WELL, I catched my breath and most fainted. Shut up on a wreck with such
a gang as that! But it warn't no time to be sentimentering. We'd GOT to
find that boat now--had to have it for ourselves. So we went a-quaking
and shaking down the stabboard side, and slow work it was, too--seemed a
week before we got to the stern. No sign of a boat. Jim said he didn't
believe he could go any further--so scared he hadn't hardly any strength
left, he said. But I said, come on, if we get left on this wreck we are
in a fix, sure. So on we prowled again. We struck for the stern of the
texas, and found it, and then scrabbled along forwards on the skylight,
hanging on from shutter to shutter, for the edge of the skylight was in
the water. When we got pretty close to the cross-hall door there was the
skiff, sure enough! I could just barely see her. I felt ever so
thankful. In another second I would a been aboard of her, but just then
the door opened. One of the men stuck his head out only about a couple
of foot from me, and I thought I was gone; but he jerked it in again, and
"Heave that blame lantern out o' sight, Bill!"
He flung a bag of something into the boat, and then got in himself and
set down. It was Packard. Then Bill HE come out and got in. Packard
says, in a low voice:
"All ready--shove off!"
I couldn't hardly hang on to the shutters, I was so weak. But Bill says:
"Hold on--'d you go through him?"
"No. Didn't you?"
"No. So he's got his share o' the cash yet."
"Well, then, come along; no use to take truck and leave money."
"Say, won't he suspicion what we're up to?"
"Maybe he won't. But we got to have it anyway. Come along."
So they got out and went in.
The door slammed to because it was on the careened side; and in a half
second I was in the boat, and Jim come tumbling after me. I out with my
knife and cut the rope, and away we went!
We didn't touch an oar, and we didn't speak nor whisper, nor hardly even
breathe. We went gliding swift along, dead silent, past the tip of the
paddle-box, and past the stern; then in a second or two more we was a
hundred yards below the wreck, and the darkness soaked her up, every last
sign of her, and we was safe, and knowed it.
When we was three or four hundred yards down-stream we see the lantern
show like a little spark at the texas door for a second, and we knowed by
that that the rascals had missed their boat, and was beginning to
understand that they was in just as much trouble now as Jim Turner was.
Then Jim manned the oars, and we took out after our raft. Now was the
first time that I begun to worry about the men--I reckon I hadn't had
time to before. I begun to think how dreadful it was, even for
murderers, to be in such a fix. I says to myself, there ain't no telling
but I might come to be a murderer myself yet, and then how would I like
it? So says I to Jim:
"The first light we see we'll land a hundred yards below it or above it,
in a place where it's a good hiding-place for you and the skiff, and then
I'll go and fix up some kind of a yarn, and get somebody to go for that
gang and get them out of their scrape, so they can be hung when their
But that idea was a failure; for pretty soon it begun to storm again, and
this time worse than ever. The rain poured down, and never a light
showed; everybody in bed, I reckon. We boomed along down the river,
watching for lights and watching for our raft. After a long time the
rain let up, but the clouds stayed, and the lightning kept whimpering,
and by and by a flash showed us a black thing ahead, floating, and we
made for it.
It was the raft, and mighty glad was we to get aboard of it again. We
seen a light now away down to the right, on shore. So I said I would go
for it. The skiff was half full of plunder which that gang had stole
there on the wreck. We hustled it on to the raft in a pile, and I told
Jim to float along down, and show a light when he judged he had gone
about two mile, and keep it burning till I come; then I manned my oars
and shoved for the light. As I got down towards it three or four more
showed--up on a hillside. It was a village. I closed in above the shore
light, and laid on my oars and floated. As I went by I see it was a
lantern hanging on the jackstaff of a double-hull ferryboat. I skimmed
around for the watchman, a-wondering whereabouts he slept; and by and by
I found him roosting on the bitts forward, with his head down between his
knees. I gave his shoulder two or three little shoves, and begun to cry.
He stirred up in a kind of a startlish way; but when he see it was only
me he took a good gap and stretch, and then he says:
"Hello, what's up? Don't cry, bub. What's the trouble?"
"Pap, and mam, and sis, and--"
Then I broke down. He says:
"Oh, dang it now, DON'T take on so; we all has to have our troubles, and
this 'n 'll come out all right. What's the matter with 'em?"
"They're--they're--are you the watchman of the boat?"
"Yes," he says, kind of pretty-well-satisfied like. "I'm the captain and
the owner and the mate and the pilot and watchman and head deck-hand; and
sometimes I'm the freight and passengers. I ain't as rich as old Jim
Hornback, and I can't be so blame' generous and good to Tom, Dick, and
Harry as what he is, and slam around money the way he does; but I've told
him a many a time 't I wouldn't trade places with him; for, says I, a
sailor's life's the life for me, and I'm derned if I'D live two mile out
o' town, where there ain't nothing ever goin' on, not for all his
spondulicks and as much more on top of it. Says I--"
I broke in and says:
"They're in an awful peck of trouble, and--"
"Why, pap and mam and sis and Miss Hooker; and if you'd take your
ferryboat and go up there--"
"Up where? Where are they?"
"On the wreck."
"Why, there ain't but one."
"What, you don't mean the Walter Scott?"
"Good land! what are they doin' THERE, for gracious sakes?"
"Well, they didn't go there a-purpose."
"I bet they didn't! Why, great goodness, there ain't no chance for 'em
if they don't git off mighty quick! Why, how in the nation did they ever
git into such a scrape?"
"Easy enough. Miss Hooker was a-visiting up there to the town--"
"Yes, Booth's Landing--go on."
"She was a-visiting there at Booth's Landing, and just in the edge of the
evening she started over with her nigger woman in the horse-ferry to stay
all night at her friend's house, Miss What-you-may-call-her I disremember
her name--and they lost their steering-oar, and swung around and went
a-floating down, stern first, about two mile, and saddle-baggsed on the
wreck, and the ferryman and the nigger woman and the horses was all lost,
but Miss Hooker she made a grab and got aboard the wreck. Well, about an
hour after dark we come along down in our trading-scow, and it was so
dark we didn't notice the wreck till we was right on it; and so WE
saddle-baggsed; but all of us was saved but Bill Whipple--and oh, he WAS
the best cretur !--I most wish 't it had been me, I do."
"My George! It's the beatenest thing I ever struck. And THEN what did
you all do?"
"Well, we hollered and took on, but it's so wide there we couldn't make
nobody hear. So pap said somebody got to get ashore and get help
somehow. I was the only one that could swim, so I made a dash for it, and
Miss Hooker she said if I didn't strike help sooner, come here and hunt
up her uncle, and he'd fix the thing. I made the land about a mile
below, and been fooling along ever since, trying to get people to do
something, but they said, 'What, in such a night and such a current?
There ain't no sense in it; go for the steam ferry.' Now if you'll go
"By Jackson, I'd LIKE to, and, blame it, I don't know but I will; but who
in the dingnation's a-going' to PAY for it? Do you reckon your pap--"
"Why THAT'S all right. Miss Hooker she tole me, PARTICULAR, that her
"Great guns! is HE her uncle? Looky here, you break for that light over
yonder-way, and turn out west when you git there, and about a quarter of
a mile out you'll come to the tavern; tell 'em to dart you out to Jim
Hornback's, and he'll foot the bill. And don't you fool around any,
because he'll want to know the news. Tell him I'll have his niece all
safe before he can get to town. Hump yourself, now; I'm a-going up
around the corner here to roust out my engineer."
I struck for the light, but as soon as he turned the corner I went back
and got into my skiff and bailed her out, and then pulled up shore in the
easy water about six hundred yards, and tucked myself in among some
woodboats; for I couldn't rest easy till I could see the ferryboat start.
But take it all around, I was feeling ruther comfortable on accounts of
taking all this trouble for that gang, for not many would a done it. I
wished the widow knowed about it. I judged she would be proud of me for
helping these rapscallions, because rapscallions and dead beats is the
kind the widow and good people takes the most interest in.
Well, before long here comes the wreck, dim and dusky, sliding along
down! A kind of cold shiver went through me, and then I struck out for
her. She was very deep, and I see in a minute there warn't much chance
for anybody being alive in her. I pulled all around her and hollered a
little, but there wasn't any answer; all dead still. I felt a little bit
heavy-hearted about the gang, but not much, for I reckoned if they could
stand it I could.
Then here comes the ferryboat; so I shoved for the middle of the river on
a long down-stream slant; and when I judged I was out of eye-reach I laid
on my oars, and looked back and see her go and smell around the wreck for
Miss Hooker's remainders, because the captain would know her uncle
Hornback would want them; and then pretty soon the ferryboat give it up
and went for the shore, and I laid into my work and went a-booming down
It did seem a powerful long time before Jim's light showed up; and when
it did show it looked like it was a thousand mile off. By the time I got
there the sky was beginning to get a little gray in the east; so we
struck for an island, and hid the raft, and sunk the skiff, and turned in
and slept like dead people.