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HOME > Short Stories > The Sportman's Club Afloat > CHAPTER XIV. THE YACHT LOOKOUT.
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 “I am disposed of at last, am I? I rather think not. I have the free use of my hands and feet, and if there’s any opening in this state-room large enough for a squirrel to squeeze through, I shall be out of here in less than five minutes. There’s the transom; I’ll try that.” Thus spoke Fred Craven, who, with his hands in his pockets, was standing in the middle of his new prison, listening to the retreating footsteps of the men who had just placed him there. He had heard Captain Conway’s sigh of relief, and caught the words he uttered when the door was locked upon him, and his soliloquy showed what he thought of the matter. He had not met with a single adventure during his captivity among the smugglers. Shorty after the Stella sailed from Lost Island he was released from the hold, and allowed the freedom[255] of the deck. He messed with the crew, and, for want of some better way of passing the time, performed the duties of foremast hand as regularly and faithfully as though he had shipped for the voyage. He saw nothing of Mr. Bell, who remained in his cabin day and night, and had but little to say to any of the schooner’s company. His mind was constantly occupied with thoughts of escape, and on more than one occasion, during the silence of the mid-watch, had he crept stealthily from his bunk in the forecastle and taken his stand by the rail, looking out at the angry waves which tossed the schooner so wildly about, hardly able to resist an insane desire to seize a life-buoy or handspike and spring into them. But prudence always stepped in in time to prevent him from doing anything rash, and finally curbing his impatience as well as he could he accepted the situation, working hard to keep his thoughts from wandering back to his home and friends, and constantly cheered by the hope that when once the shores of Cuba were sighted something would turn up in his favor. But he was doomed to disappointment. No sooner had the headlands at the entrance to the harbor of Port Platte appeared in view than he was ordered into[256] the hold by Captain Conway, and secured beyond all possibility of escape. In the afternoon, however, he was again brought out, and, after listening to a long speech from Mr. Bell, the object of which was to make known to him the fact that he was to be taken ashore, and that his bodily comfort depended upon his observing the strictest silence, he was compelled to accompany him and the captain up the hill toward the village.
Featherweight thought he was now about to be turned over to the Spanish sea-captain, and so he was (only the captain, as it turned out, was an American who, for money, had undertaking to land Fred in some remote corner of the world); but first he had a part to perform, and that was to entice the crew of the Banner ashore in pursuit of him. As he slowly mounted the hill, he cast his eyes toward the Gulf, thinking the while of the quiet, pleasant little home, and the loving hearts he had left so far beyond it, and was greatly astonished to see a vessel, which looked exactly like the Banner, coming in. He did not know what had happened in the cove at Lost Island, and neither had he dreamed that Walter and his crew, bent on releasing him, had followed him for more than six hundred miles through[257] a storm, the like of which they had never experienced before. He had not now the faintest idea that such was the case. What then must have been his amazement when he saw the vessel which had attracted his attention, haul suddenly into the shore and deposit Walter and Perk on the wharf? He saw the two boys as they followed him up the hill, and waved his handkerchief to them; and knowing just how courageous and determined they were, made up his mind that the moment of his deliverance was not far distant. But once more his hopes were dashed to the ground. His captors concealed themselves and him in a doorway until the pursuers had passed, and then the captain conducted him on board the ship and gave him into the hands of his new jailer. But Fred was resolved that he would not stay there. The ship was lying alongside the wharf; he was not bound, and if he could only work his way out of the state-room, it would be an easy matter to jump through one of the cabin windows into the water, and strike out for shore. The knowledge that there were friends at no great distance, ready and willing to assist him, encouraged him to make the attempt. There was not a moment to be lost. Mr. Bell had taken up more than two[258] hours by his man?uvres on shore; it was beginning to grow dark, the captain and all his crew were busy getting the ship under way, and the effort must be made before she left the wharf.
The first thing to which Fred directed his attention, was the transom—a narrow window over the door, opening into the cabin—and the next, a huge sea-chest which was stowed away under the bunk. To drag this chest from its place, and tip it upon one end under the transom, was an operation which did not occupy many minutes of time. When he sprang upon it, he found that his head was on a level with the window. There was no one in the cabin. With a beating heart he turned the button, but that was as far as he could go—an obstacle appeared. His new jailer had neglected no precautions for his safe keeping, for the transom was screwed down.
“Well, what of it?” soliloquized Featherweight, not in the least disheartened by this discovery. “There’s more than one way to do things. I have the advantage of being smaller than most fellows of my age, and I can make my way through cracks in which an ordinary boy would stick fast. I believe[259] I could even get through the key-hole, if it was just a trifle larger.”
While he was speaking he took his knife from his pocket, and attacked the putty with which one of the window-panes was secured. After a few quick passes it was all removed, and placing the blade of his knife beneath the glass, Featherweight forced it out of its place, and carefully laid it upon the chest. The opening thus made was not more than nine inches long and six wide, but it was large enough to admit the passage of Fred’s little body, with some space to spare. After again reconnoitering the cabin, he thrust one of his legs through, then the other, and after a little squirming and some severe scratches from the sharp edges of the sash, he dropped down upon his feet. No sooner was he fairly landed than he ran to one of the stern windows of the cabin, threw it open, and without an instant’s hesitation plunged into the water. But he did not strike out for the wharf as he had intended to do, for something caught his attention as he was descending through the air, and riveted his gaze. It was a large yacht, which was slowly passing up the harbor. He looked at her a moment, and then, with a cry of delight, swam toward her with all the[260] speed he was capable of; but, before he had made a dozen strokes, a hoarse ejaculation from some one on the deck of the ship announced that he was discovered. He looked up, and saw the master of the vessel bending over the rail. “Good-bye, old fellow!” shouted Fred. “I’ve changed my mind. I’ll not take passage with you this trip. If it is all the same to you I’ll wait until the next.”
For a moment the captain’s astonishment was so great that he could neither move nor speak. He could not understand how his prisoner had effected his escape, after the care he had taken to secure him; and while he was thinking about it, Fred was improving every second of the time, and making astonishing headway through the water. The captain was not long in discovering this, and then he began to bustle about the deck in a state of great excitement.
“Avast there!” he cried. “Come back here, or I will wear a rope’s end out on you.” Then seeing that the swimmer paid no attention to his threat, he turned to his crew and ordered some of them to follow him into the yawl, which was made fast to the stern of the ship.
Fred heard the command and swam faster than[261] ever, stopping now and then, however, to raise himself as far as he could out of the water, and wave his hand toward the yacht. He tried to shout, but his excitement seemed to have taken away his voice, for he could not utter a syllable. But for all that he was seen, and his discovery seemed to produce no little commotion on the deck of the yacht. Several of her crew, led by a short, powerful-looking man, who wore a jaunty tarpaulin and wide collar, and carried a spy-glass in his hand, rushed to the rail; and the latter, after levelling his glass first at him and then at the ship, turned and issued some orders in a voice so loud and clear that Featherweight caught every word. There was no mistaking that voice or those shoulders, and neither was there any mistake possible in regard to the yacht, for there never was another like her. She was the Lookout; the man with the broad shoulders and stentorian voice was Uncle Dick; and of those who accompanied him to the side one was Fred’s own father. The yacht at once changed her course and stood toward the fugitive, and the bustle on her deck and the rapid orders that were issued, told him that her boat was being manned. Would it arrive before the yawl that was now putting off from the ship?[262] Featherweight asked and answered this question in the same breath. As far as he was concerned it made no difference whether it did or not. His father had not followed him clear to Cuba to see another man make a prisoner of him, and as he was backed up by Uncle Dick and his crew, the matter could end in but one way.
“In bow!” commanded a stern voice behind him a few seconds later. “Parker, stand up, and fasten into his collar with the boat-hook.”
The sharp, hissing sound which a boat makes when passing rapidly through the water, fell upon Fred’s ear at this moment, and looking over his shoulder, he found the ship’s yawl close upon him. He saw the bowman draw in his oar, and rise to his feet with the boat-hook in his hand, and an instant afterward his collar was drawn tight about his neck, his progress suddenly stopped, and then he was pulled back through the water and hauled into the yawl.
“I’ll teach you to obey orders, my lad,” said the captain, as he pushed Featherweight roughly down upon one of the thwarts. “I’ll show you that a boy who comes aboard my vessel of his own free will, and ships for a voyage, and receives his advance[263] fair and square, can’t desert when he feels so inclined. You’ll sup sorrow for this.”
This remark was doubtless made for the benefit of the yawl’s crew, none of whom were aware of the circumstances under which Fred had been brought on board the ship. The prisoner made no reply, but took his seat with the utmost composure, wiped the water from his face and looked toward the yacht. Her boat was just coming in sight around her stern. It was pulled by a sturdy crew, who bent to the oars as if they meant business. In the stern sheets sat Uncle Dick and Mr. Craven.
“I wonder what that schooner’s boat is out for,” said the captain, suddenly becoming aware that he was pursued.
“I suppose they saw me in the water, and thought they would pick me up,” observed Featherweight.
“Well, you are picked up already, and they can go back and attend to their own business. You belong to me.”
The captain said this in an indifferent tone, and settled back in his seat as if he had disposed of the matter; but it was plain that he was very much interested in the proceedings of the boat behind him. Now that the swimmer was picked up, he looked to[264] see her turn back; but she did nothing of the kind. She came straight on in the wake of his yawl, and gained with every stroke of her crew. The captain’s interest presently became uneasiness; and when at last the pursuing boat dashed up alongside, and her crew seized the gunwale of his yawl, his face was white with alarm. The instant the two boats touched, Fred was on his feet, and the next, his father’s arms were about him. The captain heard the words “Father!” and “My son!” and then his under jaw dropped down, and his eyes seemed ready to start from their sockets. But he tried to keep up some show of courage and authority. “Hold on, there!” he exclaimed. “Hand that boy back here. He is one of my crew, who is trying to desert me.”
“We happen to know a story worth two of that,” said Uncle Dick, eying the captain until the latter quailed under his stern glance. “That boy is my friend’s son. I’ll trouble you to step into this boat.”
“Is he, really?” said the captain, pretending not to hear Uncle Dick’s order. “In that case I will let him off for a consideration.”
“All the money you will receive for your share[265] in this business, has been paid to you by Mr. Bell, whom we shall have arrested in less than ten minutes. Step into this boat.”
“What for?”
“Because we have use for you.”
“And what if I don’t choose to do it?”
“Then I shall take you up bodily and throw you in,” said the old sailor, rising to his feet in just the right mood to carry his threat into execution.
“If you don’t wish to suffer with your employer,” said Mr. Craven, who was much calmer than any one else in Uncle Dick’s boat, “you had better come with us peaceably.”
The captain protested, and tried to assume a look of injured innocence, but it did not avail him. The two stern-looking men who were confronting him would not be denied, and Fred’s jailer finally stepped into Uncle Dick’s boat, and was carried on board the yacht, while his own crew, who had listened with wonder to all that passed, pulled back to the ship.
There were twent............
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