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HOME > Short Stories > The Sportman's Club Afloat > CHAPTER V. THE DESERTERS.
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 By the aid of the block and tackle which Eugene had rigged over the fore-hatchway, the provisions were lowered through the galley into the hold, where they were stowed away so snugly that they would not be thrown about by the pitching of the vessel. This done, the hatch that led into the hold was closed and fastened. Perk, remembering who had come through there a short time before, put down the hatch himself, stamping it into its place, and securing the bar with the padlock—the fore-hatch was closed and battened down, the block and tackle stowed away in their proper place, and things began to look ship-shape once more. The foremast hands, as Eugene called himself and companions, who did not hold office, gathered in the standing room to converse; Walter and Chase planked the weather-side of the deck, the former linking his arm through that of his lieutenant,[89] and talking and laughing with him as though they had always been fast friends; a fire was crackling away merrily in the galley stove; and Perk, divested of his coat, his sleeves rolled up to his shoulders, revealing arms as brown and muscular as Uncle Dick’s, was superintending the cooking of the “skouse” and “dough-boy,” and singing at the top of his voice, the words of an old but favorite song of the Clubs:
“The land of my home is flitting, flitting from my view;
The gale in the sail is setting, toils the merry crew.”
He roared out the following lines with more than his usual energy:
“Here let my home be, on the waters wide;
I heed not your anger, for Maggie’s by my side.
My own loved Maggie dear, sitting by my side;
Maggie dear, my own love, sitting by my side.”
Perk knew a Maggie—only her name was Ella—to whom he used to send valentines and invitations to barbecues and boat-rides, but she was not sitting by his side just then, and consequently we doubt if he would have been quite willing to make his home there on the waters wide, even though he had the yacht for a shelter and the Club for companions. The Maggie of whom Perk was thinking was safe[90] at home in Bellville. She knew that her stalwart admirer was tossing about somewhere on the Gulf, and in spite of her fears for his safety she would have laughed could she have seen him at his present occupation.
“Mind what you are about, Eugene,” said Walter, shaking his finger warningly at his brother. “Handle her easy. Perk’s in the galley, and that’s a guaranty that there’s something good coming out of there. If you go to knocking things about and spoiling his arrangements, I’ll put you in the brig.”
“Very good, Commodore,” replied Eugene, touching his hat with mock civility, and giving his trowsers a hitch with one elbow; “I want some of that hot coffee as much as anybody does, sir, even if there is no cream to put in it; and I’ll make her ride every wave without a tremble, sir.”
Although the young sailors had eaten a hearty lunch not more than three hours before, they were quite ready for dinner, even such a dinner as could be served up out of plain ship’s fare. But the principal reason why Perk was ordered below as soon as the provisions were received, was because his services were not then needed on deck, and it was a favorable time to build a fire in the galley[91] while the Gulf was comparatively smooth—that is, the Club thought it comparatively smooth, although a boy unaccustomed to the water would have thought that the yacht was going to roll over and sink out of sight every minute. But the probabilities were that in an hour things would be even worse. The storm that was coming up so slowly and surely promised to be a hard one and a long one; and the dinner that Perk was now serving up might be the last warm meal they would have for a day or two.
Perk’s song arose louder and louder, a sure sign that the summons to dinner would not be long delayed. The savory smell of cooking viands came up from below every time the cabin door was opened, and the boys in the standing room snuffed up their noses, said “Ah!” in deep bass voices, and tried to get a glimpse of what was going on in the galley. The jingling of iron rods was heard in the cabin as the table was lowered to its place, then the rattling of dishes, and finally three long-drawn whistles, in imitation of a boatswain’s pipe, announced that the meal was ready. Chase, Wilson and Bab answered the call, leaving Walter and his brother to care for the yacht. In half an hour they returned to the deck looking very much pleased and refreshed, and[92] when Perk gave three more whistles Walter and Eugene went below.
“Any orders, captain?” asked Chase, who did not like the idea of being left in charge of the deck even for a minute.
“Follow in the wake of the smuggling vessel,” replied Walter. “That’s all.”
If the sight that greeted Walter’s eyes as he went below would have been a pleasing one to a hungry boy under ordinary circumstances, it was doubly so to one who had stood for hours in wet clothing, exposed to the full fury of a cutting north-west wind. The cabin was warm and comfortable, the dishes clean and white, the viands smoking hot, and Walter, Perk and Eugene did ample justice to them. When the meal was finished, the two brothers lent a hand in clearing away the table and washing the dishes; and after the galley stove had been replenished, they, in company with Perk, stretched themselves out on the lee-locker and went to sleep. It seemed to the young captain that he had scarcely closed his eyes when he was aroused by a voice. He started up and saw Bab, whose clothes were dripping with water, lighting the lamps in the cabin. “Why, it isn’t dark, is it?” asked Walter.
“It is growing dark. You’ve had a glorious sleep, but you had better roll out now and see to things, for poor Chase is in a peck of trouble. It’s come.”
“What has?”
“Can’t you hear it and feel it? Rain and sleet, and wind, and such an ugly, chopping sea. It is coming harder every minute.”
That was very evident. The howling of the storm could be plainly heard in the cabin, and the pitching and straining of the yacht as she labored through the waves, told Walter that it was indeed high time he was taking matters into his own hands. Hastily arousing his sleeping companions, he went into the galley for some of his clothing, which he had left there to dry, and in a few minutes, equipped in pea-jacket, gloves, muffler and heavy boots, went up to face the storm. It was already dark, and the rain, freezing as it fell, was coming down in torrents.
“Where’s the schooner?” asked Walter.
“I lost sight of her just after I sent Bab down to call you,” replied Chase. “My only fear is that we shall not be able to find her again.”
“I have no hopes of it,” replied Walter. “We’ll take an observation to-morrow if the sun comes[94] out, and hold straight for Havana. Call those fellows up from the cabin, and after we’ve made everything secure, go below and turn in for the night. There’s a good fire in the galley.”
The crew were quickly summoned to the deck, and in the face of blinding rain and sleet, proceeded to carry out the orders which Walter shouted at them through his trumpet. In twenty minutes more Chase and his drenched companions were enjoying the genial warmth of the galley stove, and the Banner, relieved of the strain upon her, and guided by the hands of her skilful young captain, who stood at the wheel, was riding the waves as gracefully as a sea-gull.
At eight o’clock the boys below, warmed and dried, and refreshed by the pot of hot coffee which the thoughtful Perk had left for them, were sleeping soundly, while Eugene steered the vessel, and Walter and Perk acted as lookouts. But there were other wakeful and active ones on board the Banner, besides Walter and his two companions—some, who, alarmed by the rolling and pitching of the little vessel, and knowing that she was manned only by boys, were making desperate efforts to reach the deck. Had any one been standing in[95] the galley ten minutes after the watch below went into the cabin to sleep, his eyes and ears would have convinced him of this fact. He would have heard a sound like the cutting of wood, and a few seconds afterward he would have seen the point of an auger come up through the floor of the galley, in close proximity to the staple which confined the hatch leading into the hold. Presently he would have seen the auger disappear and come into view again in another place. Then it would have been clear to him that some one in the hold was cutting out the staple by boring holes in a circle around it. Such a proceeding was in reality going on on board the yacht, although the fact was unknown to her crew. Walter had come into the cabin every half hour during his watch to see that everything was safe—looking at the stove, and turning the coats and trowsers that hung before it, so that his companions might have dry clothing to put on when they awoke; but he never thought of casting his eyes toward the hatch.
The auger was kept steadily at work, and presently the plank into which the staple was driven, was cut entirely through, the staple with the circular piece of wood attached was pushed up, the hatch[96] slowly and cautiously raised, and a pair of eyes appeared above the combings and looked through the open door into the cabin. They roved from one to the other of the sleeping boys, and then the hatch was laid carefully back upon the floor of the galley, and a man dressed in the uniform of the revenue service sprang out. Another and another followed, until four of them appeared—all stalwart men, and armed with hatchets, chisels and billets of wood. They halted a moment to hold a whispered consultation, and then, with quick and noiseless footsteps, passed into the cabin. Two of them stopped beside the locker on which Chase and his unconscious companions lay, and the others jerked open the door of the cabin and sprang out into the standing room. Paying no attention to Eugene, who was struck dumb and motionless with astonishment, they glanced about the deck, and discovering Walter and Perk standing on the forecastle, they rushed at them with uplifted weapons.
“Don’t move, my lad,” said one of the sailors, seizing Perk by the collar, and flourishing a heavy chisel over his head. “If you do, I’ll send you straight to Davy’s locker.”
“Now, just listen to me a minute, and I’ll tell you[97] what’s a fact,” replied Perk. “Don’t trouble yourself to send me there or anywhere else. I am not likely to make much resistance as long as you keep that weapon over me.”
Walter was equally cool and collected. Although he was taken completely by surprise by the suddenness of the attack, he had no difficulty in finding an explanation for it. As quick as a flash, some words he had heard a few hours before, came back to him. He remembered that, when he told the captain of the cutter that there were two deserters on board the yacht, the latter had remarked to his lieutenant: “Only two! Then the others must have escaped to the shore.” These were the “others” to whom the captain referred. They had not shown themselves, or even made their presence known during the fight in the galley, and their two companions, whom Walter had delivered up to the revenue commander, had not betrayed them. The young captain wished now, when it was too late, that he had searched the hold while the cutter was alongside.
“Easy! easy!” said Walter, when his stalwart assailant seized him by the throat, and brandished his hatchet before his eyes.
“Who commands this craft?” demanded the sailor.
“I have the honor,” replied Walter, without the least tremor in his voice. “Look here, Mr. Revenue-man,” he added, addressing himself to Perk’s antagonist, “don’t choke that boy. He has no intention of resisting you, and neither have I. We know where you came from, and what you intend to do.”
“Well, you’re a cool hand!” said Walter’s captor, releasing his hold of the young captain’s throat, and lowering his hatchet. “You’re sensible, too. Will you give the vessel up to us without any fuss?”
“I didn’t say so. I’ve a watch below.”
“O, they can’t help you, for they’re captured already. There’s a half a dozen of our fellers down there guarding ’em. Now, look a here, cap’n: there’s no use of wasting words over this thing. We’re deserters from the United States revenue service, as you know, and we’re bound to get to Havana some way or other.”
“Well?” said Walter, when the sailor paused.
“Well, we want this vessel to take us there.”
“I suppose she will have to do it.”
“But there’s one difficulty in the way,” the sailor went on. “We don’t know what course to sail to get there. Do you know anything about navigation?”
“If I didn’t, I don’t think I should be out here in command of a yacht,” said Walter, with a smile. And if he had added that he could take a vessel around the world, he would have told nothing but the truth. He and all the rest of the Club had studied navigation at the Academy, and under Uncle Dick, who drilled them in the use of instruments, and they were quite accomplished navigators for boys of their age.
“Now, this is just the way the thing stands,” continued the sailor. “You’re too far from Bellville to give us up to the cutter, like you did them other fellers, and we ain’t likely to let you turn about and go there either. We’re going to Havana; and if you will take us there without any foolishness, we’ll be the peaceablest fellers you ever saw. We’ll obey orders, help manage the yacht, live off your grub, and behave ourselves like gentlemen; but if you try to get to windward of us in any way, we’ll pitch the last one of you overboard. Mebbe you don’t know it, but we are going to ship aboard[100] a Cuban privateer. We can make more that way than we can in Uncle Sam’s service—prize-money, you know.”
“I know all about it,” replied Walter. “I heard it from your captain.”
“Well, what do you say?”
“I say, that I will agree to your terms, seeing that I can’t help myself. If I could, I might give you a different answer.”
“You’re sensible. I know you don’t want us here, but as we can’t get out and walk to Cuba, I’m thinking you will have to put up with our company till we find that privateer.”
“O, I didn’t agree to any such arrangement,” replied Walter, quickly. “I said I would take you to Havana, and so I will; but I am not going all around Robin Hood’s barn looking for a Cuban privateer, for I should never find her. There’s no such thing in existence. Besides, we’ve got business of our own to attend to.”
“I don’t care about your business,” said the sailor, who did not know whether to smile or get angry at Walter’s plain speech. “You’ll go just where we tell you to go. Don’t rile us, or you’ll find us a desperate lot.”
“I don’t intend to rile you, and neither am I going to be imposed upon any longer than I can help.”
Walter turned on his heel and walked aft, and Perk, taking his cue from the captain’s actions, resumed his duties as lookout, paying no more attention to the two sailors than if they had been some of the rope-yarns attached to the rigging. In a few hurried words, Walter explained the state of affairs to Eugene, whom he found almost bursting with impatience to learn the particulars of the interview on the forecastle, and then looking into the cabin, saw Chase and his companions stretched out on the lockers, wide awake, but afraid to rise for fear of the weapons which the two sailors who were guarding them held over their heads. Walter had been led to believe, by what the sailor said to him, that there were at least eight deserters on board the yacht. Had he known that there were but half that number, he might not have been so ready to accede to their leader’s demands.
“Come up out o’ that, you revenue men, and let those boys go to sleep,” said Walter, in a tone of command.
“Belay your jaw,” was the gruff reply. “We[102] take orders from nobody but Tomlinson. Where is he?”
“Here I am,” said the sailor who had held the conversation with Walter. “I’ve the cap’n’s word that we shall be landed in Havana, and no attempts made to humbug us. My name is Tomlinson,” he added, turning to the commander of the yacht. “If you want anything out of these fellers, just speak to me. When does the watch below come on deck?”
“As soon as they’ve had sleep enough. They didn’t close their eyes last night.”
“All right. I say, mates,” continued Tomlinson, addressing his companions in the cabin, “just tumble on to them lockers and go to sleep. You’ll be in that watch, and me and Bob’ll be in the cap’n’s watch; then there’ll be two of us on deck all the time.”
Walter, without waiting to hear whether the sailor had anything else to say, slammed the door of the cabin, and in no amiable frame of mind went forward and joined Perk; while Tomlinson and his companion, after taking a look at the binnacle, stationed themselves in the waist, where they could see all that was going on.
“Well,” said Walter, “what do you think of this?”
“I think that revenue captain must be very stupid to allow six men to desert under his very nose,” replied Perk. “If I had been in his place, I would have known every man who belonged to that prize crew; and I could have told whether or not they were all present without mustering them. What are you going to do?”
“I intend to get rid of them at the earliest possible moment. We shall not be able to make Havana in this wind, but we’ll hit some port on the Cuban coast, and we’ll try to induce these fellows to leave us there. I didn’t agree to find a privateer for them, and I am not going to do it. That revenue cutter has been the cause of more trouble to us than she is worth.”
And the trouble was not yet ended, if Walter had only known it. The deserters were not to be got rid of as easily as he imagined.
The storm was fully as violent as the young captain expected it would be. It might have been a great deal worse, but if it had been, the story of the Club’s adventures would not have been as long as we intend to make it. Walter had ample opportunity[104] for the display of his seamanship, and if any faith is to be put in the word of the deserters, the yacht was well handled. These worthies, true to their promise, conducted themselves with the utmost propriety. They watched Walter pretty closely for the first few hours, but finding that he knew what he was doing, and that he had no intention of attempting to secure them, they gave themselves no further concern. They obeyed orders as promptly as if Walter had been their lawful captain, and treated the young yachtsmen with a great show of respect.
One day Tomlinson, in reply to a question from Walter, explained their presence on board the yacht. He and five companions belonged to the prize crew which had taken charge of the Banner after her capture by the cutter. While they were guarding the prisoners in the cabin, they learned from them that the yacht was bound for Lost Island, and that she would begin the voyage again as soon as the difficulty with the revenue captain was settled. Upon hearing this, Tomlinson and his friends, who had long been on the lookout for an opportunity to desert the cutter, concealed themselves in the hold, hoping to escape discovery until the Banner was[105] once more outside the harbor of Bellville. They made their first attempt to gain the deck at the wrong time, as it proved, for Perk was on hand to defeat them. They knew that the young sailors had seen but two of their number, and when Walter opened the hatch and ordered them on deck, two of them obeyed, while the others remained behind, awaiting another opportunity to make a strike for their freedom. They never had any intention of taking the vessel out of the hands of her captain. All they wanted was to be on deck where they could see what was going on, and to have the assurance that they should be carried to Havana.
On the morning of the fifth day after leaving Bellville Cuba was in plain sight, and at noon the Banner, after passing several small islands, entered a little harbor about a hundred miles to the eastward of Havana. The Club were in a strange place and among a strange people, but the sight of the little town nestled among the hills was a pleasant one to their eyes. They were heartily tired of being tossed about on the Gulf, and longed to feel the solid ground under their feet once more. Their provisions were entirely exhausted, and where the next meal was coming from they had not the slightest[106] idea. This, however, did not trouble them so much as the presence of the deserters. They had quite enough of their company. It was Walter’s intention to remain in the harbor until the wind and sea abated, and in the meantime to use every argument he could think of to induce the men to go ashore. The young captain was utterly discouraged. He had seen nothing of the schooner since the first day out, and he was not likely to see her again, for he had been blown a long way out of his course, and by the time he could reach Havana, Fred Craven would be shipped off to Mexico, and the schooner would have discharged her contraband cargo and be half way on her return voyage to Bellville.
“Captain, there’s an officer wants to come aboard,” said Tomlinson, breaking in upon his reverie.
Walter looked toward the shore and saw a boat putting off from the nearest wharf, and a man dressed in uniform standing in the stern waving his handkerchief. “Who is he?” asked the young captain.
“One of them revenue fellers, I guess. These chaps are very particular.”
“I am glad to hear it, for if we can find that[107] schooner we may be able to induce them to examine her.”
The yacht was thrown up into the wind, and in a few minutes the officer came on board—a fierce-looking Spaniard, with a mustache which covered all the lower part of his face, and an air as pompous as that of the revenue captain. He touched his hat to Walter, and addressed some words to him which the latter could not understand.
“I hope there’s nothing wrong,” said the commander, anxiously. “I may have violated some of the rules of the port, for I am like a cat in a strange garret here. Tomlinson, can you speak his lingo?”
“No, sir. Talk French to the lubber, if you can.”
Walter could and did. The visitor replied in the same language, and his business was quickly settled. He was a revenue officer, as Tomlinson had surmised, and wanted to look at the yacht’s papers, which were quickly produced; although of what use they could be to a man who did not understand English, Walter could not determine. The officer looked at them a moment, with an air of profound wisdom, and then returning them with the remark that they were all right, touched his hat and sprang[108] into his boat. As soon as he was clear of the side the yacht filled away again, Walter taking his stand upon the rail and looking out for a convenient place to moor his vessel; but there were but two small wharves in the harbor, and every berth seemed to be occupied. As he ran his eye along the brigs, barks and schooners, wondering if there were an American among them, his gaze suddenly became fastened upon a little craft which looked familiar to him. He was certain he had seen that black hull and those tall, raking masts before. He looked again, and in a voice which trembled in spite of all his efforts to control it, requested Eugene to hand him his glass.
“What’s the matter?” asked the crew in concert, crowding up to the rail. “What do you see?”
“He sees the Stella, and so do I!” exclaimed Bab, in great excitement.
“Yes, it is the Stella,” said Walter, so overjoyed at this streak of good fortune that he could scarcely speak. “Now, we’ll see if these Cuban revenue officers are as worthless as some of our own. But I say, Perk,” he added, his excitement suddenly increasing, “take this glass and tell me who those[109] three persons are who are walking up the hill, just beyond the schooner.”
Perk leveled the glass, but had not held it to his eye long before his hand began to tremble, and his face assumed an expression much like that it had worn during his contest with the deserters, and while he was confronting Bayard Bell and his crowd. Without saying a word he handed the glass to Eugene, and settling his hat firmly on his head pushed back his coat sleeves. He acted as if he wanted to fight.
“They are Mr. Bell, the captain of the Stella, and—who is that walking between them? Fred Craven, as I live!” Eugene almost shouted.
“Now, listen to me a minute, and I’ll tell you what’s a fact,” said Perk, bringing his clenched fist down into the palm of his hand. “That’s just who they are.”
“Fred sees us, too,” continued Eugene. “He is looking back at us.”
“I didn’t think I could be mistaken,” said Walter. “Perk, keep your eye on them and see where they go. Stand by, fellows. When we reach the wharf make everything fast as soon as possible; and Eugene, you and Bab see if you can[110] find that revenue officer. If you do, tell him the whole story, and take him on board the schooner. Perk and I will follow Fred, and Chase and Wilson will watch the yacht.”
In ten minutes more, the Banner’s bow touched a brig lying alongside the wharf, and too impatient to wait until she was made fast, Walter and Perk hurried to the shore and ran up the hill in pursuit of Fred Craven. How great would have been their astonishment, had they known that they were running into a trap that had been prepared for them.

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