HotFreeBooks.com
Fair Harbor
by Joseph Crosby Lincoln
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Just at the moment the captain, naturally, recognized nobody except Miss Snowden and Mrs. Chase. Nor did he notice individual peculiarities except that something, excitement or a sudden jostle or something, had pushed Aurora's rippling black locks to one side, with the result that the part which divided the ripples, instead of descending plumb-line fashion from the crown of the head to a point directly in the center of the forehead, now had a diagonal twist and ended over the left eye. The effect was rather astonishing, as if the upper section of the lady's head had slipped its moorings.

He had scarcely time to notice even this, certainly none in which to speculate concerning its cause. Miss Snowden, who held a paper in her hand, stepped forward and began to speak, gesticulating with the paper as she did so. She paid absolutely no attention to the masculine visitor. She was trembling with excitement and it is doubtful if she even saw him.

"Mrs. Berry," she began, "we are here—we have come here, these ladies and I—we have come here—we—— Oh, what is it?"

This last was addressed to Mrs. Chase, who was tugging at her skirt.

"Talk louder," cautioned Aurora, in a stage whisper. "I can't hear you."

With an impatient movement Miss Snowden freed her garment and began again.

"Mrs. Berry," she repeated, "we are here, these ladies and I, to—to ask a question and to express our opinion on a very important matter. We are all agreed——"

Here she was again interrupted, this time by Mrs. Esther Tidditt, the little woman in the gingham dress. Mrs. Tidditt's tone was brisk and sharp.

"No, we ain't agreed neither," she announced, with a snap of her head which threatened shipwreck to the steel spectacles. "I think it's everlastin' foolishness. Don't you say I'm agreed to it, Elvira Snowden."

Elvira drew her thin form erect and glared. "We are practically agreed," she proclaimed crushingly. "You are the only one who doesn't agree."

"Humph! And I'm the only one that is practical. Of all the silly——"

"Esther Tidditt, was you appointed to do the talking for this committee or was I?"

"You was, but that don't stop me from talkin' when I want to. I ain't on the committee, thank the good lord. I'm my own committee."

This declaration of independence was received with an outburst of indignant exclamations, in the midst of which Mrs. Chase could be heard demanding to be told what was the matter and who said what. Elizabeth Berry stilled the hubbub.

"Hush, hush!" she pleaded. "Don't, Esther, please. You can say your word later. I want mother—and Cap'n Kendrick—to hear this, all of it."

The captain was still standing. He had risen when the "committee" entered the room. Its members, most of them, had been so intent upon the business which had brought them there that they had ignored his presence. Now, of course, they turned to look at him. There was curiosity in their look but by no means enthusiastic approval. Miss Snowden's nod was decidedly snippy. She looked, sniffed and turned again to Mrs. Berry.

"We want your mother to hear it," she declared. "We've come here so she shall hear it—all of it. If—if others—who may not be 'specially interested want to hear they can, I suppose. I don't know why not.... We haven't anything to hide. We ain't ashamed—are not, I should say. Are we?" turning to those behind and beside her.

Mrs. Brackett announced that she certainly should say not, so did several others. There was a general murmur of agreement. Every one continued to look at the captain. He was embarrassed.

"I think perhaps I had better be goin'," he said, addressing Miss Berry. "I ought to be gettin' home, anyway."

But the young lady would not have it.

"Cap'n Kendrick," she said, earnestly, "I hope you won't go. Judge Knowles told me you were going to call. I was very glad when I found you had called now—at this time. And I should like to have you stay. You can stay, can't you?"

Sears hesitated. "Why—why, yes, I presume likely I can," he admitted.

"And will you—please?"

He looked at her and she at him. Then he nodded.

"I'll stay," he said, and sat down in his chair.

"Thank you," said Elizabeth. "Now, Elvira.... Wait, mother, please."

Miss Snowden sniffed once more. "Now that that important matter is settled I suppose I may be allowed to go on," she observed, with sarcasm. "Very good, I will do so in spite of the presence of—of those not—ahem—intimately concerned. Mrs. Berry, on behalf of this committee here, a committee of the whole——"

"No such thing," this from Mrs. Tidditt. "I'm part of the whole but I ain't part of that committee. Stick to the truth, Elviry—pays better."

"Hush, Esther," begged Miss Berry. "Let her go on, please. Go on, Elvira."

The head of the committee breathed fiercely through her thin nostrils. Then she made another attempt.

"I address you, Mrs. Cordelia Berry," declaimed Elvira, "because you are supposed—I say supposed—to be officially the managing director—or directress, to speak correct—of this institution. Not," she added, hastily, "that it is an institution in any sense of the word—like a home or any such thing. We all know that, I hope and trust. Although," with a venomous glance in the direction of Mrs. Esther, "there appear to be some that know precious little. I mention no names."

"You don't need to," retorted the Tidditt lady promptly. "Never mind, I know enough not to vote to buy a lot of second-handed images and critters just because they belong to one of your relations. I know that much, Elviry Snowden."

This was a body blow and Elvira visibly winced. For just an instant Captain Sears thought she was contemplating physical assault upon her enemy. But she recovered and, white and scornful, proceeded.

"I shan't deign to answer such low—er—insinuations," she declared, her voice shaking. "I scorn them and her that makes them. I scorn them—both. BOTH!"

This last "Both" was fired like a shot from a "Big Bertha." It should have annihilated the irreverent little female in the gingham gown. It did not, however; she merely laughed. The effect of the blast was still further impaired by Mrs. Chase, who although listening with all her ears, such as they were, had evidently heard neither well nor wisely.

"That's right, Elviry," proclaimed Aurora, "that's just what I say. Why, the lion alone is worth the money."

Mrs. Brackett touched the Snowden arm. "Never mind, Elvira," she said. "Don't pay any attention. Go right ahead and read the resolutions."

Elvira drew a long breath, two long breaths. "Thank you, Susanna," she said, "I shall. I'm going to. Mrs. Berry," she added, turning to that lady, who was quite as much agitated as any one present and was clutching her chair arm with one hand and her daughter's arm with the other. "Mrs. Berry," repeated Miss Snowden, "this resolution drawn up and signed by the committee of the whole here present—signed with but one exception, I should say, one trifling exception—" this with a glare at Mrs. Tidditt—"is, as I said, addressed to you because you are supposed—" a glare at Elizabeth this time—"to be in charge of the Fair Harbor and what goes on and is done within its—er—porticos. Ahem! I will now read as follows."

And she proceeded to read, using both elocution and gestures. The resolutions made a rather formidable document. They were addressed to "Mrs. Cordelia Imogene Berry, widow of the late Captain Isaac Stephens Berry, in charge of the Fair Harbor for Mariners' Women at Bayport, Massachusetts, United States of America. Madam: Whereas——"

There were many "Whereases." Captain Kendrick, listening intently, found the path of his understanding clogged by them and tangled by Miss Elvira's flowers of rhetoric. He gathered, nevertheless, that the "little group of ladies resident at the Fair Harbor, having been reared amid surroundings of culture, art and refinement" were, naturally, desirous of improving their present surroundings. Also that a "truly remarkable opportunity" had come in their way by which the said surroundings might be improved and beautified by the expenditure of a nominal sum, seventy-five dollars, no more. With this seventy-five dollars might be bought "the entire collection of lawn statuary and the fountain which adorned the grounds of the estate of the late lamented deceased Captain Seth Snowden at Harniss and now the property of his widow, namely to wit, Mrs. Hannah Snowden."

"And I'll say this," put in Elvira, before reading further, "although hints and insinuations have been cast at me in the hearing of those present to-day about my being a relation—relative, that is—of Captain Seth, and he was my uncle on my father's side, nevertheless it's just because I am a relation—relative—that we are able to buy all those elegant things for as cheap a price as seventy-five dollars when they cost at least five hundred and.... But there! I will proceed.

"'The said statuary, etcetera, consisting of the following, that is to say:

"'No. 1. Item ... 1 Lawn Fountain. Hand painted iron. Representing two children beneath umbrella.'"

"And it's the cutest thing," put in the hitherto silent Desire Peasley, with enthusiastic suddenness. "There's them two young ones standin' natural as life under that umbrella—just same as anybody would stand under an umbrella if 'twas rainin' like fury—and the water squirts right down over top of 'em and drips off the ribs—off the ribs of the umbrella, I mean—and there they stand and—and—— Well, when I see that I says, 'My glory!' I says, 'what'll they contrive next?' That's what I said. All hands heard me.... What's that you're mutterin', Esther Tidditt?"

"I wasn't mutterin', 'special. I just said I bet they heard you if they was anywheres 'round."

"Is that so? Do tell! Well, I'll have you to understand——"

Elvira and Miss Berry together intervened to calm this new disturbance. Then the former went on with the reading of the "resolutions."

"'No. 2. Item ... 1 Hand painted lion. Iron....' Hush, Aurora!... Yes, 'lion,' that's right.... I did say 'iron.' It's an iron lion, isn't it?... Oh, do be quiet! We'll never get through if everybody keeps interrupting. 'No. 2 ... Item ... 1 Hand painted lion iron'—iron lion, I mean.... Oh, my soul and body! If everybody keeps talking I shan't know what I mean.... 'A very wonderful piece of statuary. In perfect condition. Paint needs touching up, that's all.

"'No. 3—Item.... 1 Deer. Hand painted iron. Perfectly lovely—'"

"Stuff!" This from the irrepressible Mrs. Tidditt, of course. "One horn is broke off and it looks like the Old Harry. No, I'll take that back; the Old Harry is supposed to have two horns. But that deer image is a sight, just the same. Why, it ain't got any paint left on it."

"Nonsense! It may need a little paint, here and there, but——"

"Humph! A little here and a lot there and a whole lot more in between. Elvira Snowden, that image looks as if 'twas struck with leprosy, like Lazarus in the Bible; you know it well as I do."

Sears Kendrick enjoyed the reading of these resolutions. If it were not for certain elements in the situation he would have considered the morning's performance the most amusing entertainment he had witnessed afloat or ashore. He managed not to laugh aloud, although he was obliged to turn his head away several times and to cough at intervals. Once or twice he and Elizabeth Berry exchanged glances and the whimsical look of resignation and humorous appreciation in her eyes showed that she, too, was keenly aware of the joke.

But at other times she was serious enough and it was her expression at these times which prevented the captain's accepting the whole ridiculous affair as a hilarious farce. Then she looked deeply troubled and careworn and anxious. He began to realize that this affair, funny as it was, was but one of a series, a series of annoyances and trials and petty squabbles which, taken in the aggregate, were anything but funny to her. For it was obvious, the truth of what Judah Cahoon had said and Judge Knowles intimated, that this girl, Elizabeth Berry, was bearing upon her young shoulders the entire burden of responsibility for the conduct and management of affairs in the Fair Harbor for Mariners' Women at Bayport. Her mother was supposed to bear this burden, but it was perfectly obvious that Cordelia Berry was incapable of bearing any responsibilities, including her own personal ones.

Miss Snowden solemnly read the concluding paragraph of the resolutions. It summed up those preceding it and announced that those whose names were appended, "being guests at the Fair Harbor, the former home of our beloved benefactress and friend Mrs. Lobelia Phillips, nee Seymour, are unanimously agreed that as a simple matter of duty to the institution and those within its gates, not to mention the beautifying of Bayport, the collection of lawn statuary and fountain now adorning the estate of the late deceased Captain Seth Snowden be bought, purchased and obtained from that estate at the very low price of seventy-five dollars, this money to be paid from the funds in the Fair Harbor treasury, and the said statuary and fountain to be erected and set up on the lawns and grounds of the Fair Harbor. Signed——"

Miss Elvira read the names of the signers. They included, as she took pains to state, the names of every guest in the Fair Harbor with one—ahem—exception.

"And I'm it, praise the lord," announced Mrs. Tidditt, promptly. "I ain't quite crazy yet, nor I ain't a niece-in-law of Seth Snowden's widow neither."

"Esther Tidditt, I've stood your hints and slanders long enough."

"Nobody's payin' me no commissions for gettin' rid of their old junk for 'em."

"Esther, be still! You shouldn't say such things. Elvira, stop—stop!" Miss Berry stepped forward. Mrs. Tidditt was bristling like a combative bantam and Elvira was shaking from head to feet and crooking and uncrooking her fingers. "There mustn't be any more of this," declared Elizabeth. "Esther, you must apologize. Stop, both of you, please. Remember, Cap'n Kendrick is here."

This had the effect of causing every one to look at the captain once more. He felt unpleasantly conspicuous, but Elizabeth's next speech transferred the general gaze from him to her.

"There isn't any use in saying much more about this matter, it seems to me," she said. "It comes down to this: You and the others, Elvira, think we should buy the—the statues and the fountain because they would, you think, make our lawns and grounds more beautiful."

"We don't think at all—we know," declared Elvira. Mrs. Brackett said, "Yes indeed, we do," and there was a general murmur of assent. Also a loud sniff from the Tidditt direction.

"And your mother thinks so, too," spoke up Miss Peasley, from the group. "She told me herself she thought they were lovely. Didn't you, Cordelia? You know you did."

Before Mrs. Berry could answer—her embarrassment and distress seemed to be bringing her again to the verge of tears—her daughter went on.

"It doesn't make a bit of difference what mother and I think about their—beauty—and all that," she said. "The whole thing comes down to the matter of whether or not we can afford to buy them. And we simply cannot. We haven't the money to spare. Spending seventy-five dollars for anything except the running expenses of the Harbor is now absolutely impossible. I told you that, Elvira, when you first suggested it."

Miss Snowden, still trembling, regarded her resentfully. "Yes, you told me," she retorted. "I know you did. You are always telling us we can't do this or that. But why should you tell us? That is what we can't understand. You ain't—aren't—manager here, so far as we know. We never heard of your appointment. We always understood your mother was the manager, duly appointed. Isn't she?"

"Of course she is, but——"

"Yes, and when we have spoken to her—two or three of us at different times—she has said she thought buying these things was a lovely idea. I shouldn't be surprised if she thought so now.... Cordelia, don't you think the Fair Harbor ought to buy those statues and that fountain?"

This pointed appeal, of course, placed Mrs. Berry directly in the limelight and she wilted beneath its glare. She reddened and then paled. Her fingers fidgetted with the pin at her throat. She picked up her handkerchief and dropped it. She looked at Elvira and the committee and then at her daughter.

"Why—why, I don't know," she faltered. "I think—of course I think the—the statuary is very beautiful. I—I said so. I—I am always fond of pretty things. You know I am, Elizabeth, you——"

"Wait a minute, Cordelia. Didn't you tell me you thought the Fair Harbor ought to buy them? Didn't you tell Suzanna and me just that?"

Mrs. Berry squirmed. She did not answer but, so far as Sears Kendrick was concerned, no answer was necessary. He was as certain as if she had sworn it that she had told them just that thing. And, looking at Elizabeth's face, he could see that she, too, was certain of it.

"Didn't you, Cordelia?" persisted Miss Snowden.

"Why—why, I don't know. Perhaps I did, but—but what difference does it make? You heard what Elizabeth said. She says we can't afford it. She always attends to such matters, you know she does."

"Yes," with sarcastic emphasis, "we do, but we don't know why she should. And in this case we aren't going to stand it. You are supposed to be managing this place, Cordelia Berry, and if you are willing to turn your duties over to a—a mere child we aren't willing to let you. Once more I ask you——"

Elizabeth interrupted. "There, there, Elvira," she said, "what is the use? It isn't a question of mother's opinion or what she has said before. It is just a matter of money. We can't afford it."

Miss Snowden ignored her. "We shall not," she repeated, "permit our future and—and all like that to be ruined by the whims of a mere child. That is final."

She pronounced the last sentence with solemn emphasis. The pause which followed should have been impressive but Mrs. Tidditt spoiled the effect.

"Mere child!" she repeated, significantly. "Well, I presume likely she is a mere child compared to some folks. Only she just looks childish and they act that way."

There was another outburst of indignant exclamations from the committee. The head of that body turned to her followers.

"It is quite evident," she declared, furiously, "that this conference is going to end just as the others have. But this time we are not going to sit back and be trampled on. There are those higher up to be appealed to and we shall appeal to them. Come!"

She stalked majestically to the door and marched out and down the hall, the committee following her. Only Mrs. Tidditt remained, and she but for a moment.

"They're goin' to the back room to have another meetin'," she whispered. "If there's anything up that amounts to anything, 'Lizabeth, I'll come back and let you know."

Elizabeth did not answer, but Kendrick offered a suggestion. "You don't belong to this committee," he observed. "Perhaps they won't let you into the meetin'."

The eyes behind the steel spectacles snapped sparks. "I'd like to see 'em try to keep me out," declared Mrs. Esther, and hurried after the others. Elizabeth turned to her mother.

"Mother," she said, earnestly, "we must be very firm in this matter. We simply can't afford to spend any money just now except for necessities. If they come to you again you must tell them so. You will, won't you?"

And now Mrs. Berry's agitation reached its climax. She turned upon her daughter.

"Oh, I suppose so," she cried hysterically, "I suppose so! I shall have to go through another scene and be spoken to as if—as if I were dirt under these women's feet instead of being as far above them in—in position and education and refinement as the clouds. Why can't I have peace—just a little peace and quiet? Why must I always have to undergo humiliation after humiliation? I——"

"Mother, mother, please don't——"

But her mother was beyond reason.

"And you—" she went on, "you, my own daughter, why must you always take the other side, and put me in such positions, and—and humiliate me before—before—— Oh, why can't I die? I wish I were dead! I do! I do!"

She burst into a storm of hysterical sobs and hurried toward the door. Elizabeth would have gone to her but she pushed her aside and rushed into the front hall and up the stairs. They heard her sobs upon the upper landing.

Sears Kendrick, feeling more like an interloper than ever, looked in embarrassment at the flowered carpet. He did not dare look at the young woman beside him. He had never in his life felt more sorry for any one. Judge Knowles had said he hoped that he—Kendrick—might obtain a general idea of the condition of affairs in the Fair Harbor. The scenes he had just witnessed had given him a better idea of that condition than anything else could have done. And, somehow or other, it was the last of those scenes which had affected him most. Elizabeth Berry had faced the sarcasms and sneers of the committee, had never lost her poise or her temper, had never attempted to shift the responsibility, had never reproached her mother for the hesitating weakness which was at the base of all the trouble. And, in return, her mother had accused her of—all sorts of things.

And yet when Elizabeth spoke it was in defence of that mother.

"I hope, Cap'n Kendrick," she said, "that you won't misunderstand my mother or take what she just said too seriously. She is not very well, and very nervous, and, as you see, her position here is a trying one sometimes."

The captain could not keep back the speech which was at his tongue's end.

"Your position is rather tryin', too, isn't it?" he observed. "It sort of would seem that way—to me."

She smiled sadly. "Why, yes—it is," she admitted. "But I am younger and—and perhaps I can bear it better."

It occurred to him that the greatest pity of all was the fact that she should be obliged to bear it. He did not say so, however, and she went on, changing the subject and speaking very earnestly.

"Cap'n Kendrick," she said, "I am very glad you heard this—this disagreement this morning. Judge Knowles told me you were going to call at the Harbor here and when he said it he—well, I thought he looked more than he said, if you know what I mean. I didn't ask any questions and he said nothing more, but I guess perhaps he wanted you to—to see—well, to see what he wasn't well enough to see—or something like that."

She paused. The captain was embarrassed. He certainly felt guilty and he also felt as if he looked so.

"Why—why, Miss Berry," he stammered, "I hope you—you mustn't think——"

She waved his protestations aside.

"It doesn't make a bit of difference," she said. "No matter why you came I am very glad you did. This ridiculous statuary business is just one—well, symptom, so to speak. If it wasn't that, it might be something else. It comes, you see, from my position here—which really isn't any position at all—and their position, Elvira Snowden's and the rest. They pay a certain sum to get here in the first place and a small sum each year. There is the trouble. They think they pay for board and lodging and are guests. Of course what they pay amounts to almost nothing, but they don't realize that, or don't want to, and they expect to have their own way. Mother is—well, she is nervous and high strung and she hates scenes. They take advantage of her, some of them—no doubt they don't consider it that, but it seems to me so—and so I have been obliged to take charge, in a way. They don't understand that and resent it. I don't know that I blame them much. Perhaps I should resent it if I were in their place. Only.... But never mind that now.

"This is only one of a good many differences of opinion we have had," she went on. "In the old days—and not older than a year ago, for that matter—if the differences were too acute I used to go to Judge Knowles. He always settled everything, finally and sensibly. But now, since he has been so sick, I—well, I simply can't go to him. He has been very kind to us, to mother and me, and I am very fond of him. He was a great friend of my father's and I think he likes me for father's sake. And now I will not trouble him in his sickness with my troubles—I will not."

She raised her head as she said it and Captain Sears, regarding her, was again acutely conscious of the fact that it was a very fine head indeed.

"I understand," he said.

"Yes, I knew you would. And I know I could fight this out by myself. And shall, of course. But, nevertheless, I am glad you were here as—well, as a witness, if it ever comes to that. You heard what Elvira—Miss Snowden—said about appealing to those higher up. I suppose she means Mrs. Phillips, the one who founded the Harbor. If they should write to her I—— What is it, Esther?"

Mrs. Tidditt had rushed into the room, bristling. She waved her arms excitedly.

"'Lizbeth, 'Lizbeth," she whispered, "they're goin' to tell him. They're makin' up the yarn now that they're goin' to tell him."

"Tell him? Tell who?"

"Judge Knowles. They've decided to go right straight over to the judge's house and—and do what they call appeal to him about them images. Elviry she's goin', and Susanna, and Desire Peasley, too, for what I know. What do you want me to do? Ain't there any way I can help stop 'em?"

For the first time in that distressing forenoon Captain Kendrick saw Miss Berry's nerve shaken. She clasped her hands.

"Oh dear!" she cried. "Oh, dear, that is the very thing they mustn't do! I wouldn't have Judge Knowles worried or troubled about this for the world. I have kept everything from him. He is so ill! If those women go to him and—— Oh, but they mustn't, they mustn't! I can't let them."

Mrs. Tidditt, diminutive but combative, offered a suggestion.

"Do you want me to go out and stop 'em?" she demanded. "I'll go and stand in the kitchen doorway, if you want me to. They won't get by if I'm there, not in a hurry, anyway."

"Oh no, no, Esther, of course not."

"I tell you what I'll do. I'll go and tell Emmeline not to let 'em in the judge's house. She's my cousin and she'll do what I ask—sometimes—if I don't ask much."

"No, that wouldn't do any good, any permanent good. But they must not go to the judge. They must not. He has been so kind and forbearing and he is so very sick. The doctor told me that he.... They shan't go. They can say anything they please to me, but they shan't torment him."

She started toward the door through which Mrs. Tidditt had entered. At the threshold she paused for an instant and turned.

"Please excuse me, Cap'n Kendrick," she said. "I almost forgot that you were here. I think I wouldn't wait if I were you. There will be another scene and I'm sure you have had scenes enough. I have, too, but.... Oh, well, it will be all right, I'm sure. Please don't wait. Thank you for calling."

She turned again but the captain stopped her. As she faced him there in the doorway their eyes had met. Hers were moist—for the first time she was close to the breaking point—and there was a look in them which caused him to forget everything except one, namely, that the crowd in the "parrot cage" at the other end of that hall should not trouble her further. It was very seldom that Captain Sears Kendrick, master mariner, acted solely on impulse. But he did so now.

"Stop," he cried. "Miss Elizabeth, don't go. Stay where you are.... Here—you—" turning to Mrs. Tidditt. "You go and tell those folks I want to see 'em. Tell 'em to come aft here—now."

There was a different note in his voice, a note neither Elizabeth nor the Tidditt woman had before heard. Yet if Judah Cahoon had been present he would have recognized it. He had heard it many times, aboard many tall ships, upon many seas. It was the captain's quarter-deck voice and it meant business.

Mrs. Tidditt and Elizabeth had not heard it, and they looked at the speaker in surprise. Captain Sears looked at them, but not for long.

"Lively," he commanded. "Do you hear? Go for'ard and tell that crew in the galley, or the fo'castle, or wherever they are, to lay aft here. I've got somethin' to say to 'em."

It was seldom that Esther Tidditt was at a loss for words. As a usual thing her stock was unlimited. Now she merely gasped.

"You—you—" she stammered. "You want me to ask—to ask Elviry and Susanna and them to come in here?"

"Ask? Who said anything about askin'? I want you to tell 'em I say for them to come here. It's an order, and you can tell 'em so, if you want to."

Mrs. Tidditt gasped again. "Well!" she exclaimed. "Well, my good lordy, if this ain't—— A-ll right, I'll tell 'em."

She hastened down the corridor. Elizabeth ventured a faint protest.

"But, Cap'n Kendrick—" she began. He stopped her.

"It is all right, Miss Elizabeth," he said. "I'm handlin' this matter now. All you've got to do is look on.... Well, are they comin' or must I go after 'em?"

Apparently he had forgotten that his lameness made going anywhere a slow proceeding. As a matter of fact he had. He had forgotten everything except the business of the moment and the joy of being once more in supreme command.

The message borne by Mrs. Tidditt had, presumably, been delivered. The messenger had left the dining room door open and through it came a tremendous rattle of tongues. Obviously the captain's order had created a sensation.

Elizabeth listened.

"Well?" repeated Sears, again. "Are they goin' to come?"

Miss Berry smiled faintly. "I think they will come," she answered. "If they are as—as curious as I am they will."

They were. At any rate they came. Miss Snowden, Mrs. Brackett and Mrs. Chase in the lead, the others following. Mrs. Tidditt brought up the rear, marshaling the stragglers, as it were.

Elvira was, of course, the spokeswoman. She was the incarnation of dignified and somewhat resentful surprise.

"We have been told," she began, loftily, "we have been told, Cap'n Kendrick, that you wished to speak to us. We can't imagine why, but we have came—come, I should say. Do you wish to speak to us?"

Kendrick nodded. "Yes," he said crisply, "I do. I want to tell you that you mustn't go to Judge Knowles about buyin' those iron statues of Cap'n Seth's or about anything else. He is sick and mustn't be worried. Miss Berry says so, and I agree with her."

He paused From the committee came a gasp, or concert of gasps and muttered exclamations, indicating astonishment. Elvira voiced the feeling.

"You agree with her!" she exclaimed. "You agree? Why—I never did!"

"Yes. And I agree with her, too, about buyin' those—er—lions and dogs and—hogs, or whatever they are. I don't say they aren't worth seventy-five dollars or more—or less—I don't know. But I do say that, until I have had time to look into things aboard here, I don't want any money spent except for stores and other necessities. There isn't a bit of personal feelin' in this, you must understand, it is business, that's all."

He paused once more, to let this sink in. It sank apparently and when it again came to the surface an outburst of incoherent indignation came with it. Every committee-woman said something, even Mrs. Chase, although her observations were demands to know what was being said by the rest. Elizabeth was the only one who remained silent. She was gazing, wide-eyed, at the captain, and upon her face was a strange expression, an expression of eagerness, dawning understanding, and—yes, of hope.

Miss Snowden was so completely taken aback that she was incapable of connected speech. Mrs. Susanna Brackett, however, was of a temperament less easily upset. She stepped forward.

"Cap'n Kendrick," she demanded, "what are you talkin' about? What right have you got to say how the Fair Harbor money shall be spent? What are you interferin' here for I'd like to know?"

"I'm not interferin'. I'm taking charge, that's all.

"Takin' charge?... My land of love!... Charge of what?"

"Of this craft here, this Fair Harbor place. Judge Knowles offered me the general management of it three days ago."

Even the Brackett temperament was not proof against such a shock. Susanna herself found difficulty in speaking.

"You—you—" she sputtered. "My soul to heavens! Do you mean—— Are you crazy?"

"Um—maybe. But, anyhow, crazy or not, I'm in command aboard here from now on. Miss Elizabeth here—and her mother, of course—will be captain and mate, same as they've always been, but I'll be—well, commodore or admiral, whichever you like to call it. It's a queer sort of a job for a man like me," he added, with a grim smile, "but it looks as if it was what we'd all have to get used to."

For a moment there was silence, absolute silence, in the best parlor of the Fair Harbor for Mariners' Women. Then that silence was broken.

"What is he sayin'?" wailed Mrs. Aurora Chase. "Elviry Snowden, why don't you tell me what he's a-sayin'?"



CHAPTER VII

The bomb had burst, the debris had fallen, the smoke had to some extent cleared, the committee, still incoherent but by no means speechless, had retired to the dining room to talk it over. Mrs. Tidditt had accompanied them; and Sears Kendrick and Elizabeth Berry were saying good-by at the front door.

"Well," observed the captain, dubiously, "I'm glad you don't think I'm more than nine tenths idiot. It's some comfort to know you can see one tenth of common-sense in the thing. It's more than I can, and that's honest. I give you my word, Miss Elizabeth, when I set sail from Judah's back entry this mornin' I hadn't any more idea that I should undertake the job of handlin' the Fair Harbor than—well, than that Snowden woman had of kissin' that little spitfire that was flyin' up in her face every minute or two while she was tryin' to read that paper.... Ha-ha! that was awfully funny."

Elizabeth smiled. "It was," she agreed. "And it looks so much funnier to me now than it did then, thanks to you, Cap'n Kendrick. You have taken a great load off my mind."

"Um—yes, and taken it on my own, I shouldn't wonder. I do hope you'll make it clear to your mother that all I intend doin' is to keep a sort of weather eye on money matters, that's all. She is to have just the same ratin' aboard here that she has always had—and so will you, of course."

"But I haven't had any real rating, you know. And now I will be more of a fifth wheel than ever. You and mother can manage the Harbor. You won't need me at all. I can take a vacation, can't I? Won't that be wonderful!"

He looked at her in unfeigned alarm.

"Here, here!" he exclaimed. "Lay to! Come up into the wind! Don't talk that way, Miss Berry, or I'll jump over the rail before I've really climbed aboard this craft. I'm countin' on you to do three thirds of the work, just as I guess you've been doin' for a good while. All I shall be good for—if anything—is to be a sort of reef in the channel, as you might say, something for committees like this one to run their bows on if they get too far off the course."

"And that will be the most useful thing any one can do, Cap'n Kendrick. Oh, I shall thank Judge Knowles—in my mind—so many, many times a day for sending you here, I know I shall. I guessed, when he told me you were going to call, that there was something behind that call. And there was. What a wise old dear he is, bless him."

"Is he? Well I wish I was surer of the wisdom in trappin' me into takin' this command. However, I have taken it, so I'll have to do the best I can for a while, anyhow. Afterwards—well, probably I won't last but a little while, so we won't worry about more than that. And you'll have to stand by the wheel, Miss Elizabeth. If it hadn't been for you—I mean for the way that committee lit into you—I don't think I should ever have taken charge."

"I know. And I sha'n't forget. You may count on me, Cap'n Kendrick, for anything I can do to help."

His face brightened. "Good!" he exclaimed. "That's as good as an insurance policy on the ship and cargo. With you to pilot and me to handle the crew she ought to keep somewhere in deep water.... Well, I'll be gettin' back to port. Judah's dinner will be gettin' cold and he won't like that. And to-morrow mornin' I'll come again and we'll have a look at the figures."

"Yes. I'll have the books and bills and everything ready.... Oh, be careful! Can't I help you down the step?"

He shook his head. "I can navigate after a fashion," he said, grimly. "I get along about as graceful as a brick sloop in a head tide, but, by the Lord Harry, I'll get along somehow.... No, don't, please. I'd rather you didn't help me, if you don't mind."

Slowly, painfully, and with infinite care he lowered himself down the step. On level ground once more, leaning heavily on his cane, he turned to her and smiled a somewhat shame-faced apology.

"It's silly, I know," he said, panting a little, "but I've always been used to doin' about as I pleased and it—somehow it plagues me to think I can't go it alone still. Just stubborn foolishness."

She shook her head. "No, it isn't," she said, quickly. "I understand. And I do hope you will be better soon. Of course you will."

"Will I?... Well, maybe. Good mornin', Miss Berry. Be sure and tell your mother she's to be just as much cap'n as she ever was."

He hobbled along the walk to the gate. As he passed beneath the sign he looked back. She was still standing in the doorway and when he limped in at the entrance of the General Minot place she was there yet, watching him.

He said no word to Judah of his acceptance of the post of commander of the Fair Harbor. He felt that Judge Knowles should be the first to know of it and that he, himself, should be the one to tell him. So, after dinner was over, and Judah had harnessed the old horse to go to the Minot wood lot for a load of pine boughs and brush for kindling, he asked his ex-cook to take him across to the judge's in the wagon, leave him there, and come for him later. Mr. Cahoon, of course, was delighted to be of service but, of course also, he was tremendously curious.

"Hum," he observed, "goin' to see the judge again, be you, Cap'n Sears?"

"Yes."

"Hum.... Ain't heard that he's any sicker, nor nothin' like that, have you?"

"No."

"I see.... Yus, yus.... Just goin' to make a—er—sort of—what you might call a—er—a call, I presume likely."

"I shouldn't wonder."

"Um-hm.... I see.... Yus, yus, I see.... Um-hm.... Well, I suppose we might as well—er—start now as any time, eh?"

"Better, I should say, Judah. Whenever you and the Foam Flake are ready, I am."

The Foam Flake was the name with which Judah had rechristened the old horse. The animal's name up to the time of the rechristening had been Pet, but this, Mr. Cahoon explained, he could not stand.

"'Whatever else he is,' says I to young Minot, 'he ain't no pet—not of mine. The only way I ever feel like pettin' that oat barrel,' I says, 'is with a rope's end.' 'Well, why don't you give him a new name?' says he. 'What'll I call him?' says I. 'Anything you can think of,' he says. 'By Henry,' says I. 'I have called him about everything I can think of, already.' Haw, haw! That was a pretty good one, wan't it Cap'n Sears?"

"But where did you get 'Foam Flake' from?" the captain had wanted to know.

"Oh, it just come to me, as you might say, same as them things do come sometimes. I was tellin' the Methodist minister about it one day and he said 'twas a—er—one of them—er—inflammations. Eh? Don't seem as if it could have been 'inflammation,' but 'twas somethin' like it."

"Inspiration, maybe."

"That's the ticket, inspiration's what 'twas. Well, I was kind of draggin' a seine through my head, so to speak, tryin' to haul aboard a likely name for the critter, and fetchin' the net in empty every time, when one day that—er—what-d'ye-call-it?—inflammation landed on me. I'd piloted 'Pet' and the truck wagon over to Harniss—and worked my passage every foot of the way—and over there to Brett's store I met Luther Wixon, who was home from a v'yage to the West Indies. Lute and me had been to sea together half a dozen times, and we got kind of swappin' yarns about the vessels we'd been in.

"'Have you heard about the old Foam Flake?' says Lute. 'She was wrecked on the Jersey coast off Barnegat,' he says, 'and now they've made a barge out of her hull and she's freightin' hay in New York harbor,' he says.

"Well, sir, I hauled off and fetched the broadside of my leg a slap you could have heard to Jericho. 'By the creepin', jumpin',' says I. 'I've got it!' 'Yes,' he says, 'you act as if you had. But what do you take for it?' 'I wouldn't take a dollar note for it right now,' I told him. And I wouldn't have, nuther. The old Foam Flake—maybe you remember her, Cap'n Sears—was the dumdest, lop-sidedest, crankiest old white tub of a bark that ever carried sail. When I was aboard of her she wouldn't steer fit to eat, always wanted to go to port when you tried to put her to starboard, walloped and slopped along awkward as a cow, was the slowest thing afloat, and all she was ever really fit for was what they are usin' her for now, and that was to stow hay in. If that wan't that old horse of Minot's all over then I hope I'll never smoke a five-cent cigar again. 'You ain't "Pet" no more,' says I to the critter; 'your name's "Foam Flake!"' Haw, haw! See now, don't you, Cap'n Sears?"

Foam Flake and the truck-wagon landed the captain at the Knowles gate and, a few minutes later, Kendrick was, rather shamefacedly, announcing to the judge his acceptance of the superintendency of the Fair Harbor. The invalid, as grimly sardonic and indomitable as ever, chuckled between spasms of pain and weakness.

"Good! Good!" he exclaimed. "I thought you wouldn't say no if you once saw how things were over there. Congratulations on your good sense, Kendrick."

Sears shook his head. "Don't be any more sarcastic than you can help, Judge," he said.

"No sarcasm about it. If you hadn't stepped in to help that girl I should have known you didn't have any sense at all. By the way, I didn't praise her too highly when we talked before, did I? She is considerable of a girl, Elizabeth Berry, eh, Cap'n?"

The captain nodded.

"She is," he admitted. "And she was so confoundedly plucky, and she stood up against that crowd of—of——"

"Mariners' women. Yes. Ho, ho! I should like to have been there."

"I am glad you wasn't. But when I saw how she stood up to them, and then when her mother——"

"Yes. Um ... yes, I know. Isaac Berry was my friend and his daughter is a fine girl. We'll remember that when we talk about the family, Kendrick.... Whew! Well, I feel better. With you and Elizabeth to handle matters over there, Lobelia's trust will be in good hands. Now I can go to the cemetery in comfort."

He chuckled as if the prospect was humorous. Captain Sears spoke quickly and without considering exactly how the words sounded.

"Indeed you can't," he protested. "Judge Knowles, I'm goin' to need you about every minute of every day from now on."

"Nonsense! You won't need me but a little while, fortunately. And—for that little while, probably—I shall be here and at your disposal. Come in whenever you want to talk matters over. If the doctor or that damned housekeeper try to stop you, hit 'em over the head. Much obliged to you, Cap'n Kendrick. He, he! We'll give friend Egbert a shock when he comes to town.... Oh, he'll come. Some of these days he'll come. Be ready for him, Kendrick, be ready for him."

That evening the captain told Judah of his new position and Judah's reception of the news was not encouraging. Somehow Sears felt that, with the voice of Judah Cahoon was, in this case, speaking the opinion of Bayport.

Judah had been scrubbing the frying-pan. He dropped it in the sink with a tremendous clatter.

"No!" he shouted. "You're jokin', ain't you, Cap'n Sears?"

"It's no joke, Judah."

"My creepin' Henry! You can't mean it. You ain't really, honest to godfreys, cal'latin' to pilot that—that Fair Harbor craft, be you?"

"I am, Judah. Wish me luck."

"Wish you luck! Jumpin', creepin', crawlin', hoppin'—— Why, there ain't no luck in it. That ain't no man's job, Cap'n Sears. That's a woman's job, and even a woman'd have her hands full. Why, Cap'n, they'll—that crew of—of old hens in there they'll pick your eyes out."

"Oh, I guess not, Judah. I've handled crews before."

"Yes—yes, you have—men crews aboard ship. But this ain't no men crew, this is a woman crew. You can't lam this crew over the head with no handspike. When one of those fo'mast hands gives you back talk you can't knock her into the scuppers. All you can do is just stand and take it and wait for your chance to say somethin'. And you won't git no chance. What chance'll you have along with Elviry Snowden and Desire Peasley and them? Talk! Why, jumpin' Henry, Cap'n Sears, any one of them Shanghais in there can talk more in a minute than the average man could in a hour. Any one of 'em! Take that Susanna Brackett now. Oh, I've heard about her! She had a half-brother one time. Where is he now? Ah ha! Where is he? Nobody knows, that's where he is. Him and her used to live together. Folks that lived next door used to hear her tongue a-goin' at him all hours day or night. Wan't no 'watch and watch' in that house—no sir-ee! She stood all the watches. She——"

"There, there, Judah. I guess I can stand the talk. If it gets too bad I'll put cotton in my ears."

"Huh! Cotton! Cotton won't do no good. Have to solder your ears up like—like a leaky tea-kittle, if you wanted to keep from hearin' Susanna Brackett's clack. Why, that brother of hers—Ebenezer Samuels, seems to me his name was. Seems to me they told me that Susanna's name was Samuels afore she married Brackett. Maybe twan't Samuels. Seems to me, now I think of it, as if 'twas Schwartz. Yet it don't hardly seem as if it could be, does it? I guess likely I'm gettin' him mixed with a feller name of Samuel Schwartz that I knew on South Street in New York one time. Run a pawn shop, he did. I remember that Schwartz 'cause he used to take stuff, you know—er—er—same as a Chinaman. One of them oakum eaters, that s what he was—an oakum eater. Why one time he——"

Sears never did learn what happened to Mrs. Brackett's brother. Judah's reminiscent fancy, once started, wandered far and wide, and in this case it forgot entirely to return to the missing Samuels—or Schwartz. But Mr. Cahoon expressed himself freely on the subject of his beloved ex-captain and present lodger taking charge of the establishment next door. Sears' explanations and excuses bore little weight. Time and time again that evening Mr. Cahoon would come out of a dismal reverie to exclaim: "Skipper of the Fair Harbor for Mariners' Women! You! Cap'n Sears Kendrick, skipper of that craft! Don't seem possible, somehow, does it?"

"Look here Judah," the captain at last said, in desperation, "if you feel so almighty bad about it, perhaps you won't want me here. I can move, you know."

Judah turned a horrified face in his direction. "Move!" he repeated "Don't talk so, Cap'n Sears. That's the one comfort I see in the whole business. Livin' right next door to 'em the way you and me do, you can always run into port here if the weather gets too squally over yonder. Yes, sir there'll always be a snug harbor under my lee when the Fair Harbor's too rugged. Eh? Ha, ha!"

Just before retiring Sears said, "There's just one thing I want you to do, Judah. You may feel—as I know you do feel—that my takin' this job is a foolish thing. But don't you let any one else know you feel that way."

Judah snorted. "Don't you worry, Cap'n Sears," he said. "If any one of them sea lawyers down to Bassett's store gets to heavin' sass at me about your takin' the hellum at the Harbor I'll shut their hatches for 'em. I'll tell 'em the old judge and Lobelia was ondecided between you and Gen'ral Grant for the job, but finally they picked you. Don't mistake me now, Cap'n. Your goin' over there is the best thing for the—the henroost that ever was or ever will be. It's you I'm thinkin' about. It ain't—well, by the crawlin' prophets, 'tain't the kind of berth you've been used to. Now is it, Cap'n Sears?"

Kendrick smiled, a one-sided smile.

"Maybe not, Judah," he admitted. "It is a queer berth, but it's a berth, and, unless these legs of mine get well a lot quicker than I think they will, I may be mighty thankful to have any berth at all."

He told his sister this when she called to learn if the rumor she had heard was true. She shook her head.

"Perhaps it is all right, Sears," she said. "I suppose you know best. But, somehow, I—well, I hate to think of your doin' it."

"I know. You're proud, Sarah. Well, I used to be proud too, before the ship-chandlery business and the Old Colony railroad dismasted me and left me high and dry."

She put a hand on his arm. "Don't, Sears," she pleaded. "You know why I hate to have you do it. It don't seem—it don't seem—you know what I mean."

"A man's job. I know. Judah said the same thing. I took Judge Knowles' offer because it seemed the only way I could earn my salt. If I didn't take it you and Joel might have had a poor relation to board and lodge. And you've got enough on your hands already, Sarah."

She sighed. "Of course I knew that was why you took it," she said.

Yet, even as he said it, he realized that the statement was not the whole truth. The fifteen hundred a year salary had tempted him, but if he had not gone to the Fair Harbor on that forenoon and seen Elizabeth Berry brave the committee and her mother, it is extremely doubtful if he would have yielded. In all probability he would have declined the judge's offer and have risked the prospect of the almost hopeless future, for a time longer at least.

But, having accepted, he characteristically cast doubts, misgivings and might-have-beens over the side, as he had cast wreckage over the rails of his ships after storms, and, while Bayport buzzed with gossip and criticism and surmise concerning him, took up his new duties and went ahead with them. The morning following that of his dramatic scene with the committee he limped to the door of the Fair Harbor and, for the first time, entered that door as general manager.

He anticipated, and dreaded, a perhaps painful and surely embarrassing scene with Mrs. Berry, but was pleasantly disappointed. Elizabeth, true to her promise, had evidently broken the news to her mother and, also, had reconciled the matron to her partial deposing. Mrs. Berry was, of course, a trifle martyrlike, a little aggrieved, but on the whole resigned.

"I presume, Captain Kendrick," she said, "that I should have expected something of the sort. Dear 'Belia is abroad and Judge Knowles is ill, and, from what I hear, his mind is not what it was."

Sears, repressing a smile, agreed that that might be the case.

"But, of course, Mrs. Berry," he explained, "I did not take the position with the least idea of interferin' with you. You will be—er—er—well, just what you have been here, you know. I've shipped to help you and the judge and Miss Elizabeth in any way I can, that's all."

With the situation thus diplomatically explained Mrs. Berry brightened, restored her handkerchief to her pocket—in the '70's ladies' gowns had pockets—and announced that she was sure that she and the captain would get on charmingly together.

"And, after all, Captain Kendrick," she gushed, "a man's advice is so often so necessary in business, you know, and all that. Just as a woman's advice helps a man at times. Why, Captain Berry—my dear husband—used to say that without my advice he would have been absolutely at sea, yes, absolutely."

According to Bayport gossip, as related by Judah, Captain Isaac Berry had been, literally, during the latter part of his life, absolutely at sea as much as he possibly could. "And mighty thankful to be there, too," so Mr. Cahoon was wont to add.

Elizabeth heard a portion of Sears interview with her mother, but she made no comment upon it, to him at least. When he announced his intention of interviewing Miss Snowden, however, she was greatly surprised and said so. "You want to speak with Elvira, Cap'n Kendrick?" she repeated. "You do, really? Do you—of course I am not interfering, please don't think I am—but do you think it a—a wise thing to do, just now?"

The captain nodded. "Why, yes, I do," he said. "Oh, it's all right, Miss Elizabeth, I'm not goin' to start any rows. You wouldn't think it to look at me, probably, but I've got an idea in my head and I'm goin' to try it out on this Elvira."

It was some time before he was able to catch Miss Snowden alone, but at last he did and, as it happened, in that same summer-house, the Eyrie, where he had first seen her. The interview began, on her part, as frostily as a February morning in Greenland, but ended like a balmy evening in Florida. The day following he laid his plans to meet and speak with Mrs. Brackett and the militant Susanna thereafter became as peaceful, so far as he was concerned, as a dovecote in spring. Elizabeth Berry, noticing these changes, and surmising their cause, regarded him with something like awe.

"Really, Cap'n Kendrick," she said, "I'm beginning to be a little afraid of you. When you first spoke of interviewing Elvira Snowden alone I—well, I was strongly tempted to send for the constable. I didn't know what might happen. She was saying—so Esther Tidditt told me—the most dreadful things about you and I was frightened for your safety. And Mrs. Brackett was just as savage. And now—why, Elvira this very morning told me, herself, that she considered your taking the management here a blessing. I believe she did call it a blessing in disguise, but that doesn't make any real difference. And Susanna—three days ago—was calling upon all our—guests here to threaten to leave in a body, as a protest against the giving over of the management of their own Harbor to a—excuse me—man like you. I don't know she meant by that, but it is what she said. And now——"

"Just a minute, Miss Elizabeth. Called me a man, did she? Well, comin' from her that's a compliment, in a way. She ought to know she's the nearest thing, herself, to a man that I've about ever seen in skirts. But that's nothin'. What interests me is that idea of all the crew aboard here threatenin' to leave. They could, I suppose, if they wanted to same as anybody aboard a ship could jump overboard. But in both cases the question would be the same, wouldn't it? Where would they go to after they left?"

Miss Berry smiled. "They have no idea of leaving," she said. "But they like to think—or pretend to think—that they could if they wanted to and that the Fair Harbor would go to rack and ruin if they did. It comes, you see, of to paying that hundred dollars a year. That, to their mind—and I imagine Mrs. Phillips had it in her mind too, when she planned this place—prevents it being a 'home' in the ordinary sense of the word. But Susanna's threatening to leave amounts to nothing. What I am so much interested in is to know how you changed her attitude and Elvira's from war to peace? How did you do it, Cap'n Kendrick?"

The captain's left eyelid drooped. He smiled. "Well," he said, slowly, "I tell you. I've sailed in all sorts of weather and I've come to the conclusion that when you're in a rough sea the first thing to do, if you can, is to smooth it down. If you can't—why, then fight it. The best treatment I know for a rough sea is to sling a barrel of oil over the bows. It's surprisin' what a little bit of oil will do to make things smoother for a vessel. It's always worth tryin', anyway, and that's how I felt in this case of Elvira and Susanna. When I started to beat up into their neighborhood I had a barrel of oil slung over both my port and starboard bows. I give you my word, Miss Elizabeth, I was the oiliest craft afloat in these waters, I do believe."

His smile broadened. Elizabeth smiled too, but her smile was a bit uncertain.

"I—I think I understand you, Cap'n Kendrick," she said. "But I'm not quite sure. How did you—— Would you mind being just a little more clear? Won't you explain a little more fully?"

"Surely. Easiest thing in the world. Take Sister Snowden. I cast anchor under her lee—and 'twas like tyin' up to an iceberg at first. Ha, ha!—and I began by sayin' that I had been waitin' for a chance to speak with her alone. There were a few things I wanted to explain, I said. I told her that of course I realized she was not like the average, common run of females here in the Harbor. I knew that so far as brains and refinement and—er—beauty were concerned she was far, far ahead, had all the rest of 'em hull down, so to speak."

"Cap'n Kendrick, you didn't!"

"Eh! Well, maybe I left out the 'beauty,' but otherwise than that I told her just that thing. The ice began to melt a little and when I went on to say that I realized how much the success of the Fair Harbor depended on her sense and brains and so on she was obliged to give in that she agreed with me. It was what she had thought all the time, you see; so when I told her I thought so too, we began to get on a common fishin' ground, so to speak. And the more I hinted at how wonderful I thought she was the smarter she began to think I was. It ended in a sort of understandin' between us. I am to do the best I can as skipper here and she is to help along in the fo'castle, as you might say. When I need any of her suggestions I'm to go and ask her for 'em. And we aren't either of us goin' to tell the rest of the crew—or passengers, or whatever you call 'em—a word. When she and I separated there was a puddle of oil all around that Eyrie place, but there wasn't a breaker in sight. Ha, ha! Oh, dear!"

He laughed aloud. Miss Berry laughed, too, but she still seemed somewhat puzzled.

"But, Cap'n Kendrick," she said, "you're not going to ask for her suggestions, are you?"

"Only when I need 'em. The agreement was that I was to ask when I needed 'em. I have a pretty strong feelin' that I shan't need 'em much."

"But it was her idea, the buying of that ridiculous statuary."

"Yes, I know. We talked about that. I told her that I was sure the iron menagerie that belonged to her uncle, or whoever it was, would have made this place look as lovely as the Public Garden in Boston. I said you and your mother thought so, too, but that the trouble was we couldn't afford 'em at present. If ever another collection hove in sight that we could afford, I'd let her know. But, whatever happened, she must always feel that I was dependin' on her. She said she was glad to know that and that I could depend on her. So it'll be fair weather in her latitude for a while."

"And Susanna—Mrs. Brackett? What did you say to her?"

"Oh, exactly what I said to Elvira. I can depend on her, too, she said so. And I can have her advice—when I need it. The main thing, Miss Elizabeth, was, it seemed to me, to smooth down the rough water until I could learn a little of my new job, at least enough to be of some help to you. Because it is plain enough that if this Fair Harbor is to keep afloat and on an even keel, you will keep it so—just as you have been keepin' it for the last couple of years. I called myself the admiral here the other day, when I was talkin' to that committee. I realize that all I really am, or ever will be, is a sort of mate to you, Miss Elizabeth. And a good deal of a lubber even at that, I am afraid."

The lubber mate was, at least, a diligent student. Each morning found him hobbling to the door of the Fair Harbor—the side door now, not the stately and seldom-used front door—and in the room which Cordelia Berry called her "study" he and Elizabeth studied the books and accounts of the institution. These were in good condition, surprisingly good condition, and he of course realized that that condition was due to the capability and care of the young woman herself. Mrs. Berry professed a complete knowledge of everything pertaining to the Fair Harbor, but in reality her knowledge was very superficial. In certain situations she was of real help. When callers came during hours when Elizabeth and Sears were busy Cordelia received and entertained them and was in her element while doing so. At dinner—on one or two occasions the captain dined at the Harbor instead of limping back to Judah's kitchen—she presided at the long table and was the very pattern of the perfect hostess. A stranger, happening in by chance, might have thought her the owner of palaces and plantations, graciously dispensing hospitality to those less favored. As an ornament—upon the few occasions when the Fair Harbor required social ornamentation—Cordelia Berry left little to be desired. But when it came—as it usually did come—to the plain duties of housekeeping and managing, she left much. And that much was, so Sears Kendrick discovered, left to the willing and able hands of her daughter.

As, under Elizabeth's guidance, Captain Sears plodded through the books and accounts, he was increasingly impressed with one thing, which was how very close to the wind, to use his own seafaring habit of thought and expression, the Fair Harbor for Mariners' Women was obliged to sail. The income from the fifty thousand dollar endowment fund was small, the seven hundred dollars paid yearly by the guests helped but a little, and expenses, even when pared down as closely as they had been, seemed large in comparison. Mrs. Berry's salary as matron was certainly not a big one and Elizabeth drew no salary at all. He spoke to her about it.

"Don't they pay you any wages for all the work you do here?" he queried.

She shook her head. "Of course not," she replied. "How could they? Where would the money come from?"

"But—why, confound it, you run the whole craft. It isn't fair that you should do it for nothin'."

"I do it to help mother. Her salary as matron here is practically all she has. She needs me. And, of course, the Fair Harbor is our home, just as it is Elvira's and Esther Tidditt's, and the rest."

He glanced at her quickly to see if there was any trace of bitterness or resentment in her expression. He had detected none in her voice. But she was, apparently, not resentful, not as resentful as he, for that matter.

"Yes," he said, and if he had paused to think he would not have said it, "it is your home now, but it isn't goin' to be always, is it? You're not plannin' to stay here and help your mother for the rest of your life?"

She did not reply at once, when she did the tone was decisive and final.

"I shall stay as long as I am needed," she said. "Here are the bills for the last month, Cap'n Kendrick."

That evening the captain employed Judah and the Foam Flake to carry him to and from Judge Knowles'. The call was a very brief one. Sears had determined to trouble the judge as little as was humanly possible.

"Judge," he said, coming to the point at once, "I've been lookin' over the books and runnin' expenses of that Harbor place and for the life of me I can't see how it can carry another cent and keep afloat. As it is, that Berry girl ought to draw at least a hundred a month, and she doesn't get a penny."

Knowles nodded. "I know it," he agreed. "But you say yourself that the Fair Harbor can't spare another cent. How could we pay her?"

"I don't know. And what I don't know a whole lot more is how I'm goin' to be paid fifteen hundred a year. Where's that comin' from; can you tell me?"

From the bed—the invalid was in bed most of the time now—came a characteristic chuckle. "He, he, he," laughed the judge. "So you've got on far enough to wonder about that, eh?"

"I certainly have. And I want to say right here that——"

"Hold on! Hold on, Kendrick! Don't be a fool. And don't make the mistake of thinkin' I'm one, either. I may have let you guess that the Fair Harbor was to pay your salary. It isn't because it can't. I'm paying it and I'm going to pay it—while I'm alive and after I'm dead. You're my substitute and so long as you keep that job you'll get your pay. It's all arranged for, so don't argue."

"But, Judge, why——"

"Shut up. I want to do it and I can afford to do it. Let a dead man have a little fun, can't you. You'll earn your money, I tell you. And when that Egbert comes I'll get the worth of mine—dead or alive, I'll get it. Now go home and let me alone, I'm tired."

But Sears still hesitated.

"That's all right, Judge," he said. "You've got the right to spend your own money, I presume likely, so I won't say a word; although I may have my own opinion as to your judgment in spendin' it. But there's one more thing I can't quite get over. Here am I, about third mate's helper aboard that Harbor craft, bein' paid fifteen hundred a year, and that girl—as fine, capable, sensible—er—er—nice girl as ever lived, I do believe—workin' her head off and runnin' the whole ship, as you might say, and bein' paid nothin' at all. It isn't right. It isn't square. I won't stand it. I'll heave up my commission and you pay her the fifteen hundred. She earns it."

Silence. Then another slow chuckle from the bed.

"Humph!" grunted Judge Knowles. "'Fine, capable, sensible, nice—' Getting pretty enthusiastic, aren't you, Kendrick? He, he, he!"

Taken by surprise, and suddenly aware that he had spoken very emphatically, the captain blushed, and felt, himself a fool for so doing.

"Why—I—I—" he stammered, then laughed, and declared stoutly, "I don't care if I am. That girl deserves all the praise anybody's got aboard. She's a wonder, that's what she is. And she isn't bein' treated right."

The answer was of a kind quite unexpected.

"Well," rasped the judge, "who said she was?"

"Eh? What——"

"Who said she was? Not I. Don't you suppose I know what Elizabeth Berry is worth to Lobelia Seymour's idiot shop over yonder? And what she gets—or doesn't get? And didn't I tell you that her father was my best friend? Then.... Oh, well! Kendrick, you go back to your job. And don't you fret about that girl. What she doesn't get now she.... Humph! Clear out, and don't worry me any more. Good night."

So the captain departed. In a way his mind was more at rest. He was nearer to being reconciled to the fifteen hundred a year now that he knew it was not to come from the funds of the Fair Harbor. Judge Knowles was reputed to be rich. If he chose to pay a salary to gratify a whim—why, let him. He, Kendrick, would do his best to earn that salary. But, nevertheless, he did not intend to let Elizabeth Berry remain under any misapprehension as to where the salary was coming from. He would tell her the next time they met. A new thought occurred to him. Why not tell her then—that very evening? It was not late, only about nine o'clock.

"Judah," he said, "I've got to run in to the Harbor a minute. Drive me around to the side door, will you? And then wait there for me, that's a good fellow."

So, leaving the Foam Flake and its pilot to doze comfortably in the soft silence of the summer evening, Sears—after Judah had, as was his custom, lifted him down from the wagon seat and handed him his cane—plodded to the side door of the Harbor and knocked. Mrs. Brackett answered the knock.

"Why, how d'ye do, Cap'n Kendrick?" she said, graciously. "Come right in. We wasn't expectin' you. You don't very often call evenin's. Come right in. I guess you know everybody here."

He did, of course, for the group in the back sitting room was made up of the regular guests. He shook hands with them all, including Miss Snowden, who greeted him with queenly condescension, and little Mrs. Tidditt, who jerked his arm up and down as if it was a pump handle, and affirmed that she was glad to see him, adding, as an after thought, "Even if I did see you afore to-day."

"Now you are just in time, Cap'n Kendrick," said Miss Elvira. "We are going to have our usual little 'sing' before we go to bed. Desire—Miss Peasley—plays the melodeon for us and we sing a few selections, sacred selections usually, it is our evening custom. Do join us, Cap'n Kendrick. We should love to have you."

The captain thanked them, but declined. He had run in only for a moment, he said, a matter of business, and must not stop.

"Besides, I shouldn't be any help," he added. "I can't sing a note."

Miss Snowden would have uttered some genteel protest, but Mrs. Tidditt spoke first.

"Humph! That won't make any difference," she announced. "Neither can any of the rest of us—not the right notes."

Possibly Elvira, or Susanna, might have retorted. The former looked as if she were about to, but Mrs. Aurora Chase came forward.

"And it wasn't more'n ha'f past six neither," she declared with conviction.

Just why or when it was half past six, or what had happened at that time, or what fragment of conversation Aurora's impaired hearing had caught which led her to think this happening was being discussed, the captain was destined never to learn. For at that instant Miss Berry came into the room, entering from the hall.

"Who is it?" she asked. "Why, good evening, Cap'n Kendrick."

She was what two thirds of Bayport would have called "dressed up." That is to say, she was wearing a simple afternoon gown instead of the workaday garb in which he had been accustomed to seeing her. It was becoming, even at the first glance he was sure of that.

"Good evening, Cap'n Kendrick," she said, again. "I wasn't expecting you this evening. Is anything the matter?"

"Oh no, no! I just ran over for a minute. I—um—yes, that's all."

He scarcely knew how to explain his errand. He had referred to it as a matter of business, but it was scarcely that. And he could not explain it at all in the presence of the guests, each one so obviously eager to have him do so.

"I just ran in," he repeated. She looked a little puzzled, and it seemed to him that she hesitated, momentarily. Then—

"Won't you come into the parlor?" she asked. Was it the captain's imagination, or did Elvira and Susanna and Desire and the rest—except Aurora, of course, who had not heard—cast significant looks at each other? It seemed to him that they did, but why? A moment later he understood.

"Come right in, Cap'n," she urged. "George is here, but you know him, of course."

They had walked the length of the hall and were almost at the door when she made this announcement. He paused.

"George?" he repeated.

"Why, yes, George Kent. But that doesn't make a bit of difference. Come in."

"But, Miss Elizabeth, I didn't realize you had company. I——"

"No, no. Stop, Cap'n Kendrick. George isn't company. He is—just George. Come in."

So he went in and George Kent, tall and boyish and good looking, rose to shake hands. He appeared very much at home in that parlor, more so than Sears Kendrick did just then. The latter knew young Kent well, of course, had met him first at Sarah Macomber's and had, during his slow convalescence there, learned to like him. They had not seen much of each other since the captain became Judah Cahoon's lodger, although Kent had dropped in once for a short call.

But Sears had not expected to find him there, that evening, in the best parlor of the Fair Harbor. There was every reason why he should have expected it. Judah had told him that George was a regular visitor and had more than hinted at the reason. But, in the whirl of interest caused by his acceptance of his new position and the added interest of his daily labors with Elizabeth, the captain had forgotten about everything and every one else, Kent included.

But there he was, young, broad-shouldered, handsome, optimistic, buoyant. And there, too, was Elizabeth, also young, and pretty and gayly chatty and vivacious. And there, too, was he, Sears Kendrick, no longer young, even in the actual count of years, and feeling at least twice that count—there he was, a cripple, a derelict.

His call was very brief. The contrast between himself and those two young people was too great, and, to him, at least, too painful. He did not, of course, mention the errand which had brought him there. He could tell Elizabeth the facts concerning the payment of his wages at some other time. He gave some more or less plausible reason for his running in, and, at the end of fifteen minutes or so, ran out. Kent shook hands with him at parting and declared that he was going to call at the Minot place at an early date.

"We've all missed you there at the Macombers', Cap'n," he said. "Your sister says it doesn't seem like the same place. And I agree with her, it doesn't. I'm coming to see you within a day or two, sure. May I?"

Sears said of course he might, and tried to make his tone cordial, but the attempt was not too successful. Elizabeth accompanied him to the side door. This meant a return trip through the back sitting room, where, judging by the groans of the melodeon and the accompanying vocal wails, the "sing" had been under way for some minutes. But, when Captain Sears and Miss Berry entered the room, there was absolute silence. Something had stopped the sing, had stopped it completely and judging by the facial expressions of the majority of those present, painfully.

Miss Snowden sat erect in her chair, frigidly, icily, disgustedly erect. Beside her Mrs. Brackett sat, scorn and mental nausea plain upon her countenance. Every one looked angry and disgusted except Mrs. Chase, who was eagerly whispering questions to her next neighbor, and Mrs. Tidditt, who was grinning broadly.

Elizabeth looked in astonishment at the group.

"Why what is it?" she asked. "What is the matter?"

Several began speaking, but Miss Elvira raised a silencing hand.

"We were having our sing," she said. "I say 'we were'. We are not now, because," her eyes turned to and dwelt upon the puzzled face of Captain Sears Kendrick, "we were interrupted."

"Interrupted?" Elizabeth repeated the word.

"Interrupted was what I said. And such interruptions! Captain Kendrick, I presume you are not responsible for the—ahem—manners of your—ahem—friend, or landlord, or cook or whatever he may be, but whoever is responsible for them should be.... But there, listen for yourself."

Warned by the raised Snowden hand, every one, including the captain and Elizabeth, listened. And, from the yard without so loud that the words were plainly understandable although the windows were closed and locked, came the voice of Judah Cahoon, uplifted in song.

"'Whisky is the life of man, Whisky, Johnny! Whisky from an old tin can, Whisky for my Johnny!

"'I drink whisky and my wife drinks gin, Whisky, Johnny! The way we drink 'em is a sin, Whisky for my Johnny!'"

The singer paused, momentarily, and Elvira spoke.

"Of course," she said, "I make no comment upon the lack of common politeness shown by interrupting our evening sing by such—ah—noises as that. But when one considers the morals of the person who chooses such low, disgraceful——"

"'I had a girl, her name was Lize, Whisky, Johnny! She put whisky in her pies, Whisky for my Johnny!'"

Captain Sears hobbled, as fast as his weak legs would permit, to the door. He flung it open.

"'Whisky stole my brains away, Whisky, Johnny! Just one more pull and then belay, Whisky for——'"

"Judah! Judah!"

"Eh? Aye, aye, Cap'n Sears. What is it?"

"Shut up!"

"Eh? Oh! Aye, aye, Cap'n."

He swung his former skipper to the seat of the truck-wagon. The captain spoke but little during the short trip home. What he did say, however, was to the point.

"Judah," he ordered, "the next time you sing anywhere within speakin'-trumpet distance of that Fair Harbor place, don't you dare sing anything but psalms."

"Eh? But which?"

"Never mind. What in everlastin' blazes do you mean by sittin' up aloft here and bellowin' about—rum and women?"

"Hold on, now, Cap'n Sears! Ho-ld on! That wan't no rum and woman song, that was the old 'Whisky, Johnny' chantey. Why, I've heard that song aboard your own vessels mo-ore times, Cap'n Sears. Why——"

"All right. But don't let me ever hear it sung near the Fair Harbor again. If you must sing, when you're over there sing—oh, sing the doxology."

Judah did not speak for a minute or two. Then he stirred rebelliously.

"What's that?" asked the captain. "What are you mumblin' about?"

"Eh? I wan't mumblin'. I was just sayin' I didn't have much time to learn new-fangled songs, that's all.... Whoa, you—you walrus! Don't you know enough to come up into the wind when you git to your moorin's?"

As his boarder took his lamp from the kitchen table, preparatory to going to his room, Mr. Cahoon spoke again.

"George Kent was over there, wan't he?" he observed.

"Eh? Oh ... yes."

"Um-hm. I cal-lated he would be. This is his night—one of 'em. Comes twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, they tell me, and then heaves in a Sunday every little spell, for good measure. Gettin' to be kind of settled thing between them two, so all hands are cal'latin'.... Hey? Turnin' in already, be you, Cap'n? Well, good night."

Sears Kendrick found it hard to fall asleep that night. He tossed and tumbled and thought and thought and thought. At intervals he cursed himself for a fool and resolved to think no more, along those lines at least, but to forget the foolishness and get the rest he needed. And each time he was snatched back from the brink of that rest by a vision of George Kent, tall, young, good-looking, vigorous, with all the world, its opportunities and rewards, before him, and of himself almost on the verge of middle age, a legless, worthless, hopeless piece of wreckage. He liked Kent, George was a fine young fellow, he had fancied him when they first met. Every one liked him and prophesied his success in life and in the legal profession. Then why in heaven's name shouldn't he call twice a week at the Fair Harbor if he wished to? He should, of course. That was logic, but logic has so little to do with these matters, and, having arrived at the logical conclusion, Captain Sears Kendrick found himself still fiercely resenting that conclusion, envying young Kent his youth and his hopes and his future, and as stubbornly rebellious against destiny as at the beginning.

Nevertheless—and he swore it more than once before that wretched night was over—no one but he should know of that envy and rebellion, least of all the cause of it. From then on he would, he vowed, take especial pains to be nice to George Kent and to help or befriend him in every possible way.



CHAPTER VIII

It was Kent himself who put this vow to the test. He called at the Minot place the very next evening. It was early, only seven o'clock; Judah, having begged permission to serve an early supper because it was "lodge night," had departed for Liberty Hall, where the local branch of the Odd Fellows met; and Sears Kendrick was sitting on the settee in the back yard, beneath the locust tree, smoking. Kent came swinging in at the gate and again the captain felt that twinge of envy and rebellion against fate as he saw the active figure come striding toward him.

But, and doubly so because of that very twinge, his welcome was brimming with cordiality. Kent explained that his call must be a brief one, as he must hurry back to his room at the Macombers' to study. It was part of his agreement with Eliphalet Bassett that his duties as bookkeeper at the latter's store should end at six o'clock each night.

Sears asked how he was getting on with his law study. He replied that he seemed to be getting on pretty well, but missed Judge Knowles' help and advice very much indeed.

"I read with Lawyer Bradley over at Harniss now," he said. "Go over two evenings a week, Mondays and Thursdays. The other evenings—most of them—I put in by myself, digging away at Smith on Torts and Chitty on Bills, and stuff of that kind. I suppose that sounds like pretty dull music to you, Cap'n Kendrick."

The captain shook his head. "I don't know about the music part," he observed. "It's a tune I never could learn to play—or sing, either, I'm sure of that. But you miss the judge's help, do you?"

"Miss it like blazes. He could do more in five minutes to make me see a point than Bradley can in an hour. Bradley's a pretty good lawyer, as the average run of small lawyers go, but Judge Knowles is away above the average. Bradley will hem and haw and 'rather think' this and 'it would seem as if' that, but the judge will say a hundred words, and two of 'em swear words, and there is the answer, complete, plain and demonstrated. I do like Judge Knowles. I only hope he likes me half as well."

They discussed the judge, his illness and the pity of it. This led to a brief talk concerning Sears' hurt and his condition. Kent seemed to consider the latter much improved.

"Your sister says so, too," he declared. "I heard her telling Macomber yesterday at dinner that she thought you looked and acted very much more like a well man than when you left our house. And your legs must be better, too, Cap'n. I'm sure you get around easier than you did."

The captain shrugged. "I get around," he said, "but that's about all you can say. Whether I'll ever.... But there, what's the use of talkin' about my split timbers? Tell me some of the Bayport news. Now that it seems to be settled I'm goin' to tie up here for a good while I ought to know somethin' about my fellow citizens, hadn't I? What is goin' on?"

There was not very much going on, so Kent said. Captain Lorenzo Taylor's ship was due in New York almost any week or day now, and then the captain would, of course, come home for a short visit. Mrs. Captain Elkanah Wingate had a new silk dress, and, as it was the second silk gown within a year, there was much talk at sewing circle and at the store concerning it and Captain Elkanah's money. One of Captain Orrin Eldridge's children was ill with scarlet fever. The young people of the Universalist society were going to give some amateur theatricals at the Town Hall some time in August, and the minister at the Orthodox meeting-house had already preached a sermon upon the sin of theater going.

"There," concluded George Kent, with another laugh. "That's about all the local excitement, Cap'n. It won't keep you awake to-night, I hope."

Sears smiled. "Guess I'll drop off in spite of it," he observed. "But it is kind of interestin', too, some of it. Hope Cap'n Lorenzo makes a good voyage home. He's in the Belle of the Ocean, isn't he? Um-hm. Well, she's a good able vessel and Lorenzo's a great hand to carry sail, so, give him good weather, he'll bring her home flyin'. So the Universalists have been behavin' scandalous, have they? Dear, dear! But what can you expect of folks so wicked they don't believe in hell? Humph! I mustn't talk that way. I forgot that you were a Universalist yourself, George."

Kent smiled. "Oh, I'm as wicked as anybody you can think of," he declared. "Why, I'm going to take a part in those amateur theatricals, myself."

"Are you? My, my! You'll be goin' to dancin'-school next, and then you will be bound for that place you don't believe in. When is this show of yours comin' off? I'd like to see it, and shall, if Judah and the Foam Flake will undertake to get me to the Town Hall and back."

"I think we'll give it the second week in August. We had a great argument trying to pick a play. For a long time we were undecided between 'Sylvia's Soldier' or 'Down by the Sea' or 'Among the Breakers.' At last we decided on 'Down by the Sea.' It's quite new, been out only four or five years, and it rather fits our company. Did you ever see it, Cap'n?"

"No, I never did. I've been out on the sea so much in my life that when I got ashore I generally picked out the shows that hadn't anything to do with it—'Hamlet,' or 'Lydia Thompson's British Blondes,' or somethin' like that," with a wink. Then he added, more soberly, "The old salt water looks mighty good to me now, though. Strange how you don't want a thing you can have and long for it when you can't.... But I'm not supposed to preach a sermon, at least I haven't heard anybody ask me to. What's your part in this—what d'ye call it?—'Out on the Beach,' George?"

"'Down by the Sea.' Oh, I'm 'March Gale,' and when I was a baby I was cast ashore from a wreck."

"Humph! When you were a baby. Started your seafarin' early, I should say. Who else is in it?"

"Oh, Frank Crosby, he is 'Sept Gale,' my brother—only he isn't my brother. And John Carleton—the schoolteacher, you know—he is 'Raymond,' the city man; he's good, too. And Sam Ryder, and Erastus Snow. There was one part—'John Gale,' an old fisherman chap, we couldn't seem to think of any one who could, or would, play it. But at last we did, and who do you think it was? Joel Macomber, your sister's husband."

"What? Joel Macomber—on the stage! Oh, come now, George!"

"It's a fact. And he's good, too. Some one told one of us that Macomber had done some amateur acting when he was young, and, in desperation, we asked him to try this part. And he is good. You would be surprised, Cap'n Kendrick."

"Um-hm, I am now. I certainly am. What sort of a part is it Joel's got? What does this—er—Gale do; anything but blow?"

"Why—why, he doesn't really do much, that's a fact. He is supposed to be a fisherman, as I said, but—well, about all he does in the play is to come on and off and talk a good deal, and scold at Frank and me—his sons, you know—and fuss at his wife and——"

Captain Sears held up his hand.

"That's enough, George," he interrupted. "That'll do. Don't do much of anything, talks a lot, and finds fault with other folks. No wonder Joel Macomber can act that part. He ought to be as natural as life in it. Aren't there any womenfolks in this play, though? I don't see how much could happen without them aboard."

"Oh, yes, of course there are women. Three of them. Mrs. Cora Bassett, Eliphalet's brother's wife, she is 'Mrs. Gale,' my mother, only she turns out not to be; and Fannie Wingate, she is the rich city girl; and Elizabeth. That makes the three."

"Yes, yes, so it does. But which Elizabeth are you talkin' about?"

"Why, Elizabeth Berry. My—our Elizabeth, over here at the Fair Harbor."

The quick change from "my" to "our" was so quick as to be almost imperceptible, but the captain noticed it. He looked up and Kent, catching his eye, colored slightly. Sears noticed the color, also, but his tone, when he spoke, was quite casual.

"Oh," he said. "So Elizabeth's in it, too, is she? Well, well! What part does she take?"

"She's 'Kitty Gale,' my sweetheart."

"You don't say. She's good, I'll bet."

"Wonderful!" Kent's enthusiasm was unrestrained. "You wouldn't believe any untrained girl could act as she does. She might have been born for the part, honestly she might."

"Um-hm.... Well, maybe she was."

"Eh? I beg your pardon."

"Nothin', nothin'. I'll have to see that play, even if the Foam Flake founders and Judah has to carry me there pig-back. And how are you gettin' on in it yourself? You haven't told me that."

"Oh, I'm doing well enough. Trying hard, at least. But, Cap'n Sears, you should see Elizabeth. She is splendid. But she is a wonderful girl, anyway. Don't you think she is?"

"Yes."

"You couldn't help thinking so. No one could. Why——"

The remainder of the conversation was, for the most part, a chant, sung as a solo by George Kent, and having as its subject, the wonders of Miss Berry. Captain Sears joined occasionally in the chorus, and smiled cordial and complete agreement. His caller was charmed.

"I've had a bully good time, Cap'n," he declared, at parting. "I came intending to stay only a few minutes and I've been here an hour and a half. You are one of the most interesting talkers I ever heard in my life, if you don't mind my saying so."

Sears, whose contributions to the latter half of the conversation had been about one word in twenty, laughed. "I'm afraid you haven't heard many good talkers," he said.

"Oh, yes, I have. But there are precious few of them in this town. It does a fellow good to know a man like you, who has been everywhere and met so many people and done so many things worth while. And, you and I agree so on almost every point. I don't know whether you noticed it or not, but our opinions seemed so exactly alike. It's remarkable, I think. I like you, Cap'n Kendrick; you don't mind my saying so, do you?"

"Oh, not a bit, not a bit. Glad of it, of course."

"Yes. I liked you down there at your sister's, but you were so sick I didn't have the chance to know you as well as I wanted to. But I had seen enough of you to know I should like you a lot when I knew you better. And Elizabeth, she was sure I would."

"Oh, she was, eh?"

"Yes. Oh, yes. She likes you very much. We talk about you almost every time I call—I mean when we are together, you know. Well, good-by. I'm coming for another talk—and soon, too. May I?"

"Hope you do, son. Come aboard any day. The gangplank is always down for you."

Which was all right, except that as Sears watched his caller swinging buoyantly to the gate, the same unreasonable twinge came back to him, bringing with it the keen sense of depression and discouragement, the realization of his approaching middle age and his crippled condition. It did not last long, he would not permit it to linger, but it was acute while it lasted.

He heard a great deal concerning the approaching production of "Down by the Sea" as the weeks passed and the time for that production drew nearer. As he and Elizabeth worked and took counsel together concerning the affairs of the Fair Harbor they spoke of it. She was enjoying the rehearsals hugely and the captain gathered that they furnished the opportunity for change of thought and relaxation which she had greatly needed. They spoke of George Kent, also; Sears saw to that. He brought the young man's name into their conversation at frequent intervals and took pains to praise him highly and to declare repeatedly his liking for him. All part of his own self-imposed penance, of course. And Elizabeth seemed to enjoy these conversations and agreed with him that George was "a nice boy" and likely to succeed in life.

"I'm so glad you like him, Cap'n Kendrick," she said. "He likes you so much and is so sure that you are a wise man."

Sears turned to look at her.

"Sure that I'm what?" he demanded.

"A wise man. He says that, next to Judge Knowles, he had rather have your opinion than any one else in Bayport."

The captain shook his head. "Dear, dear!" he sighed. "And just as I had come to the conclusion that George was so smart. Me a wise man? Me! Tut, tut! George, you disappoint me."

But she would not be turned aside in that way.

"There is no reason for disappointment that I can see," she said. "I think he is quite right. You are a wise man, Cap'n Kendrick. Of course I know you must be or Judge Knowles would not have selected you to take charge here. But since you and I have been working together I have found it out for myself. In fact I don't see how we ever got along—mother and I—before you came. And we didn't get on very well, that is a fact," she added, with a rueful smile.

"Rubbish! You got on wonderfully. And as for the worth of my opinions—well, you ask Northern Lights what she thinks of 'em. She'll tell you, I'll bet."

"Northern Lights" was Captain Sears's pet name for Mrs. Aurora Chase. Elizabeth asked why Aurora should hold his opinions lightly. The captain chuckled.

"Well," he explained, "she asked me yesterday what I thought of the Orthodox minister's sermons about the Universalist folks play-actin'. I said I hadn't heard 'em first hand, but that I understood they were hot. I thought she sailed off with her nose pretty well aloft, but I couldn't see why. To-day Esther Tidditt told me that she had understood me to say the sermons were 'rot.' That's what comes of bein' hard of hearin'. Ho, ho! But truth will out, won't it?"

The afternoon preceding the evening when "Down by the Sea" was to be publicly presented upon the stage of the town hall was overcast and cloudy. Judah, with one eye upon the barometer swinging in its gimbals in the General Minot front entry, had gloomily prophesied rain. Captain Sears, although inwardly agreeing with the prophecy, outwardly maintained an obstinate optimism.

"I don't care if the glass is down so low that the mercury sticks out of the bottom and hits the deck," he declared. "It isn't goin' to rain to-night, Judah. You mark my words."

"I'm a-markin' 'em, Cap'n Sears. I'm a-markin' of 'em. But what's the use of words alongside of a fallin' glass like that? And, besides, ain't I been watchin' the sky all the afternoon? Look how it's smurrin' up over to the west'ard. Look at them mare's tails streakin' out up aloft.

'Mack'rel skies and mares' tails Make lofty ships to douse their sails.'

You know that's well's I do, Cap'n Sears."

"Yes, yes, so I do, Judah. But do you know this one?

'Hi, diddle, diddle, The cat and the fiddle, The cow jumped over the moon.'

What have you got to say to that, eh?"

Judah stared at him. His chin quivered.

"Wh—wh—" he stammered. "What have I got to say to that? Why, I ain't got nawthin' to say to it. There ain't no sense to it. That's Mother Goose talk, that's all that is, What's that got to do with the weather?"

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse