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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCap'n Eri - Chapter 3. The "Come-Outers'" Meeting
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Cap'n Eri - Chapter 3. The 'Come-Outers'' Meeting Post by :smartgroup Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1792

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Cap'n Eri - Chapter 3. The "Come-Outers'" Meeting


The house where the three Captains lived was as near salt water as it could be and remain out of reach of the highest tides. When Captain Eri, after beaching and anchoring his dory and stabling Daniel for the night, entered the dining room he found his two messmates deep in consultation, and with evidences of strenuous mental struggle written upon their faces. Captain Perez's right hand was smeared with ink and there were several spatters of the same fluid on Captain Jerry's perspiring nose. Crumpled sheets of note paper were on the table and floor, and Lorenzo, who was purring restfully upon the discarded jackets of the two mariners, alone seemed to be enjoying himself.

"Well, you fellers look as if you'd had a rough v'yage," commented Captain Eri, slipping out of his own jacket and pulling his chair up beside those of his friends. "What's the trouble?"

"Gosh, Eri, I'm glad to see you!" exclaimed Captain Perez, drawing the hand, just referred to, across his forehead and thereby putting that portion of his countenance into mourning. "How do you spell conscientious?"

"I don't, unless it's owner's orders," was the answer. "What do you want to spell it for?"

"We've writ much as four hundred advertisements, I do believe!" said Captain Jerry, "and there ain't one of them fit to feed to a pig. Perez here, he's got such hifalutin' notions, that nothin' less than a circus bill 'll do him. _I don't see why somethin' plain and sensible like 'Woman wanted to do dishes and clean house for three men,' wouldn't be all right; but no, it's got to have more fancy trimmin's than a Sunday bunnit. Foolishness, I call it."

"You'd have a whole lot of women answerin' that advertisement, now wouldn't you?" snorted Captain Perez hotly. "'To do dishes for three men!' That's a healthy bait to catch a wife with, ain't it? I can see 'em comin'. I cal'late you'd stay single till Jedgment, and then you wouldn't git one. No, sir! The thing to do is to be sort of soft-soapy and high-toned. Let 'em think they're goin' to git a bargain when they git you. Make believe it's goin' to be a privilege to git sech a husband."

"Well, 'tis," declared the sacrifice indignantly. "They might git a dum-sight worse one."

"I cal'late that's so, Jerry," said Captain Eri. "Still, Perez ain't altogether wrong. Guess you'd better keep the dishwashin' out of it. I know dishwashin' would never git ME; I've got so I hate the sight of soap and hot water as bad as if I was a Portugee. Pass me that pen."

Captain Perez gladly relinquished the writing materials, and Captain Eri, after two or three trials, by which he added to the paper decorations of the floor, produced the following:

"Wife Wanted--By an ex-seafaring man of steady habbits. Must be willing to Work and Keep House shipshape and aboveboard. No sea-lawyers need apply. Address--Skipper, care the Nuptial Chime, Boston, Mass."

The line relating to sea-lawyers was insisted upon by Captain Jerry. "That'll shut out the tonguey kind," he explained. The advertisement, with this addition, being duly approved, the required fifty cents was inclosed, as was a letter to the editor of the matrimonial journal requesting all answers to be forwarded to Captain Jeremiah Burgess, Orham, Mass. Then the envelope was directed and the stamp affixed.

"There," said Captain Eri, "that's done. All you've got to do now, Jerry, is to pick out your wife and let us know what you want for a weddin' present. You're a lucky man."

"Aw, let's talk about somethin' else," said the lucky one rather gloomily. "What's the news up at the depot, Eri?"

They received the tidings of the coming of Hazeltine with the interest due to such an event. Captain Eri gave them a detailed account of his meeting with the new electrician, omitting, however, in consideration for the feelings of Captain Perez, to mention the fact that it was the Bartlett boy who started that gentleman upon his walk to the cable station.

"Well, what did you think of him?" asked Captain Perez, when the recital was finished.

"Seemed to me like a pretty good feller," answered Captain Eri deliberately. "He didn't git mad at the joke the gang played on him, for one thing. He ain't so smooth-tongued as Parker used to be and he didn't treat Baxter and me as if Cape Codders was a kind of animals, the way some of the summer folks do. He had the sense not to offer to pay me for takin' him over to the station, and I liked that. Take it altogether, he seemed like a pretty decent chap--for a New Yorker," he added, as an after thought.

"But say," he said a moment later, "I've got some more news and it ain't good news, either. Web Saunders has got his liquor license."

"I want to know!" exclaimed Captain Perez.

"You don't tell me!" said Captain Jerry.

Then they both said, "What will John Baxter do now?" And Captain Eri shook his head dubiously.

The cod bit well next morning and Captain Eri did not get in from the Windward Ledge until afternoon. By the way, it may be well to explain that Captain Jerry's remarks concerning "settlin' down" and "restin'," which we chronicled in the first chapter must not be accepted too literally. While it is true that each of the trio had given up long voyages, it is equally true that none had given up work entirely. Some people might not consider it restful to rise at four every weekday morning and sail in a catboat twelve miles out to sea and haul a wet cod line for hours, not to mention the sail home and the cleaning and barreling of the catch. Captain Eri did that. Captain Perez was what he called "stevedore"--that is, general caretaker during the owner's absence, at Mr. Delancy Barry's summer estate on the "cliff road." As for Captain Jerry, he was janitor at the schoolhouse.

The catch was heavy the next morning, as has been said, and by the time the last fish was split and iced and the last barrel sent to the railway station it was almost supper time. Captain Eri had intended calling on Baxter early in the day, but now he determined to wait until after supper.

The Captain had bad luck in the "matching" that followed the meal, and it was nearly eight o'clock before he finished washing dishes. This distasteful task being completed, he set out for the Baxter homestead.

The Captain's views on the liquor question were broader than those of many Orham citizens. He was an abstainer, generally speaking, but his scruples were not as pronounced as those of Miss Abigail Mullett, whose proudest boast was that she had refused brandy when the doctor prescribed it as the stimulant needed to save her life. Over and over again has Miss Abigail told it in prayer-meeting; how she "riz up" in her bed, "expectin' every breath to be the last" and said, "Dr. Palmer, if it's got to be liquor or death, then death referred to!"--meaning, it is fair to presume, that death was preferred rather than the brandy. With much more concerning her miraculous recovery through the aid of a "terbacker and onion poultice."

On general principles the Captain objected to the granting of a license to a fellow like "Web" Saunders, but it was the effect that this action of the State authorities might have upon his friend John Baxter that troubled him most.

For forty-five years John Baxter was called by Cape Cod people "as smart a skipper as ever trod a plank." He saved money, built an attractive home for his wife and daughter, and would, in the ordinary course of events, have retired to enjoy a comfortable old age. But his wife died shortly after the daughter's marriage to a Boston man, and on a voyage to Manila, Baxter himself suffered from a sunstroke and a subsequent fever, that left him a physical wreck and for a time threatened to unsettle his reason. He recovered a portion of his health and the threatened insanity disappeared, except for a religious fanaticism that caused him to accept the Bible literally and to interpret it accordingly. When his daughter and her husband were drowned in the terrible City of Belfast disaster, it is an Orham tradition that John Baxter, dressed in gunny-bags and sitting on an ash-heap, was found by his friends mourning in what he believed to be the Biblical "sackcloth and ashes." His little baby granddaughter had been looked out for by some kind friends in Boston. Only Captain Eri knew that John Baxter's yearly trip to Boston was made for the purpose of visiting the girl who was his sole reminder of the things that might have been, but even the Captain did not know that the money that paid her board and, as she grew older, for her gowns and schooling, came from the bigoted, stern old hermit, living alone in the old house at Orham.

In Orham, and in other sections of the Cape as well, there is a sect called by the ungodly, "The Come-Outers." They were originally seceders from the Methodist churches who disapproved of modern innovations. They "come out" once a week to meet at the houses of the members, and theirs are lively meetings. John Baxter was a "Come-Outer," and ever since the enterprising Mr. Saunders opened his billiard room, the old man's tirades of righteous wrath had been directed against this den of iniquity. Since it became known that "Web" had made application for the license, it was a regular amusement for the unregenerate to attend the gatherings of the "Come-Outers" and hear John Baxter call down fire from Heaven upon the billiard room, its proprietor, and its patrons. Orham people had begun to say that John Baxter was "billiard-saloon crazy."

And John Baxter was Captain Eri's friend, a friendship that had begun in school when the declaimer of Patrick Henry's "Liberty or Death" speech on Examination Day took a fancy to and refused to laugh at the little chap who tremblingly ventured to assert that he loved "little Pussy, her coat is so warm." The two had changed places until now it was Captain Eri who protected and advised.

When the Captain rapped at John Baxter's kitchen door no one answered, and, after yelling "Ship ahoy!" through the keyhole a number of times, he was forced to the conclusion that his friend was not at home.

"You lookin' fer Cap'n Baxter?" queried Mrs. Sarah Taylor, who lived just across the road. "He's gone to Come-Outers' meetin', I guess. There's one up to Barzilla Small's to-night."

Mr. Barzilla Small lived in that part of the village called "down to the neck," and when the Captain arrived there, he found the parlor filled with the devout, who were somewhat surprised to see him.

"Why, how do you do?" said Mrs. Small, resplendent in black "alpaca" and wearing her jet earrings. "I snum if you ain't a stranger! We'll have a reel movin' meetin' to-night because Mr. Perley's here, and he says he feels the sperrit a-workin'. Set right down there by the what-not. Luther," to her oldest but three, "give Cap'n Hedge your chair. You can set on the cricket. Yes, you can! Don't answer back!"

"Aw, ma!" burst out the indignant Luther, "how d'yer think I'm goin' to set on that cricket? My laigs 'll be way up under my chin. Make Hart set on it; he's shorter'n me."

"Shan't nuther, Lute Small!" declared Hartwell, a freckle-faced youngster, who was the next step downward in the family stair of children. "Set on it yourself. Make him, ma, now! You said he'd have to."

"Now, ma, I--"

"Be still, both of you! I sh'd think you'd be ashamed, with everybody here so! Oh, my soul and body!" turning to the company, "if it ain't enough to try a saint! Sometimes seems's if I SHOULD give up. You be thankful, Abigail," to Miss Mullett, who sat by the door, "that you ain't got nine in a family and nobody to help teach 'em manners. If Barzilla was like most men, he'd have some dis-CIP-line in the house; but no, I have to do it all, and--"

Mr. Small, thus publicly rebuked, rose from his seat in the corner by the melodeon and proclaimed in a voice that he tried hard not to make apologetic:

"Now, Luther, if I was you I'd be a good boy and mind ma."

Even this awe-inspiring command had little effect upon the reluctant Luther, but Captain Eri, who, smiling and bowing right and left, had been working his passage to the other side of the room, announced that he was all right and would "squeeze in on the sofy 'side of Cap'n Baxter." So there was peace once more, that is, as much peace as half a dozen feminine tongues, all busy with different subjects, would allow.

"Why, Eri" whispered John Baxter, "I didn't expect to see you here. I'm glad, though; Lord knows every God-fearin' man in this town has need to be on his knees this night. Have you heard about it?"

"Cap'n John means about the rum-sellin' license that Web Saunders has got," volunteered Miss Melissa Busteed, leaning over from her seat in the patent rocker that had been the premium earned by Mrs. Small for selling one hundred and fifty pounds of tea for a much-advertised house. "Ain't it awful? I says to Prissy Baker this mornin', soon 's I heard of it, 'Prissy,' s' I, 'there 'll be a jedgment on this town sure's you're a livin' woman,' s' I. Says she, 'That's so, M'lissy,' s' she, and I says--"

Well, when Miss Busteed talks, interruptions are futile, so Captain Eri sat silent, as the comments of at least one-tenth of the population of Orham were poured into his ears. The recitation was cut short by Mrs. Small's vigorous pounding on the center table.

"We're blessed this evenin'," said the hostess with emotion, "in havin' Mr. Perley with us. He's goin' to lead the meetin'."

The Reverend Mr. Perley--Reverend by courtesy; he had never been ordained--stood up, cleared his throat with vigor, rose an inch or two on the toes of a very squeaky pair of boots, sank to heel level again and announced that everyone would join in singing, "Hymn number one hundred and ten, omitting the second and fourth stanzas: hymn number one hundred and ten, second and fourth stanzas omitted." The melodeon, tormented by Mrs. Lurania Bassett, shrieked and groaned, and the hymn was sung. So was another, and yet another. Then Mr. Perley squeaked to his tiptoes again, subsided, and began a lengthy and fervent discourse.

Mr. Perley had been a blacksmith in Ostable before he "got religion," and now spent the major portion of his time in "boardin' 'round" with "Come-Outers" up and down the Cape and taking part in their meetings. His services at such gatherings paid for his food and lodging. He had been a vigorous horseshoer in the old days; now he preached just as vigorously.

He spoke of the faithful few here gathered together. He spoke of the scoffing of those outside the pale and hinted at the uncomfortable future that awaited them. He ran over the various denominations one by one, and one by one showed them to be worshipers of idols and followers after strange gods. He sank hoarsely into the bass and quavered up into falsetto and a chorus of "Amens!" and "Hallelujahs!" followed him.

"Oh, brothers and sisters!" he shouted, "here we are a-kneelin' at the altar's foot and what's goin' on outside? Why, the Devil's got his clutches in our midst. The horn of the wicked is exalted. They're sellin' rum--RUM--in this town! They're a-sellin' rum and drinkin' of it and gloryin' in their shame. But the Lord ain't asleep! He's got his eye on 'em! He's watchin' 'em! And some of these fine days he'll send down fire out of Heaven and wipe 'em off the face of the earth!" ("Amen! Glory! Glory! Glory!")

John Baxter was on his feet, his lean face working, the perspiration shining on his forehead, his eyes gleaming like lamps under his rough white eyebrows, and his clenched fists pounding the back of the chair in front of him. His hallelujahs were the last to cease. Captain Eri had to use some little force to pull him down on the sofa again.

Then Mrs. Small struck up, "Oh, brother, have you heard?" and they sang it with enthusiasm. Next, Miss Mullett told her story of the brandy and the defiance of the doctor. Nobody seemed much interested except a nervous young man with sandy hair and a celluloid collar, who had come with Mr. Tobias Wixon and was evidently a stranger. He had not heard it before and seemed somewhat puzzled when Miss Abigail repeated the "Death referred to" passage.

There was more singing. Mrs. Small "testified." So did Barzilla, with many hesitations and false starts and an air of relief when it was over. Then another hymn and more testimony, each speaker denouncing the billiard saloon. Then John Baxter arose and spoke.

He began by saying that the people of Orham had been slothful in the Lord's vineyard. They had allowed weeds to spring up and wax strong. They had been tried and found wanting.

"I tell you, brothers and sisters," he declaimed, leaning over the chair back and shaking a thin forefinger in Mr. Perley's face, "God has given us a task to do and how have we done it? We've set still and let the Devil have his way. We've talked and talked, but what have we done? Nothin'! Nothin' at all; and now the grip of Satan is tighter on the town than it ever has been afore. The Lord set us a watch to keep and we've slept on watch. And now there's a trap set for every young man in this c'munity. Do you think that that hell-hole down yonder is goin' to shut up because we talk about it in meetin'? Do you think Web Saunders is goin' to quit sellin' rum because we say he ought to? Do you think God's goin' to walk up to that door and nail it up himself? No, sir! He don't work that way! We've talked and talked, and now it's time to DO. Ain't there anybody here that feels a call? Ain't there axes to chop with and fire to burn? I tell you, brothers, we've waited long enough! I--old as I am--am ready. Lord, here I am! Here I am--"

He swayed, broke into a fit of coughing, and sank back upon the sofa, trembling all over and still muttering that he was ready. There was a hushed silence for a moment or two, and then a storm of hallelujahs and shouts. Mr. Perley started another hymn, and it was sung with tremendous enthusiasm.

Just behind the nervous young man with the celluloid collar sat a stout individual with a bald head. This was Abijah Thompson, known by the irreverent as "Barking" Thompson, a nickname bestowed because of his peculiar habit of gradually puffing up, like a frog, under religious excitement, and then bursting forth in an inarticulate shout, disconcerting to the uninitiated. During Baxter's speech and the singing of the hymn his expansive red cheeks had been distended like balloons, and his breath came shorter and shorter. Mr. Perley had arisen and was holding up his hand for silence, when with one terrific "Boo!" "Barking" Thompson's spiritual exaltation exploded directly in the ear of the nervous stranger.

The young man shot out of his chair as if Mr. Thompson had fired a dynamite charge beneath him. "Oh, the Devil!" he shrieked, and then subsided, blushing to the back of his neck.

Somehow this interruption took the spirit out of the meeting. Giggles from Luther and the younger element interfered with the solemnity of Mr. Perley's closing remarks, and no one else was brave enough to "testify" under the circumstances. They sang again, and the meeting broke up. The nervous young man was the first one to leave.

Captain Eri got his friend out of the clutches of the "Come-Outers" as quickly as possible, and piloted him down the road toward his home. John Baxter was silent and absent-minded, and most of the Captain's cheerful remarks concerning Orham affairs in general went unanswered. As they turned in at the gate the elder man said:

"Eri, do you believe that man's law ought to be allowed to interfere with God's law?"

"Well, John, in most cases it's my jedgment that it pays to steer pretty close to both of 'em."

"S'pose God called you to break man's law and keep His; what would you do?"

"Guess the fust thing would be to make sure 'twas the Almighty that was callin'. I don't want to say nothin' to hurt your feelin's, but I should advise the feller that thought that he had that kind of a call to 'beware of imitations,' as the soap folks advertise."

"Eri, I've got a call."

"Now, John Baxter, you listen. You and me have been sailin' together, as you might say, for forty odd years. I ain't a religious man 'cordin' to your way of thinkin', but I've generally found that the Lord runs things most as well as us folks could run 'em. When there's a leak at one end of the schooner it don't pay to bore a hole at the other end to let the water out. Don't you worry no more about Web Saunders and that billiard saloon. The s'lectmen 'll attend to them afore very long. Why don't you go up to Boston for a couple of weeks? 'Twill do you good."

"Do you think so, Eri? Well, maybe 'twould--maybe 'twould. Sometimes I feel as if my head was kind of wearin' out. I'll think about it."

"Better not think any more; better go right ahead."

"Well, I'll see. Good-night."

"Good-night, John."

"Perez," said Captain Eri, next day, "seems to me some kinds of religion is like whisky, mighty bad for a weak head. I wish somebody 'd invent a gold cure for Come-Outers."

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