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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Jolly Fellowship - Chapter 7. Mr. Chipperton
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A Jolly Fellowship - Chapter 7. Mr. Chipperton Post by :simkl Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2515

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A Jolly Fellowship - Chapter 7. Mr. Chipperton


I took hold of the boat, and pulled the bow up on the beach. Mr. Chipperton looked around at me.

"Why, how do you do?" said he.

(Illustration: "WHY, HOW DO YOU DO?")

For an instant I could not answer him, I was so angry, and then I said:

"What did you----? How did you come to take our boat away?"

"Your boat!" he exclaimed. "Is this your boat? I didn't know that. But where is my boat? Did you see a sail-boat leave here? It is very strange--remarkably strange! I don't know what to make of it."

"I know nothing about a sail-boat," said I. "If we had seen one leave here, we should have gone home in her. Why did you take our boat?"

Mr. Chipperton had now landed.

"I came over here," he said, "with my wife and daughter. We were in a sail-boat, with a man to manage it. My wife would not come otherwise. We came to see the light-house, but I do not care for light-houses,--I have seen a great many of them. I am passionately fond of the water. Seeing a small boat here which no one was using, I let the man conduct my wife and Corny--my daughter--up to the light-house, while I took a little row. I know the man. He is very trustworthy. He would let no harm come to them. There was a pair of oars in the sail-boat, and I took them, and rowed down the creek, and then went along the river, below the town; and, I assure you, sir, I went a great deal farther than I intended, for the tide was with me. But it wasn't with me coming back, of course, and I had a very hard time of it. I thought I never should get back. This boat of yours, sir, seems to be an uncommonly hard boat to row."

"Against a strong tide, I suppose it is," said I; "but I wish you hadn't taken it. Here I have been waiting ever so long, and my friend----"

"Oh! I'm sorry, too," interrupted Mr. Chipperton, who had been looking about, as if he expected to see his sail-boat somewhere under the trees. "I can't imagine what could have become of my boat, my wife, and my child. If I had staid here, they could not have sailed away without my knowing it. It would even have been better to go with them, although, as I said before, I don't care for light-houses."

"Well," said I, not quite as civilly as I generally speak to people older than myself, "your boat has gone, that is plain enough. I suppose, when your family came from the light-house, they thought you had gone home, and so went themselves."

"That's very likely," said he,--"very likely indeed. Or, it may be that Corny wouldn't wait. She is not good at waiting. She persuaded her mother to sail away, no doubt. But now I suppose you will take me home in your boat, and the sooner we get off the better, for it is growing late."

"You needn't be in a hurry," said I, "for I am not going off until my friend comes back. You gave him a good long walk to the other end of the island."

"Indeed!" said Mr. Chipperton. "How was that?"

Then I told him all about it.

"Do you think that the flat-boat is likely to be there yet?" he asked.

"It's gone, long ago," said I; "and I'm afraid Rectus has lost his way, either going there or coming back."

I said this as much to myself as to my companion, for I had walked back a little to look up the path. I could not see far, for it was growing dark. I was terribly worried about Rectus, and would have gone to look for him, but I was afraid that if I left Mr. Chipperton he would go off with the boat.

Directly Mr. Chipperton set up a yell.

"Hi! hi! hi!" he cried.

I ran down to the pier, and saw a row-boat approaching.

"Hi!" cried Mr. Chipperton. "Come this way! Come here! Boat ahoy!"

"We're coming!" shouted a man from the boat. "Ye needn't holler for us."

And in a few more strokes the boat touched land. There were two men in it.

"Did you come for me?" cried Mr. Chipperton.

"No," said the man who had spoken. "We came for this other party, but I reckon you can come along."

"For me?" said I. "Who sent you?"

"Your pardner," said the man. "He came over in a flat-boat, and he said you was stuck here, for somebody had stole your boat, and so he sent us for you."

"And he's over there, is he?" said I.

"Yes, he's all right, eatin' his supper, I reckon. But isn't this here your boat?"

"Yes, it is," I said, "and I'm going home in it. You can take the other man."

And, without saying another word, I picked up my oars, which I had brought from the bushes, jumped into my boat, and pushed off.

"I reckon you're a little riled, aint ye?" said the man; but I made him no answer, and left him to explain to Mr. Chipperton his remark about stealing the boat. They set off soon after me, and we had a race down the creek. I _was "a little riled," and I pulled so hard that the other boat did not catch up to me until we got out into the river. Then it passed me, but it didn't get to town much before I did.

The first person I met on the pier was Rectus. He had had his supper, and had come down to watch for me. I was so angry that I would not speak to him. He kept by my side, though, as I walked up to the house, excusing himself for going off and leaving me.

"You see, it wasn't any use for me to take that long walk back there to the creek. I told the men of the fix we were in, and they said they'd send somebody for us, but they thought I'd better come along with them, as I was there."

I had a great mind to say something here, but I didn't.

"It wouldn't have done you any good for me to come back through the woods in the dark. The boat wouldn't get over to you any faster. You see, if there'd been any good at all in it, I would have come back--but there wasn't."

All this might have been very true, but I remembered how I had sat and walked and thought and worried about Rectus, and his explanation did me no good.

When I reached the house, I found that our landlady, who was one of the very best women in all Florida, had saved me a splendid supper--hot and smoking. I was hungry enough, and I enjoyed this meal until there didn't seem to be a thing left. I felt in a better humor then, and I hunted up Rectus, and we talked along as if nothing had happened. It wasn't easy to keep mad with Rectus, because he didn't get mad himself. And, besides, he had a good deal of reason on his side.

It was a lovely evening, and pretty nearly all the people of the town were out-of-doors. Rectus and I took a walk around the "Plaza,"--a public square planted thick with live-oak and pride-of-India trees, and with a monument in the centre with a Spanish inscription on it, stating how the king of Spain once gave a very satisfactory charter to the town. Rectus and I agreed, however, that we would rather have a pride-of-India tree than a charter, as far as we were concerned. These trees have on them long bunches of blossoms, which smell deliciously.

"Now, then," said I, "I think it's about time for us to be moving along. I'm beginning to feel about that Corny family as you do."

"Oh, I only objected to the girl," said Rectus, in an off-hand way.

"Well, I object to the father," said I. "I think we've had enough, anyway, of fathers and daughters. I hope the next couple we fall in with will be a mother and a son."

"What's the next place on the bill?" asked Rectus.

"Well," said I, "we ought to take a trip up the Oclawaha River. That's one of the things to do. It will take us two or three days, and we can leave our baggage here and come back again. Then, if we want to stay, we can, and if we don't, we needn't."

"All right," said Rectus. "Let's be off to-morrow."

The next morning, I went to buy the Oclawaha tickets, while Rectus staid home to pack up our handbags, and, I believe, to sew some buttons on his clothes. He could sew buttons on so strongly that they would never come off again without bringing the piece out with them.

The ticket-office was in a small store, where you could get any kind of alligator or sea-bean combination that the mind could dream of. We had been in there before to look at the things. I found I was in luck, for the storekeeper told me that it was not often that people could get berths on the little Oclawaha steam-boats without engaging them some days ahead; but he had a couple of state-rooms left, for the boat that left Pilatka the next day. I took one room as quick as lightning, and I had just paid for the tickets when Mr. Chipperton and Corny walked in.

"How d' ye do?" said he, as cheerfully as if he had never gone off with another fellow's boat. "Buying tickets for the Oclawaha?"

I had to say yes, and then he wanted to know when we were going. I wasn't very quick to answer; but the storekeeper said:

"He's just taken the last room but one in the boat that leaves Pilatka to-morrow morning."

"And when do you leave here to catch that boat?" said Mr. Chipperton.

"This afternoon,--and stay all night at Pilatka."

"Oh, father! father!" cried Corny, who had been standing with her eyes and ears wide open, all this time, "let's go! let's go!"

"I believe I will," said Mr. Chipperton,--"I believe I will. You say you have one more room. All right. I'll take it. This will be very pleasant, indeed," said he, turning to me. "It will be quite a party. It's ever so much better to go to such places in a party. We've been thinking of going for some time, and I'm so glad I happened in here now. Good-bye. We'll see you this afternoon at the depot."

I didn't say anything about being particularly glad, but just as I left the door Corny ran out after me.

"Do you think it would be any good to take a fishing-line?" she cried.

"Guess you'd better," I shouted back, and then I ran home, laughing.

"Here are the tickets!" I cried out to Rectus, "and we've got to be at the station by four o'clock this afternoon. There's no backing out now."

"Who wants to back out?" said Rectus, looking up from his trunk, into which he had been diving.

"Can't say," I answered. "But I know one person who wont back out."

"Who's that?"

"Corny," said I.

Rectus stood up.

"Cor----!" he exclaimed.

"Ny," said I, "and father and mother. They took the only room left,--engaged it while I was there."

"Can't we sell our tickets?" asked Rectus.

"Don't know," said I. "But what's the good? Who's going to be afraid of a girl,--or a whole family, for that matter? We're in for it now."

Rectus didn't say anything, but his expression saddened.

We had studied out this trip the night before, and knew just what we had to do. We first went from St. Augustine, on the sea-coast, to Tocoi, on the St. John's River, by a railroad fifteen miles long. Then we took a steam-boat up the St. John's to Pilatka, and the next morning left for the Oclawaha, which runs into the St. John's about twenty-five miles above, on the other side of the river.

We found the Corny family at the station, all right, and Corny immediately informed me that she had a fishing-line, but didn't bring a pole, because her father said he could cut her one, if it was needed. He didn't know whether it was "throw-out" fishing or not, on that river.

There used to be a wooden railroad here, and the cars were pulled by mules. It was probably more fun to travel that way, but it took longer. Now they have steel rails and everything that a regular grown-up railroad has. We knew the engineer, for Mr. Cholott had introduced us to him one day, on the club-house wharf. He was a first-rate fellow, and let us ride on the engine. I didn't believe, at first, that Rectus would do this; but there was only one passenger car, and after the Corny family got into that, he didn't hesitate a minute about the engine.

We had a splendid ride. We went slashing along through the woods the whole way, and as neither of us had ever ridden on an engine before, we made the best of our time. We found out what every crank and handle was for, and kept a sharp look-out ahead, through the little windows in the cab. If we had caught an alligator on the cow-catcher, the thing would have been complete. The engineer said there used to be alligators along by the road, in the swampy places, but he guessed the engine had frightened most of them away.

The trip didn't take forty minutes, so we had scarcely time to learn the whole art of engine-driving, but we were very glad to have had the ride.

We found the steam-boat waiting for us at Tocoi, which is such a little place that I don't believe either of us noticed it, as we hurried aboard. The St. John's is a splendid river, as wide as a young lake; but we did not have much time to see it, as it grew dark pretty soon, and the supper-bell rang.

We reached Pilatka pretty early in the evening, and there we had to stay all night. Mr. Chipperton told me, confidentially, that he thought this whole arrangement was a scheme to make money out of travellers. The boat we were in ought to have kept on and taken us up the Oclawaha; "but," said he, "I suppose that wouldn't suit the hotel-keepers. I expect they divide the profits with the boats."

By good luck, I thought, the Corny family and ourselves went to different hotels to spend the night. When I congratulated Rectus on this fact, he only said:

"It don't matter for one night. We'll catch 'em all bad enough to-morrow."

And he was right. When we went down to the wharf the next morning, to find the Oclawaha boat, the first persons we saw were Mr. Chipperton, with his wife and daughter. They were standing, gazing at the steam-boat which was to take us on our trip.

"Isn't this a funny boat?" said Corny, as soon as she saw us. It _was a very funny boat. It was not much longer than an ordinary tug, and quite narrow, but was built up as high as a two-story house, and the wheel was in the stern. Rectus compared her to a river wheelbarrow.

Soon after we were on board she started off, and then we had a good chance to see the St. John's. We had been down to look at the river before, for we got up very early and walked about the town. It is a pretty sort of a new place, with wide streets and some handsome houses. The people have orange-groves in their gardens, instead of potato-patches, as we have up north. Before we started, we hired a rifle. We had been told that there was plenty of game on the river, and that most gentlemen who took the trip carried guns. Rectus wanted to get two rifles, but I thought one was enough. We could take turns, and I knew I'd feel safer if I had nothing to do but to keep my eye on Rectus while he had the gun.

There were not many passengers on board, and, indeed, there was not room for more than twenty-five or thirty. Most of them who could find places sat out on a little upper deck, in front of the main cabin, which was in the top story. Mrs. Chipperton, however, staid in the saloon, or dining-room, and looked out of the windows. She was a quiet woman, and had an air as if she had to act as shaft-horse for the team, and was pretty well used to holding back. And I reckon she had a good deal of it to do.

One party attracted our attention as soon as we went aboard. It was made up of a lady and two gentlemen-hunters. The lady wasn't a hunter, but she was dressed in a suitable costume to go about with fellows who had on hunting-clothes. The men wore long yellow boots that came ever so far up their legs, and they had on all the belts and hunting-fixings that the law allows. The lady wore yellow gloves, to match the men's boots. As we were going up the St. John's, the two men strode about, in an easy kind of a way, as if they wanted us to understand that this sort of thing was nothing to them. They were used to it, and could wear that style of boots every day if they wanted to. Rectus called them "the yellow-legged party," which wasn't a bad name.

After steaming about twenty-five miles up the St. John's River, we went in close to the western shore, and then made a sharp turn into a narrow opening between the tall trees, and sailed right into the forest.

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