The Cruise of the Dazzler
Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Justin Gillbank and PG Distributed Proofreaders
THE CRUISE OF THE DAZZLER
Tempting boys to be what they should be--giving them in wholesome form
what they want--that is the purpose and power of Scouting. To help parents
and leaders of youth secure _books boys like best_ that are also best for
boys, the Boy Scouts of America organized EVERY BOY'S LIBRARY. The books
included, formerly sold at prices ranging from $1.50 to $2.00 but, by
special arrangement with the several publishers interested, are now sold
in the EVERY BOY'S LIBRARY Edition at $1.00 per volume.
The books of EVERY BOY'S LIBRARY were selected by the Library Commission
of the Boy Scouts of America, consisting of George F. Bowerman, Librarian,
Public Library of the District of Columbia; Harrison W. Craver, Director,
Engineering Societies Library, New York City; Claude G. Leland,
Superintendent, Bureau of Libraries, Board of Education, New York City;
Edward F. Stevens, Librarian, Pratt Institute Free Library, Brooklyn, N.Y.,
and Franklin K. Mathiews, Chief Scout Librarian. Only such books were
chosen by the Commission as proved to be, by _a nation wide canvas_, most
in demand by the boys themselves. Their popularity is further attested by
the fact that in the EVERY BOY'S LIBRARY Edition, more than a million and
a quarter copies of these books have already been sold.
We know so well, are reminded so often of the worth of the good book and
great, that too often we fail to observe or understand the influence for
good of a boy's recreational reading. Such books may influence him for
good or ill as profoundly as his play activities, of which they are a
vital part. The needful thing is to find stories in which the heroes have
the characteristics boys so much admire--unquenchable courage, immense
resourcefulness, absolute fidelity, conspicuous greatness. We believe the
books of EVERY BOY'S LIBRARY measurably well meet this challenge.
BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA,
James E. West
Chief Scout Executive.
I BROTHER AND SISTER
II "THE DRACONIAN REFORMS"
III "BRICK," "SORREL-TOP," AND "REDDY"
IV THE BITER BITTEN
V HOME AGAIN
VI EXAMINATION DAY
VII FATHER AND SON
VIII 'FRISCO KID AND THE NEW BOY
IX ABOARD THE DAZZLER
X WITH THE BAY PIRATES
XI CAPTAIN AND CREW
XII JOE TRIES TO TAKE FRENCH LEAVE
XIII BEFRIENDING EACH OTHER
XIV AMONG THE OYSTER-BEDS
XV GOOD SAILORS IN A WILD ANCHORAGE
XVI 'FRISCO KID'S DITTY-BOX
XVII 'FRISCO KID TELLS HIS STORY
XVIII A NEW RESPONSIBILITY FOR JOE
XIX THE BOYS PLAN AN ESCAPE
XX PERILOUS HOURS
XXI JOE AND HIS FATHER
BROTHER AND SISTER
They ran across the shining sand, the Pacific thundering its long surge
at their backs, and when they gained the roadway leaped upon bicycles and
dived at faster pace into the green avenues of the park. There were three
of them, three boys, in as many bright-colored sweaters, and they
"scorched" along the cycle-path as dangerously near the speed-limit as is
the custom of boys in bright-colored sweaters to go. They may have exceeded
the speed-limit. A mounted park policeman thought so, but was not sure,
and contented himself with cautioning them as they flashed by. They
acknowledged the warning promptly, and on the next turn of the path as
promptly forgot it, which is also a custom of boys in bright-colored
Shooting out through the entrance to Golden Gate Park, they turned into
San Francisco, and took the long sweep of the descending hills at a rate
that caused pedestrians to turn and watch them anxiously. Through the
city streets the bright sweaters flew, turning and twisting to escape
climbing the steeper hills, and, when the steep hills were unavoidable,
doing stunts to see which would first gain the top.
The boy who more often hit up the pace, led the scorching, and instituted
the stunts was called Joe by his companions. It was "follow the leader,"
and he led, the merriest and boldest in the bunch. But as they pedaled
into the Western Addition, among the large and comfortable residences,
his laughter became less loud and frequent, and he unconsciously lagged
in the rear. At Laguna and Vallejo streets his companions turned off to
"So long, Fred," he called as he turned his wheel to the left. "So long,
"See you to-night!" they called back.
"No--I can't come," he answered.
"Aw, come on," they begged.
"No, I've got to dig.--So long!"
As he went on alone, his face grew grave and a vague worry came into his
eyes. He began resolutely to whistle, but this dwindled away till it was
a thin and very subdued little sound, which ceased altogether as he rode
up the driveway to a large two-storied house.
He hesitated before the door to the library. Bessie was there, he knew,
studiously working up her lessons. She must be nearly through with them,
too, for she was always done before dinner, and dinner could not be many
minutes away. As for his lessons, they were as yet untouched. The thought
made him angry. It was bad enough to have one's sister--and two years
younger at that--in the same grade, but to have her continually head and
shoulders above him in scholarship was a most intolerable thing. Not that
he was dull. No one knew better than himself that he was not dull. But
somehow--he did not quite know how--his mind was on other things and he
was usually unprepared.
"Joe--please come here." There was the slightest possible plaintive note
in her voice this time.
"Well?" he said, thrusting aside the portiere with an impetuous movement.
He said it gruffly, but he was half sorry for it the next instant when he
saw a slender little girl regarding him with wistful eyes across the big
reading-table heaped with books. She was curled up, with pencil and pad,
in an easy-chair of such generous dimensions that it made her seem more
delicate and fragile than she really was.
"What is it, Sis?" he asked more gently, crossing over to her side.
She took his hand in hers and pressed it against her cheek, and as he
stood beside her came closer to him with a nestling movement.
"What is the matter, Joe dear?" she asked softly. "Won't you tell me?"
He remained silent. It struck him as ridiculous to confess his troubles
to a little sister, even if her reports _were_ higher than his. And the
little sister struck him as ridiculous to demand his troubles of him.
"What a soft cheek she has!" he thought as she pressed her face gently
against his hand. If he could but tear himself away--it was all so
foolish! Only he might hurt her feelings, and, in his experience, girls'
feelings were very easily hurt.
She opened his fingers and kissed the palm of his hand. It was like a
rose-leaf falling; it was also her way of asking her question over again.
"Nothing 's the matter," he said decisively. And then, quite
inconsistently, he blurted out, "Father!"
His worry was now in her eyes. "But father is so good and kind, Joe," she
began. "Why don't you try to please him? He does n't ask much of you, and
it 's all for your own good. It 's not as though you were a fool, like some
boys. If you would only study a little bit--"
"That 's it! Lecturing!" he exploded, tearing his hand roughly away. "Even
you are beginning to lecture me now. I suppose the cook and the stable-boy
will be at it next."
He shoved his hands into his pockets and looked forward into a melancholy
and desolate future filled with interminable lectures and lecturers
"Was that what you wanted me for?" he demanded, turning to go.
She caught at his hand again. "No, it wasn't; only you looked so worried
that I thought--I--" Her voice broke, and she began again freshly. "What
I wanted to tell you was that we're planning a trip across the bay to
Oakland, next Saturday, for a tramp in the hills."
"Who 's going?"
"What! That little softy?" he interrupted.
"I don't think she is a softy," Bessie answered with spirit. "She 's one
of the sweetest girls I know."
"Which is n't saying much, considering the girls you know. But go on. Who
are the others?"
"Pearl Sayther, and her sister Alice, and Jessie Hilborn, and Sadie French,
and Edna Crothers. That 's all the girls."
Joe sniffed disdainfully. "Who are the fellows, then?"
"Maurice and Felix Clement, Dick Schofield, Burt Layton, and--"
"That 's enough. Milk-and-water chaps, all of them."
"I--I wanted to ask you and Fred and Charley," she said in a quavering
voice. "That 's what I called you in for--to ask you to come."
"And what are you going to do?" he asked.
"Walk, gather wild flowers,--the poppies are all out now,--eat luncheon
at some nice place, and--and--"
"Come home," he finished for her.
Bessie nodded her head. Joe put his hands in his pockets again, and
walked up and down.
"A sissy outfit, that 's what it is," he said abruptly; "and a sissy
program. None of it in mine, please."
She tightened her trembling lips and struggled on bravely. "What would
you rather do?" she asked.
"I 'd sooner take Fred and Charley and go off somewhere and do
He paused and looked at her. She was waiting patiently for him to proceed.
He was aware of his inability to express in words what he felt and wanted,
and all his trouble and general dissatisfaction rose up and gripped hold
"Oh, you can't understand!" he burst out. "You can't understand. You 're
a girl. You like to be prim and neat, and to be good in deportment and
ahead in your studies. You don't care for danger and adventure and such
things, and you don't care for boys who are rough, and have life and go
in them, and all that. You like good little boys in white collars, with
clothes always clean and hair always combed, who like to stay in at
recess and be petted by the teacher and told how they're always up in
their studies; nice little boys who never get into scrapes--who are too
busy walking around and picking flowers and eating lunches with girls,
to get into scrapes. Oh, I know the kind--afraid of their own shadows,
and no more spunk in them than in so many sheep. That 's what they
are--sheep. Well, I 'm not a sheep, and there 's no more to be said.
And I don't want to go on your picnic, and, what 's more, I 'm not going."
The tears welled up in Bessie's brown eyes, and her lips were trembling.
This angered him unreasonably. What were girls good for, anyway?--always
blubbering, and interfering, and carrying on. There was no sense in them.
"A fellow can't say anything without making you cry," he began, trying to
appease her. "Why, I did n't mean anything, Sis. I did n't, sure. I--"
He paused helplessly and looked down at her. She was sobbing, and at the
same time shaking with the effort to control her sobs, while big tears
were rolling down her cheeks.
"Oh, you--you girls!" he cried, and strode wrathfully out of the room.
"THE DRACONIAN REFORMS"
A few minutes later, and still wrathful, Joe went in to dinner. He ate
silently, though his father and mother and Bessie kept up a genial flow
of conversation. There she was, he communed savagely with his plate,
crying one minute, and the next all smiles and laughter. Now that was
n't his way. If _he_ had anything sufficiently important to cry about,
rest assured he would n't get over it for days. Girls were hypocrites,
that was all there was to it. They did n't feel one hundredth part of all
that they said when they cried. It stood to reason that they did n't. It
must be that they just carried on because they enjoyed it. It made them
feel good to make other people miserable, especially boys. That was why
they were always interfering.
Thus reflecting sagely, he kept his eyes on his plate and did justice
to the fare; for one cannot scorch from the Cliff House to the Western
Addition via the park without being guilty of a healthy appetite.
Now and then his father directed a glance at him in a certain mildly
anxious way. Joe did not see these glances, but Bessie saw them, every
one. Mr. Bronson was a middle-aged man, well developed and of heavy
build, though not fat. His was a rugged face, square-jawed and
stern-featured, though his eyes were kindly and there were lines about
the mouth that betokened laughter rather than severity. A close
examination was not required to discover the resemblance between him
and Joe. The same broad forehead and strong jaw characterized them both,
and the eyes, taking into consideration the difference of age, were as
like as peas from one pod.
"How are you getting on, Joe?" Mr. Bronson asked finally. Dinner was
over and they were about to leave the table.
"Oh, I don't know," Joe answered carelessly, and then added: "We have
examinations to-morrow. I'll know then."
"Whither bound?" his mother questioned, as he turned to leave the room.
She was a slender, willowy woman, whose brown eyes Bessie's were, and
likewise her tender ways.
"To my room," Joe answered. "To work," he supplemented.
She rumpled his hair affectionately, and bent and kissed him. Mr. Bronson
smiled approval at him as he went out, and he hurried up the stairs,
resolved to dig hard and pass the examinations of the coming day.
Entering his room, he locked the door and sat down at a desk most
comfortably arranged for a boy's study. He ran his eye over his
text-books. The history examination came the first thing in the morning,
so he would begin on that. He opened the book where a page was turned
down, and began to read:
Shortly after the Draconian reforms, a war
broke out between Athens and Megara respecting
the island of Salamis, to which both cities
That was easy; but what were the Draconian reforms? He must look them up.
He felt quite studious as he ran over the back pages, till he chanced to
raise his eyes above the top of the book and saw on a chair a baseball
mask and a catcher's glove. They should n't have lost that game last
Saturday, he thought, and they would n't have, either, if it had n't been
for Fred. He wished Fred would n't fumble so. He could hold a hundred
difficult balls in succession, but when a critical point came, he 'd let
go of even a dewdrop. He 'd have to send him out in the field and bring
in Jones to first base. Only Jones was so excitable. He could hold any
kind of a ball, no matter how critical the play was, but there was no
telling what he would do with the ball after he got it.
Joe came to himself with a start. A pretty way of studying history! He
buried his head in his book and began:
Shortly after the Draconian reforms--
He read the sentence through three times, and then recollected that he
had not looked up the Draconian reforms.
A knock came at the door. He turned the pages over with a noisy flutter,
but made no answer.
The knock was repeated, and Bessie's "Joe, dear" came to his ears.
"What do you want?" he demanded. But before she could answer he hurried
on: "No admittance. I 'm busy."
"I came to see if I could help you," she pleaded. "I 'm all done, and I
"Of course you 're all done!" he shouted. "You always are!"
He held his head in both his hands to keep his eyes on the book. But
the baseball mask bothered him. The more he attempted to keep his mind
on the history the more in his mind's eye he saw the mask resting on the
chair and all the games in which it had played its part.
This would never do. He deliberately placed the book face downward on the
desk and walked over to the chair. With a swift sweep he sent both mask
and glove hurtling under the bed, and so violently that he heard the mask
rebound from the wall.
Shortly after the Draconian reforms, a war
broke out between Athens and Megara--
The mask had rolled back from the wall. He wondered if it had rolled back
far enough for him to see it. No, he would n't look. What did it matter if
it had rolled out? That was n't history. He wondered--
He peered over the top of the book, and there was the mask peeping out at
him from under the edge of the bed. This was not to be borne. There was
no use attempting to study while that mask was around. He went over and
fished it out, crossed the room to the closet, and tossed it inside, then
locked the door. That was settled, thank goodness! Now he could do some
He sat down again.
Shortly after the Draconian reforms, a war
broke out between Athens and Megara respecting
the island of Salamis, to which, both cities
Which was all very well, if he had only found out what the Draconian
reforms were. A soft glow pervaded the room, and he suddenly became
aware of it. What could cause it? He looked out of the window. The
setting sun was slanting its long rays against low-hanging masses of
summer clouds, turning them to warm scarlet and rosy red; and it was
from them that the red light, mellow and glowing, was flung earthward.
His gaze dropped from the clouds to the bay beneath. The sea-breeze was
dying down with the day, and off Fort Point a fishing-boat was creeping
into port before the last light breeze. A little beyond, a tug was
sending up a twisted pillar of smoke as it towed a three-masted schooner
to sea. His eyes wandered over toward the Marin County shore. The line
where land and water met was already in darkness, and long shadows were
creeping up the hills toward Mount Tamalpais, which was sharply
silhouetted against the western sky.
Oh, if he, Joe Bronson, were only on that fishing-boat and sailing in
with a deep-sea catch! Or if he were on that schooner, heading out into
the sunset, into the world! That was life, that was living, doing
something and being something in the world. And, instead, here he was,
pent up in a close room, racking his brains about people dead and gone
thousands of years before he was born.
He jerked himself away from the window as though held there by some
physical force, and resolutely carried his chair and history into the
farthest corner of the room, where he sat down with his back to the
An instant later, so it seemed to him, he found himself again staring
out of the window and dreaming. How he had got there he did not know.
His last recollection was the finding of a subheading on a page on the
right-hand side of the book which read: "The Laws and Constitution of
Draco." And then, evidently like walking in one's sleep, he had come
to the window. How long had he been there? he wondered. The fishing-boat
which he had seen off Fort Point was now crawling into Meiggs's Wharf.
This denoted nearly an hour's lapse of time. The sun had long since set;
a solemn grayness was brooding over the water, and the first faint stars
were beginning to twinkle over the crest of Mount Tamalpais.
He turned, with a sigh, to go back into his corner, when a long whistle,
shrill and piercing, came to his ears. That was Fred. He sighed again.
The whistle repeated itself. Then another whistle joined it. That was
Charley. They were waiting on the corner--lucky fellows!
Well, they would n't see him this night. Both whistles arose in duet. He
writhed in his chair and groaned. No, they would n't see him this night,
he reiterated, at the same time rising to his feet. It was certainly
impossible for him to join them when he had not yet learned about the
Draconian reforms. The same force which had held him to the window now
seemed drawing him across the room to the desk. It made him put the
history on top of his school-books, and he had the door unlocked and
was half-way into the hall before he realized it. He started to return,
but the thought came to him that he could go out for a little while and
then come back and do his work.
A very little while, he promised himself, as he went down-stairs. He
went down faster and faster, till at the bottom he was going three
steps at a time. He popped his cap on his head and went out of the
side entrance in a rush; and ere he reached the corner the reforms of
Draco were as far away in the past as Draco himself, while the examinations
on the morrow were equally far away in the future.
"BRICK," "SORREL-TOP," AND "REDDY"
"What 's up?" Joe asked, as he joined Fred and Charley.
"Kites," Charley answered. "Come on. We 're tired out waiting for you."
The three set off down the street to the brow of the hill, where they
looked down upon Union Street, far below and almost under their feet.
This they called the Pit, and it was well named. Themselves they called
the Hill-dwellers, and a descent into the Pit by the Hill-dwellers was
looked upon by them as a great adventure.
Scientific kite-flying was one of the keenest pleasures of these three
particular Hill-dwellers, and six or eight kites strung out on a mile
of twine and soaring into the clouds was an ordinary achievement for
them. They were compelled to replenish their kite-supply often; for
whenever an accident occurred, and the string broke, or a ducking kite
dragged down the rest, or the wind suddenly died out, their kites fell
into the Pit, from which place they were unrecoverable. The reason for
this was the young people of the Pit were a piratical and robber race
with peculiar ideas of ownership and property rights.
On a day following an accident to a kite of one of the Hill-dwellers,
the self-same kite could be seen riding the air attached to a string
which led down into the Pit to the lairs of the Pit People. So it came
about that the Pit People, who were a poor folk and unable to afford
scientific kite-flying, developed great proficiency in the art when
their neighbors the Hill-dwellers took it up.
There was also an old sailorman who profited by this recreation of the
Hill-dwellers; for he was learned in sails and air-currents, and being
deft of hand and cunning, he fashioned the best-flying kites that could
be obtained. He lived in a rattletrap shanty close to the water, where
he could still watch with dim eyes the ebb and flow of the tide, and the
ships pass out and in, and where he could revive old memories of the days
when he, too, went down to the sea in ships.
To reach his shanty from the Hill one had to pass through the Pit, and
thither the three boys were bound. They had often gone for kites in the
daytime, but this was their first trip after dark, and they felt it to
be, as it indeed was, a hazardous adventure.
In simple words, the Pit was merely the cramped and narrow quarters
of the poor, where many nationalities crowded together in cosmopolitan
confusion, and lived as best they could, amid much dirt and squalor.
It was still early evening when the boys passed through on their way
to the sailorman's shanty, and no mishap befell them, though some of
the Pit boys stared at them savagely and hurled a taunting remark after
them, now and then.
The sailorman made kites which were not only splendid fliers but which
folded up and were very convenient to carry. Each of the boys bought a
few, and, with them wrapped in compact bundles and under their arms,
started back on the return journey.
"Keep a sharp lookout for the b'ys," the kite-maker cautioned them.
"They 're like to be cruisin' round after dark."
"We 're not afraid," Charley assured him; "and we know how to take care
Used to the broad and quiet streets of the Hill, the boys were shocked
and stunned by the life that teemed in the close-packed quarter. It
seemed some thick and monstrous growth of vegetation, and that they
were wading through it. They shrank closely together in the tangle of
narrow streets as though for protection, conscious of the strangeness
of it all, and how unrelated they were to it.
Children and babies sprawled on the sidewalk and under their feet.
Bareheaded and unkempt women gossiped in the doorways or passed back
and forth with scant marketings in their arms. There was a general
odor of decaying fruit and fish, a smell of staleness and putridity.
Big hulking men slouched by, and ragged little girls walked gingerly
through the confusion with foaming buckets of beer in their hands.
There was a clatter and garble of foreign tongues and brogues, shrill
cries, quarrels and wrangles, and the Pit pulsed with a great and
steady murmur, like the hum of the human hive that it was.
"Phew! I 'll be glad when we 're out of it," Fred said.
He spoke in a whisper, and Joe and Charley nodded grimly that they agreed
with him. They were not inclined to speech, and they walked as rapidly as
the crowd permitted, with much the same feelings as those of travelers in
a dangerous and hostile jungle.
And danger and hostility stalked in the Pit. The inhabitants seemed to
resent the presence of these strangers from the Hill. Dirty little urchins
abused them as they passed, snarling with assumed bravery, and prepared
to run away at the first sign of attack. And still other little urchins
formed a noisy parade at the heels of the boys, and grew bolder with
"Don't mind them," Joe cautioned. "Take no notice, but keep right on.
We 'll soon be out of it."
"No; we 're in for it," said Fred, in an undertone. "Look there!"
On the corner they were approaching, four or five boys of about their
own age were standing. The light from a street-lamp fell upon them and
disclosed one with vivid red hair. It could be no other than "Brick"
Simpson, the redoubtable leader of a redoubtable gang. Twice within
their memory he had led his gang up the Hill and spread panic and
terror among the Hill-dwelling young folk, who fled wildly to their
homes, while their fathers and mothers hurriedly telephoned for the
At sight of the group on the corner, the rabble at the heels of the
three boys melted away on the instant with like manifestations of
fear. This but increased the anxiety of the boys, though they held
boldly on their way.
The red-haired boy detached himself from the group, and stepped before
them, blocking their path. They essayed to go around him, but he stretched
out his arm.
"Wot yer doin' here?" he snarled. "Why don't yer stay where yer b'long?"
"We 're just going home," Fred said mildly.
Brick looked at Joe. "Wot yer got under yer arm?" he demanded.
Joe contained himself and took no heed of him. "Come on," he said to Fred
and Charley, at the same time starting to brush past the gang-leader.
But with a quick blow Brick Simpson struck him in the face, and with
equal quickness snatched the bundle of kites from under his arm.
Joe uttered an inarticulate cry of rage, and, all caution flung to the
winds, sprang at his assailant.
This was evidently a surprise to the gang-leader, who expected least of
all to be attacked in his own territory. He retreated backward, still
clutching the kites, and divided between desire to fight and desire to
retain his capture.
The latter desire dominated him, and he turned and fled swiftly down
the narrow side-street into a labyrinth of streets and alleys. Joe knew
that he was plunging into the wilderness of the enemy's country, but
his sense of both property and pride had been offended, and he took up
the pursuit hot-footed.
Fred and Charley followed after, though he outdistanced them, and behind
came the three other members of the gang, emitting a whistling call while
they ran which was evidently intended for the assembling of the rest of
the band. As the chase proceeded, these whistles were answered from many
different directions, and soon a score of dark figures were tagging at
the heels of Fred and Charley, who, in turn, were straining every muscle
to keep the swifter-footed Joe in sight.
Brick Simpson darted into a vacant lot, aiming for a "slip," as such
things are called which are prearranged passages through fences and
over sheds and houses and around dark holes and corners, where the
unfamiliar pursuer must go more carefully and where the chances are
many that he will soon lose the track.
But Joe caught Brick before he could attain his end, and together they
rolled over and over in the dirt, locked in each other's arms. By the
time Fred and Charley and the gang had come up, they were on their feet,
facing each other.
"Wot d' ye want, eh?" the red-headed gang-leader was saying in a bullying
tone. "Wot d' ye want? That 's wot I wanter know."
"I want my kites," Joe answered.
Brick Simpson's eyes sparkled at the intelligence. Kites were something
he stood in need of himself.
"Then you 've got to fight fer 'em," he announced.
"Why should I fight for them?" Joe demanded indignantly. "They 're mine."
Which went to show how ignorant he was of the ideas of ownership and
property rights which obtained among the People of the Pit.
A chorus of jeers and catcalls went up from the gang, which clustered
behind its leader like a pack of wolves.
"Why should I fight for them?" Joe reiterated.
"'Cos I say so," Simpson replied. "An' wot I say goes. Understand?"
But Joe did not understand. He refused to understand that Brick Simpson's
word was law in San Francisco, or any part of San Francisco. His love of
honesty and right dealing was offended, and all his fighting blood was up.
"You give those kites to me, right here and now," he threatened, reaching
out his hand for them.
But Simpson jerked them away. "D' ye know who I am?" he demanded. "I
'm Brick Simpson, an' I don't 'low no one to talk to me in that tone
"Better leave him alone," Charley whispered in Joe's ear. "What are a
few kites? Leave him alone and let 's get out of this."
"They 're my kites," Joe said slowly in a dogged manner. "They 're my
kites, and I 'm going to have them."
"You can't fight the crowd," Fred interfered; "and if you do get the
best of him they 'll all pile on you."
The gang, observing this whispered colloquy, and mistaking it for
hesitancy on the part of Joe, set up its wolf-like howling again.
"Afraid! afraid!" the young roughs jeered and taunted. "He 's too
high-toned, he is! Mebbe he 'll spoil his nice clean shirt, and then
what 'll mama say?"
"Shut up!" their leader snapped authoritatively, and the noise obediently
"Will you give me those kites?" Joe demanded, advancing determinedly.
"Will you fight for 'em?" was Simpson's counter-demand.
"Yes," Joe answered.
"Fight! fight!" the gang began to howl again.
"And it 's me that 'll see fair play," said a man's heavy voice.
All eyes were instantly turned upon the man who had approached unseen and
made this announcement. By the electric light, shining brightly on them
from the corner, they made him out to be a big, muscular fellow, clad in
a working-man's garments. His feet were incased in heavy brogans, a narrow
strap of black leather held his overalls about his waist, and a black and
greasy cap was on his head. His face was grimed with coal-dust, and a
coarse blue shirt, open at the neck, revealed a wide throat and massive
"An' who 're you?" Simpson snarled, angry at the interruption.
"None of yer business," the newcomer retorted tartly. "But, if it 'll
do you any good, I 'm a fireman on the China steamers, and, as I said,
I 'm goin' to see fair play. That 's my business. Your business is to
give fair play. So pitch in, and don't be all night about it."
The three boys were as pleased by the appearance of the fireman as Simpson
and his followers were displeased. They conferred together for several
minutes, when Simpson deposited the bundle of kites in the arms of one
of his gang and stepped forward.
"Come on, then," he said, at the same time pulling off his coat.
Joe handed his to Fred, and sprang toward Brick. They put up their fists
and faced each other. Almost instantly Simpson drove in a fierce blow and
ducked cleverly away and out of reach of the blow which Joe returned. Joe
felt a sudden respect for the abilities of his antagonist, but the only
effect upon him was to arouse all the doggedness of his nature and make
him utterly determined to win.
Awed by the presence of the fireman, Simpson's followers confined
themselves to cheering Brick and jeering Joe. The two boys circled
round and round, attacking, feinting, and guarding, and now one and
then the other getting in a telling blow. Their positions were in marked
contrast. Joe stood erect, planted solidly on his feet, with legs wide
apart and head up. On the other hand, Simpson crouched till his head was
nearly lost between his shoulders, and all the while he was in constant
motion, leaping and springing and manoeuvering in the execution of a
score or more of tricks quite new and strange to Joe.
At the end of a quarter of an hour, both were very tired, though Joe was
much fresher. Tobacco, ill food, and unhealthy living were telling on
the gang-leader, who was panting and sobbing for breath. Though at first
(and because of superior skill) he had severely punished Joe, he was now
weak and his blows were without force. Growing desperate, he adopted
what might be called not an unfair but a mean method of attack: he would
manoeuver, leap in and strike swiftly, and then, ducking forward, fall
to the ground at Joe's feet. Joe could not strike him while he was down,
and so would step back until he could get on his feet again, when the
thing would be repeated.
But Joe grew tired of this, and prepared for him. Timing his blow with
Simpson's attack, he delivered it just as Simpson was ducking forward
to fall. Simpson fell, but he fell over on one side, whither he had
been driven by the impact of Joe's fist upon his head. He rolled over
and got half-way to his feet, where he remained, crying and gasping.
His followers called upon him to get up, and he tried once or twice,
but was too exhausted and stunned.
"I give in," he said. "I 'm licked."
The gang had become silent and depressed at its leader's defeat.
Joe stepped forward.
"I 'll trouble you for those kites," he said to the boy who was
"Oh, I dunno," said another member of the gang, shoving in between
Joe and his property. His hair was also a vivid red. "You 've got
to lick me before you kin have 'em."
"I don't see that," Joe said bluntly. "I 've fought and I 've won,
and there 's nothing more to it."
"Oh, yes, there is," said the other. "I 'm 'Sorrel-top' Simpson.
Brick 's my brother. See?"
And so, in this fashion, Joe learned another custom of the Pit People
of which he had been ignorant.
"All right," he said, his fighting blood more fully aroused than ever
by the unjustness of the proceeding. "Come on."
Sorrel-top Simpson, a year younger than his brother, proved to be a
most unfair fighter, and the good-natured fireman was compelled to
interfere several times before the second of the Simpson clan lay on
the ground and acknowledged defeat.
This time Joe reached for his kites without the slightest doubt that
he was to get them. But still another lad stepped in between him and
his property. The telltale hair, vividly red, sprouted likewise on
this lad's head, and Joe knew him at once for what he was, another
member of the Simpson clan. He was a younger edition of his brothers,
somewhat less heavily built, with a face covered with a vast quantity
of freckles, which showed plainly under the electric light.
"You don't git them there kites till you git me," he challenged in
a piping little voice. "I 'm 'Reddy' Simpson, an' you ain't licked
the fambly till you 've licked me."
The gang cheered admiringly, and Reddy stripped a tattered jacket
preparatory for the fray.
"Git ready," he said to Joe.
Joe's knuckles were torn, his nose was bleeding, his lip was cut and
swollen, while his shirt had been ripped down from throat to waist.
Further, he was tired, and breathing hard.
"How many more are there of you Simpsons?" he asked. "I 've got to
get home, and if your family 's much larger this thing is liable
to keep on all night."
"I 'm the last an' the best," Reddy replied. "You gits me an' you
gits the kites. Sure."
"All right," Joe sighed. "Come on."
While the youngest of the clan lacked the strength and skill of his
elders, he made up for it by a wildcat manner of fighting that taxed
Joe severely. Time and again it seemed to him that he must give in
to the little whirlwind; but each time he pulled himself together
and went doggedly on. For he felt that he was fighting for principle,
as his forefathers had fought for principle; also, it seemed to him that
the honor of the Hill was at stake, and that he, as its representative,
could do nothing less than his very best.
So he held on and managed to endure his opponent's swift and continuous
rushes till that young and less experienced person at last wore himself
out with his own exertions, and from the ground confessed that, for the
first time in its history, the "Simpson fambly was beat."
THE BITER BITTEN
But life in the Pit at best was a precarious affair, as the three
Hill-dwellers were quickly to learn. Before Joe could even possess
himself of his kites, his astonished eyes were greeted with the
spectacle of all his enemies, the fireman included, taking to their
heels in wild flight. As the little girls and urchins had melted away
before the Simpson gang, so was melting away the Simpson gang before
some new and correspondingly awe-inspiring group of predatory creatures.
Joe heard terrified cries of "Fish gang!" "Fish gang!" from those who
fled, and he would have fled himself from this new danger, only he was
breathless from his last encounter, and knew the impossibility of
escaping whatever threatened. Fred and Charley felt mighty longings
to run away from a danger great enough to frighten the redoubtable
Simpson gang and the valorous fireman, but they could not desert
Dark forms broke into the vacant lot, some surrounding the boys and
others dashing after the fugitives. That the laggards were overtaken
was evidenced by the cries of distress that went up, and when later
the pursuers returned, they brought with them the luckless and snarling
Brick, still clinging fast to the bundle of kites.
Joe looked curiously at this latest band of marauders. They were young
men of from seventeen and eighteen to twenty-three and -four years of
age, and bore the unmistakable stamp of the hoodlum class. There were
vicious faces among them--faces so vicious as to make Joe's flesh creep
as he looked at them. A couple grasped him tightly by the arms, and
Fred and Charley were similarly held captive.
"Look here, you," said one who spoke with the authority of leader,
"we 've got to inquire into this. Wot 's be'n goin' on here? Wot 're
you up to, Red-head? Wot you be'n doin'?"
"Ain't be'n doin' nothin'," Simpson whined.
"Looks like it." The leader turned up Brick's face to the electric
light. "Who 's been paintin' you up like that?" he demanded.
Brick pointed at Joe, who was forthwith dragged to the front.
"Wot was you scrappin' about?"
"Kites--my kites," Joe spoke up boldly. "That fellow tried to take them
away from me. He 's got them under his arm now."
"Oh, he has, has he? Look here, you Brick, we don't put up with stealin'
in this territory. See? You never rightly owned nothin'. Come, fork over
the kites. Last call."
The leader tightened his grasp threateningly, and Simpson, weeping tears
of rage, surrendered the plunder.
"Wot yer got under yer arm?" the leader demanded abruptly of Fred, at the
same time jerking out the bundle. "More kites, eh? Reg'lar kite-factory
gone and got itself lost," he remarked finally, when he had appropriated
Charley's bundle. "Now, wot I wants to know is wot we 're goin' to do to
you t'ree chaps?" he continued in a judicial tone.
"What for?" Joe demanded hotly. "For being robbed of our kites?"
"Not at all, not at all," the leader responded politely; "but for luggin'
kites round these quarters an' causin' all this unseemly disturbance.
It 's disgraceful; that 's wot it is--disgraceful."
At this juncture, when the Hill-dwellers were the center of attraction,
Brick suddenly wormed out of his jacket, squirmed away from his captors,
and dashed across the lot to the slip for which he had been originally
headed when overtaken by Joe. Two or three of the gang shot over the
fence after him in noisy pursuit. There was much barking and howling of
back-yard dogs and clattering of shoes over sheds and boxes. Then there
came a splashing of water, as though a barrel of it had been precipitated
to the ground. Several minutes later the pursuers returned, very sheepish
and very wet from the deluge presented them by the wily Brick, whose
voice, high up in the air from some friendly housetop, could be heard
defiantly jeering them.
This event apparently disconcerted the leader of the gang, and just as
he turned to Joe and Fred and Charley, a long and peculiar whistle came
to their ears from the street--the warning signal, evidently, of a scout
posted to keep a lookout. The next moment the scout himself came flying
back to the main body, which was already beginning to retreat.
"Cops!" he panted.
Joe looked, and he saw two helmeted policemen approaching, with bright
stars shining on their breasts.
"Let 's get out of this," he whispered to Fred and Charley.
The gang had already taken to flight, and they blocked the boys' retreat
in one quarter, and in another they saw the policemen advancing. So they
took to their heels in the direction of Brick Simpson's slip, the policemen
hot after them and yelling bravely for them to halt.
But young feet are nimble, and young feet when frightened become something
more than nimble, and the boys were first over the fence and plunging
wildly through a maze of back yards. They soon found that the policemen
were discreet. Evidently they had had experiences in slips, and they were
satisfied to give over the chase at the first fence.
No street-lamps shed their light here, and the boys blundered along
through the blackness with their hearts in their mouths. In one yard,
filled with mountains of crates and fruit-boxes, they were lost for a
quarter of an hour. Feel and quest about as they would, they encountered
nothing but endless heaps of boxes. From this wilderness they finally
emerged by way of a shed roof, only to fall into another yard, cumbered
with countless empty chicken-coops.
Farther on they came upon the contrivance which had soaked Brick Simpson's
pursuers with water. It was a cunning arrangement. Where the slip led
through a fence with a board missing, a long slat was so arranged that
the ignorant wayfarer could not fail to strike against it. This slat
was the spring of the trap. A light touch upon it was sufficient to
disconnect a heavy stone from a barrel perched overhead and nicely
balanced. The disconnecting of the stone permitted the barrel to turn
over and spill its contents on the one beneath who touched the slat.
The boys examined the arrangement with keen appreciation. Luckily for
them, the barrel was overturned, or they too would have received a
ducking, for Joe, who was in advance, had blundered against the slat.
"I wonder if this is Simpson's back yard?" he queried softly.
"It must be," Fred concluded, "or else the back yard of some member
of his gang."
Charley put his hands warningly on both their arms.
"Hist! What 's that?" he whispered.
They crouched down on the ground. Not far away was the sound of some
one moving about. Then they heard a noise of falling water, as from
a faucet into a bucket. This was followed by steps boldly approaching.
They crouched lower, breathless with apprehension.
A dark form passed by within arm's reach and mounted on a box to the
fence. It was Brick himself, resetting the trap. They heard him arrange
the slat and stone, then right the barrel and empty into it a couple of
buckets of water. As he came down from the box to go after more water,
Joe sprang upon him, tripped him up, and held him to the ground.
"Don't make any noise," he said. "I want you to listen to me."
"Oh, it 's you, is it?" Simpson replied, with such obvious relief in
his voice as to make them feel relieved also. "Wot d' ye want here?"
"We want to get out of here," Joe said, "and the shortest way 's the
best. There 's three of us, and you 're only one--"
"That 's all right, that 's all right," the gang-leader interrupted.
"I 'd just as soon show you the way out as not. I ain't got nothin'
'gainst you. Come on an' follow me, an' don't step to the side, an'
I 'll have you out in no time."
Several minutes later they dropped from the top of a high fence into
a dark alley.
"Follow this to the street," Simpson directed; "turn to the right two
blocks, turn to the right again for three, an' yer on Union. Tra-la-loo."
They said good-by, and as they started down the alley received the
"Nex' time you bring kites along, you 'd best leave 'em to home."
Following Brick Simpson's directions, they came into Union Street, and
without further mishap gained the Hill. From the brow they looked down
into the Pit, whence arose that steady, indefinable hum which comes
from crowded human places.
"I 'll never go down there again, not as long as I live," Fred said
with a great deal of savagery in his voice. "I wonder what became of
"We 're lucky to get back with whole skins," Joe cheered them
"I guess we left our share, and you more than yours," laughed Charley.
"Yes," Joe answered. "And I 've got more trouble to face when I get
home. Good night, fellows."
As he expected, the door on the side porch was locked, and he went
around to the dining-room and entered like a burglar through a window.
As he crossed the wide hall, walking softly toward the stairs, his
father came out of the library. The surprise was mutual, and each
Joe felt a hysterical desire to laugh, for he thought that he knew
precisely how he looked. In reality he looked far worse than he
imagined. What Mr. Bronson saw was a boy with hat and coat covered
with dirt, his whole face smeared with the stains of conflict, and,
in particular, a badly swollen nose, a bruised eyebrow, a cut and
swollen lip, a scratched cheek, knuckles still bleeding, and a shirt
torn open from throat to waist.
"What does this mean, sir?" Mr. Bronson finally managed to articulate.
Joe stood speechless. How could he tell, in one brief sentence, all
the whole night's happenings?--for all that must be included in the
explanation of what his luckless disarray meant.
"Have you lost your tongue?" Mr. Bronson demanded with an appearance
"I 've--I 've--"
"Yes, yes," his father encouraged.
"I 've--well, I 've been down in the Pit," Joe succeeded in blurting out.
"I must confess that you look like it--very much like it indeed."
Mr. Bronson spoke severely, but if ever by great effort he conquered
a smile, that was the time. "I presume," he went on, "that you do not
refer to the abiding-place of sinners, but rather to some definite
locality in San Francisco. Am I right?"
Joe swept his arm in a descending gesture toward Union Street, and said:
"Down there, sir."
"And who gave it that name?"
"I did," Joe answered, as though confessing to a specified crime.
"It 's most appropriate, I 'm sure, and denotes imagination. It could n't
really be bettered. You must do well at school, sir, with your English."
This did not increase Joe's happiness, for English was the only study of
which he did not have to feel ashamed.
And, while he stood thus a silent picture of misery and disgrace,
Mr. Bronson looked upon him through the eyes of his own boyhood with
an understanding which Joe could not have believed possible.
"However, what you need just now is not a discourse, but a bath and
court-plaster and witch-hazel and cold-water bandages," Mr. Bronson
said; "so to bed with you. You 'll need all the sleep you can get,
and you 'll feel stiff and sore to-morrow morning, I promise you."
The clock struck one as Joe pulled the bedclothes around him; and the
next he knew he was being worried by a soft, insistent rapping, which
seemed to continue through several centuries, until at last, unable to
endure it longer, he opened his eyes and sat up.
The day was streaming in through the window--bright and sunshiny day.
He stretched his arms to yawn; but a shooting pain darted through all
the muscles, and his arms came down more rapidly than they had gone up.
He looked at them with a bewildered stare, till suddenly the events of
the night rushed in upon him, and he groaned.
The rapping still persisted, and he cried: "Yes, I hear. What time is it?"
"Eight o'clock," Bessie's voice came to him through the door. "Eight
o'clock, and you 'll have to hurry if you don't want to be late for
"Goodness!" He sprang out of bed precipitately, groaned with the pain
from all his stiff muscles, and collapsed slowly and carefully on a
chair. "Why did n't you call me sooner?" he growled.
"Father said to let you sleep."
Joe groaned again, in another fashion Then his history-book caught his
eye, and he groaned yet again and in still another fashion.
"All right," he called. "Go on. I 'll be down in a jiffy."
He did come down in fairly brief order; but if Bessie had watched him
descend the stairs she would have been astounded at the remarkable
caution he observed and at the twinges of pain that every now and then
contorted his face. As it was, when she came upon him in the dining-room
she uttered a frightened cry and ran over to him.
"What 's the matter, Joe?" she asked tremulously. "What has happened?"
"Nothing," he grunted, putting sugar on his porridge.
"But surely--" she began.
"Please don't bother me," he interrupted. "I 'm late, and I want to
eat my breakfast."
And just then Mrs. Bronson caught Bessie's eye, and that young lady,
still mystified, made haste to withdraw herself.
Joe was thankful to his mother for that, and thankful that she refrained
from remarking upon his appearance. Father had told her; that was one
thing sure. He could trust her not to worry him; it was never her way.
And, meditating in this way, he hurried through with his solitary
breakfast, vaguely conscious in an uncomfortable way that his mother
was fluttering anxiously about him. Tender as she always was, he noticed
that she kissed him with unusual tenderness as he started out with his
books swinging at the end of a strap; and he also noticed, as he turned
the corner, that she was still looking after him through the window.
But of more vital importance than that, to him, was his stiffness and
soreness. As he walked along, each step was an effort and a torment.
Severely as the reflected sunlight from the cement sidewalk hurt his
bruised eye, and severely as his various wounds pained him, still more
severely did he suffer from his muscles and joints. He had never imagined
such stiffness. Each individual muscle in his whole body protested when
called upon to move. His fingers were badly swollen, and it was agony to
clasp and unclasp them; while his arms were sore from wrist to elbow.
This, he said to himself, was caused by the many blows which he had
warded off from his face and body. He wondered if Brick Simpson was in
similar plight, and the thought of their mutual misery made him feel a
certain kinship for that redoubtable young ruffian.
When he entered the school-yard he quickly became aware that he was
the center of attraction for all eyes. The boys crowded around in an
awe-stricken way, and even his classmates and those with whom he was
well acquainted looked at him with a certain respect he had never
It was plain that Fred and Charley had spread the news of their descent
into the Pit, and of their battle with the Simpson clan and the Fishes.
He heard the nine-o'clock bell with feelings of relief, and passed into
the school, a mark for admiring glances from all the boys. The girls,
too, looked at him in a timid and fearful way--as they might have looked
at Daniel when he came out of the lions' den, Joe thought, or at David
after his battle with Goliath. It made him uncomfortable and painfully
self-conscious, this hero-worshiping, and he wished heartily that they
would look in some other direction for a change.
Soon they did look in another direction. While big sheets of foolscap
were being distributed to every desk, Miss Wilson, the teacher (an
austere-looking young woman who went through the world as though it
were a refrigerator, and who, even on the warmest days in the classroom,
was to be found with a shawl or cape about her shoulders), arose, and
on the blackboard where all could see wrote the Roman numeral "I." Every
eye, and there were fifty pairs of them, hung with expectancy upon her
hand, and in the pause that followed the room was quiet as the grave.
Underneath the Roman numeral "I" she wrote: "_(a) What were the laws
of Draco? (b) Why did an Athenian orator say that they were written
'not in ink, but in blood'?_"
Forty-nine heads bent down and forty-nine pens scratched lustily across
as many sheets of foolscap. Joe's head alone remained up, and he regarded
the blackboard with so blank a stare that Miss Wilson, glancing over her
shoulder after having written "II," stopped to look at him. Then she
"_(a) How did the war between Athens and Megara, respecting the island
of Salamis, bring about the reforms of Solon? (b) In what way did they
differ from the laws of Draco?_"
She turned to look at Joe again. He was staring as blankly as ever.
"What is the matter, Joe?" she asked. "Have you no paper?"
"Yes, I have, thank you," he answered, and began moodily to sharpen
He made a fine point to it. Then he made a very fine point. Then, and
with infinite patience, he proceeded to make it very much finer. Several
of his classmates raised their heads inquiringly at the noise. But he
did not notice. He was too absorbed in his pencil-sharpening and in
thinking thoughts far away from both pencil-sharpening and Greek history.
"Of course you all understand that the examination papers are to be
written with ink."
Miss Wilson addressed the class in general, but her eyes rested on Joe.
Just as it was about as fine as it could possibly be the point broke,
and Joe began over again.
"I am afraid, Joe, that you annoy the class," Miss Wilson said in final
He put the pencil down, closed the knife with a snap, and returned to
his blank staring at the blackboard. What did he know about Draco? or
Solon? or the rest of the Greeks? It was a flunk, and that was all there
was to it. No need for him to look at the rest of the questions, and even
if he did know the answers to two or three, there was no use in writing
them down. It would not prevent the flunk. Besides, his arm hurt him too
much to write. It hurt his eyes to look at the blackboard, and his eyes
hurt even when they were closed; and it seemed positively to hurt him
So the forty-nine pens scratched on in a race after Miss Wilson, who was
covering the blackboard with question after question; and he listened to
the scratching, and watched the questions growing under her chalk, and
was very miserable indeed. His head seemed whirling around. It ached
inside and was sore outside, and he did not seem to have any control
of it at all.
He was beset with memories of the Pit, like scenes from some monstrous
nightmare, and, try as he would, he could not dispel them. He would fix
his mind and eyes on Miss Wilson's face, who was now sitting at her desk,
and even as he looked at her the face of Brick Simpson, impudent and
pugnacious, would arise before him. It was of no use. He felt sick and
sore and tired and worthless. There was nothing to be done but flunk.
And when, after an age of waiting, the papers were collected, his went
in a blank, save for his name, the name of the examination, and the date,
which were written across the top.
After a brief interval, more papers were given out, and the examination
in arithmetic began. He did not trouble himself to look at the questions.
Ordinarily he might have pulled through such an examination, but in his
present state of mind and body he knew it was impossible. He contented
himself with burying his face in his hands and hoping for the noon hour.
Once, lifting his eyes to the clock, he caught Bessie looking anxiously at
him across the room from the girls' side. This but added to his discomfort.
Why was she bothering him? No need for her to trouble. She was bound to
pass. Then why could n't she leave him alone? So he gave her a particularly
glowering look and buried his face in his hands again. Nor did he lift it
till the twelve-o'clock gong rang, when he handed in a second blank paper
and passed out with the boys.
Fred and Charley and he usually ate lunch in a corner of the yard which
they had arrogated to themselves; but this day, by some remarkable
coincidence, a score of other boys had elected to eat their lunches on
the same spot. Joe surveyed them with disgust. In his present condition
he did not feel inclined to receive hero-worship. His head ached too
much, and he was troubled over his failure in the examinations; and
there were more to come in the afternoon.
He was angry with Fred and Charley. They were chattering like magpies
over the adventures of the night (in which, however, they did not fail
to give him chief credit), and they conducted themselves in quite a
patronizing fashion toward their awed and admiring schoolmates. But
every attempt to make Joe talk was a failure. He grunted and gave short
answers, and said "yes" and "no" to questions asked with the intention
of drawing him out.
He was longing to get away somewhere by himself, to throw himself down
some place on the green grass and forget his aches and pains and troubles.
He got up to go and find such a place, and found half a dozen of his
following tagging after him. He wanted to turn around and scream at them
to leave him alone, but his pride restrained him. A great wave of disgust
and despair swept over him, and then an idea flashed through his mind.
Since he was sure to flunk in his examinations, why endure the afternoon's
torture, which could not but be worse than the morning's? And on the
impulse of the moment he made up his mind.
He walked straight on to the schoolyard gate and passed out. Here his
worshipers halted in wonderment, but he kept on to the corner and out of
sight. For some time he wandered along aimlessly, till he came to the
tracks of a cable road. A down-town car happening to stop to let off
passengers, he stepped aboard and ensconced himself in an outside corner
seat. The next thing he was aware of, the car was swinging around on its
turn-table and he was hastily scrambling off. The big ferry building stood
before him. Seeing and hearing nothing, he had been carried through the
heart of the business section of San Francisco.
He glanced up at the tower clock on top of the ferry building. It was
ten minutes after one--time enough to catch the quarter-past-one boat.
That decided him, and without the least idea in the world as to where he
was going, he paid ten cents for a ticket, passed through the gate, and
was soon speeding across the bay to the pretty city of Oakland.
In the same aimless and unwitting fashion, he found himself, an hour
later, sitting on the string-piece of the Oakland city wharf and leaning
his aching head against a friendly timber. From where he sat he could
look down upon the decks of a number of small sailing-craft. Quite a
crowd of curious idlers had collected to look at them, and Joe found
himself growing interested.
There were four boats, and from where he sat he could make out their
names. The one directly beneath him had the name _Ghost_ painted in large
green letters on its stern. The other three, which lay beyond, were called
respectively _La Caprice_, the _Oyster Queen_, and the _Flying Dutchman_.
Each of these boats had cabins built amidships, with short stovepipes
projecting through the roofs, and from the pipe of the _Ghost_ smoke
was ascending. The cabin doors were open and the roof-slide pulled
back, so that Joe could look inside and observe the inmate, a young
fellow of nineteen or twenty who was engaged just then in cooking. He
was clad in long sea-boots which reached the hips, blue overalls, and
dark woolen shirt. The sleeves, rolled back to the elbows, disclosed
sturdy, sun-bronzed arms, and when the young fellow looked up his face
proved to be equally bronzed and tanned.
The aroma of coffee arose to Joe's nose, and from a light iron pot came
the unmistakable smell of beans nearly done. The cook placed a frying-pan
on the stove, wiped it around with a piece of suet when it had heated,
and tossed in a thick chunk of beefsteak. While he worked he talked with
a companion on deck, who was busily engaged in filling a bucket overside
and flinging the salt water over heaps of oysters that lay on the deck.
This completed, he covered the oysters with wet sacks, and went into the
cabin, where a place was set for him on a tiny table, and where the cook
served the dinner and joined him in eating it.
All the romance of Joe's nature stirred at the sight. That was life. They
were living, and gaining their living, out in the free open, under the sun
and sky, with the sea rocking beneath them, and the wind blowing on them,
or the rain falling on them, as the chance might be. Each day and every
day he sat in a room, pent up with fifty more of his kind, racking his
brains and cramming dry husks of knowledge, while they were doing all
this, living glad and careless and happy, rowing boats and sailing, and
cooking their own food, and certainly meeting with adventures such as one
only dreams of in the crowded school-room.
Joe sighed. He felt that he was made for this sort of life and not for
the life of a scholar. As a scholar he was undeniably a failure. He had
flunked in his examinations, while at that very moment, he knew, Bessie
was going triumphantly home, her last examination over and done, and with
credit. Oh, it was not to be borne! His father was wrong in sending him
to school. That might be well enough for boys who were inclined to study,
but it was manifest that he was not so inclined. There were more careers
in life than that of the schools. Men had gone down to the sea in the
lowest capacity, and risen in greatness, and owned great fleets, and done
great deeds, and left their names on the pages of time. And why not he,
He closed his eyes and felt immensely sorry for himself; and when he
opened his eyes again he found that he had been asleep, and that the
sun was sinking fast.
It was after dark when he arrived home, and he went straight to his room
and to bed without meeting any one. He sank down between the cool sheets
with a sigh of satisfaction at the thought that, come what would, he need
no longer worry about his history. Then another and unwelcome thought
obtruded itself, and he knew that the next school term would come, and
that six months thereafter, another examination in the same history
FATHER AND SON
On the following morning, after breakfast, Joe was summoned to the
library by his father, and he went in almost with a feeling of gladness
that the suspense of waiting was over. Mr. Bronson was standing by the
window. A great chattering of sparrows outside seemed to have attracted
his attention. Joe joined him in looking out, and saw a fledgeling sparrow
on the grass, tumbling ridiculously about in its efforts to stand on its
feeble baby legs. It had fallen from the nest in the rose-bush that climbed
over the window, and the two parent sparrows were wild with anxiety over
"It 's a way young birds have," Mr. Bronson remarked, turning to Joe
with a serious smile; "and I dare say you are on the verge of a somewhat
similar predicament, my boy," he went on. "I am afraid things have
reached a crisis, Joe. I have watched it coming on for a year now--your
poor scholarship, your carelessness and inattention, your constant
desire to be out of the house and away in search of adventures of one
sort or another."
He paused, as though expecting a reply; but Joe remained silent.
"I have given you plenty of liberty. I believe in liberty. The finest
souls grow in such soil. So I have not hedged you in with endless rules
and irksome restrictions. I have asked little of you, and you have come
and gone pretty much as you pleased. In a way, I have put you on your
honor, made you largely your own master, trusting to your sense of right
to restrain you from going wrong and at least to keep you up in your
studies. And you have failed me. What do you want me to do? Set you
certain bounds and time-limits? Keep a watch over you? Compel you by
main strength to go through your books?
"I have here a note," Mr. Bronson said after another pause, in which he
picked up an envelop from the table and drew forth a written sheet.
Joe recognized the stiff and uncompromising scrawl of Miss Wilson, and
his heart sank.
His father began to read:
"Listlessness and carelessness have characterized
his term's work, so that when the examinations
came he was wholly unprepared. In neither history
nor arithmetic did he attempt to answer a question,
passing in his papers perfectly blank. These
examinations took place in the morning. In the
afternoon he did not take the trouble even to
appear for the remainder."
Mr. Bronson ceased reading and looked up.
"Where were you in the afternoon?" he asked.
"I went across on the ferry to Oakland," Joe answered, not caring to offer
his aching head and body in extenuation.
"That is what is called 'playing hooky,' is it not?"
"Yes, sir," Joe answered.
"The night before the examinations, instead of studying, you saw fit to
wander away and involve yourself in a disgraceful fight with hoodlums.
I did not say anything at the time. In my heart I think I might almost
have forgiven you that, if you had done well in your school-work."
Joe had nothing to say. He knew that there was his side to the story, but
he felt that his father did not understand, and that there was little use
of telling him.
"The trouble with you, Joe, is carelessness and lack of concentration.
What you need is what I have not given you, and that is rigid discipline.
I have been debating for some time upon the advisability of sending you
to some military school, where your tasks will be set for you, and what
you do every moment in the twenty-four hours will be determined for you--"
"Oh, father, you don't understand, you can't understand!" Joe broke forth
at last. "I try to study--I honestly try to study; but somehow--I don't
know how--I can't study. Perhaps I am a failure. Perhaps I am not made
for study. I want to go out into the world. I want to see life--to live.
I don't want any military academy; I 'd sooner go to sea--anywhere where
I can do something and be something."
Mr. Bronson looked at him kindly. "It is only through study that you can
hope to do something and be something in the world," he said.
Joe threw up his hand with a gesture of despair.
"I know how you feel about it," Mr. Bronson went on; "but you are only a
boy, very much like that young sparrow we were watching. If at home you
have not sufficient control over yourself to study, then away from home,
out in the world which you think is calling to you, you will likewise
not have sufficient control over yourself to do the work of that world.
"But I am willing, Joe, I am willing, after you have finished high school
and before you go into the university, to let you out into the world for
"Let me go now?" Joe asked impulsively.
"No; it is too early. You have n't your wings yet. You are too unformed,
and your ideals and standards are not yet thoroughly fixed."
"But I shall not be able to study," Joe threatened. "I know I shall not
be able to study."
Mr. Bronson consulted his watch and arose to go. "I have not made up my
mind yet," he said. "I do not know what I shall do--whether I shall give
you another trial at the public school or send you to a military academy."
He stopped a moment at the door and looked back. "But remember this, Joe,"
he said. "I am not angry with you; I am more grieved and hurt. Think it
over, and tell me this evening what you intend to do."
His father passed out, and Joe heard the front door close after him. He
leaned back in the big easy-chair and closed his eyes. A military school!
He feared such an institution as the animal fears a trap. No, he would
certainly never go to such a place. And as for public school--He sighed
deeply at the thought of it. He was given till evening to make up his
mind as to what he intended to do. Well, he knew what he would do, and
he did not have to wait till evening to find it out.
He got up with a determined look on his face, put on his hat, and went
out the front door. He would show his father that he could do his share
of the world's work, he thought as he walked along--he would show him.
By the time he reached the school he had his whole plan worked out
definitely. Nothing remained but to put it through. It was the noon
hour, and he passed in to his room and packed up his books unnoticed.
Coming out through the yard, he encountered Fred and Charley.
"What 's up?" Charley asked.
"Nothing," Joe grunted.
"What are you doing there?"
"Taking my books home, of course. What did you suppose I was doing?"
"Come, come," Fred interposed. "Don't be so mysterious. I don't see why
you can't tell us what has happened."
"You 'll find out soon enough," Joe said significantly--more significantly
than he had intended.
And, for fear that he might say more, he turned his back on his astonished
chums and hurried away. He went straight home and to his room, where he
busied himself at once with putting everything in order. His clothes
he hung carefully away, changing the suit he had on for an older one.
From his bureau he selected a couple of changes of underclothing, a
couple of cotton shirts, and half a dozen pairs of socks. To these he
added as many handkerchiefs, a comb, and a tooth-brush.
When he had bound the bundle in stout wrapping-paper he contemplated it
with satisfaction. Then he went over to his desk and took from a small
inner compartment his savings for some months, which amounted to several
dollars. This sum he had been keeping for the Fourth of July, but he thrust
it into his pocket with hardly a regret. Then he pulled a writing-pad over
to him, sat down and wrote:
Don't look for me. I am a failure and I am
going away to sea. Don't worry about me. I
am all right and able to take care of myself.
I shall come back some day, and then you will
all be proud of me. Good-by, papa, and mama,
This he left lying on his desk where it could easily be seen. He tucked
the bundle under his arm, and, with a last farewell look at the room,
'FRISCO KID AND THE NEW BOY
'Frisco Kid was discontented--discontented and disgusted. This would have
seemed impossible to the boys who fished from the dock above and envied
him greatly. True, they wore cleaner and better clothes, and were blessed
with fathers and mothers; but his was the free floating life of the bay,
the domain of moving adventure, and the companionship of men--theirs the
rigid discipline and dreary sameness of home life. They did not dream that
'Frisco Kid ever looked up at them from the cockpit of the _Dazzler_
and in turn envied them just those things which sometimes were the most
distasteful to them and from which they suffered to repletion. Just as the
romance of adventure sang its siren song in their ears and whispered vague
messages of strange lands and lusty deeds, so the delicious mysteries of
home enticed 'Frisco Kid's roving fancies, and his brightest day-dreams
were of the thing's he knew not--brothers, sisters, a father's counsel,
a mother's kiss.
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 to 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. 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 dishwashing he rebelled. 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 landings.
"Stan' from un'er!" Pete Le Maire or "French Pete," 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 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." French 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 stronger
of the two. 'Frisco Kid put out his hand, and they shook.
"So you 're thinking of tackling the water, eh?" he said.
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 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 chuckled to himself as he built the fire and set about
cooking supper; "in the 'forecastle,' too; and thinks he 'll like it."
In the meanwhile French Pete was showing the newcomer 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 no room at all. On either side and partly under the
deck were two bunks. The blankets were rolled back, and the boys 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
was 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 French 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.
French Pete was smiling genially at him across the board. It really was 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 sailorman at that. He wished Charley and
Fred could see him now. Well, they would hear of it soon enough. He could
see them talking it over, and the other boys crowding around. "Who?" "Oh,
Joe Bronson; he 's gone to sea. Used to chum with us."
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. 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.
ABOARD THE DAZZLER
A skiff grazed the side of the _Dazzler_ softly and interrupted Joe's
reveries. He wondered why he had not heard the sound of the oars in
the rowlocks. Then two men jumped over the cockpit-rail and came into
"Bli' me, if 'ere they ain't snoozin'," said the first of the newcomers,
deftly rolling 'Frisco Kid out of his blankets with one hand and reaching
for the wine-bottle with the other.
French 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 he was called, smacking his lips over
the wine and rolling Joe out upon the floor. "Passenger?"
"No, no," French Pete made haste to answer. "Ze new sailorman. Vaire
"Good boy or not, he 's got to keep his tongue atween his teeth," growled
the second newcomer, 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 and 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."
French Pete insisted in excited gibberish that the _Dazzler_ had the
right to have three men in its crew, and appealed to 'Frisco Kid to
bear him out. But the latter left them to fight it over by themselves,
and proceeded to make hot coffee.
It was all Greek to Joe, except he knew that he was in some way the cause
of the quarrel. In the end French Pete had his way, and the newcomers gave
in after much grumbling. After they had drunk their coffee, all hands went
"Just stay in the cockpit and keep out of their way," 'Frisco Kid whispered
to Joe. "I 'll teach you about the ropes and everything when we ain't in a
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
French 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 suit with
the stern, 'Frisco Kid gave her the jib as French Pete jammed up the
tiller, and the _Dazzler_ caught the breeze, heeling over for mid-channel.
Joe heard talk of not putting up the side-lights, and of keeping a sharp
lookout, though 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
marshland, 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 even stranger things 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 advertise 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," French 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
in which the two strangers had come aboard.
"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 French Pete steered. Joe noticed
that the oars were muffled with sennit, and that even the rowlock sockets
were protected with 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 ships, 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-foot
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 French Pete, gripping him by the arm and again warning him not to
make any noise, told him to do likewise. At the beach they turned their
burdens over to 'Frisco Kid, who loaded them, first in the 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
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 stooped to gather a fresh load of iron. But suddenly a man
sprang out of the gloom, flashing a dark lantern full upon him. Blinded
by the light, he staggered back. Then a revolver in the man's hand went
off like the roar of a cannon. 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. This second man
quickly regained his feet, and peppered away at Joe as he flew down
He dashed out into the water for the boat. French 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 ready for the start, but
they held them quietly at rest, for all 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 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
"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!" French Pete ordered from the bow. At this moment
a bullet shattered an oar in his hand, and he coolly proceeded to ship a
"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!" French 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 for 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 bottom. Joe and 'Frisco Kid came up side by side, and together they
clambered aboard with the skiff's painter in tow. French 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. French Pete, in the cabin, bewailed their bad luck
in various languages, and sought consolation in the wine-bottle.
WITH THE BAY PIRATES
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 for the future. His companions were thieves and robbers--the
bay pirates, of whose wild 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 inboard. 'Frisco Kid
luffed quickly, at the same time slacking off the main-sheet. Then,
single-handed,--for French Pete remained below,--and with Joe looking
idly on, he proceeded to reef down.
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--_the value of 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.
But 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
drawn 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
Back to Full Books