Us and the Bottle Man/Chapter 7

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CHAPTER VII

 

I MUST say at the beginning that it was all my fault. Jerry says that it was just as much his, but it was n't, because I'm the oldest and I ought to have known better. To begin with, Father had to go to New York to give a talk at the American Architects' League, or something, and Mother decided to go with him. At the last minute Aunt Ailsa got a weekend invitation from somebody she had n't seen for ages and went away, too, which left us alone with Katy and Lena. Katy has been with us next to forever and took care of Jerry and Greg when they were Infant Babes, so that Mother never imagined, of course, that anything could happen in two days. It was n't Katy's fault either.

The first day was foggy, and the garden dripped, so we went down to call on Captain Moss, who lives near the ferry-landing. Besides having boats for hire, he sells such things as fishing-tackle and very strong-smelling rope, and sometimes salt herring on a stick. The things he sells are all mixed up with parts of his own boats and pieces of canvas and rope-ends, and curly shavings that skitter across the floor when the wind blows in from the harbor. There is a window at one end of his shopplace that goes all the way to the floor, like a doorway, and it is always open. His shop is half on the ferry-wharf so that the window hangs right over the water, very high above it. It is quite a dizzyish place, but wonderful to look out at. Far away you see boats coming in, and Wecanicut all flat and gray, and then right below is nice sloshy green water with old boxes and straws floating by, and sometimes horrid orange-peels that picnic people throw in.

That afternoon Captain Moss was mending the stern of one of his boats, and when we asked him what he was fitting on, he said: "Rudder-gudgeons."

He grunted it out so funnily that it sounded just like some queer old flounder trying to talk, and we thought he was joking. But he was n't at all. Sometimes he is very nice and tells us the longest yarns about when he shipped on a whaler, but this time he was busy and the rudder-gudgeons did n't behave right, I think, so he let us do all the talking. We told him a good deal about the bottle, and also something about the city under the sea. He said he should n't wonder at it, for there was powerful curious things under the sea. He also said he supposed now we'd be wanting to hire the Jolly Nancy "fer to find submarine cities, sence he would n't let us have her to go a-stavin' in her bottom on them rocks off Wecanicut."

We decided that he really didn't want to be bothered, so we went away presently. To soothe him, Jerry bought some of the dry herring things and carried them home in a pasteboard box that said "12 doz. galvanized line cleats. Extra quality" on the lid. Lena cooked the herrings for supper, but I don't think she could have done it right, because they were quite horrid.

The second day was the perfectly gorgeous kind that makes you want to go off to seek your fortune or dance on top of a high hill or do anything rather than stay at home, however nice your own garden may be. We agreed about this at breakfast, and I said:

"Let's go to Wecanicut."

We'd never gone to Wecanicut alone, but I could n't see any reason why we should n't. Captain Lewis, on the ferry, always watches over every one on board with a fatherly sort of eye, and Wecanicut itself is a perfectly safe, mild place, without any quicksands or tigers or anything that Mother would object to.

"I tell you what," Jerry said, "let's make it a real adventure and take some costumes along. We never had any proper ones there before."

I thought this was a rather good idea, and after breakfast we went up to select things that would n't be too bothersome to carry, from the Property Basket.

"Is it to be pirates or smugglers or what?" Greg asked, poking in the corner where he keeps his own special rigs.

"Explorers, my fine fellow," Jerry said, "exploring after a submerged city."

"Oh!" Greg said, evidently changing his ideas.

Jerry and I went down to ask Katy to make us some lunch.

"Just food; nothing careful," Jerry explained.

"What are ye goin' to do with it?" Katy asked.

Jerry was all ready to say, "Eat it, of course," but I saw what Katy meant and said:

"We're going out; it's such a nice day. We thought we'd take our lunch with us to save Lena trouble."

"Don't get streelin' off too far," Katy said, "Where are ye goin'?"

"Oh, down by the shore," I said, which was not quite the whole truth, because of course it was not our shore, but the shore of Wecanicut I meant. Yes, all of it was my fault.

Just as we were putting the lunch into the kit-bag Greg came staggering downstairs, trailing along the weirdest lot of stuff he'd collected.

"What on earth is all that?" Jerry asked him. "Drop it and get your hat."

"It's—my costume," Greg explained, out of breath from having dragged all the things down from the attic.

"Glory!" Jerry said, "You don't suppose you're going to lug all that rubbish on to the ferry, do you? Not while I'm with you, my boy."

"You couldn't begin to put on half of it, Gregs," I said. "Let's weed it out a little."

"And look sharp about it," Jerry said, jingling the money for the ferry in his pocket.

Greg finally took a Turkish fez thing, and a black-and-orange sash, and a white brocade waistcoat that Father once had for a masque ball ages ago. We had n't time to tell him that it was no sort of outfit for an explorer, so we bundled the things up with our own and stuffed them all into the kit-bag on top of the lunch.

Luke Street has a turn in it just beyond our house, so neither Katy nor Lena could have seen which way we went; anyhow, I think they were both in the back kitchen, which looks out on the clothes-yard. I thought perhaps we should have told Katy where we were going after all, but Jerry said:

"Fiddlesticks, Chris; we're not babies. I suppose you'd like Katy to take us in a perambulator."

This was horrid of him, but he made up for everything later on.

 

Our Captain Lewis was not in the pilot-house of the Wecanicut. Instead there was a strange captain, a scraggly, cross-looking person, staring at a little book and not watching the people who came on board, the way Captain Lewis does. Jerry and I sat on campstools on the windy side, and Greg went to watch the walking-beam, which he thinks will some day knock the top off its house. It always stops and plunges down just when he thinks it surely will forget and go smashing on up through the roof. He is quite disappointed that it never does. It behaved perfectly properly this time and paddled the old ferry-boat over to Wecanicut as usual.

We went up the hot little road that goes from the landing, and then ran through a prickly, stony short-cut that leads among wild rose-bushes and sweet fern to our part of the shore. There were tiny little wavelets splashing over the rocks, and you could n't think which was bluer—the sea or the sky. The first thing we did was to bury our bottle of root-beer in a pool up to its neck and mark the place with two white stones. This is something we have learned by experience, for nothing is nastier than warm root-beer. Then we put on the costumes and capered about a little. I had a tight, striped football jersey, and my gym bloomers, and a black, villainous-looking felt hat; and Jerry had a ruffle pinned on the front of his shirt, and a wide belt with the big tinfoil-covered buckle that Mother made for us once, and a felt hat fastened up on the sides so that it looked like a real three-cornered one. Greg had arrayed himself in his things, and he did look too absurd, with more than a foot of the brocade waistcoat dangling below the sash, the end of which trailed on the ground behind.

It gave us a queer, wild feeling, being there without the grown-ups, and we decided to tell them that as we'd proved we could do it, we might go again. We never did tell them that, as it happens.

We all grew hungry so soon that we had lunch much earlier than the grown-ups would have had it. The food Katy had fixed was wonderful, though rather squashed on account of all the costumes being on top of it in the kit-bag. While we ate we organized the Submerged-City-Seeking-Expedition. Jerry was "Terry Loganshaw," in charge of the party, and I was "Christopher Hole, shipmaster," and Greg was "Baroo, the Madagascar cabin-boy," because we could n't think of what else he could be, with such clothes.

We tidied up all the picnic things so that there was nothing left, and put the root-beer bottle into the kit-bag, because it was a good one with a patent top. The kit-bag we took with us for duffle, and we set off for the point. We went by the longest way we could think of, to make it seem like a real expedition,—'cross country and back again. Jerry led us through the scratchy, overgrown part of Wecanicut, and we pretended that it was a long, weary trek through the most poisonous jungles to the coast of Peru; and when Greg walked right into a spider's web with a huge yellow spider gloating in the middle of it, he said he'd been bitten by a tarantula. We told him that we should have to leave him there to die, for we must press on to the sea, but he cured himself by eating a magic sweet-fern leaf and came running after us, tripping over his sash. The trekking took a long time, and when we reached the end of the point we were quite exhausted and flung our weary frames down on the tropic sand to rest. All at once Jerry clutched my arm and said:

"Look yonder, Hole! Does not yon strange form appear to you like the toppermost minaret of a sunken tower?"

He was pointing at the Sea Monster, and it really did look much more like a rough sort of dome than a monster's head. There was a lot of haze in the air, which made it look bluish and mysterious instead of rocky.

"It do indeed, sir," I said. "Could it be that city we be seeking?"

"Would that we had a boat!" said Greg, which might have been quite proper if he'd been somebody else, instead of Baroo.

We'd been sprawling on the sand again for quite a while, when Jerry suddenly jumped up and shouted:

"Glory! Look, Chris!" not at all like Terry Loganshaw.

I did look, and saw what he had seen. It was an empty boat, a sort of dinghy, bobbing and butting along beside the rocks a little way down the shore. We all ran helter-skelter, and Jerry pulled off his shoes like a flash and waded out and pulled the boat in.

"It's one of those old tubs from around the ferry-landing," he said. "It must have got adrift and come down with the tide. Oars in it and all."

We stood there silently, Jerry in the water holding the boat, and we were all thinking the same thing. It was Greg who said it first, quite solemnly.

"We could go out to the Sea Monster."

Of course it was then that I ought to have said that we could n't, but Jerry pulled the boat up the beach and ran back to the end of the point to see how high the waves were before I could say it. It was too late to say it afterwards, because when we saw that there was not even the faintest curl of white foam around the Sea Monster, it did seem as though we could do it.

"It'll only take about five minutes to row out there," Jerry said, "and then we'll have seen it at last. It could n't be a better time. Why, a newly hatched duckling could swim out there to-day."

It did look very near, and the water was calm and shiny, with just a long, heaving roll now and then, as if something underneath were humping its shoulders.

So I said, "All right; let's," and we climbed into the boat. Jerry rows very well, and he pulled both the oars while I bailed with an old tin can that I found under the stern thwart. The boat did n't leak badly enough to worry about, but I thought it might be just as well to keep it bailed. We talked in a very nautical way, though Jerry kept forgetting he was Terry Loganshaw and mixing up "Treasure Island" and Captain Moss. But I did n't feel so much like being Chris Hole, anyway, even to please the boys, and I did n't say much.

The Sea Monster was much further away than you might suppose. When there was ever so much smooth, swelling water between us and Wecanicut, the Monster's head still seemed almost as far away as before. Somehow the water looked very deep, although you could n't see down into it, and it humped itself under the boat.