Barney was delighted, so far forgetting himself, indeed, as to attempt to establish cordial understanding.
“Hello, my boy,” he said genially, “we’re a-goin’ to fix ’em!” Then noting a blank expression on Dan’s face, his jaws closed with a click and he lowered himself from the pier and into the boat without further words, while Dan shoved out into the river and started for the pier above, where Captain Jim Skelly’s tug, the John Quinn, was lying. She had steam up and was all ready for her journey to meet the Kentigern. That vessel had been reported east of Fire Island and would be well across the bar by eight o’clock. She would anchor on the bar for the night, and it was there that Captain Jim Skelly meant to board her in order to forestall any possible scheme that wily Captain Barney might devise to gain the bridge of the freighter.
As Dan paddled noiselessly around the other side of the pier, they could see the pipe lights of the Quinn’s crew. Finally the rowboat turned straight under the pier, threading its way among the greasy green piles. Reaching under the seat, Dan drew out a stout inch line.
“When I back in on the Quinn,” he whispered, “make that line fast to the rudder post. We’ll let her tow us to the Kentigern.”
“What!” hissed Captain Barney, and his face turned pale. But it was only for a second, after which he chuckled.
Slowly, gently, quietly, the rowboat slid among the green piles until the stern of the big tug loomed overhead. When it was within reach Captain Barney leaned out, made one end of the line fast to the tug’s rudder post and then, paying out about twenty feet, he fastened the other end to the bitts in the bow of the rowboat.
It seemed an hour’s waiting before the Quinn’s crew cast off the lines, but in reality it was not more than ten minutes. As the screw began to thresh the water and the tug to move swiftly out into the river, it required rare skill on the part of the young boatman to manoeuvre the boat so she should not be upset at the start. But Dan had the skill required and more besides, as he knelt in the stern with one oar deep in the water to the port side.
In the course of a few minutes they were fairly on their way, and Captain Jim Skelly was losing no time. He had full speed before the tug was a hundred yards from the pier, and the spray and the splintered chips of ice flew back from the sharp bow, smiting the faces of the two men in the little boat dragging astern with three-quarters of her length out of water. Dan, kneeling aft, watched with eagle eye each quirk and turn of the tow-line.
It is the hardest thing a man has to do—to tow behind a tug or ferryboat, even under fair conditions. In this case, the conditions were far from fair, for there was the ice, lazily rolling and cracking in the heavy wake of the tug, grinding against the sides of the rowboat, until it seemed that they must be crushed. There was great danger that they would be. There was danger also that the tow-line might slue both men into the icy waters and upset the boat.