Mab sat in growing terror with her eyes on the roaring turmoil. The minutes crawled by like hours. At length she turned to look shorewards for the boats. A driving, blinding mist of rain beat into her face. She saw naught besides. And suddenly her courage failed her. “Big Bear!” she cried wildly. “What shall we do? I’m so frightened.”
He heard her through the storm. He was still sitting on the middle thwart facing her. He moved, bending towards her.
“Come to me here!” he said. “It will be safer.”
She crept to his outstretched arm with a sense of going into refuge. Merefleet helped her over the thwart. There was a torn piece of sailcloth in the bottom of the boat. He drew her down on to it and turned round himself so that his back was towards the storm. He was thus able to shelter her in some measure from the full fury of the blast.
Mab shrank against him, terrified and quivering.
“It looks so angry,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid!” said Merefleet.
And he put his arms about her and held her close to him as if she had been a little child afraid of the dark.
No pleasure-boats or craft of any sort put out from Silverstrand that afternoon. The wind eventually blew away the clouds and revealed a foaming, sunlit sea. But the waves were immense at high tide, and the fishermen muttered among themselves and stared darkly out over the mighty breakers.
It was known among them that a boat had put out to sea in the morning and had not returned before the rising of the gale. There were heavy hearts in Old Silverstrand that day. But to launch another boat to search for the missing one was out of the question. The great seas that came hurling into the little fishing-harbour were sufficient proof of that, even to the most inexperienced landsman.
Seton, learning the news when lunch was half over, rushed off to New Silverstrand in the hope that the boat might have been driven in that direction by the strong current. But nothing had been seen from there of the missing craft, and though he traversed the entire distance by way of the cliffs, he saw nothing throughout his walk but flecks of foam here and there over the tumbling expanse of water.
He returned an hour or so later, reaching Old Silverstrand by five. But nothing had been heard there. The fishermen shook their heads when he questioned them. It was plain that they had given up hope.
Seton raged up and down the quay in impotent agony of mind. The off-shore wind continued for some hours. There was not the smallest doubt that the boat had been driven out to sea, unless—a still more awful possibility—she had been swamped and sunk long ago. As darkness fell, the gale at length abated, and Quiller the younger approached Seton.
“Tell you what, sir,” he said. “There’s a cruiser been up and down a matter of ten miles out. Me and my mates will put out at daybreak and see if we can get within hail of her. There’s the light-ship, too, off Morden’s Shoal. ’Tain’t likely as a boat could have slipped between ’em without being seen. For if she was just drifting, you know, sir, she wouldn’t go very fast.”