I SHIP ABOARD THE “FLIPPER.”

When the two-seated spring wagon drew up before the tavern door quite a
crowd of idle villagers assembled to see us off, and among them I
noticed my father’s old sailor, Ned Britton. Uncle Naboth climbed aboard
at once, but I stayed to shake the hands held out to me and to thank the
Batteraft people for their hearty wishes for my future prosperity. I
think they were sorry to see me go, and I know I felt a sudden pang of
regret at parting from the place where I had lived so long and the
simple villagers who had been my friends.

When at last I mounted to the rear seat of the wagon and sat beside my
uncle, I was astonished to find Ned Britton established beside the
driver.

“Are you going with us?” I asked.

The sailor nodded.

“It’s like this,” remarked Mr. Perkins, as we rolled away from the
tavern, “this man belonged to my old partner, Cap’n Steele, an’ stuck to
his ship ’til she went down. Also he’s put himself out to come here an’
tell us the news, and it ain’t every sailor as’ll take the trouble to do
such a job. Therefore, Ned Britton bein’ at present without a ship, I’ve
asked him to take a berth aboard the ‘Flipper.’”

“That was kind of you, Uncle,” I said, pleased at this evidence of my
relative’s kindly nature.

“An honest sailor ain’t to be sneezed at,” continued Uncle Naboth, with
one of his quaint winks. “If Ned Britton were faithful to the ‘Saracen’
he’ll be faithful to the ‘Flipper.’ An’ that’s the sort o’ man we want.”

Britton doubtless overheard every word of this eulogy, but he gazed
stolidly ahead and paid no attention to my uncle’s words of praise.

We reached the railway station in ample time for the train, and soon
were whirling away on our long journey into the golden West.

No incident worthy of note occurred on our way across the continent,
although I might record a bit of diplomacy on the part of Uncle Naboth
that illustrates the peculiar shrewdness I have always found coupled
with his native simplicity.

Just before our train drew into Chicago, where we were to change cars
and spend the best part of a day, my uncle slipped into my hand a long,
fat pocket-book, saying:

“Hide that in your pocket, Sam, and button it up tight.”

“What’s your idea, Uncle Nabe?” I asked.

“Why, we’re comin’ to the wickedest city in all the world, accordin’ to
the preachers; an’ if it ain’t that, it’s bad enough, in all conscience.
There’s robbers an’ hold-up men by the thousands, an’ if one of ’em got
hold of me I’d be busted in half a second. But none of ’em would think
of holdin’ up a boy like you; so the money’s safe in your pocket, if you
don’t go an’ lose it.”

“I’ll try not to do that, sir,” I returned; but all during the day the
possession of the big pocket-book made me nervous and uneasy. I
constantly felt of my breast to see that the money was still safe, and
it is a wonder my actions did not betray to some sly thief the fact that
I was concealing the combined wealth of our little party.

No attempt was made to rob us, however, either at Chicago or during the
remainder of the journey to the Pacific coast, and we arrived at our
destination safely and in good spirits.

Uncle Naboth seemed especially pleased to reach San Francisco again.

“This car travellin’,” he said, “is good enough for landsmen that don’t
know of anything better; but I’d rather spend a month at sea than a
night in one of them stuffy, dangerous cars, that are likely to run
off’n the track any minute.”

Ned Britton and I accompanied Mr. Perkins to a modest but respectable
lodging-house near the bay, where we secured rooms and partook of a
hearty breakfast. Then we took a long walk, and I got my first sight of
the famous “Golden Gate.” I was surprised at the great quantity of
shipping in the bay, and as I looked over the hundreds of craft at
anchor I wondered curiously which was the “Flipper,” of which I was part
owner—the gallant ship whose praises Uncle Naboth had sung so
persistently ever since we left Batteraft.

After luncheon we hired a small boat, and Ned Britton undertook to row
us aboard the “Flipper,” which had been hidden from our view by a point
of land. I own that after my uncle’s glowing descriptions of her I
expected to see a most beautiful schooner, with lines even nobler than
those of the grand old “Saracen,” which had been my father’s pride for
so many years. So my disappointment may be imagined when we drew up to a
grimy looking vessel of some six hundred tons, with discolored sails,
weather-worn rigging and a glaring need of fresh paint.

Ned Britton, however, rested on his oars, studied the ship carefully,
and then slowly nodded his head in approval.

“Well, what d’ye think o’ her?” asked Uncle Naboth, relapsing into one
of his silent chuckles at the expression of my face.

“She looks rather dirty, sir,” I answered, honestly.

“The ‘Flipper’ ain’t quite as fresh as a lily in bloom, that’s a fact,”
returned my uncle, in no ways discomfited by my remark. “She wasn’t no
deebutantee when I bought her, an’ her clothes has got old, and darned
and patched, bein’ as we haven’t been near to a Paris dressmaker. But
I’ve sailed in her these ten years past, Sam, an’ we’re both as sound as
a dollar.”

“She ought to be fast, sir,” remarked Britton, critically.

Mr. Perkins laughed—not aloud, but in his silent, distinctly humorous
way.

“She _is_ fast, my lad, w’ich is a virtue in a ship if it ain’t in a
woman. And in some other ways, besides, the ‘Flipper’ ain’t to be
sneezed at. As for her age, she’s too shy to tell it, but I guess it
entitles her to full respect.”

We now drew alongside, and climbed upon the deck, where my uncle was
greeted by a tall, lank man who appeared to my curious eyes to be a good
example of a living skeleton. His clothes covered his bones like bags,
and so thin and drawn was his face that his expression was one of
constant pain.

“Morn’n’, Cap’n,” said Uncle Naboth, although it was afternoon.

“Morn’n’, Mr. Perkins,” returned the other, in a sad voice. “Glad to see
you back.”

“Here’s my nevvy, Sam Steele, whose father were part owner but got lost
in a storm awhile ago.”

“Glad to see you, sir,” said the Captain, giving my hand a melancholy
shake.

“An’ here’s Ned Britton, who once sailed with Cap’n Steele,” continued
my uncle. “He’ll sign with us, Cap’n Gay, and I guess you’ll find him A
No. 1.”

“Glad to see you, Britton,” repeated the Captain, in his dismal voice.
If the lanky Captain was as glad to see us all as his words indicated,
his expression fully contradicted the fact.

Britton saluted and walked aft, where I noticed several sailors
squatting upon the deck in careless attitudes. To my glance these seemed
as solemn and joyless as their Captain; but I acknowledge that on this
first visit everything about the ship was a disappointment to me,
perhaps because I had had little experience with trading vessels and my
mind was stored with recollections of the trim “Saracen.”

Below, however, was a comfortable cabin, well fitted up, and Uncle
Naboth showed me a berth next to his own private room which was to be my
future home. The place was little more than a closet, but I decided it
would do very well.

“I thought _you_ were the captain of the ‘Flipper,’ Uncle Naboth,” said
I, when we were alone.

“No; I’m jest super-cargo,” he replied, with his usual wink. “You see, I
wasn’t eddicated as a sailor, Sam, an’ never cared to learn the trade.
Cap’n Gay is one o’ the best seamen that ever laid a course, so I hire
him to take the ship wherever I want to go. As fer the cargo, that’s my
’special look-out, an’ it keeps me busy enough, I can tell you. I’m a
nat’ral born trader, and except fer that blamed Japan trip, I ain’t much
ashamed of my record.”

“Will you go to Australia again?” I asked.

“Not jest now, Sam. My next venture’s goin’ to be a bit irregular—what
you might call speculative, an’ extry-hazardous. But we’ll talk that
over tonight, after supper.”

After making a cursory examination of the ship Uncle Naboth received the
Captain’s report of what had transpired in his absence, and then we
rowed back to town again.

We strolled through the city streets for an hour, had supper, and then
my uncle took me to his room, carefully closed and locked the door, and
announced that he was ready to “talk business.”

“Bein’ partners,” he said, “we’ve got to consult together; but I take it
you won’t feel bad, Sam, if I do most of the consultin’. I went down
East to Batteraft to talk my plans with your father, but he slipped his
cable an’ I’ve got to talk ’em to you. If you see I’m wrong, anywhere,
jest chip in an’ stop me; but otherwise the less you say the more good
we’ll get out’n this ’ere conference.”

“Very well, sir.”

“To start in with, we’ve got a ship, an’ a crew, an’ plenty o’ loose
money. So what’ll we do with ’em? Our business is to trade, an’ to
invest our money so we’ll make more with it. What’s the best way to do
that?”

He seemed to pause for an answer, so I said: “I don’t know sir.”

“Nobody _knows_, of course. But we can guess, and then find out
afterward if we’ve guessed right. All business is a gamble; and, if it
wasn’t, most men would quit an’ go fishin’. After I got back from Japan
I met a lot o’ fellows that had been to Alaska huntin’ gold. Seems like
Alaska’s full of gold, an’ before long the whole country’ll be flockin’
there like sheep. All ’Frisco’s gettin’ excited about the thing, so they
tell me, and if fortunes is goin’ to be made in Alaska, we may as well
speak for one ourselves.”

“But we are not miners, Uncle; and it’s bitter cold up there, they say.”

“Well put. We’ll let the crowds mine the gold, and then hand it over to
us.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” said I, weakly.

“No call for you to try, Sam. I’m your guardeen, an’ so I’ll do the
understandin’ for us both. Folks has to eat, my lad, an’ gold hunters is
usually too excited to make proper provisions fer their stomachs.
They’re goin’ to be mighty hungry out in Alaska, before long, an’ when a
man’s hungry he’ll pay liberal fer a square meal. Let’s give it to him,
Sam, an’ take the consequences—which is gold dust an’ nuggets.”

“How will you do it, Uncle Nabe?”

“Load the ‘Flipper’ with grub an’ carry it to Kipnac, or up the Yukon as
far as Fort Weare, or wherever the gold fields open up. Then, when the
miners get hungry, they’ll come to us and trade their gold for our
groceries. We’re sure to make big profits, Sam.”

“It looks like a reasonable proposition, sir,” I said. “But it seems to
me rather dangerous. Suppose our ship gets frozen in the ice, and we
can’t get away? And suppose about that time we’ve sold out our
provisions. We can’t eat gold. And suppose——”

“S’pose the moon falls out’n the sky,” interrupted Uncle Naboth,
“wouldn’t it be dark at night, though!”

“Well, sir?”

“If the gold-diggers can live in the ice fields, we can live in a good
warm ship. And we’ll keep enough grub for ourselves, you may be sure of
that.”

“When do we start?” I asked, feeling sure that no arguments would move
my uncle to abandon the trip, once he had made up his mind to undertake
it.

“As soon as we can get the cargo aboard. It’s coming on warmer weather,
now, and this is the best time to make the voyage. A steamer left today
with three hundred prospectors, an’ they’ll be goin’ in bunches every
day, now. Already I estimate there’s over a thousand in the fields, so
we won’t get there any too soon to do business. What do you say, Sam?”

“I’ve nothing to say, sir. Being my guardian, you’ve decided the matter
for both the partners, as is right and proper. As your clerk and
assistant, I’ll obey whatever orders you give me.”

“That’s the proper spirit, lad!” he cried, with enthusiasm. “We’ll go to
work tomorrow morning; and if all goes well we’ll be afloat in ten days,
with a full cargo!”