"WALL, yes; I guess I better had." This remark came floating to us from a quarter of a mile out in Massachusetts Bay; and it was uttered by a man dressed in a red flannel shirt and extremely soiled brown pantaloons. He was standing upright in a dory. You know what a dory is? Lest you do not, let me explain that it is the most insecure, cockle-shell-like thing in which I ever saw a human being adventure himself on the broad seas. Here, on this stretch of the "South Shore," everybody seems to shove off boldly in one of these things. It is true that they do not go very far in a craft of this kind, but the mystery is that they can go at all. A dory is small and flat- bottomed, and always leaks like a sieve; it wobbles all about, and is continually threatening to tip over; and yet I never saw one really tip over. It is as inseparable from these shores in one's memory as a gondola is from the thought of Venice.

Marsh Yates had said he guessed he better had in response to the shout from our party that he should come in and help about the tents.

Hours ago, when he had pushed off, he had gone with the avowed intention of "lookin' after his pawts. Them lobster- pawts was allers a- kickin' up some kind of a row; a- bustin' off their slats, or a- splittin' their nettin'. They made a man's life a burden to him, and no mistake."

When Marsh had got off by Seal Ledge, however, his activity had subsided. He pulled in his oars and took the laziest attitude possible, while he enjoyed a long smoke. There is nobody in this world who can look and be so "soaked in laziness"-- I am using an expression often on the lips of Marsh Yates's wife--as an off- shore fisherman, and Marsh even excelled all the rest in this accomplishment. These men here are Yankees to the core of the heart, but, contrary to the majority of inland Yankees, they hate work with all their might. One needs only to see them slowly hitch up their trousers, which are always sagging over their hips from a loose waistband; and their walk is not a walk,--it is simply a slouch which unaccountably and gradually propels them over the land.

All the afternoon we had seen Marsh out there in his dory: he had had a nap and he had smoked; he had even bestirred himself and pulled up the lobster- pots, extracting the few lobsters that had been ensnared. To do this, occupying about a quarter of an hour, was a day's work for the big, broad shouldered fellow. When his wife "pestered" him to cut a little wood for her cook stove, he mumbled that he 'd got to tend to his pawts. It was even told in the hamlet which has sprung up alongshore here that the long- suffering Mrs. Yates in desperation once rushed out, took the dory, and went and furiously destroyed the pots. In the sequel, however, she wept and begged her husband's pardon. Since which time, as my informant said, "it had been wuss'n ever for her, for whenever there was words, Marsh he was sure to fling the pawts at her. I don't mean," said this fisherman, who had told us the story as we all sat on the breakwater back of the Bob Loud house, and waited,--" I don't want yo' to understand that Marsh really flung the pawts at his woman; that ud 'a' ben too much work."

"It's merely a figure of speech?" we remarked.

"Icksactly; a figger of speech. D' ye ever hear how Marsh went a- courtin' an' got hisself ingaged?"

"Not since his marriage?" we asked, horror- stricken.

"Icksactly," repeated our companion, sucking hard at his black pipe, and finding, disgustedly, that there was no fire in it.

We had been on this shore only half a day, and already we knew that this middleaged man before us, with the leather face and solemn eyes, was a greater gossip than can be imagined by those who have never passed any time among these lobstermen and boatmen. His face looked the color and texture of well- cured sole leather, and I believe the skin upon it was as thick. He was disabled, for one foot was drawn almost up to the bend in his knee. I think he was glad of this crippled state, for now no one could ask him why he did not work, as people used to do before his accident. He was the only man now left in the hamlet until it should please Marsh Yates to return; therefore we were dependent on Marsh for assistance about the tent.

Captn Asel, as this being was currently called, shoved about on the planks of the breakwater, cocked a melancholy eye up at the western heavens, opined that we should have a bit of weather before morning, then said in an incidental sort of way, as if mentioning the subject for the first time,--

"Yis, that there sparkin' o' his'n cost Marsh a fustrate bedstid, a cook- stove, an' a kitchen table." He waited for this assertion to take due effect; then he went on meditatively, not looking at us at all: "Ye see it all riz out o' his woman's goin' out and a- destroyin' of them pawts. I told Maria Jane, arter she come in an' was a- ravin' up an' down the beach here, that she 'd better have thought twicet 'fore she done it. She turned on me like a wild thing, and says in a fury, 'What does he think, a- wearin' me inter the grave !' I told her calmly that the grave wa'n't neither here nor there, but that her husband was, an' she hadn't ought to aggravate him. Her eyes were like balls o' fire, an' she jest glared at me, an' went off. Arter I saw her that night, I reckoned Marsh he had his trials."

Here Cap'n Asel spat reflectively, and was silent so long that I suspected he was waiting to be urged to go on. Finding that nothing was said, he went on of his own accord:--

"Marsh was so mad arter she 'd done that that he went and shipped onto a codder for the Banks, a thing he never done afore in his life, for he said coddin' was too tarnation hard work, w'ich I guess't is. But, for, he didn't go to the Banks He wa'n't no such fool as that. He sneaked away from the schooner somehow or nuther, swum some, I've teen told, an' jest let um whistle fur him. He hired out ter a farmer somewhere beyond Marblehead, inland a piece. Course he didn't work. But he's a feller that the women allers took to; don't know how't is, but't is. He took to courtin' the farmer's gal, an' in two weeks they was ingaged. In two weeks more the time was set for the weddin'. There was a little house on the farm, which they was a- goin' ter live in. The farmer tried all he could ter have his gal sheer off an' have nothin' ter say ter Marsh; but, for, ye can't do nothin' with gals, not in that kind of a way. Marsh is mighty curis in some ways. He hadn't no money, an' he didn't see how he was a- goin' to furnish that little house. What did he do but write to his wife an' tell her to send on a bedstid, a stove, and table. He gave the next town ter where he was a- stayin' as the place ter send 'em ten He said as how he was fixin' up a cosy spot, an' was goin' ter send for her soon. He told me arter it all happened that he meant to git a bill finally, and he reckoned on his wife bein' so mad she'd help him."

It may be well to explain here, for the benefit of those not familiar with the terms employed by this kind of people, that "to git a bill," being translated, means to get a bill of divorcement. No one says divorce in this part of the country. In speaking of a divorced man the phrase is, "He's got a bill."

The captain proceeded: "Well, the things come prompt, an' was took care of by the gal he was goin' to marry. That evenin' she told him, as pleasant as a basket o' chips, that she guessed he 'd better go back to his wife down to the South Shore, for p'raps she was a- expectin' of him. Ye see Marsh's wife, when he sent for the bedstid, had nosed round, still as a mouse, and sent word to the gal, an' then waited. Wall, Marsh hed to go back; there wa'n't no other way for him to git a livin' save through his wife. He tried to git the furnitur back. But what do ye think that gal did ? She said she wa'n't in the habit of hevin' presents that was giv to be took away agin. Sence then she has married another feller, and gone ter housekeepin' with them things. They ain't never teen able ter git a bedstid over to Marsh's sence, an' they 'd suffered for a cook- stove ef Maria Jane's father hadn't a given um an old dud that they manage to use. I guess Marsh is a- comin' in now."

Cap'n Asel spat profusely, as if in applause of his own story, and we looked out toward the solitary object on the water, which was now coming landward. The sun had set by this time, and the bay and the shores were glowing beneath the soft- hued crimson of the sky. Two ships, with full sail set, were coming slowly toward Boston harbor; out beyond these, in the wide path from the ocean, and meeting them, was an easternbound steamer, trailing a long ribbon of black smoke behind her.

Marsh Yates looked a stalwart, noble fisherman, as he sent his dory up on the beach and stepped slowly out of it, then pulled it above high- water mark. He thrust his hands in his pockets and lounged up to us.

"Mighty hard work, lobsterin' is," he said, when he came within speaking distance. Then to us, "Got yer tent up yit? I ain't seen nothin' of it. Would a come in before, if lobsterin' wa'n't such hard work."

He leaned against the breakwater. How should we be sheltered from the elements if we depended on a man like this to pitch our tent? We wished that all the other male inhabitants, five in number, were not a- coddin' or a- perchin'. Be it understood that they were not on the Banks codding, but out in little sailboats within a few miles of their homes, probably lying somewhere in their different crafts asleep, or resting.

"The tent must go up to- night," I said severely.

Marsh smiled good- naturedly at me.

"After supper, if I git rested, I '11 see what I c'n do," he said. "Ye know it'll be moonlight. Don't ye go and worry yerselves; it'll be all right."

A voice from the ridge of sand behind us said:--

"I s'pose you know, Marsh, such supper as there is is spiled long ego."

The lobsterman changed countenance, and shifted from one foot to tile other Cap'n Asel put his crutches in place under his arms, and said, with an assumption of indifference, that "he guessed he better be a- goin'." When he had taken half a dozen laborious steps over the shingle, he turned his head, caught my eye, and perpetrated a strange wink, the lower part of his yellow face being utterly unmoved. Then he hobbled away.

The voice from tile ridge again said:--

"I dunno's you care if your supper is spired, Marsh."

Marsh's great frame made a sort of convulsive movement, which resulted in the drawing of the hands from the pockets. From the impetus of that movement he went a short distance in the direction of tile voice, which now exclaimed, coming nearer:

"What are them women goin' to do about supper? Was you goin' to put up their tent for 'em? "

" I was," shortly.

Mrs. Marsh Yates laughed, and said they might bet all their old shoes she was sorry for 'em, then.

We did not make the bet, but we began to climb the slope of heavy sand which led up to the ridge, just beyond which was the miserable, rickety house which Marsh had inherited from his father, and which was the home of this pair. Between us and the house was swung a large iron kettle, which in days gone by must have been used for making soft soap. It was now employed to boil lobsters in, and a few embers were smoking and gleaming under it.

We had come down thus early on purpose to forestall the summer visitors. There was a nook that we believed our tent might occupy and be almost unobserved. We wanted an outof- door, free life in this salt air. There should be nearly six weeks before the human element would be too prominent. But we had not expected to find that element so extremely scarce just now.

Marsh Yates's wife stood still and awaited our toilsome approach. At my first look at her I was startled by her beauty. She was tall and dark, with enormous flashing eyes underneath straight brows; a red mouth, a dimpled chin, an air that might belong, I instantly thought, to a gypsy queen. She looked at us calmly as we came nearer. Though she stood perfectly still, there was an appearance of overmastering energy in her face and figure. Behind us came the husband, lagging.

"We have plenty of cold provisions in our baskets," I said, "but would you kindly give us some tea?"

"You can have tea and welcome, if you 'll git that man to git some wood to make it with; I used my last stick to git supper. "

There was such bitter scorn in her way of saying "that man" that I could not help cringing for him, at the same time that my hopes went down in regard to tea.

"Mebbe I c'n find some drift," he said, and turned back on to the beach.

Maria Jane flung out her hand with a contemptuous gesture, and exclaimed, " That's the last o' him! "

"But he has had no supper," I ventured to say.

"What o' that? He'd rusher starve than work, any time. Besides, he'll git a lobster outer somebody's paws. Somebody'll ask him to supper, p'raps. Folks kinder likes him. I do myself. But of all shif'less toots he's the shiflessest. You c'n come inter the house 'n' set, if you wanter."

How faint and hungry we were, and how we longed for tea! And what about the tent? Farewell to the tent for this night. It would stay where the expressman left it. And what would become of us? The hotels were not open, the cottages were not open; the only buildings that were open were a few wretched houses belonging to fishermen. It would be an imposition to intrude upon them. All the wise people had told us that it was ridiculous for us to think of camping out before the middle of July. Was it possible that the wise people were right? But if dyspepsia and sleeplessness and such ills had been hounding these people, would they not have ventured even as we were venturing ?

The house we had entered had two rooms below. Over the front door was nailed a ship's figurehead, a large mermaid which had once been heavily gilded, but was now very shabby indeed. She had a sickening, exaggerated kind of a smirk on her face, which, taken with her loss of gilding, was decidedly ineffectual The front room had a bare, unpainted floor, washed very clean. There were two chairs, one a very uncertain support on account of the moving about of its legs when you sat down upon it. The other had once been gilded and upholstered, and had arms to it, covered now with the ragged remains of the canvas over which the cloth had been stretched. I was sure that this also had been washed ashore Probably Maria Jane had brought both the mermaid and the chair from the beach, for Marsh would have been too tired. Everything was entirely bare and entirely clean. The floor swayed somewhat as we stepped upon it, and there were wide cracks in it, allowing glimpses into voids below.

Mrs. Yates lighted a small kerosene lamp, and told us to "se' down; 't was jest as cheap ter set as ter stand."

She stood looking a moment at us, with the lamp held aloft in her hand. Yes, she was remarkably handsome, though this light revealed that her skin was somewhat coarsened, and there was a deep line down the middle of her forehead, and a permanent scowl there.

"I swan," she suddenly said with emphasis, "ye do look tired. It seems ter me ye wa'n't quite bright ter come down here so early."

"That's the way it begins to seem to us," said my friend dejectedly.

Maria Jane smiled slightly. She set the lamp down on the empty shelf with a thud.

"Now I'11 tell ye," she said briskly: "ef you '11 tell me where yer victuals be, I '11 go'n' git 'em for ye."

"And we can't have any tea?" said Carlos dolorously.

At this moment I swayed more insecurely than before on my chair. I rose to the occasion and to my feet.

"You go for the victuals," I said to Maria Jane, "and we will pull this chair to pieces and make a fire with it. Its last end shall be to brew our tea. I will pay you twice what it is worth; or I '11 get you a new chair. Is it a bargain?"

"Lor', yes. 'T won't take long ter split up everything there is in the house, for that matter. But I want ye to drink my tea; I bought some with my last washin' money. Ye see I wash for consid'able many fam'lies over on the road."

In these words we felt that we had the secret of their existence.

In five minutes more she had told us where the matches were, also had produced an old hatchet with which to operate on the chair, had received the information as to what barn our goods were in, and had tramped off through the moonlight, saying she should be back in less than no time. Her tall figure was not many rods away looming up gigantically on the ridge, when I bethought myself of something very important. We had just pulled the legs out of the chair, and I dropped legs and hatchet and started for the door.

"The dog!" I said, and began to run after Mrs. Yates, and to shout to her to wait for me. She turned impatiently, and when I came up with her she said:--

"I thought ye was tired?"

"Yes, I am so tired that I would rather die than go with you," I answered fervently, "but we brought a dog; I forgot to tell you. We left him with the things. He wouldn't let you touch one of them. You see I must go."

She demurred. She "wa'n't afraid of no dory." But I knew my own dog better than she knew him.

When we returned to the Yates residence the odor of tea was in the air, and there was only one chair left in the dwelling, the second one being ashes. But there were two stools which Maria Jane had made by nailing sticks of wood of equal length to the ends of two old boat- seats These articles of furniture rocked a good deal as we sat on them, and they required a greater tension of mind to enable us to occupy them than is conducive to thorough rest. Still, we were sitting, and not standing, and that was something.

We persuaded Mrs. Yates to partake with us, which she finally did, though protesting. When we had had supper, we began to wonder where we should pass the night. I supposed we might be allowed to spend it in the barn, with our dog and our "things."

While we were all sipping our second cup of tea, there were footsteps outside. Maria Jane set down her cup suddenly, while a peculiar flush came to her face.

"He's comin'," she said.

The door was opened slowly, and Marsh drifted in. When he saw us, a smile of welcome greeted us. If he had been dispensing the most lavish hospitality, he could not have been more good- natured.

"That's right," he said. Not seeing a chair, he leaned against the wall "I'm glad Maria's teen makin' ye comf't'ble. Whar's the other chair, Maria?"


"Oh, wall; it's jest as well. 'T were n't good for much. Got a spare cup o' tea an' hunk o' meat?" He helped himself as he spoke, and ate heartily and genially.

"Where's yer driftwood?" asked his wife.

"Ain't seen a spar bigger 'n my hand," he said. "Drift's ben mighty skerce this spring," he continued to us, explanatorily.

"These ladies is goin' to spend the night with us," said Maria Jane with decision. "They're goin' ter sleep up- stairs in the only bed, which is ourn. I'm goin' up to see to it now."

We tried to protest, but our words were half- hearted, and Mrs. Yates stopped them by saying we "might as well shet up fust as last;" and Marsh, sitting down on the floor, leaning against the wall, with his knees drawn up, said pleasantly that we could stay "jes's well's not. He and his wife could get 'long fust rate," and adding as an afterthought, "Me 'n' Maria ain't used to no lugsries. We're plain folks."

We found that the bed of the Yateses was reached by a very narrow stair, and that it was a sack of straw on the floor. When we saw it, we recalled Captn Asel's tale of the loss of the Yates bedstead.

Mrs. Yates left the lamp with us what she thought a suitable length of time, and then she came up for it, leaving us to the moonlight, which poured in through the window at the end of the unfinished attic.

Before we went to sleep we heard the wind come up east, and the roar of the incoming tide driven by the breeze from the ocean. Through the open window the salt odor came damply.

My last coherent thought was to wonder if our tent would ever be pitched, and if life in it would be more primitive than it was at this moment.


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