Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved.
Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.
JIM SPURLING, FISHERMAN
or Making Good
ALBERT W. TOLMAN
Harper & Brothers Publishers New York and London
JIM SPURLING, FISHERMAN
Copyright, 1918, by Harper & Brothers Printed in the United States of America
TO MY BOYS ALBERT AND EDWARD
CHAP. PAGE I. SMASHED UP 1 II. A FRESH START 18 III. TARPAULIN ISLAND 29 IV. MIDNIGHT MARAUDERS 41 V. GETTING READY 53 VI. TRAWLING FOR HAKE 66 VII. SHORTS AND COUNTERS 78 VIII. SALT-WATER GIPSIES 90 IX. FISTS AND FIREWORKS 102 X. REBELLION IN CAMP 114 XI. TURN OF THE TIDE 128 XII. PULLING TOGETHER 138 XIII. FOG-BOUND 150 XIV. SWORDFISHING 162 XV. MIDSUMMER DAYS 174 XVI. A LOST ALUMNUS 186 XVII. BLOWN OFF 198 XVIII. BUOY OR BREAKER 208 XIX. ON THE WHISTLER 221 XX. SQUARING AN ACCOUNT 233 XXI. OLD FRIENDS 243 XXII. PERCY SCORES 255 XXIII. WHITTINGTON GRIT 269 XXIV. CROSSING THE TAPE 283
HE PLUNGED INTO THE SEA AND DRAGGED HIMSELF TOWARD THE ROCK TO WHICH HIS FATHER WAS FASTENED Frontispiece
THE CAMP AT SPROWL'S COVE Facing p. 56
LEANING AGAINST THE MAST-HOOP THAT ENCIRCLED HIS WAIST, HE LIFTED THE LONG LANCE AND POISED IT FOR THE BLOW " 166
KNEES BRACED TIGHTLY AGAINST THE SIDES OF THE STERN, HANDS LOCKED ROUND THE STOUT BUTT OF THE LANCE, HE FOILED RUSH AFTER RUSH OF THE BLACK-FINNED, WHITE-BELLIED PIRATES " 172
THEY STOOD CLOSE TOGETHER ON THE CIRCULAR TOP, HOLDING ON TO THE CROSSED BAILS, WAIST-HIGH " 222
"WE NEED THAT SLOOP AND WE'RE GOING TO HAVE HER!" " 252
JIM SPURLING, FISHERMAN
JIM SPURLING FISHERMAN
"Here comes J. P. Whittington, Junior, Esquire, in his new Norman! Some speed—what?"
The three Graffam Academy seniors, Jim Spurling, Roger Lane, and Winthrop Stevens, who were sitting on the low, wooden fence before the campus, earnestly discussing the one thing that had engrossed their minds for the past two weeks, stopped talking and leaned forward.
On the broad, elm-lined street beyond the Mall suddenly appeared a cloud of dust, out of which shot a gray automobile. Its high speed soon brought it to the academy grounds, and it came to an abrupt stop before the fence.
"Pile in, fellows!" shouted the driver, a bareheaded youth in white flannels, "and I'll take you on a little spin."
He was a slim, sallow lad of seventeen, with a straw-colored pompadour crowning his freckled forehead. The sleeves of his outing shirt were rolled up above his elbows, revealing his bony, sunburnt arms. He wore a gay red tie, and a tennis blazer, striped black and white, lay on the seat beside him.
"No, thanks, Percy," replied Lane. "Sorry we can't go; but we're too busy."
Spurling and Stevens nodded as Whittington's light-blue eyes traveled inquiringly from one to the other.
"Ah, come on!" he invited. "Be sports! Let's celebrate the end of the course. Just to show how good I feel, I'm going to scorch a three-mile hole through the atmosphere between here and Mount Barlow faster than it was ever done before. Tumble aboard and help hold this barouche down on the pike while I burn the top off it for the last time."
Pulling out a book of tissue wrappers and a sack of tobacco, he began to roll a cigarette with twitching, yellowed fingers.
"Anybody got a match? No? Then I'll have to dig one up myself."
He fumbled in his pocket and brought out a lucifer. Soon he was inhaling the smoke and talking rapidly.
"I'm so glad this is my last week here I feel like kicking my head off. Once I shake the dust of this dump off my tires, you can bet you'll never catch me here again. Say, do you know what this Main Street reminds me of? An avenue in Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans, with a row of white tombs on each side. I saw it last Christmas. They bury 'em aboveground there, too. The Rubes in this burg are just as dead, only they don't know it."
Drawing a final, long, luxurious whiff, he tossed the half-smoked cigarette away.
"Well, so long! My dad's coming on the five-ten to see his only son graduate cum laude. And me loaded down with conditions a truck-horse couldn't haul! Wouldn't that jar you? Guess I'll have to do my road-burning before he gets here. Hold a watch on me, will you? I'm out for the record."
"Careful, or you'll get pinched for over-speeding," cautioned Stevens.
Whittington spat contemptuously.
"Pinch your grandmother!" he jeered. "I've been pinched too many times to mind a little thing like that."
Off darted the gray car. The three gazed after it in silence. Then Spurling spoke.
"Must seem rather pleasant to have a bank-account you can't touch the bottom of, mustn't it? They say his father's all sorts of a millionaire. Hope he doesn't get smashed up or run over somebody."
"He's a good-natured fool," commented Lane. "But you can't help liking him, after all. Now let's get back to business."
It was Commencement week in mid-June at the old country academy nestled among the New England hills. The lawns before the substantial white houses were emerald with the fresh, unrivaled green of spring. Fragrant lilacs sweetened the soft air. The walks under the thick-leafed elms were thronged with talking, laughing groups. Bright-colored dresses dotted the campus before the dingy brick buildings. Tennis-courts and ball-field were alive with active figures. A few days more and students and strangers would be gone, and the old town would sink into the drowsy quiet of the long summer vacation.
Lounging on the notched, whittled fence, Lane, Spurling, and Stevens fell once more into earnest conversation.
Spurling came from a Maine coast town. He was nineteen, tall, broad-shouldered, dark-complexioned, deliberate in speech and movements. Physically very strong, he had caught on the academy ball team and played guard in football. Mentally he was a trifle slow; but in the whole school there was no squarer, more solid fellow. So far as finances went, he was dependent on his own resources; whatever education he got he must earn himself.
Lane afforded in many respects a decided contrast to Spurling. Reared on a New Hampshire farm in the shadow of the White Mountains, he was of medium build, wiry and active, a practical joker, full of life and spirit. He had red hair and the quick temper that goes with it. Though not much of a student, he had at eighteen a keen, clear business head. Like Spurling, he had been obliged to make his own way; and, like Spurling, he was abundantly able to make it.
Winthrop Stevens, or "Throppy," as his friends nicknamed him, claimed a small Massachusetts city as his home. He was the best scholar of the three, dark, quiet, studious, with a decided trend toward mechanics and electricity. Though not obliged to work for his schooling, he had always chummed with the other two, and with them had been a waiter at a shore hotel the previous season.
The trio were endeavoring to decide what they should do the coming summer.
"Well," said Lane, "what shall it be? Juggling food again at the Beachmont?"
"Not for me," answered Spurling, decidedly. "I'm sick of hanging round a table, pretending to do as many unnecessary things as you can, wondering whether the man you've waited on is going to give up a half-dollar or a nickel, knowing that the more uncomfortable you can make him feel the bigger fee you'll pull down. No more tipping for me! I'd rather earn my money, even if I don't get so much."
"Hits me, Jim," assented Stevens. "What do you say, Budge?"
"Same here," agreed Roger.
The long-drawn shriek of a locomotive rose from the valley-bottom.
"There's the five-ten!" ejaculated Lane. "I pity Whittington when his dad finds how things have gone."
"Percy isn't the only one who needs sympathy," said Spurling, soberly. "What about his father?"
"I'm sorry for 'em both," was Lane's comment. "But the Whittington family'll have to handle its own troubles. Now, fellow-members, to the question before the house! Unless I raise at least two hundred dollars in the next three months, it's no college for me in September."
A short silence followed. Spurling took out his knife and deliberately slithered a long, splintery shaving off the fence-top.
"I've an idea," he said, slowly. "Give me till evening and I'll tell you about it. What d'you say to a last game of tennis?"
The others agreed and slipped off the fence. Lane glanced up the road.
"Here comes Whittington, scorching like a blue streak! And there's Bill Sanders's old auto crawling up May Street hill from the railroad station! If Percy should hit him—good-night!"
The gray machine rapidly grew larger. The people on the sidewalks stood still and watched.
May Street crossed Main at right angles, and a high cedar hedge before the corner house made it impossible for the two drivers to see each other until they were close together. On sped the gray car.
"Isn't he humming!"
Suddenly Whittington thrust out his left arm.
"He's going to turn down May Street!" shouted Lane. "Bound to the station after his father. He'll hit Sanders, sure as fate! Hi! Hi there, Percy!"
Heedless of the warning, Whittington whirled round into May Street and plunged full tilt into the hotel bus, striking it a glancing blow back of its front wheel. There was a tremendous crash.
"Come on, fellows!" cried Lane.
They ran at top speed toward the wreck. Through the clearing dust three figures were visible, extricating themselves from the ruins. Sanders, the hotel chauffeur, was groaning and rubbing his ankle. His only passenger, a bald, thick-set man, with smooth face and bulldog jaw, had a bleeding scratch down his right cheek and a badly torn coat. Whittington, apparently unharmed, was chalky and stuttering from fright.
Spurling, for all his slowness, was the first to reach the wreck. He helped the stout stranger to his feet, and the man turned angrily toward Whittington. An exclamation of surprise burst from both.
Understanding struggled with indignation on the older man's face.
"Well," he growled, "so you've done it again!"
For a moment the lad stood in shamefaced alarm, shaking from head to foot.
"Are you much hurt, Dad?" he stammered.
"Only a scratch," returned Whittington, senior. "But it's no thanks to you that I wasn't killed."
He turned to Sanders, who was still chafing his ankle.
"No, sir; only a sprain."
"I'm glad it's no worse. Have this mess cleared away and I'll fix up with you later at the hotel; and get my suit-case over to my room, will you?"
To his son he said:
"We'll go to your dormitory."
He limped grimly ahead; Percy followed. As he passed the three seniors he pulled a face of mock repentance. The boys resumed their way to the tennis-court.
"Pretty poor stick, isn't he?" commented Lane, disgustedly. "Almost kills his father, and then laughs at it. Throws away in a few seconds more than enough to put the three of us half-way through our freshman year in college. No, I've no use for Whittington."
"If he'd had to earn his own money," remarked Spurling, "he'd look on things differently. He's got a good streak in him."
"Maybe so; but it'll take mighty hard work to bring it out. Well, here's the court. How'll we play?"
In Whittington's room father and son silently removed the traces of the disaster. Then the father pointed to a chair.
"Sit there! I've something to say to you."
Percy took the indicated seat. Whittington, senior's, jaw stiffened.
"Well!" he snapped. "Seems to me excuses are in order. You've smashed a thousand-dollar machine, ruined a five-hundred-dollar one, and just missed killing yourself and me in the bargain. Pretty afternoon's work, isn't it?"
Percy looked injured, almost defiant.
"You must know I'm mighty sorry to have dragged you into this scrape. I was half frightened to death when I thought you were hurt. But what odds does it make about the cars?"
A twinkle appeared in his eye.
"You've got the cash, Dad. Who'll spend it, if I don't?"
Taking out his book, he began rolling a cigarette.
"Stop that!" exclaimed his father, angrily, "and listen to me. It isn't the money I mind so much as it is the fool style in which you've thrown it away. Where's the thing going to end? That's what I want to know. If you'd only get mad when I talk to you, there'd be some hope for you. But you haven't backbone enough left to get mad. You've smoked it all away."
"Oh, come now, Dad!"
"You ask who'll spend the money. I know mighty well who won't, unless he strikes a new gait. There's plenty of colleges and hospitals to endow, and enough other ways of putting all I've got where it'll do some good. I've worked too hard and too long for my fortune to have a fool scatter it to the winds. You can come down to the hotel with me for supper. After that I'll foot the bills for your little excursion, and then go over alone to see Principal Blodgett. And let me say right now that it'll be a pretty important interview for you."
Lane, Spurling, and Stevens, their tennis over, were starting for their boarding-house. Crossing the campus, they met Percy and his father. The former nodded soberly. Whittington, senior, a cross of court-plaster on his right cheek, passed them without a glance.
"Percy doesn't look very happy," remarked Stevens, when they were at a safe distance.
"Just a passing cloud," grinned Lane. "It takes more than a little thing like junking a thousand-dollar auto to bother Percy. He'll forget all about it before to-morrow."
"See that dreadnought jaw on his father? If I was Percy I'd be kind of scary of that jaw. John P. Whittington isn't a man to stand much monkeying, or I miss my guess."
"Well, we've got troubles of our own, and no dad with a fat bank-account to foot the bills. Why so still, Jim? Something on your mind, eh?"
Jim's forehead was wrinkled.
"Wait!" was all he deigned.
Back in his room, after supper, he unbosomed himself: "A week ago I had a letter from Uncle Tom Sprowl. He lives in Stonington, on Deer Isle, east of Penobscot Bay; but most of the time he fishes and lobsters from Tarpaulin Island, ten miles south of Isle au Haut. Last month, just after he had started the season in good shape, he was taken down with rheumatism, and the doctor has ordered him to keep off the water for three months. Now that island is one of the best stands for fish and lobsters on the Maine coast. Somebody's going to use it this summer. Why shouldn't we? If we have reasonably good luck, we can clear up two hundred and fifty dollars apiece for the season's work. I've talked the thing over with Mr. Blodgett, and he thinks it's all right. Of course we'd be in for a lot of good hard work; but it's healthy, and we're all in first-class trim. We'd soon get hardened to it. Now, boys, it's up to you."
"Do you think that two such farmers as Throppy and I could make much of a fist at fishing?"
"Sure thing! I can show you how. I've fished since I was ten years old."
"Where did you say the island is?" asked Stevens.
"Right out in the Atlantic Ocean, a good twenty-five miles from the mainland. It's about a half-mile long and a quarter broad, partly covered with scrub evergreen, and has fifty acres of pasture. Uncle Tom's got some sheep there, too. He's afraid they'll be stolen; so he wants somebody there the earliest minute possible. He'll furnish all the gear and go halves with us on the season's catch. What do you say, Budge?"
"I'm with you, if Throppy is."
"It's a go," was Stevens's verdict.
Somebody knocked on the door.
"Come in!" called Spurling.
To their great surprise, in came Mr. Whittington.
Removing his Panama, he took the chair Spurling offered him. An unlighted cigar was gripped between his short, stubby fingers. There were dark circles under his steel-gray eyes, and his jaw had, if possible, more of a bulldog set than ever. His square, sturdy build, without fat or softness, suggested a freight locomotive with a driving power to go through anything. He was not a handsome man, but he was undeniably a strong one.
He plunged at once into the purpose of his visit.
"I guess you know I'm Whittington's father. I've just been over to Principal Blodgett's, having a talk about Percy. I don't need to tell you how he's spent his year here, so I'll come right to the point."
He leaned forward and fastened his keen eyes on Spurling.
"The principal says you plan to spend the summer fishing from an island on the Maine coast. I want Percy to go with you."
The three exchanged glances of amazement. Lane swallowed a grin. Nobody spoke for a half-minute; then Spurling broke the silence.
"I don't want to hurt your feelings, Mr. Whittington, but, honestly, the thing isn't possible. That island is ten miles from the nearest other land. We're not out for a pleasure junket, but for three months of the hardest kind of hard work. There'll be no automobiling, no pool or cards or moving pictures. It means being up at midnight, and not getting to bed until the fish have been taken care of. It means sore fingers and lame backs and aching joints. It means standing wind and cold and fog and rain until you're tired and wet and chilled to the bone. It's a dead-earnest business out there, one hundred days of it, and every day has got to count. A college year for the three of us hangs on this summer, and we can't risk having it spoiled. You'll have to think up some other place for Percy."
Mr. Whittington's chin set a trifle more firmly. He pulled out his cigar-case and proffered it to each of the boys in turn.
"Have a perfecto? No? Guess it's as well for you not to, after all. Wish Percy was taken that way. Excuse me if I light up. I can talk better."
Soon he was smoking hard.
"I want to have a little talk with you about my boy. Come, now, just between ourselves, what kind of a fellow is he? You probably know him better than I do. I've had my business; and he's been under tutors and away at school so long that I haven't seen much of him since his mother died, eight years ago."
The boys glanced at one another and hesitated. Young Whittington was a hard topic to discuss before his father. The millionaire misunderstood their silence. His face grew gloomy.
"Oh, well, if he's as bad as all that, no matter! I hoped he might have some good points."
"Don't misunderstand us, Mr. Whittington," said Spurling, quietly. "Percy isn't a bad fellow. He isn't dishonest. He doesn't cheat or crib. He's flunked honestly, and that counts for something. He's a good sprinter, and plays a rattling game of tennis, and he'd be a very fair baseball-player if he'd only let cigarettes alone. But he's soft and he's lazy. He's had too much money and taken things too easy. He's probably never earned a single cent or done a stroke of real work in his life. He's been in the habit of letting his pocketbook take the place of his brain and muscles; and he's got the idea that a check, if it's only large enough, can buy anything on earth. That's why he wouldn't be any good to himself or anybody else out on Tarpaulin Island. He'd simply be underfoot. It'd be cruel to take him there. Excuse me if I hurt your feelings. You've asked a straight question, and I've tried to give you a straight answer."
The man chewed the butt of his cigar for a few seconds. Then he removed it from his mouth and blew a smoke-ring.
"I don't believe," he said, reflectively, "that either of you three had any tougher time than I had when I was a boy. No school after fourteen. No college. Just work, work, work, and then some more work. But it hardened me up, made a man of me; perhaps it hardened me too much. Guess some of the men I've done business with have thought so. After I made my first million—"
He broke off abruptly.
"But let's get back to Percy. I've done everything in the world for that boy, and now I'm at the end of my rope. Tutors, private schools, summer camps, trainers, travel, automobiles—and what have they all amounted to?"
He talked rapidly and nervously, emphasizing with his cigar.
"It's no use to offer him any prize; he's had everything already. I found he was hitting too rapid a pace in the bigger schools, so I sent him down here. Thought he might do better in a quiet place. But his reports didn't show it, and the talk I've just had with the principal has pretty near discouraged me. I've bucked up against a good many tough propositions, but I'm free to say that he's the toughest. I don't see where he ever got that cigarette habit. I never smoked one in my life."
Again he began puffing furiously.
"He ought to have the stuff in him somewhere; and I believe a summer with you fellows'd bring it out. If it didn't, I don't know what would. Come, boys! Strain a point to oblige me! I'll pay you anything in reason. How large a check shall I write?"
He reached for his inside pocket. Spurling flushed and held up his hand.
"No, Mr. Whittington," said he, decidedly, "we can't do business that way. We're not running any reform school and we're not asking anybody to give us a cent. We're going out there to earn money for our first year in college, and we're going to take it out of the sea, every last copper! I don't say it to boast, but since I was ten I've had to shift for myself. I know where every cent in my pocket and every ounce of muscle on my body has come from. If Percy should go with us he'd have to take his medicine with the rest of us and pay his own way by working. Give us a little time alone to talk the matter over, and we'll soon tell you whether he can go or not."
Whittington heaved his square bulk erect and crushed on his hat.
"I'll be back in ten minutes."
Almost to the second he was at the door again. Stepping inside, he awaited their verdict, not trying to conceal his anxiety. A great relief overspread his face at Spurling's first words.
"All right, Mr. Whittington! Percy can come—on trial. He can stop with us a month. Then if we don't hitch together he'll have to leave. But if he likes it, and we like him, he can stay the rest of the summer. If the bunch earns anything over and above what it would have gotten if he hadn't been with us, he'll get it. If it doesn't, he won't."
Five minutes later the millionaire entered Percy's room. The latter was smoking a cigarette and playing solitaire. He glanced up expectantly, a couple of cards in his hand. As he sat down opposite his son, John Whittington had never looked grimmer. The vein swelled blue on his flushed temples, and the lines on his face were deeply drawn.
"Now, Percy, you and I are going to talk business. Put down those cards and chuck that coffin-nail into the stove. Why can't you use a man's smoke if you're going to smoke at all? I've been talking with Mr. Blodgett, and I find it's the same old story. You've wound up your preparatory course with a worse smash than you had this afternoon. You haven't made good. I'm beginning to doubt if you can make good. You've done worse every year. You're nothing now, and if you keep on like this you'll soon be worse than nothing. You can put down one thing good and solid—I won't stand for your going the pace like Chauncey Pike or George Brimmer's son. I'd give half my money—yes, the whole of it, if you had the stuff in you that young Spurling has. I mean it."
He stopped, then began again:
"I'm going to give you one chance more, and only one. It's quicksilver, kill or cure, and a stiff dose at that. I've just been talking with Spurling and his two friends. They're to spend the summer fishing from an island off the Maine coast, to earn money to start their college course. And you're going with them!"
"What! Me! I rather guess not! Nailed to the mast three months out on a rock like that? Not for a minute! Besides, I'm booked for Bar Harbor day after to-morrow. Got my ticket already."
"Let's look at it!"
Percy pulled out the slip of pasteboard and passed it over.
His father thrust it into his pocket.
"I can get the money on it. The agent'll take it back."
"But I don't want him to take it back."
The bulldog jaws clamped together.
"Oh, I say, Dad! Come, now! That isn't using me right!"
"Isn't using you right? Why not? Don't be a fool, Percy! Whose money bought that ticket?"
"Mi— Why—er—yours, of course!"
"Well, will you go to the island?"
"No, I will not."
"Then you don't get a cent more from me. You've overdrawn your bank-account already."
"How do you know? You haven't been down to the bank."
"You don't suppose I'd have a monthly check deposited to your account without arranging to know something about it, do you? Mighty poor business man if I did! Now, Percy, use what little brain you have! You've no money, and you can't earn any. Nobody would be fool enough to hire you. There's nothing on earth you can do. I'm going to give you one last chance to make a man of yourself. You've three months to make good in and I expect you to do it. You've got to make up those conditions and earn your salt to show there's some excuse for your being alive. Your whole life hangs on the way you spend the next hundred days. I start for the West Coast to-morrow, and won't be back till fall. I want you to write me—if you feel like it. Will you go?"
The strains of a violin came floating in through the open window. The academy bell struck ten long, lingering strokes.
"Well, what do you say? I'm waiting."
Percy swallowed hard.
A FRESH START
Two mornings later Percy Whittington was awakened in his room at the Thorndike in Rockland by a bell-boy hammering on his door.
"What's the matter?" he inquired, stupidly.
"Five o'clock! Five o'clock! Your call!"
"Is that all?" exclaimed Percy, relieved. "I didn't know but the hotel might be on fire."
He rolled over for another nap. Half an hour later he was roused by a lively tattoo beaten on the panels by two sets of vigorous knuckles.
"Inside there, Whittington!" exhorted Lane's voice. "Wake up! This isn't any rest-cure. The Stonington boat starts in twenty minutes. You've lost your breakfast, and unless you hustle you'll make us miss the steamer. Better let us in to help you pack!"
Percy bounded out of bed and admitted Lane and Spurling. While he dressed hastily they jammed his scattered belongings into two suit-cases. Stevens joined them in the hotel office and they made a lively spurt for Tillson's Wharf, reaching the Governor Bodwell just before her plank was pulled aboard.
The party had arrived in Rockland on the late train the night before, and were to start for Stonington early that morning. Percy's drowsiness had almost thwarted their plans.
"You'll have to revise your sleeping schedule, Whittington, when we get to Tarpaulin," said Spurling.
Percy was too much interested in the view opening before him to take offense at this remark.
It was a calm, beautiful June morning. A gentle breeze barely rippled the smooth, blue water as the Governor Bodwell headed eastward out of the harbor. Behind lay the city, fringed with lazily smoking lime-kilns, each contributing its quota to the dim haze that obscured the shore-line. Leaving on their left the little light on the tip of the long granite breakwater, and presently on their right the white tower on the hummock of Owl's Head, marking the entrance of rocky Muscle Ridge Channel, they were soon plowing across the blue floor of West Penobscot Bay. Due north, Rockport Harbor opened between wooded shores, while beyond it rose the Camden Hills, monarchs of the rolling line of mountains stretching up toward Belfast.
A five-mile sail, and they were threading their way through narrow, winding Fox Island Thoroughfare, to the wharf at North Haven. Thence across East Penobscot Bay, by Deer Island Thoroughfare, to the granite wharf at Stonington, the rockiest town in the United States. Here they disembarked, and a short walk up a side-street brought them to the house of Spurling's uncle, Mr. Thomas Sprowl.
Uncle Tom was at home, confined by his rheumatism and the doctor's orders. He greeted the boys gladly.
"Got your letter last night, Jim," said he, "and I can tell you it took a weight off my mind. Since I've been sick I've nigh fretted myself to death about Tarpaulin."
He groaned, and shifted himself painfully in his chair.
"Those twinges take me unexpected," he explained. "You see," returning to his subject, "all my gear's on the island, besides those fifty sheep. Quite a risk for a man with so little as I've got. You don't know how pleased I am that you fellows are going to be on deck there this summer. You're a good, husky lot—at least most of ye." He scanned Percy a trifle dubiously. "You'll have a fine time the next three months, and you'll make some money. Wish I could go down with ye!"
He winced and stifled another groan.
"When do you plan to start?"
"Just as soon as we can arrange for our boats and stores," replied Jim.
"Good enough! You can be there to-night, slick as a whistle. Remember the Barracouta, that old power-sloop we've taken so many trips in? I've had her overhauled this spring and a new seven-and-a-half-horse engine put in her; her jibs and mainsail are in first-class shape. You'll find her at my mooring near the steamboat wharf. My Bucksport dory has just been pulled up on the ledges and painted. You'll need another boat besides, so I've arranged with Sammy Stinson to let you have his pea-pod. She'll do to lobster in. Now as to gear. You'll find over a hundred lobster-traps piled up on the sea-wall near my cabin, and there's six tubs of trawl in the fish-shed. Keep an account of whatever stuff you have to buy for repairs, and we can settle at the end of the season."
"What's the best way of handling our catch?"
"The fish you can split and salt and take over to Matinicus once a week. Your lobsters will sell easy to some smackman. Captain Ben Higgins comes east from Portland every week in the Calista; he's been in the habit of making Tarpaulin his next port of call after York Island. You'll find him square as a brick. Better buy your supplies at Matinicus; it's a strong twelve miles off, but that isn't a bad run in decent weather."
The boys rose to go.
"Well, Uncle Tom," said Jim, "the next time we see each other, I hope you'll be feeling fit as a fiddle."
"You can't wish that any harder than I do, my boy. Oh, by the way, I nearly forgot one thing. Here, Nemo!"
A fox-terrier, lying on a rug, sprang up alertly. He was white, except for two brown ears and a diamond of the same color on the top of his head.
"Better take this dog along. The mate of a St. John coaster gave him to me last fall. I call him Captain Nemo. He's death on rats; and there's some on the island this year. Must have come ashore from a schooner wrecked there in the winter. Another thing! Got any gun?"
"Then there's my ten-gauge." He indicated a double-barreled shot-gun standing in the corner. "You'll find a couple of boxes of loaded shells in that table drawer. You may want to kill some ducks in the fall. Only don't shoot Oso!"
"Yes. My tame crow. I had a Spanish fellow with me a few weeks last summer, and he found the bird in a nest. Clipped one wing, so he couldn't get away from the island. Named him 'Oso'; said it meant 'The Bear.' He'll pester ye to death round the fish-house, after he gets acquainted."
Putting Nemo on a leash and taking the gun, the boys filed out. Uncle Tom called Jim back.
"I almost forgot to tell you to go to Parker's for your outfit. He'll use you right. Who's that pale-faced fellow with the tow head?"
Spurling told him briefly about Percy. Uncle Tom grunted.
"Needs salting, doesn't he? Well, he'll get it out there."
Down in Parker's general store on the main street the boys purchased their supplies. They laid in a generous stock of provisions of all sorts, and under Jim's expert direction reinforced the weak spots in their wardrobes to adapt them to the demands of the next three months. Oil-clothes, heavy under-clothing, hip boots of red rubber, white, doughnut-shaped woolen "nippers" for pulling trawls, and various other articles for convenience and comfort were added to their outfits.
Percy regarded it all in the light of a huge lark. Dressing himself in oilskins and rubber boots, he paraded up and down the store, much to the proprietor's disgust.
"Pretty fresh, isn't he?" remarked Parker to Jim. "After he's been out in two or three storms he'll find those clothes aren't so much of a joke."
The party's purchases were sent down to the steamboat wharf, to be added to the baggage already there. The boys followed, Percy swaggering superciliously along after the others, with his eternal cigarette.
Captain Nemo, towing behind Spurling on his leash, got in Percy's way, and the boy stepped on his foot. Nemo yelped, then growled and bristled.
"Get out, you cur!" exclaimed Percy, launching a kick at the beast.
"Easy, Whittington!" warned Spurling. "A dog doesn't forget. You don't want to make an enemy of him at the start."
"Enemy?" sneered Percy. "What do I care for that mangy cur! It'll teach him to keep out of my way."
Jim bit his lip, but said nothing. In a few minutes they were on the wharf.
A wiry, dark-complexioned lad of perhaps fifteen stood near the steamboat slip. He wore a faded suit of blue serge, a gray-flannel shirt with red necker-chief, and a soft black hat. His olive face and black eyes bespoke the Italian. Spurling and the others glanced at him casually; their interest was centered on assembling and loading their flotilla.
"There's the Barracouta!" said Jim, pointing to a sloop moored a hundred yards away. "And there's Stinson's pea-pod tied to her stern. That yellow dory up on the ledge must be Uncle Tom's. He said we'd find her oars and fittings at Haskell's boatshop."
Soon pea-pod and dory were being loaded beside the wharf. The young Italian had come to the string-piece, and was watching the embarkation. Jim saw that tears were trickling down his cheeks.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
The boy turned away, his breast heaving. Jim tossed the painter to Lane.
"Look out for the boat a minute, Budge! I want to find what the trouble is with that young fellow."
The lad had stepped across the wharf and was gazing sadly down into the water. Jim touched his shoulder.
"Don't you feel well, son?"
The kindly words had a surprising effect—the lad burst into tears. Jim tried to soothe him.
"There, there! It can't be so bad as all that! Tell me about it."
Little by little the boy's story came out. He was a Sicilian from a little village (un villaggio) not far from Messina. His name was Filippo Canamelli. His father was a mason (un muratore). Filippo and his older brother Frank had decided to seek their fortunes in America. Frank had gone over the year before, promising to send money back to pay for Filippo's passage. He had done so that winter, in Febbrajo. Filippo had sailed from Naples the next month, and had landed in New York in April. There he chanced upon a friend with whom his brother had left word for him to come to a certain address in Boston. But in that city he had lost all track of Frank. Searching aimlessly for him, he had drifted down to Stonington and had gone to work in the granite quarries. But he found the labor too hard and he was desperately homesick. He had given up his job the day before. What he should do and where he should go next he did not know. He talked rapidly between his sobs, while Jim listened.
When he had finished, Spurling stepped across the wharf to his waiting friends. Very briefly he rehearsed the Italian's story.
"Boys," he concluded, "what do you say to asking him to come down with us to Tarpaulin? I believe he's a clean, straight little fellow, and he can more than make up for his board by cooking and doing odd jobs. We can afford to pay him something to boot."
Before either Budge or Throppy had a chance to express an opinion Percy spoke out decidedly:
"Take that little Dago with us? I say no. You can't trust his kind. I know 'em. They're a thieving, treacherous lot, smooth to your face, but ready to stab you the minute your back's turned. I'll bet you a five-dollar bill he's got a knife hid somewhere about him. He might take a notion some night to cut all our throats."
"Whittington," said Spurling, bluntly, "under the circumstances it might be better taste for you not to speak until you've heard from the rest of us. My throat's worth just as much to me as yours is to you, and I don't feel I'd be running any great risk by inviting that boy to come along with us."
Lane and Stevens agreed.
"It's three against one, Whittington," said Jim.
He walked over to the Italian and said a few words to him. The lad's face lighted up with gratitude. Impulsively he bent and kissed Spurling's hand. Jim flushed with embarrassment as he and the stranger came back to the others.
"He'll be glad to go with us, fellows. Now let's get a move on and hustle this stuff aboard. We want to be settled at Tarpaulin before dark."
Soon all their goods were on the sloop. The dory was made fast to her stern and the pea-pod's painter tied to the dory. The expedition was ready to start. On board the Barracouta Lane and Stevens, standing side by side, faced Jim and brought their palms to their foreheads.
"Attention!" ordered Lane. "Spurling & Company! Salute!"
Jim returned the compliment with a sweep of his hand. He threw on the switch and rocked the wheel; the engine started—click-click-click.... Gathering headway, the Barracouta nosed south, dory and pea-pod trailing behind her. Before them lay an archipelago of granite islands.
"This is an old stamping-ground of mine," said Jim. "I've fished and lobstered round here so much that I know every rock and shoal for miles. That's Crotch Island on our west, with the derricks and quarries; they've taken no end of granite off it."
He held up his hand.
"Breezing up from the southwest. That'd be dead ahead if we went west of Isle au Haut as I'd planned. Guess we'll go east of it; then we can use our canvas to help us along. Steer for me, Budge, while I get sail on her!"
Soon outer jib, jumbo and mainsail were set and trimmed close, and Spurling again took the helm. The Barracouta ran southeast through Merchant's Row, a procession of rugged islets slipping by on either side; then south past Fog and York islands, with the long, high ridge of Isle au Haut walling the western horizon; down between Great Spoon and Little Spoon, past White Horse and Black Horse, toward the heaving blue of the open ocean.
A grum, melancholy note came floating over the long sea swells—Oo-oo-oo-ooh! And again, Oo-oo-oo-ooh!
"What's that!" exclaimed Percy.
"Whistling buoy south of Roaring Bull Ledge. One of our nearest neighbors. We'll hear that voice pretty often, when the wind's from the north."
They passed two miles east of the whistler, and gradually its warning blast grew fainter and fainter. On the horizon straight ahead a little black mound was slowly rising above the breaking waves. Jim swung his hand toward it.
"There's Tarpaulin! Our home for the next three months! Looks kind of small and lonesome when you're running offshore for it; but it's pretty good to make after an all-day fishing-trip. What's the matter, Whittington?"
Percy's face was somewhat white; for the last half-hour he had been strangely subdued.
"I don't feel very good," said he.
Spurling eyed him critically, then scanned the faces of the others. The Barracouta was rising and falling on the long swells in a manner decidedly disconcerting to weak stomachs. Stevens and the young Italian did not look much happier than Percy. Jim could not help smiling a little.
"Good seasick weather!" he observed, judicially. "Excuse me for laughing, boys! It's a mean thing to do, but I can't help it. I've been there myself—years ago. You'll be worse before you're better."
They were, considerably, all three, Percy in particular. For the next hour conversation dragged; but all the while Tarpaulin loomed larger and larger. To Jim it wore the aspect of an old friend, and he dilated on its features for the benefit of the others.
"You see that western end is fifty acres of pasture, sloping north; those gray dots are sheep grazing. The eastern half is just scrub evergreen. That little cove on the northeast corner's the Sly Hole; you mightn't think it, but a good-sized schooner can ride there at low tide. Pretty rocky all round. Always a surf breaking on one side or the other. Our landing-place is on the south."
Before long the Barracouta and her tow were skirting the eastern ledges. Under the island it was comparatively calm, and the seasick three felt better. Then, as they rounded a wooded promontory and turned west, it grew rough again, but only for a few minutes. Spurling steered the sloop into calm water behind the protecting elbow of another point, off which lay the half-submerged hulk of a wrecked vessel.
"Sprawl's Cove!" exclaimed Jim. "How do you like the looks of your hotel, Whittington?"
Curiosity dispelled the last vestiges of Percy's seasickness. For a little while he gazed without speaking.
A cove four hundred feet wide opened toward the south between two rocky points. At its head a pebbly beach sloped up to a sea-wall, behind which a growth of cattails bespoke a stagnant lagoon. Still farther back a steep bank of dirt rose to the overhanging sod of the pasture.
From the western point a spur extended into the cove, forming a little haven amply large enough for a modest fleet of fishing-boats. Near by on the sea-wall stood two structures, one low, oblong, flat-roofed, with a rusty iron stovepipe projecting from its farther end; the other a small, paintless shed with a large door. Percy gave them only a casual glance.
"You said we were going to live in a camp. Where is it?"
Jim pointed to the first structure.
"There! It's the cabin of an old vessel that came ashore here in a southerly gale years ago. Uncle Tom jacked it up a foot, put in a good floor, and made it into a first-rate camp. It's got bunks for half a dozen, and at a pinch could hold more. The roof's a bit leaky, but we'll soon fix that. There's a good stove, and always plenty of driftwood on the beach. It's a mighty snug place on a stormy day."
Percy turned up his nose at this list of good points.
"What's that pile of chicken-coops near it?"
"And that big box with its top just above water?"
"A lobster-car. All that we catch in the traps we put in there until the smack comes."
The mooring-buoy was now alongside. Making the Barracouta fast, the boys went ashore in the dory and pea-pod. Percy became conscious that he was thirsty.
"Where can I get a drink?"
"There's the spring at the foot of that bank."
Opening a trap-door in a rude wooden cover, Percy looked down into a shallow well. The only cup at hand was an empty tin can. Rather disdainfully he dipped it full and tasted, then spat with a wry face.
"It's brackish!" he called out, indignantly. "I can't drink that."
Spurling and the others were hard at work unloading the boats. Percy repeated his complaint:
"I can't drink that stuff."
Jim was staggering up the beach, a heavy box of groceries in his arms.
"Sorry!" he replied, indifferently. "That's what all the rest of us'll have to drink. It isn't Poland water, but I've tasted worse."
Percy slammed down the cover and tossed away the can in a huff. Lane was passing boxes and bundles ashore from the dory to Stevens and Filippo.
"Catch hold here, Whittington, and help tote some of this stuff up to the cabin," exhorted Budge.
Percy complied ungraciously; but he was careful not to tackle anything very heavy.
"I didn't come out here to make a pack-mule of myself," was his mental remark.
Jim unfastened the rusty padlock on the cabin door and stepped inside. Percy followed him, eager to get a glimpse of his new home.
The camp had not been opened for some weeks; it smelled close and stuffy. As Percy crossed its threshold his nostrils were greeted by a mingled odor of salt, tarred rope, and decaying wood, flavored with a faint suggestion of fish. Mastering his repugnance, he looked about.
He saw a single, low room, nine by fifteen, dimly lighted by three small windows, one in the farther end directly opposite the door, the remaining two facing each other in the middle of the long sides. Along the right wall on each side of the central window was built a tier of two bunks. On Percy's left, over a wooden sink in the corner near the door, was a rough cupboard. Next came a small, rusty stove with an oven for baking; then, under the window, an unpainted table; and on the wall beyond, a series of hooks from which were suspended various articles of clothing and coils of rope. Empty soap-boxes supplied the place of chairs.
With nose uplifted and a growing disgust on his features, Percy surveyed the cramped, dingy room.
"How do you like it?" asked Spurling.
"You don't mean to say that five of us have got to live in this hole?"
"Nowhere else, unless you want to stay out on the beach or in the fish-house."
"But where do we sleep?"
"There!" Jim gestured toward the wooden framework on the right wall.
Percy thrust his hand into one of the bunks.
"Why, there's no mattress or spring here! It's only a bare box!"
"That's just what it is, Whittington! You've hit the nail on the head this time. You'll have to spread your blanket on the soft side of a pine board. If you want something real luxurious you can go into the woods and cut an armful of spruce boughs to strew under you."
Percy disregarded this badinage. From his view-point the situation was too serious for jesting. It was outrageous that he, the son of John P. Whittington, should be expected to shift for himself like an ordinary fisherman.
"I'm not used to living in a pigpen!" he snapped. "This cabin's too dark to be healthy; besides, it isn't clean."
A spark of temper flashed in Spurling's eyes.
"Stop right there, Whittington! This is my uncle Tom's cabin. Any place that's been shut up for weeks seems stuffy when it's first opened. You'll find that there are things a good deal worse than salt and tar and fish and a few cobwebs. I want to tell you a story I read some time ago. Once in the winter a party of Highlanders were out on a foray. Night overtook them beside a river in the mountains, and they prepared to camp in the open. Each drenched his plaid in the stream, rolled it round his body, and lay down to rest in the snow, knowing that the outside layers of cloth would soon freeze hard and form a sleeping-bag. In the party were an old chieftain and his grandson of eighteen. The boy wet his plaid like the others, but before he lay down he rolled up a snowball for a pillow. The old chief kicked it out from under the lad's head. He didn't propose to have his grandson be so effeminate as to indulge himself in the luxury of a pillow when everybody else was lying flat on the ground."
Whittington grunted. "I don't see how that applies to me."
"In this way. You've lived too soft. You need something to wake you up to the real hardships that men have to go through. Then you won't be so fussy over little things. Perhaps I've talked plainer to you than I should; but I believe in going after a fellow with a club before his face rather than a knife behind his back. Now let's open those windows so the fresh air can blow through, build a fire in the stove to dry out the damp, and get everything shipshape. After supper we'll go up on top of the island and take a look about."
It was nearly seven when the sloop was finally unloaded and everything stowed under cover. Filippo had collected plenty of driftwood, and a fire crackling merrily in the rusty stove soon made the cabin dry and warm.
Jim, in his shirt-sleeves, superintended the preparation of supper. The wall cupboard yielded a supply of ordinary dishes, cups, and saucers. There were old-fashioned iron knives and forks, iron spoons of different sizes, and thick, yellow, earthenware mugs. Despite Percy's slur, everything was clean.
"Make us a pan of biscuit, Budge; and I'll fry some potatoes and broil the steak," volunteered Jim. "After to-night we'll have to break in somebody else to do the cooking. You and I'll be too busy outside."
Percy heard and registered a silent vow that the cook should not be himself. Pricked by Spurling's earlier remarks, he had taken an active part in unloading the boats, and he had been glad to throw himself into one of the despised bunks to rest.
At last supper was ready. The steak, potatoes, and hot biscuit diffused a pleasant aroma through the cabin.
"Pull up your soap-boxes, all hands!" invited Spurling. "Don't be afraid of that steak! There's plenty of it for everybody. It's liable to be the last meat we'll have for some time. The butcher doesn't go by here very often."
The boys made a hearty meal. Even Percy's fastidiousness did not prevent him from eating his full share. But he took no part in the jokes flying round the table. Jim's sermon had left him rather glum. Lane noticed it.
"Why so distant, Whittington?" he inquired.
Before Percy could open his mouth to reply a black body shot with a squawk through the open door and alighted on the corner of the table close to Percy's elbow.
"Hullo! This must be Oso!" exclaimed Jim.
The crow croaked hoarsely. On Percy's plate lay a single morsel of steak, the choicest of his helping, reserved till the last. Seeing the bird's beady black eyes fasten upon it he made a quick movement to impale it with his fork. But Oso was quicker still. Down darted his sharp beak and snatched the titbit from under the very points of the tines. A single gulp and the meat was gone.
A roar of laughter went round the table. Starting up furiously, Percy aimed a blow at the crow. But the bird eluded him and scaled out of the door with a triumphant screech. Budge proffered mock consolation.
"Percy," said he, "that was the best piece in the whole steak. I saw you saving it until the last. Too bad, old man! Now you'll have to eat crow to get it."
"I'll wring that thief's neck if I can catch him," vowed the angry Whittington.
"Guess we can trust Oso not to leave his neck lying round where you can get hold of it," observed Lane. "Come on! Let's you and I wash the dishes!"
"Dishes nothing!" snarled Percy.
Stalking out, he gathered a handful of convenient pebbles and lay in wait for the culprit. But the crow had disappeared.
"I'll get even with him later," muttered Whittington.
He remained sulkily outside, taking no part in clearing away the supper-table. At half past seven the others joined him.
"Feeling better, old man?" queried Lane, solicitously.
"Fall in, Whittington," said Jim. "We're going on a tour of inspection."
"Wait a minute," remarked Lane. "We've had our house-warming. The next thing is to christen the place."
Dragging out a soap-box, he mounted it, produced from his pocket a piece of red chalk, and traced in large letters over the door, "CAMP SPURLING."
"Now we're off!" said he. "Welcome to our city! Watch us grow!"
"Come on!" urged Jim. "We want to look the island over before dark."
The party walked west along the sea-wall and proceeded in single file up a steep path to the highest part of the promontory.
"Brimstone Point," said Jim. "Best view on the island from here."
He began pointing out its different features.
"That little nubble almost west, sticking up so black against the sunset's Seal Island. Matinicus is right behind it. Up there on the horizon, just a trifle west of north, are the Camden Hills; you look exactly over Vinalhaven to see them. North across the pasture is Isle au Haut that we came by this afternoon. Beyond is Stonington. About time the lights were lit—Yes, there's Saddleback! See it twinkling west of Isle au Haut. Now look sharp a little south of west and you'll see Matinicus Rock glimmering; two lights, but they seem like one from here. Wouldn't think they were almost a hundred feet above water, would you? They look pretty good to a man when he's running in from outside on a dark night."
It was a magnificent evening, the air clear as crystal, the sky without a cloud. Gulls were wheeling and screaming about the promontory, their cries mingling with the rote of surf at its base. Sheep bleated from the pasture. A hawk sailed slowly in from the ocean and disappeared in the woods behind the eastern point. From under the boys' feet rose the fragrance of sweet grass and pennyroyal. Tall mullein stalks reared their spires on the hillside; and here and there were little plats white with thick strawberry blossoms.
The boys gazed their fill. Gradually the red sky darkened and the stars began to come out. Saddleback and Matinicus Rock gleamed more brightly. A cool breeze from the south sprang up. Jim roused himself.
"Guess we won't have time to look about any more to-night. Never mind! There are evenings enough ahead of us before September. One thing out here—no matter how hot the day may be, it's always cool after dark. Let's be getting back to camp!"
Two small kerosene-lamps from the cupboard made the cabin seem actually cheerful. Percy dug into one of his suit-cases and produced a pack of cards.
"Let's have a game, fellows! What shall it be?"
"Might as well put those up, Whittington," said Spurling. "We're going to turn in as soon as we get things arranged. We've a busy to-morrow before us."
Somewhat disappointed, Percy put the cards back. Taking four wooden toothpicks, Jim broke them into uneven lengths. He grasped them in his right hand so that the tops formed a straight line.
"Now we'll draw lots for bunks! Filippo's going to sleep in the hammock across that corner beyond the table, so he won't be in this. Longest stick is lower bunk next the door; second longest, lower bunk back; third, upper bunk near door; shortest, other upper. Draw, Throppy!"
Stevens drew; then Budge and Percy followed him. They matched sticks. Percy got the lower near the door, with Budge over him; while Spurling drew the back lower, and Stevens the one above that.
"Percy and I are the lucky ones," said Jim. "We can try this a month, then have a shake-up to give you top men a chance nearer the floor."
Percy pulled out his wrappers and tobacco. Spurling nipped his preparations in the bud.
"No cigarettes in here!"
"Can't I smoke just one?"
"Not inside this cabin. It's too close. We might as well make that a permanent rule."
"All right! You're the doctor! But I thought it might help kill this smell of tarred rope."
"I like the tarred rope better than I do the cigarettes."
Percy went outside and burned his coffin-nail unsociably. When he came back the cabin was shipshape for the night. Jim was setting the alarm-clock. Percy, watching him, thought he detected a mistake.
"You've got the V on the wrong side of the I," he said. "IV doesn't stand for six."
"But I didn't mean six," retorted Spurling. "I meant four. Now you see why we haven't any time for card-playing. And as soon as we're really at work we'll be getting up a good deal earlier than that. Turn in, fellows!"
He extinguished one of the small lamps.
"You can put out the other one, when you're ready," said he as he crept into his bunk.
Following the example of his associates, Percy draped his clothing over his soap-box and the lower end of his bunk, then blew out the lamp and turned in, barking his shins as he did so. He found his couch anything but comfortable. A single blanket between one's body and a board does not make the board much softer. Neither is a tightly rolled sweater an exact equivalent for a feather pillow. Further, the comforter over him was none too warm, as two windows, opened for ventilation, allowed the cool ocean breeze to circulate freely through the cabin. They also admitted numerous mosquitoes, which sung and stung industriously.
The hours of darkness dragged on miserably. Percy dozed and woke, only to doze and wake again. An occasional creaking board or muttered exclamation told that, like himself, his mates were not finding their first night one of unalloyed comfort.
Bare feet struck the floor. A match scraped, and Percy saw Jim gazing at the alarm-clock.
"What time is it?" groaned Budge from above.
"Only ten minutes to twelve."
"Gee! I wish it was morning."
"Me too!" complained Stevens from the darkness aloft.
Percy echoed the wish, silently but fervently. And then in an instant all their discomfort was forgotten. Bursting through the open window, a sudden sound shattered the midnight stillness.
There was no mistaking that sharp, whip-like report. It was the crack of a revolver!
Breaking the silence at a time when they had felt certain that the nearest human being was miles away, the sound had a startling effect on the five boys. Not one but felt a thrill of apprehension, almost of dread. Who besides themselves was astir at so late an hour on that lonely island? Why? The weapon that produced the report must have been aimed at something. What? For a moment they remained silent, breathless.
A second shot, distant but distinct, rang out from beyond the brow of the bank behind the cabin. Spurling sprang from his bunk.
"Boys!" he shouted. "Somebody's after those sheep! Turn out!"
Hurriedly he began dressing. The other four followed his example, fumbling with clumsy fingers in the darkness. Nemo gave a short, sharp bark.
"Quiet, boy!" ordered Jim; and the dog subsided, growling.
Percy experienced a peculiar shakiness; but he dressed with the others. Out here were no policemen or other officers to enforce the laws. Whatever was done they must do themselves.
Jim, his first excitement over, was cool as usual.
"All dressed, fellows?" he inquired, as calmly as if the pursuit of midnight thieves was a common incident.
Everybody was ready.
"Going to take the dog?" asked Throppy.
"No! Leave him here! He might bark when we didn't want him to."
"Here's the gun!" volunteered Lane.
"Don't want it! If we had it with us, we might lose our heads and shoot somebody. Whoever they are, they haven't the least idea there's any one on the island besides themselves. They've probably landed at the Sly Hole from some vessel that's approached the north shore since it came dark. Hungry for a little lamb or mutton! But those sheep have stood Uncle Tom a good many dollars and he can't afford to lose any of 'em. Where's that flash-light?"
"Here 'tis!" said Budge, passing him the electric lantern.
Jim snapped it quickly on and off again.
"Righto!" was his verdict. "All ready? Then come on! But first tie that dog to the stove-leg, so he won't bolt out the second we open the door."
Throppy fastened Nemo.
"Quiet now!" cautioned Jim.
He opened the door carefully, and the five filed out into damp, cool, midnight air.
Stars filled the sky. A gentle wind was blowing from the southwest. Nothing broke the stillness save the low murmur of the sea on the ledges. Without hesitation Jim led his party at a dog-trot eastward along the beach. When he reached the rocks he halted.
"We'll go straight across to the Sly Hole," he said. "I know a short cut through the woods. Either they've killed a sheep already and are carrying it down to their boat or they've frightened the animals so that it'll take some time to get near enough to 'em again to shoot. What sticks me is why they don't use a shot-gun instead of a revolver. Now, boys! Right up over the rocks!"
It was a rough climb, but soon they were on the top of the bluff. Unerringly Jim led them to the entrance of a narrow trail penetrating the scrubby growth.
"Look out for your eyes! Don't follow too close!"
The pliant, whipping branches emphasized his caution. By the time the party gained the north shore their hands and faces were badly scratched.
The little basin of the Sly Hole lay below. Looking down, they could make out a dark object at the water's edge.
"There's their boat!" whispered Jim. "They're still on the island."
Another report from the pasture beyond the evergreens echoed emphatic confirmation to his statement. Jim took two steps toward the sound, then stopped.
"Not yet! I know a better way. Stay here and keep watch."
He scrambled down to the beach. There was a slight grating of gravel, and presently the boat was afloat. Noiselessly, under Spurling's skilful sculling, it slipped out of the cove and vanished behind the ledges to the east. Before long Jim was back with his companions.
"I've made their dory fast in a little gulch among the rockweed," said he. "They'd have a hard time to find it unless somebody told 'em where it is. They can't get away without having a reckoning with us."
Three reports in quick succession. Jim laughed.
"Wasting a lot of cartridges! Must want that mutton pretty bad! Either they're awful poor shots or they've made the sheep so wild they can't get anywhere near 'em. There's their vessel!"
The boys' eyes followed his pointing finger. Not far offshore were the vague outlines of a schooner.
"All black!" said Jim. "Not a light of any sort! That looks bad. Besides being against the law, it shows there's some reason why they don't want to be recognized. I don't know what kind of scalawags we're up against, but we've got to be mighty careful."
Percy felt a strange sinking at the pit of his stomach. To be plunged into an encounter with a gang of unknown ruffians on his first night offshore was more than he had bargained for. For a minute Jim stood thinking.
"I'm almost sorry we didn't take that shot-gun!" he muttered. "No, I'm not, either! We might be tempted to use it, and that'd be worse than losing every sheep on the island. Hold on! I've got an idea."
The boys gathered closely round him.
"Listen!" he whispered. "Budge and I will go ahead through the woods to the pasture. You three follow close behind. If there's any shooting, throw yourselves flat. No use taking chances with such fellows as those!"
Crouching low, sometimes actually creeping, the party, Jim and Lane in the lead, made their way under the close boughs toward the open. Suddenly Jim sank to the ground. Warned by his whisper, the others did the same.
Footsteps were approaching. Then voices in heated argument reached their ears.
"Aw, come on, Cap!" expostulated one unseen speaker. "What's the use chasin' round over this pasture all night? Here we've wasted an hour already. I've fired away all my cartridges, and we haven't nailed a single bleater. We've got 'em so wild we can't sneak up within half a mile of 'em. Let's quit it for a bad job, go aboard, and turn in!"
"Cut it out, Dolph!" impatiently retorted another voice. "You've got a backbone like a rope! Guess if you were footing the grub bill aboard the Silicon you wouldn't be so fussy about being broken of your beauty sleep. I've paid out all the good dollars for stores that I intend to on this trip. You know we've plenty of ice aboard, and a couple of these sheep'll furnish enough fresh meat to last us to the Bay of Fundy and back. That ought to hit you in a tender spot. You're always the first man down at the table and the last to leave it."
"You needn't twit me on my appetite, Bart Brittler!" exclaimed the other, angrily. "If you weren't so stingy with the grub on board your old catamaran I wouldn't be hungry all the time. A man who makes as much money as you do, runnin' in—"
"Stop right there! You know there's some things that were never to be mentioned."
"What's the harm? There's nobody within miles!"
"That may be. But we can't be too careful in our business. Now what about the sheep?"
"I'll stop here half an hour longer. Then I'm goin' aboard."
"Well, I'll tell you what we'll do. You hide in the edge of the woods, and I'll make a circuit and drive 'em down to you. Here, take these cartridges and my revolver! That'll give you two to work with. You'll have to shoot quick when they come."
There was a sound of breaking branches. The boys flattened themselves on the carpet of needles as a man's body crashed toward them through the underbrush.
"All right!" announced Dolph. "I've found a good place, close to a sheep-path. Now drive down your mutton, and I'll butcher it as it goes by. Will two be enough?"
"Sure! And that's two more than I'm afraid you'll get, unless you shoot straighter than we've done so far to-night. It may be twenty minutes before they come, for I'm going to make a wide circle to the west, so as to get behind 'em."
The captain's footsteps died hollowly away on the turf and Dolph settled himself comfortably in his chosen ambush, almost within reach of Jim's hand. Five minutes of silence passed. Jim was debating what he should do. Budge lay close to him, and not far back were Throppy, Percy, and Filippo, hardly daring to breathe. Circumstances had placed one of the marauders so nearly within their grasp that a sudden, well-planned attack could hardly fail to make him their prisoner. But there must be no bungling. A man with two loaded revolvers, and desperate from panic, would be a dangerous customer unless he were overpowered at once.
It would not do to let too much time go by. Brittler would soon be returning, driving the sheep ahead of him; then they would have two lawless men to contend with, instead of one, unless they chose to be quiet and tamely allow the spoilers to make off with their booty.
Jim came to his decision like the snapping of the jaws of a steel trap.
Reaching back, he pressed Budge's hand, as a signal for him to be ready. Budge returned the pressure. Dolph stirred and drew a long breath. There was a moment of suspense. Overhead, a crow cawed harshly.
Noiselessly Jim rose to his hands and knees and crept forward. The small twigs and needles, crackling under his weight, sounded in his ears like exploding fireworks. He stopped; went on again; stopped; went on again. How could Dolph fail to hear him coming? The distance was less than two yards, but to the crawling lad it seemed far longer.
Now he was close behind the unconscious bandit. He straightened up, setting his right foot squarely on the ground. As he did so a little branch snapped. Dolph, startled, turned his head. Before he could lift a finger Jim was upon him like a panther.
There was an indistinct cry of alarm.
Off went a revolver, discharged at random, and the two were struggling in a confused heap under the low boughs.
It was a short fight. A third figure launched itself into the melee. Though not nearly so strong as Jim, Budge alone would have been a good match for any average man, and the two of them together speedily vanquished Dolph. A firm hand was pressed over his mouth and he was relieved of his automatics. Finding that his captors were not disposed to injure him, he soon ceased his struggles.
Silence again. One of the would-be plunderers and the weapons of both were in the boys' hands. What should they do next?
"Hi! Hi! Scat, you brutes! Get a move on!"
Brittler's voice shattered the midnight stillness as he came, driving the sheep before him. From their covert the boys could look across the pasture and see the black, leaping shapes fast drawing nearer. It was high time to prepare to meet their second foe.
"Throppy, Whittington, Filippo! Come here! Quick!"
They came, Percy in the rear, his knees shaking.
"Budge, can the four of you handle this man if I let go?"
"Keep his mouth shut till I tell you he can open it!"
Lane's hand replaced Jim's over Dolph's lips. The other three grasped him wherever they could find a chance. It would not have taken much to shake off Percy's trembling grip, but the prisoner was content to remain quiet.
There was a patter of hoofs; the sheep were coming. Soon they were flitting by the ambush, shying off as their keen senses warned them of possible danger. Again they scattered toward the northwest end of the island. After them danced Brittler, roaring with anger.
"What are you waiting for, you numskull?" he cried. "Why didn't you shoot? I heard you fire once some minutes ago, and thought you might have been aiming at a stray one. I had almost the whole flock bunched right before me. You couldn't get a better chance if you waited a week. Now I've got to waste another half-hour chasing 'em round again. What's the matter with you, anyway? Why don't you speak?"
He was within five yards of the silent group under the spruces when Spurling's voice rang sharply out:
At the same instant he flashed the ray from his electric lantern straight into the captain's face.
Brittler stopped short, as if struck by lightning. His jaw dropped, and a ludicrous look of alarm and bewilderment overspread his features.
"Take your hand off his mouth, Budge," ordered Jim, "and let him tell the captain what's happened."
Thus adjured, Dolph spoke:
"I've been taken prisoner, Captain. They jumped on me in the dark and I had a chance to fire only one shot. I think there's at least half a dozen of 'em, and they've got both our revolvers, so we haven't a chance. That's all there is to it."
Brittler had recovered from his first panic. He bristled up with pretended indignation.
"What do you mean, whoever you are, by jumping on us this way? And take that light off my face! I don't like it."
Spurting did not remove the steady ray from the features of the irate captain. He waited a moment before replying.
"Captain Brittler," he said, "you and Dolph came to steal sheep, and it isn't your fault that you haven't been able to do it. You thought there was nobody on this island and that you could kill and take to suit yourselves. You've been caught red-handed. By good rights you ought to be turned over to the sheriff. We'll let you go this time, but if we catch you here on such an errand again you'll have a chance to tell your story before a jury."
"How'd you come to know my name?" blustered the captain. "I s'pose you've been pumping that mealy-mouthed landlubber of a Dolph."
"Dolph hasn't said a word till he spoke to you just now. He couldn't. I guess we understand each other, so you and he had better start for the Silicon. You'll find your dory in the rockweed about fifty feet east of the cove. I'll keep your revolvers a few days, and then mail them to you at the Rockland post-office. You can get 'em there. Better go now! Turn that man loose, Budge!"
Muttering vengeance, Dolph and the captain disappeared in the direction of the Sly Hole. After giving them ample time to find the dory, the boys quietly made their way to the north shore.
A boat with two men was visible, rowing out to the Silicon. As soon as it reached its destination the schooner got under way and proceeded eastward.
"I don't like the looks of that craft," said Spurling. "There's something suspicious about her. Did you hear what Dolph said to the captain about making money? They're engaged in some kind of smuggling, or I'll eat my hat! But what it can be I haven't any idea. Well, we're lucky to be rid of 'em so easily. Guess they'll give Tarpaulin Island a wide berth after this. And it's dollars to doughnuts the captain never inquires after those revolvers at the Rockland office. I didn't feel it was quite safe to give 'em back to him just now, but I didn't want to take 'em away for good. He can do as he pleases about sending for 'em."
"It's past one, and we'd better be getting back to camp, or we won't be in condition for our busy day to-morrow. Come on, boys!"
Slowly, and a trifle weariedly, the five made their way across the island. Even though the fire in the stove had gone out long since, the warmth of the cabin felt good to them.
"Well, Whittington," remarked Spurling as they once more crept into their bunks, "how do you like your first night on Tarpaulin? Some life out here, after all, eh?"
Percy had recovered his assurance. Now that the experience was over he rather enjoyed it.
"Not so bad," he replied.
Before he went to sleep he lay for some time thinking.
A persistent metallic whirring broke rudely in upon the dreams of the heavy sleepers in Camp Spurling. It was four o'clock. It seemed to Percy as if he had never before found so much trouble in getting his eyes open.
"Choke that clock off, somebody!" shouted Lane from overhead. "I'm not deaf, but I shall be if this hullabaloo keeps on much longer."
Spurling, who was already half-dressed, checked the alarm. The red rays of the morning sun, striking through the eastern window, bathed everything in crimson. The minds of the boys turned naturally to the foiled thieves.
"Where do you think the Silicon is?" asked Throppy.
"Twenty-five miles east, and making for Fundy as fast as sail and gasolene'll take her," replied Jim. "She can't go any too far or fast to suit me."
A hearty breakfast of fried bacon, hot biscuits, and coffee made the drowsy crowd feel better.
"Now," said Spurling, "we've got a big day's work ahead of us, and the sooner we start on it the better. We want to begin as quick as we can to round up some of those dollars that are finning and crawling in to us, so we mustn't waste any time in getting our trawls and traps overboard. First of all, we need bait. We can buy hake heads for our lobster-traps from the fish-wharf at Matinicus, and herring for the trawls from one of the weirs at Vinalhaven. That means traveling over forty miles; but it's fine weather, and we ought to do it easily. Besides, it'll give you fellows a good chance to learn how to handle a power-sloop. We'll take the trawls with us, and bait 'em on the way back, so as not to lose any time; and we'll set most of those lobster-traps this afternoon."
They all went over to the fish-house, and Jim swung the door wide open. Five great hogsheads inside caught Percy's eye.
"What're those for?" he asked.
"Holding fish. Each one'll take care of what two thousand pounds of round fish'll make after they're dressed and salted."
"What do you mean by round fish?"
"Just as they come out of the water, before they're cleaned."
"What're those half-barrels, full of small rope?"
"Trawl-tubs; and those coils inside are the trawls. Each tub holds about five hundred fathoms of ground-line, with a thirty-eight-inch ganging, or short line with a hook on its end, tied every five feet; so there're between five hundred and six hundred hooks to every tub. One man alone can bait and handle four tubs of trawl. Two of us are going to fish together, so we ought to be able to swing six tubs without any trouble."
Percy looked about the house. Other barrels stood there; a net was draped over the beams; many coils of small rope were hung along the walls or piled on the floor. His attention was attracted by a large heap of peculiarly shaped pieces of wood. Each was eighteen inches long, five inches square at one end, and tapered almost to a point at the other, near which a hole was bored; they were painted white, encircled by a single green stripe, and bore the brand "SP."
"Cedar lobster-buoys," said Jim. "SP's my Uncle Tom's brand. Every man has a different kind, so his floats won't get mixed with anybody else's. Now let's take these tubs of trawl aboard the sloop."
At six the Barracouta, carrying the five boys and towing the dory, started from Sprowl's Cove for Matinicus. It was so calm that the sails were of little assistance, and they had to depend almost entirely on the engine. Rounding Brimstone Point, they headed slightly north of west for Seal Island, about six miles away.
Everybody took his turn at steering, Jim acting as instructor.
"Any one of you may be called on to handle this boat alone some time in the next three months, and you can't begin learning how any too early."
Percy's experience with automobiles stood him in good stead. He was naturally interested in machinery, and soon mastered the details of the Barracouta's engine. The others also showed themselves apt pupils.
At half past seven the high cliffs of Seal Island lay to the north. Passing for a mile along its rocky shores, they kept on toward Matinicus, now rising into view. Jim pointed to a breaker a little south of their course.
"Malcolm's Ledges! A bad bunch of rocks. Years ago a fishing-schooner struck there in the night. Crew thought at first they'd reached safety, but they soon found it was only a half-tide ledge. The vessel heaved over it when the water rose, and sunk, so that only her topmast stuck out. One man, the sole survivor, hung to that. He was taken off in the morning, but his arm was worn almost to the bone by the swaying of the mast."
Farther on they passed the long, treeless, granite hump of Wooden Ball, with its few lobstering-shacks, and sheep grazing in its grassy valleys. Ledge after ledge went by, until at last they entered the little rocky haven of Matinicus, crammed with moored sloops and power-boats, and ran in beside the high, granite fish-pier at its head.
Percy found everything new and strange—the stilted wharves on the ledges, heaped with lobster-traps and festooned with buoys of all shapes and colors; the fish-pier with its open shed, sheltering the dark, discolored hogsheads rounded up with salted fish; the men in oilskin "petticoats," busy with splitting-knives on hake and cod and pollock and haddock, brought in by the noisy power-boats; the lighthouse-keepers from Matinicus Rock, five miles south, in military caps, oilskins, and red rubber boots, towing a dory to be dumped full of slimy hake heads for lobster bait; the post-office and general store above the cove, and the spruce-crowned rocks beyond it.
Jim pointed out a bronze tablet on a slanting ledge.
"In memory of Ebenezer Hall, first English settler on Matinicus. He lived with his family in a log house at the head of this cove. In 1757 some Indians were camped on one of the Green Islands, six miles or so northwest, living on the eggs of seabirds. Hall went over to the island one day and set fire to the grass, destroying the nests and eggs. Next morning five Indians in two canoes came over to Matinicus to take revenge. They landed on this beach, built a fire, and began cooking their breakfast. Hall had barricaded himself indoors, but he could put his head up through a little lookout in the top of his cabin. He wanted to shoot the Indians, but his wife wouldn't let him. After they had eaten they scattered and opened fire on the house from different points. Hall replied. Finally the Indians were reduced to their last half-bullet. One of them lay flat in that little hollow, while the others pretended to launch their canoes. Hall stuck his head up through the lookout to see what was going on, and the ambushed Indian sent the half-bullet through his brain. He dropped back inside. They wouldn't have known he was hit if his wife hadn't cried out for quarter. They burst open the door and carried her off, with her daughter and one son. Another boy escaped out of a back window and hid in the swamp, and they couldn't find him. Afterward he settled on an island close to Vinalhaven, where Heron's Neck Light is now."
"Hall had better not have burned that grass," said Percy.
"Yes," replied Jim. "If he had minded his own business and let the Indians alone he wouldn't have stopped that last half-bullet."
The fish-pier was in charge of a superintendent, employed by a large Gloucester concern. Jim arranged to sell here whatever fish they might catch during the summer. He also bought several bushels of salt, as well as two barrels of hake heads to start them in lobstering. The Barracouta's tank was filled with twenty-five gallons of gasolene, and six five-gallon cans were purchased besides. The boat would require about seven gallons a day for ordinary fishing, so this would supply them for more than a week.
"How often do you get the mail?" asked Jim of the storekeeper, who was also postmaster.
"Three times a week by steamer from Rockland—Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays."
As Spurling had decided to bring his fish over every Friday, they would thus be enabled to keep in fairly close touch with the outside world. Percy, however, was somewhat disgusted. He had gotten into the habit of thinking he could not live without a daily paper. While the others were purchasing various supplies, including some mosquito netting, he replenished his stock of cigarettes.
"Anybody here got a wireless?" inquired Throppy.
"No, but there's one on Criehaven, three miles south."
Throppy had planned to install an outfit on Tarpaulin, and had already written home to have his plant there dismantled by his brother, and its parts forwarded by express to Matinicus. For an amateur he was an expert operator.
The Barracouta was already well loaded when, with the dory towing behind, she rounded the granite breakwater and started for Vinalhaven, twelve miles away. At noon they ran in alongside Hardy's weir on the eastern shore of the island. Several bushels of glittering herring were dipped aboard, and the heavily freighted sloop at once swung away on her fifteen-mile jaunt to Tarpaulin.
"Now," said Jim, as soon as they were well clear of the island, "I'll teach you how to bait up. Take the tiller, Filippo."
Emptying out the ground-line from one of the tubs, he took a small herring in his left hand, and with his right grasped the shank of the hook on the first ganging; he forced the sharp point into the fish until the barb had gone clean through and the herring was impaled firmly. Then he dropped the hook into the empty tub, giving the ganging a deft swing, so that it fell in a smooth coil. He repeated the process swiftly, while the others watched him with interest.
"How many hooks can you bait in a minute?" asked Budge.
Budge followed the second-hand of his watch while the coil in the tub grew larger.
"Better than ten a minute," he announced. "That's going some."
"It's slow to what some fishermen can do. It means about an hour to a tub. Catch hold, you fellows, and see how fast you can do it. Might as well make a beginning. You'll have plenty of experience before the summer's ended. I'll take her awhile, Filippo."
The other boys, Percy included, were soon hard at work, each on his own tub. At first they made a slow, awkward business of it. Impatient exclamations rose as the sharp hooks were stuck into clumsy fingers. Finally Percy threw down his trawl in a fit of anger.
"I've had enough of this! I didn't come out here to butcher myself."
"You can steer," said Jim, quietly. "I'll take your place."
Percy stepped to the helm, and Jim began baiting again. The others stuck to their unfamiliar task, despite its discouragements, and were soon making fair headway. Percy eyed them sulkily. His pricked fingers smarted. The boat rolled and pitched on the old swell, making him a trifle seasick. A wave of disgust swept over him. This was no place for the son of a millionaire. He wished himself back on the land.
By the time they reached Tarpaulin, at about half past four, all the six trawls were baited.
"We won't set them till day after to-morrow," determined Jim. "Guess we can find enough work to keep us busy ashore till then."
There was no doubt about that. Until supper-time various odd jobs kept everybody occupied. Most important of all, the mosquito netting was cut and tacked over the three windows.
"Now we can have plenty of fresh air with the mosquitoes strained out of it," said Jim.
Boughs of spruce and fir were brought from the woods and strewn in the bunks under the blankets. That night the boys turned in early and slept like the dead. Even Percy could find little fault with his pillow and mattress of fragrant needles.
In the morning he took a swim. The water was too cold for comfort, and inadvertently he ran into a school of jellyfish, from which he emerged feeling as if he were on fire all over. He dressed hurriedly, shivering and disgruntled. The novelty of Tarpaulin was wearing off, and he hoped heartily that he would soon be in a more interesting place. A month there would drag horribly.
That forenoon the inside of the cabin was put to rights. The spring was cleaned out and stoned up. Under Jim's direction the boys gathered a heap of driftwood and dragged it up to the highest part of Brimstone Point. There a beacon was built, and kindling placed beneath it.
"That'll serve as a lighthouse in case any of us get caught out at night and lose our way," said Jim.
The remainder of the morning was spent in fitting up the lobster-traps with warps, toggles, and buoys.
During dinner the summer's work was discussed and the boys were allotted their respective duties. To Jim fell naturally the oversight of the fishing and lobstering. Lane was to receive and disburse all moneys, and have general charge of the business matters of the concern. Throppy, because of his mechanical and inventive turn of mind, was intrusted with the duty of seeing that the cabin, the boats, and all the gear were kept in first-class shape.
"Now," concluded Jim, "so far the most important position of all has gone begging. Who'll be cook? Whittington, it lies between you and Filippo."
"You can strike my name from the ballot at the go-off," stated Percy, promptly. "I never even boiled an egg in my life, and I don't intend to begin now."
"That narrows it down to Filippo," said Jim. "What do you say? Will you cook for us?"
The Italian's melancholy olive face lighted up with pleasure.
"Si, si!" he exclaimed, gladly. "I will cook."
"Good enough! You're elected, then! We'll all tell you everything we know. Here's an old cook-book on the shelf, and well teach you the recipes. That leaves Whittington for general-utility man. He'll be our hewer of wood and drawer of water, to say nothing of washing the dishes. We'll all feel free to call on him whenever any of us gets into a tight place. How does that hit you, Whittington?"
"Never touched me! I'm no servant."
"What will you do, then?" inquired Jim, pointedly.
"Just what I please, and not a thing besides," replied Percy, with equal directness.
The others exchanged looks, but Jim said no more.
The greater part of the afternoon was devoted to setting the lobster-traps. They were loaded on the sloop, dory, and pea-pod, taken out, and dropped overboard around the island, brown bottles, of which there was a generous supply in the shed, being fastened to the warps for "toggles," to hold them off the bottom, so that they might not catch on the rocks. By five all the traps were set.
"You and Throppy can pull these to-morrow morning, Budge," said Jim, and he gave them brief directions. "I'll make a trip with you myself the next day. But to-morrow Whittington and I are going to see what we can get on the trawl."
After an early supper they climbed the eastern point. The sheep, which were feeding on its top, scampered off at their approach, their retreat covered by the ram, with shaking head. Nemo rushed, barking, after the flock, only to be butted ignominiously head over heels and to retreat, yelping, to the beach.
"Bully for Aries!" laughed Throppy.
"Who's Aries?" asked Percy.
"The ram, of course! Where's your Latin?"
"Never heard the word. Where do these sheep drink, anyway? Out of the spring?"
"No," replied Jim. "The dew on the grass gives them all the moisture they need."
Sandpeeps were teetering along the ledges below. Two seals bobbed their round, black heads in the surf at the promontory's foot. A mile to the south rose the spout of a whale.
"Many craft go by here?" inquired Budge.
"Plenty. Fishing-schooners, tugs with their tows, yachts, tramp steamers, sailing-vessels from the Bay of Fundy for Boston, and every little while a smack or power-boat. The ocean liners to Portland pass about fifteen miles south. So we oughtn't to be lonesome."
On the highest part of the point Throppy found a dead spruce about twenty feet tall, which he picked as a mast for his wireless. Its top would be at least sixty feet above the cabin, so he could talk over twenty-five miles. He had brought with him four hundred feet of copper bell-wire and a dozen or so cleat insulators. He cut two spruce spreaders, and strung his antennae. Then he made a hole through the cabin wall, improvised an insulator out of a broken bottle, and a rough table out of a spare box, and was ready to install his batteries and instruments as soon as they should arrive.
The boys returned to the cabin.
"How about those conditions, Whittington?" asked Budge. "Going to begin making 'em up?"
"No hurry about that," responded Percy, indifferently.
He went outside to smoke a cigarette. The bull-frogs were singing in the marsh. Inside, Roger was making a start on teaching Filippo English, and learning a little Italian in return. Throppy was tuning his violin. He played a short selection, and then the boys turned in.
"To-morrow we start fishing in dead earnest," said Jim. "Whittington and I'll get up at midnight, and Filippo'll have to give us breakfast. You other fellows won't need to turn out till four. Here's hoping for good luck all round!"
Percy made a wry face. The hour for rising did not sound good to him, but there was no harm in trying it once. After that he would see. Soon all were sound asleep, lulled by the murmur of the surf.
TRAWLING FOR HAKE
"Turn out, Whittington! All aboard for the fishing-grounds!"
Spurling's voice, reinforcing the last echoes of the alarm-clock, dispelled Percy's inclination to roll over for another nap. Jim's strong tones carried a suggestion of authority which the younger lad was half minded to resent. He swallowed his pride, however, rolled out, and dressed. It was only a half-hour after midnight when he sat down with Jim to a breakfast of warmed-over beans, corn-bread, and coffee, prepared by Filippo. Budge and Throppy were sleeping soundly. They would not get up until three hours later. Percy envied them, but he ate a good meal.
"Now," directed Jim, "pull on those rubber boots and get into your oil-clothes. You'll see before long why they're useful. Trawling's a cold, wet, dirty business, and you want to be well prepared for it. And don't forget those nippers! They'll protect your hands from the chafe of the line."
Taking buoys, anchors, and other gear from the fish-house, they got into the dory and rowed out to the Barracouta. The six tubs of trawl, baited two afternoons before, were already on board. They stowed everything in its place, then headed out of the cove, towing the dory.
It was a clear, cool night. A light wind was blowing from the north, but the sea was fairly smooth.
"Guess we'll run down to Clay Bank," said Spurling. "It's only six miles to the southward. We ought to get a good set there."
Steadily they plowed on. It was Percy's first experience in a small boat on the midnight ocean, and he felt something akin to awe as they breasted the long swells, heaving in slowly and gently, yet resistlessly. Down to the horizon all around arched the deep blue firmament, spangled with stars. Matinicus Rock glittered in the west, while just beyond the shoulder of Brimstone Point, Saddleback Light, almost level with the sea, kept vanishing and reappearing.
As the Barracouta forged forward her prow started two diverging lines of phosphorescent bubbles and her wake resembled a trail of boiling flame. Percy called Jim's attention to the display.
"Yes," remarked the latter, "the water's firing in good shape to-night."
There was a sudden splash to starboard. A gleaming body several feet long rolled up above the surface; a grunting sigh broke the silence; and the apparition disappeared.
"What's that?" demanded the startled Percy.
"Porpoise! 'Puffing pig.'"
For over an hour Jim held the sloop to an exact course by means of his compass. At half past two he stopped the engine.
"Well, I guess we're here!"
"We're here, fast enough!" assented Percy, staring about. "But where's here? Doesn't look any different to me from anywhere else."
With his sounding-lead Jim tried the depth of the water.
"Thought so! Fifty fathoms!"
He prepared at once to set the trawl. Dropping the outer jib and mainsail, he jogged slowly before the wind under the jumbo, or inner jib.
"Now let her go!"
Over splashed the buoy, an empty pickle-keg, painted red, and drifted astern. Next, down went the light anchor. As soon as it reached bottom Jim lifted the first tub of trawl to the wash-board. Then with the heaving-stick, eighteen inches long and whittled to a point, he began to flirt overboard the coils lying in the tub.
Percy, holding the lantern, watched the steady stream of gangings and herring-baited hooks follow one another over the side and sink astern. In a surprisingly short time the tub was empty, and the five hundred fathoms of trawl, with more than a hook to a fathom, lay in a long, straight line on the muddy bottom, three hundred feet below.
A second tub trailed after the first, its trawl being attached to the end of the other. The four remaining tubs followed in order. At the junction of the second and third a buoy was fastened, and another between the fourth and fifth. To the end of the trawl from the sixth and last tub was tied another anchor, and as soon as it had reached bottom the last buoy was cast over. They had set almost three and a half miles of trawl, bearing more than thirty-one hundred short, baited lines.
"And there's a good job done!" exclaimed Jim, as the last buoy floated astern. "Here's to a ten-pound hake on every hook!"
"Do you often catch as many as that?" inquired Percy, innocently.
"Hardly! We'll be more than lucky if we get a tenth of that number."
Day was now breaking. The night wind had died out and, save for the long, oily swells, the sea was absolutely calm. Jim started the engine and swung the Barracouta round, and they ran leisurely back to the other end of the trawl, meanwhile eating the lunch Filippo had put up for them. Soon they were close to the first red buoy.
"Now for business!" said Jim.
He stepped into the dory.
"Guess you know enough about automobiles, Whittington, to handle this engine. Keep the sloop close by and watch me haul. You can take your turn when I get tired."
Gaffing the buoy aboard, he pulled up the anchor, and soon was hauling in the trawl over the wooden roller on the starboard bow. Percy watched with all his eyes. This was real fishing.
As the line came in Jim coiled it smoothly down into an empty tub on a stand in the bow. The first three hooks were skinned clean.
"Something down there, at any rate," he commented.
The trawl sagged heavily.
"First fish, and a good-sized one! Pretty logy, though! Feels like a hake!"
Percy stared down into the blackish-green water. Out of its gloomy depths rose an indistinct shadow, gradually assuming definite shape. A blunt, lumpy head with big, staring eyes broke the surface; two long streamers hung from beneath the lower jaw.
Jim reached for his gaff.
"Hake! And a good one, too!"
Striking the sharp iron hook through the fish's gills, he lifted the slimy gray body over the gunwale, unhooked it, and slung it, floundering, over the kid-board into the empty space amidships.
"Fifteen-pounder! Wish we could get a hundred more like him! Hullo! Who's next?"
The newcomer had a huge reddish-brown head with bulging cheeks; his blotched body, adorned with wicked spines, tapered slimly off to an inconspicuous tail.