Us and the Bottle Man/Chapter 10

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CHAPTER X

 

IF I wrote volumes and volumes I could n't begin to tell how long that night seemed. It was longer than years and years in prison; it was as long as a century. I think Jerry slept a little, and perhaps I did, too, for when I peered out at the cave entrance again there were two or three bluish, wet stars in the piece of sky I could see, and the rain-sound had stopped. Jerry was huddled up at my feet with his dear old head propped uncomfortably against me. He was snoring a little, and somehow it was the nicest sound I'd ever heard. Greg's hand was still in mine, and it was not very hot.

Dawn always disappoints me a little. You think it's going to be perfectly gorgeous, and then it's usually nothing but one cold, pinkish streak, and the shadows all going the wrong way. But when I saw a faint wet grayness beginning to creep along the horizon beyond the Headland, I thought it was the most wonderful thing I'd ever seen in my life. The gray spread till the whole sky was the color of zinc, with the sea a little darker, and then one spikey yellow strip began to show on the sky-line. I could see Greg at last, with the jersey under his head, and the white brocade waistcoat all dark and stained at the shoulder, and his poor dear face ghastly white. And Jerry asleep, with the ruffle still pinned to his wet shirt and a big hole torn in the knee of his knickerbockers. And I saw the slimy pools that the tide had left beside us—it was on the ebb again—and the pieces of the root-beer bottle that Jerry had broken off, and the horrible, high, black head of the Sea Monster above us.

There was no boat of any sort to be seen, near or far away, but I woke Jerry so that we could both keep watch in case one came. Just as Jerry crawled out of the cave and stretched himself stiffly, Greg took his hand away from mine and blinked out at the sky, and said in almost his own voice:

"Have we been here all the time?"

"Yes, all the time, ducky," I said, and then I cried, "Don't try to move, Gregs!" for I saw him trying to squirm over.

He lay back and said "Why?" but then in an instant he knew why. I could n't do anything but cuddle my cheek down against his, and he sobbed:

"Make me stop crying, Chris."

The light grew stronger and stronger till there were shadows among the rocks and Wecanicut came out green and brown. Jerry came back presently, and I wondered if he'd seen anything, but he said:

"Chris, I just wanted to ask you. How long does it take for a person to starve?"

I said days, I thought, and Jerry sighed a little and went back to his watching-place. Somehow I did n't feel very hungry, myself,—that is, not the kind of hungry you are when you've played tennis all morning and then gone in swimming. There was a sharp, sickish feeling inside me and my head felt a little queer, but it was not exactly like being hungry.

I think Greg's arm must have stopped hurting quite so badly, or else he was being tremendously spunky, because we talked a lot and I told him that Father would come for us pretty soon. I did n't feel at all sure of this, because I knew that Father would never have given up the Sea Monster the night before if he'd had any idea we were there. But it was so perfectly blessed to have Greg talking sensibly at all, even with such a wobbly sort of voice, that I did n't much care what I said.

All at once Jerry came tumbling around the corner, shouting:

"Oh, Chris, come quick! Hurry!"

I left Greg and ran after Jerry, and I'd been sitting so long humped up on the rocks that my knees gave way and I barked my shins against a sharp ledge. I did n't even know it until ever so long afterwards, when I found a bruise as big as a saucer and remembered then. Jerry did n't need to point so wildly out across the water; I saw the boat before he could say a word. It was a catboat, quite far off, tacking down from the Headland. The sail was orange, and we'd never seen an orange sail in our harbor or anywhere, in fact, so we knew it must be a strange boat.

Jerry pulled off his shirt like winking and stood there in his bare arms waving it madly. We both began to shout before the catboat people could possibly have heard us, but we thought that they might see the white shirt flying up and down. The boat was tacking a long leg and a short one. The long one carried it so far out that we thought it was going to cross the mouth of the bay and not come near enough to see us. Jerry stopped shouting just long enough to gasp:

"When she's all ready to go about on the short tack is the time to yell loudest."

But the next short tack seemed to bring the boat no nearer than before, and the long leg carried it so far away that it was no more use shouting to the orange sail than to a stupid old herring-gull.

"Could you wave for a bit, Chris?" Jerry said. "My arms are off."

So I took the shirt and waved it by its sleeves, and the catboat began another short tack. It was just then that we saw something black flap-flapping against the sail.

"They've tied a coat or something to the flag halyard, and they're running it up and down," Jerry said. "They're trying to get here, but they have to tack. Don't you see, Chris?"

Of course I saw, but I did n't blame Jerry for being snappy at the last minute.

The next tack showed very plainly that the boat was really coming to the Sea Monster, and somebody stood up in the stern and shouted. We shouted back—one last howl—and then stood there panting, because there was no use in wasting any more breath and our throats were quite split as it was. When the catboat came a little nearer we saw that there was only one man in it, and, sure enough, an old blue jersey was tied to the flag halyard. The man turned the boat around very neatly—I don’t know the right sailing word for it—and anchored. Then he climbed into the dinghy that was trailing along behind and began rowing to the Sea Monster.

I sat down on the rock and I had to keep swallowing, because I felt as if my heart were bumping up against my throat. To save time, before the man landed, Jerry started to shout what had happened. There was n't much left of his voice, but he managed to do it somehow.

"We've been here all night," he called huskily. "We came out to explore this thing, and our boat got away, and our little brother fell off the top and is hurt awfully, and" (this was just as the man climbed ashore on the sea-weedy rocks) "and we'd always called this place the 'Sea Monster' because it looked like one, but now we know it is one."

The man was looking at us very hard, particularly at me, and he said:

"The 'Sea Monster'!" Then he looked again and said "Oh!"

He was a nice tall man, with a brown, squarish face, quite thin, and twinkly blue eyes and a lot of dark hair that blew around like Jerry's. He looked from one to the other of us and nodded his head to himself. I suppose we did look very queer,—quite dirty, and Jerry with the tinfoil-buckled belt still around him and no shirt; and my bloomers dangling down like a Turkish person's because of the elastics having burst when I fell down.

"It seems," said our man, "that I have arrived in the nick of time to perform a daring rescue."

He said it in a funny make-believe way, as if he were doing one of our plays, and then suddenly the twinklyness went out of his eyes and he said:

"But take me to Gregory."

If we had n't been so perfectly bursting with thankfulness and so tired of shouting and the cold and the whole hideous place, we should have wondered how on earth he knew Greg's name, because neither of us had mentioned it. But we did n't think of it then, and just snatched his hands and pulled him over the rocks, trying to tell him a little how glad we were to see him.

When he saw Greg, his face grew quite different—very sorry, and not twinkly at all and he went down on his knees (he could n't have stood up in the back of the cave) and he said:

"Poor old man!" And then, "I wonder who had the worst night of it?"

We said, "Greg, of course."

But our man said, "I wonder."

Then he changed again, and instead of being all sorry and gentle, he got quite commanding and very quick.

"Chris, you stay here," he said. "Gerald, come with me,—and here, put this on."

He pulled off his gray flannel coat and tossed it to Jerry, and Jerry did put it on and ran after him, tucking up the sleeves. I saw them get into the dinghy and row back to the boat, and I said:

"Oh, Gregs, we're going home, we're going home!" and we both cried a little.

They came back after what seemed a long time, and our man said:

"While I'm fixing Gregory, you and Gerald tackle this."

It was half a loaf of bread and some potted beef done up in oiled paper, and I'm sure Jerry ate the oiled paper, too. I'd heard of starving people falling on food and rending it savagely, but I never knew exactly what rending was until we did it to the bread. We gave some of it to Greg, too, while our man was fixing him.

I never saw any one before who could do things so fast and so gently. He had nice, brown, quick hands, and he looked so grown up and useful. He'd brought a roll of bandage stuff—the kind with a blue wrapper that you keep in First Aid kits—and a book that had "Coast Pilot Guide and Harbor Entrances of New England" on the cover. I did n't see what he could want that for, except on the boat, till he put it under Greg's armpit and bandaged his arm across it to keep it steady. The white waistcoat was in our man's way, so he ripped it down the side and got it off entirely.

"I was an explorer," Greg explained shakily.

"He was Baroo, the Madagascar cabin-boy," Jerry said, gnawing the loaf, and I thought it seemed years ago that we had trekked across Wecanicut.

"I see," said our man, in his nice, kind, reliable way, and then he said to Greg, "I did n't hurt you much, did I, old fellow?"

And Greg shook his head, and said:

"Thank you for coming."

That was what we all felt, but none of us had put it so simply before.

"What's this?" the man said, as he was gathering up the rest of the bandages.

It was the Simpson-thing, and it did look very funny by daylight, I must say,—just a wob of blue flannel tied with a string. I was going to explain, but Jerry said, with his mouth full:

"Oh, just something we had," and stuffed it away in the kit-bag. He was quite red. Boys are funny sometimes.

"Now," said our man, "comes the embarkation, and I'm afraid I'll have to hurt you a little, Greg."

He picked Greg up in one swinging swoop, and I wished that Jerry and I had been strong enough to do that last night. Greg had only time for one gasp before he was quite comfortable against our man's shoulder. But he was brave,
 
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"Ye be three Poore Mariners."

 

because it must have hurt like anything, even then, and I could see his jaw set hard. Jerry and I gathered up the kit-bag and the jersey and what was left of the skirt and followed along. Just beside the dinghy our man paused and looked all around at the ugly blackness of the Sea Monster and up to the jaggedy top of it. Then he looked down at Greg and smiled a little sorry smile, and said very slowly and gently:

"Ye be Three Poore Mariners."

Jerry and I stared at each other, and I said:

"You must know that song, too. We used to pretend being marooned, but we never thought it would really happen."

Then Jerry said suddenly:

"By the way, what's your name, sir?"

"You'll have to row, Jerry," said our man, "because I must keep the wounded just the way he is." Then he said:

"Some people call me Andrew, but my intimate friends call me 'The Bottle Man'."