Dick Hamilton's Steam Yacht/Chapter 17

CHAPTER XVII


WIDDY HEARS A VOICE


Innis Beeby's confident words, that Tim Muldoon would be found did not find echo in fulfilment. A systematic search of the whole interior of the yacht was made without success.

"He couldn't be hiding on deck—that is, maybe hurt, and have fallen under something; could he?" asked Frank Bender.

"We'll look," agreed Dick, as they fairly crept up the companionway, for the rolling and pitching of the yacht made other progress impossible.

It needed but a few glances around the wind-and-water-swept deck to show that Tim was not there. Everything had been made snug, in preparation for the storm, and there was no place where a youth might lie concealed.

"I'm afraid he's gone," spoke Dick, solemnly. "But I'm not going to give up. We'll put back, Captain Barton, and see if we can pick him up. When he went overboard he might have grabbed something to cling to, and still be floating. We'll put back."

"Put back!" exclaimed the commander. "It's hardly possible in the teeth of this wind. The gale is increasing, and our only hope is to run before it. We would barely move trying to make headway against it."

"We're going to put back," insisted Dick, and the captain put the wheel over, the Albatross swinging around in a big circle.

Mr. Barton had not exaggerated the strength of the storm. If it had been hard work scudding along before it, aided by the wind, while the screw threshed the water to foam, it was exceedingly difficult to stem the howling wind that whipped the big green waves into spume.

But Dick's yacht was a gallant craft, and she staggered back over the course she had just covered, making better work at it than many a larger vessel would have done, for she was not so high in the water as to offer much resistance to the wind.

On either side of the rail, while a lookout was stationed in the bow, the boys watched for a sight of Tim. They looked for a black speck amid the foam of the waters, but saw none. When they had gone back far enough to cover the point where the newsboy had been missed, Dick gave the order to swing around again, and run before the storm. The yacht rode more easily at once, and she was not boarded by so many smashing seas.

Even then Dick would not give up, but he and the others peered forward into the mist of rain with eager eyes, which, every now and then, were blinded by the salt spray.

They ate dinner in gloomy silence, occasionally some one making a remark about Tim's good qualities, and his jolly disposition.

"It makes me feel like turning back, and not making the trip," said Dick, "to have bad luck like this at the very start."

"It is too bad," agreed Beeby, "but maybe he'll be picked up by some other vessel, and saved. If he went overboard he might have grabbed something, and be floating. We could hardly see him in the rough water."

"Let's look on deck and see if any life buoys are missing, or anything else gone that he might have taken overboard with him," suggested Frank, and another hasty search was made. But it only increased the uneasy feeling, since none of the articles was missing, and gloom once more settled down.

The storm did not abate in violence all the rest of that day, and the boys sought their bunks with the yacht rolling and tossing on a heaving sea.

It was midnight, when the watch was changing, that Dick, who could not sleep, from thinking of Tim, heard voices in Captain Barton's room. One he recognized as that of the commander, and the other was Widdy's.

"I tell you I heard it, as plain as I'm hearin' you now," the old salt was saying. "I couldn't be mistaken. It's in the after compartment, near the shaft tunnel, an' some of the crew heard it, too. It's the ghost of that mermaid, sir. She took the form of a lobsterman just to fool us that time, but she slipped aboard later in the fog, an' now it means death to some one aboard. I knowed we'd have no good luck from meetin' that there mermaid. I heard her voice, I tell you, captain."

Dick, who was partly dressed, slipped on his coat and trousers, and staggered to the captain's cabin. There he saw Widdy, looking wild and disheveled from his watch on deck, and plainly alarmed from some other emotion than seeing the big green waves.

"What is it?" asked the young millionaire. "I heard you saying something about a mermaid, Widdy, and——"

"Yes," answered the old sailor, with a bow. "That's right, Mr. Dick. It was my watch on deck, an' I was just comin' below. One of the men from the engine room come up to say there was a peculiar noise in the shaft tunnel. I thought there might be somethin' wrong, so I called Mr. Midwell, whose trick it was next, an' I turned the wheel over to him, an' come below. Me and Jim Carter, the chief engineer, went into the after compartment, sir, an' there we both heard it."

"Heard what?" asked Captain Barton.

"The mermaid groanin', sir. That was her, disguised as a lobsterman, an' she slipped aboard to bring death an' destruction. That's why that poor lad fell overboard. It'll be some of our turns next."

"Nonsense!" cried Dick. "What you heard was probably the creaking and squeaking of the ship's timbers and machinery in the storm."

"Do ship's timbers groan like a man dyin', sir, an' call for help, sir?" inquired Widdy, solemnly. "Answer me that! Do the machinery cry for help? Answer me that!"

"Did you hear some one calling for help?'* asked Dick, quickly.

"I did, sir."

"Wasn't it some one on deck, or didn't you imagine it?" inquired Captain Barton.

"I did not, sir," replied the old sailor, doggedly. "It was in the after compartment, sir."

"And what sort of a voice was it?" asked Dick, "and what did it say?"

"It was a voice, sir, like some one in pain, and it called 'Help! Help! Help!' three times, just like that."

"Well, why didn't you look further, see who it was, and help 'em?" demanded the captain. "Maybe it was one of the crew, who had fallen and broken his leg. Why didn't you look further?"

"Because, sir," answered Widdy, "it ain't healthy to help mermaids, an' Jim Carter an' me ran out as soon as we heard her voice. It was the mermaid, sure, an' all on this ship are doomed Davy Jones has rooms all ready for us in his locker."

"Don't be an idiot!" cried Captain Barton, sharply. "There are no such things as mermaids."

"That lobsterman was one," insisted Widdy. "He vanished into fog as soon as he got out of sight, an' turned into a mermaid, an' come aboard. She's here now."

"I suppose the lobsters he left us were mermaid lobsters, too," suggested the commander, trying to make the old sailor see how foolish was his superstition.

"I don't know nothin' about that, but there's a mermaid below, in the after compartment, near the shaft tunnel, sir, an' I know it!" insisted the old salt, shaking his head.

Dick Hamilton gave a sudden cry.

"Captain Barton, I believe I know what that is!" he exclaimed. "Come on," and he made his way toward the stern of the yacht, while the commander, wondering what was going to happen, followed.