|THIS, the ninth of the "long-stories-complete-in-one-number," tells the exciting adventures of a runaway boy in a cruise on the Pacific coast. Though he falls into bad company, he finds a good friend, and benefits by his brief experience at sea.|
'FRISCO KID, AND THE NEW BOY.
'FRISCO KID was discontented—discontented and
disgusted; though this would have seemed impossible to the boys who fished from
the dock above and envied him mightily. He frowned, got up from where he had
been sunning himself on top of the "Dazzler's" cabin, and kicked off
his heavy rubber boots. Then he stretched himself on the narrow side-deck and
dangled his feet in the cool salt water.
"Now, that 's freedom," thought the boys who watched him. Besides, those long sea-boots, reaching the hips and buckled to the leather strap about the waist, held a strange and wonderful fascination for them. They did not know that 'Frisco Kid did not possess such things as shoes; that the boots were an old pair of Pete Le Maire's and were three sizes too large for him; nor could they guess how uncomfortable they were to wear on a hot summer day.
The cause of 'Frisco Kid's discontent was those
very boys who sat on the string-piece and admired him; but his disgust was the
result of quite another event. Further, the Dazzler was short one in its crew,
and he had to do more work than was justly his share. He did not mind the
cooking, nor the washing down of the decks and the pumping; but when it came to
the paint-scrubbing and dish-washing, he reveled. He felt that he had earned
the right to be exempt from such scullion work. That was all the green boys
were fit for; while he could make or take in sail, lift anchor, steer, and make
"Stan' from un'er!" Pete Le Maire, captain of the Dazzler and lord and master of 'Frisco Kid, threw a bundle into the cockpit and came aboard by the starboard rigging.
"Come! Queeck!" he shouted to the boy who owned the bundle, and who now hesitated on the dock. It was a good fifteen feet to the deck of the sloop, and he could not reach the steel stay by which he must descend.
"Now! One, two three!" the Frenchman counted good-naturedly, after the manner of all captains when their crews are short-handed.
The boy swung his body into space and gripped the rigging. A moment later he struck the deck, his hands tingling warmly from the friction.
"Kid, dis is ze new sailor. I make your acquaintance." Pete smirked and bowed, and stood aside. "Mistaire Sho Bronson," he added as an afterthought.
The two boys regarded each other silently for a moment. They were evidently about the same age, though the stranger looked the heartier and the stronger of the two. 'Frisco Kid put out his hand, and they shook.
"So you 're thinking of tackling the water, eh?" he asked.
Joe Bronson nodded, and glanced curiously about him before answering. "Yes; I think the Bay life will suit me for a while, and then, when I've got used to it, I 'm going to sea in the forecastle."
"In the what? In the what, did you say?"
"In the forecastle—the place where the sailors live," he explained, flushing and feeling doubtful of his pronunciation.
"Oh, the fo'c'sle. Know anything about going to sea?"
"Yes—no; that is, except what I 've read."
'Frisco Kid whistled, turned on his heel in a lordly manner, and went into the cabin.
"Going to sea!" he remarked to himself as he built the fire and set abou tcooking supper; "in the 'forecastle,' too—and thinks he 'll like it!"
In the meanwhile Pete Le Maire was showing the new-comer about the sloop as though he were a guest. Such affability and charm did he display that 'Frisco Kid, popping his head up through the scuttle to call them to supper, nearly choked in his effort to suppress a grin.
Joe Bronson enjoyed that supper. The food was rough but good, and the smack of the salt air and the sea-fittings around him gave zest to his appetite. The cabin was clean and snug, and, though not large, the accommodations surprised him. Every bit of space was utilized. The table swung to the centerboard-case on hinges, so that when not in use it actually occupied almost no room at all. On either side, and partly under the deck, were two bunks. The blankets were rolled back, and they sat on the well-scrubbed bunk boards while they ate. A swinging sea-lamp of brightly polished brass gave them light, which in the daytime could be obtained through the four deadeyes, or small round panes of heavy glass which were fitted into the walls of the cabin. On one side of the door were the stove and wood-box, on the other the cupboard. The front end of the cabin was ornamented with a couple of rifles and a shot-gun, while exposed by the rolled-back blankets of Pete's bunk was a cartridge-lined belt carrying a brace of revolvers.
It all seemed like a dream to Joe. Countless times he had imagined scenes somewhat similar to this; but here he was, right in the midst of it, and already it seemed as though he had known his two companions for years. Pete was smiling genially at him across the board. His was really a villainous countenance, but to Joe it seemed only "weather-beaten." 'Frisco Kid was describing to him, between mouthfuls, the last sou-easter the Dazzler had weathered, and Joe experienced an increasing awe for this boy who had lived so long upon the water and knew so much about it.
The captain, however, drank a glass of wine, and topped it off with a second and a third, and then, a vicious flush lighting his swarthy face, stretched out on top of his blankets, where he soon was snoring loudly.
"Better turn in and get a couple of hours' sleep," 'Frisco Kid said kindly, pointing Joe's bunk out to him. "We 'll most likely be up the rest of the night."
Joe obeyed, but he could not fall asleep so readily as the others. He lay with his eyes wide open, watching the hands of the alarm-clock that hung in the cabin, and thinking how quickly event had followed event in the last twelve hours. Only that very morning he had been a school-boy, and now he was a sailor, shipped on the Dazzler, and bound he knew not whither. His fifteen years increased to twenty at the thought of it, and he felt every inch a man—a sailor-man at that. He wished Charley and Fred could see him now. Well, they would hear of it quick enough. He could see them talking it over, and the other boys crowding around. "Who?" "What!—Joe Bronson?" "Yes, he's run away to sea. Used to chum with us, you know."
Joe pictured the scene proudly. Then he softened at the thought of his mother worrying, but hardened again at the recollection of his father. Not that his father was not good and kind; but he did not understand boys, Joe thought. That was where the trouble lay. Only that morning he had said that the world was n't a play-ground, and that the boys who thought it was were liable to make sore mistakes and be glad to get home again. Well, he knew that there was plenty of hard work and rough experience in the world; but he also thought boys had some rights and should be allowed to do a lot of things without being questioned. He 'd show him he could take care of himself; and, anyway, he could write home after he got settled down to his new life.
A skiff grazed the side of the Dazzler softly and interrupted his reveries. He wondered why he had not heard the sound of the row-locks. Then two men jumped over the cockpit-rail and came into the cabin.
"Bli' me, if 'ere they ain't snoozin'," said the first of the new-comers, deftly rolling 'Frisco Kid out of his blankets with one hand and reaching for the wine-bottle with the other.
Pete put his head up on the other side of the centerboard, his eyes heavy with sleep, and made them welcome.
"'Oo 's this?" asked "the Cockney," as 'Frisco Kid called him, smacking his lips over the wine and rolling Joe out upon the floor. "Passenger?"
"No, no," Pete made haste to answer. "Ze new sailor-man. Vaire good boy."
"Good boy or not, he 's got to keep his tongue a-tween his teeth," growled the second new-comer, who had not yet spoken, glaring fiercely at Joe.
"I say," queried the other man, "'ow does 'e whack up on the loot? I 'ope as me an' Bill 'ave a square deal."
"Ze dazzler she take one share—what you call—one third; den we split ze rest in five shares. Five men, five shares. Vaire good."
It was all Greek to Joe, except he knew that he was in some way the cause of the quarrel. In the end Pete had his way, and the new-comers gave in after much grumbling. After they had drunk their coffee all hands went on deck.
"Just stay in the cockpit an' keep out of their way," 'Frisco Kid whispered to Joe. "I 'll teach you the ropes an' everything when we ain't in a hurry."
Joe's heart went out to him in sudden gratitude, for the strange feeling came to him that, of those on board, to 'Frisco Kid, and to 'Frisco Kid only, could he look for help in time of need. Already a dislike for Pete was growing up within him. Why, he could not say—he just simply felt it. A creaking of blocks for'ard, and the huge mainsail loomed above him in the night. Bill cast off the bowline. The Cockney followed with the stern. 'Frisco Kid gave her the jib as Pete jammed up the tiller, and the Dazzler caught the breeze, heeling over fore mid-channel. Joe heard some talking in low tones of not putting up the side-lights, and of keeping a sharp lookout, but all he could comprehend was that some law of navigation was being violated.
The water-front lights of Oakland began to slip past. Soon the stretches of docks and the shadowy ships began to be broken by dim sweeps of marsh-land, and Joe knew that they were heading out for San Francisco Bay. The wind was blowing from the north in mild squalls, and the Dazzler cut noiselessly through the landlocked water.
"Where are we going?" Joe asked the Cockney, in an endeavor to be friendly and at the same time satisfy his curiosity.
"Oh, my pardner 'ere, Bill—we 're goin' to take a cargo from 'is factory," that worthy airily replied.
Joe thought he was rather a funny-looking individual to own a factory; but conscious that stranger things yet might be found in this new world he was entering, he said nothing. He had already exposed himself to 'Frisco Kid in the matter of his pronunciation of "fo'c'sle," and he had no desire further to show his ignorance.
A little after that he was sent in to blow out the cabin lamp. The Dazzler tacked about and began to work in toward the north shore. Everybody kept silent, save for occasional whispered questions and answers which passed between Bill and the captain. Finally the sloop was run into the wind and the jib and mainsail lowered cautiously.
"Short hawse, you know," Pete whispered to 'Frisco Kid, who went for'ard and dropped the anchor, paying out the slightest quantity of slack.
The Dazzler's skiff was brought alongside, as was also the small boat the two strangers had come aboard in.
"See that that cub don't make a fuss," Bill commanded in an undertone, as he joined his partner in his own boat.
"Can you row?" 'Frisco Kid asked as they got into the other boat. Joe nodded his head. "Then take these oars, and don't make a racket."
'Frisco Kid took the second pair, while Pete steered. Joe noticed that the oars were muffled with sennit, and that even the rowlock sockets were protected by leather. It was impossible to make a noise except by a mis-stroke, and Joe had learned to row on Lake Merrit well enough to avoid that. They followed in the wake of the first boat, and glancing aside, he saw they were running along the length of a pier which jutted out from the land. A couple of chips, with riding-lanterns burning brightly, were moored to it, but they kept just beyond the edge of the light. He stopped rowing at the whispered command of 'Frisco Kid. Then the boats grounded like ghosts on a tiny beach, and they clambered out.
Joe followed the men, who picked their way carefully up a twenty-food bank. At the top he found himself on a narrow railway track which ran between huge piles of rusty scrap-iron. These piles, separated by tracks, extended in every direction, he could not tell how far, though in the distance he could see the vague outlines of some great factory-like building. The men began to carry loads of the iron down to the beach, and Pete, gripping him by the arm and again warning him to not make any noise, told him to do likewise. At the beach they turned their loads over to 'Frisco Kid, who loaded them, first in one skiff and then in the other. As the boats settled under the weight, he kept pushing them farther and farther out, in order that they should keep clear of the bottom.
Joe worked away steadily, though he could not help marveling at the queerness of the whole business. Why should there be such a mystery about it, and why such care taken to maintain silence? He had just begun to ask himself these questions, and a horrible suspicion was forming itself in his mind, when he heard the hoot of an owl from the direction of the beach. Wondering at an owl being in so unlikely a place, he stopped to gather a fresh load of iron. But suddenly a man sprang out of the gloom, flashing a dark lantern upon him. Blinded by the light, he staggered back. Then a revolver in the man's hand went off. All Joe realized was that he was being shot at, while his legs manifested an overwhelming desire to get away. Even if he had so wished, he could not very well have stayed to explain to the excited man with the smoking revolver. So he took to his heels for the beach, colliding with another man with a dark lantern who came running around the end of one of the piles of iron. The second man quickly regained his feet, and peppered away at Joe as he flew down the bank.
He dashed out into the water for the boat. Pete at the bow oars and 'Frisco Kid at the stroke had the skiff's nose pointed seaward and were calmly awaiting his arrival. They had their oars all ready for the start, but they held them quietly at rest, notwithstanding that both men on the bank had begun to fire at them. The other skiff lay closer inshore, partially aground. Bill was trying to shove it off, and was calling on the Cockney to lend a hand; but that gentleman had lost his head completely, and came floundering through the water hard after Joe. No sooner had Joe climbed in over the stern than he had followed him. This extra weight on the stern of the heavily loaded craft nearly swamped them; as it was, a dangerous quantity of water was shipped. In the meantime the men on the bank had reloaded their pistols and opened fire again, this time with better aim. The alarm had spread. Voices and cries could be heard from the ships on the pier, along which men were running. In the distance a police whistle was being frantically blown.
"Get out!" 'Frisco Kid shouted. "You ain't a-going to sink us if I know it. Go and help your pardner!"
But the Cockney's teeth were chattering with fright, and he was too unnerved to move or speak.
"T'row ze crazy man out!" Pete ordered from the bow. At this moment a bullet shattered an oar in his hand, and he coolly proceeded to ship a spare one.
"Give us a hand, Joe," 'Frisco Kid commanded.
Joe understood, and together they seized the terror-stricken creature and flung him overboard. Two or three bullets splashed about him as he came to the surface just in time to be picked up by Bill, who had at last succeeded in getting clear.
"Now," Pete called, and a few strokes into the darkness quickly took them out of the zone of fire.
So much water had been shipped that the light skiff was in danger of sinking at any moment. While the other two rowed, and by the Frenchman's orders, Joe began to throw out the iron. This saved them fore the time being; but just as they swept alongside the Dazzler the skiff lurched, shoved a side under, and turned turtle, sending the remainder of the iron to the bottom. Joe and 'Frisco Kid came up side by side, and together they clambered aboard with the skiff's painter in tow. Pete had already arrived, and now helped them out.
By the time they had canted the water out of the swamped boat, Bill and his partner appeared on the scene. All hands worked rapidly, and almost before Joe could realize, the mainsail and jib had been hoisted, the anchor broken out, and the Dazzler was leaping down the channel. Off a bleak piece of marshland, Bill and the Cockney said good-by and cast loose in their skiff. Pete, in the cabin, bewailed their bad luck in various languages, and sought consolation in the wine-bottle.
The wind freshened as they got clear of the land, and soon the Dazzler was heeling it with her lee deck buried and the water churning by half-way up the cockpit-rail. Side-lights had been hung out. 'Frisco Kid was steering, and by his side sat Joe, pondering over the events of the night.
He could no longer blind himself to the facts. His mind was in a whirl of apprehension. If he had done wrong, he reasoned, he had done it through ignorance; and he did not feel shame for the past so much as he did fear of the future. His companions were thieves and robbers—the Bay pirates, of whose unlawful deeds he had heard vague tales. And here he was, right in the midst of them, already possessing information which could send them to State's prison. This very fact, he knew, would force them to keep a sharp watch upon him and so lessen his chances of escape. But escape he would, at the very first opportunity.
At this point his thoughts were interrupted by a sharp squall, which hurled the Dazzler over till the sea rushed aboard. 'Frisco Kid luffed quickly, at the same time slacking off the main-sheet. Then, single-handed,—for Pete remained below, and Joe sat still looking idly on,—he proceeded to reef down.
JOE TRIES TAKING FRENCH LEAVE.
THE squall which had so nearly capsized the
Dazzler was of short duration, but it marked the rising of the wind, and soon
puff after puff was shrieking down upon them out of the north. The mainsail was
spilling the wind, and slapping and thrashing about till it seemed it would
tear itself to pieces. The sloop was rolling wildly in the quick sea which had
come up. Everything was in confusion; but even Joe's untrained eye showed him
that it was an orderly confusion. He could see that 'Frisco Kid knew just what
to do, and just how to do it. As he watched him he learned a lesson, the lack
of which has made failures of the lives of many men—knowledge of one's own
capacities. 'Frisco Kid knew what he was able to do, and because of this he
had confidence in himself. He was cool and self-possessed, working hurriedly
but not carelessly. There was no bungling. Every reef-point was drawn down to
stay. Other accidents might occur, but the next squall, or the next forty
squalls, would not carry one of those reef-knots away.
He called Joe for'ard to help stretch the mainsail by means of swinging on the peak and throat halyards. To lay out on the long bowsprit and put a single reef in the jib was a slight task compared with what had been already accomplished; so a few moments later they were again in the cockpit. Under the other lad's directions, Joe flattened down the jib-sheet, and, going into the cabin, let down a foot or so of centerboard. The excitement of the struggle had chased all unpleasant thoughts from his mind. Patterning after the other boy, he had retained his coolness. He had executed his orders without fumbling, and at the same time without undue slowness. Together they had exerted their puny strength in the face of violent nature, and together they had outwitted her.
He came back to where his companion stood at the tiller steering, and he felt proud of him and of himself. And when he read the unspoken praise in 'Frisco Kid's eyes he blushed like a girl at her first compliment. But the next instant the thought flashed across him that this boy was a thief, a common thief, and he instinctively recoiled. His whole life had been sheltered from the harsher things of the world. His reading, which had been of the best, had laid a premium upon honesty and uprightness and he had learned to look with abhorrence upon the criminal classes. So he drew a little away from 'Frisco Kid and remained silent. But 'Frisco Kid, devoting all his energies to the handling of the sloop, had no time in which to remark this sudden change of feeling on the part of his companion.
Yet there was one thing Joe found in himself that surprised him. While the thought of 'Frisco Kid being a thief was repulsive to him, 'Frisco Kid himself was not. Instead of feeling an honest desire to shun him, he felt draw toward him. He could not help liking him, though he knew not why. Had he been a little older he would have understood that it was the lad's good qualities which appealed to him—his coolness and self-reliance, his manliness and bravery, and a certain kindliness and sympathy in his nature. As it was, he thought it his own natural badness which prevented him from disliking 'Frisco Kid, and while he felt shame at his own weakness, he could not smother the sort of regard which he felt growing up for this common thief, this Bay pirate.
"Take in two or three feet on the skiff's painter," commanded 'Frisco Kid, who had an eye for everything.
The skiff was rowing with too long a painter, and was behaving very badly. Every once in a while it would hold back till the tow-rope tautened, then come leaping ahead and sheering and dropping slack till it threatened to shove its nose under the huge whitecaps which roared hungrily on every hand. Joe climbed over the cockpit-rail upon the slippery afterdeck, and made his way to the bitt to which the skiff was fastened.
"Be careful," 'Frisco Kid warned, as a heavy puff struck the Dazzler and careened her dangerously over on her side. "Keep one turn around the bitt, and heave in on it when the painter slacks."
It was ticklish work for a greenhorn. Joe threw off all the turns save the last, which he held with one hand, while with the other he attempted to bring in on the painter. But at that instant it tightened with a tremendous jerk, the boat sheering sharply into the crest of a heavy sea. The rope slipped from his hands and began to fly out over the stern. He clutched it frantically, and was dragged after it over the sloping deck.
"Let her go! Let her go!" 'Frisco Kid roared.
Joe let go just as he was on the verge of going overboard, and the skiff dropped rapidly astern. He glanced in a shamefaced way at his companion, expecting to be sharply reprimanded for his awkwardness. But 'Frisco Kid smiled good-naturedly.
"That's all right," he said. "No bones broke, and nobody overboard. Better to lose a boat that a man any day. That 's what I say. Besides, I should n't have sent you out there. And there 's no harm done. We can pick it up all right. Go in and drop some more centerboard,—a couple of feet,—and then come out and do what I tell you. But don't be in a hurry. Take it easy and sure."
Joe dropped the centerboard, and returned, to be stationed at the jib-sheet.
"Hard a-lee!" 'Frisco Kid cried, throwing the tiller down and following it with his body. "Cast off! That 's right! Now lend a hand on the main-sheet!"
Together, hand over hand, they came in on the reefed mainsail. Joe began to warm up with the work. The Dazzler turned on her heel like a race-horse and swept into the wind, her canvas snarling and her sheets slatting like hail.
"Draw down the jib-sheet!"
Joe obeyed, and the head-sail, filling, forced her off on the other tack. This manœuver had turned Pete's bunk from the lee to the weather side, and rolled him out on the cabin floor, where he lay in a drunken stupor.
'Frisco Kid, with his back against the tiller, and holding the sloop off that it might cover their previous course, looked at him with an expression of disgust, and muttered: "The dog! We could well go to the bottom, for all he 'd care or do!"
Twice they tacked, trying to go over the same ground, and then Joe discovered the skiff bobbing to windward in the starlit darkness.
"Plenty of time," 'Frisco Kid cautioned, shooting the Dazzler into the wind toward it and gradually losing headway.
Joe leaned over the side, grasped the trailing painter, and made it fast to the bitt. Then they tacked ship again and started on their way. Joe still felt sore over the trouble he had caused, but 'Frisco Kid quickly put him at ease.
"Oh, that 's nothing," he said. "Everybody does that when they 're beginning. Now, some men forget all about the trouble they had in learning, and get mad when a greeny makes a mistake. I never do. Why, I remember ——"
And here he told Joe of many of the mishaps which fell to him when, as a little lad, he first went on the water, and of some of the severe punishments for the same which were measured out to him. He had passed the running end of the lanyard over the tiller-neck, and, as they talked, they sat side by side and close against each other, in the shelter of the cockpit.
"What place is that?" Joe asked as they flew by a lighthouse perched on a rocky headland.
"Goat Island. They 've got a naval training-station for boys over on the other side, and a torpedo magazine. There 's jolly good fishing, too—rock-cod. We 'll pass to the lee of it and make across and anchor in the shelter of Angel Island. There 's a quarantine station there. Then, when Pete gets sober, we 'll know where he wants to go. You can turn in now and get some sleep. I can manage all right."
Joe shook his head. There had been too much excitement for him to feel in the least like sleeping. He could not bear to think of it, with the Dazzler leaping and surging along, and shattering the seas into clouds of spray on her weather bow. His clothes had half dried already, and he preferred to stay on deck and enjoy it. The lights of Oakland had dwindled till they made only a hazy flare against the sky; but to the south the San Francisco lights, topping hills and sinking into valleys, stretched miles upon miles. Starting from the great ferry building and passing on to Telegraph Hill, Joe was soon able to locate the principal places of the city. Somewhere over in that maze of light and shadow was the home of his father, and perhaps even now they were thinking and worrying about him; and over there his sister Bessie was sleeping cozily, to wake up in the morning and wonder why her brother Joe did not come down to breakfast. Joe shivered. It was almost morning. Then, slowly, his head drooped over on 'Frisco Kid's shoulder, and soon he was fast asleep.
"Come! Wake up! We 're going into
Joe roused with a start, bewildered at the unusual scene; for sleep had banished his troubles for the time being, and he knew not where he was. Then he remembered. The wind had dropped with the night. Beyond, the heavy after-sea was still rolling, but the Dazzler was creeping up in the shelter of a rocky island. The sky was clear, and the air had the snap and vigor of early morning about it. The rippling water was laughing in the rays of the sun, just shouldering above the eastern sky-line. To the south lay Alcatraz Island, and form its gun-crowned heights a flourish of trumpets saluted the day. In the west the Golden Gate yawned between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. A full-rigged ship, with her lightest canvas, even to the sky-sails, set, was coming slowly in on the flood-tide.
It was a pretty sight. Joe rubbed the sleep from his eyes and remained gazing till 'Frisco Kid told him to go for'ard and make ready for dropping the anchor.
"Overhaul about fifty fathoms of chain," he ordered, "and then stand by." He eased the sloop gently into the wind, at the same time casting off the jib-sheet. "Let go the jib-halyards and come in on the downhaul!"
Joe had seen the manœuver performed the previous night, and so was able to carry it out with fair success.
"Now! Over with the mud-hook! Watch out for turns! Lively, now!"
The chain flew out with startling rapidity, and brought the Dazzler to rest. 'Frisco Kid went for'ard to help, and together they lowered the mainsail, furled it in shipshape manner, made all fast with the gaskets, and put the crutches under the main-boom.
"Here 's a bucket." 'Frisco Kid passed him the article in question. "Wash down the decks, and don't be afraid of the water, nor of the dirt, neither. Here 's a broom. Give it what for, and have everything shining. When you get that done, bail out the skiff; she opened her seems a little last night. I 'm going below to cook breakfast."
The water was soon slushing merrily over the deck, while the smoke pouring from the cabin stove carried a promise of good things to come. Time and again Joe lifted his head form his task to take in the scene. It was one to appeal to any healthy boy, and he was no exception. The romance of it stirred him strangely, and his happiness would have been complete could he have escaped remembering who and what his companions were. But the thought of this, and of Pete in his bleary, drunken sleep below, marred the beauty of the day. He had been unused to such things, and was shocked at the harsh reality of life. But instead of hurting him, as it might a lad of a weaker nature, it had the opposite effect. It strengthened his desire to be clean and strong, and to not be ashamed of himself in his own eyes. He glanced about him and sighed. Why could not men be honest and true? It seemed too bad that he must go away and leave all this; but the events of the night were strong upon him, and he knew that in order to be true to himself he must escape.
At this juncture he was called to breakfast. He discovered that 'Frisco Kid was as good a cook as he was sailor, and made haste to do justice to the fare. There were mush and condensed milk, beefsteak and fried potatoes, and all topped off with good French bread, butter, and coffee. Pete did not join them, though 'Frisco Kid attempted a couple of times to rouse him. He mumbled and grunted, half opened his eyes, then went to snoring again.
"Can't tell when he 's going to get those spells," 'Frisco Kid explained, when Joe, having finished washing the dishes, came on deck. "Sometimes he won't get that way for a month, and others he won't be decent for a week at a stretch. Sometimes he 's good-natured, and sometimes he 's dangerous. So the best thing to do is to let him alone and keep out of his way. And don't cross him, for if you do there 's liable to be trouble."
"Come on; let 's take a swim," he added, abruptly changing the subject to one more agreeable. "Can you swim?"
Joe nodded. "What 's that place?" he asked as he poised before diving, pointing toward a sheltered beach on the island, where there were several buildings and a large number of tents.
"Quarantine station. Lots of smallpox coming in now on the China steamers, and they make them go there till the doctors say they 're safe to land. I tell you, they 're strict about it, too. Why ——"
Splash! Had 'Frisco Kid finished his sentence just then, instead of diving overboard, much trouble might have been saved to Joe. But he did not finish it, and Joe dived after him.
"I 'll tell you what," 'Frisco Kid suggested half an hour later, while they clung to the bob-stay preparatory to climbing out. "Let 's catch a mess of fish for dinner, and then turn in and make up for the sleep we lost last night. What d' you say?"
They made a race to clamber aboard, but Joe was shoved over the side again. When he finally did arrive, the other lad had brought to light a pair of heavily leaded, large-hooked lines, and a mackerel-keg of salt sardines.
"Bait," he said. "Just shove a whole one on. They 're not a bit partic'lar. Swallow the bait, hook and all, and go—that 's their caper. The fellow that don't catch first fish has to clean 'em."
Both sinkers started on their long descent together, and seventy feet of line whizzed out before they came to rest. But at the instant his sinker touched the bottom Joe felt the struggling jerks of a hooked fish. As he began to haul in he glanced at 'Frisco Kid, and saw that he, too, had evidently captured a finny prize. The race between them was exciting. Hand over hand the wet lines flashed inboard; but 'Frisco Kid was more expert, and his fish tumbled into the cockpit first. Joe's followed an instant later—a three-pound rock-cod. He was wild with joy. It was magnificent, the largest fish he had ever landed or ever seen landed. Over went the lines again, and up they came with two mates of the ones already captured. It was sport royal. Joe would have certainly continued till he had fished the Bay empty had not 'Frisco Kid persuaded him to stop.
"We 've got enough for three meals now," he said, "so there 's no use in having them spoil. Besides, the more you catch, the more you clean, and you 'd better start in right away. I 'm going to bed."
Joe did not mind. In fact, he was glad he had not caught the first fish, for it helped out a little plan which had come to him while in swimming. He threw the last cleaned fish into a bucket of water, and glanced about him. The quarantine station was a bare half-mile away, and he could make out a soldier pacing up an down at sentry duty on the beach. Going into the cabin, he listened to the heavy breathing of the sleepers. He had to pass so close to 'Frisco Kid to get his bundle of clothes that he decided not to take them. Returning outside, he carefully pulled the skiff alongside, got aboard with a pair of oars, and cast off.
At first he rowed very gently in the direction of the station, fearing the chance of noise if he made undue haste. But gradually he increased the strength of his strokes till he had settled down to the regular stride. When he had covered half the distance he glanced about. Escape was sure now, for he knew, even if he were discovered, that it would be impossible for the Dazzler to get under way and head him off before he made the land and the protection of the man who wore the uniform of Uncle Sam.
The report of a gun came to him from the shore, but his back was in that direction and he did not bother to turn around. A second report followed, and a bullet cut the water within a couple of feet of his oar-blade. This time he did turn around. The soldier on the beach was leveling his rifle at him for a third shot.
JOE LOSES LIBERTY, AND FINDS A FRIEND.
JOE was in a predicament, and a very tantalizing
one at that. A few minutes of the hard rowing would bring him to the beach and
to safety; but on that beach, for some unaccountable reason, stood a United
States soldier who persisted in firing at him.
When Joe saw the gun aimed at him for the third time, he backed water hastily. As a result the skiff came to a standstill, and the soldier, lowering his rifle, regarded him intently.
"I want to come ashore! Important!" Joe shouted out to him.
The man in uniform shook his head.
"But it 's important, I tell you! Won't you let me come ashore?"
He took a hurried look in the direction of the Dazzler. The shots had evidently awakened Pete; for the mainsail had been hoisted, and as he looked he saw the anchor broken out and the jib flung to the breeze.
"Can't land here!" the soldier shouted back. "Smallpox!"
"But I must!" he cried, choking down a half-sob and preparing to row.
"Then I 'll shoot," was the cheering response, and the rifle came to shoulder again.
Joe thought rapidly. The island was large. Perhaps there were no soldiers father on, and if he only once got ashore he did not care how quickly they captured him. He might catch the smallpox, but even that was better than going back to the Bay pirates. He whirled the skiff half about to the right, and threw all his strength against the oars. The cove was quite wide, and the nearest point which he must go around a good distance away. Had he been more of a sailor he would have gone in the other direction for the opposite point, and thus had the wind on his pursuers. As it was, the Dazzler had a beam wind in which to overtake him.
It was nip and tuck for a while. The breeze was
light and not very steady, so sometimes he gained and sometimes they. Once it
freshened till the sloop was within a hundred yards, of him, and then it
dropped suddenly flat, the Dazzler's big mainsail flapping idly from side to
"Ah! you steal ze skiff, eh?" Pete howled at him, running into the cabin for his rifle. "I fix you! You come back queeck, or I kill you!" But he knew the soldier was watching them from the shore, and did not dare to fire, even over the lad's head.
Joe did not think of this, for he, who had never been shot at in all his previous life, had been under fire twice in the last twenty-four hours. Once more or less could n't amount to much. So he pulled steadily away, while Pete raved like a wild man, threatening him with all manner of punishments once he laid hands upon him again. To complicate matters, 'Frisco Kid waxed mutinous.
"Just you shoot him and I 'll see you hung for it, see if I don't," he threatened. "You 'd better let him go. He 's a good boy and all right, and not raised for the life you and I are leading."
"You too, eh!" the Frenchman shrieked, beside himself with rage. "Den I fix you, you rat!"
He made a rush for the boy, but 'Frisco Kid led him a lively chase from cockpit to bowsprit and back again. A sharp capful of wind arriving just then, Pete abandoned the one chase for the other. Springing to the tiller and slacking away on the main-sheet,—for the wind favored,—he headed the sloop down upon Joe. The latter made one tremendous spurt, then gave up in despair and hauled in his oars. Pet let go the main-sheet, lost steerage-way as he rounded up alongside the motionless skiff, and dragged Joe out.
"Keep mum," 'Frisco Kid whispered to him while the irate Frenchman was busy fastening the painter. "Don't talk back. Let him saw all he wants to, and keep quiet. It 'll be better for you."
But Joe's Anglo-Saxon blood was up and he did not heed.
"Look here, Mr. Pete, or whatever your name is," he commenced, "I give you to understand that I want to quit, and that I 'm going to quit. So you 'd better put me ashore at once. If you don't, I 'll put you in prison, or my name 's not Joe Bronson."
'Frisco Kid waited the outcome fearfully. Pete was aghast. He was being defied aboard his own vessel, and by a boy. Never had such a thing been heard of. He knew he was committing an unlawful act in detaining him, while at the same time he was afraid to let him go with the information he had gathered concerning the sloop and its occupation. The boy had spoken the unpleasant truth when he said he could send him to prison. The only thing for him to do was to bully him.
"You will, eh?" His shrill voice rose wrathfully. "Den you come too. You row ze boat last-a night—answer me dat! You steel ze iron—answer me dat! You run away—answer me dat! And den you say you put me in jail? Bah!"
"But I did n't know," Joe protested.
"Ha, ha! Dat is funny. You tell dat to ze judge; mebbe him laugh, eh?"
"I say I did n't," Joe reiterated manfully. "I did n't know I 'd shipped along with a lot of pirates and thieves."
'Frisco Kid winced at this epithet, and had Joe been looking at him he would have seen the red flush of shame mount to his face.
"And now that I do know," he continued, "I wish to be put ashore. I don't know anything about the law, but I do know right and wrong, and I m willing to take my chance with any judge for whatever wrong I have done—with all the judges in the United States, for that matter. And that 's more than you can say, Mr. Pete."
"You say dat, eh? Vaire good. But you are one big t'ief—"
"I 'm not! Don't you dare call me that again!" Joe's face was pale, and he was trembling—but not with fear.
"T'ief!" the Frenchman taunted back.
Joe had not been a boy among boys for nothing. He knew the penalty which attached itself to the words he had just spoken, and he expected to receive it. So he was not overmuch surprised when he picked himself up from the floor of the cockpit and instant later, his head still ringing from a stiff blow between the eyes.
"Say dat one time more," Pete bullied, his fist raised and prepared to strike.
Tears of anger stood in Joe's eyes, but he was calm and in dead earnest. "When you say I am a thief, Pete, you lie. You can kill me, but still I will say you lie."
"No, you don't!" 'Frisco Kid had darted in like a wildcat, preventing a second blow and shoving the Frenchman back across the cockpit.
"You leave the boy alone," he continued, suddenly unshipping and arming himself with the heavy iron tiller, and standing between them. "This thing 's gone just about as far as it 's going to go. You big fool, can't you see the stuff the boy 's made out of? He speaks true. He 's right, and he knows it, and you could kill him and he would n't give in. There 's my hand on it, Joe." He turned and extended his hand to Joe, who returned the grip. "You 've got spunk, and you 're not afraid to show it."
Pete's mouth twisted itself in a sickly smile, but the evil gleam in his eyes gave it the lie. He shrugged his shoulders and said: "Ah! So? He does not dee-sire dat I him call pet names. Ha, ha! It is only ze sailor-man play. Let us—what you call-forgive and forget, eh? Vaire good; forgive and forget."
He reached out his, but Joe refused to take it. 'Frisco Kid nodded approval, while Pete, still shrugging his shoulders and smiling, passed into the cabin.
"Slack off ze main-sheet," he called out, "and run down for Hunter's Point. For one time I will cook ze dinner, and den you will say dat is ze vaire good dinner. Ah! Pete is ze great cook!"
"That 's the way he always does—gets real good and cooks when he wants to make up," 'Frisco Kid hazarded, slipping the tiller into the rudder-head and obeying the order. "But even then you can't trust him."
Joe nodded his head, but did not speak. He was in no mood for conversation. He was still trembling from the excitement of the last few moments, while deep down he questioned himself on how he had behaved, and found naught to be ashamed of.
The afternoon sea-breeze had sprung up and was now rioting in from the Pacific. Angel Island was fast dropping astern, and the waterfront of San Francisco showing up, as the Dazzler plowed along before it. Soon they were in the midst of the shipping, passing in and out among the vessels which had come from the uttermost ends of the earth. Later they crossed the fairway, where the ferry steamers, crowded with passengers, passed backward and forward between San Francisco and Oakland. One came so close that the passengers crowded to the side to see the gallant little sloop and the two boys in the cockpit. Joe gazed almost enviously at the row of down-turned faces. They all were going to their homes, while he—he was going he knew not whither, at the will of Pete Le Maire. He was half tempted to cry out for help; but the foolishness of such an act stuck him, and he held his tongue. Turning his head, his eyes wandered along the smoky heights of the city, and he fell to musing on the strange ways of men and ships on the sea.
'Frisco Kid watched him from the corner of his eye, following his thoughts as accurately as though he spoke them aloud.
"Got a home over there somewhere?" he queried suddenly, waving his hand in the direction of the city.
Joe started, so correctly had his thought been anticipated. "Yes," he said simply.
"Tell us about it."
Joe rapidly described his home, though forced to go into greater detail because of the curious questions of his companion. 'Frisco Kid was interested in everything, especially in Mrs. Bronson and Bessie. Of the latter he could not seem to tire, and poured forth question after question concerning her. So peculiar and artless were some of them that Joe could hardly forbear to smile.
"Now tell me about your home," he said, when he at last had finished.
'Frisco Kid seemed suddenly to harden, and his face took on a stern look which the other had never seen there before. He swung his foot idly to and fro, and lifted a dull eye to the main-peak blocks, with which, by the way, there was nothing the matter.
"Go ahead," the other encouraged.
"I have n't no home."
The four words left his mouth as though they had been forcibly ejected, and his lips came together after them almost with a snap.
Joe saw he had touched a tender spot, and strove to ease the way out of it again. "Then the home you did have." He did not dream that there were lads in the world who never had known homes, or that he had only succeeded in probing deeper.
"Never had none."
"Oh!" His interest was aroused, and he now threw solicitude to the winds. "Any sisters?"
"I was so young when she died that I don't remember her."
"I never saw much of him. He went to sea,—anyhow, he disappeared."
"Oh!" Joe did not know what to say, and an oppressive silence, broken only by the churn of the Dazzler's forefoot, fell upon them.
Just then Pete came out to relieve at the tiller, while they went in to eat. Both lads hailed his advent with feelings of relief, and the awkwardness vanished over the dinner, which was all their skipper had claimed it to be. Afterward 'Frisco Kid relieved Pete, and while he was eating, Joe washed up the dishes and put the cabin shipshape. Then they all gathered in the stern, where the captain strove to increase the general cordiality by entertaining them with descriptions of life among the pearl-divers in the South Seas.
In this fashion the afternoon wore away. They had
long since left San Francisco behind, rounded Hunter's Point, and were now
skirting the San Mateo shore. Joe caught a glimpse, once, of a party of
cyclists rounding a cliff on the San Bruno Road, and remembered the time when
he had gone over the same ground on his own wheel. That was only a month or two
before, but it seemed an age to him now, so much had there been to come
By the time supper had been eaten and the things cleared away, they were well down the Bay, off the marshes behind which Redwood City clustered. The wind had gone down with the sun, and the Dazzler was making but little headway, when they slighted a sloop bearing down upon them on the dying wind. 'Frisco Kid instantly named it as the "Reindeer," to which Pete, after a deep scrutiny, agreed. He seemed greatly pleased at the meeting.
"Epont Nelson runs here," 'Frisco Kid informed Joe. "They 've got something big down here, and they 're always after Pete to tackle it with them. He knows more about it, whatever it is."
Joe nodded and looked at the approaching craft curiously. Though somewhat larger, it was built on about the same lines as the Dazzler—which meant, above everything else, that it was built for speed. The mainsail was so large that it was more like that of a racing-yacht, and it carried the points for no less than three reefs in case of rough weather. Aloft and on deck everything was in place; nothing was untidy or useless. From running-gear to standing-rigging, everything bore evidence of thorough order and smart seamanship.
The Reindeer came up slowly in the gathering twilight, and went to anchor not a biscuit-toss away. Pete followed suit with the Dazzler, and then went in the skiff to pay them a visit. The two lads stretched themselves out on top of the cabin and awaited his returned.
"Do you like the life?" Joe broke silence.
The other turned on his elbow. "Well—I do, and then again I don't. The fresh air and the salt water, and all that, and the freedom—that s all right; but I don't like the—the—" He paused a moment, as though his tongue had failed in its duty, and then blurted out, "the stealing."
"Then why don't you quit it?" Joe liked the lad more than he dared confess, and he felt a sudden missionary zeal come upon him.
"I will, just as soon as I can turn my hand to something else."
"But why not now?"
Now is the accepted time, was ringing in Joe's ears, and if the other wished to leave, it seemed a pity that he did not, and at once.
"Where can I go? What can I do? There 's nobody in all the world to lend me a hand, just as there never has been. I tried it once, and learned my lesson too well to do it again in a hurry."
"Well, when I get out of this I 'm going home. Guess my father was right, after all. And I don't see—maybe—what 's the matter with you going with me?" He said this last impulsively, without thinking, and 'Frisco Kid knew it.
"You don't know what you 're talking about," he answered. "Fancy me going off with you! What 'd your father say? And—and the rest? How would he think of me? And what 'd he do?"
Joe felt sick at heart. He realized that in the spirit of the moment he had given an invitation which, on sober thought, he knew would be impossible to carry out. He tried to imagine his father receiving in his own house a stranger like 'Frisco Kid. No, that was not to be thought of. Then, forgetting his own plight, he fell to racking his brains for some other method by which 'Frisco Kid could get away from his present surroundings.
"He might turn me over to the police," the other went on, "and send me to a refuge. I 'd die first, before I 'd let that happen to me. And besides, Joe, I 'm not of your kind, and you know it. Why, I 'd be like a fish out of water, what with all the things I don't know. Nope; I guess I 'll have to wait a little before I strike out. But there 's only one thing for you to do, and that 's to go straight home. First chance I get, I 'll land you, and then deal with Pete ——"
"No, you don't," Joe interrupted hotly. "When I leave I 'm not going to leave you in trouble on my account. So don't you try anything like that. I 'll get away, never fear; and if I can figure it out, I want you to come along too—come along, anyway, and figure it out afterwards. What d' you say?"
'Frisco Kid shook his head, and, gazing up at the starlit heavens, wandered off into daydreams of the life he would like to lead, but from which he seemed inexorably shut out. The seriousness of life was striking deeper than ever into Joe's heart, and he lay silent, thinking hard. A mumble of heavy voices came to them from the Reindeer; from the land the solemn notes of a church bell floated across the water; while the summer night wrapped them slowly in its warm darkness.
'FRISCO KID TELLS HIS STORY.
AFTER the conversation died away, the two lads
lay upon the cabin for perhaps an hour.
Then, without saying a word, 'Frisco Kid went below and struck a light. Joe could hear him fumbling about, and a little later heard his own name called softly. On going into the cabin, he saw 'Frisco Kid sitting on the edge of the bunk, a sailor's ditty-box on his knees, and in his hand a carefully folded page from a magazine.
"Does she look like this?" he asked, smoothing it out and turning it that the other might see.
"It was a half-page illustration of two girls and a boy, grouped in an old-fashioned, roomy attic, and evidently holding a council of some sort. The girl who was talking faced the onlooker, while the backs of the two others were turned.
"Who?" Joe queried, glancing in perplexity from the picture to 'Frisco Kid's face.
"Like—like your sister—Bessie." The name seemed reluctant to come from his lips, and he expressed it with a certain shy reverence, as though it were something unspeakably sacred.
Joe was nonplussed for the moment. He could see no bearing between the two in point, and, anyway, girls were rather silly creatures to waste one's time over. "He 's actually blushing," he thought, regarding the soft glow on the other's cheeks. He felt an irresistible desire to laugh, but tried to smother it down.
"No, no; don't!" 'Frisco Kid cried, snatching the paper away and putting it back in the ditty-box with shaking fingers. Then he added more slowly: "I thought I—I kind of thought you would understand, and—and ——"
His lips trembled and his eyes glistened with unwonted moistness as he turned hastily away.
The next instant Joe was by his side on the bunk, his arm around him. Prompted by some instinctive monitor, he had done it before he thought. A week before he could not have imagined himself in such an absurd situation—his arm around a boy! but now it seemed the most natural thing in the world He did not comprehend, but he knew that, whatever it was, it was something that seemed of deep importance to his companion.
"Go ahead and tell us," he urged. "I 'll understand."
"No, you won't; you can't."
"Yes—sure. Go ahead."
'Frisco Kid choked and shook his head. "I don't think I could, anyway. It 's more the things I feel, and I don't know how to put them into words." Joe's arm wrapped about him reassuringly, and he went on: "Well, it 's this way. You see, I don't know much about the land, and people, and homes, and I never had no brothers, or sisters, or playmates. All the time I did n't know it, but I was lonely—sort of missed them down in here somewheres." He placed a hand over his breast to locate the seat of loss. "Did you ever feel downright hungry? Well, that 's just the way I used to feel, only a different kind of hunger, and me not knowing what it was. But one day, oh, a long time back, I got a-hold of a magazine, and saw a picture—that picture, with the two girls and the boy talking together. I thought it must be fine to be like them, and I got to thinking about the things they said an did, till it came to me all of a sudden like, and I knew that it was just loneliness was the matter with me.
"But, more than anything else, I got to wondering about the girl who looks out of the picture right at you. I was thinking about her all the time, and by and by she became real to me. You see, it was making believe, and I knew it all the time; and then again I did n't. Whenever I 'd think of the men, and the work and the hard life, I 'd knew it was a make-believe; but when I 'd think of her, it was n't. I don't know; I can't explain it."
Joe remembered all his own adventures which he had imagined on land and sea, and nodded. He at least understood that much.
"Of course it was all foolishness, but to have a girl like that for a friend seemed more like heaven to me that anything else I knew of. As I said, it was a long while back, and I was only a little kid. That 's when Nelson gave me my name, and I 've never been anything but 'Frisco Kid ever since. But the girl in the picture: I was always getting that picture out to look at her, and before long, if I was n't square, why, I felt ashamed to look at her. Afterwards, when I was older, I came to look at it in another way. I thought, 'Suppose, Kid, some day you were to meet a girl like that, what would she think of you? Could she like you? Could she be even the least bit of a friend to you?' And then I 'd make up my mind to be better, to try and do something with myself so that she or any of her kind of people would not be ashamed to know me.
"That 's why I learned to read. That 's why I ran away. Nicky Perrata, a Greek boy, taught me my letters, and it was n't till after I learned to read that I found out there was anything really wrong in Bay-pirating. I 'd been used to it ever since I could remember, and several people I knew made their living that way. But when I did find out, I ran away, thinking to quit it for good. I 'll tell you about it sometime, and how I 'm back at it again.
"Of course, she seemed a real girl when I was a youngster, and even now she sometimes seems that way, I 've thought so much about her. But while I 'm talking to you it all clears up and she comes to me in this light: she stands just for—well, for a better, cleaner life than this, and one I 'd like to live; and if I could live it, why I 'd come to know that kind of girls, and their kind of people—your kind, that 's what I mean. So I was wondering about you sister and you, and that 's why—I don't know; I guess I was just wondering. But I suppose you know lots of girls like that, don't you?"
Joe nodded his head in token that he did.
"Then tell me about them; something—anything," he added, as he noted the fleeting expression of doubt in the other's eyes.
"Oh, that 's easy," Joe began valiantly. To a certain extent he did understand the lad's hunger, and it seemed a simple enough task to satisfy him. "To begin with, they 're like—hem!—why, they 're like—girls, just girls." He broke off with a miserable sense of failure.
'Frisco Kid waited patiently, his face a study of expectancy.
Joe struggled vainly to marshal his ideas. To his mind, in quick succession, came the girls with whom he had gone to school, the sisters of the boys he knew, and those who were his sister's friends—slim girls and plump girls, tall girls and short girls, blue-eyed and brown-eyed, curly-haired, black-haired, golden-haired; in short, a regular procession of girls of all sorts and descriptions. But, to save himself, he could say nothing about them. Anyway, he 'd never been a "sissy," and why should he be expected to know anything about them? "All girls are alike," he concluded desperately. "They 're just the same as the ones you know, Kid. Sure they are."
"But I don't know any."
Joe whistled. "And never did?"
"Yes, one—Carlotta Gispardi. But she could n't speak English; and she died. I don't care; though I never knew any, I seem to know about them as you do."
"And I guess I know more about adventures all over the world than you do," Joe retorted.
Both boys laughed. But a moment later Joe fell into deep thought. It had come upon him quite swiftly that he had not been duly grateful for the good things of life he did possess. Already home, father, and mother had assumed a greater significance to him; but he now found himself placing a higher personal value upon his sister, his chums and friends. He never had appreciated them properly, he thought, but henceforth—well, there would be a different tale to tell.
The voice of Pete hailing them put a finish to the conversation, for they both ran on deck.
"Get up ze mainsail, and break out ze hook!" he shouted. "And den tail on to ze Reindeer! No side-lights!"
"Come! Cast off those gaskets! Lively!" 'Frisco Kid ordered. "Now lay onto the peak-halyards—there, that rope; cast it off the pin. And don't hoist ahead of me. There! Make fast! We 'll stretch it afterwards. Run aft and come in on the main-sheet! Shove the helm up!"
Under the sudden driving power of the mainsail, the Dazzler strained and tugged at her anchor like an impatient horse, till the muddy iron left the bottom with a rush, and she was free.
"Let go the sheet! Come for'ard again, and lend a hand on the chain! Stand by to give her the jib!" 'Frisco Kid, the boy who mooned over a picture of a girl in a magazine, had vanished, and 'Frisco Kid the sailor, strong and dominant, was on deck. He ran aft and tacked about as the jib rattled aloft in the hands of Joe, who quickly joined him. Just then the Reindeer, like a monstrous bat, passed to leeward of them in the gloom.
"Ah! dose boys! Dey take all-a night!" they heard Pete exclaim; and then the gruff voice of Nelson, who said: "Never you mind, Frenchy. I learned the Kid his sailorizing, and I ain't never been ashamed of him yet."
The Reindeer was the faster boat, but by spilling the wind from her sails they managed so that the boys could keep them in sight. The breeze came steadily in from the west, with a promise of early increase. The stars were being blotted out by driving masses of clouds, which indicated a greater velocity in the upper strata. 'Frisco Kid surveyed the sky. "Going to have it good and stiff before morning," he prophesied, and Joe guessed so, too.
A couple of later both boats stood in for the land, and dropped anchor not more than a cable's-length from the shore. A little wharf ran out, the bare end of which was perceptible to them, though they could discern a small yacht lying to a buoy a short distance away.
As on the previous night, everything was in readiness for hasty departure. The anchors could be tripped and the sails flung out on a moment's notice. Both skiffs came over noiselessly from the Reindeer. Nelson had given one of his two men to Pete, so that each skiff was doubly manned. They were not a very prepossession bunch of men—at least, Joe thought so, for their faces bore a savage seriousness which almost made him shiver. The captain of the Dazzler buckled on his pistol-belt and placed a rifle and a small double-block tackle in the boat. Nelson was also armed, while his men wore at their hips the customary sailor's sheath-knife. They were very slow and careful to avoid noise in getting into the boats, Pete pausing long enough to warn the boys to remain quietly aboard and not try any tricks.
"Now 'd be your chance, Joe, if they had n't taken the skiffs," 'Frisco Kid whispered, when the boats had vanished into the loom of the land.
"What 's the matter with the Dazzler?" was the unexpected answer. "We could up sail and away before you could say Jack Robinson."
They crawled for'ard and began to host the mainsail. The anchor they could slip, if necessary, and save the time of pulling it up. But at the first rattle of the halyards on the sheaves a warning "Hist!" came to them through the darkness, followed by a loudly whispered "Drop that!"
Glancing in the direction from which these sounds proceeded, they made out a white face peering at them from over the rail of the other sloop.
"Aw, it 's only the Reindeer's boy," 'Frisco Kid said. "Come on."
Again they were interrupted at the first rattling of the blocks.
"I say, you fellers, you 'd better let go them halyards pretty quick, I 'm a-tellin' you, or I 'll give you what for!"
This thread being dramatically capped by the click of a cocking pistol, 'Frisco Kid obeyed and went grumbling back to the cockpit. "Oh, there 's plenty more chances to come," he whispered consolingly to Joe. "Pete was cute was n't he? Kind of though you 'd be trying to make a break, and fixed is to you could n't."
Nothing came from the shore to indicate how the pirates were faring. Not a dog barked, not a light flared; yet the air seemed quivering with an alarm about to burst forth. The night had taken on a strained feeling of intensity, as though it held in store all kinds of terrible things. The boys felt this keenly as they huddled against each other in the cockpit and waited.
"You were going to tell me about your running away," Joe ventured finally, "and why you came back again."
'Frisco Kid took up the tale at once, speaking in muffled undertone close to the other's ear.
"You see, when I made up my mind to quit the life, there was n't a soul to lend me a hand; but I knew that the only thing for me to do was to get ashore and find some kind of work, so I could study. Then I figured there 'd be more chance in the country than in the city; so I gave Nelson the slip. I was on the Reindeer then—one night on the Alameda oyster-beds, and headed back from the Bay. But they were all Portuguese farmers thereabouts, and none of them had work for me. Besides, it was in the wrong time of the year—winter. That shows how much I knew about the land.
"I 'd saved up a couple of dollars, and kept traveling back, deeper and deeper into the country, looking for work and buying bread and cheese, and such things, from the store keepers. I tell you it was cold, nights, sleeping out without blankets, and I was always glad when morning came. But worse than that was the way everybody looked on me. They were all suspicious, and not a bit afraid to show it, and sometimes they 'd sick their dogs on me and tell me to get along. Seemed as though there was n't no place for me on the land. Then my money gave out, and just about the time I was good and hungry, I got captured."
"Capture! What for?"
"Nothing. Living, I suppose. I crawled into a haystack to sleep one night, because it was warmer, and along comes a village constable and arrests me for being a tramp. At first they though I was a runaway, and telegraphed my description all over. I told them I did n't have no people, but they would n't believe me for a long while. And then, when nobody claimed me, the judge sent me to a boys' 'refuge' in San Francisco."
He stopped and peered intently in the direction of the shore. The darkness and the silence in which the men had been swallowed up were profound. Nothing was stirring save the rising wind.
"I thought 'd die in that 'refuge.' Just like being in jail. You were locked up and guarded like any prisoner. Even then, if I could have liked the other boys it would n't have been so bad. But they were mostly street-boys of the worst sort, without one spark of manhood or one idea of square dealing and fair play. There was only one thing I did like and that was the books. Oh, I did lots of reading, I tell you. But that could n't make up for the rest. I wanted the freedom, and the sunlight, and the salt water. And what had I done to be kept in prison and herded with such a gain? Instead of doing wrong, I had tried to do good, to make myself better, and that 's what I got for it. I was n't old enough, you see.
"Sometimes I 'd see the sunshine dancing on the water and showing white on the sails, and the Reindeer cutting through it just as you please, and I 'd get that sick I would n't know hardly what I did. And then the boys would come against me with some of their meanness, and I 'd start in to lick the whole kit of them. Then the men in charge 'd lock me up and punish me. After I could n't stand it no longer, I watched my chance, and cut and run for it. Seemed as though there was n't no place on the land for me, so I picked up with Pete and went back on the Bay. That 's about all there is to it, though I 'm going to try it again when I get a little older—old enough to get a square deal for myself."
"You 're going to go back on the land with me," Joe said authoritatively, laying a hand on his shoulder; "that 's what you 're going to do. As for ——"
Bang! a revolver-shot rang out from the shore. Bang! bang! More guns were speaking sharply and hurriedly. A man's voice rose wildly on the air and died away. Somebody began to cry for help. Both boys were to their feet on the instant, hoisting the mainsail and getting everything ready to run. The Reindeer boy was doing likewise. A man, roused form his sleep on the yacht, thrust an excited head through the skylight, but withdrew it hastily at the sight of the two stranger sloops. The intensity of waiting was broken, the time for action come.
HEAVING in on the anchor-chain till it was up and
down, 'Frisco Kid and Joe ceased from their exertions. Everything was in
readiness to give the Dazzler the jib and go. They strained their eyes in the
direction of the shore. The clamor had died away, but here and there lights
were beginning to flash. The creaking of a block and tackle came to their ears,
and they heard Nelson's voice singing out "Lower away!" and
"Pete forgot to oil it," 'Frisco Kid commented, referring to the tackle.
"Takin' their time about it, ain't they?" the boy on the Reindeer called over to them, sitting down on the cabin and mopping his face after the exertion of hoisting the mainsail single-handed.
"Guess they 're all right," 'Frisco Kid rejoined.
"Say, you," the man on the yacht cried through the skylight, not venturing to show his head. "You 'd better go away."
"And you 'd better stay below and keep quiet," was the response.
"We 'll take care of ourselves. See you do the same," replied the boy on the Reindeer.
"If I was only out of this, I 'd show you," the man threatened.
"Lucky for you you 're not," was the response.
"Here they come!"
The two skiffs shot out of the darkness and came alongside. Some kind of an altercation was going on, as Pete's shrill voice attested.
"No, no!" he cried. "Put it on ze Dazzler. Ze Reindeer, she sail too fast-a, and run away, oh, so queeck, and never more I see it. Put it on ze Dazzler. Eh? W'at you say?"
"All right," Nelson agreed. "We 'll whack up afterwards. But hurry up. Out with you, lads, and heave her up. My arm 's broke."
The men tumbled out, ropes were cast inboard, and all hands, with the exception of Joe, tailed on. The shouting of men, the sound of oars, and the rattling and slapping of blocks and sails, told that the men on shore were getting underway for the pursuit.
"Now!" Nelson commanded. "All together! Don't let her come back or you 'll smash the skiff. There she takes it! A long pull and a strong pull! Once again! And yet again! Get a turn there, somebody, and take a spell."
Though the task was but half accomplished, they were exhausted by the strenuous effort, and hailed the rest eagerly. Joe glanced over the side to discover what the heavy object might be, and saw the vague outlines of a very small office safe.
"Now, all together! Take her on the run, and don't let her stop! Yo, ho! heave, ho! Once again! And another! Over with her!"
Straining and gasping, with tense muscles and heaving chests, they brought the cumbersome weight over the side, rolled it on top of the tail, and lowered it into the cockpit on the run. The cabin doors were thrown apart, and it was moved along, end for end, till it lay on the cabin floor, snug against the end of the centerboard-case. Nelson had followed it aboard to superintend. His left arm hung helpless at his side, and from the finger-tips blood dropped with monotonous regularity. He did not seem to mind it, however; nor even the mutterings of the human storm he had raised ashore, and which, to judge by the sounds, was even now threatening to break upon them.
"Lay your course for the Golden Gate," he said to Pete, as he turned to go. "I 'll try to stand by you; but if you get lost in the dark, I 'll meet you outside, off the Farralones, in the morning." He sprang into the skiff after the men, and, with a wave of his uninjured arm, cried heartily: "And then it 's Mexico, my jolly rovers—Mexico and summer weather!"
Just as the Dazzler, freed from her anchor, paid off under the jib and filled away, a dark sail loomed under her stern, barely missing the skiff in tow. The cockpit of the stranger was crowded with men, who raised their voices angrily at the pirates. Joe had half a mind to run for'ard and cut the halyards so that they might be captured. As he told Pete the day before, he had done nothing to be ashamed of, and was not afraid to go before a court of justice. But the thought of 'Frisco Kid restrained him. He wished to take him ashore with him., but in so doing he did not wish to take him to jail. So he began to experience a keen interest in the escape of the Dazzler, after all.
The pursuing sloop rounded up hurriedly to come about after them, and in the darkness fouled the yacht which lay at anchor. The man aboard of her, thinking that at last his time had come, let out one wild yell, and ran on deck, screaming for help. In the confusion of the collision Pete and the boys slipped away into the night.
The Reindeer had already disappeared, and by the time Joe and 'Frisco Kid had the running-gear coiled down and everything in shape, they were standing out in open water. The wind was freshening constantly, and the Dazzler heeling a lively clip through the comparatively smooth water. Before an hour had passed, the lights of Hunter's Point were well on her starboard beam. 'Frisco Kid went below to make some coffee, but Joe remained on deck, watching the lights of San Francisco grow, and speculating on his destination. Mexico! They were going to sea in such a frail craft! Impossible! At least, it seemed so to him, for his conceptions of ocean travel were limited to steamers and full-rigged ships, and he did not know how the tiny fishing-boats ventured the open sea. He was beginning to feel half sorry that he had not cut the halyards, and longed to ask Pete a thousand questions; but just as the first was on his lips, that worthy ordered him to go below and get some coffee, and then to turn in. He was followed shortly afterward by 'Frisco Kid, Pete remaining at the lonely task of beating down the Bay and out to sea. Twice Pete heard the waves buffeted back from some flying forefoot, and once he saw a sail to leeward on the opposite tack, which luffed sharply and came about at sight of him. But the darkness favored, and he heard no more of it—perhaps because he worked into the wind closer by a point, and held on his way with a rebellious shaking after-leech.
Shortly after dawn the boys were called and came sleepily on deck. The day had broken cold and gray, while the wind had attained half a gale. Joe noted with astonishment the white tents of the quarantine station on Angel Island. San Francisco lay a smoky blur on the southern horizon, while the night, still lingering on the western edge of the world, slowly withdrew before their eyes. Pete was just finishing a long reach into the Raccoon Strait, and, at the same time, studiously regarding a plunging sloop-yacht half a mile astern.
"Dey t'ink to catch ze Dazzler, eh? Bah!" And he brought the craft in question about, laying a course straight for the Golden Gate.
The pursuing yacht followed suit. Joe watched her a few moments. She held an apparently parallel course to them, and forge ahead much faster.
"Why, at this rate they 'll have us in no time!" he cried.
Pete laughed. "You t'ink so? Bah! Dey outfoot; we outpoint. Dey are scared of ze wind; we wipe ze eye of ze wind. Ah! you wait—you see."
"They 're traveling ahead faster," 'Frisco Kid explained, "but we 're sailing close to the wind. In the end we 'll beat them, even if they have the nerve to cross the bar, which I don't think they have. Look! See!"
Ahead could be seen the great ocean surges, flinging themselves skyward and bursting into roaring caps of smother. In the midst of it, now rolling her dripping bottom clear, now sousing her deck-load of lumber far above the guards, a coasting steam-schooner was lumbering heavily into port. It was magnificent, this battle between man and the elements. Whatever timidity he had entertained fled away, and Joe's nostrils began to dilate and his eyes to flash at the nearness of the impending struggle.
Pete called for his oilskins and sou'wester, and Joe also was equipped with a spare suit. Then he and 'Frisco Kid were went below to lash and cleat the safe in place. In the midst of this task Joe glanced at the firm-name gilt-lettered on the face of it, and read, "Bronson & Tate." Why, that was his father and his father's partner. That was their safe! their money! 'Frisco Kid, nailing the last retaining-cleat on the floor of the cabin, looked up and followed his fascinated gaze.
"That 's rough, is n't it?" he whispered. "Your father?"
Joe nodded. He could see it all now. They had run in to San Andreas, where his father worked the big quarries, and most probably the safe contained the wages of the thousand men or so whom his firm employed. "Don't say anything," he cautioned.
'Frisco Kid agreed knowingly. "Pete can't read, anyway," he added, "and the chances are that Nelson won't know what your name is. But, just the same, it 's pretty rough. They 'll break it open and divide up as soon as they can, so I don't see what you 're going to do about it."
"Wait and see." Joe had made up his mind that he would do his best to stand by his father's property. At the worst, it could only be lost; and that would surely be the case were he not along; while, being along, he at least held a fighting chance to save or to be in position to recover it. Responsibilities were showering upon him thick and fast. Three days before he had had but himself to consider. Then, in some subtle way, he had felt a certain accountability for 'Frisco Kid's future welfare; and after that, and still more subtly, he had become aware of duties which he owed to his position, to his sister, to his chums, and to friends. And now, by a most unexpected chain of circumstances, came the pressing need of service for his father's sake. It was a call upon his deepest strength, and he responded bravely. While the future might be doubtful, he had no doubt of himself; and this very state of mind, this self-confidence, by a generous alchemy, gave him added strength. Nor did he fail to be vaguely aware of it, and to grasp dimly at the truth that confidence breeds confidence—strength, strength.
"Now she takes it!" Pete cried.
Both lads ran into the cockpit. They were on the edge of the breaking bar. A huge forty-footer reared a foam-crested head far above them, stealing their wind for the moment and threatening to crush the tiny craft like an eggshell. Joe held his breath. It was the supreme moment. Pete luffed straight into it, and the Dazzler mounted the steep slope with a rush, poised a moment on the giddy summit, and fell into the yawning valley beyond. Keeping off in the intervals to fill the mainsail, and luffing into the combers, they worked their way across the dangerous stretch. Once they caught the tail-end of a whitecap and were well-nigh smothered in the froth; but otherwise the sloop bobbed and ducked with the happy facility of a cork.
To Joe it seemed as though he had been lifted out of himself, out of the world. Ah, this was life! This was action! Surely it could not be the old, commonplace world he had live in so long! The sailors, grouped on the streaming deck-load of the steamer, waved their sou'westers, nor, on the bridge, was the captain above expressing his admiration for the plucky craft.
"Ah! You see! You see!" Pete pointed astern.
The sloop-yacht had been afraid to venture it, and was skirting back and forth on the inner edge of the bar. The chase was off. A pilot-boat, running for shelter from the coming storm, flew by them like a frightened bird, passing the steamer as though the latter were standing still.
Half an hour later the Dazzler passed beyond the last smoking sea and was sliding up and down on the long Pacific swell. The wind had increased its velocity and necessitated a reefing down of jib and mainsail. Then she laid off again, full and free on the starboard tack, for the Farralones, thirty miles away. By the time breakfast was cooked and eaten they picked up the Reindeer, hove to and working ashore to the south and west. The wheel was lashed down, and there was not a soul on deck.
Pete complained bitterly against such recklessness. "Dat is ze one fault of Nelson. He no care. He is afraid of no'ting. Some day he will die, oh, so vaire queeck! I know, I know."
Three times they circled about the Reindeer,
running under her weather quarter and shouting in chorus, before they brought
anybody on deck. Sail was then made at once, and together the two cockle-shells
plunged away into the vastness of the Pacific. This was necessary, as 'Frisco
Kid informed Joe, in order to have an offing before the whole fury of the storm
broke upon them. Otherwise they would be driven on the lee shore of the
California coast. "Grub and water," he said, could be obtained by
running in to the land when fine weather came. He also congratulated Joe upon
the fact that he was not sea-sick—which circumstance likewise brought praise
form Pete, and put him in better humor with his mutinous sailor.
"I 'll tell you what we 'll do," 'Frisco Kid whispered, while cooking dinner. "To-night we 'll drag Pete down—"
"Drag Pete down?"
"Yes, and time him up good and snug—as soon as it gets dark. Then put out the lights and make a run for it. Get to port anyway, anywhere, just so long as we shake loose from Nelson. You 'll save your father's money, and I 'll go away somewhere, over on the other side of the world, and begin all over again."
"Then we 'll have to call it off, that 's all."
"Call what off?"
"Tying Pete up and running for it."
"No, sir; that 's decided upon."
"Now, listen here: I 'll not have a thing to do with it—I 'll go on to Mexico first—if you don't make me one promise."
"And what 's the promise?"
"Just this: you place yourself in my hands from the moment we get ashore, and trust to me. You don't know anything about the land anyway—you said so. And I 'll fix it with my father—I know I can—so that you can get to study, and get an education, and be something else than a Bay pirate or a sailor. That 's what you 'd like, is n't it?"
Though he said nothing, 'Frisco Kid showed how well he liked it by the expression of his face.
"And it 'll be no more than your due, either," Joe continued. "You 've stood by me, and you 'll have recovered my father's money. He 'll owe it to you."
"But I don't do things that way. Thing I do a man a favor just to be paid for it?"
"Now you keep quiet. How much do you think it 'd cost my father to recover that safe? Give me your promise, that 's all, and when I 've got things arranged, if you don't like them you can back out. Come on; that 's fair."
They shook hands on the bargain, and proceeded to map out their line of action for the night.
But the storm yelling down out of the northwest
had something entirely different in store for the Dazzler and her crew. By the
time dinner was over they were forced to put double reefs in mainsail and jib,
and still the gale had not reached its height. The sea, also, had been kicked
up till it was a continuous succession of water mountains, frightful and withal
grand to look upon from the low deck of the sloop. It was only when the sloops
were tossed up on the crests of the waves at the same time that they caught
sight of each other. Occasional fragments of seas swashed into the cockpit or
dashed aft clear over the cabin, and before long Joe was stationed at the small
pump to keep the well dry.
At three o'clock, watching his chance, Pete motioned to the Reindeer that he was going to heave to and get out a sea-anchor. This latter was of a nature of a large shallow canvas bag, with the mouth held open by triangularly lashed spars. To this the towing-ropes were attached, on the kite principle, so that the greatest resisting surface was presented to the water. The sloop, drifting so much faster, would thus be held bow on to both wind and sea—the safest possible position in a storm. Nelson waved his hand in response that he understood, and to go ahead.
Pete went for'ard to launch the sea-anchor himself, leaving it to 'Frisco Kid to put the helm down at the proper moment and run into the wind.
The Frenchman poised on the slippery foredeck, waiting an opportunity. But at this moment the Dazzler lifted into an unusually large sea, and, as she cleared the summit, caught a heavy snort of the gale at the very instant she was righting herself to an even keel.
Thus there was not the slightest yield to this sudden pressure coming on her sails and mast-gear.
Snap! Crash! The steel weather-rigging was carried away at the lanyards, and mast, jib, mainsail, blocks, stays, sea-anchor, Pete—everything—went over the side. Almost by a miracle, the captain clutched at the bobstay and managed to get one hand up and over the bow-sprit. The boys ran for'ard to drag him into safety, and Nelson, observing the disaster, put up his helm and instantly ran the Reindeer down to the rescue of the imperiled crew.
THE END OF THE CRUISE.
PETE was uninjured from the fall overboard with
the Dazzler's mast, but the sea-anchor which had gone with him had not escaped
so easily. The gaff of the mainsail had been driven through it, and it refused
to work. The wreckage, thumping alongside, held the sloop in a quartering slant
to the seas—not so dangerous a position as it might be, nor as safe,
"Good-by, old-a Dazzler. Never no more you wipe ze eye of ze wind. Never no more you kick your heels at ze crack gentleman-yachts."
So the captain lamented, standing in the cockpit and surveying the ruin with wet eyes. Even Joe, who bore him great dislike, felt sorry for him at this moment. As the horse is to the Arab, so the ship is to the sailor, and Pete suffered his loss keenly. A heavier blast of the wind caught the jagged crest of a wave and hurled it upon the helpless craft.
"Can't we save her?" Joe spluttered.
'Frisco Kid shook his head.
"Or the safe?"
"Impossible," he answered. "Could n't lay another boat alongside for a United States mint. As it is, it 'll keep us guessing to save ourselves."
Another sea swept over them, and the skiff, which had long been swamped, dashed itself to pieces against the stern. Then the Reindeer towered above them on a mountain of water. Joe caught himself half shrinking back, for it seemed she would fall down squarely on top of them; but the next instant she dropped into the gaping trough, and they were looking down upon her far below. It was a striking picture—one Joe was destined never to forget. The Reindeer was wallowing in the snow-white smother, her rails flush with the sea, the water scudding across her deck in foaming cataracts. The air was filled with flying spray, which made the scene appear hazy and unreal. One of the men was clinging to the perilous after-deck and striving to cast off the water-logged skiff. The boy, leaning far over the cockpit-rail and holding on for dear life, was passing him a knife. The second man stood at the wheel, putting it up with flying hands, and forcing the sloop to pay off. By him, his injured arm in a sling, was Nelson, his sou'wester gone and his fair hair plastered in wet, wind-blown ringlets about his face. His whole attitude breathed indomitability, courage, strength. Joe looked upon him in sudden awe, and, realizing the enormous possibilities in the man, felt sorrow for the way in which they had been wasted. A pirate—a robber! In that flashing moment he caught a glimpse of truth, grasped at the mystery of success and failure. Of such stuff as Nelson were heroes made; but they possessed wherein he lacked—the power of choice, the careful pose of mind, the sober control of soul.
These were the thoughts which came to Joe in the flight of a second. Then the Reindeer swept skyward and hurtled across their bow to leeward on the breast of a mighty billow.
"Ze wild man! ze wild man!" Pete shrieked, watching her in amazement. "He t'inks he can jibe! He will die! We will all die! He must come about! Oh, ze fool! ze fool!"
But time was precious, and Nelson ventured the chance. At the right moment he jibed the mainsail over and hauled back on the wind.
"Here she comes! Make ready to jump for it!" 'Frisco Kid cried to Joe.
The Reindeer dashed by their stern, heeling over till the cabin windows were buried, and so close that it appeared she must run them down. But a freak of the waters lurched the two crafts apart. Nelson, seeing that the manœuver had miscarried, instantly instituted another. Throwing the helm hard up, the Reindeer whirled on her heel, thus swinging the overhanging main-boom closer to the Dazzler. Pete was the nearest, and the opportunity could last no longer than a second. Like a cat he sprang, catching the foot-rope with both hands. Then the Reindeer forged ahead, dipping him into the sea at every plunge. But he clung on, working inboard every time he emerged, till he dropped into the cockpit, as Nelson squared off to run down to leeward and repeat the manœuver.
"Your turn next," 'Frisco Kid said.
"No; yours," Joe replied.
"But I know more about the water," 'Frisco Kid insisted.
"I can swim as well as you," said the other.
It would have been hard to forecast the outcome of this dispute; but, as it was, the swift rush of events made any settlement useless. The Reindeer had jibed over and was plowing back at breakneck speed, careening at such an angle that it seemed she must surely capsize. It was a gallant sight.
The storm burst in fury, the shouting wind
flattening the ragged crests till they boiled. The Reindeer dipped from view
behind an immense wave. The wave rolled on, but where the sloop had been the
boys noted with startled eyes only the angry waters. Doubting, they looked a
second time. There was no Reindeer. They were along on the ocean.
"God have mercy on their souls!"
Joe was too horrified at the suddenness of the catastrophe to utter a sound.
"Sailed her clean under, and, with the ballast she carried, went straight to bottom." 'Frisco Kid gasped when he could speak. "Pete always said Nelson would drown himself that way some day! And now they 're all gone. It 's dreadful—dreadful. But now we 've got to look out for ourselves, I tell you! The back of the storm broke in that puff, but the sea 'll kick up worse yet as the wind eases down. Lend a hand, and hang on with the other. We 've got to get her head-on."
Together, knives in hand, they crawled for'ard, where the pounding wreckage hampered the boat sorely. 'Frisco Kid took the lead in the ticklish work, but Joe obeyed orders like a veteran. Every minute or so the bow was swept by the sea, and they were pounded and buffeted about like a pair of shuttlecocks. First the main portion of the wreckage was securely fastened to the for'ard bitts; then, breathless and gasping, more often under the water than out, it was cut and hack at the tangle of halyards, sheets, stays, and tackles. The cockpit was taking water rapidly, and it was a race between swamping and completing the task. At last, however, everything stood clear save the lee rigging. 'Frisco Kid slashed the lanyards. The storm did the rest. The Dazzler drifted swiftly to leeward of the wreckage, till the strain on the line fast to the for'ard bitts jerked her bow into place, and she ducked dead into the eye of the wind and sea.
Pausing but for a cheer at the success of their undertaking, the two lads raced aft, where the cockpit was half full and the dunnage of the cabin all afloat. With a couple of buckets procured from the stern lockers, they proceeded to fling the water overboard. It was heartbreaking work, for many a barrelful was flung back upon them again; but they persevered, and when night fell, the Dazzler, bobbing merrily at her sea-anchor, could boast that her pumps sucked once more. As 'Frisco Kid had said, the backbone of the storm had broken, though the wind had veered to the west, where it still blew stiffly.
"If she holds," 'Frisco Kid said, referring to the breeze, "we 'll drift to the California coast, somewhere along in, to-morrow. There 's nothing to do now but wait."
They said little, oppressed by the loss of their comrades and overcome with exhaustion, preferring to huddle against each other for the sake of warmth and companionship. It was a miserable night, and they shivered constantly from the cold. Nothing dry was to be obtained aboard,, food, blankets, everything being soaked with the salt water. Sometimes they dozed, but these intervals were short and harassing, for it seemed as if each of the two boys took turns in waking with such a sudden start as to rouse the other.
At last day broke, and they looked about. Wind and sea had dropped considerably, and there was no question as to the safety of the Dazzler. The coast was nearer than they had expected, its cliffs showing dark and forbidding in the gray of dawn But with the rising of the sun they could see the yellow beaches, flanked by the white surf, and, beyond,—it seemed too good to be true,—the clustering of houses and smoking chimneys of a town.
"It 's Santa Cruz!" 'Frisco Kid cried. "And we 'll run no risk of being wrecked on the surf!"
"They you think we 'll save the safe?" Joe queried.
"Yes, indeed we will! There is n't much of a sheltered harbor for large vessels, but with this breeze we 'll run right up the mouth of the San Lorenzo River. Then there 's a little lake like, and boat-houses. Water smooth as glass. Come on. We 'll be in in time for breakfast."
Bringing to light some spare coils of rope from the lockers, he put a clove-hitch on the standing part of the sea-anchor hawswer, and carried the new running-line aft, making it fast to the stern bitts. Then he cast off from the for'ard bitts. Naturally the Dazzler swung off into the trough, completed the evolution, and pointed her nose toward shore. A couple of spare oars from below, and as many water-soaked blankets, sufficed to make a jury-mast and sail. When this was in place Joe cast loose from the wreckage, which was not towing astern, while 'Frisco Kid took the tiller.
"How's that?" said 'Frisco Kid, as he
finished making the Dazzler fast fore and aft, and stepped upon the
stringer-piece of the tiny wharf. "What 'll we do next,
Joe looked up in quick surprise. "Why—I—what 's the matter?"
"Well, are n't you captain now? Have n't we reached land? I 'm crew from now on, you know. What 's your orders?"
Joe caught the spirit of it. "Pipe all hands for breakfast; that is—wait a minute."
Diving below, he possessed himself of the money he had stowed away in his bundle when he came aboard. Then he locked the cabin door, and they went uptown in search of restaurants. Over breakfast Joe planned the next move, and, when they had done, communicated it to 'Frisco Kid.
In response to his inquiry the cashier told him when the morning train started for San Francisco. He glanced at the clock.
"I 've just time to catch it," he said to 'Frisco Kid. "Here is the key to the cabin door. Keep it locked and don't let anybody come aboard. Here 's money. Eat at the restaurants. Dry your blankets and sleep in the cockpit. I 'll be back to-morrow. And don't let anybody into that cabin. Good-by."
With a hasty hand-grip, he sped down the street to the depot. The conductor, when he punched his ticket, looked at him with surprise. And well he might, for it was not the custom of his passengers to travel in sea-boots and sou'westers. But Joe did not mind. He did not even notice. He had bought a paper and was absorbed in its contents. Before long his eyes caught an interesting paragraph:
The tug "Sea Queen," chartered by Bronson & Tate, has returned from a fruitless cruise outside the heads. No news of value could be obtained concerning the pirates who so daringly carried off their safe at San Andreas last Tuesday night. The lighthouse-keeper at the Farralones mentions having sighted the two sloops Wednesday morning, clawing offshore in the teeth of the gale. It is supposed by shipping men that they perished in the storm with their ill-gotten treasure. Rumor has it that, in addition to a large sum of gold, the safe contained papers of even greater importance.
When Joe had read this he felt a great relief. It
was evident no one had been killed at San Andreas on the night of the robbery,
else there would have been some comment on it in the paper. Nor, if they had
had any clue to his own whereabouts, would they have omitted such a striking
bit of information.
At the depot in San Francisco the curious onlookers were surprised to see a boy clad conspicuously in sea-boots and sou'wester hail a cab and dash away in it. But Joe was in a hurry. He knew his father's hours, and was fearful lest he should not catch him before he went to luncheon.
The office-boy scowled at him when he pushed open the door and asked to see Mr. Bronson; nor could the head clerk, when summoned by this strange-looking intruder, recognize him.
"Don't you know me, Mr. Willis?"
Mr. Willis looked a second time. "Why, it 's Joe Bronson! Of all things under the sun, where did you drop from? Go right in. Your father 's in there."
Mr. Bronson stopped dictating to his stenographer, looked up, and said: "Hello! where have you been?"
"To sea," Joe answered demurely enough, not sure of just what kind of a reception he was to get, and fingering his sou'wester nervously.
"Short trip, eh? How did you make out?"
"Oh, so-so." He had caught the twinkle of his father's eye, and knew that it was all clear sailing. "Not so bad—er—that is, considering."
"Well, not exactly that; rather, it might have been worse, and, well—I don't know that it could have been better."
"You interest me; sit down." Then, turning to the stenographer, "You may go, Mr. Brown, and—hum—I sha'n't need you any more to-day."
It was all Joe could do to keep from crying, so kindly and naturally had his father received him—making him feel at once as if not the slightest thing uncommon had occurred. It was as if he had just returned from a vacation, or, man-grown, had come back from some business trip.
"Now go ahead, Joe. You were speaking to me a moment ago in conundrums, and have aroused my curiosity to a most uncomfortable degree."
Thereat Joe sat down and told what had happened, all that had happened, from the previous Monday night to that moment. Each little incident he related, every detail, not forgetting his conversations with 'Frisco Kid nor his plans concerning him. His face flushed and he was carried away with the excitement of the narrative, while Mr. Bronson was almost as interested, urging him on whenever he slackened his pace, but otherwise remaining silent.
"So you see," Joe said at last, "It could n't possibly have turned out any better."
"Ah, well," Mr. Bronson deliberated judiciously, "it may be so, and then again it may not."
"I don't see it." Joe felt sharp disappointment at his father's qualified approval. It seemed to him that the return of the safe merited something stronger.
That Mr. Bronson fully comprehended the way Joe felt about it was clearly in evidence, for he went on: "As to the matter of the safe, all hail to you, Joe. Credit, and plenty of it, is your due. Mr. Tate and I have already spent five hundred dollars in attempting to recover it. So important was it that we have also offered five thousand dollars reward, and this morning were even considering the advisability of increasing the amount. But, my son,"—Mr. Bronson stood up, resting a hand affectionately on his boy's shoulder,—"there be certain things in this world which are of still greater importance than gold or papers which represent that which gold bay buy. How about yourself? There 's the point. Will you sell the best possibilities of your life right now for a million dollars?"
Joe shook his head.
"As I said, that 's the point. A human life the treasure of the world cannot buy; nor can it redeem on which is misspent; nor can it make full and complete and beautiful a life which is dwarfed and warped and ugly. How about yourself? What is to be the effect of all these strange adventures on your life—your life, Joe? Are you going to pick yourself up to-morrow and try it over again? Or the next day, or the day after? Do you understand? Why, Joe, do you think for one moment that I could place against the best value of my son's life the paltry value of a safe? And can I say, until time has told me, whether this trip of yours could not possibly have been better? Such an experience is as potent for evil as for good. One dollar is exactly like another—there are many in the world; but no Joe is like my Joe, nor can there be any others in the world to take his place. Don't you see, Joe? Don't you understand?"
Mr. Bronson's voice broke silently, and the next instant Joe was sobbing as though his heart would break. He had never understood this father of his before, and he knew now the pain he must have caused him, to say nothing of his mother and sister. But the four stirring days he had spent had given him a clearer view of the world and humanity, and he had always possessed the power of putting his thoughts into speech; so he spoke of these things and the lessons he had learned, the conclusions he had drawn from his conversations with 'Frisco Kid, form his intercourse with Pete, from the graphic picture he retained of the Reindeer and Nelson as they wallowed in the trough beneath him. And Mr. Bronson listened and, in turn, understood.
"But what of 'Frisco Kid, father?" Joe asked when he had finished.
"Hum! there 's a great deal of promise in the boy, from what you say of him." Mr. Bronson hid the twinkle in his eye this time. "And, I must confess, he seems perfectly capable of shifting for himself."
"Sir?" Joe could not believe his ears.
"Let us see, then. He is at present entitled to the half of five thousand dollars, the other half of which belongs to you. It was you two who preserved the safe from the bottom of the Pacific, and if you only had waited a little longer, Mr. Tate and I might have increased the reward."
"Oh!" Joe caught a glimmering of the light. "Part of that is easily arranged, father. I simply refuse to take my half. As to the other—that is n't exactly what 'Frisco Kid desires. He wants friends—and—and—though you did n't say so, they are far higher than gold, nor can gold buy them. He wants friends and a chance for an education—not twenty-five hundred dollars."
"Don't you think it would be better that he choose for himself?"
"Ah, no. That 's all arranged."
"Yes, sir. He 's captain on sea, and I 'm captain on land. So he 's under my charge now."
"Then you have the power of attorney for him in the present negotiations? Good. I 'll make a proposition. The twenty-five hundred dollars shall be held in trust by me, on his demand at any time. We 'll settle about yours afterward. Then he shall be put on probation for, say, a year—as messenger first, and then in the office. You can either coach him in his studies, or he can attend night-school. And after that, if he comes through his period of probation with flying colors, I 'll give him the same opportunities for an education that you possess. It all depends on himself. And now, Mr. Attorney, what have you to say to my offer in the interests of your client?"
"That I close with it at once—and thank you."
Father and son shook hands.
"And what are you going to do now, Joe?"
"I 'm going to send a telegram to 'Frisco Kid first, and then hurry home."
"Then wait a minute till I call up San Andreas and tell Mr. Tate the good news, and I 'll go with you."
"Mr Willis," Mr. Bronson said as they left the outer office, "do you remain in charge, and kindly tell the clerks that they are free for the rest of the day.
"And I say," he called back as they entered the elevator, "don't forget the office-boy."
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