Chapter XI. In Danger
 

"What is it? Oh, what has happened?"

Grace cried half hysterically as she saw Betty bending over her. The others awakened.

"Why, we're moving!" exclaimed Amy, in wonderment.

"What did you want to start off for, in the middle of the night?" Mollie asked, blinking the sleep from her eyes.

"I didn't," answered Betty quickly. "We're adrift! I don't know how it could have happened. You girls tied the boat, didn't you?"

"Of course," answered Grace. "I fastened both ropes myself."

"Never mind about that," broke in Aunt Kate. "I don't know much about boats, but if this one isn't being steered we may run into something."

"That's so!" cried Betty. "But I didn't want to go out on deck alone-- slip your raincoats on, girls, and come with me! There may be-- I mean some one may have set us adrift purposely!"

"Oh, don't say such things!" pleaded Grace, looking at the cabin ports as though a face might be peering in.

Quickly Betty and Mollie got into their long, dark coats, and without waiting for slippers reached the after deck. As they looked ahead they saw a bright light bearing directly for them. It was a white light, and on either side showed a gleam of red and green. Then a whistle blew.

"Oh, we're going to be run down!" cried Mollie. "A steamer is coming directly for us, Betty!"

"We won't be run down if we can get out of the way!" exclaimed Betty, sharply. "Push that button-- the automatic, I mean-- and start the motor. I'll steer," and Betty grasped the wheel with one hand, while with the other she pulled the signal cord, sending out a sharp blast that indicated her direction to the oncoming steamer would be to port. The steamer replied, indicating that she would take the same course. Evidently there was some misunderstanding.

"And we haven't our side lamps going!" cried Betty, in alarm, as she realized the danger. "Quick, girls, come up here!" she called to Grace and Amy. "One of you switch on the electric lamps. At least they can see us, then, and can avoid us. Oh, I don't know what to do! I never thought of this!"

A sudden glow told that Amy had found the storage battery switch, for the red and green lights now gleamed. Again the on-coming steamer whistled, sharply-- interrogatively. Betty answered, but she was not sure she had given the right signal.

"Why don't you start the motor?" she called to Mollie.

"I can't! It doesn't seem to work."

"The switch is off!" exclaimed Grace, as she came out of the cabin. With a quick motion she shoved it over.

"How stupid of me!" cried Betty. "I should have seen to that first. Try again, Mollie!"

Again Mollie pressed the button of the self-starter, but there was no response. The Gem was still drifting, seemingly in the very path of the steamer.

"Why don't they change their course?" wailed Amy. "Can't they see we're not under control? We can't start! We can't start!" she cried at the top of her voice, hoping the other steersman would hear.

"The steamer can't get out of the channel-- that's the reason!" gasped Betty. "I see now. It's too shallow for big boats except in certain places here. We must get out of her way-- she can't get out of ours! Girls, we must start the motor!"

"Then try it with the crank, and let the automatic go," suggested Aunt Kate, practically. "Probably it's out of order. You must do something, girls!"

"Use the crank!" cried Betty, who was hobbling the wheel over as hard as she could, hoping the tug of the current would carry the Gem out of danger. But the craft hardly had steerage way on.

Mollie seized the crank, which, by means of a long shaft and sprocket chain, extending from the after cabin bulkhead to the flywheel, revolved that. She gave it a vigorous turn. There was no welcome response of throbbing explosions in the cylinders.

"Try again!" gasped Betty, "Oh, all of you try. I simply can't leave the wheel."

The steamer was now sending out a concert of sharp, staccato blasts. Plainly she was saying, loudly:

"Get out of my way! I have the right of the river! You must get out of my way! I can't avoid you!"

"Why don't they stop?" wailed Grace. "Then we wouldn't bump them so hard!"

As if in answer, there came echoing over the dark water the clang of the engine-room bell, that told half-speed ahead had been ordered. A moment later came the signal to stop the engines.

"Oh, if only Uncle Amos-- or some of the boys-- were here!" breathed Betty. "Girls, try once more!"

Together Mollie and Grace whirled the crank, and an instant later the motor started with a throb that shook the boat from stem to stern.

"There!" cried Betty. "Now I can avoid them."

She threw in the clutch, and as the Gem shot ahead she whistled to indicate her course. This time came the proper response, and a little later the motor boat shot past the towering sides of the river steamer. So near had a collision been that the girls could hear the complaining voice of the pilot of the large craft.

"What's the matter with you fellows?" the man cried, as he looked down on the girls. "Don't you know what you're doing?" Clearly he was angry.

"We got adrift, and the motor wouldn't start," cried Betty, in shrill tones.

"Pilot biscuit and puppy cakes!" cried the man. "It's a bunch of girls! No wonder they didn't know what to do!"

"We did-- only we couldn't do it!" shouted Betty, not willing to have any aspersions cast on herself or her friends. "It was an accident!"

"All right; don't let it happen again," cried the steersman, in more kindly tones. And then the Gem slipped on down the river.

"What are we going to do?" asked Mollie, as Grace steered her boat.

"If we're going to stay out here I'm going to get dressed," declared Grace. "It's quite chilly."

Can you find your way back to the dock?" Aunt Kate inquired. "Can you do it, Betty?"

"I think so. We left a light on it, you know. I'll turn around and see if I can pick it out. Oh, but I'm all in a tremble!"

"I don't blame you-- it was a narrow escape," said Mollie.

"I don't see how we could have gone adrift, unless some one cut the ropes," remarked Grace. "I'm sure I tied them tightly enough."

"They may have become frayed by rubbing," suggested Betty. "We'll look when we get a chance. What are you going to do, Amy?" for she was entering the cabin.

"I'm going to make some hot chocolate," Amy answered. "I think we need it."

"I'll help," spoke Aunt Kate. "That's a very sensible idea."

"I think that is the dock light," remarked Betty a little later, when the boat was headed up stream.

"Anyhow, we can't be very far from it," observed Grace. "Try that one," and she pointed to a gleam that came across the waters. "Then there's another just above."

The first light did not prove to be the one on the private dock where they had been tied up, but the second attempt to locate it was successful, and soon they were back where they had been before. Betty laid the Gem alongside the stringpiece, and Grace and Mollie, leaping out, soon had the boat fast. The ends of the ropes, which had been trailing from the deck cleats in the water, were found unfrayed.

"They must have come untied!" said Grace. "Oh, it was my fault. I thought I had mastered those knots, but I must have tied the wrong kind."

"Never mind," said Betty, gently.