The third boat had come to a halt, less than seventy yards away. A score of bobbing heads were swimming for her, the nearer ones offering a fair mark for musketry. We held our fire, however, and watched them. The boat took in a dozen or so, and then, being dangerously overcrowded, left the rest to their fate, and headed back for the xebec. The swimmers clearly hoped nothing from us. They followed the boat, some of them for a long while. Through our glasses we saw them sink one by one.
HOW WE LANDED ON THE ISLAND.
said the Duke, “the isle I have promised you
can neither stir nor fly. And whether you return to it upon
the flying horse, or trudge back to it in misfortune, a pilgrim
from house to house and from inn to inn, you will always find
your isle just where you left it, and your islanders with the
same good will to welcome you as they ever had.”—
Night fell, and the xebec had made no further motion to attack: but yet, as the calm held, Captain Pomery continued gloomy; nor did his gloom lift at all when the enemy, as soon as it was thoroughly dark, began to burn flares and torches.
“That will be a signal to the shore,” said he. “Though, please God, they are too far for it to reach.”
The illumination served us in one way. While it lasted, no boat could push out from the xebec without our perceiving it. The fires lasted until after eight bells, when the captain, believing that he scented a breeze ahead, turned us out into the boat again, to tow the ketch toward it. For my part, I tugged and sweated, but scented no breeze. On the contrary, the night seemed intolerably close and sultry, as though brooding a thunderstorm. When the xebec’s fires died down, darkness settled on us like a cap. The only light came from the water, where our oars swirled it in pools of briming, or the tow-rope dropped for a moment and left for another moment a trail of fire.
Neither Mr. Fett nor Mr. Badcock could pull an oar, and old Worthyvale had not the strength for it. The rest of us—all but the captain, who steered and kept what watch he could astern—took the rowing by hourly relays, pair and pair: Billy Priske and I, my father and Mike Halliday, Nat and Roger Wearne.
It had come round again to Billy’s turn and mine, and the hour was that darkest one which promises the near daylight. Captain Pomery, foreboding that dawn would bring with it an instant need of a clear head, and being by this time overweighted with drowsiness, had stepped below for forty winks, leaving Wearne in charge of the helm. My father and Nat had tumbled into their berths. We had left Mr. Badcock stationed and keeping watch on the larboard side, near the waist; and now and then, as we tugged, I fancied I could see the dim figures of Mr. Fett and Mike Halliday standing above us in converse near the bows.