A PITCHED BATTLE

In strict justice to Sam Cushing it must be set down that he was not a
coward in any sense of the word, and certainly he proved himself to be
brave when he saved the life of Tom Falonna at risk of his own, yet the
idea of opposing the commander of the “Sally D.” to the extent of
provoking a personal encounter frightened him. More than once since the
death of his mother had he attempted to resist when his stepfather was
unusually cruel, and on each occasion had he suffered severely.

Therefore, it was that Tom’s preparations to defend Uncle Tom’s shanty
against Captain Doak seemed to him an extra hazardous undertaking, more
particularly since the chances of his being captured by his angry
stepfather would, apparently, be increased, and, following Tom up the
side of the cliff, he whispered entreatingly:

“Don’t get us both into the worst kind of a muss! The cap’en an’ Rube
Rowe can surely get the best of us if it comes to a fight, an’ then I’ll
be carried off on board the ’Sally’!”

“I ain’t countin’ on lettin’ that villain burn the only home your Uncle
Ben has got, ’specially while there are so many rocks layin’ ’round here
loose,” Tom replied grimly, as he began gathering missiles where they
would be ready for use. “’Cordin’ to what he said, Rube Rowe ain’t
likely to take much of a hand in this ’ere row, ’cause he’s got sense
enough to know that settin’ a man’s house on fire is a mighty dangerous
thing to do.”

“He may not help start a fire, but he’s bound to lend a hand if Cap’en
Doak gets inter a row with us!”

“Then it’ll be so much the worse for him, ’cause I’m goin’ to make a
mighty big try at keepin’ that villain at his distance, an’ if I can get
one crack at him he’ll be down an’ out for quite a spell. There he goes
for matches, an’ I reckon he’s too wild by this time to really know what
kind of a sore he’s breedin’ for himself. Folks get sent to jail for
what he’s aimin’ to do——”

“Then he’d be out of my way for good an’ all,” Sam said hopefully, and
Tom replied in a tone of reproach:

“Yes, you’d be all right; but your Uncle Ben wouldn’t have any shanty to
live in, an’ then what about our plan of stoppin’ here with him?”

Sam had no reply to make; he was not a little ashamed at having thought
only of himself and, as Tom had stated the case, he would be injured as
much as benefited by such disposal of his stepfather as he had
suggested.

The situation not only alarmed but perplexed him, and, not knowing what
else to do, he watched the movements of Captain Doak, who could be seen
only as a dark smudge against the lighter sky. The commander of the
“Sally D.” was standing erect in the dory as he pushed at the oars with
a force and haste which told of the angry storm that was raging in his
mind, and while Tom made ready his ammunition for the battle which was
evidently so near at hand, Sam announced to him the movements of the man
who was eager to work so much mischief.

“He’s in a terrible hurry; perhaps because he’s afraid Uncle Ben will
come back before he can start the fire. Now he’s alongside the
schooner, an’ jumpin’ aboard. My, my! but ain’t he movin’ spry!”

“He’ll jump ’round worse’n ever if he gets one of these rocks side of
his head,” Tom replied as he ranged the missiles in front of him with
exceeding care.

“Now he’s comin’ out of the cabin, an’ I s’pose he’s got matches enough
to set the whole island on fire. See him jump inter the dory! I tell
you, Tom, he’s mighty ugly by this time!”

“I ain’t feelin’ much like a lamb myself,” Master Falonna said placidly
as he brought up from the foot of the cliff yet more rocks. “I reckon
I’ve got enough here to keep him at his distance quite a spell.”

“He’s comin’ ashore—now he’s on the beach! Look out for yourself!”

“Get up here where you can take a hand in this business! I’m countin’
you’ll do your share!”

“Of course I will!” Sam cried. If the battle had to come, he was quite
as determined as his friend to prevent any mischief being done to Uncle
Ben’s property.

The lad had not yet gained a position by Tom’s side when Captain Doak
could be heard shouting to the “crew” of the “Sally”:

“Hi! Rube! Come up here, you skulker, an’ see what Eliakim Doak can do
to them who try to tread on his corns!”

From far away in the distance came the reply:

“I ain’t comin’! I hired with you for a season’s fishin’, an’ when you
go to runnin’ your head inter jail tricks, I don’t train in any of it!”

“You’re a coward, that’s what you are!” the angry fisherman cried, and
the boys on the cliff could see him coming toward them swiftly. “If
you’re ’fraid of your own shadder, stand by to go aboard, for we’ll
weigh anchor as soon as this job is finished!”

Captain Doak hardly more than ceased speaking when he had come near the
shanty; but before he could enter it, a warning cry sounded from the
cliff, and a huge rock rolled swiftly toward him.

“Get back there, an’ be lively ’bout it,” Tom cried, “else you’ll stand
a chance of havin’ your head broke! There won’t be any funny business
on this ’ere island to-night, ’less somebody gets hurt pretty bad!”

“Who’s that?” Captain Doak asked in a rage, stepping back in order that
he might have a view of the top of the cliff, and at the same instant a
missile, smaller than the first, grazed his arm, causing him to leap
aside very suddenly.

“Get back where you belong, ’less you wanter be knocked out of time!”
Tom shouted, and, sheltering himself as much as possible behind a
projecting portion of the cliff, the commander of the “Sally D.” cried
in a voice hoarse with rage:

“I’ll flog you within an inch of your life, you miserable shirker. Come
down here, Sam, or I’ll mark you with a rope’s end as you’ve never been
marked before!”

“I reckon you won’t do much floggin’ or markin’ yet a while,” Tom
replied stoutly, standing with a missile in either hand, ready to fire a
shot whenever Captain Doak was so incautious as to give him an
opportunity. “Go aboard your schooner, ’less you’re achin’ to be ’bout
the same as killed, for if we get a fair whack at your precious body it
ain’t likely you’ll be very spry for some time to come!”

“Rube! Rube Rowe! Get around on the top of the cliff an’ pitch them
cubs down!”

“Do it yourself, if it’s got to be done. I didn’t ship with you for a
pirate!” was the reply from the beach, and Tom added mockingly:

“I reckon you’ll have to tackle the job yourself, cap’en, an’ if you
don’t get all that’s comin’ to you before it’s over, I’m way off my
base. We’ve got plenty of rocks handy.”

While one might have counted twenty, Captain Doak remained silent and
motionless, and then a tiny spark of light could be seen near where he
crouched, which caused Tom to whisper:

“He’s settin’ fire to the rubbish, hopin’ the flames will creep over to
the shanty, an’ perhaps they may, for the wind is settin’ this way. If
we’d only thought to bring up a bucket of water, it would be easy to put
an end to his fun!”

“There are a couple of buckets behind the shed. If I could get down
without his seein’ me, it wouldn’t take long to have ’em up here.”

“Go ahead an’ get ’em!” Tom whispered excitedly. “I’ll see to it that
he don’t get out from behind the rocks while you’re gone!”

Understanding that there was no time to be wasted if he would carry out
the plan successfully, Sam made his way softly down the cliff, and in
the meanwhile Tom watched anxiously the tiny threads of flame which
began to curl up from amid the dried grass, seaweed and driftwood, and
were fanned by the wind directly toward the shanty.

“I’ll smoke you out, you cubs!” Captain Doak cried triumphantly as he
pushed the blazing fragments forward with a short stick. “It won’t be
many minutes before you’ll be glad to make a change of quarters, an’
then will come my time!”

At that moment Sam came to the top of the cliff with the two buckets,
each more than half full of sea water, and, seizing one, Tom waited
until Captain Doak leaned forward to put more fuel on the rapidly
increasing fire, when he threw the contents with rare good aim.

The water struck the commander of the “Sally D.” full in the face,
causing him to leap backward sputtering and choking, while a good deal
of the liquid fell on the flames. The second bucket was emptied in the
same manner immediately afterward, and all danger of mischief was at an
end for the time being.

It would be difficult to describe clearly the exhibition of rage which
the commander of the “Sally D.” gave on being thus baffled by two lads.
He stormed at Sam because the lad had dared to run away from the
schooner; at Tom for taking part in a quarrel which was none of his, and
at Rube Rowe for “skulking” on the beach when his employer was in need
of his services.

The “crew” of the “Sally D.” remained silent under the torrent of abuse
during a few seconds, and then boldly announced his determination:

“I’m nothin’ but a common, every-day fisherman, but I allow to be
somewhere nigh honest. I shipped with you for a summer’s work, an’
never allowed to go ’round burnin’ houses. If you give me one more word
of abuse, I’ll turn to an’ help the boys so far as I’m able——”

“You’ll finish out the season aboard the ’Sally D.,’ or you’ll never see
a cent of wages!” Captain Doak cried, the words sounding hoarse and
indistinct because of his rage.

“I’m allowin’ that if I should go inter court with the story of why we
parted company before the season ended, I’d be able to collect all you
owe me, if so be you’ve got property enough left to be attached by the
sheriff; so I ain’t worryin’ ’bout that part of it.”




Having thus defined his position, Rube Rowe, as the boys could see, set
about launching the “Sally’s” dory, apparently making ready to go on
board, and Captain Doak, seemingly forgetting the enemy on the cliff,
sprang out from his hiding-place as if to try conclusions with his
mutinous “crew.”

“Now’s our chance!” Tom whispered as he threw two rocks with good aim,
and an instant later the commander of the “Sally D.” measured his length
on the sand, evidently having been struck by one or both of the
missiles.

“What if we have killed him?” Sam cried in a tone of fear when his
stepfather made no effort to rise to his feet, and Tom replied savagely:

“I hope we have hurt him enough to put some sense in him; but you’ll see
him jumpin’ ’round in a minute.”

The lad spoke in a loud tone, and must have been heard by the captain,
for he scrambled to his feet with all haste, running toward the dory as
he cried shrilly:

“I’ll shoot you boys if I have to spend a week on this bloomin’ island!”

“Has he a gun?” Tom asked, as he sheltered himself behind the top of the
cliff once more, and Sam replied with a laugh:

“There is one hangin’ up in the cabin; but I’ve heard him say that it
would do more harm to the fellow who fired it than to whatever it was
aimed at.”

“I don’t believe he’ll dare show himself near enough to shoot; but if he
does I’ll take good care that the next rock hurts him more. That fire
ain’t quite out yet, an’ we’d better be gettin’ more water while he’s
goin’ aboard. Stay here on watch, an’ I’ll ’tend to that part of it.”

Sam was not eager for the task of defending the cliff, therefore, before
his friend could say anything more, he seized the bucket, running boldly
down the rocky incline, careless as to whether he might be seen.

When he returned with the water, Tom threw it on the smoldering rubbish,
and after assuring himself that the last spark had been extinguished,
said in the tone of one giving valuable information:

“Your bloomin’ cap’en has gone aboard, an’ taken the sailor with him. I
reckon you’d better get a little more water, an’ then we’ll kinder fix
up ’bout what we shall do if he really tries to shoot us, though I don’t
believe he can make any great fist at it with the kind of gun you say
he’s got.”

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