From the rooms in the rear came the words of a gospel hymn sung in a tremulous soprano and at concert pitch.
"Music with my meals, just like a high-toned restaurant," commented Captain Cy.
"But what makes her sing so everlastin' LOUD?"
"Can't hear herself if she don't. I could stand her deefness, because that's an affliction and we may all come to it; but—"
The housekeeper, still singing, entered the room and planted herself in a chair.
"Good evenin', Mr. Tidditt," she said, smiling genially. "Nice weather we've been havin'."
"Sociable critter, ain't she!" observed the captain. "Always willin' to help entertain. Comes and sets up with me till bedtime. Tells about her family troubles. Preaches about her niece out West, and how set the niece and the rest of the Western relations are to have her make 'em a visit. I told her she better go—I thought 'twould do her good. I know 'twould help ME consider'ble to see her start.
"She's got so now she finds fault with my neckties," he added, "says I must be careful and not get my feet wet. Picks out what I ought to wear so's I won't get cold. She'll adopt me pretty soon. Oh, it's all right! She can't hear what you say. Are your dishes done?" he shrieked, turning to the old lady.
"One? One what?" inquired Mrs. Beasley.
"They won't BE done till you go, Ase," continued the master of the house. "She'll stay with us till the last gun fires. T'other day Angie Phinney called and I turned Debby loose on her. I didn't believe anything could wear out Angie's talkin' machinery, but she did it. Angeline stayed twenty minutes and then quit, hoarse as a crow."
Here the widow joined in the conversation, evidently under the impression that nothing had been said since she last spoke. Continuing her favorable comments on the weather she observed that she was glad there was so little fog, because fog was hard for folks with "neuralgy pains." Her brother's wife's cousin had "neuralgy" for years, and she described his sufferings with enthusiasm and infinite detail. Mr. Tidditt answered her questions verbally at first; later by nods and shakes of the head. Captain Cy fidgeted in his chair.
"Come on outdoor, Ase," he said at last. "No use to wait till she runs down, 'cause she's a self-winder, guaranteed to keep goin' for a year. Good-night!" he shouted, addressing Mrs. Beasley, and heading for the door.
"Where you goin'?" asked the old lady.
"No. Yes. Who said so? Hooray! Three cheers for Gen'ral Scott! Come on, Ase!" And the captain, seizing his friend by the arm, dragged him into the open air, and slammed the door.
"Are you crazy?" demanded the astonished town clerk. "What makes you talk like that?"
"Might as well. She wouldn't understand it any better if 'twas Scripture, and it saves brain work. The only satisfaction I get is bein' able to give my opinion of her and the grub without hurtin' her feelin's. If I called her a wooden-headed jumpin' jack she'd only smile and say No, she didn't think 'twas goin' to rain, or somethin' just as brilliant."
"Well, why don't you give her her walkin' papers?"
"I shall, when her month's up."
"I wouldn't wait no month. I'd heave her overboard to-night. You hear ME!"
Captain Cy shook his head.
"I can't, very well," he replied. "I hate to make her feel TOO bad. When the month's over I'll have some excuse ready, maybe. The joke of it is that she don't really need to work out. She's got some money of her own, owns cranberry swamps and I don't know what all. Says she took up Bailey's offer 'cause she cal'lated I'd be company for her. I had to laugh, even in the face of those beans, when she said that."
"Humph! if I don't tell Bailey what I think of him, then—"
"No, no! Don't you say a word to Bailey. It's principally on his account that I'm tryin' to stick it out for the month. Bailey did his best; he thought he was helpin'. And he feels dreadfully because she's so deef. Only yesterday he asked me if I believed there was anything made that would fix her up and make it more comfortable for me. I could have prescribed a shotgun, but I didn't. You see, he thinks her deefness is the only trouble; I haven't told him the rest, and don't you do it, either. Bailey's a good-hearted chap."
"Humph! his heart may be good, but his head's goin' to seed. I'll keep quiet if 'twill please you, though."
"Yes. And, see here, Ase! I don't care to be the laughin' stock of Bayport. If any of the folks ask you how I like my new housekeeper, you tell 'em there's nothin' like her anywhere. That's no lie."
So Mrs. Beasley stayed on at the Whittaker place and, thanks to Mr. Tidditt, the general opinion of inquisitive Bayport was that the new housekeeper was a grand success. Only Captain Cy and Asaph knew the whole truth, and Mr. Bangs a part. That part, Deborah's deafness, troubled him not a little and he thought much concerning it. As a result of this thinking he wrote a letter to a relative in Boston. The answer to this letter pleased him and he wrote again.
One afternoon, during the third week of Mrs. Beasley's stay, Asaph called and found Captain Cy in the sitting room, reading the Breeze. The captain urged his friend to remain and have supper. "We've run out of beans, Ase," he explained, "and are just startin' in on a course of boiled cod. Do stay and eat a lot; then there won't be so much to warm over."
Mr. Tidditt accepted the invitation, also a section of the Breeze. While they were reading they heard the back door slam.
"It's the graven image," explained the captain. "She's been on a cruise down town somewheres. Be a lot of sore throats in that direction to-morrow mornin'."
The town clerk looked up.
"There now!" he exclaimed. "I believe 'twas her I saw walkin' with Bailey a spell ago. I thought so, but I didn't have my specs and I wan't sure."
"With Bailey, hey? Humph! this is serious. Hope Ketury didn't see 'em. We mustn't have any scandal."
The housekeeper entered the dining room. She was singing "Beulah Land," but her tone was more subdued than usual. They heard her setting the table.
"How's she gettin' along?" asked Asaph.
"Progressin' backwards, same as ever. She's no better, thank you, and the doctor's given up hopes."
"When you goin' to tell her she can clear out?"
"What?" Captain Cy had returned to his paper and did not hear the question.
"I say when is she goin' to be bounced? Deefness ain't catchin', is it?"
"I wouldn't wonder if it might be. If 'tis, mine ought to be developin' fast. What makes her so still all at once?"
"Gone to the kitchen, I guess. Wonder she hasn't sailed in and set down with us. Old chromo! You must be glad her month's most up?"
Asaph proceeded to give his opinion of the housekeeper, raising his voice almost to a howl, as his indignation grew. If Mrs. Beasley's ears had been ordinary ones she might have heard the unflattering description in the kitchen; as it was Mr. Tidditt felt no fear.
"Comin' here so's you could be company for her! The idea! Good to herself, ain't she! Godfrey scissors! And Bailey was fool enough to—"
"There, there! Don't let it worry you, Ase. I've about decided what to say when I let her go. I'll tell her she is gettin' too old to be slavin' herself to death. You see, I don't want to make the old critter cry, nor I don't want her to get mad. Judgin' by the way she used to coax the cat outdoors with the broom handle she's got somethin' of a temper when she gets started. I'll give her an extry month's wages, and—"
"You will, hey? You WILL?"
The interruption came from behind the partially closed dining-room door. Mr. Tidditt sank back in his chair. Captain Cy sprang from his and threw the door wide open. Behind it crouched Mrs. Deborah Beasley. Her eyes snapped behind her spectacles, her lean form was trembling all over, and in her right hand she held a mammoth trumpet, the smaller end of which was connected with her ear.
"You will, hey?" she screamed, brandishing her left fist, but still keeping the ear trumpet in place with her right. "You WILL? Well, I don't want none of your miser'ble money! Land knows how you made it, anyhow, and I wouldn't soil my hands with it. After all I've put up with, and the way I've done my work, and the things I've had to eat, and—and—"
She paused for breath. Captain Cy scratched his chin. Asaph, gazing open-mouthed at the trumpet, stirred in his chair. Mrs. Beasley swooped down upon him like a gull on a minnow.
"And you!" she shrieked. "You! a miserable little, good-for-nothin', lazy, ridiculous, dried-up— . . . Oo—oo—OH! You call yourself a town clerk! YOU do! I—I wouldn't have you clerk for a hen house! I'm an old chromo, be I? Yes! that's nice talk, ain't it, to a woman old enough to be—that is—er—er—'most as old as you be! You sneakin', story-tellin', little, fat THING, you! You—oh, I can't lay my tongue to words to tell you WHAT you are."
"You're doin' pretty well, seems to me," observed Captain Cy dryly. "I wouldn't be discouraged if I was you."
The only effect of this remark was to turn the wordy torrent in his direction. The captain bore it for a while; then he rose to his feet and commanded silence.
"That's enough! Stop it!" he ordered, and, strange to say, Mrs. Beasley did stop. "I'm sorry, Debby," he went on, "but you had no business to be listenin' even if—" and he smiled grimly, "you have got a new fog horn to hear with. You can go and pack your things as soon as you want to. I made up my mind the first day you come that you and me wouldn't cruise together long, and this only shortens the trip by a week or so. I'll pay you for this month and for the next, and I guess, when you come to think it over, you'll be willin' to risk soilin' your hands with the money. It's your own fault if anybody knows that you didn't leave of your own accord. I shan't tell, and I'll see that Tidditt doesn't. Now trot! Ase and I'll get supper ourselves."
It was evident that the ex-housekeeper had much more which she would have liked to say. But there was that in her late employer's manner which caused her to forbear. She slammed out of the room, and they heard her banging things about on the floor above.
"But where—WHERE," repeated Mr. Tidditt, over and over, "did she get that trumpet?"
The puzzle was solved soon after, when Bailey Bangs entered the house in a high state of excitement.
"Well," he demanded, expectantly. "Did they help her? Has anything happened?"
"HAPPENED!" began Asaph, but Captain Cy silenced him by a wink.
"Yes," answered the captain; "something's happened. Why?"
"Hurrah! I thought 'twould. She can hear better, can't she?"
"Yes, I guess it's safe to say she can."
"Good! You can thank me for it. When I see how dreadful deef she was I wrote my cousin Eddie T, who's an optician up to Boston—you know him, Ase—and I says: 'Ed, you know what's good for folks who can't see? Ain't there nothin',' says I, 'that'll help them who can't hear? How about ear trumpets?' And Ed wrote that an ear trumpet would probably help some, but why didn't I try a pair of them patent fixin's that are made to put inside deef people's ears? He'd known of cases where they helped a lot. So I sent for a pair, and the biggest ear trumpet made, besides. And when I met Debby to-day I give 'em to her and told her to put the patent things IN her ears and couple on the trumpet outside 'em. And not to say nothin' to you, but just surprise you. And it did surprise you, didn't it?"
The wrathful Mr. Tidditt could wait no longer. He burst into a vivid description of the "surprise." Bailey was aghast. Captain Cy laughed until his face was purple.
"I declare, Cy!" exclaimed the dejected purchaser of the "ear fixin's" and the trumpet. "I do declare I'm awful sorry! if you'd only told me she was no good I'd have let her alone; but I thought 'twas just the deefness. I—I—"
"I know, Bailey; you meant well, like the layin'-on-of-hands doctor who rubbed the rheumatic man's wooden leg. All right; I forgive you. 'Twas worth it all to see Asaph's face when Marm Beasley was complimentin' him. Ha! ha! Oh, dear me! I've laughed till I'm sore. But there's one thing I SHOULD like to do, if you don't mind: I should like to pick out my next housekeeper myself."
A FRONT-DOOR CALLER
Mrs. Beasley departed next morning, taking with her the extra month's wages, in spite of fervid avowals that she wouldn't touch a cent of it. On the way to the depot she favored Mr. Lumley with sundry hints concerning the reasons for her departure. She "couldn't stand it no longer"; if folks only knew what she'd had to put up with she cal'lated they'd be some surprised; she could "tell a few things" if she wanted to, and so on. Incidentally she was kind of glad she didn't like the place, because now she cal'lated she should go West and visit her niece; they'd been wanting her to come for so long.
Gabe was much interested and repeated the monologue, with imaginative additions, to the depot master, who, in turn, repeated it to his wife when he went home to dinner. That lady attended sewing circle in the afternoon. Next day a large share of Bayport's conversation dealt with the housekeeper's leaving and her reasons therefor. The reasons differed widely, according to the portion of the town in which they were discussed, but it was the general opinion that the whole affair was not creditable to Captain Whittaker.
Only at the perfect boarding house was the captain upheld. Miss Phinney declared that she knew he had made a mistake as soon as she heard the Beasley woman talk; nobody else, so Angeline declared, could "get a word in edgeways." Mrs. Tripp sighed and affirmed that going out of town for a woman to do housework was ridiculous on the face of it; there were plenty of Bayport ladies, women of capability and sound in their religious views, who might be hired if they were approached in the right way. Keturah gave, as her opinion, that if the captain knew when he was well off, he would "take his meals out." Asaph snorted and intimated that that Debby Beasley wasn't fit to "keep house in a pigsty, and anybody but a born gump would have known it." Bailey, the "born gump," said nothing, but looked appealingly at his chum.
As for Captain Cy, he did not take the trouble to affirm or deny the rumors. Peace and quiet dominated the Whittaker house for the first time in three weeks and its owner was happier. He cooked his own food and washed his own dishes. The runaway cat ventured to return, found other viands than beans in its saucer, and decided to remain, purring thankful contentment. The captain made his own bed, after a fashion, when he was ready to occupy it, but he was conscious that it might be better made. He refused, however, to spend his time in sweeping and dusting, and the dust continued to accumulate on the carpets and furniture. This condition of affairs troubled him, but he kept his own counsel. Asaph and Bailey called often, but they offered no more suggestions as to hiring a housekeeper. Mr. Tidditt might have done so, but the captain gave him no encouragement. Mr. Bangs, recent humiliation fresh in his mind, would as soon have suggested setting the house on fire.
One evening Asaph happened in, on his way to Simmons's. He desired the captain to accompany him to that gathering place of the wise and talkative. Captain Cy was in the sitting room, a sheet of note paper in his hand. The town clerk entered without ceremony and tossed his hat on the sofa.
"Evenin', Ase," observed the captain, folding the sheet of paper and putting it into his pocket. "Glad you come. Sit down. I wanted to ask you somethin'."
"All right! Here I be. Heave ahead and ask."
Captain Cy puffed at his pipe. He seemed about to speak and then to think better of it, for he crossed his legs and smoked on in silence, gazing at the nickel work of the "base-burner" stove. It was badly in need of polishing.
"Well?" inquired Asaph, with impatient sarcasm. "Thinkin' of askin' me to build a fire for you, was you? Nobody else but you would have set up a stove in summer time, anyhow."
"Hey? No, you needn't start a fire yet awhile. That necktie of yours 'll keep us warm till fall, I shouldn't wonder. New one, ain't it? Where'd you get it?"
Mr. Tidditt was wearing a crocheted scarf of a brilliant crimson hue, particularly becoming to his complexion. The complexion now brightened until it was almost a match for the tie.
"Oh!" he said, with elaborate indifference. "That? Yes, it's new. Yesterday was my birthday, and Matildy Tripp she knew I needed a necktie, so she give me this one."
"Oh! One she knit purpose for you, then? Dear me! Look out, Ase. Widow women are dangerous, they say; presents are one of the first baits they heave out."
"Don't be foolish, now! I couldn't chuck it back at her, could I? That would be pretty manners. You needn't talk about widders—not after Debby! Ho! ho!"
Captain Cy chuckled. Then he suddenly became serious.
"Ase," he said, "you remember the time when the Howes folks had this house? Course you do. Yes; well, was there any of their relations here with 'em? A—a cousin, or somethin'?"
"No, not as I recollect. Yes, there was, too, come to think. A third cousin, Mary Thayer her name was. I THINK she was a third cousin of Betsy Howes, Seth Howes's second wife. Betsy's name was Ginn afore she married, and the Ginns was related on their ma's side to a Richards—Emily Richards, I think 'twas—and Emily married a Thayer. Would that make this Mary a third cousin? Now let's see; Sarah Jane Ginn, she had an aunt who kept a boardin' house in Harniss. I remember that, 'count of her sellin' my Uncle Bije a pig. Seems to me 'twas a pig, but I ain't sure that it mightn't have been a settin' of Plymouth Rock hens' eggs. Anyhow, Uncle Bije KEPT hens, because I remember one time—"
"There! there! we'll be out of sight of land in a minute. This Mary Thayer—old, was she?"
"No, no! Just a young girl, eighteen or twenty or so. Pretty and nice and quiet as ever I see. By Godfrey, she WAS pretty! I wan't as old as I be now, and—"
"Ase, don't tell your heart secrets, even to me. I might get absent-minded and mention 'em to Matildy. And then—whew!"
"If you don't stop tryin' to play smarty I'll go home. What's Matildy Tripp to me, I'd like to know? And even when Mary Thayer was here I was old enough to be her dad. But I remember what a nice girl she was and how the boarders liked her. They used to say she done more than all the Howes tribe put together to make the Sea Sight House a good hotel. Young as she was she done most of the housekeepin' and done it well. If the rest of 'em had been like her you mightn't have had the place yet, Whit. But what set you to thinkin' about her?"
"Oh, I don't know! Nothin' much; that is—well, I'll tell you some other time. What became of her?"
"She went up to New Hampshire along with the Howes folks and I ain't seen her since. Seems to me I did hear she was married. See here, Whit, what is it about her? Tell a feller; come!"
But Captain Cy refused to gratify his chum's lively curiosity. Also he refused to go to Simmons's that evening, saying that he was tired and guessed he'd stay at home and "turn in early." Mr. Tidditt departed grumbling. After he had gone the captain drew his chair nearer the center table, took from his pocket a sheet of notepaper, and proceeded to read what was written on its pages. It was a letter which he had received nearly a month before and had not yet answered. During the past week he had read it many times. The writing was cramped and blotted and the paper cheap and dingy. The envelope bore the postmark of a small town in Indiana, and the inclosure was worded as follows:
CAPTAIN CYRUS WHITTAKER.
DEAR SIR: I suppose you will be a good deal surprised to hear from me, especially from way out West here. When you bought the old house of Seth, he and I was living in Concord, N. H. He couldn't make a go of his business there, so we came West and he has been sick most of the time since. We ain't well off like you, and times are hard with us. What I wanted to write you about was this. My cousin Mary Thomas, Mary Thayer that was, is still living in Concord and she is poor and needs help, though I don't suppose she would ask for it, being too proud. False pride I call it. Me and Seth would like to do something for her, but we have a hard enough job to keep going ourselves. Mary married a man by the name of Henry Thomas, and he turned out to be a miserable good-for-nothing, as I always said he would. She wouldn't listen to me though. He run off and left her seven year ago last April, and I understand was killed or drowned somewheres up in Montana. Mary and [several words scratched out here] got along somehow since, but I don't know how. While we lived in Concord Seth sort of kept an eye on her, but now he can't of course. She's a good girl, or woman rather, being most forty, and would make a good housekeeper if you should need one as I suppose likely you will. If you could help her it would be an act of charity and you will be rewarded Above. Seth says why not write to her and tell her to come and see you? He feels bad about her, because he is so sick I suppose. And he knows you are rich and could do good if you felt like it. Her father's name was John Thayer. I wouldn't wonder if you used to know her mother. She was Emily Richards afore she married and they used to live in Orham.
P.S.—Mary's address is Mrs. Mary Thomas, care Mrs. Oliver, 128 Blank Street, Concord, N. H.
N.B.—Seth won't say so, but I will: we are very hard up ourselves and if you could help him and me with the loan of a little money it would be thankfully received.
Captain Cy read the letter, folded it, and replaced it in his pocket. He knew the Howes family by reputation, and the reputation was that of general sharpness in trade and stinginess in money matters. Betsy's personal appeal did not, therefore, touch his heart to any great extent. He surmised also that for Seth Howes and his wife to ask help for some person other than themselves premised a darky in the woodpile somewhere. But for the daughter of Emily Richards to be suggested as a possible housekeeper at the Cy Whittaker place—that was interesting, certainly.
When the captain was not a captain—when he was merely "young Cy," a boy, living with his parents, a dancing school was organized in Bayport. It was an innovation for our village, and frowned upon by many of the older and stricter inhabitants. However, most of the captain's boy friends were permitted to attend; young Cy was not. His father considered dancing a waste of time and, if not wicked, certainly frivolous and nonsensical. So the boy remained at home, but, in spite of the parental order, he practiced some of the figures of the quadrilles and the contra dances in his comrades' barns, learning them at second hand, so to speak.
One winter there was to be a party in Orham, given by the Nickersons, wealthy people with a fifteen-year-old daughter. It was to be a grand affair, and most of the boys and girls in the neighboring towns were invited. Cy received an invitation, and, for a wonder, was permitted to attend. The Bayport contingent went over in a big hayrick on runners and the moonlight ride was jolly enough. The Nickerson mansion was crowded and there were music and dancing.
Young Cy was miserable during the dancing. He didn't dare attempt it, in spite of his lessons in the barn. So, while the rest of his boy friends sought partners for the "Portland Fancy" and "Hull's Victory" he sat forlorn in a corner.
As he sat there he was approached by a young lady, radiant in muslin and ribbons. She was three or four years older than he was, and he had worshipped her from afar as she whirled up and down the line in the Virginia Reel. She never lacked partners and seemed to be a great favorite with the young men, especially one good-looking chap with a sunburned face, who looked like a sailor.
They were forming sets for "Money Musk"; it was "ladies' choice," and there was a demand for more couples. The young lady came ever to Cy's corner and laughingly dropped him a courtesy.
"If you please," she said, "I want a partner. Will you do me the honor?"
Cy blushingly avowed that he couldn't dance any to speak of.
"Oh, yes, you can! I'm sure you can. You're the Whittaker boy, aren't you? I've heard about your barn lessons. And I want you to try this with me. Please do. No, John," she added, turning to the sunburned young fellow who had followed her across the room; "this is my choice and here is my partner. Susie Taylor is after you and you mustn't run away. Come, Mr. Whittaker."
So Cy took her arm and they danced "Money Musk" together. He made but a few mistakes, and these she helped him to correct so easily that none noticed. His success gave him courage and he essayed other dances; in fact, he had a very good time at the party after all.
On the way home he thought a great deal about the pretty young lady, whose name he discovered was Emily Richards. He decided that if she would only wait for him, he might like to marry her when he grew up. But he was thirteen and she was seventeen, and the very next year she married John Thayer, the sailor in the blue suit. And two years after that young Cy ran away to be a sailor himself.
In spite of his age and his lifetime of battering about the world, Captain Cy had a sentimental streak in his makeup; his rejuvenation of the old home proved that. Betsy's letter interested him. He had made guarded inquiries concerning Mary Thayer, now Mary Thomas, of others besides Asaph, and the answers had been satisfactory so far as they went; those who remembered her had liked her very much. The captain had even begun a letter to Mrs. Thomas, but laid it aside unfinished, having, since Bailey's unfortunate experience with the widow Beasley, a prejudice against experiments.
But this evening, before Mr. Tidditt called, he had been thinking that something would have to be done and done soon. The generally shiftless condition of his domestic surroundings was getting to be unbearable. Dust and dirt did not fit into his mental picture of the old home as it used to be and as he had tried to restore it. There had been neither dust nor dirt in his mother's day.
He meditated and smoked for another hour. Then, his mind being made up, he pulled down the desk lid of the old-fashioned secretary, resurrected from a pile of papers the note he had begun to Mrs. Thomas, dipped a sputtering pen into the ink bottle and proceeded to write.
His letter was a short one and rather noncommittal. As Mrs. Thomas no doubt knew he had come back to live in his father's house at Bayport. He might possibly need some one to keep house for him. He understood that she, Mary Thayer that was, was a good housekeeper and that she was open to an engagement if everything was mutually satisfactory. He had known her mother slightly when the latter lived in Orham. He thought an interview might be pleasant, for they could talk over old times if nothing more. Perhaps, on the whole, she might care to risk a trip to Bayport, therefore he inclosed money for her railroad fare. "You understand, of course," so he wrote in conclusion, "that nothing may come of our meeting at all. So please don't say a word to anybody when you strike town. You've lived here yourself, and you know that three words hove overboard in Bayport will dredge up gab enough to sink a dictionary. So just keep mum till the business is settled one way or the other."
He put on his hat and went down to the post office, where he dropped his letter in the slot of the box fastened to the front door. Then he returned home and retired at exactly eleven o'clock. In spite of his remarks to Asaph, he had not "turned in" so early after all.
If the captain expected a prompt reply to his note he was disappointed. A week passed and he heard nothing. Then three more days and still no word from the New Hampshire widow. Meanwhile fresh layers of dust spread themselves over the Whittaker furniture, and the gaudy patterns of the carpets blushed dimly beneath a grimy fog. The situation was desperate; even Matilda Tripp, Come-Outer sermons and all, began to be thinkable as a possibility.
The eleventh day began with a pouring rain that changed, later on, to a dismal drizzle. The silver-leaf tree in the front yard dripped, and the overflowing gutters gurgled and splashed. The bay was gray and lonely, and the fish weirs along the outer bar were lost in the mist. The flowers in the Atkins urns were draggled and beaten down. Only the iron dogs glistened undaunted as the wet ran off their newly painted backs. The air was heavy, and the salty flavor of the flats might almost be tasted in it.
Captain Cy was in the sitting room, as usual. His spirits were as gray as the weather. He was actually lonesome for the first time since his return home. He had kindled a wood fire in the stove, just for the sociability of it, and the crackle and glow behind the isinglass panes only served to remind him of other days and other fires. The sitting room had not been lonesome then.
He heard the depot wagon rattle by and, peering from the window, saw that, except for Mr. Lumley, it was empty. Not even a summer boarder had come to brighten our ways and lawns with reckless raiment and the newest slang. Summer boarding season was almost over now. Bayport would soon be as dull as dish water. And the captain admitted to himself that it WAS dull. He had half a mind to take a flying trip to Boston, make the round of the wharves, and see if any of the old shipowners and ship captains whom he had once known were still alive and in harness.
"JINGLE! Jingle! JINGLE! Jingle! Jingle! Jing! Jing! Jing!"
Captain Cy bounced in his chair. That was the front-door bell. The FRONT-door bell! Who on earth, or, rather, who in Bayport, would come to the FRONT door?
He hurried through the dim grandeur of the best parlor and entered the little dark front hall. The bell was still swinging at the end of its coil of wire. The dust shaken from it still hung in the air. The captain unbolted and unlocked the big front door.
A girl was standing on the steps between the lines of box hedge—a little girl under a big "grown-up" umbrella. The wet dripped from the umbrella top and from the hem of the little girl's dress.
Captain Cy stared hard at his visitor; he knew most of the children in Bayport, but he didn't know this one. Obviously she was a stranger. Portuguese children from "up Harniss way" sometimes called to peddle huckleberries, but this child was no "Portugee."
"Hello!" exclaimed the captain wonderingly.
"Did you ring the bell?"
"Yes, sir," replied the girl.
"Humph! Did, hey? Why?"
"Why? Why, I thought—Isn't it a truly bell? Didn't it ought to ring? Is anybody sick or dead? There isn't any crape."
"Dead? Crape?" Captain Cy gasped. "What in the world put that in your head?"
"Well, I didn't know but maybe that was why you thought I hadn't ought to have rung it. When mamma was sick they didn't let people ring our bell. And when she died they tied it up with crape."
"Did, hey? Hum!" The captain scratched his chin and gazed at the small figure before him. It was a self-poised, matter-of-fact figure for such a little one, and, out there in the rain under the tent roof of the umbrella, it was rather pitiful.
"Please, sir," said the child, "are you Captain Cyrus Whittaker?"
"Yup! That's me. You've guessed it the first time."
"Yes, sir. I've got a letter for you. It's pinned inside my dress. If you could hold this umbrella maybe I could get it out."
She extended the big umbrella at arm's length, holding it with both hands. Captain Cy woke up.
"Good land!" he exclaimed, "what am I thinkin' of? You're soakin' wet through, ain't you?"
"I guess I'm pretty wet. It's a long ways from the depot, and I tried to come across the fields, because a boy said it was nearer, and the bushes were—"
"Across the FIELDS? Have you walked all the way from the depot?"
"Yes, sir. The man said it was a quarter to ride, and auntie said I must be careful of my money because—"
"By the big dipper! Come in! Come in out of that this minute!"
He sprang down the steps, furled the umbrella, seized her by the arm and led her into the house, through the parlor and into the sitting room, where the fire crackled invitingly. He could feel that the dress sleeve under his hand was wet through, and the worn boots and darned stockings he could see were soaked likewise.
"There!" he cried. "Set down in that chair. Put your feet up on that h'ath. Sakes alive! Your folks ought to know better than to let you stir out this weather, let alone walkin' a mile—and no rubbers! Them shoes ought to come off this minute, I s'pose. Take 'em off. You can dry your stockings better that way. Off with 'em!"
"Yes, sir," said the child, stooping to unbutton the shoes. Her wet fingers were blue. It can be cold in our village, even in early September, when there is an easterly storm. Unbuttoning the shoes was slow work.
"Here, let me help you!" commanded the captain, getting down on one knee and taking a foot in his lap. "Tut! tut! tut! you're wet! Been some time sence I fussed with button boots; lace or long-legged cowhides come handier. Never wore cowhides, did you?"
"I s'pose not. I used to when I was little. Remember the first pair I had. Copper toes on 'em—whew! The copper was blacked over when they come out of the store and that wouldn't do, so we used to kick a stone wall till they brightened up. There! there she comes. Humph! stockin's soaked, too. Wish I had some dry ones to lend you. Might give you a pair of mine, but they'd be too scant fore and aft and too broad in the beam, I cal'late. Humph! and your top-riggin's as wet as your hull. Been on your beam ends, have you?"
"I don't know, sir. I fell down in the bushes coming across. There were vines and they tripped me up. And the umbrella was so heavy that—"
"Yes, I could see right off you was carryin' too much canvas. Now take off your bunnit and I'll get a coat of mine to wrap you up in."
He went into his bedroom and returned with a heavy "reefer" jacket. Ordering his caller to stand up he slipped her arms into the sleeves and turned the collar up about her neck. Her braided "pigtail" of yellow hair stuck out over the collar and hung down her back in a funny way. The coat sleeves reached almost to her knees and the coat itself enveloped her like a bed quilt.
"There!" said Captain Cy approvingly. "Now you look more as if you was under a storm rig. Set down and toast your toes. Where's that letter you said you had?"
"It's inside here. I don't know's I can get at it; these sleeves are so long."
"Reef 'em. Turn 'em up. Let me show you. That's better! Hum! So you come from the depot, hey? Live up that way?"
"No, sir! I used to live in Concord, but—"
"Concord? CONCORD? Concord where?"
"Concord, New Hampshire. I came on the cars. Auntie knew a man who was going to Boston, and he said he'd take care of me as far as that and then put me on the train to come down here. I stopped at his folks' house in Charlestown last night, and this morning we got up early and he bought me a ticket and started me for here. I had a box with my things in it, but it was so heavy I couldn't carry it, so I left it up at the depot. The man there said it would be all right and you could send for it when—"
"I could SEND for it? I could? What in the world—Say, child, you've made a mistake in your bearin's. 'Taint me you want to see, it's some of your folks, relations, most likely. Tell me who they are; maybe I know 'em."
The girl sat upright in the big chair. Her dark eyes opened wide and her chin quivered.
"Ain't you Captain Cyrus Whittaker?" she demanded. "You said you was."
"Yes, yes, I am. I'm Cy Whittaker, but what—"
"Well, auntie told me—"
"Auntie! Auntie who?"
"Auntie Oliver. She isn't really my auntie, but mamma and me lived in her house for ever so long and so—"
"Wait! wait! wait! I'm hull down in the fog. This is gettin' too thick for ME. Your auntie's name's Oliver and you lived in Concord, New Hampshire. For—for thunder sakes, what's YOUR name?"
"Emily Richards Thomas."
"Emily Richards Thomas! What was your ma's name?"
"Mamma was Mrs. Thomas. Her front name was Mary. She's dead. Don't you want to see your letter? I've got it now."
She lifted one of the flapping coat sleeves and extended a crumpled, damp envelope. Captain Cy took it in a dazed fashion and drew a long breath. Then he tore open the envelope and read the following:
DEAR CAPTAIN WHITTAKER:
The bearer of this is Emily Richards Thomas. She is seven, going on eight, but old for her years. Her mother was Mary Thomas that used to be Mary Thayer. It was her you wrote to about keeping house for you, but she had been dead a fortnight before your letter come. She had bronchial pneumonia and it carried her off, having always been delicate and with more troubles to bear than she could stand, poor thing. Since her husband, who I say was a scamp even if he is dead, left her and the baby, she has took rooms with me and done sewing and such. When she passed away I wrote to Seth Howes, a relation of hers out West, and, so far as I know, the only one she had. I told the Howes man that Mary had gone and Emmie was left. Would they take her? I wrote. And Seth's wife wrote they couldn't, being poorer than poverty themselves. I was afraid she would have to go to a Home, but when your letter came I wrote the Howeses again. And Mrs. Howes wrote back that you was rich, and a sort of far-off relation of Mary's, and probably you would be glad to take the child to bring up. Said that she had some correspondence with you about Mary before. So I send Emmie to you. Somebody's got to take care of her and I can't afford it, though I would if I could, for she's a real nice child and some like her mother. I do hope she can stay with you. It seems a shame to send her to the orphan asylum. I send along what clothes she's got, which ain't many.
Captain Cy read the letter through. Then he wiped his forehead.
"Well!" he muttered. "WELL! I never in my life! I—I never did! Of all—"
Emily Richards Thomas looked up from the depths of the coat collar.
"Don't you think," she said, "that you had better send to the depot for my box? I can get dry SOME this way, but mamma always made me change my clothes as soon as I could. She used to be afraid I'd get cold."
ICICLES AND DUST
Captain Cy did not reply to the request for the box. It is doubtful if he even heard it. Mrs. Oliver's astonishing letter had, as he afterwards said, left him "high and dry with no tug in sight." Mary Thomas was dead, and her daughter, her DAUGHTER! of whose very existence he had been ignorant, had suddenly appeared from nowhere and been dropped at his door, like an out-of-season May basket, accompanied by the modest suggestion that he assume responsibility for her thereafter. No wonder the captain wiped his forehead in utter bewilderment.
"Don't you think you'd better send for the box?" repeated the child, shivering a little under the big coat.
"Hey? What say? Never mind, though. Just keep quiet for a spell, won't you. I want to let this soak in. By the big dipper! Of all the solid brass cheek that ever I run across, this beats the whole cargo! And Betsy Howes never hinted! 'Probably you would be glad to take—' Be GLAD! Why, blast their miserable, stingy—What do they take me for? I'LL show 'em! Indiana ain't so fur that I can't—Hey? Did you say anything, sis?"
The girl had shivered again. "No, sir," she replied. "It was my teeth, I guess. They kind of rattled."
"What? You ain't cold, are you? With all that round you and in front of that fire?"
"No, sir, I guess not. Only my back feels sort of funny, as if somebody kept dropping icicles down it. Those bushes and vines were so wet that when I tumbled down 'twas most like being in a pond."
"Sho! sho! That won't do. Can't have you laid up on my hands. That would be worse than—Humph! Tut, tut! Somethin' ought to be done, and I'm blessed if I know what. And not a woman round the place—not even that Debby. Say, look here, what's your name—er—Emmie, hadn't I better get the doctor?"
The child looked frightened.
"Why?" she cried, her big eyes opening. "I'm not sick, am I?"
"Sick? No, no! Course not, course not. What would you want to be sick for? But you ought to get warm and dry right off, I s'pose, and your duds are all up to the depot. Say, what does—what did your ma used to do when you felt—er—them icicles and things?"
"She changed my clothes and rubbed me. And, if I was VERY wet she put me to bed sometimes."
"Bed? Sure! why, yes, indeed. Bed's a good place to keep off icicles. There's my bedroom right in there. You could turn in just as well as not. Bunk ain't made yet, but I can shake it up in no time. Say—er—er—you can undress yourself, can't you?"
"Oh, yes, sir! Course I can! I'm most eight."
"Sure you are! Don't act a mite babyish. All right, you set still till I shake up that bunk."
He entered the chamber, his own, opening from the sitting room, and proceeded, literally, to "shake up" the bed. It was not a lengthy process and, when it was completed, he returned to find his visitor already divested of the coat and standing before the stove.
"I guess perhaps you'll have to help undo me behind," observed the young lady. "This is my best dress and I can't reach the buttons in the middle of the back."
Captain Cy scratched his head. Then he clumsily unbuttoned the wet waist, glancing rather sheepishly at the window to see if anyone was coming.
"So this is your best dress, hey?" he asked, to cover his confusion. It was obviously not very new, for it was neatly mended in one or two places.
"So. Where'd you buy it—up to Concord?"
"No, sir. Mamma made it, a year ago."
There was a little choke in the child's voice. The captain was mightily taken back.
"Hum! Yes, yes," he muttered hurriedly. "Well, there you are. Now you can get along, can't you?"
"Yes, sir. Shall I go in that room?"
"Trot right in. You might—er—maybe you might sing out when you're tucked up. I—I'll want to know if you're got bedclothes enough."
Emily disappeared in the bedroom. The door closed. Captain Cy, his hands in his pockets, walked up and down the length of the sitting room. The expression on his face was a queer one.
"I haven't got any nightgown," called a voice from the other room. The captain gasped.
"Good land! so you ain't," he exclaimed. "What in the world—Humph! I wonder—"
He went to the lower drawer of a tall "highboy" and, from the tumbled mass of apparel therein took one of his own night garments.
"Here's one," he said, coming back with it in his hand. "I guess you'll have to make this do for now. It'll fit you enough for three times to once, but it's all I've got."
A small hand reached 'round the edge of the door and the nightshirt disappeared. Captain Cy chuckled and resumed his pacing.
"I'm tucked up," called Miss Thomas. The captain entered and found her in bed, the patchwork points and diamonds of the "Rising Sun" quilt covering her to the chin and her head denting the uppermost of the two big pillows. Captain Cy liked to "sleep high."
"Got enough over you?" he asked.
"Yes, sir, thank you."
"That's good. I'll take your togs out and dry 'em in the kitchen. Don't be scared; I'll be right back."
In the kitchen he sorted the wet garments and hung them about the cook stove. It was a strange occupation for him and he shook his head whimsically as he completed it. Then he took a flat iron, one of Mrs. Beasley's purchases, from the shelf in the closet and put it in the oven to heat. Soon afterwards he returned to the bedroom, bearing the iron wrapped in a dish towel.
"My ma always used to put a hot flat to my feet when I was a young one and got chilled," he explained. "I ain't used one for some time, but I guess it's a good receipt. How do you feel now? Any more icicles?"
"No, sir. I'm ever so warm. Isn't this a nice bed?"
"Think so, do you? Glad of it. Well, now, I'm goin' to leave you in it while I step down street and see about havin' your box sent for. I'll be back in a shake. If anybody comes to the door while I'm gone don't you worry; let 'em go away again."
He put on his hat and left the house, walking rapidly, his head down and his hands in his pockets. At times he would pause in his walk, whistle, shake his head, and go on once more. Josiah Dimick met him, and his answers to Josiah's questions were so vague and irrelevant that Captain Dimick was puzzled, and later expressed the opinion that "Whit's cookin' must be pretty bad; acted to me as if he had dyspepsy of the brain."
Captain Cy stopped at Mr. Lumley's residence to leave an order for the delivery of the box. Then he drifted into Simmons's and accosted Alpheus Smalley.
"Al," he said, "what's good for a cold?"
"Why?" asked Mr. Smalley, in true Yankee fashion. "You got one?"
"Hey? Oh, yes! Yes, I've got one." By way of proof he coughed until the lamp chimneys rattled on the shelf.
"Judas! I should think you had! Well, there's 'Pine Bark Oil' and 'Sassafras Elixir' and two kinds of sass'p'rilla—that's good for most everything—and—Is your throat sore?"
"Hey? Yes, I guess so."
"Don't you KNOW? If you've got sore throat there ain't nothin' better'n 'Arabian Balsam.' But what in time are you doin' out in this drizzle with a cold and no umbrella? Do you want to—"
"Never mind my umbrella. I left it in the church entry t'other Sunday and somebody got out afore I did. This 'Arabian Balsam'—seems to me I remember my ma's usin' that on me. Wet a rag with it, don't you, and tie it round your neck?"
"Yup. Be sure and use a flannel rag, and red flannel if you've got it; that acts quicker'n the other kinds. Fifteen cent bottle?"
"I guess so. Might's well give me some sass'p'rilla, while you're about it; always handy to have in the house. And—er—say, is that canned soup you've got up on that shelf?"
The astonished clerk admitted that it was.
"Well, give me a can of the chicken kind."
Mr. Smalley, standing on a chair to reach the shelf where the soup was kept, shook his head.
"Now, that's too bad, Cap'n," he said, "but we're all out of chicken just now. Fact is, we ain't got nothin' but termatter and beef broth. Yes, and I declare if the termatter ain't all gone."
"Humph! then I guess I'll take the beef. Needn't mind wrappin' it up. So long."
He departed bearing his purchases. When Mr. Simmons, proprietor of the store, returned, Alpheus told him that he "cal'lated" Captain Cy Whittaker was preparing to "go into a decline, or somethin'."
"Anyhow," said Alpheus, "he bought sass'p'rilla and 'Arabian Balsam,' and I sold him a can of that beef soup you bought three year ago last summer, when Alicia Atkins had the chicken pox."
The captain entered the house quietly and tiptoed to the door of the bedroom. Emily was asleep, and the sight of the childish head upon the pillow gave him a start as he peeped in at it. It looked so natural, almost as if it belonged there. It had been in a bed like that and in that very room that he had slept when a boy.
Gabe, brimful of curiosity, brought the box a little later. His curiosity was ungratified, Captain Cyrus explaining that it was a package he had been expecting. The captain took the box to the bedroom, and, finding the child still asleep, deposited it on the floor and tiptoed out again. He went to the kitchen, poked up the fire, and set about getting dinner.
He was warming the beef broth in a saucepan on the stove when Emily appeared. She was dressed in dry clothes from the box and seemed to be feeling as good as new.
"Hello!" exclaimed Captain Cy. "You're on deck again, hey? How's icicles?"
"All gone," was the reply. "Do you do your own work? Can't I help? I can set the table. I used to for Mrs. Oliver."
The captain protested that he could do it himself just as well, but the girl persisting, he showed her where the dishes were kept. From the corner of his eye he watched her as she unfolded the tablecloth.
"Is this the only one you've got?" she inquired. "It's awful dirty."
"Hum! Yes, I ain't tended up to my washin' and ironin' the way I'd ought to. I'll lose my job if I don't look out, hey?"
Before they sat down to the meal Captain Cy insisted that his guest take a tablespoonful of the sarsaparilla and decorate her throat with a section of red flannel soaked in the 'Arabian Balsam.' The perfume of the latter was penetrating and might have interfered with a less healthy appetite than that of Miss Thomas.
"Have some soup? Some I bought purpose for you. Best thing goin' for folks with icicles," remarked the captain, waving the iron spoon he had used to stir the contents of the saucepan.
"Yes, sir, thank you. But don't you ask a blessing?"
"A blessing, you know. Saying that you're thankful for the food now set before us."
"Hum! Why, to tell you the truth I've kind of neglected that, I'm afraid. Bein' thankful for the grub I've had lately was most too much of a strain, I shouldn't wonder."
"I know the one mamma used to say. Shall I ask it for you?"
"Sho! I guess so, if you want to."
The girl bent her head and repeated a short grace. Captain Cy watched her curiously.
"Now, I'll have some soup, please," observed Emily. "I'm awful hungry. I had breakfast at five o'clock this morning and we didn't have a chance to eat much."
A good many times that day the captain caught himself wondering if he wasn't dreaming. The whole affair seemed too ridiculous to be an actual experience. Dinner over, he and Emmie attended to the dishes, he washing and she wiping. And even at this early stage of their acquaintance her disposition to take charge of things was apparent. She found fault with the dish towels; they were almost as bad as the tablecloth, she said. Considering that the same set had been in use since Mrs. Beasley's departure, the criticism was not altogether baseless. But the young lady did not stop there—her companion's skill as a washer was questioned.
"Excuse me," she said, "but don't you think that plate had better be done over? I guess you didn't see that place in the corner. Perhaps you've forgot your specs. Auntie Oliver couldn't see well without her specs."
Captain Cy grinned and admitted that a second washing wouldn't hurt the plate.
"I guess your auntie was one of the particular kind," he said.
"No, sir, 'twas mamma. She couldn't bear dirty things. Auntie used to say that mamma hunted dust with a magnifying glass. She didn't, though; she only liked to be neat. I guess dust doesn't worry men so much as it does women."
"Oh, 'cause there's so much of it here; don't you think so? I'll help you clean up by and by, if you want to."
"Yes, sir. I used to dust sometimes when mamma was out sewing. And once I swept, but I did it so hard that auntie wouldn't let me any more. She said 'twas like trying to blow out a match with a tornado."
Later on he found her standing in the sitting room, critically inspecting the mats, the furniture, and the pictures on the walls. He stood watching her for a moment and then asked:
"Well, what are you lookin' for—more dust? 'Twon't be hard to find it. 'Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.' Every time I go outdoor and come in again I realize how true that is."
Emily shook her head.
"No, sir," she said; "I was only looking at things and thinking."
"Thinkin', hey? What about? or is that a secret?"
"No, sir. I was thinking that this room was different from any I've ever seen."
"Humph! Yes, I presume likely 'tis. Don't like it very much, do you?"
"Yes, sir, I think I do. It's got a good many things in it that I never saw before, but I guess they're pretty—after you get used to 'em."
Captain Cy laughed aloud. "After you get used to 'em, hey?" he repeated.
"Yes, sir. That's what mamma said about Auntie Oliver's new bonnet that she made herself. I—I was thinking that you must be peculiar."
"Yes, sir. I like peculiar people. I'm peculiar myself. Auntie used to say I was the most peculiar child she ever saw. P'raps that's why I came to you. P'raps God meant for peculiar ones to live together. Don't you think maybe that was it?"
And the captain, having no answer ready, said nothing.
That evening when Asaph and Bailey, coming for their usual call, peeped in at the window, they were astounded by the tableau in the Whittaker sitting room. Captain Cy was seated in the rocking chair which had been his grandfather's. At his feet, on the walnut cricket with a haircloth top, sat a little girl turning over the leaves of a tattered magazine, a Godey's Lady's Book. A pile of these magazines was beside her on the floor. The captain was smiling and looking over her shoulder. The cat was curled up in another chair. The room looked more homelike than it had since its owner returned to it.
The friends entered without knocking. Captain Cy looked up, saw them, and appeared embarrassed.
"Hello, boys!" he said. "Glad to see you. Come right in. Clearin' off fine, ain't it?"
Mr. Tidditt replied absently that he wouldn't be surprised if it was. Bailey, his eyes fixed upon the occupant of the cricket, said nothing.
"We—we didn't know you had company, Whit," said Asaph. "We been up to Simmons's and Alpheus said you was thin and peaked and looked sick. Said you bought sass'p'rilla and all kind of truck. He was afraid you had fever and was out of your head, cruisin round in the rain with no umbrella. The gang weren't talkin' of nothin' else, so me and Bailey thought we'd come right down."
"That's kind of you, I'm sure. Take your things off and set down. No, I'm sorry to disappoint Smalley and the rest, but I'm able to be up and—er—make my own bed, thank you. So Alpheus thought I looked thin, hey? Well, if I had to live on that soup he sold me, I'd be thinner'n I am now. You tell him that canned hot water is all right if you like it, but it seems a shame to put mud in it. It only changes the color and don't help the taste."
Mr. Bangs, who was still staring at Emily, now ventured a remark.
"Is that a relation of yours, Cy?" he asked.
"That? Oh! Well, no, not exactly. And yet I don't know but she is. Fellers, this is Emmie Thomas. Can't you shake hands, Emmie?"
The child rose, laid down the magazine, which was open at the colored picture of a group of ladies in crinoline and chignons, and, going across the room, extended a hand to Mr. Tidditt.
"How do you do, sir?" she said.
"Why—er—how d'ye do? I'm pretty smart, thank you. How's yourself?"
"I'm better now. I guess the sass'parilla was good for me."
"'Twan't the sass'p'rilla," observed the captain, with conviction. "'Twas the 'Arabian Balsam.' Ma always cured me with it and there's nothin' finer."
"But what in time—" began Bailey. Captain Cy glanced at the child and then at the clock.
"Don't you think you'd better turn in now, Emmie?" he said hastily, cutting off the remainder of the Bangs query. "It's after eight, and when I was little I was abed afore that."
Emily obediently turned, gathered up the Lady's Books and replaced them in the closet. Then she went to the dining room and came back with a hand lamp.
"Good night," she said, addressing the visitors. Then, coming close to the captain, she put her face up for a kiss.
"Good night," she said to him, adding, "I like it here ever so much. I'm awful glad you let me stay."
As Bailey told Asaph afterwards, Captain Cy blushed until the ends of the red lapped over at the nape of his neck. However, he bent and kissed the rosy lips and then quickly brushed his own with his hand.
"Yes, yes," he stammered. "Well—er—good night. Pleasant dreams to you. See you in the mornin'."
The girl paused at the chamber door. "You won't have to unbutton my waist now," she said. "This is my other one and it ain't that kind."
The door closed. The captain, without looking at his friends, led the way to the dining room.
"Come on out here," he whispered. "We can talk better here."
Naturally, they wanted to know all about the girl, who she was and where she came from. Captain Cy told as much of the history of the affair as he thought necessary.
"Poor young one," he concluded, "she landed on to me in the rain, soppin' wet, and ha'f sick. I COULDN'T turn her out then—nobody could. Course it's an everlastin' outrage on me and the cheekiest thing ever I heard of, but what could I do? I was fixed a good deal like an English feller by the name of Gatenby that I used to know in South America. He woke up in the middle of the night and found a boa constrictor curled on the foot of his bed. Next day, when a crowd of us happened in, there was Gatenby, white as a sheet, starin' down at the snake, and it sound asleep. 'I didn't invite him,' he says, 'but he looked so bloomin' comf'table I 'adn't the 'eart to disturb 'im.' Same way with me; the child seemed so comf'table here I ain't had the heart to disturb her—yet."
"But she said she was goin' to stay," put in Bailey. "You ain't goin' to KEEP her, are you?"
The captain's indignation was intense.
"Who—me?" he snorted. "What do you think I am? I ain't runnin' an orphan asylum. No, sir! I'll keep the young one a day or so—or maybe a week—and then I'll pack her off to Betsy Howes. I ain't so soft as they think I am. I'LL show 'em!"
Mr. Tidditt looked thoughtful.
"She's a kind of cute little girl, ain't she?" he observed.
Captain Cy's frown vanished and a smile took its place.
"That's so," he chuckled. "She is, now that's a fact! I don't know's I ever saw a cuter."
CAPTAIN CY PROVES DELINQUENT
A week isn't a very long time even in Bayport. True, there was once a drummer for a Boston "notion" house who sprained his ankle on the icy sidewalk in front of Simmons's, and was therefore obliged to remain in the front bedroom of the perfect boarding house for seven whole days. He is quoted as saying that next time he hoped he might break his neck.
"Brother," asked the shocked Rev. Mr. Daniels, who was calling upon the stranger, "are you prepared to face eternity?"
"What?" was the energetic reply. "After a week in this town, and in this bedroom? Look here, Mister, if you want to scare me about the future you just hint that they'll put me on a straw tick in an ice chest. Anything hot and lively 'll only be tempting after this."
But to us, who live here throughout the year, a week soon passes. And the end of the week following Emily Thomas's arrival at the Cy Whittaker place found the little girl still there and apparently no nearer being shipped to Indiana than when she came. Not so near, if Mr. Tidditt's opinion counts for anything.
"Gone?" he repeated scoffingly in reply to Bailey Bangs's question. "Course she ain't gone! And, what's more, she ain't goin' to go. Whit's got so already that he wouldn't part with her no more'n he'd cut off his hand."
"But he keeps SAYIN' she's got to go. Only yesterday he was tellin' how Betsy'd feel when the girl landed on her with his letter in her pocket."
"Sayin' don't count for nothin'. Zoeth Cahoon keeps SAYIN' he's goin' to stop drinkin', but he only stops long enough to catch his breath. Cy's tellin' himself fairy yarns and he hopes he believes 'em. Man alive! can't you SEE? Ain't he gettin' more foolish over the young one every day? Don't she boss him round like the overseer on a cranberry swamp? Don't he look more contented than he has sence he got off the cars? I tell you, Bailey, that child fills a place in Whit's life that's been runnin' to seed and needed weedin'. Nothin' could fill it better—unless 'twas a nice wife."
"WIFE! Oh, DO be still! I believe you're woman-struck and at an age when it hadn't ought to be catchin' no more'n whoopin' cough."
Mr. Bangs and the town clerk were the only ones, except Captain Cy, who knew the whole truth concerning the little girl. Not that the child's arrival wasn't noted and vigorously discussed by a large portion of the townspeople. Emily had not been in the Whittaker house two days before Angeline Phinney called, hot on the trail of gossip and sensation. But, persistent as Angeline was, she departed knowing not quite as much as when she came. The interview between Miss Phinney and the captain must have been interesting, judging by the lady's account of it.
"I never see such a man in my born days," declared Angie disgustedly. "You couldn't get nothin' out of him. Not that he wan't pleasant and sociable; land sakes! he acted as glad to see me as if I was his rich aunt come on a visit. And he was willin' to talk, too. That's the trouble; he done ALL the talkin'. I happened to mention, just as a sort of starter, you know, somethin' about the cranb'ry crop this fall; and after that all he could say was 'cranb'ries, cranb'ries, cranb'ries!' 'Hear you've got comp'ny,' says I. 'Did you?' says he. 'Now ain't it strange how things'll get spread around? Only yesterday I heard that Joe Dimick's swamp was just loaded down with "early blacks." And yet when I went over to look at it there didn't seem to be so many. There ain't much better cranb'ries anywhere than our early blacks,' he says. 'You take 'em—' And so on, and so on, and so on. I didn't care nothin' about the dratted early blacks, but he didn't seem to care for nothin' else. He talked cranb'ries steady for an hour and a half and I left that house with my mouth all puckered up; it's tasted sour ever sence. I never see such a man!"
When Captain Cy was questioned by Asaph concerning the acid conversation, he grinned.
"I didn't know you was so interested in cranb'ries," observed Tidditt.
"I ain't," was the reply; "but I'm more interested in 'em than I am in Angie. I see she was sufferin' from a rush of curiosity to the head and I cured her by homeopath doses. Every time she opened her mouth I dropped an 'early black' into it. It's a good receipt; you tell Bailey to try it on Ketury some time."
To his chums the captain was emphatic in his orders that secrecy be preserved. No one was to be told who the child was or where she came from. "What they don't know won't hurt 'em any," declared Captain Cy. And Emily's answer to inquiring souls who would fain have delved into her past was to the effect that "Uncle Cyrus" didn't like to have her talk about herself.
"I don't know's I'm ashamed of anything I've done so far," said the captain; "but I ain't braggin', either. Time enough to talk when I send her back to Betsy."
That time, apparently, was not in the near future. The girl stayed on at the Whittaker place and grew to be more and more a part of it. At the end of the second week Captain Cy began calling her "Bos'n."
"A bos'n's a mighty handy man aboard ship," he explained, "and you're so handy here that it fits in first rate. And, besides, it sounds so natural. My dad called me 'Bos'n' when I was little."
Emily accepted the title complacently. She was quite contented to be called almost anything, so long as she was permitted to stay with her new friend. Already the bos'n had taken charge of the deck and the rest of the ship's company; Captain Cy and "Lonesome," the cat, obeyed her orders.
On the second Sunday morning after her arrival "Bos'n" suggested that she and Captain Cy go to church.
"Mother and I always went at home," she said. "And Auntie Oliver used to say meeting was a good thing for those that needed it."
"Think I need it, do you?" asked the captain, who, in shirt sleeves and slippers, had prepared for a quiet forenoon with his pipe and the Boston Transcript.
"I don't know, sir. I heard what you said when Lonesome ate up the steak, and I thought maybe you hadn't been for a long time. I guess churches are different in South America."
So they went to church and sat in the old Whittaker pew. The captain had been there once before when he first returned to Bayport, but the sermon was more somnolent than edifying, and he hadn't repeated the experiment. The pair attracted much attention. Fragments of a conversation, heard by Captain Cy as they emerged into the vestibule, had momentous consequences.
"Kind of a pretty child, ain't she?" commented Mrs. Eben Salters, patting her false front into place under the eaves of her Sunday bonnet.
"Pretty enough in the face," sniffed Mrs. "Tad" Simpson, who was wearing her black silk for the first time since its third making-over. "Pretty enough that way, I s'pose. But, my land! look at the way she's rigged. Old dress, darned and patched up and all outgrown! If I had Cy Whittaker's money I'd be ashamed to have a relation of mine come to meetin' that way. Even if her folks was poorer'n Job's off ox I'd spend a little on my own account and trust to getting it back some time. I'd have more care for my own self-respect. Look at Alicia Atkins. See how nice she looks. Them feathers on her hat must have cost somethin', I bet you. Howdy do, 'Licia, dear? When's your pa comin' home?"
The Honorable Heman had left town on a business trip to the South. Alicia was accompanied by the Atkins housekeeper and, as usual, was garbed regardless of expense.
Mrs. Salters smiled sweetly upon the Atkins heir and then added, in a church whisper: "Don't she look sweet? I agree with you, Sarah; it is strange how Captain Whittaker lets his little niece go. And him rich!"
"Niece?" repeated Mrs. Simpson eagerly. "Who said 'twas his niece? I heard 'twas a child he'd adopted out of a home. There's all sorts of queer yarns about. I—Oh, good mornin', Cap'n Cyrus! How DO you do?"
The captain grunted an answer to the effect that he was bearing up pretty well, considering. There was a scowl on his face, and he spoke little as, holding Emily by the hand, he led the way home. That evening he dropped in at the perfect boarding house and begged to know if Mrs. Bangs had any "fashion books" around that she didn't want.
"I mean—er—er—magazines with pictures of women's duds in 'em," he stammered, in explanation. "Bos'n likes to look at 'em. She's great on fashion books, Bos'n is."
Keturah got together a half dozen numbers of the Home Dressmaker and other periodicals of a similar nature. The captain took them under his arm and departed, whispering to Mr. Tidditt, as he passed the latter in the hall:
"Come up by and by, Ase. I want to talk to you. Bring Bailey along, if you can do it without startin' divorce proceedings."
Later, when the trio gathered in the Whittaker sitting room, Captain Cy produced the "fashion books" and spoke concerning them.
"You see," he said, "I—I've been thinkin' that Bos'n—Emily, that is—wan't rigged exactly the way she ought to be. Have you fellers noticed it?"
His friends seemed surprised. Neither was ready with an immediate answer, so the captain went on.
"Course I don't mean she ain't got canvas enough to cover her spars," he explained; "but what she has got has seen consider'ble weather, and it seemed to me 'twas pretty nigh time to haul her into dry dock and refit. That's why I borrowed these magazines of Ketury. I've been lookin' them over and there seems to be plenty of riggin' for small craft; the only thing is I don't know what's the right cut for her build. Bailey, you're a married man; you ought to know somethin' about women's clothes. What do you think of this, now?"
He opened one of the magazines and pointed to the picture of a young girl, with a waspy waist and Lilliputian feet, who, arrayed in flounces and furbelows, was toddling gingerly down a flight of marble steps. She carried a parasol in one hand, and the other held the end of a chain to which a long-haired dog was attached.
The town clerk and his companion inspected the young lady with deliberation and interest.
"Well, what do you say?" demanded Captain Cy.
"I don't care much for them kind of dogs," observed Asaph thoughtfully.
"Good land! you don't s'pose they heave the dog in with the clothes, for good measure, do you? Bailey, what's your opinion?"
Mr. Bangs looked wise.
"I should say—" he said, "yes, sir, I should say that was a real stylish rig-out. Only thing is, that girl is consider'ble less fleshy than Emily. This one looks to me as if she was breakin' in two amidships. Still, I s'pose likely the duds don't come ready made, so they could be let out some, to fit. What's the price of a suit like that, Whit?"
The captain looked at the printed number beneath the fashion plate and then turned to the description in the text.
"'Afternoon gown for miss of sixteen,'" he read. "Humph! that settles that, first crack. Bos'n ain't but half of sixteen."
"Anyway," put in Asaph, "you need somethin' she could wear forenoons, if she wanted to. What's this one? She looks young enough."
The "one" referred to turned out to be a "coat for child of four." It was therefore scornfully rejected. One after another the different magazines were examined and the pictures discussed. At length a "costume for miss of eight years" was pronounced to be pretty nearly the thing.
"Godfrey scissors!" exclaimed the admiring Mr. Tidditt. "That's mighty swell, ain't it? What's the stuff goes into that, Cy?"
"'Material, batiste, trimmed with embroidered batiste.' What in time is batiste?"
"I don't know. Do you, Bailey?"
"No; never heard of it. Ketury never had nothin' like that, I'm sure. French, I shouldn't wonder. Well, Ketury's down on the French ever sence she read about Napoleon leavin' his fust wife to take up with another woman. Does it say any more?"
"Let's see. 'Makes a beautiful gown for evening or summer wear.' Summer! Why, by the big dipper, we're aground again! Bos'n don't want summer clothes. It's comin' on winter."
He threw the magazine on the floor, rubbed his forehead, and then burst into a laugh.
"For goodness sake, don't tell anybody about this business, boys!" he said. "I guess I must be havin' an early spring of second childhood. But when I heard those women at the meetin' house goin' on about how pretty 'Licia Atkins was got up and how mean and shabby Bos'n looked, it made me bile. And, by the big dipper, I WILL show 'em somethin' afore I get through, too! Only, dressin' little girls is some off my usual course. Bailey, does Ketury make her own duds?"
"Why, no! Course she helps and stands by for orders, but Effie Taylor comes and takes the wheel while the riggin's goin' on. Effie's a dressmaker and—"
"There! See, Ase? It IS some good to have a married man aboard, after all. A dressmaker's what we want. I'll hunt up Effie to-morrow."
And hunt her up he did, with the result that Miss Taylor came to the Whittaker place each day during the following week and Emily was, as the captain said, "rigged out fresh from main truck to keelson." In this "rigging" Captain Cy and his two partners—Josiah Dimick had already christened the pair "The Board of Strategy"—took a marked interest. They were on hand when each new garment was tried on, and they approved or criticised as seemed to them best.
"Ain't that kind of sober lookin' for a young one like Bos'n?" asked the captain, referring to one of the new gowns. "I don't want her to look as if she was dressed cheap."
"Land sakes!" mumbled Miss Taylor, her mouth full of pins. "There ain't anything cheap about it, and you'll find it out when you get the bill. That's a nice, rich, sensible suit."
"I know, but it's so everlastin' quiet! Don't you think a little yellow and black or some red strung along the yards would sort of liven it up? Why! you ought to see them Greaser girls down in South America of a Sunday afternoon. Color! and go! Jerushy! they'd pretty nigh knock your eye out."
The dressmaker sniffed disdain.
"Cap'n Whittaker," she retorted, "if you want this child to look like an Indian squaw or a barber's pole you'll have to get somebody else to do it. I'm used to dressing Christians, not yeller and black heathen women. Red strung along a skirt like that! I never did!"
"There, there, Effie! Don't get the barometer fallin'. I was only suggestin', you know. What do you think, Bos'n?"
"Why, Uncle Cyrus, I don't believe I should like red very much; nor the other colors, either. I like this just as it is."
"So? Well, you're the doctor. Maybe you're right. I wouldn't want you to look like a barber's pole. Don't love Tad Simpson enough to want to advertise his business."
Miss Taylor's coming had other results besides the refitting of "Bos'n." She found much fault with the captain's housekeeping. It developed that her sister Georgiana, who had been working in a Brockton shoe shop, was now at home and might be engaged to attend to the household duties at the Whittaker establishment, provided she was allowed to "go home nights." Georgiana was engaged, on trial, and did well. So that problem was solved.
School in Bayport opens the first week in October. Of late there has been a movement, headed by some of the townspeople who think city ways are best, to have the term begin in September. But this idea has little chance of success as long as cranberry picking continues to be our leading industry. So many of the children help out the family means by picking cranberries in the fall that school, until the picking season was over, would be slimly attended.
The last week in September found us all discussing the coming of the new downstairs teacher, Miss Phoebe Dawes. Since it was definitely settled that she was to come, the opposition had died down and was less openly expressed; but it was there, all the same, beneath the surface. Congressman Atkins had accepted the surprising defiance of his wish with calm dignity and the philosophy of the truly great who are not troubled by trifles. His lieutenant, Tad Simpson, quoted him as saying that, of course, the will of the school committee was paramount, and he, as all good citizens should, bowed to their verdict. "Far be it from me," so the great man proclaimed, "to desire that my opinion should carry more weight than that of the humblest of my friends and neighbors. Speaking as one whose knowledge of the world was, perhaps—er—more extensive than—er—others, I favored the Normal School candidate. But the persons chosen to select thought—or appeared to think—otherwise. I therefore say nothing and await developments."
This attitude was considered by most of us to reflect credit upon Mr. Atkins. There were a few scoffers, however. When the proclamation was repeated to Captain Cy he smiled.
"Alpheus," he said to Mr. Smalley, his informant, "you didn't use to know Deacon Zeb Clark, who lived up by the salt works in my granddad's time, hey? No, course you didn't! Well, the deacon was a great believer in his own judgment. One time, it bein' Saturday, his wife wanted him to pump the washtub full and take a bath. He said, no; said the cistern was awful low and 'twould use up all the water. She said no such thing; there was water a-plenty. To prove she was wrong he went and pried the cistern cover off to look, and fell in. Mrs. Clark peeked down and saw him there, standin' up to his neck.
"'Tabby,' says he, 'you would have your way and I'm takin' the bath. But you can see for yourself that we'll have to cart water from now on. However, I ain't responsible; throw me down the soap and towel.'"
"Humph!" grunted Smalley, "I don't see what that's got to do with it. Heman ain't takin' no bath."
"I don't know's it's got anything to do with it. But he kind of made me think of Zeb, all the same."
The first day of school was, of course, a Monday. On Sunday afternoon Captain Cy and Bos'n went for a walk. These walks had become a regular part of the Sabbath programme, the weather, of course, permitting. After church the pair came home for dinner. The meal being eaten, the captain would light a cigar—a pipe was now hardly "dressed-up" enough for Sunday—and, taking his small partner by the hand, would lead the way across the fields, through the pines and down by the meadow "short cut" to the cemetery. The cemetery is a favorite Sabbath resort for the natives of Bayport, who usually speak of it as the graveyard. It is a pleasant, shady spot, and to visit it is considered quite respectable and in keeping with the day and a due regard for decorum. The ungodly, meaning the summer boarders and the village no-accounts, seem to prefer the beach and the fish houses, but the cemetery attracts the churchgoers. One may gossip concerning the probable cost of a new tombstone and still remain faithful to the most rigid creed.
Captain Cy was not, strictly speaking, a religious man, according to Bayport standards. Between his attendance to churchly duties and that of the Honorable Heman Atkins there was a great gulf fixed. But he rather liked to visit the graveyard on Sunday afternoons. His mother had been used to stroll there with him, in his boyhood, and it pleased him to follow in her footsteps.
So he and Bos'n walked along the grass-covered paths, between the iron-fenced "lots" of the well-to-do and the humble mounds and simple slabs where the poor were sleeping; past the sumptuous granite shaft of the Atkins lot and the tilted mossy stone which told how "Edwin Simpson, our only son," had been "accidentally shot in the West Indies"; out through the back gate and up the hill to the pine grove overlooking the bay. Here, on a scented carpet of pine needles, they sat them down to rest and chat.
Emily, her small knees drawn up and encircled by her arms, looked out across the flats, now half covered with the rising tide. It was a mild day, more like August than October, and there was almost no wind. The sun was shining on the shallow water, and the sand beneath it showed yellow, checkered and marbled with dark green streaks and patches where the weed-bordered channels wound tortuously. On the horizon the sand hills of Wellmouth notched the blue sky. The girl drew a long breath.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Isn't this just lovely! I do like the sea an awful lot."
"That's natural enough," replied her companion. "There's a big streak of salt water in your blood on your ma's side. It pulls, that kind of a streak does. There's days when I feel uneasy every minute and hanker for a deck underneath me. The settin' room floor stays altogether too quiet on a day like that; I'd like to feel it heavin' over a ground swell."
"Say, Bos'n," he said a few minutes later; "I've been thinkin' about you. You've been to school, haven't you?"
"Course I have," was the rather indignant answer. "I went two years in Concord. Mamma used to help me nights, too. I can read almost all the little words. Don't I help you read your paper 'most every night?"
"Sartin you do! Yes, yes! Well, our school opens to-morrer and I've been thinkin' that maybe you'd better go. There's a new teacher comin', and I hear she's pretty good."
"Don't you KNOW? Why, Mr. Tidditt said you was the one that got her to come here!"
"Yes; well, Asaph says 'most everything but his prayers. Still, he ain't fur off this time; I cal'late I was some responsible for her bein' voted in. Yet I don't really know anything about her. You see, I—well, never mind. What do you think? Want to go?"
Bos'n looked troubled.
"I'd like to," she said. "Course I want to learn how to read the big words, too. But I like to stay at home with you more."
"You do, hey? Sho, sho! Well, I guess I can get along between times. Georgiana's there to keep me straight and she'll see to the dust and the dishes. I guess you'd better go to-morrer mornin' and see how you like it, anyhow."
The child thought for a moment.
"I think you're awful good," she said. "I like you next to mamma; even better than Auntie Oliver. I printed a letter to her the other day. I told her you were better than we expected and I had decided to live with you always."
Captain Cy was startled. Considering that, only the day before, he had repeated to Bailey the declaration that the arrangement was but temporary, and that Betsy Howes was escaping responsibility only for a month or so, he scarcely knew what to say.
"Humph!" he grunted. "You've decided it, have you? Well, we'll see. Now you trot around and have a good time. I'm goin' to have another smoke. I'll be here when you get back."
Bos'n wandered off in search of late golden rod. The captain smoked and meditated. By and by the puffs were less frequent and the cigar went out. It fell from his fingers. With his back against a pine tree Captain Cy dozed peacefully.
He awoke with a jump. Something had awakened him, but he did not know what. He blinked and gazed about him. Then he heard a faint scream.
"Uncle!" screamed Bos'n. "O—o—o—h! Uncle Cyrus, help me! Come quick!"
The next moment the captain was plunging through the scrub of huckleberry and bayberry bushes, bumping into pines and smashing the branches aside as he ran in the direction of the call.
Back of the pine grove was a big inclosed pasture nearly a quarter of a mile long. Its rear boundary was the iron fence of the cemetery. The other three sides were marked by rail fences and a stone wall. As the captain floundered from the grove and vaulted the rail fence he swore aloud.
"By the big dipper," he groaned, "it's that cussed heifer! I forgot her. Keep dodgin', Bos'n girl! I'm comin'."
The pasture was tenanted by a red and white cow belonging to Sylvanus Cahoon. Whether or not the animal had, during her calfhood days, been injured by a woman is not known; possibly her behavior was due merely to innate depravity. At any rate, she cherished a mortal hatred toward human beings of her own sex. With men and boys she was meek enough, but no person wearing skirts, and alone, might venture in that field without being chased by that cow. What would happen if the pursued one was caught could only be surmised, for, so far, no female had permitted herself to be caught. Few would come even so near as the other side of the pasture walls.
Bos'n had forgotten the cow. She had gone from one golden-rod clump to another until she had traversed nearly the length of the field. Then the vicious creature had appeared from behind a knoll in the pasture and, head down and bellowing wickedly, had rushed upon her. When the captain reached the far-off fence, the little girl was dodging from one dwarf pine to the next, with the cow in pursuit. The pines were few and Bos'n was nearly at the end of her defenses.
"Help!" she screamed. "Oh, uncle, where are you? What shall I do?"
Captain Cy roared in answer.
"Keep it up!" he yelled. "I'm a-comin'! Shoot you everlastin' critter! I'll break your back for you!"
The cow didn't understand English it seemed, even such vigorous English as the captain was using. Emily dodged to the last pine. The animal was close upon her. Her rescuer was still far away.
And then the cemetery gate opened and another person entered the pasture. A small person—a woman. She said nothing, but picking up her skirts, ran straight toward the cow, heedless of the latter's reputation and vicious appearance. One hand clutched the gathered skirts. In the other she held a book.
"Don't be scared, dear," she called reassuringly. Then to the cow: "Stop it! Go away, you wicked thing!"
The animal heard the voice and turned. Seeing that the newcomer was only a woman, she lowered her head and pawed the ground.
"Run for the gate, little girl," commanded the rescuer. "Run quick!" Bos'n obeyed. She made a desperate dash from her pine across the open space, and in another moment was safe inside the cemetery fence.
"Scat! Go home!" ordered the lady, advancing toward the cow and shaking the book at her, as if the volume was some sort of deadly weapon. "Aren't you ashamed of yourself! Go away! You needn't growl at me! I'm not a bit afraid of you."
The "growling" was the muttered bellow with which the cow was wont to terrorize her feminine victims. But this victim refused to be terrorized. Instead of screaming and running she continued to advance, brandishing the book and repeating her orders that the creature "go home" at once. The cow did not know what to make of it. Before she could decide whether to charge or retreat, a good-sized stick descended upon her back with a "whack" that settled the question. Captain Cy had reached the scene of battle.
Then the rescuer's courage seemed to desert her, for she ran back to the cemetery even faster than she had run from it. When the indignant captain, having pursued and chastised the cow until the stick was but a splintered remnant, reached the haven behind the iron fence, he found her soothing the frightened Bos'n who was sobbing and hysterical.
Emily saw her "Uncle Cyrus" coming and rushed into his arms. He picked her up and, holding her with a grip which testified to the nerve strain he had been under, stepped forward to meet the stranger, whose coming had been so opportune.
And she WAS a stranger. The captain knew most of Bayport's inhabitants by this time, or thought he did, but he did not know her. She was a small woman, quietly dressed, and her hair, under a neat black and white hat, was brown. The hat was now a trifle to one side and the hair was the least bit disarranged, an effect not at all unbecoming. She was tucking in the stray wisps as the captain, with Bos'n in his arms, came up.
"Well, ma'am!" puffed Captain Cy. "WELL, ma'am! I must say that was the slickest, pluckiest thing ever I saw anywheres. I don't know what would—I—I declare I don't know how to thank you."
The lady looked at him a moment before replying. Then she began to laugh, a jolly laugh that was pleasant to hear.
"Don't try, please," she said chokingly. "It wasn't anything. Oh, mercy me! I'm all out of breath. You see, I had been warned about that cow when I started to walk this afternoon. So when I saw her chasing your poor little girl here I knew right away what was the matter. It must have been foolish enough to look at. I'm used to dogs and cats, but I haven't had many pet cows. I told her to 'go home' and to 'scat' and all sorts of things. Wonder I didn't tell her to lie down! And the way I shook that ridiculous book at her was—"
She laughed again and the captain and Bos'n joined in the laugh, in spite of the fright they both had experienced.
"That book was dry enough to frighten almost anything," continued the lady. "It was one I took from the table before I left the place where I'm staying, and a duller collection of sermons I never saw. Oh, dear! . . . there! Is my hat any more respectable now?"
"Yes'm. It's about on an even keel, I should say. But I must tell you, ma'am, you done simply great and—"
"Seems to me the people who own that cow must be a poor set to let her make such a nuisance of herself. Did your daughter run away from you?"
"Well, you see, ma'am, she ain't really my daughter. Bos'n here—that's my nickname for her, ma'am—she and I was out walkin'. I set down in the pines and I guess I must have dozed off. Anyhow, when I woke up she was gone, and the first thing I knew of this scrape was hearin' her hail."
The little woman's manner changed. Her gray eyes flashed indignantly.
"You dozed off?" she repeated. "With a little girl in your charge, and in the very next lot to that cow? Didn't you know the creature chased women and girls?"
"Why, yes; I'd heard of it, but—"
"It wasn't Uncle Cyrus's fault," put in Bos'n eagerly. "It was mine. I went away by myself."
Beyond shifting her gaze to the child the lady paid no attention to this remark.
"What do you think her mother 'll say when she sees that dress?" she asked.
It was Emily's best gown, the finest of the new "rig out" prepared by Miss Taylor. The girl and Captain Cy gazed ruefully at the rents and pitch stains made by the vines and pine trees.