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   Chapter 20 THE DERELICT

The Adventure Club Afloat By Ralph Henry Barbour Characters: 15014

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

It was a rock whose brown head was thrust barely two feet above the water.

"It's the ledge we grazed last night," cried Joe. "Could we get a rope to that, Steve?"

"Why not? We'll have a go at it, anyway. Help me with the tender, someone!"

It was difficult work. As a first step the bow line was replaced by a smaller rope and taken through the breakers to the out-cropping ledge. There, working precariously in the water while Joe held him from the boat and Han did his best to keep the dingey steady, Steve eventually got the big cable around the rock, protecting it from the rough edges by a blanket from one of the berths. Fortunately, the rock was so formed that, once drawn tight, there was no danger of the rope slipping off, and they returned to the Adventurer, Steve towing behind, in triumph. In the meanwhile the others, directed by Phil, were stuffing the worst of the seams with strips of muslin, using table knives for caulking irons. The cable to the rock was led through a ring at the stern and carried forward to the windlass. By the time the tide had begun to rise again they had got the hull free of water, taking turns at the hand-pump and operating the bilge-pump at the same time. Then they waited to see how well they had succeeded at their caulking. It was noon by that time, and they ate cold rations in the galley, and while they were below a transient gleam of sunlight shone for an instant through the hatch above and they tumbled to deck. The fine rain had almost ceased and although the sunlight was gone again, the clouds were breaking. Steve whooped for joy and the others joined him. It might have been only in imagination, but it seemed that the wind was less fierce and that the in-rolling breakers were less formidable.

There was little to do save to set the cruiser as much to rights inside and out as was possible and wait for high tide again. As the water once more surrounded the boat they were pleased and encouraged to find that while the water was again coming in through the seams it filled the bilge so slowly that the pump could easily take care of it. Perry declared proudly that they had done a "caulking job!" They went ashore before the water cut them off entirely and built the fire up again. About four the wind died down appreciably and the sun, which had been flirting with the world ever since noon, burst forth in a sudden blaze of glory. The mist disappeared as if by magic and exclamations of surprise burst from six throats as eager eyes looked shoreward.

There, as it seemed scarcely a half-mile distant, was the mainland; green fields, grey cliffs, white houses! In reality the distance was well over a mile and a quarter, but so clear had the atmosphere suddenly become that the space of tumbled green water intervening looked hardly more than a swimmer's stunt! They cheered and would have waved their caps had they had any to wave. A small steamer was ducking her way along near shore and they could almost see the spray tossing from the bow. They found a nearer way to the top of the cliff and climbed to the summit and tried to decide just where they were, but even Steve was at a loss, although he was fairly certain that Englishman's Bay was well to the north, probably as far distant as six miles. But, since from where they gazed islands and mainland melted into each other, even Wass Island was not determinate. But after all it didn't much matter where they were. In a calm sea they could reach the shore in the dingey if it became necessary, while a distress signal would undoubtedly be soon seen from the nearer head-land. But Steve was not ready to call for aid yet, and together they made their way back to the beach and settled down philosophically to await evening and high tide.

With the prospect of release from their desert island to cheer them, waiting was not so hard. They had some supper about six and after that the time passed fairly quickly. At half-past eight they made their way out to the Adventurer. The wind had died entirely down at sunset and now the sea was probably as quiet and well-behaved as it ever was just there. About nine they began operations. No one was too sanguine of the results, but when, having started the engine and experimentally moved the clutch into reverse to clear the sand from around the propeller, no untoward incident happened they became more encouraged. The heaving lever was put into the windlass and, with Phil astern to watch the cable where it ran through the ring bolt, Steve operated the engine while the others took turns, two and two, at the windlass. Gradually the manila cable tightened and strained and the screw churned hard, but the Adventurer, save for righting herself a trifle, gave no indication of moving from her sandy bed. Steve summoned the boys who were not working the windlass to the after part of the boat in order to lighten the bow as much as possible, and they worked on. Just when it seemed that not another inch of the cable was to be conquered there was a shout from Ossie and Han, who were panting at the lever, and the Adventurer moved!

After that it was only a matter of time. Inch by inch the cruiser dragged her keel along the sand, each minute floating a little freer and each minute putting her deck more level as the stern found the deep water. And, perhaps a half-hour from the time they had started, they had the boat riding clear and slowly going astern to take up the cable. It was out of the question to get the rope free of the rock and so they had to cut it, and, having done so, they swung cautiously around in a wide circle and headed toward the cheerful white beam of a lighthouse that beckoned from the shore.

They had to keep the pump going, for a leak they had not suspected developed forward, but that was a small matter and they were so glad to get out of the adventure with nothing worse than a few sprung planks, some bent stanchions and the loss of the side curtains that they would willingly have pumped by hand. Half an hour later, after a slow and careful passage from island to mainland, with the searchlight picking out her path, the Adventurer dropped anchor in a narrow harbour.

They stayed there only overnight, for in the morning they found that there was no prospect of getting repairs made there, and so, with the bilge pump sucking merrily, they ran ten miles further down the coast and before dinner time saw the Adventurer on a cradle and hauled high and dry from the water. The damage to the hull, while nowhere severe, was more general than they had thought, and the man who was to do the repairs decreed a week's stay. After discussing the situation it was decided that all save Steve and Phil were to proceed to Camden by rail and wait there for the Adventurer. Steve was to remain to superintend the repairs and painting-the cruiser stood in need of paint by then-and Phil volunteered to keep him company and help take the boat on when it was ready.

In the meanwhile, after a day of uncertainty, the Follow Me was located by telegraph at Jonesport. "All well. Sailing for Camden tomorrow. Meet you there" was the reply from Harry Corwin. Steve and Phil, watching seaward from the deck of the Adventurer, sitting high up on a marine railway, thought that they made out the Follow Me about ten o'clock the next morning, but couldn't be sure. The two boys, captain and first mate, lived aboard and took their meals wherever they could get them. They were there just six days and h

ad a very happy if unexciting time. Several absurd epistles reached them from Camden, all of which indicated that the other members of the Adventure Club were enjoying themselves hugely. At last, shining with new paint and polished brass and refurnished with new curtains, the Adventurer slid down the railway again, floated out from the cradle and pointed her nose toward Penobscot Bay. In the middle of a bright Friday afternoon she dropped anchor alongside her companion craft, Phil doing wild and ecstatic things with the whistle and eliciting no response from the Follow Me. Steve and Phil donned proper shore-going togs and tumbled into the dingey. The Follow Me was totally deserted, which accounted for the fact that, while their noisy arrival had aroused not a little interest on other craft, the Follow Me had received them very coldly. They found some of the party at the hotel and the others rounded up later. Everyone was flatteringly glad to see the new arrivals again, but none more so than Perry. Perry was absolutely pathetic in his greetings and refused to let Steve out of his sight for an instant.

"I'm quite taken by surprise," declared Steve. "I knew you loved me devotedly, Perry, but this is-this is really touching!"

Perry grew a trifle red and coughed. "Er-well-I hope so," he blurted.

"You hope so? Hope what?"

"Hope it's touching," explained the other, grinning. "You see, I'm flat broke, Steve, and so is everyone else, or pretty near, and if you could lend me a couple of dollars-"

"I feared it wasn't all just affection," sighed Steve, reaching for his purse. "But it was worth the price, Perry!"

"Much obliged! You-you might make it three, if you don't mind. I owe Han fifty cents and Ossie a quarter-no, thirty-five-"

"Here's five, you spendthrift. Let me have it back as soon as you can, though, for I'm down near the bottom myself."

"I will, Steve. I've sent for some and it ought to be along in a day or two. Money doesn't last any time here!"

Friends and acquaintances made during their former visit had done everything possible to make the boys' stay so very more than pleasant, and when the matter of going on was introduced the suggestion met with scant sympathy. However, Steve was not at all averse to a week or so of lotus eating and, having satisfied his conscience by the proposal, he settled down, to enjoy himself with the rest. His friends ashore were lavish with hospitality, while "Globbins the Speed Fiend," as Perry had dubbed the freckle-faced proprietor of the restless automobile, was indefatigably attentive. A second letter from Neil, forwarded from one port of call to another in their wake, reached them one day, and they composed a reply between them and all hands signed it. Neil was having rather a dull time of it, they gathered, and they hoped their letter would cheer him up a bit.

At last, when they had, after two postponements, fixed a day of departure, a storm that tied up shipping all along the North Atlantic Coast for four days caused a final delay, and consequently it was well toward the last of August when they said good-bye and set forth for Squirrel Island. No one particularly cared to visit Squirrel Island save Han, who had friends there, but as there was still a full week at their disposal they were in no great hurry and one port was as good as another. They remained there a day and then made Portland. At Portland supplies were put in, and one Wednesday morning they picked up the anchor at a little after six o'clock and started for Provincetown with the fine determination to cover the distance of approximately a hundred and twenty-five miles before they sat down to supper. That they didn't do so was no fault of either the Adventurer or the Follow Me.

It was about half-past eight that Phil, sitting on the forward cabin roof with his back braced against the smokestack, called Steve's attention to an object far off to port. They had then put some thirty miles between them and Portland and were twenty miles off Cape Neddick. The morning was lowery, with occasional spatters of rain, and the storm, which had blown off to the northward the day before, had left a heavy sea running. For an hour the Adventurer and the Follow Me had been climbing up the slopes of grey-green swells and sliding down into swirling troughs, and for a minute Steve couldn't find the dark speck at which Phil was pointing. When he did at last sight it over the tumbled mounds of water he stared in puzzlement a moment before he took the binoculars from their place and fitted them to his eyes. He looked long and then silently handed the glasses through the window to Phil, punched two shrill blasts on the whistle and swung the wheel to port.

"Looks like a wreck," said Phil, after an inspection of the distant object. "Going to see?"

Steve nodded. "Might be someone aboard," he answered. "We can tell in another mile or so, I guess."

Phil gave up the glasses to the others, who had clustered to the bridge, while the Follow Me altered her course in obedience to the signal, her company probably wondering why Steve had suddenly chosen to stand out to sea. At the end of ten minutes it was plainly to be determined with the aid of the binoculars that the object which had attracted their attention and curiosity was without any doubt a wreck, and as the Adventurer drew momentarily closer her plight was seen to be extreme. Whether anyone remained aboard was still a question when the cruiser was a mile distant, but everything pointed against it. The craft, which proved to be a small coasting schooner, had evidently seen a lot of trouble. Both masts were broken off, the foremast close to the deck and the mainmast some dozen feet above it. She lay low in the water, with her decks piled high with lumber. A tangle of spars and ropes hung astern, but save for her cargo the decks had been swept clean. She was a sad sight even at that distance, and more than one aboard the Adventurer felt the pathos of her.

"No sign of life," said Steve. "If anyone was aboard there'd be a signal flying. And the boats are all gone, too, although that wouldn't mean much in itself because they might have been swept away. I guess, though, it got a bit too strenuous and the crew remembered the 'Safety First' slogan. There's nothing we can do, anyway."

He started to swing the cruiser about again, but Perry intervened. "She's a whatyoucallit!" he exclaimed excitedly. "She's-"

"No, little one," Joe corrected gently, "she's a wreck."

"She's a derelict," persisted Perry eagerly, "and no one belongs to her! If we got her she'd belong to us, Steve! Wouldn't she?"

"I suppose she would," replied Steve dubiously, his hand hesitating on the wheel, "but finding her and getting her are two mighty different things, Perry. If we could get her she'd be a nice prize, I guess, for lumber's worth real money these days, and although she isn't very big it's safe to say she's got quite a bunch of it on her, below deck and above. I guess that lumber is what kept her afloat, from the looks of the hull."

"Let's see what we can do," said Han. "Someone will find her and-"

"It might as well be us," added Perry enthusiastically. "Couldn't we tow her, Steve!"

"Tow her! Gee, she'd follow about as easily as a brick house!"

"But if we both pulled-"

"Well"-Steve cast an appraising eye at the weather-"I'm game to try it if the rest of you say so. Full steam ahead, Mr. Chapman!"

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