Harry Castlemon.

George at the Wheel



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"Then I must go to school, whether I want to or not, must I?"

He asked this question in a tone of voice which he intended should make an impression on his father, and lead him to see that his son had resolved upon something. But, contrary to his expectations, Mr. Richardson did not seem to be at all affected by it. He answered very calmly and decidedly,

"Certainly, you must."

"Well, if you won't let me go to sea, as you know I have long wanted to do, nor on the river either, can't you find a place for me in your office?"

"I am going to give him every chance," said Tony, to himself, "and if he doesn't see fit to improve one of them, he must take the responsibility for anything that happens."

"I have no place for you," replied his father. "There is nothing in the office you can do, unless you act as messenger boy, and I certainly shall not discharge young Bowman to make an opening for you. He needs the money he earns, for he is the only support of a widowed mother."

"Couldn't I be a clerk of some kind?" asked Tony. "I have given him another chance."

"No, indeed. My clerks must all understand figures. I do wish you would wake up and go to work in earnest. Anthony, didn't you tell me last Christmas that if I would buy you a pony, you would work hard at your books for a whole year?"

Tony believed he did have a faint recollection of making some such promise.

"You have got the pony, and how have you kept your word?"

The boy did not reply to this question. The truth of the matter was, he had learned, as a good many of us have, that there is more pleasure in looking forward to the possession of a thing, than there is in possessing it. The pride he at first felt in having a horse of his own, very soon gave place to an unreasonable hostility toward the animal. It was not so easy to ride him as it looked to be, and he was so slow of foot that one of the Kirkwood boys offered to bet a six-bladed, pearl-handled knife against Tony's "Barlow," that he could find a fellow who could beat him in a fair race. Tony couldn't afford to study hard for a whole year to pay for such a pony as that.

"But whether you wake up or not," continued Mr. Richardson, "you can depend upon one thing: you are going to stay at school until you know more than you do now."

"We'll see about that," was Tony's mental rejoinder. "I have tried my best more than a dozen times to induce him to let me leave school – I'd rather saw wood than pore over these books day after day – but he is bound to disregard all my wishes, and now I will see how he'll feel when he finds that I have disregarded his. I never can do anything I want to do as long as I stay here, and I'm going to make a break. I am going out into the world to begin life in earnest. I am off for salt water!"

As Tony said this, he closed his lips tightly and looked very determined, indeed.

CHAPTER XI
DOWN THE RIVER ON A COAL-BARGE

Tony Richardson had never held five minutes conversation with a sailor, he had never seen the ocean or a ship, and the inquiry will very naturally arise: What could have put it into his head to go to sea? The idea was suggested to him through the same hurtful influence that had made a thief of Bob Owens, and sent him out into the world to make himself famous as a hunter and Indian fighter.

Perhaps you don't believe that so simple a thing as reading a story could affect a boy's whole life? If so, what do you think of the following, which recently appeared in a Rochester paper? We have copied it just as it was printed, with these exceptions: the names of the culprits have been changed, and another substituted for that of the paper in which the story referred to appeared:

"BOYS' PAPERS AND INCENDIARISM

"The speedy arrest of the 'fire-bugs,' who amused themselves two or three evenings in this city by firing buildings, was highly gratifying to our citizens, many of whom began to feel a little nervous over the operations of the young rascals. We refer to them and their work in this place because they afford another illustration of the pernicious influence upon boyish minds of evil literature. Damon, the elder of the two, is eighteen, and his companion, Volbets, is twelve years old. The former, when captured, had in his pocket two copies of the Boys of the Nation, one of those abominable sheets filled with wild stories of crime and adventure so fascinating to ill-disciplined minds, and he said that he was inspired to his criminal work by reading the story of 'Rory of the Hills; or, the Outlaws of Tipperary.' These boys had already burned down a house on Orchard street and a stave factory, when they were arrested, and they had planed to fire three more Wednesday night, if the detectives had not spoiled their game."

That proves, beyond a doubt, that stories have an effect of some kind, does it not? Tony Richardson had imbibed some very ridiculous ideas through the same channel. The story that made the greatest impression upon him was the "Phantom Cruiser," which he had read and re-read until he knew it almost by heart. It described the adventures and exploits of a boy who, after passing through all sorts of perils, such as shipwrecks, and battles with pirates, was finally turned adrift by a mutinous crew because he would not join his fortunes with theirs, and blown upon an uninhabited island in mid ocean. There he accidentally stumbled upon a bed of pearl oysters, of wonderful richness, and after he had loaded himself down with the valuable gems, he escaped from the island, and set out for home to reward his friends and excite the envy of all his enemies. Tony's thoughts often wondered off to that island when they ought to have been fixed on his books. They wandered off there now, while he was walking toward the depot with his father, and he hoped, and sometimes he believed, that his sailor life would have an ending quite as romantic and glorious.

Unfortunately for Tony, the realities of life had no charm for him. He was constantly building air-castles, and looking for something that never came. He lived in a little world of his own creation, and he was not happy unless he was wandering about that world, and mingling with the impossible beings with which his lively imagination had peopled it.

Having decided to "make a break," Tony went further, and made up his mind that he would do it without any unnecessary delay. He could not go on the river without his father's consent, for almost all the steamboat men who ran out of St. Louis were acquainted with him, and some of them would be sure to tell Mr. Richardson that they had seen him. If he went anywhere, he must go to sea. But just here a difficulty arose: How was he going to make his way to New Orleans, which was the nearest port at which he could ship on an ocean-going vessel? There were three ways open to him. He could ask some steamboat captain to pass him, or he could ship as deck hand, or he could pay his fare in the cabin. There were objections to every one of these plans. If he asked for a pass, he would be sure to get it, but he would have to answer a thousand and one questions. Did his father say he might go to New Orleans? and, if so, why didn't Tony take passage on one of his boats?

"That would never do," soliloquised the boy, who had thought all these things over more than once. "When I leave here I want to disappear as completely as though I had ceased to exist. If father should find out that I had left for New Orleans, it would be just like him to telegraph there and stop me. I can't work my way as deck hand, for I couldn't eat and sleep with such a lot of men as they are. Besides I am not strong enough to handle heavy freight, and some of those sharp-eyed mates would certainly penetrate any disguise I might assume. If I pay my fare in the cabin, I shall run the same risks I would run in asking for a pass. 'Tony,' some inquisitive clerk would say, 'what are you doing this for? Why don't you go down on one of your father's boats, and then you could go for nothing?' I wish I was not so well known. If I only had money enough I would go by rail; but I have only enough to pay for my ticket, and I ought to have a little left to buy an outfit when I reach New Orleans. Dear me! I am always bothered about something."

But, after all, getting to New Orleans was not so great a task as Tony thought it was. Unluckily for him events took a turn which made it very easy for him to accomplish his object, and that, too, without his father's knowledge.

The next day was Saturday, and consequently there was no school; but Tony went to the city as usual – we have said that he spent all his leisure hours on the levee – and taking leave of his father at the depot made his way toward one of the wharf-boats. There he encountered a well-known coal-dealer, Mr. Vandegriff by name, whose countenance lighted up at the sight of him.

"Looking for a job?" said he, as he shook hands with Tony.

"Not to-day, I guess," was the laughing reply.

"But I am in earnest," said Mr. Vandegriff, as he and Tony walked over the gang-plank to the wharf-boat. "Here's the Armada loading for New Orleans, and she is in such a hurry to get off that she can't stop to coal up; so I have had a barge made fast alongside of her, and she is going to take it down the river with her and coal up while she is under way. When she gets all she wants she will turn the barge adrift, and when one of my tugs comes in, I'll send down after it."

"Well?" said Tony, who knew that there was nothing unusual in all this.

"Well, I want somebody to go with her and check the coal and take the money," said Mr. Vandegriff.

"Where's Hardy?" asked Tony. "I thought he attended to all such business for you."

"So he did, but he will never do it again. I gave him his walking-papers last night. He is too imprudent to handle any of my money. The Handy Andy took a barge down the river yesterday to coal up while she was under way, and as she had a small crew, I sent fourteen of my darkies with her to help. The Handy Andy let the barge go about twenty miles below here, and Hardy was alone on that barge with that gang of men for more than four hours. When the tug came up to take her in tow, Hardy said to the darkies: 'Have any of you boys got a life preserver about you?' They told him they hadn't; and Hardy said: 'Then, if the tug blows up before we reach the city, I shall have to use this to buoy me up till I can swim ashore;' and as he spoke, he drew out of his pocket a roll of bills containing about three hundred dollars, and put under his arm."

"What a dunce!" cried the boy.

"Wasn't he!" exclaimed Mr. Vandegriff. "He acted as though he had no sense. The darkies opened their eyes when they saw the money, and one of them said to him: 'Fore de Lawd, boss, if we'd knowed you had all dem greenbacks in your good clothes, you'd never tuk 'em to de city wid you;' and to tell the honest truth, I don't think he ever would. It would have been no trouble at all for them to rob him; divide the money among themselves; jump into the skiff that was towing at the stern of the barge, and take to the woods. The worst of it is, that Hardy, by that one fool act, has made it dangerous for anybody to go down the river on a barge with a gang of men, unless he is prepared to defend himself. Those negroes have always believed, that the boat knew how much coal she wanted, and paid for it before leaving the city; and that the clerk went down with her simply to see that she didn't take more than she had paid for. But now their eyes are opened, and there are some reckless ones among them who will hereafter be on the watch."

"And is that the job you want me to take?" asked Tony. "I think you had better get somebody else."

"Bless your heart," said Mr. Vandegriff, "there's no danger in going down with the Armada. If there was, I shouldn't think of asking you. She has got her full crew; and I shall send only a couple of my best hands with you to make the lines fast, when the tug finds the barge. They have worked for me a long time; and I would rather trust them, than some white men with whom I am acquainted. I know that money is no object to you," he added, seeing that the boy still hesitated, "but I don't want you to do it for nothing. I'll give you ten dollars."

Tony pricked up his ears when he heard this. If he could get a few more such "jobs" at ten dollars a piece, it would not take him many Saturdays to earn money enough to pay for his sailor's outfit, when he reached New Orleans.

"Suppose I should get into a fight with these two darkies, and keep them from robbing me and running off with your money?" said Tony.

"Then you can keep a hundred dollars out of it, and hand me the balance," answered Mr. Vandegriff, who little imagined that the boy would ever be in a situation to take advantage of this permission. "You'll go, won't you? Speak quick, for she will be ready to start in a few minutes; and I must sign a blank receipt for you to fill out, when she has finished coaling. I haven't time to look for anybody else; and I can't go myself."

"Yes," said Tony, "I'll go."

Mr. Vandegriff walked rapidly toward the office, and as he drew the printed form of a receipt from his pocket-book, the Armada's bell rang. He quickly signed the receipt and placed it in a small account-book which he handed over to the boy, who ran out and sprang on board the Armada.

"All ashore, Tony," shouted the captain, from his perch on the hurricane-deck. "We are in a great hurry. Where in the world is that clerk of yours, Vandegriff?"

The coal-dealer replied by pointing out Tony, who shook his account-book at the captain. The latter nodded his head to signify that it was all right, tapped the bell, and when the lines had been cast off and the staging hauled in, the Armada backed out into the stream, taking the coal-barge with her.

As soon as the forecastle had been cleared up, long planks were run down into the barge, and the crew of the steamer, assisted by Mr. Vandegriff's two negroes, began filling up the bunkers, Tony and one of the clerks sitting on the guard and checking the boxes as fast as they were brought on board. It was about nine o'clock when the Armada moved away from the wharf-boat, and it was a little past three in the afternoon when she cast off the lines and left the barge to the mercy of the current, and Tony Richardson sitting on the forward-deck with more than five hundred dollars in his pocket, and a look of excitement on his face. It was a much larger amount of money than he had ever had in his possession before.

"Don't I wish it was mine?" thought Tony, as he straightened out his leg and passed his hand over the huge lump in his pocket. "I wouldn't see St. Louis again for one while, I bet you."

Notwithstanding his great desire to free himself from the restraints of home and school, and to enter upon the glorious career of which he had so often dreamed, Tony had never once thought of stealing money enough to enable him to carry out his plans. The idea had never once suggested itself to him, and if it had, by any chance, came into his mind, it would have frightened him. He would no more have taken a dollar of Mr. Vandegriff's money to keep him in his runaway scheme, than he would have jumped into the river and made way with himself.

"Now, I believe I will eat my lunch," continued Tony, "and I hope by the time it is finished that tug will be along. What Mr. Vandegriff told me about Hardy makes me just a trifle nervous. But didn't he say that these men were all right? He certainly did, and so I have nothing to fear."

Tony squared around on the barge so that he could look up and down the river without turning his body, and while disposing of the good things, the steward of the Armada had put up for him, he kept a good lookout for the tug whose appearance he awaited with no little impatience and anxiety. Now and then he turned his eyes toward the two negroes, who were seated on the after-deck engaged in very earnest conversation, but he paid no particular attention to them until he saw them arise to their feet, as if moved by a common impulse, and start toward the bow, walking along the gunwales of the barge, one on each side. When the barge was loaded to its full capacity, the top of these gunwales was not more than two feet above the water; but as fast as the coal was taken out, the unwieldy craft rose, and now, when the cargo was almost all removed, the gunwales were six or seven feet high. Each end of the barge was covered by a deck about eight feet long, and this was where the crew stood when they were handling the lines.

This movement on the part of the negroes alarmed Tony, who dropped the leg of the chicken he held in his hand, and sprang to his feet. Something told him that it would never do to allow those men to come too close to him.

"Say, you Mose and Sambo," he shouted, "what are you coming here for? Go back where you belong."

"Want to ax you something, sah," replied one of the negroes – the one at whom the boy had looked when he called out the name of "Sambo." He hadn't got either one of the names right, but still the ones he had given them will do to distinguish them by.

"Stop, right where you are," commanded Tony, who, frightened as he was, managed to speak in a very firm and determined tone of voice. "I can hear what you have to say."

"We's comin' right dar whar you is," said the one who had been called Mose.

As he spoke, he drew a long knife from his pocket, and with a quick movement, threw open the blade, which caught with a spring. Tony's terror was greatly increased by the sight of the glittering steel. It was plain that the men intended to rob him of Mr. Vandegriff's money, but what they intended to do with him after they got it, was not so clear to him. The sight of the knife and the expression on the face of the man who carried it, suggested only the most dreadful things. He looked anxiously up the river, but the tug was not in sight. He turned his eyes in the other direction, but the stream was clear as far as he could see. Beyond a point which jutted out from the left hand bank, a huge black cloud of smoke arose in the air, pointing out the position of the Armada, which was flying down the river with all the speed her powerful engines could give her. There was nobody to whom he could look for assistance; he was utterly alone. He had never before been placed in a situation of danger, and when he thought of it afterward, he was astonished at the manner in which he conducted himself, and the promptness with which he acted.

"Does you see dis yere?" said Mose, holding up the knife so that the boy could have a fair view of it. "Don't make no fursin' or yellin' now, kase if you do, it'll be wuss for you!"

"I am in charge of this craft," said Tony, still speaking in a steady voice, "and I tell you again, and for the last time, to go back to the stern of the barge where you belong. If you don't, you'll hear something drop."

The negroes, who were surprised at the boy's bold front, halted and looked across the barge at each other. If Tony had at that moment placed his hand in his hip-pocket, or made any other demonstrations to indicate that he had a pistol about him, it is very probable that the men would have obeyed his orders, and that he would have been saved from something that afterwards happened; but Tony, being the hero of an adventure that really occurred, and not an imaginary character, did not do this. He was too badly frightened to think of it, and he did just what he ought not to have done. Seeing that the men hesitated, he sought to gain an increased advantage over them and frighten them still more by stooping quickly and picking up two lumps of coal. This simple act reassured the negroes, and Mose shouted across to his companion —

"Hi, Jeff! He ain't got nuffin to shoot wid. Frow dem chunks down, boy, or it'll be wuss for you, if you don't pay some heed to what we're tellin' you!"

The men again advanced along the gunwales, and Tony, knowing that if he allowed them to gain a footing on the deck they would quickly overpower him, suddenly drew back his right-hand and sent one of the lumps of coal whizzing through the air, toward the man who carried the knife. He had been catcher for the Monitor ball club for two seasons, and the members were loud in their praises of the way he threw to the second base. He threw that lump of coal with all the force he could put into his arm, and it went as straight for that darkey's head, as a ball from his hands ever went for the hands of the second basemen. It struck that head too, and bounded from it as it would have bounded from a brick wall; but it checked the advance.

Mose flourished his hands over his head, and after trying in vain to keep his balance, he sprang into the air; at the same time turning his body about half-way around and throwing out his arms, so that when he came down, they caught across the gunwale; and there he hung over the water.

Tony was not a little frightened at the effect of his shot. He thought that the man was about to fall into the river; and if he had, he would have stood a fair chance of drowning, before his companion could have gone out in the skiff and picked him up. But even while these thoughts were passing through Tony's mind, he began to wish that the lump of coal had been larger and heavier, and that his arm had been stronger. Mose was not in the least injured by the blow he had received, nor was he cowed by his narrow escape from being knocked overboard. He still held fast to the knife; and the eyes with which he glared at the boy over the gunwale, were fairly ablaze with fury.



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