Patrick bent over the bow of the ship and stared at the black water. “Where’s the wood?” he asked Natty.
“Right here.” Natty handed it to him.
It was a simple piece of board about three feet long and two feet wide. It wasn’t very thick, either. It’s better than nothing, Patrick thought, and we had better start counting. “Count to ten while I look at this chain,” he whispered to Nathaniel.
The anchor chain stretched out of the side of the ship. It was made of thick metal links covered in seaweed and sea slime. Patrick straddled the ship’s railing, holding onto the chain with one paw and the wood with the other. Nathaniel sat sideways on the rail with his hind paws curled around the chain and both forepaws clasping it. “Nine, ten,” he whispered and slid down the chain.
Patrick heard a scream and loud splash from the stern of the ship as he dropped the wood. He slid down the chain and into the water next to Nathaniel. He knew that Rifky had thrown himself overboard near the cabin to cover any noise they made and to attract attention to the opposite side of the ship. Still, this was the most dangerous part. If they were seen they would have nowhere to hide. Even if they were not seen they could be swept away from land or drowned.
The cold water made Patrick shiver and saltwater stung his eyes. He let go of the anchor chain and swam toward the piece of wood floating a paws-length away. Natty followed him. The waves kept pushing Patrick away from the wood. He swam harder. A wave pushed him under. His paw hit the wood and he sunk his claws into it. Underneath the water, he held onto it with both paws and pulled himself to the surface. He coughed out seawater and shook it from his eyes. He wanted to call out to Nathaniel, but didn’t dare make any noise. He looked around frantically.
Off to his left, Natty struggled to keep his head above the waves. Using the wood as a kick-board, Patrick swam out in Nathaniel’s direction. The size of the wood made it hard to handle, but he managed to get within reach. Natty grabbed the plank and ducked underwater to the side Patrick was on.
“It’s cold!” he mewed breathlessly to his brother.
Patrick nodded. “Towards land.” Both kicking, they swam away from the boat toward the now-invisible land.
Meanwhile, saltwater stung Rifky’s eyes and nose as he belly-flopped into the ocean. By accident, he gulped down the salty water and gagged as he came up to the surface. Beating the water with his paws, he started to scream, “Help, help, help!” He knew he had to keep making noise. It was colder than he had expected and the waves made it hard to keep his head above the water. Only the thought of his friends kept him shouting. The lights near the captain’s cabin flared up and several half-drunk dogs peered over the railing. Rifky flailed his paws more violently and barked, “Help me, help me!”
Captain Bull opened his cabin door and peered out. “What’s goin’ on here?” he barked angrily.
“Sir, ah, Captain sir,” Spot answered. “The cabin pup’s gone overboard, sir. Must’ve had too much to drink.”
“Well pull up the lousy mutt,” snapped Captain Bull, “and shut him up.” He banged the door of the cabin shut. Rags and Spot threw a float down to Rifky. He grabbed it and let the two shipmates haul him on board. They sprang back as Rifky shook off the water.
“What did you think you were doing?!” Spot snapped at Rifky. “We’ve got to get our rest and we can’t do that with a mutt like you falling overboard and rousing us.”
“He’s nothing but trouble,” said Rex. “I’m going to thrash you good, Mutt.”
“I couldn’t help it,” Rifky sniffed. That was true enough, he thought; it was the only way to cover his friends’ escape.
“Well you better help it in the future,” barked Spot. “Now get out of here.”
Rifky took off like a shot, tail between his legs. He didn’t want to hang around to get thrashed by Rex. Rifky growled. Rex liked to bully him. He always called him Mutt, as well. It wasn’t his fault he was a mixed-breed dog.
His German shepherd father had signed him onto The Jolly Growler to toughen him up. He could see his father standing at the gangplank, shoving him on board. “Go on, son, quit being a wimp,” he had growled. “You got too much of your mother in you, but time will wipe that out.” That made Rifky think of his beautiful collie mother kissing him goodnight. He screwed up his eyes, trying not to cry, and tried to think of something else. He would go see if his friends had gotten away. Ducking behind the mast, Rifky made his way to the front of the ship. Staring out to sea, he tried to spot the two kittens, but all he could see were the dark waves.
Patrick and Nathaniel were now dark blobs invisible in the night. Patrick’s legs felt so tired that he thought they might fall off. He was still kicking. Nathaniel was stiff with cold and falling asleep from exhaustion. His paws began to slip. Grabbing Natty, Patrick hauled him by the scruff of his neck up onto the board. It wobbled with the extra weight but didn’t sink. At least it would give Natty a rest. He was so little, Patrick thought, he couldn’t last very long. Patrick gritted his teeth and kept kicking.
As the eastern sky turned pale pink and blue, the large black shape of land loomed ahead. The waves grew higher and Patrick struggled to keep afloat. He knew they had to be careful or the returning waves would suck them under.
When he felt a large wave growing under him, he kicked hard, riding the wave toward the beach. Patrick’s paws hit the sand. He let go of the board, and grabbing Nathaniel by the scruff, he raced toward the dry sand. Halfway there he felt the pull of the return wave and barely managed to keep standing. When it had passed, he dragged Nathaniel forward. Onward he went until they were well past the tide line. There he collapsed with Natty lying next to him.
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