Harry Castlemon.

Frank Nelson in the Forecastle. Or, The Sportman's Club Among the Whalers



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"If and if!" said Walter. "It is surprising how often that little word stands in our way."

"I have been thinking that Dick's short sojourn on the Tycoon has made matters worse for Frank than they would otherwise have been," said Bob, anxiously. "The three principal officers have felt the weight of his arm, and of course they'll have to take satisfaction out of somebody."

"Dick," said Archie, suddenly, "why don't you encourage us by saying that Frank will be sure to come out all right? That's what you used to tell us whenever he got into trouble."

"But he was on the prairie then, an' now he's among civilized folks," replied the trapper.

"Which means, I suppose, that this is the worst scrape he ever got into."

Dick nodded his head.

"I don't know about that," said George Le Dell. "I think if he had his choice, he would rather be where he is now than in the prison at Shreveport, if he had to go through what he did when he made his escape. Frank has been in some tight places, but somehow he has always managed to squeeze through without much trouble."

"And he never was hurt that I remember, except when he burned that house in which Colonel Harrison made his headquarters," said Archie.

"When you burned it, you mean," said George. "You did that, and if you had been a line instead of a staff officer, you would have got another stripe around your arm for it, too. I told the Colonel all about it after you left our house."

"Why did you do that?" exclaimed Archie, hastily. "Now I shall never dare to meet him again."

"Ha! ha!" laughed George. "Why, he is one of your warmest friends. I told him because I wanted him to know that the boy who killed that bear and beat Somers in a fair race through the woods, had something in him. The Colonel scolded me for not telling him before. He said if he had known it while you were in our neighborhood, you wouldn't have got away from his house for one good long month at least. He would have kept you if he'd had to put a guard over you."

"Well, I shouldn't have enjoyed the visit."

"You couldn't have helped yourself, if plenty of hunting, riding and good company are aids to enjoyment."

From this subject the boys gradually got back to the one that occupied the most of their minds and thoughts, and that was Frank's sudden disappearance. They asked the trapper a multitude of questions, but learned nothing new, for he had already told his story in detail. While they were talking Uncle Dick returned, and the tug being alongside and the pilot aboard, the lines were cast off and the Stranger swung slowly around until her bow pointed toward the headlands at the entrance to the bay. In the bustle and hurry that followed the boys found time to turn an eye toward the trappers now and then, but they saw no signs of regret or alarm on their faces; and when the lines that held the tug were let go, and the steamer with a farewell shriek of her whistle turned back toward the city, and the schooner unfolded her white wings one after the other, and the Golden Gate was passed, and the broad expanse of the Pacific was fairly spread out before them, there were still no signs of backing out.

But it was too late now. The die was cast, and Dick and old Bob were bound for the "under side of the earth!"

CHAPTER VII
TOO LATE

THE very presence of Uncle Dick was enough to infuse new life and comfort into the boys, who were disposed to make themselves miserable over the absence of their genial companion. The old sailor believed in looking on the bright side of things, and thought there was no use in worrying over the matter that they could not just then better in any way. His example made a great change in the feelings of the Club.

"Now, Walter," said he, briskly, "we are fairly afloat again, and our sailing-master having deserted us, we are compelled to call on you to fill his place. Suppose you work out a course for us. We're bound for the Sandwich Islands, Eugene; which way are they from here?"

"Oh, you can't catch me on that," replied the boy, "for I posted myself only a few days ago. The twentieth parallel runs through them. They're in the same latitude as Vera Cruz, in Mexico."

"Well, I want to make the run in as short a time as may be, so what shall I do?"

"Stand to the southwest to get the benefit of the northeast trades, and the equatorial current. The same route would take you to China or Japan."

"Suppose, now, we were in China and wanted to come back to the States: would I follow the same course?"

"No, sir. You would steer in a northerly direction until you got between the parallels of thirty-five and forty-five degrees north latitude, and there you would find strong westerly winds to help you along. Perhaps you'd get some assistance from the North Pacific drift current, but on that point I am not sure."

"Well, it is just as well you are not," shouted Walter from the cabin, where he was busy with his chart. "The North Pacific drift current might help you if you wanted to go to Alaska from China. When it strikes the shores of our continent it divides, part of it flowing on down the coast and forming the California coast current, and the rest bending back across the Pacific again; so it would retard your progress rather than help you."

"Well, I am not the sailing-master of this craft, am I?" replied Eugene. "If I was, I'd keep posted. Besides, almost anybody with a chart before him, could clatter away as though his tongue was hung in the middle. Wait till Frank gets back if you want to talk about navigation."

"He's a good one, that's a fact," said Uncle Dick. "He's as fit to command a vessel as I am."

Just then Walter came up, having worked out a course, which being approved by the captain and given to the officer of the deck, the bow of the Stranger was brought around a point or two, and the voyage was fairly begun. There was nothing to be done now, but to await developments with all the patience they possessed.

But few incidents worthy of record happened during the voyage, which, after they struck the trade winds became monotonous enough. The schooner bowled along before a fine breeze, and as it was never necessary to change the sails, there was no work to be done except ordinary ship's duty. The Club passed the time mostly in reading and conversation with the trappers, who, as soon as they fully recovered from their sea-sickness, kept a constant lookout for some of those terrible dangers which had been so graphically described to them. By dint of much talking and argument the boys finally succeeded in making them take a more sensible view of their situation, and as the days wore away without bringing with them any of the perils they had expected to encounter, the backwoodsmen began to act a little more like themselves. But when an ignorant person once gets hold of an idea it is almost impossible to make him let go of it, and the trappers' minds could not be set wholly at rest. They steadily refused to go into the forecastle at night, and always slept on deck. The boys found the reason for this in a remark they heard Bob make to his companion. They wanted plenty of elbow room when they reached the under side of the earth, the old fellow said, so that when the schooner dropped off among the clouds, they could take to the water. They saw sharks, dolphins and flying-fish (the trappers began to put more faith in what the boys said after they had seen one of the latter rise from the water and sail through the air like a bird on the wing), and one day the sailors pointed out to them an object which made them believe that their time had come. It first showed itself while the boys were at dinner. They were summoned on deck by the officers of the watch, and found themselves close alongside the first whale they had ever seen. The monster was taking matters very leisurely, moving along about a hundred yards from the schooner, lifting his huge head out of the water now and then and spouting a cloud of spray into the air, and although the vessel was running at a rate of eight miles an hour, he kept pace with her without the least exertion. The boys were all disappointed.

"This must be a small one," said George.

"Small!" echoed Uncle Dick. "How big do you think a whale is, any how – as big as the Rocky Mountains?"

"No, sir; but I have read that they have been found sixty and seventy feet long," replied George.

"Well, this fellow is every inch of eighty, and I shouldn't wonder if he was ninety feet in length."

"I wish some whaler would come along and pitch into him," said Eugene. "I'd like to see the operation of catching a whale."

"If fifty whalers should come along they would not trouble this fellow," said Uncle Dick.

"Why not?"

"Because he is neither a sperm nor a right whale. He belongs to the species known as finbacks. He would not yield oil or bone enough to pay for the trouble of lowering the boats, and besides he is so swift and strong that it would be dangerous to meddle with him."

The finback kept alongside the schooner for nearly a mile, and during that time the boys had ample opportunity to take a good view of him. He sank and rose at regular intervals, executing the manoeuvre with an ease and grace that was astonishing, and now and then he showed so much of his huge bulk above the water that the boys opened their eyes in amazement, and Featherweight declared that there was no end to him. The longer they looked at him the larger he seemed to grow. At length he began to edge away from the schooner, and finally disappeared. Then each boy turned and looked at his neighbor to see what he thought about it.

"What makes you look so sober?" demanded Featherweight of Archie, who stood by pulling his chin, and gazing fixedly at the spot where the whale had last been seen.

"I was just thinking," was the reply.

"And I'll warrant we can all tell what you were thinking about," said George. "I guess there is no one in this small party who would like to be ordered into a small boat to attack a beast of that size, and you were wondering what Frank's feelings will be the first time he tries it. Well, I don't want to know them by experience."

Archie walked to the side and looked over into the water, while George turned to Dick and Bob, who just then came up. Their faces were very white.

"Well, Dick," said George, "you have seen your first whale, and it isn't such a terrible looking object after all, is it?"

"I dunno," replied the trapper. "If the babies look like that, what must the ole ones be?"

"The babies?" repeated George.

"One of the fellows showed that thing to me when it fust come in sight, and I showed it to Rodgers, but he couldn't see it. Rodgers, he called another of the sailors, and he said he could see something, but it was so small he couldn't tell whether it was a whale or not."

"Now, Dick, don't you believe a word those men in the forecastle say to you," said Eugene, indignantly. "Uncle Dick says that is one of the largest whales he ever saw."

"Wal, Rodgers he couldn't see it at fust 'cause it was so small, but when he did see it, he said mebbee it was a baby. He said the ole one will be along purty soon lookin' fur it, an' then we'll see a whale. If the ole one don't find the baby, she'll think we've done something to it, an' she'll brush us off'n the 'arth like a feller would brush a fly off his Sundy trowsers."

The trappers were frightened again, and for the rest of the day kept close company with their young friends, no doubt feeling safer in their presence than anywhere else. The boys, one and all, exerted themselves to correct the wrong impressions they had received, but the foremast hands had had the first chance at them, as Fred remarked, and it was a matter of impossibility to set their fears at rest. For a week afterward Dick and his companion kept a sharp lookout, expecting every minute to see the old whale coming in search of her young one; but she did not appear, and the next thing that happened to relieve the monotony of the voyage, was the discovery of land, dead ahead. Walter had been anxiously looking for it for the last twenty-four hours. Having taken Frank's place as sailing-master, he was eager to earn a reputation as a navigator, and he was not a little elated to find that he had made no mistake.

The discovery of land set the sailors going again. Rodgers and a few of his companions, who, when the trappers were in hearing, were continually talking about mermaids and dragons and other sea monsters, and the awful sights that would be presented when they came to the under side of the earth, looked through their hands at the dim outline in advance, and after comparing notes in a tone of voice loud enough for Dick and Bob to hear, declared that it wasn't land after all – that the man at the mast was mistaken.

"That's no more land nor I be," declared Rodgers. "If my head is worth a tar-bucket, it is the old whale. She can't find her baby, and so she's coming down to ask the skipper what he's done with it. She's coming like lightning too. Can't you see the water a boiling up under her bows? I can."

"Now, mate, I think it's a squid," said another, "and he's waiting there to gobble up something. I can see his long arms resting on the water, and ready to catch the first moving thing that comes within reach. I hope the cap'n 'll keep away a few points."

"Mebbe he don't know what it is," said a third, "and I think Lewis had better go aft and tell him about it – I do indeed!"

"'Taint a whale nor a squid neither," said an old gray-headed seaman, who, using his hands for a spy-glass, had been looking at the island ever since they first came in sight of it. "It's the equator. I can see the waves rolling over it!"

"Well, Jack, you've been to sea longer nor me and ought to know about these things," said Rodgers. "I seen the waves, but I thought they was the bone the whale was carrying in her teeth. When we get over it, if we ever do, we're on the under side of the earth, ain't we?"

"That's what's the matter," said the gray-headed sailor.

Dick fairly jumped, as each one of these opinions was solemnly advanced, and hurried off to speak to the boys. The latter, especially Eugene and Archie, could hardly refrain from laughing outright at his ludicrous display of terror, but they quieted his fears as well as they could, and by giving him a solemn promise that they would see him safely through any danger that might arise if he would remain close by them, they succeeded in keeping him out of the company of the foremast hands all the rest of the day. But it was not until nearly sunset that the fears the sailors had conjured up were entirely banished. By that time the object that had excited his alarm was so plainly visible that Dick could see for himself that it was land and nothing else.

The boys did not see many of the new and novel sights that were presented to their gaze, as the Stranger made her way through the strait that runs between the islands of Hawaii and Mani. They had eyes for nothing but the whale ship they expected to find there. The huge fishing canoes they saw the next day; the natives that came aboard in swarms while they were running about in the light, baffling winds they found under the lee of the land, the fruits they offered for barter – none of these things possessed the interest for them that they would under almost any other circumstances. They paid little attention to anything but the vessels that now and then passed them. But the Tycoon was not among them.

Uncle Dick took time, as he passed along, to look into every bay and inlet where the Tycoon was likely to be, and it was not until nearly a week after they first sighted the Sandwich Islands that the Stranger dropped anchor outside the coral reef that marks the entrance to the harbor of Honolulu. As the wind came strong down the mountain gorges, everything was made snug, and then the gig was called away and the captain set out for the town, leaving the boys to enjoy themselves as best they could during his absence. But it was dull business, this trying to pass away the time when they were so impatient and anxious. They kept up their spirits by telling one another that something would surely happen to restore their friend Frank to them, but the face that Uncle Dick brought back with him, when he returned six hours later, dashed all their hopes to the ground. No sooner was the gig fairly hoisted at the davits, than he gave the order to heave up the anchor and go to sea. The boys stood around and looked at one another in silence while these orders were being executed, and when Uncle Dick went into the cabin, they followed him.

"Too late, boys," said he.

"Has the Tycoon been here?" asked Walter.

"Yes; she has done just what I thought she would do. She shipped a crew of natives and has gone out for a three months' cruise. When that is ended she will come back and fit out for Japan."

"And what about Frank?"

"Haven't heard a word of him. The consul saw only the captain, and he was here just long enough to ship his crew. We missed our object by just three days."

"I don't understand how we missed it at all," said Eugene. "We certainly lost no time."

"But you must remember that the Tycoon is a large ship, and that she probably carries as much canvas in her courses and spanker as we can spread on all our masts and yards. We can't expect to sail with her."

"What are we going to do now?" asked Bab.

"We are going to see if we can find her. It will be almost like searching for a needle in a haystack, but we don't want to remain here idle for three months."

"Of course not," said Eugene, quickly. "That would never do. While we are moving about we shall feel that we are doing something for Frank, even if we don't find him."

"Exactly," said Uncle Dick.

"What will you do if we find the Tycoon?" inquired Walter.

"I shall probably be able to present the matter to her captain in such a way that he will be willing to release Frank and make him some amends for what he has done – I think I shall be able to do so," said the old sailor, with a look in his eye that spoke volumes. "But if I should fail, he will be arrested as soon as he comes back here."

This was all Uncle Dick had to say, and it afforded the boys very little satisfaction. They had confidently expected that Frank would be restored to them when they reached the Sandwich Islands, and this was a sore disappointment. Where was he now? Where was he while the Tycoon was lying in the harbor of Honolulu? What was the reason he had not done as he advised the deserter to do – insisted on seeing the American consul? The boys could only speculate upon these points, and they had ample leisure to do it – almost six weeks. During that time every ship they could come up with was spoken, but the Tycoon was not among them, and neither could they gain any information concerning her. The boys were getting discouraged and very down-hearted, and had it not been for Uncle Dick there is no telling how they would have lived through it.

One night the officer of the deck reported that there was a whaler a few miles distant "trying out" – that is, rendering out the oil of a whale she had recently captured. The Stranger's bow was at once pointed toward her, and at sunrise the two vessels were within speaking distance.

"Now just listen to me a minute and I'll tell you what's a fact," said Perk, who with the rest of the Club stood in the waist, attentively regarding the ship as she came toward them carrying a huge bone in her teeth, "there's something about that craft that looks familiar."

"I was just thinking so myself," said Eugene.

He glanced toward Uncle Dick, who, during the last quarter of an hour had kept his glass levelled at the ship, and edged away toward the officer of the deck. "It can't be that that is the vessel we're looking for, is it, Mr. Baldwin?" said he.

"If it isn't her, it's her sister," replied the officer, with some excitement.

Before Eugene could carry this news to his companions the ship backed her main topsail, and as Uncle Dick, with an exclamation of astonishment that had a good deal of meaning in it, seized his trumpet, her captain appeared upon her bulwarks. The boys, through their glasses, had a plain view of him, and the general verdict was that he was a rough-looking fellow – one who, judging by his appearance, was capable of almost anything.

"It is the same man we saw in the whale-boat," declared Eugene, his voice rendered husky by excitement. "I know him, even if he hasn't got his gray suit on."

"I confess that I can't see any resemblance," said Bab, taking his glass down from his eyes long enough to bring it to a better focus.

It would have required a person with a very lively imagination to recognise anybody at that distance, especially in such clothes as those in which the captain was dressed. He wore a tarpaulin on his head, a red shirt open at the throat, and a pair of coarse trowsers, which were thrust into the tops of heavy sea boots; and as some of these articles had been made for larger, and others for smaller men than himself, they fitted him oddly enough.



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