Chapter VIII. The Chums to the Rescue
 

Parson Dan and Mrs. Royal were greatly interested in the story Rod had to tell them that evening of his experiences during the day. It seemed hardly possible that cranky Captain Josh could become such an interesting companion to a little boy. They discussed it for some time after Rod had gone to bed.

"It is quite evident that the captain has taken a great fancy to Rodney," Mrs. Royal remarked, as she bent her head over some needlework she had in her hands. "But are you not a little anxious, Daniel?"

"Anxious! About what?" the parson inquired, as he took his pipe from his mouth and looked questioningly at his wife.

"Oh, about the influence he might exert upon our boy. Will it be for his good, do you think?"

"Umph!" and the clergyman blew a cloud of smoke into the air. "Don't let that worry you, Martha. No harm will come to Rodney from this friendship. It will be just the opposite, I believe, and he will influence the captain for good."

"But Captain Josh never comes to church, Daniel, so what will people say?"

"Let them say, Martha. They will talk, anyway, and they might as well have something to talk about. It will create a little diversion. No doubt Miss Arabella Simpkins will consider it her bounden duty to come right here, and express her views. And suppose the captain doesn't come to church, is that any reason why a little boy should shun him? It may be the means of making Captain Josh see things in a different light. Perhaps the Lord has a hand in this, and who am I to interfere with His plans? He has often used children to lead men back to Him, and it may be that he is using Rodney now."

As the weeks and months passed, Captain Josh and Rod became firmer friends than ever, and scarcely a day passed that they were not together for a while. There were so many things for the boy to see and learn that his interest never waned. He was so happy when out on the river in the Roaring Bess, and ere long he knew all about the boat, and could steer her almost as well as the captain himself.

When the fall settled in, and the weather became cold, the water was abandoned, and so the yacht was pulled out upon the stocks by means of a rude windlass. Here, covered with a large canvas, she remained during the long winter months, safe from the driving storms which often raged over the land.

Then it was that the captain turned his attention to trapping, which he had followed for several years. There were several big brooks flowing into the river, draining a large area of country, principally wooded, and these abounded with mink, raccoon, and other fur-bearing animals. The captain was an expert, and knew the most likely places where game could be best taken. Rod at times went with him on his regular rounds to visit the traps, and it was always a great joy to the boy when he was allowed to carry back some furry prize which had been secured.

Next to these trips, Rod's chief delight was to sit before the big open fire on a cold or stormy Saturday afternoon, and listen to the captain as he told stories of his sea life, while he worked fixing up his traps, making stretchers for the pelts, or doing other odd jobs. How the boy's heart would thrill, and his eyes sparkle with animation as Captain Josh told of furious seas he had encountered, the dangers he had escaped, and the races he had made with other sailing-vessels. Sometimes he would tell an amusing tale, at which the boy would laugh in high glee. Often Rod would ask questions about the sailors, the sea-monsters, and the various ports the captain had visited. Sometimes they would pore over an old geography, while the captain pointed out with his big fore-finger the countries he had visited, and the routes he had taken. Rod was thus so well acquainted with certain countries that his teacher was much surprised at his knowledge.

It was only natural that people should talk about this strange friendship between the rough old sea-captain and the little boy. How their tongues did wag, and many were the visits of protest paid to the rectory. The principal discussion, however, always took place at the regular meetings of the Ladies' Aid Society. This was done most of all for Mrs. Royal's benefit. She knew this, and with much self-restraint she resisted making any reply for some time. But at one meeting, when the criticism became extremely severe, she could stand it no longer. Mrs. Harmon had just been indulging in one of her long dissertations, and finished by asking the rector's wife if she did not consider it very unbecoming for a small boy, and a waif at that, with no doubt bad blood in his veins, to be so much in the company of a rough creature like Captain Josh. He should be at home, studying his lessons and learning the Catechism.

"Mrs. Harmon," Mrs. Royal replied as calmly as possible, "I have listened for some time to the criticisms which you and others have made about our allowing Rodney to associate with Captain Josh, and I think it is about time for me to say a word. Mr. Royal and I have talked over the matter very carefully, and we can see no harm in what is taking place. The captain has taken a remarkable fancy to the boy, and I know for certain that Rodney has received no harm from him. On the contrary, he has been benefited, for the captain has taught him many useful things.

"As for his lessons, I wish to inform you all that Rodney has never neglected them, and you know as well as I do that he stands at the head of his class. He studies his Catechism, as well, which is more than I can say of most of the boys in this parish. I ought to know, as I have taught a class in the Sunday school for years. We had one boy of our own, remember," here her voice became low, "and in our mistaken zeal for his welfare we intended to make him a model of perfection. Instead of studying him, we studied ourselves. We never considered the nature of the child at all. We looked upon him as mere clay in our hands, and we tried to mould him in our own way. When, alas, it was too late we found that he had a will of his own, and when he became old enough he rebelled at our restrictions, and, oh, well, you know the rest. Now, we do not intend to make the same mistake with Rodney. He is a boy, with all the strange impulses of a boy's restless nature. What you have called evil in him, is merely childish enthusiasm. He is bubbling over with energy. It is our earnest desire to guide him along right channels, and not to break his will. Whether we shall do that or not, remains to be seen. Most of you women here are mothers, and know the responsibility of bringing up children. I do not interfere with you, and I now ask you to be as considerate toward us. I trust that henceforth all criticism will cease, especially at these meetings, where we are gathered together to carry on the Lord's work."

When Mrs. Royal finished there was intense silence, and for once garrulous tongues were still. All felt that the rebuke was just, though it made them very angry. They were greatly surprised at Mrs. Royal's boldness, as they had never heard her speak in such a decided way before. When at last they did find their voices, they talked of other things, and during the rest of the afternoon they never alluded to what the rector's wife had said. But when once away from the meeting some of the women gave their tongues free scope, especially Mrs. Harmon, who felt keenly what Mrs. Royal had said.

"I was never so mortified and offended in all my life," she confided to Miss Arabella, as they walked along the road together. "Just think of her talking that way, and she a clergyman's wife, too."

"Umph!" and Miss Arabella tilted her nose higher than ever, "she talked mighty big to-day, but she'll find out her mistake sooner than she expects. Just think what she said about that horrid old captain, who can't speak a civil word to any one. Why, he swears awful. I heard him say 'dang hang it' one time, and a man who uses such language as that is not a fit companion for a little boy."

Little did Captain Josh and Rod care what people said. Though months had now passed into years, their friendship was as firm as ever. Happy were they in each other's company, and many were the trips they made up and down the river in the Roaring Bess. The captain had sturgeon nets in a cove five miles away from his own shore. Twice a day he visited these, and when Rod was on hand he went with him. The boy was always interested in the big fish which were often caught, and when they were sometimes tethered in the shallow water near the Anchorage he felt sorry for the poor creatures.

"I wonder if they mind it," he once remarked to the captain. "Do you suppose they think of their little baby sturgeons, and how they are getting along?"

"Guess they don't bother much about it, lad," was the reply. "They haven't enough sense fer that. They are like a lot of people who are willin' to be led around by the nose jist like that big feller out there. He is always swimmin' around, but he gits nowhere. He soon comes to the end of his rope, and yet he keeps on swimmin' the same as before."

The day this conversation took place, the wind was blowing in strong from the northwest, and the captain was making ready for a trip to his nets. Soon the boat was speeding up the river, with her sail full spread to the stiff breeze. Having reached the cove and taken a number of fish from the nets, they began to beat homeward. By this time the wind had increased in strength, and as they ran backwards and forwards across the river, they were continually washed by the waves which raced to meet them.

"Isn't this great!" Rod exclaimed, as he nestled in the cock-pit, and held on firmly lest he should be swept overboard. "I was never out in such a breeze as this before."

The captain made no reply, though he gave a quick glance at the boy's animated face. If Rod had been frightened, the old seaman would have been terribly disappointed. As for himself he was in his element, and he was reminded of the many times he had faced rough weather out on the mighty deep. The howling of the wind, and the dashing waves made the sweetest of music in his ears, and he was delighted that the boy, on whom he had set his affections, should feel as he did.

They had just tacked and begun beating to the left, when the captain, glancing down the river, gave a start of surprise, and pointed with his finger to a small yacht in mid-stream, which was having a hard time in the wind.

"She's got too much sail fer a breeze like this," he remarked. "If she isn't well managed, she'll go over. Now, look at that!" he cried, grasping the tiller with a firmer grip, so as to be ready for any sudden emergency. "My, that was a close call. A little more and she'd a been on her beam ends."

Hardly had he finished speaking, when a furious squall struck the staggering yacht, and like a wounded eagle she reeled, and flopped her big sail into the rough water. With a roar which might have been heard a long distance off, the captain brought the Roaring Bess almost up to the teeth of the wind, and headed her for the wreck. How her sharp prow did tear through the waves, and at times she was almost smothered by the leaping water. But this course would not bring them to the overturned boat. It was necessary for them to tack once more, and as they drew near they could see people clinging frantically to the half-submerged yacht. The captain gave a loud shout of encouragement when he came within speaking distance. With much skill he handled his boat, and told Rod to be ready to give a hand when needed. With the Roaring Bess brought right up to the wind, she soon drifted alongside of the overturned yacht. There were five persons in the water, three men and two women. With much difficulty the latter were dragged on board, and then the men followed. This accomplished, without a word the captain headed his boat for the shore, while the drenched persons huddled in the cock-pit close to Rod.

The latter had not been idle during this exciting rescue. He had taken a prominent part in helping the women on board, as the captain had been busy managing the yacht. But now he crouched back in his corner, somewhat abashed in the presence of the strangers. He watched them, nevertheless, especially the younger of the two women, a girl with a very beautiful face. Her long golden hair was tossed wildly about, and at times a shiver shook her body. But her eyes attracted him more than anything else. They were dark eyes, filled with an expression of tenderness and sympathy. When she turned them upon Rod his heart gave a bound such as he had never experienced before. At that moment there was nothing he would not have done for her sake. He longed for something to happen that he might show her how brave he was, and that he might seem a hero in her eyes.

Nothing unusual happened, however, for Captain Josh steered the boat through all dangers, and drew up at last near the shore in front of his own house. Then to Rod's surprise the strange men lifted the girl carefully out of the yacht into the tender, and when they had reached the shore, one of the men carried her in his arms up to the Anchorage.

"Too bad she got hurt," Rod mused, as he walked home, for it was getting late. "I wonder what happened to her."

That evening he told Parson Dan and Mrs. Royal all about his experience that afternoon, the wreck, and the girl who had been carried into the house.

"I must go over in the morning and learn all about it," the clergyman remarked when he had heard the story. "There may be something that I can do to help."

Rod lay awake for a long time that night. He could not get the girl with the golden hair and wonderful eyes out of his mind. When at last he did go to sleep, he dreamed that she was struggling in the water, and that he had jumped off the Roaring Bess to save her.