Another quivering flash, followed instantly by a more terrific roar of thunder, told Eben that something had been hit not far away. He caught a glimpse of the trees along the shore and then all was dark. But that fleeting vision was enough to cause him to straighten suddenly up. The “Eb and Flo” was drifting before the wind! Another flash showed that she was making fast for the main channel, and something had to be done at once to save her. It was high tide now, he was well aware, and should the boat, heavily loaded as she was, ground on the soft marshy flats across the river, it would be next to impossible to get her off again. Apart from the valuable cargo, the loss during the busy carrying season would mean much. He must get the boat under steerage way, and head her down stream.
It took him but a second to reach the cabin door and tear it open. A bright flash showed him two white faces at the bottom of the stairs.
“Hustle up here, an’ give a hand,” he ordered.
“W-what’s wrong?” Donaster asked, shaking with fear.
“Never mind what’s wrong. I ain’t got time to explain. Git a move on.”
The men at once obeyed, scrambled up the steps, and tumbled on deck.
“Come on,” Eben commanded. “Follow me.”
This, however, was no easy thing to do, for the two men found it most difficult to make their way across the blocks of stone. The lightning blinded and dazed them so much that they often stumbled and fell, so by the time they reached their guide who was standing by the halliard, their bodies were bruised in a number of places.
“Lay hold on this rope,” Eben ordered. “We’ve got to hist the sail or this boat’ll be aground. Now, pull fer all yer worth.”
“Without a word the two men did as they were bidden, and as the sail slowly rose it flapped wildly in the wind, and threatened to tear itself loose from the yards. Fortunately at this critical moment the wind lulled for a brief spell, which enabled them to accomplish the task, and make the halliard fast.
“Now come over here,” Eben again commanded. “I want ye to look after the sheet-line.” He darted across the deck, the men following him as fast as possible. “Look after this rope,” he continued, “an’ do jist as I say.” He then sprang aft, and laid hold of the wheel.
Although this had taken but a short time the “Eb and Flo” had already drifted into the main channel and in a few minutes she would have been aground on the opposite shore. A quick turn of the wheel caused the boat to fall off to the left, and presently she was under way, headed down the river. And not an instant too soon, for scudding through the rough water she cleared by only a few yards the edge of the soft ground. With sail hauled closer than was safe, she sped forward and at length reached a wider stretch of water. Eben breathed a deep sigh of relief when the danger was past, and he steered the boat a little more to the left. The two men at the sheet obeyed his every command, and he smiled to himself as he remembered how high and mighty they had been when they boarded the boat that evening.