As this was a question impossible for him to answer, he turned to other thoughts and fretted himself for a while with memories of Amabel’s disdain and Frederick’s careless acceptance of a sacrifice he could never know the cost of, mixed strangely with relief at being free of it all and on the verge of another life. As the dark settled, his head fell farther and farther forward on the rail he was leaning against, till he became to any passing eye but a blurred shadow mixing with other shadows equally immovable.
Unlike them, however, his shadow suddenly shifted. Two men had drawn near him, one speaking pure Spanish and the other English. The English was all that Sweetwater could understand, and this half of the conversation was certainly startling enough. Though he could not, of coarse, know to what or whom it referred, and though it certainly had nothing to do with him, or any interest he represented or understood, he could not help listening and remembering every word. The English-speaking man uttered the first sentence he comprehended. It was this:
“Shall it be to-night?”
The answer was in Spanish.
Again the English voice:
“He has come up. I saw him distinctly as he passed the second mast.”
More Spanish; then English:
“You may if you want to, but I’ll never breathe easy while he’s on the ship. Are you sure he’s the fellow we fear?”
A rapid flow of words from which Sweetwater got nothing. Then slowly and distinctly in the sinister tones he had already begun to shiver at:
“Very good. The R. F. A. should pay well for this,” with the quick addition following a hurried whisper: “All right! I’d send a dozen men to the bottom for half that money. But ’ware there! Here’s a fellow watching us! If he has heard—”
Sweetwater turned, saw two desperate faces projected toward him, realised that something awful, unheard of, was about to happen, and would have uttered a yell of dismay, but that the very intensity of his fright took away his breath. The next minute he felt himself launched into space and enveloped in the darkness of the chilling waters. He had been lifted bodily and flung headlong into the sea.
Sweetwater’s one thought as he sank was, “Now Mr. Sutherland need fear me no longer.”
But the instinct of life is strong in every heart, and when he found himself breathing the air again he threw out his arms wildly and grasped a spar.
It was life to him, hope, reconnection with his kind. He clutched, clung, and, feeling himself floating, uttered a shout of mingled joy and appeal that unhappily was smothered in the noise of the waters and the now rapidly rising wind.
Whence had come this spar in his desperate need? He never knew, but somewhere in his remote consciousness an impression remained of a shock to the waves following his own plunge into the water, which might mean that this spar had been thrown out after him, perhaps by the already repentant hands of the wretches who had tossed him to his death. However it came, or from whatever source, it had at least given him an opportunity to measure his doom and realise the agonies of hope when it alternates with despair.