UNCLE BEN’S ADVICE

Uncle Ben picked up a bit of driftwood, and began to whittle it to a
fine point. The boy looked at him anxiously.

“Well,” said Uncle Ben at last, “I never allowed that a lad had the
right to run away from his home, an’ I’ve lived nigh to sixty years, man
an’ boy, consekently it stands to reason that I oughter know how much
trouble is likely to come from sich didoes.”

“Huh!” the boy broke in, “you don’t call the ’Sally D.’ a home, do you?
I guess you wouldn’t if you’d lived on her a spell.”

“No,” said Uncle Ben, “after what you’ve told me I don’t. An’ Cap’en
Doak was only your stepfather at the best of times. Now that your
mother’s dead it don’t appeal to me that he’s any relation whatsoever,
so, consekently ag’in, an’ holdin’ that a schooner can’t be called a
house, which same is necessary to the makin’s of a home, what’s wrong
with your sneakin’ off unbeknownst to Cap’en Doak before the ’Sally D.’
weighs anchor?”

“But where could I go, Uncle Ben? I haven’t got so much as one cent in
this wide world, an’ there’s never a single person who would take me in.
Besides, s’pose I sneaked off while the ’Sally D.’ is lying here, I
couldn’t get away from the island, ’less you should set me across to the
mainland.”

“I wasn’t countin’ that you would leave the island, Sammy. What’s to
hinder your stoppin’ right where you are, an’ helpin’ me out in the
lobster fishin’? I’m allowin’ that Apple Island ain’t the worst place
in the world, ’specially when you compare it with the ’Sally D.’s’ cabin
while Cap’en Doak is ragin’ ’round findin’ a lot of fun in knockin’ you
fore ’n’ aft by way of exercise. Now, I don’t wanter be taken as
meanin’ that I think lobster fishin’ is a very encouragin’ business for
a bright little shaver like you; but it goes way ahead of the lay you’ve
got with that stepfather of yourn. What your mother ever saw in Eliakim
Doak to make her willin’ to marry him, ’specially after she’d been on
what you might call terms of friendly acquaintance with your father,
beats me.”

“Mother did it all on my account,” Sam cried quickly, his eyes filling
with tears as he spoke of his “best friend.” “You know we had nothin’
left but the house when father died, an’ Cap’en Doak made her believe
that he would give me a start in the world with a good education.”

“All of which he perceeded to do by gettin’ the little money ye had
inter his own hands an’ squanderin’ it,” Uncle Ben exclaimed as he
angrily splintered the result of his handiwork. “Speakin’ from your
mother’s end of the trade, it was a mighty good thing she died less’n a
year after she hitched up with Cap’en Doak, though it come tough on you.
Does he allow that you’re to spend your life—or the best part of it—as
cook aboard the ’Sally D.,’ with never a cent in the way of wages, when
you, an’ he, an’ everybody knows he squandered full fifteen hundred
dollars of your money, for I’ve been told he sold the house at that
figger?”

“He says that he’s bound to take care of me,” the lad replied, as if
anger was rapidly getting the better of him.

“An’ he’s doin’ it by keepin’ you aboard that ramshackle old schooner,
which is likely to drop inter pieces any minute, an’ savin’ what he’d
otherwise have to pay as wages to a cook!”

“He’d serve me out terribly if I should try to run away from him,” Sam
said half to himself, with a tremor as of fear. “If I sneaked off while
the ’Sally D.’ laid at anchor here, he’d know just where I was.”

“Well, an’ s’posen he did?” Uncle Ben asked sharply, looking down at the
lad as if in anger. “S’posen he did, what good would it do him? I
don’t allow that I own this ’ere island; but I pay rent for it, which
amounts to much the same thing, an’ Eliakim Doak would soon find out
that he couldn’t tromp over me! Sneak off inter the bushes this very
hour, lad, so’s to give me a chance to talk to the old heathen in what
you might call a sensible way, an’ I’ll guarantee he’ll up anchor
without raisin’ any very considerable of a row.”

“An’ what then?” the boy asked as he looked over his shoulder
apprehensively, much as if fearing his stepfather might suddenly have
come within ear-shot.

“Why then me an’ you’ll strike out for ourselves. I own the shanty
yonder, the dory on the beach, two hundred or more lobster-pots, with
cars an’ what lawyers call ’other appurtences,’ an’ you shall have a
fair share of what money comes in the way of Apple Island. I’m allowin’
it would be a favor to you, though that ain’t the chiefest reason why
I’m makin’ it. I’d like to have for mate a decent lad like you, for
it’s lonesome here sometimes—that much I’m willin’ to admit.”

“Why is it that you never had a mate, Uncle Ben? I’ve heard lots of
folks puzzle over the same question.”

“I reckon you have, lad, for this ’ere coast of Maine is mightily given
to gossip. I’ve had the question put to me time an’ time ag’in; but
never felt called on to answer it till now, when it may be we’re likely
to come together as mates. First an’ foremost, why did I come off here
nigh to forty years ago an’ settle down to catchin’ lobsters, when it
seems as if a man what was put inter this world to help others as well
as himself mighter done better? It was all on account of my havin’ been
the rankest kind of an idjut when I was young, same’s you are.”

“Oh, come, Uncle Ben, you don’t think I’m as bad as all that,” said Sam
Cushing, smiling.

“Well, you got to prove it,” grinned Uncle Ben. “Anyway, I couldn’t
figger out that book learnin’ would do me any good, an’ I didn’t get it
when I might, consekently I wasn’t fitted for much of anythin’ else.
Howsomever, I made up my mind that even a lobster catcher might lead a
clean life, an’ I never run up agin any who might be willin’ to go inter
the business an’ at the same time come to my way of thinkin’; therefore
an’ consekently I never took on a mate; never so much as offered so to
do, till you come to me this mornin’ with the story of what Eliakim Doak
was doin’ in his own behalf.”

“But I couldn’t really be a mate of yours, Uncle Ben!” the lad said with
a deep indrawing of his breath, as if the honor was far too great for
him.

“Why not? All I ask of a mate is that he shall live, so far as he’s
able, in the way the good God allowed he oughter, an’ from the first
time you landed on this ’ere island I’ve said to myself that you was a
decent kind of a lad who wouldn’t knowin’ly go wrong. Mark ye, Sammy, I
don’t set myself up as bein’ any better’n my kind; but this you can go
sure on: that I don’t reckon on bein’ worse. I’ve allers had an idee of
considerable weight in my mind, an’ you might be the beginnin’ of my
runnin’ it out, so to speak.”

“What do you mean, Uncle Ben?” the lad asked curiously.

“That’s what I ain’t goin’ to say offhand, my boy. We’ll wait an’ see
if there’s any chance of its workin’ out the way I’ve figgered it in my
mind. The question is whether you’re minded to run away from Cap’en
Doak an’ the ’Sally D.,’ takin’ your chances on Apple Island with me?”

“If you think I won’t be a bother an’ if you’re willin’ to——”

“In case I hadn’t been willin’, or hadn’t figgered in my mind how things
might turn, I wouldn’t have made the offer, lad,” and once more Uncle
Ben fell to whittling a pine stick as if his very life depended upon
fashioning it into a certain shape within the shortest possible space of
time. “An’ it ain’t any one-sided offer, Sammy Cushing, ’cause I’m
allowin’ that your comin’ would be a pleasure an’ a profit to me, as
Deacon Stubbs would put it, to say nothin’ of the fact that you’d be
livin’ a more decent life than will ever fall to your share aboard the
’Sally D.’”

“It’ll be a big thing for me,” and Sam looked timidly in the direction
of the slovenly schooner which lay at anchor in the little cove near by
Uncle Ben’s oddly-constructed dwelling. Sam was trying to screw his
courage to the sticking point of running away from the selfish
stepfather who had abused him sorely since that day when the grave
closed over the earthly form of his mother. “It’ll be a big thing for
me if it can be done; but I’ll smart for it if Cap’en Doak ever gets his
hands on me ag’in.”

“If he does, I’ll be there to take a share in the business,” Uncle Ben
said mildly, his usually mild blue eyes taking on the hue of steel.
“Come up to the shanty an’ we’ll fix you out for runnin’ away, which
shouldn’t be necessary, seein’s there’s nothin’ to run from.”

Then the old man closed his knife with a sharp click, as if to show that
the important business conference was finally closed, and went with a
certain well-defined air of resolution toward that collection of
shanties of which he was the proud architect, and which had served to
shelter him from the storms and sunshine such as had visited the coast
of Maine during the forty years just past.

The captain of the “Sally D.” was stretched out at full length on the
top of the cabin, apparently asleep, when the old man and the boy
skirted the shore of the cove on their way to Uncle Ben’s home, but that
he had been keeping a watchful eye on the surroundings could be told
when he cried sharply:

“Are you goin’ to loaf away the whole day ashore, Sam, or do you count
on comin’ somewhere nigh to doin’ your share of the work? It strikes me
things are at a pretty pass when the cook of a schooner can spin yarns
here an’ there while he should be wrastlin’ with dinner!”

“Don’t let him rattle you,” Uncle Ben said warningly to Sam, and in a
louder tone he addressed the half-stupefied captain of the “Sally D.”
“I’m allowin’ that the boy has earned the right to do pretty nigh as he
pleases, while you’re layin’ here when the fishin’ oughter be good
outside.”

“I’ll lay here till I feel good an’ ready to get under way!” Captain
Doak cried angrily, and Uncle Ben replied placidly:

“Then by the same token the boy will stay ashore till he gets tired of
decent company.”

Captain Doak raised himself on one elbow as if thoroughly astonished
that any one should dare speak to the owner and commander of the “Sally
D.” in such a manner; but evidently did not think it necessary to make
reply, for he fell back on the deck once more, and Uncle Ben said to his
young companion in a tone of disgust:

“Leave the poor, miserable creeter alone, Sam. If it wasn’t for raisin’
a row that wouldn’t be seemly, I’d advise tellin’ him offhand what you
count on doin’; but the smoothest way is allers best, so you shall sneak
off as has been agreed, till he leaves the cove.”

“An’ then?” Sam asked in a tone of fear.

“When he comes back, if so be he does, an’ which seems likely, I’ll be
the one to deal with him, for by that time I’m allowin’ we’ll have the
right to count you out of it. But you can make up your mind that he
won’t raise any great of a row, seein’s he’s got sense enough to know on
which side his bread is buttered. I’ve got a lease of Apple Island, an’
there’s no fisherman comes ashore without my say-so, while I pay the
rent.”

Having thus thoroughly defined his position, Uncle Ben led the way into
the odd collection of building, saying as he took from the rude cupboard
a generous amount of eatables:

“Here’s what’ll keep you from bein’ hungry for a couple of days, lad.
Strike inter the bushes near the spring, an’ I’ll pass the word when the
’Sally D.’ has weighed anchor.”

In a timid manner, as if afraid of being caught in what seemed like an
act of insubordination against lawful authority, Sam gathered up the
food Uncle Ben had laid on the table, and then hurriedly, as if actually
fleeing for his life, he ran toward the thickest of bushes which marked
the centre of the island.

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