Chapter XXV. Beaching the "Wellington"
 

"How is this for a turn of fortune?" remarked Tom, as he and Sam stood on the deck of the Wellington and watched the shore of Needle Point Island fading from view in the distance.

"It's all right, if only we can make those Canadians obey us," replied the youngest of the Rovers. "They don't seem to like matters much. They look dark and distrustful."

"I don't think they'll make trouble, Sam."

"Josiah Crabtree seems thoroughly cowed."

"Don't trust him. He is worse than a snake in the grass and he hates us worse than poison."

The two paced the deck thoughtfully. Mrs. Stanhope was still in the cabin, in the company of one of the sailors' wives, while the former teacher of Putnam Hall also kept out of sight.

"This seems an old tub of a boat," went on Tom, a few minutes later. "I wonder that Crabtree didn't hire something better. She just crawls along, and no more."

"Probably he got the boat cheap. He always was the one to go in for cheap things." And in his surmise the lad was correct.

It was not long before one of the Canadians took hold of a hand-pump near the bow of the boat and began to pump the water out of the hold.

"Hullo, your old tub leaks, eh?" said Tom.

"Yees, heem leak some," answered the fat Canadian. "Heem want some what-you-call-heem, tar; hey?" And he smiled broadly.

"Any danger of sinking?"

At this the Canadian shook his head. Then he went to pumping at a faster rate than ever.

"I believe he is afraid," said Tom to Sam. "She must leak fearfully, or he wouldn't pump up so much water."

"Well, the journey to the mainland won't last forever--that's one satisfaction, Tom. I reckon the tub is good for that much of a run. I don't care what becomes of her after we are ashore."

"Nor I. She can sink if she wishes, with Crabtree on board, too."

"Sink!" cried a voice behind them. "Is there danger of the ship going down? I noticed that she was leaking yesterday."

It was Josiah Crabtree who spoke. He had just come up and he was very pale.

"I guess she'll keep up a few minutes longer," said Tom soberly.

"A few minutes! Oh, dear! if we did sink what would become of us?"

"Why, if we did sink we'd sink, that's all."

"I mean, if the ship sunk what would we do?"

"You might wade ashore, if your legs are long enough."

"But this is no joking matter, Thomas. The lake is very deep out here."

"Then you had better find a life-preserver."

Josiah Crabtree gave something of a groan and moved away. He did not know whether Tom was poking fun at him or not. Yet he did search for a preserver--and in doing that he was wiser than the boys had anticipated.

Presently the wind veered around and the yards came over with a bang. The Wellington gave a lurch, and there was a strange creaking and cracking far below the deck. The Canadian pumped more madly than ever, and shouted to his companion in French.

"Is she leaking worse?" asked Tom.

The Canadian nodded. Then the Wellington gave another lurch, and Tom noticed that her bow gave an odd little dip.

"Filling with water, I'll be bound," he muttered, and running to the hatch he sounded the well hole. There were sixteen inches of water below. Soon it measured seventeen inches.

"We've sprung a bad leak," he announced to Sam. "It looks as if we might go to the bottom."

"Oh, Tom, you don't mean it!"

"Yes, I do."

"Can't we turn back? The island isn't more than two miles off. It may be safer to go back than to keep on."

"Exactly my idea, Sam. I'll speak to the Canadian about it."

The fat sailor was still pumping, but his face was full of despair.

"De ship he go down," he gasped. "We drown in ze lake!"

"Better turn back to the island," returned Tom. "And lose no time about it."

"Yees! yees! zat ees best. We turn heem back!"

The Canadian shouted to his companion, who was at the wheel, and then left the pump to attend to the sails. At once Tom took his place at the pump, at the same time calling to Sam to go down for Mrs. Stanhope.

"Tell her to come on deck," he said. "And find some life-preservers, if you can."

"What of the rowboat?"

"It's as rotten as the ship, Sam. We'll have to swim for it, if this tub sinks."

Sam disappeared into the cabin and Tom turned to the pumping. Never had he worked so hard, and the perspiration poured down his face. Soon Mrs. Stanhope appeared, her face full of fear.

"Oh, pray Heaven we do not go down!" she murmured. "How far are we from land?"

"We have turned back for the island," answered Tom, hardly able to speak because of his exertions. "We are not much more than a mile away."

"A mile! And how long will it take us to reach the island?"

"About ten minutes, if the wind holds out."

The Wellington was now groaning and creaking in every timber, as if she was aware that her last hour on the surface of the lake had come. She was, as Tom had said, an old "tub," and should have been condemned years before. But the Canadians were used to her and handled the craft as skillfully as possible. They, too, provided themselves with life-preservers and, when Sam relieved his brother at the pump, Tom did likewise.

As she filled with water the ship moved more slowly until, despite the breeze, she seemed to merely crawl along. It was now growing dark and the island was not yet in sight.

Sounded again, the well hole showed twenty inches of water. At this the fat Canadian gave a long sigh and disappeared into the forecastle, to obtain a trunk and some of his other belongings. Sam had already brought on deck the things belonging to Mrs. Stanhope.

At last the fat sailor uttered a welcome cry. "The island! The island!"

"Where?" questioned the others.

The sailor pointed with his hand. He was right; land was just visible, and no more. Then of a sudden came a crash and a shock which threw all of those on board headlong.

"We have struck a rock!" yelled Josiah Crabtree. "We are going down!" And in his terror he leaped overboard and struck out wildly for the distant shore.

Sam was also ready, in a moment, to spring into the water, but Tom held him back. The Wellington settled and swung around, and then sheered off the rock and went on her way. But it was plainly to be seen that she could float but a few minutes more at the most.

"There is a sandy shore!" cried Tom to the Canadians. "Better drive her straight in and beach her!"

"Good!" said the fat sailor, and spoke to his companion in French. Then, as well as they were able, they brought the water-logged craft around to the wind. Slowly she drifted in, her deck sinking with every forward move. Then came a strong pull of wind which caught the sails squarely and drove them ahead. A grating and a slishing followed, and they ran up the muddy shore and came to a standstill in about three feet of water.

"Hurrah! saved!" shouted Sam. "My, but that was a narrow escape!"

"Where is Mr. Crabtree?" asked Mrs. Stanhope anxiously. "Oh, do not let him drown!"

They looked around and saw him in the water not a hundred feet away, puffing and blowing like a porpoise.

"Save me!" he screamed, as soon as he saw their safety. "Don't let me drown!"

"You're all right," returned Tom. "It's shallow here. See if you can't walk ashore."

Josiah Crabtree continued his paddling, and presently put down his feet very gingerly. He could just touch the bottom. Soon he was in a position to walk, and lost no time in getting out of the lake and coming up to the bow of the Wellington.

"Oh, dear, this is dreadful!" he groaned, with a shiver. "Throw out a plank that I may come onboard."

"Thought you were tired of the old tub," said Tom dryly.

"I thought she was surely going down, Thomas. Please throw out a plank, that's a good boy."

The Canadian got the longest plank at hand and, resting one end at the bow, allowed the other to fall ashore, in a few inches of mud and water. Then Josiah Crabtree came up the plank on hands and knees, looking for all the world like a half-drowned rat.