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The Captain's Captain: Short Story Adaptation

This 1919 film was adapted into a short story for the Photoplay Magazine and appeared in the January 1919 issue.

Photoplay Magazine, January 1919, p. 43+


Louise Grayling wished hard for some excitement, and got it--with trimmings--and everything.
by Leigh Metcalf

First illustration from The Captain's Captain

"No noise--no excitement--nothing but stiff, staid ceremony. Oh, for a fire or a murder!"

Tarrytown, Monday evening

Well--here I am--at Aunt Euphemia's house, where I shall remain all summer unless Dad sends for me, or I pine away in loneliness. I feel about as outraged a newly-captured tiger upon being caged for the first time and offered a bowl of corn-meal gruel.

Tell me, pray--what is a girl to do in a prison like Aunty's house? Such a bunch of ogres--even the ice man looks haughty and offended when you attempt to smile at him. No noise, no excitement--nothing but stiff, staid ceremony. Oh, for a fire or a murder! I have just been wishing that a burglar would sneak into the house--a nice friendly burglar, with a sense of humor. But, oh dear--I suppose burglars are too unconventional for Aunty! Imagine me, Winnie--trying to warm up to a formal crowd of inert Grundies who have been antiques for perfect ages. What, pray, is the restlessness of youth to Aunt Euphemia? I was just looking at her baby pictures and do you know I can recognize that same hauteur and unbreakable dignity?

Listen, Winnie: the first minute Dad comes home I want you to send me a wire. For I won't stay in this dead place a minute longer than is necessary. I will never forgive him for going away on that business trip, permitting Aunty to drag me to Tarrytown, just because the thinks it wouldn't be "proper" for me to remain at home with everyone gone.

However, I don't intend to tire you with my dreariness--even though you did make me promise to write you everything. And so, because dreariness is all that drips from my pen tonight, I'll stop.


Tarrytown. Tuesday morning.
Oh, Winnie--I must whisper a thrilling idea that came to me during the night! I suddenly remembered that Uncle Abe Silt had written me not so long ago, asking me to visit him at Cape Cod. He is a storekeeper there you know.

And so I think I'll sneak away to Cape Cod. Don't gasp, dear. It will be interesting and who knows but what I'll unearth some excitement there? Cape Cod is quite a picturesque place, I understand--where they get cod liver oil and all. And codfish. The people are very plain, I understand, and very difficult to shock.

Don't tell a soul yet, Winnie. I am going to make overtures to the housekeeper today I am quite sure I saw her wink at me during breakfast when I declared to Aunty that cigarette-smoking was a graceful feminine habit. Aunty is going out on a calling tour. And if I am to sneak away, it must be done quickly. More later.


Somewhere on Cape Cod, Wednesday morning.
WINNIE--I have gone and done it! Revolt was as inevitable as Hun defeat. The housekeeper is a real sport. Just after Aunty had gone yesterday, I sneaked up to her and sobbed out my plan on her shoulder. She melted into liquid sympathy. Then I sprang my idea. "I'm going to sneak off to my Uncle's--at Cape Cod!"

She swallowed a gasp but said: "I think I understand, dearie."

And so I packed my things in a jiffy and by noon was gone. And here I am! No stiff, starched ceremony or any of that stuff. Oh, it's a relief after Tarrytown and I must go out and stir up some excitement.

If only Aunty doesn't come and spoil it all. But the housekeeper promised to tell her that I had left the house suddenly after receiving a wire, and didn't tell where I was bound.

Uncle Abe is a dear old fellow. He has whiskers like Ulysses, only, unlike him, is afraid of water. I know he doesn't like water because Betty (more about her later) said so. And that is strange, considering that he was born and reared within sound of the breakers. I intend to investigate.

However, even if he is afraid, his brother, Captain Amazon isn't Amazon is a sea captain and Uncle just loves to tell of his exciting adventures. A ferocious old captain, he must be, and wonderfully courageous. Last evening I sat charmed--actually charmed--while Uncle told of Amazon's amazing adventures. There are several others [sic] rival story-tellers--ex-sea captains--but they can't present to match Uncle's true stories. Joab, a retired mariner, is especially eager to discredit Uncle's stories, and bullies the old dear unmercifully.

And Winnie--there's Betty--Betty Gallop, a typical sort of woman for this place, with a masculine way about her, unlimited nerve and a habit of making Uncle step lively. She keeps house here. One would think she really disliked Uncle--if one didn't observe closely. I have watched her, and really, Winnie, there's the oddest, prettiest light that shines in her eyes when she is near Uncle Abe. It's just as though only the tiniest little obstacle were all that kept her from flying into his great arms. And it is easy to see that he cares for Betty. I heard him sigh this morning when he was watching her. The sort of sigh that--well, like Bobby Wescott made when he wanted to dance with me (conceit!) and my card was filled. There's something between the two dears--I wonder what keeps them apart?

Well--I'm at the end of this sheet and must move about a little and forget that Aunt Euphemia has probably sent out the chief of Tarrytown police to look for her scapegoat niece. Goodby for this time.


P. S.--I nearly forgot a very thrilling part of my trip here. I met the most unusual person--a snobbish fisherman. Perhaps not snobbish, but certainly independent. You see, I got off at the wrong station coming over, and I chartered his launch to ferry me across the cove. He refused to take any fee. And--oh Winnie, imagine! His launch became shoaled out from the shore and without hesitation or invitation, grabbed me in his strong arms and carried me to land. And the surprising thing about it was that I wasn't angry! His name is Lawford Tapp. There--isn't that a nice little thrill for a starter?


film still
"Why is Abe's bedroom door locked?" Betty demanded. My heart jumped, but Uncle's wits were quick, this day. "Because I want it locked!" he roared.

Wednesday evening.
Mystery! I like the sound of that word--after Tarrytown! Mystery always precedes excitement. It concerns Uncle Abe. This afternoon I was putting away my things and discovered some old scrap books in the dresser. They contained old clippings--stories of the sea. Imagine my surprise to recognize that every one of the many stories Uncle has been pinning on to this Captain Amazon. The old sneak! Why should he plagiarize (I think that was what my English teacher called it) just for the sake of bragging over his brother? I intend to find out ... right now!

* * *

I found out! Dear Uncle. He was down in the store when I searched for him. I lured him outside and while we were walking along the beach, he started another reminiscence of this Amazon person. I used it as a cue.

"But--I read that story, Uncle," I said.

His face fell and he flushed back to his ears. Cruelly I went on, demanding to know why he misrepresented fiction to be fact. Then he opened his heart.

"My mother was frightened before I was born, by a frightful wreck," he said quietly. "And I can hardly bear sight of the sea--and--so--I--" He went on to tell how he felt being a landlubber among the stalwart, unafraid fishermen and mariners. I was beginning to understand a little. I held his arm fondly. He finished.

"--an so I invented a brother--so that he could hold the respect I can't command." He looked off toward the house where Betty Gallup was puttering around the porch. "I didn't care so much about the men ridiculing me," he said, "But Betty--she isn't afeard of the sea!"

We walked in silence for a while. Suddenly I was seized with an idea. I did so want to help Uncle with the men--and Betty. I clutched his arm, eagerly. "Oh, Uncle, I gasped. "I have it! Why not win Betty's greater respect and remove the taint from the minds of the people--by being your brother yourself?"

He stared at me astonished. But before he could voice objections, I plunged into my plan, sweeping fear quite out from his heart. Then we were interrupted by Mr. Tapp, who ran up, pleading with me to go with him in his launch. I couldn't refuse--even though my mind was a medley with thinking of my great idea. I wasn't half civil to Mr. Tapp, I know. I wonder who he really is? He doesn't seem to be ordinary--not a bit. Adieu.


P.S.--On advice from Uncle, I wrote a note to Aunty today, telling her where I was and assuring her that I was in good hands and quite well and happy.


Our plan worked splendidly! Uncle Abe is now the fearsome "Amazon," whose prowess he so lustily sang in the past. He is now the blustering, domineering Captain, boss of the store and unafraid of Betty Gallup or any retired mariner in Cape Cod. The whole shore is thrilled! And to think that I--a mere girl--recently ran away from a fashionable Tarrytown home--am at the bottom of it! Oh, this is a lark! I'll tell you all about it.

This morning Uncle and I got together while Betty was out, and looked over one of his books, "The Sea Scorpion" In it we found a wonderful portrait of a fierce-visaged sea captain--"Captain Gridd."

"You must resemble him," I determined, and Uncle nodded. Upstairs, the page before us, we got busy. Uncle's heart broke when his beard had to go under the shears. But we preserved it all and locked it in the dresser for resurrection. Then we mixed a heavy dye in the wash bowl and smeared it over his pale features and managed to put together some wild-weather-worn looking clothes suggestive of a lifetime at sea.

I sent for Uncle Abe's chest, which Perry, station agent, called for immediately. Soon Betty returned. Close behind her entered Uncle. Betty whirled around as he stamped into the room. She gasped and stared, speechless as he glared at her, thundering:

"I suppose you're Betty Gallup. I'm Captain Amazon--Abe's brother."

His voice was thunderous. He swaggered about, more impressively than has ever been pinafored on any stage. "Excellent," I commended mentally, hiding behind a curtain. Then I stepped out, feigning surprise and fear.

Betty hadn't yet found her voice. I nearly choked trying to make a giggle sound like a nervous murmur. And yet I was a little nervous and so was Uncle. For all his bravado, I could see his knees trembling a little.

Uncle grudgingly explained that Abe had gone on a cruise for his health. "I'll take his place while he's gone."

Then Betty regained a little of her poise. She sniffed suspiciously. "It doesn't seem likely that Abe would go away on a ship," she retorted, and walked out, leaving the two of us alone. I could see Betty stopping outside and telling the news to every one she met. I grabbed Uncle's hand and found it shaking.

"Cheer up," I encouraged, "it is working fine!"

Presently Aunty [sic?] came back and outside I heard her telling Joab that Perry said he didn't ship Abe's chest because Abe didn't leave town! I could see she was suspicious.

Misgiving number one thus presented itself. Why hadn't I done something else with that chest?

However, my misgivings were forgotten when I followed Uncle into the store. The benchwarmers there stared at him open mouthed and arose, subjection in their eyes. Straight through their midst swaggered the hero of the hour, and in a thundering voice announced himself. The first thing he did was to declare all credit business off, which made me grin. "Cash only goes," he said, "while I'm master of this ship's store." And cash he got too. Not even Joab dared to bully him, but shrank back into his chair, cowed.

Presently Betty burst into the store, coming from upstairs, with a question on her lips.

My heart jumped. We had locked it so she wouldn't discover Uncle's clothing, and beard. But Uncle's wits were quick this day. He roared:

"It's locked because I want it locked! daring her to insist.

But though Betty went out without further question, I can't help from feeling a little uneasy. The fact that the chest wasn't shipped and the locked door have aroused Betty's suspicion. She is championing the man she loves--I can see that. While it makes me happy, it frightens me--right at this stage of the game.


"I heard a scuffling downstairs and running to the staircase, saw to my horror, the coolies circling about Uncle Abe--all eyeing a revolver on the table.".

Thursday night.
This evening Lawford Tapp called for me in his car. And--Winnie--he confessed that he wasn't a fisherman, but the son of the rich family whose great country home lays up the shore. It surprised--but didn't particularly please--me.

"That's nice," I said coolly. But in my heart I was disappointed. You know, Winnie, how I abhor the "worthless rich." I had half a mind to ask him why he didn't go to work. And yet--I must say there's something fascinating about him.


Friday forenoon
And now what do you suppose has happened? Aunt Euphemia is here! All because I wrote that silly old letter, telling her where I was. She raved and stormed, of course, demanding that I return with her instantly. But how can I--and Uncle right in the midst of his re-making?

And, oh Winnie--when Aunty saw him, she immediately wanted to know who he was. Betty said sourly: "His brother!" But Aunty looked at his disappearing figure suspiciously.

"I don't understand," she said. "Abe has no brother!"

and then Betty was surely bewildered and angry. I ran out and caught up with him, telling him to brace up. "Everything will come out right," I said, fearing it wouldn't. Then Aunty called me and I had to return to the house. She demanded to know who he was. I fidgeted and set my mind to working and finally thought of an answer.

"Well, Aunty," I whispered, "if you must know--Uncle Abe is hiding in his locked room as there are people seeking his life and this man is posing as his brother, protecting him."

This didn't seem to get over very good, although I thought it sounded rather well. She seemed to take it for granted though that I was telling the truth, but demanded that I leave with her immediately. "Unless you do," she said, "I'll wire your father." Then stalked off to the hotel.

But, Winnie--how can I leave--now? It's up to me to see that Uncle gets out of this scrape with flying colors. And I will--I WILL!


WINNIE--I must relieve my mind or I'll burst! Alarming things have occurred! To begin with, after lunch a boat landed with six Malays and Bengalese, and a white officer who explained that their ship had been submarined. And do you know that the coolies have been dogging Uncle ever since they landed. This evening just about dusk I saw one of them staring in the window and a little later a shot rang out and the window pane fell shattered to the floor. Uncle was in the room but escaped unhurt. Later we found "The Sea Scorpion" and the picture of the captain slashed through with a knife. What does it mean?

While we were studying the book we heard some mysterious racket outside in the dusk and presently in through the door came Perry and Jaob and some others, escorted by Betty--and they were carrying Uncle's chest! My heart jumped.

Perry and Jaob and the others, jealous of Captain Amazon's thundering personality, are encouraging Betty to think that Amazon has done away with Uncle. I just know it, for when they found the trunk devoid of Uncle Abe, they all stared at Uncle and then at me and shouted: "Where is Uncle Abe?"

I could see that Uncle was aroused. He reached for the man nearest him and gave him a prodigious shove. Then he roared at them all to get out and out they got, pell mell!

I am just about in tears. I heard someone outside talking about calling the police. This is becoming terrible. And to make matters worse, Betty was skulking around upstairs and found the washbowl with the red stain mixed in, which we had used on Uncle's face, and she sneaked out with it, after the mob. I just know she thinks it is blood!

And to think--they imagine that I am Amazon's accomplice! I feel that the climax is near. if these fools outside do as they threaten and arouse the police--but I can't write more tonight--


This morning Lawford Tapp called and asked me to walk with him. I couldn't refuse, even though I felt little like a chat right then. He asked me the meaning of the gossip. It seems that news of my implication in the disappearance of uncle Abe has gotten up the shore to his people. They forbid him seeing me.

"They--my people--call you a fishwife," he said with a wry smile, "and they say that you are Captain Amazon's accomplice-in-crime. I made them retract the first, of course--but the latter--"

I interrupted wearily. "I'm no fishwife, or any other kind of a wife. And as for murder--well, I refuse to say a word--yet!" Then I added warmly: "I should think you'd be busy doing a man's work instead of prying into other people's affairs."

He flushed deeply, which made him handsomer than ever, and then silently walked off up the beach. I hurried back. There was too much tension to permit my giving him much thought just then.

As I entered the house I heard a second gunshot! Fearfully, I rushed through the doorway and came upon Uncle Abe bending over the bird cage, shattered on the floor, and mourning over the prostrate canary--his beloved pet. Poor, big-hearted Uncle Abe! Through the window I saw one of the coolies disappearing in the distance. Impatient, I grabbed for the book of sea stories and turned to the slashed portrait of "Captain Gridd." I began skimming through the chapter opposite titled "How the Drunken Crew landed and Wrecked a Hindu Temple, Killed a Priest and Escaped. As I perused the chronicle light slowly dawned. Soon I was tugging on the shoulder of Uncle Abe, sunk into a dejected silence on the floor. "Uncle," I whispered, "I've discovered about the coolies and the shots! They think you are Captain Gridd--who wronged their people."

And as we read the chronicle of the vandalism, the importance of Uncle's regaining his own personality and dropping this hideous and dangerous masquerade came over me. I told Uncle so, too. "I'm going upstairs and piece together your beard," I informed him, getting up. "I have a faint suspicion that Perry and Joab are going to return soon, meaning mischief." And I was off up stairs.

I sat down and with feverish fingers sought to mend the beard onto a strip of cloth. Suddenly the closet door opened and Betty sprang out. She had evidently been spying, and I--weary of the whole mystery--flung myself on her and said:

"Oh Betty--Betty! There was no murder! It's all a farce--a put-up job." And I confessed the whole affair. Would she believe me? She would not--not until I begged her to come to the staircase and observe Uncle Abe--still mourning over his canary. This scene succeeded in convincing her and she whipped herself into action for Uncle Abe--the man she loved!

"I must hurry out," she gasped. "They--they are alarming the police. I--"

But I stopped her. "You must'nt tell. That would spoil the whole plan. Abe will be reincarnated by the time the get here." Betty saw the wisdom of this and rushed downstairs, to delay them all she could. My nervous fingers went back to the work of assembling the lifesaving beard.

Just as I rose to call Uncle, finishing the beard, I heard a scuffling downstairs and a muffled shout. I sprang to the staircase and saw, to my horror, the coolies circling about Uncle Abe, all eyeing a revolver on the table.

Then I did a peculiar thing, Winnie. I do not know what strange impulse came over me, but I made the descent of the stairs as in a dream. Straight for the medley of Malays I stepped, without hesitation or the blink of an eyelash. It was as though I walked in a trance. And the coolies were affected, paralyzed. I walked to the center of the room and made a sudden dive for the revolver; got it, and lined the coolies up against the wall. Then I called to Uncle to run upstairs and don the beard and his own clothes and to hurry back.

It seemed I stood there a lifetime--menacing the coolies. And already through the window I could see the mob hurrying toward the house--led by the police! Then Uncle came bounding down the stairs--three at a time--the REAL UNCLE ABE--even though his beard was the tiniest big awry. Just then a coolie made a move and I fired--striking him on the arm. Imagine--Winnie!

By that time Uncle was at my side and I gave him the revolver even as I heard shouts outside and a battering on the locked door. I saw Uncle bravely take my place before the enraged coolies; I heard a great crash and saw the door fall in, Jaob, the police and other pouring in, with Betty hanging back anxiously. Elbowing through the crowd came Lawford.

And then--things grew vague and I sank to the floor and calling myself a silly little weakling, fainted.

You can't imagine the relief now, Winnie. And fagged--gracious! I just told Aunty that I'd leave with her in the morning. I'll be actually glad to stay with her the rest of the summer. It's been an exhausting few days, but I wouldn't have missed it for worlds. For Uncle is now an idol in his own right, having held the coolies off, single-handed, until the police took them over. Betty Gallup--the dear woman is so glad because the one she cared most for had proven himself entirely worthy of her affection, a real man by the simple measure of the Cape people unafraid of human villainy or of the vastness of the ocean. (This sounds like a dime novel, Winnie, but you don't know how affected I am by it all.)

Uncle proved himself really clever in explaining his quick return--

"Submarines kept me from sailin'. 'Pears I'm just back in time--Amazon ducked and these fellers was after Niece Louise."

Which everyone believed. I must pack now.


Sunday morning.
Uncle Abe is really gone this time--gone to sea. He wants to not only prove he's unafraid, but to give his beard time to grow, "'gainst Betty yankin' it out,' he explained as he smiled in her direction.

Aunty and I leave in half an hour.


"The Captain's Captain"

NARRATED, by permission, from the scenario of the same name, adapted from the story "Cap'n Abe, Storekeeper," a novel by James A Cooper, and produced by Vitagraph with the following cast:
Louise Greyling Alice Joyce
Cap'n Abe Arthur Donaldson
Cap'n Joab Percy Standing
Aunt Euphemia Julia Swayne Gordon
Betty Gallup Eulalia Jensen
Lawford Tapp Maurice Costello

Tarrytown, Sunday afternoon.
Now that I am back at Aunty's (and mighty glad of it), I have discovered that one of the most important phases of my great adventure has been almost totally ignored, in all the excitement. Imagine a girl forgetting her own love affair! For I guess that is what you can call it.

It's that good looking fisherman--Lawford Tapp. Remember--I wrote last that he went away, stung by my slur on his laziness. Well, he meet me at the station and managed to isolate me long enough to say that he was going to work for his father and that he wanted to come to Tarrytown soon to see me and that--and oh, Winnie--I like him heaps. And he said his folks were proud to know such an ingenious young lady. That is--if I may be sarcastic--dear of them!

And I'm going to church this evening and to be as meek as a mouse. And now, Winnie--if I have been incoherent in these letters, you'll simply have to come up here and I'll verbally fill in all the chinks. Come next Sunday--can't you?


P. S.--Don't come next Sunday--I'm sorta expecting Lawford.


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