Mr. MacMasters yelled at them. They did their very best. The sleet whipped their shoulders like a thousand-lashed knout. The darkness of the tempest shut down upon them and the raft was instantly lost to sight.
“Frenchy! Ikey!” Whistler Morgan gasped, and Torry heard him.
But they could do nothing to aid their chums. Duty in any case held them to their work. They pulled with the very last ounce of strength they possessed.
The yawl’s head was kept to the wind and sea; but it was doubtful if she made any progress.
“Pull, men! Pull!” shouted the ensign again and again.
He inspired them, and perhaps their straining at the oars did keep the yawl from overturning at that time. Yet such ultimate fate for it seemed unavoidable. The wind and sea lashed it so furiously that Whistler told himself he would not have been surprised if the boat and crew were driven completely under the surface.
He had seen a good bit of bad weather before this; but nothing like what they suffered at this time. The warring elements fairly bruised their bodies. Sometimes the boys felt themselves pounded so viciously between the shoulders that they could scarcely draw their breaths.
Now and then, above the tumult of the tempest, the ensign’s voice encouraged them. Whistler, sitting three yards away, could not see the officer at all.
Then, with the unexpectedness that is the greatest danger of these off-shore gales, the wind changed once more. It snapped around in a moment to due west. The cross seas lashed the yawl impetuously.
Whistler heard an oar snap. The man behind him fell upon his back in the bottom of the yawl. His broken oar entangled with Whistler’s, and the latter lost stroke.
There was a yell from the ensign. Whistler heard Al Torrance shriek. The next moment the yawl rolled completely over, and he was struggling in the sea and in the pitchy darkness underneath the overturned boat!
Whistler kept cool in his mind. As far as his body went, that was icy.
He knew that, after all, he was personally in less danger than those who had been thrown far from the boat. He could hear nothing of what went on outside; the rolling and plunging of the overturned yawl continued.
Where had Torry gone? And the ensign, and the other members of the yawl’s crew? Once Whistler had spent a long time in the sea, drifting about on a hatchcover; having been saved from that perilous adventure, he was not likely easily to give up hope now.
There was air enough under the overturned yawl, and he knew her water-tight compartments would keep her afloat indefinitely. But there might be work for him to do outside.
He might help the other members of the shipwrecked crew. Therefore he filled his lungs with air and dived under the side of the yawl.