For some reason
that fact had to be established between them. It set the scene for what was
suddenly an old man, hunched over on his bed in a small, windowless room. There
was a sentence, unuttered, between the two of them that said this was it, this
was the end, even if the old man lived for another 30 years. The years wouldn't
matter, because he had seen what he had seen today. In the darkness his face
was white, with the pallor of age and illness, as if his body had already
ungratefully forgotten the summer spent in the sun.
The instant that
Nat returned to the cockpit he could tell that the boat's behavior had changed.
Dyce was leaning forward as far as he could while still holding on to the
tiller, steering with only the tips of his fingers, his body stretched out as
if he were riding the boat through the waves, and from the look in his eyes Nat
knew that he had forgotten his father. The boat had sailed well before, but now
it was altogether different, it wasn't fighting its way through the waves, it
was riding over them. Dyce was sailing as very few men can sail a boat, and
then for only a few minutes in their lifetime. During those few minutes a boat
is something more than a boat and need not obey the usual laws. Dyce's eyes
were fastened on Hunt. Minute by minute he was closing the gap between them and
working to windward.
Nat did not
speak. Dyce was sailing the boat for him, too. It did not matter which of them
had his hand on the tiller—let Dyce have it, because he had a much better
touch—it was their turn now. Their father was sitting on his bed, and it was
their turn, and they were catching up with Hunt.
race." It was Samuelson who spoke, standing in the doorway of the cabin,
pressing his left arm against his side.
"The hell you
say." Dyce answered without even looking at his father.
catching up. They were only a few boat-lengths behind. "Might as well,"
Nat said. "You practically have to sail past the committee boat to go
answer. He kept the boat moving, and they could see Hunt at the tiller, turning
around now, distressed at the sound of their bow wave growing steadily louder.
They knew that a man who looks over his shoulder can be beaten.
boat was in sight. The finish line could not be fetched on this tack, but the
wind had shifted to the south and the final tack would be a short one, to be
taken at the last possible minute. They need do nothing but hang on, keep
gaining foot by foot, keep working to windward, and at the end Hunt would be
unable to tack and cross them. It was a prayer that Nat was saying to Dyce—keep
going, keep her moving, work up on him foot by foot, hang on, even if nothing
is as hard to do as that—hanging on.