Captain Joe’s inspection of the Susie Ann’s skipper was anything but satisfactory, judging from the way he opened his battery of protest.
“Baxter ain’t fittin’, I tell ye, Abram Marrows,” he exploded. “He ain’t fittin’ and never will be. Baxter don’t know most nothin’. Set him to grubbin’ clams, Abram, but don’t let him fool ’round the Ledge. He’ll git the sloop ashore, I tell ye, or drop a stone and hurt somebody. Go and git a man som’ers and put him in charge,—not a half-baked—” here he lowered his muzzle and fired point-blank at the object of his wrath,—“Yes, and I’ll say it to your face, Captain Baxter. You take my advice and lay off for this v’yage,—it ain’t no picnic out to the Ledge. You ain’t seen it since we got the stone ’bove high water. Reg’lar mill tail! You go ashore, I tell ye,—or ye’ll lose the sloop.”
Many of the men ranged along the top of the cabin of the tug, or perched on its rail, wondered at the vehemence of the captain’s attack, “Moon-faced Baxter,” as he was called, having a fair reputation as a seaman. They knew, too, that Captain Joe was aware of the condition of Marrows’s affairs, for it had been common talk that the bank had loaned Abram several hundred dollars with the sloop as security on the captain’s own personal inspection. Some of them had even been present when Mrs. Marrows,—a faded old woman with bleached eyes and a pursed-up mouth, her shawl hooding her head and pinned close under her chin with her thumb and forefinger,—had begged Captain Joe to try the Susie Ann for a few loads until Abram could “ketch up,” and had heard his promise to help her.
But they made no protest. Such outbursts on the captain’s part were but the escaping steam from the overcharged boiler of his indignation. Underneath lay the firebox of his heart, chock full of red-hot coals glowing with sympathy for every soul who needed his help. If his safety valve let go once in a while it was to escape from greater danger.
His long range ammunition exhausted, Captain Joe turned on his heel and walked aft to where his diving gear was piled, venting his indignation at every step. This time the outburst was directed to me,—(it was my weekly inspection at the Ledge).
“Can’t jam nothin’ into his head, sir. Stubbornest mule ’round this harbor. Warn’t for that wife o’ his Abe Marrows would a-been high and dry long ago. Every time he gits something purty good he goes and fools it away;—sold his farm and bought that sloop; then he clapped a plaster on it in the bank to start a cook shop. But the wife’s all right;—only last week she come to me lookin’ like she’d bu’st out cryin’,—sayin’ the sloop was all they had, and I promised her then I’d use the Susie, but she never said nothin’ ’bout Baxter being in charge, or I’d stopped him ’fore he loaded her. Well, there ain’t no tellin’ what nat’ral born fools like Abe Marrows’ll do, but it’s something ornery and criss-cross if Abe Marrows does it. That woman’s worked her fingers off for him, but he’ll git her in the poor-house yit,— see if he don’t.”