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   Chapter 20 THE RUSSIAN BARK.

A Jolly Fellowship By Frank R. Stockton Characters: 15247

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


We soon began to think the captain was mistaken in saying there would be lots of ships coming this way. But then, we couldn't see very far. Ships may have passed within a few miles of us, without our knowing anything about it. It was very different from being high up on a ship's deck, or in her rigging. Sometimes, though, we seemed high enough up, when we got on the top of a wave.

It was fully noon before we saw another sail. And when we saw this one for the second or third time (for we only caught a glimpse of it every now and then), a big man, who had been sitting on the edge of the raft, and hardly ever saying a word, sung out:

"I believe that's a Russian bark."

And after he had had two or three more sights at her, he said:

"Yes, I know she is."

"That's so," said the captain; "and she's bearing down on us."

Now, how in the world they knew what sort of a ship that was, and which way it was sailing, I couldn't tell for the life of me. To me it was a little squarish spot on the lower edge of the sky, and I have always thought that I could see well enough. But these sailors have eyes like spy-glasses.

Now, then, we were all alive, and began to get ready to put up a signal. Fortunately, the pole was on the raft,-I believe the captain had it fastened on, thinking we might want it,-and now all we had to do was to make a flag. We three got out our handkerchiefs, which were wet, but white enough yet, and the captain took out his. We tied them together by the corners, and made a long pennant of them. When we tied one end of this to the pole, it made quite a show. The wind soon dried it, after the pole was hoisted and held up, and then our flag fluttered finely.

The sun had now come out quite bright and warm, which was a good thing for us, for it dried us off somewhat, and made us more comfortable. The wind had also gone down a good deal. If it had not been for these two things, I don't know how we could have stood it. But the waves were still very high.

Every time we saw the ship, she seemed to look bigger and bigger, and we knew that the captain was right, and that she was making for us. But she was a long time coming. Even after she got so near that we could plainly see her hull and masts and sails, she did not seem to be sailing directly toward us. Indeed, sometimes I thought she didn't notice us. She would go far off one way, and then off the other way.

"Oh, why don't she come right to us?" cried Corny, beating her hands on her knees. "She isn't as near now as she was half an hour ago."

This was the first time that Corny had let herself out in this way, but I don't wonder she did it. The captain explained that the ship couldn't sail right to us, because the wind was not in the proper direction for that. She had to tack. If she had been a steamer, the case would have been different. We all sat and waited, and waved our flag.

She came nearer and nearer, and it was soon plain enough that she saw us. The captain told us that it was all right now-all we had to do was to keep up our courage, and we'd soon be on board the bark. But when the men who were holding the pole let it down, he told them to put it up again. He wanted to make sure they should see us.

At last, the bark came so near that we could see the people on board, but still she went past us. This was the hardest to bear of all, for she seemed so near. But when she tacked and came back, she sailed right down to us. We could see her all the time now, whether we were up or down.

"She'll take us this time," said the captain.

I supposed that when the ship came near us she would stop and lower a boat, but there seemed to be no intention of the kind. A group of men stood in her bow, and I saw that one of them held a round life-preserver in his hand,-it was one of the India-rubber kind, filled with air, and to it a line was attached. When the ship was just opposite to us, this man shouted something which I did not hear, and threw the life-preserver. It fell close to the raft. I thought, indeed, it was coming right into the midst of us. The red-faced man with the gold ear-rings was nearest to it. He made a grab at it, and missed it. On went the ship, and on went the life-preserver, skipping and dancing over the waves. They let out lots of line, but still the life-preserver was towed away.

A regular howl went up from our raft. I thought some of the men would jump into the sea and swim after the ship, which was now rapidly leaving us. We heard a shout from the vessel, but what it meant I did not know. On she went, and on, as if she was never coming back.

"She'll come back," said the captain. "She'll tack again."

But it was hard to believe him. I don't know whether he believed himself. Corny was wildly crying now, and Rectus was as white as a sheet. No one seemed to have any hope or self-control except the captain. Some of the men looked as if they did not care whether the ship ever came back or not.

"The sea is too high," said one of them. "She'd swamp a boat, if she'd put it out."

"Just you wait!" said the captain.

The bark sailed away so far that I shut my eyes. I could not look after her any more. Then, as we rose on the top of a wave, I heard a rumble of words among the men, and I looked out, and saw she was tacking. Before long, she was sailing straight back to us, and the most dreadful moments of my life were ended. I had really not believed that she would ever return to us.

Again she came plowing along before us, the same group on her bow; again the life-preserver was thrown, and this time the captain seized it.

In a moment the line was made fast to the raft. But there was no sudden tug. The men on the bark knew better than that. They let out some two or three hundred feet of line and lay to, with their sails fluttering in the wind.

Then they began to haul us in. I don't remember much more of what happened just about this time. It was all a daze of high black hull and tossing waves, and men overhead, and ropes coming down, and seeing Corny hauled up into the air. After a while, I was hauled up, and Rectus went before me. I was told afterward that some of the stoutest men could scarcely help themselves, they were so cramped and stiff, and had to be hoisted on board like sheep.

I know that when I put my feet on the deck, my knees were so stiff that I could not stand. Two women had Corny between them, and were carrying her below. I was so delighted to see that there were women on board. Rectus and I were carried below, too, and three or four rough looking fellows, who didn't speak a word that we could understand, set to work at us and took off our clothes, and rubbed us with warm stuff, and gave us some hot tea and gruel, and I don't know what else, and put us into hammocks, and stuffed blankets around us, and made me feel warmer, and happier, and more grateful and sleepy than I thought it was in me to feel. I expect Rectus felt the same. In about five minutes, I was fast asleep.

I don't know how long it was before I woke up. When I opened my eyes, I just lay and looked about me. I did not care for times and seasons. I knew I was all right. I wondered when they would come around again with gruel. I had an idea they lived on gruel in that ship, and I remembered that it was very good. After a while, a man did come around, and he looked into my hammock. I think from his cap that he was an officer,-probably a doctor. When he saw that I was awake, he said something to me. I had seen some Russian words in print, and the letters all seemed upside down, or lying sid

eways on the page. And that was about the way he spoke. But he went and got me a cup of tea, and some soup, and some bread, and I understood his food very well.

After a while, our captain came around to my hammock. He looked a great deal better than when I saw him last, and said he had had a good sleep. He told me that Corny was all right, and was sleeping again, and that the mate's wife had her in charge. Rectus was in a hammock near me, and I could hear him snore, as if he were perfectly happy. The captain said that these Russian people were just as kind as they could be; that the master of the bark, who could speak English, had put his vessel under his-our captain's-command, and told him to cruise around wherever he chose in search of the two boats.

"And did you find them?" I asked.

"No," said he. "We have been on the search now for twenty-four hours, and can see nothing of them. But I feel quite sure they have been picked up. They could row, and they could get further into the course of vessels than we were. We'll find them when we get ashore."

The captain was a hopeful man, but I could not feel as cheerfully as he spoke. All that I could say was: "Poor Corny!"

He did not answer me, but went away; and soon, in spite of all my doubts and fears, I fell asleep.

The next time I woke up, I got out of my hammock, and found I was pretty much all right. My clothes had been dried and ironed, I reckon, and were lying on a chest all ready for me. While Rectus and I were dressing, for he got up at the same time that I did, our captain came to us, and brought me a little package of greenbacks.

"The master of the bark gave me these," said the captain, "and said they were pinned in your watch-pocket. He has had them dried and pressed out for you."

There it was, all the money belonging to Rectus and myself, which, according to old Mr. Colbert's advice, I had carefully pinned in the watch-pocket of my trousers before leaving Nassau. I asked the captain if we should not pay something for our accommodations on this vessel, but he said we must not mention anything of the kind. The people on the ship would not listen to it. Even our watches seemed to have suffered no damage from the soaking they had had in our wet clothes.

As soon as we were ready, we went up on deck, and there we saw Corny. She was sitting by herself near the stern, and looked like a different kind of a girl from what she had been two or three days before. She seemed several years older.

"Do you really think the other boats were picked up?" she said, the moment she saw us.

Poor thing! She began to cry as soon as she began to speak. Of course, we sat down and talked to her, and said everything we could think of to reassure her. And in about half an hour she began to be much more cheerful, and to look as if the world might have something satisfactory in it after all.

Our captain and the master of the bark now came to us. The Russian master was a pleasant man, and talked pretty good English. I think he was glad to see us, but what we said in the way of thanks embarrassed him a good deal. I suppose he had never done much at rescuing people.

He and our captain both told us that they felt quite sure that the boats had either reached the Florida coast or been picked up; for we had cruised very thoroughly over the course they must have taken. We were a little north of Cape Canaveral when the "Tigris" took fire.

About sundown that day, we reached the mouth of the Savannah river and went on board a tug to go up to the city, while our bark would proceed on her voyage. There were fourteen grateful people who went down the side of that Russian bark to the little tug that we had signalled; and some of us, I know, were sorry we could not speak Russian, so we could tell our rescuers more plainly what we thought of them.

When we reached Savannah, we went directly to the hotel where Rectus and I had stopped on our former visit, and there we found ourselves the objects of great attention,-I don't mean we three particularly, but the captain and all of us. We brought the news of the burning of the "Tigris," and so we immediately knew that nothing had been heard of the two boats. Corny was taken in charge by some of the ladies in the hotel, and Rectus and I told the story of the burning and the raft twenty or thirty times. The news created a great sensation, and was telegraphed to all parts of the country. The United States government sent a revenue cutter from Charleston, and one from St. Augustine, to cruise along the coast, and endeavor to find some traces of the survivors, if there were any.

But two days passed and no news came. We thought Corny would go crazy.

"I know they're dead," she said. "If they were alive, anywhere, we'd hear from them."

But we would not admit that, and tried, in every way, to prove that the people in the boats might have landed somewhere where they could not communicate with us, or might have been picked up by a vessel which had carried them to South America, or Europe, or some other distant place.

"Well, why don't we go look for them, then, if there's any chance of their being on some desert island? It's dreadful to sit here and wait, and wait, and do nothing."

Now I began to see the good of being rich. Rectus came to me, soon after Corny had been talking about going to look for her father and mother, and he said:

"Look here, Will,"-he had begun to call me "Will," of late, probably because Corny called me so,-"I think it is too bad that we should just sit here and do nothing. I spoke to Mr. Parker about it, and he says, we can get a tug-boat, he thinks, and go out and do what looking we can. If it eases our minds, he says, there's no objection to it. So I'm going to telegraph to father to let me hire a tug-boat."

I thought this was a first-class idea, and we went to see Messrs. Parker and Darrell, who were merchants in the city, and the owners of the "Tigris." They had been very kind to us, and told us now that they did not suppose it would do any real good for us to go out in a tug-boat and search along the coast, but that if we thought it would help the poor girl to bear her trouble they were in favor of the plan. They were really afraid she would lose her reason if she did not do something.

Corny was now staying at Mr. Darrell's house. His wife, who was a tip-top lady, insisted that she should come there. When we went around to talk to Corny about making a search, she said that that was exactly what she wanted to do. If we would take her out to look for her father and mother, and we couldn't find them after we had looked all we could, she would come back, and ask nothing more.

Then we determined to go. We hadn't thought of taking Corny along, but Mr. Darrell and the others thought it would be best; and Mrs. Darrell said her own colored woman, named Celia, should go with her, and take care of her. I could not do anything but agree to things, but Rectus telegraphed to his father, and got authority to hire a tug; and Mr. Parker attended to the business himself; and the tug was to be ready early the next morning. We thought this was a long time to wait. But it couldn't be helped.

I forgot to say that Rectus and I had telegraphed home to our parents as soon as we reached Savannah, and had answers back, which were very long ones for telegrams. We had also written home. But we did not say anything to Corny about all this. It would have broken her heart if she had thought about any one writing to his father and mother, and hearing from them.

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