The Last Cruise of the Spitfire/Chapter 10
A NARROW ESCAPE.
By the time the sun went down we were well out of sight of land. Here the breeze was even stronger; and at last several of the sailors prevailed upon the man at the wheel to send down word to the captain that sail must be shortened.
Lowell came on deck with the captain, and both had been drinking heavily.
"Shorten sail!" roared the captain. "Not a bit of it. If the mast goes, let her go."
Nevertheless, the wind soon freshened so much that several of the sails were reefed. I watched the performance from the bow.
"Here you, why don't you get to work?" cried Lowell savagely, as he came forward.
"I don't know what to do," I replied quietly.
"Don't know what to do? You're too lazy to do anything. Get aloft there!"
He pointed up to one of the masts. I looked in the direction indicated.
As I did so he caught me by the waist.
"I'll teach you to hit me!" he hissed.
"Here, hold up!" I cried, in alarm.
He placed one of his brawny hands over my mouth, thus endeavoring to silence me, but with an effort I cast the hand aside.
"Let me go!"
"I'll let you go when I'm done with you!" he whispered.
He was evidently in a very ugly mood, and I saw that he did not intend to treat me with any show of gentleness. Nevertheless, I was hardly prepared for what followed.
Once again he placed his hand over my mouth, and this time, in spite of my struggles, he managed to keep it there. Then he gradually forced me close to the rail.
In vain I tried to break away from him. He exerted all of his strength, and being but a boy, I was no match for him. In another moment he had me hard against the rail.I endeavored to turn my head to see if our struggle was not noticed by some of the others. But Lowell kept my eyes turned seaward, and now he caught me about the arms and the waist.
"I'll fix you!" he went on, with a hiccough. "I'll teach you to hit me!"
"Let—let me go!" I managed to gasp.
"Oh, I'll let you go!" he went on, sarcastically. "I'll let you go quicker than you expect, you imp! How do you like that, eh?"
And the next instant he had hurled me bodily over the side. I went spinning through the air, and then fell with a splash into the waters of Long Island Sound!
Lowell's attack had been so unexpected that I hardly had time to realize what was taking place, and did nothing to stop the catastrophe.
But once in the water I regained my presence of mind. I reached the surface as soon as possible, and then shouted lustily for help.
By this time the Spitfire had gone on a considerable distance ahead, and as the wind was blowing little short of a gale, I was doubtful if my voice could be heard. Nevertheless I continued to call for assistance, and at the same time did all in my power to keep afloat.
This would have been an easy matter had I not been weighed down by any clothes. But the shirt and trousers I wore were heavy, and once soaked with water they felt like lead. I tried to get them off and also to unloosen my shoes; but, as is usual in such cases, succeeded in doing neither.
At the same time I watched the Spitfire and was not a little alarmed to see that the vessel was still forging ahead. Was it possible that those on board were going to leave me behind?
It certainly seemed so, and for a few moments I was thoroughly alarmed. I was out of sight of land, and the darkness of night was fast approaching.
As I moved about in an endeavor to rid myself of some of my clothing, my arm came in contact with something which proved to be a short spar. I grasped it at once, and its buoyancy helped greatly to keep me afloat.
By this time the Spitfire was far ahead, and I had about concluded that I had seen the last of her I noticed that some of the sails were lowered, and finally that the schooner swung around and began to tack back.
It took some time for the old craft to come within hailing distance, and once or twice she stopped, as if those on board were about to give up the search.
But finally she tacked to my right, and I raised my voice to the top of its power. "Help! Help!"
For a moment no answer was returned, and I repeated the cry.
"Ahoy! I see you!" was the answer.
Five minutes more and the schooner was alongside. A rope was thrown over, and, thoroughly exhausted, I crawled on board.
"You rascal!" roared Captain Hannock. "Thought you could escape that way, did you? I had half a mind to let you go to Davy Jones's locker!"
And he shook his fist at me savagely. At these words I was almost too dumfounded to speak. Did he really imagine I had jumped overboard?
"What do you mean?" I gasped. "I didn't go over on purpose. Lowell pitched me over."
"What's that?" thundered the boatswain. "That's the biggest whopper I ever heard in my life."
"It's the truth."
"Stuff and nonsense," cried the captain. "Lowell seems to worry you altogether too much. Go forward, and don't you try any more such monkey tricks again, or I'll take the rope's end over you myself!"
And Captain Hannock advanced upon me so savagely that I was glad enough to retreat.
I went down into the forecastle, and here Tony Dibble, a hand, managed to hunt me up some dry clothing. While I was putting it on the old sailor stood by, and presently said:
"I'm afraid you're going to have a hard time of it, my lad. I was thinking Lowell pushed you over, though he stood by it that you had fallen. I saw you just as you reached the water and I flung a stick after you, thinking it might keep you afloat."
"And it did," I replied. "If it hadn't been for that I might have been at the bottom by this time."
"The old man didn't want to turn back at first when he heard you were overboard," went on the old sailor. "He said it was bad luck."
"You don't mean to say he would have let me go to the bottom!" I cried.
"That's it; and me and Goller and Sampson wouldn't have it, and told him so, and then he turned back."
"I shall never forget what you have done for me," said I. And I never have to this day.
With dry clothes on I went on deck with the old sailor. Lowell did not come near me, and I saw nothing of him until the next day.