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   Chapter 22 INTO PORT

The Adventure Club Afloat By Ralph Henry Barbour Characters: 10845

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"Cast off!" said Han. "Take this one first, Perry. Gee, but it's stiff!" They had to fumble several minutes at the wet cable before they got it clear and let it slip over the bow. Then the other was cast off as well and Bert swung the lantern four times above his head as a signal to haul in. An answering dip of the light on the stern of the Adventurer answered, just as Joe joined them.

"All right?" he asked anxiously.

"Yes, both clear," replied Han. "What do we do now, Joe?"

"Sit tight and wait. Some of us had better get some sleep. Perry, you and Bert might as well turn in for awhile. I'm going to. It's ten o'clock. I'll wake you at two, and you can relieve Han. Bert, you might make some coffee when you tumble out again. We'll probably need it."

"I'm not sleepy a bit," protested Perry. But Joe insisted and he and Bert followed the other below and laid down in the bunks in the captain's cabin. In spite of his disclaimer and the noise and rolling of the ship, Perry was asleep almost as soon as he touched the berth, and the others were not far behind.

Joe had the faculty of waking up at any predetermined hour, and at two he was shaking the others from their slumbers. It was at once evident that the gale had increased, for it was all they could do to keep their feet under them as they made their way to the galley. Bert set about making a fire while the others made their way to the wheel. Wink greeted them cheerfully enough from the lantern-lit darkness there, but his voice sounded weary in spite of him.

"I had Han take the sail down," he announced. "She steers better without it. The wind's pretty fierce, isn't it? Look out!"

A big wave broke over the rail and descended on them in bucketfulls.

"That's what makes it so pleasant," shouted Wink. "Guess I'll take a nap if I can."

"Bert's making some coffee," said Joe. "Better have some before you turn in."

Perry made his way cautiously forward and relieved Han. "Seen anything?" he asked.

"Not a thing."

"Hello, where are the boats?" Perry stared ahead in surprise.

"One of them-I think it's the Adventurer-is back there." Han turned Perry about until he glimpsed a faint flicker of light far off over the starboard beam. "Don't know where the other is. Guess they're having a rough time of it."

"I'll bet!" agreed Perry. "You're to have some coffee and turn in, Han."

"Coffee!" murmured the other gratefully. "Have you had some?"

"No, I'll get mine later. Beat it, you!"

Han disappeared in the darkness and Perry, wrapping himself as best he could in the folds of his slicker, settled himself to his task. Now and then he looked back for a glimpse of the friendly light at the stern or for sight of the Adventurer. The wind made strange whistling sounds through the interstices of the lumber and the battered hull groaned and creaked rheumatically. When he stood erect the gale tore at him frantically, and at all times the spray, dashing across the deck, kept him running with water. He grew frightfully sleepy about three and had difficulty in keeping awake. In spite of his efforts his head would sink and at last he had to walk the few paces he could manage, accommodating his uncertain steps to the roll of the boat, in order to defeat slumber.

To say that Perry did not more than once regret his suggestion of rescuing the Catspaw would be far from the truth. He felt very lonely out there on that bow, and his stomach was none too happy. And the thought of what would happen to him and the others if the schooner decided to give up the struggle was not at all pleasant to dwell on. And so he did his best not to think about it, but he didn't always succeed. On the whole it was a very miserable three hours that he spent on lookout duty that night. Once Bert crawled forward and shared his loneliness, but didn't remain very long, preferring the partial shelter of the house. No one was ever much gladder to see the sky lighten in the east than was Perry that morning. But even when a grey dawn had settled over the ocean the surroundings were not much more cheerful. As Wink said, it was a bit better to drown by daylight than to do it in the dark, but, aside from the fact that the Catspaw was still afloat, there wasn't much to be thankful for.

One of the cruisers was barely visible off to the northward, but the other was nowhere in sight. The grey-green waves looked mountain-high when seen from the water-washed deck of the Catspaw, and the wind, while seeming to have passed its wildest stage, still blew hard. There was no sight of land in any direction and Joe pessimistically decided that they were then some forty miles at sea and about off the Isles of Shoals. Soon after the sun had come up, somewhere behind the leaden clouds, they sighted a brig to the southward. She was hardly hull-up and was making her way under almost bare yards toward the west. She stayed in sight less than half an hour.

The boys had breakfast about half-past six. Except coffee and bread there was little left, and the outlook, in case the gale continued, was not inspiring! Perry declared that he'd much rather drown than starve to death. The first cheerful event that happened was the drawing near of the Adventurer. The white cruiser came plunging up to within a quarter of a mile about nine o'clock and signals were exchanged. An hour later the Follow Me appeared coming up from westw

ard and at noon the schooner and the two convoys were reunited. But there was still no chance of getting lines aboard. All that they could do was wait. Dinner hour aboard the Catspaw was dinner hour in name only. There was coffee, to be sure, but the sugar was low and the condensed milk had given out completely. All else had disappeared at breakfast time. The spirits of the "prize crew" got lower and lower as the afternoon began and they were faced with another night aboard the schooner. Twice they sighted other craft, once a steamer headed toward the northeast and once a schooner dipping along under reefed sails. Neither craft showed any curiosity and each went on its way without a sign.

Once the Adventurer circled close to the windward and Steve shouted encouragement through his megaphone. Just what was said they couldn't make out, and Joe's attempts to acquaint the cruiser with the fact that they were out of provisions was unsuccessful, since he had only his hands to shout through and the wind was unsympathetic. But having the cruisers at hand was comforting, and when, at about four, there was a brief glimpse of sunlight to the south their spirits arose somewhat. The wind now began to go down perceptibly and by five it no longer roared down on them from the northwest, but, swinging around to the northeast, became quite docile and friendly. They put up their sail again and gradually the Catspaw pointed her nose toward the coast. Just before darkness came the sea had quieted enough to make possible an attempt to get the cables aboard again and those on the schooner saw the cruisers draw together. Steve and Phil caught the line hurled from the Follow Me after several attempts and then the tender was dropped over and with the two cables aboard the boys made for the Catspaw.

Those on the schooner watched anxiously. At one moment the tiny dingey was seen poised on the summit of a great green sea and the next was quite gone from sight. The sun came out momentarily before saying Good Night, as though to watch that struggle. At last the tender came sidling down the slope of a wave, the occupants striving hard at the oars, and after one breathless moment, during which it seemed that the little boat would be crushed to splinters against the old black hull of the schooner, Joe caught the painter, Steve made a flying leap for the deck and gained it in safety, and Phil, boat-hook in hand, worked manfully and skilfully to fend off while the cables were brought aboard. The dingey had fetched food as well and a shout of joy went up as Phil, taking advantage of the calm moments between the rushing waves, hurled the bundles to the deck.

There was little time for conversation, for darkness was coming fast, but Steve heard a brief account of the Catspaw's experiences, and, while helping to make fast the cables, told of the night aboard the Adventurer. "It was fierce," Steve said. "No one had much sleep, I guess. We almost pitched on our nose time and again. If it hadn't been for you chaps we'd have cut and run about midnight. We lost sight of your lights several times; they were so low in the water, and thought that you'd gone down at first. The Follow Me had to run for it, and I guess they weren't very happy either. But we'll make it this time. It's clearing up nicely and we're only forty miles from Portsmouth. Keep your lips stiff, fellows, and we'll be eating breakfast ashore!"

The dingey pulled off again, narrowly escaping capsizing more than once, and ten minutes afterwards the Catspaw was once more wallowing along in the wake of the cruisers. Supper, with bacon and potatoes and lots of bread, perked the crew up mightily, and when the stars began to peep through the scudding clouds and the sea stopped tormenting the poor old Catspaw they got quite cheerful. That second night was an easy one for all hands. The weather cleared entirely by two o'clock and the sea calmed to almost normal conditions. The Catspaw strained along at the ends of the cables at about three miles an hour until she got close enough to the shore to feel the tide. After that she went more slowly. At early dawn-and it was a real dawn this time, with sunlight on the water and a golden glow in the eastern sky-the Isles of Shoals lay six miles to the southwest and the blue shore line was beckoning them. At a little before eleven that forenoon the Catspaw passed Portsmouth Light and half an hour later, having been given over to the care of a tug, was lying snugly against a wharf.

It was a tired but triumphant dozen that stretched their legs ashore at noon and set out in search of dinner. Already they had answered a score of questions and told their story half a dozen times, and even after they were seated at table in the best restaurant that the city afforded-and it was a very good restaurant, too-an enterprising newspaper reporter found them out and Steve, as spokesman, recounted their adventures once more between mouthfuls.

And when at last they could eat no more and the reporter had gone off to write his story, Steve, Joe and Wink set forth to an address they had secured on the wharf and the others adjourned to the porch of a nearby hotel to await their return. "Tell him," instructed Perry as they parted, "that we won't accept a cent less than a thousand dollars! And," he added to himself, "I wouldn't go through it again for fifty thousand!"

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