SHIPOWNERS

It is only reasonable to suppose that the crew of the dory, after having
been at work nearly all day at the oars or hauling in the wet ropes of
the lobster traps, were ravenously hungry, and yet never one of them
gave a thought to food because of the excitement which possessed all at
the mere suggestion that it might be possible for them soon to become
shipowners.

The family was, as Uncle Ben afterward expressed it, “all mixed up,” and
night had fully come before the first move was made toward going into
the shanty. Mr. Rowe insisted on showing exactly how he would set at
work to get the “Sally D.” on ways from which she could readily be
launched after the necessary repairs had been made, and drew diagrams in
the sand until that portion of the beach looked as if an immense flock
of sea-gulls had been promenading to and fro.

The result of all the conversation and discussion was that Uncle Ben
finally said in a decisive tone:

“I’ll agree to buy her as she lays, if the price don’t go over five
hundred dollars. There ain’t any doubt in my mind but that she’s worth,
as you figger, Reuben, twice that money, but we can’t yet tell how much
must be spent before she’s seaworthy, an’ it wouldn’t do for this ’ere
family to spend so much on the first cost that they couldn’t put her in
shape afterward.”

“I’m allowin’ you won’t hear anybody bid over you,” Mr. Rowe said in a
tone of conviction; “that is, if Eliakim don’t suspicion you’re tryin’
to buy her. He’s so mighty sore ’cause you’ve taken Sammy an’ me inter
the family, that he’d be willin’ to lose a good many dollars rather’n
have her knocked down to you. Why not get Billy Mansfield to bid on
her? Of course, I’m allowin’ he ain’t figgerin’ to get her for himself,
an’ that you could soon find out. It looks reasonable he’s huntin’ for
the chance to make an investment, an’ Eliakim never’d think of smellin’
’round to see if he was on your side. We’ve got a good load of lobsters
in the car, Uncle Ben, an’ some dandies that we took outer the traps
to-day, so what’s to hinder your goin’ over to the Port in the mornin’?
We’ll ’tend to the work here all right, an’ you may stay till you’ve
worn your welcome out, so far as business is concerned.”

“I believe I’ll go, Reuben,” the old lobster catcher replied after a
brief time of thought. “To tell the truth, I was kinder turnin’ over
that same thing in my mind before you spoke. We can’t afford to take any
risks jest now, an’ there’s no tellin’ how soon the weather may change
so’s we can’t get over to the Port for quite a spell. I reckon we’d
best toddle up to the shanty an’ get somethin’ to eat, seein’s how it’s
pretty nigh time to tumble in for the night. It beats all how a chance
like this mixes me up!”

“I don’t wonder at it, Uncle Ben,” Sam cried. “The thought of havin’
the ’Sally D.’ for our own would mix anybody up! If we can only get
her!” and Sam ran swiftly toward the house to make ready the
long-delayed meal, Tom following close at his heels in order to render
such assistance as might be in his power.

On that particular night the cook might have made many blunders without
any one’s being the wiser, so excited was every member of the “family”
at the possibility of owning a vessel, and the old lobster catcher
himself was not in any less a “mixed” frame of mind than Mr. Rowe, who
was, as he said, “so twisted” that Sam was actually obliged to lead him
to the table when the meal had been made ready, otherwise he might have
gone supperless to bed.

Again and again did Reuben explain how he proposed to launch the
schooner without the aid of a steamer or machinery; at least a dozen
times Uncle Ben tried to make an estimate of how much money it would be
necessary to spend after the vessel was afloat; and whenever they could
get a chance to join in the conversation, Sam and Tom speculated upon
the income which might be earned by the “family” after an outfit for
deep-sea fishing had been purchased.

In fact, the sole topic of conversation, from the moment Uncle Ben had
broached the subject until nearly midnight, was regarding the
possibilities of the future if the “Sally D.” should be purchased by the
old lobster catcher and when the master of the shanty declared he would
not allow another word spoken until after daybreak next morning, Reuben
Rowe confessed that he was more weary than he ever had been even after a
hard day’s work at mackerel catching.

Quite as a matter of course, it was the first thing the members of the
family recalled to mind on awakening next morning, and Uncle Ben was
hurried as never before, to the end that he might make a start for
Southport at the earliest possible moment.

“I declare for it, if one or another of you hasn’t been luggin’ me
around ever since I turned out,” he said half laughingly, half
fretfully, when he clambered into the dory which Mr. Rowe had launched.
“A body would think you feared the Port might be moved away if I didn’t
get there before dinner time an’ yet I can’t see as there’s any sich
dreadful hurry, seein’s the ’Sally’ won’t be sold till yesterday week.”

“It’s time you got things fixed, ’cause we can’t afford to let sich a
chance slip us,” Mr. Rowe said as he pushed the dory’s bow off even
before the old man had taken up the oars.

“I don’t allow there’ll be much chance of things slippin’ us, even if I
ain’t there till afternoon. Look sharp to the island, an’ if so be
Eliakim takes it inter his head to come before I get back, see to it you
don’t say a word to rile him. He has sure brought all his trouble on
his own head; but I can’t help feelin’ bad for him, when I think he’s
got to sell the ’Sally’ ’cause he hasn’t the money to put her in shape.”

“I believe he would lend that old pirate all the cash he’s got, if
anybody asked him!” Tommy whispered irritably. “This is the first time
I ever believed a man could be too good.”

“Better look after the traps before you tackle another job,” Uncle Ben
cried as he pulled the boat slowly away from the shore. “I don’t
believe, Reuben, that you’d better do anythin’ ’bout gettin’ trees for
the ’Sally’s’ ways, as you talked of last night, for them as count their
chickens too soon are apt to come to grief.”

“I’m only hopin’ he don’t come across Eliakim Doak,” Mr. Rowe said as he
and the lads stood watching the old man while he rowed with vigorous
strokes toward Southport.

“Why?” Tommy asked curiously.

“For fear of his gettin’ so tender-hearted that he’d tell him of the
plan we’ve got for gettin’ hold of the ’Sally.’”

Then Mr. Rowe, as if believing it was his duty to act as master of the
island in the absence of Uncle Ben, insisted that the boys should lose
no more time before beginning the work of the day.

As can well be imagined, the purchase of the “Sally D.” was all they
could talk about, and even the fact that an unusually large number of
marketable lobsters were found in the traps did not provoke any comment
on their good fortune, because of the fulness of their minds with other
matters. All three were on the lookout when, half an hour after sunset,
the old lobster catcher hove in sight, and they were waiting on the
beach while he was yet nearly a mile away.

“Yes, I’ve fixed everything as nearly as it be done,” he said in reply
to the eager questions when he was come within hailing distance.
“William Mansfield will ’tend to the business, an’ he advises me to pay
even six hundred dollars, if we can’t get the ’Sally’ for less; says
he’ll be glad to give us credit for what we may need in the way of
supplies. I ain’t willin’ to run up store bills, though I’ve given him
his own head in the matter of a price. An’ now don’t say another word
’bout ownin’ the schooner, else we’re likely to neglect everythin’.”

Because of this last remark neither Mr. Rowe nor the boys again spoke of
that which lay so near their hearts, until the night before the day on
which the auction was to be held in ’Squire Hubbard’s office in
Southport, and then it was Reuben who said with ill-assumed
carelessness:

“I’m allowin’ you’ll want to be off bright an’ early in the mornin’,
Uncle Ben?”

“Ay, that I shall, an’ if the days have been goin’ by as slow to you as
to me, this has been a miserable long week for all hands. I allow it’s
wrong to set one’s heart on a thing so strong as mine’s set on ownin’
the ’Sally D.,’ but I couldn’t put it outer my mind for a single minute,
an’ if we begin to talk ’bout it now, I shan’t get a wink of sleep.”

Sam and Tom could have told him that they had literally counted the
hours since it was known that the schooner was to be sold at auction,
until it had come to be a firm belief with them that the “family” could
not prosper on the lines laid down by Uncle Ben, unless they succeeded
in buying the vessel.

However, great as was their impatience for the result of the sale to be
known, and eager though they were to hear that Uncle Ben had become a
shipowner, neither gave words to that which was in his mind until the
moment when the old lobster catcher sat in the dory, a full half hour
before daylight, ready to begin his journey. Then Sam said in a
tremulous voice:

“I hope you will get her, Uncle Ben!”

“So do I, from the bottom of my heart, lad! It’s much the same as wicked
for us to get so bound up in any one thing, an’ yet, no matter how well
we was gettin’ on before she was offered for sale, it really seems as if
my plan of havin’ a family would come to naught without her.”

“Better not hang ’round here talkin’,” Mr. Rowe said impatiently.
“There’s no tellin’ when this wind may flatten completely out, an’ it
won’t do for you to have a long pull while the weather promises to be so
hot.”




Then, without waiting for the word, Reuben pushed the dory’s bow off,
and it seemed to the boys as if the first real step toward the purchase
of the “Sally” had been taken.

“It’ll seem like a month before he gets back, even if he has a fair wind
each way,” Tommy said with a long-drawn sigh, and Sam cried cheerily:

“Let’s get to work, an’ keep right at it, else the day will never go
by.”

Even Mr. Rowe followed this advice, and it is safe to say that a greater
amount of work had never before been performed on Apple Island in the
same length of time. When the sun began to go down into the west,
however, every one kept his eyes fixed on the horizon in the direction
of Southport, and Uncle Ben’s dory looked to be no more than a tiny
speck on the waters, when Reuben shouted:

“He’s comin’, lads, an’ now it can’t be sich a dreadful long time before
we know who owns the ’Sally D.’!”

Surely the moments never passed more slowly, nor the dory never moved at
such a snail’s pace before, and Uncle Ben was barely within hailing
distance when, unable longer to restrain his patience, Sam cried:

“Who owns her, Uncle Ben? Who owns the ’Sally’?”

Then in a shrill, but triumphant tone, came the reply:

“Uncle Ben’s family bought her for four hundred and seventy dollars, an’
I’ve got the papers in my pocket!”

Instantly it was as if the three on the beach had taken leave of their
senses. They shouted, sang, and Tommy even danced a hornpipe, after
which Mr. Rowe, having learned all he wished to know, ran over to the
stranded schooner, where he began making calculations for the work he
had already determined should be begun on the morrow.

The two boys acted much as if they wanted to hug the old lobster catcher
when finally he stepped ashore; at all events, they each took one of his
hands, shaking it so vigorously that he was forced to cry for mercy.

“I reckon I’ve got a pretty good idee of how you’ve been feelin’,” he
said when the whirlwind of their congratulations had subsided somewhat.
“Goin’ over to the Port I got all worked up over thinkin’ that p’rhaps
somebody might jump in an’ offer more’n we could afford to pay, till I
was jest as limp as a rag. We needn’t be worried very much, though,
’cause nobody seemed to think she was worth a great deal after layin’ in
the sand so long. ’Siah Fernald allowed that he’d give four hundred, an’
that’s what he started her at. I said four-twenty-five, an’ he jumped
ten more; then I made it four-fifty, an’ he sung out ’sixty, an’ that’s
a good bit more’n she’s worth as she lays.’ I made it four-seventy, an’
the auctioneer hung on for another bid till I begun to think he didn’t
want me to have her, when he shouted, ’Sold to Uncle Ben Johnson, an’ I
wish him good luck with her.’”

“But I thought Mr. Mansfield was goin’ to buy her for you?” Sam cried.

“So he was, lad, so he was. Leastways, that’s what he’d agreed to do;
but I got so worked up over the business on the way across, that I clean
forgot everythin’ except how much we wanted to own her an’ went to
biddin’ on my own account.”

“Was Pirate Doak there?” Tommy asked.

“Ay, lad, an’ glum enough he looked. One spell I thought he was goin’
to break the sale up rather’n let me have her; but by hook or by crook
he held his tongue, after growlin’ out that whoever bought her would be
called on to pay cash down. When the auctioneer said she was mine I got
the money from William Mansfield, for I’d fixed things when I was in the
Port before, so’s he could get six hundred outer the bank for me.
Eliakim signed the bill of sale, but he never looked my way once. For a
wonder he was sober, an’ so contrived to act pretty nigh decent. Now
we’ll go over an’ have a squint at the family’s property!”

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