Cap'n Bailey and the Widder Dyer. A Cape Cod Story
Charles W. Burton
Marshall Jones Company
Boston
1930

This is a pair of humorous dialect stories, The Iron Cat and The Lunch with a Punch, with Cap'n Zachariah Bailey as the main character and Mehitabel Dyer as his foil. As usual in Cape Cod fiction, having a sea captain as a character allows plenty of opportunity for nautical turns of phrase.The time setting was contemporary - there are (unreliable and dangerous) airplanes, telephones with bad connections, a canal with watchmen at the bridges, Boston speakeasies, and radio shows with live bands.

The Iron Cat is a mystery - the title refers to an ugly and heavy piece of foreign (Egyptian) cultch that competing mainlanders want very badly, though it seems to be cursed. It had been sitting for decades in a old Cape sea captain's house, and came to be noticed when the belongings of the deceased captain and his wife were being sold as antiques. The author has fun with the sales tactics and shrewdness of the Cape Codders - it was better to not be in the antiques business per se, but to "allow" the items around ones shop or barn to fetch a price, then set out another from the Sears box.
The Cap'n and other characters race all over eastern Massachusetts by car, train and occasionally plane to recover the stolen cat as it passes accidently and deliberately thru many hands. The Cap'n is bewildered on a city trip by another set of jargon, that of the street-wise Boston newspaper reporters and cops.

The Lunch with a Punch is more of a social satire. Baked beans every Saturday night are among the most unpleasant of my childhood memories (tough life, huh?), and I guess Burton had his tongue in cheek here, since the subject of the story is the proper way to make baked bean sandwiches. Widder Dyer is a wonderful cook, but even she, being a woman, hasn't a clue about the right way to make baked bean sandwiches. Cap'n Bailey knows that the way to make them is by mashing up beans that have been reheated several times. "It was Wednesday, and time a normal person shold be willing, if not eager, to forget the previous Saturday's batch of beans." Their discussion of the matter gets him to thinking, concluding that there would be a market for properly made baked bean spread.

The bad guys are two caricatured sleazy entrepreneurs and a miserly old-line baked-bean processor (Mr Goodie). The Cap'n and Widder are perfecting recipes and thinking of a processing plant; Goodie can't duplicate the Cap'n's test recipe and can't sell a substitute; the go-getters cheat the miser for their incompetent services. This is the early days of radio - all live (by law!). By inference, advertisers often thought they knew how to push their products and services better than did the radio professionals; Goodie's expensive, pushy, boring show doesn't sell beans, but Cap'n Bailey's clever one quickly builds a reputation (though the product isn't even being made yet). In the end, Goodie has no real choice but to buy out the Cap'n and Widder's company.


I liked this book, and regret that Charles W. Burton apparently published only this book. I note the absense of the usual Yankee taciturnity problem, perhaps because it is humorous.

David Kew
July 2002

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