FUEL FROM A TANKER

“Fred,” said Jack, several hours later, when the afternoon was waning,
“I think you’ll have to get busy.”

“Meaning what?” asked Fred. Apparently they were going along at top
speed and without cause for further concern. Nevertheless there was a
worried look on Jack’s face, and this was something unusual.

“Busy with your own suggestion of some time back,” Jack responded.

Andy, who had been listening to this conversation, let his eye wander to
the instrument board, and he gave vent to a low whistle. “Right!” he
said.

“Don’t get you yet,” Fred repeated, bewildered.

“We’re going to run out of fuel before we reach the other side,” Jack
announced. “You’d better open up with the radio and see if we can reach
a vessel that will replenish our supply.”

“How do we stand?” asked Don anxiously.

“Oh, we’ve got enough for the immediate present, but not sufficient to
carry us all the way,” Jack answered, and Andy nodded his head in
affirmation of the statement.

Fred, who had not put on the headpiece of the wireless since the battle
with the other plane, now adjusted the earpieces, pushed forward the
switch, and opened up with that call which almost unfailingly will bring
a response from any other radio within receiving distance of the
message–S O S.

Time and again he repeated it, but without getting an indication of a
response.

“Don,” said Jack at last, “you’ve got the charts there. How do we stand
with regard to the regular steamer route?”

“We’re miles off it just now,” the navigator responded. “Too far to the
north.”

“Suppose we changed our course?”

“Well, if you’d point her west by south for half an hour or so I think
we’d at least come within radio distance of something,” Don said, after
a moment of thought.

“That’s what we’ll do then,” the chief pilot announced, and immediately
fitted the action to the word.

In this altered course they continued for more than a quarter of an
hour, with Fred still sounding out the distress call of the
International code.

“Hear anything?” Jack finally queried, eyeing the petrol indicator.

“Nary a sound.”

Don consulted his charts and reckonings again and advised two points
further south. Jack immediately brought the plane around to that
suggested course, and in ten more minutes the mathematics and judgment
of Don Harlan were vindicated.

Fred’s face suddenly beamed, and unconsciously he slapped his knee.

“Got anybody?” Andy asked.

“Yep, getting a reply.”

For a few moments all remained silent, unable to do more than watch Fred
as he alternately listened and then tapped off mysterious dots and
dashes on the radio. Finally he relieved the tension. He removed the
earpieces for a moment to address himself to Don.

“What’s T-K-R?” he asked.

“Why, tanker,” Don answered immediately.

Fred cast his eye at the chart, stepped over to regard it more
carefully, then turned his gaze to a penciled memorandum he had made.
Without another word he again adjusted the earpieces, took hold of the
sending key and began a veritable chatter with the mysterious and unseen
tanker which he had picked up somewhere on the wide expanse of the
Atlantic.

“Righto!” he ejaculated finally, aloud, again removing the apparatus.
“Jack,” he said, addressing himself to that rather worried individual,
“I wasn’t such a bad guesser this morning, after all, was I? Well, I’ve
landed the tanker, all right, and according to Don’s reckonings and her
information our paths cross.”

“Great!”

“But she can’t spare much petrol.”

“Well, you–” Andy got no further.

“Probably fifty gallons,” Fred finished.

Jack did some quick mental calculating. “Fifty’s better than none, and
probably will carry us through,” he finally announced. “At any rate,
we’ll be thankful for whatever she can spare us. Did you tell her we’re
in an aeroplane?”

“Yes,” Fred answered, chuckling. “That’s what all the conversation was
about. The operator evidently had the captain alongside of him, and he
must be a good sportsman himself. Thought it was the real Transatlantic
contest, and of course I didn’t disillusion them. But I had a hard time
at first making them believe that we were in a plane. The operator
bluntly told me to quit my kidding. Wanted to know what I meant by
making a josh out of the S O S.”

“When ought we to come across them?” was Jack’s next inquiry.

For a moment Fred and Don figured together, then examined the compass
and drew several lines upon the chart.

“Keep your present course,” Don finally said, “and at our speed, with
the tanker fifty miles away when Fred first got her, and she headed this
way, we ought to sight each other in the next twenty minutes.”

Again he was right. Hardly that time had elapsed when Fred, with the
powerful marine glasses as an aid, shouted out that he could discern a
streak of smoke.

Don took the glasses, and before he brought them down from his eyes the
two-miles-a-minute speed of the plane had brought the vessel into sight.

“Gosh!” Jack breathed, with a long-drawn sigh. “She’s the most welcome
thing I’ve seen in a month of Sundays.”

From an altitude of six thousand feet they began a slow descent, but
without a decrease of speed. With the aid of the glasses Don could now
discern some one, doubtless the captain of the tanker, on the bridge,
gazing toward them intently.

The distance between them had now been reduced to not more than three
miles, and the throttles were closed and all power shut off for the long
downward glide which would bring them close to the vessel.

So straight was their course that as they neared they caused a small
panic on the tanker. Captain and crew suddenly came to the disconcerting
conviction that the plane had gotten beyond control and was going to
crash upon them. There was a great scurrying about, and, unexpected by
Jack and Andy, the ship suddenly veered in her course, almost bringing
about that which her captain was trying to avoid.

As a result, Jack had to put the rudder down hard, throw on the power,
and take an upward course which would clear them of the zigzagging
steamer. In a wide circle the plane then was brought to the surface, so
close to the ship that the respective officers and crews could converse
without the use of megaphones.

[Illustration: IN A WIDE CIRCLE THE PLANE WAS BROUGHT TO THE SURFACE.]

“Who are you?” the captain of the tanker demanded, when he had
recovered from mixed feelings of fear and admiration, brought on first
by the narrow escape from a collision, and then by the expert surface
landing which the hydro-aeroplane made.

“Americans entrants in the Transatlantic,” Jack responded instantly.
“Guess we’re in the lead. Haven’t sighted any of the others, have you?”

“I should say not,” the captain replied, “and I wouldn’t have believed
my eyes if I had seen one headed this way, if it hadn’t been we got your
wireless first. Say! You fellows have got some nerve, all right. Any
accidents?”

“Oh, had to stop a couple of times for minor repairs,” Jack answered
modestly. “And we got into the teeth of a hurricane that drove us back
two or three hundred miles. That’s the reason we’re short of fuel. Can
you spare any?”

“What are you using?”

“Petrol.”

“H’m! Well, we’ve got some pretty good class gas aboard, but we’ll need
most of it ourselves. Your trip is most over, and you might say ours has
hardly begun.”

“Pay you well for it,” Jack suggested.

“Say,” the captain came back at him instantly. “You can’t pay me a cent.
I can spare you about fifty gallons, as I said in the wireless, and
that’s all I can cut out of my own supply. If that will help, you’re
welcome to it.”

“It certainly will help, but it won’t get us to Ireland,” Jack responded
evenly.

“Well, what in the deuce are you going to do?”

“That’s just the problem,” Big Jack answered, “and it’s a tough one,
too.”

“Oh, dam it all, I’ll give you a hundred and depend on making port on
what I’ve got left,” the captain of the tanker finally announced. “How
are you going to load it?”

“Got a pump and hose?”

“Sure.”

“Then we’ll pull up right alongside and take it into the tank that way.”

Jack started the propellers whirling slowly, just enough to carry the
plane around and toward the side of the tanker. The captain watched this
work with open-mouthed admiration.

“Say!” he ejaculated, at the same time squirting forth a great stream of
tobacco juice. “Ever been a sailor?”

“No, never have,” Jack had to admit.

“Well, you handle that job as if you had,” the captain informed him.
“First rate job, that.”

“Thanks,” Jack returned, at the same time grabbing at the end of hose
that was tossed over to him. “And let me say this, sir,” he added, as he
fitted the rubber pipe line into the petrol tank, “if there’s ever any
way any of us can serve you, just you call on us, and don’t be modest
about it.”

He took a note book from his pocket, wrote down their four names and the
general address at which they could be reached, and, rolling it into a
ball, tossed it aboard the vessel. “There’s our visiting card,” he said.

In the ten minutes it required to take aboard the hundred gallons of
sorely needed additional fuel, the captain of the tanker proved himself
all that Fred had predicted of him. And as they waved their final
farewells and the plane took to the air, all felt a pang of genuine
regret that the circumstances made it necessary for them to withhold the
essential facts as to their actual mission.