The Boy Scouts of the Air at Cape Peril/Chapter 22
THE TRIALS OF CAP'N BUFFUM
The morning of the next day, the day of departure, was calm and peaceful as if tempests in the air and the sea and the souls of men were things unknown. This time, it was the calm after the storm instead of before one. But the thrills were still vivid in the minds of the three boys, and would stay with them till their last day.
They were reconciled enough to go now, for they were all bursting with eagerness to take the town by storm, and to see themselves written up with photos in The News and Herald, as Hardy had confidently predicted they would be. The hosts, too, realized that, after the momentous episodes of the last two days, any further stay might prove tame and tiresome; that it was better for the boys to leave while in the highest feather. Then they would be eager to come again sometime.
The first pleasant duty after breakfast was to trot off merrily together to call on Cap'n Buffum. He was still a little shaky, but eager to hear over and over again the circumstances, outside of his own part, in the apprehension of the man he confidently asserted to be Perkins. Though with some little nervousness he looked forward to the time when he should be summoned as a witness to face the man in court.
Finally, the visitors announced that they must be off.
"Sorry to see ye go," declared the old man huskily. "One of ye did me a turn I won't never fergit, and all of ye would a done the like if the 'casion had riz to do it. Come back to see Bill Buffum, will ye? I ain't no more'n teched the top layer o' my pile o' sea-yarns. I don't have to do like the preachers—turn my bar'l over and start 'em all over agin. Blister my boots, my bar'l ain't got no bottom, it ain't."
"You bet we'll come back," asserted Cat. "Won't we, fellows?"
"You bet we will!" echoed the other two.
A gratified smile crossed the keeper's face.
"Say, Cap'n Buffum," suggested Legs, "how about running up and spending a end at our house? Mother and Father sure would be glad to see you."
"My weak end is my legs, boy, though I ain't quite sho' it ain't my head sence I war tied up," returned the old man with a chuckle. "No, lad, I can't run up nowhar. I couldn't do that. I ain't never took the lessons how to 'nipulate them tools and whatcha-may-call 'ems you toney folks eats with, and, when I shovels peas in my mouth with these hyuh narrow-bladed eatin'-knives they gives you these days, blister my boots, if half o' them slippery green pellets don't slide off into my lap.
"A ole-timer like me don't feel good and comfortable in the towns nowadays noway; they is always a scramblin' 'em upside down, and what you see one day you don't see no mo' the nex', till my brains is well-nigh addled. But, though the ships may change, this hyuh water don't. So I'll stick down hyuh where nobody can't be a-messin' and a-meddlin' with the scenery, and what I sees one night I knows will be thar the nex' mornin'.
"The old time towns war the places fer me, when, seem like all the houses had been there a hundred year, and ev'y drug-sto' had colored three and fo' story jars a settin' in the window, red and green and yaller and cinnamon and pink, maybe; and, in front of ev'y tobakker shop war a wild Indian carved o' wood pintin' at the do' with his tommyhawk. And the patent medicine men used to come aroun' in their kerridges and spring the side-splittin'es' jokes I ever hyeard that made me bow-leggeder than I war by nature. Them war the towns I could navigate in. But thank you kindly, lad, jus' the same. Thank you agin.
"Now to go back to that there Perkins," he hurried on to avoid having to decline once more the invitation Hatton seemed on the point of repeating. "You may calkerlate he's been in my mind considerable and I ain't denyin' most o' them thoughts warn't complimentary, and boys, I laid thar las' night on my donkey's breakfast—"
"Lay on what?" asked the wondering Jimmy.
Cap'n Buffum's eyes kindled with laughter as he nodded towards his bed.
"That's what we sailor boys used to call our straw mattresses we bunked on when we warn't a'swingin' in hammocks. I laid thar and thought what I'd do if that thar Bill Perkins war to be brought back now to ask me to fergive him. But I'd a done same as I tol' you befo' he played his las' trick on me. Says I to myself, 'You'd fergive him. Maybe he warn't responsible. His mammy might 'a let him fall on his head when he war a puppy and that busted his good intentions. I'd fergive him and if you're good scouts you'd fergive him, too."
"It was fun for us," asserted Jimmy with relish.
"Have yo' fun," rejoined the good old soul, with great seriousness, "thar's plenty o' room fer it, but don't have it over other folks wickedness er their tribulations. Play your game squar, lads, play it squar."
"You bet we'll do that," Jimmy hastened to make amends for his blunder.
"Now, look at that thar Perkins," proceeded the Cap'n. "Fer thirty year and mo' he's been a prowlin' up and down the earth inventin' new kinds o' meannesses. What a mess o' evil he done thar ain't no way o' knowing but he's come to the end o' his rope now. I'll be boun' on that. Mo'n one man, lads, starts a-skyrocketin' and ends a coal-chutin'. It's the way a man ends—not speakin' o' bow-legs—that counts. Always have a good end in mind and you won't never go wrong. That's what you scouts is fer, ain't it?"
"That's our oath," declared Legs solemnly.
Cap'n Buffum paused long enough to re-light his pipe and take a few puffs. The operation seemed to change the trend of his thoughts and he proceeded with the utmost good-humor, "A lively time, lads, you've had fer a picnic. I b'lieve it beats, so fer as quickness of action is consarned, any sea tale I got in my locker. I never knowed so much to happen in twenty-four hours befo' in peace times on a picnic, but, fer all the dangers me and you have been through, they ain't no thin' to what I'm facin' this hyuh minute." The old man's face suddenly became solemn.
"Not afraid Bill Perkins will break loose, are you?" asked Cat.
"I ain't afraid er nothin dead er alive," he returned promptly, and then added, "exceptin' one. I kin face everything that give me a fair show that's live and, as fer the dead, I kin handle easy all the sperits I ever seen. But it's sumpin' else a-pesterin' me. You recollec' I tol' you about what war lef' o' a gal I had once. Well that very evenin', day befo' yestiddy it war, I got a letter. It begun with one o' them healths repo'ts. 'I hev gained ten pounds since I saw you, Bill, and I'm eatin' my heart out fer you'. Says I , when I reads that, ef it agree with er that good, she better keep on a-eatin' and thar ain't no tellin' to what dimensions she'll swell to. Then come the bombshell, lads, when she continue, 'I'm a-comin' down to a picnic in the fishwagon next Saturday week, just me and a basket, and me and you can set on the sand and eat fried chicken and pull the wishbone and talk old times together. Ef my head is gray, my heart is evergreen.'
"Lads, the way I feel when Bill Perkins knot me up warn't nothin' to the aggravated feelin' I has when I sets eyes on them words. But no fried chicken ner broiled nuther, with or without wishbones, ain't a-goin' to tear me from this hyuh light. It's my duty, this hyuh light is, and, blister my boots, duty is the almightiest word in the whole English language, or the Chinese either, I reckon. It's the bes' motto to live by, and, when yon casts yo' las rope, ain't nothin' like it fer to give you a smooth passage.
"You're them things they calls scouts, and you hev proved you kin hol' yo' own with any man that ever shaved a whisker er let 'em grow either. Keep a scoutin' straight, and thar ain't nothin' goin' to down you nowhar. Take Bill Buffum's word fer it."
After a few more words and repeated promises to return before long, the lads were off on their way back to Seagulls' Nest.
"When I get old and all my children get married," remarked Jimmy prospectively as they trudged along, "blessed if I don't keep a lighthouse. He's the happiest old geezer I ever saw."
"Da-da-da-da-da!" hummed Cat, with a gibe in his eyes.
"What'll your wife be doing?" asked Legs.
"She can keep one, too, and we can talk by wireless. No telling what women will be doing by the time I get old and greybearded."
"Say, Jimmy," he joked, "if you get one of those tall ones, she'll reach over and haul you out without standing on tiptoe."
"You better be satisfied if you can get one any size with that mouth," Jimmy retorted.
But as boys are not usually oversensitive about their mis-features, all three reached the house without bloodshed.