“Good boy, old Mul,” he said, in words which, however inadequate, revealed all the heart of his meaning. And Mulhatton simply shifted his feet and gazed ahead, his hard, light eyes as expressionless as marble disks.
The dawn came filtering across the raven waters as the bloodless hand of an old man quivers across a chess-board,—gray dawn, cold dawn, even more merciless than the night, in that it heralded the rise of the sun to smile over the evil wrought in the darker hours. Astern, the white yacht alternately pierced the sky with her bow and sought the depths.
Suddenly a long, triumphant scream of a whistle rang across the dawn—a roll of water parted a retiring wave. The big white yacht moved of her own power. Again the whistle sounded, as though in joy that the vessel had at last found herself. Once more. . . . She mounted the waves in proud defiance. . . . The tow-lines slackened.
“Cast off, cast off!” megaphoned an officer, while two of his sailors threw the ends of the cables into the sea. The deck-hand and fireman started to bring them in, while Dan gave the signal for Crampton to go ahead.
The tug started timidly forward and then hesitated and trembled. A wave hit her, and she rocked like a cork. The jump had all gone out of her. Another wave struck her and almost hove her down, and then another wave snapped her back again, jerking out the funnel, which hissed overside into the sea. Half on her side, she clanked into the trough. She struggled to right herself and had partly succeeded, when a mighty wave smote her viciously on her listed side. She went over to her beam ends and lay there a second, while Dan and his men shot through the windows, off from the deck, into the sea. Another instant and the Fledgling rolled her keel to the morning light and swiftly disappeared.
As Dan rose on a wave he saw her go, saw too, the white face of his engineer framed in the engine-room doorway, which a wave filled just as she turned, obliterating the face forever.
The next few minutes were nothing but a buffeting, swirling confusion. Suddenly a line struck Dan’s face . . . his hands closed upon a circular life preserver. . . . The next instant he lay gasping on the deck of the Veiled Ladye, beside his deck-hand and mate.
Half an hour later, Dan, in warm clothes, sat upon the pitching deck of the yacht, at the doorway of the saloon.
The Fledgling gone and Welch and Crampton—that was all he could think of as he sat gazing into the gray of the waters, which in closing over the black tragedy immediately presented a surface as free from all evidence of guilt as the placid surface of a mill-pond. He had made himself in the Fledgling,—had rounded to the measure of a man aboard of her,—had grown in the plenitude of man’s strength and will and courage and success. He felt the loss of his tug; it hit him hard; he suffered in every mental corner and cranny. And when the two men who had given their lives for him and for the yacht came to mind in all the clearness of their personality and devotion to him, his head sank on his hand and he groaned aloud.