Chapter XXVII. The Collision in the Fog
 

"Hullo! Mumps isn't keeping this flag of truce very good," remarked Sam, as the seashell dropped at his feet.

"There is something inside of the shell," said Tom. "A bit of paper. Perhaps it's a message?"

"I'll soon see," returned his younger brother, and ran to where he could not be seen from the other yacht.

He pulled from the seashell a small, square of paper, upon which had been hastily scrawled the following in lead pencil:

"I will help you all I can and hope you won't prosecute me. I will see that Dora S. gets something to eat, even if I give her my share. They intend to go to Sand Haven if they can give you the slip."

"Good for Mumps! He's coming to his senses," cried Sam, and showed the others the message. Dick read the words with much satisfaction.

"I hope he does stand by Dora," he said. "If so, I'll shield him all I can when the crowd is brought up for trial."

"If he tells the truth we may as well put into harbor and make for Sand Haven," said Martin Harris, who had now resumed the chase once more.

"Yes; but he may not be telling the truth," was Sergeant Brown's comment. "The whole thing may be a trick to get us to go to Sand Haven while that crowd goes somewhere else."

"I think they are tired of carrying the girl around," said Carter. "To give her up to us would have been no hardship."

"That's it," put in Martin Harris. "Well, I'm willing to do whatever the crowd says."

The matter was talked over at some length, and it was finally decided to cruise around after the Flyaway for the best-part of the day. If, when night came on, the other craft should steer in the direction of Sand Haven, they would do likewise, and land as soon as darkness came to cover up their movements.

Slowly the day wore along and the two yachts kept at about the same distance. They were both running due south, and land was out of sight as before.

"This is developing into a regular ocean trip and no mistake," remarked Tom, as he dropped into a seat near the cabin. "Who would have thought it when we left Cedarville in such a hurry?"

"I'd like to know how things are going up there," mused Dick. "It will be too bad if Josiah Crabtree succeeds in marrying Mrs. Stanhope while we are away."

"Let us hope for the best," put in Sam.

"Hullo, the Flyaway is moving eastward!"

"What does that mean, Harris?" cried Dick.

"It means that they want to make the most of this wind," responded the skipper of the yacht grimly. "I'm learning a trick or two on 'em, and I'll overreach 'em if they ain't careful."

"You can't do it any too quick," answered Dick. "When next we meet there won't be quite so much talking. Instead, we'll have some acting, and pretty lively at that."

Sergeant Brown was questioned concerning his weapons, and said he had two pistols and Carter had the same. One of the extra weapons was loaned to Dick and the second went to Tom. It was decided that in case of a close brush Sam and Harris were to arm themselves with anything that was handy, but otherwise they were to attend to the sailing of the Searchlight.

Provisions, to use Tom's way of expressing it, were now "more than low," and as they ate the scant food dealt around, Dick could not help but think of how Dora might be faring.

"I'd willingly starve myself if only it would give her what she needs," he thought. It made him sick at heart to think of how she might be suffering.

Mile after mile was passed, until the sun began to descend over to the westward. The yachts were now close on to quarter of a mile apart.

"Here comes another steamer!" cried Tom presently. "Look here, why can't we get some help from her?"

"Perhaps we can!" burst out Dick. "I never thought of that."

"Let us signal her anyway," suggested Sergeant Brown.

A flag was run up as high as the topmast permitted, and they headed directly for the steamer's course.

As the ship came closer they made her out to be a big "tramp" from the South American trade. For the benefit of those who do not know, let me state that a tramp steamer is one going from one port to another regardless of any regular route, the movements of the craft depending entirely upon the freight to be picked up.

"She sees the signal!" exclaimed Dick, after an anxious wait of several minutes.

Slowly the steamer came up to them, and then her ponderous engines ceased to work.

"What is wanted?" came in Spanish from a dark-looking man on the forward deck.

"Can't you talk English?" cried Dick.

"A leetle."

"We are after that other sail-boat. The men in her are thieves and have abducted a girl, too. Will you help us catch them?"

At this the man on the steamer drew down his face and held a consultation with several behind him.

"You are sure they are thieves?" he asked presently.

"Yes."

"Have they with them the money that was stolen?"

"We are pretty certain they have."

"And the girl?"

"Yes"

"And what is the reward for the girl, senor?"

"Well, I declare!" burst out Tom. "They are after a reward the first thing."

"No reward yet," answered Dick. "But there may be."

At this the South American scowled. "We cannot lose time on a hunt that is worth nothing," he said. "We must get to Brooklyn by tomorrow morning."

"You won't help us bring them to justice?"

"We cannot afford to lose the time."

Without further words the big steamer's engines were started up again and away she sped, leaving the Searchlight to sink and rise on the rollers left in her wake.

"My, but that fellow is accommodating!" groaned Dick. "He isn't doing a single thing without pay."

"We might have bought some provisions from him," put in Martin Harris. "I reckon he'd sell some for a round price -- being so near to the end of his voyage."

"I don't want his stuff," remarked Sam.

"I'm afraid it would choke me if I tried to eat it."

The stop had given the Flyaway an advantage, and she was making, the most of it. But before the gun went down those on the other yacht saw her head for the coast once more.

"I guess the note told the truth," said Harris.

"Is Sand Haven near here?" questioned Tom.

"It is not over half a mile further down the coast."

"And how far are we out?" was the police sergeant's question.

"Between five and six miles, as near as I can calculate."

"Will they be able to run in by dark?"

"I think so. You see, the wind is shifting, and it depends a good bit on how much it veers around," concluded the old sailor.

Slowly the sun sank in the west. It was growing cloudy and a mist was rising. The mist made Martin Harris shake his head; but, not wishing to alarm the others, he said nothing.

But soon Dick noticed the mist and so did the rest. "Gracious, supposing we get caught in a fog!" muttered Tom.

"I was just thinking of it," returned his elder brother. "There will be no fun in it -- if we are out of sight of land."

A quarter of an hour went by, and still no land appeared. It was now so raw that the boys were glad enough to button their coats tightly about them. Then, of a sudden, the fog came rolling over them like a huge cloud, and they were unable to see a dozen yards in any direction.

"This is the worst yet!" groaned Sam. "What's to do now?"

"Yes, what's to do now?" repeated Sergeant Brown. "Can you make the coast, skipper?"

"To be sure I can," replied Harris, as he looked at the compass. "But I don't know about landing. You see we might stick our nose into a sandbank before we knowed it."

"Perhaps the fog will lift?" suggested Carter.

"A fog like this isn't lifting in a hurry," said Dick. "Like as not it won't move until the sun comes up tomorrow morning," and in this guess he was right.

A half-hour went by, and from a distance came the deep note of a fog-horn, sounding apparently from up the shore.

"We ought to have a horn," said Sam. "Some big boat may come along and run us down."

"There is a horn in the cabin pantry," replied Martin Harris. "We might as well bring it out. If we are sunk one or more of us will most likely be drowned."

"Oh, don't say that!" ejaculated Carter. "I'll get the horn," and, running below, he brought it up, and he and Sam took turns at blowing it with all the strength of their lungs.

"One thing is comforting; those rascals are, no better off than we are," was Tom's comment.

"Yes; but if they founder, what will become of Dora?"

"I don't believe any one of them would put himself out to save her."

"I guess you're right there, Dick. I never thought of her, poor girl," replied the brother.

Dick and Sergeant Brown were well up in the bow, one watching to starboard and the other to port, for anything which might appear through the gloom. The horn was blowing constantly, and now from a distance came the sounds of both horns and bells.

"We are getting close to some other ships," said Martin Harris. "I reckon we had best take a few reefs in the mainsail and stow away the jib," and these suggestions were carried out.

The minutes that followed, were anxious ones, for all felt that a collision might occur at any moment. The fog was growing thicker each instant, and this, coupled with the coming of night, seemed to shut them in as with a pall.

"A boat is dead ahead!" came suddenly from Dick, and Sergeant Brown also gave a cry of warning. Then came a shock and a crash and a splintering of wood, followed by the cries of men and boys and the screams of a woman and a girl.

"We've struck the Flyaway!" called out Tom, and then he found himself in the water, with Sam alongside of him.