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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » A Year in a Yawl » CHAPTER III OUTWARD BOUND
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It was a quiet group of boys that stood in the cockpit of the “Gazelle,” and watched the shores of their native town fade from view. They had persevered in their scheme in spite of discouragement from their elders and ridicule from their companions. They had undertaken a seemingly impossible thing. What would the outcome be?

It was well that the young adventurers could not foresee what the future had in store for them, for stouter hearts even than theirs might have hesitated at the prospect.

As it was, none of them had forgotten that “Keeping Everlastingly at it Brings Success,” and all four meant to follow that motto to the end.

“Clyde!” Ransom suddenly interrupted the reverie into which they had fallen. “I think I once heard you say that you would like to be cook. Now’s your chance. Go ahead and be it.”

“My, what a memory you have!” the other answered, with a wry face. “But wait until you try some of my cooking, then the smile will travel my way. I’m sorry for you.” And Clyde disappeared down the companionway.

The storm which had just passed left the surface of the Lake very uneasy, and the little yacht was tossed from the crest of one huge wave to another like a chip; but she bore the rough usage splendidly, and hardly shipped water at all; the spray which her sharp spoon bow dashed up as she flew into the white caps was all the wetting her deck showed.

“Say,” came a muffled voice from below, “I’ll mutiny if some one doesn’t come down and hold the things on the stove. The coffee-pot is trying to jump into the saucepan’s lap. Hello! On deck there! Come down and sit on the—” The owner of the voice showed a very red and wrathful face at the foot of the ladder. Frank went below at once, and soon the sound of voices mingled with that of clattering tins and chinking pottery. Then the odor of steaming coffee and frying bacon came through the half-closed companionway. Kenneth and his mate began to lose interest in the set of the sails, the curve of the rail, and the angry look of the water. Frequent glances, thrown at the opening from which such satisfying aromas penetrated, betrayed the direction in which their thoughts had strayed.

“All hands below to supper,” was the welcome cry. “Except the skipper, who will stay on deck and steer, I suppose.”

So the cook got even.

The table, hinged to either side of the centre-board trunk, bore a goodly store of “shore grub.” The ship’s stove was steaming away in the galley, way forward almost under the deck. On either side of the cabin the bunks were ranged; good, wide bunks with generous cushions. They served as beds by night and couches by day, the bedding being rolled up under the deck and concealed by curtains. Under each bunk was a wide chest or locker, and, besides, a row of drawers was built forward, so that each member of the crew had ample room wherein to stow his belongings. A man-o’-warsman would be at a loss to know what to do with so much space.

The cabin was fourteen feet long, nine feet wide at the widest part, and six feet high. Any member of the crew could stand upright without fear of his upper story.

The skipper saw all this in his mind’s eye as he fondled the tiller (a boat’s most sensitive, sympathetic spot) and watched the sails puffing to the breath of the breeze. He grew hungrier every minute, but every minute the wind grew stronger and the waves higher, so that his interest in the behavior of his boat returned and increased, until he forgot about the complainings of his stomach altogether. The “Gazelle” seemed to know that her maker’s eye was upon her, for she showed off in brave style. She rose on the waves as lightly as a cork, and swept along at a surprising rate of speed.

Frank and Arthur soon came climbing up on deck, and then Ransom had his turn below. In spite of Clyde’s protestations, he was no mean cook, and if “the proof of the pudding lies in the eating,” the crew were certainly satisfied with their first meal aboard.

“How are we going to work this thing?” said Arthur, as Ransom’s head appeared above the hatch coaming. “We certainly won’t get in to Chicago before morning.”

“We’ll divide up the night into regular watches. Four on, four off. See?” explained Kenneth.

“But who’s who?” queried Clyde, from the foot of the companionway ladder.

“Arthur and I will be the starboard watch, you and Frank will be the port. That satisfactory?”

“Sure,” the other three responded.

“Well, suppose the port watch goes on duty for the second dog watch—from six to eight—while the starboard watch does the dishes?”

“I never heard of a starboard watch washing dishes,” said Frank. “But I think they could not be better employed.”

Kenneth and Arthur went below and began to “wrestle” pots and dishes, while Frank and Clyde sailed the boat.

The yacht rolled a good deal, and the amateur dishwashers found it difficult to keep the water in the dish pan. But if the yawl pitched, it was not unduly, and she always recovered herself easily. Her poise was well-nigh perfect.

Though the off-and-on plan was carried out, there was little sleep for either watch—the experience was too new—and when Chicago was reached late the next morning, all hands were glad to lay up for a while and rest. They considered that the trip had now fairly begun, inasmuch as people had predicted that the “Gazelle” would never cross even the Lake in safety. The boys took advantage of city prices and bought all sorts of things and stowed them aboard the yacht. There was enough stuff aboard to stock a small store for a year, yet the yawl did not seem to be overburdened.

“Hear ye’r goin’ through to ther canal?” It was the evening of the second day when a burly, bearded chap shouted this in a fog-horn voice to Arthur. “Want a tow through, Cap?”

“Here, Ken, is a fellow who wants to tow us to the canal,” Arthur shouted down the open hatch to Ransom.

They did want a tow, and the agreement was soon made, so the tugboat man departed content.

The following afternoon a little tubby, snub-nosed, paintless tug steamed up, and the boys recognized their tugboat man in the pilot house.

“Hello, Cap!” was his greeting. “Ready?”

“Hello, Captain!” Ransom responded. “All ready. Give us a line.”

The hawser was hauled aboard and made fast to the capstan bitts forward, and soon the yacht was on her way once more.

All of the boys had seen the Chicago River before, but never had any of them come so close to the shipping. There were whalebacks for freight, and whalebacks for passengers, steamboats, Great Lake, grain, and passenger steamers, little tugs towing barges ten times their size; sailing craft of all kinds. It was bewildering, and how the little tug ever found a way through the labyrinth was a marvel. All went well, however, though the boys held their breaths whenever there was a particularly close shave, and so were almost continually in a state of suspended animation.

It seemed as if miles of craft of various kinds had been passed, when they came up to an enormous grain steamer which was fast aground. She was surrounded by a mob of puffing tugs, which had been working since the day before to get her off. The steamer and her escorts took up most of the stream, but a narrow lane remained open at one side just wide enough to allow the tug and the “Gazelle” to pass through. There was barely room between the towering sides of the great freighter and the heavily timbered side of the river-bulkhead, but there seemed to be no danger that the great vessel would get off and fill up the narrow passageway. The boys, therefore, told their tug to go on.

The tug entered the open lane and puffed steadily ahead, the yacht following a hundred feet behind. The towboat passed on, and the “Gazelle” came abreast of the freighter’s stern. It overshadowed the small craft just as a tall office building would dwarf a news-stand beside it. The four boys gazed at her great iron sides in admiration and wonder; they could almost touch it.

“I wonder will they ever get her off!” exclaimed Arthur. “She looks as if she was built on to the bottom.”

“Say, Ken, look!” It was Frank who grabbed Ransom’s arm and pointed to the great ship’s counter. “Isn’t she moving now?”

She certainly was. The freighter’s stern was swinging round; slowly at first, but gaining in speed every moment. The tug was going ahead, and the iron sides were closing down on the little yacht irresistibly. It was a horrible trap which the tug, by reason of the long tow-line, had escaped. The boys realized their danger, and shouted to the captain of the tug. He immediately rang for full speed ahead. It was a grim race to escape destruction.

Faster the tug churned on, but nearer and nearer came that terrible iron wall, until it bumped against the yawl’s white sides. Both yacht and freighter were edged in to the spiles of the bulkhead until there was but three feet of open water between. Men on the freighter, ashore, and on nearby vessels saw the danger. They shouted words of encouragement and warning; but even as they did it, they knew that it was of no avail. Nearer and nearer the fearful iron wall approached, inexorably. The boys saw that the boat was doomed to certain destruction, and perhaps death lay in wait for them, but they could do nothing.

They were being drawn into the very jaws of the trap, and the crew looked at the smooth sides of the freighter for a foothold or a hanging rope that they might cling to, and then to the slimy bulkhead. Each had picked out a place for himself to spring for when the time should come. Suddenly the movement of the great ship’s stern stopped. She quivered a moment and was still. She had grounded just in time, and the “Gazelle” slipped through with not three feet to spare.

The shout that went up from the onlookers was like the sudden escape of long pent-up steam—it was a glad cry of relief, and the boys echoed it in spirit, but could do nothing but wave their caps in answer.

It had been a narrow escape, and the crew of the “Gazelle” were thankful enough to come out of it alive. To the shouts of the onlookers, however, they waved their caps airily, as if it was an everyday matter to escape from the jaws of death.

After this all went well. The tug and its light tow made such good time that the entrance lock to the Illinois and Michigan Canal was reached by nine o’clock. All hands turned in except Ransom, who was to take the first four-hour watch. But, from time to time during the night, various members of the crew waked with a feeling that there was a house crushing them. Whether this was caused by the experience with the ship, or the pancakes which Clyde constructed for supper, this chronicler does not pretend to state.

Early the following morning, the boys paid their canal fees, and passed through the lock.

“How long is this canal, Ken?” Frank asked, after they had tied up in the basin.

“Ninety-six or seven miles, I think,” he answered.

“Walking good?” was Clyde’s question. “I don’t see a crowd of tug men crying like hackmen at a depot, ‘Tug, sir.’ ‘Tow, sir.’ ‘Take you through quick, sir!’”

“You’re right,” said Kenneth, with a smile. “It’s pretty late for shipping, I hear; but perhaps that steam freighter that we heard was coming through will give us a lift. Let’s wait a while and see.”

They did, and the freighter good-naturedly gave them a tow all the afternoon. But good things, like everything else, have an ending, and the following morning found them towless.

A good half of this ninety-six mile canal the boys towed their boat by hand—they were their own mules, as Arthur expressed it. Two towed, and two stayed aboard, steered, and tended ship. The starboard and port watches took turns.

The hunting along the way was good, and many a plump duck tried the carving abilities of the cook and tickled the palate of the passengers.

Seven days of towing by hand, and friendly helps from passing steamers, brought them to La Salle, the end of the canal and the Illinois River.

Letters from home reached them here, and gladdened their hearts mightily. It was one of the consolations of this trip that every few days they received word from home, and were able to send messages to the anxious ones who were left behind.

Though the boys were somewhat footsore from their unaccustomed walking and their amphibious journeying, they were gaining weight steadily, and would have made splendid “after” pictures for a tonic advertisement.

The night on which they reached La Salle was cold, and, after getting their letters, the four friends made all ship-shape on deck, and then went below, closing the hatch behind them. After a rousing supper, to which, needless to say, they did full justice, the table was cleared, dishes put away, and in a twinkling the place was turned into a reading saloon or a lounging room. The swinging lamp shed a soft glow on the warm coloring of the cherry woodwork and cushioned bunks. The light on the table was ample, and the boys set out to answer the pile of letters they had received. It was a great temptation to tell hair-raising tales of every little happening that they had met with, but from the first it was agreed that the pleasant things alone should be detailed at any length. For a time, the scratching of pens on paper was the only sound, other than the comfortable, subdued creak of the throat of the main boom on the mast, which made itself heard as a passing gust struck the yawl. Presently, however, one of the pens stopped scratching, and its owner added a new element to the soft sounds—that of heavy breathing and an unmistakable snore. Soon all but Ransom were stretched out on their bunks, fully clothed but sound asleep. He still struggled to write, keeping awake by force of fist in eye. He, too, was almost dozing, the gust had passed, and the boom was quiet, the low hum of the lamp was the only sound to be heard.

Thump, thump! The thud of something heavy jarred the four out of their doze with a start. Then a scraping sound followed, and a couple of thumps at their very feet. It was startling, and Ransom scrambled to his feet and, followed by his three companions, who, half asleep as they were, looked about with dismayed faces, rushed on deck, expecting to find themselves on shore and in imminent danger. But, instead, they found a comfortable old log, with some branches clinging to it, that had floated down stream and had merely knocked off some of the “Gazelle’s” white paint in passing.

“That’s one on us,” laughed Kenneth in a relieved manner. “Let’s turn in.”

When the boys got up the next morning, they found a layer of snow on deck, and a thin skin of ice on the still water. It was high time to be on their way, so they shipped their mast again, bent on the sails, and set up the rigging in a hurry, and the following day were well on their way down the river towards the Mississippi.

The Illinois River is broad and shallow, and in order to keep enough water in the stream to float the grain boats down to the great river, enormous darns are built at intervals. A lock at each dam allows the vessels to drop to the lower level. Leading to each lock is a canal a hundred yards or so long.

The “Gazelle” made good way down the river, but each dam was approached with much care. A tack missed, the boat would in all probability go to her destruction.

They had but three more dams to pass, and were sailing along with a beautiful breeze across stream to their starboard hand. Several hundred yards above the lock, Arthur blew a lusty blast on the horn to notify the gatekeeper of their approach. Again he blew, and at last they saw the man come out of his house and begin to work the levers that opened the enormous gates. The “Gazelle” swept on, straight as an arrow, for the gate, every stitch drawing, her forefoot fairly spurning the water, and the small boat—“His Nibs”—bobbing gaily behind.

The yacht was sailing faster than they realized, and suddenly the boys saw that they would reach the gate before it was opened wide enough to admit them. There was but one thing to do. With a warning shout of “hard-a-lee,” Kenneth bore down on the tiller, the other boys hauled in the sheets, and in a minute the boat was heading out and up the stream. It was quick work, but for a time all seemed well. Then the wind slackened and a swift current caught them. The boat began to drift down stream toward the dam. To the alarmed boys the current seemed as swift as a mill race. It was carrying them at a terrific rate straight for the dam and to what seemed must be certain death. Now they could see the ugly heads of the logs sticking out of the water at the brink of the falls, and jagged stones which turned the stream to foam in a hundred places.

Still the wind lagged, and the current increased in speed. The boys looked from one to the other. Each knew that nothing could be done, but instinctively they hoped that something would intervene to save them. But what could save them now? With pallid faces and hearts that beat fast, they agreed to stick to each other and the ship.

Still the stream ran on and the breeze lagged. The line of white that defined the edge of the falls could now be distinctly seen, and the roar of the water drowned all other sounds. They began to give up hope. It seemed as if nothing could help them—surely nothing could.

Ransom was watching the bit of bunting—the fly—at the mainmast head. He saw it straighten out and begin to snap.

“Boys!” he exclaimed, “there’s a chance yet. Look!”

Even as he spoke, a puff of wind struck them, the sails rounded out, and the backward speed of the yacht slackened. Inch by inch, she began to gain on the current. Her crew felt as if they were pushing her along; their nerves and muscles were tense. Soon they saw that they were making real headway. If the wind held they would be safe yet. It was a gallant fight that the spruce “Gazelle” made—a fight for her life and the lives of her crew, and still the wind held strong and true. She gained.

At last it was safe to come about. “Hard-a-lee,” sang out the steersman cheerfully, as he headed the boat up into the wind. The “Gazelle” paused a moment in apparent indecision, her headsails flapping, then around she came and headed straight for the now widely open gates.


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