The Ocean Wireless Boys on the Atlantic
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“Ah! Figures at last!” he said, as Jack jotted down a lot of numerals.
“Great Scott!” he shouted a moment later, “those figures put her within forty miles of us to the southwest!”
“Hold on, sir, here’s some more!” warned Jack.
The diaphragms crackled and tapped as a hail of dots and dashes beat against them like surf from the electric ocean. The sending was stronger now from the doomed vessel, wherever and whatever she was.
“This is the yacht Halcyon, New York for the Azores. Owner and son on board. For Heaven’s sake, send help! This may be good-bye.”
“Thunder and lightning!” roared the captain, more excited than Jack had ever seen him. “This is news! Why, the Halcyon is Mr. Jukes’ yacht!”
The pencil dropped from Jack’s nerveless fingers and he sat back, gasping at this extraordinary intelligence.
LOOKING FOR THE BURNING YACHT
“Mr. Jukes’ yacht!” repeated the young wireless lad. “And his son is on board, too!”
“What, you know him?”
“Yes, I met him when I was in the hospital after those firemen, or rather the lamp-post, gave me that crack on the head.”
“Great Scott! It’s a case of have to go now whether we want to or not,” exclaimed the captain. “Of course,” he added, “we would have gone anyhow, but still, under the present conditions, if another steamer had been handy, I’d have left the job to them. But Mr. Jukes’ yacht, that’s another pair of shoes!”
The wireless alarm “rang in” with its sharp, insistent note. Jack bent again to his instruments. In a trice he had turned into a business-like young operator of the wireless waves.
“Maybe that’s some more from them,” exclaimed the captain, as Jack picked up his pencil.
“Hurry!” was what Jack wrote. “Owner states he will give a million to anyone who will come to his help. Good-bye. I’ve got to make a getaway.”
“Well, at any rate, that wireless chap on the Halcyon is a cheerful sort of cuss,” observed the captain. “I guess that will be all from him now. I’ll go forward and see about proceeding to their aid.”
But the captain’s plans were destined to be changed. For a time they moved steadily but slowly toward the location of the doomed yacht. By noon the sun was out and the sea dancing a vivid blue under a bright sun. There was a smart breeze, too, and, after considering all the conditions, Captain Braceworth summoned Mr. Brown.
“Mr. Brown,” said he, “take a boat and go about twenty miles to the sou’west. If that yacht’s boats are scattered about there, you should sight some of them. You should be back not long after eight bells of the dog-watch. I’ll have flares and rockets sent up so that you can find the ship easily.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” said Mr. Brown, with sailor-like directness, and hurried off to complete his preparations.
In the meantime, Jack and young Raynor had been having a consultation.The latter was by this time quite an efficient wireless man, and this just fitted in with Jack’s plan; for he was dying to go in that boat which was about to set out after the castaways!
“How would you like to take the wireless this afternoon?” he inquired of his chum.
“I can’t think of anything that would suit me better. Why?” was the rejoinder.
“Because I am going to apply for a chance to go in that boat, if you will do relief duty for me. You are not on watch this afternoon, and it will be great experience for you.”
“Aren’t you the little wheedler, though?” laughed Raynor. “All right, Jack, I’ll do it for you. Cut along, now, and see the skipper. You haven’t any time to waste.”
In five minutes Jack was back and radiant.
“He says he doesn’t know why I should go hunting for trouble,” he reported, “but he says I can go.”
“Well, that’s the main thing,” said Raynor cheerily, “and you’d better see Mr. Brown right away. There goes the boat.”
The craft was, in fact, being slung out on the davits when Jack approached the mate and told him that he was to form one of the party.
“Always digging up work for yourself,” grinned the mate.
“That’s what the captain said,” rejoined Jack demurely.
He took his place in the boat, and a few moments later the small craft was being rowed away from the big tanker’s side by six pairs of stout arms.
“Cheerily, men!” admonished Mr. Brown. “Remember it’s the owner we’re going after. It may mean a dollar or two in every man’s pocket if we hurry.”
This hint had the desired effect.
The men bent to the oars till the stout ash curved and the boat hissed through the water. They had not gone more than a mile before a lively breeze caused Mr. Brown to order the sail hoisted.
Naturally enough, nobody was averse to this, and soon, under the canvas, they were speeding over the dancing sea. In his pleasure at this agreeable break in the monotony of sea-life, Jack almost forgot the seriousness of the errand on which they were bent.
But Mr. Brown reminded him of it by observing, “I’m hoping we are not too late.”
This idea had not entered Jack’s head before. Too late!
What if they were too late, after all! That last message had broken off with suspicious abruptness, although Mr. Jukes must have been then aboard, because his offer of a million dollars to the unknown ship – Jack had not sent the name of the Ajax– was characteristic of him.
The bright afternoon seemed to cloud over as he thought of this. Stern and capricious as the magnate was, still, Jack, in his inner soul, admired his forcefulness and driving power; and as for Tom Jukes, he had formed a genuine liking for the frail lad.
He looked out over the sparkling sea. It was hard to believe that it might have witnessed a marine tragedy within the last few hours.
THE MATE’S YARN
Mr. Brown was soliloquizing.
“Nothing so bad as fire at sea,” said he. “Take any typical case. The old man thinks he can fight it down and so do most of his crew. And so they let it run on till it’s too late, and then it’s all off.
“I was on a coal ship once, Frisco to Hong-kong. Fire started in the bunkers in mid-Pacific. We passed two or three ships while it was still smoldering and you could smell the coal gas a mile away.
“Think the old man would call for help? Not much. If he did, his owners would have jumped him for costing them salvage money! That’s another reason so many ships sink and are burned,” he added in parenthesis.
“Well, sir, that old fire went from bad to worse. The crew had to berth aft and the decks, – she was a steel ship, – began to get so hot that you had to walk pussy-footed on ’em. But still the old man wouldn’t quit.
“‘If we only get a wind,’ he says, ‘I’ll bring her into port even if she busts up when we tie to the dock.’
“‘If you get a wind,’ says I, ‘you won’t have to wait fer that. She’ll go skyrocketing without any by your leave or thank you.’
“‘Pshaw, Brown, you’re nervous!’ says he.
“‘Of course I am,’ says I; ‘who wouldn’t be, going to sea with a bloomin’ stove full of red-hot coals under their boots, instead of a good wholesome ship? Keel-haul me if ever I sail again with coal,’ says I.
“Things goes along this way for about two weeks, and then comes the grand bust-up. We couldn’t eat, we couldn’t sleep, we could hardly breathe.
“‘Get out the boats,’ says the old man at last, as if he’d made up his mind that it was really time to get away.
“Well, sir, to see the way those bullies jumped for the boats you’d have thought there was pocket money in every one of ’em, or a prize put up by the old man to see who’d be overboard first.
“We got away, all right, the skipper last, of course. But he had to go below to save his pet parrot. He’d just about reached the deck, when – confusion! – up she goes.
“The whole blows up sky high and the skipper with it. One of the men said he had stopped to light his pipe, and the flame of the match touched off all that gas. But I dunno just how that might be. Anyhow, for quite a while we could see that old skipper sailing up to heaven, – ’twas the only way he’d ever get there, I heard one of the men say. Then down he comes, kerplunk!
“It was a hard job for us in the boat to reckernize him. You see, he’d had a fine, full beard when he went up, but he come down clean shaved! And the parrot, – well, sir, that parrot looked like a ship without a rudder. Its gum-gasted tail had followed the skipper’s whiskers into oblivion, – as Shakespeare says. Well, we got him into the boat, and two days after we were picked up, but neither the skipper nor the parrot were ever the same man or the same bird again.”
At the conclusion of this touching narrative, Jack saw fit to put a question.
“By the way, what was the name of that ship, Mr. Brown?” he asked mischievously.
“The name?” asked Mr. Brown, with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Yes, I’d like to look that craft up.”
“Well, sir, I’ll not deceive you,” said Mr. Brown. “Her name was the Whatawhopper. It’s an Injun name, they tell me, but gracious, I don’t know anything about those matters! We had on board, besides the coal, a cargo of beans, – took ’em on at Boston, – but they got wet and swelled and we thought – ”
But this was too much even for Jack.
“Mr. Brown, you’ve missed your vocation,” he said.
“How’s that?” inquired the mate with a serious face.
“You should have been a novelist,” laughed Jack. “With your imagination, you’d have made a fortune.”
“Well, I’ll never make one at sea, that’s one sure thing,” said Mr. Brown, with a conviction born of experience.
The crew managed the boat silently. They were cheered by Mr. Brown’s extensive vocabulary and picturesque speech, and stuck to their duties like real seamen.
As time passed, however, and there was not a sign of boats on the sea, and the sparkling water danced emptily under the burning sun, some of the crew become restive.
“Aw, you cawn’t moike me believe there’s a bloomin’ thing in this bally wireless,” muttered a British sailor. “It’s awl a bloomin’ bit of spoof, that’s what it is, moites. We moight as well go a choising the ghost of Admiral Nelson as be chivvying arter this old crawft.”
His attitude toward wireless was typical of that of most sailors, and it may be added – some landsmen!
Their intelligence appears to balk at grasping the idea of an electric wave being volleyed through space, although they accept hearing and eyesight, – dependent, both of them, on sound and sight waves, – as an everyday fact.
Jack felt like giving a little lecture on wireless right then and there. It nettled him to think that the wonderful invention which has done so much to render sea-travel safe, accounts of which appear in the columns of the newspapers every day, should be belittled by the very men who owed so much to it.
“But what’s the use,” thought he. “It would only be wasted breath. But if everyone could know it as I do, the world would be full of wireless enthusiasts; and then what a job we’d have picking up messages!”
But as they sailed on and no sign of any boats appeared, even Jack’s faith began to waver.
Could the message have been a hoax?
Such things, incredible as they may seem, have been known. The sailors began to look at him derisively.
“I guess that kid dreamed that stuff about the bird cage aloft,” muttered one. “It stands to reason there ain’t no way of sending messages without wires. You might as well try to eat food without a thing on yer plate!”
IN SIGHT OF SMOKE
“I suppose I ought to take that view of the situation, too,” said Mr. Brown to Jack, “but somehow I don’t want to give this thing up yet.”
“But surely we should have seen some trace of the ship by this time,” objected Jack, who was beginning to get a little skeptical himself.
The blue line of the horizon was without a speck to mar its empty spaciousness.
Mr. Brown had recourse to the glasses, which he had used frequently since they had set out. But the powerful binoculars failed to disclose any object the naked eye might not have discovered.
“If there really has been a fire on that yacht and the boats are drifting about, it may prove an even more serious matter than we imagine,” said the officer at length.
“You mean they may be lost?” asked Jack.
“Just that,” was the reply. “If the boats should drift beyond the regular established routes and steamer lanes, it might be weeks and even months before they are found.”
“Then the ocean beyond the regular routes is empty of life?” asked Jack.
“I wouldn’t say that exactly, but the Atlantic is covered with regular sailing routes just as a country is mapped out with railroads. The master of a ship usually makes no deviation from those routes; although, of course, in the case of some ships, they are sometimes compelled to.”
They sailed on for some little time further and the officer was on the point of giving up the search, when he once more resorted to the binoculars.
He stood up and swept the sky line earnestly for some sign of what they sought.
“There’s nothing visible,” he was beginning, when suddenly he broke off and uttered a sharp exclamation:
“Jove! There’s something on the horizon. Looks like a tiny smudge on a white wall, but it may be a steamer’s smoke!”
“If it is, it may be some other ship that has come to their rescue,” suggested Jack.
Mr. Brown gave orders to the men to give way with increased power. The breeze had dropped and the use of the oars was once more necessary.
“Should it be a steamer’s smoke, she may have rescued them,” observed the officer; “if not, it may be the burning craft still floating.”
“Lay into it, bullies,” he added a moment later. “Let her have it! That’s the stuff!”
Jack’s excitement ran high. Putting aside the adventurous nature of their errand, the owner of the Titan Line from whom he had parted under such unpleasant circumstances in the Greenwich Hospital, was aboard, and his friend, – for so he called him, despite their brief acquaintance, – Tom Jukes, might be there, too.
“My! Won’t they open their eyes when they see who it is has come to their rescue!” he thought to himself. “Come to think of it, I must have been as rattled as the operator of the Halcyon or I’d have given the name of the ship.”
The smudge of smoke grew as they rowed and sailed toward it, till, from a mere discoloration of the blue horizon, it grew to be a flaring pillar of smoke.
“No ship ever burned coal at that rate,” decided Mr. Brown. “Yonder’s the blaze, men, and the old hooker is still on top, although it surprises me that she hasn’t gone down long ago.”
While they all gazed, suspending their rowing for a moment in the fascination of the spectacle, Jack uttered a shout:
“Look!” he cried, “look!”
Something appeared to heave upward from the surface of the sea. The smoke spread out as if it had suddenly been converted into an immense fan of vapor, and the air was filled with black fragments.
Then the smoke slowly drifted away and the ocean was empty once more.
“Well, that’s good-night for her,” said Mr. Brown. “Ready, that operator certainly had a right to have a case of rattles.”
Jack did not answer. He was thinking of the wonder of the wireless, and how by its agency the news of the disaster that had overtaken the Halcyon had been flashed to the rescue party.
“She just blew up with one big puff and melted away,” he said presently.
“Yes, I’ll bet there isn’t a stick or timber of her left,” said Mr. Brown.
“Was she a fine boat?”
“Ever see her?”
“Yes, once in New York harbor. The old man was coming back from a cruise to the Azores. That’s a favorite stamping ground of his, by the way. There’s nothing cheap about J. J. when he comes to gratifying his own whimsies, and the Halcyon was one of them. Mahogany, velvet, mirrors, and I don’t know what all, – but never mind that now. We ought to be sighting some of the boats.”
The men rowed like furies now. Even the most skeptical had become convinced that, after all, there was something in wireless.
It was almost sunset when Mr. Brown tapped Jack’s shoulder after he had taken a long look through the binoculars.
“There’s something in sight off there,” said he; “take a look, if you like.”
ADRIFT ON A LIFE RAFT
“I can’t quite make it out,” said Jack, as he returned the glasses. “Is it a boat?”
“Looks like it. I’m sure I saw men on board it.”
“Let’s take another look.”
Jack picked up the binoculars once more and gazed through them long and earnestly.
“It looks like a white dot,” he said, “and – yes, there are men on it! They’ve seen us! They’re waving!”
“Give me the glasses, boy,” said Mr. Brown, trying hard to repress his excitement.
The little officer stood up and focused the powerful binoculars on the object that had aroused their attention.
“It’s not a boat,” he pronounced at length.
“Not a boat? Then what is it?” asked Jack, puzzled.
“It’s a life raft, one of those patent affairs. I can see men paddling it with bits of wood. S’pose they had no time to get oars.”
The crew bent to their work with renewed fervor. They knew that not far off from them there must be suffering and misery in its keenest form.
Mr. Brown did not need to urge them now, although he kept hopping about and shouting his favorite:
“Give it to her, my bullies!”
As they approached the raft, they could see that it was crowded almost to the water line with a wretched, forlorn-looking assemblage of humanity.
It was clear that the yacht must have been left in the most desperate haste.
The clothes of the castaways were burned and their faces blistered and smudged. They must have fought the fire desperately till the last moment, when they found further effort useless.
“Ahoy, there!” shouted Mr. Brown cheerfully. “Don’t worry; we’ll soon get you!”
“We can wait a while longer,” came back a cheery voice.
It proceeded from a stout, good-natured looking man whose clothes were perhaps a trifle more disreputable than any of the others.
“I’m Wireless Willie,” he cheerfully explained, as he climbed on board. “This is a fine note, isn’t it? I’ve lost everything and came pretty near losing my mind. Do you blame me? She caught fire forward, and – Pouf! – up she went like kindling wood.”
The others clambered on board, one after another, and last came two seamen, who dragged a ragged, limp, smoke-blackened form from the raft and handed it to the mate in the boat.
For a moment Jack had a shock. He thought the man was dead. But a groan convinced him otherwise. At last all were on board.
“Now, bullies,” said Mr. Brown, addressing his crew, “it’s a long, hard pull back to the ship, but think of what you’re going to get when J. J. comes to!”
“Is Mr. Jukes on board?” asked Jack. “I thought maybe he was in another boat and cast adrift.”
“What, you didn’t know him?” demanded the mate, in genuine astonishment.
“No, I – ”
“Well, that’s J. J., right there.”
He indicated the unconscious form to which some of the sailors were trying to administer nourishment.
“Yes, this is the owner, all of a heap,” volunteered one of them. “His heart’s gone back on him, I reckon.”
“Looks that way,” assented Mr. Brown, glancing at the recumbent form.
“But where is Tom?” cried Jack, the thought of the son of the magnate coming suddenly to him.
“Hush,” said one of the sailors from the Halcyon, “don’t talk too loud. He might hear you.”
“What do you mean?” asked Jack, staring at the man.
“The boy went off in one of the boats. We lost them in the fog. The good Lord only knows where they are now.”
“Drive the old man crazy when he hears of it, I reckon,” put in another man, the mate of the yacht. “He thought the world and all of Tom, he did.”
“As if I didn’t know that,” thought Jack; and then aloud to Mr. Brown:
“There’s another boat adrift, sir. Aren’t we going to look for it?”
Mr. Brown shook his head and pointed to the western horizon. The sun, like a big copper ball, was sinking.
“It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said. “But cheer up, they’ll be picked up somehow. You can depend on that.”
“I only hope so,” said Jack sadly.
He looked around at the empty sea. It made him shiver to think that somewhere on that desolate expanse was a boat full of castaways looking in vain for succor.
THE RESCUE OF MR. JUKES
“How did the fire happen?” asked Mr. Brown of the wireless man of the Halcyon as they rowed back to the ship, for the wind had now entirely dropped.
“Well, it all came about so blessed quickly that I doubt if anyone knows just what the start of it was,” came the reply. “The skipper thought he could fight it (Here Mr. Brown nodded knowingly to Jack as if to say, “I told you so”), and we battled with it for a long time. The fire affected my dynamos, I guess, for my current was miserably weak.”
“I noticed that, all right,” said Jack.
“But you caught it though. Lucky for us you did. Well, to continue. The old man, – Mr. Jukes, I mean, was furious. He wouldn’t hear of abandoning the ship.
“He wanted to fight the fire to the last moment. But he sent his son off in a boat. The fog had lifted a bit, and we thought it would be no job at all to pick them up. But then the smother shut down again, and when it lifted and we were forced to leave the ship, there wasn’t a sign of that boat high or low.”
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