THE “HOUSEWARMING”

Next morning Uncle Ben’s “family” were astir bright and early. To be
exact, the sun had not showed his face when Sammy announced that
breakfast was ready, and the meal had hardly been begun before the tramp
of many feet told that the good people of Southport were bent on making
a party call.

“I hope I ain’t ungrateful for all that has been done to our benefit,”
Uncle Ben said as he arose from the table to welcome his visitors; “but
I did kinder hope we’d be able to get away without any fuss an’
feathers. I’m really beginnin’ to be ashamed at hearin’ ’bout what I’ve
done, as if it was somethin’ outer the general run, an’ it’s growin’ to
look as if the scheme was gettin’ ahead of me.”

“You have done somethin’ outer the general run,” Mr. Rowe replied
emphatically. “I’d be glad to find another man what was willin’ to give
up all his hard-earned dollars to them as needed a home, an’ the scheme
never’ll get ahead of you while you’re the boss of the family.”

There was no further opportunity for private conversation, because at
this moment Mr. Mansfield and Deacon Stubbs came down the cuddy stairs
with boisterous greetings, insisting on shaking hands with every member
of the “family,” including little Joey.

“We got kinder ’fraid you might give us the slip, Benny, by gettin’
under way before sunrise, so the deacon an’ me hurried down without
waitin’ for breakfast,” Mr. Mansfield began, and on the instant Sam set
out clean plates as token that the visitors should partake of their
morning meal aboard the “Sally D.”

“What did you have on your mind, William, that made you so keen to see
us?” Uncle Ben asked with mild curiosity.

“It’s a plan that the women folks cooked up last night after you’d left
the vestry, an we wanted to make certain it was put through ’cordin’ to
their figgerin’. The idee is, Benny, that the Retreat must have
furniture, else it’ll be lonesome like when you begin livin’ in it, an’
there ain’t the least little bit of reason why the job shouldn’t be
finished up brown right away. Therefore an’ consekently, as the ’Squire
would say, we’re goin’ to work at the job, seein’s how business here at
the Port is uncommonly dull for this time of year.”

“What is it you count on doin’, William?” Uncle Ben asked, an expression
of disquietude coming over his face.

“Furnish the new house, of course,” Deacon Stubbs said quickly, as if
fearing he would not have an opportunity to do his full share of the
talking. “The women are bustlin’ ’round gettin’ things together, an’
Jim Nason is puttin’ the first load on his jigger this very minute. All
hands of us are goin’ over to Apple Island with you——”

“We men are goin’ to lend a hand at settin’ the stuff ashore, an’ while
the women folks are puttin’ the new house to rights, we’d like to go out
in the ’Sally’ for a little deep-sea fishin’. It won’t do any harm if
you can cure a good big fare of cod an’ haddock, an’ it’ll kinder be a
starter for your winter’s store of provisions.”

Mr. Mansfield ceased speaking at this moment because Sam and Tommy had
put before the guests a plentiful supply of food and coffee, and Uncle
Ben stood near the companionway as if bent on beating a retreat, until
Mr. Rowe asked in a whisper:

“What seems to be the trouble? You ain’t lookin’ well.”

“There’s nothin’ the matter with me, Reuben, except that it looks as if
we was gettin’ in the way of idlin’ too much. We can’t afford to let up
on lobster catchin’, an’ yet how can we ’tend to it if we go out
deep-sea fishin’ when there’s a big lot of work to be done on the
island? It strikes me that we’re usin’ the ’Sally’ more as a toy than a
craft that must be made to support the family.”

“Don’t fret yourself ’bout that, Benny,” Mr. Mansfield cried with a
laugh, for Uncle Ben had inadvertently spoken sufficiently loud for him
to hear the last portion of the remark. “I’m allowin’ that you can
afford to spend a little while havin’ a good time, seein’s how, ’cordin’
to all I know, you haven’t had a day’s pleasurin’ in thirty years—I
ain’t countin’ yesterday.”

The old lobster catcher could not well refuse to join in the plans which
had been made by the people of Southport, more particularly since they
had been arranged with a view to the benefit of himself and the
“family,” and by the time Mr. Mansfield and Deacon Stubbs had come to
the end of an exceedingly hearty breakfast Uncle Ben was on deck helping
to take aboard the first load of furniture.

The three boys were in high spirits at the prospect of deep-sea fishing,
as well as not a little pleased at the idea of having the new house
entirely furnished, and a jolly time they had while aiding in taking on
board the cargo.

“Things are goin’ to be mighty fine over on Apple Island,” Tommy said,
as he stood gazing in open-mouthed admiration at a well-worn bureau on
which was painted in gaudy colors certain objects intended to represent
flowers. “Mother Sharkey used to think she had a terrible swell place,
but there wasn’t anythin’ in her house that could hold a candle to
this!”

“Did you see the chairs that Mr. Mansfield sent inter the hold?” little
Joey screamed. “Every one of ’em shined as if it had jest come outer the
shop! Of course, we won’t get a chance to sit on ’em; but they’ll be
mighty good to look at!”

“I’ll bet we can do more’n look!” Tommy cried emphatically. “These
things are all for the new house, an’ it don’t stand to reason we’d have
to sit on the floor jest ’cause they was too fine!”

The boys found something to admire in every piece of furniture which was
put aboard; but when baskets filled with dishes and cooking utensils
were sent over the rail, Sam could not control his surprise and delight.

“We’re goin’ to be fixed up like reg’lar swells! Jest think how the
table will look when we have real crockery dishes on it! Talk ’bout
cookin’! If a feller can’t spread hisself with all them things to use,
he oughter bag his head!”

The “Sally D.’s” cargo was not on board until nearly noon, when no less
than twenty women and men came over the rail to be taken to the island,
and a merry crew they made. Little Joey had never been petted to such
an extent in all his short life, while Sam and Tom received quite as
much attention as if they had been freaks straight from a dime museum,
instead of very ordinary boys.

Not until nearly nightfall did the schooner come to anchor in the cove
opposite “Uncle Ben’s Retreat,” and then was begun the more arduous
labor of sending the house furnishings ashore, for it was necessary to
load everything into the dories, and, afterward, carry it up to the new
house.

While this was being done Sam and Tommy hauled the traps, and when this
was finished, at a late hour in the night, the men of Southport were yet
engaged in the work of unloading the “Sally.”

“You lads are to turn in right away, an’ try to get some sleep,” Uncle
Ben said when the boys had come aboard tired with the heavy work of
attending to the traps. “Deacon Stubbs allows that we oughter get under
way for fishin’ bright an’ early in the mornin’, an you’ll have to look
after the breakfast. We’re likely to be out a couple of days, an’ the
lobster catchin’ must be neglected all that time.”

It was not very much of a task for the boys to journey over into
Dreamland once they were in the bunks, and it really seemed as if they
had but just closed their eyes in slumber when Mr. Rowe aroused them
with the announcement that it was time to “get breakfast under way.”

The women of Southport slept in the new house on this first night, and
there were no tokens that any of them had awakened when the schooner,
with her very large crew, left the cove within five minutes after Sam
and Tom had been awakened that they might begin the work of cooking.

Little Joey, to his great delight, had been allowed to make one of the
“Sally D.’s” crew on this occasion, but neither he nor the other boys
saw very much of the fishing. The table in the cabin was so small that
no more than six could sit around it at one time, therefore the meals
were served “in sections,” as Mr. Rowe said, and since Joey played the
part of waiter, he and the cooks were kept busy very nearly all the
time.




“Don’t fret ’cause you can’t have a line in your hand,” Mr. Rowe said
when he came below for a mug of coffee after the “Sally” had arrived at
the fishing grounds. “You’ll see enough of that kind of work ’twixt now
an’ next spring, an’ with sich a gang aboard there’s neither comfort nor
pleasure to be had.”

“Have they caught any fish yet?” Joey asked.

“Bless your heart, lad, they’ve been at it this half hour, an’ if it’s
kept up at the same rate, we’re likely to have by night all that can be
cared for.”

In this Mr. Rowe was right. Before sunset the men of Southport were
weary with the sport, and Uncle Ben declared that it would not be
possible for his family to cure any more at one time. Therefore it was
that the “Sally’s” bow was turned toward Apple Island when the shadows
of evening began to gather, and there were no signs of the coming day
when she glided into Apple Island cove as silently as a ghost.

The next forenoon was spent in dressing the fish ready for curing; but
Sam and Tom were not called upon to do their share of the disagreeable
work, owing to the fact that they were sent out immediately after
breakfast to haul the traps, and when this labor had been performed the
ceremony of warming the new house was begun.

“Go in an’ see what she looks like, with the swellest kind of fixin’s in
every room,” Mr. Rowe said, when the boys pulled in from the lobster car
to the beach. “You wanter go inter every room so’s to get a sweep of
the whole layout, an’ I’m allowin’ you never saw anythin’ like it.”

“Will they let us go in?” Joey asked doubtfully.

“Let you? Why, ain’t it your home, same as it’s mine? Did you allow
that we was to camp on the shore, an’ keep the house only to look at?
Of course you can go in, an’ when you come to the room jest over the
kitchen that’s been fixed up for our two cooks, I reckon you’ll puff up
the size of four ordinary boys.”

“A whole room for only us two?” Sam cried incredulously.

“That’s what, an’ it ain’t any almshouse room either! There’s a reg’lar
bed with all the fixin’s, an’ what do you say to a whole lookin’-glass?”

The boys could wait to hear no more, but ran at full speed until they
came to that same room, where they stood in speechless astonishment a
full minute, after which Tom cried:

“Talk about it! It’s the finest ever! An’ to think that we wouldn’t
had it but for Uncle Ben! Say, Sam, we’re a couple of lucky chaps, eh?
Who’d ever thought I’d come to this?”

Not until little Joey came and literally dragged them away did the boys
cease to admire the apartment intended for the use of the cooks, and
then, under the guidance of the “baby,” they explored the entire house,
finding something in every room to excite wonder and admiration, until
having come to the kitchen with its apparent wealth of cooking utensils,
when Sam spoke for the first time since entering the building.

“Mr. Rowe said the Southport folks only counted on givin’ us what they
had on hand an’ couldn’t use any longer! If this stuff wasn’t good
enough for ’em, they oughter tried to get along with Cap’en Doak’s
layout for a couple of days! What does Uncle Ben say about it?”

“He’s been right there in the sittin’-room this ever so long, actin’ as
if he didn’t know what to say,” little Joey replied. “It seems almost
as if he was sorry because it’s so fine.”

“I reckon he’s feelin’ kinder bad ’cause there ain’t more boys here, now
we’ve got such a swell home for ’em,” Sammy said thoughtfully, and then
he went down-stairs to put his face close to Uncle Ben’s as he
whispered, “I’m goin’ to try mighty hard so’s to let you see how glad I
am you took me in.”

“Bless your heart, sonny, there ain’t a boy livin’ who could do more to
show that same than you’ve done ever since we two come together. It
stands all of us in hand to show our gratitude, an’ if you can find the
rest of the family, I’d like for ’em to go off somewhere with me to
thank the good Lord for His wondrous mercy an’ lovin’ kindness.”

* * * * * *

About the housewarming? The people of Southport did that in their own
way, making exceeding merry over it; but I’m of the belief that Uncle
Ben and his family really “warmed” it when they went into one of the
attic rooms and pledged their lives to the work of caring for those
homeless lads whom they might meet.

Did the family increase in size? Perhaps some day it will be possible
to tell of its famous growth; but just now you who are interested in it
must be content to know that Uncle Ben has thirty-eight boys in the
“Retreat,” and Sam and Tommy are acting as cooks for all those hungry
mouths, while Mr. Rowe still claims to be the commander of the “Sally
D.”

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