THE STRANDED SCHOONER

The old lobster catcher understood full well why the boys were gathering
so close around him, and most likely their desire to defend pleased him
well; yet he motioned Tom to stand aside, as he said:

“I’m allowin’, lads, that Eliakim won’t be wild enough to kick up very
much of a row, an’ by showin’ yourselves ready for a fight, it might
make him worse’n he is naturally. Get up shore a bit, an’ leave me to
deal with him, for he ain’t the first man I’ve seen a good deal mixed by
bad temper.”

Tom had hardly more than time to obey this command before the master of
the “Sally D.” was ashore and striding up to Uncle Ben threateningly.
Tom swung his buoy ready for use, believing that an attack was about to
be made upon the old man.

“I want you to understand, Ben Johnson, that I don’t allow anybody to
mix himself in my business as you’ve been doin’, an’ I’m here to settle
accounts,” and Captain Doak raised his hand as if to strike; but Tom’s
buoy came so near his head that he prudently stepped back a couple of
paces.

“The time has gone by, Eliakim, when you an’ I can settle anythin’. In
order to protect Sammy, I was obliged to go to Southport yesterday, an’
when next you put in there it will be to see that your power over him is
gone. I’ve taken a longer lease of the island, an’ found out jest what
my rights are as to the place. You’re trespassin’, an’ if you don’t
take yourself off mighty quick, I shall enter complaint agin you.”

It seemed impossible for the commander of the “Sally D.” to speak, so
great was his anger, and while one might have counted twenty he stood in
front of the old man waving his hands threateningly, but not daring to
advance a single pace because of the buoy which Tom swung around his
head in a manner that told how heavy a blow could be delivered with it.
Before it was possible for the infuriated man to gain command of his
tongue, Rube Rowe shouted:

“Come aboard, cap’en. What’s the use of kickin’ agin the law, for you
know Uncle Ben has the upper hand?”

“I’ll pound you to a jelly when I get aboard, which won’t be till after
I’ve squared accounts with this meddlin’ old idjut!” Captain Doak cried
savagely, and his “crew” replied impatiently:

“If you don’t come ’round on another tack mighty soon, I’ll go ashore,
an’ once there you ain’t big enough to make me step foot on this deck
ag’in!”

“I’ll lash you to the foremast for a mutinous hound, that’s the way I’ll
serve you, an’ it won’t take me long to do it!”

It was as if the captain had suddenly forgotten that he came ashore to
settle accounts with Uncle Ben, so great had become his desire to punish
his “crew” for thus daring to speak disrespectfully, and without further
heed to those on the beach, he leaped into the dory, pulling back to the
schooner as rapidly as he had previously rowed toward the island.

“He’ll come pretty nigh killin’ Rube,” Sam cried in alarm. “He’s not
quite himself, an’ when he gets that way he’s terrible.”

“I’m allowin’ that Rube will hold his own,” Uncle Ben replied placidly,
“an’ it’ll be strange if Eliakim don’t get the worst of the bargain.”

“Why don’t Sam an’ I go aboard the schooner to take a hand in whatever
happens?” Tom asked quickly. “That sailor is a decent fellow, an’ I’d
hate to see him done up by a duffer like Cap’en Doak.”

“I’ve forbid his comin’ on the island, an’ it wouldn’t do for us to lay
ourselves open to a charge of trespass by goin’ aboard his vessel. You
needn’t have any fear but that Reuben will come out all right jest now;
but what may happen after the ’Sally’ gets under way is another matter.”

The boys made no reply to this remark, for Uncle Ben had but just ceased
speaking when Captain Doak ran the dory alongside the schooner and was
clambering over the rail, Rube Rowe standing amidships as if indifferent
as to what might be done. The enraged man had hardly more than gained a
footing on the deck when the “crew” suddenly aroused himself to
activity, and while one might have counted ten, the two struggled
together, after which the master of the schooner dropped on the deck as
if felled by a blow.

Then Rube Rowe disappeared from view, and while the boys were wondering
if he had been seriously injured during the short squabble, he came out
of the cabin, dragging a sea chest, which he lowered into the dory that
lay alongside. In another moment he was pulling for the shore, and
Uncle Ben announced as if the situation needed little or no explanation:

“Reuben has allowed to desert the ’Sally D.,’ an’ I reckon Eliakim will
have a hard time to find another man, for he ain’t in no ways a favorite
with fishermen.”

“How can he sail the ’Sally’ alone? Sam asked, in surprise.

“He can’t, an’ that’s why I’m sorry he an’ Reuben parted company so
soon, ’cause we’ll have him layin’ here kickin’ up a fuss when we count
on bein’ peaceable.”

“Reckon I can take your dory a minute, eh, Uncle Ben?” Rube said as he
beached the schooner’s boat and threw the sea chest out on the sand.
Then, without waiting for reply, he launched the old man’s craft, and
began towing the “Sally D.’s” dory out to the schooner.

Until he had completed his task Uncle Ben and his “family” watched the
proceedings in silence, but when he returned to the shore, pulling the
dory belonging to the island well up on the beach, the old man asked
with just a tinge of curiosity in his tones:

“Where is Eliakim?”

“Stretched out on the deck, too ugly to move; now he knows I won’t stand
any more of his nonsense.”

“Ain’t you puttin’ yourself in the way of bein’ called a mutineer, by
knockin’ the cap’en down?”

“Mutiny aboard a fishin’ vessel layin’ at anchor, with only one man as
crew, an’ he doin’ no more’n protecting himself!” Mr. Rowe repeated with
a scornful laugh. “If Doak can make mutiny out of it, an’ prove to a
judge that I wasn’t doin’ any more’n a decent man has a right to do, by
defendin’ himself, let him go ahead an’ I’ll stand the shot. Say, Uncle
Ben, will you keep me here a little while, pervidin’ I’ll turn to an’
work my board?”

“For certain, Reuben. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like, an’
needn’t distress yourself tryin’ to pay for what you eat. It kinder
looks as if my family was growin’ faster’n I counted on, an’ at this
rate I’ll have to get somebody to help me out with the housekeepin’.”

“I’ll do the cookin’ an’ Tom can look after the shanty,” Sam cried, and
Master Falonna added:

“We can do that much, an’ ’tend to the lobster-pots while we’re restin’.
Even then it won’t be any more’n a snap, ’longside of what I’ve been
having.”

“I reckon I’m able to do my full share of the work for a spell yet, so
we won’t shove it all off on to you lads. Reuben shall lend a hand, as
he’s allowed, an’—— Hello! Eliakim has come to, an’ now I’m guessin’
we’ll hear considerable bad talk.”

Captain Doak had risen to his feet, and was standing near the rail
looking toward the shore where he could see that his “crew” had really
abandoned him. He gazed at the group on the beach for an instant, then
looked alongside where the dory was made fast, and afterward shouted in
a voice thick with rage:

“Don’t think you’ve beaten me off, Ben Johnson! I’ll spend all my time
from this out settlin’ accounts with you, an’ when they’ve been squared,
I’ll make Rube Rowe wish he’d never been born! Better do your crowin’
now, ’cause you won’t have a chance after twenty-four hours have gone
by!”

“I’m allowin’ Eliakim’s bark is worse’n his bite,” Uncle Ben said
placidly, as the commander of the “Sally D.” ran forward much as though
time was very precious just then. “But what is the poor creeter countin’
on doin’? Surely, he don’t allow to sail the schooner alone!”

“He’s liable to allow anything,” Mr. Rowe replied, and then the
conversation ceased as those on the beach watched the captain of the
schooner.

That he intended to sail the vessel alone could be seen when he hauled
in on the anchor.

“He won’t go far if he don’t make sail mighty quick,” Mr. Rowe muttered
as the little schooner swung around once the anchor was clear of the
bottom. “With the wind settin’ in so strong from the s’uthard, it’ll be
a touch an’ go if he clears the point. Why didn’t he get some sail on
her first, an’ then he might have been able to handle himself?”

When in his right mind Captain Doak was a good seaman, and, perhaps,
there were none in Southport who could get more speed out of a vessel
than he; but now he was little better than a crazy person, and before it
was possible to raise an inch of canvas the bow of the “Sally D.” was so
far inside the point that she could not by any possibility be made to
clear it.

“Let go your anchor, Eliakim, or you’ll take the ground for sartin!”
Uncle Ben cried excitedly, and Captain Doak replied, as ne ceased work
to shake his fist threateningly:

“Hold your tongue! I’ll run my own craft as I please, an’ when I come
back there won’t be enough left of you an’ your gang to fill a pint
pot!”




Then he turned to the main halyards once more; but before he could make
the first motion toward hoisting the sail the schooner, given
considerable headway by the strong wind, struck heavily just inside the
point, throwing her commander to the deck. The surf was by no means
heavy, but yet had sufficient force to send the “Sally D.” inshore yet
further, until her nose was buried deeply in the sand, when she heeled
over at a sharp angle.

“That’s the end of his cruise, an’ now we’ll have him on our hands, for
no matter who owns the island, he’s got the right to come ashore in
order to save his schooner,” Uncle Ben said mournfully, and Mr. Rowe
added:

“Unless he hires a steamer to pull her off, she’ll lay where she is for
good an’ all. It’s the top of the tide, an’ nothin’ but a tug, which
can’t be found this side of Portland, will move her. I allow that
Eliakim hasn’t got ready money enough to pay any sich bills.”

By this time Captain Doak had scrambled to his feet, and was gazing
stupidly into the water, as if not fully understanding what had
happened; but he aroused himself to activity when Uncle Ben cried in a
friendly tone:

“I’m allowin’ you’re needin’ a tug, Eliakim, an’ if we can take any word
to Southport for you, we’re ready. The ’Sally’ is on there to stay till
you can get steam power to haul her off.”

“Mind your own business, or it’ll be the worse for you!” Captain Doak
roared. “When I’m so far gone that I’m ready to take advice from a
cantin’ old hypocrite like you, it’ll be time to order my coffin!”

Then, moving like one in a fury of rage, the commander of the stranded
schooner literally threw himself over the rail into the dory, and an
instant later was pulling like mad in the direction of Southport.

“He’s crazy as a hedgehog, an’ I’m allowin’ he’ll be worse before
gettin’ better,” Mr. Rowe said as he turned his attention to dragging
the heavy chest toward the shanty, while Tom and Sam ran along the beach
until arriving opposite where the “Sally” lay helpless, and so near the
disabled schooner’s bow that it seemed as if they might board her
without wetting a foot.

“Don’t make the mistake of foolin’ with her,” Uncle Ben shouted
warningly. “She’s abandoned, an’ any one has the right to take
possession, but we can’t afford to have more of a row with Eliakim Doak,
so the safest plan is to give the schooner a wide berth. We’ll pull the
pots now, so’s to stay in the shanty when he comes back to set about
workin’ her off.”

“An’ it’ll stand him in hand to come mighty soon, for it won’t take long
for her to settle herself so far in the sand that all the steamers
’twixt here an’ Boston couldn’t pull her off,” Mr. Rowe cried as he
dragged his chest inside the shanty, disappearing with it to come out a
moment later and say cheerily:

“If you lads know where the pots are, I’ll row the dory while you do the
pullin’. Uncle Ben can stay ashore an’ look after things, ’cause there
ain’t any call for all hands to go.”

The old lobster catcher made no protest at thus being relieved of labor,
and as soon as they could make ready Mr. Rowe and the two boys set off
to make a complete voyage around the island, as would be necessary in
order to examine all the traps, while Uncle Ben was left critically
examining the “Sally D.” from a distance, as if trying to form in his
mind some plan of launching her.

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