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Title: The Cruise of the Dolphin
Author: Aldrich, Thomas Bailey
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE CRUISE OF THE DOLPHIN

by Thomas Bailey Aldrich



     (An episode from The Story of a Bad Boy, the narrator being
     Tom Bailey, the hero of the tale.)


Every Rivermouth boy looks upon the sea as being in some way mixed up
with his destiny. While he is yet a baby lying in his cradle, he hears
the dull, far-off boom of the breakers; when he is older, he wanders by
the sandy shore, watching the waves that come plunging up the beach
like white-maned sea-horses, as Thoreau calls them; his eye follows the
lessening sail as it fades into the blue horizon, and he burns for the
time when he shall stand on the quarter-deck of his own ship, and go
sailing proudly across that mysterious waste of waters.

Then the town itself is full of hints and flavors of the sea. The gables
and roofs of the houses facing eastward are covered with red rust, like
the flukes of old anchors; a salty smell pervades the air, and dense
gray fogs, the very breath of Ocean, periodically creep up into the
quiet streets and envelop everything. The terrific storms that lash
the coast; the kelp and spars, and sometimes the bodies of drowned men,
tossed on shore by the scornful waves; the shipyards, the wharves, and
the tawny fleet of fishing-smacks yearly fitted out at Rivermouth--these
things, and a hundred other, feed the imagination and fill the brain of
every healthy boy with dreams of adventure. He learns to swim almost
as soon as he can walk; he draws in with his mother’s milk the art of
handling an oar: he is born a sailor, whatever he may turn out to be
afterwards.

To own the whole or a portion of a rowboat is his earliest ambition. No
wonder that I, born to this life, and coming back to it with freshest
sympathies, should have caught the prevailing infection. No wonder I
longed to buy a part of the trim little sailboat Dolphin, which chanced
just then to be in the market. This was in the latter part of May.

Three shares, at five or six dollars each, I forget which, had already
been taken by Phil Adams, Fred Langdon, and Binny Wallace. The fourth
and remaining share hung fire. Unless a purchaser could be found for
this, the bargain was to fall through.

I am afraid I required but slight urging to join in the investment.
I had four dollars and fifty cents on hand, and the treasurer of the
Centipedes (a secret society, composed of twelve boys of the Temple
Grammar School, Rivermouth) advanced me the balance, receiving my silver
pencil-case as ample security. It was a proud moment when I stood on the
wharf with my partners, inspecting the Dolphin, moored at the foot of a
very slippery flight of steps. She was painted white with a green stripe
outside, and on the stern a yellow dolphin, with its scarlet mouth wide
open, stared with a surprised expression at its own reflection in the
water. The boat was a great bargain.

I whirled my cap in the air, and ran to the stairs leading down from the
wharf, when a hand was laid gently on my shoulder. I turned, and faced
Captain Nutter (2 Tom Bailey’s grandfather.) I never saw such an old
sharp-eye as he was in those days.

I knew he would not be angry with me for buying a rowboat; but I also
knew that the little bowsprit suggesting a jib and the tapering mast
ready for its few square feet of canvas were trifles not likely to meet
his approval. As far as rowing on the river, among the wharves, was
concerned, the Captain had long since withdrawn his decided objections,
having convinced himself, by going out with me several times, that I
could manage a pair of sculls as well as anybody.

I was right in my surmises. He commanded me, in the most emphatic
terms, never to go out in the Dolphin without leaving the mast in the
boat-house. This curtailed my anticipated sport, but the pleasure of
having a pull whenever I wanted it remained. I never disobeyed the
Captain’s orders touching the sail, though I sometimes extended my row
beyond the points he has indicated.

The river was dangerous for sailboats. Squalls, without the slightest
warning, were of frequent occurrence; scarcely a year passed that three
or four persons were not drowned under the very windows of the town,
and these, oddly enough, were generally sea-captains, who either did not
understand the river, or lacked the skill to handle a small craft.

A knowledge of such disasters, one of which I witnessed, consoled me
somewhat when I saw Phil Adams skimming over the water in a spanking
breeze with every stitch of canvas set. There were few better yachtsmen
than Phil Adams. He usually went sailing alone, for both Langdon and
Binny Wallace were under the same restrictions I was.

Not long after the purchase of the boat, we planned an excursion to
Sandpeep Island, the last of the islands in the harbor. We purposed to
start early in the morning, and return with the tide in the moonlight.
Our only difficulty was to obtain a whole day’s exemption from school,
the customary half-holiday not being long enough for our picnic.
Somehow, we could not work it; but fortune arranged it for us. I may
say here, that, whatever else I did, I never played truant (“hookey” we
called it) in my life.

One afternoon the four owners of the Dolphin exchanged significant
glances when Mr. Grimshaw announced from the desk that there would be
no school the following day, he having just received intelligence of the
death of his uncle in Boston. I was sincerely attached to Mr. Grimshaw,
but I am afraid that the death of his uncle did not affect me as it
ought to have done.

We were up before sunrise the next morning, in order to take advantage
of the flood-tide, which waits for no man. Our preparations for the
cruise were made the previous evening. In the way of eatables and
drinkables, we had stored in the stern of the Dolphin a generous bag
of hard-tack (for the chowder), a piece of pork to fry the cunners in,
three gigantic apple pies (bought at Pettingil’s), half a dozen lemons,
and a keg of spring water--the last-named articles were slung over the
side, to keep it cool, as soon as we got under way. The crockery and
the bricks for our camp-stove we placed in the bows with the groceries,
which included sugar, pepper, salt, and a bottle of pickles. Phil Adams
contributed to the outfit a small tent of unbleached cotton cloth, under
which we intended to take our nooning.

We unshipped the mast, threw in an extra oar, and were ready to embark.
I do not believe that Christopher Columbus, when he started on his
rather successful voyage of discovery, felt half the responsibility
and importance that weighed upon me as I sat on the middle seat of the
Dolphin, with my oar resting in the rowlock. I wonder if Christopher
Columbus quietly slipped out of the house without letting his estimable
family know what he was up to? Charley Marden, whose father had promised
to cane him if he ever stepped foot on sail or row boat, came down to
the wharf in a sour-grape humor, to see us off. Nothing would tempt
him to go out on the river in such a crazy clam-shell of a boat. He
pretended that he did not expect to behold us alive again, and tried to
throw a wet blanket over the expedition.

“Guess you’ll have a squally time of it,” said Charley, casting off
the painter. “I’ll drop in at old Newbury’s” (Newbury was the parish
undertaker) “and leave word, as I go along!”

“Bosh!” muttered Phil Adams, sticking the boathook into the string-piece
of the wharf, and sending the Dolphin half a dozen yards toward the
current.

How calm and lovely the river was! Not a ripple stirred on the glassy
surface, broken only by the sharp cutwater of our tiny craft. The sun,
as round and red as an August moon, was by this time peering above the
water-line.

The town had drifted behind us, and we were entering among the group of
islands. Sometimes we could almost touch with our boat-hook the shelving
banks on either side. As we neared the mouth of the harbor, a little
breeze now and then wrinkled the blue water, shook the spangles from
the foliage, and gently lifted the spiral mist-wreaths that still clung
alongshore. The measured dip of our oars and the drowsy twitterings
of the birds seemed to mingle with, rather than break, the enchanted
silence that reigned about us.

The scent of the new clover comes back to me now, as I recall that
delicious morning when we floated away in a fairy boat down a river like
a dream!

The sun was well up when the nose of the Dolphin nestled against the
snow-white bosom of Sandpeep Island. This island, as I have said before,
was the last of the cluster, one side of it being washed by the sea. We
landed on the river-side, the sloping sands and quiet water affording us
a good place to moor the boat.

It took us an hour or more to transport our stores to the spot selected
for the encampment. Having pitched our tent, using the five oars to
support the canvas, we got out our lines, and went down the rocks
seaward to fish. It was early for cunners, but we were lucky enough to
catch as nice a mess as ever you saw. A cod for the chowder was not so
easily secured. At last Binny Wallace hauled in a plump little fellow
clustered all over with flaky silver.

To skin the fish, build our fireplace, and cook the chowder kept us busy
the next two hours.

The fresh air and the exercise had given us the appetites of wolves, and
we were about famished by the time the savory mixture was ready for our
clam-shell saucers.

I shall not insult the rising generation on the seaboard by telling them
how delectable is a chowder compounded and eaten in this Robinson Crusoe
fashion. As for the boys who live inland, and know not of such marine
feasts, my heart is full of pity for them. What wasted lives! Not to
know the delights of a clambake, not to love chowder, to be ignorant of
lobscouse!

How happy we were, we four, sitting cross-legged in the crisp salt
grass, with the invigorating seabreeze blowing gratefully through our
hair! What a joyous thing was life, and how far off seemed death--death,
that lurks in all pleasant places, and was so near!

The banquet finished, Phil Adams drew from his pocket a handful of
sweet-fern cigars; but as none of the party could indulge without
imminent risk of becoming ill, we all, on one pretext or another,
declined, and Phil smoked by himself.

The wind had freshened by this, and we found it comfortable to put
on the jackets which had been thrown aside in the heat of the day.
We strolled along the beach and gathered large quantities of the
fairy-woven Iceland moss, which at certain seasons is washed to these
shores; then we played at ducks and drakes, and then, the sun being
sufficiently low, we went in bathing.

Before our bath was ended a slight change had come over the sky and sea;
fleecy-white clouds scudded here and there, and a muffled moan from the
breakers caught our ears from time to time. While we were dressing, a
few hurried drops of rain came lisping down, and we adjourned to the
tent to wait the passing of the squall.

“We’re all right, anyhow,” said Phil Adams. “It won’t be much of a blow,
and we’ll be as snug as a bug in a rug, here in the tent, particularly
if we have that lemonade which some of you fellows were going to make.”

By an oversight, the lemons had been left in the boat. Binny Wallace
volunteered to go for them.

“Put an extra stone on the painter, Binny,” said Adams, calling after
him; “it would be awkward to have the Dolphin give us the slip and
return to port minus her passengers.”

“That it would,” answered Binny, scrambling down the rocks.

Sandpeep Island is diamond-shaped--one point running out into the sea,
and the other looking towards the town. Our tent was on the river-side.
Though the Dolphin was also on the same side, she lay out of sight by
the beach at the farther extremity of the island.

Binny Wallace had been absent five or six minutes when we heard him
calling our several names in tones that indicated distress or surprise,
we could not tell which. Our first thought was, “The boat has broken
adrift!”

We sprung to our feet and hastened down to the beach. On turning the
bluff which hid the mooring-place from our view, we found the conjecture
correct. Not only was the Dolphin afloat, but poor little Binny Wallace
was standing in the bows with his arms stretched helplessly towards
us--drifting out to sea!

“Head the boat inshore!” shouted Phil Adams.

Wallace ran to the tiller; but the slight cockle-shell merely swung
round and drifted broadside on. Oh, if we had but left a single scull in
the Dolphin!

“Can you swim it?” cried Adams desperately, using his hand as a
speaking-trumpet, for the distance between the boat and the island
widened momently.

Binny Wallace looked down at the sea, which was covered with white caps,
and made a despairing gesture. He knew, and we knew, that the stoutest
swimmer could not live forty seconds in those angry waters.

A wild, insane light came into Phil Adam’s eyes, as he stood knee-deep
in the boiling surf, and for an instant I think he meditated plunging
into the ocean after the receding boat.

The sky darkened, and an ugly look stole rapidly over the broken surface
of the sea.

Binny Wallace half rose from his seat in the stern, and waved his hand
to us in token of farewell. In spite of the distance, increasing every
moment, we could see his face plainly. The anxious expression it wore
at first had passed. It was pale and meek now, and I love to think there
was a kind of halo about it, like that which painters place around the
forehead of a saint. So he drifted away.

The sky grew darker and darker. It was only by straining our eyes
through the unnatural twilight that we could keep the Dolphin in sight.
The figure of Binny Wallace was no longer visible, for the boat itself
had dwindled to a mere white dot on the black water. Now we lost it, and
our hearts stopped throbbing; and now the speck appeared again, for an
instant, on the crest of a high wave.

Finally it went out like a spark, and we saw it no more. Then we gazed
at one another, and dared not speak.

Absorbed in following the course of the boat, we had scarcely noticed
the huddled inky clouds that sagged heavily all around us. From these
threatening masses, seamed at intervals with pale lightning, there now
burst a heavy peal of thunder that shook the ground under our feet. A
sudden squall struck the sea, ploughing deep white furrows into it, and
at the same instant a single piercing shriek rose above the tempest--the
frightened cry of a gull swooping over the island. How it startled us!

It was impossible any longer to keep our footing on the beach. The wind
and the breakers would have swept us into the ocean if we had not clung
to one another with the desperation of drowning men. Taking advantage of
a momentary lull, we crawled up the sands on our hands and knees, and,
pausing in the lee of the granite ledge to gain breath, returned to the
camp, where we found that the gale had snapped all the fastenings of
the tent but one. Held by this, the puffed-out canvas swayed in the wind
like a balloon. It was a task of some difficulty to secure it, which we
did by beating down the canvas with the oars.

After several trials, we succeeded in setting up the tent on the leeward
side of the ledge. Blinded by the vivid flashes of lightning, and
drenched by the rain, which fell in torrents, we crept, half dead with
fear and anguish, under our flimsy shelter. Neither the anguish nor the
fear was on our own account, for we were comparatively safe, but for
poor little Binny Wallace, driven out to sea in the merciless gale. We
shuddered to think of him in that frail shell, drifting on and on to his
grave, the sky rent with lightning over his head, and the green abysses
yawning beneath him. We suddenly fell to crying, and cried I know not
how long.

Meanwhile the storm raged with augmented fury. We were obliged to hold
on to the ropes of the tent to prevent it blowing away. The spray
from the river leaped several yards up the rocks and clutched at us
malignantly. The very island trembled with the concussions of the sea
beating upon it, and at times I fancied that it had broken loose from
its foundation and was floating off with us. The breakers, streaked with
angry phosphorus, were fearful to look at.

The wind rose higher and higher, cutting long slits in the tent, through
which the rain poured incessantly. To complete the sum of our miseries,
the night was at hand. It came down abruptly, at last, like a curtain,
shutting in Sandpeep Island from all the world.

It was a dirty night, as the sailors say. The darkness was something
that could be felt as well as seen--it pressed down upon one with a
cold, clammy touch. Gazing into the hollow blackness, all sorts of
imaginable shapes seemed to start forth from vacancy--brilliant colors,
stars, prisms, and dancing lights. What boy, lying awake at night, has
not amused or terrified himself by peopling the spaces around his bed
with these phenomena of his own eyes?

“I say,” whispered Fred Langdon, at last, clutching my hand, “don’t you
see things--out there--in the dark?”

“Yes, yes--Binny Wallace’s face!”

I added to my own nervousness by making this avowal; though for the
last ten minutes I had seen little besides that star-pale face with
its angelic hair and brows. First a slim yellow circle, like the nimbus
round the dark moon, took shape and grew sharp against the darkness;
then this faded gradually, and there was the Face, wearing the same sad,
sweet look it wore when he waved his hand to us across the awful water.
This optical illusion kept repeating itself.

“And I too,” said Adams.” I see it every now and then, outside there.
What wouldn’t I give if it really was poor little Wallace looking in at
us! O boys, how shall we dare to go back to the town without him? I’ve
wished a hundred times, since we’ve been sitting here, that I was in his
place, alive or dead!”

We dreaded the approach of morning as much as we longed for it. The
morning would tell us all. Was it possible for the Dolphin to outride
such a storm? There was a lighthouse on Mackerel Reef, which lay
directly in the course the boat had taken when it disappeared. If the
Dolphin had caught on this reef, perhaps Binny Wallace was safe. Perhaps
his cries had been heard by the keeper of the light. The man owned a
life-boat, and had rescued several persons. Who could tell?

Such were the questions we asked ourselves again and again, as we lay
huddled together waiting for daybreak. What an endless night it was! I
have known months that did not seem so long.

Our position was irksome rather than perilous; for the day was certain
to bring us relief from the town, where our prolonged absence, together
with the storm, had no doubt excited the liveliest alarm for our safety.
But the cold, the darkness, and the suspense were hard to bear.

Our soaked jackets had chilled us to the bone. In order to keep warm we
lay so closely that we could hear our hearts beat above the tumult of
sea and sky.

After a while we grew very hungry, not having broken our fast since
early in the day. The rain had turned the hard-tack into a sort of
dough; but it was better than nothing.

We used to laugh at Fred Langdon for always carrying in his pocket a
small vial of essence of peppermint or sassafras, a few drops of which,
sprinkled on a lump of loaf-sugar, he seemed to consider a great luxury.
I do not know what would have become of us at this crisis if it had not
been for that omnipresent bottle of hot stuff. We poured the stinging
liquid over our sugar, which had kept dry in a sardine-box, and warmed
ourselves with frequent doses.

After four or five hours the rain ceased, the wind died away to a moan,
and the sea--no longer raging like a maniac--sobbed and sobbed with a
piteous human voice all along the coast. And well it might, after that
night’s work. Twelve sail of the Gloucester fishing fleet had gone down
with every soul on board, just outside of Whale’s-Back Light. Think of
the wide grief that follows in the wake of one wreck; then think of the
despairing women who wrung their hands and wept, the next morning, in
the streets of Gloucester, Marblehead, and Newcastle!

Though our strength was nearly spent, we were too cold to sleep. Once
I sunk into a troubled doze, when I seemed to hear Charley Marden’s
parting words, only it was the Sea that said them. After that I threw
off the drowsiness whenever it threatened to overcome me.

Fred Langdon was the earliest to discover a filmy, luminous streak in
the sky, the first glimmering of sunrise.

“Look, it is nearly daybreak!”

While we were following the direction of his finger, a sound of distant
oars fell upon our ears.

We listened breathlessly; and as the dip of the blades became more
audible, we discerned two foggy lights, like will-o’-the-wisps, floating
on the river.

Running down to the water’s edge, we hailed the boats with all
our might. The call was heard, for the oars rested a moment in the
row-locks, and then pulled in towards the island.

It was two boats from the town, in the foremost of which we could now
make out the figures of Captain Nutter and Binny Wallace’s father. We
shrunk back on seeing him.

“Thank God!” cried Mr. Wallace fervently, as he leaped from the wherry
without waiting for the bow to touch the beach.

But when he saw only three boys standing on the sands, his eye wandered
restlessly about in quest of the fourth; then a deadly pallor overspread
his features.

Our story was soon told. A solemn silence fell upon the crowd of rough
boatmen gathered round, interrupted only by a stifled sob form one poor
old man who stood apart from the rest.

The sea was still running too high for any small boat to venture out; so
it was arranged that the wherry should take us back to town, leaving the
yawl, with a picked crew, to hug the island until daybreak, and then set
forth in search of the Dolphin.

Though it was barely sunrise when we reached town, there were a great
many persons assembled at the landing eager for intelligence from
missing boats. Two picnic parties had started down river the day before,
just previous to the gale, and nothing had been heard of them. It turned
out that the pleasure-seekers saw their danger in time, and ran ashore
on one of the least exposed islands, where they passed the night.
Shortly after our own arrival they appeared off Rivermouth, much to the
joy of their friends, in two shattered, dismasted boats.

The excitement over, I was in a forlorn state, physically and mentally.
Captain Nutter put me to bed between hot blankets, and sent Kitty
Collins for the doctor. I was wandering in my mind, and fancied myself
still on Sandpeep Island: now we were building our brick stove to cook
the chowder, and, in my delirium, I laughed aloud and shouted to my
comrades; now the sky darkened, and the squall struck the island; now I
gave orders to Wallace how to manage the boat, and now I cried because
the rain was pouring in on me through the holes in the tent. Towards
evening a high fever set in, and it was many days before my grandfather
deemed it prudent to tell me that the Dolphin had been found, floating
keel upwards, four miles southeast of Mackerel Reef.

Poor little Binny Wallace! How strange it seemed, when I went to
school again, to see that empty seat in the fifth row! How gloomy the
playground was, lacking the sunshine of his gentle, sensitive face! One
day a folded sheet slipped from my algebra: it was the last note he ever
wrote me. I could not read it for the tears.

What a pang shot across my heart the afternoon it was whispered through
the town that a body had been washed ashore at Grave Point--the place
where we bathed! We bathed there no more! How well I remember the
funeral, and what a piteous sight it was afterwards to see his familiar
name on a small headstone in the Old South Burying-Ground!

Poor little Binny Wallace! Always the same to me. The rest of us have
grown up into hard, worldly men, fighting the fight of life; but you
are forever young, and gentle, and pure; a part of my own childhood
that time cannot wither; always a little boy, always poor little Binny
Wallace!





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