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Chapter 9 Tarzan and the Castaways by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Arab fired again, but the plunging and the pitching of the Saigon spoiled his aim and he missed just as Tarzan sprang for him.

The impact of the ape-man's body carried Abdullah backward from the ladder, and both men crashed heavily to the deck below, the Arab beneath—a stunned, inert mass.

The two sailors, whom Captain Bolton was sending to the bridge, came on deck just in time to see what had happened; and they both ran forward, thinking to find a couple of broken, unconscious men, but there was only one in that condition.

Tarzan sprang to his feet, but Abdullah Abu Nejm lay where he had fallen. "One of you men go below and ask Miss Laon for the keys to the cages," Tarzan directed; then he seized the Arab by the arms and dragged him back to the cage in which Krause and Schmidt were confined, and when the key was brought, he opened the door and tossed the Arab in. Whether the man were alive or dead, Tarzan did not know or care.

The storm increased in fury, and shortly before daylight the steamer fell into the trough of the sea, rolling on its beam-ends and hanging there for an instant, as though about to capsize; then it would roll back the other way and for another harrowing moment the end seemed inevitable. The change in the motion of the ship awakened Tarzan instantly, and he made his way to the bridge—a feat that was not too difficult for a man who had been raised in a forest by apes and swung through the trees for the greater part of his life, for he climbed to the bridge more often than he walked. He found the two sailors clinging to the wheel, and the Captain to a stanchion.

"What's happened?" he asked.

"The rudder's carried away," said Bolton. "If we could rig a sea anchor, we might have a chance of riding it out; but that is impossible in this sea. How the devil did you get up here, with the ship standing on her beam-ends as fast as she can roll from one side to the other?"

"I climbed," said Tarzan.

Bolton grumbled something that sounded like, "most extraordinary;" then he said, "I think it's letting up; if she can take this, we ought to be able to pull through, though even then we're going to be in a pretty bad fix, as I understand from one of these men, that that fellow, Schmidt, destroyed the radio."

As though to prove what she could do or couldn't do, the Saigon rolled over until her decks were vertical—and hung there. "My God!" cried one of the sailors; "she's going over!"

But she didn't go over; she rolled back, but not so far this time. The wind was coming in fitful gusts now; the storm was very definitely dying out.

Just before dawn, the Captain said, "Listen, do you hear that?"

"Yes," said Tarzan, "I have been hearing it for sometime."

"Do you know what it is?" asked Bolton.

"I do," replied the ape-man.

"Breakers," said Bolton; "that's all we need to finish us up completely."

Slowly and grudgingly dawn came, as though held back by the same malign genie that had directed the entire cruise of the ill-fated Saigon. And, to leeward, the men on the bridge saw a volcanic island, its mountains clothed in tropical foliage, their summits hidden in low-hanging clouds. The seas were breaking on a coral reef a quarter-mile off shore, and toward this reef the Saigon was drifting.

"There is an opening in that reef to the right there," said Bolton. "I think we could lower boats now and get most of the people ashore."

"You're the Captain," said Tarzan.

Bolton ordered all hands on deck, and the men to their boat stations, but a number of Lascars seized the first boat and started lowering it away. De Groote rushed forward with drawn pistol in an effort to stop them; but he was too late, as they had already lowered away. His first inclination was to fire into them as an example to the others, but instead he turned and held off the remaining Lascars, who were about to seize a second boat. Bolton and Tibbet joined him with drawn pistols, and the Lascars fell back.

"Shoot the first man who disobeys an order," directed Bolton. "Now," he continued, "we'll wait to see how that boat fares before we lower another."

The Saigon was drifting helplessly toward the reef, as passengers and crew lined the rail watching the crew of the life-boat battling the great seas in an effort to make the opening in the reef.

"If they make it at all, it's going to be close," said Dr. Crouch.

"And the closer in the Saigon drifts, the more difficult it is going to be for following boats," said Colonel Leigh.

"The bounders will never make it," said Algy, "and serves them jolly well right."

"I believe they are going to make it," said Patricia. "What do you think, Tarzan?"

"I doubt it," replied the ape-man, "and if they can't make it with every oar manned and no passengers, the other boats wouldn't have a ghost of a show."

"But isn't it worth trying?" asked the girl. "If the Saigon goes on that reef, we are all lost; in the boat we would at least, have a fighting chance."

"The wind and the sea are both going down," said Tarzan; "there is quiet water just beyond the reef, and as the Saigon wouldn't break up immediately, I think we would have a better chance that way than in the boats, which would be stove in and sunk the moment they struck the reef."

"I think you are right there," said Bolton, "but in an emergency like this, where all our lives are at stake, I can speak only for myself; I shall remain with the ship, but if there are enough who wish to take to a boat to man it properly, I will have number four boat lowered;" he looked around at the ship's company, but every eye was upon the boat driving toward the reef and no one seemed inclined to take the risk.

"They're not going to make it," said Tibbet.

"Not by a long way," agreed Dr. Crouch.

"Look!" exclaimed Janette Laon, "they're running straight for it now."

"The bounders have got more sense than I thought they had," growled Colonel Leigh; "they see they can't make the opening and now they are going to try to ride a wave over the reef."

"With luck they may make it," said Bolton.

"They'll need the luck of the Irish," said Crouch.

"There they go!" cried Algy. "Look at the bloody blighters row."

"They took that wave just right," said Tibbet; "they're riding it fast."

"There they go!" cried Janette.

The lifeboat was rushing toward the reef just below the crest of a great sea, the Lascars pulling furiously to hold their position. "They're over!" cried Patricia. But they were not; the prow struck a projecting piece of coral, and the onrushing breaker upended the boat, hurling the Lascars into the lagoon.

"Well, the men got across if the boat didn't," remarked Crouch.

"I hope they can swim," said Janette.

"I hope they can't," growled the Colonel.

They watched the men floundering in the water for a minute or two as they started to swim toward shore, and then Janette exclaimed, "Why, they're standing up; they're walking!"

"That not surprising," said Bolton; "many of these coral lagoons are shallow."

Both the wind and the sea were dying down rapidly and the Saigon was drifting, but slowly, toward the reef; however, it would not be long before she struck. The Saigon, illy equipped, afforded only a few life belts. Three of these were given to the women, and the others to members of the crew who said they could not swim.

"What do you think our chances are, Captain?" ask Colonel Leigh.

"If we are lifted on the reef, we may have a chance, if she hangs there for even a few minutes," replied Bolton, "but if she's stove in before she lodges, she'll sink in deep water on this side of the reef, and—well—you're guess is as good as mine, sir; I'm going to have the rafts unshipped, the boats lowered on deck and out loose—get as much stuff loose as will float and carry people," and he gave orders to the crew to carry out this work.

While the men were engaged in this work, there came a shout from amidships: "Hi there, de Groote!" called Krause; "are you going to leave us here to drown like rats in a trap?"

De Groote looked at Tarzan questioningly, and the ape-man turned to Janette. "Let me have the key to the cages," he said, and when she had handed it to him, he went to the cage in which Krause and the others were confined. "I'm going to let you out," he said, "but see that you behave yourselves; I have plenty of reason to kill any of you white men, and I won't need much more of an excuse."

Abdullah was a sick-looking Arab, and all three of the white men were sullen and scowling as they came out of the cage.

As they approached the rail, Bolton shouted, "Stand by the boats and rafts; she's going to strike!"

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