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   Chapter 13 — FLANNAGAN AND STEVEY TODD—CAPTAIN BUCKINGHAM RETURNS TO GREENOUGH—THE NARRATIVE CONTINUED.

The Belted Seas By Arthur Colton Characters: 20001

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The Flannagan and Imperial was the last cargo I carried, but I carried it near five years. It was what you might call a continuous cargo; the Annalee was in partnership with it; that is, Flannagan and I went into partnership together. Madame Bill's influence appeared to act expansive on Flannagan's ideas, and they expanded the Company. She was an uncommon woman, with a pushing mind, and exhibited as "The Princess Popocatapetl, Lineal Descendant of Montezuma and Queen of the Caribbeans." Flannagan engaged Bill to exhibit as "The Fat Boy," and he was very successful in this way, weighing two hundred, and in height four feet eight inches, though thirty to forty years old. His face was round and smooth as an apple, and he wore a little jacket and sailor hat, and carried a piece of gingerbread in general, when on exhibition; and in that way he looked as young as might be needed, and satisfactory to every one. Flannagan used to rent the advertising space on Bill's legs, for "Infants' Foods" and "Patent Medicines for Dyspepsia," which was popular and profitable. But I was saying Madame Bill was a handsome woman, and valuable, and Flannagan himself hadn't a better eye for giving the public sensations. She expanded his ideas. Yet Flannagan had a knack. He was grand at speech-making, and sudden and spectacular by nature.

He shipped with me then from Rosalia to the different ports I was billed for that voyage, picking up more additions to the Company, till it was a large company. I was free to admit he made good profits out of the seaport cities between South America and Charleston; so at Charleston, when he offered me a partnership, I felt agreeable, and took it, on this agreement; I to put in the use and management of the Annalee, and he to put in "The Flannagan and Imperial;" I to run the ship and he to run the show. The profits should be divided half-yearly, after paying expenses of ship and show.

We ran under this agreement several years, and exhibited all the way from Boston to Rio, according to the season, and sometimes went inland up navigable rivers, such as to Albany and Philadelphia. We summered northward and wintered southward, and did better than most shows on transportation expenses, besides having an open season through the year. Prosperity kept us together until after Bill died, which came from his being too ambitious, and proud of his line in the profession, and having his heart set on two hundred and fifty pounds. Stevey Todd, here, he got too interested in helping Bill along in his career, and fattening him up to a high standard. But Bill's digestion was never good. He died rather young.

Stevey Todd has cooked for me so long, that it's got to the point that other victuals than Stevey Todd's seem unfriendly strangers, likely to be hostile. I claim that, as a cook, Stevey's a bold and skilful one, and enterprising. But outside the galley he's a backward man and caution's his motto, and in argument he's, as you might say, a gradual man. His nature, as differing there from Flannagan's, might be seen in this way. For when Bill was dead, Flannagan and Stevey Todd each wanted to marry Madame Bill, and their notions of it were as different as sharks are different from mud-turtles, Flannagan's notion mainly resembling a shark's, as follows. He says:

"Popo," he says, pretty quick, "Bill's off. Here's to him, an' may his ghost weigh two hundred and fifty. I'm on," he says. "Whin shall it be?"

Then a madder woman than Madame Bill was seldom seen, for she threw Montezuma's crown at Flannagan, and chased him under the tent ropes with the gilt-headed and feather-tufted spear of the Queen of the Caribbeans, which ruined an eighteen-dollar crown and stuck Flannagan vicious in the shoulder-blade with the spear.

Whereas Stevey Todd bided a while, as a cautious man would do, until some decent time had gone by; and then he gets me, as a friend, in ambush inside the cabin window for precaution and testimony, and plants the scornful typist at a distance to take photographs that might be useful, and then he brings Madame Bill to the window.

"Now," he says to her, "supposing there was a man that we'll call middle-aged, and that might be a cook maybe by profession, for it wouldn't do no harm if we took it he had leanings that way, and if you said he was as good a one as ever stepped into a galley, I wouldn't go so far as to say so myself, nor yet deny it, for Bill had that opinion himself, and he was a man of good judgment on things that had to do with his line, though when his feelings moved him he was apt to put it warm, nor I ain't denying that when his digestion was otherwise, his remarks was sometimes contrary. Now, supposing there was a lady, whose merits I wouldn't nowise try to state, but if you was to say her talents was good, and her weight a hundred and forty, I wouldn't say you was wrong, which I've heard it put that as a Lineal Descendant she was worth climbing the volcano to see, which supposing she complimented it by borrowing that name, it's no harm if she did. Now, supposing those parties was talking of this thing and that, as anybody might do, and, say, they got to talking of the show business maybe, or, say, they happened to mention such a thing as matrimony, now," says Stevey Todd, "what would be your idea of that last as a subject of conversation between those parties?"

Madame Bill didn't answer the question, though it seemed to me put delicate, but she burst into melodious laughter, and ran away, and the tin-type man, whose natural expression was dislike of his fellow man, he looked disgusted more'n you'd believe, and went away too. Then Stevey Todd put his head through the window, and he says:

"Now, supposing a party acted in such or such a way to one party, which acted another way to another party, what would you say might happen to be her meaning?"

I gave my opinion candid, and truthful. I said, as to Madame Bill, I judged something or other pleased her, and by her behaviour to Flannagan it looked as if there was something then which she hadn't liked, though what it might be in either case was more than I could say, but speaking generally it looked hopeful for Stevey Todd, and I stated that same opinion. Stevey Todd went back to the galley, and it seemed to me the difference between his nature and Flannagan's was something to wonder at and admire, and when I saw Flannagan he seemed to have the same opinion with me, for he says:

"Powers an' fryin' pans! Thot cook!" he says. "Thot galley shlave! Thot boiled pertaty widout salt! Shall a barrel of flour put me in the soup? Tell me thot!"

At the time we were exhibiting in the larger towns about Long Island Sound, where it happened we'd never exhibited before, dropping into harbours and setting up the big tent on any bit of land convenient to the pier. We stayed a long or short time, according to patronage.

Whether it was that Flannagan was too busy, or angry at Madame Bill for her actions, and didn't know if he wanted a wife with a spear, or one that was reckless with her headgear, I couldn't have said at that time; but he surely said no more to Madame Bill that I knew of, whereas Stevey Todd kept arguing with her all over the ship, and mainly under the cabin window. Sometimes he'd trim his sails close in to the subject of matrimony, and sometimes he'd be sailing so far off the quarter that I couldn't but call out to him through the window and tell him, "Hard a lee there, Stevey! You'll never fetch it that tack;" when he'd shift his helm, feeling the edge of the breeze with as neat a piece of seamanship as a man could ask, and come up dead into the wind, his sails dropping back stiff on his yardarms, and the subject of matrimony speared on the end of his bowsprit; then Madame Bill would get up, and run away laughing. She seemed to enjoy those arguments, and I judged Stevey Todd would fetch port maybe in course of time. Meanwhile I sat smoking peaceful at my cabin window, and watched the shore slipping by, that I knew so well of old. By-and-by I saw Telford Point, and then the Musquoit River mouth by Adrian. Stevey Todd sat under the window putting fine edges on his arguments. And I says:

"Stevey," I says, "I was born and bred on this coast," but Stevey Todd was that taken up with his points of argument to Madame Bill that he didn't have any interest in my beginnings, and I went off to find Flannagan.

"Flannagan," I says, "I got a sentiment."

"Sintimint, is it!" he says. "Come off! Ye salted codfish! If I ain't got tin to your one, I'm another," he says.

It made me mad to hear him talk that way, and I set him down on the starboard anchor and I argued it. I told him of the little town of Greenough, and then I told him of Madge Pemberton, that afterwards was Madge McCulloch, and how the old shore village lay, its street and white houses and its church with the gilded cupola, till Flannagan got interested. And there we talked a long time.

"Why, ye are salted, Tom," he says, "but I'm not just sayin' ye're canned. We ain't due in New London till Thursday, an' it's on me moind we'll exhibit a bit in this town of Greenough."

That afternoon, then, we hauled into the harbour, by where the fishing boats lay, and moored the Annalee to the old stone pier. Flannagan saw the tent, platform, and benches put up, and in the early evening he went inland to the village and didn't come back for some hours.

It was a moonlight night, and the show people were still getting ready for the next day. I was at the deck-cabin window, smoking an evening pipe, looking at the tent that stood on the sandy piece of land beyond the pier. I could see the trees of the village, and the church spire against the sky, and I thought of the way I'd meant to come back to Greenough, when I left it to go "romping and roaming," as Sadler had said, and how now I was come home with grey hairs.

There was the hill between Newport Street and the h

arbour, and far along to the west I could see where Pemberton's stood, and see what might be its lights.

Pretty soon I heard David, the trick dog, barking, and I looked out, and saw Stevey Todd and Madame Bill coming along in the wake of David, and I judged that Stevey Todd was meaning to put in an odd moment or two arguing, and that Madame Bill was going to be joyous about it. David appeared to be feeling tolerable cheerful, as if saying to himself, "They're going to do something now, sure." They sat down by the window, and Madame Bill was speaking:

"Stevey Todd," she says, "I think it would not be such advantage, not at all. Because it is not good to my looks that I become two hundred pounds like my Bill, and if now I have a husband who cook so delicious, so perfect, as you, and who make me laugh between meals without rest and without pity, as you, which gives the appetite enormous, so that I have gained five pounds since I weigh before, and by this am alarmed, disconsolate, helas! what do I do? Am I elephants in this show? But how? I observe you do not ask that I marry you, but you say, 'It is a good time to talk here or there, about this or that-eh? Well, perhaps about matrimony.' Haw! haw! ho! ho! But how so? If you do not say, 'Will you?' how can I say 'No'?"

"Taking that argument so stated," says Stevey Todd, "it might be called a tidy argument and no harm done, or you might say there was two arguments in it. Now, taking the first one, a man might make this point as bearing on it: for you take the tin-typist, who's a good eater and a well-fleshed man, and yet he's a gloomy man, as you might say, not putting it too strong; and on the other hand here's David, who's what you'd call a joking dog, and as an eater without an equal of his size, though an elderly dog, and yet he's a thin dog, as his business in the show makes needful for him. Which, I says, might be put up as an argument by such as wanted to use it, if any one was speaking contrary to cooks as being dangerous to parties in the show business, on account of interests not being along the line of weight, nor yet advertising space on legs which they're able to furnish. Now, taking the second argument, I wouldn't deny you might be right, and there's the point. For not to speak of giving no cause for crowns throwed around expensive, or spears stuck into parties disrespectful to memory of deceased, I says, here's the point. For if you can't say 'No,' till I say 'Will you?' it follows you can't do it till I say those words."

"I can too!" says Madame Bill.

"No, ye can't! No, ye can't!" says Stevey Todd.

Madame Bill began to laugh, and Flannagan, who was coming over the ship's side, he stopped at hearing her, and slid across the deck behind the companion. Then Madame Bill went below, ha-ha-ing melodious, and Flannagan called in a loud whisper over the roof:

"Hoi! Stevey Todd! Are ye done wid it?"

"She ain't said no," says Stevey Todd. "She ain't said no."

It came afternoon of the next day, and the show was opened, and the people came flocking in. Near by the tent door was Stevey Todd's "Cocoanut Cake, Hot Waffle and Fizz Table." On the platform the company sat in a half-circle, ready for Flannagan's opening speech to explain the qualities and talents of each. It was a show to be proud of, and in point of colour resembling solar spectrums, or peacocks' tails. Madame Bill had charge of costumes, and her tastes were what you might call exhilarated. Flannagan began:

"Ladies and gintlemen," he says. "The pleasure I take in inthroducin' 'The Flannagan an' Imparial Itinerant Exhibition,' to this intelligent aujunce, has niver been equalled in me mimory.

"I see before me," he says, "a ripresentative array of this grreat counthry's agricultural pursuits, to say nothin' of thim that fish. I see before me numerous handsome an' imposin' mathrons, to say nothin' of foine washed babies. I see before me many a rosy girrl a-chewin' cocoanut candy that ain't so swate as herself, an' many a boy wid his pockets full of paynuts an' his head full of divelthries.

"Is it the prisence of such an aujunce which gives me the pleasure unequalled in me mimory? No!

"Ye see before ye 'The Flannagan an' Imparial Itinerant Exhibition,'" he says. "Yonder is the three Japanese tumblers from the private company of the Meekado, trained to expriss by motion an' mysthical attichude, the eternal principles of poethry as understood by Orientals, Hinjoos, an' thim Chinaysers: forninst the same, the beaucheous Princess Popocatapetl, whose royal ancesthors was discovered by Columbus, an' buried by another cilibrated Dago, that ought t'have been ashamed of it; nixt her, the Hairy Man, wid a chin beard on the bridge of his nose an' the hair of his head growin' out of the shmall of his back; nixt, the cilibrated performin' dog, David, that you'll recognise by his shmilin' looks an' polkadot complexion; an' so on, the others in due order, that will soon be increasin' your admiration for the marvels of creation, an' servin' as texts, I doubt not, for the future discoorses of me frind, the venerable clergyman of this parish, that sits in the front row-May Hiven bless him!-all mimbers of the Flannagan an' Imparial, includin', aye, even down to the poor wake-minded man that sells hot waffles at the door, which if ye tell him, afther this performance, that his waffles is the same kind of waffles that a shoemaker pegs on for the sole of a shoe, it's me private opinion he'll be in no timper to arguy the point.

"Is it pride in this grreat show that gives me the pleasure on this occasion unequalled in me mimory? No!

"What is it, ladies and gintlemen? What is it?

"Gintlemen and ladies," he says, "'tis no other than the approach of the public ciremonial of the rite of mathrimony between mesilf, Michael Flannagan, an' a party that has no notion what I'm talkin' about, but is further named in this docyment, which if your riverence will now shtep up on the platform, he will find to be signed and sealed by the honourable town clerk of this pasthoral an' marine community. Ladies an' gintlemen, was ye iver invited before to the weddin' of a man of me impressive looks an' oratorical gifts, that first published his own banns, an' thin proposed, in your intelligent an' sympathetic prisence, to a lady of exalted ancesthry an' pre-eminent fame? Ye was not? Ye have now that unparallelled experience. For, as ye see by this license an' authority, this lady, the Lineal Descendant of Mexican Emperors, is known an' admired in private life as Madame Anatolia Bill.'"

With that he stepped back, and offered his hand, and said something to Madame Bill that was lost in the cheering of the audience. Madame Bill near fell off her chair with surprise, and began ha-ha-ing melodious. What with the roaring and clapping of the crowd, Flannagan and Madame Bill were up in front of the minister before Stevey Todd could be heard from the door, crying, "She ain't said no, Flannagan! She ain't said no! It ain't right!"

"Will somebody near the door," says Flannagan, "kindly take the hot-waffle-man an' dhrop a hot waffle down the back of his neck, to disthract his attintion while the ciremonies proceed?" Stevey Todd ran out of the door. But the people of Greenough was happy in front, and the show was hilarious behind. David turned handsprings till he sweated his spots into streaks.

But I've always had my doubts what may have been previous in Madame Bill's mind as regards intentions to Flannagan and Stevey Todd. Which is not saying but Flannagan's ambush was what you'd call a good ambush, as arranged by one that knew Madame Bill well, and knew her to be a show-woman by nature and gifts, that would never have the heart to spoil a fine act in the middle of it, when it was coming on well. The facts are no more than that she did nothing to spoil the act. She let it go through. Her statement was she hadn't made up her mind before. Stevey Todd's opinion was that she'd have taken himself, barring Flannagan's laying that stratagem, desperate and unrighteous. On the other hand, Flannagan thought it was predestined on account of his natural gifts. As for me, I had my doubts.

But Stevey Todd wouldn't stay with the show after that. We went on east, and left him here, boarding at Pemberton's. He said he liked Pemberton's and would stay there a bit. I says, "There's good points in a quiet life, Stevey;" and Stevey Todd says, showing what was on his mind:

"Aye, but Abe Dalrimple, he argues matrimony ain't quiet, and I don't go so far as to dispute he may be right, and that's a point to be allowed, for she throwed Montezuma's crown, not to speak of spears."

"Didn't neither," says Abe Dalrimple. "It was kettles. It wa'n't none of them things," he says, alluding at Mrs. Dalrimple.

But as to Madame Bill, she was tropical, but not balmy, and matrimony that wasn't balmy wouldn't have been good for Stevey Todd.

"But," says Stevey Todd, "as to her leanings to me and intentions pursuant," he says, "I'd argue it, as shown by actions previous."

It was Pemberton told me Madge McCulloch was dead. She died ten years back, about the time I was leaving the Pacific. He told me she left a daughter grown up since, and that Andrew McCulloch was an irritated man by nature.

I went on with the show, but I kept thinking of a quiet life, and about Greenough and Pemberton's, and about things that were long gone by. And then, eating other victuals than Stevey Todd cooked was come to seem to me like taking liberties with strangers. Then I kept wondering if I hadn't had enough going up and down the seas. I says:

"What's the use of it? A man had best get cured of his restlessness before he comes to lie still for aye, and that's the truth," I says.

At the end of October I sold out the Annalee. Flannagan took his show inland, and I came back, thinking to sit down at Pemberton's and get over being restless.

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