Friday 7 November 2008

A Tin Duck Boat

This hilarious story, from The Outing magazine of April 1908, combines a pair of recurring interests of this blog, tin boats and duck punts:


UNCLE EZRA threw back his head and indulged in a mirthful cackle. "Any o' you fellers ever try huntin' ducks in one o' them sheet-iron coffins they call duck boats?" he inquired, as he bent forward and shook his head in a paroxysm of reminiscent delight.
We plead not guilty with suspicious unanimity, whereupon Uncle Ezra assumed an air of conscious superiority.
"Don't do it boys—don't resk it," he said, "I've been up agin it an' escaped with nothin' more 'n a few triflin' internal injuries but you might get worse. Bill Fikes was th' party that led me into it. He'd been postin' up on them newfangled sportin' idees an' one day he corners me an' says he'd bought a boat to hunt ducks in."
'Why, you've got half a dozen old scows down to th' docks now,' says I, 'What do you want another for?' "'This is a duck boat,' Bill says, 'It's right up-to-date. Made o' tin!'
"'Tin!' I says. "Then I stole a whiff o' Bill's breath to see if he hadn't been takin' on a cargo but he proved an alibi by a hair.
"'I'll believe it when I see it, Bill,' says I, wanderin' on.
"About a week after that Bill give me th' Injun sign an' led me down to th' landin'. There was his boat—floatin' as high as th' stock of a Texas oilwell. It was painted th' color of a bricklayer's overalls an' looked to be as peaceful an' innercent as a buck Injun before bein' mixed with alcohol.
"'Get in,' says Bill, jest like he was tenderin' me a brick block or a sleepin' car.
"Thanks, guess I will,' says I." Here Uncle Ezra stopped abruptly and clutched his jaw with both hands to keep from bursting into a roar of laughter — it got up as far as his throat but he manfully choked it down.
"Gettin' into a tin duck boat is somethin' like playin' th' hoss-fiddle—got to be studied in privit first. Bill's boat was snugglin' up alongside th' dock, down about a foot an' a half an' lookin' as invitin' as a bald head to a hoss-fly. Bein' familiar with th' general run o' Bill's catamarans I stepped in sorter careless like, jest like you'd step onto th' kitchen floor on a dark mornin', a trifle easy but expectin' it to be there when you landed.
"But I hadn't more 'n touched it when it changed ends or somethin' an' when I come down with th' other leg I missed it by a good half a yard. I went right to th' bottom, got a mouthfull o' mud an' came right back with haste an' a poor pen. As I come up th' boat was watchin' for me an' banged me two good ones on th' ear before I could fight it off.
"Bill's eyes were stickin' out till you could have hung your boots onto 'em an' he says. "'What're ye tryin' to do, Ez — scuttle my boat?'
"'If I had a hatchet I'd show ye !' says I, after gettin' th' seaweed out o' my teeth. "Bill helped me onto th' dock an' I asked 'im if he'd had th' pleasure o' gittin' into th' boat yet. He scratched 'is head a bit pertendin' to think. Finally he says: "'I believe not, Ez.'
"'Well, here's five dollars for you if you'll get in now,' says I, producin' my roll an' dissectin' off a V.
"Bill turned a little pale but begun to peel 'is coat.
"'Hold on, Bill! Keep your clothes on — I did!' I says, "After hesitatin' a little Bill put 'is coat back on an' moistened 'is hands. Then he set down on th' dock an' stuck 'is feet down into th' waist o' th' boat.
"'Better go an' get a derrick to let you down with, hadn't I?' I remarks, scornful as vinegar.
"Bill didn't reply but drawed a long breath an' slid off th' dock. He looked about as brave as a man goin' to th' 'lectric chair.
"I thought Bill was goin' to make it but jest then I noticed th' boat sidestep like a scairt featherweight an' Bill set right down on th' lake. I caught 'im by th' hair as he come to th' top an' separated 'im from a good handful gettin' 'im back to th' planks.
"That's a fine boat for any one that's tired o' life,' says I, after we'd stood an' dripped a while. Bill groaned like th' landlady had jabbed 'im with a hatpin.
"'It's all right after you're in it,' he says. "'Maybe th'receipt tellin' how to get into it comes by mail, Bill. Shall we go up to th' post office?' says I, tryin' to cheer 'im up some.
"But he never paid no attention. His face was all puckered up studyin' th' question. All of a sudden he give a joyful little cough an' says: "'I've got th' answer, Ez! It's as easy as drivin' nails into a featherbed. Here goes!'
"Bill got down on 'is chest on th' dock, reached over an' got a good holt of th' middle seat with 'is hands. "Funny I didn't think of this before,' says he, 'it's a snap!' "Then he started to lower himself off th' dock slow an' easy. When he'd got a lit­tle more 'n half of 'im over th' edge somethin' went plunk into th' water under Bill's nose.
"'What was that?' says he, kinder rattled. "'Sounded like your pocketbook,' says I. "Bill took a quick look back at me be tween 'is knees an' emitted a painful groan. After studyin' a minute he let go with one hand an' reached back to feel of 'is pocket.
"While he was doin' that th' boat started for th' open sea—it started so blame quick that th' first thing I see was Bill stretched out like a rubber band betwixt th' dock an' th' boat an' strainin' every muscle in 'im to keep from lettin' 'is stomach drag in th' water.
"'That's fine, Bill,' says I. 'What's th' next step?' "He gave me a murderous look an' th' boat slid out three inches more leavin' Bill's toes hangin' to about a half an inch o' dock.
"'Reel me in, you brindle-whiskered porch-climber!' Bill yells, in a tone that would have corroded zinc. "I saved 'im from the jaws of a lovely duckin' an' th' minute he got 'is wind he wanted to fight. Had all I could do to ca'm 'im down an' explain that I was perfectly innercent.
"'Bill,' I remarks, 'you'd better write that boat crowd an' find out how to occupy that craft. Th' only way I see now is to put it on th' dock, get in, an' then saw th' dock in two. She might turn a handspring even then.' "Bill groaned an' said he'd catch th' sciatica if he didn't go home an' change 'is clothes so we dispersed.
"Afterward Bill traded th' boat to a farmer for a veal calf an' th' calf got into th' kitchen an' butted th' cook so severe she struck for higher wages on th' spot. Bill now says if any man tries to sell, trade, give or otherwise hurl a tin boat onto 'im he will feel compelled to shoot in self defense.
"Bill says he never——" Just then the speaker caught the beckoning finger of a robust gentleman behind the refreshment stand and he mounted to his legs and went across to see about it.

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