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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » A Year in a Yawl » CHAPTER VIII AN ICY STORM OFF “SUNNY” BATON ROUGE
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CHAPTER VIII AN ICY STORM OFF “SUNNY” BATON ROUGE
On the alert but motionless, the four boys waited for a repetition of the strange noise, wondering what it meant. The wind still shrieked; all the pandemonium of sound continued, but the queer sound was not repeated, neither was the unusual jar.

Kenneth was the first to move. He jumped to the companionway, and pushed at the hinged doors leading on deck, but they did not move. Glued with the frost, they refused to open. He put his shoulder against them, and pushed with all his might. The expected happened—the doors opened suddenly, and Kenneth found himself sprawling on the floor of the cockpit. He skinned his shin on the brass-bound step of the companionway ladder, and his funny bone tingled from a blow it got on the deck. The boy tried to rise to his feet, but a sudden swing of the boat made him slip on the icy boards and fall swiftly down again. From his prone position, he looked around him. The light coming up through the open companionway gleamed yellow on the ice-coated, glistening boom, and the furled sail propped up in the crotch. As Ransom’s eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he saw what it was that had startled them all. “His Nibs,” hauled up on the narrow strip of deck aft of the rudder post, had slipped when the “Gazelle” had made a sudden plunge, and sliding on the icy rail had thumped into the cockpit. Perfectly safe, but ludicrously out of place, the little boat looked like a big St. Bernard in a lady’s lap.

“Look!” the prostrate captain called to his friends. “‘His Nibs’ was getting lonesome and was coming down into the cabin for the sake of sociability.”

The other three crawled on deck, having learned caution through the skipper’s mishap, and crouched in the wet, slippery cockpit while they looked around.

The gale, still increasing rather than abating, was raising tremendous seas. The “Gazelle” rolled, her rails under at times, and her bowsprit jabbed the white-capped waves.

“I am going forward to see if the anchors are O. K.” Kenneth spoke loudly enough, but the wind snatched the words from his mouth and the boys did not hear what he said.

Ransom managed to get on his feet, and, grasping the beading of the cabin, he pulled himself erect. A quick lurch almost threw him overboard, but he reached up and grabbed the boom overhead just in time. Holding on to this with both arms, he slowly worked himself forward.

The other boys, crouching in the cockpit, wondered what he was up to. They watched his dim figure crawling painfully along, and once their hearts came into their throats as, his feet slipping from under him, he hung for an instant from the icy boom almost directly over the raging river. The light streaming from the cabin shone into their strained, anxious faces and blinded them so that they could hardly see the figure of “Ken,” on whom they had learned to rely. At last he disappeared altogether behind the mast and was swallowed up in the blackness.

“Ken! Come back! Come back!” Arthur, who was still weak, could not stand the strain; he could not bear to think of what might happen to his friend.

The wind shrieked in derision—so, at least, it seemed to the anxious boy—the elements combined to drown his voice. The gale howled on; the rain froze as it fell, and the waves dashed at the boys like fierce dogs foaming at the mouth.

Frank, at last feeling that he must know what had become of Ransom, sprang up, and grasping the icy spar, crept forward. Many times he lost his foothold, but always managed somehow to catch himself in time. Slipping and sliding, fighting the gale, he reached the mast. The journey was one of only twenty feet, but the gale was so fierce and the exertion of keeping his footing so great that he arrived at the end of it out of breath and almost exhausted. It was inky black, and only with difficulty could he distinguish the familiar objects on the forecastle—the bitts, and the two rigid anchor cables leading from it. Lying across them was Kenneth, gripping one, while the yacht’s bow rose and fell, dashing the spray clear over his prostrate figure.

“What’s the matter, Ken?” Frank shouted, so as to be heard above the wind. “Are you hurt? Brace up, old man!”

The other did not speak for a minute; then he answered in a strained voice: “Give me a hand, old chap, will you? I’ve hurt my foot—wrenched it, I guess; pains like blazes.”

That he was pretty badly hurt, Frank guessed by the way in which he drew in his breath as he shifted his position.

“Got a good hold there, Frank? Grab those halliards. It’s terrible slippery—Ouch! Easy, now.”

It was a difficult job that Frank had in hand. The ice-covered decks could not be depended on at all; if the boys began to slide, they would slip right off the sloping cabin roof into the water; the boat was jumping on the choppy seas like a bucking horse, and the wind blew with hurricane force. Kenneth could help himself hardly at all, and Frank struggled with him till the sweat stood out on his brow in great beads. At last both got over the entangling anchor cables, and breathing hard, hugged the stick as if their lives depended on it, which came very near being the case.

“You—had—better—leave—me—here—old—chap,” panted Kenneth. “My—ankle—hurts—like—the—old—Harry. Can’t—travel—much.”

“What did you do to it?”

“Got—caught—under—cleat—on—the butt—of—the—bowsprit.”

“Gee! that’s tough!” sympathized Frank.

“Gave it a terrible wrench. Regular monkey wrench.” It was a grim situation to joke about.

“Leave you here?” said Frank, coming back to Ken’s suggestion. “I guess not! What do you take me for, anyway? I know how to work it, all right. You hang on to the mast a minute.”

Releasing his grip on Ransom, Chauvet picked up the end of the peak halliard coiled at his feet, and with great difficulty straightened out its frozen turns, for he had but one free hand—he could not release his hold on the sailhoop that he grasped for an instant. Taking the stiff line, he passed it around his body and then around the boom. Holding on by his legs to the mast, he worked away at the frozen line until he had knotted the end to the main part—made a bowline. The loop was around his waist and the boom.

“Now, Ken, we’re all right—I have lashed myself to this spar, and my hands are free. I’ll yell to Clyde,” and suiting the action to the word he shouted aft.

Ransom hung on to the line about Frank’s waist, while Frank half held, half supported him. Slowly they moved along, stumbling, often swinging with the boat, till the rope cut into Chauvet’s body cruelly. It was exhausting work.

Soon Clyde came stumbling, slipping and fighting forward against the gale, and in a minute was helping Frank to support the gritty captain.

It was a thankful group that dropped into the warm, bright cabin—dripping wet and numbed with cold, out of breath, well-nigh exhausted, but thankful to the heart’s core.

Arthur cut the shoe from Ransom’s swelling ankle, and then bound it tightly with a cloth saturated with witch hazel.

“Chasing anchors on stormy nights seems to be fatal for me,” Kenneth remarked, as he lay on his bunk regarding his bandaged foot. “I’ll give you fellows a chance next time—I don’t want to be piggish about it.”

Presently the cabin light was turned down and all hands got into their berths. Not a tongue moved, but brains were active; not an eyelid felt heavy, but the boys resolutely kept them closed. The storm raged on; gust succeeded gust, the rain beat down on the thin cabin roof with increasing fierceness. It was a trying night, and each of the four boys was glad enough to see the gray light come stealing in through the frosted port lights. They had all thought that they would never see daylight again, though each had kept his fears to himself.

The wind still roared and the rain poured down, but the yacht tossed and rolled less violently; her movements were slower and sluggish, quite unlike those of the usually sprightly, light “Gazelle.”

“Sea must have gone down,” commented Clyde, in a casual way, as he noted that the others were awake. “Queer, wind’s blowing great guns, too.”

Kenneth sat up suddenly and bumped his head on the deck beam above. This made him wince, and he drew his game foot suddenly against the boat’s side. Kenneth made so wry a face that his friends could not help laughing outright—an honest laugh, in spite of the sympathy they felt.

“Both ends at once.” The captain tried to rub his head and his ankle at the same moment, and found it a good deal of a stretch.

“There is a new bar to be charted here.” His finger went gingerly round the bump on his forehead.

“Frank, go on deck, will you, and see if things are moderating. I’d like to get into some cove or another.”

Chauvet made his way to the ladder and shoved the doors with all his might; but it was only after repeated blows with a heavy rope fender that they opened.

“Great Scott!” he shouted. “Look here. Ice! Why, there’s no boat left—it’s all ice! Well, I’ll be switched—why, we’ll have to chop her out, or she’ll sink with the weight of it—she’s down by the head now.”

Fresh exclamations of amazement followed as each head appeared in turn from below. It was true. The yacht was literally covered with ice, from one to six inches thick at the bow, where the spray combined with the rain to add to the layers of white coating. The sluggish movement of the vessel was explained—the weight of the ice burdened her. Here was a pleasing condition of things.

The boys snatched a hasty breakfast, and taking hatchets, hammers—anything with a sharp edge—they attacked the ice. Even Ransom insisted upon taking a hand. The boat was very beautiful in her glassy coating. The rigging, fringed with icicles, and the cold, gray light shining on the polished surface, made it look like a dull jewel. The boys, however, saw nothing of the beautiful side of it. There was a mighty job before them; a cold, hard, dangerous job, and they went at it as they had done with all the previous difficulties which they had encountered—with courage and energy.

Colder and colder it grew, until the thermometer registered five degrees below zero. The yacht still rolled and pitched so that the boys found it necessary to lash themselves to mast, spars and rigging while they chopped. The spray flew up and dashed into their faces and almost instantly froze; the sleeves of their coats became as hard and as stiff as iron pipes, and their hands stiffened so that the fingers could not hold the axe helves. Every few minutes one or the other would have to stop, go below and thaw out. They worked desperately, but new layers of frost formed almost as fast as the boys could hack it off. But chop and shovel they must or sink in plain sight of the town, inaccessible as though the boat were miles from shore.

How they ever lived through the three days during which the storm continued, God, who saved them, alone knows. It seemed almost a miracle that so small a craft should have lived through what it did.

When at the end of the weary time the wind subsided, the yacht rode over the choppy waves in much the same buoyant way as before—she was weather proof; but her crew was utterly exhausted; hands and faces were cut and bleeding from the fierce onslaught of the sleet-laden wind; fingers, toes and ears were frost-bitten, innumerable bruises—true badges of honor—covered their bodies, and the captain suffered intolerably from his injured ankle.

“Hours chopping ice off the ‘Gazelle’ to keep her from sinking under the weight of it,” quoted Kenneth from the entry in his log. “And this in the heart of the ‘Sunny South.’”

“I don’t believe there is any ‘Sunny South.’” Clyde was tired out, and his sentiments expressed his condition.

“Remember the old coon at Natchez?” said Frank. “He must have been a twin of Methuselah; he said he had never seen ice on the river so far south before, and he had lived on the Mississippi all his life.”

It was many, many hours before the “Gazelle” was free enough of her burden to allow the crew to rest; and not until three days of gale had spent its spite upon them could she be got under way and anchored in a sheltered spot.

After sending reassuring letters to anxious ones at home, the “Gazelle” sped southward, seeking for a sheltered spot to lie by and allow the ice which was sure to follow to pass by.

At the little town of St. Gabriels the “Gazelle” found a snug nest, where, for a time, the ice ceased from troubling, and she floated secure.

It was with a grateful heart that Kenneth rose on Sunday morning, February 19th, and from the safe anchorage saw the great cakes of ice go racing by on the swift current.

“We can’t hold a service aboard,” he said to Arthur, who appeared on deck about the same time. “But let’s dress ship for a thanksgiving offering.”

All four agreed with alacrity, and for the next hour scarcely a word was spoken except as one fellow sung out, “Where is that swab?” or another, “Who’s got the bath-brick?” Hardly a day passed (except when the boat was in actual danger) that the “Gazelle” did not get a thorough cleaning—brasses shined, decks scrubbed, cabin scoured, bedding aired, dishes well washed and even the dishcloth cleaned and spread to dry. But this was a special day, and the yacht was as sweet within as soap and water, elbow grease and determined wills could make her. The crowning of the work came when the “Gazelle” was decked in her colors; the flags spelling her name in the international code fluttering in the breeze, and above all Old Glory—surely a splendid emblem of what these youngsters gallantly typified, American perseverance, pluck and enterprise. It was a proud crew that lined up on the bank to admire their achievement, and their hearts were filled with gratitude to Providence that they had been brought through so many dangers safely.

“Kin I hab one of dese yer flags?” Some one pulled at Kenneth’s sleeve, and he looked down into a small, black, kinky-hair framed face. It was a little pickaninny, scantily clad and shivering in the keen air.

“What do you want it for?”

Embarrassment showed on every shining feature of the little face.

“Foh—foh a crazy quilt,” she managed to say at last.

Ransom could not spare one of his flags, but he dug into a locker and pulled out a piece of red flannel (a token of his mother’s thoughtfulness) which pleased the black youngster almost as much. The visits of the darky population were frequent that day, and the many requests for “one of doze flags” suggested the thought that the first black youngster had spread the news that the ship’s company could be worked.

Two days later the ice had almost disappeared and the “Gazelle” left her snug berth for the last stretch of her journey to the Crescent City. The delay seemed to add to the yacht’s eagerness to be gone, for she sped on her way like a horse on its first gallop after a winter in the stable.

On, on she flew, drawing nearer to her goal, scarred from contact with ice, snags and sandbars, but still unhurt, triumphant. Surely the sun was rewarding their persistence; for he no longer hid his face from them, but shone out in all mellowness and geniality. Their worries fled at his warm touch, and their hearts sang his praises.

The “Gazelle” seemed glad as she forged ahead, as if to say, “Hurrah! I have conquered, I have stood old Mississippi’s bumps and jars! All these are of the past, and now for Old Ocean!”

Light after light was passed and marked off on the list, and soon the last one shone out. It had no name, so as they lustily gave three cheers for the last of the little beacons which had so long been their guides and dubbed it “Omega,” the “Gazelle” sped on with only the smoke of the great cotton market as a guide. New Orleans was in sight.

The pillars of smoke—the smoke of the city of their dreams—led them on. They could hardly realize that that dim cloud, that dark streak in the distance was really the city which they had striven so hard to reach.

A feeling of great satisfaction came over them as the “Gazelle” responded to the tiller, which was thrown hard down, and headed into the wind. A few flaps of the sails in the evening breeze, the sudden splash of the anchor forward, followed by the swir of the cable as it ran through the chocks, and the creaking pulleys as the sails were lowered, was the music in honor of the “Gazelle’s” successful voyage from far away Michigan to New Orleans.

The trip of one thousand eight hundred miles had been full of incident and some satisfaction, purchased, however, at the price of severe toil and many hardships, with a decided preponderance of troubles over pleasures. Sickness had visited the crew at a time when their location made medical aid impossible; the most severe winter recorded, accompanied with the ice packs and low stages of water, made it seem many times as if all hands were indeed candidates for admission into the realms of “Davy Jones’s locker.” But all this was now of the past; for here was the “Gazelle” anchored in a snug cove in the outskirts of the Southern metropolis safe and sound, the captain and crew strong, well, happy, and in all ways improved by their struggles.

The sun was still two hours high when Kenneth and Frank rowed ashore in “His Nibs” and scrambled up the steep side of the high levee which protects the city from inundation.

As they looked back on the “Gazelle” so peacefully riding at her anchorage, they felt like giving three lusty cheers for their floating home. Beyond the yacht and moored at the docks were two immense ocean-going steamships, while a short distance up the river was a full-rigged ship with loosened canvas falling in graceful folds from the yards. The scene was a pleasing one, and the two boys drank it in with all their eyes; they loved the sea, and these monster boats had a peculiar charm for them. But the “clang, clang” of a bell suddenly awakened them from their reverie, and they started in all haste to get down town for the mail they knew must be waiting.

The anchorage was at Carrollton, one of the suburbs of New Orleans, so the boys had a splendid opportunity of seeing the city on their long trolley-car journey to the main Post Office. The batch of mail that was handed out to them gladdened their hearts, and it took considerable resolution to refrain from camping right out on the Post Office steps and reading their letters. They remembered, however, their promise to Arthur and Clyde to bring back with them the wherewithal to make a feast in honor of their safe arrival in the Crescent City.

“Gee! I’d like to know what’s in those letters.” Frank gazed at them longingly as they walked along. “Look at the fatness of that, will you?”

“I’ve got a fatness myself,” retorted Kenneth, holding a thick letter bearing several stamps. “We have just about time enough to buy some truck and get back. What do you say to some oysters?”

“That goes,” was Frank’s hearty endorsement.

Oysters were cheap, they found, so they bought a goodly supply, and for want of a better carrier put them in a stout paper bag.

The two boys started out bravely, with the bag of oysters between them, each carrying a bundle of papers and mail under their arms. They saw many things that interested them—quaint old buildings with balconies and twisted ironwork, and numbers of picturesque, dark-skinned people wearing bright colors wherever it was possible.

Frank and Kenneth were so interested in watching what was going on about them—the people, the buildings, and all the hundred and one things that would interest a Northern boy in a Southern city—that they forgot all about the load of oysters till they noticed that the people who met and passed them were smiling broadly.

“Have I got a smudge on my nose, Frank?” asked Kenneth, trying vainly to squint down that member.

“No. Have I?” Frank’s answer and question came in the same breath.

“Well, what in thunder are these people grin——”

There was a soft tearing sound, and then a hollow rattle. The boys looked down quickly and saw that the damp oysters had softened the paper so that the bag no longer held them, and they were falling, leaving a generous trail behind them.

Frank and Kenneth scratched their heads; there were no shops near at hand, the bag was no earthly use, they were a long way from the anchorage, and the oysters were much too precious to be abandoned.

“What’s the matter with tying up the sleeves of this old coat and making a bag of it?” Frank’s inventive brain was beginning to work.

“That’s all right, if you don’t object,” was the reply.

An hour later two boys, one of them in his shirt sleeves, came stumbling along in the dusk toward the levee near which the “Gazelle” was anchored.

“‘Gazelle’ ahoy!” they hailed. “Have you got room for a bunch of oysters and a couple of appetites?”

Evidently there was plenty of room, for “His Nibs” came rushing across to take all three over, the “bunch of oysters” and the “two appetites” to the yacht, where they found two more appetites eagerly waiting their coming.

Ransom and his friends had planned to stay but ten days in New Orleans; just time enough to put in a new mast and refit generally for the long sea voyage before them. Their good intentions, however, were balked at every turn. The parents of all the boys, except Ransom’s, besought them to return; made all sorts of inducements to persuade them to give up the trip; did everything, in fact, except actually command them. A death in Clyde’s family made it imperative that he should go back, and it grieved the boys to have him leave. Clyde was as disappointed as any; and as he boarded the train to go North he said: “I’d give a farm to be coming instead of going.”

The crew was now reduced to three, and Ransom feared that Clyde’s return would influence the others and break up the cruise.

The letters to Frank and Arthur grew more and more insistent, until one day Chauvet came to Ransom. “Ken,” said he, “this is getting pretty serious. My people come as near saying that they’ll disown me if I don’t come back as they can without actually writing the words. I want to go the rest of the way and play the whole game, and it would be a low down trick to leave you stranded here without a crew.”

“Well,” said Kenneth, as he sat down by Frank’s side on the levee in the warm sunshine, “you’ll have to do as you think best, but—I never told you that my father and mother offered me their house if I would give up the trip, did I?”

Frank opened his eyes at this.

“No, I didn’t, but it’s a fact; and when I told them that I didn’t have to be paid to stay and would not go if they felt so strongly about it, they came right around and said, ‘Go, and God bless you.’”

Kenneth’s eyes moistened a little as he harked back to the time, and a vivid picture of his far away Northern home arose before him. “Well, old chap,” he continued, laying his hand on Frank’s knee, “they have been with me heartily ever since, and I believe that your people would feel the same about you and be proud of your pluck, too.”

The two looked each other in the eyes a minute—one fair, the other dark—utterly dissimilar in appearance, but both possessed of indomitable will and courage—then Frank’s hand slowly sought that of his friend and gripped it hard.

“Ken, I’m with you.”

“Good,” was the other’s only answer.

Arthur’s decision was soon made when he found that Kenneth and Frank had determined to put it through. The three were knit together in a bond of fellowship hard to break.

The equinoctial storms were raging through the Gulf at this period, and the boys made good use of the time to buy, shape, and put in place a new mainmast; to tighten up the rigging and repaint the boat’s sides, covering up the scars made by the inhospitable river. “His Nibs” was also refitted, so that the staunch little craft looked like new, and was much admired. The boys rambled all over the old city, from the above-surface, tomb-like cemetery, to the lively creole quarter. Ransom visited many ships in port and studied the lines and construction of ocean-going vessels, river craft and lugger fishing boats. All sorts of craft congregated at this harbor for all kinds of purposes—for cotton, for sugar, for every sort of commodity, in fact, even down to mules. Ransom watched them all, went aboard some and talked with the mates and engineers. His intelligent questions won him courteous, thoughtful answers. He took notes, made sketches, and in every way possible took advantage of this opportunity to fit himself for his life’s work.

At last, on the first of May, 1899, the storms having passed, the “Gazelle” being as fit and trim as a boat could be, the crew bade good-by to the many friends they had made, cast off from their moorings and started for the salt sea.

For two days they sailed through the delta of the Mississippi, and then entered that dangerous short cut to the Gulf, Cubit’s Gap—a passage flanked on either side by shoals which even the “Gazelle” could not sail over. It was lined by the skeletons of wrecked vessels, and made the boys hesitate a little before taking the risk. But “nothing venture nothing gained,” they thought, and a successful venture meant almost a hundred miles gained.

The weather conditions were good and the vote was unanimous in favor of trying; so, on reaching the cut, the “Gazelle” turned to port and entered the dangerous channel.

“Good-by, old Mississippi!” Kenneth said, half aloud. “We are ocean bound at last.”

It was all done very quickly, and never a feeling of reluctance came over them as they carefully picked their way among the shoals of the pass.

The run through the sand point, which the current of the river has forced out into the Gulf, was some six miles long. By careful sailing the “Gazelle” ran this distance without mishap; and then spread out before her was the great Gulf of Mexico! Ahead for several miles was the shallow shoal. Débris of every kind surrounded them. Everything was so lonesome. Not a sail in sight or anything to make them feel that the world was peopled.

A flock of sea birds rose from the water, and, with a peculiar cry, flew far away as if frightened by a sight seldom seen, and for a moment made it seem as if they were “alone on a wide, wide sea.”

The sea was calm, so, taking a sounding pole aboard “His Nibs,” Frank, with chart before him, measured the depth. The “Gazelle,” under shortened sail, followed slowly in his wake, often luffing quickly to avoid a bar, and surely, though slowly, winding her way. So intricate did the path become at times that it was necessary for them to cast anchor and explore ahead for depths sufficient to float the yacht, but at last, just as the sun was sinking in the distant west, their labors were rewarded by success, for careful sailing and constant sounding were necessary, but at last the cheery cry of “No bottom,” came from their pilot ahead, and in a few minutes the staunch “Gazelle” was gliding along on the long, rolling surface of the open Gulf, afloat at last on the great salt sea.


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