Chapter XXX. The Night Run
 

It took the Hillcrest troop a long time to get settled down after the excitement of the Review. Whenever they met at Headquarters they could do nothing but discuss everything that had taken place. For awhile they were greatly puzzled as to how the Lieutenant-Governor had learned so much about them. At last it leaked out that Anna Royanna had supplied the information.

"I hope you do not mind," she said to the captain, when he asked her point blank if the rumour was true.

"No, not at all," was the reply. "But I wish to goodness ye'd given us a little warnin'. It was as great a surprise as when that bear charged me up the brook. I wasn't expectin' it."

"Oh, I hope it was not as bad as that," was the laughing response, for the singer had heard all about the adventure with the bear.

"Not hardly as bad, Miss. But the scouts are all upset. When not playin' baseball, they are talkin' about what happened at the Review, till I'm almost discouraged."

"It's only natural, captain. They'll get over their excitement in time. I could not resist the temptation of writing to the Lieutenant-Governor. It would have been a shame for your boys not to have received credit for what they did, and I feel sure that all the other scouts present at the Review were helped by the story of their noble deed. I have just had a nice long letter from Whyn, and she is delighted with what the scouts have accomplished. She sends her good wishes to the boys, and thanks them over and over again for their kindness to her."

"How's she gittin' along?" the captain enquired. "It's been a week since we've had a letter from her."

"She is doing nicely, so she says, and the doctor thinks she will be able to come home for Christmas."

"Will she be well then?"

"It seems so. The operation was pronounced a decided success, though it will take some time yet for her to get strong."

"She's the finest girl that ever drew breath," and the captain turned away his face so as not to show the mistiness which had suddenly dimmed his eyes. "She's a plucky one, sure."

Three weeks after the Review Anna Royanna left Hillcrest. This was a great grief not only to the scouts but to the Royals as well. But the promise that she would visit them at Christmas if she could possibly arrange it, gave them some comfort. This bright sympathetic woman had entered so much into their lives, and had shared their joys and sorrows as one of themselves, that when she was gone they felt depressed for days.

With the passing of summer came the fall, with long cold nights, and heavy winds. The scouts found it pleasant to meet in their snug room around the genial fire. Gradually they began to settle down to the work for the first-class tests, and also to review what they had already learned.

"Yez must never imagine that ye know a thing thoroughly," the captain reminded them. "Fer instance, there is yer signallin'. Ye should be able to make each letter without thinkin' how it is to be made. And I want yez to practise up the Morse system, as well as the Semaphore. It'll come in mighty handy at night, when ye can't use the flags. Yez kin never know too much."

The scouts found great pleasure in carrying out the captain's suggestion. By means of bull's-eye lanterns they were soon able to send and receive messages at night in a most creditable manner. For a while the neighbours were startled by this performance until they learned the cause of the flashes through the darkness.

The scouts had been at their room one bleak raw night, and had just left, except Rod, who had gone with the captain into the Anchorage for a parcel Mrs. Britt wished to send to the rectory. He had been there only a few minutes when several loud thumps sounded upon the door. Quickly opening it, the captain was surprised to see Tom Dunker standing before him. This was something most unusual, for since his defeat several years ago Tom had shunned both the captain and the Anchorage as if they were plague-infested.

Stepping quickly into the kitchen, the visitor stood there with face white and haggard, and his whole body trembling.

"What's wrong, Tom?" the captain asked. "Ye look most scared to death."

"S-S-Sammy's hurt," was the gasping reply. "He f-fell and broke his l-leg, and I'm afraid his n-neck, too."

"Why don't ye go fer the doctor, then?" the captain queried.

"I c-can't. He's over the r-river, down at Marshal's. He was sent fer to-day. Oh, my poor Sammy!" and the distressed man gave a loud wail of despair.

"What d'ye want me to do, man?" the captain demanded.

"Go fer the doctor. I c-can't git anybody else."

"H'm, is that so? I thought it must be something pretty desperate which would send ye to me."

"So ye won't go?" and Tom raised his eyes appealingly to the captain's face. "Fer God's sake, do, or my Sammy'll die."

"Certainly I'll go, Tom, jist as soon as I git ready. You call at the rectory on yer way back, and tell the Royals that Rod won't be home to-night, fer I must have him with me. It'll take two to handle the Roarin' Bess. I know they won't mind so long's the boy's with me."

"It's good of ye, and I shan't soon----"

"There, keep that fer some other time, Tom Dunker," the captain interrupted. "I can't be bothered with sich nonsense now. Where's my oil-skins, Betsey?" and he turned to his wife. "Better let Rod have that old suit of mine; he might need it before we git back."

Rod was delighted with the idea of a run on the river on such a night. He had often imagined what it would be like to be out there in the Roaring Bess with a strong wind blowing. To him, fear was unknown when on the water, especially when the captain was along. And so as the yacht left her mooring, and headed down-stream, he sat in the cock-pit and peered ahead into the darkness, pleased that he was on watch to give warning of any approaching vessel.

A strong wind was racing in from the east, giving the captain a busy time in handling the boat. This was still more difficult when they reached the channel, and the Roaring Bess drove into the rougher water which is always found there. The white-caps leaped high, and drenched both man and boy.

"Lucky we brought our oil-skins," the captain remarked. "We'll have to beat back, and then there'll be some fun. I wonder if the doctor is a good sailor. My, that was a whopper!" he exclaimed, as a larger wave than usual struck the yacht. "Guess it'll be rougher before mornin'."

"This is great!" Rod cried, as another wave leaped upon them.

"Tut, that's nothin'," the captain replied. "If ye'd been with me aboard the Flyin' Queen when we struck a gale, ye'd know something about big seas then. Why, this is only a mill-pond."

"I'm going to see a gale some day, captain. I want to go out on the ocean in a storm."

"Ye do, eh? If ye go, I guess it'll be aboard a liner, where ye'll be penned up like a rat in a trap. That's the way people travel these days, 'in luxury,' they call it. But give me my old Flyin' Queen, a strong breeze abeam, and ye kin have all yer iron or steel tubs as fer as I'm concerned."

The Roaring Bess had made good time down the river, lifting and swinging forward with long plunging leaps as if glad of the freedom she was enjoying. Ere long the wharf was reached for which the captain had been heading, and in a few moments she was lying in smooth water on the lower side, safe from the wind.

"You stay here, lad," the captain ordered, as he sprang ashore, and made a line fast to the nearest post. "I'll run up fer the doctor."

It took him but a short time to cross the field to Marshall house. Here he found Doctor Travis, and briefly stated the object of his visit.

"It's a terrible night, isn't it?" the doctor enquired.

"Oh, no. Jist a gentle breeze."

"But look at your oil-skins. You've been drenched from head to foot."

"Well, what of it? A little water won't hurt anybody. The more the better, is my motto."

"Very well, then, I'll go," and the doctor reached for his big coat and hat. Then he seized his grip, and followed the captain down to the wharf.

"You sit there in the middle," the captain ordered, as they reached the boat, "and keep yer head low in case the boom should take a sudden yank over. Ye won't git so wet there, either."

The wind on the homeward run was almost dead ahead, and it was necessary to beat from side to side of the channel. But the captain knew every inch of the way, and he was almost as much at home here at night as in the day. Up and up they steadily crept, while the Roaring Bess raced from side to side, tossing volumes of water at every plunge. Rod was alert and active as a cat now, crouching close to the captain, ready to obey his slightest command. How the boy did enjoy it, and his whole body thrilled with the excitement of the wild run. The more the yacht reeled, the greater his pleasure. But the doctor had far different feelings. He liked the water, but not on such a night as this. He was sure that the boat was going over every time a furious gust struck her close-hauled sail, and he always gave a sigh of relief when she righted herself again, with no more damage than some extra water tossed on board.

They were opposite the head of the island now, and had just tacked for their "short-leg" run, when, without the slightest sign of warning, something struck the mast a terrific blow. The yacht reeled wildly, the mast snapped like a pipe-stem, and fell with a splash into the water, carrying sail and all with it.

The instant the blow came Rod sprang to his feet, and as he did so a part of the rigging caught him, and swept him overboard. With a wild cry for help, he tried to grasp something, but he could find nothing upon which to place his fingers. The cold waters closed around him. He tried to swim, to keep afloat, but the oil-skin suit hindered him. He battled with the desperation of despair. It was a terrible fight he made for life there in that inky blackness, with the water surging about him, and trying to win him for its victim. It seemed that he had been struggling for a long time, and could resist no longer. His strength was going, and he had little power for any further effort.

Just at this critical moment a firm strong hand clutched him like a vise, and he knew that the captain had come to his rescue. This roused him to new hope and energy.

"Keep cool, now," the captain cried. "I've got hold of the riggin' here."

All this had happened so suddenly that for a few seconds the doctor was dazed. He could see nothing, but he knew by the cry of the boy, and the startled roar from the captain, that something was seriously wrong. Then he heard the splash as the latter went over the side. In dismay, he waited, peering through the darkness in an effort to find out what had become of his companions. It seemed like an age that he stood there until he heard the captain's voice bidding him to give a hand, and pull him in. He sprang at once to the side of the yacht, leaned far over, and stretched out his right arm. But he could touch nothing.

"Where are you?" he shouted. "I can't reach you."

"Out here," was the reply. "Try ag'in."

Leaning farther out now upon the overturned mast, he tried once more, and had the satisfaction of feeling the sudden grip of the captain's fingers as they closed upon his own. Carefully and with much difficulty, for the strain was heavy, he was able to draw the submerged man toward him.

"Here, take the boy," the captain gasped. "Never mind me."

With his left hand the doctor clutched Rod's oil-skins, and was soon able to drag him into the yacht. This had scarcely been accomplished before the captain pulled himself aboard, and stood by his side. Forgotten was everything else as the old seaman bent over Rod as he lay in the bottom of the cock-pit.

"I believe he's unconscious, Doc," he cried. "Is there anything ye kin do fer him?"

"We must get his wet clothes off at once," was the reply. "I'll wrap him up in my great-coat."

"I've a couple of blankets in the locker there," and the captain turned around, and began to fumble with his hands for the latch of the little door. "Ye'd better strip him, Doc."

It took the latter only a few minutes to get the soaked clothes off the unconscious boy. He then wrapped him up securely in the two blankets, and laid him in a sheltered place in the cock-pit.

"Good Lord, what will the Royals say!" the captain groaned. "Here we are adrift and can't lift a hand to help ourselves. I wonder what struck us, anyway."

"It was something big," the doctor replied. "I heard the water striking against it as we drifted off. It is over in that direction," and he pointed to the right. "Listen, you can hear it now. It's adrift, and following us."

"I wonder what it kin be," the captain mused. "I can't imagine what would rip away the mast before strikin' the yacht. It is certainly very queer."

"Is there any chance of our drifting ashore, do you think?" the doctor asked. "It will be hard on that boy if we are forced to stay here all night."

"There's a strong current runnin'," the captain returned, "and it's likely to hold us in its clutch fer some time. The tide won't change fer over an hour, and it's hard to tell where we'll be by that time. Hello, what light's that up yonder?"

As the doctor looked he saw a bright glare in the distance, which was becoming brighter every minute.

"It's coming toward us, anyway," was his comment. "What can it be!"

The captain made no reply for awhile, but stood very still, with his eyes fixed upon the approaching light.

"I've got it!" he exclaimed. "It's that big tug which went up this afternoon. She's lost one of her scows in this gale, and is now lookin' fer it with her search-light out. It was the scow we struck. I understand it all now. We ran right in front of it, and its big flare of a bow caught our mast. Confound Bill Tobin! Why didn't he take care of his scow?"

Tide, wind, and steam soon brought the tug near. Her search-light swept the water in every direction, at times dazzling the eyes of the two men in the yacht. At last it remained fixed full upon them, showing that they were observed. In a few minutes the tug was alongside.

"Hello, what's wrong?" came a deep gruff voice from the wheel-house.

"What's wrong with you, Bill Tobin?" Captain Josh asked in reply. "Ye've got us in a nice fix to-night. Why didn't ye take care of yer old scow? She's smashed us, that's what's wrong."

"Oh, is that you, Josh Britt?" and Captain Tobin's voice suddenly changed. "Climb on board, and we'll try to straighten matters out."

Without more words, Captain Josh lifted Rod tenderly in his arms and scrambled up into the tug.

"For heaven's sake! what have ye got there?" Captain Tobin exclaimed.

"Parson Dan's son, that's who it is. Got a bed ready?"

"Bring him here," and Captain Tobin turned to his right. "Put him in my bed; he'll be all right there."

By this time the tug-boatmen had made fast to the Roaring Bess with a long rope, and kept her in tow as the tug was swung around and headed for the drifting scow.

"We'll just run that confounded scow into the lee of the island," Captain Tobin told the ship-wrecked men, "and then we'll put you ashore as fast as this old tub can travel. Will that do?"

"I s'pose so," Captain Josh replied. "But git a big hustle on. Ye've got something more important than a scow to save to-night."