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CHAPTER XIII.


A NEW FRIEND.


"Felix Stillwell your uncle!" exclaimed Mr. Oscar Ranson, as he stepped up to me.

I was amazed at his reception of the news.

"Yes, sir," I replied.

"I know him quite well," went on Mr. Ranson slowly.

"You do?"

"Yes; in fact I have had some dealings with him, but—but——"

And here the gentleman hesitated.

"But what, sir?"

"Well, I don't know as I ought to tell," was the reply. "You just saved my life, and I don't want to hurt your feelings."

These words puzzled me not a little, and I said so.

"Well, the fact is, your uncle and I could never agree on some business matters. I did not think his actions were right, and I told him so, and we had quite a quarrel. But of course this has nothing to do with you."

"It will not have," I returned. "My uncle has not treated me fairly, and we parted on bad terms, so I do not care what opinion you have of him."

"Indeed!"

"Yes, sir. I used to live with my uncle."

"Are your parents living?"

"No, sir; they were killed in a railroad accident in England, and my uncle became my guardian."

At this Mr. Ranson was quite interested. He asked me several questions; and I ended up by telling him my whole story, even to the missing money.

"It's too bad!" he exclaimed, when I had finished. "I can well understand how a man of Mr. Stillwell's manner would act under such circumstances. He is a very unreasonable man."

"I suppose I made a mistake in running away," I said.

"It would have been better to have faced the music. But you had no one to advise you, and did not know but that you would be sent to jail without a fair trial, I suppose."

"What would you advise me to do?"

"Go back and stand trial. You have done me a good turn, and I will stand by you."

Further conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Crocker, who said Captain Hannock wanted to know if the rescued man could come to the cabin. Mr. Ranson rose at once.

"You'll find the captain a very mean man," I whispered, as he prepared to leave. "When we get a chance I wish to tell you something very important about him."

"All right: I'll remember."

Mr. Ranson left the forecastle. For a moment I was alone; then Lowell came in.

"Well, what are you doing now?" he asked savagely.

"Nothing," I replied, as calmly as I could.

"Think you're going to have a picnic of it, I suppose?" he sneered.

"I'll take things as they come," was my quiet reply.

"Well, just get on deck and help clear things up," he said. "The storm is over."

I obeyed his orders. I found the sky was now almost clear of clouds, and the moon was just sinking in the horizon. Dibble and the rest were hard at work mending the broken boom, and I turned in with a will.

It took nearly an hour to repair the damage that had been done through the captain's carelessness. When at last we had finished I followed Dibble below, and we retired.

I did not sleep well during that night on board the Spitfire. The place was strange to me, and, besides, my mind was busy with the many things that had happened to me since I had left my uncle's home.

I could not help but wonder what my uncle had done after I escaped him. Had he put the police upon my track? It was more than likely. He was not the man to let six thousand dollars slip through his hands without making a great effort to get it back.

Then I wondered, too, if my Cousin Gus had really taken the sum. I knew Gus to be a mean fellow but had not dreamed that he would turn thief. Had not the evidence been so strong against him, I would have felt sure an outside party had done the deed.

For the present I felt myself perfectly safe from capture. It was not likely the police had traced me to Brooklyn, and if so, seen me taken on board the Spitfire, which Lowell must have done as slyly as possible.

I did not much like the idea of giving myself up after having once taken the trouble to run away, but finally concluded to be guided by my newly-found friend's advice, satisfied that if he would stand by me I would be safe.

"Wake up there, Foster!"

It was Dibble arousing me. I was not long in obeying his summons. I hopped out of my bunk and rubbed my eyes.

"Time to get on deck, unless you want Lowell after you with the rope's end again."

"I don't think Lowell will trouble me much again," I replied, as I began to dress. "If he does I'll do what I can to defend myself."

"I like your grit. It does my heart good to see a boy stand up to a man like him."

"At the bottom I think he is a coward," I said. "Most all brutes are."

When I came on deck the sun was shining brightly. Captain Hannock was up, and he appeared quite a different man from what he had been the day before. His face was still flushed from the liquor he had taken, but he was sober, and, consequently, much milder in his speech.

"Take him around, Dibble," he said to the old sailor, "and show him the ropes. I guess you've got the making of a good sailor in you if you only set your mind down to learn," he continued to me.

"I'm willing to work, but I expect pay for it," was my reply.

He frowned slightly.

"We'll talk about that another time, when I've seen what you're worth, Foster," he returned, and walked aft.

Dibble took me in hand at once. He was a pleasant man to explain things, and he said I learned rapidly. By noon I knew many of the more important parts of a ship, and how the sails were raised and lowered; and as the weather was fine and we were bowling merrily along, I fancied that a life on the rolling deep wasn't half so bad after all.

As we walked around I cast many a glance about for Mr. Ranson, but could see nothing of him. Finally I asked Phil Jones concerning him, and was told he was not well and was resting in the cabin.

During my conversation with the gentleman I had made up my mind to tell him what I knew of Captain Hannock's plot. I felt sure that he would know exactly what to do. Moreover, being a lawyer, he could perhaps take steps to nip the thing in the bud.

Dinner on board the Spitfire was not an elaborate affair. The variety of food was not extensive, and the cook was not highly experienced in the culinary art. Nevertheless, I was hungry, and did full justice to what was placed before me.

"It's good, hearty stuff," said Dibble, "and that and the sea air will make you strong—not but what you're pretty strong already."

Late in the afternoon Mr. Kanson came on deck. He looked pale, and he had his head bound up in a handkerchief, which, however, he presently took off.

It was some little time before I had a chance to speak to him. But finally he saw me and came forward.

"Why didn't you come and see me?" he asked, after I had asked him how he felt, and was told that he was fast recovering.

"Foremast hands are not allowed in the cabin," I laughed. "We are expected to stay where we belong."

"I found the captain a very disagreeable man last night," he went on. "But this morning he was much pleasanter."

"He is sober now."

"Yes, and that makes a great difference in any one."

"I have something of importance to tell you," I said in a lower tone.

"So you said last night. What is it?"

"It concerns the captain and this vessel. I don't want any one to overhear it," I returned.

"Then let us go still further forward. If any one comes near we can drop the subject and pretend to talk about the ship's course."

I thought this advice good, and we acted on it at once.