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Captain Joe And The Susie Ann
by [?]

Wide of beam, stout of mast, short-bowspritted, her boom clewed up to clear her deck load of rough stone; drawing ten feet aft and nine feet for’ard; a twelve-horse hoisting engine and boiler in her forecastle; at the tiller a wabbly-jointed, halibut-shaped, moon-faced (partially eclipsed, owing to a fringe of dark whiskers), sleepy-eyed skipper named Baxter,–such was the sloop Susie Ann, and her outfit and her commander, as she lay alongside the dock in New London Harbor, ready to discharge her cargo at the site of Shark Ledge Lighthouse, eight miles seaward.

On the dock itself, over a wharf post sprawled her owner, old Abram Marrows, a thin, long, badly put together man, awkward as a stepladder and as rickety, who, after trying everything from farming to selling a patent churn, had at last become a shipowner, the Susie Ann, comprising his entire fleet. Marrows had come to see her off; this being the sloop’s first trip for the season.

Lying outside the Susie Ann–her lines fast to an off-shore spile, was the construction tug of the lighthouse gang, the deck strewn with diving gear, water casks and the like,–all needed in the furthering of the work at the ledge. On the tug’s forward deck, hat off and jacket swinging loose, stood Captain Joe Bell in charge of the submarine work at the site, glorious old Captain Joe, with the body of a capstan, legs stiff as wharf posts, arms and hands tough as cant hooks and heart twice as big as all of them put together.

Each and every piece of stone,–some of them weighed seven tons,–stowed aboard the Susie Ann, was, when she arrived alongside the foundation of the lighthouse, to be lowered over her side and sent down to Captain Joe to place in thirty feet of water. This fact made him particular both as to the kind of vessel engaged and the ability of the skipper. Bad seamanship might not only endanger the security of the work but his own life as well,–a diver not being as quick as a crab or blackfish in getting from under a seven-ton stone dropped from tripdogs at the signal to “lower away.”

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.