Read CHAPTER V - SAVED BY THE BREECHES-BUOY of The Boy With the U. S. Life-Savers , free online book, by Francis Rolt-Wheeler, on ReadCentral.com.

The last words of the old keeper, “Goodness don’t lay in tryin’ to be a hero, but jest in plain bein’ a man,” rang through Eric’s mind, many and many a day after, when, on his own Coast Guard station, he had to face some difficulty. His post chanced to be in a somewhat sheltered spot, and thus gave him an opportunity to become a good oarsman. His work with the volunteer corps had made him a first-class swimmer and a fair boatman. The government service, however, he found to be a very different matter. There, efficiency had to be carried to the highest degree.

He snatched every opportunity, too, to get ahead with his studies, and luck came his way in a most unexpected shape. It happened that quite near the Coast Guard station was the hut of a queer old hermit sort of fellow, called “Dan.” He had been a life-saver many years before, but in a daring rescue had injured his back, and could never enter a boat again. In those days there were no pensions, so for forty years and more he had made a living by inventing riddles and puzzles, tricks of various kinds, and clever Christmas toys. His especial hobby was mathematical puzzles. He used to drop into the station quite frequently, for he was very popular with the men.

“Dan,” said Eric to him one day, “I don’t see how you can be so interested in that stuff. It’s the bane of my life. I’m nailing as hard as I can to try and get in shape for a Coast Guard exam., and I simply can’t get hold of the mathematics end of it.”

“Why for not?”

“Don’t know enough, I guess,” the boy answered. “I’m right up on everything but mathematics, but that gets me every time. I know there’s some sense in it, but I can’t see it. Everything else I’ve got to study I can find some interest in, but mathematics is as dull as ditch-water. How you can find any fun in it, I can’t see!”

This was like telling a painter that color had no emotion, or a scientist that science had no reasonableness. The old puzzle-maker gasped.

“No fun!” he exclaimed. “It is the mos’ fun in the world. I show you!”

Pulling from his pocket a pencil and an old envelope he drew a baseball diamond, and marked the positions of the players. Eric’s interest arose at once, for he was a keen baseball fan. As the sketch grew the old man talked, describing a queer entanglement of play.

“Now!” said the old man, “what shall he do?”

The boy, judging from his knowledge of the game, made a suggestion, which the other negatived. As soon as the boy made a guess, the other showed him to be wrong. Eric, really interested in the baseball problem, cudgelled his brains, but could find no way out.

“I show you!” the old man repeated.

Using a very simple rule of algebra, which the boy knew quite well, but giving an application he never would have thought of, Dan brought the solution in a second. Hardly believing that mere mathematics could be of any service in a baseball game, Eric tested the result. It was exactly as the old man had said.

“Gee,” he said, “that’s great!”

The puzzle-maker smiled, and showed him how mass-play in football was a matter of science, not strength, and how lacrosse was a question of trajectory.

“Not only in games,” he said. “’Rithmetic, geometry in everything. You know Muldoon.”

“Sure I know Muldoon,” the boy said.

“Have you seen him shoot?”

“With the Lyle gun, you mean? Isn’t he a dandy at it?”

“That is what I would say,” the old man continued. “How does he fire him?”

“Why, he just fires it! No,” he corrected himself, “he doesn’t either. I see what you’re driving at. That’s right, I did see him doing some figuring the other day.”

“I teach Muldoon,” said the old man. “I show him how to tell how much wind, how to tell how far away a ship, how to tell when a line is heavy or light. He figure everything, then fire. Bang! And the line to bring the drowning men home falls right over the ship. It is?”

“It is, all right,” the boy agreed. “Muldoon gets there every time. I always thought he just aimed the gun, sort of naturally.”

“It is all mathematics,” said the old man. “You have guns in the Coast Guard?”

“Rapid-fire six-pounders,” the boy answered. “At least I know that’s what the Itasca’s got. She’s the practice-ship at New London, you know.”

“Do you have to learn gunnery?”

“Rather,” said the lad. “Every breed of gunnery that there is. You know a Coast Guard cutter becomes a part of the navy in time of war, so an officer has got to know just as much about big guns as an officer in the navy. He might have to take his rank on a big battleship if the United States was at war. You bet I’ll have to learn gunnery. That ought to be heaps of fun.”

“But gunnery is ballistics,” the old man said. “And ballistics is trigonometry. Big gun is fired by figuring, not by looking.”

“I’m only afraid,” the lad replied, “that I’ll never have a chance at the big gun. Everywhere I go, it’s nothing but figuring. And I simply can’t get figures into my head.”

“You really want to learn?”

“You bet I do,” said Eric. “I’m working like a tinker at the stuff every chance I get, but I don’t seem to get the hang of it somehow.”

“If you come to me, I teach you.”

“Teach me all I want to know?” said the boy in amazement.

The old man shook his head.

“Teach you to want to know all you have to know. Teach you to like figures.”

Eric looked at him a minute.

“All right, Dan,” he said, “I’ll go you. I’ve still got some of the money I saved up from my work this summer and I was going to spend part of it on tutoring this winter, anyway. I’ll tutor under you, whenever I’m off duty, and if you can teach me to like figures, you’re a good one. Any way, your cottage is so near that I can get right on the job if the station calls.”

True to his word, a few days later Eric appeared at the tiny little cottage it was scarcely more than a hut which was the home of the eccentric old puzzle-maker. The top part of it was a home-made observatory, and the whole building looked a good deal like a large beehive.

“String in the corner,” said the old man, after welcoming him. “Get him.”

“It’s all knotted, Dan,” the boy replied, holding up a piece of rope with a couple of dozen strings hanging from it, of various colors, all intertwined.

“Of course he is,” the old man replied. “Read him.”

“What?” asked the boy.

“Read him,” repeated the old man.

“What does it mean?”

“He’s what Incas used to count treasure with,” the old man said. “He’s quipu, a copy of one Cortez found in City of Sun. You like to read what he says?”

“You bet I would.”

“Bring him here.”

Wondering a good deal at the odd puzzle-maker’s manner, for the lad had gone to the cottage in good faith with his books, expecting to work on the problems that were disturbing him, he brought over the knotted quipu.

“Green string means corn,” said the puzzle-maker, “because he’s the color of growing corn. What you suppose white is?”

“Silver,” guessed the boy.

“Right. And yellow?”

“Gold.”

“Right, too. And red?”

“Copper?” hazarded the boy.

“Not bad guess,” the old man said. “Not copper color, red.”

“Red stands for war,” said Eric meditatively, then, with an inspiration, “in those days a country was rich if it had soldiers. Does the red mean soldiers, Dan?”

“Soldiers, right,” the old man answered. “The Quipucamayocuna ”

“The what, Dan?”

“Knot officers,” explained the other, “kept track of him all. They counted tens, single knot meant ten; double knot, hundred. Now read him. Cross-knotting is for groups.”

Eric worked for a quarter of an hour and then looked up.

“I’ve got it,” he said.

“What is he?”

“In this town,” said the boy, “there were seven regiments of soldiers, I’ve got down the exact number of men in each regiment. Some had plenty of food in the regimental storehouse, some had only a little. But if I get it right there was money belonging to each regiment in a treasure-house, somewhere, like a bank. I suppose they could exchange this for food. And, if I’ve read it right, there was one regiment which had money but no men. I suppose they were wiped out in battle.”

“Very good,” answered the puzzle-maker, looking pleased. “You keep accounts, your own money?”

“Of course,” answered the boy, pulling out a little diary from his pocket.

“Here, string,” said the old man. “Write your week’s accounts in quipu.”

Thoroughly interested, Eric took up a pile of colored strings, from the corner and started to convert his week’s accounting into quipu. He worked for half an hour, but couldn’t make it come out right. It proved an exasperating puzzle, because it seemed impossible and yet conveyed the suggestion that there ought to be some way of doing it. Already Eric had so keen a sense of the old man’s comments that he hated to say that he couldn’t do it. But, after a while, red in the face and quite ashamed, he said,

“I can’t do it, Dan.”

“No, he is not possible,” said the puzzle-maker cheerfully. “That’s what I wanted you to find. The quipu is wonderful but he’s not wonderful enough, eh?”

“We’d have trouble trying to handle a big modern banking business by it, all right,” the boy agreed. “But, Dan, how about this studying I’m supposed to do?”

“You know Latin numerals?” the old man replied.

“Of course!” Eric answered indignantly. “I couldn’t even tell the time if I didn’t!”

“Write ‘Four,’” came the order.

Promptly the boy wrote “IV.”

“Now look at watch.”

“It’s got four ones there,” Eric said ruefully.

“The ‘IV’ form is late,” said the puzzle-maker. “I show you something. Copy column of pocket cash-book in Roman numerals, then, without thinking in figures, add up column.”

Not in the least understanding what were the old man’s ideas the boy did as he was told. It was easy enough to write down the numbers, but when he came to add them up, he found himself thinking of Arabic figures in spite of himself.

“I’m cheating,” said Eric suddenly, “I can’t help adding up in the old way.”

“Good boy,” said the puzzle-maker. “I knew that. I show you some more. Simple addition. Write in Roman numerals one billion, seven hundred and forty-two million, nine hundred and eighty-three thousand, four hundred and twenty-seven and eleven-sixteenths.”

Although pretty well posted, Eric had a hard time writing down the number and had to ask a lot of questions before he could even write it correctly. Then the puzzle-maker gave him half a dozen figures of the same kind. It looked weird on paper.

“Now add him up,” the old man charged him.

The boy started bravely. But he hadn’t gone very far before he got absolutely stuck. He wrestled with that sum of simple addition for nearly an hour. At last he got a result which seemed right.

“Put him down in ordinary figures,” came the order. “Add him up.”

Eric did so, having his own difficulties in re-transcribing from the Roman numerals.

“Are they the same?”

“No,” the boy said, “I got the other wrong somewhere.”

“S’posin’ you had him right,” the puzzle-maker said, “it took you hour. Ordinary figures you did him in thirty-two seconds.”

“I see,” said Eric, “it’s another case of wonderful but not wonderful enough, isn’t it?”

“Exactly. Here,” the other continued, reaching down a manuscript portfolio, “is every kind of numbers ever made. You find that the Hindu or wrongly called Arabic numerals are the only ones wonderful enough for modern uses.”

Thoroughly interested, the boy sat down with this big manuscript book. Weird schemes of numeration rioted over the pages, from the Zuni finger and the Chinese knuckle systems to the latest groups of symbols, used in modern higher mathematics, of which the boy had not even heard. It was noon before he realized with a start that the morning was gone.

“Oh, Dan!” he said reproachfully, “we haven’t done anything to-day.”

“Never mind,” said the old man, “we get a start after a while.”

That afternoon, when the boy settled down to do some work on his own account, he felt a much greater friendliness to the mere look of figures. They seemed like old friends. Before, a figure had only been something in a “sum,” but now he felt that each one had a long history of its own. Little did he realize that the biggest step of his mathematics was accomplished. Never again would he be able to look at a page of figures with revulsion. They had come to life for him.

The next morning, Eric found the old puzzle-maker busy with a chess-board.

“Aren’t we going to do any work to-day, either?” he asked, disappointedly.

“Soon as I finish,” the old man answered. “Get pencil and paper. As I move knight from square to square, you draw.”

Shrugging his shoulders slightly, but not so noticeably that the puzzle-maker could see, Eric obeyed. It seemed very silly to him. But as the knight went from square to square in the peculiar move which belongs to that piece in chess, the boy was amazed to find a wonderful and fascinating geometrical design growing under his hand.

“Another way, too,” said the old man thoughtfully, the instant the figure was finished, not giving the boy a chance to make any comment. And, without further preface he started again. This time an even stranger but equally perfect design was formed.

“But that’s great!” said Eric, “how do you know it’s going to come out like that! I wonder if I could do it?”

“Try him,” the puzzle-maker answered, getting up from the board. For half an hour Eric moved the knight about, but never got as perfect an example as the old man.

“Are there only those two ways?” said the boy at last.

“Over thirty-one million ways of moving the knight so that he occupies each square once,” was the reply. “Every one makes a different design.”

“I’ll try some this evening,” said the boy. “But it’s funny, too. Why does it always make a regular design?”

“You want to know? Very well.” And the puzzle-maker quietly explained some of the most famous mathematical problems of all time, working them out with the chessmen and the board.

“You know what they call him, magic?” queried the old man.

“Magic! No!” exclaimed Eric pricking up his ears at the word. “Tell me about it, Dan.”

“Numbers all friends, live together, work together,” the puzzle-maker answered. “I show you.” And, taking pencil and paper, he dotted down in forms of squares and cubes rows and rows of figures. “Add him up,” he said, “up and down, cross-wise, any way. He all make same number.”

“They do, sure enough,” said Eric, after testing half a dozen magic squares, “but how do you do it? Do you have to remember all those figures and just where they go?”

“Don’t remember any of him,” the other answered. “He has to go so.”

“But I can’t make them come that way,” exclaimed the boy, after trying for a few minutes. “What’s the trick?”

“All friends,” repeated the old man, and in his curiously jolting speech he told Eric the startling links that are found in the powers of numbers. As soon as he had the principle clearly in mind, the boy found that there was no great difficulty in making up the most astonishing magic squares.

As the winter drew on, and calls for help on the stormy waters increased, the opportunities for sessions with the shrewd old mathematician grew fewer, but Eric stuck fast to his promise to spend all the time he could afford with his instructor. He was keenly disappointed that the puzzle-maker showed such an absolute disregard of the actual things the boy wanted to prepare for in his examinations. But Eric had been rigidly trained by his father in the sportsmanlike attitude of never complaining about any arrangement he had made himself, and he paid for his coaching out of his small earnings without a word. In order to make up for what he inwardly felt was lost time, he worked by himself at his books in such few minutes as he was able to snatch from his life-saving duties. And, although he was tired almost to exhaustion, many and many a day, he found that even in that work he was getting along quite well.

Eric could never get his eccentric teacher to look at the books required in his preparatory work. What was more, he had a feeling that he couldn’t really be getting much good from his hours spent with Dan, because he enjoyed them so much. Early schooldays had made him associate progress with discomfort.

For example, one day Dan showed him tricks with cards and then explained the mathematics of it, making the most puzzling mysteries seem only unusual applications of very simple principles. Another day, the puzzle-maker told him of curious problems of chance, by dice, by lotteries, and so forth, and almost before Eric realized what the old man was driving at, the essential ideas of insurance and actuary work were firmly fixed in his mind.

It was not until a couple of weeks before the expected close of navigation that the puzzle-maker said,

“Let me see book!”

Astonished at the now unexpected request, Eric handed him the much bethumbed volume over which he had struggled so hard. The old man skimmed through its pages, nodding his head from time to time and mumbling in a satisfied way. Then, like a man driving in a nail, he pounded Eric with question after question. He seemed to be asking them from the book, but Eric knew that none of the problems had their origin in it, for they dealt with the work he had been doing in the little cottage by the sea. Yet to almost every one the boy returned a correct answer, or at least, one which was correct in its approach. For two long hours the puzzle-maker questioned him, without ever a minute’s let up. At the end of it, Eric was as limp as a rag. At last the old man laid down the book.

“When your examination is?” he asked.

“Next June,” the boy replied.

“You can pass him now.”

Eric stared at the old man with wild surprise in his gaze and with a down-dropped jaw.

“But I haven’t even started on the second half of the book,” he said. “And I’ve got to do it all!”

“You pass him now,” was the quiet answer. “The second part you have done him, too. Learn rules, if you like. No matter. You know him. See!”

He showed the very last set of examples in the book and Eric recognized problems of the kind he had been doing, all unwitting to himself.

“Mathematics not to learn,” he said, “he is to think. You now can think. To know a rule, to do sum bah! he is nothing! To know why a rule and because a sum he is much. You do him.”

In the few remaining visits that Eric paid the puzzle-maker, he found the old man’s words to be quite true. Having learned the inside of mathematics, its actual workings seemed reasonable. The clew gave Eric the sense of exploring a new world of thought instead of being lost in a tangled wilderness.

Meantime, he had become absolutely expert in every detail of the station. His particular delight was the capsize drill. The keeper had got the crew trained down to complete the whole performance within fifty seconds from the time he gave the order. The boat had to be capsized, every man underneath the boat. Then they had to clamber on the upturned boat, right it again, and be seated on the thwarts with oars ready to pull before the fiftieth second was past. It was quick work, and although only a drill, was as exciting as the lad could wish. Two or three times, one of the men, who wasn’t quite as quick as the rest, got “waterlogged” and the crew had to help him up. When that occurred, there was an awful howl.

Once, only once, Eric delayed the drill about two seconds and it was weeks before he overcame his sense of shame at the occurrence. But, before the winter finally closed down, Eric was as able a coast-guardsman as any on the Great Lakes. It was well that he was, for a day was coming which would test his fortitude to the full.

Navigation had been lessening rapidly, and the boy was beginning to think about Thanksgiving Day. They were just sitting down to supper, when one of the men came in with haste.

“Heard anything of a wreck round Au Sable way?” he asked breathlessly.

“No,” said the keeper, “what did you hear?”

“Nothin’ definite,” said the other, “but as I was comin’ along a chap stopped me and asked me if I were goin’ out to the wreck off Au Sable. He said he really didn’t know anything about it, except there was a report that the City of Nipigon was on the rocks near Grand Point.”

The keeper jumped up and went to the telephone.

“Anything doing?” he asked, when the Au Sable operator got on the wire.

The chat in the station stopped to hear what the reply might be. Au Sable was the most exposed point on the coast and there was a gale beating in from the northwest.

“You’ll let us know, then,” said the keeper, and hung up the receiver. “Says he’s heard something about a wreck, but nothin’ definite,” he added, turning to the crew. “Says a boy ran in with the news, but the kid was too excited to give much information.”

“Think there’s anything in it?” queried one of the men.

“Hope not,” said another, “I was out that way day before yesterday an’ there’s an ice wall there about twenty feet high. I don’t know how we’d ever get a boat over it.”

“We’d get it over, all right.”

“How?” asked Eric interestedly.

“Aeroplane, if necessary,” said the keeper laughing.

“No, but really,” the boy protested.

“Brute strength and luck, I guess,” the other said, “but I’m hopin’ that we don’t have to go out to-night.”

“Me too,” added the boy. “I’ve got some ‘trig’”

The telephone bell rang.

“That’s it, likely enough,” said one of the men, getting up resignedly and going over to the locker for his oilskins.

“Well,” said the keeper, as he took off the receiver. Then, a minute later turning to the men, he repeated to the crew, “’Steamer, City of Nipigon, seven men aboard, burnin’ distress signals, on rocks north and by west of Au Sable light, quarter of a mile from land.’ Right you are, boys, we’re off!”

There was a transformation scene. When the keeper began the sentence, the Coast Guard station had been a scene of peace and comfort with a group of men lounging around a hot fire, some reading, some playing dominoes and others plying needle and thread. But, before the sentence was over, almost every man was in his oilskins, some were just pulling on their long boots, while others, even more nimble, had reached the boat and the apparatus-cart. They were standing by for orders when the keeper joined them.

“She’s less’n a quarter of a mile out, boys,” he said. “I reckon we’d better try an’ get her with the gun. After, if that doesn’t work, we can get the boat. But if we can put a line across her right away, it’ll be safer an’ quicker. I don’t fancy handling the boat down any such ice as Jefferson talked about.”

The apparatus-cart was out of the shed and started almost before the keeper had finished his orders. Eric, who was no mean athlete, was glad of every ounce of strength he possessed before he had gone a hundred yards. The cart, fully loaded, weighed 1120 pounds and there were seven men to drag it, a fairly good load on decent ground. But the ground was all of eight inches deep in new-fallen snow into which the wheels sank. The on-shore wind was dead against them, swirling like a blizzard. The temperature was only about five degrees below zero, but there was an icy tang that cut like a jagged knife.

In spite of the intense cold, so laborious was the dragging of that cart through the snow, that Eric broke out in a violent perspiration. What troubled him still more was the realization that he was already tiring, although the party was still on the beaten road. In a very short while, he knew, they would have to strike off from the track, across wild and unbroken country to the beach.

To his surprise, the keeper kept right on, leaving the light on the left hand. The boy, forgetting discipline in his eagerness and excitement, spoke out,

“I thought they said ‘west’ of the light!”

The keeper turned and looked. He spoke not a word. There was no need.

Eric colored to the roots of his hair. He felt the rebuke.

Finally when they had passed the light by nearly half a mile, the road went up a slight hill, and the keeper led the way at right angles along a ridge of rock. It was rough almost beyond believing, but its very barrenness had made it useful. As the keeper had shrewdly hoped, the swirling blizzard had left its rough length bare, when all the lower ground was deep in snow. For the hundredth time since he had been on the station, Eric had to admit the wise foreknowledge of his chief.

As they swung on to the ridge the keeper turned and looked at Eric again. He caught the boy’s apologetic glance and smiled back. No word was passed, but both understood.

The ridge helped them gallantly, though the wind whistled over it as though it were the roof-pole of the world. More than once it seemed to Eric as though the apparatus-cart would be turned upside down by some of the terrific gusts, and the boy had a mental picture of the crew floundering in the snow-drifts beneath.

Near the lighthouse, the ridge that had so befriended them merged into the level, and the crew forced its way on through ever deepening drifts. For about fifty yards the snow was above the hubs of the wheels, and more than once it seemed that the apparatus cart was so deeply stuck as to be immovable. The men left the shafts, and crowding round the cart like ants they forced it free, and half carried and half pushed it through the snow.

“Is there any shnow left at all?” queried Muldoon, when the worst of this was overpassed.

“What do you mean?” one of the men asked.

“I thought we’d waded through all the shnow in the worrld,” the Irishman replied.

For a little space it was easy going until they came to the dunes above the beach. There the crew halted. As Jefferson had said, sloping upwards at an angle of forty degrees, was a steep sheet of glare ice, almost as smooth as though it had been planed. It would have taken a fly to walk on that surface, yet on the farther side of it was the only road to the wreck. The light was on the end of a little spit and the vessel in distress could be seen only from this spit. Without going on that neck of land she could not be reached by the gun, and this passage was grimly guarded by that sloping embattlement of ice.

“Up it, lads!” said the keeper.

The crew, gathered around the apparatus-cart, started up the slope. Six feet was as far as they could get. Even without added weight no one could stand on that glistening surface, and with the drag of the cart it was impossible. Several times the men tried it, only to come sprawling in a heap at the bottom of the hill.

“Two of you get up to the top!” ordered the keeper.

Two of the lightest men started. One of them, picking his steps with great care, managed to get half-way up; the other, going back for a run, tried to take the hill with a tremendous spurt. His impetus took him almost up to the top, but he was a few feet short and slipped back. He returned for another attempt.

In the meantime Eric had an idea. Instead of attacking the cliff at the point the others were trying, and where it was shallowest, he went twenty yards farther west, where the cliff was steeper, but rougher. Taking an ax he started to cut niches for steps up the cliff. He knew it would take a long time, but if the others did not succeed before him, he would at least get there. If the others succeeded, the loss of his time did not matter.

So, steadily, inch by inch, foot by foot, he made his way up the cliff, taking the time to make the notches deep enough for surety. The ice was not extremely hard, and Eric soon won his way to the top. He found the edge exceedingly difficult to walk on and very dangerous, for it fell in an almost sheer precipice on the water side, with the mush-ice beating up against it. The top, too, was soft and honeycombed. Using as much care in going along the edge as he had in scaling it, the boy soon found himself on the cliff immediately above the cart.

“Here, you fellows,” he called, “heave me up a line!”

There was a second’s surprise when the other members of the crew saw Eric on the crest of the ice-barrier which so far had defied them all.

“Good work!” called the keeper. “Jefferson, toss up the line.”

Eric caught it.

“Have you a spike or anything?” he called, “I’ll haul it up!”

The keeper yanked out one of the spikes of the frame on which the line was faked and the boy carefully hauled it up, then drove it into the ice as hard as he could, using his heavy boot for a hammer. He next took the line, and wound it around the spike to help him in holding it.

“Now,” he yelled through the storm, “some one can come up the rope.”

“Muldoon,” said the keeper to the Irishman, “you’re about the lightest, you go up first.”

“‘Tis meself will do it,” was the reply, “an’ it’s blitherin’ idjits we were not to think o’ the way the kid did it.”

Then he shinned up the rope like a monkey on a stick.

With both Muldoon and Eric hanging to the rope, it was not long until five men got to the top. The keeper, seeing how successful Eric’s plan had proved, ordered every man to cut for himself a good foothold in the ice, and then, tailing on to the rope, they got the apparatus-cart up the slope, two men behind trying to guide it from below. It was a difficult haul, but at last they got the cart to the summit, and, in order to keep it from sliding down, straddled the wheels atop.

The cart rocked unsteadily. Suddenly, as a particularly vicious blast came whistling by, it canted as though it were going to fall. Eric, who was a few feet away from the cart, jumped forward to save it, but missed his footing and fell into the mush-ice twenty feet below, going clear through.

There was no time for orders. Muldoon, quick as a wink, almost before any one else had grasped the accident, knotted a line around the cart and taking the other end in his hand jumped into the mush-ice after the boy. So true was his eye that he struck almost the same point and a few seconds later appeared above the surface with Eric. Neither was hurt, but both were wet through, handicapping them for work on so cold a night.

Eric’s ruse in getting the apparatus-cart to the top of the cliff, however, had solved the biggest part of the difficulty. By carefully sliding the cart along the face of the cliff for ten yards or a little more, they found themselves above the road leading out to the spit. It was then merely a matter of lowering the cart to the other side.

Meantime Muldoon had raced the boy to the lighthouse for a chance to change their clothes before they froze on them. No sooner did he knock on the door than the lighthouse-keeper came out, and the open door showed his daughter behind. Edith Abend was only seventeen years old, but she had already saved two lives.

“You got here at last, then,” said the lighthouse-keeper gruffly.

Edith, with a readier sense that help was needed, said quickly,

“What has happened? Is there anything wrong?”

“Nothin’ wrong at all, darlint,” said the Irishman, with his national readiness to say nice things to a pretty girl, “only we’ve had a trifle of a duckin’ an’ if there’s annything like dhry clothes in this house it would help us to our work. The lad here’s quite wet.”

“I don’t see that I’m any wetter than you are!” protested Eric.

The light-keeper looked them over.

“Yon’s the crew?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Eric, “we’ve had a hard time getting here.”

“I was wonderin’ how ye were goin’ to get over the ice-wall.”

“We got over, all right,” the boy replied.

“I see ye did. Well, I reckon I’ve some old things ye can have,” the keeper said grouchily.

The girl disappeared and a moment later came back into the room.

“They’re all in there,” she said simply, pointing to the next room.

“’Tis yourself that’s the jewel,” Muldoon said, leading the way in with alacrity. There was nothing the matter with the Irishman’s movements. When he wanted to be quick he could move like a streak of extra-greased lightning. He was out of his wet clothes and into a complete set of the keeper’s in a hurry. Eric was not many seconds behind. They put on their own slickers, which had been dripping at the fireside, and were ready for work again.

Great was the boy’s surprise, as he tied on his sou’wester, to see a small figure covered from head to foot in oilskins waiting for them. Still greater was his amazement when he saw that this was the girl.

“Is it comin’ out to watch us ye are, Miss?” said Muldoon. “Sure the wind will blow ye away entirely. It’s admiring the pluck of ye I am, but ye’d better stay indoors. ’Tis no night to be watchin’.”

“I’m not going to watch, I’m going to work,” the girl said calmly. “And I don’t think you ought to waste time talking, either.”

So saying, she walked out of the door to avoid further argument. The light-keeper looked longingly after the three as though he would like to join them, and help in the rescue, but his duty was with his light and he could not leave it.

So quickly had all this passed that Muldoon, Eric and the girl got to the edge of the spit just as the five members of the Coast Guard crew had unshipped the gun, placed it in position and loaded it.

“That you, Muldoon?” said the keeper.

“Yis, sorr, it’s me.”

“You’d better take the gun. You’re the best shot. That is, if you’re all right after your ducking.”

“I’m in warrm, dhry clothes,” the Irishman answered, “an’ I’ll do as you say. But you’re just as good a shot yourself,” he added.

“Don’t blatherskite,” the keeper said. “Grab hold an’ lay her straight.”

The Lyle gun, being so short, gives little real opportunity for aim, and the best man is one who has an intuition. This, Muldoon had. Besides, the old puzzle-maker had taught him how to allow for the drop of the line and how to estimate the force of the wind.

He fussed around for a minute or two, saw that the line was free on the pins and that the case was free, and waited for the gusts of wind to die down to a steadier gait. Then he fired. The red flare of the short cannon showed clear against the ice and the line went sailing out gracefully.

“Too far for’ard,” said Eric disappointedly, as he saw it start. Muldoon only shook his head.

“’Tis not far off,” he said.

Sure enough, as the missile was about half-way out to the wreck, the wind took the line and drove it sideways till it fell right abaft the funnel. A flare from the steamer showed that the line had been received.

“Nice shooting, Muldoon,” the keeper said. “We’ll have to give the credit to that well-fittin’ coat you’ve got on.” The lighthouse-keeper was at least twice the Irishman’s size.

Muldoon looked particularly proud, because he had wanted to distinguish himself before the girl. It was of vital urgency, moreover, for if Muldoon had not been able to land the line, it would have meant a trip back to the Coast Guard station to get out the surf-boat, with very little likelihood of being able to force her up against the gale.

The men on the steamer started to haul in and the life-savers bent on a larger rope with a block and tackle. Again the steamer burned a flare to show that the block had been hauled on board and securely fastened, and then the coastguardsmen began to haul on the line, pulling out to the ship a heavy hawser on which ran the carriage for the breeches-buoy. Everything worked without a hitch, the hawser was got on board and the breeches-buoy hauled out.

Then the trouble began. The steamer lay partly submerged. She was a small boat and her only mast had gone by the board. The bridge was a tangle of wreckage. The breeches-buoy, therefore, could only be made fast to the stump of the mast a few feet above the deck. Ashore, the same difficulty prevailed. There was no high land, the tripod being down almost on water-line. As soon as the hawser got wet and heavy with snow and the ice from the blowing spray, it began to sag so that it nearly touched the water.

With the weight of a man on it, the breeches-buoy line sank below the surface of the water, or rather the mush-ice. It was bad enough for the rescued men, already nearly perishing with exhaustion, to have to get a ducking, but there was still a greater danger. This was that the tackle might not stand the strain of dragging the breeches-buoy, with a man in it, through the mush-ice. The increased resistance might break the line and risk anew the perishing of every life on board.

The keeper saw the difficulty and decided promptly.

“Jefferson and Harris,” he shouted, “you’re the tallest. Get out into that mush-ice and see how deep it is. Wade out as far as you can go. Follow the line and stand ready to catch the breeches-buoy.”

The two men chosen waded out, battling almost for their lives with big pieces of ice. Fortunately the bottom sloped gradually and they were able to walk out a considerable distance. Shouting to them through his trumpet to wait there, the keeper ordered the rest of the crew to haul in the first man. As the keeper had expected, the rope sagged terribly, but, by drawing up his legs, the rescued man did not actually sink into the mush-ice until nearly up to the spot where Jefferson and Harris stood. The two men grasped the buoy and started pulling it ashore, one man holding the survivor’s head above the water and ice, while the other made a path in the ice by forcing his way ahead of the buoy.

Half-way in, Harris collapsed. It afterwards developed that he had been quite badly hurt on the ice-barrier but had not said a word about it. As four men were needed on shore and there should be three to help in the ice, the crew was a man short.

“I wish we had a third man!” said the keeper irritably. “Confoundedly annoying that Harris should have got hurt now.”

“You have a third,” said a quiet voice, and Edith Abend stepped forward.

“But, Miss!”

“Your orders, keeper?” the girl put in quietly.

The keeper looked at her sharply. He was a man of judgment and accustomed to read faces. Without another word, and in the tone he would have used in speaking to another man he said,

“Get right out there and hold the man’s head above water as he comes in. Jefferson and you, Eric, will break the way for the buoy.”

And so it was, that with a light-keeper’s daughter, a girl seventeen years old, as the seventh in the crew, the life-savers of Point Au Sable saved from the City of Nipigon every soul on board.