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On the following day Randy noticed that Peter Polk seemed unusually sour and thoughtful.
"Something has gone wrong with him, that is certain," thought our hero. "I wonder what it can be?"
He did his best to keep out of the way of the purser and succeeded until nightfall. But then, when he was carrying an extra heavy trunk, Peter Polk got in his way and made him stumble and drop the piece of baggage. The trunk was split open at one end and some of the contents fell on the deck. It was a lady's trunk, filled with feminine wearing apparel, and a good many passengers laughed.
"What do you mean by running into me, you blockhead!" cried the purser, in a loud voice. "Why don't you look where you are going!"
"It was not my fault," answered Randy, warmly, not liking the man's manner of address. "You made me drop that trunk."
"I did not. It was your own clumsiness."
"No, sir," said our hero, firmly; and a crowd began to collect.
"Don't dare to contradict me!" fumed the purser. "It was your fault, and the damage shall come out of your wages."
"Mr. Polk, it was not my fault and I shall not stand for the damage done."
"Ha! you defy me, eh, you cub! Go on about your work and I'll settle with you later."
"What is the trouble here?" asked Captain Hadley, coming up through the crowd.
"The blockhead of a boy dropped that trunk and broke it open."
"He ran into me and made me drop it," retorted our hero. He felt just reckless enough to stand up for his rights, be the consequences what they might.
"Put the trunk to one side, along with the other baggage," said the captain. "We have no time to waste on this just now. Get that other baggage ashore."
"My trunk!" shrieked the maiden lady, rushing forward. "Oh, who broke my trunk?"
"It was an accident, madam."
"And all my dresses spilt out, too! I shall sue the steamboat company for damages."
"We will settle with you, madam. I am sorry it happened," went on the captain, soothingly.
"It was a mean thing to do," said the maiden lady and began to weep. "Two of those dresses are brand-new."
"I guess they are not injured much."
Randy and the others had gone to work again. Our hero's thoughts were busy.
"I believe Polk ran into me on purpose," he whispered to Jones.
"Maybe he wants to get you discharged," answered the other deckhand.
"I don't see why."
"He's down on you because of that Clare affair."
"Do you think so?"
"Sure. He hated it worse than poison, for the captain now knows just how meanly he acted towards the widow."
The damaged trunk was passed over to a man on the dock and after some excited talk the maiden lady accepted ten dollars, with which to have the box repaired and her things put in proper order. It was more than was actually coming to her and she went off secretly pleased.
In the meantime one of the passengers, an elderly man who traveled on the line a great deal, went to Captain Hadley.
"What is it, Mr. DeLong?" asked the master of the vessel, kindly.
"I wish to speak to you about that trunk that was broken open."
"What of it?"
"I saw the accident. I was standing quite near at the time."
"I take an interest in that young deckhand of yours—he has done me several small favors from time to time. It was not his fault that the trunk was smashed, and I wanted you to know it."
"How did it happen?"
"Your purser got in the way and made the boy stumble. To me it looked as if the purser did it on purpose."
"This is interesting, Mr. DeLong. But I don't see why the purser should do such a thing."
"Neither do I, excepting he may have a grudge against the boy."
"Humph!" The captain grew thoughtful. "I will investigate this."
"Do so, and believe me, the boy is not to blame," said the elderly passenger, and withdrew.
As soon as the end of the trip came, and the work on deck was finished, Randy was called to the captain's office.
"Now what have you to say about that smashed trunk, Thompson?"
"I am not to blame, Captain Hadley," answered our hero, and told exactly how the incident had occurred.
"Do you mean to say Mr. Polk tripped you up?"
"He ran into me and made me drop the trunk. If I hadn't dropped the trunk I would have fallen down with the box on the top of me, and gotten hurt."
"This is a strange statement, Thompson. Why should Mr. Polk run into you?"
"He hates me, because through me your family learned how he had treated Mrs. Clare when he helped to settle her husband's affairs."
This threw a new light on the matter and the captain nodded slowly and thoughtfully.
"I did not think this of Mr. Polk."
"I think he hopes I'll lose my job," went on our hero. "He continually calls me a blockhead, just to get me mad. I think he'd like to see me lose my temper and pitch into him, and then he could get me my walking papers."
"I think I will have to put the damage to the trunk down to the regular expense account," said the captain at last. "In the future be more careful, and keep out of Mr. Polk's way."
"I will certainly be careful, and I'll watch him, too," answered Randy.
Evidently Peter Polk was surprised to see our hero go to his work whistling after his interview with the captain. He went to the master of the vessel himself a little later.
"Is that boy going to pay for the trunk?" he asked, sourly.
"No, you can put it down to the regular expense account," answered Captain Hadley.
"Humph! It was his fault."
"He says not."
"Did he blame it on me?"
"It was his own fault."
"We won't argue the matter, Mr. Polk. Put it down to the regular expenses and let it go at that," and Captain Hadley turned again to the magazine he had been reading.
"Sticking up for the boy," muttered the purser, as he walked away. "Well, I'll get that cub yet, see if I don't!"
A day passed and Randy stuck closely to his duties. He saw but little of Peter Polk and gave the purser a wide berth. The purser watched the youth narrowly, but said nothing.
"He has got it in for you," said Jones to Randy. "Take my advice and keep your eyes open."
"I am watching him."
"He is a man I shouldn't trust nohow. He has got a bad pair of eyes. I don't see how Mr. Shalley trusts him with all the boat's money matters."
"Neither do I," answered our hero.
"He could walk off with thousands of dollars if he wanted to," said Jones, and there the talk was dropped.
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