rush. The Pirate settled under the load and seemed to stop perfectly still. Then another huge sea went roaring over her and blotted out everything to the edge of the forecastle head.
I stood looking down at the main deck in amazement. How long would the hatches stand that strain? Everything was out of sight under water, save the top of the forward house. I looked up into the roaring void above me and breathed a parting prayer, for it seemed that the ship’s end must be at hand. Then I was aware that she was broaching to, and I grabbed the rail to meet the sea.
Every stitch of canvas had gone out of her now, and nothing but the bare yards were left aloft. How they ever stood the frightful strain was a miracle and spoke volumes for the Yankee riggers who fitted her out. The wind bore more and more abeam, and under the pressure she heeled over, letting the great load on her decks roar off in a torrent to leeward, over the topgallant rail and waterways. A sea struck her so heavily that the larger portion of it went thundering clear across her forty feet of deck, landing bodily to leeward as though the ship were below the surface. I could hear a bawling coming faintly from the poop and knew Trunnell was trying to heave her to. Something fluttered from the mizzen rigging and disappeared into the night. Part of a tarpaulin had gone, but it was a chance to get another piece large enough on the ratlines to hold her head up. I tried to make my way aft again to help, for I saw it was about our only hope, and started to crawl along the weather topgallant rail. Then a form sprang from the black recess under the forecastle head and seized me tightly around the body.
The suddenness of this attack and the peculiar position I was in when seized, put me at a disadvantage. The quick breathing of the man behind me, and the strong force he put forward as he rushed me toward the ship’s side, made me aware that I was in a bad fix. The assassin was silent as the grave, save for his panting, but his bearded face against mine was visible enough to show me the former captain of the ship.
I was carried half over the rail in an instant by the power of the rush. The foam showed beneath me, and for a moment it seemed that the man would accomplish his deadly purpose. It was with a horrid feeling of certain death before me that I clutched wildly at the forecastle rail. Luckily my hand caught it, and I was saved from the dive over the side. Then with frantic strength I twisted around enough to seize the fellow, and dropped on my knees with a grip around his middle. It was up and down and all over that side of the forecastle head for some minutes, until we were both getting tired. We were apparently alone forward, and the fight would be one of endurance, unless the ruffian happened to have some weapon about him.