The captain asked Judah if he had heard any testimony on the other side; were there any people in Bayport who did not like Mr. Phillips. Judah thought it over.
"We-ll," he said, reflectively, "I don't know as I've ever heard anybody come right out and call him names. Anybody but Esther Tidditt, that is; she's down on him like a sheet anchor on a crab. Sometimes Elviry snaps out somethin' spiteful, but most of that's jealousy, I cal'late. You see, Elviry had her cap all set for this Egbert widower—that is, all hands seems to cal'late she had—and then she began to find her nose was bein' put out of j'int. You know who they're sayin' put it out, Cap'n Sears? There seems to be a general notion around town that——"
Kendrick interrupted; this was a matter he did not care to discuss with Judah or any one else. There had been quite enough said on that subject.
"Yes, yes, all right, Judah," he said, hastily. "But the men? Do the men like him as well as the women?"
"Why—why, yes, I guess so. Not quite so well, of course. That wouldn't be natural, would it, Cap'n Sears?"
"Perhaps not. But have you ever heard any man say anything against him, anything definite? Does he pay his bills?"
"Eh? Why, I don't know. I ain't never——"
"All right. Who does he chum around with mostly? Who are his best friends?"
Mr. Cahoon gave a list of them, beginning of course with the Wingates and the Dishups and the members of the Shakespeare Reading Society and ending with George Kent.
"He cruises along with George a whole lot," declared Judah. "Them two are together about half the time. George don't work to the store no more. You knew that, didn't you?"
If Sears had heard it, he had forgotten. Judah went on to explain.
"He hove up his job at Eliphalet's quite a spell ago," he said "He's studyin' law along with Bradley same as ever, but 'he's busy lawin' here in Bayport, too. Some of his relations died and left a lot of money, so folks tell, and George is what they call administer of the estate. It's an awful good thing for him, all hands cal'late. Some say he's rich."
The captain vaguely remembered Kent's disclosure to him concerning his appointment as administrator of his aunt's estate. He had not exchanged a word with the young man since the evening of the latter's call and Elizabeth's interruption. It seemed a long while ago. Much—and so much that was unpleasant—had happened since then. Kent and he had met, of course, and on the first two or three occasions, Kendrick had spoken. The young fellow had not replied. Now, at the mention of his name, Kendrick felt an uneasy pang, almost of guilt. He had done nothing wrong, of course yet if it had not been for him perhaps the two young people might still have been friends or even more than friends. It was true that Elizabeth had told him but there, what difference did it make what she told him? She had told him other things since, things that he could not forget.
"Well, all right, Judah," he said. "It wasn't important. Run along."
Judah did not run along. He remained, looking at his lodger with a troubled expression. The latter noticed it.
"What is it, Judah?" he asked. "Anything wrong?"
Mr. Cahoon's fingers moved uneasily through the heavy foliage upon his chin. "Why—why, Cap'n Sears," he stammered, "can I ask you somethin'?"
"Certain. Fire away."
"Well—well—it—it ain't true, is it, that you done anything to set Elizabeth Berry against that young Kent feller? You never told her nothin'—or did nothin'—or—or——"
He seemed to find it hard to finish his sentence. The captain did not wait, but asked a question of his own.
"Who said I did, Judah?" he asked.
"Hey?... Oh, I—I don't know. Why—why, some of them sculpin'-mouths down to the store they say that you—that you told Elizabeth a lot of things—or did somethin' or 'nother to spite George with her. Of course I knew 'twan't so, but—but——"
"But they said it was, eh? Well, it isn't true. I haven't done anything of that kind, Judah."
The Cahoon fist descended upon the kitchen table with a thump. "I knew it!" roared Judah. "I knew dum well 'twas a cargo of lies. Now just wait. Let one of them swabs just open his main hatch and start to unload another passel of that cargo. If I don't——"
"Shh, shh! Don't do that. I tell you what to do. If you want to help me, Judah, you say nothin', but try and find out who told them these things. Some one has been pretty busy tellin' things to my discredit for some time. Don't let any one know what you're after, but see if you can find out who is responsible. Will you?"
"Sartin sure I will. And when I do find out——"
"When you do, let me know. And Judah, one thing more: Find out all that you can find out about this Phillips man. See if he owes anybody money. See if he pays his debts. See if he—well, find out all you can about him; but don't let any one know you're tryin' to find out, that's all. Do you understand?"
"Eh?... Why, I guess likely I do.... But—but.... Eh? Cap'n Sears, do you mean to say you cal'late that that Eg Phillips is at the back of all this talk against you in Bayport? Do you mean that?"
"Humph! So there is talk against me; a lot of it, I suppose?"
Judah forgot to be discreet. "Talk!" he shouted. "There's more underhand, sneakin' lies about you goin' around this flat-bottomed, leaky, gurry-and-bilgewater tub of a town than there is fiddlers in Tophet. I've denied 'em and contradicted 'em till I'm hoarse from hollerin'. I've offered to fight anybody who dast to say they was true, but, by the hoppin' Henry, nobody ever said any more than that they'd heard they was. And I never could find out who started 'em. And do you mean to say you believe that long-legged critter with the beaver hat and the—the mustache like a drowned cat's tail is responsible?"
Captain Kendrick hesitated for an instant. Then he nodded. "I think he is, Judah," he said, solemnly.
"Then, by the creepin', crawlin'——"
"Wait! I don't know that he is. I don't know much about him. But I mean to find out all about him, if I can. And I want you to help me."
"I'll help. And when you find out, Cap'n?"
"Well, that depends. If I find out anything that will give me the chance, I'll—I'll smash him as flat as that."
He struck the table now, with his open palm. Mr. Cahoon grinned delightedly.
"I bet you will, Cap'n Sears!" he vowed. "And if he ain't flat enough then I'll come and jump on him. And I ain't no West Injy hummin'-bird neither."
Kendrick's next move was to talk with his sister. Her visits at the Minot place had not been quite as frequent of late. She came, of course, but not as often, or so it seemed to the captain, and when she came she carefully avoided all reference to her new boarder. Sears knew the reason, or thought he did. He had hurt her feelings by intimating that Mr. Phillips might not be as altogether speckless as she thought him. He had not enthused over her giving up the best parlor to his Egbertship and Sarah was disappointed. But, loyal and loving soul that she was, she would not risk even the slightest disagreement with her brother, and so when she called, spoke of everything or everybody but the possible cause of such disagreement. Yet the cause was there and between brother and sister, as between Elizabeth and Sears, lay the slim, lengthy, gracefully undulating shadow of Judge Knowles' pet bugbear, who was rapidly becoming Sears Kendrick's bugbear as well.
The captain had not visited the Macomber home more than twice since Judah carted him away from it in the blue truck-wagon. One fine day, however, he and the Foam Flake made the journey again, although with the buggy, not the wagon. He chose a time when he knew Kent was almost certain to be over at Bradley's office in Orham and when Phillips was not likely to be in his rooms. Of course there was a chance that he might encounter the latter, but he thought it unlikely. His guess was a good one and Egbert was out, had gone for a ride, so Mrs. Macomber said. Mrs. Cap'n Elkanah Wingate had furnished the necessary wherewithal for riding. "The Wingates let him use their horse and team real often," said Sarah. "They're awful fond of him, Mrs. Wingate especial. I don't know as Cap'n Elkanah is so much; he is kind of cross-grained sometimes and it's hard for him to like anybody very long."
She was hard at work, ironing this time, but she would have put the flatiron back on the stove and taken her brother to the sitting room if he had permitted. "The idea of a man like you, Sears, havin' to sit on an old broken-down chair out here in the wash-shed," she exclaimed. "It ain't fittin'."
The captain sniffed. "I guess if it's fittin' for you to be workin' out here I shouldn't complain at sittin' here," he observed. "Is that Joel's shirt? He's gettin' awfully high-toned—and high collared, seems to me."
Mrs. Macomber was slightly confused. "Why, no," she said, "this isn't Joe's shirt. It's Mr. Phillips's. Ain't it lovely linen? I don't know as I ever saw any finer."
Her brother leaned back in the broken chair. "Do you do his washin' for him, Sarah?" he demanded.
"Why—why, yes, Sears. You see, he's real particular about how it's done, and of course you can't blame him, he has such lovely things. He tried two of the regular washwomen, Elsie Doyle and Peleg Carpenter's wife, and they did 'em up just dreadful. So, just to help him out one time, I tried 'em myself. And they came out real nice, if I do say it, and he was so pleased. So ever since then I have been doin' 'em for him. It's hardly any trouble—any extra trouble. I have to do our own washin', you know."
Sears did know, also he knew the size of that washing.
"Does he pay you for it?" he asked, sharply. "Pay you enough, I mean?"
"Why—why, yes. Of course he doesn't pay a whole lot. Not as much maybe as if he was a stranger, somebody who didn't pay me regular board, you know."
"Humph! Do you get your money?"
"Why, yes. Of course I do."
"He doesn't owe you anything, then, for board or lodgin' or anything?"
Mrs. Macomber hesitated. "Nothin' much," she replied, after a moment. "Of course he gets a little behind sometimes, everybody does that, you know. But then his dividend payments or somethin' come to him and he pays right up in a lump. It's kind of nice havin' it come that way, seems more, you know."
"Yes. So long as it keeps on comin'. His dividends, you say? I thought the story was that he hadn't any stocks left to get dividends from. I thought he told all hands that he was poverty-stricken, that when he was cut out of the Harbor property and the fifty thousand he hadn't a copper."
"Oh no not as bad as that. He had some stocks and bonds, of course. Why, if he hadn't where would he get any money from? How could he live?"
"I don't know. He seems to be livin', though, and pretty well. Has he got the parlor yet?"
"Yes, and it's fixed up so pretty. He's got his pictures and things around. Wouldn't you like to see it? He's out, you know."
They went into the parlor and the bedroom adjoining, that which the captain had occupied during his stay. Both rooms were as neat as wax—Sears expected that, knowing his sister's housekeeping—but he had scarcely expected to find the rooms so changed. The furniture was the same, but the wall decorations were not.
"What's become of the alum basket and the wax wreath and the Rock of Ages chromo?" he asked.
"Oh, he took 'em down. That is, he didn't do it himself, of course, but he had Joel do it. They're up attic. Mr. Phillips said they was so like the things that his wife used to have in the dear old home that he couldn't bear to see 'em. They reminded him so of her. He asked if we would mind if they was removed and we said no, of course."
"Humph! And the Macomber family coffin plates, those you had set out on black velvet with all Joel's dead relations names on 'em, in the plush and gilt frame? Are those up attic, too?"
"I should have thought 'twould have broken Joel's heart to part with them!"
"Sears, you're makin' fun. I don't blame you much. I always did hate those coffin plates, but Joel seemed to like 'em. They were in his folks' front parlor, he says."
"Yes. That 'Death of Washin'ton' picture and the rounder-case thing with the locks of hair in it were there, too, you told me once. That must have been a lively room. Those—er—horse pictures are Egbert's, I suppose?"
"Yes. He is real fond of horses."
The "horse pictures" were colored plates of racers.
"That's a portrait of his wife over there," explained Sarah. "She had it painted in Italy on purpose for him."
"Is that so? Well, I'm glad it was for him. I shouldn't think it was hardly fittin' for anybody outside the family. Of course Italy's a warm climate, but——"
"Sears!" Mrs. Macomber blushed. "Of course I didn't mean that picture," she protested. "And you know I didn't. I wouldn't have that one up at all if I had my way. But he says it's an old master and very famous and all like that. Maybe so, but I'm thankful the children ain't allowed in here. That's Lobelia over there."
In the bedroom were other pictures, photographs for the most part. Many of them were autographed.
"They're girl friends of his wife's," said Sarah. "She met 'em over abroad. Real pretty, some of them, ain't they?"
They were, and the inscriptions were delightfully informal and friendly. Lobelia Phillips' name was not inscribed, but her husband's was occasionally. Upon the table, by a half-emptied cigar box, lay a Boston paper of the day before. It was folded with the page of stock market quotations uppermost. Sears picked it up. One item was underscored with a pencil. It was the record of the day's sales of "C. M.," a stock with which the captain was quite unfamiliar. His unfamiliarity was not surprising; he had little acquaintance with the stock market.
Back in the wash-shed, brother and sister chatted while the ironing continued. Sears led the conversation around until it touched upon George Kent. George was still boarding with them, so Sarah said. Yes, he had given up his place as bookkeeper at Bassett's store.
"He's administrator of his aunt's estate," she went on. "You knew that, Sears? It's a pretty responsible position for such a young man, I guess. I'm afraid it's a good deal of worry for him. He's seemed to me kind of troubled lately. I thought at first it might be on account of Elizabeth Berry—everybody knows they've had some quarrel or somethin'—but I'm beginnin' to be afraid it may be somethin' else. He and Mr. Phillips are together about all the time. They're great friends, and I'm so glad, because if George should be in any trouble—about business or anything—a man of Mr. Phillips' experience would be a wonderful friend to have."
"What makes you think it may be a business trouble?" asked the captain, casually.
Mrs. Macomber hesitated. "Why," she said, "I heard somethin' yesterday that made me think so. It wasn't meant for me to hear, but I just happened to. I don't know as I'd ought to say anything about it—I shouldn't to anybody but you, Sears—yet it has worried me a good deal. Mr. Phillips and George were standin' together in the hall as I went by. They didn't see me, and I heard George say, 'Somethin' must be done about it,' he says. 'It can't go on for another week.' And Mr. Phillips said, kind and comfortin'—nice as he always is, but still it did seem to me a little mite impatient—'I tell you it is all right,' he said. 'Wait a while and it will be all right.' Then George said somethin' that I didn't catch, and Mr. Phillips said, 'But I can't, I tell you. I'm in exactly the same boat.' And George said, 'You've got to! you've got to! If you don't it'll be the end of me.' That was what he said—'It will be the end of me.' And oh, Sears, he did sound so distressed. It has troubled me ever since. What do you suppose it could be that would be the end of him?"
Her brother shook his head. "Give it up," he said. "Humph!... And Egbert said he was in the same boat, did he? That's interestin'. It must be a pretty swell liner; he wouldn't be aboard anything else."
But Mrs. Macomber declined to joke. "You wouldn't laugh," she declared, "if you had heard George talk. He's just a boy, Sears, a real kind-hearted, well-meanin' boy, and I hate to think of him as in any more trouble."
"Any more? What do you mean by more?"
"Why—why—oh, well, everybody knows he and Elizabeth ain't keepin' company any longer. And—and——"
"And everybody thinks I am to blame. Well, I'm not, Sarah. Not intentionally, anyhow. And, if George would let me, I should be glad to be a friend of his. Not as grand and top-lofty a friend as Admiral Egbert, of course, but as good as my rank and ratin' in life will let me be."
"Sears," reproachfully, "I hate to hear you speak in that sarcastic way. And I can't see why you mistrust Mr. Phillips so."
"Can't you? Well, I don't know as I can, myself; but if I live long enough I may find a reason.... As for Kent—well, I tell you, Sarah: You keep an eye on the boy. If he still seems worried, or more worried, and you think it advisable, you might give him a message from me. You remind him that one time he told me if he ever got into real trouble he should come to me for help. You can say—if you think it advisable—that I am just as willin' to give that help now as ever I was."
"Oh, Sears, do you mean it? Why, I thought—I was afraid that you and he——"
"That's all right. I am the young fellow's friend—if he wants me to be. And, although I'm a thousand sea miles from guaranteein' to be able to help him, I'm willin' to try my hardest.... But there! the chances are he won't listen if you do tell him, so use your own judgment in the matter. But, Sarah, will you do me a favor?"
"Sears! How can you! As if I wouldn't do anything for you!"
"I know you would. And this isn't so very much, either. I'm kind of interested in this Phillips man's dividends and things. I'd like to know how he makes his money. I noticed that that newspaper in his room was folded with the stock price page on top. Is he interested in stock and such things?"
"Why, yes, he is. I've heard him and George talkin' about what they call the 'market.' That means stocks, doesn't it?"
"Um-hm, usually. Well, Sarah, if he happens to mention any particular stock he owns, or anything like that, try and remember and let me know, will you?"
"Yes, of course, if you want me to. But why, Sears? There's nothing wrong in a man like Mr. Phillips bein' interested in such things, is there? I should think it would be—well, sort of natural for a person who has been rich as he used to be to keep up his interest."
"I presume likely it is."
"Then why do you want to know about it?"
The captain picked up his hat. "Oh, for no particular reason, maybe, Sarah," he replied. "Perhaps I shall be rich sometime—if I live to be a hundred and eighty and save a dollar a day as I go along—and then I shall want to know how to invest my money. Let me know if you hear anything worth while, won't you, Sarah?"
"Yes, Sears. And if I get a chance I am goin' to tell George what you said about bein' his friend and willin' to help him. Good-by, Sears. I'm so glad you came down. Come again soon, won't you? You're the only brother I've got, you know."
Kendrick drove the Foam Flake back to the Minot place, reflecting during the journey upon what he had seen and heard while visiting his sister. It amounted to very little in the way of tangible evidence against Egbert Phillips. Sporting prints and dashing photographs were interesting perhaps, and in a way they illuminated the past; but they did not illumine the present, they shed no light upon their owner's means of living, nor the extent of those means. Egbert occupied the best rooms at the Macomber's, but, apparently, he paid for his board and lodging—yes, and his washing. He might be interested in stocks, but there was nothing criminal in that, of itself. The Kendrick campaign was, so far, an utter failure.
Another week dragged by with no developments worth while. Judah, much inflated with the importance of his commission as a member of the Kendrick secret service, made voluminous and wordy reports, but they amounted to nothing. Mr. Phillips had borrowed five dollars of Caleb Snow. Had he paid the debt? Oh, yes, he had paid it. He smoked "consider'ble many" cigars, "real good cigars, too; cost over ten cents a piece by the box," so he told Thoph Black. But, so far as Black or Judah knew, he had paid for them. He owed a fair-sized bill at the livery-stable, but the stable owner "wan't worried none." There was little of interest here. No criminal record, rather the contrary.
Esther Tidditt dropped in from time to time, loaded, as Judah said, "to the guards" with Fair Harbor gossip. Captain Sears did not encourage her visits. Aside from learning what he could concerning the doings of Egbert Phillips, he was little interested in petty squabbles and whispers among the "mariners' women." Except by Esther he was almost entirely ignored by the inmates. Elizabeth he saw daily for a short time, but for her sake he made those times as brief as he could. Her mother he saw occasionally; she spoke to him only when necessary. Elvira, Mrs. Brackett, Desire Peasly and the rest gave him the snippiest of bows when they met and whispered and giggled behind his back.
It had seemed to him that Elizabeth looked more careworn of late. He did not mention it to her, of course, but it troubled him. He speculated concerning the cause and was inclined, entirely without good reason, to suspect Egbert, just as he was inclined to suspect him of being the cause of most unpleasantness. Something that Mrs. Tidditt said during one of her evening "dropping-ins" supplied a possible base for suspicion in this particular case.
"Elizabeth and her mother has had some sort of a rumpus," declared Esther. "They ain't hardly on speakin' terms with one another these days. That is," she added, "Cordelia ain't. I guess likely Elizabeth would be as nice as she always is if her ma would give her the chance. Cordelia goes around all divided up between tears and joy, as you might say. When she's nigh her daughter she looks as if she was just about ready to cry—lee scuppers all awash, as my husband used to say when I was in the same condition; which wan't often, for cryin' ain't much in my line. Yes, when Elizabeth's lookin' at her she's right on the ragged edge of tears. But you let that dratted Eg heave in sight with all sail sot and signals flyin' and she's all smiles in a minute. Oh, what a fool a fool woman can be when she sets out to be!... Hey? What did you say, Cap'n Kendrick?"
"I didn't say anything, Esther."
"Oh, didn't you? I thought you did. There's one ray of comfort over acrost, anyhow. Elizabeth ain't in love with old Eggie, even if her mother is. She and he have had a run-in or I miss my guess."
The captain was interested now. "What makes you think that?" he asked.
"Oh, from things I've seen. He's all soft soap and sweet ile to her same as he always was—little more so, if anything—but she is cold as the bottom of a well to him. No, they've had a row and of course the reason's plain enough. That night over here when she called me a spy and a lot more names I told her a few things for her own good. I told her she had better think over what I said about that Eg's schemin' to get her mother and the five thousand dollars. I told her to think that over and think Eg over, too. She was terribly high and mighty then, but I bet you she's done some thinkin' since. Yes, and come to the conclusion that, spy or no spy, I was tellin' the plain truth.... Hey, Cap'n Kendrick?"
"Eh?... Oh, yes, yes; I shouldn't wonder, Esther."
"I shouldn't wonder, neither. But it won't have no effect on Cordelia. She'd put her best Sunday bonnet on the ground and let that Eg dance the grand fandango on it if he asked her to. Poor, soft-headed critter."
"Yes, yes.... Humph! Any other news? How is Elvira?"
"Oh, she's full of spite and jealousy as a yeast jug is full of pop. She pretends that the idea of anything serious between Cordelia and Phillips is just silliness. Might as well talk about King Solomon in all his glory marryin' the woman that done his washin'—that's what she pretends to believe. It's all Cordelia and not Eg at all, that's what she says. But she knows better, just the same. She's got somethin' else to think about now. That aunt of hers over to Ostable, the one that owns them iron images she wanted the Harbor to buy—she's sick, the aunt is. Elviry's pretty worried about her; she's the old woman's only relation."
Kendrick had heard nothing further from his sister in the matter of young Kent and his trouble, whatever the latter might be. Sears had pondered a good deal concerning it and tried to guess in what possible way the boy could be "in the same boat" with Egbert. There was little use in guessing, however, and he had given up trying. And another week passed, another fruitless, dreary, hopeless week.
Judah's lodge night came around again and Mr. Cahoon, after asking his skipper's permission, departed for the meeting, leaving Sears Kendrick alone. It was a beastly November evening, cold and with a heavy rain beating against the windows of the Minot kitchen, and a wind which shrieked and howled about the corners and gables of the old house, rattled every loose shingle, and set the dry bones of the wisteria vine scratching and thumping against the walls. The water was thrown in bucketfuls against the ancient panes and poured from the sashes as if the latter were miniature dams in flood time.
Sears sat by the kitchen stove, smoking and trying to read. He could make a success of the smoking, but the attempt at reading was a failure. It was so much easier to think, so much easier to let his thoughts dwell upon his own dismal, wretched, discouraging story than to follow the fortunes of Thaddeus of Warsaw through the long succession of printed pages. And he had read Thaddeus's story before. He knew exactly how it would end. But how would his own story end? He might speculate much, but nowhere in all his speculations was there a sign of a happy ending.
His pipe went out, he tossed the book upon the table among the supper dishes—Judah had been in too great a hurry to clear away—and leaned back in his chair. Then he rose and walked—he could walk pretty well now, the limp was but slight—to the window and, lifting the shade, peered out.
He could see nothing, or almost nothing. The illumined windows made yellow pools of light upon the wet bricks below them, and across the darkness above were shining ribbons of rain. Against the black sky shapes of deeper blackness were moving rapidly, the bare thrashing branches of the locust tree. It was a beastly night, so he thought as he looked out at it; a beastly night in a wretched world.
Then above the noises of screeching wind and splashing water he heard other sounds, sounds growing louder, approaching footsteps. Some one was coming up the walk from the road.
He thought of course that it was Judah returning. He could not imagine why he should return, but it was more impossible to imagine any one else being out and coming to the Minot place on such a night. A figure, bent to the storm, passed across the light from the window. Captain Kendrick dropped the shade and strode through the little entry to the back door. He threw it open.
"Come in, Judah," he ordered. "Come in quick, before we both drown."
But the man who came in was not Judah Cahoon. He was George Kent.
The young man plunged across the threshold, the skirts of his dripping overcoat flapping about his knees and the water pouring from the brim of his hat. He carried the ruin of what had been an umbrella in his hand. It had been blown inside out, and was now but a crumpled tangle of wet fabric and bent and bristling wire. He stumbled over the sill, halted, and turning, addressed the man who had opened the door.
"Cap'n," he stammered, breathlessly, "I—I—I've come to see you. I—I know you must think—I don't know what you can think—but—but——"
Kendrick interrupted. He was surprised, but he did not permit his astonishment to loosen his grip on realities.
"Go in the other room," he ordered. "In the kitchen there by the fire. I'll be with you soon as I shut this door. Go on. Don't wait!"
Kent did not seem to hear him.
"Cap'n," he began, again, "I——"
"Do as I tell you. Go in there by the stove."
He seized his visitor by the shoulder and pushed him out of the entry. Then he closed and fastened the outer door. This was a matter of main strength, for the gale was fighting mad. When the latch clicked and the hook dropped into the staple he, too, entered the kitchen. Kent had obeyed orders to the extent of going over to the stove, but he had not removed his hat or coat and seemed to be quite oblivious of them or the fire or anything except the words he was trying to utter.
"Cap'n Kendrick," he began again, "I——"
"Sshh! Hush! Take off your things. Man alive, you're sheddin' water like a whistlin' buoy. Give me that coat. And that umbrella, what there is left of it. That's the ticket. Now sit down in that rocker and put your feet up on the hearth.... Whew! Are you wet through?"
"No. No, I guess not. I——"
"Haven't got a chill, have you? Can't I get you somethin' hot to drink? Judah generally has a bottle of some sort of life-saver hid around in the locker somewhere. A hot toddy now?... Eh? Well, all right, all right. No, don't talk yet. Get warm first."
Kent refused the hot toddy and would have persisted in talking at once if his host had permitted. The latter refused to listen, and so the young man sat silent in the rocking chair, his soaked trouser legs and boots steaming in the heat from the open door of the oven, while the captain bustled about, hanging the wet overcoat on a nail in the corner, tossing the wrecked umbrella behind the stove and pretending not to look at his caller.
He did look, however, and what he saw was interesting certainly and might have been alarming had he been a person easily frightened or unduly apprehensive. Kent's wet cheeks had dried and they were flushed now from the warmth, but they were haggard, his eyes were underscored with dark semicircles, and his hands as he held them over the red-hot stove lids were trembling. He looked almost as if he were sick, but a sick man would scarcely be out of doors in such a storm. He had, apparently, forgotten his desire to talk, and was now silent, his gaze fixed upon the wall behind the stove.
Kendrick quietly placed a chair beside him and sat down.
"Well, George?" he asked.
Kent started. "Oh!" he exclaimed. And then, "Oh, yes! Cap'n Kendrick, I—I know you must think my coming here is queer, after—after——"
He hesitated. The captain helped him on.
"Not a bit, George," he said. "Not a bit. I'm mighty glad to see you. I told you to come any time, you remember. Well, you've come, haven't you? Now what is it?"
Kent's gaze left the wall and turned toward his companion. "Cap'n Kendrick," he began, then stopped. "Cap'n Kendrick," he repeated, "I—Mrs. Macomber said—she told me you said that—that——"
"All right, George, all right. I told her to remind you that one time you promised to come to me if you was in any—er—well, trouble, or if you had anything on your mind. I judge that's what you've come for, isn't it?"
Kent started violently. His feet slipped from the hearth and struck the floor with a thump.
"How did you know I was in trouble?" he demanded. "Who told you? Did they tell you what——"
"No, no, no. Nobody told me anything especial. Sarah did say you hadn't looked well lately and she was afraid you was worried about somethin'. That's all. I've been worried myself durin' my lifetime and I've generally found it helped a little to tell my worries to somebody else. At any rate it didn't do any harm. What's wrong, George? Nothin' serious, I hope."
Kent breathed heavily. "Serious!" he repeated. "I—I...." Then in a sudden outburst: "Oh, my God, Cap'n Kendrick, I think they'll put me in jail."
Sears looked at him. Then, leaning forward, he laid a hand on the boy's knee.
"Nonsense, George," he exclaimed, heartily. "Stuff and nonsense! They don't put fellows like you in jail. You're scared, that's all. Tell me about it."
"But they will, they will. You don't know Ed Stedman. He doesn't like me. He always has had it in for me. He's prejudiced Clara against me and she hates me, too. They're pressing me for the money now. The last letter I had from them Stedman said he wouldn't wait another fortnight. And a week is gone already. He'll——"
"Hold on. Who's Stedman?"
"Oh, I thought you knew. He's my half-sister's husband up in Springfield. When my aunt died.... But I told you I was administrator of her estate. I remember I told you. That day when——"
"Yes, yes, I remember; that is, I remember a little. Tell me the whole of it. What's happened?"
"Yes—yes, I want to. I'm going to. Oh, if you can help me I'll—I'll never forget it. I'll do anything for you, Cap'n Kendrick. I know I shouldn't have done it. I had no right to take the risk. But Mr. Phillips said—he said——"
"Eh?" Sears' interruption this time was quite unpremeditated. "Phillips?" he repeated, sharply. "Egbert, you mean? Oh, yes.... Humph.... Is he mixed up in this?"
"Why—why, yes. If it hadn't been for him it wouldn't have happened. I don't mean that he is to blame, exactly. I guess nobody is to blame but myself. But when I think—— Oh, Cap'n Kendrick, do you suppose you can help me out of it? If you can, I——"
Here followed another outburst of agonized entreaty. The boy's nerves were close to breaking, he was almost hysterical. Slowly and with the exercise of much patience and tact the captain drew from him the details of his trouble. It was, as he told it, a long and complicated story, but, boiled down, it amounted to something like this:
Kent and Phillips had been very friendly for some time, their intimacy beginning even before the latter came to board at Sarah Macomber's. Egbert's polished manners, his stories of life abroad, his easy condescending geniality, had from the first made a great impression upon George. The latter, already esteeming himself above the average of mentality and enterprise in what he considered the "slow-poke" town of Bayport, found in the brilliant arrival from foreign parts the personification of his ideals, a satisfying specimen of that much read of genus, "the complete man of the world." He fell on his knees before that specimen and worshiped. Such idolatry could not but have some effect, even upon as blase an idol as Mr. Phillips, so the latter at first tolerated and then even encouraged the acquaintanceship. He began to take this young follower more and more into his confidence, to speak with him concerning matters more intimate and personal.
George soon gathered that Egbert had been much in moneyed circles. He spoke casually of the "market" and referred to friends who had made and remade fortunes in stocks, as well as of others whose horses had brought them riches, or who had brought off what he called coups at foreign gaming tables. The young man, who had been brought up in a strict Puritanical household, was at first rather shocked at the thought of gambling or racing, but Mr. Phillips treated his prejudices in a condescendingly joking way, and Kent gradually grew ashamed of his "insularity" and bourgeois ideas. Egbert habitually read the stock quotations in the Boston Advertiser and the mails brought him brokers' circulars and letters. Kent was led to infer that he still took a small "flyer" occasionally. "Nothing of consequence, my boy, nothing to get excited about; haven't the wherewithal since our dear friend Knowles and his—ah—satellites took to drawing wills and that sort of thing. But if my friends in the Street send me a bit of judicious advice—as they do occasionally, for old times' sake—why, I try to cast a few crumbs upon the waters, trusting that they may be returned, in the shape of a small loaf, after not too many days. Ha, ha! Yes. And sometimes they do return—yes, sometimes they do. Otherwise how could I rejoice in the good, but sometimes tiresome, Mrs. Macomber's luxurious hospitality?"
It seemed an easy way to turn one's crumbs into loaves. Kent, now the possessor of the little legacy left him by his aunt, wished that the eight hundred dollars, the amount of that legacy, might be raised to eight thousand. He was executor of the small estate, which was to be equally divided between his half-sister and himself. There had been a little land involved, that had been sold and the money, most of it, paid him. So he had in his possession about sixteen hundred dollars, half his and half Mrs. Stedman's. If he could do no better than double his own eight hundred it would not be so bad. He wished that he had friends in the Street.
He hinted as much to Phillips. The latter was, as always, generously kind. "If I get the word of another good thing, my boy, I shall be glad to let you in. Mind, I shan't advise. I shall take no responsibility—one mustn't do that. I shall only pass on the good word and tell you what I intend doing myself." George, very grateful, felt that this was indeed true friendship.
The chance at the good thing came along in due season. The New York brokerage firm wrote Phillips concerning it. It appeared that there was a certain railway stock named Central Midland Common. According to the gossip on the street, Central Midland—called C. M. for short—was just about due for a big rise. Certain eminent financiers and manipulators were quietly buying and the road was to be developed and exploited. Only a few, a select few, knew of this and so, obviously, now was the time to get aboard. Kent asked questions. Was Egbert going to get aboard? Egbert smilingly intimated that he was thinking of it. Would it be possible for him, Kent, to get aboard at the same time? Well, it might be; Egbert would think about that, too.
He did think about it and, as a result of his thinking, he and Kent bought C. M. Common together. Of course to buy any amount worth while would be impossible because of the small amount of ready cash possessed by either. "But," said Phillips, "I seldom buy outright. The latest quotation of C. M. is at 40, or thereabouts. I intend buying about two hundred shares. That would be eight thousand dollars if I paid cash, but of course I can't do that. I shall buy on a ten per cent margin, putting up eight hundred. If it goes up twenty points I make two thousand dollars. If it goes up fifty points, as they say it will, why——" And so on.
It ended—or began—by Phillips and Kent buying, as partners, four hundred shares of C. M. on a ten per cent margin. George turned over to Egbert the eight hundred dollars in cash, and Egbert sent to the brokers six hundred of those dollars and a bond, which he had in his possession, for one thousand dollars. Yes, Kent, had seen the broker's receipt. Yes, the bond was a good one; at least the brokers were perfectly satisfied. Where did Egbert get the bond? Kent did not know. It was one he owned, that is all he knew about it.
For a week or so after the purchase was made C. M. Common did continue to rise in price. At one time they had a joint profit of nearly two thousand dollars. Of course that seemed trifling compared with the thousands they expected, and so they waited. Then the market slumped. In two days their profit had gone and C. M. Common was selling several points below the figure at which they purchased. By the end of the fourth day, unless they wished to be wiped out altogether, additional margin—another ten per cent—must be deposited immediately.
And to George Kent this seemed an impossibility because he had not another eight hundred, or anything like it, of his own.
Why, oh, why, had he been such a fool? In his chagrin, disappointment and discouragement he asked himself that question a great many times. But when he asked it of his partner in the deal that partner laughed at him. According to Phillips he had not been a fool at all. The slump was only temporary; the stock was just as good as it had ever been; all this was but a part of the manipulation, the insiders were driving down the price in order to buy at lower figures. And letters from the brokers seemed to bear this out. Nevertheless the fact remained that more margin must be deposited and where was Kent's share of that margin coming from?
The rest of the story was exactly like fifty thousand similar stories. In order to save the eight hundred dollars of his own George put up as margin with the New York brokers the eight hundred dollars belonging to Mrs. Stedman, his half sister. Again he paid the eight hundred to Phillips, who sent to New York another one thousand dollar bond and six hundred in cash. And C. M. Common continued to go down, went down until once more the partners were in imminent danger of being wiped out. Then it rose a point or so, and there the price remained. All at once every one seemed to lose interest in the stock; instead of thousands of shares bought and sold daily, the sales dropped to a few odd lots. And instead of the profits which were to have been theirs by this time, the firm of Phillips and Kent owned together a precarious interest in four hundred shares of Central Midland Common which if sold at present prices would return them only a minimum of their investment, practically nothing when brokerage commissions should be deducted.
And then Edward Stedman, Kent's brother-in-law, demanded an immediate settlement of the estate. The land had been sold, the estate had been settled—he knew it—now he and his wife wanted their share.
So that was the situation which was driving the young fellow to desperation. What could he do? He could not satisfy Stedman because he had not eight hundred dollars and he could not confess it, at least not without answering questions which he did not dare answer. As matters stood he was a thief; he had taken money which did not belong to him. He and Stedman had not been friendly for a long time. According to George his brother-in-law would put him in jail without the slightest compunction. And, even if he managed—which he was certain he could not—to avoid imprisonment, there was the disgrace and its effect upon his future. Why, if the affair became known, at the very least his career as a lawyer would be ruined. Who would trust him after this? He would have to go away; but where could he go? He had counted on his little legacy to help him get a start, to—to help him to all sorts of things. Now—— Oh, what should he do? Suicide seemed to be the sole solution. He had a good mind to kill himself. He should—yes, he was almost sure that he should do that very thing.
It was pitiful and distressing enough, and Kendrick, although he did not take the threat of self-destruction very seriously—somehow he could scarcely fancy George Kent in the role of a suicide—was sincerely sorry for the boy. He did his best to comfort.
"There, there, George," he said, "we won't talk about killin' ourselves yet awhile. Time enough to hop overboard when the last gun's fired, and we haven't begun to take aim yet. Brace up, George. You'll get through the breakers somehow."
"But, Cap'n Kendrick, I can't—I can't. I've got only a week or so left, and I haven't got the money."
"Sshh! Sshh! Because you haven't got it now doesn't mean you won't have it before the week's out—not necessarily it doesn't.... Humph! Let's take an observation now, and get our bearin's, if we can. You've talked this over with Egbert—with Phillips, of course. After all, he was the fellow that got you into it. What does he say?"
It appeared that Mr. Phillips said little which was of immediate solace. He professed confidence unbounded. C. M. was a good stock, it was going higher, all they had to do was wait until it did.
"Yes," put in Sears, "that's good advice, maybe, but it's too much like tellin' a man who can't swim to keep up till the tide goes out and he'll be in shallow water. The trouble is neither that man nor you could keep afloat so long. Is that all he said? He understands your position, doesn't he, George?"
Yes, Mr. Phillips understood, but he could do nothing to help. He had no money to lend—had practically nothing except the two one thousand dollar bonds, and those were deposited as collateral with the brokers.
"Um—ye-es," drawled Kendrick. "Those bonds are interestin' of themselves. We'll come to those pretty soon. But hasn't he got any ready money? Seems as if he must have a little. Why, you paid him sixteen hundred in cash and, accordin' to your story, he sent only twelve hundred along with the bonds. He must have four hundred left, at least. That is, unless he's been heavin' overboard more 'crumbs' that you don't know about."
Kent knew nothing of his partner's resources beyond what the latter had told him. And, at any rate, what good would four hundred be to him? Unless he could raise eight hundred within the week——
"Yes, yes, yes, I know. But four hundred is half of eight hundred and seems to me if I was in his shoes and had been responsible for gettin' you into a clove hitch like this I'd do what I could to get you out. And he couldn't—or wouldn't—do anything; eh?"
"He can't, Cap'n Kendrick. He can't. Don't you see, he hasn't got it. He's poor, himself. Of course he came here to Bayport, after his wife's death, thinking that he owned the Fair Harbor property and—and a lot more. Why, he thought he was rich. He didn't know that old Knowles had used his influence with Mrs. Phillips when she was half sick and tricked her into——"
"Here, here!" The captain's tone was rather sharp this time. "Never mind that. Old Knowles, as you call him, was a friend of mine.... I thought he was your friend, too, George, for the matter of that."
George was embarrassed. "Well, he was," he admitted. "I haven't got anything against him; in fact he was very good to me. But that is what Mr. Phillips says, you know, and everybody—or about everybody—seems to believe it. At least they are awfully sorry for Phillips."
"So I judged. But about you, now. Do you believe in—er—Saint Egbert as much as you did?"
"Why—why, I don't know. I—— Of course it seems almost as if he ought to do something to help me, but if he can't he can't, I suppose."
"I suppose not. Look here, he won't tell anybody about your scrape, will he?"
The junior partner in the firm of Phillips and Kent was indignant.
"Of course not," he declared. "He told me he should not breathe a word. And he is really very much disturbed about it all. He told me himself that he felt almost guilty. Mr. Phillips is a gentleman."
"Is that so? Must be nice to be that way. But tell me a little more about those bonds, George. There were two of 'em, you say, a thousand dollars each."
"And you don't know what sort of bonds they were?"
His visitor's pride was touched. "Why, of course I know," he declared. "What sort of a business man would I be if I didn't know that, for heaven's sake?"
Sears did not answer the question. For a moment it seemed that he was going to, but if so, he changed his mind. However, there was an odd look in his eye when he spoke.
"Beg your pardon, George," he said. "I must have misunderstood you. What bonds were they?"
"They were City of Boston bonds. Seems to me they were—er—er—well, I forget just what—er—issue, you know, but that's what they were, City of Boston bonds."
"I see ... I see.... Humph! Seems kind of odd, doesn't it?"
"Oh, nothin'. Only Phillips, accordin' to his tell, is pretty close to poverty. Yet he hung on to those two bonds all this time."
"Well, he had to hang on to something, didn't he? And he probably has a little more; if he hasn't what has he been living on?"
"Yes, that's so—that's so. Still.... However, we won't worry about that. Now, George, sit still a minute and let me think."
"But, Cap'n Kendrick, do you think there is a chance? I'm almost crazy. I—I——"
"Sshh! shh! I guess likely we'll get you off the rocks somehow. Let me think a minute or two."
So Kent possessed his soul in such patience as it could muster, while the wind howled about the old house, the wistaria vine rattled and scraped, the shutters groaned and whined, and the rain dashed and poured and dripped outside. At length the captain sat up straight in his chair.
"George," he said, briskly, "as I see it, first of all we want to find out just how this affair of yours stands. You write to those New York brokers and get from them a statement of your account—yours and Egbert's. Just what you've bought, how much margin has been put up, how much is left, about those bonds—kind, ratin', numbers and all that. Ask 'em to send you that by return mail. Will you?"
"Why—why, yes, I suppose so. But I have seen all that. Mr. Phillips——"
"We aren't helpin' out Phillips now. He isn't askin' help, at least I gather he's satisfied to wait. You get this statement on your own hook, and don't tell him you're gettin' it. Will you?"
"I'll write for it to-night."
"Good! That'll get things started, anyhow. Now is there anything else you want to tell me?"
"No—no, I guess not. But, Cap'n Kendrick, do you honestly think there is a chance for me?"
For an instant his companion lost patience. "Don't ask that again," he ordered. "There is a chance—yes. How much of a chance we can't tell yet. You go home and stop worryin'. You've turned the wheel over to me, haven't you? Yes; well, then let me do the steerin' for a spell."
Kent rose from his chair. He drew a long breath. He looked at the captain, who had risen also, and it was evident that there was still something on his mind. He fidgeted, hesitated, and then hurried forth a labored apology.
"I—I am awfully ashamed of myself, Cap'n Kendrick," he began.
"That's all right, George. We all make mistakes—business mistakes especially. If I hadn't made one, and a bad one, I might not be stranded here in Judah's galley to-night."
"I didn't mean business. I meant I was ashamed of treating you as I have. Ever since that time when—when Elizabeth was here and I came over and—and said all those fool things to you, I—I've been ashamed. I was a fool. I am a fool most of the time, I guess."
"Oh, I guess not, George. We're all taken with the foolish disease once in a while."
"But I was such a fool. The idea of my being jealous of you—a man pretty nearly old enough to be my father. No, not so old as that, of course, but—older. I don't know what ailed me, but whatever it was, I've paid for it.... She—she has hardly spoken to me since."
"I'm sorry, George."
"Yes.... Has she—has she said anything about me to you, Cap'n?"
"Why—er—no, George, not much. She and I are not—well, not very confidential, outside of business matters, that is."
"No, I suppose not. Mr. Phillips told me she had—well, that she and you were not—not as——"
"Yes, all right, all right, George; I understand. Outside of Fair Harbor managin' we don't talk of many things."
"No, that's what he said. He seemed to think you two had had some sort of quarrel—or disagreement, you know. But I never took much stock in that. After all, why should you and she be interested in the same sort of things? She isn't much older than I am, about my age really, and of course you——"
"Yes, yes," hastily. "All right.... Well, I guess your coat is middlin' dry, George. Here it is."
"Thanks. But that wasn't all I meant to say. You see, Cap'n Kendrick, I did treat you so badly and yet all the time I've had such confidence in you. Ever since you gave me that advice the night of the theatricals I've—well, somehow I've felt as if a fellow could depend on you, you know—always, in spite of everything. Eh, why, by George, she said that very thing about you once, said it to me. She said you were so dependable. Say, that's queer, that she and I should both think the very same thing about you."
"Um-m. Yes, isn't it?"
"Yes. It shows, after all, how closely alike our minds, hers and mine, work. We"—he hesitated, reddened, and then continued, with a fresh outburst of confidence: "You see, Cap'n," he said, "I have felt all the time that this—this trouble between Elizabeth and me, wasn't going to last. I was to blame—at least, I guess I probably was, and I meant to go to her and tell her so. But I waited until—until I had pulled off this stock deal. I meant to go to her with two or three thousand dollars that I had made myself, you see, and—and ask her pardon and—well, then I hoped she would—would.... You understand, don't you, Cap'n Kendrick?"
"Why—er—yes, I guess likely, George, in a way."
"Yes. I wanted to show her that I was good for something, and then—and then, maybe it would be all right again. You see?"
"Surely, George. Yes, yes.... Ready for your coat?"
Kent ignored the coat. He did not seem to realize that his companion was holding it. "Yes," he stammered, eagerly. "I think if I went to her in that way it would be all right again. I was hasty and—and silly maybe, but perhaps I had some excuse. And, Cap'n Kendrick, I'm sure she does—er—like me, you know. I'm sure of it.... But now—" as reality came once more crashing through his dream, "I—I—— Oh, think of me now! I may be put in prison. And then.... Oh, but Cap'n Kendrick, that's why I came to you. I knew you'd stand by me, I knew you would. I treated you damnably, but—but you know, it was on account of her, really. I knew you'd understand that. You won't hold a grudge against me? You really will help me? If you don't——"
Kendrick seized his arm. "Shut up, George," he commanded brusquely. "Shut up. I'll get you out of this, I promise it."
"You will? You promise?"
"Yes. That is, I'll see that you don't go to jail. If we can't get the eight hundred of your sister's from these brokers I'll get it somehow—even if I have to borrow it."
"Oh, Great Scott, that's great! That's wonderful. I can hardly believe it. I'll make it up to you somehow, you know. You're the best man I ever knew. And—and—if she and I—that is, when she and I are—are as we used to be—well, then I shall tell her and she'll be as grateful as I am, I know she will."
"All right, George, all right. Run along. The rain's easin' up a little, so now's your time. Don't forget to write to those brokers.... Good night."
"Good night, Cap'n. I shall tell your sister how good you've been to me. She told me to come to you. Of course she doesn't know why I came, but——"
"No, and she mustn't know. Don't you tell her or anybody else. Don't you do it."
"I—why, I won't if you say so, of course. Good night."
Kendrick closed the door. Then he came back to his seat before the stove. When Judah returned home he found that his lodger had gone to the spare stateroom, but he could hear his footsteps moving back and forth.
"Ahoy, there, Cap'n Sears!" hailed Judah. "What you doin', up and pacin' decks this time of night? It's pretty nigh eight bells, didn't you know it?"
The pacing ceased. "Why, no, is it?" replied the captain's voice. "Guess I'd better be turnin' in, hadn't I? How's the weather outside?"
"Fairin' off fast. Rain stopped and it's clear as a bell over to the west'ard. Clear day and a fair wind to-morrer, I cal'late."
Kendrick made no further comment and Judah prepared for bed, singing as he did so. He sang, not a chantey this time, but portions of a revival hymn which he had recently heard and which, because of its nautical nature, had stuck in his memory. The chorus commanded some one or other to
"Pull for the shore, sailor, Pull for the shore. Leave that poor old stranded wreck And pull for the shore."
Mr. Cahoon sang the chorus over and over. Then he ventured to tackle one of the verses.
"Light in the darkness, sailor, Day is at hand."
"Judah!" This from the spare stateroom.
"Aye, aye, Cap'n Sears."
"Better save the rest of that till the day gets here, hadn't you?"
"Eh? Oh, all right, Cap'n. Just goin' to douse the glim this minute. Good night."
Three days after this interview in the Minot kitchen George Kent again came to call. He came after dark, of course, and his visit was brief. He had received from the New York brokers a detailed statement of his and Phillips' joint account. The statement bore out what he had already told Sears. Four hundred shares of Central Midland Common had been purchased at 40. Against this the partners deposited sixteen hundred dollars. Later they had deposited another sixteen hundred. The New York firm were as confident as ever that the stock was perfectly good and the speculation a good one. They advised waiting and, if possible, buying more at the present low figure.
All this was of little help. The only information of any possible value was that concerning the bonds which Egbert had contributed as his share of the margin. Those, according to the brokers, were two City of Boston 4-1/2s, of one thousand dollars each, numbered A610,312 and A610,313.
Kent would have stayed and talked for hours if Kendrick had permitted. He was as nervous as ever, even more so, because the days were passing and the time drawing near when his brother-in-law would demand settlement. The captain comforted him as well as he could, bade him write his sister or her husband that he would remit early in the following week, and sent him home again more hopeful, but still very anxious.
"I don't see how I'm going to get the money, Cap'n Kendrick," he kept repeating. "I don't see how all this helps us a bit. I don't see——"
Kendrick interrupted at last.
"You don't have to see," he declared. "You've left it to me, now let me see if I can see. I told you that, somehow or other, I'd tow you into deep water. Well, give me a chance to get up steam. You write that letter to your brother-in-law and hold him off till the middle of next week. That's all you've got to do. I'll do the rest."
So Kent had to be satisfied with that. He departed, professing over and over again his deathless gratitude. "If you do this, Cap'n Kendrick," he proclaimed, "I never, never will forget it. And when I think how I treated you I can't see why you do it. I never heard of such——"
"Sshh! shhh!" The captain waved him to silence. "I don't know why I am doin' it exactly, George," he said.
"I do. You're doing it for my sake, of course, and——"
"Sshh! I don't know as I am—not altogether. Maybe I'm doin' it to try and justify my own judgment of human nature—mine and Judge Knowles'. If that judgment isn't right then I'm no more use than a child in arms, and I need a guardian as much as—as——"
"As I do, you mean, I suppose. Well, I do need one, I guess. But I don't understand what you mean by your judgment of human nature. Who have you been judging?"
"Never mind. Now go home. Judah's out again and that's a mercy. I don't want him or any one else to know you come here to see me."
George went, satisfied for the time, but Sears Kendrick, left face to face with his own thoughts, knew that he had told the young man but a part of the truth. It was not for Kent's sake alone that he had made the rash promise to get back eight hundred of the sixteen hundred, or another eight hundred to take its place. Neither was it entirely because he hoped to confirm his judgment in the case of Egbert Phillips. The real reason lay deeper than that. Kent had declared that he still loved Elizabeth Berry and that he had reason to think she returned that love. Perhaps she did; in spite of some things she had said after their quarrel, it was possible—yes, probable that she did. If, by saving her lover from disgrace, he might insure her future and her happiness, then—then—Sears would have made rasher promises still and have undertaken to carry them out.
The brokers' letter helped but little, if any. He entered the names and numbers of the bonds in his memorandum book. Those bonds still perplexed him. He could not explain them, satisfactorily. It might be that Egbert had more left from his wife's estate than Judge Knowles expected him to have or that Bradley was inclined to think he had. Lobelia's will bequeathed to her beloved husband "all stocks, bonds, securities, etc.," remaining. But Knowles had more than intimated that none remained. The pictures of the horses and the ladies in Egbert's room at Sarah Macomber's confirmed the captain's belief that the Phillips past had been a hectic one. It seemed queer that, out of the ruin, there should have been preserved at least two thousand dollars in good American—yes, City of Boston—bonds.
In the back of the Kendrick head was a theory—or the ghost of a theory—concerning those bonds. He did not like to believe it, he would not believe it yet, but it was a possibility. Elizabeth had been bequeathed twenty thousand dollars. She and Egbert had been close friends for a time. She had liked him, had trusted him. Of late, so Esther Tidditt said, that friendship had been somewhat strained. Was it possible that.... Humph! Well, Bradley might know. He was Elizabeth's guardian, he would know if her investments had been disturbed.
Then, too, if worst came to the worst and he had to raise the eight hundred, which he had promised Kent, by borrowing it, he could, he thought, arrange to get from Bradley an advance of that amount, or a part of it, against his salary as manager of the Fair Harbor.
So he determined, as the next move, to go to Orham and visit the lawyer. On Saturday morning, therefore, he and the Foam Flake once more journeyed along the wood road to Orham.
The trip was cold and long and tedious. The oaks and birches were bare of leaves and the lakes and little ponds looked chill and forbidding. Judah's prophecy of a clear day was only partially fulfilled, for there were great patches of clouds driving before the wind and when those obscured the sun all creation looked dismal enough, especially to Kendrick, who was in the mood where any additional gloom was distinctly superfluous. But the Foam Flake jogged on and at last drew up beside the Bradley office.
Another horse and buggy were standing there and the captain was somewhat surprised to recognize the outfit as one belonging to the Bayport livery man. A gangling youth in the latter's employ was on the buggy seat and he recognized the Foam Flake first and his driver next.
"Why, good mornin', Cap'n," hailed the youth. "You over here, too?"
Sears, performing the purely perfunctory task of hitching the Foam Flake to a post, smiled grimly.
"No, Josiah," he replied. "I'm not here. I'm over in South Harniss all this week. Where are you?"
"Eh?... Where be I?... Say, what——"
"Yes, yes, Josiah, all right. Just keep a weather eye on this post, will you, like a good fellow?"
"On the post? On the horse, you mean?"
"No, I mean on the post. If you don't this—er—camel of mine will eat it. Thanks. Do as much for you some time, Josiah."
He went into the building, leaving the bewildered Josiah in what might be described as a state of mind.
"Is the commodore busy?" he asked of the boy at the desk.
"Yes, he is," replied the boy. "But he won't be very long, I don't think."
"Humph! That's what you don't think, eh? Well, now just between us, what do you think?... Never mind, son, never mind, I'm satisfied if you are. I'll wait. By the way, somebody from my home port is in there with him, I judge."
"Um—hm. Miss Berry, she's there."
"Miss Berry! Elizabeth Berry?... Is she there now?"
The boy nodded. "Um-hm," he declared, "she's there, but I guess they're 'most done. I heard her chair scrape a minute or two ago, so I think she's comin' right out."
Kendrick rose from his own chair. "I'll wait outside," he said, and went out to the platform again. Josiah, evidently lonely and seeking conversation, hailed him at once.
"Say, that old horse of yours is a cribbler, ain't he," he observed. "He's took one chaw out of that post already."
Sears paid no attention. He walked around to the rear of the little building and, leaning against its shingled side, waited, gazing absently across the fields to the spires and roofs of Orham village.
He was sorry that Elizabeth was there just at this time. True they met almost daily at the Fair Harbor office, but those meetings were obligatory, this was not. And meeting her at all, relations between them being what they were, was very hard for him. Since George Kent's disclosure of his feelings and hopes those meetings were harder still. Each one made his task, that of helping the boy toward the realization of those hopes, so much more difficult. He was ashamed of himself, but so it was. No, in his present frame of mind he did not want to meet her. He would wait there, out of sight, until she had gone.
But he was not allowed to do so. He heard the office door open, heard her step—he would have recognized it, he believed, anyway—upon the platform. He heard her speak to Josiah. And then that pest of an office boy began shouting his name.
"Cap'n Kendrick," yelled the boy. "Cap'n Kendrick, where are you?"
He did not answer, but the other imbecile, Josiah, answered for him.
"There he is, out alongside the buildin'," volunteered Josiah. "Cap'n Kendrick, they want ye."
Then both began shrieking "Cap'n Kendrick" at the top of their voices.
To pretend not to hear would have been too ridiculous. There was but thing to do and he did it.
"Aye, aye," he answered, impatiently. "I'm comin'!"
When he reached the platform Elizabeth was still there. She was surprised to see him, evidently, but there was another expression on her face, an expression which he did not understand. He bowed gravely.
"Good mornin'," he said. She returned his greeting, but still she continued to look at him with that odd expression.
"Mr. Bradley's all ready for you," announced the office boy, who was holding the door open. Sears' foot was at the 'threshold when Elizabeth spoke his name. He turned to her in surprise.
"Yes?" he replied.
For an instant she was silent. Then, as if obeying an uncontrollable impulse, she came toward him.
"Cap'n Kendrick," she said. "May I speak with you? In private? I won't keep you but a moment."
"Why—why, yes, of course," he stammered. He turned to the office boy. "Go and tell Mr. Bradley I'll be right there," he commanded. The boy went.
Elizabeth spoke to her charioteer, who was leaning forward on the buggy seat, his small eyes fixed upon the pair and his large mouth open.
"Drive over to that corner, Josiah," she said. "To that store there—yes, that's it. And wait there for me. I'll come at once."
Josiah reluctantly drove away. Elizabeth turned again to Kendrick.
"Cap'n Kendrick," she began. "I shan't keep you long. I realize that you must be surprised at my asking to speak with you—after everything. And, of course, I realize still more than you can't possibly wish to speak with me."
He attempted to say something, to protest, but she did not give him the chance.
"No, don't, don't," she said, hurriedly. "Don't pretend. I know how you feel, of course. But I have been wanting to tell you this for a long time. I hadn't the courage, or I was too much ashamed, or something. And this is a strange place to say it—and time. But when I saw you just now I—I felt as if I must say it. I couldn't wait another minute. Cap'n Kendrick, I want to beg your pardon."
To add to his amazement and embarrassed distress he saw that she was very close to tears.
"Why—why—" he stammered.
"Don't say anything. There isn't anything for you to say. I don't ask you to forgive me—you couldn't, of course. But I—I just had to tell you that I am so ashamed of myself, of my misjudging you, and the things I said to you. I know that you were right and I was all wrong."
"Why—why, here, hold on!" he broke in. "I don't understand."
"Of course you don't. And I can't explain. Probably I never can and you mustn't ask me to. But—but—I had to say this. I had to beg your pardon and tell you how ashamed I am.... That's all.... Thank you."
She turned and almost ran from the platform, down the steps and across the street to the waiting buggy. Sears Kendrick stared after her, stared until that buggy disappeared around the bend in the road. Then he breathed heavily, straightened his cap, slowly shook his head, and entered the lawyer's office. He was still in a sort of trance when he sat down in the chair in the inner room and heard Bradley bid him good morning. He returned the good morning, but he heard, or understood, very little of what the lawyer said immediately afterward. When he did begin vaguely to comprehend he found the latter was speaking of Elizabeth Berry.
"I wish I knew what her trouble is," Bradley was saying. "She won't tell me, won't even admit that there is any trouble, but that doesn't need telling. The last half dozen times I have seen her she has seemed and looked worried and absent-minded. And this morning she drove way over here to ask me some almost childish questions about her investments, the money the judge left her. Wanted to know if it was safe, or something like that. She didn't admit that was it, exactly, but that was as near as I could get to what she was driving at. Do you know what's troubling her, Kendrick?"
Sears shook his head. "No-o," he replied. "I've heard—but no, I don't know. She wanted to be sure her money was safe, you say?"
"Why, not safely invested, I don't think that was it. She seemed to want to know what I'd done with the bonds themselves and the other securities of hers. I told her they were in the deposit vaults over at the Bayport bank; that is, some of them were there and some of them were in the bank at Harniss. Then she asked if any one could get them, anybody except she or I. Of course I told her no, and not even I without an order from her. She seemed a little relieved, I thought, but when I asked questions she shut up like a quahaug. But that seemed a silly errand to come away over here on. Don't you think so, Cap'n? ... Eh? What's the matter? What are you looking at me like that for?"
The captain was looking at him, was looking with an expression of intense and eager interest. He did not answer Bradley's question, but asked one, himself.
"Did she ask anything more about—well, about her bonds?" he demanded. "Think now; I'll tell you why by and by."
The lawyer considered. "No-o," he said. "Nothing of importance, surely. She asked—she seemed to want to know particularly if it was possible for any one except the owner or a duly accredited representative to get at securities in the vaults of those banks. That seemed to be the information she was after.... Now what have you got up your sleeve?"
"Nothin'—nothin'. I guess. Or somethin', maybe; I don't know. Bradley, would you mind tellin' me this much: Of course I'm not Elizabeth's trustee any more, but would it be out of the way if you told me whether or not you reinvested any of her twenty thousand in City of Boston bonds? City of Boston 4-1/2s; say?"
Bradley did not answer for a moment. Then from a pigeon hole in his desk he took a packet of papers and selected one.
"Yes," he said, gravely. "I put ten thousand of her money in those very bonds. My brokers up in Boston recommended them strongly as being a safe and good investment.... And now perhaps you'll tell us why you asked about that?"
Sears' brows drew together. Here was his vague theory on the way, at least, to confirmation.
"You tell me somethin' more first," he said. "'Tisn't likely you've got the numbers of those bonds on that piece of paper, is it?"
"Likely enough. I've got the numbers and the price I paid for 'em. Why?"
Kendrick took his memorandum book from his pocket. "Were two of those numbers A610,312 and A610,313?" he asked.
Bradley consulted his slip of paper. "No," he replied. "Nothing like it."
"Eh? You're sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. Say, what sort of a trustee do you think I am?"
Sears did not answer. If the lawyer was sure, then his "theory," instead of being confirmed, was smashed flat.
"Humph!" he grunted, after a moment. "Do you mind my lookin' at that paper of yours?"
Bradley pushed the slip across the desk. The captain looked at it carefully. "Humph!" he said again. "You're right. And those are five hundred dollar bonds, all of 'em. Well, that settles that. And now it's all fog again.... Humph! In a way I'm glad—but—— Pshaw!"
"Yes. And now maybe you'll tell me what you're after? Don't you think it's pretty nearly time?"
"Why, perhaps, but I'm afraid that's what I can't tell—you or anybody else.... Bradley, just one more thing. Do you happen to know whether there was any of those Boston bonds in Lobelia Phillips' estate? That is, did any of 'em come to her husband from her?"
The lawyer's answer was emphatic enough.
"Yes, I do know," he said. "There wasn't any. Those bonds are a brand new issue. They have been put out since her death."
Here was another gun spiked. Kendrick whistled. Bradley regarded him keenly.
"Cap'n," he demanded, "are you on the trail of that Eg Phillips? Do you really think you've got anything on him? Because if you have and you don't let me into the game I'll never forgive you. Of all the slick, smooth, stuck-up nothings that—— Say, have you?"
Kendrick shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Squire," he observed. "And, at any rate, I couldn't tell you, if I had. ... Eh? And now what?"
For the lawyer had suddenly struck the desk a blow with his hand. He was fumbling in another pigeon-hole and extracting therefrom another packet of papers.
"Cap'n Kendrick," he said, "I know where there are—or were, anyhow—more of those Boston 4-1/2s."
"Eh? You do?"
"Yes. And they were thousand dollar bonds, too.... Yes, and.... Give me those numbers again."
Sears gave them. Bradley grinned, triumphantly.
"Here you are," he exclaimed. "Five one thousand dollar City of Boston 4-1/2s, bought at so and so much, on such and such a date, numbered A610,309 to A610,313 inclusive. Cap'n Sears, those bonds are—or were, the last I knew—in the vault of the Bayport National Bank."
Kendrick rose to his feet. "You don't tell me!" he cried. "Who put 'em there?"
"I put 'em there. And I bought 'em. But they don't belong to me. There was somebody else had money left to them, and I, on request, invested it for the owner. Now you can guess, can't you?"
Cap'n Sears sat down heavily. "Cordelia?" he exclaimed. "Cordelia Berry, of course!... Bradley, what an everlastin' fool I was not to guess it in the first place! There's the answer I've been hunting for."
But, as he pondered over it during the long drive home he realized that, after all, it was not by any means a completely satisfying answer. True it confirmed his previous belief that the bonds which Phillips had deposited with the New York brokers were not a part of the residue of his wife's estate. He had obtained them from Cordelia Berry. But the question as to how and why he had obtained them still remained. Did he get them by fraud? Did she lend them to him? If she lent them was it a loan without restrictions? Did she know what he meant to do with them; that is, was Cordelia a silent partner in Egbert's stock speculations? Or, and this was by no means impossible considering her infatuation, had she given them to him outright?
Unless there was an element of fraud or false pretense in the transference of those bonds, the mere knowledge of whence they came was not likely to help in regaining George Kent's sixteen hundred dollars. For the matter of that, even if they had been obtained by fraud, if they were not Phillips' property, but Cordelia's, still the return of Kent's money might be just as impossible provided Phillips had nothing of his own to levy upon. He—Kendrick—might compel the brokers to return Mrs. Berry's City of Boston 4-1/2s to their rightful owner, but how would that help Kent?
Well, never mind that now. If the worst came to the worst he could still borrow the eight hundred which would save George from public disgrace. And the fact remained that his campaign against the redoubtable Egbert had made, for the first time, a forward movement, however slight.
His thoughts turned to Elizabeth. The causes of her worry and trouble were plain enough now. Esther Tidditt had declared that she and Phillips were by no means as friendly as they had been. Of course not. She, too, had been forced to realize what almost every one else had seen before, the influence which the fellow had obtained over her mother. Her visit to Bradley and her questions concerning the safety of securities in the bank's vaults were almost proof positive that she knew Egbert had those bonds and perhaps feared he might get the others. He should not get them if Sears Kendrick could help it. She had asked his pardon, she had confessed that he was right and that she had been wrong. She believed in him again. Well, in return he would fight his battle—and hers—and George's—harder than ever. The fight had been worth while of itself, now it was more than ever a fight for her happiness. And Egbert—by the living jingo, Egbert was in for a licking.
So, to the mild astonishment of the placid Foam Flake, who had been meandering on in a sort of walking doze, Captain Kendrick tugged briskly at the reins and broke out in song, the hymn which Judah Cahoon had sung a few nights before:
"Light in the darkness, sailor, Day is at hand."
Judah himself was singing when his lodger entered the kitchen, but his was no joyful ditty. It was a dirge, which he was intoning as he bent over the cookstove. A slow and solemn and mournful wail dealing with death and burial of one "Old Storm Along," whoever he may have been.
"'Old Storm Along is dead and gone To my way, oh, Storm Along. Old Storm Along is dead and gone Ay—ay—ay, Mister Storm A-long.
"'When Stormy died I dug his grave To my way, oh, Storm Along, I dug his grave with a silver spade. Ay—ay—ay, Mister Storm A-long.
"'I hove him up with an iron crane, To my way, oh, Storm Along, And lowered him down with——'"
Kendrick broke in upon the flow of misery.
"Sshh! All hands to the pumps!" he shouted. "Heavens, what a wail! Sounds like the groans of the dyin'. Didn't your breakfast set well, Judah?"
Judah turned, looked at him, and grinned sheepishly. "'Tis kind of a lonesome song, ain't it?" he admitted. "Still we used to sing it consider'ble aboard ship. Don't you know we did, Cap'n?"
The captain grunted. "Maybe so," he observed, "but it's one of the things that would keep the average man from going to sea. What's the news since I've been gone—anything?"
Judah nodded. "Um-hm," he said. "I cal'late 'twas the news that set me goin' about old Storm Along. Esther Tidditt's been over here half the forenoon, seemed so, tellin' about Elviry Snowden's aunt over to Ostable. She's dead, the old woman is, and she died slow and agonizin', 'cordin' to Esther. Elviry was all struck of a heap about it. And now she's gone."
"Gone! Elvira? Dead, you mean?"
"Hey? No, no! The aunt's dead, but Elviry ain't. She's gone over to Ostable to stay till after the funeral. She's about the only relation to the remains there is left, so Esther tells me. There was a reg'lar young typhoon over to the Harbor when the news struck. 'Twas too late for the up train so they had to hire a horse and team and then somebody had to be got to pilot it, 'cause Elviry wouldn't no more undertake to drive a horse than I would to eat one. And the trouble was that the livery stable boy—that Josiah Ellis—was off drivin' somebody else somewheres."
"Yes, I saw him."
"Hey? You did? Where? Who was he drivin'?"
"Never mind that. Heave ahead with your yarn."
"Well, the next thing they done was to come cruisin' over here to see if I wouldn't take the job. Hoppin', creepin', jumpin' Henry! I shut down on that notion almost afore they got their hatches open to tell me about it. Suppose likely I'd set in a buggy alongside of Elviry Snowden and listen to her clack from here to Ostable? Not by a two-gallon jugful! Creepin'! She'd have another corpse on her hands time we got there. So I said I was sick."
"Sick! Ha, ha! You're a healthy lookin' sick man, Judah."
"Um-hm. Mine must be one of them kind of diseases that don't show on the outside. But I was sick then, all right—at the very notion. And, Cap'n Sears, who do you cal'late finally did invite himself to drive that Snowden woman to Ostable? You'll never guess in this world."
"Well, I don't intend to wait until the next world to find out; so you'll have to tell me, Judah. Who was it?"
"Old Henfruit, that's what I call him. That Eg thing"
"Yus. That's the feller."
"But why should he do it?"
"Oh, just to show off how polite and obligin' he is, I presume likely. Elviry she was snifflin' around and swabbin' her deadlights with her handkercher and heavin' overboard lamentations about her poor dear Aunt So-and-so layin' all alone over there and she couldn't get to her—as if 'twould make any difference to a dead person whether she got to 'em or not, and anyhow I'd want to be dead afore Elviry Snowden got to me—and—— Oh, yes, well, pretty soon here comes Eg, beaver hat and mustache and all, purrin' and wantin' to know what was the matter. And, of course all hands of 'em started to tell him, 'specially that Aurora Chase, who is so everlastin' deaf she hadn't heard the yarn more'n half straight and wan't sure yet whether 'twas a funeral or a fire. And so——"
"There, there, Judah! Get back on the course. So Egbert drove Elvira over to Ostable, did he?"
"Sartin sure. When Elviry saw him she kind of flew at him same as a chicken flies to the old hen. And he kind of spread out his wings, as you might say, and comforted her and, next thing you know, he'd offered to be pilot and she and him had started on the trip. So that's the news.... Esther said 'twas good as a town hall to see Cordelia Berry when them two went away together. You see, Cordelia is so dreadful gone on that Eg man that she can't bear to see another female within hailin' distance of him. Been just the same if 'twas old Northern Lights Chase he'd gone with. Haw, haw!"
The Fair Harbor was still buzzing with the news of Miss Snowden's bereavement when Kendrick visited there next day. The funeral was to take place the day after that and Mrs. Brackett was going and so was Aurora. As Miss Peasley and some of the others would have liked to go, but could not afford the railway fare, there was some jealousy manifest and a few ill-natured remarks made in the captain's hearing. Elvira, it seemed, had sent for her trunk, as she was to remain in Ostable for a week or two at least.
The captain and Elizabeth had their customary conference in the office concerning the Harbor's bills and finances. Kendrick's greeting was a trifle embarrassed—recollection of the interview at Orham was fresh in his mind. Elizabeth colored slightly when they met, but she did not mention that interview and, although pleasant and kind, kept the conversation strictly confined to business matters.
That afternoon Sears encountered Egbert for the first time in a week or so. The captain was on his way to the barn at the rear of the Harbor grounds. He was about to turn the bend in the path, the bend which he had rounded on the day of his first excursion in those grounds, and which had afforded him the vision of Miss Snowden and Mrs. Chase framed in the ivy-draped window of The Eyrie. As he passed the clump of lilacs, now bare and scrawny, he came suddenly upon Phillips. The latter was standing there, deep in conversation with Mrs. Berry. Theirs should, it would seem, have been a pleasant conversation, but neither looked happy; in fact, Cordelia looked as if she had been crying.
Sears raised his cap and Egbert lifted the tall hat with the flourish all his own. Cordelia did not bow nor even nod. Kendrick, as he walked on toward the barn, was inclined to believe he could guess the cause of Mrs. Berry's distress and her companion's annoyance; he believed that City of Boston 4-1/2s might be the subject of their talk. If so, then perhaps those bonds had come into the gentleman's possession in a manner not strictly within the law. Or, at all events, the lady might not know what had become of them and be requesting their return. He certainly hoped that such was the case. It was the one thing he yearned to find out before making the next strategic advance in his and Egbert's private war.
But a note from Bradley which he received next day helped him not at all. It was a distinct disappointment. Bradley had, at his request, made some inquiries at the Bayport bank. The lawyer was a director in that institution and he could obtain information without arousing undue curiosity or answering troublesome questions. The two one thousand dollar bonds had been removed from the vaults by Cordelia Berry herself. She had come alone, and on two occasions, taking one bond at each visit. She did not state why she wanted them and the bank authorities had not considered it their business to ask.
So that avenue of hope was closed. Egbert had not taken the bonds, and how they came into his possession was still as great a puzzle as ever. And the time—the time was growing so short. On Wednesday Kent had promised to send his brother-in-law eight hundred dollars. It was Saturday when Bradley's letter came. Each evening George stopped at the Minot place to ask what progress had been made. The young man's nervousness was contagious; the captain's own nerves became affected.
"George," he ordered, at last, "don't ask me another question. I promised you once, and now I promise you again, that by Wednesday night you shall have enough cash in hand to satisfy your sister and her husband. Don't you come nigh me until then."
On Monday, the situation remaining unchanged, Sears determined upon a desperate move. He would see Egbert alone and have a talk with him. He had, after careful consideration, decided what his share in that talk was to be. It must be two-thirds "bluff." He knew very little, but he intended to pretend to much greater knowledge. He might trap his adversary into a damaging admission. He might gain something and he could lose almost nothing. The attack was risky, a sort of forlorn hope—but he would take the risk.
That afternoon he drove down to the Macomber house. There he was confronted with another disappointment. Egbert was not there. Sarah said he had been away almost all day and would not be back until late in the evening.
"He's been away consider'ble the last two or three days," she said. "No, I'm sure I don't know where he's gone. He told Joel somethin' about bein' out of town on business. Joel sort of gathered 'twas in Trumet where the business was, but he never told either of us really. He wasn't here for dinner yesterday or supper either, and not for supper the day before that."
"Humph! Will he be here to-morrow, think?"
"I don't know, but I should think likely he would, in the forenoon, anyhow. He's almost always here in the forenoon; he doesn't get up very early, hardly ever."
"Oh, he doesn't. How about his breakfast?"
Mrs. Macomber looked a bit guilty.
"Well," she admitted, "I usually keep his breakfast hot for him, and—and he has it in his room."
"You take it in to him, I suppose?"
"We-ll, he's always been used to breakfastin' that way, he says. It's the way they do over abroad, accordin' to his tell."
"Oh, Sarah, Sarah!" mused her brother. "To think you could slip so easy on that sort of soft-soap. Tut, tut! I'm surprised.... Well, good-by. Oh, by the way, how about his majesty's board bill? Paid up to date, is it?"
His sister looked even more embarrassed, and, for her, a trifle irritated.
"He owes me for three weeks, if you must know," she said, "but he'll pay it, same as he always does."
"Look out, look out! Can't be too sure.... There, there, Sarah, don't be cross. I won't torment you."
He laughed and Mrs. Macomber, after a moment, laughed too.
"You are a tease, Sears," she declared, "and always was. Shall I tell Mr. Phillips you came to see him?"
"Eh? No, indeed you shan't. Don't you mention my name to him. He loves me so much that he might cry all night at the thought of not bein' at home when I called. Don't tell him a word. I'll try again."
The next forenoon he did try again. Judah had some trucking to do in the western part of the village and the captain rode with him on the seat of the truck wagon as far as the store. From there he intended to walk to his sister's, for walking, even as long a distance as a mile, was no longer an impossibility. As he alighted by the store platform Captain Elkanah Wingate came out of the Bassett emporium.
"Mornin', Kendrick," he hailed.
Sears did not share Bayport's awe of the prosperous Elkanah. He returned the greeting as casually as if the latter had been an everyday citizen.
"Been spendin' your money on Eliphalet's bargains?" he inquired.
The great man did not resent the flippancy. He seemed to be in a particularly pleasant humor.
"Got a little extra to spend to-day," he declared, with a chuckle. "Picked up twenty dollars this mornin' that I never expected to see again."
"So? You're lucky."
"That's what I thought. Say, Kendrick, have you had any—hum—business dealings with that man Phillips? No," with another chuckle, "I suppose you haven't. He doesn't love you over and above, I understand. My wife and the rest of the women folks seem to think he's first mate to Saint Peter, but, between ourselves, he's always been a little too much of a walkin' oil barrel to suit me. He borrowed twenty of me a good while ago and I'd about decided to write it down as a dead loss. But an hour or so ago he ran afoul of me and, without my saying a word, paid up like a man, every cent. Had a roll of bills as thick as a skys'l yard, he did. Must have had a lucky voyage, I guess. Eh? Ha, ha!"
He moved off, still chuckling. Kendrick walked down the lower road pondering on what he had heard. Egbert, the professed pauper, in possession of money and voluntarily paying his debts. What might that mean?
Sarah met him at the door. She seemed distressed.
"There!" she cried, as he approached. "If this isn't too bad! And I was afraid of it, too. You've walked way down here, Sears, on those poor legs of yours, and Mr. Phillips has gone again. And I don't think he'll be back before night, if he is then. He said not to worry if he wasn't, because he might have to go to Trumet. Isn't it a shame?"
It was a shame and a rather desperate shame. This was Tuesday. If the interview with Egbert was to take place at all, it should be that day, or the next. He looked at his sister's face and something in her expression caused him to ask a question.
"What is it, Sarah?" he demanded. "What's the rest of it?"
She hesitated. "Sears," she said, after looking over her shoulder to make sure none of the children was within hearing, "there's somethin' else. I—I don't know, but—but I'm almost sure Mr. Phillips won't be back to-night. I think he's gone to stay."
"Stay? What do you mean? Did he take his dunnage—his things—with him?"
"No. His trunk is in his room. And he didn't have a satchel or a valise in his hand. But, Sears, I can't understand it—they're gone—his valises are gone."
"Gone! Gone where?"
"I don't know. That's the funny part of it. He's always kept two valises in his room, a big one and a little one. I went into his room just now to make the beds and clean up and I didn't see those valises anywhere. I thought that was funny and then I noticed that the things on his bureau, his brushes and comb and things, weren't there. Then I looked in his bureau drawers and everything was gone, the drawers were empty.... Sears, what do you suppose it means?"
Her brother did not answer at once. He tugged at his beard and frowned. Then he asked:
"Didn't he say a word more than you've told me? Or do anything?"
"No. He had his breakfast out here with us this mornin'. Then he went back to his room and, about nine or so, he came out to me and paid his board bill—— Oh, I told you he'd pay it, Sears; he always does pay—and then——"
"Here! Heave to! Hold on, Sarah! He paid his bill, all of it?"
"Yes. Right up to now. That was kind of funny, bein' the middle of the week instead of the end, but he said we might as well start with a clean ledger, or somethin' nice and pleasant like that. Then he took a bundle of money from his pocketbook—a great, big bundle it was, and—Why, why, Sears, what is it? Where are you goin'?"
The captain had pushed by her and was on his way to the front of the house.
"Goin'?" he repeated. "I'm goin' to have a look at those rooms of his. You'd better come with me, Sarah."
The keeper of the livery stable was surprised. "Why, yes," he said, "Mr. Phillips was here a spell ago. He said he was cal'latin' to go to Trumet to-day on a business cruise, and he hired Josiah and the bay horse and buggy to get him over there. They left about ten o'clock, I should say 'twas. I had a mind to ask him why he didn't take the train, but then I thought 'twould be poor business for a fellow that let teams, so I kept still. Hey? Ho, ho!"
The captain, somewhat out of breath after his hurried walk from the Macomber home to the stable, pondered a moment "Did he have a valise or satchel or anything with him?" he asked.
"No. Nothin' but his cane. Couldn't navigate a yard without his cane that feller couldn't, seemed so. Looked kind of spruced up, too. Dressed in his best bib and tucker, he was, beaver hat and all. Cal'late he must be goin' to see his best girl, eh. Ho, ho! Guess not though; from what I hear his best girl's down to the Fair Harbor."
Kendrick pondered a moment longer.
"Did he pay for the team?" he inquired.
"Hey? Yus, paid in advance, spot cash. But what you askin' all this for, Cap'n? Wanted to see him afore he went, did you?"
Sears nodded. "Just a business matter," he explained, and walked away. He did not walk far, only to the corner. There on the low stone wall bordering on the east the property of Captain Orrin Eldridge, he seated himself to rest and cogitate.
His cogitations were most unsatisfactory. They got him nowhere. He and his sister had pretty thoroughly inspected Egbert's quarters at the Macomber house. The Phillips trunk was still there, and the "horse pictures" and the photographs of Lobelia's charming lady friends! but there was precious little else. Toilet articles, collars, ties and more intimate articles of wearing apparel were missing and, except for a light coat and a summer suit of clothes, the closets were empty. And, as Sarah had said, the two valises had vanished. Egbert had told his landlady he was going to Trumet; he had told the livery man the same thing. But by far the easiest way to reach Trumet was by train. Why had he chosen to be driven there over a long and very bad road? And what had become of the valises?
And then occurred the second of a series of incidents which had a marked and helpful bearing up Captain Kendrick's actions that day. He said afterwards that, for the first time since his railway accident, he really began to believe the tide of luck was turning in his direction. The first of those incidents had been his meeting and talk with Captain Elkanah. That had sent him hurrying to the Macombers' earlier than he intended. The second incident was that now, as he sat there on the Eldridge wall, down the road came the Minot truck wagon with the Foam Flake in the shafts and Judah Cahoon swinging and jolting on the seat.
Judah spied him and hailed.
"Ahoy, there, Cap'n Sears!" he shouted, pulling the old horse to a standstill. "Thought you was down to Sary's long ago. What you doin' on that wall—gone to roost so early in the day?"
The captain smiled. "Not exactly, Judah," he replied. "But what are you doin' 'way back here? I thought you were haulin' Seth Bangs's wood for him."
"Huh!" in disgust; "I thought I was, too, but there was some kind of mix-up in the time. Cal'late 'twas that Hannah Bangs that muddled it—she could muddle a cake of ice, that woman. Kind of born with a knack for makin' mistakes, she is; and she's the biggest mistake herself, 'cordin' to my notion. Seems 'twas to-morrow, not to-day, Seth expected me to come."
"Humph! So you had your cruise up there for nothin'?"
"Yus. Creepin', jumpin'! Think of it, Cap'n. I navigated this old—er—er—spavin-rack 'way up to where them folks live, three mile on the Denboro road 'tis, and then had to come about and beat for home again. I ... Oh, say I sighted a chum of ours up along that way. Who do you cal'late 'twas, Cap'n Sears? Old Eg, that's who. Togged out from truck to keelson as usual, beaver and all, and——"
"Here! Hold up! What's that, Judah? You saw Phillips up on the Denboro road, you say? What was he doin' there? When did you see him?"
"'Bout an hour ago, or such matter. He was aboard one of the livery stable teams and that Josiah Ellis was pilotin' him. I sung out to Josiah, but he never answered. Says I——"
"Sshh! Where were they bound; do you know?"
"Denboro, I presume likely. That's the only place there is to be bound to, on that road; 'less you're goin' perchin' up to Seabury's Pond, and folks don't do much perchin' in December. Not with beaver hats on, anyhow. Haw, haw! Eg and Josiah was all jammed up together on the buggy seat, with two big valises crammed in alongside of 'em, and ... Hi! What's the matter, Cap'n Sears? What's your hurry?"
The captain did not answer. He was hurrying—hurrying back to the livery stable. Half an hour later he, too, was on the seat of a hired buggy, driving the best horse the stable afforded up the lonely road leading to Denboro.
He met no one on that road—which winds and twists over the hills and through the wooded hollows from one side of the Cape to the other—until he was within a mile of Denboro village. Then he saw another horse and buggy approaching his. He recognized the occupant of that buggy long before he himself was recognized.