Now, if there is one thing that the northern folk of our kin think much of in the way of sports, it is swimming, and it seems that I won high praise from all. Maybe they did not consider how a man who is trying to win his home again from captivity is likely to do more than his best. At all events, I had never so much as tried a swim like that before, nor do I think that I could compass it again. Presently, when the turn of the tide brought with it no eddy into the bay which set me homeward, Thorleif would let me go no longer, and followed me in the boat with two men; which was easy enough, for I swam between the ship and the place where the red glow of burning Weymouth still shone in the northern sky. He could not leave me to drown.
For a time, in the growing dusk, he could not find me. Then the sea fires showed me black against their glow, and the sea tempted him, and he leaped in after me, singing to cheer me, for it was plain that I was nearly spent. When he brought me up from the depth again I had little of the drowned man about me, for I had fainted. I remember coming round painfully after that swoon, and eating and drinking, and straightway falling into a dreamless sleep on the deck of the ship; and I also remember the untoldly evil and fishy smell of the seal oil they had rubbed me with.
When I came to myself, my first thought was that a solid wall of that smell stood round me; but such were the virtues of the oil and the rubbing that when I woke after eighteen hours’ sleep I was not so much as stiff. It would ill beseem me to complain thereof, therefore, but it might have been fresher.
When I woke from my great sleep it was long past noon. I lay in the shelter of the gunwales under the curve of the high stern post, wrapped in a yellow Irish cloak, and in my ears roared and surged a deep-voiced song, which kept time with the steady roll of oars and the thrashing of the water under their blades. The ship was quivering in every timber with the pull of them, and I could feel her leap to every stroke. The great red and white sail was set also, and the westerly breeze was humming in it, and over the high bows the spray arched and fell without ceasing as oar and sail drove the sharp stem through the seas. Thorleif was in a hurry for some reason.
Only one man was on the after deck, steering, and he was fully armed. Save that his brown arm swayed a little, resting on the carven tiller, as the waves lifted the steering oar with a creak now and then, he was motionless, looking steadily ahead under the arch of the foot of the sail. The run of the deck set me higher than him, and I could not see more than the feet of some men who were clustered on the fore deck. But I could look all down the length of the ship, and there every man was armed, even the rowers. They had hung red and yellow wooden shields all along the gunwales, raising the bulwark against sea and arrow flight alike by a foot and more, and the rowers were fairly in shelter under them, if there was to be a broadside attack.