THE LAUNCHING

Uncle Ben lifted Joey in his arms, as if about to do exactly as Mr. Rowe
desired, and then remembering, most likely, that Reuben’s methods of
dealing with men like Captain Doak were not such as he approved of, he
stood irresolute, gazing anxiously at the approaching boats as he said:

“It’s too bad that our day of pleasurin’ should be spoiled by Eliakim,
when he hasn’t got the least little reason for makin’ a row.”

“Do as Mr. Rowe wants you to, Uncle Ben, an’ there won’t be much of
anythin’ spoiled,” Tommy said pleadingly, as he tried to drag the old
man toward the shanty. “The three of us can take care of the schooner
without tryin’ very hard.”

“But I’m afraid there’ll be a fight, Tommy, an’ that’s a poor way of
celebratin’ the launchin’ of the ’Sally,’” the old man said mournfully.

“Don’t you worry ’bout that, for we’ll knock his head off before he gets
very far along in his funny business,” Tom cried confidently, and this
assurance seemed to have the opposite effect from that intended.

“We won’t stir up more of a row than can be helped, an’ I’m certain
you’d rather we showed a little fight than let him do harm to the
schooner just when we’ve got her in sailin’ trim,” Sam pleaded, and Mr.
Rowe added, speaking as if to a child:

“Now do look at it in the right light, Uncle Ben! We’re bound to take
care of the ’Sally,’ else what’ll come of your plan for makin’ a home
here for them what ain’t got any?”

In no other way could Mr. Rowe have presented the case to more speedily
insure Uncle Ben’s obedience. The possibility that Captain Doak might
work such mischief as would prevent him from carrying out the scheme he
had so long in mind, and which was so well begun, caused the old man to
lose sight of everything else, and, as if escaping from some terrible
and immediate danger, he ran swiftly toward the shanty with Joey in his
arms.

“Now we’re got rid of Uncle Ben, I reckon it won’t take us long to
settle that old heathen’s hash, no matter how many heelers he’s got with
him,” Tommy said, in a tone of satisfaction, and looking very much as if
the prospect of trouble with the former owner of the “Sally D.” pleased
him greatly.

Mr. Rowe, however, was not inclined to look upon the situation as
affording many possibilities for enjoyment. The fact that Captain Doak
had such a large party with him seemed fairly good evidence that he had
come to do something more than make threats, and, regardless of the fact
that he had spoken so confidently of what he would be able to do in the
way of protecting the “family’s” property, Reuben understood that he and
the two lads could not successfully oppose any determined attack.

Within five minutes after Uncle Ben and Joey had taken refuge in the
shanty, it was possible to make out that the second dory had as crew
three men, and these with the men in the first boat would make up a
force which would be able to carry out any plan agreed upon, however
bravely the defenders of the island might battle for their rights.

“That’s Eliakim in the leadin’ dory,” Mr. Rowe said after a keen survey
of the approaching craft, “an’ unless I’m way out of my reckonin’, it’s
Jim Coulson with him. ’Cordin’ to my idee these two are about the most
worthless couple that can be found in the Port. It stands to reason
they’ve come to make trouble, an’ I’m beginnin’ to be afraid we’ll have
our hands full.”

“They’ll have to work mighty lively if they get the best of us,” Tom
said confidently as he searched about for something in the shape of a
club that would serve his purpose, and Sam, who was seriously disturbed
by the expression of anxiety on Mr. Rowe’s face, added doubtfully:

“We can’t hold out very long against five men, less Uncle Ben takes it
inter his head to lend a hand, an’ I’m afraid he’d see ’em wreck the
’Sally’ before thinkin’ he oughter make a reg’lar fight.”

“No, we can’t count on him,” and Mr. Rowe shook his head sorrowfully,
but seeming to recover his courage an instant later, as he added:
“Howsomever, we’ll make it hot for a spell, no matter how many Eliakim
has got with him, an’ then if we’re downed it won’t be our fault.”

Tom had found such a weapon as would apparently serve his purpose, and
set about procuring something of the same kind for Sam; but Mr. Rowe
made no preparations whatever. He stood with his gaze fixed upon the
leading boat, as if by such close scrutiny he could determine what the
enemy’s first move would be, and then walked slowly up the beach on
seeing that the dory would take the sand a short distance to the
eastward of where the “Sally” rested on the ways as if impatient to be
in the water once more.

It was evident that Captain Doak had come for some other purpose than to
indulge in empty threats, for he spoke not a word as the little craft
drifted shoreward, and when she was within fifty feet of the beach Mr.
Rowe cried warningly:

“Don’t make the mistake of landin’ on this island, Eliakim Doak, or
there’ll be more trouble come of it than you’re lookin’ for! You’ve been
cautioned against trespassin’, an’ tellin’ you that Uncle Ben counts on
doin’ jest as he threatened.”

“If I did my duty I’d have you in jail for mutiny!” Captain Doak cried
threateningly. “If you mix inter this matter, I’ll have a warrant out
before you’re a day older, Reuben Rowe!”

“Why don’t you go ahead an’ get your warrants, instead of makin’ so much
talk about it?” the sailor cried angrily. “I count on mixin’ in here
long enough to give you the strongest dose you ever got, an’ don’t you
forget it! If you come ashore here I’ll see to it that you don’t go
back in as good shape as you are now.” Then in a whisper to Tom, who
stood close by his side, “You two lads are to jump on Jim Coulson the
minute he puts foot on the sand, without payin’ any heed to me. If I
can’t take care of Eliakim Doak single handed, it’ll serve me right to
be used up.”

Tom, repeating Reuben’s words to Sam, ran forward to take his part in
the coming battle just as Captain Doak leaped ashore, evidently bent on
trying conclusions with Mr. Rowe at once, and just at this point, when
it seemed as if there was no longer any possibility a fight could be
averted, the second dory had come within hailing distance.

Until this moment none of those of the island had given any particular
heed to her, therefore, they were really startled by hearing a friendly
voice cry:

“Look out, Reuben! Don’t get inter a mix-up when there’s no real need
of it! We’ve come over to see that you ain’t imposed on.”

“It’s Uncle Ben’s friend, Billy Mansfield an’ he must have had an
inklin’ of what Eliakim was up to!” Mr. Rowe said to the lads in a tone
of relief. “I reckon there won’t be any great amount of mischief done
this day!”

“What are you doin’ here?” Captain Doak cried savagely, wheeling about
to face the newcomers as if he was only at this moment aware of their
neighborhood. “I’ll have you understand that the man who comes agin’ me
this day is like to get all that’s needed!”

“Don’t make the mistake of threatenin’, Eliakim Doak!” Mr. Mansfield
cried warningly. “It may be that we’ve come over to have a share in the
launchin’, seein’s how there ain’t much goin’ on in the Port to-day, an’
then ag’in perhaps we tailed on knowin’ you was bent on mischief, an’
countin’ to lend Uncle Ben a hand. Since you’ve begun to threaten, it
may be well if I give you notice here an’ now, that you’re to keep away
from this island. We at the Port have made up our minds that you’ve got
to live somewhere near decent from this on, or leave our part of the
country.”

By this time Mr. Mansfield and his friends had stepped ashore from their
dory and were standing between the former owner of the “Sally D.” and
the defenders of the island, showing by their attitude that they were
ready to lend a hand against the two who were plotting mischief.

“I’ve come here for my schooner, an’ count on havin’ her,” Captain Doak
cried in a voice hoarse with passion. “You an’ half a dozen like you
did what you could to cheat me out of the vessel, an’ it’ll be a sorry
day when you go any further in sich fraud.”

“You know as well as I do, Eliakim, that you were forced to sell the
’Sally’ because you couldn’t raise money enough to float her,” and it
was evident that Mr. Mansfield was striving hard to speak in a calm
tone. “If any other than Uncle Ben had bought the craft you wouldn’t
have dared to open your mouth about ownership; but on account of his
bein’ a peaceable man who’d stand a good deal before raisin’ a hand in
his own defense, you think it will be possible to bully him out of a few
more dollars. We at the Port heard last night of what you counted on
doin’ to-day, an’ we three have come, representin’ the town, to give you
final warnin’. Behave yourself so far as the schooner an’ this island
are concerned, or we’ll send you out of the county on a rail!” Then,
turning to Mr. Rowe, as if believing there was no need of further
conversation with Captain Doak, the visitor asked, “Where is the old
man?”

“Up in the shanty. We sent him there, thinkin’ we could handle Eliakim
better without him.”

“Well, seein’s Cap’en Doak is sober enough to understand that he’d
better not kick up any row while we’re here, s’posen you go ahead with
your launchin’? We’ve come out to help celebrate, an’ don’t want any
hitch in the business.”

“She shall come off the ways at high water,” Mr. Rowe replied in a tone
of relief, and as Mr. Mansfield and his friends went toward the shanty
he set about the final arrangements for sending the “Sally” into the
water.

Captain Doak and his friend stood irresolutely near their boat, as if
trying to decide whether it would be safe for them to make any further
attempt at bullying the inhabitants of the island, while Mr. Rowe and
the lads went about their work as if the former owner of the “Sally” no
longer had an existence.

There was really very little remaining to be done before the schooner
was ready for the launching, but Mr. Rowe seemed eager to find something
with which to occupy himself, and his companions did their best at
seconding his efforts.




During five minutes or more Captain Doak stood near by the dory
conversing in whispers with his friend, and then the two went aboard,
Reuben calling after them as they slowly pulled away from the island:

“You’ve heard what Billy Mansfield said the folks at the Port would do
if you tried to be funny with Uncle Ben, an’ it won’t be a bad idee if
you bear in mind the fact that I’ll be prepared for sich as you from
this time out.”

“You wouldn’t be crowin’ so loud if folks at the Port had minded their
own business,” Captain Doak growled. “My time will come some day, an’
when it does, you’ll wish you’d never been born!”

Then the two men bent their backs to the oars, as if not eager for
further conversation, and Mr. Rowe said in a confident tone to his
companions:

“You can set it down as a fact that Eliakim won’t dare to try any more
funny business, seein’s he’s roused the folks at the Port. We’ve had a
mighty lucky day of it, ’cordin’ to my way of thinkin’, for what he
might do has bothered me not a little.”

“An’ do you believe he’s done for now?” Tommy asked incredulously.

“Ay, lad, you can set that down as a fact. Eliakim is a good deal of a
coward any time; but now that Billy Mansfield has read the riot act to
him, he’ll give Apple Island a wide berth from this out. I reckon we
may as well pass the word that them as wants to see the launchin’ had
best be gettin’ their seats, for the tide’s as high as it’s likely to be
this day.”

It was as if the lads had, during the excitement of a possible battle
with Captain Doak, forgotten that the moment was near at hand when it
was to be shown whether the many days of labor would be rewarded by
success, and now when Mr. Rowe made his announcement they were plunged
into a state of mingled joy and doubt such as would be difficult to
describe.

Sam ran at full speed toward the shanty to summon those who had taken
shelter there from the unpleasant scene which was presented by the
arrival of the former owner of the “Sally D.,” and Tommy had no more
than hoisted the flags on the schooner’s spars than the visitors, Uncle
Ben and Joey, came rapidly down to the beach.

“I’m allowin’ that all of you will go on board the ’Sally,’” Reuben Rowe
said, taking it upon himself to act as master of ceremonies, as was
indeed his right after all he had done. “The lads an’ I can start her, I
reckon. You’ll find the anchor ready for lettin’ go, so stand by to
bring her up with a sharp turn, for it’ll be quick work once she’s on
the move.”

Uncle Ben tossed Joey aboard over the bow, while the guests followed as
best they might, and immediately the last one was on the deck Mr. Rowe
gave the word to his assistants.

Sam and Tom worked on one side of the hull, driving the starting wedge
home, while Reuben attended to the work immediately opposite them, and
it is safe to say that every member of the launching party was
astonished by the swiftness and ease with which this final portion of
the task was performed. To the two lads who were just under the bow
swinging the heavy sledges, it seemed as if no more than half a dozen
blows had been struck before the “Sally” began to slide down the ways
much as though eager to be in the water, sending the spray high over her
stern when the plunge was made.

Then what a shout went up! If Captain Doak had not made good use of his
time with the oars he must have heard the cries of rejoicing when the
little schooner was afloat once more, tossing on the swell she herself
had created and riding to her anchor much like a captive sea-gull.

“It’s a great job you’ve done, Reuben!” Uncle Ben cried in a tone of
triumph when the cheering had subsided sufficiently to admit of his
making himself heard. “From this out, so long as it pleases you to stay
at Apple Island a member of the family, the ’Sally’ shall be under your
command!”

“All right, Uncle Ben,” Mr. Rowe replied, waving his arms as if it was
absolutely impossible for him to remain motionless. “I’ll take
advantage of that promise by sayin’ that if the folks from the Port will
stop over night here, so’s we can get the ballast in, we’ll carry ’em
home bright an’ early to-morrow mornin’ on board the ’Sally.’”

“You’re right, Reuben, you’re right,” the old lobster catcher cried,
gleefully as any child. “I’ll see that they stay, an’ all hands of us
will turn to for gettin’ the ballast in!”

You may also like