THE BABY

If, when Uncle Ben started for the Port on the trip when he found Joey
Sampson, Sam and Tom had been told that anything could happen on Apple
Island which might turn the least little portion of their attention from
the schooner they would have said indignantly that it was not possible,
and yet not only the two lads, but even Mr. Rowe, soon came to think
that the new, tiny member of the family was more interesting than the
work of wrecking.

On the morning after Joey’s arrival Uncle Ben insisted on being allowed
to wash the dishes and set the house to rights, claiming that it might
be better for Sam and Tom to spend all the time possible, before the
hour came for hauling the traps, helping Mr. Rowe, and Sam said almost
jealously, when he followed the others out of the shanty very shortly
after daybreak:

“I really believe Uncle Ben is willin’ to do the housework this mornin’,
so’s he can watch Joey! But say, I don’t blame him a little bit, for
that baby is mighty cute!”

“It’s goin’ to be a big thing for us to have him ’round here,” Tom
replied reflectively. “Jest as soon as Uncle Ben gets through foolin’
with him we’ll take the little shaver out in the dory to let him see us
haul in the lobsters——”

“You won’t do any sich risky thing!” Mr. Rowe said, emphatically.
“Don’t get the wild idee inter your heads that you can take the baby out
in a dory ’less Uncle Ben or I go with you. ’Cordin’ to the looks of
the schooner, we haven’t got to keep so terribly sharp at the work of
floatin’ her, now we’ve put the timbers in place, an’ it may be that I
can go out with you a spell this forenoon, so’s to let Joey see what
lobsterin’ is like.”

If one could judge by the expression which came over the faces of the
lads when Mr. Rowe thus made it plain that he intended to have a full
share of the “baby’s” company, they were not particularly well pleased
with this announcement, nor did they continue the subject further.

There was plenty of work before them, now that Uncle Ben had brought
from Southport the needed materials, and the three set about it with a
will during a full hour, when it seemed much as if they had lost
interest, for then Uncle Ben came down to the shore leading Joey by the
hand, and straightway each of the laborers appeared to believe he was
called upon to entertain the new member of the family.

Uncle Ben stretched himself lazily on the sand as if it pleased him
wondrously well to watch the “baby,” while Mr. Rowe introduced him to
the “Sally D.,” even carrying him on board upon his shoulders, and,
seeing Sam and Tommy wistfully watching the movements of the two, the
old man said encouragingly:

“If you boys want to play with Joey, why don’t you do it? I reckon, now
that Reuben has got these famous timbers of his in place, there ain’t
any good reason why you shouldn’t take things easy, an’ the baby hasn’t
had any too comfortable a time in this world but that he’ll take to a
bit of sport with you.”

Mr. Rowe was clambering down over the bow of the schooner as Uncle Ben
thus spoke, and one might almost have fancied that he was displeased
with the proposition which would prevent him from sharing in the romp.
He said quickly to the lad who was yet seated on his shoulder:

“How would it strike you if we went over to look at the lobster car?”

“You can’t see anythin’ there, Joey,” Tommy cried enticingly. “Come
with Sam an’ me; we’ll roll up our trousers an’ go in wadin’.”

The little lad from the poorhouse scrambled down from Mr. Rowe’s
shoulder, eager to accept the invitation, and the former “crew” of the
“Sally D.” could do no less than seat himself by Uncle Ben’s side,
saying in an apologetic tone as he did so:

“I s’pose, when you come right down to facts, that I’m a leetle too old
to be playin’ with a lot of youngsters; but it seems so mighty good to
have a baby like him cavortin’ ’round, that I can’t help wantin’ to have
a hand in the fun myself.”

“I don’t blame you, Reuben, I don’t blame you a little bit, for I’ve
been feelin’ a good deal that way myself this mornin’. To have a little
shaver like Joey tumblin’ ’round, makes it seem as if we’d really
started a family, an’ if things go along as smooth as they oughter, what
with the schooner, an’ all these ’ere youngsters, the rest of my days
will be spent in havin’ a good time watchin’ the rest of you runnin’ the
island. Look at that baby, will yer! Ain’t it doin’ him a world of
good to be paddlin’ in the water? I’m allowin’ that when we got hold of
him it was a good deal better trade than buyin’ the schooner.”

As a matter of fact, Joey Sampson so occupied the attention of all the
“family” that when the hour of noon came around, and no more than sixty
minutes had been spent in work on the “Sally,” Mr. Rowe said half to
himself, but yet speaking so loud that Uncle Ben could hear the words:

“He’s a mighty smart baby, an’ I’m glad he’s goin’ to live here on the
island; but there’s got to be some rules an’ regerlations ’bout playin’
with him, or watchin’ others do it, else it’ll be winter before we’re
ready to launch the schooner.”

“I reckon you’re right, Reuben,” Uncle Ben said with a long-drawn sigh,
“an’ I’m goin’ to draw a line on myself right away; but at the same time
I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed myself more’n I have this forenoon. As
for the baby! Look at him rollin’ over in the sand! At a moderate
guess I’d say he’d fatted up a full half-pound since mornin’.”

It was quite a long time, however, before Uncle Ben was able to “draw a
line” upon himself to the extent of treating the “baby” like an ordinary
member of the family. It was not until the old lobster catcher had
taken him out in the dory that he might see the boys haul the traps, and
that Mr. Rowe had given him an afternoon of pleasure on board the
stranded schooner, and Sam and Tom had carried him to the grove in the
centre of the island, that the regular routine of work was taken up once
more.

Then all hands labored with a will to make up for the time spent in
amusement, although each night, for at least half an hour after supper,
Uncle Ben insisted on holding the “baby” on his knee while Sam and Tom
washed the dishes and set the house to rights generally.

And as to Joey? Verily his lines had fallen in pleasant places. Never
before had he received so much attention, and for the first time in his
life did he understand what it meant to be loved and petted. It was the
belief of all the members of the family that he was growing fat very
rapidly, and Uncle Ben daily gave words to his regret that he had not
been sufficiently thoughtful to have weighed the little fellow before
leaving Southport, so they might know to a certainty how much Apple
Island agreed with him.

It must not be supposed, however, that while the “family” was thus being
amused by Joey as if he had been a veritable plaything, all the work was
neglected. As Mr. Rowe said, “they spent about half the time coddlin’
him, but managed to putter ’round the ’Sally D.’ enough to show that
they were really bent on launchin’ her.”

Then came the time when it was agreed among all hands that the “baby”
must take care of himself, to a certain extent, and the work of wrecking
was pushed forward with a will, each member of the family doing his best
to make up the lost time.

The schooner’s hull had been caulked and painted while yet she lay half
in the sand and half on the rude ways, and Mr. Rowe felt confident every
leak was stopped. Sam and Tom had taken it upon themselves to clean and
paint the interior of the cabin until it was as sweet as soap and water
could make it, and thus every token of Captain Doak had been cleared
away.

Uncle Ben had made two trips to Southport, but Joey had refused each
invitation to go with him, giving as his reason that Apple Island was
far too pleasant a place to leave even for a single hour, and this
refusal pleased the old man even more than to have had the lad all to
himself during an entire day.

Then, about five weeks from the day when Uncle Ben became the owner of
the “Sally D.,” everything was made ready for the launching, and Mr.
Rowe announced that at high tide on the following morning he would be
able to prove to the family that his method of wrecking was without a
flaw.

“We’ll make a reg’lar Fourth of July out of the day,” Uncle Ben
declared, as he sat by the window with Joey on his knee, “an’ even if we
did squander considerable time on the baby when he first came, I’m
allowin’ that we’ve earned a little pleasurin’, so Sammy an’ Tommy shall
get up the finest dinner they know how to cook, an’ we’ll eat it in the
’Sally’s’ cabin after she’s swingin’ to her anchor in the cove.”

As a matter of course, this was welcome news to the cooks, and they at
once set about deciding upon what particularly dainty dishes should be
served, until Mr. Rowe said half to himself:

“When I think that in all this time Eliakim Doak hasn’t showed hisself,
I can’t help fearin’ he has been hatchin’ some kind of mischief for
unless he’s left Southport, which don’t seem likely, it ain’t reasonable
to think he’d be willin’ to let us go on so smooth.”

“Now, now, Reuben, don’t go to crossin’ bridges before you come to ’em,”
Uncle Ben said placidly, as he stroked Joey’s hair affectionately. “I’m
allowin’ that Eliakim has come to see the evil of his ways, an’ hasn’t
been givin’ a thought to work us harm. Beside what call has he to do
anythin’ agin us? We paid cash for the schooner, an’ more than anybody
else would give, at a time when he wanted to sell her, so, as I’ve
figgered it, we did him a good turn.”

“There’s no goin’ back of that, Uncle Ben,” Mr. Rowe agreed, “but doin’
Eliakim Doak a good turn is much the same as if you’d kicked another man
black an’ blue. He ain’t built the right way to appreciate it. The
only time he can be made to understand is when somebody stands ready to
knock him down whenever he goes wrong, an’ that’ll keep him where he
belongs.”

“Wa’al, Reuben, we won’t bother our heads ’bout Eliakim jest now when
the ’Sally’ is so near afloat. Let’s have our launchin’ in the mornin’
an’ celebrate it the best we know how, without thinkin’ of anythin’ that
ain’t pleasant,” and once more Uncle Ben gave himself up to the
enjoyment of treating Joey as a veritable baby.

It is safe to say that at least once every five minutes during the
remaining time of daylight each member of the “family” looked out of the
window at the “Sally D.” as she stood on the ways, looking every inch
fit for the launching, and more jaunty, so Uncle Ben declared, than on
the first day she made the acquaintance of the water.

There was no indication that the sun was near at hand when Mr. Rowe
awakened the inmates of the shanty next morning, but he insisted they
should be up and at work in order that, as he expressed it, “they might
have plenty of time to look at the ’Sally’ before she went slidin’ down
the well-greased ways.”

Therefore it was that the sun had not yet risen when the family ate
breakfast, and Sam and Tom finished the morning’s work at least three
hours before the tide would be at its height. They were intending to
cook a regular feast to be carried aboard the “Sally” after she was in
the water, but it would not be time to set about that for a long while
and the lads, having nothing else with which to occupy themselves,
strolled down to the beach when the shanty had been set to rights, where
were Uncle Ben, Mr. Rowe and Joey Sampson gazing at the schooner as
eagerly as if they had never seen her before.

“There’s no use talkin’, she’ll make a snug little craft for this ’ere
family,” Mr. Rowe was saying as the lads joined the party, “an’ if she
don’t bring in a good many more dollars than ever the lobster business
did it’s ’cause I’ve forgotten how to handle a line!”’




“I’m hopin’ she’ll pay well,” Uncle Ben replied thoughtfully, “but it
ain’t on account of my hankerin’ after the dollars for myself. I reckon
there’s enough left in the bank to pay my funeral expenses, an’ I’m
hopin’ the Lord won’t let me live after I can’t take care of myself; but
it’s the family that’s makin’ me want to have more money comin’ in. If
I can see scraped together what’s needed to buy the island an’ have it
fixed by the lawyers so’s it’ll always be a home for decent boys who are
willin’ to help themselves if they’re given half a chance, then I’ll
feel as if I’d done somethin’ in this ’ere world that’s worth countin’.”

Mr. Rowe looked oddly out of the corner of his eye at the old lobster
catcher for a moment, and then said, half to himself:

“’Cordin’ to the way I look at things, what you’ve already done is well
worth countin’, Uncle Ben, an’ if there are sich matters as harps in the
next world, yours oughter be the biggest an’ have the most strings!”

“If that old heathen ain’t comin’ over here jest when we don’t want him,
I’m a duffer!” Tom screamed at the full strength of his lungs as he
pointed across the water in the direction of Southport, and, turning
quickly to learn the cause of the alarm, the other members of the family
saw two dories heading for the island, one leading the other by a
considerable distance.

In an instant Uncle Ben and Mr. Rowe were on their feet, the old lobster
catcher showing by his face that he was seriously disturbed in mind, as
he asked of Mr. Rowe in a gentle whisper:

“Do you allow, Reuben, that Eliakim can really be comin’ here after
havin’ stayed away so long?”

“I’m ready to allow that there’s nothin’ too mean for him to do,
’specially when he’s got one of his ugly spells. It strikes me that
we’ve got to handle him my way, instead of yours, for you’re too soft to
deal with the likes of Eliakim Doak.”

“We won’t have any trouble, Reuben, unless he tries to do mischief, an’
then allow we’re warranted in protectin’ our own. Ain’t there two men
in that first dory?”

“Yes, an’ most like he’s got some vagabond crony or another, with more
trailin’ on behind, allowin’ that they’ll do jest about as they please.
Now see here, Uncle Ben,” and Mr. Rowe spoke in an imploring tone. “You
ain’t built the right way to tackle sich as them, so s’pose you toddle
up to the shanty with Joey, an’ let the boys an’ me ’tend to this ’ere
job? I’m willin’ to agree that soft words are all right as a general
thing, but when it comes to throwin’ ’em away on the likes of Eliakim,
it’s a waste of time an’ breath. This ’ere is the same as your own
island, an’ if you’ll crawl off somewhere, I’ll see to it that Doak
don’t do any funny business.”

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