Pieces People Ask For/A Centre-board Yacht-race
A CENTRE-BOARD YACHT-RACE.
"Mr. Bingham," said the "city editor" of the "Royal Bugle" one morning, "the 'sporting editor' is away, and it will be necessary for you to go down to Swampscott to report a race between centre-board yachts."
"But I don't know any thing about yachts or yacht-racing."
"It's not necessary to know. See the head man, and get the time. That's about all we want."
About nine o'clock that night, a forlorn, tramp-like looking object entered the office of the "Royal Bugle," with the crown of his white Derby knocked in, the rim bent, and his clothing generally hanging limp,—the suit, once light in color, now spotted and stained. As he advanced into a better light, he was recognized as the "fire reporter;" and a chorus of exclamations followed: "Where's the fire?" or, "Did they put the hose on you?" as the unfortunate man sank, apparently exhausted, into a chair.
"It's not a fire," he growled. "It's a yacht-race."
"What did they do to you?"
"Do to me? They did every thing except drown me, and almost did that. This morning," continued the dejected man, "our local editor sent me down to Swampscott to report a centre-board yacht race. He said if I could get aboard one of the racing yachts I'd have a delightful time,—a regular marine picnic. Well, I had it,—yes, indeedy; enough picnic of the kind to last the rest of life. I knew the yachtsmen were spruce sort of fellows, dressed well; and therefore I put on my best suit,—new rig just from the tailor's,—and hurried away to the Swampscott sands. I found the fleet of centre-boards tied up to a wharf. In making inquiries of a captain, I hinted that it would be agreeable to me to be a passenger on his yacht.
"He smiled serenely, the villain! and said he'd be delighted to have me come aboard. Oh, the baseness of the man! Very soon the race began; and when fairly under way, and I had settled into a comfortable seat to enjoy it, the captain shouted, 'All down, down below the'—the—what do you call the rail that runs around the top of the boat?—the gun—the gun"—
"Yes, the gunwhale. Well, he said we must keep our heads below that, in order to offer less resistance to the wind. Therefore three of us were obliged to lie on our stomachs on the bottom of the boat. If we wanted to see the race, we looked through the skipper's windows"—
"Why, the skipper's holes, as they call them,—a nautical term for windows, I sup"—
"Well, yes, that sounds more like. The man who lay next to me kept himself busy and contented by eating peanuts. But that was nothing, comparatively. Soon we ran into a big wave. If the skipper'd had any sense of honor or regard for his passengers, he would have turned one side to let the wave pass; but he didn't. He ran slap into it, and the crest of it came on board, caromed on the skipper himself, who stood at the helm, and then circulated among the shifting ballast. Owing to the peanut-eater, the skipper-win—no, the scupper-holes—were clogged; and the remnant of the wave, unable to escape from the boat, was absorbed by our clothing, and my new suit began to take additional shades and wrinkles.
"Suddenly that graceless captain shouted something about 'hard lee,' and then the boat lurched and tipped the other way; and we, lying prostrate, were ordered to creep carefully around the centre-board, and lie on the other side. That was the most fiendish! If my memory be good, we crawled back and forth around that centre-board a dozen times. If we were going to win the race, why didn't we keep straight on, and not turn to the right or left every twenty minutes?
"But the climax came. The skipper decided to turn the boat around when she was going at full speed, and to drive her in the opposite direction. Well, when she turned around"—
"Jibed, you mean."
"Yes, that sounds like it. When she jibed she turned over on her side, and a part of the shifting ballast, another man, and myself, went overboard; but we caught on the gunwhale, and, the boat coming down flat again, we crawled in. When I, forlorn and dripping, asked if they turned around usually in that way, they laughed.
"Well, about an hour afterward, after mopping the bottom of the boat some more with our clothing, we reached the landing from which we had departed.
"We did not win.
"In response to an inquiry in regard to our defeat, the captain, ungrateful, said that he had too much ballast. Wasn't that the refinement of cruelty? Wasn't it a dastardly insult? After I'd spoiled a suit of clothes by exerting myself in his behalf in climbing around that centreboard, and nearly lost my life,—of course, if I had not caught the side of the boat when I went overboard, they would not stop to take me in, because the race was very important, and the prize was a three-cornered blue flag,—after all that, I say, 'twas rascally to hint that I'd lost the race for him.
"When the boat was a safe distance from the shore, after leaving me on the wharf, the captain cried, 'Had a good time?' Gentlemen, to reply would have been an indignity to myself; but I indulged in a little pantomime to show the pirate skipper that, if I'd had him there, I'd injure the wharf with him. 'Why didn't I come home sooner?' Because I waited the coming of night to shield me from the gaze of the village constable, who has a personal enmity against tramps,—makes them saw wood. I knew that my tattered and begrimed appearance would bring me under the ban of the law. I walked home by way of the beach."
George A. Stockwell.