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CHAPTER XX HOMEWARD BOUND
The boys did not need the captain’s cry: “Look out for yourselves, boys; she’s going over!” to tell them that they were in fearful peril. It had come to the time when it was every man for himself, and each looked for a chance to escape.

But Ransom clung to the helm, and noted, with an awakening of hope, that his boat was increasing her speed. Little by little she gained, and inch by inch she straightened up, in spite of the knock-down blows she got from the blast. Faster and faster she slipped along, the energy of the wind driving her ahead, rather than over. The water was on a line with the rail once more, and the self-bailing valves in the cockpit began to empty it.

Arthur put his knife in his pocket and crouched down by the windward rail, while Frank assumed a natural attitude, and began to take a more cheerful view of things.

“Thank God!” exclaimed Kenneth, fervently. “We’re safe once more.”

“That was the closest call we ever had,” said the mate.

It was some time before the white squall let up, and, when the wind died down, the boys found themselves off Hammond’s Bay life-saving station, and, thankful for the respite, they headed in for the refuge provided by the Government.

A channel cut through the solid rock led to a little lagoon, and through this the “Gazelle” was dragged by the good fellows of the station.

It was well that the yacht sought this refuge, for a storm that would have sent the staunch little craft to the bottom lasted three days and held sway over the Lake.

The enforced stay was not irksome in the least, for there were a great many tales to tell and to hear, and the life savers were good fellows.

But with each day’s delay the longing for home grew stronger, though it seemed as if the elements deliberately conspired to hold them back.

After leaving Hammond’s Bay, they went on up the Lake Huron coast. Storm after storm broke over them, adverse winds beset them, and squalls dogged their wake; but at last they reached the very tip of the Peninsula, and passed through the Straits of Mackinac.

The feeling of exultation the sea-worn cruisers felt when the keel of their boat once more ploughed the waters of Lake Michigan is beyond all description. Words could not express the joy and satisfaction they felt.

Before a high gale and a nasty sea, the “Gazelle” ran into Little Traverse Bay—the first harbor on the western shore of Michigan. Sailing along the coast, it seemed as if they were almost home; that the bluffs of old St. Joe were but a little way off, and that they had but to fire their cannon to get an answering salute from their friends, the life-saving station men.

Putting in at Old Mission, the boys visited Kenneth’s friends several days, while the storm king reigned outside in his royal rage and bluster.

At every stopping place, all along the line, they received letters, urging them to hurry, for the winter season was so close at hand, when no man may sail on the Lakes. Their people were anxious to have them home. The long, dangerous trip, the frequent lapses in the correspondence (enforced, of course, but none the less hard for the watchers at home to bear), the stories of storm and disaster at sea, all combined to wear down the patience and courage of the relatives at home. The long stress of violent weather at the end of a fearfully prolonged journey, had worn on the nerves of the captain and crew also, and they all had a bad attack of homesickness. The longing for home when it is near at hand, but just beyond the reach, is the hardest of all to bear.

A short spell of good weather succeeded the days of storm, and the “Gazelle” sailed out of Old Mission for home. The boys’ friends lined the shore and waved them “God speed,” and the three youngsters afloat answered with a cheer, their faces bright, their hearts aglow with anticipation. They were going Home.

The people ashore watched the little vessel, her white sides and sails gleaming in the morning sun as she slipped off like a live thing, dancing over the short wavelets daintily. They watched till she disappeared behind the point.

Word was sent to St. Joseph that the “Gazelle” was on her way again, and the people of the next port of call were on the lookout for her.

All the newspapers of the Western coast towns had printed stories about the three Michigan boys who had circumnavigated the Eastern United States in their Michigan boat, and most of the inhabitants of these towns were familiar with the story, and took pride in the achievement.

The “Gazelle” had hardly been out of Old Mission six hours when a storm rose that speedily developed into a hurricane. Vessels of every kind sought harbor—steamships, schooners, whalebacks, every sort of craft—hurried for shelter; but no word was brought of the little yawl. She was not reported; no one had seen her since she had sailed so jauntily out of Old Mission harbor. The papers were full of the havoc wrought, of the shipping damaged, and lists and estimates of the value of the property destroyed by the tempest were published; but no mention was made of the “Gazelle”—neither in the list of vessels lost or vessels saved did her name appear.

Frantic with anxiety, the parents of the crew sent telegrams along the Michigan and Wisconsin coasts on both sides of the Lake, asking for news. Then the papers began to take it up, and in large type they printed:
“WHERE IS THE ‘GAZELLE’?”
“STILL NO NEWS OF THE MISSING YAWL.”

One stormy morning, after the newspapers had been printing headlines like:
“‘GAZELLE’ UNDOUBTEDLY LOST,”

the lookout at Manistee life-saving station saw a small vessel, closely reefed, scudding across the angry seas like a gull.

The lookout called to his mate: “What do you make her out to be?” The other shielded his eyes from the sharp blasts of the spray.

“Yawl rigged, twenty-five or thirty feet, carrying jib and jigger. Looks like she had only three men aboard—never saw her before.”

“Yawl rigged, you say?” The first life-saver stopped to look. “Thirty feet—sure, that’s her. Do you know what that is?” He turned excitedly to the other. “Why, that’s the ‘Gazelle.’ Been round the United States pretty near. Papers are full of it.”

Soon the news was flashed from town to town that the “Gazelle” was safe. The houses of gloom in St. Joseph brightened, and eyes dimmed with tears sparkled with joy. Soon the “Gazelle” herself flew into port and dropped anchor safe and sound.

The people of Manistee turned out to do the young sailors honor.

Again, as if by miracle, the staunch boat had triumphed over the elements. With two anchors down, and several improvised ones out, she had ridden the terrific gale safely.

Next day the little ship started out again, feverishly impatient to get home. Kenneth waited only long enough for the wind to die down a little and to get some very badly needed sleep.

With gales before them, behind them, battling with them from every side, the dogged crew kept on, ever heading southward.

Late one day, each of the three families received a telegram that thrilled them. “At South Haven. All well!” it read. Only twenty miles away now!

It was over a year since the “Gazelle,” her colors flying, her unstained sails showing white, had sailed out of St. Joseph harbor, and yet, in spite of their eagerness to get home, in spite of the yearning of their parents to have them home, they must needs spend a day in fixing up. Kenneth was determined to have his vessel look well when he entered the home port.

But, alas! with only twenty miles of the seven thousand to go, it seemed as if they were doomed to wait yet another day. A gale was blowing, and the rollers dashed themselves to spume against the bulkheads protecting the harbor.

“You can’t do it,” the life-savers told the captain. “You’ll never get between those breakwaters alive in this wind.”

“Yes, we will.” Kenneth’s mind was made up. A spirit of reckless daring took possession of him, and he could and would get to St. Joseph that day.

“We’ll do it, won’t we, boys?” Kenneth turned to the crew that had never failed him.

“Sure!” was the laconic, but all-sufficient answer.

“Shake!” said the captain, and they gripped firm hands all around.

“Put in a single reef in the main,” the captain ordered, “and hoist away.”

The boys looked at him a bit doubtfully, but obeyed without a word. The jigger set, the anchor was hauled aboard and the jib halliards made taut.

Slowly she began to make headway, her sails filled, and, heeling gracefully to the wind, she headed for the narrow way between the breakwaters.

People ashore shouted and cheered, and the boys acknowledged the salute by waving their caps on high.

“Hurrah, for the last twenty miles!” Kenneth shouted suddenly, then settled himself for the struggle to come.

It was a dead beat out to the open lake through the three-hundred-foot-wide channel between the long piers. The wind blew so hard that the spray obscured the piers from sight at times, and it seemed impossible that any vessel propelled by sails could make way against it.

Kenneth planned to clear the south pier with the first long tack. As the yacht sped down towards the opening to the lake—choked as it was with the smothering seas—he realized that he had undertaken a very hazardous thing—realized that failure to clear the breakwater on that tack would mean instant destruction against the bulkhead.

As they came nearer and nearer the rock-ballasted spiles, Kenneth noticed that his boat was not pointing as high up into the wind as usual, and that no matter how hard he jammed the helm over, she would not head right. Instead of making the long angle that would bring her clear of the end, the “Gazelle” was heading, in spite of all her skipper could do, twenty feet in. The yacht acted queerly, but was making tremendous speed. Nearer and nearer she came to the spiles partly obscured by the spray; nearer and nearer, till the very slap and hiss of the waves against them was heard.

The “Gazelle” was pointed straight at a group of logs some twenty feet from the end. Kenneth was puzzled and worried, almost frantic, indeed—never had his boat acted in this way before.

Despairingly he looked across at the rapidly narrowing strip of foam-flecked water, when his quick eye caught a glimpse of the jib sheet caught on the bitts.

“The jib sheet is fouled. Quick, clear it! Lively now, boys!”

In an instant it was done. The sail flew out to its rightful position, and the “Gazelle,” like a racehorse that has been pulled in too much, bounded forward, straight for the end of the pier. In a smother of foam, amid a swirl of angry waters, the good yacht dashed into the open lake, missing the end of the pier by a bare yard.

Kenneth could not hear the cheer that rose from the hundred throats ashore, but he could feel it, and he was grateful.

A little over two hours later, the straining eyes of three boys aboard a little yacht caught sight, through the mist and spray, of a white tower on a high bluff, and the words “There it is!” passed from mouth to mouth. A little later, and a fringe of people could be made out on the top of the bluff, and some yellow-clad figures on the end of the long breakwater, where the life-savers took their stand.

There was moisture in the boys’ eyes that could not come from the spray, for it was salt, and a lump in their throats that would not down.

Suddenly there was a movement among the figures on the beach, a ripple in the long line bordering the bluff. A flash of white showed here and there. In three places along the line bits of color waved—red, and blue and yellow—and the eyes that watched so eagerly for those colors, dimmed so that only a blur was left.

The yacht was sailing gallantly—speeding over the whitecaps in a way that rejoiced her builder’s heart. The Stars and Stripes, made by loving hands, once bright and lustrous, now dim but glorious, spread out flat by the gale.

Nearer she came to the harbor entrance—nearer to her home port. The faint sound of people cheering came over the seething sea to the home-coming trio. The steadfast colors waved, and the steadfast hearts answered each other across the water.

Kenneth headed as if to cross the harbor’s mouth. Past the long pier the “Gazelle” flashed, and it seemed as if the boys could hear the people groan. A little beyond, Kenneth put her helm down, and she spun round on her heel, heading straight for the inner basin. With sheets eased, the water boiling at her bow, the waves flowing swiftly alongside, every stitch drawing, every fibre in the rigging straining, the “Gazelle” raced with the flying spray into port. Her crew, exhilarated, thankful, jubilant, could hear nothing but the cheers of their friends, while the brave bits of color waved them a welcome that had been waiting a long year—the best welcome of all.

THE END


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