"I am very sorry," he said, "but—but, you see, that is a—ah—secret, I understand. Of course, they did not write me who was to buy the stock and so—and so—"
"And so you don't know. Well, it doesn't make a bit of difference, really. The Lord knows I shouldn't care so long as I sell it honestly and don't cheat anybody. And a big house like Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot ought to know what they're doin' when they buy, or let any of their customers buy. I'll get the certificate this very minute, Mr. Bangs."
She hastened up the stairs. Galusha wiped his forehead and breathed heavily. There was a knock on the door leading to the dining room; it opened and Primmie's head appeared.
"I heard her go upstairs," she whispered, hoarsely. "Is it all right, Mr. Bangs? Was there good news in that What-you-call-it-Bancroft letter, Mr. Bangs? Was there?"
"Go away, Primmie! Go AWAY!"
"I'm a-goin'. But was there?"
"Yes—ah—no—I—I guess so."
"Lord everlastin' of Isrul! My savin' soul!"
Martha's footsteps on the stairs caused the head to disappear and the door to close. Miss Phipps appeared, her hand clasping a highly ornate document.
"Here's the certificate," she said, breathlessly. "I'm so upset and excited I don't know hardly whether I'm in the channel or hard aground, as father used to say, but I've signed my name on the back. Once when I sold two shares of railroad stock he left me I had to sign on the back there. I HOPE I've done it in the right place."
Galusha declared the signature to be quite right, yes. As a matter of fact, he could not have told for certain that there was a signature there. He crammed the certificate into his pocket.
"Oh, my sakes!" protested Martha, "you aren't goin' to just put it loose into that pocket, are you? Don't you think it ought to go in your—your wallet, or somewhere?"
"Eh? Why—why, I presume it had.... Dear me, yes.... It would be a—a joke if I lost it, wouldn't it?"
"A JOKE! Well, it wouldn't be my notion of a joke, exactly."
"Oh, dear, dear! Did I say 'joke'? I didn't mean that it would actually be—ah—humorous, of course. I meant... I meant.... Really, I don't think I know what I meant."
"I don't believe you do. Mr. Bangs, I truly think you are more excited about all this than I am, and all on my account. What can I ever say—or do—to—"
"Please, please, Miss Martha! Dear me, dear me, DON'T speak in that way. It's so—ah—nonsensical, you know. Now if—if I may have my coat and—ah—cap—"
"Cap! Goodness gracious, you weren't plannin' to wear that old cap, earlaps and all, to Boston, were you? And—mercy me! I didn't think of it until this minute—the train doesn't go for 'most two hours."
She burst out laughing and, because she was overwrought and a trifle hysterical, she laughed a good deal. Galusha laughed even longer than she did, not because he was hysterical, but because laughing was very much easier and safer than answering embarrassing questions.
When it really was time to leave for the railroad station and Galusha, NOT wearing the earlapped cap, but hatted and garbed as became his rank and dignity, was standing on the stone step by the outside door, she said:
"Now do be careful, Mr. Bangs."
"Yes—yes, I will, I promise you. I shall keep one hand in my pocket, holding the pocketbook with the certificate in it, until I get to the office. I shall think of nothing else."
"Mercy me, think of SOMETHIN' else, please! Think of yourself when you're goin' across those Boston streets or you'll be run over. I declare, I don't know as I ought to let you go."
"Oh, I shall be quite safe, quite. But, really," he added, with a puzzled smile, "I can't tell you how odd this seems. When I was a boy my Aunt Clarissa, I remember, used to caution me about—about crossing the streets, and so on. It makes me feel quite young again to have you do it, Miss Martha. I assure you it does."
Martha regarded him gravely.
"Hasn't anybody since ever told you to be careful?" she asked; "anybody since your aunt died, I mean?"
"Why, no, I think not. I presume," he added, with the air of one suggesting a happy explanation, "I presume no one has—ah—been sufficiently interested. It would have been peculiar if they had been, of course."
"Hum!... Well, I hope you won't think I am impudent for remindin' you to look out."
"Oh, no, indeed. It is very nice of you to take the trouble. I like it, really I do."
The office of Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot was closed when his train reached Boston, so he went to a hotel and remained there over-night. But he was on hand at the banking office early the next morning. In the interval he had time for more reflection and, as a result, he determined not to go to Mr. Barbour with his business. The fear that knowledge of what he was about to do would reach Cousin Gussie's ears was strong upon him. Doubtless it was a fact that he had a right to do what he pleased with his own money, but it was also a fact that Cousin Gussie seemed to think he had no such right. Barbour was the Cabot secretary, or assistant secretary, so decidedly it was best not to go to Barbour.
It was Minor whom he saw as he entered the banking house and to Minor he divulged his business. Taking from his pocketbook the Tinplate check, he asked if he might have it—ah—broken up, so to speak.
"You see," he explained, "I want to get—ah—five thousand dollars."
Minor appeared rather puzzled at first, and Mr. Bangs' tangled and nervous explanations did not seem to enlighten him greatly. At last, however, he caught the idea.
"I see," he said. "You don't want to deposit and draw against it; you want two checks instead of one. One check for five thousand and the other for the balance."
"Yes, yes, yes," assented Galusha, much relieved. "That is it, exactly. I am very much obliged to you—indeed I am—yes."
Minor took him to one of the windows and introduced him to the clerk at the desk behind it.
"Give Mr. Bangs whatever he wants," he said.
Galusha explained. The clerk asked how he would have the five-thousand-dollar check made out.
"In your own name?" he asked.
Mr. Bangs reflected. "Why—ah—" he stammered, "I should prefer it in—ah—some other name, if possible. I should prefer that my name was not connected with it, if you don't mind."
"In the name of the person you intend paying it to?" inquired the clerk.
Galusha reflected again. If Martha Phipps' name were written on that check it would be possible that, some day or other, Cousin Gussie might see it. And if he saw it, questions would be asked, embarrassing questions.
"No-o," he said, hesitatingly; "no, I think I should not care to have her—that is, to have that person's name appear, either. Isn't there some way by which the sum could be paid without any one's name appearing? A check to—to—oh, dear me! why CAN'T I think of it?"
"To bearer, you mean?"
"That's it, that's it. A check to bearer would be very satisfactory, very satisfactory, indeed. Thank you very much."
The clerk, who was a painstaking young man, destined to rise in his profession, inspected the odd individual outside the railing.
"A check to bearer is almost the same as cash," he said. "If you should lose it, it would be negotiable—practically the money itself, or pretty near it."
Galusha started. He looked radiantly happy.
"That's it!" he exclaimed. "That's it, of course. Thank you for the suggestion. The money will be the very thing. It will be such a delightful surprise. And there will be no one's name upon it at all. I will take the money, of course."
It took some time to convince the astonished clerk that Mr. Bangs actually wished five thousand dollars in currency, but he finally was convinced.
"How will you have it?" he asked. "Small bills or large?"
Galusha apparently did not care. Any denominations would be quite satisfactory, he affirmed. So, when the transaction was finished, and he left the Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot office, it was with a new check for nine thousand, three hundred and ten dollars and thirty-eight cents in his pocketbook and in his trousers' pocket a roll of bills as thick as his wrist. By way of modification to this statement, it may be well to explain that Galusha Bangs' wrists, considered AS wrists, were by no means thick.
The clerk stared after him as he departed and a fellow clerk paused to ask questions.
"Who was the old guy?" he inquired.
"What is he?"
"A nut," was the reply, given with the assurance of absolute conviction.
The "nut" traveled back to East Wellmouth upon the afternoon train and, back once more in the Phipps' sitting room, "shelled out" upon the center table. Martha stared at the heap of bills and caught her breath with a gasp.
Galusha deposited the last bank note upon the table. "There!" he exclaimed, with satisfaction; "that is all, I believe. And I have actually gotten it here—all of it. I am quite sure I haven't lost a—a penny. Dear me, that is a very remarkable thing to do—for me to do, I mean."
Miss Phipps did not answer and, turning, he saw that she was sitting in the rocking-chair, her hand to her forehead. Her face was white.
"Dear me!" he exclaimed, in alarm. "Miss Martha, are you ill?"
Still she did not answer and, very much frightened, he hastened to the door, opened it, and shouted for Primmie. The summons for her handmaiden acted as a complete restorative. Martha came to life at once.
"WHAT in the world are you callin' Primmie for?" she demanded. "I don't want her. I wouldn't have her see all that.... Oh, good heavens and earth!"
Primmie was already in the room. She, as Mr. Bangs would have described it, bounced in.
"Yes'm—I mean yes, sir," was her salutation. "Here I be.... Oh, my savin' soul of Isrul!"
She had seen the mound of money upon the table. Two minutes later Martha and her lodger were again alone in the sitting room. Primmie had been, gently but firmly, escorted to outer darkness and the door closed behind her. She was still asking questions and calling for her ransomed spirit and the ruler of Israel; they could hear her do so even through the door. The exclamations died away in the direction of the kitchen. Miss Phipps, who had done escort duty, turned toward Galusha and ruefully shook her head.
"I GUESS there isn't anybody I'd rather should not have been here just now than Primmie Cash," she observed. "If there is I can't think of their names. Mr. Bangs, I know you meant well, because you couldn't mean any other way, but would you mind tellin' me WHY you called for her?"
Galusha blinked in bewildered fashion behind his spectacles.
"Why—why," he stammered, "you—you see—why, I spoke to you several times and you did not answer—and you were so pale, I thought—I thought—"
"You thought I was sick and so you sung out for Primmie. Humph! that's a good deal like jumpin' into the well to get out of the rain. But there, never mind. So I looked pale and didn't answer when you spoke? Do you wonder? Mr. Bangs," she moved to the table and laid a hand, which trembled a good deal, upon the pile of bills, "is this money really mine?"
"Yes—oh, yes, indeed. It is yours, of course."
"All of it? It doesn't seem possible. How much is there here?"
He told her. She lifted the topmost bills from the heap and reverently laid them down again.
"Five thousand dollars!" she repeated. "It's like—it's like somethin' in a dream, or a book, isn't it? I can hardly believe I am Martha Phipps. So they did think Wellmouth Development was worth somethin', after all. And they paid—why, Mr. Bangs, they paid the full price, didn't they! Twenty dollars a share; as much as father paid in the first place."
"Yes—ah—yes, of course. Yes, indeed. Are you sure you feel quite well again, Miss Martha?"
"I'm sure. But what did they say when they bought it, Mr. Bangs?"
"Say? Ah, say?... Why, they said—ah—um—they said there was the money and—and I counted it, you know, and—"
"Yes, yes. But didn't they say anything about the stock; about why they bought it, and like that?"
"Why, no... no, I think nothing was—ah—so to speak—ah—said. They—ah—Won't you sit down again, Miss Martha? I think you had better."
"Sit down! Mr. Bangs, I'm too excited to sit down. I could fly, I think, a good deal easier than I could sit; at least, I feel as if I could. And so they just bought that stock and said nothing more than that? Just bought it?"
"Yes—ah—yes, that's it. They—ah—bought it, you know."
"It seems strange. What did your cousin say?"
"Ah—my cousin? Cousin Gussie, you mean. Yes, yes, of course. Oh, he said—ah—all sorts of things."
"Did he? About the stock?"
"Oh, no, not about the stock so much. No, not so much about that, about... a sort of general conversation it was, about—about the weather, and—and the like."
"The weather? Did he write about the weather in his letter?"
He had for the moment forgotten that his relative was an invalid in the Far West and that Miss Phipps knew it. He turned red, coughed, stammered and then broke out in a series of fragmentary and involved explanations to the effect that Cousin Gussie was—ah—naturally much interested in the weather because of his state of health and—and—She paid little heed, for in the midst of his explaining she interrupted.
"Oh, never mind, never mind," she said. "It doesn't make one bit of difference and why I asked about it I don't know. You see, Mr. Bangs, I'm not back on earth yet, as you might say, and I don't suppose I shall be for a little while, so you'll have to be patient with me. All I can think of is that now I can live here in this house, for a while longer anyhow, and perhaps always. And I sha'n't have to turn Primmie away. And—and maybe I won't have to lie awake night after night, plannin' how I can do this and do without that—and—and—"
She stopped, her sentence unfinished. Galusha said nothing. A moment later she turned to him.
"Should I write your cousin a letter and thank him, do you think?" she asked.
Galusha's reply was hurriedly given and most emphatic. "Oh, no, no," he protested. "It will be quite unnecessary, quite. Indeed, no. He—ah—he would not expect it."
"No, I presume likely he wouldn't. And, after all, it was just a matter of business with his firm. But it wasn't a matter of business with you, Mr. Bangs. And if it hadn't been for you, I—I—Well, I mustn't say any more or—or... Oh, you understand what I want to say, don't you?"
"Now—now, Miss Martha, please. I have done nothing, really, nothing but what any friend would have done."
"Any friend like you, you mean. I don't know where there are any more such friends, Mr. Bangs."
"Now, PLEASE. Miss Martha, I—I HOPE you won't mention this again. It will oblige me greatly if you will not. Really, I—I mean it."
She nodded, slowly. "Yes," she said, "bein' you, I think you do mean it. So I won't say any more; but I shall think a great deal, Mr. Bangs, and I never shall stop thinkin'.... There! And now what shall I do with all this money? Of course, I'll put it in the bank to-morrow, but what will I do with it to-night? By the way," she added, "it seems queer they should have paid you in cash instead of a check. Why did they, I wonder?"
Here was a demand for more explaining. Galusha plunged headlong, foundered, and then emerged, like a dog, with an explanation, such as it was, between his teeth.
"They—ah—they thought the money would be safer," he said.
Martha laughed aloud. "Safer?" she repeated. "Why, that's funny. Perhaps they're right, but I know the only way I shall feel safe between now and bankin' time tomorrow is to stay awake and watch every minute. Oh, I sha'n't do that exactly, of course, but I'm beginnin' to realize the responsibility of havin' riches. Ah hum! I laugh, Mr. Bangs, but you mustn't think it's because I don't realize what you—I mean... well, I guess I laugh because I'm kind of hysterical and—happy. I haven't been so happy for a long, long time. I won't say it again because you don't want me to, but for this once more, thank you, Mr. Bangs."
As Galusha left her to go to his room, she said: "Now I must go out and get after Primmie again. I'm scared to death that she'll tell everybody from here to Provincetown about my bein' worth a million dollars. She won't make it any LESS than a million, and the chances are it will be consider'ble more."
"But, Miss Martha, you have already told her not to tell about the money. I heard you tell her just now when you sent her out of the room."
Martha shrugged her shoulders.
"When you pour water into a sieve," she said, "it doesn't do much good to tell the sieve not to leak. Father used to say that some folks' heads were built so that whatever was poured into their ears ran right out of their mouths. Primmie's is made that way, I'm afraid. She'll swear she won't tell, and she won't mean to tell, but... Well, good-night, Mr. Bangs."
Miss Phipps had prophesied that the cares attending the possession of wealth might interfere with her sleep that night. Concerning his own slumbers Galusha made no prophecy, but the said slumbers were broken and scanty, nevertheless. Martha's happiness, her relief, and the kind things she had said to him, all these were pleasant to reflect upon and to remember. Not so pleasant was the thought of the deception he had practiced. Of course, he had deceived for a good purpose and certainly with no idea of personal gain, quite the contrary. But he had been deceitful—and to Martha Phipps, of all people. What would she say if she ever found it out? He reflected upon the amazing number of—ah—fibs he had told her, and the question what would she say if she ever learned of these was even more terrifying in its possibilities. She must not learn of them, she must never, never know that it was his own money which he had brought from Boston, that he, and no one else, had bought that stock of hers.
Here he sat up in bed, having suddenly remembered the certificate for two hundred and fifty shares of Wellmouth Development Company stock which she had handed him when he started for Boston. He had folded it lengthwise and crosswise and had put it in his pocket—and had not thought of it since, until that moment. A cold chill ran down his back. What if—
He scrambled out of bed and, the room being distinctly cool, chills immediately ran up and down other portions of his anatomy. He did not mind those, however, but finding the matches, lighted the lamp and began pawing over his garments, those which he had worn upon his Boston pilgrimage.
The certificate was not in the coat pocket. Galusha gasped. Had he dropped it in the train? Or in the office of Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot? Why, if the last were true, it would be found and traced to him, and Minor and Barbour and, eventually, Cousin Gussie would learn that he....
Here he remembered that Martha had urged him not to put it in his coat pocket but in his pocketbook. Oh, joy! He delved for the pocketbook, opened it—and found no certificate therein.
Oh, dear, dear! Oh, dear! Suppose he had not lost it in Boston. Suppose he had that very evening dropped it in the house here at home, in the sitting room, or the dining room. Suppose Primmie should find it, or Miss Phipps herself. Then she would KNOW that he had deceived her—and lied to her—
And then he remembered that, instead of putting the certificate in his pocketbook, he had found the latter too small for the purpose, and had put the document in the inside pocket of his waistcoat. And in that waistcoat pocket he found it.
So that was all right, all right so far; but the fact remained that, instead of the troublesome thing—damning evidence of his guilt and deception—reposing safely in the vaults of a Boston bank, where he had intended putting it, it was here, in the house, in the house of Miss Martha Phipps, who might find it at any time.
He tried various hiding places, the drawers of his bureau, the table drawer, under the straw matting in the corner, but none seemed satisfactorily secure. Under the matting was, at first thought, ideal, but, after secreting it there and getting into bed, he remembered that Martha had declared his room needed new matting and, if ever she could afford that cost, new matting it should have. Having come into possession of five thousand dollars, she might feel that she could now afford it. He climbed, shivering, out of bed again, resurrected the certificate and hid it under his pillow, an orthodox but safe hiding place for that night only. The next morning he wrapped it in a summer undergarment and placed the said garment at the bottom of a pile of similar intimacies in his bureau drawer. And each night of the following week, before retiring, he dug it out to make sure of its safety.
The day after her boarder's return from Boston, Martha went over to Wellmouth Centre. The bank there had charge of her account, such as it was, and she wished to have it take charge of the, to her, huge sum of real money which Mr. Bangs had brought. She told the cashier that she was desirous of speaking with him on a matter of business, and he invited her into his little room at the end of the counter. There she took from her "Boston bag" a brown paper parcel and, unwrapping the brown paper, disclosed the five thousand dollars.
Cashiers of small town banks know the true financial strength and weakness of dwellers in those towns, just as the doctors know their physical ones. Mr. Edgar Thacher, which was the cashier's name in this instance, knew how much of an estate Cap'n Jim Phipps had left his daughter and how that estate was divided as to investments. So he was surprised when Martha revealed the money.
"Good land, Martha!" he exclaimed. "What's happened? Haven't gone into the counterfeiting trade, have you?"
Martha smilingly shook her head. "No, Edgar," she said. "It's too late in life for me to begin learnin' new trades, I guess. Just count that, will you, please? I want to make sure it's all there and that I didn't really have only half of it and dream the rest."
The cashier counted the money. "Five thousand, I make it," he said.
"That's what it ought to be. Now will you put that to my account? I don't know how long it'll stay there—the whole of it not very long, I'm afraid—but it will be earnin' a little interest while it does stay."
"Yes, sure. Well, Martha, it's none of my business, of course, but, as long as you say you haven't been counterfeiting, I wish you would give me your receipt for making money. Anybody that can make five thousand in one lump these hard times is doing well."
Martha shook her head once more. She and the cashier were old friends. "No receipt to give, Edgar," she said. "I wish there was; I'd be busy usin' it, I tell you. I just sold somethin' I owned, that's all, and got a good deal better price than I ever expected to. In fact, I had about given up hope of ever gettin' a cent. But there, I mustn't talk so much. You'll deposit that to my account, won't you, Edgar? And, if you SHOULD see your way clear to pay seven or eight per cent interest instead of four, or whatever you do pay, don't bother to write and ask me if I'll take it, because you'll only be wastin' your time.... Eh? Why, good gracious, Jethro! What are you doin' over here?"
The captain's big frame blocked the doorway of the cashier's office. He had opened that door without knocking, because it was his habit to open doors that way. Captain Jethro Hallett's position as keeper of the Gould's Bluffs light was not an exalted or highly paid one, but his influence in Wellmouth and its vicinity was considerable, nevertheless. He was accounted a man of means, he had always been—more especially in the years before his wife's death and the break in health which followed it—a person of shrewd business ability and keenness in a trade, and even now, when some of the townsfolk grinned behind his back and told stories of his spiritualistic obsessions, they were polite and deferential to his face. As a matter of fact, it would have been extremely impolitic to be otherwise than deferential to him. Captain Jeth was quite aware of his worth and expected deference.
He was as surprised to see his neighbor as she was to see him.
"Why, hello, Martha!" he grunted. "What fetched you here?"
"I asked you first, Cap'n Jeth, but it doesn't make any difference. My feet brought me as far as the corner and Ras Beebe's grocery cart brought me the rest of the way. I had planned to come in the train, but Ras saved me the trouble—AND the fare. He's goin' back in a few minutes, so I've got to hurry."
"Humph! But what did you come here FOR?"
"Oh, I had a little business with Edgar and the bank. Excuse me, Jethro. Edgar..."
She stooped and whispered to the cashier. He nodded.
"Yes, Martha, of course," he said. "You've got your book? All right. Back in a minute, Cap'n."
He picked up the pile of money from the desk, took from Miss Phipps' hand the pass book she handed him, and together they stepped out into the public room. Captain Jethro, whose eyes had caught sight of the bills, leaned forward and peered through the little grating above Mr. Thacher's desk. He saw the cashier and Martha standing by the teller's window. The former said something and handed the teller the bank book and the roll of bills. A moment later the teller, having counted the money and made an entry in the book, handed the latter back to the lady.
"Five thousand," he said, and his tone was not low. "There you are, Miss Phipps. Thank you."
When, having escorted the lady to the door, Thacher came back to his private office, he found the light keeper sitting in the armchair reserved for customers and pulling thoughtfully at his beard.
"Well, Cap'n," said Mr. Thacher, "what can I do for you?"
Captain Jethro crossed his legs. "I come over to cash a couple of checks I got by mail," he said. "Had plenty of time so I thought I'd drop in and see you a minute."
"Oh, yes, yes. Glad to see you."
"Um-hm. Ain't so glad to see me as you was to see Martha Phipps, I guess likely. I ain't depositin' any five thousand dollars. 'Twas five thousand she just deposited, wasn't it?"
The cashier was rather annoyed. He did not answer at once. His visitor repeated the question.
"Martha just put five thousand in the bank, didn't she?" he asked.
"Why—yes. Did she tell you she was going to?"
"No. I heard Eldridge say five thousand when he give her back her bank book. Five thousand is a lot of money. Where'd she get it from?"
"I don't know, Cap'n, I'm sure. Little more spring-like out to-day, isn't it?"
"Um-hm. Martha been borrerin' from the bank, has she?"
"Didn't know but she might have mortgaged the Phipps' place. Ain't done that, you say?"
"No. At least, if she has she didn't tell me of it. How are things over at the lighthouse?"
"All right enough. I don't hardly believe she could raise more'n three thousand on a mortgage, anyhow.... Humph! Five thousand is a sight of money, too.... Didn't she tell you nothin' about how she got it?"
Thacher's annoyance increased. The ordinary caller displaying such persistent curiosity would have been dismissed unceremoniously; but Jethro Hallett was not to be dismissed that way. The captain owned stock in the bank and, before his illness, his name had been seriously considered to fill the first vacancy in its list of directors.
"Must have told you SOMETHIN' about how she got hold of all that money," persisted the light keeper. "What did she say to you, anyway, Ed?"
"She said—she said—Oh, well, she said she had sold something she owned and had got the five thousand for it."
"Humph! I want to know! Sold somethin', eh? What was it she sold?"
"She didn't say, Cap'n. All she said was that she had sold it and got the five thousand. Oh, yes, she did say that it was a bigger price than she ever expected to get and that there was a time when she never expected to get a cent."
"Humph! I want to know! Funny she should sell anything without comin' to me first. She generally comes to ask my advice about such things.... Humph!... She didn't sell the house? No, I'd a-known if she had done that. And what else.... Humph!..."
He pulled at his beard in silence for a moment. The teller, a brisk young man, possessed of a profound love of mischief and a corresponding lack of reverence, entered the office.
"Oh, excuse me," he said. "I thought you was alone, Mr. Thacher." Then, with a wink at his superior over the light keeper's tousled gray head, he observed, "Well, Cap'n Jeth, what's this I hear about Marietta Hoag? They tell me she's left the Spiritualists and gone over to Holiness chapel. Is it so?"
Jethro came out of his reverie. His deep-set eyes flashed and his big fist pounded the office table. No, it was not so. It was a lie. Who said it? Who was responsible for starting such sacrilegious, outrageous yarns? Marietta Hoag was a woman called and chosen to receive and give out revelations from on high. The Holiness crowd was a crew of good-for-nothin', hollerin' hard-shells. By the everlastin'—
He blew out of the office and out of the bank, rumbling and spitting fire like a volcano. The teller and the cashier watched him go. Then the former said:
"That's the way to get rid of him, Mr. Thacher. He'll set 'round and talk you to death if you give him half a chance. When you want him to go, tell him somebody at the other end of the town has been running down the Spiritualists. He'll be so anxious to get there and heave 'em overboard that he'll forget to stop and finish what he was saying here."
Which may or may not have been true, but the fact remains that the light keeper did not entirely forget what he and the cashier said concerning Martha Phipps' surprising bank deposit. And the next morning, as Martha was walking up the lane from the village, where she had been on a supply-purchasing excursion, she heard heavy footsteps and, turning, saw her neighbor tramping toward her, his massive figure rolling, as it always did when in motion, from side to side like a ship in a seaway.
"Why, hello, Jethro!" she exclaimed. Captain Jethro merely nodded. His first remark was a question, and very much to the point.
"Look here, Martha," he demanded. "Have you sold that Development stock of yours?"
Martha stared at him. For a moment she was inclined to believe in the truth of the light keeper's "spirit revelations."
"Why—why, Jethro!" she gasped. The captain, gazing at her keenly beneath his shaggy brows, seemed to find his answer in her face.
"Humph!" he observed. "You have sold it, ain't you? Well, by the everlastin'!"
"Why—why, Jethro! What are you talkin' about?"
"About that two hundred and fifty shares of Wellmouth Development of yours. You've sold it, ain't you, Martha? And you must have got par for it, too. Did the Trumet Trust Company folks buy it?"
But Miss Phipps was recovering from her surprise. She waited a moment before replying and, when she did reply, her tone was as crisp, if not as domineering, as her interrogator's.
"See here, Jethro," she said; "you're takin' a good many things for granted, aren't you?"
"No, I don't cal'late I am. I know you've sold somethin' and got five thousand dollars for it. I see you deposit the five thousand, myself, and Ed Thacher told me, after I pumped it out of him, that you said you'd sold somethin' you owned and got a good price when you didn't know as you'd ever get a cent. Now, you ain't sold your place because I'd know if you had, and it ain't worth five thousand, anyway. The other stocks and bonds you've got ain't—"
But Martha interrupted.
"Jethro," she said, sharply, "I just said that you were takin' a good many things for granted. You are. One of 'em is that you can talk to me as if I was Zach Bloomer or a fo'masthand on your old schooner. I'm neither of those and I don't care to be talked to in that way. Another is that what I chose to do with my property is your business. It isn't, it's mine. I may have sold that stock or any other, or the house or the barn or the cat, as far as that goes, but if I have or haven't it is my affair. And I think you'd better understand that before we talk any more."
She turned and walked on again. Captain Jethro's eyes flashed. It had been some time since any one had addressed him in that manner. However, women were women and business was business, and the captain was just then too intent upon the latter to permit the whims of the former to interfere. He swallowed his temper and strode after his neighbor.
"Martha," he said, complainingly, "I don't see as you've got any call to talk to me that way. I've been a pretty good friend to you, seems to me, and I was your father's friend, his chum, as you might say. Seems as if I had—well, a right to be interested in—in what you do."
Martha paused. After all, there was truth in what he said. He had been her father's close friend, and, no doubt, he meant to be hers. And he was Lulie's father, and not well, not quite his old self mentally or physically. Perhaps she should make allowances.
"Well, all right, Cap'n Jeth," she said. "It wasn't what you said so much as it was how you said it. Now will you tell me why you're so dreadfully anxious to know how I got that five thousand dollars I deposited over to the bank yesterday?"
The light keeper pulled at his beard; the latter was so thick as to make a handful, even for one of his hands. "Well," he said, somewhat apologetically, "you see, Martha, it's like this: IF you sold them Development shares of yours—and I swan I can't think of anything else you own that would sell for just that money—IF you sold 'em, I say, I'd like to know how you done it. I've got four hundred shares of that stock I'd like to sell fust-rate—fust-rate I would."
She had not entirely forgiven him for his intrusion in her affairs and his manner of the moment before. She could not resist giving him a dig.
"Cap'n Jeth," she said, "I don't see why you need to worry. I've heard you say a good many times that you had promises from—well, from the spirits that you were goin' to sell your Development stock and at a profit. All you had to do, you said, was wait. Now, you see, I couldn't wait."
The captain nodded in satisfaction. "So 'TWAS the Development you sold," he growled. "I figgered out it couldn't be nothin' else."
Martha scarcely knew whether to frown or laugh. Some of her pity concerning the old man's mental state had been, obviously, unnecessary. He was still sharp enough in business matters.
"Well," she said, with both laugh and frown, "suppose it was, what of it?"
"Why, just this, Martha: If there's anything goin' on on the inside of the Development Company I want to know it."
"There isn't anything goin' on so far as I know."
"Then who bought your stock? The Denboro Trust Company folks?"
"No. They don't know a thing about it."
"'Twan't that blasted Pulcifer?"
"No. I should hope not. Now don't ask any more, because I sha'n't tell you. It's a secret, that's all, and it's got to stay that way."
He looked at her. She returned his look and nodded. She meant what she said and he reluctantly recognized the fact.
"Humph! Well, all right, Martha," he growled. "But—but will you do this much for me? Will you ask these folks—whoever 'twas bought your two hundred and fifty—if they don't want my four hundred? If they're really buyin', I shouldn't be surprised if they would want it. If they bought it just as a favor to you, and are goin' to hang on and wait—why—why then, maybe they'd do a favor to a friend of yours and your father's afore you. Maybe they will, you can't tell. And you can tell 'em I've had word from—from over yonder that it's all goin' to turn out right. You ask 'em if they don't want to buy my stock, will you, Martha?"
Martha took time for reflection. Then she said: "Cap'n Jeth, if I do ask 'em that, will you promise not to tell a soul a word about my sellin' my stock, or about the money, or anything of the kind? Will you promise that?"
The light keeper nodded. "Sartin sure," he said. "I'll promise you, Martha."
"All right, I'll ask, but you mustn't count on anything comin' from it."
The captain's brows drew together. "What I count on," he said, solemnly, "is a higher promise than yours or mine, Martha Phipps. What we do down here will only be what them up aloft want us to do. Don't you forget that."
They parted at the Phipps' gate. Captain Jethro walked moodily home. Lulie met him at the door. She was wearing her hat and coat.
"I'm going up to the village, father," she said. "I have some errands to do. I'll be back pretty soon."
Her father watched her as she walked away. The thought crossed his mind that possibly Nelson Howard might be visiting the village that forenoon. He called her name, and she turned and came back.
"What is it, father?" she asked.
Jethro hesitated. He passed a hand across his forehead. His head felt tired. Somehow he didn't want to talk any more. Even as important a topic as Nelson Howard did not arouse his interest.
"Oh, nothin', nothin'," he assured. "Cal'late maybe I'll lay down and turn in a little spell afore dinner. Is Zach on deck?"
"Yes, he is out in the kitchen, or was a minute ago. Primmie was over on an errand and I heard their tongues going. Shall I speak to Zach, father?"
He told her no, and went into the house. There was a couch in the dining room and he stretched himself upon it. The head of the couch was near the door leading to the kitchen. That door was closed, but from behind it sounded voices, voices which were audible and distinct. A dispute seemed to be in progress between Mr. Bloomer and Miss Cash and, although Zacheus continued to grumble on in an even key, Primmie's tone became higher and shriller with each retort.
"I tell you 'tis so, Zach Bloomer.... Well, maybe 'twan't a hundred and fifty thousand, but I bet you 'twas more money than you ever see in YOUR life. So now!"
The assistant light keeper was heard to cough. Primmie seemed to discern a hint of skepticism even in the cough.
"Oh, you can set there and keep on turnin' up your nose and—and coughin'," she declared, "but—"
Zacheus interrupted to say that he hardly ever turned up his nose when he coughed.
"Seems to come handier to turn it down, Posy," he said.
"Oh, be still, foolish! Well, anyhow, it's true, every word of it. I see more money at one time and in one—er—er junk, as you might say, than ever I see afore—yes, or I bet you ever see neither, Zach Bloomer."
"We-ll, course what I ever see never amounted to much, but if it's more than YOU see, Rosebud, then it must have been consider'ble of a lot. Over in them Mashpaug woods, where you hail from, money kind of grows on the bushes, like huckleberries, I presume likely. Martha Phipps been over there berryin', has she?"
"No, she ain't. Besides, I never said Miss Martha brought the money into the house. All's I said was that 'twas in there and I see it with my own eyes."
"Sho! With your own eyes, eh? Well, well! What do you cal'late 'twould have looked like if you'd borrered somebody else's eyes? Say, Posy, was it you fetched the billion and a half, or whatever 'twas, into the house?"
"Me? ME with all that money? My savin' soul!"
"Well, who did fetch it? Santy Claus?"
"I sha'n't tell you. I promised Miss Martha I wouldn't tell one word about that money and I ain't goin' to."
"Hooray, Posy! That's the way to talk! Well, now, be honest about it: What did you have for supper night afore last? Mince pie, was it? Why didn't you eat another slice? Then you'd have dreamed about a mackerel keg full of di'monds, most likely."
Captain Jethro, trying to fall asleep on the couch in the dining room, turned over in disgust and raised himself upon an elbow preparatory to shouting an order for silence. But Primmie's next speech caught his attention and the order was not given.
"Dreamed!" retorted the indignant young woman. "Are you tryin' to tell me I only dreamed about that money, Zacheus Bloomer? Huh! My Lord of Isrul! If you'd seen that great big piled-up heap of bills layin' right there on the table in our settin' room where Mr. Bangs put 'em, I guess you'd have said 'dreams' and more, too. Ten dollar bills there was and twenties and—and thirties and forties, for all I know."
"That so? Right where Mr. Bangs put 'em, eh? Now I KNOW you was dreamin', Pansy Blossom. That little dried-up Bangs man ain't worth more'n ten cents, if that."
"He ain't? How do you know he ain't?"
"Same as I know when that Lucy Larcom tomcat of Martha's has been in a fight, by the looks of him. Look at the Bangs man's clothes, and—and his hat—and—why, Godfreys mighty, he can't afford to get his hair cut oftener than once in three months! Anyhow, he don't. And you stand there and tell me he come cruisin' in t'other night and commenced sheddin' million dollar bills all over the furniture. Where'd he get 'em to? Dig 'em up over in the Baptist graveyard?"
"No, he never. He got 'em up to Boston. Leastways, I guess he did, 'cause that's where he went. And, besides, what do you know about how much he's worth? He may look kind of—of ratty, but all the same he's got rich relations. Why, one of his relations is head of the biggest broke—I mean, brokin' and bank place there is in Boston. Cabot, Bancroft and—and Thingumbob is the name of it. And Miss Martha told me 'twas—"
There was much more of this and the listener on the dining room couch heard it all. He remained on that couch until Miss Cash, at the back door of the kitchen, delivered her triumphant farewell.
"So there now, Zach Bloomer," she said, "I guess you believe now I didn't dream it. And you needn't ask any more questions because I sha'n't tell you a single word. I promised Miss Martha I wouldn't never tell and I'm goin' to keep my promise."
That evening Martha approached her lodger on the subject of the possibility of selling the light keeper's Development holdings for him. To say the least, she received no encouragement. Galusha was quite emphatic in his expression of disbelief in that possibility.
"Oh, dear me, no, Miss Martha," he stammered. "I—ah—I feel quite sure it would be unwise to—ah—attempt such a thing. You see—ah—you see—my cousin is—is—"
"I know, he's sick, poor man, and shouldn't be disturbed. You're right, of course, Mr. Bangs. It was only that Cap'n Jeth had always been a good friend of father's and mine and I thought if Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot really were buyin' the stock perhaps they might like to buy his. But I can see why you wouldn't want to trouble Mr. Cabot again just now. I'm sorry I mentioned it to you; I'm afraid I have made you nervous."
Galusha was nervous, certainly, and showed it. He protested, however, that he was quite all right really, and, as his landlady did not mention the subject again, he recovered a portion of his equilibrium. And during the following week he gradually gained more and more confidence. The telltale certificate hidden in his bureau drawer was, of course, a drawback to his peace of mind, and the recollection of his recent outbreak of prevarication and deception was always a weight upon his conscience. But, to offset these, there was a changed air about the Phipps' home and its inmates which was so very gratifying that, if it did not deaden that conscience, it, at least, administered to it an effective dose of soothing syrup.
Primmie wept no more into the dishwater nor sighed despairingly when serving breakfast. She sang now and, although an unprejudiced person might not have found the change an unmixed delight, Galusha did. Miss Phipps sang, too, occasionally, not with the camp-meeting exuberance of her maid, but with the cheery hum of the busy bee. She was happy; she said so and looked so, and, in spite of his guilty knowledge of the deceit upon which that happiness was founded, her lodger was happy because she was.
"Do you know," he observed, on Saturday morning of that week, as, coated and capped for his daily walk, he stood by the door of the dining room, "it's quite extraordinary, really. I have been thinking, you know, and it really is quite extraordinary."
Martha was sitting in the rocker by the window, the morning sunshine streaming in through the leaves and blossoms of the potted plants on the brackets dappling her hair and cheek with cheery splashes of light and shade. She was consulting the pages of her cookbook, as a preliminary to preparing a special dessert for Sunday's dinner, and was humming as she did so.
She looked up when he spoke.
"What is extraordinary?" she asked. "Your thinkin', do you mean? I don't see anything very extraordinary about that. You're thinkin' most of the time, seems to me."
"Oh, I don't mean that. I meant what I was thinking was extraordinary. Or not precisely that, either. I—ah—I mean—well, you see, when I was in Washington—at the Institute, you know—it used to annoy me—ah—extremely, to have any one sing or whistle in my vicinity. Really, it did. I sometimes spoke very sharply—ah—irritably to any one who did that. And now, as I stood here and heard you singing, Miss Martha, it suddenly came over me that I do not mind it at all. I—ah—actually like to hear you. I do, very much, indeed. Now, isn't that extraordinary!"
Martha laughed aloud. "Why, yes," she declared; "I think it is. Anybody likin' to hear me sing is about as extraordinary as anything that ever was, I guess. Mr. Bangs, you're awfully funny."
Galusha nodded. "Yes," he said, "I am sure I must be. I think if I were any one else I should laugh at myself a great deal. I mean—ah—I mean in that case I should laugh, not at myself, but at me. Good gracious, I haven't made that very clear, have I?"
His smile was so contagious that she laughed again.
"I didn't mean you were funny to laugh at, but to laugh with," she said. "You're goin' to have an especially nice walk this mornin'. It's such a lovely forenoon I almost wish I was goin' with you."
Galusha beamed. "Why—why, so do I!" he exclaimed, in delighted surprise. "Yes, I do, I do, indeed! Ah—ah—why don't you?"
"Mercy me, I couldn't think of it! I must stay here and get to cookin' or we'll have no puddin' to-morrow noon. I'll be with you in spirit, as the books say; how will that do?"
Whether or not she was with him in spirit, she was very much in her lodger's thoughts as he walked down the path to the gate. It was such a beautiful forenoon, with the first promise of spring in the air, that, instead of starting toward the village, as was his usual custom, he turned in the other direction and strolled toward the lighthouse. The sea view from the cliff edge should be magnificent on a morning like this.
But it was not of the view, or the beauty of the morning, that he thought as he wandered slowly on. His mind, for some reason or other, seemed to be filled with the picture of Martha Phipps as she sat in the rocking-chair, with the background of old-fashioned plants and blossoms, and the morning sunshine illumining her pleasant, comely face. He could visualize every feature of that face, which fact was extremely odd, for it had been many years since he had noticed a female face sufficiently for that face to impress itself upon his memory. Years and years before Galusha Bangs had been forced to the conclusion that the interest of attractive feminity was not for him and he had accepted the inevitable and never permitted his own interest to stray in that direction. A few feminine faces he could, of course, recall; the face of his Aunt Clarissa, for instance, and—dear me, yes! that of the pestiferous Mrs. Worth Buckley, his—ah—not his "old man of the sea" exactly, but his equally troublesome, middle-aged woman of the mountains. Mrs. Buckley had not attracted his notice, she had seized it, served a subpoena upon it, and his provokingly contrary memory persisted in recalling her face, probably because he so earnestly desired to forget it.
But he found a real pleasure in visualizing the face of Miss Martha Phipps. Her eyes now—her eyes were—ah—um—they were blue; no, they were gray—or a sort of gray-blue, perhaps, or even a shade of brown. But the precise color made no real difference. It was the way they looked at one, and—ah—smiled, so to speak. Odd, because he had never before realized that one could—ah—smile with one's eyes. Attractive, too, that smile of hers, the eyes and the lips in combination. A sort of cheerful, comfortable smile—yes, and—ah—attractive—ah—inviting, as one might say; a homelike smile; that was the word he wanted—"homelike." It had been a long, long time since he had had a home. As a matter of fact, he had not cared to have one. A tent in Egypt or Syria, furnished with a mummy or two, and with a few neighborly ruins next door—this had been his idea of comfort. It was his idea still, but nevertheless—
And then he became aware that from somewhere, apparently from the heavens above, a voice was shouting—yes, roaring—his name.
"Mr. Bangs!... Hi-i, Mr. Bangs!"
Galusha came out of his walking dream, stared about him, found that he had walked almost to the fence surrounding the light keeper's home and would have collided with that fence in another stride or two, looked around, down, and finally up—to see Captain Jethro leaning over the iron rail surrounding the lantern room at the top of the lighthouse.
"Oh! Why—ah—good gracious!" he exclaimed. "Were you calling me, Captain Hallett?"
Captain Jethro shook his big head. "Callin'!" he repeated. "I've been bellerin' like the foghorn for five minutes. A little more of it and I'd have run out of steam or bust a b'iler, one or t'other. Ain't been struck deef, have you, Mr. Bangs?"
"No—ah—no, I trust not. I was—ah—thinking, I presume, and I did not hear you. I'm very sorry."
"That's all right. Glad you was only thinkin' and no worse. I didn't know but you'd been struck by walkin' paralysis or somethin'. Say," he leaned further over the rail and lowered his voice. "Say," he said again, "would you mind comin' up here a minute? I want to talk to you."
Mr. Bangs did not mind and, entering the round tower, he climbed the spiral stair to the little room at the top. The great lantern, with its glittering facets and lenses filled that room almost entirely, and the light keeper's great form filled it still more. There was scarcely space for little Galusha to squeeze in.
Jethro explained that he had been cleaning the lantern. "It's Zacheus' job really," he observed, "but I have to do it myself once in a while to keep it shipshape. Say," he added, opening the door which led to the balcony, "look out yonder. Worth lookin' at, ain't it?"
It was. The morning was dry and clear, a brisk wind from the west, and not a cloud. The lighthouse, built as it was upon the knoll at the edge of the bluff, seemed to be vastly higher than it actually was, and to tower far above all else until the view from its top was almost like that from an aeroplane. The horizon swept clear and unbroken for three quarters of a circle, two of those quarters the sharp blue rim of the ocean meeting the sky. The white wave-crests leaped and twinkled and danced for miles and miles. Far below on the yellow sand of the beach, the advancing and retreating breakers embroidered lacy patterns which changed constantly.
"Worth looking at, ain't it?" repeated the captain.
Galusha nodded. "Indeed it is," he said, with emphasis. Yet it surprised him slightly to find the gruff old light keeper enthusiastic concerning a scene which must be so very much a matter of course to him.
"The Almighty done a good job when He built that," observed Captain Jethro, waving his hand toward the Atlantic. "Don't never get tired of lookin' at salt water, I don't, and yet I've been in it or on it or around it pretty much all my life. And now I'm up above it," he added, thoughtfully. "We're pretty high up where we are now, Mr. Bangs. I like to set up here and—er—well, kind of think about things, sometimes.... Humph!... Do you cal'late we're any nigher when we're up aloft here than we are down on the ground yonder; nigher to THEM, I mean?"
His visitor was puzzled. "I—I beg your pardon?" he stammered. "Nigher—ah—nearer to—ah—what?"
"Nigher to them—them that's gone afore. Seems sometimes, when I'm alone up here, particular of a foggy day, as if I was consider'ble nigher to them—to HER, especial—than when I'm on the ground. Think there's anything in it, do you?"
Galusha said he didn't know; we know so little about such things, really. He wondered what the captain had invited him up there to talk about. Some spiritualistic subject, very likely; the conversation seemed to be tending that way. Jethro appeared to have forgotten altogether the seance and his, Galusha's, assumption of the character of the small, dark "evil influence." It looked very much as if that assumption—so far as it entailed the permanent shifting of prejudice from Nelson Howard to himself—had been effort wasted.
Captain Jeth pulled at his beard and seemed to be dreaming. Galusha pitied the old fanatic as he stood there, massive, rugged, brows drawn together, sturdy legs apart as if set to meet the roll of a ship at sea—a strong figure, yet in a way the figure of a wistful, dreaming child, helpless—
"Mr. Bangs," said the light keeper, "don't you cal'late, if you set out to, you could sell my four hundred Wellmouth Development same as you sold Martha's two hundred and fifty?"
Galusha would have sat down, if there had been anything except the floor to sit down on. As a matter of fact, even that consideration might not have prevented his sitting; his knees bent suddenly and he was on his way to the floor, but his shoulders struck the wall behind him and furnished the support he so very much needed. So far as speech was concerned, that was out of the question. His mouth opened and shut, but nothing audible issued therefrom. Mr. Bangs, at that moment, gave a very good imitation of a fish unexpectedly jerked out of deep water to dry, very dry land.
Captain Jethro did not seem to realize the effect of his question upon his visitor. His big fist moved downward from his chin to the tip of his beard, only to rise and take a new hold at the chin again. His gaze was fixed upon the rolling sea outside.
"You see," he went on, "I kind of figger it out this way: If them folks who bought Martha's stock are cal'latin' to buy up Development they'll want more'n two hundred and fifty. I'll sell 'em mine at a reasonable figger; sha'n't ask much over what I paid for it, I sha'n't. If they ain't buyin' for anything 'special, but just 'cause they think it's a good thing to keep—well, then—"
Galusha interrupted. The faculty of framing words and uttering them was returning to him, albeit slowly and jerkily.
"Why—why, Captain Hallett," he faltered. "How—how—who—who—"
"Martha didn't tell me nothin' except that she had sold her stock," broke in the light keeper. "I guessed that, too, afore she told me. She never mentioned your name, Mr. Bangs, nor where she sold it, nor nothin'. But, of course, when I found out 'twas you who went to Boston and fetched home the five thousand dollars I didn't need to be told—much. Now, Mr. Bangs, I wish you'd see if you can't sell my four hundred shares for me. It'll be consider'ble of a favor if you will. You see, them shares—"
But Galusha did not wait for him to finish. His alarmed protests fairly tumbled over each other.
"Why—why, Captain Hallett," he cried, "really I—I... ah... What you ask is quite impossible. Oh, very much so—ah—very. You see... Well, really, I... Captain Hallett, this entire matter was supposed to be a secret, an absolute secret. I am surprised—and—ah—shocked to learn—"
The captain's big paw was uplifted as a signal. "Sshh! Heave to! Come up into the wind a minute, Mr. Bangs. 'Tis a secret, fur's I'm consarned, and 'twill be just the same after I've sold my stock. I realize that business men don't want business matters talked about, 'tain't likely. All I'd like to have you do is just see if you can't dispose of that four hundred of mine, same as you done with Martha's. Just as a favor I'm askin' it."
Galusha shook his head violently. His agitation was as great as ever. After going through the agony of the frying pan and congratulating himself that that torment was over, then to find he had escaped merely into the fire was perfectly maddening—not to say frightening—and—oh, dear, dear, dear!
"Really, I'm very sorry, very," he reiterated. "But I am QUITE sure I can do nothing with your shares, Captain Hallett. It—it—such a thing would be absolutely impossible. I'm sorry."
Captain Jethro's calm was unshaken. "We-ll," he said, slowly, "I ain't altogether surprised. Course I could see that maybe you wouldn't want to go cruisin' up to them folks again, 'specially they bein' relations. I don't blame you for that, Mr. Bangs. But, in case you did feel that way, I'd made up my mind I'd go up there myself and see 'em."
"Eh? Ah—ah—See? See whom?"
"Why, them relations of yours. Them Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot folks. I know OF 'em; everybody that knows anything about bankin' does, of course. I don't know any of 'em personal, but I cal'lated maybe you'd be willin' to give me a note, a letter introducin' me, you see. Then I could tell 'em why I come, and how I wanted to talk with 'em about sellin' some more of the same stock they sold for you. That would be all right, wouldn't it, Mr. Bangs?"
Galusha did not answer. The absolute hopelessness of the situation was beginning to force itself upon his understanding. Whether or not he gave the letter of introduction, the light keeper would go to Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot—oh, how on earth did he ever learn that THEY had anything to do with it?—and begin talkin' about Martha Phipps' stock; and they would deny knowing anything of it; and then the captain would persist, giving details; and Barbour and Minor and the rest would guess the truth and probably write Thomas, who would eventually tell Cousin Gussie; and the light keeper would return home and tell Martha, and she would learn that he had lied to her and deceived her—
"Well, what do you say, Mr. Bangs?" inquired Captain Jethro.
Bangs turned a haggard gaze in the speaker's direction. The latter was standing in exactly the same attitude, feet apart, hand to beard, sad eyes gazing out to sea; just as he had stood when Galusha's sympathy had gone out to him as a "helpless, dreaming child."
"What are you laughin' at?" asked Captain Jeth, switching his gaze from old ocean to the face of the little archaeologist.
Galusha had not laughed, but there was a smile, a wan sort of smile, upon his face.
"Oh, nothing in particular," he replied. "I was reflecting that it seemed rather too bad to waste pity in quarters where it was not—ah—needed, when there was such a pressing demand, as one might say, at home."
The earnest young man behind the counter in the office of Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot—the young man who had so definitely classified Galusha Bangs as a "nut"—was extremely surprised when that individual reappeared before his window and, producing the very check which he had obtained there so short a time before, politely requested to exchange it for eighty-two hundred dollars in cash and another check for the balance.
"Why—why—but—!" exclaimed the young man.
"Thank you. Yes, if—ah—if you will be so good," said Galusha.
The young man himself asked questions, and then called Mr. Minor into consultation, and Mr. Minor asked more. The answers they received were not illuminating, but in the end the transaction was made as requested.
"But, Bangs," said Minor, laughing, "what I can't understand is why you want to bother with the check for eleven hundred and odd—whatever it is. Why not take the whole amount in cash and be done with it?"
Galusha shook his head. "I prefer it the—ah—other way. If you don't mind," he added, politely.
"Oh, we don't mind. But—well, it seems rather funny, that's all. Ha, ha!"
"Does it? Yes, I—ah—dare say it does."
"Ha, ha! Yes, rather. Of course, it is your business, you know, but—"
He laughed again. The harassed Galusha waited until the laugh was over. Then he said, gently, "Yes, I was under that impression."
"Eh? What impression?"
"That it was, as you say, my—ah—business."
"Yes. Why... Eh? Oh!... Humph!... Why, yes, surely, certainly. Here," turning briskly to the clerk, "give Mr. Bangs what he wishes at once."
He walked away, pulling thoughtfully at his mustache. Galusha, rubbing his chin, looked gravely after him. The clerk began making out the check. This done and the check entrusted to a messenger to be taken to the private office for signing, the next business was the counting of the money.
"Eighty-two hundred, you said?" asked the clerk.
"Eighty-two hundred—ah—yes," said Galusha.
Eight thousand was, of course, the price at par of Jethro Hallett's four hundred shares of Wellmouth Development stock. The additional two hundred was a premium paid, so to speak, to the departed spirit of the late Mrs. Jethro Hallett. She, by or through the Chinese control of Miss Marietta Hoag, had notified her husband that he was destined to sell his Development shares at a profit, a small profit perhaps, but a profit, nevertheless.
So, when at that point of their conversation in the lantern room of the Gould's Bluffs light, Galusha, recognizing his helpless position and the alternative of buying the Hallett holdings or being exposed to Cousin Gussie as a sentimental and idiotic spendthrift and to Martha Phipps as a liar and criminal—when Galusha, facing this alternative, stammered a willingness to go to Boston and see if he could not dispose of Jethro's stock as he had Martha's, the captain added an additional clause.
"I won't sell for par," he declared stubbornly. "Julia revealed to me that I wouldn't, and so I sha'n't. I'll sell for fifty cents a share extry, but I won't sell for twenty flat. Rather than do that I'll go to them Cabot folks myself and see if I can't find out who's buyin' and why. Then I'll go to the real buyers and make the best trade I can with them. If they really want to get hold of that stock, fifty cents a share won't stand in their way, I'll bet you."
It did not stand in Galusha's way, either. In his desperate position he would have paid any amount obtainable rather than have the light keeper go to Boston on such an errand.
Leaving the clerk's window with his pocket bulging with bank notes, Mr. Bangs proceeded sadly, but with determination, to the private office of Mr. Barbour, his cousin's "second secretary." There, producing from another pocket a huge envelope, portentously daubed and sealed with red wax, he handed it to Barbour. It contained the two stock certificates, each signed in blank, Martha's for two hundred and fifty shares, Captain Jethro's for four hundred. The envelope and the wax he had procured at a stationer's near the South Station. The obliging salesman had permitted him to do the sealing on the premises.
"Mr. Barbour," he faltered, "I should like to leave this with you, if—if quite convenient, that is to say."
Barbour turned the big envelope over.
"Yes, Mr. Bangs, surely," he said, but he looked puzzled. "What is it?"
Galusha blushed and stammered. "Why—why—" he began; "I—ah—you see—it is—ah—something of mine."
"Something you wish me to take care of?" asked Barbour, still looking at the envelope.
His caller grasped at the straw.
"Yes—yes, that is it," he said, eagerly. "Dear me, yes. If you will be so kind."
"Yes, indeed, Mr. Bangs. No trouble at all. I'll put it—"
But the little man stopped the sentence in the middle.
"If—if you please," he protested. "Ah—please don't. I don't wish to know where you put it. Really, I don't, not in the least. I very much prefer not to know where it is.... Ah—good-day, Mr. Barbour. Thank you very much."
The general opinion in the office of Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot concerning the senior partner's queer cousin was strengthened by this visit. The surmise that Galusha Bangs was a "nut" became a conviction.
But, for the "nut" himself, life during the coming weeks and months became a much less worrisome struggle. Returning to East Wellmouth, for the second time laden with legal tender, he delivered his burden to Captain Jethro, who, in return, promised faithfully never to reveal a word concerning the sale of his Development stock or drop a hint which might help to locate its purchasers.
"Course I won't say nothin'," vowed the captain. "I realize that business men don't want their business talked about. And if them Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot folks are tryin' to buy in the stock, whether it's for themselves or somebody else, they'll want it kept dark. No, I ain't told a soul on this earth and I WON'T tell one. That is satisfactory, ain't it?"
The shadow of a smile passed across Galusha's face. "Quite, quite," he replied. "Nothing could be more so unless—"
"Well, unless what?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing. Thank you—ah—thank you very much."
It had occurred to him that, considering the light keeper's peculiarities, the promise not to tell a soul on earth might be stretched to include those elsewhere; but he kept the thought to himself. Captain Jethro did not press his question. The shrewd old captain was so thoroughly delighted at having sold, and at the prophesied profit, his troublesome holdings in the Wellmouth Development Company, that his mood was neither combative nor inquisitive.
Galusha did not tell Miss Phipps of his business deal with the light keeper. In the first place, his telling her would involve more deception and, also, might lead to more possibilities of discovery. The average, well-meaning person, having been driven by relentless fate to the committing of murder, could scarcely have felt more conscience-stricken and depraved than did little Galusha Bangs at having lied to Martha Phipps. Of course, the lies and deceit had resulted in a distinct benefit to her and had been perpetrated solely with that idea, but this fact he ignored entirely. And no murderer could have been more anxious to hide his guilty secret than was he. So, for the first few days after his return with the light keeper's money, he was inclined to be thoughtful and nervous, to fall into troubled trances at table or in the middle of a conversation, and to start rather violently when aroused from those trances. Primmie was disposed to attribute these lapses to disease. She confided her fears to her employer.
"You know what I think 'tis makes him act so, Miss Martha?" she asked, on one occasion.
"Makes who act how?"
"Makes Mr. Bangs set there and go moonin' off and not pay no attention and then jump when you wake him up as if you'd stuck a pin in him. You know what I think 'tis? I think maybe it's dropsy."
"Um-hm. I had a great-aunt once; had a slew of 'em, fur's that goes, 'cause my grandmother on the starboard side—"
"Eh! Oh, that's what pa used to call his side of the family, the starboard side. All ma's folks was port side, 'cordin' to his tell. He'd worked aboard vessels, pa had; that is, as much as he ever worked anywheres. Well, anyhow, his grandmother she had eight sisters and three brothers, so I had great-aunts thicker'n miskeeters in a swamp hole—my savin' soul, yes! Well, anyhow, one of 'em, Aunt Lucifer 'twas—"
"PRIMMIE! WHAT was her name?"
"Lucifer. Ma and us children always called her Aunt Lucy, though; she liked it better."
"Heavens and earth! I should think she might. WHAT possessed anybody to name a child Lucifer? And a girl-child at that!"
"Does sound kind of funny, don't it? Folks 'most always used to laugh when they heard what her name was. That is, fust along they did; but they never laughed but once when she was around. Talk about makin' anybody mad! And temper—my Lord of Isrul! Why, if they laughed at her name she was li'ble to grab hold of the fust thing come to hand, flatiron or frying pan or chunk of stove wood or anything, and let 'em have it rattlety-bang-jing. I never seen her do it, of course—all that was afore MY time—but pa used to say it never made no difference whether 'twas the man come tryin' to collect the store bill or the minister or anybody, she'd up and flatten him just the same. Course pa said 'twas a whole lot more li'ble to be the bill man than the minister 'cause there was precious few ministers ever—"
"There, there, Primmie! I can't stop to listen any longer, I'm busy. But do tell me why they named the poor thing Lucifer? How did they ever hear the name, anyway; way over in those Mashpaug woods?"
"Oh, there was a story about that, kind of a pretty story 'twas, too. 'Cordin' to pa's tell, the fust time Aunt Lucy's ma—my great grandmother, and the land knows what HER name was, I don't—the fust time she went out after the baby was born she went to camp meetin'. And one of the ministers there he talked some consider'ble about a critter name of Lucifer that was a fallen-down angel, whatever that is. Well, my great-grandmother she didn't understand much about what he was talkin' about—I cal'late none of 'em did fur's that goes, and no wonder—but the name of Lucifer sort of stuck in her head 'cause she thought 'twas kind of pretty. And when she got back home they told her the baby had fetched loose from the bed where it had been asleep and fell onto the floor and pretty nigh busted itself in two. And it never hardly cried at all—was a reg'lar angel they said—and that made her think about the fallen-down angel she'd just heard tell of to camp meetin' and its name was Lucifer. And they hadn't named the baby yet, so—"
"I see. Ha, ha! Primmie, you are—well, there aren't many like you, I'm sure. Now I must go. Well, what is it?"
"Oh, nothin', only I ain't told you why I think Mr. Bangs may be comin' down with dropsy. You see, Aunt Lucy—this Lucifer one I've been tellin' you about—she had it. I only remember her 'long towards her last. She wan't heavin' any teakittles at folks then; my savin' soul, no! She used to set in a big rockin'-chair over by the stove and was all puffed-up like—like a featherbed, you might say; and she'd kind of doze along and doze along and you could holler your head off and she wouldn't pay no attention, and then she'd kind of wake up, as you might say, and sing out, 'Hey? What say?' just like Mr. Bangs, for all the world. And 'twas dropsy she had, so now you see, don't you, Miss Martha?"
"Yes, yes, Primmie, I see. Tut, tut, tut! You certainly have a great imagination, of its kind. I shouldn't worry about Mr. Bangs' disease, if I were you. The poor man isn't really strong yet and he has been runnin' back and forth to Boston lately altogether too much for his own good. He is tired and his nerves are tired, too; so we must make it as easy as we can for him, Primmie, you and I."
"Yes'm. He's a good man, ain't he?"
"Indeed he is!"
"Yes'm. Even if he is so kind of—of funny."
Often, in earlier conversations with her housemaid, Miss Phipps had agreed that her lodger was, to say the least, "funny"; but now she seemed to resent the word.
"Humph!" she observed, crisply, "if he is, I presume likely he has the right to be. And I know this, if there were more 'funny' people like him in this world it would be a big improvement. Primmie, go and do your sweepin'."
With the end of the following week spring came in earnest to Gould's Bluffs, not yet as a steady boarder—spring in New England is a young lady far too fickle for that—but to make the first of her series of ever-lengthening visits. Galusha found her, indeed, a charming young person. His walks now were no longer between snowdrifts or over frozen fields and hills. Those hills and fields were still bare and brown, of course, but here and there, in sheltered hollows, tiny bits of new green began to show. In April, by disturbing the layers of dead leaves and sodden vegetation through which these hints of greenness peeped, one was likely to come upon fragrant treasures, the pink and white blossoms of the trailing arbutus.
There was a superfluity of mud, of course, and as Miss Phipps often informed him, Galusha's boots and lower trouser legs were "sights to see" when he came back from those walks. He expressed contrition and always proclaimed that he should be much more careful in future—much more, yes. But he was not, nor did he care greatly. He was feeling quite well again, better than he had felt for years, and spring was in his middle-aged blood and was rejuvenating him, just as it was rejuvenating the world and its creatures about him, including Lucy Larcom, Martha's ancient and rheumatic Thomas cat. Lucy—an animal as misnamed as Primmie's "Aunt Lucifer"—instead of slumbering peacefully and respectably in his cushioned box in the kitchen, which had been his custom of winter nights, now refused to come in at bedtime, ignored his mistress' calls altogether, and came rolling home in the morning with slit ears and scarred hide and an air of unrepentant and dissipated abandon.
Galusha, inspecting the prodigal's return one morning, observed: "Luce, when I first met you, you reminded me strongly of my Aunt Clarissa. The air of—ah—dignity and respectable disapproval with which you looked me over was much like hers. But now—now, if you wore a hat on one side and an—ah—exuberant waistcoat, you would remind me more of Mr. Pulcifer."
With April came the fogs, and the great foghorn bellowed and howled night after night. Galusha soon learned to sleep through the racket. It was astonishing, his capacity for sleep and his capability in sleeping up to capacity. His appetite, too, was equally capable. He was, in fact, feeling so very well that his conscience began troubling him concerning his duty to the Institute. He wrote to the directors of that establishment suggesting that, as his health was so greatly improved, perhaps he had better return to his desk. The reply was prompt. The directors were, so the letter said, much pleased to hear of his improved health, but they wished him to insure the permanence of that improvement by remaining away for another six months at least. "We have," the writer added, "a plan, not yet definite and complete, although approaching that condition, which will call for your knowledge and experienced guidance. Our plan will probably materialize in the fall or winter. I can say no more concerning it now, except to add that we feel sure that it will be acceptable to you and that you should take every precaution to gain strength and health as a preparatory measure."
Galusha could not guess what the plan might be, but he was a bit surprised to find himself so willing to agree to the directors' mandate that he remain in East Wellmouth for the present. His beloved desk in his beloved study there in Washington had been torn from him, or rather he had been torn from it, and for a time it had really seemed as if the pangs of severance might prove fatal. By all that was fit and proper he should fiercely resent the order to remain away for another six months. But he did not resent it fiercely; did not resent it at all; in fact, to be quite honest, he welcomed it. He was inwardly delighted to be ordered to remain in East Wellmouth. Such a state of mind was surprising, quite nonunderstandable.
And, day by day and week by week, the fear that his guilty secret concerning the Wellmouth Development stock might be discovered became less and less acute. Captain Jethro never mentioned it; Martha Phipps, when she found that he preferred not to discuss it, kept quiet, also. Perhaps, after all, no one would ever know anything about it. And the change in Martha's spirits was glorious to see.
He and Lulie Hallett had many quiet talks together. Ever since the evening of the seance when, partially by craft and partially by luck, he had prevented her father's discovering young Howard's presence in the house, she had unreservedly given him her friendship. And this gift Galusha appreciated. He had liked her when they first met and the liking had increased. She was a sensible, quiet, unaffected country girl. She was also an extremely pretty girl, and when a very pretty girl—and sensible and unaffected and the rest—makes you her confidant and asks your advice concerning her love affair and her heart's most precious secrets, even a middle-aged "mummy duster," whose interest in the female sex has, until very recently, centered upon specimens of that sex who have been embalmed several thousand years—even such a one cannot help being gratified by the subtle flattery.
So when Lulie asked his advice Galusha gave it, such as he happened to have in stock, whole-heartedly and without reserve. He and she had many chats and the subjects of these chats were almost invariably two—her father and Nelson Howard. How could she reconcile the one with and to the other? Mr. Bangs' council was, of course, to wait and hope, but a council of procrastination is, to say the most, but partially satisfying.
One afternoon, in the middle of May, he met her on the way back from the village and, as they walked on together, he asked her if there were any new developments in the situation. She looked troubled.
"I don't exactly know what you mean by developments," she said. "If you mean that father is any more reconciled to Nelson, he isn't, that's all. On any other subject he is as nice as he can be. If I wanted anything in the world, and he had money enough to buy it, I do believe I could have it just for the asking. That is a good deal to say," she added, with a half smile, "considering how fond father is of money, but honestly, Mr. Bangs, I think it's true."
Galusha declared that he had no doubt of its truth, indeed, no.
"But, you see," continued Lulie, "the one thing I do want—which is for father to like Nelson—can't be bought with money. I try to talk with him, and argue with him; sometimes when he is especially good-natured and has been especially nice to me, I try to coax him, but it always ends in one way; he gets cross and won't listen. 'Don't talk to me about that Howard swab, I won't hear it.' That's what he always says. He always calls Nelson a 'swab.' Oh, dear! I'm so tired of it all."
"Yes—ah—yes, I'm sure you must be. Ah—um—swab? Swab? It doesn't sound agreeable. What is a—ah—swab, may I ask?"
"Oh, I believe it's a kind of mop that the sailors use aboard ship to clean decks with. I believe that is what it is."
"Indeed? Yes, yes, of course. Now that is quite interesting, isn't it? A mop—yes. But really, I don't see why Mr. Howard should be called a—ah—mop. There is nothing about him which suggests a mop to me. Now in my case—why, this very morning Miss Mar—Miss Phipps suggested that my hair needed cutting very badly. I hadn't noticed it, myself, but when she called my attention I looked in the mirror and—ah—really, I was quite a sight. Ah—shaggy, you know, like a—like a yak."
"A yak. The—ah—Tibetan animal. I spent a season in Tibet a number of years ago and they use them there for beasts of burden. They have a great deal of hair, you know, and so did I—ah—this morning. Dear me, yes; I was quite yaklike."
Lulie turned an amused glance at him. "So Martha tells you when—" she began, and then stopped, having spoken without thinking. But her companion was not offended.
"Oh, yes, yes," he said cheerfully. "She tells me many things for my own good. She quite manages me. It is extremely good of her, for goodness knows I need it. Dear me, yes!" He thoughtfully rubbed his shorn neck and added, "I told that barber that my hair needed cutting badly. I—ah—fear that is the way he cut it.... I read that joke in the paper, Miss Lulie; it isn't original, really."
He smiled and she burst out laughing. But she did not laugh long. When she next spoke she was serious enough.
"Mr. Bangs," she said, "you don't think it dishonorable, or mean to father, for me to keep on seeing Nelson, do you? Father keeps ordering me not to, but I never say I won't. If he asked me I should tell him that I did."
Galusha's answer was promptly given.
"No, I don't think it dishonorable," he said. "Of course, you must see him. It is too bad that you are obliged to see him in—ah—ah—dear me, what is the word I want? Clan—clan—sounds Scottish, doesn't it?—oh, yes, clandestine! It is too bad you are obliged to see him clandestinely, but I suppose your father's attitude makes anything else impossible. I am very sorry that my claiming to be the evil influence has had so little effect. That was a mistake, I fear."
"Don't say that, Mr. Bangs. You saved us all from a dreadful scene, and father himself from—I hate to think what. Don't ever say that it was a mistake, please. But I do so hate all this hiding and pretending. Some day it will have to end, but how I don't know. Nelson comes first, of course; but how can I leave father? I shall see him—Nelson, I mean—to-night, Mr. Bangs. He has written me saying he is coming over, and I am going to meet him. He says he has good news. I can't think what it can be. I can't think of any good news that could come for him and me, except that father has stopped believing in Marietta Hoag's spirits and has gotten over his ridiculous prejudice; and that WON'T come—ever."
"Oh, yes, it will! I'm sure it will. Dear me, you mustn't lose heart, you know."
"Mustn't I? No, I suppose I mustn't. Thank you, Mr. Bangs. Nelson and I are ever and ever so much obliged to you. You are a great comfort to me. I told Martha that very thing yesterday," she added.
Galusha could not help looking pleased. "Did you, indeed?" he observed. "Well, well—ah—dear me, that was a rather rash statement, wasn't it?"
"Not a bit. And do you want to know what she said? She said you were a great comfort to a good many people, Mr. Bangs. So there; you see!"
That evening the moon rolled, like a silver bowl, over the liquid rim of the horizon, and, upsetting, spilled shimmering, shining, dancing fire in a broad path from sky edge to the beach at the foot of Gould's Bluffs. At the top of that bluff, in the rear of a clump of bayberry bushes which shielded them from the gaze of possible watchers at the lighthouse, Nelson Howard and Lulie, walking slowly back and forth, saw it rise.
Nelson told her the good news he had mentioned in his letter. It was that he had been offered a position as operator at the great wireless station in Trumet. It was what he had been striving for and hoping for and his war record in the radio service had made it possible for him to obtain it. The pay was good to begin with and the prospect of advancement bright.
"And, of course, the best of it is," he said, "that I shall be no further away from you than I am now. Trumet isn't a bit farther than South Wellmouth. There! Don't you think that my good news IS good news?"
Of course she did and said so.
"And I'm awfully proud of you, too," she told him.
"Nothing to be proud of; I'm lucky, that's all. And don't you see, dear, how this is going to help us? I shall be earning good pay and I shall save every cent possible, you can bet on that. Rooms are furnished by the company for single men, and houses, nice, comfortable houses, for the married ones. In three months, or in six at the most, I shall have added enough to what I have saved already to make it possible for us to be married. And we WILL be married. Just think of you and me having one of those pretty little houses for our own, and being there together, in our home! Just think of it! Won't it be wonderful!"
He looked down into her face and smiled and she, looking up into his, smiled, too. But she shook her head, nevertheless.
"Yes, dear," she said, "it would be wonderful. But it's too wonderful to be true, I'm afraid."
"Why? Nonsense! Of course it can be true. And it's going to be, too, in six months, perhaps sooner."
But still she shook her head.
"It can't be, Nelson," she said, sadly. "Don't you see it can't? There is father."
"Your father will be all right. That's one of the good things about this new job of mine. You will be only a little way from him. He'll be here at the light, with Zach to look after him, and you can come over every few days to make sure things are going as they should. Why—"
She touched his lips with her fingers.
"Don't, dear," she begged. "You know you're only talking just because it is nice to make-believe. I like to hear you, too; but what is the use when it's ONLY make-believe? You know what father's health really is; you know how nervous he is. Doctor Powers told me he must not be overexcited or—or dreadful things might happen. You saw him at that horrid seance thing."
He shrugged. "If I didn't see I heard," he admitted.
"Yes, you heard. And you know how near—Now suppose I should tell him that you and I intended getting married and going to Trumet to live; what do you think would happen?"
"But, look here, Lulie: You've got to tell him some time, because we ARE going to be married, you know."
"Are we? Yes, I—I hope we are. But, oh, Nelson, sometimes I get almost discouraged. I CAN'T leave him in that way, you know that. And, in a sense, I don't want to leave him, because he is my father and I love him."
"But, confound it, you love me, too, don't you?"
"You know I do. But—but—oh, dear! What can I do?"
He did not answer at once. After a moment he said, rebelliously: "You have got your own life to live. Your father has lived the biggest part of his. He hasn't any right to prevent your being happy. It would be different if he had any excuse for it, reasonable excuse. I'm a—well, I'm not a thief—or a fool, quite, I hope. I can provide for you comfortably and I'll do my level best to be a good husband to you. If there was any excuse for his hating me, any except that idiotic spirit craziness of his. And what right has he to order you around? A hundred years or so ago fathers used to order their sons and daughters to marry this one or the other, and if they didn't mind they disinherited 'em, or threw 'em out of doors, or some such stuff. At least, that's the way it worked, according to the books and plays. But that doesn't go nowadays. What right has he—"
But again she touched his lips.
"Don't, Nelson, please," she said, gently. "Rights haven't anything to do with it, of course. You know they haven't, don't you? You know it's just—just that things are AS they are and that's all. If father was as he used to be, his real self, and he behaved toward you as he is doing, I shouldn't hesitate at all. I should marry you and feel I was doing exactly right. But now—"
She stopped and he, stooping, caught a gleam of moisture where the moonlight touched her cheek. He put his arm about her waist.
"Don't, dear," he said, hastily. "I'm sorry. Forgive me, will you? Of course you're dead right and I've been talking like a jackass. I'll behave, honest I will.... But what ARE we going to do? I won't give you up, you know, no matter if every spirit control in—in wherever they come from orders me to."
She smiled. "Of course we're not going to give each other up," she declared. "As for what we're going to do, I don't know. I suppose there is nothing to do for the present except to wait and—and hope father may change his mind. That's all, isn't it?"
He shook his head. "Waiting is a pretty slow game," he said. "I wonder, if I pretended to fall in love with Marietta Hoag, if those Chinese spooks of hers would send word to Cap'n Jeth that I was really a fairly decent citizen. Courting Marietta would be hard medicine to take, but if it worked a cure we might try it. What do you think?"
"I should be afraid that the remedy might be worse than the disease. Once in Marietta's clutches how would you get away?"
"Oh, that would be easy. I'd have Doctor Powers swear that I had been suffering from temporary softening of the brain and wasn't accountable for what I'd been doing."
"She might not believe it."
"Maybe not, but everybody else would. Nothing milder than softening of the brain would account for a fellow's falling in love with Marietta Hoag."
A little later, as they were parting, she said, "Nelson, you're an awfully dear fellow to be so thoughtful and forbearing and—and patient. Sometimes I think I shouldn't let you wait for me any longer."
"Let me! How are you going to stop me? Of course I'll wait for you. You're the only thing worth waiting for in the world. Don't you know that?"
"I know you think so. But, oh, dear, it seems sometimes as if there never would be any end to the waiting, and as if I had no right to ask—"
"There, there! Don't YOU begin talking about rights. There's going to be an end and the right kind of end. No Chinese spooks are going to keep us apart, my girl, not if I can help it."
"I know. But can you help it?... I must go now. Yes, I must, or father will wonder where I am and begin looking for me. He thinks I am over at Martha Phipps', you know. Good-night, dear."
"Good-night, girlie. Don't worry, it's coming out all right for us, I'm sure of it. This new job of mine is the first step in that direction. There! Kiss me and run along. Good-night."
They kissed and parted, Lulie to hasten back along the path to the light and Nelson to stride off in the opposite direction toward South Wellmouth. Neither of them saw two figures which had, the moment before, appeared upon the summit of the knoll about thirty yards from the edge of the bluff and directly behind them. But the pair on the knoll saw them.
Martha Phipps had been standing by the window of the sitting room in her home looking out. She had been standing there for some minutes. Galusha Bangs, in the rocking-chair by the center table, was looking at her. Suddenly Martha spoke.
"I declare!" she exclaimed. "I do believe that's the loveliest moon I ever saw. I presume likely," she added, with a laugh, "it's the same moon I've always seen; it just looks lovelier, that's all, seems to me. It will be beautiful to look at from the top of the bluff, the light on the water, I mean. You really ought to walk over and see it, Mr. Bangs."
Galusha hesitated, rubbed his spectacles, and then was seized with an inspiration.
"I—I will if you will go, too," he said.
Martha turned to see if he was in earnest.
"Mercy me!" she exclaimed. "Why should I go? I've seen that moon on that same water more times than I like to count."
"But you haven't seen it—ah—recently. Now have you?"
"Why, no, I don't know as I have. Come to think of it, I don't believe I've been over to the top of the bank to see the moonlight since—well, since father died. Father loved to look at salt water by sunlight or moonlight—or no light. But, good gracious," she added, "it seems awfully foolish, doesn't it, to go wading through the wet grass to look at the moon—at my age?"
"Why, not at all, not at all," persisted Galusha. "I must be—ah—vastly older than you, Miss Phipps, and—"
"Oh, but I am, really. One has only to look at me to see. And there are times when I feel—ah—incredibly ancient; indeed, yes. Now in your case, Miss Martha—"
"In my case I suppose I'm just a slip of a girl. For mercy sakes, don't let's talk ages, no, nor think about 'em, either.... Do YOU want to go out to-night to look at that moon, Mr. Bangs?"
"Why, yes—I—if you—"
"Then get your rubbers and cap. I'll be ready in a minute."
The moon was well up now and land and sea were swimming in its misty radiance. There was not a breath of wind and the air was as mild as if the month had been June and not May. Under their feet the damp grass and low bushes swished and rustled. An adventurous beetle, abroad before his time, blundered droning by their heads. From the shadow of a bunch of huckleberry bushes by the path a lithe figure soared lightly aloft, a furry paw swept across, and that June bug was knocked into the vaguely definite locality known as the "middle of next week."
Martha uttered a little scream. "Goodness gracious me!" she exclaimed. "Lucy Larcom, you bad cat, how you did scare me!"
Lucy leaped soundlessly over the clump of huckleberry bushes and galloped gayly into the distance, his tail waving like a banner.
"WELL!" observed his mistress; "for a cat as old as you are I must say!"
"He feels young to-night," said Galusha. "It must be the—ah—moonlight, I think. Really, I—ah—I feel surprisingly young, myself. I do, indeed!"
Martha laughed blithely. They came to the abrupt little slope at the southwestern edge of the government property and when he offered to help her down she took his hand and sprang down herself, almost as lightly and easily as Lucy could have done it. Galusha laughed, too, light-heartedly as a boy. His spectacles fell off and he laughed at that.
The minute afterward they arrived at the crest of the knoll. Another moment and the silhouetted figures of Lulie Hallett and Nelson Howard appeared from behind the clump of bayberry bushes and walked onward together, his arm about her waist. The pair on the knoll saw the parting.