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The Praying Skipper, and Other Stories

The Praying Skipper, and Other Stories
Title: The Praying Skipper, and Other Stories
Release Date: 2019-02-03
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 60
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Transcriber's Notes:
Blank pages have been eliminated.
Variations in spelling and hyphenation have been left as in theoriginal.
A few typographical errors have been corrected.
The cover page was created by the transcriber and can be considered public domain.

"'Cast me not off in the time of old age, forsake me not when mystrength faileth.'"






Copyright, 1903, 1905, by Chas. Scribner's Sons
Copyright, 1904, by The Century Co.
Copyright, 1905, by The Outing Publishing Co.
Copyright, 1906, by McClure, Phillips & Co.

Copyright, 1906, by The Outing Publishing Co.

Entered at Stationers' Hall, London, England

All rights reserved




"But I'm not going to stand forthis sort of thing," angrily protestedyoung Valentine as heshoved the letter at Port Captain Grahamof the Palmetto Line. "The old man maybe as good a sailor as you say he is, but it'shigh time we set him ashore on a half-paypension. Why, he's making our serviceridiculous. Read it out to Mr. Holmes."

The Port Captain fidgeted and awkwardlywiped his glasses, for the task wasunwelcome:

Dear Valentine: Congratulations onyour decision to mix up in the business ofthe old company. It seems a hefty responsibilityfor so young a man, but bloodwill tell. By the way, here is somethingfor you to investigate while the new broomis sweeping the cobwebs away. I wentSouth on your Suwannee a month ago,and have the honor to inform you that hercaptain is a venerable nuisance, and loose[2]in his top story. He is a religious crank,clean dippy on it, held prayer-meetingsuntil half the passengers were driven ondeck, and had a lot of hysterical womenflocking around him for two differentservices on Sunday. The Suwannee is agospel ark in command of a praying skipper,and if only the sanctified are goingto enjoy traveling in her, you will lose alot of business. I reckon it's time the linehad an overhauling, so good luck to you.

Yours as ever,


Young Mr. Valentine explained to thesurprised officials:

"The signer is an old college friend ofmine, man of a great deal of influencehere in New York, and he gives the lineand its biggest, newest ship this kind ofa black eye. And I have heard otherrumors to the same effect. Now I wantan explanation from both you gentlemen.You know all about Captain Jesse Kendrickof the Suwannee, and it's your businessto report such idiotic performances.If you have been shielding a dottering oldass, who is unfit to go to sea any longer,[3]the sooner the thing is sifted to the bottomthe better."

Port Captain Graham flushed andtwisted his white mustache with a fistlike an oaken billet. He swallowed hardas if trying to keep his rising steam undercontrol, and replied with a catch in hisdeep voice:

"Mr. Valentine, I've been with the PalmettoLine going on thirty years, fromthe time when your father bought the firstold side-wheeler that flew the house flag.Jesse Kendrick was third under me in myfirst command and I know him inside out.A finer sailor and a better man neverrounded Hatteras. Are you going toblackguard the ranking skipper afloat inyour service because of a flimsy complaintlike that, without calling the old man upto the office? Doesn't he get a hearing?Why, you've just now waltzed into thiscompany like a boy with a lot of toysteamboats to play with, after loafingabroad in a muck of luxury ever since youleft your college. You've never evenclapped eyes on Captain Kendrick."

Mr. Holmes, the General Manager,[4]was speaking before Mr. Valentine couldmake heated reply. He was largely officebred, and less outspoken than the ruggedPort Captain:

"As far as his religion goes, we knowthat Captain Kendrick doesn't drink adrop, and that he won't ship anything butsober men. And your father had reasonto send the old man a good many lettersof commendation in his time. Shall I'phone to the dock for Captain Kendrick?He sails this afternoon."

"You'll do nothing of the kind,"snarled Valentine. "I'll do my own investigatingthis time, because you are abunch of three old pals, do you see?"

"But you're not going to censure himright off the reel? Good God! it wouldbreak the old man's heart," exclaimed thePort Captain, leaning forward in a blusterof indignation. "I'll bet the morals ofyour friend, Jim What's-his-name, needinvestigatin' a damn sight more than therighteousness of Jesse Kendrick."

Mr. Valentine snapped back, but withweakening assurance:

"If you can't be civil, Captain Graham,[5]there will be more than one reprimand inthis day's work. I am the owner ashore,and I propose to be the boss at sea. I'llthink it over, and if I want any more ofyour advice, I'll send for you. Good-morning."

He went into an inner office and closedthe door. The Port Captain glared at thebarrier, and growled as he trudged reluctantlyinto the outer hall, arm in arm withthe General Manager.

"That spindle-shouldered, under-enginedyoung cub as the make-believe bossof the Palmetto Line! What do youthink of it, Holmes? Dyin' must havecome hard to his dad when he took a lastsquint at the heir to the business. Thisone surely needs some of Jesse Kendrick'sspare prayers."

"The young Valentine is cock of thewalk," said the General Manager slowly."But the bantam was crowing to show hisauthority this time. Anyhow, he said hewould think it over, and that means he'llcool off. Don't say anything to Kendrickabout it. No use of discounting troublethat may never come."


But the two men had small acquaintancewith the methods of young Mr. Valentine.Without letting go his purpose,he had appeared to give way, because heshrunk from pitting his will against thismasterful Port Captain, who made himfeel like a house of cards in a big wind.It was not inconceivable that this over-bearingold monster might lay him acrosshis knee and spank him in the white heatof a dispute. When he heard the twoveterans depart, the new-fledged ownerturned to his stenographer:

"Please take a letter to Captain Kendrickand mail it to catch him at NewOrleans. I don't want him storming inhere to-day."

The gray hair of the stenographer hadbeen a bonny brown when she entered theemploy of the Palmetto Line. As herpencil chased his words down the pagesof her notebook, she glanced up with undisguisedamazement, and dared to commentwhen her task was done:

"Please pardon me, but are you sureyou mean Captain Kendrick of theSuwannee? You see, I have sailed with[7]him on several vacation trips. When heleads the services on board, I think it isbecause the passengers like to hear himtalk; such manly, honest talk about thefaith he lives day by day. He remindsyou of some Old Testament patriarch."

"Old Testament patriarchs are out ofdate," said Mr. Valentine with evident irritation."Is there a conspiracy to boomthe stock of this senile old geezer? Religionis all right for you women. I amgoing South in my private car next week,and by Jove, I will just come home onthe Suwannee and look the situation overfor myself. Mum's the word. And Idon't want any more of my friends to beguying me about running a marine Sunday-schoolwith a sea-parson in charge.That letter ought to choke him off comingback."



A fortnight later the Suwannee wassteaming across the sapphire Gulf. Beforeher bow flying-fish skittered andsplashed like flights of shrapnel bullets,on deck sailors were stretching awningsfore and aft, and wind-sails bellied in theopen hatches. Men in flannels and womenin trim, white freshness leaned alongthe rail and watched the sparkling playof color overside. There was the air ofa yachting cruise in these pleasant aspectsof the day's routine, yet the season wasthe dead of winter, and the Suwanneewas hurrying as fast as twin screws coulddrive her toward bitter latitudes.

On the bridge walked to and fro, with aslightly limping gait, a man of an unusualpresence. Those who looked up at himfrom the deck noted his uncommon heightand breadth, and the white beard thatswept almost to his waist. Nearer visionwas needed to know the seamed yet mobileface, and the gray eye that held aneager light as of strong emotions continu[9]allyburning. When he halted to speakto his first officer, his voice was sweet andvibrant:

"I am going below for a little while,Mr. Parlin. Call me when you've rundown your course."

Captain Kendrick went into his roomjust abaft the wheelhouse, and picked upfrom his desk a typewritten letter thatshowed marks of much handling. Heread it slowly, and his lip quivered as ithad done with each of many previousreadings. Seating himself upon the edgeof the couch, he said aloud little fragmentsof the letter, taken here and therewithout sequence:

"Astonishing behavior ... guiltyof annoyance ... serious complaints... ridiculous religious display ...prime of usefulness past ... evidentlyripe for retirement...."

The letter fell to the floor unheeded, asthere came into his eyes a look of impassionedintensity that was focused ever sofar beyond the walls of this little sea-cabin.He was on his knees and his headwas in his hands as he murmured:


"Cast me not off in the time of old age,forsake me not when my strength faileth....Thy way is in the sea, and Thypath in the great waters.... I saidI will keep my mouth with a bridle whilethe wicked are before me. But it is alsowritten that evening and morning and atnoon will I pray and cry aloud and Heshall hear my voice.... They haveprepared a net for my steps, my heart isbowed down.... But Thou hast amighty arm, strong is Thy hand and highis Thy right hand...."

While Captain Kendrick was voicinghis troubles and his consolations in wordswondrously framed by another strongman long ago, the purser of the Suwanneewas sought out by Arthur Valentine,whose manner held a trace of uneasiness.He would not have confessed it, but farback in the young ship-owner's head wasthe glimmering notion that a terrier mightbe snapping at a mastiff. Was this imposingfigure on the bridge the "dotteringass" to whom he had smartly dashed offhis first official reprimand, gloating in thechance to test the sweep of his new au[11]thority?But this suspicion now shapeditself only in a growing fear lest he bediscovered in such uncomfortably closequarters with Captain Jesse Kendrick.Mr. Valentine closed the door of thepurser's room and set that worthy officer'steeth on edge by remarking:

"Fine morning. I say, you needn'tbother to make any special point of seatingme at the captain's table. Fact is, Idon't want to be bored. Just put me overat your table, will you? And please tellnobody who I am. I want to look arounda bit. The captain doesn't know that I'mon board, I take it, or he would have beenshowing me some troublesome attentions.So you need say nothing to him about it.Just see that my name is rubbed off hiscopy of the passenger list."

The purser disentangled himself froma staggering heap of cargo manifests, andemphasized his reply with a wave of aninky finger:

"All right, Mr. Valentine, if those areyour orders, but you miss your guess ifyou think our skipper is going to run afteryou or any other passenger. He ain't that[12]kind. But sub rosy you go and as far asyou like, till further notice."

Slightly ruffled, Mr. Valentine saunteredon

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