By nightfall the steamer lay almost at a stand-still, for the mist was thicker than ever. For safety the whistle was sounded at short intervals.
The girls were the first to retire, and the boys followed half an hour later. The staterooms of all were close together.
Dick Rover was the last to go to sleep. How long he slept he did not know.
He awoke with a start. A shock had thrown him to the floor of the stateroom, and down came Sam on top of him. There were hoarse cries from the deck, a shrill steam whistle, and the sound of a fog horn, and then a grinding thud and a bump that told the Tacoma had either run into some other ship or into the rocks.
FROM ONE SHIP TO ANOTHER
“We struck something!”
“What is the matter?”
“Are we going down?”
These and a score of other cries rang out on board the steamer. The thumping and bumping continued, followed by a crashing that could mean but one thing—that the ship was being splintered, and that her seams were being laid wide open.
As soon as possible the Rover boys slipped into some clothing and went on deck. They were quickly followed by the three girls, who clung tight to them in terror.
“Oh, Dick, this is the worst yet!” came from Dora. “What will be the end?”
“The Tacoma is sinking!” was the cry from out of the darkness.
“Are we really sinking?” gasped Nellie as she clutched Tom.
“Yes, we are,” came from Sam. “Can’t you feel the deck settling?”
They could, only too plainly, and in a minute more the water seemed to be running all around them. The cries continued, but it was so black they could see next to nothing.
What happened in the next few minutes the Rover boys could scarcely tell, afterward. An effort was made to get out a life-boat, and it disappeared almost as soon as it left the side, carrying some sailors with it. Then some red-fire blazed up, lighting up the tragic scene, and revealing a schooner standing close by the steamer. The sailing vessel had her bowsprit broken and part of her forward rail torn away.
“If we must die, let us die together!” said Dick, and they kept together as well as they could. Old Jerry was with them, and said he would do all he could for them. He had already passed around life-preservers, and these they put on with all possible speed.
Then followed a sudden plunge of the steamer and all found themselves in the waves of the ocean. They went down together, each holding the hand of somebody else. When they came up, Tom was close to a life-line thrown from the sailing vessel and this he clutched madly.
“Haul us in!” he yelled. “Haul us in!” And the line was pulled in with care, and after ten minutes of extreme peril the boys and the girls and Captain Jerry found themselves on board of the sailing vessel, which proved to be a large three-masted schooner.