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   Chapter 3 THE EB AN' FLO

Jess of the Rebel Trail By H. A. Cody Characters: 13052

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Just how it happened Samuel Tobin, owner and captain of the "Eb and Flo," was never able to explain with any degree of clearness. He knew that he was on his knees, scrubbing the floor of the little cabin and humming

"Here I'll raise my Ebenezer,

Hither by Thy grace I'll come,"

when a form darkened the narrow doorway overhead.

Then followed a scream of fright, and before he had hardly time to look around she was lying by his side, a confused heap of silk, lace, and flowing dark-brown hair.

"Well, I'll be jiggered!" Samuel exclaimed, scrambling to his feet.

"What in time--?"

A merry laugh interrupted him, as the girl sprang lightly to her feet, arranged her disordered dress, and brushed back her hair.

"My! that was a surprise," she remarked, glancing at the steps down which she had just tumbled. "I didn't know they were there."

"Ye didn't, eh?" and Samuel looked curiously at his unexpected visitor.

"Thought ye was walkin' into a parlour, I s'pose."

"Do you own this boat?" the girl suddenly and somewhat anxiously asked.

"Well, I thought I did, Miss, until you arrived, but now I ain't quite sartin. I feel somethin' like Bill Slocum said he did when a bear dropped in on him one night when he was campin' out on his back medder."

"What did he do?"

"Oh, Bill, jist lit out an' left the bear in charge, the same as any sensible man would do."

"I hope you do not compare me to a bear," and the girl smiled.

"No, I wouldn't like to do that, Miss. But ye must have had some mighty good reason fer comin' down them steps the way ye did. It's a wonder to me yer neck wasn't broken."

"I have a good reason," was the emphatic reply. "I am running away."

"Runnin' away!" Samuel's eyes opened wide in amazement, and he stared hard at the girl. He would have been less than human if his pulse had not quickened, and his heart beat faster, for she was truly possessed of more than ordinary beauty and grace of figure. Her large dark expressive eyes betrayed anxiety, and her cheeks were flushed. Once she gave a slight start and glanced nervously up the steps as if expecting to see someone following her.

"Yes, I am running away," she repeated, "and I want you to hide me on this boat."

"Runnin' away, an' want me to hide ye!" Samuel ran his fingers through his hair, a sure sign of his perplexity. "Ye ain't been stealin' or murderin' anybody, have ye?"

"No, no; it's not so bad as that. But it might be suicide, though, if you don't help me. And you will, won't you?" she pleaded, turning her eyes full upon the captain's face.

The latter made no immediate reply. He picked up his pail and set it carefully aside. He then unrolled the turned-up sleeves of his coarse shirt, and deliberately buttoned them about his thick hairy wrists,

"Set down, Miss," he at length ordered, motioning to the only chair the cabin contained. "Thar, that's better," he said as the girl immediately obeyed. "Sorry me accommodations are so poor, but then this ain't no ocean liner. She's nuthin' but an old woodboat, an' not much of a place fer receivin' the likes of you."

"But I think it's fine," the girl replied, "and I know you will let me stay here for a while. You need a woman to look after this cabin, and I will wash and cook for you."

"Ye will!"

"Certainly. If you will only let me stay, I think you will find me quite useful."

"H'm, queer work you'd do in them dandy togs. An' besides, this craft can't afford to keep up much style. I s'pose ye'd want clean linen on the table every day, to say nuthin' of napkins, an' sich gear. No, I'm afraid ye'd prove too expensive fer the 'Eb an' Flo.' I've been cook here fer so long that I wouldn't know what to do with a woman around. Martha tried it once, but a week was enough fer her, so she got out. Said she couldn't stand me housekeepin' methods."

"Who is Martha?" the girl asked.

"Oh, she's me wife, an' runs things ashore. Her an' Flo do all right thar, but me an' Eb feel more at home on the water, with no women buttin' in."

"Is Flo your daughter?"

"Sure. An' Eb's me son. Jist the two, so I named this craft after 'em, ye see, Eb an' Flo sounds about right to my way of thinkin'. When yer boatin' on this river ye have to be allus considerin' the ebb an' flow of the tide, so the name is quite handy."

"It certainly is," and the girl smiled. "I am sure I shall like it.

Where is your son now?"

"Oh, he's ashore gittin' some molasses an' other stuff from the store.

He should be back soon, Miss, so I think ye'd better leave before he

comes. Thar might be trouble. He's dead set aginst strange women,

Eben is."

"Will you start as soon as your son returns?" the girl asked, unheeding the captain's warning.

"Start! Start where?"

"Sailing, of course."

"Not until the wind springs up. Thar's a dead calm now, an' the tide's aginst us."

"Oh, I wish it would blow a gale," and the girl looked anxiously around. "I want to get away from this place as soon as possible."

"Well, I think the best thing then fer you to do is to go ashore an' light out. Ye kin do it quicker thar than here."

"But I can't get ashore, Captain."

"Ye can't! An' why not, I'd like to know?"

"Because my boat has gone adrift. I let it go on purpose."

"Good Lord!" Samuel sat down upon a biscuit box and eyed his visitor curiously. "Say, are you crazy, or a fool, or what are ye, anyway?" he asked.

"I'm just a poor unfortunate girl, that's who I am," was the decided reply.

"An' ye ain't done nuthin' bad; nuthin' that yer ashamed of, Miss?"

"No, no," and the girl's face crimsoned. "I'm proud of what I have done," and she lifted her head haughtily, while her eyes flashed. "Any girl with the least self-respect would do the same, so there."

"That's all right, Miss, that's all right," Samuel hurriedly assured her. "I wasn't castin' any reflection upon yer character. I was only wonderin', that's all. Ye see, Flo's about your age, from what I judge, an' I wouldn't like her to be actin' this way."

"I know you wouldn't. But my case is different. Oh, I wish I could tell you all, but I can't. You will trust me, anyway, won't you, and let me stay here for a while?"

The captain sighed and looked helplessly around.

"Well, I'll be jiggered!" he growled. "This is sartinly some fix an' I don't know what to do. The accommodation isn't much here fer the likes of you, though it ain't too bad fer me an' Eb. If you occupy this cabin, we'll have to camp

out on deck, an' I know what Eb'll say about that. He's more'n fond of sleep, that boy is, the greatest I ever saw. Why he'd sooner sleep than eat any day, an' he likes a good soft bed at that. I had to buy a special spring an' mattress before I could git him to come with me this year. He doesn't take much to boatin', an' I have to make things as smooth as possible."

"But can't you put his cot on deck?" the girl suggested. "I am very sorry that I am giving you so much trouble, but I shall pay you well. Money is no object if you will only help me out of my trouble. I am sure you will never regret it."

"I hope not, Miss, fer I don't want to git into any fix. It wouldn't look very nice if the papers got hold of this affair. Jist imagine a big write-up about Capt. Sam'l Tobin keepin' a fine lookin' runaway gal on the 'Eb an' Flo.' Why, I'd never be able to hold up me head agin, an' I guess it 'ud about break Martha's heart, to say nuthin' about Flo. They're mighty pertic'ler about sich things, they surely are."

"This must never get into the papers," the girl declared, "for you must promise that you will keep it a dead secret, and not tell anyone, not even your own family."

"I don't see how I kin do that, Miss. I guess ye don't know Martha as well as I do. If ye did, ye wouldn't talk about keepin' this racket a secret from me family. An' besides, thar's Eben, who'll be here in a jiffy now. How am I to explain matters to him? No, Miss, I reckon ye'd better light out while the coast is clear. I'll git the boy to take ye ashore, an' tell him that ye hit the wrong craft."

But the girl was not to be baffled in her purpose. She rose to her feet and stood before the captain. Her eyes were wide with a nameless fear, and her face showed very white where the light of the bracket-lamp fell upon it.

"Don't, don't send me away," she pleaded. "Let me stay here until you go from this place. Then you can put me ashore in the woods, or throw me overboard, I don't care which, but for the love of heaven let me stay now!"

Captain Samuel's big right hand dove suddenly into his pocket and clawed forth a clay pipe, a plug of tobacco, and a large jack-knife. He examined them carefully for a few seconds, the girl all the time watching him most intently.

"You will let me stay, won't you?" she coaxed. "Don't send me away."

"I don't see how I kin, Miss. Yer here, an' that's all thar is about it. Ye won't go of yer own accord, an' I've never yit laid hands on a woman. Now, if you was a man I'd show ye a thing or two in a jiffy, but what kin one do with a woman when she once makes up her mind?"

"Oh, thank you so much," and the girl's face brightened. "You will never regret your kindness to me. And look, I'm going to pay you well for letting me stay."

"Pay!" The captain's eyes bulged with astonishment.

"Yes, pay," and the girl smiled. "I'm a passenger, you see, so I'm going to pay my fare. There, you must not object, for I have made up my mind, so it's no use for you to say a word. I'm going to give you fifty dollars now and more later."

The pipe fell from the captain's hand and broke in two upon the floor.

"Blame it all!" he growled, as he stood staring upon the wreck. "I wonder what's comin' over me, anyway? Guess I'm losin' me senses."

"No you're not; you are just getting them, Captain. It's better to break a pipe than a girl's heart, isn't it?"

"I s'pose so, Miss. But a pipe means a good smoke, while a woman means--"

He paused, and looked helplessly around.

"What?" The girl's eyes twinkled.

"Trouble; that's what."

"But isn't she worth it?"

"That all depends upon what an' who she is."

"Certainly. Now you are talking sense. Isn't your daughter worth all the trouble she has been to you?"

"Sure, sure; yer sartinly right thar, Miss. Flo's given me a heap of trouble, but not half as much as Eben. That boy's a caution, an' he's given me an' Martha no end of worry."

"In what way?"

The captain scratched his head in perplexity, and shifted uneasily from one foot to another.

"I kin hardly explain," he at length replied. "He don't drink, nor swear, nor do nuthin' bad. But the trouble is, he don't do nuthin', an' don't want to do nuthin' but sleep an' eat."

"Perhaps you have not brought him up right, Captain."

"Not brought him up right!" Samuel's amazement was intense. "Why, Miss, we've done nuthin' but bring that boy up. Me an' Martha have slaved fer the raisin' of Eben. We started when he was a baby to raise him, right, an' the very next Sunday after he was born didn't they sing in church-

"'Here I'll raise my Ebenezer'."

"And so you've been singing it ever since, even when scrubbing the cabin?" The girl smiled at the recollection of the suddenly discontinued tune.

"Sure, why shouldn't I? It's a great hymn, it sartinly is, an' it's inspired me many a time. It has kept before me my duty, an' if Eben doesn't amount to somethin', it won't be my fault, nor Martha's, either, fer that matter."

"Have you taken the same care with your daughter?" the girl asked.

"No, not as much," was the reluctant confession. "Gals don't need sich special care. They ginerally grow up all right, an' git along somehow. But it's different with boys. They're a problem, they sartinly are."

"And so you have given most of your attention to your son, and let your daughter grow up any way. Is that it, Captain?"

"That's about it, Miss."

"And how is your daughter getting along?"

"Fust rate. We've no trouble with her. She's a good worker, happy an' cheerful as a bird, an' does what she's told. She's a fine gal, Flo is, an' thar's no mistake about that. I wish to goodness Eben was like her."

"It seems to me, Captain, that you tried too hard to raise your son, and spoiled him. Isn't that it?"

"D'ye think so?"

"I am sure of it. You are not the only ones who have spent all their care upon their sons and let their daughters grow up as they please. I know too much about it."

"Ye do!" Samuel's eyes opened wide in wonder. "An' you only a young gal, too."

"But I am old in experience, and know what I say is true. But what is that?" A startled look leaped into her eyes. "Do you suppose it is someone after me?"

With a bound the captain sprang up the stairs. He paused for an instant, however, and glanced back.

"Don't be scared, Miss," he encouraged. "It's only Eben. He's bumped hard aginst the boat. You keep close under cover, an' I'll do what I kin with the boy."

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