“Seems to me,” said Cap’n Bill, as he sat beside Trot
under the big acacia tree, looking out over the blue
ocean, “seems to me, Trot, as how the more we know, the
more we find we don’t know.”
“I can’t quite make that out, Cap’n Bill,” answered
the little girl in a serious voice, after a moment’s
thought, during which her eyes followed those of the
old sailor-man across the glassy surface of the sea.
“Seems to me that all we learn is jus’ so much gained.”
“I know; it looks that way at first sight,” said the
sailor, nodding his head; “but those as knows the least
have a habit of thinkin’ they know all there is to
know, while them as knows the most admits what a
turr’ble big world this is. It’s the knowing ones that
realize one lifetime ain’t long enough to git more’n a
few dips o’ the oars of knowledge.”
Trot didn’t answer. She was a very little girl, with
big, solemn eyes and an earnest, simple manner.
Cap’n Bill had been her faithful companion for years
and had taught her almost everything she knew.
He was a wonderful man, this Cap’n Bill. Not so
very old, although his hair was grizzled — what there
was of it. Most of his head was bald as an egg and
as shiny as oilcloth, and this made his big ears stick
out in a funny way. His eyes had a gentle look and
were pale blue in color, and his round face was rugged
and bronzed. Cap’n Bill’s left leg was missing, from
the knee down, and that was why the sailor no longer
sailed the seas. The wooden leg he wore was good
enough to stump around with on land, or even to take
Trot out for a row or a sail on the ocean, but when it
came to “runnin’ up aloft” or performing active
duties on shipboard, the old sailor was not equal to
the task. The loss of his leg had ruined his career
and the old sailor found comfort in devoting himself
to the education and companionship of the little girl.
The accident to Cap’n Bill’s leg bad happened at
about the time Trot was born, and ever since that he
had lived with Trot’s mother as “a star boarder,”
having enough money saved up to pay for his weekly
“keep.” He loved the baby and often held her on
his lap; her first ride was on Cap’n Bill’s shoulders,
for she had no baby-carriage; and when she began
to toddle around, the child and the sailor became
close comrades and enjoyed many strange adventures
together. It is said the fairies had been present at
Trot’s birth and had marked her forehead with their
invisible mystic signs, so that she was able to see and
do many wonderful things.
The acacia tree was on top of a high bluff, but a
path ran down the bank in a zigzag way to the water’s
edge, where Cap’n Bill’s boat was moored to a rock
by means of a stout cable. It had been a hot, sultry
afternoon, with scarcely a breath of air stirring, so
Cap’n Bill and Trot had been quietly sitting beneath
the shade of the tree, waiting for the sun to get low
enough for them to take a row.
They had decided to visit one of the great caves
which the waves had washed out of the rocky coast
during many years of steady effort. The caves were
a source of continual delight to both the girl and the
sailor, who loved to explore their awesome depths.
“I b’lieve, Cap’n,” remarked Trot, at last, “that
it’s time for us to start.”
The old man cast a shrewd glance at the sky, the
sea and the motionless boat. Then he shook his head.
“Mebbe it’s time, Trot,” he answered, “but I don’t
jes’ like the looks o’ things this afternoon.”
“What’s wrong?” she asked wonderingly.
“Can’t say as to that. Things is too quiet to suit
me, that’s all. No breeze, not a ripple a-top the water,
nary a gull a-flyin’ anywhere, an’ the end o’ the hottest
day o’ the year. I ain’t no weather-prophet, Trot, but
any sailor would know the signs is ominous.”
“There’s nothing wrong that I can see,” said Trot.
“If there was a cloud in the sky even as big as my
thumb, we might worry about it; but — look, Cap’n! —
the sky is as clear as can be.”
He looked again and nodded.
“P’r’aps we can make the cave, all right,” he agreed,
not wishing to disappoint her. “It’s only a little way
out, an’ we’ll be on the watch; so come along, Trot.”
Together they descended the winding path to the
beach. It was no trouble for the girl to keep her
footing on the steep way, but Cap’n Bill, because of
his wooden leg, had to hold on to rocks and roots now
and then to save himself from tumbling. On a level path
he was as spry as anyone, but to climb up hill or down
required some care.
They reached the boat safely and while Trot was
untying the rope Cap’n Bill reached into a crevice of
the rock and drew out several tallow candles and a box
of wax matches, which he thrust into the capacious
pockets of his “sou’wester.” This sou’wester was a
short coat of oilskin which the old sailor wore on all
occasions — when he wore a coat at all — and the
pockets always contained a variety of objects, useful
and ornamental, which made even Trot wonder where they
all came from and why Cap’n Bill should treasure them.
The jackknives — a big one and a little one — the bits
of cord, the fishhooks, the nails: these were handy to
have on certain occasions. But bits of shell, and tin
boxes with unknown contents, buttons, pincers, bottles
of curious stones and the like, seemed quite
unnecessary to carry around. That was Cap’n Bill’s
business, however, and now that he added the candles
and the matches to his collection Trot made no comment,
for she knew these last were to light their way through
the caves. The sailor always rowed the boat, for he
handled the oars with strength and skill. Trot sat in
the stern and steered. The place where they embarked
was a little bight or circular bay, and the boat cut
across a much larger bay toward a distant headland
where the caves were located, right at the water’s
edge. They were nearly a mile from shore and about
halfway across the bay when Trot suddenly sat up
straight and exclaimed: “What’s that, Cap’n?”
He stopped rowing and turned half around to look.
“That, Trot,” he slowly replied, “looks to me mighty
like a whirlpool.”
“What makes it, Cap’n?”
“A whirl in the air makes the whirl in the water. I
was afraid as we’d meet with trouble, Trot. Things
didn’t look right. The air was too still.”
“It’s coming closer,” said the girl.
The old man grabbed the oars and began rowing with
all his strength.
“‘Tain’t comin’ closer to us, Trot,” he gasped; “it’s
we that are comin’ closer to the whirlpool. The thing
is drawin’ us to it like a magnet!”
Trot’s sun-bronzed face was a little paler as she
grasped the tiller firmly and tried to steer the boat
away; but she said not a word to indicate fear.
The swirl of the water as they came nearer made a
roaring sound that was fearful to listen to. So fierce
and powerful was the whirlpool that it drew the surface
of the sea into the form of a great basin, slanting
downward toward the center, where a big hole had been
made in the ocean — a hole with walls of water that
were kept in place by the rapid whirling of the air.
The boat in which Trot and Cap’n Bill were riding was
just on the outer edge of this saucer-like slant, and
the old sailor knew very well that unless he could
quickly force the little craft away from the rushing
current they would soon be drawn into the great black
hole that yawned in the middle. So he exerted all his
might and pulled as he had never pulled before. He
pulled so hard that the left oar snapped in two and
sent Cap’n Bill sprawling upon the bottom of the boat.
He scrambled up quickly enough and glanced over the
side. Then he looked at Trot, who sat quite still, with
a serious, far-away look in her sweet eyes. The boat
was now speeding swiftly of its own accord, following
the line of the circular basin round and round and
gradually drawing nearer to the great hole in the
center. Any further effort to escape the whirlpool was
useless, and realizing this fact Cap’n Bill turned
toward Trot and put an arm around her, as if to shield
her from the awful fate before them. He did not try to
speak, because the roar of the waters would have
drowned the sound of his voice.
These two faithful comrades had faced dangers before,
but nothing to equal that which now faced them. Yet
Cap’n Bill, noting the look in Trot’s eyes and
remembering how often she had been protected by unseen
powers, did not quite give way to despair.
The great hole in the dark water — now growing
nearer and nearer — looked very terrifying; but they
were both brave enough to face it and await the result
of the adventure.