Dick Hamilton's Steam Yacht/Chapter 13

CHAPTER XIII


THE MERMAID'S SONG


Forward shot the boat, impelled by the sturdy muscles of the sailors, Dick and Paul. In another minute the dory was lifted high on the crest of a wave, while the drifting craft was down in the hollow. The pitiful crying-whine sounded more plainly, and a moment later Dick shouted:

"Fellows, it isn't a baby at all. I can see it plainly now. It's a puppy! A little, brown puppy!" And, at the sound of the lad's voice the frantic animal redoubled its cries.

"Well, we've got to rescue it just the same," declared Frank, after a moment's blank look at his chums.

"We'll go alongside and take him out," suggested the young millionaire. "The poor brute must be almost starved."

"Better go easy," cautioned one of the sailors. "If you and Mr. Drew will unship your oars, Mr. Hamilton, Larson and I will go as close as we can. I don't want to have the side of our dory stove in, and there's quite a swell on."

Dick recognized the fact that neither he nor Paul were skilful enough in handling a heavy boat at sea to successfully accomplish the work of rescue, so the two lads took in their oars.

"Maybe we can pick up the painter and tow the dinghy back," suggested Larson, and Kenby, the other sailor agreed. By this time they were quite close to the drifting craft, and the puppy was leaping from seat to seat in its eagerness, crying, whining and barking by turns, and almost ready to leap overboard, so lonesome and terrorized by hunger was it.

"Easy now, old chap," counseled Dick, in soothing tones, and the puppy nearly wagged off its tail in joy.

Fishing about at the bow of the dinghy, Larson did manage to pick up the rope, without coming dangerously close. It was made fast, and once more the oars began to propel the dory toward the yacht, it being decided to wait until the arrival there before taking out the puppy.

But the animal had no such intentions. Seeing what probably looked as if its rescuers were deserting it, the little dog, with a frantic howl, leaped overboard, and tried to swim to the boat containing Dick and the others.

"Grab him!" cried the young millionaire, ceasing rowing, an example followed by the others, and when the half-starved pup came alongside Frank Bender lifted him in. Instantly the brute wiggled away from him and tried to crawl over and nestle in Dick's arms.

"Here, hold on! Wait a minute! Not so fast! Give me a sponge and a towel!" begged the wealthy lad with a laugh, trying to keep the dog in the bottom of the boat, at the same time appreciating the poor brute's evident pleasure in being rescued. "He must have absorbed about a gallon of water," added Dick, ruefully, as he looked at his clothes, and the little salty puddle forming at his feet.

"Queer looking baby," commented Paul, with a grin at his chum.

"That's all right. It did sound like one crying: didn't it?" and Dick appealed to the sailors.

"Sure," agreed Larson, respectfully.

"Certainly," said Frank.

"I'll take him on board and feed him up," went on the millionaire's son, "and then——"

"Maybe Grit will eat him before you get a chance to feed him," suggested Paul.

"By Jinks! I never thought of that," admitted Dick. "I wonder if I can risk it?" for Grit had little use for other dogs, though he never went out of his way to fight. "I'll chance it, though," the lad went on. "I'll make Grit be friends with him."

Nor was it a difficult task, for the little puppy was so weak and forlorn, as it sprawled awkwardly on deck that Grit, after an ominous growl and a showing of his ugly teeth, changed his temper all of a sudden, and began to lick with his tongue the rescued brute.

"They're all right now," declared Dick, with an air of relief. "That's the way to behave, Grit. I'm proud of you!" Grit wagged his stump of a tail, and the puppy thumped his longer appendage weakly on the deck.

"What will you call the new one?" asked Captain Barton.

"Call him Gritty," suggested Henry Darby, "for he has some of Grit's grit to live all that while in the open boat."

"Gritty it shall be," decided Dick. "I wonder where he came from, and how the dinghy got adrift?"

"It's a boat from some fishing vessel," said Captain Barton, when the craft that had contained the puppy was hoisted aboard and examined. It had no name on, and was rather battered and old. "It must have gone adrift, for the end of the painter is frayed, as though it was chafed through. Probably the dog was asleep in it when it drifted off," added the commander.

"Well, he's a new member of the crew," said Dick. "Here, Hans, give my puppy some quail on toast, or beefsteak smothered in onions. He's hungry."

"I gif him some veak soup—dot's vot he needs vurst," decided the big German cook, picking up the half-starved animal, and carrying it off to the galley. Grit followed, with a happy bark. He seemed to have accepted Gritty at once as a friend and companion.

The yacht was gotten under way once more, slipping through the water like some graceful fish, and making better time, for now the new crew was familiar with the engine and boilers, and more speed was being maintained.

What with watching the running of the engines, helping in taking observations, signaling other vessels they passed, and strolling about the deck, Dick and his chums found plenty to occupy their time. The young millionaire and Paul had taken up the study of wireless telegraphy during their last term in Kentfield, and, as the Albatross had an apparatus aboard, the two cadets crackled off several greetings to their friends, while Mr. Hamilton was kept informed of the progress of the yacht, and also sent some messages in answer to those of his son.

The Albatross ran into a storm on the third day out, as she was rounding Cape Hatteras, that always treacherous point on the Atlantic coast, and for a time the boys had all they wanted of sailor life, and a bit more. It was the first time any of them had been seasick, and Henry Darby and Frank Bender were the ones to succumb. Frank was too limp to even move an eyelash, Dick said pathetically as his friend was stretched out in his berth. As for Dick and Paul, they behaved like old sea dogs, and even Tim Muldoon, though it was his first voyage, stood up well under the strain.

The yacht pitched and tossed, now on top of a big green wave, and again sliding down into the trough, as though she was going to the bottom. But she was a staunch craft, and when they had passed the point, with its conflicting currents, the storm had blown itself out, and a period of calm and fog succeeded.

Through the gray, damp mist the Albatross was creeping one afternoon, with her whistle sounding mournfully at regular intervals, and Widdy, and another sailor, stationed in the bow to peer through the blanket of whiteness, to give warning when anything should loom up in front of them.

"Wouldn't it be better to anchor, or run in to shore?" suggested Paul, as he and Dick were standing forward, trying in vain to pierce the mist.

"It's just as well to keep on going," explained Widdy, with the freedom engendered by the young millionaire's treatment of him. "It's better to run into some other ship than to be run down yourself, if it's goin' to be done. An' we're safer out here than in nearer shore. We'll be all right, if——"

Widdy suddenly paused, and leaned forward in a listening attitude. Dick and Paul rubbed the drops of fog from their eyes, in a vain attempt to see something. What would loom up in front of them? Some ocean liner, which might cut them in two, and send them swirling to the bottom? Dick felt a sense of fear.

Then, out of the fog, there came the sound of a voice singing, and at the first words the old sailor fairly leaped back from the rail, his wooden leg thumping on the deck. To the ears of the watchers came this song:

"Oh, it's ten long years since I sailed away,
When the wind was blowing free.
And I've anchored since in every port
That's touched by the salty sea,

"There was once just ten in the Sallie Sue,
As we sailed the watery plain.
But the sharks gobbled every one but me,
And now I'm back again."

"Get below, boys! Get below!" yelled Widdy, showing every appearance of fear. "Get below, if you value your lives!" and he clapped both hands over his ears, and hobbled toward the companionway, his pipe falling from his chattering teeth, and smashing to fragments on the deck.

"What's the matter?" cried Dick.

"That's a mermaid! A mermaid singing!" replied the old salt, "and it's death to every man within the sound of her voice! Get below, boys! Get below!"