Read CHAPTER XXI of The Boy Allies at Jutland, free online book, by Robert L. Drake, on ReadCentral.com.

A FIGHT FOR A BOAT

As by a prearranged signal, all four of the Germans threw down their oars and jumped to their feet. Harris, at that moment, in spite of Jack’s warning, had been gazing across the sea absolutely unconscious of his surroundings. He was lost in thought.

Frank, at the helm, uttered a cry of warning even as the closest German leaped for Harris and the latter wheeled quickly. He dodged just as the man struck out with a knife he had drawn.

“Want to cut me up, do you?” muttered Harris.

In spite of the wabbling of the boat he fell into an attitude of defense-the old fighting form that had won for him the championship of the British navy in the squared circle. He didn’t advance, for he wasn’t certain of his footing, the boat pitched so, but he felt fully able to take care of himself.

It was characteristic of him that he made no cry for help. He knew that Jack must have heard Frank’s cry of warning. He knew that he would get all the assistance it was in Jack’s power to give; and he felt that if Jack were unable for any reason to aid him he must, nevertheless, give a good account of himself.

When Harris evaded the first blow, the German, caught off his balance, pitched forward against him. Harris was almost toppled over, but he threw his left arm around the man’s neck and aimed a vicious blow at him with his right fist.

The German’s knife arm, because of Harris’ hold, dangled helpless at his side. In vain he sought to get it in position where he could drive the point into Harris’ body. Harris realized the man’s intention. With a sudden move, he pushed the German from him and struck out as he did so. The man staggered back, reeled unsteadily and toppled over the side of the boat with a cry.

The three other Germans rushed Harris at that moment. This time the British sailor was not caught off his guard, and he held the men at arm’s length for several seconds.

Meanwhile, Jack had leaped forward, crying to Frank as he did so:

“Keep the helm, Frank! We don’t want the boat overturned.”

Frank obeyed, much as he would have liked to join in the fight.

Jack reached Harris’ side and together the two faced the three Germans.

“We’ve got them, now,” said Harris, quietly.

“Men,” said Jack, quietly, “unless you return to your oars immediately, we shall be forced to throw you overboard.”

There was a snarl from the three men. Suddenly one dropped to his knees and seized Harris by the legs. Caught off his guard, the latter fell to the bottom of the boat and the others leaped on him.

A knife flashed in the hand of one. With a cry, Jack stooped down quickly and seized the man’s wrist even as the point of the weapon would have been buried in Harris’ back. The lad twisted sharply and the knife went flying into the sea.

“You would, would you!” cried Jack.

He jerked the man to his feet, planted two hard blows on his chin, and as the man reeled forward clipped him once more. One, two, three backward steps the man took and then pitched over the side of the boat.

“Two gone!” exclaimed Jack.

But he was wrong. For the first man who had been knocked into the sea had been revived by the shock of the cold water. Swimming around the boat unobserved, he had come up behind Frank and now reached up and grabbed Frank by the coat. With a cry of alarm, the lad toppled into the water.

Jack heard his friend’s cry. Quickly he took in the situation. Harris had regained his feet and seemed capable of disposing of the two remaining Germans. With a cry to Harris, Jack leaped over the side.

Some distance away he saw Frank struggling with the German who had pulled him from the boat and he swam quickly in that direction.

“I’m coming, Frank!” he called. “Hang on to him.”

Frank was doing his best, but he had been taken by surprise and the advantage was with his opponent. The German’s hand closed about the lad’s throat and he was slowly choking him. Even as Jack came abreast of the struggling figures, Frank threw up his hands and the two disappeared from sight.

Jack, greatly alarmed, dived after them.

Below the surface of the water his hands encountered the struggling figures. He seized the first his hand came in contact with and struck upward. Upon the surface again, he found that he had seized hold of Frank.

Keeping his fingers clenched tightly in Frank’s coat-that the lad might not be drawn under again Jack aimed carefully at the face of the German, which now was close to him, and struck out with all his strength.

Instantly, the hand on Frank’s throat relaxed and the German sank from sight.

By the force of the impact as the blow landed Jack knew that the German would trouble them no more. Supporting Frank with his left arm, he struck out for the boat with his right.

The German officer leaned over the side and lent a hand in dragging Frank’s limp body over the side. Jack clambered over after him. Then he took a view of the part of the boat where Harris battled with two of the enemy.

Both of the latter wielded knives and it was plain to Jack that Harris hesitated to come to close quarters with them, as he had no assistance at hand; for he realized that, should he be overcome, the men would have little trouble of disposing of Frank and Jack, as they tried to climb back in the boat. But now that Jack was able to come to his assistance again, Harris made ready for a spring.

Jack saw this move and called:

“Wait a minute, Harris!”

Harris stayed his spring and Jack again advanced to his side. Jack’s face was white and his clothing was dripping water. He was very angry and his fingers clenched and unclenched.

“You men,” he said in a cold voice, “were given a chance for your lives the same as the rest of us. Now you will either throw down those knives or die.”

One made as if to obey, but the other stopped him.

“Wait!” he cried. “He wants us to throw down our knives so they can overpower us.”

To the other this seemed good reasoning. Both Germans, still wielding their weapons, drew backward slowly. Jack and Harris advanced as slowly after them.

“Drop them!” cried Jack, again.

Suddenly one of the Germans sprang forward and aimed a vicious blow at Jack with his knife. The move had been so unexpected, retreating as the men had been, that Jack was almost caught off his guard. He sidestepped quickly, however, and avoided the knife.

But in leaping aside he had jostled Harris, who, dodging a blow aimed by the second German, now was thrown off his balance. In vain he tried to catch himself. It was no use. He went over the side of the boat, uninjured, but for the moment unable to lend Jack a hand.

With two foes before him, Jack realized there was not a moment to be lost. He determined to take the offensive himself, in spite of the odds against him.

With a subdued cry of anger, he charged the two Germans, in spite of the violent rocking of the boat. He caught a stabbing wrist with his right hand and twisted sharply even as he drove his left fist into the man’s face. There was a cry of pain and the knife clattered to the bottom of the boat. Again and again the lad struck, paying no attention to the second man. Then, with an extra vicious blow, he knocked the German clear of the boat into the sea.

At the same instant, Harris, who was just climbing back into the boat, uttered a cry of warning and Jack turned just in time to dodge a knife thrust aimed at him by the second German.

With only a single enemy before him, a smile broke over Jack’s face. He called to Harris.

“Stay back, Harris. I’m going to settle with this man myself.”

The German shrank back, and for a moment it seemed that he would throw down his knife and cry for mercy. But if he had such a thought in his mind, he discarded it; he sprang at Jack, fiercely.

Again Jack avoided the thrust of the knife and caught the stabbing wrist in his right hand. Then, bringing all his tremendous strength to bear, he stooped slightly and jerked with his hand.

The German was pulled clear of the bottom of the boat and ascended into the air. Then he shot suddenly forward and cleared the boat by a good five feet.

There was to be one last encounter before the possession of the boat finally came into the hands of the friends undisputed. One of the Germans, revived by the water, had come up aft and laid hold of the boat near where the German officer sat. The latter saw him and shifted his position just in time to avoid being dragged overboard.

He grew suddenly very angry.

“You murderous dog!” he cried.

Rising to his feet he stooped quickly and seized an oar. Before the man in the water could realize his purpose, he had brought the oar down with all his force on the hand that grasped the boat.

With a howl of pain the German released his hold, his fingers shattered by the force of the blow. Without a word the German officer dropped the oar and resumed his seat.

Jack and Harris now approached Frank’s side and the former bent over him. Frank was just regaining consciousness. He smiled as Jack asked him how he felt, and asked:

“Did you lick them all?”

“You bet,” returned Jack, then turned to Harris. “I suppose we should pick up some of those fellows, if we can. We can’t see them drown before our eyes.”

“You’re too soft hearted for me,” declared Harris. “However, whatever you say.”

They gazed into the water. There was no German in sight.

“Be ready to jump in the moment a head appears,” said Jack.

Harris nodded and the two stood ready to give aid to the first enemy that should appear.

Ten minutes they waited-fifteen. No head appeared above the surface of the water.

“I guess it’s no use,” said Jack, slowly, at last. “They’re gone!”