"I snum," exclaimed Captain Perez, "if I don't b'lieve I'd sooner have these beans than turkey. What do you say, Jerry?"
"I don't know but I had," assented the sacrifice, upon whose countenance sat a placidity that had not been there since the night of the "matching." "'Specially if the turkey was like the one we tried to cook last Thanksgivin'. 'Member that, Eri?"
Captain Eri, his mouth full, grunted an emphatic assent.
"Tell me," said Miss Preston, who had eaten but little, but was apparently getting more satisfaction from watching her companions, "did you three men try to keep house here alone?"
"Yes," answered Eri dryly. "We tried. First we thought 'twas goin' to be fine; then we thought we'd like it better after we got used to it; finally we decided that by the time we got used to it we'd die, like the horse that was fed on sawdust."
"And so you hired Mrs. Snow to keep house for you? Well, I don't see how you could have made a better choice; she's a dear, good woman; I'm sure of it. And now I want to thank you all for what you've done for grandfather. Mrs. Snow told me all about it; you've been so kind that I—"
"That's all right! that's all right!" hastily interrupted Captain Eri. "Pity if we couldn't help out a shipmate we've sailed with for years and years. But you'd ought to have tried some of OUR cookin'. Tell her about the sugar cake you made, Perez. The one that killed the yaller chicken."
So Captain Perez told it, and then their visitor set them all laughing by relating some queer housekeeping experiences that she and a school friend had had while camping at Chautauqua. Somehow each one felt at home with her. As Captain Eri said afterwards, "She didn't giggle, and then ag'in she didn't talk down at you."
As they rose from the table the young lady asked a question concerning the location of the hotel. The Captain made no answer at the time, but after a short consultation with the remainder of the triumvirate, he came to her as she stood by the window and, laying his hand on her shoulder, said:
"Now, Elsie—I hope you don't mind my callin' you Elsie, but I've been chums with your grandpa so long seems's if you must be a sort of relation of mine—Elsie, you ain't goin' to no hotel, that is, unless you're real set on it. Your grandpa's here and we're here, and there's room enough. I don't want to say too much, but I'd like to have you b'lieve that me and Perez and Jerry want you to stay right in this house jest as long's you stop in Orham. Now you will, won't you?"
And so it was settled, and Captain Perez harnessed Daniel and went to the station for the trunk.
That evening, just before going to bed, the captains stood by the door of the sick room watching Elsie and the lady from Nantucket as they sat beside John Baxter's bed. Mrs. Snow was knitting, and Elsie was reading. Later, as Captain Eri peered out of the dining-room window to take a final look at the sky in order to get a line on the weather, he said slowly:
"Fellers, do you know what I was thinkin' when I see them two women in there with John? I was thinkin' that it must be a mighty pleasant thing to know that if you're took sick somebody like that 'll take care of you."
Perez nodded. "I think so, too," he said.
But if this was meant to influence the betrothed one, it didn't succeed, apparently, for all Captain Jerry said was:
"Humph! 'Twould take more than that to make me hanker after a stroke of palsy."
And with the coming of Elsie Preston and Mrs. Snow life in the little house by the shore took on a decided change. The Nantucket lady having satisfied herself that John Baxter's illness was likely to be a long one, wrote several letters to persons in her native town, which letters, although she did not say so, were supposed by the captains to deal with the care of her property while she was away. Having apparently relieved her mind by this method, and evidently considering the marriage question postponed for the present, she settled down to nurse the sick man and to keep house as, in her opinion, a house should be kept. The captains knew nothing of her past history beyond what they had gathered from stray bits of her conversation. She evidently did not consider it necessary to tell anything further, and, on the other hand, asked no questions.
In her care of Baxter she was more like a sister than a hired nurse. No wife could have been more tender in her ministrations or more devotedly anxious for the patient's welfare.
In her care of the house, she was neatness itself. She scoured and swept and washed until the rooms were literally spotless. Order was Heaven's first law, in her opinion, and she expected everyone else to keep up to the standard. Captain Perez and Captain Eri soon got used to the change and gloried in it, but to Captain Jerry it was not altogether welcome.
"Oh, cat's foot!" he exclaimed one day, after hunting everywhere for his Sunday tie, and at length finding it in his bureau drawer. "I can't git used to this everlastin' spruced-up bus'ness. Way it used to be, this necktie was likely to be 'most anywheres 'round, and if I looked out in the kitchen or under the sofy, I was jest as likely to find it. But now everything's got a place and is in it."
"Well, that's the way it ought to be, ain't it?" said Eri. "Then all you've got to do is look in the place."
"Yes, and that's jest it, I'm always forgittin' the place. My shoes is sech a place; my hankerchers is sech a place; my pipe is sech a place; my terbacker is another place. When I want my pipe I look where my shoes is, and when I want my shoes I go and look where I found my pipe. How a feller's goin' to keep run of 'em is what I can't see."
"You was the one that did most of the growlin' when things was the old way."
"Yes, but jest 'cause a man don't want to live in a pigpen it ain't no sign he wants to be put under a glass case."
Elsie's influence upon the house and its inmates had become almost as marked as Mrs. Snow's. The young lady was of an artistic bent, and the stiff ornaments in the shut-up parlor and the wonderful oil-paintings jarred upon her. Strange to say, even the wax-dipped wreath that hung in its circular black frame over the whatnot did not appeal to her. The captains considered that wreath—it had been the principal floral offering at the funeral of Captain Perez's sister, and there was a lock of her hair framed with it—the gem of the establishment. They could understand, to a certain degree, why Miss Preston objected to the prominence given the spatter-work "God bless our Home" motto, but her failure to enthuse over the wreath was inexplicable.
But by degrees they became used to seeing the blinds open at the parlor windows the week through, and innovations like muslin curtains and vases filled with late wild flowers came to be at first tolerated and then liked. "Elsie's notions," the captains called them.
There were some great discussions on art, over the teacups after supper. Miss Preston painted very prettily in water-colors, and her sketches were received with enthusiastic praise by the captains and Mrs. Snow. But one day she painted a little picture of a fishing boat and, to her surprise, it came in for some rather sharp criticism.
"That's a pretty picture, Elsie," said Captain Eri, holding the sketch at arm's length and squinting at it with his head on one side, "but if that's Caleb Titcomb's boat, and I jedge 'tis, it seems to me she's carryin' too much sail. What do you think, Jerry?"
Captain Jerry took the painting from his friend and critically examined it, also at arm's length.
"Caleb's boat ain't got no sech sail as that," was his deliberate comment. "She couldn't carry it and stand up that way. Besides, the way I look at it, she's down by the head more 'n she'd ought to be."
"But I didn't try to get it EXACTLY right," said the bewildered artist. "The boat's sails were so white, and the water was so blue, and the sand so yellow that I thought it made a pretty picture. I didn't think of the size of the sail."
"Well, I s'pose you wouldn't, nat'rally," observed Captain Perez, who was looking over Jerry's shoulder. "But you have to be awful careful paintin' vessels. Now you jest look at that picture," pointing to the glaring likeness of the Flying Duck, that hung on the wall. "Jest look at them sails, every one of 'em drawin' fine; and them ropes, every one in JEST the right place. That's what I call paintin'."
"But don't you think, Captain Perez, that the waves in that picture would be better if they weren't so all in a row, like a picket fence?"
"Well, now, that ain't it. That's a picture of the A1 two-masted schooner Flyin' Duck, and the waves is only thrown in, as you might say. The reel thing is the schooner, rigged jest right, trimmed jest right, and colored jest the way the Flyin' Duck was colored. You understand them waves was put there jest 'cause there had to be some to set the schooner in, that's all."
"But you needn't feel bad, Elsie," said Captain Jerry soothingly. "'Tain't to be expected that you could paint vessels like Eben Lothrop can. Eben he used to work in a shipyard up to East Boston once, and when he was there he had to paint schooners and things, reely put the paint onto 'em I mean, so, of course, when it come to paintin' pictures of 'em, why—"
And Captain Jerry waved his hand.
So, as there was no answer to an argument like this, Miss Preston gave up marine painting for the time and began a water-color of the house and its inmates. This was an elaborate affair, and as the captains insisted that each member of the family, Daniel and Lorenzo included, should pose, it seemed unlikely to be finished for some months, at least.
Ralph Hazeltine called on the afternoon following Elsie's arrival, and Captain Eri insisted on his staying to tea. It might have been noticed that the electrician seemed a trifle embarrassed when Miss Preston came into the room, but as the young lady was not embarrassed in the least, and had apparently forgotten the mistaken-identity incident, his nervousness soon wore off.
But it came back again when Captain Eri said:
"Oh, I say, Mr. Hazeltine, I forgot to ask you, did 'Gusty come yesterday?"
Ralph answered, rather hurriedly, that she did not. He endeavored to change the subject, but the Captain wouldn't let him.
"Well, there!" he exclaimed amazedly; "if 'Gusty ain't broke her record! Fust time sence Perez was took with the 'Naval Commander' disease that she ain't been on hand when the month was up, to git her two dollars. Got so we sort of reckoned by her like an almanac. Kind of thought she was sure, like death and taxes. And now she has gone back on us. Blessed if I ain't disapp'inted in 'Gusty!"
"Who is she?" inquired Mrs. Snow. "One of those book-agent critters?"
"Well, if you called her that to her face, I expect there'd be squalls, but I cal'late she couldn't prove a alibi in court."
Now it may have been Mr. Hazeltine's fancy, but he could have sworn that there was just the suspicion of a twinkle in Miss Preston's eye as she asked, innocently enough:
"Is she a young lady, Captain Eri?"
"Well, she hopes she is," was the deliberate answer. "Why?"
"Does she look like me?"
"Like YOU? Oh, my soul and body! Wait till you see her. What made you ask that?"
"Oh, nothing! I was a little curious, that's all. Have you seen her, Mr. Hazeltine?"
Ralph stammered, somewhat confusedly, that he hadn't had the pleasure. The Captain glanced from the electrician to Miss Preston and back again. Then he suddenly realized the situation.
"Ho! ho!" he roared, slapping his knee and rocking back and forth in his chair. "Don't for the land's sake tell me you took Elsie here for 'Gusty Black! Don't now! Don't!"
"He asked me if I had taken many orders," remarked the young lady demurely.
When the general hilarity had abated a little Ralph penitently explained that it was dark, that Captain Eri had said Miss Black was young, and that she carried a bag.
"So I did, so I did," chuckled the Captain. "I s'pose 'twas nat'ral enough, but, oh dear, it's awful funny! Now, Elsie, you'd ought to feel flattered. Wait till you see 'Gusty's hat, the one she got up to Boston."
"Am I forgiven, Miss Preston?" asked Hazeltine, as he said good-night.
"Well, I don't know," was the rather non-committal answer. "I think I shall have to wait until I see 'Gusty."
But Mr. Hazeltine apparently took his forgiveness for granted, for his calls became more and more frequent, until his dropping in after supper came to be a regular occurrence. Young people of the better class are scarce in Orham during the fall and winter months, and Ralph found few congenial companions. He liked the captains and Mrs. Snow, and Elsie's society was a relief after a day with the operators at the station. Mr. Langley was entirely absorbed in his business, and spent his evenings in his room, reading and smoking.
So September and October passed and November came. School opened in October and the captains had another boarder, for Josiah Bartlett, against his wishes, gave up his position as stage-driver, and was sent to school again. As the boy was no longer employed at the livery stable, Captain Perez felt the necessity of having him under his eye, and so Josiah lived at the house by the shore, a cot being set up in the parlor for his use. His coming made more work for Mrs. Snow, but that energetic lady did not seem to mind, and even succeeded in getting the youngster to do a few "chores" about the place, an achievement that won the everlasting admiration of Captain Perez, who had no governing power whatever over the boy, and condoned the most of his faults or scolded him feebly for the others.
John Baxter continued to waver between this world and the next. He had intervals of consciousness in which he recognized the captains and Elsie, but these rational moments were few and, although he talked a little, he never mentioned recent events nor alluded to the fire.
The fire itself became an old story and gossip took up other subjects. The "Come-Outers" held a jubilee service because of the destruction of the saloon, but, as "Web" soon began to rebuild and repair, their jollification was short-lived. As for Mr. Saunders, he was the same unctuous, smiling personage that he had formerly been. It was a curious fact, and one that Captain Eri noted, that he never ceased to inquire after John Baxter's health, and seemed honestly glad to hear of the old man's improvement. He asked a good many questions about Elsie, too, but received little satisfaction from the Captain on this subject.
MATCHMAKING AND LIFE-SAVING
Captain Jerry sat behind the woodshed, in the sunshine, smoking and thinking. He had done a good deal of the first ever since he was sixteen years old; the second was, in a measure, a more recent acquirement. The Captain had things on his mind.
It was one of those perfect, springlike mornings that sometimes come in early November. The sky was clear blue, and the air was so free from haze that the houses at Cranberry Point could be seen in every detail. The flag on the cable station across the bay stood out stiff in the steady breeze, and one might almost count the stripes. The pines on Signal Hill were a bright green patch against the yellow grass. The sea was a dark sapphire, with slashes of silver to mark the shoals, and the horizon was notched with sails. The boats at anchor in front of the shanties swung with the outgoing tide.
Then came Captain Eri, also smoking.
"Hello!" said Captain Jerry. "How is it you ain't off fishin' a mornin' like this?"
"Somethin' else on the docket," was the answer. "How's matchmakin' these days?"
Now this question touched vitally the subject of Captain Jerry's thoughts. From a placid, easygoing retired mariner, recent events had transformed the Captain into a plotter, a man with a "deep-laid scheme," as the gentlemanly, cigarette-smoking villain of the melodrama used to love to call it. To tell the truth, petticoat government was wearing on him. The marriage agreement, to which his partners considered him bound, and which he saw no way to evade, hung over him always, but he had put this threat of the future from his mind so far as possible. He had not found orderly housekeeping the joy that he once thought it would be, but even this he could bear. Elsie Preston was the drop too much.
He liked Mrs. Snow, except in a marrying sense. He liked Elsie better than any young lady he had ever seen. The trouble was, that between the two, he, as he would have expressed it, "didn't have the peace of a dog."
Before Elsie came, a game of checkers between Perez and himself had been the regular after-supper amusement. Now they played whist, Captain Eri and Elsie against him and his former opponent. As Elsie and her partner almost invariably won, and as Perez usually found fault with him because they lost, this was not an agreeable change. But it was but one. He didn't like muslin curtains in his bedroom, because they were a nuisance when he wanted to sit up in bed and look out of the window; but the curtains were put there, and everybody else seemed to think them beautiful, so he could not protest. Captain Perez and Captain Eri had taken to "dressing up" for supper, to the extent of putting on neckties and clean collars. Also they shaved every day. He stuck to the old "twice-a-week" plan for a while, but looked so scrubby by contrast that out of mere self-respect he had to follow suit. Obviously two females in the house were one too many. Something had to be done.
Ralph Hazeltine's frequent calls gave him the inspiration he was looking for. This was to bring about a marriage between Ralph and Miss Preston. After deliberation he decided that if this could be done the pair would live somewhere else, even though John Baxter was still too ill to be moved. Elsie could come in every day, but she would be too busy with her own establishment to bother with the "improvement" of theirs. It wasn't a very brilliant plan and had some vital objections, but Captain Jerry considered it a wonder.
He broached it to his partners, keeping his real object strictly in the background and enlarging upon his great regard for Ralph and Elsie, and their obvious fitness for each other. Captain Perez liked the scheme well enough, provided it could be carried out. Captain Eri seemed to think it better to let events take their own course. However, they both agreed to help if the chance offered.
So, when Mr. Hazeltine called to spend the evening, Captain Jerry would rise from his chair and, with an elaborate cough and several surreptitious winks to his messmates, would announce that he guessed he would "take a little walk," or "go out to the barn," or something similar. Captain Perez would, more than likely, go also. As for Captain Eri, he usually "cal'lated" he would step upstairs, and see how John was getting along.
But in spite of this loyal support, the results obtained from Captain Jerry's wonderful plan had not been so startlingly successful as to warrant his feeling much elated. Ralph and Elsie were good friends and seemed to enjoy each other's society, but that was all that might be truthfully said, so far.
Captain Jerry, therefore, was a little discouraged as he sat in the sunshine and smoked and pondered. He hid his discouragement, however, and in response to Captain Eri's question concerning the progress of the matchmaking, said cheerfully:
"Oh, it's comin' along, comin' along. Kind of slow, of course, but you can't expect nothin' diff'rent. I s'pose you noticed he was here four times last week?"
"Why, no," said Captain Eri, "I don't know's I did."
"Well, he was, and week a fore that 'twas only three. So that's a gain, ain't it?"
"I didn't count the time he stopped after a drink of water neither. That wasn't a real call, but—"
"Oh, it ought to count for somethin'! Call it a ha'f a time. That would make four times and a ha'f he was here."
Captain Jerry looked suspiciously at his friend's face, but its soberness was irreproachable, so he said:
"Well, it's kind of slow work, but, as I said afore, it's comin' along, and I have the satisfaction of knowin' it's all for their good."
"Yes, like the feller that ate all the apple-dumplin's so's his children wouldn't have the stomach-ache. But say, Jerry, I come out to ask if you'd mind bein' housekeeper to-day. Luther Davis has been after me sence I don't know when to come down to the life-savin' station and stay to dinner. His sister Pashy—the old maid one—is down there, and it's such a fine day I thought I'd take Perez and Elsie and Mrs. Snow and, maybe, Hazeltine along. Somebody's got to stay with John, and I thought p'raps you would. I'd stay myself only Luther asked me so particular, and you was down there two or three months ago. When Josiah comes back from school he'll help you some, if you need him."
Captain Jerry didn't mind staying at home, and so Eri went into the house to make arrangements for the proposed excursion. He had some difficulty in persuading Mrs. Snow and Elsie to leave the sick man, but both were tired and needed a rest, and there was a telephone at the station, so that news of a change in the patient's condition could be sent almost immediately. Under these conditions, and as Captain Jerry was certain to take good care of their charge, the two were persuaded to go. Perez took the dory and rowed over to the cable station to see if Mr. Hazeltine cared to make one of the party. When he returned, bringing the electrician with him, Daniel, harnessed to the carryall, was standing at the side door, and Captain Eri, Mrs. Snow, and Elsie were waiting.
Ralph glanced at the carryall, and then at those who were expected to occupy it.
"I think I'd better row down, Captain," he said. "I don't see how five of us are going to find room in there."
"What, in a carryall?" exclaimed the Captain. "Why, that's what a carryall's for. I've carried six in a carryall 'fore now. 'Twas a good while ago, though," he added with a chuckle, "when I was consid'rable younger 'n I am now. Squeezin' didn't count in them days, 'specially if the girls wanted to go to camp-meetin'. I cal'late we can fix it. You and me'll set on the front seat, and the rest in back. Elsie ain't a very big package, and Perez, he's sort of injy-rubber; he'll fit in 'most anywheres. Let's try it anyhow."
And try it they did. While it was true that Elsie was rather small, Mrs. Snow was distinctly large, and how Captain Perez, in spite of his alleged elasticity, managed to find room between them is a mystery. He, however, announced that he was all right, adding, as a caution:
"Don't jolt none, Eri, 'cause I'm kind of hangin' on the little aidge of nothin'."
"I'll look out for you," answered his friend, picking up the reins. "All ashore that's goin' ashore. So long, Jerry. Git dap, Thousand Dollars!"
Daniel complacently accepted this testimony to his monetary worth and jogged out of the yard. Fortunately appearances do not count for much in Orham, except in the summer, and the spectacle of five in a carryall is nothing out of the ordinary. They turned into the "cliff road," the finest thoroughfare in town, kept in good condition for the benefit of the cottagers and the boarders at the big hotel. The ocean was on the left, and from the hill by the Barry estate—Captain Perez' charge—they saw twenty miles of horizon line with craft of all descriptions scattered along it.
Schooners there were of all sizes, from little mackerel seiners to big four- and five-masters. A tug with a string of coal barges behind it was so close in that they could make out the connecting hawsers. A black freight steamer was pushing along, leaving a thick line of smoke like a charcoal mark on the sky. One square-rigger was in sight, but far out.
"What do you make of that bark, Perez?" inquired Captain Eri, pointing to the distant vessel. "British, ain't she?"
Captain Perez leaned forward and peered from under his hand. "French, looks to me," he said.
"Don't think so. Way she's rigged for'ard looks like Johnny Bull. Look at that fo'tops'l."
"Guess you're right, Eri, now I come to notice it. Can you make out her flag? Wish I'd brought my glass."
"Great Scott, man!" exclaimed Ralph. "What sort of eyes have you got? I couldn't tell whether she had a flag or not at this distance. How do you do it?"
"'Cordin' to how you're brought up, as the goat said 'bout eatin' shingle-nails," replied Captain Eri. "When you're at sea you've jest got to git used to seein' things a good ways off and knowin' 'em when you see 'em, too."
"I remember, one time," remarked Mrs. Snow, "that my brother Nathan—he's dead now—was bound home from Hong Kong fust mate on the bark Di'mond King. 'Twas the time of the war and the Alabama was cruisin' 'round, lookin' out for our ships. Nate and the skipper—a Bangor man he was—was on deck, and they sighted a steamer a good ways off. The skipper spied her and see she was flyin' the United States flag. But when Nate got the glass he took one look and says, 'That Yankee buntin' don't b'long over that English hull,' he says. You see he knew she was English build right away. So the skipper pulled down his own flag and h'isted British colors, but 'twa'n't no use; the steamer was the Alabama sure enough, and the Di'mond King was burned, and all hands took pris'ners. Nate didn't git home for ever so long, and everybody thought he was lost."
This set the captains going, and they told sea-stories until they came to the road that led down to the beach beneath the lighthouse bluff. The lifesaving station was in plain sight now, but on the outer beach, and that was separated from them by a two-hundred-yard stretch of water.
"Well," observed Captain Eri, "here's where we take Adam's bridge."
"Adam's bridge?" queried Elsie, puzzled.
"Yes; the only kind he had, I cal'late. Git dap, Daniel! What are you waitin' for? Left your bathin' suit to home?"
Then, as Daniel stepped rather gingerly into the clear water, he explained that, at a time ranging from three hours before low tide to three hours after, one may reach the outer beach at this point by driving over in an ordinary vehicle. The life-savers add to this time-limit by using a specially built wagon, with large wheels and a body considerably elevated.
"Well, there now!" exclaimed the lady from Nantucket, as Daniel splashingly emerged on the other side. "I thought I'd done about everything a body could do with salt water, but I never went ridin' in it afore."
The remainder of the way to the station was covered by Daniel at a walk, for the wheels of the heavy carryall sank two inches or more in the coarse sand as they turned. The road wound between sand dunes, riven and heaped in all sorts of queer shapes by the wind, and with clumps of the persevering beach grass clinging to their tops like the last treasured tufts of hair on partially bald heads. Here and there, half buried, sand-scoured planks and fragments of spars showed, relics of wrecks that had come ashore in past winters.
"Five years ago," remarked Captain Eri, "there was six foot of water where we are now. This beach changes every winter. One good no'theaster jest rips things loose over here; tears out a big chunk of beach and makes a cut-through one season, and fills in a deep hole and builds a new shoal the next. I've heard my father tell 'bout pickin' huckleberries when he was a boy off where them breakers are now. Good dry land it was then. Hey! there's Luther. Ship ahoy, Lute!"
The little brown life-saving station was huddled between two sand-hills. There was a small stable and a henhouse and yard just behind it. Captain Davis, rawboned and brown-faced, waved a welcome to them from the side door.
"Spied you comin', Eri," he said in a curiously mild voice, that sounded odd coming from such a deep chest. "I'm mighty glad to see you, too? Jump down and come right in. Pashy 'll be out in a minute. Here she is now."
Miss Patience Davis was as plump as her brother was tall. She impressed one as a comfortable sort of person. Captain Eri did the honors and everyone shook hands. Then they went into the living room of the station.
What particularly struck Mrs. Snow was the neatness of everything. The brass on the pump in the sink shone like fire as the sunlight from the window struck it. The floor was white from scouring. There were shelves on the walls and on these, arranged in orderly piles, were canned goods of all descriptions. The table was covered with a figured oilcloth.
Two or three men, members of the crew, were seated in the wooden chairs along the wall, but rose as the party came in. Captain Davis introduced them, one after the other. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of these men was the quiet, almost bashful, way in which they spoke; they seemed like big boys, as much as anything, and yet the oldest was nearly fifty.
"Ever been in a life-saving station afore?" asked Captain Eri.
Elsie had not. Ralph had and so had Mrs. Snow, but not for years.
"This is where we keep the boat and the rest of the gear," said Captain Davis, opening a door and leading the way into a large, low-studded room. "Them's the spare oars on the wall. The reg'lar ones are in the boat."
The boat itself was on its carriage in the middle of the room. Along the walls on hooks hung the men's suits of oilskins and their sou'westers. The Captain pointed out one thing after another, the cork jackets and life-preservers, the gun for shooting the life line across a stranded vessel, the life car hanging from the roof, and the "breeches buoy."
"I don't b'lieve you'd ever git me into that thing," said the Nantucket lady decidedly, referring to the buoy. "I don't know but I'd 'bout as liefs be drownded as make sech a show of myself."
"Took off a bigger woman than you one time," said Captain Davis. "Wife of a Portland skipper, she was, and he was on his fust v'yage in a brand-new schooner jest off the stocks. Struck on the Hog's Back off here and then drifted close in and struck again. We got 'em all, the woman fust. That was the only time we've used the buoy sence I've been at the station. Most of the wrecks are too fur off shore and we have to git out the boat."
He took them upstairs to the men's sleeping rooms and then up to the little cupola on the roof.
"Why do you have ground-glass windows on this side of the house?" asked Elsie, as they passed the window on the landing.
Captain Davis laughed.
"Well, it is pretty nigh ground-glass now," he answered, "but it wa'n't when it was put in. The sand did that. It blows like all possessed when there's a gale on."
"Do you mean that those windows were ground that way by the beach sand blowing against them?" asked Ralph, astonished.
"Sartin. Git a good no'therly wind comin' up the beach and it fetches the sand with it. Mighty mean stuff to face, sand blowin' like that is; makes you think you're fightin' a nest of yaller-jackets."
With the telescope in the cupola they could see for miles up and down the beach and out to sea. An ocean tug bound toward Boston was passing, and Elsie, looking through the glass, saw the cook come out of the galley, empty a pan over the side, and go back again.
"Let me look through that a minute," said Captain Eri, when the rest had had their turn. He swung the glass around until it pointed toward their home away up the shore.
"Perez," he called anxiously, "look here quick!"
Captain Perez hastily put his eye to the glass, and his friend went on:
"You see our house?" he said. "Yes; well, you see the dinin'-room door. Notice that chair by the side of it?"
"Yes, what of it?"
"Well, that's the rocker that Elsie made the velvet cushion for. I want you to look at the upper southeast corner of that cushion, and see if there ain't a cat's hair there. Lorenzo's possessed to sleep in that chair, and—"
"Oh, you git out!" indignantly exclaimed Captain Perez, straightening up.
"Well, it was a pretty important thing, and I wanted to make sure. I left that chair out there, and I knew what I'd catch if any cat's hairs got on that cushion while I was gone. Ain't that so, Mrs. Snow?"
The housekeeper expressed her opinion that Captain Eri was a "case," whatever that may be.
They had clam chowder for dinner—a New England clam chowder, made with milk and crackers, and clams with shells as white as snow. They were what the New Yorker calls "soft-shell" clams, for a Fulton Market chowder is a "quahaug soup" to the native of the Cape.
Now that chowder was good; everybody said so, and if the proof of the chowder, like that of the pudding, is in the eating of it, this one had a clear case. Also, there were boiled striped bass, which is good enough for anybody, hot biscuits, pumpkin pie, and beach-plum preserves. There was a running fire of apologies from Miss Patience and answering volleys of compliments from Mrs. Snow.
"I don't see how you make sech beach-plum preserves, Miss Davis," exclaimed the lady from Nantucket. "I declare! I'm goin' to ask you for another sasserful. I b'lieve they're the best I ever ate."
"Well, now! Do you think so? I kind of suspected that the plums was a little mite too ripe. You know how 'tis with beach-plums, they've got to be put up when they're jest so, else they ain't good for much. I was at Luther for I don't know how long 'fore I could git him to go over to the P'int and pick 'em, and I was 'fraid he'd let it go too long. I only put up twenty-two jars of 'em on that account. How much sugar do you use?"
There was material here for the discussion that country housewives love, and the two ladies took advantage of it. When it was over the female portion of the company washed the dishes, while the men walked up and down the beach and smoked. Here they were joined after a while by the ladies, for even by the ocean it was as mild as early May, and the wind was merely bracing and had no sting in it.
The big blue waves shouldered themselves up from the bosom of the sea, marched toward the beach, and tumbled to pieces in a roaring tumult of white and green. The gulls skimmed along their tops or dropped like falling stones into the water after sand eels, emerging again, screaming, to repeat the performance.
The conversation naturally turned to wrecks, and Captain Davis, his reserve vanishing before the tactful inquiries of the captains and Ralph, talked shop and talked it well.
HEROES AND A MYSTERY
Luther Davis had been commandant at the life-saving station for years and "Number One Man" before that, so his experience with wrecks and disabled craft of all kinds had been long and varied. He told them of disasters the details of which had been telegraphed all over the country, and of rescues of half-frozen crews from ice-crested schooners whose signals of distress had been seen from the observatory on the roof of the station. He told of long rows in midwinter through seas the spray of which turned to ice as they struck, and froze the men's mittens to the oar-handles. He told of picking up draggled corpses in the surf at midnight, when, as he said, "You couldn't tell whether 'twas a man or a roll of seaweed, and the only way to make sure was to reach down and feel."
Captain Eri left them after a while, as he had some acquaintances among the men at the station, and wished to talk with them. Miss Davis remembered that she had not fed the chickens, and hurried away to perform that humane duty, gallantly escorted by Captain Perez. The Captain, by the way, was apparently much taken with the plump spinster and, although usually rather bashful where ladies were concerned, had managed to keep up a sort of side conversation with Miss Patience while the storytelling was going on. But Ralph and Elsie and Mrs. Snow were hungry for more tales, and Captain Davis obligingly told them.
"One of the wust wrecks we ever had off here," he said, "was the Bluebell, British ship, she was: from Singapore, bound to Boston, and loaded with hemp. We see her about off that p'int there, jest at dusk, and she was makin' heavy weather then. It come on to snow soon as it got dark, and blow—don't talk! Seems to me 'twas one of the meanest nights I ever saw. 'Tween the snow flyin' and the dark you couldn't see two feet ahead of you. We was kind of worried about the vessel all evenin'—for one thing she was too close in shore when we see her last—but there wa'n't nothin' to be done except to keep a weather eye out for signs of trouble.
"Fust thing we knew of the wreck was when the man on patrol up the beach—Philander Vose 'twas—telephoned from the shanty that a ship's long-boat had come ashore at Knowles' Cove, two mile above the station. That was about one o'clock in the mornin'. 'Bout h'af-past two Sim Gould—he was drownded the next summer, fishin' on the Banks—telephoned from the shanty BELOW the station—the one a mile or so 'tother side of the cable house, Mr. Hazeltine—that wreckage was washin' up abreast of where he was; that was six miles from where the longboat come ashore. So there we was. There wa'n't any way of tellin' whereabouts she was layin'; she might have been anywheres along them six miles, and you couldn't hear nothin' nor see nothin'. But anyhow, the wreckage kept comin' in below the cable station, so I jedged she was somewheres in that neighborhood and we got the boat out—on the cart, of course—and hauled it down there.
"'Twas a tremendous job, too, that haulin' was. We had the horse and the whole of us helpin' him, but I swan! I begun to think we'd never git anywheres. 'Tween the wind and the sand and the snow I thought we'd flap to pieces, like a passel of shirts on a clothes line. But we got there after a spell, and then there was nothin' to do but wait for daylight.
"'Bout seven o'clock the snow let up a little bit, and then we see her. There was a bar jest about opposite the cable station—it's been washed away sence—and she'd struck on that, and the sea was makin' a clean breach over her. There was a ha'f a dozen of her crew lashed in the riggin', but I didn't see 'em move, so I presume likely they was froze stiff then, for 'twas perishin' cold. But we wrastled the boat down to the water and was jest goin' to launch her when the whole three masts went by the 'board, men and all. We put off to her, but she was in a reg'lar soapsuds of a sea and awash from stem to stern, so we knew there was nothin' livin' aboard.
"Yes, siree," continued the Captain meditatively, "that was a mean night. I had this ear frost-bit, and it's been tender ever sence. One of the fellers had a rib broke; he was a little light chap, and the wind jest slammed him up against the cart like as if he was a chip. And jest to show you," he added, "how the tide runs around this place, the bodies of that crew was picked up from Wellmouth to Setuckit P'int—twenty-mile stretch that is. The skipper's body never come ashore. He had a son, nice young feller, that was goin' to meet him in Boston, and that boy spent a month down here, waitin' for his father's body to be washed up. He'd walk up and down this beach, and walk up and down. Pitiful sight as ever I see."
"And they were all lost?" asked Elsie with a shiver.
"Every man Jack. But 'twas cu'rus about that hemp. The Bluebell was loaded with it, as I told you, and when she went to pieces the tide took that hemp and strung it from here to glory. They picked it up all 'longshore, and for much as a month afterwards you'd go along the 'main road' over in the village, and see it hung over fences or spread out in the sun to dry. Looked like all the blonde girls in creation had had a hair-cut."
"Captain Davis," said Ralph, "you must have seen some plucky things in your life. What was the bravest thing you ever saw done?"
The life saver took the cigar that Hazeltine had given him from his mouth, and blew the smoke into the air over his head.
"Well," he said slowly, "I don't know exactly. I've seen some pretty gritty things done 'long-shore here, in the service. When there's somebody drowndin', and you know there's a chance to save 'em, you'll take chances, and think nothin' of 'em, that you wouldn't take if you had time to set down and cal'late a little. I see somethin' done once that may not strike you as bein' anything out of the usual run, but that has always seemed to me clear grit and nothin' else. 'Twa'n't savin' life neither; 'twas jest a matter of bus'ness.
"It happened up off the coast of Maine 'long in the seventies. I was actin' as sort of second mate on a lumber schooner. 'Twas a pitch-black night, or mornin' rather, 'bout six o'clock, blowin' like all possessed and colder 'n Greenland. We struck a rock that wa'n't even down on an Eldredge chart and punched a hole in the schooner's side, jest above what ought to have been the water line, only she was heeled over so that 'twas consider'ble below it most of the time. We had a mean crew aboard, Portugees mainly, and poor ones at that. The skipper was below, asleep, and when he come on deck things was in a bad way. We'd got the canvas off her, but she was takin' in water every time she rolled, and there was a sea goin' that was tearin' things loose in great shape. We shipped one old grayback that ripped off a strip of the lee rail jest the same as you'd rip the edge off the cover of a pasteboard box—never made no more fuss about it, either.
"I didn't see nothin' to do but get out the boats, but the skipper he wa'n't that kind. He sized things up in a hurry, I tell you. He drove the crew—ha'f of 'em was prayin' to the Virgin and t'other ha'f swearin' a blue streak—to the pumps, and set me over 'em with a revolver to keep 'em workin'. Then him and the fust mate and one or two of the best hands rousted out a spare sail, weighted one edge of it to keep it down, and got it over the side, made fast, of course.
"Then him and the mate stripped to their underclothes, rigged a sort of bos'n's chair over where the hole in the side was, took hammers and a pocketful of nails apiece, and started in to nail that canvas over the hole.
"'Twas freezin' cold, and the old schooner was rollin' like a washtub. One minute I'd see the skipper and the mate h'isted up in the air, hammerin' for dear life, and then, swash! under they'd go, clear under, and stay there, seemed to me, forever. Every dip I thought would be the end, and I'd shet my eyes, expectin' to see 'em gone when she lifted; but no, up they'd come, fetch a breath, shake the salt water out of their eyes, and go to work again.
"Four hours and a quarter they was at it, four hours, mind you, and under water a good ha'f of the time; but they got that sail nailed fast fin'lly. We got 'em on deck when 'twas done, and we had to carry the fust mate to the cabin. But the skipper jest sent the cook for a pail of bilin' hot coffee, drunk the whole of it, put on dry clothes over his wet flannels, and stayed on deck and worked that schooner into Portland harbor, the men pumpin' clear green water out of the hold every minute of the way.
"Now, that always seemed to me to be the reel thing. 'Twa'n't a question of savin' life—we could have took to the boats and, nine chances out of ten, got ashore all right, for 'twa'n't very fur. But no, the skipper said he'd never lost a vessel for an owner yit and he wa'n't goin' to lose this one. And he didn't either, by Judas! No, sir!"
"That was splendid!" exclaimed Elsie. "I should like to have known that captain. Who was he, Captain Davis?"
"Well, the fust mate was Obed Simmons—he's dead now—but he used to live over on the road towards East Harniss. The skipper—well, he was a feller you know."
"'Twas Cap'n Eri," said Mrs. Snow with conviction.
"That's right, ma'am. Perez told you, I s'pose."
"No, nobody told me. I jest guessed it. I've seen a good many folks in my time, and I cal'late I've got so I can tell what kind a man is after I've known him a little while. I jedged Cap'n Eri was that kind, and, when you said we knew that skipper, I was almost sartin 'twas him."
"Well!" exclaimed Ralph, "I don't believe I should have guessed it. I've always liked the Captain, but he has seemed so full of fun and so easy-going that I never thought of his doing anything quite so strenuous."
Captain Davis laughed. "I've seen fo'mast hands try to take advantage of that easy-goin' way 'fore now," he said, "but they never did it but once. Cap'n Eri is one of the finest fellers that ever stepped, but you can't stomp on his toes much, and he's clear grit inside. And say," he added, "don't you tell anybody I told that story, for he'd skin me alive if he knew it."
As they walked back toward the station Ralph and Elsie lingered a little behind the others, and then stopped to watch a big four-master that, under full sail, was spinning along a mile or two from the beach. They watched it for a moment or two without speaking. Elsie's cheeks were brown from the sun, stray wisps of her hair fluttered in the wind, and her trim, healthy figure stood out against the white sandhill behind them as if cut from cardboard. The electrician looked at her, and again the thought of that disgraceful "'Gusty" Black episode was forced into his mind. They had had many a good laugh over it since, and Elsie had apparently forgotten it, but he had not, by a good deal.
She was the first to speak, and then as much to herself as to him.
"I think they are the best people I ever knew," she said.
"Who?" he asked.
"Oh, all of them! The captains and Mrs. Snow, and Captain Davis and his sister. They are so simple and kind and generous. And the best of it is, they don't seem to know it, and wouldn't believe it if you told them."
Ralph nodded emphatically.
"I imagine it would take a good deal to convince Davis or any of these station men that there was anything heroic in their lives," he said. "As for Captain Eri, I have known him only a month or two, but I don't know of anyone to whom I would rather go if I were in trouble."
"He has been so kind to grandfather and me," said Elsie, "that I feel as though we were under an obligation we never could repay. When I came down here I knew no one in Orham, and he and Captain Jerry and Captain Perez have made me feel more at home than I have ever felt before. You know," she added, "grandfather is the only relative I have."
"I suppose you will go back to your studies when your grandfather recovers."
"I don't know. If grandfather is well enough I think I shall try to persuade him to come up to Boston and live with me. Then I might perhaps teach. This was to have been my last year at Radcliffe, so my giving it up will not make so much difference. Do you intend to stay here long? I suppose you do. Your profession, I know, means so much to you, and your work at the station must be very interesting."
"It would be more so if I had someone who was interested with me. Mr. Langley is kind, but he is so wrapped up in his own work that I see very little of him. I took the place because I thought it would give me a good deal of spare time that I might use in furthering some experiments of my own. Electricity is my hobby, and I have one or two ideas that I am foolish enough to hope may be worth developing. I have had time enough, goodness knows, but it's a lonesome sort of life. If it had not been for the captains—and you—I think I should have given it up before this."
"Oh, I hope you won't."
"Why—why, because it seems like running away, almost, doesn't it? If a thing is hard to do, but is worth doing, I think the satisfaction IN doing it is ever so much greater, don't you? I know it must be lonely for you; but, then, it is lonely for Mr. Langley and the other men, too."
"I doubt if Mr. Langley would be happy anywhere else, and the other men are married, most of them, and live over in the village."
Now, there isn't any real reason why this simple remark should have caused a halt in the conversation, but it did. Miss Preston said, "Oh, indeed!" rather hurriedly, and her next speech was concerning the height of a particularly big wave. Mr. Hazeltine answered this commonplace somewhat absent-mindedly. He acted like a man to whom a startling idea had suddenly occurred. Just then they heard Captain Eri calling them.
The Captain was standing on a sand dune near the station, shouting their names through a speaking trumpet formed by placing his hands about his mouth. As the pair came strolling toward him, he shifted his hands to his trousers pockets and stood watching the young couple with a sort of half smile.
"I s'pose if Jerry was here now," he mused, "he'd think his scheme was workin'. Well, maybe 'tis, maybe 'tis. You can't never tell. Well, I swan!"
The exclamation was called forth by the sight of Captain Perez and Miss Patience, who suddenly came into view around the corner of the station. The Captain was gallantly assisting his companion over the rough places in the path, and she was leaning upon his arm in a manner that implied implicit confidence. Captain Eri glanced from one couple to the other, and then grinned broadly. The grin had not entirely disappeared when Captain Perez came up, and the latter rather crisply asked what the joke was.
"Oh, nothin'!" was the reply. "I was jest thinkin' we must be playin' some kind of a game, and I was It."
"It?" queried Miss Patience, puzzled.
"Why, yes. I'm kinder like 'Rastus Bailey used to be at the dances when you and me was younger, Perez. Old man Alexander—he was the fiddler—used to sing out 'Choose partners for Hull's Vict'ry,' or somethin' like that, and it always took 'Ras so long to make up his mind what girl to choose that he gin'rally got left altogether. Then he'd set on the settee all through the dance and say he never cared much for Hull's Vict'ry, anyway. Seems to me, I'm the only one that ain't choosed partners. How 'bout it, Perez?"
"More fool you, that's all I've got to say," replied Captain Perez stoutly.
Miss Patience laughed so heartily at this rejoinder that Perez began to think he had said a very good thing indeed, and so repeated it for greater effect.
"You want to look out for him, Miss Davis," said Captain Eri. "He's the most fascinatin' youngster of his age I ever see. Me and Jerry's been thinkin' we'd have to build a fence 'round the house to keep the girls away when he's home. Why, M'lissy Busteed fairly—"
"Oh, give us a rest, Eri!" exclaimed Perez, with even more indignation than was necessary. "M'lissy Busteed!"
Just then Ralph and Elsie came up, and Captain Eri explained that he had hailed them because it was time to be going if they wanted to get across to the mainland without swimming. They walked around to the back door of the station and there found Mrs. Snow and Captain Davis by the hen-yard. The lady from Nantucket had discovered a sick chicken in the collection, and she was holding it in her lap and at the same time discoursing learnedly on the relative value of Plymouth Rocks and Rhode Island Reds, as layers.
"See there!" exclaimed Captain Eri delightedly, pointing to the suffering pullet, "what did I tell you? D'you wonder we picked her out for nuss for John, Luther? Even a sick hen knows enough to go to her."
They harnessed Daniel to the carryall, and stowed the living freight aboard somehow, although Captain Perez protested that he had eaten so much dinner he didn't know's he'd be able to hang on the way he did coming down. Then they said farewell to Captain Davis and his sister and started for home. The members of the crew, such of them as were about the station, waved good-by to them as they passed.
"Things kind of average up in this world, don't they?" said Captain Eri reflectively, as he steered Daniel along the soft beach toward the ford. "We're all the time readin' 'bout fellers that work for the Gov'ment gittin' high sal'ries and doin' next to nothin'. Now there's a gang—the life-savin' crew, I mean—that does what you and me would call almighty hard work and git next to nothin' for it. Uncle Sam gits square there, it seems to me. A few dollars a month and find yourself ain't gilt-edged wages for bein' froze and drownded and blown to pieces ten months out of the year, is it?"
The tide was higher when they came to the crossing than it had been when they drove over before, but they made the passage all right, although there was some nervousness displayed by the feminine portion of the party. When they reached home they found Captain Jerry contentedly smoking his pipe, the sick man was asleep, and everything was serene. Josiah appeared from behind the barn, where he had been smoking a cigarette.
They pressed Mr. Hazeltine to stay to supper, but he declined, alleging that he had been away from business too long already. He had been remarkably silent during the homeward ride, and Elsie, too, had seemed busy with her thoughts. She was full of fun at the supper table, however, and the meal was a jolly one. Just as it was finished Captain Jerry struck the table a bang with his palm that made the knives and forks jump, and so startled Captain Perez as to cause him to spill half a cup of tea over his shirt bosom.
"Land of love!" ejaculated the victim, mopping his chin and his tie with his napkin. "It's bad enough to scare a feller to death, let alone drowndin' and scaldin' him at the same time. What did you do that for?"
"I jest thought of somethin'," exclaimed Captain Jerry, going through one pocket after the other.
"Well, I wish you'd have your thinkin' fits in the barn or somewheres else next time. I put this shirt on clean this mornin' and now look at it!"
His friend was too busy to pay any attention to this advice. The pocket search apparently being unsatisfactory, he rose from the table and hurriedly made a round of the room, looking on the mantelpiece and under chairs.
"I had it when I come in," he soliloquized. "I know I did, 'cause I was wearin' it when I went out to see to the hens. I don't see where—"
"If it's your hat you're looking for," observed Josiah, "I saw Mrs. Snow hang it up on the nail behind the door. There it is now."
The reply to this was merely a grunt, which may, or may not have expressed approval. At any rate, the hat was apparently the object of his search, for he took it from the nail, looked inside, and with a sigh of relief took out a crumpled envelope.
"I knew I put it somewheres," he said. "It's a letter for you, Elsie. Josiah, here, he brought it down from the post-office when he come from school this afternoon. I meant to give it to you afore."
Captain Eri, who sat next to the young lady, noticed that the envelope was addressed in an irregular, sprawling hand to "Miss Elizabeth Preston, Orham, Mass." Elsie looked it over in the absent way in which so many of us examine the outside of a letter which comes unexpectedly.
"I wonder who it is from," she said.
She did not open it at once, but, tucking it into her waist, announced that she must run upstairs, in order that Mrs. Snow might come down to supper. The housekeeper did come down a few minutes later, and, as she was interested to know more about Luther Davis and his sister, the talk became animated and general.
It was after eight o'clock when Mrs. Snow, having finished washing the dishes—she allowed no one to assist her in this operation since the time when she caught Captain Jerry absent-mindedly using the dust rag instead of the dishcloth—went upstairs to her patient. Shortly afterward Elsie came down, wearing her hat and jacket.
"I'm going out for a little while," she said. "No, I don't want anyone to go with me. I'll be back soon."
Her back was turned to the three captains as she spoke, but, as she opened the door, the lamplight shone for an instant on her face, and Captain Eri noticed, or fancied that he did, that she was paler than usual. He rose, and again offered to accompany her, but met with such a firm refusal that he could not insist further.
"Now, that's kind of funny, ain't it?" remarked Perez. "I don't b'lieve she's been out alone afore after dark sence she's been here."
"Where did you git that letter, Josiah?" asked Captain Eri.
It may as well be explained here that Captain Perez' grand-nephew was a thorn in the flesh to everyone, including his indulgent relative. He was a little afraid of Mrs. Snow, and obeyed her better than he did anyone else, but that is not saying a great deal. He was in mischief in school two-thirds of the time, and his reports, made out by the teacher, were anything but complimentary. He was a good-looking boy, the image of his mother, who had been her uncle's favorite, and he was popular with a certain class of youngsters. Also, and this was worse, his work at the livery stable had thrown him in contact with a crowd of men like "Squealer" Wixon, "Web" Saunders, and others of their class, and they appreciated his New York street training and made much of him. Captain Perez, mindful of his promise to the boy's mother, did not use the necessary measures to control him, and Captain Eri and Captain Jerry did not like to interfere.
Just now he was seated in the corner, and he looked up with a start, hurriedly folded up the tattered paper book he was reading, stuffed it into his pocket, and said, "What?"
"Who give you that letter that come for Elsie?"
"Miss Cahoon up at the office. It was in our box," said the boy.
"Humph! What are you readin' that's so interestin'?"
"Oh, nothin'. A book, that's all."
"Let me look at it."
Josiah hesitated, looked as if he would like to refuse, and then sullenly took the ragged volume from his pocket and handed it to the Captain, who deliberately unfolded it, and looked at the cover.
"'Fightin' Fred Starlight, the Boy Rover of the Pacific,'" he read aloud. "Humph! Is it good?"
"Bet your life! It's a red-hot story."
"I want to know! Who was Mr. Moonshine—what's his name—Starlight?"
"He was a sailor," was the sulky answer. Josiah was no fool, and knew when he was being made fun of.
The Captain opened the book, and read a page or two to himself. Then he said, "I see he knocked the skipper down 'cause he insulted him. Nice, spunky chap; I'd like to have had him aboard a vessel of mine. And he called the old man a 'caitiff hound'? Awful thing to call a feller, that is. I'll bet that skipper felt ashamed. Looks like a good book. I'll borrow it to-night to read while you're doin' your lessons."
"I ain't got any lessons to do."
"Oh, ain't you? I thought that was a 'rithmetic over there."
"Well, I know 'em now. Besides, you ain't got any right to order me around. You ain't my uncle. Can't I read that book, Uncle Perez?"
Poor Perez! He hesitated, swallowed once or twice, and answered, "You can read it after you've studied a spell. You'll let him have it then, won't you, Eri? Now study, like a good boy."
Captain Eri looked as if he would like to say something further, but he evidently thought better of it, and tossed the paper novel across to Captain Perez, who put it on the table, saying, rather feebly:
"There now, it's right there, where you can have it soon's you've l'arned your examples. Now pitch in, so's the teacher can see how smart you are."
His nephew grumblingly got his paper and pencil, took the arithmetic and went to work. No one spoke for a while, Captain Perez twirling his thumbs and looking, as he felt, uncomfortable. Soon Josiah, announcing that his studies were completed, grabbed the novel from the table, took a lamp from the kitchen and went off to bed. When he had gone Captain Jerry said, "Perez, you're sp'ilin' that boy."
"I s'pose I am, I s'pose I am, but I can't bear to be cross to him, somehow. Poor Lizzie, she made me promise I wouldn't be, and I jest can't; that's all. You understand how 'tis, don't you, Eri?"
The Captain nodded. "I understand," he said. "I'm sorry I said anything. I hadn't ought to be givin' orders 'bout what's none of my affairs. What time is it gittin' to be?"
Captain Jerry announced that it was bedtime, and that he was going to turn in. Perez, still looking worried and anxious, said that he also was going to bed. Captain Eri thought that he would sit up for a while.
Another hour and still another went by, and the Captain sat there in his rocker. His two friends were sound asleep. Mrs. Snow called twice from the head of the stairs to know if Elsie had come back, and where on earth she could be. Captain Eri's answers were cheery and to the effect that the young lady had an errand up town, and would be home pretty soon, he guessed. Nevertheless, it might have been noticed that he glanced at the clock every few minutes, and grew more and more fidgety.
It was after eleven when Elsie came in. She hurriedly and with some confusion apologized for being so late, and thanked the Captain for sitting up for her. She made no offer to explain her long absence and, as she went upstairs, Captain Eri noticed that her face was, if anything, paler than when she went out, and her eyes looked as if she had been crying. He wanted to ask her some questions, but didn't, because she evidently did not wish to talk. He pondered over the matter while undressing, and for a long time after that lay awake thinking. That the girl was in trouble of some sort was plain, but he could not understand why she said nothing about it, or what its cause might be. She had been her bright, happy self all day and a part of the evening. Then she had suddenly changed. The Captain wondered what was in that letter.
A LITTLE POLITICS
Elsie, when she came down to breakfast next morning, was quieter than usual, and to the joking questions of Captain Jerry and Captain Perez, who were curious concerning her "errand" of the previous evening, and who pretended to believe that she had gone to a dance or "time" with some "feller" unknown, she gave evasive, but good-humored replies. Captain Eri was on his usual fishing trip, and after breakfast was over Perez departed to the Barry place, and Jerry to his beloved schoolhouse. The sacrifice, whose impending matrimonial doom had not been mentioned for some time by the trio interested, was gradually becoming his own garrulous self, and his principal topic of conversation recently had been the coming marriage of the "upstairs teacher"—that is, the lady who presided over the grammar grade of the school—and the question of her probable successor. In fact, this question of who the new teacher was to be was the prevailing subject of surmise and conjecture in the village just then.
When Captain Jerry came back to the house he went out to the barn to feed Lorenzo and the hens, and attend to Daniel's toilet. He was busy with the curry-comb when Elsie came in. She seated herself on a box, and watched the performance for a while without speaking. The Captain, who took this part of his duties very seriously, was too intent on crimping Daniel's rather scraggy forelock to talk much. At length Miss Preston broke the silence.
"Captain Jerry," she said, "you have never told me just where you found grandfather that night when he was taken sick. On the hill back of the post-office, wasn't it?"
"Yes, jest on the top. You see, he'd fell down when he was runnin' to the fire."
"Captain Eri found him, didn't he?"
"Yep. Whoa there, Dan'l; stand still, can't you? Yes, Eri found him."
"How was he dressed?"
"Who? John? Oh, he was bareheaded and in his shirtsleeves, jest as he run outdoors when he heard the bell. Queer, he didn't put on that old white hat of his. I never knew him to be without it afore; but a feller's li'ble to forgit 'most anything a night like that was. Did Eri tell you how Perez forgot his shoes? Funniest thing I ever see, that was."
He began the story of his friend's absent-mindedness, but his companion did not seem to pay much attention to it. In fact, it was evident that her thoughts were somewhere else, for when the Captain asked her a question that plainly called for a negative, she replied "Yes," very calmly, and didn't seem to know that she had said it. She went into the house soon after and Captain Jerry, after considering the matter, decided that she was probably thinking of Hazeltine. He derived much comfort from the idea.
When he, too, entered the dining room, Elsie said to him:
"Oh, Captain Jerry! Please don't tell the others that I asked about grandfather. They would think that I was worrying, and I'm not, a bit. You won't mention it, will you? Just promise, to please me."
So the Captain promised, although he did not understand why it was asked of him.
When Captain Eri came home that afternoon, and was cleaning his catch at the shanty, he was surprised to receive a call from Miss Preston.
"Hello!" he exclaimed. "Come to l'arn the trade?"
Elsie smiled, and disclaimed any intention of apprenticeship.
"Captain Eri," she said, "I want to have a talk with you, a business talk."
The Captain looked at her keenly. All he said, however, was, "You don't tell me!"
"Yes, I want to talk with you about getting me a position."
"Yes, I've been thinking a great deal lately, and, now that grandfather seems to be a little better, and I'm not needed to help take care of him, I want to do something to earn my living."
"Earn your livin'? Why, child alive, you don't need to do that. You ain't a mite of trouble at the house; fact is, I don't know how we'd get along without you, and, as for money, why I cal'late your grandpa ain't so poor but what, if I let you have a little change once in a while, he'd be able to pay me back, when he got better."
"But I don't want to use your money or his either. Captain Eri, you don't know what he has done for me ever since I was a little girl. He has clothed me and given me an education, and been so kind and good that, now that he is ill and helpless, I simply can't go on using his money. I can't, and I won't."
The tears stood in the girl's eyes, as she spoke, and the Captain, noticing her emotion, thought it better to treat the matter seriously, for the present at any rate.
"All right," he said. "'Independence shows a proper sperit and saves grocery bills,' as old man Scudder said when his wife run off with the tin-peddler. What kind of a place was you thinkin' of takin'?"
"I want to get the appointment to teach in the grammar school here. Miss Nixon is going to be married, and when she leaves I want her place—and I want you to help me get it."
Captain Eri whistled. "I want to know!" he exclaimed. Then he said, "Look here, Elsie, I don't want you to think I'm tryin' to be cur'ous 'bout your affairs, or anything like that, but are you sure there ain't some reason more 'n you've told me of for your wantin' this place? I ain't no real relation of yours, you understand, but I would like to have you feel that you could come to me with your troubles jest the same as you would to your grandpa. Now, honest and true, ain't there somethin' back of this?"
It was only for a moment that Elsie hesitated, but that moment's hesitation and the manner in which she answered went far toward confirming the Captain's suspicions.
"No, Captain Eri," she said. "It is just as I've told you. I don't want to be dependent on grandfather any longer."
"And there ain't a single other reason for—Of course, I ought to mind my business, but—Well, there! what was it you wanted me to do? Help you git the place?"
"Yes, if you will. I know Captain Perez has said that you were interested in the town-meetings and helped to nominate some of the selectmen and the school-committee, so I thought perhaps, if you used your influence, you might get the position for me."
"Well, I don't know. I did do a little electioneerin' for one or two fellers and maybe they'd ought to be willin' to do somethin' for me. Still, you can't never tell. A cat 'll jump over your hands if she knows there's a piece of fish comin' afterwards, but when she's swallowed that fish, it's a diff'rent job altogether. Same way with a politician. But, then, you let me think over it for a spell, and p'raps to-morrow we'll see. You think it over, too. Maybe you'll change your mind."
"No, I shan't change my mind. I'm ever and ever so much obliged to you, though."
She started toward the door, but turned impulsively and said, "Oh, Captain Eri, you don't think that I'm ungrateful, do you? You nor Captain Perez nor Captain Jerry won't think that I do not appreciate all your kindness? You won't think that I'm shirking my duty, or that I don't want to help take care of grandfather any longer? You won't? Promise me you won't."
She choked down a sob as she asked the question.
Captain Eri was as much moved as she was. He hastened to answer.
"No, no, no!" he exclaimed. "Course we won't do no such thing. Run right along, and don't think another word about it. Wait till to-morrer. I'll have a plan fixed up to land that school-committee, see if I don't."
But all that evening he worked at the model of the clipper, and the expression on his face as he whittled showed that he was puzzled, and not a little troubled.
He came back from his fishing next day a little earlier than usual, changed his working-clothes for his second best suit, harnessed Daniel into the buggy, and then came into the house, and announced that he was going over to the Neck on an errand, and if Elsie wanted to go with him, he should be glad of her company. As this was but part of a pre-arranged scheme, the young lady declared that a ride was just what she needed.
Captain Eri said but little, as they drove up to the "main road"; he seemed to be thinking. Elsie, too, was very quiet. When they reached the fruit and candy shop, just around the corner, the Captain stopped the horse, got down, and went in. When he came out he had a handful of cigars.
"Why, Captain Eri," said Elsie, "I didn't know that you smoked cigars. I thought a pipe was your favorite."
"Well, gin'rally speakin', 'tis," was the answer, "but I'm electioneerin' now, and politics without cigars would be like a chowder without any clams. Rum goes with some kind of politics, but terbacker kind of chums in with all kinds. 'Tain't always safe to jedge a candidate by the kind of cigars he gives out neither; I've found that out.
"Reminds me of a funny thing that Obed Nickerson told me one time. Obed used to be in politics a good deal up and down the Cape, here, and he had consider'ble influence. 'Twas when Bradley up to Fall River was runnin' for Congress. They had a kind of pow-wow in his office—a whole gang of district leaders—and Obed he was one of 'em. Bradley went to git out the cigar-box, and 'twas empty, so he called in the boy that swept out and run errands for him, give the youngster a ten-dollar bill, and told him to go down to a terbacker store handy and buy another box. Well, the boy, he was a new one that Bradley'd jest hired, seemed kind of surprised to think of anybody's bein' so reckless as to buy a whole box of cigars at once, but he went and pretty soon come back with the box.
"The old man told him to open it and pass 'em round. Well, everybody was lookin' for'ard to a treat, 'cause Bradley had the name of smokin' better stuff than the average; but when they lit up and got a-goin', Obed said you could see that the gang was s'prised and some disgusted. The old man didn't take one at fust, but everybody else puffed away, and the smoke and smell got thicker 'n' thicker. Obed said it reminded him of a stable afire more 'n anything else. Pretty soon Bradley bit the end of one of the things and touched a match to it. He puffed twice—Obed swears 'twa'n't more'n that—and then he yelled for the boy.
"'For the Lord's sake!' he says, 'where'd you git them cigars?' Well, it come out that the boy hadn't told who the cigars was for, and he'd bought a box of the kind his brother that worked in the cotton mill smoked. Obed said you'd ought to have seen Bradley's face when the youngster handed him back seven dollars and seventy-five cents change."
They reached that part of Orham which is called the Neck, and pulled up before a small building bearing the sign "Solomon Bangs, Attorney-at-Law, Real Estate and Insurance." Here the Captain turned to his companion and asked, "Sure you haven't changed your mind, Elsie? You want that school-teachin' job?"
"I haven't changed my mind, Captain Eri."
"Well, I wanted to be sure. I should hate to ask Sol Bangs for anything and then have to back out afterwards. Come on, now."
Mr. Soloman Bangs was the chairman of the Orham school-committee. He was a short, stout man with sandy side-whiskers and a bald head. He received them with becoming condescension, and asked if they wouldn't sit down.
"Why, I've got a little bus'ness I want to talk with you 'bout, Sol," said the Captain. "Elsie, you set down here, and make yourself comf'table, and Sol and me 'll go inside for a minute."
As he led the way into the little private office at the back of the building, and seemed to take it for granted that Mr. Bangs would follow, the latter gentleman couldn't well refuse. The private office was usually reserved for interviews with widows whose homestead mortgages were to be foreclosed, guileless individuals who had indorsed notes for friends, or others whose business was unpleasant and likely to be accompanied with weeping or profanity. Mr. Bangs didn't object to foreclosing a mortgage, but he disliked to have a prospective customer hear the dialogue that preceded the operation.
On this occasion the door of the sanctum was left ajar so that Elsie, although she did not try to listen, could not very well help hearing what was said.
She heard the Captain commenting on the late cranberry crop, the exceptionally pleasant weather of the past month, and other irrelevant subjects. Then the perfumes of the campaign cigars floated out through the doorway.
"Let's see," said Captain Eri, "when's town meetin' day?"
"First Tuesday in December," replied Mr. Bangs.
"Why, so 'tis, so 'tis. Gittin' pretty nigh, ain't it? What are you goin' to git off the school-committee for?"
"Me? Get off the committee? Who told you that?"
"Why, I don't know. You are, ain't you? Seems to me I heard Seth Wingate was goin' to run and he's from your district, so I thought, of course—"
"Is Seth going to try for the committee?"
"Seth's a good man," was the equivocal answer.
"A good man! He ain't any better man than I am. What's he know about schools, or how to run 'em?"
"Well, he's pretty popular. Folks like him. See here, Sol; what's this 'bout your turnin' Betsy Godfrey off her place?"
"Who said I turned her off? I've been carrying that mortgage for so long it's gray-headed. I can't be Santa Claus for the whole town. Business is business, and I've got to look out for myself."
"Ye-es, I s'pose that's so. Still, folks talk, and Seth's got lots of friends."
"Eri, I ain't denying that you could do a heap to hurt me if you wanted to, but I don't know why you should. I've always been square with you, far's I know. What have you got against me?"
"Oh, nuthin', nuthin'! Didn't I hear you was tryin' to get that Harniss teacher to come down here and take Carrie Nixon's place when she got married?"
"Well, I thought of her. She's all night, isn't she?"
"Yes, I s'pose she is. 'Twould be better if she lived in Orham, maybe, and folks couldn't say you went out of town for a teacher when you could have had one right from home. Then, she's some relation of your cousin, ain't she? 'Course, that's all right, but—well, you can't pay attention to everything that's said."
"Could have got one right from home! Who'd we get? Dave Eldredge's girl, I suppose. I heard she was after it."
The conversation that followed was in a lower tone, and Elsie heard but little of it. She heard enough, however, to infer that Captain Eri was still the disinterested friend, and that Solomon was very anxious to retain that friendship. After a while the striking of matches indicated that fresh cigars were being lighted, and then the pair rose from their chairs, and entered the outer office. Mr. Bangs was very gracious, exceedingly so.
"Miss Preston," he said, "Cap'n Hedge tells me that it—er—might be possible for us—er—for the town to secure—er—to—in short, for us to have you for our teacher in the upstairs room. It ain't necessary for me to say that—er—a teacher from Radcliffe don't come our way very often, and that we—that is, the town of Orham, would—er—feel itself lucky if you'd be willing to come."
"Of course, I told him, Elsie," said Captain Eri, "that you wouldn't think of comin' for forty-five dollars a month or anything like that. Of course, 'tisn't as though you really needed the place."
"I understand, I understand," said the pompous committeeman. "I think that can be arranged. I really think—er—Miss Preston, that there ain't any reason why you can't consider it settled. Ahem!"
Elsie thanked him, trying her best not to smile, and they were bowed out by the great man, who, however, called the Captain to one side, and whispered eagerly to him for a moment or two. The word "Seth" was mentioned at least once.
"Why, Captain Eri!" exclaimed Elsie, as they drove away.
The Captain grinned. "Didn't know I was such a heeler, did you?" he said. "Well, I tell you. If you're fishin' for eels there ain't no use usin' a mack'rel jig. Sol, he's a little mite eely, and you've got to use the kind of bait that 'll fetch that sort of critter."
"But I shouldn't think he would care whether he was on the school-committee or not. It isn't such an exalted position."
Captain Eri's answer was in the form of a parable. "Old Laban Simpkins that lived 'round here one time," he said, "was a mighty hard ticket. Drank rum by the hogshead, pounded his wife till she left him, and was a tough nut gin'rally. Well, one evenin' Labe was comin' home pretty how-come-you-so, and he fell into Jonadab Wixon's well. Wonder he wa'n't killed, but he wa'n't, and they fished him out in a little while. He said that was the deepest well he ever saw; said he begun to think it reached clear through to the hereafter, and when he struck the water he was s'prised to find it wa'n't hot. He j'ined the church the next week, and somebody asked him if he thought religion would keep him from fallin' into any more wells. He said no; said he was lookin' out for somethin' further on.
"Well, that's the way 'tis with Sol. School-committee's all right, but this section of the Cape nominates a State representative next year.
"I mustn't forgit to see Seth," he added. "I promised I would, and besides," with a wink, "I think 'twould be better to do it 'cause, between you and me, I don't b'lieve Seth knows that he's been thinkin' of runnin' for the committee and has decided not to."
The second member of the school board, John Mullett, was, so the Captain said, a sort of "me too" to Mr. Bangs, and would vote as his friend directed. The third member was Mr. Langworthy, the Baptist minister and, although two to one was a clear majority, Captain Eri asserted that there was nothing like a unanimous vote, and so they decided to call upon the reverend gentleman.
They found him at home, and Elsie was surprised, after the previous interview, to see how differently her champion handled the case. There was no preliminary parley and no beating about the bush. Miss Preston's claim to the soon-to-be-vacant position was stated clearly and with vigor. Also the reasons why she should receive a higher salary than had previously been paid were set forth. It was something of a surprise to Elsie, as it had been to Ralph, to see how highly the towns-people, that is, the respectable portion of them, seemed to value the opinions of this good-natured but uneducated seaman. And yet when she considered that she, too, went to him for advice that she would not have asked of other and far more learned acquaintances, it did not seem so surprising after all.
The clergyman had had several candidates in mind, but he was easily won over to Elsie's side, partly by the Captain's argument, and partly because he was favorably impressed by the young lady's appearance and manner. He expressed himself as being convinced that she would be exactly the sort of teacher that the school required and pledged his vote unconditionally.
And so, as Captain Eri said, the stump-speaking being over, there was nothing to do but to wait for the election, and Elsie and he agreed to keep the affair a secret until she received formal notice of the appointment. This was undoubtedly a good plan, but, unfortunately for its success, Solomon Bangs called upon his fellow in the committee, Mr. Mullett, to inform the latter that he, entirely unaided, had discovered the very teacher that Orham needed in the person of John Baxter's granddaughter. Mr. Mullett, living up to his "me too" reputation, indorsed the selection with enthusiasm, and not only did that, but also told everyone he met, so that Captain Perez heard of it at the post-office the very next afternoon.
The natural surprise of this gentleman and of Captain Jerry at their guest's sudden determination was met by plausible explanations from Captain Eri, to the effect that Elsie was a smart girl, and didn't like to be "hangin' 'round doin' nothin', now that her grandpa was some better." Elsie's own reason, as expressed to them, being just this, the pair accepted it without further questioning. Neither of them attached much importance to the letter which she had received, although Captain Perez did ask Mrs. Snow if she knew from whom it came.
The lady from Nantucket was not so easily satisfied. At her first opportunity she cornered Captain Eri, and they discussed the whole affair from beginning to end. There was nothing unusual in this proceeding, for discussions concerning household matters and questions of domestic policy were, between these two, getting to be more and more frequent. Mrs. Snow was now accepted by all as one of the family, and Captain Eri had come to hold a high opinion of her and her views. What he liked about her, he said, was her "good old-fashioned common-sense," and, whereas he had formerly trusted to his own share of this virtue almost altogether, now he was glad to have hers to help out.
The marriage idea, that which had brought the housekeeper to Orham, was now seldom mentioned. In fact, Captain Eri had almost entirely ceased to ruffle Jerry's feelings with reference to it. Mrs. Snow, of course, said nothing about it. But, for that matter, she said very little about herself or her affairs.
It was a curious fact that the lady from Nantucket had never referred, except in a casual way, to her past history. She had never told how she came to answer the advertisement in the Nuptial Chime, nor to explain how so matter-of-fact a person as she was had ever seen that famous sheet. As she said nothing concerning these things, no one felt at liberty to inquire, and, in the course of time, even Captain Perez' lively curiosity had lapsed into a trance.
Mrs. Snow was certain that Elsie's reason for wishing to obtain the position of school-teacher was something more specific than the one advanced. She was also certain that the girl was troubled about something. The root of the matter, she believed, was contained in the mysterious letter. As Captain Eri was of precisely the same opinion, speculation between the two as to what that letter might have contained was as lively as it was unfruitful.
One thing was certain, Elsie was not as she had formerly been. She did her best to appear the same, but she was much more quiet, and had fits of absentmindedness that the Captain and the housekeeper noticed. She had no more evening "errands," but she occasionally took long walks in the afternoons, and on these walks she evidently preferred to be alone.
Whether Mr. Hazeltine noticed this change in her was a question. The Captain thought he did, but at any rate, his calls were none the less frequent, and he showed no marked objection when Captain Jerry, who now considered himself bound in honor to bring about the union he had so actively championed, brought to bear his artful schemes for leaving the young folks alone. These devices were so apparent that Elsie had more than once betrayed some symptoms of annoyance, all of which were lost on the zealous match-maker. Ralph, like the others, was much surprised at Miss Preston's application for employment, but, as it was manifestly none of his business, he, of course, said nothing.
At the next committee meeting Elsie was unanimously chosen to fill Miss Nixon's shoes as trainer of the young idea at the grammar school, and, as Miss Nixon was very anxious to be rid of her responsibilities in order that she might become the carefree bride of a widower with two small children, the shoe-filling took place in a fortnight.
From her first day's labors Elsie returned calm and unruffled. She had met the usual small rebellion against a new teacher, and had conquered it. She said she believed she had a good class and she should get on with them very nicely. It should be mentioned in passing, however, that Josiah Bartlett, usually the ring-leader in all sorts of trouble, was a trifle upset because the new schoolmistress lived in the same house with him, and so had not yet decided just how far it was safe to go in trespassing against law and order.
Thanksgiving day came, and the Captains entertained Miss Patience Davis and her brother and Ralph Hazeltine at dinner. That dinner was an event. Captain Eri and Mrs. Snow spent a full twenty minutes with the driver of the butcher's cart, giving him directions concerning the exact breed of turkey that was to be delivered, and apparently these orders were effectual, for Captain Luther, who was obliged to hurry back to the life-saving station as soon as dinner was over, said that he was so full of white meat and stuffing that he cal'lated he should "gobble" all the way to the beach. His sister stayed until the next day, and this was very pleasing to all hands, particularly Captain Perez.
They had games in the evening, and here the captains distinguished themselves. Seth Wingate and his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. Obed Nickerson came in, as did several other retired mariners and their better-halves. Obed brought his fiddle and sat in the corner and played the music for a Virginia reel, and Ralph laughed until he choked to see Captain Jerry—half of his shirt-collar torn loose from the button and flapping like a sail—convoy stout Mrs. Wingate from one end of the line to the other, throwing into the performance all the fancy "cuts" and "double-shuffles" he learned at the Thanksgiving balls of a good many years before. Captain Perez danced with Miss Patience, who assured him she had never had such a good time since she was born. The only scoffer was the bored Josiah, who, being a sophisticated New Yorker, sat in the best chair and gazed contemptuously upon the entire proceeding. He told "Web" Saunders the next day that he never saw such a gang of "crazy jays" in his life.
Even John Baxter was better that day. He seemed a trifle more rational, and apparently understood when they told him that it was Thanksgiving. There would have been no cloud anywhere had not Mrs. Snow, entering her room after Elsie had gone to bed, found that young lady awake and crying silently.
"And she wouldn't tell what the trouble was," said the housekeeper to Captain Eri, the next day. "Said it was nothin'; she was kind of worried 'bout her grandpa. Now, you and me know it wa'n't THAT. I wish to goodness we knew WHAT it was."
The Captain scratched his nose with a perplexed air. "There's one feller I'd like to have a talk with jest 'bout now," he said; "that's the one that invented that yarn 'bout a woman's not bein' able to keep a secret."
CAPTAIN JERRY MAKES A MESS OF IT
It was during the week that followed the holiday so gloriously celebrated that Captain Jerry made a mess of it, and all with the best intentions in the world. Elsie had had a hard day at the school, principally owing to the perversity of the irrepressible Josiah, whose love for deviltry was getting the better of his respect for the new teacher. The boy had discovered that Elsie never reported his bad conduct to Captain Perez, and, therefore, that the situation was not greatly different from what it had been during the reign of Miss Nixon.
On this particular day he had been a little worse than usual, and, as uneasiness and mischief in a schoolroom are as catching as the chickenpox, Elsie came home tired and nervous. Captain Eri and Mrs. Snow were certain that this increasing nervousness on the part of their guest was not due to school troubles alone, but, at any rate, nervous she was, and particularly nervous, and, it must be confessed, somewhat inclined to be irritable, during the supper and afterward, on this ill-starred night.
The beginning of the trouble was when Ralph Hazeltine called. Mrs. Snow was with her patient in the upper room, Captain Eri was out, and Captain Perez and Captain Jerry were with Elsie in the dining room. The electrician was made welcome by the trio—more especially by the captains, for Miss Preston was in no mood to be over-effusive—and a few minutes of general conversation followed. Then Captain Jerry, in accordance with his plan of campaign, laid down his newspaper, coughed emphatically to attract the attention of his partner, and said, "Well, I guess I'll go out and look at the weather for a spell. Come on, Perez."
"Why, Captain Jerry!" exclaimed Elsie, "you were out looking at the weather only ten minutes ago. I don't think it has changed much since then. Why don't you stay here and keep us company?"
"Oh, you can't never tell about the weather 'long this coast. It's likely to change most any time. Besides," with a wink that expressed comprehension unlimited, "I reckon you and Mr. Hazeltine don't care much 'bout the company of old fogies like me and Perez. Two's company and three's a crowd, you know. Ho, ho, ho!"