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   Chapter 18 I WAKE UP MR. CHIPPERTON.

A Jolly Fellowship By Frank R. Stockton Characters: 16127

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


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 a

nd 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.

"'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 deck,-and remember to be perfectly cool."

He went ahead with Mrs. Chipperton, and Rectus and I followed, one on each side of Corny. Neither she nor her mother had yet spoken to us; but while we were going up the stairs, Corny turned to me, as I came up behind her, and said:

"Is it a real fire?"

"Oh, yes," I answered; "but they may put it out."

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