A hand was laid gently on his shoulder, and looking up, he saw Mr. Howland and a tall, beautiful girl by his side, both gazing at him from the doorway with eyes filled with compassion.
“You were the captain of the tug?” asked Mr. Rowland.
“Yes, Captain Merrithew,” and Dan ceased speaking and gazed at the deck.
“You owned the tug?”
“No,” replied Dan.
“Captain Merrithew, I cannot say anything adequate. I appreciate what you have done—I cannot say how much.”
“Oh, father,” broke in the girl, “tell him it was noble!”
[Illustration: “Oh, father,” broke in the girl, “tell him it was noble!”]
“It was noble,” resumed Mr. Howland. “It was big and fine—you saved a score of lives, and for them you gave your tug and part of your crew. I cannot reward such men as you—I can pay just debts, though. Your men shall not suffer; neither shall the families of those who were lost.”
Then he paused a minute and reached behind the door jamb, bringing out a water-soaked bit of plank. “One of our best men picked this from the water. You had been clinging to it. I thought you might like to have it in your cabin.”
It was the name board of the Fledgling.
THE BRAVE AND THE FAIR
As Dan seized the strip with its gilt letters and was about to reply, the yacht slung sideways, and a wave arising amidships smote the deck-house a lusty, full-bodied blow. It suddenly occurred to the tugboat captain that the craft, all the time he had been aboard trying to collect his bewildered senses, had acted strangely. He turned to Mr. Howland.
“What’s the matter with your yacht?”
Howland was a good deal of a thoroughbred, and yet he could not conceal his eagerness as he spoke.
“The yacht was just what I wanted to speak to you about, Captain,” he said. “I know I have no right to ask anything more of you, but if you have pulled together, I think we seem to need your assistance. Our Captain was washed off the bridge, and the first mate is below with a broken leg. The situation, I am afraid, is beyond young Terry, the second mate; I—”
As the import of what Mr. Howland was trying to say flashed across Dan’s mind, he turned abruptly, without waiting for the completion of the sentence, and ran for the bridge.
Without a glance at the second officer, who seemed on the verge of a complete funk, he shouldered the two sailors from the wheel and hauled on the spokes with all the strength of his long arms. As the yacht began to respond he seized the indicator crank and called for full speed ahead. The whistle of the bridge speaking-tube sounded viciously, and Dan, placing his ear to the receiver, caught the words of the old chief engineer as they flowed up in profane vehemence.
“Say, do you know what you want up there? If I had a man down here who knew an engine from a plate of fruit, I’d ‘a’ been up there and snaked you off the bridge long ago. I’ve been on my back under that triply damned shaft for twelve hours and now—” the rest of the sentence was an assortment of well-chosen oaths.