Harry's Island/Chapter 10

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Harry's Island by Ralph Henry Barbour
10. Adventures with a Launch


THE next morning they went down to Silver Cove in the canoe to bring back the launch. Harry didn’t accompany them, much as she wished to do so, because the canoe held only three safely and they didn’t want to take the rowboat. They promised to stop at the landing on the way back and pick her up.

The launch was awaiting them in the freight-shed and they spent a busy half hour getting it out of its crate and into the water. For the latter task they enlisted the services of two employees of the wharf. When she was finally afloat she proved to be a very pretty little boat. She was sixteen feet long and four feet five inches broad, open the entire length save for a little triangle of deck at the bow and a corresponding space at the stern. She was painted green below and black above the water-line, and buff inside. The engine, of two horse-power, was placed well toward the stern, and in front of it was a cross seat with cushions covered with something that wasn’t leather but that looked rather like it if you didn’t get too near. Other seats ran forward on each side to the bow and were similarly attired. There was a neat brass steering-wheel, brass flag-sockets, brass cleats and a round disk of brass let into the forward deck which puzzled them all until investigation proved it to be the inlet to the gasolene tank.

“That’s so,” muttered Dick, “we’ve got to have gasolene, haven’t we?”

“Well,” Chub answered, “you might get along with tomato catsup or witch hazel, but gasolene launches seem to take to gasolene better than to anything else.”

“You run away,” said Dick. “Only thing is, I don’t know how much the stuff costs or where you buy it. I’ve only got about three dollars with me.”

But inquiry solved the matter for them. Gasolene could be bought at the next wharf above and the cost of it was only about twenty cents a gallon. Roy stuck his head through the little door under the forward decking and reported that the tank, according to his belief, would hold only some ten gallons. Dick sighed with relief. One of the freight-handlers took a great interest in them and their boat and proved invaluable, producing a rope with which to tie the boat up to the wharf, giving them the address of a man who could make flags and poles to occupy the fascinating sockets and lending practical assistance when, presently, they started to get the engine to running.

I desire to say right now that some one ought to apologize for the behavior of Thomas H. Eaton during that trying period, and as Thomas H. Eaton has failed to apologize himself I’ll do it for him. Chub sat well out of the way on the “near-leather” cushion in the bow and just simply bubbled over with advice and observations. The engine consisted of a mysterious vermilion-enameled cylinder about fourteen inches high flanked on one side by a strange contrivance of brass called, according to the card of directions which hung from it, a carbureter and which looked like a small soup-bowl adorned with valves and springs. In front of the cylinder was a heavy iron wheel which appeared to operate a piston and a shaft. From the back of the engine a brass rod slanted away until it disappeared under the flooring. On top of the cylinder there was a contrivance of steel and porcelain which screwed into a hole, and from this an insulated wire ran to a set of dry-cells tucked under one of the seats.

Well, it was all very confusing and mystifying, and unfortunately their friend the freight-handler knew nothing about gas-engines. The card of instructions contained a great deal of printed matter and several diagrams, but after Dick and Roy had read it carefully over the only things they were certain about were that it was necessary to fill the tank with gasolene, lubricate all bearings with cylinder-oil or grease and turn the fly-wheel to the right. So Dick went off in search of gasolene and presently returned struggling with a five-gallon can of it. This they poured into the tank. There was a small can of cylinder-oil and one of graphite in the tool drawer, and, while Roy read the directions, Dick poured oil or smeared grease. When that operation was completed Dick looked as though he had been an engineer all his life. Roy said he ought to have some cotton waste to wipe his hands on and the freight-handler again proved a friend in need, producing a bunch of the desired article as if by magic.

Then Roy read the directions for starting the engine again, while Dick turned valves and fussed with things generally and Chub approved or disapproved as he thought proper.

“‘Close switch,’” read Roy. “Have you done that?”

“Yes, long ago. What next?”

“‘Open relief cock, j.’”

“Yes, open the relief cock, jay,” echoed Chub.

“All right. Now what?”

“‘Flood carbureter by depressing m.’”

“What’s ‘m’?” growled Dick. Roy consulted the diagram.

“Hanged if I know,” he muttered finally. “There doesn’t seem to be any ‘m’ here.”

“Go on to the next letter,” suggested Chub.

“Oh, here it is. It’s that little thing on top of it there. No, the little jigger; that’s it.”

“The stuff’s coming out on top,” said Dick doubtfully.

“Better stop then; I suppose it’s flooded. Now let’s see. ‘Flood’—you’ve done that. ‘Turn wheel over to right until engine starts. Then close relief cock, open oil-cup and regulate carbureter as directed.’”

“Well, let’s try it,” said Dick. “Where’s that handle thing?”

“Behind you on the floor.”

“If you start without unhitching,” said Chub, “you’ll tow the wharf off; yank it right out by the roots and tow it away; and maybe we’ll all be arrested for stealing a wharf.”

“You dry up, will you? Maybe, though, we’d better do that, Roy.”

But the freight-handler returned at that moment and solved that difficulty by untying the rope and holding it. Then Dick inserted the handle in the rim of the wheel and turned it over. There was a mild click and a little puff from the relief cock, but the launch didn’t dart off toward the dim distance.

“Huh!” said Dick. “What’s the matter with it?”

“Try it again,” said Roy. Dick tried it again. Then he tried it several times. Then he said “Huh!” once more, got a new hold and turned until he had a crick between his shoulders and was as red in the face as a lobster. Roy studied the directions.

“That’s funny,” he murmured.

“What I like about these motor launches,” observed Chub to the world at large, “is the ease of manipulation. You pour a little gasolene into a tank, open a cock, turn a handle and—zip, you’re off! Simple! There’s nothing simpler!”

“Say, if you don’t shut up,” said Dick, turning a red, scowling countenance upon him, “we’ll put you out of here. And that goes!”

Chub subsided for a moment, smiling cheerfully. Dick bent over the wheel again. After another full minute of labor, he stopped, wiped the perspiration from his forehead and sat down on the seat.

“Let me try,” said Roy. He took his turn. Over went the wheel with a click, there was a soft sigh through the relief cock and nothing more exciting transpired. Now and then they studied the directions anew and examined everything all over again. Once in awhile the carbureter came in for another flooding. After Roy the freight-handler had his go at the wheel. He turned and turned, proving superior to exhaustion, and would doubtless be turning yet if Dick hadn’t forced him away from the wheel.

“Must be something wrong,” said Dick wrathfully. Roy silently agreed. Chub looked wise.

“Have you drowned the carbureter lately?” he asked. No one paid any attention to him.

“It must be the battery,” said Dick helplessly. “Maybe we’re not getting any spark. The directions said there should be a spark. Now let’s see.” He studied the situation in silence for a moment. Then, “I know,” he said. “I’ll bet something’s wrong with the wiring. What time is it?”

“Quarter to eleven, nearly,” Roy answered.

“Then supposing I go up to the village and find some one who understands electricity.”

“Well,” said Roy doubtfully. “But suppose the trouble isn’t with the battery or the wires? Wouldn’t it be better to find some one who knows about gasolene engines?”

Dick agreed that it would and they consulted the freight-handler. He thought a long while and finally said that there was a man named Hodgson who had “one of them boats.” But it also transpired that Mr. Hodgson was extremely uncertain as to his habits and the freight-handler couldn’t suggest a place where they would be likely to find him.

“Well, there’s no use looking all over the town for him,” said Dick disgustedly. “I’ll try her once more. Flood that thing, will you?”

“One good turn deserves another,” murmured Chub. Roy flooded the carbureter for the twentieth time, remarking pessimistically that pretty soon they’d have to buy more gasolene, and Roy “turned her over” again. This time there was a real business-like sound from somewhere inside the engine and a puff of vapor came through the relief cock.

“Did you hear that?” cried Dick.

“Yes,” answered Roy hopefully. “It sounded almost as though it was going to start. Try it again.”

“When is a fly-wheel not a fly-wheel?” asked Chub. “Answer: when it doesn’t fly around. Good.”

Dick bent over the wheel again and turned, but the engine, as though quite satisfied with its brief sign of life, refused to evince any further interest in proceedings. Dick turned again and again, getting redder and redder, hotter and hotter, madder and madder.

Ch 10 illus--Harry's island.jpg

“‘When is a fly-wheel not a fly-wheel?’”

“Oh, hang the fool thing!” he exclaimed disgustedly, standing erect to ease his aching back. “I’m going to ship it back and get my money.” He looked wrathfully at Roy, who maintained a noncommittal silence. Then he stared aggressively at Chub. But Chub was gazing off down the river and humming “My Father’s the Engineer.” Then he challenged the freight-handler. But that obliging man kept a discreet silence, looking the while properly sympathetic, even shaking his head once. Dick grunted and turned his regard to the stubborn engine. But he got no satisfaction there. So, giving it a contemptuous kick and chipping off half an inch of beautiful bright red enamel, he subsided on the seat and studied the blisters on his hands.

“I’ll try it again,” suggested Roy not over eagerly.

“What’s the use?” growled Dick. “You’ll only break your back.”

“Let me have a whack at it,” said Chub cheerfully, getting up. “I have an irresistible way with engines, Dick.”

“You!” snorted Dick. “All you can do is to lie around and make a fool of yourself. You’re about as much help as a—a—”

“Book of directions,” said Chub cheerfully. “Where’s the handle? Thank you.” Inserting the handle in the rim of the wheel, our hero, with a superhuman effort, spun—

Puff! Puff! Puff!

“It’s going!” yelled Roy.

“What’ll I do with the rope?” shouted the man on the wharf, holding on to it for dear life.

Let go!” cried Dick, jumping for the wheel. He reached it just in time to turn the bow away from a spile, and with a grazing bump the launch swung into the stream, pulling the canoe after it.

“Good-by!” called the freight-handler. They waved to him as the boat’s bow turned up-stream.

Puff, puff, puff!” went the engine.

Chug, chug, chug!” went the exhaust at the side.

“Doesn’t she go great?” cried Dick turning to the others.

“Fine,” answered Roy with proper enthusiasm.

“When you understand her,” remarked Chub haughtily.

“Get out,” said Roy. “No wonder she started after the way we’d worked with her!”

Chub looked grieved.

“Of all the unappreciative guys I ever knew,” he said sadly, “you’re the worst! Dick doesn’t talk that way. Dick realizes that if it hadn’t been for me you’d be at the wharf yet. Dick is decently grateful and—”

“What the dickens did you do any more than we did?” demanded Dick. “You turned the wheel and she just happened to start.”

“Happened!” murmured Chub, smiling pityingly. “Very well, think that way if you want to. It doesn’t hurt me. Ingratitude only shows—”

“Look out!” yelled Roy. Dick worked quickly and narrowly avoided running down a rowboat containing two men. As they went by they were forced to listen to a number of uncomplimentary remarks. But Dick didn’t mind. The launch was running, and that’s all he cared about. To be sure, she wasn’t making very great speed, but Dick explained that by assuring Roy and Chub that she hadn’t got warmed up yet.

“Well, you can’t say that of me,” answered Roy with a laugh. “I’m warm enough, all right.”

“I’ll bet I could paddle faster than this,” said Chub.

“I’ll bet you couldn’t,” answered Dick indignantly. “She’s going a good six miles an hour.”

“If you don’t mind what you say,” supplemented Chub with an exasperating grin.

“It is too! I’ll bet you anything you like!”

“Six miles an hour?”

“Six miles, an hour!”

“Oh, say, Dick, be good! Don’t talk so fancy! You know well enough that if an able-bodied mud-scow came along it would make this boat look as if it were standing still.”

“You don’t dare to bet on it, though,” taunted Dick.

“But there’s no way to prove it,” said Chub, “unless we use Roy for a log and tow him astern.”

“I’ll prove it all right,” Dick persisted. “We’ll start at the big bridge and go up the river to Slicer’s Landing; that’s six miles and a quarter, and if we don’t do it in an hour I’ll—I’ll lose my bet.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” answered Chub affably, “but what I’m saying is that she isn’t making any six miles an hour now. I don’t know what she might do to-morrow. Why, you might grease her hull, or get Roy to swim under water and tow her. Besides, I wouldn’t bet with a Westerner, anyway; he’s too tricky.”

“You always try to turn everything into a joke,” Dick growled. “When you say we’re not making six miles you don’t know what you’re talking about. Does he, Roy?”

“Don’t ask me,” said Roy. “I don’t know anything about it. I would like to suggest, however, that you turn the boat a bit so as to avoid running into that point. Thank you, Dickums; I feel more comfortable.”

“It’s a mighty poor launch that won’t make six miles,” muttered Dick as he swung the boat’s head farther toward the middle of the river.

“Dick, you’re stubborn to-day,” sighed Chub. “I refuse to argue with you any longer. I will only remark in closing that this here boat is not making any six miles per.”

“And I say she is,” answered Dick warmly. “If she isn’t I’ll—”

The chugging of the engine stopped, there was an expiring wheeze from somewhere and the launch rocked silently and lazily on the water.