Bump, bang, clatter, clatter.
Read alsoReal Stories of World War Two
On Ken Follett’s Facebook page Pan Macmillan created a storybank, as a place for readers to upload their own, real-life stories of World War Two. This ebook contains some of the incredible, moving stories that readers were inspired to post – the voices of a generation and its descendants – as well as a personal piece from Ken himself, about his…
"Eh! hello, who's there?" and Arthur jumps from his warm bed, and starts, shivering, to open the window-shutter; but ere he can reach it, another thump from without, and the rattle of a broken snow-ball on the tin roof of the veranda greets his ears.
He gets the shutter open just as Joe Henderson is about to throw another snow-ball, to knock at his door, as it were.
"Hello, Joe! what's up? Phew! ain't it cold!"
"Oh, Art, hurry up and dress, and come down," cries Joe. "I've splendid news for you. The river is frozen clear to Tarrytown, and the ice-boats from there are coming over to race with the Nyack boats to-day, and Uncle Nye is going to enter his new yacht, the Jack Frost, in the regatta, and says you and I may go along to help make up the crew. Won't it be fun, though? There's an elegant breeze."
"I should say so," chattered Arthur, as he shivered before the window. "But I'm afraid I can't go. I don't dare miss school, it's so near examination-day."
"Oh, that's all right," cried Joe. "I stopped with a letter at Dominie Switchell's on my way up, and he's laid up with another attack of rheumatism, and can't teach school to-day. Ain't it glorious?"
"Elegant! Hooray! I'm with you!" shouted Arthur, as he disappeared from the window. Hurrying on his clothes, and scarcely dipping his face in the icy water, he[Pg 258] completed a hasty toilet, bounded down stairs two steps at a time, and tumbled over a chair that grandma had placed before her door to trip up burglars.
"Oh dear, what's the matter?" cried a voice from the room, as grandma opened the door and peeped into the hall.
"Why, Artie dear, how you frightened me! What is the cause of—"
"Ice-boat regatta to-day," shouted Artie, rubbing his ankle; "and there's no school, and I'm going on the Jack Frost. Won't be back till afternoon; keep my dinner hot, and—" The rest of the sentence was inaudible to grandma, for the boy was down the back stairs and in the kitchen, where, joined by Joe, he hurriedly ate the breakfast which good-natured Julia quickly set before them, for she knew just how to treat boys, having been a romping country girl herself.
In a few minutes the back door banged to, and our lads ran down the slippery pathway toward the river, where the bright sails of the Tarrytown fleet were already gliding toward the hither shore, as if in challenge to a contest. A minute's steady trot brought the boys to the steamboat dock where the ferry-boat lay frozen in. A number of graceful ice-yachts were gliding hither and thither over the glassy surface, while several near the wharf stood with sails flapping in the crisp, freshening breeze, as numbers of men and boys hurried about making the last preparations for the race, while shouts and halloos resounded on all sides. An animated group was gathered about one large and very stanch-looking boat.
"Oh, ain't she a beauty?" exclaimed Artie, as they ran and slid over the ice toward her.
"Why, it's the Jack Frost!" replied Joe. "Look at her flag; and here comes Uncle Nye, and Marc, and Charlie Haines, who built the boat."
"Good-morning, boys; just in time," called Mr. Nye. "It's a fine day for our sport. Jump aboard now, and let's be off. Haines, you take the windward runner; Joe, you stand by the peak halyards; Marc, you take the jib sheets; while Artie minds the main, and I'll tend the helm. Now tuck in the buffalo-robes. Are you all ready there forward?"
"Ay, ay, sir."
"Let go; steady now; there she fills;" and as the beautiful craft gathered headway, and glided over the smooth ice, a cheer went up for the new yacht. As they gained the open ice, several other racers ranged alongside to test the speed of the new-comer.
"What boat is that, Charlie?" called Mr. Nye, pointing to a fine boat close to.
"That's Mr. Snow's boat, the Icicle, sir; and here comes Mr. Voorhees's flyer, the Avalanche. There's Mr. Smith's Snow Squall, from Tarrytown. Look out, sir; here comes Mr. Hoff's boat, the Marie, trying to cross our bows. But she can't do it."
In a few minutes the Jack Frost had drawn away slightly from her rivals; and putting about, Mr. Nye ran back, and brought the boat to a stand-still near the dock.
"Oh, uncle, do you think we'll win the race?"
"I can not tell, of course, Joe, but Haines says she handles beautifully, and we stand a good chance if nothing breaks."
"Is Artie there?" called a voice from the dock to Joe.
"Yes, Ed, he's here."
"Tell him that grandma sent him this muffler, and wants him to wrap well up, and not catch—"
"There goes the signal to get ready!" exclaimed Charlie, as he jumped on the windward runner; and they ran rapidly down to the starting-point, where a long line of boats was drawn up like white-winged birds, their sails trembling in the breeze.
"What is the course, sir?" asked Artie.
"From Hook Mountain to Piermont Dock, two miles out in mid-river, then back to the Hook, three times—about thirty miles."
"There, Artie, there's the new pennant the young ladies offered as a prize last year, and Tom Hackett and Jim Burger, from Tarrytown, won it on the Eagle; but the boys say they didn't win it fairly, for they started ahead of the rest, and crowded one of our boats into an ice crack, and broke her runner."
"Now, boys, attention," ordered Mr. Nye, sharply. "Let her come into the wind."
"Are you ready?" came a clear voice down the wind; and a pistol report cracked on the air.
"Jib sheet—quick, Marc; more main sheet, Art; now sway down on the peak halyards, Joe; lie close, Haines. That's it—all snug;" and they were off on the race.
After our boys had attended to their duties, they had time to look about at the rest of the fleet.
Away on either side stretched a line of swiftly moving yachts, white sails flat as boards, flags fluttering, the wind humming through the rigging, while their glittering runners cut feathery flakes of glistening ice in their tracks.
"Oh, ain't it too bad!" cried Joe. "The Eagle and Icicle are both ahead of us."
"Never mind, boys; it's early in the race yet. Wait till we get on a wind," replied Haines. "Now watch the turning-point, sir; don't let the Snow Squall get inside of us; ready, about," and the three leading boats turned the stake together.
"Phew! how we fly!" cried Art. "Isn't she a hummer?"
"I wonder why they call a boat Jack, and then call it 'she,' as if it were a girl?" queried Joe.
"Give it up," replied Marc.
"Because they require so much rigging," promptly responded Mr. Nye.
"Oh, uncle, that's not fair," cried Joe; "you knew the answer before."
"Well, I've two daughters, and ought to," replied Mr. Nye; and they all joined in his jolly laugh.
"Look out for the crack ahead!" shouted Charlie, as they rushed by a split in the ice. "Ready, about!" away they went on the other tack; and so the exciting race went on. Now one boat would be ahead, again another would dart by and take the lead, but some had fallen so hopelessly in the rear, that only a half-dozen remained in the race, and of these it was hard to tell which was the swiftest.
"I'm afraid we're going to have a snow-squall, sir," shouted Charlie. "There's a black cloud coming over the Hook Mountain."
"Let it come; I think the heavier it blows, the better for us," replied Mr. Nye.
The race was now three-quarters run, and everything must be decided in a few minutes. The squall had come over the Hook, darkening the heavens, and the gale made the boats dart along with lightning speed.
"The Marie is ahead of us," exclaimed Charlie Haines, peering into the flying snow. "Hello, something's the matter with her! Boat ahoy! Sheer off, or you'll run into us. Steady, boys," and a phantom shape rushed out of the mist and darted across their wake with peak halyard parted and the mainsail thundering in the wind.
The snow now hid everything in a wild whirl of mist.
"Here comes the Eagle, sir," as another yacht appeared close aboard in the gloom, with her flag streaming wildly on the gale.
"Keep off! keep off!" roared Charlie Haines to Tom Hackett, who was steering the rival yacht.
"Clear the track!" came back the answer, in angry tones.
"Keep on your course, Mr. Nye!" yelled Charlie. "You have the right of way, and he dare not run us down."
Scarcely had he spoken when Hackett altered his boat's course.
"Luff, sir, luff!" shouted Charlie Haines, and with a light touch of the helm, Mr. Nye avoided the collision. Not entirely, though, for the Eagle caught her jib-stay under her rival's main-boom; a sharp snap followed, a heavy lurch, and the Eagle, devoid of her jib, whirled about and upset, throwing her crew along the ice.
"Served them right!" exclaimed Haines. "They tried to crowd us out of our course, but got upset themselves. Now, boys, hold on tight."
A terrific gust of wind and snow drove them swiftly on; it blew so hard, that the windward runner, with Charlie clinging to it, was lifted high in the air, and it seemed as though the boat must capsize.
"Shall we drop the peak?" called Mr. Nye. "I hardly think she'll stand it."
"Yes, she will, sir," answered Charlie. "Hold hard, every one!" and a moment later he added, "Hurrah! I see the stake ahead," and a burst of sunshine through the clouds revealed the flag close by.
Several other boats now emerged from the squall, but much of their canvas was shivering, and most of their peaks had been dropped before the fury of the gale.
It was no use trying to recover their lost ground, and our friends on the Jack Frost darted by the flag, winners of the race by several seconds, and also of the champion pennant of the Tappan Zee.