“I really think, captain, that I should send some of them down below at once. If a flash of lightning were to strike the mast, it would probably go down the shrouds harmlessly, but might do frightful damage among the men, crowded as they are up here; or it might blind some of them. Besides, the weight forward is no trifle.”
“I think that you are right, sir,” and, raising his voice, the captain shouted:
“All hands below except the four men told off. Go down by the companion.”
“Would you mind their stopping in the saloon, sir? It would make her more lively than if they all went down into the fo’castle.”
“Certainly not, captain;” and accordingly the men were ordered to remain in the saloon.
“You can light your pipes there, my lads,” Frank said, as they went down, “and make yourselves as comfortable as you can.”
The last man had scarcely disappeared when the captain said:
“Look there, Major Mallett,” and looking up Frank saw a ball of phosphorescent light, some eighteen inches in diameter, upon the masthead.
“Plenty of electricity about,” he said, cheerfully. “If they are all as harmless as that it won’t hurt us.”
But as he ceased speaking there was a crash of thunder overhead that made the whole vessel quiver, and at the same instant a flash of lightning, so vivid, that for a minute or two Frank felt absolutely blinded. Without a moment’s intermission, flash followed flash, while the crashes of thunder were incessant.
“I think that plan of yours has saved the ship, sir,” the captain said, when, after five minutes, the lightning ceased as suddenly as it had begun. “I am sure that a score of those flashes struck the mast, and yet no damage has been done to it, so far as I could see by the last flash. Are you all right there, Purvis?”
“All right,” the mate replied. “Scared a bit, I fancy. I know I am myself, but none the worse for it.”
“It is coming now, sir,” the captain said. “Listen.”
Frank could hear a low moaning noise, rapidly growing louder, and then he saw a white line on the water coming along with extraordinary velocity.
“Hard down with the helm, Perry,” the captain said.
“Hard down it is, sir.”
“Hold on all!” the captain shouted.
A few seconds later the gale struck them. The yacht shook as if in a collision, and heeled over till the water was half up her deck. Then the weight of her lead ballast told, and as the pressure on the mizzen did its work, she gradually came up to the wind, getting on to an almost even keel as she did so.
“Break out the jib and haul in the weather sheet,” the captain shouted.
Purvis was expecting this, and although he did not hear the words above the howl of the storm, at once obeyed the order.
“There she is, sir, lying-to like a duck,” the skipper shouted in Frank’s ear; “and none the worse for it. An ordinary craft would have turned turtle, but I have seen her as far over when she has been racing.”