DARRY THE LIFE SAVER Or The Heroes of the Coast
By FRANK V. WEBSTER
Author of "Only a Farm Boy," "Bob the Castaway," "The Boys of Bellewood School," etc.
New York Cupples & Leon Company Publishers
BOOKS FOR BOYS
By FRANK V. WEBSTER
12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Price per volume, 40 cents, postpaid
ONLY A FARM BOY TOM, THE TELEPHONE BOY THE BOY FROM THE RANCH THE YOUNG TREASURE HUNTER BOB, THE CASTAWAY THE YOUNG FIREMEN OF LAKEVILLE THE NEWSBOY PARTNERS THE BOY PILOT OF THE LAKES TWO BOY GOLD MINERS JACK, THE RUNAWAY COMRADES OF THE SADDLE THE BOYS OF BELLWOOD SCHOOL THE HIGH SCHOOL RIVALS AIRSHIP ANDY BOB CHESTER'S GRIT BEN HARDY'S FLYING MACHINE DICK, THE BANK BOY DARRY, THE LIFE SAVER
Copyright, 1911, by CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
DARRY, THE LIFE SAVER
I. The Hurricane 1 II. Saved by the Life Chain 10 III. Abner Peake's Offer 19 IV. The Cabin by the Sea 29 V. An Encounter on the Road 39 VI. Winning His Way 46 VII. The Midnight Alarm 55 VIII. Across the Bay 63 IX. The Signal Rocket 71 X. Jim the Bully 78 XI. A Glorious Prospect 86 XII. The Stolen Traps 94 XIII. Joe's Shotgun Secures a Supper 102 XIV. The Lonely Vigil of the Coast Patrol 110 XV. The Power of Music 117 XVI. Darry Meets with a Rebuff 124 XVII. Abner Tells a Little History 132 XVIII. The Imprisoned Launch 139 XIX. The Part of an Elder Brother 146 XX. Bad Luck and Good 154 XXI. Satisfying the Mortgage 162 XXII. Abner Hears the News 171 XXIII. Darry in the Lifeboat 179 XXIV. The Awakening 191 XXV. Conclusion 202
DARRY, THE LIFE SAVER
"Will we ever weather this terrible storm?"
It was a half-grown lad who flung this despairing question out; the wind carried the sound of his voice off over the billows; but there came no answer.
A brigantine, battered by the tropical hurricane sweeping up from the Caribbean Sea, was staggering along like a wounded beast. Her masts had long since gone by the board, and upon the stump of the mizzen-stick a bit of canvas like a goose-wing had been spread in the useless endeavor to maintain steerageway.
All around, the sea rose and fell in mountainous waves, on which the poor wreck tossed about, as helpless as a cork.
Though the lad, lashed to some of the rigging that still clung to the temporary jury mast, strained his eyes to the utmost, he could see nothing but the waste of waves, the uplifting tops of which curled over, and were snatched away in flying spud by the furious wind.
Darry was the cabin boy of the Falcon, having sailed with Captain Harley now for several years. The old navigator had run across him in a foreign port, and under most peculiar conditions.
Hearing a boyish voice that somehow struck his fancy, raised in angry protest, followed by the crack of a whip, and much loud laughing, the skipper of the brigantine had pushed into a cafe in Naples.
Here he discovered a small, but sturdy lad, who had apparently been playing a violin for coppers, refusing to dance for a big brute of a sailor, an Italian, who had seized upon his beloved instrument.
When the boy had made an effort to recover the violin the bully deliberately smashed it on the back of a chair.
Then, laughing at the poor little chap's expressions of grief as he gathered up the pieces tenderly in his arms, the brutal sailor had seized upon a carter's whip, and cracking it loudly, declared that he would lay it over the boy's shoulders unless he mounted a table and danced to his whistling.
It was then that the big mariner strode in and stood between the lad and his cowardly persecutors.
When good-hearted Captain Harley heard the boy's pitiful story, and that he was a waif, having been abandoned some years before by an old man with whom he seemed to have been traveling, he offered to befriend him, and give him a chance to see something of the world as cabin boy on the good old brigantine, Falcon.
This offer the little chap had eagerly accepted, for he believed he must be of American birth, and somehow longed to set foot on that land far across the sea.
Some years had passed.
Darry knew no other home save the friendly cabin of the brigantine, and since he had no knowledge as to what his name might be, by degrees he came to assume that of his benefactor.
During these years the boy had seen much of the world, and learned many things under the guidance of the warm-hearted captain.
Of course he spent many bitter hours in vain regrets over the fact that there was so little chance of his ever learning his identity—only a slender link seemed to connect him with that mysterious past that was hidden from his sight; and this was a curious little scar upon his right arm just below the elbow.
It looked like a crescent moon, and had been there ever since he could remember.
This fact caused Darry to believe it might be the result of some accident that must have occurred while he was yet a baby.
If such were the case then some people, somewhere, would be apt to recognize this peculiar mark if they ever saw it again.
Captain Harley had always encouraged him in the belief that some happy day he would surely know the truth.
Just now, however, it really looked as though Darry need no longer allow himself to feel any anxiety on that score.
The ocean depths would offer just as easy a resting place to a nameless waif as to a crowned monarch.
When the great waves broke over the drifting vessel the rush of water must have swept him away, only that he had been wise enough to lash himself to the stump of the mizzen-mast.
During a little lull in the tempest someone joined him, also using the whipping rope-ends to secure his hold.
Darry saw by the aid of the darting lightning that it was his good friend, the captain; and with his thoughts still taken up with the peril of his situation he repeated the question that only the mocking winds had heard before:
"Will we ever weather this storm, captain?"
"I fear not, my lad," replied the master of the ship, sadly, "the poor old hulk is now only a plaything for the elements. It looks as though the Falcon had reached the end of her voyaging at last. Twenty years have I commanded her. I have a feeling that if so be she goes down I will not survive her."
The roar of the gale was such that it became necessary to shout at times, in order to make one's self heard above the elements.
"Are we near the coast?" asked the boy, anxiously; for he knew that such a thing must double their danger.
"I am afraid it is only too true, though the storm has been so prolonged that I have long ago lost my reckoning," replied the mariner.
"But you told me these coasts are patrolled by brave life savers, who always stand ready to risk everything in case a vessel is driven on the reefs?" continued the boy, trying to see a gleam of hope through the gloom.
"That is true, but alas! I am afraid even the bravest of men would find themselves helpless in such a terrific blow as this."
"But, captain, surely you have not given up all hope?" anxiously demanded Darry, trying to face the terrible prospect with a brave heart.
"I never do that, lad. But one of us may not live to reach the shore; and since it is so, I wanted to have a few last words with you, and then I must return to my duty, which is to try and steer this drifting hulk until the end comes."
He reached out his hand.
The boy eagerly clutched it, and there, as the lightning flashed, he looked into the kind face of his benefactor.
Something seemed to tell him that it was the last time he would ever feel the pressure of that friendly hand, and this thought alarmed him as the storm had thus far been unable to do.
"Listen, and take heed, my lad," said the skipper, earnestly, "it may be that Providence will shield you through this time of trouble, and that you shall reach the shore in safety after all. Should ill befall me I want you to write my old mother up in York State—you know where she lives. I have made all preparations, so that she will be provided for, and my sister also. Do you understand me?"
"Oh! yes, sir! But I hope we may both pull through!" cried the boy, earnestly.
"So do I, for life is sweet; but it may not be. Now, lad, about yourself, and I am done. Remember all that I have taught you. Then you will grow up to be a true man. And continue to search for some evidence of your people. That mark on your arm may be of great value to you some day. Hark! I fancied I caught the sound of the breakers just then! It is possible that the time has come for us to part. Good bye, my boy, and God bless you whatever betide!"
Another fierce pressure of the hand, and Captain Harley was gone.
Standing there, filled with horror and dismay, Darry caught a last glimpse of his guardian staggering across the wet deck, and then the gloom forever hid him from view.
The days would come, and the days would go, but always must he remember that the last thought of the noble captain was for him.
He strained his hearing to ascertain whether the captain's fears were well founded, and it was not long before he too could catch the awful pounding of the seas upon the half-submerged reefs.
The helpless brigantine was drifting slowly, but surely to her fate; for there was hardly a place along the whole American coast more dangerous than this, which had in times past proved a graveyard for many noble ships.
Among the tangled rigging was a broken spar, and to this Darry lashed himself, in the faint hope that if it were swept ashore he might still cling to life.
He awaited the impending crash with his heart cold within his breast; for after all he was but a lad, and the strongest men might have viewed the catastrophe with a sickening sense of dread.
Then came a fearful shock, as the brigantine was smashed down upon the jaws of the reef by a mighty force.
After that the seas had her for a plaything, rushing completely over her as if in derision.
Three times the boy was almost drowned by the flood that poured across that slanting deck, and he knew that if he remained there longer his time had surely come. It would be better to cut loose from the mast, and trust his fortunes upon the breast of the next giant wave that, if it were kind, would carry him well over the rocks, and head him for the distant beach.
It was in sheer desperation that he seized upon his sailor's knife and severed the ropes that thus far had held so securely.
Then he awaited the coming of the next comber with set teeth, and held his breath.
A few seconds and it was upon him.
This time the spar, as well as the clinging lad, went sweeping over the side of the vessel, and carried safely above the reef, started in toward the beach on a roller that seemed gigantic.
The spray was in his eyes, so that he could hardly see at all, but at that moment Darry thought he glimpsed a light somewhere ahead; and what the captain had told him about the gallant life savers flashed into his mind.
Somehow, it seemed to give the despairing boy renewed hope.
Perhaps these brave men were watching for the coming of just such flotsam from the wreck, which they must have sighted when the lightning flashed; and would find some means for plucking him out of the raging sea.
SAVED BY THE LIFE CHAIN
The line of reefs stood as a barrier to the sea, and after the waves came in contact with the rocks they continued on their course with less violence than before.
Still, it was terrible enough to any one exposed to their fury.
Hope soars high in the breast of youth, however, and life is sweet, so that our hero continued to struggle against the forces to which he found himself exposed.
Again had his eyes caught a glimpse of a burning light on the shore, and somehow it gave him renewed courage to hold on, for he seemed to understand that determined hearts were waiting there, eager to give him a helping hand.
Then some object sped past him, and he caught the sight of flashing oars.
It was the lifeboat!
In spite of the great danger involved in the undertaking, the coast guards had succeeded in launching their boat, and were even now heading toward the wreck on the reef; though the chances of finding a single living soul aboard seemed small indeed, for the billows were breaking completely over her, and she must soon go to pieces.
Darry tried to call out, but his mouth filled with salty water, and in despair he saw the boat pass him by.
Even the lightning failed to illumine the scene just then, or some eager eye might have detected the floating spar and its human burden.
No hope remained save that he might be tossed up on the beach somewhere near the friendly fire that was burning as a beacon.
Once he fancied he heard men shouting during a lull in the roar of the elements; but the coming of another smothering billow shut out the friendly sounds.
Closer he was flung, until he could again hear the shouts of men, but the baffling seas kept playing with him, sending him up on the breaking wave only to once more snatch him back, until the poor boy almost despaired of living through the dreadful ordeal.
He tried his best to raise his voice, but the cry he gave utterance to was so feeble that even if heard it must have been taken for the note of some storm bird attracted by the light of the beacon fire.
Just when he was giving way to despair, he saw the figures of men running along the beach close to the edge of the waves, and new hope awoke in his breast that his predicament had been seen.
Now they were pushing into the sea, holding one another's hands, and forming a living chain, with a sturdy fellow at the end to snatch the victim of the wreck out of the jaws of death.
The precious sight was at that instant shut out, for again there came a deluge of water from behind, overwhelming the boy on the floating spar.
Darry felt something take hold upon him, which, in his excited condition, he at first believed to be a shark; but, on the contrary, it proved to be the fingers of the man at the outer end of the line.
Once they closed upon the person of the shipwrecked cabin boy they could not be easily induced to let go, and amid shouts of triumph, spar and lad were speedily dragged up on the beach beyond reach of the hungry waves.
He was dimly conscious of being released from his friendly float, and tenderly carried a short distance to the shelter of a house.
It was the life-saving station to which the boy had been taken by his rescuers.
Here he was wrapped in blankets, and placed close to a warm fire in order to restore his benumbed faculties; while some hot liquid being forced between his pallid lips served to give new strength to his body.
In less than ten minutes he opened his eyes and looked around.
Kind faces, even though rough and bearded, surrounded him, and he knew that for once he had cheated the sea of a victim.
As strength came back he began to take an interest in what was passing around him, especially when he saw several men carried in, whom he recognized as some of the sailors of the ill-fated brigantine.
Eagerly he watched and prayed that his good friend the captain might be one of those who had been snatched from a watery grave; but as time passed this hope gradually became fainter.
The lifeboat had managed to return from the wreck, to report that not a living soul remained aboard; and that the seas were so tremendous that even had it been otherwise there would have been small chance of saving them, since it was next to impossible to approach close to the vessel.
How the boy, lying there, looked with almost reverence upon those stalwart fellows who were risking their lives in the effort to save their fellow men.
Darry would never forget that hour.
The impressions he received then would remain with him through life; and in his eyes the calling of a life saver must always be reckoned the noblest vocation to which a young man could pledge himself.
He thought he would like nothing better than to become one of the band, and in some way repay the great debt he owed them by doing as he had been done by.
Presently he had so far recovered that he could get up and move around.
All of the sailors had not been equally fortunate; indeed, two of them would never again scour the seas, having taken out papers for that long voyage the end of which no mortal eye can see.
As each new arrival was carried in the boy would be the first to hasten forward, but as often his sigh echoed the heavy feeling in his heart as he discovered a face other than the familiar one he had grown to love.
One of the surfmen who had manned the lifeboat seemed to be particularly interested in the rescued boy, for he came into the station several times to ask how he was feeling, and if there was not something more he wanted.
He was a tall, angular fellow, with a thin but engaging face, and Darry had heard some of the others call him Abner Peake.
Somehow he found himself drawn toward this man from the start; and it seemed as though in losing one good friend he had found another to take the place of the kind captain.
Abner was a native of the shore, and spoke in the peculiar dialect of the uneducated Southerner; but as a water-dog he knew no superior, and it is this quality that Uncle Sam looks for when making up his crews to man the life-saving stations that dot the whole coast from Maine to Florida.
There was a twang about his voice that reminded Darry of a negro he had once had for a shipmate on the brigantine; but at the same time his tone was soft, and inspired confidence.
"Better hev a leetle more coffee, bub?" he said, coming upon Darry as the latter turned away white-faced from the last body carried in by the rough men.
"Perhaps it would do me good; I still feel mighty weak; but I'm glad to be here instead of out there," replied Darry, pointing to where the white-capped waves were rushing in long lines toward the beach.
"Course yuh be, bub. And we-uns air glad tuh get a chanct tuh pull yuh outen the water. My old woman'd like tuh set eyes on yuh. Jest the age our Joe would a-ben if he'd pulled through," and the rough surfman swept his sleeve across his eyes as he spoke.
The secret of his interest in Darry was out; he had lost a boy of his own, and his heart was very tender still, so that the sight of this poor shipwrecked lad brought back his own sorrow keenly.
"You haven't seen anything of the captain, I suppose?" anxiously asked Darry, wondering if it could possibly be that he had missed sight of his friend at the time he was lying there unconscious.
Abner Peake shook his head in the negative.
He saw the boy was very eager to learn of the mariner's fate, and well he knew that with each passing minute the chances of the other surviving the pounding of the seas became less and less.
It was now not far from dawn.
The hurricane still blew with its old violence, and there was scant hope of its passing for another twelve hours at least.
All that time those devoted men must be on the watch, ready to man their surfboat again and take their lives in hand, should another vessel strike the dangerous reefs that were marked upon the chart as the worst within a hundred miles of Hatteras.
Sick at heart over the loss of his wise friend and benefactor, Darry found the interior of the station almost unbearable just then.
He felt as though he must get outside where the elements rioted, and watch the incoming waves for some sign of the captain.
But this new-found friend declared that it could do no good, since the beach was already patrolled by those whose keen eyes would discover the faintest trace of a brave swimmer trying to buffet the cruel waves; he must remain under cover, so as to escape the possible evil results of his late experience.
And so Darry had to once more lie down and let the other cover him with a blanket, a pillow having been placed under his head.
He was utterly exhausted, and it had only been hope and excitement that had buoyed him up until now.
As he lay there watching the various things that were being done for the relief of the poor fellows snatched from a watery grave he found his eyes growing heavy, and occasionally closing in spite of his efforts to remain awake.
Once he sat up as some men came in bearing another sailor who, alas, had apparently been dragged out of the sea too late to save the spark of life; but, upon learning that it was not the one in whose fate he was so keenly interested, Darry had fallen back again upon his hard pillow.
Soon after things faded from his sight, and he slept the sleep of weariness, for every muscle in his body was as sore as though it had been pounded with a club.
It was hours before he awoke.
At first he could not understand just where he was or how he came in such unfamiliar surroundings; but seeing the kindly face of Abner Peake bending over, he asked a mute question that the other answered with a shake of his head.
The captain's body had not as yet come ashore.
ABNER PEAKE'S OFFER
Days passed. Darry had entirely given up hope of ever hearing from the captain, whose body must have been carried out to sea again, as were several of the crew.
After the shock became less severe, our hero began to take a new interest in the scene around him, and particularly in connection with the life-saving station where his new friend Abner was quartered.
The keeper was a grizzled surfman named Frazer, and a man possessed of some education; he did not awaken the same feelings in the boy as Abner Peake, but at the same time he was evidently inclined to be friendly in his own gruff way.
On the third day after the rescue he called Darry to him as he sat mending a net with which the crew of the station secured enough fish to serve them for an occasional meal.
"Sit down, lad. I want to talk with you a bit," he said.
Darry dropped on a block close by.
He was still filled with the deepest admiration for these men of the coast, and his determination to follow their arduous calling when he grew big enough to take an oar in the surfboat was undiminished.
"Now, tell me about yourself, and where you belong. We are not allowed to keep any rescued sailors more than a certain time. You notice that all the others have gone, save the poor chaps lying under those mounds yonder. Being a boy you've been favored; but the time has come to know what you mean to do. Speak up, lad, and tell me your story?"
Encouraged by his kind voice, Darry told all he knew about himself up to the very moment when he parted from his friend, the captain.
Mr. Frazer seemed interested.
"I feel sorry for you, Darry. It must be hard to feel that you haven't got a friend in the world. My hands are tied in the matter, so I can do nothing; but there's Abner Peake telling me he'd like you to stay with him," he remarked.
"I understood him to say he once had a boy about my age."
"Yes, a likely little chap, but it was about a year back he was lost."
"Was he drowned?" asked Darry, feeling that this was about the way most persons in this coast country must meet their end.
"Yes. The little fellow was a venturesome boy, and tried to cross the bay in a heavy sea. He must have been swept out at the inlet. They found the boat on the beach, three miles above here, but never little Joe. Abner has never gotten over it. To this day he sits and looks out to sea as if he could discover his poor boy coming back to him. I thought for a time the fellow would go out of his mind."
"And he wants me to stay with him?" continued Darry, musingly.
"Yes. Abner has a small house out of the village, where his wife and the two little girls live, while he is over here at the station. Often we want someone to cross over with supplies, and he thinks you might like the job."
Darry drew a long breath.
"I have no home. The only one I ever knew was the poor old Falcon, and her timbers are scattered along the coast for ten miles. I think that if Mr. Peake really wants me to stay with him I shall accept gladly. It is tough to feel like a piece of driftwood all the time," he said.
"I think you are wise in deciding that way. Abner is a kind man, and as for his wife—well, she's got a temper all right, but if you don't rub it the wrong way she can be got on with, I reckon. Anyhow, it would pay you to try it until something else turns up. Maybe you want to ship on another vessel?"
"I think I have had all of the sea I want, after that time. I wake up nights, thinking I'm choking with the salt water, and trying to catch my breath. When I get older and stronger I want to be a life saver like you, sir."
The keeper smiled pleasantly.
It was not often he appeared as a hero in the eyes of even a boy, and, being human, he could not help feeling some satisfaction.
"It's a dangerous calling, Darry; but, after all, no worse than that of a sailor. And while we risk our lives often, it is to try and save others. There's some satisfaction in that. But there sits Abner on that old keel of a wreck; suppose you go and tell him your story, and see what he says."
When the boy joined him Abner Peake looked up, and the solemn expression on his face changed to one of kindliness.
"Set down, lad. Are yuh feelin' all right agin after your rough time?" he asked.
"A little sore in the arms still, but that will pass away soon. Mr. Frazer told me you wanted to hear my story."
"If yuh don't mind tellin' me. I reckoned as how yuh must 'a' had a hard time. Now, I ain't never been away from this here coast, but I feels for boys what's out in the wide world. Still, there's some hope o' them comin' back tuh the nest agin, some day. Now, go on, lad," with a long-drawn sigh.
Again did the homeless Darry start in to narrate his brief career, so far as it was known to him; and the old surfman listened with a tear in his eye, as he told of his abandonment in a foreign port, and the hard time he had getting enough to eat.
Finally it was all told, and Abner Peake laid a hand on his arm, saying:
"Don't say yuh ain't got a home, any more, Darry, if so be yuh'd care to stay at my place. The missus ain't the easiest one in the world tuh get along with, but soon as she sees what a likely chap yuh be I know she'll like yuh, same as I do. Try it awhile, lad, until yuh kin make your mind up. My Joe used tuh make a tidy lot of money trappin' animals in the swamp for ther skins, huntin' turkles like them terrapin they pay sech a big price fur, an' actin' as guide fur the shooters as come down along the coast after ducks and snipe and bay birds. No reason but what you could do the same. Only try and git on the good side of the ole woman, to begin with, lad. She's got a heart, tho' there's some as don't believe it. I know she's still a feelin' bad because Joe was taken from us."
"It was hard to lose him, your only boy," said Darry, consolingly.
The man shook his head dolefully, and bent a wistful look toward the open sea.
"Yes, it was tough; but I reckon he's safe in the harbor long afore now. What say, lad, be yuh of a mind to try it with us?" he continued eagerly.
"I will, and only glad of the chance. It is kind of you to make me the offer, and I only hope I may be able to please your wife. I'll do everything I can to take the place of Joe, although, of course, I couldn't expect to do that altogether," replied Darry.
"Say, yuh make me feel better, already. Seems to me as if I heerd little Joe aspeakin' to me from somewhere. I'm goin' crost the bay to-night, lad. It's my turn for a day off, an' I'll take yuh with me. I reckons his clothes'd just about be the right fit fur yuh."
So it was settled.
Darry felt easy in his mind now, much more so than he had been ever since finding himself adrift on shore, like a vessel without an anchor.
No matter how humble, it would be home to him, for he had no memories to haunt him, and bring about discontent.
There was the village near by, where possibly he might meet boys of his own age; and what Abner had said about the pursuits by which Joe had been accustomed to making odd bits of money appealed to him, for he believed he had something of a love for outdoor sports in his nature, since he had never neglected to take advantage of a chance to use a fishing line, when the brigantine happened to be in one of the world ports to which business called her.
But above all he gloried in the fact that occasionally he would have the opportunity to visit the station on the outer beach, where those hardy men patrolled every night, and stood ready to go to the assistance of any imperilled mariners.
After supper he accompanied Abner to the little landing where a stout rowboat was fastened.
Into this they dropped, and Darry immediately seized upon the oars, to the secret amusement and satisfaction of the life saver, who was quite willing to let him display his ability in this important line.
"Yuh sure pull a good, strong stroke, lad," he declared, after they had been upon the bay for some time, Darry taking his bearings from a bright star that had appeared in the east.
"He taught me," replied the boy, and, perhaps unconsciously, his voice quavered as he spoke, for he could not even think of the captain without emotion.
"All the better. A feller ain't no use 'round this section less he kin row a boat with the best. And if so be yuh 'spect to jine with us some day, the more yuh larn about this same thing the better for yuh. Joe, he was a reg'lar water duck—but he was too darin' and he tried the game onct too often. Beware o' that inlet, lad. The tide sweeps outen it like a mill race sometimes, an' the best man couldn't hold his own agin it. It's ben a mystery to me always how it happened. Nobody ever knowed, only that we found the boat two days arter on the beach, three miles up. When yuh git tired say so, an' I'll spell yuh."
After a long time they drew near the other shore. Here lights had been seen, and Darry discovered quite a collection of houses, for the most part cabins such as are so common in the south, especially along the coast of North Carolina.
Abner insisted upon taking the oars now; and as he knew just where it was most desirable to land the boy no longer objected.
Sitting there in the stern he watched the scene unfold as they approached the mainland, though the new moon gave very little light.
Sounds as of boys at play, together with the barking of dogs, and even the gabble of a goose, awoke in his breast new emotions such as he had never experienced before; for he was about to be introduced to a home, no matter of what character, where he would after that belong.
The boat was brought up against a landing, and both went ashore.
"In the mornin' I'll get yuh to help carry the groceries to the boat, so I kin ferry 'em acrost. Jest now I'm pinin' to get to the shack, 'cause I ain't ben home these two weeks, yuh see. This way, Darry, lad. My cabin ain't jest in the village; but when I come home I ginerally stop in at the butcher's an' take some meat along. Git out, yuh yaller critter!" this to a dog that had come barking toward them as though recognizing the fact that a stranger had come to town.
"Hyar, Peake, don't yer hit my dorg!" shouted a half-grown boy, slouching around a corner as though he had just come out of a drinking resort there.
"Keep him home, then, Jim Dilks, er else teach the critter to behave. He tackled me onct and I had to kick him over a fence to save my shins from his teeth. Some day that hound'll get a call all right, yuh hear me, Jim?" declared Abner.
Jim leered at him, and then looked at the boy.
"Reckon it'll be a bad day for the feller that hurts me dorg, see? Who yer got trailin' 'long with yer, Peake? Say, be he the critter as kim ashore? Sooner he skips outen this the better. We ain't got jobs enough now fur them as growed up round hyar."
"No danger of you worrin' 'bout jobs, Jim Dilks. Work an' you never got on well. Mind your own business, now. This lad can look out for hisself. He's goin' to live with me. Come on, Darry, don't notice the loafer," concluded the life saver; and he and the boy passed on. Darry was destined to see a great deal more of Jim Dilks, as we shall presently learn.
THE CABIN BY THE MARSH
As is customary in many of these little villages along the coast, the butcher shop was also the country store where groceries, dry goods, notions, and possibly boots and hats in addition, were sold.
Mr. Keeler eyed the boy in Abner's company, while he was cutting off the meat.
"Likely lad, that, Mr. Peake," he said. "I reckon he must be the one that come ashore from the wreck t'other night. I heard all about it, 'cause some of our men were over to help out," he added, in a low tone, taking advantage of Darry straying off a bit to examine a colored print that hung on the wall, and offered all manner of inducements to young fellows wishing to enlist in the navy.
"The boy's all right. He's gwine to live with my missus—if they kin git on together. But about them as were over, Gus, I've got a notion some on 'em thought it might be a good chanct to wreck a craft. I seen Dilks there, with his crowd, an' yuh know he's under suspicion o' havin' lured that schooner ashore with a false light last year. Time's comin' when them rascals air goin' to git caught. Hangin' 'd be too easy for such snakes. An' that boy o' his'n promises to be a chip o' the ole block. He's as bad as they make 'em," returned the surfman, shaking his head.
Nothing so angers a life saver as the mention of a wrecker; for deep down in his heart he believes that the men who make a living from salvage after a vessel has gone to pieces on the reefs, or else in boarding the wreck when the storm has gone down, would not hesitate a minute about sending any ship to her doom if they believed it could be done without too much risk.
"If he doesn't get on with the missus let me have a try with him, Abner. Looks to be a likely lad. They're a scarce article around here—some go to sea, others are in the service, and more get drowned; while those that are left seem bad from top to bottom, just like Jim Dilks. Yes, I could use that younker, I think."
Peake had turned white at mention of the fate that befalls so many young men of the shore; but he made no remark concerning his feelings.
"I'll remember what yuh say, Mr. Keeler. But I got a notion the boy will stick with me. When the missus gets to know him she can't help but like him. He's the clear quill. Take the change out of that bill. We just got paid last night, yuh see. Darry, let's move along."
The village merchant looked after the couple a little enviously, as though something about the boy's appearance had awakened his interest.
"I saw Jim Dilks talking to Peake before they came in here. I wager that young scamp has it in for the new boy in town. He's been a holy terror for a long time, and for one I think something should be done to put a stop to his doings. But his father has a grip on the worst elements here, and everyone seems afraid to rile up the old wrecker. Some say he used to be a smuggler years back, and even blacker stories are told of his life in Cuba, before Spain got out of the island. Well, it's none of my business. I don't dare act alone. If someone else starts the ball rolling I'll give it a big shove." And so the butcher salved his conscience for not doing his duty.
Meanwhile Darry and his new friend walked briskly along, talking as they went.
The boy had seen considerable of foreign ports, and the many strange things he could tell were doubly interesting to this simple life saver, who had never been further than to Wilmington in all his life.
"See that light ahead, lad? That's a lamp in the windy o' my shack. They knows when my night comes around, an' the missus puts that lamp there. It's a big thing, Darry, to have a light in the windy, ashinin' only fur you. Makes a feller feel like he had one leetle nest in all this big world, where some un cared fur him. And that is goin' to be your home too, boy."
"I don't know how to thank you, Mr. Peake," faltered the lad.
"Then don't try. Besides, mebbe yuh won't like it so well, after all. Nancy, she ain't so easy to get on with, since leetle Joe went away. Seems like she jest can't ever git over it. I seen her cryin' the last time I was over. No use tryin' to comfort the pore ole gal. It left a sore place in her heart that nothin' kin ever heal. I'm a hopin' that p'haps with you around she may perk up some."
They were soon at the door. It was thrown open at the sound of Abner's call, and two rather unkempt little girls rushed out, to be tossed up in the air by the proud father.
They looked at Darry with wide-eyed wonder, for strangers were uncommon in this neighborhood, so far removed from the railroad.
"Come right in, Darry. Here's the missus," said the life saver.
A woman came forward, and after greeting Abner, looked with a little frown in the direction of the boy.
The surfman hastened to explain that Darry was a survivor of the last wreck, on the shore where so many brave ships had left their bones.
"He's a waif, what's never knowed no home, Nance. The captain picked him up abroad, but he's English or American, sure enough. With the death of that captain went his only friend. I liked the lad,—he somehow made me think of our Joe. Jest the same size, too, and he could wear his clothes fine. He'd be a great help to yuh, I reckons, if so be yuh would like to have him stay."
Abner saw a look of coming trouble in the eyes of his wife, and his voice took on a pleading tone.
His mention of Joe was unfortunate, perhaps, for the woman had never become reconciled to the loss of her only boy, and always declared Heaven had dealt unjustly with her when there were so many worthless lads in the village, who could have been far better spared.
"Just like I didn't have my hands full now, without bringing home any more mouths to feed," she fumed. "Like as not he's a good-for-nothing like Jim Dilks, and will only make us trouble right along. Keep him over at the station if you want, Abner Peake, but you don't quarter him on me. This is my house, and I'm to be consulted before anybody is brought here."
Abner had apparently thought this all over.
He simply took Darry's hand and drew the half resisting lad over in front of the irate woman.
"Nancy, I never knowed yuh to be anything but fair. S'posin' our leetle Joe was kerried out to sea, an' in a strange land met up with a citizen as took him home to his wife. What kinder reception do yuh think he'd get? Could any woman look in Joe's face an' send him away from her door? Wall, then, jest look in the face o' this boy, an' then if so be yuh say take him away, I'll do it, Nancy," he said, simply.
Almost against her will she was compelled to look.
Well it was for Darry that he had clear eyes in which lurked no guile, for that gaze of the surfman's "missus" was searching, since she had before her mind a picture of the lost Joe.
She only nodded her head and said:
"Let him stay."
Perhaps she was too full of emotion to say more; but the husband nodded his head as though satisfied with what he had done.
"It's all right, boy; she seen Joey in your eyes, jest as I done. Seems to me yuh kin make good with the ole woman. Don't notice all she says fur a time. Sure she's suffered some."
Apparently the family had waited with supper for Abner to come home, for his wife immediately placed the meat on the frying pan, and the odor of steak quickly filled every cranny of the small cabin of three rooms.
The two little girls were slow to make up with Darry, but he knew how to interest them in certain ways, and it was not long before they hovered around him as if he were a curiosity indeed.
Abner tried to make himself as agreeable as possible, for various reasons.
He saw that his wife had not yet become reconciled to the fact of a stranger coming among them, and was watching Darry out of the corners of her eyes from time to time, while a frown would gather on her brow.
She was a sharp-featured woman; but life goes hard with those of her sex in this coast country, and they grow old at forty.
Darry was studying hard how to please her, for he felt that she was to be pitied after having lost her only boy so suddenly a year or so back; and he determined never to forget this if she should scold him needlessly or show temper.
He anticipated her wants in the line of wood for the fire, cheerfully assisted in washing up the supper dishes, and was withal so obliging that ere long the anxious Abner saw the lines begin to leave the forehead of his better half.
This tickled him more than any well-won fight in the breakers might have done, for he had a secret dread of Nancy's often ungovernable temper.
"The boy's gone and done it, blame me if he ain't!" he muttered to himself, when he saw his wife actually smile over at where Darry was sitting, with one of the twins on either side, entranced with some figures he was drawing to illustrate a little story he had been telling them about some sight seen in Naples.
When it came time to retire Darry was given a shake-down in the second room.
He felt that he had made some sort of an impression upon the surfman's wife, and that after all she might not prove so hard to win as he had feared from what little he had heard about her temper.
That night was the most peaceful he had known for some time.
In the morning he was up before any one else stirred, and when Mrs Peake made her appearance she found a bright fire burning in the kitchen, plenty of wood on hand, a bucket of water from the spring handy, and a boy only too anxious to do anything he was told in the way of chores.
Perhaps she may have had a suspicion that it would not last.
"A new broom sweeps clean," she remarked to Abner, as he appeared and looked at her inquiringly.
"I calkerlate this one means to keep a-going' right along," he said, "yuh see, the poor critter ain't never had no home before, an' he'll sorter 'preciate one now. Give him a show an' he'll make good."
When Abner had to return to the other side of the bay Darry went with him to the store, where a supply of edibles was laid in according to the list written out by the station keeper; together with a can of oil, since their stock had run low.
When Abner shook his hand heartily at pushing off, Darry felt as though another link connecting him with the past had been broken.
Perhaps his face betrayed his feelings, for the old man exclaimed:
"Keep a stiff upper lip, lad, and it'll all come out well. The missus is interested in yuh already. Tell her that I said to give yuh Joe's gun, and the traps he left. He writ down how he used to git the muskrats an' coons, too, so yuh kin understand how to set the traps. Tell the missus that yuh mean to share an' share alike with her in the money yuh get. That'll please her, 'cause yuh see cash is some skeerce with we-'uns all the time. Ten dollars a week don't go far. Sometimes Nancy hunts roots in the marshes, or picks up a few turkles that sells for a dollar or two each. To-morrow yuh bring over the mail. I've got a boat as is fair, if it only had a new pair o' oars. P'raps as a sailor lad yuh could whittle out a pair to answer. Well, good-bye, Darry, my boy, and good luck. Keep an eye out to windward for squalls if so be that Jim Dilks shows alongside."
When the surfman had pulled with a strong stroke for some distance he paused long enough to wave his hand to the boy; after which Darry turned away to get the articles Mrs. Peake wanted at the store, and for which she had doled out the necessary cash to a penny.
It would seem as though Abner must have had a vision of some coming trouble in connection with the ne'er-do-well son of the notorious wrecker, Dilks, for even as Darry entered the village street on his way to the general store he saw the heavily built young ruffian shuffling toward him.
There was a leer on the features of the bully.
Our hero had knocked around the world long enough to be able to detect signs of a coming storm when he saw them; and if ever the signals were set for trouble they certainly gave evidence of being now, when that shiftless Jim Dilks intercepted the newcomer.
AN ENCOUNTER ON THE ROAD
Jim Dilks had long ruled as the bully of Ashley village.
He had a reputation as a bad boy that served him in place of fighting; and as a rule an angry word from him was sufficient to command obedience.
Besides, Nature had made him so ugly that when he scowled it was enough to send a shiver down the spinal column of most boys.
Darry came to a pause. Indeed, he could not well have continued along the path he was taking without walking over the bully, so completely had Jim blocked his way.
"Looky here, didn't yer hear me tell yer last night ter get outen this place?" demanded the wrecker's son, thrusting that aggressive chin of his forward still more, and glaring at his prospective victim in his usual commanding way.
"I believe you did say something like that. Are you Jim Dilks?" asked Darry, and to the surprise of the other he did not seem to show the customary anxiety that went with hostile demonstrations by the bully.
"When air yer going, then?" continued Jim.
"I haven't decided. In fact, I like my present accommodations with Mrs. Peake so well that I may stay there right along," replied Darry, steadily.
Jim caught his breath, and in such a noisy way that one would think it was a porpoise blowing in the inlet.
In all his experience he had never come across such an experience as this.
"I see yer want takin' down," he cried. "I've run this ranch a long time now, an' there ain't no new feller comin' here without I say so. Yer got ter skip out er take a lickin' on the spot. Now, I give yer one more chanct ter say yer'll hoof it."
Darry knew what it meant, for he had not knocked around so long without learning the signs of storm and fight.
He had thought seriously over this very matter, after being warned that he might sooner or later have trouble with Jim; and as a result his decision was already formed.
When Jim Dilks saw him deliberately taking off his jacket he stared, with a new sensation beginning to make its presence felt around the region of his heart—the element of uncertainty, even fear.
"Wot yer doin' that fur?" he demanded, shaking his head after the manner of a pugnacious rooster about to enter into combat for the mastery of the barnyard.
"Why, you said you were going to lick me, and as this is a very good coat Mrs. Peake gave me, one that used to belong to her boy, Joe, I thought she might feel bad if she saw it dusty or torn," replied Darry, solemnly.
"Say, you bean't goin' ter fight, be yer?" gasped Jim, hardly able to believe his senses, the shock was so great.
"Why, you said I had to. I don't want to fight a bit, but I always obey orders, you see, and you told me I must or leave Ashley. Now, I don't mean to go away, so I suppose I must do the other thing. But I hate to hurt anyone."
"Hey? You hurt me? Don't worry about thet, cub. I reckon I kin wipe up the ground with a feller o' yer build. So yer won't run, eh? Then all I kin say is yer got to take yer medicine, see?"
Naturally, Jim knew next to nothing about the science of boxing, for he had always depended upon his brute strength to pull him through, backed by his really ferocious appearance, when he assumed his "fighting face," as he was proudly wont to term it.
On the other hand Darry had often boxed during the dog watch, with some of the sailors aboard the old brigantine, and since there were several among the crew who prided themselves on a knowledge of fisticuffs, he imbibed more or less of skill in the dexterity shown in both self defense and aggressive tactics.
At the same time Darry had seldom been called upon to utilize this knowledge, for he was of a peaceful nature, and would shun a fight if it could be done in honor.
Now, he knew that Jim Dilks was determined to have it out with him, and consequently, if he really intended to remain in Ashley, he must show this bully that he could take care of himself.
Jim was surprised when he received a staggering blow in the first encounter, and before he had even been able to lay a hand on his antagonist, who, after striking had nimbly bounded aside, so that the village boy came near falling down.
Believing that this must have been only an accident, Jim turned with a roar and once more strove to crush his rival by sheer weight and bulldog tactics.
There never was a fight yet that did not immediately attract a crowd of the curious and idle. Boys came running from several quarters, and not a few men too, the more shame to them, always glad to watch a contest, whether between a pair of aggressive dogs or roosters, or pugnacious lads.
Those who came running up could hardly believe their eyes, when they saw the recognized bully of the village engaged with a strange boy, and apparently, thus far, getting the worst of the bargain.
Darry felt rather ashamed to be caught in the centre of such a gathering; but the fight had been forced upon him, and the only thing left was to wind it up as quickly as possible.
Accordingly, he began to force matters, and the third time that Jim leaped at him, failing as before to land his blow, he received a sudden shock in the shape of a swift tap directly under the ear that hurled him to the ground.
There was a buzz of excitement about this time.
Boys who had tamely yielded to the sway of the bully for many moons began to take notice, and even say things that were not calculated to soothe the lacerated feelings of Jim who was picking himself up slowly, and trying to collect his scattered wits.
The bully, of course, had not had enough as yet. This time, however, when he came on it was with considerable caution, for his rough experience had begun to teach him that rush tactics were not going to answer with the boy who knew so well how to handle his fists.
It made no difference, for Darry met him squarely, and after a rapid interchange of blows that brought out many a whoop from those who looked on, Jim once more received an unexpected tap that caused him to sit down a second time.
He was in no hurry to get up now, but sat there in a half-dazed way, rubbing the side of his head, and gritting his teeth savagely.
The crowd began to cheer, and it must have been a galling sound to that defeated bully, whose hour had come, as it usually does with most of his kind.
"Get up!" said one man, jeeringly.
Jim scrambled to his feet, to find his antagonist facing him in a manner that made him quail.
"Are you done, or shall we go on with it?" asked Darry, calmly, for he did not seem to have been even winded in the exchange of blows.
"Ah, git out. Me hand is sprained, I tell ye. I fell on it last night. That's why I couldn't knock yer out. This thing ain't done yet, cub. I'll git yer as sure as me name is Jim Dilks. I allers do wen I goes arter a feller."
He turned away with his head tossed in the air as though victory had really perched upon his banner.
The laugh that arose must have been galling to his pride, for he stopped in his tracks and looked around angrily in the hopes of detecting one of the boys in the act, whom he could trash later on as a sop to his wounded feelings; but they were shrewd enough to hide their exultant faces just then.
Darry picked up his coat, and putting it on, strode away.
He was conscious of a feeling of satisfaction, not because he had whipped his antagonist, for it had been almost too easy; but he knew Jim Dilks had long lorded it over the boys of Ashley, and perhaps after this he might hesitate to act the part of bully again.
At any rate he was not intending to leave the place just because one fellow had given him orders; perhaps before they left him alone he might have to repeat this dose; but the reputation of the one who had downed Jim Dilks would travel fast, and the balance of the village herd would think twice before trying conclusions with the new boy at Peake's.
WINNING HIS WAY
When Darry entered the store the proprietor looked at him with interest.
Mr. Keeler was a very strait-laced individual, and wont to raise his hands in horror at the mention of fighting, or anything, in fact, that partook of violence. He always gave it as his opinion that football was a brutal game, equal to the bull rights of the Spaniards, and could hardly be induced to even watch a baseball match, for fear one of the players be injured.
Nevertheless, Mr. Keeler was human, and from the door of his shop he had seen the little affair on the road, and recognized the combatants as Peake's new boy and the village bully.
He could hardly believe his eyes when he saw that Darry had come off victor, and that the idle men who gaped at the encounter were giving Jim the laugh as he crossly slouched away.
Perhaps after all there might be something in such a fight as this, where a much-needed lesson was taught a young scoundrel.
Mr. Keeler had his eyes opened for once; but at the same time he thought it his duty as a man of peace to speak to the new boy.
"What was the trouble about, my lad?" he asked, as Darry handed him a list of the articles Mrs. Peake wished him to bring back.
"There was no trouble on my side. I only wanted to be left alone, sir," replied our hero, smiling.
"Oh! I see, and Jim wouldn't have it? Like as not he told you to get off the earth—it would be just like his impudence."
"Not quite so bad as that, sir, but he did say I couldn't stay with Mrs. Peake, and must move on. I'm quite satisfied where I am, and I mean to stay—that is as long as she wants me to."
"Quite right. I suppose there may be times when a boy is compelled to stand up for his rights, although I've generally preached the other way. But if you had to fight I'm glad you succeeded in convincing Jim that you could hold your own."
"That was easy enough, sir. He is a clumsy fighter."
"I hope you do not love to engage in such affairs, Darry?" continued the grocer, alive to what he considered his duty.
"I've been set upon a few times when I had to defend myself, but I never look for trouble. I'd even avoid it if I could; but you know, Mr. Keeler, sometimes a boy has to either run away or fight; and somehow I don't care to run away."
Mr. Keeler nodded his head.
He was getting a new insight into boy character that day, that might revolutionize a few of his pet theories.
"You say you have decided to stay with the Peakes?" he continued.
"If Mrs. Peake wants me to. It isn't quite decided yet; but I think I shall like to have a home there. You see, sir, outside of the cabin of the old Falcon I've never known a home in all my life."
Mr. Keeler felt a new interest in this strange lad, who had been a wanderer the brief span of his days, and yet strange to say seemed to possess the instincts of a manly young chap.
He wondered very much where the boy could have picked up his ways; but then Mr. Keeler had never met Captain Harley, or he might not have indulged in so much vague speculation.
"If you can get on with Mrs. Peake you deserve considerable praise, lad. Not but what she is a good enough woman, and with a kindly heart; but ever since little Joe went out on the ebb tide and never came back again she seems to have become what I might say, soured on humanity. Abner is meek enough to stand it, but she has had quarrels with many people in the village. Still, who knows but what you may be the very one to do her good. You are about the size of her Joe, and with his clothes on, I declare now, you do look a little like him. He was a clever boy, and I just reckon her heart was all wrapped up in him. At any rate, I wish you success there, Darry. And if I can do you a good turn at any time just ask me."
"Thank you, sir," replied the boy, with a lump in his throat; for he was unused to kindness save from Captain Harley, and had had more hard knocks in the past than good wishes.
The benevolent grocer continued to chat with him until the purchases were all tied up in a bundle, and after payment had been made Darry placed the rather bulky package on his shoulder and trotted off.
On the way home he was not spoken to by anyone.
He saw several boys pointing in his direction, and there was a look of awe on their faces as they watched him walk by; but no one ventured to address a word to the newcomer who was said to have roundly trounced big Jim.
A tall man also looked sharply at him, and as he wore a great nickel star on the breast of his coat Darry understood that this must be Hank Squires, the constable of the village.
No doubt news of the encounter had drifted to his ears, and since the boy who usually made life miserable for him had come out "second best" Hank did not think it policy to take any official notice of the misdemeanor.
As soon as he arrived at home, Darry busied himself in undoing his package, and placing the various articles where Mrs. Peake told him they belonged.
His manner was so obliging and his answers to her questions so ready, that despite her feeling of resentment at Abner, thinking anyone could ever take the place of Joe in her heart, the woman found herself insensibly drawn to the boy.
Perhaps, after all, the mere fact that he had never known a mother's love, nor had a home of any kind, appealed more to her sympathies than anything else.
She watched him take off his coat and carefully fold it before setting to work.
That too, was like Joe, always trying to save his mother needless worry and work.
After a while, as he happened to come close to her in doing something to save her steps, she uttered a little exclamation.
"Did you fall down with the bundle, Darry?" she asked, leaning forward.
He turned a little red, conscious that in some way she must have discovered signs of his recent adventure on the road.
"Oh! no, it was not heavy at all, ma'am," he replied, and then noting that her eyes were fastened on his cheek he put up his hand, in this way discovering for the first time, a little soreness there.
When he withdrew his fingers he saw a spot of blood.
"How did that happen then, Darry?" she asked, suspiciously.
"I think he must have hit me there, but I didn't know it until now," he replied, relieved to feel that he could tell her the whole truth.
"Someone struck you—have you been fighting then?" she asked, a little coldly; for woman-like, Mrs. Peake did not approve of strenuous encounters.
"He said that I would have to leave you, and get out. I couldn't do anything else but defend myself when he came at me. I'm sorry, for I never tried to get in a fight in my life, and I never ran away from one either."
"Who was it, Darry?" she asked again, looking uneasy.
"Jim Dilks," he answered promptly, unconsciously squaring his shoulders.
"Oh! that terrible boy again! What a shame he can't pick out some one of his own size to beat! Did he hurt you very much, my poor boy?"
Then she was surprised to see Darry smile broadly.
"I didn't know he had even struck me until just now. You see Captain Harley allowed me to box with the sailors, and I learned how to defend myself. Jim says he is going to get even with me later on," he said modestly.
"Do you mean to tell me you whipped that big loafer, that good-for-nothing bully who has run the place for years?" exclaimed the woman, in astonishment.
"I wouldn't just say that, ma'am, and Jim wouldn't admit it either; but I did knock him down twice, and the second time he said he wouldn't fight any more because, you see, his right hand was sprained. So he went off and left me alone."
"Splendid! He deserved a lesson, the brute! Many's the time he has jeered at me when he passed; and everyone has been afraid to put a hand on him because his father is a bad man. And you did that? Well, the boys of Ashley ought to vote you thanks. And you fought because he wanted you to leave this house? You thought it was a home worth fighting for? Then it shall be yours as long as you want to stay here, Darry."
Before he suspected how greatly her feelings had been aroused, Mrs. Peake threw her arms about his neck and gave him a resounding kiss—perhaps in her heart she was in this way demonstrating her undying affection for the boy who had vanished from that home one year ago, and never came back.
After that Darry worked with a light heart, such as he had never before known in all his life.
During the afternoon Abner's wife took pains to open a box that contained all the treasured possessions of the young trapper and naturalist whose greatest delight had been to spend his time in the swamps watching the animals at their play; and in the proper season setting his traps to secure the pelts of muskrats, 'coons and skunks, which, properly cured, would bring high prices at such centres where furs are collected, and secure many little luxuries for his mother during the winter season.
Darry handled these with a bit of reverence, for he knew what a wrench it must be to the devoted heart of the mother to see a stranger touching the things she had hoarded up as treasures, and over which she must have had many a secret cry.
Together with the traps and other things there was an old shotgun still in good condition, and Darry had visions of coming days in the marsh and swamp, where fat ducks and squirrels might fall to his aim, and provide good dinners for this little family into whose humble home he had now been fully taken.
His heart was filled with gratitude, for he knew that his lines had fallen in pleasant places, since he was no longer a waif in the world.
THE MIDNIGHT ALARM
Darry found himself greatly interested in the little diary left behind by the boy naturalist, and which, besides containing an account of his catches in the way of fur-bearing animals, also explained his methods of setting snares and traps, how he cured the skins when taken, and where he received the highest prices for the same.
All of this information was eagerly devoured by his successor, who felt that it was certainly up to him to do his share toward supporting the little family of the life saver who had been so kind to him.
He wandered out late one afternoon to look around and see what prospect there might be for game; since the fall season was now on, and the boom of guns beginning to be heard on the bay, where the ducks were commencing to congregate.
As he drew near the cabin just at dusk he was surprised to discover a figure making off in a suspicious way, as though not desirous of being seen.
He recognized the lurker as Jim Dilks, and the fact gave him considerable uneasiness, for he had not forgotten how the other vowed to get even for his discomfiture, and Jim's methods of wiping out a score were sometimes little short of shocking, if Darry could believe half he had heard.
Had the fellow been prowling around in hopes of meeting him again, and trying conclusions a second time?
Darry could not believe it, for such a thing would not be in line with the reputation of the village bully.
He would be more apt to try and obtain a mean revenge by doing some injury to the kind woman who had given refuge to this shipwrecked lad.
Evidently Mrs. Peake should know what he had seen, and so as soon as he entered the kitchen, he spoke of it.
"Jim Dilks hanging about here," she echoed, in rising anger; "I'd just like to know what that scamp wants, that's all. No good follows his visits, as every one about this section knows to their sorrow."
"I'm afraid I'm the cause of it all. Unfortunately my being here is apt to bring trouble down upon you. Perhaps it might be as well if I moved on, as he said," remarked the boy, dejectedly.
The woman looked at him quickly, almost sharply.
"Do you want to go?" she demanded.
"No, oh, never; but it would save you trouble, and I have no right to bring that on you," he cried, hastily, and with emotion.
"Then I say you shan't go away, not for a dozen Jim Dilks. You belong here now. I've done what I said I never would do, given away my Joey's things, and you're my boy, I say. I won't let you go away! This is your home as long as you want to stay. Let me catch that Jim Dilks trying to chase you off, that's all."
Darry could not trust his voice to say one word, only caught up her work-stained hand and pressed it to his lips, then fled from the house.
And yet as Darry stood out under the old oak that shielded the cottage from the burning sun in summer, and the biting winds of the "northers" in winter, looking up at the first bright evening star that peeped into view, he felt a happiness deep down in his boyish heart that could not be excelled by a prince of the royal blood coming into his palace home.
He was merry all evening, and the twins romped as they had not done for many a day, in fact, ever since their brother had left them.
The mother looked on in silent approval, thinking that once more home seemed to have a brightness about it that had been long lacking.
When all had retired save Darry he sat by the fire thinking.
Somehow he could not forget that skulking figure he had seen leaving the vicinity of the cabin at dusk, and he would have given much to have known just what mission brought the vindictive Jim out there.
The bully's home was in the village, and he had no business so far away, unless bent on an errand that would not bear the light of day.
A sense of responsibility came upon the boy as he sat there.
What if this young wretch should be cruel enough to poison the chickens, or the three pigs that were expected to help carry the family over the winter?
The thought gave him a bad feeling, and almost unconsciously he reached out his hand and picked up the gun that Joe had purchased with money earned through the sale of roots dug in the woods or furs secured through clever deadfalls.
There were a few shells in the box, and among others, several containing very small shot, that might sting pretty lively, but could not do much damage to a half-grown boy as tough as Jim Dilks.
And it was with that same individual in his mind that Darry pushed two of these small bird shells into the barrels of the gun.
He did not know that he would care to send even this charge directly at a human being; but in case it became necessary he wanted to make certain he would do little harm.
After that he seemed to feel easier in his mind, for he lay down and was soon fast asleep.
Something awoke him about midnight, and thinking he had heard a sound he sat up to listen; then he heard it again, and felt sure it must be a cough, as of some one partly choking.
He was worried and left his lowly bed to go to the door connecting the rooms and listen, but nothing came from beyond.
Could the sound come from outside?
He slipped on some of his clothes, and stepping over quietly opened the outer door, looking into the night.
The new moon had long since vanished behind the horizon, and yet he could see some sort of flickering light, coming from that region back of the house.
At the same time he believed he caught the muttering of voices, or it might be a low chuckle, followed by a plain sneeze.
Smoke came to his nostrils, and that meant fire!
Darry had a sudden vision of Jim Dilks getting even, and it took the form of a burning corn-crib or chicken house.
Filled with indignation, he turned back into the house, and snatched up the old shotgun; gone now was his hesitation with regard to using the gun to pepper the rascally gang that took orders from the even more rascally Jim.
Without saying a word Darry shot out of the door and turned the corner, when his worst fears were realized, for he saw flames rising up alongside the pigsty, which adjoined the building in which the fowls were kept.
His first act was to fire the right barrel of his gun in the air, and at the same time give vent to a shout.
Immediately several shadowy figures, which in spite of their bent attitudes he knew to be boys, started to scamper away, in sudden alarm lest they be recognized, and made to pay the penalty in the squire's court.
As near as Darry could tell there were three of them, and as they ran he believed he could recognize Jim Dilks in the centre of the group.
The temptation was too great to be resisted, and filled with indignation because of the cowardly trick of which they had been guilty, Darry took a snap shot at the running bunch.
It was music to his ears to catch the howls that immediately arose; but he knew no serious damage had resulted because they ran faster than ever after that, quickly vanishing from view in the shadows.
There was work to be done if he would save the humble quarters of the family porkers from destruction, and the hennery as well.
He knew where the rain barrel stood that held the wash water, and snatching up a bucket he hastily dipped it in, after which he rushed over to the fire and dashed the contents upon the blaze.
Back and forth he galloped, using considerable discretion as to where he put the water so as to head off the creeping fire.
Mrs. Peake now came running with another bucket, and proved herself a woman in a thousand by assisting the new addition to the family put out the last of the conflagration.
When there was not a spark remaining, and beyond the grunting of the pigs and the cackling of the fowls, everything had fallen back into its usual condition, one or two neighbors arrived on the scene, asking questions, and busying themselves generally, though had it depended on their efforts the frail buildings must have gone up in smoke before now.
Of course many questions were fired at Darry, and he felt that it was necessary he should tell what he had seen, though cautious about saying he had fully recognized any one of the three skulkers, no matter what strong suspicions he may have entertained.
He believed he had a means of identifying one or more of them, nevertheless, when the proper time came.
More neighbors arrived, attracted by the shots and the confusion, for nothing could quiet the excited chickens; and for an hour there was more or less discussion on the part of these good people.
Finally the excitement died out, the last neighbor went home, and the Peake cabin was left to those who belonged there. There was no further alarm during the balance of that eventful night.
ACROSS THE BAY
Darry welcomed the coming of dawn.
He was glad to see that the sky was clear, for he anticipated a long row across the broad bay that day, bearing the mail for those at the life-saving station, as well as several things he had been commissioned to fetch over by Abner.
Hardly had they finished breakfast than there arrived a visitor.
Mrs. Peake saw him coming along the road, for she could look out of the window of the kitchen, where they ate, and have a view of the open stretch.
"Here comes old Hank Squires. I reckon he's heard something about what happened here last night. It's about time he took notice of some of the mean pranks those village boys play on those who live outside. Tell him all he wants to hear, Darry; but unless you can swear to it perhaps you'd better not say that you think it was Jim Dilks and his crowd. If you feel sure, go ahead," she remarked, for with all her temper Mrs. Peake was a woman with a due sense of caution.
The constable knocked, and in response to her call to "come in," he entered.
"I heard ye had a little shindig up to here last night, Mrs. Peake, an' I jest called 'round to see what it is all 'bout," said Hank, seating himself. "I see thar was a fire here all right, an' it kim near burning yer buildings down in the bargain. Some says as how it was sot by a passel o' boys. How 'bout that, ma'am?"
"I didn't see anyone," answered the woman. "When I got out Darry here had the fire pretty well under control, and I only helped him finish. You can ask him about it, Mr. Squires."
Darry had already learned through the grocer that previous to her marriage to Abner the good woman had been for some years a teacher in the schools, which fact accounted for her superior language and knowledge of things that were far above the intelligence of most of her neighbors.
The constable looked keenly at our hero.
"I b'lieve this is the boy wot was saved from the wreck o' that brigantine. So he's gwine to be your boy now, Mrs. Peake? Well, I understand he's got the makin' o' a man in him, so Mr. Keeler sez to me last night, and I hope you'll never have no reason to be sorry. I want to know, Darry, what about this here fire?"
"I'll be only too glad to tell you all I know, sir," replied the boy promptly.
"When did it happen?" began the constable, with the air of a famous lawyer, with a bewildered witness on the rack.
"I think it was somewhere near midnight. I have no watch, and Mrs. Peake took the little clock in her room with her."
"That was near the time. It was half-past one when I went back to my bed with my two little girls," remarked the owner of the house.
"S'pose you tell me what happened, jest as it comes to you, lad."
With this invitation Darry soon related the whole matter, even to his firing after the vanishing culprits.
This latter event appeared to interest the constable more than anything else.
"Do you think you hit any o' 'em?" he asked, eagerly.
"They didn't stop to tell me, but I heard a lot of howling, and they ran faster than ever," replied Darry, smiling.
"That sounds as if you did some damage. Mrs. Peake, I must look into this outrage closer, and if I can only git my hands on any dead-sure evidence somebody's boys is a gwine to pay for the fiddlin'. I'm tired o' sech goings-on. They sure are a disgrace to our village. But you know how it is—my hands are tied acause theys politics back o' it all. If I arrested Jim Dilks now on the strength o' a suspicion I'd get tied up in litigation and lose my job in the bargain. I hears as how theys gwine to be a meetin' called at the house o' the dominie to discuss this question, an' see what kin be did to change things."
"I'm sure I'm glad to know it, and if they want another to join in tell them to count on Nancy Peake. The women must take this thing in hand, since the men are too much afraid of that ruffian, big Jim Dilks, to do anything. Be sure and let me know when that meeting is coming off, Mr. Squires," said Abner's better half; and when he saw the fire in her eyes and the determination shining there Constable Squires realized that the day of salvation for Ashley village was not so very far away.
"Then you wouldn't like to swear to its being any particular pusson?" he went on, turning again to Darry.
"I did not see a face, and without that my evidence would hardly convict. No, sir, I would not swear that one of the three was Jim."
"That's bad. I stand ready to do my duty and arrest the boy if so be any one makes a complaint; but without that it wouldn't pay and only makes useless trouble all 'round. But I'm goin' to keep my eyes open from now on, and when I git a sure case on Jim he comes in."
That was all Mr. Squires would say, and he soon departed; but not before he had called Darry outside for a few words in parting.
"Looks like you was marked to be the central figger o' the comin' storm, lad. Keep your eye open for squalls. If things git too black around jest slip over to the dominie's leetle house and hev a talk with him. I knows more about what's gwine to happen than I let on; but somebody's due to hev a surprise that hain't a donation party either. You seem to have the right stuff in you, lad. I heard from Mr. Keeler how you took that bully Jim into camp mighty neat. He'll never be satisfied till he's paid you back. A word to the wise is sufficient. Goodbye, Darry."
After all the constable did not seem to be a bad sort of fellow.
During the morning Darry accomplished many things for Abner's wife, and she showed in her manner how pleased she was to have him there.
When noon had come and gone he prepared for his row across the bay, for she insisted upon his making an early start.
"Clouds are banking up in the southeast, and we look for trouble whenever that comes about. Still, you will have plenty of time to row over. Stay with Abner to-night and return in the morning if it is safe on the bay. Perhaps you may have a chance to see how the life savers work," said Mrs. Peake.
It was almost two when he pushed off from the float and started on his long row directly across the bay.
Steadily he kept pushing across the wide stretch of shallow water.
As Abner had said, a new pair of oars seemed to be badly needed in connection with the old boat; but a willing heart and sturdy arms sent the craft along until finally Darry reached his goal.
The storm was drawing near, for by now the heavens were clouded over, and the haze seemed to thicken. Perhaps had he lingered another hour Darry might have stood a chance of losing his way, and being drawn out of the inlet by the powerful ebb tide—just as the unfortunate Joe had been.
Abner was waiting at the landing for him.
"Glad to see yuh, lad. How's everything to home?" he asked.
Of course Darry understood this to mean with regard to himself and his relations with the good woman of the house.
Truth to tell Abner had worried more than a little since parting from the boy, for his wife had shown more than unusual ill temper lately, and he feared that he had possibly done an unwise thing in leaving Darry there to be a constant reminder of the son she had lost.
But the happy look on the boy's countenance eased his mind even before the boy spoke a single word.
"He kin do it, if any boy kin," was what the life saver was saying under his breath.
"All well, and your wife sent this over to you, sir. Here's the mail, too. The postmaster didn't want to give it to me, but Mr. Keeler told him it was all right, and that I belonged with the crew over here."
Unconsciously his tones were full of pride as he made this assertion, and the grocer had evidently done more to please the lad in making that assertion than he would ever know.
But Abner seemed to be staring down at something.
"Seems like as if yuh bed ben a leetle mite keerless, son, with them trousers. Don't strike me thet burn was on 'em yesterday," he remarked.
"It wasn't, Mr. Peake. I got that last night," he said, quickly.
"Doin' what?" went on Abner, who seemed to guess that there was a story back of it all that he ought to hear.
"Putting out the pigsty, that was on fire, sir."
"What's that? Who sot it afire, I'd like to know? Them pigs never has smoked, leastways not yit. Jest tell me the hull bloomin' thing, lad."
To begin at the start Darry had to take up the subject of his encounter on the road, and from that he went on until the whole story had been told, including the visit of Hank Squires.
THE SIGNAL ROCKET
Abner Peake made no comment until the end had been reached.
Then he smote one hand into the palm of the other, and relieved his feelings in the expressive way one would expect a coast "cracker" to do.
"This sorter thing has got to stop! It's sure the limit wen them varmints set about burnin' a honest man's buildin's up! I'll take the law into my own hands onless somethin' is did soon. P'raps that parson kin manage to rouse up the village, and upset old Dilks. Ef so be it falls through I'm gwine to take a hand, no matter what happens."
He immediately told the whole story to his companions at the station, and they, of course, sympathized with him to a man.
"That Dilks gang has got to be run out of Ashley, root and branch, daddy and sons, for they're all alike," declared the keeper, Mr. Frazer, who was a man of considerable intelligence—indeed, no one could hold the position he did unless fairly educated and able to manage the various concerns connected with the station. "It's a burning shame that the families of men who are away from home in the service of the Government can't be left unmolested. I'm going to take the matter up with the authorities the next time the boat comes to this station."
The life savers asked Darry many questions, but he was careful not to fully commit himself with regard to identifying the three culprits.
"Course he couldn't say, boys. Don't forget Darry's new in this section, and most o' the boys is strangers to him. But he's put his trade-mark on one as won't forget it in a hurry. And for me I'd be willing to wager my week's pay that young Jim Dilks was leadin' them raiders in their rascally work," declared one of the crew, a stalwart young fellow named Sandy Monks.
By this time the storm began to break, and it became necessary for the keeper to make good use of his glass in the endeavor to place any vessel chancing to be within range, so that in case of trouble later in the night they would have some idea as to the character of the imperiled craft.
Darry watched everything that was done with eager eyes.
After an early supper, in which he participated with the men of the station, he saw the guard that had the first patrol don their storm clothes, and prepare to pass out to tramp the beach, exchanging checks when they met other members of the next patrol to prove that through the livelong night they had been alive to their duty.
Abner was on the second watch. He had consented to let the boy go out with him, and share his lonely tramp, for he seemed to realize that just then it was the most ardent wish in the heart of our hero to become a life saver like himself.
The rain came down in sheets, and the thunder rattled, while lightning played in strange fashion all around; but this storm was not in the same class with the dreadful West India hurricane that had sent the poor Falcon on to the cruel reefs, to wind up her voyaging forever.
Darry might have liked to sit up and listen to the men tell about former experiences; but the keeper chased them to their beds, knowing that it was necessary to secure some sleep, since they must remain up the latter half of the night.
A hand touching his face aroused Darry.
"Time to git up, lad, if so be yuh wants to go along," came a voice which he recognized as belonging to Abner, though he had been dreaming of the captain.
He was quickly dressed and out of doors.
It seemed to be still raining, and the wind howled worse than ever, though but little thunder accompanied the vivid flashes of lightning.
Having been giving some spare waterproof garments in the shape of oilskins, and a sou'wester, Darry felt himself prepared to face any conditions that might arise during his long walk with his friend.
Taking lantern and coster lights for signalling, Abner set out, another patrol going in the opposite direction.
Those who had been out for hours had returned to the station in an almost exhausted condition, and at the time Abner and Darry left they were warming up with a cup of coffee, strong spirits being absolutely forbidden while on duty.
Darry asked questions when the wind allowed of his speaking, which was not all the time, to be sure.
He wanted to know how the patrol learned when a ship was in distress, and Abner answered that sometimes they saw lights on the reefs; again the lightning betrayed the perilous condition of the recked vessel; but usually they learned of the need of assistance through rockets sent up by those on board, and which were answered by the coast guard.
Captain Harley had not been given a chance to send such an appeal for help, since he had been swept overboard just after the brigantine struck; besides, the vessel was a complete wreck at the time, and without a single stick in place could never have utilized the breeches buoy even had a line been shot out across her bows by means of the Lyle gun.
In two hours they had gone to the end of their route, and exchanged checks with the other patrol coming from the south. Then the return journey was begun.
Almost an hour had elapsed since turning back, and they were possibly more than half way to the station, when suddenly Darry, who chanced to be looking out to sea, discovered an ascending trail of fire that seemed to mount to the very clouds, when it broke, to show a flash of brilliant light.
"See!" he had exclaimed, dragging at the sleeve of his companion's coat, for Abner was plodding along steadily, as if his mind was made up to the effect that there was going to be no call for help on this night.
"A rocket! a signal!" cried the old life saver, at once alive to the occasion.
His first act was to unwrap one of the coster lights, and set it on fire.
This was intended to inform those on board the ship that their call for assistance had been seen, and that the lifeboat would soon be started if conditions allowed of its getting through the surf; for there are occasionally times when the sea runs so high that it proves beyond human endeavor to launch the boat.
Having thus done his duty, so far as he could, Abner set out on a run for the station, knowing that unless the full crew was on hand all efforts to send out the boat would be useless.
Darry kept at his heels, though he could have outrun the older man had he so desired, being sturdy and young.
Stumbling along, sometimes falling flat as they met with obstacles in the darkness, they finally came within sight of the lights of the station.
Here they found all excitement, for the signal rockets had of course been seen by the lookout, and all was in readiness to run the boat out of its shed.
Darry found that he could certainly make himself useful in giving a helping hand, and with a will the boat was hurried down to the edge of the water that rolled up on the beach.
All they waited for now was the coming of one man, whose beat happened to be a little longer than any other, but who should have shown up ere now.
As the minutes passed the anxiety of the helmsman grew apace, for those on the stranded vessel were sending more rockets up, as though they believed their peril to be very great.
The men stood at their places, ready to push at the word, and then leap aboard.
Darry was with them, eager and alert; indeed, he had done such good service up to now that the stout Mr. Frazer cast an eye toward him more than once, as though tempted to ask him to take the place of the missing man, who must have had an accident on the way, perhaps spraining an ankle over some unseen obstacle that came in his way as he ran headlong.
Darry saw him talking with Abner, who looked his way, and shook his head as if hardly willing to give his consent.
Just as his hopes ran high, and the words seemed trembling on the lips of the helmsman a shout was heard and the missing man came limping down to take his place without a complaint, though as it afterwards turned out he had a bad sprain.
Then the wild word was given, the men heaved, the surf boat ran into the water, with the men jumping aboard, oars flashed out on either side, and were dipped deep, after which the boat plunged into the next wave, rode on its crest like a duck, made a forward move, and then darkness shut it from the gaze of the lad left behind.
JIM THE BULLY
Although he could not accompany the life savers in the boat Darry had been given duties to perform, which he went about with a vim.
One of these was to keep the fire burning, so that it might serve as a beacon to the life savers as they toiled at the oars.
What with the darkness, and the flying spray that seemed almost as dense as fog, it was a difficult task to hold their bearings, and this glare upon the clouds overhead was essential.
By this time several other men arrived on the scene, having taken chances upon the bay when it was seen that the night would be stormy.
They were only too willing to assist, and as time passed many anxious looks were cast out upon the dashing sea in expectation of seeing the boat returning, possibly with some of the passengers or crew of the vessel in danger.
Finally a loud shout was heard:
"There they come!"
Upon the top of an incoming billow the lifeboat was seen perched, with the men laboring at the oars to keep it steady, and the steersman standing at his post, every muscle strained to hold the craft from broaching to.
It was a wild sight, and every nerve in Darry's body seemed to thrill as he kept his eyes glued upon that careening boat.
On it came, sweeping in with the wash of the agitated sea, until finally it was carried far up the beach, where men, rushing in waist deep, seized hold and prevented the undertow from dragging it out again.
Then the crew jumped out to lend their aid.
Darry saw that quite a number of strangers were aboard, who had undoubtedly been taken from the vessel.
They were passengers, the captain and crew refusing to abandon their craft.
The steamer being head on, was not in as bad a condition as might otherwise have been the case; and as the storm promised to be short-lived, the commander had decided to try and await the coming of tugs from the city to drag his vessel off.
The telephone to the mainland was immediately put to good use, and a message sent to a salvage company that would bring a couple of strong sea-going tugs to the scene inside of ten hours.
Abner had labored with the rest.
He was more or less tired when Darry found him, after the boat had been drawn up on the beach, but not housed, since it might be needed again; but this sort of thing was an old story in his life, and in comparison with some of his labors the adventure of the night had been rather tame.
In the morning Darry started across the bay again, homeward bound.
He was sorry to leave the beach, so much was his heart wrapped up in the work of the life savers.
The day was bright and fine after the short storm which had seemed to clear the air wonderfully.
He could see a few boats moving about, some of them oyster sloops or dredgers, other pleasure craft belonging to the rich sportsmen who had already commenced to drift down in pursuit of their regular fall shooting.
Occasionally the distant dull boom of a gun told that a few ducks were paying toll on their passage south.
Darry looked longingly at a splendid motor-boat that went swiftly past him.
The young fellow on board seemed to be having a most delightful time, and it was only natural for any boy to envy him.
It was noon when our hero arrived home. Mrs. Peake was interested in all he had to tell about the trip of the life savers.
"We get used to hearing these things," she said, "but all the same it keeps the wives of the life savers feeling anxious. Some night it happens one of the crew of the lifeboat goes out and does not return. At any time it may be my turn. I know three widows now."
"I think they ought to pick out the unmarried men," remarked Darry, who had himself been considering this very subject.
"They do, I believe, as far as they can; but we must have bread, and the number of available surfmen is small. But those who win their living from the sea learn to expect these things sooner or later. It is only a question of time."
After a bit of lunch Darry was sent to the village on an errand.
This was how he happened to see Jim Dilks again.
The meeting occurred just before Darry reached the grocer's, and as Jim was totally unaware of his coming he had no chance to assume airs.
Darry looked at him eagerly, as though expecting to make a discovery; and this anticipation met with no disappointment.
There could be no doubt about Jim limping, and once he instinctively put his hand back of him as if to rub a spot that pained more or less.
Darry understood what it meant, and that he had not sent that shower of fine bird shot after the trio of desperate young scamps in vain.
If Hank Squires wanted positive evidence as to who had been connected with the firing of Mrs. Peake's out-buildings he could find it upon an examination of the person of Jim Dilks.
When the good-for-nothing caught sight of Darry it was surprising how he stiffened up and walked as upright as a drum-major.
Darry had lost all respect for the prowess of the young ruffian, after that one trial of strength, when he had found Jim so lacking in everything that goes to make up a fighter. He had the feeling that he could snap his fingers in the other's face.