Whether they were shocked or not Sears did not stop to consider. He intended to shock them to the fullest extent of the word's meaning. At his feet was a stick, almost a log, part of the limb of a pear tree. He picked up this missile and hurled it at the marauders. It missed them but it struck in the squash bed and tore at least six of the delicate young squashlings from their moorings. Kendrick plunged after it—the hens separating as he advanced and rejoining at his rear—picked up the log and, turning, again hurled it.
"There!" roared the captain, "take that, damn you!"
One of the hens did "take it." So did some one else. The missile struck just beneath the fowl as she fled, lifted her and a peck or two of soil as well, and hurled the whole mass almost into the face of a person who, unseen until then, had advanced along the path from the gate and had arrived at that spot at that psychological instant. This person uttered a little scream, the hen fled with insane yells, the log and its accompanying shower fell back to earth, and Sears Kendrick and the young woman—for the newcomer was a young woman—stood and looked at each other.
She was bareheaded and her hair was dark and abundant, and she was wearing a gingham dress and a white apron. So much he noticed at this, their first meeting. Afterward he became aware that she was slender and that her age might perhaps be twenty-four or twenty-five. At that moment, of course, he did not notice anything except that her apron and dress—yes, even her hair and face—were plentifully besprinkled with earth and that she was holding a hand to her eyes as if they, too, might have received a share of the results of the terrestrial disturbance.
"Oh!" he stammered. "I'm awfully sorry! I—I hope I didn't hurt you."
If she heard him she did not answer, but, removing her hand, opened and shut her eyes rapidly. The captain's alarm grew as he watched this proceeding.
"I—I do hope I didn't hurt you," he repeated. "It—it didn't put your eyes out, did it?"
She smiled, although rather uncertainly. "No," she said.
"Yes." The smile became broader. "It's not quite as bad as that, I guess. I seem to be able to see all right."
He drew a relieved breath. "Well, I'm thankful for so much, then," he announced. "But it's all over your dress—and—and in your hair—and.... Oh, I am sorry!"
She laughed at this outburst. "It is all right," she declared. "Of course it was an accident, and I'm not hurt a bit, really."
"I'm glad of that. Yes, it was an accident—your part of it, I mean. I didn't see you at all. I meant the part the hen got, though."
Her laugh was over, but there was still a twinkle in her eye. Kendrick was, by this time, aware that her eyes were brown.
"Yes," she observed, demurely, "I—gathered that you did."
"Yes, I—" It suddenly occurred to him that his language had been as emphatic as his actions. "Good lord!" he exclaimed. "I forgot. I beg your pardon for that, too. When I lose my temper I am liable to—to make salt water remarks, I'm afraid. And those hens.... Eh? There they are again, hard at it! Will you excuse me while I kill three or four of 'em? You see, I'm in charge of that garden and.... Get out!"
This last was, of course, another roar at the fowl, who, under the leadership of the rake-helly rooster, were scratching harder than ever in the beds. The captain reached for another missile, but his visitor stepped forward.
"Please don't," she begged. "Please don't kill them."
"Eh? Why not? They ought to be killed."
"I know it, but I don't want them killed—yet, at any rate. You see, they are my hens."
"Yours?" The captain straightened up and looked at her. "You don't mean it?" he exclaimed.
"Yes, I do. They are mine, or my mother's, which is the same thing. I am dreadfully sorry they got in here. I'll have them out in just a minute. Oh, yes, I will, really."
Kendrick regarded her doubtfully.
"Well," he said, slowly, "I know it isn't polite to contradict a lady but if you'll tell me how you are goin' to get 'em out without killin' 'em, I'll be ever so much obliged. You can't drive 'em, I know that."
"I shan't try. Just wait, I'll be right back."
She hurried away, down the path and through the open gate. Captain Sears Kendrick looked after her. Behind and about him the Fair Harbor hens clucked and scratched blissfully.
In very little more than the promised minute the young woman returned. She carried a round wooden receptacle—what Cape Codders used to call a "two quart measure"—and, as she approached, she shook it. Something within rattled. The hens, some of them, heard the rattle and ceased their digging.
"Come, chick, chick! Come, biddy, biddy, biddy!" called the young woman, rattling the measure. More of the fowl gave up their labors, and looked and listened. Some even began to follow her. She dipped a hand into the measure, withdrew it filled with corn, and scattered a few grains in the path.
"Come, biddy, biddy, biddy!" she said again.
And the biddies came. Forgetting the possibilities of Judah Cahoon's garden, they rushed headlong upon the golden certainties of those yellow kernels. The young woman retreated along the path, scattering corn as she went, and after her scrambled and pecked and squawked the fowl. Even the sophisticated rooster yielded to temptation and was among the leaders in the rush. The corn bearer and the flock passed through the open gate, along the path beneath the Fair Harbor apple trees, out of sight around the bend. Sears Kendrick was left alone upon the battle ground, amid the dead and wounded young vegetables.
But he was not left alone long. A few minutes later his visitor returned. She had evidently hurried, for there was a red spot on each of her cheeks and she was breathing quickly. She passed through the gate into the grounds of the General Minot place and closed that gate behind her.
"There!" she said. "Now they are locked up in the hen yard. How in the world they ever got out of there I don't see. I suppose some one left the gate open. I—What were you going to say?"
The captain had been about to confess that it was he who left the gate open, but he changed his mind. Apparently she had been on the point of saying something more. The confession could wait.
"What was it?" asked the young woman.
"Oh, nothin', nothin'."
"Well, I suppose it doesn't matter much how they got out, as long as they did. But I am very sorry they got into Mr. Cahoon's garden. I hope they haven't completely ruined it."
They both turned to survey the battlefield. It was—like all battlefields after the strife is ended—a sad spectacle.
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed the visitor. "I am afraid they have. What will Mr. Cahoon say?"
The captain smiled slightly.
"I hope you don't expect me to answer that," he observed.
"Why?... Oh, I see! Well, I don't know that I should blame him much. Have—have they left anything?"
"Oh, yes! Yes, indeed. There are a good many—er—sprouts left. And they dug up a lot of weeds besides. Judah ought to be thankful for the weeds, anyhow."
"I am afraid he won't be, under the circumstances."
"Maybe not, but there is one thing that, under the same circumstances, he ought to be thankful for. That is, that you came when you did. You may not know it, but I had been tryin' to get those hens out of that garden for—for a year, I guess. It seems longer, but I presume likely it wasn't more than a year."
She laughed again. "No," she said, "I guess it wasn't more than that."
"Probably not. If it had been any longer, judgin' by the way they worked, they'd have dug out the underpinnin' and had the house down by this time. How did you happen to come? Did you hear the—er—broadsides?"
"Why, no, I—But that reminds me. Have you seen a tramp around here?"
"A tramp? What sort of a tramp?"
"I don't know. Elvira—I mean Miss Snowden—said he was a tall, dark man and Aurora thought he was rather thick-set and sandy. But they both agree that he was a dreadful, rough-looking creature who carried a big club and had a queer slouchy walk. And he came in this direction, so they thought."
"He did, eh? Humph! Odd I didn't see him. I've been here all the time. Where was he when they saw him first?"
"Over on our property. In the Fair Harbor grounds, I mean. He came out of the bushes, so Elvira and Aurora say, and spoke to them. Insulted them, Elvira says."
"Sho! Well, well! I wonder where he went."
"I can't think. I supposed of course you must have seen him. It was only a little while ago, not more than an hour. Have you been here all that time?"
"Yes, I've been here for the last two hours. What part of your grounds was it? Would you like to have me go over there and look around?"
"No, thank you. You are very kind, but I am sure it won't be necessary. He has gone by now, of course."
"I should be glad to try." Then, noticing her glance at his limp, he added: "Oh, I can navigate after a fashion, well enough for a short cruise like that. But it is funny that, if there was a tramp there such a little while ago, I didn't run afoul of him. Why, I was over there myself."
"Yes, you see, I——"
He stopped short. He had been about to tell of his short walk and how he had inadvertently trespassed within the Fair Harbor boundaries. But before he could speak the words a sudden and amazing thought flashed upon him.
"Eh?" he cried. "Why—why, I wonder——"
His visitor was leaning forward. Judging by her expression, she, too, was experiencing a similar sensation of startled surmise.
"Why——" repeated the captain.
"Oh!" exclaimed the young woman.
"You don't suppose——"
"It couldn't possibly be that——"
"Wait a minute, please. Just a minute." Sears held up his hand. "Where did those folks of yours see this tramp? Were they in a—in a kind of roundhouse—summer-house, you might call it?"
"Why, yes. They were in the Eyrie."
"That's it, the Eyrie. And is one of the—er—ladies rather tall and narrow in the beam, gray-haired, and speaks quick and—school-marmy?"
"Yes. That is Miss Elvira Snowden."
"Of course—Elvira. That's what the other one called her. And she—the other one—is short and broad and—and hard of hearin'?"
"Yes. Her name is Aurora Chase. Is it possible that you——"
"Just a second more. Has this short one got a—a queer sort of hair rig? Black as tar and with kind of—of wrinkles in it?"
She smiled at this description. "Yes," she said. "Do you mean that you are——"
"The tramp? I guess likely I am. I was over on your premises just a little while ago and met those two ladies."
"But you can't be. They said he—the tramp—was a dreadful, rough man, with a club and—and——"
"Here's the club." Captain Kendrick exhibited his cane. "And these lame legs of mine would account for that slouchy walk they told you about. I guess there isn't much doubt that I am the tramp. But I'm sorry if they thought I insulted 'em. I surely didn't mean to."
He described the meeting by the Eyrie and repeated the dialogue as he remembered it.
"So you see," he said, in conclusion, "that's all there is to it. I suppose that hint of mine about bein' tempted to run off with one of 'em is the nearest to an insult of any of it. Perhaps I shouldn't have said it, but—but it popped into my head and I couldn't hold it back. I didn't really mean it," he added solemnly. "I wouldn't have run off with one of 'em for the world."
This, and the accompanying look, was too much. His visitor had been listening and trying to appear grave, although her eyes were twinkling. But now she burst out laughing.
"Honest I wouldn't," reiterated Captain Sears. "And I'm sorry for that insult."
"Absurd! You needn't be. If there was any insult it was the other way about. The idea of Elvira's suggesting that you came over there to steal. Well, we've settled the tramp, at any rate, and I apologize for the way you were treated, Mr.——"
"Kendrick. My name is Kendrick."
"Yes, Mr. Kendrick. And I am very sorry about the garden, too. Please tell Mr. Cahoon so, and tell him I think I can promise that the gate won't be left open again."
"I'll tell him when he comes back. He'll be here pretty soon, I guess. He and I are old shipmates. He shipped cook aboard of me for a good many voyages."
She was moving toward the path and the gate, but now she paused and turned to look at him. There was a new expression on her face, an expression of marked interest.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Are you—are you Cap'n Sears Kendrick? The one who was—hurt?"
"Wrecked in the train smash up? Yes, I'm the one. Look like a total wreck, don't I?"
He laughed as he said it, but there was a taint of bitterness in the laugh. She did not laugh. Instead she took a step toward him and involuntarily put out her hand.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" she said.
"Eh? Oh, you needn't be. I'm gettin' along tip-top. Able to walk and ride and—er—chase hens. That's doin' pretty well for one day."
"I know. But they were my—our—hens and they must have tired you so. Please forgive us. I won't," with a smile, "ask you to forgive them."
"Oh, that's all right, that's all right, Miss—er——"
"Berry. I am Elizabeth Berry. My mother is in charge here at the Harbor."
"Harbor? Oh, yes, over yonder. Berry? Berry? The only Berry I remember around here was Cap'n Isaac Berry. Cap'n Ike, we young fellows used to call him. I went to sea with him once, my first voyage second mate."
"Did you? He was my father. But there, I must go. Good-by, Cap'n Kendrick. I hope you will get well very fast now."
"Thanks. Good-bye. Oh, by the way, Miss Berry, what made you think I might be Sears Kendrick? There are half a dozen Kendricks around Bayport."
"Yes, but—excuse me—there is only one Cap'n Sears Kendrick. You are one of Bayport's celebrities, Cap'n."
"Humph! Notorieties, you mean. So all hands have been talkin' about me, eh? Humph! Well, I guessed as much."
"Why, of course. You are one of our shining lights—sea lights, I mean. You must expect to be talked about."
"I do—in Bayport, and I'll be talked about more in a day or two, I guess."
"Eh? Oh, nothin', nothin'. I was thinkin' out loud, didn't realize I spoke. Good-by."
The gate closed behind her. Kendrick sat down once more upon the bench beneath the locust tree.
When Judah returned with the bucket of clams he found his guest and prospective boarder just where he had left him.
"Well, by Henry, Cap'n Sears!" he exclaimed. "Still at the same old moorin's, eh? Been anchored right there ever since I sot sail?"
"Not exactly, Judah. Pretty nearly, though."
"Sho! Kind of dull music for you, I'm afraid. Whoa, you lop-sided hay-barge! Stand still till I give you orders to move, will ye! That's what I warned you, Cap'n Sears; not much goin' on around here. You'll be pretty lonesome, I guess likely."
"Oh, I guess I can stand it, Judah. I haven't been lonesome so far."
"Ain't, eh? That's good. Well, I got my clams; now I'll steer this horse into port and come back and get to work on that chowder. Oh, say, Cap'n Sears; I see Sary and told her you was cal'latin' to stay here for dinner."
"Did you? Much obliged. What did she say?"
"Say? She said a whole lot. Wanted to know how in time you got up here. 'You didn't let him walk all that great long ways, Judah Cahoon?' she says. 'I ain't altogether a fool, be I?' says I."
Mr. Cahoon paused to search his pockets for a match.
"What answer did she make to that?" asked the captain. Judah grinned.
"Wa—ll," he drawled, "she said, 'Perhaps not—altogether.' 'Twan't much, but it was enough of the kind, as the feller said about the tobacco in the coffee pot. Oh, say, that reminds me, Cap'n Sears; there was somebody else talkin' about you. I—whoa, you camel, you! Creepin', crawlin', jumpin'—— Well, go ahead, then! I'll tell you the rest in half a shake, Cap'n. Git dap!"
Horse, cart and driver jogged and jolted into the barn. After a brief interval Mr. Cahoon reappeared, carrying the clam bucket. They entered the kitchen together. Then the captain said:
"Judah, you said some one beside Sarah was talkin' about me. Who was it?"
"Hey? Oh, 'twas Emeline Tidditt, her that's keepin' house for Judge Knowles. She says the old judge is gettin' pretty feeble. Don't cal'late he'll last out much longer, Emeline don't. Says it's nothin' but just grit and hang-on that keeps him alive. He's a spunky old critter, Judge Knowles is, 'cordin' to folks's tell. Course I don't know him same as some, but I cal'late he's a good deal on the general build and lines of a man name of George Dingo that I run afoul of one time to a place called Semurny—over acrost. You know Semurny, don't ye, Cap'n? One of them Med'terranean port 'tis."
"Smyrna, do you mean?"
"Um-hm. That's it, Semurny. I was there aboard the William Holcomb, out of Philadelphy. We was loadin' with figs and truck like that. You remember the old Holcomb, don't you, Cap'n Sears? Sartin sure you do. Horncastle and Grant of Philadelphy they owned her. Old Horncastle was a queer man as ever I see. Had a cork leg. Got the real one shot off in the Mexican war or run over by a horse car, some said one and some said t'other. Anyhow he had a cork one spliced on in place of it, and—ho, ho! 'twas as funny a sight as ever I see—one time he fell off the wharf there in Philadelphy. Yes, sir, fell right into the dock, he did. And when they scrabbled down the ladder to haul him in there wasn't nothin' in sight but that cork leg, stickin' up out of water. The rest of him had gone under, but that cork leg hadn't—no, sire-ee! Haw, haw! Well ... er ... er.... What did I start to talk about, Cap'n Sears?"
"I don't know, Judah. It was a good while ago. You began by sayin' that you met Judge Knowles's housekeeper."
"Hey? Why, sure and sartin!" Mr. Cahoon slapped his leg. "Sartin sure, Cap'n Sears, that was it. And I said she and me got to talkin' about you. Well, well, well! I started right there and I fetched up way over in Semurny, along of George Dingo. Well, by Henry! Ain't that queer, now?"
He rubbed his legs and shook his head, apparently overcome by the queerness of it. Kendrick, judging that another Mediterranean cruise was imminent, made a remark calculated to keep him at home.
"What did this—what's-her-name—this Tidditt woman say about me?" he asked.
"Hey? Oh, she said that Judge Knowles wanted to see you. Said that he asked about you 'most every day, wanted to know how you was gittin' along, because just as soon as you was well enough to cruise on your own hook he wanted you to come in and see him."
"Judge Knowles wanted me to come in and see him? Why, that's funny! I don't know the judge well. Haven't seen him for years, and then only two or three times. What on earth can Judge Knowles have to say to me?.... Humph! I can't think."
He tried to think, nevertheless. Judah busied himself with the sloppy process of clam opening. A little later he observed:
"So you wan't lonesome all alone here by yourself while I was gone, Cap'n? That's good. Glad to hear it."
"Thanks, Judah. I wasn't alone, though."
"You wan't? Sho! Do tell! Have company, did ye? Somebody run in?"
"Yes. And they wouldn't run out again, not for a good while. They came on business."
"Business? What kind of business?"
"Well, I suppose you might call it gardening. They were interested in raisin' vegetables, I know that."
Judah laid down the clam knife and regarded his former skipper. "Raisin' vegetables?" he repeated slowly. "What—? Look here Cap'n Sears, who was they? Where'd they come from?"
"I believe they came from next door?"
"Next door? From the Harbor?" He rose to his feet, suspicion dawning upon his face above the whiskers.
"Cap'n Sears, answer me right straight out. Have those dummed everlastin' Fair Harbor hens been in my garden again?"
"Have they—have they?——" Words failed him. He strode up the path to the garden. Then, after a moment's comprehensive gaze upon the scene of ruin, the words returned.
Sears Kendrick's prophecy that Bayport would, within the next day or two, talk about him even more than it had before was a true one. As soon as it became known that he had left the Macomber home and was boarding and lodging with Judah Cahoon in the rear portion of the General Minot house every tongue in the village—tongues of animals and small children excepted—wagged his name. At the sewing-circle, at the Shakespeare Reading Society—convening that week at Mrs. Tabitha Crosby's—after Friday night prayer-meeting at the Orthodox meeting-house, in Eliphalet Bassett's store at mail times, in the sitting-rooms and kitchens and around breakfast, dinner and supper tables from West Bayport to East Bayport Neck and from Poverty Lane to Woodchuck's Misery—the principal topic was Captain Kendrick's surprising move.
"Why?" that was the question.
Various answers were offered, many reasons suggested, but none satisfied everybody.
At the Shakespeare Society meeting, just before the reading aloud of "Cymbeline" began—"Cymbeline" carefully edited, censored and kalsomined by the selective committee, Mrs. Reverend David Dishup and Miss Tryphosa Taylor—the feelings of the genteel section of the community were expressed by no less a personage than Mrs. Captain Elkanah Wingate. Mrs. Wingate, speaking from the Mount Sinai of Bayport's aristocracy, made proclamation thus:
"Why, if the man must leave his sister's and go somewhere else to live, why in the world does he choose to go there? Aren't there good, respectable, genteel boarding-houses like—well, like yours, Naomi, for instance? I should say so."
Mrs. Naomi Newcomb, whose home sheltered a few "paying guests," smiled and shook her head. The shake indicated not a doubt of Mrs. Wingate's judgment, but complete loss as to Sears Kendrick's reasons for behaving as he had. Other members shook their heads also. Mary-Pashy Foster, who had spent a winter in France when her husband was ill with the small-pox at Havre, shrugged her shoulders.
"And," continued Mrs. Captain Wingate, "when you consider the place he has gone to and the person he has gone with! Good heavens, I say! Good heavens!"
More words and exclamations of approval. Several others declared that they said so, too.
"Gone to live," went on Mrs. Wingate, "not in the General Minot house proper—there might be some explanation for that, perhaps—but they tell me that this Judah Cahoon only uses the back part of the house and that Cap'n Kendrick has got a room just off the kitchen or thereabouts."
"And Judah himself!" broke in Miss Taylor. "He is as rough and common as—as—I don't know what. How a man like Cap'n Kendrick can lower himself—debase himself to such a person's level I do not see. You would as soon expect a needle to go through a camel's eye, as the saying is."
There was a slight interval of embarrassment after this outburst. The majority of those present realized that the speaker had gotten her proverb twisted, but, she being Miss Tryphosa Taylor, no one felt like venturing to set her right. Mrs. Captain Godfrey Peasley relieved the situation; she had a habit of relieving situations—when she did not make them tenser. She had gotten into the Shakespeare Reading Society purely by persistence and the possession of adamantine self-confidence. From that shot-proof exterior snubs, hints and reproofs glanced like blown peas from the hull of a battleship. "Heaven knows," confided Mrs. Captain Wingate to Miss Taylor and the Reverend Mrs. Dishup, "why Amelia Peasley ever wanted to join the Society. She doesn't know whether Shakespeare is a man or a disease." Which may or not have been true, the fact remaining that Mrs. Peasley had wanted to join the Society and—joined.
Now, while others hesitated, following Miss Tryphosa's little blunder, she spoke.
"I think," she declared, with conviction, "that Sears Kendrick ought to be ashamed of himself. I think such actions are degradatin'—yes, indeed, right down degradatin'."
After that, further comments upon the captain's conduct would have seemed like anti-climaxes. Therefore the Society proceeded to read "Cymbeline." Mrs. Peasley had something to say about "Cymbeline," also.
Captain Sears himself merely grinned when told of the sensation his conduct was causing.
"All right," he said, "let 'em talk. If they aren't talkin' about me they will be about somebody else."
Judah, to whom this remark was made, snorted.
"Humph!" he growled. "They be talkin' about somebody else. Don't you make no mistake about that, Cap'n Sears."
"That so, Judah? Who's the other lucky man?"
"Me. Jumpin', creepin'—— Why, some of them womenfolks seem to cal'late I lammed you over the head with a marlinspike and then towed you up here by main strength; seems if they did, by Henry! And some of the men ain't a whole lot better. Makes me madder'n a sore nose. I was down to the store—down to 'Liphalet's—and there was a crew of ha'f a dozen there and they all wanted to know how you was gittin' along.
"'Well, he ain't dead yit,' says I. 'He was lively enough when I left him. I ain't come to buy no spade to bury him with.'
"You'd think that would satisfy 'em, wouldn't ye? Well, it didn't! Cap'n Noah Baker was there and he wanted to know this, and that little runt of a Thad Black he wanted to know that—and kept on wantin'. And that brother-in-law of yours, Cap'n Sears, that Joel Macomber, I declare to man if he wan't the wust of all. You'd think he ought to keep quiet about your doin's, wouldn't ye, now? But he didn't. 'Don't ask me, boys,' he says. 'I don't know why Sears quit my house and went to Judah's. We manage to bear up without him somehow,' says he, winkin' to the gang, 'but if you ask me his reasons for goin' I can't tell ye. I presume likely Judah can, though,' he says. 'Well, I can see one reason plain enough,' says I, lookin' right at him."
Kendrick burst out laughing. "Did he get the idea, Judah?" he inquired.
"Him? Nary a bit. Wanted me to tell him what the reason was. Limpin', creepin' prophets! What did a woman like Sary ever marry him for, anyway, Cap'n? Not that it's any of my business, you understand."
"I understand. Well, it wasn't any of mine either, Judah."
"No, I presume likely not. But that George Kent, he's a nice young feller, ain't he, Cap'n?"
"Seems to be," replied Kendrick.
"Um—hm. Come up to me, after the gang had quit havin' their good time, and shook hands nice and chummy and wanted to know how you was. 'Tell the cap'n I'm goin' to come in and see him some day,' he says, 'if you and he want callers.' 'Good land, yes,' says I, 'course we do. Don't stop to call, come right along in.' He's a nice boy that young Kent.... But—but some of these days I'm goin' to hit that Thad Black—hit him with somethin' soft like—like an anvil. If that critter fell overboard I wouldn't heave him no life-preserver. No, sir, by Henry, I'd heave him the sheet anchor. The longer he hung on to that the better 'twould suit me."
To his sister only did Sears give his reasons for leaving her home. With her he was perfectly frank.
"You know why I'm doin' this, Sarah," he said. "Now don't you—honest?"
Mrs. Macomber hesitated. "Why, Sears," she faltered reluctantly, "I—I suppose I can guess why you think you're doin' it. But that doesn't make it right for you to do it, really."
"Oh, yes, it does. Be sensible, Sarah. Here are you with six children to support and work for, not to mention one boarder and—a husband. The house is crowded, aloft and alow. There isn't a bit of room for me."
"Now, Sears, how can you talk so? You've had room here, haven't you?"
"Yes, I've had it, plenty of it. But how much room have the rest of you had?"
"Why—why, we've had enough. Nobody's complained that I know of."
"Good reason why. You wouldn't let 'em, Sarah. And of course you never would complain yourself. But that is only part of it. The real thing is that I will not live on you."
"But you pay board."
"Stuff and nonsense! How much do I pay in comparison with what it costs to keep me?"
"You pay me all you can afford, I'm sure; and I rather guess, from what you said about your money affairs the other day, that you pay me more than you ought to afford. And I don't believe you're goin' to pay that Judah Cahoon any high board for livin' in that old rats' nest of his. If you are I shall begin to believe you've gone crazy."
Her brother laughed. "I don't mind payin' Judah little or nothin', Sarah," he declared. "What I get will be worth it, probably, and besides he's a strong, healthy man. Then, too—well, I shouldn't say it to any one but you, but there is a little obligation on his side and that keeps me from feelin' like too much of a barnacle.... But there, what is the use of our threshin' this all over again? As I said in the beginnin', Sarah, you know why I'm doin' it perfectly well."
Mrs. Macomber sighed.
"I suppose I do," she admitted. "It's because you are Sears Kendrick and as independent and—and proud as—as your own self."
So the move was made and Captain Sears Kendrick's sea chest and its owner moved into Judah Cahoon's spare stateroom at the General Minot's place. And Bayport talked and talked more and more and then less and less until at the end of the captain's first week in his new quarters the move had become old news and people ceased to be interested in it, a state of affairs which pleased Mr. Cahoon immensely.
"There, by Henry!" he declared, on his return from what he called a "cruise down the road along." "I honestly do believe you and me has got so we can bat our weather eye without all hands and the ship's cat tryin' to see us do it. I met no less than seven folks while I was down along just now and only two of 'em hailed to ask how you liked bein' aboard here, Cap'n Sears. Yes, sir, by creepin', only two of 'em; the rest never said a word. What do you think of that? Some considerable change, I call it."
So being forgotten by the majority of Bayporters—which was what he desired to be—the captain settled down to live, or exist, and to wait. Just what he was waiting for he would have found hard to tell. Of course he told his sister when she came to see him, which was at least once every other day, that he was waiting for his legs to get whole and strong again, and then he should, of course, go to sea. He told Doctor Sheldon much the same thing, and the doctor said, "Why, of course, Cap'n Kendrick. We'll have you on your own quarter deck again one of these days." He said it with heartiness and apparent sincerity, but Sears was skeptical. After the doctor's visits he was likely to be blue and dejected for a time, and Judah noticed this fact but attributed it to quite a different cause.
"It's high time that doctor swab quit comin' here to see you," declared Judah. "Runnin' in here and lettin' go anchor and settin' round and sayin', 'Well, how goes it to-day?' and 'Nice spell of weather we're havin',' and the like of that, and then goin' home and chalkin' up another dollar on the bill. No sense to it, I say. No wonder you look glum, Cap'n Sears. Makes me glum, and 'tain't my money that's bein' talked out of me, nuther. Hear what he said just now? 'I must go,' he says. 'And what did you say? Why, you said, 'Don't hurry, Doctor. What do you want to go for?' All I could do to keep from bustin' out in a laugh. I know what you was sayin' to yourself, you see. 'Stead of sayin', 'What do you want to go for?' you was thinkin', 'What in blue blazes do you want to come for?' Haw, haw! That was it, wan't it, Cap'n?"
"Why, no, Judah. I'm always glad to see the doctor."
"Ye—es, you be!" with sarcasm. "Glad to see his back. Well, no use, Cap'n, I've got to think up some notion to keep him from comin' here. How would it do to run up a signal 'Small-pox aboard,' or somethin' like that? Think that would keep him off?... No, he's a doctor, ain't he? All he'd read out of that set of flags would be, 'More dollars. Come on in.' Haw, haw! Well, I got to think up some way."
Judah's chatter kept his lodger from being too lonely. Mr. Cahoon talked about everybody and everything, and when he was not talking he was singing. He sang when he turned out in the morning to get breakfast, he sang when he turned in at bedtime. He sang while working in the garden repairing the damages done by the Fair Harbor hens. His repertoire was extensive, embracing not only every conceivable variety of chantey and sea song, but also an assortment of romantic ballads, running from "The Blue Juniata," in which:
"Wild rowed an Indian girl, Bright Al-fa-ra-ta,"
to the ancient ditty of twenty-odd verses describing how
"There was a rich merchant in London did dwell, He had for his daughter a very fine gel, Her name it was Dinah, just sixteen years old, With a very large fortune in silver and gold.
"Singing Too-ral-i-ooral-i-ooral-i-ay, Singing Too-ral-i-ooral-i-ooral-i-ay,"
and continuing to sing "Too-ral-i-ooral-i-ooral-i-ay" four times after each of the twenty-odd verses to the tragical finish of Dinah and the ballad.
As some men take to drink upon almost any or no excuse, so Judah Cahoon took to song. And if the effect upon him was not as unsteadying as an over indulgence in alcohol, that upon his hearers was at times upsetting and disastrous. For example, upon the occasion when Captain Sears again encountered his acquaintances of the Fair Harbor summer-house, Mr. Cahoon's singing completely wrecked what might possibly have been a meeting tending to raise the captain in the estimation of those ladies.
Sears happened to be taking what he liked to call his exercise. Judah called it "pacin' decks." He was hobbling back and forth along the path leading to the gate opening upon the Fair Harbor grounds. His landlord was at work in the garden. The captain had limped as far as the gate and was about to turn and limp back again when, behold, along the path beyond that gate appeared two feminine figures strolling with what might be called careful carelessness, looking up, down and on every side except that upon which stood Captain Sears Kendrick. And the captain recognized the pair, the one tall, slim, slender—unusually slim and remarkably slender—the other short and plump—very decidedly plump—as the ladies with whom he had held brief but spirited discourse the fortnight before, the ladies who had peered forth at him from the vine-draped window of the Eyrie—in short, for Miss Elvira Snowden and Mrs. Aurora Chase.
The pair came scrolling along the path. They were almost at the gate when Miss Snowden looked up—she would have said she happened to look up—and saw the captain standing there. She was embarrassed and surprised—any one might have noticed the surprise and embarrassment. She started, gasped and uttered a little exclamation. Mrs. Chase, taking her affliction into account, could not possibly have heard the exclamation, but no doubt there was a telepathic quality in it, for she, too, started, looked up and was surprised and embarrassed.
"Why—why, oh, dear!" faltered Miss Snowden.
"Why! My soul and body!" exclaimed Mrs. Chase.
Captain Sears raised his hat. "Good mornin'," he said politely.
The ladies looked at each other. Then Miss Elvira, evidently the born leader, inclined her head ever so little and said, "Good morning." Mrs. Aurora looked up at her in order to see what she said.
Captain Sears tried again.
"It's a nice day for a walk," he observed.
Miss Elvira nodded and agreed, distantly—yet not too distant.
"I understand," said the captain, "that I gave you ladies a little bit of a scare the other day. Understand you thought I was a tramp. I'm real sorry. Of course I know I hadn't any business over on your premises, but, as a matter of fact, I didn't exactly realize where I was. It was the first cruise I'd made in these latitudes, as you might say, and I didn't think about keepin' on my own side of the channel buoys. I beg your pardon. I'll hope you'll excuse me."
Miss Snowden nodded elegantly and murmured that she understood.
"You are our new neighbor, I believe," she said.
"Why, yes'm, I suppose I am."
"Cap'n Kendrick, isn't it?"
"I hope, Cap'n Kendrick, that you won't think there was any—ah—anything personal in our mistaking you for a tramp the other day. Of course there wasn't. Oh, dear, no!"
The captain hesitated. He was wondering just what answer he was supposed to make to this speech. Did the lady wish him to infer that it was the Fair Harbor custom to consider all male strangers tramps until they were proven innocent? Or—but Mrs. Chase saved him the trouble of reply.
"Elviry," she demanded, "what are you and him whisperin' about? Why don't you talk so's a body can hear you? He's Cap'n Kendrick, ain't he? Have you told him who we be, same as you said you was goin' to?"
Miss Snowden, after looking at the rotund Aurora as if she would like to bite her, smiled instead and began a rather tangled explanation to the effect that she and Mrs. Chase had felt that perhaps they had been a—ah—they might have seemed "kind of hasty—you know, Cap'n Kendrick, in what—in speaking as we did that time, and so—and so I told her if we ever did meet you—if we ever should, you know—— But we haven't really met yet, have we? Shall we introduce ourselves? I don't see why not; neighbors, you know. Cap'n Kendrick, this is Mrs. Aurora Chase, widow of the late Cap'n Ichabod Chase. No doubt, you knew Cap'n Chase in the old days, Cap'n Kendrick."
And then Aurora, who had been listening with all her ears, and hearing with perhaps a third of them, broke in to say that her husband was not a captain. "He was second mate when he died," she explained. "Aboard the bark Charles Francis he was, bound for New Bedford from the West Indies with a load of guano."
Miss Snowden, favoring the veracious Aurora with another look, hastily introduced herself and began to speak of the beauties of the day, of the surroundings, and particularly of the select and refined joys of life at the Fair Harbor.
"We have our little circle there," she said. "We live our lives, quiet, retired, away from the world——"
Mrs. Chase broke in once more to ask what she was talking about. When the substance of the Snowden rhapsody was given her, she nodded—as well as her several chins would permit her to nod—and announced that she agreed.
"We like livin' at the home first-rate," she declared. Elvira flushed.
"It is not a home," she said, sharply. "It is a select retreat, that is all. It is not a home in any sense of the word. Every one knows that it is not. Aurora, I wish to goodness you—— But of course Cap'n Kendrick doesn't want to hear about us all the time. He is interested in his own new quarters. Do you like it here, Cap'n Kendrick? I—ah—understand you are, so to speak, a guest of Mr. Cahoon's. He is—ah—a relation of yours?"
Sears explained the acquaintanceship between Judah and himself. Miss Snowden nodded comprehension.
"That explains it," she said. "I thought he could hardly be a relation of yours, Cap'n Kendrick. He is—he is a little bit queer, isn't he? I mean eccentric, you know. Of course I've never met him, and I'm sure he's real good-hearted, but——"
She paused, leaving the rest of the sentence to be inferred. Captain Sear's answer was prompt and crisp.
"Judah Cahoon is one of the best fellows that ever lived," he said.
"Yes, I know. I am sure he is. I didn't mean that. I meant is he—is he——"
And then Judah himself, at work in the garden behind the screen of bushes, too busy to hear or even be aware of the conversation at the gate, chose this untoward moment to burst into song, to sing at the top of his voice, and the top of Judah's voice was an elevation from which sound traveled far. He sang:
"Oh, Sally Brown was a bright mulatter, Way, oh, roll and go! She drinks rum and chews terbacker, Spend my money on Sally Brown. Whee—yip!"
Miss Elvira's thin figure stiffened to an exclamation point of disapproval. Captain Kendrick turned uneasily in the direction of the singer. Mrs. Chase, aware that something was going on and not wishing to miss it, cupped her ear with her hand. And Judah began the second verse.
"Oh, Sally Brown, I'll surely miss you, Way, oh, roll and go! How I'd love to hug and kiss you! Spend my money on Sally Brown. Whee—yip!"
"Judah!" roared the captain, who was suffering acute apprehension. "Judah!"
"Oh, Sally Brown——"
"Eh? What is it, Cap'n Sears?"
"Eh! Shut up what? What's open?"
"Stop that noise."
"That noise of yours. That singin'."
"Eh? Oh, all right, sir. Aye, aye, Cap'n, just as you say."
Captain Sears, relieved, turned again to his visitors. But the visitors were rapidly retreating along the path, the lines of Miss Elvira's back indicating disgust and outraged gentility. Mrs. Chase, however, looked back. Obviously she still did not know what it was all about.
Sears, although he chuckled a good deal over the affair, was a trifle annoyed, nevertheless. It was a good joke, of course, and he certainly cared little for the approval or disapproval of Miss Elvira Snowden. But when he considered what the prim spinster's version of the happening was likely to be and the reputation her story was sure to confer, inside the Fair Harbor fences at least, upon him and his household companion, he was tempted to wish that that companion's musical talent had been hidden under a napkin, or, better still, a feather bed. He—Kendrick—was to live, for a time indefinite, next door to the Fair Harborites, and it is always pleasant to be on good terms with one's neighbors. True, those neighbors might be, the majority of them, what Mr. Cahoon called them—which was whatever term of approbrium he happened to think of at the moment, "pack of old hens" being the mildest—but the captain knew that one, at least, was not an "old hen." "That Berry girl," which was his way of thinking of her, was attractive and kind and a lady. They had met but once, it is true, but she had made a most favorable impression upon him. He had caught glimpses of her on two occasions, in the Fair Harbor grounds, and once she had waved a greeting. She was a nice girl, he was sure of it. If she thought at all of the cripple next door he would like her to think of him in a kindly way, as a decent sort of hulk, so to speak. It was provoking to feel that she would next hear of him as a dissipated ruffian, friend and defender of another ruffian who howled ribald songs in the presence—or at least in the hearing—of ladies.
He questioned Judah concerning the Fair Harbor, its founder and the dwellers within its gates. Judah told him what he knew of the story, which was very little more than the captain already knew, his knowledge gained from his sister's letters. Captain Sylvanus Seymour had had but one child, his daughter Lobelia. At his death she, of course, inherited all his property. According to Bayport gossip, as reported by Mr. Cahoon, the old man had died worth anywhere from one half a million to three or five millions. "Richer'n dock mud, I cal'late he was," declared Judah. "Made a lot of money out of his Boston shippin' business and a lot more out of stocks and city real estate and one thing or 'nother." For years after Captain Sylvanus died Lobelia lived alone in the big house. Then she had married. Judah could tell little about the man she married.
"He was a music teacher that come to town here one winter, that's about all I can swear to," said Judah. "Down here for his health, so he said, and taught singin' school while he was gittin' healthy. His last name was Phillips, which is all right, but he had the craziest fust name ever I heard. Egbert 'twas. Hoppin', creepin' Henry! Did you ever hear such a name? Egbert! Jumpin' prophets! Boys round town, they tell me, used to call him 'Eg' behind his back. Some of 'em, them that didn't like him, called him 'Soft biled.' Haw, haw! See what they meant, don't you, Cap'n Sears? Egbert, you know, that's 'Eg' for short, and then 'Soft biled' meanin' a soft biled egg.... Hey? Yes, I cal'lated you'd see it, you're pretty sharp at a joke, Cap'n, but there has been them I've told that to that never.... Hey? Aye, aye, sir, I was just goin' to tell the rest of it."
According to Judah's report, which was a second or third hand report of course, Egbert Phillips had not been too popular among the males in Bayport. But with the females—ah, there it was different.
"He was one of them kind, they tell me," said Judah. "One of them smooth, slick, buttery kind of fellers that draws womenfolks same as molasses draws flies. Hailed from Philadelphy he did. I used to know a good many Philadelphy folks myself once. Why, one time——"
The captain broke in to head off the Philadelphia reminiscence. Brought back to Bayport and Egbert and Lobelia, Judah went on to tell what more he knew of the Fair Harbor beginnings. Sears gathered that after the marriage Egbert who, it seemed, was not in love with the Cape as a place of residence, would have liked his wife to sell the old house and move away. But there was a clause in the will of Captain Sylvanus which prevented this. Under that will the property could not be sold while his daughter lived. It was then that Lobelia was seized with her great idea. She, a mariner's daughter, had—until the Providential appearance of the peerless Egbert—faced a lonely old age. But she had at least a comfortable home. There were so many women—sea-captains' widows and sisters—who faced their lonely future without a home. Why not turn the Seymour property into a home for them—a limited number of them?
"So she done it," said Judah. "And that's how the Fair Harbor got off the ways."
"But you called it a home," objected Captain Sears. "The other day that Snowden woman, the thin one, gave the other, the stout one—what's her name?—Northern lights—Aurora, that's it—she gave Aurora fits for speakin' of the place as a home. She declared it wasn't a home."
Mr. Caboon chuckled. "Did, eh?" he observed. "Well, you might call a mackerel gull a canary bird, I presume likely, but 'twouldn't make the thing sing no better. That Elviry critter likes to make believe she's the Queen of Sheby. She wouldn't live in no home—no sir-ee! 'Cordin' to her the Fair Harbor ain't a home because they only take six or eight passengers, or visitors, or patients, or jailbirds—whatever you might to call 'em, and it costs four hundred dollars to pay your way in and a hundred a year to keep you there. So 'tain't a home, you see. It's a—a genteel henhouse, I'd say. That Elviry Snowden she——"
Then the captain asked the question to which he had been leading since the beginning.
"That Berry girl's mother runs the place, doesn't she?" he asked.
Judah snorted. "Yeah," he drawled, "she runs it about the way the skipper's poll parrot runs the vessel. The poll parrot talks a barrel a minute and the skipper goes right along navigatin'. That's about the way 'tis over yonder," with a jerk of the head in the general direction of the Fair Harbor.
His lodger was a trifle surprised.
"Why, I understood Mrs. Berry—Cap'n Isaac Berry's widow—was manager there," he said.
"Um-hm. So she is, the poll parrot manager. But it's that girl of hers, that 'Lizabeth Berry, that really handles the ropes. There's a capable little craft, if you want to know," declared Judah, with emphasis.
He whittled a pipe full of tobacco from the mutilated remnant of a plug, and continued to expatiate on the capabilities of Miss Berry. According to him whatever was as it should be within the Fair Harbor boundaries was due to the young woman's efforts, not to those of her mother.
"It's kind of queer, ain't it, Cap'n Sears," he observed, "how things average up sometimes. Seems if whoever 'tis works out the course up aloft sort of fixed 'em that way."
"What's that got to do with the Berrys?"
"Cause it worked that way with them. You knew Cap'n Ike Berry, Cap'n Sears. Sharp, shrewd, able and all that, but rough and hard as the broadside of a white-oak plank. Well, he married a woman from down in the Carolinas somewhere. Her folks was well-off and she was brought up in cotton wool, as you might say. They wouldn't have nothin' to do with her after she married Cap'n Ike. He fell in love with her and carried her off by main strength, as you might say. She'd been treated like a plaything afore he got her and he treated her that way till he died. She is soft-spoken, and kind of good-lookin', and polite and all that—but about as much practical use for bossin' a place like the Fair Harbor as a—well as a paper umbrella would be in a no'theaster. But 'Lizabeth now, she's different. She's got her mother's good looks and nice manners and—and kind of genteelness, you understand, and with 'em she's got her dad's sense and capableness. She's all right, that girl. Don't you think so, Cap'n Sears?"
The captain nodded.
"I never met her but that once, Judah," he replied. "She was all right then, surely."
"I bet you! She's all right most of the time, I guess.... That young George Kent, he thinks so, they tell me."
"Oh ... does he?"
"Um-hm! He's cruisin' up to the Fair Harbor 'bout every once or twice a week, 'cordin' to tell. If it ain't to see 'Lizabeth I don't know what 'tis. It might be Queen Elviry he's after, but I have my doubts.... Oh, say, Cap'n, speakin' of the Harbor reminds me of Judge Knowles. You ain't been in to see him yet, same as he wanted you to."
"That's so, Judah, I haven't. I must pretty soon, I suppose. I can't think what the old judge wants to see me for. But why did talkin' of the Fair Harbor and the rest of it make you think of Judge Knowles?"
"Hey? Oh, 'cause the judge is kind of commodore of the fleet there, looks after the money matters for 'em, I understand. He's Lobelia's lawyer, same as he was old Cap'n Sylvanus's afore he died.... I declare I can't guess what he wants to see you for, Cap'n Sears. Do you s'pose——"
Judah proceeded to suppose several things, each supposition more far-fetched and improbable than its predecessor. Sears paid little attention to them. He again expressed his intention of calling upon the judge before long and changed the subject.
The next day it rained and he did not go and the following day he did not feel like going. On the day after that, however, further procrastination was rendered impossible. Mrs. Tidditt, the judge's housekeeper, visited the General Minot place with another message from her employer. Emmeline was gray-haired, brisk and, as Judah expressed it, "straight up and down," both in figure and manner of speaking.
"Good mornin', Cap'n Kendrick," she said. "Judge Knowles wants to know if 'twill be convenient for you to come over and see him this afternoon? Says if 'tis he'll send Mike and the hoss-'n'-buggy around for you at two o'clock."
The captain's guilty conscience made him a trifle embarrassed. "Why—why, yes, certainly," he stammered. "I—— Well, I'm ashamed of myself for not goin' over there sooner. Beg Judge Knowles's pardon for me, will you, and tell him I'll be on hand at two sharp. And tell him not to bother to send the horse and team. I'll get there all right."
Mrs. Tidditt sniffed. "I'll tell him the first part," she said. "And Mike'll have the hoss-'n'-buggy here at ten minutes of. Judah Cahoon, why in the land of Canaan don't you scrub up that back piazza floor once in a while? It's dirty as a fish shanty."
Judah's back fin rose. "Say, who's keepin' house aboard here, anyway?" he demanded. Mrs. Tidditt sniffed again. "Nobody, by the looks," she said, and departed in triumph.
At two the Knowles horse and buggy drove into the yard. It was piloted by Mike Callahan, an ancient, much bewhiskered Irishman who had been employed by the judge almost as long as had Mrs. Tidditt. He and Judah assisted Sears into the vehicle and the captain started upon his cruise, which was a very short one, the Knowles establishment being but a few hundred yards from the Minot place. On the way he inquired concerning the judge's health. Mike shook his head.
"Bad," he grunted. "It's close to, the ould judge is."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Sure ye are. So are we all. He is a fine man, none better—barrin' he's a grand ould curmudgeon. Here ye are, Cap'n. Git up till I lift ye down."
Judge Knowles's house—Sears Kendrick had never been in it before—was a big square mansion built in the '50's. There was the usual front door leading to a dark front hall from which, to right and left respectively, opened parlor and sitting rooms. Emmeline ushered the visitor into the latter apartment. It was high studded, furnished in black walnut and haircloth, a pair of tall walnut cases filled with books against one wall, on the opposite wall a libellous oil portrait of the judge's wife, who died twenty years before, and a pair of steel engravings depicting "Sperm Whale Fishing in the Arctic"; No. 1, portraying "The Chase," No. 2, "the Capture." Beneath these stood a marble-topped table upon which were neatly piled four gigantic volumes, bound copies of Harper's Weekly, 1861 to '65, the Civil War period.
At the end of the room, where two French windows opened—that is, could have opened, they never were—upon the narrow, iron-railed veranda, sat Judge Marcus Aurelious Knowles, in an old-fashioned walnut armchair, his feet upon a walnut and haircloth footstool—Bayport folk in those days called such stools "crickets"—a knitted Afghan thrown over his legs and a pillow beneath his head. And in that dark, shadowy room, its curtains drawn rather low, so white was the judge's hair and his face that, to Sears Kendrick, just in from the light out of doors, it was at first hard to distinguish where the pillow left off and the head began.
But the head on the pillow stirred and the judge spoke.
"Ah—good afternoon, Kendrick," he said. "Glad to see you.... Humph. Can't see much of you, can I? Here, Emmeline, put those shades up, will you?"
The housekeeper moved toward the windows, but she protested as she moved.
"Now, Judge," she said, "I don't believe you want them winder curtains strung way up, do you? I hauled 'em down purpose so's the sun wouldn't get in your eyes."
"Um—yes. Well, you haul 'em up again. And don't you haul 'em down till I'm dead. You'll do it then, I know, and I don't want to attend my funeral ahead of time."
Mrs. Tidditt gasped.
"Oh, Judge Knowles, how can you talk so!" she wailed.
"I intend to talk as I choose—while I can talk at all.... There, there, woman, that's enough. Put the blasted things up.... Umph! That's better. Sit down, Cap'n, sit down. I want to look at you."
The captain took one of the walnut and haircloth chairs. The judge looked at him and he looked at the judge. He remembered the latter as a tall, broad-shouldered figure, with a ruddy face, black hair slightly sprinkled with gray, and a nose and eye like an eagle's. The man in the armchair was thin and shrunken, the face was deeply lined, and face and hands and hair were snow white. The nose was, however, more eagle-like than ever, and the eyes beneath the rough white brows had the old flash.
Sears waited an instant for him to speak, but he did not. So the captain did.
"I beg your pardon, Judge," he began, "for not comin' over here sooner. I got your message——"
Knowles interrupted. "Oh, you got it, did you?" he said. "Humph! I told Emmeline to get word to you and she said—— Oh, well, never mind that. Can't waste time. I haven't got any too much of it, or strength either. Sorry to hear about your accident, Cap'n. Doctor Sheldon says you had a close call of it. How are the legs?"
"Oh, I can navigate with 'em after a fashion, but not far. How are you, Judge? Gettin' better fast, I hope."
The head on the pillow gave an impatient jerk. "Your hope is lost then. Don't waste time talking about me. I'm going to die and I know it—and before long.... There, there," as his caller uttered a protest, "don't bother to pretend, Kendrick. We aren't children, either of us, although you're a good many years younger than I am; but we're both too old to make-believe. I'm almost through. Well, it's all right. I've lived past my three score and ten and I'm alone in the world and ought not to mind leaving it, I suppose. I don't much. It's an interesting place and there are two or three matters I should like to straighten up before.... Humph! I'm the one's who's wasting the time. How are you? I don't mean how would you like to be or how do your fool friends and the doctor tell you you are—but how are you?"
Captain Sears smiled. It had been a long, long time since any one had talked to him like this. Not since he relinquished a mate's rating for that of a master. But he did not resent it; he, too, was sick of pretending.
"I'm in bad shape, Judge," he said. "My legs are better and I can hobble around on 'em, as you saw when I hobbled in here. But as to whether or not they will ever be fit for sea again I—well, I doubt it. And I rather guess the doctor doubts it, too. I don't say so to many, haven't said it to any one but you, but it looks to me as if I were on a lee shore. I may get out of the breakers some day—or I may just lay there and rot and drop to pieces.... Well, as you say, what's the use of wastin' time talkin' about me?"
"I've got a reason for talking about you, Cap'n. So you're not confined to your bed. And your head is all right, eh?"
Kendrick hesitated. He could not make out what in the world the man was driving at.
"Eh?" repeated the judge.
"Yes, as right as it ever was, I presume likely. Sometimes I think that may not be sayin' much."
"When a man thinks that way it is a favorable symptom, according to my experience. From what I've heard and know, Cap'n Kendrick, your head will do very well. Now there's another question. Have you got all the money you need?"
The captain leaned back in his chair. He did not answer immediately. From the head upon the pillow came a rasping chuckle.
"Go on," observed Judge Knowles, "ask it."
Kendrick stared at him. "Ask what?" he demanded.
"The question you had in mind. If I hadn't been a man with one foot in the grave you would have asked me if I considered the amount of money you had any of my damned business. Isn't that right?"
Sears hesitated. Then he grinned. "Just about," he said.
"I thought so. Well, in a way it is my business, because, if you have all the money you need, fifteen hundred a year for the next two or three years won't tempt you any. And I want to tempt you, Cap'n."
Again the captain was silent for an interval.
"Fifteen hundred a year?" he repeated, slowly.
"For services to be rendered. I've been looking for a man with time on his hands, who has been used to managing, who can be firm when it's necessary, has had enough experience of the world to judge people and things and who won't let a slick tongue get the better of him. And he must be honest. I think you fill the bill, Cap'n Kendrick."
The visitor tugged at his beard.
"Look here, Judge Knowles," he said crisply, "what are you talkin' about? What's the joke?"
"It isn't a joke."
"Well, then what is it? You'll have to give me my bearin's, I'm lost in the fog. Do I understand you to mean that you are offerin' me a berth, a job where I can earn—no, I won't put it that way, where I will be paid fifteen hundred a year?"
"I am, and," with another sardonic chuckle, "I rather think you'll earn all you get. Of course fifteen hundred dollars a year isn't a large salary, it isn't a sea captain's wage and share—not such a captain as you've been, Kendrick. But, as I see it, you can't go to sea for a year or two at least. You are planning to stay right here in Bayport. Well, while you are here this thing I am offering you will," there was another chuckle, "keep you moderately busy, and you will be earning something. It may be that fifteen hundred won't be enough to be worth your while. Perhaps I shouldn't venture to offer it if I hadn't heard—hadn't heard——"
"What you heard was probably true," he said crisply. "True enough, at any rate. Fifteen hundred a year looks like a lot to me now. But what am I to do to get it, that's the question. I'm a cripple, don't forget that."
"I should remember it if I thought it necessary. You won't handle this job with your legs. It is your head I want. Cap'n Kendrick, I want you to take charge—take command, if you had rather we used seafaring lingo, of that establishment next door to where you are living now. I want you to act as—well, we'll call it captain of the Fair Harbor."
Captain Sears's eyes and mouth opened. His chair creaked as he leaned forward and then slowly leaned back again.
"You—you—" he gasped, "you want me to—to manage that—that old women's home?"
"Yes.... Here! where are you going?"
The visitor had risen.
"Stop!" shouted Judge Knowles. "Where are you going?"
The captain breathed heavily.
"I'm goin' to send for the doctor," he declared. "One of us two needs him."
Judge Knowles's answer to his caller's assertion concerning the need of a physician's services was another chuckle.
"Sit down, Cap'n," he ordered.
Kendrick shook his head. "No," he began, "I'm——"
"Judge, look here: I don't suppose you're serious, but if you are, I tell you——"
"No, I'm going to tell you. SIT DOWN."
This time the invalid's voice was raised to such a pitch that Mrs. Tidditt came hurrying from the kitchen.
"My soul and body, Judge!" she exclaimed. "What is it? What is the matter?"
Her employer turned upon her.
"The matter is that that confounded door is open again," he snapped.
"Why—why, of course 'tis. I just opened it when I came in."
"Umph! Yes. Well then, hurry up and shut it when you go out. Shut it!"
Emmeline, going, not only shut but slammed the door. The judge smiled grimly.
"Sit down, Kendrick," he commanded once more, panting. "Sit down, I—I'm out of breath. Confound that woman! She seems to think I'm four years old. Ah—ah—whew!"
His exhaustion was so apparent that Sears was alarmed.
"Don't you think, Judge——" he began, but was interrupted.
"Sshh!" ordered Knowles. "Wait.... Wait.... I'll be all right in a minute!"
The captain waited. It took more than a minute, and even then the judge's voice was husky and his sentences broken, but his determination was unshaken.
"I want you to listen to me, Cap'n Kendrick," he said. "I know it sounds crazy, this proposal of mine, but it isn't. How much do you know about this Fair Harbor place; its history and so on?"
Captain Sears explained that his sister had written him some facts concerning it and that recently Judah Cahoon had told him more details. The judge wished to know what Judah had told. When informed he nodded.
"That's about right, so far as it goes," he admitted. "Fairly straight, for a Bayport yarn. It doesn't go far enough, though. Here is the situation:
"Lobelia, when she first conceived the fool notion," he said, "came to me, of course, to arrange it. I was her father's lawyer for years, and so naturally I was looking out for her affairs. I said all I could against it, but she was determined, and had her way. She, through me, set aside the Sylvanus Seymour house and land to be used as a home for what she called 'mariners' women' as long as—well, as long as she should continue to want it used for that purpose. She would have been contented to pay the bills as they came, but, of course, there was no business method in that, so we arranged that she was to hand over to me fifty thousand dollars in bonds, the income from that sum, plus the entrance fees and one hundred dollars yearly paid by each inmate, was to run the place. That is the way it has been run. She christened it the Fair Harbor. Heaven knows I had nothing to do with that.
"For a year or so she lived there herself and had a beautiful time queening it over the inmates. Then that Phillips chap drifted into Bayport."
The captain interrupted here. "Oh, then the Fair Harbor was off the ways before she married Phillips?" he said. "Judah told me it was afterwards."
"He's wrong. No, the thing had been running two years when that confounded.... Humph! You never met Egbert Phillips, did you, Cap'n?"
"You've heard about him?"
"Only what Judah told me the other day."
"Humph! What did he tell?"
"Why, he—he gave me to understand that this Phillips was a pretty smooth article."
"Smooth! Why, Kendrick, he is.... But there, you'll meet him some day and no feeble words of mine could do him justice. Besides all my words are getting too feeble to waste—even on anything as beautiful as Egbert the great.... And that condemned doctor will be here pretty soon, so we must get on.... Ah.... Well, he came here to teach singing, Phillips did, and he had all the women in tune before the first lesson was over. They said he was wonderful, and he was—good God, yes! They kept on thinking he was wonderful until he married Lobelia Seymour."
"Then they changed their minds, eh?"
"Humph! You don't know women, do you, Cap'n? Never mind, you've got time enough left to learn in.... No, they didn't change their minds. They thought Egbert was as wonderful as ever, but they agreed that Lobelia had roped him in. She had roped him in! Oh, lord!... Well, they were married and went to Boston to live. Afterwards they went to Europe. Five years ago they came back here for a week's visit. Cahoon tell you about that?"
"Probably he didn't know about it. They did, though, and stayed here with me, of course. Lobelia settled that, I imagine—one of the times when she settled something herself. And while she was here she and I settled something else. She added a codicil to her will making the fifty thousand dollars in my possession and the house and Seymour land a gift, absolute, to the Fair Harbor. And she appointed me as sole trustee of the fund and financial manager of the home, with authority to appoint my own successor. And her husband didn't know a thing about it. Didn't when they went away; I'm sure I don't know whether he does now or not, but he didn't then. No, sir, we settled the Fair Harbor fund and Egbert's hash, so far as it was concerned. Ha, ha! And a blessed good job, too, Kendrick.... Hand me that glass of water, will you? Thanks."
He drank a swallow or two of water and lay back upon the pillow. Captain Sears was a little anxious. He suggested that, perhaps, he had better be told the rest another time.
"I think you had better rest now, Judge," he counseled. The judge consigned the "rest" idea to a place where, according to tradition, there is very little of it.
"I want you to hear this," he snapped. "Don't bother me, but listen.... Where was I?... Oh, yes.... Well, Lobelia and her husband went away, to Europe again. They have been there ever since, living in Italy. Egbert finds the climate there agrees with him, I suppose—— Humph!... I have had letters from Lobelia. The later ones were shorter and not encouraging. She wrote that she wasn't well and the doctors didn't seem to help her much. After two or three of these letters I wrote one, myself—to the American consul at Florence. He is the son of a good friend of mine. I explained the situation and asked him to find out just what ailed her and what the prospects were. His reply explained things. Poor Lobelia is in my position—except that my age entitles me to be there and hers doesn't; she has an incurable disease and she is likely to die at any time. No hope for her. And now, it seems she has found it out. About a month ago I had another letter from her.... Humph!... Wait a minute, Cap'n. Give me that glass again, will you. Sorry to be such a condemned nuisance—particularly to other people.... Wait! Hold on! When I've finished you can talk. Hear the rest of it first.
"Lobelia's latest—last, I shouldn't wonder—letter was a sad sort of a thing. I'm a tough old fellow, but I declare I'm sorry for that poor woman. Fool to marry Phillips? Of course she was, but most of us are fools, some time or other. And, if I don't miss my guess, she has repented of her foolishness many times and all the time. She wrote me she knew she was going to die. And she said—— But here is the letter. Read it, that page of it."
He fumbled among the papers and books on the table beside him, selected a sheet of paper, covered with closely written lines, and extended it in a shaking hand to his caller.
"That explains things a little," he said. "It's illuminating. Read it."
Captain Sears read.... "And so I am very anxious, dear Judge Knowles, whatever else happens, that the Fair Harbor shall always be as it is, a home for sisters and widows and daughters of men who went down to the sea in ships, as father did. I know he would have liked it. And please, after I'm gone, don't let it be sold or given up, or anything like that. I am asking this of you, because I know I can trust you. You have proved it so many times. And—I never have written you this before but it is true—I have so little left except the Fair Harbor and its endowment. You will wonder where the money has gone. I do not know. It seems to have slipped away little by little and neither my husband nor I can account for...."
The page ended there. The captain would have handed it back to Knowles, but the latter asked him to put it on the table.
"Put it in the envelope and put the envelope in the drawer, will you, Kendrick?" he said. "My housekeeper is a good housekeeper, but what is mine is hers—including correspondence.... Well, you see? She can't account for the disappearance of the money. I can. When you have a five thousand dollar income and spend ten thousand you can account for a lot.... Humph! Well, the fact is that I am expecting to hear of Lobelia's death at any time. She may be dead to-day—or to-morrow—or next week. And as soon as I hear of it I shall say to myself.... Humph! Cap'n, you know how the Old Farmer's Almanac, along in November, prophesies the weather, don't you? 'About this time look out for snow.' Yes, well, on a date about a month after the day I hear of Lobelia Phillips's death I should write on the calendar: 'About this time look for Egbert.' ... Humph.... Eh? See, don't you, Cap'n Kendrick?"
Kendrick smiled, he couldn't help it. He tugged thoughtfully at his beard.
"Yes," he admitted, "I guess likely I see. But I don't see where I come in. You can handle Egbert, Judge, or I don't know much about men."
The judge snorted. "Handle him," he repeated. "I think I could handle him—and enjoy the job. The trouble is I shan't have the chance. I won't be here. I'll be in the graveyard."
He spoke of it as casually as he might of Boston or New York. Again his listener could not help but protest.
"Why, Judge," he began, "that's perfectly ridiculous. You——"
The judge interrupted. "Perhaps," he said, drily. "In fact, I agree with you. The graveyard is a ridiculous place for anybody to be, but I shall be there—and soon. But I am not going to let it interfere with my plans concerning the Fair Harbor. Lobelia Seymour I've known since she was a little girl, and whether I'm dead or alive, I'm going to have her wishes carried out. That's why I'm telling you these things, Sears Kendrick. I am counting on you to carry them out."
The captain leaned back in his chair.
"Why pick on me?" he asked, drily.
"Why? Because I've got to pick on somebody and do it while I have the strength to pick. You and I have never been close friends, Kendrick, but I've watched you and kept track of you for years, in a general sort of way. Your sister and I have had a long acquaintanceship. There's another woman who made a mistake.... Eh?"
"I'm afraid so," he admitted. "Joel is a good enough fellow, in his way, but——"
"But—that's it. Well, he's got a good wife and she's your sister. I know you can handle this Fair Harbor job if you will and if you take it on I shall go to—well, to that graveyard we were talking about, with an easier mind. Look here—why——"
"Hold on a minute, Judge. Heave to and let me say a word. If there wasn't any other reason why I shouldn't feel like takin' the wheel of an old woman's home there would be this one: You need a business man there and I'm no business man."
"How do you know you're not?"
"Because I've just proved it. You heard somethin' of how my voyage in business ashore turned out. I'll tell you the truth about it."
He did, briefly, giving the facts of his disastrous sojourn in ship-chandlery.
"So that's how good a business man I am," he said in conclusion. "And I'm a cripple besides. Much obliged, Judge, but you'll have to ship another skipper, I'm afraid."
He was rising but Judge Knowles barked a profane order for him to keep his seat.
"I know all that," he snapped. "Knew about it just after it happened. And I know, too, that you paid your share of the debts dollar for dollar. I'll risk you in this job I'm offering you.... Yes, and you're the only man I will risk—the only one in sight, that is. Come now, don't say no. Think it over. I'll give you a week to think it over in. I'd give you a month, but I might not be here at the end of it.... Will you take the offer under consideration and then come back and have another talk with me? Eh? Will you?"
The captain hesitated. He wanted to say no, of course, should say it sooner or later, but he hated to be too abrupt in his refusal. After all, the offer, although absurd, was, in a way, a compliment and he liked the old judge. So he hesitated, stammered and then asked another question.
"You've got a skipper aboard the Fair Harbor already, haven't you?" he inquired. "Judah told me that Cap'n Ike Berry's widow was runnin' the place."
"Humph! That isn't all he told you, is it?"
Kendrick smiled. "Why"—he hesitated, "I—"
"Come, come, come! Of course he told you that Cordelia Berry was another one of those mistakes we've been talking about. She is, but her husband was one of my best friends and his daughter is another. No mistake there, Cap'n Kendrick, I tell you.... But you've met Elizabeth, I understand, eh?"
He chuckled as he said it. Sears was surprised and a trifle confused. Evidently she had told of their encounter in Judah's garden.
"Well, yes," he admitted. "We met."
"Ha, ha! So I heard. Handled the poultry pretty well, didn't she? She ought to, she's had experience in handling old hens for some time."
"I presume likely. Then I don't see why you don't let her keep on handlin' 'em. What do you want me for?"
"Oh, damnation, man, haven't I told you! I want you because I'm going to die and somebody—some man—must take my place.... Look here, Kendrick. I appoint you general manager of the Fair Harbor, take it or leave it. But if you leave it don't do it for a week, and, before you do, promise me you'll go over there some day and look around. Meet Cordelia and talk to her, meet Elizabeth and talk to her. Meet some of the—er—hens and talk to them. But, this is the main thing, look around, listen, see for yourself. Then you can come back and, if you accept, we'll discuss details. Will you do that much?"
Captain Sears looked troubled. "Why, yes, I suppose so," he said, reluctantly, "to oblige you, Judge. But it's wasted time, I shan't accept. Of course I thank you for the offer and all that, but I might as well, seems to me, say no now as next week."
"No such thing. And you will go there and look around?"
"Why—yes, I guess so. But won't the Berry woman and the rest of 'em think I'm nosin' in where I don't belong? I should, if I were they, and I'd raise a row about it, too."
"Nonsense. They can't object to your making a neighborly call, can they? And if they do, let 'em. A healthy row won't do a bit of harm over there. Give 'em the devil, it's what they need.... See here, will you go?"
"Good! And, remember, you are appointed to this job this minute if you want it. Or you may take it at any time during the week; don't bother to speak to me first. Fifteen hundred a year, live with Cahoon or whoever you like, precious little to do except be generally responsible for the Fair Harbor—oh, how I hate that syrupy, sentimental name!—financially and in a business way.... Easy berth, as you sailors would say, eh? Ha, ha!... Well, good day, Cap'n. Can you find your way out? If not call that eternally-lost woman of mine and she'll pilot you.... Ah.... yes.... And just hand me that water glass once more.... Thanks.... I shall hope to hear you've accepted next time I see you. We'll talk details and sign papers then, eh?... Oh, yes, we will. You won't be fool enough to refuse. Easy berth, you know, Kendrick. And don't forget Egbert; eh? Ha, ha.... Umph—ah, yes.... Where's that damned housekeeper?"
Mike Callahan asked no questions as he drove his passenger back to the General Minot place—no direct questions, that is—but it was quite evident that his curiosity concerning the reasons for Captain Kendrick's visit was intense.
"Well, the ould judge seen you at last, Cap'n," he observed.
"I expect 'twas a great satisfaction to him, eh?"
"Maybe so. Looks as if it was smurrin' up for rain over to the west'ard, doesn't it?"
Mr. Callahan delivered his passenger at the Minot back door and departed, looking grumpy. Then Mr. Cahoon took his turn.
"Well, Cap'n Sears," he said, eagerly, "you seen him."
"Yes, Judah, I saw him."
"Um-hm. Pretty glad to see you, too, wan't he?"
"I hope so."
"Creepin' prophets, don't you know so? Ain't he been sendin' word by Emmeline Tidditt that he wanted to see you more'n a million times?"
"Guess not. So far as I know he only wanted to see me once."
"No, no, no. You know what I mean, Cap'n Sears.... Well—er—er—you seen him, anyway?"
"Yes, I saw him."
"Um-hm ... so you said."
"Yes, I thought I did."
"Oh, you did—yes, you did.... Um-hm—er—yes."
So Judah, too, was obliged to do without authentic information concerning Judge Knowles's reason for wishing to meet Sears Kendrick. He hinted as far as he dared, but experience gained through years of sea acquaintanceship with his former commander prevented his doing more than hint. The captain would tell just exactly what he wished and no more, Judah knew. He knew also that attempting to learn more than that was likely to be unpleasant as well as unprofitable. It was true that his beloved "Cap'n Sears" was no longer his commander but merely his lodger, nevertheless discipline was discipline. Mr. Cahoon was dying to know why the judge wished to talk to the captain, but he would have died in reality rather than continue to work the pumps against the latter's orders, expressed or intimated. Judah was no mutineer.
Sears put in a disagreeable day or two after his call upon the judge. He was dissatisfied with the ending of their interview. He felt that he had been foolishly soft-hearted in promising to call at the Fair Harbor, or, to consider for another hour the preposterous offer of management of that institution. He must say no in the end. How much better to have said it then and there. Fifteen hundred a year looked like a lot of money to him. It tempted him, that part of the proposition. But it did not tempt him sufficiently to overcome the absurdities of the remaining part. How could he manage an old woman's home? And what would people say if he tried?
Nevertheless, he had promised to visit the place and look it over and the promise must be kept. He dreaded it about as much as he had ever dreaded anything, but—he had promised. So on the morning of the third day following that of his call upon Judge Knowles he hobbled painfully and slowly up the front walk of the Fair Harbor to the formidable front door, with its great South Sea shells at each end of the granite step—relics of Captain Sylvanus's early voyages—and its silver-plated name plate with "SEYMOUR" engraved upon it in Gothic lettering. To one looking back from the view-point of to-day such a name plate may seem a bit superfluous and unnecessary in a village where every one knew not only where every one else lived, but how they lived and all about them. The fact remains that in Bayport in the '70's there were many name plates.
Sears gave the glass knob beside the front door a pull. From the interior of the house came the resultant "JINGLE; jingle; jingle, jing, jing." Then a wait, then the sound of footsteps approaching the other side of the door. Then a momentary glimpse of a reconnoitering eye behind one of the transparent urns engraved in the ground glass pane. Then a rattle of bolt and latch and the door opened.
The woman who opened it was rather good looking, but also she looked—well, if the captain had been ordered to describe her general appearance instantly, he would have said that she looked "tousled." She was fully dressed, of course, but there was about her a general appearance of having just gotten out of bed. Her hair, rather elaborately coiffured, had several loose strands sticking out here and there. She wore a gold pin—an oval brooch with a lock of hair in it—at her throat, but one end was unfastened. She wore cotton gloves, with holes in them.
"Good mornin'," said the captain.
The woman said "Good morning." There was no "r" in the "morning" so, remembering what he had heard concerning Mrs. Isaac Berry's rearing, Kendrick decided that this must be she.
"This is Mrs. Berry, isn't it?" he inquired.
"Yes." The lady's tone was not too gracious, in fact there was a trace of suspicion in it, as if she was expecting the man on the step to produce a patent egg-beater or the specimen volume of a set of encyclopedias.
"How do you do, Mrs. Berry," went on the captain. "My name is Kendrick. I'm your neighbor next door, and Judge Knowles asked me to be neighborly and cruise over and call some day. So I—er—so I've cruised, you see."
Mrs. Berry's expression changed. She seemed surprised, perhaps a little annoyed, certainly very much confused.
"Why—why, yes, Mr. Kendrick," she stammered. "I'm so glad you did.... I am so glad to see you.... Ah—ah—— Won't you come in?"
Captain Sears entered the dark front hall. It smelt like most front halls of that day in that town, a combination smell made up of sandal-wood and Brussels carpet and haircloth and camphor and damp shut-up-ness.
"Walk right in, do," urged Mrs. Berry, opening the parlor door. The captain walked right in. The parlor was high-studded and square-pianoed and chromoed and oil-portraited and black-walnutted and marble-topped and hairclothed. Also it had the fullest and most satisfying assortment of whatnot curios and alum baskets and whale ivory and shell frames and wax fruit and pampas grass. There was a majestic black stove and window lambrequins. Which is to say that it was a very fine specimen of a very best parlor.
"Do sit down, Mr. Kendrick," gushed Mrs. Berry, moving about a good deal but not, apparently, accomplishing very much. There had been a feather duster on the piano when they entered, but it, somehow or other, had disappeared beneath the piano scarf—partially disappeared, that is, for one end still protruded. The lady's cotton dusting-gloves no longer protected her hands but now peeped coyly from behind a jig-sawed photograph frame on the marble mantelpiece. The apron she had worn lay on the floor in the shadow of the table cloth. These habiliments of menial domesticity slid, one by one, out of sight—or partially so—as she bustled and chatted. When, after a moment, she raised a window shade and admitted a square of sunshine to the grand apartment, one would scarcely have guessed that there was such drudgery as housework, certainly no one would have suspected the elegant Mrs. Cordelia Berry of being intimately connected with it.
She swept—in those days the breadth of skirts made all feminine progress more or less of a sweep—across the room and swished gracefully into a chair. When she spoke she raised her eyebrows, at the end of the sentence she lowered them and her lashes. She smiled much, and hers was still a pretty smile. She made attractive little gestures with her hands.
"I am so glad you dropped in, Mr. Kendrick," she declared. "So very glad. Of course if we had known when you were coming we might have been a little better prepared. But there, you will excuse us, I know. Elizabeth and I—Elizabeth is my daughter, Mr. Kendrick.... But it is Captain Kendrick, isn't it? Of course, I might have known. You look the sea—you know what I mean—I can always tell. My dear husband was a captain. You knew that, of course. And in the old days at my girlhood home so many, many captains used to come and go. Our old home—my girlhood home, I mean—was always open. I met my husband there.... Ah me, those days are not these days! What my dear father would have said if he could have known.... But we don't know what is in store for us, do we?... Oh, dear!... It's such charming weather, isn't it, Captain Kendrick?"
The captain admitted the weather's charm. He had not heard a great deal of his voluble hostess's chatter. He was there, in a way, on business and he was wondering how he might, without giving offence, fulfill his promise to Judge Knowles and see more of the interior of the Fair Harbor. Of the matron of that institution he had already seen enough to classify and appraise her in his mind.
Mrs. Berry rambled on and on. At last, out of the tumult of words, Captain Sears caught a fragment which seemed to him pertinent and interesting.
"Oh!" he broke in. "So you knew I was—er—hopeful of droppin' in some time or other?"
"Why, yes. Elizabeth knew. Judge Knowles told her you said you hoped to. Of course we were delighted.... The poor dear judge! We are so fond of him, my daughter and I. He is so—so essentially aristocratic. Oh, if you knew what that means to me, raised as I was among the people I was. There are times when I sit here in this dreadful place in utter despair—utter.... Oh—oh, of course, Captain Kendrick, I wouldn't have you imagine that Elizabeth and I don't like this house. We love it. And dear 'Belia Seymour is my closest friend. But, you know——"
She paused, momentarily, and the captain seized the opportunity——
"So Judge Knowles told you I was liable to call, did he?" he queried. He was somewhat surprised. He wondered if the Judge had hinted at a reason for his visit.
"Why, yes," replied Mrs. Berry, "he told Elizabeth. She said—— Oh, here you are, dearie. Captain Kendrick, our next door neighbor, has run in for a little call. Isn't it delightful of him? Captain Kendrick, this is my daughter, Elizabeth."
She had entered from the door behind the captain's chair. Now she came forward as he rose from it.
"How do you do, Cap'n Kendrick?" she said. "I am very glad to see you again. Judge Knowles told me you were planning to call."
She extended her hand and the captain took it. She was smiling, but it seemed to him that the smile was an absent-minded one. In fact—of course it might be entirely his imagination—he had a feeling that she was troubled about something.
However, he had no time to surmise or even reply to her greeting. Mrs. Berry had caught a word in that greeting which to her required explanation.
"Again?" she repeated. "Why, Elizabeth, have you and Captain Kendrick met before?"
"Yes, Mother, that day when our hens got into Mr. Cahoon's garden. You remember I told you at the time."
"I don't remember any such thing. I remember Elvira said that she and Aurora met him one afternoon, but I don't remember your saying anything about it."
"I told you. No doubt you have forgotten it."
"Nonsense! you know I never forget. If there is one thing I can honestly pride myself on it is a good memory. You may have thought you told me, but—— Why, what's that noise?"
The noise was a curious babble or chatter, almost as if the sound-proof door—if there was such a thing—of a parrot cage had been suddenly opened. It came from somewhere at the rear of the house and was, apparently, produced by a number of feminine voices all speaking very fast and simultaneously.
Elizabeth turned, glanced through the open door behind her, and then at Mrs. Berry. There was no doubt now concerning the troubled expression upon her face. She was troubled.
"Mother—" she began, quickly. "Excuse us, Cap'n Kendrick, please—mother, have Elvira and Susan Brackett been talking to you about buying that collection of—of what they call garden statuary at Mrs. Seth Snowden's auction in Harniss?"
And now Mrs. Berry, too, looked troubled. She turned red, stammered and fidgetted.
"Why—why, Elizabeth," she said, "I—I don't see why you want to discuss that now. We have a visitor and I'm sure Captain Kendrick isn't interested."
Her daughter did not seem to care whether the visitor was interested or not.
"Tell me, mother, please," she urged. "Have they been talking with you about their plan to buy that—those things?"
Mrs. Berry's confusion increased. "Why—why, yes," she admitted. "Elvira did tell me about it, something about it. She said it was beautiful—the fountain and the—the deer and—and how pretty they would look on the lawn and——"
"Mother, you didn't give them the least encouragement, did you? They say—Elvira and Mrs. Brackett say you told them you thought it a beautiful idea and that you were in favor of what they call their committee going to the sale next Monday and buying those—those cast-iron dogs and children with the Fair Harbor money? I am sure you didn't say that, did you, mother?... I'm awfully sorry, Cap'n Kendrick, to bring this matter into the middle of your call, but really it is very important and it can't be postponed, because.... Tell me, Mother, they will be here in a moment. You didn't say any such thing, did you?"
Mrs. Berry's fine eyes—they had been called "starlike" twenty years before, by romantic young gentlemen—filled with tears. She wrung her hands.
"I—I only said—" she stammered, "I—— Oh, I don't think I said anything except—except that—— Well, they were so sure they were lovely and a great bargain—and you know Captain Snowden's estate in Harniss was perfectly charming. You know it was, Elizabeth!"
"Mother, you didn't tell them they might buy them?"
"Why—why, no, I—I don't think I did. I—I couldn't have because I never do anything like that without consulting you.... Oh, Elizabeth, please, don't let us have a scene here, with Captain Kendrick present. What will he think? Oh, dear, dear!"
Her handkerchief was called into requisition. Sears Kendrick rose from his chair. Obviously he must go and, just as obviously, he knew that in order to fulfill his promise to the judge in spirit as well as letter he ought to stay. This was just the sort of situation to shed light upon the inner secrets of the Fair Harbor and its management.... Nevertheless, he was not going to stay. His position was much too spylike to suit him. But before he could move there were other developments.
While Miss Berry and her mother had been exchanging hurried questions and answers the parrot-cage babble from the distant places somewhere at the end of the long entry beyond the door had been continuous. Now it suddenly grew louder. Plainly the babblers were approaching along that entry and babbling as they came.
A moment more and they were in the room, seven of them. In the lead was the dignified Miss Elvira herself, an impressive figure of gentility in black silk and a hair breast pin. Close behind her, of course, was the rotund Mrs. Aurora Chase, and equally close—yes even a little in advance of Aurora, was a solidly built female with gray hair, a square chin, and a very distinct mustache. The others were in the rear, but as they came in one of these, a little woman in a plain gingham dress, who wore steel spectacles upon a sharp little nose, left the group and took a stand a little apart, regarding the company with lifted chin and a general air of determination and uncompromising defiance. Later on Captain Sears was destined to learn that the little woman was Mrs. Esther Tidditt, and the lady with the mustache Mrs. Susanna Brackett. And that the others were respectively Mrs. Hattie Thomas, Miss Desire Peasley, and Mrs. Constance Cahoon. Each of the seven was, of course, either a captain's widow or his sister.