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Never was there a brighter, more perfect June day! Low down in the south a few long cloud-streamers floated, but for the rest the heavens were as clear as though the old lady in the nursery rhyme who swept the cobwebs out of the sky had just finished her task. In the east where sky and sea came together it was hard to tell at first glance where one left off and the other began. Golden sunlight glinted the dancing waves, and a fresh little breeze from the southwest held the Vagabond’s pennants stiffly from the poles.
The grassy slopes of Fort Independence looked startlingly green across the water, and the sails of the yachts and ships which dotted the harbor were never whiter. But, although the sun shone strongly, it was more of a spring day than a summer one, and the four aboard the Vagabond were glad to slip on their sweaters when the point of Deer Island had been rounded and the breeze met them unobstructed. Bob set the boat’s nose northwest and headed for Cape Ann.
So far they had made no definite plans save for the first day’s cruise. They intended to make Gloucester, a matter of twenty-six miles, to-day and lie over there until morning. After that the journey was yet to arrange. There was talk of a run to the Isle of Shoals, and so on up to Portland, Bob’s home; but Dan, for his part, wanted to get to New York for a day. And just now they were too taken up with the present to plan for the future.
The Vagabond was reeling off ten miles an hour, and Nelson had returned to the cockpit, greatly to the alarm of Tom, who was of the opinion that Nelson ought to stay below and keep his eye on the engine. Nelson, however, convinced him that that wasn’t necessary. Bob still held the wheel, and was having a fine time.
“It’s more fun than a circus,” he declared. “It works so dead easy, you know! How long will it take us to make Gloucester, Nelson?”
“Oh, call it three hours at the outside, if nothing happens.”
“If nothing happens!” exclaimed Tom uneasily. “What could happen?” He looked doubtfully at the open water toward which they were speeding.
“Lots of things,” answered Nelson, with a wink at Dan. “The engine might break down, or we might run on a rock or a sand bar, or you might get too near the edge of the boat and tip it over, or——”
“Thought you said we were going to keep near the shore,” Tom objected.
“We’re only a mile out now.”
“Yes, bu-bu-bu-but we’re going farther every mi-mi-minute!”
“Tommy’s getting scared,” said Dan. “You didn’t mind that little jaunt in Peconic Bay last summer.”
“Well, that was a pu-pond and this is the ocean,” was the answer.
“It looked mighty little like a pond at one time,” said Bob. “Besides, you could have drowned just as easy there as you can here, Tommy.”
“Anyhow,” added Dan soothingly, “you couldn’t drown if you tried. You’re so fat you can’t sink.”
“I can su-su-swim under water as well as you cu-cu-cu-can!”
“What’s the town over there, Nelson?” Bob interrupted.
“Winthrop; and that’s Nahant ahead. You might head her in a bit more until Tommy gets his sea legs.”
Bob turned the wheel a mite and the launch’s bow swung further inshore.
“What time is it?” asked Dan.
“Just twelve,” answered Nelson, glancing at the clock.
“Well, what time do we feed?”
“About one, I suppose,” answered Nelson. “Who’s hungry?”
Dan groaned. “I, for one. I could eat nails.”
“Same here,” said Bob. “Tommy, you get busy, like a good little cookie, and fry a few thousand eggs.”
“And make some coffee,” added Dan.
“All right,” Tom replied. “Only there’s a lot of canned baked beans down there. What’s the matter with those?”
“Search me,” said Dan. “Suppose you heat some up and we’ll find out. Beans sound better than eggs to yours truly.”
“I suppose that, as Tom’s the cook, he had better give us what he thinks best,” said Nelson.
“Maybe,” Dan replied, “only it gives him a terrible power over the rest of us. If he should get a grouch, we might have nothing but pilot bread and water.”
“You’ll have to be good to me,” said Tom with a grin as he started down the steps to the engine room.
“Oh, we will be,” answered Dan earnestly; and to give weight to his words he aided Tom’s descent with a gentle but well-placed kick.
“You get short rations for that,” sung out the cook from below.
“If I do, I’ll go down there and eat up the ice box!”
“Say, Nelson,” sang out Bob, “what about that sloop over there? It looks as though she was trying to cross. Who has the right of way?”
“She has. Keep astern of her,” answered Nelson.
“Say!” came a disgusted voice from below. “We haven’t any can opener!”
“Thunder!” exclaimed Nelson. “Is that so? Have you looked among the knives?”
“Looked everywhere,” answered Tom, “except up on deck.”
“Use your teeth, Tommy,” suggested Dan.
“Let the beans go, and fry some eggs,” called Bob.
“Use the potato knife,” said Nelson, “and we’ll get a new one when we go shopping.”
“All right,” answered Tom. “If I bust it—there!”
“Did you?” laughed Dan.
“Short off! Say, Bob, lend me your knife a minute, will you?”
A howl of laughter arose, and Tom’s flushed face appeared at the companion way.
“Well, I’ve got to get the lid off somehow, haven’t I?” he asked with a grin.
“Not necessarily with my new knife,” answered Bob.
“I’ll tell you a way you can do it,” said Dan soberly, and Tom, looking suspicious, asked how.
“Why, you set the can on the stove and get it good and hot all through, and just as soon as it begins to boil hard the lid comes off.”
“Huh! And everything else, I guess,” said Tom.
“And we spend the rest of the cruise picking Boston baked beans off the cabin walls,” supplemented Nelson. “No explosions for me, if you please. I don’t see why we should bother ourselves about the can, anyhow; it’s the cook’s funeral.”
“Well, it’s your luncheon,” Tom replied.
“It’s a job for the ship’s carpenter,” said Bob. “Call the carpenter.”
“I guess I’m it,” said Dan. “Come on, Tommy, and we’ll get the old thing open.”
They disappeared together and for a minute or two the sound of merry laughter floated up from below, and the two on deck smiled in sympathy. Then there was a loud and triumphant chorus of “Ah-h-h!” and Dan emerged.
“I want to try steering,” he announced. “Get out of there, Bob.”
“All right, but don’t get gay,” was the response. Dan tried to wither Bob with a glance as he took his place at the wheel. Then——
“Gosh! Don’t she turn easy? Who-oa! Come back here, Mr. Vagabond! Say, Nel, how much does a tub like this cost?”
“Thirty-four hundred, this one. But there’s been a lot of extras since then.”
“Honest? Say, that’s a whole lot, isn’t it? I suppose you could get one cheaper if you didn’t have so much foolish mahogany and so many velvet cushions, eh?”
“Maybe. You thinking of buying a launch?”
“I’d like to. I’m dead stuck on this one, all right. A sailor’s life for me, fellows!” And Dan tried to do a few steps of the hornpipe without letting go of the wheel. Nelson, laughing, disappeared to look after the engine, and with him, when he reappeared, came an appetizing odor of cooking.
“Tommy’s laying the tablecloth,” he announced. “When grub’s ready, you fellows go down and I’ll take a turn at the wheel.”
“Get out!” said Dan. “I’m helmsman or steersman, or whatever you call it. You run along and eat; I’m not hungry yet.”
“How about it, Bob?” asked Nelson. Bob looked doubtful.
“I’m afraid he’ll run us against the rocks over there just for a joke.”
“Honest, I won’t,” exclaimed Dan earnestly. “If I see a rock coming, I’ll call you.”
“All right,” laughed Nelson. “See that you do.”
At that moment there came eight silvery chimes from the clock in the engine room.
“‘Sixteen bells on the Waterbury watch! Yo-ho, my lads, yo-ho!’” sang Dan. “Say, what time is that, anyhow?”
“Twelve,” answered Bob.
“Twelve! Well, that’s the craziest way of telling time I ever heard of! What’s it do when it gets to be one?”
“Strikes two bells.”
“Yes, indeed! Isn’t it simple?” asked Dan sarcastically.
“When you get the hang of it,” Nelson answered. “All you have to do is to remember that it’s eight bells at twelve, four and eight. Then one bell is half-past, two bells one hour later, three bells half-past again, and——”
“That’ll do for you,” interrupted Dan. “I don’t want to learn it all the first lesson. But, look here, now; suppose I wake up in the night and hear the silly thing strike eight. How do I know whether it’s midnight or four in the morning?”
“Why,” said Bob, “all you have to do is to lie awake awhile. If the sun comes up it was four, and if it doesn’t it was twelve.”
“Huh! I guess I’ll go by my watch. The chap who invented the ship’s clock must have been crazy!”
“Lunch is ready!” called Tom.
“Go ahead, you fellows,” said Dan. “But don’t eat it all up.”
“And you keep a watch where you’re going,” cautioned Nelson. “If you get near a boat or anything, sing out; hear?”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
“Bet you he runs into something,” muttered Bob as they went in.
“No, he won’t,” said Nelson, “because he knows that if he does we won’t let him do any more steering. I’ve got to wash my hands; they’re all over engine grease. You and Tommy sit down.”
The table, which when not in use was stored against the stateroom roof, was set up between the berths and was covered with a clean linen cloth, adorned in one corner with the club flag and the private signal crossed. The napkins were similarly marked, as was the neat china service and the silverware.
“Say, aren’t we swell?” asked Tom admiringly. “And I found a whole bunch of writing paper and envelopes in that locker over there, with the crossed flags and the boat’s name on them. I’m going to write letters to everyone I know after lunch.”
The menu this noon wasn’t elaborate, but there was plenty to eat. A big dish of smoking baked beans, a pot of fragrant coffee, a jar of preserves, and the better part of a loaf of bread graced the board. And there was plenty of fresh butter and a can of evaporated cream.
“This is swell!” muttered Tom with his mouth full.
“Tom, if I ever said you couldn’t cook I retract,” said Nelson. “I apologize humbly. Pass the bread, please.”
“Oh, don’t ask me to pass anything,” begged Bob. “I’m starving. I suppose we’ll have to leave a little for Dan, but I hate to do it!”
“Wonder how Dan’s getting on,” said Nelson presently, after a sustained but busy silence. “I should think he’d be hungry by this time.” He raised himself and glanced out of one of the open port lights. Then he flung down his napkin and hurried through the engine room to the cockpit.
“What the dickens!” exclaimed Bob, following.
When Nelson reached the wheel the boat’s head was pointed straight for Boston. But Dan had heard him coming, and was now turning hard on the wheel.
“Where do you think you’re going?” demanded Nelson.
“Who, me? Why, Gloucester.”
“Oh, I’ve just been giving myself a few lessons in steering,” answered Dan calmly. “I’ve been turning her around, you know. She works fine, doesn’t she?”
“You crazy idiot!” laughed Nelson. “What do you suppose those folks in that sloop over there think of us?”
“Oh, they probably think we’re chasing our tail,” answered Dan with a grin. “Have you eaten all that lunch?”
“No, but we will if you don’t hold her steady.”
“That’s all right, Nel; I’ll keep her as straight as a die; honest Injun!”
The others returned to the table and finished their repast. Then Nelson relieved Dan, and the latter went below in turn. Later he and Tom washed up the few dishes, and when they came up on deck found the Vagabond opposite Marblehead Light. It was after one o’clock and considerably warmer, as the breeze had lessened somewhat. Nelson and Bob had already shed their sweaters, and the others followed suit. Nelson was pointing out the sights.
“That’s Marblehead Rock over there, where they start the races from. The yacht clubs are on the other side of the Neck. Salem and Beverly are in there; see?”
“What’s the light ahead, to the left?” asked Dan.
“Baker’s Island Light,” answered Nelson. “Only you ought to say to port instead of to the left.”
“Sure! Off the port bow is what I meant. A sailor’s life for me!”
“We’ve got all day to make twelve miles,” said Nelson, “so we’ll go inside of Baker’s and keep along the shore.” He turned the wheel and the Vagabond swung her nose toward the green slopes of the Beverly shore. Tom insisted on having a turn at the wheel, and so Nelson relinquished his place and went below to look after his oil cups. Under Bob’s guidance, Tom held the boat about a quarter mile offshore. There was lots to see now, for the water was pretty well dotted with sailing craft and launches, and the wooded coast was pricked out with charming summer residences.
About half-past two the gleaming white lighthouse at the tip of Eastern Point was fairly in sight, and they rounded Magnolia, a cheerful jumble of hotels and cottages. A little farther on Nelson pointed out Norman’s Woe, a small reef just off the shore. Dan had never heard of the “Wreck of the Hesperus,” and Tom spouted two stanzas of it before he could be stopped. Bob had laid the chart out on the cabin roof, and was studying it intently.
“Where do we anchor?” he asked. “According to this thing there are about forty-eleven coves in the harbor.”
“Well, we were in here a couple of years ago,” answered Nelson, “and anchored off one of the hotels to the left of that island with the stumpy lighthouse. I guess we’ll go there to-day. Here’s the bar now.”
The Vagabond was tossing her bow as she slid through the long swells in company with a fishing schooner returning to port.
“‘Adventurer,’” read Dan, his eyes on the bow of the schooner. “That’s a good name for her, isn’t it? I’ll bet she’s had adventures, all right.”
“That’s the life for you, Dan,” laughed Bob. But Dan looked doubtful.
“Well, I don’t know,” he answered. “I’d like to try it, though.”
A long granite breakwater stretched out from the end of the point on the starboard, ending in a circular heap of rocks on which an iron frame supported a lantern. Before them stretched the long expanse of Gloucester Harbor, bordered on one side by the high wooded slopes of the mainland and on the other by the low-lying, curving shore of the Point. Far in there was a forest of masts, and, back of it, the town rising from the harborside and creeping back up the face of a hill. Launches and sailboats were at anchor in the coves or crossing the harbor, and a couple of funereal-looking coal barges were lying side by side, their empty black hulls high out of water. At Nelson’s request, Tom turned the boat’s head toward one of the coves, and Nelson went below and reduced the speed of the engine. Then the anchor and cable were hauled out from the stern locker and taken forward. Nelson again stood by the engine and Bob took the wheel. Then——
“All right,” called the latter, and the busy chugging of the engine ceased. Nelson hurried up, and when the Vagabond had floated in to within some forty yards of the shore the anchor was ordered down.
“Aye, aye, sir!” answered Dan promptly, and there was a splash. When the cable was made fast and the Vagabond had swung her nose inquiringly toward the nearest landing, the boys went below to spruce up for a visit ashore. Then the tender was unlashed from the cabin roof and lifted over the side, Dan piled in and took the oars, and the others followed. Near at hand a rambling white building stood behind the protecting branches of two giant elms.
“That’s where we’ll have dinner,” said Nelson. “It’s a jolly old place.”
“Dinner!” cried Tom. “Me for dinner! Give way, Dan!”
“They don’t serve it in the middle of the afternoon, though,” said Nelson.
“Maybe Tommy could get something at the kitchen if he went around there,” Bob suggested. “I don’t believe he’s a real cook, after all; real cooks are never hungry.”
“Huh!” answered Tom. “I’m no cook, I’m a chef; that’s different. Chefs are always hungry.”
“Easy, Dan,” cautioned Bob. “Look where you’re going if you don’t want to run the landing down. Here we are, Barry; out you go!”
And Barry went out and was halfway up the pier before anyone else had set foot on the landing.
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