The Boys of Columbia High on the River/Chapter 9
"Don't I wish it was morning though, Buster."
"I like that, now, and before we've even begun to keep watch. Look here. Bones, you agreed to do your share of the sentry work, and I hope you don't intend to back out now?" and Buster Billings caught his companion by the lapels of his coat as he shook his head positively.
"Sure, I mean to keep my word. But ten to one you'll be glad when the blamed old night's over too—honest now, own up. Buster!" said Shadduck, with a tremendous yawn, as he stretched his arms above his head.
"Y—es, I suppose I will. But I'm a crank on duty, you know. You're not going to do a blessed thing to-morrow; while all Columbia looks to me to win laurels in the greatest tub race ever paddled on the raging Harrapin. But I've got it all arranged, so that we share watch and watch alike."
"What you been up to now, Buster? Got it fixed so that a fellow's going to be dumped into the river if he just goes over the time set for his snooze? You're always hatching up some fool play like that," grumbled the sleepy one.
"Oh! rats! This is all it is," and Buster took out an alarm clock from a package he had brought to the boathouse after supper.
"Oh! I'm not afraid of that biting me," remarked Bones, cheerfully, "They keep one in my room every night, and we're good friends all right. When the pesky thing buzzes at seven o'clock I just open one eye and say 'thanks, awfully,' and then I'm off again. That thing has saved me from lots of trouble in my dreams. I consider it invaluable."
"Well, this clock doesn't know you. If you refuse to get up when it says 'time' I've got the blessed thing trained to kick like a steer. It's set for two hours, and I take the first watch. Then I'll set it again and you stand guard. Understand about that, now, Bones?" demanded the other.
"Yes. That's all right. Just let me get a little wink and I'll be all right. But say, don't it seem spooky down here when all the fellers are gone? I never thought the old place would be so still," and Shadduck looked a bit nervously around him.
"Spooky! Now, what makes you mention that, when you know I'm naturally inclined to feel a little shaky, after reading them stories about ghosts that were in one of the magazines this week? Just forget it, will you?"
Buster stalked around the interior of the fine boathouse as if trying to throw his own thoughts into another channel.
All around the sides of the structure the splendid and expensive water craft lay, the larger boats on the floor, and smaller canoes and shells up on racks arranged especially for their occupation.
Bones Shadduck made himself as comfortable as possible, using a quantity of burlap that had come around the latest addition to the fleet, the new eight-oared shell.
"Two hours, hey?" he grunted, as he settled down; "that's only time for a dozen winks. But I'm a sound sleeper, old chap, and I'll make the most of it. If anything happens don't wake me too suddenly, you know. I'm some apt to get excited if you do, and pitch in like a wildcat, regardless."
"Which will be a bad thing for you then," remarked Buster, holding up something suggestively.
"What d'ye call that?" demanded the other, opening his eyes again to satisfy his suddenly aroused curiosity.
"Well, it's what they call in the circus a stuffed club. Won't hurt a lot, but you can knock a man down with it. And I've practiced using the thing until I'm just about perfect," replied Buster, calmly.
"If you ever hit me with that thing, and I find it out I'm going to retaliate, hear me!" and grumbling thus Bones cuddled down among his burlap mattresses.
In two minutes he was asleep, if his heavy breathing could be taken to signify anything. Buster sat there a while, as though listening. Then he got up and wandered around the sides of the boathouse, carefully avoiding the center, as though it might be looked upon as dangerous ground.
The minutes dragged along, until an hour had passed. Frequently he started up to listen, while his blood bounded through his veins with increased speed. Each time, however, he discovered that his alarm was founded on trifles. Once it was caused by some men passing the boathouse, and talking. Again the rats playing at tag in between the inner and outer walls of the building gave him a fright.
Buster consulted his clock as many as five times in that hour. He had never known time to hang as heavily on his hands as now. The light had been put out, so that what came through one of the windows was all the illumination he had whenever he lifted up the alarm clock to scan its white face.
"Gee! this is awful!" he groaned, as he realized that still half an hour remained of his first watch.
Then again he sat up straight, while his hand trembled as he reached out for the novel weapon with which he had provided himself.
Surely he had heard some one brushing along the outside of the building! Gaining his feet he silently crept over to the window and peered out. Lights could be seen here and there, for Columbia boasted of an electric plant, and arc lights adorned numerous street corners.
The voices grew in volume, and Buster's confidence increased. If these unseen persons had dark designs on the boathouse they would never allow their tones that latitude.
"Some fellows in a power-boat come to town to see the races to-morrow, and hunting for Jones' boat yard," was the conclusion he soon reached.
Finally the time was up. The alarm went off with a whirr, and Bones raised his head to say:
"All right, dad, I'm coming," after which he snuggled down again with a chuckle.
Buster took hold of him by the collar of his coat, and yanked him out on the floor.
"That dodge may do all right home, but it won't carry here, see! You sit up and take notice, Bones. Thought you were going to act the wildcat part, hey? Well, you're the tamest pussy I ever ran across. Now, looky here, stir your stumps, and remember that perhaps the honor of Columbia High rests with you, and the way you stand guard over these boats. Hear that?"
Shadduck was grumbling at the unnecessary violence shown by his comrade.
"Think I'm a sack of meal, do you?" he said, defiantly; "well, I ain't, all the same. Course I understand the responsibility of the job. There don't nothing happen while I'm on duty without my knowing it. Lie down and take your forty winks. Got that clock set for two hours again. Buster?"
"Sure. And don't forget to keep away from the middle, or souse you go. It's some wet down below, Bones, though so thin a feller as you wouldn't make much of a splash, I reckon. None of your chaff, now. Let me improve the golden opportunity and snooze."
Buster remembered nothing after that. He was very sleepy, and the accumulated burlap made a pretty comfortable bed for a boy who was not overly particular.
With all his boasting Bones Shadduck was the poorest guard Buster could have selected to keep him company on this night when so much depended on watchfulness. He bravely kept his eyes open for half an hour. Nothing happening in that time, Bones found himself growing more and more lax in his wakefulness.
Finally he hunted out a soft spot to sit down, and sank upon it with a sigh of relief. Just then he believed that both he and Buster were fools to imagine that any harm could come to the precious boats. Why, who was there to injure the cedar craft? Lef Seller and his crowd were capable of many kinds of mischief, but surely they would never dare commit arson. Why, it was a penitentiary offense.
Sleepy as he was Bones had little difficulty in convincing himself that it was all folly to waste time in remaining awake. Three separate times he made a brave effort to resume his duties, but on each occasion his will power grew weaker. And at last his head fell over on his shoulder, while his deep breathing told that he had been conquered by the drowsy little god.
The sudden rattle and whirr of the alarm clock aroused Buster. He instantly sat up, and saw his fellow guard soundly sleeping close beside him.
But Buster had no time to investigate further. He realized that there was a window open and a cool current of air blowing in on him.
"Here, you, what do you mean going to sleep on duty. Wake up! wake up!" he exclaimed, starting to gain his feet, for it seemed to him that something mighty like smoke had been carried to his nostrils.
Before he had fully risen he heard a rushing sound, and some moving body came in collision with him, almost throwing him over again.
"Wow!" shouted Buster, as he made a desperate effort to snatch up the club which he had kept at his side as he slept.
While his eyes were not yet fully accustomed to the dim light he made out some moving figure near by. Immediately the fighting spirit was aroused in the boy. He felt his blood boiling with indignation at the thought of any one being mean and cowardly enough to come creeping in there in the dead of night, with the intention of injuring some of the boats.
"You would, drat you? Take that, then!" he howled, as he threw himself forward and lunged with the novel weapon he gripped.
The club almost whistled through the air, such was the power he put into his blow. When it came in contact with some object, there was a sound of startled surprise and alarm. Then the moving figure went toppling over to the floor.
Immediately following this came a great splash, as though the fellow Buster had struck might have gone through some sort of trap in the floor, allowing him to drop into the river.
His shout of alarm was muffled as he dipped under the water. At the same moment Bones Shadduck scrambled to his feet, spluttering out:
"What's all this smoke mean, Buster; is the blessed boathouse on fire?"