Frank Richard Stockton.

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water-glass, and saw what had scared me.

"Why, boss!" said he, "sponges don't eat people! That was nice and sof'
to tread on. A sight better than cuttin' yer foot on a piece o' coral."

That was all very well, but I'm sure Captain Chris jumped the first time
he ever put his bare foot into a sponge under water.

"I s'pose ye're goin' to gib it up now, boss," said the captain.

"No, I'm not," I answered. "I haven't brought up anything yet. I'm going
down again."

"You'd better not," said Rectus. "Three times is all that anybody ever
tries to do anything. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
One, two, three. You're not expected to try four times. And, besides,
you're tired."

"I'll be rested in a minute," said I, "and then I'll try once more. I'm
all right. You needn't worry."

But Rectus did worry. I must have looked frightened when I came up, and
I believe he had caught the scare. Boys will do that. The captain tried
to keep me from going in again, but I knew it was all nonsense to be
frightened. I was going to bring up something from the bottom, if it was
only a pebble.

So, after resting a little while, and getting my breath again, down I
went. I was in for anything now, and the moment I reached the bottom, I
swept my arm around and seized the first thing I touched. It was a
pretty big thing, for it was a sea-feather over five feet high, - a
regular tree. I gave a jerk at it, but it held fast. I wished, most
earnestly, that I had taken hold of something smaller, but I didn't like
to let go. I might get nothing else. I gave another jerk, but it was of
no use. I felt that I couldn't hold my breath much longer, and must go
up. I clutched the stem of the thing with both hands; I braced my feet
against the bottom; I gave a tremendous tug and push, and up I came to
the top, sea-feather and all!

With both my hands full I couldn't do much swimming, and the tide
carried me astern of the boat before I knew it.

Rectus was the first to shout to me.

"Drop it, and strike out!" he yelled; but I didn't drop it. I took it in
one hand and swam with the other. But the tide was strong, and I didn't
make any headway. Indeed, I floated further away from the boat.

Directly, I heard a splash, and in a moment afterward, it seemed, the
two darkey divers were swimming up to me.

"Drop dat," said one of them, "an' we'll take ye in."

"No, I wont," I spluttered, still striking out with my legs and one arm.
"Take hold of this, and we can all go in together."

I thought that if one of them would help me with the sea-feather, which
seemed awfully heavy, two of us could certainly swim to the boat with
four legs and two arms between us.

But neither of them would do it. They wanted me to drop my prize, and
then they'd take hold of me and take me in. We were disputing and
puffing, and floating further and further away, when up came Captain
Chris, swimming like a shark. He had jerked off his clothes and jumped
in, when he saw what was going on. He just put one hand under my right
arm, in which I held the sea-feather, and then we struck out together
for the boat. It was like getting a tow from a tug-boat. We were
alongside in no time. Captain Chris was the strongest and best swimmer I
ever saw.

[Illustration: "WE STRUCK OUT TOGETHER FOR THE BOAT."]

Rectus was leaning over, ready to help, and he caught me by the arm as I
reached up for the side of the boat.

"No," said I, "take this," and he seized the sea-feather and pulled it
in. Then the captain gave me a hoist, and I clambered on board.

The captain had some towels under the little forward deck, and I gave
myself a good rub down and dressed. Then I went to look at my prize. No
wonder it was heavy. It had a young rock, a foot long, fast to its root.

"You sp'iled one o' de puttiest things in that garden down there," said
the captain. "I allus anchored near that tall feather, and all de
vis'tors used to talk about it. I didn't think you'd bring it up when I
seed you grab it. But you must 'a' give a powerful heave to come up with
all that stone."

"I don't think you ought to have tried to do that," said Rectus, who
looked as if he hadn't enjoyed himself. "I didn't know you were so
obstinate."

"Well," said I, "the truth of the matter is that I am a fool, sometimes,
and I might as well admit it. But now let's see what we've got on this
stone."

There was a lot of curious things on the piece of rock which had come up
with the sea-feather. There were small shells, of different shapes and
colors, with the living creatures inside of them, and there were mosses,
and sea-weed, and little sponges, and small sea-plants, tipped with red
and yellow, and more things of the kind than I can remember. It was the
handsomest and most interesting piece of coral-rock that I had seen yet.

As for the big purple sea-feather, it was a whopper, but too big for me
to do anything with it. When we got home, Rectus showed it around to
the Chippertons, and some of the people at the hotel, and told them that
I dived down and brought it up, myself, but I couldn't take it away with
me, for it was much too long to go in my trunk. So I gave it next day to
Captain Chris, to sell, if he chose, but I believe he took it back and
planted it again in the submarine garden, so that his passengers could
see how tall a sea-feather could grow, when it tried. I chipped off a
piece of the rock, however, to carry home as a memento. I was told that
the things growing on it - I picked off all the shells - would make the
clothes in my trunk smell badly, but I thought I'd risk it.

"After all," said Rectus, that night, "what was the good of it? That
little piece of stone don't amount to anything, and you might have been
drowned."

"I don't think I could have been drowned," said I, "for I should have
dropped the old thing, and floated, if I had felt myself giving out. But
the good of it was this: It showed me what a disagreeable sort of place
a sea-garden is, when you go down into it to pick things."

"Which you wont do again, in a hurry, I reckon," said Rectus.

"You're right there, my boy," I answered.

The next day, the Chippertons and ourselves took a two-horse barouche,
and rode to the "caves," some six or seven miles from the town. We had a
long walk through the pineapple fields before we came to the biggest
cave, and found it wasn't very much of a cave, after all, though there
was a sort of a room, on one side, which looked like a church, with
altar, pillars and arches. There was a little hole, on one side of this
room, about three feet wide, which led, our negro guide said, to a great
cave, which ran along about a mile, until it reached the sea. There was
no knowing what skeletons, and treasures, and old half-decayed boxes of
coins, hidden by pirates, and swords with jewels in the handles, and
loose jewels, and silver plate, and other things we might have found in
that cave, if we had only had a lantern or some candles to light us
while we were wandering about in it. But we had no candles or lantern,
and so did not become a pirate's heirs. It was Corny who was most
anxious to go in. She had read about Blackbeard, and the other pirates
who used to live on this island, and she felt sure that some of their
treasures were to be found in that cave. If she had thought of it, she
would have brought a candle.

The only treasures we got were some long things, like thin ropes, which
hung from the roof to the floor of the cave we were in. This cave wasn't
dark, because nearly all of one side of it was open. These ropes were
roots or young trunks from banyan-trees, growing on the ground above,
and which came through the cracks in the rocks, and stretched themselves
down so as to root in the floor of the cave, and make a lot of
underground trunks for the tree above. The banyan-tree is the most
enterprising trunk-maker I ever heard of.

We pulled down a lot of these banyan ropes, some of them more than
twenty feet long, to take away as curiosities. Corny thought it would
be splendid to have a jumping-rope made of a banyan root, or rather
trunklet. The banyans here are called wild fig-trees, which they really
are, wherever they grow. There is a big one, not far from the town,
which stands by itself, and has a lot of trunks coming down from the
branches. It would take the conceit out of a hurricane, I think, if it
tried to blow down a banyan-tree.

The next day was Sunday, and our party went to a negro church to hear a
preacher who was quite celebrated as a colored orator. He preached a
good sensible sermon, although he didn't meddle much with grammar. The
people were poorly dressed, and some of the deacons were barefooted, but
they were all very clean and neat, and they appeared to be just as
religious as if they had all ridden in carriages to some Fifth Avenue
church in New York.




CHAPTER XVIII.

I WAKE UP MR. CHIPPERTON.


About nine o'clock, on Monday morning, the "Tigris" came in. When we
boarded her, which we did almost as soon as the stairs had been put down
her side, we found that she would make a shorter stay than usual, and
would go out that evening, at high tide. So there was no time to lose.
After the letters had been delivered at the hotel, and we had read ours,
we sent our trunks on board, and went around to finish up Nassau. We
rowed over to Hog Island, opposite the town, to see, once more, the surf
roll up against the high, jagged rocks; we ran down among the negro
cottages and the negro cabins to get some fruit for the trip; and we
rushed about to bid good-bye to some of our old friends - Poqua-dilla
among them. Corny went with us, this time. Every darkey knew we were
going away, and it was amazing to see how many of them came to bid us
good-bye, and ask for some coppers.

After supper, we went on board the steamer, and about ten o'clock she
cast loose, and as she slowly moved away, we heard the old familiar
words:

"Give us a small dive, boss!"

They came from a crowd of darkey boys on the wharf. But, although the
moon was shining brightly, we didn't think they could see coppers on the
bottom that night. They might have found a shilling or a half-dollar,
but we didn't try them.

There were a couple of English officers on board, from the barracks, and
we thought that they were going to take a trip to the United States; but
the purser told us that they had no idea of doing that themselves, but
were trying to prevent one of the "red-coats," as the common soldiers
were generally called, from leaving the island. He had been missed at
the barracks, and it was supposed that he was stowed away somewhere on
the vessel. The steamer had delayed starting for half an hour, so that
search might be made for the deserter, but she couldn't wait any longer
if she wanted to get over the bar that night, and so the lieutenants, or
sergeants, or whatever they were, had to go along, and come back in the
pilot-boat.

When we got outside we lay to, with the pilot-boat alongside of us, and
the hold of the vessel was ransacked for the deserter. Corny openly
declared that she hoped they wouldn't find him, and I'm sure I had a
pretty strong feeling that way myself. But they did find him. He was
pulled out from behind some barrels, in a dark place in the hold, and
hurried up on deck. We saw him, as he was forced over the side of the
vessel and almost dropped into the pilot-boat, which was rising and
falling on the waves by the side of the ship. Then the officers
scrambled down the side and jumped into the boat. The line was cast off,
the negro oarsmen began to pull away, and the poor red-coat took his
doleful journey back to Nassau. He must have felt pretty badly about it.
I have no doubt that when he hid himself down there in that dark hold,
just before the vessel started, he thought he had made a pretty sure
thing of it, and that it would not be long before he would be a free
man, and could go where he pleased and do what he pleased in the wide
United States. But the case was very different now. I suppose it was
wrong, of course, for him to desert, and probably he was a mean sort of
a fellow to do it; but we were all very sorry to see him taken away.
Corny thought that he was very likely a good man, who had been imposed
upon, and that, therefore, it was right to run away. It was quite
natural for a girl to think that.

The moment the pilot-boat left us, the "Tigris" started off in good
earnest, and went steaming along on her course. And it was not long
before we started off, also in good earnest, for our berths. We were a
tired set.

The trip back was not so pleasant as our other little voyage, when we
were coming to the Bahamas. The next day was cloudy, and the sea was
rough and choppy. The air was mild enough for us to be on deck, but
there was a high wind which made it uncomfortable. Rectus thought he
could keep on his wide straw hat, but he soon found out his mistake, and
had to get out his Scotch cap, which made him look like a very different
fellow.

There were not very many passengers on board, as it was scarcely time
for the majority of people to leave Nassau. They generally stay until
April, I think. Besides our party of five, there were several gentlemen
and ladies from the hotel; and as we knew them all tolerably well, we
had a much more sociable time than when we came over. Still, for my
part, I should have preferred fair weather, bright skies, and plenty of
nautiluses and flying-fish.

The "yellow-legged" party remained at Nassau. I was a little sorry for
this, too, as I liked the men pretty well, now that I knew them better.
They certainly were good walkers.

Toward noon the wind began to blow harder, and the waves ran very high.
The "Tigris" rolled from side to side as if she would go over, and some
of the ladies were a good deal frightened; but she always came up again,
all right, no matter how far over she dipped, and so in time they got
used to it. I proved to Mrs. Chipperton that it would be impossible for
the vessel to upset, as the great weight of ballast, freight, machinery,
etc., in the lower part of her would always bring her deck up again,
even if she rolled entirely over on her side, which, sometimes, she
seemed as if she was going to do, but she always changed her mind just
as we thought the thing was going to happen. The first mate told me that
the reason we rolled so was because we had been obliged to take in all
sail, and that the mainsail had steadied the vessel very much before the
wind got so high. This was all very well, but I didn't care much to know
why the thing was. There are some people who think a thing's all right,
if they can only tell you the reason for it.

Before dark, we had to go below, for the captain said he didn't want any
of us to roll overboard, and, besides, the spray from the high waves
made the deck very wet and unpleasant. None of us liked it below. There
was no place to sit but in the long saloon, where the dining-tables
were, and after supper we all sat there and read. Mr. Chipperton had a
lot of novels, and we each took one. But it wasn't much fun. I couldn't
get interested in my story, - at least, not in the beginning of it. I
think that people who want to use up time when they are travelling ought
to take what Rectus called a "begun" novel along with them. He had got
on pretty well in his book while he was in Nassau, and so just took it
up now and went right along.

The lamps swung so far backward and forward above the table that we
thought they would certainly spill the oil over us in one of their wild
pitches; the settees by the table slid under us as the ship rolled, so
that there was no comfort, and any one who tried to walk from one place
to another had to hang on to whatever he could get hold of, or be
tumbled up against the tables or the wall. Some folks got sea-sick and
went to bed, but we tried to stick it out as long as we could.

The storm grew worse and worse. Sometimes a big wave would strike the
side of the steamer, just behind us, with a tremendous shock. The ladies
were always sure she had "struck something" when this happened; but when
they found it was only water that she had struck, they were better
satisfied. At last, things grew to be so bad that we thought we should
have to go to bed and spend the night holding on to the handles at the
back of our berths, when, all of a sudden, there was a great change. The
rolling stopped, and the vessel seemed to be steaming along almost on an
even keel. She pitched somewhat forward and aft, - that is, her bow and
her stern went up and down by turns, - but we didn't mind that, as it was
so very much better than the wild rolling that had been kept up so long.

"I wonder what this means?" said Mr. Chipperton, actually standing up
without holding on to anything. "Can they have got into a current of
smooth water?"

I didn't think this was possible, but I didn't stop to make any
conjectures about it. Rectus and I ran up on the forward deck, to see
how this agreeable change had come about. The moment we got outside, we
found the wind blowing fearfully and the waves dashing as high as ever,
but they were not plunging against our sides. We carefully worked our
way along to the pilot-house, and looked in. The captain was inside, and
when he saw us he opened the door and came out. He was going to his own
room, just back of the pilot-house, and he told us to come with him.

He looked tired and wet, and he told us that the storm had grown so bad
that he didn't think it would be right to keep on our course any longer.
We were going to the north-west, and the storm was coming from the
north-east, and the waves and the wind dashed fair against the side of
the vessel, making her roll and careen so that it began to be unsafe. So
he had put her around with her head to the wind, and now she took the
storm on her bow, where she could stand it a great deal better. He put
all this in a good deal of sea-language, but I tell it as I got the
sense of it.

"Did you think she would go over, Captain?" asked Rectus.

"Oh no!" said he, "but something might have been carried away."

He was a very pleasant man, and talked a good deal to us.

"It's all very well to lie to, this way," he went on, "for the comfort
and safety of the passengers and the ship, but I don't like it, for
we're not keeping on to our port, which is what I want to be doing."

"Are we stopping here?" I asked.

"Pretty much," said the captain. "All that the engines are working for
is just to keep her head to the wind."

I felt the greatest respect for the captain. Instead of telling us why
the ship rolled, he just stopped her rolling. I liked that way of doing
things. And I was sure that every one on board that I had talked to
would be glad to have the vessel lie to, and make herself comfortable
until the storm was over.

We did not stay very long with the captain, for he wanted to take a nap,
and when we went out, we stood a little while by the railing, to see the
storm. The wind nearly took our heads off, and the waves dashed right up
over the bow of the ship, so that if any one had been out there, I
suppose they would have been soaked in a few minutes, if not knocked
down. But we saw two men at the wheel, in the pilot-house, steadily
holding her head to the wind, and we felt that it was all right. So we
ran below and reported, and then we all went to bed.

Although there was not much of the rolling that had been so unpleasant
before, the vessel pitched and tossed enough to make our berths,
especially mine, which was the upper one, rather shaky places to rest
in; and I did not sleep very soundly. Sometime in the night, I was
awakened by a sound of heavy and rapid footfalls on the deck above my
head. I lay and listened for a moment, and felt glad that the deck was
steady enough for them to walk on. There soon seemed to be a good deal
more running, and as they began to drag things about, I thought that it
would be a good idea to get up and find out what was going on. If it was
anything extraordinary, I wanted to see it. Of course, I woke up Rectus,
and we put on our clothes. There was now a good deal of noise on deck.

"Perhaps we have run into some vessel and sunk her," said Rectus,
opening the door, with his coat over his arm. He was in an awful hurry
to see.

"Hold up here!" I said. "Don't you go on deck in this storm without an
overcoat. If there has been a collision, you can't do any good, and you
needn't hurry so. Button up warm."

We both did that, and then we went up on deck. There was no one aft,
just then, but we could see in the moonlight, which was pretty strong,
although the sky was cloudy, that there was quite a crowd of men
forward. We made our way in that direction as fast as we could, in the
face of the wind, and when we reached the deck, just in front of the
pilot-house, we looked down to the big hatchway, where the freight and
baggage were lowered down into the hold, and there we saw what was the
matter.

The ship was on fire!

The hatchway was not open, but smoke was coming up thick and fast all
around it. A half-dozen men were around a donkey-engine that stood a
little forward of the hatch, and others were pulling at hose. The
captain was rushing here and there, giving orders. I did not hear
anything he said. No one said anything to us. Rectus asked one of the
men something, as he ran past him, but the man did not stop to answer.

But there is no need to ask any questions. There was the smoke coming
up, thicker and blacker, from the edges of the hatch.

"Come!" said I, clutching Rectus by the arm. "Let's wake them up."

"Don't you think they can put it out?" he asked, as we ran back.

"Can't tell," I answered. "But we must get ready, - that's what we've got
to do."

I am sure I did not know how we were to get ready, or what we were to
do, but my main idea was that no time was to be lost in doing something.
The first thing was to awaken our friends.

We found the steward in the saloon. There was only one lamp burning
there, and the place looked dismal, but there was light enough to see
that he was very pale.

"Don't you intend to wake up the people?" I said to him.

"What's the good?" he said. "They'll put it out."

"They may, and they mayn't," I answered, "and it wont hurt the
passengers to be awake."

With this I hurried to the Chippertons' state-room - they had a double
room in the centre of the vessel - and knocked loudly on the door. I saw
the steward going to other doors, knocking at some and opening others
and speaking to the people inside.

Mr. Chipperton jumped right up and opened the door. When he saw Rectus
and me standing there, he must have seen in our faces that something was
the matter, for he instantly asked:

"What is it? A wreck?"

I told him of the fire, and said that it might not be much, but that we
thought we'd better waken him.

"That's right," he said; "we'll be with you directly. Keep perfectly
cool. Remain just where you are. You'll see us all in five minutes," and
he shut the door.

[Illustration: "'KEEP PERFECTLY COOL,' SAID MR. CHIPPERTON."]

But I did not intend to stand there. A good many men were already
rushing from their rooms and hurrying up the steep stairs that led from
the rear of the saloon to the deck, and I could hear ladies calling out
from their rooms as if they were hurrying to get ready to come out. The
stewardess, a tall colored woman, was just going to one of these ladies,
who had her head out of the door. I told Rectus to run up on deck, see
how things were going on, and then to come back to the Chippertons'
door. Then I ran to our room, jerked the cork life-preservers from under
the pillows, and came out into the saloon with them. This seemed to
frighten several persons, who saw me as I came from our room, and they
rushed back for their life-preservers, generally getting into the wrong
room, I think. I did not want to help to make a fuss and confusion, but
I thought it would be a good deal better for us to get the
life-preservers now, than to wait. If we didn't need them, no harm would
be done. Some one had turned up several lamps in the saloon, so that we
could see better. But no one stopped to look much. Everybody, ladies and
all, - there were not many of these, - hurried on deck. The Chippertons
were the last to make their appearance. Just as their door opened,
Rectus ran up to me.

"It's worse than ever!" he said.

"Here!" said I, "take this life-preserver. Have you life-preservers in
your room?" I asked, quickly, of Mr. Chipperton.

"All right," said he, "we have them on. Keep all together and come on


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Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonA jolly fellowship → online text (page 13 of 17)