Sam Steele’s Adventures on Land and Sea - L. Frank Baum - ebook

Sam Steele’s Adventures on Land and Sea ebook

L. Frank Baum



L. Frank Baum, the author of the famous „Oz” books, wrote a number of series for children (and occasionally, books for older readers) under a variety of pseudonyms. Among those you can find many examples of adventure fiction, including this, the inaugural title of the „Sam Steele” series. Sam Steele is the son of a sea captain; his father is reported killed in a shipwreck, and Sam is quickly cheated of his inheritance. Now an orphan, he meets his maternal uncle, Naboth Perkins, another sea captain and ship-owner; together the two set sail in the Pacific trade. At home again, Sam and Naboth discover that Sam’s father Captain Steele has survived shipwreck, with the loss of a leg. Re-united with his father, Sam regains his lost patrimony. Unusually for Baum, the tale of „Sam Steele’s Adventures on Land and Sea” is told in the first person, by the title character.

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Liczba stron: 231

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“Sam–come here!”

It was Mrs. Ranck’s voice, and sounded more bitter and stringent than usual.

I can easily recall the little room in which I sat, poring over my next day’s lessons. It was in one end of the attic of our modest cottage, and the only room “done off” upstairs. The sloping side walls, that followed the lines of the roof, were bare except for the numerous pictures of yachts and other sailing craft with which I had plastered them from time to time. There was a bed at one side and a small deal table at the other, and over the little window was a shelf whereon I kept my meager collection of books.

“Sam! Are you coming, or not?”

With a sigh I laid down my book, opened the door, and descended the steep uncarpeted stairs to the lower room. This was Mrs. Ranck’s living-room, where she cooked our meals, laid the table, and sat in her high-backed wooden rocker to darn and mend. It was a big, square room, which took up most of the space in the lower part of the house, leaving only a place for a small store-room at one end and the Captain’s room at the other. At one side was the low, broad porch, with a door and two windows opening onto it, and at the other side, which was properly the back of the cottage, a small wing had been built which was occupied by the housekeeper as her sleeping chamber.

As I entered the living-room in response to Mrs. Ranck’s summons I was surprised to find a stranger there, seated stiffly upon the edge of one of the straight chairs and holding his hat in his lap, where he grasped it tightly with two big, red fists, as if afraid that it would get away. He wore an old flannel shirt, open at the neck, and a weather-beaten pea-jacket, and aside from these trade-marks of his profession it was easy enough to determine from his air and manner that he was a sea-faring man.

There was nothing remarkable about that, for every one in our little sea-coast village of Batteraft got a living from old ocean, in one way or another; but what startled me was to find Mrs. Ranck confronting the sailor with a white face and a look of mingled terror and anxiety in her small gray eyes.

“What is it, Aunt?” I asked, a sudden fear striking to my heart as I looked from one to the other in my perplexity.

The woman did not reply, at first, but continued to stare wildly at the bowed head of the sailor–bowed because he was embarrassed and ill at ease. But when he chanced to raise a rather appealing pair of eyes to her face she nodded, and said briefly:

“Tell him.”

“Yes, marm,” answered the man; but he shifted uneasily in his seat, and seemed disinclined to proceed further.

All this began to make me very nervous. Perhaps the man was a messenger–a bearer of news. And if so his tale must have an evil complexion, to judge by his manner and Mrs. Ranck’s stern face. I felt like shrinking back, like running away from some calamity that was about to overtake me. But I did not run. Boy though I was, and very inexperienced in the ways of life, with its troubles and tribulations, I knew that I must stay and hear all; and I braced myself for the ordeal.

“Tell me, please,” I said, and my voice was so husky and low that I could scarce hear it myself. “Tell me; is–is it about–my father?”

The man nodded.

“It’s about the Cap’n,” he said, looking stolidly into Mrs. Ranck’s cold features, as if striving to find in them some assistance. “I was one as sailed with him las’ May aboard the “Saracen.’”

“Then why are you here?” I cried, desperately, although even as I spoke there flashed across my mind a first realization of the horror the answer was bound to convey.

“’Cause the “Saracen’ foundered off Lucayas,” said the sailor, with blunt deliberation, “an’ went to the bottom, ‘th all hands–all but me, that is. I caught a spar an’ floated three days an’ four nights, makin’ at last Andros Isle, where a fisherman pulled me ashore more dead’n alive. That’s nigh three months agone, sir. I’ve had fever sence–brain fever, they called it–so I couldn’t bring the news afore.”

I felt my body swaying slightly, and wondered if it would fall. Then I caught at a ray of hope.

“But my father, Captain Steele? Perhaps he, also, floated ashore!” I gasped.

The sailor shook his head, regretfully.

“None but me was saved alive, sir,” he answered, in a solemn voice. “The tide cast up a many o’ the “Saracen’ corpses, while I lay in the fever; an’ the fisher folks give ’em a decent burial. But they saved the trinkets as was found on the dead men, an’ among ’em was Cap’n Steele’s watch an’ ring. I kep’ ’em to bring to you. Here they be,” he continued, simply, as he rose from his chair to place a small chamois bag reverently upon the table.

Mrs. Ranck pounced upon it and with trembling fingers untied the string. Then she drew forth my father’s well-known round silver watch and the carbuncle ring he had worn upon his little finger ever since I could remember.

For a time no one spoke. I stared stupidly at the sailor, noticing that the buttons on his pea-jacket did not match and wondering if he always sewed them on himself. Mrs. Ranck had fallen back into her tall rocking-chair, where she gyrated nervously back and forth, the left rocker creaking as if it needed greasing. Why was it that I could not burst into a flood of tears, or wail, or shriek, or do anything to prove that I realized myself suddenly bereft of the only friend I had in all the world? There was an iron band around my forehead, and another around my chest. My brain was throbbing under one, and my heart trying desperately to beat under the other. Yet outwardly I must have appeared calm enough, and the fact filled me with shame and disgust.

An orphan, now, and alone in the world. This father whom the angry seas had engulfed was the only relative I had known since my sweet little mother wearied of the world and sought refuge in Heaven, years and years ago. And while father sailed away on his stout ship the “Saracen” I was left to the care of the hard working but crabbed and cross old woman whom I had come to call, through courtesy and convenience, “Aunt,” although she was no relation whatever to me. Now I was alone in the world. Father, bluff and rugged, so strong and resourceful that I had seldom entertained a fear for his safety, was lying dead in the far away island of Andros, and his boy must hereafter learn to live without him.

The sailor, obviously uneasy at the effect of his ill tidings, now rose to go; but at his motion Mrs. Ranck seemed suddenly to recover the use of her tongue, and sternly bade him resume his seat. Then she plied him with questions concerning the storm and the catastrophe that followed it, and the man answered to the best of his ability.

Captain Steele was universally acknowledged one of the best and most successful seamen Batteraft had ever known. Through many years of trading in foreign parts he had not only become sole owner of the “Saracen,” but had amassed a fortune which, it was freely stated in the town, was enough to satisfy the desires of any man. But this was merely guess-work on the part of his neighbors, for when ashore the old sailor confided his affairs to no one, unless it might have been to Mrs. Ranck. For the housekeeper was a different person when the Captain was ashore, recounting her own virtues so persistently, and seeming so solicitous for my comfort, that poor father stood somewhat in awe of her exceptional nobility of character. As soon as he had sailed she dropped the mask, and was often unkind; but I never minded this enough to worry him with complaints, so he was unconscious of her true nature.

Indeed, my dear father had been so seldom at home that I dreaded to cause him one moment’s uneasiness. He was a reserved man, too, as is the case with so many sailors, and since the death of his dearly loved wife had passed but little of his time ashore. I am sure he loved me, for he always treated me with a rare tenderness; but he never would listen to my entreaties to sail with him.

“The sea’s no place for a lad that has a comfortable home,” he used to reply, in his slow, thoughtful way. “Keep to your studies, Sam, my boy, and you’ll be a bigger man some day than any seaman of us all.”

The Captain’s brief visits home were the only bright spots in my existence, and because I had no one else to love I lavished upon my one parent all the affection of which I was capable. Therefore my present sudden bereavement was so colossal and far reaching in its effects upon my young life that it is no wonder the news staggered me and curiously dulled my senses.

Almost as if in a dream I heard Mrs. Ranck’s fierce questions and the sailor’s reluctant answers. And when he had told everything that he knew about the matter he got upon his feet and took my hands gently in both his big, calloused ones.

“I’m right sorry, lad, as ye’ve had this blow,” he muttered, feelingly. “The Cap’n were a good man an’ a kind master, an’ many’s a time I’ve heard him tell of his boy Sam. I s’pose he’s left ye provided with plenty o’ this world’s goods, for he were a thrifty man and mostly in luck. But if ye ever run aground, lad, or find ye need a friend to cast a bowline, don’t ye forget that Ned Britton’ll stand by ye through thick an’ thin!”

With this he wrung my hands until I winced under the pressure, and then he nodded briefly to Mrs. Ranck and hurried from the room.

The twilight had faded during the interview, and the housekeeper had lit a tallow candle. As Ned Britton’s footsteps died away the woman bent forward to snuff the wick, and I noted a grim and determined look upon her features that was new to them. But her hands trembled somewhat, in spite of her assumed calmness, and the fact gave me a certain satisfaction. Her loss could not be compared with mine, but the Captain’s death was sure to bring about a change in her fortunes, as well as my own.

She resumed her regular rocking back and forth, riveting her eyes the while upon my face. I did not sit, but leaned against the table, trying hard to think. And thus for a long time we regarded each other in silence.

Finally she cried out, sharply:

“Well, what are you a-goin’ to do now?”

“In what way?” I asked, drearily.

“In every way. How are you goin’ to live, fer one thing?”

“Why, much the same as I am doing now, I suppose,” said I, trying to rouse myself to attend to what she was saying. “Father owned this house, which is now mine; and I’m sure there is considerable property besides, although the ship is lost.”

“Fiddlesticks!” exclaimed Mrs. Ranck, scornfully.

I wondered what she meant by that, and looked my question.

“Your father didn’t own a stick o’ this house,” she cried, in a tone that was almost a scream. “It’s mine, an’ the deed’s in my own name!”

“I know,” I replied, “but father has often explained that you merely held the deed in trust for me, until I became of age. He turned it over to you as a protection to me in case some accident should happen to him. Many times he has told me that this plan insured my having a home, no matter what happened.”

“I guess you didn’t understand him,” she answered, an evil flash in her eye. “The facts is, this house were put into my name because the Cap’n owed me money.”

“What for?” I asked.

“I’ve kep’ ye in food an’ clothes ever sence ye was a baby. Do ye s’pose that don’t cost money?”

I stared at her bewildered.

“Didn’t father furnish the money?”

“Not a cent. He jest let it run on, as he did any wages. An’ it counts up big, that a-way.”

“Then the house isn’t mine, after all?”

“Not an inch of it. Not a stick ner a stone.”

I tried to think what this would mean to me, and what reason the woman could have for claiming a right to my inheritance.

“Once,” said I, musingly, “father told me how he had brought you here to save you from the poor-house, or starvation. He was sorry for you, and gave you a home. That was while mother was living. Afterwards, he said, he trusted to your gratitude to take good care of me, and to stand my friend in place of my dead mother.”

“Fiddlesticks” she snapped, again. It was the word she usually used to express contempt, and it sounded very disagreeable coming from her lips.

“The Cap’n must ‘a’ been a-dreamin’ when he told you that stuff an’ nonsense,” she went on. “I’ve treated ye like my own son; there’s no mistake about that. But I did it for wages, accordin’ to agreement atween me an’ the Cap’n. An’ the wages wasn’t never paid. When they got to be a big lump, he put the house in my name, to secure me. An’ it’s mine–ev’ry stick of it!”

My head was aching, and I had to press my hand to it to ease the pain. In the light of the one flickering candle Mrs. Ranck’s hard face assumed the expression of a triumphant demon, and I drew back from it, shocked and repelled.

“If what you say is true,” I said, listlessly, “I would rather you take the old home to wipe out the debt. Yet father surely told me it was mine and it isn’t like him to deceive me, or to owe any one money. However, take it, Aunt, if you like.”

“I’ve got it,” she answered; “an’ I mean to keep it.”

“I shall get along very well,” said I, thinking, indeed, that nothing mattered much, now father was gone.

“How will you live?” she enquired.

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