"Seems to me," said Cap'n Bill, as he sat beside Trot under the big acaci_ree, looking out over the blue ocean, "seems to me, Trot, as how the more w_now, the more we find we don't know."
"I can't quite make that out, Cap'n Bill," answered the little girl in _erious voice, after a moment's thought, during which her eyes followed thos_f the old sailor-man across the glassy surface of the sea. "Seems to me tha_ll 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 i_o know, while them as knows the most admits what a turr'ble big world thi_s. It's the knowing ones that realize one lifetime ain't long enough to gi_ore'n a few dips o' the oars of knowledge."
Trot didn't answer. She was a very little girl, with big, solemn eyes and a_arnest, simple manner. Cap'n Bill had been her faithful companion for year_nd had taught her almost everything she knew.
He was a wonderful man, this Cap'n Bill. Not so very old, although his hai_as grizzled — what there was of it. Most of his head was bald as an egg an_s shiny as oilcloth, and this made his big ears stick out in a funny way. Hi_yes had a gentle look and were pale blue in color, and his round face wa_ugged and bronzed. Cap'n Bill's left leg was missing, from the knee down, an_hat was why the sailor no longer sailed the seas. The wooden leg he wore wa_ood enough to stump around with on land, or even to take Trot out for a ro_r a sail on the ocean, but when it came to "runnin' up aloft" or performin_ctive duties on shipboard, the old sailor was not equal to the task. The los_f his leg had ruined his career and the old sailor found comfort in devotin_imself 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 bab_nd 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 chil_nd the sailor became close comrades and enjoyed many strange adventure_ogether. It is said the fairies had been present at Trot's birth and ha_arked her forehead with their invisible mystic signs, so that she was able t_ee and do many wonderful things.
The acacia tree was on top of a high bluff, but a path ran down the bank in _igzag way to the water's edge, where Cap'n Bill's boat was moored to a roc_y means of a stout cable. It had been a hot, sultry afternoon, with scarcel_ breath of air stirring, so Cap'n Bill and Trot had been quietly sittin_eneath the shade of the tree, waiting for the sun to get low enough for the_o take a row.
They had decided to visit one of the great caves which the waves had washe_ut of the rocky coast during many years of steady effort. The caves were _ource of continual delight to both the girl and the sailor, who loved t_xplore 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 sailo_ould 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 abou_t; 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 t_isappoint her. "It's only a little way out, an' we'll be on the watch; s_ome along, Trot."
Together they descended the winding path to the beach. It was no trouble fo_he girl to keep her footing on the steep way, but Cap'n Bill, because of hi_ooden leg, had to hold on to rocks and roots now and then to save himsel_rom tumbling. On a level path he was as spry as anyone, but to climb up hil_r down required some care.
They reached the boat safely and while Trot was untying the rope Cap'n Bil_eached into a crevice of the rock and drew out several tallow candles and _ox 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 sailo_ore on all occasions — when he wore a coat at all — and the pockets alway_ontained a variety of objects, useful and ornamental, which made even Tro_onder where they all came from and why Cap'n Bill should treasure them. Th_ackknives — a big one and a little one — the bits of cord, the fishhooks, th_ails: these were handy to have on certain occasions. But bits of shell, an_in boxes with unknown contents, buttons, pincers, bottles of curious stone_nd the like, seemed quite unnecessary to carry around. That was Cap'n Bill'_usiness, however, and now that he added the candles and the matches to hi_ollection Trot made no comment, for she knew these last were to light thei_ay through the caves. The sailor always rowed the boat, for he handled th_ars with strength and skill. Trot sat in the stern and steered. The plac_here they embarked was a little bight or circular bay, and the boat cu_cross a much larger bay toward a distant headland where the caves wer_ocated, right at the water's edge. They were nearly a mile from shore an_bout 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 mee_ith 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 firml_nd 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 wa_earful to listen to. So fierce and powerful was the whirlpool that it dre_he surface of the sea into the form of a great basin, slanting downwar_oward the center, where a big hole had been made in the ocean — a hole wit_alls 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 edg_f this saucer-like slant, and the old sailor knew very well that unless h_ould quickly force the little craft away from the rushing current they woul_oon be drawn into the great black hole that yawned in the middle. So h_xerted all his might and pulled as he had never pulled before. He pulled s_ard that the left oar snapped in two and sent Cap'n Bill sprawling upon th_ottom of the boat.
He scrambled up quickly enough and glanced over the side. Then he looked a_rot, 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 th_ircular basin round and round and gradually drawing nearer to the great hol_n the center. Any further effort to escape the whirlpool was useless, an_ealizing 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 equa_hat which now faced them. Yet Cap'n Bill, noting the look in Trot's eyes an_emembering how often she had been protected by unseen powers, did not quit_ive way to despair.
The great hole in the dark water — now growing nearer and nearer — looked ver_errifying; but they were both brave enough to face it and await the result o_he adventure.