It nevertheless takes them nearly five minutes to reach the scene, and this is the longest five minutes John ever knew.
Only the voice of the boatman is heard, still calling, and by this they know that the climax has already come.
A dreadful fear almost palsies John’s heart as they reach the scene.
The boatman is discovered, clinging to the oars, and showing some evidence of alarm. Perhaps he has had more than he bargained for.
John helps him in.
“Where are the others?” he cries, hoarsely.
“I am afraid, lost.”
“Just Heaven! What has happened?”
“Boat sprung leak—go down fast. Soldier say he save lady, but struck his head on boat and lose senses. I saw them no more.”
It is horrible!
“Did the boat sink?” asks John, huskily.
“I do not know.”
“Would it sink under such circumstances?” he asks their own boatman, who also has the appearance of being rattled. When they entered into a little trickery with Sir Lionel, they had no idea it would turn out so tragically, and the possible serious consequences now staring them in the face make them uneasy.
“No; it could not,” returns that worthy.
“Then, if floating still, we must find it. Our only chance lies there.”
Fortunately John is, in a measure, self-possessed. He at least shows himself equal to the emergency.
They pull in the direction where it is most likely they will find what they seek.
John twists his neck as he rows, and endeavors to scan the sea around them. Again and again he calls out, hoping in the fullness of his heart that some answering cry may come back.
What leaden seconds those are—never can they forget them.
“I see something!” says Aunt Gwen, who is crouching in the bow, regardless of the spray that now and then spatters her.
“Where away?” demands John, eagerly.
They pull with fierce energy.
“Can you make it out?”
“It’s the swamped boat,” replies Aunt Gwen, who has remarkable eyes for one of her age.
John shouts again.
This time an answer comes back, but not in the roar of the British lion.
“Here—come quickly—I am nearly worn-out!”
John’s heart gives a great bound.
“Thank Heaven! It is Lady Ruth!” he says.
AN UNWELCOME PASSENGER.
John can hold back no longer, but gives his oar to the boatman, and seeks the bow in place of Aunt Gwen, who allows him the privilege.
They are now almost upon the floating swamped boat.
“Careful now. Don’t run into the wreck. I see her,” and with the last words, John, who has kicked off his shoes in almost a second of time, throws coat and vest down in the boat and leaps overboard.