A MATTER OF BUSINESS

When the boys entered the shanty the old lobster catcher was putting on
his oilskins, and Sam said in surprise:

“I thought you counted on goin’ over to town, Uncle Ben?”

“That’s what I’ve got in my mind, lad, seein’s there don’t seem to be
anythin’ else that’s pressin’; but I ain’t reckonin’ on leavin’ while
the ’Sally D.’ is layin’ here at anchor, for it would be much the same
as invitin’ Eliakim Doak to come ashore an’ yank you off. But business
is business. No matter how big a row we may have on hand the pots are
to be hauled if we count on gettin’ a livin’, an’ seein’s how I’ve got
three mouths to feed, it stands me in hand to look sharp after our bread
an’ butter.”

“What shall Tom an’ I be doin’ while you’re gone?”

“Doin’? Why, I was allowin’ you’d bear a hand, same’s decent lads
oughter. If you two have gone inter partnership with me, it kinder
looks as if you was needin’ to get the hang of the ropes, so to speak.”

“Is Tom to stay here on Apple Island with us?” Sam asked in surprise and
delight.

“Where else can he stay? ’Cordin’ to his story he ain’t never known any
more of a home than you’ve had since your mother died, an’ seein’s how
you hauled him ashore, it looks as if we was in duty bound to take care
of him, though, of course, it’s for him to say if he wants to stay.”

“That’s what I want to do, if you’ll have me!” said Tom, who had
overheard the conversation as he entered the single room which served as
kitchen, dining-room, bedchamber and parlor. “I ain’t soft enough to
allow you’ll keep me ’round jest so’s you’ll have somethin’ pretty to
look at, so if you’ll kinder show me how it’s done, I’ll tackle my share
of the work.”

“That’s the way I like to hear a lad talk,” Uncle Ben said approvingly.
“I don’t allow that I’m needin’ two mates, seein’s how the work ain’t
rushin’; but since you’re both needin’ a home, why it stands to reason
that you oughter help run things the best you know how. We’ll haul the
pots, an’ before that’s been done I’m allowin’ Eliakim Doak will get the
’Sally D.’ under way. If he does, there’ll be nothin’ to prevent my
goin’ to town an’ findin’ out ’bout how I stand with the law when I set
myself agin sich authority as a mighty poor stepfather has over a boy.”

Then the old man, having put on his oilskins, led the way out of the
shanty toward the dory, which lay high up on the beach, and Tom said in
a whisper:

“Tell me how you go to work haulin’ lobster-pots? I don’t want to make
sich a bloomin’ chump of myself at the first go-off that your Uncle Ben
won’t have me hangin’ ’round, ’cause it strikes me that this is a mighty
nice kind of a place in which to live.”

“You’ll see how it’s done when the first pot comes up, an’ after that
you won’t have to ask any questions. All you an’ I have to do is row
the dory, an’ I reckon you can keep up that end of the work if you could
go out runnin’ trawls before daylight.”

“If that’s all he wants, I’ll pull the bottom out of the dory, an’
what’s more, do it alone.”

“It’ll be a long stretch before we get ’round to all the pots, so you
needn’t jump to it so hard,” Sam replied with a smile, which died
quickly away from his face as he heard the captain of the “Sally D.”
hailing Uncle Ben, for by this time the old fisherman had come on the
beach directly opposite where the shabby schooner lay at anchor.

“Don’t be too brash, Ben Johnson, or you may find your neck so far inter
a noose that you can’t easy get it out ag’in. It’s a serious matter to
interfere ’twixt a lad an’ them as has authority over him, as you’ll
come to know if you don’t go slow!”

“I reckon there’s little need for your cautionin’, Eliakim Doak,” Uncle
Ben replied placidly. “I’ve been turnin’ this ere thing over in my mind
ever since William Mansfield told me how you’d been usin’ the boy. If
you want to see what the law’s got to say ’bout it, that’ll jest suit
me, ’cause I’m countin’ on knowin’ what Sammy’s rights are before we’re
many days older. I’m no kith or kin to him, but count it my duty, if
nobody else is willin’ to take up the matter, to see that he has what’s
comin’ to him in this world.”

“I’ll make you wish you’d never been born!” Captain Doak cried in a
rage, and then, much to Sam’s relief of mind, he went into the “Sally
D.’s” cabin very quickly, as if he had most important business there.

“Eliakim can bark right smart, but I reckon we needn’t have much fear of
his bite,” Uncle Ben said, as he stood by the bow of the dory waiting
for the boys to lend him a hand in launching her.

Five minutes later, the old lobster catcher and his small family were
afloat, heading, with Sam and Tom each pulling a pair of oars, toward
the nearest tiny buoy which marked the location of the first pot to be
hauled.

Now, as a matter of fact, there isn’t anything particularly exciting in
hauling on a long wet rope until the cage-like lobster-pot is brought to
the surface; but Tom was intensely interested in the operation so often
repeated before the day’s work had come to an end. Perhaps it was
because he felt a certain eagerness to know how great a catch would be
taken, and, perhaps, he was anxious to master all the details in the
shortest possible space of time, so that he might be of real assistance
to the old man who was offering him what he never remembered of having
before in his life—a home.

When twenty or more pots had been hauled in, the marketable lobsters
thrown into the dory, while the small ones were tossed overboard to grow
a little more, and the pots baited again with fresh fish, Tom insisted
on being allowed to do his full share of the work.

“It ain’t more’n loafin’ to row from one buoy to another, an’ there’s no
reason why I couldn’t bear a hand, now I’ve seen how it’s done,” he said
eagerly, and after some faint protest, Uncle Ben took up the lad’s oars,
as he said with a laugh:

“Have your own way, sonny, though the work is a bit heavier than you are
counting on. If you two boys are reckonin’ on helpin’ me build up a
family, I allow the sooner you break in at lobsterin’ the better. Sammy
here knows what little there is to be knowed about it, an’ if you get
inter the job in good shape there won’t be anythin’ for me to do ’cept
dodder ’round ashore while you earn the livin’.”

“I wish that could be the way of it, Uncle Ben!” Sam exclaimed
earnestly, and then the conversation came to an end, as Tom made his
first effort to catch the mooring rope of a buoy with the short gaff
while the dory was gliding swiftly past the small target. It is not
strange that he failed at the first attempt, for it requires no little
deftness with a gaff to “hook on,” and it was necessary for the oarsmen
to back the dory here and there until the lad had the rope in his hands.

“Well,” he would laugh, “I didn’t make any great fist at it that time,
for a fact; but it can’t take sich a dreadful long time before I get the
hang of it, an’ when I do, this part of the work shall be my job.”

And Tom did “break in” even sooner than Uncle Ben expected. Before he
had brought half a dozen pots to the surface it was as if he had had
considerable experience in such tasks, and Uncle Ben said approvingly:

“I declare for it, Tom, you’re goin’ to be a keen hand at catchin’
lobsters! You handle them pots easier than I could do it, an’ if so be
I’m called on to stop at Southport over night, I’ll know that you an’
Sam can ’tend to the work as well as if I was here to do the bossin’.”

Tom’s eyes glistened with pleasure because of the praise; but Sam’s face
lengthened perceptibly at the possibility that Uncle Ben might be away
from the island more than a few hours.

It was not yet two o’clock in the afternoon when all the pots had been
hauled, emptied, re-baited and set again. The catch, consisting of
twenty-two marketable lobsters, was thrown into the floating cage,
called by the fishermen a “car,” and Uncle Ben and his family were
ashore once more.

“Now, if you lads will lend a hand at launchin’ the keel-boat I’ll get
under way for Southport,” the old man said as he pulled off his oilskins
by way of “dressing” for the voyage. “I’ve got a fair wind across; but
if so be it hasn’t shifted long ’bout sunset, I’ll stop over night with
William Mansfield, rather than tackle the job of rowin’ a heavy boat so
far.”

“But what about Cap’en Doak?” Sam asked, thinking of his stepfather for
the first time since Tom had begun the work of “breaking in” at the work
of lobster catching. Then he looked quickly around, but the “Sally D.”
no longer remained at anchor in the cove.

“Eliakim has made up his mind that it won’t be safe for him to have any
truck with the law after skinnin’ you out of your mother’s house, an’ I
reckon he won’t show his head on Apple Island ag’in, ’specially after he
hears ’bout what I’ve done—an’ you can make up your mind that everybody
in Southport will go out of their way to let him know I’ve been talkin’
with the ’Squire, as I count on doin’ before you see me ag’in.”




“But suppose he should come back to hunt for me?” and now Sam’s fears
arose so high that it was with difficulty he could control his voice
sufficiently to speak in an ordinary tone.

“There’s little chance he’ll put back right away,” Uncle Ben replied
without seeming to observe the lad’s show of fear. “He’s bound to do a
little somethin’ in the way of fishin’, else how can he pay Rube Rowe’s
wages? I’m allowin’ we shan’t see him under three or four days, an’ by
that time I’ll have your business fixed up so tight that he can’t turn a
hair. Leastways, it’s ’bout the same as certain that he won’t get under
way an’ come back to anchorage all in the same half day, so we can count
on bein’ rid of him while I’m away. Better catch a mess of cunners for
supper, an’ if so be that you’re willin’, tidy up the shanty a bit, for
I’ve been mighty slack in my housekeepin’ this past week.”

Then, much as if eager to put an end to any further conversation
regarding Captain Doak, Uncle Ben set about launching the keel-boat, and
within a very few minutes after she was afloat he was sailing away from
Apple Island in the direction of Southport.

Sam and Tom stood on the beach watching this kindly-hearted old man who
had given them a home until he appeared to be hardly more than a tiny
blot in the distance, and then Sam said, as he searched here and there
with his eyes, as if fearing the “Sally D.” had already hove in sight:

“It would be mighty tough on me if Cap’en Doak should come back ’twixt
now an’ sunset!”

“I’m not so certain of that,” Tom said stoutly. “He ain’t more’n any
other man, an’ it strikes me we’d be mighty poor kind of boys if we
couldn’t hold our own on this island. I wouldn’t be afraid if your
Cap’en Doak an’ his Rube Rowe both come ashore at the same time, for
with that buoy I had when he was here before I could make a pretty good
play at keepin’ ’em at a distance for quite a spell.”

“But you couldn’t stand up swingin’ a buoy ’round your head all night,”
Sam suggested mournfully, and then as he thought of Tom’s attempting to
perform such a feat during all the hours of darkness he broke into a
hearty laugh, so comical was the picture in his mind.

“When you get through havin’ sich a good time I reckon we’d better have
a whack at cleanin’ up the shanty ’cordin’ to your Uncle Ben’s orders,”
Tom said curtly, and without further delay the task was begun, although
a careful housewife would have said they were making no improvement in
the apartment.

When the shanty was, in their eyes, as cleanly and orderly as it could
be made, Sam overhauled Uncle Ben’s stock of fishing-lines, and during
the half hour that followed they caught cunners and skinned them, until
they had ready for the frying-pan as many as half a dozen hungry boys
could have eaten.

“I’ll cook the supper if you’ll bring up from the beach wood enough to
keep the fire going,” Sam said, and from that time until a few minutes
before sunset they enjoyed themselves as thoroughly as if they had but
lately left the most pleasant homes in the land to spend a few days in
pleasure on Apple Island.

They ate their supper and the shanty was once more set to rights. Near
the door was a store of driftwood sufficient to keep a fire going many
days, and the two had seated themselves on the cliff which jutted out
above the roof of Uncle Ben’s home to discuss the future, for Tom
insisted on knowing why the old lobster catcher was willing to burden
himself with two boys who had no legal claim on him.

Sam had begun to answer the questions by telling what he knew concerning
the old man, when far away in the distance, directly in the golden
pathway formed by the rays of the setting sun, appeared the outlines of
a vessel.

“That’s the ’Sally D.’!” Sam cried in alarm.

“Cap’en Doak is comin’ here after me, just as I was afraid he would!”

“How do you know that is his schooner?”

“There ain’t another vessel sailin’ out of Southport that has a topmast
like the ’Sally D.’ What am I to do, oh, what am I to do?”

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