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Killykinick by Mary T. Waggaman

Wirt puffed at his cigar silently

"Orders!" he repeated angrily. "I bet _you_ wouldn't take any such orders if you were a boy."

"No, I wouldn't, and I didn't" (there was a slight change in the speaker's voice as he paused to light a cigar), "and you see where it left me."

"Where?" asked Dan, curiously.

"Adrift," was the answer,--"like this big boat would be if there was no one to command: beyond rule and law, as that good old friend of yours said just now,--beyond rule and law."

"Beyond rule and law,--rule and law." The words began to hammer somehow on Dan's head and heart as he recalled with waking remorse poor Brother Bart tottering away in the darkness,--Brother Bart, who, as Dan knew, was only doing his duty faithfully, to the boy under his care,--Brother Bart, who, like the steamboat, like the stars, was _obeying_.

For a moment or two Mr. Wirt puffed at his cigar silently, while the fierce fire that had blazed up in Dan's breast sank into bounds, mastered by the boy's better self, even as he had seen Nature's fierce forces of flame and steam mastered by higher powers to-day.

"In short," said Mr. Wirt at last, as if he had been having thoughts of his own, "I am a derelict, my boy."

"What's that?" asked Dan, who had never heard the word before.

"A ship adrift, abandoned by captain and crew,--a wreck that tosses on the sea, a peril to all that come near it. There is nothing a good sailor dreads more than a derelict, and he makes it his business to sink it promptly whenever he can."

"Couldn't he tow it into port?" asked Dan, with interest.

"Not worth the trouble," was the grim answer.

"Jing!" said Dan. "I'd try it, sure."

"Would you?" asked Mr. Wirt.

"Yes," replied Dan, decidedly. "If a ship can float, it must be worth something. I'd try to fling a hawser about it somewhere, and haul it in and dry-dock it to find out what was wrong. I've seen an oyster boat, that was leaking at every seam, calked and patched and painted to be good as new."

"Perhaps," said Mr. Wirt, with a short laugh; "but the oyster boats don't go very far a-sea, and derelicts drift beyond hope or help. I am that kind, and if--if" (the speaker hesitated for a moment),--"if I had a boy like you, I wouldn't take any chances with him: I'd keep him off my deck; I'd put him on a sound ship with a wise captain and a steady crew, and he should be under orders until--well, until he had learned to sail midnight seas like this by the light of the stars." And, tossing his half-smoked cigar into the water, Mr. Wirt turned abruptly away without any further "goodnight."

"He's a queer one," said Dan to himself, as he stared after the tall figure disappearing in the darkness. "I don't know what he means by his drifting and derelicts, but I guess it's a sort of talk about breaking laws and rules like I am doing here to-night. Gee! but Brother Bart is an old granny; stirring up all this fuss about nothing; and I'll be dead sick, I know. But I'm under orders" (Dan stretched his arms over his head, and, drawing a long, reluctant sigh, took a last look at the stars), "and I guess I'll have to go."

And he went, making his way with some difficulty over the swaying decks and down deep stairs where the footing was more perilous than the heights of Old Top; through long stretches of gorgeous saloons whence all the life and gayety had departed; for, despite the stars, the sea was rough to-night, and old Neptune under a friendly smile was doing his worst.

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