Read Chapter XVII - Repairing the sea bird of A Runaway Brig / An Accidental Cruise, free online book, by James Otis, on

It was extremely difficult for anyone on the tug to set about work while the sense of injury and grief was so fresh in his mind, and had it not been for Joe all hands would have given way to sorrow and anger, a course which could certainly bring no relief.  He bustled around as if there was not a thought in his mind beyond repairing the engine, calling for assistance first upon one of the boys and then Bob, until they were absolutely forced to take an interest in the work.

He insisted that the yawl must be gotten into the water without delay, because his duties might necessitate his going ashore at a moment’s notice; and it was nearly time for the sun to set before the little boat was in sailing trim.  While the boys were engaged in this work Joe called upon Bob so often that the old sailor grew quite eager to see the job progress, and, like the others, almost ceased to dwell upon the bitter disappointment.

When the boat was launched, Joe advised the boys to go into the tiny galley of the tug for the purpose of getting supper, concluding by saying: 

“It ain’t as big as the one on the Bonita; but you’ll find better tools to work with, because everything is new.  There must be grub enough to last ten days or more; but if not, we’ll do a little hunting and fishing.  This is the season for turtles, so we can have plenty of meat and eggs; and there’s no show of being put on short allowance, even if we should stay here a month.”

This remark about food aroused Bob from the mournful reverie into which he had fallen for the moment, and he said with something like his old cheerfulness, as he started forward: 

“I’ll overhaul the stores, so we’ll know jes’ what there is on board; but it won’t do any harm for you boys to go fishin’ now an’ then, seein’ that you can’t do very much work in the engine-room.”

Then he went into the fore-peak.  Jim and Walter built a fire in the stove, which occupied fully half the space in the tiny galley, and Harry set about laying the forward-cabin table with the limited collection of crockery.

Joe came from the hot engine-room when the others were fully occupied.  He had not really begun, his task, nor did he intend to do so until the next morning when some kind of a bench could be set up in the open air, although he had moved about very lively to keep the minds of his companions on something besides their own misfortunes.

It was not long before Bob finished taking account of the eatables, and on coming from the hold he reported: 

“We’ve got fully half a barrel of flour, about twenty pounds of salt pork, twice as much beef, and two hams.  There’s coffee enough to last this crew four or five weeks, with canned milk to help it out.  Two dozen tins of assorted vegetables, three bushels of potatoes, plenty of salt, pepper, molasses and vinegar.  Pretty nigh a whole tub of butter, another of lard, and a barrel two-thirds full of ship’s-biscuit.  We sha’n’t starve yet awhile; but it stands us in hand to do some fishin’ an’ huntin’ before we leave this place - if we ever do.”

“Now, don’t talk that way, Bob,” Joe said with a laugh.  “I give you my word that the engine can be repaired, so of course we shall leave here.”

“How much coal have you got?”

Joe’s face darkened.  The fuel supply was the only thing of which he had not thought, and he knew there was only such an amount on board as would serve to keep up steam about forty-eight hours.

“I don’t suppose we’ve got enough for the run across,” he said after a short pause; “but we can take on plenty of wood, or make our way into Nassau, where, by giving a distress note on the steamer, it will be possible to get all that may be needed.  If we could only manage to patch the bow a little better I wouldn’t feel worried about anything.”

“That’s jes’ what I’ve made up my mind to do,” Bob replied.  “If you don’t call on me too often, I reckon I can show a pretty decent job of carpentering by the time you’re ready to make steam.”

“After to-morrow night I shan’t need much help, so you’ll have plenty of time,” Joe said with a laugh; and then the conversation was interrupted by Walter’s announcement that supper was ready.

Jim had taken especial pains with this meal, probably acting on the belief that grief is lessened when the stomach is satisfied, and all hands seated themselves at the table, which occupied nearly the entire floor-space of the little cabin, looking far more cheerful than one would have supposed under the circumstances.

“There’s a big advantage about living here,” Joe said, as he lighted the swinging lamp that the interior might seem more cheerful.  “Everything is snugger than on the brig.  We’ve got one bunk apiece, and none to spare; the bedding is clean because it’s new, while Jim’s work is easier owin’ to the fact of the galley bein’ alongside the dining-room.”

“Yes,” Bob said, as he choked down a sigh with a big piece of ham, “we’re pretty well fixed considerin’; an’ if the Bonita had gone to the bottom, or been burned up, I wouldn’t feel sore a bit.  It’s the idea that the same villains we brought off the key to save ’em from starvation have run away with the brig which riles me.  Howsomever,” he added, as he helped himself to another potato, “it don’t do any good to talk of sich rascality, an’ we may as well chuck ourselves under the chin ’cause things are no worse.”

Then Joe made sure the conversation would not again drift into such a dangerous channel by talking of the needed repairs until the meal was finished and the dishes washed, after which all hands went on deck to enjoy the cooling breeze.

“If we could sleep here it would be possible to take some comfort,” Harry suggested, as the old sailor made preparations for his after-supper smoke.  “It’ll be terribly hot in the cabin.”

“Suppose we do that same thing?” Joe said, quickly.  “I’m going to spread the foresail as an awning in the morning to make a work-room, and if we should put it up now there’d be nothing else necessary but bring the bedding on deck.”

Bob showed that he thought the plan a good one by laying down his pipe and going forward.  The others followed, and in a short time the little foresail was unbent, the canvas stretched from the roof of the house aft to a couple of oars lashed to the rail, and the boys made up the beds.

It was fully half an hour before sunrise next morning when Bob called all hands, and the task of repairing the Sea Bird was begun without delay.  Joe had his tools and spare fittings on deck by the time breakfast was ready, and Bob mapped out his work during the same interval.

“You boys are to go ashore,” the old sailor said when the little party had gathered around the table.  “We haven’t got much water, an’ if you can find a spring it’ll save wastin’ coal to condense what’ll be needed.”

An excursion on the island was by no means a hardship, and but little time was spent setting the galley and cabin to rights after the meal had been brought to an end.

“The key ain’t so small but that you can get lost on it an’ not half try,” Bob shouted, as Jim and Harry took up the oars, leaving Walter to play the part of coxswain.  “Keep your bearings well in mind, an’ don’t go far from the shore.”

Jim waved his hand to show that the commands were understood, and then the little boat was propelled swiftly toward the key.

Bob watched the boys until they landed, fastened the yawl by tying the painter around a projecting piece of coral, and disappeared in the underbrush, after which he went aft, where Joe had set up a very shaky work-bench and was busily engaged measuring a plate of metal.

“Them two city-bred youngsters are having the worst end of this queer cruise,” the sailor said thoughtfully.  “To an old moss-back like me, it don’t make much difference whether he’s on the Bahamas or the Sandwich Islands, providin’ there’s plenty of grub; but the lads must come pretty nigh eatin’ their hearts out sometimes when they think of home an’ the sadness that’s in it through their disappearin’ so mysterious-like.”

“It’s tough on them, and that’s a fact,” Joe replied; “but they keep the trouble to themselves in a way that ought to teach us a lesson.  A man, or a boy either, for that matter, should put his best foot forward, no matter how hard a place he gets in, an’ then half the battle’s won before a blow can be struck.”

Joe had no opportunity to continue the subject because Bob walked into the cabin.  The conversation was growing altogether too personal to please the old sailor, for he knew perfectly well that he had been more than foolish in giving such free rein to his temper and grief when the perfidy of the strangers was first made apparent, and, like many others, he did not care to be told of his faults.

He proposed to further repair the damage done the Sea Bird by planking outside the canvas, and to procure the necessary lumber he must take it from the bulk-head between the after-cabin and the engine-room.

This he now proceeded to do, and while the pounding and hammering went on below, as if the little steamer was being torn to pieces, Joe continued what was both a difficult and laborious task.  A piece of metal such as could have been cut and planed down into the required shape in half a day with the proper tools, he was forced to fashion from thick plates with nothing more effective than a file.  Although accustomed to “look upon the bright side of trouble,” it was impossible to conceal from himself the unpleasant fact that two or three weeks might elapse before the job could be finished satisfactorily, and during such time a gale from the east might make the Sea Bird a total wreck.

These disagreeable thoughts did not prevent him from working industriously on what seemed an almost endless task, and he had not ceased his labors for a single moment, even though fully two hours were passed, when a loud noise from the shore attracted his attention.

“Something has gone wrong with the boys!” he shouted; and Bob rushed on deck in the greatest excitement as he asked, impatiently: 

“What’s the matter?  Have you seen anything?”

“No; but listen to that yelling.  It isn’t possible they have found human beings on the key, and unless they’re in trouble I don’t see why there should be such an uproar.”

There was but little time for speculation.  Almost before Joe ceased speaking the boys came from the underbrush at full speed and leaped into the boat after launching her, Jim and Walter pulling energetically at the oars while Harry waved some small object above his head.