Dick Hamilton's Steam Yacht/Chapter 14
JUST IN TIME
Dick and Paul did not know whether to laugh at the old sailor, or follow him in his mad rush for the forecastle. This latter inclination was not because of any fear of the superstition regarding mermaids, but because they thought there might be a collision with the unseen vessel, and it would be wise to prepare for it.
Once more, out of the fog and mist came the voice:
"I remember well, in the days of old,
How a sailor lad named Bill
Fell overboard near the Hole in the Wall,
A dolphin's maw to fill.
"Oh, it's there one night, a terrible sight,
"Ahoy there!" yelled Dick. "Who are you, and where are you going?" for it needed but a moment's harkening to the second part of the song to demonstrate that it issued from the mouth of some burly follower of the sea and not from the salty lips of some fish-maiden.
"Who are you?" back came the challenge from the swirling fog.
"The yacht Albatross, bound for Havana," answered Dick. "Who are you?"
"I'm a lobsterman, fog-bound, and my 'put-put' boat is out of gasolene. For the love of Davy Jones, have you any aboard? I've been here ten hours, and I'm hungry enough to eat a raw crab. Give a hail until I get my bearings."
"A lobsterman!" cried Paul. "And old Widdy thought it was a mermaid!"
Jack called to Midwell, the mate, to have the whistle sounded, and then, yelling to the unseen mariner to approach slowly, the two lads peered forward from the bow of the yacht, for the first glimpse of the helpless craft. There was the sound of oars being used, and presently there loomed up through the mist a small dory motorboat, containing a grizzled son of the sea, his craft piled high with boxes of lobsters.
A moment later Widdy popped his head up through the companionway. Behind him were several of the crew.
"Is—is she—has she sung again?" asked the wooden-legged sailor, cautiously.
"It doesn't happen to be a 'she,' Widdy," answered Dick.
"You don't mean to say that it's a he-one, do you?"
"It's a lobsterman," spoke Paul. "He's out of gasolene. Have we any. Captain Barton?" for the commander was approaching.
"Yes, I guess there's some among the stores."
The lobster boat came alongside, and a very much relieved fisherman looked up at the trim yacht.
"Hum, that's quite some of a smack," he remarked with calm enthusiasm. "I'm right glad I met-up with you. I calculated I'd have t' stay out all night, or until the fog lifted, an' that ain't goin' to be very soon. Has any one a chaw of tobacco?"
"Was that you singin'?" demanded Widdy, suspiciously, while one of the crew, at Captain Barton's direction, went to get some gasolene.
"Well, if you call it singin' I was," guardedly answered the lobster man.
"Why and wherefore was you a-doin' of it?" inquired the wooden-legged sailor. "I took you for a mermaid, an'——"
"A mermaid! Ho! Ho! A bloomin' mermaid I'd make! Why I was only a sort of hummin' to myself because I'd lost my fog horn overboard, an' I didn't want to be run down, with all these lobsters aboard, for lobsters is high now. That's why I was sort of hummin' an' singin', as you call it. Has any one got a chaw of tobacco?"
"Well, seein' as how you're not a mermaid, you can have it," responded Widdy, as he passed over a generous portion. "But it's the first time I ever heard of a lobsterman losin' his fog horn overboard. Some careless of you, wa'n't it?"
"You might call it that," admitted the other, cautiously, "but I was so busy haulin' up my pots an' emptyin' 'em that I didn't notice it right away, an' you know," he added gravely, "a horn won't float."
"Hum," remarked Widdy, as he took back what was left of the plug of tobacco. The gasolene was handed down into the small craft, and the lobsterman insisted on giving Dick a generous portion of his catch in payment therefor.
"Ho, for some lobster salad!" cried the young millionaire, as he held up by the back a squirming crustacean. "Hans, get busy making about a peck of mayonnaise dressing."
"Yah! I dresses dot sea-bug all right!" exclaimed the cook with a grin. "I knows how to fix dem!"
The lobsterman started his gasolene engine, and "put-putted" off through the fog, seeming to get his bearings instinctively. He called a good-by, and once more started his fog-horn song.
"Well, I wish we'd meet such mermaids every day in the week," commented Paul Drew, as he looked at the pile of lobsters on deck, for he, too, was very fond of them.
The Albatross, which had been hove to on meeting the small craft, was once more sent slowly forward. The fog lifted about two hours later, and the speed was increased. There was a fine supper aboard Dick's yacht that night, and even the crew had lobster salad, as a sort of side dish with their pork and beans.
"We'll be at Savannah to-morrow," announced Captain Barton one afternoon—a glorious, sunny afternoon, when Dick and the boys were sitting about the deck in steamer chairs. "Do you think your friend, Mr. Beeby, will meet you there, Captain Hamilton?"
"I don't know," answered Dick. "You never can tell what Innis Beeby will do. He's always changing his mind at the last moment, and he's so fat that it doesn't worry him."
"Nothing does," said Paul. "I hardly think he'll join us, though."
"Well, we'll put in and see," decided the lad of millions.
At Savannah, when the yacht had docked, Dick found a telegram awaiting him from his chum, Beeby. It read:
"Will be with you at ten a.m. to-morrow."
"And, just as likely as not he won't," commented the young captain. "But we'll lay up here over night and see."
Ten o'clock the next morning came, and the boys eagerly scanned the pier for a sight of the fat lad. There were all sorts of people coming down to the water-front, but Innis Beeby was not of them.
"Guess we'd better get under way," suggested Dick, when eleven o'clock had passed, and there was no sign of the cadet.
The gang-plank was being hauled in, and Captain Barton was about to swing the engine room telegraph signal over to "half-speed ahead," when a shout sounded up the broad pier.
"Here he comes!" cried Paul. "Here comes Innis, on the run!"
The boys saw a very stout lad waddling along at what he probably considered a run, but which was far from it. In front of him, trundling a hand-truck, containing the cadet's trunk and suitcase, was a tall, thin porter, built on the lines of a racer. He would rush along and, on looking back, would see his employer about twenty feet in the rear, coming slowly.
"Can't you hurry, sir?" the porter shouted, so that Dick and the others heard him. "The ship's about to sail, sir."
"Tell—'em—to—hold—her," panted Beeby. "I'm—com—ing!"
Forward ran the porter, trundling the truck. After him came Beeby, going slower and slower, for he was winded. Captain Barton, unaware of the impending arrival of Dick's guest, had shoved the telegraph lever over. There was the ringing of a bell in the engine room, and the yacht gathered way.
"Hold on!" cried Dick. "Stop the engines!"
"Run out the gang-plank again!" ordered Paul.
"Come on, Innis, come on!" yelled Dick to his frend.
"Get on the truck, and let the porter wheel you," suggested Paul. He scarcely believed the fat cadet would do it, but the suggestion came at just the right time, and the fleshy lad called:
"Here, porter, let me sit on top of my trunk. I can't go another step."
"Sure!" assented the man, and, a moment later, he was assisting the late passenger up on top of the baggage. There was a laugh from the crowd on the pier, in which Dick and his chums joined, but Innis Beeby cared little for that. He could breathe easier now, and there was a better chance of him catching the yacht.
The porter broke into a run with his load, and soon was alongside the Albatross. But the vessel was now in the grip of the tide, and, though the engine had been stopped, the yacht was moving. The gang-plank could not be run out, for a snubbing post was right in the way.
"Get off, and I'll throw your baggage on board!" cried the porter, for there was, as yet, but a small space of water between the steamer's rail and the bulkhead.
"Yes—but—how—am—I—going—to—get—on—board?" panted the exhausted cadet.
"We'll pull you up!" yelled Dick, for it would mean a lot of work to stop, and back up to the landing place.
Up over the rail went tumbling the trunk and suit-case. Dick threw Beeby a rope's end. The stout lad grasped it firmly. He was quite muscular, from his athletic practice at the academy.
"Now, all together, fellows!" ordered Dick. "Haul him up!"
There was a heave and a pull—a straining and creaking of the rope. Innis planted his feet against the side of the yacht, and "walked" up, after the manner of scaling a wall at the military school. His training stood him in good stead. A moment later Beeby was on deck, and only just in time, for the yacht swung far out from the pier.
"Well—I'm—here—fellows," said Beeby, slowly, as he flung a dollar to the dock for the porter. "I—said—I'd—come—and—I'm—here—(puff) I'm—(puff) here—(puff) all right—(puff) am—(puff) I—not—(puff), Dick?"
"To use a classical and poetical expression, you be," answered Dick, with a laugh, as he grasped his chum's hand, "and we're mighty glad to see you, Innis. Let her go, Captain Barton."
The Albatross swung out into the channel.