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HOME > Short Stories > The Sportman's Club Afloat > CHAPTER IV. FAIRLY AFLOAT.
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 “The first thing, fellows,” said Chase, “is to tell you that I am heartily sorry I have treated you so shabbily.” “Now, please don’t say a word about that,” interrupted Walter, kindly. “We don’t think hard of you for anything you have done, and besides we have more important matters to talk about.”
“I know how ready you are, Walter Gaylord, to overlook an injury that is done you—you and the rest of the Club—and that is just what makes me feel so mean,” continued Chase, earnestly. “I was not ashamed to wrong you, and I ought not to be ashamed to ask your forgiveness. I made up my mind yesterday, while we were disputing about those panther scalps (to which we had not the smallest shadow of a right, as we knew very well), to give Fred Craven a good thumping, if I was man enough to do it, for beating me in the race for Vice-Commodore;[67] and the next time I met him he paid me for it in a way I did not expect. He tried to assist me, and got himself into a terrible scrape by it.”
“That is just what we want to hear about,” said Bab, “and you are the only one who can enlighten us. But Eugene and Wilson would like to listen to the story also; and if you can walk so far, I suggest that we go on board the yacht.”
“What do you suppose has become of Coulte and Pierre?” asked Walter. “Are they still on the island?”
“No, indeed,” replied Chase. “If the rest of the smugglers are gone, of course they went with them.”
After Chase had taken another drink from the spring, he accompanied his deliverers down the gully. The watch on board the yacht discovered them as they came upon the beach, and pulling off their hats, greeted them with three hearty cheers. When they reached the vessel, Wilson testified to the joy he felt at meeting his long-lost friend once more, by seizing him by the arms and dragging him bodily over the rail.
“One moment, fellows!” exclaimed Walter, and[68] his voice arrested the talking and confusion at once. “Chase, are you positive that Featherweight is a prisoner on board that schooner?”
“I am; and I know he will stay there until he reaches Havana, unless something turns up in his favor.”
“Then we’ve not an instant to waste in talking,” said the young captain. “We must keep that schooner in sight, if it is within the bounds of possibility. Get under way, Perk.”
“Hurrah!” shouted Eugene, forgetting in the excitement of the moment the object for which their cruise was about to be undertaken. “Here’s for a sail clear to Cuba.”
“Now, just listen to me a minute and I’ll tell you what’s a fact,” said Perk. “One reason why I fought so hard against those deserters was, because I was afraid that if they got control of the vessel they would take us out to sea; and now we are going out of our own free will.”
“And with not a man on board;” chimed in Bab, “nobody to depend upon but ourselves. This will be something to talk about when we get back to Bellville, won’t it?”
The crew worked with a will, and in a very few[69] minutes the Banner was once more breasting the waves of the Gulf, her prow being turned toward the West Indies. As soon as she was fairly out of the cove, a half a dozen pairs of eyes were anxiously directed toward the southern horizon, and there, about three miles distant, was the Stella, scudding along under all the canvas she could carry. The gaze of the young sailors was then directed toward the Louisiana shore; but in that direction not a craft of any kind was in sight, except the revenue cutter, and she was leaving them behind every moment. Exclamations of wonder arose on all sides, and every boy turned to Walter, as if he could tell them all about it, and wanted to know what was the reason the tug had not arrived.
“I don’t understood it any better than you do, fellows,” was the reply. “She ought to have reached the island in advance of us. And I don’t see why the Lookout hasn’t put in an appearance. If father and Uncle Dick reached home last night, they’ve had plenty of time to come to our assistance. It would do me good to see her come up and overhaul that schooner.”
“Isn’t that a cutter, off there?” asked Chase, who had been attentively regarding the revenue[70] vessel through Walter’s glass. “Let’s signal to her. She’ll help us.”
“Humph! She wouldn’t pay the least attention to us; we’ve tried her. The captain wouldn’t believe a word we said to him.”
It was now about nine o’clock in the morning, and a cold, dismal morning it was, too. The gale of the night before had subsided into a capital sailing wind, but there was considerable sea running, and a suspicious-looking bank of clouds off to windward, which attracted the attention of the yacht’s company the moment they rounded the point. The crew looked at Walter, and he looked first at the sky and clouds and then at the schooner. He had been on the Gulf often enough to know that it would not be many hours before the sea-going qualities of his little vessel, the nerve of her crew, and the skill on which he prided himself, would be put to a severer test than they had yet experienced, and for a moment he hesitated. But it was only for a moment. The remembrance of the events that had just transpired in the cove, the dangers with which Fred Craven was surrounded, and the determination he had more than once expressed to stand by him until he was rescued—all these things came[71] into his mind, and his course was quickly decided upon. Although he said nothing, his crew knew what he was thinking about, and they saw by the expression which settled on his face that there was to be no backing out, no matter what happened.
“I was dreadfully afraid you were going to turn back, Walter,” said Eugene, drawing a long breath of relief.
“I would have opposed such a proceeding as long as I had breath to speak or could think of a word to utter,” said Perk. “Featherweight’s salvation depends upon us entirely, now that the tug has failed to arrive and the cutter has gone back on us.”
“But, fellows, we are about to undertake a bigger job than some of you have bargained for, perhaps,” said Bab. “Leaving the storm out of the question, there is the matter of provisions. We have eaten nothing since yesterday at breakfast, and the lunch we brought on board last night will not make more than one hearty meal for six of us. We shall all have good appetites by the time we reach Havana, I tell you.”
“I can see a way out of that difficulty,” replied Walter. “We will soon be in the track of vessels bound to and from the Balize, and if we fall in with[72] one of those little New Orleans traders, we will speak her and purchase what we want. I don’t suppose any of us are overburdened with cash—I am not—but if we can raise ten or fifteen dollars, a trader will stop for that.”
“I will pass around the hat and see how much we can scrape together,” said Eugene, “and while I am doing that, suppose we listen to what Chase has to say for himself.”
The Club Afloat.
The young sailors moved nearer to the boy at the wheel so that he might have the benefit of the story, and while they were counting out their small stock of change and placing it in Eugene’s hands, Chase began the account of his adventures. He went back to the time of the quarrel which Bayard Bell and his cousins had raised with himself and Wilson, told of the plan he and his companion had decided upon to warn Walter of his danger, and described how it was defeated by the smugglers. This much the Club had already heard from Wilson; but now Chase came to something of which they had not heard, and that was the incidents that transpired on the smuggling vessel. Walter and his companions listened in genuine amazement as Chase went on to describe the interview he had held with Bayard and[73] his cousins (he laughed heartily at the surprise and indignation they had exhibited when they found him in the locker instead of Walter, although he had thought it anything but a laughing matter at the time), and to relate what happened after Fred Craven arrived. At this stage of his story Chase was often interrupted by exclamations of anger; and especially were the crew vehement in their expressions of wrath, when they learned that Featherweight’s trials would by no means be ended when he reached Havana—that he was to be shipped as a foremast hand on board a Spanish vessel and sent off to Mexico. This was all that was needed to arouse the fiercest indignation against Mr. Bell. The thought that a boy like Fred Craven was to be forced into a forecastle, to be tyrannized over by some brute of a mate, ordered about in language that he could not understand, and perhaps knocked down with a belaying-pin or beaten with a rope’s end, because he did not know what was required of him—this was too much; and Eugene in his excitement declared that if Walter would crack on and lay the yacht alongside the schooner, they would board her, engage in a hand-to-hand fight with the smugglers, and rescue the secretary at all hazards.[74] Had the young captain put this reckless proposition to a vote it would have been carried without a dissenting voice.
When the confusion had somewhat abated Chase went on with his story, and finally came to another event of which the Club had heard the particulars—the siege in Coulte’s house. He described the sail down the bayou, the attempted rescue by the Club, the voyage to the island during the gale, the destruction of the pirogue, and his escape and retreat to The Kitchen. His listeners became more attentive than ever when he reached this point, and his mysterious manner increased their impatience to hear how he could have been spirited out of the cave without being seen by any one.
“It was a surprise to me,” said Chase, “but it was done as easily as falling off a log. After I fell asleep the Stella, seeing the signal which Pierre and Coulte had lighted on the top of the bluff, came into the cove. I awoke just in time to keep Pierre from stealing a march upon me, but too late to prevent the entrance of Coulte. The old fellow must have come in just before I opened my eyes, and he was in the cave close behind me all the time I was talking to the smugglers; but he kept himself out[75] of sight, thinking, no doubt, that it would not be a safe piece of business to attack me as long as I held my axe in my hand. The captain of the Stella told me that I was surrounded, and on two different occasions asked in a tone of voice loud enough for me to hear: ‘Where is Coulte, and why don’t he bestir himself?’ This made me believe that there was something amiss, and I stood in such a position that I could keep an eye on the interior of the cave and watch the men below at the same time, thus giving Coulte no opportunity to take me at disadvantage. But when I saw the Banner come in, I forgot everything in the fear that if you did not immediately turn about and leave the cove, you would all be captured. Intent upon warning you I threw down my axe and shouted to attract your attention. This was just what the old Frenchman was waiting for. No sooner had the words I shouted out to you left my lips, than he jumped up and seized me; and before I could say ‘hard a starboard’ I was helpless, being bound and gagged. I had no idea the old fellow possessed so much muscle and activity. He handled me as if I had been an infant.”
“But how did he ever get you down from the cave without being seen by some of us?” asked Eugene.
“O, he had opportunities enough,” said Bab—“while we were getting our vessel free from the schooner and out of the bushes for instance.”
“Or while we were talking with Mr. Bell,” said Wilson.
“He might have done it while we were looking for the pirogue, or at any time within ten minutes after we entered the cove,” remarked Walter. “I for one was so much astonished at what I saw and heard when we came around the point, that, after Chase ceased speaking to us, I never thought of him again until we had got our vessel moored to the bank.”
“I can’t tell when it was done, fellows,” continued Chase, “but I know it was done. As soon as Coulte had secured me, he looked out of the cave, waved his hand once or twice, and then began throwing out the articles he had given me for an outfit. Perhaps he thought you might look in ‘The Kitchen’ for me before you left the island, and he didn’t think it best to leave any traces of me there. In a few minutes Pierre came up with a rope over his shoulders. This they made fast under my arms, and watching their opportunity, when your attention was engaged with something else, they lowered[77] me into the gully. They then followed me down the pole by which Pierre had come up, and hid me away under the rocks where you found me.”
And Chase might have added that after they had disposed of him, they went on board the smuggling vessel and concealed themselves in the hold until she was safe out of the cove. But this was something of which he had no positive evidence. In a few days, however, the crew met some one who told them all about it, and then Eugene, to his great surprise, learned that if he had faithfully performed the part Walter had assigned him, he might have been able to make a great change in the fortunes of Fred Craven. He could then have revealed to the revenue captain the whereabouts of the men who had captured Chase and brought him to the island, and that gentleman might have been induced to look into the matter.
When Chase finished his story, and the Club had questioned him to their satisfaction, he expressed a desire to hear what had happened to them since they last met. Eugene spoke for his companions, and it is certain that there was not another member of the Club who could have described their adventures in more glowing language, or shown up the[78] obstinacy and stupidity of the revenue captain, in a more damaging light. Eugene said he could not tell what had become of the remains of the pirogue, or tell how Coulte and Pierre had left the island; but he made everything else clear to Chase, who, when the story was finished, was as indignant as any of the Club. The incidents of the interview with Mr. Bell were thoroughly discussed, and the conclusion arrived at was, that they had been very nicely outwitted; that the smugglers had played their part to perfection; and that the revenue captain was totally unfit for the position he held.
During the next hour nothing worthy of record transpired on board the yacht. Walter kept as much sail on her as she could carry, and although she did splendidly, as the heaving of the log proved, she moved much too slowly to suit her impatient crew. Directly in advance, apparently no nearer and no farther away than when the pursuit began, was the smuggling vessel; and in the west was that angry-looking cloud, whose approach the boy-sailors awaited with no little uneasiness.
Having had their talk out, Fred Craven’s mysterious disappearance having been fully explained, and knowing that nothing could be done to assist[79] him until the schooner was overtaken and help obtained from some source, the crew of the Banner began to busy themselves about matters that demanded their immediate attention, with a view to making their voyage across the Gulf as safe and agreeable as possible. The first thing to be done was to put Chase and Wilson at their ease. Now that their excitement had somewhat worn away, these young gentlemen began to look upon themselves as interlopers, and to wish that they were anywhere but on board the yacht. Their desire to assist Featherweight was as strong as ever, but remembering all that had passed, and judging the Club by themselves, they believed that their absence would have suited Walter and his friends quite as well as their company. Nothing had been done, a word said, or a look given to make them think so, but the manner in which they conducted themselves showed plainly enough that such was their impression. They took no part in the conversation now, answered the questions that were asked them only in monosyllables, and exhibited a desire to get away from the crew and keep by themselves. The Club saw and understood it all, and tried hard to make them believe that all old differences had been forgotten,[80] and that their offers of friendship were sincere. When lunch was served up—the last crumb the baskets contained was eaten, for Walter said that one square meal would do them more good than two or three scanty ones—the Club made them talk by asking them all sorts of questions, and requesting their advice as to their future operations; and Eugene even went so far as to offer Wilson the bow-oar of the Spray to pull in the next regatta—a position which he regarded as a post of honor, and which, under ordinary circumstances, he would have been loth to surrender to his best friend. Wilson declined, but Eugene insisted, little dreaming that when the next regatta came off, the Spray would be locked up in the boat-house and covered with dust, while he and the rest of her gallant crew would be thousands of miles away.
By the time lunch had been disposed of, the Club, by their united efforts, had succeeded in dispelling all doubts from the minds of their late enemies, and harmony and good feeling began to prevail. While the dishes were being packed away in the baskets, Wilson discovered a sail which he pointed out to Walter, who, with his glass in his hand, ascended[81] to the cross-trees. After a few minutes’ examination of the stranger, he came down again, and the course of the Banner was altered so as to intercept the approaching vessel. At the end of an hour she was in plain sight, and proved to be a schooner about the size of the Stella—a coaster, probably. In thirty minutes more the two vessels were hove-to within speaking distance of each other; Walter, with his trumpet in his hand was perched upon the yacht’s rail, and the master of the schooner stood with one hand grasping the shrouds and the other behind his ear, waiting to hear what was said to him.
“Schooner ahoy!” shouted Walter.
“Ay! ay! sir!” was the answer.
“I have no provisions; can you spare me some?” The captain of the schooner, after gazing up at the clouds and down at the water, asked: “How much do you want?”
“How much money did you raise, Eugene?” asked the young commander, turning to his brother.
“Thirty dollars. And that’s every cent there is on board the yacht.”
“About twenty-five dollars worth,” shouted Walter.
“What sort?”
“Every sort—beef, pork, coffee, sugar, biscuit, and some fresh vegetables, if you have them. I haven’t a mouthful on board.”
After a short time spent in conversation with a man who stood at his side, during which he was doubtless expressing his astonishment that the commander of any craft should be foolish enough to venture so far from land without a mouthful of provisions for himself and crew, the captain of the schooner called out:
“All right. I reckon I shall have to take them aboard of you?”
“Yes, sir. I have no small boat to send after them.”
The captain walked away from the rail, and the young yachtsmen, overjoyed at their success, began to express their appreciation of his kindness in no measured terms. It wasn’t every shipmaster who would have sold them the provisions, and not one in a hundred who would have sent his own boat to bring them aboard.
“It is the money he is after,” said Walter. “These little traders will do almost anything to turn a penny. Now Chase, hold her just as she is, as nearly as you can. Eugene, open the fore-hatch[83] and rig a block and tackle; and the rest of us turn to and get up some boxes and barrels from the hold to stow the provisions in.”
The crew, headed by Walter carrying a lighted lantern, went down into the galley and opened the hold. What was the reason they did not hear the strange sounds that came up from below as they threw back the hatch? They might have heard them if they had not been so busy thinking and talking about something else—sounds that would have created a panic among them at once, for they strongly resembled the shuffling of feet and angry excited whispering. It was dark in the hold in spite of the light the lantern threw out, or Walter, as he leaped through the hatchway, might have seen the figure which crept swiftly away and hid itself behind one of the water-butts.
The barrels for the pork, beef, fresh vegetables and biscuit, and the boxes for the coffee and sugar were quickly selected by Walter and passed up to Wilson in the galley, who in turn handed them up to Bab through the fore-hatchway. When this had been done the boys below returned to the deck and waited for the schooner’s yawl, which soon made its[84] appearance, rowed by four sailors and steered by the captain.
Judging by the size of the load in the boat they had a liberal man to deal with, for he was bringing them a goodly supply of provisions in return for their promised twenty-five dollars. When he came alongside the yacht he sprang over the rail and gazed about him with a good deal of surprise and curiosity.
“Where’s the captain?” he asked.
“Here I am, sir,” replied Walter.
The master of the schooner stared hard at the boy, then at each of his companions, ran his eye over the deck and rigging of the little vessel, which was doubtless cleaner and more neatly kept than his own, and finally turned and gave Walter another good looking over. “Are these your crew?” he inquired, waving his hand toward the young sailors.
“Yes, sir.”
“No men on board?”
“Not one.”
“Well, now, I would like to know what you are doing so far from shore in such a boat, and in such weather as this. Are you running away from home?”
“No, sir,” replied Walter, emphatically. “Our homes are made so pleasant for us that we wouldn’t think of such a thing.”
“Perhaps you are lost, then?”
“No, sir. We know just where we are going and what we intend to do. Our vessel is perfectly safe, and this rough weather doesn’t trouble us. We’re used to it. Shall we stand by to take the provisions aboard?”
It was clear enough to the yacht’s company, that the captain would have given something to know what they were doing out there, where they were going, and what their business was, but he made no further attempts to pry into their affairs. The manner in which the yacht was handled when she came alongside his own vessel, and the coolness and confidence manifested by her boy crew, satisfied him that they understood what they were about, and that was as much as he had any right to know. The provisions were quickly hoisted aboard and paid for; and after Walter had cordially thanked the master of the schooner for the favor received at his hands, and the latter had wished Walter a safe run and success in his undertaking, whatever it was, the two vessels parted company—one continuing her[86] voyage toward New Orleans, and the other filling away in pursuit of the smuggler, which was by this time almost hull down.
“Now, fellows, let’s turn to and get these things out of the way,” said Walter, springing down from the rail, after waving a last farewell to the master of the schooner. “I feel better than I did two hours ago, for, to tell the truth, I was by no means certain that we should meet a vessel; or, if we did, I was afraid she might be commanded by some one who would pay no attention to our request. Suppose we had been knocked about on the Gulf for two or three days, with nothing to eat! Wouldn’t we have been in a nice fix? Now, Perk, we’ve got business for you; and I suggest that you serve us up a cup of hot coffee and a good dinner, with as little delay as possible.”
“Now, just listen to me a minute, and I’ll tell you what’s a fact,” replied Perk. “I can’t take charge of the galley and act as second in command of the yacht at the same time, so I will resign my lieutenancy in favor of Chase, if you will appoint him.”
“Of course I will,” said Walter.
“I can’t take it, fellows,” shouted Chase, from his place at the wheel.
“You’ve no voice in the matter,” replied Eugene. “It is just as the captain says; so consider yourself appointed, and give me your place. It’s irregular for an officer to stand a trick at the wheel, you know. That is the duty of us foremast hands.”
Of course this was all strategy on Perk’s part. The Club knew it, and so did Chase and Wilson; and that was the reason the former remonstrated. After thinking the matter over, however, he decided to act in Perk’s place. He told himself that there would be no responsibility attached to the office, for Walter would never leave the deck while that rough weather continued. The young captain regarded his yacht as the apple of his eye; and when he was willing to allow any one even the smallest share in the management of her, it was a sure sign that he liked him and had confidence in him. If Chase had never before been satisfied that the Club were in earnest in all they said, he was now, and so was Wilson.

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