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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

THE LAST CHANCE

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A STORY IN THE "THRILL-HUNTERS" SERIES


Ex Libris

First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 30 January 1915

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-09-29

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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GUY watched the man in the shabby blue serge suit, raging at the end of the pier, as the Molly slipped out into the open sea. He could not hear what the fellow was saying, but from the expression on his face it must have been something pretty bad.

He turned to old Job Landry, his mate, who was standing beside him. "Just in time, Job," he said grimly.

"And 'oo might the chap be, sir?" inquired Job, in a puzzled voice.

"A bailiff," Guy Escott answered, with a tight-lipped smile. "He was going to attach the Molly for debt."

Job's bearded face lengthened. "Bad as that, be it, cap'n?"

"As bad as that," replied Guy. "In fact, Job, it couldn't well be worse. I'm in debt up to the neck, and Skinham & Hunter are going to seize the boat, and sell her, if I don't pay up a matter of 200."

"It's not my fault," he went on curtly. "I put every penny into the Molly and her fitments. All my gratuity as well. The trouble is she's only a sailing craft, and can't compete with steam. So far I haven't paid expenses. If I'd had a motor in her, it would have made all the difference."

"Ay, it would that," agreed old Landry. "But you've had bad luck, sir. We haven't had one good trip since we started. We've never had the hold even half full of fish."

"We've got to fill it this time," said Guy curtly. "It's our last chance, Job. That's why I chanced it and skipped out. If we can bring in a real good catch this time, I can stave off my creditors. If I can't"—he shrugged his shoulders—"well, that's the finish."

He turned as he spoke and went below. Job stood where be was. There was a troubled expression in his clear blue eyes. Like all the rest on the Molly, he was devoted to his young skipper.

"Too bad!" he muttered. "Too bad! and arter what he did in the war, it's cruel. That's what it is—cruel!"

By this time the Molly was outside the Head, and beating through a stiff lop. Landry looked at the sea and then at the sky. He noted the long lines of wind cloud strung across the blue, and the cold, yellowish light along the horizon. He saw how large and pale appeared the setting sun.

"The last chance, he said," he muttered in his beard. "And a slim chance, too, I'm afeard. It's a-going to blow. Ay, it's coming up bad."

Old Landry knew the North Sea like the palm of his hand. Man and boy, he had sailed it for forty years. And he knew its weather too. But even he was not prepared for what came upon them some twelve hours later.

It was not an ordinary North Sea gale, but a storm of almost hurricane force. It burst with the suddenness of a tropical tempest, and caught the Molly with her trawl down. Though every effort was made to save the trawl, it was impossible. They could not get it in, but were forced to cut the bridle, and leave gear of the value of about a hundred and fifty pounds at the bottom of the sea.

By the time this was done the sea was already too tremendous to allow them to turn and run for port. All they could do was to get out a sea-anchor and lie to, under bare poles.

"The last chance doesn't seem to have panned out," said Guy to Job, as the two crouched together in the cockpit aft. His voice was as level as usual, but Job saw the lines on his skipper's brown young face.

"Ay, luck's against us," Job answered sadly, then silence fell between them. Talking in any case was difficult, for the shriek of the gale and the roar of the seas combined in a deafening chorus.

Hours dragged by, and there was no abatement in the fury of the storm. Guy became more and more uneasy.

"We're drifting pretty fast, Job," he said, "and with the wind in this quarter, we're being set right back on the coast."

"If it don't change southerly, we'd ought to make the Humber, sir," said Landry.

"But that's just what it is doing," rejoined Guy. "It's pulling down sou'-east. We'll get piled up somewhere on the Yorkshire cliffs."

"We're a goodish bit off that yet," said Job comfortingly. "And mebbe it'll slack off afore night."

He spoke rather of what he hoped than expected. At nightfall it was blowing as hard as ever, and soundings showed that they were approaching the coast. What part of it they could not guess.

Guy made up his mind to risk it. Rousing out all hands, he got a rag of foresail on her and put her about. By superb seamanship he got her round in safety, but five minutes later a savage gust sent the foresail flying into the gloom like a pocket-handkerchief, and they were left perfectly helpless.

They got out the sea-anchor again, and once more drifted helpless through the roaring darkness.

It was about two in the morning when the look-out shouted a warning of breakers, and, dark as it was, Guy could see a line of livid white leaping to the westward. Above the shriek of the storm came the deep-toned roar of the surf.

Guy strained his eyes through the gloom. It was better to end like this. But he was not the sort to give up so long as the least chance remained. Once more he set a storm jib. He took the tiller himself.

A huge sea nearly buried the Molly as she came round, but the stout little craft shook herself free, and for a moment Guy hoped she might claw off.

Then came a shout, "Rocks ahead, sir. A big cliff," and Guy saw that they were in the mouth of a narrow bay.

Job sprang to his side. "Run her right in, sir. It's our only chance," he shouted.

"But the breakers?" replied Guy.

"It's high tide, sir. She might get over. I reckon this must be Granite Gap. It's a bad place, but there's a break in the reef near the middle."

"Take her, Job," said Guy. "Do your best."

The next two minutes seemed a lifetime, as the trawler went dashing into what appeared to be certain destruction. No one spoke. All eyes were fixed on that roaring wall of white towards which they were speeding at a furious pace.

Up soared the Molly on the top of a huge wave. All held their breath. The reef was actually beneath them. It looked as though the little ship was being flung down upon the rocks as a boy might fling an egg upon a stone floor.

A dizzy downward swoop, a slight grating sound. Then a huge shout of joy and relief, and the Molly was floating in almost calm water.

The gale had blown itself out, and Guy Escott, coming on deck at dawn found his little ship securely anchored in a tiny triangle of sea, with tall cliffs to right and left, a speck of beach at the inner end of the bay, and to the eastward a wall of weed-grown rocks through which there seemed to be no channel wide enough even for a row-boat.

"Can't think however we got in, sir," came old Job's voice behind him.

"Providence and your good steering," answered Guy. "The question now is how we are going to get out."

"Have to wait for the tide, sir. Then I reckon we can tow or warp her out."

Guy looked round. "I shall go ashore after breakfast, and see how the land lies. I shall have to make a survey of the reef before we risk the passage."

If they had not fish enough for market they had plenty for breakfast. Afterwards they got the dinghy over, and Job pulled Guy ashore. There was a ledge of rocks under the cliffs on the north side of the little bay, and Guy made his way out along these in order to get a view of the reef. Job followed after him.

Almost opposite the reef Guy paused, and pointed to the mouth of a cave. "There's a rare lot of driftwood and wreckage there, Job. This place must be a regular death-trap."

"There's firing for a month o' Sundays, sir," replied Job. "Let's have a look inside. Mebbe there's something worth picking up."

"You can have a look," said Guy carelessly. "I'll go out along the reef."

He began jumping from rock to rock. It was risky work, for these rocks were covered with slippery weed. He came to a gap too wide to cross, and was looking at it when he heard Job's voice.


Illustration

He came to a gap too wide to cross.

"Come back here, sir."

Job's voice quivered with eagerness, and Guy wasted no time in getting back.

"Well, what is it?" he asked.

Job drew him into the shelter of the cave mouth, and produced—an empty petrol tin.

Guy stared. "What's the use of that?" he asked.

"Smell of it, sir."

Guy did so. "It reeks of petrol," he said.

"Which means it ain't been in the water, sir. This ain't no wreckage."

Guy started. "You mean—" he began.

"I means what you means, sir. It's an old Boche nest what ain't never been found."

"And there might be drums of the stuff still left there?"

"Ay, enough mebbe to make up for the fish."

Guy's tired eyes brightened. "It's a chance," he said quickly. "Come. Let's see."

The cave curved sharply a few yards in, and Guy reached the bend first. Job heard him give a short laugh. Following, he found him facing a great mass of rock and rubble which completely blocked the whole passage.

"A mare's nest, Job," he said briefly.

"The roof's fell down," muttered Job, in a sadly disappointed voice. "I wonder if them beggars blew it down."

"Doesn't matter to us whether they did or not. If we all dug for a month of Sundays we couldn't get through."

He turned and made his way outside again.

"I couldn't get along the reef," he said. "And I rather shy at taking the dinghy in among those rocks. I wish I could climb up high enough to get a squint at that gap."

"No reason why you shouldn't, sir," replied Job. "If we was to go back a bit there's a easy way up."

"I didn't notice it. Show me."

As Job had said, it was easy enough, and after a scramble the two found themselves on a steep grassy slope high above the bay.

"That's good," said Guy, as he stared down at the reef. "Yes, I see where we go. Now we'll get back."

He turned carelessly, his foot slipped, and next instant he was sliding helplessly down an ever-steepening slope towards the sheer drop below.

"That bush. Catch hold of that there gorse-bush!" roared Job.

Guy saw the bush, and rolling over, caught it. The bush came up by the roots, a fissure yawned in the turf, and before Job's horrified eyes his young skipper disappeared into a living grave.

By the time Job reached the spot he was fairly sweating with terror. Lying flat, he put his face to the opening and looked down into a yawning gap.

"Cap'n. Mister Guy!" he shouted.

To his amazement Guy's voice answered.

"All right, Job. I'm not hurt. Go back to the ship, and get a rope. I shall be all right."

It was not more than twenty minutes before Job, with two other men the rope, and an iron bar, was back on the spot.

"Are you there, sir?" he cried.

"I'm here, Job. And there's more than me to get up."

"What in the name of goodness are you talking about, sir?" demanded Job.

"I'm in the cave," came the quiet answer. "I'm on the inner side from the fall. And you were right, Job. There's something to make up for the fish—and the trawl."

"What do you mean, sir? Is it petrol?"

"No. It's spirits. Brandy, I think. The kegs are perfectly good, and if the brandy is as sound as the kegs, it ought to be worth its weight in gold."

* * * * * *

LATE that evening, the Molly successfully slipped through the gap in the reef, and set sail for her home port. In her hold were thirty-two kegs of brandy which, though perhaps a hundred years old, was in perfect condition.

It fetched something over 1200.

The Molly, equipped with the latest in motor engines, is to-day affording her young owner a very handsome income, and as Job and the others work on shares, they form a very prosperous and happy crew.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.