THE FIRST CRUISE

When Joey Sampson was an inmate of the poorhouse, the people of
Southport gave little heed to him as, bent on some errand, he entered
the village; but on this day it seemed as if every man, woman and child
was eager to speak a kindly word. The tiny fellow was lifted over the
rail by some of the more officious even before the “Sally D.” had really
come to a full stop, while those whom he had never seen before greeted
him as a friend until he was absolutely dazed by receiving so much
attention.

Uncle Ben also found that he had suddenly grown popular, for the people
crowded around when he came over the side of the schooner, shaking his
hand so often and vigorously that the old man was really bewildered, and
whispered to Sam at the first opportunity:

“I declare, Sammy, I can’t make out what has come over the folks here!
A body would think I was the best friend they ever had; it wasn’t this
way when I put in here last.”

“They’re beginnin’ to find you out, Uncle Ben, that’s what’s the
matter,” Sam replied with a laugh, and Reuben Rowe, who had come up in
time to overhear the conversation, added:

“I’m allowin’ that you can lay a good deal of this ’ere reception to
Eliakim Doak. He’s been makin’ so much talk, an’ threatenin’ to raise
sich a pile of mischief, that the folks began to think ’bout what you’re
doin’ in the way of raisin’ a family, till all of a sudden they’ve found
out that you’re the salt of the earth.”

Then the conversation ceased because of the many people who had been
pushing their way through the throng to speak with the old lobster
catcher, and who insisted on claiming his attention; therefore Sam
modestly allowed himself to be shoved back against the rail of the
“Sally,” where he was standing when Tom, who had been to the head of the
pier, came up literally breathless with excitement.

“Your old pirate is over there by the storehouse sure enough; but while
so many people are around I reckon he won’t dare to show himself very
big. I’ve got it in my head, though, that he’ll raise a row if it looks
as if he could without gettin’ inter too much trouble.”

Sam was no longer afraid of what Captain Doak might do. The citizens of
Southport had been so cordial in their welcome that the lad knew full
well the former owner of the “Sally D.” would not dare to say or do
anything disagreeable, and he replied with a show of carelessness:

“We needn’t bother our heads ’bout fair, to-day, for he’s got sense
enough to keep quiet; but when we’re back on the island, an’ the ’Sally’
is layin’ at anchor with nobody aboard, he’ll be brave as a lion, cause
he knows Uncle Ben wouldn’t hurt a fly no matter how many times he’d
been bitten.”

Having thus dismissed Captain Doak from their minds, the boys gave
themselves wholly up to the pleasures provided for them by the citizens
of the Port, and from that time until late in the afternoon they enjoyed
every moment of the time. Then Mr. Rowe, who had come in search of them
and found both feasting on figs in Mr. Mansfield’s store, announced:

“Uncle Ben says it’s time we was makin’ a break for home, an’ I allow
he’s right, seein’s how we need to get an early start to-morrow, for
there’s considerable work to be done after we get home.”

“Where are you countin’ on goin’ to-morrow?” Sam asked as he followed
the captain of the schooner.

“Deep-sea fishin’. Uncle Ben has bought a barrel of bait, an’ we’re
goin’ to see what can be done with it.”

“Is it to be the first real cruise? How long are we to be gone?” Tom
asked excitedly.

“It’ll be a real cruise all right, an’ I’m allowin’ we’ll stay till we
get fish enough aboard to make it pay,” and Mr. Rowe led the way to the
pier at a rapid pace. “You see Uncle Ben found a chance to buy some
bait cheap, an’ since he an’ Joey can look after the lobsterin’ without
strainin’ themselves very hard, it stands us in hand to make the ’Sally’
earn some little part of what’s been put out on her.”

“But we’ll have to take a lot of food with us,” and Tom looked anxious,
as if fearing the start could not be made as soon as Reuben had
proposed.

“I reckon it won’t take you two lads long to put aboard what we’ll need
in the way of pork, flour an’ potatoes. It’ll be a case of livin’
mostly on what we catch, or goin’ hungry.”

Now the boys were as eager to leave the town as they had been to visit
it, and on arriving at the schooner were well pleased at finding Uncle
Ben and Joey aboard awaiting them.

If the citizens of the Port could have had their way the little vessel
and her crew would have remained in harbor many days, but, recognizing
the fact that the old lobster catcher would be eager to make the first
experiment at deep-sea fishing, after having spent so many dollars on
the “Sally,” they did what little they might toward hastening the
departure.

When the hawsers had been cast off and the Bails hoisted, the people
cheered Uncle Ben and his “family” until they were well out of the
harbor, and not until then did the boys think it possible to attend to
their duties, which were to cook supper and make preparations for the
night, Mr. Rowe having announced with an air of authority that the
“crew” would be forced to sleep on board in order to be ready for an
early start.

“We’re goin’ out for fish,” he said, as if expecting some one would
dispute the statement, “an’ what’s more, we’re bound to get ’em. The
first cruise must be made to pay, else we’re like to have bad luck.”

“I kinder had it in mind, Reuben, that the whole family oughter have a
hand in the first fishin’; but since we’ve got the bait, I reckon you
an’ the boys will have to go out alone,” Uncle Ben said with such a
mournful ring in the words that all hands understood he was disappointed
in not being able to take part in the opening venture, and Sam replied
quickly, stifling his own desires:

“You shall go, Uncle Ben, an’ I’ll ’tend to the pots alone. It won’t be
very much of a job.”

“No, no, Sammy, I shan’t agree to anythin’ like that, for I know how
keen you an’ Tommy are to try out the ’Sally.’ It’s foolish in an old
man like me to hanker after what oughter be an old story at my time of
life. The baby an’ I’ll stay at home where we belong, an’ look after
the island to see that it don’t run away.”

“I can’t see anythin’ foolish in your wantin’ to go, ’specially since
you’ve come pretty nigh sinkin’ your last dollar in this ’ere schooner,”
and Mr. Rowe spoke in a thoughtful tone, as if he was turning some plan
over in his mind. “Say, what’s to hinder your goin’, anyway?”

“We can’t use the ’Sally’ as a plaything, Reuben. Lobsterin’ is what
we’re dependin’ on for a livin’, and it mustn’t be neglected.”

“Who’s talkin’ ’bout neglectin’ it?” and the captain of the “Sally”
appeared aggrieved because such a suggestion had been made. “I’m keepin’
it in mind that lobsterin’ is the mainstay of this ’ere family, while
fishin’ is what might be called a side issue till it’s been tried out
good an’ hard. What’s to hinder our lookin’ after the traps to-night?
We’ve only got one barrel of bait, an’ it don’t stand to reason that the
first cruise can be a very long one. Now it won’t do any harm if the
pots ain’t hauled for eight an’ forty hours, an’ we’re sure to be back
before that time has gone by.”

Uncle Ben’s face brightened, while little Joey clapped his hands in glee
at the possibility of making the first cruise in the schooner on which
all hands had labored so long and earnestly, and Sam, now quite as eager
as either of the two, cried pleadingly:

“Take up with Mr. Rowe’s offer, Uncle Ben, take it up! Tom an’ I’ll
pull the traps as soon as ever we get back, an’ you won’t be the poorer
by a single lobster, ’cause we’ll put in plenty of bait so’s them as get
inter the traps won’t go to eatin’ each other.”

Then Tommy added his entreaties, while Mr. Rowe continued to “figger
out” how and why Uncle Ben could safely leave the island during two
days, with the result that the old man, after questioning the boys as to
whether they had cunners enough on hand to bait all the traps, said
slowly, much as if he was weakly yielding to temptation:

“I’m free to confess that I’m jest the same as achin’ to have a hand in
the first take of fish that comes aboard the ’Sally’ after she’s the
same as been dug outer the sand, an’ while I know it’s childish to set
my heart on sich things, the baby an’ I’ll go. We’ll not be very much
worse off for mixin’ in a little play with our work, even if we have the
same as wasted this whole day.”

“I don’t call it a waste of time when you try out a schooner after
launchin’ her,” Mr. Rowe grumbled, “an’ seein’s how the folks at the
Port sent you a clean hundred dollars, it strikes me you was in duty
bound to carry back them as brought it.”

“Yes, yes, Reuben, I’m allowin’ you’re right, an’ we’ll all hands go on
the first cruise. Look after your helm, for if the lads are to haul the
pots to-night, we need to make Apple Island as soon as may be.”

It was needless to caution Mr. Rowe as to his steering, for he was doing
his best to leave the straightest of straight wakes behind him, and from
the time of leaving Southport had never once taken his eyes from the
course. However, the sheets were flattened a bit to get all the
advantage which might be had from the breeze, and Uncle Ben and little
Joey swayed down on the jib halyards to take out an imaginary wrinkle
from the canvas.

It seemed as if even the wind was favorably disposed toward Uncle Ben’s
desires, for it freshened very decidedly within ten minutes after the
question had been settled, and the “Sally D.” sped toward Apple Island
with a big bone in her teeth, heeling over until little Joey began to
fear she would capsize.

The sun was considerably more than an hour high when the family arrived
at the cove, and immediately the anchor had been let go Mr. Rowe said
sharply, as he began to snug down the canvas:

“You lads don’t want to waste any time now, else it’ll be too dark to
see the buoys before you have pulled all the pots. Get away smartly;
Uncle Ben an’ I’ll ’tend to matters here.”




The lads were over the rail in a twinkling, only waiting to tow the old
dory alongside the “Sally” before setting off with the idea of doing
half a day’s work in two hours, and Uncle Ben called after them as they
left the cove:

“Don’t stay out after dark, lads, ’cause it ain’t safe to pull pots
when, if one of you went overboard, the other couldn’t see him. I’m
allowin’ it won’t be any great harm if we don’t look after ’em all
to-night; we’ll make up on fish what we may lose in the way of
lobsters.”

To this the lads made no reply; but when they returned to the cove, a
full three hours after setting out, it was with the report that every
trap had been visited.

“The catch was so big that it didn’t seem right to skip any,” Sam said
by way of explanation. “We took mighty good care not to make a slip
while haulin’ in, an’ brought back forty-one full-sized lobsters, which
I allow is the biggest haul that’s been made this season.

“Indeed it is, lad,” Uncle Ben cried excitedly. “I declare for it, we
oughter stay home if lobsters are movin’ at that rate!”

“Now, now, Uncle Ben, you can’t go back on your word,” Mr. Rowe cried as
if in alarm. “You’ve allowed to go with us in the mornin’, an’ here are
these boys wet an’ hungry with tryin’ to fix things so’s nothin’ would
prevent you takin’ part in the first cruise. Supper is all ready for
you, lads, an’ the sooner you fill up your stomachs the quicker you’ll
be able to turn in, for a full night’s rest is what all hands will be
needin’ before another day’s work has been done.”

Then Mr. Rowe served up the remains of the breakfast, which he had
heated for the occasion, and without stopping to argue with Uncle Ben as
to the question raised by him, Sam and Tom set about eating as if they
and food had been strangers for many a long day.

Half an hour later every bunk in the “Sally’s” cabin had an occupant,
and, save for the loud breathing, there were no signs of life apparent
until Mr. Rowe came out “all standing” at least an hour before daybreak.

“All hands on deck!” he shouted, after looking out of the cuddy-hatch.
“We’re goin’ to have as much wind as will be needed, an’ can’t afford to
be loafin’ ’round here while there’s many a school of fat mackerel
outside cryin’ for us to come an’ catch ’em.”

There was little need to urge Uncle Ben’s family on this morning, once
their eyes were open, for the idea of making a try at taking fish was so
exciting that it only needed they should be aroused to consciousness
before all hands were, as Tom said, “skippin’ ’round right lively.”

It was hardly more than daybreak when the “Sally” sailed out of the cove
with every flag flying, Uncle Ben at the helm, the two boys cooking
breakfast in the cabin, and little Joey and Mr. Rowe forward on the
lookout for mackerel.

It was well for the “family” that the cooks did not loiter over their
portion of the work, for in less than ten minutes after the last one had
eaten breakfast Mr. Rowe gave the welcome word that there was a big
school of fish in the path of gold cast by the rising sun, and when Tom
came on deck he could see what appeared to be a shadow, even amid the
rays of light.

“Yes, them’s mackerel, all right!” Uncle Ben said joyously in answer to
Tom’s question. “They swim so near the surface that their fins are
almost out of water. A big school it is, for a fact, an’ if we get our
fair share out of it I’m allowin’ we shan’t be away from the island many
hours, for at this season of the year fresh mackerel are worth a good
bit of money. We’ll be in a hurry to get ’em to market.”

Ten minutes later Mr. Rowe was throwing bait industriously as the
“Sally” came up into the wind, and the old lobster catcher cried
excitedly as he made ready his lines:

“Get your gigs out, lads, for this ’ere is a hungry school. Let the
hooks jest touch the water, an’ when you bring one in over the rail,
snap him off anywhere on deck, for this kind of fishin’ is what you
might call lively work, with no time for finnicky business.”

Even as he spoke Uncle Ben drew in a fish, and in a twinkling all hands
were pulling the flapping beauties over the rail at a rate that promised
the richest kind of a fare in a very short time.

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