Then they looked wistfully up at the pilot house, and finally, little by little, Clay ventured up there, followed diffidently by Washington. The pilot turned presently to "get his stern-marks," saw the lads and invited them in. Now their happiness was complete. This cosy little house, built entirely of glass and commanding a marvelous prospect in every direction was a magician's throne to them and their enjoyment of the place was simply boundless.
They sat them down on a high bench and looked miles ahead and saw the wooded capes fold back and reveal the bends beyond; and they looked miles to the rear and saw the silvery highway diminish its breadth by degrees and close itself together in the distance. Presently the pilot said:
"By George, yonder comes the Amaranth!"
A spark appeared, close to the water, several miles down the river. The pilot took his glass and looked at it steadily for a moment, and said, chiefly to himself:
"It can't be the Blue Wing. She couldn't pick us up this way. It's the Amaranth, sure!"
He bent over a speaking tube and said:
"Who's on watch down there?"
A hollow, unhuman voice rumbled up through the tube in answer:
"I am. Second engineer."
"Good! You want to stir your stumps, now, Harry--the Amaranth's just turned the point--and she's just a--humping herself, too!"
The pilot took hold of a rope that stretched out forward, jerked it twice, and two mellow strokes of the big bell responded. A voice out on the deck shouted:
"Stand by, down there, with that labboard lead!"
"No, I don't want the lead," said the pilot, "I want you. Roust out the old man--tell him the Amaranth's coming. And go and call Jim--tell him."
The "old man" was the captain--he is always called so, on steamboats and ships; "Jim" was the other pilot. Within two minutes both of these men were flying up the pilothouse stairway, three steps at a jump. Jim was in his shirt sleeves,--with his coat and vest on his arm. He said:
"I was just turning in. Where's the glass"
He took it and looked:
"Don't appear to be any night-hawk on the jack-staff--it's the Amaranth, dead sure!"
The captain took a good long look, and only said:
George Davis, the pilot on watch, shouted to the night-watchman on deck:
"How's she loaded?"
"Two inches by the head, sir."
"'T ain't enough!"
The captain shouted, now:
"Call the mate. Tell him to call all hands and get a lot of that sugar forrard--put her ten inches by the head. Lively, now!"
A riot of shouting and trampling floated up from below, presently, and the uneasy steering of the boat soon showed that she was getting "down by the head."
The three men in the pilot house began to talk in short, sharp sentences, low and earnestly. As their excitement rose, their voices went down. As fast as one of them put down the spy-glass another took it up--but always with a studied air of calmness. Each time the verdict was:
"She's a gaining!"
The captain spoke through the tube:
"What steam are You carrying?"
"A hundred and forty-two, sir! But she's getting hotter and hotter all the time."
The boat was straining and groaning and quivering like a monster in pain. Both pilots were at work now, one on each side of the wheel, with their coats and vests off, their bosoms and collars wide open and the perspiration flowing down heir faces. They were holding the boat so close to the shore that the willows swept the guards almost from stem to stern.
"Stand by!" whispered George.
"All ready!" said Jim, under his breath.
"Let her come!"
The boat sprang away, from the bank like a deer, and darted in a long diagonal toward the other shore. She closed in again and thrashed her fierce way along the willows as before. The captain put down the glass:
"Lord how she walks up on us! I do hate to be beat!"
"Jim," said George, looking straight ahead, watching the slightest yawing of the boat and promptly meeting it with the wheel, "how'll it do to try Murderer's Chute?"
"Well, it's--it's taking chances.