A Sailor Boy with Dewey/Chapter 3

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"We are struck, Oliver, get up!"

"Oh, my head!" I groaned, for I had struck the stateroom wall a blow by no means gentle.

"We must get on deck!" urged my companion. "We have run into another ship and may be sinking!"

Collecting my scattered senses as best I could, I arose and caught Dan by the arm. Soon we were mounting the companion-way stairs, two steps at a time. As we emerged into the open the downpour of rain and flying spray nearly drowned us.

A vivid flash of lightning lit up the scene, and looking to port we saw a big Chinese vessel bearing away, with a broken bowsprit and a big hole in her side, well forward. We also saw that our own deck was filled with fallen rigging and wooden splinters.

"Sound the pumps!" was the cry, coming from Tom Dawson. "Quigley, see if you can make out the damage"—the last words to the ship's carpenter.

"We got it pretty heavily," gasped Dan, who was about as much winded as myself. "Pray heaven we may outride the shock and the storm."

Several sailors had sprung to the pumps and were pumping up sea water in great quantities. "A foot and four inches," cried one. "And gaining rapidly!" he announced, a minute later.

Those last words caused every cheek to blanch. For the time there was almost a panic. But now Tom Dawson showed what was really in him.

"Keep your wits about you, men!" he called out. "We may yet be able to stop the leak and pump her out. Keep to the work for all you are worth!" And the men at the pumps obeyed, while the mate hurried forward to obtain the carpenter's report.

It was soon forthcoming. The blow had been so severe that a gaping hole, four feet in diameter, had been stove in the Dart's bow. It was partly above and partly below the water line, but in such a sea the water was coming in by the hundreds of gallons at every lurch of the schooner.

"I'll try to stop it up," said Quigley, but shook his head as he spoke. "You had better order the small boats out, and stock 'em with water and grub," and he ran off.

By this time Captain Kenny was up once more, but in his condition could do little but find fault and use language not fit to transcribe to these pages. Once he tried to take the command from Tom Dawson, but the mate would not listen.

"We're sinking, Captain Kenny," said Dawson. "I must do what I can for the men and myself."

"Sinking!" gasped the unreasonable one. "Sinking!"

"Yes, sinking. Keep your wits about you or you'll go to Davy Jones' locker," concluded Tom Dawson. His remarks so frightened the captain that he ran to the cabin, there to plunder his trunks and lockers in a drunken and vain effort to stow what he owned of value about his person.

The carpenter was as good as his word, but although he labored manfully and had all the aid that could be used, the water could not be stopped from coming in. The shock had opened up half a dozen seams and the water in the hold had reached four feet and a half.

"She can't stand that!" cried Dan, as he heard the announcement. "She'll go to the bottom inside of a quarter of an hour. Oliver, we are lost, unless we get into one of the small boats."

"The life-preservers!" I ejaculated. "Let us each get one of those on, if nothing else!" and I led the way to where the articles were stored. While we were adjusting them, the mate passed us.

"That's right," he cried. "You two shall go in our boat. We'll leave in about five minutes, if we can catch the sea right." And then he disappeared from sight once more.

I must confess that my heart was in my throat, and Dan has since told me that he felt just as awed. "Come down and get what we must have," he whispered hoarsely, and once again we tumbled below to our stateroom, passing Captain Kenny as he tore around his cabin like a man bereft of his reason.

"You are responsible for this!" he growled. "If it hadn't been for you no accident would have happened." For a wonder, his fright had quite sobered him, even though he was half crazy as before mentioned.

There was not much to get, for we knew that trunks or even traveling bags would not be taken into the small boats. I donned a little extra clothing and was about to get out my money belt, containing some gold and silver and a draft on a Manila banking institution, when a call from above reached us.

"To the boats! To the boats!" came the cry from the deck, and a scurry of footsteps followed. Grabbing each other by the hand we leaped for the companion way, to find our passage blocked by Captain Kenny.

"Let us up!" cried Dan, and tried to get past the man, but the captain merely shoved him back.

"I'm the one to go—you can stay here, hang ye!" he hissed.

"Stay here? Not much!" I burst out, and catching him by the legs, I shot him up on deck as if he had been fired from a spring gun. He tried to turn and strike me, but I avoided the blow with ease.

The Dart had now settled so much that every wave washed her deck from stem to stern. "Look out, or you'll go down!" roared Dan in my ear, but the caution was not needed, for I was already exercising all the care possible in making my way to the boat Tom Dawson was to command.

There were four small craft and twenty of us all told. This gave five persons to a boat, the first being in command of Captain Kenny, the second in command of Tom Dawson, while the second mate and the boatswain had the others under their care.

"I reckon you two want to keep together," said Dawson, as we reached his side. "I can't blame you, but——"

"Don't put those two landlubbers in one boat!" roared Captain Kenny. "It's bad enough to have 'em at all. Put one in your boat and one in Brown's," indicating the second mate.

"Oh, can't we go together?" I whispered to Dawson.

"We ought to have at least four experienced sailors in each boat," was the mate's reply. "Do as the captain commanded, and we'll see if we can't keep the small boats together."

And with this he shoved Dan into his own boat and turned me back to join the party under Watt Brown, the second mate.

My heart now beat more painfully than ever. "Good-by, Dan, if we don't meet again!" I said huskily.

"Good-by, Oliver," he answered. "Oh, if only we could go together!" And then we parted in the darkness, and I scuttled for the boat that was already awaiting me.

How we ever got over the Dart's side and away from the settling schooner I cannot describe to this day. Amid the roar of thunder and the flashing of lightning, the small boat was swung out. Three sailors were at the oars, while the mate stood ready with a hatchet to cut the davit ropes. Down we went, to strike the rolling sea with a resounding smack that almost pitched me overboard. "Steady now! Pull! pull!" came the command, and away the sailors pulled, while a bit of rope snapped down and hit me across the cheek, nearly blinding me. For the next few minutes I felt as if I was roller-coasting up one mountain side and down another.

When I was able to look around me another flash of lightning lit up the scene. Behind us rested the Dart, well over on her port side, as though getting ready to take her final plunge beneath the waves of the sea. To the left of us was one small boat and to the right the others.

"Are we away all right?" I asked of the second mate.

"Can't say—yet," was his laconic answer, and I felt that he did not wish to be questioned further. I wanted to aid in handling the boat, but was not allowed to do anything. "Just wait, lad, your time may come," said one of the sailors grimly, and I shuddered, for I knew what he meant—that it might be many a weary day before we would sight land, if land were sighted at all. Perhaps that very sea upon which we were riding would prove our open grave.

Five minutes passed in painful suspense and then the lightning lit up the firmament again. "Look! look!" yelled Watt Brown, and at the sound of the second mate's voice all in the boat turned, to see one of the craft to our starboard founder beneath a curling wave that looked higher than a six-story office building.

"What boat is that?" I cried.

"Don't know exactly, but it looked like Tom Dawson's," was the answer, which almost prostrated me. Was it possible that Dan had been lost thus quickly?

"Won't you try to pick them up?" I went on, when I could speak. "Surely you won't forsake them!"

"We'll try it,—but it's wuss nor looking for a pin in a haystack," was the second mate's reply. "To starboard, boys, but don't get caught under a capper, or it will be all up with us." And then our own craft veered around and moved slowly and painfully over the billows to the spot where the other small boat had gone down.