The Motor Boat Club at the Golden Gate: or, A Thrilling Capture in the Great Fog
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Tom saluted, then turned as though to leave the cabin, but Mr. Baldwin called him back.
"You're not needed on the bridge yet, Captain. Remain with us a little while, if you feel like it. You can see that Dr. Gray is keeping his own watch down here in the main cabin."
At that moment the physician, an elderly man, stepped out of a stateroom, closing the door after him.
"There! My patient will sleep for some hours, I think. I'll take the upper berth in his room to-night, so that I can hear him and attend to him if he wakes. Ah, good evening, Captain. Or is it good morning? I have been told of your fine work – on land, at that."
"Is Giddings going to be in anything like his right mind when he wakes?" asked Mr. Baldwin.
"Oh, in a general way, I think he'll know what he's saying," replied the physician. "But he won't be at all bright before thirty-six hours have passed. Even then I can't guarantee him. Opium drives him to the verge of mania."
When several of the others had engaged in conversation, and the doctor had taken a seat near the young captain, Tom asked:
"Is opium smoking a very great evil in San Francisco, Doctor? That is, do very many take to it?"
"Not a very large proportion of the white population, I am glad to say," responded the physician. "Still, when the hop habit does get hold of our white people it works fearful havoc with them. Opium and morphine streak all the crime in San Francisco. These habits are the horrible revenge that the Chinaman has taken upon the city for the persecution the Chinaman once suffered at the hands of our hoodlums."
"Then opium and morphine are largely responsible for the crime and vice in the big city we have just left?" asked Halstead.
"No; I won't say they're responsible," replied Dr. Gray. "But they color the wickedness of San Francisco in their own way. There's a heap of wickedness in every large city, but the crimes and vices here take on aspects that are tremendously due to the use of opium and morphine by the criminal classes. A very large percentage of our San Francisco jailbirds use either opium or morphine. These drugs give them a lower order of intelligence, and make them more cowardly, though often more desperate when they find themselves driven into a corner. Captain Halstead, be sure you never allow yourself to be tempted to use either of those drugs."
"Thank you; I don't believe I shall," smiled the young skipper. "Especially, after what I've seen to-night."
"Great as the curse of alcohol is," added Dr. Gray, "the bane of opium is ten-fold greater. In two or three generations it would ruin any race."
"Then why isn't the Chinese nation destroyed?" asked Halstead.
"Because, although we have imported these dread habits from China, only a small proportion of the Chinese people use the drugs. Those who do are the outcasts of China."
It was growing late, so the young skipper rose, inquiring whether the owner had any further orders for him.
"None, thank you, Captain," replied Mr.Baldwin.
Tom thereupon took his leave, returning to deck. The "Panther" was now miles westward of the coast.
"Ugh!" shivered young Halstead, as he stepped out on deck. Though it was February, the air had been all but balmy in town. Out on the bay there had been a little more chill in the air. But now, out on the wide expanse of the ocean, there was a cold, damp wind blowing that seemed to bite to the marrow after the bright warmth of the main cabin.
Tom promptly stepped into his own cabin, taking down his deck ulster and donning it. Then he made his way to the bridge, where Dick Davis was pacing from side to side.
"No; I don't want any ice cream, thank you," grinned Dick, as his captain joined him. Davis, who wore a reefer, was beating his arms against his sides as though to keep warm. "I've been wishing, Captain, I could get below for my ulster."
"Go ahead," nodded Halstead. "I'll walk the bridge until you return." Dick needed no urging, but made speed for his stateroom below. When he came back he looked more contented.
"Queer climate, this," he remarked.
"Yes," agreed the young skipper. "I'm told the thermometer never shows a very low marking, but that the night air chills one down to the marrow of his bones."
For five minutes more young Halstead remained on the bridge, then went below, after having left the customary instructions to call him to the bridge in case he was needed.
"Well, it's great to walk the bridge of as fine a craft as puts out of San Francisco," Dick told himself, later on in the night. "But at night it's mighty lonesome. I almost wish I could call one of the deckhands up here to talk to."
Of the seven seamen of the crew, one was assigned to work under the first officer's orders during the daytime. The remaining six were divided between the two watches. Of the three now at Davis's orders, one was in the pilot house, for the purpose of relieving the quartermaster whenever required. A second seaman, at night, stood out far forward as bow-watch. The third made regular trips of inspection around the yacht, unless ordered to some other duty.
Jed Prentiss, sitting all alone down in the motor room, made the sixth of those who were now awake on board the "Panther." At starboard and port the colored running lights gleamed; a third light, white, twinkled from the foremast-head. On the bridge stood a powerful searchlight whose rays could be turned on at will.
Thus manned, the "Panther" swept on steadily over the ocean, now headed south. The solitary, boyish figure pacing the bridge, represented in the night the brains and the present master-hand of this yacht, which, equipped with a single three-inch cannon at the bow, could have outrun or destroyed all the navies, combined, of ancient times.
Through the night the sea roughened a good deal. The wind blew more freshly, coming down off the land from the northeast. Still, the yacht was in no labor in the sea, and the sky remained bright overhead. So the second officer did not feel it necessary to disturb the rest of the captain.
At a quarter of eight in the morning, however, with the sun hidden behind a haze, Dick pressed the button that sounded the electric vibrating bell over Tom Halstead's berth. Then Davis picked up the mouthpiece of the speaking tube to the pilot house.
"Call the port watch," directed Dick, when the seaman had answered.
Captain Tom came up on the bridge, pulling on his ulster as he came. He greeted Dick, then stood looking about at the sky.
"It has freshened up a good deal in the night," remarked the young skipper.
"Yes; I thought, sir, you'd want to see the weather while the watch was changing."
Third Officer Costigan was not long in appearing, greeting his two superior officers as he reached the bridge.
"Does this weather spell trouble coming on this coast, Mr. Costigan?" questioned Halstead.
"It'll most likely turn rougher, sir. Sometimes we get a gale out of the northeast in February, though not as often as you do on the Atlantic. That's all I can say, sir. How's the glass? The barometer, you see, sir, is behaving like a gentleman at present."
As Dick left the bridge at the changing of the watch, Tom followed him. Halstead went to his own cabin, where he ordered his breakfast served. This meal eaten, the young skipper, who still felt the fatigue of late hours the night before, threw himself down on a divan. Though he had not intended to sleep, in less than five minutes Tom Halstead had traveled all the way to the land of Nod.
Nor did the increased rolling and pitching of the "Panther" disturb him; if anything, it lulled the young skipper into sounder slumber.
By ten o'clock the gale was going more than forty miles an hour. At eleven Ab Perkins turned the knob of the door, stepping inside. As Ab stood there looking at the occupant of the divan, moisture dripped from the ulster of the first officer.
"I guess we need you on deck, sir," roared Ab, shaking the young captain's shoulder. In a twinkling, Halstead was awake. In another instant he was on his feet.
"Weather is booming a bit, eh?" cried Captain Tom, eagerly.
"Nothing near as much, sir, as this craft can stand with comfort," Ab responded. "But we're coming up with a schooner under bare poles and wallowing badly. Foretop-mast blown away, too, and some of the bowsprit missing."
"Then you did right to call me," rejoined Halstead, pulling on his shoes swiftly, and standing up to don his cap and reefer. "I'll go on the bridge at once."
Baldwin and three of the passengers were on deck as Captain Tom appeared. Halstead nodded their way, then hurriedly climbed the bridge stairs. Now, he turned to take a look at the schooner. She lay dead ahead, for Costigan had ordered the "Panther's" course altered so as to speak the craft in distress. She was still about a mile distant, but for a keen-eyed sailor it needed no glass to make out the fact that the three-master was in utter distress.
"Hard luck, that, in only a forty-mile blow," muttered Tom.
"Wind-gauge shows forty-eight, sir," replied Mr. Costigan.
"Anyway, someone must have been dozing on that schooner, to let her canvas be blown away in such a wind," contended the young skipper.
Then Tom picked up the marine glasses, for a good look at the craft.
"Why, confound it, she has nothing left but a dinghy at the stern davits," muttered Captain Halstead. "I'm afraid, Mr. Costigan, we've got to get out our own boat."
"I'm afraid so, sir."
"Then tumble out the starboard watch."
The order was given through the pilot house speaking tube. The sailor down there with the quartermaster went below at lively speed, routing out the sleeping watch.
By the time they were on deck Tom Halstead was man?uvring the motor yacht around to leeward of the wreck.
"Schooner, ahoy!" he bellowed through a megaphone, from the bridge end.
"Yacht ahoy!" came back the faint answer on the breeze. "This is the schooner 'Alert,' Seattle; Jordrey, master."
"What help do you want, 'Alert'?"
"We're ready to abandon our vessel. Send us a boat, if you can."
"Boat it is, then, Captain," Tom bawled back, lustily. "Stand by to help our boat make fast alongside your lee quarter!"
Then, turning, glancing down at the deck, Tom called:
"Mr. Davis, the rescue boat is the second officer's trick!"
"Glad of it, sir," retorted Dick, his eyes glistening.
"Lower the port life-boat. Take four men at the oars and one for the bow. You'll have to row. The power tender would be worthless in this sea. Mr. Perkins will take the bridge. Mr. Costigan and the quartermasters will help you off, Mr. Davis."
Officers and men all moved with perfect discipline. With a merry roar they lowered the life-boat. A boarding gangway was lowered at the side, and down this the crew of the life-boat scrambled. Dick Davis took his place at the tiller.
"Cast off," he commanded. "Shove off. Let fall oars. Now, then – at it, hearties!"
From owner and passengers a cheer went up as the boat put off in such famous style. In another instant, however, the boat tossed like a cork on a high, rolling wave. Then it went down in the hollow between two billows. It was up in sight, an instant later. The men at the oars were doing their work with a will. Over the water struggled the life-boat, and then turned to come up under the lee quarter of the schooner.
Suddenly Captain Tom Halstead clutched desperately at the bridge rail, his face going deathly white.
"Merciful heaven!" he quivered, staring hard. For, near the crest of a wave, the life-boat heeled. Another big wave caught her.
Dick Davis and the boat's crew had been hurled from the overturning boat!