WELL, I catched my breath and most fainted. Shut up on a wreck with such _ang as that! But it warn't no time to be sentimentering. We'd GOT to fin_hat boat now—had to have it for ourselves. So we went a-quaking and shakin_own the stabboard side, and slow work it was, too—seemed a week before we go_o the stern. No sign of a boat. Jim said he didn't believe he could go an_urther—so scared he hadn't hardly any strength left, he said. But I said, come on, if we get left on this wreck we are in a fix, sure. So on we prowle_gain. We struck for the stern of the texas, and found it, and then scrabble_long forwards on the skylight, hanging on from shutter to shutter, for th_dge of the skylight was in the water. When we got pretty close to the cross- hall door there was the skiff, sure enough! I could just barely see her. _elt ever so thankful. In another second I would a been aboard of her, bu_ust then the door opened. One of the men stuck his head out only about _ouple of foot from me, and I thought I was gone; but he jerked it in again, and says:
"Heave that blame lantern out o' sight, Bill!"
He flung a bag of something into the boat, and then got in himself and se_own. It was Packard. Then Bill HE come out and got in. Packard says, in a lo_oice:
"All ready—shove off!"
I couldn't hardly hang on to the shutters, I was so weak. But Bill says:
"Hold on—'d you go through him?"
"No. Didn't you?"
"No. So he's got his share o' the cash yet."
"Well, then, come along; no use to take truck and leave money."
"Say, won't he suspicion what we're up to?"
"Maybe he won't. But we got to have it anyway. Come along."
So they got out and went in.
The door slammed to because it was on the careened side; and in a half secon_ was in the boat, and Jim come tumbling after me. I out with my knife and cu_he rope, and away we went!
We didn't touch an oar, and we didn't speak nor whisper, nor hardly eve_reathe. We went gliding swift along, dead silent, past the tip of the paddle- box, and past the stern; then in a second or two more we was a hundred yard_elow the wreck, and the darkness soaked her up, every last sign of her, an_e was safe, and knowed it.
When we was three or four hundred yards down-stream we see the lantern sho_ike a little spark at the texas door for a second, and we knowed by that tha_he rascals had missed their boat, and was beginning to understand that the_as in just as much trouble now as Jim Turner was.
Then Jim manned the oars, and we took out after our raft. Now was the firs_ime that I begun to worry about the men—I reckon I hadn't had time to before.
I begun to think how dreadful it was, even for murderers, to be in such a fix.
I says to myself, there ain't no telling but I might come to be a murdere_yself yet, and then how would I like it? So says I to Jim:
"The first light we see we'll land a hundred yards below it or above it, in _lace where it's a good hiding-place for you and the skiff, and then I'll g_nd fix up some kind of a yarn, and get somebody to go for that gang and ge_hem out of their scrape, so they can be hung when their time comes."
But that idea was a failure; for pretty soon it begun to storm again, and thi_ime worse than ever. The rain poured down, and never a light showed; everybody in bed, I reckon. We boomed along down the river, watching fo_ights and watching for our raft. After a long time the rain let up, but th_louds stayed, and the lightning kept whimpering, and by and by a flash showe_s a black thing ahead, floating, and we made for it.
It was the raft, and mighty glad was we to get aboard of it again. We seen _ight now away down to the right, on shore. So I said I would go for it. Th_kiff was half full of plunder which that gang had stole there on the wreck.
We hustled it on to the raft in a pile, and I told Jim to float along down, and show a light when he judged he had gone about two mile, and keep i_urning till I come; then I manned my oars and shoved for the light. As I go_own towards it three or four more showed—up on a hillside. It was a village.
I closed in above the shore light, and laid on my oars and floated. As I wen_y I see it was a lantern hanging on the jackstaff of a double-hull ferryboat.
I skimmed around for the watchman, a-wondering whereabouts he slept; and b_nd by I found him roosting on the bitts forward, with his head down betwee_is knees. I gave his shoulder two or three little shoves, and begun to cry.
He stirred up in a kind of a startlish way; but when he see it was only me h_ook a good gap and stretch, and then he says:
"Hello, what's up? Don't cry, bub. What's the trouble?"
"Pap, and mam, and sis, and—"
Then I broke down. He says:
"Oh, dang it now, DON'T take on so; we all has to have our troubles, and this
'n 'll come out all right. What's the matter with 'em?"
"They're—they're—are you the watchman of the boat?"
"Yes," he says, kind of pretty-well-satisfied like. "I'm the captain and th_wner and the mate and the pilot and watchman and head deck-hand; an_ometimes I'm the freight and passengers. I ain't as rich as old Jim Hornback, and I can't be so blame' generous and good to Tom, Dick, and Harry as what h_s, and slam around money the way he does; but I've told him a many a time '_ wouldn't trade places with him; for, says I, a sailor's life's the life fo_e, and I'm derned if I'D live two mile out o' town, where there ain't nothin_ver goin' on, not for all his spondulicks and as much more on top of it. Say_—"
I broke in and says:
"They're in an awful peck of trouble, and—"
"Why, pap and mam and sis and Miss Hooker; and if you'd take your ferryboa_nd go up there—"
"Up where? Where are they?"
"On the wreck."
"Why, there ain't but one."
"What, you don't mean the Walter Scott?"
"Good land! what are they doin' THERE, for gracious sakes?"
"Well, they didn't go there a-purpose."
"I bet they didn't! Why, great goodness, there ain't no chance for 'em if the_on't git off mighty quick! Why, how in the nation did they ever git into suc_ scrape?"
"Easy enough. Miss Hooker was a-visiting up there to the town—"
"Yes, Booth's Landing—go on."
"She was a-visiting there at Booth's Landing, and just in the edge of th_vening she started over with her nigger woman in the horse-ferry to stay al_ight at her friend's house, Miss What-you-may-call-her I disremember he_ame—and they lost their steering-oar, and swung around and went a- floatin_own, stern first, about two mile, and saddle-baggsed on the wreck, and th_erryman and the nigger woman and the horses was all lost, but Miss Hooker sh_ade a grab and got aboard the wreck. Well, about an hour after dark we com_long down in our trading-scow, and it was so dark we didn't notice the wrec_ill we was right on it; and so WE saddle-baggsed; but all of us was saved bu_ill Whipple—and oh, he WAS the best cretur !—I most wish 't it had been me, _o."
"My George! It's the beatenest thing I ever struck. And THEN what did you al_o?"
"Well, we hollered and took on, but it's so wide there we couldn't make nobod_ear. So pap said somebody got to get ashore and get help somehow. I was th_nly one that could swim, so I made a dash for it, and Miss Hooker she said i_ didn't strike help sooner, come here and hunt up her uncle, and he'd fix th_hing. I made the land about a mile below, and been fooling along ever since, trying to get people to do something, but they said, 'What, in such a nigh_nd such a current? There ain't no sense in it; go for the steam ferry.' No_f you'll go and—"
"By Jackson, I'd LIKE to, and, blame it, I don't know but I will; but who i_he dingnation's a-going' to PAY for it? Do you reckon your pap—"
"Why THAT'S all right. Miss Hooker she tole me, PARTICULAR, that her uncl_ornback—"
"Great guns! is HE her uncle? Looky here, you break for that light ove_onder-way, and turn out west when you git there, and about a quarter of _ile out you'll come to the tavern; tell 'em to dart you out to Ji_ornback's, and he'll foot the bill. And don't you fool around any, becaus_e'll want to know the news. Tell him I'll have his niece all safe before h_an get to town. Hump yourself, now; I'm a-going up around the corner here t_oust out my engineer."
I struck for the light, but as soon as he turned the corner I went back an_ot into my skiff and bailed her out, and then pulled up shore in the eas_ater about six hundred yards, and tucked myself in among some woodboats; fo_ couldn't rest easy till I could see the ferryboat start. But take it al_round, I was feeling ruther comfortable on accounts of taking all thi_rouble for that gang, for not many would a done it. I wished the widow knowe_bout it. I judged she would be proud of me for helping these rapscallions, because rapscallions and dead beats is the kind the widow and good peopl_akes the most interest in.
Well, before long here comes the wreck, dim and dusky, sliding along down! _ind of cold shiver went through me, and then I struck out for her. She wa_ery deep, and I see in a minute there warn't much chance for anybody bein_live in her. I pulled all around her and hollered a little, but there wasn'_ny answer; all dead still. I felt a little bit heavy-hearted about the gang, but not much, for I reckoned if they could stand it I could.
Then here comes the ferryboat; so I shoved for the middle of the river on _ong down-stream slant; and when I judged I was out of eye-reach I laid on m_ars, and looked back and see her go and smell around the wreck for Mis_ooker's remainders, because the captain would know her uncle Hornback woul_ant them; and then pretty soon the ferryboat give it up and went for th_hore, and I laid into my work and went a-booming down the river.
It did seem a powerful long time before Jim's light showed up; and when it di_how it looked like it was a thousand mile off. By the time I got there th_ky was beginning to get a little gray in the east; so we struck for a_sland, and hid the raft, and sunk the skiff, and turned in and slept lik_ead people.