MoboReader> Literature > A Jolly Fellowship

   Chapter 1 WE MAKE A START.

A Jolly Fellowship By Frank R. Stockton Characters: 20408

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


I was sitting on the deck of a Savannah steam-ship, which was lying at a dock in the East River, New York. I was waiting for young Rectus, and had already waited some time; which surprised me, because Rectus was, as a general thing, a very prompt fellow, who seldom kept people waiting. But it was probably impossible for him to regulate his own movements this time, for his father and mother were coming with him, to see him off.

I had no one there to see me off, but I did not care for that. I was sixteen years old, and felt quite like a man; whereas Rectus was only fourteen, and couldn't possibly feel like a man-unless his looks very much belied his feelings. My father and mother and sister lived in a small town some thirty miles from New York, and that was a very good reason for their not coming to the city just to see me sail away in a steam-ship. They took a good leave of me, though, before I left home.

I shall never forget how I first became acquainted with Rectus. About a couple of years before, he was a new boy in the academy at Willisville. One Saturday, a lot of us went down to the river to swim. Our favorite place was near an old wharf, which ran out into deep water, and a fellow could take a good dive there, when the tide was high. There were some of the smaller boys along that day, but they didn't dive any, and if they even swam, it was in shallow water near the shore, by the side of the wharf. But I think most of them spent their time wading about.

I was a good swimmer, and could dive very well. I was learning to swim under water, but had not done very much in that line at the time I speak of. We were nearly ready to come out, when I took a dive from a post on the end of the wharf, and then turned, under water, to swim in shore. I intended to try to keep under until I got into water shallow enough for me to touch bottom, and walk ashore. After half a dozen strokes, I felt for the bottom and my feet touched it. Then I raised my head, but I didn't raise it out of the water. It struck something hard.

In an instant I knew what had happened. There was a big mud-scow lying by the side of the wharf, and I had got under that! It was a great flat thing, ever so long and very wide. I knew I must get from under it as quickly as I could. Indeed, I could hardly hold my breath now. I waded along with my head bent down, but I didn't reach the side of it. Then I turned the other way, but my hands, which I held up, still touched nothing but the hard, slimy bottom of the scow. I must have been wading up and down the length of the thing. I was bewildered. I couldn't think which way to turn. I could only think of one thing. I would be drowned in less than a minute. Scott would be head of the class. My mother, and little Helen-but I can't tell what my thoughts were then. They were dreadful. But just as I was thinking of Helen and mother, I saw through the water some white things, not far from me. I knew by their looks that they were a boy's legs.

I staggered toward them, and in a moment my hands went out of water, just at the side of the scow. I stood up, and my head with half my body came up into the air.

What a breath I drew! But I felt so weak and shaky that I had to take hold of the side of the scow, and stand there for a while before I waded ashore. The boy who was standing by me was Rectus. He did not have that name then, and I didn't know him.

"It must be pretty hard to stay under water so long," he said.

"Hard!" I answered, as soon as I could get my breath; "I should think so. Why, I came near being drowned!"

"Is that so?" said he; "I didn't know that. I saw you go down, and have been watching for you to come up. But I didn't expect you to come from under the scow."

How glad I was that he had been standing there watching for me to come up! If he had not been there, or if his legs had been green or the color of water, I believe I should have drowned.

I always liked the boy after that, though, of course, there was no particular reason for it. He was a boarder. His parents lived in New York. Samuel Colbert was his real name, and the title of Rectus he obtained at school by being so good. He scarcely ever did anything wrong, which was rather surprising to the rest of us, because he was not sickly or anything of that kind. After a while, we got into the way of calling him Rectus, and as he didn't seem to mind it, the name stuck to him. The boys generally liked him, and he got on quite well in the school,-in every way except in his studies. He was not a smart boy, and did not pretend to be.

I went right through the academy, from the lowest to the highest class, and when I left, the professor, as we called our principal, said that I was ready to go to college, and urged me very much to do so. But I was not in any hurry, and my parents agreed with me that, after four years of school-life, I had better wait a while before beginning a new course. All this disturbed the professor very much, but he insisted on my keeping up my studies, so as not to get rusty, and he came up to our house very often, for the purpose of seeing what I was doing in the study line, and how I was doing it.

I thought over things a good deal for myself, and a few months after I left the academy I made up my mind to travel a little. I talked about it at home, and it was generally thought to be a good idea, although my sister was in favor of it only in case I took her with me. Otherwise she opposed it. But there were a great many reasons why I could not take her. She was only eleven.

I had some money of my own, which I thought I would rather spend in travel than in any other way, and, as it was not a large sum, and as my father could not afford to add anything to it, my journey could not be very extensive. Indeed, I only contemplated going to Florida and perhaps a few other Southern States, and then-if it could be done-a visit to some of the West India islands, and, as it was winter-time, that would be a very good trip. My father did not seem to be afraid to trust me to go alone. He and the professor talked it over, and they thought that I would take good enough care of myself. The professor would have much preferred to see me go to college, but, as I was not to do that, he thought travelling much better for me than staying at home, although I made no promise about taking my books along. But it was pretty well settled that I was to go to college in the fall, and this consoled him a little.

The person who first suggested this travelling plan was our old physician, Dr. Mathews. I don't know exactly what he said about it, but I knew he thought I had been studying too hard, and needed to "let up" for a while. And I'm sure, too, that he was quite positive that I would have no let up as long as I staid in the same town with the professor.

Nearly a year before this time, Rectus had left the academy. He had never reached the higher classes,-in fact, he didn't seem to get on well at all. He studied well enough, but he didn't take hold of things properly, and I believe he really did not care to go through the school. But he was such a quiet fellow that we could not make much out of him. His father was very rich, and we all thought that Rectus was taken away to be brought up as a partner in the firm. But we really knew nothing about it: for, as I found out afterward, Rectus spent all his time, after he left school, in studying music.

Soon after my trip was all agreed upon and settled, father had to go to New York, and there he saw Mr. Colbert, and of course told him of my plans. That afternoon, old Colbert came to my father's hotel, and proposed to him that I should take his son with me. He had always heard, he said, that I was a sensible fellow, and fit to be trusted, and he would be very glad to have his boy travel with me. And he furthermore said that if I had the care of Samuel-for of course he didn't call his son Rectus-he would pay me a salary. He had evidently read about young English fellows travelling on the continent with their tutors, and I suppose he wanted me to be his son's tutor, or something like it.

When father told me what Mr. Colbert had proposed, I agreed instantly. I liked Rectus, and the salary would help immensely. I wrote to New York that very night, accepting the proposition.

When my friends in the town, and those at the school, heard that Rectus and I were going off together, they thought it an uncommonly good joke, and they crowded up to our house to see me about it.

"Two such good young men as you and Rectus travelling together ought to have a beneficial influence upon whole communities," said Harry Alden; and Scott remarked that if there should be a bad storm at sea, he would advise us two to throw everybody else overboard to the whales, for the other people would be sure to be the wicked ones. I am happy to say that I got a twist on Scott's ear that made him howl, and then mother came in and invited them all to come and take supper with me, the Tuesday before I started. We invited Rectus to come up from the city, but he did not make his appearance. However, we got on first-rate without him, and had a splendid time. There was never a woman who knew just how to make boys have a good time, like my mother.

I had been a long while on the steamer waiting for Rectus. She was to sail at three o'clock, and it was then after two. The day was clear and fine, but so much sitting and standing about had made me cold, so that I was very glad to see a carriage drive up with Rectus and his father and mother. I went down to them. I was anxious to see Rectus, for it had been nearly a year since we had met. He seemed about the same as he used to be, and had certainly not grown much. He just shook hands with me and said, "How d' ye do, Gordon?" Mr. and Mrs. Colbert seemed ever so much more pleased to see me, and when we went on the upper deck, the old gentleman took me into the captain's room, the door of which stood open. The captain was not there, but I don't believe Mr. Colbert would have cared if he had been. All he seemed to want was to find a place where we could get away from the peop

le on deck. When he had partly closed the door, he said:

"Have you got your ticket?"

"Oh, yes!" I answered; "I bought that ten days ago. I wrote for it."

"That's right," said he, "and here is Sammy's ticket. I was glad to see that you had spoken about the other berth in your state-room being reserved for Sammy."

I thought he needn't have asked me if I had my ticket when he knew that I had bought it. But perhaps he thought I had lost it by this time. He was a very particular little man.

"Where do you keep your money?" he asked me, and I told him that the greater part of it-all but some pocket-money-was stowed away in an inside pocket of my vest.

"Very good," said he; "that's better than a pocket-book or belt: but you must pin it in. Now, here is Sammy's money-for his travelling expenses and his other necessities; I have calculated that that will be enough for a four months' trip, and you wont want to stay longer than that. But if this runs out, you can write to me. If you were going to Europe, now, I'd get you a letter of credit, but for your sort of travelling, you'd better have the money with you. I did think of giving you a draft on Savannah, but you'd have to draw the money there-and you might as well have it here. You're big enough to know how to take care of it." And with this he handed me a lot of banknotes.

"And now, what about your salary? Would you like to have it now, or wait until you come back?"

This question made my heart jump, for I had thought a great deal about how I was to draw that salary. So, quick enough, I said that I'd like to have it now.

"I expected so," said he, "and here's the amount for four months. I brought a receipt. You can sign it with a lead-pencil. That will do. Now put all this money in your inside pockets. Some in your vest, and some in your under-coat. Don't bundle it up too much, and be sure and pin it in. Pin it from the inside, right through the money, if you can. Put your clothes under your pillow at night. Good-bye! I expect they'll be sounding the gong directly, for us to get ashore."

And so he hurried out. I followed him, very much surprised. He had spoken only of money, and had said nothing about his son,-what he wished me to do for him, what plans of travel or instruction he had decided upon, or anything, indeed, about the duties for which I was to be paid. I had expected that he would come down early to the steamer and have a long talk about these matters. There was no time to ask him any questions now, for he was with his wife, trying to get her to hurry ashore. He was dreadfully afraid that they would stay on board too long, and be carried to sea.

Mrs. Colbert, however, did not leave me in any doubt as to what she wanted me to do. She rushed up to me, and seized me by both hands.

"Now you will take the greatest and the best care of my boy, wont you? You'll cherish him as the apple of your eye? You'll keep him out of every kind of danger? Now do take good care of him,-especially in storms."

"SHE SEIZED ME BY BOTH HANDS."

I tried to assure Rectus's mother-she was a wide, good-humored lady-that I would do as much of all this as I could, and what I said seemed to satisfy her, for she wiped her eyes in a very comfortable sort of a way.

Mr. Colbert got his wife ashore as soon as he could, and Rectus and I stood on the upper deck and watched them get into the carriage and drive away. Rectus did not look as happy as I thought a fellow ought to look, when starting out on such a jolly trip as we expected this to be.

I proposed that we should go and look at our state-room, which was number twenty-two, and so we went below. The state-room hadn't much state about it. It was very small, with two shelves for us to sleep on. I let Rectus choose his shelf, and he took the lower one. This suited me very well, for I'd much rather climb over a boy than have one climb over me.

There wasn't anything else in the room to divide, and we were just about to come out and call the thing settled, when I heard a shout at the door. I turned around, and there stood Harry Alden, and Scott, and Tom Myers and his brother George!

I tell you, I was glad to see them. In spite of all my reasoning that it made no difference about anybody coming to see me off, it did make a good deal of difference. It was a lonely sort of business starting off in that way-especially after seeing Rectus's father and mother come down to the boat with him.

"We didn't think of this until this morning," cried Scott. "And then we voted it was too mean to let you go off without anybody to see you safely on board--"

"Oh, yes!" said I.

"And so our class appointed a committee," Scott went on, "to come down and attend to you, and we're the committee. It ought to have been fellows that had gone through the school, but there were none of them there."

"Irish!" said Harry.

"So we came," said Scott. "We raised all the spare cash there was in the class, and there was only enough to send four of us. We drew lots. If it hadn't been you, I don't believe the professor would have let us off. Any way, we missed the noon train, and were afraid, all the way here, that we'd be too late. Do you two fellows have to sleep in those 'cubby-holes'?"

"Certainly," said I; "they're big enough."

"Don't believe it," said Harry Alden; "they're too short."

"That's so," said Scott, who was rather tall for his age. "Let's try 'em."

This was agreed to on the spot, and all four of the boys took off their boots and got into the berths, while Rectus and I sat down on the little bench at the side of the room and laughed at them. Tom Myers and his brother George both climbed into the top berth at once, and as they found it was a pretty tight squeeze, they both tried to get out at once, and down they came on Scott, who was just turning out of the lower berth,-which was too long for him, in spite of all his talk,-and then there was a much bigger tussle, all around, than any six boys could make with comfort in a little room like that.

I hustled Tom Myers and his brother George out into the dining-room, and the other fellows followed.

"Is this where you eat?" asked Scott, looking up and down at the long tables, with the swinging shelves above them.

"No, this isn't where they eat," said Harry; "this is where they come to look at victuals, and get sick at the sight of them."

"Sick!" said I; "not much of it."

But the committee laughed, and didn't seem to agree with me.

"You'll be sick ten minutes after the boat starts," said Scott.

"We wont get into sea-sick water until we're out of the lower bay," I said. "And this isn't a boat-it's a ship. You fellows know lots!"

Tom Myers and his brother George were trying to find out why the tumblers and glasses were all stuck into holes in the shelves over the tables, when Harry Alden sung out:

"What's that swishing?"

"That what?" said I.

"There it goes again!" Harry cried. "Splashing!"

"It's the wheels!" exclaimed Rectus.

"That's so!" cried Scott. "The old thing's off! Rush up! Here! The hind-stairs! Quick!"

And upstairs to the deck we all went, one on top of another. The wheels were going around, and the steamer was off!

Already she was quite a distance from the wharf. I suppose the tide carried her out, as soon as the lines were cast off, for I'm sure the wheels had not been in motion half a minute before we heard them. But all that made no difference. We were off.

I never saw four such blank faces as the committee wore, when they saw the wide space of water between them and the wharf.

"Stop her!" cried Scott to me, as if I could do anything, and then he made a dive toward a party of men on the deck.

"They're passengers!" I cried. "We must find the captain."

"No, no!" said Harry. "Go for the steersman. Tell him to steer back! We mustn't be carried off!"

Tom Myers and his brother George had already started for the pilot-house, when Rectus shouted to them that he'd run down to the engineer and tell him to stop the engine. So they stopped, and Rectus was just going below when Scott called to him to hold up.

"You needn't be scared!" he said. (He had been just as much scared as anybody.) "That man over there says it will be all right. We can go back with the pilot. People often do that. It will be all the more fun. Don't bother the engineer. There's nothing I'd like better than a trip back with a pilot!"

"That's so," said Harry; "I never thought of the pilot."

"But are you sure he'll take you back?" asked Rectus, while Tom Myers and his brother George looked very pale and anxious.

"Take us? Of course he will," said Scott. "That's one of the things a pilot's for,-to take back passengers,-I mean people who are only going part way. Do you suppose the captain will want to take us all the way to Savannah for nothing?"

Rectus didn't suppose that, and neither did any of the rest of us, but I thought we ought to look up the captain and tell him.

"But, you see," said Scott, "it's just possible he might put back."

"Well, don't you want to go back?" I asked.

"Yes, of course, but I would like a sail back in a pilot-boat," said Scott, and Harry Alden agreed with him. Tom Myers and his brother George wanted to go back right away.

We talked the matter over a good deal. I didn't wish to appear as if I wanted to get rid of the fellows who had been kind enough to come all the way from Willisville to see me off, but I couldn't help thinking that it didn't look exactly fair and straightforward not to say that these boys were not passengers until the pilot was ready to go back. I determined to go and see about the matter, but I would wait a little while.

It was cool on deck, especially now that the vessel was moving along, but we all buttoned up our coats and walked up and down. The sun shone brightly, and the scene was so busy and lively with the tug-boats puffing about, and the vessels at anchor, and the ferry-boats, and a whole bay-full of sights curious to us country boys, that we all enjoyed ourselves very much-except Tom Myers and his brother George. They didn't look happy.

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