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   Chapter 1 — PEMBERTON’S.

The Belted Seas By Arthur Colton Characters: 7241

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The clock struck one. It was the tall standing clock in the front room of Pemberton's Hotel, and Pemberton's stands by the highway that runs by the coast of Long Island Sound. It is near the western edge of the village of Greenough, the gilt cupola of whose eminent steeple is noted by far-passing ships. On the beach are flimsy summer cottages, and hard beside them is the old harbour, guarded by its stone pier. Whalers and merchantmen used to tie up there a hundred years ago, where now only fishing boats come. The village lies back from the shore, and has three divisions, Newport Street, the Green, and the West End; of which the first is a broad street with double roads, and there are the post office and the stores; the second boasts of its gilt-cupolaed church; the third has the two distinctions of the cemetery and Pemberton's.

The hotel is not so far from the beach but you can sit in the front room and hear the surf. It was a small hotel when I used to frequent it, and was kept by Pemberton himself-gone, now, alas! with his venerable dusty hair and red face, imperturbably amiable. He was no seaman. Throughout his long life he had anchored to his own chimneyside, which was a solid and steady chimney, whose red-brick complexion resembled its owner's. His wife was dead, and he ran the hotel much alone, except for the company of Uncle Abimelech, Captain Buckingham, Stevey Todd, and such others as came and went, or townsfolk who liked the anchorage. But the three I have named were seamen, and I always found them by Pemberton's chimney. Abe Dalrimple, or Uncle Abe, was near Pemberton's age, and had lived with him for years; but Stevey Todd and Captain B. were younger, and, as I gathered, they had been with Pemberton only for some months past, the captain boarding, and Stevey Todd maybe boarding as well; I don't know; but I know Stevey Todd did some of the cooking, and had been a ship's cook the main part of his life. It seemed to me they acted like a settled family among them anyway.

Captain Thomas Buckingham was a smallish man of fifty, with a bronzed face, or you might say iron, with respect to its rusty colour, and also it was dark and immobile. But now and then there would come a glimmer and twist in his eyes, sometimes he would start in talking and flow on like a river, calm, sober, and untiring, and yet again he would be silent for hours. Some might have thought him melancholy, for his manner was of the gravest.

We were speaking of hotels, that stormy afternoon when the distant surf was moaning and the wind heaping the snow against the doors, and when the clock had struck, he said slowly:

"I kept a hotel once. It was in '72 or a bit before. It's a good trade."

And none of us disputed it was a good trade, as keeping a man indoors in stormy weather.

"Was it like Pemberton's?"

"No, not like Pemberton's."

"Seaside?"

"No, inland a bit."

"Summer hotel?"

"Aye, summer hotel. Always summer there."

"It must have paid!"

"Aye, she paid. It was in South America."

"South America?"

"Aye, Stevey Todd and I ran her. She was put up in New Bedford by Smith and Morgan, and Stevey Todd and I ran her in South America."

"How so? Do they export hotels to South America?"

"There ain't any steady trade in 'em." And no more would he say just then. For he was that kind of a man, Captain Tom, He would talk or he would not, as suited him.

Uncle Abimelech was tall and old, and had a long white beard, and was thin in the legs, not to say uncertain on them, and he appeared to wander in his mind as well as in his legs. Stevey Todd was

stout, with a smooth, fair face, and in temperament fond of arguing, though cautious about it. For that winter afternoon, when I remarked, hearing the whistling wind and the thunder of the surf, "It blows hard, Mr. Todd," Stevey Todd answered cautiously, "If you called it brisk, I wouldn't maybe argue it, but 'hard' I'd argue," and Pemberton said agreeably, "Why, when you put it that way, you're right, not but the meaning was good, ain't a doubt of it;" and Uncle Abimelech, getting hold of a loose end in his mind, piped up, singing:

"She blows aloft, she blows alow,

Take in your topsails early;"

whereas there was no doubt at all about its blowing hard. But Stevey Todd was the kind of a man that liked to argue in good order.

The meanwhile Captain Buckingham had said nothing so far that afternoon, except on the subject of hotel-keeping in South America. But when Stevey Todd offered to admit that it blew "brisk, but when you say hard, I argue it;" and when Uncle Abimelech piped:

"She blows aloft, she blows alow,

Take in your topsails early;"

Then Captain Buckingham, who sat leaning forward smoking, with his elbows on his knees, staring at the fire, at last, without stirring in his chair, he spoke up, and said, "She blows all right," and we waited, thinking he might say more.

"Pemberton," he went on, "the seaman follows his profit and luck around the world. You sit by your chimney and they come to you. And if I was doing it again, or my old ship, the Annalee, was to come banging and bouncing at this door, saying 'Have a cruise, Captain Buckingham; rise up!' I'd say: 'You go dock yourself.'"

"She might, if she came overland, maybe," said Stevey Todd, "seeing it blows brisk, which I admits and I stands by, for she was a tall sailing ship was the Annalee."

"She was that," said Captain Tom; "the best ship I ever sailed in, barring the Hebe Maitland."

Whereat Stevey Todd said, "There was a ship!" and Uncle Abimelech piped up again, singing these singular words:

"There was a ship

In Bailey's Slip.

One evil day

We sailed away

From Bailey's Slip

We sailed away, with Captain Clyde,

An old, old man with a copper hide,

In the Hebe Maitland sailed, Hooroar!

And fetched the coast of Ecuador."

"Aye," said Captain Tom. "Those were Kid Sadler's verses. There's many of 'em that Abe can say over, and he can glue a tune to 'em well, for he's got that kind of a memory that's loose, but stringy and long, and he always had. There's only Abe and Stevey Todd and me left of the Hebe Maitland's crew, unless Sadler and Little Irish maybe, for I left them in Burmah, and they may be there. But what I was going to say, Pemberton, is, I made a mistake somewhere."

"Why," said Pemberton, "there you may be right."

"For I was that kind of young one," the captain went on, "which if he's blown up with dynamite, he comes down remarking it's breezy up there. I was that careless."

Then we drew nearer and knew that Captain Buckingham was hauling up his anchor, and maybe would take us on a long way, which he surely did. The afternoon slipped on, hour by hour, and the fire snapped and cast its red light in our faces, and the kettle sung and the storm outside kept up its mad business, and the surf its monotone.

"I was so, when I was a lad of eighteen or nineteen," Captain Buckingham said. "I was a wild one, though not large, but limber and clipper-built, and happy any side up, and my notion of human life was that it was something like a cake-walk, and something like a Bartlett pear, as being juicy anywhere you bit in."

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