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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 35. I Am Ready For A Fresh Hazard Of Fortune
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In The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 35. I Am Ready For A Fresh Hazard Of Fortune Post by :Bill999 Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas A. Janvier Date :May 2012 Read :2611

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In The Sargasso Sea: A Novel - Chapter 35. I Am Ready For A Fresh Hazard Of Fortune

CHAPTER XXXV. I AM READY FOR A FRESH HAZARD OF FORTUNE

For a while after this black thought came to me I was pretty much beaten by it; but when I got steadier--and had finished kicking myself for a fool because I had not foreseen it all along--I perceived that the odds were not wholly against me, after all. I had, at least, a sea-worthy boat in which to make my venture, and therefore was as well off as I had hoped to be when I had set about looking for one; and if the plan that I had formed worked out in practice--if I could manage to force a passage through the tangle by alternately working over the bow of my boat to break up the weed, and over the sides to pole my boat forward--I was a great deal better off than I had hoped to be: for should I win my way to open water I would have steam as well as sail power at my command.

But while this more reasonable view of the situation comforted me, it did not satisfy me. The difficulty of working myself along in that slow fashion I foresaw would be so enormous that I very well might die of sheer exhaustion before I got clear of the weed-tangle--which must extend outward, as I knew from my guess at the time that I had taken in drifting in through it, for a very long way. What I had been counting upon ever since I had found the launch was in having part of the work, and the heaviest part, done by her engine; my part to be the breaking of a passage, while the motive power was to be supplied by the screw. But of course if the screw fouled, as it certainly would foul with the loose weed all around it, that would be the end of my hopeful plan.

This consideration of the matter reduced it to a definite problem. What was needed was some sort of protection for the screw that would keep the weed away from it and yet would allow it to work freely: and, having the case thus clearly stated, the thought presently occurred to me that I could secure this protection by building out from the stern of the boat, so that the screw would be enclosed in it, some sort of an iron cage. That arrangement, I conceived, would meet the requirements of the case fully; and being come to my conclusion I resigned myself to still another long delay while I carried my plan into execution, and so went to bed at last hopefully--but well knowing that this fresh piece of work that I had cut out for myself would be hard to do.

I certainly did not overestimate the amount of labor involved in my cage-building. I was a good three weeks over it. But I was kept up to the collar by my conviction that without the cage I had no chance of succeeding in my project; and so I got it finished at last. And then I considered that my boat really was ready to take the water; and the cat and I had another banquet in celebration of the long step that we had taken toward our deliverance--only this time I did not give an altogether free rein to my rejoicing, being fearful that some other difficulty might present itself suddenly and bring me up again with a round turn.

The boat being ready--for I could think of nothing more to do to her--I had still to launch her, and the first step toward that end was breaking out a section in the steamer's side. Luckily the stock of cold-chisels aboard the _Ville de Saint Remy was a good one; but I dulled them all twice over--and weary work at the grindstone I had sharpening them again--before I had chipped away the bindings of those endless rivets and had the satisfaction of seeing the big section of iron plate between two of her iron ribs pitch outboard and splash down through the weed into the sea.

As I have said, the bow compartment of the steamer was full of water, and this brought her main-deck so low down forward that the boat had only to be slid out almost on a level through the hole that I had made. But to slide her that way--which seems easy, because I have happened to put it glibly--was quite a different thing. With steam power to work the capstan I could have got the boat overboard in no time; but without steam power the launching went desperately slowly, and was altogether the hardest piece of work that I had to do in the whole of my long hard job.

The boat had stood all along in the cradle that had been built to hold her steady for the voyage. This was a very stout wooden framework built up from two heavy beams joined by cross-pieces, and all so well bolted together that it was very solid and firm. In this the boat rested snugly and was held fast by rope lashings; and the cradle itself--resting on the lower hatch and projecting on each side of it--was lashed to the hatch ringbolts so as to be safe against shifting in a heavy sea. I could have removed the cradle by taking it to pieces, but that would not have helped matters; and the plan that I decided upon--liking it better because all this wood-work around and under the boat would protect her from harm as she went overboard--was to weight the cradle with iron bars that would cause it to sink away from beneath the boat when they took the water, and then to work it up with jack-screws until I could get rollers under it and so send them both together over the side.

How long I worked over this job I really do not know; but I do know that at the time it seemed as though it never would come to an end. First of all I had the rollers to make from another topgallant mast that I got down, and when these were finished I had to go at the frame of the cradle with a pair of jack-screws and raise it, by fractions of an inch, until I could get my rollers under it one at a time. I think that it was the deadly dullness of this jack-screw work that I most resented--the stupid monotony of doing precisely the same sort of utterly wearying work all day long and for day after day. But in the end I got it finished: all my rollers properly in place, and the cradle made fast to hold it from starting before I was ready to have it go--although of that there was not much danger, for while the steamer had a decided pitch forward she lay on an even keel.

At first I was for sending my boat overboard the minute that I got the last roller under her; but I had the sense, luckily, to take a reef in this brisk intention as the thought struck me that I must have open water to launch her in or else very likely have boat and cradle together stuck fast in the weed. And so I set myself to clearing a little pool into which I could launch her; and as I carried this work on I came quickly to a realizing sense of what was before me when I should begin to break a way through the weed for my boat's passage, and to the conviction that had I tried to make my voyage without steam to help me I never should have got through at all.

In point of fact, the weed was so thick and so firmly matted together that I almost could walk on it; and when I had knocked loose a couple of doors from their hinges and had thrown them overboard--taking two, so that I might move one ahead of the other as my cutting advanced--I had firm enough standing place from which I could slash away. So tough was the mass that I was a whole day in uncovering a space less than forty feet long by twenty broad; and when my launching-pool was finished it had the look of a little pond in a meadow surrounded by solid banks.

All this showed me that even with the screw to push while I cleared a way for the boat's passage I should have my hands full; but it also put into my head a notion that helped me a good deal in the end. This was to rig on the straight stem of my boat a set of guide-bars projecting forward in which I could work perpendicularly a cross-cut saw, and in that way to cut a slit in the weed--which would be widened by the boat's nose thrusting into it as the screw shoved her onward, and so would enable me to squeeze along. And as this was a matter easy of accomplishment--being only to double over a couple of iron bars so that there would be a slit a half inch wide for the saw to travel in, and to bolt them fast to the top and bottom of the boat's stem--I did it immediately; and it worked so well when I came to try it that I was glad enough that I had had so lucky a thought. Indeed, had I known how well it would turn out I should have gone a step farther and rigged my saw to run by steam power--setting up a frame in the bows to hold a wheel carrying a pin on which the saw could play and to which I could make fast a bar from my piston-rod--and in that way saved myself from the longest bit of back-breaking work that ever I had to do. But that was a piece of foresight that came afterward, and so did me no good.

When my guide-bars were in place, and the saw made ready to slip into them by taking off one of its handles--and I had still a spare saw to fall back upon in the event of the first one breaking--my boat was ready to go overboard into the open water, where she would lie while I put aboard of her my coal and stores. But the work that was before me, as I thus came close to it, loomed up very large; and so did the doubts which beset me as to how my voyage would end. Indeed, it was in a spirit far from exultant that at last I cut the lashings which held the cradle; and then with the tackle that I had ready got the heavy mass started--and in a couple of minutes had my boat safely overboard and floating free, as the cradle sunk away from under her, carried down by its lading of iron bars.

But, whatever was to come of it, the launching of my boat started me definitely along a fresh line of adventure, and whether I liked it or not I had to make the best of it: and so I stated the case to my cat--who had got scared and run off into a corner while the launching was in progress--when he came marching up to me and seated himself beside me gravely, as I stood in the break in the steamer's side looking down at the boat that I hoped would set us free.

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