Chapter XXV. A Shot from the Darkness
 

The shots which had reached Dora's ears had come from a gun in the hands of Arnold Baxter.

The man had been enraged at the sight of the lantern on the mast of the Searchlight, and, taking careful aim, had sent a charge of shot into the affair, smashing globe, reflector, and tin cup, and scattering the oil in all directions.

"Hurrah, I struck it!" shouted Arnold Baxter gleefully. "Now they won't see us quite so plainly."

"Knock out the other lantern, pop," put in Dan Baxter, and the parent turned in the second barrel of the shotgun with equal success.

For an instant the deck of the Searchlight seemed to be in darkness. Sam felt a bit of hot glass strike him on the cheek and raised his hand to brush it off. Then he felt something warm on the back of his leg. Looking down he saw to his horror that some of the oil from the lantern had fallen on him and that it was ablaze!

"Help! Help!" he shrieked. "I'm burning up!"

His cry alarmed everybody, and all, even Dick and Tom, came rushing to his aid. But Sergeant Brown was first, and he promptly threw the boy down flat and, whipping off his coat, began to beat out the flames.

Another shot now rang out, aimed at a third lantern, but the light was not struck. By this time Martin Harris made the discovery that the mainsail was on fire in two places, while the jib was also suffering.

"This is getting hot!" he cried, when Carter opened up fire at random, determined to do what he could. A yell and a groan followed, and then all became quiet, and firing on both sides was over.

Fortunately for Sam, the flames upon his person were quickly extinguished, and all the lad really suffered was the ruin of his trousers and an ugly blister on the calf of his leg. But he was badly scared, and when it was over he had almost to be carried to the cabin.

In the meantime Martin Harris procured several pails of water and a long-handled swab and with these did what he could to extinguish the fire on the sails. Several of the others joined in, and inside of ten minutes all danger of a conflagration was past.

"That's the worst yet!" growled the old sailor, as he surveyed the mainsail, which had two holes in it each is large as a barrel. "I'd like to wring the neck of the fellow as did it, yes I would," and he shook his head determinedly.

"That's the end of that light," said Sergeant Brown. "What are you going to do next?"

"I think I can get that searchlight to work," put in Dick. "But will it be of any use? They may start to shooting again."

"We've got to have some kind of a light, even if it's only a tallow candle," grumbled Harris.

"If we haven't got a light some coastwise steamer may run us down."

He set to work to rig up a temporary light, and in the meantime Dick returned to the cabin to experiment with the electric light. He found Sam on the couch, bathing his leg with oil to take away the sting of the bum.

"How is it, Sam -- hurt much?"

"I suppose it might be worse," was the younger brother's reply. "I wonder who fired that shot?"

"One of the Baxters, more than likely. They are a cold-blooded pair."

"One or more of us might have been killed if we had been directly behind the lights."

"That is true. I don't suppose Arnold Baxter would care much if we were. He was father's enemy, you must remember, and he said he hated all of us."

Sam resumed his bathing and Dick turned to the cabin table, upon which the battery and other portions of the searchlight rested.

Dick had always been greatly interested in electricity and therefore the parts of the battery before him were not hard for him to understand.

But there was one trouble with the battery which did not reach his eye as he turned it around and started it up. That was that a portion of the insulation of a main wire was worn off.

As he turned on the current there was a flash and the light blazed up almost as bright as day.

"That's fine!" cried Sam. "We'll be able to see the Flyaway a long distance off now."

"Well, I only hope when we put this up it won't be knocked out like the other lights were."

"Of course we'll have to run that risk."

In a minute more Dick started to carry the searchlight to the deck.

He had turned off the light proper, consequently the way to the companionway was rather dark.

He had almost reached the top of the steps when Sam heard a scream, saw a flash of fire, and then Dick came tumbling to the cabin floor in a heap, with the battery and light beside him.

"My gracious, he's been shocked!" burst out the youngest Rover; and, forgetting all about his burn, ran to his brother's assistance.

"What's that noise?" came from the deck.

"Dick's been shocked by the searchlight!" cried Sam. "Come down here, somebody, and let us see what we can do for him."

"Shocked, is it!" cried Sergeant Brown. "If that's the case, look out that somebody else don't catch it."

Tom came tumbling down, followed by both police officers, and Dick was picked up and deposited on the couch. Then Sam kicked the searchlight and batteries into a corner.

"They can stay there for all I care," said he.

"They are too dangerous, unless, a chap knows just how to handle them."

Dick lay with his eyes wide open, but unable to move. Tom bent down and announced that his heart was still beating.

But little in the way of restoratives were at hand, and the most they could do was to rub the youth's body in an attempt to restore the circulation.

"Oh, I hope he isn't permanently injured!" cried Tom. "If he should turn out a cripple it would be awful!"

"That's so," answered Sam. "Poor Dick! He's as bad off as if those rascals had shot him."

Slowly Dick came to his senses. But he was very weak, and soon he discovered that he was powerless to move his left arm.

"It's all numb," he announced. "It feels as if it was dead."

"Let me shake it for you," said Tom, and both brothers went to work, but with small success. The arm hung down as limp as a rag, and the left leg was nearly as badly off, although Dick said he could feel a slight sensation in it, like so many needles sticking him.

"You see, I've been afraid of that battery right along," said Martin Harris. "The professor got shocked once, and he limped around for a long while after."

"But he got over it at last, didn't he?" questioned Tom eagerly.

"I can't say about that. He went off, and I haven't seen him since," was the unsatisfactory reply.

The injuries to Dick and to Sam had somewhat dampened Tom's ardor, and he wondered what they had best do next, and spoke to the police officers about it.

"I don't know of anything but to turn back to shore," said Sergeant Brown. "We've lost them in the dark, and that is all there is to it. If we go ashore we can send out an alarm, and as soon as the Flyaway is spotted, somebody will go out and arrest everybody on board -- I mean everybody but the young lady, of course."

"But they may come ashore in the dark."

"And they may do that even if we stay out here -- and then they'll have more of an advantage than ever. No, I think the best thing we can do is to turn back to the coast and make the safest landing we can find."

When Dick heard of this, however, he shook his head. "Don't go back yet," he pleaded. "See if you can't make out the Flyaway somewhere. She won't dare to sail very far without a light."

"I don't go for giving up just yet," put in Martin Harris. "As the lad says, she'll show a light very soon now -- for there is a coastwise steamer a-coming," and he pointed in the direction of Sandy Hook.

He was right, and soon the many lights from the big steam vessel could be plainly seen. She was heading almost directly for them, but presently steered to the eastward.

"She must be almost in the track of the Flyaway," went on Martin Harris. "Just wait and see if I ain't right."

They waited and watched eagerly, and thus five minutes passed. Then from a distance they saw a light flash up.

"There she is!" cried Tom. "Let us head for her at once. They won't keep that light out long -- just long enough to let that steamer go by."

Martin Harris was already at the tiller, and soon the Searchlight was thrown over and was again dipping her nose in the long ocean swells. The wind had died away only to freshen more than ever, and the chase now became a lively one.

The enemy seemed to know that the exposure of their light had given those on the Searchlight the cue, and they were sailing as rapidly as all of their canvas permitted. But Harris was now handling his craft better than ever before, and slowly but surely the distance between the two craft was diminished, until the Flyaway could be made out faintly even without a light.

"Don't lose her again," said Dick. "We must keep at it until we run them down completely." And Harris promised to do his best.

It was now past midnight, and the police officers said they were tired out and dropped into the cabin to take a nap. Dick likewise remained below, trying to get up some circulation in the lamed arm.

"Can't you feel anything?" queried Tom.

"I think I can," answered his big brother. "Yes, yes, it's coming now!" he went on. "Thank God!" and he suddenly raised the arm and bent the fingers of his hand. By daylight that member of his body was nearly as well as ever. But this experience was one which Dick has not forgotten to the present day.

Sam had bound up his burn with a rag saturated with oil and flour, and announced that he felt quite comfortable. "But just let me get hold of those Baxters," he added. "I shan't stand on any ceremony with them."

"I don't believe any of us will," said Tom.

"But as anxious as I am to have this over, I would just as lief have the chase last until morning. Then we'll be better able to see what we are doing."

"Or trying to do," said Sam with a faint smile.