Harold Bindloss.

The Boy Ranchers of Puget Sound



скачать книгу бесплатно

"Point's right ahead!" he sang out, and the next moment jumped to his feet. "There's a black patch a little to weather."

"Up peak for your lives!" cried Mr. Oliver.

He left the helm with a bound, and all three struggled desperately with a rope, while as the bagged mainsail extended and straightened out a sea broke on board the boat. Then they floundered aft and dragged in the mainsheet with all their might, after which Mr. Oliver jumped for the helm again, while the boys flattened in the jib.

"We're the wrong side of the point," gasped Harry. "I'm not sure she'll beat round it."

There was no difficulty in imagining what was likely to happen if she failed to do so, and Frank, who did not think she would last long if she washed up among the boulders before the sea that was running, clung to the coaming in a state of tense suspense. What seemed to be a continuous sheet of spray whirled about him, the boat slanted over at an alarming angle with half her lee deck in the sea, and the tops of the confused breaking waves through which she plunged washed all over her. This was sailing with a vengeance, and a very different thing from lounging at the tiller while she swung smoothly across the water before a fair wind. She was now thrashing to windward for her life, with the full weight of the sea on her weather bow and a foam-swept reef lying in wait close to lee of her, and whether she would claw off it or not depended largely upon her helmsman's skill.

Frank could see him dimly, a black shape gripping the tiller, and he was unpleasantly aware of the fact that there would speedily be an end of them all if he lost his nerve for a moment or made a blunder. It happens now and then at sea that the safety of crew and vessel hangs upon the brute strength of human muscle and the simple valor which enables a man to do what is required of him on the moment without flinching; empty assurance and a consequential air are of uncommonly little service then. Such occasions are a very grim test of manhood, and, as a rule, it is not the loud talker who best stands that strain.

Frank admitted afterward that he was badly scared, which was not in the least unnatural. It was more important that he should nevertheless realize that it was his business to trim the jib over when this was necessary. His companion, who was gazing to leeward, presently raised his voice.

"Broken water close ahead," he announced.

"Stand by your jib!" shouted Mr. Oliver. "We must try to heave her around."

Frank let the lee sheet run, groping deep in the water for it as Mr. Oliver put down the helm, and with a frantic thrashing of canvas the sloop came up into the wind. There was a moment of suspense during which she seemed to stop, and the boy felt his heart thumping furiously. He knew that if she fell off again on the previous tack nothing could save her from going ashore. Suddenly he heard Harry call to him.

"Haul it up!" he shouted.

"We have to box her off."

Frank hauled with all his might, and the thrashing of the head sail ceased. It caught the wind, and a sea fell upon the boat as the bows swung around. Then they jumped to the opposite side of her and struggled desperately to haul the lee sheet in as she forged ahead again, after which there was nothing to do but wait and wonder if she was driving in toward the shore or working out toward open water. They stood on for half an hour, seeing nothing, and then came round half-swamped, only to stagger away on the opposite tack, running once more into horribly broken water. As they did so Harry shouted that there were boulders, the end of the point, he fancied, close to lee.

"She won't come about in the rabble," said Mr. Oliver.

It was evident that they must now either scrape around the point on that tack or go ashore, and Frank felt his nerves tingle as he gazed into the spray. He fancied that there was something black and solid beyond it, but could distinguish nothing further. Then the blackness faded, the sea seemed to become a little more regular, and Harry cried out hoarsely, "We're round!"

"Down peak!" called Mr. Oliver. "We'll have to jibe her."

Frank had learned that to jibe a boat is to turn her around stern to wind, instead of head-on, which is the usual way, and scrambling forward with Harry he helped lower the peak. After that they again floundered aft, leaving the mainsail reduced in size, and grabbed the sheet as Mr. Oliver put up his helm. The bows swung around as the boat went up with a sea, and the big boom tilted high up into the darkness above the boys. They struggled savagely with the sheet, which slightly restrained it, until the boat rolled suddenly down upon her side as the sail jerked over and the rope was torn swiftly through their hands. There was a crash and a bang, and Frank was conscious that the water was pouring over the coaming. He clung to the sheet, however, and while Mr. Oliver helped them with one hand they got a little of it in, after which the sloop, rising somewhat, drove forward. A few minutes later the sea suddenly became smoother, the wind seemed cut off, and Frank made out a black mass of rock rising close above them. They ran on beneath it until Mr. Oliver, rounding the boat up, bade them pitch the anchor over.

CHAPTER XI
MR. BARCLAY JOINS THE PARTY

When the boat brought up to her anchor the boys spent some time straightening up her gear and pumping her out. The work put a little warmth into them, but they were glad to crawl into the cabin when it was done. There was scarcely room in it to sit upright, and with the moisture standing beaded everywhere it looked rather like the inside of a well. Mr. Oliver had lighted the stove and a lamp was burning. By and by he took off a hissing kettle, and when they had made a meal they lay down in their wet clothes amidst a raffle of more or less dripping ropes and sails. Fortunately, the place was warm, and Frank was thankful to stretch himself out along the side of the boat. He was discovering that mental strain of the kind he had undergone during the last few hours is as fatiguing as bodily labor.

But he did not immediately go to sleep. The craft rocked upon the long swell which worked in round the point, with now and then a sharp rattle as she plucked hard at her cable. Sometimes she swung suddenly around upon it as an eddying blast swept down from the rocks above, and the drumming of the halliards against the mast broke continuously through the moan of the wind among the trees ashore and the deeper rumble of the ground sea. At last, however, he fell into a heavy slumber, and it was daylight and Harry had put the spider on the stove when he awoke again. He made his breakfast before he went out on deck, to find that the wind had dropped a little and it was raining hard. The dim, slate-green water lapped noisily upon the wall of rock close by, and glancing seaward he saw nothing but a leaden haze and a short stretch of tumbling combers. Mr. Oliver had gone out earlier and was standing on the deck looking about him.

"There's no great weight in the wind, though the sea's still rather high," he said presently. "I think we can push on for Victoria."

Frank, who fancied they would not get there before that night, was by no means so keen about the sail as he had been on the previous day. He felt that it would be considerably pleasanter to remain in the shelter of the point until the sun came out or the wind went down, and it seemed to him that Harry shared his opinion. The dog also looked very draggled and miserable and had evidently had enough of the voyage. They, however, set the mainsail, leaving the reefs in, hauled up the anchor, and hoisted the jib as the sloop stretched out across the waste of tumbling water, after which the boys went below to straighten up the breakfast things. Frank once or twice felt a little sick as he did so, and he noticed that Harry wore a somewhat anxious look.

"It's not blowing as hard as it was when we ran in, but I don't think dad would have gone unless he'd some particular reason," Harry said at length. "I wonder who the man is he expects to meet in Victoria, because I'm inclined to believe it's not the one who wants him to look at the land. The worst of dad is that he keeps such a lot to himself."

They crawled out again shortly afterward and found the seas getting longer and bigger. Once or twice a blur of something went by that might have been the end of an island, and Mr. Oliver changed his course a little, but after that the dim, green water stretched away before them empty and only broken by smears of snowy froth, and the sloop drove on before the combers which came up out of the haze astern of her in long succession.

It was toward noon, and Mr. Oliver had gone into the cabin to get dinner ready, leaving Harry at the helm, when, glancing around, Frank saw an indistinct mass of something break out of the mist. It grew into the shadowy shape of a steamer while he watched it.

"There's a big vessel close by," he said, touching his companion's arm.

Harry glanced over his shoulder. "Sure," he nodded. "What's more, she's coming right along our track. Get in some mainsheet while I luff her."

He changed the sloop's course a trifle, but in the meanwhile the steamer was growing in size and distinctness with a marvelous rapidity. Her great bow seemed to be rising out of the water like a headland, over which Frank could just see the tiers of white deckhouses, one mast, and the tall smokestack. Then he glanced forward at the sloop's wet deck and the low strip of her double-reefed mainsail, looking very small among the tumbling seas, and it occurred to him that it would probably be difficult for the steamer's lookout to see them. He felt rather anxious when he glanced back astern.

"She still seems to be coming right down on us," he said.

Harry called his father, who hurried out and glanced at the vessel.

"Shall we get up and yell?" the boy asked.

"No," said Mr. Oliver curtly, "they couldn't hear you to windward. Let her come up farther."

Frank helped drag some more mainsheet and then looked around again with a very unpleasant thrill of apprehension. The black bow seemed almost above them, and the sea leaped against a wall of plates as the great mass of iron swung slowly out of it and sank down again. Then from somewhere beside the smokestack a streak of white steam blew out and a great reverberatory roar came hurtling about them. Mr. Oliver's anxious face relaxed.

"They've seen us," he said. "Her helm's going over."

The bow drew out and lengthened into an increasing strip of side. Another mast became visible, with a double row of white deckhouses and a tier of boats between. Here and there a cluster of diminutive figures showed up among them, and then the great ship sped by with the whole of her size revealed. The sloop plunged madly on her screw-torn wake, but in another minute or two she had drawn away and was melting into the haze again.

"A big boat," said Mr. Oliver. "She was very close to us. You had better keep your eyes open while I get dinner."

The rest of the dismal day passed uneventfully, but toward evening the haze commenced to roll aside and they saw blurred black pines looming up ahead of them. A little later they ran into Victoria harbor, and, hiring a Siwash to take them ashore, walked through the streets of what struck Frank as a very handsome city until they reached a hotel. Here they ordered supper, and after the meal was over the boys, who had changed their clothes, sat with Mr. Oliver in the almost deserted smoking room. He seemed to be expecting somebody, which somewhat astonished Frank, but he noticed that Harry smiled meaningly when Mr. Barclay walked in. He was dressed in light-colored sporting garments, with a belt around his waist and a leather patch on one shoulder, and there were gaudy trout flies stuck in his little cloth cap. He threw the cap on the table before he shook hands with Mr. Oliver and the boys, smiling as he caught Harry's eye.

"Well," he asked, indicating the flies, "what do you think of them?"

Harry grinned again as he laid his finger on one.

"You're not going to get many trout with that fellow, unless they've different habits in British Columbia. They won't come on for quite a while."

Mr. Barclay removed the fly and put it into a wallet.

"Thanks," he said. "It's some time since I did any fishing." Then he seemed to notice the manner in which the boy was surveying his clothing. "It's a sport's get-up, but are you acquainted with any reason why a United States citizen shouldn't get a little innocent amusement catching Canadian trout?"

"No, sir," answered Harry coolly. "Still, there are quite a few trout in the rivers on the American side of the boundary. It makes one wonder if you had anything else in view besides fishing in coming to British Columbia."

Mr. Barclay regarded him with an air of ironical reproof.

"In a general way, young man, it's most unwise to blurt the thing right out when you have a suspicion in your mind. It's better to let it stay there until you have good cause to act on it." He turned to Mr. Oliver. "I'm inclined to doubt the advisability of leaving your sloop lying where she is in full view of the wharf."

"Then you recognized her?"

"At a glance. The trouble is that there are one or two acquaintances of yours who might do the same."

Mr. Oliver looked thoughtful.

"I've been considering that, but it was getting dark when we ran in, and we had better move the first thing to-morrow. Now with this unsettled weather I'm not very keen on sailing up the west coast, which is open to the Pacific, and the place we are bound for is rather a long way."

"Then go east," advised Mr. Barclay. "There are a number of inlets on that side of the island within easy reach of the railroad, and you ought to reach the nearest of them in a few hours. I'll go on with the cars to-morrow, and if you don't get in at one of the way stations, I'll wait for you at Wellington. Then we could cross to the west coast by the Alberni stage and hire a couple of Indians and a sea canoe. It wouldn't be a long run from there."

Mr. Oliver agreed to this, and getting up early next morning, they slipped out of the harbor, and some hours afterward crept into a forest-girt inlet, where they left the sloop. There was a depot nearby, and getting on board the cars when the next train came in, they found Mr. Barclay awaiting them. Early in the afternoon they alighted at a little wooden, colliery town, and next day they crossed the island in the stage over a very rough trail which led through tremendous forests. Once they passed a wonderful blue lake lying deep-sunk between steep walls of hills. Then they crossed a divide and came winding down into a valley with water flashing at the foot of it. It was evening when they arrived at a straggling settlement on the banks of a riband of salt water twisting away among the forest-shrouded hills, and found several Indians there who had come up in their sea canoes.

Mr. Oliver hired a couple of them, and they started after they had purchased a few stores. A light, pine-scented breeze was blowing down the valley when they thrust the canoe off from the shingle. They had no sooner done so, however, when the dog arose with a deep growl which indicated that he objected to the Indians going with them. As his actions did not seem to have the desired effect he seized the nearest Indian by the leg, and it was only when Harry belabored him with a paddle that he could be induced to let go. Then he barked at them savagely until Frank drew him down upon his knee with a hand about his neck, while the Siwash raised two little masts. In the meanwhile the boy watched the men with interest, and decided that they had very little in common with the prairie Indians he had seen in pictures and from the cars.

They were dressed neatly in clothes which had evidently been purchased at a store, and though their faces were brown and their hair rather coarse and dark there was nothing else unusual about them. They talked with Mr. Oliver and Mr. Barclay freely in what Harry said was Chinook, a readily learned lingua-franca in use on parts of the Pacific Slope. Then Frank fixed his attention upon the canoe, a long, narrow, and beautifully shaped craft with the usual tall, bird's-head bow. She was rather shallow, but Harry said that this made her paddle fast. He added that though these canoes would sail reasonably well when the breeze was fair the Indians usually drove them to windward with the paddle unless the sea was too heavy, in which case they generally made for the beach and pulled the craft out.

Frank remembered that this, or something like it, was the ancient practice, and that it was only by slow degrees that man had discovered he could still make the wind propel his vessel to its destination when it blew from ahead. Greek and Roman triremes, Alexandrian wheat ships, and Viking galleys, had made wonderful voyages, and they all carried sail, but they set it only when the wind was fair. When it drew ahead they stowed their canvas and thrashed the lean hull through the seas with their long oars. Now, after perfecting his vessel's under-water body, inventing the center board, and learning how to make flat-setting sails, man was going back to the old-time plan, only that instead of relying upon the muscle of close-packed rowers he used improved propellers, tri-compound reciprocators and turbines.

One of the Siwash shook out the two spritsails which sat on a pole stretching up to the peak from the foot of the mast, and when he had led the sheets aft his companion knelt astern with a paddle held over the gunwale. Slanting gently down to the faint breeze, the craft slid away through the smooth, green water with a long ripple running back behind her. The log houses dropped astern and were lost among the trees, a valley filled with somber forest, and a rampart of tall hillside, slipped by, and as they crept on from point to point the strip of still water stretched away before them between somber ranks of climbing trees.

Frank had no idea how far they had gone when the light began to fail, though he fancied that the shallow craft, now slipping forward so smoothly, was sailing a good deal faster than she seemed to be. At length one of the Siwash loosened the sheets and stowed the sails, while his companion turned the bows toward the beach. She slid in and grounded gently on a bank of shingle in a little cove, where a gigantic forest crept down to the water. They got out and ran her up, filled their kettle at a tinkling creek, hewed resinous chips from a fallen fir, and built a fire. Then they cut armfuls of thin spruce branches with which to make their beds, and presently sat down to an ample supper.

When it was over the Indians went down to the canoe, and Mr. Oliver and Mr. Barclay drew a little apart from the boys. Frank, lying near Harry beneath a big cedar, raised himself up on one elbow and watched the firelight flicker upon the mighty trunks. On the one hand they were lost in the gloom of the dense mass of dusky foliage, but on the other their great branches cut against the sky, which was still softly blue, and a blaze of silver radiance stretched across the water, for a half-moon had just sailed up above the opposite hill. Out of the silence there stole a faint whispering from the tops of the taller trees and the languid lapping of water among the stones, but there was no other sound, and once more Frank was glad that he had not exchanged the stillness of the wilderness for the turmoil of the cities. He had now definitely decided to become a rancher.

It grew colder by and by, and wrapping his blanket around him, he wriggled down closer among the yielding spruce twigs. The great trunks grew dimmer and the smoke wisps which drifted among them became less distinct. By degrees they all grew mixed together – a confusion of sliding vapor and spectral trees – and he was conscious of nothing more.

CHAPTER XII
THE STRANGER

A couple of days later the party pitched their camp in the depths of a lonely valley sloping to the Pacific, which was not far away. It was filled with great redwoods, balsams and cedars, and as Frank gazed at the endless rows of towering trunks it struck him as curious that Mr. Oliver's friend should think of buying this tract of giant forest for ranching land. He said so to Harry, who laughed.

"There's no rock or gravel on it and that counts for a good deal," said his companion. "If the soil looks as if it would grow things, it's about all the average man expects on this side of the Rockies. A few trees more or less don't matter. It's the same with us right down the Pacific Slope; the only difference is that on this island the firs seem just a little bigger." He appeared to admit the latter fact reluctantly, adding, "I guess that's because it's wetter in Canada."

They were standing outside a little tent of the kind most often used in the Western bush. It was supported by a ridge pole resting at either end upon two more, which were spread well apart at the bottom and crossed near the top. A short branch stay stretched back from each pair, and a few turns of cord lashing held the whole frame together. They had cut the poles in five minutes in the bush, and had brought the light cotton cover with them rolled up in a bundle. A good many men in that country live in such shelters during most of the year. Mr. Barclay sat on one of the hearth logs which were rolled close together in front of the tent and Mr. Oliver stood in the entrance.



скачать книгу бесплатно

страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26