MoboReader > Literature > The First Capture; or, Hauling Down the Flag of England

   Chapter 3 ZEKE LEWIS.

The First Capture; or, Hauling Down the Flag of England By Harry Castlemon Characters: 11281

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Have you ever met a New England man whom your grandparents used to regard as the very personification of all that was utterly worthless so far as the labor with his hands was concerned? We do not mean by saying this that Zeke Lewis was lazy-the old folks had a milder term for it. He was always at work at something, but he was shiftless. Nothing that he could do appeared to get him ahead any. Work always looked for him; he never looked for work. If anybody wanted a pair of shoes mended Zeke was always the man looked for. He was generally to be found at the tavern (Zeke did not drink any, we'll say that much for him), or loafing around the corner grocery, and he was always "lying on his oars," that is, ready to pull in any direction in which work was to be found. Zeke would work early and late upon those shoes until he got them done, and he carried his money straight to his wife, who had the faculty of making a shilling go farther than he would. If a vessel was ready to sail, either up or down the coast or on a fishing trip, Zeke always got the first berth. He could do more work in less time and with less trouble than any two men you could find. And he was brave, too. No one ever saw Zeke refuse to go where duty called him.

He was just such a man as you would expect to see after this description of his way of doing business. He was tall, and so round-shouldered that he did not look as though he had any chest at all; he was strong; so strong that when he got hold of a rope everybody knew he was there. There were two things about him that were noticeable-his smiling, good-natured face and his queue, which was always freshly combed and looked as though it had come from the hands of a dresser. But then his wife always attended to that. She took it down and combed it every day.

Zeke was always in straits where money was concerned. No matter how hard he worked or how little money he spent upon himself he never could make both ends meet. One night he came home after a hard day's work in the hay-field. He found his wife sitting in the kitchen engaged in knitting, but she made no efforts at all to get supper for her husband. Zeke thought she looked a little paler than usual, but then he was used to that. The patient little woman never had a word of fault to find with him. She believed that Zeke was doing his best, and with that she was satisfied.

"Sick?" asked Zeke.

"No, I am not ill," answered his wife. "I feel as well as usual."

"Something is the matter with you and I know it," said Zeke. "I guess I will have to go to work and get my own supper. I am hungry."

"You will not find a crust of bread in the house," said his wife.

"You don't tell me!" exclaimed Zeke.

"I have looked the house over and I cannot find anything. You ate the last this morning."

"Bussin' on it!" gasped Zeke, backing toward the nearest chair. "And you did not have any?"

"I thought you were at work in the field and would need it more than I. So I let you take it all."

"Whew!" whistled Zeke. "And I thought there was not more than enough to keep a hen from starving when I ate it. Mr. Howard owes me five shillings, but I don't like to ask him for it."

"Are you working for that man? Then you will never get your money."

"What for won't I?"

"Because he will cheat you out of it just as he has cheated everybody else who has worked for him."

"Eh? Do you see these arms?" asked Zeke, getting upon his feet and stretching himself so that his wife could see on all sides of him. "I have not often slung these arms about loose and reckless since I went to school to old Parson Stebbins, and then I slung them at Jeems Howard because I thought he had tried to take my knickerbockers[4] away from me. He has not forgotten that, I am proud to say. My wages will come due on Saturday night and I shall get every cent that is coming to me. But you must have something to eat. Bussin' on it! Why did you not tell me?"

Zeke went out into his woodshed where he kept his shoemaker's tools and began to gather them up in his arms. A pang shot through him while he did so, for he could not help thinking what he was going to do if somebody came to him with shoes to mend while the tools were gone.

"It can't be helped," said he, with a long-drawn sigh. "She took me for better or worst when she married me, and she has had the worst all the time. I will go and see Jeems Howard about them, and see what he will give me until next Saturday. He is the only one around here that I know of who has got any money."

As soon as he had gathered up all his tools Zeke went out of the back door, for he did not want his wife to see him; but there were others that saw him as he walked along the street, and every one wanted to know where he was going to mend shoes. For in those days the cobblers always came to a person's house and did their work there. Zeke always gave some good-natured reply, for no one ever expected anything else of him, and in a few minutes he had walked through Mr. Howard's yard and come up to the back steps.

"I want to see if you will lend me five shillings on these tools until Saturday night," said he, when he had brought the man for whom he was at work to the door. "We want something to eat at our house."

If the man had possessed the semblance of a heart he would have pulled out some money and given it to Zeke; but all was fish that came to his net, and he forthwith began to haggle with him in order to get them as cheap as possible. Zeke wanted more for them than he could afford to give, and he concluded that two and a half shillings were all he could pa

y. He insisted so strongly upon it that Zeke was about to close with his offer, when a new actor appeared upon the scene. It was Jeremiah O'Brien, of whom we shall have something more to say as our story progresses. Something told him that Zeke was in trouble, and he opened the gate and went in. Like all the rest of the patriots he had but little love for men of Howard's opinion, and he was not anyway backward about beginning his business.

"Zeke, what are you doing with your tools here?" he asked.

"I want to sell them until next Saturday night," returned Zeke.

"How much are you going to get for them?"

"I want five shillings, but Jeems allows that he can't give more than two and a half."

"They are worth two pounds if they are worth anything," said O'Brien emphatically.

"I know they are. Just see that knife. It is sharp--"

"Pick up your tools and come with me," interrupted O'Brien.

"Where are you going?"

"Pick up your tools and come with me," insisted O'Brien. "I don't want to tell you twice."

Zeke smiled, drew himself up to his full height and looked at O'Brien. The latter returned his gaze with interest and Zeke finally thought better of it, gathered up his tools from the step where had placed them and followed him out to the gate.

"Look here," said O'Brien, when they reached the street. "The next time you want to sell your tools that you make a living with, I want you to come to me. Don't go to that old Tory, who is bound to cheat you out of everything you have. You say your wife has not had anything to eat?"

"Not a smell," said Zeke looking down at the ground. "She gave me all she had for breakfast and never has had a bite all day."

"Well, lay your tools down here," said O'Brien, when they came to Zeke's house. "They can stay there until you come back."

"Bussin' on it!" exclaimed Zeke. "What are you going to do?"

"We will go up to the grocery and get some provisions. I am going to send out a vessel next week and you can pay me then."

This made everything all right in Zeke's estimation. He wanted credit, but he little knew how he could get it unless he was regularly employed in some business that would pay him in the end. Of course, when he was at sea on one of Mr. O'Brien's vessels, his wife could go to the store and get anything she pleased; but Zeke knew it was not so while he was working for James Howard. The old Tory was a cheat, and nobody except Zeke or some other fellow who happened to be "hard up" would work for him. He accompanied O'Brien to the grocery store and got everything he wanted. When he came back into his wife's presence he looked more like himself.

This little episode will give the reader a pretty good idea of the kind of life Zeke Lewis led at Machias. Nothing bothered him. His wife being out of provisions was the nearest thing that came to throwing him off his balance; and when the goods obtained in this way were gone, why, then he would go to work at something and earn some more.

We have said that nothing bothered Zeke Lewis. That was what all the people about Machias said, and they had known him for a long time. A man who would not wake up from his shiftless habits and go to work at something in order to support his wife, who depended on him for everything, was not of much use in the world; but on this particular morning, after listening to the story of the battle of Lexington, Zeke began to take a little interest in matters. In fact the people had never seen him so worked up before. He held a short but earnest consultation with Joseph Wheaton, attended eagerly to what the man had to say, and then walked away with his head up, his fingers moving convulsively, and now and then he lifted his hands and brought them together with a loud slap.

"What's the matter with you, Zeke?" asked one of his companions who walked by his side.

"Are there any Tories around here?" exclaimed Zeke, casting his eye behind him. "Then I guess I can speak out here as well as anywhere. I say we ought to go to work and do something to equal those fellows in Boston."

"But there are no troops here," said his companion. "These Tories will not come out so that we can shoot them down as they did at Concord."

"No matter for that. They have got some property here, and we can capture it as well as not."

"I am in for that. Where is it?"

"You know that the Margaretta is here to protect two sloops that are loading up with lumber for the crown. What is the reason we cannot capture her?"

"It would be all right if we could do it; but suppose we should fail? Have you forgotten what the penalty for piracy is?"

"No, I have not forgotten it, and furthermore, I know that we are not going to fail. I will make one of half a dozen men that will capture her to-night. Where are the rest of you?" he continued, glancing around at the men who had come up, one by one, to listen to what he had to say. "Are you all Tories? If you are not, say you will join in."

"She lies some little distance from the wharf," said one of his auditors.

"Are there not plenty of boats that we could get to take us out to her?" asked Zeke. "Some of you are afraid of being killed. That is what is the matter with you."

"If the others are afraid of being shot at I am not," said Mr. O'Brien. "What are your plans, Zeke? But first let us go somewhere so that we can talk without being overheard."

It put a different look on the matter when Mr. O'Brien began to inquire into Zeke's scheme. If he was not afraid to undertake it the rest were not. They crowded up around Zeke to hear what he had to propose.

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