A Madcap Cruise
A Madcap Cruise
By ORIC BATES
Boston and New York
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & COMPANY
The Riverside Press, Cambridge
COPYRIGHT 1905 BY ORIC BATES
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published March 1905
|I.||The Cardinal Points||1|
|II.||The Fog comes in||19|
|III.||It blows Southeast||36|
|IV.||It blows Northwest||50|
|VIII.||A Change of Tactics||129|
|X.||Mr. Wrenmarsh, the Extraordinary||163|
|XI.||A Lone-Hand Game||199|
|XII.||At Vergil's Tomb||228|
|XIII.||A Bid for the Odd Trick||240|
|XIV.||Clearing the Decks||250|
|XV.||In the Cattewater||263|
|XVII.||Facing the Music||310|
A MADCAP CRUISE
Chapter One THE CARDINAL POINTS
"It strikes me," said Jerrold Taberman, "that we are booked foreverlasting fame, win or lose. We'll either sail down the ages as abrace of heroes, or as the most egregious pair of donkeys that everbotched a job."
"Well, Jerry," returned his companion, smiling, "you've as much to dowith making the thing a success as I have. I hope you realize theresponsibility."
The young men chuckled in concert at the thought of all that wasinvolved in this remark, although they looked, not at each other, butout over the sea.
It was early twilight in the last week of the month of May. The twospeakers were standing on a little jetty that ran out into a small andall but landlocked harbor of an island in East Penobscot[Pg 2] Bay. Both wereevidently in the earlier twenties, both were dressed in such canvasworking-suits as are worn by the sailors in our navy, and both were, athalf a glance, gentlemen.
The second speaker, John Castleport, was tall and dark. His face, withits prominent features and keen brown eyes, was rather striking thanhandsome. He stood looking southward to where, in the fading light, theAtlantic shouldered away to the west as if with a hidden purpose of itsown. In his hand he held a pair of powerful binoculars, and despite hissmile he had the air of being pretty seriously in earnest.
Taberman contrasted curiously with his host. He was short and thickset,with blue eyes and fair hair which showed a tendency to curl. As hestood with shoulders turned to the wind, the square collar of his canvasjumper was blown against his round pate, and made a background for histanned face. He held a briar drop-pipe between his teeth, and his handswere thrust deep into his trousers pockets. Working his pipe into thecorner of his mouth, he spoke again.
"Hope this breeze won't trouble the old gentleman," he remarked, castinga glance at the billowing double-headers that were driving by aloft.
The wind shrilled by the watchers on the jetty, clear, strong, andsalt.
"Guess not," replied Castleport; "anything short of a hurricane's asailing-wind for him. He's a mettlesome old chap."
"That's right enough. Can't have him spoiling our game by being late,you know. Let's go up; it's getting beastly chilly."
They turned and walked along the pier. At the point where it met theshore stood a small boathouse. Thence the ground, covered with a stuntedgrowth of spruce and fir, and the inevitable New England boulders, roseabruptly. Directly in the line of the jetty the shingled roof of a smallhouse showed above the trees. To the westward, in the dimming afterglowof the sunset, the Camden Hills stood out luminous, purple, yet rimmedwith a thread of golden fire. Away to the east, clad in soberer colors,rose Mt. Desert, a mass of shadowy greens and blues. The steepness ofthe path they were ascending soon cut off from the view of the young menthese beauties and grandeurs, which, however, they were probably not ina mood to dwell upon; and a minute's walking brought them to the door ofthe house, a small affair with high-pitched roof and broad veranda. Itsshingles were almost the color of the dark [Pg 4]evergreens that encircledthe clearing in which it stood; its windows reflected with a vacant andglassy stare the fast-fading light. Castleport opened the door for hisguest, and followed him into the living-room.
The darkness seemed the greater from its contrast with what light yetremained outside, and not until Taberman had put a match to the pile ofold shingles and light driftwood in the wide fireplace could they seefairly. The crimson glow showed a room some twenty feet square, withwindows on two sides,—the south and east. The joists and sheathing wereof planed spruce, left unpainted. The big Mexican fireplace of brickoccupied the northwestern corner; in the middle of the room stoodconspicuously a round deal table, covered with a litter of pipes,tobacco, magazines, and nautical hardware; between the two easternwindows, below a box-like cabinet which was attached to the wall, was asmaller table with a square top, piled with books and charts. Beneaththe southern windows was placed a heavy desk with a faded baize top, thecloth ink-stained and full of holes due to moths and carelessly handledcigars. Of the happy-go-lucky assortment of chairs which completed thefurniture of the room, no large portion was in an entirely unbrokencondition, but all evidently were[Pg 5] meant for service and ease. The wallsof the room were decorated with devices in scallop-shells and a fewunframed water-colors of the impressionist type. A large chart ofPenobscot Bay was tacked to the inside of the door, and a venerableflintlock musket hung below a battered quadrant over the chimneypiece.Everything was simple almost to rudeness, yet the place gave at once andmost strongly the impression of comfort and good-fellowship.
Castleport laid his binoculars on the desk, and, stepping to a door onhis right, opened it and called out:—
"Sair?" promptly replied some one from beyond the short passage intowhich he looked.
"Dinner when you're ready, Gonzague."
"A' right, sair."
Taberman had seated himself by the fire, and here Castleport joined him.Each filled and lighted a pipe, and together they stared at the flamesroaring up the wide chimney. The smaller sticks already began to fallapart, pitching outward or dropping between the dogs, and for somemoments the young men watched them in silence. At length, as Tabermanflung a fresh stick into the flames, Castleport spoke, half to himself.
"What a lesson it'll be to the old chap! My aunt! He'll grind his teethto powder!"
"Tooth-powder, eh?" queried the other with a grin. "But we must be surewe have the laugh on the right side. It isn't merely the getting awaywith the Merle that's the joke; it's the hanging on to her and bringingher back safe."
"That's true enough," assented Castleport; "but with pluck and luck andan eye to the three L's, we ought to manage."
"You'd better go over the whole plan for me, Jack; you haven't given mehalf the details, and I'd like to know the latest version. It'scertainly important to have everything perfectly understood beforehand."
"All right; I'll go over the whole business after dinner, old man. Wewill act the conspirators rehearsing their villainy; but let's wait forfood. I hate discussions on an empty stomach."
"Correct; here's Gonzague now."
A tall, gray-haired man, with a much-bronzed face, came in and began toclear away the litter on the round table. He had a rugged,weather-beaten countenance, with prominent features and luminous blackeyes. Beneath his big, hooked nose a large white mustache, stiff andcurled like that of a walrus, half hid a firm, full-lipped mouth. A[Pg 7]native of Provence,—soldier, sailor, cook, and deck-hand,—old GonzagueMairecalde had led sixty-odd years of exciting and polyglot existence,the last three of which had been spent in Castleport's service. Dressedin blue flannel trousers and an immaculate white jacket, the old manmoved noiselessly about, swiftly disposing of the things on the table.He seemed to have a place for everything, and the lightest tread anddeftest hands imaginable. Having cleared away, he went out, and soonreappeared with linen and service. In a short time the table was readyfor the bringing in of the food.
"A' ready, sair?" asked Gonzague, tugging at his mustache with his bonyfingers.
"Two minutes," answered Jack. "Come on, Jerry; let's scrub up."
In ten minutes they were seated before a dinner plain but hearty, wellcooked and appetizingly served. They were apparently not at all troubledby any incongruity between their rough and not over-fresh sailor clothesand the snowy napery and the silver on which the fire threw dancing andwavering lights. On the walls opposite the fireplace mute, shadowygrotesques helped each other to huge supplies from dishes of vagueoutline and uncertain size, plied dark forks and[Pg 8] spoons with ogre-likegusto, or with heads thrown back and crooked elbows drank like trollsfrom enormous tankards.
After dinner the table was cleared, a jug of ale was placed upon it,with a plate of ship-biscuit and a supply of tobacco. It was the theoryof Castleport that the climate of the Island was English enough towarrant this nightly attack upon the October, of which his uncle, whoowned the Island, kept always a butt in the cellar. In truth, the freshcoolness of the air at night, the pleasant blaze of the fire, theagreeable scent of burning tobacco, made a tankard or two of ale seemhardly to need an excuse of any sort.
With the table pulled forward so that its edge came between them, theirpipes lit, their feet stretched out comfortably toward the hearth, thepair of friends smoked for a time in silence, until at last Jack, afterrefilling and relighting his pipe with great deliberation, broke intospeech.
"Before I go into the details of this job," he observed, "there's onething I have to say. It's a waste of breath for me to talk until I knowyou're with me. I haven't done anything more than to ask you off-hand,old man; now I'd like you to say seriously whether you'll come on thiscruise with me or not. I hate to be so horribly[Pg 9] businesslike, Jerry,especially in the matter of a lark; but in—er—larking on this scale,things have got to be put on a definite basis,—be perfectly understood,as you said before dinner."
Taberman gave his companion a sidelong glance, and began to smile. Thesmile grew into an audible chuckle; and this in its turn developed