“Are you going to her assistance?” asked Mr. Elmer.
“Certainly I am,” answered the captain. “I consider that one of the first duties of a sailor is to give aid to his fellows in distress. Besides, if we succeed in saving her and her cargo, we stand a chance of making several thousand dollars salvage money, which I for one do not care to throw away.”
“You are quite right,” said Mr. Elmer. “It is seldom that we are offered an opportunity of doing good and being well paid for it at the same time, and it would be foolish, as well as heartless, not to render what assistance lies in our power.”
The schooner was already headed towards the wreck, but approached it very slowly, owing to the light breeze that barely filled her sails. As the sun rose, and cast a broad flood of light over the tranquil scene, the captain anxiously scanned the line of the reef in both directions through his glass.
“Ah, I thought so!” he exclaimed; “there they come, and there, and there. I can count six already. Now we shall have a race for it.”
“Who? what?” asked Mark, not understanding the captain’s exclamations.
“Wreckers!” answered the captain. “Take the glass, and you can see their sails coming from every direction; and they have seen us long ago too. I actually believe those fellows can smell a wreck a hundred miles off. Halloo there, forward! Stand by to lower the gig.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Mr. Elmer.
“I am going to try and reach that wreck before any of the boats whose sails you can see slipping out from behind those low keys. The first man aboard that ship is ‘wreck-master,’ and gets the largest share of salvage money.”
So saying, “Captain Li” swung himself over the side and into the light gig, which, with its crew of four lusty young Maine sailors, had already been got overboard and now awaited him. As he seized the tiller ropes he shouted, “Now, then, give way! and a hundred dollars extra salvage to you four if this gig is the first boat to lay alongside of that wreck.”
At these words the long ash oars bent like willow wands in the grasp of the young Northern giants, and the gig sprang away like a startled bonito, leaving a long line of bubbles to mark her course.
The wreck was still three miles off; and, with the glass, small boats could be seen shooting away from several of the approaching wrecking vessels.
“It’s a race between Conchs and Yankees,” said Jan Jansen to Mark.
“What are Conchs?” asked the boy.
“Why, those fellows in the other boats. Most of them come from the Bahama Islands, and all Bahamians are called ‘Conchs,’ because they eat so many of the shell-fish of that name.”
“Well, I’ll bet on the Yankees!” cried Mark.
“So will I,” said the Swede. “Yankee baked beans and brown bread make better muscle than fish, which is about all the fellows down this way get to live on.”