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CHAPTER XVI FROM NEW YORK TO ALBANY
With the very shadow of the great Liberty statue stretching over them, their good ship was fast on the rocks and threatening to spring a leak any moment. Shipwreck at the gates of America’s greatest city stared the boys in the face. Sand bars, ice, great waves, and fierce winds, had been encountered, but not till New York Harbor received them so inhospitably, had the “Gazelle’s” keel struck rock.

Quick work was necessary if the yacht was to be saved, for even now the rollers from passing steamboats were causing her to pound.

Without a word, Kenneth jumped forward and lowered jib and mainsail, and then, without stopping to take off any clothes, sprang overboard. “Come on, boys,” he cried. In another instant all three were lifting and pushing the heavy hull to get her off the rocks into the deep water of the channel—straining with all their might. Hot work it was, in spite of the cool water that wet them above their waists. Reluctantly the yacht began to slide backward. Lifted by the rollers, and pushed by three sturdy backs, she slipped towards the channel till the boys found themselves without a footing and hanging on the boat for support. She was afloat once more.

“Thank God!” said Ransom fervently, as he climbed on deck, dripping and shivering in the chill morning air. Once more the good ship had stood the test.

A few minutes were spent in putting on dry clothes, then on up New York Bay they went.

All was plain sailing until the yacht’s straight bowsprit had poked itself round old Fort William Henry on Governor’s Island. Then the fun began.

The two great currents from the North and East Rivers met off the fort, each carried an immense number of craft of all sorts going in every direction. Whistles tooted and bells clanged, paddlewheels and churning propellers turned the green waters into frothing chaos.

Kenneth and his friends were bewildered, and they wondered how they were ever going to pilot the diminutive “Gazelle” through that intricate labyrinth of shifting vessels.

The monster “Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse,” her huge hull dragged by several tugs (reminding one of a big piece of bread being moved off by ants) blocked the way to starboard; while one of the swift Sandy Hook boats dashed by to port, leaving a great wave astern. The Long Island Sound boats, veritable floating hotels, were just rounding the Battery on the way to their piers ahead, and to and fro the tug-boats puffed on erratic courses; shuttles they were that seemed to be weaving a net from which the yacht could not escape.

“Phew!” whistled Kenneth, who was steering. “How the deuce are we going to get through this, I would like to know?”

“I don’t see, unless we sink and we go underneath.” Arthur’s brows were puckered with perplexity, curious to see, but perfectly simple to understand.

“I don’t know how, but we always do get out of our scrapes somehow; still—Well, will you look at that, in the name of common sense!” Frank stopped from sheer astonishment.

The yacht was speeding down a narrow lane between two great outgoing ships, a great schooner and an English tramp, her way clear for once, when a tug appeared across the opening, and at the end of a long tow-line, a half-dozen canal boats strung out—a barrier six hundred yards long at least. Kenneth trimmed in his sheets quickly, put his helm to starboard, and started to go around the end of the tow, but no sooner had the yacht gathered headway in the new direction, than a big ferryboat ran from behind the tramp, and she had to luff quickly to avoid a collision.

“This is getting tiresome, to say the least,” remarked Kenneth in a vexed tone. “I guess we’ll have to follow Arthur’s suggestion and make a submarine trip of it.”

“Look at that sloop there; she goes right along and the steam craft get out of her way.” Arthur pointed out a well-loaded oyster boat. “If we only had our nerve with us we’d be all right.”

“It takes nerve, though; but here goes, we have the right of way.”

Sure enough. Whenever there seemed to be no escape from an accident, and the yacht pluckily pushed on, the steam vessels shifted to one side ever so slightly and allowed her to pass.

At first the excitement was too great for comfort, but as they proceeded up the river unharmed, it began to be exhilarating. Great ferryboats crossed their bows so near that they could almost jump aboard; tugs steamed by so close that the crews of the two boats easily “passed the time o’ day” in an ordinary tone of voice. Huge steamers passed that might have stowed the “Gazelle” on one of their decks without inconveniencing their promenading passengers in the slightest.

“And yet,” said Frank, bending his head far back in order to see a steamer’s rail, “this little boat weathered some storms that would make even that vast hull tremble.” He voiced the thought that all of them had in mind.

With eyes bright with interest, the boys saw the graceful sweep of the Brooklyn Bridge, the tall, red, square tower of the Produce Exchange, the brownstone spire of historic Trinity Church set in the midst of, and almost dwarfed by, the higher buildings about it. Towering ten, twenty, thirty stories high, the great office buildings made a skyline strangely jagged and bold. As the yacht sailed northward, the city flattened out somewhat, and the moving network made by the wakes of the shifting boats became more open.

Off Seventy-second Street, at the beginning of Riverside Drive, the anchor was dropped, and now out of the stream of passing craft, the crew stopped to take a quiet breath and recover from the excitement of navigating a great waterway full of swiftly moving vessels of every nationality going to and from every part of the world.

A week of sightseeing followed. Now, perhaps, for the first time, the boys longed for money with a longing not born of need, but at the sight of the many attractive things that can be bought for small sums, and the interesting shows which their empty pockets did not permit them to enjoy. Of the free shows, hardly one escaped them, the museums, both of Art and Natural History, the New York Zoo in Bronx Park; then the great buildings and the public parks all received their share of attention. Though comparisons may be odious, the boys put the Natural History and Metropolitan Art museums beside the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago, and discussed hotly among themselves the relative merits of each.

“His Nibs” was a hard-worked boat those days, because from four to six times a day it ferried the boys to and from the yacht. Perhaps it was owing to the fact that it was tired of so much work, that it floated itself into the attention of a couple of young wharf rats one evening. Kenneth had come ashore alone, and made the small boat fast to the landing close to the shore end of a long, closely built wharf. For perhaps three hours he was away, and when he returned it was after eleven o’clock and black night. Reaching the landing, he saw that the boat was missing, and his heart sank, for he had an affection for the little craft that had done its work so bravely; besides which, he could ill afford the money to replace it. Suddenly he awoke to the fact that just beyond his sight, a boat was being rowed hurriedly away. Running down the stringpiece to the end of the pier, he saw two young reprobates paddling off with all their might in “His Nibs.” What should he do? Not a policeman in sight, not a boat in which he could follow, near at hand; he feared he would have to let his boat be taken before his very eyes. But all at once a thought struck him and the humor of it made him smile as he started to put it into operation. With a big clasp knife he carried in his pocket he thought that he might bluff the thieves into thinking that it was a revolver, and so scare them into returning the stolen property.

Running out to the end of the pier, where his figure would be silhouetted against the distant light, he pulled out his knife, and holding it as if it were a revolver, pointed it at the “wharf rats.”

“Where are you going with that boat?” he shouted in stern tones.

No answer, though the thieves stopped rowing.

“You return that boat or I’ll—” Kenneth left his sentence unfinished, but he flourished his impromptu revolver so fiercely that the boat stealers were evidently cowed.

“Get that boat back, and be quick about it. No fooling, or I’ll shoot you full of holes.” Kenneth could hardly keep his face straight when he saw them back water and turn to go back to the landing. “I was just in time,” he said to himself, as he followed along on the stringpiece. “If they ever got under a dock it would be all day with ‘His Nibs.’” Arriving at the float the boys (they were hardly out of their ’teens, Kenneth thought) started for the street on a run. Ransom stayed not for pursuit, but jumped into the boat and pushed off. Once the two stopped to look back, but a threatening move with the knife sent them on with renewed speed.

“Well, that’s the best joke,” Kenneth said to himself, and he stopped rowing to pat the pocket where he had dropped the knife.

September 14th broke bright and clear, with a touch of the keen autumnal vigor in the air. A good strong breeze was blowing, and the boys weighed anchor with light hearts, for they were beginning the last fifteen hundred miles of their seven-thousand mile journey. On, up the Hudson River, the good yacht sped, the smooth green lawns of Riverside Park on one side, and the frowning cliffs of Jersey Heights upon the other. Soon the dome of Grant’s Tomb was passed, dazzling white and gleaming in the morning sun.

Hour after hour the little boat sailed up the majestic stream, a mere moving mote on the broad watery ribbon. To the east, the land sloped gently to the stream, an undulating green country dotted here and there with towns and clumps of factory buildings. On the western shore, the giant Palisades stood bluff and impressive, a solid stone wall from two hundred to five hundred feet high and fifteen miles long.

The boys speedily became mere animated exclamation points, for hardly a minute passed that did not disclose some new beauty, some unexpected vista.

The breeze held fair all day, and the night being clear, the young navigators sailed on till long after sundown. The close attention and long day’s sail made captain and crew very tired, so that when they turned in rather late they slept like logs.

At seven o’clock next morning all aboard were as thoroughly at home in the land of Nod as if they intended to spend the rest of their days there. Old Sol was shining brightly over the eastern hills, the summer breeze had not gained its full strength and made but a ripple on the smooth surface of the river. It was a quiet, peaceful scene that had not a suggestion of noise or turmoil of any kind.

Of a sudden there was a tremendous report, an explosion that rent the air, then in quick succession, like a veritable bombardment, numerous detonations followed. The first fairly shook the boys out of their snug bunks, and they tumbled out on deck wide-eyed, fearing they knew not what. The air was filled with a tremendous roar that echoed and re?choed across from one height to the other.

“Good Heavens!” Frank exclaimed when he turned to the west. “We’re done, sure.”

The whole side of the cliff seemed to be coming down on them. Blast after blast went off, each seeming louder than the preceding one, and with each report the earth shook, and fountains of dust, smoke, and bits of rock flew up.

All three boys stood dazed, amazed, almost unnerved, indeed, until they realized that the rock was being blasted out of the cliff for paving purposes.

“That’s a nice way to wake a fellow up,” said Arthur in a tone of supreme disgust, when the last charge had been fired and the smoke had in part cleared away.

“I guess that’s about the only thing that would have waked us, though,” said Kenneth, yawning. “Will you look at that scar in the face of the cliff; that’s what I call a blooming shame.” A great, broad, red-brown scar on the abrupt rise, showed bare beside the green and gray rocks on either side.

Suddenly Frank burst out into a laugh and ran quickly below. “Look at that big boat coming down the river full of people, and then get below, you’re unfit for publication.”

Kenneth and Arthur looked as they were bidden, then suddenly realized that they were still clad in their abbreviated night clothes. Instantly, all that could be seen of the three lads was their entirely respectable heads, and when the steamboat went by, these three nodded a greeting, and three arms, browned by the sun, waved in salute.

The next morning found the yawl at Poughkeepsie. Behind them were the mountains that have guarded the stream for centuries, Storm King, old Dunderberg, and the lesser heights. West Point, with the fine buildings of the United States Military Academy crowning its high plateau, lay below them. Anchored almost in the shadow of the great Poughkeepsie Bridge, one of the most wonderful structures in the world, the boys thought they were certainly getting their money’s worth in the sightseeing line.

Their tongues kept up a continual clatter until long after dark.

“Did you ever see anything like that view at West Point?”

“Wasn’t that a dandy, big steamboat that passed us near Newburgh?”

“I tell you that big mountain near Peekskill was great. Made a fellow feel like two for a nickel.”

And so the talk went on, until finally tired nature overcame even the excitement of novel experiences, and they fell asleep.

The seventy-six miles to Albany was covered the next day, in spite of the adverse current; and at nightfall the “Gazelle” was anchored almost within sight of the Empire State’s Capitol building.

The first thing Kenneth did at Albany the next morning was to apply to State Superintendent of Public Works Partridge for a permit to go through the Erie Canal—the long link in the chain that was to carry the cruisers to their native lakes again. Colonel Partridge was so cordially interested in the cruise, that he introduced Kenneth and his friends to some newspaper men. So, for the time they were the talk of the town.[1]

With his permit in his pocket, Kenneth went uptown to see a friend of his father’s who was holding some money for him that he needed very badly. As usual, the story of the cruise had to be told at length, and with much detail; and it was late when the captain finally took his departure, at peace with all the world by reason of the roll of greenbacks in his pocket, and of the good things in the inner boy. Clad in his navy-blue sailor blouse, he walked with the true sailor swing down to the river front, and putting his fingers to his lips blew the shrill signal to his shipmates to notify them that he was ready to go aboard. It was a long way to the yacht, and Kenneth putting his back to a spile prepared to take it easy while he waited for the small boat.

Like most great cities, the dives, the cut-throat saloons, and places of that sort were situated near the water front, spread like a spider’s web for the unwary sailor. Ransom noticed as he walked through the narrow streets towards the river, that the saloons were disgorging their disreputable patrons previous to closing up, and several times he had crossed to the other side to avoid coming into direct contact with them.

As he sat on the stringpiece over the water, looking off to where the bright lantern marked his floating home, he suddenly realized instinctively that some one was coming stealthily up behind him; with a tight grip on his nerves he turned slowly as if perfectly calm, to see who it was.

The arc lights along the street cast a flare of strong light directly about the poles supporting them, but a little way off the shadows were correspondingly dense. Lurking in one of these spots of shadow, Kenneth saw the figure of a man approaching him noiselessly. There was that about him which told that he had been drinking. A stray ray of light showed the boy the cruel, debased, evil face and he looked about for a way of escape. The buildings fronting on the street were closed tight, their inhabitants fast asleep—no shelter there; back of him, the river lay black, ready to completely engulf whatever might fall into it. “And I haven’t got a thing to defend myself with,” the boy said to himself. The drunken man approached nearer, an unpleasant leer on his face.

“Say, Jack, give us the price of a drink,” he said in a tone that suggested more clearly than words, “or it will be the worse for you.”

Kenneth thought of the roll of bills in his pocket, and glanced at the dark water below him, then like a flash it occurred to him that the bum had taken him for a sailor—a man-o’-warsman—and a plan suggested itself to him which he immediately proceeded to put into execution.

It was rather difficult for him to assume the gruff, husky voice of a hard drinker, but he managed it pretty well. “Sorry I can’t ’commodate you, mate,” he said, gruffly, “but I’m busted—clean, and looking for a berth. Got shore leave, and blew in all my dough. Got jagged and don’t know how to get back to the ship.”

The boy almost gagged at the language, but he played the game well, and the bluff worked, for the drunk was satisfied. He said something about “hard luck when a bloke hasn’t got the price of a drink in his clothes,” and slouched off. Ransom breathed a sigh of relief, but not till he was safe aboard the yacht did he feel entirely comfortable.

The Erie Canal begins at Albany, but the boys had been told that they had better enter the big ditch at Troy, about seven miles up the river.

No sooner had the “Gazelle” come to a stop inside the canal basin than captain and crew were besieged by people wanting to get the job of towing them to Buffalo.

“Take you through for a hundred and ten dollars, sir,” said one.

“Oh, g’wan,” said another, “he’s robbing yer. I’ll take yer through for seventy-five.”

“And I’ve got twenty,” Ransom said to himself.

The lowest offer was sixty-five dollars, and at that they would have to tag on to the end of a fleet of grain boats that could not possibly get through inside of two weeks. Every minute was precious now, for before very long ice would form and navigation would be closed on the lakes.

It was a discouraging outlook, but the boys, nevertheless, made ready for the long trip across the State. With the aid of a derrick, the yawl’s masts were taken out, her rigging dismantled and running gear unrove and neatly coiled. By nightfall, the “Gazelle” was completely unrigged and reminded one, as Frank suggested, of “a man whose head had been shaved.”

“If you won’t pay the price to be towed through, what are you going to do?” Arthur asked when all were sitting in the cabin.

“Tow her by hand,” Kenneth asserted.

“What, four hundred miles by hand?”

“Yup!”

“Well, I pass!” said Frank.

“I’ll be hanged if I want to be a mule all the way to Buffalo,” said Arthur in a manner suggestive of antagonism. “I wouldn’t mind it for forty or fifty miles; but four hundred! Well, I guess not.”

There was gloom in the little cabin that night, in spite of the brightly burning lamp.

With the morning, came a friend who was a friend indeed. An old canal man had read the story of the cruise in an Albany paper, and admiring the pluck of the boys had proceeded to look them up.

“I’ll tell you what to do,” said he, when he learned of their predicament. “You buy a horse at this end and sell him at the other.”

“Buy a horse; what do you take us for, millionaires?” Arthur voiced the sentiments of the crowd.

“Naw,” responded the newly-found friend, with a twinkle in his eye, as he surveyed the far from fashionable clothes they wore; “you don’t have to be a Vanderbilt; you can buy a horse for twenty dollars, perhaps less.”

It ended by Ransom going off with the man to search for a good, cheap nag. At the end of an hour or so the skipper returned, leading a horse by a rather dilapidated bridle. The beast walked without a limp, and seemed healthy; but by her looks one would think that she had more that the stipulated number of ribs—they were so very much in evidence.

“Good gracious, look at the boneyard Ken is leading!” Frank laughed derisively.

“What is it?” Arthur asked impolitely.

“It’s our one-horse-power engine. It’s name is ‘Step Lively’; it is going to tow us to Buffalo; and it cost twelve dollars, harness included. ‘Dirt cheap, sir.’”

Frank and Arthur laughed him to scorn; but next morning they hitched up “Step Lively” and started on their way.

1. The writer is indebted to Colonel Partridge for the first information about the cruise and the cruisers, and he takes pleasure in acknowledging his obligation.


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