“Thank you!” said the man, smiling, when at last the detective released his grip. “I’ll admit I’d scarcely noticed it myself, but now I come to think of it, you’ve been fastened onto me like a vise for over two hours!”
“Two hours!” cried Stringer; and, crouching down to steady himself, for the cutter was beginning to roll heavily, he pulled out his watch, and in the gray light inspected the dial.
It was true! They had been racing seaward for some hours!
“Good God!” he muttered.
He stood up again, unsteadily, feet wide apart, and peered ahead through the grayness.
The banks he could not see. Far away on the port bow a long gray shape lay—a moored vessel. To starboard were faint blurs, indistinguishable, insignificant; ahead, a black dot with a faint comet-like tail—the pursued cutter—and ahead of that, again, a streak across the blackness, with another dot slightly to the left of the quarry...
He turned and looked along the police boat, noting that whereas, upon the former occasion of his looking, forms and faces had been but dimly visible, now he could distinguish them all quite clearly. The dawn was breaking.
“Where are we?” he inquired hoarsely.
“We’re about one mile northeast of Sheerness and two miles southwest of the Nore Light!” announced Rogers—and he laughed, but not in a particularly mirthful manner.
Stringer temporarily found himself without words.
“Cutter heading for the open sea, sir,” announced a man in the bows, unnecessarily.
“Quite so,” snapped Rogers. “So are you!”
“We have got them beaten,” said Stringer, a faint note of triumph in his voice. “We’ve given them no chance to land.”
“If this breeze freshens much,” replied Rogers, with sardonic humor, “they’ll be giving us a fine chance to sink!”
Indeed, although Stringer’s excitement had prevented him from heeding the circumstance, an ever-freshening breeze was blowing in his face, and he noted now that, quite mechanically, he had removed his bowler hat at some time earlier in the pursuit and had placed it in the bottom of the boat. His hair was blown in the wind, which sang merrily in his ears, and the cutter, as her course was slightly altered by Rogers, ceased to roll and began to pitch in a manner very disconcerting to the lands-man.
“It’ll be rather fresh outside, sir,” said one of the men, doubtfully. “We’re miles and miles below our proper patrol"...
“Once we’re clear of the bank it’ll be more than fresh,” replied Rogers; “but if they’re bound for France, or Sweden, or Denmark, that’s our destination, too!"...
On—and on—and on they drove. The Nore Light lay astern; they were drenched with spray. Now green water began to spout over the nose of the laboring craft.
“I’ve only enough juice to run us back to Tilbury, sir, if we put about now!” came the shouted report.