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HOME > Short Stories > The Sportman's Club Afloat > CHAPTER VI. A CHAPTER OF INCIDENTS.
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 As soon as the yacht had been made fast to the brig, Eugene and Bab sprang over the rail and hurried away in search of the revenue officer, leaving Chase and Wilson to put everything to rights, and to look out for the vessel. The latter, excited and delighted almost beyond measure at the prospect of the speedy rescue of Fred Craven, kept their eyes fastened upon Walter and Perk, as they ran up the hill, and when they disappeared from view, reluctantly set to work to furl the sails and clear up the deck. The deserters, however, suddenly seemed to have lost all interest in the yacht. Instead of assisting the young sailors at their work, they gathered in the standing-room and held a whispered consultation, ever and anon glancing toward the lieutenant, to make sure that he was not listening or observing their movements. Chase did not appear to notice what was going on, but for all[112] that he was wide awake. Feeling the full weight of the responsibility that Walter had thrown upon him, in leaving him in charge of the yacht, he was inclined to be nervous and suspicious of everything. “What are those fellows up to?” he asked of his companion, in a whisper.
“What makes you think they are up to anything?” inquired Wilson.
“I judge by their actions. If they are not planning some mischief, why do they watch us so closely, and talk in so low a tone that we cannot hear them? How easy it would be for them to take the yacht from us and go to sea again, if they felt so inclined! I really believe that is what they are talking about.”
“I never thought of that,” said Wilson, almost paralyzed at the simple mention of the thing. “What would Walter say if some such misfortune should befall the Banner, while she is under our charge? He would never forgive us. But of course, they won’t attempt it, for they don’t understand navigation.”
But Wilson was not as well acquainted with the dispositions of the men with whom they had to deal as Chase was. The latter had made a shrewd guess,[113] for the deserters were at that very moment discussing a plan for seizing the Banner and making off with her. They lived in constant fear of capture—they did not know at what instant they might see the revenue cutter coming into the harbor—and they could not feel free from danger until they were safe on board the privateer of which they were in search. They wanted to go to Havana at once, and this forced delay was more than they could endure. The leader of the deserters was urging an immediate departure, but his companions were not quite ready to give their consent to his plans.
“Perhaps we shall now find out what they are talking about,” whispered Chase, suddenly, “for here comes Tomlinson. Keep your weather-eye open, and be ready for any tricks.”
“I say, lads!” exclaimed the deserter, approaching the place where the boys were at work, “what’s your business here, anyhow? What brought you to Cuba?”
“Didn’t the captain tell you?” asked Chase.
“He didn’t even hint it.”
“Then it isn’t worth while to make inquiries of us. Our business concerns no one but ourselves and our friends.”
“Well, ain’t me and my mates friends of yours? Mebbe we can help you.”
“If the captain had thought so, no doubt he would have taken you into his confidence. Wait until he returns, and talk to him.”
“Where has he gone?”
“I don’t know.”
“When will he be back?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea.”
“How long before he is going to sail for Havana?”
“I don’t know that either. He’ll not start until this wind goes down and he gets some provisions—perhaps not even then. His business may keep him here a week.”
Tomlinson turned on his heel, and walking aft, joined his companions. “It must be done, mates,” said he in a whisper. “The lads are as dumb as tar-buckets, and all I could find out was that the yacht may stay here several days. During that time, the privateer may make up her crew and go to sea, and we shall be left out in the cold. We ought to be in Havana now.”
“But I am ’most afraid to trust you in command,[115] Tom,” said one of the deserters. “The captain says it is a good hundred miles to Havana.”
“No matter if it is a thousand; I can find it. All we have to do is to sail along the coast. We’ll know the city when we see it, won’t we?”
“But we need some grub, and how are we going to get it?”
“As soon as it grows dark we’ll land and steal some—that’s the way we’ll get it. What do you say now? I am going to Havana in this yacht: who’s going with me?”
This question settled the matter at once. All the deserters were anxious to find the privateer, and since Tomlinson, who was the ruling spirit of the band, was determined to start in search of her, the others, rather than be left behind, decided to accompany him, and run all the risks of shipwreck.
The immediate seizure of the yacht having been resolved upon, the next question to be settled was: What should be done with the boys? After a few minutes’ conversation on this point, Tomlinson and two of his companions went forward to assist Chase and Wilson, while the fourth walked to the stern, and leaning his folded arms upon the rail, gazed listlessly into the water. Tomlinson and his two[116] friends lent effective aid, and the deck of the Banner soon began to present its usual scene of neatness and order. The former kept up a running fire of jokes and stories, in the midst of which he suddenly paused, and stood fiercely regarding his companion in the standing room.
“Bob,” said he, in a tone of command, “I never knew before that you were a soger. Look around and find something to do.”
“Where shall I go?” asked Bob, gruffly.
“Anywhere, so long as you don’t stand there skulking. Go into the cabin, and put it in order against the captain comes back.”
Bob slowly straightened up and sauntered down the companion-ladder, but almost immediately reappeared. “The cabin’s all right,” he growled. “Everything’s in order.”
“Then go into the galley, or into the hold, and see if things are all right there,” returned Tomlinson, angrily. “I know you can find something to do somewhere about the yacht.”
Bob disappeared in the cabin again, and presently Chase heard him tumbling things about in the hold. In a few minutes he once more thrust his head out of the companion-way.
“Well, what’s the row now?” asked Tomlinson. “Find anything to do down there?”
“Plenty of it,” was the reply. “Lieutenant, will you step down here a moment?”
Chase, believing from Bob’s tone and manner, that he had found something very much out of the way in the hold, started toward the companion-way; but just before he reached it, a thought struck him, and he stopped and looked earnestly at the man. “What’s the matter down there?” he asked.
“One of the water-butts has sprung a leak, sir,” said the sailor.
“That’s a dreadful calamity, isn’t it? Don’t you know what to do in such a case? Bail the water out of the leaky butt into one of the others.”
“But there’s none to bail out, sir. Every drop has leaked out, and the water is ankle deep all over the hold.”
“Wilson,” said Chase, turning to his companion, “just give a stroke or two on that pump, will you?”
Wilson did as he was requested, but not a drop of water was brought up. The Banner’s hold was as dry as a piece of hard-tack.
“How are you, leaky water-butt!” exclaimed[118] Chase, with a significant glance at Wilson. “Anything else wrong below, Bob?”
The sailor, somewhat disconcerted, did not know what to say at first, but after a look at Tomlinson, he replied:
“Yes, sir. Everything is pitched out of place, and I shall need some one to help me put ’em to rights. I can’t lift those heavy tool-chests by myself.”
“Look here, Bob,” said Chase, suddenly; “you’re not a good hand at this business. You can’t tell a falsehood and keep a straight face.”
“Falsehood, sir!” exclaimed the sailor, ascending a step or two nearer the top of the companion-ladder, as if he had half a mind to come on deck and resent the word. “Do you say I lie?”
“Well, no; I didn’t say so,” replied Chase, not in the least intimidated by the man’s threatening glances; “I can generally express myself without being so rude. But that is just what I mean. You know the hold is in order, and so do I; for I was down there not five minutes before we landed. I am too old to be taken in by any such flimsy trick as this. You’ll have to study up a better one if you expect to deceive me.”
So saying, Chase walked back to the forecastle and resumed his work, while Bob, not knowing what reply to make, went down into the cabin. The lieutenant kept his eye upon Tomlinson and his two friends, and saw that, when they thought themselves unobserved, they exchanged glances indicative of rage and disappointment. One by one they walked aft to the standing room, and in a few minutes more were holding another council of war.
“Chase, you’re a sharp one,” said Wilson, approvingly. “If I had been in your place I should have been nicely fooled. What do you suppose they want to do?”
“They intend to capture us and run off with the yacht; that’s their game. They are afraid to lay hands on us as long as we remain on deck, but if they could get us into the cabin out of sight, they would make prisoners of us in a hurry. O, there’s nothing to be afraid of,” added Chase, noticing the expression of anxiety that settled on his companion’s face. “If they attack us we’ll summon help from this brig.”
The deserters were much astonished as well as disheartened by the failure of their clumsy attempt to entice the lieutenant into the hold. They saw[120] that he suspected them and was on the alert. They were none the less determined, however, to possess themselves of the yacht, and when they gathered in the standing room Tomlinson, who was fruitful in expedients, had another plan to propose. While they were discussing it a sailor, who had for some time been leaning over the brig’s rail, watching all that was going on on board the Banner, swung himself off by his hands and dropped upon her deck. Chase and Wilson saw him, but supposing that he was one of the crew of the brig, whose curiosity had prompted him to visit the yacht, they said nothing to him.
The stranger, finding that no one paid any attention to his movements, set himself at work to examine the yacht very closely, especially as much of her internal arrangements as he could see through her hatchways. He spent ten minutes in this way, and then sauntered toward the standing room. The sound of his footsteps attracted the attention of Tomlinson, who looked up and greeted him with:
“Hallo, mate! Do you happen to have a pipeful of tobacco about you?”
The sailor produced a good-sized plug from his[121] pocket and asked, as he handed it to Tomlinson: “What craft is this?”
“She’s a private yacht—the Banner—and belongs in Bellville, Louisiana,” was the answer. “Me and my mates here are the crew. We are hired by the year, and all we have to do is to take a half a dozen young gentlemen wherever they want to go.”
“You have papers, of course?”
“Yes. The captain keeps them in that desk in the cabin.”
The stranger directed his gaze down the companion-way, and after taking a good look at the little writing-desk Tomlinson pointed out to him, asked, as he jerked his thumb over his shoulder toward the two boys on the forecastle:
“Who are those fellows? I think I have seen them somewhere.”
“Their names are Chase and Wilson, and they are a couple of green hands who came out with us. The cap’n and steward have gone ashore to get some grub. We’ve been knocked about on the Gulf for the last five days, and we’ve made way with the last mouthful of salt horse and hard tack. We haven’t had any breakfast yet.”
“You haven’t!” exclaimed the sailor. “Then[122] come with me. I am mate of the schooner Stella, which lies a little way below here. I’ll give you a good breakfast and a pipe to smoke after it.”
Tomlinson and his friends were much too hungry to decline an invitation of this kind. Without saying a word they followed the mate on board the brig, thence to the wharf, and in a few minutes found themselves on board the Stella. After conducting them into the forecastle, their guide made his way across the deck and down the companion-ladder into the cabin, where he found Mr. Bell pacing to and fro.
“Well,” said the latter, pausing in his walk, “waste no time in words now. Have you succeeded?”
“Not yet, sir,” replied the mate. “I found more men there than I expected to find—four sailors, who say they are the hired crew of the yacht, but I know they are deserters from Uncle Sam’s revenue service. How they came on board the Banner, I did not stop to inquire. They told me they had eaten no breakfast, and I brought them up here. We can easily keep them out of the way until the work is done.”
“Very good,” said Mr. Bell. “Tell the steward[123] to serve them up a good meal at once. Was there anybody else on board the yacht?”
“Yes, sir; Chase and Wilson were there, and I am now going back to attend to them. The vessel’s papers are kept in a writing-desk in the cabin, and I shall have no trouble in securing them.”
The mate left the cabin, and after repeating Mr. Bell’s order to the steward, sprang over the rail, and hurried along the wharf toward the place where the Banner lay. When he arrived within sight of her, he was surprised to see that Chase and Wilson were making preparations to get under way. The jib was already shaking in the wind, and the foresail was slowly crawling up the mast. Chase was determined that the deserters should not return on board the yacht if he could prevent it. He would anchor the vessel at a safe distance from the shore, with the sails hoisted, and if Tomlinson and his friends attempted to reach her by the aid of a boat he would slip the cable and run away from them.
“It seems that I am just in time,” soliloquized the mate of the Stella. “A few minutes’ delay would have spoiled everything. Tony,” he added in Spanish, turning to a negro who stood close by, and who seemed to be awaiting his orders, “here’s[124] the note and here’s the money. Be in a hurry now, and mind what you are about.”
The negro took the articles the mate handed him, and after putting the money into his pocket, and stowing the letter away in the crown of his hat, he sprang on board the brig and made his way toward the yacht; while the mate concealed himself behind some sugar hogsheads that stood on the wharf to observe his movements. He saw the negro drop down upon the deck of the Banner and present the note to Chase, and he noticed too the excitement it produced upon the two boys.
The note the lieutenant received was as follows:
“Friend Chase:
We have come up with Featherweight at last. He is still in the hands of the smugglers, but with a little assistance, we can easily rescue him. Come immediately, and bring all the boys with you. This darkey will act as your guide.
In great haste,
“That’s business,” cried Chase, thrusting the note into his pocket, and bustling about in such a state of excitement that he scarcely knew what to[125] do first. “We’ll see fun now. Close those hatches, and we’ll be off. I only hope I shall get a chance to do something for Fred Craven. I want to show him that I don’t forget favors.”
“Must we leave the Banner to take care of herself?” asked Wilson.
“What else can we do? We can’t very well put her into our pockets and take her with us.”
“But what if something should happen to her? Suppose the deserters should return and run off with her?”
“That’s Walter’s lookout, and not ours,” replied Chase, locking the door of the cabin, and putting the key into his pocket. “I wonder if this fellow can tell us where the captain is, and what he is doing? Can you speak English?” he added, addressing the negro.
The man stared at him, but made no answer.
“Can you talk French?” continued Chase, speaking in that language.
The negro grinned, but said nothing.
“Well, we can’t talk Spanish, so we must wait until we see Walter, before we can find out what has been going on,” said Wilson. “But it seems strange that he should ask us to come to him and[126] leave the vessel with no one to watch her, doesn’t it?”
“Under ordinary circumstances it would,” answered Chase, springing upon the deck of the brig, and hurrying toward the wharf. “But Walter is working for Fred Craven, you know, and he would rather lose a dozen yachts, if he had them, than to allow a hair of his head to be harmed.”
When the boys reached the wharf they put themselves under the guidance of the negro, who led them through an arched gateway to the street, where stood a heavy cotton wagon, to which was attached a team of four mules. At a sign from the negro, the young sailors sprang into the vehicle, and the man mounting one of the mules, set up a shout, the team broke into a gallop, and the boys were whirled rapidly down the street.
When the wagon had disappeared, the mate of the Stella arose from his place of concealment behind the sugar hogsheads, and with a smile of satisfaction on his face walked rapidly toward his vessel. He spent a few minutes in the cabin with Mr. Bell, and when he came on deck, ordered the yawl to be manned. While this command was being obeyed by a part of the schooner’s company, the others[127] busied themselves in bringing boxes and bales up from the cabin; and when the yawl was hauled alongside, these articles were handed down to her crew, who stowed them away under the thwarts. This done, the mate took his seat at the helm, the crew gave way on the oars, and presently the yawl was lying alongside Walter Gaylord’s yacht. The mate at once boarded her; the fore-hatch, which Chase and Wilson, in their haste to obey the order contained in Walter’s note, had neglected to fasten, was opened, and the officer and two of his men jumped down into the galley, whence they made their way into the hold. The boxes and bales were then passed up out of the yawl and through the hatches, one by one, and stowed away behind the water-butts. This much being accomplished, the mate came up out of the hold, and leaving his men to close the hatch, went into the cabin and opened the desk which Tomlinson had pointed out to him. Almost the first thing his eyes rested upon was an official envelope, addressed to “Captain Walter Gaylord, Commanding the Yacht Banner.” Thrusting it hastily into his pocket, he ascended to the deck, and in a few seconds more the yawl was on her way down the harbor. Arriving alongside the[128] Stella, the mate once more sought an interview with Mr. Bell, and handed him the envelope he had taken from Walter’s desk. The gentleman glanced quickly over the document it contained, and then tearing it into fragments, walked to one of the stern windows and threw the pieces into the water.
“There!” said he, in a tone of exultation. “The next time Captain Gaylord is asked to produce his clearance papers, I think he will have some trouble in finding them. Before he is done with us he will wish he had stayed at home where he belongs.”

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