Eben did some quick, hard thinking just then. A spirit of natural shrewdness came to his assistance, and a sudden idea flashed into his mind. He could not fight these men single-handed, and win. He must get them at a special disadvantage, and there was only one way in which this could, be accomplished. He thought of the cabin.
“S’pose I have a woman on board, what of it?” he asked.
“We want her; that’s all.”
“Well, then, ye’ll have to find her yerselves. Don’t frighten her,” and he motioned aft.
“What! In the cabin?” Donaster was much excited now.
Eben merely nodded, and stepped back.
“Come on, Bill,” Donaster ordered. “I suspected she was here.”
So intent were the two men upon their search that they paid no more heed to Eben, but hurried at once toward the cabin. Had they been the least suspicious and glanced back, they might have been more cautious. They would have seen the young man they despised as of no account following, his face clouded with anger, and bearing in his hands a stout stick he had picked up from the deck. But sure of themselves, the visitors reached the cabin and descended. No sooner had their heads disappeared below the hatchway than Eben leaped forward, and stood menacingly on guard above. In his hands he clutched the stick and waited. He heard the men groping around below.
“It’s as dark as h—— down here,” Donaster was saying. “Hustle on deck, Bill, and fetch that fool down to give us a light.”
The man at once obeyed, but no sooner had he placed his right foot upon the bottom step than a roar of warning greeted him from above. It was Eben’s voice, and there was no doubting its meaning.
“Come up an’ I’ll brain ye,” he roared.
Instinctively Bill drew back, while an exclamation of annoyance and fear escaped his lips. In the twilight of evening he could see the threatening lad above and the uplifted stick.
“Here, none of that, you fool,” he cried. “What’s your idea?”
“Come up an’ I’ll show ye. But I guess ye’ll stay there all right. Mebbe I’m not sich a fool as ye think. Ye know now who owns this boat, don’t ye?”
The men were in a trap, and knew it. They were very angry and threatened and cursed in the most violent manner. But the more they raved, the more satisfied Eben became. It was rare sport, and he was enjoying it. But he was determined for all that, and if the men had ventured up the stairway he certainly would have knocked them down.
The peals of thunder were now becoming louder and more frequent. The intense calmness was ominous of the coming storm. Eben glanced uneasily toward the west and then forward. He knew that the sail should be down, but he did not dare to leave his post even for a minute. The men were whispering to each other. What they said he could not make out, but presently he heard the scratching of a match, and a light flared up. They were searching for a lamp, which they soon found and lighted. He knew that they could only escape from their prison by means of the door, for his father had built the upper part of the cabin exceptionally strong to keep out thieves when the boat was lying at her wharf in the harbour.