"Maybe so, but I never heard anybody but Elmer say his board was worth one dollar, let alone three."
They compromised on a daily rate of two and a half per day, which each declared to be ridiculous.
Thus Galusha Cabot Bangs became no longer a transitory but a regular boarder and lodger at the Phipps' place. The fact became known to Miss Primrose Cash that forenoon, to the driver of the grocer's cart one hour later, and to all of East Wellmouth before bedtime. It was news and, in October in East Wellmouth, one item of local news is a rare and blessed dispensation.
Before another day had passed the news item had been embellished. Mr. Bangs visited the general store of Erastus Beebe to purchase headgear to replace the brown derby. Erastus happened to be busy at the moment—there were two customers in his store at the same time, an event most unusual—so Galusha's wants were supplied by no less a person than Mr. Horatio Pulcifer.
Raish's greeting was condescendingly genial.
"Well, well!" he exclaimed, pumping the little man's arm up and down with one hand and thumping his shrinking shoulder blades with the other. "If it ain't the perfessor himself! How are you this mornin', Mr. Bangs? Right up and comin, eh?"
Galusha would have withdrawn his hand from the Pulcifer clutch if withdrawal had been possible. It being quite impossible, he murmured that he was—"ah—quite well" and, conscious that the eyes of Mr. Beebe and his two customers were fixed upon him, fixed his own gaze upon Mr. Pulcifer's assortment of watch charms and shivered with embarrassment.
"Ain't it funny, now?" queried Raish, addressing the world in general. "Ain't it funny how things happen? When I fetched you over in my car t'other night didn't I say I hoped you and me'd meet again? That's what I said. And now we've met twice since. Once in the old boneyard and now here, eh? And they tell me you like East Wellmouth so much you're goin' to stick around for a spell. Good business! Say, I'll be sellin' you a piece of Wellmouth property one of these days to settle down on. That's the kind of talk, eh, Perfessor? Haw, haw, haw!"
He pounded the Bangs' shoulder blades once more. Mr. Beebe and his two customers echoed the Pulcifer laugh. Galusha smiled painfully—as the man in the operating chair smiles at the dentist's jokes.
"I—I—excuse me," he faltered, turning to the grinning Erastus, "can I—That is, have you a—ah—hat or—or cap or something I might buy?"
Before the proprietor of the general store could answer, Mr. Pulcifer answered for him. Again the hand descended upon the Bangs' shoulder.
"Haw, haw!" roared Raish, joyfully. "I get you, Mr. Bangs. The old lid blew out to sea and we've got to get a new one. Say, that was funny, wasn't it; that hat goin' that way? I don't know's I ever laughed more in my life. One minute she was jumpin' along amongst them gravestones like a hoptoad with wings, and then—Zing! Fsst! away she went a half mile or so down into the breakers. Haw, haw, haw! And to see your face! Why—"
"PLEASE don't do that," he said, nervously.
"Hey? Do what?"
"Ah—slap my back. I'd rather you wouldn't, if you don't mind. And—oh—I should like to see a—a cap or something."
The last sentence was addressed to Mr. Beebe, who cleared his throat importantly.
"Jest a minute, jest a minute," said Erastus. "Soon's I get through waitin' on these customers I'll 'tend to you. Jest a minute. Yeast cake, did you say, Mrs. Blount?"
"Ohh, pardon me," faltered Galusha. "I'll wait, of course."
"Wait?" It was Mr. Pulcifer who spoke. "You don't have to wait. I know Ras's stock as well as he does, pretty nigh. I'LL show you a cap, Mr. Bangs."
"Oh—oh, I couldn't think of troubling you, really I couldn't."
"No trouble at all. What's a little trouble amongst neighbors, eh? And that's what we are now—neighbors, eh? Sure, Mike! You and me are goin' to see a lot of each other from now on. There! There's a good, stylish cap, if I do say it. Try it on? What's your size, Perfessor?"
Five minutes later Galusha descended the steps of the Beebe store, wearing a cloth cap which was, to say the very least, out of the ordinary. Its material was a fuzzy frieze of nondescript colors, a shade of dingy yellow predominating, and its shape was weird and umbrellalike. With it upon his head little Galusha resembled a walking toadstool—an unhealthy, late-in-the-season toadstool.
The quartet in the Beebe store watched his departure from the windows. All were hugely amused, but one, Mr. Pulcifer, was hilarious.
"Haw, haw, haw!" roared Raish. "Look at him! Don't he look like a bullfrog under a lily pad? Eh? Don't he now? Haw, haw, haw!"
Erastus Beebe joined in the laugh, but he shook his head.
"I've had that cap in stock," he said, "since—well, since George Cahoon's son used to come down drummin' for that Boston hat store, and he quit much as eight year ago, anyhow. How did he ever come to pick THAT cap out, Raish?"
Mr. Pulcifer regarded the questioner with scornful superiority.
"Pick it out!" he repeated. "He never picked it out, I picked it out for him. You don't know the first principles of sellin', Ras. If you had me to help around here you wouldn't have so many stickers in your stock."
Beebe, gazing after the retreating figure of Mr. Bangs, sniffed.
"If I had your brass, Raish," he observed, calmly, "I'd sell it to the junk man and get rich. Well, maybe I won't have so many stickers, as you call 'em, if that little critter comes here often. What's the matter with him; soft in the head?"
"Isn't this his hat—the one he wore when he came in here?" queried Mrs. Jubal Doane, one of the two customers.
Mr. Beebe picked it up. "Guess so," he replied. "Humph! I've seen that hat often enough, too. Used to belong to Cap'n Jim Phipps, that hat did. Seen him wear it a hundred times."
Mrs. Becky Blount, the other customer, elevated the tip of a long nose. "Well," she observed, "if Martha Phipps is lendin' him her pa's hats SO early, I must say—"
She did not say what it was she must say, but she had said quite enough.
Martha herself said something when her boarder appeared beneath his new headgear. When he removed it, upon entering the dining room, she took it from his hand.
"Is THIS the cap you just bought, Mr. Bangs?" she asked.
"Yes," said Galusha, meekly. "Do you like it?"
She regarded the fuzzy yellow thing with a curious expression.
"Do you?" she asked.
The reply was astonishingly prompt and emphatic.
"I loathe it," said Galusha.
She transferred the stare from the cap to its owner's face.
"You do!" she cried. "Then why in the world did you buy it?"
Mr. Bangs squirmed slightly. "He said I ought to," he answered.
"Who said so?"
"That man—that Mr. Pulcifer. Mr.—ah—Deedee—Beebe, I mean—was busy, and Mr. Pulcifer insisted on showing me the caps. I didn't like this one at all, but he talked so much that—that I couldn't stay and hear him any longer. He makes me very nervous," he added, apologetically. "I suppose it is my fault, but—ah—he does, you know."
"And do you mean to say that you took this—this outrage because Raish Pulcifer talked you into it?"
Galusha smiled sadly. "Well, he—he talked me into it—yes," he admitted. "Into the—ah—cap and out of the store. Dear me, yes."
Miss Martha drew a long breath.
"My heavens and earth!" she exclaimed. "And what did you do with father's hat, the one you wore down there?"
Her lodger gasped. "Oh, dear, dear!" he exclaimed. "Oh, dear me! I must have left it in the shop. I'm SO sorry. How could I do such a careless thing? I'll go for it at once, Miss Phipps."
He would have gone forthwith, but she stopped him.
"I'm goin' there myself in a little while," she said. "I've got some other errands there. And, if you don't mind," she added, "I'd like to take this new cap of yours with me. That is, if you can bear to part with it."
She went soon afterward and when she returned she had another cap, a sane, respectable cap, one which was not a "sticker."
"I took it on myself to change the other one for this, Mr. Bangs," she said. "I like it lots better myself. Of course it wasn't my affair at all and I suppose I ought to beg your pardon."
He hastened to reassure her.
"Please don't speak so, Miss Phipps," he begged. "It was very, very kind of you. And I like this cap VERY much. I do, really.... I ought to have a guardian, hadn't I?" he added.
It was precisely what she was thinking at the moment and she blushed guiltily.
"Why, what makes you say that?" she asked.
"Oh, I'm not saying it, not as an original thought, you know; I'm merely repeating it. Other people always say it, they've said it ever since I can remember. Thank you very much for the cap, Miss Phipps."
He was sunnily cheerful and very grateful. There was not the slightest resentment because of her interference. And yet if she had not interfered he would have worn the hideous yellow cap and been as cheerful under that. Pulcifer had imposed upon him and he realized it, but he deliberately chose being imposed upon rather than listening to the Pulcifer conversation. He was certainly a queer individual, this lodger of hers. A learned man evidently, a man apparently at home and sure of himself in a world long dead, but as helpless as a child in the practical world of to-day. She liked him, she could not help liking him, and it irritated her exceedingly to think that men like Raish Pulcifer and Erastus Beebe should take advantage of his childlike qualities to swindle him, even if the swindles were but petty.
"They shan't do it," she told Lulie Hallett, the next morning. "Not if I can help it, they shan't. Somebody ought to look out for the poor thing, half sick and with nobody of his own within goodness knows how many miles. I'll look out for him as well as I can while he's here. My conscience wouldn't let me do anything else. I suppose if I pick out his other things the way I picked out that cap the whole of East Wellmouth will be talkin'; but I can't help it, let 'em."
For the matter of that, the Beebes and the Blounts and Doanes were talking already. And within a fortnight Miss Phipps' prophecy was fulfilled, the whole of East Wellmouth WAS talking of Galusha Bangs. Some of the talk was malicious and scandalous gossip, of course, but most of it was fathered by an intense and growing curiosity concerning the little man. Who was he? What was his real reason for coming to East Wellmouth to live—in the WINTER time? What made him spend so many hours in the old cemetery? Was he crazy, as some people declared, or merely "kind of simple," which was the opinion of others? Mr. Pulcifer's humorous summing-up was freely quoted.
"He may not be foolish now," observed Raish, "but he will be if he lives very long with that bunch down to the lighthouse. Old Cap'n Jeth and Zach and Primmie Cash are enough to start anybody countin' their fingers. My opinion is, if you want to know, that this Bangs feller is just a little mite cracked on the subject of Egyptians and Indians and gravestones—probably he's read a lot about 'em and it's sprained his mind, as you might say. That would account for the big yarns he tells Prim about Africa and such. As to why he's come here to live, I cal'late I've got the answer to that. He's poorer'n poverty and it's cheap livin' down at Martha Phipps's. How do I know he's poor? Cripes t'mighty, look at his clothes! Don't look much like yours or mine, do they?"
They certainly did not look much like Mr. Pulcifer's. Galusha's trunk had arrived at last, but the garments in it were as drab and old-fashioned and "floppy" as those he wore on his arrival. Horatio was invariably arrayed like a lily of the field—if by that term is meant a tiger lily. Raish generally finished his appraisal by adding, patronizingly:
"He's all right, though, old Galushy is. Nothin' harmful about him. See how easy I get along with him. I shake hands with him and hit him a clip on the back, and, gosh t'mighty, he thinks I'm his best friend on earth. He'd do anything for me, that old owl would."
And, perhaps, because it was given forth with such authority from the Pulcifer Mount Sinai, the fact that Bangs was very poor and was living at Gould's Bluffs because of that poverty came to be accepted in East Wellmouth as a settled fact. So quickly and firmly was it settled that, a month later, Erastus Beebe, leaning over his counter in conversation with a Boston traveling salesman, said, as Galusha passed the store:
"Queer-lookin' customer, ain't he? One of our town characters, as you might say. Pretends he's been all over creation, but the truth is he lives down here by the lighthouse and is poorer than the last pullet in Job's coop. Kind of an inventor, or book writer, or some such crazy thing. Queer how that kind get that way, ain't it?"
"Is that all he does for a living?" asked the salesman.
"Don't do much of that, seems so, nowadays. Spends most of his time copyin' off tombstone-writin' over in the old Baptist graveyard. Seems to LIKE to be there, he does. Thunder sakes! a graveyard is the last place I'd spend MY time in."
The Bostonian made the obvious retort that it was probably the last place Mr. Beebe WOULD spend his time in.
Galusha, of course, was not in the least aware of the East Wellmouth estimate of himself, his fortune and his activities. He would not have been interested had he known. He was enjoying himself hugely, was gaining daily in health, strength, and appetite, and was becoming thoroughly acquainted with Gould's Bluffs, its surroundings, and its people.
He made many calls at the lighthouse nowadays. These calls were not especially for the purpose of cultivating Captain Jethro's acquaintance, although the rugged, bigoted old light keeper afforded an interesting study in character. The captain's moods varied. Sometimes he talked freely and interestingly of his experiences at sea and as keeper of the light. His stories of wrecks and life-saving were well told and Galusha enjoyed them. He cared less for Jethro's dissertations on investments and deals and shrewd trades. It was plain that the old man prided himself upon them, however. On one occasion Mr. Bangs happened to mention Martha Phipps and hinted at his own fear that his lodging at the Phipps' home was in the nature of an imposition upon the lady's good nature. The light keeper shook his shaggy head impatiently.
"No, no, no," he growled, "'tain't any such thing. Your boardin' there's a good thing for Martha. She needs the money."
Galusha was troubled.
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said. "She is not—ah—not pinched for means, I hope. Not that that is my business, of course," he added, hastily.
Captain Jeth's reply was gruff and rather testy.
"She'll come out all right," he said, "if she's willin' to do as I do and wait. I know I'll come out right. Julia told me so, herself."
Galusha had forgotten, momentarily.
"Julia?" he repeated.
"Oh—oh, yes, yes, of course."
In these conversations Bangs learned to steer the talk as far as possible from the subjects of life beyond the grave or of spirit communications. The slightest touch here and the captain was off, his eyes shining beneath his heavy brows, and his face working with belligerent emotion. A hint of doubt or contradiction and trouble followed immediately.
"Don't argue with me," roared Cap'n Jethro. "I KNOW."
Lulie and Galusha had many chats together. He had liked her at first sight and soon she came to like him.
"He's as funny and odd as can he," she told Martha, "and you never can tell what he may say or do next. But he's awfully nice, just the same."
Little by little she confided to him her hopes and doubts and fears, the hopes of her own love story and the doubts and fears concerning her father.
"He isn't well," she said, referring to the latter. "He pretends he is, but he isn't. And all this consulting with mediums and getting messages and so on is very bad for him, I know it is. Do you believe in it at all, Mr. Bangs?"
Galusha looked doubtful.
"Well," he replied, "it would be presumptuous for one like me to say it is all nonsense. Men like Conan Doyle and Lodge and Doctor Hyslop are not easy dupes and their opinions are entitled to great respect. But it seems—ah—well, I am afraid that a majority of the so-called mediums are frauds."
"ALL of father's mediums are that kind," declared Lulie, emphatically. "I know it. Most of them are frauds for money, but there are some, like that ridiculous Marietta Hoag, who pretend to go into trances and get messages just because they like to be the center of a sensation. They like to have silly people say, 'Isn't it wonderful!' Marietta Hoag's 'control,' as she calls it, is a Chinese girl. She must speak spirit Chinese, because no Chinese person on earth ever talked such gibberish. Control! SHE ought to be controlled—by the keeper of an asylum."
The indignation expressed upon Lulie's pretty face was so intense that Galusha suspected an especial reason.
"Is—ah—is this Marietta person the medium who—who—" he began.
"Who set father against Nelson? Yes, she is. I'd like to shake her, mischief-making thing. Father liked Nelson well enough before that, but he came home from that seance as bitter against him as if the poor boy had committed murder. Marietta told him that a small dark man was trying to take away his daughter, or some such silliness. Nelson isn't very small nor VERY dark, but he was the only male in sight that came near answering the description. As a matter of fact—"
She hesitated, colored, and looked as if she had said more than she intended. Galusha, who had not noticed her embarrassment, asked her to go on.
"Well," she said, in some confusion, "I was going to say that if it hadn't been Nelson it would probably have been some one else. You see, I am father's only child and so—and so—"
"And so he doesn't like the idea of giving you up to some one else."
"Yes, that's it. But it wouldn't be giving me up. It would be merely sharing me, that's all. I never shall leave father and I've told him so ever so many times.... Oh, dear! If you could have known him in the old days, Mr. Bangs, before he—well, when he was himself, big and strong and hearty. He used to laugh then; he hardly ever laughs now. He and Cap'n Jim Phipps—Martha's father—were great friends. You would have liked Cap'n Jim, Mr. Bangs."
"Yes, I am sure I should."
"So am I. Martha is very much like him. She's a dear, isn't she?"
Galusha nodded. "She has been very kind to me," he said. "Indeed, yes."
"Oh, she is to every one. She is always just like that. I am very glad you have decided to board with her this winter, Mr. Bangs. I have an idea that she has been—well, troubled about something; just what, of course, I don't know, although I think—but there, I mustn't guess because it is not my business."
Galusha expressed a wish that he might become better acquainted with Nelson Howard.
"I am sure I should like him," he said. "He seems like a very nice young man."
Lulie nodded radiantly.
"Oh, he is," she cried. "Truly he is, Mr. Bangs. Why, every one says—" Then, becoming aware of her enthusiasm, she blushed and begged pardon. "You see, I hear so much against him—from father, I mean—that I couldn't help acting silly when you praised him. Do forgive me, won't you, Mr. Bangs?"
He would have forgiven her much more than that.
"I shall make it a point to go over to the South Wellmouth station and call upon him," he told her. She thanked him.
"I am hoping that you and Martha and Nelson and I may spend an evening together pretty soon," she said. "You see, father—but there, that's another secret. I'll tell you in a little while, next week, I hope."
He learned the secret from Martha. On a day in the following week Miss Phipps informed her lodger that he and she were to have supper at the light keeper's that evening.
"It's a real sort of party," declared Martha. "Small but select, as they used to say in books when I was a girl. There will be four of us, you and I and Nelson Howard and Lulie."
Galusha was surprised.
"Nelson Howard!" he repeated. "Why, dear me, I thought—I understood that Mr. Howard was persona non grata to Captain Hallett."
Martha nodded. "Well, if that means what I suppose it does, he is," she replied. "If Cap'n Jeth knew Nelson was goin' to eat supper in his house he'd go without eatin' himself to stop it. But, you see, he doesn't know. Jethro is goin' spiritualizin' to-night. Marietta Hoag and Ophelia Beebe and their crowd of rattleheads have dug up a brand new medium who is visitin' over in Trumet and they've made up a party to go there and hold a seance. When they told Cap'n Jeth, of course nothin' would do but he must go, too. So, WHILE he is gone Nelson is comin' over to supper. It's deceivin' the old man, in one way, of course, but it isn't doin' him a bit of harm. And it does give the young folks a pleasant time, and I think they deserve it. Lulie has been as kind and forbearin' with her father as a daughter could be, and Nelson has been more patient than the average young fellow, by a good deal."
Late that afternoon two automobiles laden with humanity, male and female, drove past the Phipps' gate, and Primmie, from the window, announced that it was "Marietta and 'Phelia and the rest of 'em. My savin' soul, ain't they talkin' though! Cal'late the sperits 'll have busy times this evenin', don't you, Miss Martha?" A few minutes later she proclaimed that Cap'n Jeth had just climbed aboard and that the autos were coming back.
"See! See, Mr. Bangs!" she cried, pointing. "There's Cap'n Jeth, settin' between Marietta and 'Phelia Beebe. There's the three of 'em on the back seat. Cap'n Jeth's the one with the whiskers."
At six o'clock Martha and her lodger walked over to the Hallett house. Miss Phipps was dressed in her best gown and looked the personification of trim, comfortable New England femininity. Galusha was garbed in the suit he wore the evening of his arrival, but it had been newly sponged and pressed.
"It looks lots better," observed Martha, inspecting him as they walked along. "It wouldn't have, though, if Primmie had finished the job. I was so busy that I let her start on it, but when I saw what a mess she was makin' I had to drop everything else and do it myself."
Galusha looked puzzled.
"Yes?" he said, politely. "Oh, yes, yes. Yes, indeed."
She shook her head.
"I do believe you don't know what I'm talkin' about," she said. "Now, do you?"
"Why—ah—why, Miss Phipps, I confess I—I—"
"Well, I declare! I never saw a person like you in my life. Didn't you notice ANY difference in that suit of clothes?"
Mr. Bangs, looking downward, suddenly became aware of his immaculate appearance. He was very much upset.
"I—I don't know what you must think of me," he stammered. "I have been—that is, I was thinking of other things and I—Dear me! Oh, dear! I am VERY grateful to you. But you shouldn't take so much trouble."
"It wasn't any trouble. The suit was hangin' in your closet and I noticed how wrinkled and out of shape it was. And the stains on the trousers—my!"
"Yes—ah—yes. I wore it over at the cemetery the other day and I—ah—imagine I must have gotten down on my knees to examine the tombstones."
"I guess likely. It looked as if you might have crawled from here to the cemetery and back. Now don't say any more, Mr. Bangs. It was no trouble at all. I always used to take care of father's clothes. He used to say I kept him all taut and shipshape."
Lulie met them at the door.
"Where is Primmie?" she asked.
"She'll be over pretty soon," replied Martha. "I knew you wouldn't need her yet to help with the supper and the longer she stays away the more talk there will be for the rest of us. She is to eat in the kitchen, Lulie, remember that. I WON'T have her chatterin' all through our meal."
"She and Zacheus are to eat together," replied Lulie. "It is all settled. Now if Nelson will only come. He is going to get away just as soon as the down train leaves."
He arrived soon afterward, having bicycled over from South Wellmouth. Primmie arrived also and bursts of her energetic conversation, punctuated by grumblings in Mr. Bloomer's bass, drifted in from the kitchen. Supper was a happy meal. Young Howard, questioned by Martha and Lulie—the latter evidently anxious to "show off" her lover—told of his experiences aboard one of Uncle Sam's transports and the narrow escape from a German submarine. Galusha, decoyed by Miss Phipps, was led into Egypt and discoursed concerning that marvelous country. Lulie laughed and chatted and was engagingly charming and vivacious. Martha was her own cheerful self and the worried look disappeared, for the time, from her face.
After supper was over, the ladies helped Primmie clear the table while the men sat in the sitting room and smoked. The sitting room of the light keeper's home was even more nautical than that at the Phipps' place. There was no less than six framed paintings of ships and schooners on the walls, and mantel and what-not bore salt-water curios of many kinds handed down by generations of seafaring Halletts—whales' teeth, little ships in bottles, idols from the South Sea islands, bead and bone necklaces, Eskimo lance-heads and goodness knows what. And below the windows, at the foot of the bluff on the ocean side, the great waves pounded and muttered and growled, while high above the chimneys of the little house Gould's Bluffs light thrust its flashing spear of flame deep into the breast of the black night.
It was almost half past eight when Martha Phipps, whose seat was near the front window of the sitting room, held up a warning hand.
"Listen!" she cried. "Isn't that an automobile comin'?"
It undoubtedly was. Apparently more than one motor car was approaching along the sandy road leading from the village to the lighthouse.
"Who in the world is it?" asked Martha, drawing aside the window shade and trying to peer out. "Lulie, you don't think it can be—"
Lulie looked troubled, but she shook her head.
"No, it can't be," she declared. "The seance was to be away over in Trumet and it is sure to last hours. They couldn't have gone as far as that and—"
She was interrupted. From the dining room came the sound of rushing feet. Primmie burst into the room. She was wildly excited.
"My Lord of Isrul, Miss Martha!" she cried. "It's them come back. It is, it is, it is!"
"Who? Who, Primmie?" demanded Miss Phipps. "Stop flappin' your wings—arms, I mean. Who's come back?"
"The sperit folks. All hands of 'em, Marietta and 'Phelia Beebe and Abe Hardin' and Cap'n Jeth and all. And—and they're comin' in here—and here's Nelson right where Cap'n Jeth can catch him. Oh, my savin' soul!"
From behind her agitated shoulder peered the countenance of Mr. Bloomer.
"She's right, Lulie," observed Zach, with calm emphasis. "The whole crew of ghost seiners is back here in port again, Cap'n Jeth and all. Better beat for open water, hadn't you, Nelse, eh? Be the divil to pay if you don't.... Godfreys, yes!"
The announcement exploded like a bomb in the midst of the little group in the light keeper's sitting room. Lulie turned a trifle pale and looked worried and alarmed. Martha uttered an exclamation, dropped the window shade and turned toward her young friend. Mr. Bangs looked from one to the other and was plainly very anxious to help in some way but not certain how to begin. Of the four Nelson Howard, the one most concerned, appeared least disturbed. It was he who spoke first and his tone was brisk and businesslike.
"Well, Lulie," he said, "what do you want me to do? Shall I stay and face it out? I don't mind. There's nothing for us to be ashamed of, you know."
But Lulie shook her head. "Oh, no, no, Nelson," she cried, "you mustn't. You had better go, right away. There will be a scene, and with all those people here—"
Miss Phipps put in a word. "But perhaps Nelson's right, after all, Lulie," she said. "There is no reason in the world why he shouldn't come to see you, and maybe he and Cap'n Jeth might as well have a plain understandin' now as any time."
Miss Hallett's agitation increased. "Oh, no," she cried, again. "Don't you see it mustn't happen, on father's account? You know how he—you know how excited and—and almost violent he gets when any one crosses him nowadays. I'm afraid something might happen to him. I'm afraid. Please go, Nelson, for my sake."
The young man nodded. "Of course, Lulie," he declared. "You're perfectly right. I'm off. Good-night."
He was hastening toward the dining room door, but Primmie, dancing up and down like a jumping jack, barred his way.
"No, no, no," she squealed, "you can't—you can't. They're almost to the door now. He'll catch you sure. He WILL. Oh, my Lord of Isrul!"
Sure enough, the latch of the door leading from the side porch to the dining room was rattling at that moment. Fortunately the door itself was hooked on the inside. Nelson hesitated.
"Humph!" he grunted. "Could I get through to the kitchen and out that way, do you think, Zach?"
"Godfreys, no! Not with them winder curtains strung up higher'n Haman the way they be. No, no! Godfreys!"
Martha stepped across the sitting room and flung open another door on the opposite side. As she did so there sounded a prodigious thumping from the side porch and the bull-like voice of Captain Hallett bellowed his daughter's name.
"Go let 'em in, Lulie," whispered Martha. "I'll look out for things here. Quick, Nelson, out this way, through the front hall and out the front door. QUICK!"
Captain Jeth was accompanying his shouts by thumping upon the side of the house. Lulie, after one desperate glance at her lover, hurried to the dining room. Young Howard hesitated a moment.
"My hat and coat?" he whispered. "Where are they?"
They were hanging in the entry upon the door of which the captain was thumping. Zach hastened to get them, but before he reached the dining room they heard the outer door open and Jeth's voice demanding to know why Lulie had kept him waiting so long. Nelson, with a somewhat rueful smile and a wave of the hand to Martha and Galusha, dodged into the blackness of the front hall. Miss Phipps closed the door after him. The conspirators looked at each other. Primmie's mouth opened but the expansive hand of Mr. Bloomer promptly covered it and the larger part of her face as well.
"This ain't no time to holler about your savin' soul," whispered Zacheus, hoarsely. "This is the time to shut up. And KEEP shut up. You be still, Dandelion!"
Primmie obeyed orders and was still. But even if she had shrieked it is doubtful if any one in the dining room could have heard her. The "ghost seiners," quoting from Mr. Bloomer, were pouring through the entry and, as all were talking at once, the clatter of tongues would have drowned out any shriek of ordinary volume. A moment later the Halletts, father and daughter, led the way into the sitting room. Lulie's first procedure was to glance quickly about the apartment. A look of relief crossed her face and she and Martha Phipps exchanged glances.
"Father has—he has come back," was her somewhat superfluous explanation. Captain Jethro noted the superfluity.
"Cal'late they can see that for themselves, Lulie," he observed. "How are you, Martha? Evenin', Mr. Bangs. Everything all right about the light, Zach?"
"Ay, ay, sir," was Mr. Bloomer's nautical reply. The captain grunted.
"Better go look at it," he said. Turning, he called over his shoulder, "Come in, all hands."
"All hands," that is, the company in the dining room—came in. There were fourteen of them, all told, and, as Martha Phipps told Galusha Bangs afterward, "If you had run a net from one end of Ostable County to the other you wouldn't have landed more freaks than there were in that house at that minute." The majority were women and the few men in the party looked as if each realized himself a minority at home and abroad.
"Set down, everybody," commanded Captain Jethro. "Lulie, you better help me fetch in them dining-room chairs. We'll need 'em."
"But, father," begged Lulie, "what are you going to do?"
"Do? We're goin' to have a meetin', that's what we're goin' to do. Set down, all of you that can. We'll have chairs for the rest in a minute."
"But, father—" began Lulie, again. The captain interrupted her. "Be still," he ordered, irritably. "Marietta, you set over here by the melodeon. That'll be about right for you, will it?"
Miss Marietta Hoag was a short, dumpy female with a face which had been described by Zach Bloomer as resembling a "pan of dough with a couple of cranberries dropped into it." She wore a blue hat with a red bow and a profusion of small objects—red cherries and purple grapes—bobbing on wires above it. The general effect, quoting Mr. Bloomer again, was "as if somebody had set off a firecracker in a fruit-peddler's cart." The remainder of her apparel was more subdued.
She removed the explosive headgear and came forward in response to the light keeper's command. She looked at the chair by the ancient parlor organ and announced: "Yes, indeed, it'll do real well, thank you, Cap'n Jethro." Her voice was a sharp soprano with liquid gurgles in it—"like pourin' pain-killer out of a bottle," this last still another quotation from the book of Zacheus.
"All right," said Captain Jeth, "then we'll begin. We've wasted enough time cruisin' way over to Trumet and back for nothin'. No need to waste any more. Set down, all hands, and come to order. Lulie, you and Martha and the rest of you set down, too."
"But, father," urged his daughter again, "I don't understand. What are you going to do?"
"Goin' to have a meetin', I tell you."
"But what sort of a meeting?"
"A seance. We cruised clear over to Trumet to hear that Brockton medium that was stayin' at Obed Taylor's there and when we got to Obed's we found she'd been called back home unexpected and had left on this afternoon's train. So we came back here and Marietta's goin' to try to get in communication herself. That's all there is to it.... Now don't waste any more time askin' fool questions. Set down. Martha Phipps, what are you and Mr. Bangs standin' up for?"
Martha's answer was quietly given.
"Why, good gracious, Jethro!" she observed, "why shouldn't we stand up? Mr. Bangs and I came over to spend the evenin' with Lulie. We didn't know you and Marietta and Ophelia and the rest were goin' to hold any—er—what do you call 'em?—seances. We'll run right along and leave you to enjoy yourselves. Come, Mr. Bangs."
For some reason or other this reply appeared to irritate the light keeper exceedingly. He glared at her.
"Set down, both of you," he ordered. "I want you to. 'Twill do you good. No, you ain't goin', neither. Lulie, you tell 'em to stay here."
His manner was so determined and the light in his eye so ominous that his daughter was alarmed.
"Oh, do stay, Martha," she pleaded. "Won't you please stay, you and Mr. Bangs? I think it will be for the best, truly I do. Please stay."
Martha looked at her lodger. Galusha smiled.
"I shall be very glad to remain," he observed. "Indeed yes, really."
Miss Phipps nodded. "All right, Lulie," she said, quietly. "We'll stay."
They took chairs in the back row of the double circle. Primmie, eyes and mouth open and agog with excitement, had already seated herself. Captain Jethro looked about the room.
"Are we all ready," he growled. "Eh? Who's that comin'? Oh, it's you. Well, set down and keep quiet."
It was Mr. Bloomer who had re-entered the room and was received so unceremoniously. He glanced at Galusha Bangs, winked the eye which the captain could not see, and sat down next to Primmie.
"Now then," said Captain Jeth, who was evidently master of ceremonies, "if you're all ready, Marietta, I cal'late we are. Cast off! Heave ahead!"
But Miss Hoag seemed troubled; evidently she was not ready to cast off and heave ahead.
"Why—why, Cap'n Jeth," she faltered, "I CAN'T. Don't you KNOW I can't? Everybody's got to take hands—and the lights must be turned way down—and—and we've GOT to have some music."
The captain pulled his beard. "Humph!" he grunted. "That's so, I forgot. Don't know what's the matter with me to-night, seem to be kind of—of upset or somethin'. Zach, turn them lamps down; more'n that, way down low.... That'll do. Now all hands hold hands. Make a—a kind of ring out of yourselves. That's it. Now what else was it, Marietta?"
"Music," faltered Miss Hoag, who seemed rather overawed by the captain's intensity and savage earnestness. "We always have music, you know, to establish the—the contact. Have somebody play the organ. 'Phelia, you play it; you know how."
Miss Ophelia Beebe, sister of the village storekeeper, was a tall, angular woman garbed in black. Her facial expression was as mournful as her raiment. She rose with a rustle and moved toward the ancient melodeon. Lulie spoke hurriedly.
"No, no, Ophelia," she protested, "it isn't any use. That old thing has been out of order for—why, for years. No one could possibly play on it. No one has for ever and ever so long. Father knows it perfectly well."
Again Captain Jethro tugged at his beard.
"Humph!" he grunted. "'Tis out of order; I remember now.... Humph! I—I forgot that. Well, we'll have to have some sort of music. Can anybody that's here play on anything?"
There was silence for a moment. Then a thin masculine voice from the dimness made proclamation.
"I can play on the fiddle," it said; and then added, as if in afterthought, "some."
There was a rustle in the corner from which the voice had come. Mutterings and whisperings arose. "Don't talk so foolish!" "Well, Sary, he asked if anybody could play on anything and I—" "Be still, I tell you! I declare if there's any chance for a person to make a jumpin' numbskull out of himself in front of folks I'll trust you to be right on deck." "Now, Sary, what are you goin' on like this for? I only just—"
The dispute was growing louder and more violent. Captain Jethro roared a command for silence.
"What's all this?" he demanded. "Silence there for'ard!" He waited an instant and then asked, "Who was it said they could play the fiddle? Was it you, Abel Hardin'?"
Mr. Abel Harding, clam digger and fish purveyor, resident in South Wellmouth, acknowledged his identity.
"Yus, Cap'n Jeth," he declared. "I said I could play the fiddle, and I can, too. Sary B., she says—"
"Sarah B."—otherwise Mrs. Abel Harding—interrupted. "He can't play nothin' but two jig tunes and he plays them like the very Old Scratch," she snapped, with emphasis.
"Well, I never said I was anything great at it, did I? I said I can play some, and I can. If you'd just keep your tongue to home and leave me be I—"
"SILENCE!" shouted the light keeper again. The domestic squabble broke off in the middle and some irreverent giggles from other sections of the circle subsided. Captain Jethro's indignant gaze swept the group. Primmie said afterward, "You couldn't see him glare at you, but you could FEEL him doin' it." When the stillness was absolute the captain asked, "Where is your fiddle, Abel?"
"Eh?" Mr. Harding paused and cleared his throat. "Why," he stammered, "it's—it's to home. Er—er—that's where I keep it, you know."
"Humph!" Captain Jethro's scorn was withering. "And home is eleven mile away or such matter. How much good is your bein' able to play on it goin' to do us when 'tain't here for you to play on?"
There were discreet snickers from the dimness. Mrs. Hardin's voice was audible, saying, "There, I told you so, foolhead." The captain once more ordered and obtained silence.
"We've had enough of this," he growled. "This ain't a play-actin' show to laugh at. If we can't behave accordin' as we should we'll give it up. Marietta says she can't get into contact with the sperit world without music. Would it do if we was to sing somethin', Marietta?"
Miss Hoag faltered that she didn't know's she hardly believed 'twould. "I always HAVE had some sort of instrumental music, Cap'n Jethro. Don't seem to me's if I could hardly get along without it."
The captain grunted again. "Can't anybody play ANYTHING?" he demanded. "Anything that's within hailin' distance, I mean."
Another silent interval. And then a voice said, timidly, "I can play the mouth organ."
It was Primmie's voice and as she was sitting next Zach Bloomer, who was next Galusha Bangs, the unexpectedness of it made the latter jump. Miss Phipps, next in line on Galusha's left, jumped likewise.
"Primmie," she said, sharply, "don't be silly."
"But I CAN, Miss Martha. You know I can. Zach knows it, too. You've heard me, ain't you, Zach? Ain't you? Ain't you?"
Thus urged, Mr. Bloomer answered, "I've heard you," he said. And added, fervently and under his breath, "Godfreys!"
"Primmie," began Martha, again, but Captain Jethro broke in.
"Quiet, Martha Phipps," he ordered. "Stop your talkin', all hands. Marietta, do you cal'late you could get under way with mouth organ music?"
"Why—why, I don't know. Maybe I could if—if it played church tunes."
"Can you play hymn tunes, Primmie?"
"Yes, sir. I can play 'Sweet By and By' and 'Brighten the Corner Where You Be' and 'Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag.' No, that ain't one, is it? But I can play—"
"Where's your mouth organ now?"
"It's in my jacket pocket out yonder in the kitchen."
"Go fetch it."
Sounds as of one individual falling over others, accompanied by exclamations and confusion, indicated that Miss Cash was going in search of the instrument. Lulie made one more attempt at persuasion.
"Father," she pleaded, "what makes you try to hold a seance to-night? You've been 'way over to Trumet and back and you must be tired. You aren't very well, you know, and all this excitement isn't good for you. Won't you please—"
Her father stamped his foot. "Set down," he shouted. "I know what I'm doin'. This is my house and I'll do as I please in it. Stop! I don't want to hear any more. Where's that Cash girl?"
Primmie was returning bearing the mouth organ. She plowed through the circle like an armored tank through a wire entanglement and reached the light keeper's side.
"Here I be," she announced, "and here 'tis. Shall I commence to begin now? Where do you want me to set?"
She was given a seat in the front row, facing the medium. Captain Hallett, after some final instructions to Zacheus concerning the turning lower of one of the lamps and a last order for stillness, gave the command.
"All ready! Heave ahead!"
Miss Hoag leaned back in her rocking-chair and closed her eyes. Primmie drew a long breath and the first bars of the "Sweet By and By" were forcibly evicted from the harmonica. Zach Bloomer, the irrepressible, leaned over and breathed into his neighbor's ear.
"Say, Mr. Bangs," he whispered, "if you was a sperit would you leave a comf'table berth up aloft to come and anchor alongside THAT noise?"
The "noise" became more enthusiastic as the musician warmed to her work. Miss Hoag stirred uneasily in her chair. Captain Jethro bent toward her.
"Tell her not to play so LOUD," whispered Marietta. The captain obeyed.
"Come, come, Primmie," he said, irritably. "Go easy on it, soften her down. Play low. And stop stompin' out the time with your foot."
Thus cautioned Miss Cash played low, very low, and also very slowly. "The Sweet By and By" droned on, over and over, in the dark stuffiness of the crowded room. Galusha Bangs, who had been at first much amused, began to be bored. Incidentally he was extremely sorry for Lulie, poor girl, who was compelled to be present at this ridiculous exhibition of her father's obsession. Heavy breathing sounded near at hand, growing steadily heavier until it became a snore. The snore broke off in the middle and with a sharp and most unchurchly ejaculation, as if the snorer had been awakened suddenly and painfully. Galusha fancied he recognized Mr. Harding's voice. Primmie ended her thirty-second rendition of the "Sweet By and By" chorus and began the thirty-third.
Then Miss Hoag began to groan. The first groan was so loud and unexpected that Miss Cash gasped "My savin' soul!" into the mouth organ. Marietta continued to groan, also to pound the floor with her heels. In her capacity as "medium" she, like other mediums—mediums of her stripe, that is—was "getting under control."
Then followed the usual sort of thing which follows at this sort of seance. Miss Hoag, through her "control," began to receive and transmit "messages." The control spoke in a kind of husky howl, so to speak, and used a lingo most unusual on this plane, however common it may be elsewhere.
Mr. Bangs was startled when first favored with a sample of this—literally—unearthly elocution.
"Oh, dear me!" he exclaimed. "Oh, dear! WHY does she do that? Is—is she ill?"
Miss Beebe answered, from her place in the circle. "It's her sperit control talkin' now," she whispered. "She's controlled by a China woman."
"Name of Little Cherry Blossom," whispered Mr. Harding.
"Sshh!" said several voices, indignantly.
"Allee samee comee manee namee Johnee," announced Little Cherry Blossom. "Anybody heree knowee manee Johnee?"
Several did, of course, and John was soon undergoing cross-examination. He proved to be the cousin of Mrs. Hannah Peters' first husband who was drowned on the Grand Banks fifteen or sixteen years before. "John-ee" was, like so many of his kind, a bit shaky on names and dates but strong on generalities. However, everybody except the few skeptics from the Phipps' place seemed satisfied and made no embarrassing comments.
Everybody but Mr. Bloomer, that is; Zacheus, the philosopher who had studied his profession aboard a lightship, commented on everything. Sitting next Mr. Bangs, he put his lips close to the ear of the last-named gentleman and breathed caustic sarcasm into it. Galusha found it distracting and, at times, annoying, for Mr. Bloomer's mustache was bristly.
"Little Cherry Blossom talks's if she had a cold," whispered Zach. "Better take a little cherry rum, hadn't she, eh?"
The control was loudly paging a person named Noah.
"Sperit heree wantee talkee with Noah," she cried. "Wheree isee Noah?"
"'Board the Ark, most likely," whispered Mr. Bloomer. "Be hollerin' for Jonah next, won't she? Cal'late so. Yus, yus."
Message after message came and was recognized and acknowledged by the devout. The group from the Phipps' house had so far been slighted, so, too, had Captain Jethro Hallett. There was a slight hubbub in the circle, owing to the fact that two of its members simultaneously recognized and laid claim to the same spirit, each declaring him to be or have been an entirely different person when living. During this little controversy Zacheus whispered in his neighbor's ear.
"Say, Mr. Bangs," he whispered, "this is gettin' kind of tiresome, ain't it? Must be worse for Nelse, though, eh?"
Galusha did not catch his meaning. "For—for whom?" he asked. "I beg your pardon."
"Oh, you're welcome. Why, I mean Nelse Howard must be gettin' more tired than we be, shut up in that front hall the way he is."
"Shut up—Why, really, I—Mr. Howard left the house long ago, didn't he? By the front door, you know."
Zach chuckled. "That front door is locked and the key's been lost for more'n a fortn't. Cal'late Lulie forgot that when she told him to skip out that way. He can't GET out. He's in that front entry now and he'll have to stay there till all hands have gone and the cap'n gone to bed. That's a note, ain't it!... Sshh! They're goin' to begin again."
The identity of the spiritual visitor having been tentatively established, the "communications" continued. Galusha paid little heed to them. The thought of young Howard a prisoner in the front hall was uncomfortable of itself, but still more uncomfortable was the mental picture of what might happen should his presence there be discovered by Captain Hallett. The old light keeper was bigoted and absurdly prejudiced against his daughter's lover at all times. An encounter between them would always be most unpleasant. But this evening, when the captain was in his most fanatical mood, for him to find Nelson Howard hiding in his own house—well, the prospect was almost alarming.
Galusha, much troubled in mind, wondered if Lulie had remembered the locked door and the lost key. Did she realize her fiance's plight? If so, she must be undergoing tortures at that moment. Nelson, of course, could take care of himself and was in no danger of physical injury; the danger was in the effect of the discovery upon Captain Jethro. He was not well, he was in a highly nervous and excited state. Galusha began to fidget in his chair. More than ever he wished the seance would end.
However, it did not end. The messages continued to come. Apparently the line of spirits waiting to communicate was as long as that at the ticket office of a ball park on a pleasant Saturday. And suddenly Mr. Bangs was startled out of his fidgets by the husky voice of Little Cherry Blossom calling the name which was in his mind at the moment.
"Jethro," wheezed Little Cherry Blossom. "Jethro. Some one heree wantee talkee Jethro."
Martha Phipps, sitting next to Galusha, stirred and uttered an impatient exclamation under her breath. From beyond, where Lulie sat, Galusha caught a quick gasp and a frightened "Oh, dear!" Zacheus whispered, "Godfreys!" Primmie bounced up and down with excitement. The circle rustled and then grew very still.
"Well," growled Captain Jethro, a quaver in his deep voice, "I'm here. It is—is it you, Julia?"
Little Cherry Blossom said that it was. Mr. Bangs heard another sniff of disgust from Miss Phipps. He was himself thoroughly disgusted and angry. This mockery of a great sorrow and a great love seemed so wicked and cruel. Marietta Hoag and her ridiculous control ceased to be ridiculous and funny. He longed to shake the fat little creature, shake her until her silly craze for the limelight and desire to be the center of a sensation were thoroughly shaken out of her. Marietta was not wicked, she was just silly and vain and foolish, that was all; but at least half of humanity's troubles are caused by the fools.
"Julia," said Captain Jethro, his big voice trembling as he said it, "I—I'm here, Julia. What is it?"
"Julia she say she gladee you heree," gurgled Little Cherry Blossom. Martha Phipps drew a breath between her teeth as if in pain. Her hand squeezed Lulie's tight. She was suffering with the girl. As for Galusha, sensitive soul that he was, he blushed all over in sympathetic embarrassment.
"I'm glad to be here, Julia," said the captain. "You know it, too, I guess likely. Is all well with you, Julia?"
Cherry Blossom in horrible pidgin English affirmed that all was well, all was happiness and delight and bliss in the realm beyond. Galusha did not hear much of this, he was suffering too acutely to listen. Then he heard Captain Jethro ask another question.
"Is there any special message you've got for me, Julia?"
Yes, there was. "Daughter, daughter." There was some message about a daughter.
"Lulie? Is there somethin' you want to tell me about Lulie, Julia?"
"Father!" It was Lulie herself who uttered the exclamation. "Father," she cried. "Don't! Oh, don't! Please don't!"
Her father's reply was a furious roar.
"Stop!" he thundered. "Be still! Don't you say another word!"
"But, father, PLEASE—"
"Stop!... Julia, Julia... are you there? What is it about Lulie? Tell me."
Little Cherry Blossom herself seemed a bit nervous, for her next message was given with a trifle less assurance. It was an incoherent repetition and re-repetition of the word "daughter" and something about "looking out" and "danger."
Captain Jethro caught at the word.
"Danger?" he queried. "Danger for Lulie? Is that what you mean, Julia? I'm to look out on account of danger comin' for Lulie? Is that it, Julia?"
Lulie made one more desperate plea.
"Father," she begged, "please don't! Of course there isn't any danger for me. This is SO ridiculous."
"Be still, I tell you.... Is that it, Julia? Is it?" Little Cherry Blossom with some hesitation indicated that that was it. A rustle of excitement stirred the circle.
"What kind of danger?" demanded the light keeper, eagerly. "Can't you tell me that, Julia?"
Apparently she could not, for there was no reply. The captain tried to help by suggestion.
"Danger from—from her bein'—er—hurt?" he suggested. "Being run over—or—or—drowned or somethin'?"
No, that was not it.
"Danger from somebody—some person?"
"Yes." Another rustle of excitement in the circle. The light keeper caught his breath.
"Julia," he demanded, "do you mean that—that our girl's in danger from some—some MAN?"
"FATHER! I won't stand this. It's perfectly—"
"Lulie Hallett, you set down! Set DOWN!"
Martha Phipps laid a hand upon the girl's arm. "Don't excite him," she whispered. "I'd sit down if I were you, Lulie."
Lulie, trembling with indignation, subsided under protest. Little Cherry Blossom burst out with a gush of gibberish concerning some man, "bad, wicked manee," who was trying to influence "daughter" in some way or other, just how was not particularly intelligible. Captain Jethro offered another suggestion.
"Julia," he demanded, "is it the outsider, the small, dark man you said afore? Is it him?"
Yes, it was. The rustle in the circle was now so pronounced as to amount almost to a disturbance. Mr. Abel Harding whispered audibly, "It's Nelson Howard she means, don't she?" His wife even more audibly ordered him to "shut up, for the land sakes." Primmie dropped the mouth organ on the floor with a metallic clatter. Startled, she made her customary appeal to the ruler of Israel.
"It's him, eh?" growled the light keeper. "I thought so. I've got my eye on him, Julia, and he knows it. What's he up to now? Where is he?"
"Near her? Here?... In this HOUSE, do you mean?"
A moment's hesitation, and then, "Ye-es, I—I shouldn't wonder."
This bit of information, even though unusually qualified considering its spirit source, caused a genuine sensation. Almost every one said something. Zach Bloomer whistled shrilly in Mr. Bangs' ear and said, "Godfreys!" Galusha said, "Oh, dear me!" with distressful emphasis. Martha Phipps and Lulie clutched each other and the latter uttered a faint scream. Primmie Cash, who had stooped to pick up the dropped harmonica, fell on her knees beside it. Captain Jethro stamped and roared for silence.
"Be still!" he shouted. "Stop! STOP! By the everlastin', I'll—I'll—Julia! Julia!"
But Julia did not answer this time. Neither did Little Cherry Blossom. Whether Miss Hoag was frightened at the effect of her message or whether she figured that she had caused sensation sufficient for one day are matters for conjecture. At all events she stirred in her chair and announced faintly, and in her natural, everyday tones and accent, that she wished a drink of water.
"Where—where be I?" she gasped. "I—Oh, fetch me a drink, somebody, won't you, please?"
The light keeper, paying no need whatever, was shouting his wife's name.
"Julia! Julia!" he cried. "Don't go! I want you! I need you!"
Lulie called "Father" and hastened toward him. Zacheus whispered in Galusha's ear that he cal'lated 'twouldn't do no harm to turn on the glim and proceeded forthwith to turn up the wick of one of the lamps. The sudden illumination showed Captain Jethro standing in the middle of the floor, his face flushed, his brows drawn together and his lips twitching. He was glaring about the room and the expression upon his face was so fierce that Mr. Bangs said, "Oh, dear me!" again when he saw it.
Lulie put her arm about the light keeper's shoulder. "Father, father," she pleaded, "please don't look that way. Come and sit down. Please do!"
But sitting down was far from the captain's thoughts just then. He impatiently tossed his daughter's arm aside.
"So he's here, is he," he growled, between his teeth. "He's in my house, is he? By the everlastin', I'll show him!"
Martha Phipps pushed her way toward the pair.
"There, there, Jethro," she said, quietly, "don't act this way. Don't you see you're frightenin' Lulie half out of her wits? There's nothin' for you to look so savage about. Come over and sit down and rest. You're tired."
"No, I ain't tired, either. Be quiet, woman. By the Lord, if he's in this house I'll find him. And WHEN I find him—"
"Sshh, sshh! What in the world are you talkin' about? Marietta didn't say—"
"Julia—my spirit wife—told me that that skulkin' swab of a Nelse Howard was here in this house. You heard her. Let go of me, both of you! Now where is he?"
He was turning directly toward the door leading to the front hall. Lulie was very white and seemed on the point of collapse. Even Miss Phipps, usually so calm and equal to the emergency, appeared to find this one a trifle too much for her, for she glanced desperately about as if in search of help. Zach Bloomer repeated "Godfreys" several times and looked, for him, almost excited. As for Primmie, she was so frightened as to be speechless, a miracle far more amazing than any other which the seance had thus far produced. The remaining members of the circle were whispering in agitation and staring wide-eyed at the captain and those about him.
Then a masculine voice, a very soft, gentle masculine voice, said, "I beg your pardon, Captain Hallett, but may I—ah—ask a question?"
The very gentleness of the voice and the calmness of its tone had more effect in securing the light keeper's attention than any shout could possibly have done. Captain Jethro stopped in his stride.
"Eh?" he grunted. "Eh? What's that?"
Galusha Bangs moved forward, quietly elbowing his way from the back row of the circle to the open space before the inner line of chairs and their excited occupants.
"It is—ah—I, Captain Hallett," he observed, calmly, "I wished to ask a question. You see, I have been very much interested by the—ah—manifestations here this evening. Very much so, really—indeed, yes."
The light keeper interrupted. "Don't bother me!" he ordered, savagely. "I'm goin' to find that sneakin' rascal, and—Get out of my way, will you?"
Somehow or other the little Egyptologist had moved forward until, without appearing to have made an effort to do so, he was directly in the captain's way—that is, between the latter and the door of the front hall. The command to get out of the way he acknowledged politely and with caution.
"Yes, yes, of course," he said, hastily. "I'm very sorry. Very sorry indeed. I beg your pardon, Captain Hallett. Now there is one point in this lady's—ah—messages—ah—communications, you know—which puzzles me somewhat. You see—"
"I can't stop to talk to you now. I'm goin' to—WILL you get out of my way?"
"Was I in your way? I BEG your pardon. How clumsy of me! I—ah—You see, this lady's last message seemed to point so directly in my direction that I felt constrained to speak. You see, when she, or her—control, is it?—mentioned my being here in your house and accused me of having an evil influence upon your daughter, I—well, I was surprised and—ah—hurt."
A general gasp of astonishment from the circle behind him interrupted. Mr. Abel Harding shouted "Eh!" and, for a wonder, his wife did not take him to task for it. For the matter of that, she had uttered an exclamation also. So had Ophelia Beebe and many others. Zacheus whistled. Primmie once more referred to her saving soul. Martha Phipps cried out.
As for Jethro Hallett, he stared uncomprehendingly at the Bangs' face which looked so earnestly and gravely up into his. He drew a hand across his forehead and breathed heavily.
"Wha—what are you talkin' about?" he demanded. "Who—who said anything about you?"
Galusha transferred his gaze from the light keeper's countenance to that of Miss Marietta Hoag. The medium's moonlike visage bore an expression of intense surprise.
"Why—ah—she did," replied Galusha, gently. "This lady here. She said that an outsider, a small, dark man, was exerting an evil influence upon Miss Lulie—upon your daughter. Then she said this person was here in your house. Now, as I am the only person present who answers to that description, naturally I—well, I—really, I must protest. I have the highest respect and regard for your daughter, Captain Hallett. I should be the last, the very last, to wish to exert any such influence."
"Nonsense!" The amazed captain shouted the word. "What are you talkin' about? 'Twan't you she said. 'Twas that Howard swab. He's been hangin' around Lulie for more 'n a year."
"Ah—pardon me, Captain Hallett, but really I must make my point. It could not have been Mr. Howard to whom the—ah—control referred. Mr. Howard is somewhat dark, perhaps, but he is not small. I am both dark and small. And I am here, whereas Mr. Howard apparently is not. And I am, beyond question, an outsider. Therefore—"
"Nonsense, I tell you! She said Nelson Howard was in this house."
"Pardon me, pardon me, Captain Hallett. She said a small, dark man, an outsider, was in this house. She mentioned no names. You mentioned no names, did you, Miss—ah—Hoag?"
Marietta, thus unexpectedly appealed to, gasped, swallowed, turned red and stammered that she didn't know's she did; adding hastily that she never remembered nothin' of what she said in the trance state. After this she swallowed again and observed that she didn't see WHY she couldn't have that drink of water.
"So you see, Captain Hallett," went on Mr. Bangs, with the same gentle persistence, "being the only person present answering the description given by the medium I feel somewhat—ah—distressed. I must insist that I am unjustly accused. I must ask Miss Phipps here and your daughter herself to say whether or not my conduct toward Miss Lulie has not been quite—ah—harmless and without—ah—malevolence. I shall be glad to leave it to them."
Of the pair to whom this appeal for judgment was made Martha Phipps alone heeded it. Lulie, still white and trembling, was intent only upon her father. But Martha rose to the occasion with characteristic promptness.
"Of course, Mr. Bangs," she declared, "you've behaved just as nice as any one could be in this world. I could hardly believe my ears when Marietta said you were an evil influence towards Lulie. You ought to be careful about sayin' such things, Marietta. Why, you never met Mr. Bangs before this evenin'. How could you know he was an evil influence?"
Miss Hoag, thus attacked from an unexpected quarter, was thrown still more out of mental poise. "I never said he was one," she declared, wildly. "I only just said there was a—a—I don't know what I said. Anyhow I never said it, 'twas my control talkin'. I'll leave it to 'Phelia Beebe. You know I don't know what I'm sayin' when I'm in the trance state, don't you, 'Phelia? Anyhow, all I said was.... Oh, 'Phelia," wildly, "why don't you help me out?... And—and I've asked no less'n four mortal times for that drink of water. I—I—Oh, oh—"
She became hysterical. The circle ceased to be a circle and became a series of agitated groups, all talking at once. Mr. Bloomer seized the opportunity to turn up the wick of another lamp. Lulie, clinging to her father's arm, led him toward a chair in a secluded corner.
"Sit down, father," she urged. "Sit down, and rest. Please do!"
The old light keeper's fiery rage seemed to be abating. He passed his hand across his forehead several times and his expression changed. He looked like one awakening from a bad dream.
"I—I cal'late I will set down for a minute or so, Lulie," he faltered. "I do feel sort of tired, somehow or 'nother. I don't want to talk any more, Mr. Bangs," he added, wearily. "I—I'll have to think it all out. Lulie, I cal'late they'd better go home. Tell 'em all to go. I'm tired."
Martha Phipps passed from group to group whispering.
"I guess we'd better go," she suggested. "He's pretty well worn out, I'm afraid. Everybody's things are there in the dinin' room or in the side entry. We'd better go right away, it seems to me."
Galusha had gotten his "things" already, his coat was over his arm. The others followed his example. A few minutes more and the last of the "ghost seiners" had left the house and were climbing into the automobiles in the yard. Marietta Hoag's voice was the last distinctly audible.
"I can't help it," she wailed. "It wasn't my fault anyway. And—and, besides, that Bangs man hadn't any right to say 'twas him I meant.... I mean the control meant. It wasn't him at all.... I mean I don't believe 'twas. Oh, dear! I WISH you'd stop askin' questions, Abe Hardin'. CAN'T you stop?"
Galusha and Primmie set out for the Phipps' homestead ahead of its owner, but she caught up with them at the gate.
"He's goin' right up to bed," she said. "Zach will look out for the light to-night."
"And—" asked Galusha, with significant emphasis.
Martha did not reply. She waited until they were in the sitting room and alone, Primmie having been sentenced to go to her own room and to bed. Miss Cash had no desire for bed; her dearest wish was to remain with her mistress and their lodger and unload her burden of conversation.
"My savin' soul!" she began. "My savin' soul! Did you ever in your born days! When that Marietta Hoag—or that Chinee critter—or Cap'n Jeth's ghost's wife—or whoever 'twas talkin' that spirit jabber—when she—them, I mean—give out that a small, dark man was right there in that house, I thought—"
"Primmie, go to bed."
"Yes'm. And when I remembered that Nelse Howard was—"
"Go to bed this minute!"
"Yes'm. But how do you 'spose he's goin' to—"
Miss Phipps conducted her to the foot of the back stairs and, returning, closed each door she passed through behind her. Then she answered her lodger's unspoken question.
"Lulie will go with her father and help him up to his room," she said. "After he is out of the way Nelson can come out and Zach, I suppose, will let him out by the side door."
Galusha smiled faintly. "The poor fellow must have been somewhat disturbed when that—ah—medium person announced that the 'evil influence' was in the house," he observed.
Martha sniffed. "I guess likely we were all disturbed," she said. "Especially those of us who knew. But how did Marietta know? That's what I can't understand. Or did she just guess?"
Before Bangs could answer there was a rap on the windowpane. Martha, going to the door, admitted Nelson Howard himself. The young man's first speech was a question.
"Do you know what became of my hat?" he asked. "Like an idiot I hung my hat and coat in that entry off the dining room when I went in. When I came out just now the hat was gone."
Martha looked troubled.
"It wasn't that cap you wear so much, at the station and everywhere?" she asked. "I hope no one took THAT; they'd know whose 'twas in a minute."
"Yes, that's what I'm afraid of. I... Eh? Why, there it is now."
The cap was lying on the couch beside Mr. Bangs' overcoat. Howard picked it up with an air of great relief.
"You brought it over for me, Mr. Bangs, didn't you?" he cried.
"Why—why, yes, I—I did," stammered Galusha. "You see, I—"
The young man broke in enthusiastically. "By jingo, that was clever of you!" he cried. "I was afraid some one had got that cap who would recognize it. Say," he went on, "I owe you about everything to-night, Mr. Bangs. When Marietta gave out her proclamation that the 'small dark man' was in that house I came nearer to believing in her kind of spiritualism than I ever thought I should. I was scared—not on my own account, I hope—but for Lulie and her father. If the old cap'n had found me hiding in that front hall I don't know what he might have done, or tried to do. And I don't know what effect it might have had on him. He was—well, judging from what I could hear, he was in a state that was—that was pretty near to—to—"
While he was hesitating Martha Phipps finished the sentence. "To what they put people in asylums for," she said, emphatically. "He was, there is no doubt about that. It's a mercy he didn't find you, Nelson. And if I were you I wouldn't take any such chances again."
"I shan't, you needn't worry. When Lulie and I meet after this it will be—Humph! well, I don't know where it will be. Even the graveyard doesn't seem to be safe. But I must go. Tell Lulie I got away safe and sound, thanks to Mr. Bangs here. And tell her to 'phone me to-morrow. I'm anxious about Cap'n Jeth. Sometimes I think it might be just as well if I went straight to him and told him—"
Again Martha interrupted.
"My soul, no!" she exclaimed. "Not now, not till he gets that 'small dark man' notion out of his head."
"I suppose you're right. And Mr. Bangs has set him guessing on that, too. Honestly, Mr. Bangs, you've just about saved—well, if you haven't saved everybody's life you've come pretty near to saving the cap'n's reason, I do believe. How Lulie and I can ever thank you enough I don't know."
Galusha turned red. "Ah—ah—don't—ah—please don't," he stammered. "It was just—ah—a silly idea of mine. On the spur of the moment it came to me that—ah—that the medium person hadn't said WHO the small, dark man was. And as I am rather dark perhaps—and small, certainly—it occurred to me to claim identity. Almost every one else had received some sort of—ah—spirit message and, you see, I didn't wish to be neglected."
"Well, it was the smartest dodge that I ever heard of. By jingo, it was! Say, you don't suppose Cap'n Jeth will take it seriously and begin to get down on YOU, do you?"
Martha looked grave. "I was wonderin' that myself," she said.
Galusha smiled. "Oh, dear no," he said. "I think there is no danger of that, really. But, Mr. Howard, in regard to that—ah—cap of yours, I... Eh?... Um... Why, dear me, I wonder—"
"Why is it you wonder, Mr. Bangs?" asked Martha, after a moment's wait.
"Why—ah—considering that that cap of Mr. Howard's is one which, so you and he say, he is in the habit of wearing, and that many people have often seen him wear, I was wondering—Dear me, yes, that might explain."
"Why, it occurred to me that as that cap was hanging in the—ah—entry—the little hall off Captain Hallett's dining room—when the people came in, and as the medium person—Miss—ah—bless me, what IS her name?—as she came in with the rest, it occurred to me that she might have seen the cap and—"
Miss Phipps clapped her hands. "She saw it and knew whose it was," she cried, excitedly. "Of course she did! THAT'S how she guessed the small, dark man was in the house. THAT'S how 'Little Toddy Blossom,' or whatever her name is, got so smart all at once. Well, well! Of course, of course!"
"It—ah—occurred to me that that might possibly explain," observed Galusha, placidly.
"It does. But, Nelson, what set Marietta and her spirits after you in particular? Has she got any grudge against you?"
"Not that I know of, Martha. She knows I don't take any stock in her kind of spirit messages. I don't think she likes me very well on that account."
"Well, perhaps, that is reason enough. Or perhaps she just happened the first time to mention the small dark man hit or miss and Cap'n Jethro pinned the tag to you; after that she did her best to keep it there. Well, thanks to Mr. Bangs, the cap'n isn't as sure as he was, that's some comfort."
Martha accompanied Nelson to the door. After he had gone and she returned to the sitting room she found her lodger standing, lamp in hand, at the foot of the stairs.
"Goin' to turn in, Mr. Bangs?" she asked. "Goin' to bed, I mean? Father always used to call it turnin' in; it's a saltwater way of sayin' it, just as so many of his expressions were. I guess you must be pretty tired. I know I am. Take it by and large—that is another of father's expressions—we've had an excitin' evenin'."
Galusha admitted the fact. His landlady regarded him with an odd expression.
"Do you know," she said, suddenly, "you are the most surprisin' person I ever met, Mr. Bangs?... There! I didn't mean to say that," she added. "I was thinkin' it and it sort of spoke itself, as you might say. I beg your pardon."
"Oh, that's quite all right, quite, Miss Phipps," Galusha assured her. "I have no doubt you are perfectly correct. No doubt I am surprising; at least most people seem to find a peculiar quality in most of my—ah—actions." He smiled his gentle smile, and added, "I presume it must be a part of my profession. In books, you know—in novels—the few I have read—the archaeologist or the scientific man or the college professor is always peculiar."
She shook her head. "That isn't just what I meant," she said. "So far as that goes I've generally noticed that folks with little brains are fond of criticizin' those with bigger ones. Part of such criticisms is 'don't understand' and the rest is plain jealousy. But what I meant by callin' you surprisin' was—was—Well," with a half laugh, "I might just as well say it plain. Ever since you've been here, Mr. Bangs, the feelin' has been growin' on me that you were probably the wisest man in the world about some things and the most simple and impractical about others. Over there in Egypt you know everything, I do believe. And yet right down here on Cape Cod you need somebody to keep Ras Beebe and Raish Pulcifer from cheatin' you out of your last cent. That's what I thought. 'Mr. Bangs is wonderful,' I said to myself, 'but I'm afraid he isn't practical.' And yet to-night, over there, you were the only practical one amongst us."
Galusha protested. "Oh, no, Miss Phipps," he said. "Dear me, no. My claiming to be the small, dark man was, as I said, merely a silly notion which came to me. I acted on the spur of the moment. It was nothing."
"It was about everything," stoutly. "It was your notion, as you call it, that saved Cap'n Jethro from findin' Nelson Howard in that front hall; and savin' him from that saved us from havin' a crazy man on our hands, I truly believe. And you did it so right on the instant, so matter of fact and common sense. Really, Mr. Bangs, I—I don't know what to say to you."
Galusha smiled. "You said it before," he observed, "when you said you were surprised. I am surprised myself. Dear me, yes."
"Don't! That was a foolish thing for me to say and you mustn't take it the wrong way. And your bringing Nelson's hat over here instead of leavin' it in that entry for more of Marietta's crowd to notice and, ten to one, recognize! We all knew it was hangin' there. I saw Nelson hang it there, myself, when he came in. But did I think to take it out of sight? Did I—Why, what is it? What's the matter?"
Her lodger was protesting violently. "Don't, don't, don't, Miss Phipps," he begged. "Please don't! You see, that hat—that cap of Mr. Howard's—"
"Yes, you brought it over here."
"Yes, I—I brought it over. I brought it—but—"
"But I didn't know that I did. I must have been thinking of something else when I went after my things and it is a mercy that I took my own coat. It was only by accident that I took the—ah—young man's cap. I was under the impression that it was my own. I presume my own cap is hanging in the Hallett entry at this moment.... Ah—good-night, Miss Phipps. Good night. I have had a very pleasant evening, very pleasant indeed."
Martha Phipps and her lodger, to say nothing of Lulie Hallett, were fearful of the effect which the eventful seance might have upon the light keeper. It was with considerable foreboding that Martha called Lulie up on the telephone the next morning. But the news she received in answer to her call was reassuring. Captain Jethro, so Lulie said, was apparently quite himself again, a little tired and a trifle irritable, but otherwise all right.
"The only unusual thing about him," said his daughter, "is that he has not once mentioned the seance or anything that happened there. If it wasn't too ridiculous to be possible I should almost think he had forgotten it."
"Then for the land sakes don't remind him," urged Martha, eagerly. "So long as HE is willin' not to remember you ought to be. Yes, and thankful," she added.
"I guess likely he hasn't forgotten," she said afterwards, in conversation with her lodger. "I imagine he is a good deal upset in his mind; your bouncin' in and claimin' to be the 'evil influence' put him 'way off his course and he hasn't got his bearin's yet. He's probably tryin' to think his way through the fog and he won't talk till he sees a light, or thinks he sees one. I wish to goodness the light would be so strong that he'd see through Marietta Hoag and all her foolishness, but I'm afraid that's too much to expect."
Her surmise was correct, for a few days later the captain met Galusha on the road leading to the village and, taking the little man by the arm, became confidential.
"Mr. Bangs," he said, "I cal'late you must think it's kind of queer my not sayin' a word to you about what happened t'other night over to the house."
Galusha, who had been thinking of something else and was mentally thousands of miles away—on the banks of the Nile, in fact—regarded him rather vacantly.
"Eh? Oh—um—yes, of course," he stammered. "I beg your pardon."
"No reason why you should beg my pardon. I don't blame you for thinkin' so. It's natural."
"Yes—yes, of course, of course. But I don't know that I quite comprehend. Of what were you speaking, Captain Hallett?"
The captain explained. "Of course you think it's queer that I haven't said a word about what Julia told us," he went on. "Eh? Don't you?"
"What—ah—what Miss Hoag said, you mean?"
"Plague take Marietta!" impatiently. "She wan't nothin' but the go-between. 'Twas my wife that said it. You understand 'twas Julia, my wife, talkin', don't you?"
"Suppose? Don't you KNOW 'twas?"
"Why—ah—no doubt, no doubt."
"Course there ain't any doubt. Well then, Julia said there was a dark man heavin' a sort of evil influence over Lulie."
"She said a SMALL dark man, a stranger. And she said he was present among us. So far as I can see I was the only small dark stranger."
"But you ain't an evil influence, are you?"
"Well, I—ah—hope not. Dear me, no!"
"I hope not, too, and I don't believe you are. No, there is some mistake somewheres. 'Twas Nelson Howard she must have meant."
"But, Captain Hallett, Mr. Howard is not small."
"No, and he wan't there that evenin', neither. But I'm bettin' 'twas him she meant just the same. Just the same."
"Do you think that is quite fair to Mr. Howard? If he isn't small, nor very dark, and if he was not in your house that evening, how—"
"I don't know—I don't know. Anyhow, I don't believe she meant you, Mr. Bangs. She couldn't have."
"Because—well, because you couldn't be an evil influence if you tried, you wouldn't know how. THAT much I'll bet on. There, there, don't let's talk no more about it. Julia and me'll have another talk pretty soon and then I'll find out more, maybe."
So that was the end of this portion of the conversation. The light keeper positively refused to mention the subject again. Galusha was left with the uneasy feeling that his brilliant idea of claiming to be the small, dark influence for evil had not been as productive of good results as he had hoped. Certainly it had not in the least shaken the captain's firm belief in his spirit messages, nor had it, apparently, greatly abated his prejudice against young Howard. On the other hand, Lulie found comfort in the fact that in all other respects her father seemed as rational and as keen as he had ever been. The exciting evening with the Hoag spook had worked no lasting harm. For so much she and her friends were grateful.
The autumn gales blew themselves out and blew in their successors, the howling blasts of winter. Winter at Gould's Bluffs, so Galusha Bangs discovered, was no light jest of the weather bureau. His first January no'theaster taught him that. Lying in his bed at one o'clock in the morning, feeling that bed tremble beneath him as the wind gripped the sturdy gables of the old house, while the snow beat in hissing tumult against the panes, and the great breakers raved and roared at the foot of the bluff—this was an experience for Galusha. The gray dawn of the morning brought another, for, although it was no longer snowing, the wind was, if anything, stronger than ever and the seaward view from his bedroom window was a picture of frothing gray and white, of flying spray and leaping waves, and on the landward side the pines were bending and threshing as if they were being torn in pieces. He came downstairs, somewhat nervous and a trifle excited, to find Mr. Bloomer, garbed in oilskins and sou'wester, standing upon the mat just inside the dining room door. Zacheus, it developed, had come over to borrow some coffee, the supply at the light having run short. As Galusha entered, a more than usually savage blast rushed shrieking over the house, threatening, so it seemed to Mr. Bangs, to tear every shingle from the roof.
"Goodness gracious!" exclaimed Galusha. "Dear me, what a terrible storm this is!"
Zacheus regarded him calmly. "Commenced about ten last night," he observed. "Been breezin' on steady ever since. Be quite consider'ble gale if it keeps up."
Mr. Bangs looked at him with amazement.
"If it keeps up!" he repeated. "Isn't it a gale now?"
Zach shook his head.
"Not a reg'lar gale, 'tain't," he said. "Alongside of some gales I've seen this one ain't nothin' but a tops'l breeze. Do you remember the storm the night the Portland was lost, Martha?"
Miss Phipps, who had come in from the kitchen with a can of coffee in her hand, shuddered.
"Indeed I do, Zacheus," she said; "don't remind me of it."
"Why, dear me, was it worse than this one?" asked Galusha.
Martha smiled. "It blew the roof off the barn here," she said, "and blew down both chimneys on the house and both over at Cap'n Jeth's. So far as that goes we had plenty of company, for there were nineteen chimneys down along the main road in Wellmouth. And trees—mercy! how the poor trees suffered! East Wellmouth lost thirty-two big silver-leafs and the only two elms it had. Set out over a hundred years ago, those elms were."
"Spray from the breakers flew clear over the top of the bank here," said Zach. "That's some h'ist for spray, hundred and odd feet. I wan't here to see it, myself, but Cap'n Jeth told me."
"You were in a more comfortable place, I hope," observed Galusha.
"Um—we-ell, that's accordin' to what you call comf'table. I was aboard the Hog's Back lightship, that's where I was."
"Dear, dear! Is it possible?"
"Um-hm. Possible enough that I was there, and one spell it looked impossible that I'd ever be anywheres else. Godfreys, what a night that was! Whew! Godfreys domino!"
Primmie, who had also come in from the kitchen, was listening, open-mouthed.
"I bet you that lightship pitched up and down somethin' terrible, didn't it, Zach?" she asked.
Zacheus looked at her solemnly. "Pitched?" he repeated, after a moment's contemplation. "No, no, she didn't pitch none."
"Didn't? Didn't pitch up and down in such a gale's that? And with waves a hundred foot high? What kind of talk's that, Zach Bloomer! How could that lightship help pitchin', I'd like to know?"
Mr. Bloomer adjusted the tin cover on the can in which Martha had put the coffee, then he put the can in the pocket of his slicker.
"We-ll, I tell you, Primmie," he drawled. "You see, we had pretty toler'ble long anchor chains on that craft and when the captain see how 'twas blowin' he let them chains out full length. The wind blowed so strong it lifted the lightship right out of the water up to the ends of them chains and kept her there. Course there was a dreadful sea runnin' underneath us, but we never felt it a mite; that gale was holdin' us up twenty foot clear of it!"
"Zacheus Bloomer, do you mean to say—"
"Um-hm. Twenty foot in the air we was all that night and part of next day. When it slacked off and we settled down again we was leakin' like a sieve; you see, while we was up there that no'thwester had blowed 'most all the copper off the vessel's bottom. Some storm that was, Posy, some storm.... Well, so long, all hands. Much obliged for the coffee, Martha."
He tugged his sou'wester tighter on his head, glanced at Miss Cash's face, where incredulity and indignation were written large and struggling for expression, turned his head in Mr. Bangs' direction, winked solemnly, and departed. The wind obligingly and enthusiastically saved him the trouble of closing the door.
Galusha was not called upon to endure any such experiences as those described by the veracious Mr. Bloomer in his record-breaking gale, but during that winter he learned a little of what New England coast weather could be and often was. And he learned, also, that that weather was, like most blusterers, not nearly as savage when met squarely face to face. He learned to put on layer after layer of garments, topping off with oilskins, sou'wester and mittens, and tramp down to the village for the mail or to do the household errands. He was growing stronger all the time and if the doctor could have seen him plowing through drifts or shouldering his way through a driving rain he would have realized that his patient was certainly obeying the order to "keep out of doors." Martha Phipps was perfectly certain that her lodger was keeping out of doors altogether too much.
"You aren't goin' out to-day, Mr. Bangs, are you?" she exclaimed. "It's as cold as the North Pole. You'll freeze."
Galusha smiled beneath his cap visor and between the ear-laps.
"Oh, no, indeed," he declared. "It's brisk and—ah—snappy, that's all. A smart walk will do me good. I am accustomed to walking. In Egypt I walk a GREAT deal."
"I don't doubt it; but you don't have much of this sort of weather in Egypt, if what I've heard is true."
Mr. Bangs' smile broadened. "I fear I shall have to admit that," he said; "but my—ah—physician told me that a change would be good for me. And this IS a change, now isn't it?"
"I should say it was. About as much change as a plate of ice cream after a cup of hot coffee. Well, if you're bound to go, do keep walkin' fast. Don't forget that it's down to zero or thereabouts; don't forget that and wander over to the old cemetery and kneel down in front of a slate tombstone and freeze to death."
"Oh, I shall be all right, Miss Phipps. Really I shall. Don't worry, I beg of you."
He had begged her not to worry on many other occasions and she had been accustomed to answer him in a manner half joking and half serious. But this time she did not answer at all for a moment, and when she did there was no hint of a joke in her tone.
"No," she said, slowly. "I won't. I couldn't, I guess. Don't seem as if I could carry any more worries just now, any more than I am carryin', I mean."
She sighed as she said it and he looked at her in troubled alarm.
"Oh, dear me!" he exclaimed. "I—I'm so sorry. Sorry that you are worried, I mean. Is there anything I can do to—to—I should be very glad to help in any way if—"
He was hesitating, trying to say the right thing and very fearful of saying too much, of seeming to be curious concerning her personal affairs, when she interrupted him. She was standing by the kitchen door, with one hand upon the knob, and she spoke without looking at him.
"There is nothin' you or anybody can do," she said. "And there isn't a single bit of use talkin' about it. Trot along and have your walk, Mr. Bangs. And don't pay any attention to what I said. It was just silliness. I get a little nervous, sometimes, but that's no reason for my makin' other people that way. Have a good walk."