And that evening Elizabeth came to see him. He was almost sure why she had come, and as soon as she entered, sent Judah down town after smoking tobacco. Judah declared there was "up'ards of ha'f a plug aboard the ship somewheres" and wanted to stay and hunt for it, but the captain, who had the plug in his pocket, insisted on his going. So he went and Sears and Elizabeth were alone. He was ready for the interview. If she asked him to accept the trusteeship of her twenty thousand dollars he meant to refuse, absolutely.
And she did ask him that very thing. After inquiries concerning his injured limbs and repeated cautions concerning his never taking such risks again, "even with the old Foam Flakes," she came directly to the subject. She spoke of Judge Knowles' letter to her, the letter which Bradley had handed her at the time when he gave Sears his. She had read it over and over again, she said.
"You know what he wrote me, Cap'n Kendrick," she went on. "I can't show you the letter, it is too personal, too—too.... Oh, I can't show it to any one—now, not even to mother. But you must know what he asked—or suggested, because he says he has written you a letter asking you to take charge of my money for me, to be my trustee. I suppose you must think it queer that I have let all these days go by without coming to speak with you about it. I hope——"
He interrupted. "Now, Elizabeth, before we go any further," he said, earnestly, "don't you suppose any such thing. The judge wrote me he had asked us both not to decide in a hurry, but to take plenty of time to think it over. I have thought it over, in fact, I haven't thought of much else since I opened that letter, and I have made up my mind——"
"Wait. Please wait a minute. I haven't been taking time to think over that at all. I have been thinking about the whole matter; whether I should accept the money—so very, very, very much money——"
"What! Not accept it? Of course you'll take it. He wanted you to take it. It was what he wanted as much as anybody could want anything. Why, don't you dare——"
"Hush! hush! You mustn't be so excited. And you mustn't move from that chair. If you do I shall go home this minute. I am going to accept the money."
"Good! Of course you are."
"Yes, I am. Because I do believe that he wanted me to have it so much. I know people will say—perhaps they are already saying all sorts of wicked, mean things. I don't—I won't let myself think what some of them may be saying about my influencing the judge, or things like that. But I don't care—that is, I care ever so much more for what he said and what he wished. And he wanted you to take care of the money for me. You will, won't you, Cap'n Kendrick?"
Now it was Sears' turn. He had gone over a scene like this, the scene which he had foreseen, many times. He was kind, but he was firm. He told her that he should not accept the trusteeship. He could not. It was too great a responsibility for a man with as little—and that little unfortunate—business experience as he had had.
"It needs a banker or a lawyer for that job, Elizabeth," he declared. "What does a sailor know about handlin' money? You go to Bradley; Bradley's the man."
But she did not want Bradley. The judge only mentioned Bradley as second choice.
"He wanted you, Cap'n Kendrick. He had every confidence in you. You should see what he says about your ability and common-sense and—and honesty in the letter. Please."
"No, Elizabeth. As far as honesty goes I guess he's right. I am honest, at least I hope I should be. But for the rest—he's partial there. He seemed to take a fancy to me, and goodness knows I liked him. But you mustn't feel you've got to do this thing. He wrote me it was only a suggestion. You are absolutely free—he wrote me so—to go to Bradley or——"
"No." She rose to her feet. "I shan't go to Bradley or anybody but you. I am like him, Cap'n Kendrick; I trust you. I have come to know you and to believe in you. I like you. Why, you don't know how glad I was to find that he wanted you to do this for me. Glad! I—I felt——"
He had not meant to speak. The words were forced from him involuntarily. Her tone, her eyes, the eager earnestness in her voice.... He did not say any more, nor did he look at her. Instead he looked at the patchwork comforter which had fallen from his knees to the floor, and fervently hoped that he had not already said too much. He stooped and picked up the comforter.
"And you will do it for me, won't you?" she pleaded.
"I can't. It wouldn't be right."
"Then I shall not take the money at all. He gave it to me, he asked me—the very last thing he asked was that you should do it. He put the trust in your hands. And you won't do it—for him—or for me?"
"Well, but—but—— Oh, good Lord! how can I?"
"Why can't you?"
The real reason he could not tell her. According to Kent—whether inspired by Phillips or not made little difference—people were already whispering and hinting. How much more would they hint and whisper if they knew that he had taken charge of her money? The thought had not occurred to her, of course; the very idea was too ridiculous for her to imagine; but that made but one more reason why he must think for her.
"No," he said, again. "No, I can't."
"But why? You haven't told me why."
He tried to tell her why, but his words were merely repetitions of what he had said before. He was not a good business man, he did not know how to handle money, even his own money. The judge had been very ill when he wrote those letters, if he had been well and himself he never would have thought of him as trustee. She listened for a time, her impatience growing. Then she rose.
"Very well," she said. "Then I shall not accept the twenty thousand. To me one wish of Judge Knowles' is as sacred as the other. He wanted you to take that trust just as much as he wanted me to have the money. If you won't respect one wish I shall not respect the other."
He could not believe she meant it, but she certainly looked and spoke as if she did. He faltered and hesitated, and she pressed her advantage. And at last he yielded.
"All right," he said desperately. "All right—or all wrong, whichever it turns out to be. I'll take the trustee job—try it for a time anyhow. But, I tell you, Elizabeth, I'm afraid we're both makin' a big mistake."
She was not in the least afraid, and said so.
"You have made me very happy, Cap'n Kendrick," she declared. "I can't thank you enough."
He shook his head, but before he could reply there came a sharp knock on the outer door, the back door of the house.
"Who on earth is that?" exclaimed Sears. Then he shouted, "Come in."
The person who came in was George Kent.
"Why, George!" said Elizabeth. Then she added. "What is it? What is the matter?"
The young man looked as if something was the matter. His expression was not at all pleasant.
"Evenin', George," said the captain. "Glad to see you. Sit down."
Kent ignored both the invitation and the speaker.
"Look here," he demanded, addressing Miss Berry: "do you know what time it is? It is ten o'clock."
His tone was so rude—so boyishly rude—that Sears looked up quickly and Elizabeth drew back.
"It's nearly ten o'clock," repeated Kent. "And you are over here."
"George!" exclaimed Sears, sharply.
"You are over here—with him—again."
It was Elizabeth who spoke now. She said but one word.
"Well?" she asked.
There was an icy chill about that "Well?" which a more cautious person that George Kent might have noticed and taken as a warning. But the young man was far from cautious at that moment.
"Well?" he repeated hotly. "I don't think it's well at all. I come see you and—I find you over here. And I find that every one else knows you are here. And they think it queer, too; I could see that they did.... Of course, I don't say——"
"I think you have said enough. I came here to talk with Cap'n Kendrick on a business matter. I told mother where I was going when I left the house. The others heard me, I suppose; I certainly did not try to conceal it. Why should I?"
"Why should you? Why, you should because—because—— Well, if you don't know why you shouldn't be here, he does."
"He? Cap'n Kendrick?"
"Yes. I—I told him why, myself. Only this noon I told him. I was here and I told him people were beginning to talk about you and he being together so much and—and his taking you to ride, and all that sort of thing. I told him he ought to be more careful of appearances. I said of course you didn't think, but he ought to. I explained that——"
"Stop!" Her face was crimson and she was breathing quickly. "Do you mean to say that—that people are talking—are saying things about—about.... What people?"
"Oh—oh, different ones. Of course they don't say anything much—er—not yet. But if we aren't careful they will. You see——"
"Wait. Are they—are they saying that—that—— Oh, it is too wicked and foolish to speak! Are they saying that Cap'n Kendrick and I——"
Sears spoke. "Hush, hush, Elizabeth!" he begged. "They aren't sayin' anything, of course. George is—is just a little excited over nothin', that's all. He has heard Elvira or some other cat over there at the Harbor, probably. They're jealous because you have had this money left you."
"It is nothing to do with the money," Kent asserted. "Didn't I tell you this noon that you—that we had to be careful of appearances? Didn't I say——"
Again Elizabeth broke in.
"You have said all I want to hear—in this room, now," she declared. "There are a good many things for us both to say—and listen to, but not here.... Good night, Cap'n Kendrick. I am sorry I kept you up so late, and I hope all this—I hope you won't let this wicked nonsense trouble you. It isn't worth worrying about. Good night."
"But, Elizabeth," urged Sears, anxiously, "don't you think——"
"Good night. George, you had better come with me. I have some things to say to you."
She went out. Kent hesitated, paused for a moment, and then followed her. When Judah returned with the tobacco and a fresh cargo of rumors concerning Egbert Phillips he found his lodger not the least interested in either smoke or gossip.
So Judah was obliged to postpone the telling of his most important news item. But the following morning when, looking heavy-eyed and haggard, as if he had slept but little, Captain Kendrick limped into the kitchen for breakfast, Mr. Cahoon served that item with the salt mackerel and fried potatoes. It was surprising, too—at least Sears found it so. Egbert Phillips, so Judah declared, had given up his rooms at the Central House and had gone, household goods and all, to board and lodge at Joel Macomber's. He was occupying, so Judah said, the very room that Sears himself had occupied when he was taken to his sister's home after the railway accident.
The captain could scarcely believe it. He had not seen Sarah Macomber since the day following the Foam Flake's amazing cut-up on the Orham road, when she had come, in much worriment and anxiety, to learn how badly he was hurt. Her call had been brief, and, as he had succeeded in convincing her that the extra twist to his legs would have no serious effect, she had not called since. But Sarah-Mary, the eldest girl, had brought a basket containing a cranberry pie, a half-peck, more or less, of molasses cookies, and two tumblers of beach-plum jelly, and Sarah-Mary had said nothing to her Uncle Sears about the magnificent Mr. Phillips coming to live with them.
"I guess not, Judah," said the captain. "Probably you've got it snarled some way. He may have gone there to supper with George Kent and the rest of the yarn sprouted from that."
But Judah shook his head. "No snarl about it, Cap'n Sears," he declared. "Come straight this did, straight as a spare topmast. Joe Macomber told me so himself. Proud of it, too, Joe was; all kind of swelled up with it, like a pizened shark."
"But why on earth should he pick out Sarah's? Why didn't he go to Naomi Newcomb's; she keeps a regular boardin'-house? Sarah can't take any more boarders. Her house is overloaded as it is. That was why I didn't stay there. No, I don't believe it, Judah. Joel was just comin' up to blow, that's all. He's a regular puffin'-pig for blowin'."
But Sarah called that very forenoon and confirmed the news. She had agreed to take Mr. Phillips into her home. Not only that, but he was already there.
"I know you must think it's sort of funny, Sears," she said, looking rather embarrassed and avoiding her brother's eye. "If anybody had told me a week ago that I should ever take another boarder I should have felt like askin' 'em if they thought I was crazy. I suppose you think I am, don't you?"
"Not exactly, Sarah—not yet."
"But you think I most likely will be before I'm through? Well, maybe, but I'm goin' to risk it. You see, I—well, we need the money, for one thing."
Sears stirred in his chair.
"I could have let you have a little money every once in a while, Sarah," he said. "It's a shame that it would have to be so little. If those legs ever do get shipshape and I get to sea again——"
She stopped him. "I haven't got so yet awhile that I have to take anybody's money for nothin'," she said sharply. "There, there, Sears! I know you'd give me every cent you had if I'd let you. I'll tell you why I took Mr. Phillips. He came to supper with George the other night and stayed all the evenin'. He's one of the most interestin' men I ever met in my life. Not any more interestin' than you are, of course," she added, loyally, "but in—in a different way."
"Um ... yes. I shouldn't wonder."
"Yes, he is. And he liked my supper, and said so. Ate some of everything and praised it, and was just as—as common and everyday and sociable, not a mite proud or—like that."
"Why in the devil should he be?"
"Why—why, I don't know why he shouldn't. Lots of folks who know as much as he does and have been everywhere and known the kind of people he knows—they would be stuck up—yes, and are. Look at Cap'n Elkhanah Wingate and his wife."
"I don't want to look at 'em. How do you know how much this Phillips knows?"
"How do I know? Why, Sears, you ought to hear him talk. I never heard such talk. The children just—just hung on his words, as they say. And he was so nice to them. And Joel and George Kent they think he's the greatest man they ever saw. Oh, all hands in Bayport like him."
"Humph! When he was here before, teachin' singin' school, he wasn't such a Grand Panjandrum. At least, I never heard that he was."
"Sears, you don't like him, do you? I'm real surprised. Yes, and—and sorry. Why don't you like him?"
Her brother laughed. "I didn't say I didn't like him, Sarah," he replied. "Besides, what difference would one like more or less make? I don't know him very well."
"But he likes you. Why, he said he didn't know when he had met a man who gave him such an impression of—of strength and character as you did. He said that right at our supper table. I tell you I was proud when he said it about my brother."
So Sears had not the heart to utter more skepticism. He encouraged Sarah to tell more of her arrangements with the great man. He was, it appeared, to have not only the bedroom which Sears had occupied, but also the room adjoining.
"One will be his bedroom," explained Mrs. Macomber, "and the other his sittin' room, sort of. His little suite, he calls 'em. He is movin' the rest of his things in to-day."
Seers looked at her. "Two rooms!" he exclaimed. "He's to have two rooms in your house! For heaven sakes, Sarah, where do the rest of you live; in the cellar? Goin' to let the children sleep in the cistern?"
She explained. It was a complicated process, but she had worked it out. Lemuel and Edgar had always had a room together, but now Bemis was to have a cot there also. "And Joey, of course, is only a baby, his bed is in our room, Joel's and mine. And Sarah-Mary and Aldora, they are same as they have been."
"Yes, yes, but that doesn't explain the extra room, his sitting room. Where does that come from?"
She hesitated a moment. "Well—well, you see," she said, "there wasn't any other bedroom except the one George hires, and he is goin' to stay for a while longer anyway. At first it didn't seem as if I could let Mr. Phillips have the sittin' room he wanted. But at last Joel and I thought it out. We don't use the front parlor hardly any, and there is the regular sittin' room left for us anyway, so——"
"Sarah Kendrick Macomber, do you mean to tell me you've let this fellow have your front parlor?"
"Why—why, yes. We don't hardly ever use it, Sears. I don't believe we've used that parlor—really opened the blinds and used it, I mean—since Father Macomber's funeral, and that was—let me see—over six years ago."
Her brother slowly shook his head. "The judge was right," he declared. "He certainly was right. Smoothness isn't any name for it."
"Sears, what are you talkin' about? I can't understand you. I thought you would be glad to think such a splendid man as he is was goin' to live with us. To say nothin' of my makin' all this extra money. Of course, if you don't want me to do it, I won't. I wouldn't oppose you, Sears, for anything in this world. But I—I must say——"
He laid his hand on hers. "There, Sarah," he broke in. "Don't pay too much attention to me. I'm crochetty these days, have a good deal on my mind. If you think takin' this Phillips man aboard is a good thing for you, I'm glad. How much does he pay you a week?"
She told him. It was more than fair rate for those days.
"Humph!" he observed. "Well, Sarah, good luck to you. I hope you get it."
"Get it! Why, of course I'll get it, Sears. Its all arranged. And I want you and Mr. Phillips to know each other real well. I'm goin' to tell him he must call again to see you."
"Eh?... Oh, all right, Sarah. You can tell him, if you want to."
After she had gone he thought the matter over. Surely Mr. Egbert Phillips was a gentleman of ability along certain lines. His sister Sarah was a sensible woman, she was far far from being a susceptible sentimentalist. Yet she was already under the Phillips spell. Either Judge Knowles was right—very, very much right—or he was overwhelmingly wrong. If left to Bayport opinion as a jury there was no question concerning the verdict. Egbert would be triumphantly acquitted.
Sears, however, did not, at this time, spare much thought to the Phillips riddle. He had other, and, it seemed to him, more disturbing matters to deal with. The quarrel between Elizabeth Berry and young Kent was one of those, for he felt that, in a way, he was the cause of it. George had, of course, behaved like a foolish boy and had been about as tactless as even a jealous youth could be, but there was always the chance that some one else had sowed the seeds of jealousy in his mind. He determined to see Kent, explain, have a frank and friendly talk, and, if possible, set everything right—everything between the two young people, that is. But when, on his first short walk along the road, he happened to meet Kent, the latter paid no attention to his hail and strode past without speaking. Sears shouted after him, but the shout was unheeded.
Elizabeth was almost as contrary. When he attempted to lead the conversation to George, she would not follow. When he mentioned the young man's name she changed the subject. At last when, his sense of guilt becoming too much for him, he began to defend Kent, she interrupted the defense.
"Cap'n Kendrick," she said, "I understand why you take his part. And it is like you to do it. But when you begin to blame yourself or me then I shan't listen."
"Blame you! Why, Elizabeth, I had no idea of blamin' you. The whole thing is just a—a misunderstandin' between you and George, and I want to straighten it out, that's all. If anybody is to blame I really think I am. I should have thought more about—about, what he calls appearances; that is, perhaps I should."
She lost patience. "Oh, do stop!" she cried. "You know you are talking nonsense."
"Well but, Elizabeth, I feel—wicked. I wouldn't for the world be the cause of a break between you two. If that should happen because of me I couldn't rest easy."
This conversation took place in the smaller sitting room of the Fair Harbor, the room which she and her mother used as a sort of office. She had been standing by the window looking out. Now she turned and faced him.
"Cap'n Kendrick," she asked, "just what do you mean by a 'break' between George Kent and me? Are you under the impression that he and I were—were engaged?"
"Why—why, weren't you?"
"No. Why should you think we were?"
"Well—why, there seemed to be a sort of general idea that—that you were. People—Bayport folks seemed to think—seemed to think——"
She stamped her foot. "They don't think, most of them, they only talk," she declared. "I certainly never said we were. And he didn't either, did he?"
Kent had said that he and Elizabeth were engaged—practically—whatever that might mean. But the captain thought it wisest just then to forget.
"Why—no, I guess not," he answered.
"Of course he didn't ... Cap'n Kendrick. I—oh, you might as well understand this clearly. I have known George for a long time. I liked him. For a time I thought—well I thought perhaps I liked him enough to—to like him a lot more But I was mistaken. He—he kept doing things that I didn't like. Oh, they had nothing to do with me. They were things that didn't seem—what you would call square and aboveboard. Little things that.... It was about one of these that we disagreed just before the 'Down by the Sea' theatricals. But he explained that and—and—well, he can be so nice and likable, that I forgave him. But lately there have been others. He has changed. And now all this foolishness, and.... There, Cap'n Kendrick, I didn't mean to say so much. But I want you to understand, and to tell every one else who talks about George Kent and me being engaged, that there never was any such engagement."
It would be rather difficult to catalogue all of Sears Kendrick's feelings as he listened to this long speech. They were mixed feelings, embarrassment, sorrow, relief—and a most unwarranted and unreasonable joy. But he repressed the relief and joy and characteristically returned to self-chastisement.
"Yes—oh—I see," he faltered. "I guess likely I didn't understand exactly. But just the same I don't know but George was right in some things he said. I shouldn't wonder if I had been careless about—about appearances. I don't know but—but my seein' you so much—and our goin' to Orham together might set some folks talkin'. Of course it doesn't seem hardly possible that anybody could be such fools, considerin' you—and then considerin' me—but——"
She would not hear any more. "I don't propose to consider them," she declared with fierce indignation. "I shall see you or any one else just as often as I please. Now that you are to take care of my money for me I have no doubt I shall see you a great deal oftener than I ever did. And if those—those talkative persons don't like it, they may do the next best thing.... No, that is enough, Cap'n Kendrick. It is settled."
And it did appear to be. If anything, she saw him oftener than before, seemed to take a mischievous delight in being seen with him, in running to the Minot place on errands connected with the Harbor business, and in every way defying the gossips.
And gossip accepted the challenge. From the time when it became known that Sears Kendrick was to be the trustee of Elizabeth Berry's twenty-thousand dollar legacy the tide of public opinion, already on the turn, set more and more strongly against him. And, as it ebbed for Captain Sears, it rose higher and higher for that genteel martyr, Mr. Egbert Phillips.
Sears could not help noticing the change. It was gradual, but it was marked. He had never had many visitors, but occasionally some of the retired sea dogs among the town-folk would drop in to swap yarns, or a younger captain, home from a voyage, would call on him at the Minot place. The number of those calls became smaller, then they ceased. Doctor Sheldon was, of course, as jolly and friendly as ever, and Bradley, when he drove over from Orham on a legal errand, made it a point to come and see him. But, aside from those, and Sarah Macomber, and, of course, Elizabeth Berry, no one came.
When he walked, as he did occasionally now that his legs were stronger—they had quite recovered from the strain put upon them by the Foam Flake's outbreak—up and down the sidewalk from Judge Knowles' corner to the end of the Fair Harbor fence, the people whom he met seldom stopped to chat with him. Or, if they did, the chat was always brief and, on their part, uneasy. They acted, so it seemed to him, guilty, as if they were doing something they should not do, something they were not at all anxious to have people see them do. And when he drove with Judah down to the store the group there no longer hailed him with shouts of welcome. They spoke to him, mentioned the weather perhaps, grinned in embarrassed fashion, but they did not ask him to sit down and join them. And when his back was turned, when he left the store, he had the feeling that there were whispered comments—and sneers.
It was all impalpable, there was nothing openly hostile, no one said anything to which he could take exception—he only wished they would; but he felt the hostility nevertheless.
And among the feminine element it was even more evident. When he went to church, as he did semi-occasionally, as he walked down the aisle he felt that the rustle of Sunday black silks and bonnet strings which preceded and followed him was a whisper of respectable and self-righteous disapproval. It was not all imagination, he caught glimpses of sidelong looks and headshakes which meant something, and that something not applause. Once the Reverend Mr. Dishup took for his text Psalm xxxix, the sixth verse, "He heapeth up riches and knoweth not who shall gather them." The sermon dealt with, among others, the individual who in his lifetime amassed wealth, not knowing that, after his death, other individuals scheming and unscrupulous would strive to divert that wealth from the rightful heirs for their own benefit. It was a rather dull sermon and Sears, his attention wandering, happened to turn his head suddenly and look at the rest of the congregation. It seemed to him that at least a quarter of the heads in that congregation were turned in his direction. Now, meeting his gaze, they swung back, to stare with noticeable rigidity at the minister.
Over at the Fair Harbor his comings and goings were no longer events to cause pleasurable interest and excitement. The change there was quite as evident. Miss Snowden and Mrs. Brackett, leaders of their clique, always greeted him politely enough, but they did not, individually or collectively, ask his advice or offer theirs. There were smiles, significant nods, knowing looks exchanged, especially, he thought or imagined, when he and Miss Berry were together. Cordelia Berry was almost cold toward him. Yet, so far as he knew, he had done nothing to offend her.
He spoke to Elizabeth about her mother's attitude toward him. She said it was his imagination.
"It may be," she said, "that you don't consult her quite enough about Fair Harbor matters, Cap'n Kendrick. Mother is sensitive, she is matron here, you know; perhaps we haven't paid as much deference to her opinion as we should. Poor mother, she does try so hard, but she isn't fitted for business, and knows it."
That Sunday, after his return from church, the captain asked Judah a point blank question.
"Judah," he said, "I want you to tell me the truth. What is the matter with me, nowadays? The whole ship's company here in Bayport are givin' me the cold shoulder. Don't tell me you haven't noticed it; a blind man could notice it. What's wrong with me? What have I done? Or what do they say I've done?"
Judah was very much embarrassed. His trouble showed in his face above the whiskers. He had been bending over the cookstove singing at the top of his lungs the interminable chantey dealing with the fortunes of one Reuben Ranzo.
"'Ranzo was no sailor, Ranzo, boys, Ranzo! Ranzo was a tailor, Ranzo, boys, Ranzo!
"'Oh, poor Reuben Ranzo! Ranzo, boys, Ranzo! Hurrah for Reuben Ranzo! Ranzo, boys, Ranzo!
"'Ranzo was no sailor, Ranzo, boys, Ranzo! He shipped on board a whaler, Ranzo, boys, Ranzo!'"
And so on, forever and forever. Judah had reached the point where:
"They set him holy-stonin', Ranzo, boys, Ranzo! And cared not for his groanin', Ranzo, boys, Ranzo!
"'Oh, poor Reuben Ranzo! Ranzo, boys, Ranzo! Hurrah for——'
"Eh? Did you say somethin', Cap'n Sears?"
Sears repeated his question, and then, as no answer seemed to be forthcoming, repeated it once more, with an order to "step lively." Judah groaned and shook his head.
"I've been sort of afraid you might think somethin' was queer, Cap'n Sears," he admitted. "I was hopin' you wouldn't, though, not till it begun to blow over. All them kind of things do blow over, give 'em time. One voyage I took—to Shanghai, seems to me 'twas, either that or Rooshy somewheres—there was a ship's carpenter aboard and word got spread around that he had a wooden leg. Now he didn't, you know; matter of fact, all he had out of the way with him was a kind of—er—er—sheet-iron stove lid, as you might call it, riveted onto the top of his head. He was in the Mexican war, seemed so, and one of them cannon balls had caved in his upper deck, you understand, and them doctors they——"
"Here, here, Judah! I didn't ask you about any iron-headed carpenters, did I?"
"No; no, you never, Cap'n Sears. But what I started to say was that——"
"All right, but you stick to what I want you to say. Tell me what's the matter with me in Bayport?"
Judah groaned again. "It 'tain't so much that there's any great that's wrong along of you, Cap'n," he said, "as 'tis that there ain't nothin' but what's so everlastin' right with another feller. That's the way I size it up, and I've been takin' observations for quite a spell. Bayport folks are spendin' seven days in the week lovin' this Egbert Phillips. Consequentially they ain't got much time left to love you in. Fools? Course they be, and I've told some of 'em so till I've got a sore throat hollerin'. But, by the creepin'——"
"Judah! Has Phillips been saying things about me?"
"Hey? Him? No, no, no! He don't say nothin' about nobody no time, nothin' out of the way, that is. He's always praisin' of you up, so they tell me, and excusin' you and forgivin' you."
"Forgivin' me? What do you mean by that?"
"Hold on! don't get mad at me, Cap'n Sears. I mean when they say what a pity 'tis that he, the man whose wife owned all this Seymour property and the fifty thousand dollars and such—when they go to poorin' him and heavin' overboard hints about how other folks have the spendin' of that money and all—he just smiles, sad but sort of sweet, and says it's all right, his dear Lobelia done what seemed to her proper, and if he has to suffer a little grain, why, never mind.... That's the way he talks."
"But where do I come in on that?"
"Well—well, you don't really, Cap'n Sears. Course you don't. But you—you have got the handlin' of that money, you know. And you are gettin' wages for skipperin' the Fair Harbor. I've heard it said—not by him, oh, creepin', no!—but by others, that he ought to have that skipper's job, if anybody had. Lots of folks seem to cal'late he'd ought to own the Harbor. But instead of that he don't own nothin', they say, and scratches along in two rooms, down to Joe Macomber's, and, underneath all his sufferin', he's just as sweet and uncomplainin' and long-endurin' and—and high-toned and sociable and—and——"
"Yes, yes. I see. Do they say anything more? What about my bein' Elizabeth Berry's trustee?"
Mr. Cahoon paused before replying. "Well, they do seem to hold that against you some, I'm afraid," he admitted reluctantly. "I don't know why they do. And they don't say much in front of me no more, 'cause, they realize, I cal'late, that I'm about ready to knock a few of 'em into the scuppers. But it—it just don't help you none, Cap'n, takin' care of that money of Elizabeth's don't. And it does help that Eg man.... Why? Don't ask me. I—I'm sick and disgusted. I shan't go to no church vestry to hear him lecture on Eyetalian paintin' or—or glazin', or whatever 'tis. And have you noticed how they bow down and worship him over to the Fair Harbor? Have you noticed Cordelia Berry? She's makin' a dum fool of herself, ain't she? Not that that's a very hard job."
Judah's explanations did not explain much, but they did help to increase Sears' vague suspicions. He had noticed—no one could help noticing—the ever-growing popularity of Mr. Phillips. It was quite as evident as the decline of his own. What he suspected was that the two were connected and that, somehow or other, the smooth gentleman who boarded and lodged with the Macombers was responsible, knowingly, calculatingly responsible for the change.
Yet it seemed so absurd, that suspicion. He and Phillips met frequently, sometimes at church, or oftenest at the Harbor—Egbert's visits there were daily now, and he dined or supped with the Berrys and the "inmates" at least twice a week. And always the Phillips manner was kind and gracious and urbane. Always he inquired solicitously concerning the captain's health. There was never a hint of hostility, never a trace of resentment or envy. And always, too, Sears emerged from one of those encounters with a feeling that he had had a little the worst of it, that his seafaring manners and blunt habit of speech made him appear at a marked disadvantage in comparison with this easy, suave, gracefully elegant personage. And so many of those meetings took place in the presence of Elizabeth Berry.
Elizabeth liked Egbert, there was no doubt of that. Once when she and the captain were together in the Fair Harbor office Phillips entered. Sears and Elizabeth were bending over the ledger and Egbert opened the door. Sears and the young lady were not in the least embarrassed—of course there was not the slightest reason why they should be—but, oddly enough, Phillips seemed to be. He stepped back, coughed, fidgeted with the latch, and then began to apologize.
"I—I really beg your pardon," he said. "I am sorry.... I didn't know—I didn't realize—I'm so sorry."
Elizabeth looked at him in surprise. "But there is nothing for you to be sorry about," she declared. "What is it? I don't understand."
Egbert still retained his hold upon the latch with one hand. His hat, gloves and cane were in the other. It is perhaps the best indication of his standing in the community, the fact that, having lived in Bayport for some weeks and being by his own confession a poor man, he could still go gloved and caned on week days as well as Sundays and not be subject to ridicule even by the Saturday night gang in Eliphalet Bassett's store.
He fidgeted with the latch and turned as if to go.
"I should have knocked, of course," he protested. "It was most careless of me. I do hope you understand. I will come—ah—later."
"But I don't understand," repeated the puzzled Elizabeth. "It was perfectly all right, your coming in. There is no reason why you should knock. The cap'n and I were going over the bills, that's all."
Mr. Phillips looked—well, he looked queer.
"Oh!" he said. "Yes—yes, of course. But one doesn't always care to be interrupted in—even in business matters—ah—sometimes."
Elizabeth laughed. "I'm sure I don't mind," she said. "Those business matters weren't so frightfully important."
"I'm so glad. You ease my conscience, Elizabeth. Thank you.... But I am afraid the captain minds more than you do. He looks as if he didn't like interruptions. Now do you, Captain Kendrick?"
Sears was ruffled. The man always did rub him the wrong way, and now, for the first time, he heard him address Miss Berry by her Christian name. There was no real reason why he should not, almost every one in Bayport did, but Sears did not like it nevertheless.
"You don't fancy interruptions, Captain," repeated the smiling Egbert. "Now do you? Ha, ha! Confess."
For the moment Sears forgot to be diplomatic.
"That depends, I guess," he answered shortly.
"Depends? You see, I told you, Elizabeth. Depends upon what? We must make him tell us the whole truth, mustn't we, Elizabeth? What does it depend upon, Captain Kendrick; the—ah—situation—the nature of the business—or the companion? Now which? Ha, ha!"
Sears answered without taking time to consider.
"Upon who interrupts, maybe," he snapped. Then he would have given something to have recalled the words, for Elizabeth turned and looked at him. She flushed.
Egbert's serenity, however, was quite undented.
"Oh, dear me!" he exclaimed, in mock alarm. "After that I shall have to go. And I shall take great pains to close the door behind me. Ha, ha! Au revoir, Elizabeth. Good-by, Captain."
He went out, keeping his promise concerning the closing of the door. Elizabeth continued to look at her companion.
"Now why in the world," she asked, "did you speak to him like that?"
Sears frowned. "Oh, I don't know," he answered. "He—he riles me sometimes."
"Yes.... Yes, I should judge so. I have noticed it before. You don't like him for some reason or other. What is the reason?"
He hesitated. Aside from Judge Knowles' distrust and dislike—which he could not mention to her—there was no very valid reason, nothing but what she would have called prejudice. So he hesitated and reddened.
She went on. "I like him," she declared. "He is a gentleman. He is always polite and considerate—as he was just now about breaking in on our business talk. What did you dislike about that?"
"Well, I—well—oh, nothin', perhaps."
"I think nothing certainly. He is an old friend of mother's and of the people here in the Harbor. They all like him very much. I am sorry that you don't and that you spoke to him as you did. I didn't think you took unreasonable dislikes. It doesn't seem like you, Cap'n Kendrick."
So once more Sears felt himself to have been put in a bad position and to have lost ground while Phillips gained it. And, brooding over the affair, he decided that he must be more careful. If he were not so much in Elizabeth's company there would be no opportunity for insinuations—by Egbert Phillips, or any one else. So he put a strong check upon his inclination to see the young woman, and, overconscientious as he was so likely to be, began almost to avoid her. Except when business of one kind or another made it necessary he did not visit the Harbor. It cost him many pangs and made him miserable, but he stuck to his resolution. She should not be talked about in connection with him if he could help it.
He had had several talks with Bradley and with her about her legacy from Judge Knowles. The twenty-thousand was, so he discovered, already well invested in good securities and it was Bradley's opinion, as well as his own, that it should not be disturbed. The bonds were deposited in the vaults of the Harniss bank, and were perfectly safe. On dividend dates he and Miss Berry could cut and check up the coupons together. So far his duties as trustee were not burdensome. Bradley had invested Cordelia's five thousand for her, so the Berry family's finances were stable. In Bayport they were now regarded as "well off." Cordelia was invited to supper at Captain Elkhanah Wingate's, a sure sign that the hall-mark of wealth and aristocracy had been stamped upon her. At that supper, to which Elizabeth also was invited but did not attend, Mr. Egbert Phillips shone resplendent. Egbert was not wealthy, a fact which he took pains to let every one know, but when he talked, as he did most of the evening, Mrs. Wingate and her feminine guests sat in an adoring trance and, after these guests had gone, the hostess stood by the parlor window gazing wistfully after them.
Her husband was unlocking the door of a certain closet upon the shelf of which was kept a certain bottle and accompanying glasses. The closet had not been opened before that evening, as the Reverend and Mrs. Dishup had been among the dinner guests.
"Elkhanah," observed Mrs. Wingate, dreamily, "I do think Mr. Phillips is the most elegant man I ever saw in my life. His language—and his manners—they are perfect."
Captain Elkhanah nodded. "He's pretty slick," he agreed.
If he expected by thus agreeing to please his wife, he must have been disappointed.
"Oh, don't say 'slick'!" she snapped. "I do wish you wouldn't use such countrified words."
"Eh?" indignantly. "Countrified! Well, I am country, ain't I? So are you, so far as that goes. So was he once—when he was teachin' a one-horse singin' school in this very town."
"Well, perhaps. But he has got over it. And it would pay you to take lessons from him, and learn not to say 'slick' and 'ain't'."
Her husband grunted. "Pay!" he repeated. "I'll wait till he pays me the twenty dollars he borrowed of me two weeks ago. He wasn't too citified to do that."
Mrs. Wingate stalked to the stairs. "I'm ashamed of you," she declared. "You know what a struggle he is having, and how splendid and uncomplaining he is. And you a rich man! Any one would think you never saw twenty dollars before."
Captain Elkhanah poured himself a judicious dose from the bottle.
"Maybe I never will see that twenty again," he observed with a chuckle.
"Oh, you—you disgust me!"
"What? What are you trying to say to me?"
"Go to bed," said the captain, and took his dose.
If Elizabeth noticed that Sears was not as frequent a visitor at the Fair Harbor as he had formerly been she said nothing about it. She herself had ceased to run in at the Minot place to ask this question or that. Since the occasion when Mr. Phillips interrupted the business talk in the office and his apologies had brought about the slight disagreement—if it may be called that—between the captain and Miss Berry, the latter had, so Sears imagined, been a trifle less cordial to him than before. She was not coldly formal or curt and disagreeable—her mother was all of these things to the captain now, and quite without reason so far as he could see—Elizabeth was not like that, but she was less talkative, less cheerful, and certainly less confidentially communicative. At times he caught her looking at him as if doubtful or troubled. When he asked her what was the matter she said "Nothing," and began to speak of the bills they had been considering.
On one occasion she asked him a point blank question, one quite irrelevant to the subject at hand.
"Cap'n Kendrick," she asked, "how do you think Judge Knowles came to appoint you to be manager here at the Harbor?"
He was taken by surprise, of course. "Why," he stammered, "I—why, I don't know. That is, all I know about it is what he told me. He said he felt he ought to have some one, and I was near at home, and—and so he thought of me, I suppose."
"Yes, I know. You told me that.... But—but how did he know you wanted the position?"
"Wanted it? Good heavens and earth, I didn't want it! I fought as hard as I could not to take it. Why, I told you—you remember, that day when I first came over here; that time when Elvira and the rest wanted to buy the cast-iron menagerie; I told you then——"
"Yes," she interrupted again. "Yes, I know you did. But.... And the judge had never heard from you—had never...."
"Heard from me! Do you mean had I sent in an application for the job?"
"Oh, no, no! Not that. But you and he had never been—er—close friends in the old days, when you were here before?"
He could not guess what she was driving at. "Look here, Elizabeth," he said, "I've told you that I scarcely knew Judge Knowles before he sent for me and offered me this place. No man alive was ever more surprised than I was then. Why, I gathered that the judge had talked about me to you before he sent for me. Not as manager here, of course, but as—well, as a man. He told you that I was goin' to call, you said so, and I know you and he had talked and laughed together about my fight with the hens in Judah's garden."
The trouble, whatever its cause, seemed to vanish. She smiled. "Yes, yes," she said. "Of course we had. He did like you, Judge Knowles did, and that was all—of course it was."
"Oh, nothing, nothing. How is Judah? I haven't seen him for two days."
She would not mention Judge Knowles again, but for the remainder of their session with the accounts she was more like her old self than she had been for at least a week, or so it seemed to him.
This was but one of those queer and disconcerting flare-ups of hers. One day, a week or so after she had questioned him concerning his appointment, he happened to be in the Harbor kitchen, and alone—of itself a surprising thing. Elvira Snowden and her group were holding some sort of committee meeting in the sitting room. Elvira was continually forming committees or circles for this purpose or that, purposes which fizzled out at about the third meeting of each group. Esther Tidditt was supposed to be in charge of the kitchen on this particular morning, but she had gone into the committee meeting in order to torment Elvira and Mrs. Brackett, a favorite amusement with her.
So Sears, wandering into the kitchen, happened to notice that the door of the store closet had been left open, and he was standing in front of it idly looking in. He was brought out of his day dream, which had nothing to do with the closet or its contents, by Elizabeth's voice. She had entered from the dining room and he had not heard her.
"Well," she asked, "I trust you find everything present or accounted for?"
Her tone was so crisply sarcastic that he turned in astonishment.
"Why—what?" he faltered.
"I said I trusted that you found everything in that closet as it should be. Have you measured the flour? My mother is matron here, Cap'n Kendrick, and she will be glad to have you take any precautions of that kind, I am sure. So shall I. But don't you think it might as well be done while she or I are here?"
He was bewildered.
"I don't know what you mean, Elizabeth," he said.
"No, I don't. I came in just now by the back door, and there was no one in the kitchen, so—so I waited for a minute."
"Why did you come by the back door? You didn't use to. Mother and I are usually in the office, or, at least, we are always glad to come there when you call."
He was still bewildered, but irritated, too.
"Why did I come by the back door?" he repeated. "Why, I've come that way a dozen times in the last fortnight. Don't you want me to come that way?"
Now she looked a trifle confused, but the flush was still on her cheeks and the sparkle in her eye.
"I'm sure I don't care how often you come that way," she said. "But—well, mother is matron here, Cap'n Kendrick. She may not be—perhaps she isn't—the most businesslike and orderly person in the world, but she is my mother. If you have any complaints to make, if you want to find out how things are kept, or managed, or——"
"Here!" he broke in. "Wait! What do you mean? Do you suppose I sneaked into this kitchen by myself to peek into that closet, and—and spy on your mother's managin'?... You don't believe anything of that kind. You can't."
She was more embarrassed now. "Why—why, no, I don't, Cap'n Kendrick," she admitted. "Of course I know you wouldn't sneak anywhere. But—but I have been given to understand that you and—well, Mr. Bradley—have not been—are not quite satisfied with the management—with mother's management. And——"
"Wait! Heave to!" Sears was excited now, and, as usual when excited, drifted into nautical phraseology. "What do you mean by sayin' I am not satisfied? Who told you that?"
"Why—well, you are not, are you? You questioned her about the coal a week ago, about how much she used in a week. And then you asked her about keeping the fires overnight, if she saw how many were kept, and if there was much waste. And two or three times you have been seen standing by the bins—figuring."
"Good Lord!" His exclamation this time was one of sheer amazement. "Good Lord!" he said again. "Why, I have been tryin', now winter is comin' on, to figure out how to save coal cost for this craft—for the Fair Harbor. You know I have. I asked your mother about the fires because I know how much waste there is likely to be when a fire is kept carelessly. And as for Bradley and I not bein' satisfied with your mother that is the wildest idea of all. I never talked with Bradley about the management here. It isn't his business, for one reason."
She was silent. Her expression had changed. Then she said, impulsively, "I'm sorry. Please don't mind what I said, Cap'n Kendrick. I—I am rather nervous and—and troubled just now. Of course, you are not obliged to come over here as—as often as you used.... But things I have heard—— Oh, I shouldn't pay attention to them, I suppose. I—I am very sorry."
But he was not quite in the mood to forgive. And one sentence in particular occupied his attention.
"Things you have heard," he repeated. "Yes.... I should judge you must have heard a good deal. But who did you hear it from?... Look here, Elizabeth; how did you know I was here in the kitchen now? Did you just happen to come out and find me by accident?"
She reddened. "Why—why——" she stammered.
"Or did some one tell you I was out here—spyin' on the pickles?"
His tone was a most unusual one from him to her. She resented it.
"No one told me you were 'spying'," she replied; coldly. "I have never thought of you as—a spy, Cap'n Kendrick. I have always considered you a friend, a disinterested friend of mother's and mine."
"Well?... What does that 'disinterested' mean?"
"Why, nothing in particular."
"It must mean somethin' or you wouldn't have said it. Does it mean that you are beginnin' to doubt the disinterested part?... I'd like to have you tell me, if you don't mind, how you knew I was alone here in the kitchen? Who took the pains to tell you that?"
Her answer now was prompt enough.
"No one took particular pains, I should imagine," she said, crisply. "Mr. Phillips told me, as it happened. Or rather, he told mother and mother told me. He is to speak to the—to Elvira's 'travel-study' committee in the sitting room, and, as he often does, he walked around by the garden path. When he passed the window he saw you standing by the closet, that was all."
Sears did not speak. He turned to the door.
She called to him. "Wait—wait, please," she cried. "Mr. Phillips did not say anything, so far as I know, except to mention that you were here."
The captain turned back again. "Somebody said somethin'," he declared. "Somebody said enough to send you out here and make you speak to me like—like that. And somebody has been startin' you to think about how I got the appointment as manager. Somebody has been whisperin' that I am not satisfied with your mother's way of doin' things and am schemin' against her. Somebody has been droppin' a hint here and a hint there until even you have begun to believe 'em.... Well, I can't stop your belief, I suppose, but maybe some day I shall stop Commodore Egbert, and when I do he'll stop hard."
"You have no right to say I believe anything against you. I have always refused to believe that. Do you suppose if I hadn't believed in and trusted you absolutely I should have.... But there! You know I did—and do. It is only when—when——"
"When Egbert hints."
"Oh! ... How you do hate Mr. Phillips, don't you?"
"Hate him?... Why, I—I don't know as you'd call it hate."
"I know. It is plain to see. You have hated him ever since he came. But why? He has never—you won't believe this, but it is true—he has never, to me at least, said one word except in your praise. He likes and admires you. He has told me so."
"Does he tell your mother the same thing?"
She looked at him. "Why do you couple my mother's name with his?" she demanded quickly. "Why should he tell her anything that he doesn't tell me?"
It was a question which Sears could not answer. For some time he had noticed and guessed and feared, but he could not tell her. So he was silent, and to remain silent was perhaps the worst thing he could have done.
"What do you know against Mr. Phillips?" she asked. "Tell me. Do you know anything to his discredit?"
Again he did not answer. She turned away.
"I thought not," she said. "Oh, envy is such a mean trait. Well, I suppose I shouldn't expect to have many friends—lasting friends."
"Here! hold on, Elizabeth. Don't say that."
"What else can I say? I am sorry I spoke to you as I did, but—I think you have more than paid the debt.... Yes, mother, I am coming."
She went out of the room and Sears limped moodily home, reflecting, as most of mankind has reflected at one time or another, upon the unaccountableness of the feminine character. So far as he could see he had said much less than he would have been justified in saying. She had goaded him into saying even that. He pondered and puzzled over it the greater part of the night and then reached the conclusion which the male usually reaches under such circumstances, namely, that he had better ask her pardon.
So when they next met he did that very thing and she accepted the apology. And at that meeting, and others immediately following it, no word was said by either concerning "spying" or Mr. Egbert Phillips. Yet the wall between them was left a little higher than it had been before, their friendship was not quite the same, and an experienced person, not much of a prophet at that, could have foretold that the time was coming when that friendship was to end.
It was little Esther Tidditt who laid the coping of the dividing wall. Elvira Snowden built some of the upper tiers, but Esther finished the job. Almost unbelievable as it may seem, she did not like Mr. Phillips. Of course with her tendency to take the off side in all arguments and to be almost invariably "agin the government," the fact that the rest of feminine Bayport adored the glittering Egbert might have been of itself sufficient to set up her opposition. But he had, or she considered that he had, snubbed her on several occasions and she was a dangerous person to snub. Judah expressed it characteristically when he declared that anybody who "set out" to impose on Esther Tidditt would have as lively a time as a bare-footed man trying to dance a hornpipe on a wasp's nest. "She'll keep 'em hoppin' high, I tell ye," proclaimed Judah.
Little Mrs. Tidditt would have liked to keep Mr. Phillips hopping high, and did administer sly digs to his grandeur whenever she could. In the praise services among the "inmates" which were almost sure to follow a call of the great man at the Fair Harbor it was disconcerting and provoking to the worshipers to have Esther refer to the idol as "that Eg." Mrs. Brackett took her to task for it.
"You ought to have more respect for his wife's memory, if nothin' else," snapped Susanna. "If it hadn't been for her and her generosity you wouldn't be here, Esther Tidditt."
"Yes, and if it hadn't been for her he wouldn't be here. He'd have been teachin' singin' school yet—if he wasn't in jail. You can call him Po-or de-ar Mr. Phillips,' if you want to; I call him 'Old Eg.' And he is a bad egg, too, 'cordin' to my notion. Prob'ly that's why his wife and Judge Knowles hove him out of the nest."
And, as Egbert climbed in popularity while Captain Sears Kendrick slipped back, it followed naturally that Mrs. Tidditt became more and more the friend and champion of the latter. She went out of her way to do him favors and she made it her business to keep him posted on the happenings and gossip at the Fair Harbor. He did not encourage her in this, in fact he attempted tactfully to discourage her, but Esther was not easily discouraged.
It was she who first called his attention to Miss Snowden's fondness for the Phillips society.
"Elviry's set her cap for him," declared Mrs. Tidditt. "The way she sets and looks mushy at him when he's preachin' about Portygee pictures and such is enough to keep a body from relishin' their meals."
But of late, according to Esther, Elvira was no longer the first violin in the Phillips orchestra.
"She's second fiddle," announced the little woman. "There's another craft cut acrost her bows. If you ask me who 'tis I can tell you, too, Cap'n Sears."
And Sears made it a point not to ask. Once it was Elvira herself who more than hinted, and in the presence of Elizabeth and the captain. The latter pair were at the desk together when Miss Snowden passed through the room.
"Where is mother?" asked Elizabeth. "Have you seen her, Elvira?"
Elvira's thin lips were shut tight.
"Don't ask me," she snapped, viciously. "She's out trapping, I suppose."
"Trapping!" Elizabeth stared at her. "What are you talking about? Trapping what?"
"I don't know. I'm not layin' traps to catch anything—or anybody either."
She sailed out of the room. Miss Berry turned to Sears.
"Do you know what she means, Cap'n Kendrick?" she asked.
Sears did know, or would have bet heavily on his guess. But he shook his head. Elizabeth was not satisfied.
"Why do you look like that?" she persisted. "Do you know?"
"Eh?... Oh, no, no; of course not.... I—I think I saw your mother goin' out of the gate as I came across lots. She—I presume likely she was goin' to the store or somewhere."
"She didn't tell me she was going. Was she alone?"
"Why—why, no; I think—seems to me Mr. Phillips was with her."
For the next few minutes the captain devoted his entire attention to the letter he was writing. He did not look up, but he was quite conscious that her eyes were boring him through and through. During the rest of his stay she was curt and cool. When he went she did not bid him good-by.
So the fuse was burning merrily and the inevitable explosion came three days later. The scene was this time not the Fair Harbor office, but the Minot kitchen. Judah was out and the captain was alone, reading the Item. The fire in the range was a new one and the kitchen was very warm, so Sears had opened the outer door in order to cool off a bit. It was a beautiful late October forenoon.
The captain was deep in the Item's account of the recent wreck on Peaked Hill Bars. A British bark had gone ashore there and the crew had been rescued with difficulty. He was himself dragged, metaphorically speaking, from the undertow by a voice just behind him.
"Well, you're takin' it easy, ain't you, Cap'n Sears?" observed Mrs. Tidditt. "I wish I didn't have nothin' to do but set and read the news."
"Oh, good mornin', Esther," said the captain. He was not particularly glad to see her. "What's wrong; anything?"
"Nothin' but my batch of gingerbread, and a quart of molasses'll save that. Can you spare it? Oh, don't get up. I know where Judah keeps it; I've been here afore."
She went to the closet, found the molasses jug, and filled her pitcher. Then she came back and sat down. She had not been invited to sit, but Esther scorned ceremony.
"No, sir," she observed, as if carrying on an uninterrupted conversation, "I can't set and read the newspapers. And I can't go to walk neither, even if 'tis such weather as 'tis to-day. Some folks can, though, and they've gone."
Sears turned the page of the Item. He made no comment. His silence did not in the least disturb his caller.
"Yes, they've gone," she repeated. "Right in the middle of the forenoon, too.... Oh, well! when the Admiral of all creation comes to get you to go cruisin' along with him, you go, I suppose. That is, some folks do. I'd like to see the man I'd make such a fool of myself over."
The captain was reading the "Local Jottings" now. Mrs. Tidditt kept serenely on.
"I wouldn't let any man make such a soft-headed fool of me," she declared. "'Twould take more than a mustache and a slick tongue to get my money away from me—if I had any."
Sears was obliged to give up the Jottings. He sighed and put down the paper.
"What's the matter, Esther?" he asked. "Who's after your money?"
"Nobody, and good reason why, too. And I ain't out cruisin' 'round the fields with an Eg neither."
"With an egg? Who is?"
"Who do you think? Cordelia Berry, of course. Him and her have gone for what he calls a little stroll. He said she was workin' her poor brain too hard and a little fresh air would do her good. Pity about her poor brain, ain't it? Well, if 'twan't a poor one he'd never coax her into marryin' him, that's sartin."
"Esther, don't talk foolish."
"Nothin' foolish about it. If them two ain't keepin' company then I never saw anybody that was. He's callin' on her, and squirin' her 'round, and waitin' on her mornin', noon and night. And she—my patience! she might as well hang out a sign, 'Ready and Willin'.' She says he's the one real aristocrat she has seen since she left her father's home. Poor Cap'n Ike, he's all forgotten."
Sears stirred uneasily. Barring Tidditt exaggeration, he was inclined to believe all this very near the truth. It merely confirmed his own suspicions.
His visitor went gayly on. "I'm sorry for Elizabeth," she said. "I don't know whether the poor girl realizes how soon she's liable to have that Eg for a step-pa. I shouldn't wonder if she suspected a little. I don't see how she can help it. But, Elviry Snowden—oh, dear, dear! If she ain't the sourest mortal these days. I do get consider'ble fun out of Elviry. She's the one thing that keeps me reconciled to life."
The captain thought he saw an opportunity to shift Mrs. Berry from the limelight and substitute some one else.
"I thought Elvira Snowden was the one you said meant to get Egbert," he suggested.
"So I did, and so she was. But she don't count nowadays."
"Why doesn't she?"
"Well, if you ask me I shall give you an answer. Elviry Snowden ain't fell heir to five thousand dollars and Cordelia Berry has. That's why."
Sears uneasily shifted again. This conversation was following much too closely his own line of reasoning.
"Five thousand isn't any great fortune," he observed, "to a man like Phillips."
The little woman nodded. "It's five thousand dollars to a man just like Phillips—now," she said, significantly. "And, more'n that, Cordelia's matron at the Harbor. The Fair Harbor ain't a Eyetalian palace maybe, but it's a nice, comf'table place where the matron's husband might live easy and not pay board.... That's my guess. Other folks can have theirs and welcome."
"There ain't no buts about it, Cap'n Kendrick. You know it's so. Eg Phillips is goin' to marry Cordelia Berry. My name ain't Elijah nor Jeremiah—no, nor Deuteronomy nuther—but I can prophesy that much."
She rose with a triumphant bounce, turned to the open door behind her, and saw Elizabeth Berry standing there. Sears Kendrick saw her at the same time.
There are periods in the life of each individual when it seems as if Fate was holding a hammer above that individual's head and, at intervals, as the head ventures to lift itself, knocking it down again. Each successive tap seems a bit harder, and the victim, during the interval of its falling, wonders if it is to be the final and finishing thump.
Sears did not wonder this time, he knew. His thought, as he saw her there, saw the expression upon her face and realized what she must have heard, was: "Here it is! This is the end."
Yet he was the first of the two to speak. Elizabeth, white and rigid, said nothing, and even Mrs. Tidditt's talking machinery seemed to be temporarily thrown out of gear. So the captain made the attempt, a feeble one.
"Why, Elizabeth," he faltered, "is that you?... Come in, won't you?"
She did come in, that is, she came as far as the door mat. Then she turned, not to him, but to his companion.
"What do you mean by speaking in that way of my mother?" she demanded.
Esther was still a trifle off balance. Her answer was rather incoherent.
"I—I don't know's I—as I said—as I said much of anything—much," she stammered.
"I heard you. How dare you tell such—such lies?"
"Yes; mean, miserable lies. What else are they? How dare you run to—to him with them?"
Mrs. Tidditt's hand, that grasping the handle of the molasses pitcher, began to quiver. Her eyes, behind her steel-rimmed spectacles, winked rapidly.
"Elizabeth Berry," she snapped, with ominous emphasis, "don't you talk to me like that!"
"I shall talk to you as—as.... Oh, I should be ashamed to talk to you at all. My mother—my kind, trustful, unsuspecting mother! And you—you and he dare——"
Kendrick, in desperation, tried to put in a word.
"Elizabeth," he begged, "don't misunderstand. Esther hasn't been runnin' here to tell me things. She came over to borrow some molasses from Judah, that's all."
"Oh, stop! I tell you I heard what she said. And you were listening. Listening! Without a word of protest. I suppose you encouraged her. Of course you did. No doubt this isn't the first time. This may be her usual report. Not content with—with prying into closets and—and coal bins and—and——"
"Doing these things for yourself was not enough, I suppose. You must encourage her—pay her, perhaps—to listen and whisper scandal and to spy——"
"Stop! Stop right there!" The captain was not begging now. Even in the midst of her impassioned outburst the young woman paused, halted momentarily by the compelling force of that order. But she halted unwillingly.
"I shall not stop," she declared. "I shall say——"
"You have said a whole lot too much already. And you don't mean what you have said."
"I do! I do! Oh, I can't tell you what I think of you."
"Well," dryly, "you have made a pretty fair try at tellin' it. If it is what you really think of me it'll do—it will be quite enough. I shan't need any more."
He was looking at her gravely and steadily and before his look her own gaze wavered. If they had been alone it is barely possible that ... but they were not alone. Mrs. Tidditt was there and, by this time, as Judah would have said, "her neck-feathers were on end" and her spurs sharpened for battle. She hopped into the pit forthwith.
"I need consider'ble more," she cackled, defiantly. "I've been called a spy and a scandal whisperer and the Lord knows what else. Now I'll say somethin'."
"Esther, be still."
"I shan't be still till I'm ready, not for you, Sears Kendrick, nor for her nor nobody else. I ain't a spy, 'Liz'beth Berry, and I ain't paid by no livin' soul. But I see what I see with the eyes the Almighty give me to see with, and after I've seen it—not alone once but forty dozen times—I'll talk about it if I want to, when I want to, to anybody I want to. Now that's that much."
Elizabeth, scornfully silent, was turning to the door, but the little woman hopped—that seems the only word which describes it—in her way.
"You ain't goin'," she declared, "till I've finished. 'Twon't take me long to say it, but it's goin' to be said. I told Cap'n Sears that Eg Phillips was chasin' 'round with your mother. He is. And if she ain't glad to have him chase her then I never see anybody that was. I said them two was cal'latin' to get married. Well ... well, if they ain't then they'd ought to be, that's all I'll say about that. And don't you ever call me a spy again as long as you live, 'Liz'beth Berry."
She hopped again, to the doorway this time. There she turned for a farewell cackle.
"One thing more," she said. "I told the cap'n I believed the reason that that Eg man wanted to marry Cordelia was on account of her bein' able to give him five thousand dollars and the Fair Harbor to live in. I do believe it. And you can tell her so—or him so. But afore I told anybody I'd think it over, if I was you, 'Liz'beth Berry. And I'd think him over a whole lot afore I'd let him and his 'ily tongue make trouble between you and your real friends.... There! Good-by."
She went away. Kendrick pulled at his beard.
"Elizabeth," he began, hastily, "I'm awfully sorry that this happened. Of course you know that I——"
She interrupted him. "I know," she said, "that if I ever speak to you again it will be because I am obliged to, not because I want to."
She followed Mrs. Tidditt. Sears Kendrick sat down once more in the rocking chair.
He did a great deal of hard and unpleasant thinking before he rose from it. When he did rise it was to go to the drawer in the bureau of the spare stateroom where he kept his writing materials, take therefrom pen, ink and paper and sit down at the table to write a letter. The letter was not long of itself, but composing it was a rather lengthy process. It was addressed to Elizabeth Berry and embodied his resignation as trustee and guardian of her inheritance from Judge Knowles.
* * * * *
"As I see it [he wrote] I am not the one to have charge of that money. I took the job, as you know, because the judge asked me to and because you asked me. I took it with a good deal of doubt. Now, considering the way you feel towards me, I haven't any doubt that I should give it up. I don't want you to make the mistake of thinking that I feel guilty. So far as I know I have not done anything which was not square and honest and aboveboard, either where you were concerned, or your mother, or what I believed to be the best interests of the Fair Harbor. And I am not giving up my regular berth as general manager of the Harbor itself. Judge Knowles asked me to keep that as long as I thought it was necessary for the good of the institution. I honestly believe it is more necessary now than it ever was. And I shall stay right on deck until I feel the need is over. I shan't bother you with my company any more than I can help, but you will have to put up with it about every once in so often while we go over business affairs. So much for that. The trusteeship is different and I resign it to Mr. Bradley, who was the judge's second choice."
* * * * *
He paused here, deliberated for a time, and then added another paragraph.
* * * * *
"I feel sure Bradley will take it [he wrote]. If he should refuse I will not give it up to any one else. At least not unless I am perfectly satisfied with the person chosen. This is for your safety and for no other reason."
* * * * *
He sent the letter over by Judah. Two days later he received a reply. It, too, was brief and to the point.
* * * * *
"I accept your resignation [wrote Elizabeth]. It was Judge Knowles' wish that you be my trustee, and, as you know, it was mine also. Apparently you no longer feel bound by either wish, and of course I shall not beg you to change your mind. I have no right to influence you in any way. I have seen Mr. Bradley and he has consented to act as trustee for me. He will see you in a day or two. As for the other matters I have nothing to say. Whenever you wish to consult with me on business affairs I shall be ready."
* * * * *
There was a postscript. It read:
"I feel that I should thank you for what you have already done. I do thank you sincerely."
* * * * *
So that ended it, and ended also what had been a happy period for Sears Kendrick. He made no more informal daily visits to the Fair Harbor. Twice a week, at stated times, he and Elizabeth met in the office and conferred concerning bills, letters and accounts. She was calm and impersonal during these interviews, and he tried to be so. There was no reference to other matters and no more cheerful and delightful chats, no more confidences between them. It did seem to him that she was more absent-minded, less alert and attentive to the business details than she had been, and at times he thought that she looked troubled and careworn. Perhaps, however, this was but his imagining, a sort of reflection of his own misery. For he was miserable—miserable, pessimistic and pretty thoroughly disgusted with life. His health and strength were gaining always, but he found little consolation in this. He could not go to sea just yet. He had promised Judge Knowles to stick it out and stick he would. But he longed—oh, how he longed!—for the blue water and a deck beneath his feet. Perhaps, a thousand miles from land, with a gale blowing and a ship to handle, as a real deep-sea skipper he could forget—forget a face and a voice and a succession of silly fancies which could not, apparently, be wholly forgotten by the middle-aged skipper of an old women's home.
One morning, after a troubled night, on his way to a conference with Elizabeth at the Fair Harbor office, he met Mr. Egbert Phillips. The latter, serene, benign, elegant, was entering at the gateway beneath the swinging sign which proclaimed to the other world that within the Harbor all was peace. Of late Captain Kendrick had found a certain flavor of irony in the wording of that sign.
Kendrick and Phillips reached the gate at the same moment. They exchanged good mornings. Egbert's was sweetly and condescendingly gracious, the captain's rather short and brusque. Since the encounter in the office where, in the presence of Elizabeth, Phillips' polite inuendoes had goaded Sears into an indiscreet revelation of his real feeling toward the elegant widower—since that day relations between the two had been maintained on a basis of armed neutrality. They bowed, they smiled, they even spoke, although seldom at length. Kendrick had made up his mind not to lose his temper again. His adversary should not have that advantage over him.
But this morning to save his life he could not have appeared as unruffled as usual. The night had been uncomfortable, his waking thoughts disturbing. His position was a hard one, he was feeling rebellious against Fate and even against Judge Knowles, who, as Fate's agent, had gotten him into that position. And the sight of the tall figure, genteelly swinging its cane and beaming patronage upon the world in general, was a little too much for him. So his good morning was more of a grunt than a greeting.
It may be that Egbert noticed this. Or it may be that with his triumph so closely approaching a certainty he could not resist a slight gloat. At all events he paused for an instant, a demure gleam in his eye and the corner of his lip beneath the drooping mustache lifting in an amused smile.
"A beautiful day, Captain," he said.
Kendrick admitted the day's beauty. He would have passed through the gateway, but Mr. Phillips' figure and Mr. Phillips' cane blocked the way.
"It seems to me that we do not see as much of you here at the Harbor as we used, Captain Kendrick," observed Egbert. "Or is that my fancy merely?"
The captain's answer was noncommittal. Again he attempted to pass and again the Phillips' walking-stick casually prevented.
"I trust that nothing serious has occurred to deprive us of your society, Captain?" queried the owner of the stick, solicitously. "No accident, no further accident, or anything of that sort?"
"And you are quite well? Pardon me, but I fancied that you looked—ah—shall I say disturbed—or worried, perhaps?"
"No. I'm all right."
"I am so glad to hear it. I gathered—that is, I feared that perhaps the cares incidental to your—" again the slight smile—"your labors as general supervisor of the Harbor might be undermining your health. I am charmed to have you tell me that that is not the case."
"Of course—" Mr. Phillips drew a geometrical figure with the cane in the earth of the flower bed by the path—"of course," he said, "speaking as one who has had some sad experience with illness and that sort of thing, it has always seemed to me that one should not take chances with one's health. If the cares of a particular avocation—situation—position—whatever it may be—if the cares and—ah—disappointments incidental to it are affecting one's physical condition it has always seemed to me wiser to sacrifice the first for the second. And make the sacrifice in time. You see what I mean?"
Kendrick, standing by the post of the gateway, looked at him.
"Why, no," he said, slowly, "I don't know that I do. What do you mean?"
The cane was drawn through the first figure in the flower bed and began to trace another. Again Mr. Phillips smiled.
"Why, nothing in particular, my dear sir," he replied. "Perhaps nothing at all.... I had heard—mere rumor, no doubt—that you contemplated giving up your position as superintendent here. I trust it is not true?"
"I am delighted to hear you say so. We—we of the Harbor—should miss you greatly."
"Thanks. Do you mind telling me who told you I was goin' to give up the superintendent's position?"
"Why, I don't remember. It came to my ears, it seemed to be a sort of general impression. Of course, now that you tell me it is not true I shall take pains to deny it. And permit me to express my gratification."
"Just a minute. Did they say—did this general impression say why I was givin' up the job?"
"No-o, no, I think not. I believe it was hinted that you were not well and—perhaps somewhat tired—a little discouraged—that sort of thing. As I say, it was mere rumor."
Sears smiled now—that is, his lips smiled, his eyes were grave enough.
"Well," he observed, deliberately, "if you have a chance, Mr. Phillips, you can tell those mere rumorers that I'm not tired at all. My health is better than it has been for months. So far from bein' discouraged, you can tell 'em that—well, you know what Commodore Paul Jones told the British cap'n who asked him to surrender; he told him that he had just begun to fight. That's the way it is with me, Mr. Phillips, I've just begun to fight."
The cane was lifted from the flower bed. Egbert nodded in polite appreciation.
"Really?" he said. "How interesting, Captain!"
Kendrick nodded, also. "Yes, isn't it?" he agreed. "Were you goin' into the Harbor, Phillips? So am I. We'll walk along together."
But that night he went to his bed in better spirits. Egbert's little dig had been the very thing he needed, and now he knew it. He had been discouraged; in spite of his declaration in his letter to Elizabeth Berry, he had wished that it were possible to run away from the Fair Harbor and everything connected with it. But now—now he had no wish of that kind. If Judge Knowles could rise from the grave and bid him quit he would not do it.
Quit? Not much! Like Paul Jones, he had just begun to fight.
But there was so little that was tangible to fight, that was the trouble. If Mr. Egbert Phillips was the villain of the piece he was such a light and airy villain that it was hard to take him seriously enough. Even when Kendrick was most thoroughly angry with him and most completely convinced that he was responsible for all his own troubles, including the loss of Elizabeth Berry's friendship—even then he found it hard to sit down and deliberately plan a campaign against him. It seemed like campaigning against a butterfly. The captain disliked him extremely, but he never felt a desire to knock him down. To kick him—yes. Perhaps to thump the beaver hat over his eyes and help him down the brick path of the Harbor with the judicious application of a boot, grinning broadly during the process—that was Sears Kendrick's idea of a fitting treatment for King Egbert the Great.
The captain had done his share of fighting during an adventurous lifetime, but his opponents had always been men. Somehow Phillips did not seem to him like a man. A creature so very ornamental, with so much flourish, so superlatively elegant, so overwhelmingly correct, so altogether and all the time the teacher of singing school or dancing school—how could one seriously set about fighting such a bundle of fluff? A feather-duster seemed a more fitting weapon than a shotgun.
But the fluff was flying high and in the sunshine and was already far out of reach of the duster. Soon it would be out of reach of the shotgun. Unless the fight was made serious and deadly at once there would be none at all. Unless having already lost about all that made life worth living, Sears Kendrick wished to be driven from Bayport in inglorious rout, he had better campaign in earnest. Passive resistance must end.
As a beginning he questioned Judah once more concerning Phillips' standing in the community. It was unchanged, so Judah said. He was quite as popular, still the brave and uncomplaining martyr, always the idol of the women and a large proportion of the men.
"Did you hear about him down to the Orthodox church fair last week?" asked Mr. Cahoon. "You didn't! Creepin'! I thought everybody aboard had heard about that. Seems they'd sold about everything there was to sell, but of course there was a few things left, same as there always is, and amongst 'em was a patchwork comforter that old Mrs. Jarvis—Capn' Azariah Jarvis's second wife she was—you remember Cap'n Azariah, don't ye, Cap'n Sears? He was the one that used to swear so like fury. Didn't mean nothin' by it, just a habit 'twas, same as usin' tobacco or rum is with some folks. Didn't know when—— Eh? Oh, yes, about that comforter. Why, old Mrs. Jarvis she made it for the fair and it wan't sold. 'Twas one of them log-cabin quilts, you know. I don't know why they call 'em log cabins, they don't look no more like a log cabin than my head does. I cal'late they have to call 'em somethin' so's to tell 'em from the risin' sun quilts and the mornin'-glory quilts and—and the Lord-knows-what quilts. The womenfolks make mo-ore kinds of them quilts and comforters, seems so, than——
"Eh? Oh, yes, I'm beatin' up to Egbert, Cap'n Sears; I'll be alongside him in a minute, give me steerage way. Well, the log-cabin quilt wan't sold and they wanted to sell it, partly because old Mrs. Jarvis would feel bad if nobody bought it, and partly because the meetin'-house folks would feel worse if any money got away from 'em at a fair. So Mr. Dishup he says, 'We'll auction of it off,' he says, 'and our honored and beloved friend, Mr. Phillips, will maybe so be kind enough to act as auctioneer.' So Eg, he got up and apologized for bein' chose, and went on to say what a all-'round no-good auctioneer he'd be but how he couldn't say no to the folks of the church where his dear diseased wife had worshiped so long, and then he started in to sell that comforter. Did he sell it? Why, creepin', crawlin', hoppin' ... Cap'n Sears, he could have sold a shipload of them log-cabins if he'd had 'em handy. He held the thing up in front of 'em, so they tell me, and he just praised it up same as John B. Gough praises up cold water at a temp'rance lecture. He told how the old woman had worked over it, and set up nights over it, and got her nerves all into a titter and her finger ends all rags, as you might say, and how she had done it just to do somethin' for the meetin'-house she thought so much of, the church that her loved and lost husband used to come to so reg'lar. That was all fiddlesticks, 'cause Cap'n Az never went to church except for the six weeks after he was married, and pretty scattern' 'long the last three of them.
"Well, he hadn't talked that way very long afore he had that whole vestry as damp as a fishin' schooner's deck in a Banks fog. All hands—even the men that had been spendin' money for the fair things, tidies and aprons and splint work picture-frames and such, even they was cryin'. And then old Mrs. Jarvis—and she was cryin', too—she went and whispered to the minister and he whispered to Phillips and Phillips, he says: 'Ladies and gentlemen,' he says, 'I have just learned that a part of this quilt was made from a suit of clothes worn by Cap'n Jarvis on his last v'yage,' he says. 'Just think of it,' says he, 'this blue strip here is a part of the coat worn by him as he trod the deck of his ship homeward bound—bound home to his wife, bound home to die.'
"Well, all hands cried more'n ever at that, and Mrs. Jarvis got up, with the tears a-runnin', and says she: 'It wan't his coat,' she says. 'I sold the coat and vest to a peddler. 'Twas his——' But Egbert cut in afore she could tell what 'twas, and then he got 'em to biddin'. Creepin' Henry, Cap'n Sears! that log-cabin quilt sold for nine dollars and a half, and the man that bought it was Philander Comstock, the tailor over to Denboro. And Philander told me himself that he didn't know why he bought it. 'I made that suit of clothes for Cap'n Azariah, myself,' he says, 'and he died afore I got half my pay for it. But that Phillips man,' he says, 'could sell a spyglass to a blind man.'"