The motor rangers cloud.., p.2
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       The Motor Rangers' Cloud Cruiser, p.2

           John Henry Goldfrap



  “Wow! This is the worst ever!”

  Joe was clinging tightly to the bridge of the _Nomad_.

  Spray, flying like dust through the dense mid-afternoon twilight, stunghis face. The wind whipped out his garments stiff, as if they had beenmade of metal, and half choked the words back down his throat.

  Nat made no reply. He clung grimly to his wheel, striving with mightand main to head the _Nomad_ into the furious waves. Ding-dong Bell hademerged on deck an instant before, but had been promptly ordered belowagain.

  “Keep your engines doused with oil; give them plenty of gasolene, andstand by for signals,” had been the young captain’s orders.

  Below, beside his shining, laboring engines, Ding-dong was valorouslystriving to carry those orders out. But the strain on the motors was asgreat as they had ever been called upon to bear, even in the memorableencounter with the waterspouts.

  Besides heading into the storm, Nat was “bucking” the strange currentthat set toward the island chasm. But powerfully as the _Nomad’s_propeller churned the driving seas, the unseen tide was more powerfulstill.

  “Nat, we’re bound to be drawn into that gorge within a few minutes,unless——”

  “Unless a miracle happens.”

  Joe’s comment and Nat’s rejoinder were both shouted above the storm.Their voices sounded feeble as whispers amid the fury of theconflicting elements.

  Hardly a hundred yards now separated the storm-battered _Nomad_ fromthe towering walls and boiling waters of the chasm. Inevitably, unlessthe miracle of which Nat had spoken occurred, they must, in a fewmoments, be laboring in the midst of that ominous-looking place. Whilethe thought was still pulsating through their minds, and their heartsbeat high with apprehension, the dreaded thing happened.

  The _Nomad_ was suddenly caught, as if by hands bent on causing herdissolution, and hurtled straight into the cleft between the islands.Nat, hardly conscious of what he was about, directed her course so thatthe craft was not instantaneously dashed to bits against the side ofthe cliffs. Joe, too alarmed to utter a word, simply clung tight to therail. Below, in the engine-room, Ding-dong Bell was thrown from hisfeet and smashed up against a steel stanchion.

  The blow knocked him senseless. And so, with her engineer unconscious,another member of her crew almost useless from fright, and only oneguiding spirit on board her, the _Nomad_ hastened forward into whatseemed certain annihilation.

  Within the cleft it was black as night. The angry seas that boiled andgnashed between the steep walls, for an instant completely hid the_Nomad_ from view. But presently she gallantly emerged, fighting like alive thing for her life.

  The wind, compressed within those narrow confines, blew with a forceand fury almost incredible except to those who have passed through aSouth Pacific storm. It would have been impossible to cry out and makeone’s voice heard. The most powerful shout would not have been audiblea foot away. The situation of the Motor Rangers appeared to be almostdesperate.

  “Can she last out? Can she possibly stand this terrific battering?”

  Such were the thoughts that galloped through Nat’s excited brain. Herang the electric signal for “more power,” but no response came fromthe engine-room, where Ding-dong lay senseless beside his motors.

  Then he turned about to look for Joe. Now that his eyes had grown usedto the darkness it was possible to see—as one sees on a night when themoon is obscured by heavy clouds. The young captain’s heart leaped intohis mouth as his eyes pierced the obscurity.

  Except for himself, the bridge was empty of life.

  Joe Hartley had vanished!

  “Swept overboard!” shot through Nat’s brain.

  At the same instant he caught a cry:

  “Help! Help!”

  It appeared to come from far astern.

  “Joe!” shouted Nat into the darkness.

  “Help!” came the cry again. It was closer this time.

  A coil of light but strong rope was looped to the bridge in front ofNat. Without an instant’s hesitation, he tied one end of it about hiswaist. He had reached a desperate determination. If he got a chance, hehad made up his mind to save Joe Hartley if it were humanly possible.The other end of the coil he knew was made fast to the bridge rail, sothat a final testing of the knot about his waist was all that wasnecessary to put his daring scheme into execution. But first Nat fixedthe wheel by means of the metal grips provided for that purpose.

  Then, with every nerve a-quiver, every muscle flexed, he waited foranother summons. Suddenly it came.

  “Help, Nat! I——”

  A smother of foam swept glimmering past the Nomad. It was luminous withphosphorescence. Amidst the greenish, ghastly glare, was plainlyperceptible a darker spot. It was a human head.

  “Hold on, Joe! I’ll be with you!” shouted Nat, and then, withouthesitation, he mounted the bridge rail at the port side and plungedinto the mass of spume.

  Fortunately for those interested in the adventures of the MotorRangers, at that instant a freak of the current spun Joe’s body aboutand flung him, like a bit of driftwood, toward the side of the _Nomad_.In a flash Nat’s strong arm was about him. It was just in time, too,for Joe, who had been swept from the bridge unseen when the _Nomad_encountered the angry maze of cross currents and tide rips, was almostexhausted.

  In this condition he was not in full possession of his ordinarypresence of mind. He clung to Nat desperately, with a grip thatthreatened to pull both rescuer and rescued under water together.

  Nat, battling with the sharp, angry waves, as choppy and angular asgiant fangs, had all he could do without struggling with Joe. Again andagain he tried to break the other’s grip, but without avail. The holdof a drowning man or boy is the most tenacious known. It is almostimpossible to loosen it.

  “Joe, you must let go of me!” gasped out Nat.

  But Joe only clung in a more leech-like fashion. What with the otherlad’s dead weight clinging to him, and the conditions against which hewas laboring, Nat, strong as he was, felt his strength being rapidlysapped.

  Luckily, so intense had been the heat, the lads wore only lighttropical trousers and sleeveless undershirts. Had they been incumberedwith ordinary clothes, they could not have survived a quarter of thetime that Nat and Joe did.

  Nat began hauling in on his line, but with Joe gripping him so tightly,it was too much of a task.

  “Joe, I hate to do it,” he said at length, “but I must, old fellow, Imust!”

  With these words, Nat did what he would have done with anybody elsewhen first he realized the conditions. He struck Joe a blow on the headthat completely robbed him of his senses. The lad’s vise-like griprelaxed. Under these circumstances, Nat could handle him easily.

  By strong, rapid, over-hand motions, he hauled himself and his burdencloser and closer to the side of the _Nomad_. At last they reached it.And now came the most difficult part of Nat’s enterprise. He had to getback on board, and, more than that, to get Joe there, too.

  The _Nomad_ was rolling and plunging till she was almost rail under atevery roll. A sudden lurch of extra violence gave Nat his opportunity.It brought the bridge rail within reach of his free hand. He grasped itwith a tenacious grip. But the next instant he was almost flung backinto the sea again, as the little craft righted, and the lad, with hisunconscious burden, was carried high above the boiling waters.

  But Nat’s muscles had been trained to nickel steel suppleness andstrength. He managed to hold on somehow, and the next roll to port ofthe _Nomad_ gave him an opportunity to get one foot on the edge of thebridge. Thus he clung till the next wild roll in the opposite directionwas over.

  Then exerting a reserve force he had never before had occasion to bringinto play, the young captain drew up Joe’s limp form and bundled itbodily within the bridge railings. This done, he clambered overhimself. But he felt queer and dizzy. He could hardly keep his fee
t,even though he hung on to the rail. His head spun like a teetotum.

  “I—why, what’s the matter with me? I—I believe I’m going to——”

  Nat did not conclude his sentence in words. Instead, he enacted it bygiving a crazy plunge backward and collapsing in a heap, almostalongside the unconscious Joe.

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