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CHAPTER XVIII IN THE GRIP OF IRON AND STONE
The great vessel squeezed the yacht even tighter, and the boys could feel the deck under their feet bent upward by the pressure.

It was intolerable. Kenneth’s vessel was actually being destroyed under him and no move of his could prevent it.

Beside himself with despair and rage, he shouted at the blank wall of the grain boat, and in blind fury put his hands against it and pushed—his puny strength against a thousand tons.

“It’s a wonder you boys don’t go to sleep after a day on the path.” The speaker’s head showed over the rail of the barge.

The fearful mockery of his words drove poor Kenneth almost crazy, and he shouted at the man words that had no meaning—inarticulate sounds that voiced his agony.

Still the crush continued, until the yacht was forced almost out of water and her deck was squeezed into a sharp, convex curve. The poor boat groaned, as if in pain.

The man on the barge looked down on the terrified boys calmly, stupidly; perfectly aware that by no act of his could he avert the catastrophe.

But still the pressure continued. The boys gathered their scattered wits together, and, with energy that seemed futile even as they called, shouted for help.

Then came an answering shout, a sound of moving feet on the grain barge’s deck, a sharp, urging call to a team, the snap of a whiplash. The barge began to slide off, and the “Gazelle,” released from the powerful grip, settled down. Kenneth and his friends stood poised, ready to spring ashore when the vessel—her seams opened to the flood—should sink.

With a slowness that was nerve-racking, the iron monster moved away until the yacht was wholly released; with a groan that was like a sigh of relief she settled to her normal water line, bobbed up and down a little, as if to adjust herself to her more comfortable position, and floated quietly and safe.

Kenneth could not believe his eyes, but rushed below, and, pulling up the square trap in the cabin floor, thrust his hand far into the bilge, expecting to see the water come bubbling out of the well. He was beside himself with joy to find no oozing seams, no leaking crannies—she was dry.

He shouted aloud to his friends on deck the joyful news, and they came tumbling down, incredulous, to feel and see for themselves.

Again the wonderful little craft had stood the test, the most severe in her varied experience. The sturdy timbers, so carefully steamed, bent, and joined together, squeezed all out of their rightful shape, sprang back to their designed lines as soon as released from the awful pressure.

When the commander of the fleet came back and offered to make good any damage his boat had caused, the boys were too full of joy and gratitude to exact any damages.

Beyond the started joints in the hardwood finish of the cabin, the yacht was unhurt, and they could not conscientiously ask for money even if they wished.

The fleet captain went off, and, as the barge slipped off into the night, the voice of the man on deck came back to the boys: “Ye blamed fools, why didn’t ye punch a hole in her and go home like gentlemen on the money you’d get?”

Ruin his boat! Kenneth would almost as willingly cut off his right hand. His fingers itched to clutch and shake the man who made such a degrading proposition.

Once more the crew and their faithful boat had escaped destruction as if by a miracle. Once more the hand of Providence had appeared strong in their behalf, and they were grateful—too much affected to speak of it, except in a subdued undertone.

Soon after this “Step Lively” made her banner run of thirty-one miles in one day. Arrived at the busy little city of Lockport, the “Gazelle” began the steep ascent of the series of step-like locks to the top of a large hill and the upper level. Five double locks opened one into the other; one series for descent the other for ascent of the hill. Each lock raised or lowered the vessel in it fifteen or twenty feet. It was a splendid piece of engineering that the boys, after their many miles of canal journeying, could fully appreciate.

“Say, this is easy,” said Arthur. “Just like going upstairs.”

“Yes; only it’s no work,” suggested Frank.

“It’s like some of the sudden trips I have made upstairs when my father had a grip on the seat of my trousers; that was easy, till afterwards,” and Kenneth rubbed himself reflectively.

Beyond the “lock step”—as Frank facetiously called the series of water lifts—the canal was cut out of the solid rock; the walls of stone rising sharply on either side of the water, the tow-path was a mere ledge cut between the ditch and the embankment. It was a gloomy sort of place, especially since the rain had fallen recently, the rocks were black with dripping water, and the tow-path slippery with mud. The road where “Step Lively” toiled along was narrow and several feet above the surface of the water, a strong wind was blowing down the gorge-like cut, and made it hard for the old mare to pull the yacht. Frank was driving, and urged the beast along with voice and slap of rein. All went well until the horse stumbled over a stone, slipped, and, in her struggle to recover her feet, slipped still more, and finally she slid over the edge and plunged into the canal with a mighty splash.

Frank stood on the bank and hopped about like a hen whose chicks have proved to be ducks and have just discovered their native element; he still held on to the reins, and when the old horse splashed towards the bank pulled with all his might. The sides of the canal were as steep as a wall, and the poor beast could not get the slightest foothold. She gazed at Frank with an appealing eye and struggled valiantly to reach dry ground, only to fall back till all but her snorting nose was submerged. “Don’t push, just shove!” cried an unsympathetic looker on.

“Why don’t you put boats on his feet?” suggested another.

Frank was at his wit’s end. He tried in every way to extricate the poor beast from its predicament, but since she could not fly it could not be done.

The “Gazelle,” carried on by the impetus she still retained, came alongside of the struggling amphibious steed, and Frank threw the reins aboard.

“Well, this beats the Dutch!” Kenneth exclaimed, as the three boys looked helplessly down on the poor beast swimming gamely in her unnatural element—a pathetic but ludicrous sight.

“What the deuce shall we do?” Frank did not know whether to laugh or cry, and his face was curiously twisted in consequence.

“Well,” said the skipper at last, “I guess the tower will have to be towed till we find a shelving bank and the order can be reversed again.”

All hands seemed to appreciate the humor of the situation except “Step Lively,” and she back-pedalled with all her might. Kenneth and Arthur took the place of the tow-horse on the path, and found it hard work to pull the heavy boat through the water and a refractory horse that insisted on swimming backward as hard as she could. As they strained and tugged, puffed and sweated they lost the funny side, and agreed that it was “blamed serious.” At this juncture “Step Lively” woke up to the situation, and swam with instead of against her masters, and then all was lovely.

The people the strange procession met were very much amused, and they did not hesitate to make comments.

“Turn about’s fair play, ain’t it?” said one.

“About time the boat towed a while; put her on the path,” said another.

At length a sloping place was reached, and the old horse scrambled out. It was hard to tell which was more relieved—at any rate, “Step Lively” took up her regular occupation with alacrity, and the boys went back on board with a sigh of relief. For fear the faithful old beast would catch cold, she was kept going, and so escaped harm.

At Tonawanda, on the Niagara River, Kenneth sold the horse to a man who contracted to tow them to Buffalo and Lake Erie. And so they parted with “Step Lively” for three dollars. She had entirely lost her hat-rack appearance, and seemed almost as sorry to leave her young friends as they were to dismiss her.

From Tonawanda the canal followed along the Niagara River. The beautiful, broad stream, smooth and placid, looked little like the torrent a little farther below that rushed madly down the steep incline, and then made that stupendous leap.

“Is this the Niagara River?” one boy asked another. Its calmness was disappointing.

At Buffalo the “Gazelle” entered her native waters once more—on lake water, but still a thousand miles from home.

Twelve days from Troy to Buffalo, three hundred and fifty-two miles—not a bad record considering the one-horse motor.

The boys cast anchor within the shelter of Buffalo’s breakwater October 10, 1899, and looked over the strange, green waters of Lake Erie. They immediately went to work, stepped the masts and set up the rigging for the last stage of their long journey. A thousand miles of lakes stretched between them and old St. Joseph, yet the young voyagers felt that they were almost home. They forgot for a time that the great inland seas were sure to be swept by gales that would increase in force and frequency as the season advanced, until the freezing blast closed up navigation altogether, and the waters, now tracked in all directions by vessels of every description, would be deserted—left to the howling winds, the grinding cakes of ice, and the screaming gulls.

It was a serious situation that stared them in the face, did they but realize it. The sharp gales on the lakes were to be dreaded even more than the tempest on the ocean, for land, never very far off, surrounded on every hand, and a lee shore was an imminent peril.

A mere zephyr toyed with the flag at the “Gazelle’s” masthead as she lay at anchor—too soft to waft the yacht a mile an hour—so it was not strange that Kenneth and his crew forgot for a time that the lake, now so calmly sleeping, would soon rise in its anger and lash itself into white foam.

The lack of wind gave the crew an opportunity to visit Niagara Falls, and they took time to drink in a full measure of this most magnificent of Nature’s wonders, a sight that they will remember all their days—the crowning spectacle of their trip.

After a three days’ stay at Buffalo, the breeze sprang up, the boys raised the anchor, and the “Gazelle,” her sails spread to the freshening wind, sped out of harbor and away on the last lap of her race round the Eastern half of the United States.

“Hurrah!” the boys shouted, and, clasping hands, congratulated each other.

The “Gazelle” acted as if she felt that her native waters bore her once more, and skimmed along as lightly as the gulls that circled in the clear, cool air. Straight across the lake she flew, sped by an ever-increasing wind, until the point off the Welland Canal, on the Canadian side, was reached. With a snap characteristic of her, she came about and started off on another tack, then stopped suddenly with a jar that knocked the boys to their knees. Hard on the rocks! There was not a minute to spare if the good yacht was to be saved. With a spring, Kenneth let go the mainsail halliards, and the slatting sail came down on the run, while Arthur lowered the jib. It was quick work, but these young men had had the training that made them decide rapidly and act effectively.

The sails down, the yacht rested more easily, but still she pounded, the waves dashing her heavily on the cruel ledges.

SWAYING ON THE HALLIARDS.
“THE SAILS WERE HOISTED.”

Kenneth jumped overboard, clothes and all, followed by Frank and Arthur. Putting their shoulders to the yawl’s stem, they pushed with might and main. At length the heavy boat moved, and, as in New York Harbor, they pushed, walking after till the yacht floated clear and they had to hold on to keep from sinking. Through the clear water the rocks lurked just under the surface in every direction, and only by the most careful man?uvring could the yacht be sailed to safety. The sails were hoisted once more, Kenneth took the helm, and, after a time, Frank and Arthur went below to put on some dry clothes. The October wind blew keen and sharp, the skipper, crouching in the stern to present as little surface to it as possible, thought he would freeze to death—his wet clothes stuck to him and the cold wind seemed to go directly to his vitals.

“H-h-h-hurry up!” he shouted to the boys below through his chattering teeth. “I-i-i-i’ll sh-sh-shake the boat to p-p-p-pieces if you don’t g-g-g-get a m-m-m-move on.”

By this time the “Gazelle” was clear of all danger, and was coasting over the rollers at splendid speed.

As the day wore on the wind increased in force, and the lake, true to its reputation, was lashed into waves both high and short. It was the kind of sea that makes a small boat like the yawl pitch and toss most uncomfortably; but, in spite of it all, she made good speed. With a clear course ahead, though the weather was threatening, Kenneth kept on for Port Stanley, on the Canadian shore. About two-thirty in the morning the skipper calculated that the light marking the harbor they sought should be visible, but not a sign of it could Arthur, on lookout duty, see. The skipper, in spite of the tossing sea, shinned the mast, and from its elevation caught a glimpse of the gleaming light.

Coming down on deck, he shouted to Frank at the wheel: “We’re over-canvassed; we’ll have to reef down.”

The wind made it hard for him to be heard.

“Reef in this sea? You’re crazy, you can’t do it!”

“We’ve got to do it,” the captain answered. “Art, give us a hand on the mainsail.”

The mate obeyed, and together they crawled forward. Dark as pitch, they had to work by sense of touch alone. Each knew the position of every line, every rope, as he knew the location of his eyes and his mouth, but the choppy sea made it impossible to stand an instant unaided. Arthur gripped the standing rigging with his legs as he lowered the mainsail, and Kenneth clung desperately to the boom as he began to tie the reef points.

The “Gazelle” jumped and thrashed about like a bucking horse, and the darkness enveloped everything. Of a sudden, the boat gave an awful lurch, and Kenneth heard a sudden thump against the yacht’s side and all was still. Instantly he missed Arthur—nowhere could he be seen.

“For heaven’s sake, luff—luff!” he cried to Frank. “Art’s overboard.”

The boat shot up into the wind and lay there quivering, while Kenneth, dread lying like a weight on his heart, sought for his friend.

“What’s the trouble?” a voice called from the other side of the boat. “Anybody hurt?”

“For heaven’s sake, where are you, Art?”

“Over here. What’s the trouble?”

“My, but I’m glad you’re O. K.! Thought you were overboard, sure.”

“Oh, I guess it was that wooden fender you heard; it went over in that last jump.”

The “Gazelle” went better under her reduced canvas, and reeled off the miles like the steady sea-boat she was.

“Well, we did not see much worse sea on the ocean, did we, boys?” Kenneth had a sort of pride in his native waters, and took satisfaction even in its rough moods.

They were certainly formidable. Short, high, and following one another in quick succession, the waves tossed the yacht about as a man is thrown in a blanket.

Daylight soon came to cheer the young mariners, and revealed the Canadian shore but a few miles to starboard. At two o’clock in the afternoon the “Gazelle” sailed into Port Stanley. Once safely inside, the wind rose shrieking, as if enraged because the yacht had escaped. For three days they lay at anchor, stormbound—three days that would have been much enjoyed if Kenneth had not been so anxious to go on. Food was plenty and the people kind, but the thought of the terrible winter, whose breath, even now, could be occasionally felt, urged them on and took the edge off their enjoyment in the hospitable place.

LOOKING FOR PORT STANLEY.

To Rondeau Harbor was a sixty-mile run, and when the “Gazelle” pushed her bowsprit past the protecting point of Port Stanley, it looked as if there would not be wind enough to carry her the distance by nightfall. But a fair breeze soon sprang up, and they sped along at a good pace. The lake seemed to be on its good behavior—ashamed of the temper it had shown for the last three days, perhaps. It took little at that time of year to rouse Old Erie to a howling rage. At five-ten in the afternoon the boys saw that the pleasant mood that had lasted all day was giving way to a very ugly temper, and there were six miles more to cover before shelter could be reached.

“Look at those clouds over there,” said Frank. “We’re going to have a head wind and all sorts of troubles.”

“Sure thing!” echoed Arthur.

“Oh, come off! I’ll bet you four to one we’ll be inside by six o’clock.”

Kenneth saw, too, that there was to be a high wind in the wrong direction.

“Done!” cried Frank and Arthur together. “You’re a chump, Ken. All those miles with a head wind? I guess nit.”

“You just watch your Uncle Dudley.” The skipper meant to do his level best to win his reckless wager.

The goal was in plain sight, and Kenneth took his place at the helm, determined to be on a line at least with those piers by six o’clock. The wind was rising steadily and swinging more and more ahead. The yacht, seeming to realize what was expected of her, settled down to her work and slipped off into the eye of the breeze like a witch. Each minute the wind hauled more and more ahead, until the boat, her sheets already closely trimmed, seemed to sail right square into the teeth of it. The gray bulkhead was yet a long way off, and the minutes were slipping by at an alarming rate. Arthur grinned as he called out, “Five-thirty.”

It was a race against time with a vengeance. More than the settling of a friendly wager was involved. The clouds to the southwest had an ugly look, and the line of dull gray showed against the bright blue straight as if drawn by a ruler.

Nearer and nearer they came to “the haven where they would be,” but faster and faster flew the minutes.

“Five-forty-five!” Arthur called, clock in hand.

“Can she do it?” Kenneth asked himself. Only fifteen minutes more, and the black edge of the squall so close.

Then the wind died down.

“I told you so!” said Frank, exultingly.

Kenneth knew that it was but the calm before the storm. “You just wait,” he said; “you haven’t got this cinched yet.”

“Five-fifty!” droned Arthur. “Ten minutes more.”

Kenneth said nothing, but kept a sharp weather eye open for squalls.

“Five-fifty-seven!” called the timekeeper.

Off to port the skipper saw the water scuffed up, as if a thousand silvery fishes suddenly sprang up.

“Here she comes,” Kenneth said to himself, “and she’s a hummer!”

All at once the blast struck them.

Whoo!

The “Gazelle” laid over before it till her lee freeboard, high as it was, was buried under, and the water lapped alongside the deckhouse. The boat fairly flew along, great sheets of spray shooting out from her bow, the sails standing stiff as if moulded out of metal. “His Nibs,” towed behind, was almost lost in the smother of spray, and her painter stretched out to the larger boat straight and stiff as a steel rod, without a sag in it.

My, she was going!

The “Gazelle” was over-canvassed for such a blow, but she could not stop then.

Kenneth sat at the tiller like a jockey on a racing horse—his gaze fixed, his face pale, his muscles tense. Ready to luff and save his boat, if need be, but determined to drive her to the finish if steady canvas and honest manila could stand the strain.

“You can’t do it, Ken!” Frank cried.

“But I will,” he answered grimly. “Arthur, keep your eye on that clock.”


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