Chapter III
 

Two days later, and after nearly fifteen weeks of arduous and unremitting labour, there came, one calm night, a glorious spring tide, and the Dolphin, under a full head of steam, and with her stout, broad frame quivering and throbbing and panting, tugged away at the giant hulk of the stranded ship; and the ship's own donkey engine and winch wheezed and groaned as it slowly brought in inch by inch a heavy coir hawser made fast to a rock half a cable length ahead of the tug. And then the Braybrook Castle began to move, and the wrecking gang cheered and cheered until they were hoarse, and the second engineer of the tug and two stokers, stripped to their waists, with the perspiration streaming down their roasting bodies, answered with a yell--and then, lying well over on her starboard bilge, the great ship slid off stern first into deep water, and Tom Lester's heart leapt within him with joy and pride.

Lucy, as excited as any one else, was on the bridge with him, her face aglow, and her hand on the lever of the engine-room telegraph.

"Half-speed, Lucy."

As the bell clanged loudly, and the heart of the sturdy tug beat less frantically, the wrecking gang on board the ship under Lindley slipped their end of the coir hawser from the winch barrel, and worked like madmen to get the ship on an even keel by cutting adrift the lashings of several hundred barrels of cement (part of the cargo) which were piled up on the starboard side of the main deck, and letting them plunge overboard As the ship righted herself inch by inch, and finally stood up on an even keel, Lester made an agreed-upon signal--blowing his whistle thrice--for Lindley to stand by his anchors, which were all ready to let go.

His device of getting up the barrels of cement from the lower hold, and stowing them against the iron deck stanchions (having previously cut away the bulwark plates) so as to give the vessel a big cant to starboard, had answered perfectly; for, high as was the tide that night, the Dolphin, though so powerful, could not have moved a ship of 1,500 tons with her keel still partly sustaining her weight on the rooks on which she had struck. By canting her as he had done, she had actually floated--and no more than floated--an hour before the tide was at its full.

Half an hour later the Braybrook Castle had been towed round to a little bay just abreast of "Wreck House," and the tug's engines stopped.

"All ready, Lindley?" shouted Lester.

"All ready sir."

"Then let go."

At a tap from Lindley's hammer, the great anchor plunged down, and the flaked out cable roared as it flew through the hawse-pipes, drowning the loud "Hurrah" of the men on board.

"What is it, Lindley?" cried Lester, "ten fathoms?"

"Twelve, sir."

"Give her another twenty-five. It's good holding ground and there is plenty of room for her to swing. Lindley!"

"Yes, sir."

"We have had a bit of good luck, eh?"

"Yes, sir. That is because Mrs. Lester is on the tug. She brings us good luck."

Lester laughed and turned to his wife. "Do you hear that, Lucy?"

She was gazing intently over to the westward, but turned to him the moment he spoke.

"Tom, I can see a blue light over there.... Ah, see, there is a rocket! What is it?"

Lester took his night glasses and looked.

"There is a ship ashore somewhere between here and the Deal Island light," he said, and then he rang, "Go astern," to the engine-room.

"Lindley," he called as soon as the tug backed alongside the Braybrook Castle, "there is a ship ashore about four miles away from us to the westward. My wife noticed her signals a few minutes ago."

"More salvage, sir," bawled Lindley, "Mrs. Lester is bringing us more luck. What's to be, sir?"

"I want ten or a dozen men, and I'll go and see what I can do. You are all right, aren't you?"

"Right as rain, sir."

Fifteen, instead of a dozen men slid down a line on to the deck of the tug, and Lucy, at a nod from her husband, turned on "Full steam ahead," and Lester whistled down the speaking-tube.

"Hallo!" was the response.

"Give it to her, Patterson, for all she's worth. There is a ship ashore about four miles away. She is burning blue lights and sending up rockets."

Five minutes later, the Dolphin was tearing through the water at her top speed--eleven knots--and Patterson came up on the bridge.

"Who saw the seegnals first?" he inquired.

"I did, Mr. Patterson," said Lucy.

"Ay, I thoct as much, Mistress Leslie. Even that lazy, sheeftless Irish fireman loon ae mine, Rafferty, said ye'd bring us mair guid luck." Then he dived below again to the engines so dear to his Scotsman's heart.

The night was dark, but calm and windless, and the panting tug tore her way through a sea as smooth as glass towards where the ghastly glare of the last blue light had been seen. Twenty minutes later, Lester caught sight of the distressed ship. She was lying on her beam ends, and almost at the same moment came a loud hail--

"Steamer ahoy!"

"Clang!" went the telegraph, and the Dolphin's engines stopped, and then went astern, just in time to save her from crashing into a boat crowded with men; a second boat was close astern of the first. They came alongside, and the occupants swarmed over the tug's low bulwarks, and an old greybearded man made his way up to Lester.

"My cowardly crew have forced me to abandon my ship. We were caught in a squall yesterday, and thrown on our beam ends." Then he fell down in a fit.

"Veer those boats astern," cried Lester to his own men, "I'm going to hook on to that ship!"

Bailey, one of his best men, gave a yell.

"More luck, boys. Mrs. Lester!"

As the poor captain was carried off the bridge into the little cabin, the Dolphin went ahead, and in a quarter of an hour, Bailey and his men had cut away the masts and the tug had the ship in tow.

At daylight next morning Lester brought her into the little bay where the Braybrook Castle lay, and Bailey anchored her safely.

When Lester boarded her he found she was the Harvest Queen, sister ship to the Harvest Maid, Harvester, and his own last command, the Harvest Home, all ships of 1,500 tons, and belonging to Captain James Rodway.

"Why didn't you cut away her masts?" he said to the unfortunate captain later on.

"Ah, you don't know my owner," the old man replied, "and besides that, I could have righted the ship if my crew had stuck to me. But after being eighteen hours on our beam ends, they took fright and lowered the boats. I'm a ruined man."

"Not at all. You have done your duty and I'll give you command of another ship to-day--the Braybrook Castle. You have nothing further to do with the Harvest Queen. She was an abandoned ship. She's mine now. Salvage, you know."

The old man nodded his head. "Yes, I know that. And you'll make a pot oat of her."

"What is she worth?"

"Ship and cargo are worth 80,000. We loaded a general cargo in London."

"That will be a bit of a knock for Rodway." "Do you know him?" asked Captain Blake in surprise.

"I do indeed! I was master of the Harvest Home. Now come ashore. My wife is getting as something to eat."