SWEPT OUT TO SEA
Or Clint Webb Among the Whalers
W. BERT FOSTER
Author of The Frozen Ship; or, Clint Webb Among the Sealers. From Sea to Sea; or, Clint Webb on the Windjammer. The Ocean Express; or, Clint Webb and the Sea Tramp
Chicago M. A. Donohue & Co.
Copyright 1913 by M. A. Donohue & Company
I—In Which My Cousin and I Have a Serious Falling Out 7 II—In Which is Shown the Result of a Bad Beginning 15 III—In Which I am Anxious to Learn the Particulars of a Matter of Fourteen Years Standing 22 IV—In Which Ham Mayberry Reveals His Suspicions 34 V—In Which the Old Coachman Goes Somewhat Into Details 43 VI—In Which is Related a Conversation With My Mother 49 VII—In Which I Put Two and Two Together—and Sleep Aboard the Wavecrest 57 VIII—In Which An Expected Comedy Proves to be a Tragedy 65 IX—In Which I See the Day Dawn Upon a Deserted Ocean 72 X—In Which I Find a Most Remarkable Haven 82 XI—In Which I Am a Terrified Witness of a Wonderful Phenomenon 92 XII—In Which I Find Myself Bound for Southern Seas 107 XIII—In Which Tom Anderly Relates a Story That Arouses My Interest 119 XIV—In Which I Hear for the First Time the Whalers' Battle-Cry 133 XV—In Which We "Strike On" 142 XVI—In Which There is Some Information and Much Excitement 150 XVII—In Which I Come Very Near Going Out of the Story 159 XVIII—In Which We Realize the "Grind" of the Whaleman's Life 164 XIX—In Which is Reported a Series of Misadventures 172 XX—In Which Our Chapter of Bad Luck is Continued 180 XXI—In Which the Wavecrest Sets Sail Again 186 XXII—In Which We Sail the Silver River and I See a Face I Know 193 XXIII—In Which I begin to Wonder "Is It Me, or Is It Not Me?" 198 XXIV—In Which I Get Acquainted With Captain Adoniram Tugg 208 XXV—In Which I Follow the Beckoning Finger of a Spectre 215 XXVI—In Which the Sea Spell Goes Ashore on a Most Unfriendly Coast 222 XXVII—In Which We Find the Natives More Unfriendly Than the Coast 232 XXVIII—In Which are Related Several Disappointments 239 XXIX—In Which I Am Not the Only Person Surprised 245 XXX—In Which I at Last Set My Face Homeward with Determination 253
SWEPT OUT TO SEA or CLINT WEBB AMONG THE WHALERS
IN WHICH MY COUSIN AND I HAVE A SERIOUS FALLING OUT
The wind had died to just a breath, barely filling the canvas of the Wavecrest. We were slowly making the mouth of the inlet at Bolderhead after a day's fishing. Occasionally as the fitful breeze swooped down the sloop made a pretty little run, then she'd sulk, with the sail flapping, till another puff came. I lay in the stern with my hand on the tiller, half asleep, while Paul Downes, my cousin, was stretched forward of the mast, wholly in dreamland. A little roll of the sloop as she tacked, almost threw him into the water and he awoke with a snarl and sat up.
"For goodness sake! aren't we in yet?" he demanded, crossly. "What you been doing for the last hour Clint Webb? We're no nearer the inlet now than we were then, I swear!"
That was a peculiarity about Paul. He was addicted to laying the faults of even inanimate objects to the charge of other people; and as for himself personally, he was never in the wrong! Now he felt that he must have somebody on whom to vent his vexation—and hunger; I was used to being that scapegoat, and it was seldom that I paid much attention to his snarling. On this particular occasion, I said, calmly:
"Now, Paul, you know very well that I hold no position with the Meteorological Bureau, and therefore you shouldn't lay the sins of the weather to me."
"Huh! ain't you smart?" he grunted.
You see, Paul had awakened in rather a quarrelsome frame of mind while—well, I was hungry, too (it was long past our dinner hour) and so felt in a tantalizing mood. If we had not been at just these odds on this lovely September evening, the incidents which follow might never have occurred. Out of this foolish beginning of a quarrel came a chain of circumstances which entirely changed the current of my life. Had I held my tongue I would have been saved much sorrow and peril, and many, many regrets.
"I'm smart—I admit it," said I, cooly; "but I can't govern the wind. We'll get in by bedtime."
"And nothing to eat aboard," growled Paul.
"There's the fish you caught," said I, chuckling.
Paul had had abominable luck all day, the only thing he landed being what we Bolderhead boys called a "grunter"—a frog-mouthed fish of most unpleasant aspect and of absolutely no use as food. All it did when he shook it off his hook in disgust was to swell up like a toy balloon and emit an objective grunt whenever it was poked. Funny, but these "grunters" always reminded me of Paul.
Now, at my suggestion, my cousin broke into another tirade of abuse of the Wavecrest, and what he termed my carelessness. I didn't care much what he said about me, and I suppose there was some reason for his criticism; I should not have gone outside the inlet without more than just a bite of luncheon in the cuddy. But when he referred to my bonnie sloop as "an old tub" and said it wasn't rigged right and that I didn't know how to sail her, then—well, I leave it to you if it wouldn't have made you huffy? You know how it is yourself. Wait till the next fellow makes disparaging remarks about your bicycle, for instance or your motor cycle, or canoe, or what-not, and see how you feel!
"What's the use of talking that way, Paul?" I demanded, interrupting him. "You know the Wavecrest is by far the lightest-footed craft of her class in Bolderhead Harbor."
"No such thing!" he declared. "She's a measly, good-for-nothing old tub."
"All I've got to say is that you're a bad judge of tubs," said I.
"You're a fool!" he exclaimed, and jumped up.
"Now, you know, Paul, if your opinion was of any consequence at all I should be angry," I replied, still with exaggerated calmness.
"I'm going to take the skiff and row ashore," said he. "You can bring your old tub in when you like."
"Thank you; but I guess not! I'd gladly be relieved of your company; but I shall want to get ashore myself some time tonight," I rejoined.
"I tell you I'm going ashore!" cried Paul, coming aft to where the painter was hitched.
"Get away!" I commanded, my own temper rising. "You're not going to leave me without means of landing after we reach our buoy."
"Oh, somebody will see you and take you off," he said, selfishly.
"Maybe somebody will; then again, maybe they won't."
"I'll come out for you after dinner," he said, with a grin that I knew meant he had no such intention.
"Get away from that painter!" I commanded. "You forced your company on me today—I didn't invite you to go fishing—"
"The sloop's as much mine as yours," he growled.
"I'd like to know how you figure that out?" returned I, in amazement.
"When your mother bought it she told father it was for us to use together; but of course you always 'hog' everything."
Now I knew that my mother never would have said what he claimed; but I was angry with her for the moment because of her good natured invitation to Paul to use my personal property. The Wavecrest was my dearest possession. As the saying is, there was more salt water in my veins than blood; our folks had all been sailors—my father's people, I mean—and I was enamored of the sea and sea-going.
When mother built our summer cottage on the Neck I knew how 'twould be. I foresaw that her brother-in-law and his son (Aunt Alice was dead some years then) would live with us about half the time; but that mother should have said anything to give Paul ground for his statement, rasped me sorely.
"Let me tell you, Paul Downes," said I, sharply, "that no person has any right in this boat but myself, unless I invite them; and I'll inform you right now that this is the last trip you'll ever take in her with my permission."
"Is that so?" sneered Paul.
"That's so—and you can make the best of it."
"Well, who wants to go out in your old tub?" he burst forth. "Goodness knows, I don't. But I'm going ashore right now and you can come in when you like."
He started to untie the painter. Somehow his perversity made me furious.
"Drop it!" I repeated; "you're not going to leave this sloop till I do—unless you swim ashore."
"Well, you just try stopping me," he snarled, his temper getting the better for the moment of his usual caution. Paul was a bigger and heavier, as well as an older fellow than I; but he had never dared try fisticuffs with me.
I sprang up and let the tiller bang. Luckily there was so little wind that the sloop took no harm. "Get away from there!" I cried.
"I tell you I am going ashore now."
"I am; and it won't be healthy for you to try to stop me, Clint Webb."
I know very well that this is a bad way to begin my story; I expect you will be disgusted with me right at the start. But what am I to do? I have started out to narrate the incidents which occurred and the various changes that have come into my life since this very September evening; and truth compels me to begin with this quarrel. For from this time dated the purpose which inspired my future life.
So, I hope that the reader will bear with me, even though I introduce much the worse side of my character first. Facts are stubborn things, and I have in this introduction to set down some very stubborn and unpleasant facts.
I sprang up, as I say, and left the tiller, and as Paul seemed to have no intention of obeying me, I advanced upon him threateningly. We were both enraged.
"Take your hand off that rope," said I, earnestly. "Get away! I mean it."
His reply was a foul word. His eyes were blazing and he grew dark under his skin like his father, as his wrath rose. I had always believed that there was Indian blood in the veins of Mr. Chester Downes. I was so near Paul that I had to step back to gather force for a blow, and as I retreated he suddenly kicked me. It was a mean trick—a foul blow and worthy of Paul Downes. Had I not stepped back as I did he might have broken my shin bone, for he wore heavy boots. As it was, the toe of his boot caught me just below the knee-cap and I could not stifle a cry of pain.
However, the kick did not stop the blow I landed straight from the shoulder and it gave me some satisfaction, even at the time, to note that Paul's howl of agony was much louder than mine as he picked himself up from the other end of the cockpit.
IN WHICH IS SHOWN THE RESULT OF A BAD BEGINNING
Paul's face was convulsed with passion, and when he was in a rage he lost all control to his tongue, using language that was simply frightful from a boy brought up in a decent home. And at this particular time he was so enraged that he forgot to be afraid! He rushed at me the instant he regained his feet, his arms beating the air like those of a windmill. He was a lubberly fellow at best and the sloop, with the tiller swinging as it listed, was kicking and jumping like a restive pony. I squared off at him in proper form, and when he came within reach I landed a second blow which likewise sent him to the deck.
I glanced hurriedly about. The Wavecrest was some distance from any of the other craft beating into the harbor. The sun had set long since and the moon, a great, round target of silver, was rising out of the sea, its light shimmering across the heaving liquid plain. A more peaceful scene one could scarcely imagine, and somehow it took the heat of passion out of me.
"Hold on, Paul! we mustn't fight like this," I said, as he rose again, the blood running from his nose and his cheek swollen as though he had a walnut in it.
"You're goin' to crawl now, are ye?" he yelled.
"It's foolish and wicked for us to act like this," said I, hastily. "What will your father and my mother say?"
"I don't care what they say!" he shouted, wildly. "I'll make you wish you'd never struck me, Clint Webb."
He sprang aft again. I caught the glimmer of moonlight upon something he clutched in his hand. "What are you doing, Paul?" I cried.
But he plunged toward me, his dark features writhing in passion. At the moment Paul Downes was a murderer at heart; although I believed I could beat him in any fair fight, the weapon in his hand frightened me.
"Put it down, Paul! Put it down!" I begged of him. But he was on top of me in a breath and we rolled over and over in the sloop's cockpit. Why it was that he did not seriously injure me, I cannot tell to this day! He struck at me viciously a dozen times; but by a miracle I escaped even a scratch.
Suddenly I caught his wrist, twisting it so that the open claspknife shot out of his hand. The relief I felt at this must have renewed my strength. In another instant I had rolled him over upon his face and knelt upon him so that he could not move. There was a piece of codline in my pocket and I had his wrists knotted behind him in short order—nor was I particular whether I hurt him, or not! Then I stood up and rolled him over with my foot.
"There!" I panted; "if ever a fellow deserved jailing, you're that fellow, Paul Downes."
"I'll fix you for this! I'll fix you for this!" he kept blubbering.
I was bruised and lame myself (especially where Paul had kicked me in the leg) and now I discovered that my right coatsleeve was slit from the shoulder to the wrist. I had just escaped suffering a dangerous wound.
"Aren't you a pretty fellow?" I said, showing him this rent.
"I wish I'd got you!" he snarled so viciously that I was really startled.
"You won't feel that way when you cool down," I said.
"I won't cool down. I'll get square with you for this if I wait ten years," he declared.
"You're for all the world like your father," I said, hotly; "and he's as revengeful a person as I ever saw."
"Is that so?" retorted Paul. "Well, he isn't like your father was—he had to commit suicide to get out of trouble——"
"What do you mean?" I cried, amazed.
But Paul bit his lip and fell silent. He nevertheless looked at me with so threatening a scowl that, had he not been tied hard and fast, I should have been on the lookout for another cowardly attack.
"What nonsense is that you said?" I repeated. "What do you know about my father?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?" returned my cousin, sullenly.
I recovered myself then, believing he was only trying to fret me. "You needn't talk nonsense," I said. "If you mean to say that my father made way with himself, why you're simply silly! Everybody knows that he was drowned while fishing, over there off White Rock."
"So everybody knows it, hey?" he responded, with a most exasperating air of knowing something that I didn't know. "All right. I'm glad that folks know so much. But let me tell you, Clint Webb, that you and your ma'd be paupers now if he hadn't got drowned as he did. It was the only thing he could do."
"You'd better drop it," I advised him, scornfully. "You'd much better be thinking of what will happen to you because of this evening's work. You can't bother me by any such silly talk."
"Oh, I can't hey?" he snarled in a tone that, defenceless as he was, tempted me to kick him.
But just then the sail of the sloop began to fill. I ran to the tiller and brought her head around. A little breeze had sprung up and the Wavecrest was under good way again. In a few moments we passed the light at the entrance to the harbor, and tacked for our anchorage. My mother's property did not include shore rights, so we had no private landing at which to tie the sloop, but moored her at a buoy in the quiet cove near the ferry dock.
"What do you mean to do with me?" asked Paul, having been mighty quiet for the last few minutes.
"I'm going to march you up to the house and hand you over to your father. And if I have any influence with mother at all, both you and he will pack your dunnage and leave in the morning."
He fell silent again until I had dropped the sail and picked up our float. When the Wavecrest was fast he asked more meekly:
"Aren't you going to take this cord off my wrist?"
"No. You're going up to the house in just that fix."
"I won't do it!" he cried with a sudden burst of rage.
"Then you'll stay here while I go up and tell them where you are."
He didn't like that idea, either, and whined: "Don't be so mean, Clint. I don't want to go up to the house this way. What will folks think?"
"'What will folks think?'" I repeated in amazement. "I s'pose that's the first thing you'd worried about if you'd cut me with that knife."
He said no more, but he gave me a threatening look which, had I been of a nervous temperament, might have kept me awake nights. When I drew the tender alongside he stepped in without further urging and sat down in the stern. I rowed ashore. Fortunately for the tender feelings of my cousin there wasn't a soul in sight when we landed. I fastened the boat, and then, with the oars on my shoulder and the slack of the codline in my hand, start him up the shell road.
"Let me go, Clint," he begged again.
"Not for Joe!"
"Then you'll be sorry the longest day you live," he cried, his ugly face suddenly convulsed.
And he was right; but I did not believe it at the time.
IN WHICH I AM ANXIOUS TO LEARN THE PARTICULARS OF A MATTER OF FOURTEEN YEARS STANDING
My mother's summer home was built upon the highest point of Bolderhead Neck and commanded a view of both the ocean and the inlet, or harbor, around which Old Bolderhead was built.
My mother's early life had not been spent near the water; her people dwelt inland. My maternal grandfather owned half a township and was a very influential man. Naturally my mother had lived in affluence during her girlhood and it was considered by her friends a great mistake on her part when she married my father. He was a ship's surgeon when they were married and his only income was derived from the practise of his profession. He established himself as a physician in Bolderhead after the wedding; they lived simply, and I was their only child.
Grandfather didn't forgive mother for marrying a poor man. The old gentleman didn't get along well with his relatives, anyway. He hadn't liked the man his oldest daughter married, Mr. Chester Downes. When I grew old enough to understand the character of Mr. Downes I could not blame grandfather for his bad opinion of the man! Aunt Alice dying before grandfather, Mr. Downes could never hope to handle much of grandfather's money. There was a sum set aside for Paul in grandfather's will. And even that Mr. Downes could not touch; it was tied up until Paul was of age. After several large charities had been remembered in the will the residue of the property had come to my mother. As I understood it I was but two years old when grandfather died, and my own father was drowned three weeks after grandfather's burial.
We had gone to live at once in mother's old home; but she had a tender feeling for Bolderhead, and as I grew older and evinced such a love for the sea, she had built our summer home here.
Mother was one of those dependent, timid women, who seem unable to decide any matter for themselves. Not that she wasn't the very best mother that ever lived! But she was easily influenced by other people. As I grew older and began to understand what went on more clearly, I knew that Chester Downes possessed a stronger influence over mother than was good for either her or me. He was her confidant in business matters, too.
Being brought up in the same inland town together, my cousin Paul and I naturally saw a good deal of each other. Frankly I saw altogether too much of him—and I told my mother so. But Mr. Downes was all the time coming to the house—especially to the Bolderhead cottage—and bringing Paul with him.
I felt that they were steadily and insidiously influencing mother against me. We were drifting apart. Mother had through them acquired the belief that I was a rude and untrustworthy fellow, and she feared my boatmen companions were weaning me from her. Whereas I kept away from the house because the Downeses were there. I couldn't stand so much of them.
But on this evening I was determined that matters should come to a head. I saw my way clear, I believed, through Paul's vicious attack upon me, to rid the house of the Downeses for good and all.
As we came up the hill I saw that my mother, and doubtless Mr. Downes, were in the drawing room. It was long past the dinner hour. I drove Paul up onto the veranda and towards a French window that opened into the illuminated room. He began to hang back again.
"S'pose there's somebody there?" he said.
"That'll be the worse for you," I responded, callously. "Come on!"
I unlatched the window, held aside the draperies, and pushed him into the room before me. My mother and his father were the only persons present.
"Why, boys! how late you are," said my pretty mother, looking up from the lacework in her lap. Her fingers were always busy. "Were you becalmed outside? You must be awfully hungry. Ring for James, Clinton, and he will fix you up something nice in the pantry." Then she saw Paul's bound wrists, his bruised face, and our disarranged clothing. "What is the matter?" she cried, starting to her feet.
Mr. Downes had observed us too, and he broke in with: "What is the meaning of this outrage, Clinton Webb? My son's wrists lashed together! How dare you, sir?"
"I tied him up, Mr. Downes," I explained before Paul could get in a word; "but I turn him over to your now, sir, and if you wish to release him you may."
"Why—why—Whoever heard of such insolence?" sputtered Mr. Downes. "You see, Mary, what this young ruffian has done to poor Paul? Stand still, will you?" he added, jerking Paul around as he tried to untie the cod line. Paul began to snivel; I reckon his father pulled the line so tight that it cut into the flesh.
"See what he has done, Mary?" repeated my angry uncle, finally pulling out his pocketknife and cutting the cord. "Look at Paul's face! What have I told you about that boy?" and he pointed a bony and accusing index finger at me.
"Clinton! Clinton!" cried mother. "What have you done?"
Her question cut me to the quick. It showed me how deeply she had been impressed by Mr. Downes' calumnies. Her first thought was that I was at fault—that I had been the aggressor.
"You can see what I have done to him," said I, a little sullenly, I fear. "We got into a row on the boat coming in, and that is how he came by his bruises. But I tied him up because I didn't fancy being slit up like a codfish with this thing," and I drew the claspknife—a regular sailor's "gully"—from my coat pocket and tossed it, open, upon the table.
Mother screamed and shuddered, and sank back into her chair again.
"You needn't be scared," I said, more tenderly, crossing to her side and putting my arm across her shoulders. "I'm not hurt at all. He only slit my coat sleeve!"
Mr. Downes glanced from his son's swollen and disfigured face to my flapping coatsleeve, and fear came into his own countenance. He knew something about the ungovernable rages into which Paul frequently flew. He was obliged to wet his lips with s tongue before he could speak:
"You will not believe this horrible, scandalous story, Mary! Why—why—The boy is beside himself!"
"I think Paul was," I said, gravely. "We were both angry—I admit that. But I used nothing but my fists on him."
"Paul! Why don't you speak up and deny this charge?"
"I—I never struck him with the knife," said my cousin, sullenly. "He—he tied my arms and then he—he slit the coat himself. I—I never touched him."
He lied so clumsily that even my innocent and horrified mother could not believe him. But Mr. Dowries tried to make out that he believed Paul.
"Listen to that, Mary!" he blustered. "Did you ever hear of such depravity—such viciousness? A plot to ruin my boy in your eyes—a cowardly plot!"
"It is no plot, Mr. Downes, and you know it," I said. "But I am going to use the circumstance to a purpose which for some time I have longed to accomplish. You and Paul will leave my mother's house—and leave it at once!"
"Clinton!" gasped mother, seizing my hand.
"There, Madam!" cried Mr. Downes, furiously. "He has just as good as admitted it is a conspiracy. Nefarious! He has invented this story——"
"Mr. Downes," I interrupted, my anger rising, "you have done everything you could to prejudice mother against me. Is it any wonder that I desire to see the last of you and your precious son?"
"Clinton! Clinton! My dear son," mother begged. "Don't be so passionate."
"I never was more calm in my life," I responded, firmly. "But these two shall not stay in our house another night, mother."
She burst into tears. Mr. Downes stepped nearer and his sneering look would have enraged me at another time. But I felt that I had the whip-hand and held myself in.
"Fortunately," he said, "your will, young man, is not law here. It is not in your power to put us out of your mother's home."
"You are mistaken," I replied, still quietly. "I have that power."
"You are a minor, sir," said Mr. Downes, loftily. "I brand your ridiculous story as false. It would be quite within your character to have cut your coat sleeve as Paul says. I will not even believe that that is his knife——"
He stretched out his hand to take it from the table but I was too quick for him. "No, you don't!" I said. "That is too valuable a bit of evidence for you to get hold of. Even Paul will not deny owning the knife. I know where he bought it and I can find the man who engraved his initials on the blade."
"Very well planned indeed," sneered Mr. Downes, but I sternly interrupted:
"Mr. Downes, again I tell you that you must leave this house. You and Paul shall never again live under the same roof with me."
"When I hear your mother say this——"
"This is a matter which my mother will not have to decide," I assured him, and without looking at her although I had returned to my place by her side.
"And why should we obey your behest, young man?"
"If you don't leave I shall go out at once and swear out a warrant against Paul for assault with this knife. And I'll have the warrant served, too."
"Oh, Clinton!" sobbed my mother. "Don't think of such a thing."
"As sure as I live it shall be done, unless they go."
"Think of the publicity!" said my mother, clinging to my hand.
"Yes," I rejoined, bitterly. "And think what might have happened if he'd got me with that knife."
"You—you——" gasped Mr. Downes. "You are your father right over again!"
"Thank you; I consider that a compliment."
"You wouldn't consider it such if you knew as much about him as I do," he muttered.
"Now that will do!" I exclaimed, losing my self-control on the instant. "I've heard enough insinuations regarding father from Paul tonight. I won't stand any more of that talk, I warn you both!"
"Clinton!" murmured mother, with a very white face, while Downes turned upon his son in a sudden rage.
"What have you been saying—you fool?" he snarled. Paul was quite cowed before his sudden wrath.
"Paul may be diffident about saying," I observed. "But I'll tell you. He says my father committed suicide, and that if he hadn't done so my mother and I would be paupers today."
I never saw a man's countenance express such changes of emotion within so short a time. From anger to fear—and back again—was such a swift transition that it startled me. I began from that moment to wonder very much what the mystery was which surrounded my father's death fourteen years before!
But the next instant my attention was recalled to my mother. For a moment she sat motionless. Now she started up from her chair with a little cry.
"What is it, mother?" I cried, in alarm. Had I not caught her she would have fallen to the floor.
"Now, see what you have done!" snarled Mr. Downes. "You have over-excited her. Get out of the way, boy——"
I gave him a look that halted him. Had he touched my mother then I would have been at his throat! Exerting all my strength I picked her up bodily and carried her to the nearest couch. The bell push was at hand and I rang for her maid. The woman responded immediately and James was right behind her in the hall.
"Attend to your mistress, Marie," I said. "And James!"
"Yes, sir," said the big butler, coming to the door.
"Order the carriage at once and see that Mr. Downes' bags are brought down. They are leaving immediately."
The butler's face was perfectly impassive. Mr. Downes broke into a nasty laugh.
"James will do nothing of the sort," he said. "I think too much of my sister to leave the house while she is so unwell. What do you think, Marie? Is it serious? Shall I telephone for Dr. Eldridge?"
"I do not know, Monsieur," replied the French woman, anxiously. "She has been frightened—ees eet not?"
"This young reprobate would frighten anybody!" cried Mr. Downes, blusteringly.
"James," I said again, "do as I have told you. Tell Ham to bring the carriage around inside of half an hour and to drive wherever Mr. Downes shall direct. The ferry is not running at this hour, or I would not trouble him."
The butler glanced from my mother's death-white face to Mr. Downes. He did not so much as favor me with a look, but with sphynx-like composure left the room. To tell the truth I hadn't the least idea whether he would obey me, or Mr. Downes.
IN WHICH HAM MAYBERRY REVEALS HIS SUSPICIONS
Mr. Downes continued to bluster and Paul hung sullenly about the drawing room. I had got through with both of them, however. Whether the butler—and the other servants—backed me up, or not, I believed that I had the whip-hand.
Marie helped me bear my mother to her room. It troubled me greatly to see her pretty face so pale and deathlike, and her eyes closed. I hurried to the telephone and called up Dr. Eldridge, who was an old friend of our family as well as our physician. I felt better when I heard his voice over the wire and knew that he would soon be at the house.
Then I turned to get my hat and coat. I looked into the drawing room to give Mr. Downes one more chance. He had been talking to his son in a low voice, but with emphasis; and I could see by Paul's countenance that the "calling down" he had received from his father was a serious one.
"I warn you for the last time, Mr. Downes, that I am going to Justice of the Peace Ringold just as soon as the doctor gets here to attend my mother," I said.
"You don't dare do any such thing, you young scoundrel!" roared Mr. Chester Downes, and he actually sprang across the room at me. He was a tall and bony man and I knew very well that I should fare ill in his hands. I dodged back, found the imperturbable James in my way and as I sidestepped him, too, Mr. Downes came face to face with the impassive butler in the doorway.
"Beg pardon, sir," James said, quietly. "Hamilton has the horses harnessed and awaits your pleasure, sir."
"You—you—" stammered Mr. Downes, evidently as much surprised that the butler had obeyed me as I could possibly be!
"The carriage is waiting, sir," explained James, just as though the occasion was an ordinary one. "Shall I bring down your bags, sir?"
"No! I don't want our bags brought down!" cried Mr. Downes. "This is an outrage. And let me tell you, you dunderhead," he added to James, "this will cost you your position."
The butler's voice did not change in the least. "Shall I bring down your bags, sir?" he asked once more.
"Yes!" cried Mr. Downes, changing his mind very suddenly. "We will go up and pack them. But this is a sorry day for this house when we leave it in such a way," he said, his threat hissing through his clenched teeth as his glowing eyes sought my face in the hall. "And it is a sorry day for you, you young villain! Remember this."
"You threaten a good deal like your son, Mr. Downes," I said, unable to resist a mild "gloat." "But he couldn't carry out his threat; I wonder if you will be better able to compass your revenge?"
He said nothing further, but dashed up stairs. Paul lagged behind him and James, without a word to me, and with the attitude and manner of the well-trained servant, followed sedately and stood outside of their rooms waiting for the bags.
I stepped out upon the side porch and saw Ham Mayberry, our coachman (he had driven my father in his little chaise the two years that he had practised in Bolderhead) sitting upon the box of the closed carriage. Of all the people who worked for mother about the Bolderhead cottage, I knew that Ham would take my part against the Downeses. Ham and I were old cronies.
And I believed that I could thank Ham for the butler's espousal of my cause on this present occasion. Ham had a deal of influence with the other servants, having been with us before mother was willed the great Darringford property.
Ham turned his head when I called to him in a low voice.
"Watch what they do and where they go, Ham," I told him. "I want to see you when you come back."
"Aye, aye, sir!" he returned in his sailorlike way; for in Bolderhead if you ask your direction of a man on the street he'll lay a course for you as though you were at sea. Ham Mayberry, like most of the other male inhabitants of the old town, had been a deep-sea sailor.
I heard the quick, angry step of Mr. Downes descending the stairs then, and I slipped out of the way. I didn't want any more words with him, if I could help. They were leaving the house—and I meant it should be for good. That satisfied me.
I heard Paul follow him out upon the porch, and then James came with the baggage. The carriage rolled briskly away just as Dr. Eldridge's little electric wagon steamed up to the other door. The doctor—who was a plump, bald, pink-faced man—trotted up the steps and I let him into the house myself.
"Well, well, Clint Webb!" he demanded. "What have you been doing to that little mother of yours now?"
But he said it in a friendly way. Dr. Eldridge knew well enough that I never intended to cause mother a moment's anxiety. And I believed that I could take him into my confidence—to an extent, at least. I did not tell him how Paul had tried to knife me in the Wavecrest; but I repeated what had really caused my mother's becoming so suddenly ill.
"Ha!" he jerked out, as he got himself out of his tight, light overcoat and picked up his case again from the hall settee. "The least said about that time before her the better. Tut, tut! the least said the better."
And so saying he marched up stairs to her room, leaving me more eager than ever to learn the particulars regarding my father's death. Now, I had lived some sixteen years up to this very evening and had never heard anything but the simplest and plainest story of my father's unfortunate death. But even the doctor spurred my awakened curiosity now.
What did it mean? I had been told by my mother, by Ham, and by other people as I grew up, that Dr. Webb had rowed out in a dory to fish off White Rock, a particularly good local fishing ground for blackfish. Some hours later a passing fishing party discovered the empty dory, bobbing up and down at the end of its kedge cable. The fishing lines were out. My father's hat was in the boat, and his watch lay upon a seat as though he had taken it out and put it beside him so as not to forget when to row back to attend to his patients. It was a fine timepiece, had belonged to his father, and I wear it myself now on "state and date" occasions.
But the fishermen saw no other sign of the doctor. It was plain he had fallen overboard. With the current as it is about White Rock it was no wonder that the body was never recovered.
The story seemed plain enough. There was nothing that could be added to it. That there was any mystery about my father's death I could not believe. And the suggestion that Paul Downes had made I utterly scoffed at!
Yet I wanted to see Ham Mayberry before I went to sleep that night.
Dr. Eldridge came down after a long time, and his pink, fat face was very serious. "How is she?" I asked him, eagerly.
"She's all right—for the night," he replied. But his gravity did not leave him—which was strange. The doctor was a most sanguine practitioner and usually brought a spirit of cheerfulness with him into any home where there was illness. "Clint," he said, "you want to be careful of that little mother of yours."
"My goodness, Doctor!" I exclaimed. "You don't suppose that I had anything to do with this business tonight? That I brought it about?"
"If you have another row with your cousin—or words with his father—have it all outside the house. She is in a very nervous state. She must not be worried. Friction in the household is bad for her. And—well, I'll drop in again and see her tomorrow."
What he said frightened me. When he had gone I went up and tapped on the door. But Marie would not let me in the room.
"She is resting now, Master Clin-tone," said the French woman, and then shut the door in my face.
I couldn't have slept then had I gone to bed. Beside, I was determined to talk with Ham when he came back. I wandered down stairs again and James, the butler, beckoned me into the dining room. At one end of the table he had laid a cloth and he made me sit down and eat a very tasty supper that had been prepared for me in the kitchen. This was an attention I had not expected. It served to bolster up my belief that I had some influence in my mother's house, after all!
By and by I heard Ham drive in and I went out to the stables. We kept no footman, Ham doing all the stablework. I helped him unharness Bob and Betty, while he told me where he had taken the Downeses. There was a small hotel in the old part of the town, and my uncle and Paul had gone there for the night.
"They'll probably attack the fortifications on the morrow, Master Clint—or, them's my prognostications," remarked Ham, in conclusion.
"Meaning they'll come over here and try to see mother?" I asked.
"Then they're not to be let in, Ham. I want them kept out. Dr. Eldridge says she should not be disturbed. I mean to see that his orders are obeyed."
"And I'm glad to see ye take the bit in your teeth, sir," exclaimed the coachman, with emphasis. "It's time ye did so."
"What do you mean, Ham?" I demanded, curiously.
The old man—he was past sixty, but hale and hearty still—came out of Bob's stall and put his grizzled face close to mine while he stared into my eyes in the dim light of the stable lantern.
"List ye, Master Clint," he said. "'Tis my suspicion that that same scaley Chester Downes has it in his mind to get rid of you—to put ye away from your mother altogether—to make her believe ye air a bad egg, in fact. 'Tis time he and that precious b'y of his was put off the place. Ye've done right this night, Clint Webb, if ye never done so before."
IN WHICH THE OLD COACHMAN GOES SOMEWHAT INTO DETAILS
Ordinarily it might seem that a servant taking it upon himself to so plainly state his opinion of family matters, should be admonished. But Hamilton Mayberry was just as much my friend as he was our hired coachman. He had been my father's friend. He had served in the same ship as my father long before he came ashore to drive horses for Dr. Webb. And I verily believe the old man loved me as though I were his own blood.
Anyhow, I was too excited and worried on this night to think of any class distinction. Beside, among Bolderhead people, the master was considered no better than the man—if both behaved themselves, were honest, and attended church on the Sabbath!
So I opened my heart to Ham as we sat with our backs against the grain-chest, and told him all that had occurred on the Wavecrest as she drifted into the harbor that evening, and what had followed when I brought Paul Downes home with his hands tied behind his back.
"But what is puzzling me, Ham," I said, in conclusion, looking sideways into his shrewdly puckered face, "is what those Downes meant by hinting that there was something queer about father's death."
"Huh!" grunted Ham.
"What made that crazy Paul say he committed suicide, and that if he hadn't we'd have been paupers?"
"Huh!" said Ham again.
"And why should such a foolish remark," I added, "have frightened mother? For that is what brought about her fainting fit, I verily believe."
"Huh!" said the coachman for a third time, and then I got mad.
"Stop that, Ham!" I cried. "Don't you go about trying to mystify me. I want to know what they meant. I intend to find out what they meant. If you have any suspicion, tell it out."
"Well, Master Clint," he said gravely, "I don't blame you for being angry."
"Or being puzzled, either?" I put in.
"No, sir; nor for being puzzled. And I'm some puzzled myself. But I reckon Paul Downes was jest repeatin' what he'd heard his father say."
"That my poor father had to jump overboard from his dory, to save himself from trouble and mother and I from poverty? Why, it's preposterous!" I cried.
"So it is, sir," Ham assured me. "So it is. And nobody believes it—nobody that's got anything inside their heads but sawdust."
I started and grasped him by the arm. "Do you mean," I said, "that there was any such story told when my father was lost at sea?"
"Well, sir, you know that an oak-ball will smoke when you bust it atwixt your fingers—but there ain't no fire in it," grunted Ham, philosophically. "Folk says that there can't be smoke without some fire. The oak-ball disproves it. And it's so with gossip. Gossip is the only thing that don't really need a beginning. It's hatched without the sign of an egg——"
"Oh, hang your platitudes, Ham!" I cried. "Do you mean that there ever was such a story circulated?"
"There was!" I cried, horrified.
"It come about in this way," began Ham, calmly and quietly. And his speaking so soon brought me to a calmer mind. "It was your grandfather's will. I don't wish to say aught against the dead, sir," said Ham, "but if ever there was a cantankerous old curmudgeon on the face of this footstool, it was Simon Darringford! That was your grandfather."
"I know," said I, nodding. "He did not like my father."
"He hated him. He made his will so that your mother, his only living child, should not enjoy the property as long as your father lived—nor you, either. That's a fact, Master Clint. Ye see, he put the money jest beyond your mother's reach, and beyond your reach. He done it very skillfully. He had the best attorneys in Massachusetts draw the will. The courts wouldn't break it. You and your mother was doomed to poverty as long as your father lived."
"But Ham!" I cried in amazement and pain, "couldn't my father earn money enough to support us?"
"Not properly, sir," said Ham, in a low voice. "Not as your mother had been used to living. Don't forget that. The Doctor was as fine a man as ever stepped; but he wasn't a money-maker. He knowed more than any ten doctors in this county—old Doc Eldridge is a fool to him. But your father was easy, and he served the poor for nothing. He had ten non-paying patients to one that paid. And he was heavily in debt, and his debts were pressing, when he—he died."
"Ham!" I cried, leaping up again. "You—you believe there is some truth in the story Paul hinted at?"
"Naw, I don't!" returned the coachman, promptly. "But I tell you that there was a chance for busy-bodies to put this and that together and make out a case of suicide. His death, my poor boy, did make you and your mother wealthy—which you'd never been, in all probability, as long as your poor father remained alive."
I heard him with pain and with a deeper understanding of the reason for my mother's seizure that evening. My blurting out the statement that Paul had uttered when he was angry had undoubtedly shocked my mother terribly. She had heard these whispers years before—when my father's death was still an awful reality to her. What occurred in our drawing room that evening had brought that time of trial and sorrow back to her mind, and had resulted in the attack I have recounted. I understood it all then—or I thought I did—and I left Ham and finally sought my bed, determined more than ever to keep Chester Downes and his son out of the house and make it impossible in the future for them to cause any further trouble or misunderstanding between my mother and myself.
IN WHICH IS RELATED A CONVERSATION WITH MY MOTHER
Mother was better in the morning. I ascertained that fact from James, the butler. Marie, the Frenchwoman, seemed desirous of telling me nothing and—I thought—wished to keep me out of my mother's room.
But I hung about the house all the morning and, after the doctor had come and gone (and this time, I was glad to see, with a more cheerful face) I insisted on pushing into the room and speaking to mother myself.
Marie tossed her head and shrugged her shoulders when I insisted. "La, la!" she exclaimed, in her French way, "boys are so troublesome. Yes!"
Had it been any other servant, I should have said something sharp to her, in my newly acquired confidence. But she was mother's maid, and it was no business of mine if she was impertinent.
"Well, mother," I said, sitting down beside the bed and taking the hand she put out to me, "I hope you are better—the doctor says you are—and I hope you will forgive me for my part in the disgraceful scene we had down stairs last night. But I couldn't stand those Downeses any more and that's a fact!"
"Oh, Clinton! My dear boy! you are so impulsive and tempestuous," she murmured.
"I'll try to be as meek as Moses—a regular pussy cat around the house, hereafter," I returned, cheerfully.
"You are just like your father," she sighed.
"I'm proud to hear you say it," I returned, promptly. "For all I have ever heard about my father—save the hints that those two scoundrels have dropped—makes me believe that father was a man worthy of copying in every particular."
Mother squeezed my hand convulsively, exclaiming:
"Clinton! Clinton! You must not say such things."
"Pray tell me why not, mother?" I demanded, but I spoke quietly. "I won't say a word about Mr. Chester Downes and Paul, if it hurts your feelings for me to tell the truth about them. But I am bound to be angry if anybody maligns my father's memory."
"Oh, Chester would never do such a thing," mother gasped.
"Then, where did Paul pick up that old scandal to throw at me?" I demanded.
"What old scandal do you mean, Clinton?" she asked, faintly.
"Are you sure you wish to talk about it now, mother?" I asked, for I was troubled by what the doctor had said the night before.
"Better now than at any other time," she said, with some decision. "I suppose poor Paul heard some of the servants, or other people like that, repeating the story. Oh, Clinton! it almost broke my heart at the time. That anybody should think your father would contemplate taking his own life—it was awful. Of course, you do not remember."
"Well—hardly!" I exclaimed. But I was troubled again by the manner in which she spoke of Paul Downes. Hanged if she wasn't excusing my cousin!
"It was a very wretched time for me," said my mother, weakly. "I really do not know what I would have done had it not been for Chester. He came immediately, and he took charge of everything. I can never forget his kindness."
A sudden thought struck me, and I could not help putting the suspicion to the test. "Mother," I asked, "was father and Mr. Chester Downes very good friends?"
She looked startled again for an instant. I saw her smooth cheek flush and then turn pale again. My mother blushed as easily as any girl of fifteen.
"Why, Clinton, that is a strange question," she said.
"Not very strange, mother, when you consider that I believe my father was a mighty good pattern for his son to copy. If father trusted Mr. Chester Downes, I could be almost tempted to believe that I had injured that gentleman in my thoughts."
"You have, Clinton! you have!" she cried.
"I don't doubt you believe so mother," I said, quietly. "But how about father? What was his opinion of Aunt Alice's husband?"
"Why—you see, Clinton," she returned slowly and doubtfully, "Doctor Webb was not very well acquainted with Chester."
"He never came much to our house while the doctor was alive."
"And why not?" I asked.
"That—that would be hard to say," she said; but she was so confused that I felt that my mother, who was the soul of truth, found it hard to answer my question honestly.
"Well, I should have been glad of my father's opinion, at least," I said. "As it is," I added, "not having that to guide me, I must stick to my own."
"But you have mine, Clinton!" she cried.
"Indeed, I have!" I returned, smiling, "and I'd take it upon almost any other subject you could name, Mumsie! But you are prejudiced in favor of Mr. Downes."
"And you are prejudiced against him."
"I am, indeed," I admitted. "And am so prejudiced that I do not mean he shall ever interfere in my affairs again."
"Oh, Clinton!" she cried, "I do not see how you can speak so to me."
"Now, mother dear," I said, "I do not mean to be unfilial to you, or ungrateful for your kindness. But Paul Downes tried to stab me last night——"
"Oh!" she cried, and shrank and trembled.
"I hate to annoy you by bringing up such things, but I must show you that they cannot hang around here any more," I declared, firmly. "Paul hates me; his father has done his best to poison your mind against me. I have been in danger of my life, and in danger of losing your love and trust, through the Downeses——"
"No, no!" she said, to this last.
"I am afraid I am right," I said. "I know that I have kept away from the house a good deal this summer. I couldn't stay here and listen to that false man and be annoyed by that great, hulking boy of his. Now, let us be the good friends we always have been when the Downeses are at a distance."
"Oh, Clinton! my dear boy! I only live for you!" she cried, and began to sob so that I felt condemned to insist. But the occasion was serious. I knew—as Ham had warned me—that Chester Downes was lingering near and would soon attempt to see my mother again.
"Then, let us be more to each other, mother," I said, quietly.
"But I need your uncle to assist me," she said. "He can manage my business much better than I possibly can——"
"What's the matter with Mr. Hounsditch?" I demanded. "He was our lawyer and had been grandfather's lawyer, too."
"Mr. Hounsditch is an old man. He is behind the times. He cannot invest our money to such good advantage——"
"Who says so?" I asked, and she could not answer the pointed question without admitting what I had supposed—that Mr. Chester Downes put these opinions of the keen old lawyer into mother's head.
"I don't care much about the money, mother," I said. "I suppose we have plenty anyway, and the real estate cannot be sold at all till I am of age. But what property does come to me when I'm twenty-one, I'd rather not have Mr. Chester Downes handle. I'd rather trust to Mr. Hounsditch and accept small interest."
"Clinton! you are really ridiculous," cried mother, reddening again.
"Well, that's all right," I returned, laughing. "But you'll hear to me, mother, won't you? You won't bother about Chester Downes and Paul? Put it down that I am jealous of the influence they have over you, if you like. I don't care. Just let's you and I live together and be happy."
"That's all I live for—to make you happy, Clinton," said my mother, still sobbing like a child who has been injured.
"Then this request I make will be the only thing I'll ask you to do for me for a year, Mumsie!" I cried, calling her by the pet name I had used when I was a little fellow.
"Will it really make you so happy, my boy?" she asked, wistfully.
"Indeed it will," I declared. "And now I've bothered you long enough. I'll be around here if you want me. I shan't go out on the water today, or until you feel quite yourself again."
I went out of her room. Marie, the Frenchwoman, was just coming up the stairs. I saw her hide her hand with something in it under her apron. It was a square white object. I knew it was a letter. Mr. Chester Downes had been writing to my mother, and Marie was the go-between. She smiled, slyly, as she passed me and whisked into the room I had just left.
IN WHICH I PUT TWO AND TWO TOGETHER—AND SLEEP ABOARD THE WAVECREST
If for no other reason, that sly smile of my mother's French maid would have kept me at home that day. I was still strolling about the place, just before luncheon, when I saw Mr. Chester Downes' spare figure and his tall hat coming up the hill. I went down the path and met him at the steps which mounted the little terrace from the street to our lawn.
"Oh!" he ejaculated. "Are you here?"
"You are just in time to catch me as I was going out, Mr. Downes," I said. "What have you to say to me, sir?"
"Nothing, young man—nothing," he exclaimed.
"You certainly have not walked over here merely for the pleasure of looking at the house," I said, smartly.
"I have come to see your mother, sir. And I propose to see her," he said. "Last night I did not wish to make a disturbance while she was so ill. But I understand from Dr. Eldridge that she is much improved——"
"You are correct there, Mr. Downes," I said. "And she will continue to improve I hope. But whether she is well or ill, you cannot see her."
"Nonsense, boy! you are crazy. Do you know that I am a man, your uncle, and your mother's business agent? Bold as you are, sir, you are a minor."
"I never wanted to wish my life away before, sir," I said, gravely. "But I do sincerely wish that I was of age, Mr. Downes. However, I believe I shall be able to hold my own with you, sir. At least, I shall try. And if this is to be your course I shall know what to do. Before you get into that house to trouble my mother again, I'll place a guard around it."
"You talk ridiculously. You cannot do such a thing."
"No, perhaps not. And fortunately, I shan't have to take such extreme measures. I have a better way of keeping you off the premises."
"You would not dare do what you threatened last night, Clinton Webb," he said, his voice shaking with anger.
"You pass me and go up to that door, and see whether I dare or not," I returned, my eyes flashing. "Paul tried to stab me. I'll have him arrested if he is in Bolderhead still, and if he has run away I'll find means of having him brought back here to stand trial."
I was just as earnest as ever I was about anything in my life, and I guess Mr. Chester Downes realized it. He had gone away the night before in haste; but after thinking over the situation he believed that I could be browbeaten and my will set aside. He stared at me, with his dark, Indian-looking face reddening under the skin, and Paul had not looked at me more murderously the night before when we quarreled aboard the Wavecrest, than his father did now!
"Why, sir," said Mr. Downes at last, "this is a most ridiculous thing for you to do. I can write to your mother—and I shall. She will demand that I attend her——"
"Until she does so, just take notice that you're not to come here," I interrupted. "That is, if you want Paul to stay out of jail."
I turned on my heel then and walked back to the house, and he—after hesitating a half minute or so—turned likewise and stalked down the hill. I was pretty sure he would not come back—not in that tall hat, anyway—for before luncheon was over it had begun to rain and rained hard. There was a sharp wind from the northwest—nor'—nor'—west, to be exact—and everybody within a hundred miles of Cape Ann knows what that means. In all probability we were in for a long offshore gale.
So I risked going over the ferry that afternoon on an errand. I did not propose to get caught out on the Wavecrest again without provisions, and I purchased half a boat load of canned goods and the like, and a couple of cases of spring water. While I was hunting for a boat and a man to take my purchases aboard the sloop I ran against my cousin Paul.
He was not alone, and the instant I spied him with two hang-dog fellows, I knew he was—like the hen in the story—"laying for me!" Paul Downes knew half the riff-raff of Bolderhead which, like most small seaports, boasted more than a sufficient quantity of wharf-rats. Mr. Downes had been wont to expatiate to my mother on my taste for low company; but he must have had his own son in mind. Paul certainly picked sour fruit when he made friends along the water-front of Bolderhead!
"That's the feller," snarled my cousin—I could read his lips, although the trio was across the narrow street as I went along the docks—and I knew very well that he was hatching something against me with his two friends.
But they were not likely to pitch upon me here in broad daylight, so I paid them little heed at the moment. I found old Crab Bolster and his skiff to lighter my cargo across the inlet, and when the boy came down from the store with the barrow, Crab and I loaded the provisions and spring water into his boat. Paul and his companions looked on, whispering together now and then, from a neighboring wharf.
I was not wholly a fool if I was so well satisfied with my own smartness. My success in settling Mr. Chester Downes had of course given me an inflated opinion of myself; but I knew better than to overlook the possibility of my cousin being able to do me some mean trick, especially with the help of the two fellows he was with.
When Crab Bolster and I set off in the skiff for the Wavecrest, I saw Paul and his friends make for the ferry, and while I helped pull the skiff in the drizzle of rain that swept across the harbor, I saw the three board the ferryboat and land at the dock on the Neck near which we lived.
I made Crab hustle the goods aboard and stowed all away in the cuddy before I let the boatman put me ashore. Paul and his friends were hanging about the landing.
"Keep your eye on my Wavecrest, will you, Lampton?" I said to the man who owned the landing, and kept boats for hire. "Remember, nobody's to go aboard of the sloop without my special permission," and I glanced pointedly at my cousin.
"I'll see to that, sir," said Lampton, who was my friend, I knew. "And in this weather, and with the wind the way she is, anybody would be crazy to want to take a boat out through the breach."
I went back to the house in ample time for dinner, and Ham, who had been on the watch, reported that my uncle had not again tried to enter the house. But I was worried about Paul and his henchmen. I couldn't rest in the house after dark. If they couldn't get a boat on the Neck side of the harbor in which to go out to the Wavecrest, they might come across from the town side and do her some damage.
Mother had come down to dinner and we had one of our old-fashioned, homey meals, followed by a pleasant hour in the drawing-room, where she played and sang for me. It was her pleasure that I should dress for dinner just as though company was to be present, and she trained me in the niceties of life, and in bits of etiquette, for which I have often, in later times, been very thankful. For although I found my amusement in rough adventure and my companionship for the most part among seamen and fishermen, it hurts no boy or man to be as well grounded in the tenets of polite society as in writing, reading, and arithmetic!
The subject that was uppermost in my mind—that hazy mystery surrounding my father's death—did not come up between us on this evening. Nor did the unpleasant topic of the Downeses come to the fore. I am very, very glad to remember that my mother looked her prettiest, that she gave me the tenderest of kisses when she bade me goodnight early, and that we parted very lovingly.
I went up to my room, but only to put on a warmer suit—a fishing suit in fact. I shrugged myself into oilskin pants and jacket, too, in the back shed, and exchanged my cap for a sou'wester. Then I sallied forth through a pelting rain, with the gale whistling a sharp tune behind me, and descended the hill toward the point off which the Wavecrest was moored.
I had said nothing to anybody about my intention. I do not think that any of the servants saw me go. I left my home without any particular thought of the future, or any serious cogitation as to what would be the result of my act.
Merely, I had put two and two together in my mind—and I would sleep aboard the Wavecrest.
IN WHICH AN EXPECTED COMEDY PROVES TO BE A TRAGEDY
I knew well enough that my cousin, Paul Downes, was too thoroughly scared by my threat to have him arrested for assault, to openly make an attack upon either my boat or myself. But his money could bribe such fellows as I had seen him with that very day, to sink the Wavecrest, or even to assault me in the dark.
It would be a joke on Paul—so I thought—if he or his friends should sneak out to the sloop where she was moored, intending to do her some harm, and find me there all ready for such a visitation. I chuckled to myself while I wended my way to the shore, carrying a single oar with me, and unlocked the padlock of the chain which fastened my rowboat to the landing.
There was nobody about, and I pushed out and sculled over to the Wavecrest without being interfered with. Had I not known so well just where the sloop lay I declare I would have had trouble in finding her. It was the darkest kind of a night and it did blow great guns! The rain pelted as sharp as hail and before I got half way to the sloop I decided that I wasn't showing very good sense, after all, in coming out here on such a night. I didn't think Paul and his friends would venture forth in such a storm.
However, having once set out to do a thing I have usually run the full course. I am not sure that it is natural perseverance in my case, but fear that I am more often ashamed to be considered fickle. So I sculled on to the Wavecrest and prepared to go aboard.
But just here I bethought me that if my cousin should attempt to board the sloop he would be warned that I was aboard by the presence of the tender. Therefore I snubbed the nose of the rowboat up short to the float, and then, after getting into the bows of the Wavecrest I let go her cable and paid out several yards so that the float and the tender were both out of sight in the darkness.
I chuckled then, as I crept aft to the cockpit and unlocked the door of the little cabin. Once inside, out of the rain, I drew curtains before all the lights and then lit the lamp over the cabin table. There were four berths, two on each side, with lockers fore and aft. Altogether the cabin of the Wavecrest was cozy and not a bad place at all in which to spend a night.
It was still early in the evening. The tide had not long since turned and was running out, while the wind out of its present quarter was with the tide. Any craft could sail out of Bolderhead harbor this night with both gale and sea in its favor; but heaven help the vessel striving to beat into the inlet! The reefs and ledges along this coast are as dangerous as any down on the charts.
The Wavecrest pitched a good bit at the end of her cable. I made up my bed and arranged the lamp in its gimbals near the head of the berth, and so took off my outer clothing and lay down to read. I did not think that the lamplight could be seen from without, even if a boat came quite near me. Being so far in-shore I had lit no riding light. It was unnecessary at these moorings.
I did not read for long. Used to the swing of the sea as I had been for years the bucking of the Wavecrest as she tugged at her cable, put me to sleep before I had any idea that I was sleepy. And my lamp was left burning.
I do not know how long I was unconscious—at least, I did not know at the moment of my awakening; but suddenly something bumped against the sloop's counter. I thought when I opened my eyes:
"Here they are! Now for some fun."
I supposed they would not have seen my light and I was going to put my head out of the cabin and scare them before they could do the Wavecrest any harm.
But as it proved, the bumping of the small boat against the sloop did not announce the arrival of the enemy. Almost instantly—I had not got into my trousers, indeed—there came a great hammering at the cabin door.
I did not speak, although at first I supposed the rascals were knocking to arouse me. Then it shot across my bewildered mind that somebody was nailing up the cabin door!
"Hello there! stop that!" I bawled, getting interested in the proceedings right away.
But there was no answer, unless certain whisperings that I could not understand could be considered as such. Several long nails—twenty-penny, I was sure—were driven home. Then there was a clattering of boots and the small boat bumped the sloop's counter again.
They were getting into their own boat. They had left me in a nice fix—nailed up tightly in the cabin of my boat. I was mad 'way through; instead of playing any joke on Paul Downes and his friends, they had played me a most scurvy trick.
But it was only comedy as yet—comedy for them, at least. I was pretty sure that they had fixed me in the cabin, not only for the night, but until somebody passing in a boat would see me signalling from the tiny deadlights. And goodness only knew when the gale would subside enough to tempt any other boatman out upon the bay.
The sloop was still pitching at the end of her cable. I could feel the tug of the moorings as my enemies got into their boat. Then—in half a minute, perhaps—there was a startling change in the sloop's action. She leaped like a horse struck with a whip and instantly began to roll and swing broadside to the gale.
I knew at once what had happened. The cable had parted; the Wavecrest was adrift!
The discovery alarmed me beyond all measure. I was panic-stricken—I admit it. And I earnestly believe that almost any other person who had a love of life within them would have felt the same.
For to be adrift in Bolderhead Harbor on such a night, with the wind and tide urging one's craft out toward the broad ocean, while one was nailed up in the cabin and unable to do a thing toward guiding the boat, was a situation to shake the courage of the bravest sailor who ever was afloat.
I believed I had nobody but myself to thank for the accident. In letting out the cable by which the sloop was moored, I had increased the strain upon it. I should have thrown out a stern anchor as well when I came aboard the Wavecrest to spend the night. The tug of wind and tide had been too much for the single cable.
And now my bonnie Wavecrest was swinging about, broadside to the sea, and likely to be rolled over completely in a moment. If she turned turtle, what would become of me? The air in the cabin was already foul. If she turned topsyturvy, and providing she was not cast upon the rocks and smashed, I would be in difficulty for fresh air in a very few hours.
These possibilities—and many others—passed through my mind in seconds of time. I had no idea that one's brain could work so rapidly. A hundred possible happenings, arising from my situation, entered my mind in those first few moments while the Wavecrest was swinging about.
Fortunately, however, although she went far over on her beam ends, and I expected to hear the stick snap, she righted, headed with the tide, and began to hobble over the seas at a great rate. I had dressed completely ere this, and was trying my best to open the cabin door. If I could get to the centerboard and drop it, I believed the sloop would ride better and could be steered.
Those rascals had nailed the door securely, however. The slide in the deck above was fastened on the outside too. I was a prisoner in my own boat and she was being swept out to sea as fast as a northwest gale and a heavy tide could carry her.
IN WHICH I SEE THE DAY DAWN UPON A DESERTED OCEAN
I don't claim to possess an atom more courage than the next fellow. I was heartily scared the instant I realized that the Wavecrest was adrift and I was fastened into her cabin. But I was not made helpless by my terror.
I tried my best to open that cabin door; but the big nails had been driven home. The ports were too small for my body to pass through, although I did open one and was tempted to shriek for help. But that would have been a ridiculous thing to do—and useless, as well. Had anybody heard and understood my need, I was beyond assistance from land, and there was nobody out in the harbor but myself, I felt sure.
The Wavecrest had got well out into the harbor now. She rolled very little and therefore I knew that, unguided as she was, her head was right and wind and tide were sweeping her on. She might be piled up on either shore at the mouth of the inlet; but from the start I believed she would be shot through the outlet of the harbor into the open sea.
In the cuddy up forward, with my provisions, there were a saw and hammer, and other tools. I could no more get at them than I could get out of the cabin. And although I might be able to do nothing to help myself or my boat if I was free from my prison, I would have felt a whole lot safer just then to have been upon her deck!
The door being nailed so fast, and the deck-hatch bolted tight, it was plain that I would have to smash something in order to get out of the cabin. Had I had anything to use as a battering ram, I would have begun on the door. But there seemed nothing to hand that would help me in that way. I examined the crack where the top of the door and the deck-hatch came together. Had I something to pry with I might tear the bolts holding the hatch out of the wood.
Such a thing as a bar was out of the question. But after a few minutes' cogitation, I remembered that my bunks on either side of the cabin could be turned up against the bulkhead, and at each end of the bunks was a flat piece of steel fifteen or eighteen inches long which held the berth-bench when it was let down. Two screws at each end held these steel straps in place.
I had no screw driver; but I had the knife that I had taken away from my cousin when he attacked me the evening before. I thrust the point of its heavy blade into a crack and snapped the steel square off. It made a fairly usable screw-driver, and I quickly had one of the steel straps out of its fastenings.
The piece of steel was stiff and made as good a bar for prying as I could have found. With some difficulty I thrust one end up between the top of the cabin door and the edge of the hatch, close to one side. I slipped the closed knife up between the bar and the door for a block against which to prize, caught the end of the bar with both hands, and threw all my force against it. The hatch squeaked; there was a splintering sound of wood. I was badly marring the top of the door, but the bolt which held the hatch at that side was giving.
I repeated the process at the other side of the hatch, and gradually, by working first at one side, and then the other, I splintered the woodwork around the bolts, and bent the bolts themselves, so that the hatch began to shove back. As soon as possible I shoved it back far enough for my body to pass through the aperture.
The rain beat down upon my face as I worked my way out of the cabin in my oilskins; I left my hat behind. The Wavecrest was pitching and yawing pretty badly now and before I cast a single glance around I was sure that she was already going through the inlet.
Yes! there was the beacon at the extreme point of Bolderhead Neck—it was just abreast of me as I stood at last upon the sloop's unsteady deck. I leaped down into the cockpit and quickly lowered the centerboard. Almost at once the Wavecrest began to ride more evenly. I could see little but the beacon, the night was so black; but I ran to the tiller and found that the sloop was under good steerage way and answered her helm nicely.
Like all sloops, the Wavecrest was very broad of beam for her depth of keel, and the standing-room, or cockpit, was roomy. She was well rigged, too, having a staysail and gafftopsail. Really, to sail her properly there should have been a crew of two aboard; but under the present circumstances I felt that one person aboard the Wavecrest was one too many! With a rising gale behind her the craft was being driven to sea at express speed, and it was utterly impossible to retard her course.
For an hour I sat there in the driving rain, hatless and shivering, hanging to the tiller and letting the sloop drive. Letting her drive! why, there wasn't a thing I could do to change her course. She was rushing on through the foaming seas like a projectile shot from some huge gun, and every moment the howling wind seemed to increase!
The beacon on the Neck was behind me now. There was nothing ahead of the sloop's fixed bowsprit. We were driving into a curtain of blackness that had been let down from the sky to the sea. It is seldom that there is not some little light playing over the surface of the water. This night a palpable cloud had settled upon the face of the waters and I could not even see the foam on the crests of the waves, save where they ran past the sloop's freeboard.
I had left the broken slide open, however, and the rain was beating down into the cabin. This began to worry me and finally I lashed the tiller—fastening it in the bights of two ropes prepared for that purpose, and crept back into the cabin again. It was little use to remain outside, save that if the sloop was flung upon a rock, I might have a little better chance to escape.
At the speed she was traveling, however, I knew very well that we were already beyond the reefs and little islets that mask the entrance to Bolderhead Harbor. It was a veritable hurricane behind us. The wind was actually blowing so hard that the waves were scarcely of medium height. I had seen a mere afternoon squall kick up a heavier sea.
It was awkward getting in and out of the cabin by way of the hatch; but I did not take the time then to open the door. I fixed the hatch so that it would slide back and forth properly, however. Then I lit my spirit lamp and made some coffee. I was pretty well chilled through, for the rain and wind seemed to penetrate to the very marrow of my bones.
I was sure that this was the beginning of the equinoctial gale. It might be a week before the storm would break. And where would the Wavecrest be in a week's time?
Not that I really believed the sloop would hold together, or still be on top of the sea, when this gale blew itself out. She was a mere speck on the agitated surface of the sea. My only hope then was that I might be rescued by some larger vessel—and how I should get from the Wavecrest craft to another was beyond the power of my imaginings.
I could not be content to remain below—nor was that unnatural. Aside from the fear I had of the sloop's yawing and possibly turning turtle, and so imprisoning me in the cabin with no hope of escape therefrom, I felt that I should be more on the alert to seize any opportunity for escape were I at the tiller. So I carried a Mexican poncho which I wound to the stern, draped it about me over the oilskins, and with the sou'wester tied under my chin I could defy the rain, nor did the keen wind search my vitals.
But thus bundled up I would have stood little show had the sloop capsized. Afterward I realized that I might as well have remained in the cabin.
However, to sleep in either place, was impossible. Sometimes the rain beat down upon the decked over portion of the boat with the sound of a drumstick beaten upon taut calfskin. Again the wind blew in such sharp gusts that the rain seemed to be swept over the face of the sea and then, if I chanced to glance over my shoulder, the drops stung like hail.
Altogether I have never passed a more uncomfortable night—perhaps never one during which I was in greater peril. The wind was shifting bit by bit, too. My compass told me that the Wavecrest was now being driven straight out to sea, instead of running parallel with the Massachusetts coast as had been at first the fact.
How fast I was traveling I could not guess. There was a patent log aboard; but I did not rig it. Indeed, it was much safer to remain in the stern of the sloop than to move about at all. I knew we were traveling much faster than I had ever traveled by water before and I had something beside the speed of my involuntary voyage to think about.
It had not crossed my mind at the time, but when I had slipped out to the Wavecrest that evening, giving my mother and the servants the impression that I had gone to my room as usual, I had done a very foolish—if not wrong—thing. The sloop might not be the only craft in Bolderhead Harbor to break away from moorings and go on an involuntary cruise. Other wandering craft might not escape the rocks about the beach, as the Wavecrest had. It might be supposed that my sloop was among the wreckage that would be cast ashore along our rocky coast, and my absence might not be connected with the disappearance of the sloop.
My mother and friends would not suspect the reason or cause for my absence. If I had taken a soul into my confidence, in the morning my mother would be informed immediately of my accident. Perhaps, after all, it was not a bad thing that some uncertainty must of necessity attach itself to my disappearance.
For although I had every reason to believe that Paul Downes had either nailed me into the cabin, or caused me to be nailed in, well knowing that I had gone aboard the sloop to sleep, I was equally confident that he would not tell of what he had done, or allow his companions to tell of the trick, either.
These, and similar hazy thoughts regarding my condition, shuttled back and forth through my brain during the long and anxious hours of that never-to-be-forgotten night. Sometimes, I presume, I lost myself and slept for a few minutes; but the hours dragged on so dismally, and I was so uncomfortable and anxious, that I am sure I could not have slept much of the time. And it did seem as though the east would never lighten for dawn.
At last it came, however; and then I liked the prospect less than the no prospect of the black night! All that it revealed to my aching eyes was a vast, vast expanse of empty, heaving drab sea, across which the gale hurried sheets of cold and biting rain—not a sign of land behind me—not a sail against the equally drab horizon. My sloop, under her bare, writhing pole, was scudding across this deserted ocean with no haven in sight and I was without hope of rescue.
IN WHICH I FIND A MOST REMARKABLE HAVEN
With the coming of daylight I would have tried to get some canvas on the Wavecrest—if only a rag of jib—had the gale not been so terrific. I doubted if, under a pocket-handkerchief of sail, I could have got her head around without swamping her.
And then, what better off would I have been? I could have made no progress beating against such a wind and it was better and safer to ride before it, no matter where I was blown. There was no land ahead of me save the shores of Spain—and Spain was a long way off.
At least, it was better to run while the sea remained in its present condition. As I have said, the waves were beaten flat by the savage wind. But, if there should come a lull in that, I knew well enough the sea would instantly leap into billows that would soon founder the little sloop if she could neither be got around to ride them, or could not keep ahead of them.
I lashed the tiller again—as I had twice during the night—and went below for coffee. I brought back some pilot crackers and a can of peaches that was among the stores I had bought in town the day before, and made a fairly satisfactory breakfast of the hard bread and fruit with a pint can of coffee. But I would not remain below any length of time now. It looked very much to me as though the clouds might break and the wind shift, or lull, at any moment.
Several hours passed, however, and my watch (which I had not forgotten to wind) told me that it was fast approaching noon before any change came. Then the shrieking gale dropped suddenly and the gusts of rain ceased.
I leaped up at once to unfurl the jib. With a little canvas on her I believed the sloop could be wore 'round and headed into the wind before the waves sprang up. Perhaps it would have been wiser to have given her a hand's breath of the mainsail. However, before the bit of canvas bellied out and I had dashed back to the helm, the first wave broke over the stern of the sloop.
It was a deluge! I was waist deep in the foaming flood; the cockpit was full; the sloop had already shipped about all the water that was good for her, and it was plain she was too water-logged to answer the helm promptly.
Up came a second wave. The lulling of the wind gave the waves a chance to gather force and height. This one curled fairly over my head and, looking up and over my shoulder at the great, green, foam-streaked wall of water, I thought my last minute above the surface had come!
It broke. I can remember nothing at all of the ensuing few moments. I only know that I was smothered, drowned, completely overwhelmed by the deluge of water that came inboard. The force of it burst open the slide of the hatch and barrels of water flooded into the cabin. The Wavecrest settled. If another wave as great had come inboard directly in the wake of this one, I am convinced that I would not be writing this record of my life.
As the wave passed on, the keen whistle of the gale returned. I leaped up and staggered forward. I knew that unless I could get way upon the sodden craft she would very quickly plunge beneath the surface. I shook out the staysail as well as the jib, but dared not spread too much canvas to the wind which seemed about to swoop down again. These sails filled and the Wavecrest showed her mettle, sodden as she was with the enormous amount of water that had come inboard.
There was a deal of water awash in the cockpit; therefore the shallow hold must have been full. And I knew there was plenty slopping about in the cabin, ruining everything. I rigged the little pump amidships and the pipe threw a full stream of bilge across the deck. And it wasn't bilge long, but came clear. Inboard came another wave—but not a large one this time—and I pumped harder than ever.
The Wavecrest was lumbering on too slowly to escape the following waves. In her then condition it would have been folly to seek to head her about. She would have rolled helplessly in the trough of the sea as sure as I tried it. But if she was going to sail before this wind and sea she must sail faster.
The gale was steadily increasing again, but it did not blow as hard as it had during the night and early morning. I ventured a little more canvas and although the mast and rigging strained loudly, nothing got away. The speed of the sloop was increased, especially so as I kept at the pump and got the hold clear.
Although the hungry billows still followed the Wavecrest little water came inboard for a time save the spindrift whipped from the crests of the waves. But with a sea running so high there was danger of swamping every moment. I dared not leave the helm for long; to go below at all was out of the question. I went without food all that day, thankful that I had managed to make a fairly hearty breakfast.
And all the time the wind blew steadily, the sea strove mightily, and the sloop scudded before both like a whipped pup. I would not like to say how fast she traveled, for I do not know; I was only certain that even in a racing wind I had never sailed so fast before.
I had become wet through to the bone. Neither the poncho nor the oilskins could keep me dry when the sea had broken over the sloop. And the wind was keen and searched me through and through. My teeth were a-chatter, the cold pricked me like needles, and I was altogether very miserable indeed. Often had I been soaked to the skin while on a fishing venture; but there was the prospect of a hot drink and a warm fire ahead of me. There was nothing in the line of comfort before me now. The sea remained untenanted and the Wavecrest drove on as though she were enchanted.
Hour after hour dragged by. The sun did not appear; indeed, rain-gusts swept now and then across the sea. The waves were so steep that when the sloop plunged down the slope of one the rain swept on over my head and only rattled upon my sail. Ragged masses of cloud swept across the sky. In the distance it really seemed as though the waves leaped up and met these low-hung clouds.
And how I strained my eyes for some speck to give me hope of rescue!
From the summit of almost every wave I stood up and gazed about me—especially ahead. Behind were only the ravenous waves seeking to overtake and swamp me. Ahead I hoped to see the vapor of some steamer, or, at least, the bare poles of a sailing vessel that could rescue me from my perilous situation.
I dreaded another night. Indeed, I did not see how I could sail the Wavecrest until morning without either food or sleep. To lash the tiller and let the sloop drive on was too reckless a course to even contemplate.
A man lost in a forest, or on a desert, may be lonely; but a voyager alone on the trackless and empty ocean is in far worse condition, believe me! Not only is he lost, but the elements themselves are continually buffeting him. In all this dreary day there was not a second in which my life was not threatened.
Finally when I knew there could not be many hours more of daylight, upon rising to the summit of a great billow, I beheld something riding the seas not far ahead. For some reason I had not seen the bulk of this strange apparition before and at first I was sure it was the turtle-turned hulk of a wreck.
But as the Wavecrest sped on, bringing me nearer and nearer to the object, I saw that I must be wrong. It was not shaped like a ship's hull although it was black and clumsy enough. But immediately about it the waves seemed to be calm. At least no waves broke and foamed about the floating mass.
I watched the thing eagerly, although I could not hope for rescue under such a guise. It was not, I was almost instantly sure, a vessel of any kind; as the Wavecrest kept on her course, which brought me directly upon the object, I was not long at a loss to identify it.
Although I had seldom been far out of sight of land myself, and had never seen any ocean creature bigger than a blackfish (not the tautog, but the pilot-whale) I had listened to the stories of old whalemen along the Bolderhead docks, and I was pretty sure that I had sighted one of those great mammals—a creature of the sea which is no more a fish than a horse or a cow is a fish, yet is the greatest wonder of marine life.
Beside, the peculiar condition of the sea immediately about the object revealed its identity. The whale was dead, I was sure. Otherwise it would not have been at the surface so long in such a gale. And being dead, and the seabirds and shark-fish having got at its carcass before the storm, there was good reason for the waves not breaking over it.
The dead whale lay in a slick, or "sleep," as some old whalemen pronounce the word, and hope revived in my troubled mind the instant I realized what the object was, and its condition. The waves were following me as hungrily as ever; at any moment the sloop might be overwhelmed. But once let me get the Wavecrest in the lee of this dead whale, I could bid defiance to the storm. There I could outride the gale and, when it was fair again, set the sloop's nose toward the distant mainland.
With rare good fortune the sloop needed little guidance to reach the dead whale. My original course had been aimed for the huge beast. As the Wavecrest gained upon it the monster was revealed, lying partly on its side, all of fifty feet from tail to nose. Of course there were no seabirds upon the carcass now, nor did I see the triangular fin of a shark anywhere about. They had ripped and torn at the carcass sufficiently, however, to release copiously the oil from the casing of blubber, or fat, with which the whale is entirely covered.
My Wavecrest bore down upon the becalmed circle and suddenly I found the waves heaving smoothly under the sloop instead of breaking all about her. I ran to the canvas and stowed it quickly, then brought the sloop around into the lee of the huge bulk of the whale. I had a broken-shanked harpoon and a boathook. I plunged these both into the carcass and then attached the Wavecrest, bows and stern, to these strange mooring-posts.
There she was, as safe as though we were in a landlocked harbor, rising and falling with a motion by no means unpleasant. The exuding oil made a charmed circle about the sloop, into which the agencies of the gale could not venture. The wind wailed as madly across the sea, and the sea itself, at a little distance, tumbled, and burst in a most chaotic manner; but here in the slick I lay at peace—and grateful indeed I was for this remarkable haven.
IN WHICH I AM A TERRIFIED WITNESS OF A WONDERFUL PHENOMENON
Evening was dropping down and I was woefully hungry. Being sure that the Wavecrest was safely moored to the body of the dead leviathan, I set about correcting the need which preyed upon me. I was thankful, indeed, that I had stocked my larder so well on that last day at Bolderhead. There was plenty of water, too. I could ride out a week's storm here beside the whale I was very sure, and then have plenty of provisions to serve me until I could beat back to the mainland.
I got out my lanterns, filled and trimmed them, and cutting steps in the side of the whale with the boat-hatchet, I mounted to the top of the great body and there stuck my oar upright in the blubber and hung a lantern to it. I was pretty sure that no vessel would pass that signal light without investigating, even in the gale.
I made a very comfortable supper indeed. I managed now to force the cabin door and closed the sliding hatch. Then I warmed the cabin well with the spirit stove, stripped off my wet clothes, and got into dry garments. I went out on deck at nine o'clock, saw that my moorings were fast and the lanterns burning brightly, and then turned in. After the uncertainties of the day and the lack of sleep suffered the night before, I slept as soundly when I now turned in on one of the bunks as ever I did in my own bed at home!
At daybreak—another drab dawning of the new day—I was up and climbed the whale for the lantern. In its place I left attached to the upright oar a shirt to flutter in the wind for a signal. I hoped that any vessel passing near enough to see my signal would stop for me. But of one thing I was sure: If it chanced that a whaling ship came within sight of the dead leviathan my peril would soon be over. This huge beast had not been long dead and it would be all clear gain to any "blubber boiler" that chanced to pass that way.
Nor was the possibility of being rescued by a whaleship so slight as it would have been a few years before. There were for two decades, few whaling barks put forth from the New England ports; but of late years there is either a greater demand for whale-oil, or the cachelot (the sperm whale) is becoming more frequently seen both in northern and southern seas, and is being hunted both by steam vessels and by the old-time whaling ships.
I didn't know where I was—that is, my position in the North Atlantic; but I believed that I had sailed so far and so fast in the sloop that I was about midway of the course of the British steam lines running 'twixt Halifax and the Bermudas. Those two ports are between seven and eight hundred miles apart, and I suspected I was nearer one or the other than I was to Boston! I knew I had done some tall sailing since being swept out of Bolderhead Harbor.
After having cooked and eaten a hearty breakfast, despite the blowing of the gale—for dirty weather prevailed and rain swept down in torrents every hour or two—I set about making such slight repairs as I could with the tools and materials I had at hand. And while thus engaged I made a discovery that—to say the least—startled me.
Dragging over the bows of the Wavecrest was the cable by which she had been moored in Bolderhead Harbor. I had never chanced to draw it aboard. Now I did so. It was only a bit, some three or four feet long. And instead of finding it frayed and broken by the strain of the sloop as she dragged at her old anchorage, I found that the hemp had been cut sharply across. Nothing less than a knife—and a sharp one—had severed that cable when it was taut!
The appearance of the bit of rope gave me such a jolt that I sat down and stared at it. I had been quite sure that Paul Downes and his friends knew I was aboard the Wavecrest when they nailed me into the cabin. But it really never crossed my mind that they had deliberately cut the sloop adrift. But here was evidence of the crime. There was no doubting it. I had been imprisoned on the Wavecrest and then the sloop was sent on a voyage which Paul and his friends must have realized could end in nothing less than death.