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For a moment the silence was startling. For an hour and a half the hum and whir of the busy engine had filled the boat until it had long since grown unnoticeable. And now to have it suddenly cease without warning seemed a veritable catastrophe. The silence which ensued while Nelson went anxiously over the motor seemed unnatural and fraught with disaster. On the stove, Tom’s viands stood forgotten while the chef watched with worried countenance the captain’s efforts to locate the trouble. Bob stood silently by and Dan peered down from the hatch, for there was no use in holding the wheel. The Vagabond drifted silently, rolling a little from side to side as the swells took her.
Finally Nelson stood up and scowled impatiently.
“I can’t see where the trouble is. The spark’s all right, she doesn’t seem hot, and the gasoline cock is wide open. The only thing——”
He seized a wrench and began to unfasten the vaporizer.
“This thing may possibly be stopped up,” he muttered.
He cleaned it out, turned the gasoline on again, and whistled.
“What is it?” asked Bob.
“She doesn’t get any gasoline,” said Nelson thoughtfully. “It surely hasn’t been shut off at the tank! No one has been trying any fool tricks like that, have they?”
There was a prompt and sober denial from each.
“Then,” said Nelson, “either the supply pipe is stopped up or the tank’s empty, and I don’t see how either is possible. Bring that light, Bob, will you? I’m going to measure.”
A moment later, when the measuring stick had been pulled out of the tank for the third time, perfectly dry, Nelson gave in.
“That’s it,” he said quietly. “The tank’s as dry as punk.”
“But I thought we had something like ninety gallons aboard,” said Bob.
“So did I. Either there’s a big leak in the tank or else they only gave us about ten gallons at the wharf. I wasn’t looking. Did anyone notice how much gasoline was put in?”
“Why, it couldn’t have been much,” answered Dan. “The young fellow that was doing it was only at it three or four minutes.”
“That’s it, then,” said Nelson. “It couldn’t be a leak. If it was, we’d smell it easily. Well, we can’t run the engine without gasoline. I ought to have seen to the filling of the tank, I suppose; but you’d think they could be trusted to do that, wouldn’t you? They’ll hear about it, all right!”
“Wh-wh-what are we gu-going to do?” asked Tom.
“Well, there are three things we can do,” was the answer. “We can get into the tender and tow the launch, for one thing. But we’re a good ten or eleven miles from the harbor, and that’s an all-night job. Or we can let her drift as long as she keeps near the shore. Or we can drop her anchor and ride here until morning.”
“Let’s do that,” said Dan. “It—it’s perfectly safe, isn’t it?”
“Yes, safe as you like while this sort of weather lasts. Only I don’t know for certain whether we’ve got cable enough to the anchor. It depends on how much water there is here.”
“Well, we can soon find out,” said Bob cheerfully. “Come on and let’s get it over.”
There was an anxious moment or two following the splash of the anchor, and while the cable paid out into the dark water.
“How’s she coming?” asked Nelson.
“Plenty left yet,” answered Dan.
“All right!” called Nelson. “Make her fast. It isn’t nearly as deep as I feared it would be.”
The Vagabond swung her nose seaward and tugged at the cable, but the anchor held fast. Nelson and Bob examined the lanterns carefully, took in the flags, which had been forgotten, and came back to the cockpit. Barry, who seemed to scent trouble, followed Dan’s heels at every step.
“If the weather stays like this,” observed Dan, “we’ll do pretty well.”
“Yes, and I don’t see any sign of a change,” answered Nelson. “Barometer’s behaving well and the wind’s clean from the west. All we’ve got to do now is to have our dinner, turn in, and sleep until morning. But we’ve got to keep watch on deck. I’ll take it for two hours and then you fellows can take it for two each. That’ll bring us to daylight. Then we’ll have to find some one to give us a tow. How about dinner, Tommy?”
“I’m afraid it’s all cooked away,” said Tommy sadly.
But it wasn’t, and Bob, Dan, and Tom sat down to the table and ate hungrily, while Nelson kept watch above, putting his head in the doorway now and then to beg some one to keep an eye on Tommy. The coffee was hot and Tom had not forgotten to “put the coffee in,” and before the repast was half finished everyone’s spirits had risen to normal once more. The catastrophe began to take on the guise of an interesting adventure, and the prospect of keeping watch on deck was quite exciting. Presently Dan relieved Nelson, and the latter took his place at table.
It was decided that the first watch should commence at nine o’clock, with Nelson on duty; that Tom should relieve him at eleven, and be followed by Bob and Dan in order. But when nine came, those who were off duty refused to go to bed in spite of Nelson’s protests. Instead, they wrapped themselves up and snuggled down in the cockpit out of the wind, which seemed to be freshening gradually and was quite chill, and talked and stared up at the stars or across the black void to where Minot’s flashed its signal. Once lights, a white and a green, passed them to the eastward, but there was no telling how far distant the craft was, and Nelson decided that it would be a waste of breath to try and make those on board of her hear. The novelty of the situation added its spice of enjoyment, and it was long after ten when Tom announced sleepily that he was going to turn in.
“What’s the use, Tommy?” asked Dan. “You’ll have to take the watch in a half hour.”
But Tom only muttered incoherently as he stumbled below. Dan and Bob followed soon after, and Nelson was left alone. He drew the hatch shut in order to cut off the light which came from below, and took his stand by the wheel. Presently Bob shouted good night, and he answered. Then everything was very silent out there. For awhile he kept his eyes busy on all sides, but such a sharp outlook was quite unnecessary, and so presently he leaned his elbows on the cabin roof and let his thoughts wander. He blamed himself for their predicament, and would be heartily glad when they were once more in port. Six bells sounded below, but he was not sleepy, and so he didn’t wake Tom until almost midnight. It was no easy matter even then, but at last Tom stumbled up on deck, promising sleepily to keep a sharp watch, and Nelson divested himself of his shoes and sweater and threw himself onto his bunk. Barry watched him from his nest at Dan’s feet and thumped his tail companionably. Sleep didn’t come readily, and so he lay for awhile with wide-opened eyes, staring at the dim light above Dan’s berth. Presently his thoughts worked around to Tom out there on deck. He recollected how sleepy that youth had been when he went out, and he became uneasy. Of course, with the lights in place, there was really no danger of anyone running them down, but at the same time there was always a possibility of accident, and Nelson felt himself liable for the safety of his companions. Presently he slipped off the berth and crossed the engine room quietly. All was still outside save for the rush of the wind and the slap of the water against the boat. He put his head out, expecting to see Tom huddled up asleep on the seat. Instead—
“Hello!” said Tom. “Is that you, Bob? You’re ahead of time.”
“N-no,” answered Nelson a bit sheepishly, “it’s me. I—I wasn’t sleepy, and I thought I’d see how you were getting along.”
Which wasn’t quite truthful, perhaps, but was possibly excusable, since Nelson didn’t want to hurt Tom’s feelings.
“Oh, I’m getting along all right,” was the cheerful reply. “It’s rather jolly out here. Do you know what time it is?”
“About half-past twelve.”
“All right. Haven’t seen a thing yet.”
“Well, I guess you won’t, Tommy, unless it’s a whale. Call Bob at one. Goodnight!”
“Good night, Captain!” answered Tom.
Relieved, Nelson went back to his berth and fell promptly to sleep. He had a hazy idea once that the watch was being changed, but he didn’t really wake up until Dan shook him at a little after five.
“Everything’s all right, I guess,” said Dan softly, “but it’s raining and blowing a good deal, and I thought maybe you’d want to know about it.”
Nelson put his feet to the floor and instantly realized that weather conditions had altered. The launch was pitching endwise and sidewise, and through one or two of the ports, which had been left open, the rain was blowing in.
“It’s after five,” said Dan, “but I thought you fellows might as well sleep awhile longer. We couldn’t see a boat anyhow, unless she bumped into us; it’s as thick as anything outside.”
Nelson drew on his oilskins, closed the ports on the weather side, and followed Dan to the cockpit. The wind had passed around to the southwest, the sea had risen a good deal, and all sight of land was shut off by the rain squalls. It was what the fisherman would have called a “smoky sou’wester.” Nelson went forward and saw that the cable was fast, although it was no easy task to stay on the launch’s plunging bow. The water swept over the forward end of the cabin in spray every moment.
“You go and take a nap,” said Nelson. “I’ll look out for her awhile.”
“All right,” agreed Dan, “I guess I will. The fact is”—he grinned apologetically—“I’m feeling the motion a bit.”
“I should say you were!” answered Nelson. “You’re as white as a sheet! Go on down and see if you can’t get to sleep.”
“Well—is everything all right?”
“Yes. This is only a squall, I guess. There’s no danger, anyway, although it’ll be pretty wet for awhile.”
Dan went down and Nelson made himself comfortable in the lee of the cabin. It seemed earlier than it really was, but that was due to the clouds and rain squalls. At about six Bob put his head out, with surprise written large on his features.
“What’s happened?” he asked.
“Oh, a nice little blow from the sou’west,” answered Nelson. “The old Vagabond thinks she’s doing a Highland fling.”
“How long’s it going to last?” asked Bob, with a dubious look about him.
“Not long, I guess. I hope not, anyhow, for we’re not likely to find a tow while it keeps up. Wake Tommy and get him to start breakfast, will you? A cup of hot coffee might taste nasty, but I don’t think so.”
Bob’s eyes brightened as he drew back out of the wind to awaken the chef and finish dressing; “hot coffee” surely has a grateful sound on a wet deck at six o’clock in the morning. And it tastes a whole lot nicer than it sounds; everyone would have agreed to that half an hour later, especially Nelson, who drank his coffee from a tin cup and ate his bacon and eggs from the top of the cabin, where the end of the tender sheltered the plate from the rain.
“I’m just as well pleased that we didn’t try to go to New York with the others,” observed Bob after breakfast. “About this time they must be down around the mouth of Buzzard’s Bay, and I’ll bet it’s blowing up nasty there.”
“Well, there was no danger of our getting there,” said Nelson.
“Because we had no gasoline, of course.”
“That’s so; I’d forgotten that. But, say, I’m glad I’m not on the Sue about this time!”
“I wonder which will win,” said Dan.
“So do I,” said Nelson. “Well, we’ll find out if we ever get to land. Hang this wind, anyway! Last night we might have used the tender and towed a bit, but we couldn’t do that now in this sea to save our lives.”
“I hope it won’t be necessary to try it,” said Bob dryly.
And as it proved, it wasn’t. For before nine the wind died down, the sun came out strongly, and the sea, while still choppy, calmed considerably. Nelson set the yachting ensign upside down as a signal of distress, and the Four kept a sharp watch for boats. Little by little the shoreline showed clear and sharp to the west, and sails and smoke showed here and there on the water. But it was all of an hour before any craft came near enough to see the Vagabond’s dilemma. Then it was an ocean-going tug, which bore down on them from the north with a schooner in tow. The boys waved and used the megaphone, and the tug presently altered her course and ran up to them.
“Broke down?” shouted a man from the door of the pilot house.
“Yes,” answered Nelson. “We’re out of gasoline. Have you got any?”
“No, we don’t use it,” laughed the other.
“Can you give us a tow, then?”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Anywhere we can get more gasoline.”
“Well, I’m bound for Sanstable. If you want to make fast to the stern of the schooner back there you can. But I cal’ate if you wait awhile you’ll find some feller bound toward Boston.”
There was a hurried conference. They were tired of lying there, and Sanstable sounded as good as any other place.
“We’ll go with you,” answered Nelson.
“All right. Get your mud hook up and be ready to throw a line to the schooner as she goes by.”
The tug started on slowly, the boys pulled the anchor up, and Nelson found a sixty-foot rope which would serve as a towline. By good luck, the man on the schooner caught it at the first throw, ran aft with it, and made it fast, and in another moment the Vagabond was sliding through the water once more at a seven-mile gait. The crew of the schooner, the Lizzie and May of Rockport, laden with big blocks of granite, came aft and smoked their pipes and observed the launch with phlegmatic interest.
“When will you reach Sanstable?” shouted Nelson.
One of the men took his pipe from his mouth, spat over the rail, and cocked an eye at the sun.
“’Bout three o’clock,” he answered finally.
“Thunder!” muttered Nelson. Then, “How far is it?” he asked.
The pipe came forth again and the informant let his gaze travel around the horizon as though he were looking for a milestone.
“’Bout thirty or forty miles,” he said.
“Thanks!” shouted Nelson. There was no reply to this. Doubtless the sailor thought it a waste of time to remove his pipe for a mere polite formality. Presently he and his companions, all save the man at the wheel, disappeared.
The sun grew warmer and the sea calmer. The wind had stolen around into the south and blew mildly across the sparkling waves. There was nothing to do save take life easily, and so Bob and Dan stretched themselves out on the cabin roof, Tom went to sleep in the bow, and Nelson stayed in the cockpit where he could get to the wheel if the necessity arose. At twelve Tom was awakened out of a sound but not silent slumber, and sent below to cook luncheon, and at a little before two bells they ate. By this time they were near enough the shore so that they could distinguish objects. Plymouth was passed at two, and at three the tug was heading into the shallow harbor of Sanstable.
“How much are you going to offer him?” asked Bob.
“The tugboat fellow? I don’t know. What do you think?” said Nelson.
“Well, I suppose he could demand a lot if he had a mind to, but I think ten dollars would be about right, don’t you?”
Nelson thought that it would, and so when the tug slowed down and the man at the wheel of the Lizzie and May tossed them their line Nelson dropped into the tender, which had been put over, and rowed to the tug.
“Ten dollars!” said the captain. “Why, say, young man, I’d tow you around the world for that! No; you give me a couple of dollars for the boys and we’ll call quits.”
“Well, we’re awfully much obliged,” Nelson assured him as he handed up the money.
“That’s all right,” answered the captain, who, on nearer acquaintance proved to be a squat, broad-shouldered man with a grave face lighted by a pair of twinkling blue eyes, “that’s all right. Maybe you can give me a tow some day!” And he chuckled as Nelson assured him of his willingness to do so. The tug and schooner proceeded on up the harbor along the waterfront, and Nelson rowed back to the Vagabond. There Dan joined him with the towline, and the two pulled the launch up to the nearest wharf. The harbor was not large, nor were there many piers, but it was well filled with pleasure craft and small schooners, and every slip was occupied. As there was no chance of getting up to a wharf, they decided to tie up to a schooner—the Henry Nellis—which was landing a load of pine boards.
“We’ll have to stay here until morning,” said Nelson, “so we might as well make the best of it. As soon as we get some gasoline aboard we can run out and anchor in the harbor.”
Luckily they were able to buy their fuel at the head of the wharf where they had berthed, but it was hard work getting it aboard, since they had to carry it down from the little store in five-gallon cans, lug it across the schooner’s deck, and hand it down the side. Dan stayed aboard the launch and the others carried. It was awkward work, and they decided that they would take aboard merely enough for a two days’ run and fill again where things were more convenient. So they put in thirty gallons and called it off. It was then four o’clock, and they decided to go ashore awhile before taking the launch out to her anchorage. After they had reached the village street Nelson stopped.
“Say, I forgot to lock that hatch,” he said. “I wonder if I’d better go back.”
“You closed things up, didn’t you?” asked Bob.
“Oh, it will be all right, then. Come on!”
They found the post office, and Nelson wrote a brief account of their adventures to his father. When he had signed his name to the postal card he paused and chewed the end of the pen for a moment. Then—
“Look here, fellows,” he said to the others, who were watching the village life through the dusty window, “we ought to decide where we’re going, so that dad can send our mail to us.”
“That’s so,” agreed Tom.
“Let’s keep on to New York, now that we’ve started,” said Bob.
“Well, but you wanted to go to Portland,” answered Nelson doubtfully.
“Never mind Portland. Maybe we can run up there when we come back. Let’s make it New York.”
“All right. Then I’ll tell dad to send our mail to the general delivery at Newport, and we’ll stop for it there the day after to-morrow. How’s that?”
“Sounds good to me,” said Dan.
An hour later they were back at the wharf, having given their legs a good stretching, and were making their way through the piles of lumber which covered the pier.
“It’s time we got here,” observed Bob. “The schooner’s through unloading, and there comes a tug to take her out. Let’s get a move on.”
He led the way across the deck of the schooner and was hailed by a thin, red-faced man, who came hurrying back from the bow.
“Hi, there! Where you going?”
“Oh!” said the other. Then, “Say,” he asked, “you ain’t seen a young feller about fourteen around here, have yer?”
Bob replied that he had not.
“Well, if you do, you let me know,” said the captain of the Henry Nellis savagely. “He’s my boy, and if I catch anyone helpin’ him to run away from this ship, there’ll be trouble.”
“Oh, run away, has he?” asked Dan.
“What’s that to you, young feller?” asked the man angrily.
“Nothing,” replied Dan, flushing. “Only if he has, I hope he keeps out of your way.”
“Oh, you do, eh? Well, you get off my deck, do you hear? Get, now!”
“Come on,” whispered Bob. But Dan’s ire was aroused.
“Don’t think I want to stay here, do you?” he asked sarcastically. “You aren’t laboring under the impression that your personal attraction is so great that I can’t tear myself loose, are you? Why, I’ve seen better-looking folks than you in the monkey cage!”
By that time Nelson and Bob were hurrying him unwillingly to the side of the schooner, and Tom, choking with laughter, was scrambling over the rail. The captain choked with anger for an instant. Then he found his voice, and the boys landed on the deck of the Vagabond amid a veritable thunder of abuse. He came to the side of the schooner and continued to give his opinion of them while they cast off.
“Go it!” muttered Dan. Then, seeing the boat hook in Bob’s hands, “Say, let me have that a minute, Bob,” he begged. “Just let me rap him one over the knuckles with it!”
But Bob refused, and the Vagabond slid astern under the amused regard of the crew, who had gathered as the storm broke. Dan waved farewell in the direction of the flaming red face which still regarded them savagely over the rail.
“Write often!” he called.
There was a quickly hushed howl from the crew, the captain disappeared from the rail, and from the subsequent sounds it was evident that he had transferred his attention to his subordinates.
“Gee, isn’t he an old bear!” marveled Dan.
“Don’t blame the boy for running away!” observed Nelson, as he shoved back the hatch and opened the doors. “Take the wheel, Bob, and we’ll run across there toward the bar, where we’ll be out of the way. See that spar over there? Sing out when we get almost up to it and I’ll shut her off.”
“Yes, sir! Very good, sir!” replied Bob, touching his cap ceremoniously.
Nelson went below, and as his feet touched the engine room floor he heard a shuffling sound in the stateroom beyond. With a bound, he was at the door. There was no one in sight. Evidently his ears had deceived him; probably he had heard some one moving on deck. Then, as he turned to go back to the engine, he saw that he had not been mistaken after all. Huddled in the corner of Tom’s berth lay a boy, whose anxious face gleamed pale in the dim light and whose wide, eager eyes stared pleadingly up at him.
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