Lost Island/Chapter 4

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CHAPTER IV
THE DERELICT

Thenew hand's sleeping quarters were in the "fo'c'sle," but he did not sleep much the first night, for everything was strange. So far, the ship was very steady, only giving a roll occasionally. When the boy turned out next morning they were far out to sea and running to the south, the coast-line of New Jersey looming up in the distance on the starboard beam.

Dave soon discovered that he was to lead a strenuous existence on board. With only one pair of hands, he was to do all sorts of odd jobs for the cook, help the steward to wait on the captain, who had his meals alone, obey orders from any one who took it into his head to issue commands, and make himself generally useful. He got a good many hints from Barnes when that queer individual was in the mood to be communicative, though Dave had to sort out the hints from a maze of contradictory statements.

"It's a reglar dog's life at sea," said the cook, while Dave was stirring a mysterious compound in a large basin. Barnes seemed to have a fondness for that expression. "I dunno why kids like you want to come on a ship. An' yet it's all right at times, such as when you get ashore. The best part of bein' at sea is goin' ashore, I allus says. Did n't I see you runnin' your legs off for Oleson this morning?" he demanded ferociously, without the slightest warning.

"Who's Oleson?" Dave asked. He had been performing a variety of duties for so many people.

"Oleson is that great, lumbering, Swedish seaman who looks like a one-eyed mule." Dave recognized the vague description by the fact that one man wore a patch over his left eye.

"Yes, he asked me to—"

"Never mind what he asked you to do," the cook snapped. "You 've got to learn to look after yourself, kid, or nobody on this ship won't be doin' nothing soon. You 'll be doing it all. Oleson wants a couple of valets to run about after him, and somebody to carry his breakfast to him in the morning so that he can have it in bed nice and comfortable. Don't tell him so or he might screw your neck round five times, but I'm just puttin' you wise, see! Hi, there!" he added quickly, Dave having stopped stirring to listen. "I 'll break every bone in your body if you spoil that puddin'."

Mr. Quick, who was reputed to have eyes in the back of his head, took no notice of the new hand except to give him an occasional sharp order. Dave, being new to ship's discipline, disliked the chief mate's manner, but made a mental resolve not to incur that officer's wrath. The third day out, however, an incident occurred which made a permanent enemy of Mr. Quick.

A steady wind had began to blow, whittling throagb the rigging and giving the steamer a most unpleasant motion known as the "cork-screw." That is to say, she neither pitched all the time nor rolled all the time, but kept up an aggravating combination of both. Dave was getting rather white in consequence, and did not by any means feel sure of his legs. He had a strong desire to lie down and wait until he got used to the motion, but there were many things for him to do. In the middle of this the steward popped his head into the galley.

"Shake up the skipper's dinner in a hurry," he said. "The old man says he wants it right now. I'm going to fix up the table, so send the kid on with the soup soon as you can."

"Tell the captain to go to Jerusalem," spluttered Barnes, who hated to be hurried. "Regular dog's life, this is. Here, Dave, take this soup along to the steward, and get a move on."

David, anxious to do his best, but feeling more shaky than ever, took the plate and hurried, according to instructions. Even without the soup he would have found it most difficult to retain his balance; as it was, he only kept upright by a miracle. His mind was concentrated solely on his task, and there was no reason for him to suppose that Mr. Quick would come around the comer suddenly.

Before the boy had the slightest warning, the apparition of Mr. Quick towered in front of him. Both the mate and the boy were apparently in a hurry. Dave realized what was inevitable a fiftieth part of a second before it happened, but he was utterly powerless to prevent the disaster.

The plate struck Mr. Quick just about on the lowest button of his waistcoat, and Dave, being unable to check himself, followed the plate.

Mr. Quick gave a yell of pain, for the soup, which trickled its greasy course down his trousers, was scalding hot. Dave remembered that fact while he was scrambling to his feet with one eye on the maters red hair, which appeared to bristle and stand erect.

"I'm very sorry, sir," the boy stammered. "The boat swayed just then."

Mr. Quick's arm was raised and an angry light shone in his eyes.

"You lubberly pup!" he bellowed. "I 'll teach you better manners than to throw soup over an officer of the ship. She swayed, did she! Then this is where you sway!" and he struck at the boy with a huge fist.

Had the blow landed where Mr. Quick intended it to, Dave would probably have been knocked unconscious, but he dodged just in time, and the mate, still hurling abuse at Dave, and mopping himself down with a handkerchief, turned on his heel and disappeared along the alleyway; while Dave, very crestfallen, went back to the galley for more soup. There more trouble was awaiting him, for Barnes seemed to be in the worst of
 
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"I'm very sorry, sir," the boy stammered

 
tempers until he learned of the calamity. Then, however, his anger vanished and his fat sides shook with laughter. He did not love the chief mate and rejoiced exceedingly at the latter's discomfiture.

"But take my tip, Dave," he said severely, "and keep out of that man's way after this, or he 'll make things hot for you."

Dave, unfortunately, could not altogether keep out of Mr. Quick's way, though he would have been glad to follow the advice. The mate was of an unforgiving nature and nursed his grievance. He set Dave to all manner of disagreeable tasks, and more than once cuffed him on slight provocation, thereby arousing the intense indignation of Barnes.

"If only I could depend on the steward," the cook said explosively, "I'd give Mr. Bloomin' Quick something in his dinner that would do his heart good. It's the likes of him that makes it a dog's life at sea. Say, kid," he went on in fiery tones, "I 'll make you eat them potato peelin's raw if you don't hurry up."

The weather continued rough, and the Pacific Queen was nearly a week out of port before Dave began to lose the topsyturvy feeling in his stomach. What with seasickness and Mr. Quick's studied unkindness, he felt exceedingly miserable sometimes, but he kept a stiff upper lip, thereby earning the secret admiration of Barnes, who was a good deal more human than even he suspected himself of being.

When Dave was gaining his sea legs he noticed a ship, hull down, on the port bow and remembered the binoculars, which he usually kept fastened up in his suitcase. Slipping down for them, he returned, and was standing in the well-deck, peering out at the distant vessel, when the skipper passed near.

"Well, sonny, what d' you make of her? Is she a pirate, or what? Those look like good glasses. Let me have a peek through them."

The captain took the binoculars, and after studying the ship on the horizon a moment, said:

"These are uncommonly fine glasses. I believe they 're as good as my own, if not better. Whose are they?"

"Mine, sir," replied Dave, with a touch of pride.

"Yours!" said the captain incredulously, glancing down with an air of suspicion at Dave's clothes—an old suit that had grown much the worse for wear with rough work afloat. "Where did you get them?" the big man went on sharply.

Dave flushed, stung by the suggestion conveyed in the captain's words. He was not used to having his honesty questioned.

"They were my father's, sir," he said, unconsciously drawing himself up. "Dad said I might use them. They were given to him by a pilot after Dad had saved his life."

"All right, lad; don't ever get cross with the captain," the big man said, in kindly fashion, patting the boy's shoulder. "But take my advice and look after those binoculars in your travels, because they 're worth as much as you 'll earn in a month of Sundays."

Still feeling a little wounded, Dave was returning the glasses to the suitcase, when one of the deck hands informed him that Mr. Quick wanted him immediately and was "raging something 'orrible."

The boy hurried away without locking the case up, and found Mr. Quick had upset a bottle of some evil-smelling liquid over the floor of his cabin. He was wiping it up, fuming, and calling for a bucket of hot water, all at the same time. Dave was fully occupied for ten minutes and then, remembering the glasses, returned to lock the case.

To his dismay they had disappeared. That they had been stolen was obvious. There could be no other explanation. And he had promised his father to take such care of them!

In consternation he sought the cook. Barnes grew red with indignation.

"It's dollars to doughnuts one of them engine-room scum has done it," he declared. "I 'll see into this."

The second engineer was on friendly terms with the cook, and Barnes readily enlisted his sympathy.

"I 'll speak to the chief," he said, "and we 'll make a search."

Making a search, however, was not as easy as it sounded. The only hope was that the thief had not had time to secrete the glasses in one of the many inaccessible nooks with which every ship abounds. Barnes and the second engineer together went through the men's quarters, but without success. Those deck-hands who were off duty—as a class, deck-hands hate a thief on board like poison—offered to join in the search, and soon half a dozen men were rummaging in every hole and corner. Dave's hopes were sinking lower and lower. He was beginning to regard the glasses as gone forever, when Barnes started to ferret about in the after wheel-house; and there he came upon them hidden away on the top of a beam.

"You 're not fit to have a ten-cent spy-glass," he snorted, glaring at Dave from under his fearsome eyebrows. "In my locker they 'll stay now till we finish the trip, except when I take 'em out to look for your brains. If I could find the scum that swiped 'em I'd make chop suey of him, to feed Mr. Quick with. Just about the sort of diet to suit him."

"Hello, what's the cap'n up to?" he went on suddenly. "If he is n't turning off his course, I'm a Dutchman."

Going to the side of the boat he saw they were heading directly for a steamer which lay with a heavy list, perhaps five miles away. No smoke emerged from her funnel. Adjusting the glasses, the cook examined the craft for a while.

"By jiminy!" he exclaimed. "If she ain't a derelict, I 'll eat my hat."