The Cruise of the Dazzler

Chapter VIII

’Frisco Kid and the New Boy

Jack London

’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.

The Cruise of the Dazzler - Contents    |     Chapter IX - Aboard the Dazzler

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