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HOME > Short Stories > The Sportman's Club Afloat > CHAPTER I. ON THE GULF AGAIN.
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 “I assure you, gentlemen, that you do not regret this mistake more than I do. I would not have had it happen for anything.” It was the captain of the revenue cutter who spoke. He, with Walter Gaylord, Mr. Craven, Mr. Chase and the collector of the port, was standing on the wharf, having just returned with his late prisoners from the custom-house, whither the young captain of the Banner had been to provide himself with clearance papers. The latter had narrated as much of the history of Fred Craven’s adventures, which we have attempted to describe in the first[6] volume of this series, as he was acquainted with, and the recital had thrown the revenue captain into a state of great excitement. The yacht was anchored in the harbor, a short distance astern of the cutter, and alongside the wharf lay the only tug of which the village could boast, the John Basset, which Mr. Chase and Mr. Craven had hired to carry them to Lost Island in pursuit of the smugglers.
“There must be some mistake about it,” continued the captain of the cutter. “A boy captured by a gang of smugglers and carried to sea in a dugout! I never heard of such a thing before. I know you gentlemen will pardon me for what I have done, even though you may think me to have been over-zealous in the discharge of my duty. Your yacht corresponds exactly with the description given me of the smuggler.”
“You certainly made a great blunder,” said Mr. Craven, who was in very bad humor; “and there is no knowing what it may cost us.”
“But you can make some amends for it by starting for Lost Island at once,” said Mr. Chase. “You will find two of the smugglers there, and perhaps you can compel them to tell you something of the vessel of which you are in search. More than[7] that, they have made a prisoner of my son, and he knows what has become of Fred Craven.”
“I am at your service. I will sail again immediately, and I shall reach the island about daylight. If you gentlemen with your tug arrive there before I do and need assistance, wait until I come. Captain Gaylord, if you will step into my gig I shall be happy to take you on board your vessel. You may go home now, and these gentlemen and myself will attend to those fellows out there on Lost Island. If we find them we shall certainly capture them.”
“And when you do that, I shall not be far away,” replied Walter.
“Why, you are not going to venture out in this wind again with that cockle-shell, are you?” asked the captain, in surprise.
“I am, sir. I built the Banner, and I know what she can do. She has weathered the Gulf breeze once to-night, and she can do it again. I am not going home until I see Fred Craven safe out of his trouble. In order to find out where he is, I must have an interview with Henry Chase.”
Mr. Craven and Mr. Chase, who were impatient to start for Lost Island again, walked off toward the tug, and Walter stepped down into the captain’s[8] gig and was carried on board the Banner. His feelings as he sprang on the deck of his vessel were very different from those he had experienced when he left her. The last time he clambered over her rail he was a prisoner, guarded by armed men and charged with one of the highest crimes known to the law. Now he was free again, the Banner was all his own, and he was at liberty to go where he pleased.
“Mr. Butler, send all the cutter’s hands into the gig,” said the revenue captain, as he sprang on board the yacht.
“Very good, sir,” replied the lieutenant. “Pass the word for all the prize crew to muster on the quarter-deck.”
“Banner’s men, ahoy!” shouted Walter, thrusting his head down the companion-way. “Up you come with a jump. Perk, get under way immediately.”
For a few seconds confusion reigned supreme on board the yacht. The revenue men who had been lying about the deck came aft in a body; those who had been guarding the prisoners in the cabin tumbled up the ladder, closely followed by the boy crew, who, delighted to find themselves once more[9] at liberty, shouted and hurrahed until they were hoarse.
“All hands stand by the capstan!” yelled Perk.
“Never mind the anchor,” said Walter. “Get to sea at once.”
“Eugene, slip the chain,” shouted Perk. “Stand by the halliards fore and aft.”
“Hold on a minute, captain,” exclaimed the master of the cutter, who had been extremely polite and even cringing ever since he learned that the boys who had been his prisoners were the sons of the wealthiest and most influential men about Bellville. “I should like an opportunity to muster my crew, if you please.”
“Can you not do that on board your own vessel?” asked Walter.
“I might under ordinary circumstances, but of late my men have been seizing every opportunity to leave me, and I am obliged to watch them very closely. They have somehow learned that a Cuban privateer, which has escaped from New York, is lying off Havana waiting for a crew, and they are deserting me by dozens. There may be some deserters stowed away about this yacht, for all I know.”
“Never mind,” replied Walter, who was so impatient to get under way that he could think of nothing else. “If there are, I will return them to you when I meet you at Lost Island. Good-bye, captain, and if you see me on the Gulf again don’t forget that I have papers now.”
By this time the Banner was fairly under sail. Perk saw that the revenue men were still on board, and knew that they would have some difficulty in getting into their boat when the yacht was scudding down the harbor at the rate of eight knots an hour, but that made no difference to him. His commander had ordered him to get under way, and he did it without the loss of a moment. He slipped the anchor, hoisted the same sails the Banner had carried when battling with the Gulf breeze three hours before, and in a few seconds more was dragging the revenue gig through the water at a faster rate than she had ever travelled before. Her crew tumbled over the rail one after another, and when they were all in the boat Bab cast off the painter, and the Banner sped on her way, leaving the gig behind.
“What was the matter, Walter? did they really take us for smugglers?” asked the Club in concert,[11] as they gathered about the young captain. “What did you tell them; and has anything new happened that you are going to sea again in such a hurry?”
“Ask your questions one at a time and they will last longer,” replied Walter; who then proceeded in a very few words to explain matters. The captain of the cutter had really been stupid enough to believe that the Banner was a smuggler, he said, and so certain was he of the fact that he would listen to no explanation. Mr. Craven had told him the story of the two smugglers who had taken a prisoner to Lost Island, but the revenue commander would not believe a word of it, and persisted in his determination to take his captives to the village. When they arrived there and the collector of the port had been called up, of course the matter was quickly settled, and then the captain appeared to be very sorry for what he had done, and was as plausible and fawning as he had before been insolent and overbearing. Pierre and his father would certainly be captured now, for Mr. Chase and Mr. Craven had chartered the John Bassett to carry them to Lost Island, and the revenue captain would also sail at once and render all the assistance in his power.
“Humph!” exclaimed Eugene, when Walter[12] finished his story, “We don’t want any of his help, or the tug’s either. Crack on, Walter, and let’s reach the island and have the work over before they get there.”
“That would be useless,” answered the cautious young captain. “The Banner’s got as much as she can carry already; and besides we can’t expect to compete with a tug or a vessel of the size of the cutter. If we reach the island in time to see Chase rescued, I shall be satisfied. If any of you are in want of sleep you may go below, and Bab and I will manage the yacht.”
But none of the Club felt the need of rest just then. Things were getting too exciting. With a couple of smugglers before them to be captured, two swift rival pursuers behind, to say nothing of the gale and the waves which tossed the staunch little Banner about like a nut-shell, and the intense impatience and anxiety they felt to learn something of the situation of the missing secretary—under circumstances like these sleep was not to be thought of. They spent the next half hour in discussing the exciting adventures that had befallen them since their encounter with Bayard Bell and his crowd, and then Eugene, after sundry emphatic injunctions from his[13] brother to keep his weather eye open and mind what he was about, took Perk’s place at the wheel, while the latter, who always acted as ship’s cook in the absence of Sam the negro, went below to prepare the eatables which Walter had provided before leaving home. The baskets containing the provisions had been taken into the galley. In the floor of this galley was a small hatchway leading into the hold where the water-butts, fuel for the stove, tool-chests, ballast, and extra rigging were stowed away; and when Perk approached the galley from the cabin he was surprised to see that the hatchway was open, and that a faint light, like that emitted by a match, was shining through it from below.
The sight was a most unexpected one, and for an instant Perk stood paralyzed with alarm. His face grew as pale as death, and his heart seemed to stop beating. Who had been careless enough to open that hatch and go into the hold with an uncovered light? Eugene of course—he was always doing something he had no business to do—and he had set fire to some of the combustible matter there. Perk had often heard Uncle Dick tell how it felt to have one’s vessel burned under him, and shuddering at the recital, had hoped most fervently that[14] he might never know the feeling by experience. But now he was in a fair way to learn all about it. Already he imagined the Banner a charred and smoking wreck, and he and his companions tossing about on the waves clinging to spars and life-buoys. These thoughts passed through Perk’s mind in one second of time; then recovering the use of his legs and his tongue, he sprang forward and shouted out one word which rang through the cabin, and fell with startling distinctness upon the ears of the watchful crew on deck.
“Fire!” yelled Perk, with all the power of his lungs.
That was all he said, but it was enough to strike terror to the heart of every one of the boy sailors who heard it. Somebody else heard it too—some persons who did not belong to the Banner, and who had no business on board of her. Perk did not know it then, but he found it out a moment afterwards when he entered the galley, for, just as he seized the hatch, intending to close the opening that led into the hold and thus shut out the draft, a grizzly head suddenly appeared from below, one brawny hand holding a hatchet, was placed upon[15] the combings, and the other was raised to prevent the descent of the hatch.
If it is possible for a boy to see four things at once, to come to a conclusion on four different points, to act, and to do it all in less than half a second of time, Perk certainly performed the feat. He saw that the man who so suddenly made his appearance in the hatchway was dressed in the uniform of the revenue service; that he had a companion in the hold; that the latter was in the act of taking an adze from the tool-chest; and that he held in his hand a smoky lantern which gave out the faint, flickering light that shone through the hatchway.
When the boy had noted these things, some scraps of the conversation he had overheard between Walter and the revenue captain came into his mind. These men were deserters from the cutter, and he had discovered them just in time to prevent mischief. They were preparing to make an immediate attack upon the Banner’s crew, and had provided themselves with weapons to overcome any opposition they might meet. If they were allowed to come on deck they would take the vessel out of the hands of her crew, and shape her course toward[16] Havana, where the Cuban privateer was supposed to be lying. Perk did not object to the men joining the privateer if they felt so inclined—that was the revenue captain’s business, and not his—but he was determined that they should not assume control of the Banner, and take her so far into the Gulf in such a gale if he could prevent it.
“Avast, there!” exclaimed the sailor, in a savage tone of voice, placing his hand against the hatch to keep Perk from slamming it down on his head. “We want to come up.”
“But I want you to stay down,” replied the boy; “and we’ll see who will have his way.”
The sailor made an upward spring, and Perk flung down the hatchway at the same moment, throwing all his weight upon it as he did so. The result was a collision between the man’s head and the planks of which the hatchway was composed, the head getting the worst of it. The deserter was knocked over on the opposite side of the opening and caught and held as if he had been in a vise, his breast being pressed against the combings, and the sharp corner of the hatch, with Perk’s one hundred and forty pounds on top of it, falling across his shoulders.
“Now just listen to me a minute, and I’ll tell you what’s a fact,” said the boy, who, finding that the enemy was secured beyond all possibility of escape, began to recover his usual coolness and courage; “I’ve got you.”
“But you had better let me go mighty sudden,” replied the sailor, struggling desperately to seize Perk over his shoulder. “Push up the hatch, Tom,” he added, addressing his confederate below.
All these events, which we have been so long in narrating, occupied scarcely a minute in taking place. Walter sprang toward the companion-way the instant Perk’s wild cry fell upon his ears, and pale and breathless burst into the cabin, followed by Bab and Wilson. When he opened the door he discovered Perk in the position we have described. A single glance at the uniform worn by the man whose head and shoulders were protruding from the hatchway, was enough to explain everything.
“Now, here’s a go!” exclaimed Bab, in great amazement.
“Yes; and there’ll be a worse go than this if you don’t let me out,” replied the prisoner, savagely. “Push up the hatch, Tom.”
“The revenue captain was right in his suspicions[18] after all, wasn’t he?” said Walter, as he and Wilson advanced and wrested the hatchet from the sailor’s hand. “I don’t think that your attempt to reach Cuba will be very successful, my friend.”
“That remains to be seen. Push up the hatch, Tom. If I once get on deck I’ll make a scattering among these young sea monkeys. Push up the hatch, I tell you.”
This was the very thing the man below had been trying to do from the first, but without success. The hatchway was small, and was so nearly filled by the body of the prisoner, who was a burly fellow, that his companion in the hold had no chance to exert his strength. He could not place his shoulders against the hatch, and there was no handspike in the hold, or even a billet of wood strong enough to lift with. He breathed hard and uttered a good many threats, but accomplished nothing.
“I wish now I had given that captain time to muster his men,” said Walter. “This fellow is a deserter from the cutter, of course; but he shall never go to Havana in our yacht. Bab, go on deck and bring down three handspikes.”
Bab disappeared, and when he returned with the[19] implements, Walter took one and handed Wilson another.
“Now, Perk,” continued the young captain, “take a little of your weight off the hatch and let that man go back into the hold. We’d rather have him down there than up here.”
“I know it,” said Perk. “But just listen to me, and I’ll tell you what’s a fact: Perhaps he won’t go back.”
“I think he will,” answered Walter, in a very significant tone of voice. “He’d rather go back of his own free will than be knocked back. Try him and see.”
Perk got off the hatch, and the sailor, after taking a look at the handspikes that were flourished over his head, slid back into the hold without uttering a word; while Bab, hardly waiting until his head was below the combings, slammed down the hatch, threw the bar over it and confined it with a padlock. This done, the four boys stood looking at one another with blanched cheeks.
“Where’s the fire, Perk?” asked Walter.
“There is none, I am glad to say. The light I saw shining from the hold came from a lantern that[20] those fellows have somehow got into their possession.”
“Well, I’d rather fight the deserters than take my chances with a fire if it was once fairly started,” replied Walter, much relieved. “How many of them are there?”
“Only two that I saw. But they can do a great deal of mischief if they feel in the humor for it.”
“That is just what I was thinking of,” chimed in Bab. “You take it very coolly, Walter. Don’t you know that if they get desperate they can set fire to the yacht, or bore through the bottom and sink her?”
“I thought of all that before we drove that man back there; but what else could we have done? If we had brought him up here to tie him, he would have attacked us as soon as he touched the deck, and engaged our attention until his companion could come to his assistance. Perk, you and Wilson stay down here and guard that hatch. Call me if you hear anything.”
“I hear something now,” said Wilson.
“So do I,” exclaimed Perk. “I hear those fellows swearing and storming about in the hold; but they won’t get out that way, I guess.”
Walter and Bab returned to the deck and found Eugene in a high state of excitement, and impatient to hear all about the fire. He was much relieved, although his excitement did not in the least abate, to learn that the danger that had threatened the yacht was of an entirely different character, and that by Perk’s prompt action it had been averted, at least for the present. Of course he could not stay on deck after so thrilling a scene had been enacted below. He gave the wheel into his brother’s hands, and went down into the galley to see how things looked there. He listened in great amazement to Perk’s account of the affair, and placed his ear at the hatch in the hope of hearing something that would tell him what the prisoners were about. But all was silent below. The deserters had ceased their swearing and threatening, and were no doubt trying to decide what they should do next.
The crew of the yacht were not nearly so confidant and jubilant as they had been before this incident happened, and nothing more was said about the lunch. The presence of two desperate characters on board their vessel was enough to awaken the most serious apprehensions in their minds. During the rest of the voyage they were on the[22] alert to check any attempt at escape on the part of the prisoners, and those on deck caught up handspikes and rushed down into the cabin at every unusual sound. But the journey was accomplished without any mishap, and finally the bluffs on Lost Island began to loom up through the darkness. After sailing around the island without discovering any signs of the smugglers, the Banner came about, and running before the wind like a frightened deer, held for the cove into which Chase and his captors had gone with the pirogue a few hours before. The young captain, with his speaking-trumpet in his hand, stood upon the rail, the halliards were manned fore and aft, and the careful Bab sent to the wheel. These precautions were taken because the Banner was now about to perform the most dangerous part of her voyage to the island. The entrance to the cove was narrow, and the cove itself extended but a short distance inland, so that if the yacht’s speed were not checked at the proper moment, the force with which she was driven by the gale, would send her high and dry upon the beach.
The little vessel flew along with the speed of an arrow, seemingly on the point of dashing herself in pieces on the rocks, against which the surf beat with[23] a roar like that of a dozen cannon; but, under the skilful management of her young captain, doubled the projecting point in safety, and was earned on the top of a huge wave into the still waters of the cove. Now was the critical moment, and had Walter been up and doing he might have saved the Banner from the catastrophe which followed. But he did not give an order, and it is more than likely that he would not have been obeyed if he had. He and his crew stood rooted to the deck, bewildered by the scene that burst upon their view. A bright fire was roaring and crackling on the beach, and by the aid of the light it threw out, every object in the cove could be distinguished. The first thing the crew of the Banner noticed was a small schooner moored directly in their path—the identical one they had seen loading at Bellville; the second, a group of men, one of whom they recognised, standing on the beach; and the third, a cave high up the bluff, in the mouth of which stood one of the boys of whom they were in search, Henry Chase, whose face was white with excitement and terror. He was throwing his arms wildly about his head, and shouting at the top of his voice.
“Banner ahoy!” he yelled.
“Hallo!” replied Walter, as soon as he found his tongue.
“Get away from here!” shouted Chase. “Get away while you can. That vessel is the smuggler, and Fred Craven is a prisoner on board of her.”
But it was too late for the yacht to retreat. Before Walter could open his mouth she struck the smuggling vessel with a force sufficient to knock all the boy crew off their feet, breaking the latter’s bowsprit short off, and then swung around with her stern in the bushes, where she remained wedged fast, with her sails shaking in the wind.

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