The rain had now begun to fall heavily, and the deck soon became slippery as glass. The two young men continued to struggle. Tom realized that he was endangering Madge’s life, as well as his own, in this reckless battle on the deck of a small boat. He thought he now had the advantage. If he could only settle his hateful passenger with one swift blow all would he well. With this thought in mind he tore himself from the grasp of his antagonist, but he had forgotten the slippery deck. His foot shot out from under him, and he went down in a heap, falling heavily on one shoulder. The stranger sprang upon him, and now it was the ungrateful passenger who had the advantage and was mercilessly pushing him with both arms toward the edge of the boat. Slowly Tom gave way, inch by inch. He was conscious of a racking pain in his shoulder. He tried to raise his right arm; then a feeling of faintness swept over him, he reeled, and, before Madge could move to his help, Tom Curtis fell backward into the water.
A BRAVE FIGHT
“Bring her to!” cried Madge imperiously, starting toward the stranger, who now stood by the tiller.
“I can’t bring her to, I’m no sailor,” answered the young ruffian coolly. “I didn’t push your friend overboard; he fell. You had better sail the boat yourself instead of standing there giving me orders.”
Madge regarded the stranger with horrified eyes. “You did push him overboard,” she accused. “I saw you do it. If he drowns, you will be held responsible.”
“I didn’t, I tell you. Better be careful what you say. It wouldn’t take much to send you after him,” was the stranger’s menacing retort.
With a look of withering scorn Madge coolly turned her back on the intruder. She would not take the trouble to bandy words with him. She was too angry to experience the slightest fear of this scowling, ill-favored youth. Her superb indifference to his threat made a visible impression upon him. With a muttered word he slouched to the bow of the boat, where he crouched, glaring at her with the eyes of an angry animal brought to bay.
Although not more than a minute had passed since Tom disappeared over the side of the boat it seemed hours to the frightened girl. She must act quickly or Tom would be lost.
During their sail she had watched Tom Curtis manoeuvre the boat and had paid particular attention to his manner of “bringing it to.” It had appeared to be a comparatively simple process and she laughingly remarked that she believed she could do it herself. Now the opportunity had come to prove her words. Grasping the tiller, she brought the boat directly into the eye of the wind. A moment later the sails flapped in the breeze, and the boat floated idly in the heavy rolling sea.
The stranger had not in reality given Tom the final shove that sent him overboard. At the edge of the boat he had suddenly relaxed his hold, and Tom, faint from the pain of his injured shoulder had toppled backward. The shock of striking the water revived him somewhat, and as he felt himself slipping down he made a brave effort to swim, then, finding it useless, managed to turn on his back and float.