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   Chapter 3 BLUFF NAMES THE BOAT

The Outdoor Chums on a Houseboat; Or, The Rivals of the Mississippi By Quincy Allen Characters: 12796

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Well, hold me, somebody, I'm going to faint!"

It was Jerry who made this remark; and he did actually pretend to fall over against Will, who happened to be standing next to him at the time.

The four chums were in St. Paul, and had just been shown the interior of the houseboat, on board of which they expected to make the voyage down the river, over the many hundreds of miles separating them from New Orleans.

Even Frank was smiling as though surprised; while Bluff stared around in wonder. Will was chuckling to himself, as though he had known about it all along, and wished to spring a surprise on his mates by keeping still. That was what his smiles meant, Frank now knew, at the time the others were speculating as to what the houseboat of a wealthy old bachelor might be like.

"Talk to me about a dilapidated old craft, this sure takes the cake!" ventured the plain-spoken Bluff, presently, when he could catch his breath. "Why, say, I've seen some shantyboats that could give this one a handicap, and still win out. Do you mean to say, Will Milton, your Uncle Felix is afraid of somebody running away with this old tub? That must be his little joke on us."

"Oh! nobody ever said there was anything palatial about uncle's houseboat," Will hastened to declare; "you fellows made up that fairy story to please yourselves. If you knew my uncle, you'd never think of him wasting his money on a floating palace. Fact is, boys, I do know all about this same craft; and if you sit down I'll tell you how he came to get hold of her in the first place."

"Might as well take a little rest, because I do feel sort of weak after such a shock," declared Jerry.

"Well, now," remarked the man who had accompanied them aboard the boat, and who had unlocked the door very carefully, as though the cabin contained some wild animal he was afraid might escape, this being the boat builder, Mr. Whittaker; "I'd like to hear that myself. You see, all I know is that Mr. Milton left this boat in my charge, and I was to keep constant watch over it, for which he agreed to pay in full. I've looked it over from stem to stern, and I declare if I was ever able to make up my mind what there was about the old thing to cause him to be so anxious. So tell us about it, my boy, if you please."

"Why, it's just this way," Will went on to say; "Uncle was knocking around down South some years ago, when he got in a tight scrape, and might have lost his life only for the fortunate coming of the man who owned this houseboat. I guess at that time it was called a shantyboat, Bluff, for a fact. Well, it seems that my uncle, who does lots of queer things, I'm told, thought so much of the boat that he bought her from the man, who was a traveling bee-keeper, and who said he had purchased the craft from a clock peddler, who used to drop down from town to town finding odd jobs to do. Now you've got the history of the gallant craft."

"And what did he want her for; just to keep on account of having his life saved by her coming at the right time?" demanded Jerry.

"Oh!" said Will, readily enough; "he used her several seasons as a houseboat; and after drifting as far down the river as he cared to go, he'd have her towed up again. Few shantyboats ever come back again, you know. Once they get South, they're sold, and broken up for firewood. But I rather think Uncle Felix must have had some pleasant days and nights aboard this same boat, and that's why he values her, in one way."

Bluff broke out into laughter, doubling up like a hinge.

"It makes me weep, boys, to think of the adjectives we've wasted on the old tub. I reckon among the lot we've called her everything that stood for a grand outfit. Why, I've often shut my eyes, and tried to picture the finest thing that ever was built. And now to see this old boat gives me a fit. Where do you suppose the silk-covered eiderdown quilts are stowed away; eh? And the mahogany trimmings; with the gas range Jerry was speaking about? Oh! my, here's a little old wood-burning stove, with one lid cracked. And well, here's luck, boys, just four bunks, arranged on the two sides of the cabin, one for each."

Frank had not allowed himself to indulge in any of the high-flown anticipations that had captured his two chums. That queer little smile on Will's face had warned him against such a course. And so now he was in a position to look at things from a sensible point.

"Hold on, fellows," he remarked, quietly; "if you've had to take a tumble, whose fault is it but your own? Will never gave you to understand that this was going to be a voyage in a floating palace; you just chose to picture all that sort of stuff for yourselves. And after all, when you take an inventory of things here, it isn't so bad a handout."

"Good for you, Frank," said Will, as if pleased.

"Just forget all that nonsense you imagined about sailing down in a gilt-edged houseboat, boys, and look the thing squarely in the face. The boat is still in good condition, and as staunch as anything. There's plenty of room for getting around, and for storing our stuff, bedclothes and eatables. Will you tell me what more the Outdoor Chums need in order to have a jolly good time?"

Bluff and Jerry looked at each other. The former scratched his head, and then the disappointed expression vanished from his face.

"I guess you're about right there, Frank," he admitted; "we've been through all sorts of times, and we never yet asked for more than just ordinary comforts. Leave the millionaire boats for the sons of rich men, who are so soft and pampered that they just can't rough it any. We've shown we could stand a lot; and anyhow, we can have a heap of fun aboard this old she-bang, once we cut loose from St. Paul."

"But what strikes me in the funny bone is this," declared Jerry. "If it looked queer to us why a fellow named Marcus Stackpole would want to sneak aboard a palatial craft to steal something, or get away with the boat itself, now what under the sun could anybody in their right senses expect to find on this tub worth taking; tell me that, will you?"

And all of the others only shook their heads in the negative, as though the conundrum were too much for them.

"Ask me something easy," remarked Bluff; "like the number of stars in the Milky Way, and I might give a guess; but I'm stumped when you want me to say why anybod

y would spend good hard-earned dollars to have this old boat guarded for months in Mr. Whittaker's yard here; and then warn us to be careful how we let any strangers travel with us."

"Well," said Jerry, "you know what I said about his having something hidden aboard, that this other fellow knew about, and wanted. I still stick to that, more than ever; and I'm never going to rest till I find out."

"Just like you, Jerry," remarked Frank; "like as not you'll be wanting to tear away the whole inside planking piece by piece, in hopes of making a discovery. There never was such a fellow for investigating things; and there never will be again."

"Sure," replied the other, with a grin. "But when do we get our duffle aboard, fellows? Can't start any too soon to please me."

The disappointment had been keen, for Bluff and Jerry had foolishly indulged in all manner of extravagant ideas concerning the luxuries they expected to find on board a houseboat owned by a rich man like Uncle Felix; but after all they were sensible boys, and could extract a lot of fun out of very small material.

The main thing was that they had a boat, strong and serviceable, to bear them on the long voyage; plenty of money with which to purchase provisions; and the whole summer before them in which to make the trip.

Imagination, such as is always rampant in the mind of a boy, did the rest. They could anticipate all manner of glorious adventures as taking place before their distant destination was reached.

Frank was ready to settle that matter without delay.

"I don't see any reason why we couldn't move out of here before night comes," he remarked. "Bluff could see to getting all our stuff aboard, while some of the rest accompanied me to buy the provisions. They'll deliver the stuff here right away; and then we can cut loose. We've got clothes and ammunition and all such things, including blankets for the crowd."

"Hurrah! I'll get a move on right away, and yank that lot of bags down here in a jiffy," declared Bluff, always ready to do things in a hurry.

"Well," remarked Mr. Whittaker, "I reckon you boys expect to have a great time of it this summer; and if I was some years younger I'd just like to be along with you. From the way you talk I rather imagine this isn't the first trip you four've taken in company."

At that the boys looked at each other and laughed.

"What the Outdoor Chums have gone through with would fill lots of books," Frank took occasion to remark; "and if I had the time I'd like to tell you a few of the good times we've had together. But we've got to get a hustle on if we want to drop down the river this afternoon; because there's always lots to do at the last minute. Off you go, Bluff; and Will, you come with me. I think Jerry had better help Bluff manage the luggage."

And so they separated, each couple going about the business in hand with the energy boys can always display when they expect to have a good time.

"Be mighty careful with my camera case," called out Will, after the others. "If anything happened to that tool of mine, you'd never hear the last of it. And then, however would we get any pictures of the queer things that happen by the way? I expect to snap off some striking views of you fellows doing stunts. Remember some of the ones we've got in the album at home?"

"Just forget about them right now," answered Bluff, who knew that he himself figured in not a few of them, often in rather undignified attitudes, for instance where the wide-awake artist had happened to catch him sitting astride a limb, with an angry bull below.

Within two hours they had come back again to the boatyard; and Bluff, with the help of Jerry, managed to get aboard all their traps, brought from home.

"Good, there's going to be plenty of room," Bluff declared, as he tugged several of the last bundles up the gang-plank leading to the deck of the boat; "because we carry enough duffle to sink a small boat-guns, cooking utensils, blankets, clothes bags with changes of woolens, photographic stuff by the bushel. And there come Frank and Will, loaded to the gunwales with packages, too."

"Is that all the grub we're going to stack up with, for a voyage that may take four or six weeks?" demanded Jerry, in dismay, when the newcomers put their packages down aboard the houseboat.

"Oh! dear me, no," said Will; "these are only the little extras we picked up on the way here; fruit and cakes, and some things we happened to forget in the grocery. The wagon-load will be along shortly now."

"That sounds about right," declared Jerry. "Honest, now, I'm that hungry a wagon-load of grub has the proper sort of ring, because I think I can make away with the entire collection at a sitting. Bring on your whole ham, and a dozen or two fried eggs. Think of the delicious coffee our friend Bluff here used to make, when he got his hand in. Oh! how can I wait till we're afloat, for supper to come along?"

"Well, there's the wagon right now," said Frank; "so we needn't be long in having Mr. Whittaker set us afloat on the river. After that some of us will have to man the big sweep here, and guide the boat."

"And think of us wise ones figuring on having an engine to do all the work?" exclaimed Jerry, throwing up his hands. "But Bluff here has got a nice little surprise for you, boys."

"What is it, Bluff?" asked Will, eagerly.

"It's about a name for our new craft," replied the other, with a knowing look on his face. "You see, we had it all made up to call her the Paragon or perhaps the Wanderer. But, fellows, after setting my eyes on the condition of affairs here, it struck me that names like those would be sort of out of order. And while Jerry was waiting to see the rest of our things loaded on the wagon, I just stepped into a paint shop, and had him fix me up something on a neat little board. This goes over the door here, and can be read half a mile away. Now, hold your breath, boys!"

With that he began to undo a package he had brought, and which was carefully tied up in brown paper. Whipping the long narrow board free, presently Bluff held it up to the very spot where he had declared he meant to fasten it with nails. And as the others read what he had had painted on the signboard, they gave a shout of appreciation, for the name seemed to just hit the right chord.

It was "Pot Luck!"

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