But the leader of the runaways, instead of heeding this good advice, attempted to push by astern of the first cutter.
“Stern, all! Give way!” shouted Shuffles, sharply. “Coxswain, stand by with your stern line!”
It was generally understood that the third lieutenant of the Young America was a fighting character, and that he could whip any officer or seaman in the ship, though his prowess had not been practically demonstrated. Shuffles took the stern line himself, instead of intrusting the duty to the coxswain. He intended to grapple the bow of the professors’ barge, and make fast to it with the rope; but the cutter did not gather way enough in season to do this. As she backed, she fouled the oars of the barge, and Shuffles secured a firm hold of her stern.
“What are you doing, Bob Shuffles?” demanded Wilton, angry, when he saw that his late crony was fully in earnest.
The third lieutenant made no reply; but passing his rope through a ring in the stern of the barge, he made it fast, and then pushed the cutter off from her. When the line had run out about a fathom, he secured the end he held in his hand to the after thwart of his own boat. Thus the first cutter and the barge were lashed together, stern to stern.
“Cast off that rope!” shouted Wilton to the stroke oarsman in the barge.
“Don’t you touch it, my lad,” interposed Shuffles, when the boy attempted to obey the order of his leader. “If you attempt it, you will purchase a sore head.”
[Illustration: THE ESCAPE FROM THE SHIP. Page 95.]
The third lieutenant had picked up a boat-hook, and stood ready to rap any of the barge’s crew who might attempt to cast off the line by which the boats were fastened together. No one was disposed to cross the purposes of so formidable a person as Shuffles, and the stroke oarsman did not obey the order of Wilton. It would not be safe to do so.
“Now, Wilton, what do you say?” demanded Shuffles, a smile of triumph playing upon his face, which was very aggravating to the leader of the runaways. “Will you go back to the ship, or not?”
“No, of course I won’t,” replied the discomfited chief of the malcontents.
“You had better, my dear fellow. There comes Mr. Lowington.”
“I didn’t think this of you, Bob Shuffles,” said Wilton, reproachfully.
“I told you I should do my duty; and I shall, to the end. If you will return, all right; if not, I shall take you back.”
“No, you won’t.”
“I think I will,” added the third lieutenant, quietly. “Stand by to give way!” he continued, to the coxswain.
“Two can play at that game,” said Wilton, as he gave the same order to his crew.
“Give way!” shouted the coxswain of the first cutter, with energy.
“Give way!” repeated Wilton, in the barge.
The rope straightened, Shuffles stood up in the stern-sheets of the cutter, to prevent the line from being cast off, and the contest began, to ascertain which should drag the other. It was rather ludicrous, in spite of the serious question of discipline involved in the affair, and the boys in the cutter were intensely amused, as well as excited. Both crews struggled with all their might, and each leader urged his followers to renewed exertions.