Captains Courageous/Chapter III
"Well, I guess my father might give me one or two if I asked 'em," Harvey replied. He had been too busy to think much of his family till then.
"That's so. I forgot your dad's a millionaire. You don't act millionary any, naow. But a dory an' craft an' gear" - Dan spoke as though she were a whale-boat "costs a heap. Think your dad 'u'd give you one fer - fer a pet like?"
"Shouldn't wonder. It would be 'most the only thing I haven't stuck him for yet."
"Must be an expensive kinder kid to home. Don't slitheroo thet way, Harve. Short's the trick, because no sea's ever dead still, an' the swells'll -"
Crack! The loom of the oar kicked Harvey under the chin and knocked him backward.
"That was what I was goin' to say. I hed to learn too, but I wasn't more than eight years old when I got my schoolin'."
Harvey regained his seat with aching jaws and a frown.
"No good gettin' mad at things, dad says. It's our own fault ef we can't handle 'em, he says. Le's try here. Manuel'll give us the water."
The " Portugee" was rocking fully a mile away, but when Dan up- ended an oar he waved his left arm three times.
"Thirty fathom," said Dan, stringing a salt clam on to the hook. "Over with the dough-boys. Bait same's I do, Harve, an' don't snarl your reel."
Dan's line was out long before Harvey had mastered the mystery of baiting and heaving out the leads. The dory drifted along easily. It was not worth while to anchor till they were sure of good ground.
"Here we come!" Dan shouted, and a shower of spray rattled on Harvey's shoulders as a big cod flapped and kicked alongside. "Muckle, Harvey, muckle! Under your hand! Quick!"
Evidently "muckle" could not be the dinner-horn, so Harvey passed over the maul, and Dan scientifically stunned the fish before he pulled it inboard, and wrenched out the hook with the short wooden stick he called a "gob-stick." Then Harvey felt a tug, and pulled up zealously.
"Why, these are strawberries!" he shouted. "Look!"
The hook had fouled among a bunch of strawberries, red on one side and white on the other - perfect reproductions of the land fruit, except that there were no leaves, and the stem was all pipy and slimy.
"Don't tech 'em! Slat 'em off. Don't -"
The warning came too late. Harvey had picked them from the hook, and was admiring them.
"Ouch!" he cried, for his fingers throbbed as though he had grasped many nettles.
"Naow ye know what strawberry-bottom means. Nothin' 'cep' fish should be teched with the naked fingers, dad says. Slat 'em off ag'in' the gunnel, an' bait up, Harve. Lookin' won't help any. It's all in the wages."
Harvey smiled at the thought of his ten and a half dollars a month, and wondered what his mother would say if she could see him hanging over the edge of a fishing-dory in mid-ocean. She suffered agonies whenever he went out on Saranac Lake; and, by the way, Harvey remembered distinctly that he used to laugh at her anxieties. Suddenly the line flashed through his hand, stinging even through the "flippers," the woolen circlets supposed to protect it.
"He's a logy. Give him room accordin' to his strength," cried Dan. "I'll help ye."
"No, you won't," Harvey snapped, as he hung on to the line. "It's my first fish. Is - is it a whale?"
"Halibut, mebbe." Dan peered down into the water alongside, and flourished the big "muckle," ready for all chances. Something white and oval flickered and fluttered through the green. "I'll lay my wage an' share he's over a hundred. Are you so everlastin' anxious to land him alone?" Harvey's knuckles were raw and bleeding where they had been banged against the gunwale; his face was purple-blue between excitement and exertion; he dripped with sweat, and was half blinded from staring at the circling sunlit ripples about the swiftly moving line. The boys were tired long ere the halibut, who took charge of them and the dory for the next twenty minutes. But the big flat fish was gaffed and hauled in at last.
"Beginner's luck," said Dan, wiping his forehead. "He's all of a hundred."
Harvey looked at the huge grey-and-mottled creature with unspeakable pride. He had seen halibut many times on marble slabs ashore, but it had never occurred to him to ask how they came inland. Now he knew; and every inch of his body ached with fatigue.
"Ef dad was along," said Dan, hauling up, "he'd read the signs plain's print. The fish arc runnin' smaller an' smaller, an' you've took baout as logy a halibut's we're apt to find this trip. Yesterday's catch - did ye notice it? - was all big fish an' no halibut. Dad he'd read them signs right off. Dad says everythin' on the Banks is signs, an' can be read wrong er right. Dad's deeper'n the Whale-hole."
Even as he spoke some one fired a pistol on the "We're Here", and a potato-basket was run up in the fore-rigging.
"What did I say, naow? That's the call fer the whole crowd. Dad's onter something, er he'd never break fishin' this time o' day. Reel up, Harve, an' we'll pull back."
They were to windward of the schooner, just ready to flirt the dory over the still sea, when sounds of woe half a mile off led them to Penn, who was careering around a fixed point, for all the world like a gigantic water-bug. The little man backed away and came down again with enormous energy, but at the end of each manoeuvre his dory swung round and snubbed herself on her rope.
"We'll hey to help him, else he'll root an' seed here," said Dan.
"What's the matter?" said Harvey. This was a new world, where he could not lay down the law to his elders, but had to ask questions humbly. And the sea was horribly big and unexcited.
"Anchor's fouled. Penn's always losing 'em. Lost two this trip a'ready, - on sandy bottom, too, - an' dad says next one he loses, sure's fish-in', he'll give him the kelleg. That 'u'd break Penn's heart."
"What's a 'kelleg'?" said Harvey, who had a vague idea it might be some kind of marine torture, like keel-hauling in the story-books.
"Big stone instid of an anchor. You kin see a kelleg ridin' in the bows fur's you can see a dory, an' all the fleet knows what it means. They'd guy him dreadful. Penn couldn't stand that no more'n a dog with a dipper to his tail. He's so everlastin' sensitive. Hello, Penn! Stuck again? Don't try any more o' your patents. Come up on her, and keep your rodin' straight up an' down."
"It doesn't move," said the little man, panting. "It doesn't move at all, and indeed I tried everything." "What's all this hurrah's-nest for'ard?" said Dan, pointing to a wild tangle of spare oars and dory-roding, all matted together by the hand of inexperience.
"Oh, that," said Penn, proudly, "is a Spanish windlass. Mr. Salters showed me how to make it; but even that doesn't move her."
Dan bent low over the gunwale to hide a smile, twitched once or twice on the roding, and, behold, the anchor drew at once.
"Haul up, Penn," he said, laughing, "er she 'll git stuck again."
They left him regarding the weed-hung flukes of the little anchor with big, pathetic blue eyes, and thanking them profusely.
"Oh, say, while I think of it, Harve," said Dan, when they were out of ear-shot, "Penn ain't quite all caulked. He ain't nowise dangerous, but his mind's give out. See?"
"Is that so, or is it one of your father's judgments?" Harvey asked, as he bent to his oars. He felt he was learning to handle them more easily.
"Dad ain't mistook this time. Penn's a sure'nuff loony. No, he ain't thet, exactly, so much ez a harmless ijjit. It was this way (you're rowin' quite so, Harve), an' I tell you 'cause it's right you orter know. He was a Moravian preacher once. Jacob Boller wuz his name, dad told me, an' he lived with his wife an' four children somewheres out Pennsylvania way. Well, Penn he took his folks along to a Moravian meetin', - camp-meetin', most like, - an' they stayed over jest one night in Johnstown. You've heered talk o' Johnstown?"
Harvey considered. "Yes, I have. But I don't know why. It sticks in my head same as Ashtabula."
"Both was big accidents - thet's why, Harve. Well, that one single night Penn and his folks was to the hotel Johnstown was wiped out. 'Dam bu'st an' flooded her, an' the houses struck adrift an' bumped into each other an' sunk. I've seen the pictures, an' they're dretful. Penn he saw his folk drowned all 'n a heap 'fore he rightly knew what was comin'. His mind give out from that on. He mistrusted somethin' hed happened up to Johnstown, but for the poor life of him he couldn't remember what, an' he jest drifted araound smilin' an' wonderin'. He didn't know what he was, nor yit what he hed bin, an' thet way he run ag'in' Uncle Salters, who was visitin' 'n Allegheny City. Ha'af my mother's folks they live scattered inside o' Pennsylvania, an' Uncle Salters he visits araound winters. Uncle Salters he kinder adopted Penn, well knowin' what his trouble wuz; an' he brought him East, an' he give him work on his farm."
"Why, I heard him calling Penn a farmer last night when the boats bumped. Is your Uncle Salters a farmer?"
"Farmer!" shouted Dan. "There ain't water enough 'tween here an' Hatt'rus to wash the furrer-mould off'n his boots. He's Jest everlastin' farmer. Why, Harve, I've seen thet man hitch up a bucket, long towards sundown, an' set twiddlin' the spigot to the scuttle-butt same's ef 'twuz a cow's bag. He's thet much farmer. Well, Penn an' he they ran the farm - up Exeter way, 'twuz. Uncle Salters he sold it this spring to a jay from Boston as wanted to build a summerhaouse, an' he got a heap for it. Well, them two loonies scratched along till, one day, Penn's church he'd belonged to - the Moravians - found out where he wuz drifted an' layin', an' wrote to Uncle Salters. 'Never heerd what they said exactly; but Uncle Salters was mad. He's a 'piscopalian mostly - but he jest let 'em hev it both sides o' the bow, 'sif he was a Baptist, an' sez he warn't goin' to give up Penn to any blame Moravian connection in Pennsylvania or anywheres else. Then he come to dad, towin' Penn, - thet was two trips back, - an' sez he an' Penn must fish a trip fer their health. 'Guess he thought the Moravians wouldn't hunt the Banks fer Jacob Boller. Dad was agreeable, fer Uncle Salters he'd been fishin' off an' on fer thirty years, when he warn't inventin' patent manures, an' he took quarter-share in the 'We're Here'; an' the trip done Penn so much good, dad made a habit o' takin' him. Some day, dad sez, he'll remember his wife an' kids an' Johnstown, an' then, like's not, he'll die, dad sez. Don't yer talk about Johnstown ner such things to Penn, 'r Uncle Salters he'll heave ye overboard."
"Poor Penn!" murmured Harvey. "I shouldn't ever have thought Uncle Salters cared for him by the look of 'em together."
"I like Penn, though; we all do," said Dan. "We ought to ha' give him a tow, but I wanted to tell ye first."
They were close to the schooner now, the other boats a little behind them.
"You needn't heave in the dories till after dinner," said Troop, from the deck. "We'll dress-daown right off. Fix table, boys!"
"Deeper'n the Whale-deep," said Dan, with a wink, as he set the gear for dressing-down. "Look at them boats that hev edged up sence mornin'. They're all waitin' on dad. See 'em, Harve?"
"They are all alike to me." And, indeed, to a landsman the nodding schooners around seemed run from the same mould.
"They ain't, though. That yaller, dirty packet with her bowsprit steeved that way, she's the 'Hope of Prague'. Nick Brady's her skipper, the meanest man on the Banks. We'll tell him so when we strike the Main Ledge. 'Way off yander's the 'Day's Eye'. The two Jeraulds own her. She's from Harwich; fastish, too, an' hez good luck; but dad he'd find fish in a graveyard. Them other three, side along, they're the 'Margie Smith', 'Rose', and 'Edith S. Walen', all frum home. 'Guess we'll see the 'Abbie M. Deering' to- morrer, dad, won't we? They're all slippin' over from the shoal o' 'Queereau."
"You won't see many boats to-morrow, Danny." When Troop called his son Danny, it was a sign that the old man was pleased. "Boys, we're too crowded," he went on, addressing the crew as they clambered inboard. "We'll leave 'em to bait big an' catch small." He looked at the catch in the pen, and it was curious to see how little and level the fish ran. Save for Harvey's halibut, there was nothing over fifteen pounds on deck.
"I'm waitin' on the weather," he added.
"Ye'll have to make it yourself, Disko, for there's no sign I can see," said Long Jack, sweeping the clear horizon.
And yet, half an hour later, as they were dressing-down, the Bank fog dropped on them, "between fish and fish," as they say. It drove steadily and in wreaths, curling and smoking along the colourless water. The men stopped dressing-down without a word. Long Jack and Uncle Salters slipped the windlass-brakes into their sockets, and began to heave up the anchor, the windlass jarring as the wet hempen cable strained on the barrel. Manuel and Tom Platt gave a hand at the last. The anchor came up with a sob, and the riding-sail bellied as Troop steadied her at the wheel. "Up jib and foresail," said he.
"Slip 'em in the smother," shouted Long Jack, making fast the jib- sheet, while the others raised the clacking, rattling rings of the foresail; and the fore-boom creaked as the "We're Here" looked up into the wind and dived off into blank, whirling white.
"There's wind behind this fog," said Troop.
It was all wonderful beyond words to Harvey; and the most wonderful part was that he heard no orders except an occasional grunt from Troop, ending with, "That's good, my son!"
"'Never seen anchor weighed before?" said Tom Platt, to Harvey gaping at the damp canvas of the foresail.
"No. Where are we going?"
"Fish and make berth, as you'll find out 'fore you've bin a week aboard. It's all new to you, but we never know what may come to us. Now, take me - Tom Platt - I'd never ha' thought -"
"It's better than fourteen dollars a month an' a bullet in your belly," said Troop, from the wheel. "Ease your jumbo a grind."
"Dollars an' cents better," returned the man-o'-war's man, doing something to a big jib with a wooden spar tied to it. "But we didn't think o' that when we manned the windlass-brakes on the 'Miss Jim Buck',1 outside Beaufort Harbor, with Fort Macon heavin' hot shot at our stern, an' a livin' gale atop of all. Where was you then, Disko?"
"Jest here, or hereabouts," Disko replied, "earnin' my bread on the deep waters, and dodgin' Reb privateers. 'Sorry I can't accommodate you with red-hot shot, Tom Platt; but I guess we'll come aout all right on wind 'fore we see Eastern Point."
There was an incessant slapping and chatter at the bows now, varied by a solid thud and a little spout of spray that clattered down on the fo'c'sle. The rigging dripped clammy drops, and the men lounged along the lee of the house - all save Uncle Salters, who sat stiffly on the main-hatch nursing his stung hands.
1 The Gemsbok, U. S. N.?
"'Guess she'd carry stays'l," said Disko, rolling one eye at his brother.
"Guess she wouldn't to any sorter profit. What's the sense o' wastin' canvas?" the farmer-sailor replied.
The wheel twitched almost imperceptibly in Disko's hands. A few seconds later a hissing wave-top slashed diagonally across the boat, smote Uncle Salters between the shoulders, and drenched him from head to foot. He rose sputtering, and went forward, only to catch another.
"See dad chase him, all around the deck," said Dan. "Uncle Salters he thinks his quarter-share's our canvas. Dad's put this duckin' act up on him two trips runnin'. Hi! That found him where he feeds." Uncle Salters had taken refuge by the foremast, but a wave slapped him over the knees. Disko's face was as blank as the circle of the wheel.
"'Guess she'd lie easier under stays'l, Salters," said Disko, as though he had seen nothing.
"Set your old kite, then," roared the victim, through a cloud of spray; "only don't lay it to me if anything happens. Penn, you go below right off an' git your coffee. You ought to hev more sense than to bum araound on deck this weather."
"Now they'll swill coffee an' play checkers till the cows come home," said Dan, as Uncle Salters hustled Penn into the fore- cabin. "'Looks to me like's if we'd all be doin' so fer a spell. There's nothin' in creation deader-limpsey-idler'n a Banker when she ain't on fish."
"I'm glad ye spoke, Danny," cried Long Jack, who had been casting round in search of amusement. "I'd clean forgot we'd a passenger under that T-wharf hat. There's no idleness for thim that don't know their ropes. Pass him along, Tom Platt, an' we'll l'arn him."
"'Tain't my trick this time," grinned Dan. "You've got to go it alone. Dad learned me with a rope's end."
For an hour Long Jack walked his prey up and down, teaching, as he said, "things at the sea that ivry man must know, blind, dhrunk, or asleep." There is not much gear to a seventy-ton schooner with a stump-foremast, but Long Jack had a gift of expression. When he wished to draw Harvey's attention to the peak-halyards, he dug his knuckles into the back of the boy's neck and kept him at gaze for half a minute. He emphasised the difference between fore and aft generally by rubbing Harvey's nose along a few feet of the boom, and the lead of each rope was fixed in Harvey's mind by the end of the rope itself.
The lesson would have been easier had the deck been at all free; but there appeared to be a place on it for everything and anything except a man. Forward lay the windlass and its tackle, with the chain and hemp cables, all very unpleasant to trip over; the fo'c'sle stovepipe, and the gurry-butts by the fo'c'sle-hatch to hold the fish-livers. Aft of these the fore-boom and booby of the main-hatch took all the space that was not needed for the pumps and dressing-pens. Then came the nests of dories lashed to ring- bolts by the quarter-deck; the house, with tubs and oddments lashed all around it; and, last, the sixty-foot main-boom in its crutch, splitting things lengthwise, to duck and dodge under every time.
Tom Platt, of course, could not keep his oar out of the business, but ranged alongside with enormous and unnecessary descriptions of sails and spars on the old Ohio.
"Niver mind fwhat he says; attind to me, Innocince. Tom Platt, this bally-hoo's not the Ohio, an' you're mixing the bhoy bad."
"He'll be ruined for life, beginnin' on a fore-an'-after this way," Tom Platt pleaded. "Give him a chance to know a few leadin' principles. Sailin's an art, Harvey, as I'd show you if I had ye in the foretop o' the -"
"I know ut. Ye'd talk him dead an' cowld. Silince, Tom Platt! Now, after all I've said, how'd you reef the foresail, Harve'? Take your time answerin'."
"Haul that in," said Harvey, pointing to leeward.
"Fwhat? The North Atlantuc?"
"No, the boom. Then run that rope you showed me back there -"
"That's no way," Tom Platt burst in.
"Quiet! He's l'arnin', an' has not the names good yet. Go on, Harve."
"Oh, it's the reef-pennant. I'd hook the tackle on to the reef- pennant, and then let down -"
"Lower the sail, child! Lower!" said Tom Platt, in a professional agony.
"Lower the throat-and peak-halyards," Harvey went on. Those names stuck in his head.
"Lay your hand on thim," said Long Jack.
Harvey obeyed. "Lower till that rope-loop - on the after-leach - kris - no, it's cringle - till the cringle was down on the boom. Then I'd tie her up the way you said, and then I'd hoist up the peak-and throat-halyards again."
"You've forgot to pass the tack-earing, but wid time and help ye'll l'arn. There's good and just reason for ivry rope aboard, or else 'twould be overboard. D'ye follow me? 'Tis dollars an' cents I'm puttin' into your pocket, ye skinny little supercargo, so that fwhin ye've filled out ye can ship from Boston to Cuba an' tell thim Long Jack l'arned you. Now I'll chase ye around a piece, callin' the ropes, an' you'll lay your hand on thim as I call."
He began, and Harvey, who was feeling rather tired, walked slowly to the rope named. A rope's end licked round his ribs, and nearly knocked the breath out of him.
"When you own a boat," said Tom Platt, with severe eyes, "you can walk. Till then, take all orders at the run. Once more - to make sure!"
Harvey was in a glow with the exercise, and this last cut warmed him thoroughly. Now, he was a singularly smart boy, the son of a very clever man and a very sensitive woman, with a fine resolute temper that systematic spoiling had nearly turned to mulish obstinacy. He looked at the other men, and saw that even Dan did not smile. It was evidently all in the day's work, though it hurt abominably; so he swallowed the hint with a gulp and a gasp and a grin. The same smartness that led him to take such advantage of his mother made him very sure that no one on the boat, except, maybe, Penn, would stand the least nonsense. One learns a great deal from a mere tone. Long Jack called over half a dozen more ropes, and Harvey danced over the deck like an eel at ebb-tide, one eye on Tom Platt.
"Ver' good. Ver' good done," said Manuel. "After supper I show you a little schooner I make, with all her ropes. So we shall learn."
"Fust-class fer - a passenger," said Dan. "Dad he's jest allowed you'll be wuth your salt maybe 'fore you're draownded. Thet's a heap fer dad. I'll learn you more our next watch together."
"Taller!" grunted Disko, peering through the fog as it smoked over the bows. There was nothing to be seen ten feet beyond the surging jib-boom, while alongside rolled the endless procession of solemn, pale waves whispering and upping one to the other.
"Now I'll learn you something Long Jack can't," shouted Tom Platt, as from a locker by the stern he produced a battered deep-sea lead hollowed at one end, smeared the hollow from a saucer full of mutton tallow, and went forward. "I'll learn you how to fly the Blue Pigeon. Shooo!"
Disko did something to the wheel that checked the schooner's way, while Manuel, with Harvey to help (and a proud boy was Harvey), let down the jib in a lump on the boom. The lead sung a deep droning song as Tom Platt whirled it round and round.
"Go ahead, man," said Long Jack, impatiently. "We're not drawin' twenty-five fut off Fire Island in a fog. There's no trick to ut."
"Don't be jealous, Galway." The released lead plopped into the sea far ahead as the schooner surged slowly forward.
"Soundin' is a trick, though," said Dan, "when your dipsey lead's all the eye you're like to hev for a week. What d'you make it, dad?"
Disko's face relaxed. His skill and honour were involved in the march he had stolen on the rest of the fleet, and he had his reputation as a master artist who knew the Banks blindfold. "Sixty, mebbe - ef I'm any judge," he replied, with a glance at the tiny compass in the window of the house.
"Sixty," sung out Tom Platt, hauling in great wet coils.
The schooner gathered way once more. "Heave!" said Disko, after a quarter of an hour.
"What d'you make it?" Dan whispered, and he looked at Harvey proudly. But Harvey was too proud of his own performances to be impressed just then.
"Fifty," said the father. "I mistrust we're right over the nick o' Green Bank on old Sixty-Fifty."
"Fifty!" roared Tom Platt. They could scarcely see him through the fog. "She's bu'st within a yard - like the shells at Fort Macon."
"Bait up, Harve," said Dan, diving for a line on the reel.
The schooner seemed to be straying promiscuously through the smother, her head-sail banging wildly. The men waited and looked at the boys, who began fishing.
"Heugh!" Dan's lines twitched on the scored and scarred rail. "Now haow in thunder did dad know? Help us here, Harve. It's a big un. Poke-hooked, too." They hauled together, and landed a goggle-eyed twenty-pound cod. He had taken the bait right into his stomach.
"Why, he's all covered with little crabs," cried Harvey, turning him over.
"By the great hook-block, they're lousy already," said Long Jack. "Disko, ye kape your spare eyes under the keel."
Splash went the anchor, and they all heaved over the lines, each man taking his own place at the bulwarks.
"Are they good to eat?" Harvey panted, as he lugged in another crab-covered cod.
"Sure. When they're lousy it's a sign they've all been herdin' together by the thousand, and when they take the bait that way they're hungry. Never mind how the bait sets. They'll bite on the bare hook."
"Say, this is great!" Harvey cried, as the fish came in gasping and splashing -nearly all poke-hooked, as Dan had said. "Why can't we always fish from the boat instead of from the dories?"
"Allus can, till we begin to dress-daown. Efter thet, the heads and offals 'u'd scare the fish to Fundy. Boat-fishin' ain't reckoned progressive, though, unless ye know as much as dad knows. Guess we'll run aout aour trawl to-night. Harder on the back, this, than frum the dory, ain't it?"
It was rather back-breaking work, for in a dory the weight of a cod is water-borne till the last minute, and you are, so to speak, abreast of him; but the few feet of a schooner's free-board make so much extra dead-hauling, and stooping over the bulwarks cramps the stomach. But it was wild and furious sport so long as it lasted; and a big pile lay aboard when the fish ceased biting.
"Where's Penn and Uncle Salters?" Harvey asked, slapping the slime off his oilskins, and reeling up the line in careful imitation of the others.
"Git's coffee and see."
Under the yellow glare of the lamp on the pawl-post, the fo'c'sle table down and opened, utterly unconscious of fish or weather, sat the two men, a checker-board between them, Uncle Salters snarling at Penn's every move.
"What's the matter naow?" said the former, as Harvey, one hand in the leather loop at the head of the ladder, hung shouting to the cook.
"Big fish and lousy-heaps and heaps," Harvey replied, quoting Long Jack. "How's the game?"
Little Penn's jaw dropped. "Tweren't none o' his fault," snapped Uncle Salters. "Penn's deef."
"Checkers, weren't it?" said Dan, as Harvey staggered aft with the steaming coffee in a tin pail. "That lets us out o' cleanin' up to-night. Dad's a jest man. They'll have to do it."
"An' two young fellers I know'll bait up a tub or so o' trawl, while they're cleanin'," said Disko, lashing the wheel to his taste.
"Urn! 'Guess I'd ruther clean up, dad."
"Don't doubt it. Ye wun't, though. Dress-daown! Dress-daown! Penn'll pitch while you two bait up."
"Why in thunder didn't them blame boys tell us you'd struck on?" said Uncle Salters, shuffling to his place at the table. "This knife's gum-blunt, Dan."
"Ef stickin' out cable don't wake ye, guess you'd better hire a boy o' your own," said Dan, muddling about in the dusk over the tubs full of trawl-line lashed to windward of the house. "Oh, Harve, don't ye want to slip down an' git's bait?"
"Bait ez we are," said Disko. "I mistrust shag-fishin' will pay better, ez things go."
That meant the boys would bait with selected offal of the cod as the fish were cleaned - an improvement on paddling barehanded in the little bait-barrels below. The tubs were full of neatly coiled line carrying a big hook each few feet; and the testing and baiting of every single hook, with the stowage of the baited line so that it should run clear when shot from the dory, was a scientific business. Dan managed it in the dark without looking, while Harvey caught his fingers on the barbs and bewailed his fate. But the hooks flew through Dan's fingers like tatting on an old maid's lap. "I helped bait up trawl ashore 'fore I could well walk," he said. "But it's a putterin' job all the same. Oh, dad!" This shouted towards the hatch, where Disko and Tom Platt were salting. "How many skates you reckon we'll need?"
"Baout three. Hurry!"
"There's three hundred fathom to each tub," Dan explained; "more'n enough to lay out tonight. Ouch! 'Slipped up there, I did." He stuck his finger in his mouth. "I tell you, Harve, there ain't money in Gloucester'u'd hire me to ship on a reg'lar trawler. It may be progressive, but, barrin' that, it's the putterin'est, slimjammest business top of earth."
"I don't know what this is, if 'tisn't regular trawling," said Harvey, sulkily. "My fingers are all cut to frazzles."
"Pshaw! This is jest one o' dad's blame experiments. He don't trawl 'less there's mighty good reason fer it. Dad knows. Thet's why he's baitin' ez he is. We'll hev her saggin' full when we take her up er we won't see a fin."
Penn and Uncle Salters cleaned up as Disko had ordained, but the boys profited little. No sooner were the tubs furnished than Tom Platt and Long Jack, who had been exploring the inside of a dory with a lantern, snatched them away, loaded up the tubs and some small, painted trawl-buoys, and hove the boat overboard into what Harvey regarded as an exceedingly rough sea. "They'll be drowned. Why, the dory's loaded like a freight-car," he cried.
"We'll be back," said Long Jack, "an' in case you'll not be lookin' for us, we'll lay into you both if the trawl's snarled."
The dory surged up on the crest of a wave, and just when it seemed impossible that she could avoid smashing against the schooner's side, slid over the ridge, and was swallowed up in the damp dusk.
"Take a-hold here, an' keep ringin' steady," said Dan, passing Harvey the lanyard of a bell that hung just behind the windlass.
Harvey rang lustily, for he felt two lives depended on him. But Disko in the cabin, scrawling in the log-book, did not look like a murderer, and when he went to supper he even smiled drily at the anxious Harvey.
"This ain't no weather," said Dan. "Why, you an' me could set thet trawl! They've only gone out jest far 'nough so's not to foul our cable. They don't need no bell reelly."
"Clang! cling! clang!" Harvey kept it up, varied with occasional rub-a-dubs, for another half-hour. There was a bellow and a bump alongside. Manuel and Dan raced to the hooks of the dory-tackle; Long Jack and Tom Platt arrived on deck together, it seemed, one half the North Atlantic at their backs, and the dory followed them in the air, landing with a clatter.
"Nary snarl," said Tom Platt, as he dripped. "Danny, you'll do yet."
"The pleasure av your comp'ny to the banquit," said Long Jack, squelching the water from his boots as he capered like an elephant and stuck an oilskinned arm into Harvey's face. "We do be condescending to honour the second half wid our presence." And off they all four rolled to supper, where Harvey stuffed himself to the brim on fish-chowder and fried pies, and fell fast asleep just as Manuel produced from a locker a lovely two-foot model of the Lucy Holmes, his first boat, and was going to show Harvey the ropes. Harvey never even twiddled his fingers as Penn pushed him into his bunk.
"It must be a sad thing - a very sad thing," said Penn, watching the boy's face, "for his mother and his father, who think he is dead. To lose a child - to lose a man-child!"
"Git out o' this, Penn," said Dan. "Go aft and finish your game with Uncle Salters. Tell dad I'll stand Harve's watch ef he don't keer. He's played aout."
"Ver' good boy," said Manuel, slipping out of his boots and disappearing into the black shadows of the lower bunk. "Expec' he make good man, Danny. I no see he is any so mad as your parpa he says. Eh, wha-at?"
Dan chuckled, but the chuckle ended in a snore.
It was thick weather outside, with a rising wind, and the elder men stretched their watches. The hours struck clear in the cabin; the nosing bows slapped and scuffled with the seas; the fo'c'sle stovepipe hissed and sputtered as the spray caught it; and the boys slept on, while Disko, Long Jack, Tom Plait, and Uncle Salters, each in turn, stumped aft to look at the wheel, forward to see that the anchor held, or to veer out a little more cable against chafing, with a glance at the dim anchor-light between each round.