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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » A Year in a Yawl » CHAPTER X RIDING A MONSTER TURTLE
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CHAPTER X RIDING A MONSTER TURTLE
Arthur, after rowing away from the yacht, dropped his baited hook overboard, and for a time waited eagerly for something to happen; but as the water remained as before, the sun shone down with unabated ardor, and the heat waves danced over the shining sea, he soon lost interest, and sat drowsily holding the line loosely in his hand, his white canvas hat drawn over his eyes.

Suddenly there was a jerk, and the line began to burn through his fingers; he gripped it hard, and was nearly pulled overboard. The thing at the other end, surprised at resistance, stopped an instant and gave Arthur time to recover himself.

“Gee! I’ve got something,” he shouted. He certainly had, or something had got him; it was some time before he could make up his mind which it was.

The fish began to move. Arthur determined he should not, and the consequence was that they all moved, the fish, “His nibs” and Arthur, straight for the open Gulf.

“Here, where are you going?” Kenneth’s voice came faintly over the water to him.

“I don’t know,” Arthur shouted back, his eyes on the taut line.

“Cut loose!” The voice from the yacht was fainter. Arthur thought that he must be moving away fast, but he determined that he would not give up. He watched the line closely, and presently noticed that it was taking a longer and longer slant; evidently the fish was coming to the surface. “His Nibs” rushed along at a great rate, its bow low down with Arthur’s weight and the stress of the towing; its stern was almost out of water. The line rose slowly until it was almost parallel with the surface. Arthur watched it excitedly as it cut the water like a knife and the drops were thrown aside by its vibrations. At length a sharp fin rose out of the water, and cut a rippling V in the blue sea.

“By Jove! it’s a shark,” said Arthur between his teeth.

The boys on the yacht evidently saw, too, for a faint cry reached the ears of the boy in the boat. “Let him go!” they shouted. “Let him go!”

“I’ll be hanged if I do.” Arthur did not waste his breath by speaking the words aloud; he needed all his strength to hold on to the small line. The cord cut his fingers, and the pull made his arms ache, but he would not give in. “That beast must get tired some time,” he thought. Suddenly the fin turned, there was a miniature whirlpool behind it, and Arthur’s arms were nearly wrenched out as the shark put helm to port and struck out in a new direction. Arthur looked up, saw that they were heading straight for the “Gazelle,” and he took courage.

“If he’ll only go near enough,” thought the boy; but the capture was not to be counted on, as it dashed from side to side and made rushes this way and that, in a vain endeavor to get away from the maddening hook. Its general direction, however, was toward the yacht. Arthur shouted: “Soak him, if you get a chance. I’m nearly done.”

In one of its mad rushes the shark came within ten yards of the yacht, when Frank, making a lucky cast with the heavy sounding lead, landed it on the beast’s most vulnerable spot, the nose, and stunned him. Arthur got out an oar and paddled over to the yawl, handed the line over to Frank and got aboard. Frank made the line fast to the bitts forward, then cried exultingly: “Go ahead, old tow-horse, and tow away. Pleased to have you, I’m sure.” The shark’s gameness was broken, however, and after a few heroic struggles to get free, came within easy sight of Frank, who speedily put a bullet into him and ended the tragedy. They pulled the great fish alongside and measured him.

“A good twelve-footer, I bet,” Frank asserted, after measuring the big tiger of the sea with an oar. “And look at that jaw! Jonah could only have got past those teeth in sections.”

“Well, you did do something,” Kenneth remarked, as he glanced at the long, lithe creature floating alongside. “But I did not expect you to catch a towboat.”

“Suppose—say, I’ve got a bright idea”—Frank looked up from his inspection of Arthur’s catch—“suppose we drop a couple of baited lines forward, made fast to the bitts, catch a team of sharks and get towed to our next port, or why not the whole distance?”

“It might be all right to start, but how the mischief would we stop?” Arthur rubbed his muscles, strained in the efforts which he had already made in that direction.

“Oh, just anchor, hobble our team by the tails and go on about our business. It’s as simple as can be. They could soon be taught port and starboard.”

“Coming down to plain facts, I wish we had a breeze; even a foot-pump would help us.” Kenneth shielded his eyes from the glare and looked over the glittering blue waters for a wind ripple.

“Yes, like that fellow back in Michigan, who proposed to put a motor in his boat with an air blower, so that when the wind gave out he could blow himself along.”

Only enough breeze ruffled the smooth waters of the Gulf to allow them to creep back into harbor and wait for a new day.

The shark was cast loose, in spite of Arthur’s impractical protest that he wanted to keep it as a souvenir.

The next morning all hands were up early and were greeted as they came on deck by a spanking southwest wind. It was more than a breeze; it might be ranked as a reefing wind, but the “Gazelle” was under-canvassed and so hoisted full sail safely. The whole aspect of the sea had changed. Deep, blue and rippling under the steady wind, it had lost the brazen glare of the day before. The palms along shore waved their graceful fronds in gentle salutation, and the white-crested breakers made obeisance at their feet.

“Up anchor, and away, boys!” Kenneth shouted, exhilarated by the ozone in the air. Frank and Arthur started to work the small hand windlass. “Put your backs to it, boys; we’ll be off the sooner.”

In a minute the anchor broke ground, the yacht began to pay off, and was under way in earnest.

“Gee! this is better than your old shark-towing scheme,” Arthur said, as he and Frank coiled down the gear and made all snug for the long day’s run. “There’s nothing like a wind-jammer, say I.”

“Right you are, Art,” Frank acknowledged. “My! I am hungry, though; my breastbone is flat against my spine.”

“Well, it’s up to you, old man,” Kenneth sang out from his place in the cockpit. “Chase it along; I feel as if I could eat Arthur’s shark.”

As the day wore on, the waves grew larger, long, rounded rollers, that at times crested and were blown into spray by the wind. Huge, tumbling, rolling hills they were, like great playfellows, mighty but amiable. The boys felt a kind of fellowship for them, and enjoyed watching the blue-green slopes that rose and fell, now hiding the land from them, now lifting boat and all to a watery height, widening the horizon and giving the boys little thrills of delight as they coasted down into the hollows again.

Hour after hour they sailed on, the wind steady and true from the southwest, so that only the slightest shift of the helm was necessary, and ’tending sheet became a sinecure. The “Gazelle” even acted as if she were enjoying herself. She ran up the hill of one wave and down the slope of another, like a frolicsome dolphin with a superabundance of animal spirits. Indeed, the porpoises seemed to recognize in her a playfellow, for they somersaulted along in company with her for hours, mocked at her grace, raced with her and dove under her, for all the world like children at play.

“Jiminy! let’s have a swim with ’em,” said Arthur, who, fascinated by their easy antics, was positively envious. “If I could swim like that, I wouldn’t mind turning my feet into fins one bit.”

The delights of that day’s sail would fill a book. The strange fish which they caught glimpses of as the yawl flew along, brilliantly colored and flashing like jewels in the clear depths; schools of flying-fish, strange, spectre-like creatures, sprang out of the blue and scudded a hundred feet or so clear of the waves, then dropped as suddenly as they had risen, into their native element again.

Still the good yacht sped on swiftly, steadily, like a great tireless bird. To starboard the boys could see nothing but the same old sea; the same, but always changing, always new. To port, the land was fringed with white tossing breakers, and beyond that forests of trees, graceful palms, and sturdy live oaks, with their branches draped in swaying moss, made a background of exquisite beauty.

Here and there a veritable giant that had lost in its battle with the elements, rose up above the rest, bare, denuded and black, but a sturdy relic still.

After a four-hours’ trick at the stick, Kenneth gave up the helm to Arthur and went below to write up his log. For a time the other two boys could see him laboring with a pen at the big, ledger-like book, intent on doing what he considered his duty; but his hand travelled slowly, then more slowly still. He looked up to get ideas, glanced through the oval port lights, now shut in by a green wall of sunlit water, or giving a sudden glimpse of blue cloud-flecked sky and palm-clad land over the heaving waters. For a time he gazed, then, frowning, grasped his pen determinedly, and set to work again. A dozen lines, perhaps, were written, then his eyes were irresistibly drawn again to the ever-changing pictures of sea and sky in the oval frames.

“Better give it up, old man,” Frank shouted down the hatch, laughing. “Save your log till you can’t do anything else, or until it’s too dark to see. This is better than a hundred logs. Come on deck and see it all. You can tell about it later.”

“I can’t resist; that’s a fact,” Kenneth answered, coming on deck. “This beats anything I ever even heard of. Don’t the old boat sail through, though? Steady as a church—skates up and down the waves as if she enjoyed it.”

The boys went below only to eat. Frank and Kenneth washed dishes, because Arthur was sailing—this was according to the unwritten law, that the one who sailed was excused from house work, light or otherwise. The cook did not have to wash dishes, though he was perfectly welcome to do so if he desired.

The boys saw the sun rise that morning, and it was shedding its last glowing rays over the restless waters when they made the harbor of St. Joseph’s Bay. “Eighty miles in one day is not bad going for a thirty-foot boat,” said Ransom, exultingly, after measuring the charts.

ON THE GULF COAST.
“GRACEFUL PALMS AND STURDY LIVE OAKS.”

“Sure not,” chimed in Arthur. “If we could do that every day, the rest of the cruise would be an easy thing.”

“Let’s see,” said Frank, counting on his fingers; “eighty miles a day for thirty days would be 2,400 miles; at that rate we have only got about two months’ more cruising, including stops.”

“I hate to obstruct this beautiful two months’ trip, but think of yesterday and add a couple of months.” Kenneth, in his usual matter-of-fact manner, was throwing cold water upon these extravagant dreamers.

St. Joseph’s Bay, a deep indentation in the coast, afforded the young sailors a splendid anchorage, sheltered and easy of access. The rollers beat steadily on the beach outside, the roaring proclaiming the majesty of the sea; but within all was calm and still—gentle rollers rocked the yacht just enough to soothe—and the three youngsters slept like hibernating bears.

The soft breeze hummed gently through the rigging, the little waves lapped caressingly against the boat’s sides, fishes bumped their noses inquiringly against her bottom. “His Nibs,” made fast by a long painter, went on little excursions of its own as far as the line would reach, like an inquisitive dog; but the boys slept through it, perfectly unconscious of all the interesting nocturnal goings on. It was not until the warm sun came shining through the port lights, and upon the open hatch, that they finally waked up.

“Six bells, boys; up, all hands—rise and shine—shake a leg!” Kenneth shouted, rubbing his own eyes to pry them open. It was seven o’clock, and a long day’s sail to Appalachicola was before them. Each boy, as he rolled out of his bunk, shook off the few clothes he had on and flopped overboard. In a minute, the sleepy dust was washed out of their eyes, and the boys sported about like seals in the clear, warm salt water.

Frank climbed on deck and dove off, making a clear arching leap like a hunted fish; but his feet had hardly disappeared before his head showed above the surface again.

“Why, you couldn’t sink in this water if a mill-stone were hung round your neck,” he spluttered, shaking the water out of his eyes.

Through St. George’s Sound—a piece of water something like the Santa Rosa, separated as it is from the Gulf by a narrow strip of sand—they sailed to Appalachicola, then on along the harborless coast to Cedar Keys. It was a piece of sailing that Kenneth dreaded. That long, curving strip of coast without one adequate shelter along its entire length, was not pleasant to think of in connection with an on-shore gale. Kenneth examined the charts as the yawl sailed along, and noticed that the water was very shoal far from shore.

“How deep do you suppose it is off here?” he called up to Frank, who was steering.

“I don’t know; it must be pretty deep, for we are five or six miles from shore,” Frank answered. “But I can see bottom just the same; look at that seaweed waving as if the breeze was blowing on it. How deep is it, any way?”

“Well, you may not believe it”—Kenneth rolled up the chart and started aft to show the helmsman—“but it’s only seven or eight feet. Pretty near as flat as a floor; about a foot a mile drop, I estimate.”

“Why didn’t we walk?” suggested Arthur, “as the Irishman said, when he saw the diver coming up out of the water at Ellis Island.”

They anchored that night about five miles from shore, in seven feet of water, and the treacherous old Gulf was as calm as a park lake under a summer zephyr.

All the next day, a roaring wind from the northwest wafted the three along; and night saw them safely anchored off the mouth of the Suwanee River.

A star-studded sky hung over them as all three boys came out on deck after all was snug and ship shape. Kenneth got out his guitar, and to the accompaniment of its softly-strummed chords the boys sang:
“Way down upon the Suwanee River,
Far, far, away.”

The spell of the quiet was on them all, and as the sound of their young voices died away, and only the hum of the strings, the lap of the rippling water, and the soft whirr of the breeze were in their ears, a feeling of sadness came over them as they realized that they were indeed far, far from home.

Arthur lay flat on his back, gazing up into the immeasurable sky; Frank lay along the rail, looking into the clear, black, velvety depths of the ever shifting water; Kenneth, absorbed in his brown study, watched the bow of the small boat abstractedly as the sharp stem cleaved the current of the tide, making little waves that glowed with phosphorescence.

For a while, no word was spoken, then “Phew!” snorted Frank. “I knew this was too good to last. What have we run up against, a fertilizer factory?”

“I thing do,” answered Arthur, holding his nose.

“Dee! did it worde thad a dead rad.” Ransom had his nostrils closed also, as his manner of speech indicated.

The stench drove the three boys into the cabin, where, with closed doors and hatch, they sweltered until a shift of wind made it possible for them to breathe the outer air again. They looked in the direction from which the odor had come, and saw the anchor light of a vessel swinging, and then, as their eyes became accustomed to the darkness, they made out the deeper shadow of the vessel herself.

Not till morning did they find out that the fragrance came from a sponge schooner. Though they hesitated some time, at last their curiosity overcame their squeamishness, and, after washing down decks, breakfasting, and cleaning up, Arthur and Frank (Kenneth having, as usual, drawn the short yarn) took “His Nibs” and rowed over to the schooner. Kenneth watched his comrades from the “Gazelle,” and saw them row very gingerly up to the trim vessel until the small boat’s stem almost touched the larger boat’s side, when they half turned to go away, but, evidently gathering up their resolution, they hailed a man on deck and went aboard. Later, Ransom, himself, had a chance of investigating the work. As he climbed the schooner’s sides, he found sponges of many sizes and shapes strung around the rigging in various degrees of decomposition. A big West Indian negro explained to him that they were hung up to rot the animal matter out of the fibrous substance which made the home of the multitude of small creatures. A very unsavory occupation, but one that pays quite well, the big fellow told Kenneth, and invited him to go sponge-fishing with him. Ransom accepted, and, getting into a small boat, they rowed some distance from the schooner. Putting a long, slender pine pole with a hook on one end into the boy’s hands, the negro suggested that he try his luck. “This is easy,” Kenneth said to himself, as he slipped it into the water and began to feel about on the bottom. Soon the end struck something soft, and, with a little thrill that always comes to the fisherman when he gets hooked to something, he began to haul up, slowly and carefully. Under instructions from the negro, he pulled up inch by inch. The thing he had on his hook was a dead weight, utterly unlike the active fish, but he thought that he detected a tremor in even this inert mass. Slowly, and more slowly, he raised the pole until he could dimly see a yellow-brown substance through the sunlit water. At last his catch was almost on the surface, when the negro began to laugh loudly. “What’s the joke?” Kenneth began, then he stopped, as he caught a clear glimpse of his treasure trove. An enormous mouth gaped at him, and two protuberant eyes that shone like jewels gleamed in the sunlight, a brown, flat body covered with warts and excrescences of various kinds flopped feebly on the surface. “Holy smoke, what have I struck?” Kenneth exclaimed, feeling that he had a waking nightmare. The thing slid off from the hook, and scaling down through the water was soon lost to view.

“Ugh!” said the boy, shivering in remembrance. “What was that?”

“Angle-fish, I reckon. Scare yer?” the other replied.

Though Kenneth tried again, he could not haul up a sponge. There was a knack to it that completely baffled him.

All through this part of the Gulf, the boys found the sponge fishermen and their crews—many of whom were West Indian negroes—great, big, strong fellows, who seemed to find the odoriferous life healthy. The shallow water, smooth and clear, produced good sponges, and the fishermen came to reap the harvest from all directions.

Even in the town of Cedar Keys, the boys could not get away from the horrid odor. The town, formerly a great cedar-producing place, and the site of a large pencil manufactory, had become the sponge fisherman’s port of call.

“For heaven’s sake, Ken, let’s get our mail, our grub, and our water, and clear out of this place,” Arthur said, the afternoon that they entered Cedar Keys Harbor. “It seems to me that sponge is mixed up with everything I eat, drink, smell, taste, see, and touch. It’s awful!”

“I’m willing,” the skipper answered, “if Frank votes aye.”

“Aye! Aye!” Frank shouted emphatically, with no loss of time.

Soon after dawn the next day, the mud-hook was pulled up, and the “Gazelle” stood for the open Gulf. She sped along as if she, too, was glad to get away into the free, sweet air of the Southern sea.

It was a six days’ sail to Charlotte Harbor, a little below Tampa. A sail full of incident; of friendly races with fishing boats; exhilarating bouts with sharp little squalls that called for quick work and unerring judgment; and an entrancing view of an ever-changing semi-tropical coast.

A schooner with which they had been sailing hour after hour, headed into the harbor which opened up invitingly before both vessels.

“We might as well go in too,” suggested Ransom. “There’s plenty of water, and we might take a chance at a turtle or two. What do you say?”

So they rounded the lighthouse and sailed up the channel with their companion ship, like a team of horses. Together the jibs came down, and together the anchor chains rattled through the chocks.

They learned from the lighthouse keeper that turtles were plentiful at this time of year, and that they crawled up on the beach at night to lay their eggs.

All three boys wanted to go, but one had to stay and keep ship. So after supper they drew lots.

“This yarn-pulling business is getting to be a sort of one-sided joke,” declared Ransom, aggrievedly. “I believe the strand I choose gets shorter when I take it.”

“Hard luck, old man,” Arthur and Frank said sympathetically, as they got into the small boat and pushed off.

Kenneth watched the boat as it skimmed the placid water, a dim shadow in the deepening gloom, and listened to the rhythm of the dipping oars and creaking rowlocks, with a sense of loneliness that he found hard to shake off. The boat finally disappeared in the darkness, and the sounds faded into the general murmur of the water. Soon a light showed on the beach and went swinging along, eclipsed at regular intervals by the legs of the carrier. The boys had lighted the lantern, and shouldering their guns were on their way to the turtles’ haunts.

Ransom wrote his log and finished some letters; then, taking some pillows on deck, was soon lulled to sleep by the soft wind and the gentle swing of the waves.

Loaded down with hatchets, guns, and revolvers, Frank and Arthur looked as if they were on a pirating expedition; they went prepared for whatever might turn up. Bears are fond of turtle eggs and coons dote on them; so there was a reasonable chance of the boys interrupting somebody’s feast.

Side by side they walked, talking in low tones; both felt the tingling excitement that goes with hunting adventures day or night.

Once, Frank caught sight of a dark something flopping in the water just beyond the tiny breakers, and, half wild with excitement, he up with his rifle and shot at it. Arthur raised the lantern, and they saw that it was a small shark caught in the shoal water.

“One on you, old man,” laughed Arthur. “Think it was a sea serpent?”

After walking an hour or more, they rounded the point that protected the harbor, and were soon treading the sand of the outer beach.

“This must be the place,” whispered Arthur. They walked more cautiously, and looked for the parallel trenches in the sand that they had been told marked the passage of the giant turtles.

The damp, salt air blew into their faces, and made the flame of the lantern flicker, and cast uncouth shadows on the sloping beach.

“There’s one!” cried Arthur, giving his companion a grip on the arm. “Look!” And they both started on a run for the dark object that lay so still.

“Oh, come off; don’t you know the difference between a patch of sand grass and a green turtle? What about the laugh this time?”

“That’s all right; I know a shark when I see it. This lantern flickers—By Jove! look at that!” Arthur stopped in his tracks and grabbed the light out of Frank’s hand.

There were two deep tracks in the sand that paralleled each other—unmistakable sign of a monster turtle. Both boys followed the trail on the run, only to find that Madam Turtle had been and gone, also that bruin or coon had feasted royally on the eggs.

A hundred yards further on, they came to another track, and with excitement less strong, but still with nerves and muscles tense and hearts throbbing, they followed fast. The moon broke from the clouds and silvered the crescent sea, the wind-tossed palms showed black against the sky, and the beach shone white under the light. “Hurrah!” Frank shouted. “Now we can see.” The pale gleam showed a dark shape ten yards from them that moved awkwardly. “There she is, Art. Come on!”

In a minute they had come up to a giant turtle, which, on their approach, drew in its head, then shot it out again, its beaked mouth opening and closing wickedly.

“Shoot it, Frank!” Arthur cried, utterly flustered. “Hit him in the eye! Hit him somewhere, quick!”

“No; let’s get hold of his shell and flop him over on his back, then we’ve got him.” Taking hold of the huge creature’s shell, just back of the crooked hind legs, they heaved and strained to turn her over. It was no use, the beast was too heavy, and the turtle, objecting to this treatment, started for the water.

“THE MOON BROKE FROM THE CLOUDS AND SILVERED THE CRESCENT SEA.”

“Shoot it, Frank; it’ll get away!”

Frank did as he was bid, but the bullets had no apparent effect—the great creature waddled on even faster than before.

Arthur, almost beside himself with excitement, jumped on to the broad, rounded back, and yelled like an Indian, swaying to and fro in his efforts to keep his balance on the living platform. Then suddenly realizing that he held a hatchet in his flourishing right hand, he reached forward and struck it deeply into the snake-like skull.



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