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The Mare and the Motor by Joseph C. Lincoln

 

Them Todds had got on my nerves. 'Twas Peter's ad that brought 'em down. You see, 'twas 'long toward the end of the season at the Old Home, and Brown had been advertising in the New York and Boston papers to "bag the leftovers," as he called it. Besides the reg'lar hogwash about the "breath of old ocean" and the "simple, cleanly living of the bygone days we dream about," there was some new froth concerning hunting and fishing. You'd think the wild geese roosted on the flagpole nights, and the bluefish clogged up the bay so's you could walk on their back fins without wetting your feet—that is, if you wore rubbers and trod light.

"There!" says Peter T., waving the advertisement and crowing gladsome; "they'll take to that like your temp'rance aunt to brandy cough-drops. We'll have to put up barbed wire to keep 'em off."

"Humph!" grunts Cap'n Jonadab. "Anybody but a born fool'll know there ain't any shooting down here this time of year."

Peter looked at him sorrowful. "Pop," says he, "did you ever hear that Solomon answered a summer hotel ad? This ain't a Chautauqua, this is the Old Home House, and its motto is: 'There's a new victim born every minute, and there's twenty-four hours in a day.' You set back and count the clock ticks."

Well, that's 'bout all we had to do. We got boarders enough from that ridiculous advertisement to fill every spare room we had, including Jonadab's and mine. Me and the cap'n had to bunk in the barn loft; but there was some satisfaction in that—it give us an excuse to get away from the "sports" in the smoking room.

The Todds was part of the haul. He was a little, dried-up man, single, and a minister. Nigh's I could find out, he'd given up preaching by the request of the doctor and his last congregation. He had a notion that he was a mighty hunter afore the Lord, like Nimrod in the Bible, and he'd come to the Old Home to bag a few gross of geese and ducks.

His sister was an old maid, and slim, neither of which failings was from choice, I cal'late. She wore eye-glasses and a veil to "preserve her complexion," and her idee seemed to be that native Cape Codders lived in trees and ate cocoanuts. She called 'em "barbarians, utter barbarians." Whenever she piped "James" her brother had to drop everything and report on deck. She was skipper of the Todd craft.

Them Todds was what Peter T. called "the limit, and a chip or two over." The other would-be gunners and fishermen were satisfied to slam shot after sandpeeps, or hook a stray sculpin or a hake. But t'wa'n't so with brother James Todd and sister Clarissa. "Ducks" it was in the advertising, and nothing BUT ducks they wanted. Clarissa, she commenced to hint middling p'inted concerning fraud.

Finally we lost patience, and Peter T., he said they'd got to be quieted somehow, or he'd do some shooting on his own hook; said too much Toddy was going to his head. Then I suggested taking 'em down the beach somewheres on the chance of seeing a stray coot or loon or something—ANYTHING that could be shot at. Jonadab and Peter agreed 'twas a good plan, and we matched to see who'd be guide. And I got stuck, of course; my luck again.

So the next morning we started, me and the Reverend James and Clarissa in the Greased Lightning, Peter's new motor launch. First part of the trip that Todd man done nothing but ask questions about the launch; I had to show him how to start it and steer it, and the land knows what all. Clarissa set around doing the heavy contemptuous and turning up her nose at creation generally. It must have its drawbacks, this roosting so fur above the common flock; seems to me I'd be thinking all the time of the bump that was due me if I got shoved off the perch.

Well, by and by Lonesome Huckleberries' shanty hove in sight, and I was glad to see it, although I had to answer a million questions about Lonesome and his history.

I told the Todds that, so fur as nationality was concerned he was a little of everything, like a picked-up dinner; principally Eyetalian and Portugee, I cal'late, with a streak of Gay Head Injun. His real name's long enough to touch bottom in the ship channel at high tide, so folks got to calling him "Huckleberries" because he peddles them kind of fruit in summer. Then he mopes around so with nary a smile on his face, that it seemed right to tack on the "Lonesome." So "Lonesome Huckleberries" he's been for ten years. He lives in the patchwork shanty on the beach down there, he is deaf and dumb, drives a liver-colored, balky mare that no one but himself and his daughter Becky can handle, and he has a love for bad rum and a temper that's landed him in the Wellmouth lock-up more than once or twice. He's one of the best gunners alongshore and at this time he owned a flock of live decoys that he'd refused as high as fifteen dollars apiece for. I told all this and a lot more.

When we struck the beach, Clarissa, she took her paint box and umbrella and mosquito 'intment, and the rest of her cargo, and went off by herself to "sketch." She was great on "sketching," and the way she'd use up good paint and spile nice clean paper was a sinful waste. Afore she went, she give me three fathom of sailing orders concerning taking care of "James." You'd think he was about four year old; made me feel like a hired nurse.

James and me went perusing up and down that beach in the blazing sun looking for something to shoot. We went 'way beyond Lonesome's shanty, but there wa'n't nobody to home. Lonesome himself, it turned out afterward, was up to the village with his horse and wagon, and his daughter Becky was over in the wood on the mainland berrying. Todd was a cheerful talker, but limited. His favorite remark was: "Oh, I say, my deah man." That's what he kept calling me, "my deah man." Now, my name ain't exactly a Claude de Montmorency for prettiness, but "Barzilla" 'll fetch ME alongside a good deal quicker'n "my deah man," I'll tell you that.

We frogged it up and down all the forenoon, but didn't git a shot at nothing but one stray "squawk" that had come over from the Cedar Swamp. I told James 'twas a canvasback, and he blazed away at it, but missed it by three fathom, as might have been expected.

Finally, my game leg—rheumatiz, you understand—begun to give out. So I flops down in the shade of a sand bank to rest, and the reverend goes poking off by himself.

I cal'late I must have fell asleep, for when I looked at my watch it was close to one o'clock, and time for us to be getting back to port. I got up and stretched and took an observation, but further'n Clarissa's umbrella on the skyline, I didn't see anything stirring. Brother James wa'n't visible, but I jedged he was within hailing distance. You can't see very fur on that point, there's too many sand hills and hummocks.

I started over toward the Greased Lightning. I'd gone only a little ways, and was down in a gully between two big hummocks, when "Bang! bang!" goes both barrels of a shotgun, and that Todd critter busts out hollering like all possessed.

"Hooray!" he squeals, in that squeaky voice of his. "Hooray! I've got 'em! I've got 'em!"

Thinks I, "What in the nation does the lunatic cal'late he's shot?" And I left my own gun laying where 'twas and piled up over the edge of that sand bank like a cat over a fence. And then I see a sight.

There was James, hopping up and down in the beach grass, squealing like a Guinea hen with a sore throat, and waving his gun with one wing—arm, I mean—and there in front of him, in the foam at the edge of the surf, was two ducks as dead as Nebuchadnezzar—two of Lonesome Huckleberries' best decoy ducks—ducks he'd tamed and trained, and thought more of than anything else in this world— except rum, maybe—and the rest of the flock was digging up the beach for home as if they'd been telegraped for, and squawking "Fire!" and "Murder!"

Well, my mind was in a kind of various state, as you might say, for a minute. 'Course, I'd known about Lonesome's owning them decoys— told Todd about 'em, too—but I hadn't seen 'em nowhere alongshore, and I sort of cal'lated they was locked up in Lonesome's hen house, that being his usual way when he went to town. I s'pose likely they'd been feeding among the beach grass somewheres out of sight, but I don't know for sartin to this day. And I didn't stop to reason it out then, neither. As Scriptur' or George Washin'ton or somebody says, "'twas a condition, not a theory," I was afoul of.

"I've got 'em!" hollers Todd, grinning till I thought he'd swaller his own ears. "I shot 'em all myself!"

"You everlasting—" I begun, but I didn't get any further. There was a rattling noise behind me, and I turned, to see Lonesome Huckleberries himself, setting on the seat of his old truck wagon and glaring over the hammer head of that balky mare of his straight at brother Todd and the dead decoys.

For a minute there was a kind of tableau, like them they have at church fairs—all four of us, including the mare, keeping still, like we was frozen. But 'twas only for a minute. Then it turned into the liveliest moving picture that ever _I_ see. Lonesome couldn't swear—being a dummy—but if ever a man got profane with his eyes, he did right then. Next thing I knew he tossed both hands into the air, clawed two handfuls out of the atmosphere, reached down into the cart, grabbed a pitch-fork and piled out of that wagon and after Todd. There was murder coming and I could see it.

"Run, you loon!" I hollers, desperate.

James didn't wait for any advice. He didn't know what he'd done, I cal'late, but he jedged 'twas his move. He dropped his gun and put down the shore like a wild man, with Lonesome after him. I tried to foller, but my rheumatiz was too big a handicap; all I could do was yell.

You never'd have picked out Todd for a sprinter—not to look at him, you wouldn't—but if he didn't beat the record for his class just then I'll eat my sou'wester. He fairly flew, but Lonesome split tacks with him every time, and kept to wind'ard, into the bargain. When they went out of sight amongst the sand hills 'twas anybody's race.

I was scart. I knew what Lonesome's temper was, 'specially when it had been iled with some Wellmouth Port no-license liquor. He'd been took up once for half killing some boys that tormented him, and I figgered if he got within pitchfork distance of the Todd critter he'd make him the leakiest divine that ever picked a text. I commenced to hobble back after my gun. It looked bad to me.

But I'd forgot sister Clarissa. 'Fore I'd limped fur I heard her calling to me.

"Mr. Wingate," says she, "get in here at once."

There she was, setting on the seat of Lonesome's wagon, holdin' the reins and as cool as a white frost in October.

"Get in at once," says she. I jedged 'twas good advice, and took it.

"Proceed," says she to the mare. "Git dap!" says I, and we started. When we rounded the sand hill we see the race in the distance. Lonesome had gained a p'int or two, and Todd wa'n't more'n four pitchforks in the lead.

"Make for the launch!" I whooped, between my hands.

The parson heard me and come about and broke for the shore. The Greased Lightning had swung out about the length of her anchor rope, and the water wa'n't deep. Todd splashed in to his waist and climbed aboard. He cut the roding just as Lonesome reached tide mark. James, he sees it's a close call, and he shins back to the engine, reaching it exactly at the time when the gent with the pitchfork laid hands on the rail. Then the parson throws over the switch—I'd shown him how, you remember—and gives the starting wheel a full turn.

Well, you know the Greased Lightning? She don't linger to say farewell, not any to speak of, she don't. And this time she jumped like the cat that lit on the hot stove. Lonesome, being balanced with his knees on the rail, pitches headfust into the cockpit. Todd, jumping out of his way, falls overboard backward. Next thing anybody knew, the launch was scooting for blue water like a streak of what she was named for, and the hunting chaplain was churning up foam like a mill wheel.

I yelled more orders than second mate on a coaster. Todd bubbled and bellered. Lonesome hung on to the rail of the cockpit and let his hair stand up to grow. Nobody was cool but Clarissa, and she was an iceberg. She had her good p'ints, that old maid did, drat her!

"James," she calls, "get out of that water this minute and come here! This instant, mind!"

James minded. He paddled ashore and hopped, dripping like a dishcloth, alongside the truck wagon.

"Get in!" orders Skipper Clarissa. He done it. "Now," says the lady, passing the reins over to me, "drive us home, Mr. Wingate, before that intoxicated lunatic can catch us."

It seemed about the only thing to do. I knew 'twas no use explaining to Lonesome for an hour or more yet, even if you can talk finger signs, which part of my college training has been neglected. 'Twas murder he wanted at the present time. I had some sort of a foggy notion that I'd drive along, pick up the guns and then get the Todds over to the hotel, afterward coming back to get the launch and pay damages to Huckleberries. I cal'lated he'd be more reasonable by that time.

But the mare had made other arrangements. When I slapped her with the end of the reins she took the bit in her teeth and commenced to gallop. I hollered "Whoa!" and "Heave to!" and "Belay!" and everything else I could think of, but she never took in a reef. We bumped over hummocks and ridges, and every time we done it we spilled something out of that wagon. First 'twas a lot of huckleberry pails, then a basket of groceries and such, then a tin pan with some potatoes in it, then a jug done up in a blanket. We was heaving cargo overboard like a leaky ship in a typhoon. Out of the tail of my eye I see Lonesome, well out to sea, heading the Greased Lightning for the beach.

Clarissa put in the time soothing James, who had a serious case of the scart-to-deaths, and calling me an "utter barbarian" for driving so fast. Lucky for all hands, she had to hold on tight to keep from being jounced out, 'long with the rest of movables, so she couldn't take the reins. As for me, I wa'n't paying much attention to her—'twas the Cut-Through that was disturbing MY mind.

When you drive down to Lonesome P'int you have to ford the "Cut- Through." It's a strip of water between the bay and the ocean, and 'tain't very wide nor deep at low tide. But the tide was coming in now, and, more'n that, the mare wa'n't headed for the ford. She was cuttin' cross-lots on her own hook, and wouldn't answer the helm.

We struck that Cut-Through about a hundred yards east of the ford, and in two shakes we was hub deep in salt water. 'Fore the Todds could do anything but holler the wagon was afloat and the mare was all but swimming. But she kept right on. Bless her, you COULDN'T stop her!

We crossed the first channel and come out on a flat where 'twasn't more'n two foot deep then. I commenced to feel better. There was another channel ahead of us, but I figured we'd navigate that same as we had the first one. And then the most outrageous thing happened.

If you'll b'lieve it, that pesky mare balked and wouldn't stir another step.

And there we was! I punched and kicked and hollered, but all that stubborn horse would do was lay her ears back flat, and snarl up her lip, and look round at us, much as to say: "Now, then, you land sharks, I've got you between wind and water!" And I swan to man if it didn't look as if she had!

"Drive on!" says Clarissa, pretty average vinegary. "Haven't you made trouble enough for us already, you dreadful man? Drive on!"

Hadn't _I_ made trouble enough! What do you think of that?

"You want to drown us!" says Miss Todd, continuing her chatty remarks. "I see it all! It's a plot between you and that murderer. I give you warning; if we reach the hotel, my brother and I will commence suit for damages."

My temper's fairly long-suffering, but 'twas raveling some by this time.

"Commence suit!" I says. "I don't care WHAT you commence, if you'll commence to keep quiet now!" And then I give her a few p'ints as to what her brother had done, heaving in some personal flatteries every once in a while for good measure.

I'd about got to thirdly when James give a screech and p'inted. And, if there wa'n't Lonesome in the launch, headed right for us, and coming a-b'iling! He'd run her along abreast of the beach and turned in at the upper end of the Cut-Through.

You never in your life heard such a row as there was in that wagon. Clarissa and me yelling to Lonesome to keep off—forgitting that he was stone deef and dumb—and James vowing that he was going to be slaughtered in cold blood. And the Greased Lightning p'inted just so she'd split that cart amidships, and coming—well, you know how she can go.

She never budged until she was within ten foot of the flat, and then she sheered off and went past in a wide curve, with Lonesome steering with one hand and shaking his pitchfork at Todd with t'other. And SUCH faces as he made-up! They'd have got him hung in any court in the world.

He run up the Cut-Through a little ways, and then come about, and back he comes again, never slacking speed a mite, and running close to the shoal as he could shave, and all the time going through the bloodiest kind of pantomimes. And past he goes, to wheel 'round and commence all over again.

Thinks I, "Why don't he ease up and lay us aboard? He's got all the weapons there is. Is he scart?"

And then it come to me—the reason why. HE DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO STOP HER. He could steer first rate, being used to sailboats, but an electric auto launch was a new ideal for him, and he didn't understand her works. And he dastn't run her aground at the speed she was making; 'twould have finished her and, more'n likely, him, too.

I don't s'pose there ever was another mess just like it afore or sence. Here was us, stranded with a horse we couldn't make go, being chased by a feller who was run away with in a boat he couldn't stop!

Just as I'd about give up hope, I heard somebody calling from the beach behind us. I turned, and there was Becky Huckleberries, Lonesome's daughter. She had the dead decoys by the legs in one hand.

"Hi!" says she.

"Hi!" says I. "How do you get this giraffe of yours under way?"

She held up the decoys.

"Who kill-a dem ducks?" says she.

I p'inted to the reverend. "He did," says I. And then I cal'late I must have had one of them things they call an inspiration. "And he's willing to pay for 'em," I says.

"Pay thirty-five dolla?" says she.

"You bet!" says I.

But I'd forgot Clarissa. She rose up in that waterlogged cart like a Statue of Liberty. "Never!" says she. "We will never submit to such extortion. We'll drown first!"

Becky heard her. She didn't look disapp'inted nor nothing. Just turned and begun to walk up the beach. "ALL right," says she; "GOO'-by."

The Todds stood it for a jiffy. Then James give in. "I'll pay it!" he hollers. "I'll pay it!"

Even then Becky didn't smile. She just come about again and walked back to the shore. Then she took up that tin pan and one of the potaters we'd jounced out of the cart.

"Hi, Rosa!" she hollers. That mare turned her head and looked. And, for the first time sence she hove anchor on that flat, the critter unfurled her ears and histed 'em to the masthead.

"Hi, Rosa!" says Becky again, and begun to pound the pan with the potater. And I give you my word that that mare started up, turned the wagon around nice as could be, and begun to swim ashore. When we got where the critter's legs touched bottom, Becky remarks: "Whoa!"

"Here!" I yells, "what did you do that for?"

"Pay thirty-five dolla NOW," says she. She was bus'ness, that girl.

Todd got his wallet from under hatches and counted out the thirty- five, keeping one eye on Lonesome, who was swooping up and down in the launch looking as if he wanted to cut in, but dasn't. I tied the bills to my jack-knife, to give 'em weight, and tossed the whole thing ashore. Becky, she counted the cash and stowed it away in her apron pocket.

"ALL right," says she. "Hi, Rosa!" The potater and pan performance begun again, and Rosa picked up her hoofs and dragged us to dry land. And it sartinly felt good to the feet.

"Say," I says, "Becky, it's none of my affairs, as I know of, but is that the way you usually start that horse of yours?"

She said it was. And Rosa ate the potater.

Becky asked me how to stop the launch, and I told her. She made a lot of finger signs to Lonesome, and inside of five minutes the Greased Lightning was anchored in front of us. Old man Huckleberries was still hankering to interview Todd with the pitchfork, but Becky settled that all right. She jumped in front of him, and her eyes snapped and her feet stamped and her fingers flew. And 'twould have done you good to see her dad shrivel up and get humble. I always had thought that a woman wasn't much good as a boss of the roost unless she could use her tongue, but Becky showed me my mistake. Well, it's live and l'arn.

Then Miss Huckleberries turned to us and smiled.

"ALL right," says she; "GOO'-by."

Them Todds took the train for the city next morning. I drove 'em to the depot. James was kind of glum, but Clarissa talked for two. Her opinion of the Cape and Capers, 'specially me, was decided. The final blast was just as she was climbing the car steps.

"Of all the barbarians," says she; "utter, uncouth, murdering barbarians in—"

She stopped, thinking for a word, I s'pose. I didn't feel that I could improve on Becky Huckleberries conversation much, so I says:

"ALL right! GOO'-by!"

 
 
 

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