Read CHAPTER XIV - THE TRAGIC INCIDENT IN A FISHING EXCURSION of Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point Nita / The Girl Castaway, free online book, by Alice B. Emerson, on

The boys had returned when the party drove back to the bungalow from the lighthouse.  A lighthouse might be interesting, and it was fine to see twenty-odd miles to the No Man’s Shoal, and Mother Purling might be a dear ­but the girls hadn’t done anything, and the boys had.  They had fished for halibut and had caught a sixty-five-pound one.  Bobbins had got it on his hook; but it took all three of them, with the boatkeeper’s advice, to get the big, flapping fish over the side.

They had part of that fish for supper.  Heavy was enraptured, and the other girls had a saltwater appetite that made them enjoy the fish, too.  It was decided to try for blackfish off the rocks beyond Sokennet the next morning.

“We’ll go over in the Miraflame” ­(that was the name of the motor boat) ­“and we’ll take somebody with us to help Phineas,” Heavy declared.  Phineas was the boatman who had charge of Mr. Stone’s little fleet.  “Phin is a great cook and he’ll get us up a regular fish dinner ­”

“Oh, dear, Jennie Stone! how can you?” broke in Helen, with her hands clasped.

“How can I what, Miss?” demanded the stout girl, scenting trouble.

“How can you, when we are eating such a perfect dinner as this, be contemplating any other future occasion when we possibly shall be hungry?”

The others laughed, but Heavy looked at her school friends with growing contempt.  “You talk ­you talk,” she stammered, “well! you don’t talk English ­that I’m sure of!  And you needn’t put it all on me.  You all eat with good appetites.  And you’d better thank me, not quarrel with me.  If I didn’t think of getting nice things to eat, you’d miss a lot, now I tell you.  You don’t know how I went out in Mammy Laura’s kitchen this very morning, before most of you had your hair out of curl-papers, and just slaved to plan the meals for to-day.”

“Hear! hear!” chorused the boys, drumming with their knife handles on the table.  “We’re for Jennie!  She’s all right.”

“See!” flashed in Mercy, with a gesture.  “Miss Stone has won the masculine portion of the community by the only unerring way ­the only straight path to the heart of a boy is through his stomach.”

“I guess we can all thank Jennie,” said Ruth, laughing quietly, “for her attention to our appetites.  But I fear if she had expected to fast herself to-day she’d still be abed!”

They were all lively at dinner, and they spent a lively evening, towards the end of which Bob Steele gravely went out of doors and brought in an old boat anchor, or kedge, weighing so many pounds that even he could scarcely carry it upstairs to the bed chamber which he shared with Tom and Isadore.

“What are you going to do with that thing, Bobby Steele?” demanded his sister.

“Going to anchor Busy Izzy to it with a rope.  I bet he won’t walk far in his sleep to-night,” declared Bobbins.

With the fishing trip in their minds, all were astir early the next morning.  Miss Kate had agreed to go with them, for Mercy believed that she could stand the trip, as the sea was again calm.  She could remain in the cabin of the motor boat while the others were fishing off the rocks for tautog and rock-bass.  The boys all had poles; but the girls said they would be content to cast their lines from the rock and hope for nibbles from the elusive blackfish.

The Miraflame was a roomy craft and well furnished.  When they started at nine o’clock the party numbered eleven, besides the boatman and his assistant.  To the surprise of Ruth ­and it was remarked in whispers by the other girls, too ­Phineas, the boatkeeper, had chosen Jack Crab to assist him in the management of the motor boat.

“Jack doesn’t have to be at the light till dark.  The old lady gets along all right alone,” explained Phineas.  “And it ain’t many of these longshoremen who know how to handle a motor.  Jack’s used to machinery.”

He seemed to feel that it was necessary to excuse himself for hiring the hairy man.  But Heavy only said: 

“Well, as long as he behaves himself I don’t care.  But I didn’t suppose you liked the fellow, Phin.”

“I don’t.  It was Hobson’s choice, Miss,” returned the sailor.

Phineas, the girls found, was a very pleasant and entertaining man.  And he knew all about fishing.  He had supplied the bait for tautog, and the girls and boys of the party, all having lived inland, learned many things that they hadn’t known before.

“Look at this!” cried Madge Steele, the first to discover a miracle.  “He says this bait for tautog is scallops!  Now, that quivering, jelly-like body is never a scallop.  Why, a scallop is a firm, white lump ­”

“It’s a mussel,” said Heavy, laughing.

“It’s only the ‘eye’ of the scallop you eat, Miss,” explained Phineas.

“Now I know just as much as I did before,” declared Madge.  “So I eat a scallop’s eye, do I?  We had them for breakfast this very morning ­with bacon.”

“So you did, Miss.  I raked ’em up myself yesterday afternoon,” explained Phineas.  “You eat the ‘eye,’ but these are the bodies, and they are the reg’lar natural food of the tautog, or blackfish.”

“The edible part of the scallop is that muscle which adheres to the shell ­just like the muscle that holds the clam to its shell,” said Heavy, who, having spent several summers at the shore, was better informed than her friends.

Phineas showed the girls how to bait their hooks with the soft bodies of the scallop, warning them to cover the point of the hooks well, and to pull quickly if they felt the least nibble.

“The tautog is a small-mouthed fish ­smaller, even, than the bass the boys are going to cast for.  So, when he touches the hook at all, you want to grab him.”

“Does it hurt the fish to be caught?” asked Helen, curiously.

Phineas grinned.  “I never axed ’em, ma’am,” he said.

The Miraflame carried them swiftly down the cove, or harbor, of Sokennet and out past the light.  The sea was comparatively calm, but the surf roared against the rocks which hedged in the sand dunes north of the harbor’s mouth.  It was in this direction that Phineas steered the launch, and for ten miles the craft spun along at a pace that delighted the whole party.

“We’re just skimming the water!” cried Tom Cameron.  “Oh, Nell!  I’m going to coax father till he buys one for us to use on the Lumano.”

“I’ll help tease,” agreed his twin, her eyes sparkling.

Nita, the runaway, looked from brother to sister with sudden interest.  “Does your father give you everything you ask him for?” she demanded.

“Not much!” cried Tom.  “But dear old dad is pretty easy with us and ­Mrs. Murchiston says ­gives in to us too much.”

“But, does he buy you such things as boats ­right out ­for you just to play with?”

“Why, of course!” cried Tom.

“And I couldn’t even have a piano,” muttered Nita, turning away with a shrug.  “I told him he was a mean old hunks!”

“Whom did you say that to?” asked Ruth, quietly.

“Never you mind!” returned Nita, angrily.  “But that’s what he is.”

Ruth treasured these observations of the runaway.  She was piecing them together, and although as yet it was a very patched bit of work, she was slowly getting a better idea of who Nita was and her home surroundings.

Finally the Miraflame ran in between a sheltering arm of rock and the mainland.  The sea was very still in here, the heave and surge of the water only murmuring among the rocks.  There was an old fishing dock at which the motor boat was moored.  Then everybody went ashore and Phineas and Jack Crab pointed out the best fishing places along the rocks.

These were very rugged ledges, and the water sucked in among them, and hissed, and chuckled, and made all sorts of gurgling sounds while the tide rose.  There were small caves and little coves and all manner of odd hiding places in the rocks.

But the girls and boys were too much interested in the proposed fishing to bother about anything else just then.  Phineas placed Ruth on the side of a round-topped boulder, where she stood on a very narrow ledge, with a deep green pool at her feet.  She was hidden from the other fishers ­even from the boys, who clambered around to the tiny cape that sheltered the basin into which the motor boat had been run, and from the point of which they expected to cast for bass.

“Now, Miss,” said the boatkeeper, “down at the bottom of this still pool Mr. Tautog is feeding on the rocks.  Drop your baited hook down gently to him.  And if he nibbles, pull sharply at first, and then, with a stead, hand-over-hand motion, draw him in.”

Ruth was quite excited; but once she saw Nita and the man, Crab, walking farther along the rocks, and Ruth wondered that the fellow was so attentive to the runaway.  But this was merely a passing thought.  Her mind returned to the line she watched.

She pulled it up after a long while; the hook was bare.  Either Mr. Tautog had been very, very careful when he nibbled the bait, or the said bait had slipped off.  It was not easy to make the jelly-like body of the scallop remain on the hook.  But Ruth was as anxious to catch a fish as the other girls, and she had watched Phineas with sharp and eager eyes when he baited the hook.

Ruth dropped it over the edge of the rock again after a minute.  It sank down, down, down ­Was that a nibble?  She felt the faintest sort of a jerk on the line.  Surely something was at the bait!

Again the jerk.  Ruth returned the compliment by giving the line a prompt tug.  Instantly she knew that she had hooked him!

“Oh! oh! OH!” she gasped, in a rising scale of delight and excitement.

She pulled in on the line.  The fish was heavy, and he tried to pull his way, too.  The blackfish is not much of a fighter, but he can sag back and do his obstinate best to remain in the water when the fisher is determined to get him out.

This fellow weighed two pounds and a half and was well hooked.  Ruth, her cheeks glowing, her eyes dancing, hauled in, and in, and in ­There he came out of the water, a plump, glistening body, that flapped and floundered in the air, and on the ledge at her feet.  She desired mightily to cry out; but Phineas had warned them all to be still while they fished.  Their voices might scare all the fish away.

She unhooked it beautifully, seizing it firmly in the gills.  Phineas had shown her where to lay any she might catch in a little cradle in the rock behind her.  It was a damp little hollow, and Mr. Tautog could not flop out into the sea again.

Oh! it was fun to bait the hook once more with trembling fingers, and heave the weighted line over the edge of the narrow ledge on which she stood.  There might be another ­perhaps even a bigger one ­waiting down there to seize upon the bait.

And just then Mary Cox, her hair tousled and a distressfully discontented expression on her face, came around the corner of the big boulder.

“Oh!  Hullo!” she said, discourteously.  “You here?”

Sh!” whispered Ruth, intent on the line and the pool of green water.

“What’s the matter with you?” snapped The Fox.  “Don’t say you’ve got a bite!  I’m sick of hearing them say it over there ­”

“I’ve caught one,” said Ruth, with pride, pointing to the glistening tautog lying on the rock.

“Oh!  Of course, ’twould be you who got it,” snarled Mary.  “I bet he gave you the best place.”

Please keep still!” begged Ruth.  “I believe I’ve got another bite.”

“Have a dozen for all I care,” returned Mary.  “I want to get past you.”

“Wait!  I feel a nibble ­”

But Mary pushed rudely by.  She took the inside of the path, of course.  The ledge was very narrow, and Ruth was stooping over the deep pool, breathlessly watching the line.

With a half-stifled scream Ruth fell forward, flinging out both hands.  Mary clutched at her ­she did try to save her.  But she was not quick enough.  Ruth dropped like a plummet and the green water closed over her with scarcely a splash.

Mary did not cry out.  She was speechless with fear, and stood with clasped hands, motionless, upon the path.

“She can swim! she can swim!” was the thought that shuttled back and forth in The Fox’s brain.

But moment after moment passed and Ruth did not come to the surface.  The pool was as calm as before, save for the vanishing rings that broke against the surrounding rocks.  Mary held her breath.  She began to feel as though it were a dream, and that her school companion had not really fallen into the pool.  It must be an hallucination, for Ruth did not come to the surface again!