Masterson’s “Bargain” Motor Boat
How he was Bound to Have a Pleasure Craft, and the Vicissitudes which he Encountered Finally Drove the Amateur Enthusiast Almost to the Verge of Utter Collapse — Drastic Measures Taken to Get Rid of the Sting.
BILL MASTERSON, he bought the Wasp, anyhow, so it’s his loss, not mine. We all told him not to, but Bill was adamant. Know what adamant is? Of course! Ever see any? Why— er—no. Neither did I; neither did anybody; but we all know about it just the same. Bill was like it.
He paid one hundred good American bucks for the contraption—think of that will you?
“Naw, don’t!” I told him. “Don’t you give fifty ! Why, she’s secondhand-”
“But only three years old !”
“And her engine’s all burnt out-”
“But she runs!”
“And she leaks-”
“But she floats!”
“Oh, well !” I snapped. Then I walked away and left him on his lop-sided dock, gazing out over the lake. I saw it wasn’t any use to argue. Two or three motorboats were spudding away, here and there ; that put-put-puttering of theirs was heavenly music to Bill. So I just shut up and vamoosed with all kinds of dignity.
“Go it, Bill, if you want to!” I reflected as I went up on my front porch and sat down in my big cane rocker. “Thank the Lord I’ve got horse-sense enough not to get the chug-chug fever !”
Then I lit a panatela and opened my paper to the trotting news. Horses—ah ! Now you’re shouting, mister ! There’s some fun in horseflesh, but GASOLINE-T pshaw! II.
Next morning Bill took a trial trip with Hallman, the owner of the Wasp.
That sealed his fate. Hallman sure was a good one with machinery—knew precisely how to juggle the boat along, what with adjusting the woozler, keeping the jiggeree turned to a hair, breathing twenty to the minute and parting his mustache by calculus.
He and Bill passed me as I was sitting on my porch, feet on rail, smoking as per usual and reading turf. They both waved hands at me; kind of patronizing waves, exultant and gasoline-proud. You know how it is—anybody propelled on land or water by an olfactory-engine has full license to look down on everybody else as unsoaped proletarians. But there, I’m not going to moralize. All 1 want is to set forth what happened next—to Bill.
Seems like that was his first and only lesson in chauffeuring, for Hallman, d’you see, was going back to Boston next day. Simply had to dispose of the Wasp before he went; otherwise wouldn’t have taken two hundred for her. I know, because Bill told me. Well, anyway, you can’t learn all the hair-trigger-dingbats of a gas engine in one lesson. We—that is, Bill—found that out later.
He and his missus came over to supper with me and mine, that evening. And he certainly did talk wise. He also emanated rare perfumes of benzine and bilge water; and his hands were in full mourning. But he beamed, just the same, and between bites it was :
“Cut her off a trifle, and—advance the spark, see?—pass the bread. Thanks. You want to tighten the grease-cups once a day, and—I’ll thank you for that butter. Then you let the oil drop fifteen per minute; steak? Yes. If she back-fires, that shows she’s getting too much—tea? of course. Yes, that is good cake. Must
clean the muffler once a month. Another cup, if you don’t mind—and you’ve got to strain it through chamois to keep the dirt out-”
In spite of the ladies, I almost said ‘Well !” again.
That night, Hallman brought the Wasp round to Bill’s wharf and left her. Then a check for a hundred changed hands, and Bill owned a motor boat! Also the ex-owner made his polite-adieux and hurried back to town; but he left an instruction book, so Bill felt safe.
“Naw, don’t!” I advised Bill again, when he proposed taking a moonlight spin in the Wasp that very evening. We were all of us down on the wharf, of course, rubbering away to beat the cars, and Bill was explaining it all to us—Bill, who used to love his rowboat so much, and his canoe—used to paddle round the shores where the maples and alders overarched, or lie and smoke under the willow shade. None o’ that for him now! No, sir, he looked like Tubal Cain or Vulcan or some of those other Old Testament fellows, down in the bilge of his boat, telling us all about it while we goggled at the rods and cylinders and things and tried to believe we liked the smell.
“Better not,” said I, as he insisted on his moonlight spin, wanting to glide o’er the silvery sea and all that sort of thing (he claimed). He even quoted some poetry, with his face smooched. “Naw, don’t! Better wait till morning, till you can run by the book, eh?”
Bill snorted at that. “Book nothin’ !” he retorted. “I can run her by touch, that’s what ! Seems like it’s a kind of instinct already. Guess I’m a natural born mechanic. Come on for a spin!”
I objected, but Bill was so persistent I had to give in at last. I warned him beforehand, though, not to expect me, a horseman, to take any real interest in his old boat.
Bill never minded that at all—just told me to sit down and keep still. Then he shoved off and jumped in—at least, part of him jumped in—about half. The rest of him flopped horribly in the water, like
a dying sea serpent. Mrs. Bill and my missus shrieked while I hauled Bill aboard.
Pretty soon we were ready to start again. I sat down on the boat’s back piazza, ready for anything, everything.
The Wasp really was a good looker, y’know; twenty-footer, torpedo model and all that, painted with silver paint like a steampipe. The paint and varnish had got peeled off in spots and the engine was rusty, but that didn’t feaze Bill. Nothing could.
“Keep still, you !” he commanded, “and we’ll be off in a moment!”
Bill as a prophet was all to the strictly bad. He jiggled with things for a while, and then beckoned me with a Napoleonic gesture.
“Come up here and take the wheel,” he directed. “When sihe starts she goes fast, and I want to keep her out of these blasted lily pads, see? You can steer, of course ?”
“Surest thing ever !” I asseverated, as I went forward and seized the spokes. I sat down again and waited, watched to see the Wasp dart ahead like a thing of life (the way boats do in books, eh?) but she didn’t dart for a cent. Bill picked up the starting-crank and adjusted it to the fly-wheel. He cranked the engine. She didn’t catch. Cranked her again. Ditto. The third time, his crank slipped off the wheel and something went “bop!” onto the floor-boards.
“Oh ! Oh-oh ! ! Oh ! ! !” yodeled Bill, with one knuckle in his mouth. He danced as he sang.
“Is it—is it skun?” I ventured apprehensively.
“Skun?” He grabbed the finger with his left hand and went like he was pumping water. “Skun? Look!”
“Gee !” said I, peering in the gloom. “Better wrap that up in your handkerchief before you try again, hadn’t you?”
Bill wrapped it up, groaning; the next two times the handkerchief sort of lightened the blow as his fist hit the boards.
“What in—Halifax is the matter with this here crank, anyway?” asked Bill, in a cross between a prayer and a shriek, as he danced, dripping, on the floor-boards. I never heard a profaner word than that
Halifax. It was just blood-curdling. All this time, you know, the Wasp had been drifting, accompanied by little sympathetic squeals and bits of advice from the ladies, drifting out among the lily pads. The moon kept playing hide-and-seek with the knitted clouds.
“Guess I’ve got too much gasoline on,” said Bill at last, when he’d grown calmer. “I’ll shut off a little.”
Bill shut off a little, and cranked her again, several times. Still she wouldn’t catch. We drifted out farther and farther.
“Got a match?” quoth Bill. “I’m going to have a look, here, and see what’s wrong.”
“Aw, don’t!” said I. “Can’t you smell the vapor? Are you ready for the Great Beyond? I’m not, anyway; you’d better go slow !”
“Pshaw!” boasted he. “Who’s afraid?” “Me,” said I. “What’s that?” Something sounded over the waters :
“Must be Freeman’s launch coming round the point—let’s wait and see. He'll tell us what’s wrong, all right !”
We waited. The ladies, discouraged, retired into the camp.. Pretty soon Freeman’s dory-built boat came sputtering into dim view.
“Hey! Freeman! Freeman! Hold on a minute, will you?”
“Anything wrong over there?”
We allowed there was, and he came in ’longside us and cut off ; brought his boat to a stand at our gunwhale. He had an electric flash-lamp. Leaning over into the Wasp he flicked it round the motor. After a couple of minutes he said, looking very wise :
“Here—you’re disconnected, that’s all.” And he pointed to a battery-wire that lay supine on the bottom of the boat where Bill’s feet, milling round in agony, had caught and wrenched it away from the commutator-umptometer-thing. Bill murmured “The Maiden’s Prayer” and went to work splicing the wire. Then he cranked the engine again and—by Jing! she caught! Caught as fine as silk! We were off!
Say, it was fine—I had to admit it, myself. Barring the fact that our—I mean his—propeller had twisted up and was lugging along about a hayrackful of submarine flora, the Wasp behaved splendidly. She hardly intermitted at all, but tended strictly to business and split the waters like a miniature liner. Bill was radiant. He tended the engine, while I steered. I never saw a man tinker with anything so whole-souledly as Bill did with that little engine. He caressed her, coaxed her, fed her, crooned to her—I didn’t know but he’d take her in his lap and rock her to sleep before we got back from our tour
round the lake. But he didn’t have to—she went to sleep all by herself, about half a mile from shore, on the way back; and this time no fiddling and no fussing had any effect on her ; she was plumb hypnotized and we didn’t know the combination word to wake her with. After about an hour’s hard labor we gave up—got out the oars and rowed her home. She rowed heavy, too.
“Never mind!” said Bill, “you’ll see some goin’, to-morrow.”
Next morning, Bill’s knuckle was swelled up like a drum-major’s chest. He could hardly bend the finger at all, but he remained enthusiastic. I heard him at 5 a.m. puttering with the Wasp, baling her out, tink-tink-tinkering, talking to himself. “He’s sure going plumb off his nut,” thought I, turning over for another nap.
Bill tinkered till breakfast time, when he came in with a smeared face and Erebus hands, and bolted his grub. Then he went right out to the Wasp again. I went out, too. She certainly did look fine, riding at the wharf—long and graceful lines, shiny silver paint and all. She was an all-right boat, I had to admit it. The only drawbacks were that she seemed to be taking in water all the time from somewhere, and that she wouldn’t go.
“The leak’s right there,” said Bill, pointing to the stern. “Water must be coming in round the propellor. She needs packing, that’s all.”
“Yes,” thought I, “packing and shipping to Patagonia,” but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to gaff a crazy man too hard. After a while, “Found out what the matter is with the engine?” I asked casually.
“Why—er—er, yes, in a way. The mixing-valve seems to have come apart somehow. There’s a kind of disk-andspindle business in here, see? and the disk’s come off the spindle, that’s all. It keeps coming off, in fact. I’ve poked :t on twenty-two times already this morning Now, if I could only unscrew this piping, here, and turn the valve over, so, why, I might get at it. But—”
I climbed down into the Wasp. After
a minute’s inspection: “Why don’t you just unscrew this cap, here?” I asked. “You can get at the inside that way a whole lot quicker.” I’m no mechanic, of course, but you see I still had my usual human brains left me, which Bill hadn’t.
“Why—er—I thought that was all one solid piece.”
I had to smile. “Here,” said I, “gimme that wrench !”
In about three minutes I had the thing open and the spindle-disk-woozler out of it. Then I hammered ’em together and put ’em back.
“There,” said I, “I guess that’ll hold her for a while.”
“Thanks, awf’lly,” said Bill with abject gratitude. “Try a spin with me this morning?”
I had been planning to ride my bay mare, “Aline,” out to Berlin Plantation that day ; but somehow I wanted to stay with Bill and see how many more kinds of dum fool he was going to make of himself, so after a little cogitation I accepted. “But I’ll let him run his boat to suit himself,” thought I. Conclusively I told myself that whatever happened I’d never get up any real interest in motors. Horse flesh for mine, every time.
“Say,” asked Bill sort of apologetically, “would you mind getting some of those weeds off the propeller for me? I’d do it myself, only my hand’s all bandaged, y’ see. All you’ve got to do is roll up your sleeve and reach down—and—and then—” He told me all about how to get those weeds, as though I was a babe. I only smiled, as I took my coat off and rolled up my sleeve. Then I dangled myself over the side of the Wasp. By stretching my arm almost out of its socket I could just grab a few of the lily stalks at a time; I never though there were so many lilies in the whole lake as there were on that propeller. I got ’em all off, though, after a while, and rose up in an apoplectic condition. There was my Missus and Bill’s, on the wharf; wasn’t it disgusting? They were making remarks, too. I gathered that they thought I was on a par with Bill ; they said something about my being in the same boat with him, anyway—I just had to shut my jaw, or I’d have said something back. Women—humph!
Well, we had a bully little trip, that time; it was fine and dandy! The engine worked like a charm. Starting away from the wharf we fouled the propeller on a sunken log and had quite a time getting it off; but Bill and I shoved with the oars, and the ladies pulled on our hitching strap —cable, I mean—so we managed to clear after a while. And, as I was saying, we had a slick little run down to the village landing. That is, almost down there When we’d nearly arrived, the mixingvalve began to go chink-chink-chink, and the engine stopped. The Wasp swung round in the trough of the waves and stopped, too.
“Spindle’s out again,” announced Bill, cheerfully. “Here,” and he handed me the wrench.
“Let’s row in,” said I. “It looks like it was going to rain.”
“Pshaw,” answered he. “Row nothing! The Wasp has got to move under her own power, or not at all, that’s what !”
So I fixed the spindle again, and the rain came down and wet us both—the just and the unjust. It took me half an hour, that time, because I tied the disk on with a piece of copper wire that I borrowed from the electrical connection. When the job was over, things were all over me—grease, for example, and soot and dirt and smut. But when I’d coupled up, the engine went A-One—that is, after Bill had skinned two more knuckles and I’d barked one. Rain had no effect on
the Wasp. I know, because we ran her all the rest of the day, up and down the lake, and the rain never once stopped Plucky little engine, I tell you. The way, she’d shoot that craft through the waves, peel ’em off to the sides or fling’ em all over her, and swirl up the cream at her flat stern was just beautiful to see. Horseflesh you say? Mumm—yes, horses are fine; but then, a fellow ought to be broad, tolerant, ready for any sport, sympathetic with all, eh?
Bill and I were kind of tired, that night, what with running the Wasp all day, but in spite of sarcastic and foolish remarks from the women folks we sat up talking things over till about one a.m. I decided before going to bed that I’d send for a few catalogues of motor boats. No— wouldn’t own one as a gift, but I’d like to be informed on the subject, just like anything else. Aw, what you grinning at?
Bill must have overslept next morning, for I found myself up and out on the wharf before him. (My Missus says it was before five, but I know it was halfpast.) Lo and behold, no Wasp! I looked and peered, but not a thing of her
could I see. It was a rough, showery morning, with a heavy off-shore wind. Well, all of a sudden I spotted the boat a mile or more down the lake, driving and wallowing plumb for Major’s Island where the surf runs so high on the sharp rocks. She had somehow slipped her moorings and gone adrift. I saw there wasn’t any time to lose, so I hopped into Bill’s skiff and got busy. Rough? Bumping the bumps would be Nirvana by comparison. But I caught her, just the same, right this side of the Island. Scrambled aboard and hustled to start the engine. She wouldn’t spark any more than a dead elephant ; and all the time ker-splash ! the big waves were sousing me.
Not a particle of life in the blamed ■engine—not a scintilla ! She’d flop her wheel, grunt and die every time, with me out in the middle of that big lake like an ant on a shingle. Got careless with the current, and six batteries with the induction coil to shove ’em cavorted through my anatomy till I managed to let go. But they do say electricity’s good for the nerves—afterward.
Then, all of a sudden, Lord knows why the Wasp caught! I drove her up against the wind and waves like a runaway train and brought her home triumphant, slapping and dashing spray, heaving, plunging—say, it was great! Whew, but the Wasp could go when she had a mind to! V.
She was half full of water again when we went out to look at her next morning.
“Good thorough repairing, that’s what she needs,” opined Bill.
“Overhauling, inside and out,” I added. “I’m with you !”
So we got some tar and oakum at the carriage shop, and tools and stuff, and sailed in.
First of all we took the engine all apart and dug out the goo; then we packed the leak and hammered it full of tar. Somehow a stick wouldn’t do to jam it in with, so we had to go at it barehanded. Tar is spready stuff, that’s right. Then we put the engine together again. Did it O.K. except for bending the shaft a trifle. Oh, there was one little bolt that didn’t seem to fit anywhere, though I must say we
hunted conscientiously for a place to put it. Slicked everything all up about seven o’clock (no, didn’t want any supper I tell you !) and decided to go for a spin.
For some reason she wouldn’t explode. We looked in the book. It said that sometimes the cylinder needed blowing out. I told Bill I’d crank if he’d blow.
“Sure !” said he, and inverted himself at the mixing-valve with a lungful of air. Bill, upside down at the valve, see? waiting to blow.
“Now!” I hollered, giving the crank a hard throw. Say, what d’you think? The engine blew first ! So Bill lay round in the bottom, trying to extinguish his whiskers and shrieking things at me. (Burnt hair smells disgustingly, don’t you think so?) No matter, the Wasp was going anyway—backward. I steered After a while Bill protested, but I told him I didn’t dare stop, for fear we couldn’t get going again. Then he rosé up and tried to argue with me, but I kept him at a distance with the starting-crank, and gradually be quieted down.
So we had a fine little monlight run, after all. Naw, it didn’t matter which end was first. She ran just as well either way. Fine accommodating boat, the Wasp.
We ran round the lake a couple of times, next morning, but there didn’t seem to be quite so much fun in it. The Wasp was just a lee-tle mite aggravating. We didn’t seem to have stopped that leak, after all, and what with the tar round the place, the bilge got full of smelly black water; also the propeller hammered on account of being bent, and the engine had locomotor ataxia or something about all the time. That there spindle-busticator came off again, too, and we got water into the muffler and the engine back-fired and coughed and blew hot water all over us ; and Bill skun his knuckle again which was careless of him, just when it was almost healed. Then, on top of everything, the sparkplug got to leaking when we were a mile from home, and squeegeed gummy goo-y stuff out on top of the cylinder, and the spark went all to the bad, so we—we got out the oars You know the rest. Got home just before lunch; met the women
folks coming in from a drive with the Hamlins. Couldn’t help noticing how nice and slick “Aline’’ looked; something about her generous lines that isn’t half bad, eh? Looks strong and reliable and sure to go, any old time, and all that sort of thing. Seemed like Bill was casting shecp’s-eycs at his canoe, too, but I couldn’t be sure. Motor boating’s grand sport, though, elegant! You go tearing along through the waves, spray flying, hair flapping, and all that, and—and— naw ! the dirt doesn’t matter! Dirt’s healthy ; you’ve got to eat a peck, anyway, haven’t you?
Funniest thing, deuced odd, poor old Bill went off his trolley all of a sudden, just as we were getting through lunch. Something must have set him off; a look or a sniff from Mrs. B., or something. Anyhow, he jumped up, his chair clattering over backward, ran to his room, dashed down wildly with his loaded revolver in hand, and made a run for the wharf. We all jumped up, too, and “Save him! Quick!” screeched Mrs. Bill. Out we
rushed. There was Bill, casting off the mooring line like a maniac.
“Bill! Bill! What you up to?” I yelled, waving the carving knife that I still held in my hand at him. The ladies cowered behind me; I advanced cautiously-
Bill turned on me.
“You stand back,” he gibbered. “I’m going to assassinate this here Wasp right now, that’s what! You, too, if you try to stop me ! Keep off !”
“I’m with you, Bill,” I yelled. “Hooray ! Lemme at it-” And I made a
dive for the boat, too. The ladies, squealing, did a quick duck for the camp.
I grabbed the painter of our rowboat and jumped aboard. We shoved off, putoars to the dev’lish old torment and rowed her out into deep water, maybe a hundred yards from shore. Then Bill hauled out his pistol-and just naturally filled the hull with bullet holes—punctuating his shots with oratory. In spurted the water, six big streams, through the jagged punctures. The Wasp was dying. We freighted her with execrations, climbed over into our rowboat and cast off, watching, eager as wolves that watch the wounded stag die. Down she drooped, and still
down, going under by the head; that is, for a while. Somehow she didn’t go ’way under; something seemed to be holding her up. What—the—deuce?
“Air tanks, of course,” said I all of a sudden. “One in each end ; she’ll float till judgment day with those zinc boxes of hers !”
“Lemme at ’em,” shouted Bill. His eyes looked bad ; I saw lie meant trouble. “Lemme at those tanks, quick! I might repent ; I’ve got to kill her before I do.”
We jumped aboard once more. Bill seized the screwdriver and I grabbed my carving knife and we just everlastingly went at those air tanks, I tell you. Down on our knees in the water we stabbed the Wasp to death as fast as frenzy and the power of human muscle could do it.
“Plunk! plunk! You will skin my knuckles, will you? You will twist up in the lily pads—and tangle the line—stab— and ooze goo—and burn my whiskers— stab ! stab !-”
“And smell and sputter and break down and bust up and leak and get loose and rattle and rack and jam and clog—stab!
—and squeak and have heart failure and
scald me and faint and die?-”
"All right then, die! Die!-”
Stab ! stab !-
Say, we murdered the Wasp in A-One style, no mistake. In rushed the water and out gug-gug-guggled the air and down went the venomous thing, down, down, down in fifty feet of cold dark water; down, down, never to rise again if we can help it !
We jumped into the rowboat just in time, and watched the Wasp disappear with grim, glum, supreme satisfaction. She went down with a swirl. The last bubble didn’t come up for five minutes. We waited for it.
Then said Bill, said he :
“Next time you catch me monkeying round a good thing in broken-down, usedup boats, d’you know what I want you to do?”
“? ? ?”
“Snake me right square away as'
quick’s you can before I get-”
“Stung !” said I.