A Lobsterman's Lines Land a Summercater
Intense exuberance explained the lady's shouting, and the intensity about brushed me off the bench I was biding until the checkout clerk dismissed my wife on grocery day. The lady had blatted, "And they're so much sweeter off the boat!" "Yes," said the other lady, "and cheaper, too."
This glad morning was just after school-out, and the arrival in Maine of the seasonal horde. The lady was telling the other lady about the family's first big lobster feed of the summer. They were down on the rocks with a driftwood fire, and everybody stuffed to the hatches. Reference to "off the boat" meant the lobsters had been supplied by a fisherman rather than bought from a dealer or market. That's the way, and the ladies agreed the feed was "some old good!"
Let us now drop back 40 years or so and consider the good fortune of Worthington Dudley, at that time an abundant source for reportorial grist that helped put our children through college. Worthy lobster-fished out of Mackerel Cove at Bailey Island.
But on this particular summer, Worthy had taken on the chore of caretaker over at the Peary place on Eagle Island, and he had his lobster boat out there if he wanted to come and go. He didn't have his usual gang of traps out, but to keep his hand in and to occupy his spare time, he had set a few pots around Halfway Rock. That's rather far out, and all you have between you and Europe is water. The Peary family didn't need a lot of care, so Worthy had plenty of time to attend these few lobster pots, and a good part of the time Worthy had his wife, Myrtle, down on Eagle for company. Just like owning your own mansion.
Well, Worthy was over toward Halfway Rock one morning to haul. Halfway Rock is exactly that, a rock sticking up out of the water, and it's halfway between Portland Head and Seguin. In Maine, "rock "is another word for some islands. Halfway Rock is outermost of Casco Bay. Summertimes, you get a lot of mahogany cruising or coming and going to summer places, and a few party boats out to handline for haddock and cod.
Worthy would find himself alone most of the time. And he was alone this time, hand-hauling a trap and then jogging absently to another, and thinking to himself, when a master big mahogany stinkpot came downwind, circled him, and fell idle at his stern. Worthy looked up, and, being a friendly sort, he was quick with his polites. To the gentleman at the boat's rail he said, "Morning!" They weren't two fathoms apart, so there was no cause to shout.
"Good morning," says the gentleman, and then he asked, "They crawling?" This is the correct way to engage a lobster catcher in conversation, and is the summercater's way to show that he knows a garft from a winkle and at the same time alerts the Mainer that he is up against somebody from away. Then the gentleman says, "I wonder if we could trouble you to sell us a few lobsters?"
"That depends," says Worthy.
"Ayeh. On like how many would you be wanting?" (Worthy had an aversion to "Ayeh," deeming it a Maine foolishment good only to amuse visitors from Ohio, and he never used it except just about now.)
"Well," the man said, "we're 12, and I suppose we'd better figure on two apiece."
"That would be about right," said Worthy. "So why don't we round that off at 25, and yes, I think I can find you 25."
"Good!" says the gentleman.
Worthy says, "You want shedders?"
"Do I want what?"
"What are shedders?"
"Time o' year," says Worthy. "Lobsters get new shells. I got mostly shedders. A few hardshells. Shedders are sweeter."
"Land, yes. No comparison."
"So let's have some shedders."
"Shedders they be, then."
"Now," says Worthy, "I don't have any scales aboard, so I got to guess the weight, and you'll have to take my word for it. They'll go just about two pounds apiece."
"That's fine," said the gentleman.
"You got something to put 'em in?" asked Worthy.
WORTHY had pegged the claws when he measured his lobsters, so it didn't take him long to count 25 into a tub, and he passed the tub across to the gentleman, who put the lobsters in pails. The gentleman said, "How much do I owe you?"
"Now," says Worthy, "we got to consider. They're paying $1.35 a pound in at Mackerel Cove, but it seems to me that out here in the middle of the ocean, so to speak, they ought to fetch $2, at least."
The gentleman said, "That sounds reasonable to me."
But Worthington said, "I don't have a cent of change on me."
"No matter. Can I settle for an even $100?" Worthington paused, looking into the sky. He said, "You may, and I'm glad I could help you out."
The gentleman said, "And what is your name, sir?"
Worthy said, "Peary. You'll see my place on Eagle Island, dead ahead. Anytime."
Having disposed of all his forenoon "get" in this manner, save three lobsters, Worthy didn't need to run in at Mackerel Cove to sell, so he took the three lobsters to Eagle Island, and Myrtle boiled them for supper. Myrtle said, "They're always sweeter off the boat." And Worthington Dudley said, "Yes, and cheaper."