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Produced by Annie R. McGuire

[Illustration: HARPER'S ROUND TABLE]

Copyright, 1895, by HARPER & BROTHERS. All Rights Reserved.

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"It's altogether too absurd!" That was what the schoolmaster said.

"It is a wicked assumption of power!" That was what the minister said.

"It's flying in the face of Providence!" That was what old Mrs. Mehonky

"Them two boys is a couple o' fools, an' they'll git drowned!" That was
what old Captain Silas Witherbee, formerly commander of the steam
oyster-dredge _Lotus Lily_, said.

And really, when you come to think of it, that was the most sensible
remark of the lot. But what people said did not seem to trouble "them
two boys."

"We're going to do it," declared Peter Bright.

"That's what," added Randall Frank.

And so they did. What was it? Well, it was this way. Searsbridge was a
small sea-coast town situated at the head of a bay some four miles long.
There was very little commercial traffic in that bay, for Searsbridge
was a tiny place. A schooner occasionally dropped anchor in the bay when
head winds and ugly seas were raging outside; and it was said that two
or three big ships had run into the shelter of the harbor in days gone
by, and there was a legend that a great Russian ironclad had once
stopped there for a supply of fresh water. But, as a rule, only the
fishermen's boats ran in and out between Porgy Point and Mullet Head.
There was no light at the entrance to the harbor, but there were some of
the sharpest and most dangerous rocks on the coast scattered about the

"It'd be a famous place for a wreck," said a visitor one day.

"Why," exclaimed Peter Bright, who was showing him about, "there have
been three wrecks there since I was born."

"And is there no life-saving station?"

"Not nearer than Hartwell, and that's three miles away."

"Well, there ought to be a volunteer crew here, then."

"We generally manage to get a crew together when there's a wreck."

"There ought to be a regular crew, well drilled, and prepared for the

And that was what led Peter Bright and Randall Frank to talk it all
over and decide to get up a crew. But the other fellows all laughed at
them, and said that there would be a crew on hand when there was any
need for it.

"Yes," said Randall, who always spoke briefly and to the point, "and
before that crew gets afloat lives will be lost."

But the arguments of the two young men did not prevail, and they
therefore came to the determination which called forth the protests of
the schoolmaster, the minister, Mrs. Mehonky, and Captain Silas
Witherbee. But these protests had no influence with the two friends.

"We're going to brace up my boat, and in suspicious weather we're going
to cruise in her off the mouth of the bay to lend aid to vessels in
distress," said Peter, with all the dignity he could command.

And Randall proudly and emphatically added, "That's what."

Peter's boat was by no means so despicable a craft as might have been
supposed from the comments of the neighbors. She had been the dinghy of
a large sailing ship, and was stoutly built for work in lumpy water. The
ship had been wrecked on the coast, and the dinghy had been given to
Peter in payment for his services in helping to save her cargo. The
first thing that the boy did was to put a centre-board in the craft, and
to rig her with a stout mast and a mainsail, cat-boat fashion. Then he
announced that in his opinion he had a boat that would stay out when
some more pretentious vessels would have to go home. Of course she was
not very speedy, but for that Peter did not care a great deal. In light
weather most of the fishermen could put him in their wake, but when they
had to reef he could carry all sail, and drop them to leeward as if they
were so many corks. Peter and Randall now went to work to "brace up" the
_Petrel_, as she was called. They put some extra ribs in her, and built
a small deck before the mast. Then they put an extra row of reef points
in the mainsail, and set up a pair of extra heavy shrouds. Peter also
put a socket in the taffrail for a rowlock, so that in case of having to
run before a heavy sea an oar could be shipped to steer with.

"You know she'll work a good deal better with an oar in running off than
with the rudder," he said.

And Randall sagely answered, "That's what."

By the time the September gales were due the _Petrel_ was ready for
business, and whenever the weather looked threatening she was seen
pounding her way through the choppy seas near the mouth of the bay. No
wrecks occurred, however. Indeed, no vessels of any kind approached the
harbor, and the two young men were hard put to it to endure the ridicule
that greeted them on their return from each profitless cruise. But Peter
pluckily declared that their time would come, and Randall repeated his
unshaken opinion that that was what.

Men are still talking about the storm that visited that coast in October
of that year. It was the worst that had occurred within the memory of
the oldest inhabitant. Even old Tommy Ryddam, who had been around the
Horn three times, had weathered the Cape of Good Hope, and had been as
far north as Upernavik, said, "I 'ain't never seed it blow no harder."
And that was the first time that Tommy had ever made such an admission.
It began on a Wednesday night. The day had been oppressively warm for
that time of year, and as a result a light fog had set in early in the
morning. But before sundown the wind began to come in cold sharp puffs
out of the southeast, and the fog was soon cut into swirling shreds and
sent skimming and twisting away over the yellow land. Its disappearance
revealed a hard brassy-looking sky, and a gray sea running from the
horizon in great oily folds that broke upon the rocks outside of Porgy
Point and Mullet Head with a noise like the booming of distant guns, and
a smother of snowy spray.

"I reckon this'll be the gale that'll bring us a job," said Peter, as he
hoisted the mainsail on his boat.

"I shouldn't wonder," said Randall; "but it's going to be a corker."

His slangy prediction proved to be true. He and Peter cruised around
inside the mouth of the bay for an hour after sunset; but the great
breadth and weight of the swell that came brimming in between the two
headlands and the fast-increasing power of the wind sent them to shelter
for the night. In the morning they beat down under the lee of the
easterly shore, and landed on Mullet Head. Hauling up the boat, they
walked to the highest point of observation. So fierce was the wind that
they were forced to lie down. The sea was an appalling sight. It was
running in great serried ridges of gray and white that hurled themselves
against the land in mountainous breakers.

"We couldn't get out there if a dozen wrecks came," said Peter.

"So," answered Randall, "but we might pull some poor fellow out of the

"That's about all we could do."

The boys kept a constant watch all day, but not the faintest sign of a
sail hove in sight above the wavering horizon. The gale blew all day
Thursday and all day Friday. Such a sea had never been seen on the
coast, and many people went down to look at it. The boys maintained
their watch all day on Mullet Head, with the boat safe under its lee.
They knew they were helpless, yet they could not go away. People tried
to persuade or to ridicule them into doing so, but they remained. They
were pretty resolute boys, and were not easily turned from their

On Saturday morning the wind shifted, and the gale showed signs of
moderating. By Saturday night it had fallen to a brisk wind, and the sea
had gone down somewhat. On Sunday morning the two boys sailed down to
Mullet Head to have another look around the horizon. The minister saw
them start, and reproved them for not staying at home to go to church.
But they said that they might go in the afternoon. As soon as they
reached their customary landing-place, they hauled up the boat and
walked up the hill.

"Look!" exclaimed Peter; "now that the gale is over a sail is in sight."

"That's a fact," said Randall. "A sloop."

"Yes; but doesn't she look queer to you?"

"No - hold on - yes. Her hull looks too big for her rig."

"That's it. There! Did you see that when she rose on that sea? She's a
schooner, but her mainmast is gone close to the deck. I saw the stump.
Look now!"

"Yes! I see it, I see it!" cried Randall; "and what's more, she's lost
her foretop-mast."

"That's so. It's broken off above the masthead cap."

"She must have had a pretty lively time of it with the gale."

"Sure enough. I wonder where she's bound?"

They watched her in silence for half an hour, and then Peter sprang to
his feet with an exclamation:

"Guinea-pigs and dogs! She's trying to make this harbor."

"That's what!" cried Randall, slapping his knee.

They watched her now with more interest than ever. She was not more than
two miles off the entrance now, and Peter was intensely interested.
Suddenly he started down the hill toward the boat.

"What is it!" cried Randall, following him.

"She's flying the flag union down, and she's so heavy in her movements
that I believe she's sinking."

With nervous haste the boys got their boat afloat, and hoisted the
mainsail. In a few minutes they were standing out of the mouth of the
harbor with the long swells underrunning their light craft. Somehow news
of the incoming vessel had reached Searsbridge, and several of the
residents had ridden down to the Head to see what was going to happen.
Some of them caught sight of the little dinghy running out, and waved at
her to return. But the boys were in earnest now, and were not to be
turned from their course.

"I knew I was right," said Peter. "She's sinking fast, and they're
trying to run her into shallow water."

"Do you think we can get to her in time?"

"We must do our best."

The mainsail ought to have had the last reef taken in, for the mast bent
like a whip, and the dinghy plunged heavily; but it was a time for
driving, if ever there was one.

"Look! look!" screamed Randall.

"Too late!" cried Peter.

The schooner, now half a mile away from them, made a great lurch
forward, threw her stern into the air, and settled down head first. The
top of her broken foremast protruded some ten feet above the surface.

"No, we're not too late!" shouted Randall.

"Right you are!" ejaculated Peter.

They had just discovered that two men had managed to clamber up on the
foretop-mast stump as the schooner went down, and were now clinging
there, waving their arms toward the boys.

"Get the heaving line ready, Randall," said Pete.

"Ay, ay," answered the willing boy.

Peter brought the dinghy broad under the lee of the mast, and getting a
good full on her let her luff up straight at the spar, knowing that the
sea would quickly kill her way.

"Stand by to catch the line!" he shouted to the men. "Heave!"

Randall hove the line with good judgment, and one of the wrecked sailors
catching it took a couple of turns around the mast with it. Randall now
hauled the dinghy up close enough to the mast for the two seamen to
swing themselves into her. They were gaunt, hollow-eyed, and exhausted,
and at Randall's bidding they lay down in the bottom of the dinghy. In
three-quarters of an hour the two boys had sailed back to their
landing-place inside Mullet Head. There they met the people who had come
down to see the wreck, and who now received them with cheers. The two
seamen were able to state that they were the sole survivors of a crew of
six, the other four having been carried overboard when the mainmast went
over Thursday night. Old Mr. Peddie volunteered to take the men up to
the town in his carriage, and as they climbed out of the boat he
exclaimed to one of them,

"Hold on! let me look at you! Aren't you Joseph Spring?"

"Yes," said the man, hanging his head; "I am."

"Well, boys," said Mr. Peddie, "you've done a fine Sunday-morning's
work. This is Joe Spring, who quarrelled with his father and ran away to
sea four years ago. There will be a happy reunion in one house to-day."

Peter and Randall have a fine Block Island boat now, the gift of their
admiring fellow townsmen.




Dear Mr. Editor: - Why is it that when a fellow tries to have some
fun, he always gets into trouble? Take two years ago this
Christmas, for instance, when I had a notion that I'd play a little
trick on old Santa Claus. My idea was to keep awake till he came
down, wedge up the chimney on him, and then go out and help myself
to a pair of reindeer - he'd have had enough left. Besides, I wasn't
going to _steal_ them, of course - just borrow them for a while and
hitch 'em to my double ripper. Now, I call that an innocent and
perfectly proper thing for any boy to do, but what was the result?
A long, lank, limp, hollow stocking in the morning - and no reindeer
stamping their feet and bleating in the wood-shed, either.

Well, this was two years ago, and I haven't been fooling around
much about Santa Claus since. Santa Claus can drive a procession of
reindeer a mile long if he wants to, and I won't touch one of them.
Santa Claus is all right in his way, but I think that Captain Kidd
was rather more _my_ kind of a man. Captain Kidd wasn't much on
filling anybody's stockings, but when he got alongside and grappled
the other fellow there was fun - genuine, innocent fun.

And I can't see that Captain Kidd always got into trouble when he
had a little fun, like a boy does now. You see, it was this way:
They had a Christmas tree over at the church last night. It was a
regular old-fashioned Christmas tree, which was the minister's
idea. Last Sunday says he: "Of late years Christmas trees have been
too much given up to children and such things. It was not that way
when I was a boy up at Hurricane Centre. There were presents for
everybody, old and young. Let us have a genuine, plain, old
Hurricane Centre tree."

The tree was set for last night, of course, and the committees and
folks and things were working on it all day. Fanny (she's my
sister) and Aunt Lou were over in the afternoon stringing pop-corn,
and falling off of step-ladders, and so forth. My brother Bob is
home from college, and he was over too; though Fanny said he didn't
do much but talk to the girls. That's just like Bob. The football
season has closed, and he has got his hair cut, and kind of exposed
his countenance again at last. Bob thinks he's going to be a
lawyer, but if he ever tries to prosecute me when I get to be a
pirate, he'll be sorry for it.

Along toward night ma asked me to run over to the church, and take
a little package of things which she wanted put on the tree.

"What's in it, ma?" I asked.

"A pair of Santa Claus's reindeer for you," says ma. They're always
throwing that thing up to me.

So I took the package and started. When I got there I found
everybody gone home to supper except Deacon Green, who was just
staying to keep the church. He took my package, and I says to him:

"Mr. Green, supper is all ready over at your house."

"How do you know?" asks he.

"I smelt it as I came along," I says. "Apple dumplings, I _think_."

"My, you don't say so!" says the Deacon. "I'm a good deal fond of
dumplings. 'Specially with maple syrup on 'em - _and_ plenty o'

"Yes, ma'am," says I. (I _always_ go and say "Yes, ma'am," to a

"Wish I could go over and get 'em while they're hot," says he.

"I'll stay here while you go, if you'd like," I said.

"Sure you wouldn't snoop 'round the tree?"

"Yes, ma'am," says I.

So the Deacon put on his mittens and went home.

Well, it was sort of lonesome and solemnlike waiting there in that
big hollow church, and so I went up and began _looking_ at the
tree. It was a big pine, all covered with beautiful things. I guess
I jarred the thing a little, and the label off of somebody's
present came fluttering down.

"Oh," says I to myself, "that won't do. If I don't put that back
somebody will be disappointed. I'll just shin up and fix it." So up
I went.

I looked a long time before I could find a package without a label
on it, and then after I did find one and got it on, I saw another
label on it; so it wasn't right after all. I looked around a little
more and found the right one at last, but when I turned to take off
the label I had put on, I couldn't for the life of me tell which of
the two it was, so I just jerked off one of 'em by guess and stuck
it on the present. Probably I got the wrong one - just my luck.

The tree was sort of bendy and wigglesome, and I saw I'd shaken off
several more tags, so I went down and got them. I was getting a
little tired of roosting up there like a Christmas bird, so I stuck
the labels around sort of promiscuouslike, and probably got most of
them wrong. I noticed a good many of the big parcels had small
labels, and _vice versa_, as Bob says, so I thought while I was
about it I might as well fix things up a little. So I put the big
labels on the big things and - _vice versa_ again. Some others I
guess I changed without any particular rule, which, I suppose, was
a bad thing to do, as my teacher says our actions should always be
governed by definite and intelligent rules, but I was tired and I
just stuck 'em about, hit or miss. I thought it would be kind of
funny, and maybe old-fashioned and Hurricane Centre like. Besides,
I wanted to be doing something - the teacher says idleness is a
vice, heard her say so more'n a thousand times.

Well, after awhile I heard scrunching in the snow outside. I got
down and went over and sat in our pew and tried to look just about
as much like a lamb as a boy not having any wool can look.

It was Deacon Green. Says he; "Young man, you were a little
mistaken about them apple dumplings. It was just a picked-up cold
supper, 'cause Miranda said to-morrow was Christmas, and we could
eat then."

"Then it must have been Mr. Doolittle's supper I smelt, ma'am,"
says I.

"Well, no matter; run along home and get yours," answered the
Deacon. So I did so.

After supper we all went over to the church. I sat in the outside
end of the pew because, of course, I didn't know what might happen.
Well, they had singing and speaking and such stuff. Then Mr. Doty,
the Superintendent of the Sunday-school, made a funny speech, with
easy jokes for children, and then they began to take down the
things and read 'em off to folks. The first few things on the lower
branches seemed to fit all right; then Tommy Snyder's great-grandma
got a pair of club skates. Folks looked surprised, but the next few
things appeared to be right, and nobody said anything. Then somehow
the minister got a red tin horn, and a yearling baby a pair of
silver-bowed spectacles, and Mrs. Deacon Wilkie a cigar-case, right
in succession. This made talk, but Mr. Doty went on. But things
seemed to get worse, and two or three old gentlemen got
rattle-boxes and such stuff, and a little girl got a gold-headed
cane, and Tommy Snyder's poor great-grandma was called again and
got a set of boxing gloves. There was a great uproar, and just then
Deacon Green got a teething-ring. I saw him rise up and motion for
silence. I put my hand on my stomach and says to ma,

"Ma, I don't feel well at all."

"Better run out in the vestibule and get some fresh air," says ma.

I ran. As I went out the door I heard Deacon Green saying something
about me. The air seemed to do me good, so I staid out. While I was
about it I thought I might as well run home and go to bed, so I did

The next morning at breakfast there was some talk. I didn't succeed
in resembling a lamb so much as I had expected. But pa stood by me
as usual. Then, when it quieted down, I happened to think of
something, and I said,

"Ma, wasn't there anything on that tree for me?"

"Well," says ma, "I had understood from trustworthy sources that
there was to be a good-sized brass steam-engine on it for you, but
the engine was read off to a boy who lives over at Clear Brook, so
I suppose I must have been mistaken. Anyhow, I didn't say anything,
and he went off with it."

There seemed to be something wrong with my buckwheat cake, and I
didn't eat any more of it. I concluded I wasn't much hungry, and
left the table.

"Don't mind, Willie," said Bob, "you've got your reindeer yet."

That's the way it goes, you see, when a boy tries to have a little
harmless, innocent amusement. A pirate ship can't come along
looking for recruits any too soon to suit.

Yours truly,



Clickety-click! click! click! go the levers in the narrow brick house at
six o'clock. Rapidly yet surely five alert men, clad in blue railroad
blouses and trousers, rush about from handle to handle.

"Quick, Jim!" shouts the head man, "49, 61, and 72! There comes the
Boston express, and the Croton local only two minutes behind! Shove 'em
in there lively!"

"All right," responds Jim.

On the instant this lever is down, the others snapped up, and the
express train just out of the tunnel has a clean, clear track into its
haven at Forty-second Street. Three hundred yards before the station is
reached the flame-throated iron monster, uncoupled from its burden of
cars, darts forward on a siding like a spirited horse unharnessed from
its load, while the train glides forward with its own momentum, slowly
and more slowly as the brakes are applied, until it comes to a stop
under the depot shed. Hardly have the passengers poured forth when
another train rolls in, and then another, the pathway in each instance
cleared by those keen men at the levers in this tower-house of the yards
of the Grand Central station in New York city. For they only know the
intricacies of this interesting modern labyrinth where more iron paths
and by-paths are to be found, in all probability, than in any other
place of the same size in the world.

There is a strange fascination about this labyrinth. Business men on
their way to work and children on their way from school stop to watch
the scene. The light iron foot-bridges which span the tracks for several
blocks, saturated and blackened by the steam and smoke of the five
hundred engines which pass underneath every day, separate you by barely
two feet from the tops of the trains which run in and out of the great
union depot, and from the smoke-stacks of the engines which dart about
from siding to main track and from main track to round-house, where they
sleep and dream fire dreams at night.

And the chief heart-throb of all this incessant activity, the centre of
the iron labyrinth, in which Theseus himself, were he alive, would be
lost, is the smoke-begrimed tower-house in the middle of the yard, where
all the switching for the New York Central, the Harlem, and the New
Haven railroads in the vicinity of the tunnel is done. From every train
that comes in from or starts out for the West or the East through the
long smoky tunnel that leads into the heart of New York a pathway is
found by the clear-headed men in this house. Every rail on the many
tracks and sidings of the busy yard can be coaxed and compelled from
this house to do its part in forming a new wheel path. It is the busiest
tower-house in the world, according to the yard-master.

Suppose you enter this rectangular house with one of your railroad
friends and go up stairs. Here there is a long "key-board," as the men
call it, consisting of one hundred and four numbered iron levers. You

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Online LibraryVariousHarper's Round Table, December 24, 1895 → online text (page 1 of 7)