Read CHAPTER VI - A BLAZON OF FLAME AT SEA of The Boy With the U. S. Life-Savers , free online book, by Francis Rolt-Wheeler, on ReadCentral.com.

Three weeks after the rescue of the crew of the City of Nipigon, navigation on Lake Superior closed down for the winter. Although the work had been hard and, during the last month, quite exhausting, Eric felt keen regrets in leaving the station and in bidding good-by to Dan. He had become quite attached to the old puzzle-maker and had grown to realize how valuable his help had been.

Eric found, moreover, that not only had the hermit mathematician started him along the right road to algebra, to “trig.” and even toward the geometry which he once hated, but also that his training with the old puzzle-maker had taught him how to study. He settled down in deadly earnest in Detroit, keeping up with all his special studies and also doing a good deal of hard reading with his father’s help. The inspector knew that the entrance examination to the Coast Guard Academy was one of the stiffest tests in the government service and he willingly gave his time to help Eric. It was a winter of hard work and, aside from some skating and ice-hockey, Eric took little time off from his books.

Largely as a result of the puzzle-maker’s guidance and by his own persistent digging, Eric was well prepared for the examinations in June. He had some difficulty with rules and forms, but the essential principles of things were fixed solidly in his mind, so that when the lists were published, Eric found his name third, and second in Mathematics. His rival was a young fellow, named Homer Tierre, from Webb Academy, who was entering as a cadet engineer. The two boys struck up a friendship outside the examination room, and Eric was delighted to find that his new acquaintance had passed, with him, so high in the list that the acceptance of both was sure.

Although, at the Academy, Homer and Eric were apart a good deal, the one being a cadet of engineers and the other a cadet of the line, still they had many classes together. Eric, accustomed to the life-saving work, was able to be a good deal of help to his friend and taught him many tricks of swimming that he had learned from the Eel, two years before. Moreover, having been used to the strict discipline of the old lighthouse inspector at home, Eric fell readily into the rigid rules of the Academy and often was able to save his friend from some pickle for which the latter was headed. Homer’s assistance was equally valuable to Eric, for the young cadet engineer had been daft about machinery ever since he was old enough to bang a watch to pieces to find out what made it go, and he was able to instill into Eric some of his own enthusiasm. This friendship was an added joy to Eric’s delight in the Academy. He had never been more happy than during his first year as a cadet.

Eric was fortunate in having the right angle to life on entering the Academy, so that he did not have any difficulty in understanding the character of the discipline. A number of his classmates, conscious that they were training for commissions, considered themselves as junior officers. They were quickly set right on this mistaken idea, but the process of disabusing some of them was a sharp one. One member of the class, in particular, had the notion that the Academy was a matter of books, smart uniforms, and a preparation for epaulets. When he found that he had to drill as a private, toil as a member of a gun crew, handle heavy work, use his delicate fingers in knotting and splicing and so forth, he entered a mild protest. He was set right by a homely rebuke from one of the instructors, an old sea-dog who knew everything about seamanship from the log of Noah’s Ark to the rigging of a modern sea-plane.

“You, Mr. Van Sluyd,” he said bluntly, “if you haven’t the nerve to do an enlisted man’s work, nor the brains to do it better’n he can, what use’ll you be as an officer?”

To do Van Sluyd justice, however, he took the call-down in good part and knuckled to at the practical end of his training. Eric soon found that this rather drastic phrase was a very fair presentation of the point of view of the Academy. The several instructors absolutely demanded a greater efficiency from the cadets than from the enlisted men. They had to receive instruction from the non-commissioned officers, just like the men did. This was no joke, either, for a warrant officer in the Coast Guard, especially a boatswain, has a knowledge of his craft far beyond a landsman’s imaginings.

“Homer,” said Eric to his friend one day, after a particularly stiff bout of gunnery mechanics, “is there anything that’s ever been invented that we don’t have to do here?”

“If there is, I haven’t heard of it,” his chum agreed. “Let’s see, we’ve got navigation, and surveying, and physics, and chemistry, and gunnery, and tactics, and engineering, and ship-building, and ”

“Stop it, Homer,” protested Eric, “you’d have to talk for a week just to make a list. I’ve often wondered if all this stuff is necessary.”

“It sure is,” his chum answered; “that’s why I came into the Coast Guard instead of the Navy. There’s a heap more variety, by nature of the work. A fellow’s got to know everything about the handling of sailing ships, because part of the job is the handling of sailing ships in distress. He’s got to be a sharp on towage, because he’s got to take risks in storms that drive an ocean-going tug to port. He’s got to know every breed of steamship and variety of engine, because the information’s apt to be called on ’most any time.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s so,” agreed Eric. “Navigation is just as bad. In the engineering end, you don’t have as much of that, Homer, as we do, but I tell you, it’s a fright the amount of stuff we have to learn. You take an ordinary ship captain. He only has to run into a few ports, and, in any case, he never goes near dangerous shoals. All he’s got to learn is to keep away from them. But there isn’t an inch on the American coast from Maine to Texas or from Alaska to Southern California that we don’t have to remember. Almost any day a fellow’s likely to have to chase into a bad shoal to help some ship that’s fast on a lee shore; and that’s usually in bad weather it’s no time to guess, then, you’ve got to be sure.”

“I sometimes doubt,” said Homer, “if all this infantry drill is going to be any use.”

“Oh, I can see the use of that, all right,” replied Eric. “In the Spanish-American War, the Coast Guard cutters did a lot of work, and, just the other day, our men were called on to keep San Domingo in order. After all, Homer, the Coast Guard is a military arm, just as much as the navy.”

“They don’t worry you the way they do us,” groaned the young cadet engineer, “over all the different sorts of machinery for the handling of big guns. It’s thorough, all right; there isn’t a chap in our class who couldn’t figure out and explain every process of manufacture and mounting, up to the actual work of handling the gun in an engagement.”

“I don’t see that you’ve got any kick coming,” Eric retorted, “you always said you liked machinery. Now I haven’t much use for mathematics, though I don’t hate it quite as much as I did, and yet we get enough coast and geodetic surveying to prepare us for exploring a new world. I suppose they figure that if the United States ever annexes Mars, a Coast Guard crew will be put in charge.”

“Likely enough,” said the other, “but isn’t that what you like about it?”

“Sure, it’s great,” agreed Eric. “I’m just crazy over the Academy. I wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world. I don’t believe there’s a college within a mile of it for real training. There’s all the pep to it that a Naval School has got to have, and although they hold us down so hard, after all, we get a lot of fun out of it. And take them ’by and large,’ as the shellbacks say, don’t you think the Coast Guard crowd is just about the finest ever?”

“You bet,” Homer answered with emphasis. “It was seeing how they handled things that first headed me for the service. Did I ever tell you what made me want to join?”

“No,” Eric replied, “I don’t think you ever did.”

“It was in New York,” his friend began. “I was there with Father. We were doing the sights of the town and he took me down with him to the water-front. He took the occasion to call on the Senior Captain of the Coast Guard stationed there. They were old cronies.

“While they were talking, there came a ’phone from the Navy Yard. On account of the Great European War the Coast Guard had undertaken some special neutrality duty in New York harbor. The Navy had lent a tug for the purpose. The ’phone message was to say that while the Coast Guard was perfectly welcome to the tug, on which the patrol was being done, the tug captain was compulsorily absent in sick bay.

“The lieutenant, who had charge of the patrol, he didn’t look much older than I do answered the ’phone. Evidently the admiral in command of the Brooklyn Navy Yard must have been talking to him, personally, because I heard his answer,

“’Certainly, Admiral. I shall be able to take her out without the master on board. As far as that goes, sir,’ he added with an earnest laugh in his voice, ’I think I could take out anything you’ve got, from a first-class battleship down!’”

“That was going some!” exclaimed Eric.

“Wasn’t it? But the joke of it was that the Admiral, not knowing that the Senior Captain had been in the office all the while, called him up and told him the story, ending with the statement,

“’I don’t know that I’d be willing to say as much for all my lieutenants!’

“‘I would!’ the Coast Guard senior captain answered. And I figured right then and there, that the Coast Guard was what I wanted.”

“I almost feel like that lieutenant now,” said Eric, “and I’m not through the first year. And after the cruise I’ll be Johnny-on-the-spot, for sure.”

In some ways Eric was not altogether wrong in this statement, for his thorough knowledge of mathematics stood him in good stead in navigation. Questions such as “Great Circle Sailing” he ate alive, and a well known problem of “Equations of Equal Altitudes” was, to use his own expression, nuts to him.

Eric had the sense of gratitude strongly developed, and he always kept the old puzzle-maker informed of his progress. In return, the old man used to send him weird arithmetical problems, that it took the whole class weeks to work out.

In spite of the strong discipline, the spirit of the Academy was so congenial that the cadets were able to get into personal relations with the instructors. There was never the faintest overstepping of the most rigid rule, there was nothing remotely resembling familiarity between any cadet and an instructor, but, at the same time, the heartiest good feeling existed. For example, realizing the value of outside mathematical interests, the instructor in that subject used to allow the class to bring to him any kind of problem. On more than one occasion the instructor was as much interested in the puzzle-maker’s devices as were the boys themselves. Great was the triumph of the class, when, on one occasion, they worked out a problem that had been too much for the queer old mathematician in Michigan.

The spring cruise on the practice ship Itasca more than fulfilled Eric’s hopes. The salt of the sea was in his veins and he actually secured an approving phrase from the boatswain on one occasion a compliment harder to get than from the Commandant of the Academy himself. It was real hard training; the cadets had to handle the ship and do all the work aboard her, as well as to keep up with their studies. None the less, it was enjoyable, every minute of it, bad weather as well as good, and at the end of his first year’s cruise, Eric realized to the full that he had chosen the career for which he was best suited.

The boy’s passionate interest in his work and his doggedness in study stood him in good stead. He had not dreamed that the course would be so thorough, nor that it would require such an incessant grind, but he never let up. By the end of the second year he was regarded as one of the most promising men in his class, and he had made several substantial friendships with his classmates. The Academy had none of the “prize” incentives of many colleges. A cadet had to work for all that he was worth just to pass. There were no half-way measures. Either a cadet passed or he failed. It wasn’t healthy to fail. By the end of his second year Eric was well up in his class. He had qualified as a corporal in the military drills, he had secured the coveted honor of gunner’s mate, and he was even looked upon with favor by “Tattoo Tim,” alias Boatswain Egan of the Itasca.

Eric never forgot the first day when he was allowed to con a ship. It was right at the beginning of his third cruise. He had put a gun crew through its drill, under the eye of the officer, and felt that he had acquitted himself creditably.

“Mr. Swift,” said the first lieutenant to him, “put the ship’s position on the chart.”

Eric saluted and withdrew. A few minutes later, returning to the executive officer, he answered:

“Forty-one degrees ten minutes north; seventy-one degrees twenty-two minutes west, sir.”

“Very good: Lay off a course from this point to a point ten miles north by west from Cape Race light.”

In less than ten minutes Eric was back with a diagram of the course, which the officer inspected thoroughly.

“You may steer the course,” he said.

Eric’s nerves were in good control, but he had a jumpy feeling when he realized that he was actually in charge. Once, and only once, he got a little panicky, and, turning to the officer on the bridge, said:

“Should I keep her out a bit, sir?”

“You are steering the course,” was the officer’s reply. It was all up to the boy.

“Make it nor’west by west half west,” Eric said a little tremulously to the helmsman, as they came in sight of Sankaty Head on Nantucket Island.

“Nor’west by west half west, sir,” the helmsman repeated, porting his helm a trifle.

After the ship had proceeded a certain distance, the lieutenant called another of the first-class men on the bridge and he took his turn. At the end of the trip the officer summoned the class.

“Mr. Swift,” he queried, “why did you not take the Muskeget Channel?”

Eric colored.

“I hadn’t remembered exactly, sir,” he explained, “the depths of the channels near the Cross Rip Shoals. I think I had them right, sir, but I wasn’t sure enough of myself to feel that I ought to risk the ship.”

“You will remember them, hereafter?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Mr. Van Sluyd,” continued the lieutenant, turning to another member of Eric’s class.

“Yes, sir.”

“Near Monomoy you stood in a little too close. Keep farther out from the Shovelful Shoal. If, for any reason, you are compelled to go as close as you did to the point, keep the lead going.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Mr. Cunningham?”

“Yes, sir.”

“In rounding Cape Cod, sailing an arc, change your course more frequently. It will save time and coal.”

“Yes, sir.”

And, in similar fashion, the officer took up each little detail, dealing with the first-class men after they had shown what they could do. From that test of responsibility many of the cadets came down, white-lipped. It was a striking test of a lad’s character as well as of his abilities. Some daring youths would shape as close a course as possible, shaving dangers by the narrowest margin. They were reminded that if a Coast Guard cutter touched bottom, no matter how lightly, even without the slightest injury, there would be an investigation. If it were found that the officer in charge had been guilty of negligence, even in the smallest degree, court martial was possible.

Other cadets, again, timid by nature or not sure of the course, would steer a long way round. They would be reminded of wastage and also of the fact that in rescue work, minutes, even seconds, might mean everything. If, under the test, a cadet showed ignorance of his duties, then he was in for a grilling.

In gunnery, Eric did not shine. He could always work out the necessary problems of elevating the gun to the right height and figuring out the drop of a shell of a certain weight at a certain distance. Yet, in spite of himself, there was always some little trick he could not catch. That was Van Sluyd’s specialty. He had the “feel” of it, some way, and by the end of his third year he was as expert in gunnery as Eric was in seamanship. In the handling of a ship Eric was easily the best in his class. It was not until nearly the end of this third and last cruise on the Itasca, however, that he found his opportunity for personal distinction.

It was a dark, blowy night. Eight bells of the second dog watch had only been struck a few minutes before and the officers were chatting after dinner. Eric was on duty on the bridge with the second lieutenant, when the wireless sending apparatus began to buzz “S O S,” “S O S,” as the operator relayed a message he evidently had just received. At the same moment the shrill whistle of the speaking-tube that connects the bridge with the wireless room was heard.

“You may answer, Mr. Swift,” the lieutenant said.

Eric picked up the tube, answered “Hello!” and then repeated the operator’s words to the officer:

“Liner Kirkmore, on fire and sinking, forty-one degrees, eleven minutes north; thirty-five, sixteen west; crew and passengers to boats.”

With a word to Eric, the lieutenant dispatched the messenger to report to the captain, plotted the position of the Kirkmore on the chart, and, less than two minutes after the receipt of the wireless message, the Itasca had changed her course and was speeding under forced draught into the night. The cutter had broadcasted the call and word had been received from land stations and other vessels that the call had been heard. Still the Itasca was one of the nearest to the reported location of the vessel in distress and she fairly hissed through the water.

Presently there was another message from the wireless room, and, as before, Eric took up the speaking tube and reported to the officer of the deck.

“‘Very strange thing, sir,’ he repeated, after the operator, ’I’m picking up a faint call from a small apparatus. I think it must be on one of the boats. The Lucania is racing for the Kirkmore, I’ve picked up her call.’”

“Ask him what he considers strange?” said the officer.

Eric put the query and again repeated:

“He says, sir: ’It’s this way, sir. The first call stated that all the passengers and crew had taken to the boats.’”

“Well?”

“That call has been repeated several times and every one picked it up that way. Then there’s a message coming from the boats, giving just where they are.”

“That all seems straight enough.”

“Yes, sir. But the operator says the wireless is still working on the ship!”

“On the Kirkmore?”

“Yes, sir. And Jenkins says he is sure that it’s not the regular operator. It’s an amateur.”

“That sounds as if there were some people still left on the ship. Ask him what the message is?”

Eric transmitted the request.

“He says it’s the same call, sir, exactly.”

“The first one?”

“Yes, sir. That every one is in the boats. Only he says it’s given jerkily and very slow.”

“Find out what you can about it, Mr. Swift.”

“Yes, sir.”

Eric ran down to the wireless room.

“Acts like a man who doesn’t know much about wireless, sir. I’m sure, sir, that it couldn’t be the operator, not even on a tramp steamer. There’s hardly an amateur who would make such a mess of it,” said the operator.

“What does he say?” asked Eric. “Can’t you get word to him?”

“No, sir. That’s what’s puzzling me. I’ve called and called, and he pays no attention.”

“Do you suppose your sending apparatus is in good order?”

“Yes, sir,” the operator replied. “Working perfectly. There’s two or three other ships calling the Kirkmore, and she doesn’t answer them either. I’ve talked to most o’ them, sir.”

“Who’s the nearest?”

“We seem to be nearest to the ship, sir,” said the operator, “but the Lucania is the nearest to the boats. They seem quite a bit to the south’ard.”

“Running into the line of travel, I suppose,” said Eric. “What do you think is the meaning of that call?” he added.

“I think, sir,” said the operator, “somebody must have been forgotten and left behind.”

“But why doesn’t he answer?”

“Maybe the receiving apparatus is broken down. There it is again, sir,” the Coast Guard operator paused. “No, sir, it’s not the operator. I don’t think I could even tell what he means if it hadn’t been gone over so often.”

“Well,” the captain said, when Eric reported the circumstances, “if the Lucania is nearer the boats than we are, and we are nearer the ship, we’d better find out who’s sending that call.”

“Yes, sir,” Eric answered formally.

In the meantime the knowledge of the disaster had spread through the ship, and there was much excitement, when, one point off the port bow, the glare of the burning steamer showed against the murk of midnight.

Every one not on duty, and those on duty who were able, ran to the port rail. As the Itasca steamed on, under forced draught, quivering as her engines throbbed under her, the flare on the bow increased in brightness. In half an hour’s time it could be quite clearly made out as a steamer on fire, the dense cloud of smoke being illumined from below by the glare of the flames.

“I hope the operator was wrong. If there is anybody on board,” said Eric, in a low voice, to his friend Homer, “they wouldn’t have much chance.”

“Is the call still coming?” his chum asked.

“No,” Eric answered, “nothing for twenty minutes.”

The Coast Guard cutter speedily raised the hull of the burning steamer. Her stern was much higher out of water than her bow, and amidships she was all aflame, belching up dense volumes of smoke.

A message came into the radio room.

“The Lucania reports that she has picked up three of the boats,” said the operator through the tube to the first lieutenant on the bridge. “The fourth boat is still missing.”

“What’s that craft over there, I wonder?” queried Eric, pointing to the starboard bow where a searchlight flickered into the sky.

“That’s the La Savoie, I heard some one say,” his friend replied; “she must have been coming up on the jump. We’ll have half a dozen big liners here before morning.”

“It’s a wonderful thing, the wireless,” the boy said meditatively; “from hundreds of miles away, every one rushes to the rescue. When you realize that every extra ten miles means hundreds of dollars out of the pockets of steamship companies and every hour’s delay may be a serious inconvenience, it does look great to see the way every one drops personal concerns to go to the rescue.”

“I wonder what would happen if a captain didn’t?”

“There’d be a whale of a row. Court-martial and all that sort of thing.”

“You can’t court-martial a merchant-service man,” protested Homer.

“He’d lose his ship, anyway.”

“But suppose he made out he didn’t hear the call?”

“Be sensible,” Eric retorted. “How could he do that? Bribe the operator, or threaten him?”

“That’s true,” said Homer, thoughtfully. “It would look pretty bad if the wireless outfit on a ship was shut down, as soon as an ‘S O S’ came in.”

“I don’t believe there’s a wireless operator in the business who’d stand for it,” the boy declared. “They’re a high-grade bunch of men. I’d be willing to bet if any operator got such an order, before he quit he’d send out a message to the nearest station or ship, telling the whole story.”

“And then what?”

“Why, if the wireless was shut down then, and the operator told the truth of it, they’d tar and feather that skipper. Commercialism may be all right on land, but when you come right down to the bones of the thing, there’s mighty few men on salt water that’ll ever do a dirty trick to another man.”

“Right you are,” agreed Homer; “a shellback is the real thing in a pinch. By ginger,” he continued, “doesn’t she burn! Surely there can’t be anybody on board of her.”

The Itasca was now rapidly approaching the burning steamer. Amid the roar of the flames and the hiss of the sea against heated iron was heard the thin whine of the speaking tube whistle.

“Call from the burning steamer, sir, I think,” said the operator, “but there’s no meaning to it.”

The captain spoke rapidly to the first lieutenant and the good ship began to tremble from stem to stern as the engines were reversed and the helm shifted so as to bring the sea a little on the port bow.

“Mr. Sutherland,” came the first lieutenant’s voice, “clear away the starboard whaleboat.”

Eric stepped forward, for this was his station. The boat’s crew sprang to their stations, the whaleboat was lowered to the rail, and as the Itasca lost her headway, the boat was neatly dropped in the water. The sea had looked a bit rough from the bridge, but down at the water’s edge the waves were distinctly high.

Lieutenant Sutherland, who was also the instructor in mathematics, was an absolute wonder in many ways, but small boat work was not much in his line. Still, he handled her well. To Eric, of course, the rough sea did not matter. He was used to that in his life-saving work, and, indeed, every one forgot the danger as the boat pulled on in the lurid crimson of the burning ship. They came close, and hailed.

There was no answer, nothing but the dull roar of the flames in the hold and the spitting hiss as some spray was flung over the vessel’s side. No one appeared on deck. The bow, where it was high above the water was cherry red hot, and even the more submerged stern seemed absolutely untenable.

“There can’t be any one on board,” said the third lieutenant. “You didn’t hear a hail?”

“No, sir,” answered Eric, “but Jenkins caught another call just before we left.”

“Very strange,” commented the officer, looking thoughtfully at the derelict. The boat was pulling up towards the lee side and the smoke was stifling. The burning steamer was rolling heavily and there was a litter of wreckage to leeward.

“Can’t board there,” the officer said to himself. He gave orders to pull again to windward.

“Men,” he said suddenly, “there may still be some one aboard that craft. Who’ll volunteer?”

A chorus answered him. Almost every man of the crew volunteered.

“Which of you is the best swimmer?”

There was a moment’s pause and then one of the sailors answered,

“Maryon is, sir.”

“Do you think you can get on board?” the officer said, turning to the sailor mentioned.

“I can get to her all right, sir,” the sailor answered, “and I’ll try to get on board.”

“You may try then,” was the reply; “we’ll drop you right by her. You can swim around the stern and try the lee quarter.”

The sailor stripped, and fastening a light line under his arms, waited for the boat to take the required place. How Eric wished that the Eel were there! But Maryon was a fair swimmer, and as soon as he struck out for the ship, the boy felt that he need have no fears for him. The sailor was still a couple of fathoms away from the side of the ship when, suddenly, a piece of wreckage up-ended on a sea and struck him. Those in the boat could not see how heavy was the blow, but it was clear that the sailor was incapacitated, and the crew hauled him inboard. He had a nasty cut on his cheek and his collar-bone was broken. While his hurts were being attended to, Eric saluted the officer.

“Well, Mr. Swift?”

“Mr. Sutherland,” he said, “I’ve done a lot of life-saving work, sir.”

“Well?”

“I’d like to volunteer, sir, if I might,” the boy replied.

“You don’t think it’s too much for you?”

“No, sir.”

“I remember. You are an expert swimmer, are you not?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You are sure of yourself?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well, Mr. Swift,” the officer answered, looking over him keenly, “You may go.”

With a quick pulse in his ears throbbing in excitement and elation, the boy slipped out of his cadet uniform and tied the life-line round him. A swirl of eager oars brought the boat again beneath the stern of the burning steamer. Eric plunged into the sea, the thought flashing through his mind as he did so that he wished he could make a spectacular dive like those he used to envy in the Eel. That he was a swimmer showed itself the minute he touched the water. Without appearing to use one-half the effort Maryon had needed, the boy covered the distance between the boat and the flaming vessel in a few long strokes, watching warily for wreckage.

There was a treacherous suction as the vessel rolled, but Eric, trained to every form of danger in the line of rescue, kept close guard. He knew better than to make a false move from too great haste, and swam round cautiously, seeking for a place to board. The heat from that floating mass of belching flame was terrific, and more than once, as a gust brought down a cloud of fumes over him, the boy thought he would suffocate.

At last he saw, trailing over the quarter, a wire rope, one of the stays of the after derrick, and he made ready to climb. The stay evidently had been melted through at the derrick head, but the heated end had fallen in the water and cooled. Up this the swimmer swarmed, though the frayed wire drew blood from his hands and legs at every point he touched it. At last he reached the bulwark, grasped it and jumped aboard.

With a sharp cry of pain he leaped back to the rail again.

The deck was burning hot!

In spite of the spray that now and again came spattering over the derelict, the heat had been conducted throughout the craft. Not having thought of the possibility of a heated metal deck, Eric was barefoot. Of what use was it for him to be on board unless he could find out whether any one were there! The decks were empty. The steamer had sunk too deep for any one to be below, and live. There was only one place in which a survivor might still be the sole remaining deck-house.

Thither the wireless aerial led! There, if anywhere, was some deserted creature, author of the unread message that had sparked across the sea. There, and there only and between Eric and that deck-house lay the stretch of red-hot deck, a glowing barrier to attempted rescue.

Surely it was beyond attempt!

Like a flash came to the boy’s remembrance the old ordeal for witchcraft in which a man had to walk fifty feet over red-hot plowshares, in which, if he succeeded without collapse, he was adjudged innocent. At once Eric realized that some must have survived that awful test if the ordeal was of any value. What man had done, man again could do! It was at least as good a cause to save some man or woman from a fearful death as it was to save oneself from penalty of witchcraft.

Daring all, he leaped down from the rail on to the superheated deck.

In spite of his stoicism, the boy could not repress a cry of agony, that rang cruelly in the ears of his comrades in the boat. They had seen his figure outlined black against the red glare of the burning craft, and exulted. At the boy’s cry, they shuddered, and more than one man blenched.

The iron seared and crisped his flesh as his feet touched the torture. He could feel the skin curl and harden. Gritting his teeth, he sped at topmost speed of the house whither the aerials led.

The door was jammed!

Though the skin of his head seemed to tighten like a metal band, though his lungs stabbed within him as he breathed, though the pain in his feet was unendurable, Eric wrenched again and again at the handle, but the door would not budge. He called, but there was no answer. Almost delirious with baffled rage and excruciating suffering, the boy hurled himself against the door, throwing his shoulder out of joint with the power of the blow. The door fell inwards and he fell with it.

The heat that poured from the room was overpowering, a dull red glow in the far corner of the floor showing that the flames were immediately beneath. With a gasp and a clutch on his reeling senses, Eric saw stretched out on the wireless table before him the figure of a man, moaning slightly, but insensible. Unable to stand on the hot floor, unable to escape from the room in which he had become trapped, he had lain down on the instruments and his writhings near the key had sent those tangled messages that the operator on the Itasca had not been able to understand.

Had it not been for the instinctive stimulus of his life-saving training, Eric would have deemed that the man was beyond help and would have sought safety himself. But his whirling senses held the knowledge how often life lingers when it appears extinct. Scarcely conscious himself of what he did, Eric grasped the unconscious man in his arms, raced back across the terror of the red-hot deck, reached the stern how, he never knew threw his moaning burden overboard and dived in after him.

The shock as his parched and blistered body struck the cold sea water steadied Eric for a second, just long enough to grasp the man he had rescued, as the latter came floating to the surface. Then the pain of the salt water upon his cruel burns smote him, and he felt himself give way.

He tugged twice at the life-line as a signal that he was at his last gasp, bidding them pull in. Then, gripping the last flicker of his purposed energy on the one final aim not to loose hold in the sea of the man he had rescued from an intolerable death, the boy locked himself to the sufferer in the “side carry” he once had known so well.

A sinking blackness came over him, flashes of violet flame danced before his eyes, his head suddenly seemed to be as though of lead, his legs stiffened and refused to move, and in the lurid glare of the burning steamer, rescuer and rescued sank beneath the waves. The last thing that Eric felt was the tug on the life-line underneath his arms. His cry for help was answered! The Coast Guard boat was near.