The Rover Boys on Land and Sea/Chapter 11
A CALL FROM THE STERN
For the instant after Tom slipped over the side of the Golden Wave, Dan Baxter was too dazed to do more than stare at the spot where he had last seen the boy with whom he had been struggling.
"Gone!" he muttered presently. "Gone!" he repeated and crouched back in the darkness.
The great beads of perspiration came to his brow as he heard rapid footsteps approaching. Would he be accused of sending Tom Rover to his death?
"What's the trouble?" came in the voice of Captain Blossom.
Instead of answering, Dan Baxter crept still further back. Then, watching his chance, he darted into the forecastle.
"Hullo, the rail is broken!" he heard the captain exclaim. "Bring a lantern here, quick!"
A sailor came running with a lantern, which lit up the narrow circle of the deck near the rail and part of the sea beyond.
"Somebody gave a cry," said the captain, to those who began to gather. "Looks to me as if the rail gave way and let somebody overboard."
"Tom Rover was on deck," came from old Jerry. "Do you reckon as how it was him?"
"I don't know. It was somebody, that's certain. Call all hands at once."
This was done, and Dan Baxter had to come out with the rest. He was pale and trembled so he could scarcely stand.
"All here," said Captain Blossom. "Must have been one of the Rover boys or one of the young ladies."
Word was passed along and soon Sam and Dick came rushing on deck.
"Tom is missing!" cried Sam.
"If that is so, I'm afraid, boys, you have seen the last of your brother," said Captain Blossom. He turned to his crew. "Do any of you know anything of this affair?"
There was a dead silence. Then he questioned the man at the wheel.
"Don't know a thing, cap'n," was the answer.
"It's queer. He must have pressed on the rail very hard. Here are half a dozen nails torn from the wood."
While this talk was going on Dick and Sam had passed along the rail from the place of the accident to the stern.
"Perhaps he caught hold somewhere," said Sam, who was unwilling to believe that his brother had really perished.
They had just gained the stern and were looking over when a call came from out of the darkness.
"It's Tom!" screamed Dick in delight "Tom, is that you?"
"Where are you?"
"Holding on to a rope. Help me quick. I—I can't hold on mu—much longer!"
"We'll help you," answered Dick.
Captain Blossom was called and more lanterns were lit, and then a Bengal light, and Tom was seen to be holding fast to a rope which had in some manner fallen overboard and become entangled in the rudder chain.
By the aid of the boat-hook the rope was hauled up and to the side of the Golden Wave. At the same time the sails were lowered, and then a rope ladder was thrown down. Dick descended to the edge of the waves, and, watching his chance, caught Tom by the collar of his coat. Then the brothers came slowly to the deck.
A cheer went up when it was found that Tom was safe once more, and Nellie Laning could not resist rushing forward and catching the wet youth in her arms. Tom was so exhausted he dropped on the nearest seat, and it was several minutes before he had recovered strength enough to speak.
"I would have been drowned had it not been for that rope," he said when questioned. "As I slid along the side of the ship the rope hit me in the face. I clutched it and clung fast for dear life. Then when I came up and swept astern I called as loudly as I could, but it seemed an age before anybody heard me."
"It was a narrow escape," said Dick. "You can thank a kind Providence that your life was spared."
"You must have leaned on the rail awfully hard," put in Nellie.
"Leaned on the rail?" repeated Tom. "It wasn't my fault that I went overboard. It was Dan Baxter's."
"Dan Baxter!" came from several.
"Exactly. He tackled me in the dark, and we had it hot and heavy for a minute. Then he crowded me on the rail, and it gave way. He jumped back and let me go overboard."
"The rascal! I'll settle with him!" cried Dick. "I'll teach him to keep his distance after this!"
He knew Baxter was still forward, and ran in that direction. The bully saw him coming and tried to hide in the forecastle, but Dick was toe quick for him and hauled him back on the deck.
"Take that for shoving my brother over board, you scoundrel!" he exclaimed, and hit Baxter a staggering blow straight between the eyes.
"Stop!" roared the bully, and struck out in return. But Dick dodged the blow, and then hit Baxter in the chin and on the nose. The elder Rover boy was excited, and hit with all of his force, and the bully measured his length on the deck.
"Good fer you!" cried old Jerry, who stood looking on. "That's the way to serve him, the sarpint!"
Slowly Baxter arose to his knees, and then his feet, where he stood glaring at Dick.
"Don't you hit me again!" he muttered.
"But I will," retorted Dick, and struck out once more. This time his fist landed on the bully's left eye, and once again Baxter went down, this time with a thud.
The sailors were collecting, and soon Jack Lesher rushed up. He stepped between Dick and the bully.
"Stop it!" he ordered harshly. "We don't allow fighting on board of this craft"
"I wasn't fighting," answered Dick coolly. "I was just teaching a rascal a lesson."
"It amounts to the same thing. If you have any fault to find tell the captain, or tell me."
"Well, I'll go to the captain, not you," retorted Dick.
"All right," growled the first mate. "But just remember you can't boss things when I'm around."
When Captain Blossom understood the situation he was thoroughly angry.
"Baxter certainly ought to be in prison," he said. "I'll clap him in the brig and feed him on bread and water for three days and see how he likes that."
"He ought not to be left at large," said Dora, with a shudder. "He may try to murder some body next."
"We'll watch him after this," said the captain.
He kept his word about putting Baxter in the ship's jail. But through Lesher the bully got much better fare than bread and water. Strange as it may seem, a warm friendship sprang up between the bully and the first mate.
"I aint got nothing against you, Baxter," said Jack Lesher. "When we get to Australia perhaps we can work together, eh?" and he closed one eye suggestively. Baxter had told him of his rich relative, and the mate thought there might be a chance to get money from Baxter. "He'd rather give me money than have me tell his relation what sort of a duck he is," said Lesher to himself.
After this incident the time passed pleasantly enough for over a week. When Baxter came from the brig he went to work without a word. Whenever he passed the Rovers or the girls he acted as if he did not know they were there, and they ignored him just as thoroughly. But the boys watched every move the bully made.
As mentioned before, Jack Lesher was a drinking man, and as the weather grew warmer the mate increased his potions until there was scarcely a day when he was thoroughly sober. Captain Blossom remonstrated with him, but this did little good.
"I'm attending to my duties," said Lesher. "And if I do that you can't expect more from me."
"I thought I hired a man that was sober," said Captain Blossom. "I won't place my vessel in charge of a man who gets drunk."
Yet he was not willing to do the mate's work, or put that work onto others, so Jack Lesher had to take his turn on deck, no matter in what condition.
"I must say I don't like that first mate at all," said Tom to Sam. "He is very friendly with Baxter."
"I have noticed that," replied the youngest Rover. "Such a friendship doesn't count in the mate's favor."
"Last night he was thoroughly drunk, and wasn't fit to command."
"Well, that is Captain Blossom's lookout. The captain can't be on deck all of the time."
Two nights after this talk Jack Lesher was again in command of the ship, Captain Blossom having retired after an unusually hard day.
It was hot and dark, and the air betokened a storm. The man at the wheel was following a course set by the captain, and the sailors whose watch was on deck lay around taking it as easy as they could.
The mate had been drinking but little in the afternoon, but before coming on deck he took several draughts of rum. He was in a particularly bad humor and ready to find fault; with any body or anything.
Some of the sails had been reefed, and these he ordered shaken out, although there was a stiff breeze blowing. Then he approached the man at the wheel and asked for the course.
"Southwest by south," was the answer.
"That aint right," growled the mate. "It should be south by west."
"The captain gave it to me southwest by south," answered the man.
"Don't talk back to me!" roared Jack Lesher. "I know the course as well as the captain. Make it south by west, or I'll flog you for disobeying orders."
"Aye, aye, sir," answered the man at the wheel, and the course was changed, for the sailor stood greatly in fear of the mate. Then the mate sent below for another drink of rum.