‘Ye think I’m feared?’ he said contemptuously, to Neil and Duncan, who were grinning at him. ‘Wha was it that gruppit the whutteruck? And is there anything worse than whutterucks in that hole in the castle?’
[Note:  Anglice, seized hold of the weasel.]
‘Ye’ll find out, Nicol, my man,’ said his cousin Neil. ‘There’s warlocks. And they’ll grup ye by the legs.’
‘I’ll save the penny anyway,’ said Nicol, to whom a penny was a thing of known and substantial value.
Now if any proof had been needed that Rob MacNicol’s stringent sailing rules were a matter of stern necessity, it was quickly forthcoming. On this beautiful summer morning, with the sea smooth and blue around them, they were sailing along as pleasantly as might be. But they had scarcely got through the narrow channel leading from the harbour, and were just emerging into Loch Scrone, when a squall of wind came tearing along and hit the boat so that the lug-sail was almost flattened on to the water.
‘Run her up! Haul in your sheet!’ yelled Rob to the frightened steersman.
Well it was at such a moment that the main sheet was free to be hauled in; for as the bow was put up to the wind, the varying squall caught her on the other beam and threw her over, so that she shipped a bucket or two of water. Had the water got into the belly of the sail, the weight would have dragged her down; but Rob instantly got rid of this danger by springing to the halyards, and, the moment the crank craft strove to right herself, bringing sail and yard rattling down into the boat. By this time, so fierce was the squall, a pretty heavy sea had sprung up, and altogether things looked very ugly. When they allowed the jib to fill, even that was enough to send the boat over, and she had already a dangerous lot of water surging among the ballast; while, when they were forced to put her head to the wind, she drifted with a heavily running tide, and right to leeward was a long reef of rocks that would inevitably crunch her into matchwood. The younger brothers said not a word, but looked at Rob, ready to obey his slightest gesture, and Rob stood by the mast calling out from time to time to Nicol.
Matters grew worse. It was no use trying merely to keep her head to the wind, for she was drifting rapidly, and the first shock on the rocks would send her and her stone ballast to the bottom. On the other hand, there was no open sea-room to let her run away before the wind with a straining jib. At all hazards it was necessary to fight her clear of that long ledge of rock, even if the wind threatened to tear the mast out of the boat. So Rob himself sprang down to the stern and took the tiller.
‘Duncan, Neil, stand by the halyards now! When I sing out to ye, hoist her–be ready now!’
He had his eye on the rocks all this time. On the highest of them was a tall iron perch, painted scarlet–a warning to sailors; but from that point long shelves and spurs ran out, the yellow surface of barnacles growing greener and greener as they went deeper into the sea. Already Rob MacNicol could make out some of these submarine reefs even through the turbulent water.
‘Now then, boys; up with her! Quick now!’
It was a venturesome business; but there was no help for it. The moment the sail was half hoisted, a gust caught the boat and drove her over until her gunwale again scooped up a lot of the hissing water. But as she righted, staggering all the while, it was clear there was some good way on her, and Rob, having had recourse to desperate remedies, was determined to give her enough of the wind. Down again went the gunwale to the hissing water; and the strain on the rotten sheets of the old boat was so great that it was a wonder everything did not go by the board. But now there was a joyous hissing of foam at the bow; she was forging ahead; if she could only stand the pressure, in a minute or so she would be clear of the rocks. Rob still kept his eye on these treacherous shelves of yellow-green. Then he sang out,