His hands and feet hardly caught the ratlines. Having reached the crossbars first, he stretched himself on the ropes to the end of the yard, while Holt went to the other end, and the two recruits remained in the middle.
While the men were working, and the tempest was raging round us, a terrific lurch of the ship to starboard under the stroke of a mountainous wave, flung everything on the deck into wild confusion, and the sea rushed in through the scupper-holes. I was knocked down, and for some moments was unable to rise.
So great had been the incline of the schooner that the end of the yard of the mainsail was plunged three or four feet into the crest of a wave. When it emerged Martin Holt, who had been astride on it, had disappeared. A cry was heard, uttered by the sailing-master, whose arm could be seen wildly waving amid the whiteness of the foam. The sailors rushed to the side and flung out one a rope, another a cask, a third a spar—in short, any object of which Martin Holt might lay hold. At the moment when I struggled up to my feet I caught sight of a massive substance which cleft the air and vanished in the whirl of the waves.
Was this a second accident? No! it was a voluntary action, a deed of self-sacrifice. Having finished his task, Hunt had thrown himself into the sea, that he might save Martin Holt.
“Two men overboard l”
Yes, two—one to save the other. And were they not about to perish together?
The two heads rose to the foaming surface of the water.
Hunt was swimming vigorously, cutting through the waves, and was nearing Martin Holt.
“They are lost! both lost!” exclaimed the captain. “The boat, West, the boat!”
“If you give the order to lower it,” answered West, “I will be the first to get into it, although at the risk of my life. But I must have the order.”
In unspeakable suspense the ship’s crew and myself had witnessed this scene. None thought of the position of the Halbrane, which was sufficiently dangerous; all eyes were fixed upon the terrible waves. Now fresh cries, the frantic cheers of the crew, rose above the roar of the elements. Hunt had reached the drowning man just as he sank out of sight, had seized hold of him, and was supporting him with his left arm, while Holt, incapable of movement, swayed helplessly about like a weed. With the other arm Hunt was swimming bravely and making way towards the schooner.
A minute, which seemed endless, passed. The two men, the one dragging the other, were hardly to be distinguished in the midst of the surging waves.
At last Hunt reached the schooner, and caught one of the lines hanging over the side.
In a minute Hunt and Martin Holt were hoisted on board; the latter was laid down at the foot of the foremast, and the former was quite ready to go to his work. Holt was speedily restored by the aid of vigorous rubbing; his senses came back, and he opened his eyes.
“Martin Holt,” said Captain Len Guy, who was leaning over him, “you have been brought back from very far—”
“Yes, yes, captain,” answered Holt, as he looked about him with a searching gaze, “but who saved me?”
“Hunt,” cried the boatswain, “Hunt risked his life for you.”
As the latter was hanging back, Hurliguerly pushed him towards Martin Holt, whose eyes expressed the liveliest gratitude.
“Hunt,” said he, “you have saved me. But for you I should have been lost. I thank you.”
Hunt made no reply.
“Hunt,” resumed Captain Len Guy. “don’t you hear ?”
The man seemed not to have heard.
“Hunt,” said Martin Holt again, “come near to me. I thank you. I want to shake hands with you.”
And he held out his right hand. Hunt stepped back a few paces, shaking his head with the air of a man who did not want so many compliments for a thing so simple, and quietly walked forward to join his shipmates, who were working vigorously under the orders of West.
Decidedly, this man was a hero in courage and self-devotion; but equally decidedly he was a .being impervious to impressions, and not on that day either was the boatswain destined to know “the colour of his words!”
For three whole days, the 6th, 7th, and 8th of December, the tempest raged in these waters, accompanied by snow storms which perceptibly lowered the temperature.