Lonely O'Malley/Chapter 11
In which the Greyhound is ignominiously overhauled
DEVIOUSLY, and in dark ways, does Destiny move. Why was it, that serenest and quietest of days, under a dome of July's most tranquil azure, that there was no befriending voice to warn Mistress Pauline Augusta Persons of the danger that hung over her, of the calamity that awaited her?
Three times, that morning, she had been solemnly wedded to Curly Persons, the cocker spaniel, before an altar erected for the purpose behind the chicken-coop. After each ceremony she had generously taken her somewhat restive and altogether unimpressed bridegroom for an extended wedding-tour, around the block, in the gardener's wheelbarrow.
Then, tiring of courtship so one-sided, she had returned to her three dirty and battered dolls, and wandering down to that forbidden but well-loved pile of sawdust just below the ice-house, was happily engaged in conducting funeral services, crooning brokenly to herself as she patted the last sod down over each of her sadly chipped and late-departed children.
While she still bent with much satisfaction over those three little mounds in the sawdust, and was carefully erecting a tombstone of cedar shingle to the memory of each of her lost ones, a pair of small but grotesquely tattooed arms were suddenly thrust round her plump waist, and a bold young pirate bore her struggling and kicking form to the deck of the waiting Greyhound.
"Push off, men!" cried the Captain, nervously, yet huskily, as he clambered over the bulwarks with considerable difficulty, Pauline Augusta being decidedly round and plump of figure.
Here at last was an adventure worthy of their steel. Here was something worth capturing. Pauline Augusta was the Mayor's daughter, and as such ought to bring a handsome sum in ransom money.
But they had not drifted out to midstream before that young lady began to realize just what was happening to her. As she beheld the Greyhound slowly glide farther away from her home territory, and as she looked into the dark visages that surrounded her, she put two chubby hands up to her eyes and began to bawl, and bawl with a vigor that startled and disconcerted even the bold pirates themselves.
BORE HER, STRUGGLING AND KICKING
The First Mate ran in alarm to the provision-chest and held temptingly out before her a large pot of currant jelly, and, what was to him, a heart-breaking slice of seedcake.
But still Pauline Augusta bawled. Then preserved cherries were shown her, and pickled walnuts were held closely under her nose, that she might perchance smell of their deliriously pungent odor, and forget her tears. But still she bawled, louder than before.
It was no time for half measures. The Second Mate was for putting her in irons, and locking her down in the cabin. But the First Mate was of the opinion she would begin breaking things there, and like as not eat everything up on them; and then where would they be?—especially if they had to stand a long pursuit, or the ransom was n't paid right off!
The crew looked furtively up and down the river. It was a dangerous game they were playing.
"Here, you," said the Captain, in desperation. "We 're pirates, and if you don't stop that yellin' we 'll hang your father! Then we 'll hang your mother, as well; and if that don't do any good, we 'll hang the servant girl, and the gardener, and the—the whole lot o' you!"
"Better hang her, and right now!" growled Pud Jones.
At that Pauline Augusta broke out with renewed vigor. Her lusty cries went echoing from bank to bank, and soon brought wondering women to open doorways, and barking dogs to the water's edge, and open-mouthed children to the top of the river slope.
The Captain gazed up and down the river, for once nettled and undecided.
"I guess, men, we 'd better make for Rankin's Woods," he said, hesitatingly, looking with troubled eyes at the weeping figure of Pauline Augusta.
"O-o-o-h! O-o-o-oh! I wish I was home! I want to go home!" bawled the frightened child perversely.
"An' I wish you was home too!" said the Captain, devoutly.
For who ever heard of a captive carrying on in that silly way? There was n't a pirate story ever written that had any bawling in it! And Lonely tried to explain to her that on the payment of two thousand dollars in gold she was to be promptly handed over to her parents once more. He even intimated, for her further comfort, that any dastard that spoke in aught but gentle words to her should promptly swing from a yardarm.
All this Pauline Augusta in no way understood; but while she was wearing her grief away, and was beginning to smell with slightly more attentive nose at the many delectable things with which her captors had surrounded her, the old town of Chamboro was left in the well-churned wake of the Greyhound, and the midsummer loneliness of the upper river lay before them.
Suddenly one of the panting rowers dropped his oar.
"Say, you, we 're bein' chased!" he cried, shrilly. And twenty-two round and startled eyes were turned in the direction of his gaze, where the nose of a familiar-looking green boat crept slowly out from the nearest point.
"Why, there 's Grandpa Steiner!" said one of the oarsmen, weakly.
Pauline Augusta's expiring sobs were completely stilled. All eyes watched the green boat intently.
"An' there 's old Cap'n Sands!" cried Pinkie Ball, with openly disturbed countenance.
"Say, Lonely, don't you think they 're after us?" asked one of the crew, irreverently, of his Captain.
"Order, there, men!" thundered the Captain; still looking out of the tail of his eye, however, at the approaching green boat.
"I say we sneak for Rankin's Woods," suggested Redney McWilliams.
The Captain pulled his hat lower over his brow, and looked at his men with unspeakable scorn. A fine idea had come to him.
"If this ship is goin' to be taken, there 's only one thing to do! She 's got to be scuttled, and sent to the bottom!"
It sounded so grandiloquently fine that for a moment or two it smothered all criticism.
"Aw, what 's the use o' talkin' that way. Lonely? Did n't we have to pay three dollars for her—and sweat precious hard for it, too—and have n't we been workin' hard enough riggin' her up, ever since?"
It was Piggie Brennan who lodged this sincere but unofficial complaint.
"Don't brandy words with me!" retorted the Captain, with great dignity. "Brandy," as a verb, was one of those words peculiarly his own.
"And where 'll we git hold of another boat?" demanded Biff Perkins.
"And think of all that good grub bein' wasted!" dolefully went on Piggie Brennan.
Several craven spirits even dropped their oars, and attempted to desert their posts.
"Stand by your oars!" roared the Captain, as loudly as an uncommonly tight belt would permit. And one by one the crew went reluctantly back. In the mean time, foot by foot, the green boat was bearing down on them.
"Stand by there, Greyhound!" cried a shrill old voice suddenly.
How Captain and crew thrilled with something that was more than mere fear at those wonderful and historic-sounding words,—"Stand by there!"—How many a Spanish Main skipper had hearkened to the same dire command, in days gone by! It was worth going through, even though they were captured and bound, in the end, thought Lonely, with his keen sense for dramatic values. He strode grandly back and forth on his cabin roof, intoxicated with the magnificence of the situation.
"Now, men," he cried, with airy defiance, his hand on his hip, "now, men, show 'em a clean pair o' heels!"
And eight anxious-eyed youngsters doubled up and tugged at their oars until eight small faces were a uniform crimson.
"It 's all right for you up there to talk that way, Lonely O'Malley, but I tell you I 'm gittin' water-blisters!" complained the rebellious Dode Johnson, between strokes.
"Together, men!" cried Lonely, drunkenly, inwardly bemoaning the craven spirit of his crew.
"If you was doin' a little of this rowin', you would n't feel so gay!" said Biff Perkins, sulkily.
"Stand by there, Greyhound, or we 'll put a ball into you!" cried the pursuers once more.
"Say, Piggie, do you think they 're just foolin'?" asked one of the crew, a little tremulously. Piggie was busy with the pump, and did not have breath to answer.
By this time the enemy was alongside. For the first time the Captain and crew of the Greyhound saw that the privateer was really and truly armed.
"Say, Lonely, had n't we better pull down that silly skull and cross-bones?" suggested Billie Steiner.
"Remember your oaths, men!" was the Captain's unrelenting reply.
The crew of the Greyhound would have fled in a body, had flight been possible. As it was, eight stalwart seamen stopped rowing, and looked with unhappy eyes at the enemy on their gunwale.
"Prepare for boarding!" said old Cap'n Steiner, hoarsely.
"Ay, ay, sir!" answered Cap'n Sands.
The green nose of the Katie Wilson bumped the sturdy side of the Greyhound amidships, whereat the entire crew of the latter bolted for their cabin, locking themselves securely in and peering with anxious faces from the little square window in its side.
Cap'n Sands made use of the crook in his walking-stick as a boarding-iron, while his fellow privateer made fast the little boat. Then the two old men climbed none too nimbly on board. It had been a stiff row, and the noonday sun hung hot and relentless over the quiet river.
Together the boarding party of two saluted, gravely and gallantly.
Captain Lonely O'Malley of the good ship Greyhound gazed indignantly after his cowardly crew.
"Cow'rdy custards!" he muttered, under his breath. Then he turned to his captors, with his arms folded over his chest.
"Well, sirs, what will you?" he demanded, drawing the peak of his cap down, and himself up. That, he remembered, was always the way they said it.
"This good ship, sir, by right of capture!" answered Cap'n Steiner, saluting once more.
"And also this fair lady!" added Cap'n Sands, with an irrepressible titter, turning pompously to Pauline Augusta, who stood looking on, with slightly distended mouth.
"And two thousand bars of Spanish gold!" added the other old Captain.
The master of the Greyhound flushed with embarrassment.
"I guess we ain't got any gold," he confessed, bashfully. "But there 's pickled walnuts and jelly!"
Piggie Brennan, meanwhile, repenting of his flight, had edged back to his Captain, and stood with woe-begone face at the thought of such confiscation.
The two old sea-dogs went forward to consult.
"By gad, Silas, I 'm a-thinkin' we never did that thing better, in our own day!"
It was Cap'n Sands who spoke thus magnanimously.
Cap'n Steiner was rubbing a barked leg, ruefully, He was feeling too peevish, at the moment, to agree with the statement.
Far away, a long mile down the hot river, the one o'clock whistle sounded from the sawmill. It was like a school-bell to the ears of truants.
The two old Captains started up, and looked at each other half guiltily.
"And Miss Ar'bella is gittin' to be that naggy-minded, when I 'm a bit late for dinner!" Cap'n Steiner lamented.
"And me, egad, with Lawyer Martin to see about that new Rankin lease!" said Cap'n Sands, unhappily.
"Better be pikin' back, had n't we, Henery?"
"I guess we had, Silas, guess we had! But it does come kind o' hard, leavin' all this booty!"
Then Captain Lonely O'Malley of the Greyhound strode forward with a suggestion to make. Insomuch as the lady they carried as captive was the daughter of the Mayor of Chamboro, and was being held for a ransom of two thousand dollars in gold (and had already eaten forty cents' worth of provisions since coming on board, interposed Piggie Brennan), they, the Captain and crew of the Greyhound, were willing to surrender to their captors all claim to this said lady, on condition that no member of the crew of the said Greyhound should suffer aught of curtailment of his natural life or liberty!
This, after some show of reluctance, was impatiently agreed to, and Captain O'Malley retired to draw up the necessary paper.
The two old sea-dogs and Pauline Augusta clambered down into the little green boat, each and all of them thinking sordidly of dinner, rather than of further adventures on the high seas.
They were just on the point of casting off when the commander of the Greyhound appeared on deck, sucking his arm. In his hand he held a paper, signed in red, which he gravely handed down to Cap'n Steiner.
A PAPER, SIGNED IN RED
"It has to be signed, sir," explained the commander of the Greyhound. "Has to be signed, in blood!"
"Oh, be off with you—you young rapscallion!" said Cap'n Sands, irascibly, for he too was beginning to feel strange aches and pangs. "Be off with you, you young limb!" Then he added fretfully: "I tell you, Silas, I 'm a-goin' to be a hull hour and a half late for dinner!"
Going home he settled back more comfortably in the stern seat, and tried to get a bit of a cat-nap, lulled by the ripple of the water against the drifting green bow of the little boat.
"I guess we do be a leetle on in years, mebbe, for them kind o' jinks," said Cap'n Steiner, plaintively, tugging and puffing at his oars.
"Jus' a leetle on in years!" he repeated, with a ponderous sigh, as they drew in under the cool and heavy shadows of the old sycamores.
A Sermon for the Very Young
If the Adam in us ordains
That we can't be eternally good.
Then let us be kindly at least, my son,
As devil or saint, we should!
Tho' the best of us wander at times
From the path that is narrow and straight,
To be honest in Sin, as in Saintliness, sir,
Wipes a half of it off the slate!