“Blow me, she’s game!” With difficulty he maintained his equilibrium. “See here: maybe there’s a chance, if any of them’s left to help with the raft. But we’ve got to git out o’ this!”
He passed his hand through her arm, awaited a favorable moment, and then, making a dash for the stairs, drew her, as best he might, to the deck. At the head of the companionway, the wind smote them fiercely with sheets of foam, but his strength stood him in good stead, and bracing himself hard, the man managed to maintain his stand; holding the child close to him, he sheltered her somewhat from the full force of the storm. As he cast his glance over the deck, an oath burst from his lips; the convicts had succeeded in launching one of the rafts and leaving the ship by means of it, or else had been carried away by the seas. Of living man, he caught no sight; only a single one of the dead yet remained, sliding about on the slippery planks with the movement of the ship; now to leeward, now rushing in a contrary direction, as if some grotesque spirit of life yet animated the dark, shapeless form.
From wave-washed decks the man’s glance turned to the sea; suddenly he started; his eyes straining, he stared hard. “Maybe they’ve missed you. One of the ship’s boats seems headin’ this way!”
Her gaze followed his; at intervals through driving spray a small craft could be discerned, not far distant, now riding high on a crest, now vanishing in a black furrow.
“Are they coming back to save us?” asked the child.
The convict did not answer. Could the boat make the ship, could it hope to, in that sea? It was easier getting away than getting back. Besides, the opportunity for a desperate, heroic attempt to come alongside was not to be given her, for scarcely had they caught sight of her, when the stern of the Lord Nelson, now filled with water from the inflow at the bow, began to settle more rapidly. Then came a frightful wrenching and the vessel seemed to break in two.
“Put yer arms round my neck,” said the man, stooping.
She put one of them around; with the other held up the cage. He opened the door of the wickerwork prison and a tiny thing flew out. Then he straightened. Both arms were around him now.
“’Fraid?” he whispered hoarsely.
The child shook her head.
An instant he waited, then launched himself forward. Buffeted hither and thither, he made a fierce fight for the rail, reached it, and leaped far out into the seething waters.
* * * * *
AN UNAPPRECIATED BOUNTY