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- The Voyage of the Hoppergrass - 30/32 -
is Snider and the other man? Did they have a boat?"
"I didn't see any," I replied.
"They'd be sure to have one, though."
Spook went down into the cabin again, to get Captain Bannister's spy-glass. While he was down there, hunting for it, his brother and I watched the yacht and the two smaller sailboats behind us. The yacht and the boat which came from the direction of Rogers's Island were so situated that a line drawn between them would have formed the base of a triangle at the apex of which was the "Hoppergrass." The other small boat was half a mile or more behind the yacht. As we watched the three of them, the wind dropped a little, and there came a hot puff from the land.
"Hullo!" said Spike, "there won't be any chasing if the wind goes down much more."
Spook came on deck with the spy-glass and spent some time in trying to make out who was on the three boats. Beyond thinking that he saw pitchforks on all of them, however, he did not give us much information. The wind continued to fail, and it got hotter and hotter. In ten minutes we were sailing at a very slow rate,-- hardly more than moving. The yacht was becalmed, its sail flapping. The little boat from Rogers's Island, however, still had a breeze; it was about half a mile distant and drawing up on us.
The behavior of the wind was explained by a mass of white clouds, dark underneath, which had been piling up in the west. For an hour they had been gathering, and now we saw that they were thunder- heads. They promised all the wind we needed, before long.
Presently the small boat ran into the calm streak, and her sail, too, hung loose. She was near enough now for us to see that she was merely a large sailing dory. There were two men on board her, but whether they were Mr. Snider and the Professor I could not tell. I reached for the spy-glass, when Spike said:
"They're going to row."
One of the men had lowered the sail, and the other was getting out a long pair of oars.
"W-Well, what's the matter with our d-d-doing that, too?"
"We can't row this boat, you chump!"
"N-No, b-but one of us c-c-can t-take a line in the t-t-tender, and t-tow her."
"They'll go three feet to our one."
"That's all right," I said, "it's worth trying. We can keep away from them for a while. There's a breeze coming out of those clouds in a few minutes, and then we can sail around them in circles."
I was anxious to get away. I had had a glimpse through the spy- glass, and thought I recognized Mr. Snider. We hauled the tender alongside, and Spook got in it to begin the towing. Just as he did so, and as I was standing outside the cock-pit, there came a sound above my head as if the air had been split open.
The sail of the "Hoppergrass" shivered and the halliards rattled. Almost at the same instant there was a sharp "Crack!" from the dory behind us.
"The blooming sons-of-guns!" exclaimed Spike; "they're firing at us!"
"Yes; a rifle. Look there!"
There was a puff of smoke floating away from the dory.
"And see that little hole in the sail. That's where the bullet went through."
Spike and I dropped into the cock-pit, and crouched below the seats. Spike hurriedly told his brother to do the same.
"N-N-No, I g-g-guess I'm better off right here. He'll have to d-d- drill through b-both s-sides of the 'G-G-Grasshopper',--I m-mean the 'H-Hoppergrass' before he can hit m-me. I'm afraid B-B-Brother S-S-Snider is f-f-forgetting to be g-g-good!"
And then we could hear him quoting Mr. Snider.
"'It's the w-way to b-b-be h-happy, F-F-Frederick, and s-s- successful, and R-RICH. D-D-Did you ever hear of Abraham P. F-F- F-Fillmore, F-F-Frederick?'"
There was an interval--not a very pleasant one--while we waited for Mr. Snider to try another shot at us.
"Here's the wind!" said Spike, suddenly; "climb aboard!"
Spook crawled into the "Hoppergrass" just as we felt the first cool gust against our faces. A cloud blew across the sun for an instant. The boom swung out with a rattle and a bump, the sail filled, and the "Hoppergrass" heeled over to the breeze. It was only a light puff, and it did not last long, but it was enough to get us under way once more. Spike and I took a peek toward Mr. Snider's boat. They were getting up their sail, so Spike jumped up on the seat again. He was in danger there, if they should fire again, but as he said, he could not sail the boat while he was crouched on deck.
The dory's sail went up in a jiffy, and again the wind seemed to favor them, for they pulled up on us rapidly. We were sailing, but by no means as well as at first. The Professor was steering their boat, I thought, but it was impossible to be sure. Both men kept almost entirely out of sight.
Then we caught the breeze again. It was puffy and uncertain,--the forerunner of a squall.
"We'll say good-bye to 'em now," exclaimed Spike, gleefully.
"B-But we won't sh-shake that yacht s-s-so easy,--l-look at 'em! H-Hoisting a j-j-jib, d-d-d-dod r-rabbit 'em!"
We had forgotten the other boats, in our excitement over the dory. Spike looked back over his shoulder.
"This seems like persecution to me," he remarked. "One trouble after another. No chance to put any more sail on this boat," he added.
"And no sail to put," said I.
"Look! They're setting a spinnaker, too! Now they'll come!"
We saw the long boom run out, waver, and settle into place. Then there bulged out upon it a great mass of canvas that made the jib look like a handkerchief. The yacht simply tore through the water. Any hope of keeping ahead of her for ten minutes was absurd. She was really trying to catch us now, and she was doing it. She grew in size every second, an overwhelming cloud of canvas,--a fine sight on the darkening water.
"T-T-Tack!" exclaimed Spook, "she c-can't s-sail into the wind with that s-spinnaker!"
"What's the good?" growled Spike, "she can sail all round this boat, just with her mainsail and jib."
Now the yacht bore down on us with a rush, cutting through the water and sending spray flying on either side of the bow. The dory was forgotten as we watched this new enemy. There was no one to be seen on board,--the spread of her canvas hid everything.
Just as her bow-sprit pushed by the stern of the "Hoppergrass" something white stirred near the mast. Then two wings flapped, and there was a sound of "Quack! Quack! Quaa-a-a-a-ck!"
THE VOYAGE BEGINS AGAIN
At the same moment Captain Bannister poked his head under the sail and looked at us. His face was grim--as it might have been that time he was chased by pirates in the China Sea--and he had a double-barreled shot-gun in his hand.
When he saw me his mouth opened, and he stared helplessly. I caught sight of Mr. Daddles standing near the Captain, Sprague at the wheel, and Jimmy Toppan and some others busy with the sails. Then I fully realized what had first dawned on me when I heard the quacking of Simon the duck. This was Sprague's boat, of course. It was not strange that I hadn't recognized her. Coming up as she did, bow on, there was very little to distinguish her from any other yacht. And I was never familiar with her appearance.
(By the way, I have forgotten to tell the name of the yacht. It was the "White Rabbit,"--named, said Sprague, after his favorite character in a book. And as the boat was painted black, it pleased him especially to call her this, in order to annoy the matter-of- fact Chief.)
Spook crawled under a seat as soon as he saw Captain Bannister.
"G-G-Guns again!" said he; "I t-told you s-so!"
"Come out!" I said, "come out quick! It's all right,--these are my friends. That is Captain Bannister."
"The one wh-who owns this b-boat?"
"D-Do you c-call th-that all r-right?"
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