By Joseph Crosby Lincoln
I. A LAMB FOR THE SACRIFICE
II. THE TRAIN COMES IN
III. THE "COME-OUTERS'" MEETING
IV. A PICTURE SENT AND A CABLE TESTED
V. THE WOMAN FROM NANTUCKET
VI. THE SCHOOLHOUSE BELL RINGS
VII. CAPTAIN ERI FINDS A NURSE
VIII. HOUSEKEEPER AND BOOK AGENT
IX. ELSIE PRESTON
X. MATCHMAKING AND LIFE-SAVING
XI. HEROES AND A MYSTERY
XII. A LITTLE POLITICS
XIII. CAPTAIN JERRY MAKES A MESS OF IT
XIV. THE VOYAGE OF AN "ABLE SEAMAN"
XV. IN JOHN BAXTER'S ROOM
XVI. A BUSINESS CALL
XVII. THROUGH FIRE AND WATER
XVIII. THE SINS OF CAPTAIN JERRY
XIX. A "NO'THEASTER" BLOWS
XX. ERI GOES BACK ON A FRIEND
XXI. "DIME-SHOW BUS'NESS"
A LAMB FOR THE SACRIFICE
"Perez," observed Captain Eri cheerfully, "I'm tryin' to average up with the mistakes of Providence."
The Captain was seated by the open door of the dining room, in the rocker with the patched cane seat. He was apparently very busy doing something with a piece of fishline and a pair of long-legged rubber boots. Captain Perez, swinging back and forth in the parlor rocker with the patch-work cushion, was puffing deliberately at a wooden pipe, the bowl of which was carved into the likeness of a very rakish damsel with a sailor's cap set upon the side of her once flaxen head. In response to his companion's remark he lazily turned his sunburned face toward the cane-seated rocker and inquired:
"What on airth are you doin' with them boots?"
Captain Eri tied a knot with his fingers and teeth and then held the boots out at arm's length.
"Why, Perez," he said, "I'm averagin' up, same as I told you. Providence made me a two-legged critter, and a two-legged critter needs two boots. I've always been able to find one of these boots right off whenever I wanted it, but it's took me so plaguey long to find the other one that whatever wet there was dried up afore I got out of the house. Yesterday when I wanted to go clammin' I found the left one on the mantelpiece, no trouble at all, but it was pretty nigh high water before I dug the other one out of the washb'iler. That's why I'm splicin' 'em together this way. I don't want to promise nothin' rash, but I'm in hopes that even Jerry can't lose 'em now."
"Humph!" grunted Captain Perez. "I don't think much of that plan. 'Stead of losin' one you'll lose both of 'em."
"Yes, but then I shan't care. If there ain't NO boots in sight; I'll go barefoot or stay at home. It's the kind of responsibleness that goes with havin' one boot that's wearin' me out. Where IS Jerry?"
"He went out to feed Lorenzo. I heard him callin' a minute ago. That cat ain't been home sence noon, and Jerry's worried."
A stentorian shout of "Puss! puss! Come, kitty, kitty, kitty!" came from somewhere outside. Captain Eri smiled.
"I'm 'fraid Lorenzo's gittin' dissipated in his old age," he observed. Then, as a fat gray cat shot past the door, "There he is! Reg'lar prodigal son. Comes home when the fatted ca'f's ready."
A moment later Captain Jerry appeared, milk pitcher in hand. He entered the dining room and, putting the pitcher down on the table, pulled forward the armchair with the painted sunset on the back, produced his own pipe, and proceeded to hunt through one pocket after the other with a troubled expression of countenance.
"Where in tunket is my terbacker?" he asked, after finishing the round of pockets and preparing to begin all over again.
"I see it on the top of the clock a spell ago," said Captain Perez.
"Was that yours, Jerry?" exclaimed Captain Eri. "Well, that's too bad! I see it there and thought 'twas mine. Here 'tis, or what's left of it."
Captain Jerry took the remnant of a plug from his friend and said in an aggrieved tone:
"That's jest like you, Eri! Never have a place for nothin' and help yourself to anything you happen to want, don't make no odds whose 'tis. Why don't you take care of your terbacker, same's I do of mine?"
"Now see here, Jerry! I ain't so sure that is yours. Let me see it. Humph! I thought so! This is 'Navy Plug' and you always smoke 'Sailor's Sweetheart.' Talk about havin' a place for things!"
"That's MY terbacker, if you want to know," observed Captain Perez. "I've got yours, Eri. Here 'tis."
"Well, then, where IS mine?" said Captain Jerry somewhat snappishly.
"Bet a dollar you've got it in your pocket," said Captain Eri.
"Bet ten dollars I ain't! I ain't quite a fool yit, Eri Hedge. I guess I know—well, I snum! I forgot that upper vest pocket!" and from the pocket mentioned Captain Jerry produced the missing tobacco.
There was a general laugh, in which Captain Jerry was obliged to join, and the trio smoked in silence for a time, while the expanse of water to the eastward darkened, and the outer beach became but a dusky streak separating the ocean from the inner bay. At length Captain Perez rose and, knocking the ashes from his pipe, announced that he was going to "show a glim."
"Yes, go ahead, Jerry!" said Captain Eri, "it's gittin' dark."
"It's darker in the grave," observed Captain Perez with lugubrious philosophy.
"Then for the land's sake let's have it light while we can! Here, Jerry! them matches is burnt ones. Try this, 'twon't be so damagin' to the morals."
Captain Jerry took the proffered match and lit the two bracket lamps, fastened to the walls of the dining room. The room, seen by the lamplight, was shiplike, but as decidedly not shipshape. The chronometer on the mantel was obscured by a thick layer of dust. The three gorgeous oil paintings—from the brush of the local sign painter—respectively representing the coasting packet Hannah M., Eri Hedge, Master, and the fishing schooners, Georgie Baker, Jeremiah Burgess, Master, and the Flying Duck, Perez Ryder, Master, were shrouded in a very realistic fog of the same dust. Even the imposing gilt-lettered set of "Lives of Great Naval Commanders," purchased by Captain Perez some months before, and being slowly paid for on an apparently never-ending installment plan, was cloaked with it. The heap of newspapers, shoved under the couch to get them out of the way, peeped forth in a tell-tale manner. The windows were not too clean and the floor needed sweeping. Incidentally the supper table had not been cleared. Each one of the three noted these things and each sighed. Then Captain Eri said, as if to change the subject, though no one had spoken:
"What started you talkin' about the grave, Perez? Was it them clam fritters of Jerry's?"
"No," answered the ex-skipper of the Flying Duck, pulling at his grizzled scrap of throat whisker and looking rather shamefaced. "You see, M'lissy Busteed dropped in a few minutes this mornin' while you fellers was out and—"
Both Captain Eri and Captain Jerry set up a hilarious shout.
"Haw! haw!" roared the former, slapping his knee. "I wouldn't be so fascinatin' as you be for no money, Perez. She'll have you yit; you can't git away! But say, I don't wonder you got to thinkin' 'bout the grave. Ten minutes of M'lissy gits me thinkin' of things way t'other side of that!"
"Aw, belay there, Eri" protested Captain Perez testily. "'Twan't my fault. I didn't see her comin' or I'd have got out of sight. She was cruisin' 'round the way she always does with a cargo of gabble, and, she put in here to unload. Talk! I never heard a woman talk the way she can! She'd be a good one to have on board in a calm. Git her talkin' abaft the mains'l and we'd have a twenty-knot breeze in a shake."
"What was it this time?" asked Captain Jerry.
"Oh, a little of everything. She begun about the 'beautiful' sermon that Mr. Perley preached at the last 'Come-Outers'' meetin'. That was what started me thinkin' about the grave, I guess. Then she pitched into Seth Wingate's wife for havin' a new bunnit this season when the old one wan't ha'f wore out. She talked for ten minutes or so on that, and then she begun about Parker's bein' let go over at the cable station and about the new feller that's been signed to take his place. She's all for Parker. Says he was a 'perfectly lovely' man and that 'twas outrageous the way he was treated, and all that sort of thing."
"She ain't the only one that thinks so," observed Captain Jerry. "There's a heap of folks in this town that think Parker was a mighty fine feller."
"Yes," said Captain Eri, "and it's worth while noticin' who they be. Perez' friend, M'lissy, thinks so, and 'Squealer' Wixon and his gang think so, and 'Web' Saunders thinks so, and a lot more like them. Parker was TOO good a feller, that's what was the matter with him. His talk always reminded me of washday at the poorhouse, lots of soft soap with plenty of lye in it."
"Well, M'lissy says that the men over to the station—all except Langley, of course—are mad as all git-out because Parker was let go, and she says somebody told somebody else, and somebody else told somebody else, and somebody else told HER—she says it come reel straight—that the men are goin' to make it hot for the new feller when he comes. She says his name's Hazeltine, or somethin' like that, and that he's goin' to get here to-morrer or next day."
"Well," said Captain Eri, "it's a mercy M'lissy found it out. If that man should git here and she not know it aforehand 'twould kill her sure as fate, and think what a blow that would be to you, Perez."
He took his old-fashioned watch from his pocket and glanced at the dial.
"I mustn't be settin' round here much longer," he added. "John Baxter's goin' to have that little patch of cranberry swamp of his picked to-morrer, and he's expectin' some barrels down on to-night's train. John asked me to git Zoeth Cahoon to cart 'em down for him, but I ain't got nothin' special to do to-night, so I thought I'd hitch up and go and git 'em myself. You and Jerry can match cents to see who does the dishes. I did 'em last night, so it's my watch below."
"Well, I shan't do 'em," declared Captain Perez. "Blessed if I'd do the durn things to-night if the President of the United States asked me to."
"Humph!" sputtered Captain Jerry. "I s'pose you fellers think I'll do 'em all the time. If you do you're mistook, that's all. 'Twan't last night you done 'em, Eri; 'twas the night afore. I done 'em last night, and I'm ready to take my chances agin if we match, but I'm jiggered if I let you shove the whole thing off onto me. I didn't ship for cook no more 'n the rest of you."
Neither of the others saw fit to answer this declaration of independence and there was a pause in the conversation. Then Captain Jerry said moodily:
"It ain't no use. It don't work."
"What don't work?" asked Captain Eri.
"Why, this plan of ours. I thought when we fellers give up goin' to sea reg'lar and settled down here to keep house ourselves and live economical and all that, that 'twas goin' to be fine. I thought I wouldn't mind doin' my share of the work a bit, thought 'twould be kind of fun to swab decks and all that. Well, 'twas for a spell, but 'tain't now. I'm so sick of it that I don't know what to do. And I'm sick of livin' in a pigpen, too. Look at them dead-lights! They're so dirty that when I turn out in the mornin' and go to look through 'em, I can't tell whether it's foul weather or fair."
Captain Eri looked at the windows toward which his friend pointed and signed assent.
"There's no use talkin'," he observed, "we've got to have a steward aboard this craft."
"Yes," said Captain Perez emphatically, "a steward or a woman."
"A WOMAN!" exclaimed Captain Eri. Then he shook his head solemnly and added, "There, Jerry! What did I tell you? M'lissy!"
But Captain Perez did not smile.
"I ain't foolin'," he said; "I mean it."
Captain Jerry thought of the spick-and-span days of his wife, dead these twenty years, and sighed again. "I s'pose we might have a housekeeper," he said.
"Housekeeper!" sneered Captain Eri. "Who'd you hire? Perez don't, seemin'ly, take to M'lissy, and there ain't nobody else in Orham that you could git, 'less 'twas old A'nt Zuby Higgins, and that would be actin' like the feller that jumped overboard when his boat sprung a leak. No, sir! If A'nt Zuby ships aboard here I heave up MY commission."
"Who said anything about A'nt Zuby or housekeepers either?" inquired Captain Perez. "I said we'd got to have a woman, and we have. One of us 'll have to git married, that's all."
"MARRIED!" roared the two in chorus.
"That's what I said, married, and take the others to board in this house. Look here now! When a shipwrecked crew's starvin' one of 'em has to be sacrificed for the good of the rest, and that's what we've got to do. One of us has got to git married for the benefit of the other two."
Captain Eri shouted hilariously. "Good boy, Perez!" he cried. "Goin' to be the first offerin'?"
"Not unless it's my luck, Eri. We'll all three match for it, same as we do 'bout washin' the dishes."
"Where are you goin' to find a wife?" asked Captain Jerry.
"Now that's jest what I'm goin' to show you. I see how things was goin', and I've been thinkin' this over for a consid'rable spell. Hold on a minute till I overhaul my kit."
He went into the front bedroom, and through the open door they could see him turning over the contents of the chest with P. R. in brass nails on the lid. He scattered about him fish-lines, hooks, lead for sinkers, oilcloth jackets, whales' teeth, and various other articles, and at length came back bearing a much-crumpled sheet of printed paper. This he spread out upon the dining table, first pushing aside the dishes to make room, and, after adjusting his spectacles, said triumphantly:
"There! There she is! The Nup-ti-al Chime. A Journal of Matrimony. I see a piece about it in the Herald the other day, and sent a dime for a sample copy. It's chock-full of advertisements from women that wants husbands."
Captain Eri put on his spectacles and hitched his chair up to the table. After giving the pages of the Nuptial Chime a hurried inspection, he remarked:
"There seems to be a strong runnin' to 'vi-va-ci-ous brunettes' and 'blondes with tender and romantic dispositions.' Which of them kinds are you sufferin' for, Perez? Oh, say! here's a lady that's willin' to heave herself away on a young and handsome bachelor with a income of ten thousand a year. Seems to me you ought to answer that."
"Oh, hush up, Eri! 'Tain't likely I'd want to write to any of them in there. The thing for us to do would be to write out a advertisement of our own; tell what sort of woman we want, and then set back and wait for answers. Now, what do you say?"
Captain Eri looked at the advocate of matrimony for a moment without speaking. Then he said: "Do you really mean it, Perez?"
"Sartin I do."
"What do you think of it, Jerry?"
"Think it's a good idee," said that ancient mariner decisively. "We've got to do somethin', and this looks like the only sensible thing."
"Then Eri's GOT to do it!" asserted Captain Perez dogmatically. "We agreed to stick together, and two to one's a vote. Come on now, Eri, we'll match."
Captain Eri hesitated.
"Come on, Eri!" ordered Captain Jerry. "Ain't goin' to mutiny, are you?"
"All right!" said Captain Eri, "I'll stick to the ship. Only," he added, with a quizzical glance at his companions, "it's got to be settled that the feller that's stuck can pick his wife, and don't have to marry unless he finds one that suits him."
The others agreed to this stipulation, and Captain Perez, drawing a long breath, took a coin from his pocket, flipped it in the air and covered it, as it fell on the table, with a big hairy hand. Captain Eri did likewise; so did Captain Jerry. Then Captain Eri lifted his hand and showed the coin beneath; it was a head. Captain Jerry's was a tail. Under Captain Perez' hand lurked the hidden fate. The Captain's lips closed in a grim line. With a desperate glance at the others he jerked his hand away.
The penny lay head uppermost. Captain Jerry was "stuck."
Captain Eri rose, glanced at his watch, and, taking his hat from the shelf where the dishes should have been, opened the door. Before he went out, however, he turned and said:
"Perez, you and Jerry can be fixin' up the advertisement while I'm gone. You can let me see it when I come back. I say, Jerry," he added to the "sacrifice," who sat gazing at the pennies on the table in a sort of trance, "don't feel bad about it. Why, when you come to think of it, it's a providence it turned out that way. Me and Perez are bachelors, and we'd be jest green hands. But you're a able seaman, you know what it is to manage a wife."
"Yes, I do," groaned Captain Jerry lugubriously. "Durn it, that's jest it!"
Captain Eri was chuckling as, lantern in hand, he passed around the corner of the little white house on the way to the barn. He chuckled all through the harnessing of Daniel, the venerable white horse. He was still chuckling as, perched on the seat of the "truck wagon," he rattled and shook out of the yard and turned into the sandy road that led up to the village. And an outsider, hearing these chuckles, and knowing what had gone before, might have inferred that perhaps Captain Eri did not view the "matching" and the matrimonial project with quite the deadly seriousness of the other two occupants of the house by the shore.
THE TRAIN COMES IN
There is in Orham a self-appointed committee whose duty it is to see the train come in. The committeemen receive no salary for their services; the sole compensation is the pleasure derived from the sense of duty done. Rain, snow, or shine, the committee is on hand at the station—the natives, of course, call it the "deepo"—to consume borrowed tobacco and to favor Providence with its advice concerning the running of the universe. Also it discusses local affairs with fluency and more or less point.
Mr. "Squealer" Wixon, a lifelong member of this committee, was the first to sight Captain Eri as the latter strolled across the tracks into the circle of light from the station lamps. The Captain had moored Daniel to a picket in the fence over by the freight-house. He had heard the clock in the belfry of the Methodist church strike eight as he drove by that edifice, but he heard no whistle from the direction of the West Orham woods, so he knew that the down train would arrive at its usual time, that is, from fifteen to twenty minutes behind the schedule.
"Hey!" shouted Mr. Wixon with enthusiasm. "Here's Cap'n Eri! Well, Cap, how's she headin'?"
"'Bout no'theast by no'th," was the calm reply. "Runnin' fair, but with lookout for wind ahead."
"Hain't got a spare chaw nowheres about you, have you, Cap'n?" anxiously inquired "Bluey" Batcheldor. Mr. Batcheldor is called "Bluey" for the same reason that Mr. Wixon is called "Squealer," and that reason has been forgotten for years.
Captain Eri obligingly produced a black plug of smoking tobacco, and Mr. Batcheldor bit off two-thirds and returned the balance. After adjusting the morsel so that it might interfere in the least degree with his vocal machinery, he drawled:
"I cal'late you ain't heard the news, Eri. Web Saunders has got his original-package license. It come on the noon mail."
The Captain turned sharply toward the speaker. "Is that a fact?" he asked. "Who told you?"
"See it myself. So did Squealer and a whole lot more. Web was showin' it round."
"We was wonderin'," said Jabez Smalley, a member of the committee whose standing was somewhat impaired, inasmuch as he went fishing occasionally and was, therefore, obliged to miss some of the meetings, "what kind of a fit John Baxter would have now. He's been pretty nigh distracted ever sence Web started his billiard room, callin' it a 'ha'nt of sin' and a whole lot more names. There ain't been a 'Come-Outers' meetin' 'sence I don't know when that he ain't pitched into that saloon. Now, when he hears that Web's goin' to sell rum, he'll bust a biler sure."
The committee received this prophecy with an hilarious shout of approval and each member began to talk. Captain Eri took advantage of this simultaneous expression of opinion to walk away. He looked in at the window of the ticket-office, exchanged greetings with Sam Hardy, the stationmaster, and then leaned against the corner of the building furthest removed from Mr. Wixon and his friends, lit his pipe and puffed thoughtfully with a troubled expression on his face.
From the clump of blackness that indicated the beginning of the West Orham woods came a long-drawn dismal "toot"; then two shorter ones. The committee sprang to its feet and looked interested. Sam Hardy came out of the ticket office. The stage-driver, a sharp-looking boy of about fourteen, with a disagreeable air of cheap smartness sticking out all over him, left his seat in the shadow of Mr. Batcheldor's manly form, tossed a cigarette stump away and loafed over to the vicinity of the "depot wagon," which was backed up against the platform. Captain Eri knocked the ashes from his pipe and put that service-stained veteran in his pocket. The train was really "coming in" at last.
If this had been an August evening instead of a September one, both train and platform would have been crowded. But the butterfly summer maiden had flitted and, as is his wont, the summer man had flitted after her, so the passengers who alighted from the two coaches that, with the freight car, made up the Orham Branch train, were few in number and homely in flavor. There was a very stout lady with a canvas extension case and an umbrella in one hand and a bulging shawl-strap and a pasteboard box in the other, who panted and wheezed like the locomotive itself and who asked the brakeman, "What on airth DO they have such high steps for?" There was a slim, not to say gawky, individual with a chin beard and rubber boots, whom the committee hailed as "Andy" and welcomed to its bosom. There were two young men, drummers, evidently, who nodded to Hardy, and seemed very much at home. Also, there was another young man, smooth-shaven and square-shouldered, who deposited a suit-case on the platform and looked about him with the air of being very far from home, indeed.
The drummers and the stout lady got into the stage. The young man with the suit-case picked up the latter and walked toward the same vehicle. He accosted the sharp boy, who had lighted another cigarette.
"Can you direct me to the cable station?" he asked.
"Sure thing!" said the youth, and there was no Cape Cod twist to his accent. "Git aboard."
"I didn't intend to ride," said the stranger.
"What was you goin' to do? Walk?"
"Yes, if it's not far."
The boy grinned, and the members of the committee, who had been staring with all their might, grinned also. The young man's mention of the cable station seemed to have caused considerable excitement.
"Oh, it ain't too FAR!" said the stage-driver. Then he added: "Say, you're the new electrician, ain't you?"
The young man hesitated for a moment. Then he said, "Yes," and suggested, "I asked the way."
"Two blocks to the right; that's the main road, keep on that for four blocks, then turn to the left, and if you keep on straight ahead you'll get to the station."
"Blocks?" The stranger smiled. "I think you must be from New York."
"Do you?" inquired the youthful prodigy, climbing to the wagon seat. "Don't forget to keep straight ahead after you turn off the main road. Git dap! So long, fellers!" He leaned over the wheel, as the stage turned, and bestowed a wink upon the delighted "Squealer," who was holding one freckled paw over his mouth; then the "depot wagon" creaked away.
The square-shouldered young man looked after the equipage with an odd expression of countenance. Then he shrugged his shoulders, picked up the suitcase, and walked off the platform into the darkness.
Mr. Wixon removed the hand from his mouth and displayed a mammoth grin, that grew into a shriek of laughter in which every member of the committee joined.
"Haw! haw!" bellowed "Bluey," "so that's the feller that done Parker out of his job! Well, he may be mighty smart, but if that Joe Bartlett ain't smarter then I'm a skate, that's all! Smartest boy ever I see! 'If you keep on straight ahead you'll git to the station!' Gosh! he'll have to wear rubbers!"
"Maybe he's web-footed," suggested Smalley, and they laughed again.
A little later Captain Eri, with a dozen new, clean-smelling cranberry barrels in the wagon behind him, drove slowly down the "depot road." It was a clear night, but there was no moon, and Orham was almost at its darkest, which is very dark, indeed. The "depot road"—please bear in mind that there are no streets in Orham—was full of ruts, and although Daniel knew his way and did his best to follow it, the cranberry barrels rattled and shook in lively fashion. There are few homes near the station, and the dwellers in them conscientiously refrain from showing lights except in the ends of the buildings furthest from the front. Strangers are inclined to wonder at this, but when they become better acquainted with the town and its people, they come to know that front gates and parlors are, by the majority of the inhabitants, restricted in their use to occasions such as a funeral, or, possibly, a wedding. For the average Orham family to sit in the parlor on a week evening would be an act bordering pretty closely on sacrilege.
It is from the hill by the Methodist church that the visitor to Orham gets his best view of the village. It is all about him, and for the most part below him. At night the lights in the houses show only here and there through the trees, but those on the beaches and at sea shine out plainly. The brilliant yellow gleam a mile away is from the Orham lighthouse on the bluff. The smaller white dot marks the light on Baker's Beach. The tiny red speck in the distance, that goes and comes again, is the flash-light at Setuckit Point, and the twinkle on the horizon to the south is the beacon of the lightship on Sand Hill Shoal.
It is on his arrival at this point, too, that the stranger first notices the sound of the surf. Being a newcomer, he notices this at once; after he has been in the village a few weeks, he ceases to notice it at all. It is like the ticking of a clock, so incessant and regular, that one has to listen intently for a moment or two before his accustomed ear will single it out and make it definite. One low, steady, continuous roar, a little deeper in tone when the wind is easterly, the voice of the old dog Ocean gnawing with foaming mouth at the bone of the Cape and growling as he gnaws.
It may be that the young man with the square shoulders and the suit-case had paused at the turn of the road by the church to listen to this song of the sea; at any rate he was there, and when Captain Eri steered Daniel and the cranberry barrels around the corner and into the "main road," he stepped out and hailed.
"I beg your pardon," he said; "I'm afraid I'm mixed in my directions. The stage-driver told me the way to the cable station, but I've forgotten whether he said to turn to the right when I reached here, or to the left."
Captain Eri took his lantern from the floor of the wagon and held it up. He had seen the stranger when the latter left the train, but he had not heard the dialogue with Josiah Bartlett.
"How was you cal'latin' to go to the station?" he asked.
"Why, I intended to walk."
"Did you tell them fellers at the depot that you wanted to walk?"
"Well, I swan! And they give you the direction?"
"Yes," a little impatiently; "why shouldn't they? So many blocks till I got to the main street, or road, and so many more, till I got somewhere else, and then straight on."
"Blocks, hey? That's Joe Bartlett. That boy ought to be mastheaded, and I've told Perez so more'n once. Well, Mister, I guess maybe you'd better not try to walk to the cable station to-night. You see, there's one thing they forgot to tell you. The station's on the outer beach, and there's a ha'f mile of pretty wet water between here and there."
The young man whistled. "You don't mean it!" he exclaimed.
"I sartin do, unless there's been an almighty drought since I left the house. I tell you what! If you'll jump in here with me, and don't mind waitin' till I leave these barrels at the house of the man that owns 'em, I'll drive you down to the shore and maybe find somebody to row you over. That is," with a chuckle, "if you ain't dead set on walkin'."
The stranger laughed heartily. "I'm not so stubborn as all that," he said. "It's mighty good of you, all the same."
"Don't say a word," said the Captain. "Give us your satchel. Now your flipper! There you are! Git dap, Dan'l!"
Daniel accepted the Captain's command in a tolerant spirit. He paddled along at a jog-trot for perhaps a hundred yards, and then, evidently feeling that he had done all that could be expected, settled back into a walk. The Captain turned towards his companion on the seat:
"I don't know as I mentioned it," he observed, "but my name is Hedge."
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Hedge," said the stranger. "My name is Hazeltine."
"I kind of jedged it might be when you said you wanted to git to the cable station. We heard you was expected."
"Did you? From Mr. Langley, I presume."
"No-o, not d'rectly. Of course, we knew Parker had been let go, and that somebody would have to take his place. I guess likely it was one of the operators that told it fust that you was the man, but anyhow it got as fur as M'lissy Busteed, and after that 'twas plain sailin'. You come from New York, don't you?"
"Well, you know how 'tis when a thing gits into the papers. Orham ain't big enough to have a paper of its own, so the Almighty give us M'lissy, I jedge, as a sort of substitute. She can spread a little news over more country than anybody I know. If she spreads butter the same way, she could make money keepin' boarders. Is this your fust visit to the Cape?"
"Yes. I hardly know why I'm here now. I have been with the Cable Company at their New York experimental station for some years, and the other day the General Manager called me into his office and told me I was expected to take the position of electrician here. I thought it might add to my experience, so I accepted."
"Humph! Did he say anything about the general liveliness of things around the station?"
Mr. Hazeltine laughed. "Why," he answered, "now that you speak of it, I remember that he began by asking me if I had any marked objection to premature burial."
The Captain chuckled. "The outer beach in winter ain't exactly a camp-meeting for sociableness," he said. "And the idea of that Bartlett boy tellin' you how to walk there!"
"Is he a specimen of your Cape Cod youngsters?"
"Not exactly. He's a new shipment from New York. Grand-nephew of a messmate of mine, Cap'n Perez Ryder. Perez, he's a bachelor, but his sister's daughter married a feller named Bartlett. Maybe you knew him; he used to run a tugboat in the Sound."
Mr. Hazeltine, much amused, denied the acquaintance.
"Well, I s'pose you wouldn't, nat'rally," continued the Captain. "Anyhow, Perez's niece's husband died, and the boy sort of run loose, as yer might say. Went to school when he had to, and raised Ned when he didn't, near's I can find out. 'Lizabeth, that's his ma, died last spring, and she made Perez promise—he being the only relation the youngster had—to fetch the boy down here and sort of bring him up. Perez knows as much about bringing up a boy as a hen does about the Ten Commandments, and 'Lizabeth made him promise not to lick the youngster and a whole lot more foolishness. School don't commence here till October, so we got him a job with Lem Mullett at the liv'ry stable. He's boardin' with Lem till school opens. He ain't a reel bad boy, but he knows too much 'bout some things and not ha'f enough 'bout others. You've seen fellers like that, maybe?"
Hazeltine nodded. "There are a good many of that kind in New York, I'm afraid," he said.
Captain Eri smiled. "I shouldn't wonder," he observed. "The boys down here think Josiah's the whole crew, and the girls ain't fur behind. There's been more deviltry in this village sence he landed than there ever was afore. He needs somethin', and needs it bad, but I ain't decided jest what it is yit. Are you a married man?"
"Same here. Never had the disease. Perez, he's had symptoms every once in a while, but nothin' lastin'. Jerry's the only one of us three that's been through the mill. His wife died twenty year ago. I don't know as I told you, but Jerry and Perez and me are keepin' house down by the shore. That is, we call it keepin' house, but—"
Here the Captain broke off and seemed to meditate.
Ralph Hazeltine forbore to interrupt, and occupied himself by scrutinizing the buildings that they were passing. They were nearing the center of the town now, and the houses were closer together than they had been on the "depot road," but never so close as to be in the least crowded. Each house had its ample front yard, and the new arrival could smell the box hedges and see, now and then, the whiteness of the kalsomined stones that bordered a driveway. It was too dark for the big seashells at the front steps to be visible, but they were there, all the same; every third house of respectability in Orham has them. There was an occasional shop, too, with signs like "Cape Cod Variety Store," or "The Boston Dry Goods Emporium," over their doors. On the platform of one a small crowd was gathered, and from the interior came shouts of laughter and the sound of a tin-panny piano.
"That's the billiard saloon," volunteered Captain Eri, suddenly waking from his trance. "Play pool, Mr. Hazeltine?"
"What d'ye play it with?"
"Why, with a cue, generally speaking."
"That so! Most of the fellers in there play it with their mouths. Miss a shot and then spend the rest of the evenin' tellin' how it happened."
"I don't think I should care to play it that way," said Ralph, laughing.
"Well, it has its good p'ints. Kind of all-round exercise; develops the lungs and strengthens the muscles, as the patent-medicine almanac says. Parker played it considerable."
"I judge that your opinion of my predecessor isn't a high one."
"Who? Oh, Parker! He was all right in his way. Good many folks in this town swore by him. I understand the fellers over at the station thought he was about the ticket."
"Mr. Langley included?"
"Oh, Mr. Langley, bein' manager, had his own ideas, I s'pose! Langley don't play pool much; not at Web Saunders' place, anyhow. We turn in here."
They rolled up a long driveway, very dark and overgrown with trees, and drew up at the back door of a good-sized two-story house. There was a light in the kitchen window.
"Whoa, Dan'l!" commanded the Captain. Then he began to shout, "Ship ahoy!" at the top of his lungs.
The kitchen door opened and a man came out, carrying a lamp, its light shining full upon his face. It was an old face, a stern face, with white eyebrows and a thin-lipped mouth. Just such a face as looked on with approval when the executioner held up the head of Charles I., at Whitehall. There was, however, a tremble about the chin that told of infirm health.
"Hello, John!" said Captain Eri heartily. "John, let me make you acquainted with Mr. Hazeltine, the new man at the cable station. Mr. Hazeltine, this is my friend, Cap'n John Baxter."
The two shook hands, and then Captain Eri said:
"John, I brought down them barrels for you. Hawkins got 'em here, same as he always does, by the skin of his teeth. Stand by now, 'cause I've got to deliver Mr. Hazeltine at the station, and it's gittin' late."
John Baxter said nothing, beyond thanking his friend for the good turn, but he "stood by," as directed, and the barrels were quickly unloaded. As they were about to drive out of the yard, Captain Eri turned in his seat and said:
"John, guess I'll be up some time to-morrow. I want to talk with you about that billiard-room business."
The lamp in Baxter's hand shook.
"God A'mighty's got his eye on that place, Eri Hedge," he shouted, "and on them that's runnin' it!"
"That's all right," said the Captain. "Then the job's in good hands, and we ain't got to worry. Good-night."
But, in spite of this assurance, Hazeltine noticed that his driver was silent and preoccupied until they reached the end of the road by the shore, when he brought the willing Daniel to a stand still and announced that it was time to "change cars."
It is a fifteen-minute row from the mainland to the outer beach, and Captain Eri made it on schedule time. Hazeltine protested that he was used to a boat, and could go alone and return the dory in the morning, but the Captain wouldn't hear of it. The dory slid up on the sand and the passenger climbed out. The sound of the surf on the ocean side of the beach was no longer a steady roar, it was broken into splashing plunges and hisses with, running through it, a series of blows like those of a muffled hammer. The wind was wet and smelt salty.
"There's the station," said the Captain, pointing to a row of lighted windows a quarter of a mile away. "It IS straight ahead this time, and the walkin's better'n it has been for the last few minutes. Good-night!"
The electrician put his hand in his pocket, hesitated, and then withdrew it, empty.
"I'm very much obliged to you for all this," he said. "I'm glad to have made your acquaintance, and I hope we shall see each other often."
"Same here!" said the Captain heartily. "We're likely to git together once in a while, seein' as we're next-door neighbors, right across the road, as you might say. That's my berth over yonder, where you see them lights. It's jest 'round the corner from the road we drove down last. Good-night! Good luck to you!"
And he settled himself for the row home.
THE "COME-OUTERS'" MEETING
The house where the three Captains lived was as near salt water as it could be and remain out of reach of the highest tides. When Captain Eri, after beaching and anchoring his dory and stabling Daniel for the night, entered the dining room he found his two messmates deep in consultation, and with evidences of strenuous mental struggle written upon their faces. Captain Perez's right hand was smeared with ink and there were several spatters of the same fluid on Captain Jerry's perspiring nose. Crumpled sheets of note paper were on the table and floor, and Lorenzo, who was purring restfully upon the discarded jackets of the two mariners, alone seemed to be enjoying himself.
"Well, you fellers look as if you'd had a rough v'yage," commented Captain Eri, slipping out of his own jacket and pulling his chair up beside those of his friends. "What's the trouble?"
"Gosh, Eri, I'm glad to see you!" exclaimed Captain Perez, drawing the hand, just referred to, across his forehead and thereby putting that portion of his countenance into mourning. "How do you spell conscientious?"
"I don't, unless it's owner's orders," was the answer. "What do you want to spell it for?"
"We've writ much as four hundred advertisements, I do believe!" said Captain Jerry, "and there ain't one of them fit to feed to a pig. Perez here, he's got such hifalutin' notions, that nothin' less than a circus bill 'll do him. I don't see why somethin' plain and sensible like 'Woman wanted to do dishes and clean house for three men,' wouldn't be all right; but no, it's got to have more fancy trimmin's than a Sunday bunnit. Foolishness, I call it."
"You'd have a whole lot of women answerin' that advertisement, now wouldn't you?" snorted Captain Perez hotly. "'To do dishes for three men!' That's a healthy bait to catch a wife with, ain't it? I can see 'em comin'. I cal'late you'd stay single till Jedgment, and then you wouldn't git one. No, sir! The thing to do is to be sort of soft-soapy and high-toned. Let 'em think they're goin' to git a bargain when they git you. Make believe it's goin' to be a privilege to git sech a husband."
"Well, 'tis," declared the sacrifice indignantly. "They might git a dum-sight worse one."
"I cal'late that's so, Jerry," said Captain Eri. "Still, Perez ain't altogether wrong. Guess you'd better keep the dishwashin' out of it. I know dishwashin' would never git ME; I've got so I hate the sight of soap and hot water as bad as if I was a Portugee. Pass me that pen."
Captain Perez gladly relinquished the writing materials, and Captain Eri, after two or three trials, by which he added to the paper decorations of the floor, produced the following:
"Wife Wanted—By an ex-seafaring man of steady habbits. Must be willing to Work and Keep House shipshape and aboveboard. No sea-lawyers need apply. Address—Skipper, care the Nuptial Chime, Boston, Mass."
The line relating to sea-lawyers was insisted upon by Captain Jerry. "That'll shut out the tonguey kind," he explained. The advertisement, with this addition, being duly approved, the required fifty cents was inclosed, as was a letter to the editor of the matrimonial journal requesting all answers to be forwarded to Captain Jeremiah Burgess, Orham, Mass. Then the envelope was directed and the stamp affixed.
"There," said Captain Eri, "that's done. All you've got to do now, Jerry, is to pick out your wife and let us know what you want for a weddin' present. You're a lucky man."
"Aw, let's talk about somethin' else," said the lucky one rather gloomily. "What's the news up at the depot, Eri?"
They received the tidings of the coming of Hazeltine with the interest due to such an event. Captain Eri gave them a detailed account of his meeting with the new electrician, omitting, however, in consideration for the feelings of Captain Perez, to mention the fact that it was the Bartlett boy who started that gentleman upon his walk to the cable station.
"Well, what did you think of him?" asked Captain Perez, when the recital was finished.
"Seemed to me like a pretty good feller," answered Captain Eri deliberately. "He didn't git mad at the joke the gang played on him, for one thing. He ain't so smooth-tongued as Parker used to be and he didn't treat Baxter and me as if Cape Codders was a kind of animals, the way some of the summer folks do. He had the sense not to offer to pay me for takin' him over to the station, and I liked that. Take it altogether, he seemed like a pretty decent chap—for a New Yorker," he added, as an after thought.
"But say," he said a moment later, "I've got some more news and it ain't good news, either. Web Saunders has got his liquor license."
"I want to know!" exclaimed Captain Perez.
"You don't tell me!" said Captain Jerry.
Then they both said, "What will John Baxter do now?" And Captain Eri shook his head dubiously.
The cod bit well next morning and Captain Eri did not get in from the Windward Ledge until afternoon. By the way, it may be well to explain that Captain Jerry's remarks concerning "settlin' down" and "restin'," which we chronicled in the first chapter must not be accepted too literally. While it is true that each of the trio had given up long voyages, it is equally true that none had given up work entirely. Some people might not consider it restful to rise at four every weekday morning and sail in a catboat twelve miles out to sea and haul a wet cod line for hours, not to mention the sail home and the cleaning and barreling of the catch. Captain Eri did that. Captain Perez was what he called "stevedore"—that is, general caretaker during the owner's absence, at Mr. Delancy Barry's summer estate on the "cliff road." As for Captain Jerry, he was janitor at the schoolhouse.
The catch was heavy the next morning, as has been said, and by the time the last fish was split and iced and the last barrel sent to the railway station it was almost supper time. Captain Eri had intended calling on Baxter early in the day, but now he determined to wait until after supper.
The Captain had bad luck in the "matching" that followed the meal, and it was nearly eight o'clock before he finished washing dishes. This distasteful task being completed, he set out for the Baxter homestead.
The Captain's views on the liquor question were broader than those of many Orham citizens. He was an abstainer, generally speaking, but his scruples were not as pronounced as those of Miss Abigail Mullett, whose proudest boast was that she had refused brandy when the doctor prescribed it as the stimulant needed to save her life. Over and over again has Miss Abigail told it in prayer-meeting; how she "riz up" in her bed, "expectin' every breath to be the last" and said, "Dr. Palmer, if it's got to be liquor or death, then death referred to!"—meaning, it is fair to presume, that death was preferred rather than the brandy. With much more concerning her miraculous recovery through the aid of a "terbacker and onion poultice."
On general principles the Captain objected to the granting of a license to a fellow like "Web" Saunders, but it was the effect that this action of the State authorities might have upon his friend John Baxter that troubled him most.
For forty-five years John Baxter was called by Cape Cod people "as smart a skipper as ever trod a plank." He saved money, built an attractive home for his wife and daughter, and would, in the ordinary course of events, have retired to enjoy a comfortable old age. But his wife died shortly after the daughter's marriage to a Boston man, and on a voyage to Manila, Baxter himself suffered from a sunstroke and a subsequent fever, that left him a physical wreck and for a time threatened to unsettle his reason. He recovered a portion of his health and the threatened insanity disappeared, except for a religious fanaticism that caused him to accept the Bible literally and to interpret it accordingly. When his daughter and her husband were drowned in the terrible City of Belfast disaster, it is an Orham tradition that John Baxter, dressed in gunny-bags and sitting on an ash-heap, was found by his friends mourning in what he believed to be the Biblical "sackcloth and ashes." His little baby granddaughter had been looked out for by some kind friends in Boston. Only Captain Eri knew that John Baxter's yearly trip to Boston was made for the purpose of visiting the girl who was his sole reminder of the things that might have been, but even the Captain did not know that the money that paid her board and, as she grew older, for her gowns and schooling, came from the bigoted, stern old hermit, living alone in the old house at Orham.
In Orham, and in other sections of the Cape as well, there is a sect called by the ungodly, "The Come-Outers." They were originally seceders from the Methodist churches who disapproved of modern innovations. They "come out" once a week to meet at the houses of the members, and theirs are lively meetings. John Baxter was a "Come-Outer," and ever since the enterprising Mr. Saunders opened his billiard room, the old man's tirades of righteous wrath had been directed against this den of iniquity. Since it became known that "Web" had made application for the license, it was a regular amusement for the unregenerate to attend the gatherings of the "Come-Outers" and hear John Baxter call down fire from Heaven upon the billiard room, its proprietor, and its patrons. Orham people had begun to say that John Baxter was "billiard-saloon crazy."
And John Baxter was Captain Eri's friend, a friendship that had begun in school when the declaimer of Patrick Henry's "Liberty or Death" speech on Examination Day took a fancy to and refused to laugh at the little chap who tremblingly ventured to assert that he loved "little Pussy, her coat is so warm." The two had changed places until now it was Captain Eri who protected and advised.
When the Captain rapped at John Baxter's kitchen door no one answered, and, after yelling "Ship ahoy!" through the keyhole a number of times, he was forced to the conclusion that his friend was not at home.
"You lookin' fer Cap'n Baxter?" queried Mrs. Sarah Taylor, who lived just across the road. "He's gone to Come-Outers' meetin', I guess. There's one up to Barzilla Small's to-night."
Mr. Barzilla Small lived in that part of the village called "down to the neck," and when the Captain arrived there, he found the parlor filled with the devout, who were somewhat surprised to see him.
"Why, how do you do?" said Mrs. Small, resplendent in black "alpaca" and wearing her jet earrings. "I snum if you ain't a stranger! We'll have a reel movin' meetin' to-night because Mr. Perley's here, and he says he feels the sperrit a-workin'. Set right down there by the what-not. Luther," to her oldest but three, "give Cap'n Hedge your chair. You can set on the cricket. Yes, you can! Don't answer back!"
"Aw, ma!" burst out the indignant Luther, "how d'yer think I'm goin' to set on that cricket? My laigs 'll be way up under my chin. Make Hart set on it; he's shorter'n me."
"Shan't nuther, Lute Small!" declared Hartwell, a freckle-faced youngster, who was the next step downward in the family stair of children. "Set on it yourself. Make him, ma, now! You said he'd have to."
"Now, ma, I—"
"Be still, both of you! I sh'd think you'd be ashamed, with everybody here so! Oh, my soul and body!" turning to the company, "if it ain't enough to try a saint! Sometimes seems's if I SHOULD give up. You be thankful, Abigail," to Miss Mullett, who sat by the door, "that you ain't got nine in a family and nobody to help teach 'em manners. If Barzilla was like most men, he'd have some dis-CIP-line in the house; but no, I have to do it all, and—"
Mr. Small, thus publicly rebuked, rose from his seat in the corner by the melodeon and proclaimed in a voice that he tried hard not to make apologetic:
"Now, Luther, if I was you I'd be a good boy and mind ma."
Even this awe-inspiring command had little effect upon the reluctant Luther, but Captain Eri, who, smiling and bowing right and left, had been working his passage to the other side of the room, announced that he was all right and would "squeeze in on the sofy 'side of Cap'n Baxter." So there was peace once more, that is, as much peace as half a dozen feminine tongues, all busy with different subjects, would allow.
"Why, Eri" whispered John Baxter, "I didn't expect to see you here. I'm glad, though; Lord knows every God-fearin' man in this town has need to be on his knees this night. Have you heard about it?"
"Cap'n John means about the rum-sellin' license that Web Saunders has got," volunteered Miss Melissa Busteed, leaning over from her seat in the patent rocker that had been the premium earned by Mrs. Small for selling one hundred and fifty pounds of tea for a much-advertised house. "Ain't it awful? I says to Prissy Baker this mornin', soon 's I heard of it, 'Prissy,' s' I, 'there 'll be a jedgment on this town sure's you're a livin' woman,' s' I. Says she, 'That's so, M'lissy,' s' she, and I says—"
Well, when Miss Busteed talks, interruptions are futile, so Captain Eri sat silent, as the comments of at least one-tenth of the population of Orham were poured into his ears. The recitation was cut short by Mrs. Small's vigorous pounding on the center table.
"We're blessed this evenin'," said the hostess with emotion, "in havin' Mr. Perley with us. He's goin' to lead the meetin'."
The Reverend Mr. Perley—Reverend by courtesy; he had never been ordained—stood up, cleared his throat with vigor, rose an inch or two on the toes of a very squeaky pair of boots, sank to heel level again and announced that everyone would join in singing, "Hymn number one hundred and ten, omitting the second and fourth stanzas: hymn number one hundred and ten, second and fourth stanzas omitted." The melodeon, tormented by Mrs. Lurania Bassett, shrieked and groaned, and the hymn was sung. So was another, and yet another. Then Mr. Perley squeaked to his tiptoes again, subsided, and began a lengthy and fervent discourse.
Mr. Perley had been a blacksmith in Ostable before he "got religion," and now spent the major portion of his time in "boardin' 'round" with "Come-Outers" up and down the Cape and taking part in their meetings. His services at such gatherings paid for his food and lodging. He had been a vigorous horseshoer in the old days; now he preached just as vigorously.
He spoke of the faithful few here gathered together. He spoke of the scoffing of those outside the pale and hinted at the uncomfortable future that awaited them. He ran over the various denominations one by one, and one by one showed them to be worshipers of idols and followers after strange gods. He sank hoarsely into the bass and quavered up into falsetto and a chorus of "Amens!" and "Hallelujahs!" followed him.
"Oh, brothers and sisters!" he shouted, "here we are a-kneelin' at the altar's foot and what's goin' on outside? Why, the Devil's got his clutches in our midst. The horn of the wicked is exalted. They're sellin' rum—RUM—in this town! They're a-sellin' rum and drinkin' of it and gloryin' in their shame. But the Lord ain't asleep! He's got his eye on 'em! He's watchin' 'em! And some of these fine days he'll send down fire out of Heaven and wipe 'em off the face of the earth!" ("Amen! Glory! Glory! Glory!")
John Baxter was on his feet, his lean face working, the perspiration shining on his forehead, his eyes gleaming like lamps under his rough white eyebrows, and his clenched fists pounding the back of the chair in front of him. His hallelujahs were the last to cease. Captain Eri had to use some little force to pull him down on the sofa again.
Then Mrs. Small struck up, "Oh, brother, have you heard?" and they sang it with enthusiasm. Next, Miss Mullett told her story of the brandy and the defiance of the doctor. Nobody seemed much interested except a nervous young man with sandy hair and a celluloid collar, who had come with Mr. Tobias Wixon and was evidently a stranger. He had not heard it before and seemed somewhat puzzled when Miss Abigail repeated the "Death referred to" passage.
There was more singing. Mrs. Small "testified." So did Barzilla, with many hesitations and false starts and an air of relief when it was over. Then another hymn and more testimony, each speaker denouncing the billiard saloon. Then John Baxter arose and spoke.
He began by saying that the people of Orham had been slothful in the Lord's vineyard. They had allowed weeds to spring up and wax strong. They had been tried and found wanting.
"I tell you, brothers and sisters," he declaimed, leaning over the chair back and shaking a thin forefinger in Mr. Perley's face, "God has given us a task to do and how have we done it? We've set still and let the Devil have his way. We've talked and talked, but what have we done? Nothin'! Nothin' at all; and now the grip of Satan is tighter on the town than it ever has been afore. The Lord set us a watch to keep and we've slept on watch. And now there's a trap set for every young man in this c'munity. Do you think that that hell-hole down yonder is goin' to shut up because we talk about it in meetin'? Do you think Web Saunders is goin' to quit sellin' rum because we say he ought to? Do you think God's goin' to walk up to that door and nail it up himself? No, sir! He don't work that way! We've talked and talked, and now it's time to DO. Ain't there anybody here that feels a call? Ain't there axes to chop with and fire to burn? I tell you, brothers, we've waited long enough! I—old as I am—am ready. Lord, here I am! Here I am—"
He swayed, broke into a fit of coughing, and sank back upon the sofa, trembling all over and still muttering that he was ready. There was a hushed silence for a moment or two, and then a storm of hallelujahs and shouts. Mr. Perley started another hymn, and it was sung with tremendous enthusiasm.
Just behind the nervous young man with the celluloid collar sat a stout individual with a bald head. This was Abijah Thompson, known by the irreverent as "Barking" Thompson, a nickname bestowed because of his peculiar habit of gradually puffing up, like a frog, under religious excitement, and then bursting forth in an inarticulate shout, disconcerting to the uninitiated. During Baxter's speech and the singing of the hymn his expansive red cheeks had been distended like balloons, and his breath came shorter and shorter. Mr. Perley had arisen and was holding up his hand for silence, when with one terrific "Boo!" "Barking" Thompson's spiritual exaltation exploded directly in the ear of the nervous stranger.
The young man shot out of his chair as if Mr. Thompson had fired a dynamite charge beneath him. "Oh, the Devil!" he shrieked, and then subsided, blushing to the back of his neck.
Somehow this interruption took the spirit out of the meeting. Giggles from Luther and the younger element interfered with the solemnity of Mr. Perley's closing remarks, and no one else was brave enough to "testify" under the circumstances. They sang again, and the meeting broke up. The nervous young man was the first one to leave.
Captain Eri got his friend out of the clutches of the "Come-Outers" as quickly as possible, and piloted him down the road toward his home. John Baxter was silent and absent-minded, and most of the Captain's cheerful remarks concerning Orham affairs in general went unanswered. As they turned in at the gate the elder man said:
"Eri, do you believe that man's law ought to be allowed to interfere with God's law?"
"Well, John, in most cases it's my jedgment that it pays to steer pretty close to both of 'em."
"S'pose God called you to break man's law and keep His; what would you do?"
"Guess the fust thing would be to make sure 'twas the Almighty that was callin'. I don't want to say nothin' to hurt your feelin's, but I should advise the feller that thought that he had that kind of a call to 'beware of imitations,' as the soap folks advertise."
"Eri, I've got a call."
"Now, John Baxter, you listen. You and me have been sailin' together, as you might say, for forty odd years. I ain't a religious man 'cordin' to your way of thinkin', but I've generally found that the Lord runs things most as well as us folks could run 'em. When there's a leak at one end of the schooner it don't pay to bore a hole at the other end to let the water out. Don't you worry no more about Web Saunders and that billiard saloon. The s'lectmen 'll attend to them afore very long. Why don't you go up to Boston for a couple of weeks? 'Twill do you good."
"Do you think so, Eri? Well, maybe 'twould—maybe 'twould. Sometimes I feel as if my head was kind of wearin' out. I'll think about it."
"Better not think any more; better go right ahead."
"Well, I'll see. Good-night."
"Perez," said Captain Eri, next day, "seems to me some kinds of religion is like whisky, mighty bad for a weak head. I wish somebody 'd invent a gold cure for Come-Outers."
A PICTURE SENT AND A CABLE TESTED
Something over a fortnight went by and the three captains had received no answers from the advertisement in the Nuptial Chime. The suspense affected each of them in a different manner. Captain Jerry was nervous and apprehensive. He said nothing, and asked no questions, but it was noticeable that he was the first to greet the carrier of the "mail box" when that individual came down the road, and, as the days passed and nothing more important than the Cape Cod Item and a patent-medicine circular came to hand, a look that a suspicious person might have deemed expressive of hope began to appear in his face.
Captain Perez, on the contrary, grew more and more disgusted with the delay. He spent a good deal of time wondering why there were no replies, and he even went so far as to suggest writing to the editor of the Chime. He was disposed to lay the blame upon Captain Eri's advertisement, and hinted that the latter was not "catchy" enough.
Captain Eri, alone of the trio, got any amusement out of the situation. He pretended to see in Captain Jerry an impatient bridegroom and administered comfort in large doses by suggesting that, in all probability, there had been so many replies that it had been found necessary to charter a freight-car to bring them down.
"Cheer up, Jerry!" he said. "It's tough on you, I know, but think of all them poor sufferin' females that's settin' up nights and worryin' for fear they won't be picked out. Why, say, when you make your ch'ice you'll have to let the rest know right off; 'twould be cruelty to animals not to. You ought to put 'em out of their misery quick's possible."
Captain Jerry's laugh was almost dismal.
The first batch of answers from the Chime came by an evening mail. Captain Eri happened to beat the post-office that night and brought them home himself. They filled three of his pockets to overflowing, and he dumped them by handfuls on the dining table, under the nose of the pallid Jerry.
"What did I tell you, Jerry?" he crowed. "I knew they was on the way. What have you got to say about my advertisement now, Perez?"
There were twenty-six letters altogether. It was surprising how many women were willing, even anxious, to ally themselves with "an ex-seafaring man of steady habbits." But most of the applicants were of unsatisfactory types. As Captain Perez expressed it, "There's too many of them everlastin' 'blondes' and things."
There was one note, however, that even Captain Eri was disposed to consider seriously. It was postmarked Nantucket, was written on half a sheet of blue-lined paper, and read as follows:
"Sir: I saw your advertisements in the paper and think perhaps you might suit me. Please answer these questions by return mail. What is your religious belief? Do you drink liquor? Are you a profane man? If you want to, you might send me your real name and a photograph. If I think you will suit maybe we might sign articles.
"MARTHA B. SNOW.
"What I like about that is the shipshape way she puts it," commented Captain Perez. "She don't say that she 'jest adores the ocean.'"
"She's mighty handy about takin' hold and bossin' things; there ain't no doubt of that," said Captain Eri. "Notice it's us that's got to suit her, not her us. I kind of like that 'signin' articles,' too. You bet she's been brought up in a seagoin' family."
"I used to know a Jubal Snow that hailed from Nantucket," suggested Perez; "maybe she's some of his folks."
"'Tain't likely," sniffed Captain Jerry. "There's more Snows in Nantucket than you can shake a stick at. You can't heave a rock without hittin' one."
"I b'lieve she's jest the kind we want," said Captain Perez with conviction.
"What do you say, Jerry?" asked Captain Eri. "You're goin' to be the lucky man, you know."
"Oh, I don't know. What's the use of hurryin'? More 'n likely the next lot of letters 'll have somethin' better yit."
"Now, that's jest like you, Jerry Burgess!" exclaimed Perez disgustedly. "Want to put off and put off and put off. And the house gittin' more like the fo'castle on a cattleboat every day."
"I don't b'lieve myself you'd do much better, Jerry," said Captain Eri seriously. "I like that letter somehow. Seems to me it's worth a try."
"Oh, all right! Have it your own way. Of course, I ain't got nothin' to say. I'm only the divilish fool that's got to git married and keep boarders; that's all I am!"
"Be careful! She asked if you was a profane man."
"Aw, shut up! You fellers are enough to make a minister swear. I don't care what you do. Go ahead and write to her if you want to, only I give you fair warnin', I ain't goin' to have her if she don't suit. I ain't goin' to marry no scarecrow."
Between them, and with much diplomacy, they soothed the indignant candidate for matrimony until he agreed to sign his name to a letter to the Nantucket lady. Then Captain Perez said:
"But, I say, Jerry; she wants your picture. Have you got one to send her?"
"I've got that daguerreotype I had took when I was married afore."
He rummaged it out of his chest and displayed it rather proudly. It showed him as a short, sandy-haired youth, whose sunburned face beamed from the depths of an enormous choker, and whose head was crowned with a tall, flat-brimmed silk hat of a forgotten style.
"I s'pose that might do," said Cap'n Perez hesitatingly.
"Do! 'Twill HAVE to do, seein' it's all he's got," said Captain Eri. "Good land!" he chuckled; "look at that hat! Say, Jerry, she'll think you done your seafarin' in Noah's ark."
But Captain Jerry was oblivious to sarcasm just then. He was gazing at the daguerreotype in a sentimental sort of way, blowing the dust from the glass, and tilting it up and down so as to bring it to the most effective light.
"I swan!" he mused, "I don't know when I've looked at that afore. I remember when I bought that hat, jest as well. Took care of it and brushed it—my! my! I don't know but it's somewheres around now. I thought I was jest about the ticket then, and—and I wa'n't BAD lookin', that's a fact!"
This last with a burst of enthusiasm.
"Ho, ho! Perez," roared Captain Eri; "Jerry's fallin' in love with his own picture. Awful thing for one so young, ain't it?"
"I ain't such a turrible sight older 'n you be, Eri Hedge," sputtered the prospective bridegroom with righteous indignation. Then he added in a rather crestfallen tone, "But I am a heap older 'n I was when I had that daguerreotype took. See here; if I send that Nantucket woman this picture won't she notice the difference when she sees me?"
"What if she does?" broke in Captain Perez. "You can tell her how 'twas. Talk her over. A feller that's been married, like you, ought to be able to talk ANY woman over."
Captain Jerry didn't appear sanguine concerning his ability to "talk her over," but his fellow-conspirators made light of his feeble objections, and the daguerreotype, carefully wrapped, was mailed the next morning, accompanied by a brief biographical sketch of the original and his avowed adherence to the Baptist creed and the Good Templar's abstinence.
"I hope she'll hurry up and answer," said the impatient Captain Perez. "I want to get this thing settled one way or another. Don't you, Jerry?"
"Yes," was the hesitating reply. "One way or another."
Captain Eri had seen John Baxter several times since the evening of the "Come-Outers'" meeting. The old man was calmer apparently, and was disposed to take the billiard-saloon matter less seriously, particularly as it was reported that the town selectmen were to hold a special meeting to consider the question of allowing Mr. Saunders to continue in business. The last-named gentleman had given what he was pleased to call a "blow-out" to his regular patrons in celebration of the granting of the license, and "Squealer" Wixon and one or two more spent a dreary day and night in the town lock-up in consequence. Baxter told the Captain that he had not yet made up his mind concerning the proposed Boston trip, but he thought "more 'n likely" he should go.
Captain Eri was obliged to be content with this assurance, but he determined to keep a close watch on his friend just the same.
He had met Ralph Hazeltine once or twice since the latter's arrival in Orham, and, in response to questions as to how he was getting on at the station, the new electrician invariably responded, "First-rate." Gossip, however, in the person of Miss Busteed, reported that the operators were doing their best to keep Mr. Hazeltine's lot from being altogether a bed of roses, and there were dark hints of something more to come.
On the morning following the receipt of the letter from the Nantucket lady, Captain Eri was busy at his fish shanty, putting his lines in order and sewing a patch on the mainsail of his catboat. These necessary repairs had prevented his taking the usual trip to the fishing grounds. Looking up from his work, he saw, through the open door, Ralph Hazeltine just stepping out of the cable-station skiff. He tucked his sail needle into the canvas and hailed the young man with a shouted "Good-morning!"
"How do you do, Cap'n Hedge?" said Hazeltine, walking toward the shanty. "Good weather, isn't it?"
"Tip-top. Long 's the wind stays westerly and there ain't no Sunday-school picnics on, we don't squabble with the weather folks. The only thing that 'll fetch a squall with a westerly wind is a Sunday-school picnic. That 'll do it, sure as death. Busy over across?"
"Pretty busy just now. The cable parted day before yesterday, and I've been getting things ready for the repair ship. She was due this morning, and we're likely to hear from her at any time."
"You don't say! Cable broke, hey? Now it's a queer thing, but I've never been inside that station since 'twas built. Too handy, I guess. I've got a second cousin up in Charlestown, lived there all his life, and he's never been up in Bunker Hill monument yit. Fust time I landed in Boston I dug for that monument, and I can tell you how many steps there is in it to this day. If that cable station was fifty mile off I'd have been through it two weeks after it started up, but bein' jest over there, I ain't ever done it. Queer, ain't it?"
"Perhaps you'd like to go over with me. I'm going up to the post-office, and when I come back I should be glad of your company."
"Well, now, that's kind of you. I cal'late I will. You might sing out as you go past. I've got a ha'f-hour job on this sail and then it's my watch below."
The cable station at Orham is a low whitewashed building with many windows. The vegetation about it is limited exclusively to "beach grass" and an occasional wild-plum bush. The nearest building which may be reached without a boat is the life-saving station, two miles below. The outer beach changes its shape every winter. The gales tear great holes in its sides, and then, as if in recompense, throw up new shoals and build new promontories. From the cable-station doorway in fair weather may be counted the sails of over one hundred vessels going and coming between Boston and New York. They come and go, and, alas! sometimes stop by the way. Then the life-saving crews are busy and the Boston newspapers report another wreck. All up and down the outer beach are the sun-whitened bones of schooners and ships; and all about them, and partially covering them, is sand, sand, sand, as white and much coarser than granulated sugar.
Hazeltine's post-office trip and other errands had taken much more time than he anticipated, and more than two hours had gone by before he called for Captain Eri. During the row to the beach the electrician explained to the Captain the processes by which a break in the cable is located and repaired.
"You see," he said, "as soon as the line breaks we set about finding where it is broken. To do this we use an instrument called the Wheatstone bridge. In this case the break is about six hundred miles from the American shore. The next thing is to get at the company's repair ship. She lies, usually, at Halifax when she isn't busy, and that is where she was this time. We wired her and she left for the spot immediately. It was up to me to get ready the testing apparatus—we generally set up special instruments for testing. Judging by the distance, the ship should have been over the break early this morning. She will grapple for the broken cable ends, and as soon as she catches our end she'll send us a message. It's simple enough."
"Like takin' wormwood tea—easy enough if you've been brought up that way. I think I'd make more money catchin' codfish, myself," commented the Captain dryly.
Ralph laughed. "Well, it really is a very simple matter," he said. "The only thing we have to be sure of is that our end of the line is ready by the time the ship reaches the break. If the weather is bad the ship can't work, and so, when she does work, she works quick. I had my instruments in condition yesterday, so we're all right this time."
They landed at the little wharf and plodded through the heavy sand.
"Dismal-looking place, isn't it?" said Hazeltine, as he opened the back door of the station.
"Well, I don't know; it has its good p'ints," replied his companion. "Your neighbors' hens don't scratch up your garden, for one thing. What do you do in here?"
"This is the room where we receive and send. This is the receiver."
The captain noticed with interest the recorder, with its two brass supports and the little glass tube, half filled with ink, that, when the cable was working, wrote the messages upon the paper tape traveling beneath it.
"Pretty nigh as finicky as a watch, ain't it?" he observed.
"Fully as delicate in its way. Do you see this little screw on the centerpiece? Turn that a little, one way or the other, and the operator on the other side might send until doomsday, we wouldn't know it. I'll show you the living rooms and the laboratory now."
Just then the door at the other end of the room opened, and a man, whom Captain Eri recognized as one of the operators, came in. He started when he saw Hazeltine and turned to go out again. Ralph spoke to him:
"Peters," he said, "where is Mr. Langley?"
"Don't know," answered the fellow gruffly.
"Wait a minute. Tell me where Mr. Langley is."
"I don't know where he is. He went over to the village a while ago."
"Where are the rest of the men?"
The impudence and thinly veiled hostility in the man's tone were unmistakable. Hazeltine hesitated, seemed about to speak, and then silently led the way to the hall.
"I'll show you the laboratory later on," he said. "We'll go up to the testing room now." Then he added, apparently as much to himself as to his visitor, "I told those fellows that I wouldn't be back until noon."
There was a door at the top of the stairs. Ralph opened this quietly. As they passed through, Captain Eri noticed that Peters had followed them into the hall and stood there, looking up.
The upper hall had a straw matting on the floor. There was another door at the end of the passage, and this was ajar. Toward it the electrician walked rapidly. From the room behind the door came a shout of laughter; then someone said:
"Better give it another turn, hadn't I, to make sure? If two turns fixes it so we don't hear for a couple of hours, another one ought to shut it up for a week. That's arithmetic, ain't it?"
The laugh that followed this was cut short by Hazeltine's throwing the door wide open.
Captain Eri, close at the electrician's heels, saw a long room, empty save for a few chairs and a table in the center. Upon this table stood the testing instruments, exactly like those in the receiving room downstairs. Three men lounged in the chairs, and standing beside the table, with his fingers upon the regulating screw at the centerpiece of the recorder, was another, a big fellow, with a round, smooth-shaven face.
The men in the chairs sprang to their feet as Hazeltine came in. The face of the individual by the table turned white and his fingers fell from the regulating screw, as though the latter were red hot. The Captain recognized the men; they were day operators whom he had met in the village many times. Incidentally, they were avowed friends of the former electrician, Parker. The name of the taller one was McLoughlin.
No one spoke. Ralph strode quickly to the table, pushed McLoughlin to one side and stooped over the instruments. When he straightened up, Captain Eri noticed that his face also was white, but evidently not from fear. He turned sharply and looked at the four operators, who were doing their best to appear at ease and not succeeding. The electrician looked them over, one by one. Then he gave a short laugh.
"You damned sneaks!" he said, and turned again to the testing apparatus.
He began slowly to turn the regulating screw on the recorder. He had given it but a few revolutions when the point of the little glass siphon, that had been tracing a straight black line on the sliding tape, moved up and down in curving zigzags. Hazeltine turned to the operator.
"Palmer," he said curtly, "answer that call."
The man addressed seated himself at the table, turned a switch, and clicked off a message. After a moment the line on the moving tape zigzagged again. Ralph glanced at the zigzags and bit his lip.
"Apologize to them," he said to Palmer. "Tell them we regret exceedingly that the ship should have been kept waiting. Tell them our recorder was out of adjustment."
The operator cabled the message. The three men at the end of the room glanced at each other; this evidently was not what they expected.
Steps sounded on the stairs and Peters hurriedly entered.
"The old man's comin'," he said.
Mr. Langley, the superintendent of the station, had been in the company's employ for years. He had been in charge of the Cape Cod station since it was built, and he liked the job. He knew cable work, too, from A to Z, and, though he was a strict disciplinarian, would forgive a man's getting drunk occasionally, sooner than condone carelessness. He was eccentric, but even those who did not like him acknowledged that he was "square."
He came into the room, tossed a cigar stump out of the window, and nodded to Captain Eri.
"How are you, Captain Hedge?" he said. Then, stepping to the table, he picked up the tape.
"Everything all right, Mr. Hazeltine?" he asked. "Hello! What does this mean? They say they have been calling for two hours without getting an answer. How do you explain that?"
It was very quiet in the room when the electrician answered.
"The recorder here was out of adjustment, sir," he said simply.
"Out of adjustment! I thought you told me everything was in perfect order before you left this morning."
"I thought so, sir, but I find the screw was too loose. That would account for the call not reaching us."
"Too loose! Humph!" The superintendent looked steadfastly at Hazeltine, then at the operators, and then at the electrician once more.
"Mr. Hazeltine," he said at length, "I will hear what explanations you may have to make in my office later on. I will attend to the testing myself. That will do."
Captain Eri silently followed his young friend to the back door of the station. Hazeltine had seen fit to make no comment on the scene just described, and the captain did not feel like offering any. They were standing on the steps when the big operator, McLoughlin, came out of the building behind them.
"Well," he said gruffly to the electrician. "Shall I quit now or wait until Saturday?"
"Shall I git out now or wait till Saturday night? I suppose you'll have me fired."
Then Hazeltine's pent-up rage boiled over.
"If you mean that I'll tell Mr. Langley of your cowardly trick and have you discharged—No! I don't pay my debts that way. But I'll tell you this,—you and your sneaking friends. If you try another game like that,—yes, or if you so much as speak to me, other than on business while I'm here, I WILL fire you—out of the window. Clear out!"
"Mr. Hazeltine," said Captain Eri a few moments later, "I hope you don't mind my sayin' that I like you fust-rate. Me and Perez and Jerry ain't the biggest bugs in town, but we like to have our friends come and see us. I wish you'd drop in once 'n a while."
"I certainly will," said the young man, and the two shook hands. That vigorous handshake was enough of itself to convince Ralph Hazeltine that he had made, at any rate, one friend in Orham.
And we may as well add here that he had made two. For that evening Jack McLoughlin said to his fellow conspirators:
"He said he'd fire me out of the window,—ME, mind you! And, by thunder! I believe he'd have DONE it too. Boys, there ain't any more 'con' games played on that kid while I'm around—Parker or no Parker. He's white, that's what HE is!"
THE WOMAN FROM NANTUCKET
Conversation among the captains was, for the next two days, confined to two topics, speculation as to how soon they might expect a reply from the Nantucket female and whether or not Mr. Langley would discharge Hazeltine. On the latter point Captain Eri was decided.
"He won't be bounced," said the Captain; "now you just put that down in your log. Langley ain't a fool, and he can put two and two together as well as the next feller. If I thought there was any need of it, I'd just drop him a hint myself, but there ain't, so I shan't put my oar in. But I wish you two could have heard that youngster talk to that McLoughlin critter; 'twould have done you good. That boy's all right."
Captain Jerry was alone when the expected letter came. He glanced at the postmark, saw that it was Nantucket, and stuck the note behind the clock. He did his best to forget it, but he looked so guilty when Captain Perez returned at supper time that that individual suspected something, made his friend confess, and, a little later when Captain Eri came in, the envelope, bearing many thumb-prints, was propped up against the sugar bowl in the middle of the table.
"We didn't open it, Eri," said Perez proudly. "We did want to, but we thought all hands ought to be on deck when anything as important as this was goin' to be done."
"He's been holdin' it up to the light for the last ha'f hour," sneered Captain Jerry. "Anybody 'd think it had a million dollars in it. For the land's sake, open it, Eri, 'fore he has a fit!"
Captain Eri picked up the letter, looked it over very deliberately, and then tore off the end of the envelope. The inclosure was another sheet of note paper like the first epistle. The Captain took out his spectacles, wiped them, and read the following aloud:
"CAPTAIN JEREMIAH BURGESS.
"Sir: I like your looks well enough, though it don't pay to put too much dependence in looks, as nobody knows better than me. Besides, I judge that picture was took quite a spell ago. Anyway, you look honest, and I am willing to risk money enough to carry me to Orham and back, though the dear land knows I ain't got none to throw away. If we don't agree to sign articles, I suppose likely you will be willing to stand half the fare. That ain't any more than right, the way I look at it. I shall come to Orham on the afternoon train, Thursday. Meet me at the depot.
"MARTHA B. SNOW.
"P. S.—I should have liked it better if you was a Methodist, but we can't have everything just as we want it in this world."
Nobody spoke for a moment after the reading of this intensely practical note. Captain Eri whistled softly, scratched his head, and then read the letter over again to himself. At length Captain Perez broke the spell.
"Jerusalem!" he exclaimed. "She don't lose no time, does she?"
"She's pretty prompt, that's a fact," assented Captain Eri.
Captain Jerry burst forth in indignation:
"Is THAT all you've got to say?" he inquired with sarcasm, "after gittin' me into a scrape like this? Well now, I tell you one thing, I—"
"Don't go on your beam ends, Jerry," interrupted Captain Eri. "There ain't no harm done yit."
"Ain't no harm done? Why how you talk, Eri Hedge! Here's a woman that I ain't never seen, and might be a hundred years old, for all I know, comin' down here to-morrow night to marry me by main force, as you might say, and you set here and talk about—"
"Now, hold on, hold on, Jerry! She ain't goin' to marry you unless you want her to, 'tain't likely. More I think of it, the more I like the woman's way of doin' things. She's got sense, there's no doubt of that. You can't sell HER a cat in a bag. She's comin' down here to see you and talk the thing over, and I glory in her spunk."
"Wants me to pay her fare! I see myself doin' it! I've got ways enough to spend my money without paying fares for Nantucket folks."
"If you and she sign articles, as she calls it, you'll have to pay more than fares," said Captain Perez, in a matter-of-fact tone. "I think same as Eri does; she's a smart woman. We'll have to meet her at the depot, of course."
"Well I won't! Cheeky thing! Let her find out where I am! I cal'late she'll have to do some huntin'."
"Now, see here, Jerry," said Captain Eri, "you was jest as anxious to have one of us get married as anybody else. You haven't got to marry the woman unless you want to, but you have got to help us see the thing through. I wish myself that we hadn't been quite so pesky anxious to give her the latitude and longitude, and had took some sort of an observation ourselves; but we didn't, and now we've got to treat her decent. You'll be at that depot along with Perez and me."
When Captain Eri spoke in that tone his two cronies usually obeyed orders. Even the rebellious Jerry, who had a profound respect for his younger friend, gave in after some grumbling.
They sat up until late, speculating concerning the probable age and appearance of the expected visitor. Captain Perez announced that he didn't know why it was, but he had a notion that she was about forty and slim. Captain Jerry, who was in a frame of mind where agreement with anyone was out of the question, gave it as his opinion that she was thirty odd and rather plump. Captain Eri didn't hazard a guess, but suggested that they wait and see.
But even Captain Eri's calmness was more or less assumed, for he did not go fishing the next morning, but stayed about the house, whittling at the model of a clipper ship and tormenting Captain Jerry. The model was one that he had been at work upon at odd times ever since he gave up sea-going. It had never been completed for the very good reason that when one part was finished the Captain tore another part to pieces, and began over again. It was a sort of barometer of his feelings, and when his companions saw him take down the clipper and go to work, they knew he was either thinking deeply upon a perplexing problem or was troubled in his mind.
Captain Perez sang a good deal, principally confining his musical efforts to a ballad with a chorus of,
"Storm along, John; John, storm along; Ain't I glad my day's work's done!"
Also, he glanced at his watch every few minutes and then went to consult the chronometer to make sure of the time.
Captain Jerry went up to the schoolhouse and gave its vacant rooms a thorough sweeping for no particular reason except to be doing something. His appetite was poor, and he actually forgot to feed Lorenzo, a hitherto unheard-of slight, and one that brought down upon him a long lecture from Captain Eri, who vowed that loss of memory was a sure sign of lovesickness.
They started for the railway station immediately after supper. As they passed John Baxter's house they noticed a light in an upper chamber, and wondered if the old man was ill. Captain Eri would have stopped to find out, but Captain Perez insisted that it could be done just as well when they came back, and expressed a fear that they might miss the train. Captain Jerry hadn't spoken since they left home, and walked gloomily ahead with his hands in his pockets.
Mr. "Web" Saunders, fat and in his pink-striped shirtsleeves, sat upon the steps of his saloon as they went by. He wished them an unctuous good-evening. The oily smoothness of Mr. Saunders' voice cannot be described with plain pen and ink; it gurgled with sweetness, like molasses poured from a jug. This was not a special tone put on for the occasion; no one except his wife ever heard him speak otherwise.
The response from the three captains was not enthusiastic, but Mr. Saunders continued to talk of the weather, the fishing, and the cranberry crop until a customer came and gave them a chance to get away.
"Slick! slick! slick!" commented Captain Eri, as they hurried along. "Blessed if he don't pretty nigh purr. I like a cat fust-rate, but I'm always suspicious of a cat-man. You know he's got claws, but you can't tell where he's goin' to use 'em. When a feller like that comes slidin' around and rubbin' his head against my shin, I always feel like keepin' t'other foot ready for a kick. You're pretty sartin to need it one time or another."
The train was nearly an hour late this evening, owing to a hot box, and the "ex-seafaring man" and his two friends peered anxiously out at it from around the corner of the station. The one coach stopped directly under the lights, and they could see the passengers as they came down the steps. Two or three got out, but these were men. Then came an apparition that caused Captain Jerry to gasp and clutch at Perez for support.
Down the steps of the car came a tall, coal-black negress, and in her hand was a canvas extension case, on the side of which was blazoned in two-inch letters the fateful name, "M. B. Snow, Nantucket."