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Cape Cod Stories by Joseph C. Lincoln




I don't exactly know why Cap'n Jonadab and me went to the post- office that night; we wa'n't expecting any mail, that's sartin. I guess likely we done it for the reason the feller that tumbled overboard went to the bottom—'twas the handiest place TO go.

Anyway we was there, and I was propping up the stove with my feet and holding down a chair with the rest of me, when Jonadab heaves alongside flying distress signals. He had an envelope in his starboard mitten, and, coming to anchor with a flop in the next chair, sets shifting the thing from one hand to the other as if it 'twas red hot.

I watched this performance for a spell, waiting for him to say something, but he didn't, so I hailed, kind of sarcastic, and says: "What you doing—playing solitaire? Which hand's ahead?"

He kind of woke up then, and passes the envelope over to me.

"Barzilla," he says, "what in time do you s'pose that is?"

'Twas a queer looking envelope, more'n the average length fore and aft, but kind of scant in the beam. There was a puddle of red sealing wax on the back of it with a "D" in the middle, and up in one corner was a kind of picture thing in colors, with some printing in a foreign language underneath it. I b'lieve 'twas what they call a "coat-of-arms," but it looked more like a patchwork comforter than it did like any coat ever _I_ see. The envelope was addressed to "Captain Jonadab Wixon, Orham, Mass."

I took my turn at twisting the thing around, and then I hands it back to Jonadab.

"I pass," I says. "Where'd you get it?"

"'Twas in my box," says he. "Must have come in to-night's mail."

I didn't know the mail was sorted, but when he says that I got up and went over and unlocked my box, just to show that I hadn't forgot how, and I swan to man if there wa'n't another envelope, just like Jonadab's, except that 'twas addressed to "Barzilla Wingate."

"Humph!" says I, coming back to the stove; "you ain't the only one that's heard from the Prince of Wales. Look here!"

He was the most surprised man, but one, on the Cape: I was the one. We couldn't make head nor tail of the business, and set there comparing the envelopes, and wondering who on earth had sent 'em. Pretty soon "Ily" Tucker heads over towards our moorings, and says he:

"What's troubling the ancient mariners?" he says.

"Barzilla and me's got a couple of letters," says Cap'n Jonadab; "and we was wondering who they was from."

Tucker leaned away down—he's always suffering from a rush of funniness to the face—and he whispers, awful solemn: "For heaven's sake, whatever you do, don't open 'em. You might find out." Then he threw off his main-hatch and "haw-hawed" like a loon.

To tell you the truth, we hadn't thought of opening 'em—not yet— so that was kind of one on us, as you might say. But Jonadab ain't so slow but he can catch up with a hearse if the horses stop to drink, and he comes back quick.

"Ily," he says, looking troubled, "you ought to sew reef-points on your mouth. 'Tain't safe to open the whole of it on a windy night like this. First thing you know you'll carry away the top of your head."

Well, we felt consider'ble better after that—having held our own on the tack, so to speak—and we walked out of the post-office and up to my room in the Travellers' Rest, where we could be alone. Then we opened up the envelopes, both at the same time. Inside of each of 'em was another envelope, slick and smooth as a mack'rel's back, and inside of THAT was a letter, printed, but looking like the kind of writing that used to be in the copybook at school. It said that Ebenezer Dillaway begged the honor of our presence at the marriage of his daughter, Belle, to Peter Theodosius Brown, at Dillamead House, Cashmere-on-the-Hudson, February three, nineteen hundred and so forth.

We were surprised, of course, and pleased in one way, but in another we wa'n't real tickled to death. You see, 'twas a good while sence Jonadab and me had been to a wedding, and we know there'd be mostly young folks there and a good many big-bugs, we presumed likely, and 'twas going to cost consider'ble to get rigged—not to mention the price of passage, and one thing a' 'nother. But Ebenezer had took the trouble to write us, and so we felt 'twas our duty not to disappoint him, and especially Peter, who had done so much for us, managing the Old Home House.

The Old Home House was our summer hotel at Wellmouth Port. How me and Jonadab come to be in the summer boarding trade is another story and it's too long to tell now. We never would have been in it, anyway, I cal'late, if it hadn't been for Peter. He made a howling success of our first season and likewise helped himself along by getting engaged to the star boarder, rich old Dillaway's daughter—Ebenezer Dillaway, of the Consolidated Cash Stores.

Well, we see 'twas our duty to go, so we went. I had a new Sunday cutaway and light pants to go with it, so I figgered that I was pretty well found, but Cap'n Jonadab had to pry himself loose from considerable money, and every cent hurt as if 'twas nailed on. Then he had chilblains that winter, and all the way over in the Fall River boat he was fuming about them chilblains, and adding up on a piece of paper how much cash he'd spent.

We struck Cashmere-on-the-Hudson about three o'clock on the afternoon of the day of the wedding. 'Twas a little country kind of a town, smaller by a good deal than Orham, and so we cal'lated that perhaps after all, the affair wouldn't be so everlasting tony. But when we hove in sight of Dillamead—Ebenezer's place—we shortened sail and pretty nigh drew out of the race. 'Twas up on a high bank over the river, and the house itself was bigger than four Old Homes spliced together. It had a fair-sized township around it in the shape of land, with a high stone wall for trimming on the edges. There was trees, and places for flower-beds in summer, and the land knows what. We see right off that this was the real Cashmere-on-the-Hudson; the village folks were stranded on the flats—old Dillaway filled the whole ship channel.

"Well," I says to Jonadab, "it looks to me as if we was getting out of soundings. What do you say to coming about and making a quick run for Orham again?"

But he wouldn't hear of it. "S'pose I've spent all that money on duds for nothing?" he says. "No, sir, by thunder! I ain't scared of Peter Brown, nor her that's going to be his wife; and I ain't scared of Ebenezer neither; no matter if he does live in the Manufacturers' Building, with two or three thousand fathom of front fence," he says.

Some years ago Jonadab got reckless and went on a cut-rate excursion to the World's Fair out in Chicago, and ever sence then he's been comparing things with the "Manufacturers' Building" or the "Palace of Agriculture" or "Streets of Cairo," or some other outlandish place.

"All right," says I. "Darn the torpedoes! Keep her as she is! You can fire when ready, Gridley!"

So we sot sail for what we jedged was Ebenezer's front-gate, and just as we made it, a man comes whistling round the bend in the path, and I'm blessed if 'twa'n't Peter T. Brown. He was rigged to kill, as usual, only more so.

"Hello, Peter!" I says. "Here we be."

If ever a feller was surprised, Brown was that feller. He looked like he'd struck a rock where there was deep water on the chart.

"Well, I'll be ——" he begun, and then stopped. "What in the ——" he commenced again, and again his breath died out. Fin'lly he says: "Is this you, or had I better quit and try another pipe?"

We told him 'twas us, and it seemed to me that he wa'n't nigh so tickled as he'd ought to have been. When he found we'd come to the wedding, 'count of Ebenezer sending us word, he didn't say nothing for a minute or so.

"Of course, we HAD to come," says Jonadab. "We felt 'twouldn't be right to disapp'int Mr. Dillaway."

Peter kind of twisted his mouth. "That's so," he says. "It'll be worth more'n a box of diamonds to him. Do him more good than joining a 'don't worry club.' Well, come on up to the house and ease his mind."

So we done it, and Ebenezer acted even more surprised than Peter.

I can't tell you anything about that house, nor the fixings in it; it beat me a mile—that house did. We had a room somewheres up on the hurricane deck, with brass bunks and plush carpets and crocheted curtains and electric lights. I swan there was looking glasses in every corner—big ones, man's size. I remember Cap'n Jonadab hollering to me that night when he was getting ready to turn in:

"For the land's sake, Barzilla!" says he, "turn out them lights, will you? I ain't over'n' above bashful, but them looking glasses make me feel's if I was undressing along with all hands and the cook."

The house was full of comp'ny, and more kept coming all the time. Swells! don't talk! We felt 'bout as much at home as a cow in a dory, but we was there 'cause Ebenezer had asked us to be there, so we kept on the course and didn't signal for help. Travelling through the rooms down stairs where the folks was, was a good deal like dodging icebergs up on the Banks, but one or two noticed us enough to dip the colors, and one was real sociable. He was a kind of slow-spoken city-feller, dressed as if his clothes was poured over him hot and then left to cool. His last name had a splice in the middle of it—'twas Catesby-Stuart. Everybody—that is, most everybody—called him "Phil."

Well, sir, Phil cottoned to Jonadab and me right away. He'd get us, one on each wing, and go through that house asking questions. He pumped me and Jonadab dry about how we come to be there, and told us more yarns than a few 'bout Dillaway, and how rich he was. I remember he said that he only wished he had the keys to the cellar so he could show us the money-bins. Said Ebenezer was so just—well, rotten with money, as you might say, that he kept it in bins down cellar, same as poor folks kept coal—gold in one bin, silver half-dollars in another, quarters in another, and so on. When he needed any, he'd say to a servant: "James, fetch me up a hod of change." This was only one of the fish yarns he told. They sounded kind of scaly to Jonadab and me, but if we hinted at such a thing, he'd pull himself together and say: "Fact, I assure you," in a way to freeze your vitals. He seemed like such a good feller that we didn't mind his telling a few big ones; we'd known good fellers afore that liked to lie—gunners and such like, they were mostly.

Somehow or 'nother Phil got Cap'n Jonadab talking "boat," and when Jonadab talks "boat" there ain't no stopping him. He's the smartest feller in a cat-boat that ever handled a tiller, and he's won more races than any man on the Cape, I cal'late. Phil asked him and me if we'd ever sailed on an ice-boat, and, when we said we hadn't he asks if we won't take a sail with him on the river next morning. We didn't want to put him to so much trouble on our account, but he said: "Not at all. Pleasure'll be all mine, I assure you." Well, 'twas his for a spell—but never mind that now.

He introduced us to quite a lot of the comp'ny—men mostly. He'd see a school of 'em in a corner, or under a palm tree or somewheres, and steer us over in that direction and make us known to all hands. Then he begin to show us off, so to speak, get Jonadab telling 'bout the boats he'd sailed, or something like it— and them fellers would laugh and holler, but Phil's face wouldn't shake out a reef: he looked solemn as a fun'ral all the time. Jonadab and me begun to think we was making a great hit. Well, we was, but not the way we thought. I remember one of the gang gets Phil to one side after a talk like this and whispers to him, laughing like fun. Phil says to him: "My dear boy, I've been to thousands of these things—" waving his flipper scornful around the premises—" and upon honor they've all been alike. Now that I've discovered something positively original, let me enjoy myself. The entertainment by the Heavenly Twins is only begun."

I didn't know what he meant then; I do now.

The marrying was done about eight o'clock and done with all the trimmings. All hands manned the yards in the best parlor, and Peter and Belle was hitched. Then they went away in a swell turnout—not like the derelict hacks we'd seen stranded by the Cashmere depot—and Jonadab pretty nigh took the driver's larboard ear off with a shoe Phil gave him to heave after 'em.

After the wedding the folks was sitting under the palms and bushes that was growing in tubs all over the house, and the stewards— there was enough of 'em to man a four-master—was carting 'round punch and frozen victuals. Everybody was togged up till Jonadab and me, in our new cutaways, felt like a couple of moulting blackbirds at a blue-jay camp-meeting. Ebenezer was so busy, flying 'round like a pullet with its head off, that he'd hardly spoke to us sence we landed, but Phil scarcely ever left us, so we wa'n't lonesome. Pretty soon he comes back from a beat into the next room, and he says:

"There's a lady here that's just dying to know you gentlemen. Her name's Granby. Tell her all about the Cape; she'll like it. And, by the way, my dear feller," he whispers to Jonadab "if you want to please her—er—mightily, congratulate her upon her boy's success in the laundry business. You understand," he says, winking; "only son and self-made man, don't you know."

Mrs. Granby was roosting all by herself on a sofy in the parlor. She was fleshy, but terrible stiff and proud, and when she moved the diamonds on her shook till her head and neck looked like one of them "set pieces" at the Fourth of July fireworks. She was deef, too, and used an ear-trumpet pretty nigh as big as a steamer's ventilator.

Maybe she was "dying to know us," but she didn't have a fit trying to show it. Me and Jonadab felt we'd ought to be sociable, and so we set, one on each side of her on the sofy, and bellered: "How d'ye do?" and "Fine day, ain't it?" into that ear-trumpet. She didn't say much, but she'd couple on the trumpet and turn to whichever one of us had hailed, heeling over to that side as if her ballast had shifted. She acted to me kind of uneasy, but everybody that come into that parlor—and they kept piling in all the time— looked more'n middling joyful. They kept pretty quiet, too, so that every yell we let out echoed, as you might say, all 'round. I begun to git shaky at the knees, as if I was preaching to a big congregation.

After a spell, Jonadab not being able to think of anything more to say, and remembering Phil's orders, leans over and whoops into the trumpet.

"I'm real glad your son done so well with his laundry," he says.

Well, sir, Phil had give us to understand that them congratulations would make a hit, and they done it. The women 'round the room turned red and some of 'em covered their mouths with their handkerchiefs. The men looked glad and set up and took notice. Ebenezer wa'n't in the room—which was a mercy—but your old mess- mate, Catesby-Stuart, looked solemn as ever and never turned a hair.

But as for old lady Granby—whew! She got redder'n she was afore, which was a miracle, pretty nigh. She couldn't speak for a minute— just cackled like a hen. Then she busts out with: "How dare you!" and flounces out of that room like a hurricane. And it was still as could be for a minute, and then two or three of the girls begun to squeal and giggle behind their handkerchiefs.

Jonadab and me went away, too. We didn't flounce any to speak of. I guess a "sneak" would come nearer to telling how we quit. I see the cap'n heading for the stairs and I fell into his wake. Nobody said good-night, and we didn't wait to give 'em a chance.

'Course we knew we'd put our foot in it somewheres, but we didn't see just how. Even then we wa'n't really onto Phil's game. You see, when a green city chap comes to the Old Home House—and the land knows there's freaks enough do come—we always try to make things pleasant for him, and the last thing we'd think of was making him a show afore folks. So we couldn't b'lieve even now 'twas done a-purpose. But we was suspicious, a little.

"Barzilla," says Jonadab, getting ready to turn in, "'tain't possible that that feller with the sprained last name is having fun with us, is it?"

"Jonadab," says I, "I've been wondering that myself."

And we wondered for an hour, and finally decided to wait a while and say nothing till we could ask Ebenezer. And the next morning one of the stewards comes up to our room with some coffee and grub, and says that Mr. Catesby-Stuart requested the pleasure of our comp'ny on a afore-breakfast ice-boat sail, and would meet us at the pier in half an hour. They didn't have breakfast at Ebenezer's till pretty close to dinner time, eleven o'clock, so we had time enough for quite a trip.

Phil and the ice-boat met us on time. I s'pose it 'twas style, but, if I hadn't known I'd have swore he'd run short of duds and had dressed up in the bed-clothes. I felt of his coat when he wa'n't noticing, and if it wa'n't made out of a blanket then I never slept under one. And it made me think of my granddad to see what he had on his head—a reg'lar nightcap, tassel and all. Phil said he was sorry we turned in so early the night afore. Said he'd planned to entertain us all the evening. We didn't hurrah much at this—being suspicious, as I said—and he changed the subject to ice-boats.

That ice-boat was a bird. I cal'lated to know a boat when I sighted one, but a flat-iron on skates was something bran-new. I didn't think much of it, and I could see that Jonadab didn't neither.

But in about three shakes of a lamb's tail I was ready to take it all back and say I never said it. I done enough praying in the next half hour to square up for every Friday night meeting I'd missed sence I was a boy. Phil got sail onto her, and we moved out kind of slow.

"Now, then," says he, "we'll take a little jaunt up the river. 'Course this isn't like one of your Cape Cod cats, but still—"

And then I dug my finger nails into the deck and commenced: "Now I lay me." Talk about going! 'Twas "F-s-s-s-t!" and we was a mile from home. "Bu-z-z-z!" and we was just getting ready to climb a bank; but 'fore she nosed the shore Phil would put the helm over and we'd whirl round like a windmill, with me and Jonadab biting the planking, and hanging on for dear life, and my heart, that had been up in my mouth knocking the soles of my boots off. And Cap'n Catesby-Stuart would grin, and drawl: "'Course, this ain't like a Orham cat-boat, but she does fairly well—er—fairly. Now, for instance, how does this strike you?"

It struck us—I don't think any got away. I expected every minute to land in the hereafter, and it got so that the prospect looked kind of inviting, if only to get somewheres where 'twas warm. That February wind went in at the top of my stiff hat and whizzed out through the legs of my thin Sunday pants till I felt for all the world like the ventilating pipe on an ice-chest. I could see why Phil was wearing the bed-clothes; what I was suffering for just then was a feather mattress on each side of me.

Well, me and Jonadab was "it" for quite a spell. Phil had all the fun, and I guess he enjoyed it. If he'd stopped right then, when the fishing was good, I cal'late he'd have fetched port with a full hold; but no, he had to rub it in, so to speak, and that's where he slopped over. You know how 'tis when you're eating mince-pie—it's the "one more slice" that fetches the nightmare. Phil stopped to get that slice.

He kept whizzing up and down that river till Jonadab and me kind of got over our variousness. We could manage to get along without spreading out like porous plasters, and could set up for a minute or so on a stretch. And twa'n't necessary for us to hold a special religious service every time the flat-iron come about. Altogether, we was in that condition where the doctor might have held out some hopes.

And, in spite of the cold, we was noticing how Phil was sailing that three-cornered sneak-box—noticing and criticising; at least, I was, and Cap'n Jonadab, being, as I've said, the best skipper of small craft from Provincetown to Cohasset Narrows, must have had some ideas on the subject. Your old chum, Catesby-Stuart, thought he was mast-high so fur's sailing was concerned, anybody could see that, but he had something to larn. He wasn't beginning to get out all there was in that ice-boat. And just then along comes another feller in the same kind of hooker and gives us a hail. There was two other chaps on the boat with him.

"Hello, Phil!" he yells, rounding his flat-iron into the wind abreast of ours and bobbing his night-cap. "I hoped you might be out. Are you game for a race?"

"Archie," answers our skipper, solemn as a setting hen, "permit me to introduce to you Cap'n Jonadab Wixon and Admiral Barzilla Wingate, of Orham, on the Cape."

I wasn't expecting to fly an admiral's pennant quite so quick, but I managed to shake out through my teeth—they was chattering like a box of dice—that I was glad to know the feller. Jonadab, he rattled loose something similar.

"The Cap'n and the Admiral," says Phil, "having sailed the raging main for lo! these many years, are now favoring me with their advice concerning the navigation of ice-yachts. Archie, if you're willing to enter against such a handicap of brains and barnacles, I'll race you on a beat up to the point yonder, then on the ten mile run afore the wind to the buoy opposite the Club, and back to the cove by Dillaway's. And we'll make it a case of wine. Is it a go?"

Archie, he laughed and said it was, and, all at once, the race was on.

Now, Phil had lied when he said we was "favoring" him with advice, 'cause we hadn't said a word; but that beat up to the point wa'n't half over afore Jonadab and me was dying to tell him a few things. He handled that boat like a lobster. Archie gained on every tack and come about for the run a full minute afore us.

And on that run afore the wind 'twas worse than ever. The way Phil see-sawed that piece of pie back and forth over the river was a sin and shame. He could have slacked off his mainsail and headed dead for the buoy, but no, he jiggled around like an old woman crossing the road ahead of a funeral.

Cap'n Jonadab was on edge. Racing was where he lived, as you might say, and he fidgeted like he was setting on a pin-cushion. By and by he snaps out:

"Keep her off! Keep her off afore the wind! Can't you see where you're going?"

Phil looked at him as if he was a graven image, and all the answer he made was; "Be calm, Barnacles, be calm!"

But pretty soon I couldn't stand it no longer, and I busts out with: "Keep her off, Mr. What's-your name! For the Lord's sake, keep her off! He'll beat the life out of you!"

And all the good that done was for me to get a stare that was colder than the wind, if such a thing's possible.

But Jonadab got fidgetyer every minute, and when we come out into the broadest part of the river, within a little ways of the buoy, he couldn't stand it no longer.

"You're spilling half the wind!" he yells. "Pint' her for the buoy or else you'll be licked to death! Jibe her so's she gits it full. Jibe her, you lubber! Don't you know how? Here! let me show you!"

And the next thing I knew he fetched a hop like a frog, shoved Phil out of the way, grabbed the tiller, and jammed it over.

She jibed—oh, yes, she jibed! If anybody says she didn't you send 'em to me. I give you my word that that flat-iron jibed twice— once for practice, I jedge, and then for business. She commenced by twisting and squirming like an eel. I jest had sense enough to clamp my mittens onto the little brass rail by the stern and hold on; then she jibed the second time. She stood up on two legs, the boom come over with a slat that pretty nigh took the mast with it, and the whole shebang whirled around as if it had forgot something. I have a foggy kind of remembrance of locking my mitten clamps fast onto that rail while the rest of me streamed out in the air like a burgee. Next thing I knew we was scooting back towards Dillaway's, with the sail catching every ounce that was blowing. Jonadab was braced across the tiller, and there, behind us, was the Honorable Philip Catesby-Stuart, flat on his back, with his blanket legs looking like a pair of compasses, and skimming in whirligigs over the slick ice towards Albany. HE hadn't had nothing to hold onto, you understand. Well, if I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have b'lieved that a human being could spin so long or travel so fast on his back. His legs made a kind of smoky circle in the air over him, and he'd got such a start I thought he'd NEVER STOP a-going. He come to a place where some snow had melted in the sun and there was a pond, as you might say, on the ice, and he went through that, heaving spray like one of them circular lawn sprinklers the summer folks have. He'd have been as pretty as a fountain, if we'd had time to stop and look at him.

"For the land sakes, heave to!" I yelled, soon's I could get my breath. "You've spilled the skipper!"

"Skipper be durned!" howls Jonadab, squeezing the tiller and keeping on the course; "We'll come back for him by and by. It's our business to win this race."

And, by ginger! we DID win it. The way Jonadab coaxed that cocked hat on runners over the ice was pretty—yes, sir, pretty! He nipped her close enough to the wind'ard, and he took advantage of every single chance. He always COULD sail; I'll say that for him. We walked up on Archie like he'd set down to rest, and passed him afore he was within a half mile of home. We run up abreast of Dillaway's, putting on all the fancy frills of a liner coming into port, and there was Ebenezer and a whole crowd of wedding company down by the landing.

"Gosh!" says Jonadab, tugging at his whiskers: "'Twas Cape Cod against New York that time, and you can't beat the Cape when it comes to getting over water, not even if the water's froze. Hey, Barzilla?"

Ebenezer came hopping over the ice towards us. He looked some surprised.

"Where's Phil?" he says.

Now, I'd clean forgot Phil and I guess Jonadab had, by the way he colored up.

"Phil?" says he. "Phil? Oh, yes! We left him up the road a piece. Maybe we'd better go after him now."

But old Dillaway had something to say.

"Cap'n," he says, looking round to make sure none of the comp'ny was follering him out to the ice-boat. "I've wanted to speak to you afore, but I haven't had the chance. You mustn't b'lieve too much of what Mr. Catesby-Stuart says, nor you mustn't always do just what he suggests. You see," he says, "he's a dreadful practical joker."

"Yes," says Jonadab, beginning to look sick. I didn't say nothing, but I guess I looked the same way.

"Yes," said Ebenezer, kind of uneasy like; "Now, in that matter of Mrs. Granby. I s'pose Phil put you up to asking her about her son's laundry. Yes? Well, I thought so. You see, the fact is, her boy is a broker down in Wall Street, and he's been caught making some of what they call 'wash sales' of stock. It's against the rules of the Exchange to do that, and the papers have been full of the row. You can see," says Dillaway, "how the laundry question kind of stirred the old lady up. But, Lord! it must have been funny," and he commenced to grin.

I looked at Jonadab, and he looked at me. I thought of Marm Granby, and her being "dying to know us," and I thought of the lies about the "hod of change" and all the rest, and I give you my word _I_ didn't grin, not enough to show my wisdom teeth, anyhow. A crack in the ice an inch wide would have held me, with room to spare; I know that.

"Hum!" grunts Jonadab, kind of dry and bitter, as if he'd been taking wormwood tea; "_I_ see. He's been having a good time making durn fools out of us."

"Well," says Ebenezer, "not exactly that, p'raps, but—"


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