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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » A Year in a Yawl » CHAPTER VII SAILING WITH FROZEN RIGGING
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CHAPTER VII SAILING WITH FROZEN RIGGING
From Columbus, Kentucky, to Memphis, Tennessee, as the crow flies is, approximately, but one hundred and twenty-five miles, but by river it is two hundred and twenty-eight tortuous, puzzling miles. This distance the “Gazelle” made in nine days, including delays caused by fog, adverse winds and extra careful sailing on account of the sick boy.

The “Father of Waters” the party found to be an absorbingly interesting stream. At every turn (and on an average there was a turn about every other minute, it seemed to them) they saw something new, something strange and interesting. As they cruised along, people told them of river towns which the Mississippi had now left far inland as it had gradually formed a new channel and straightened its course. Others told of farms which had contributed a third or even four-fifths of their acreage in a single year to the undermining current of the stream; the land not infrequently being added to another farm not far below. The changes in the stream played all sorts of pranks with the boundaries of States. A man living in Missouri might in a single night find his property switched over into Kentucky or Tennessee, the boundary line, the Mississippi having carved for itself a new channel and cut its way through a bend.

After leaving Columbus, Kentucky, the “Gazelle” found herself on a straight piece of water with a strong wind on the starboard quarter. Ransom claimed that every point of sailing was the “Gazelle’s” best—running, reaching and beating to windward, all best—but, at any rate, she skimmed along this day like a bird. Kenneth was at the stick, while Frank held the Mississippi guide to watch out for beacons and channel marks. For once all was clear, the channel straight and no dangerous shoals marked. It was a relief to strike such a good piece of river. The air was bracingly cold, and all three of the boys felt exhilarated.

“How is it down below, Art?” Frank inquired cheerfully. “How is it with the ‘land-lubber lying down below, below’?”

“I’m below, all right.” The voice was weak but vehement. “Still, I object to being called a land-lubber. I’ll show you fellows one of these days that I’m as good a sailor as any of you.”

“Art is getting touchy,” said Kenneth. “He’ll be all right soon, I am willing to bet.”

“Will you look at that!” exclaimed Clyde, who had been gazing forward for some time. “Just wait until I get my gun.”

He pointed to a black object that was bobbing up and down in the brown flood. It looked like an animal swimming against the strong current. While Clyde went below, Ransom shifted his helm in order to get nearer, and before he realized it they were bearing down on the object at terrific speed. The yacht, going with the current, was making almost ten miles an hour.

“Sheer off, for heaven’s sake, Ken!” sang out Frank. “Quick!” Then as the yacht yawed to starboard she passed the black thing which had excited Clyde’s hunting instincts.

“Gee! you ought to know a ‘sawyer’ when you see it, by this time.” Frank’s tone was full of superior disgust.

“How did you find out what a sawyer was, Mr. Smarty?” Clyde was trying to conceal his gun behind him, and he looked foolish. “What is it, any way? I bet you don’t know.”

“Don’t I, just! It’s a piece of timber, one end of which, water-logged, sinks to the bottom and is partly buried; the current overcomes the buoyancy of the wood from time to time and causes the upper end to sink; this makes the motion like a man sawing wood—hence the name.”

“Thanks, Professor.” Clyde made a mock bow. “But all the same, the captain himself didn’t know what it was, and pretty near punched the boat’s bottom full of holes.”

As they went southward the character of the country changed. The high, heavily timbered bluffs, often bold with jutting rocks, so characteristic of the upper river, began to give way to more easy slopes. The stream broadened and the level rose higher each day. Often, as the “Gazelle” sped along, a river steamer was met ploughing along up the great stream. Her long gangways raised up before her like horns (long gangways made necessary by the gently sloping banks and absence of docks); her tall stacks, side by side, running athwartships, bore between them the insignia of the line, an anchor or a wheel. The stacks ended in a fancy top, which Ransom said reminded him of pictures of the trimming the little girls of long ago wore round the end of their pantalettes. The river boats are very shallow, and very wide for their length, but in spite of their unboatlike appearance and their great thrashing wheels, they make good time. Sometimes a speed of fifteen miles an hour against the current, and twenty-five with the stream, is attained.

Kenneth congratulated himself repeatedly that he had started on this trip, for he realized that in no other way could he have gained so much information about shipping.

They stopped several days at Memphis, partly to give Arthur a quiet rest, partly because the weather conditions were against them.

At the levee a number of boats were nosing the bank, their long gangplanks outstretched before them like great arms. A constant stream of roustabouts trundling bales of cotton, rolling barrels, lugging boxes, went up the gangways. The mate stood near at hand, in a conspicuous spot, where he could see and be seen, and so belabored the toiling men with torrents of words, that it seemed as if he was the motive power of the entire procession. The negroes seemed not to notice him at all, but moved along at a steady, rhythmical gait.

Frank and Clyde stood watching. They marvelled at the amount of stuff carried aboard. “I bet they work the same racket that the spectacular shows employ,” Clyde said after a while. “If you look aft there somewhere, you would see the same niggers carrying the same bundles and things ashore again.”

“Oh, come off!” exclaimed the other.

“Yes, sure; they form an endless chain.”

Frank vouchsafed him no further reply, but suggested that they try to get on board and see for themselves.

“Can we come aboard?” Frank shouted to the mate when he stopped to take breath.

“I reckon you can,” was the answer. “Look out, you yellow-livered son of a bale of cotton! Do you want to knock the young gentlemen overboard?”

The two boys got on deck and out of range of the mate’s rapid fire of invective as soon as they could. As luck would have it, they ran up against a pilot the first thing, to whom they told something of their trip. This the boys found, as usual, to be an open sesame, and their newly discovered friend showed them over the steamboat, and pumped them for stories about their trip. From the hold, which was hardly seven feet deep, to the hurricane deck and the pilot house they went. The wheel house reached, the pilot was in his own domain, and he made them sit down while he pumped them dry. He marvelled that a boat of the “Gazelle’s” draught could come through at this stage of the water, with only sails for motive power.

From the great brass-bound steering wheel to the tall boilers, which could not find room in the hold, and showed half their circumference above the first deck, the boat was full of interest to the young voyagers.

“Jiminy! what a lot she carries,” Clyde exclaimed, as he noticed the pile of cotton bales, boxes and barrels which was rapidly growing, till it seemed as if it would fill the boat from her blunt bow to stern post.

“She’ll carry a thousand tons without turning a hair,” said the pilot calmly, as he shook their hands. “Tell your captain to come aboard if he cares to.”

Ransom did “care to,” and he went over the craft from keel to flagstaff; noticed her construction, and marvelled at her shallowness—it was part of his business as well as his pleasure, and he wondered how the steamboat mate’s talk would sound if the oaths were left out. He imagined it would simply be intermittent silence.

In describing it afterwards, he said that the mate’s language was like a rapid-fire gun with a plentiful supply of blank ammunition.

Arthur improved rapidly, and by the time they had explored Memphis—visited its fine old Southern mansions, the busy cotton market, and hobnobbed with the steamboat people—he seemed much more like his old self, though his painful thinness and weakness showed how seriously ill he had been.

After staying at Memphis for ten days, the “Gazelle” spread her sails, and slipped down the river on her way to the sea.

At Peters, Arkansas, the boys spied a cabin boat tied up in a little cove, and there was a big “26” painted on its side.

“Well, this is luck!” said Kenneth. “There are the chaps we saw above Philadelphia Point. Hail them, Frank.”

“Hulloo, twenty-six!” Frank’s shout rang out in the frosty air. “Is the boss in?”

A head appeared at the door of the cabin. “The boss is in, who wants to see him?” it said.

The “Gazelle” rounded to, and tied up to the bank a little below the cabin boat. As soon as the sails were furled, and everything made ship-shape, all four boys visited their friends, and for the greater part of a week spent most of their time aboard the roomy, warm house boat. Arthur improved wonderfully, and all hands began to gain weight and grow fat on the game which they shot.

The crew of the “Gazelle” were almost won over from the more strenuous life of sailing, to the free and easy cabin-boat life, which is the nearest approach to tramping that a dweller on the water can come to. All along the river the boys saw cabin boats drifting slowly along down stream, or tied up in the shelter of little coves near some town. Boats of varying degrees of respectability composed this fleet. Boats well built, clean and always brightly painted, homes of fairly prosperous families, whose head worked on shore while the home was afloat, in such manner saving rent and taxes. Boats built of bits of timber, boards, and rusty tin, shanties afloat, the temporary homes of the lowest order of river people. Theatres, dance halls, dives of various sorts, churches, stores—all had their representatives on the mighty stream. A great host of nomadic people that followed the heat to lower river in winter, and ran up stream from it in summer.

Many of the river people were like the dwellers of No. 26, merely temporary members of the river community, who took this method of seeing the river, and resting from the stress of business.

It was with a feeling of regret that the boys at last took leave of their hosts and went aboard their thoroughly cleaned and freshened yacht. All hoped that the “good-by” they shouted over the fast widening strip of water would prove after all to be only “au revoir.”

“There’s no use talking, boys,” the skipper said gravely, “we’ve just got to hump ourselves and get south, where it’s warm, so that we won’t have to burn so much oil. It’s simply ruinous.”

“All right; if you keep healthy, Art, and we don’t run aground, and the boat don’t get holes punched in her with the ice,” Clyde remarked, “we may see New Orleans before the glorious Fourth.”

“It’s no joke, Clyde,” said Ransom. “I’m almost busted, and I won’t have enough to carry me through the Gulf if we don’t hurry.”

“Like the old coon who hurried up to finish his job before his whitewash gave out,” laughed Frank.

But in spite of good resolutions and ardent hopes, progress was slow. Head winds sprang up, dense fog shut down, obscuring channel marks, even snow fell—the weather was certainly against them.

TAKING SOUNDINGS.
“... FRANK SHOUTED, ‘THREE FATHOMS!’”

“The ‘Sunny South,’” Ransom quoted scornfully one morning when he put his head out of the companionway and got a block of snow down his neck. “They have a funny brand of sun down here.” Yet as he looked shoreward, his eye rested on an old Southern mansion. Fluted columns supported its double portico, wide-spreading trees from which hung in festoons the (to Northern eyes) weird Spanish moss, clustered thickly around it; beyond were cotton fields, the whiteness of the blossoms rivalling the freshly fallen snow.

“Say, fellows, pinch me, will you?” Kenneth shouted down to his friends. “I’ve got a bad dream, I guess. All hands on deck to shovel snow.” Kenneth’s shout was very fierce. Frank appeared with a broom, Clyde with a dust pan, and Arthur brought a scrubbing brush.

“Pipe sweepers, mate,” commanded the captain.

Arthur’s whistle was a failure, for the simple reason that one cannot pucker the mouth to whistle and laugh at the same time, but the crew understood, and all hands turned to and swept the decks free of snow.

“Pipe breakfast,” was the next order. This was not necessary, however; all four boys tried to get through the two-foot wide companionway at once, and all four stuck while the tantalizing odor of steaming coffee filled their nostrils. Clyde fell out of the bunch to the cabin floor, which relieved the jam, and gave the others a chance.

At Vicksburg the boys tied up for four days, and visited the bone of contention between the North and the South so many years ago. They found many reminders of the great siege—earthworks still plainly visible, the old stone house where Grant and Pemberton met to arrange for the surrender of the town. Most impressive of all was the great national cemetery—a great city of the dead. Then the boys realized as they never could by any other means the terrible struggle, the bravery shown on both sides, and the despair of the besieged as they were hemmed in more and more closely by the union lines, while their ammunition gave out and the food grew scarce. The travellers found that the war was still the chief topic of conversation in the South, and they got a point of view new to them. Events were still dated on the “time of the war,” so it seemed as if the great conflict had taken place but a few years ago. There was a new topic, however, that the Northern boys could talk about without the least danger of giving offence. In the war with Spain, the sons of the union and the Confederate soldier fought side by side, and the people on both sides of Mason and Dixon’s line were equally proud of their achievements.

As the “Gazelle” got under way and sailed down stream, the boys looked back at the heights, while their thoughts carried them back to the time when Porter’s fleets lay at anchor in about the same position and waited for the storm of iron from the guns mounted there to cease. But the wind was blowing half a gale, and their attention was called back with a jar from the past to the very practical present. The stream was now very full, and there was little danger of running aground, so Kenneth determined to sail in spite of the freshening wind and the steady drizzle that froze as it fell. It was Arthur’s turn at the stick, but it was just the kind of weather to hurt one weakened by illness, so Kenneth took his place, and sailed the boat. The wind a little abaft the beam (another of the best points of sailing, according to Ransom), the little boat sped on, racing, seemingly, with the billows the gale kicked up.

The other three boys stayed below in comfort, while the captain, wrapped in a big ulster and crowned with a yellow sou’wester, held the tiller, and looked the part of the weatherbeaten mariner down to the ground.

The wind was steady and very strong, so that the yacht keeled over before it, and almost buried her lee rail under; the sails rounded out to the blast, and as the rain froze on them, the rigging, the spars and the deck, she looked like a great candied boat, such as the confectioners like to display in their store windows. It was exhilarating, this flying along in the wintry air, but the frozen rigging and stiffened sheets made sailing difficult and dangerous. It would be impossible to reef, and difficult to lower the canvas under these conditions.

With eyes alert, and ready hand on tiller, Kenneth watched for snags, for reefs or for sand bars, while the cold rain dashed into his face in spite of the close-drawn sou’wester. Mile after mile the good craft sped on—swift, sure and steady. Past islands low lying and gray in the mist, past forests of cypress, white and glistening with frost, the gray moss hanging from the branches sleet covered and crackling in the wind. It was a run to remember, a run that stimulated, yet at the same time left the steersman surprisingly tired, as Ransom found when he tried to work his stiffened limbs and help furl the canvas.

“I wish that this sail had a few hinges,” Frank complained, as he thumped it in a vain endeavor to roll it up compactly. “Might as well try to roll up a piece of plank.”

It took over an hour to get things stowed properly that under ordinary circumstances could have been disposed of in fifteen minutes; and though the captain firmly intended to write up his log that night, it was only by the exercise of a good deal of will power that he kept awake till supper was over.

The following day the “Gazelle” lay close to the levees of Natchez, having covered the distance of ninety-three miles in less than a day and a half.

This old town the boys thought the most beautiful that they had seen. The stately old mansions were surrounded by gardens, and trees grew everywhere.

The town crowned the last of the heights of the Mississippi, and the view from the bluff is one of the finest anywhere along the river. Before starting on the cruise the boys had read about the places they were likely to visit, and they recalled that Natchez was one of the earliest settlements on the river. They remembered, too, that the Natchez Indians, perhaps the most intelligent of their race, were one of the ten first tribes to run foul of the white man’s civilization. Swift and sure pacification, by means of the sword, was their lot.

“Natchez under the hill,” as the cluster of houses occupying the narrow strip of land between the river and the steep slope is called, was as unattractive and foul as Natchez proper was beautiful and wholesome. Not many years ago it bore the reputation of being one of the hardest places on the Mississippi, and even when the boys anchored off its water front, they found it far from desirable.

A run of a hundred and thirty-nine miles in three days brought the “Gazelle” and her crew to Baton Rouge. Though the wind was blowing hard when they reached the town, they had to be content with the meagre shelter of a few scattered trees on a low point. It was practically an open anchorage.

“Looks squally,” Arthur remarked as he tied the last stop on the furled mainsail. “How’s the glass?”

“Going down like thunder,” Ransom answered from below. “Thermometer shows 15 degs. Gee, I hope this wind lets up.”

“Shall I put out the other anchor?” the mate inquired. It was a precaution Kenneth thought wise to take.

“I’ll bet we have troubles to burn to-night,” the skipper said half to himself, as he lashed down everything movable with light line and rope yarn.

By the time supper was finished, the wind was howling through the rigging like a thousand demons. The little ship tugged at her anchors, and bobbed up and down over seas that grew more turbulent each moment.

The usual cheerful talk, jests and snatches of songs were much subdued, or, indeed, entirely lacking this night. Instead, the four sat and talked abstractedly with lowered voices, and from time to time, the talker would interrupt himself to listen to some peculiarly vicious blast.

The light of the pendent lamp, as it swung with the motion of the boat, cast strange, distorted, dancing shadows, and the boys sat close together as they listened to the howling of the wind. They were not afraid, but the agitation of the elements, the wind, the cold, and the continuous jumping and staggering motion of the yacht sent uncomfortable chills down their spines.

“I’ll play you Pedro,” Kenneth’s voice sounded strangely loud in the cabin. He felt that it was not good to sit still and listen to the tempest.

The table was propped up, and the cards dealt, but it was playing under difficulties—someone had to keep his hand on the cards played to make them stay on the table. The boys’ hearts were not in it, and they made absurd mistakes. Kenneth rallied them, and tried in every way to steer their thoughts away from the danger, the tempest and the cold; but in spite of all he could do, the boys stopped playing and listened with all their ears. The hum of the rigging, the slap of the waves against the sides, the quick snap-snap of the tight drawn halliards against the masts—all contributed to the mighty chorus in honor of the gale.

Of a sudden there was a heavy thud and then a sliding sound—a sound different from all the other voices of the storm.

“What was that?” It was hard to tell whether it was one voice or four that uttered the words. The boys sprang to their feet, and stood for a brief moment listening.


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