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The Dog Star by Joseph C. Lincoln

 

It commenced the day after we took old man Stumpton out codfishing. Me and Cap'n Jonadab both told Peter T. Brown that cod wa'n't biting much at that season, but he said cod be jiggered.

"What's troubling me just now is landing suckers," he says.

So the four of us got into the Patience M.—she's Jonadab's catboat—and sot sail for the Crab Ledge. And we hadn't more'n got our lines over the side than we struck into a school of dogfish. Now, if you know anything about fishing you know that when the dogfish strike on it's "good-by, cod!" So when Stumpton hauled a big fat one over the rail I could tell that Jonadab was ready to swear. But do you think it disturbed your old friend, Peter Brown? No, sir! He never winked an eye.

"By Jove!" he sings out, staring at that dogfish as if 'twas a gold dollar. "By Jove!" says he, "that's the finest specimen of a Labrador mack'rel ever I see. Bait up, Stump, and go at 'em again."

So Stumpton, having lived in Montana ever sence he was five years old, and not having sighted salt water in all that time, he don't know but what there IS such critters as "Labrador mack'rel," and he goes at 'em, hammer and tongs. When we come ashore we had eighteen dogfish, four sculpin and a skate, and Stumpton was the happiest loon in Ostable County. It was all we could do to keep him from cooking one of them "mack'rel" with his own hands. If Jonadab hadn't steered him out of the way while I sneaked down to the Port and bought a bass, we'd have had to eat dogfish—we would, as sure as I'm a foot high.

Stumpton and his daughter, Maudina, was at the Old Home House. 'Twas late in September, and the boarders had cleared out. Old Dillaway—Peter's father-in-law—had decoyed the pair on from Montana because him and some Wall Street sharks were figgering on buying some copper country out that way that Stumpton owned. Then Dillaway was took sick, and Peter, who was just back from his wedding tower, brought the Montana victims down to the Cape with the excuse to give 'em a good time alongshore, but really to keep 'em safe and out of the way till Ebenezer got well enough to finish robbing 'em. Belle—Peter's wife—stayed behind to look after papa.

Stumpton was a great tall man, narrer in the beam, and with a figgerhead like a henhawk. He enjoyed himself here at the Cape. He fished, and loafed, and shot at a mark. He sartinly could shoot. The only thing he was wishing for was something alive to shoot at, and Brown had promised to take him out duck shooting. 'Twas too early for ducks, but that didn't worry Peter any; he'd a-had ducks to shoot at if he bought all the poultry in the township.

Maudina was like her name, pretty, but sort of soft and mushy. She had big blue eyes and a baby face, and her principal cargo was poetry. She had a deckload of it, and she'd heave it overboard every time the wind changed. She was forever ordering the ocean to "roll on," but she didn't mean it; I had her out sailing once when the bay was a little mite rugged, and I know. She was just out of a convent school, and you could see she wasn't used to most things— including men.

The first week slipped along, and everything was serene. Bulletins from Ebenezer more encouraging every day, and no squalls in sight. But 'twas almost too slick. I was afraid the calm was a weather breeder, and sure enough, the hurricane struck us the day after that fishing trip.

Peter had gone driving with Maudina and her dad, and me and Cap'n Jonadab was smoking on the front piazza. I was pulling at a pipe, but the cap'n had the home end of one of Stumpton's cigars harpooned on the little blade of his jackknife, and was busy pumping the last drop of comfort out of it. I never see a man who wanted to get his money's wuth more'n Jonadab, I give you my word, I expected to see him swaller that cigar remnant every minute.

And all to once he gives a gurgle in his throat.

"Take a drink of water," says I, scared like.

"Well, by time!" says he, pointing.

A feller had just turned the corner of the house and was heading up in our direction. He was a thin, lengthy craft, with more'n the average amount of wrists sticking out of his sleeves, and with long black hair trimmed aft behind his ears and curling on the back of his neck. He had high cheek bones and kind of sunk-in black eyes, and altogether he looked like "Dr. Macgoozleum, the Celebrated Blackfoot Medicine Man." If he'd hollered: "Sagwa Bitters, only one dollar a bottle!" I wouldn't have been surprised.

But his clothes—don't say a word! His coat was long and buttoned up tight, so's you couldn't tell whether he had a vest on or not— though 'twas a safe bet he hadn't—and it and his pants was made of the loudest kind of black-and-white checks. No nice quiet pepper- and-salt, you understand, but the checkerboard kind, the oilcloth kind, the kind that looks like the marble floor in the Boston post- office. They was pretty tolerable seedy, and so was his hat. Oh, he was a last year's bird's nest NOW, but when them clothes was fresh—whew! the northern lights and a rainbow mixed wouldn't have been more'n a cloudy day 'longside of him.

He run up to the piazza like a clipper coming into port, and he sweeps off that rusty hat and hails us grand and easy.

"Good-morning, gentlemen," says he.

"We don't want none," says Jonadab, decided.

The feller looked surprised. "I beg your pardon," says he. "You don't want any—what?"

"We don't want any 'Life of King Solomon' nor 'The World's Big Classifyers.' And we don't want to buy any patent paint, nor sewing machines, nor clothes washers, nor climbing evergreen roses, nor rheumatiz salve. And we don't want our pictures painted, neither."

Jonadab was getting excited. Nothing riles him wuss than a peddler, unless it's a woman selling tickets to a church fair. The feller swelled up until I thought the top button on that thunderstorm coat would drag anchor, sure.

"You are mistaken," says he. "I have called to see Mr. Peter Brown; he is—er—a relative of mine."

Well, you could have blown me and Jonadab over with a cat's-paw. We went on our beam ends, so's to speak. A relation of Peter T.'s; why, if he'd been twice the panorama he was we'd have let him in when he said that. Loud clothes, we figgered, must run in the family. We remembered how Peter was dressed the first time we met him.

"You don't say!" says I. "Come right up and set down, Mr.—Mr.—"

"Montague," says the feller. "Booth Montague. Permit me to present my card."

He drove into the hatches of his checkerboards and rummaged around, but he didn't find nothing but holes, I jedge, because he looked dreadful put out, and begged our pardons five or six times.

"Dear me!" says he. "This is embarassing. I've forgot my cardcase."

We told him never mind the card; any of Peter's folks was more'n welcome. So he come up the steps and set down in a piazza chair like King Edward perching on his throne. Then he hove out some remarks about its being a nice morning, all in a condescending sort of way, as if he usually attended to the weather himself, but had been sort of busy lately, and had handed the job over to one of the crew. We told him all about Peter, and Belle, and Ebenezer, and about Stumpton and Maudina. He was a good deal interested, and asked consider'ble many questions. Pretty soon we heard a carriage rattling up the road.

"Hello!" says I. "I guess that's Peter and the rest coming now."

Mr. Montague got off his throne kind of sudden.

"Ahem!" says he. "Is there a room here where I may—er—receive Mr. Brown in a less public manner? It will be rather a—er— surprise for him, and—"

Well, there was a good deal of sense in that. I know 'twould surprise ME to have such an image as he was sprung on me without any notice. We steered him into the gents' parlor, and shut the door. In a minute the horse and wagon come into the yard. Maudina said she'd had a "heavenly" drive, and unloaded some poetry concerning the music of billows and pine trees, and such. She and her father went up to their rooms, and when the decks was clear Jonadab and me tackled Peter T.

"Peter," says Jonadab, "we've got a surprise for you. One of your relations has come."

Brown, he did look surprised, but he didn't act as he was any too joyful.

"Relation of MINE?" says he. "Come off! What's his name?"

We told him Montague, Booth Montague. He laughed.

"Wake up and turn over," he says. "They never had anything like that in my family. Booth Montague! Sure 'twa'n't Algernon Cough- drops?"

We said no, 'twas Booth Montague, and that he was waiting in the gents' parlor. So he laughed again, and said somethin' about sending for Laura Lean Jibbey, and then we started.

The checkerboard feller was standing up when we opened the door. "Hello, Petey!" says he, cool as a cucumber, and sticking out a foot and a half of wrist with a hand at the end of it.

Now, it takes considerable to upset Peter Theodosius Brown. Up to that time and hour I'd have bet on him against anything short of an earthquake. But Booth Montague done it—knocked him plumb out of water. Peter actually turned white.

"Great—" he began, and then stopped and swallered. "HANK!" he says, and set down in a chair.

"The same," says Montague, waving the starboard extension of the checkerboard. "Petey, it does me good to set my eyes on you. Especially now, when you're the real thing."

Brown never answered for a minute. Then he canted over to port and reached down into his pocket. "Well," says he, "how much?"

But Hank, or Booth, or Montague—whatever his name was—he waved his flipper disdainful. "Nun-nun-nun-no, Petey, my son," he says, smiling. "It ain't 'how much?' this time. When I heard how you'd rung the bell the first shot out the box and was rolling in coin, I said to myself: 'Here's where the prod comes back to his own.' I've come to live with you, Petey, and you pay the freight."

Peter jumped out of the chair. "LIVE with me!" he says. "You Friday evening amateur night! It's back to 'Ten Nights in a Barroom' for yours!" he says.

"Oh, no, it ain't!" says Hank, cheerful. "It'll be back to Popper Dillaway and Belle. When I tell 'em I'm your little cousin Henry and how you and me worked the territories together—why—well, I guess there'll be gladness round the dear home nest; hey?"

Peter didn't say nothing. Then he fetched a long breath and motioned with his head to Cap'n Jonadab and me. We see we weren't invited to the family reunion, so we went out and shut the door. But we did pity Peter; I snum if we didn't!

It was most an hour afore Brown come out of that room. When he did he took Jonadab and me by the arm and led us out back of the barn.

"Fellers," he says, sad and mournful, "that—that plaster cast in a crazy-quilt," he says, referring to Montague, "is a cousin of mine. That's the living truth," says he, "and the only excuse I can make is that 'tain't my fault. He's my cousin, all right, and his name's Hank Schmults, but the sooner you box that fact up in your forgetory, the smoother 'twill be for yours drearily, Peter T. Brown. He's to be Mr. Booth Montague, the celebrated English poet, so long's he hangs out at the Old Home; and he's to hang out here until—well, until I can dope out a way to get rid of him."

We didn't say nothing for a minute—just thought. Then Jonadab says, kind of puzzled: "What makes you call him a poet?" he says.

Peter answered pretty snappy: "'Cause there's only two or three jobs that a long-haired image like him could hold down," he says. "I'd call him a musician if he could play 'Bedelia' on a jews'- harp; but he can't, so's he's got to be a poet."

And a poet he was for the next week or so. Peter drove down to Wellmouth that night and bought some respectable black clothes, and the follering morning, when the celebrated Booth Montague come sailing into the dining room, with his curls brushed back from his forehead, and his new cutaway on, and his wrists covered up with clean cuffs, blessed if he didn't look distinguished—at least, that's the only word I can think of that fills the bill. And he talked beautiful language, not like the slang he hove at Brown and us in the gents' parlor.

Peter done the honors, introducing him to us and the Stumptons as a friend who'd come from England unexpected, and Hank he bowed and scraped, and looked absent-minded and crazy-like a poet ought to. Oh, he done well at it! You could see that 'twas just pie for him.

And 'twas pie for Maudina, too. Being, as I said, kind of green concerning men folks, and likewise taking to poetry like a cat to fish, she just fairly gushed over this fraud. She'd reel off a couple of fathom of verses from fellers named Spencer or Waller, or such like, and he'd never turn a hair, but back he'd come and say they was good, but he preferred Confucius, or Methuselah, or somebody so antique that she nor nobody else ever heard of 'em. Oh, he run a safe course, and he had HER in tow afore they turned the first mark.

Jonadab and me got worried. We see how things was going, and we didn't like it. Stumpton was having too good a time to notice, going after "Labrador mack'rel" and so on, and Peter T. was too busy steering the cruises to pay any attention. But one afternoon I come by the summerhouse unexpected, and there sat Booth Montague and Maudina, him with a clove hitch round her waist, and she looking up into his eyes like they were peekholes in the fence 'round paradise. That was enough. It just simply COULDN'T go any further, so that night me and Jonadab had a confab up in my room.

"Barzilla," says the cap'n, "if we tell Peter that that relation of his is figgering to marry Maudina Stumpton for her money, and that he's more'n likely to elope with her, 'twill pretty nigh kill Pete, won't it? No, sir; it's up to you and me. We've got to figger out some way to get rid of the critter ourselves."

"It's a wonder to me," I says, "that Peter puts up with him. Why don't he order him to clear out, and tell Belle if he wants to? She can't blame Peter 'cause his uncle was father to an outrage like that."

Jonadab looks at me scornful. "Can't, hey?" he says. "And her high-toned and chumming in with the bigbugs? It's easy to see you never was married," says he.

Well, I never was, so I shut up.

We set there and thought and thought, and by and by I commenced to sight an idee in the offing. 'Twas hull down at first, but pretty soon I got it into speaking distance, and then I broke it gentle to Jonadab. He grabbed at it like the "Labrador mack'rel" grabbed Stumpton's hook. We set up and planned until pretty nigh three o'clock, and all the next day we put in our spare time loading provisions and water aboard the Patience M. We put grub enough aboard to last a month.

Just at daylight the morning after that we knocked at the door of Montague's bedroom. When he woke up enough to open the door—it took some time, 'cause eating and sleeping was his mainstay—we told him that we was planning an early morning fishing trip, and if he wanted to go with the folks he must come down to the landing quick. He promised to hurry, and I stayed by the door to see that he didn't get away. In about ten minutes we had him in the skiff rowing off to the Patience M.

"Where's the rest of the crowd?" says he, when he stepped aboard.

"They'll be along when we're ready for 'em," says I. "You go below there, will you, and stow away the coats and things."

So he crawled into the cabin, and I helped Jonadab get up sail. We intended towing the skiff, so I made her fast astern. In half a shake we was under way and headed out of the cove. When that British poet stuck his nose out of the companion we was abreast the p'int.

"Hi!" says he, scrambling into the cockpit. "What's this mean?"

I was steering and feeling toler'ble happy over the way things had worked out.

"Nice sailing breeze, ain't it?" says I, smiling.

"Where's Mau-Miss Stumpton?" he says, wild like.

"She's abed, I cal'late," says I, "getting her beauty sleep. Why don't YOU turn in? Or are you pretty enough now?"

He looked first at me and then at Jonadab, and his face turned a little yellower than usual.

"What kind of a game is this?" he asks, brisk. "Where are you going?"

'Twas Jonadab that answered. "We're bound," says he, "for the Bermudas. It's a lovely place to spend the winter, they tell me," he says.

That poet never made no remarks. He jumped to the stern and caught hold of the skiff's painter. I shoved him out of the way and picked up the boat hook. Jonadab rolled up his shirt sleeves and laid hands on the centerboard stick.

"I wouldn't, if I was you," says the cap'n.

Jonadab weighs pretty close to two hundred, and most of it's gristle. I'm not quite so much, fur's tonnage goes, but I ain't exactly a canary bird. Montague seemed to size things up in a jiffy. He looked at us, then at the sail, and then at the shore out over the stern.

"Done!" says he. "Done! And by a couple of 'farmers'!"

And down he sets on the thwart.

Well, we sailed all that day and all that night. 'Course we didn't really intend to make the Bermudas. What we intended to do was to cruise around alongshore for a couple of weeks, long enough for the Stumptons to get back to Dillaway's, settle the copper business and break for Montana. Then we was going home again and turn Brown's relation over to him to take care of. We knew Peter'd have some plan thought out by that time. We'd left a note telling him what we'd done, and saying that we trusted to him to explain matters to Maudina and her dad. We knew that explaining was Peter's main holt.

The poet was pretty chipper for a spell. He set on the thwart and bragged about what he'd do when he got back to "Petey" again. He said we couldn't git rid of him so easy. Then he spun yarns about what him and Brown did when they was out West together. They was interesting yarns, but we could see why Peter wa'n't anxious to introduce Cousin Henry to Belle. Then the Patience M. got out where 'twas pretty rugged, and she rolled consider'ble and after that we didn't hear much more from friend Booth—he was too busy to talk.

That night me and Jonadab took watch and watch. In the morning it thickened up and looked squally. I got kind of worried. By nine o'clock there was every sign of a no'theaster, and we see we'd have to put in somewheres and ride it out. So we headed for a place we'll call Baytown, though that wa'n't the name of it. It's a queer, old-fashioned town, and it's on an island; maybe you can guess it from that.

Well, we run into the harbor and let go anchor. Jonadab crawled into the cabin to get some terbacker, and I was for'ard coiling the throat halyard. All at once I heard oars rattling, and I turned my head; what I see made me let out a yell like a siren whistle.

There was that everlasting poet in the skiff—you remember we'd been towing it astern—and he was jest cutting the painter with his jackknife. Next minute he'd picked up the oars and was heading for the wharf, doubling up and stretching out like a frog swimming, and with his curls streaming in the wind like a rooster's tail in a hurricane. He had a long start 'fore Jonadab and me woke up enough to think of chasing him.

But we woke up fin'lly, and the way we flew round that catboat was a caution. I laid into them halyards, and I had the mainsail up to the peak afore Jonadab got the anchor clear of the bottom. Then I jumped to the tiller, and the Patience M. took after that skiff like a pup after a tomcat. We run alongside the wharf just as Booth Hank climbed over the stringpiece.

"Get after him, Barzilla!" hollers Cap'n Jonadab. "I'll make her fast."

Well, I hadn't took more'n three steps when I see 'twas goin' to be a long chase. Montague unfurled them thin legs of his and got over the ground something wonderful. All you could see was a pile of dust and coat tails flapping.

Up on the wharf we went and round the corner into a straggly kind of road with old-fashioned houses on both sides of it. Nobody in the yards, nobody at the windows; quiet as could be, except that off ahead, somewheres, there was music playing.

That road was a quarter of a mile long, but we galloped through it so fast that the scenery was nothing but a blur. Booth was gaining all the time, but I stuck to it like a good one. We took a short cut through a yard, piled over a fence and come out into another road, and up at the head of it was a crowd of folks—men and women and children and dogs.

"Stop thief!" I hollers, and 'way astern I heard Jonadab bellering: "Stop thief!"

Montague dives headfirst for the crowd. He fell over a baby carriage, and I gained a tack 'fore he got up. He wa'n't more'n ten yards ahead when I come busting through, upsetting children and old women, and landed in what I guess was the main street of the place and right abreast of a parade that was marching down the middle of it.

First there was the band, four fellers tooting and banging like fo'mast hands on a fishing smack in a fog. Then there was a big darky toting a banner with "Jenkins' Unparalleled Double Uncle Tom's Cabin Company, No. 2," on it in big letters. Behind him was a boy leading two great, savage looking dogs—bloodhounds, I found out afterwards—by chains. Then come a pony cart with Little Eva and Eliza's child in it; Eva was all gold hair and beautifulness. And astern of her was Marks the Lawyer, on his donkey. There was lots more behind him, but these was all I had time to see just then.

Now, there was but one way for Booth Hank to get acrost that street, and that was to bust through the procession. And, as luck would have it, the place he picked out to cross was just ahead of the bloodhounds. And the first thing I knew, them dogs stretched out their noses and took a long sniff, and then bust out howling like all possessed. The boy, he tried to hold 'em, but 'twas no go. They yanked the chains out of his hands and took after that poet as if he owed 'em something. And every one of the four million other dogs that was in the crowd on the sidewalks fell into line, and such howling and yapping and scampering and screaming you never heard.

Well, 'twas a mixed-up mess. That was the end of the parade. Next minute I was racing across country with the whole town and the Uncle Tommers astern of me, and a string of dogs stretched out ahead fur's you could see. 'Way up in the lead was Booth Montague and the bloodhounds, and away aft I could hear Jonadab yelling: "Stop thief!"

'Twas lively while it lasted, but it didn't last long. There was a little hill at the end of the field, and where the poet dove over 'tother side of it the bloodhounds all but had him. Afore I got to the top of the rise I heard the awfullest powwow going on in the holler, and thinks I: "THEY'RE EATING HIM ALIVE!"

But they wan't. When I hove in sight Montague was setting up on the ground at the foot of the sand bank he'd fell into, and the two hounds was rolling over him, lapping his face and going on as if he was their grandpa jest home from sea with his wages in his pocket. And round them, in a double ring, was all the town dogs, crazy mad, and barking and snarling, but scared to go any closer.

In a minute more the folks begun to arrive; boys first, then girls and men, and then the women. Marks came trotting up, pounding the donkey with his umbrella.

"Here, Lion! Here, Tige!" he yells. "Quit it! Let him alone!" Then he looks at Montague, and his jaw kind of drops.

"Why—why, HANK!" he says.

A tall, lean critter, in a black tail coat and a yaller vest and lavender pants, comes puffing up. He was the manager, we found out afterward.

"Have they bit him?" says he. Then he done just the same as Marks; his mouth opened and his eyes stuck out. "HANK SCHMULTS, by the living jingo!" says he.

Booth Montague looks at the two of 'em kind of sick and lonesome. "Hello, Barney! How are you, Sullivan?" he says.

I thought 'twas about time for me to get prominent. I stepped up, and was just going to say something when somebody cuts in ahead of me.

"Hum!" says a voice, a woman's voice, and tolerable crisp and vinegary. "Hum! it's you, is it? I've been looking for YOU!"

'Twas Little Eva in the pony cart. Her lovely posy hat was hanging on the back of her neck, her gold hair had slipped back so's you could see the black under it, and her beautiful red cheeks was kind of streaky. She looked some older and likewise mad.

"Hum!" says she, getting out of the cart. "It's you, is it, Hank Schmults? Well, p'r'aps you'll tell me where you've been for the last two weeks? What do you mean by running away and leaving your—"

Montague interrupted her. "Hold on, Maggie, hold on!" he begs. "DON'T make a row here. It's all a mistake; I'll explain it to you all right. Now, please—"

"Explain!" hollers Eva, kind of curling up her fingers and moving toward him. "Explain, will you? Why, you miserable, low-down—"

But the manager took hold of her arm. He'd been looking at the crowd, and I cal'late he saw that here was the chance for the best kind of an advertisement. He whispered in her ear. Next thing I knew she clasped her hands together, let out a scream and runs up and grabs the celebrated British poet round the neck.

"Booth!" says she. "My husband! Saved! Saved!"

And she went all to pieces and cried all over his necktie. And then Marks trots up the child, and that young one hollers: "Papa! papa!" and tackles Hank around the legs. And I'm blessed if Montague don't slap his hand to his forehead, and toss back his curls, and look up at the sky, and sing out: "My wife and babe! Restored to me after all these years! The heavens be thanked!"

Well, 'twas a sacred sort of time. The town folks tiptoed away, the men looking solemn but glad, and the women swabbing their deadlights and saying how affecting 'twas, and so on. Oh, you could see that show would do business THAT night, if it never did afore.

The manager got after Jonadab and me later on, and did his best to pump us, but he didn't find out much. He told us that Montague belonged to the Uncle Tom's Cabin Company, and that he'd disappeared a fortni't or so afore, when they were playing at Hyannis. Eva was his wife, and the child was their little boy. The bloodhounds knew him, and that's why they chased him so.

"What was you two yelling 'Stop thief!' after him for?" says he. "Has he stole anything?"

We says "No."

"Then what did you want to get him for?" he says.

"We didn't," says Jonadab. "We wanted to get rid of him. We don't want to see him no more."

You could tell that the manager was puzzled, but he laughed.

"All right," says he. "If I know anything about Maggie—that's Mrs. Schmults—he won't get loose ag'in."

We only saw Montague to talk to but once that day. Then he peeked out from under the winder shade at the hotel and asked us if we'd told anybody where he'd been. When he found we hadn't, he was thankful.

"You tell Petey," says he, "that he's won the whole pot, kitty and all. I don't think I'll visit him again, nor Belle, neither."

"I wouldn't," says I. "They might write to Maudina that you was a married man. And old Stumpton's been praying for something alive to shoot at," I says.

The manager gave Jonadab and me a couple of tickets, and we went to the show that night. And when we saw Booth Hank Montague parading about the stage and defying the slave hunters, and telling 'em he was a free man, standing on the Lord's free soil, and so on, we realized 'twould have been a crime to let him do anything else.

"As an imitation poet," says Jonadab, "he was a kind of mildewed article, but as a play actor—well, there may be some that can beat him, but _I_ never see 'em!"

 
 
 

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