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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCap'n Eri - Chapter 10. Matchmaking And Life-Saving
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Cap'n Eri - Chapter 10. Matchmaking And Life-Saving Post by :jon_poland Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1031

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Cap'n Eri - Chapter 10. Matchmaking And Life-Saving

CHAPTER X. MATCHMAKING AND LIFE-SAVING

Captain Jerry sat behind the woodshed, in the sunshine, smoking and thinking. He had done a good deal of the first ever since he was sixteen years old; the second was, in a measure, a more recent acquirement. The Captain had things on his mind.

It was one of those perfect, springlike mornings that sometimes come in early November. The sky was clear blue, and the air was so free from haze that the houses at Cranberry Point could be seen in every detail. The flag on the cable station across the bay stood out stiff in the steady breeze, and one might almost count the stripes. The pines on Signal Hill were a bright green patch against the yellow grass. The sea was a dark sapphire, with slashes of silver to mark the shoals, and the horizon was notched with sails. The boats at anchor in front of the shanties swung with the outgoing tide.

Then came Captain Eri, also smoking.

"Hello!" said Captain Jerry. "How is it you ain't off fishin' a mornin' like this?"

"Somethin' else on the docket," was the answer. "How's matchmakin' these days?"

Now this question touched vitally the subject of Captain Jerry's thoughts. From a placid, easygoing retired mariner, recent events had transformed the Captain into a plotter, a man with a "deep-laid scheme," as the gentlemanly, cigarette-smoking villain of the melodrama used to love to call it. To tell the truth, petticoat government was wearing on him. The marriage agreement, to which his partners considered him bound, and which he saw no way to evade, hung over him always, but he had put this threat of the future from his mind so far as possible. He had not found orderly housekeeping the joy that he once thought it would be, but even this he could bear. Elsie Preston was the drop too much.

He liked Mrs. Snow, except in a marrying sense. He liked Elsie better than any young lady he had ever seen. The trouble was, that between the two, he, as he would have expressed it, "didn't have the peace of a dog."

Before Elsie came, a game of checkers between Perez and himself had been the regular after-supper amusement. Now they played whist, Captain Eri and Elsie against him and his former opponent. As Elsie and her partner almost invariably won, and as Perez usually found fault with him because they lost, this was not an agreeable change. But it was but one. He didn't like muslin curtains in his bedroom, because they were a nuisance when he wanted to sit up in bed and look out of the window; but the curtains were put there, and everybody else seemed to think them beautiful, so he could not protest. Captain Perez and Captain Eri had taken to "dressing up" for supper, to the extent of putting on neckties and clean collars. Also they shaved every day. He stuck to the old "twice-a-week" plan for a while, but looked so scrubby by contrast that out of mere self-respect he had to follow suit. Obviously two females in the house were one too many. Something had to be done.

Ralph Hazeltine's frequent calls gave him the inspiration he was looking for. This was to bring about a marriage between Ralph and Miss Preston. After deliberation he decided that if this could be done the pair would live somewhere else, even though John Baxter was still too ill to be moved. Elsie could come in every day, but she would be too busy with her own establishment to bother with the "improvement" of theirs. It wasn't a very brilliant plan and had some vital objections, but Captain Jerry considered it a wonder.

He broached it to his partners, keeping his real object strictly in the background and enlarging upon his great regard for Ralph and Elsie, and their obvious fitness for each other. Captain Perez liked the scheme well enough, provided it could be carried out. Captain Eri seemed to think it better to let events take their own course. However, they both agreed to help if the chance offered.

So, when Mr. Hazeltine called to spend the evening, Captain Jerry would rise from his chair and, with an elaborate cough and several surreptitious winks to his messmates, would announce that he guessed he would "take a little walk," or "go out to the barn," or something similar. Captain Perez would, more than likely, go also. As for Captain Eri, he usually "cal'lated" he would step upstairs, and see how John was getting along.

But in spite of this loyal support, the results obtained from Captain Jerry's wonderful plan had not been so startlingly successful as to warrant his feeling much elated. Ralph and Elsie were good friends and seemed to enjoy each other's society, but that was all that might be truthfully said, so far.

Captain Jerry, therefore, was a little discouraged as he sat in the sunshine and smoked and pondered. He hid his discouragement, however, and in response to Captain Eri's question concerning the progress of the matchmaking, said cheerfully:

"Oh, it's comin' along, comin' along. Kind of slow, of course, but you can't expect nothin' diff'rent. I s'pose you noticed he was here four times last week?"

"Why, no," said Captain Eri, "I don't know's I did."

"Well, he was, and week a fore that 'twas only three. So that's a gain, ain't it?"

"Sartin."

"I didn't count the time he stopped after a drink of water neither. That wasn't a real call, but--"

"Oh, it ought to count for somethin'! Call it a ha'f a time. That would make four times and a ha'f he was here."

Captain Jerry looked suspiciously at his friend's face, but its soberness was irreproachable, so he said:

"Well, it's kind of slow work, but, as I said afore, it's comin' along, and I have the satisfaction of knowin' it's all for their good."

"Yes, like the feller that ate all the apple-dumplin's so's his children wouldn't have the stomach-ache. But say, Jerry, I come out to ask if you'd mind bein' housekeeper to-day. Luther Davis has been after me sence I don't know when to come down to the life-savin' station and stay to dinner. His sister Pashy--the old maid one--is down there, and it's such a fine day I thought I'd take Perez and Elsie and Mrs. Snow and, maybe, Hazeltine along. Somebody's got to stay with John, and I thought p'raps you would. I'd stay myself only Luther asked me so particular, and you was down there two or three months ago. When Josiah comes back from school he'll help you some, if you need him."

Captain Jerry didn't mind staying at home, and so Eri went into the house to make arrangements for the proposed excursion. He had some difficulty in persuading Mrs. Snow and Elsie to leave the sick man, but both were tired and needed a rest, and there was a telephone at the station, so that news of a change in the patient's condition could be sent almost immediately. Under these conditions, and as Captain Jerry was certain to take good care of their charge, the two were persuaded to go. Perez took the dory and rowed over to the cable station to see if Mr. Hazeltine cared to make one of the party. When he returned, bringing the electrician with him, Daniel, harnessed to the carryall, was standing at the side door, and Captain Eri, Mrs. Snow, and Elsie were waiting.

Ralph glanced at the carryall, and then at those who were expected to occupy it.

"I think I'd better row down, Captain," he said. "I don't see how five of us are going to find room in there."

"What, in a carryall?" exclaimed the Captain. "Why, that's what a carryall's for. I've carried six in a carryall 'fore now. 'Twas a good while ago, though," he added with a chuckle, "when I was consid'rable younger 'n I am now. Squeezin' didn't count in them days, 'specially if the girls wanted to go to camp-meetin'. I cal'late we can fix it. You and me'll set on the front seat, and the rest in back. Elsie ain't a very big package, and Perez, he's sort of injy-rubber; he'll fit in 'most anywheres. Let's try it anyhow."

And try it they did. While it was true that Elsie was rather small, Mrs. Snow was distinctly large, and how Captain Perez, in spite of his alleged elasticity, managed to find room between them is a mystery. He, however, announced that he was all right, adding, as a caution:

"Don't jolt none, Eri, 'cause I'm kind of hangin' on the little aidge of nothin'."

"I'll look out for you," answered his friend, picking up the reins. "All ashore that's goin' ashore. So long, Jerry. Git dap, Thousand Dollars!"

Daniel complacently accepted this testimony to his monetary worth and jogged out of the yard. Fortunately appearances do not count for much in Orham, except in the summer, and the spectacle of five in a carryall is nothing out of the ordinary. They turned into the "cliff road," the finest thoroughfare in town, kept in good condition for the benefit of the cottagers and the boarders at the big hotel. The ocean was on the left, and from the hill by the Barry estate--Captain Perez' charge--they saw twenty miles of horizon line with craft of all descriptions scattered along it.

Schooners there were of all sizes, from little mackerel seiners to big four- and five-masters. A tug with a string of coal barges behind it was so close in that they could make out the connecting hawsers. A black freight steamer was pushing along, leaving a thick line of smoke like a charcoal mark on the sky. One square-rigger was in sight, but far out.

"What do you make of that bark, Perez?" inquired Captain Eri, pointing to the distant vessel. "British, ain't she?"

Captain Perez leaned forward and peered from under his hand. "French, looks to me," he said.

"Don't think so. Way she's rigged for'ard looks like Johnny Bull. Look at that fo'tops'l."

"Guess you're right, Eri, now I come to notice it. Can you make out her flag? Wish I'd brought my glass."

"Great Scott, man!" exclaimed Ralph. "What sort of eyes have you got? I couldn't tell whether she had a flag or not at this distance. How do you do it?"

"'Cordin' to how you're brought up, as the goat said 'bout eatin' shingle-nails," replied Captain Eri. "When you're at sea you've jest got to git used to seein' things a good ways off and knowin' 'em when you see 'em, too."

"I remember, one time," remarked Mrs. Snow, "that my brother Nathan--he's dead now--was bound home from Hong Kong fust mate on the bark Di'mond King. 'Twas the time of the war and the Alabama was cruisin' 'round, lookin' out for our ships. Nate and the skipper--a Bangor man he was--was on deck, and they sighted a steamer a good ways off. The skipper spied her and see she was flyin' the United States flag. But when Nate got the glass he took one look and says, 'That Yankee buntin' don't b'long over that English hull,' he says. You see he knew she was English build right away. So the skipper pulled down his own flag and h'isted British colors, but 'twa'n't no use; the steamer was the Alabama sure enough, and the Di'mond King was burned, and all hands took pris'ners. Nate didn't git home for ever so long, and everybody thought he was lost."

This set the captains going, and they told sea-stories until they came to the road that led down to the beach beneath the lighthouse bluff. The lifesaving station was in plain sight now, but on the outer beach, and that was separated from them by a two-hundred-yard stretch of water.

"Well," observed Captain Eri, "here's where we take Adam's bridge."

"Adam's bridge?" queried Elsie, puzzled.

"Yes; the only kind he had, I cal'late. Git dap, Daniel! What are you waitin' for? Left your bathin' suit to home?"

Then, as Daniel stepped rather gingerly into the clear water, he explained that, at a time ranging from three hours before low tide to three hours after, one may reach the outer beach at this point by driving over in an ordinary vehicle. The life-savers add to this time-limit by using a specially built wagon, with large wheels and a body considerably elevated.

"Well, there now!" exclaimed the lady from Nantucket, as Daniel splashingly emerged on the other side. "I thought I'd done about everything a body could do with salt water, but I never went ridin' in it afore."

The remainder of the way to the station was covered by Daniel at a walk, for the wheels of the heavy carryall sank two inches or more in the coarse sand as they turned. The road wound between sand dunes, riven and heaped in all sorts of queer shapes by the wind, and with clumps of the persevering beach grass clinging to their tops like the last treasured tufts of hair on partially bald heads. Here and there, half buried, sand-scoured planks and fragments of spars showed, relics of wrecks that had come ashore in past winters.

"Five years ago," remarked Captain Eri, "there was six foot of water where we are now. This beach changes every winter. One good no'theaster jest rips things loose over here; tears out a big chunk of beach and makes a cut-through one season, and fills in a deep hole and builds a new shoal the next. I've heard my father tell 'bout pickin' huckleberries when he was a boy off where them breakers are now. Good dry land it was then. Hey! there's Luther. Ship ahoy, Lute!"

The little brown life-saving station was huddled between two sand-hills. There was a small stable and a henhouse and yard just behind it. Captain Davis, rawboned and brown-faced, waved a welcome to them from the side door.

"Spied you comin', Eri," he said in a curiously mild voice, that sounded odd coming from such a deep chest. "I'm mighty glad to see you, too? Jump down and come right in. Pashy 'll be out in a minute. Here she is now."

Miss Patience Davis was as plump as her brother was tall. She impressed one as a comfortable sort of person. Captain Eri did the honors and everyone shook hands. Then they went into the living room of the station.

What particularly struck Mrs. Snow was the neatness of everything. The brass on the pump in the sink shone like fire as the sunlight from the window struck it. The floor was white from scouring. There were shelves on the walls and on these, arranged in orderly piles, were canned goods of all descriptions. The table was covered with a figured oilcloth.

Two or three men, members of the crew, were seated in the wooden chairs along the wall, but rose as the party came in. Captain Davis introduced them, one after the other. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of these men was the quiet, almost bashful, way in which they spoke; they seemed like big boys, as much as anything, and yet the oldest was nearly fifty.

"Ever been in a life-saving station afore?" asked Captain Eri.

Elsie had not. Ralph had and so had Mrs. Snow, but not for years.

"This is where we keep the boat and the rest of the gear," said Captain Davis, opening a door and leading the way into a large, low-studded room. "Them's the spare oars on the wall. The reg'lar ones are in the boat."

The boat itself was on its carriage in the middle of the room. Along the walls on hooks hung the men's suits of oilskins and their sou'westers. The Captain pointed out one thing after another, the cork jackets and life-preservers, the gun for shooting the life line across a stranded vessel, the life car hanging from the roof, and the "breeches buoy."

"I don't b'lieve you'd ever git me into that thing," said the Nantucket lady decidedly, referring to the buoy. "I don't know but I'd 'bout as liefs be drownded as make sech a show of myself."

"Took off a bigger woman than you one time," said Captain Davis. "Wife of a Portland skipper, she was, and he was on his fust v'yage in a brand-new schooner jest off the stocks. Struck on the Hog's Back off here and then drifted close in and struck again. We got 'em all, the woman fust. That was the only time we've used the buoy sence I've been at the station. Most of the wrecks are too fur off shore and we have to git out the boat."

He took them upstairs to the men's sleeping rooms and then up to the little cupola on the roof.

"Why do you have ground-glass windows on this side of the house?" asked Elsie, as they passed the window on the landing.

Captain Davis laughed.

"Well, it is pretty nigh ground-glass now," he answered, "but it wa'n't when it was put in. The sand did that. It blows like all possessed when there's a gale on."

"Do you mean that those windows were ground that way by the beach sand blowing against them?" asked Ralph, astonished.

"Sartin. Git a good no'therly wind comin' up the beach and it fetches the sand with it. Mighty mean stuff to face, sand blowin' like that is; makes you think you're fightin' a nest of yaller-jackets."

With the telescope in the cupola they could see for miles up and down the beach and out to sea. An ocean tug bound toward Boston was passing, and Elsie, looking through the glass, saw the cook come out of the galley, empty a pan over the side, and go back again.

"Let me look through that a minute," said Captain Eri, when the rest had had their turn. He swung the glass around until it pointed toward their home away up the shore.

"Perez," he called anxiously, "look here quick!"

Captain Perez hastily put his eye to the glass, and his friend went on:

"You see our house?" he said. "Yes; well, you see the dinin'-room door. Notice that chair by the side of it?"

"Yes, what of it?"

"Well, that's the rocker that Elsie made the velvet cushion for. I want you to look at the upper southeast corner of that cushion, and see if there ain't a cat's hair there. Lorenzo's possessed to sleep in that chair, and--"

"Oh, you git out!" indignantly exclaimed Captain Perez, straightening up.

"Well, it was a pretty important thing, and I wanted to make sure. I left that chair out there, and I knew what I'd catch if any cat's hairs got on that cushion while I was gone. Ain't that so, Mrs. Snow?"

The housekeeper expressed her opinion that Captain Eri was a "case," whatever that may be.

They had clam chowder for dinner--a New England clam chowder, made with milk and crackers, and clams with shells as white as snow. They were what the New Yorker calls "soft-shell" clams, for a Fulton Market chowder is a "quahaug soup" to the native of the Cape.

Now that chowder was good; everybody said so, and if the proof of the chowder, like that of the pudding, is in the eating of it, this one had a clear case. Also, there were boiled striped bass, which is good enough for anybody, hot biscuits, pumpkin pie, and beach-plum preserves. There was a running fire of apologies from Miss Patience and answering volleys of compliments from Mrs. Snow.

"I don't see how you make sech beach-plum preserves, Miss Davis," exclaimed the lady from Nantucket. "I declare! I'm goin' to ask you for another sasserful. I b'lieve they're the best I ever ate."

"Well, now! Do you think so? I kind of suspected that the plums was a little mite too ripe. You know how 'tis with beach-plums, they've got to be put up when they're jest so, else they ain't good for much. I was at Luther for I don't know how long 'fore I could git him to go over to the P'int and pick 'em, and I was 'fraid he'd let it go too long. I only put up twenty-two jars of 'em on that account. How much sugar do you use?"

There was material here for the discussion that country housewives love, and the two ladies took advantage of it. When it was over the female portion of the company washed the dishes, while the men walked up and down the beach and smoked. Here they were joined after a while by the ladies, for even by the ocean it was as mild as early May, and the wind was merely bracing and had no sting in it.

The big blue waves shouldered themselves up from the bosom of the sea, marched toward the beach, and tumbled to pieces in a roaring tumult of white and green. The gulls skimmed along their tops or dropped like falling stones into the water after sand eels, emerging again, screaming, to repeat the performance.

The conversation naturally turned to wrecks, and Captain Davis, his reserve vanishing before the tactful inquiries of the captains and Ralph, talked shop and talked it well.

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CHAPTER IX. ELSIE PRESTONPerhaps, on the whole, it is not surprising that Captain Eri didn't grasp the situation. Neither his two partners nor himself had given much thought to the granddaughter of the sick man in the upper room. The Captain knew that there was a granddaughter, hence his letter; but he had heard John Baxter speak of her as being in school somewhere in Boston, and had all along conceived of her as a miss of sixteen or thereabouts. No wonder that at first he looked at the stylishly gowned young woman, who stood before him with one gloved hand
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