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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCap'n Eri - Chapter 13. Captain Jerry Makes A Mess Of It
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Cap'n Eri - Chapter 13. Captain Jerry Makes A Mess Of It Post by :jon_poland Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :685

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Cap'n Eri - Chapter 13. Captain Jerry Makes A Mess Of It


It was during the week that followed the holiday so gloriously celebrated that Captain Jerry made a mess of it, and all with the best intentions in the world. Elsie had had a hard day at the school, principally owing to the perversity of the irrepressible Josiah, whose love for deviltry was getting the better of his respect for the new teacher. The boy had discovered that Elsie never reported his bad conduct to Captain Perez, and, therefore, that the situation was not greatly different from what it had been during the reign of Miss Nixon.

On this particular day he had been a little worse than usual, and, as uneasiness and mischief in a schoolroom are as catching as the chickenpox, Elsie came home tired and nervous. Captain Eri and Mrs. Snow were certain that this increasing nervousness on the part of their guest was not due to school troubles alone, but, at any rate, nervous she was, and particularly nervous, and, it must be confessed, somewhat inclined to be irritable, during the supper and afterward, on this ill-starred night.

The beginning of the trouble was when Ralph Hazeltine called. Mrs. Snow was with her patient in the upper room, Captain Eri was out, and Captain Perez and Captain Jerry were with Elsie in the dining room. The electrician was made welcome by the trio--more especially by the captains, for Miss Preston was in no mood to be over-effusive--and a few minutes of general conversation followed. Then Captain Jerry, in accordance with his plan of campaign, laid down his newspaper, coughed emphatically to attract the attention of his partner, and said, "Well, I guess I'll go out and look at the weather for a spell. Come on, Perez."

"Why, Captain Jerry!" exclaimed Elsie, "you were out looking at the weather only ten minutes ago. I don't think it has changed much since then. Why don't you stay here and keep us company?"

"Oh, you can't never tell about the weather 'long this coast. It's likely to change most any time. Besides," with a wink that expressed comprehension unlimited, "I reckon you and Mr. Hazeltine don't care much 'bout the company of old fogies like me and Perez. Two's company and three's a crowd, you know. Ho, ho, ho!"

"Captain Jerry, come back this minute!"

But the Captain chuckled and shook out of the door, followed by the obedient Perez, who, having pledged fealty, stuck to his colors whatever might happen.

At another time, Elsie would probably have appreciated and enjoyed the joke as much as anyone, but this evening it did not appeal to her in the least. Ralph put in a very uncomfortable half-hour, and then cut his visit short and departed. It was rather sharp and chilly outside, but the breeze felt like a breath from the tropics compared with the atmosphere of that dining room.

It certainly was Captain Jerry's unlucky evening, for he left Perez chatting with a fisherman friend, who had left a favorite pipe in his shanty and had come down to get it, and entered the house alone. He had seen the electrician go, and was surprised at the brevity of his call, but he was as far from suspecting that he himself was the indirect cause of the said brevity as a mortal could be.

He came into the dining room, hung his cap on the back of a chair, and remarked cheerfully, "Well, Elsie, what did you send your company home so quick for? Land sake! twelve o'clock wa'n't none too late for me when I was young and goin' round to see the girls."

But Miss Preston did not smile. On the contrary, she frowned, and when she spoke the Captain had a vague feeling that someone had dropped an icicle inside his shirt collar.

"Captain Jerry," said the young lady, "I want to have a talk with you. Why do you think it necessary to get up and leave the room whenever Mr. Hazeltine calls? You do it every time, and to-night was no exception, except that by what you said you made me appear a little more ridiculous than usual. Now, why do you do it?"

The Captain's jaw fell. He stared at his questioner to see if she was not joking, but, finding no encouragement of that kind, stammered, "Why do I do it? Why?"

"Yes, why?"

"Why, 'cause I thought you wanted me to."

"_I wanted you to! Why should you think that, please?"

"Well, I don't know. I thought you two would ruther be alone. I know, when I used to go to see my wife 'fore we was married, I--"

"Please, what has that got to do with Mr. Hazeltine's visits here?"

"Why, why, nothin', I s'pose, if you say so. I jest thought--"

"What right have you to suppose that Mr. Hazeltine is calling on me more than any other person or persons in this house?"

This was something of a poser, but the Captain did his best. He sat on the edge of a chair and rubbed his knee, and then blurted out, "Well, I s'pose I--that is, we thought he was, jest 'cause he nat'rally would; that's 'bout all. If I'd thought--why, see here, Elsie, don't YOU think he's comin' to see you?"

This was a return thrust that was hard to parry, but, although the young lady's color heightened just a bit, she answered without much hesitation:

"I don't know that I do. At any rate, I have given you no authority to act on any such assumption, and I DON'T want you to put me again in the ridiculous position you did this evening, and as you have done so often before. Why, his visits might be perfect torture to me, and still I should have to endure them out of common politeness. I couldn't go away and leave him alone."

Captain Jerry's face was a study of chagrin and troubled repentance.

"Elsie," he said, "I'm awful sorry; I am so. If I'd thought I was torturin' of you, 'stead of makin' it pleasant, I'd never have done it, sure. I won't go out again; I won't, honest. I hope you won't lay it up against me. I meant well."

Now, if Captain Perez had delayed his entrance to that dining room only two or three minutes longer, if he had not come in just in time to prevent Elsie's making the explanatory and soothing answer that was on her tongue, events would probably have been entirely different, and a good deal of trouble might have been saved. But in he came, as if some perverse imp had been waiting to give him the signal, and the interview between Captain Jerry and the young lady whom he had unwittingly offended broke off then and there.

Elsie went upstairs feeling a little conscience-stricken, and with an uneasy idea that she had said more than she should have. Captain Perez took up the newspaper and sat down to read. As for Captain Jerry, he sat down, too, but merely to get his thoughts assorted into an arrangement less like a spilled box of jackstraws. The Captain's wonderful scheme, that he had boasted of and worked so hard for, had fallen to earth like an exploded airship, and when it hit it hurt.

His first idea was to follow the usual procedure, and take the whole matter to Captain Eri for settlement, but the more he considered this plan the less he liked it. Captain Eri was an unmerciful tease, and he would be sure to "rub it in," in a way the mere thought of which made his friend squirm. There wasn't much use in confiding to Captain Perez, either. He must keep the secret and pretend that everything was working smoothly.

Then his thoughts turned to Hazeltine, and when he considered the wrong he had done that young man, he squirmed again. There wasn't a doubt in his mind that Ralph felt exactly as Elsie did about his interference. Captain Jerry decided that he owed the electrician an apology, and determined to offer it at the first opportunity.

And the opportunity came the very next morning, for Mrs. Snow wanted some clams for dinner, and asked him to dig some for her. The best clams in the vicinity were those in the flat across the bay near the cable station, and the Captain took his bucket and hoe and rowed over there. As he was digging, Ralph came strolling down to the shore.

Mr. Hazeltine's "Good-morning" was clear and hearty. Captain Jerry's was hesitating and formal. The talk that followed was rather one-sided. Finally, the Captain laid down his hoe, and came splashing over to where his friend was standing.

"Mr. Hazeltine," he said confusedly, "I kind of feel as if I ought to beg your pardon. I'm awful sorry I done what I did, but, as I said to Elsie, I meant well, and I'm sorry."

"Sorry? Sorry for what?"

"Why, for leavin' you and her alone so when you come to the house. You see, I never thought but what you'd both like it, and 'twa'n't till she raked me over the coals so for doin' it that I realized how things was."

"Raked you over the coals? I'm afraid I don't understand."

It is unnecessary to repeat the whole of the long and tangled conversation that ensued. The Captain tried to explain, tumbled down, metaphorically speaking, got up again, and started off on another tack. In his anxiety to make his position perfectly clear, he quoted from Elsie's remarks of the previous evening, and then, thinking perhaps he had gone too far, tried to smooth these over by more explanations. Repeating this process several times got him into such a snarl that he scarcely knew what he was saying. When the agony was over Ralph had received the impression that Miss Preston had said his visits were a perfect torture to her, that she objected to being left alone with him, that she held Captain Jerry responsible for these things, and that the latter was sorry for something or other, though what it was he, Ralph, didn't know or care particularly. To the Captain's continued apologies he muttered absently that it was "all right," and walked slowly away with his hands in his pockets. Captain Jerry was relieved by this expression of forgiveness. He felt that the situation wasn't what he would like to have it, but, at any rate, he had done his duty. This was a great consolation.

Ralph didn't call that evening or the next. When he did drop in it was merely to inquire concerning John Baxter's progress, and to chat for a moment with the captains. His next visit was a week later, and was just as brief and formal.

If Elsie noticed this sudden change she said nothing. There might have been some comment by the others, had not a new sensation so occupied their minds as to shut out everything else. This sensation was caused by Josiah Bartlett, who ran away one night, with his belongings tied up in a brown paper parcel, leaving a note saying that he had gone to enlist in the Navy and wasn't coming back any more.

There were lively times the next morning when the note was found. Captain Perez was for harnessing up immediately and starting off to find the lost one, hit or miss. Captain Eri soon showed him the folly of this proceeding and, instead, hurried to the railway station and sent a telegram describing the fugitive to the conductor of the Boston train. It caught the conductor at Sandwich, and the local constable at Buzzard's Bay caught the boy. Josiah was luxuriously puffing a five-cent cigar in the smoking car, and it was a crest-fallen and humiliated prodigal that, accompanied by the a fore-mentioned constable, returned to Orham that night.

But the stubbornness remained, and the next day Perez sought Captain Eri in a troubled frame of mind.

"Eri," he said dejectedly, "I don't know what I'm goin' to do with that boy. He's too many for ME, that boy is. Seems he's been plannin' this runnin' away bus'ness for more 'n a month; been doin' errands and odd jobs 'round town and savin' up his money on purpose. Says he won't go back to school again, no matter what we do to him, and that he's goin' to git into the Navy if it takes ten year. He says he'll run away again fust chance he gits, and he WILL, too. He's got the sperit of the Old Scratch in him, and I can't git it out. I'm clean discouraged and wore out, and I know that he'll do somethin' pretty soon that 'll disgrace us all."

"Humph!" exclaimed his friend. "Stuffy as all that, is he? You don't say! He ain't a bad boy, that is a REEL bad boy, either."

"No, that's jest it. He ain't reel bad--yit. But he will be if he ain't fetched up pretty sudden. 'Course, I know what he needs is to be made to mind fust, and then preached to afterwards. And I know that nat'rally I'm the one that ought to do it, but I jest can't--there! If I should start out to give him the dressin' down he needs, I'd be thinkin' of his mother every minute, and how I promised to treat him gentle and not be cross to him. But SOMETHIN'S got to be done, and if you can help me out any way I'll never forgit it, Eri."

Captain Eri scratched his chin. "Humph!" he grunted reflectively. "He couldn't git into the Navy, he's too young. More likely to be a stowaway on a merchantman and then roustabout on a cattle boat, or some such thing. Even if he lied 'bout his age and did git to be a sort of a ship's boy on a sailin' vessel, you and me know what that means nowadays. I presume likely 'twould end in his bein' killed in some rumshop scrimmage later on. Let--me--see. Bound to be a sailor, is he?"

"He's dead sot on it."

"More fool he. Comes from readin' them ridic'lous story books, I s'pose. He ain't been on the water much sence he's been down here, has he?"

"Not more 'n once or twice, except in a dory goin' to the beach, or somethin' like that."

"That's so, that's what I thought. Well, Perez, I'll tell you. The boy does need breakin' in, that's a fact, and I think maybe I could do it. I could use a young feller on my boat; to go coddin' with me, I mean. Let me have the boy under me--no meddlin' from anybody--for a couple of months. Let him sign reg'lar articles and ship 'long of me for that time. Maybe I could make a white man of him."

"I don't b'lieve he'd do it."

"I cal'late I could talk him into it. There's some butter on my tongue when it's necessary."

"You'd have to promise not to lay a hand on him in anger. That's what I promised his mother."

"All right, I promise it now. That's all right, Perez. You and me are old shipmates, and bound to help each other out. Just trust him to me, and don't ask too many questions. Is it a trade? Good! Shake."

They shook hands on it, and then Captain Eri went in to talk to the unreconciled runaway. That young gentleman, fresh from his triumph over his uncle, at first refused to have anything to do with the scheme. He wasn't going to be a "cheap guy fisherman," he was going into the Navy. The Captain did not attempt to urge him, neither did he preach or patronize. He simply leaned back in the rocker and began spinning sailor yarns. He told of all sorts of adventures in all climates, and with all sorts of people. He had seen everything under the sun, apparently, and, according to him, there was no life so free and void of all restraint as that of an able seaman on a merchant ship, or, preferably, on a fisherman; but one point he made clear, and that was that, unless the applicant had had previous training, his lot was likely to be an unhappy one.

"Of course," he said, as he rose to go, "it was my idea to sort of train you up so's you could be ready when 'twas time to ship, but long's you don't want to, why it's all off."

"I'll go with you, Cap!" said Josiah, whose eyes were shining.

"Good! That's the talk! You might as well sign articles right away. Wait till I git 'em ready."

He brought pen, ink, and paper, and proceeded to indite a formidable document to the effect that "Josiah Bartlett, able seaman," was to ship aboard the catboat Mary Ellen for a term of two months. Wages, five dollars a month.

"You see," he said, "I've put you down as able seaman 'cause that's what you'll be when I git through with you. Now sign."

So Josiah signed, and then Captain Eri affixed his own signature with a flourish.

"There!" exclaimed the Captain, bringing his big palm down on the back of the "able seaman" with a thump that brought water into the eyes of that proud youth, "You're my man, shipmate. We sail to-morrer mornin' at four, rain or shine. I'll call you at quarter of. Be ready."

"You bet, old man!" said Josiah.

Captain Perez met his friend as they came out of the parlor.

"Now, Eri," he whispered, "be easy as you can with him, won't you?"

The Captain answered in the very words of his crew.

"You bet!" he said fervently, and went away whistling. Captain Perez slept better that night.

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