The Rover Boys on Land and Sea/Chapter 10
A BLOW IN THE DARKNESS
It would be hard to describe Dan Baxter's feelings after Captain Blossom and the Rover boys left him alone in his stateroom. At one instant he was fairly shaking with rage, and at the next quaking with fear over what the future might hold in store for him.
"They have got the best of me again!" he muttered, clenching his fists. "And after I felt sure I had escaped them. It must have been Fate that made Captain Blossom pick them up. Now I've either got to work as a common sailor or submit to being locked up in some dark, foul-smelling hole on the ship. And when we get to Australia, unless I watch my chance to skip out, they'll turn me over to the police."
He could not sleep that night for thinking over the situation and was up and dressed before daylight. Strolling on deck, he came face to face with Sam, who had come up to get the morning air.
"I suppose you think you have got the best of me," growled Baxter.
"It looks like it, doesn't it?" returned Sam briefly.
"The game isn't ended yet."
"No, but it will be when you land in prison, Baxter."
"I'll get square."
"You have promised to get square times without number—and you have failed every time."
"I won't fail the next time."
"Yes, you will. Wrong never yet triumphed over right."
"Oh, don't preach, Sam Rover."
"I am not preaching, I am simply trying to show you how foolish it is to do wrong. Why don't you turn over a new leaf?"
"Oh, such talk makes me sick!" growled the bully, and turned away.
A little while later Captain Blossom appeared and hunted up Dan Baxter, who sat in his stateroom, packing up his few belongings.
"Well, have you decided on your course, young man?" demanded the master of the Golden Wave.
"Do you mean to lock me up if I refuse to become a sailor?" asked Dan Baxter.
"I do, and I won't argue with you, either. Is it yes or no?"
"I don't want to be locked up in some dark hole on your ship."
"Then you are willing to become a sailor?"
"I—er—I suppose so."
"Very well, you can remove your things to the forecastle. Jack Lesher, the first mate, will give you your bunk."
This was "adding insult to injury," as it is termed, so far as Baxter was concerned, for it will be remembered that it was Jack Lesher who had obtained the passage on the Golden Wave for the bully.
But Dan Baxter was given no chance to demur. Taking his traps he went on deck, where Jack Lesher met him, grinning in sickly fashion.
"So you are going to make a change, eh?" said the mate.
"You needn't laugh at me, if I am," growled Baxter.
"I shan't laugh, my boy. It's hard luck," said Lesher. "Come along."
He led the way to the forecastle and gave Baxter a bunk next to that occupied by old Jerry. Then he brought out an old suit of sailor's clothing and tossed it over.
"You've run in hard luck, boy," he said in a low voice, after he had made certain that nobody else was within hearing. "I am sorry for you."
"Really?" queried Dan Baxter, giving the mate a sharp look.
"Yes, I am, and if I can do anything to make it easy for you, count on me," went on Jack Lesher.
"I suppose taking that money and the other things was more of boy's sport than anything, eh?"
"That's the truth. I wanted to get square with those Rover boys. They are my bitter enemies. I didn't want the money."
Just then old Jerry came in and the conversation came to an end. But Baxter felt that he had a friend on board and this eased him a little. He did not know that the reason Jack Lesher liked him was because the first mate was a crim inal himself and had once served a term in a Michigan jail for knocking down a passenger on a boat and robbing him of his pocketbook. As the old saying goes, "Birds of a feather flock together."
When the girls came on deck they found Baxter doing some of the work which Dick and Tom had been doing the morning before. At first they were inclined to laugh, but Dora stopped herself and her cousins.
"Don't let us laugh at him," she whispered. "It is hard enough for the poor fellow as it is."
"I am not going to notice him after this," said Nellie. "To me he shall be an entire stranger." And the others agreed to treat Dan Baxter in the same manner.
But the boys were not so considerate, and Tom laughed outright when he caught sight of Baxter swabbing up some dirt on the rear deck. This made the bully's passion arise on the instant and he caught up his bucket as if to throw it at Tom's head.
"Don't you dare, Baxter!" cried Tom. "If you do we'll have a red-hot war."
"I can lick you, Tom Rover!"
"Perhaps you can and perhaps you can't."
Baxter put up his fists, but on the approach of Dick and Sam he promptly retreated. But before he went he hissed in Tom's ear:
"You wait, and see what I do!"
"He had better keep his distance," said Dick. "If he doesn't, somebody will get hurt."
"I suppose it galls him to work," said Sam. "He always was rather lazy."
The day proved a nice one, and the Rover boys spent most of the time with the three girls, who were glad of their company once more.
All speculated on the question of what had become of the Tacoma, and of what the folks at home would think concerning; their prolonged absence.
"I'd give a good deal to send a message home," said Dick.
"We must cable as soon as we reach shore," added Dora.
They saw but little of Dan Baxter during the day and nothing whatever of him the day following.
"He is trying to avoid us," said Sam. "Well, I am just as well satisfied."
Through old Jerry they learned that Baxter hated the work given to him and that he was being favored a little by the first mate.
"Tell ye what, I hate that mate," said Jerry. "He's got a wicked eye, and he drinks like a fish."
"I know he drinks," answered Tom. "I smelt the liquor in his breath."
They were now getting down into warmer latitudes and the next night proved unusually hot. It was dark with no stars shining, and the air was close, as if another storm was at hand.
"I can't sleep," said Tom, after rolling around in his berth for half an hour. "I'm going on deck." And he dressed himself and went up for some air. He walked forward and leaned over the rail, watching the waves as they slipped behind the noble ship.
Tom's coming on deck had been noticed by Dan Baxter, who sat on the side of the forecastle, meditating on his troubles. As the bully saw the youth leaning over the rail, his face took on a look of bitter hatred.
"I'll teach him to laugh at me!" he muttered.
Gazing around he saw that nobody was within sight and then he arose to his feet. With a cat-like tread he came up behind Tom, who still looked at the waves, totally unconscious of danger.
Baxter's heart beat so loudly that he was afraid Tom would hear it. Again he looked around. Not a soul was near, and the gloom of the night was growing thicker.
"He'll laugh another way soon!" he muttered, and stepped closer.
His fist was raised to deliver a blow when Tom happened to straighten up and look around. He saw the form behind him and the upraised arm and leaped aside.
The blow missed its mark and Tom caught Baxter by the shoulder.
"What do you mean, Dan Baxter, by this attack?" he began, when the bully aimed another blow at him. This struck Tom full in the temple and partly dazed him. Then the two clenched and fell heavily against the rail.
"I'll fix you!" panted Baxter, striking an other blow as best he could, and then, as Tom struck him in return, he forced Tom's head against the rail with a thump. The blow made Tom see stars and he was more dazed than ever.
"Le—let up!" he gasped, but Baxter continued to crowd him against the rail, which at this point was very weak because of the collision with the steamer. Suddenly there was a snap and a crack and the rail gave way. Baxter leaped back in time to save himself from falling, but Tom could not help himself, and, with a wild cry, he went overboard!