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Title: A Year in a Yawl - A True Tale of the Adventures of Four Boys in a Thirty-foot Yawl
Author: Doubleday, Russell
Language: English
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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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                            A YEAR IN A YAWL

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                BOOKS BY
                           RUSSELL DOUBLEDAY

                       A GUNNER ABOARD THE YANKEE
                       CATTLE RANCH TO COLLEGE
                       A YEAR IN A YAWL

                       The True Adventure Series

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: “‘WE ARE UNDER WAY AT LAST.’”]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                            A YEAR IN A YAWL

                           A TRUE TALE OF THE
                        ADVENTURES OF FOUR BOYS
                         IN A THIRTY-FOOT YAWL

                                   BY
                           RUSSELL DOUBLEDAY

                            FROM THE LOG OF
                              CAPT. RANSOM

                                NEW YORK
                         DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & CO.
                                  1906

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                          Copyright, 1901, by
                         DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & CO.

                             OCTOBER, 1901.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                CONTENTS

               I. The Launching of the Scheme
              II. The Launching of the Boat
             III. Outward Bound
              IV. An Adventure in St. Louis
               V. A Perilous Situation
              VI. An Arctic Adventure
             VII. Sailing with Frozen Rigging
            VIII. An Icy Storm off “Sunny” Baton Rouge
              IX. On Salt Water at Last
               X. Riding a Monster Turtle
              XI. Lost on Captive Island
             XII. Fighting a Man-eating Shark
            XIII. A Thrilling Fourth of July Celebration
             XIV. A Race with a Gale
              XV. Captured by “Liberty”
             XVI. From New York to Albany
            XVII. Along the “Raging Canal”
           XVIII. In the Grip of Iron and Stone
             XIX. A Stormy Night on a Sinking Pile-Driver
              XX. Homeward Bound

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

    “We are Under Way at Last”

    “... the Boat was Launched”

    “Saw the Great Cakes of Ice go Racing by”

    Taking Soundings.—“... Frank Shouted, ‘Three Fathoms!’”

    Fish they Caught in the Gulf of Mexico

    On the Gulf Coast.—“Graceful Palms and Sturdy Live Oaks”

    “The Moon Broke from the Clouds and Silvered the Crescent Sea”

    John Gomez’s Cabin.—“A ... Cottage Thatched with Palm Branches”

    “Old Cape Florida Lighthouse”

    “The Tall, Straight Shaft of the Cape Fear Light”

    Chesapeake Bay

    Beaufort, North Carolina.—Poplar Trees Bent Over by the Wind

    A “Bugeye.”—“Flew by Like the Shadow of a Swiftly Moving Cloud”

    On the “Raging Canal.”—“‘Step Lively’ Once More Got Going”

    Swaying on the Halliards.—“The Sails were Hoisted”

    “Looking for Port Stanley”

    “The ‘Gazelle’ Raced with the Flying Spray into Port”

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                 NOTE.

          Acknowledgments are due to Mr. Thos. A. Hine, Mr.
          Clinton P. Townsend, and Miss Katherine R. Constant
          for the use of the photographs printed in this book.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                            A YEAR IN A YAWL



                               CHAPTER I

                      THE LAUNCHING OF THE SCHEME


In the shadow of a big apple tree four boys lay on the grass studying a
map of the United States. One of the group was talking vehemently and
pointing out a route of some sort with a stubby carpenter’s pencil; the
other three were watching with eager interest.

“That sounds all right,” said one of the four as he rose to lean on his
elbow, “but you can’t do it with a little boat like yours. I don’t
believe you could do it anyway, Ken.”

“Well, I couldn’t do it in a steam-yacht,” the boy with the pencil
returned, “for obvious reasons. But I can and will make that trip.”

“I admire your pluck, Ken,” the third boy exclaimed. “It took
considerable gumption to plan and build a craft like yours alone; but I
don’t believe you’d bring your boat through whole.”

Again they bent down to the map, and the three listened while Kenneth
Ransom went over the route again.

“Yes, it looks all right on the map,” Clyde Morrow broke in; “but you
don’t realize that the couple of inches of Illinois River from Chicago
to the Mississippi, for instance, is a couple of hundred miles.”

“Of course it’s a big undertaking, but think of the fun. You fellows
like to sail on the Lake, and we have been through some pretty tough
squalls, and had some mighty pleasant times, too. Sailing on the Lake is
good sport, and exciting, too, for a while, but the cruising I propose
to do makes Lake sailing tame. Think of the places we shall see, the
fishing we shall do! Think of sailing on the warm Gulf of Mexico in
January, cruising around the thousands of tropical islands, then up the
Atlantic coast when it is most apt to be calm, stopping whenever there
is anything worth stopping for. Just think of the cities we can
visit—St. Louis, Vicksburg, Memphis, New Orleans, Mobile, Jacksonville,
Hampton Roads, Philadelphia, New York, and—” He stopped for sheer loss
of breath.

“Why, it’s the chance of a lifetime. I’ve set my heart on it, and I’m
going. Who’ll go with me?”

Kenneth had talked eagerly, so full of his subject that he could hardly
get the words out fast enough. Now he stopped and waited to see if his
friends would take fire from his enthusiasm.

For an instant all three boys were silent. The thought of the adventure
to be had tingled in their veins.

“I’ll go!” suddenly exclaimed Arthur Morrow, who had hitherto been
comparatively calm, jumping to his feet to shake Ransom’s hand. Almost
at the same moment, Clyde, his cousin, and Frank Chauvet grabbed Kenneth
and shouted, “I, too,” in unison.

“Good!” was Ransom’s only comment as he extricated himself from the
grasp of his impetuous friends. But his face was shining, and his eyes
said what his voice for a minute could not express.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Kenneth had been at work on a boat for some time when the foregoing
conversation took place. He had planned her himself, plotting out her
lines with great care and with all the enthusiasm of a boy who has the
means at last to carry out a long-cherished idea.

She was to be thirty feet over all, twenty-two feet on the water-line,
nine feet wide, and three feet draught with her centre-board up. His
idea was to make her yawl-rigged and as strong and staunch as good
material and careful workmanship could ensure.

For a workshop he had to be content with a woodshed at the back of his
father’s house, a good three-fourths of a mile from the Lake shore of
St. Joseph, Michigan.

Fortunately, he was able to get some extra fine white oak, well
seasoned, from a nearby mill; and though it was tough and tried the
temper of his home-made tools, this very toughness and hardness stood
the young ship-builder and his crew in good stead later.

He built a steaming-box to bend the ribs and planking of his boat out of
rough lumber, and made an old stove, with a section of big pipe plugged
up at both ends, serve as a boiler to make the steam. Thus equipped, he
began the work unaided of building a thirty-foot yacht in which to
cruise around on Lake Michigan and the waters tributary to it. With
great labor and care the keel was steamed, bent, and laid on the blocks;
then one by one the ribs were put in place. It was slow work, but it was
extremely interesting to this young naval architect and ship-builder,
and as his boat grew his ideas enlarged. To be a naval architect had
been his ambition ever since he had left high school. To become a
designer and builder of ships was his aim in life, and as he worked
alone at his little ship, he wondered how he was going to get the
experience that would be needed to design vessels for various uses and
differing conditions. About lake craft he knew something, but of ocean
and river vessels he was entirely ignorant. He made up his mind that he
must see and study the different kind of craft in their native waters.

One day, as he was working on the planking of his boat, the inspiration
came to him. He had pulled the plank out of the long steam-box, hot,
damp, and more or less pliable, and with great labor made it fast to the
cut-water with a hand vise. As he bent the plank from rib to rib he
secured it until it was in place and followed the designed curve. He
stood a minute facing the bow to see if the curve was true. It really
began to look like a boat and less like a skeleton.

“This is going to be a pretty smart craft,” he said to himself as he
eyed his work lovingly. “She’ll be strong and handy, roomy and
seaworthy, and fit to go most anywhere.”

“By Jove!” he said aloud, slapping his knee by way of emphasis, and
sitting down suddenly.

“Why not?” The idea was so bold that he hardly dared to think of it.
Sail to the ocean in a craft only thirty feet long? Impossible; but why?
He could hardly wait to secure the plank permanently, he was so anxious
to look at a map and see if there was a possible route to the salt sea
that his vessel could follow.

The rest of that day was spent in studying maps, and for a good part of
the night Kenneth and his father discussed it.

“Yes, it is possible,” Mr. Ransom said at length; “but I doubt if it has
ever been done before, and certainly never by so small a boat.”

“But, father,” the boy pleaded, “can I go? You know what I want to do
and why I want to go. It would mean a whole lot to me; it would be
experience I can get in no other way.”

“Yes, boy, you can go if the mother can spare you,” the elder
reluctantly consented; “but don’t set your heart on it till I talk to
her. Good night.”

“Well, if they won’t let me go,” the boy said, as he blew out the lamp,
“I’ll miss the chance of my life; but I think they will,” and he went to
bed.

It was late the next morning when the boat felt the touch of her
designer’s hand, for there was much talking to be done, much to be
explained, and the boy found it hard to convince his mother that it was
to his advantage; that it was almost necessary, in fact, for him to go
on this hazardous trip.

“We can go!” he almost shouted, partly to his boat, partly to relieve
his feelings, “and we’ll do it, too.” The boy’s eyes travelled over
every line and curve of his creation with a pride that was tempered with
concern, for much depended on the staunchness and sea-worthiness of his
handiwork.

The fire in his makeshift furnace was soon roaring, and it was not long
before the ring of the hatchet and adze filled the little shop as the
boy went to work with new zest. Luncheon was a vexatious interruption,
for he begrudged the time spent in eating. The yawl took shape plank by
plank; and as she grew her builder planned ways and means, figured out
places to stow provisions, water, spare tackle, rigging, and all the
other hundred and one things that would be required for a long voyage.
His imagination played a large part, too, and he sailed wonderful seas,
through terrific storms, and along beautiful coasts—dreams, many of
which, improbable as they were, came true, for adventures innumerable
and utterly unexpected were to be encountered.

“By Jove!” he said aloud one day after he had had a particularly hard
tussle with a plank that had to be both bent and twisted into position.
“This is almost too much for me alone; and I can’t sail around to the
Atlantic by myself. Whom shall I get to go with me?”

He leaned up against the workbench to think. The yawl, almost fully
planked, now stood up higher than the builder’s head. The newly placed
timber still steamed and gave out an odor dear to the wood-worker. There
was no sound except the hiss of steam in the steam-box. Suddenly the
door of the shed opened and three heads appeared.

“Hello, Ken, what are you doing? Holy smoke! look at that; isn’t she a
beauty?” Frank Chauvet didn’t even stop to take breath between his
sentences.

“Hullo, you chaps. Come in,” returned Ken, making a place for them on
the bench. “The very fellows I want to see,” he said to himself. “What
do you think of my boat? Look out, Arthur, you’ll sit on that adze if
you don’t be careful. You’ve got to look before you sit in this shop.”

The third boy was meanwhile walking around the boat, inspecting her
critically, feeling the wood, measuring the thickness of the timbers,
and eying the shape with an approving glance.

“Say, Ken, where are you going to take her? Arctic regions? She’s built
strong enough to go around the Horn.” Clyde Morrow looked up at his
friend inquiringly. “Ken, did you do all this yourself? She’s great,
simply great!”

“Yep—sure—you knew I was building a boat. Why didn’t you come around
before?” Then, before they had time to answer, he went on, “Clyde, you
said she was strong enough to go around the Horn; she’s got to be strong
enough to make a journey almost as long and quite as trying.” He paused
a minute and eyed his friends one after the other. Frank and Arthur were
sitting side by side on the workbench. Clyde was leaning against the
boat, Ransom himself faced them, half leaning, half sitting on a large
block of iron that served as an anvil.

“What do you think about cruising to the Atlantic and back in that
boat?” Kenneth pointed to the yawl. “Circumnavigating the Eastern half
of the United States, in other words.”

“What!” cried Arthur and the other two boys. “You’re crazy!” Clyde
added.

“No, I’m not; it can be done and I’m going to try to do it.” Kenneth
spoke confidently and with a smile at his friends’ incredulity.

“Wake up, old man,” said Frank with a laugh; “that’s a nice dream, but
you’re likely to fall out of bed.”

“Listen; I’ve studied this thing out and it can be done. Wait a minute,”
he interrupted himself to say as Clyde opened his mouth to speak. “You
know what I want to be and what I want to do, and there is no way of
seeing all kinds of boats and experiencing all kinds of weather and
conditions of water and climate except by seeing and experiencing them.”
He laughed at the lame finish of his sentence. “The best and most
thorough way of doing it, it seems to me, is to go in a small boat that
you have built yourself and see everything at first-hand. What a cruise
it will be! I wish I could go to-morrow.”

“What! do you really mean to go?” said Frank. “Why, you’re clean daft,
Ken.”

“Not on your life,” answered Ransom sturdily. “Look here.”

He reached down a well-thumbed atlas from a shelf and led the way out of
doors and under the apple tree. Then spreading it out, he began to
explain what was in his mind.



                               CHAPTER II

                       THE LAUNCHING OF THE BOAT


“You shall be my mate, Arthur,” said Kenneth, who from that time his
friends were apt to call Cap. “You spoke first, but to show that
there is no partiality, Frank shall be navigator and Clyde
chief-quartermaster.”

“No, I’d rather be the crew,” Frank protested; “that would be more
exclusive and less responsible.”

“I’ll vote to be cook: then I’ll have you all in my power,” and Clyde
pointed exultingly at the other three.

“Well, none of you can be anything for a good while yet. Come and look
at the boat.” All four started toward the shop. “I tell you what, you
can all be ship-carpenters, shipwrights, riggers, fitters, caulkers, and
generally hard hustlers for a couple of months before we graduate to our
high positions,” and Ransom led on to their “Argo.”

After going over the plans of the boat together, and talking of all the
pleasures and dangers in prospect, the four separated; Frank, Arthur,
and Clyde going to tell their people and ask their permission to join
the expedition, an ordeal which they dreaded with all their hearts.
Kenneth lingered a while to think over the happy outcome of his
afternoon’s talk, and to plan anew his building, for from now on he had
efficient assistants. He felt for the first time that his would be a
great responsibility; for if anything happened to any of his friends he
would be to blame.

The thoughtful mood soon wore off, however, and when he locked up the
shop, and went into the house, he was radiant with pleasure.

“Father! Arthur, Clyde, and Frank said that they would go with me.”
Kenneth burst into the room with his news.

“That’s good,” was his father’s reply. “If the Morrows and Chauvets will
let their sons go, that is, of course——”

“But you will speak a good word for me, won’t you, father?” Kenneth
smiled at him confidently.

“Ye-e-es, if you think _you_ must go.” The elder Ransom looked at his
son rather sadly.

“Why, of course. I thought that it was all settled. Is anything the
matter? What is it?” Kenneth was excited and worried; the possibility of
a final refusal from his father had never occurred to him.

“Wait a minute, son.” Mr. Ransom pulled his boy down on the arm of his
big leather easy chair. “The fact is, your mother and I have been
talking over this projected cruise of yours, and—though you may not
realize it—it is hard for us to have you, our youngest and last, go away
upon so long and dangerous a trip.” He stopped for a moment and looked
into the boy’s fast saddening face. “We promised that you should go, and
go you shall, if you insist, but you are pretty young to undertake such
a journey, and your mother and I thought that you might give it up for a
while. We knew that you would be disappointed”—the father held up his
hand to check the words which were just ready to pour out of the boy’s
mouth—“and so we thought that we would try to make it up to you in some
other way. If you will be willing to give up your project for a while,
at least, your mother and I have decided to deed over this house and
place to you, and your assigns, forever,” and he smiled at the legal
phrase.

“Give me the house and grounds if I don’t go? Father, what can I say? I
thank you awfully, but I would like to think it over a bit before I
answer. It is rather sudden.” The boy grabbed his father’s hand, and
then went upstairs to his own room.

He was touched, and very grateful, but grievously disappointed. He had
set his heart on the trip, had persuaded his friends to go with him, and
now he must give it all up. What seemed hardest of all, was that he
would have to tell his companions that the whole thing was off. The
photographs of boats that lined the walls of the room, and the plan of
his own boat, laid out on the table, seemed a mockery to him. “Well, I
won’t take the house any way,” he said to himself. “If they want me to
stay as badly as that, I won’t go, of course; but——”

A minute or two later he came into the room where his father and mother
were sitting reading.

“I’ll stay,” he said, standing before them. “I didn’t know you wanted me
to, so much; but I can’t take the house; I don’t want to be paid to
stay—but you’re terribly good to me.”

It was hard to give up gracefully, and he dropped rather dejectedly into
a chair.

“By George, mother!” Mr. Ransom said to his wife, “that boy is the right
sort, and I think that we ought not to spoil his chance. I vote we let
him go.”

Kenneth looked eagerly at his mother. She said nothing, but he read
plainly in her face that though she feared to let him take the voyage,
she would not refuse his wish.

He could not say a word; but he had to go out, unlock the door of his
shop, and tell his boat confidentially what bricks his father and mother
were. He just _had_ to tell something.

The next morning the other three boys came with long faces and
disgruntled tempers. Their parents, one and all, were against the trip,
and declared that Kenneth’s father and mother were crazy to let him go
on such a journey.

Kenneth said nothing of his experience of the night before, but felt
absolutely sure now of his parents’ backing and encouragement.

“Don’t you give up like that, fellows,” he said cheerfully, slapping his
mate-to-be on his shoulder, to stir him up. “If you don’t have
confidence yourself, how can you expect other people to believe in you
and the success of the trip?”

“But—” began Frank.

“Bear a hand with this stick, will you?” Kenneth interrupted.

“Arthur, open that trap at the end of the steam-box, please. That’s
it—in she goes!” With a will, Frank and Kenneth pushed the long plank
into the box.

“A few more of those, and the body of the boat will be complete. But
there’s a lot more to be done, and we’ve got to keep at it.” Ransom
stopped, went to a far corner, and poked among some old boards; he
finally picked out one, and showed it to the boys.

“I move that we make this our motto. All those in favor will signify as
much by saying ‘aye.’”

Four “aye’s” rang out vigorously.

“Contrary minded will signify by saying ‘no.’

“It is moved and carried, that this shall be our motto, and we’ll nail
our colors to the—the—woodshed.”

“Hear! Hear!” laughed the three at the end of Ken’s speech; but when he
nailed up the board bearing this motto in clear letters:

                      KEEPING EVERLASTINGLY AT IT
                            BRINGS SUCCESS,

there was a cheer that cleared the air amazingly, and chased away the
gloom that had bid fair to settle over the company.

“I believe that my father will be able to convince your people that our
trip is feasible,” said Kenneth from his place on top of a ladder.
“Anyhow, let’s get to work. For ‘keeping everlastingly at it brings
success.’” Soon all the noises the young shipbuilders made seemed to
voice that motto.

It was a long time before the three got permission to go, but their
evident determination, and their continual “keeping at it,” aided by Mr.
Ransom’s support, finally brought success. All this time the four worked
like beavers. The planking was completed, the cabin laid out and built,
the deck laid, and the cockpit floored.

“Well, I’ll be jiggered!” Kenneth exclaimed one day. “I never
thought—how are we going to get her down to the water?”

Immediately the noise of hammer and saw, the dull clap of wood, and the
sharp ring of iron ceased, and all four stood open-mouthed, speechless.

“Why, it’s a good three-quarters of a mile to the nearest water,” gasped
Frank.

“And think of that hill down to the ravine between,” added Clyde.

“She must weigh three tons,” wailed Arthur.

“Oh, I guess Johnson, the house mover, will do it,” Kenneth suggested.
“Let’s go and see him.” But Johnson wanted a prohibitive price for
moving the boat to the launching ways, so the crew decided to tackle the
job themselves.

Then the trouble began. The sides of the shop had to come down to allow
the yawl to be moved out, and a truck had to be built that would safely
bear the great weight.

Despite all, however, the boat was finally loaded, and under the eyes of
all the townspeople who could get away from their work, the first stage
of their journey began.

All went well for a time. A sturdy team was hitched to the wheeled
truck, and the progress over the first part of the smooth, level road
was easy. Passers-by were apt to quote passages about “sailing the
raging meadows,” and about young tars who preferred to do their sailing
ashore. But Ransom and his friends were good-natured and too busy to
heed anything but the overland trip of their precious craft.

When the brink of the hill leading down to the ravine was reached, the
team was stopped and a consultation was held. The slope was almost
thirty degrees, and a bridge at the bottom had to be passed slowly, or
the great weight might go through the planking.

“Make her fast to that tree,” suggested Arthur, “with a block and fall,
and pay out gradually till she gets to the bottom; then reverse the
operation and make fast in front, hitch the team to the line and haul
up.”

“Great head, Art! We’ll do it.” And Ken started back to the shop for the
block and fall.

The road curved just before descending to the ravine, and a big tree
grew in the bend. A line made fast to it would lead straight down. It
was most advantageously placed. A sling was put around the tree, and
another was run about the boat herself just below the rail. To each of
these a block was attached. The captain went over each rope carefully to
see that all was right, tight, and strong. Frank drove the horses, which
were to back with all their might; Clyde watched the boat herself; while
Kenneth and Arthur tended the line, and stood prepared to pay out
slowly.

“Let her go; slowly now, e-e-e-asy!” yelled Ransom to Frank with the
team.

Kenneth and Arthur took in the slack, and braced against the strain. The
horses began to move slowly and the truck slid gradually over the crest
of the hill; the line tightened and the blocks clucked sleepily under
the strain.

“Go e-e-e-asy!” yelled Ransom.

The truck was going faster; he and Arthur could hardly hold it back.

“Easy there; pull up, Frank.” The horses were straining back with all
their might, but the weight of the boat was pushing them on faster than
they wanted to go.

“Stop, Frank! She’s running away!”

But there was no stopping her from before—the horses were fairly off
their feet. The running line was beginning to burn Kenneth’s and
Arthur’s hands. She was running away, sure enough, and to certain
destruction if she was not stopped at once.

Frank’s face was pale and anxious as he shouted and strained back on the
reins, trying to stop his team; Clyde, utterly impotent, ran from side
to side, looking in vain for a stick or log with which to check the
wheels. Kenneth and Arthur clung desperately to the line, which, in
spite of all, they could not control.

The speed of the boat was certainly growing faster and faster every
second. The work of months and the means of a glorious trip was going to
destruction.

“Here, Arthur, quick! I’ll try to hold, while you take a double turn
round that other tree—quick—quick!” cried Kenneth, his anxiety almost
taking away his voice for the moment.

Arthur turned to obey. “Quick—for the love of Moses, quick!”

Just in time, Arthur got the turns round the tree, for Kenneth could not
stand the strain on his hands longer and he dropped the rope. His weight
off the restraining line, the truck almost pushed the horses over on
their heads. But the slack was taken up in a minute, and though the line
creaked ominously under the strain, and stood as taut as a harp string,
it held; the truck slackened speed.

“Kick me round the block, will you, Arthur, for a chump,” Ransom said as
he came up to his friend, bandaging his blistered hands with his
handkerchief as he spoke. “To let a weight like that go without taking a
turn, was about the most foolish thing that I ever did. Let her go,
easy, now.”

The other three boys said nothing for a while, but when the bottom of
the hill was reached all were rather limp.

To drag the boat out of the valley was about as difficult as letting her
down into it, and it consumed the balance of the daylight. The close of
the second day saw the boat resting on the launching ways, and the boys
were triumphant.

“If the rest of our journey is as slow as this,” Arthur remarked as he
put on his coat to go home, “we’ll be ancient mariners before we cover
the 6,000 miles.”

The following day the boat was launched, and as she nodded her
acknowledgments to the pretty girl who had just named her “Gazelle,” it
was evident to all that the title fitted her like the coat of white
paint that glistened on her sides.

The hearts of Captain Kenneth and his friends glowed within them when
they saw the boat at which they had labored so steadily floating in her
natural element as gracefully and daintily as if she had been born in
it.

When their friends had gone, the four sat in the cosey cabin and
congratulated each other by looks and handclasps rather than words. They
felt that they were fairly started, now that their craft was afloat; but
it was two good long months before she was ready to take her trial trip;
and two weeks beyond that before all was ready to start in earnest.
Rigging and final finishing took much time, and the placing of the
necessary stores seemed an endless job.

“Well, boys,” Ransom said, as the other three came aboard on the morning
of October 27, 1898, “this is the day that we say good-by to old St.
Joe.”

“Grab my bag, will you, Ken?” came by way of answer from Arthur. “Look
out! If you dump the buttons from my sewing kit, I’ll have your heart’s
blood.”

[Illustration: “...THE BOAT WAS LAUNCHED.”]

“Don’t you worry. I’ll be careful enough,” was Ransom’s answer. “I’ll
have occasion to borrow before long.”

And so they laughed and chatted, and put on a brave front in order to
conceal the slight uneasiness that lingered persistently in the
background of all their thoughts.

It was three o’clock before complete arrangements were made, and all
hands were right glad that there was so much to do. Home was
inexpressibly dear to those four boys, and though they looked forward to
their trip with real enthusiasm, when the parting really came they found
it a good deal of a wrench.

The wind was coming out of the north in a business-like way, and the sea
it banked up was not of the sort to tempt the fair-weather sailor.

“All ready, boys?” sang out Captain Ransom from his place at the tiller.

“All ready!” was the answer.

“Arthur, stand by to tend the jib sheet; Frank, stand at the halliards;
Clyde, go forward, yank up the mud-hook and cat it. I’ll tend the
mizzen.”

The boys jumped to do his bidding. The windlass creaked and the yawl
began to eat up the anchor cable.

“She’s broke!” came the cry from forward as the anchor gave up its last
hold on Michigan soil for many a long day.

“Haul up your jib, Clyde. Now, Arthur, in with your sheet.” Ransom at
the same time hauled in the mizzen a little, and shifted the helm.

The boat gathered headway slowly, then gained in speed till she was
bounding over the rollers bravely.

“We are under way at last,” Ransom half sighed; but the sigh changed to
a thrill of pure delight as he felt his boat slipping along under him;
felt her answer to his touch on the tiller, as an intelligent horse
responds to the hand on his bridle-rein.

The graceful craft heeled over to the freshening breeze till she showed
a little of the dark green of her underbody. The way she moved along
surprised and delighted the people on shore almost as much as it did her
captain and crew.

Out from the shelter of the river’s headland she flew to the lake
itself, which still heaved a reminder of the terrific storm of a few
days ago.

A line of handkerchiefs waved from the bluff, and here and there a vivid
bit of color showed a private signal that told of some special watcher.

It was these signals that the boys looked for with particular eagerness
and answered with frantic zeal. They told of loving and anxious
hearts—anxious, but proud of boys who had the courage to undertake such
a journey.

The “Gazelle” sped on until she came abreast of the life-saving station
on the end of the long pier. The station’s cannon boomed out its hail of
God-speed and good luck, and the boys lowered the ensign from the peak
three times in answer. It was the last audible message. Minute by
minute, the shore grew dimmer and dimmer; the handkerchief signals
faded; even the brave bits of color steadfastly waving were lost to
view.

The “Gazelle” and her crew were at last outward bound.



                              CHAPTER III

                             OUTWARD BOUND


It was a quiet group of boys that stood in the cockpit of the “Gazelle,”
and watched the shores of their native town fade from view. They had
persevered in their scheme in spite of discouragement from their elders
and ridicule from their companions. They had undertaken a seemingly
impossible thing. What would the outcome be?

It was well that the young adventurers could not foresee what the future
had in store for them, for stouter hearts even than theirs might have
hesitated at the prospect.

As it was, none of them had forgotten that “Keeping Everlastingly at it
Brings Success,” and all four meant to follow that motto to the end.

“Clyde!” Ransom suddenly interrupted the reverie into which they had
fallen. “I think I once heard you say that you would like to be cook.
Now’s your chance. Go ahead and be it.”

“My, what a memory you have!” the other answered, with a wry face. “But
wait until you try some of my cooking, then the smile will travel my
way. I’m sorry for you.” And Clyde disappeared down the companionway.

The storm which had just passed left the surface of the Lake very
uneasy, and the little yacht was tossed from the crest of one huge wave
to another like a chip; but she bore the rough usage splendidly, and
hardly shipped water at all; the spray which her sharp spoon bow dashed
up as she flew into the white caps was all the wetting her deck showed.

“Say,” came a muffled voice from below, “I’ll mutiny if some one doesn’t
come down and hold the things on the stove. The coffee-pot is trying to
jump into the saucepan’s lap. Hello! On deck there! Come down and sit on
the—” The owner of the voice showed a very red and wrathful face at the
foot of the ladder. Frank went below at once, and soon the sound of
voices mingled with that of clattering tins and chinking pottery. Then
the odor of steaming coffee and frying bacon came through the
half-closed companionway. Kenneth and his mate began to lose interest in
the set of the sails, the curve of the rail, and the angry look of the
water. Frequent glances, thrown at the opening from which such
satisfying aromas penetrated, betrayed the direction in which their
thoughts had strayed.

“All hands below to supper,” was the welcome cry. “Except the skipper,
who will stay on deck and steer, I suppose.”

So the cook got even.

The table, hinged to either side of the centre-board trunk, bore a
goodly store of “shore grub.” The ship’s stove was steaming away in the
galley, way forward almost under the deck. On either side of the cabin
the bunks were ranged; good, wide bunks with generous cushions. They
served as beds by night and couches by day, the bedding being rolled up
under the deck and concealed by curtains. Under each bunk was a wide
chest or locker, and, besides, a row of drawers was built forward, so
that each member of the crew had ample room wherein to stow his
belongings. A man-o’-warsman would be at a loss to know what to do with
so much space.

The cabin was fourteen feet long, nine feet wide at the widest part, and
six feet high. Any member of the crew could stand upright without fear
of his upper story.

The skipper saw all this in his mind’s eye as he fondled the tiller (a
boat’s most sensitive, sympathetic spot) and watched the sails puffing
to the breath of the breeze. He grew hungrier every minute, but every
minute the wind grew stronger and the waves higher, so that his interest
in the behavior of his boat returned and increased, until he forgot
about the complainings of his stomach altogether. The “Gazelle” seemed
to know that her maker’s eye was upon her, for she showed off in brave
style. She rose on the waves as lightly as a cork, and swept along at a
surprising rate of speed.

Frank and Arthur soon came climbing up on deck, and then Ransom had his
turn below. In spite of Clyde’s protestations, he was no mean cook, and
if “the proof of the pudding lies in the eating,” the crew were
certainly satisfied with their first meal aboard.

“How are we going to work this thing?” said Arthur, as Ransom’s head
appeared above the hatch coaming. “We certainly won’t get in to Chicago
before morning.”

“We’ll divide up the night into regular watches. Four on, four off.
See?” explained Kenneth.

“But who’s who?” queried Clyde, from the foot of the companionway
ladder.

“Arthur and I will be the starboard watch, you and Frank will be the
port. That satisfactory?”

“Sure,” the other three responded.

“Well, suppose the port watch goes on duty for the second dog watch—from
six to eight—while the starboard watch does the dishes?”

“I never heard of a starboard watch washing dishes,” said Frank. “But I
think they could not be better employed.”

Kenneth and Arthur went below and began to “wrestle” pots and dishes,
while Frank and Clyde sailed the boat.

The yacht rolled a good deal, and the amateur dishwashers found it
difficult to keep the water in the dish pan. But if the yawl pitched, it
was not unduly, and she always recovered herself easily. Her poise was
well-nigh perfect.

Though the off-and-on plan was carried out, there was little sleep for
either watch—the experience was too new—and when Chicago was reached
late the next morning, all hands were glad to lay up for a while and
rest. They considered that the trip had now fairly begun, inasmuch as
people had predicted that the “Gazelle” would never cross even the Lake
in safety. The boys took advantage of city prices and bought all sorts
of things and stowed them aboard the yacht. There was enough stuff
aboard to stock a small store for a year, yet the yawl did not seem to
be overburdened.

“Hear ye’r goin’ through to ther canal?” It was the evening of the
second day when a burly, bearded chap shouted this in a fog-horn voice
to Arthur. “Want a tow through, Cap?”

“Here, Ken, is a fellow who wants to tow us to the canal,” Arthur
shouted down the open hatch to Ransom.

They did want a tow, and the agreement was soon made, so the tugboat man
departed content.

The following afternoon a little tubby, snub-nosed, paintless tug
steamed up, and the boys recognized their tugboat man in the pilot
house.

“Hello, Cap!” was his greeting. “Ready?”

“Hello, Captain!” Ransom responded. “All ready. Give us a line.”

The hawser was hauled aboard and made fast to the capstan bitts forward,
and soon the yacht was on her way once more.

All of the boys had seen the Chicago River before, but never had any of
them come so close to the shipping. There were whalebacks for freight,
and whalebacks for passengers, steamboats, Great Lake, grain, and
passenger steamers, little tugs towing barges ten times their size;
sailing craft of all kinds. It was bewildering, and how the little tug
ever found a way through the labyrinth was a marvel. All went well,
however, though the boys held their breaths whenever there was a
particularly close shave, and so were almost continually in a state of
suspended animation.

It seemed as if miles of craft of various kinds had been passed, when
they came up to an enormous grain steamer which was fast aground. She
was surrounded by a mob of puffing tugs, which had been working since
the day before to get her off. The steamer and her escorts took up most
of the stream, but a narrow lane remained open at one side just wide
enough to allow the tug and the “Gazelle” to pass through. There was
barely room between the towering sides of the great freighter and the
heavily timbered side of the river-bulkhead, but there seemed to be no
danger that the great vessel would get off and fill up the narrow
passageway. The boys, therefore, told their tug to go on.

The tug entered the open lane and puffed steadily ahead, the yacht
following a hundred feet behind. The towboat passed on, and the
“Gazelle” came abreast of the freighter’s stern. It overshadowed the
small craft just as a tall office building would dwarf a news-stand
beside it. The four boys gazed at her great iron sides in admiration and
wonder; they could almost touch it.

“I wonder will they ever get her off!” exclaimed Arthur. “She looks as
if she was built on to the bottom.”

“Say, Ken, look!” It was Frank who grabbed Ransom’s arm and pointed to
the great ship’s counter. “Isn’t she moving now?”

She certainly was. The freighter’s stern was swinging round; slowly at
first, but gaining in speed every moment. The tug was going ahead, and
the iron sides were closing down on the little yacht irresistibly. It
was a horrible trap which the tug, by reason of the long tow-line, had
escaped. The boys realized their danger, and shouted to the captain of
the tug. He immediately rang for full speed ahead. It was a grim race to
escape destruction.

Faster the tug churned on, but nearer and nearer came that terrible iron
wall, until it bumped against the yawl’s white sides. Both yacht and
freighter were edged in to the spiles of the bulkhead until there was
but three feet of open water between. Men on the freighter, ashore, and
on nearby vessels saw the danger. They shouted words of encouragement
and warning; but even as they did it, they knew that it was of no avail.
Nearer and nearer the fearful iron wall approached, inexorably. The boys
saw that the boat was doomed to certain destruction, and perhaps death
lay in wait for them, but they could do nothing.

They were being drawn into the very jaws of the trap, and the crew
looked at the smooth sides of the freighter for a foothold or a hanging
rope that they might cling to, and then to the slimy bulkhead. Each had
picked out a place for himself to spring for when the time should come.
Suddenly the movement of the great ship’s stern stopped. She quivered a
moment and was still. She had grounded just in time, and the “Gazelle”
slipped through with not three feet to spare.

The shout that went up from the onlookers was like the sudden escape of
long pent-up steam—it was a glad cry of relief, and the boys echoed it
in spirit, but could do nothing but wave their caps in answer.

It had been a narrow escape, and the crew of the “Gazelle” were thankful
enough to come out of it alive. To the shouts of the onlookers, however,
they waved their caps airily, as if it was an everyday matter to escape
from the jaws of death.

After this all went well. The tug and its light tow made such good time
that the entrance lock to the Illinois and Michigan Canal was reached by
nine o’clock. All hands turned in except Ransom, who was to take the
first four-hour watch. But, from time to time during the night, various
members of the crew waked with a feeling that there was a house crushing
them. Whether this was caused by the experience with the ship, or the
pancakes which Clyde constructed for supper, this chronicler does not
pretend to state.

Early the following morning, the boys paid their canal fees, and passed
through the lock.

“How long is this canal, Ken?” Frank asked, after they had tied up in
the basin.

“Ninety-six or seven miles, I think,” he answered.

“Walking good?” was Clyde’s question. “I don’t see a crowd of tug men
crying like hackmen at a depot, ‘Tug, sir.’ ‘Tow, sir.’ ‘Take you
through quick, sir!’”

“You’re right,” said Kenneth, with a smile. “It’s pretty late for
shipping, I hear; but perhaps that steam freighter that we heard was
coming through will give us a lift. Let’s wait a while and see.”

They did, and the freighter good-naturedly gave them a tow all the
afternoon. But good things, like everything else, have an ending, and
the following morning found them towless.

A good half of this ninety-six mile canal the boys towed their boat by
hand—they were their own mules, as Arthur expressed it. Two towed, and
two stayed aboard, steered, and tended ship. The starboard and port
watches took turns.

The hunting along the way was good, and many a plump duck tried the
carving abilities of the cook and tickled the palate of the passengers.

Seven days of towing by hand, and friendly helps from passing steamers,
brought them to La Salle, the end of the canal and the Illinois River.

Letters from home reached them here, and gladdened their hearts
mightily. It was one of the consolations of this trip that every few
days they received word from home, and were able to send messages to the
anxious ones who were left behind.

Though the boys were somewhat footsore from their unaccustomed walking
and their amphibious journeying, they were gaining weight steadily, and
would have made splendid “after” pictures for a tonic advertisement.

The night on which they reached La Salle was cold, and, after getting
their letters, the four friends made all ship-shape on deck, and then
went below, closing the hatch behind them. After a rousing supper, to
which, needless to say, they did full justice, the table was cleared,
dishes put away, and in a twinkling the place was turned into a reading
saloon or a lounging room. The swinging lamp shed a soft glow on the
warm coloring of the cherry woodwork and cushioned bunks. The light on
the table was ample, and the boys set out to answer the pile of letters
they had received. It was a great temptation to tell hair-raising tales
of every little happening that they had met with, but from the first it
was agreed that the pleasant things alone should be detailed at any
length. For a time, the scratching of pens on paper was the only sound,
other than the comfortable, subdued creak of the throat of the main boom
on the mast, which made itself heard as a passing gust struck the yawl.
Presently, however, one of the pens stopped scratching, and its owner
added a new element to the soft sounds—that of heavy breathing and an
unmistakable snore. Soon all but Ransom were stretched out on their
bunks, fully clothed but sound asleep. He still struggled to write,
keeping awake by force of fist in eye. He, too, was almost dozing, the
gust had passed, and the boom was quiet, the low hum of the lamp was the
only sound to be heard.

Thump, thump! The thud of something heavy jarred the four out of their
doze with a start. Then a scraping sound followed, and a couple of
thumps at their very feet. It was startling, and Ransom scrambled to his
feet and, followed by his three companions, who, half asleep as they
were, looked about with dismayed faces, rushed on deck, expecting to
find themselves on shore and in imminent danger. But, instead, they
found a comfortable old log, with some branches clinging to it, that had
floated down stream and had merely knocked off some of the “Gazelle’s”
white paint in passing.

“That’s one on us,” laughed Kenneth in a relieved manner. “Let’s turn
in.”

When the boys got up the next morning, they found a layer of snow on
deck, and a thin skin of ice on the still water. It was high time to be
on their way, so they shipped their mast again, bent on the sails, and
set up the rigging in a hurry, and the following day were well on their
way down the river towards the Mississippi.

The Illinois River is broad and shallow, and in order to keep enough
water in the stream to float the grain boats down to the great river,
enormous darns are built at intervals. A lock at each dam allows the
vessels to drop to the lower level. Leading to each lock is a canal a
hundred yards or so long.

The “Gazelle” made good way down the river, but each dam was approached
with much care. A tack missed, the boat would in all probability go to
her destruction.

They had but three more dams to pass, and were sailing along with a
beautiful breeze across stream to their starboard hand. Several hundred
yards above the lock, Arthur blew a lusty blast on the horn to notify
the gatekeeper of their approach. Again he blew, and at last they saw
the man come out of his house and begin to work the levers that opened
the enormous gates. The “Gazelle” swept on, straight as an arrow, for
the gate, every stitch drawing, her forefoot fairly spurning the water,
and the small boat—“His Nibs”—bobbing gaily behind.

The yacht was sailing faster than they realized, and suddenly the boys
saw that they would reach the gate before it was opened wide enough to
admit them. There was but one thing to do. With a warning shout of
“hard-a-lee,” Kenneth bore down on the tiller, the other boys hauled in
the sheets, and in a minute the boat was heading out and up the stream.
It was quick work, but for a time all seemed well. Then the wind
slackened and a swift current caught them. The boat began to drift down
stream toward the dam. To the alarmed boys the current seemed as swift
as a mill race. It was carrying them at a terrific rate straight for the
dam and to what seemed must be certain death. Now they could see the
ugly heads of the logs sticking out of the water at the brink of the
falls, and jagged stones which turned the stream to foam in a hundred
places.

Still the wind lagged, and the current increased in speed. The boys
looked from one to the other. Each knew that nothing could be done, but
instinctively they hoped that something would intervene to save them.
But what could save them now? With pallid faces and hearts that beat
fast, they agreed to stick to each other and the ship.

Still the stream ran on and the breeze lagged. The line of white that
defined the edge of the falls could now be distinctly seen, and the roar
of the water drowned all other sounds. They began to give up hope. It
seemed as if nothing could help them—surely nothing could.

Ransom was watching the bit of bunting—the fly—at the mainmast head. He
saw it straighten out and begin to snap.

“Boys!” he exclaimed, “there’s a chance yet. Look!”

Even as he spoke, a puff of wind struck them, the sails rounded out, and
the backward speed of the yacht slackened. Inch by inch, she began to
gain on the current. Her crew felt as if they were pushing her along;
their nerves and muscles were tense. Soon they saw that they were making
real headway. If the wind held they would be safe yet. It was a gallant
fight that the spruce “Gazelle” made—a fight for her life and the lives
of her crew, and still the wind held strong and true. She gained.

At last it was safe to come about. “Hard-a-lee,” sang out the steersman
cheerfully, as he headed the boat up into the wind. The “Gazelle” paused
a moment in apparent indecision, her headsails flapping, then around she
came and headed straight for the now widely open gates.



                               CHAPTER IV

                       AN ADVENTURE IN ST. LOUIS


Though the adventure with the dam shook the young sailors’ nerves
somewhat, still it served to give them increased confidence in their
boat. Distinctly, a craft that behaved so well under such trying
circumstances was worth sticking to, they argued, and not unreasonably.

When the boys saw how little shipping there was moving, they realized
that winter was coming apace, and that if they were to enjoy the balmy
South without a spell of Arctic journeying no time must be lost. A skin
of ice on the water was now a common occurrence, and it took a
considerable amount of courage to crawl out from under the warm blankets
and go on deck to wash o’ mornings.

Therefore, the stops along the Illinois River were cut as short as
possible, and only the difficulties of navigating a strange stream
prevented them from sailing at night. As it was, not a few risks that
would otherwise have been carefully avoided were taken in order to gain
time.

At Beardstown, Illinois, they came to two fine bridges across the
stream, but built too low to allow of even the “Gazelle’s” short spar
passing underneath.

The yacht was sweeping along at a merry pace, wind astern, and current
aiding. Frank, who was doing lookout duty forward, caught sight of the
up-stream bridge first, and blew a long, unmelodious note on the ship’s
fog horn.

“What do you think of that for nerve?” shouted Frank to his companions
in the cockpit aft. “Here we are, four chaps in a thirty-foot toy boat,
blowing a horn to make a thousand-ton bridge make an opening for us.”

“Yes, we’re little, I know, but oh, my!” Arthur answered. “Just give
them another blow. They are fearful slow. Guess they don’t know we’re in
a hurry.”

The yacht sped on at a splendid gait, and the draw opened none too soon,
for the “Gazelle” slid through before the great span had stopped
swinging round. She made a gallant sight, her mainsail and jigger spread
out wide wing and wing and rounded out like the cheeks of Boreas, her
round, spoon bow slipped over rather than cut through the water, and the
easy lines of her stern left but little wake behind. “His Nibs,” towing
behind, made enough fuss, however, to supply several boats many times
its size. It fairly strutted along in its importance.

The pedestrians on the footpath forgot in their interest to be impatient
at the delay caused by the opening of the bridge, and watched the yacht
flying along, more like a live creature than a thing of mere wood and
canvas.

A few hundred yards below, another bridge spanned the stream, and Frank,
still forward, blew another long, open sesame blast. In answer, the draw
began to move; so slowly, however, that the crew were troubled. It
seemed as if it would never open in time to let them through. But the
boys figured that the draw moved faster than they realized, and that the
space was wider than it seemed. They therefore held on their course, and
the “Gazelle,” appearing to understand that she was watched, fairly
outdid herself. Her crew became exhilarated, and watched with flushed
cheeks and shining eyes the water as it rushed past. “Great Scott, look
at that!” suddenly Frank shouted. “Come about, for Heaven’s sake!” The
other three looked where he pointed, and saw that the draw had stopped
moving and that it would be impossible to go through the narrow opening.
The men on the bridge, seeing the danger—it was growing each second so
terribly imminent—worked desperately to set the machinery which turned
the bridge going.

The boat was within seventy-five feet of the low trusses that would
undoubtedly shatter its spars to kindling wood and tear the sails to
rags, and still the “Gazelle” flew along, joyously careless of all save
the buoyancy of the moment. She was sailing down the right side of the
river in order to follow the motion of the draw, which was from left to
right. The pier which supported the middle span was in midstream—a
massive stone structure with a prow like the ram of a battleship;
planned, in fact, to break up and separate the ice.

“Come about, Ken, quick, or you’ll carry away your stick,” Frank waved
his arms and pointed frantically to the bridge.

Ransom paused a minute and measured the distance between his craft and
the bridge, glanced at the stone pier and hesitated. He was pale, but
outwardly calm. At last he put the tiller over to port, and the gallant
little craft swung round on her heel like a dancer—her pace slackened;
but the current and wind still carried her onward nearer and nearer the
bridge, her momentum spinning her round until she was headed straight
for the beak of the stone pier, jutting out wicked and green with river
slime. On she went, her crew watching breathlessly to see if she would
come round and tack into the wind in time. Yes, she would! No; no; yes!
Half a dozen times in as many seconds the chances changed, but still she
swept on.

Suddenly, with a bump that threw all four boys prone on the deck, she
struck the pier, and as they lay half dazed, she slid up the inclined
stone, greased, as it was, with slime, until the forward part of her
underbody was clear out of water and her stern deep in. With a jar, the
motion ceased, and then she began to slide backward. Deeper and deeper
went her stern, until it seemed as if she would dive backward. At last,
she slid off altogether, and turned round into the wind by the impact
with the pier, and began to pay off on the other tack. Ransom jumped up
and seized the tiller, amazed and delighted that the boat still held
together, and that he and his companions were uninjured. The draw now
commenced to swing again, and Ransom, watching it over his shoulder, saw
it open wider and wider till the channel was clear. Then he put the boat
about again, and she sailed calmly through the gap; Arthur at the main
sheet, Clyde tending the jib, and Frank forward as before.

A prolonged cheer rose from the men on the draw, and a faint shout came
down the wind from the people on the other bridge.

Cheer on, if the gallant little ship was not racked to pieces and
strained beyond repair.

“Arthur, get below and sound the pump,” said Ransom, anxiously. The mate
flew down the companionway, and the boys on deck soon heard the suction
of the pump and the swish of the stream thrown in the centre-board
trunk. It was a time of suspense until the sucking sound was heard that
betokened that she was dry. The good Michigan white oak held true, and
beyond some slackened stays and a broken turnbuckle, the yacht was
uninjured.

“By George, boys!” exclaimed Arthur, as he came from below, “she’s the
stuff! You can’t hurt her. She’s as sound as can be—not a seam started.”

From here on, the Illinois was plain sailing. Wafted by favoring winds
and a swift current, the “Gazelle” made fast time and reached the
Mississippi on Thanksgiving Day.

“Boys,” said Ransom, as he came up from examining the charts, “if we
have luck to-day, we’ll be sailing on the Mississippi.”

“A mighty good way to celebrate the day,” suggested the mate.

“I wonder what it looks like,” Clyde speculated.

“Oh! I think it’s very broad, and very muddy, with low banks covered
with colored people singing songs to a banjo.” This was Arthur’s
contribution.

“No, I think that we’ll find the banks lined with wood piles; with here
and there a plantation landing——”

“And boats, great flat-bottomed things,” Frank interrupted Clyde to say;
“with tall chimneys instead of stacks belching rolls of black smoke.”

“You fellows have been reading Mark Twain, and think you know it all,”
Kenneth remarked from his place at the tiller. “But where do you suppose
we are now? Look around.”

The boys had been so busy making up an imaginary river, that they did
not notice when they passed a low point and entered into what appeared
to be a wider part of the stream.

“Why, you don’t know the Mississippi when you see it. Let’s give three
cheers for it,” cried the captain.

“Hip-Hip, Hurrah!” The cheers rang out together, with a will.

“Now, three more for the boat.”

Again they rang out—undignified, perhaps, but fitting, in that they
voiced the thanksgiving which all four of the crew felt, but could not
express in words.

As the sun sank, turning the brown waters of the mighty river to crimson
and gold, the “Gazelle” dropped her anchor in a little cove and rested,
while her crew partook of mallard duck, shot during the day—their
Thanksgiving dinner.

“People said we wouldn’t be able to cross the Lake safely, eh?” said
Frank, exultingly; “and here we are anchored to the bottom of the
Mississippi. We’re the people.”

“Going to take on a pilot, Ken?” suggested Arthur.

“Sure!” returned the captain. “Who will give up his berth to him?”

“Oh, I guess we can get along without one,” Arthur interposed hastily.
“Clyde, give me some more duck.”

“This mallard is all right, Clyde,” remarked Kenneth rather
thoughtfully. “But I confess I’d swap it for a home-made pumpkin pie.”

“Now, drop that, Ken,” said Clyde, “I object to your invidious
comparisons. It isn’t a square deal to call to mind home feasts on
Thanksgiving night anyway.”

After dinner they all went on deck and looked for a long time on the
mighty river, about which they had heard and read so much, but which
none of them had seen before. The river that was to carry them to the
salt water, which, in spite of the 1,300 odd miles that lay between it
and them, seemed nearer now that they were on the direct course. It
appeared an easy thing for them to float down that great stream, and let
the resistless current carry them down to the Gulf.

The four turned in elated; a feeling that was tempered, however, by the
thought that they were far from home, and were widening the distance
between them and it at a rapidly increasing pace. Had they foreseen what
was before them on this steadily flowing, almost quiet stream, they
would have slept even less quietly.

Early morning saw them busy washing down decks, airing the bedding,
etc., while a savory odor rose on the quiet air. As soon as this
fragrance spread itself, it might be noticed that the crew accelerated
their motions, the brooms and brushes were plied with greater zeal, the
sails were raised to dry them with greater vigor, and, in fact, all the
morning chores were hastened with tell-tale rapidity.

But before any one got any breakfast—unless it was a surreptitious bite
taken by the cook himself—the anchor was tripped, the jib hauled up, all
the sail sheeted home and the run to St. Louis begun.

Sailing on the Mississippi seemed an easy thing. It was broad and deep
and smooth. Indeed, the boys were congratulating themselves on the ease
with which they had conquered the terrible “Father of Waters,”
Mississippi, when there was a crash in the cabin and a terrible bump
from below. Frank jumped down the companionway with a single leap, and
found the centre-board bobbing up and down in its trunk, and the ship’s
best china cup lying in fragments on the floor. It was resting on the
top of the trunk, the centre-board had struck a sand bar, had bobbed up
and knocked the cup to flinders.

Their overconfidence was gone in a minute, and soon they were paying the
customary tribute to that always uncertain stream—heaving the lead and
taking soundings.

The “Gazelle” got over the bar all right, but the lesson was not
forgotten.

The second day after leaving the mouth of the Illinois River they passed
under the great Eads Bridge and anchored a little below St. Louis.

“Who’s going ashore?” Clyde looked around from one to the other of his
companions. “I think it is our turn. The starboard watch ought to have a
loaf once in a while, you know.”

“Not by a jugful! Hasn’t the port watch been at the helm all day?”
Arthur was more vehement than it was necessary he should be.

“Well, we did all the dirty work; cooked the meals and washed the
dishes.” Frank was getting interested.

“Here, here, let’s quit this squabbling. We all have worked hard, and we
all want to go ashore, and each has an equal right, but some of us must
stay.” Ransom realized that quarrelling would spoil the trip quicker
than anything else.

The three stood in an attitude that said as plainly as words: “What are
you going to do about it?”

“Leave it to these.” Kenneth showed four ends of rope yarn sticking out
of his closed hand. “These yarns are of different lengths. The two that
get the shortest will have to stay aboard—the lucky two who pull the
longest can go ashore. See?”

“It goes,” the three answered.

The upshot of it was that Clyde and Frank went ashore, and the other two
remained to keep ship and do chores.

It was late when “the liberty party” returned with pockets bulging with
letters and papers, with heads full of the things they had seen, and
tongues aching to tell of them; and last, but not least, with
able-bodied appetites and stomachs ready for the meal which the
“left-behinders” had prepared.

It would be hard to tell whether the tongues or the knives and forks won
the race, but certainly both did valiant service. By way of
compensation, the starboarders washed the dishes, while the port did the
heavy looking on. Soon things were cleared away, and the hinged table
was lined with boys reading letters.

“Look at this,” said Kenneth, after a time of quiet, broken only by the
crackle of stiff paper. “I had hoped that this would show up about this
time. We need it in our business.”

It was a check for $125, and was expected to last them many weeks. The
money that Kenneth had saved for this trip had been left in his father’s
hands, to be forwarded from time to time as needed, and almost every
cent of the little hoard had its particular use.

“Well, don’t be proud,” exclaimed Arthur, “you are not the only one,”
and he flourished a money order.

Frank, too, produced one.

“We are bloated bondholders,” the captain said smiling. “But we won’t
spend it on riotous living now, or we’ll have to eat and drink
Mississippi River water later.”

Arthur was under the weather next day, so Ransom went ashore alone,
taking the precious check and money orders with him. He rather despaired
of finding any one who would identify him so that he could cash the
check; but as luck would have it, he met an acquaintance on the street
who made him all right with the bank officials at once. John Brisbane
was a pleasant fellow and knew the city thoroughly. He towed Ransom
round the town and showed him most of the sights, and even introduced
him to some Mississippi pilots. They listened to his tale of what he and
the crew had done and intended still to do with polite incredulity for a
while, but finally concluding that he was telling them a “tall story,”
they began to jeer openly.

“That’s right,” Ransom protested earnestly, a little vexed but still
smiling. “We are planning to go around the Eastern United States, and
we’ll do it, too.”

After the river men saw that he was in earnest, and that he really
intended to put the trip through, they began to tell him things about
the river: where to look for this bar, how to avoid that eddy, and where
deep water ran round the other bend. Indeed, they gave him so much
information about the Mississippi between St. Louis and New Orleans that
he was bewildered, and felt as if he were waking up from a dream wherein
some one was reading a guide-book of the river, while another called off
the soundings of the charts.

When he finally bid good-by to the pilots Ransom felt thankful to get
away with his reason intact.

Then John Brisbane showed him the Post Office, and after bidding him
good-bye and good luck, went off.

Ransom found that he had barely time to cash his money orders, and
feared that when he got on the end of the long line in the crowded
waiting-room the window would be closed before he got to it.

One by one the people stepped up to the narrow window and held what
seemed to be long conversations with the official behind the glass.
First it was a woman with a baby, which had to be held by some one else
while the mother signed her name, the baby meanwhile objecting
vigorously; then a man with a lot of bundles, which he was constantly
dropping and as often picking up, delayed the line; and then one thing
and another until Ransom, who watched the hands of the big clock
approach nearer and nearer four o’clock, fingered his money orders
nervously and grew nearly frantic with apprehension.

At last he reached the window and got his money just in time. He put it
in the inside pocket of his coat and buttoned it up, but pulled it open
again when he went over to the stamp window to buy stamps for the crew
and for himself. The crowd was unaccountably thick, and he wondered at
it, as a man was pushed against him so heavily that he grunted. The
stamps once bought, he rushed out to buy some greatly needed supplies
for the ship’s larder.

“It’s lucky I got that money,” he said to himself, as he opened the door
of a grocery shop. “We would have about starved to death if it had not
come.”

“How much is it?” Ken asked of the grocery man when the goods had been
selected.

“Three forty-eight,” was the reply.

Ransom went into his vest pocket, where he usually carried a small
amount of money for everyday purposes, and pulled up two quarters, a
nickel and two pennies.

“Fifty-seven cents,” he laughed, while the grocery man watched him
narrowly.

“Well, it is lucky that check came. What we should have done without it,
I don’t know.” He reached for his inside pocket as he spoke. “But it
did, so it’s all right. How much did you——”

He stopped in the middle of the sentence—the pocket was empty! He ran
his hand way down in—empty. He turned the pocket inside out—not a thing
in it. Then he felt each pocket in turn rapidly, then carefully—no
money. The grocery man began putting away the things which Kenneth had
bought. Ransom did not notice him, but kept up his frantic search—no
result. He stopped to think. The perspiration stood in drops on his
brow, and a leaden weight had settled down on his heart as he realized
that he had been robbed of over a hundred dollars of his earnings; every
cent of which was needed to carry him through. He felt sure that his
pocket had been picked at the Post Office. Then the thought came to him
with crushing force that he had lost the money of the other boys, and
that he would have to make it up out of what was left of his small hoard
at home.

“Perhaps I dropped it,” he thought to himself, and he rushed back to the
Post Office to see.

He searched the big room desperately, and was so evidently troubled that
the watchman asked him what he was looking for.

“I lost some money here; have you seen anything of it? I will pay a
reward.”

The man looked at him incredulously, and then laughed in his face.

“Found any money? I guess not! Why, there’s been a thousand people in
this room to-day. Found any money? Just listen to that!” He broke into a
laugh again, and turned his back on the distracted boy.

Kenneth wandered aimlessly out into the corridor, every nerve racking
with agony. As he walked along, he saw among a lot of names, titles of
departments and court rooms, “U.S. Marshal.”

“I guess I’ll ask him; he ought to know if there are pickpockets around
here, and he may help me,” and suiting the action to the word, Ransom
made for the room.

The assistant marshal, a small, keen-eyed, albeit kindly man, was just
closing the office when the boy burst in.

“I have lost some money,” Ransom began right away. “Stolen out of my
pocket, I think.”

“When?”—the question came out like a pistol shot.

“This afternoon, when I——”

“Where?” the other interrupted in the same sharp way. He acted as if he
was specially interested.

“Down-stairs, in the money order and stamp room.” Ransom was getting
even more excited—the other’s manner was catching.

“Describe it.”

Ransom paused to think a minute, and then began slowly as the
denominations of the bills came to him.

“One twenty, eight tens, four fives, two twos and a dollar bill—then,”
and he paused again, “there was besides two fives and five twos and
three fives.”

As he spoke, the marshal began fingering the combination of the safe,
his back to Kenneth; but the boy was so engrossed that he did not notice
what he was doing.

“Well, you’ve got a good memory, youngster, here’s the money.” As he
spoke, the marshal turned and handed out a bunch of bills and some
letters.

“What!” the boy exclaimed amazed, his cheeks flushing, and his breath
coming in quick gasps as he dropped into a chair. “Oh!”

“Your name is Kenneth, you said?” The official was smiling. “Well, I am
going to name my youngest Kenneth, so that he will always come out on
top—congratulate you.”

He put out his hand, and Kenneth, half dazed with his unexpected good
fortune, grasped it with both his. In his gratitude he felt the
uselessness of words; and though he tried on all the different ones he
could think of that would apply to the situation, not one of them seemed
adequate.

“How did it happen?” his curiosity made him ask at last.

“Oh, I saw a fellow in a dark corner looking over something,” the
marshal explained, “and I did not just like his looks; he must have been
a green hand to be looking at his graft in the open like that; so I went
up to him and asked him if he had found something. The fellow looked up,
saw my uniform, and got a case of cold feet right away. ‘Yes,’ he said,
half scared, ‘I found this by the money order window.’ All the same, he
still held onto the wad—he hated to give it up—so I remarked, quiet
like, ‘I guess you found it in somebody’s pocket.’ Well, I got the roll
quick enough then, and put it in the safe; but I never expected the
owner would run it to earth as quickly as you did.”

Kenneth thanked him again, and gave him a bill from the roll which he
was holding.

The marshal had to finally cut off his torrent of thanks with a short,
“Young man, this office closed an hour ago.”

Ransom from the door shouted an invitation to visit the yacht, and then
went back to the grocery man and made him do up the things he had
ordered before with elaborate care; he paid his three dollars and
forty-eight cents and went off, the most thankful boy in town.



                               CHAPTER V

                          A PERILOUS SITUATION


Though Kenneth was elated enough when he left the centre of the city and
started for the river front, his heart sank within him when he caught
sight of the water. The swift current was carrying great pieces of ice,
which gleamed white against the dark stream. The ice cakes were close
together, and as the boy thought of the scant three-eighths of an inch
thickness of “His Nibs’s” sides, He despaired of reaching the yacht
anchored on the other shore.

“But what shall I do?” he asked himself. “The boys haven’t any boat, and
I’ve got the eatables.”

It seemed hard that he should fall from one nerve-racking experience
into another, with scarcely a breathing space between times.

For the next five minutes or so he studied the surface of the water,
hoping that a time would come when the ice ran less thick; but he
realized that each minute of waiting was precious daylight lost. Running
down the sloping bank of the levee, he tumbled his bundles into the
frail little boat, unmoored her, and pushed out between two monster
river steamboats.

For a minute he paused to pull himself together, saw that all was snug
on board, settled his cap more firmly on his head, and prepared for the
struggle to come.

Then out from the shelter of the huge boats he shot—nerves tense, eyes
alert; “His Nibs” was on its best behavior, and obeyed its master’s
slightest touch, as if it understood the desperate situation. The
rowboat was short, and so could spin around like a top on occasion.

The river seemed bent on destroying the boy and his little craft. It
hurled great chunks of sharp-edged ice at him in quick succession, but
he always succeeded in dodging them somehow. Twisting this way and that,
now up stream, now down, he made his way painfully over toward the
“Gazelle,” lying so peacefully at anchor in the little cove near the
other shore. A warning shout told the three boys that the captain they
were so anxious about was returning, and they rushed on deck to greet
him. It was well they did so, for he had hardly strength enough to throw
them “His Nibs’s” painter and climb aboard.

“Boys,” said Ransom, after he had told of his adventures, “St. Louis is
a nice city, but let’s get out. It’s hoodooed for me.”

In spite of Ransom’s determination to leave St. Louis at once, however,
it was several days before the ice permitted them to move from their
anchorage. Many friends had been made in the meantime, and nothing
unpleasant occurred, so that it was with a feeling of regret rather than
of joy that the voyagers finally pulled up the mud hook and began in
earnest the sail down the Mississippi.

The newspapers had found out that the “Gazelle” and her crew were in
port, and many of the inhabitants knew about and were interested in the
little craft and her youthful sailors.

The channel followed the city side of the river, and as the “Gazelle”
got under way the steamboats lining the levee, bow in, stern out, gave
her a rousing salute on whistles of varying tones. People on deck waved
their hands and shouted “Good luck!” and a “God speed!”

The ice was still very much in evidence, and kept the steersman busy on
the lookout; but Kenneth managed in spite of that to enjoy the attention
which they received.

“St. Louis is not so bad a place, after all,” he declared with a change
of heart.

The ice gave the youngsters a great deal of trouble. It was necessary to
keep on the watch continually, and to luff or tack every little while to
avoid slamming into a jagged-edged piece. The channel was very crooked,
and crossed continually from one side of the stream to the other. The
“Father of Waters” had a decided mind of his own, and no matter how
carefully and laboriously a straight channel was dredged, he was quite
likely to abandon it and make a new one.

The boys found the course a continual puzzle, and fairly gasped when
they thought of the 1,200 miles of it still before them. But though the
experience was trying, it was valuable, and especially so to Ransom, who
learned just what a boat can do under numerous and ever varying
circumstances. It was the most intimate sort of experience; their very
existence depending upon surmounting each difficulty in turn.

The first afternoon’s run was thirty-eight miles, which, considering the
many delays on account of ice, the “crossings” and their unfamiliarity
with the river’s peculiarities, the boys thought very good. It was a
rather trying sail, however, and all hands were glad when a snug little
bend opened up—deep enough to give shelter to the yacht.

All four of the boys were by this time well-seasoned sailors. They had
had some hard knocks, had been through many close shaves, knew what it
was to be cold, hungry, and tired; but as time went on they had become
closer and closer friends. They learned to put up with each other’s
little peculiarities, and shook down into a harmonious ship’s company—a
cheerful atmosphere prevailed that promised final success, and was not
only an inspiration to themselves but to all who saw it. Their solid
friendship was to be sorely tested. Just how solid it was, was shortly
to be proved in a most unexpected manner.

Each had his special duties to perform, and as the voyage grew in length
each became more and more proficient. This was especially true of the
cook, Clyde. Not that he was a poor one at the start, for he had shipped
with the recommendation that in ten minutes he could cook a meal that
the four could not eat in ten days. This was a little far-fetched,
however, for the “rules and regulations” very plainly stated that any
one who could not satisfy his appetite in five hours would be obliged to
wait until the next meal. Nevertheless, the cook was very modest, and
explained his improvement by saying that it was due to his becoming
familiar with his quarters. In proof of which, lie showed some pancakes
which were not only round but also flat. In the beginning, owing to the
listing of the vessel under the pressure of the wind on her sails, the
batter would run to one side of the pan, and the pancakes were often
quite able to stand alone on end.

None of the boys could handle a needle very deftly at first, but they
soon became very good seamsters. They even progressed so far in the art
that they began to openly boast of their skill. Frank returned one night
from a hunting trip ashore with a number of ducks and a shy look about
him which his companions were at a loss to account for, until they
discovered an unbecomingly big tear in his trousers. After supper he
tackled the gap with a big needle and a couple of yards of linen thread.
He wanted to have it good and strong, he explained.

Frank did not bother to take his trousers off, but began to sew the rent
baseball-seam fashion, and though the result was not elegant as regards
mere looks, he certainly accomplished his object, and he was justly
proud of his achievement.

“Any of you fellows want any sewing done?” he remarked airily, as he
sawed off the end of the thread. “I am going to paint on the mainsail,
in beautiful, gilt script letters, ‘Monsieur Chauvet, Modes,’ and rig
you fellows up in natty sailor uniforms to ferry my customers over to
me.”

“Well, I don’t know,” Arthur remarked (he had been busy writing while
Frank was embroidering); “I can sew (lo) a little, myself; listen.”

He dodged a pillow, a spool, a ball of tarred twine and a book, and then
began the following:

                  Gazelle, Gazelle,
                  She’ll run pell mell,
                  With every stitch a-drawing,
                  O’er waters smooth
                  And waters rough,
                  The seas her forefoot spurning.

                  Gazelle, Gazelle,
                  She’s quite a swell;
                  But yet there’s no denying,
                  If needs she must
                  Do it or bust,
                  She’ll be at anchor _lying_.

                  Gazelle, Gazelle,
                  You must do well,
                  On you depends our winning;
                  For ’tis our boast,
                  From lake to coast,
                  You’ll bring us through a-spinning.

“For the sake of the song we’ll forgive the pun, if you never let it
occur again,” said Ransom judicially.

It was late when they turned in that night, and Ransom was just on the
verge of dozing off when he heard a great rustling in Frank’s bunk
across the cabin. Clyde and Arthur were asleep, so Ransom whispered,
“What’s the matter, old man?”

“Oh, Ken, I’m in trouble.” There was a kind of gurgle in his voice that
stilled the captain’s anxiety. “If ever I get toploftical, you just pipe
up a song about a fellow that sewed his outer clothes to his
underclothes.” Then followed a savage, ripping sound, which bespoke a
tragedy, and all was still again.

In spite of their best efforts, it seemed as if the elements were
against the young voyagers. One day a heavy mist fell, and made the
following of the channel nothing more nor less than a game of blindman’s
buff, with the fun excluded, and a few sand bars, rocks and snags thrown
in to make it interesting. Another day the snow fell so heavily that
they had to tie up, the channel marks being obscured. Here they went
ashore and visited the town of Herculaneum, a mining village, where
Arthur and Kenneth took in the lead-smelting furnaces, while Frank and
Clyde stayed aboard.

Just before dark some river steamers passed and showed them the channel,
and the boys gladly took advantage of their lead. The government dredges
afforded Kenneth and his friends an opportunity to get acquainted with a
new kind of craft, which the young ship designer was especially glad of.
The government’s dredging and snag-pulling boats are among the largest
and most expensive in the world. It takes an endless amount of money and
effort to harness the Mississippi, and the government is making a great
fight to keep the river free of obstructions.

At Wittenberg, Missouri, where the boys tied up for a night, they got
some much appreciated information from the usually taciturn river men
about the Grand Tower Whirlpool. It was a spot which they had heard of
way back in the Illinois River towns, as one of the most dangerous
places on the old Mississippi.

It is the graveyard of many a fine river packet, and it can hardly be
wondered at that our cruisers dreaded it greatly. A sharp bend in the
river makes an eddy that has terrible suction power. To the left the
water shoals rapidly, the bottom is covered with rocks, and is the
resting place of snags, logs and all the débris that menace navigation.
Between this “Scylla and Charybdis” is the narrow channel. It is a spot
to make even the experienced steamboat man think of his accident
insurance policy, and it seemed almost madness for the young sailors,
aided by the wind alone, to attempt to run the dangerous place.

The next morning dawned bright and clear. Half a gale was blowing
straight down stream—that is, straight down stream when the river
happened to flow north and south. Little whitecaps were puffed up from
the brown flood, and streaks of ripples showed where the wind got a
favorable slant. It looked squally, and it required all the resolution
that the boys possessed to make the trial, the outcome of which would
mean success or destruction. But they knew that indecision went hand in
hand with failure, and they took their courage in both hands manfully
and prepared for the ordeal.

“You can keep her going with a wind like this back of you,” a new-found
friend shouted as he cast off the line. “You’ll have plenty of steerage
way. Follow the marks, and you’re O. K.” The last words grew fainter and
fainter as the “Gazelle” fled away before the wind like a bird. Her
motion was so swift, so sure, that the sailors she bore took heart and
watched eagerly for the marks that would tell of their approach to the
dread spot.

“There’s the beacon,” shouted Frank, who was on lookout duty forward.

Kenneth shifted the helm a little and bore nearer to shore.

“There’s the other one,” yelled Frank, “off our port bow.”

Again the tiller was moved, this time a trifle to starboard.

The wind was blowing dead aft, almost a gale, and the “Gazelle” fled
before it like a frightened thing. The speed of the current, too,
increased. They were going like a race horse. Floating cakes of ice were
left behind in a trice; the trees on shore flashed past like spectres.
It was a terrible pace. They passed a point, and there in the curve of
the bend the whirlpool seethed—a veritable cauldron of tumbling,
foaming, riotous water. To the left the water was broken and frothy. The
tough roots of uprooted trees reached out of the worried stream, and
black rocks protruded like ugly teeth.

Between the two places of destruction ran a smooth, swift, straight
channel, and for this the “Gazelle” headed like a well-aimed arrow. In
an instant she was speeding through. To the right the whirlpool twisted
and tossed—on the other side gaped the rock-toothed shoal. Straight on
flew the boat, swifter and swifter, her crew quiet and steady, ready for
whatever might come.

In a moment it was over, and the yacht was sailing smoothly on the
comparatively still waters beyond.

“Good work, old girl!” Kenneth exclaimed half aloud. With each trial the
boys had gained confidence in the boat until they had come to have an
affection for her that made them wish there was some personal way of
showing her their trust and regard.

The channel beyond Grand Tower was straight, deep and broad. The
“Gazelle” bounded along, the breeze astern, at such a swift pace that
she covered the twelve good miles to Devil’s Island in one hour.

The crew were in high glee now, and enjoyed every minute to the full;
but, after all, they merely served to prove the truth of the proverb:
“Pride goeth before a fall.”

The water shoaled rapidly, and all at once, without warning of any kind,
the yacht stopped as if some giant’s hand had grasped her keel and
suddenly stayed her flight. Why it did not shake the masts off from her,
the crew could never understand.

“Pull up the board, Clyde!” Kenneth shouted to that member of the
company, who was below when the shock came. The boy picked himself up,
and pulled at the line which ran through a pulley made fast to the deck
beams, and through a corresponding block on the centre-board. He tugged
and tugged, but the weight of the wind on the sails jammed the board in
its trunk, and he could not move it.

The canvas was lowered and then the board came up. Arthur took “His
Nibs” and an anchor which he intended to drop overboard some distance
from the yacht, when it would serve as a kedge to pull her over the
obstruction, but before the mate got far enough to drop the hook, the
sails, which had been raised meantime, caught the strong wind and
hurried the yacht over the bar.

The “Gazelle” bounded forward.

“Heave over the anchor, Art!” Kenneth shouted, as he jumped to the
tiller. But the iron was so heavy and the speed of the yacht so great
that the slack was taken in before the mate could obey the command. In
an instant “His Nibs” was capsized and the mate was swimming round in
the cold water in company with the cakes of ice. He soon found that the
water only reached to his waist, however, and he waded quickly to “His
Nibs,” bailed the boat out, and paddled over to the “Gazelle,” which had
meantime come up into the wind and was fast to the anchor dropped when
the small boat capsized.

“Well,” said Arthur, as he scrambled aboard, “maybe I got excited, but I
kept cool all right.” He chuckled at his wit, though his teeth chattered
suggestively, and he had a blue look which his friends did not like to
see. A sharp rub down, a change of clothing, and a cup of hot coffee
brought him around in short order.

After this experience luck seemed to be with the boys. They sailed down
the wide river, crossing from side to side as the channel dictated, but
with favoring winds and bright skies. The great stream was never
monotonous, especially to the crew of a sailing craft. It is full of
surprises and interests; its channel turns and twists many times in a
mile and changes every day.

But woe betide the vessel that depended on a misplaced beacon. It was
this that nearly, so very nearly, ended the career of the “Gazelle” and
her crew. At Goose Island, on the Missouri side, they ran aground,
having laid their course according to a misplaced light.

It was a very serious situation which these youngsters had to face. The
boat was caught hard and fast in a stream running from four to five
miles an hour, carrying great chunks of ice that struck all obstacles
with the force of battering rams. The bar was almost in midstream, too
far away from shore to hail. A small boat of “His Nibs’s” strength would
not live in the ice ten minutes. It was about as grim a predicament as
could be imagined. All the sails were spread, the board raised, and the
crew, with the exception of the man at the helm, shoved with oars for
hours; but the “Gazelle” did not budge an inch.

Then they tried to take an anchor out, but “His Nibs” was no sooner put
overboard than a big cake of ice came along and gave the light little
craft such a terrific thump that the boys pulled her in hurriedly—they
could not afford to run any risks with the only means they had of
reaching shore.

Hour by hour the cold increased, until it got close to the zero mark,
and as the weather became colder the streams supplying the Mississippi
froze up, and the water of the great stream grew less and less.

The boys worked with desperation—stayed up late at night and rose at
daybreak, hoping for a rise of water or a favorable slant of wind. The
increased cold made it necessary to keep the oil stove burning, and the
fuel began to get low. While sailing along the river, whose banks were
lined with towns, the boys did not lay in a great stock of provisions;
they thought it better to get them in fresh as frequently as possible.

“Well, Ken,” Clyde remarked the third day of their imprisonment on the
bar, “we will have to live on raw potatoes and river water pretty soon.
My oil is about gone, and everything else is almost eaten up.”

“There is one more thing to do,” the captain said at length. “Throw out
our pig iron ballast. I hate to lose it, but it is the only thing left
to do.”

All of the boys showed the effects of tremendously hard work, of the
fight with cold and ice, with wind and water, but Kenneth was
particularly worn. On him fell the responsibility. The others were in
his care, and if anything happened to them he knew he would be held
accountable. The constant strain, the lack of sleep—he was up all hours
of the night—and his anxiety, told on even his rugged health. He grew
perceptibly thinner in three days, dark rings showed under his eyes, and
little things vexed him unwarrantably. They were all irritable, and it
speaks well for their closely knit friendship that no words arose
between them.

“Well, boys,” Kenneth said, cheerfully enough, “let’s play our last
card. Let’s turn to and throw over the ballast.”

It was hard work lugging the heavy sash weights that made up the ballast
from below and throwing them over the side. There was at least half a
ton to be discarded, and by the time the last of it was overboard the
boys thought that there must have been tons.

Guess, then, how their hearts leaped with joy when at last, after three
weary days, the “Gazelle” floated over the bar and into deeper water.
But it was a short-lived triumph, for they speedily found that there was
another bar across the channel—the low water almost bared it, and they
realized that they were trapped in a little basin a half-mile from
shore, with absolutely no protection from the ice, which was running
heavier and heavier.

To anchor and wait, trusting to Providence, was all that they could do.
So two anchors were dropped, and the boys faced the situation. The
weather continued piercing cold. The oil gave out altogether, and then
the crew had to live on cold things and exist as best they could in the
cold cabin.

[Illustration: “SAW THE GREAT CAKES OF ICE GO RACING BY.”]

The strain was even harder to bear than the cold and hunger. Great
chunks of ice came sailing down on them continually, and the boys
wondered each time if the “Gazelle” would be able to stand another such
hard knock.

The bar beyond caught the majority of the larger chunks, and soon an ice
gorge was formed that hourly grew bigger until the “Gazelle’s” stern was
not twenty yards from it. Each new cake added to the heap, and formed
new teeth, which were ever moving in the rushing current—teeth which
would grind up any living thing in a very few moments.

The second night after the “Gazelle” got afloat the boys were in the
cabin, and all but Kenneth had fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion—the
recurring bumps of drifting cakes of ice not disturbing them in the
least. But Ransom could not sleep. He could not forget the horrible
danger which they were in, nor could he shut his ears to the sound of
crunching ice just behind the yacht.

Of a sudden there came a jar with a new quality in it. Ransom rushed up
the companionway, grabbing his woollen cap as he ran, then forward over
the icy deck. He found the ragged, frayed end of the anchor cable
hanging overboard. The constant rubbing of the ice had weakened it, and
the extra heavy floe had completely sundered it. There was but one
anchor now to depend on; if that should fail them, it would mean instant
destruction to the yacht and certain death for her crew.

It was too great a risk to run—that other anchor must be found somehow,
and its holding power made good again.

Realizing that his companions would try to deter him from the desperate
undertaking which he had in mind, Ransom did not call his friends, but
quietly launched “His Nibs” from the stern, in spite of the current and
the remorseless ice, and drawing her forward by the painter he got in at
the bow and prepared to feel for the parted anchor cable with a boat
hook. He pulled hand over hand on the cable of the other anchor, and
finally gained a point where he thought he might begin to reach for the
sunken line. It was well past midnight, and so dark that everything had
to be done by sense of touch only. Intensely cold, the oars, the line he
was holding, and the boat hook—everything, in fact, was coated with a
slippery skin of ice.

Holding on by one hand to the anchor cable and the boat hook with the
other, Kenneth began to grope for the other line. His right arm ached
with the exertion of feeling on the bottom with a heavy boat hook, while
his left wrist seemed about to break with the strain put upon it; the
cold nipped at his exposed face and wet, mittened hands. But still he
persevered. At last he felt the touch of the line at the end of his
pole; he began to haul in slowly—holding with his elbow the pole as he
took a fresh hold further up. Suddenly a huge floe struck the little
boat, dragging the anchor line out of his grasp, and pulled him
backwards into the bottom of the boat. The current swept him back past
the “Gazelle” and on toward the gnashing teeth of the gorge.



                               CHAPTER VI

                          AN ARCTIC ADVENTURE


“Arthur—Clyde—Frank! O-o-o-oh boys!”

It was a despairing cry that rang over those dismal, freezing waters.
“Help!”

It was too late—no help from the “Gazelle” could save the boy in his
frail craft. The current had swept him beyond the reach of any one on
board, even if a soul had been awake to hear his call for help.

The grinding, crushing, gnashing sound of the crumbling ice on the gorge
grew nearer and nearer.

Kenneth scrambled to a sitting posture, and searched with groping hands
in the darkness for the oars. At last he found them. No—only one—a
misplaced brace deceived him. Again he searched, with desperate haste.
He could hear the lap of the water on the piled-up floes now. The other
oar was not there; he dimly remembered now that he dropped it when he
fell backward.

Putting out his one oar he began to scull with it, but the boat had
drifted round broadside to the current, and he could not head it away
from the inexorable wall of ice now so close. At last he gave the
struggle up and trusted to Providence. He comprehended how puny and
futile his own strength was compared to the power of these mighty odds.
The boat drifted nearer and nearer to what seemed certain destruction.
Ransom crouched low, prepared to spring to any cake that might bear his
weight—it was his only chance. He grasped the painter of the boat in his
hand, and as soon as he felt the first bump of the broken ice against
“His Nibs’s” side, he sprang at a white surface that showed dimly before
him. By some lucky chance, or rather owing to a merciful God, it was a
large floe, which, though it tottered and tipped dangerously, did not
capsize. It bore the boy’s weight bravely. For a minute Kenneth paused
for breath, then he noticed that “His Nibs” was being battered and
ground by the constant action of the ice. He peered into the darkness to
see how large his floating island was, and stepped cautiously this way
and that to test its stability. It swayed frightfully, but the boy
determined to risk adding the extra weight of the small boat. Inch by
inch he drew it over the slippery surface, and deeper and deeper sank
the ice island on that side until it was submerged a half a foot or so.
Kenneth stood on the sharply inclined slippery ice in imminent danger of
sliding off. Though it was zero weather, the perspiration stood out on
his forehead in beads, and ran into his eyes till it blinded him.
Gradually “His Nibs” was hauled up till it rested beside him, for the
time, at least, secure.

For a space he rested his aching limbs and bruised back. The white shape
of the “Gazelle” could be faintly made out through the gloom, so near
and yet absolutely unattainable. Never before had the boy—the designer,
builder and owner of the craft—so yearned for her. She was cold,
cheerless, and in extreme peril herself, but she seemed a very haven of
rest and security to the castaway.

Kenneth knew that he must fight for his own life and that no aid would
be forthcoming from the yacht, and he began to study the situation. Grim
enough he found it. A strong current bore down on the gorge, carrying
ice and débris of every kind, grinding away at the edge of Ransom’s
floe. It was evident that it would break up eventually, and the boy
prayed that it would last till he should find some other refuge. He
noticed that bits of wood and fragments of ice floated off to the right
after colliding with the obstruction. This set him to thinking. There
must be some break through, that caused the current to swerve. He looked
long and intently to the right, but could make out nothing in the
darkness. He felt sure, however, that there must be a channel somewhere,
and he determined to find it. With great and laborious care he launched
the boat and sprang into it. Fending off from the teeth of the gorge
with his oar, he worked his way gradually to the right. Twice he had to
jump to a floe and haul his boat out from between two grinding cakes.
But in spite of the labor, of darkness, of weary limbs, and hands numbed
with cold, he gained, until at last he reached the gap and was carried
through. He floated nearly a mile before he could make his way to shore.
It was bleak enough, but he uttered a fervent “Thank God” as he set foot
on solid ground. The river bordered a cornfield at this point, and many
of the rotting stacks were still standing. Kenneth made for one of these
and burrowing into it, sank down to rest. He was desperately weary and
almost unbearably cold, but thankful to his heart’s core for his escape.

“If I could only rest here till morning,” he thought. It was a sheltered
spot, and he began to feel the reaction following his tremendous
exertions. He was languid and drowsy, and his fast stiffening muscles
cried out for rest. It was a temptation the sorely tried boy found hard
to resist; but the thought of his friends aboard the yacht, their state
of mind when they discovered his absence, and the loss of their only
means of reaching shore, urged him on and gave him no peace. His
imagination pictured the hazardous things the boys might do if he was
not there to calm them. As he lay curled up on the frozen ground, under
the stiflingly dusty stalks, visions rose of the boys jumping overboard
and attempting to swim ashore; of their setting the “Gazelle” adrift in
the hope that she would reach the bank. Many other waking dreams
disturbed him, most of them absolutely impracticable, but to his
overtired and excited imagination painfully real, and his anxiety
finally drove him out of his nest into the biting cold again.

Then Kenneth stopped to think, to plan, a minute. He had but one oar—he
could not row against the strong current and floating ice—he could not
drag the boat through the water, the shore was too uneven and fringed,
moreover, with ice. Bare fields and brown waters surrounded him, there
was no sign of human habitation, there was no help to be had, and he
must reach the yacht that night—but how? He studied hard, and could
think of but one way—to drag the boat overland till he was above the
“Gazelle’s” anchorage, then launch it and drift down with the current.

How great the distance was he did not know, but he realized that it was
a long way and that the journey could only be made by the hardest kind
of work, under the most trying of circumstances.

His very body revolted at the cruelly hard exertions, every nerve and
muscle crying for rest; but his will was strong, and he forced his
aching body to do his bidding.

“His Nibs” weighed but seventy-five pounds with her entire equipment,
but what the boat lacked in avoirdupois it gained twofold in bulkiness.
There was some snow on the ground, and this helped somewhat to slide the
small craft along on its strange overland journey.

So began the hardest experience Ransom had ever yet encountered. Facing
the stiff wind and zero temperature, he slowly dragged the dead weight
over the thinly frosted ground. Oh, so slowly he crawled along; now
going round an obstruction, now climbing over a stump—forever hauling
the reluctant boat along. Every few hundred yards the nearly exhausted
lad stopped to catch his breath and rest under a heap of cornstalks or a
mound of rubbish, burrowing like an animal. His hands and feet ached
with cold, several times his ears lost their sense of feeling and had to
be rubbed back to life with snow.

He grew dizzy with faintness, for it will be remembered that he, with
the other boys, had had insufficient food for days, and he had not eaten
a morsel since six o’clock. His back ached, his legs ached, his head
ached, he was utterly exhausted; but still he kept on doggedly. At last
he reached a point on a line with the “Gazelle;” he could just make her
out silhouetted against the sombre sky. He knew his journey was nearly
at an end, and he went forward with a last desperate gathering together
of his powers. At length, judging that he was far enough up stream to
launch, he shoved “His Nibs’s” stem into the water with fear and
trembling, for the little craft had passed through a trying ordeal,
scraping over rough ground, stones and sticks. Ransom could not see if
the frail craft leaked, but it certainly floated. He jumped in and
pushed off, still anxious but hopeful, feeling that he was homeward
bound. The “Gazelle” was still afloat—the thought cheered him.

With the single oar in hand he sat in the stern sheets, and using it as
both a rudder and a propeller, he avoided some floes and lessened the
shock of contact with others.

At last the “Gazelle” loomed up ahead, serene and steady—the dearest
spot on earth to the castaway.

“All right, boys,” Kenneth shouted huskily as he drew near, “I’m O. K.”

There was no response.

“His Nibs” swept alongside and Kenneth, grasping at the shrouds, stopped
himself and clambered stiffly aboard. All was quiet. His imagination
pictured all sorts of horrible mishaps to the crew, and he ran aft,
stopping only to secure “His Nibs.” Yanking open the frosted hatch, he
pulled open the door and rushed below.

A chorus of snores greeted him. Not one of them knew he had been gone
four hours.

Kenneth did not disturb them; but after hauling the small boat on deck
out of harm’s way he crawled into his bunk and fell into the stupor of
utter exhaustion.

Early next morning all hands were wakened by the bump and crash of ice,
and another day of anxiety began. The morning after, however, found an
improvement in the conditions—the ice had almost stopped running and the
weather moderated. “His Nibs” was launched and the bottom was sounded
for half a mile in every direction, in hopes that a channel might be
found to shore, or down the river to a more sheltered spot. But bars
obstructed everywhere. There was no water deep enough to float the yacht
at her present draft, except in the basin in which she rested.

“Well, here goes the rest of our ballast,” said Ransom, after the last
soundings had been taken; and all hands began with what strength they
had left to heave over the iron. By taking down the rigging and tying it
together, it was found that a line could be made fast to shore. The
sturdy little anchor was raised and the “Gazelle,” working her windlass,
was drawn to the bank. In her lightened condition she floated over the
bars. Once more they were safe, and the boys felt that God had been good
to them to bring them through so many perils.

Frank, the nimrod of the party, went ashore and shot a rabbit; a fire
was built, and soon all hands were feasting on hot, nourishing food—the
first for many days. How good it tasted only those who have been nearly
starved can realize.

The sleep which the four voyagers put in the night of the 12th of
December, 1898, was like that of hibernating bears, and fully as
restful.

Kenneth and Arthur drew the long strands of yarn this time, and set off
to find Commerce, Missouri, ten miles across country.

It was a long walk, but the two boys enjoyed it hugely—indeed, it was a
relief to be able to walk straight ahead without having to stop to turn
at the end of a cockpit or the butt of a bowsprit.

For the first few miles the talk was continuous, and many were the jokes
about the mockery of the phrase “The Sunny South” when the mercury
lingered about the zero mark. But as they neared the end of their
journey they talked less, and put more of their strength into the
unaccustomed exercise of walking.

Reaching the town, they telegraphed home that all was well—a message
which they knew would relieve much anxiety. They also wrote to the
postmasters along the line to send mail to the crew at Commerce. Then,
for the first time in two months, they slept in a bed—a luxury they felt
they fully deserved. The boarding-house at which they had put up was a
clean, pleasant place, and the bed—the feather variety—seemed veritably
heaven to them.

Two pleasant girls were also staying at this house, and the boys had the
added pleasure of feminine society. They talked to the interested
maidens of their adventures until the girls’ faces flushed and their
eyes brightened—yes, and moistened even—with sympathy when they were
told of an especially trying experience.

They had had many interested listeners all along the line, but the
hero-worshipping look in the eyes of the two girls was particularly
sweet to the boys.

“Say, Ken,” Arthur said comfortably, as he tumbled into bed, “let’s stay
a week.”

“Yes, this bed is immense, isn’t it?”

“Oh, hang the bed!” Arthur growled. “You’re the most material duffer;
there is something besides creature comforts in this world, after all,
you know.”

“No, I am not. I appreciate a pretty audience as much as”—Ransom
interrupted himself with a yawn—“you do, but whaz-zer use of
discussing——”

Another yawn stopped his speech, and at the end of it he was sound
asleep.

“H’m!” grunted Arthur in disgust, and he turned his back upon him.

The purchases the two made the next day weighted their backs but
lightened their pockets, and Ransom had to telegraph for more money.

It took considerable resolution to break away from the pleasant society
at the boarding-house and trudge the long miles to the yawl carrying a
heavy pack. But they summoned up courage, and with a pleasant good-bye
and a grateful “Come again” ringing in their ears, they once more
started out on their adventures.

At the end of three days they were back again, Kenneth to receive his
money order, which was due by that time, and the mate to help carry more
supplies. That night they told more thrilling tales and took part in a
candy-pull. The next day Arthur had to return alone. Kenneth’s money
order had not come, so he had to wait for it.

“Why didn’t _I_ work the money order racket?” said Arthur, as he
reluctantly shouldered his pack. “Ransom’s in luck this time.”

For a week Kenneth waited for word from home; then he began to get
nervous; he did not know if all was well or not. Letters came for the
other boys, but none for him. He got more than nervous; he became
absolutely anxious. Moreover, he wanted to get under way again. The
little town of Commerce, with its 1,600 people, he had explored
thoroughly; made excursions into the woods and had some good shooting;
but in spite of unaccustomed pleasures he was restless. He wanted to be
moving down the river again. Whether it was the lack of news from home
or some other cause, he could not tell, but he had a foreboding of some
impending disaster. At the end of the sixth day of his stay in the
little Missouri town Frank appeared. An anxious look was on his face.

“My! I’m glad to see you, Ken,” said he. “We wondered what had become of
you, so I traipsed over to see.”

Kenneth explained the difficulty. “Everything all right aboard the
‘Gazelle’?” he asked.

“Well, no,” Frank said reluctantly. “When are you coming back?”

“To-morrow, I hope. But what’s the matter aboard?” Kenneth remembered
his forebodings. “Don’t keep me waiting; what is it?”

“The fact is, Arthur’s sick, and neither Clyde nor I know what to do for
him.”

“What’s the matter with him?”

“I don’t know. He has a bad cold and some fever, I guess, and he seems
kinder flighty.” Frank began to reveal his anxiety. “When he showed up
the other day after walking from here he talked sort of queer about the
game you played on him, the girls you met, and about a feather bed—got
’em all mixed up. Had a terrible cough, too. He’s in bed now.”

“I wish I could go back with you, but I will have to wait for that
money—I need it.”

Frank returned alone after taking a good rest, and Ransom waited for
news from home.

Late in the afternoon of the next day it came. Cheerful, helpful letters
from the dear ones in Michigan. The money order came too.

Kenneth bought his supplies, and, after bidding his friends good-bye,
started out on the long journey. During his stay in Commerce the weather
had softened, the frost had come out of the ground, and thick, sticky
mud made walking difficult. The boy stepped out in lively fashion, in
spite of the eighty-five pound pack he carried and the heavy rubber
boots he wore. He forgot the weight and discomfort in his anxiety to get
to the yacht and the sick friend aboard of her.

It was four o’clock when he started, and he had not been on his way much
over an hour before the darkness fell, and he had to pick his way
warily. Of necessity he moved slowly, and the pack grew heavier with
every stride. The sticky mud held on to his rubber boots so that his
heels slipped up and down inside until they began to chafe and grow
tender. An hour later he was still walking—more and more slowly under
the weight of the pack, which seemed to have acquired the weight of a
house. Blisters had formed on his heels and were rapidly wearing off to
raw flesh.

When he hailed the “Gazelle” at seven o’clock, after three hours of most
agonizing trudging, he was very nearly exhausted and his heels were
bleeding. The absolute necessity of reaching Arthur soon and of applying
the little knowledge he had of medicines, had kept him from going under,
and had given him courage to go on his way.

“Thank God, you’ve come!” was Clyde’s greeting when he came to ferry
Kenneth over.

“How’s Arthur?” was the skipper’s first inquiry.

“Crazy; clean crazy, and awful sick.” Clyde was clearly greatly worried.

“Oh! I guess he’ll come out all right.” Ransom saw that it was his play
to put on a cheerful front and conceal the anxiety, the physical
weariness and pain he felt. “You can’t kill a Morrow, you know.”

They stepped aboard, and the first thing the captain heard was his
friend’s incoherent muttering.

Arthur lay tossing on his bunk in the chilly, musty cabin, half clothed
and in very evident discomfort. His eyes were open, and it cut Kenneth
to the quick to see that there was not a sign of recognition in them.

All weariness and pain were forgotten in the work which followed to make
the sick boy more comfortable. Hot soups were prepared and fed to him.
Ransom had luckily provided a medicine chest for just such an emergency,
and now he drew on its resources wisely.

It was midnight before Arthur was quieted and asleep. During the entire
evening the three boys were as busy as they could be, cooking, heating
water, cleaning up and setting things to rights. Then only could a
council be held and the situation discussed in all its bearings.

“Well, Doc,” said Frank, smiling wanly, “what do you think is the matter
with Art?”

“I wish I was an M. D.” No wish was more fervently spoken. “Oh! Arthur
has a bad cold, I think,” Ransom began his diagnosis, “and his nerves
are used up. Too much ice pounding and threatening, and not enough
sleep.”

“What shall we do?” Clyde asked. “These are pretty small quarters to
care for a sick man.”

“We’ll spoil his rest cluttering round,” suggested Frank.

“Well, I think that if we put him ashore in a hospital he would miss us
and the familiar things around; he would have nothing to think of but
himself, and he would worry himself worse,” Kenneth expressed his
convictions with emphasis.

“But he would get better care,” Frank objected.

“Oh, I think we can look out for him all right,” the skipper interposed,
“and I honestly believe that if he came to himself in a hospital with
strange people round, nurses and things, he would think that he was
terribly sick, and the thought of it might really do him up. If we keep
him aboard—and I promise you that I will nurse him with all-fired
care—(Kenneth spoke so earnestly that his friends were touched and
reached forth hands of fellowship)—I think that when he comes to and
finds himself with us and on the old ‘Gazelle,’ he will pull himself
together in great shape and brace up. As long as Arthur has his nerve
with him, he’s all right. We have had a tough time of it, and he has
lost his grip a bit; but I am dead sure that if we stick by him he will
pull through all right.”

“It’s all right, old man,” Clyde said heartily. “We are with you. Ain’t
we, Frank?”

Frank said nothing, but got up and crossing the cabin took the skipper’s
right hand while Clyde took the left. The three gripped hard for a
second in silence. It was a compact to stand together through the trials
that they knew were coming.

It was a strange scene: the little cabin, dimly lighted by the swinging
lamp; the sick boy in the corner bunk forward on the starboard side lay
breathing heavily, his flushed face in deep shadow. The three boys sat
on Ransom’s bunk in a row on the opposite side, the soft light shining
on their anxious faces, their hands still clasped. Outside the great
river rushed, and the “Gazelle” tugged at her moorings, the rudder
slatted, the booms creaked against the masts and the rigging hummed an
answer to each passing gust.

It was a time to try the temper of the young voyagers, and bravely they
stood the test.

“Well, what’s the matter with turning in?” It was Kenneth’s voice that
broke the stillness.

Not till Frank and Clyde had begun to snore had Ransom time to care for
his aching heels. To pull off his boots was trying, but when he came to
take off his stockings he could hardly suppress a cry of agony. The
blood had clotted and stuck to the raw spot, and it felt as if he was
pulling the nerves out by the roots. It was a long time before the
burning pain allowed him to sleep.

At the first opportunity the voyage was continued; and it was with a
feeling of relief almost amounting to hilarity that the line ashore was
cast off, and the “Gazelle,” her bowsprit pointing down stream, got
under way again. That treacherous place, fraught with so many perils,
such weariness, pain, and anxiety, was behind them at last.

They were headed for the land of promise, the real “Sunny South.”

Even Arthur seemed to be less fretful, less exacting. Perhaps the swish
of the water along the yacht’s smooth sides was soothing, or maybe the
heave of the little craft as she felt the pressure of the wind,
comforted the sick boy. Certainly, it had that effect on his more
fortunate companions.

When the “Gazelle” flew past the mouth of the Ohio River and anchored
just below, the crew felt that they were really getting there. They
visited Cairo, and though they were impressed with the advantage of its
superior location at the junction of the two great rivers, they were
glad that they did not live in its low-lying streets.

At Columbus, Kentucky, the crew made the acquaintance of a physician and
dentist, who travelled about the South in a private car. Though Kenneth
felt that his diagnosis of Arthur’s case was correct, he was mighty glad
to have a physician confirm it. Arthur improved slowly—too slowly. He
had a genuine case of nervous prostration. At times he was delirious,
and then he lived over again all the horror of the yacht’s long
imprisonment in the drifting ice. The poor boy’s malady made him
exasperatingly irritable and hard to please, so that the cabin of the
“Gazelle” was by no means the cheery home it had been.

But the captain’s cheerful fortitude and determination to see the thing
through in spite of hostile elements, scant means, sickness and utter
ignorance of the stream, inspired the busy members of the crew so that
they worked together in beautiful harmony.

On the afternoon of Christmas Day the “Gazelle” drew abreast the front
of Columbus, Kentucky, and while Frank and Clyde went ashore for mail,
Kenneth stayed aboard to look after the invalid mate and cook the
Christmas dinner. As the fragrant odor of broiling game and steaming
coffee rose, Kenneth thought of the far-away Michigan home; of his
father, mother and relatives gathered round the ample, homely table; of
the snatches of cheerful talk and gentle raillery; of the warmth and
comfort and love.

“Say, Ken,” sounded a plaintive voice from the other side of the cabin,
“where are the boys? What are we waiting here for? Give me a drink, will
you?”

It was a painful awakening, but Ransom satisfied Arthur’s wants, soothed
him, and braced himself with the determination that win he must and win
he would in spite of all obstacles.



                              CHAPTER VII

                      SAILING WITH FROZEN RIGGING


From Columbus, Kentucky, to Memphis, Tennessee, as the crow flies is,
approximately, but one hundred and twenty-five miles, but by river it is
two hundred and twenty-eight tortuous, puzzling miles. This distance the
“Gazelle” made in nine days, including delays caused by fog, adverse
winds and extra careful sailing on account of the sick boy.

The “Father of Waters” the party found to be an absorbingly interesting
stream. At every turn (and on an average there was a turn about every
other minute, it seemed to them) they saw something new, something
strange and interesting. As they cruised along, people told them of
river towns which the Mississippi had now left far inland as it had
gradually formed a new channel and straightened its course. Others told
of farms which had contributed a third or even four-fifths of their
acreage in a single year to the undermining current of the stream; the
land not infrequently being added to another farm not far below. The
changes in the stream played all sorts of pranks with the boundaries of
States. A man living in Missouri might in a single night find his
property switched over into Kentucky or Tennessee, the boundary line,
the Mississippi having carved for itself a new channel and cut its way
through a bend.

After leaving Columbus, Kentucky, the “Gazelle” found herself on a
straight piece of water with a strong wind on the starboard quarter.
Ransom claimed that every point of sailing was the “Gazelle’s”
best—running, reaching and beating to windward, all best—but, at any
rate, she skimmed along this day like a bird. Kenneth was at the stick,
while Frank held the Mississippi guide to watch out for beacons and
channel marks. For once all was clear, the channel straight and no
dangerous shoals marked. It was a relief to strike such a good piece of
river. The air was bracingly cold, and all three of the boys felt
exhilarated.

“How is it down below, Art?” Frank inquired cheerfully. “How is it with
the ‘land-lubber lying down below, below’?”

“I’m below, all right.” The voice was weak but vehement. “Still, I
object to being called a land-lubber. I’ll show you fellows one of these
days that I’m as good a sailor as any of you.”

“Art is getting touchy,” said Kenneth. “He’ll be all right soon, I am
willing to bet.”

“Will you look at that!” exclaimed Clyde, who had been gazing forward
for some time. “Just wait until I get my gun.”

He pointed to a black object that was bobbing up and down in the brown
flood. It looked like an animal swimming against the strong current.
While Clyde went below, Ransom shifted his helm in order to get nearer,
and before he realized it they were bearing down on the object at
terrific speed. The yacht, going with the current, was making almost ten
miles an hour.

“Sheer off, for heaven’s sake, Ken!” sang out Frank. “Quick!” Then as
the yacht yawed to starboard she passed the black thing which had
excited Clyde’s hunting instincts.

“Gee! you ought to know a ‘sawyer’ when you see it, by this time.”
Frank’s tone was full of superior disgust.

“How did you find out what a sawyer was, Mr. Smarty?” Clyde was trying
to conceal his gun behind him, and he looked foolish. “What is it, any
way? I bet you don’t know.”

“Don’t I, just! It’s a piece of timber, one end of which, water-logged,
sinks to the bottom and is partly buried; the current overcomes the
buoyancy of the wood from time to time and causes the upper end to sink;
this makes the motion like a man sawing wood—hence the name.”

“Thanks, Professor.” Clyde made a mock bow. “But all the same, the
captain himself didn’t know what it was, and pretty near punched the
boat’s bottom full of holes.”

As they went southward the character of the country changed. The high,
heavily timbered bluffs, often bold with jutting rocks, so
characteristic of the upper river, began to give way to more easy
slopes. The stream broadened and the level rose higher each day. Often,
as the “Gazelle” sped along, a river steamer was met ploughing along up
the great stream. Her long gangways raised up before her like horns
(long gangways made necessary by the gently sloping banks and absence of
docks); her tall stacks, side by side, running athwartships, bore
between them the insignia of the line, an anchor or a wheel. The stacks
ended in a fancy top, which Ransom said reminded him of pictures of the
trimming the little girls of long ago wore round the end of their
pantalettes. The river boats are very shallow, and very wide for their
length, but in spite of their unboatlike appearance and their great
thrashing wheels, they make good time. Sometimes a speed of fifteen
miles an hour against the current, and twenty-five with the stream, is
attained.

Kenneth congratulated himself repeatedly that he had started on this
trip, for he realized that in no other way could he have gained so much
information about shipping.

They stopped several days at Memphis, partly to give Arthur a quiet
rest, partly because the weather conditions were against them.

At the levee a number of boats were nosing the bank, their long
gangplanks outstretched before them like great arms. A constant stream
of roustabouts trundling bales of cotton, rolling barrels, lugging
boxes, went up the gangways. The mate stood near at hand, in a
conspicuous spot, where he could see and be seen, and so belabored the
toiling men with torrents of words, that it seemed as if he was the
motive power of the entire procession. The negroes seemed not to notice
him at all, but moved along at a steady, rhythmical gait.

Frank and Clyde stood watching. They marvelled at the amount of stuff
carried aboard. “I bet they work the same racket that the spectacular
shows employ,” Clyde said after a while. “If you look aft there
somewhere, you would see the same niggers carrying the same bundles and
things ashore again.”

“Oh, come off!” exclaimed the other.

“Yes, sure; they form an endless chain.”

Frank vouchsafed him no further reply, but suggested that they try to
get on board and see for themselves.

“Can we come aboard?” Frank shouted to the mate when he stopped to take
breath.

“I reckon you can,” was the answer. “Look out, you yellow-livered son of
a bale of cotton! Do you want to knock the young gentlemen overboard?”

The two boys got on deck and out of range of the mate’s rapid fire of
invective as soon as they could. As luck would have it, they ran up
against a pilot the first thing, to whom they told something of their
trip. This the boys found, as usual, to be an open sesame, and their
newly discovered friend showed them over the steamboat, and pumped them
for stories about their trip. From the hold, which was hardly seven feet
deep, to the hurricane deck and the pilot house they went. The wheel
house reached, the pilot was in his own domain, and he made them sit
down while he pumped them dry. He marvelled that a boat of the
“Gazelle’s” draught could come through at this stage of the water, with
only sails for motive power.

From the great brass-bound steering wheel to the tall boilers, which
could not find room in the hold, and showed half their circumference
above the first deck, the boat was full of interest to the young
voyagers.

“Jiminy! what a lot she carries,” Clyde exclaimed, as he noticed the
pile of cotton bales, boxes and barrels which was rapidly growing, till
it seemed as if it would fill the boat from her blunt bow to stern post.

“She’ll carry a thousand tons without turning a hair,” said the pilot
calmly, as he shook their hands. “Tell your captain to come aboard if he
cares to.”

Ransom did “care to,” and he went over the craft from keel to flagstaff;
noticed her construction, and marvelled at her shallowness—it was part
of his business as well as his pleasure, and he wondered how the
steamboat mate’s talk would sound if the oaths were left out. He
imagined it would simply be intermittent silence.

In describing it afterwards, he said that the mate’s language was like a
rapid-fire gun with a plentiful supply of blank ammunition.

Arthur improved rapidly, and by the time they had explored
Memphis—visited its fine old Southern mansions, the busy cotton market,
and hobnobbed with the steamboat people—he seemed much more like his old
self, though his painful thinness and weakness showed how seriously ill
he had been.

After staying at Memphis for ten days, the “Gazelle” spread her sails,
and slipped down the river on her way to the sea.

At Peters, Arkansas, the boys spied a cabin boat tied up in a little
cove, and there was a big “26” painted on its side.

“Well, this is luck!” said Kenneth. “There are the chaps we saw above
Philadelphia Point. Hail them, Frank.”

“Hulloo, twenty-six!” Frank’s shout rang out in the frosty air. “Is the
boss in?”

A head appeared at the door of the cabin. “The boss is in, who wants to
see him?” it said.

The “Gazelle” rounded to, and tied up to the bank a little below the
cabin boat. As soon as the sails were furled, and everything made
ship-shape, all four boys visited their friends, and for the greater
part of a week spent most of their time aboard the roomy, warm house
boat. Arthur improved wonderfully, and all hands began to gain weight
and grow fat on the game which they shot.

The crew of the “Gazelle” were almost won over from the more strenuous
life of sailing, to the free and easy cabin-boat life, which is the
nearest approach to tramping that a dweller on the water can come to.
All along the river the boys saw cabin boats drifting slowly along down
stream, or tied up in the shelter of little coves near some town. Boats
of varying degrees of respectability composed this fleet. Boats well
built, clean and always brightly painted, homes of fairly prosperous
families, whose head worked on shore while the home was afloat, in such
manner saving rent and taxes. Boats built of bits of timber, boards, and
rusty tin, shanties afloat, the temporary homes of the lowest order of
river people. Theatres, dance halls, dives of various sorts, churches,
stores—all had their representatives on the mighty stream. A great host
of nomadic people that followed the heat to lower river in winter, and
ran up stream from it in summer.

Many of the river people were like the dwellers of No. 26, merely
temporary members of the river community, who took this method of seeing
the river, and resting from the stress of business.

It was with a feeling of regret that the boys at last took leave of
their hosts and went aboard their thoroughly cleaned and freshened
yacht. All hoped that the “good-by” they shouted over the fast widening
strip of water would prove after all to be only “au revoir.”

“There’s no use talking, boys,” the skipper said gravely, “we’ve just
got to hump ourselves and get south, where it’s warm, so that we won’t
have to burn so much oil. It’s simply ruinous.”

“All right; if you keep healthy, Art, and we don’t run aground, and the
boat don’t get holes punched in her with the ice,” Clyde remarked, “we
may see New Orleans before the glorious Fourth.”

“It’s no joke, Clyde,” said Ransom. “I’m almost busted, and I won’t have
enough to carry me through the Gulf if we don’t hurry.”

“Like the old coon who hurried up to finish his job before his whitewash
gave out,” laughed Frank.

But in spite of good resolutions and ardent hopes, progress was slow.
Head winds sprang up, dense fog shut down, obscuring channel marks, even
snow fell—the weather was certainly against them.

[Illustration:
  TAKING SOUNDINGS.
  “... FRANK SHOUTED, ‘THREE FATHOMS!’”
]

“The ‘Sunny South,’” Ransom quoted scornfully one morning when he put
his head out of the companionway and got a block of snow down his neck.
“They have a funny brand of sun down here.” Yet as he looked shoreward,
his eye rested on an old Southern mansion. Fluted columns supported its
double portico, wide-spreading trees from which hung in festoons the (to
Northern eyes) weird Spanish moss, clustered thickly around it; beyond
were cotton fields, the whiteness of the blossoms rivalling the freshly
fallen snow.

“Say, fellows, pinch me, will you?” Kenneth shouted down to his friends.
“I’ve got a bad dream, I guess. All hands on deck to shovel snow.”
Kenneth’s shout was very fierce. Frank appeared with a broom, Clyde with
a dust pan, and Arthur brought a scrubbing brush.

“Pipe sweepers, mate,” commanded the captain.

Arthur’s whistle was a failure, for the simple reason that one cannot
pucker the mouth to whistle and laugh at the same time, but the crew
understood, and all hands turned to and swept the decks free of snow.

“Pipe breakfast,” was the next order. This was not necessary, however;
all four boys tried to get through the two-foot wide companionway at
once, and all four stuck while the tantalizing odor of steaming coffee
filled their nostrils. Clyde fell out of the bunch to the cabin floor,
which relieved the jam, and gave the others a chance.

At Vicksburg the boys tied up for four days, and visited the bone of
contention between the North and the South so many years ago. They found
many reminders of the great siege—earthworks still plainly visible, the
old stone house where Grant and Pemberton met to arrange for the
surrender of the town. Most impressive of all was the great national
cemetery—a great city of the dead. Then the boys realized as they never
could by any other means the terrible struggle, the bravery shown on
both sides, and the despair of the besieged as they were hemmed in more
and more closely by the Union lines, while their ammunition gave out and
the food grew scarce. The travellers found that the war was still the
chief topic of conversation in the South, and they got a point of view
new to them. Events were still dated on the “time of the war,” so it
seemed as if the great conflict had taken place but a few years ago.
There was a new topic, however, that the Northern boys could talk about
without the least danger of giving offence. In the war with Spain, the
sons of the Union and the Confederate soldier fought side by side, and
the people on both sides of Mason and Dixon’s line were equally proud of
their achievements.

As the “Gazelle” got under way and sailed down stream, the boys looked
back at the heights, while their thoughts carried them back to the time
when Porter’s fleets lay at anchor in about the same position and waited
for the storm of iron from the guns mounted there to cease. But the wind
was blowing half a gale, and their attention was called back with a jar
from the past to the very practical present. The stream was now very
full, and there was little danger of running aground, so Kenneth
determined to sail in spite of the freshening wind and the steady
drizzle that froze as it fell. It was Arthur’s turn at the stick, but it
was just the kind of weather to hurt one weakened by illness, so Kenneth
took his place, and sailed the boat. The wind a little abaft the beam
(another of the best points of sailing, according to Ransom), the little
boat sped on, racing, seemingly, with the billows the gale kicked up.

The other three boys stayed below in comfort, while the captain, wrapped
in a big ulster and crowned with a yellow sou’wester, held the tiller,
and looked the part of the weatherbeaten mariner down to the ground.

The wind was steady and very strong, so that the yacht keeled over
before it, and almost buried her lee rail under; the sails rounded out
to the blast, and as the rain froze on them, the rigging, the spars and
the deck, she looked like a great candied boat, such as the
confectioners like to display in their store windows. It was
exhilarating, this flying along in the wintry air, but the frozen
rigging and stiffened sheets made sailing difficult and dangerous. It
would be impossible to reef, and difficult to lower the canvas under
these conditions.

With eyes alert, and ready hand on tiller, Kenneth watched for snags,
for reefs or for sand bars, while the cold rain dashed into his face in
spite of the close-drawn sou’wester. Mile after mile the good craft sped
on—swift, sure and steady. Past islands low lying and gray in the mist,
past forests of cypress, white and glistening with frost, the gray moss
hanging from the branches sleet covered and crackling in the wind. It
was a run to remember, a run that stimulated, yet at the same time left
the steersman surprisingly tired, as Ransom found when he tried to work
his stiffened limbs and help furl the canvas.

“I wish that this sail had a few hinges,” Frank complained, as he
thumped it in a vain endeavor to roll it up compactly. “Might as well
try to roll up a piece of plank.”

It took over an hour to get things stowed properly that under ordinary
circumstances could have been disposed of in fifteen minutes; and though
the captain firmly intended to write up his log that night, it was only
by the exercise of a good deal of will power that he kept awake till
supper was over.

The following day the “Gazelle” lay close to the levees of Natchez,
having covered the distance of ninety-three miles in less than a day and
a half.

This old town the boys thought the most beautiful that they had seen.
The stately old mansions were surrounded by gardens, and trees grew
everywhere.

The town crowned the last of the heights of the Mississippi, and the
view from the bluff is one of the finest anywhere along the river.
Before starting on the cruise the boys had read about the places they
were likely to visit, and they recalled that Natchez was one of the
earliest settlements on the river. They remembered, too, that the
Natchez Indians, perhaps the most intelligent of their race, were one of
the ten first tribes to run foul of the white man’s civilization. Swift
and sure pacification, by means of the sword, was their lot.

“Natchez under the hill,” as the cluster of houses occupying the narrow
strip of land between the river and the steep slope is called, was as
unattractive and foul as Natchez proper was beautiful and wholesome. Not
many years ago it bore the reputation of being one of the hardest places
on the Mississippi, and even when the boys anchored off its water front,
they found it far from desirable.

A run of a hundred and thirty-nine miles in three days brought the
“Gazelle” and her crew to Baton Rouge. Though the wind was blowing hard
when they reached the town, they had to be content with the meagre
shelter of a few scattered trees on a low point. It was practically an
open anchorage.

“Looks squally,” Arthur remarked as he tied the last stop on the furled
mainsail. “How’s the glass?”

“Going down like thunder,” Ransom answered from below. “Thermometer
shows 15 degs. Gee, I hope this wind lets up.”

“Shall I put out the other anchor?” the mate inquired. It was a
precaution Kenneth thought wise to take.

“I’ll bet we have troubles to burn to-night,” the skipper said half to
himself, as he lashed down everything movable with light line and rope
yarn.

By the time supper was finished, the wind was howling through the
rigging like a thousand demons. The little ship tugged at her anchors,
and bobbed up and down over seas that grew more turbulent each moment.

The usual cheerful talk, jests and snatches of songs were much subdued,
or, indeed, entirely lacking this night. Instead, the four sat and
talked abstractedly with lowered voices, and from time to time, the
talker would interrupt himself to listen to some peculiarly vicious
blast.

The light of the pendent lamp, as it swung with the motion of the boat,
cast strange, distorted, dancing shadows, and the boys sat close
together as they listened to the howling of the wind. They were not
afraid, but the agitation of the elements, the wind, the cold, and the
continuous jumping and staggering motion of the yacht sent uncomfortable
chills down their spines.

“I’ll play you Pedro,” Kenneth’s voice sounded strangely loud in the
cabin. He felt that it was not good to sit still and listen to the
tempest.

The table was propped up, and the cards dealt, but it was playing under
difficulties—someone had to keep his hand on the cards played to make
them stay on the table. The boys’ hearts were not in it, and they made
absurd mistakes. Kenneth rallied them, and tried in every way to steer
their thoughts away from the danger, the tempest and the cold; but in
spite of all he could do, the boys stopped playing and listened with all
their ears. The hum of the rigging, the slap of the waves against the
sides, the quick snap-snap of the tight drawn halliards against the
masts—all contributed to the mighty chorus in honor of the gale.

Of a sudden there was a heavy thud and then a sliding sound—a sound
different from all the other voices of the storm.

“What was that?” It was hard to tell whether it was one voice or four
that uttered the words. The boys sprang to their feet, and stood for a
brief moment listening.



                              CHAPTER VIII

                  AN ICY STORM OFF “SUNNY” BATON ROUGE


On the alert but motionless, the four boys waited for a repetition of
the strange noise, wondering what it meant. The wind still shrieked; all
the pandemonium of sound continued, but the queer sound was not
repeated, neither was the unusual jar.

Kenneth was the first to move. He jumped to the companionway, and pushed
at the hinged doors leading on deck, but they did not move. Glued with
the frost, they refused to open. He put his shoulder against them, and
pushed with all his might. The expected happened—the doors opened
suddenly, and Kenneth found himself sprawling on the floor of the
cockpit. He skinned his shin on the brass-bound step of the companionway
ladder, and his funny bone tingled from a blow it got on the deck. The
boy tried to rise to his feet, but a sudden swing of the boat made him
slip on the icy boards and fall swiftly down again. From his prone
position, he looked around him. The light coming up through the open
companionway gleamed yellow on the ice-coated, glistening boom, and the
furled sail propped up in the crotch. As Ransom’s eyes became accustomed
to the darkness, he saw what it was that had startled them all. “His
Nibs,” hauled up on the narrow strip of deck aft of the rudder post, had
slipped when the “Gazelle” had made a sudden plunge, and sliding on the
icy rail had thumped into the cockpit. Perfectly safe, but ludicrously
out of place, the little boat looked like a big St. Bernard in a lady’s
lap.

“Look!” the prostrate captain called to his friends. “‘His Nibs’ was
getting lonesome and was coming down into the cabin for the sake of
sociability.”

The other three crawled on deck, having learned caution through the
skipper’s mishap, and crouched in the wet, slippery cockpit while they
looked around.

The gale, still increasing rather than abating, was raising tremendous
seas. The “Gazelle” rolled, her rails under at times, and her bowsprit
jabbed the white-capped waves.

“I am going forward to see if the anchors are O. K.” Kenneth spoke
loudly enough, but the wind snatched the words from his mouth and the
boys did not hear what he said.

Ransom managed to get on his feet, and, grasping the beading of the
cabin, he pulled himself erect. A quick lurch almost threw him
overboard, but he reached up and grabbed the boom overhead just in time.
Holding on to this with both arms, he slowly worked himself forward.

The other boys, crouching in the cockpit, wondered what he was up to.
They watched his dim figure crawling painfully along, and once their
hearts came into their throats as, his feet slipping from under him, he
hung for an instant from the icy boom almost directly over the raging
river. The light streaming from the cabin shone into their strained,
anxious faces and blinded them so that they could hardly see the figure
of “Ken,” on whom they had learned to rely. At last he disappeared
altogether behind the mast and was swallowed up in the blackness.

“Ken! Come back! Come back!” Arthur, who was still weak, could not stand
the strain; he could not bear to think of what might happen to his
friend.

The wind shrieked in derision—so, at least, it seemed to the anxious
boy—the elements combined to drown his voice. The gale howled on; the
rain froze as it fell, and the waves dashed at the boys like fierce dogs
foaming at the mouth.

Frank, at last feeling that he must know what had become of Ransom,
sprang up, and grasping the icy spar, crept forward. Many times he lost
his foothold, but always managed somehow to catch himself in time.
Slipping and sliding, fighting the gale, he reached the mast. The
journey was one of only twenty feet, but the gale was so fierce and the
exertion of keeping his footing so great that he arrived at the end of
it out of breath and almost exhausted. It was inky black, and only with
difficulty could he distinguish the familiar objects on the
forecastle—the bitts, and the two rigid anchor cables leading from it.
Lying across them was Kenneth, gripping one, while the yacht’s bow rose
and fell, dashing the spray clear over his prostrate figure.

“What’s the matter, Ken?” Frank shouted, so as to be heard above the
wind. “Are you hurt? Brace up, old man!”

The other did not speak for a minute; then he answered in a strained
voice: “Give me a hand, old chap, will you? I’ve hurt my foot—wrenched
it, I guess; pains like blazes.”

That he was pretty badly hurt, Frank guessed by the way in which he drew
in his breath as he shifted his position.

“Got a good hold there, Frank? Grab those halliards. It’s terrible
slippery—Ouch! Easy, now.”

It was a difficult job that Frank had in hand. The ice-covered decks
could not be depended on at all; if the boys began to slide, they would
slip right off the sloping cabin roof into the water; the boat was
jumping on the choppy seas like a bucking horse, and the wind blew with
hurricane force. Kenneth could help himself hardly at all, and Frank
struggled with him till the sweat stood out on his brow in great beads.
At last both got over the entangling anchor cables, and breathing hard,
hugged the stick as if their lives depended on it, which came very near
being the case.

“You—had—better—leave—me—here—old—chap,” panted Kenneth.
“My—ankle—hurts—like—the—old—Harry. Can’t—travel—much.”

“What did you do to it?”

“Got—caught—under—cleat—on—the butt—of—the—bowsprit.”

“Gee! that’s tough!” sympathized Frank.

“Gave it a terrible wrench. Regular monkey wrench.” It was a grim
situation to joke about.

“Leave you here?” said Frank, coming back to Ken’s suggestion. “I guess
not! What do you take me for, anyway? I know how to work it, all right.
You hang on to the mast a minute.”

Releasing his grip on Ransom, Chauvet picked up the end of the peak
halliard coiled at his feet, and with great difficulty straightened out
its frozen turns, for he had but one free hand—he could not release his
hold on the sailhoop that he grasped for an instant. Taking the stiff
line, he passed it around his body and then around the boom. Holding on
by his legs to the mast, he worked away at the frozen line until he had
knotted the end to the main part—made a bowline. The loop was around his
waist and the boom.

“Now, Ken, we’re all right—I have lashed myself to this spar, and my
hands are free. I’ll yell to Clyde,” and suiting the action to the word
he shouted aft.

Ransom hung on to the line about Frank’s waist, while Frank half held,
half supported him. Slowly they moved along, stumbling, often swinging
with the boat, till the rope cut into Chauvet’s body cruelly. It was
exhausting work.

Soon Clyde came stumbling, slipping and fighting forward against the
gale, and in a minute was helping Frank to support the gritty captain.

It was a thankful group that dropped into the warm, bright
cabin—dripping wet and numbed with cold, out of breath, well-nigh
exhausted, but thankful to the heart’s core.

Arthur cut the shoe from Ransom’s swelling ankle, and then bound it
tightly with a cloth saturated with witch hazel.

“Chasing anchors on stormy nights seems to be fatal for me,” Kenneth
remarked, as he lay on his bunk regarding his bandaged foot. “I’ll give
you fellows a chance next time—I don’t want to be piggish about it.”

Presently the cabin light was turned down and all hands got into their
berths. Not a tongue moved, but brains were active; not an eyelid felt
heavy, but the boys resolutely kept them closed. The storm raged on;
gust succeeded gust, the rain beat down on the thin cabin roof with
increasing fierceness. It was a trying night, and each of the four boys
was glad enough to see the gray light come stealing in through the
frosted port lights. They had all thought that they would never see
daylight again, though each had kept his fears to himself.

The wind still roared and the rain poured down, but the yacht tossed and
rolled less violently; her movements were slower and sluggish, quite
unlike those of the usually sprightly, light “Gazelle.”

“Sea must have gone down,” commented Clyde, in a casual way, as he noted
that the others were awake. “Queer, wind’s blowing great guns, too.”

Kenneth sat up suddenly and bumped his head on the deck beam above. This
made him wince, and he drew his game foot suddenly against the boat’s
side. Kenneth made so wry a face that his friends could not help
laughing outright—an honest laugh, in spite of the sympathy they felt.

“Both ends at once.” The captain tried to rub his head and his ankle at
the same moment, and found it a good deal of a stretch.

“There is a new bar to be charted here.” His finger went gingerly round
the bump on his forehead.

“Frank, go on deck, will you, and see if things are moderating. I’d like
to get into some cove or another.”

Chauvet made his way to the ladder and shoved the doors with all his
might; but it was only after repeated blows with a heavy rope fender
that they opened.

“Great Scott!” he shouted. “Look here. Ice! Why, there’s no boat
left—it’s all ice! Well, I’ll be switched—why, we’ll have to chop her
out, or she’ll sink with the weight of it—she’s down by the head now.”

Fresh exclamations of amazement followed as each head appeared in turn
from below. It was true. The yacht was literally covered with ice, from
one to six inches thick at the bow, where the spray combined with the
rain to add to the layers of white coating. The sluggish movement of the
vessel was explained—the weight of the ice burdened her. Here was a
pleasing condition of things.

The boys snatched a hasty breakfast, and taking hatchets,
hammers—anything with a sharp edge—they attacked the ice. Even Ransom
insisted upon taking a hand. The boat was very beautiful in her glassy
coating. The rigging, fringed with icicles, and the cold, gray light
shining on the polished surface, made it look like a dull jewel. The
boys, however, saw nothing of the beautiful side of it. There was a
mighty job before them; a cold, hard, dangerous job, and they went at it
as they had done with all the previous difficulties which they had
encountered—with courage and energy.

Colder and colder it grew, until the thermometer registered five degrees
below zero. The yacht still rolled and pitched so that the boys found it
necessary to lash themselves to mast, spars and rigging while they
chopped. The spray flew up and dashed into their faces and almost
instantly froze; the sleeves of their coats became as hard and as stiff
as iron pipes, and their hands stiffened so that the fingers could not
hold the axe helves. Every few minutes one or the other would have to
stop, go below and thaw out. They worked desperately, but new layers of
frost formed almost as fast as the boys could hack it off. But chop and
shovel they must or sink in plain sight of the town, inaccessible as
though the boat were miles from shore.

How they ever lived through the three days during which the storm
continued, God, who saved them, alone knows. It seemed almost a miracle
that so small a craft should have lived through what it did.

When at the end of the weary time the wind subsided, the yacht rode over
the choppy waves in much the same buoyant way as before—she was weather
proof; but her crew was utterly exhausted; hands and faces were cut and
bleeding from the fierce onslaught of the sleet-laden wind; fingers,
toes and ears were frost-bitten, innumerable bruises—true badges of
honor—covered their bodies, and the captain suffered intolerably from
his injured ankle.

“Hours chopping ice off the ‘Gazelle’ to keep her from sinking under the
weight of it,” quoted Kenneth from the entry in his log. “And this in
the heart of the ‘Sunny South.’”

“I don’t believe there is any ‘Sunny South.’” Clyde was tired out, and
his sentiments expressed his condition.

“Remember the old coon at Natchez?” said Frank. “He must have been a
twin of Methuselah; he said he had never seen ice on the river so far
south before, and he had lived on the Mississippi all his life.”

It was many, many hours before the “Gazelle” was free enough of her
burden to allow the crew to rest; and not until three days of gale had
spent its spite upon them could she be got under way and anchored in a
sheltered spot.

After sending reassuring letters to anxious ones at home, the “Gazelle”
sped southward, seeking for a sheltered spot to lie by and allow the ice
which was sure to follow to pass by.

At the little town of St. Gabriels the “Gazelle” found a snug nest,
where, for a time, the ice ceased from troubling, and she floated
secure.

It was with a grateful heart that Kenneth rose on Sunday morning,
February 19th, and from the safe anchorage saw the great cakes of ice go
racing by on the swift current.

“We can’t hold a service aboard,” he said to Arthur, who appeared on
deck about the same time. “But let’s dress ship for a thanksgiving
offering.”

All four agreed with alacrity, and for the next hour scarcely a word was
spoken except as one fellow sung out, “Where is that swab?” or another,
“Who’s got the bath-brick?” Hardly a day passed (except when the boat
was in actual danger) that the “Gazelle” did not get a thorough
cleaning—brasses shined, decks scrubbed, cabin scoured, bedding aired,
dishes well washed and even the dishcloth cleaned and spread to dry. But
this was a special day, and the yacht was as sweet within as soap and
water, elbow grease and determined wills could make her. The crowning of
the work came when the “Gazelle” was decked in her colors; the flags
spelling her name in the international code fluttering in the breeze,
and above all Old Glory—surely a splendid emblem of what these
youngsters gallantly typified, American perseverance, pluck and
enterprise. It was a proud crew that lined up on the bank to admire
their achievement, and their hearts were filled with gratitude to
Providence that they had been brought through so many dangers safely.

“Kin I hab one of dese yer flags?” Some one pulled at Kenneth’s sleeve,
and he looked down into a small, black, kinky-hair framed face. It was a
little pickaninny, scantily clad and shivering in the keen air.

“What do you want it for?”

Embarrassment showed on every shining feature of the little face.

“Foh—foh a crazy quilt,” she managed to say at last.

Ransom could not spare one of his flags, but he dug into a locker and
pulled out a piece of red flannel (a token of his mother’s
thoughtfulness) which pleased the black youngster almost as much. The
visits of the darky population were frequent that day, and the many
requests for “one of doze flags” suggested the thought that the first
black youngster had spread the news that the ship’s company could be
worked.

Two days later the ice had almost disappeared and the “Gazelle” left her
snug berth for the last stretch of her journey to the Crescent City. The
delay seemed to add to the yacht’s eagerness to be gone, for she sped on
her way like a horse on its first gallop after a winter in the stable.

On, on she flew, drawing nearer to her goal, scarred from contact with
ice, snags and sandbars, but still unhurt, triumphant. Surely the sun
was rewarding their persistence; for he no longer hid his face from
them, but shone out in all mellowness and geniality. Their worries fled
at his warm touch, and their hearts sang his praises.

The “Gazelle” seemed glad as she forged ahead, as if to say, “Hurrah! I
have conquered, I have stood old Mississippi’s bumps and jars! All these
are of the past, and now for Old Ocean!”

Light after light was passed and marked off on the list, and soon the
last one shone out. It had no name, so as they lustily gave three cheers
for the last of the little beacons which had so long been their guides
and dubbed it “Omega,” the “Gazelle” sped on with only the smoke of the
great cotton market as a guide. New Orleans was in sight.

The pillars of smoke—the smoke of the city of their dreams—led them on.
They could hardly realize that that dim cloud, that dark streak in the
distance was really the city which they had striven so hard to reach.

A feeling of great satisfaction came over them as the “Gazelle”
responded to the tiller, which was thrown hard down, and headed into the
wind. A few flaps of the sails in the evening breeze, the sudden splash
of the anchor forward, followed by the swir of the cable as it ran
through the chocks, and the creaking pulleys as the sails were lowered,
was the music in honor of the “Gazelle’s” successful voyage from far
away Michigan to New Orleans.

The trip of one thousand eight hundred miles had been full of incident
and some satisfaction, purchased, however, at the price of severe toil
and many hardships, with a decided preponderance of troubles over
pleasures. Sickness had visited the crew at a time when their location
made medical aid impossible; the most severe winter recorded,
accompanied with the ice packs and low stages of water, made it seem
many times as if all hands were indeed candidates for admission into the
realms of “Davy Jones’s locker.” But all this was now of the past; for
here was the “Gazelle” anchored in a snug cove in the outskirts of the
Southern metropolis safe and sound, the captain and crew strong, well,
happy, and in all ways improved by their struggles.

The sun was still two hours high when Kenneth and Frank rowed ashore in
“His Nibs” and scrambled up the steep side of the high levee which
protects the city from inundation.

As they looked back on the “Gazelle” so peacefully riding at her
anchorage, they felt like giving three lusty cheers for their floating
home. Beyond the yacht and moored at the docks were two immense
ocean-going steamships, while a short distance up the river was a
full-rigged ship with loosened canvas falling in graceful folds from the
yards. The scene was a pleasing one, and the two boys drank it in with
all their eyes; they loved the sea, and these monster boats had a
peculiar charm for them. But the “clang, clang” of a bell suddenly
awakened them from their reverie, and they started in all haste to get
down town for the mail they knew must be waiting.

The anchorage was at Carrollton, one of the suburbs of New Orleans, so
the boys had a splendid opportunity of seeing the city on their long
trolley-car journey to the main Post Office. The batch of mail that was
handed out to them gladdened their hearts, and it took considerable
resolution to refrain from camping right out on the Post Office steps
and reading their letters. They remembered, however, their promise to
Arthur and Clyde to bring back with them the wherewithal to make a feast
in honor of their safe arrival in the Crescent City.

“Gee! I’d like to know what’s in those letters.” Frank gazed at them
longingly as they walked along. “Look at the fatness of that, will you?”

“I’ve got a fatness myself,” retorted Kenneth, holding a thick letter
bearing several stamps. “We have just about time enough to buy some
truck and get back. What do you say to some oysters?”

“That goes,” was Frank’s hearty endorsement.

Oysters were cheap, they found, so they bought a goodly supply, and for
want of a better carrier put them in a stout paper bag.

The two boys started out bravely, with the bag of oysters between them,
each carrying a bundle of papers and mail under their arms. They saw
many things that interested them—quaint old buildings with balconies and
twisted ironwork, and numbers of picturesque, dark-skinned people
wearing bright colors wherever it was possible.

Frank and Kenneth were so interested in watching what was going on about
them—the people, the buildings, and all the hundred and one things that
would interest a Northern boy in a Southern city—that they forgot all
about the load of oysters till they noticed that the people who met and
passed them were smiling broadly.

“Have I got a smudge on my nose, Frank?” asked Kenneth, trying vainly to
squint down that member.

“No. Have I?” Frank’s answer and question came in the same breath.

“Well, what in thunder are these people grin——”

There was a soft tearing sound, and then a hollow rattle. The boys
looked down quickly and saw that the damp oysters had softened the paper
so that the bag no longer held them, and they were falling, leaving a
generous trail behind them.

Frank and Kenneth scratched their heads; there were no shops near at
hand, the bag was no earthly use, they were a long way from the
anchorage, and the oysters were much too precious to be abandoned.

“What’s the matter with tying up the sleeves of this old coat and making
a bag of it?” Frank’s inventive brain was beginning to work.

“That’s all right, if you don’t object,” was the reply.

An hour later two boys, one of them in his shirt sleeves, came stumbling
along in the dusk toward the levee near which the “Gazelle” was
anchored.

“‘Gazelle’ ahoy!” they hailed. “Have you got room for a bunch of oysters
and a couple of appetites?”

Evidently there was plenty of room, for “His Nibs” came rushing across
to take all three over, the “bunch of oysters” and the “two appetites”
to the yacht, where they found two more appetites eagerly waiting their
coming.

Ransom and his friends had planned to stay but ten days in New Orleans;
just time enough to put in a new mast and refit generally for the long
sea voyage before them. Their good intentions, however, were balked at
every turn. The parents of all the boys, except Ransom’s, besought them
to return; made all sorts of inducements to persuade them to give up the
trip; did everything, in fact, except actually command them. A death in
Clyde’s family made it imperative that he should go back, and it grieved
the boys to have him leave. Clyde was as disappointed as any; and as he
boarded the train to go North he said: “I’d give a farm to be coming
instead of going.”

The crew was now reduced to three, and Ransom feared that Clyde’s return
would influence the others and break up the cruise.

The letters to Frank and Arthur grew more and more insistent, until one
day Chauvet came to Ransom. “Ken,” said he, “this is getting pretty
serious. My people come as near saying that they’ll disown me if I don’t
come back as they can without actually writing the words. I want to go
the rest of the way and play the whole game, and it would be a low down
trick to leave you stranded here without a crew.”

“Well,” said Kenneth, as he sat down by Frank’s side on the levee in the
warm sunshine, “you’ll have to do as you think best, but—I never told
you that my father and mother offered me their house if I would give up
the trip, did I?”

Frank opened his eyes at this.

“No, I didn’t, but it’s a fact; and when I told them that I didn’t have
to be paid to stay and would not go if they felt so strongly about it,
they came right around and said, ‘Go, and God bless you.’”

Kenneth’s eyes moistened a little as he harked back to the time, and a
vivid picture of his far away Northern home arose before him. “Well, old
chap,” he continued, laying his hand on Frank’s knee, “they have been
with me heartily ever since, and I believe that your people would feel
the same about you and be proud of your pluck, too.”

The two looked each other in the eyes a minute—one fair, the other
dark—utterly dissimilar in appearance, but both possessed of indomitable
will and courage—then Frank’s hand slowly sought that of his friend and
gripped it hard.

“Ken, I’m with you.”

“Good,” was the other’s only answer.

Arthur’s decision was soon made when he found that Kenneth and Frank had
determined to put it through. The three were knit together in a bond of
fellowship hard to break.

The equinoctial storms were raging through the Gulf at this period, and
the boys made good use of the time to buy, shape, and put in place a new
mainmast; to tighten up the rigging and repaint the boat’s sides,
covering up the scars made by the inhospitable river. “His Nibs” was
also refitted, so that the staunch little craft looked like new, and was
much admired. The boys rambled all over the old city, from the
above-surface, tomb-like cemetery, to the lively creole quarter. Ransom
visited many ships in port and studied the lines and construction of
ocean-going vessels, river craft and lugger fishing boats. All sorts of
craft congregated at this harbor for all kinds of purposes—for cotton,
for sugar, for every sort of commodity, in fact, even down to mules.
Ransom watched them all, went aboard some and talked with the mates and
engineers. His intelligent questions won him courteous, thoughtful
answers. He took notes, made sketches, and in every way possible took
advantage of this opportunity to fit himself for his life’s work.

At last, on the first of May, 1899, the storms having passed, the
“Gazelle” being as fit and trim as a boat could be, the crew bade
good-by to the many friends they had made, cast off from their moorings
and started for the salt sea.

For two days they sailed through the delta of the Mississippi, and then
entered that dangerous short cut to the Gulf, Cubit’s Gap—a passage
flanked on either side by shoals which even the “Gazelle” could not sail
over. It was lined by the skeletons of wrecked vessels, and made the
boys hesitate a little before taking the risk. But “nothing venture
nothing gained,” they thought, and a successful venture meant almost a
hundred miles gained.

The weather conditions were good and the vote was unanimous in favor of
trying; so, on reaching the cut, the “Gazelle” turned to port and
entered the dangerous channel.

“Good-by, old Mississippi!” Kenneth said, half aloud. “We are ocean
bound at last.”

It was all done very quickly, and never a feeling of reluctance came
over them as they carefully picked their way among the shoals of the
pass.

The run through the sand point, which the current of the river has
forced out into the Gulf, was some six miles long. By careful sailing
the “Gazelle” ran this distance without mishap; and then spread out
before her was the great Gulf of Mexico! Ahead for several miles was the
shallow shoal. Débris of every kind surrounded them. Everything was so
lonesome. Not a sail in sight or anything to make them feel that the
world was peopled.

A flock of sea birds rose from the water, and, with a peculiar cry, flew
far away as if frightened by a sight seldom seen, and for a moment made
it seem as if they were “alone on a wide, wide sea.”

The sea was calm, so, taking a sounding pole aboard “His Nibs,” Frank,
with chart before him, measured the depth. The “Gazelle,” under
shortened sail, followed slowly in his wake, often luffing quickly to
avoid a bar, and surely, though slowly, winding her way. So intricate
did the path become at times that it was necessary for them to cast
anchor and explore ahead for depths sufficient to float the yacht, but
at last, just as the sun was sinking in the distant west, their labors
were rewarded by success, for careful sailing and constant sounding were
necessary, but at last the cheery cry of “No bottom,” came from their
pilot ahead, and in a few minutes the staunch “Gazelle” was gliding
along on the long, rolling surface of the open Gulf, afloat at last on
the great salt sea.



                               CHAPTER IX

                         ON SALT WATER AT LAST


“Hurrah for the sea; the blue, salt sea; the sea that we strove to
reach!” shouted Kenneth at the top of his voice.

“Hurrah!” shouted the other two boys, and all three clasped hands and
danced about in glee.

“Isn’t this worth working for?” inquired the captain, as he swept his
hand round, tracing the horizon line.

Off in the distance lay the Bird Islands, and still further the Breton
Islands showed faint and hazy in the fast deepening dusk. The wind was a
mere caressing zephyr, and the sea rolled in good-naturedly, soothingly,
even.

“What’s the matter with this, boys? Let’s anchor here. Heave the lead,
Frank, and see if it’s all right.”

Frank reached under the cockpit seat and took from its rack the lead and
line. “Aye, aye, sir,” he answered, in mock servility. Hooking his left
arm round the port stays, he stood on the rail, the long strip of lead
dangling from his right hand; the left hand held the coil of line. For a
minute he stood poised there while the “Gazelle” curtseyed her
acknowledgments to the long swells, a picturesque figure silhouetted
against the warm glow of the setting sun. Then he began to swing his
right arm slowly and steadily, the lead just clearing the water. When it
was swinging well forward he let it go, and as the line slipped through
his fingers he watched for the bits of colored cloth that indicated the
depth. Down, down it went, until all but the leather strips had
disappeared in the water. Then the line slackened, and the leadsman knew
that bottom had been reached. Beginning to pull in the line Frank
shouted, “Three fathoms!”

“Stand by! Let go your anchor!” ordered Kenneth, as soon as Frank had
reeled in the lead-line.

“Let her go!”

There was a splash, then a hum and swish of heavy rope as the anchor
cable whipped through the chocks.

“Let go your mizzen halliards!” The creak of the blocks told that the
order had been obeyed. Arthur let the jigger go at the same time. For a
few minutes not a word was spoken—all the mouths were full of cotton
rope—“stops”—while the hands were busy tightly rolling the sails. The
jib was furled up at last, and not till the anchor light was set
glowing, hung from the triced-up jib four or five feet above the deck,
did the four boys have time to lay off and enjoy the situation. They
were surprised to see how dark it was. Only a minute ago it seemed that
the sky was alight and full of color; but now only a faint soft glow
remained as a reminder that they were near the tropics where the sun
drops out of sight while still glowing.

Arthur and Kenneth lay on their backs on the cabin roof, while Frank
went below to get supper. Both boys murmured their content. They were a
little tired, for the navigation of Cubit’s Gap had been a strain on the
nerves and had necessitated more or less violent exertion. The air was
warm and restful; the motion of the boat was like the easy rocking of a
cradle, the most delightful motion on earth; the stars were just
beginning to show themselves, and the mast of the boat seemed to point
them out one by one as she swung to and fro. Suddenly there was a slight
splash alongside and a long-drawn, vociferous sigh.

“What was that?” Arthur said, sitting up quickly, with a startled look
on his face.

“I don’t know,” Ransom confessed, rubbing his eyes; “queer, wasn’t it?”

Frank’s clatter as he made ready the supper were the only sounds.

“Listen!”

Again the long sigh. It seemed to come from the very heart of some one
in intense pain.

Both boys jumped up, and Arthur called softly to Frank to come on deck.
Then all three leaned over the side, looking eagerly for the soul in
torment. They half expected to see a white upturned face showing against
the dark water. Again the sound of escaping breath. The boys looked in
the direction from whence it came and saw, not the white face of a
drowning woman, nor anything else of a like romantic nature, but the
black, glistening hide of a huge porpoise, as it leisurely humped its
back and disappeared below the surface.

“Phew! but that scared me,” remarked Arthur. “Thought somebody was in
trouble, sure.”

“The laugh is on us, all right,” Kenneth said; but he shivered slightly
in remembrance of the strange sound. “How’s supper, Frank? I’m hungry
enough to eat half that porpoise.”

It was a merry party that sat down to the meal of oysters, which had
been given to them by their fishermen friends; spuds, as the boys called
the potatoes; coffee, bread, without butter, and a treasured pie, rather
the worse for wear, but keenly relished for all that. What was left of
the meal would not have satisfied a bird, and the dishwashing that night
was an easy job.

All three of the boys felt that their fun was really only just
beginning. The cruise down the Mississippi seemed like a nightmare as
they looked back upon it. Cold, unending exertion, sickness and imminent
danger, coupled with a necessity for great economy, had taken all the
zest out of the enjoyment they might have had.

Something has been said about Ransom’s financial condition; the same
thing was true of the other boys. Clyde and Arthur hoped and expected to
make some money along the way to help pay expenses, as did Kenneth and
Frank; but fortune was against them and they had to get along as best
they could on the small sums they possessed. From St. Louis to New
Orleans, taking in all expenses, including extra oil needed to keep from
freezing, medicines and extra nourishing food for the invalid Arthur,
the total cost per week per boy was a dollar and a half.

[Illustration: FISH THEY CAUGHT IN THE GULF OF MEXICO.]

It was no wonder, then, that the three thought that a happier time was
coming. Smiling, sunny skies above them, clear, buoyant, salt water
under them, a tried and true ship their home, and a ship’s company that
could be absolutely relied upon. What more was to be desired?

The night was divided into four watches of four hours each, and Kenneth
went on deck to take the first trick from eight to twelve.

And so the young fresh-water sailors passed the first night on the briny
deep. A peaceful, restful, invigorating night, that marked the beginning
of a new series of experiences.

Arthur went on at midnight (eight bells), and Frank, in turn, relieved
Arthur at four o’clock (eight bells of the morning watch). It was Frank,
then, who put his head into the after hatch and roused “all hands” at
six o’clock, which Arthur and Kenneth called an unholy hour.

“I wonder if there are any sharks around?” said Arthur, as he stood on
the dew-wet deck looking overboard. “Gee! that water looks tempting.
Here goes!” Almost with a single sweep of his hands he had pulled off
his duck jumper and trousers, and the last words ended in a gurgle as he
hit the water.

“Beat you in,” was Frank’s only comment to Kenneth, who came on deck
that minute. It was a dead heat. As for sharks, the thought of them did
not enter the heads of the three boys, as they ducked and dove, splashed
and swam, shouted and squealed, with pure delight. It would have upset
the equilibrium of any self-respecting shark; at any rate, none made
their appearance that day.

It was a very airy costume that the crew wore that morning while they
scrubbed down decks, coiled down tackle, cleaned out “His Nibs,” and put
the little ship to rights generally.

Kenneth and Arthur got the “Gazelle” under way, while Frank went below
to get breakfast. The course was shaped for Biloxi, Mississippi, and the
yacht settled down to the two days’ run. The wind was fair and true, and
the yacht, spreading out her wings, sped between the many islands that
dotted the waters, and picked her way through the intricate channels
daintily. They anchored off Barrell Key that night, and made the
acquaintance of two fishermen—Austrians—whose lugger was anchored close
by. The boys accepted their invitation to fish with them next morning,
and while they did little more than contribute considerable looking on,
they got a good mess of fish. These Frank speedily turned into an
appetizing breakfast, the incense from which was still rising when the
boys bid their fishermen friends good-by. In a very short time the mast
of the lugger had dwindled to a matchstick, and the swift, rakish little
hull disappeared below the horizon.

It was just dark enough to make it difficult to distinguish the channel
marks when they reached Biloxi Harbor, but the “mud hook” was dropped in
a safe place, and Frank and Kenneth went ashore to look for mail and to
telegraph home the news of their safe arrival. They had been unable to
send word for the better part of a week, and the loss last year, about
the same time, of the “Paul Jones,” a large launch, in the waters
through which the “Gazelle” had navigated so serenely, would, the boys
knew, make their parents dread this part of the cruise. It was partly a
feeling of triumph, partly a desire to relieve anxiety, that Kenneth
experienced when he hurried to wire home.

The teredo, that terrible little insect that turns the bottoms of
vessels into sieves, and undermines the woodwork of wharves in Southern
waters, was very much on the mind (metaphorically, of course) of the
young captain. He had no desire to feed the staunch “Gazelle” to the
voracious little borer. Many times he had been warned to copper paint
the bottom of the yacht, and, though he dreaded the job, the sooner it
was done the better. A sloping sand beach lay to one side of Biloxi, and
onto this the “Gazelle” was hauled at high tide, her ballast unloaded,
and as the water fell she careened to one side. The starboard side was
exposed first, and to the delight and satisfaction of Kenneth and his
friends, there was hardly a scratch in the clear, hard wood. All hands
immediately fell to work scraping off the marine growth that had formed.
It was a three hours’ job, but when it was finished the boys felt so
virtuous that satisfaction stuck out like the paint on their faces.
“Pride cometh before a fall,” but the oyster shell cut which Kenneth’s
foot received, seemed to him a fall entirely out of proportion to the
pride.

Invincible to the terrible teredo, the “Gazelle” sailed out of Biloxi
Harbor bound for Mobile. She reached her destination the same day, just
as the sunset gun of Fort Morgan boomed out, and the Stars and Stripes
came fluttering down its staff.

The “Gazelle’s” ensign came down at the same instant. “You see, we are
recognized,” Kenneth remarked airily, as he waved his hand in the
direction of the cloud of gunpowder smoke that still hovered over the
muzzle of the old smooth-bore.

There was some discussion as to who should go ashore and inspect the
fort—the grassy slope that led up to the massive, red-gray pile was very
inviting—but eventually the strands of rope yarn decided for them that
Kenneth should not go. Whereupon he declared that he ought not to walk
on his injured foot, any way. After rowing close in to the grassy
ramparts of the fortress, Frank and Arthur decided that they did not
care to visit it either. Whether Uncle Sam’s soldier, who paced along
close to the water and carried a gun, had anything to do with their
sudden change of plan, is not for the writer to say, but Ransom noticed
that the two would-be visitors seemed to be disinclined to talk about
the matter.

The fishing was so good in Mobile Bay that the boys could literally
stand at their hearthstone (if a boat can be said to have a
hearthstone—galley hatch would be more correct), and catch their
breakfast. If they could have been satisfied to live on fish alone, life
would have been too easy.

“We will grow scales if we eat much more fish,” said Kenneth, the last
day of their stay in Mobile Bay.

“That’s a good scheme,” enthused Arthur (he of the fertile imagination).
“Then we could make no end of money exhibiting ourselves as the only
original mermen.”

Notwithstanding the possibilities of this enterprise, the three boys
laid in a goodly supply of plain shore bread, potatoes, even a pickle or
two, and filled the water breakers with fresh water—it would be two days
before the next town could be reached.

Bright and early, Arthur, who had the morning watch, called all hands,
and weighing anchor the “Gazelle’s” bowsprit was turned seaward. The
long sand bar leading out from Mobile harbor was marked at its outer end
by a whistling buoy, that sped the parting guest most mournfully and
welcomed the coming one with a dirge. The wave-driven billows produced a
most melancholy whistle, and the boys were glad when they had turned to
port and were beyond the sound of it.

Fickle fortune smiled on these hard-used voyagers at last. Blue skies
overhead, the clear waters below, a delicate light green that reflected
into the white sails, or a deep verdant color that was restful to the
eye, and showed off to advantage the tints of the jewel-like fish that
swam in its depths. The warm sun—too warm at times—was a joy after the
long sunless days on the Mississippi, though it tanned their skins the
color of the cherry-finished cabin.

Two days out from Mobile they were sailing along in a light breeze,
almost dead aft. Frank held the tiller and was having little to do;
Kenneth lay on his stomach in the cockpit, studying the chart, with its
multiplicity of figures showing depths of water; Arthur was below
putting a very conspicuous background into a pair of his duck trousers.

“How’s the weather up there, old man?” Arthur shouted to Frank.

“All right, all right!” came the answer, drowsily. “Not much wind, but
hotter than blazes.”

“But there’s going to be trouble, all the same—‘glass’ shows it.”

Kenneth came tumbling down to see, and, sure enough, the barometer was
falling fast. It did not seem possible that a storm could be coming. The
air was bright and clear, the long, easy swells suggested nothing but
good treatment, and the breeze was almost caressing in its softness. But
it was the calm before the storm. Presently the warmth began to go out
of the air, and a chilliness that made the boys shiver crept into it. A
darkening came up in the southwest which gradually deepened and spread
until the whole heavens were deep blue-black, against which the scudding
clouds showed white and ominous. From time to time the boys heard a
distant rumbling, and streaks of zigzag lightning flashed across the
gloom. It was the first time the “Gazelle” and her crew had encountered
a blow on the salt water, and they looked to the shore for a shelter.
Vicious little blasts—advance pickets of the squall—blew sharply across
the sea, and picked up little puffs of spray which instantly disappeared
in vapor; the “Gazelle” trembled under these slaps of wind like a
spirited horse under the touch of a nervous driver.

The shore was without a vestige of shelter, and there was nothing to do
but to ride it out.

Kenneth took the tiller, while Arthur and Frank made haste to reef down.
The mainsail was lowered altogether and furled, the jib was reefed
twice, and the jigger hauled inboard and reefed also. “His Nibs” was
hauled aboard and lashed down tight. Oilskin coats and sou’westers were
“broken out” of the lockers, and the hatches were shut tight and
battened down. The boat would have to do the rest to bring them through
safely, and all had confidence that she would be perfectly able to do
so.

These preparations were made none too soon. In an instant the sharp
little puffs of wind gave way to a whooping gale that picked up the sea
and the yacht alike, and swept them like chaff before it along shore.
Then came the rain—a deluge, a cataract, that shut down on everything
like night. The sea rose up about them like moving hills, the wind
buffeted them so that the yacht jarred with the blows, and the rain
closed in on them, a watery stockade. It drenched the crew crouched in
the cockpit through and through, and dashed into their faces a thousand
stinging darts.

The squall lasted for an hour without a let up. The “Gazelle” rode the
waves beautifully, and took the buffetings of wind and rain like the
sturdy craft she was, without a murmur. The sharp flashes of lightning
gave Kenneth momentary glimpses of the shore, by which he managed to
steer. Otherwise they were going it blind.

At length they noticed that the volleys of thunder seemed less near and
the lightning less frequent and the onslaught of the rain darts not so
sharp. The squall began to die down as quickly as it rose; astern, a
faint light showed, while ahead the gloom was as deep as before. The
rain grew less and less, and then passed entirely, the sun cleared his
brow and shone down amiably through a blue sky, the wind calmed to a
steady breeze, rain-washed and cool. Only the troubled sea remained as a
reminder of the tempest.

Frank got up and shook himself. “I wish we had a wringer aboard,” he
said. “I’d like to put myself through it. Ugh! I’m wet.”

As the sun dropped into the sea the “Gazelle” ran over the bar and
anchored just inside of Pensacola Harbor. The ebb tide prevented them
from going up to the town.

The shelter was slight, and the sharp squall of the afternoon raised the
sea to an uncomfortable degree of motion. The “Gazelle” tossed and
rolled, not having the steadying advantage of spread canvas. The boys
were glad enough when the sun rose and the tide allowed them to sail up
to a sheltered anchorage off the city itself.

The thing about the city of Pensacola that seemed principally to attract
the boys’ interest was a large ice-manufacturing plant, the manager of
which presented them with a sizable cake. This to boys who had been
drinking luke-warm, rather brackish water, was a real boon.

After leaving Pensacola Harbor they turned to port, and found anchored
just round the bar a fleet of vessels flying the yellow quarantine flag;
but the “Gazelle,” having a clean bill of health, gave them a wide berth
and sped on.

The rather intricate passage into Santa Rosa Sound was run without
mishap, and then began one of the most delightful day’s sail of the
cruise.

They passed a strip of sand hills twenty miles long, for the most part
covered with tall, waving grass, live oaks and palms, but showing
glimpses here and there of the white gleaming sand. The main land along
the Sound is a government reservation, and is thickly planted with live
oaks, forming a solid wall of green almost twenty miles long—a hedge, as
it were, with irregular top, showing where some ambitious tree has grown
above its fellows. Between is a strip of water five miles wide, smooth
and clear, light green in its shallows, shading into the deep blue that
marked the channel.

Along this path of beauty flew the “Gazelle,” her white sides and sails
gleaming against the tinted water.

A fleet of fishing boats were sailing ahead when the “Gazelle” entered
the Sound, their graceful shapes skimming over the water.

Kenneth stood up in his place at the helm and looked at them. “The
‘Gazelle’ has proved herself seaworthy,” he said, rather proudly. “I bet
she can beat that bunch of boats ahead.”

There were no takers, but all hands watched the gap of water between the
yacht and hindmost craft eagerly. The wind was astern, and with her
sheets well out, the yawl flew after the fishing fleet. For an hour
there was little change in the relative positions of the pursuer and the
pursued; then the boys noticed that the distance was lessening. On they
flew up the broad, ribbon-like channel, until they were almost able to
read the names on the sterns of the working boats.

“We’re not so slow,” Kenneth cried, as the “Gazelle” drew alongside, his
eyes shining with pleasure.

“Adios,” shouted a swarthy man standing in the stern sheets of a lugger.
“Fine boat, yours; you want swap?” A set of white teeth shone as he
smiled sunnily.

The three boys took off their caps and waved a salute. “No, thank you;
we’re bound up the Atlantic coast, need deep draft boat,” Kenneth
answered.

“Atlantic, that boat? no!” the other said, half to himself; and the last
the boys saw of him he was still shaking his head emphatically.

“Doesn’t know the boat, does he, boys?” Kenneth laughed.

The fishing fleet was soon left behind, and the “Gazelle” was once more
sailing alone. The sun began to sink lower and lower, gaining depth of
color as it dropped, until the whole narrow path of water blazed and
sparkled with opalescent tints. The boys were almost intoxicated with
the delight of it, and did not notice how abruptly the sound was
narrowing down. The sunset’s glory was short-lived, and the crew found
themselves in an intricate, crooked channel, utterly strange to them.
They had almost decided to anchor, when they noticed a large schooner, a
mere shadow, gliding ahead of them.

“We’ll follow her wake,” declared Kenneth. “She knows the channel if we
don’t.”

Like hounds on the trail they followed the schooner through the
deepening dusk, until the flapping of canvas told them that she had come
into the wind, and the clank of chain cable through the hawse pipes
betrayed the fact that she had anchored.

Bright and early the next morning the rollicking three were overboard
taking an awakening bath. After bidding their guides of the night before
good-by, they began to pick their way among the bars and coral rocks to
the open Gulf. It was trying, careful work, requiring constant
watchfulness, frequent sounding and much tacking to and fro; but the
“Gazelle” was riding the long swells of the open sea by eight o’clock. A
long sail was ahead of them, and they hoped to make the distance to St.
Joseph’s Bay by nightfall, a run of about eighty miles. But alas! the
wind forsook them, and hour after hour they rolled on the long, oily
swells under the brazen sun.

“I am tired of loafing around. I am going to do something.” Arthur got
up from his place on the deck aft and looked round for a suggestion.

Frank and Kenneth started at this sudden display of energy.

“What are you going to do?” Kenneth asked.

“Fish,” was Arthur’s laconic answer, as he caught sight of a stout line
with a big hook bent on it.

“Going to catch minnows?” Frank suggested facetiously.

“No, whales.”

Arthur went below and dug out of the locker the end of a piece of pork,
then dropping the tackle and bait into “His Nibs,” he pushed off.

Kenneth roused himself. “Say, Arthur,” he called, “better fish from the
yacht; we might catch a breeze and leave you.”

“Oh, go away,” the mate answered. “There isn’t a breeze within two
hundred miles of here.”

Arthur rowed off a hundred yards or so, baited his hook and dropped it
overboard.

“Well, if he isn’t the greatest freak,” Frank remarked lazily.

For some time the two boys on the yacht watched him, then, as nothing
happened, they moved their gaze and half dozed in the warm, salt air.

Of a sudden there was a cry and a thump as of wood against wood. They
looked quickly, and saw Arthur hanging on to the line, which stretched
out before him tight as a harp string. The boat was rocking dangerously,
and the oars banged together.

“What’s the matter?” both boys shouted.

“I have caught something,” was the answer.

He certainly had caught something; and the “something” was carrying him
rapidly away from the “Gazelle” out to sea.



                               CHAPTER X

                        RIDING A MONSTER TURTLE


Arthur, after rowing away from the yacht, dropped his baited hook
overboard, and for a time waited eagerly for something to happen; but as
the water remained as before, the sun shone down with unabated ardor,
and the heat waves danced over the shining sea, he soon lost interest,
and sat drowsily holding the line loosely in his hand, his white canvas
hat drawn over his eyes.

Suddenly there was a jerk, and the line began to burn through his
fingers; he gripped it hard, and was nearly pulled overboard. The thing
at the other end, surprised at resistance, stopped an instant and gave
Arthur time to recover himself.

“Gee! I’ve got something,” he shouted. He certainly had, or something
had got him; it was some time before he could make up his mind which it
was.

The fish began to move. Arthur determined he should not, and the
consequence was that they all moved, the fish, “His nibs” and Arthur,
straight for the open Gulf.

“Here, where are you going?” Kenneth’s voice came faintly over the water
to him.

“I don’t know,” Arthur shouted back, his eyes on the taut line.

“Cut loose!” The voice from the yacht was fainter. Arthur thought that
he must be moving away fast, but he determined that he would not give
up. He watched the line closely, and presently noticed that it was
taking a longer and longer slant; evidently the fish was coming to the
surface. “His Nibs” rushed along at a great rate, its bow low down with
Arthur’s weight and the stress of the towing; its stern was almost out
of water. The line rose slowly until it was almost parallel with the
surface. Arthur watched it excitedly as it cut the water like a knife
and the drops were thrown aside by its vibrations. At length a sharp fin
rose out of the water, and cut a rippling V in the blue sea.

“By Jove! it’s a shark,” said Arthur between his teeth.

The boys on the yacht evidently saw, too, for a faint cry reached the
ears of the boy in the boat. “Let him go!” they shouted. “Let him go!”

“I’ll be hanged if I do.” Arthur did not waste his breath by speaking
the words aloud; he needed all his strength to hold on to the small
line. The cord cut his fingers, and the pull made his arms ache, but he
would not give in. “That beast must get tired some time,” he thought.
Suddenly the fin turned, there was a miniature whirlpool behind it, and
Arthur’s arms were nearly wrenched out as the shark put helm to port and
struck out in a new direction. Arthur looked up, saw that they were
heading straight for the “Gazelle,” and he took courage.

“If he’ll only go near enough,” thought the boy; but the capture was not
to be counted on, as it dashed from side to side and made rushes this
way and that, in a vain endeavor to get away from the maddening hook.
Its general direction, however, was toward the yacht. Arthur shouted:
“Soak him, if you get a chance. I’m nearly done.”

In one of its mad rushes the shark came within ten yards of the yacht,
when Frank, making a lucky cast with the heavy sounding lead, landed it
on the beast’s most vulnerable spot, the nose, and stunned him. Arthur
got out an oar and paddled over to the yawl, handed the line over to
Frank and got aboard. Frank made the line fast to the bitts forward,
then cried exultingly: “Go ahead, old tow-horse, and tow away. Pleased
to have you, I’m sure.” The shark’s gameness was broken, however, and
after a few heroic struggles to get free, came within easy sight of
Frank, who speedily put a bullet into him and ended the tragedy. They
pulled the great fish alongside and measured him.

“A good twelve-footer, I bet,” Frank asserted, after measuring the big
tiger of the sea with an oar. “And look at that jaw! Jonah could only
have got past those teeth in sections.”

“Well, you did do something,” Kenneth remarked, as he glanced at the
long, lithe creature floating alongside. “But I did not expect you to
catch a towboat.”

“Suppose—say, I’ve got a bright idea”—Frank looked up from his
inspection of Arthur’s catch—“suppose we drop a couple of baited lines
forward, made fast to the bitts, catch a team of sharks and get towed to
our next port, or why not the whole distance?”

“It might be all right to start, but how the mischief would we stop?”
Arthur rubbed his muscles, strained in the efforts which he had already
made in that direction.

“Oh, just anchor, hobble our team by the tails and go on about our
business. It’s as simple as can be. They could soon be taught port and
starboard.”

“Coming down to plain facts, I wish we had a breeze; even a foot-pump
would help us.” Kenneth shielded his eyes from the glare and looked over
the glittering blue waters for a wind ripple.

“Yes, like that fellow back in Michigan, who proposed to put a motor in
his boat with an air blower, so that when the wind gave out he could
blow himself along.”

Only enough breeze ruffled the smooth waters of the Gulf to allow them
to creep back into harbor and wait for a new day.

The shark was cast loose, in spite of Arthur’s impractical protest that
he wanted to keep it as a souvenir.

The next morning all hands were up early and were greeted as they came
on deck by a spanking southwest wind. It was more than a breeze; it
might be ranked as a reefing wind, but the “Gazelle” was under-canvassed
and so hoisted full sail safely. The whole aspect of the sea had
changed. Deep, blue and rippling under the steady wind, it had lost the
brazen glare of the day before. The palms along shore waved their
graceful fronds in gentle salutation, and the white-crested breakers
made obeisance at their feet.

“Up anchor, and away, boys!” Kenneth shouted, exhilarated by the ozone
in the air. Frank and Arthur started to work the small hand windlass.
“Put your backs to it, boys; we’ll be off the sooner.”

In a minute the anchor broke ground, the yacht began to pay off, and was
under way in earnest.

“Gee! this is better than your old shark-towing scheme,” Arthur said, as
he and Frank coiled down the gear and made all snug for the long day’s
run. “There’s nothing like a wind-jammer, say I.”

“Right you are, Art,” Frank acknowledged. “My! I am hungry, though; my
breastbone is flat against my spine.”

“Well, it’s up to you, old man,” Kenneth sang out from his place in the
cockpit. “Chase it along; I feel as if I could eat Arthur’s shark.”

As the day wore on, the waves grew larger, long, rounded rollers, that
at times crested and were blown into spray by the wind. Huge, tumbling,
rolling hills they were, like great playfellows, mighty but amiable. The
boys felt a kind of fellowship for them, and enjoyed watching the
blue-green slopes that rose and fell, now hiding the land from them, now
lifting boat and all to a watery height, widening the horizon and giving
the boys little thrills of delight as they coasted down into the hollows
again.

Hour after hour they sailed on, the wind steady and true from the
southwest, so that only the slightest shift of the helm was necessary,
and ’tending sheet became a sinecure. The “Gazelle” even acted as if she
were enjoying herself. She ran up the hill of one wave and down the
slope of another, like a frolicsome dolphin with a superabundance of
animal spirits. Indeed, the porpoises seemed to recognize in her a
playfellow, for they somersaulted along in company with her for hours,
mocked at her grace, raced with her and dove under her, for all the
world like children at play.

“Jiminy! let’s have a swim with ’em,” said Arthur, who, fascinated by
their easy antics, was positively envious. “If I could swim like that, I
wouldn’t mind turning my feet into fins one bit.”

The delights of that day’s sail would fill a book. The strange fish
which they caught glimpses of as the yawl flew along, brilliantly
colored and flashing like jewels in the clear depths; schools of
flying-fish, strange, spectre-like creatures, sprang out of the blue and
scudded a hundred feet or so clear of the waves, then dropped as
suddenly as they had risen, into their native element again.

Still the good yacht sped on swiftly, steadily, like a great tireless
bird. To starboard the boys could see nothing but the same old sea; the
same, but always changing, always new. To port, the land was fringed
with white tossing breakers, and beyond that forests of trees, graceful
palms, and sturdy live oaks, with their branches draped in swaying moss,
made a background of exquisite beauty.

Here and there a veritable giant that had lost in its battle with the
elements, rose up above the rest, bare, denuded and black, but a sturdy
relic still.

After a four-hours’ trick at the stick, Kenneth gave up the helm to
Arthur and went below to write up his log. For a time the other two boys
could see him laboring with a pen at the big, ledger-like book, intent
on doing what he considered his duty; but his hand travelled slowly,
then more slowly still. He looked up to get ideas, glanced through the
oval port lights, now shut in by a green wall of sunlit water, or giving
a sudden glimpse of blue cloud-flecked sky and palm-clad land over the
heaving waters. For a time he gazed, then, frowning, grasped his pen
determinedly, and set to work again. A dozen lines, perhaps, were
written, then his eyes were irresistibly drawn again to the
ever-changing pictures of sea and sky in the oval frames.

“Better give it up, old man,” Frank shouted down the hatch, laughing.
“Save your log till you can’t do anything else, or until it’s too dark
to see. This is better than a hundred logs. Come on deck and see it all.
You can tell about it later.”

“I can’t resist; that’s a fact,” Kenneth answered, coming on deck. “This
beats anything I ever even heard of. Don’t the old boat sail through,
though? Steady as a church—skates up and down the waves as if she
enjoyed it.”

The boys went below only to eat. Frank and Kenneth washed dishes,
because Arthur was sailing—this was according to the unwritten law, that
the one who sailed was excused from house work, light or otherwise. The
cook did not have to wash dishes, though he was perfectly welcome to do
so if he desired.

The boys saw the sun _rise_ that morning, and it was shedding its last
glowing rays over the restless waters when they made the harbor of St.
Joseph’s Bay. “Eighty miles in one day is not bad going for a
thirty-foot boat,” said Ransom, exultingly, after measuring the charts.

[Illustration:
  ON THE GULF COAST.
  “GRACEFUL PALMS AND STURDY LIVE OAKS.”
]

“Sure not,” chimed in Arthur. “If we could do that every day, the rest
of the cruise would be an easy thing.”

“Let’s see,” said Frank, counting on his fingers; “eighty miles a day
for thirty days would be 2,400 miles; at that rate we have only got
about two months’ more cruising, including stops.”

“I hate to obstruct this beautiful two months’ trip, but think of
yesterday and add a couple of months.” Kenneth, in his usual
matter-of-fact manner, was throwing cold water upon these extravagant
dreamers.

St. Joseph’s Bay, a deep indentation in the coast, afforded the young
sailors a splendid anchorage, sheltered and easy of access. The rollers
beat steadily on the beach outside, the roaring proclaiming the majesty
of the sea; but within all was calm and still—gentle rollers rocked the
yacht just enough to soothe—and the three youngsters slept like
hibernating bears.

The soft breeze hummed gently through the rigging, the little waves
lapped caressingly against the boat’s sides, fishes bumped their noses
inquiringly against her bottom. “His Nibs,” made fast by a long painter,
went on little excursions of its own as far as the line would reach,
like an inquisitive dog; but the boys slept through it, perfectly
unconscious of all the interesting nocturnal goings on. It was not until
the warm sun came shining through the port lights, and upon the open
hatch, that they finally waked up.

“Six bells, boys; up, all hands—rise and shine—shake a leg!” Kenneth
shouted, rubbing his own eyes to pry them open. It was seven o’clock,
and a long day’s sail to Appalachicola was before them. Each boy, as he
rolled out of his bunk, shook off the few clothes he had on and flopped
overboard. In a minute, the sleepy dust was washed out of their eyes,
and the boys sported about like seals in the clear, warm salt water.

Frank climbed on deck and dove off, making a clear arching leap like a
hunted fish; but his feet had hardly disappeared before his head showed
above the surface again.

“Why, you couldn’t sink in this water if a mill-stone were hung round
your neck,” he spluttered, shaking the water out of his eyes.

Through St. George’s Sound—a piece of water something like the Santa
Rosa, separated as it is from the Gulf by a narrow strip of sand—they
sailed to Appalachicola, then on along the harborless coast to Cedar
Keys. It was a piece of sailing that Kenneth dreaded. That long, curving
strip of coast without one adequate shelter along its entire length, was
not pleasant to think of in connection with an on-shore gale. Kenneth
examined the charts as the yawl sailed along, and noticed that the water
was very shoal far from shore.

“How deep do you suppose it is off here?” he called up to Frank, who was
steering.

“I don’t know; it must be pretty deep, for we are five or six miles from
shore,” Frank answered. “But I can see bottom just the same; look at
that seaweed waving as if the breeze was blowing on it. How deep is it,
any way?”

“Well, you may not believe it”—Kenneth rolled up the chart and started
aft to show the helmsman—“but it’s only seven or eight feet. Pretty near
as flat as a floor; about a foot a mile drop, I estimate.”

“Why didn’t we walk?” suggested Arthur, “as the Irishman said, when he
saw the diver coming up out of the water at Ellis Island.”

They anchored that night about five miles from shore, in seven feet of
water, and the treacherous old Gulf was as calm as a park lake under a
summer zephyr.

All the next day, a roaring wind from the northwest wafted the three
along; and night saw them safely anchored off the mouth of the Suwanee
River.

A star-studded sky hung over them as all three boys came out on deck
after all was snug and ship shape. Kenneth got out his guitar, and to
the accompaniment of its softly-strummed chords the boys sang:

                   “Way down upon the Suwanee River,
                   Far, far, away.”

The spell of the quiet was on them all, and as the sound of their young
voices died away, and only the hum of the strings, the lap of the
rippling water, and the soft whirr of the breeze were in their ears, a
feeling of sadness came over them as they realized that they were indeed
far, far from home.

Arthur lay flat on his back, gazing up into the immeasurable sky; Frank
lay along the rail, looking into the clear, black, velvety depths of the
ever shifting water; Kenneth, absorbed in his brown study, watched the
bow of the small boat abstractedly as the sharp stem cleaved the current
of the tide, making little waves that glowed with phosphorescence.

For a while, no word was spoken, then “Phew!” snorted Frank. “I knew
this was too good to last. What have we run up against, a fertilizer
factory?”

“I thing do,” answered Arthur, holding his nose.

“Dee! did it worde thad a dead rad.” Ransom had his nostrils closed
also, as his manner of speech indicated.

The stench drove the three boys into the cabin, where, with closed doors
and hatch, they sweltered until a shift of wind made it possible for
them to breathe the outer air again. They looked in the direction from
which the odor had come, and saw the anchor light of a vessel swinging,
and then, as their eyes became accustomed to the darkness, they made out
the deeper shadow of the vessel herself.

Not till morning did they find out that the fragrance came from a sponge
schooner. Though they hesitated some time, at last their curiosity
overcame their squeamishness, and, after washing down decks,
breakfasting, and cleaning up, Arthur and Frank (Kenneth having, as
usual, drawn the short yarn) took “His Nibs” and rowed over to the
schooner. Kenneth watched his comrades from the “Gazelle,” and saw them
row very gingerly up to the trim vessel until the small boat’s stem
almost touched the larger boat’s side, when they half turned to go away,
but, evidently gathering up their resolution, they hailed a man on deck
and went aboard. Later, Ransom, himself, had a chance of investigating
the work. As he climbed the schooner’s sides, he found sponges of many
sizes and shapes strung around the rigging in various degrees of
decomposition. A big West Indian negro explained to him that they were
hung up to rot the animal matter out of the fibrous substance which made
the home of the multitude of small creatures. A very unsavory
occupation, but one that pays quite well, the big fellow told Kenneth,
and invited him to go sponge-fishing with him. Ransom accepted, and,
getting into a small boat, they rowed some distance from the schooner.
Putting a long, slender pine pole with a hook on one end into the boy’s
hands, the negro suggested that he try his luck. “This is easy,” Kenneth
said to himself, as he slipped it into the water and began to feel about
on the bottom. Soon the end struck something soft, and, with a little
thrill that always comes to the fisherman when he gets hooked to
something, he began to haul up, slowly and carefully. Under instructions
from the negro, he pulled up inch by inch. The thing he had on his hook
was a dead weight, utterly unlike the active fish, but he thought that
he detected a tremor in even this inert mass. Slowly, and more slowly,
he raised the pole until he could dimly see a yellow-brown substance
through the sunlit water. At last his catch was almost on the surface,
when the negro began to laugh loudly. “What’s the joke?” Kenneth began,
then he stopped, as he caught a clear glimpse of his treasure trove. An
enormous mouth gaped at him, and two protuberant eyes that shone like
jewels gleamed in the sunlight, a brown, flat body covered with warts
and excrescences of various kinds flopped feebly on the surface. “Holy
smoke, what have I struck?” Kenneth exclaimed, feeling that he had a
waking nightmare. The thing slid off from the hook, and scaling down
through the water was soon lost to view.

“Ugh!” said the boy, shivering in remembrance. “What was that?”

“Angle-fish, I reckon. Scare yer?” the other replied.

Though Kenneth tried again, he could not haul up a sponge. There was a
knack to it that completely baffled him.

All through this part of the Gulf, the boys found the sponge fishermen
and their crews—many of whom were West Indian negroes—great, big, strong
fellows, who seemed to find the odoriferous life healthy. The shallow
water, smooth and clear, produced good sponges, and the fishermen came
to reap the harvest from all directions.

Even in the town of Cedar Keys, the boys could not get away from the
horrid odor. The town, formerly a great cedar-producing place, and the
site of a large pencil manufactory, had become the sponge fisherman’s
port of call.

“For heaven’s sake, Ken, let’s get our mail, our grub, and our water,
and clear out of this place,” Arthur said, the afternoon that they
entered Cedar Keys Harbor. “It seems to me that sponge is mixed up with
everything I eat, drink, smell, taste, see, and touch. It’s awful!”

“I’m willing,” the skipper answered, “if Frank votes aye.”

“Aye! Aye!” Frank shouted emphatically, with no loss of time.

Soon after dawn the next day, the mud-hook was pulled up, and the
“Gazelle” stood for the open Gulf. She sped along as if she, too, was
glad to get away into the free, sweet air of the Southern sea.

It was a six days’ sail to Charlotte Harbor, a little below Tampa. A
sail full of incident; of friendly races with fishing boats;
exhilarating bouts with sharp little squalls that called for quick work
and unerring judgment; and an entrancing view of an ever-changing
semi-tropical coast.

A schooner with which they had been sailing hour after hour, headed into
the harbor which opened up invitingly before both vessels.

“We might as well go in too,” suggested Ransom. “There’s plenty of
water, and we might take a chance at a turtle or two. What do you say?”

So they rounded the lighthouse and sailed up the channel with their
companion ship, like a team of horses. Together the jibs came down, and
together the anchor chains rattled through the chocks.

They learned from the lighthouse keeper that turtles were plentiful at
this time of year, and that they crawled up on the beach at night to lay
their eggs.

All three boys wanted to go, but one had to stay and keep ship. So after
supper they drew lots.

“This yarn-pulling business is getting to be a sort of one-sided joke,”
declared Ransom, aggrievedly. “I believe the strand I choose gets
shorter when I take it.”

“Hard luck, old man,” Arthur and Frank said sympathetically, as they got
into the small boat and pushed off.

Kenneth watched the boat as it skimmed the placid water, a dim shadow in
the deepening gloom, and listened to the rhythm of the dipping oars and
creaking rowlocks, with a sense of loneliness that he found hard to
shake off. The boat finally disappeared in the darkness, and the sounds
faded into the general murmur of the water. Soon a light showed on the
beach and went swinging along, eclipsed at regular intervals by the legs
of the carrier. The boys had lighted the lantern, and shouldering their
guns were on their way to the turtles’ haunts.

Ransom wrote his log and finished some letters; then, taking some
pillows on deck, was soon lulled to sleep by the soft wind and the
gentle swing of the waves.

Loaded down with hatchets, guns, and revolvers, Frank and Arthur looked
as if they were on a pirating expedition; they went prepared for
whatever might turn up. Bears are fond of turtle eggs and coons dote on
them; so there was a reasonable chance of the boys interrupting
somebody’s feast.

Side by side they walked, talking in low tones; both felt the tingling
excitement that goes with hunting adventures day or night.

Once, Frank caught sight of a dark something flopping in the water just
beyond the tiny breakers, and, half wild with excitement, he up with his
rifle and shot at it. Arthur raised the lantern, and they saw that it
was a small shark caught in the shoal water.

“One on you, old man,” laughed Arthur. “Think it was a sea serpent?”

After walking an hour or more, they rounded the point that protected the
harbor, and were soon treading the sand of the outer beach.

“This must be the place,” whispered Arthur. They walked more cautiously,
and looked for the parallel trenches in the sand that they had been told
marked the passage of the giant turtles.

The damp, salt air blew into their faces, and made the flame of the
lantern flicker, and cast uncouth shadows on the sloping beach.

“There’s one!” cried Arthur, giving his companion a grip on the arm.
“Look!” And they both started on a run for the dark object that lay so
still.

“Oh, come off; don’t you know the difference between a patch of sand
grass and a green turtle? What about the laugh this time?”

“That’s all right; I know a shark when I see it. This lantern
flickers—By Jove! look at that!” Arthur stopped in his tracks and
grabbed the light out of Frank’s hand.

There were two deep tracks in the sand that paralleled each
other—unmistakable sign of a monster turtle. Both boys followed the
trail on the run, only to find that Madam Turtle had been and gone, also
that bruin or coon had feasted royally on the eggs.

A hundred yards further on, they came to another track, and with
excitement less strong, but still with nerves and muscles tense and
hearts throbbing, they followed fast. The moon broke from the clouds and
silvered the crescent sea, the wind-tossed palms showed black against
the sky, and the beach shone white under the light. “Hurrah!” Frank
shouted. “Now we can see.” The pale gleam showed a dark shape ten yards
from them that moved awkwardly. “There she is, Art. Come on!”

In a minute they had come up to a giant turtle, which, on their
approach, drew in its head, then shot it out again, its beaked mouth
opening and closing wickedly.

“Shoot it, Frank!” Arthur cried, utterly flustered. “Hit him in the eye!
Hit him somewhere, quick!”

“No; let’s get hold of his shell and flop him over on his back, then
we’ve got him.” Taking hold of the huge creature’s shell, just back of
the crooked hind legs, they heaved and strained to turn her over. It was
no use, the beast was too heavy, and the turtle, objecting to this
treatment, started for the water.

[Illustration: “THE MOON BROKE FROM THE CLOUDS AND SILVERED THE CRESCENT
SEA.”]

“Shoot it, Frank; it’ll get away!”

Frank did as he was bid, but the bullets had no apparent effect—the
great creature waddled on even faster than before.

Arthur, almost beside himself with excitement, jumped on to the broad,
rounded back, and yelled like an Indian, swaying to and fro in his
efforts to keep his balance on the living platform. Then suddenly
realizing that he held a hatchet in his flourishing right hand, he
reached forward and struck it deeply into the snake-like skull.



                               CHAPTER XI

                         LOST ON CAPTIVE ISLAND


Charlotte Harbor was so flooded with moonlight that the little wind
ripples shone like frosted silver. The “Gazelle,” lying peacefully at
anchor, floated like a shadow on the placid water. Kenneth lay asleep on
the cabin roof, where he had moved from the more cramped position in the
cockpit. Soundly as a tired man should, he slept; then, disturbed by
dreams of battles with wind and wave, he stirred, working his arms and
legs like a dog who has visions of the chase. At first he moved
uneasily, but still lay in the same position, then, still dead asleep,
began to work over to the yacht’s rail. A long, strong roller came in
from the Gulf and rocked the yawl so that the deck sloped sharply; there
was a sudden great splash, and then all was still, the ripples circling
away from the agitated spot. Suddenly the waters began to show signs of
a struggle below, and an instant later a bedraggled white figure
splashed to the surface and began spouting and spluttering. Kenneth
coughed and wheezed as he got rid of a large quantity of warm, salt
liquid, and between gasps called himself all the names his water-soaked
brain could think of. He finally pulled himself up on deck—rather
weakly—and lay down in the cockpit to rest a minute.

“Well, I’ll be jiggered, if that wasn’t the greatest fool stunt! I am
mighty glad the other fellows were not around. I should never have heard
the last of it.”

He turned to go below, and, as he did so, he heard the far distant crack
of a rifle.

“Must be something doing with the turtles,” he thought.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The rifle shot which Ransom heard was fired by Frank at the great
turtle, which, in spite of the hatchet in its skull and the boy on its
back, was making for the sea, determined to escape. The hatchet, half
buried in the thick bone, had no more apparent effect upon it than the
dropping of an oyster shell on it would have had.

“Shoot him again, Frank!” shouted Arthur from his perch. “We’ve simply
got to stop him.”

The boy took careful aim at the sinister black eye, the only vulnerable
spot visible, and fired. With a heave that threw Arthur from his feet,
the great creature made its last struggle for freedom, throwing the sand
in showers and digging great holes in the coarse sand, then, folding its
legs and tail beneath its roof-like shell, it died.

For a minute, the victor gazed at his victim, and then, wiping away an
imaginary tear of regret, went to search for eggs. In a hollow near the
spot where the hunters had found Mrs. Turtle, her eggs were
unearthed—several dozen of them. The boys put them in a canvas bag which
they carried, and went on to hunt for more shellbacks.

Before long they came again upon the tell-tale tracks in the sand, and
found a turtle at the end of them; smaller, but one even more active
than the other.

It was with great difficulty that they managed to get a long piece of
driftwood under the shell, and by the aid of this leverage “end her
over.” Frank and Arthur immediately rushed forward to end her misery,
and received a shower of sand in their faces that nearly blinded them.
They retired out of range in confusion, and dug the sand out of eyes,
ears, and mouths. With powerful sweep-like strokes, the turtle clawed
the beach in its efforts to right itself, and scooped the sand until it
had dug holes for each of its four legs, so deep that the coarse grains
were beyond its reach, and it lay helplessly sprawling.

With a single hatchet stroke, turtle number two was despatched, and the
victors sat a minute beside their game to rest.

“Gracious! I’d like to have these turtles in Chicago,” remarked Frank,
with speculative instinct. “Just think of the gallons of green turtle
soup they would make; and it cost twenty-five cents a half-pint
plateful! Holy smoke, we would be millionaires in no time.”

“But what are we going to do with them now?” Arthur had a way of coming
down to realities with a sickening thud.

As if in answer to the question, the lighthouse keeper came towards them
out of the fast brightening dawn, and showed them how to dismember the
creatures.

Taking two great hams, the two boys slung them on a pole stretched
between them, and started back to the place where they had left “His
Nibs.” The pieces of turtle meat, the guns, lantern, and bag of eggs
made such a heavy load that they were glad enough when they reached the
spot where the small boat had been left.

Arthur and Frank looked out over the water and saw the “Gazelle”
swinging at anchor, glorified in the warm colors of the sunrise.

“What’s the matter with Ken?” Frank exclaimed, pointing with his gun
barrel at the figure on the yacht’s deck, which waved and gestured
frantically.

“He is pointing at something. What’s the matter with the chump? He is
shouting.” Arthur stopped to listen. The faint sound of a voice came
over the harbor, but they could not make out what it said.

“He is pointing.” Arthur was shading his eyes and looking intently.
“What, in the name of common sense, is—By George, look at ‘His Nibs.’”
Arthur was pointing now at the little boat, which, like a mischievous
youngster, was bobbing airily about a short distance from shore.

“Jove! it’s well we came along when we did; that little tub would have
been out to sea in a minute.”

As it was, Arthur had to swim for it, and only caught the truant after a
long race. “The next time I leave you alone,” he said, as he pulled
himself over the stern, “I am going to make you fast to a ten-ton
anchor.”

It was a merry feast that the reunited three enjoyed that morning.
Turtle steak, which Kenneth declared to be equal to porterhouse and much
like it in flavor, was the _pièce de résistance_; but the talk and chaff
were the garnishings that made the meal worth while.

“You have got to wash dishes, old man,” Kenneth said to his mate, when
every vestige of the breakfast had disappeared, “while Frank and I get
this old house-boat under way.”

                    “Gazelle, Gazelle,
                    She’ll run pell-mell
                    With every stitch a-drawing;
                    O’er waters smooth,
                    And waters rough,
                    The seas her forefoot spurning.”

He sang light-heartedly as he went on deck.

Soon Arthur heard the cheep, cheep of the halliard blocks as the
mainsail was hoisted, then the metallic clink of the ratchet on the
capstan; Frank’s cry, “She’s broke!” was followed by the swift whirr of
the jib halliards hauled taut and the creak of the blocks as the
mainsail was sheeted home. Then the slap, slap of the little waves
against the yacht’s sides as she heeled to the fresh breeze told Arthur
that they were under way again.

“There’s no use talking, this beats farming,” Arthur said to himself.
“But, Je-_ru_salem, we had it hard on the Old Mississippi. I don’t
hanker for any more of that.”

After getting under way, the order was: “All hands and the cook prepare
meat.” There was a large amount of turtle meat left that was too
valuable to be wasted. The flesh was cut up into strips, thoroughly
sprinkled with salt, and hung up in the rigging, where the sun shone
full upon it, to dry. It was not a very appetizing job, nor did the
yacht herself present a very attractive appearance, but the product
turned out all right. Turtle meat and turtle eggs were on the bill of
fare for some time.

Kenneth made the unsavory remark that if the meat-preserving experiment
proved a failure, the “Gazelle” would be about as fragrant as a
sponge-fishing boat.

After a four hours’ run, Frank, who climbed up into the port rigging,
glass in hand, made out Captive Island, a low-lying strip of land that
just showed above the surface of the water.

As they drew nearer, they could see that it was densely wooded—palms
tossed their feathery heads; the great live oaks stretched out their
mighty arms sturdily; and here and there a cedar stood out black in
contrast with the lighter greens.

“I’d like to explore that island,” said Arthur. “What’s the matter with
laying off there for the night?”

“All right; harbor is good and water enough,” Kenneth admitted, after
looking at the charts.

The anchor was let go into three fathoms, off a sort of rude landing,
which they afterward found was built by a man who lived on the island
and raised vegetables for the northern market.

After supper, Frank and Arthur went ashore, but soon returned, driven
away by mosquitoes. Frank declared that he had seen enough of that place
at close quarters, and that if the skipper and Arthur wanted to explore,
he was satisfied to stay and tend ship.

“Why,” said he, “except where the fellow has his vegetable patch, the
whole place is a morass right down to the water’s edge. I guess there is
a beach on the Gulf side, now I think of it.”

“That’s it—that beach! That’s what I want to explore.” Arthur was of an
investigating turn of mind.

It was unnecessary to go through the usual plan of drawing lots to
determine who should go and who should stay; Frank stuck to his previous
statement that he would not go “chasing round in that miserable mud
hole.” After all the morning’s work was done, the skipper and the mate
got into “His Nibs” and rowed off.

The little landing was a primitive affair, hardly strong enough, the two
boys thought, to allow of very heavy shipments being made from it; but
it was sufficiently sturdy to bear their weight without a tremor. From
it led a path through tilled land, green with the young shoots of a
freshly-planted crop. This road Kenneth and Arthur followed for some
distance. Fields crowded it closely on either side, then it branched,
and the boys found themselves walking on a narrow strip of solid ground,
hemmed in on both sides by a morass so deep and uncanny that they
shivered. Tall palmettos grew out of the slimy ground, and vines twisted
and wound in every direction like thin, green serpents; gray moss hung
from the branches everywhere, like veils placed to hide some ghastly
mystery. The path was well trod and firm, and the two boys, feeling that
it must lead somewhere, went on quickly. For an hour, they travelled
through the swamp, the way winding in and out among the trees wherever
the earth was firm.

“I wonder if this is another case of ‘Lost in the Dismal Swamp,’” said
Arthur, whose looks belied his cheerful tone.

“No; this path is perfectly clear. It will be easy enough to get back,
if we want to,” Kenneth replied. “Getting cold feet?”

“No, sure not; but I would like to get out into the open, all the same.”

The thick trees shut out all the breeze there was, and the damp,
currentless air was heavy with the odors of decaying vegetable matter.
Perspiration was running down the boys’ faces, and spots of dampness
began to show on the backs of their white jumpers.

“Hurrah!” shouted Kenneth, “there’s the beach.”

A rift in the trees showed the blue sky, and the invigorating sound of
surf reached their ears. Soon they came upon a stretch of sand that
shone white under the morning sun—smooth and hard and clean as a
newly-swept floor.

In a minute the two were running races up the beach that stretched
before them like a straightaway track. They ran and frolicked from the
pure joy of living. Under the clear sky and shining sun, they forgot the
gloomy forest and the stagnant marsh. Not till they were all out of
breath, did the rollicking skipper and his undignified mate stop to
rest; then they stretched at full length on the clean sand, and gave
themselves up to the joys of doing nothing, when there was no need to
work under the stress of an exacting conscience.

Neither of the boys realized how long they had lain there, supremely
comfortable as they were, until the pang of hunger began to make itself
felt.

“Look at that, Ken,” Arthur exclaimed, pointing to the sun long past the
meridian. “Why, it must be afternoon.”

“My stomach feels like it,” the other admitted. “Better be going back, I
guess.”

They got themselves up, and began walking leisurely along the beach,
stopping now and then to pick up a shell or to dip their bare feet in
the up-running waves.

“This is the place, Ken,” said Arthur, turning to two tall palmettos
growing on the edge of the forest.

“No, that isn’t it,” the other replied. “There was a crooked cedar near
the path where we came out.”

“I bet it’s the place,” Arthur said positively. “Let me prove it to
you.”

When they reached the trees mentioned, they glanced beyond them, and saw
the thick black ooze of the morass. A pale fungus thrust out of the mud
here and there added to the dismal aspect of the place.

“Ugh!” Arthur shivered.

“I told you so,” Kenneth jeered; “not a sign of a path.”

They walked on, looking for the crooked cedar, but not one could be
seen. Everywhere were palmettos, straight and tall, swaying in the
breeze and beckoning like sirens alluring them to the destruction that
lurked just beyond.

Every little opening that looked as if a path might lead from it was
searched eagerly, but the black swamp always stared them in the face
whenever they looked beyond the first line of trees. Hour after hour
they searched, at first hopefully, then doggedly, driven on by the
feeling that they must do something—that if they hunted carefully enough
and persistently the way would surely be found.

The sun sank lower and lower, and the feather-like fronds of the trees
cast longer and longer shadows over the beach; still the boys searched
for that mysterious path. Thirst was added to ravenous hunger that
increased every minute. The long walk through the woods, and later the
almost continuous exposure to the sun, had brought on a longing for
water that was getting well-nigh unbearable.

“What fools we were not to mark the trees where we came out,” Kenneth
wailed, as they dropped down on the sand, worn out. “We were so glad to
get out of the place that we did not think about getting through again.”

“We can’t go around,” Kenneth said, thinking aloud; “the swamp comes
right down to the water on all sides of the island but this. I guess we
have got to stick it out all night, old man.” Kenneth laid his hand on
his friend’s shoulder.

“My, but I’m thirsty!” was the mate’s only comment.

With the suddenness peculiar to the tropics, the sun went down in a
blaze of color, and in its stead came a cloud of mosquitoes,
bloodthirsty and poisonous. Without protection of any kind, the boys
suffered terribly—faces, hands, and feet were soon covered with the
itching little spots, that spread until their whole bodies were covered
with the bites of the pests. Their thirst increased until their mouths
seemed like dry ovens lined with dust and cracked with heat. Hunger,
too, assailed them—the hunger of healthy appetites long unappeased,
gnawing, and weakening.

Kenneth gathered some half-green wood from the edge of the forest, built
a fire, and in the dense smoke they sat as long as they could, or until
they choked.

Then, in order that one, at least, might rest, they took turns in
brushing the invading mosquitoes from each other. While one rested,
the other plied a palm branch; and so they passed the long
night—interminable it seemed.

At length the gray dawn began to steal over the sea, and the boys, weak
with hunger, and almost frantic with parching thirst, thanked God for
it. They knew that with the appearance of the sun the mosquitoes would
go, and with the hope that “springs eternal,” longed to begin the search
for the path again.

Soon the heavens were lighted with the glory of the sunrise, and the
waters, tinged with its colors, heaved and tossed like a great surface
of iridescent molten metal—constantly changing, showing new shades that
ran into one another, dimpled, flamed, and faded.

Arthur and Kenneth could appreciate the beauty of the scene in a dull
sort of way only. They suffered terribly; the pangs of hunger and the
tortures of thirst drove all else from their minds.

A plunge in the cool surf, however, freshened them up greatly, though it
took all their resolution to resist the temptation to drink the
intensely salt water.

As they were about to begin their search anew, they noticed a little
black dog trotting about near the edge of the woods. The boys were very
much pleased to see the little beast. He was frisky and well
fed—evidently the pet of some household—and the lost ones were glad of
even this remote connection with civilization.

Kenneth suddenly made an exclamation; he tried to whistle also, but his
parched lips would not admit of it.

“I’ve got an idea, Art. Listen.”

Arthur stopped trying to make friends with the little visitor.

“That dog got here somehow; he must have come along some path, and he
will know the way back. We have got to make him go home, then we will
follow. See?”

Arthur did see, and changed his tactics accordingly. “Go home!” he
shouted. But the dog suddenly grew very friendly, wagged his tail, and
came trotting across the sand towards them. It was most exasperating.
“Go home!” both shouted at once, and waved their arms menacing. The dog
evidently thought it some kind of a game, and he frolicked about as if
it was the greatest fun imaginable. “It won’t do,” muttered the older
boy, and he stooped as if to pick up a stone. This was an old game that
the dog fully understood. Many a time had he chased a stick into the
water. He danced about and barked joyfully.

“There, you miserable little critter, go home!” Kenneth threw a pebble
that struck just before the dog’s nose, and he stopped in astonishment.
Another well-directed stone changed his doggie joy and confidence to
fear, and, lowering his tail, he began to slink towards the woods and
the swamp.

The boys’ hearts beat high with hope, though they felt ashamed to treat
such a friendly little beast so unkindly. A well-feigned angry shout and
threatening gestures were enough to make their involuntary friend turn
tail and run for home. Once started, he ran in earnest, and fearful that
they would lose sight of him before he showed the path, the boys rushed
after, panting and almost fainting with hunger and thirst. Once they
thought that they had lost their guide, and their hearts sank; but, in a
minute or two, they saw him enter the woods, and they carefully marked
the place, so that they were able to follow without trouble. The
entrance was a most unlikely place, and they had passed it many times,
but soon they saw clearly a well-beaten path leading through the maze of
tree trunks and veiling moss.

With hearts full of thankfulness, they followed along, faint, dizzy, and
well-nigh exhausted, but withal hopeful and happy once more. At no great
distance they came to a comfortable plantation house, and there in the
front yard—blessed sight!—was a well with tin dipper hanging on the pump
box. The water, cool and clear, was the most delicious thing that they
ever tasted, and the remembrance of that draught of plain well water
will always linger with them. As they drank, their canine friend eyed
them from behind the corner of the house, and though they did their best
to show their gratitude, he mistrusted and would have none of them.

After thanking the good people of the house, they went on, and at last
reached the landing. It took nearly all of their remaining strength to
row out to the “Gazelle,” and though Frank plied them with questions
showing the effects of his long night of worry, they could hardly answer
him intelligently, until he had strengthened them with black coffee and
some food.

As soon as the skipper and mate had recovered their strength, they
weighed anchor and sailed away from the island that had so nearly been
the scene of their death.

Down the coast they sped, nearer and nearer the long point that divides
the Gulf of Mexico from the Atlantic Ocean. The boys grew more and more
impatient as they drew gradually nearer to the old ocean. The stops were
as brief as possible; they merely touched to get fresh water and buy
fruit or necessary food. There were no towns of interest to visit—mere
clusters of fishermen’s huts.

Cape Romano, that point around which the waters of the Gulf continually
froth and rage, was passed in safety, though the “Gazelle” tossed about
roughly, and had, for a time, a tussle with the seas that tested her
thoroughly.

Now began the trip through that maze of intricate channels of the Ten
Thousand Islands, where many a good vessel has been lost—a place that
was once the refuge of pirates, and even now retains the flavor of
bloodthirsty tales. On one of these islands, or keys, the boys landed in
search of fresh water. After walking a while, they came to a snug little
cove or inlet, and were surprised to find a graceful sloop anchored
cosily therein. From the cove led a well-beaten path, which, Frank and
Kenneth following, came to a picturesque cottage thatched with palm
branches. It was weatherbeaten, but looked comfortable. A young woman
was standing in front, and in answer to their polite questions about
water and the easiest of the many puzzling channels to follow, suggested
that they ask “John,” and pointed with her thumb over her shoulder to
the open door of the hut. Needing no second invitation, their curiosity
fully aroused by the strange remoteness of this little home, they
stepped on, and looked through the door into the larger of the two rooms
the house contained. There, prone on the floor, stretched on a gray rag
carpet, lay an old man; his complexion was brown, dark, and rich in
color as century-old mahogany; his thick, white hair—bushy and
plentiful—framed a face seamed and lined, but keen and full of vigor.
The old man stirred at the sound of the boys’ step, then rose and went
toward them inquiringly.

“The young lady said that you knew all about the coast, and could tell
us the best way to get through the islands,” Kenneth began.

“Yes, I do know something of the coast,” and the old man smiled, as if
at a joke too private to be told.

He asked the boys about themselves, and was much interested in their
tale of pluck and their plans for the balance of the cruise. After they
had finished their recital, he, in his turn, began an account of the
channels, harbors, shoals, tides, and currents, that showed an
acquaintance with the coast along the Gulf that was indeed marvellous.
His voice was clear and full, and he gestured freely as he talked with
the animation of a young man.

[Illustration:
  JOHN GOMEZ’S CABIN.
  “A ... COTTAGE THATCHED WITH PALM BRANCHES.”
]

Both of the boys instinctively understood that there was something
extraordinary about him, although they could not tell what it was.

He expressed a wish to see the boat that had been built so far away from
the warm clime she was now visiting, so the youngsters filled their
breaker at a spring near the cottage and led the way to the beach where
they had landed. It was quite a long walk, but the old native tramped it
as sturdily as the young men themselves. The “Gazelle” lay swinging idly
at her anchor; a sight to make her owner’s heart glad.

The old man seemed much pleased with the yacht, and complimented her
builder. Then he talked about boats in general, displaying such a
knowledge of vessels of all kinds that Kenneth’s curiosity finally
overcame him, and he asked if their host would not tell him some
incident that they might put down in the log in remembrance of the
visit—hoping that he might in some way reveal his history.

“Well, boys, how old should you say I am?” He looked quizzically from
one to the other. Frank guessed eighty; Kenneth eighty-five, and he was
afraid he was stretching it.

“Well,” said he, “my name is John Gomez, and if I live till Christmas—as
I hope I shall—I’ll be a hundred and twenty-three.”

Frank and Kenneth could do nothing but gaze at him open-mouthed. “Holy
smoke!” at last ejaculated Frank.

“Now, there’s something to put down in your log,” said John Gomez. “Good
luck to you.”

He shook the boys’ hands with a hearty grip, and went off.

“Well,” said Frank, as he and Kenneth got aboard “His Nibs” and pushed
off, “a hundred and twenty-three, think of it! I bet that old chap has a
history.”

And he had.



                              CHAPTER XII

                      FIGHTING A MAN-EATING SHARK


It was some time before the boys heard about old John Gomez; but the
tales that were current from Mobile to Key West would fill a book.
According to one story, he was the only surviving member of a pirate
crew—one of the many that formerly cruised about in the waters of the
Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The crew of this ship had a
disagreement about the division of the spoils, and a great fight
followed. All but Gomez were slain, and though he was badly wounded, he
hid the great treasure which was in his hands, and so carefully that no
one had ever been able to learn its whereabouts. The old man had never
alluded to the subject; and it was feared that his secret might die with
him. Some said that the young woman the boys saw with the old man was a
relative, others declared that she was merely a guard stationed to
secure the secret should the centenarian by any chance let it drop
unawares. Gomez’s general appearance did not a little to give credence
to these stories; his looks were certainly of the piratical order—a
lean, sallow face, keen, piercing black eyes, gold rings in his ears,
and a watchfulness that never wearied, were characteristics which he had
in common with light-fingered gentlemen of seafaring tastes.

Over a year later, the boys read a newspaper clipping describing his
death. He was drowned while sailing alone in his sloop on the open Gulf.
But they never heard that any of the treasure was ever found.

For several days the voyagers travelled among the Ten Thousand Islands,
winding in and out through the labyrinthine channels. It was a journey
full of incident. Islands of every size and shape—green islands and
islands bare of verdure—crowded the sea.

A whole week passed, and the boys did not see the least sign of a white
man. Every vessel of sufficient size stood out into the Gulf to avoid
the winding passages. They ran across several Seminole Indians, tall,
splendid fellows, who considered the coils of bright-colored cloth on
their heads sufficient covering for the whole body.

At last they sighted Cape Sable, and they knew that with a favorable
wind the “Gazelle” would soon be ploughing the waters of the Atlantic
Ocean.

Off Cape Sable the “Gazelle” ran into a fleet of fishing boats, and for
an hour the boys and the men of the fishing boats swapped yarns; then
they busied themselves laying in a stock of cocoanuts against future
need.

It was a straight run from Cape Sable to Grassy Key, one of the long
chain of islands which drip off the end of the Florida peninsula. At
last, only the narrow island lay between the “Gazelle” and the Atlantic
Ocean. The great body of salt water Kenneth and his crew had so
perseveringly fought to gain was almost in sight, and the deeper note of
its thundering surf could at times be plainly heard. What might befall
them on the greater tide they knew not, but with undaunted courage all
were impatient to venture, and to learn.

The “Gazelle” reached her secure anchorage just as the storm, which had
been threatening several days, broke with terrible fury. Sheltered as
they were, the joy of the boys at reaching the last obstacle to their
way to the Atlantic, gave place to awe as they heard the roar of the
wind and felt the shock of the beating surf on the coral shores outside.
For three days a heavy wind prevailed—too strong to allow of the
“Gazelle” venturing out. In fact, the seas had been swept free of all
craft as if by a gigantic broom. Then the boys were forced to live on an
almost purely vegetable diet of cocoanuts and oatmeal—a liberal supply
of weevils in the last constituting the only foreign element in the
otherwise strictly vegetable nature of the food. At the end of the three
days, the wind subsided enough to allow the yacht to crawl out of her
hole, and with wings spread wide, she entered the dangerous passage that
led to the almost limitless waste of waters of the grand old ocean.

It was a proud moment for Kenneth when his yacht sailed out on the broad
Atlantic—pride in his boat, pride in the crew, and a pardonable
satisfaction with his own good work.

“All hail to Old Ocean!” shouted the crew as the “Gazelle,” with a shake
that was like the toss of the head, bounded into the embrace of the
Atlantic’s long billows.

“Well, we did it!” cried the mate exultingly. “Sailed to the ocean.”

“And we will sail back, too,” added Frank.

“But we have a trick or two to turn yet.” Kenneth foresaw experiences
before them during the long coast-wise trip.

The voyage up the Hawk Channel to Miami, on Biscayne Bay, seemed long
only because of their short supply of food; and when they anchored off
that southernmost town on the mainland of Florida, they were ready to
tackle anything in the shape of eatables except oatmeal and cocoanuts.

For many, many days the boys had not been able to send word to their
people in far off Michigan; nor had _they_ heard from home. At Miami a
big batch of mail awaited them; and they at once satisfied a hunger for
home news and civilized food. Day by day the boys had added to their
letters, until Uncle Sam received almost as much mail matter as he had
brought.

For two days the boys enjoyed the comfort of a safe anchorage in a port,
and all hands got a good rest, many good feeds, and a good hair-cut
apiece. When their unkempt shaggy locks were shorn, the places protected
from the sun showed white in contrast to their tanned skins.

“Arthur, you look like Barnum’s piebald boy,” said Frank, pointing a
derisive finger at him.

“Well, you look as if you needed a good scrub. You started all right,
apparently, but you must have got tired.”

“Every man his own hair brush,” said Ransom, running his fingers
appreciatively through his stiff, closely cropped hair. “If I could only
reach my feet with my head I would always have a shine.”

“That’s all right; you can reach mine,” and Arthur put up his foot to
prove it.

The fame of the young sailors and their staunch craft had preceded them,
so they made many friends in the far Southern town, and spent the days
very pleasantly. The place was a great shipping point for
pineapples—crates of the spiky fruit being shipped by the thousands to
Northern cities; and now, for once in their lives, the boys had their
fill of them—great, juicy, luscious things ripened in their own warm,
native sun.

In spite of all these enticements, Kenneth and his crew were eager to
begin their long cruise up the coast, and in spite, also, of many
invitations to stay, they weighed anchor and got under way the second
day after they had entered the famous harbor. The bay, though large, was
full of bars, and these and great masses of seaweed made it difficult to
keep to the deep water.

A fine breeze was blowing, and the “Gazelle,” her booms well to port,
sailed off handsomely. Her crew, rested, well fed, and at peace with
all, were in high spirits, and proud of the fine appearance their yacht
made. Kenneth at the stick, Frank tending sheets, Arthur below making
all snug for the coming tussle with old ocean—all were in high feather.
The “Gazelle” was sailing her best, skimming over the water at good
speed, like a graceful gull, when suddenly she struck bottom, and
stopped with a jar. There she stuck, all sail spread and every stitch
drawing, but as hard on the bar as though she had been rooted to it.
This was too common an experience to give the boys any uneasiness, but
the delay was vexatious, and they tried every means that experience
suggested to shove her into deep water. The tide was falling, and they
soon saw that there was nothing to do but wait until it changed to
flood, and released them. A long day of waiting was before them, and
since with the falling water the yacht careened more and more, there was
no comfort in staying aboard of her.

“What’s the matter with a swim?” Frank suggested.

“I’ll beat you in,” Kenneth responded.

In a trice, all three were overboard.

Farther on the bar was entirely bare, and a smooth, hard sand beach was
left. One side sloped suddenly into deep water, and made a splendid
diving place.

For an hour, the three swam in the warm salt sea, and then Ken and
Arthur, growing a little weary of the sport, went on shore and lay
basking on the beach. Frank, however, not satisfied, continued to float
about.

Arthur and Kenneth talked comfortably for some time, then, becoming
interested, fell into a lively discussion, which Arthur suddenly
interrupted with, “Why, look at Frank. What in the world is the matter
with him?”

“Oh, he’s just fooling. Splashing around for exercise,” Kenneth answered
indifferently.

It was Frank’s peculiar motions that had attracted Arthur’s attention.
He swam around in circles, then he stopped and splashed and made a great
to-do. After that, he swam ahead for a little, only to stop and begin
all over again his previous absurd tactics.

“He’s not fooling, Ken; something is the matter with him. Perhaps he has
got cramp.” Just as Arthur stopped speaking, Frank seemed to regain his
senses, and swam straight ahead in an entirely rational and dignified,
if somewhat speedy, fashion.

Then, all of a sudden, he began to lash about with arms and legs anew.
His feet and hands flew about like flails, and beat the water into white
foamy lather. The two boys watched the antics of their friend with
growing alarm. All at once they saw something that stirred them to
instant action—the sharp triangle of a shark’s fin cutting through the
water just behind Frank’s wildly waving arms.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The water was delightful, and Frank was not ready to come in when Arthur
and Kenneth had had enough, so he dived over and swam out where the tide
was several times over his head. Once he dived down and tried to reach
bottom, and, as he rose toward the surface, his heart laboring for air,
his face turned up, he saw a sinister shadow slowly swaying in the
yellowish-green water almost above him. For an instant his heart sank,
and cold chills ran up and down his spine. Never had he seen so large a
shark, and for a moment he almost lost his presence of mind. Then, with
a rush, his courage returned, and working arms and legs with frantic
zeal, he shot up to the surface, and began splashing about to frighten
the shark off—a plan that he had heard was sometimes successful. For a
while the man-eater, surprised by these tactics, was held at bay, then,
as Frank grew weary of his efforts and stopped to rest, the monster drew
slowly nearer, and began to turn on his back to allow his long,
under-cut jaw to work.

“He’ll have me in a minute,” thought Frank, and he began a new
movement—turning suddenly, he swam _straight for the shark_, arms and
legs going like miniature paddlewheels. It was a bold move, and life or
death depended on its success or failure. Straight at the ugly, cruel
head he swam, and directly away from shore. For a moment the shark lay
still, its fins slowly waving, its evil eye watching its enemy; the
curved line of the wicked mouth was partly visible. Nearer swam the boy.
Nearer, till he could almost feel the current set in motion from those
powerful fins. “I am a goner, sure,” thought Frank; but he determined to
play the game out to the end, and kept on. Where were Kenneth and
Arthur? Why did they not come to his rescue? he wondered, with a fearful
dread at his heart.

Surely the shark was backing away from his onslaught. In spite of aching
limbs and laboring lungs, the boy increased his efforts, and followed
after the retreating tiger of the sea. He had been struggling for a long
time, and his whole body ached with the exertion; he felt that he could
not keep up much longer. Once, when his mouth was open, gasping for
breath, he had splashed it full of water, and had had to stop a minute
to cough it out. His heart was beating like a trip hammer, and each move
seemed to take the last ounce of his strength.

The boy felt that he must give up, and wondered vaguely if a shark made
quick work of a chap, and what his people at home would think of his
end. Just as he seemed at the very last gasp, he felt the clutch of
Kenneth’s hand on his hair, and the firm grip warm on his bare arm.

Then, half dead with fatigue and dazed with horror, the limp figure was
dragged into the small boat by Kenneth’s sturdy arms.

Feebly, the exhausted boy was able to say: “You came in the nick of
time, old man; I could not have lasted much longer.”

Kenneth answered not a word, but thought with a shudder of how close he
had come to mistaking his friend’s frantic movements for playful antics.
He reached out his hand and grasped the other’s fervently—it was a grip
of thankfulness and affection on both sides.

Though Frank’s escape was narrow, the recovery of his high spirits was
almost immediate, and soon the three friends were running races on the
exposed sand bar as if one of them had never been in peril of his life,
let alone a short hour before.

With the returning tide, the “Gazelle” straightened up, and after a few
strong pulls on the anchor, which had been previously dropped for that
purpose, she slipped off into deep water. It was still early afternoon,
so with an eased sheet and light hearts the “Gazelle” and her gallant
crew passed through the channel, out on the open ocean.

“Look at that old lighthouse; that’s a fine tower, but I don’t see any
signs of a lantern.” Frank pointed to a tall shaft like a great chimney
that rose from a cluster of palm trees. The yacht was slipping past the
long point that forms one of the barriers between the ocean and Biscayne
Bay.

“That must be the old Cape Florida light a fellow in Miami told me
about,” said Ransom, gazing at the tall, graceful tower that pierced the
blue.

“That tower has a story to tell. This place was full of Indians, I don’t
know how long ago, and the lighthouse keeper and his assistant, a
colored man, were in mortal terror of them. They thought, however, that
they had a safe refuge, if worse came to worse, in the tower. One day a
big bunch of the red savages came up and, after shooting a while at the
men in the keeper’s house, set it afire. To save themselves from being
roasted alive, the two men took refuge in the lighthouse itself and
climbed up the long, winding flights of wooden stairs to the lantern
room on top. For a time it seemed as if they were safe, but the
ingenious devils soon hit upon the plan of setting fire to the stairs
and platforms inside the tower. The door open at the bottom and top, the
lighthouse became a veritable chimney, and the flames licked up the dry
woodwork in a flash.”

“Gracious! What happened to the men?” Frank interrupted Kenneth to ask.

“When it got too hot inside,” Ransom continued, “and when the platform
they were standing on inside began to smoke, they climbed out on that
narrow little run-around outside; you can see it from here.”

The skipper pointed to the tower and the little balcony running round it
near the top.

“Phew! That would be an unpleasant place to stay with a fire burning in
the tower inside and a lot of savages looking for your gore hanging
’round waiting for you to drop off.”

“But they didn’t drop off,” Kenneth went on to say. “They stuck to the
little balcony till the Indians got tired waiting and began shooting at
them with their bows and arrows. The men lay flat on the boards, as
close to the bricks as they could get, but before long the assistant got
an arrow through his heart and the keeper himself was shot in the
shoulder. The Indians, thinking that both were done for, went away,
leaving the wounded man with the dead one, high up on a lonely tower,
the only means of reaching the ground burned away, without food, and
entirely without shelter.”

“Did he die up there?” both of the other boys inquired at once.

“Almost, but not quite. Some of the settlers near, fearing trouble,
followed the Indians in force, and a daring chap climbed up the charred
stumps of the supports inside the tower, and lowered the body of the
negro and the almost lifeless keeper to the ground.”

“What a story!” Frank shuddered as he looked at the tall shaft.

“But it’s true. The place has never been used since. See, there’s no
sign of life there.”

The boys watched the tower till it sank below the curve of the earth,
and for a long time sat silent, thinking of the keeper’s awful plight.

Rounding Cape Florida, the yacht sailed north along the treacherous East
Coast of Florida. With scarcely any harbor and a strong sea beating
steadily on shore, the boys watched with dread for the “glistening
calm,” when the wind dies out suddenly, leaving a heavy sea setting in
to shore. But luck was with them, and three days after leaving Biscayne
Bay they had reached St. Lucie’s inlet to Indian River, and were
standing off and on before the thundering breakers that guarded the pass
to the calm water beyond.

On the chart, laid out in beautiful lines, clear figures, and delicate
shadings, the course through those raging billows was plain enough to
the haven beyond; but the real look of the place was very different.

“Well, boys, shall we do it?” Kenneth’s mind was already made up, but he
wanted the confirmation of his friends. “It’s win out or bust, you
know.”

“The chart says that there’s water enough. I am willing to risk it.”
Pluck was Frank’s long suit, that was sure.

“Water enough? I should say so.” Arthur gazed at the spouting breakers,
which stormed the beach like ranks of white-plumed warriors. “I am game,
if Ken says so.”

For answer, Kenneth shifted the helm and headed straight for the
seething breakers.

Arthur went forward and clung to the rigging to watch for the channel
marks, while Frank lay aft with the skipper to tend sheets and be handy
for any emergency. The hatches were closed tight and all movable gear
lashed down.

Like a war horse eager for the fray, the “Gazelle” dashed for the first
line of tumbling watery breastworks. Rising like a gull on the uplift of
the first wave, she topped it and swung down into its trough and then up
the slope of the next. Straight as an arrow, steady and sure as the
sweep of a true wind, the yacht slipped over the white crests of the
great waves one after the other, on through the narrow, troubled waters
of the inlet, to the calmer waters of Indian River.

“Say, that was just great,” was Frank’s honest compliment to the boat’s
performance. “I’d like to do that again.” The faces of all three were
damp from the salt spray and shining with exhilaration and enthusiasm.

As Kenneth was about to drop his anchor, his eye caught sight of a
queer-looking craft that was gliding over the smooth water in the
rapidly-deepening dusk.

“Let’s travel along with our friend over there,” he said, pointing to
the strange vessel. “She may be able to give us some pointers about this
creek.”

The “Gazelle” was the faster sailer, and had just about come abeam of
the stranger, when they heard her anchor go overboard. The yawl’s
mud-hook immediately followed suit. While Frank was getting the supper,
the skipper and his mate rowed over to what proved to be a broad-beamed
sharpie. After hailing, the boys were invited to come aboard by the one
person visible. Climbing a ladder thrown over her square sides, the two
found themselves in a very comfortable cabin lined with shelves, on
which were ranged, in orderly rows, the stock of a well-appointed
grocery store.

The skipper-proprietor was a jovial fellow, having the characteristics
of both of his trades—the trader’s Yankee shrewdness and love of gossip,
combined with the open, hearty, yarn-spinning qualities of the sailor.
He gave Ransom and his friend many useful hints about navigating Indian
River, with every shoal and indentation of which he was familiar, and
ended by selling them quite a stock of provisions. “Combining business
with pleasure,” he said, as he handed Arthur the packages—flour, salt,
sugar, and coffee.

Next morning, the two boats travelled along in company for a time, then,
as the sailor-grocery man stopped to solicit a customer ashore, the
“Gazelle” sped on alone.

Sailing along the queer, elongated, inland bay-like river was not an
unmixed pleasure. A paradise for fishermen it was; also the haunt of
mosquitoes that were provided with bills long and strong enough to
“pierce anything and clinch on the other side.” The crew was compelled
to live in the smoke of burning, half-dried cocoanut husks at times; but
when the captain could stand this no longer, he resorted to an invention
of his own. Wrapping himself in a blanket up to his neck, Kenneth stuck
his head into a large tin cracker box which he had pierced full of holes
and draped with cheese cloth. Though it was like a continuous Turkish
bath in the tropical weather, the skipper declared that it was better to
steam than to be eaten alive.

To compel yachtsmen to make use of their services, the watermen were in
the habit of destroying the channel marks, so our sailors spent much
time sounding out the deep water—a task which the hot sun and the
voracious mosquitoes made far from pleasant.

Mosquito Lagoon is reached from Indian River by what is called Haul Over
Canal, once in good repair, but when the “Gazelle” nosed her way to it
she found that it was half filled with sand, and too shallow to allow
her to pass through.

It was a question whether they would retrace their steps or dredge a
deeper channel through the sixty-foot-wide bar to the short cut.

The discovery of the old blade of a cultivator among the junk of the
ballast helped the boys to decide in favor of dredging a channel. For
two days they worked waist deep in the water, the hot sun beating on
their backs and necks, the mosquitoes humming a merry tune in their
ears, and the stinging “sea nettles” or jelly fish, irritating the skin
of arms and legs. Added to these discomforts was the constant danger of
being stung by the “stingaree,” whose slightest touch means a poisoned
wound and sometimes fearful suffering and death.

But the “Haul Over” was completed at length, and the crew shouted
themselves hoarse when the “Gazelle” floated in the deep water of
Mosquito Lagoon.

Game of all sort abounded in the lagoon. The waters teemed with
brilliantly hued fish. Herons and flamingoes were frequently seen
stalking about at a distance in their ridiculous disjointedly dignified
fashion, while pelicans, their huge pouches distended with fish, were
everywhere.

After leaving New Smyrna, which claims to be the oldest town in the
United States, and proudly shows an old mission to substantiate it, the
yacht reached the outlet to the ocean. An ugly place, through which the
water rushed in never-ceasing fury. Jagged rocks fretted the water into
foam in every direction; and blocking the channel at one side, lay the
boiler of a wrecked steamboat; beyond, the breakers roared as if hungry
for their prey.

On the morning of the Fourth of July, the “Gazelle” slowly approached
the inlet, while her crew prepared for the struggle. With everything
snug, rigging as taut as the nerves of the skipper and his crew, the
gallant little ship swept to the battle.



                              CHAPTER XIII

                 A THRILLING FOURTH OF JULY CELEBRATION


With everything drawing, the “Gazelle” rounded the point which had
obscured the view of the inlet, and then her crew got the first clear
sight of the danger they were so soon to encounter. There flowed the
strip of water connecting lagoon with ocean, running out to the parent
sea like a mill race; for the tide was on the ebb. When the racing
current and the incoming breakers met, there was a crash that could be
heard an incredible distance; spray was hurled high in air, and the
watery foes seemed to dash each other to vapor! To the left of the
channel was the black dome of the boiler of a wrecked boat, blocking
half the passage.

Right through this must the “Gazelle” go. Could she get past the huge
obstructing cylinder of iron? Would she live to get through those
terrifying, battling seas? These questions each boy asked himself as the
yacht, answering her helm, readily pointed her bowsprit straight for the
opening. With “Old Glory” flapping at the peak in honor of Independence
Day, she flew swiftly on. A good breeze was blowing, and, aided by the
swift ebb tide, the good boat was soon in the midst of the fray. On they
sped, with wind and tide aiding, the “Gazelle” simply flying until she
was well on her way in the vortex of the racing chute. Just before
loomed the huge round dome of the boiler, and the breakers warred
beyond. All was going well, when suddenly the wind failed, and Kenneth,
looking up to note the cause, saw a great sand-dune that rose a barrier
to the friendly breeze. The yacht, carried by the tide alone, moved on
until she reached the first roller, which struck her fairly forward,
twisting her around so that she rolled in the trough of the sea.

The boys realized that if help did not come immediately, they were
doomed to destruction, either by being dashed to pieces against the
boiler, or by being carried broadside into the breakers and then being
hammered to fragments. With no wind to give steerage way, they were
utterly helpless. Nearer and nearer the yacht drifted, nearer to
encounter the two perils. The national ensign hung at the peak limp and
dispirited; and Kenneth, watching it to see if some stray breeze might
not straighten out its drooping stripes, wondered if their luck had
failed them at last. All was done that could be done—the three
youngsters were in the hands of Providence; and the skipper watched “Old
Glory,” dimly feeling that it was a sort of talisman that would bring
rescue.

[Illustration: “OLD CAPE FLORIDA LIGHTHOUSE.”]

Nearer and nearer they drifted to the great iron dome; louder and louder
sounded the surf. Then, a miracle! The flag moved as if stirred by an
invisible hand, the outer corner flapped, the stripes straightened out,
and the blue field of the jack stood flat—the succoring breeze had come!
It was close work, but the “Gazelle” might yet be saved. If she could be
got about in time she would just scrape the boiler and take the breakers
head on.

With a warning cry to Arthur, who stood forward, Kenneth threw the helm
hard over, and the mate let go the jib. Swift and light as a dancer the
good boat spun about, filled, and streaked off on the other tack. Just
clearing the boiler, she headed into the combing waves that rose high
against the blue sky. For an instant she struggled against the rush of
flying spume, her canvas drawing bravely; then she forged on, breasting
the hill of water. For another instant she was enveloped in foam, then
shaking herself free she dashed into the next, and so on to safety.
Though drenched from masthead down, she rode the great seas to the
rolling billows of outer ocean, and “Old Glory” snapped triumphantly at
the peak.

Beyond the breakers all was plain sailing. The rollers were high and
long, but the great hill-like slopes were gradual, and the “Gazelle”
coasted up and down them with a lightness and ease that suggested wings.

“Why don’t we celebrate?” said Frank in an aggrieved tone.

Three rousing cheers and a tiger rang out in response, and several
rounds were fired from the ship’s miniature cannon, which made up in
fuss what it lacked in feathers.

It was good to be sailing on the broad Atlantic, where the sandbars
ceased to trouble and the mosquito did not exist. The water traversed
was constantly changing. Inland sound succeeded open gulf, and boundless
ocean followed inland waters. There was no danger of monotony, for the
problems of navigation were constantly arising to the young navigators.
Hour after hour the yacht sailed along, rising and falling on the
swinging sea. The land was a mere irregular line on the horizon, which
disappeared now and then as a rising hill of water hid it from the sight
of the crew.

As the sun sank over the distant land, the clouds arose until they
formed a black mass that shut out the light and cast a heavy gloom over
all.

“We’re in for the usual Fourth of July storm, I guess.” The captain
looked rather anxiously at the gathering clouds.

“Can we make harbor before it strikes us?” Arthur inquired.

“We’ll try it,” Kenneth answered, and suiting the action to the word, he
eased his sheets and headed directly for shore.

The force of the wind increased as they drew nearer the shore; they were
flying along in company with the scraps of water snatched from the wave
crests. The clouds grew heavier and more dense, and the light fainter
and fainter, until the boys could no longer make out the marks leading
to harbor.

For a few minutes Kenneth held on the same course; then, as the light
grew dimmer and dimmer, and the wind gathered weight every minute, he
wondered whether it would be possible to make harbor.

“We’ll be on shore in a minute, and I can hardly make out that point
now,” the skipper said as he looked long into the gloom. “I would rather
be out at sea than near an unknown coast with an on-shore gale like this
blowing; are you with me, boys?”

“Sure!” Arthur and Frank answered together in a single breath.

The “Gazelle’s” helm was put down and she started in her fight to
windward. Not until they faced the wind did the boys realize how hard it
was blowing; the spray dashed into their faces cut like knives, and the
roaring was almost deafening. Slowly but steadily the “Gazelle” thrust
her way into the wind and away from the thundering breakers. Soon
heaven’s pyrotechnics began, and the boys on their wee chip of a boat,
on an ocean dashed to foam, were treated to an exhibition of fireworks
that threw into the shade all the poor efforts of man to do honor to the
nation’s birthday. It was rather terrifying, but when the thunder ceased
and the rain stopped, the air had such a clean, washed smell, that the
boys were glad to be out in it, though all hands were wet to the skin
and the yacht’s sails dripped like trees after a heavy rainfall. It was
late when harbor was made, and all hands were glad enough when things
were ship-shape and they could turn in for the night, declaring, each
one, from captain to cook, that the Fourth had been fitly celebrated.

A few days later, the “Gazelle” anchored off St. Augustine, that ancient
city of the Spaniards, and modern winter resort. Now it was deserted by
its Northern visitors, but it still hummed in a subdued sort of way,
unexcited by the hope of Northern dollars. Kenneth and his friends found
that even in summer the habit of charging three prices still clung to
the people of the town, so they made haste to get away.

Straight out to sea the young mariners went, planning to make port at
Fernandina, nearly on the line dividing Georgia and Florida. It was a
longer run than the captain had anticipated, and it was nearly dark when
they came near to “the haven where they would be.”

“What do you say, boys,” Kenneth inquired of his companions; “shall we
try for it?”

“It is getting pretty dark,” suggested Frank. “Can’t see the buoys
marking the channel.”

“That’s right; look at the glass, Art.”

“Going down like thunder,” reported the mate emphatically.

“Let’s try for it,” said Arthur.

“I’d rather be in harbor if we are going to have another Fourth of July
storm,” Frank suggested, changing his ground.

“Well, I’m sorry to go against the judgment of you fellows, but I think
that we had better stay outside than run up against a lot of shoals in
the dark we know nothing about.”

The captain pronounced his opinion with an air of one who has considered
the subject and has finally made up his mind.

Though the other two disagreed with Kenneth, they had long ago realized
that there must be a head to an expedition like this, and they were
willing to abide by the skipper’s judgment.

“All right, old man,” Frank replied. “Shall I hang out the side lights?”

“Please. Light up the drug store.” Frank winced at this ancient joke,
and went below to fill and trim the red and green lights.

The little thirty-foot yacht, with her precious freight, continued her
course out to sea in spite of the falling barometer and the almost
absolute surety of a storm to come. It was surely a bold thing to
do—many a skipper of a larger craft would have hesitated before going
out upon the open ocean in the face of a storm at night, when harbor was
so close at hand. But Kenneth had absolute confidence in the vessel he
had so thoroughly tested and in the courage of his tried and true
companions.

Not till midnight did the storm reach its height; then the “rains
descended, and the floods came.” The wind blew a fearful gale, and the
pitchy blackness, rent at times by vivid lightning, closed in around the
tossing yacht like a mighty hand.

Only those who have passed through one of the sudden storms which arise
so frequently in those waters can form any idea of its vicious fury. The
wind shrieked, the waves increased in power and volume, until the
“Gazelle” sank out of sight behind them, or was raised to a dizzy
pinnacle from which she coasted down, her bowsprit pointing almost
directly to the bottom. The wind-driven rain cut so that it was
impossible to face it; and though the boys were clad in oilskins, from
closely tied sou’westers to bare ankles, the wet penetrated the seams,
ran down their necks, and drenched them through and through. All hands
were on watch that night; the hatches were battened down tight. They
tried their best to keep to windward, but the tossing of the boat shook
them round the narrow cockpit like dice in a box. Conversation was
impossible; the wind snatched the words from their mouths and carried
them out of hearing instantly. All was dark except for the fitful flash
of lightning and the dim radiance of the binnacle lamp in Kenneth’s face
as he swayed over it to watch his course.

One, two, three hours passed, and the fury of the storm increased. It
was a terrible strain on the young mariners, and each wondered in his
inmost heart if they would come out of it alive. Somehow, they did not
quite believe they would. Battered and bruised, wet, chilled, and
utterly weary of buffeting with wave and wind, they clinched their teeth
and by sheer force of will kept up their courage.

“What’s that?” Kenneth’s voice sounded weak and far off, but the accent
was sharp and anxious for all that, and unmistakable.

There was a sharp crack that the three heard clearly above the howling
wind and snarling sea. Something had parted, some vital part had given
way. The “Gazelle” sailed less surely, she staggered up the steep sea
slopes more heavily. Anxiously the three boys looked forward, upward,
all around to find the cause; they dared not stand up to investigate,
they could only look and long for a lightning flash to reveal the
damage.

“There, look!” Frank shouted, and rose half way to his feet, only to be
dashed violently to the deck again.

A flash showed that the main gaff had broken in the middle, and was
flapping heavily against the stout canvas of the mainsail.

The three boys stared at each other questioningly, though only an
occasional flash of lightning revealed their faces. Each knew that
something must be done—that unless the mainsail was lowered very soon it
would be torn to tatters by the jagged ends of the broken gaff; or the
broken spar banging around with the swaying of the yacht might injure
some of the standing rigging and weaken the mainmast stays.

The tempest had not abated in the slightest, the wind still roared a
gale, and the rain came down in a steady flood; the “sea rose mountains
high.”

“Take the stick, Arthur.” Kenneth made a funnel of his hands and roared
to the mate. He had conceived a plan to reach the halliards at the foot
of the mast and lower the broken stick. Hazardous as the plan was, it
must be done.

Kenneth tied a stout line around his body, and, taking a turn round a
cleat close to the companion way, he gave the end to Frank.

“Pay out slowly, but be sure you keep a turn so that if I should go
overboard you’d have me—see?” Kenneth shouted in his friend’s ear. The
other answered that he understood, and grasped the skipper’s arm a
second, a token of devotion and confidence that had a world of meaning
in it.

Grasping the windward rail that ran round the roof of the cabin,
Kenneth, flat on his face, began the perilous journey. It was scarcely
fifteen feet, a mere step, but a journey to the North Pole could have
hardly been more dangerous. Crawling, creeping, rolling, the boy
painfully made his way along. Frequently he was drenched with water and
had to hold on to the slender rail with might and main. The wind beat
the rain in his face; the motion of the yacht wrenched at his hands as
if trying to make him let go; the broken gaff slatted and slapped over
his head, threatening to fall and knock him senseless. At length the
plucky boy reached the mast, and shouting to Frank to let go the line,
lashed himself securely to it. Arthur brought the boat up into the wind
for a moment, though there was imminent danger of being swamped, while
Kenneth let go the halliards and the mainsail came down with a run.
Frank sheeted home the lowered boom, making it solid in its fore and aft
position. Then came the hardest part of all—furling the mainsail. How it
was done Kenneth could scarcely tell. He came within an ace of being
dashed overboard twenty times; but he escaped at last to reach the
cockpit, safe but utterly exhausted. “The Gazelle,” under head sails and
jigger only, rode out the gale. Dawn showed the storm-worn boys the
entrance to a safe harbor, into which they thankfully crept, and for
half the day they slept the deep, dreamless sleep of utter weariness.

Six days later the “Gazelle” sailed into the harbor of Savannah, Kenneth
having repaired the gaff in the meantime. She had little of the look of
a boat that had passed through a storm which would have been serious for
a vessel five times her size. Her crew, however, showed the effect of
the battle with the elements; their white working suits were decidedly
dingy, and the white rubber-soled shoes they wore were sorely in need of
pipe-clay.

The harbor of Savannah was full of vessels of all sorts and
conditions—schooners, two, three, and four masters; trim coast-wise
steamers, and a migratory “tramp” or two. Kenneth took advantage of the
day to examine as closely as possible the lines and construction of the
boats in harbor, and so added to the store of information which he had
come so far to find.

The morning of the “Gazelle’s” departure for waters new an English tramp
churned out of the harbor. As she went past the yacht, Kenneth and
Arthur, who were on deck, noticed a man working far aft, coiling down
some lines. Suddenly the man dropped his work, leaped the rail, and,
with arms high in air, jumped into the seething water. Arthur, who was
nearest, jumped into “His Nibs,” cast loose the painter, and rowed
frantically to the place where the man had disappeared; but before he
could reach the spot he had risen, waved his arms, and sank again. It
was hardly a minute before the sailor came up once more, but to the
anxious boys it seemed hours. He rose within easy reach of the boat, and
grasped it with a fervor that dispelled the idea of suicide at once.
Arthur helped him in and rowed him over to the dock, where a burly
policeman arrested him for attempted suicide. The rescued man looked out
across the harbor and saw his ship steaming off without him, and seemed
glad to be within the clutch of the law. The Englishman, for so he
proved to be, had been so attracted by the American seaport, that he had
taken the risk of drowning for the sake of reaching “the land of the
brave and the home of the free.”

Full of watermelon and in high glee, the young sailormen in their trim
little ship weighed anchor, sailed down the Savannah River, and out on
the broad Atlantic on the way to Charleston, South Carolina.

Two days after leaving Savannah the “Gazelle” dropped anchor off
Charleston, and for forty-eight hours the boys went from place to place
in the fine harbor, visiting the various points of interest. Fort
Sumter, into which the first shot of the Civil War was fired, stood
peacefully on its island—deserted, a mere relic of former greatness. The
yacht took shelter behind it when a sharp squall came up as she was
starting out on her next run northward.

It was the season of squalls, apparently, for they had hardly been
twenty-four hours out from Charleston, when Kenneth, observing the
mercury of the barometer dropping rapidly, put in to the nearest harbor,
Bull Bay, to avoid a stormy night at sea. Instead of a storm, however,
the wind fell flat, and for two days the yacht was unable to get out.

The harbor was a beautiful one; but the lack of wind and a blazing sun
made life aboard almost unendurable.

“I’d give a farm for an ice-cream soda,” said Arthur wearily.

Just then Frank came from below. “I heard you fellows say that it was
too hot to eat; it’s lucky you feel so, for the larder is about empty.”
Frank had been looking for the wherewithal to get supper.

“You don’t mean to say that you haven’t anything to eat?” said Kenneth
and the mate almost together—their appetites suddenly returning with
lamentable strength.

“I’ve got some beans.”

“What’s the matter with beans?” Arthur appeared relieved.

A movable oil stove with a makeshift top was rigged on deck, in order to
give the cabin a chance to cool, and a pot containing the precious beans
was set over to cook.

While the skipper and Frank went ashore to explore, Arthur stayed aboard
to keep company with the beans. The two found what Frank declared to be
bear tracks, and for some distance they followed them: but Bruin did not
show himself. Returning to the yacht, they found Arthur still brooding
over the beans, and since there was scarcely anything else to do, the
three boys sat under the awning rigged over the main boom, and did their
best to keep the pot from boiling by persistent watching.

It was getting near seven o’clock, and the boys were already wishing
that the beans were done, when they saw a little steamboat coming up the
bay. She looked familiar, and as she came near, all three boys watched
to see if they knew her. At length she drew abeam, and they read her
name on the paddle-box. A St. Augustine boat on her way to Washington.
The yacht and the steamboat had left together, and the yacht had reached
Bull Bay two days ahead. The boat went on her way, and the boys were
congratulating themselves on their good speed, when the swells from the
steamboat began to come rolling in. The “Gazelle” commenced to sway.
“The beans,” cried Arthur, and reached for the handle of the pot. Alas,
too late! the thing tottered and fell overboard, and Arthur, thinking of
nothing but the precious food about to be lost, reached far out after
it. A big roller coming in at that precise instant tipped him over, too,
and he went head first right into the pot full of beans that had not yet
had time to sink.

Arthur rose to the surface the sorriest looking creature that a mere
human being could ever manage to be. His hair was plastered with beans,
his face framed with them, and the expression on his countenance was
woebegone in proportion to the unpleasantness of his predicament. Frank
and Kenneth roared with laughter, but Arthur, probably not having the
same sense of humor under the circumstances, did not see the joke, and
the annoyance on his dismal, bean-beplastered face added greatly to
their mirth.

Supplies must be procured at once, somehow, somewhere, or the crew would
be in danger of starving to death; so the young sailors took advantage
of the rising wind to get out of Bull Bay and continue their journey.

The weather conditions were of the best when Kenneth and Arthur turned
in, so Frank took the helm alone. The pale gleam of the starlit sky
served but to emphasize the darkness, and Frank, steering far out to sea
to avoid the long bar of Cape Romain, found it hard to keep awake. It
was very late at night, and Arthur and Kenneth were below, sleeping
soundly, when they were both awakened by a loud cry from Frank.

Kenneth rushed on deck just as the “Gazelle” rose on the crest of a
great breaker.

“Put her about,” he shouted. “We’re going ashore. Quick!”

Frank put the tiller hard over, and the yacht, responding, spun round,
the boom came over swiftly, and, taking Kenneth unawares, knocked him
overboard.

“Arthur!” Frank yelled down the companionway, “come up; Ken’s
overboard!”



                              CHAPTER XIV

                          A RACE WITH A GALE


“Ken, where are you?” Frank’s voice was almost drowned by the roaring of
the breakers.

It was totally dark, and though both boys strained their eyes to the
utmost, not a sign could they see of the skipper, who had vanished in
the twinkling of an eye—knocked out of existence, seemingly, by the
swinging blow of the boom.

Again they shouted, in unison this time. Surely Kenneth must hear them,
they thought, if he was still alive and above water.

“Hulloa!” The voice was startlingly near.

The two looked about quickly in the direction from which the sound came,
and beheld the skipper hanging on to the end of the boom, far to
leeward; his white nightgown wet and clinging to his long legs, which
were waving frantically in the effort to help their owner to crawl along
the boom towards the yacht. From time to time, as the yawl rolled, the
clinging figure was dipped in the sea, and then as suddenly dragged out
and swung about like a wet rag on the end of a stick.

For a minute Frank and Arthur stood stupefied, then the humor of the
situation dawning on them they began to laugh.

This was too much for Kenneth’s patience, and he shouted wrathfully:

“Trim in that sheet and help me in, will you, you duffers? Do you think
I am doing this for your amusement?”

So they hauled in the boom and the dangling captain with it, and landed
him safely on deck without a scratch.

With her head turned away from the shoal, the “Gazelle” ran off into
deeper water. It was a narrow escape for all hands, but especially so
for Ransom, whose quickness in grasping the spar as it swung over saved
his life. Soon he could laugh with the boys over his funny appearance.
But he realized, as they could not, by what a narrow margin he escaped.

After rounding Cape Romain, the “Gazelle” sailed along without a mishap
of any kind for a day; then the barometer indicated that there was
trouble brewing—in fact, the very atmosphere had the feeling of
suppressed excitement that almost always precedes a severe storm. Ransom
decided that it would be wise to get into a sheltered spot, so he
steered for the mouth of Cape Fear River. It was a most difficult place
to get into; but once inside, the yacht was perfectly protected from any
kind of storm except, perhaps, a cyclone.

No sooner had the anchor been dropped than the wind began to raise its
voice from the soft whir-r-r of the summer breeze, to the shrill, high
shriek of the gale.

“For once,” said the skipper, “my foresight was better than my
hindsight.”

“Good work, old man. I always knew you were a wonder,” Frank laughed.
“All the same I’m glad we’re inside.”

“Mate, put this man in irons. He shall live on bread and water for ten
days, due punishment for insubordination and disrespect for a superior
officer.” Kenneth put on a very grave and judicial air, but could not
quite control a twitching of the corners of his mouth, which enlarged to
a wide grin when the mate, in obedience to his command, tackled the
“crew,” and in the scuffle that followed went overboard with his
prisoner.

“Never mind the water, mate,” Ransom called when the two dripping boys
reached the deck. “He has had enough of that, perhaps.”

For a week the “Gazelle” lay stormbound off the little town of
Southport, on the Cape Fear River. In spite of the rain which fell
almost continuously, the boys explored every nook and cranny of the
harbor, and pushed up the shallow creeks, and examined the sand hills
that protected the shipping from the onslaught of the ocean.

The Frying-pan Shoals, extending out into the ocean from the mouth of
the Cape Fear River, are responsible for more wrecks than perhaps any
other reef on the Atlantic coast. Kenneth got chummy with the pilots who
make Southport their headquarters, and they gladly gave him much lore
about the channels, beacons, and the ins and outs of the intricate
passages all along the coast. The government requires every vessel above
a certain tonnage to take on a pilot; or to be more correct, the vessels
are required to pay the pilot’s fee whether his services are accepted or
not. As the channel is very difficult, and the fee has to be paid in any
case, the skippers usually turned the responsibility of navigating their
vessels into port over to the pilot. The charges are rated according to
the ship’s depth—the more water she draws, the more difficulty is
experienced in sailing her over the bars, and the pilot’s fee is
proportionately large.

One day, Kenneth and the mate rowed against the heavy wind a mile and a
half to the outer bar, and then went over to the Cape Fear Light.

The keeper was inclined to be churlish at first, but as soon as Ransom
began to tell him a little about the cruise, his manner changed
instantly; short answers and bored expression gave way to lively
interest and voluble requests for more experiences.

“I tell you, Art,” Kenneth began in an aside to the mate, “a short yarn
about the cruise is worth a hundred open sesames.”

The keeper led the two boys up the winding stair of the lighthouse
tower, and as they went round and round, they could hear above the ring
of their feet on the iron steps the howling of the wind about the shaft.
The power and majesty of it made them pause a minute to listen, and then
they felt the shock of the blast, which made even that sturdy tower
quiver. When the top was reached, and a clear unobstructed view could be
had, the breath of the youngsters was taken away by the awful fury of
the elements battling below them; even the lighthouse keeper was awed by
it, and kept silence. From the beach, a little below the foot of the
tower, seaward, as far as the eye could reach through the mist and
spray, the ocean tossed and rolled. Great hills of water, green and
angry, rose as though pushed up from below, their crests lashed into
foam and then blown into vapor by the gale; wave succeeded wave, until a
mighty host of waters, rank on rank, impelled by the wind, dashed
themselves to foam on the ever-resisting shore.

“Oh, this is a fierce place, and no mistake.” The honest keeper’s words
took much of the sublimity out of the scene for the boys. “And a
terrible place for wrecks,” he continued. “The Frying-pan Shoals run out
about twenty-five miles, and vessels are all the time running afoul of
them.”

“And in weather like this?” Kenneth inquired.

The keeper made a significant gesture that told, without a word, the
horrors of shipwreck, of the despairing efforts of the sailors to work
the vessel off the lee shore when the breakers first were seen or heard;
of the canvas blown to tatters, the dreadful roar and overpowering rush
of the waves driving the vessel on nearer the shoal, staving the boats
and washing the crew overboard; and, finally, the sickening jar and
shuddering scrape of the ship on the reef. All this the boys saw as the
keeper pointed to the seething waters, and to the ribs of a wrecked ship
showing black against the white foam of the breakers.

Many, many places he pointed out to them where good ships rested never
to sail again.

Arthur and Kenneth went back to the yacht with solemn faces and
thoughtful minds, and very thankful that the “Gazelle” lay peacefully at
anchor, safe.

Though the boys had many pleasant times sailing about the harbor in one
of the small boats with which the place was filled—clamming, fishing,
and swapping stories with the pilots—all hands were glad when the storm
abated, and they were able to weigh anchor and sail out to sea. The
six-sided lighthouse looked very different when the boys saw it the
second time. The inlet was little troubled by the heavy rolling seas
outside and reflected the tall, straight shaft of the Cape Fear Light.

The wind had fallen to a strong, steady breeze that kept the “Gazelle”
going at a splendid rate, under all sail reefed once. The sea still
showed the effect of the week-long storm. Great, long billows rose and
fell, but the yacht coasted gaily over them with many low bows and
graceful recoveries.

It was a straightaway sail to Beaufort, North Carolina, and the 120
miles across the broad curve in the land offered, in all its length, not
one good harbor.

The wind held true, and gradually the seas flattened out until cruising
became a pleasure. Old Ocean seemed bent on making the last sail which
the boys should take on its waters as pleasant as possible. The sun
sank, and all the skies lit up in honor of his departure; then deep
black night succeeded, with none of the uncanny feeling of mystery which
so ofttimes comes with darkness, but softly and peacefully. The boys
felt that the darkness was almost caressing, like a comfortable robe
thrown round them, and they looked forward to a long night’s sail with a
sense of security.

The cabin lamp was lighted, and the mellow glow poured out through the
hatch and dead lights; the sailing lights blinked their red and green
eyes forward, warning other night prowlers of the sea. Arthur handled
the tiller, while Frank and Kenneth lounged easily on either side of the
cockpit. Arthur was sailing by compass, for not a sign of land could be
seen—all was utterly dark, except where a sea crested near enough to
catch the light from one of the lamps.

Steadily the “Gazelle” sailed on, swaying slowly to the swing of the
seas, a veritable cradle motion. Kenneth and Frank felt its influence
and dozed off; Arthur’s duty kept him awake, but all his resolution was
required to keep up.

[Illustration: “THE TALL, STRAIGHT SHAFT OF THE CAPE FEAR LIGHT.”]

Suddenly, out of the gloom ahead, loomed a shape, soft and formless—a
huge shadow moving and bearing down on the tiny “Gazelle.”

“Great Scott!” exclaimed Arthur.

“What is it?” Kenneth woke instantly. “Put her over, quick. Hurry.”

For the first time since her journeying began, the yacht seemed to
hesitate, while the great black shadow, which gradually assumed the form
of a vessel, bore swiftly down on her. It seemed as if minutes had
elapsed before the headsails began to flap and the yawl turned away from
her impending doom. Still, the great bulk bore down on them silently,
without a light showing, the swelling canvas of her sails just indicated
by a lighter shade.

“Schooner, ahoy!” Ransom shouted, making a megaphone of his hands.
“You’re running us down. Bear up quick!”

A lantern showed high above them on the rail of the schooner, and a
woman’s shriek rang out, clear and shrill—an uncanny sound to hear at
such a time. There was a creak that told of a shifted helm, and the
schooner swung to port, and cleared the yacht by a few scant inches.

As the vessel slipped by, silent as a shadow, two white faces showed
over the rail high above the “Gazelle.” Not a word of excuse did they
utter—probably too dazed by the narrow escape to speak.

“Those people ought to be jailed,” growled Ransom in his honest
indignation. “Sailing without any light.”

“Guess they learned their lesson, look!” Sure enough, there was the red
gleam of the port light glancing over the waves as it was being fitted
into its box.

The next afternoon the “Gazelle” sailed into Beaufort harbor, and the
boys bid good-by to Old Ocean. For a thousand miles they had sailed over
its rough waters in all sorts of weathers, in a boat scarcely thirty
feet long. It was an achievement to be proud of. Not many boys could
point to such a record.

“Oh! we are the people!” said Frank, justifiably elated. “It’s easy from
now on; no more storms, no more breakers, no more broken spars.”

“Don’t you get a swelled head,” the skipper warned. “There is always a
pin point ready for every bubble.”

The “Gazelle” lay at anchor off Beaufort for several days, while the
boys roamed about the quaint old town. Situated just a little below Cape
Hatteras, that terrible storm centre, the little city got full benefit
of the stormy on-shore gales, and there were many signs of the lashings
it had received. At one place on Front Street, facing seaward, were some
poplar trees whose very name suggests unwavering uprightness, but these
were bent in a semicircle over the houses—a humble acknowledgment of the
power of the blast.

The harbor was full of small craft. Boats of every description flitted
here and there, like graceful white-winged dragon-flies. Kenneth, for
once in his life, saw enough boats, and he got many ideas that he hoped
to turn to good account later, when he, himself, should become a
full-fledged designer.

The night before the “Gazelle” spread her wings to continue her journey,
the three boys were lying about on deck after supper enjoying the
evening breeze. It was just about dusk, and sky and water were assuming
their most beautiful opalescent tints. It was a time to encourage
sentiment, and each of the boys felt a trifle of pleasant sadness as
they thought of the far-off homes and the loved ones there. Off in the
distance some people were singing a familiar college air. It was all so
like some of the evenings the boys had spent off old St. Joe that the
unfamiliar things about them changed their shapes and positions till
they almost dreamed that they were indeed at home. The voices came
nearer, and a trim white yacht, that carried the singers, rose out of
the dusk and sped swiftly towards them. When the two boats were within a
hundred yards of each other, the singers changed their tune to
“Michigan, My Michigan.”

This completed the spell, and for the first time the captain and crew
had a genuine case of homesickness. Neither of the three boys dared to
look the other in the face.

“‘Gazelle,’ ahoy!”

The hail rang clear and sharp over the smooth water, and its suddenness
woke the boys from their day dreams instantly. It was long since they
had heard that hail.

“Aye—who goes there?” was the answer.

“A friend!”

“Approach, friend, and let us look at you.”

The yacht swooped round the “Gazelle’s” stern and headed up into the
wind, her sails flapping. She dropped her anchor, and soon the yawl’s
deck and cabin were filled with gay visitors. One of them knew some of
Kenneth’s people, which acquaintance both visitors and visited
considered quite sufficient.

The boys hated to weigh anchor next morning and leave the pleasant place
and the friends they had just made, but the thought of the thousands of
miles yet to be traversed urged them on.

“And just think of leaving those watermelons at two cents each!” The
sadness in Arthur’s voice told of his sincere regret.

The first day’s sail brought the voyagers to the end of Core Sound. They
were just below Hatteras and inside, but it looked as if the stormy old
cape was not going to allow them to pass without giving them an
experience to remember him by. The wind was rising rapidly and the
massing of the heavy clouds cast a shadow over all.

“We’re in for another blow, I guess,” said the skipper, as he pulled on
his sticky oilskins. “This old boat is getting tried out pretty well.”

As the “Gazelle” flew past the Royal Shoal light, the keeper and his
family waving good luck, the gale was blowing its best out of the east,
and, close-hauled, she flew along in a smother of foam, her lee rail
awash, her sails hard as if moulded tin, her rigging taut and humming
like harp strings.

Just before she reached Gull Shoal light, her gaff snapped again, and,
with reduced canvas, she hurried along. Frank and Arthur lay forward to
look for channel marks, and for whatever troubles might chance, while
Kenneth steered. The heavy clouds shut down on them like night. The
darkness seemed thick enough to cut, and not a thing could be seen but
the white-capped waves that dashed madly by them. They were like a man
who, being pursued, runs at full speed through a perfectly dark passage
that is not familiar to him—he must run on, yet he knows not at what
moment he may dash himself against a wall or trip and fall headlong. It
was a time of breathless excitement and constant, unnerving fear lest
the yacht, flying along at almost railroad speed, should run into one of
the numerous shoals that lay spread like a net for the unwary, and dash
herself to pieces.

The heavy rain obliterated every sign of a channel mark, and the thick
storm clouds shut off the sun as completely as a total eclipse. Kenneth
had to steer by compass only.

Frank and Arthur peered ahead, their hands raised to shield their eyes
from the driving rain. A long shoal ran out into the sound, and all
hands were trying to make out the lighthouse that marked it.

Ransom thought it the hardest blow he had ever known, and he wondered
how long the sturdy little craft he sailed could stand the strain. The
wind tugged at the canvas, tried all the stays, but, beyond the
makeshift gaff, apparently, could find nothing vulnerable. It seemed as
if the squall lasted hours, but when the rain finally stopped and the
wind lessened in force, the boys saw the dim outlines of the lighthouse
off the port bow, and they knew it could not have lasted much over two
hours. As they passed the light, the keeper rang his bell in salute, and
shouted his congratulations.

“It’s the worst short storm I have seen in many years,” he shouted.
“You’re lucky to get through safe.”

When the mate went below to put on some dry clothes, he looked at the
tin clock, and discovered that the “Gazelle” had covered the distance
between the two lights—sixteen miles—in about an hour and a quarter.

At Stumpy Bay they stopped to make a new gaff, and then, after a two
days’ lay off there, they went on to Coin Jock, North Carolina.

A fleet of barges, loaded with watermelons, going through the canal
leading through the Dismal Swamp, to Norfolk, offered to give the boys a
tow—an invitation which they hastened to accept. Not till nine o’clock
did the procession start, with the “Gazelle” at the end of the long line
of boats. It was a dark, lowering night, and not a thing could the boys
see of the country through which they were passing. The light of the
boat ahead was their only guide.

The yacht was snapped to and fro on the end of the long line of boats
like the end boy on a snap-the-whip string. About midnight the rain
began to come down in a perfect deluge, and the word was passed aft to
each boat to anchor till things cleared.

Though the boys could see little but the jagged outlines of the trees
against the stormy sky, they voted the surroundings dismal enough to
merit the name.

Just before daylight, the fleet got under way again, the little
“Gazelle” tagging on behind like a reluctant boy hanging on to his
mother’s hand when she takes him shopping.

At Norfolk Ransom and his shipmates found a goodly company of vessels of
all sorts, all rigs, and every nationality. The red-and-black storm flag
was flying from every signal station along the coast, and the vessels
had hastened to cover in Hampton Roads and Norfolk harbor.

Returning from the Post Office, where Kenneth and the mate found a
goodly batch of precious home letters awaiting them, they had great
difficulty in making headway against the gale that was already blowing.
The anchorage reached, they realized anew how cosey and comfortable the
“Gazelle’s” cabin was.

“Let’s have a watermelon in honor of—well—to celebrate this occasion.”
It was Arthur, of course, who suggested this.

“In honor of what occasion?” Frank winked at the skipper.

“The watermelon and the fellows who gave it to us.”

So each boy, a section of pink fruit in one hand and a letter in the
other, began the absorbing process of eating and reading.

The wind was playing high jinks outside, but the young tars in their
snug cabin heeded it not a bit.

Not till a stream of pink melon juice squirted over the written page
which he was reading, did Kenneth look up—his attention distracted. The
darkness of the cabin made him look for the cause.

To port, flashes of the gray, stormy light were sifting in through the
oval windows when the yacht rose to the top of a wave; then he turned to
the right and looked out. A great black wall shut off every particle of
light—it was as if the yacht had been built against a high board fence.

Kenneth jumped up and ran on deck.

“Look out, boys!” he shouted down the hatch after a moment. “The big
schooner just to starboard of us is dragging her anchors and will be
down on us in a minute.”



                               CHAPTER XV

                         CAPTURED BY “LIBERTY”


When Arthur and Frank came on deck in answer to Kenneth’s summons, the
wind nearly took their heads off—it blew in their ears and deafened
them. They found it hard to breathe against it, and its force nearly
took them off their pins.

“What’s the trouble, old ma——”

Frank stopped in the middle of the word as he caught sight of the black
bulk of the schooner, slowly bearing down upon them. Scarcely twenty
feet of worried and wind-swept water separated the two vessels.

Nearer and nearer she came, until, to the excited eyes of the crew, it
seemed as if the big boat would swallow the smaller one whole.

The mate went forward, a big clasp knife in hand, to cut the cable, if
that extreme move became necessary.

[Illustration: CHESAPEAKE BAY.]

Kenneth had shouted to the captain of the schooner at the outset, and
all hands were trying everything to stop her backward progress. There
was no time to raise sails and beat out of the danger, and it certainly
looked as if the “Gazelle” would be crushed like an egg-shell, or else
cut adrift to run the very probable chances of being dashed against the
spiles of the piers.

It was a strange situation. In the harbor, between two populous cities,
Norfolk and Portsmouth; in the midst of a large fleet of seaworthy
boats, humming with life, one great bully of a vessel was slowly closing
down on a smaller one. Tens of thousands of people almost within call,
yet none could stir hand or foot to help. Nor could the crew of either
craft do aught to prevent imminent peril.

The “Gazelle” tugged at her moorings, as if she realized the danger, and
longed eagerly to be free.

The crew of the schooner hung over the rail aft, watching the narrowing
strip of water.

The suspense was tremendous, and each boy showed the effects of it
according to his temperament. Kenneth stood with tightly-shut fists and
clinched jaws, but otherwise showed no signs of the anxiety he felt;
Frank could not keep still, but twitched, rose, and sat down again a
hundred times, while the rain ran down the locks of long black hair over
his face unheeded; Arthur, who was forward, ready to cut the cables if
necessary, was possessed with the desire to do something; he found it
hard to wait, and appealed to Kenneth many times to know if he should
sever the anchor line.

The movement of the large ship was so gradual that it seemed as if the
moment of contact would never arrive. If the end would only come
quickly, or if they could do something to end the suspense! Anything
would be a relief. They watched with staring eyes the slow approach of
the larger vessel—so slow that the movement was scarcely perceptible.

Suddenly, Frank spoke in the startled tone of one who wakes from a
nightmare.

“She isn’t moving! The anchor must have caught at last.” The three tried
to measure the distance between the boats to see if Frank’s assertion
was really true.

“You are right, old man,” Kenneth said at last. “Luck is with us again.”

It was a mighty narrow escape—the space between the two boats could
almost be covered by an active jumper.

Later in the day, the schooner which had threatened to crush the yacht
was the means by which she was saved from another danger.

It was growing dark when the captain of the schooner hailed the
“Gazelle,” and told Kenneth that he wanted to shift his anchorage. The
wind was still blowing a gale, and the waves slapped viciously at
everything that withstood them.

The “Gazelle” was holding fast to the bottom with two anchors, but when
the boys tried to raise the largest, it stuck, and could not be moved,
so the end of the cable was buoyed and let go. Immediately the yacht
began to drag the anchor that remained, as if it were but a heavy stone,
and then drifted swiftly toward the bulkheads of the wharves. Again the
possibility of a smash-up confronted them.

“On board the schooner!” Kenneth shouted against the wind in the
direction of the larger craft. But the wind carried the words back to
him mockingly. Again he shouted: “We’re dragging anchor. Throw us a
line; throw us a line!”

It seemed ages before any one appeared; then the face of the captain
showed itself. He immediately grasped the situation, and in the nick of
time threw a long line to them. Arthur caught it and made it fast, while
the captain did likewise on the schooner. Once more the “Gazelle” was
saved; she swung on the end of the long rope like the cork on a fish
line.

For a week the storm continued; so for many days the captain and crew of
the yacht had nothing to do but go sightseeing, to write letters, and
play games. Whenever the weather permitted, “His Nibs” was brought
alongside, and one or two of the boys went ashore.

On one side of the narrow harbor was Norfolk, one of the big and growing
cities of the South. Her docks were filled with ocean-going and
coast-wise craft, steamers, and sailing vessels of every rig. Situated
on a fine harbor, a point from which railroads radiated, within easy
reach of the coal fields and iron mines, and but a short distance from
the great ship-building yards at Newport News, it prospered exceedingly.
There was little about it that suggested the Southern city, except the
multitude of colored people that roamed the streets. Across the
stream-like harbor lay Portsmouth, a much smaller place, on a lower
scale of development. In its Navy Yard many of the ships that did such
good service during the war with Spain were fitted out. Then its shops
were kept going day and night; the workmen swarmed like bees in and out
of the buildings; and the place resounded with the loud gong-like ring
of blows on cavernous boilers, and the sharp tap-tap of the riveters. It
was quite different when the boys visited it; many of the shops were
closed, and the marines, clad from head to foot in rubber, who paced to
and fro in front of the old stone buildings had little to do, for there
were few frolicsome jackies to make trouble for them.

Kenneth, Arthur, and Frank visited the shipping, the oyster markets,
where hundreds of the trim oyster sloops and schooners were unladen
weekly, the Navy Yard; St. Paul’s, the old stone church, built in 1739,
which still bore high in its tower the round shot fired into it during
the War of 1812, and last, but far from least, the watermelon fleet.

“How’s business?” they inquired interestedly.

“Rotten,” was the reply, and the truth of it was evident in the piles of
discarded fruit about.

Great, luscious melons were selling at $3.50 per hundred, and buyers
were hard to find at that. Whether the boys went singly or by twos, they
always returned laden to their utmost capacity with the great green
fruit.

The tenth day after their arrival at Norfolk, Kenneth got up early and
in a voice fit to wake the dead, roared: “Up all hands, break yourselves
out of your bunks there. This is the day we ‘move de boat’; up all
hands.”

The other two got up yawning and stretching, to find the sun streaming
warmly through the lights. Breakfast was cooked and eaten, dishes washed
and put away, decks scrubbed, brass rubbed, and rigging examined. The
bugler aboard the U.S.S. “Texas,” anchored but a short distance off, was
just blowing reveille when the boys began to heave on the anchor cable.
But it was long after the shrill boatswain’s call to mess had sounded
aboard the “Texas” before the “Gazelle’s” crew gave up the task of
hauling aboard the anchor. The boys hauled and tugged, till it seemed as
if the bow of the “Gazelle” would be pulled down to keep company with
the anchor, but not an inch would it budge. It was provoking that when
wind and tide favored, and pleasant weather promised, they should be
held to land. Kenneth stood with frowning brows looking along the
straight cable, while the perspiration stood in beads on his face—gazing
as if he would pierce the green-brown flood with his glance, and see
what held the mud-hook fast. Arthur and Frank stood by silent and
hot—for the sun beat down fiercely; all three were dry of suggestions,
for everything had been tried.

“Oh, let’s try once more; then if the pesky thing won’t come up we’ll
cut adrift and leave it.” Kenneth was at the end of his patience.

Once more the windlass was set going, and with the aid of three pairs of
strong young arms the heavy manila line was tautened until the yacht’s
bow was pulled a foot or more below the normal water line; but not an
inch would the old anchor budge. But just as the boys were on the point
of giving up in desperation, the rollers from a passing tug tossed the
yacht and gave an extra heavy pull on the line; then suddenly the yawl
regained her level and inch by inch the refractory anchor was yanked up.
A great water-soaked log clinging to one of the flukes revealed the
cause of the trouble when it reached the surface.

Free at last from the grasp of the land, the “Gazelle” threaded her way
past trim, converted yacht-gunboats (which looked little like the
venomous terriers of war they were), the grim “Texas,” whose peaceful
white coating of paint belied her destructive, death-dealing power, and
past the battered “Reina Mercedes,” which, in spite of every effort of
her former owner, was destined to become a useful member of Uncle Sam’s
Navy. Indeed, yachts, steamers, steamboats, and sailing craft of every
description, were passed by the “Gazelle” on her way to the open bay,
the famous Hampton Roads. Many hands were waved in salute to the little
craft and her sturdy crew, and not less numerous were the toots of the
whistles which greeted them, for the fame of their trip had spread until
the little white yawl was almost as well known to the shipping
population as the members of the white squadron.

When the sun of August 22d sent its last rays over the beautiful Hampton
Roads, the “Gazelle” had rounded Old Point Comfort and left the
picturesque old Fortress Monroe astern.

Long after sundown, the “Gazelle” wended her way up the broad Chesapeake
Bay, one of a thousand craft that sped over its smooth waters. Soon, the
moon rose in perfect splendor, and as the boys sat in the cockpit,
spellbound by the beauty of the scene, they saw a great Baltimore
clipper, square rigged, every sail spread, come sailing down the broad
path of moonlight; leaning a trifle to the strength of the breeze, every
sail rounded out and bathed in silvery light, her keen prow turning the
phosphorescent waves like a ploughshare; she made one of the finest
pictures mortal man ever beheld—a sight that made the boys’ sailor-blood
stir within them, and they stood spellbound until the great ship swept
majestically by, silent, except for the splash of the waves as she
spurned them aside, or for the creak of a block under the strain of
swelling canvas.

Till long after midnight, the yacht held her course—sailing by the light
of the moon; then she dropped anchor in one of the innumerable
indentations that mark the coast line of the bay.

It was late the next morning when the three young mariners rubbed their
eyes open, but they might as well have turned in again, for hardly a
breath of wind was stirring, and the swift tide was running out—down
stream.

For three days the wind failed them, then a breeze sprang up that made
the resisting tide of no avail.

The “Gazelle” sailed along past sandy beaches and rocky points, past
fascinating marshy nooks, and bluff headlands, at what seemed a good
round gait until a slim, rakish-looking craft went by so quickly that
the yacht might just as well have been anchored, so great was the
contrast in speed.

“Well, I’ll be switched,” was Kenneth’s surprised ejaculation. Never had
he seen his boat left behind so quickly before. “Bet she’s got a
gasoline engine stowed aft there somewhere.”

“No, the ‘Gazelle’ is foul with weeds and things.”

“We’ll have to lay her up and scrape her then,” was Kenneth’s determined
reply. He could not have his craft beaten like that, without a protest.

The cause of all this dissatisfaction flew by like the shadow of a
swiftly moving cloud. Her masts were raked sharply aft, and her two
enormous leg-o’-mutton sails were out of all proportion to her beam, the
boys thought. The hull was built of several—five or six—large logs
hollowed out and cleverly joined with peculiarly shaped wooden pegs that
held the connecting logs closely together. It was a new sort of craft to
Ransom, and his respect for the Chesapeake Bay fisherman increased as he
realized the careful seamanship required to keep a “Bugeye” right-side
up. Past the mouth of the Potomac River, which led directly to the
national capital, sailed the three boys, though they longed with all
their might for a sight of Washington, and it took all their resolution
to keep headed up the bay. Old Annapolis, the seat of the Naval Academy,
and the place where so many naval heroes have been educated, was left
without a visit; but each boy promised himself that he would return and
see everything some time. The names Dewey, Sampson, Schley, Evans,
Philip, Hobson, and a host of others were on everybody’s tongue at that
time, and yet the three young mariners (so pressed for time were they)
could not visit the place where these great men were educated.

[Illustration:
  BEAUFORT, NORTH CAROLINA.
  POPLAR TREES BENT OVER BY THE WIND.
]

[Illustration:
  A “BUGEYE.”
  “FLEW BY LIKE THE SHADOW OF A SWIFTLY MOVING CLOUD.”
]

Just before reaching Chesapeake City, the yacht was beached, and when
the tide receded, the boys found barnacles and sea moss to the thickness
of three-fourths of an inch or more on its bottom. The planking beneath,
however, was as sound as could be, and showed not a sign of the many
terrific strains to which it had been subjected.

At Chesapeake City the yacht entered the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal,
the Haul Over Canal, as it is generally called.

Kenneth was told that he would have to pay eleven dollars for the
privilege of passing through the lock and for the hire of five mules to
tow the yawl through.

“But I don’t want a tow through,” he protested.

“But yer got ter.” The driver was very emphatic. “The law says yer got
ter take a tow troo.”

“The ‘Gazelle’ is light; one mule would be enough, and you have five.”

“Yer gotter have five. But we’ll snake yer troo quick.” This last was
said with the air of one who is conferring a great favor.

“The first time I ever drove five-in-hand,” said Arthur, laughing, as
the driver whipped up and the yacht began tearing through the water. It
was a pleasant ride through that short canal. The mules kept on at a
steady trot, and the trees, with an occasional house, went flying past.
At six o’clock, the lock opening into the Delaware River at Delaware
City was reached; but as the tide was wrong the “Gazelle” did not float
into the historic stream till several hours later.

The river was full of moving craft when the “Gazelle” swung into the
stream. Great ocean-going steamers, disreputable looking tramp
steamships, trim schooners of every size, and here and there a yacht. A
scene full of animation and color—of busy boats and busy people—very
different from the easy-going life which the boys had just left on the
Southern water courses.

Towns with factories whose smoking chimneys told of active work, dotted
the river bank every mile or two, and between were fields of flourishing
crops—not a foot of ground was wasted.

Head winds delayed the little craft much, and the smoky haze that hung
over the great city of Philadelphia was not sighted until the fourth day
after leaving Delaware City.

“We’re just in time. Look!” Frank pointed through the rainlike fog that
greeted the young voyagers on their first visit to the City of Brotherly
Love.

“What—Say, that’s fine!”

It was an ejaculation that the sight before them extracted
involuntarily. Anchored in two long lines, lay a great fleet of Uncle
Sam’s dogs of war. Painted white, they looked like great ghosts of ships
through the fog; all was gray except where the beautiful red, white and
blue showed dimly through, or where the red, yellow and blue signal
flags on the flagship made spots of color in the general dulness. In and
about darted the man-o’-war launches like the restless, ever-moving
insects which one sees on placid pools in summer.

It was Philadelphia’s tribute to the victorious hosts in the war with
Spain, and the boys came in just the nick of time to take in all the
goings on—the parades of soldiers and sailors and the still more
interesting, ever restless procession of the multitude of people from
every direction.

Everything was open, from the United States Mint, Independence Hall,
where Congress first met, to Cramp’s shipyard and the University of
Pennsylvania buildings. During the three days our mariners lay off the
city, they saw it all. Kenneth would have been at Cramp’s shipyard to
this day if Arthur had not pulled him off by main force. The great
enclosure from which so many of America’s famous ships have been
launched had a strong fascination for him, and it was with the greatest
difficulty that he could tear himself away.

Under way once more, the “Gazelle” soon reached Bordentown, where she
entered the Delaware and Raritan Canal. Surprised and delighted at the
small canal fee, Kenneth paid the $2.80 and, with a long line, he and
Arthur began to tow to Trenton (six miles). As luck would have it,
Kenneth and his friends met the owner of the steam-yacht “Cora” at
Trenton, who was also going through the canal.

The story of the trip thus far, and the plans for the remainder of the
journey so interested the “Cora’s” master, that he wanted to hear more
of it and offered to tow the “Gazelle” through for the sake of the
society of her captain and crew. The boys thought this more than a fair
exchange and “accepted with pleasure.” The “Gazelle” seemed to feel the
importance of her position, and strutted behind the graceful “Cora” as
though she were merely following the larger and more fashionable vessel,
and was not submitting to anything so undignified as towing.

“The old boat will get so stuck up with her five-mule team and now her
steam-yacht tow, that she’ll outgrow her headsails.”

“Wait till she strikes the Erie Canal, when her fall cometh. It’s lucky
if we get even one horse to tow her then.”

Along the broad canal the two yachts went at a pace that the boys
thought too fast, for little opportunity was given to them to see the
many interesting things that they passed so quickly.

At New Brunswick, the end of the canal, the “Gazelle’s” crew bid their
kind friends good-by, and, hoisting sail, went on alone. As they drew
nearer and nearer the Metropolis—the city which they had heard about all
their lives, but had never seen, and which, next to their own homes, was
the place of all others that they desired to reach—their nerves tingled
with excitement, and the good round pace which the “Gazelle” was making,
seemed all too slow.

When darkness fell they were but seven miles below New Brunswick, on the
Raritan River, anchored in a spot that seemed absolutely remote from
civilization, above all far from a great city, so quiet was it.
Undisturbed by sight of any one, the three youngsters made the night
hideous with their jubilant songs, bawled at the top of their voices.
Well might they be joyful, for surely the thing accomplished more than
justified their exultation.

In a thirty-foot boat they had braved the treacherous Gulf and the
savage Atlantic, travelled dangerous waters without a pilot; mere boys
who had never seen salt water before this cruise, with barely enough
money to pay the narrowest expenses and buy the cheapest possible food;
and now they were within a day’s sail of New York, sound and well, with
a boat under them that was as fit as when she had slipped into the fresh
waters of far-off Lake Michigan.

“Hip! Hip! Hurrah!” they shouted over the placid waters of the Raritan
River; and well they might.

Next day Kenneth steered his craft past Perth Amboy into the Arthur
Kills back of Staten Island, and that evening saw them anchored off
Elizabethport. Pretty much the same sort of feeling that rouses a child
on Christmas morning at daybreak, brought Kenneth, Arthur, and Frank on
deck before the sun had fairly started his day’s work. It was September
7th, and the red and black sweaters with the word “Gazelle” embroidered
on the breast were found very comfortable in the chill morning air. A
haze hung over everything, and the boats that were moving slipped about
as if on tiptoe, fearful lest the sleeping millions be wakened too soon.

As the “Gazelle” rounded Bergen Point, Jersey City, and sailed into the
Upper New York Bay, boats seemed to spring out of the very water,
ferryboats, sailboats, tugs; never had the boys seen so many craft in
motion before.

A haze still hung over the water, and objects only two hundred yards off
could be seen but dimly.

“There’s the Statue of Liberty,” Arthur cried excitedly.

Sure enough, the great statue stood before them—her torch held on high,
the heavy vapor wreathed about her like beautiful, filmy drapery.

Putting helm to starboard, the “Gazelle” turned to go inside Bedloe’s
Island.

“Look, can’t you see a tall building over there?”

All the boys looked for the jagged sky line which they had seen pictured
so often, and soon became so intent that they forgot to watch where they
were going.

With a sudden bump and a sickening jar, the “Gazelle” stopped short. She
was hard and fast on the cruel rocks.



                              CHAPTER XVI

                        FROM NEW YORK TO ALBANY


With the very shadow of the great Liberty statue stretching over them,
their good ship was fast on the rocks and threatening to spring a leak
any moment. Shipwreck at the gates of America’s greatest city stared the
boys in the face. Sand bars, ice, great waves, and fierce winds, had
been encountered, but not till New York Harbor received them so
inhospitably, had the “Gazelle’s” keel struck rock.

Quick work was necessary if the yacht was to be saved, for even now the
rollers from passing steamboats were causing her to pound.

Without a word, Kenneth jumped forward and lowered jib and mainsail, and
then, without stopping to take off any clothes, sprang overboard. “Come
on, boys,” he cried. In another instant all three were lifting and
pushing the heavy hull to get her off the rocks into the deep water of
the channel—straining with all their might. Hot work it was, in spite of
the cool water that wet them above their waists. Reluctantly the yacht
began to slide backward. Lifted by the rollers, and pushed by three
sturdy backs, she slipped towards the channel till the boys found
themselves without a footing and hanging on the boat for support. She
was afloat once more.

“Thank God!” said Ransom fervently, as he climbed on deck, dripping and
shivering in the chill morning air. Once more the good ship had stood
the test.

A few minutes were spent in putting on dry clothes, then on up New York
Bay they went.

All was plain sailing until the yacht’s straight bowsprit had poked
itself round old Fort William Henry on Governor’s Island. Then the fun
began.

The two great currents from the North and East Rivers met off the fort,
each carried an immense number of craft of all sorts going in every
direction. Whistles tooted and bells clanged, paddlewheels and churning
propellers turned the green waters into frothing chaos.

Kenneth and his friends were bewildered, and they wondered how they were
ever going to pilot the diminutive “Gazelle” through that intricate
labyrinth of shifting vessels.

The monster “Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse,” her huge hull dragged by
several tugs (reminding one of a big piece of bread being moved off by
ants) blocked the way to starboard; while one of the swift Sandy Hook
boats dashed by to port, leaving a great wave astern. The Long Island
Sound boats, veritable floating hotels, were just rounding the Battery
on the way to their piers ahead, and to and fro the tug-boats puffed on
erratic courses; shuttles they were that seemed to be weaving a net from
which the yacht could not escape.

“Phew!” whistled Kenneth, who was steering. “How the deuce are we going
to get through this, I would like to know?”

“I don’t see, unless we sink and we go underneath.” Arthur’s brows were
puckered with perplexity, curious to see, but perfectly simple to
understand.

“I don’t know how, but we always do get out of our scrapes somehow;
still—Well, will you look at that, in the name of common sense!” Frank
stopped from sheer astonishment.

The yacht was speeding down a narrow lane between two great outgoing
ships, a great schooner and an English tramp, her way clear for once,
when a tug appeared across the opening, and at the end of a long
tow-line, a half-dozen canal boats strung out—a barrier six hundred
yards long at least. Kenneth trimmed in his sheets quickly, put his helm
to starboard, and started to go around the end of the tow, but no sooner
had the yacht gathered headway in the new direction, than a big
ferryboat ran from behind the tramp, and she had to luff quickly to
avoid a collision.

“This is getting tiresome, to say the least,” remarked Kenneth in a
vexed tone. “I guess we’ll have to follow Arthur’s suggestion and make a
submarine trip of it.”

“Look at that sloop there; she goes right along and the steam craft get
out of her way.” Arthur pointed out a well-loaded oyster boat. “If we
only had our nerve with us we’d be all right.”

“It takes nerve, though; but here goes, we have the right of way.”

Sure enough. Whenever there seemed to be no escape from an accident, and
the yacht pluckily pushed on, the steam vessels shifted to one side ever
so slightly and allowed her to pass.

At first the excitement was too great for comfort, but as they proceeded
up the river unharmed, it began to be exhilarating. Great ferryboats
crossed their bows so near that they could almost jump aboard; tugs
steamed by so close that the crews of the two boats easily “passed the
time o’ day” in an ordinary tone of voice. Huge steamers passed that
might have stowed the “Gazelle” on one of their decks without
inconveniencing their promenading passengers in the slightest.

“And yet,” said Frank, bending his head far back in order to see a
steamer’s rail, “this little boat weathered some storms that would make
even that vast hull tremble.” He voiced the thought that all of them had
in mind.

With eyes bright with interest, the boys saw the graceful sweep of the
Brooklyn Bridge, the tall, red, square tower of the Produce Exchange,
the brownstone spire of historic Trinity Church set in the midst of, and
almost dwarfed by, the higher buildings about it. Towering ten, twenty,
thirty stories high, the great office buildings made a skyline strangely
jagged and bold. As the yacht sailed northward, the city flattened out
somewhat, and the moving network made by the wakes of the shifting boats
became more open.

Off Seventy-second Street, at the beginning of Riverside Drive, the
anchor was dropped, and now out of the stream of passing craft, the crew
stopped to take a quiet breath and recover from the excitement of
navigating a great waterway full of swiftly moving vessels of every
nationality going to and from every part of the world.

A week of sightseeing followed. Now, perhaps, for the first time, the
boys longed for money with a longing not born of need, but at the sight
of the many attractive things that can be bought for small sums, and the
interesting shows which their empty pockets did not permit them to
enjoy. Of the free shows, hardly one escaped them, the museums, both of
Art and Natural History, the New York Zoo in Bronx Park; then the great
buildings and the public parks all received their share of attention.
Though comparisons may be odious, the boys put the Natural History and
Metropolitan Art museums beside the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago,
and discussed hotly among themselves the relative merits of each.

“His Nibs” was a hard-worked boat those days, because from four to six
times a day it ferried the boys to and from the yacht. Perhaps it was
owing to the fact that it was tired of so much work, that it floated
itself into the attention of a couple of young wharf rats one evening.
Kenneth had come ashore alone, and made the small boat fast to the
landing close to the shore end of a long, closely built wharf. For
perhaps three hours he was away, and when he returned it was after
eleven o’clock and black night. Reaching the landing, he saw that the
boat was missing, and his heart sank, for he had an affection for the
little craft that had done its work so bravely; besides which, he could
ill afford the money to replace it. Suddenly he awoke to the fact that
just beyond his sight, a boat was being rowed hurriedly away. Running
down the stringpiece to the end of the pier, he saw two young reprobates
paddling off with all their might in “His Nibs.” What should he do? Not
a policeman in sight, not a boat in which he could follow, near at hand;
he feared he would have to let his boat be taken before his very eyes.
But all at once a thought struck him and the humor of it made him smile
as he started to put it into operation. With a big clasp knife he
carried in his pocket he thought that he might bluff the thieves into
thinking that it was a revolver, and so scare them into returning the
stolen property.

Running out to the end of the pier, where his figure would be
silhouetted against the distant light, he pulled out his knife, and
holding it as if it were a revolver, pointed it at the “wharf rats.”

“Where are you going with that boat?” he shouted in stern tones.

No answer, though the thieves stopped rowing.

“You return that boat or I’ll—” Kenneth left his sentence unfinished,
but he flourished his impromptu revolver so fiercely that the boat
stealers were evidently cowed.

“Get that boat back, and be quick about it. No fooling, or I’ll shoot
you full of holes.” Kenneth could hardly keep his face straight when he
saw them back water and turn to go back to the landing. “I was just in
time,” he said to himself, as he followed along on the stringpiece. “If
they ever got under a dock it would be all day with ‘His Nibs.’”
Arriving at the float the boys (they were hardly out of their ’teens,
Kenneth thought) started for the street on a run. Ransom stayed not for
pursuit, but jumped into the boat and pushed off. Once the two stopped
to look back, but a threatening move with the knife sent them on with
renewed speed.

“Well, that’s the best joke,” Kenneth said to himself, and he stopped
rowing to pat the pocket where he had dropped the knife.

September 14th broke bright and clear, with a touch of the keen autumnal
vigor in the air. A good strong breeze was blowing, and the boys weighed
anchor with light hearts, for they were beginning the last fifteen
hundred miles of their seven-thousand mile journey. On, up the Hudson
River, the good yacht sped, the smooth green lawns of Riverside Park on
one side, and the frowning cliffs of Jersey Heights upon the other. Soon
the dome of Grant’s Tomb was passed, dazzling white and gleaming in the
morning sun.

Hour after hour the little boat sailed up the majestic stream, a mere
moving mote on the broad watery ribbon. To the east, the land sloped
gently to the stream, an undulating green country dotted here and there
with towns and clumps of factory buildings. On the western shore, the
giant Palisades stood bluff and impressive, a solid stone wall from two
hundred to five hundred feet high and fifteen miles long.

The boys speedily became mere animated exclamation points, for hardly a
minute passed that did not disclose some new beauty, some unexpected
vista.

The breeze held fair all day, and the night being clear, the young
navigators sailed on till long after sundown. The close attention and
long day’s sail made captain and crew very tired, so that when they
turned in rather late they slept like logs.

At seven o’clock next morning all aboard were as thoroughly at home in
the land of Nod as if they intended to spend the rest of their days
there. Old Sol was shining brightly over the eastern hills, the summer
breeze had not gained its full strength and made but a ripple on the
smooth surface of the river. It was a quiet, peaceful scene that had not
a suggestion of noise or turmoil of any kind.

Of a sudden there was a tremendous report, an explosion that rent the
air, then in quick succession, like a veritable bombardment, numerous
detonations followed. The first fairly shook the boys out of their snug
bunks, and they tumbled out on deck wide-eyed, fearing they knew not
what. The air was filled with a tremendous roar that echoed and reëchoed
across from one height to the other.

“Good Heavens!” Frank exclaimed when he turned to the west. “We’re done,
sure.”

The whole side of the cliff seemed to be coming down on them. Blast
after blast went off, each seeming louder than the preceding one, and
with each report the earth shook, and fountains of dust, smoke, and bits
of rock flew up.

All three boys stood dazed, amazed, almost unnerved, indeed, until they
realized that the rock was being blasted out of the cliff for paving
purposes.

“That’s a nice way to wake a fellow up,” said Arthur in a tone of
supreme disgust, when the last charge had been fired and the smoke had
in part cleared away.

“I guess that’s about the only thing that would have waked us, though,”
said Kenneth, yawning. “Will you look at that scar in the face of the
cliff; that’s what I call a blooming shame.” A great, broad, red-brown
scar on the abrupt rise, showed bare beside the green and gray rocks on
either side.

Suddenly Frank burst out into a laugh and ran quickly below. “Look at
that big boat coming down the river full of people, and then get below,
you’re unfit for publication.”

Kenneth and Arthur looked as they were bidden, then suddenly realized
that they were still clad in their abbreviated night clothes. Instantly,
all that could be seen of the three lads was their entirely respectable
heads, and when the steamboat went by, these three nodded a greeting,
and three arms, browned by the sun, waved in salute.

The next morning found the yawl at Poughkeepsie. Behind them were the
mountains that have guarded the stream for centuries, Storm King, old
Dunderberg, and the lesser heights. West Point, with the fine buildings
of the United States Military Academy crowning its high plateau, lay
below them. Anchored almost in the shadow of the great Poughkeepsie
Bridge, one of the most wonderful structures in the world, the boys
thought they were certainly getting their money’s worth in the
sightseeing line.

Their tongues kept up a continual clatter until long after dark.

“Did you ever see anything like that view at West Point?”

“Wasn’t that a dandy, big steamboat that passed us near Newburgh?”

“I tell you that big mountain near Peekskill was great. Made a fellow
feel like two for a nickel.”

And so the talk went on, until finally tired nature overcame even the
excitement of novel experiences, and they fell asleep.

The seventy-six miles to Albany was covered the next day, in spite of
the adverse current; and at nightfall the “Gazelle” was anchored almost
within sight of the Empire State’s Capitol building.

The first thing Kenneth did at Albany the next morning was to apply to
State Superintendent of Public Works Partridge for a permit to go
through the Erie Canal—the long link in the chain that was to carry the
cruisers to their native lakes again. Colonel Partridge was so cordially
interested in the cruise, that he introduced Kenneth and his friends to
some newspaper men. So, for the time they were the talk of the town.[1]

With his permit in his pocket, Kenneth went uptown to see a friend of
his father’s who was holding some money for him that he needed very
badly. As usual, the story of the cruise had to be told at length, and
with much detail; and it was late when the captain finally took his
departure, at peace with all the world by reason of the roll of
greenbacks in his pocket, and of the good things in the inner boy. Clad
in his navy-blue sailor blouse, he walked with the true sailor swing
down to the river front, and putting his fingers to his lips blew the
shrill signal to his shipmates to notify them that he was ready to go
aboard. It was a long way to the yacht, and Kenneth putting his back to
a spile prepared to take it easy while he waited for the small boat.

Like most great cities, the dives, the cut-throat saloons, and places of
that sort were situated near the water front, spread like a spider’s web
for the unwary sailor. Ransom noticed as he walked through the narrow
streets towards the river, that the saloons were disgorging their
disreputable patrons previous to closing up, and several times he had
crossed to the other side to avoid coming into direct contact with them.

As he sat on the stringpiece over the water, looking off to where the
bright lantern marked his floating home, he suddenly realized
instinctively that some one was coming stealthily up behind him; with a
tight grip on his nerves he turned slowly as if perfectly calm, to see
who it was.

The arc lights along the street cast a flare of strong light directly
about the poles supporting them, but a little way off the shadows were
correspondingly dense. Lurking in one of these spots of shadow, Kenneth
saw the figure of a man approaching him noiselessly. There was that
about him which told that he had been drinking. A stray ray of light
showed the boy the cruel, debased, evil face and he looked about for a
way of escape. The buildings fronting on the street were closed tight,
their inhabitants fast asleep—no shelter there; back of him, the river
lay black, ready to completely engulf whatever might fall into it. “And
I haven’t got a thing to defend myself with,” the boy said to himself.
The drunken man approached nearer, an unpleasant leer on his face.

“Say, Jack, give us the price of a drink,” he said in a tone that
suggested more clearly than words, “or it will be the worse for you.”

Kenneth thought of the roll of bills in his pocket, and glanced at the
dark water below him, then like a flash it occurred to him that the bum
had taken him for a sailor—a man-o’-warsman—and a plan suggested itself
to him which he immediately proceeded to put into execution.

It was rather difficult for him to assume the gruff, husky voice of a
hard drinker, but he managed it pretty well. “Sorry I can’t ’commodate
you, mate,” he said, gruffly, “but I’m busted—clean, and looking for a
berth. Got shore leave, and blew in all my dough. Got jagged and don’t
know how to get back to the ship.”

The boy almost gagged at the language, but he played the game well, and
the bluff worked, for the drunk was satisfied. He said something about
“hard luck when a bloke hasn’t got the price of a drink in his clothes,”
and slouched off. Ransom breathed a sigh of relief, but not till he was
safe aboard the yacht did he feel entirely comfortable.

The Erie Canal begins at Albany, but the boys had been told that they
had better enter the big ditch at Troy, about seven miles up the river.

No sooner had the “Gazelle” come to a stop inside the canal basin than
captain and crew were besieged by people wanting to get the job of
towing them to Buffalo.

“Take you through for a hundred and ten dollars, sir,” said one.

“Oh, g’wan,” said another, “he’s robbing yer. I’ll take yer through for
seventy-five.”

“And I’ve got twenty,” Ransom said to himself.

The lowest offer was sixty-five dollars, and at that they would have to
tag on to the end of a fleet of grain boats that could not possibly get
through inside of two weeks. Every minute was precious now, for before
very long ice would form and navigation would be closed on the lakes.

It was a discouraging outlook, but the boys, nevertheless, made ready
for the long trip across the State. With the aid of a derrick, the
yawl’s masts were taken out, her rigging dismantled and running gear
unrove and neatly coiled. By nightfall, the “Gazelle” was completely
unrigged and reminded one, as Frank suggested, of “a man whose head had
been shaved.”

“If you won’t pay the price to be towed through, what are you going to
do?” Arthur asked when all were sitting in the cabin.

“Tow her by hand,” Kenneth asserted.

“What, four hundred miles by hand?”

“Yup!”

“Well, I pass!” said Frank.

“I’ll be hanged if I want to be a mule all the way to Buffalo,” said
Arthur in a manner suggestive of antagonism. “I wouldn’t mind it for
forty or fifty miles; but four hundred! Well, I guess _not_.”

There was gloom in the little cabin that night, in spite of the brightly
burning lamp.

With the morning, came a friend who was a friend indeed. An old canal
man had read the story of the cruise in an Albany paper, and admiring
the pluck of the boys had proceeded to look them up.

“I’ll tell you what to do,” said he, when he learned of their
predicament. “You buy a horse at this end and sell him at the other.”

“Buy a horse; what do you take us for, millionaires?” Arthur voiced the
sentiments of the crowd.

“Naw,” responded the newly-found friend, with a twinkle in his eye, as
he surveyed the far from fashionable clothes they wore; “you don’t have
to be a Vanderbilt; you can buy a horse for twenty dollars, perhaps
less.”

It ended by Ransom going off with the man to search for a good, cheap
nag. At the end of an hour or so the skipper returned, leading a horse
by a rather dilapidated bridle. The beast walked without a limp, and
seemed healthy; but by her looks one would think that she had more that
the stipulated number of ribs—they were so very much in evidence.

“Good gracious, look at the boneyard Ken is leading!” Frank laughed
derisively.

“What is it?” Arthur asked impolitely.

“_It’s_ our one-horse-power engine. _It’s_ name is ‘Step Lively’; _it_
is going to tow us to Buffalo; and _it_ cost twelve dollars, harness
included. ‘Dirt cheap, sir.’”

Frank and Arthur laughed him to scorn; but next morning they hitched up
“Step Lively” and started on their way.

-----

Footnote 1:

  The writer is indebted to Colonel Partridge for the first information
  about the cruise and the cruisers, and he takes pleasure in
  acknowledging his obligation.



                              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.

[Illustration:
  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.



                             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.

[Illustration:
  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
manœuvring 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.

[Illustration: 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.”



                              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.

[Illustration: “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.



                               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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