Chapter II. The Disappearance of Dick.
 

"Oh, my, but this is a corker!"

It was Tom who uttered the words, half an hour after he had cautioned everybody to hold fast. He was standing at the wheel, helping Dick to make the Swallow keep her bow up to the waves, which rolled fiercely on every side of the craft. He cried out at the top of his lungs, yet his elder brother understood him with difficulty.

"I wish we were out of it," returned Dick. "Did Sam go below, as I ordered?"

"Yes."

"What of Aleck?"

"He is in the galley, trying to keep his dishes from being smashed to bits. He is scared, I can tell you, and said he was sure we were going to the bottom."

"If I was sure of the course I would steer for shore, Tom. I'm afraid myself that this is going to be more than we bargained for."

"Pooh, Dick! We've been in as bad a storm before, and you know it."

"But not on Lake Erie. This lake has a reputation for turning out some nasty ones, that do tremendous damage. Light up, will you?--or we may be smashing into some other boat before we know it."

"I will, if you can hold the wheel alone."

"I can get along for a few minutes. But it's enough to pull a fellow's arms out by the sockets," concluded Dick.

With extreme caution, for the deck was as wet and slippery as it was unsteady, Tom made his way to the tiny cabin of the yacht. Here he found Sam lighting the ship's lanterns, four in number.

"I thought you'd be wanting them," said the youngest Rover. "Is it letting up, do you think?"

"No; if anything, it is growing worse."

"Don't you want me to help on deck? I hate to stay down here alone."

"You can do nothing, Sam. Dick and I are tending the wheel, and there is nothing else to be done."

"I might go on the lookout. You can't watch very well from the stern," added the youngest Rover, who did not relish being kept back by his older brothers.

"We can watch good enough. Stay here--it's safer. If the yacht should swing around--Great Scott!"

Tom Rover broke off short, and with good reason. A strange creaking and cracking sound had reached his ears, followed by a bump and a jar which nearly pitched him headlong. Sam was thrown down on his back.

"Something is wrong!" burst out Sam, as soon as he could speak. "We must have struck something."

Tom did not answer, for the reason that he was already on his way to the deck, with a lantern slung in the crook of his right elbow. Sam followed with another lantern, leaving the remaining ones wildly swinging on the hooks in the cabin's ceiling.

"Help! help!"

The cry came from out of the darkness, somewhere in the wake of the Swallow; a cry cut partly short by the piping gale. With his heart thumping violently, Tom leaped over the deck toward the wheel.

"Dick! What is the matter?"

"Help!" repeated the voice, but now further off than ever. Then Tom made a discovery which thrilled him with horror.

The position at the wheel was vacant! Dick was gone!

"Dick! Dick! Where are you!" he shouted hoarsely. "Dick!"

"Help!" came more faintly. The cry was repeated several times, but nothing more reached Tom's ears nor the hearing of his younger brother, who was now beside him, his round face as pale as death itself.

"Dick's overboard!" The words came from both, and each looked at the other in consternation.

Both held up their lanterns, the glasses of which were speedily covered with flying spray. The lanterns made a small semicircle of light at the stern, but Dick was beyond that circle and could not be seen.

"Take the wheel--I'll get a life-preserver!" said Tom, and ran for the article he had mentioned.

"Shall I try to turn the yacht around?" questioned his brother, as he, after several unsuccessful attempts, caught the spokes of the wheel, which was flying back and forth with every pitch of the craft.

"No! no! We will be swamped if you do that. Keep her up to the wind."

Regardless of the danger, Tom flew across the deck to where there was a life-preserver, attached to a hundred feet of small, but strong, rope. Once at the stern again, he threw the life-preserver as far out as possible.

"Catch the lifeline!" he shrieked. But if Dick heard he gave no answer.

"Can't we fire a rocket?" said Sam. "We ought to do something," he added, half desperately.

Lashing the end of the lifeline to the stern, Tom ran down into the cabin and brought forth several rockets. With trembling hands he set off first one and then another. The blaze was a short one, yet it revealed to them a large mass of lumber rising and falling on the bosom of the turbulent waters.

"A lumber raft. It is going to pieces in the storm."

"Did you see Dick?"

"I saw two persons on the lumber, but I don't know who they were. They looked more dead than alive."

"Oh, I hope Dick isn't dead!" burst out Sam, and the tears stood in his eyes as he spoke.

"Wot's dat you dun said?" came from out of the darkness.

"Dick's overboard," answered Tom.

"No!" A groan of genuine regret came from Aleck Pop. "How it dun happen?"

"We must have struck a lumber raft and the shock knocked him over," answered Sam. "Oh, Tom, what shall we do?"

"I'll try another rocket, Sam--I don't know of anything else."

It took fully a minute to obtain another rocket, and some red fire as well. The red fire made quite an illumination, in spite of the storm.

"I don't see nuffin," said Pop.

"Nor I," added Tom. "The raft has disappeared."

As the light died out all set up a loud shout. But only the howling wind answered them. And now Sam noticed that the lifeline was drifting idly at the stern, and there was nothing to do but to haul it in again.

The hours which followed were full of agony to Tom and Sam, and the warm-hearted colored man was scarcely less affected.

"What if Dick is drowned?" whispered the youngest Rover. "Father will never forgive us for coming on this trip."

"Let us hope for the best," was his brother's answer. "Dick has been in a tight fix before. He'll come out all right, if he has any show at all."

"Nobuddy kin lib in sech a storm as dis!" put in Pop. "Why, it's 'most as bad as dat dar hurricane we 'perienced in Africa. Jest see how it's beginnin' to rain."

Pop was right; so far the rain had held off for the most part, but now it came down steadily and soon turned into little short of a deluge. All were speedily soaked to the skin, but this was a discomfort to which, under the circumstances, no one paid attention.

The Swallow heaved and pitched, and fearful that Sam would be lost overboard, Tom told him he had better go below again.

"You can do nothing up here," he said. "If anything turns up, I'll call you."

"But you must be careful," pleaded Sam. "If I were you, I'd tie myself to the wheel," and this is what Tom did.

Slowly the night wore away, and with the coming of morning the storm abated somewhat, although the waves still lashed angrily around the Swallow. With the first streak of dawn all were on deck, watching anxiously for some sign of the lumber raft or of Dick.

"Nothing in sight!" groaned Sam, and he was right. The raft had disappeared completely, and all around them was a dreary waste of water, with a cloudy sky overhead.

Feeling that he must do something, Aleck Pop prepared a breakfast of broiled fish and hot coffee, but, when summoned to the repast, both of the Rovers shook their heads.

"I couldn't eat a mouthful," sighed Sam. "It would choke me."

"We must find Dick first, Aleck," said Tom. "Go ahead yourself and have breakfast. Don't mind us."

"'Deed, I aint no hungrier dan youse is," replied the colored man soberly. "But youse had bettah drink sum ob dat coffee, or youse might cotch a chill." And he made each sip some of the beverage, bringing it on deck for that purpose.

At half-past seven Tom espied a cloud of smoke on the horizon. "I think it's a lake steamer," he said to his brother, and he proved to be right. It was a freighter known as the Captain Rallow, running between Detroit and Buffalo. Soon the steamer came closer and they hailed her.

"Seen anything of a lumber wreck, with some men on it?" questioned Tom eagerly.

"Haven't seen any wreck," was the answer, from the captain of the freighter. "Whose raft was it?"

"I don't know. The raft hit us in the darkness and a young man on our yacht was knocked overboard. We lit some red fire and saw two people on the raft, which seemed to be going to pieces."

This news interested the owner of the freight steamer greatly, since he had a brother who was in the business of rafting lumber, and he asked Tom to give him the particulars of the affair.

"We can't give you any particulars. We were taken completely by surprise, and it was too dark to see much," said Tom. Nevertheless he and Sam told what they could, to which the freight captain listened with close attention.

"I'll keep my eye open for the raft," said the latter. "And if I see anything of your brother I'll certainly take him on board."

"Where are you bound?"

"I am going to stop at Cleveland first. Then I go straight through to Buffalo."

A few words more passed, and then the captain of the freight steamer gave the signal to go ahead.

The stopping of her engines had caused the steamer to drift quite close to the Swallow, and as she swung around those on the yacht caught a good view of the freighter's stern deck.

There were a small number of passengers on board, and as Sam looked them over he gave a sudden start.

"My gracious, can it be possible!" he gasped.

"Can what be possible, Sam?" queried Tom.

"Look! look!"

"At what?"

"At the passengers on the steamer. Am I dreaming, or is that--he is gone!" And Sam's face fell.

"Who are you talking about?"

"Arnold Baxter! He was on the steamer, just as sure as I stand here. And we both thought him dead!"