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HOME > Short Stories > The Sportman's Club Afloat > CHAPTER XI. “SHEEP AHOY!”
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 Meanwhile Eugene, whose astonishment and indignation knew no bounds, was striking out vigorously for the wharf. Like Chase he began to believe he had ample reason for declaring the expedition a failure, and to wish he had known better than to urge it on. The yacht was lost, with no prospect of being recovered; Bab was a prisoner in the hands of the deserters, and there was no knowing what they would do with him; he was alone, in a strange country, his brother and all the rest of the Club having disappeared; and Fred Craven was still missing—perhaps had already been sent off to Mexico under the Spanish sea captain. This was the worst feature in the case, and it caused Eugene more anxiety than the loss of the yacht. Concerning himself he was not at all uneasy. He was in full possession of his liberty, was a passable sailor, and could easily find a vessel bound for the States;[199] but what could poor Fred do in his helpless condition? Eugene was so fully occupied with such thoughts as these that he forgot that he was in the water; and neither did he know that he was an object of interest and amusement to several men who were watching him. But he became aware of the fact when he rounded the brig’s stern, for a voice directly over his head called out, in a strong foreign accent: “Sheep ahoy!”
“You’re a sheep yourself,” replied Eugene, looking up, just in time to catch a line as it came whirling down to him, and to see half a dozen sailors in striped shirts and tarpaulins, leaning over the brig’s rail. Seizing the line with both hands he was drawn out of the water, and in a few seconds more found himself sprawling on the vessel’s deck in the midst of the sailors, who greeted him with jeers and shouts of laughter.
“Now, perhaps you see something funny in this, but I don’t,” exclaimed Eugene, as he scrambled to his feet and looked around for the Banner. “Do you see that craft out there? She belongs to my brother, and those fellows have stolen her and are running away with her. I am a stranger to this[200] country, and its laws and ways of doing business, and I don’t know how to go to work to get her back. Perhaps some of you will be kind enough to give me a word of advice.”
The sailors ceased their laughter when he began to speak, and listened attentively until he was done, when they broke out into another roar, louder than the first. The one who had thrown him the rope slapped him on the back and shouted “Sheep ahoy!” while another offered him a plug of tobacco. The truth was, they had seen Eugene jump overboard when Tomlinson came aft to seize him; and, very far from guessing the facts of the case, they believed him to be one of the yacht’s boys who had taken to the water to escape punishment for some offence he had committed. They could not understand English, and there was only one among them who could speak even a word of it; and all he could say was “Sheep ahoy!” (he intended it for “Ship ahoy!”) which he kept repeating over and over again, without having the least idea what it meant. They thought that Eugene was trying to explain to them how badly he had been abused on board his vessel, and his vehement gestures and angry countenance excited their mirth.
“Get away with that stuff!” cried the boy, hitting the plug of tobacco a knock that sent it from the sailor’s hand spinning across the deck. “Stop pounding me on the back, you fellow, and shouting ‘Sheep ahoy!’ I’m no more of a sheep than you are. Is there one among you who can talk English?”
“Sheep ahoy!” yelled the sailor, while his companions burst into another roar of laughter, as the owner of the tobacco went to pick up his property.
The harder Eugene tried to make himself understood, the louder the sailors laughed. At first he thought they would not answer his questions, merely because they wished to tantalize him; but being satisfied at last that they could not comprehend a word he said, he pushed them roughly aside, and springing upon the wharf, hurried off, followed by a fresh burst of laughter and loud cries of “Sheep ahoy!”
“I don’t see any sense in making game of a fellow that way, even if you can’t understand him,” thought Eugene, more angry than ever. “I hope the rebels may capture the last one of you, and shut you up for awhile.”
Eugene did not know where he was going or[202] what he intended to do. Indeed, he did not give the matter a moment’s thought. All he cared for just then was to get out of hearing of the laughter of the brig’s crew, and to find some quiet spot where he could sit down by himself, and take time to recover from the bewilderment occasioned by the events of the last quarter of an hour. With this object in view, he hurried along the wharf, out of the gate, and up the street leading to the top of the hill. At the same moment Walter and Perk were walking slowly up the other side. It was now nearly sunset. For four long hours the young captain and his companion had run about the village in every direction, looking for Fred Craven, and now, almost tired out, and utterly discouraged, they were slowly retracing their steps toward the wharf. They met Eugene at the top of the hill, and the moment their eyes rested on him, they knew he had some unwelcome news to communicate, although they little thought it as bad as it was.
“O, fellows!” exclaimed Eugene, as soon as he came within speaking distance, “you don’t know how glad I am to see you again. They’ve got her at last, and Bab too; and here the rest of us are, high and dry ashore, with a fair prospect of working[203] our passage back to Bellville, if we can find any vessel to ship on. Look there!”
Walter turned his eyes in the direction indicated, and one look was enough. “The deserters?” he faltered.
“Yes, sir, the deserters! And who do you suppose is their leader? Pierre Coulte!”
Without waiting to hear the exclamations of amazement which this unexpected intelligence called forth from his companions, Eugene went on to tell what had happened to him since he had last seen his brother—how he and Bab had traversed the wharf from one end to the other without meeting the revenue officer of whom they had been sent in search, and had returned to the yacht just in time to see her captured. He wound up his story with the remark that Chase and Wilson must have been secured, before he and Bab came within sight of the vessel, for they had seen nothing of them.
“Well, this is a pretty state of affairs,” said Walter, as soon as he could speak. “Instead of assisting Fred Craven, we have managed to lose three more of our fellows. As far as I can see we are done for now, and all that is left us is to look about for a chance to go home. But first, I’d like[204] to know what those men intend to do with the yacht. Do you see where they are going? Let’s walk around the beach. I want to keep her in sight as long as I can, for I never expect to see her after to-night.”
Walter did not keep the Banner in sight five minutes after he spoke. She had by this time reached the other side of the harbor, and disappeared among the trees and bushes that lined the shore, having probably entered a creek that flowed into the bay. With one accord the boys bent their steps along the beach toward the spot where she had last been seen, not with any intention of trying to recover possession of her, but simply because they did not know what else to do.
It was fully three miles around the beach to the woods in which the Banner had vanished from their view, but the boys had so much to talk about that the distance did not seem nearly so great. Almost before they were aware of it, they were stumbling about among the bushes, in close proximity to the Banner’s hiding-place. Not deeming it policy to attract the attention of her crew, they ceased their conversation and became more cautious in their movements—a proceeding on which they had reason[205] to congratulate themselves; for, before they had gone fifty yards farther, they saw the Banner’s tall, taper masts rising through the bushes directly in advance of them. They looked about among the trees in every direction, but could see no one. They listened, but no sound came from the direction of the yacht. The same encouraging thought occurred to each of the boys at the same moment, and Eugene was the first to give utterance to it.
“Can it be possible, that the deserters have run her in here and left her?” he asked, excitedly.
“It is possible, but hardly probable,” replied Walter. “They didn’t steal her just to run her across the bay and leave her. They’re going to Havana in her.”
“I know that. But if they are on board, why don’t we hear them talking or walking about? They may have gone back to the village for something.”
“Then we should have met them,” said Walter. “But, if you say so, we’ll go up nearer and reconnoitre. I’d like to have one more look at the Banner, before I give her up for ever.”............
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