THE FAMILY HOME

The men of Southport, who had awakened to the knowledge that Uncle Ben’s
scheme of giving a home to boys who needed and were willing to work for
one, had come to Apple Island intending to do all they could toward
building such a house as would provide for the needs of the future, but
at the same time they counted on mixing a good deal of pleasure with
their labor.

They behaved more like lads out for a holiday than staid, respectable
citizens of a “slow” town. It seemed to have been agreed that the
“family” should not be allowed to do any more work than was absolutely
necessary, for when Uncle Ben and the boys made ready to carry the
visitors ashore in the dories Mr. Mansfield said in a tone of command:

“All you who live here on the island are to keep your fingers out of
this job, except when it can be proven that you are really achin’ to
work. We’ll get this truck ashore, set up the tent, an’ put our dunnage
inter it. I reckon that’ll be enough for one day. In the mornin’ we’ll
begin buildin’, an’ the family are to keep on with the reg’lar business
same’s if we wasn’t here.”

“But we can set you ashore, William,” Uncle Ben said pleadingly.

“You’ll do nothin’ of the kind, Benny. If there ain’t anythin’ better
to be done go up on the cliffs an’ watch us put things to rights.”

“Then I allow now’s the time when we’d better get about the
clam-diggin’, an’ we’ll need a pile of ’em if we’re to feed sich a
crowd,” Uncle Ben said with what was very like a sigh because his
visitors were bent on working instead of pleasuring.

“They’ll be doin’ mighty well to eat up all the stuff that was put
aboard at the Port,” Sam suggested, hoping that it might not be thought
necessary to provide so very much in the way of provisions, for
clam-digging was not to his liking.

“I allow they’ve got stores enough,” Uncle Ben replied placidly; “but
out here they’ll be lookin’ for clams an’ lobsters, to say nothin’ of
fried cunners, an’ we must see to it that they ain’t disappointed.”

Now, as any one who has tried it knows full well, there is nothing like
sport in the task of digging clams, and to Sam it was the most
disagreeable work that could be performed; but he set about it with a
thoroughly good imitation of cheerfulness, because it was Uncle Ben who
had given the word of command, and he was eager to show his gratitude
for what the old man had done in his behalf. When the clam-diggers
returned to the cove, their baskets filled to overflowing, the tent had
been set up, the goods brought from the Port stowed away in it, and the
volunteer carpenters were exploring the island, shouting and laughing
like a party of schoolboys out on a holiday.

“It seems jest like a circus,” Tommy said in a whisper to Sam, while
little Joey begged that he might go nearer the tent to see it more
plainly. “Say, wouldn’t you like to get inside?”

“Yes, but perhaps they wouldn’t like to have us snoopin’ ’round. I
reckon we’d better stay aboard the ’Sally’ when there isn’t any work to
be done ashore, an’ besides, you an’ I won’t have time to fool very much
if we’ve got to cook for this whole crowd.”

“Hello, Uncle Ben!” Mr. Mansfield shouted from a distance. “Send your
cooks up to the tent an’ let ’em overhaul our stores to get what’s
needed for supper! I reckon it would be easier for all hands if you
brought the cookstove from the ’Sally,’ an’ did the cookin’ under
canvas, eh?”

Much to the delight of the cooks, and particularly to little Joey, it
was finally decided that this should be done, and during that afternoon
Sam and Tommy stood over the stove making clam chowder, and frying
cunners as fast as Mr. Rowe could catch them, until it really seemed as
if they had prepared food enough to provide every man, woman and child
in Southport with at least one hearty meal.

The “Sally” was almost forgotten by the boys in the novelty of the tent;
but before another day had passed they were decidedly of the opinion
that it was much more easy to perform the duties of cooks in the snug
cabin of the schooner, than on shore under canvas.

Next morning the visitors set about their task in earnest, and not only
Uncle Ben, but all his family, were astonished to learn that it was the
intention of the volunteer carpenters to build a large house, in which
should be not less than eight bedrooms in addition to kitchen and
sitting-room.

“I’m allowin’ that your family is bound to grow mighty fast, as soon as
folks get the idee of what you’re about, an’ so long as we’re goin’ to
put up a new house, it’s no more’n common sense to make it big enough to
take care of as many as you may adopt,” Mr. Mansfield said in reply to
Uncle Ben’s remonstrance against the erection of what he called a
“reg’lar hotel.”

“But I shan’t have anythin’ to put inter the rooms,” the old lobster
catcher added almost mournfully.

“I’m allowin’ the women folks will look after that part of it, Uncle
Ben,” Mr. Mansfield replied. “Now there’s mother, she told me to put up
sich a house as would shelter all the homeless youngsters you might pick
up for the rest of your life, an’ she allowed that the Southport Sewin’
Circle had agreed to see you had furniture enough to make it look
comfortable. We’re goin’ to put a cellar under the whole buildin’, for
we’ve got rocks in plenty for the wall. Then you must have a wood-shed
that’ll hold fuel for six months of fires, an’ them cooks are to be put
inter quarters that’ll make their eyes stick out. Sammy Cushing is
quite a hand at mixin’ up somethin’ good to eat, an’ I’m kinder anxious
to see what sort of a fist he can make of it with everythin’ convenient
to hand.”

It was useless for Uncle Ben to protest. The citizens of Southport had
decided what was needed, and accompanied their decision with lumber
sufficient to carry it into execution. Mr. Mansfield and Deacon Stubbs
had even gone so far as to make rough plans for the new house, and the
others were determined these should be adhered to so far as might be
possible.

Therefore it was that the visitors worked as had been agreed upon; Tom
and Sam were kept busy from morning until night cooking food, and little
Joey found it quite as much as he could do to carry to the tent the wood
chopped by Mr. Rowe. Uncle Ben hauled the pots and acted as ship-keeper
for the “Sally,” lying at anchor in the cove, when, as Reuben said, “she
oughter be out chasin’ mackerel.” Every person on the island was busy
during all the hours of daylight, save on the Sabbath, from the day the
work was begun on the family home until it was so nearly completed that
all the meals were served in what Mr. Mansfield had called the
sitting-room.

“Talk ’bout swell houses!” Tom said one evening when he and Sam were
privately inspecting the building. “It’s goin’ to knock the spots outer
everythin’ ’round here, an’ yet I’m thinkin’ Uncle Ben had rather have
the old shanty back.”

“’Course he had, ’cause he built that himself; but jest wait till he
gets the hang of livin’ in a place like this, an’ then he’ll be
contented as a kitten.”

The kitchen was roomy and pleasant, as Mr. Mansfield had promised, and
it really seemed to Sam and Tommy that their labors as cooks were
lightened fully one-half by the many conveniences, chief of which was a
plan of Deacon Stubbs’ for bringing water by pipes direct from the
spring into the house.

“It’s the biggest thing anywhere ’round these parts,” Tommy said in a
tone of approbation on a certain evening when the people from Southport
had retired to the tent, and the “family” were alone in the new kitchen.

“You could get a big crowd of boys in here, by stowin’ ’em snug.”

“That’s jest it, Tommy, that’s jest it,” Uncle Ben replied, and his tone
was so mournful that the others looked at him in surprise.

“You see I kinder allowed that we’d go slow in pickin’ up the family,
so’s to make certain of gettin’ boys that were most in need of a home;
but now we’ve got sich a big house, it stands us in hand to fill it up
as soon as the work can be done. I’ve been thinkin’ that I oughter hunt
’round right away to find enough for the rooms—that is, when we’ve got
somethin’ in the way of furniture to put in ’em.”

“Better go slow an’ sure,” Mr. Rowe said in a tone of caution. “One or
two lads who didn’t care whether they stuck by the rules an’
regerlations would knock the whole scheme inter a cocked hat.”

“That’s it, Reuben, that’s jest it, an’ yet what’er we goin’ to do with
this big ark of a house?”

“Leave her jest where she is, Uncle Ben,” Mr. Rowe replied sagely. “In
the first place, even if every room was filled chock-a-block with beds
an’ chairs you couldn’t take care of a raft of boys yet a while. We’ve
got to get settled down inter runnin’ shape first. The ’Sally’ must
earn for us what’ll buy provisions for the winter, else the family would
go hungry durin’ cold weather. I’d say that if we got to goin’ by next
spring it would be the most any crew could do. Then we’ll shove the
schooner inter some big port, like Boston or New York, an’ I’ll
guarantee you can take your pick of lads.”

Uncle Ben was forced to admit that there was a deal of sound common
sense in Mr. Rowe’s remarks, and he said in his usual placid manner, as
he led the “family” to bed on board the “Sally,” after the evening
devotions:

“I reckon we’ll let it go your way, Reuben, an’ trust to its bein’ the
proper thing.”

“Proper! It ain’t anythin’ else, unless you’re willin’ to take the
chances of breakin’ the whole thing up. We’ll be gettin’ ready from now
till spring, an’ then we’ll fill that ’ere house as full of boys as a
pod is full of peas.”




Then came the day when the men from Southport declared that their work
was done. The big tent was taken down and stowed aboard the “Sally.”
Such of the provisions as had not been consumed—and there was a large
amount, so generously had Mr. Mansfield outfitted the party—was carried
into the cellar of the new house and all was in readiness for the return
trip to Southport.

“I’m allowin’ that we’ve done the best we knowed how,” Deacon Stubbs
said, as he halted on the beach, preventing any from getting into the
waiting dories, “an’ all that’s left for us men to do is give a name to
what we’ve built. I move, fellow citizens, that we call this ’ere
structure ’Uncle Ben’s Retreat.’”

“Second the motion!” Mr. Mansfield cried at the full strength of his
lungs, and by way of showing that the motion had been carried, the
visitors gave three such hearty cheers that, as Mr. Rowe said, “the
lobsters in the cars must have got quite a surprise.”

Uncle Ben seemed to think it necessary some one should be left to guard
the new dwelling, but Mr. Mansfield declared that the whole family must
go with them to Southport, for the ladies of the Sewing Circle had
already insisted that they must be present when a plan, for the
“housewarming” was decided upon.

“Now that we’ve got rid of Eliakim Doak, there ain’t a man on this ’ere
coast mean enough to harm so much as a shingle on the roof,” the
shopkeeper said emphatically, “an’ mother has set her heart on havin’
all hands of you down to the church vestry this evenin’.”

Then Apple Island was temporarily abandoned, and within ten minutes
after the “Sally D.” sailed into Southport harbor Uncle Ben and his
family were being escorted by nearly the entire population, as it then
seemed, to the vestry, where a dinner was being made ready for those who
had just arrived.

Not until evening were the details of the “housewarming” decided upon;
but before that time came Tommy admitted to Sam and little Joey that he
was almost sorry the good people of Southport had come to understand
that Uncle Ben’s work was the broadest kind of a charity and should be
encouraged.

“I’ve been tryin’ to get outside a little of what everybody offered me,
till it seems as if I couldn’t even wiggle,” Tom said mournfully.
“Before I struck Uncle Ben it seemed as if it would be the biggest kind
of a thing if I could have enough to eat one day; but I’m beginnin’ to
feel as if it didn’t pay to be too much of a pig.”

Tom did not suffer to such an extent, however, that he failed of doing
his full duty toward the cake and ice cream which were served in the
vestry during the evening; but Reuben Rowe noted the fact that he was
ready and even eager to go when Uncle Ben announced that it was time
those belonging on Apple Island should be aboard the “Sally D.” for the
night.

“It beats all how folks have changed in this ’ere town since the day I
shipped with Eliakim Doak,” Mr. Rowe said in a thoughtful tone when the
“family” were reviewing the events of the day before getting into the
schooner’s bunks. “I’m allowin’, Uncle Ben, that you owe a good deal of
this ’ere friendly feelin’ to Cap’en Doak, for if he hadn’t tried to do
all the harm he could, the people wouldn’t have waked up to the idee
that your scheme was the best ever.”

“We owe it all to the good Lord, Reuben. He ’moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform,’ an’ that’s the right kind of a line to keep in
mind, lads, when you’re feelin’ down to the heel because things don’t go
exactly as you’d have ’em. I figgered an’ figgered, tryin’ to think up
a plan for startin’ a family, without seein’ my way clear, when lo an’
behold, the whole plan is pushed ahead in a far bigger way than I
counted on, without my raisin’ a hand, so to speak.”

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