UNCLE BEN’S “PLAN”

Before Uncle Ben’s “bite” had been made ready the boys understood that
it was quite time for them to have breakfast. Already the first gray
light of the coming day could be seen in the eastern sky. and it
surprised them not a little at thus realizing how long a time had been
spent in defending the shanty.

“It didn’t seem to be as if we’d been foolin’ with Cap’en Doak so long,
but ’cordin’ to the looks of things he’s made a night of it,” Sam said
in surprise, as he looked out of the shanty door at the sky.

“I’m reckonin’ you got so excited that you couldn’t keep any very close
run of the time,” and as he spoke Uncle Ben displayed a slice of juicy
steak he had brought from the mainland. “What do you think of that? It
ain’t very often I allow myself to buy meat when there’s plenty of fish
to be had for the takin’, but this seemed to be what you might call an
extry occasion on account of its bein’ the beginnin’ of my plan.”

“You said you’d tell us what that was,” Sam suggested carelessly, and
the old man replied with a merry laugh:

“That part of the story will come in reg’lar order, but not till I’ve
wore the edge off my appetite, for it makes a man feel mighty sharkish
to pull the greater part of the way from Southport to Apple Island.”

“Why didn’t you wait till mornin’, same’s you figgered on?”

“Wa’al, I’d got through with the business concernin’ Eliakim Doak, an’
somehow—I can’t rightly say why—it seemed as if I was needed here, so I
made sail. P’rhaps it was lucky I did, for that stepfather of yourn had
let himself drop inter a bit of temper.”

“Temper!” Tom repeated with a laugh. “He was boilin’ mad, that’s what
ailed him, an’ ready for all kinds of trouble. Couldn’t you use the
dory’s sail?”

“None to speak of, lad, none to speak of. A dory makes more leeway than
headway, when it comes to standin’ up agin the wind, so after foolin’
’round with the canvas for a spell I took to the oars. Time was when I
didn’t mind a pull from here to the Port, but now it seems like a
longish job. This meat smells good, eh?”

“That’s what it does!” Tom replied emphatically. “I haven’t had
anythin’ to eat but fish for so long that it seems like I must be
growin’ fins.”

“Wa’al, we’ve got plenty of time to enjoy this, ’cause we won’t need to
pull pots till well toward noon. Jest take a squint outside, an’ see if
Eliakim is still nestlin’ in the sand.”

“He isn’t on the beach, an’ the dory has disappeared, so I reckon he’s
on board the ’Sally,’” Sam reported after a brief survey of the shore.

“We’ll hope he’s got sense enough left to give Apple Island a wide berth
in the future, for I’ve made up my mind that he shan’t hang round here
makin’ trouble. The time has come when, if my plan is to amount to
anythin’, I’ve got to stick up for all the rights the law allows. I
reckon you lads may as well fall to, for the meat is cooked, an’ I’ve
got two loaves of baker’s bread to go with it, sayin’ nothin’ of these
pertaters what are browned to a turn.”

The boys did not need to be urged; both were hungry, as well they might
be after the exertions of the night, and Tom was about to make an attack
upon the potatoes without waiting for Uncle Ben to serve him, when he
saw that Sam was sitting with bowed head, as if waiting for some
ceremony to be performed.

“What seems to be the trouble?” he asked with a laugh, which died away
very suddenly when the old lobster catcher began thanking his heavenly
Father for the food with which they had been provided.

“It’s the least we can do, Tom, to thank the Lord for all the blessin’s
He’s allowin’ us, for certain it is we don’t deserve any,” Uncle Ben
said when his prayer was finished and he had begun to attend to the
wants of his guests. “I ain’t countin’ on tryin’ to read you a lesson,
for any lad what’s got common sense can see how much he owes his Maker;
but I hope you’ll kinder keep your weather eye liftin’ till you come to
realize how the thing stands.”

Tom’s face flushed, and Uncle Ben, understanding that he felt ashamed,
set about telling of his doings in Southport, and how much of stores he
was counting to bring from the mainland on the next trip.

Once during the meal Sam looked out of the door to make certain that the
commander of the “Sally D.” was not lurking in the vicinity; but nothing
was seen to cause alarm. The schooner remained at anchor in the cove,
and it was not yet sufficiently light to make out whether any person was
on deck.

When hunger had been appeased, Sam insisted that he and Tom be allowed
to wash the dishes while Uncle Ben was filling his pipe, and the old man
was hardly more than ready to explain his “plan” before the lads were at
liberty to act the part of listeners.

“I’ve had this ’ere thing on my mind for many a year, but never seemed
able to get ’round to it till I heard how Eliakim Doak was treatin’
Sammy, an’ then I says to myself, says I, ’Benny, this is the time when
you oughter be gettin’ your plan under way,’” and Uncle Ben leaned back
in his chair with the smoke clouds curling around his head. “I allowed
that I’d take Sammy in an’ care for him, seein’s how he didn’t have
anybody to look after him proper like. Then come the idea that if I
could lend a hand to Sammy, why couldn’t I do the same to half a dozen
lads what was needin’ a home; but the thing didn’t come out straight in
my mind till I was on my way to Southport yesterday.”

“I can’t seem to make out exactly what you mean,” Sam said in perplexity
as the old man ceased speaking, much as if his story had been told.

“It’ll all come plain after a bit, lad, ’cause you see I ain’t got inter
my yarn yet, so to speak. Wa’al, I was turnin’ the matter over in my
mind jest before Tom takes it inter his head to show up, an’ then I says
to myself, says I, ’Benny, it’s all bein’ worked out for yer, so go
ahead an’ do the rest,’ an’ that’s what I did yesterday, so to speak.”

“But what did you do yesterday, Uncle Benny?” Sam asked in perplexity.

“That’s jest what I’m tryin’ to tell you, lad; but first an’ foremost
you must know what the plan really is. I allowed that this ’ere island
was big enough for quite a family, an’ that a good-sized school of boys
might get a decent livin’ here, if so be they was willin’ to work. You
see it wouldn’t be much of a job to raise all the vegetables that a big
lot of people could eat in a winter. Then ag’in, if we had a schooner
the size of the ’Sally D.,’ an’ boys enough to run her, we’d be makin’ a
large dollar by fishin’, with the lobster business goin’ on same as
ever. Now do you catch on to the plan?”

“You mean to hire a lot of boys to come here an’ work for you!” Tom
cried, believing he understood the drift of the old man’s remarks.

“I don’t mean to hire ’em, lad; but when we find a boy like you was
yesterday, we’ll say to him somethin’ like this: ’If you’re willin’ to
pay your own way in the world, want a home, an’ will live peaceable one
with another, come inter your Uncle Ben’s family, an’ we’ll share an’
share alike.’ Now here are you two, both willin’ to do a full share of
work, an’ here’s me with the island, boats an’ lobster gear for a start.
We’ve already set ourselves up as a family, an’ if so be we run across a
decent lad who’s in need of a home—mind you, we won’t cavort ’round the
country huntin’ for ’em, but if we come across one, we’ll give him a
show on Apple Island, leavin’ him at liberty to turn his back on us when
things ain’t to his likin’.”

“Is it kind of a ’sylum that you’re startin’, sir?” Tom asked in a tone
of disappointment, and Uncle Ben replied emphatically:




“Not a bit of it, lad, not a bit of it! We’ll jest gather a family
here, with no charity business ’bout it. Each one shall do what he can
for the good of himself an’ all around him. We’ll have some rules,
same’s would be found in every proper kind of a family, an’ when we
can’t live up to ’em, we’ll separate peaceable an’ friendly. It’ll be a
case of workin’ for a livin’, an’ workin’ hard; but we’ll be able to
live snug, lads, for Apple Island ain’t the worst place in the world,
an’ if so be the family grows till this shanty is too small for it, why
all we have to do is build another.”

Tom’s face was aglow with pleasure, and Sam stood by the old man’s chair
that he might show his joy by caressing Uncle Ben’s hand, worn and horny
though it was with hard labor.

“Like the plan, eh?” and the lobster catcher appeared to be well pleased
by the expression on the faces of the boys. “Wa’al, the Lord has been
mighty good to me all my life, an’ I’ve laid by a tidy bit of money,
thinkin’ the day might come when I could help them as hadn’t had it as
easy in this world as has been my lot, an’ I reckon it’s close at hand.
When the family grows big enough, I can buy, an’ pay cash for, a trim
little schooner ’bout the size of the ’Sally D.,’ an’ then we’ll carry
on a reg’lar wholesale business in the fishin’ line. I’ve jest taken a
new lease for the island, runnin’ twenty years, an’ when that time has
come to an end I’ll be in the other world, while one of you is keepin’
the family goin’.”

“But what if Cap’en Doak should keep on tryin’ to get hold of me now,
when everythin’ looks so fine?” Sam asked in a whisper, as if afraid of
expressing his fears in words.

“You needn’t have any trouble on that score, lad. When Eliakim turns up
in Southport ag’in, he’ll find out what I’ve been doin’ an’ won’t dare
to raise so much as a finger agin you.”

“S’posin’ there should be five or six boys here at one time, do you
reckon we could all earn a livin’?” Tom asked.

“Earn a livin’? Why, the lobster fishin’, carried on industriously,
would run the whole family, an’ if we have a schooner for deep sea work,
there’s no reason why we couldn’t lay by considerable money. I’m
countin’ that when the time comes for me to go over the dark river, if
so be the plan is carried out, I can leave you boys with a handsome
capital. But remember this, an’ don’t let it out of your mind once, that
the whole plan depends on every member of the family doin’ his level
best in the way of work. There’ll be plenty of times when we’ll have a
chance for play; but while business is to be looked after, it’s a case
of hustle, ’cause lobsters an’ fish don’t hang ’round cryin’ for lazy
folks to catch ’em.”

Then, his “plan” having thus far been given in detail, Uncle Ben went
out of the shanty, much as if believing that these, the first two
members of his “family,” might want to discuss the matter, and no sooner
had he gone than Tom exclaimed with a long-drawn sigh.

“Well I’ll be blowed, if he ain’t the best kind of a man I ever run
across! Jest think of his workin’ all these years with the idee of
spendin’ his money on a bloomin’ lot of duffers like us!”

“He’s mighty good, an’ it makes me feel awful mean when I think that if
it hadn’t been for you I wouldn’t had the nerve to stand Cap’en Doak off
when he was tryin’ to burn the shanty!” Sam said mournfully, and hie
companion cried cheerfully:

“Don’t let any sich notions get to worryin’ yer, Sam. If you’d been
here alone I’m allowin’ you’d perked up in great shape; but that pirate
had kept the upper hand so long that you’d got kinder shaky. I wonder
if he’s had sense enough to make sail?”

By way of answering his own question Tom opened the door of the shanty,
and an exclamation of mingled surprise and anger burst from his lips as
he looked out:

“Well, he’s the worst ever! Will you look at the miserable sneak comin’
ashore again! Now what game is he tryin’ to work, I wonder?”

By this time the new day had fully come, and as Sam peered out over his
companion’s shoulder he could see Rube Rowe sitting idly on the rail of
the “Sally D.,” while Captain Doak was rowing ashore alone in the dory.

Uncle Ben must have learned the captain’s intentions while the boys were
talking in the shanty, for he was standing on the shore at a point where
it seemed positive the dory would take the sand, evidently counting on
“having it out” alone with the commander of the “Sally D.”

“We’ve got to take a hand in this, Sam!” Tom cried hurriedly. “There’s
no tellin’ what that pirate may do to your Uncle Ben, an’ we’re the ones
who’ve got to stand up for the new family if it comes to a row.”

Tom did not wait to see what steps Sam proposed to take; but, stopping
only long enough to arm himself with the buoy to which was attached a
short length of rope, ran with all speed toward where che old lobster
catcher stood awaiting the coming of him who might well be looked upon
as an enemy.

Sam Cushing was not far behind his friend in making ready to aid Uncle
Ben in case it should be necessary. A broken oar was the only weapon
near at hand, and with this upraised as a club, he ran and took his
place alongside Tom Falonna, who, ankle-deep in the water, stood
directly in front of the old man.

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