“NOW she takes it!” French Pete cried.
Both lads ran into the cockpit. They were on the edge of the breaking bar. A huge forty-footer reared a foam-crested head far above them, stealing their wind for the moment and threatening to crush the tiny craft like an egg-shell. Joe held his breath. It was the supreme moment. French Pete luffed straight into it, and the Dazzler mounted the steep slope with a rush, poised a moment on the giddy summit, and fell into the yawning valley beyond. Keeping off in the intervals to fill the mainsail, and luffing into the combers, they worked their way across the dangerous stretch. Once they caught the tail-end of a whitecap and were well-nigh smothered in the froth, but otherwise the sloop bobbed and ducked with the happy facility of a cork.
To Joe it seemed as though he had been lifted out of himself—out of the world. Ah, this was life! this was action! Surely it could not be the old, commonplace world he had lived in so long! The sailors, grouped on the streaming deck-load of the steamer, waved their sou’westers, and, on the bridge, even the captain was expressing his admiration for the plucky craft.
“Ah, you see! you see!” French Pete pointed astern.
The sloop-yacht had been afraid to venture it, and was skirting back and forth on the inner edge of the bar. The chase was over. A pilot-boat, running for shelter from the coming storm, flew by them like a frightened bird, passing the steamer as though the latter were standing still.
Half an hour later the Dazzler sped beyond the last smoking sea and was sliding up and down on the long Pacific swell. The wind had increased its velocity and necessitated a reefing down of jib and mainsail. Then they laid off again, full and free on the starboard tack, for the Farralones, thirty miles away. By the time breakfast was cooked and eaten they picked up the Reindeer, which was hove to and working offshore to the south and west. The wheel was lashed down, and there was not a soul on deck.
French Pete complained bitterly against such recklessness. “Dat is ze one fault of Red Nelson. He no care. He is afraid of not’ing. Some day he will die, oh, so vaire queeck! I know he will.”
Three times they circled about the Reindeer, running under her weather quarter and shouting in chorus, before they brought anybody on deck. Sail was then made at once, and together the two cockle-shells plunged away into the vastness of the Pacific. This was necessary, as ’Frisco Kid informed Joe, in order to have an offing before the whole fury of the storm broke upon them. Otherwise they would be driven on the lee shore of the California coast. Grub and water, he said, could be obtained by running into the land when fine weather came. He congratulated Joe upon the fact that he was not seasick, which circumstance likewise brought praise from French Pete and put him in better humor with his mutinous young sailor.
“I ’ll tell you what we ’ll do,” ’Frisco Kid whispered, while cooking dinner. “To-night we ’ll drag French Pete down—”
“Drag French Pete down!”
“Yes, and tie him up good and snug, as soon as it gets dark; then put out the lights and make a run for land; get to port anyway, anywhere, just so long as we shake loose from Red Nelson.”
“Yes,” Joe deliberated; “that would be all right—if I could do it alone. But as for asking you to help me—why, that would be treason to French Pete.”
“That ’s what I ’m coming to. I ’ll help you if you promise me a few things. French Pete took me aboard when I ran away from the ‘refuge,’ when I was starving and had no place to go, and I just can’t repay him for that by sending him to jail. ’T would n’t be square. Your father would n’t have you break your word, would he?”
“No; of course not.” Joe knew how sacredly his father held his word of honor.
“Then you must promise, and your father must see it carried out, not to press any charge against French Pete.”
“All right. And now, what about yourself? You can’t very well expect to go away with him again on the Dazzler!”
“Oh, don’t bother about me. There ’s nobody to miss me. I ’m strong enough, and know enough about it, to ship to sea as ordinary seaman. I ’ll go away somewhere over on the other side of the world, and begin all over again.”
“Then we ’ll have to call it off, that ’s all.”
“Call what off?”
“Tying French Pete up and running for it.”
“No, sir. That ’s decided upon.”
“Now listen here: I ’ll not have a thing to do with it. I ’ll go on to Mexico first, if you don’t make me one promise.”
“And what ’s the promise?”
“Just this: you place yourself in my hands from the moment we get ashore, and trust to me. You don’t know anything about the land, anyway—you said so. And I ’ll fix it with my father—I know I can—so that you can get to know people of the right sort, and study and get an education, and be something else than a bay pirate or a sailor. That ’s what you ’d like, is n’t it?”
Though he said nothing, ’Frisco Kid showed how well he liked it by the expression of his face.
“And it ’ll be no more than your due, either,” Joe continued. “You will have stood by me, and you ’ll have recovered my father’s money. He ’ll owe it to you.”
“But I don’t do things that way. I don’t think much of a man who does a favor just to be paid for it.”
“Now you keep quiet. How much do you think it would cost my father for detectives and all that to recover that safe? Give me your promise, that ’s all, and when I ’ve got things arranged, if you don’t like them you can back out. Come on; that ’s fair.”
They shook hands on the bargain, and proceeded to map out their line of action for the night.
But the storm, yelling down out of the northwest, had something entirely different in store for the Dazzler and her crew. By the time dinner was over they were forced to put double reefs in mainsail and jib, and still the gale had not reached its height. The sea, also, had been kicked up till it was a continuous succession of water-mountains, frightful and withal grand to look upon from the low deck of the sloop. It was only when the sloops were tossed upon the crests of the waves at the same time that they caught sight of each other. Occasional fragments of seas swashed into the cockpit or dashed aft over the cabin, and Joe was stationed at the small pump to keep the well dry.
At three o’clock, watching his chance, French Pete motioned to the Reindeer that he was going to heave to and get out a sea-anchor. This latter was of the nature of a large shallow canvas bag, with the mouth held open by triangularly lashed spars. To this the towing-ropes were attached, on the kite principle, so that the greatest resisting surface was presented to the water. The sloop, drifting so much faster, would thus be held bow on to both wind and sea—the safest possible position in a storm. Red Nelson waved his hand in response that he understood and to go ahead.
French Pete went forward to launch the sea-anchor himself, leaving it to ’Frisco Kid to put the helm down at the proper moment and run into the wind. The Frenchman poised on the slippery fore-deck, waiting an opportunity. But at that moment the Dazzler lifted into an unusually large sea, and, as she cleared the summit, caught a heavy snort of the gale at the very instant she was righting herself to an even keel. Thus there was not the slightest yield to this sudden pressure on her sails and mast-gear.
There was a quick snap, followed by a crash. The steel weather-rigging carried away at the lanyards, and mast, jib, mainsail, blocks, stays, sea-anchor, French Pete—everything—went over the side. Almost by a miracle, the captain clutched at the bobstay and managed to get one hand up and over the bowsprit. The boys ran forward to drag him into safety, and Red Nelson, observing the disaster, put up his helm and ran down to the rescue.