“That ’un didn’t get him, anyway,” one of them muttered.
“He’ll go through the next, with luck,” another declared hopefully.
Lessingham, fighting for his consciousness, deafened and half stunned by the roar of the waters about him, still felt the exhilaration of that great struggle. He looked once into seas which seemed to touch the clouds, drew himself stiff, and plunged into the depths of a mountain of foaming waters, whose summit seemed to him like one of those grotesque and nightmare-distorted efforts of the opium-eating brain. Then the roar sounded all behind him, and he knew that he was through the breakers. He swam to the side of the ship and clutched hold of a chain. It was Sir Henry’s out-stretched hand which pulled him on to the deck.
“My God, that was a swim!” the latter declared, as he pulled his rescuer up, not in the least recognising him. “Let’s have the end of that cord, quick! So!” he went on, paying it out through his fingers until the end of the rope appeared. “You’d better get your breath, young man, and then over you go. I’ll follow.”
“I’m damned if I do!” was the vigorous reply. “You start off while I get my breath.”
They were suddenly half drowned with a shower of spray. Sir Henry held Lessingham in a grip of iron, or he would have been swept overboard.
“Get one arm through the chains, man,” he shouted. “My God!” he added, peering through the gloom. “Lessingham!”
“Well, don’t stop to worry about that,” was the fierce reply. “Let’s get on with our job.”
Sir Henry threw off his oilskins and his underneath coat.
“Follow me when they wave the lantern twice,” he directed. “If we either of us get the knock—well, thanks!”
Lessingham felt the grip of Sir Henry’s hand as he passed him and went overboard into the darkness. Then, with one arm through the chains, he drew towards him by means of his heel the coat which Sir Henry had thrown upon the deck. Gradually it came within reach of his disengaged hand. He seized it, shook it out, and dived eagerly into the breast pocket. There were several small articles which he threw ruthlessly away, and then a square packet, wrapped in oilcloth, which bent to his fingers. Another breaking wave threw him on his back. One arm was still through the chain, the other gripped what some illuminating instinct had already convinced him was the chart! As soon as he had recovered his breath, a grim effort of humour parted his lips. He lay there for a moment and laughed till the spray, this time with a rush of green water underneath, very nearly swept him from his place.
They were waving a lantern on the beach when he struggled again to his feet.
He slipped the little packet down his clothes next to his skin, and groped about to find the end of the line which Sir Henry and he had fastened to a staple below the chains. Then he drew a long breath, gripped the rope and shouted. A second or two later he was back in the cauldron.