It was low water now, which was good for us, for the winding channels that lead up to Wareham were sheltered under their bare banks. We could hear the thunder of the surf along the rocky coast outside, when the wind ceased its howling for a moment; and at high water the haven had been well nigh too stormy for a small boat. Now we should do best to go by water, for wind was with us; though, unless the gale dropped very quickly, we could not return in her, for there would be a heavy sea and tide against us if we could get away before it turned, while if we were long wind against tide would be worse yet.
The fisherman was eager to help us against the Danes, who had made him work for nought; and so in half an hour we were flying up the haven on the first rise of tide, and the lights of Wareham town grew plainer every moment. From the number of twinkling sparks that flitted here and there, it would seem that many folk were waking, even if some movement were not on hand.
Presently we turned into the channel that bends to the southwest from the more open water, and the town was before us. The fisher took to his oars now, lowering the scrap of sail that had been enough to drive us very swiftly before the gale so far.
Wareham stands on the tongue of land between two rivers’ mouths, and the tide was setting us into the northward of these. That was the river one would have to cross in coming to or from Poole, and maybe we should learn as much there as anywhere.
There were three ships on the mud, but even in the moonlight it was plain that they were not seaworthy. There were wide gaps in their bulwarks, which none had tried to mend, and the stem head of one was gone.
“These ships were hurt in the storm of lest week,” the fisher said, as we drifted past them; “there was hardly one that came in unhurt. But the Danes were eager to go, and mended them as they could.”
Perhaps that was partly the reason why we gained so easy a victory, I thought at the time, and afterwards knew that I was right. They had suffered very much, while we lay across channel in safety.
There loomed before us the timbers of a strong bridge that had been over the north river, when we were fairly in it and under the nearer houses of the town. But now it was broken down, and the gap in its middle was too wide for hasty repair.
“When was this done?” I asked the fisherman.
“Since yesterday,” he answered.
Now this seemed to me to indicate that the Danes meant to guard against attack by land from Poole; also that they overrated our numbers, which was probable in any case, seeing that a fleet had fled from before us.
There were wharves on the seaward side of the bridge, but none were beyond; and the houses stood back from the water, so that there was a sort of open green between it and them. There were no people about, but we could hear shouts from the town now and then.