MR. ROWE’S PROPOSITION

The catch brought in on this day, when Uncle Ben had no hand in the
work, was so large as to surprise the old man, and he said in a tone of
content, when Sam reported the number of lobsters put into the car,
which was just outside of where the stranded schooner lay:

“’Cordin’ to the looks of things it would pay for me to stay ashore all
the time, for I haven’t taken as many full-sized lobsters this last
month.”

“Well, why don’t you do it, Uncle Ben?” Rube Rowe asked, as if the
matter was one which might readily be arranged. “You’re gettin’ kinder
old to be knockin’ ’round in a boat, an’ it looks as if you had help
enough here to run things about as they oughter be run.”

“I don’t allow that the boys are quite up to handlin’ a dory in heavy
weather, an’ pullin’ pots at the same time, so I reckon it’s a case of
my keepin’ off the shelf a spell longer,” Uncle Ben replied placidly.
“I wouldn’t know what to do with myself, knockin’ ’round on shore with
nothin’ ’special to be done.”

“The boys have been tellin’ me ’bout your plan, an’ I allowed that when
you’d got your family together, there’d be plenty for you to do without
lobsterin’, ’cept when you wanted to tackle the job in pleasant weather
for what fun might be got out of it,” Mr. Rowe suggested in a tone which
told that he would have said more, but lacked the courage, whereupon
Uncle Ben asked with a smile:

“What is it, Reuben? There’s more in your noddle than you’ve let out so
far, an’ no reason why you shouldn’t make a clean breast of it.”

“Wa’al, I reckon I may as well say what came inter my mind while we were
out in the dory. The boys got the idea that you was countin’ on buyin’
a schooner, so’s you could do a little fishin’?”

“That’s in my mind, Reuben; but, of course, it ain’t to be thought of
till the family grows a bit. Sam an’ Tom will have their hands full
with lobsterin’, an’ consequently, there wouldn’t be anybody to run the
vessel if I bought one.”

“It was the idee of the schooner that set me to thinkin’,” Mr. Rowe said
hesitatingly, much as though hardly daring to put his thoughts into
words. “If there was another man on the island, I don’t see why you
couldn’t run a schooner on short trips, an’ ’tend to the lobster
catchin’ at the same time; two boys, with a skipper who knew his
business, oughter bring in quite considerable fares of fish.”

“But so long as I’m the only one to look after anythin’ of the kind,
there ain’t much sense in talkin’ ’bout it,” Uncle Ben said with a laugh
which ceased very suddenly as a new idea presented itself. “Look here,
Reuben Rowe, are you kinder hintin’ that you’d turn to with us?”

“That’s jest the size of it, Uncle Ben!” Mr. Rowe exclaimed, evidently
much relieved in mind by having the matter thus brought speedily to a
head.

“I ain’t allowin’ that I could run a schooner or look after the lobster
end of it as well as you; but yet you know I’m counted an A1 man aboard
a fisherman.”

“We couldn’t afford to hire a skipper, Reuben. If I can contrive to pay
for a vessel, the crew will have to work for the family, without
countin’ on gettin’ wages.”

“Wa’al, ain’t that the same as I’ve been talkin’?” and now Mr. Rowe
really appeared aggrieved because he had been misunderstood.

“What?” Uncle Ben cried in amazement, as, with his hands on his knees he
looked keenly at the fisherman. “Do you mean to say you’d be willin’ to
come here to Apple Island an’ work on the same lay as the boys?”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Mr. Rowe asked meekly. “Take one season with another
I don’t earn much more’n my keep, ’specially when I go ashore at this
port or that an’ blowin’ my wages same’s the most of the crew do, an’ I
can’t seem to hold off when they’re keen to have me go with ’em.
Seein’s how I never was any great of a scholar, an’ wasted what few
chances I did have for gettin’ an education, I can’t count on goin’
ahead as a sailor, so why not stop here where things look to be mighty
snug? Take it all in all, Uncle Ben,” and now Mr. Rowe’s tone was one
of pleading, “there ain’t much difference betwixt the way I’m fixed an’
the way the boys stand; so far as I know there ain’t child nor chick in
this world that wants to have any truck with me, ’cept it is in the way
of hirin’ me for the smallest wages I’ll take. When I get so low down
as to sail with Eliakim Doak it seems as if it was time to take a turn,
an’ p’rhaps it would come if I could be one of your family, same’s Sam
is.”

“Look here, Reuben,” and Uncle Ben spoke in a most friendly tone,
“you’ve got good reason to believe that I’d share whatever I had with
you so long as you keep yourself fairly clean in habits, as I’ve heard
you do. If so be you wanter jine our family, rememberin’ that each one
works for the good of the whole, settle down here, an’ we’ll make things
as pleasant as we can; but don’t think you’re bound to stay any
pertic’lar time. Whenever the fit takes yer, pack up an’ be off with
friendly feelin’s all ’round.”

“You’re what I call a good man, Uncle Ben, an’ it might s’prise yer to
know what a big favor you’re doin’ for me. I’ll have a home for the
first time in twenty years, an’ the show to feel that I’m of some use in
the world. I don’t count on braggin’, but at the same time I’m allowin’
I can help out a good bit.”

“I know full well you can, Reuben, an’ I’m glad to have you with us.
We’ll build up a place here on Apple Island that a man can take pride
in, an’ it’ll help mightily to have you join us; but remember, when you
have an itchin’ to get out with the rest of the world, don’t be backward
in speakin’ right out.”

Mr. Rowe seemed to think it necessary to shake hands all round in token
of having thus been made a member of the “family,” and, this done in the
gravest manner possible, he set about dragging his chest into the shanty
that he might make himself more fully at home expiating to Sam in the
meanwhile that all he owned was there.

“I’m here bag an’ baggage, lad, an’ mighty glad to be settled down for
the first time since I can remember.”

That noon Sam cooked dinner, making a regular feast with roasted
lobsters, fried fish and something which looked considerably like an
apple pie, although the cook modestly confessed that he had not had
“real good luck with it.”

The remainder of the day was spent catching cunners to be used as bait
for the lobster traps; mending some of the old pots, and putting tar on
the seams of the dory. Mr. Rowe worked as if the labor was sport, and
Uncle Ben no sooner tried his hand at this thing or that, than one of
his “family” insisted on doing it, until the old man said with a laugh
of content:

“I declare it does seem as if all hands were bent on drivin’ me outer
business. I’ve allers been able to putter ’round with nobody to help,
an’ it comes a little odd not to be allowed to so much as raise a
finger.”

“Your part is to do hard work, bossin’ the rest of us, Uncle Ben,” Mr.
Rowe said cheerily. “There ain’t so much to be done but that the boys
an’ me can get through it without half tryin’, an’ it’s time you did a
little loafin’ so’s to see how it seems.”

During the afternoon Uncle Ben’s family fully expected Captain Doak
would return with a steamer to pull the “Sally D.” from her resting
place in the sand, and when night came without any sign from the owner
of the schooner, Mr. Rowe said, with an air of concern:

“I declare I ain’t hankerin’ for a sight of Eliakim; but I do wish he’d
show up with a tug, for the longer the schooner lays here the more it
will cost to get her off. Give her one week, with a southerly wind
blowin’, as is likely at this season of the year, an’ she’ll be
smothered in sand.”

“It’s goin’ to be a big job at the best to get her off, seein’s she took
the ground at chock high water,” Uncle Ben added, as if talking to
himself; “but it’ll cost more’n she’s worth, if the work ain’t begun
mighty soon.”

“How much do you allow she’s worth?” Tom asked, and one might have
thought he had it in his mind to buy her, so serious and businesslike
was his air.

“Wa’al, I allow she’d fetch seven or eight hundred dollars afloat, an’
not half that where she lays,” Uncle Ben replied as he looked at the
stranded schooner critically. “She must be fifteen or sixteen years
old, which ain’t much if she’d had proper care; but Eliakim has allowed
her to run down terribly these last two seasons. Look at her! Oakum
hangin’ out of her seams like yarn in a frayed stockin’, an’ you never
could tell by the hull what color she was painted last.”

“If Eliakim wanted to sell her as she lays, I’m allowin’ he couldn’t get
four hundred cash, an’ yet it wouldn’t take so many dollars to put her
in good fair trim. I’d like to own her, high an’ dry as she is,” Mr.
Rowe said thoughtfully.




“But how would you get her into the water?” Tom asked curiously.

“I’d leave her where she is till I’d got her lookin’ somethin’ like a
vessel, shorin’ her up so’s she wouldn’t really bury herself, an’ then
I’d risk the launchin’ part of it. She must be nigh full of water by
this time, for she leaks a good bit around the stern-post.”

“Wa’al, we can’t do any good by settin’ here chinnin’,” Uncle Ben said
abruptly as he rose to his feet. “If this ’ere family is to be kept
from starvin’ we’d best turn in, so’s to be ready for a good day’s work
to-morrow.”

Sam was the first to “turn out” next morning, as was his duty since he
had taken upon himself the task of cook, and he had no more than opened
the door than the sleepers were startled into wakefulness by hearing him
cry:

“Cap’en Doak has come back; but he’s alone, an’ it don’t look as if he
was goin’ to do anythin’ toward floatin’ the ’Sally,’ for he’s sittin’
on the sand smokin’.”

“Most likely he’s waitin’ for the steamer to come,” Uncle Ben said, as
he made a hurried toilet. “If so be he’s got things ready for the
launchin’ of her, we must all bear a hand.”

“Are you goin’ to help him after what he’s tried to do against you?” Tom
asked in surprise, and the old man replied in a decided tone:

“That goes without sayin’, lad. It’s no reason why we should be brutes
because he makes a beast of himself at times. If there’s anythin’ we
can do to help another in trouble, I’m hopin’ we’ll be ready to do it,
without stoppin’ to reckon up whether he’s in our debt.”

Then Uncle Ben went rapidly toward the commander of the stranded
schooner, and Tom Falonna, eager to hear what might be said, followed
close at his heels; but neither Sam nor Mr. Rowe showed any desire to
have an interview with Captain Doak.

“Wa’al, Eliakim, are you countin’ on havin’ a steamer over here to pull
the ’Sally’ off?” Uncle Ben asked cheerily, and Captain Doak replied in
a surly tone:

“Whether I am or not is none of your affairs, Ben Johnson, an’ I’ll
thank you to keep your nose outer my business or there’ll be
considerable trouble sich as won’t be pleasant.”

“Now, see here, Eliakim,” and Uncle Ben spoke in a most friendly tone,
apparently giving no heed to the ill-natured words, “I ain’t countin’ on
meddlin’ with you an’ yours more’n I already have, an’ what I did was
somethin’ that you brought on yourself. Now if we can give you a lift in
floatin’ the ’Sally,’ we wanter do it, as neighbors should.”

“I’ve seen your tracks at the Port, so let me tell you, Ben Johnson,
that if I couldn’t launch the ’Sally’ without your help, I’d leave her
to rot where she is!”

Uncle Ben was not so thick-headed but he could understand that it would
be worse than useless to attempt to hold friendly converse with Captain
Doak while he was in such a humor, therefore he went slowly back to the
shanty, looking as if in deep distress.

“I hope he’ll never get her off!” Tom cried angrily when he and the old
man were so far from the captain that there could be no danger his words
would be heard by the owner of the schooner. “He acts like a great big
chump!”

“There’s no call to say anythin’ harsh, Tom,” Uncle Ben said
reprovingly. “He allers used to be a pleasant-spoken man till he got
into bad habits. I reckon he’ll be glad of our help before he finishes
the job that’s to be done, an’ when that time comes we’ll turn to jest
as willin’ly as if he’d shown himself to be the best friend we ever had.
I’m hopin’, lad, that this ’ere family I’m tryin’ to get together will
allers do as they’d be done by, for it’s the one mighty good rule in
this world.”

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