Extricating Obadiah

Extricating Obadiah / Joseph C. Lincoln, with frontispiece by Walt Louderback. New York: A.L. Burt Co., © 1917 D. Appleton

This is a light romance, with plenty of peculiar and colorful Cape Cod characters. The setting is "Trumet", a small Cape Cod town. The time seems to be the first decade of the 1900's - businesses have telephones, but social phone calls are uncommon; there are cars, but they're rare.

The situation: ship's cook Obadiah Burgess has inherited a house in Trumet, and some money, but his top-rigging is short by a sail or two. Irving Clifford is a visiting mechanical engineer, in Trumet to install a refrigeration plant. Balaam Griggs is the local real estate dealer, mortgage lender, and "antique" seller; he's a merciless mercenary sleaze, who "never had anything yet that he wouldn't give up for money. He'd sell his under-flannels and try to grow wool on his shoulder-blades if you paid him enough for it." He's "meaner than vinegar pie and he'd cheat his deef aunt out of her ear trumpet." Griggs has a stepdaughter, Mary Barlow, from whom he always chases suitors, but Mary and Irving enjoy each other's company. Griggs is managing the financial affairs at the Burgess household; the townsfolk know that's a bad idea for Burgess, but he's not a Trumet native and it's none of their business. Calvin Wentworth is a New York dude, a distant cousin of Burgess, apparently wealthy and in bad health, who has come to live with him and die in the quiet countryside. Wentworth is so effeminate that he smokes cigarettes, from a holder! (Real men smoke cigars, or chew.) He does know ice cream: "Twice ... I have eaten the frozen cornstarch and glucose they prescribe at the local drug store and it is sufficient, quite. Not any--no more--thank you kindly--a genteel sufficiency."

Into the situation comes sea captain Noah Newcomb. He's a Trumet native, who's been away for decades, and hadn't really missed it. A friend had talked him into buying his first car, and he's testing it out by cruising the length of the Cape before returning to his job in Portland. So he passes thru Trumet, and meets up with Burgess, who had been the cook on many of Newcomb's voyages, years ago. Capt. Newcomb leaves, but returns a few months later, in response to a vague plea for help from Burgess. So, the main plot line is Capt. Newcomb gradually connecting the dots despite the reluctance of any of the good people to discuss their problems, and finally fixing the situation.

"Being a Cape Codder by birth and early breeding, he had an instinctive repugnance to front doors."

The characters, their speech, and the setting are interesting. Newcomb is the wise, experienced and inquisitive hero. Clifford is smart but somewhat naive, and just not in a position to solve the problems. Griggs and Wentworth are amusingly sleazy, and Burgess is the fool. The book, like many of Lincoln's, is male focused, altho the woman of interest (Mary Barlow), as usual, is smart, honest and "respectable".

  David Kew, May 2001

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