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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » A Year in a Yawl » CHAPTER XVII ALONG THE “RAGING CANAL”
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CHAPTER XVII ALONG THE “RAGING CANAL”
“It’s fourteen miles from Schenectady to Troy,
And that’s a blame long walk, my boy,”

Kenneth sang as he walked along behind “Step Lively” who, true to her name, set off at a good pace.

Arthur and Frank lay back in the cockpit and shouted remarks to the captain on the tow path.

“You just wait,” he yelled back; “I’ll bet our one-horse-power engine will be fatter when we get to Buffalo than she is now.”

Forward on the deck house of the mastless yacht was stowed a generous bale of hay and bags of ground feed; fuel for the one-horse engine.

Twenty-five miles were covered the first day, and at dusk the faithful beast was stalled in a shed close to the big ditch with a plentiful supply of feed. She was apparently very content with her lot, and the scoffers had to admit that, perhaps, after all, the old nag was a good investment.

The canal wound its sinuous way through the beautiful Mohawk Valley, the land of Goshen of the Empire State; great undulating fields of cultivated land lay on either side of the narrow strip of water. “Step Lively’s” slow but steady pace gave the boys a full opportunity to see the country through which they were passing and they agreed that it was well worth coming so far to view.

Each took a turn driving the horse one hour on and two hours off—watch and watch all day. At night the old mare was comfortably bedded down in some old barn on the canal bank and all hands slept undisturbed.

“Step Lively” knew the canal much better than did the boys, for she had been over the tow-path many times, and driving meant little more than keeping her at a steady even pace, which, though slow, ate up the miles at a satisfactory rate.

“Let’s see, who runs the engine first to-day?” Ransom looked around at the other two one morning.

“Not I,” said Arthur. “I held the throttle the last hour, and put her up for the night.”

“Nor I,” protested Frank. “I ’tended sheet and was at the helm the hour before.”

“Well, then, I suppose it’s up to me to handle the ribbons,” and Kenneth stepped ashore to start the old mare on her day’s work. “You’ve got your metaphors well mixed up; a fellow overhearing us talk couldn’t tell whether we had a locomotive, a boat, or a horse to tow us.”

In spite of the parleying, the “Gazelle” was soon moving along once more. Hansom walked behind the mare, reins in hand, or walked just ahead, setting the pace. The long line stretched behind, sagging in the water, making long ripples on the placid water ahead of the yacht’s keen prow. Frank, with his hand on the tiller, kept the boat in the middle, while Arthur, having nothing else to do, lay prone, basking in the sun.

“Say, Art,” Frank inquired drowsily, “did Ken read to you that part of his father’s letter where he warned us not to get wrecked on the canal?”

“Yes,” the other answered, “and I thought it the most foolish piece of advice I ever heard. Wrecked in this old ditch! I would as soon think of being wrecked in a bath tub.”

But later they both had cause to remember the warning.

ON THE “RAGING CANAL.”
“‘STEP LIVELY’ ONCE MORE GOT GOING.”

When the hour was up, Kenneth came aboard, Frank took the reins, and Arthur his place at the stick. Frank had not been driving long when he met a four-horse team pulling a train of three heavy canal boats. The driver stopped accommodatingly, and allowed his tow line to sag so “Step Lively” and the yacht could pass over it. Frank thanked him and went over, but hardly had the mare’s heels got over the stranger’s line than he whipped up and tautened it. Kenneth, who was watching, said, “Look at that chap, Art; he thinks he is going to snap ‘His Nibs’ off with his line, but you watch.”

The small boat was towing behind the larger boat, and the driver of the four-horse team figured that when his tow-rope had passed under the “Gazelle” it would snap up and yank “His Nibs” from her fastenings. Soon the tow-line could be felt rubbing along on the yacht’s keel, then, for an instant, there was a pause, while both teams pulled with all their might in opposite directions; the tow-lines tautened like harp strings, and the water was sent flying in all directions by the vibration. Suddenly the stranger’s line parted, cut in two by the “Gazelle’s” sharp plate rudder; the four horses almost fell on their heads, and the driver, who was riding one of them, barely escaped a ducking in the canal. Relieved of their accustomed burden, the team started off on a run, and the driver, picking himself up, ran after them, swearing loudly, and ever and anon turning to shake his fist at the boys. These threatening gestures were received with roars of laughter, which continued long after the runaway team and the angry driver had disappeared round a bend.

All along the canal small stores were kept for the convenience of the canal men and their families. Food was cheap, and therefore abundant, and the boys thrived under the easy life, the nourishing fare, and the open-air exercise. In spite of the eight or ten miles of walking each of them put in every day, they began to get fat. “Step Lively” also showed signs of her good care; her ribs became less evident, and her coat showed signs of glossiness.

Considerable affection had sprung up in the boys’ hearts for their “one-horse-power engine,” as they called their steed. She was such a faithful old beast, and did her work so uncomplainingly. It was with real grief and alarm, therefore, that Kenneth saw early one morning that the stall the mare had occupied was empty and the ring bolt to which her halter had been made fast was pulled clear out of the decayed wood.

Delayed by a visit to friends chance had thrown in their way, the skipper had risen at 3 A. M. in order to make up for lost time. But, lo and behold! the steed had fled. Without a horse they could not proceed, and there was not enough money in the crowd to buy another—even at twelve dollars.

“We are certainly up against it,” Kenneth said to himself, as he examined the damp ground for hoof prints. He found a few marks, but these were lost in the lush grass surrounding the stable, and all hope of tracing the nag by that means had to be given up.

A howl of dismay went up from the other two when the skipper told of their loss.

“I bet she’s five miles off by this time.”

“We’ll never see her again,” was Arthur’s comforting prophecy.

It was a very serious situation. Over two hundred miles of canal remained to be covered, the cold season was coming on fast, and there was not a minute to be lost if the home-stretch of the journey was to be traversed this year. The combined funds could pay for neither tow nor another horse, and “Step Lively,” their sole dependence, was gone.

“After breakfast, when it gets light,” said the skipper, putting his plan into words, “we’ll divide up, each will go in a different direction, and perhaps we will round her up.”

It was a gloomy breakfast the boys hurried through that morning. The gray light of early morning turned the cabin lamplight a sickly yellow and showed the faces of the boys frowning and dejected.

While Kenneth was downing the last mouthful of coffee, they heard the hollow thump, thump of a horse’s hoofs on the bridge just above them. Ransom rushed on deck to ask the driver of the supposed team if a stray horse had been seen, and, to his utter surprise and delight, found “Step Lively” on the canal bank gazing at the yacht, as if to say, “Well, boys, I’ve had a bully time; but let’s be going.”

The skipper nearly fell overboard in his eagerness to reach the land and see if it was indeed the faithful old beast. Sure enough, there was no mistaking that drooping under lip and resigned pose.

“Well, old nag, you deserve a ten-acre lot to rest your old bones upon and a lump of sugar fresh every hour, but you’ve got to get a gait on,” and Kenneth Ransom, chief hostler, chief coachman, and skipper, harnessed her up.

As the boys proceeded on their journey, the horse developed a bad tendency to interfere, and to prevent a raw sore from forming, a boot was put over the place where the hoof came in contact with the other leg.

It became the duty of the boy who drove the last hour, when stabling “Step Lively,” to take off the boot. If left on all night the leg would swell, and the horse would, in consequence, go lame next day. As a penalty for the breaking of this rule, it was decreed that the offender must wash dishes every day for a week.

Before the boys had this understanding with each other, the poor old mare started her day’s work with a lame leg several times, but after the rule was made their memories improved, and “Step Lively” was soon well again.

One evening it was Arthur’s turn to put the horse up for the night. He did it with considerable grumbling, for he was in a hurry to get below in the snug little cabin. The wind blew round the big deserted barn where the horse was to be stabled for the night; it whistled round the eaves and rattled the loose boards of the walls. At a little distance was an old inn or hotel, that was also deserted and stood black and desolate in the gloom; one of the few remaining window panes caught the last gleam of the setting sun and glowed with the redness of an evil eye. Arthur made haste to get aboard, and once below, allowed himself the luxury of a good shiver.

“Phew! that’s an uncanny place,” he said, as he sat down to the meal Frank had already prepared.

Ransom kicked Chauvet under the table, to put him on to the game. “Yes, I hear the house is haunted.” The wind howled, as if to confirm the fact, and a puff came down the companionway hatch and made the lamp flicker.

Frank and Kenneth kept up a fire of ghost stories, so that their own hair showed a tendency to rise, while Arthur was visibly unnerved.

As the wind gave a particularly weird shriek, Kenneth made a scratching noise on the centre-board trunk.

“What’s that?” said Arthur, startled.

“What’s what?” Frank inquired, innocently.

“That noise—hear it?”—Arthur paused to listen—“sounds like a person or dog scratching to get in.”

“Oh, it’s your imagination, I guess.”

“By the way, Art, did you take the boot off ‘Step Lively’?”

“Sure!” he answered.

“I’ll bet you didn’t; too much of a hurry to get out of the wind and aboard.”

“I know I did—at least I think I did.”

“Gee, that’s a queer noise,” Kenneth interrupted the inquiry to say. The wind made a noise like one in torment, and the light flickered again.

“I’ll give you two dollars if you go out and make sure. It’s up to you, and don’t forget the week’s dishwashing if we find the boot on in the morning.”

The thought of a week of dishwashing braced the mate, and, lighting a lantern, he pushed open the companionway door and went out.

Almost immediately he was back again, white and shaking. “Say, boys, saw something queer in there—something white moving round—sure’s you’re born!”

“Did you find out about the boot?” inquired Ransom, inexorably.

“No; didn’t wait.”

“You had better go and find out.”

“I wouldn’t be hired to go in there.”

“Well, we’ll find out.” Frank wore a superior air, but he kept close to Kenneth for all that.

The whispers of the wind grew into shrieks as they approached the barn, and, as Frank reached out his hand to grasp the door-catch, a damp leaf slapped his face. Opening the door cautiously, they poked in their heads and looked. Startled, they saw a dim gray shape in the middle of the big open space, and as they were about to turn and run, the ghost stamped hard and whinnied gently. “Step Lively” was glad to see something alive and human.

“Hullo, old beast, broke loose, did you?” Kenneth was very bold; went up to the horse, felt her leg.

“Boot’s off, all right, but we’ve got the laugh on Art.”

“He pretty nearly got the laugh on us,” Frank remarked, honestly.

“Saw your ghost, old man,” Kenneth remarked airily when they entered the cabin, “and tied her up good and strong this time.”

“You don’t mean to say it was the mare?” Arthur had visions of the guying he was bound to get.

“Yep. Let’s call her ‘Ghost’ after this. What do you say, Frank?”

“Oh, quit! I’ll wash dishes if you let up.”

It was only necessary to say ghost to Arthur after this episode to reduce the swelling of his head to the humblest proportions.

“Step Lively” settled down to good, hard, steady work after her various adventures, and the “Gazelle” made her way over the “raging canal” at a good round pace.

The boys met many people on the way; some were pleasant and courteous, and a few were inclined to make disagreeable remarks. To these the boys paid no attention, and the remarks fell flat, having nothing to feed upon.

The locks, by means of which the boats passed from one level to another, were encountered at frequent intervals. Occasionally, a lock tender would be disinclined to take the trouble to let the yacht pass, and made it as hard for the boys as possible. And at one time it seemed certain that both the yacht and a member of the crew would be destroyed.

One afternoon the boys approached the great wooden portals of a lock and blew a horn to notify the keeper that they wished to enter; he was a surly chap, and grumblingly set to work to admit the yacht. The “Gazelle” once inside, the heavy wooden barriers were closed, two lines were run from the bitts forward to snubbing posts, in order to keep her straight in the lock; and Arthur, with a long, heavy pole in hand, stood ready to fend her off from the rocky sides. Frank looked after the horse, while Kenneth helped the keeper. Usually the water from the higher level was let in gradually, but this keeper was in an ugly temper, and allowed the water to come in with a rush. The “Gazelle,” bouyant, rose light as a cork, and Arthur pushed with all his might on the stout pole to keep her from being dented by the cruel rocks. The water came boiling into the basin, and the yacht rocked and strained at her mooring lines. Suddenly one of them parted, and, the strain being unequal, she swung sharply to one side. Arthur pushed with might and main, but the sidelong swing of the three-ton boat was too much for him; his pole was caught against the side of the lock and he was jerked overboard into the seething pool.

“Art’s overboard!” cried Frank. “He will be crushed, sure.”

“Shut off the water, for heaven’s sake!”

They looked into the narrow basin, but not a sign could they see of him. The water swirled and eddied, formed little whirlpools, dashed miniature breakers against the rocky walls, and receded. All the time the yacht swung nearer and nearer the masonry, and the boys knew that unless he escaped by a miracle Arthur would be crushed between.

For a minute the two boys gazed helpless, then a plan occurred to the skipper, which he proceeded to execute instantly. Taking the broken end of the parted line, all the slack possible having been let out, he stood on the capstone of the lock and measured the distance between it and the unsteady yacht. It was a long leap under the most favorable circumstances, and the handicap of the heavy rope and the heaving deck of the vessel, such a long way out and so far below, made the chances of failure infinitely greater—and failure in this case meant almost certain death. For an instant he hesitated, then, fearful lest his resolution should fail him if he waited longer, he sprang over the tossing, swirling water straight for the yacht’s deck. With scarcely six inches to spare, he landed with a jar that dazed him for a second. With the line still in his hand, he ran forward and made it fast to the bitts, so that the “Gazelle” once more swung straight in the pool.

“Do you see him?” Frank cried anxiously from the shore.

Kenneth looked into the bubbling water for signs of the mate. It was hardly more than a minute or two since the skipper had cried, “Shut off the water!” but Arthur might have met his doom in even that short time.

“I am afraid he’s a goner,” Ransom answered. “I can’t see him.”

“You can’t lose me!”

It was Arthur’s familiar voice, and came from below aft somewhere.

“Where are you?”

“Astern here, having a swim.”

Kenneth rushed aft and caught sight of the mate’s legs thrashing around under the overhang.

With rare presence of mind he had done the one thing that could save him. Finding himself overboard, he swam with swift strokes aft and clung, in spite of the twisting and rocking of the yacht, to the rudder. The overhang protected him from all harm, and beyond a chill produced by the cold water he was unhurt.

The lock-keeper, thoroughly scared by the consequences of his ill-temper, tried to make amends by letting in the water so gently that the “Gazelle” reached the upper level with scarcely a tremor.

“These very narrow escapes are trying, to say the least,” Frank remarked, as “Step Lively” once more got going.

“Yes, if we really had any skin on our teeth it would have been worn off long ago,” said Arthur, as he appeared on deck in dry clothes, smiling cheerfully.

While the “one-horse motor” could not be classed as a high-speed engine, the old mare plugged along with a steady gait that covered the miles at a speed sufficient for the purpose. It was a great trip, and the boys agreed that it would be hard to find a better way to see the country. Many of the important cities of the Empire State were cut in two parts by the canal, and as the boys passed through at the two-miles-an-hour pace, they had plenty of time to go ashore and see things—the great electric works of The General Electric Co. at Schenectady, the optical and camera works at Rochester. Troy, Schenectady, Utica, Rome, Syracuse, Rochester, and a score of other towns whose names are familiar all over the United States were visited.

They passed many sorts of vessels carrying cargoes of freight over the great water highway of the State. Canal boats, laden with lumber and grain, in fleets, single file, drawn by teams of from two to six mules, eastward bound, the water within eighteen inches of the decks. Forward on many of the boats was a box-like compartment for the steeds when off duty, and it was a common thing to see the head of a mule sticking out above the deck, “viewing the landscape o’er.” Whole families lived aboard these queer vessels; clothes were washed and spread to dry on the little backyard-like piece of deck over the cabin-house. Sometimes boxes of brilliant geraniums were placed to protect the family from the public gaze, and occasionally, under an awning spread over the cabin roof, a woman sat and sewed, rocking a cradle with her foot.

There was a constant procession of boats of many kinds, floating high as a rule when going westward, but laden down within a foot or two of the scupper holes when eastward bound.

One morning the “Gazelle” passed three immense iron grain boats tied up to the stone-lined bank. They were empty, and loomed up beside the yacht like small mountains.

Later that same day they had occasion to remember those boats.

They made a good day’s run, and night found them tied up to snubbing posts placed for the purpose; their lanterns displayed, they went to bed, each with a light conscience and heavy eyelids. The open-air exercise and active appetites made the boys sleep solid as logs. The grain boats they saw in the morning came along, towed by a steam barge; tooted for the lock to be opened, and two of the boats passed through. But the boys never stirred. The third boat was left to her own control, and, being without sails or steam, she drifted with the wind unhampered. Unladen, her high sides offered a splendid surface to the breeze, and she drifted sidewise towards the “Gazelle.” Black and remorseless, she swung towards the little yacht nestling close to the rock-lined bank of the canal. The grain boat’s one human passenger sat sleepily on a great cleat aft and dozed. The boys slept on, all unconscious of their impending doom. Slowly, slowly, she drifted nearer, until she touched the “Gazelle’s” sides. The ironclad’s bulk was great, and, driven by the wind against her tall sides, she pushed the yacht steadily until the smaller boat was hard against the shelving rocky bank. Still the pressure continued, and she began to be pushed up out of the water by the tremendous squeeze. All three boys were stirred into wakefulness by the first upward lift.

The first sound that reached their ears was the groaning of the timbers under the tremendous grip of stone and iron.

Instantly the words of the elder Ransom flashed into Kenneth’s mind.

“Look out and don’t get wrecked on the canal,” he had written.

Something, the boy knew not what, held his beloved vessel in its grip. Some tremendous power was crushing his vessel as a strong hand grinds an almond shell to fragments. The tongued and grooved cherry woodwork of the cabin creaked, snapped, and, as they looked, was forced out at the joints by the fearful pressure.

With a cry that was half a groan, Kenneth rushed on deck, followed by Arthur and Frank. The great iron sides loomed above them black and implacable.

For an instant he stood dazed, uncomprehending, then he realized the situation—realized that the mighty floating fabric of iron, forced by the wind beyond the power of human hands and human brains to check it, was slowly grinding the doomed yacht to kindlings. He could not bear to think of his vessel a wreck, and, for a moment, covered his eyes with his hand.


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