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The Love of Lobelia Ankins by Joseph C. Lincoln

 

Obed's yarn being done, and friend Davidson done too, and brown at that, Peter T. passed around another relay of cigars and we lit up. 'Twas Cap'n Eri that spoke first.

"Love's a queer disease, anyway," says he. "Ain't it, now? 'Twould puzzle you and me to figger out what that Saunders girl see to like in the Davidson critter. It must be a dreadful responsible thing to be so fascinating. I never felt that responsibleness but once—except when I got married, of course—and that was a good many years ago, when I was going to sea on long v'yages, and was cruising around the East Indies, in the latitude of our new troubles, the Philippines.

"I put in about three months on one of them little coral islands off that way once. Hottest corner in the Lord's creation, I cal'late, and the laziest and sleepiest hole ever I struck. All a feller feels like doing in them islands is just to lay on his back under a palm tree all day and eat custard-apples, and such truck.

"Way I come to be there was like this: I was fo'mast hand on a Boston hooker bound to Singapore after rice. The skipper's name was Perkins, Malachi C. Perkins, and he was the meanest man that ever wore a sou'-wester. I've had the pleasure of telling him so sence—'twas in Surinam 'long in '72. Well, anyhow, Perkins fed us on spiled salt junk and wormy hard-tack all the way out, and if a feller dast to hint that the same wa'n't precisely what you'd call Parker House fare, why the skipper would knock him down with a marline-spike and the first mate would kick him up and down the deck. 'Twan't a pretty performance to look at, but it beat the world for taking the craving for fancy cooking out of a man.

"Well, when I got to Singapore I was nothing but skin and bone, and considerable of the skin had been knocked off by the marline-spike and the mate's boots. I'd shipped for the v'yage out and back, but the first night in port I slipped over the side, swum ashore, and never set eyes on old Perkins again till that time in Surinam, years afterward.

"I knocked round them Singapore docks for much as a month, hoping to get a berth on some other ship, but 'twan't no go. I fell in with a Britisher named Hammond, 'Ammond, he called it, and as he was on the same hunt that I was, we kept each other comp'ny. We done odd jobs now 'n' again, and slept in sailors' lodging houses when we had the price, and under bridges or on hemp bales when we hadn't. I was too proud to write home for money, and Hammond didn't have no home to write to, I cal'late.

"But luck 'll turn if you give it time enough. One night Hammond come hurrying round to my sleeping-room—that is to say, my hemp bale—and gives me a shake, and says he:

"'Turn out, you mud 'ead, I've got you a berth.'

"'Aw, go west!' says I, and turned over to go to sleep again. But he pulled me off the bale by the leg, and that woke me up so I sensed what he was saying. Seems he'd found a feller that wanted to ship a couple of fo'mast hands on a little trading schooner for a trip over to the Java Sea.

"Well, to make a long story short, we shipped with this feller, whose name was Lazarus. I cal'late if the Lazarus in Scriptur' had been up to as many tricks and had come as nigh being a thief as our Lazarus was, he wouldn't have been so poor. Ourn was a shrewd rascal and nothing more nor less than a pearl poacher. He didn't tell us that till after we sot sail, but we was so desperate I don't know as 'twould have made much diff'rence if he had.

"We cruised round for a spell, sort of prospecting, and then we landed at a little one-horse coral island, where there wa'n't no inhabitants, but where we was pretty dead sartin there was pearl oyster banks in the lagoon. There was five of us on the schooner, a Dutchman named Rhinelander, a Coolie cook and Lazarus and Hammond and me. We put up a slab shanty on shore and went to work pearl fishing, keeping one eye out for Dutch gunboats, and always having a sago palm ready to split open so's, if we got caught, we could say we was after sago.

"Well, we done fairly good at the pearl fishing; got together quite a likely mess of pearls, and, as 'twas part of the agreement that the crew had a certain share in the stake, why, Hammond and me was figgering that we was going to make enough to more'n pay us for our long spell of starving at Singapore. Lazarus was feeling purty middling chipper, the cook was feeding us high, and everything looked lovely.

"Rhinelander and the Coolie and the skipper used to sleep aboard the boat, but Hammond and me liked to sleep ashore in the shanty. For one thing, the bunks on the schooner wa'n't none too clean, and the Coolie snored so that he'd shake the whole cabin, and start me dreaming about cyclones, and cannons firing, and lions roaring, and all kind of foolishness. I always did hate a snorer.

"One morning me and Hammond come out of the shanty, and, lo and behold you! there wa'n't no schooner to be seen. That everlasting Lazarus had put up a job on us, and had sneaked off in the night with the cook and the Dutchman, and took our share of the pearls with him. I s'pose he'd cal'lated to do it from the very first. Anyway, there we was, marooned on that little two-for-a-cent island.

"The first day we didn't do much but cuss Lazarus up hill and down dale. Hammond was the best at that kind of business ever I see. He invented more'n four hundred new kind of names for the gang on the schooner, and every one of 'em was brimstone-blue. We had fish lines in the shanty, and there was plenty of water on the island, so we knew we wouldn't starve to death nor die of thirst, anyhow.

"I've mentioned that 'twas hot in them parts? Well, that island was the hottest of 'em all. Whew! Don't talk! And, more'n that, the weather was the kind that makes you feel it's a barrel of work to live. First day we fished and slept. Next day we fished less and slept more. Third day 'twas too everlasting hot even to sleep, so we set round in the shade and fought flies and jawed each other. Main trouble was who was goin' to git the meals. Land, how we did miss that Coolie cook!

"'W'y don't yer get to work and cook something fit to heat?' says Hammond. ''Ere I broke my bloomin' back 'auling in the fish, and you doing nothing but 'anging around and letting 'em dry hup in the 'eat. Get to work and cook. Blimed if I ain't sick of these 'ere custard apples!'

"'Go and cook yourself,' says I. 'I didn't sign articles to be cook for no Johnny Bull!'

"Well, we jawed back and forth for an hour, maybe more. Two or three times we got up to have it out, but 'twas too hot to fight, so we set down again. Fin'lly we eat some supper, custard apples and water, and turned in.

"But 'twas too hot to sleep much, and I got up about three o'clock in the morning and went out and set down on the beach in the moonlight. Pretty soon out comes Hammond and sets down alongside and begins to give the weather a general overhauling, callin' it everything he could lay tongue to. Pretty soon he breaks off in the middle of a nine-j'inted swear word and sings out:

"'Am I goin' crazy, or is that a schooner?'

"I looked out into the moonlight, and there, sure enough, was a schooner, about a mile off the island, and coming dead on. First- off we thought 'twas Lazarus coming back, but pretty soon we see 'twas a considerable smaller boat than his.

"We forgot all about how hot it was and hustled out on the reef right at the mouth of the lagoon. I had a coat on a stick, and I waved it for a signal, and Hammond set to work building a bonfire. He got a noble one blazing and then him and me stood and watched the schooner.

"She was acting dreadful queer. First she'd go ahead on one tack and then give a heave over and come about with a bang, sails flapping and everything of a shake; then she'd give another slat and go off another way; but mainly she kept right on toward the island.

"'W'at's the matter aboard there?' says Hammond. 'Is hall 'ands drunk?'

"'She's abandoned,' says I. 'That's what's the matter. There ain't NOBODY aboard of her.'

"Then we both says, 'Salvage!' and shook hands.

"The schooner came nearer and nearer. It begun to look as if she'd smash against the rocks in front of us, but she didn't. When she got opposite the mouth of the lagoon she heeled over on a new tack and sailed in between the rocks as pretty as anything ever you see. Then she run aground on the beach just about a quarter of a mile from the shanty.

"'Twas early morning when we climbed aboard of her. I thought Lazarus' schooner was dirty, but this one was nothing BUT dirt. Dirty sails, all patches, dirty deck, dirty everything.

"'Won't get much salvage on this bally tub,' says Hammond; 'she's one of them nigger fish boats, that's w'at she is.'

"I was kind of skittish about going below, 'fraid there might be some dead folks, but Hammond went. In a minute or so up he comes, looking scary.

"'There's something mighty queer down there,' says he: 'kind of w'eezing like a puffing pig.'

"'Wheezing your grandmother!' says I, but I went and listened at the hatch. 'Twas a funny noise I heard, but I knew what it was in a minute; I'd heard too much of it lately to forget it, right away.

"'It's snoring,' says I; 'somebody snoring.'

"''Eavens!' says Hammond, 'you don't s'pose it's that 'ere Coolie come back?'

"'No, no!' says I. 'Where's your common sense? The cook snored bass; this critter's snoring suppraner, and mighty poor suppraner at that.'

"'Well,' says he, ''ere goes to wake 'im hup!' And he commenced to holler, 'Ahoy!' and 'Belay, there!' down the hatch.

"First thing we heard was a kind of thump like somebody jumping out er bed. Then footsteps, running like; then up the hatchway comes a sight I shan't forget if I live to be a hundred.

"'Twas a woman, middling old, with a yeller face all wrinkles, and a chin and nose like Punch. She was dressed in a gaudy old calico gown, and had earrings in her ears. She give one look round at the schooner and the island. Then she see us and let out a whoop like a steam whistle.

"'Mulligatawny Sacremento merlasess!' she yells. 'Course that wa'n't what she said, but that's what it sounded like. Then, 'fore Hammond could stop her, she run for him and give him a rousing big hug. He was the most surprised man ever you see, stood there like a wooden image. I commenced to laff, but the next minute the woman come for me and hugged me, too.

"''Fectionate old gal,' says Hammond, grinning.

"The critter in the calirco gown was going through the craziest pantomime ever was; p'intin' off to sea and then down to deck and then up to the sails. I didn't catch on for a minute, but Hammond did. Says he:

"'Showing us w'ere this 'ere palatial yacht come from. 'Ad a rough passage, it looks like!'

"Then the old gal commenced to get excited. She p'inted over the side and made motions like rowing. Then she p'inted down the hatch and shut her eyes and purtended to snore. After that she rowed again, all the time getting madder and madder, with her little black eyes a-snapping like fire coals and stomping her feet and shaking her fists. Fin'lly she finished up with a regular howl, you might say, of rage.

"'The crew took to the boat and left 'er asleep below,' says Hammond. ''Oly scissors: they're in for a lively time if old Nutcrackers 'ere ever catches 'em, 'ey?'

"Well, we went over the schooner and examined everything, but there wa'n't nothing of any value nowheres. 'Twas a reg'lar nigger fishing boat, with dirt and cockroaches by the pailful. At last we went ashore agin and up to the shanty, taking the old woman with us. After eating some more of them tiresome custard apples for breakfast, Hammond and me went down to look over the schooner agin. We found she'd started a plank running aground on the beach, and that 'twould take us a week to get her afloat and watertight.

"While we was doing this the woman come down and went aboard. Pretty soon we see her going back to the shanty with her arms full of bundles and truck. We didn't think anything of it then, but when we got home at noon, there was the best dinner ever you see all ready for us. Fried fish, and some kind of beans cooked up with peppers, and tea—real store tea—and a lot more things. Land, how we did eat! We kept smacking our lips and rubbing our vests to show we was enjoying everything, and the old gal kept bobbing her head and grinning like one of them dummies you wind up with a key.

"'Well,' says Hammond, 'we've got a cook at last. Ain't we, old— old— Blimed if we've got a name for 'er yet! Here!' says he, pointing to me. 'Looky here, missis! 'Edge! 'Edge! that's 'im! 'Ammond! 'Ammond! that's me. Now, 'oo are YOU?'

"She rattled off a name that had more double j'ints in it than an eel.

"'Lordy!' says I; 'we never can larn that rigamarole. I tell you! She looks for all the world like old A'nt Lobelia Fosdick at home down on Cape Cod. Let's call her that.'

"'She looks to me like the mother of a oysterman I used to know in Liverpool. 'Is name was 'Ankins. Let's split the difference and call 'er Lobelia 'Ankins.'

"So we done it.

"Well, Hammond and me pounded and patched away at the schooner for the next three or four days, taking plenty of time off to sleep in, 'count of the heat, but getting along fairly well.

"Lobelia 'Ankins cooked and washed dishes for us. She done some noble cooking, 'specially as we wa'n't partic'lar, but we could see she had a temper to beat the Old Scratch. If anything got burned, or if the kittle upset, she'd howl and stomp and scatter things worse than a cyclone.

"I reckon 'twas about the third day that I noticed she was getting sweet on Hammond. She was giving him the best of all the vittles, and used to set at the table and look at him, softer'n and sweeter'n a bucket of molasses. Used to walk 'longside of him, too, and look up in his face and smile. I could see that he noticed it and that it was worrying him a heap. One day he says to me:

"''Edge,' says he, 'I b'lieve that 'ere chromo of a Lobelia 'Ankins is getting soft on me.'

"''Course she is,' says I; 'I see that a long spell ago.'

"'But what'll I DO?' says he. 'A woman like 'er is a desp'rate character. If we hever git hashore she might be for lugging me to the church and marrying me by main force.'

"'Then you'll have to marry her, for all I see,' says I. 'You shouldn't be so fascinating.'

"That made him mad and he went off jawing to himself.

"The next day we got the schooner patched up and off the shoal and 'longside Lazarus' old landing wharf by the shanty. There was a little more tinkering to be done 'fore she was ready for sea, and we cal'lated to do it that afternoon.

"After dinner Hammond went down to the spring after some water and Lobelia 'Ankins went along with him. I laid down in the shade for a snooze, but I hadn't much more than settled myself comfortably when I heard a yell and somebody running. I jumped up just in time to see Hammond come busting through the bushes, lickety smash, with Lobelia after him, yelling like an Injun. Hammond wa'n't yelling; he was saving his breath for running.

"They wa'n't in sight more'n a minute, but went smashing and crashing through the woods into the distance. 'Twas too hot to run after 'em, so I waited a spell and then loafed off in a roundabout direction toward where I see 'em go. After I'd walked pretty nigh a mile I heard Hammond whistle. I looked, but didn't see him nowheres. Then he whistled again, and I see his head sticking out of the top of a palm tree.

"'Is she gone?' says he.

"'Yes, long ago,' says I. 'Come down.'

"It took some coaxing to git him down, but he come after a spell, and he was the scaredest man ever I see. I asked him what the matter was.

"''Edge,' says he, 'I'm a lost man. That 'ere 'orrible 'Ankins houtrage is either going to marry me or kill me. 'Edge,' he says, awful solemn, 'she tried to kiss me! S'elp me, she did!'

"Well, I set back and laughed. 'Is that why you run away?' I says.

"'No,' says he. 'When I wouldn't let 'er she hups with a rock as big as my 'ead and goes for me. There was murder in 'er eyes, 'Edge; I see it.'

"Then I laughed more than ever and told him to come back to the shanty, but he wouldn't. He swore he'd never come back again while Lobelia 'Ankins was there.

"'That's it,' says he, 'larf at a feller critter's sufferings. I honly wish she'd try to kiss you once, that's all!'

"Well, I couldn't make him budge, so I decided to go back and get the lay of the land. Lobelia was busy inside the shanty when I got there and looking black as a thundercloud, so I judged 'twa'n't best to say nothing to her, and I went down and finished the job on the schooner. At night, when I come in to suppers she met me at the door. She had a big stick in her hand and looked savage. I was a little nervous.

"'Now, Lobelia 'Ankins,' says I, 'put down that and be sociable, there's a good girl.'

"'Course I knew she couldn't understand me, but I was whistling to keep my courage up, as the saying is.

"''Ammond!' says she, p'inting toward the woods.

"'Yes,' says I, 'Hammond's taking a walk for his health.'

"''Ammond!' says she, louder, and shaking the stick.

"'Now, Lobelia,' says I, smiling smooth as butter, 'do put down that club!'

"''AMMOND!' she fairly hollers. Then she went through the most blood-curdling pantomime ever was, I reckon. First she comes up to me and taps me on the chest and says, ''Edge.' Then she goes creeping round the room on tiptoe, p'inting out of the winder all the time as much as to say she was pertending to walk through the woods. Then she p'ints to one of the stumps we used for chairs and screeches "AMMOND! and fetches the stump an awful bang with the club. Then she comes over to me and kinder snuggles up and smiles, and says, ''Edge,' and tried to put the club in my hand.

"My topnot riz up on my head. 'Good Lord!' thinks I, 'she's making love to me so's to get me to take that club and go and thump Hammond with it!'

"I was scared stiff, but Lobelia was between me and the door, so I kept smiling and backing away.

"'Now, Lobelia,' says I, 'don't be—'

"''Ammond!' says she.

"'Now, Miss 'Ankins, d-o-n't be hasty, I—'

"''AMMOND!

"Well, I backed faster and faster, and she follered me right up till at last I begun to run. Round and round the place we went, me scart for my life and she fairly frothing with rage. Finally I bust through the door and put for the woods at a rate that beat Hammond's going all holler. I never stopped till I got close to the palm tree. Then I whistled and Hammond answered.

"When I told him about the rumpus, he set and laughed like an idiot.

"''Ow d'you like Miss 'Ankin's love-making?' he says.

"'You'll like it less'n I do,' I says, 'if she gets up here with that club!'

"That kind of sobered him down again, and we got to planning. After a spell, we decided that our only chance was to sneak down to the schooner in the dark and put to sea, leaving Lobelia alone in her glory.

"Well, we waited till twelve o'clock or so and then we crept down to the beach, tiptoeing past the shanty for fear of waking Lobelia. We got on the schooner all right, hauled up anchor, h'isted sail and stood out of the lagoon with a fair wind. When we was fairly to sea we shook hands.

"'Lawd!' says Hammond, drawing a long breath, 'I never was so 'appy in my life. This 'ere lady-killing business ain't in my line.'

"He felt so good that he set by the wheel and sung, 'Good-by, sweet'art, good-by,' for an hour or more.

"In the morning we was in sight of another small island, and, out on a p'int, was a passel of folks jumping up and down and waving a signal.

"'Well, if there ain't more castaways!' says I.

"'Don't go near 'em!' says Hammond. 'Might come there was more Lobelias among 'em.'

"But pretty quick we see the crowd all pile into a boat and come rowing off to us. They was all men, and their signal was a red flannel shirt on a pole.

"We put about for 'em and picked 'em up, letting their boat tow behind the schooner. There was five of 'em, a ragged and dirty lot of Malays and half-breeds. When they first climbed aboard, I see 'em looking the schooner over mighty sharp, and in a minute they was all jabbering together in native lingo.

"'What's the matter with 'em?' says Hammond.

"A chap with scraggy black whiskers and a sort of worried look on his face, stepped for'ard and made a bow. He looked like a cross between a Spaniard and a Malay, and I guess that's what he was.

"'Senors,' says he, palavering and scraping, 'boat! my boat!'

"'W'at's 'e giving us?' says Hammond.

"'Boat! This boat! My boat, senors,' says the feller. All to once I understood him.

"'Hammond,' I says, 'I swan to man if I don't believe we've picked up the real crew of this craft!'

"'Si, senor; boat, my boat! Crew! Crew!' says Whiskers, waving his hands toward the rest of his gang.

"'Hall right, skipper,' says Hammond; 'glad to see yer back haboard. Make yerselves well at 'ome. 'Ow d' yer lose er in the first place?'

"The feller didn't seem to understand much of this, but he looked more worried than ever. The crew looked frightened, and jabbered.

"'Ooman, senors,' says Whiskers, in half a whisper. 'Ooman, she here?'

"'Hammond,' says I, 'what's a ooman?' The feller seemed to be thinkin' a minute; then he began to make signs. He pulled his nose down till it most touched his chin. Then he put his hands to his ears and made loops of his fingers to show earrings. Then he took off his coat and wrapped it round his knees like make-b'lieve skirts. Hammond and me looked at each other.

"''Edge,' says Hammond, ''e wants to know w'at's become of Lobelia 'Ankins.'

"'No, senor,' says I to the feller; 'ooman no here. Ooman there!' And I p'inted in the direction of our island.

"Well, sir, you oughter have seen that Malay gang's faces light up! They all bust out a grinning and laffing, and Whiskers fairly hugged me and then Hammond. Then he made one of the Malays take the wheel instead of me, and sent another one into the fo'castle after something.

"But I was curious, and I says, p'inting toward Lobelia's island:

"'Ooman your wife?'

"'No, no, no,' says he, shaking his head like it would come off, 'ooman no wife. Wife there,' and he p'inted about directly opposite from my way. 'Ooman,' he goes on, 'she no wife, she—'

"Just here the Malay come up from the fo'castle, grinning like a chessy cat and hugging a fat jug of this here palm wine that natives make. I don't know where he got it from—I thought Hammond and me had rummaged that fo'castle pretty well—but, anyhow, there it was.

"Whiskers passed the jug to me and I handed it over to Hammond. He stood up to make a speech.

"'Feller citizens,' says he, 'I rise to drink a toast. 'Ere's to the beautchous Lobelia 'Ankins, and may she long hornament the lovely island where she now—'

"The Malay at the wheel behind us gave an awful screech. We all turned sudden, and there, standing on the companion ladder, with her head and shoulders out of the hatch, was Lobelia 'Ankins, as large as life and twice as natural.

"Hammond dropped the jug and it smashed into finders. We all stood stock-still for a minute, like folks in a tableau. The half-breed skipper stood next to me, and I snum if you couldn't see him shrivel up like one of them things they call a sensitive plant.

"The tableau lasted while a feller might count five; then things happened. Hammond and me dodged around the deckhouse; the Malays broke and run, one up the main rigging, two down the fo'castle hatch and one out on the jib-boom. But the poor skipper wa'n't satisfied with any of them places; he started for the lee rail, and Lobelia 'Ankins started after him.

"She caught him as he was going to jump overboard and yanked him back like he was a bag of meal. She shook him, she boxed his ears, she pulled his hair, and all the time he was begging and pleading and she was screeching and jabbering at the top of her lungs. Hammond pulled me by the sleeve.

"'It'll be our turn next,' says he; 'get into the boat! Quick!'

"The little boat that the crew had come in was towing behind the schooner. We slid over the stern and dropped into it. Hammond cut the towline and we laid to the oars. Long as we was in the hearing of the schooner the powwow and rumpus kept up, but just as we was landing on the little island that the Malays had left, she come about on the port tack and stood off to sea.

"'Lobelia's running things again,' says Hammond.

"Three days after this we was took off by a Dutch gunboat. Most of the time on the island we spent debating how Lobelia come to be on the schooner. Finally we decided that she must have gone aboard to sleep that night, suspecting that we'd try to run away in the schooner just as we had tried to. We talked about Whiskers and his crew and guessed about how they came to abandon their boat in the first place. One thing we was sartin sure of, and that was that they'd left Lobelia aboard on purpose. We knew mighty well that's what we'd a-done.

"What puzzled us most was what relation Lobelia was to the skipper. She wa'n't his wife, 'cause he'd said so, and she didn't look enough like him to be his mother or sister. But as we was being took off in the Dutchman's yawl, Hammond thumps the thwart with his fist and says he:

"'I've got it!' he says; 'she's 'is mother-in-law!'

"''Course she is!' says I. 'We might have known it!'"

 
 
 

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