“Ten thirty,” Tom put in, “if it was a railroader; half past o’clock for you Dutchmen,” he added with a chuckle, wrinkling a freckled nose at Harry and winking at Jack.
“All right!” assented Harry. “Log a surf heard at—how many bells? Oh, yes, five bells in the morning. Log Tom Blackwood for uncivil language to an officer and for refusing duty under fire!”
“Hark, boys!” commanded Jack “We may be getting into a mess and it’s no time for joking and carrying on like that!”
“You’re right, Jack, as always!” assented Tom. “Just to show that I’m serious, I’ll joke no more until this fog lifts!”
“Here, too!” declared Harry. “But look at Rowdy! What’s the matter, Rowdy, old chap?” he continued as a great white bulldog came up the ladder from the cabin. “What ails you?”
The bulldog was evidently excited about something for the hair on his shoulders and neck was standing straight up while from his throat issued a low fierce growl scarcely audible above the noise of the tumbling waters. His every action bespoke antipathy to something. Raising himself upon his hind legs, the dog rested his paws upon the window sill of the pilot house. He peered eagerly into the white shroud of mist that enveloped the motor boat.
“He hears that surf, too!” declared Tom. “He hears it!”
“I don’t believe it’s surf he hears,” Jack stated. “He looks just like he did back there in Mobile when we found that black browed fellow trying to board the Fortuna.
“Good old Rowdy!” soothingly murmured Tom reaching over to give the dog a pat. “What do you see, boy? Tell your friend.”
“Looks to me like it might be a person he scents!” Harry stated. “Only it isn’t a likely place for a person to be out in this mess!”
“We’re out in this mess, aren’t we?” objected Tom.
Jack’s hands swiftly traveled over the switchboard seeming to find as if by instinct just the right levers. The engines stopped and then reversed full speed! The Fortuna shook and quivered from stern to stern. She fell off slightly into the trough.
“On deck!” shouted Jack. “Here’s a collision.”
Tom and Harry were on deck instantly. Jack leaned against the switchboard and groaned. The next instant came a crash!
CRIPPLED BY THE STRANGER
With a lunge the Fortuna struck a dark object riding the crest of an oncoming wave. Jack stood against the switchboard scarcely daring to look while Arnold came crowding up the companion-way his face blanched and eyes staring. Harry and Tom were on the forward deck looking along either side of the plunging boat.
“What did we hit?” queried Arnold in a shaking tone.
“I don’t know,” replied Jack. “Whatever it was, we don’t seem to be sunk yet, though. Maybe it was just a few floating boards washed adrift from some vessel.”