The yawl and raft got out into the open sea safely, and Mr. MacMasters steered for the harbor in which they expected to take refuge.
The first island was long and narrow—a mere windrow of rock and sand breaking the force of the sea. The huge combers coursing up its strand broke twenty feet high and offered nothing but utter destruction to any small craft that attempted a landing.
“That is no welcome coast,” Mr. MacMasters said. “I wonder if we shouldn’t have gone behind the islands after all, in spite of the reefs.”
But it was too late to change their plans now. The first strait that opened between the islands was a mass of white water.
The raft was clumsy, and the yawl could make but slow headway. Suddenly the wind fell; but with its falling the sea began to rise.
“What does it look like to you, Mr. Mudge?” Ensign MacMasters asked the officer on the raft.
“More trouble. The wind’s going to spring on us from a new quarter,” was the reply. “See yonder!”
Away to the northwest a cloud seemed rolling upon the very surface of the sea it was so low. At its foot, at least, the sea sprang up in a foamy line to meet the pallid cloud. There was a moaning in the air, but distant.
“That’s going to hit us hard!” cried Mr. MacMasters. “It’s more than an ordinary gale.”
“That’s what it is, sir,” admitted Mudge.
“Wish we were ashore!” shouted the ensign.
“Any chance, that you see?”
They were off the coast of the second island now. That was heavily wooded and the shore was more broken. But it seemed as inhospitable as that of the one of wider beach.
The newly risen gale was yet a long way from them, the low moaning of the tempest seemed distant.
The swell beneath the yawl’s keel suddenly heaved into a gigantic wave upon the summit of which the boat was lifted like a chip in a mill-stream.
Some of the crew shouted aloud, in both amazement and fear. The propeller raced madly; then the engine stopped—dead.
“Out oars! Look alive, men!” was the ensign’s command.
The clumsy raft tugged at the end of her hawse. The yawl went over the top of the wave and began to coast dizzily down the descent.
The rope which held it to its tow cut through the swell. It tautened—it snapped!
The loose end whipped the length of the yawl viciously and threw two of the crew flat into the boat’s bottom.
The oars were out. Ensign MacMasters yelled an order to pull. Philip Morgan and Al Torrance found themselves throwing their entire strength against the oars.
The raft rose staggeringly upon the huge wave behind the boat. Mr. Mudge had a steering oar out; but the raft wabbled on the summit of the swell as though drunken. They saw the castaways upon the raft cowering helplessly.
Then like a shot the white wave rode down upon them with the pallid storm-cloud overhead. The yawl was headed into the gale and the oarsmen pulled like mad.