The squall was upon them so suddenly that Louise could not wind in her line in good season. Lawford was quicker; but in getting his tackle inboard he was slow to obey Betty’s command:
“Let go that sheet! Want to swamp us, foolin’ with that fancy fish rod?”
“Aye, aye, skipper!” he sang out, laughing, and jumped to cast off the line in question just as the sail bulged taut as a drumhead with the striking squall.
There was a “lubber’s loop” in the bight of the sheet and as the young man loosed it his arm was caught in this trap. The boom swung viciously outboard and Lawford went with it. He was snatched like some inanimate object over the sloop’s rail and, the next instant, plunged beneath the surface of the suddenly foam-streaked sea.
A TRAGEDY OF ERRORS
Lawford came up as the sloop swept by on her new tack, his smile as broad as ever. He blew loudly and then shouted:
“Going—–too—fast—for—me! Whoa! Back up a little, ladies, and let me climb aboard.”
“Well, of all the crazy critters!” the “able seaman” declared. “Stand by with that boathook, Miss Lou, and see if you can harpoon him.”
Louise swallowed the lump in her throat and tried to laugh too. To tell the truth, the accident to Lawford Tapp had frightened her dreadfully at the moment it occurred.
Betty Gallup put over the wheel and the Merry Andrew, still under propulsion of the bursting squall, flew about, almost on her heel. Louise, who was shielding her eyes from the flying spray under the sharp of her hand and watching the head and shoulders of Lawford as he plowed through the jumping waves with a great overhand stroke, suddenly shrieked aloud:
“What’s the matter? Land sakes!”
Both saw the peril threatening the swimmer. The light skiff at the end of the long painter whipped around when the line tautened. As Betty cried out in echo to Louise’s wail, the gunnel of the skiff crashed down upon Lawford’s head and shoulders.
“Oh! Oh! He’s hurt!” cried Louise.
“He’s drowned—dead!” ejaculated Betty Gallup. “Here, Miss Lou, you take the wheel——”
But the girl had no intention of letting the old woman go overboard. Betty in her heavy boots would be wellnigh helpless in the choppy sea. If it were possible to rescue Lawford Tapp she would do it herself.
The human mind is a wonderfully constituted—mechanism, may we call it? It receives and registers impressions that are seemingly incoordinate; then of a sudden each cog slips into place and the perfection of a belief, of an opinion, of a desire, even of a most momentous discovery, is attained.
Thus instantly Louise Grayling had a startling revelation, “Handle the boat yourself, Betty!” she commanded. “I am going to get him.”