The Rover Boys on Land and Sea/Chapter 6

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"The mast has gone by the board!" screamed Dick, on rising to his feet.

"That stick will turn the yacht over!" gasped Tom.

Poor Sam could not speak, for a wave had struck him full in the mouth, and he had all he could do to keep from being washed overboard.

The girls in the cabin heard the crash above the roaring of the elements, and let up a scream of alarm.

"Are we going down?"

"Shall we come out on deck?"

"Stay where ye are!" shouted back Captain Jerry, clinging to the wheel with a grip of steel. Then he turned to Dick: "Can ye git an ax and clear away the wreck?"

"I'll try it," replied the eldest Rover, and he moved cautiously to where an ax rested in a holder. Soon he had the article in hand, and was chopping away as fast as he could, while Tom, holding to the bottom of the mast with one hand, held Dick with the other. Sam, in the meantime, cut away some cordage with a hatchet which was handy.

It was truly a perilous moment, and it looked as if the mighty waves would swamp the Old Glory before the wreckage could be cleared away. The girls stood at a cabin window watching the work and ready to leap out if the yacht should start to go down.

"There it goes!" cried Dick, at last, and gave another stroke with the ax. There followed a snap and a crack, and overboard slid the broken mast, carrying a mass of cordage with it.

At once the Old Glory righted herself, sending a small sheet of water flowing from one side of the deck to the other. Some of the water swept into the cabin, and the girls were alarmed more than ever.

"A good job done that it's overboard," said Captain Jerry. "Another plunge or two and we would have gone over, sure pop!"

With the wreckage cleared away the boys breathed more freely. But the peril was still extreme, for it was no easy mattter to keep the craft from taking the mighty waves broadside. But the force of the wind drove them on, and Captain Jerry handled the wheel as only a veteran tar could.

"I guess it's a hurricane," was Tom's comment.

"Looks more like a cyclone to me," spluttered Sam. "I'd give a good deal to be out of it."

To keep from being swamped they had to run out to sea. This was no pleasant prospect to the boys, but it could not be helped.

"We needn't tell the girls," said Dick. "It will only worry them more, without doing any good."

Two hours went by, and the storm kept on as madly as ever. Night was now coming on, and soon it was impossible to see a hundred feet in any direction. The yacht's lanterns were lit, and one was hoisted on a stick which Dick nailed to the stump of the mast.

"We've got to have some sort o' light," said Captain Jerry. "If not, we may run afoul o' some other craft."

The time went by slowly, each hour seeming an age. Nobody felt like eating, and nothing was said about supper until nearly nine o'clock, when Dora opened the cabin door and called Dick:

"We thought we would get to shore before eating," she said. "How much longer will we be out, do you think?"

"There is no telling, Dora," he replied evasively.

"No telling? Doesn't Captain Jerry know where we are?"

"Hardly. You see it is so dark, and we can't make any headway with the mast gone."

"How stupid of me! I should have known that. Shall we try to fix up some supper?"

"You might pass some sandwiches. But, no, we had better come down, one at a time," returned Dick.

This suggestion was carried out, Captain Jerry being the last to go down, leaving the wheel in the hands of Dick and Tom.

"Don't ye let it git away from ye," was his caution. "If ye do it will be good-by, 'Liza Jane, an' all of us goin' slam bang to Davy Jones' locker!"

From old Jerry the girls learned that they would probably have to remain on the yacht all night.

"Don't ye git alarmed," he said. "The storm's goin' down, an' we'll come out all right when the sun rises."

The prospect of remaining on the ocean all night was dismaying, and all of the girls wonwered what Mrs. Stanhope would say when they did not return.

"I know mother will be very much worried," said Dora soberly.

It was decided by the boys that they should take turns at lying down, each being given two hours in which to rest. Sam was the first to turn in, but it is doubtful if he slept to any extent. Tom followed, and then came Dick. Captain Jerry declined, stating he could sleep when he had the party safe on shore once more.

By morning the storm had taken another turn. It no longer rained, but the sky was murky, and there was a dense fog, which the wind blew first in one direction, and then an other. They were still running to sea, with small prospect of being able to turn back.

"This is certainly more than I bargained for," observed Dick to Tom, in a low voice, "To me it looks mighty serious."

"Oh, the storm is bound to go down."

"Yes, Tom, but how long do you suppose the provisions and water will last?"

At this question Tom's face fell.

"I hadn't thought of that, Dick. I don't suppose we have more than enough for to-day, have we?"

"Well, we might make it last two days on a pinch—we brought quite a lot along. But after that——"

"Do you think we'll have to stay out here more than two days?" demanded Sam.

"I don't know what to think, Sam."

"Can't we rig up some sort of a jury-mast?"

"Captain Jerry mentioned that. We'll try."

There was no stick on board of the Old Glory outside of the bowsprit, and at last they decided to saw this off and put it up as a small mast.

The task was no easy one, and just as the temporary mast was being fitted into place there came an extra heavy puff of wind which sent the yacht far over on her side.

"Hold fast, all of ye!" roared Captain Jerry, and they obeyed, and the stick went rolling over the side and out of sight in the billows.

"Gone!" gasped Tom. "That ends putting up another mast."

Slowly the day wore along. The girls were silent, and if the truth be told more than one tear was shed between them, although before the boys they tried to put on a brave face. There were no regular meals, and by the advice of Captain Jerry and Dick they were sparing of the provisions and the water.

"Our only hope now is for the storm to go down, or else to sight some passing ship," said Dick. "Getting back to Santa Barbara at present is out of the question. For all we know, we may be a hundred or two hundred miles from the coast."

About two o'clock in the afternoon the sky cleared a little. But as the fog lifted, the wind blew with greater force, sending them reeling and plunging into the mighty waves.

"It looks as if we should be swamped after all," said Tom dolefully.

"Never say die, Tom," came from Sam resolutely.

"I suppose Mrs. Stanhope will be worried half to death."

"No doubt of it."

Nobody had any heart to talk, and each watched eagerly for some sign of a sail. Tom had a spyglass, and just before sunset he let out a shout:

"A ship! A ship!"

"Where?" came from the others.

"Off in that direction," and Tom pointed with his hand.

All took a look through the glass, and saw that he was right. There was a steamer approaching.

"If only they see us," said Dick, and his brothers nodded.

The girls had heard the cry, and now came on deck to learn what it meant.

"Oh, I hope they take us on board and back home," said Nellie. "I must say I am heartily tired of this yacht."

The wind was increasing, and the girls had to go back to the cabin to keep from getting wet. The boys put up a flag, upside down, on a piece of planking, and waited eagerly for the steamer to come nearer.

"The yacht is settling," cried Dick, a little while later. "Don't you notice it?"

"The Old Glory has sprung some leaks," responded Captain Jerry sadly. "Take the wheel while I go and look them over."

Tom and Sam took the wheel, while old Jerry and Dick inspected the leaks. They soon reported that two seams had opened at the bow, and that there was a bad break at the stern, which was bound soon to interfere with the rudder.

"I believe that steamer is going to leave us!" cried Sam, a little while later.

"Oh, don't say that," said Dick. "We must signal her somehow."

"We'll fire some rockets," said Captain Jerry.

This was done, and a little later they saw that the steamer was heading in their direction.

By this time the Old Glory showed unmistakable signs of being on the point of foundering, and the girls were told to come on deck. Everybody was given a life preserver, which had been kept close at hand since the beginning of the trouble.

"We are seen!" cried Sam joyously, as a signal came from the steamer.

Gradually the strange vessel drew closer, and they saw that she was a rather clumsy affair of the "tramp" pattern, used to carry all sorts of cargoes from one port to another.

"They are lowering a small boat," said Sam, a little later.

"I wish they would hurry," returned Tom, in a low voice. "I believe this yacht is going to go down very soon."

At last the small boat was close enough to be hailed, and preparations were made for transferring the girls first.

It was no easy matter to make the change, and it took a good quarter of an hour to land the girls on the steamer's deck.

By this time the Old Glory was completely water-logged.

"We have got to jump for it, lads!" cried Captain Jerry, "unless you want to go down with her!"

And jump they did, into the mighty waves, and none too soon, for a minute later the yacht went down, out of their sight forever.

The small boat was not far away, and soon Sam and Tom were picked up. To get Dick and Captain Jerry was not so easy, but the task was finally accomplished, and soon all of our friends stood on the deck of the tramp steamer, safe and sound once more.