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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » A Year in a Yawl » CHAPTER XIX A STORMY NIGHT ON A SINKING PILE-DRIVER
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CHAPTER XIX A STORMY NIGHT ON A SINKING PILE-DRIVER
Plunging, then darting like a frightened deer, the “Gazelle” raced for her goal; the long pier of Rondeau Harbor was just off her starboard bow.

Could she make it by six o’clock?

Frank and Arthur thought no, Kenneth would not admit, even to himself, that he was beaten.

Laying way over before the blast, she rushed along. The water churned up by her bows rushed white above her lee rail, the weather rigging, taut with the strain put upon it, vibrated like the bass strings of a harp, the lee rigging sagging in proportion.

Kenneth leaned forward, his face eager, his hand grasping the tiller so hard that the knuckles showed white through his tanned skin. Frank and Arthur lay far out to windward—as far out as they could get.

“Six o’clock!” cried Arthur, looking up from the clock he held in his hand. “And, by Jove, you’ve won!”

Rounding the lighthouse pier, the yacht slipped in behind the crib and rested in smooth water.

“Well, old man, I take my hat off to you,” and Frank suited the action to the word. “That was the finest bit of sailing I ever saw. Ken, you’re a dandy.”

Kenneth was still breathing quickly with the excitement and exhilaration of the race with time. His satisfaction in the performance of his boat was only secondary to the pleasure he felt in his friends’ praise.

Again luck had served them well. For the next three days a storm raged over the lake that made the boys very thankful that they were sheltered in a safe harbor. This tempest was a forerunner of what was to come—a foretaste of what the young mariners were likely to experience. The sudden storms for which the lake region was famous at this time of year had begun, and would continue until navigation was closed altogether by the formation of ice.

A railroad had been doing some construction work near Rondeau Harbor, and had been making use of a few large scows, a steam barge, and a pile-driver from Detroit. With the closing down of the work, several of the working crew had deserted and left the captain of the boats short handed. That was his reason, therefore, for his request to Ransom for help.

“Lend me one of your men,” said he.

“No,” answered Kenneth. “But if my shipmates agree, I’ll help you out, if you give us a tow to Detroit.”

“Sure; that’s easy,” the other responded heartily. All hands agreed, and the bargain was closed there and then.

The wind had calmed down when the strange fleet started out next afternoon. It was headed by the steam barge, then came the top-heavy pile-driver, then a scow, and, finally, the “Gazelle” herself, reluctantly following along, as if averse to being in such disreputable company.

The three boys drew lots to see who should stay on the scow; the mate was the unlucky one, but, in spite of the protests of the other two, Kenneth insisted on filling the post himself. To his surprise, he found that he had been assigned to the pile-driver instead of the scow, and, though he realized that it was hardly fair dealing on the part of the captain, it was not a time to go back on his agreement. So he boarded the pile-driver.

“If she leaks,” the captain shouted through a megaphone to Kenneth, “you had better get up steam in the boiler and start the siphon going.”

The boy nodded, to indicate that he understood, and made his way aft to the little house, where he found a small boiler, hoisting engine and the necessary siphon.

“Jove!” he said to himself, “I am getting more than I bargained for.”

The run to Detroit was about a hundred miles. A hundred miles in an old tub of a pile-driver on Lake Erie in the stormy season! Kenneth’s thoughts were not very cheerful, but he set to work to find out all about the strange craft of which he was captain, crew, engineer, and fireman.

Comparatively smooth when the queer procession started, after sundown the wind began to rise, and the sea with it.

Kenneth, from his post, could see the lights on his own boat swinging as she rolled on the waves. The towering structure that carried the weight of the pile-driver made the craft top-heavy, and very unwieldy in the sea. It jumped and jarred, swung from side to side, and spanked the rollers with its blunt bow. From time to time Kenneth sounded to see if his craft was leaking, and was comforted to find that all was dry.

The wind increased in force, and the water rose higher each minute with the speed characteristic of the Great Lakes. The sky was overcast, and the darkness shut down on the rolling waters like a black blanket. The steam barge ahead snorted away, heading into the wind, and the old scow of a pile-driver kept its distance behind. Kenneth felt very lonely, and longed to be aboard the “Gazelle,” the light from whose cabin he caught fleeting glimpses of as she swung a little to one side.

For perhaps the twentieth time, he sounded the pump, and found this time, to his alarm, two inches of water in the shallow hold. He waited a few minutes and tried again—three inches.

“Phew, this won’t do!” he said, half aloud. “I’ll have to start that old siphon going.”

By the time the fire was fairly going there was four inches in the hold, and when steam was up and the pump had begun to throw its four-inch stream, the water had gained two inches more.

With an energy born of desperation, Kenneth piled the wood into the furnace and kept the head of steam up. The old pump worked well, and, for a time, held the water even. Kenneth stood in the little house watching the steam-gauge, while the pump sucked, wheezed, sputtered, and the thick stream gushed overboard.

Again he tested the depth of water in the hold, and found, to his horror, that it was gaining, in spite of the steady working of the pump. More wood went into the roaring, cavernous furnace, and the needle of the steam-gauge pointed higher and higher; the pump worked furiously, but still the water gained.

Kenneth went out to see if he could get help if the worst came to the worst. The old steam-barge ahead was making heavy weather of it, and every man on board was intent on keeping her going. Just astern, the scow spatted the waves doggedly, her flat bows presenting to the boy on the pile-driver a front black, forbidding, and hopeless. Far behind, the “Gazelle” bobbed serenely over the choppy waves.

The wind was blowing hard, and the waves raised their heads in anger on every side, determined, it seemed to the boy alone on the leaking boat, to have his life. He looked about for a small boat he could resort to in case of dire need; there was none, not even a raft; but he caught sight of a broad new board. With the deftness of long experience, he knotted a rope about it to which he could cling, and hauled it aft close to the cabin door, where he could jump for it in case of need.

There was work to do inside; moreover, it was warm and light, if lonely. Sounding again, Ransom found eight inches of water in the hold. It was gaining slowly, and he knew that it was only a question of time before the scow’s buoyancy would be overcome and it must sink. Above the howling of the wind, the crackling and snapping of the fire, the wheeze and deep-breathing sound of the pump, Kenneth could hear the swash and gurgle of the water in the hold—a sickening sound that weighed on his heart like lead. When the boat rose on a wave, the water below rushed pell-mell aft and came with a thud that jarred the whole structure against the stern; then, tilted the other way, it rushed against the bow, until the boy thought that the ends would be knocked out of her.

“Well, I guess my name is Dennis this time!” he said aloud. “This old tub won’t stay on top long.” The sound of his own voice made him more lonely than ever, as there was no response, no answering voice to cheer and comfort him. Many trying experiences and frequent dangers had been encountered, but seldom had he faced peril alone. He longed for the companionship of his friends.

Kenneth sat on an old soap box and listened to the dreary sound of the water splashing in the hold, and to the wind-devils shrieking outside. He was utterly depressed and hopeless. As he sat with his head in his hands, his elbows on his knees, he thought that he heard the sound of human speech among the voices of the storm. He sat erect, and listened with all his might.

“Ahoy, aboard the pile-driver!” the voice died away in the wind; but again it made itself heard above the din: “Ahoy, there, Cap!”

Kenneth rushed out and forward.

A man was standing on the after-part of the barge, megaphone to his mouth, bawling that they were going to get under the lee of Peelee Island and lay up for the night.

With renewed courage, Kenneth went back to his stoking, and kept the old pump going until the water-logged rolling of the crazy craft became less violent and, finally, ceased altogether.

“Thank heaven, we are in some kind of a harbor!” said Ransom to the man who came to relieve him. He was thankful to his heart’s core. Coming on deck, he found that they were alongside a long pier. He scrambled ashore and hurried aboard the “Gazelle,” weary, but supremely happy to be alive and on his own craft again.

The skipper could hardly keep awake long enough to tell the boys his adventures, and he had travelled far into the “Land of Nod” before the other two turned in.

When the three arose the day was far advanced. The leak in the pile-driver had been found and plugged, the wind had died down, and the sea flattened out to the long, slow swell that bore no resemblance to the tempestuous waves of the previous night. Under smiling skies, on smooth water, the voyage to Detroit was a delight. Many stately steamers passed them, bound to and from Lake ports.

In the early evening, the electric lights of Detroit appeared, perched on tall, slender poles; they looked in the darkness like clusters of stars hung in the sky.

“Michigan, My Michigan!” The boys sang in their hearts, if their lips did not form the words. Once more they were in their native State, and straight across to the West lay old St. Joe—so near by land, so far by water.

The anchor down, all three boys got into “His Nibs,” eager to set foot on dear old Michigan soil again. The little boat staggered bravely to shore with her precious freight. Kenneth stayed, and went back to the yacht after he had put his foot down good and hard on Michigan land. The other two boys went on for mail and supplies.

Eager to reach home, they stayed but a day and a half at Detroit.

Under her own canvas, the “Gazelle” sailed up the Detroit River to Lake St. Clair, then across that fine sheet of water to the St. Clair River, the connecting link between Lakes Huron and Erie.

Frequent rain squalls had made sailing difficult and disagreeable, but the yacht made good way, and, in spite of the uncomfortable weather, the boys were in a very cheerful frame of mind. In Michigan waters, off the Michigan coast, they felt that they were indeed on the home-stretch.

As the yacht was almost entering the river, the mate pointed off excitedly towards the flats. “What’s that?” he cried. “Look, Ken, quick!”

A very black pillar, like thick smoke, writhed between sea and sky; the surface of the lake rose in a cone, rose to meet it, and the sky narrowed down like a funnel. All the time it was twisting furiously, and the water about it was much agitated. It moved steadily across the lake in a direction that seemed to lead to the “Gazelle.”

“Great king!” exclaimed the skipper. “That’s a waterspout, sure. We are done for if it strikes us, just as sure as shooting!”

The comrades watched the watery column anxiously. They were greatly relieved, at length, to see it swerve to one side, sweep across the lake and apparently go to pieces on the further shore.

“Well, we can say, if any one asks us if we saw a waterspout, ‘Yes, we did. Would any one else like to ask any questions?’” The mate put on an air that imitated the cheap lyceum lecturer to the life.

Just before making Port Huron, where the St. Clair River enters Lake Huron, the boys encountered the ugly rapids that make the navigation of this strait so difficult. It was a mile long, and a very trying run for a sailing vessel, even under the most favorable circumstances. A large steamer had sunk in the channel a few weeks before, and nearly blocked it. The wind, strong, as usual, was blowing dead ahead. It was a beat to windward with scarcely room to come about; one tack was hardly taken before another one had to be made. By the time that the end of the obstructing vessel was reached, “the crew’s” hands, so he declared, were worn through to the bone, from the frequent and rapid handling of the jib sheet.

“Great Scott!” cried the mate from his lookout forward. “We are running down a steamer!”

Sure enough, a great grain boat was coming in the opposite direction, and would soon be upon them.

“It’s all right,” called out Ransom, reassuringly; “we’re clear of the wreck now.”

The words had hardly been spoken before the wind died out, as if by magic, and the sails flapped about limp and helpless. The great boat had blanketed the “Gazelle” as completely as if a wall had been built in front of her. The current was setting back toward the abandoned steel steamship, and the yacht drifted with alarming speed toward the obstruction.

“I’ll gybe her,” Kenneth said to himself, “and retrace our steps till we get to the open. Then we’ll wait till there are no other boats moving.” Aloud, he shouted: “Look out, boys! I am going to gybe.”

Just as he spoke, a blast of wind slipped by the grain boat, caught the yacht, and slammed the boom over with terrific force. Kenneth expected to see the masts go out of her; but everything held, and she raced along the side of the sunken ironclad, luffed up under her stern, and lay quivering, but safe.

The “Gazelle” sailed up the narrow passage on the starboard side of the wreck, while the steamer passed to port. The yacht ran the rapids successfully, and was soon speeding along over Lake Huron with an offshore beam wind. The sixty miles to the Government harbor of refuge at Harbor Beach, was covered at nightfall.

The next night brought them to the entrance of Saginaw Bay. So far the winds had been favorable and the water smooth, and the boys made daily steps sixty miles long in their journey towards home.

They longed for home with a desire that amounted to an ache. Neither would admit to the other how much he felt; but it was hard sometimes to keep the tears back as something occurred to bring up visions of the little city on the bluff.

Saginaw Bay had a bad reputation. Storms were apt to bluster about its wide mouth, and strong winds were continually blowing across it.

Though the low barometer indicated that bad weather was coming, Kenneth decided that he could not wait, and he pushed on across the treacherous bay. At night, and in a place noted for its stormy weather, with bad weather threatening, it may have been foolhardy to attempt the run; but the spirit that lay behind the “Gazelle’s” motto—“Keeping everlastingly at it brings success”—made the retracing of their steps to a safe harbor a thing dead against the boys’ principles.

For once, the reputation of the locality seemed to be false; even the glass appeared to be at fault, for the wind scarcely amounted to a summer zephyr, and the waves were long and smooth.

The other boys were yawning, and at ten-thirty Kenneth sent them below, promising to call them if need be. The skipper sat with the tiller over his knees, thinking. There was but little to do—a glance at the sails to see if all was drawing well, and an occasional look out for other craft was all the attention the business in hand required. For almost twelve long months he and his friends had lived aboard the little craft they had learned to think of as a second home—through strange waters, along unfamiliar shores, experiencing all conditions of climate, and seeing all sorts of people. Dangers innumerable had been encountered and passed safely, and now Kenneth said to himself: “We are almost home.” The trip was well worth while, he thought; he had gleaned information that he believed he could not have secured any other way, and his sketch book was full of plans of all sorts of craft he had inspected.

In almost perfect silence, surrounded by darkness, he sat thinking and dreaming. A vision bright as a picture appeared in his mind’s eye, and in it he saw his future career. A builder of swift steamers and sturdy cargo boats, of sailing craft of every rig, and all was good.

He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that for a time he did not notice the ominous silence, the fitful, light puffs of wind that lapsed between the calms, the sticky feeling in the air, the many signs which bespeak a brewing storm. Not till the mainsail flapped in answer to a change in direction of the fitful wind did the skipper realize that trouble was coming. In an instant, the long vistas of his pleasant dreams disappeared, and he became the sailor of a small boat off a dangerous coast, with a storm threatening.

A puff of wind, that made the “Gazelle” quiver, came out of the north, and Kenneth, one hand on the mainsheet, the other on the tiller, prepared for the tussle.

In a few minutes the squall broke in earnest, and the yacht staggered under it like a man bearing a heavy weight. She was carrying too much canvas, so the captain called the boys. The weather was calm and serene when they went below, and they were mightily surprised to find the boat pitching and rolling, and the wind tearing at the rigging as if bent on destruction.

Waking from a sound sleep and coming from a warm, bright cabin into the outer air, where the cold wind devils held their revels, was considerable of a shock, and both thought that it was a great deal worse than it really was. The work of furling the mainsail was very difficult, and did not tend to allay their fears.

“By George, Ken, we can’t last long in this!” said the mate, after looking into the blackness and listening to the howling wind.

“Yes, I see our finish!” said the other.

“Pshaw! The ‘Gazelle’ has been through worse than this,” answered the skipper. “See the pace she’s setting? She’s going like a cup defender.”

But in spite of his reassuring words, Kenneth was troubled. Their course led them through the trough of the seas, and every minute it seemed as if the little vessel would be engulfed by the huge waves. To turn back was impossible, to steer to one side would bring them on a lee shore, a turn to starboard would carry them out of their course, and far upon the open lake.

There was nothing to do but to face the situation, to be vigilant and trust to good fortune.

Home, that seemed so near to them a short time ago, now appeared utterly unattainable. The “Gazelle” rolled along, now sinking deep in the watery valley, now rising high on the top of a foam-crested hill. The motion was sickening, and continued so long that it seemed as if they had forever been rising and falling in the heaving billows.

Chilled to the bone, wet through from the wind-blown spray, weary from the battle with the elements, it was like a strong hand stretched out to a drowning man when Arthur shouted out, “Light, ho!”

“Where away?” cried Kenneth.

“A little off the port bow. No, it’s gone!”

All three boys strained their eyes to catch a glimpse of the will-o’-the wisp.

“There it is!”

“Where?”

“No, it’s gone!”

The wind beat the spray into their faces and snatched at their clothing.

“There it is, sure!” Kenneth spoke exultingly. “It’s Tawas Light—at least, it ought to be there.”

On a point of land like a crooked finger, the boys saw plainly, when the yacht rose to the top of a wave, the steady, clear gleam of the yellow flame.

Like a tired bird, the “Gazelle” crept inside the shelter and anchored; her crew lowered the sails and dropped into their bunks. Utterly exhausted, they fell asleep instantly, forgetting all troubles.

“THE ‘GAZELLE’ RACED WITH THE FLYING SPRAY INTO PORT.”

When morning came, there was not a sign of the storm; the sky blue and clear, a few fleecy clouds floating serenely about in it, the Lake below gently undulating and reflecting in a deeper tone the azure of the heavens.

With the sunshine came new confidence, and the boys laughed at their fears of the night before.

“Let’s get under way and hurry home, for we’re only a little way off now.” The mate was in a very jubilant frame of mind.

For several days the yacht sailed along the coast of the Lake Huron side of the great Peninsula of Michigan—close enough to see its beautiful shores, its rugged rocks, and dark, almost black, evergreens.

At Presque Isle they put in for provisions. They found a beautiful harbor, but not a sign of a settlement, and no place to buy food. The need of provender drove them forth in spite of a storm, which an unusually low barometer indicated was soon due. It was planned to make harbor at Cheboygan, some sixty-five miles away, but while passing Rogers City the yawl ran into a calm and floated idly. Great clouds were banked up to the northeast, which spread rapidly till the whole heavens were overcast. The water had the oily, smoky, treacherous look that precedes a storm. Kenneth ordered in the jib and jigger, and tied three reefs in the mainsail. No sooner had the last knot been tied, when, with a howl that was deafening, the squall struck them. It was a terrible blast. The “Gazelle,” being without headway, careened before it; farther and farther she went; she sank till her rail was on a level with the water, and it came bubbling through the scuppers; still the pressure continued. She dipped to leeward till her deck was covered and the waves lapped the deck house.

“Look out, boys! Be ready to jump. She’s going over, sure!” For the first time, Kenneth lost confidence in his boat; no craft, he thought, could stand such a test. All hands climbed to windward, ready to jump away from entangling rigging.

Farther and farther she listed under the fearful blast; the water was on a line with the cabin roof now, and began to ooze through the oval port lights into the cabin.

With muscles tense, ready to spring away, Kenneth still stood at his post, the tiller in one hand the other clasping the cockpit rail, to keep from sliding off into the waves.

With a thrill of hope, he felt the tug of the tiller—the indefinable touch when a boat is in motion. The “Gazelle” was making way at last! But still her decks sloped at the fearful angle and the squall blew undiminished.

The mate stood close to “His Nibs,” lashed on deck, bared knife in hand—ready to cut the ropes that bound her.

Her deck half submerged, her cockpit partly filled, the water creeping through the ports into the cabin, the “Gazelle” surged slowly along. The crew clung on the sloping decks, waiting for the last sickening lurch that precedes a capsize.


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