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CHAPTER IV AN ADVENTURE IN ST. LOUIS
Though the adventure with the dam shook the young sailors’ nerves somewhat, still it served to give them increased confidence in their boat. Distinctly, a craft that behaved so well under such trying circumstances was worth sticking to, they argued, and not unreasonably.

When the boys saw how little shipping there was moving, they realized that winter was coming apace, and that if they were to enjoy the balmy South without a spell of Arctic journeying no time must be lost. A skin of ice on the water was now a common occurrence, and it took a considerable amount of courage to crawl out from under the warm blankets and go on deck to wash o’ mornings.

Therefore, the stops along the Illinois River were cut as short as possible, and only the difficulties of navigating a strange stream prevented them from sailing at night. As it was, not a few risks that would otherwise have been carefully avoided were taken in order to gain time.

At Beardstown, Illinois, they came to two fine bridges across the stream, but built too low to allow of even the “Gazelle’s” short spar passing underneath.

The yacht was sweeping along at a merry pace, wind astern, and current aiding. Frank, who was doing lookout duty forward, caught sight of the up-stream bridge first, and blew a long, unmelodious note on the ship’s fog horn.

“What do you think of that for nerve?” shouted Frank to his companions in the cockpit aft. “Here we are, four chaps in a thirty-foot toy boat, blowing a horn to make a thousand-ton bridge make an opening for us.”

“Yes, we’re little, I know, but oh, my!” Arthur answered. “Just give them another blow. They are fearful slow. Guess they don’t know we’re in a hurry.”

The yacht sped on at a splendid gait, and the draw opened none too soon, for the “Gazelle” slid through before the great span had stopped swinging round. She made a gallant sight, her mainsail and jigger spread out wide wing and wing and rounded out like the cheeks of Boreas, her round, spoon bow slipped over rather than cut through the water, and the easy lines of her stern left but little wake behind. “His Nibs,” towing behind, made enough fuss, however, to supply several boats many times its size. It fairly strutted along in its importance.

The pedestrians on the footpath forgot in their interest to be impatient at the delay caused by the opening of the bridge, and watched the yacht flying along, more like a live creature than a thing of mere wood and canvas.

A few hundred yards below, another bridge spanned the stream, and Frank, still forward, blew another long, open sesame blast. In answer, the draw began to move; so slowly, however, that the crew were troubled. It seemed as if it would never open in time to let them through. But the boys figured that the draw moved faster than they realized, and that the space was wider than it seemed. They therefore held on their course, and the “Gazelle,” appearing to understand that she was watched, fairly outdid herself. Her crew became exhilarated, and watched with flushed cheeks and shining eyes the water as it rushed past. “Great Scott, look at that!” suddenly Frank shouted. “Come about, for Heaven’s sake!” The other three looked where he pointed, and saw that the draw had stopped moving and that it would be impossible to go through the narrow opening. The men on the bridge, seeing the danger—it was growing each second so terribly imminent—worked desperately to set the machinery which turned the bridge going.

The boat was within seventy-five feet of the low trusses that would undoubtedly shatter its spars to kindling wood and tear the sails to rags, and still the “Gazelle” flew along, joyously careless of all save the buoyancy of the moment. She was sailing down the right side of the river in order to follow the motion of the draw, which was from left to right. The pier which supported the middle span was in midstream—a massive stone structure with a prow like the ram of a battleship; planned, in fact, to break up and separate the ice.

“Come about, Ken, quick, or you’ll carry away your stick,” Frank waved his arms and pointed frantically to the bridge.

Ransom paused a minute and measured the distance between his craft and the bridge, glanced at the stone pier and hesitated. He was pale, but outwardly calm. At last he put the tiller over to port, and the gallant little craft swung round on her heel like a dancer—her pace slackened; but the current and wind still carried her onward nearer and nearer the bridge, her momentum spinning her round until she was headed straight for the beak of the stone pier, jutting out wicked and green with river slime. On she went, her crew watching breathlessly to see if she would come round and tack into the wind in time. Yes, she would! No; no; yes! Half a dozen times in as many seconds the chances changed, but still she swept on.

Suddenly, with a bump that threw all four boys prone on the deck, she struck the pier, and as they lay half dazed, she slid up the inclined stone, greased, as it was, with slime, until the forward part of her underbody was clear out of water and her stern deep in. With a jar, the motion ceased, and then she began to slide backward. Deeper and deeper went her stern, until it seemed as if she would dive backward. At last, she slid off altogether, and turned round into the wind by the impact with the pier, and began to pay off on the other tack. Ransom jumped up and seized the tiller, amazed and delighted that the boat still held together, and that he and his companions were uninjured. The draw now commenced to swing again, and Ransom, watching it over his shoulder, saw it open wider and wider till the channel was clear. Then he put the boat about again, and she sailed calmly through the gap; Arthur at the main sheet, Clyde tending the jib, and Frank forward as before.

A prolonged cheer rose from the men on the draw, and a faint shout came down the wind from the people on the other bridge.

Cheer on, if the gallant little ship was not racked to pieces and strained beyond repair.

“Arthur, get below and sound the pump,” said Ransom, anxiously. The mate flew down the companionway, and the boys on deck soon heard the suction of the pump and the swish of the stream thrown in the centre-board trunk. It was a time of suspense until the sucking sound was heard that betokened that she was dry. The good Michigan white oak held true, and beyond some slackened stays and a broken turnbuckle, the yacht was uninjured.

“By George, boys!” exclaimed Arthur, as he came from below, “she’s the stuff! You can’t hurt her. She’s as sound as can be—not a seam started.”

From here on, the Illinois was plain sailing. Wafted by favoring winds and a swift current, the “Gazelle” made fast time and reached the Mississippi on Thanksgiving Day.

“Boys,” said Ransom, as he came up from examining the charts, “if we have luck to-day, we’ll be sailing on the Mississippi.”

“A mighty good way to celebrate the day,” suggested the mate.

“I wonder what it looks like,” Clyde speculated.

“Oh! I think it’s very broad, and very muddy, with low banks covered with colored people singing songs to a banjo.” This was Arthur’s contribution.

“No, I think that we’ll find the banks lined with wood piles; with here and there a plantation landing——”

“And boats, great flat-bottomed things,” Frank interrupted Clyde to say; “with tall chimneys instead of stacks belching rolls of black smoke.”

“You fellows have been reading Mark Twain, and think you know it all,” Kenneth remarked from his place at the tiller. “But where do you suppose we are now? Look around.”

The boys had been so busy making up an imaginary river, that they did not notice when they passed a low point and entered into what appeared to be a wider part of the stream.

“Why, you don’t know the Mississippi when you see it. Let’s give three cheers for it,” cried the captain.

“Hip-Hip, Hurrah!” The cheers rang out together, with a will.

“Now, three more for the boat.”

Again they rang out—undignified, perhaps, but fitting, in that they voiced the thanksgiving which all four of the crew felt, but could not express in words.

As the sun sank, turning the brown waters of the mighty river to crimson and gold, the “Gazelle” dropped her anchor in a little cove and rested, while her crew partook of mallard duck, shot during the day—their Thanksgiving dinner.

“People said we wouldn’t be able to cross the Lake safely, eh?” said Frank, exultingly; “and here we are anchored to the bottom of the Mississippi. We’re the people.”

“Going to take on a pilot, Ken?” suggested Arthur.

“Sure!” returned the captain. “Who will give up his berth to him?”

“Oh, I guess we can get along without one,” Arthur interposed hastily. “Clyde, give me some more duck.”

“This mallard is all right, Clyde,” remarked Kenneth rather thoughtfully. “But I confess I’d swap it for a home-made pumpkin pie.”

“Now, drop that, Ken,” said Clyde, “I object to your invidious comparisons. It isn’t a square deal to call to mind home feasts on Thanksgiving night anyway.”

After dinner they all went on deck and looked for a long time on the mighty river, about which they had heard and read so much, but which none of them had seen before. The river that was to carry them to the salt water, which, in spite of the 1,300 odd miles that lay between it and them, seemed nearer now that they were on the direct course. It appeared an easy thing for them to float down that great stream, and let the resistless current carry them down to the Gulf.

The four turned in elated; a feeling that was tempered, however, by the thought that they were far from home, and were widening the distance between them and it at a rapidly increasing pace. Had they foreseen what was before them on this steadily flowing, almost quiet stream, they would have slept even less quietly.

Early morning saw them busy washing down decks, airing the bedding, etc., while a savory odor rose on the quiet air. As soon as this fragrance spread itself, it might be noticed that the crew accelerated their motions, the brooms and brushes were plied with greater zeal, the sails were raised to dry them with greater vigor, and, in fact, all the morning chores were hastened with tell-tale rapidity.

But before any one got any breakfast—unless it was a surreptitious bite taken by the cook himself—the anchor was tripped, the jib hauled up, all the sail sheeted home and the run to St. Louis begun.

Sailing on the Mississippi seemed an easy thing. It was broad and deep and smooth. Indeed, the boys were congratulating themselves on the ease with which they had conquered the terrible “Father of Waters,” Mississippi, when there was a crash in the cabin and a terrible bump from below. Frank jumped down the companionway with a single leap, and found the centre-board bobbing up and down in its trunk, and the ship’s best china cup lying in fragments on the floor. It was resting on the top of the trunk, the centre-board had struck a sand bar, had bobbed up and knocked the cup to flinders.

Their overconfidence was gone in a minute, and soon they were paying the customary tribute to that always uncertain stream—heaving the lead and taking soundings.

The “Gazelle” got over the bar all right, but the lesson was not forgotten.

The second day after leaving the mouth of the Illinois River they passed under the great Eads Bridge and anchored a little below St. Louis.

“Who’s going ashore?” Clyde looked around from one to the other of his companions. “I think it is our turn. The starboard watch ought to have a loaf once in a while, you know.”

“Not by a jugful! Hasn’t the port watch been at the helm all day?” Arthur was more vehement than it was necessary he should be.

“Well, we did all the dirty work; cooked the meals and washed the dishes.” Frank was getting interested.

“Here, here, let’s quit this squabbling. We all have worked hard, and we all want to go ashore, and each has an equal right, but some of us must stay.” Ransom realized that quarrelling would spoil the trip quicker than anything else.

The three stood in an attitude that said as plainly as words: “What are you going to do about it?”

“Leave it to these.” Kenneth showed four ends of rope yarn sticking out of his closed hand. “These yarns are of different lengths. The two that get the shortest will have to stay aboard—the lucky two who pull the longest can go ashore. See?”

“It goes,” the three answered.

The upshot of it was that Clyde and Frank went ashore, and the other two remained to keep ship and do chores.

It was late when “the liberty party” returned with pockets bulging with letters and papers, with heads full of the things they had seen, and tongues aching to tell of them; and last, but not least, with able-bodied appetites and stomachs ready for the meal which the “left-behinders” had prepared.

It would be hard to tell whether the tongues or the knives and forks won the race, but certainly both did valiant service. By way of compensation, the starboarders washed the dishes, while the port did the heavy looking on. Soon things were cleared away, and the hinged table was lined with boys reading letters.

“Look at this,” said Kenneth, after a time of quiet, broken only by the crackle of stiff paper. “I had hoped that this would show up about this time. We need it in our business.”

It was a check for $125, and was expected to last them many weeks. The money that Kenneth had saved for this trip had been left in his father’s hands, to be forwarded from time to time as needed, and almost every cent of the little hoard had its particular use.

“Well, don’t be proud,” exclaimed Arthur, “you are not the only one,” and he flourished a money order.

Frank, too, produced one.

“We are bloated bondholders,” the captain said smiling. “But we won’t spend it on riotous living now, or we’ll have to eat and drink Mississippi River water later.”

Arthur was under the weather next day, so Ransom went ashore alone, taking the precious check and money orders with him. He rather despaired of finding any one who would identify him so that he could cash the check; but as luck would have it, he met an acquaintance on the street who made him all right with the bank officials at once. John Brisbane was a pleasant fellow and knew the city thoroughly. He towed Ransom round the town and showed him most of the sights, and even introduced him to some Mississippi pilots. They listened to his tale of what he and the crew had done and intended still to do with polite incredulity for a while, but finally concluding that he was telling them a “tall story,” they began to jeer openly.

“That’s right,” Ransom protested earnestly, a little vexed but still smiling. “We are planning to go around the Eastern United States, and we’ll do it, too.”

After the river men saw that he was in earnest, and that he really intended to put the trip through, they began to tell him things about the river: where to look for this bar, how to avoid that eddy, and where deep water ran round the other bend. Indeed, they gave him so much information about the Mississippi between St. Louis and New Orleans that he was bewildered, and felt as if he were waking up from a dream wherein some one was reading a guide-book of the river, while another called off the soundings of the charts.

When he finally bid good-by to the pilots Ransom felt thankful to get away with his reason intact.

Then John Brisbane showed him the Post Office, and after bidding him good-bye and good luck, went off.

Ransom found that he had barely time to cash his money orders, and feared that when he got on the end of the long line in the crowded waiting-room the window would be closed before he got to it.

One by one the people stepped up to the narrow window and held what seemed to be long conversations with the official behind the glass. First it was a woman with a baby, which had to be held by some one else while the mother signed her name, the baby meanwhile objecting vigorously; then a man with a lot of bundles, which he was constantly dropping and as often picking up, delayed the line; and then one thing and another until Ransom, who watched the hands of the big clock approach nearer and nearer four o’clock, fingered his money orders nervously and grew nearly frantic with apprehension.

At last he reached the window and got his money just in time. He put it in the inside pocket of his coat and buttoned it up, but pulled it open again when he went over to the stamp window to buy stamps for the crew and for himself. The crowd was unaccountably thick, and he wondered at it, as a man was pushed against him so heavily that he grunted. The stamps once bought, he rushed out to buy some greatly needed supplies for the ship’s larder.

“It’s lucky I got that money,” he said to himself, as he opened the door of a grocery shop. “We would have about starved to death if it had not come.”

“How much is it?” Ken asked of the grocery man when the goods had been selected.

“Three forty-eight,” was the reply.

Ransom went into his vest pocket, where he usually carried a small amount of money for everyday purposes, and pulled up two quarters, a nickel and two pennies.

“Fifty-seven cents,” he laughed, while the grocery man watched him narrowly.

“Well, it is lucky that check came. What we should have done without it, I don’t know.” He reached for his inside pocket as he spoke. “But it did, so it’s all right. How much did you——”

He stopped in the middle of the sentence—the pocket was empty! He ran his hand way down in—empty. He turned the pocket inside out—not a thing in it. Then he felt each pocket in turn rapidly, then carefully—no money. The grocery man began putting away the things which Kenneth had bought. Ransom did not notice him, but kept up his frantic search—no result. He stopped to think. The perspiration stood in drops on his brow, and a leaden weight had settled down on his heart as he realized that he had been robbed of over a hundred dollars of his earnings; every cent of which was needed to carry him through. He felt sure that his pocket had been picked at the Post Office. Then the thought came to him with crushing force that he had lost the money of the other boys, and that he would have to make it up out of what was left of his small hoard at home.

“Perhaps I dropped it,” he thought to himself, and he rushed back to the Post Office to see.

He searched the big room desperately, and was so evidently troubled that the watchman asked him what he was looking for.

“I lost some money here; have you seen anything of it? I will pay a reward.”

The man looked at him incredulously, and then laughed in his face.

“Found any money? I guess not! Why, there’s been a thousand people in this room to-day. Found any money? Just listen to that!” He broke into a laugh again, and turned his back on the distracted boy.

Kenneth wandered aimlessly out into the corridor, every nerve racking with agony. As he walked along, he saw among a lot of names, titles of departments and court rooms, “U.S. Marshal.”

“I guess I’ll ask him; he ought to know if there are pickpockets around here, and he may help me,” and suiting the action to the word, Ransom made for the room.

The assistant marshal, a small, keen-eyed, albeit kindly man, was just closing the office when the boy burst in.

“I have lost some money,” Ransom began right away. “Stolen out of my pocket, I think.”

“When?”—the question came out like a pistol shot.

“This afternoon, when I——”

“Where?” the other interrupted in the same sharp way. He acted as if he was specially interested.

“Down-stairs, in the money order and stamp room.” Ransom was getting even more excited—the other’s manner was catching.

“Describe it.”

Ransom paused to think a minute, and then began slowly as the denominations of the bills came to him.

“One twenty, eight tens, four fives, two twos and a dollar bill—then,” and he paused again, “there was besides two fives and five twos and three fives.”

As he spoke, the marshal began fingering the combination of the safe, his back to Kenneth; but the boy was so engrossed that he did not notice what he was doing.

“Well, you’ve got a good memory, youngster, here’s the money.” As he spoke, the marshal turned and handed out a bunch of bills and some letters.

“What!” the boy exclaimed amazed, his cheeks flushing, and his breath coming in quick gasps as he dropped into a chair. “Oh!”

“Your name is Kenneth, you said?” The official was smiling. “Well, I am going to name my youngest Kenneth, so that he will always come out on top—congratulate you.”

He put out his hand, and Kenneth, half dazed with his unexpected good fortune, grasped it with both his. In his gratitude he felt the uselessness of words; and though he tried on all the different ones he could think of that would apply to the situation, not one of them seemed adequate.

“How did it happen?” his curiosity made him ask at last.

“Oh, I saw a fellow in a dark corner looking over something,” the marshal explained, “and I did not just like his looks; he must have been a green hand to be looking at his graft in the open like that; so I went up to him and asked him if he had found something. The fellow looked up, saw my uniform, and got a case of cold feet right away. ‘Yes,’ he said, half scared, ‘I found this by the money order window.’ All the same, he still held onto the wad—he hated to give it up—so I remarked, quiet like, ‘I guess you found it in somebody’s pocket.’ Well, I got the roll quick enough then, and put it in the safe; but I never expected the owner would run it to earth as quickly as you did.”

Kenneth thanked him again, and gave him a bill from the roll which he was holding.

The marshal had to finally cut off his torrent of thanks with a short, “Young man, this office closed an hour ago.”

Ransom from the door shouted an invitation to visit the yacht, and then went back to the grocery man and made him do up the things he had ordered before with elaborate care; he paid his three dollars and forty-eight cents and went off, the most thankful boy in town.


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