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   Chapter 21 THE TRIP OF THE TUG.

A Jolly Fellowship By Frank R. Stockton Characters: 15374

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The tug-boat was a little thing, and not very clean; but she was strong and sea-worthy, we were told, and therefore we were satisfied. There was a small deck aft, on which Corny and Rectus and I sat, with Celia, the colored woman; and there were some dingy little sleeping-places, which were given up for our benefit. The captain of the tug was a white man, but all the rest, engineer, fireman and hands-there were five or six in all-were negroes.

We steamed down the Savannah River in pretty good style, but I was glad when we got out of it, for I was tired of that river. Our plan was to go down the coast and try to find tidings of the boats. They might have reached land at points where the revenue cutters would never have heard from them. When we got out to sea, the water was quite smooth, although there was a swell that rolled us a great deal. The captain said that if it had been rough he would not have come out at all. This sounded rather badly for us, because he might give up the search, if a little storm came on. And besides, if he was afraid of high waves in his tug, what chance could those boats have had?

Toward noon, we got into water that was quite smooth, and we could see land on the ocean side of us. I couldn't understand this, and went to ask the captain about it. He said it was all right, we were going to take the inside passage, which is formed by the islands that lie along nearly all the coast of Georgia. The strips of sea-water between these islands and the mainland make a smooth and convenient passage for the smaller vessels that sail or steam along this coast. Indeed, some quite good-sized steamers go this way, he said.

I objected, pretty strongly, to our taking this passage, because, I said, we could never hear anything of the boats while we were in here. But he was positive that if they had managed to land on the outside of any of these islands, we could hear of them better from the inside than from the ocean side. And besides, we could get along a great deal better inside. He seemed to think more of that than anything else.

We had a pretty dull time on that tug. There wasn't a great deal of talking, but there was lots of thinking, and not a very pleasant kind of thinking either. We stopped quite often and hailed small boats, and the captain talked to people whenever he had a chance, but he never heard anything about any boats having run ashore on any of the islands, or having come into the inside passage, between any of them. We met a few sailing vessels, and toward the close of the afternoon we met a big steamer, something like northern river steamers. The captain said she ran between the St. John's River and Savannah, and always took the inside passage as far as she could. He said this as if it showed him to be in the right in taking the same passage, but I couldn't see that it proved anything. We were on a different business.

About nine o'clock we went to bed, the captain promising to call us if anything turned up. But I couldn't sleep well-my bunk was too close and hot, and so I pretty soon got up and went up to the pilot-house, where I found the captain. He and one of the hands were hard at work putting the boat around.

"Hello!" said he. "I thought you were sound asleep."

"Hello!" said I. "What are you turning round for?"

It was bright starlight, and I could see that we were making a complete circuit in the smooth water.

"Well," said he, "we're going back."

"Back!" I cried. "What's the meaning of that? We haven't made half a search. I don't believe we've gone a hundred miles. We want to search the whole coast, I tell you, to the lower end of Florida."

"You can't do it in this boat," he said; "she's too small."

"Why didn't you say so when we took her?"

"Well, there wasn't any other, in the first place, and besides, it wouldn't be no good to go no further. It's more 'n four days, now, since them boats set out. There's no chance fur anybody on 'em to be livin'."

"That's not for you to decide," I said, and I was very angry. "We want to find our friends, dead or alive, or find some news of them, and we want to cruise until we know there's no further chance of doing so."

"Well," said he, ringing the bell to go ahead, sharp, "I'm not decidin' anything. I had my orders. I was to be gone twenty-four hours; an' it'll be more 'n that by the time I get back."

"Who gave you those orders?"

"Parker and Darrell," said he.

"Then this is all a swindle," I cried. "And we've been cheated into taking this trip for nothing at all!"

"No, it isn't a swindle," he answered, rather warmly. "They told me all about it. They knew, an' I knew, that it wasn't no use to go looking for two boats that had been lowered in a big storm four days ago, 'way down on the Florida coast. But they could see that this here girl would never give in till she'd had a chance of doin' what she thought she was called on to do, and so they agreed to give it to her. But they told me on no account to keep her out more 'n twenty-four hours. That would be long enough to satisfy her, and longer than that wouldn't be right. I tell you they know what they're about."

"Well, it wont be enough to satisfy her," I said, and then I went down to the little deck. I couldn't make the man turn back. I thought the tug had been hired to go wherever we chose to take her, but I had been mistaken. I felt that we had been deceived; but there was no use in saying anything more on the subject until we reached the city.

I did not wake Rectus to tell him the news. It would not do any good, and I was afraid Corny might hear us. I wanted her to sleep as long as she could, and, indeed, I dreaded the moment when she should awake, and find that all had been given up.

We steamed along very fast now. There was no stopping anywhere. I sat on the deck and thought a little, and dozed a little; and by the time it was morning, I found we were in the Savannah River. I now hated this river worse than ever.

Everything was quiet on the water, and everything, except the engine, was just as quiet on the tug. Rectus and Corny and Celia were still asleep, and nobody else seemed stirring, though, of course, some of the men were at their posts. I don't think the captain wanted to be about when Corny came out on deck, and found that we had given up the search. I intended to be with her when she first learned this terrible fact, which I knew would put an end to all hope in her heart; but I was in no hurry for her to wake up. I very much hoped she would sleep until we reached the city, and then we could take her directly to her kind friends.

And she did sleep until we reached the city. It was about seven o'clock in the morning, I think, when we began to steam slowly by the wharves and piers. I now wished the city were twenty miles further on. I knew that when we stopped I should have to wake up poor Corny.

The city looked doleful. Although it was not very early in the morning, there were very few people about. Some men could be seen on the decks of the vessels at the wharves, and a big steamer for one of the northern ports was getting up steam. I could not help thinking how happy the people must be who were going away in her. On one of the piers near where we were going to stop-we were coming in now-were a few darkey boys, sitting on a wharf-log, and dangling their bare feet over the water. I wondered how they dared laugh, and be so jolly. In a few minutes Corny must be wakened. On a post, near these boys, a lounger sat fishing with a long pole,-actually fishing away as if there were no sorrows and deaths, or shipwrecked or broken-hearted people in t

he world. I was particularly angry at this man-and I was so nervous that all sorts of things made me angry-because he was old enough to know better, and because he looked like such a fool. He had on green trousers, dirty canvas shoes and no stockings, a striped linen coat, and an old straw hat, which lopped down over his nose. One of the men called to him to catch the line which he was about to throw on the wharf, but he paid no attention, and a negro boy came and caught the line. The man actually had a bite, and couldn't take his eyes from the cork. I wished the line had hit him and knocked him off the post.

The tide was high, and the tug was not much below the wharf when we hauled up. Just as we touched the pier, the man, who was a little astern of us, caught his fish. He jerked it up, and jumped off his post, and, as he looked up in delight at his little fish, which was swinging in the air, I saw he was Mr. Chipperton!

I made one dash for Corny's little cubby-hole. I banged at the door. I shouted:

"Corny! Here's your father!"

She was out in an instant. She had slept in her clothes. She had no bonnet on. She ran out on deck, and looked about, dazed. The sight of the wharves and the ships seemed to stun her.

"Where?" she cried.

I took her by the arm and pointed out her father, who still stood holding the fishing-pole in one hand, while endeavoring to clutch the swinging fish with the other.

The plank had just been thrown out from the little deck. Corny made one bound. I think she struck the plank in the middle, like an India-rubber ball, and then she was on the wharf; and before he could bring his eyes down to the earth, her arms were around her father's neck, and she was wildly kissing and hugging him.

Mr. Chipperton was considerably startled, but when he saw who it was who had him, he threw his arms around Corny, and hugged and kissed her as if he had gone mad.

Rectus was out by this time, and as he and I stood on the tug, we could not help laughing, although we were so happy that we could have cried. There stood that ridiculous figure, Mr. Chipperton, in his short green trousers and his thin striped coat, with his arms around his daughter, and the fishing-pole tightly clasped to her back, while the poor little fish dangled and bobbed at every fresh hug.

Everybody on board was looking at them, and one of the little black boys, who didn't appear to appreciate sentiment, made a dash for the fish, unhooked it, and put like a good fellow. This rather broke the spell that was on us all, and Rectus and I ran on shore.

We did not ask any questions, we were too glad to see him. After he had put Corny on one side, and had shaken our hands wildly with his left hand, for his right still held the pole, and had tried to talk and found he couldn't, we called a carriage that had just come up, and hustled him and Corny into it. I took the pole from his hand, and asked him where he would go to. He called out the name of the hotel where we were staying, and I shut the door, and sent them off. I did not ask a word about Corny's mother, for I knew Mr. Chipperton would not be sitting on a post and fishing if his wife was dead.

I threw the pole and line away, and then Rectus and I walked up to the hotel. We forgot all about Celia, who was left to go home when she chose.

It was some hours before we saw the Chippertons, and then we were called into their room, where there was a talking and a telling things, such as I never heard before.

It was some time before I could get Mr. and Mrs. Chipperton's story straight, but this was about the amount of it: They were picked up sooner than we were-just after day-break. When they left the ship, they rowed as hard as they could, for several hours, and so got a good distance from us. It was well they met with a vessel as soon as they did, for all the women who had been on the steamer were in this boat, and they had a hard time of it. The water dashed over them very often, and Mr. Chipperton thought that some of them could not have held out much longer (I wondered what they would have done on our raft).

The vessel that picked them up was a coasting schooner bound to one of the Florida Keys, and she wouldn't put back with them, for she was under some sort of a contract, and kept right straight on her way. When they got down there, they chartered a vessel which brought them up to Fernandina, where they took the steamer for Savannah. They were on the very steamer we passed in the inside passage. If we had only known that!

They telegraphed the moment they reached Fernandina, and proposed stopping at St. Augustine, but it was thought they could make better time by keeping right on to Fernandina. The telegram reached Savannah after we had left on the tug.

Mr. Chipperton said he got his fancy clothes on board the schooner. He bought them of a man-a passenger, I believe-who had an extra suit.

"I think," said Mr. Chipperton, "he was the only man on that mean little vessel who had two suits of clothes. I don't know whether these were his weekday or his Sunday clothes. As for my own, they were so wet that I took them off the moment I got on board the schooner, and I never saw them again. I don't know what became of them, and, to tell the truth, I haven't thought of 'em. I was too glad to get started for Savannah, where I knew we'd meet Corny, if she was alive. You see, I trusted in you boys."

Just here, Mrs. Chipperton kissed us both again. This made several times that she had done it. We didn't care so much, as there was no one there but ourselves and the Chippertons.

"When we got here, and found you had gone to look for us, I wanted to get another tug and go right after you, but my wife was a good deal shaken up, and I did not want to leave her; and Parker and Darrell said they had given positive orders to have you brought back this morning, so I waited. I was only too glad to know you were all safe. I got up early in the morning, and went down to watch for you. You must have been surprised to see me fishing, but I had nothing else to do, and so I hired a pole and line of a boy. It helped very much to pass the time away."

"Yes," said Rectus, "you didn't notice us at all, you were so much interested."

"Well, you see," said Mr. Chipperton, "I had a bite just at that minute; and, besides, I really did not look for you on such a little boat. I had an idea you would come on something more respectable than that."

"As if we should ever think of respectability at such a time!" said Mrs. Chipperton, with tears in her eyes.

"As for you boys," said Mr. Chipperton, getting up and taking us each by the hand, "I don't know what to say to you."

I thought, for my part, that they had all said enough already. They had praised and thanked us for things we had never thought of.

"I almost wish you were orphans," he continued, "so that I might adopt you. But a boy can't have more than one father. However, I tell you! a boy can have as many uncles as he pleases. I'll be an uncle to each of you as long as I live. Ever after this call me Uncle Chipperton. Do you hear that?"

We heard, and said we'd do it.

Soon after this, lots of people came in, and the whole thing was gone over again and again. I am sorry to say that, at one or two places in the story, Mrs. Chipperton kissed us both again.

Before we went down to dinner, I asked Uncle Chipperton how his lung had stood it, through all this exposure.

"Oh, bother the lung!" he said. "I tell you; boys, I've lost faith in that lung,-at least, in there being anything the matter with it. I shall travel for it no more."

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