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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 34. The Central Hotel
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 34. The Central Hotel Post by :Ndoki Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2480

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 34. The Central Hotel


Captain Jabez did not return until late that Saturday evening; but as soon as he set foot on shore I went to him and asked him if he could, in any way, get us to Sanpritchit that night, offering to pay him liberally for the service.

"I've got a sailboat," said he, "and ye'd be right welcome to it if it was here; but it ain't here. I lent it to Captain Neal, of Brimley, having no present use for it, and he won't bring it back till next week some time. There's a dory here, to be sure; but Sanpritchit's twenty-five miles away, and that's too far to go in a dory, especially at night. What's your hurry?"

"I have very important business in Sanpritchit," I answered, "and if it is possible I must go there to-night."

"Sanpritchit's a queer place to have business in," said Captain Jabe; "and it's a pity ye didn't think of it this mornin', when ye might have gone with me and took the train to Barley, and there's a stage from there to Sanpritchit."

"Captain Jabez," said I, "as there seems to be no other way for me to do this thing, I will pay you whatever you may think the service worth, if you will take me to Sanpritchit in your grocery boat, and start immediately. It will be slow work traveling, I know, but I think we can surely get there before morning."

The grocer-captain looked at me for a moment, with his eyes half shut; then he set down on the pier a basket which had been hanging on his arm, and, putting both hands in his pockets, stared steadfastly at me.

"Do you know," he remarked presently, "that that 'ere proposition of yours puts me in mind of a story I heard of a California man and a New York man. The California man had come East to spend the winter, and the New York man was a business acquaintance o' his. The California man called at the New York man's office before business hours; and when he found the New York man hadn't come down town yet, he went up town to see him at his house. It was a mighty fine house, and the New York man, being proud of it, took the California man all over it. 'Look here,' said the California man, 'what will you take for this house, furniture and all, just as it stands?' 'I'll take a hundred and twenty thousand dollars,' said the New York man. 'Does that include all the odds and ends,' asked the California man,--'old magazines, umbrellas, needles and pins, empty bottles, photographs, candlesticks, Japanese fans, coal ashes, and all that kind of thing, that make a house feel like a home? My family's comin' on from California with nothin' but their clothes, and I want a house they can go right into and feel at home, even to the cold victuals for a beggar, if one happens to come along.' 'If I throw in the odds and ends, it will be one hundred and twenty-five thousand,' said the New York man. 'That's all right,' said the California man, 'and my family will arrive, with their clothes, on the train that gets here at 6.20 this afternoon; so if your family can get out of the house before that time, I'm ready to pay the money, cash down.' 'All right,' said the New York man, 'I'll see that they do it.' And at ten minutes after six the New York family went out with their clothes to a hotel, and at twenty minutes of seven the California family came to the house with their clothes, and found everything all ready for 'em, the servants havin' agreed to stay at California wages.

"Now, then," continued Captain Jabez, "I don't want to hurt nobody's feelin's, and I wouldn't say one word that would make the smallest infant think less of itself than it did afore I spoke, but it does strike me that that there proposition of yours is a good deal like the California man's offer to the New York man."

"Well," said I, "that turned out very well. Each got what he wanted."

"Yes," replied Captain Jabez, "but this ain't New York city. No, sir, not by a long shot. I am just as willin' to accommodate a fellow-man, or a fellow-woman, for that matter, as any reasonable person is; but if the President of the United States, and Queen Victoria, and the prophet Isaiah was to come to me of a Saturday night, after I'd just got home from a week's work, and ask me to start straight off and take them to Sanpritchit, I'd tell 'em that I'd be glad to oblige 'em, but it couldn't be done: and that's what I say to ye, sir,--neither more nor less." And with this he picked up his basket and went into the house.

I was not discouraged, however, and when the captain came out I proposed to him that he should take me to Sanpritchit the next day.

"No, sir," said he. "I never have sailed my grocery boat on Sunday, and I don't feel like beginnin'."

I walked away, but shortly afterward joined him on board his vessel, which he was just about to leave for the night.

"Captain," I asked, "when does Sunday end in this part of the country?"

"Well, strictly speaking, it's supposed to end at sunset, or commonly at six o'clock."

"Very well," said I; "if you will start with me for Sanpritchit at six o'clock to-morrow evening, I will pay you your price."

I made this offer in the belief that, with ordinary good fortune, we could reach our destination before the Raynor yacht weighed anchor on Monday morning.

Captain Jabez considered the matter. "I am going to Sanpritchit on Monday, any way," said he; "and if you're in such a hurry to be there the first thing in the morning, I'd just as lieve sail to-morrow evening at six o'clock as not."

It was not much after the hour at which some people in that part of the country, when they have a reason for it, still believe that Sunday comes to an end, that the grocery boat left her pier with Captain Jabez, Abner, Walkirk, and me on board. There was nothing at all exhilarating in this expedition. I wanted to go rapidly, and I knew we should go slowly. I had passed a dull day, waiting for the time to start, and, to avoid thinking of the slow progress we should make, I soon turned in.

I woke very early, and went on deck. I do not know that I can remember a more disagreeable morning. It was day, but the sun was not up; it was not cloudy, but there was a filmy uncertainty about the sky that was more unpleasant than the clouds. The air was cold, raw, and oppressive. There was no one on deck but Abner, and he was at the wheel, which, on account of the grocery store occupying so large a portion of the after part of the vessel, was placed well forward. Only a jib and mainsail were set, and as I came on deck these were fluttering and sagging, as Abner carefully brought the vessel round. Now I saw that we were floating slowly toward the end of a long pier, and that we were going to land.

As I leaned over the side of the vessel, I did not wonder that Captain Jabez thought Sanpritchit was not much of a place to do business in. There were few houses, perhaps a dozen, scattered here and there along a low shore, which rose, at one end of the place, into a little bluff, behind which I saw a mast or two. On the pier was a solitary man, and he was the only living being in sight. It was that dreary time before breakfast, when everything that seems cheerless is more cheerless, everything that is sad more sad, everything that is discouraging more discouraging, and which right-minded persons who are able to do so spend in bed.

Gradually the vessel approached the pier, and Abner, to whom I had not yet spoken, for I did not feel in the least like talking, left the wheel, and, as soon as he was near enough, threw a small line to the man on the pier, who caught it, pulling ashore a cable with a loop in the end, threw the latter over a post, and in a few minutes the grocery boat was moored. The man came on board, and he and Abner went below.

It was too early to go on shore, for nothing could be done at that bleak, unearthly hour; but I was in that state of nervous disquietude when any change is a relief, and I stepped ashore. I was glad to put my feet upon the pier. Now I felt that I was my own master. It was too soon to go on board the yacht, but I could regulate my movements as I pleased, and was very willing to be alone during the hour or two in which I must remain inactive.

I walked over the loose and warped planks of the pier, the dull water rippling and flopping about the timbers beneath me, inhaling that faint smell of the quiet water and soaked logs, which is always a little dispiriting to me even at less dispiriting hours. The crowing of one or two cocks made me understand how dreadfully still everything was. The stillness of the very early morning is quite different from that of the night. During the latter people are asleep, and may be presumed to be happy. In the former they are about to wake up and be miserable. That, at least, was my notion, as I walked into the little village.

Not a creature did I see; not a sound did I hear except my own footsteps. Presently I saw a cat run around the corner of a house, and this was a relief. I walked on past a wide space, in which there were no houses, when I came to a small, irregularly built white house, in front of which hung a sign bearing the inscription "Central Hotel." If anything could have made me more disgusted with the world than I then was, it was this sign. If the name of this miserable little country tavern had been anything suitable to itself and the place, if it had been called The Plough and Harrow, The Gray Horse, or even The Blue Devil, I think I should have been glad to see it. A village inn might have been a point of interest to me, but Central Hotel in this mournful settlement of small farmers and fishermen,--it was ridiculous!

However, the door of the house was open, and inside was a man sweeping the sanded floor. When he saw me, he stopped his work and stared at me.

"Good-mornin'," he said. "Don't often see strangers here so airly. Did ye come on the grocery boat? I saw her puttin' in. Do ye want a room? Time for a good nap before breakfast."

I answered that I did not want a room, but the remark about breakfast made me feel that I should like a cup of coffee, and perhaps I might get it here. It might have been a more natural thing to go back to the boat and ask Abner to make me the coffee, but I did not want to go back to the boat. I did not want to wake Walkirk. I did not want to have him with me on shore. I did not want to have him talk to me. My present intention was to go to the yacht as soon as it was reasonable to suppose that its passengers were awake, to see Mrs. Raynor, and say to her what I had to say. I did not feel in the proper spirit for this; but, in the spirit in which I found myself, the less I was trammeled by advice, by suggestions of prudence, and all that sort of thing, the better it would be for me. So I was very glad that my under-study was asleep on the grocery boat, and hoped that he would remain in that condition until I had had my talk with Sylvia's mother.

I put my request to the man and he smiled. "Ye can't get no coffee," he said, "until breakfast time, and that's pretty nigh two hours off. There is people in the place that have breakfast earlier than we do, but we keep boarders, ye know. We've only got Captain Fluke now, but generally have more; and ye couldn't ask a man like Captain Fluke to git up to his breakfast before half past seven. Then ye don't want yer baggage sent fur? Perhaps ye've come ter see friends, an' it's a little airly ter drop in on 'em? Come in, any way, and take a seat."

I accepted the invitation. Sitting indoors might possibly be less dreary than walking out-of-doors.

"Now I tell ye what ye ought to do," continued the man. "Ye ought to take a nip of whiskey with some bitters in it. It's always kinder damp airly in the mornin', and ye must feel it more, bein' in a strange place. I've always thought a strange place was damper, airly in the mornin', than a place ye're used ter; and there's nothin' like whiskey with a little bitters to get out dampness."

I declined to partake of any Central Hotel whiskey, adding that the one refreshment I now needed was a cup of coffee.

"But there's no fire in the kitchen," said he, "and there won't be for ever so long. That's how whiskey comes in so handy; don't have to have no fire. Ye jes' pour it out and drink it, and there's the end of it."

"Not always," I remarked.

"Ye're right there," said he, with a smile. "A good deal depends on how much ye pour." He turned away, but stopped suddenly. "Look here," said he; "if ye say so, I'll make ye a cup of coffee. I've got an alcohol lamp up there that I can boil water with in no time. I'm out of alcohol, but, if you'll pay for it, I'll fill the lamp with whiskey; that'll burn just as well."

I willingly agreed to his proposition, and the man immediately disappeared into the back part of the house.

I sat and looked about the little bar-room, in which there was absolutely nothing of the quaint interest which one associates with a country inn. It was a bare, cold, hard, sandy, dirty room; its air tainted with the stale odors of whiskey, sugar, and wood still wet from its morning mopping. In less than fifteen minutes the man placed before me a cup of coffee and some soda biscuit. The coffee was not very good, but it was hot, and when I had finished it I felt like another man.

"There now," cried the bar-keeper, looking at me with great satisfaction, "don't that take the dampness out of ye? I tell ye there's no such stiffener in the airly mornin' as whiskey; and if ye don't use it in one way, ye can in another."

Truly the world seemed warmer and more cheerful; the sun was brighter. Perhaps now it was not too early to go on board the yacht. At any rate, I would go near where she lay, and judge for myself. I made inquiries of the innkeeper in regard to Mrs. Raynor's yacht.

"Yacht!" he said. "There's no yacht here."

"You must be mistaken!" I cried. "A yacht belonging to Mrs. Raynor sailed for Sanpritchit on Saturday, and it was not to leave here until this morning."

"Sanpritchit!" he exclaimed. "This is not Sanpritchit."

"What do you mean?" I asked in amazement. "That boat was bound direct for Sanpritchit."

"Captain Jabe's boat?" said the man. "Yes, and so she is. She sails fur Sanpritchit every Monday mornin', and generally stops here when she's got any freight ter leave fur the store, though I never knowed her ter come so airly in the mornin'."

"My conscience!" I exclaimed. "I must get on board of her."

"Aboard of her!" said he. "She's been gone more 'n half an hour. She don't often stop here more 'n ten minutes, if she's got the tide with her, which she had this mornin', strong."

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