Powers smiled. "Perhaps," he admitted, "but I'd rather you said it, Martha."
"All right, I'm goin' to say it. Mr. Bangs," turning to the nervous Galusha, "the thing for you to do is to stay right here in this house, stay right here till you're well enough to go somewhere else."
Galusha rose from his chair. "Oh, really," he cried, in great agitation, "I can't do that. I can't, really, Miss Phipps."
"Of course I realize you won't be as comfortable here as you would be in a hotel, in a GOOD hotel—you'd be more comfortable in a pigsty than you would at Elmer's. But—"
"Miss Phipps—Miss Phipps, please! I AM comfortable. You have made me very comfortable. I think I never slept better in my life than I did last night. Or ate a better breakfast than this one. But I cannot permit you to go to this trouble."
"It isn't any trouble."
"Excuse me, I feel that it is. No, doctor, I must go—if not to the Wellmouth hotel, then somewhere else."
Doctor Powers whistled. Miss Martha looked at Galusha. Galusha, whose knees were trembling, sat down in the chair again. Suddenly the lady spoke.
"If this was a hotel you would be willin' to stay here, wouldn't you, Mr. Bangs?" she asked.
"Why, yes, certainly. But, you see, it—ah—isn't one."
"No, but we might make it one for three or four days. Doctor, what does Elmer Rogers charge his inmates—his boarders, I mean—a day?"
"Why, from three to five dollars, I believe."
"Tut, tut, tut! The robber! Well, I presume likely he'd rob Mr. Bangs here as hard as he'd rob anybody. Mr. Bangs, I take it that what troubles you mostly is that you don't want to visit a person you've never met until last night. You've never met Elmer Rogers at all, but you would be perfectly willin' to visit him if you could pay for the privilege."
"Why—why, yes, of course, Miss Phipps. You have been very kind, so kind that I don't know how to express my gratitude, but I can't accept any more of your hospitality. To board at a hotel is quite a different thing."
"Certainly it is. I appreciate how you feel. I should probably feel just the same way. This house of mine isn't a hotel and doesn't pretend to be, but if you think you can be comfortable here for the next few days and it will make you feel happier to pay—say, three dollars a day for the privilege, why—well, I'm satisfied if you are."
Galusha gazed at her in amazement. The doctor slapped his knee.
"Splendid!" he exclaimed. "Martha, as usual you've said and done just the right thing. Now, Mr. Bangs, I'll see you again to-morrow morning. Take the tablets as directed. You may go out for an hour or so by and by if the weather is good, but DON'T walk much or get in the least tired. Good-morning."
He was at the door before his patient realized what he was about.
"But, doctor," cried Galusha, "I—I—really I—Oh, dear!"
The door closed. He turned to Miss Phipps in bewildered consternation. She smiled at him reassuringly.
"So THAT'S all settled," she said. "Now sit right down again, Mr. Bangs, and finish your breakfast.... Primmie, bring Mr. Bangs some hot coffee. HOT coffee I said, remember."
Later, perhaps ten minutes later, Galusha ventured another statement.
"Miss Phipps," he said, "I—I—Well, since you insist upon doing this for me, for a person whom you never met until yesterday, I think the very least I can do is to tell you who—or—ah—what I am. Of course if the Halls were here they would vouch for me, but as they are not, I—Well, in a case of this kind it is—ah—customary, isn't it, to give references?"
"References? As to your bein' able to pay the three dollars a day, do you mean?"
"Why, no, perhaps that sort of reference may not be necessary. I shall be glad to pay each day's board in advance."
"Then what sort of references did you mean, references about your character?"
"Why—why, yes, something of the sort."
Her eyes twinkled.
"Mr. Bangs," she asked, "do you really think I ought to have 'em?"
Galusha smiled. "For all you know to the contrary," he said, "I may be a desperate ruffian."
"You don't look desperate. Do you feel that way?"
"Not now, but I did last—ah—evening."
"When you were camped out on that Inn piazza in a pourin' rain, you mean? I don't blame you for feelin' desperate then.... Well, Mr. Bangs, suppose we don't worry about the references on either side of this bargain of ours. I'll take you on trust for the next two or three days, if you'll take me. And no questions asked, as they say in the advertisements for stolen property. Will that suit you?"
"Perfectly, except that I think you are taking all the risk. I, certainly, am not taking any."
"Hum, don't be too sure. You haven't tried much of Primmie's cookin' yet.... Oh, by the way, what IS your business, Mr. Bangs?"
"I am an archaeologist."
"Yes—oh—yes.... A—a what, did you say?"
"An archaeologist. I specialize principally in Egyptology."
"Oh.... Oh, yes."
"Yes.... Well, I must run out to the kitchen now. Make yourself right at home, Mr. Bangs."
Galusha Cabot Bangs' first day in East Wellmouth was spent for the most part indoors. He was willing that it should he; the stiffness and lameness in various parts of his body, together with the shakiness at the knees which he experienced when he tried to walk, warned him that a trip abroad would not be a judicious undertaking. The doctor having granted him permission, however, he did go out into the yard for a brief period.
Gould's Bluffs and their surroundings were more attractive on this pleasant October afternoon than on the previous evening. The Phipps house was a story and a half cottage, of the regulation Cape Cod type, with a long "L" and sheds connecting it with a barn and chicken yards. The house was spotlessly white, with blinds conventionally green, as most New England houses are. There was a white fence shutting it off from the road, the winding, narrow road which even yet held puddles and pools of mud in its hollows, souvenirs of the downpour of the night before. Across the road, perhaps a hundred yards away, was the long, brown—and now of course bleak—broadside of the Restabit Inn, its veranda looking lonesome and forsaken even in the brilliant light of day. Behind it and beyond it were rolling hills, brown and bare, except for the scattered clumps of beach-plum and bayberry bushes. There were no trees, except a grove of scrub pine perhaps a mile away. Between the higher hills and over the tops of the lower ones Galusha caught glimpses of the sea. In the opposite direction lay a little cluster of roofs, with a church spire rising above them. He judged this to be East Wellmouth village.
The road, leading from the village, wound in and out between the hills, past the Restabit Inn and the Phipps homestead until it ended at another clump of buildings; a house, with ells and extensions, several other buildings and sheds, and a sturdy white and black lighthouse. He was leaning upon the fence rail peering through his spectacles when Primmie came up behind him.
"That's a lighthouse you're lookin' at, Mr. Bangs," she observed, with the air of one imparting valuable information.
Galusha started; he had not heard her coming.
"Eh? Oh! Yes, so I—ah—surmised," he said.
"Hey? What did you do?"
"I say I thought it was a lighthouse."
"'Tis. Ever see one afore, have you?"
Galusha admitted that he had seen a lighthouse before. "Kind of interestin' things, ain't they? You know I never realized till I come down here to live what interestin' things lighthouses was. There's so much TO 'em, you know, ain't there?"
"I should say there was. I don't mean the tower part, though that's interestin' of itself, with them round and round steps—What is it Miss Martha said folks called 'em? Oh, yes, spinal stairs, that's it. I never see any spinal stairs till I come here. They don't have 'em up to North Mashpaug. That's where I used to live, up to North Mashpaug. Ever been to North Mashpaug, Mr. Bangs?"
"Well, a good many folks ain't, far's that goes. Where I lived was way off in the woods, anyhow. My family was Indian, way back. Not all Indian, but some, you know; the rest was white, though Pa he used to cal'late there might be a little Portygee strung along in somewhere. It's kind of funny to be all mixed up that way, ain't it? Hello, there's Cap'n Jethro! See him? See him?"
Bangs saw the figure of a man emerge from the door of the white house by the light and stand upon the platform. There was nothing particularly exciting about the man's appearance, but Primmie seemed to be excited.
"See him, Mr. Bangs?" she repeated.
"Yes, I see him. Who is he?"
"Don't you know? No, course you don't; why should you? He's Cap'n Jethro Hallett, keeps the lighthouse, he does—him and Lulie and Zach."
"Oh, he is the light keeper, is he? What has he got his head tied up for?"
"Hey? HEAD tied up?"
"Why, yes. Isn't there something gray—a—ah—scarf or something tied about his head? I think I see it flutter in the wind."
"That? That ain't no scarf, them's his whiskers. He wears 'em long and they blow consider'ble. Say, what do you think?" Primmie leaned forward and whispered mysteriously. "He sees his wife."
Galusha turned to look at her. Her expression was a combination of awe and excitement.
"I—I beg your pardon," he stammered, "but really I—What did you say he did?"
"I said he sees his wife. Anyhow, he thinks he does. She comes to him nights and stands alongside of his bed and they talk. Ain't that awful?"
Galusha took off his spectacles and rubbed them.
"Ain't it awful, Mr. Bangs?" repeated Primmie.
Galusha's faint smile twitched the corners of his lips. "We-ll," he observed, "I—really I can't say. I never met the lady."
"What difference does that make? If a dead woman come and stood alongside of MY bed 'twouldn't make no difference to me whether I'd MET her or not. Meetin' of her then would be enough. My Lord of Isrul!"
"Oh—oh, I beg your pardon. Do I understand you to say that this—ah—gentleman's wife is dead?"
"Um-hm. Been dead seven year, so Miss Martha says. That's what I mean when I say it's awful. Wouldn't you think 'twas awful if a woman that had been dead seven year come and stood alongside of you?"
Galusha smiled again. "Yes," he admitted, "I am inclined to think I—ah—should."
"You bet you would! So'd anybody but Jethro Hallet. He likes it. Yes, sir! And he goes to every medium place from here to Boston, seems so, so's to have more talks with them that's over the river."
"Eh? Over the—Oh, yes, I comprehend. Dead, you mean. Then this Mr. Hallet is a Spiritualist, I take it."
"Um-hm. Rankest kind of a one. Course everybody believes in Spiritulism SOME, can't help it. Miss Martha says she don't much and Zach Bloomer he says he cal'lates his doubts keep so close astern of his beliefs that it's hard to tell which'll round the stake boat first. But there ain't no doubt about Cap'n Jethro's believin', he's rank."
"I see. Well, is he—is he rational in other ways? It seems odd to have a—ah—an insane man in charge of—"
"Insane? My savin' soul, what put that idea in your head? He ain't crazy, Jethro Hallet ain't. He's smart. Wuth consider'ble money, so they say, and hangs on to it, too. Used to be cap'n of a four-masted schooner, till he hurt his back and had to stay ashore. His back's got to hurtin' him worse lately and Zach and Miss Martha they cal'late that's why Lulie give up her teachin' school up to Ostable and come down here to live along with him. I heard 'em talkin' about it t'other day and that's what they cal'late. Miss Martha she thinks a sight of Lulie."
"And—ah—this Miss Lulie is the light keeper's daughter?" Bangs was not especially interested in the Hallett family, but he found Primmie amusing.
"Uh-hm. All the child he's got. Some diff'rent from our tribe; there was thirteen young ones in our family. Pa used to say he didn't care long's we didn't get so thick he'd step on ary one of us. He didn't care about a good many things, Pa didn't. Ma had to do the carin' and most of the work, too. Yes, Lulie's Jethro's daughter and he just bows down and worships her."
"I see. I see. And is—ah—Miss Hallett as spookily inclined as her parent?"
"Is she a Spiritualist, too?"
"No, no. Course she don't say much on her pa's account, but Zach says she don't take no stock in it. Lulie has to be pretty careful, 'cause ever since Cap'n Jethro found out about Nelse he—Hey? Yes'm, I'm a-comin'."
Miss Phipps had called to her from the kitchen door. Galusha stood by the fence a while longer. Then he went in to supper. Before he went to his room that night he asked his landlady a question.
"That—ah—maid of yours has a peculiar name, hasn't she?" he observed. "Primmie. I think I never heard it before."
Miss Martha laughed.
"I should say it was peculiar!" she exclaimed. "Her Christian name is Primrose, if you can call such a name Christian. I almost died when I heard it first. She's a queer blossom, Primmie is, a little too much tar in her upper riggin', as father used to say, but faithful and willin' as a person could be. I put up with her tongue and her—queerness on that account. Some friends of mine over at Falmouth sent her to me; they knew I needed somebody in the house after father died. Her name is Primrose Annabel Cash and she comes from a nest of such sort of folks in the Mashpaug woods. She provokes me sometimes, but I have a good deal of fun with her on the whole. You ought to see her and Zacheus Bloomer together and hear 'em talk; THEN you would think it was funny."
"Is this Mr.—ah—Bloomer queer also?"
"Why, yes, I presume likely he is. Not foolish, you understand, or even a little bit soft like Primmie. He's shrewd enough, Zach is, but he's peculiar, that's about it. Has a queer way of talkin' and walkin'—yes, and thinkin'. He's put in the most of his life in out-of-the-way places, boat-fishin' all alone off on the cod banks, or attendin' to lobster pots way down in the South Channel, or aboard lightships two miles from nowhere. That's enough to make any man queer, bein' off by himself so. Why, this place of assistant light keeper here at Gould's Bluffs is the most sociable job Zach Bloomer has had for ten years, I shouldn't wonder. And Gould's Bluffs isn't Washington Street, exactly," she added, with a smile.
"Have you lived here long, Miss Phipps?" inquired Galusha.
"Pretty nearly all my life, and that's long enough, goodness knows. Father bought this place in 1893, I think it was. He was goin' coastin' voyages then. Mother died in 1900 and he gave up goin' to sea that year. He and I lived here together until two years ago next August; then he died. I have been here since, with Primmie to help. I suppose likely I shall stay here now until I die—or dry up with old age and blow away, or somethin'. That is, I shall stay provided I—I can."
There was a change in her tone as she spoke the last words. Galusha, glancing up, saw that she was gazing out of the window. He waited for her to go on, but she did not. He looked out of the window also, but there was nothing to be seen, nothing except the fields and hills, cold and bleak in the gathering dusk. After an interval she stirred and rose from her chair.
"Ah, well," she said, with a shrug, and a return to her usual brisk manner, "there isn't a bit of use in makin' today to-morrow, is there, Mr. Bangs? And today's been nice and pleasant, and they can't take it from us."
Galusha looked very much surprised. "Why, dear me, dear me!" he exclaimed. "That's extremely odd, now really."
"Why, your—ah—remark about making to-day to-morrow. Almost precisely the same thing was said to me at one time by another person. It is quite extraordinary."
"Oh, not so very, I guess. A million folks must have thought it and said it since Adam. Who said it to you, Mr. Bangs?"
"A—ah—person in Abyssinia. He had stolen my—ah—shirt and I warned him that he should be punished on the following day. He laughed and I asked him what there was to laugh at. Then he made the remark about to-morrow's being afar off and that today the sun shone, or words to that effect. It seems strange that you should say it. Quite a coincidence, Miss Phipps, don't you think so?"
"Why—why, I suppose you might call it that. But WHAT did you say this man had stolen?"
"My—ah—shirt. I had another, of course; in fact I was wearing it, but the one he took was the only whole one remaining in my kit. I was quite provoked."
"I should think you might have been. What sort of creature was he, for goodness sakes?"
"Oh, he was an Arab camel driver. A very good man, too."
"Yes, he must have been. Did you get your shirt back?"
"No—ah—no. The fact is, he had put it on and—as he was rather—well, soiled, so to speak, I let him keep it. And he really was a very good man, I mean a good camel driver."
Miss Martha regarded her guest thoughtfully.
"Where did you say this was, Mr. Bangs?"
"In the Abyssinian desert. We were there at the time."
"Abyssinia? Abyssinia? That's in Africa, isn't it?"
"Yes, northern Africa."
"Mercy me, that's a long way off."
"Oh, not so very, when one becomes accustomed to the journey. The first time I found it rather tiring, but not afterward."
"Not afterward. You mean you've been there more than once?"
"Yes—ah—yes. Three times."
"But why in the world do you go to such an outlandish place as that three times?"
"Oh, on research work, connected with my—ah—profession. There are some very interesting remains in that section."
"What did you say your business—your profession was, Mr. Bangs?"
"I am an archaeologist, Miss Phipps."
He went to his room soon afterwards. Martha went into the dining room. A suspicious rustle as she turned the door knob caused her to frown. Primmie was seated close to the wall on the opposite side of the room industriously peeling apples. Her mistress regarded her intently, a regard which caused its object to squirm in her chair.
"It's—it's a kind of nice night, ain't it, Miss Martha?" she observed.
Miss Martha did not answer. "Primmie Cash," she said, severely, "you've been listen in' again. Don't deny it."
"Now—now Miss Martha, I didn't mean to, really, but—"
"Do you want to go back to the Mashpaug poorhouse again?"
"No'm. You know I don't, Miss Martha. I didn't mean to do it, but I heard him talkin' and it was SO interestin'. That about the camel stealin' his shirt—my soul! And—"
"If you listen again I WILL send you back; I mean it."
"I won't, ma'am. I won't. Now—"
"Be still. Where is our dictionary? It isn't in the closet with the other books where it ought to be. Do you know where it is?"
"No'm.... Yes'm, come to think of it, I do. Lulie Hallet borrowed it the other day. Her and Zach Bloomer was havin' a lot of talk about how to spell somethin' and Lulie she got our dictionary so's to settle it—and Zach. I'll fetch it back to-morrow mornin'.... But what do you want the dictionary for, Miss Martha?"
Martha shook her head, with the air of one annoyed by a puzzle the answer to which should be familiar.
"I'm goin' to find out what an archaeologist is," she declared. "I ought to know, but I declare I don't."
"An arky-what? Oh, that's what that little Mr. Bangs said he was, didn't he? You know what I think he is, Miss Martha?"
"No, I don't. You go to bed, Primmie."
"I think he's an undertaker."
"Undertaker! Good heavens and earth, what put that in your head?"
"Everything. Look at them clothes he wears, black tail-coat and white shirt and stand-up collar and all. Just exactly same as Emulous Dodd wears when he's runnin' a funeral. Yes, and more'n that—more'n that, Miss Martha. Didn't you hear what he said just now about 'remains'?"
"Didn't you ask him what he went traipsin' off to that—that camel place for? And didn't he say there was some interestin' remains there. Uh-hm! that's what he said—'remains.' If he ain't an undertaker what—"
Martha burst out laughing. "Primmie," she said, "go to bed. And don't forget to get that dictionary to-morrow mornin'."
The next day was Sunday and the weather still fine. Galusha Bangs was by this time feeling very much stronger. Miss Phipps commented upon his appearance at breakfast time.
"I declare," she exclaimed, "you look as if you'd really had a good night's rest, Mr. Bangs. Now you'll have another biscuit and another egg, won't you?"
Galusha, who had already eaten one egg and two biscuits, was obliged to decline. His hostess seemed to think his appetite still asleep.
After breakfast he went out for a walk. There was a brisk, cool wind blowing and Miss Martha cautioned him against catching cold. She insisted upon his wrapping a scarf of her own, muffler fashion, about his neck beneath his coat collar and lent him a pair of mittens—they were Primmie's property—to put on in case his hands were cold. He had one kid glove in his pocket, but only one.
"Dear me!" he said. "I can't think what became of the other. I'm quite certain I had two to begin with."
Martha laughed. "I'm certain of that myself," she said. "I never heard of anybody's buying gloves one at a time."
Her guest smiled. "It might be well for me to buy them that way," he observed. "My brain doesn't seem equal to the strain of taking care of more than one."
Primmie and her mistress watched him from the window as he meandered out of the yard. Primmie made the first remark.
"There now, Miss Martha," she said, "DON'T he look like an undertaker? Them black clothes and that standin' collar and—and—the kind of still way he walks—and talks. Wouldn't you expect him to be sayin': 'The friends of the diseased will now have a chanct to—'"
"Oh, be still, Primmie, for mercy sakes!"
"Yes'm. What thin little legs he's got, ain't he?" Miss Phipps did not reply to her housemaid's criticism of the Bangs limbs. Instead, she made an observation of her own.
"Where in the world did he get that ugly, brown, stiff hat?" she demanded. "It doesn't look like anything that ever grew on land or sea."
Primmie hitched up her apron strings, a habit she had.
"'Twould have been a better job," she observed, "if that camel thing he was tellin' you about had stole that hat instead of his other shirt. Don't you think so, Miss Martha?"
Meanwhile Galusha, ignorant of the comments concerning his appearance, was strolling blithely along the road. His first idea had been to visit the lighthouse, his next to walk to the village. He had gone but a short distance, however, when another road branching off to the right suggested itself as a compromise. He took the branch road.
It wound in and out among the little hills which he had noticed from the windows and from the yard of the Phipps' house. It led past a little pond, hidden between two of those hills. Then it led to the top of another hill, the highest so far, and from that point Galusha paused to look about him.
From the hilltop the view was much the same, but more extensive. The ocean filled the whole eastern horizon, a shimmering, moving expanse of blue and white, with lateral stretches of light and dark green. To the south were higher hills, thickly wooded. Between his own hill and those others was a small grove of pines and, partially hidden by it, a weather-beaten building with a steeple, its upper half broken off. The building, Galusha guessed, was an abandoned church. Now an old church in the country suggested, naturally, an old churchyard. Toward the building with half a steeple Mr. Bangs started forthwith.
There WAS a churchyard, an ancient, grass-grown burying ground, with slate gravestones and weather-worn tombs. There were a few new stones, gleaming white and conspicuous, but only a few. Galusha's trained eye, trained by his unusual pastime of college days, saw at once that the oldest stones must date from early colonial times. Very likely there might be some odd variations of the conventional carvings, almost certainly some quaint and interesting inscriptions. It would, of course, be but tame sport for one of the world's leading Egyptologists, but to Galusha Cabot Bangs research was research, and while some varieties were better than others, none was bad. A moment later he was on his knees before the nearest gravestone. It was an old stone and the inscription and carving were interesting. Time paused there and then for Galusha.
What brought him from the dead past to the living present was the fact that his hat blew off. The particular stone which he was examining at the moment was on the top of a little knoll and, as Galusha clambered up and stooped, the breeze, which had increased in force until it was a young gale, caught the brown derby beneath its brim and sent it flying. He scrambled after it, but it dodged his clutch and rolled and bounded on. He bounded also, but the hat gained. It caught for an instant on the weather side of a tombstone, but just as he was about to pick it up, a fresh gust sent it sailing over the obstacle. It was dashed against the side of the old church and then carried around the end of the building and out of sight. Its owner plunged after it and, a moment later, found himself at the foot of a grass-covered bank, a good deal disheveled and very much surprised. Also, close at hand some one screamed, in a feminine voice, and another voice, this one masculine, uttered an emphatically masculine exclamation.
Galusha sat up. The old church was placed upon a side-hill, its rear toward the cemetery which he had just been exploring, and its front door on a level at least six feet lower. He, in his wild dash after the brown derby, had not noticed this and, rushing around the corner, had been precipitated down the bank. He was not hurt, but he was rumpled and astonished. No more astonished, however, than were the young couple who had been sitting upon the church steps and were now standing, staring down at him.
Galusha spoke first.
"Oh, dear!" he observed. "Dear me!" Then he added, by way of making the situation quite clear, "I must have fallen, I think."
Neither of the pair upon the church steps seemed to have recovered sufficiently to speak, so Mr. Bangs went on.
"I—I came after my hat," he explained. "You see—Oh, there it is!"
The brown derby was stuck fast in the bare branches of an ancient lilac bush which some worshiper of former time had planted by the church door. Galusha rose and limped over to rescue his truant property.
"It blew off," he began, but the masculine half of the pair who had witnessed his flight from the top to the bottom of the bank, came forward. He was a dark-haired young man, with a sunburned, pleasant face.
"Say, that was a tumble!" he declared. "I hope you didn't hurt yourself. No bones broken, or anything like that?"
Galusha shook his head. "No-o," he replied, somewhat doubtfully. "No, I think not. But, dear me, what a foolish thing for me to do!"
The young man spoke again.
"Sure you're not hurt?" he asked. "Let me brush you off; you picked up a little mud on the way down."
Galusha looked at the knees of his trousers.
"So I did, so I did," he said. "I don't remember striking at all on the way, but I could scarcely have accumulated all that at the bottom. Thank you, thank you!... Why, dear me, your face is quite familiar! Haven't we met before?"
The young fellow smiled. "I guess we have," he said. "I put you aboard Lovetts' express wagon Friday afternoon and started you for Wellmouth Centre. I didn't expect to see you over here in East Wellmouth."
Galusha adjusted his spectacles—fortunately they were not broken—and looked at the speaker.
"Why, of course!" he cried. "You are the young man who was so kind to me when I got off at the wrong station. You are the station man at—ah—at South Wellmouth, isn't it?"
"Dear me! Dear me! Well, I don't wonder you were surprised to have me—ah—alight at your feet just now. We-ll," with his quiet smile, "I seem to have a habit of making unexpected appearances. I surprised Miss Phipps on Friday evening almost as greatly."
"Miss Phipps? Martha Phipps, Cap'n Jim's daughter; lives over here by the light, do you mean?"
"Why—why, yes her name is Martha, I believe."
"But how in the world did you get—"
His companion interrupted him. "Why, Nelson," she cried, "he must be the one—the man who is staying at Martha's. Don't you know I told you Primmie said there was some one there who was sick?"
Galusha looked at her. She was young, not more than nineteen or twenty, slender, brown-haired and pretty. The young man spoke again.
"But Lulie," he said, "he isn't sick. You aren't sick, are you?" addressing Galusha.
"My health has not been good of late," replied the latter, "and after my long walk on Friday evening I was rather done up. But I'm not ill at present, although," with a return of his faint smile, "I probably shall be if I continue to—ah—fly, as I did just now."
The young woman broke into an irresistible trill of laughter. The South Wellmouth station agent joined her. Galusha smiled in a fatherly fashion upon them both.
"I had quite a series of adventures after leaving you," he went on. "Quite a series—yes."
He told briefly of his losing his way, of his meeting with Raish Pulcifer, of his tramp in the rain, and of his collapse in the Phipps' sitting room.
"So that is—ah—my Odyssey," he concluded. "You see, we—ah—I beg your pardon, but I don't know that I learned your name when we met the other day. Mine is Bangs."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Bangs. My name is Howard—Nelson Howard. And this is—"
He paused. The young woman was regarding him in a troubled way.
"Nelson," she said, "don't you think, perhaps, we had better not—"
They were both embarrassed. Galusha noticed the embarrassment.
"Dear me! Dear me!" he said, hastily. "Please don't trouble. Ah—good-morning. I must go—really—yes."
He was on his way toward the bank, but the young woman called his name.
"Mr. Bangs," she said.
He turned. "Did you—did you wish to speak to me?" he asked.
"Why—why, yes, I—Mr. Bangs, I—I want to ask a favor of you. I know, Nelson, but what is the use, after all? We've done nothing to be ashamed of. Mr. Bangs, my name is Hallett. My father is the keeper of the lighthouse."
Galusha bowed. He had guessed her identity. Primmie had spoken of Lulie Hallett in their conversation by the fence the day before.
"I am Lulie Hallett," she went on, "and—and Mr. Howard and I are—are—"
"We're engaged to be married," broke in Howard. "The fact is, Mr. Bangs, I came over on my bicycle this morning to meet Lulie here where—where no one would see us. You see—well, Cap'n Jethro—her father, you know—is prejudiced against me and—and so to save her trouble and—and unpleasantness we—well, we—"
He was red and confused and stammering. Galusha was almost as much embarrassed.
"Oh—oh, all right—ah—dear me, yes, of course," he said, hastily. "I am very sorry I—I interrupted. I beg your pardon. Ah—good-morning."
"But, Mr. Bangs," Lulie pleaded, earnestly, "you won't misunderstand this, will you? We meet in this way on my father's account. He is—you see, he is not very well, and rather prejudiced and—and stubborn, I'm afraid. Please don't think that—that—"
"Of course he won't," declared Howard. "Mr. Bangs won't think anything that he shouldn't."
"Oh, no—no," stammered Galusha, nervously. "I am—I am SO sorry I interrupted. I BEG your pardon."
"And Mr. Bangs," said Lulie, again, "I wonder if you will be kind enough not to tell any one you saw us? This is a small place, East Wellmouth, and people do talk—oh, dreadfully. If it got to father's ears he—PLEASE don't speak of it, will you, Mr. Bangs?"
"Oh, no; no, indeed, Miss Hallett. You may depend upon me."
"I shall tell Martha Phipps myself the next time I see her. She is my best friend, except—" with a becoming blush—"Nelson, and father, of course—and she understands. I never have any secrets from her."
Galusha began to climb the bank. As his head rose above its upper edge he stopped.
"Ah—dear me, there's some one coming in this direction," he said.
Howard started forward. "Coming? Coming here?" he cried. He sprang up the bank beside Mr. Bangs and peered over its top.
"Oh, confound it!" he exclaimed. "Lulie, it's your father."
"Father? Coming here? Why, he started for church. He never comes to the cemetery on Sunday MORNING."
"I can't help it, he's coming now. And there's some one with him, or coming after him. It looks like—Yes, it's Raish Pulcifer."
Miss Hallett was very much distressed. "Oh, dear, dear, dear!" she cried. "If father finds us there will be another dreadful time. And I wouldn't have Raish Pulcifer see and hear it, of all people in the world. Oh, WHAT made father come? Nelson, can't we run away before he gets here? Into the pines, or somewhere?"
"No chance, Lulie. He would see us sure. If he should stop at the other end of the cemetery it might give us a chance, but he probably won't. He'll come to your mother's grave and that is close by here. Oh, hang the luck!"
Galusha looked at the young people; he was almost as distressed as they were. He liked young Howard; the latter had been very kind to him on the fateful Friday afternoon when he had alighted at South Wellmouth. He liked Lulie, also—had fancied her at first sight. He wished he might help them. And then he had an idea.
"I wouldn't—ah—interfere in your affairs for the world, Miss Hallett," he faltered, "but if I might—ah—offer a suggestion, suppose I—ah—meet your father and talk with him for a few moments. Then you might—so to speak—ah—go, you know."
"Yes, of course, of course. Oh, WILL you, Mr. Bangs? Thank you so much."
Galusha climbed the bank. There was no one in sight, but he heard masculine voices from the hollow beyond the farther end of the cemetery. He hastened to that end and, stooping, began to examine the inscription upon a tomb.
The voices drew nearer as the men climbed the hill. The breeze now was stronger than ever and was blowing more from the west. The conversation, borne by the gusts, came to Galusha's ears clearly and distinctly. One of the speakers seemed to be explaining, urging, the other peremptorily refusing to listen.
"But, Cap'n Jeth," urged the first voice, and Mr. Bangs recognized it as belonging to his obliging guide and pilot of the fateful Friday evening, Mr. Horatio Pulcifer. "But, Cap'n Jeth," said Mr. Pulcifer, "don't fly off the handle for nothin'. I ain't tryin' to put nothin' over on you. I'm just—"
"I don't want to hear you," broke in the second voice, gruffly. "This is the Lord's Day and I don't want to talk business with you or nobody else—especially with you."
For some reason this seemed to irritate Mr. Pulcifer. His tone had lost a little of its urbanity when he answered.
"Oh, especially with me, eh?" he repeated. "Well, what's the 'especially with me' for? If you think I'm any more to blame than the rest, you're mistaken. I tell you when you and me and Cap'n Jim and all hands of us got the Wellmouth Development Company goin' it looked like a cinch. How was I to know?"
"I tell you, Raish, I don't want to talk about it."
"And I tell you, Jeth Hallett, I DO want to. You've hove in that 'especially with me' and I don't like it. Look here, what are you pickin' on me for? How was I to—No, now you wait a minute, Cap'n Jeth, and answer me. I've chased you 'way over here and you can give me five minutes even if 'tis Sunday. Come, Cap'n, come, just answer me and then I won't bother you any more."
There was silence for a brief interval. Galusha, crouching behind the tomb and wondering if the time had come for him to show himself, waited anxiously. But Captain Hallett's answer, when at last he did reply, sounded no nearer. Apparently the men were now standing still.
"Well," grunted the light keeper, "I'll listen to you for the five minutes, Raish, but no more. I hadn't ought to do that. This is Sabbath day and I make it a p'int never—"
"I know," hastily, "I know. Well, I tell you, Cap'n Jeth, all's I wanted to say was this: What are we goin' to do with this Development stock of ours?"
"Do with it? Why, nothin' at present. CAN'T do anything with it, can we? All we can do is wait. It may be one year or three, but some day somebody will have to come to us. There ain't a better place for a cold storage fish house on this coast and the Wellmouth Development Company owns that place."
"Yes, that's so, that's so. But some of us can afford to wait and some can't. Now I've got more of the Development Company stock than anybody else. I've got five hundred shares, Cap'n Jeth; five hundred shares at twenty dollars a share. A poor man like me can't afford to have ten thousand dollars tied up as long's this is liable to be. Can he now? Eh? Can he, Cap'n?"
"Humph! Well, I've got eight thousand tied up there myself."
"Ye-es, but it don't make so much difference to you. You can afford to wait. You've got a gov'ment job."
"Ye-es, and from what I hear you may be havin' a state job pretty soon yourself, Raish. Well, never mind that. What is it you're drivin' at, anyhow?"
"Why, I tell you, Jeth. Course you know and I know that this is a perfectly sure investment to anybody that'll wait. I can't afford to wait, that's what's the matter. It kind of run acrost my mind that maybe you'd like to have my holdin's, my five hundred shares. I'll sell 'em to you reasonable."
"Humph! I want to know! What do you call reasonable?"
"I'll sell 'em to you for—for—well, say nineteen dollars a share."
"Humph! Don't bother me any more, Raish."
"Well, say eighteen dollars a share. Lord sakes, that's reasonable enough, ain't it?"
"Cruise along towards home, Raish. I've talked all the business I want to on Sunday. Good-by."
"Look here, Jethro, I—I'm hard up, I'm desp'rate, pretty nigh. I'll let you have my five hundred shares of Wellmouth Development Company for just half what I paid for it—ten dollars a share. If you wasn't my friend, I wouldn't—What are you laughin' at?"
Galusha Bangs, hiding behind the tomb, understanding nothing of this conversation, yet feeling like an eavesdropper, wished this provoking pair would stop talking and go away. He heard the light keeper laugh sardonically.
"Ho, ho, ho," chuckled Hallett. "You're a slick article, ain't you, Raish? Why, you wooden-headed swab, did you cal'late you was the only one that had heard about the directors' meetin' over to the Denboro Trust Company yesterday? I knew the Trust Company folks had decided not to go ahead with the fish storage business just as well as you did, and I heard it just as soon, too. I know they've decided to put the twelve hundred shares of Wellmouth Development stock into profit and loss, or to just hang on and see if it ever does come to anything. But you cal'lated I didn't know it and that maybe you could unload your five hundred shares on to me at cut rates, eh? Raish, you're slick—but you ain't bright, not very."
He chuckled again. Mr. Pulcifer whistled, apparently expressing resignation.
"ALL right, Cap'n," he observed, cheerfully, "just as you say. No harm in tryin', was there? Never catch a fish without heavin' over a hook, as the feller said. Maybe somebody else that ain't heard will buy that stock, you can't tell."
"Maybe so, but—See here, Raish, don't you go tryin' anything like this on—on—"
"I know who you mean. No danger. There ain't money enough there to buy anything, if what I hear's true."
"Oh, nothin', nothin'. Just talk, I guess. Well, Jeth, I won't keep you any longer. Goin' to hang on to YOUR four hundred Development stock, I presume likely?"
"Yes. I shall sell that at a profit. Not a big profit, but a profit."
"Sho! Is that so? Who told you?"
"It was," the gruff voice became solemn, "it was revealed to me."
"Revealed to you? Oh, from up yonder, up aloft, eh?"
"Raish," sharply, "don't you dare be sacrilegious in my presence."
"No, no, not for nothin', Cap'n. So you had a message from the sperit world about that stock, eh?"
"Yes. It bade me be of good cheer and hold for a small profit. When that profit comes, no matter how small it may be, I'll sell and sell quick, but not sooner.... But there, I've profaned the Lord's day long enough. I came over here this mornin' to visit Julia's grave. There was a scoffer in our pulpit, that young whippersnapper from Wapatomac had exchanged with our minister and I didn't care to hear him."
"Oh, I see. So you come over to your wife's grave, eh?"
"Yes. What are you lookin' like that for?"
"Oh, nothin'. I thought maybe you was chasin' after Lulie. I see her meanderin' over this way a little while ago."
"Um-hm. Looked like her."
"Was there—was there anybody else?"
"We-ll, I wouldn't swear to that, Cap'n Jeth. I didn't SEE nobody, but—Godfreys mighty! What's that thing?"
The thing was the brown derby. Galusha, crouching behind the tomb, had been holding it fast to his head with one hand. Now, startled by Pulcifer's statement that he had seen Miss Hallett, he let go his hold. And a playful gust lifted the hat from his head, whirled it like an aerial teetotum and sent it rolling and tumbling to the feet of the pair by the cemetery gate.
Jethro Hallett jumped aside.
"Good Lord! What is it?" he shouted.
"It's a—a hat, ain't it?" cried Raish.
From around the tomb hastened Mr. Bangs.
"Will you gentlemen be good enough to—to stop that hat for me?" he asked, anxiously.
The light keeper and his companion started at the apparition in speechless astonishment.
"It's—it's my hat," explained Galusha. "If you will be kind enough to pick it up before—Oh, DEAR me! There it GOES! Stop it, stop it!"
Another gust had set the hat rolling again. Captain Jethro made a grab at it but his attempt only lifted it higher into the air, where the wind caught it underneath and sent it soaring.
"Oh, dear!" piped the exasperated Galusha, and ran after it.
"Who in tunket IS he?" demanded Jethro.
Mr. Pulcifer gazed at the thin little figure hopping after the hat. The light of recognition dawned in his face.
"I know who he is!" he exclaimed. "I fetched him over t'other night in my car. But what in blazes is he doin' here NOW?... Hi, look out, Mister! Don't let it blow that way. If you do you'll—Head it OFF!"
The hat was following an air line due east. Galusha was following a terrestrial route in the same direction. Now Raish followed Galusha and after him rolled Captain Jethro Hallett. As they say in hunting stories, the chase was on.
It was not a long chase, of course. It ended unexpectedly—unexpectedly for Galusha, that is—at a point where a spur of the pine grove jutted out upon the crest of a little hill beyond the eastern border of the cemetery. The hat rolled, bounced, dipped and soared up the hill and just clear of the branches of the endmost pine. Then it disappeared from sight. Its owner breathlessly panted after it. He reached the crest of the little hill and stopped short—stopped for the very good reason that he could go no further.
The hill was but half a hill. Its other half, the half invisible from the churchyard, was a sheer sand and clay bluff dropping at a dizzy angle down to the beach a hundred and thirty feet below. This beach was the shore of a pretty little harbor, fed by a stream which flowed into it from the southwest. On the opposite side of the stream was another stretch of beach, more sand bluffs, pines and scrub oaks. To the east the little harbor opened a clear channel between lines of creaming breakers to the deep blue and green of the ocean.
Galusha Bangs saw most of this in detail upon subsequent visits. Just now he looked first for his hat. He saw it. Below, upon the sand of the beach, a round object bounced and rolled. As he gazed a gust whirled along the shore and pitched the brown object into the sparkling waters of the little harbor. It splashed, floated and then sailed jauntily out upon the tide. The brown derby had started on its last voyage.
Galusha gazed down at his lost headgear. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Then he turned and looked back toward the hollow by the front door of the old church. From the knoll where he stood he could see every inch of that hollow and it was untenanted. There was no sign of either human being or of a bicycle belonging to a human being.
Mr. Bangs sighed thankfully. The sacrifice of the brown derby had not been in vain.
An hour or so later when Martha Phipps, looking out of her dining room window, saw her boarder enter the front gate, his personal appearance caused her to utter a startled exclamation. Primmie came running from the kitchen.
"What's the matter, Miss Martha?" she demanded. "Eh! My savin' soul!"
Mr. Bangs' head was enveloped in the scarf which his hostess had lent him when he set forth upon his walk. It—the scarf—was tied under his chin and the fringed ends flapped in the wind. His round face, surrounded by the yarn folds, looked like that of the small boy in the pictures advertising somebody-or-other's toothache cure.
"My savin' soul!" cried Primmie, again. She was rushing to the door, but her mistress intervened.
"Primmie," she ordered, briskly, "stay where you are!"
She opened the door herself.
"Come right in, Mr. Bangs," she said. "No, don't stop to tell me about it, but come right in and sit down."
Galusha looked up at her. His face was speckled with greenish brown spots, giving it the appearance of a mammoth bird's egg. Primmie saw the spots and squealed.
"Lord of Isrul!" she cried, "he's all broke out with it, whatever 'tis! Shall I—shall I 'phone for the doctor, Miss Martha?"
"Be still, Primmie. Come in, Mr. Bangs."
"Why, yes, thank you. I—ah—WAS coming in," began Galusha, mildly. "I—"
"You mustn't talk. Sit right down here on the lounge. Primmie, get that rum bottle. Don't talk, Mr. Bangs."
"But, really, Miss Phipps, I—"
"Don't TALK.... There, drink that."
Galusha obediently drank the rum. Martha tenderly untied the scarf.
"Tell me if it hurts," she said. Her patient looked at her in surprise.
"Why, no, it—ah—it is very nice," he said. "I—ah—quite like the taste, really."
"Heavens and earth, I don't mean the rum. I hope that won't HURT anybody, to say the least. I mean—Why, there isn't anything the matter with it!"
"Matter with it? I don't quite—"
"Matter with your head."
Galusha raised a hand in bewildered fashion and felt of his cranium.
"Why—ah—no, there is nothing the matter with my head, so far as I am aware," he replied. "Does it look as if it were—ah—softening or something?"
Miss Martha ignored the pleasantry. "What have you got it tied up for?" she demanded.
"Tied up?" Galusha's smile broadened. "Oh, I see," he observed. "Well, I lost my hat. It blew off into the—ah—sea. It was rather too cold to be about bareheaded, so I used the scarf you so kindly lent me."
Martha gazed at him for an instant and then burst into a hearty laugh.
"Mercy on me!" she cried. "WHAT an idiot I am! When I saw you come into the yard with your head bandaged—at least I thought it was bandaged—and your face—But what IS the matter with your face?"
"My face? Why, nothing."
"Nonsense! It's a sight to see. You look the way Erastus Beebe's boy did when the cannon-cracker went off too soon. Primmie, hand me that little lookin'-glass."
Primmie snatched the small mirror from the wall.
"See, Mr. Bangs," she cried, holding the mirror an inch from his nose. "Look at yourself. You're all broke out with a crash—rash, I mean. Ain't he, Miss Martha?"
Galusha regarded his reflection in the mirror with astonishment.
"Why, I—I seem to be—ah—polka-dotted," he said. "I never saw anything so—Dear me, dear me!"
He drew his fingers down his cheek. The speckles promptly became streaks. He smiled in relief.
"I see, I see," he said. "It is the lichen."
This explanation was not as satisfying as he evidently meant it to be. Martha looked more puzzled than ever. Primmie looked frightened.
"WHAT did he say 'twas?" she whispered. "'Tain't catchin', is it, Miss Martha?"
"It is the lichen from the tombstones," went on Galusha. "Most of them were covered with it. In order to read the inscriptions I was obliged to scrape it off with my pocketknife, and the particles must have blown in my face and—ah—adhered. Perhaps—ah—some soap and water might improve my personal appearance, Miss Phipps. If you will excuse me I think I will try the experiment."
He rose briskly from the sofa. Primmie stared at him open-mouthed.
"Ain't there NOTHIN' the matter with you, Mr. Bangs?" she asked. "Is the way your face is tittered up just dirt?"
"Just dirt, that's all. It came from the old tombstones in the cemetery."
Primmie's mouth was open to ask another question, but Miss Phipps closed it.
"Stop, Primmie," she said. Then, turning to Galusha who was on his way to the stairs, she asked:
"Excuse me, Mr. Bangs, but have you been spendin' this lovely forenoon in the graveyard?"
"Eh? Oh, yes, yes. In the old cemetery over—ah—yonder."
"Humph!... Well, I hope you had a nice time."
"Oh, I did, I did, thank you. I enjoyed myself very much indeed."
"Yes, I should think you must have.... Well, come down right away because dinner's ready when you are."
Galusha hastened up the stairs. His hostess gazed after him and slowly shook her head.
"Miss Martha, Miss Martha."
Martha turned, to find Primmie excitedly gesticulating. "Didn't I tell you? Didn't I tell you?" whispered Primmie.
"Didn't you tell me what? Stop wigglin'."
"Yes'm. Didn't I tell you 'undertaker'?"
"Undertaker. Him, the Bangs one. Yesterday 'twas remains, to-day it's graveyards. My savin' soul, I—"
"Hush, hush! Have you thought to get that dictionary from Lulie yet?"
"Oh, now, ma'am, I snum if I didn't forget it. I'll go right over this minute."
"No, you won't. I'll go myself after dinner."
That Sunday dinner was a bountiful repast and Galusha ate more than he had eaten in three meals at his mountain hotel. He was a trifle tired from his morning's stroll and so decided to remain indoors until the following day. After the table was cleared Miss Phipps, leaving Primmie to wash the dishes, went over to the light keeper's house.
"I'll be back soon, Mr. Bangs," she said. "If you get lonesome go out into the kitchen and Primmie'll talk to you. Goodness gracious!" she added, laughing, "that's a dreadful choice I'm leavin' you—lonesomeness or Primmie. Well, I won't leave you to either long."
During the meal he had told them of his chance discovery of the old church and graveyard and of the loss of the brown derby. Primmie plainly regarded the catastrophe to the hat as a serious matter.
"Well, now, if that ain't too bad!" she exclaimed. "Blowed right out to sea, and 'most brand-new, too. My savin' soul, Miss Martha, folks ought to be careful what they say, hadn't they?... Eh, hadn't they?"
"Oh, I guess so, Primmie. I don't know what you're talkin' about. Can't I help you to a little more of the chicken pie, Mr. Bangs? Just a little BIT more?"
Galusha had scarcely time to decline the third helping of chicken pie when Primmie plunged again into the conversation.
"Why, I mean folks ought to be careful what they say about—about things. Now you and me hadn't no notion Mr. Bangs was goin' to lose his hat when we was talkin' about it this mornin', had we?"
Miss Phipps was much embarrassed.
"Have a—a—Oh, do have a little potato or cranberry sauce or somethin', Mr. Bangs," she stammered. "A—a spoonful, that's all. Primmie, be STILL."
"Yes'm. But you know you and me WAS talkin' about that hat when Mr. Bangs started out walkin'. Don't you know we was, Miss Martha?"
This was the final straw. Martha, looking about in desperation, trying to look anywhere but into her guest's face, caught one transitory glimpse of that face. There was a twinkle in Galusha's eye.
"I never liked that hat myself," he observed, dryly.
Again their glances met and this time he smiled. Martha gave it up.
"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed, with a laugh. "You know what they say about children and—other folks, Mr. Bangs. Primmie, if you say another word while we're at this table I'll—I don't know what I'll do to you. STOP! You've said plenty and plenty more, as father used to say. Truly, Mr. Bangs, it wasn't as bad as it sounds. I honestly DIDN'T think the hat was becomin', that's all."
"Neither did I, Miss Phipps. I didn't think so when I bought it."
"You didn't? Then for mercy sakes why did you buy it?"
"Well, the man said it was just the hat for me and—ah—I didn't wish to argue, that's all. Besides, I thought perhaps he knew best; selling hats was his—ah—profession, you see."
"Yes, SELLIN' 'em was. Do you always let folks like that pick out what they want to sell you?"
"No-o, not always. Often I do. It saves—ah—conversation, don't you think?"
He said nothing concerning his meeting with Miss Hallett and the South Wellmouth station agent, but he did mention encountering Captain Jethro and Mr. Pulcifer. Martha seemed much interested.
"Humph!" she exclaimed. "I wonder what possessed Cap'n Jeth to go over to the cemetery in the mornin'. He almost always goes there Sunday afternoons—his wife's buried there—but he generally goes to church in the mornin'."
Galusha remembered having heard the light keeper refer to the exchange of preachers. Miss Phipps nodded.
"Oh, yes," she said, "that explains it, of course. He's down on the Wapatomac minister because he preaches against spiritualism. But what was Raish Pulcifer doin' in that cemetery? He didn't have anybody's grave to go to, and he wouldn't go to it if he had. There's precious little chance of doin' business with a person after he's buried."
"But I think it was business which brought Mr. Pulcifer there," said Galusha. "He and—ah—Captain Hallett, is it? Yes—ah—thank you. He and the captain seemed to be having a lengthy argument about—about—well, I'm not exactly certain what it was about. You see, I was examining a—ah—tomb"—here Primmie shivered—"and paid little attention. It seemed to be something about some—ah—stock they both owned. Mr. Pulcifer wished to sell and Captain Hallett did not care to buy."
Martha's interest increased. "Stock?" she repeated. "What sort of stock was it, Mr. Bangs?"
"I didn't catch the name. And yet, as I remember, I did catch some portion of it. Ah—let me see—Could there be such a thing as a—ah—'ornamenting' stock? A Wellmouth ornamenting or decorating stock, you know?"
Miss Phipps leaned forward. "Was it Wellmouth Development Company stock?" she asked.
"Eh? Oh, yes—yes, I'm quite certain that was it. Yes, I think it was, really."
"And Raish wanted Cap'n Jeth to buy some of it?"
"That was what I gathered, Miss Phipps. As I say, I was more interested at the time in my—ah—pet tomb."
Primmie shivered again. Miss Martha looked very serious. She was preoccupied during the rest of the dinner and, immediately afterward, went, as has been told, over to the Hallett house, leaving her guest the alternative of loneliness or Primmie.
At first he chose the loneliness. As a matter of fact, his morning's exercise had fatigued him somewhat and he went up to his room with the intention of taking a nap. But, before lying down, he seated himself in the rocker by the window and looked out over the prospect of hills and hollows, the little village, the pine groves, the shimmering, tumbling sea, and the blue sky with its swiftly moving white clouds, the latter like bunches of cotton fluff. The landscape was bare enough, perhaps, but somehow it appealed to him. It seemed characteristically plain and substantial and essential, like—well, like the old Cape Cod captains of bygone days who had spent the dry land portion of their lives there and had loved to call it home. It was American, as they were, American in the old-fashioned meaning of the word, bluff, honest, rugged, real. Galusha Bangs had traveled much, he loved the out of the way, the unusual. It surprised him therefore to find how strongly this commonplace, 'longshore spot appealed to his imagination. He liked it and wondered why.
Of course the liking might come from the contrast between the rest and freedom he was now experiencing and the fevered chase led him at the mountain hotel where Mrs. Worth Buckley and her lion-hunting sisters had their habitat. Thought of the pestilential Buckley female set him to contrasting her affectations with the kind-hearted and wholehearted simplicity of his present hostess, Miss Martha Phipps. It was something of a contrast. Mrs. Buckley was rich and sophisticated and—in her own opinion—cultured to the highest degree. Now Miss Phipps was, in all probability, not rich and she would not claim wide culture. As to her sophistication—well, Galusha gave little thought to that, in most worldly matters he himself was unsophisticated. However, he was sure that he liked Miss Phipps and that he loathed Mrs. Buckley. And he liked East Wellmouth, bareness and bleakness and lonesomeness and all. He rather wished he were going to stay there for a long time—weeks perhaps, months it might be; that is, of course, provided he could occupy his present quarters and eat at the Phipps' table. If he could do that why—why... humph!
Instead of lying down he sat by that window for more than half an hour thinking. He came out of his reverie slowly, gradually becoming conscious of a high-pitched conversation carried on downstairs. He had left his chamber door open and fragments of this conversation came up the staircase. It was Primmie's voice which he heard most frequently and whatever words he caught were hers. There was a masculine grumble at intervals but this was not understandable on the second floor.
"Now I know better.... My savin' soul, how you do talk, Zach Bloomer!... And I says to her, says I, 'Miss Martha,' I says.... My Lord of Isrul!..."
These were some of the "Primmieisms" which came up the staircase. Galusha rose to close his door but before he could accomplish this feat his own name was called.
"Mr. Bangs!" screamed Primmie. "Mr. Bangs, be you layin' down? You ain't asleep, be you, Mr. Bangs?"
If he had been as sound asleep as Rip Van Winkle that whoop would have aroused him. He hastened to assure the whooper that he was awake and afoot.
"Um-hm," said Primmie, "I'm glad of that. If you'd been layin' down I wouldn't have woke you up for nothin'. But I want to ask you somethin', Mr. Bangs. Had you just as soon answer me somethin' if I ask it of you, had you, Mr. Bangs?"
"Just as soon's not, had you?"
"Yes, quite as soon."
"All right. Then I—I... Let me see now, what was it I was goin' to ask? Zach Bloomer, stop your makin' faces, you put it all out of my head. It's all right, Mr. Bangs, I'll think of it in a minute. Oh, you're comin' down, be you?"
Galusha was coming down. It seemed to be the advisable thing to do. Miss Cash was doing her "thinking" at the top of her lungs and the process was trying to one with uneasy nerves. He entered the sitting room. Primmie was there, of course, and with her was a little, thin man, with a face sunburned to a bright, "boiled-lobster" red, and a bald head which looked amazingly white by contrast, a yellowish wisp of mustache, and an expression of intense solemnity, amounting almost to gloom. He was dressed in the blue uniform of the lighthouse service and a blue cap lay on the table beside him.
"Mr. Bangs," announced Primmie, "this is Mr. Zach Bloomer. Zach, make you acquainted with Mr. Bangs, the one I was tellin' you about. Mr.—Mr.—Oh, my savin' soul, what IS your first name, Mr. Bangs?"
"Galusha, Primmie. How do you do, Mr. Bloomer?"
The little man rose upon a pair of emphatically bowed legs and shook hands. "I'm pretty smart," he observed, in a husky voice. Then he sat down again. Galusha, after waiting a moment, sat down also. Primmie seemed to be wrestling with a mental problem, but characteristically she could not wrestle in silence.
"What was it I wanted to ask you, Mr. Bangs?" she said. "I snum I can't think! Zach, what was it I wanted to ask Mr. Bangs?"
Mr. Bloomer paid not the slightest attention to the question. His sad blue eye was fixed upon vacancy.
"Galushy—Galushy," he said, huskily. "Huh!"
Galusha was, naturally, rather startled.
"Eh? I—ah—beg your pardon," he observed.
"I was thinkin' about names," explained Mr. Bloomer. "Queer things, names are, ain't they? Zacheus and Galushy.... Godfreys!"
He paused a moment and then added:
"'Zacheus he Did climb a tree His Lord to see.'
Well, if he wan't any taller'n I be he showed good jedgment.... Zacheus and Galushy and Primrose!... Godfreys!"
Primmie was shocked. "Why, Zach Bloomer!" she exclaimed. "The idea of your talkin' so about a person's name you never met but just now in your lifetime."
Zacheus regarded the owner of the name.
"No offense meant and none given, Mr. Bangs," he observed. "Eh? That's right, ain't it?"
"Certainly, certainly, Mr. Bloomer. I'm not in the least offended."
"Um-hm. Didn't cal'late you would be. Can't help our names, can we? If my folks had asked me aforehand I'd a-been named plain John. As 'tis, my name's like my legs, growed that way and it's too late to change."
"You're a philosopher, I see, Mr. Bloomer," he said.
"He's assistant keeper over to the lighthouse," explained Primmie. As before, Zach paid no heed.
"I don't know as I'd go so far as to call myself that," he said. "When I went to school the teacher told us one time about an old critter who lived in a—in a tub, seem's if 'twas. HE was one of them philosophers, wan't he?"
"That's the cuss. Well, I ain't never lived in a tub, but I've spent consider'ble time ON one; I was aboard a lightship for five or six year. Ever lived aboard a lightship, Mr. Bangs?"
"Humph!... Don't feel disapp'inted on that account, do you?"
"Why—ah—no, I don't know that I do."
"Ain't no occasion. 'Bout the same as bein' in jail, 'tis—only a jail don't keep heavin' up and down. First week or so you talk. By the second week the talk's all run out of you, like molasses out of a hogshead. Then you set and think."
"I see. And so much thinking tends to bring out—ah—philosophy, I suppose."
"Huh! Maybe so. So much settin' wears out overalls, I know that."
"I've got it!" she cried, enthusiastically. "I know now!"
Galusha started nervously. Primmie's explosiveness was disturbing. It did not disturb Mr. Bloomer, however.
"Posy here'd be a good hand aboard a lightship," he observed. "Her talk'd NEVER run out."
Primmie sniffed disgust. "I wish you wouldn't keep callin' me 'Posy' and such names, Zach Bloomer," she snapped. "Yesterday he called me 'Old Bouquet,' Mr. Bangs. My name's Primrose and he knows it."
The phlegmatic Zacheus, whose left leg had been crossed above his right, now reversed the crossing.
"A-ll right—er Pansy Blossom," he drawled. "What is it you're trying to tell us you know? Heave it overboard."
"Hey?... Oh, I mean I've remembered what 'twas I wanted to ask you, Mr. Bangs. Me and Zach was talkin' about Miss Martha. I said it seemed to me she had somethin' on her mind, was sort of worried and troubled about somethin', and Zach—"
For the first time the assistant light keeper seemed a trifle less composed.
"There, there, Primmie," he began. "I wouldn't—"
"Be still, Zach Bloomer. You know you want to find out just as much as I do. Well, Zach, he cal'lated maybe 'twas money matters, cal'lated maybe she was in debt or somethin'."
Mr. Bloomer's discomfiture was so intense as to cause him actually to uncross his legs.
"Godfreys, Prim!" he exclaimed. "Give you a shingle and a pocket-handkercher and you'll brag to all hands you've got a full-rigged ship. I never said Martha was in debt. I did say she acted worried to me and I was afraid it might be account of some money business. She was over to the light just now askin' for Cap'n Jeth, and he's the one her dad, Cap'n Jim Phipps, used to talk such things with. They went into a good many trades together, them too.... But there, 'tain't any of your affairs, is it, Mr. Bangs—and 'tain't any of Primmie's and my business, so we'd better shut up. Don't say nothin' to Martha about it, Mr. Bangs, if you'd just as soon. But course you wouldn't anyhow."
This was a tremendously long speech for Mr. Bloomer. He sighed at its end, as if from exhaustion; then he crossed his legs again. Galusha hastened to assure him that he would keep silent. Primmie, however, had more to say.
"Why, Zach Bloomer," she declared, "you know that wan't only part of what you and me was sayin'. That wan't what I wanted to ask Mr. Bangs. YOU said if 'twas money matters or business Miss Martha went to see Cap'n Jeth about you cal'lated the cap'n would be cruisin' up to Boston to see a medium pretty soon."
"The old man's Speritu'list," exclaimed Zach. "Always goes to one of them Speritu'list mediums for sailin' orders."
"Now you let me tell it, Zach. Well, then I said I wondered if you wan't a kind of medium, Mr. Bangs. And Zach, he—"
Galusha interrupted this time.
"I—a medium!" he gasped. "Well, really, I—ah—oh, dear! Dear me!"
"AIN'T you a kind of medium, Mr. Bangs?"
"Well, I thought undertakin' was your trade till Miss Martha put her foot down on the notion and shut me right up. You AIN'T an undertaker, be you?"
"An undertaker?... Dear me, Primmie, you—ah—well, you surprise me. Just why did you think me an undertaker, may I ask?"
"Why, you see, 'cause—'cause—well, you was talkin' yesterday about interestin' remains and—and all this forenoon you was over in the cemetery and said you had such a good time there and... and I couldn't see why anybody, unless he was an undertaker, or—or a medium maybe, would call bein' around with dead folks havin' a good time... Quit your laughin', Zach Bloomer; you didn't know what Mr. Bangs' trade was any more'n I did."
Mr. Bloomer cleared his throat. "Mr. Bangs," he observed sadly, "didn't I tell you she'd make a ship out of a shingle? If you'd puffed smoke, and whistled once in a while, she'd have cal'lated you must be a tugboat."
"I am an archaeologist," he said. "I think I told you that, Primmie."
Primmie looked blank. "Yes," she admitted, "you did, but—"
Zacheus finished the sentence.
"But you didn't tell TOO much when you told it," he said. "What kind of an ark did you say?"
And then Galusha explained. The fact that any one in creation should not know what an archaeologist was seemed unbelievable, but a fact it evidently was. So he explained and the explanation, under questioning, became lengthy. Primmie's exclamations, "My savin' soul" and "My Lord of Isrul" became more and more frequent. Mr. Bloomer interjected a remark here and there. At length a sound outside caused him to look out of the window.
"Here comes the old man and Martha," he said. "Cal'late I'd better be gettin' back aboard. Can't leave Lulie to tend light all the time. Much obliged to you, Mr. Bangs. You've cruised around more'n I give you credit for. Um-hm. Any time you want to know about a lightship or—or lobsterin' or anything, I'd be pleased to tell you. Good-day, sir. So long—er—Sweet William. See you later."
The "Sweet William" was addressed to Primmie, of course. The bow-legged little man, rolling from side to side like the lightship of which he talked so much, walked out of the room. A moment later Martha Phipps and Captain Jethro Hallett entered it.
Both Miss Phipps and the light keeper seemed preoccupied. The former's round, wholesome face was clouded over and the captain was tugging at his thick beard and drawing his bushy eyebrows together in a frown. He was a burly, broad-shouldered man, with a thin-lipped mouth, and a sharp gray eye. He looked like one hard to drive and equally hard to turn, the sort from which fanatics are made.
Primmie scuttled away to the dining room. Galusha rose.
"Good-afternoon, Captain Hallett," he said.
Jethro regarded him from beneath the heavy brows.
"You know Mr. Bangs, Cap'n Jeth," said Martha. "You met this mornin', didn't you?"
The light keeper nodded.
"We run afoul of each other over to the graveyard," he grunted. "Well, Martha, I don't know what more there is to say about—about that thing. I've told you all I know, I cal'late."
"But I want to talk a little more about it, Cap'n Jeth. If Mr. Bangs will excuse us we'll go out into the dinin' room. Primmie's up in her room by this time. You will excuse us, won't you, Mr. Bangs? There was a little business matter the cap'n and I were talkin' about."
Galusha hastened to say that he himself had been on the point of going to his own room—really he was.
Miss Martha asked if he was sure.
"You needn't go on our account," she protested. "We can talk in the dinin' room just as well as not, can't we Cap'n Jeth?"
The captain bowed his head. "We ain't cal'latin' to talk very long anyhow," he said, solemnly. "This is the Lord's day, Mr. Bangs."
Galusha hastily admitted that he was aware of the fact. He hurried into the hall and up the stairs. As he reached the upper landing he heard the ponderous boom of the light keeper's voice saying, "Martha, I tell you again there's no use frettin' yourself. We've to wait on the Lord. Then that wait will be provided for; it's been so revealed to me."
Miss Phipps sighed heavily. "Maybe so, Jethro," she said, "but what will some of us live on while we're waitin'? THAT hasn't been revealed to you, has it?"
For the rest of that afternoon Galusha sat by his bedroom window, thinking. His thoughts were along the line of those interrupted by Primmie's summons. When, at supper time, he again descended the stairs, his mind was made up. He was going to make a suggestion, a suggestion which seemed to him somewhat delicate. In one sense of the term it was a business proposition, in another—well, he was not precisely certain that it might not be considered presuming and perhaps intrusive. Galusha Cabot Bangs was not a presuming person and he was troubled.
After the supper dishes were washed and Primmie sent to bed—"sent" is the exact word, for Miss Cash, having had a taste of Egypt and the Orient, was eagerly hoping for more—Miss Phipps and Galusha were together in the sitting room. Doctor Powers had paid a brief visit. He found his patient so much improved that he announced him well enough to travel if he wished.
"If it is really necessary for you to go to-morrow, Mr. Bangs," he said, "I think you're strong enough to risk it."
"Thank you, Doctor," said Galusha. Then he added, with his little smile, "I couldn't go before to-morrow. You see, I—ah—haven't any hat."
In the sitting room, after supper, Galusha was idly turning the pages of Camp, Battlefield and Hospital, a worn book of Civil War sketches, printed immediately after that war, which he had found upon the shelf of the closet in his room, along with another volume labeled Friendship's Garland, a Nosegay of Verse. Of the two, although a peace-loving individual, he preferred the camp and battlefield to the Nosegay; the latter's fragrance was a trifle too sweet.
Suddenly Martha, who had been sitting quiet in the rocker, spoke.
"Mr. Bangs," she said, "I saw Lulie Hallett when I was over at the light this afternoon. We had a good talk together before Cap'n Jethro came back. She told me about your bein' so kind to her and Nelson over by the old church this mornin'. She was real grateful to you and she says she shall thank you herself when she sees you. She asked me to do it for her now."
Galusha was confused. "Oh, it was nothing, really," he hastened to explain. "I—ah—Well, I intruded upon them somewhat suddenly. I see she told you of that."
Miss Phipps was smiling to herself. She looked a little guilty.
"Well," she admitted, "Lulie did say that you kind of—er—flew over the bank. She said no one was ever quite so surprised as she was at that minute."
Mr. Bangs thoughtfully shook his head.
"Except myself, perhaps," he observed.
Martha's smile became a laugh. "Probably that's so," she admitted. "But, Mr. Bangs, Lulie is awfully anxious that you shouldn't think there was anything wrong about her meetin' Nelson Howard in that way. There isn't. She's a splendid girl and he's a fine young man. I think the world of Lulie and I like Nelson, too."
She paused a moment and then went on.
"It's Cap'n Jethro that makes all the trouble," she said. "There's no reason in the world—that is, no sensible reason—why Lulie and Nelson shouldn't be engaged to be married. Of course he isn't doin' very well in a business way just now, but that's partly from choice on Lulie's account. Nelse was a telegraph operator up in Brockton before the war. When the war came he went right into the Navy and started in at the Radio School studyin' to be a wireless operator. Then he was taken down with the 'flu' and had to give up study. Soon as he got well he went into the transport service. Lulie, you see, was teachin' school at Ostable, but her father's health isn't what it used to be and then, besides, I think she was a little worried about his spiritualism. Jethro isn't crazy about it, exactly, but he isn't on an even keel on that subject, there's no doubt about that. So Lulie gave up teachin' and came here to live with him. When Nelson was mustered out he took the station agent's job at South Wellmouth so as to be near her. I think he doesn't feel right to have her here alone with her father."
"But—ah—she isn't alone, is she? I gathered that Mr.—ah—Bloomer—"
"Zach Bloomer? Yes, he's there, but Zach isn't lively company, especially for a girl like Lulie. If Jethro was taken—well, with a fit or somethin', Zach would probably sit down and cross those bow legs of his and moralize for an hour or so before he got ready to help pick the old man up. Nelson knows that and so he refused two real good offers he had and took the position at the South Wellmouth depot. But he's studyin' at his wireless all the time and some day—but I'm afraid that day will be a long way off. Cap'n Jeth is as set as the side of a stone wharf and you'd have to take him to pieces to move him. That was another of father's sayin's," she added, "that about the stone wharf."
"Why, why is the—ah—why is Captain Hallet so opposed to young Howard?" asked Galusha.
"Spiritualism. Foolishness, that's all. Before his wife died he was as sensible and shrewd a man as you'd care to see. He and father were old chums and father used to ask his advice about investments and all such things. They went into lots of deals together and generally made 'em pay, though Jethro usually made the most because he took more chances. He must be worth twenty or thirty thousand dollars, Cap'n Jeth Hallett is."
She spoke as if these were enormous sums. Galusha, to whom all sums—sums of money, that is—were more or less alike, nodded gravely.
"His wife's death broke Jethro dreadfully," continued Martha. "For six months or so he hardly spoke to anybody except Lulie. Then some Spiritualist or other—I think it was Ophelia Beebe or some rattlehead like her—got him to go to see a medium who was boardin' here at the Restabit Inn. He got—or thinks he got—a communication direct from Julia—his wife. After that he kept goin' to the Spiritualist camp meetin's and to Boston and to mediums from Dan to Beersheba, so to speak. A while ago one medium creature—and I wish she had been struck dumb before she could say it—told him that he must beware of a dark man who was tryin' to work evil upon his daughter. As luck would have it, Nelson Howard was home on leave and callin' on Lulie when her father got back from seein' that very medium. You can imagine what happened. And Jethro has been growin' more rabid on the subject ever since."
She stopped. Her guest said nothing. He was thinking that if he were to make the suggestion—the proposition which he had determined upon before he came down to supper, he must make it soon. And he did not know how to begin.
Martha went on talking. She apparently did not notice his silence. It was more as if she were thinking aloud.
"If it wasn't for Lulie's bein' here," she said, slowly, "I don't know what I should do sometimes, I get so lonesome. When father lived it was all so different. He was bright and cheerful and he and I were just as if we were the same age, as you might say. He never was cross and he didn't fret and if he worried he didn't let me know it. He just loved this place. It was near the salt water, and he loved that, and he had his garden and his hens and he was interested in town affairs and all. We didn't have much money, but we had enough, seemed so. Before he died he told me he hoped he'd left me well enough off to get along. 'The only thing that troubles me, Martha,' he said, 'is that some of the things I've put money into shouldn't turn out as I hoped. I've tried to be careful, but you can't always tell. If you want advice,' he said, 'go to Jethro Hallett. Jeth's a shrewd business man.' Ah, well, he didn't know that the spirits were goin' to run Cap'n Jeth. About the last words he said to me, father, I mean, was, 'Martha, hang on to the old place if you can. I hate to think of your sellin' it.' Of course I told him I never should sell it."
"Well—ah—well—" Galusha felt that he ought to say something, "you don't intend selling it, do you, Miss Phipps?"
Martha did not answer immediately. And when she did speak it was not a reply.
"You must think we're a queer lot down here by the Bluffs, Mr. Bangs," she said. "Primmie—you've seen what she is—and Zach Bloomer and Cap'n Jethro with his 'spirit revelations.' As I say, if it wasn't for Lulie I don't know what I should do. Get to be cracked myself, I presume likely.... But there," she added, brightening, "do let's change the subject, for mercy sakes! Mr. Bangs, what do you suppose I did when I was over at the light this afternoon? Besides talkin' with Lulie, I mean."
"Why—why, I don't know, I'm sure."
"I don't believe you could guess, either. I looked up 'archaeologist' in the dictionary."
Mr. Bangs blinked surprise behind the spectacles.
"In the—in the dictionary?" he repeated. "Oh—ah—dear me! Really!"
"Yes. I'm afraid you'll think I am awfully ignorant, but to save my soul I couldn't think what an archaeologist did, what sort of a business it was, I mean. Of course, I knew I OUGHT to know, and that I did know once, but it seemed to be perfectly certain that I didn't know THEN. So I looked it up. It fits in with what you told Primmie and me about travelin'—that camel driver creature and all—and yet—and yet, you know, I was surprised."
"Surprised? Really? Yes, of course, but—but why?"
"Well, because somehow you don't look like that kind of man. I mean the kind of man who travels in all sorts of wild places and does dangerous things, you know, and—"
Galusha's desire to protest overcame his politeness. He broke in hurriedly.
"Oh, but I'm not, you know," he cried. "I'm not really. Dear me, no!"
"But you said you had been to—to Africa, was it?—three or four times."
"Oh, but those were my Abyssinian trips. Abyssinia isn't wild, or dangerous, any more than Egypt."
"Oh, isn't it?"
"No, not in the least, really. Oh, dear me, no!"
"Not with darky camel drivers stealin' your—er—underclothes and goodness knows what? It sounds a little wild to ME."
"Oh, but it isn't, I assure you. And Egypt—ah—Egypt is a wonderful country. On my most recent trip I.... May I tell you?"
He began to tell her without waiting for permission. For the next hour Martha Phipps journeyed afar, under an African sun, over desert sands, beside a river she had read of in her geography when a girl, under palm trees, amid pyramids and temples and the buried cities of a buried people. And before her skipped, figuratively speaking, the diminutive figure of Galusha Bangs, guiding, pointing, declaiming, describing, the incarnation of enthusiastic energy, as different as anything could be from the mild, dreamy little person who had sat opposite her at the supper table so short a time before.
The wooden clock on the mantel—it had wooden works and Martha wound it each night before she went to bed—banged its gong ten times. Mr. Bangs descended from Egypt as if he had fallen from a palm tree, alighting upon reality and Cape Cod with startled suddenness.
"Oh, dear me!" he cried. "What was that? Goodness me, it CAN'T be ten o'clock, can it? Oh, I must have talked you almost to death, Miss Phipps. I must have bored you to distraction, I must really. Oh, I'm SO sorry!"
Miss Martha also seemed to be coming out of a dream, or trance. She stirred in her chair.
"You haven't bored me, Mr. Bangs," she said,
"Oh, but I must have, really. I should know better. You see.... Well, it's quite extraordinary my talking to you in this way, isn't it? I don't do it often—ah—except to other members of my profession. Why, up there in the mountains—at the place where I spent the past month or two, I scarcely talked of—ah—my work at all. And I was constantly being asked to do so. There was a dreadful—ah—that is, there was a woman who.... But I promise you I won't go on in this way again, Miss Phipps, really I won't."
Martha drew a long breath and shook her head.
"I hope you won't promise any such thing," she declared. "I feel as if I had been readin' the most interestin' storybook that ever was.... My, my!" she added, with a sigh. "What a curious thing life is, isn't it? There's nothin' new in that thought, of course, but it comes to us all every little while, I suppose. Just think of the difference there has been in our two lives, for instance. Here are you, Mr. Bangs, you've been everywhere, pretty nearly, and yet you're—well, you're not so very big or strong-lookin'. The average person would say I was the one best fitted to trot around the world, and all my life—or nearly all—I've been keepin' house in this little corner of East Wellmouth. That's curious, isn't it? Of course I can't see myself doin' the things you do—ridin' a camel, for instance."
"Oh, but it is quite easy, quite," Galusha hastened to assure her. "You could do it very well, I'm sure, Miss Phipps."
"Maybe so, but I'm afraid I'm a little bit doubtful. I should want my camel on wheels, with a railin' around his hump. But YOU must feel lost enough down in this tame place, Mr. Bangs. The wildest thing around here is a woodchuck."
She laughed. Galusha smiled, but he answered promptly.
"I like it here, Miss Phipps," he said, earnestly. "I do, really. I like it very much indeed. In fact—in fact—Miss Phipps, would you mind answering a question or two?... Oh, they're not personal questions, personal to you, I mean. Really they are not. May I ask them?"
She was puzzled and looked so.
"Why, of course," she said.
"Well... well, they're foolish questions, I suppose, for I think I know the answers already. But, you see, I want my conscience to be quite clear before making a decision.... That is, the decision is already made, but you see... oh, no, you don't see, of course, do you?"
"Why not ask your questions, Mr. Bangs?" she suggested.
"Yes—ah—thank you; yes, I will. The first one is about—ah—rest. This is a good spot for one to—ah—rest in, isn't it?"
She laughed. "Are you jokin', Mr. Bangs?" she asked. "Rest! I should say the average person would find it easier to rest here than to do anything else. But you are jokin', of course?"
"No; no, indeed, I am quite serious. Second, the air about here is—ah—good and—and fresh?"
"GOOD! Well, considerin' that most of it is blown over three or four thousand miles of salt water before it gets here it ought to be fairly good, I should say. As to its bein' fresh—well, if you were here when a February no'theaster was blowin' I'm afraid you might find it a little TOO fresh."
"That is satisfactory, that is very satisfactory indeed. Now what was the third thing the doctor said I must have? Oh, yes, people. And I know there are people here because I have met them. And very nice people, indeed.... Oh, this is VERY satisfactory, Miss Phipps. Now my conscience is quite clear concerning my promise to the doctor and I can go on to my proposal to you."
"My proposal—the—ah—proposition I want to make you, Miss Phipps. And I DO hope you will consider it favorably. You see, I like East Wellmouth VERY much. My doctor told me I must go where I could find fresh air, rest, and people. They are all here in East Wellmouth. And he said I must have exercise, and behold my daily walks to that most interesting old cemetery of yours. Now, you have been VERY kind to me already, Miss Phipps; could you be still more kind? Would you—ah—could you let me continue our present arrangement indefinitely—for a few months, let us say? Might I be permitted to board here with you until—well, until spring, perhaps?"
Martha Phipps leaned back in her chair. She regarded him keenly.
"Mr. Bangs," she said, slowly, "has some one been tellin' you that I needed money and are you makin' me this offer out of—well, out of charity?"
Galusha jumped violently. He turned quite pale.
"Oh, dear, dear, dear!" he cried, in a great agitation. "Oh, dear me, dear me! No, INDEED, Miss Phipps! I am VERY sorry you should so misunderstand me. I—I—Of course I know nothing of your money affairs, nor should I presume to—to—Oh, I—I—Oh, dear!"
His distress was so keen that she was obliged to recognize it.
"All right, all right, Mr. Bangs," she said. "It wasn't charity, I can see that. But what was it? Do I understand you to say that you like—actually like this lonesome place well enough to want to stay here all WINTER?"
"Yes—ah—yes. And it doesn't seem lonesome to me."
"Doesn't it? Well, wait a little while.... And you really mean you want to keep on boardin' here—with me, with us?"
"Yes, if—if you will be so very kind as to permit me to do so. If you will be so good."
"Good! To what? My soul and body!"
"No—ah—good to mine," said Galusha.
It was not settled that evening. Martha declared she must have at least a few hours in which to think it over and Galusha, of course, agreed.
"It won't take too long," she said. "Naturally, you want to know so that you can make your plans."
Galusha smiled. "Please take as much time as you need, Miss Phipps," he urged. "If you permit me to remain here while you are—ah—endeavoring to reach a decision I shall be quite satisfied, really. In that case, you know, I should be willing to wait for the decision until spring. Dear me, yes—even until summer."
Martha laughed and declared she should decide long before that. "I think breakfast time to-morrow will settle it," she added.
It did. After breakfast she informed him that he might stay if he wished.
"Though WHY you want to I can't understand," she said. "And of course it is part of the agreement that you'll feel free to give it up and go any time you wish; as soon as you begin to get tired of the place and us, I mean."
He beamed satisfaction. "I shall not be the one to tire first," he declared. Then he added, earnestly, "Of course, Miss Phipps, you will be perfectly frank and tell me at once if you change YOUR mind. And if I should become a—ah—well, a sort of nuisance, be irregular at meals, or noisy or—What is it? I beg your pardon?"
She had laughed outright. She was still smiling when she apologized.
"Please excuse me for laughin', Mr. Bangs," she said, "but don't you think yourself that that is funny? The idea of your bein' noisy, I mean."
He stroked his chin.
"We-ll," he admitted, "perhaps it is. But sometimes I am quite boisterous, really I am. I remember once, years ago, I was in an old cemetery in New Hampshire and I suddenly discovered an inscription which pleased me VERY much. MOST quaint and unusual it was—dear me, yes. And quite unconsciously I burst into a shout—a cheer, as one may say. The old sexton was quite scandalized and warned me not to do it again. He said it would disturb people. I don't know whom he meant, there were no living people to be disturbed."
The question of terms was the cause of a supplementary discussion. Mr. Bangs insisted upon continuing the three dollars a day rate and Miss Martha declared he should do nothing of the kind.
"That three dollars a day was just a temporary thing," she said. "I said it just because I was sure you would go over to Elmer Rogers' if I didn't. Elmer Rogers is a robber and always was. Father used to say he was the forty-first member of the Forty Thieves and that they didn't boil him because he wasn't enough account to waste hot oil on."
"But—ah—it seems to me that if the Rogers' House board is worth three dollars a day yours should be worth five at least."