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   Chapter 16 CHAPTER XX

The Motor Boat Club and The Wireless; Or, the Dot, Dash and Dare Cruise By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 13585

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"C.Q.D! C.Q.D.!-HELP!"

"Lay along with me, Hank!" bawled the young skipper, hoarsely, in the steward's ear. "We've got to cut away what's left of the sail."

Neither helmsman could wisely be spared. Though the boat now had no power of her own she was being driven sharply before the gale, and some fine handling of the wheel was needed in order to keep the boat so headed that she might wallow as little as possible in the trough of the sea.

Nor was the work of the young captain and Hank Butts anything like play. Making their way out along the top of the cabin deck-house was in itself hazardous. They were forced to clutch at any rigging that came to hand to avoid being washed overboard, for the waves were dashing furiously over the helpless boat.

It was not much of a task to haul in the sheet, making fast. Then, using their sailor's knives, they slashed away.

It was needful for one of them to go aloft.

"I can do it," proposed Hank, summoning all his courage. 208

"I know you can," Tom bawled in his ear. "But I'm not going to send anyone where I wouldn't go myself. It's mine to go aloft."

Thrusting his knife securely into the sheath at the end of its lanyard, Tom Halstead began to climb. Hank watched him closely. The pair at the wheel had no time to observe. All their attention was needed on their own work.

As he climbed, Tom Halstead had a sensation of being in danger of being pitched overboard.

Next, as the "Restless" lay over harder than she had yet done, it seemed as though the mast were bent on touching the water. Halstead had to halt in his climbing, satisfied to hold on for dear life.

"Oh, if we only had enough gasoline aboard!" groaned the young skipper, regretfully. "It would be a tough storm, even then, though nothing like as bad as this!"

As the boat partially righted herself, he went on with his climbing. At length he found himself where he could bring his knife into play, slashing away the fragments of the wind-torn canvas. When the work was done Halstead let himself to the deck again, half-expecting that the force of the pitching and fury of the gale would catch him and sweep him over into the dark, raging waters.

Yet he reached the deck in safety, finding 209 himself beside Hank Butts, who, by this time, looked more like some water-logged thing than a natty steward.

"Come on below to the sail-locker," roared Captain Tom in the other boy's ear. "Be careful to hold to the life lines and go slow when the boat heels over. We'll get the new sail out and rig it-if we can."

Hepton, seeing them coming, made a sign to Joe, who stood doggedly braced at the wheel. Joe did all he could-it was little enough-to swing the boat's head a trifle so that she would ride more easily, if possible, in that terrible sea.

Slowly Tom and Hank made their way to the motor room door and slipped down below. There Powell Seaton, his face white, confronted them.

"Captain, this is awful. I don't see how the 'Restless' rides such a sea at all."

"She'd not only ride but steer well, sir, if we had gasoline enough to run her by her propellers," Halstead shouted back. "I'd go all the way to Havana in a gale like this if I could use the twin propellers. The 'Restless' is a sea boat, and she can't sink unless the watertight compartments are smashed."

"But she can turn over and ride keel upward, can't she?" demanded Mr. Seaton, with a ghastly grin. 210

"She can, sir, if she heels enough," Tom admitted. "But that's why Joe's at the wheel-because we need a fellow who can make the most out of such headway as the force of wind and waves gives us. And now, sir, Hank and I must try to rig a new sail."

Out of the sail-locker they dragged the new canvas. It was all in readiness for rigging. In calm weather they could have done this readily-but now? Only time could tell.

"Lend 'em a hand, Hepton!" roared Joe, as he saw the young captain and helper appear with the bulky canvas.

It was all the three of them could do, in the rolling, high seas in which the "Restless" pitched like a chip of wood, to get that sail on top of the cabin deck-house. Bit by bit they rigged it in place, working fast, straining muscle and sinew to hold the sail against the gale that strove to carry the canvas overboard. At last, they had it in place, ready for hoisting.

"Stand by to hoist," sang out Captain Tom. "The two of you. Go slow! I'll watch for trouble as you shake it out."

All the reefs had been taken in the sail before hoisting. Tom Halstead had made up his mind to be satisfied with just a showing of canvas to catch the high wind-enough to keep the boat steady. 211

As the sail went up, flapping wildly in the breeze, Halstead began to have his doubts whether it would last long. It was their last chance, however, for the control of the "Restless."

"Lay along here!" roared Tom, through his hands as a trumpet, when he saw that they had made the halyards fast. Now he signed to them to help him haul in on the sheet. Joe, watching, just making out the white of the canvas through the darkness, threw the wheel over to make the craft catch the wind. In a few moments more the gale was tugging against the small spread of canvas, and the "Restless" was once more under control-while the sail lasted!

All but exhausted, the trio found their way forward. For a brief space they tumbled below into the motor room, though Halstead stood where he could see Joe Dawson and spring to his aid when needed.

"Hank," called Halstead, five minutes later, "your trick and mine on deck. We'll give Joe and Hepton a chance to get their wind below."

Small as was the spread of canvas, Tom found, when he took the wheel, that the good little "Restless" was plunging stiffly along on her course. She was a wonderfully staunch little boat. The young sailing master bewailed his luck in having hardly any gasoline on board. 212 It should never happen again, he promised himself.

Again? Was there to be any "again"? The motor boat captain was by no means blind to the fact that the "Restless" hadn't quite an even chance of weathering this stiff gale. At any moment the sail might go by the board in ribbons, as the first had done. Hank was not even watching the sail. If it gave way it must.

Joe presently came on deck for his next trick at the wheel. Hepton was with him.

"I've been thinking about the prisoner in the starboard stateroom," announced Joe. "It's inhuman to leave him there, locked in and handcuffed, in such a gale. He must be enduring fearful torment."

"Yes," nodded Tom. "I've just been thinking that I must go down and set him free as soon as I'm relieved."

"Go along, then," proposed young Dawson. "I have the wheel, and Hepton by me."

Taking Hank Butts with h

im, Tom Halstead made his way below.

"Dawson was just speaking to me about our prisoner," began Powell Seaton. "Dawson thinks he ought to be turned loose-at least while this gale lasts."

"Yes," nodded Captain Halstead. "I'm on my way to do it now." 213

"Will it be safe?"

"We can't help whether it is, or not," Skipper Tom rejoined. "It's a humane thing to do, and we'll have to do it."

Powell Seaton did not interpose any further objections. It would have been of little moment if he had, for, on the high seas, the ship's commander is the sole judge of what is to be done.

Even below decks, going through the electric-lighted passage and cabin, Tom and Hank made their way with not a little difficulty. They paused, at last, before the starboard stateroom door, and Tom fitted the key in the lock.

Jasper, the man locked within, faced them with affrighted gaze.

"We're going to the bottom?" he demanded, hoarsely, tremulously. His very evident terror gave the young skipper a new idea.

"Are you prepared to go to the bottom, Jasper?" demanded Halstead.

"Am I fit to die, do you mean?" asked the man, with a strange, sickly grin. "No, sir; I'm not. At least, not until I've cleared myself by telling a few truths."

"Come out into the cabin, man," ordered Halstead, leading him. "Now, sit down, and I'll get your handcuffs off."

The young captain of the "Restless" unlocked 214 the irons about the fellow's wrists. Jasper stretched his hands, flexing his wrists.

"Now, I can swim, anyway, though I don't believe it will do much good," he declared.

"No; it won't do much good," Halstead assented. "We're something more than forty miles off the coast. But what do you want to say? What's on your mind? Be quick, man, for we must be on deck again in a jiffy. I don't want to lose my boat while I'm below with a rascal like you."

"I haven't always been a rascal," retorted Jasper, hanging his head. "At least, I have been fairly straight, until the other day."

"What have you been doing for Dalton and Lemly?" demanded Tom Halstead, fixing his gaze sternly on the frightened fellow.

"Never anything for Dalton," whined Jasper.

"Well, for Lemly, then?"

"Oh, I've been snooping about a bit, for two years or so, getting tips for Dave Lemly."

"What has Lemly been smuggling in the 'Black Betty' all this time?"

"Diamonds," admitted Jasper, sullenly.

Tom Halstead felt like giving a great start, but controlled himself.

"Smuggling diamonds under Anson Dalton's orders, eh?" insisted the young skipper.

"Yes; I reckon so." 215

"How did you come into our matter-as a guard and a traitor?"

"I was on hand when Mr. Seaton was getting his guards together," replied Jasper. "So was Dave Lemly's mate. The mate told me to jump in and get my chance with the guard."

"What other orders did you have?"

"I was to watch my chance to do anything nasty that I could," confessed the fellow, hanging his head.

"That was why you tried to ruin our aerials?"

"Yes."

"You also listened to Mr. Seaton and myself, the night we were going over to Lonely Island?"

Jasper squirmed, his face growing more ashen.

"You heard what was said about papers hidden in a cupboard at the bungalow. Did you? Answer me, confound you!"

With an appearance of utter rage Tom bounded at the fellow, as though about to attack him. Hank closed in, to be ready in case the attack turned out to be a genuine one.

"Yes, I stole an envelope full of papers," admitted Jasper.

"What did you do with them?"

"I turned them over to Dave Lemly." 216

"Where? On Lonely Island?"

"Yes; Lemly visited the island twice, at night, while I was on duty there," confessed the fellow, whining and letting his head fall lower.

"What else have you done against us?"

"Nothing, except trying to disable your wireless."

"Are you telling the whole, full truth?" demanded Captain Tom Halstead, surveying the fellow suspiciously. "As much of the truth as you want to lay bare before going to the bottom in this wild storm?"

"Yes! Oh, yes, yes!" insisted Jasper, easily. "Now, I've cleared my conscience of its load!"

"Humph!" muttered Tom Halstead, dryly.

At that moment a snapping sound overhead reached their ears. The "Restless" veered about, then heeled dangerously.

"Our second and last sail has gone!" cried the young skipper, starting forward. "Jasper, I hope you have told me the whole truth, for there is no knowing, now, how soon you'll start for the bottom-how soon we'll all go down. Helpless in this sea, the 'Restless' may 'turn turtle.'"

Nor was Tom speaking in jest, nor in any effort to scare the recent prisoner into a fuller confession. Indeed, the motor boat captain was 217 paying no further heed to the wretch, but making his way forward. Jasper started to follow, Hank bringing up the rear.

As they reached the motor room the pitching and rolling of the boat were awesome enough. It seemed incredible that a boat the size of the "Restless" could live even a minute in her now helpless condition.

Joe still stood at the wheel, white-faced but calm.

"I don't see what we can do now, Tom," he shouted.

"Nothing but get down to the wireless, and do anything you can in the way of picking up some steamship," Halstead answered. "We might get a tow, or, at least, another spread of canvas for a third try to ride out the gale. The chances aren't big for us, but-well, Joe, we're sailors, and can take our medicine."

Joe smiled grittily as he edged away from the wheel after his chum had taken it.

"At least, if we go down, we go down in command of our own ship!" he yelled bravely in Tom's ear through the wild racket of the gale.

Then Joe went below. The storage batteries held electricity enough to operate the few lights and keep the wireless going at intervals for some hours yet.

Once, in the minutes that dragged by, Hank 218 Butts thought of the fine spread he had been instructed to serve all hands that night. But no one else was thinking of food now. Coffee would have been more to the purpose, but to start a galley fire was to take the risk of adding fire at sea to the already more than sufficient perils of those aboard the "Restless."

Every few minutes Captain Tom Halstead called down through the speaking tube that connected him with Joe Dawson at the sending table. Always Joe's calm answer came, the same:

"Our wireless spark hasn't picked up any other ship yet."

Then, just as frequently, Joe would rest his hand on the sending key again, and send crashing off into space the signal:

"C.Q.D.!" The three letters that carry always the same message of despair across the waves.

"C.Q.D.!"-the wireless signal of distress. "Help wanted, or we perish!"

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