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- Cap'n Warren's Wards - 1/69 -


CAP'N WARREN'S WARDS

by JOSEPH C. LINCOLN

CHAPTER I

"Ostable!" screamed the brakeman, opening the car door and yelling his loudest, so as to be heard above the rattle of the train and the shriek of the wind; "Ostable!"

The brakeman's cap was soaked through, his hair was plastered down on his forehead, and, in the yellow light from the car lamps, his wet nose glistened as if varnished. Over his shoulders the shiny ropes of rain whipped and lashed across the space between the cars. The windows streamed as each succeeding gust flung its miniature freshet against them.

The passengers in the car--there were but four of them--did not seem greatly interested in the brakeman's announcement. The red- faced person in the seat nearest the rear slept soundly, as he had done for the last hour and a half. He had boarded the train at Brockton, and, after requesting the conductor not to "lemme me git by Bayport, Bill," at first favored his fellow travelers with a song and then sank into slumber.

The two elderly men sitting together on the right-hand side of the car droned on in their apparently endless Jeremiad concerning the low price of cranberries, the scarcity of scallops on the flats, the reasons why the fish weirs were a failure nowadays, and similar cheerful topics. And in his seat on the left, Mr. Atwood Graves, junior partner in the New York firm of Sylvester, Kuhn and Graves, lawyers, stirred uneasily on the lumpy plush cushion, looked at his watch, then at the time-table in his hand, noted that the train was now seventy-two minutes late, and for at least the fifteenth time mentally cursed the railway company, the whole of Cape Cod from Sandwich to Provincetown, and the fates which had brought him there.

The train slowed down, in a jerky, hiccoughy sort of way, and crept on till the car in which Mr. Graves was seated was abreast the lighted windows of a small station, where it stopped. Peering through the water-streaked pane at the end of his seat, the lawyer saw dim silhouettes of uncertain outline moving about. They moved with provoking slowness. He felt that it would be joy unspeakable to rush out there and thump them into animation. The fact that the stately Atwood Graves even thought of such an undignified proceeding is sufficient indication of his frame of mind.

Then, behind the door which the brakeman, after announcing the station, had closed again, sounded a big laugh. The heartiness of it grated on Mr. Graves's nerves. What idiot could laugh on such a night as this aboard a train over an hour late?

The laugh was repeated. Then the door was flung briskly open, and a man entered the car. He was a big man, broad-shouldered, inclined to stoutness, wearing a cloth cap with a visor, and a heavy ulster, the collar of which was turned up. Through the gap between the open ends of the collar bristled a short, grayish beard. The face above the beard and below the visor was sunburned, with little wrinkles about the eyes and curving lines from the nostrils to the corners of the mouth. The upper lip was shaved, and the eyebrows were heavy and grayish black. Cap, face, and ulster were dripping with water.

The newcomer paused in the doorway for an instant, evidently to add the finishing touch to a conversation previously begun.

"Well, I tell you, Ezra," he called, over his shoulder, "if it's too deep to wade, maybe I can swim. Fat floats, they tell me, and Abbie says I'm gettin' fleshier every day. So long."

He closed the door and, smiling broadly, swung down the aisle. The pair of calamity prophets broke off their lament over the declining fisheries and greeted him almost jovially.

"Hello, Cap'n!" cried one. "What's the south shore doin' over here in this flood?"

"What's the matter, Cap'n?" demanded the other. "Broke loose from your moorin's, have you? Did you ever see such a night in your life?"

The man in the ulster shook hands with each of his questioners, removing a pair of wet, heavy leather gloves as he did so.

"Don't know's I ever did, Dan," he answered. "Couldn't see much of this one but its color--and that's black. I come over this mornin' to attend to some business at the court-house--deeds to some cranberry bog property I just bought--and Judge Baxter made me go home with him to dinner. Stayed at his house all the afternoon, and then his man, Ezra Hallett, undertook to drive me up here to the depot. Talk about blind pilotin'! Whew! The Judge's horse was a new one, not used to the roads, Ezra's near-sighted, and I couldn't use my glasses 'count of the rain. Let alone that, 'twas darker'n the fore-hold of Noah's ark. Ho, ho! Sometimes we was in the ruts and sometimes we was in the bushes. I told Ez we'd ought to have fetched along a dipsy lead, then maybe we could get our bearin's by soundin's. 'Couldn't see 'em if we did get 'em,' says he. 'No,' says I, 'but we could taste 'em. Man that's driven through as much Ostable mud as you have ought to know the taste of every road in town.'"

"Well, you caught the train, anyhow," observed Dan.

"Yup. If we'd been crippled as WELL as blind we could have done that." He seated himself just in front of the pair and glanced across the aisle at Mr. Graves, to find the latter looking intently at him.

"Pretty tough night," he remarked, nodding.

"Yes," replied the lawyer briefly. He did not encourage conversation with casual acquaintances. The latest arrival had caught his attention because there was something familiar about him. It seemed to Graves that he must have seen him before; and yet that was very improbable. This was the attorney's first visit to Cape Cod, and he had already vowed devoutly that it should be his last. He turned a chilling shoulder to the trio opposite and again consulted the time-table. Denboro was the next station; then--thank the Lord-- South Denboro, his destination.

Conversation across the aisle was brisk, and its subjects were many and varied. Mr. Graves became aware, more or less against his will, that the person called "Cap'n" was, if not a leader in politics and local affairs, still one whose opinions counted. Some of those opinions, as given, were pointed and dryly descriptive; as, for instance, when a certain town-meeting candidate was compared to a sculpin--"with a big head that sort of impresses you, till you get close enough to realize it HAS to be big to make room for so much mouth." Graves, who was fond of salt water fishing, knew what a sculpin was, and appreciated the comparison.

The conductor entered the car and stopped to collect a ticket from his new passenger. It was evident that he, too, was acquainted with the latter.

"Evening, Cap'n," he said, politely. "Train's a little late to- night."

"It is--for to-night's train," was the prompt response, "but if it keeps on at the rate it's travelin' now, it'll be a little early for to-morrow mornin's, won't it?"

The conductor laughed. "Guess you're right," he said. "This is about as wet a storm as I've run through since I've been on the road. If we get to Provincetown without a washout we'll be lucky . . . Well, we've made another hitch. So far, so good."

The brakeman swung open the door to shout, "Denboro! Denboro!" the conductor picked up his lantern and hurried away, the locomotive whistled hoarsely, and the train hiccoughed alongside another little station. Mr. Graves, peering through his window, imagined that here the silhouettes on the platform moved more briskly. They seemed almost excited. He inferred that Denboro was a bigger and more wide-awake village than Ostable.

But he was mistaken. The reason for the excitement was made plain by the conductor a moment afterwards. That official entered the car, removed his uniform cap, and rubbed a wet forehead with a wetter hand.

"Well, gentlemen," he said, "I've been expecting it, and here it is. Mark me down as a good prophet, will you? There's a washout a mile further on, and a telegraph pole across the track. It's blowing great guns and raining pitchforks. It'll be out of the question for us to go forward before daylight, if then. Darn a railroad man's job anyhow!"

Five minutes later Mr. Graves descended the steps of the car, his traveling bag in one hand and an umbrella in the other. As soon as both feet were securely planted on the platform, he put down the bag to wrestle with the umbrella and the hurricane, which was apparently blowing from four directions at once. Feeling his hat leaving his head, he became aware that the umbrella had turned inside out. He threw the wreck violently under the train and stooped to pick up the bag. The bag was no longer there.

"It's all right," said a calm voice behind him. "I've got your satchel, neighbor. Better beat for harbor, hadn't we? Here! this way."

The bewildered New Yorker felt his arm seized in a firm grip, and he was rushed across the platform, through a deluge of wind-driven water, and into a small, hot, close-smelling waiting room. When he pushed his hat clear of his eyes he saw that his rescuer was the big man who boarded the train at Ostable. He was holding the missing bag and smiling.

"Dirty weather, hey?" he observed, pleasantly. "Sorry your umbrella had to go by the board. I see you was carryin' too much canvas and tried to run alongside in time to give you a tow; but you was dismasted just as I got there. Here's your dunnage, all safe and sound."

He extended the traveling bag at arm's length. Mr. Graves accepted his property and murmured thanks, not too cordially. His dignity


Cap'n Warren's Wards - 1/69

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