“If we were running, we could rig up a spinnaker,” the fisherman answered; “but the wind has come round three points. We can do no more.”
“I think we are catching her,” John Girdlestone cried, keeping his eyes fixed upon the barque, which was about a mile and a half ahead.
“Yes, we are now, but she hain’t got her way on yet. She’ll draw ahead presently; won’t she, Jarge?”
The fisherman’s son nodded, and burst into hoarse merriment.
“It’s better’n a race,” he cried.
“With our necks for a prize,” Ezra muttered to himself.
“It’s a little too exciting to be pleasant. We are still gaining.”
They had a clear view of the dark hull and towering canvas of the barque as she swept along in front of them, intending evidently to take advantage of the wind in order to get outside the Goodwins before beating up Channel.
“She’s going about,” Sampson remarked. As he spoke the snow-white pile lay over in the opposite direction, and the whole broadside of the vessel became visible to them, every sail standing out as though carved from ivory against the cold blue sky. “If we don’t catch her on this tack we won’t get her at all,” the fisherman observed. “When they put about next they’ll reach right out into the Channel.”
“Where’s something white?” said Ezra excitedly. He dived into the cabin and reappeared with a dirty table-cloth. “Stand up here, father! Now keep on waving it! They may see you.”
“I think as we are overhaulin’ of them,” remarked the boy.
“We’re doing that,” his father answered. “The question is, will we get near enough to stop ’em afore they gets off on the next tack?”
The old merchant was standing in the bows waving the signal in the air. His son sprang up beside him and flourished his handkerchief. “They don’t look more than half a mile off. Let us shout together.” The two blended their voices in a hoarse roar, which was taken up by the boatman and his son. “Once again!” cried Ezra; and again their shout resounded over the sea—a long-drawn cry it was, with a ring of despair and of sorrow. Still the barque kept steadily on her way.
“If they don’t go about we shall catch them,” the fisherman said.
“If they keep on another five minutes we are right.”
“Do you hear that?” Ezra cried to his father; and they both shouted with new energy and waved their signals.
“They’re goin’ about,” George burst in. “It’s all up.” Girdlestone groaned as he saw the mainyard swing back. They all strained their eyes, waiting for the other to follow. It remained stationary.
“They have seen us!” cried the fisherman. “They are waitin’ to pick us up!”
“Then we are saved!” said Ezra, stepping down and wiping the perspiration which poured from his forehead. “Go down into the cabin, father, and put yourself straight. You look like a ghost.”