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   Chapter 9 SOUR MILK

The Adventure Club Afloat By Ralph Henry Barbour Characters: 12145

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Perry was so surprised that he almost fell off the seat, while, forgetting to obey injunctions, he let the dingey run until there was a sudden bump that toppled the milk-can over and nearly treated him the same way. He looked startedly about. Six feet away lay a black boat and a boy with a boat-hook was threatening him from the deck.

"You silly idiot!" called the boy impatiently. "Look where you're going! If I hadn't got you with the hook you'd have knocked half our paint off!"

The boy and the boat slowly vanished in the mist like a "fade-out" at the movies, before Perry found his voice. Then: "Who the dickens are you?" he gasped.

"I'm the man who put the salt in the ocean," replied the voice jeeringly. "Come on easy and I'll get you."

"Well, but-but-what boat's that?"

"U.S. Battleship Pennsylvania, Pride of the Navy! Come on, you lubber!"

Perry came on and again the boy with the boat-hook took form in the fog. "You're Cas Temple," said Perry stupidly. "That's the Follow Me!"

"Surest thing you know, son! Hello! Why, it's Perry Bush. I thought you were Bert. What did you do with the fellows?"

"What fellows?" asked Perry, puzzled, as Cas pulled the dingey alongside the cruiser.

"Why, Bert and Wink and the rest of them."

"Haven't seen 'em."

"Haven't? Where'd you get the boat, then?"

"What boat?"

"That one! The one you're in! Say, are you dippy?"

"This is our boat and I got it-"

"Your boat nothing! That's our boat, you silly chump! Think I don't know our own tender?"

"Wh-what!" gasped Perry. "So it is! Then, where's mine! I mean ours? How did I get this one?"

"Search me! If you don't know, I'm blessed if I do," chuckled Caspar Temple. "You must remember something that's happened since yesterday morning!"

"Han and I went ashore," said Perry, staring puzzledly at the milk-can from which a tiny stream was trickling past the loosened stopper. "Then we went to look for our boat and I found this and I yelled to him and he didn't come and so I started back to the boat to get some-" Perry suddenly remembered his affliction. "Say, got any alcohol?" he asked anxiously.

"Alcohol? I don't know. Why?"

"I want some." Perry started to scramble out of the tender. "I got poisoned."

"Snake?" asked Cas hopefully and eagerly.

"Poison-ivy."

"Oh!" The other's voice held keen disappointment. "Well, what do you want alcohol for?"

"It's good for it," explained Perry, reaching the cockpit. "See if you've got any, will you, Cas?"

"Y-yes but, honestly, Perry, I wouldn't try it if I were you."

"Why not!"

"Why-why, if you go and drink a lot of alcohol-Besides, I'm all alone here, and if you got-got troublesome-"

"Drink it, you silly goat! Who's going to drink it? I'm going to rub it on the places!"

"Oh, I see! That's different. I'll have a look, Perry." Cas was visibly relieved as he scrambled down to the cabin. Perry dropped into the dingey again and set the milk-can upright, and then, after another minute, Cas returned empty-handed. "I'm sorry," he said, "but we haven't a bit. Would peroxide do?"

"I don't know," answered Perry doubtfully. "Maybe. Hand it here and I'll give it a chance. Say," he continued as he laved his wrists, "did your crowd leave this boat on the beach?"

"I suppose so. That's where you found it, wasn't it! You'd better hustle back with it, too, for they said they'd be back about eleven. They went to Vineyard Haven."

"It's all well enough to say hustle back with it," replied Perry morosely, "but where's your pesky beach?"

"Why, over there," said Cas, pointing. "The way you came."

"I came forty-eleven different directions," answered Perry. "All right, though. I'll try it. But I'm likely to be paddling around all day and night. Got anything to eat on board?" Cas found some cookies and these, with a glass of water, raised Perry's spirits. "Farewell," he said feelingly, as he shoved off again. "I die for my country."

"Did you fellows have any trouble finding this place yesterday?" asked Cas as the departing guest dropped the oars in the locks.

"Trouble?" Perry looked blank. "What sort of trouble?"

"Why, the fog, you know. We had an awful time finding the harbour."

"Oh, that!" Perry shrugged. "Why, we went straight for the jetty and didn't have any trouble at all finding it. But then we've got a navigator on our boat. So long!"

Perry discovered that rowing was raising a blister on each palm and that his arms were getting decidedly tired. The trouble with a dingey, he decided, was that while it might do excellently as a bathtub, it was certainly never meant for rowing. The oars were so short that the best strokes he was capable of sent the boat ahead scarcely more than three or four feet, and, being almost as broad as it was long, the tender constantly showed a tendency to go any way but straight ahead. While he had been aboard the Follow Me the fog had again taken on its amber hue and now was unmistakably thinning out. But it was still thick enough to hide objects thirty feet away and Perry couldn't for the life of him be certain that he was sending his craft toward the beach. To be sure he had started out in the general direction of the shore, as indicated by Cas, but there was always the possibility that he was rowing stronger with one oar than the other. He strove to curb that tendency and fancied he was succeeding, but when, after being afloat a good quarter of an hour, he still failed to see land or hear the break of waves on the beach he was both puzzled and annoyed. The sun pierced the mist hotly and he was soon panting and perspiring. He heartily wished that he had never agreed to accompany Han on the search for eggs. Presently he rested on his oars, and as he did so he heard voices quite close. He called.

"Hello, there! Where's the beach?"

"Here," was the answer.

He rowed on and in another minute land came abruptly out of the fog. Two blurred forms resolved themselves into men as Perry beached the dingey and tiredly dropped the oars. The men c

ame toward him and proved, on nearer acquaintance, to be middle-aged and apparently natives. "Quite a fog," drawled one of them. "What boat you from, sir?"

"The Adventurer." Perry viewed the immediate foreground with misgiving. The beach looked more abrupt than he recalled it. "What beach is this?" he inquired.

"Well, I don't know as it's got any name exactly. What beach was you lookin' for?"

"The beach between Vineyard Haven and-and some other place."

"Oh, West Chop? Why, that's across the harbour, son. This is Eastville, this side."

Perry groaned. He had rowed in a half-circle then. Unless Cas had directed him wrong. Presently the true explanation came to him. The tide had turned between the time the Follow Me's crowd had gone ashore and the time that Perry had reached that boat, and Cas had not allowed for the fact that the cruiser had swung around! "Well," he said wearily, "I guess I've got to row across again."

"Too bad," sympathised one of the men. "It's most a mile. Guess, though, you'll be able to see your way pretty soon. This fog's burning off fast."

Out of sight of the men Perry again laid his oars down and reached behind him for the can of milk. It was rather warm, but it tasted good for all of that. Then, putting the wooden stopper back in place, he once more took up his task. Perhaps he might have been rowing around that harbour yet had not the fog suddenly disappeared as if by magic. Wisps of it remained here and there, but even as he watched them, they curled up and were burned into nothingness like feathers in a fire. He found himself near the head of a two-mile-long harbour. The calm blue water was rippling under the brushing of a light southerly breeze and here and there lay boats anchored or moored. While the fog had hidden the harbour he had supposed that not more than half a dozen craft were within sight, but now, between mouth and causeway, fully two dozen sailboats and launches dotted the surface. Over his shoulder was a little hamlet that was doubtless Vineyard Haven. Facing him was a larger community, and he decided that that would be Oak Bluffs. Half a mile down the harbour lay the Adventurer and, nearer at hand, the Follow Me. But what was of more present interest to Perry was a group of figures on the opposite beach. They appeared to be seated and there was that in their attitude which, even at this distance, told of dejection. So, reflected Perry, might have looked a group of marooned sailors. He sighed and bent again to his inadequate oars. He was under no misapprehension as to the sort of welcome awaiting him, but, like an early Christian martyr on the way to the arena, he proceeded with high courage if scant enthusiasm.

With the sun pouring down upon him, with his hands blistered, with his breath just about exhausted and his arms aching, he at last drew to the shore amidst a dense and unflattering silence. Five irate youths stepped into the tender and crowded the seats. Harry Corwin took his place beside Perry and relieved him of the port oar. Perry would have yielded the other very gladly, but none offered to accept it and he hadn't the courage to make the suggestion. The dingey floated off the sand again, headed for the Follow Me, and then the storm broke. It didn't descend all at once, however. At first there were muffled growls of thunder from Harry Corwin. Then came claps from Wink Wheeler. After that the elements raged about Perry's defenceless head, even "Brownie" supplying some fine lightning effects!

Perry gathered in the course of the uncomplimentary remarks directed toward him that the crowd, being unable to find the dingey where they believed they had left it, had spent some twenty minutes searching up and down the beach, that subsequently they had waited there in the fog for a good forty minutes more and that eventually Perry Bush would sooner or later come to some perfectly deplorable end and that for their part they didn't care how soon it might be. By the time the Follow Me was reached Perry was too worn out to offer any excuse. Cas, however, did it for him, and, as the others' tempers had somewhat sobered by then amusement succeeded anger. Perry faintly and vaguely described his wanderings about the harbour and the amusement increased. As dinner was announced about that time he was dragged to the cabin and propped in a corner of a bunk and fed out of hand. An hour later he was transported, somewhat recovered, to the Adventurer by Harry and Tom Corwin and Wink Wheeler and delivered, together with his precious can of milk, into the hands of his ship-mates.

The Adventurer's tender bobbed about at the stern and the first person Perry set eyes on as he scrambled onto the bridge deck was Han. Perry fixed him with a scathing gaze. "Where," he demanded, "did you get to, idiot?"

"Oh, I'll tell you about that," answered Han. "You see I was afraid about that poison-ivy and so I took a dip in the ocean. And-"

"But I called you and called!"

"Yes, and I answered a couple of times. And then I may have had my head under water."

"A monstrous pity you didn't keep it there!"

"When," continued Han, "I went to look for you I couldn't find you. So I-so I came back here."

"Yes, you thought maybe I'd swum across, eh! Or found a boat?"

"Sure! You did find a boat, didn't you?"

"You make me tired," growled Perry amidst the laughter of the others. "And I hope that poison-ivy gets you good and hard!"

"I don't believe it took," replied Han gently, "Maybe it wasn't poison-ivy, after all!"

At that instant the outraged countenance of Ossie appeared in the companion way. "What," he demanded irately of Perry, "do you mean by bringing back half a gallon of sour milk?"

Perry looked despairingly about at the unsympathetic and amused faces and wandered limply aft to the seclusion of the cockpit.

The next morning the Adventure Club chugged around to Edgartown, and then, after putting in gasoline and water, set out at a little after eleven, on a fifty-mile run to Pleasant Bay.

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