Lulie ran up the path and the door of the light keeper's cottage closed behind her. Howard disappeared around the bend of the hill. Martha and Galusha turned hastily and began walking toward home. Neither spoke until they were almost there. Then Miss Phipps, apparently feeling that something should be said, observed: "The moon was—was real pretty, wasn't it, Mr. Bangs?"
Galusha started. "Eh?" he queried. "Oh, yes! yes, indeed! Ah—quite so."
He made the next remark also; it was quite irrelevant.
"Youth," he said, musingly. "Youth is a wonderful thing, really it is."
Possibly his companion understood his thought, or had been thinking along the same line herself. At all events she agreed. "Yes, it is," she said. "It is so. And most of us don't realize how wonderful until it's gone."
From the shadows by the gate Lucy Larcom sprang aloft to knock another beetle galley-west. Lucy was distinctly a middle-aged cat, but he did not allow the fact to trouble him. He gathered his June bugs while he might and did not stop to dream vain dreams of vanished youth.
Early June came to Gould's Bluffs. The last of the blossoms fell from the apple and pear trees in the Phipps' orchard, there were young swallows in the nests beneath the eaves of the shed, and tulips and hyacinths gave color and fragrance to the flower beds in the front yard. Down in the village Ras Beebe began his twice-a-year window dressing, removing the caps, candy, sweaters, oil heaters, patent medicines and mittens to substitute bathing suits, candy, straw hats, toy shovels, patent medicines and caps. Small boys began barefoot experiments. Miss Tamson Black departed for Nantucket to visit a cousin. Mr. Raish Pulcifer had his wife resurrect his black-and-white striped flannel trousers from the moth chest and hang them in the yard. "No use talkin'," so Zach Bloomer declared, "summer is headin' down our way. She'll be here afore we know it."
She was. One pleasant morning Galusha, emerging from the Phipps' "side door," saw workmen about the premises of the Restabit Inn. For a week thereafter the neighborhood echoed with hammer blows and reeked with the smell of new paint. The Restabit Inn, shaking off its winter shabbiness, emerged scrubbed, darned, patched and pressed, so to speak, in its last—and several "lasts before that"—summer suit made over, ready to receive callers.
On the twentieth of the month the callers began to arrive. East Wellmouth broke out, as a child breaks out with the measles, in brilliant speckles, the disease in this instance being unmistakably a pronounced case of summer boarders. The "speckles" were everywhere, about the post office, in Ras Beebe's store, about the lighthouse, on the beaches, and far and wide over the hills and hollows. They picknicked in the pine groves, they giggled in the back seats on prayer meeting nights, they sang noisily on the way back to the hotel after evening mail sorting, they danced jazzily in the hotel parlor and on the porches.
Martha did not mind them; she said they were rather nice, on the whole, because they helped to remind her that all creation wasn't East Wellmouth. Galusha didn't object to them, except when they were TOO noisy at midnight or thereabouts and interfered with his slumbers. Primmie condescended to them and aired her knowledge of local celebrities and traditions. Captain Jethro ignored them utterly and Lulie was popular among them. Only Zacheus, the philosopher, seemed to find them unmitigated nuisances. Somehow or other the summer visitor got under Mr. Bloomer's hard shell and upon his salt-seasoned nerves.
"Blast 'em!" grumbled Zach, "I don't know why 'tis, but they rile me like fury. Prob'ly it's because I ain't never been much used to 'em the way I would have been if I'd been keepin' light ashore all my days. Out on the old Hog's Back we never had no visitors to speak of and we used to hanker for 'em. Here, by Godfreys, they don't give us no time to hanker for nothin'. And they ask such foolhead questions! One woman, she says to me yesterday, she says—I was showin' her the foghorn, and says she: 'Do you have to turn a crank to make it go?' Think of that! A hand crank to make the fourth highest-power foghorn on the coast blow! I lost my patience. 'No ma'am,' says I, 'a crank ain't necessary. I just put my mouth to the touch-hole,' I says, 'and breathe natural and she chirrups.' She believed it, too. I cal'late I'll catch thunder from Cap'n Jeth if he finds out what I told her, but I can't help it; there's limits, by Godfreys domino, limits!"
Galusha found, except for the slight annoyance of too many of these sojourners, that summer at Gould's Bluffs and vicinity was even more delightful than the fall and spring had been. His friends, the Halls, whose invitation to their cottage at Wellmouth had been the cause of his coming to the Cape, were not occupying that cottage this summer; they had rented it for the season and gone abroad. So he had no old friends to call upon. But his new friendships were enjoyable and dependable. His health improved steadily; he gained in strength, and the fear that his guilt in the affair of the Wellmouth Development stock might be discovered grew less and less. Only one thing troubled him, and that was so vague that it was scarcely a trouble. The Institute people had written him of some great plan for his professional services, a plan which was to develop in the fall. Now, by all that was right and proper, he should have been tremendously curious concerning that plan, should have been eagerly guessing what it might be and counting the days until the time came for his return to work and its immediate development. But he was not curious, he did not count the days; for some weird and unnatural reason—or for no reason whatever—he was not eager to return to work. He, Galusha Bangs, whose life had been devoted to his pet science, who had had no thought except for that science, had labored for it and in it every day for twenty years and had dreamed about it at night—he did not seem to care to go back to it. He did not seem to want to go anywhere. Contentment for him was apparently right there at Gould's Bluffs and nowhere else. Amazing but true. And no less disgraceful than amazing. It was a state of mind, of course, a psychological state due to physiological causes and doubtless was but temporary. Nevertheless, it troubled him a bit.
One morning in July he received a shock. Zacheus, returning from the post office, met him at the Phipps' gate and handed him a letter.
"Come in last night's mail," explained Zach. "I happened to be cruisin' up to the village so I thought I might as well fetch it down to you, Mr. Bangs."
Galusha thanked him and put the letter in his pocket. After dinner, having gone to his room, he was searching his pockets for a handkerchief; finding his handkerchief invariably entailed a search, because he was quite as likely to have put it in his waistcoat pocket as in those of his trousers, and just as likely to find it at last in the pocket of his overcoat downstairs on the rack. In this case he did not find it at all, having dropped it on the road, but he did find the letter. Still wondering where he could have put the handkerchief, he absently tore open the envelope and began to read, as follows:
"Professor Galusha C. Bangs, East Wellmouth, Mass.
"Mr. Augustus Cabot wishes me to inform you that he has returned to this office, having, so he feels, quite regained his health. He sends his regards to you and hopes that you, too, are getting on toward complete recovery."
Galusha, having read so far, leaned back in his chair. Cousin Gussie well again! Back again at his Boston office! Why, this was unexpected news! He was gratified and pleased, of course. Nevertheless, coupled with the gratification was a slight feeling of uneasiness. Nevada—well, Nevada was such a long and safe way off; whereas Boston was so very and dangerously near. To a person with a guilty conscience, one with a secret to conceal, the advantages of Nevada as a residence for a possibly inquisitive relative were obvious. And was Thomas writing merely to impart the news of his employer's return? Or were there other reasons?
"You will remember" [began the next sentence of the letter], "writing him some time ago, while he and I were in Nevada, asking his advice concerning some corporation, the stock of which a friend of yours was considering, either as a purchase or sale, I do not remember which."
Galusha closed his eyes and passed an agitated hand across his forehead. His question was answered; there WERE other reasons.
"You may not be aware" [the letter continued], "of the forest fire which, on April seventeenth, destroyed the sanitarium and camps in which Mr. Cabot and I were staying. The entire institution, including our own camp, was burned and with it were destroyed all my business records, letters received, copies of letters sent, etc. At the time we were not at all concerned with this loss, being fearful of the effect which the excitement might have upon Mr. Cabot's health. I am glad to say, however, that the effect, if any, was not injurious. But the loss of all correspondence, including that with you, is now causing some annoyance. My recollection is that I advised your friend not to buy any stock of the nature you described, or, if he owned any, not to attempt a forced sale. As we have heard nothing further from you since, and as neither our Mr. Minor nor Mr. Barbour report your consulting them on the subject, I take it your interest in the matter is closed."
Again Galusha leaned back in his chair. But this time he drew a long breath of relief. Mr. Thomas "took it" that his interest in the matter was closed, did he? Well, it was, indeed it was. The sole interest he now had in the Wellmouth Development Company was to forget it utterly.
And yet, if it was not concerning the Development matter that Thomas was writing, what was it? The beatific smile which had followed the sigh of relief faded from his face and he began to read again.
"In looking over your affairs which, among others, have kept me very busy since my return, I find," wrote Thomas, "that Mr. Barbour, at your request, sent you a check on March 13th, for fourteen thousand three hundred and ten dollars and thirty-eight cents, the same being your share of the Tinplate reorganization profits. On March 15th, you came personally to this office and exchanged that check for five thousand dollars in cash and another check for ninety-three hundred and ten dollars and thirty-eight cents. On March 24th, according to our records, you again came in person and exchanged this new check for eighty-two hundred dollars in cash and a third check for eleven hundred and ten dollars and thirty-eight cents. This third check we do not find has as yet been presented for payment nor has it been deposited to your account with us. Considering the lapse of time since the check was drawn, this seems somewhat unusual and so I am writing to ask concerning it. Mr. Cabot wishes me to add, also, that as thirteen thousand, two hundred dollars, the amount of cash drawn by you on the two occasions mentioned, is a large sum, he is, as your financial guardian—this is the term he requests me to use—a trifle anxious concerning it. He cannot, he says, conceive of a use to which you could put such a sum, particularly in your present location on the Cape. He wishes me to ask you to write him particulars in the matter. To his request I am adding my own concerning the missing check. A prompt reply will greatly oblige us both. Apologizing for the inconvenience which this may cause you, and with Mr. Cabot's sincere regards and good wishes, I am,
"GEORGE L. THOMAS."
Mr. Bangs' smiles, beatific or otherwise, had so far vanished by this time that he could not summon them again that day. He attempted to appear cheerful during supper that evening and breakfast next morning, but it was a sorrowful cheer. Martha asked if he was sick. He said he was not, indeed no, really, but she looked as if she did not believe him. Primmie's suspicions of dropsy, or some equally distressing ailment, revived. She watched him for signs of relapse.
The letter requested an immediate reply. That reply was neither written nor sent. Mr. Bangs could not think of a reply which would embrace the two elements, safety and sanity. It was impossible to tell the truth and dangerous to attempt to tell anything else. So he did not answer the Thomas letter.
In a week he received a second one, asking if he had gotten the first. This simply HAD to be acknowledged, so he did so. He wrote that his friend was no longer interested in the stock concerning which he had inquired. Also he returned the check for the balance of the Tinplate payment—it had been lying in his bureau drawer ever since he brought it from Boston—but he made no mention of what he had done with the eighty-two hundred dollars in cash nor the five thousand which he had previously drawn. He did not refer to these sums at all. He requested that the check for the Tinplate balance be deposited to his account and sent it in the envelope with his letter to Thomas. Then he fearfully awaited the next blow.
It came, and in a new fashion, about a week later. He and Martha were in the sitting room after supper when the telephone bell rang.
"Pardon me, Miss Martha," said Galusha, "but wasn't that our—I should say your ring?"
Martha smiled. "I didn't notice," she said. "You're always thinkin' you hear our ring, Mr. Bangs. The last time you heard it and called me to the 'phone, it turned out to be Emulous Dodd, the undertaker. He said, 'I don't want you.' I told him I was thankful for that."
Her lodger shook his head. "I'm very sorry," he said. "These telephone calls down here—'Two long and three short' and—ah—the like—they do confuse me, I admit. I really can't seem to get accustomed to them. Now... Oh, but that IS your ring, isn't it, Miss Martha?"
It was. Martha took down the receiver.
"Yes... yes," she said. "Yes, this is Phipps.... Oh, all right.... The girl says it's a long-distance call," she added, turning to Galusha. "Who can be callin' ME from long distance?... Yes... yes.... This is Miss Phipps speakin' now.... Who?... Oh, Mr. Bangs? Yes, he's right here. It's for you, Mr. Bangs."
Galusha took the receiver from her hand. "Ah—hello!" he hailed. The wire buzzed and sang. Then, in his ear and with surprising clearness and nearness, a voice said, brusquely: "Hello! Hello, there! Is that you, Loosh?"
Galusha recognized the voice. He had not heard it for a long time, but he recognized it at once. And, recognizing it, something like panic seized him.
"Hello!" shouted the voice again. "Hello, Galusha! Is that you?"
Galusha glanced fearfully over his shoulder. Martha was gazing at him. She looked alarmed.
"Oh, what is it, Mr. Bangs?" she asked. "It—it's not bad news, is it?"
"No—ah—no," he faltered. "I—I—"
"Eh? What's that?" demanded the voice in the receiver, impatiently. "Hello! Who is this, anyway?"
"Is there somebody sick or—or anything?" asked Martha. "No—no, Miss Martha. It's all right, really. Yes, indeed, I—Oh, quite right. Yes."
"But you look so frightened."
"Do I? Oh, not in the least. That is, I... Yes, yes, I hear. Yes, this is Bangs speaking."
"Oh, it is! Well, I'm glad you're speaking at last. You're Galusha Bangs, you say?"
"Yes. Yes, I—I think so."
"You THINK so! That's good! Don't you know whether you are or not?"
"I meant I—I thought I said so. I am Galusha Bangs. Yes."
"Good! Then we've settled so much. You know who I am, of course?"
Did he? Oh, if he only did not! He cast another alarmed glance in his landlady's direction. He wondered if the voice which was so distinctly audible in his ear could be heard and understood in the room. Oh, this was dreadful, dreadful!
"HELLO!" roared the voice again. "Hello, Bangs! Are you there?"
"Oh, yes—ah—yes. I am here. Quite so—yes."
"Well, I'm glad. I thought you might have gone clamming or something. Well, I asked if you knew who this was? Do you?"
Galusha swallowed, shut his eyes, and then faced the inevitable.
"It—it is Cousin Gussie, isn't it?" he faltered.
He heard, or imagined that he did, a little gasp of surprise from Miss Phipps. He did not dare look again in her direction.
"That's right," said the voice. "You're a good guesser. How are you, anyway?"
Galusha stammered that he was very well. He added that he was glad to see his relative. The relative promptly observed that his eyesight must be remarkably good.
"You know what I've called you up for, of course?" she added.
Martha had risen and was leaving the room on tiptoe.
"You and your cousin can talk better alone, I know," she whispered. "I want to see Primmie a minute, anyway."
Her lodger regarded her mutely. The expression of dumb misery on his face caused her to pause for an instant.
"You're SURE there's no bad news, Mr. Bangs?" she asked, anxiously.
He managed to smile, but the smile was not a convincing success. "Oh, yes—ah—quite, quite," he protested. "It—it is—ah—extremely pleasant, really.... Yes—yes, Cousin Gussie, I am—I am still here."
"Oh, you are! Fine! I thought probably you had gone to dig another quahaug. Why don't you answer letters?"
Galusha glanced desperately at the kitchen door. Thank heaven, it was closed.
"I answered yours," he declared.
"You did not. You only half answered it. That idiot Barbour sent you a check for over fourteen thousand dollars. Of course, if I had been well and here he wouldn't have done any such fool thing. He says you told him to."
"Did you? Don't you know whether you did or not? Well, never mind. You came up here on two separate occasions, so they tell me, and drew thirteen thousand of that in cash and took it away with you. Now what on earth did you do that for?"
Galusha did not answer. Cabot immediately demanded to know if he was still there. Assured of this, he repeated his question.
"I—I wanted it," faltered Galusha.
"You WANTED it! Wanted thirteen thousand two hundred dollars in cash down there on the clam flats? What did you want it FOR?"
"I—I—Well, you see—you see—"
"No, I don't see. Now, look here, old man: I realize you're of age and that your money is your own, and all that. It isn't, legally speaking, one single bit my business if you take every cent you've got and sink it in the middle of Cape Cod Bay. But I promised your aunt before she died that I would try and see that you didn't do that kind of thing. She knew you couldn't take care of money; I knew it; why, confound it, you knew it, too! You and I talked that whole matter over and we agreed I wasn't to give you any large sums of your money, no matter how hard you begged for them, unless you told me why you wanted them and I was satisfied it was all right. Didn't we agree to that? Isn't that so?"
"Why—why, yes, Cousin Gussie. You have been very kind. I appreciate it, I assure you."
"Oh, be hanged! I haven't been kind. I've only been trying to keep you from being TOO kind to people who work you for a good thing, that's all. Look here, Loosh: I know what you've done with that thirteen thousand dollars."
Galusha shot one more pitiful glance in the direction of the kitchen.
"Ah—ah—do you?" he stammered.
"Yes. You've given it away, haven't you?"
"Well—well, you see—"
"You have? I knew it! And I know whom you've given it to."
There was no answer to be made to this appalling assertion. Poor Galusha merely clung to the receiver and awaited his death sentence.
"You've given it to some mummy-hunter to fit out another grave-robbing expedition. Now, haven't you?"
"Be a sport now, Loosh! Tell me the truth. That's what you've done, isn't it?"
Galusha hesitated, closing his eyes, struggled with his better nature, conquered it, and faltered: "Why—why—in a way of speaking, I suppose—"
"I knew it! I bet Minor a dinner on it. Well, confound you, Loosh; don't you realize they're only working you for what they can get out of you? Haven't I told you not to be such an ass? You soft-headed old... Here! What's the matter with this wire? Hello, Central! Hello!..."
The Cabot oration broke off in the middle and was succeeded by a series of rattles and thumps and jingles like a barrel of kitchenware falling downstairs; this was followed by a startling stillness, which was, in turn, broken by an aggrieved voice wailing: "Say, Central, why can't I get that twenty-seven ring fourteen Bayport? I bet you you've given me every other d——number on Cape Cod!"
Galusha hung up the receiver. Then he sat down in the rocker and gazed at the opposite wall. His secret was safe. But that safety he had bought at the price of another falsehood—told to Cousin Gussie this time. He did not seem to be the same Galusha Cabot Bangs at all. That Galusha—the former Galusha—had considered himself a gentleman and would no more have told a lie than he would have stolen his neighbor's spoons. This one—his present self—lied not only once but twice and thrice. He told one untruth to cover another. He lived in an atmosphere of blackest falsehood and deception. The sole ray of light in the darkness was the knowledge that Martha Phipps did not know his real character. She considered him honest and truthful. In order that she might continue to think him so, he would go on prevaricating forever, if necessary.
It preyed upon his conscience, nevertheless. The thought uppermost in his mind was expressed in a reply which he made to a question asked by Mr. Bloomer on an afternoon of that week. Zach and Primmie were, as so often happened, involved in an argument and, as also so often happened, they called on him to act as referee.
"We was talkin' about names, Mr. Bangs," explained Primmie. "He's always makin' fun of my name. I told him my name was pretty enough to get put into poetry sometimes. You know—"
"I told her," broke in Zach, solemnly, but with a wink at Galusha, "that the only thing I could think of to rhyme with 'Primrose' was 'Jim Crows.'"
"I never said it rhymed," protested Miss Cash, hotly. "You can have your name in poetry without its rhymin', I guess likely. You're always tellin' me about how 'Zacheus he, climbed up a tree—' Now if your name had to rhyme 'twould have to be—er—er—well, nothing'," triumphantly; "'cause nothin' COULD rhyme with Zacheus."
Mr. Bloomer, solemn as ever, shook his head.
"Yes, it could," he declared. "What's the name of that plant Lulie's got in the settin' room window over home? The one with the prickers on it. Cat-tailed—no, rat-tailed—um—"
"Cactus." Galusha supplied the word.
"That's it," said Zach. "That would do it.
'Old man Zach'us Shinned up a cactus—'
Have to step lively, wouldn't he?" he added, with a chuckle.
Primmie sniffed. "Silly!" she retorted. "What was that pretty piece of poetry you told me the other day that had my name in it, Mr. Bangs? The one about it bein' so and so and not much else? You know the one."
"'A primrose by the river's brim A yellow primrose was to him, And it was nothing more.'"
"There!" said Primmie, triumphantly. "Do you hear that, Zach Bloomer? That's poetry, the real kind. And it's got my name in it, too."
Zach shook his head.
"You ain't a yellow primrose, Posy," he said. "You're a red one-red and speckled. Mr. Bangs," he added, before the outraged Primmie could reply, "I think consider'ble about names, havin' such a out-of-common sort of a one myself. I never heard your name afore.... Galusha.... Godfreys! Was you named for somebody in the family?"
"I see. Yes, yes. Most generally names like that, the tough ones, come out of the Bible in the fust place. Is your name in Scriptur' anywheres?"
"I don't know. I—ah—presume I should, but I don't."
"Um-hm. Queer names in the Bible.... Um-hm. And some good ones, too.... I've always been a good deal interested in names. Used to set around hours at a stretch, when I was aboard the old lightship, and try to pick out what name in Scriptur' I cal'lated I'd ruther be called. Finally I got down to two—John and Paul. Both of 'em short and sensible, no frills to 'em. Of the two I figgered maybe Paul would fit me best. Paul, he was shipwrecked one time, you remember, and I've been wrecked no less'n three.... Paul.... Um-hm.... Say, Mr. Bangs, have you ever tried to fit yourself with a Bible name?"
Galusha smiled and said he never had. Primmie, who had been silent for almost three minutes, could remain so no longer.
"I think Solomon would be the right name for you, Mr. Bangs," she cried, enthusiastically. "You know such a terrible lot—about some kinds of things." This last a hasty addition.
Zach snorted. "Solomon!" he repeated. "Dan Beebe—Ras Beebe's cousin over to Trumet—named his boy Solomon, and last week they took the young-one up to the State home for feeble-minded. What name would you pick out of the Bible for yourself, Mr. Bangs?"
It was then that Galusha made the reply to which reference has been made. His smile changed and became what Primmie described as "one of his one-sided ones."
"Ah—um—well—Ananias, perhaps," he said, and walked away.
Zach and Miss Cash stared after him. Of course, it was the latter who spoke first.
"Ananias!" she repeated. "Why, Ananias was the feller that—that lied so and was struck down dead. I remember him in Sunday school. Him and his wife Sophrony. Seems to me 'twas Sophrony; it might have been Maria, though. But, anyhow, they died lyin'."
"That so? I thought they lied dyin'."
"Oh, be still! But what did Mr. Bangs pick out THAT name for—of all names? Can you tell me that?"
Zacheus could not, of course, nor did he attempt it. Instead, he rose and gazed sadly at his companion.
"He said it for a joke, Buttercups," he observed. "Joke. YOU know, a joke. One of them things that—I tell you what: You look up 'joke' in the dictionary and then, after you've found out what 'tis, I'll lend you a patent-medicine almanac with one or two of 'em in it.... Well, I've got to be gettin' under way. So long, Posy."
Possibly Primmie might have inquired further into the reasons which led the Phipps' lodger to select for himself the name of the person who "died lying," but that very afternoon, while on an errand in the village, she heard the news that Nelson Howard had been offered a position as operator at the Trumet wireless station, had accepted and was already there and at work. Every professional gossip in East Wellmouth was talking about it, not only because of its interest as a piece of news, but because of the astonishing fact that no one but those intimately interested had previously known of the offer.
"Why in the world," said Becky Blount, expressing the opinion of what Captain Jethro Hallett would have called her "tribe," "he felt 'twas necessary to hide it as if 'twas something to be ashamed of, I don't see. Most folks would have been proud to be offered such a chance. But that Nelse Howard's queer, anyhow. Stuck-up, I call him; and Lulie Hallett's the same way. She nor him won't have anything to do with common folks in this town. And it'll be worse NOW."
This was quite untrue, of course, for Lulie and Nelson were extremely friendly with all except the Blounts, Marietta Hoag, and a few more of their kind. The solid, substantial people in the village liked them, just as they liked and respected Martha Phipps. These people took pains to congratulate young Howard and to whisper a hope to Lulie that her father's unreasonable opposition to the former might be lessened by the news of his advancement.
Primmie, returning home with the sensation, was disappointed to find it no sensation at all. Lulie had told both Miss Phipps and Galusha shortly after Nelson told her. She had told her father also, but he had not expressed gratification. Instead, the interview between them had ended unpleasantly.
"The first thing he did," said Lulie, when telling the story to her confidants at the Phipps' home, "was to ask me how I knew about it. I told him that Nelson told me."
Martha lifted her brows. "My!" she exclaimed. "You did?"
"Yes, I did. I don't know why exactly. Somehow I felt just then as if I didn't care."
"And what did he say?"
"He didn't say as much as I thought he would. He turned and stared at me under those big eyebrows of his, and then he said: 'When did you see him?' I said, 'Yesterday.' 'When did you see him before that?' I said, 'About a week ago. Nelson and I usually see each other about once a week, father,' I told him."
"My!" exclaimed Martha, again. "That was plain enough, to be sure."
"Yes, wasn't it? I wonder now that I had the courage. He didn't flare up as I expected he would, as I am sure he would have done last fall, for instance. He just looked and looked at me. Then he said: 'Are you really planning to marry that fellow, Lulie?' I thought that as I had gone so far, I might as well go the rest, so I said: 'Yes, father, some day. Not as long as you want me or need me, but some day, if he is willing to wait for me.' He just kept on pulling his beard and looking at me. At last, when he did speak, he asked, 'In spite of me and—and your mother?' It made me feel dreadfully wicked; I almost cried, I guess. But I had to go through with it then, so I said: 'I don't want to marry "in spite" of any one, father. You know I don't. And I shall never leave you—never. But can't you PLEASE see Nelson as he is and not—and not—' He interrupted me there; in fact, I doubt if he heard me. 'Your mother has warned me against that young fellow,' he said. 'You know she has, Lulie.' 'I know you THINK she has, father,' I said."
Martha's hands fell in her lap. Galusha shook his head.
"Dear me!" he observed. "Dear me!"
Lulie nodded. "Yes, I know," she said. "As soon as I said it I thought 'Dear me,' too. But I don't believe he heard that, either. He seemed to be thinking and didn't speak for ever so long. Then he said, 'The revelations from above ain't to be set aside. No, no, they lay a duty on us.' Then he stopped again and turned and walked away. The last words he said, as he was going out of the room, were, 'Don't let me ever see that Howard around this house. You hear me?' And that is the way it ended. He hasn't mentioned the subject since. But, at least," said Lulie, with an attempt at a smile, "he didn't call Nelson a 'swab.' I suppose that is some comfort."
Martha and Galusha agreed that it was. The latter said: "It seems to me that you may consider it all quite encouraging, really. It is only the—ah—spirits which stand in the way now."
"Yes, but oh, Mr. Bangs, they always will stand in the way, I'm afraid. Other things, real things or real people we might change or persuade, but how can you change a—a make-believe spirit that isn't and never was, except in Marietta Hoag's ridiculous imagination? Oh, Martha," she added, "you and Mr. Bangs don't think I'm horrid to speak like this, do you? Of course, if I believed, as father does, that it was really my mother's spirit speaking, I should—well, I should be.... But what is the use? I CAN'T believe such a thing."
"Of course you can't, child," said Martha. "I knew your mother and if she was comin' back to this earth she wouldn't do it through Marietta Hoag's head. She had too much self-respect for that."
Galusha stroked his chin. "I suppose," he said, "if there were some way in which we might influence that imagination of Miss—ah—Hoag's, a change might be brought about. It would be difficult to reach the said imagination, however, wouldn't it? I once found a way to reach a tomb of the XIIIth Dynasty which had been buried for thousands of years under thirty-three feet of rock and sand. I located it by accident—that is, in a way, it was an accident; of course, we had been searching for some time. I happened to strike the earth at a certain point with my camera tripod and it sounded quite hollow. You see, there was a—ah—sort of shaft, as one might say, which came quite close to the surface at that point. It sounded surprisingly hollow, like a—like something quite empty, you know. Yes."
Martha nodded. "If you struck Marietta's head anywhere," she observed, "it would sound the same way. She's got about as much brains as a punkin lantern."
"Yes—ah—yes, but I fear we should gain little by doing that. We shouldn't get at our 'spirit' that way. But perhaps we may find a way. There are obstacles, but there were obstacles above and about that tomb also. Dear me, yes. We must consider, Miss Lulie; we must, so to speak, consider."
His advice to Nelson was similar.
"I should say the situation was a bit more encouraging, Mr. Howard," he said. They had been discussing Lulie's talk with her father. Nelson nodded.
"Perhaps it is, a little bit," he admitted. "It seems barely possible that the old man is not quite as bitter against me as he was. For instance, I met him yesterday at the post office and said 'Good-morning, Cap'n Jeth.' I always speak to him whenever I meet him, make it a point to, but he never speaks to me. He didn't speak yesterday, but he did bow. It was more of a bob than a bow and he looked savage enough to bite me; but, at least, he went so far as to show he knew I was on earth. That was rather funny, too, his doing that. I wonder why he did."
Galusha reflected a moment. Then he said: "I shouldn't be greatly surprised if your new position at the radio station may be the cause, Captain Hallett is—ah—not unmindful of success in business. Miss Mar—ah—that is, Miss Phipps says he is a very shrewd business man. My own experience," he added, meditatively, "would lead me to that conclusion, also."
Nelson was surprised.
"Have you had business dealings with the cap'n?" he asked. "I never thought of you as a business man, Mr. Bangs."
Galusha started and seemed embarrassed.
"Oh—ah—ah—I'm not, Mr. Howard," he declared, hastily. "Indeed, no."
"But you spoke of your business experience with Cap'n Jeth; or I thought you did."
The little archaeologist looked very solemn.
"Such experiences as I have had with Captain Hallett," he observed, "have been—ah—most unbusinesslike."
They parted a few minutes later. Said Nelson, gloomily:
"I'm afraid the situation hasn't changed a whole lot, after all, Mr. Bangs. Cap'n Jeth may think more of my new job than he did of my old one, but he doesn't think any better of me as a son-in-law. And he won't, so long as he believes in that fool spirit stuff."
Galusha stroked his chin. "We must consider those spirits, Mr. Howard," he said. "Dear me, yes; we must seriously consider those spirits."
August is the banner month at all northern seaside resorts. August at East Wellmouth crowded the Restabit Inn to overflowing. On pleasant Sundays the long line of cars flying through the main road of the village on the way to Provincetown met and passed the long line returning Bostonward. The sound of motor horns echoed along the lane leading to Gould's Bluffs. Galusha found it distinctly safer and less nerve-racking to walk on the grass bordering that lane than in the lane itself, as had hitherto been his custom. The harassed Zacheus led more visitors than ever up and down the lighthouse stairs, expressing his opinion of those visitors, after their departure, with fluency and freedom. Mr. Bloomer's philosophy helped him through most annoyances but it broke down under the weight of the summer boarder and his—or—her questions.
Galusha, in his daily walks, kept far afield, avoiding the traveled ways. His old resort, the Baptist cemetery, he seldom visited now, having examined and re-examined all the interesting stones within its borders. He had discovered another ancient burial ground, over on the South Wellmouth road, and occasionally his wanderings took him as far as that. The path to and from this cemetery led over the edge of the bluff and wound down to the beach by the creek and landlocked harbor where his hat—the brown derby—had put to sea that Sunday morning in the previous October. The path skirted the creek for a little way, then crossed on a small bridge and climbed the pine-clad hills on the other side.
Late one afternoon in August, Galusha, returning along this path, met a man coming in the other direction. The man was a stranger to him and obviously not a resident of East Wellmouth. He was a stout, prosperous-looking individual, well-dressed and with a brisk manner. When Mr. Bangs first saw him he was standing at a point near the foot of the bluff, and gazing intently at the view. Galusha turned the corner above the bridge where the path re-entered the pine grove. When he emerged again the man had walked on to the little rise by the farther edge of the creek. He was standing there, as he had stood at the point where Galusha first noticed him, looking about, up and down the creek, across the little harbor, at the beaches, the sand cliffs, the pines and the sea.
Galusha crossed the bridge and approached along the path. The stranger heard his step and turned.
"Good-afternoon," said Galusha.
The man nodded and returned the greeting.
"Nice view from here," he observed. Galusha agreed that the view was very nice, indeed. He passed on and turned to climb the bluff. Then the stranger called to him.
"Excuse me," he said. "But may I ask you a question or two? Don't want to keep you if you are in a hurry, though."
Galusha declared himself to be not in the least hurried. The man walked toward him.
"Are you acquainted about here?" he asked.
"Why—why—ah—yes, to some extent. Yes."
"I mean do you know the lay of the land in this vicinity?"
"Why—ah—yes, I think so. Fairly well."
"I see. Can you tell me how much water there is in that channel out yonder?" He pointed toward the mouth of the inlet, where the two lines of creaming breakers approached each other, but did not meet.
"No—no, I am sorry, but I can't."
"How deep is it off here opposite where we're standing?"
"Dear me! I'm afraid I don't know that, either. When you asked concerning the lay of the land I didn't understand you meant the—ah—lay of the water. I'm very sorry."
The man laughed. "That's all right," he said. "Asked my question the wrong way, didn't I? Well, tell me a little about the land, then. Are the woods the other side of that hill or only on this?"
Galusha informed him concerning the extent of the pine grove. The stranger asked some questions about the course of the creek above the bridge, the distance from the main highway, whether the land beyond the hill was settled or unoccupied. His final question was concerning the Restabit Inn.
"Any other hotels around here within ten miles?" he asked. When told there were not, he merely nodded, making no comment.
"Well, I'm much obliged," he said. "I was just loafing around and a little curious, that's all. Thanks. Hope I haven't kept you too long. Good-day."
Galusha followed the winding path up the face of the high bluff. When, having reached its top, he paused to get fresh breath in place of that he had lost, he looked down and saw his questioner standing where he had left him and, apparently, still admiring the view.
The following afternoon they saw each other again. This time the stranger was on the other side of the creek, wandering about at the edge of the pine grove. He acknowledged Galusha's bow with a wave of the hand, but he did not come nearer to ask more questions.
That evening, at the supper table, Mr. Bangs mentioned the meeting. Primmie, who prided herself upon knowing every visitor in town and where he or she came from, was ready with the information in this case.
"I know who he is," she declared. "His name's Williams and him and his wife's stoppin' at the Restabit. They never meant to stay there only one night, but his automobile blowed up or busted out somethin' and they had to send to Boston to get a new one. It's a dreadful expensive kind of a one, the auto is, one of them—them Pieced-Arrows, all upholstery and drapery window curtains and places to put bouquets and your feet in winter to warm 'em—your feet, I mean, not the bouquets—and—"
"There, there, Primmie," said Martha. "That will do. For mercy sakes, how did you find out all that?"
"Their chauffeur told me. I know him, too. Him and me was introduced last night when he stopped in to get a drink of water. His name is Kelly, and he—"
"Wait a minute. When you and he were introduced, you say? Who introduced you?"
"Why, he did, Miss Martha. You see, he was comin' along by and he see me out settin' on the side steps, you know. And he stopped and he says: 'You look lonesome' he says. 'Well,' says I, 'I may LOOK so, but I ain't; my savin' soul, no!' Then he wanted to know if he couldn't have a drink of water and, of course—"
"Yes, I see—of course. I think you had better sit in the house this evenin', Primmie."
The "Pieced-Arrow" car, with Mr. Kelly on the driver's seat and Mr. and Mrs. Williams inside, left East Wellmouth at the end of that week. Yet once more before the season closed Galusha fancied that he caught a glimpse of that car's owner. The time was the first week in September and Galusha, returning later than usual along the path from South Wellmouth, saw two figures walking along the beach of the inlet. They were a good way off, but one certainly did resemble Williams as he remembered him. The brisk step was like his and the swing of the heavy shoulders. The other figure had seemed familiar, too, but it disappeared behind a clump of beach-plum bushes and did not come out again during the time that Galusha remained in sight. On reflection the latter decided that he was mistaken. Of course, Williams could not be one of the pair, having left the Cape. It was too dark to see plainly; and, after all, it made little difference whether it was he or not. Mr. Bangs stopped speculating on the subject and promptly forgot it entirely.
On the morning after Labor Day there was a general exodus of city sojourners from the Inn and on September 15 it closed its doors. The weather was still beautiful and mild, even more so than during the previous month, but East Wellmouth's roads and lanes were no longer crowded. The village entered upon its intermediate season, that autumn period of quiet and restful beauty, which those who know and love the Cape consider most delightful of the year.
Galusha enjoyed its beauties hugely. He could stroll where he pleased now and no charging and bellowing motor car was likely to awaken him from his daydreams and cause him to leap frantically into the gutter. Sunsets over the western dunes and the Bay were hazily wonderful fantasies of crimson and purple and gold and sapphire, with the nets and poles of the distant fish weirs scattered here and there about the placid water like bits of fairy embroidery. And then to end his walk by turning in at the Phipps' gate; the lamplight in the cozy dining room shining a welcome and Martha's pleasant, attractive face above the teacups. It was like coming home, like coming to a real home, his home. He dreaded to think of leaving it—even for his loved science and the promised "great plan" which the Institute people were to present him that very fall or winter.
He had heard nothing further from them concerning the plan, but he knew he was likely to hear at any moment. He was well, perfectly well now, and stronger than he had been for a long, long time. He felt himself abundantly able to take charge of an exploring expedition, or to reorganize a department, to do anything which the Institute might ask him to do. His guess was that the plan was for another archaeological expedition, one to go farther afield and equipped for more thorough research than any yet sent out. He himself had urged the need of such an expedition many times, but when the war came all such ideas were given up. The giving up had been, on his part, although he realized the necessity which prompted it and even urged the yielding to that necessity, a bitter disappointment.
And now—well, now he could not seem to arouse an atom of real enthusiasm. He should be too excited to sleep, but he did sleep well. When he dreamed of Egypt and the tombs of the Ptolemies, there was always a Cape Cod cottage in the foreground. And the cottage never varied in design; it was always the "Phipps' place," and its mistress was always standing in the doorway. That was the great trouble, he knew it. He was going to be homesick for that cottage and its contents. If they might only be transferred with him to Egypt, then the land of the Pharaohs would be even more paradisical than he used to think it.
He told Martha of the promised plan and its call to duty. Oddly enough, thereafter they discussed it but little. Other subjects, although mere commonplaces, they seemed to find more interesting. One evening, however, they were together in the sitting room and Martha said:
"I noticed you got a letter from Washin'ton to-day, Mr. Bangs."
Galusha nodded. "Yes," he said. "It wasn't a letter exactly. Merely another of the regular reports, that is all."
"I see.... Well, I suppose you will be hearin' from them pretty soon about—about that other matter. The plan they told you they had for you."
He nodded again. "Dear me, yes," he agreed. "I suppose I shall."
"Why do you say 'Dear me'? You want to hear, don't you? It will be a wonderful thing for you, I should think. It is sure to be somethin' you will like, because they said so in their letter."
Both were silent for a brief interval, then Martha said:
"I presume likely I shall be sittin' here in this very room this winter, doin' just the very same thing I'm doin' now, knittin' or sewin', with everything just as it is, cat and plants and Primmie and all the everyday things I've been amongst all my life. And you'll be away off, goodness knows where, among goodness knows what sorts of queer people and queer places.... Well," she added, with a smile, "you won't have any one to fret you about whether you put on rubbers or not. That'll be a comfort for you, at any rate."
He did not seem to find great comfort in the prospect.
"I shall not put them on," he said. "I know I sha'n't. I shall forget all about them, and forget to eat at regular times, and to—ah—keep my head covered in the sun. Why, do you know," he added, in a burst of confidence and quite as if he had not said the same thing before, "when I am by myself I always forget things like that, things that real people—ah—normal people, remember. Then I have—ah—indigestion and headaches and all sorts of miserable ailments. I shall forget again, of course, and my friends, the normal ones, will tell me, as they always do, that I need a—ah—keeper, so to speak. Oh, dear, yes."
She was indignant. "A keeper!" she repeated. "The idea! I do wish you wouldn't keep speakin' of yourself as simple-minded or crazy, Mr. Bangs. You are absent-minded, I know, but what of it? Whose business is that?"
He rubbed his chin. "Why, here," he observed, smiling slightly, "you have been kind enough to make it YOUR business, Miss Martha. The reason I do not have—ah—sunstrokes and colds and headaches here is that you take pains to see that I am protected against their causes. I realize that. And I realize, too," he added, "that in Egypt I shall miss your—your great kindness. I shall miss all this—this room and all—very much, indeed. I think—no, I know I have never spent such a pleasant year as this has been. And I fear I shall never spend another as pleasant."
She laughed, but she looked pleased, nevertheless.
"Nonsense!" she exclaimed. "You'll have many more a great deal pleasanter, of course. You're well now, Mr. Bangs, and good health makes such a difference. You will enjoy your work more than ever."
"Will I? I don't believe I shall. That is very odd, I know, but I think it is true. I have been thinking about it a great deal of late and—ah—I—well, you know, I am very sure I shall be lonely."
"Lonely? You! Lonesome over in Egypt, after all you've told me about your lovin' it so, Mr. Bangs! Lonesome for what, for mercy sakes?"
"Why, for—for the Cape, you know; and this house and this pleasant room and—and the kindness which has been shown me here."
"Don't. What do what you call kindnesses amount to—the little things Primmie and I have been able to do for you—what do they amount to compared to what you did for me? I shouldn't be in this house, I shouldn't own it, if it wasn't for the interest you took and the trouble you went to. Lonesome! I think I'M goin' to be the real lonesome one this winter. Since you've been livin' here, Mr. Bangs, I've had a chance to talk of somethin' beside the little two-for-a-cent things that most of us Gould's Bluffs people have to talk about from December to June. I've had the chance to talk about somethin' besides Primmie's foolishness or Cap'n Jethro's 'spirits,' or the post office gossip. It has been wonderful for me. When father was alive no gale that ever blew could keep him from trampin' up to the office after his mornin' paper. He used to say that readin' the paper was the only way he could keep enough canvas drawing to pull him out of the doldrums. More of his sea talk, that was, of course, but you understand what he meant."
Galusha understood. "We all have our—ah—doldrums," he observed.
"Yes, seems as if we did. But, there!" briskly picking up her knitting, "I don't know as it does us much good to sit and talk about 'em. Primmie had a book around here last week, an old thing, one of Mrs. Southworth's it was; Primmie borrowed it somewhere. I looked it over one afternoon, that was as much as I wanted to do with it, and I remember there was an old woman in it who seemed to spend most of her time dreamin' of her 'vanished past.' She seemed to worry over that vanished past a good deal, but, so far as I could see, she didn't gain much by it. She might have done some plain sewin' and gained more. I can't see that you and I gain much by sittin' here and frettin' about next winter, Mr. Bangs. I suppose when winter is really here you will be trottin' around Egypt on a camel, or some sort of menagerie animal, and I shall be sweepin' and dustin' and makin' pies. And we both will be too busy to remember we're lonesome at all. I—Yes, Primmie, what is it?"
Miss Cash's head and shoulders appeared between the door and the jamb.
"Miss Martha," she whispered, hoarsely, "there's somebody come to see you."
"Come to see me? Who is it; Cap'n Jethro?"
"No'm. It's Raish—I mean Mr. Pulcifer. And," confidentially, "he won't tell what he's come for, neither."
"And I presume likely you asked him that very thing. Well, bring him into the dinin' room and tell him I'll be right there. Humph!" she added, after Primmie had departed, "I wonder what Raish Pulcifer wants to see me about. I can't imagine, but I guess it isn't likely to be very important. I'll be back in a few minutes, Mr. Bangs."
It was, however, a full half hour before she re-entered the sitting room, and when she did so there was a puzzled expression on her face.
"Now, that's funny," she observed, musingly; "that certainly is funny. What is he drivin' at, I wonder?"
"Mr. Pulcifer?" inquired Galusha.
"Why, yes. He didn't say so in so many words; in fact, he didn't really say much of anything right out. He wouldn't be Raish Pulcifer if he was straight and plain. He talked about the weather and how he hadn't seen me for some time and just thought he'd call, and so on. That was just greasin' the ways for the launchin', as father would have said. He edged around and edged around and finally brought up the thing I'm pretty sure he came to see me about, my two hundred and fifty shares of Wellmouth Development Company stock."
Galusha caught his breath. "Eh?" he exclaimed.
"Yes; I think he came to see me about just those shares. Of course, he thinks I've still got them. He talked about his own shares and about the company in general and how it wasn't likely to amount to much and—oh, well, never mind; he talked a mile before he gained a foot. But I think, Mr. Bangs, I THINK he came to see if I would sell him that stock of mine, and, if I would, what I would sell it for. Considerin' that only a little while ago he told you he wouldn't touch the Wellmouth Development stock with a ten-foot pole, that's kind of funny, isn't it?"
Galusha had some difficulty in falling asleep that night. The habit of dropping into a peaceful and dreamless slumber within five minutes after blowing out his lamp, a habit which had been his for the past month, was broken. He had almost succeeded in forgetting the Wellmouth Development Company. His distress of mind and conscience concerning his dealings with it had very nearly vanished also. He had been forced into deceit to save Martha Phipps from great trouble, and the end justified the means. Having reached that conclusion in his thinking, he had firmly resolved to put the whole matter from his mind.
His one plunge into the pool of finance he had come to believe destined never to be revealed. No one had mentioned the Development Company or its stock for weeks. It was, apparently, dead and satisfactorily buried, and the Bangs' secret was entombed with it.
And now, if Martha's surmise was correct, here was a "resurrection man," in the person of Mr. Horatio Pulcifer, hanging about the cemetery. The capacity for hating was not in Galusha's make-up. He found it difficult to dislike any one strongly. But he could come nearer to disliking Raish Pulcifer than any one else, and now to dislike was added resentment. Why in the world should this Pulcifer person interfere with his peace of mind?
In the morning, and with the bright September sunshine streaming into the room, his disquietude of the previous night seemed rather foolish. No doubt Miss Martha had been mistaken; perhaps Horatio had not had any idea of buying her shares. Martha herself seemed a little doubtful.
"I've been thinkin' it over," she said, "and I wonder if I just imagined that's what he was after. It seems almost as if I must have. I can't think of any sensible reason why a man who was so dreadfully anxious to sell, and only a little while ago, should be wantin' to buy now. Perhaps he didn't mean anything of the kind."
Galusha comforted himself with the thought that this was, in all probability, the truth: Miss Martha had misinterpreted the Pulcifer purpose; Raish had not meant anything of the kind.
But the comfort was short-lived. A few days later Doctor Powers called at the Phipps' home. After he had gone Martha came to the sitting room, where her lodger was reading the paper, and, closing the door behind her, said:
"Mr. Bangs, I guess I was right, after all. Raish Pulcifer WAS hintin' at buyin' my Wellmouth Development stock."
Galusha dropped the paper in his lap. "Oh, dear! I—I mean, dear me!" he observed.
"Yes, I guess there isn't much doubt of it. Doctor Powers came here to tell me that he had sold his shares to him and that Eben Snow and Jim Henry Willis have sold theirs in the same place. He says he doesn't know for certain, but he thinks Raish has bought out all the little stockholders. He's been quietly buyin' the Development stock for the last week."
Mr. Bangs took off his spectacles and put them on again.
"Good gracious!" he stammered.
"That's what Doctor Powers says. He stopped in, just as an old friend, to drop the hint to me, so that I could be ready when Raish came to buy mine. I asked him what the Pulcifer man was payin' for the stock. He said as little as he had to, as near as he could find out. Of course, no one was supposed to tell a word about it—Raish had asked 'em not to do that—but SOMEBODY told, and then it all began to come out. As a matter of fact, you might as well ask water to run up hill as to ask Jim Willis to keep quiet about his own business or keep out of any one else's. The price paid, so the doctor says he's heard, runs all the way from eight dollars a share up to fourteen and a half. Poor old Mrs. Badger—Darius Badger's widow—got the eight dollars. She was somethin' like me, I guess—had given up the idea of ever gettin' a cent—and so she took the first offer Raish made her. Eben Snow got the fourteen and a half, I believe, the highest price. He needed it less than anybody else, which is usually the way. Doctor Powers sold his for twelve and a half. Said he thought, when he was doin' it, that he was mighty lucky. Now he wishes he hadn't sold at all, but had waited. 'Don't sell yours for a penny less than fifteen, Martha,' he told me. 'There's somethin' up. Either Raish has heard somethin' and is buyin' for a speculation, or else he's actin' as somebody else's agent.' What did you say, Mr. Bangs?"
Galusha had not said anything; and what he said now was neither brilliant nor original.
"Dear me, dear me!" he murmured. Martha looked at him, keenly.
"Why, what is it, Mr. Bangs?" she asked. "Raish's buyin' the stock won't make any difference to you, will it?"
"Eh?... To ME? Why—why, of course not. Dear me, no. Why—ah—how could it make any difference to me?"
"I didn't mean you, yourself. I meant to the Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot people, or whoever it was that bought my stock."
"Oh—oh, oh! To them? Oh, yes, yes! I thought for the moment you referred to me personally. Ha, ha! That would have been very—ah—funny, wouldn't it? No, I don't think it will make any difference to Cousin—ah—I mean to the purchasers of your shares. No, no, indeed—ah—yes. Quite so."
If Miss Phipps noticed a slight incoherence in this speech, she did not comment upon it. Galusha blinked behind his spectacles and passed a hand across his forehead. His landlady continued her story.
"I asked Doctor Powers what reason Raish was givin' people for his buyin'. The doctor said he gave reasons enough, but they weren't very satisfyin' ones to a thinkin' person. Raish said he owned a big block of the stock himself and yet it wasn't big enough to give him much say as to what should be done with the company. Of course, nothin' could be done with it at present, but still some time there might and so he thought he might as well be hung for an old sheep as a lamb and buy in what he could get, provided he could get it cheap enough. He had come to the doctor first, he said. Ha, ha! That was kind of funny."
"Eh?... Oh, yes, certainly.... Of course."
"But I haven't told you yet why it was funny. It seems he told every person he went to that he or she was the first. Doctor Powers prides himself on bein' a pretty good business man and I guess it provoked him to find that Raish had fooled him into takin' a lower price than some of the rest got. He said as much to me. He said that he agreed with what Raish said, that about he might as well be hung for an old sheep as a lamb. So long as he WAS hung, so the doctor said, he didn't care what it was for."
She laughed again and her lodger smiled, although rather feebly. He murmured that it was very amusing.
"Yes, wasn't it?" said Martha. "Well, the doctor was very anxious that I should not sell at a cent less than fifteen dollars a share. I wonder what he, or Raish Pulcifer either, would say if they knew I HAD sold already, and for as much as father paid, too. Oh, I wonder if Raish has been to see Cap'n Jeth yet. He won't buy HIS shares for any eight dollars a piece, he can be sure of that."
Galusha nodded; he was sure of it, too.
"But," said Martha, ending the conversation for the time, "why do you suppose Raish is buyin' at all? What is goin' on, anyway?"
She was by no means the only one who was asking that question. Three days later Captain Jethro asked Galusha the same thing. They met in the lane leading to the village and the light keeper approached the subject without preamble.
"Say, Mr. Bangs," he demanded, "what's Raish Pulcifer cal'late he's doin'?"
Galusha smiled. "I thank you for the compliment, Captain Hallett," he said, "but my intuition cannot keep pace with Mr. Pulcifer's—ah—calculations. No, indeed."
Jethro pulled his beard. "I asked you," he said, solemnly, "what Raish Pulcifer cal'lated he was doin' buyin' up Development stock? Do you know?"
"No. Is he buying it?"
"If you ain't heard that he is, you're about the only one in East Wellmouth. Ain't you heard it?"
Galusha would have liked to change the subject, but with Jethro Hallett that was not an easy task, as he knew from experience. He did not immediately make the attempt.
"Why—ah—yes," he admitted. "I have heard that he has bought—ah—some."
"Um-hm. Who told you; Martha?"
"Why—why—really, Captain, I don't know that I ought—You'll pardon me, but—"
"Been tryin' to buy Martha's, has he?"
Galusha sighed. "Have you noticed," he suggested, "what a remarkable view one gets from this point? The village and the bay in front, and, in the rear, the—ah—light and the—ah—rest. Quite remarkable, don't you think so, Captain?"
Captain Jethro looked gravely at the view.
"Raish been to see Martha about buyin' her stock, has he?" he asked.
Galusha rubbed his chin. "I have often wondered," he said, "why no summer cottage has been built just here. The spot would seem to possess very marked advantages. Very—ah—very much so."
The light keeper cleared his throat. "Zach said he see Raish comin' out of your gate t'other day," he said. "Been to see Martha about her shares then, had he?"
"The—ah—proximity to the main road is an advantage in particular," Galusha continued. "One would be near it and yet, so to speak, secluded from it. Really, a very exceptional spot, Captain Hallett."
Captain Jethro stroked his beard, frowned, and gazed steadily at the face of the little archaeologist. Galusha gazed serenely and with a pleased interest at the view. After a moment the light keeper said: "He's been after mine, too."
"Eh?... Oh, indeed? You mean—"
"I mean Raish Pulcifer's been tryin' to buy my Development stock same as he has Martha's. Hey? What say?"
"I said nothing, Captain. Not a word, really"
"Humph!... Well, he's been tryin' to buy mine, anyway. And, nigh's as I can find out, he's bought every loose share there is. All hands are talkin' about it now; some of 'em are wonderin' if they hadn't better have hung on. Eben Snow came to me this mornin' and he says, 'I don't know whether I did right to let go of that stock of mine or not,' he says. 'What do you think, Jeth?' I haven't got much use for Eben, and ain't had for years; I went to sea with him one v'yage and that generally tells a man's story. I've seen him at church sociables—in the days when I wasted my time goin' to such things—spend as much as five minutes decidin' whether to take a doughnut or a piece of pie. He couldn't eat both, but he was afraid whichever he took the other might turn out to be better. So when he asked me my opinion about his sellin' his Development, I gave it to him. 'You've been wantin' to sell, ain't you?' says I. 'I've heard you whinin' around for months because you couldn't sell. Now you HAVE sold. What more do you want?' He got mad. 'You ain't sold YOUR holdin's at any fourteen dollars a share, have you?' he says. I told him I hadn't. 'No, and I'll bet you won't, either,' says he. I told him he'd make money if he could get somebody to take the bet. Humph! the swab!"
For the first time Galusha asked a direct question.
"Did—ah—Mr. Pulcifer actually—ah—bid for your Development shares, Captain Hallett?" he inquired.
"Oh, he come as nigh to doin' it as I'd let him. Hinted maybe that he'd give me as much as he did Snow, fourteen fifty. I laughed at him. I asked him what made him so reckless, when, the last time he and I talked, he was tryin' to sell me his own shares for ten. And now he wanted to buy mine at fourteen and a half!"
"And—ah—what reason did he give for his change of heart? Or didn't he give any?"
"Humph! Yes, he gave a shipload of reasons, but there wouldn't any one of 'em float if 'twas hove overboard. He ain't buyin' on his own account, that I KNOW."
"Oh—ah—do you, indeed. May I ask why you are so certain?"
"For two reasons. First, because Raish ain't got money enough of his own to do any such thing. Second, and the main reason why I know he ain't buyin' for himself is because he says he is. Anybody that knows Raish knows that's reason enough."
Galusha ventured one more question.
"When he—ah—approached you, did you—that is, what excuse did you give him for—for your lack of interest, so to speak?"
"Hey? I didn't give him any. And I didn't tell him I wasn't interested. I am interested—to see how far he'll go. I sha'n't tell him I've sold already, Mr. Bangs; your Boston friends needn't worry about that. When I sign articles I stick to my contract."
They had reached the Phipps' gate by this time and there they parted. The light keeper strode off, rolling heavily, his beard blowing across his shoulder. He had been, for him, remarkably good-humored and talkative. Galusha was inclined to attribute the good humor to the fact that Captain Jethro considered he had made a good bargain in selling his own shares at a price so much higher than that obtained by Snow and the rest. The next time they conversed the good humor was not as apparent. But that occasion was almost a fortnight later.
And, meantime, Mr. Pulcifer had become the center of interest in East Wellmouth and its neighborhood. An important figure he always was, particularly in his own estimation, but now the spotlight of publicity which beat upon his ample figure had in its rays the blue tinge of mystery. The question which all Wellmouth was asking was that which Captain Jethro had asked Mr. Bangs: "What is Raish up to now?"
And Mr. Pulcifer firmly refused to answer that question. Or, to be more exact, he always answered it, but the answers were not considered convincing. Some pretended to be satisfied with his offhand declaration that he "had a little chunk of the stock and just presumed likely I might as well have a little more. Ain't nothin' to make a fuss about, anyhow." A few pretended to accept this explanation as bona fide, but the remainder, the majority, received it with open incredulity.
The oddest part of it all was the fact that the great Horatio appeared to dislike the prominent position which his activities held in the community mind. Ordinarily prominence had been the delight of his soul. In every political campaign, wherever the limelight shone brightest there had strutted Mr. Pulcifer, cigar in mouth, hat over one eye, serene self-satisfaction in the possession of mysterious knowledge radiating from his person. He loved that sort of thing; to be the possessor of "inside information," however slight, or even to be popularly supposed to possess it, had hitherto been the meat upon which this, Wellmouth's, Caesar, fed and grew great.
But Raish was not enjoying this particular meal. And his attitude was not pretense, either; it was obvious that the more East Wellmouth discussed his buying the Development stock the less he liked it. When his fellow townsmen questioned him he grew peevish.
"Oh, forget it!" he exclaimed to one of the unfortunate who came seeking information. "You make me tired, Jim Fletcher, you and Ras Beebe and the whole gang. By cripes, a feller can't as much as take a five cent cigar out of his pocket without all hands tryin' to make a—a molehill out of it. Forget it, I tell you!"
Mr. Fletcher was a simple soul, decidedly not one of East Wellmouth's intellectual aristocracy, but he was persistent.
"Aw, hold on, Raish," he expostulated, "I never said a word about your takin' a five cent cigar out of your pocket.... Er—er—you ain't taken one out, have you?"
"No, and I ain't goin' to—not now."
"All right—all right. I never asked you. All I said was—"
"I know what you said."
"Why, no, you don't neither. You're all mixed up. Nobody's said anything about cigars, or makin'—er—er—What was it you said they made?"
"Oh, nothin', nothin'. A molehill is what I said."
"What kind of a hill?"
"A molehill. Didn't you ever hear of a ground mole, for heaven sakes?"
"Course I've heard of a ground mole! But what's a ground mole got to do with a cigar, I want to know? And you said a moleHILL. What's a ground mole doin' up on a hill?"
"Not up ON one—IN one. A molehill is what a ground mole lives in, ain't it? It's just a sayin'.... Oh, never mind! Go on! Take a walk."
"I don't want to walk. And a ground mole lives in a hole, not a hill, like a—like a ant. You know that as well as I do. And, anyhow, nobody said anything about ground moles, or—or mud turtles neither, far's that goes. No, nor five cent cigars. Now, Raish, I'll tell you what they're sayin'; they say—"
"And I'll tell YOU! Listen! Listen, now, because this is the last time I'll tell anybody anything except to go—"
"Sshh, shh, Raish! Alvira's right in the kitchen and the window's open.... No, 'tain't, it's shut. Where will they go?"
"Listen, you! I've bought those few extra shares of Development because I had some myself and thought I might as well have a few more. I bought 'em and I paid for 'em. Nobody says I ain't paid for 'em, do they?"
"No, no. Don't anybody say that. All they say IS—"
"Be still! Now I bought those shares. What of it? It's my business, ain't it? Yes. And I haven't bought any more. You can tell 'em that: I HAVEN'T BOUGHT ANY MORE."
"Oh, all right, Raish, all right. I'll tell 'em you ain't. But—"
"That's all. Now forget it! For-GET it!"
Which should, perhaps, have been sufficient and convincing. But there were still some unconvinced. For example, Martha happened to meet one morning, while on an errand in the village, the president of the Denboro Trust Company. He explained that he had motored over, having a little matter of personal business to attend to.
"I haven't seen you for some time, Miss Phipps," he observed. "Not since our—er—little talk about the Wellmouth Development stock. That was the last time, wasn't it?"
Martha said that it was. He lowered his voice a very little and asked, casually: "Still holding on to your two hundred and fifty shares, are you?"
"Why, that was what you told me to do, wasn't it?"
"Yes, yes. I believe it was. Humph! Just so, yes. So you've still got those shares?"
Martha smiled. "I haven't sold 'em to Raish Pulcifer, if that's what you're hintin' at," she said.
He seemed a bit embarrassed. "Well," he admitted, with a laugh, "I guess I'll have to own that I did mean that. There seems to be a good many who have sold to Pulcifer. All the little fellows, the small holders. You haven't, you say?"
"I haven't sold a share to him."
"Humph! Neither has Cap'n Jeth Hallett; he told me so just now.... Hum!... What is Raish buying for? What's the reason he's buying? Have you heard?"
"I've heard what he's told other folks; that's all I know about it."
"Hum.... Yes, yes. Well, here's my advice, Miss Phipps: If I were you—if I were you, I say, and he came to me and wanted to buy, I shouldn't be in too big a hurry to sell. Not in too big a hurry, I shouldn't."
He glanced at her quickly. "Oh, he HAS been to see you about buying your shares, then?" he suggested.
She shook her head. "I didn't say he had," she replied. "I just asked why I shouldn't sell if he wanted to buy, that's all. Why shouldn't I?"
He seemed more embarrassed and a trifle irritated.
"Why—why—Oh, well, I suppose you should, perhaps, if he offers you enough. But I wish you wouldn't until—until—Well, couldn't you let me know before you give him his answer? Would you mind doing that?"
And now she looked keenly at him. "What would I gain by that?" she asked. "YOU aren't thinkin' of buyin' more of that stock, are you? The other time when we talked, you told me the Trust Company had all they cared to own and were keepin' it because they had to. I would have been glad—yes, awfully glad, to sell you my shares. But you wouldn't even consider buyin'. Do you want to buy now?"
He frowned. "I don't know what I want," he said, impatiently. "Except that the one thing we want to find out is why Pulcifer is buying. The Trust Company holds a big block of that stock and—and if there is anything up we want to know of it."
"What do you mean by 'anything up'?"
"Oh, I mean if some other people are trying to get—er—into the thing. Of course, it isn't likely, but—"
He did not finish the sentence. She asked another question.
"Has Raish been to see you about buyin' the Trust Company stock?" she asked.
"No. He hasn't been near us."
"Perhaps he would if you told him you wanted to sell."
"I don't know that we do want to sell. That's a pretty good piece of property over there and some day—Ahem! Oh, well, never mind. But I wish you would let us know before you sell Pulcifer your holdings. It might—I can't say positively, you know—but it MIGHT be worth your while."
Martha, of course, made no promise, but she thought a good deal during her walk homeward. She told her lodger of the talk with the Trust Company official, and he thought a good deal, also.
His thoughts, however, dealt not with the possible rise in value of the six hundred and fifty shares which, endorsed in blank, reposed, presumably, somewhere in the vaults of Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot. He thought not at all of anything like that. He had gotten rid of those certificates and hoped never to hear of them again. But now, with all this stir and talk, there was distinct danger that not only he but others might hear of them. Galusha Bangs and Raish Pulcifer had, just now, one trait in common, both detested the publicity given their dealings in the securities of the Wellmouth Development Company.
But, in spite of this detestation, Horatio still seemed anxious to deal in those securities. He visited the Phipps' home twice that week, both times after dark and, as the watchful Primmie observed and commented upon, each time coming not by the lane, but across the fields. And when he left, at the termination of his second visit, the expression upon his face was by no means one of triumph.
And Martha, of course, told her lodger what had transpired.
"I declare," she said, after her caller had gone, "I shall really begin to believe somethin' IS up in that Development Company, just as the Trust Company man said. Raish certainly wants to buy the two hundred and fifty shares he thinks I've got. This is the third time he's been to see me, sneakin' across lots in the dark so nobody else would see him, and each time he raised his bid. He got up to eighteen dollars a share to-night. And, I do believe, if I had given him the least bit of encouragement, he would have gone higher still. What do you think of that, Mr. Bangs?"
Galusha did not know what to think of it; he found it extremely unpleasant to think of it at all.
"Have you—ah—have you told him you do not intend selling?" he asked.
"Why, no, I haven't. You see, if I do he'll think it's awfully queer, because he knows how anxious I was, a while ago, TO sell. I just keep puttin' him off. Pretty soon I suppose I shall HAVE to tell him I won't sell no matter what he offers; but we'll try the puttin' off as long as possible." She paused, and then added, with a mischievous twinkle, "Really, Mr. Bangs, I am gettin' a good deal of fun out of it. A few months ago I was the one to go to him and talk about that stock. Now he comes to me and I'm just as high and mighty as he ever was, you can be sure of that. 'Well, Raish,' I said to him to-night, 'I don't know that I am very much interested. If the stock is worth that to you, I presume likely it's worth it to me.' Ha, ha! Oh, dear! you should have seen him squirm. He keeps tryin' to be buttery and sweet, but his real feelin's come out sometimes. For instance, to-night his spite got a little too much for him and he said: 'Humph!' he said, 'somebody must have willed you money lately, Martha. Either that or keepin' boarders must pay pretty well.' 'Yes,' said I, 'it does. The cost of livin is comin' down all the time.' Oh, I'm havin' a beautiful game of tit-for-tat with Raish."
She laughed merrily. Galusha did not laugh. The game was altogether too risky for him to enjoy it. A person sitting on a powder barrel could scarcely be expected to enjoy the sight of a group of children playing with matches in close proximity. An explosion, sooner or later, might be considered certain. But the children continued to play and day after day went by, and no blow-up took place. Galusha sat upon his barrel pondering apprehensively and—waiting. There were times when, facing what seemed the inevitable, he found himself almost longing for the promised summons from the Institute. An expedition to the wilds of—of almost anywhere, provided it was remote enough—offered at least a means of escape. But, to offset this, was the knowledge that escape by flight involved giving up East Wellmouth and all it had come to mean to him. Of course, he would be obliged to give it up some day and, in all probability, soon—but—well, he simply could not bring himself to the point of hastening the separation. So he shifted from the powder barrel to the sharp horn of the other dilemma and shifted back again. Both seats were most uncomfortable. The idea that there was an element of absurdity in his self-imposed martyrdom and that, after all, what he had done might be considered by the majority as commendable rather than criminal, did not occur to him at all. He would not have been Galusha Cabot Bangs if it had.
He meditated much and Primmie, always on the lookout for new symptoms, noticed the meditations. When Primmie noticed a thing she never hesitated to ask questions concerning it. She was dusting the sitting room one morning and he was sitting by the window looking out.
"You're thinkin' again, ain't you, Mr. Bangs?" observed Primmie.
Galusha started. "Eh?" he queried. "Thinking? Oh, yes—yes!—I suppose I was thinking, Primmie. I—ah—sometimes do."
"You 'most always do. I never see anybody think as much as you do, Mr. Bangs. Never in my born days I never. And lately—my savin' soul! Seems as if you didn't do nothin' BUT think lately. Just set around and think and twiddle that thing on your watch chain."
The thing on the watch chain was a rather odd charm which Mr. Bangs had possessed for many years. "Twiddling" it was a habit of his. In fact, he had twiddled it so much that the pivot upon which it had hung broke and Martha had insisted upon his sending the charm to Boston for repairs. It had recently been returned.
"What is that thing, Mr. Bangs?" asked Primmie. "I was lookin' at it t'other day when you left your watch chain layin' out in the sink."
"In the sink? You mean BY the sink, don't you, Primmie?"
"No, I don't, I mean IN it. You'd forgot your watch and Miss Martha she sent me up to your room after it. I fetched it down to you and you and her was talkin' in the kitchen and you was washin' your hands in the sink basin. Don't you remember you was?"
"Was I? I—I presume I was if you say so. Really I—I have forgotten."
"Course you have. And you forgot your watch, too. Left it layin' right alongside that tin washbasin full of soapsuds. 'Twas a mercy you didn't empty out the suds on top of it. Well, I snaked it out of the sink and chased out the door to give it to you and you was halfway to the lighthouse and I couldn't make you hear to save my soul. 'Twas then I noticed that charm thing. That's an awful funny kind of thing, Mr. Bangs. There's a—a bug on it, ain't there?"
"Why—ah—yes, Primmie. That charm is a very old scarab."
"Hey? A what? I told Miss Martha it looked for all the world like a pertater bug."
Galusha smiled. He held out the charm for her inspection.
"I have had that for a long time," he said. "It is a—ah—souvenir of my first Egyptian expedition. The scarab is a rather rare example. I found it myself at Saqqarah, in a tomb. It is a scarab of the Vth Dynasty."
"The Vth Dynasty; that is the way we classify Egyptian—ah—relics, by dynasties, you know. The Vth Dynasty was about six thousand years ago."
Primmie sat down upon the chair she had been dusting.
"Hey?" she exclaimed. "My Lord of Isrul! Is that bug thing there six thousand year old?"
"My savin' soul! WHAT kind of a bug did you say 'twas?"
"Why, I don't know that I did say. It is a representation of an Egyptian beetle, Ateuchus Sacer, you know. The ancient Egyptians worshiped the beetle and so they—"
"Wait! Wait a minute, Mr. Bangs. WHAT did you say they done to it?"
"I said they worshiped it, made a god of it, you understand."
"A god! Out of a—a pertater bug! Go long, Mr. Bangs! You're foolin', ain't you?"
"Dear me, no! It's quite true, Primmie, really. The ancient Egyptians had many gods, some like human beings, some in the forms of animals. The goddess Hathor, for example, was the goddess of the dead and is always represented in the shape of a cow."
"Eh! A cow! Do you mean to sit there and tell me them folks—er—er—went to church meetin' and—and flopped down and said their prayers to a COW?"
Galusha smiled. "Why, yes," he said, "I presume you might call it that. And another god of theirs had the head of a hawk—the bird, you know. The cat, too, was a very sacred animal. And, as I say, the beetle, like the one represented here, was—"
"Hold on, Mr. Bangs! HO-OLD on! Don't say no more to me NOW. Let me kind of—of settle my stomach, as you might say, 'fore you fetch any more onto the table. Worshipin' cows and—and henhawks and—and cats and bugs and—and hoptoads and clams, for what I know! My savin' soul! What made 'em do it? What did they do it FOR? Was they all crazy?"
"Oh, no, it was the custom of their race and time."
"WELL!" with a heartfelt sigh, "I'm glad times have changed, that's all I've got to say. Goin' to cow meetin' would be too much for ME! Mr. Bangs, where did you get that bug thing?"
"I found it at a place called Saqqarah, in Egypt. It was in a tomb there."
"A tomb! What was you doin' in a tomb, for the land sakes?"
"I was opening it, looking for mummies and carvings, statues, relics, anything of the kind I might find. This scarab was in a ring on the finger of the mummy of a woman. She was the wife of an officer in the royal court. The mummy case was excellently preserved and when the mummy itself was unwrapped—"
"Wait a minute! Hold on just another minute, won't you, Mr. Bangs? You're always talkin' about mummies. A mummy is a—a kind of an image, ain't it? I've seen pictures of 'em in them printed report things you get from that Washin'ton place. An image with funny scrabblin' and pictures, kind of, all over it. That's a mummy, ain't it, Mr. Bangs?"
"Why, not exactly, Primmie. A mummy is—"
He proceeded to tell her much concerning mummies. From that he went on to describe the finding of the particular mummy from whose finger the scarab had been taken. Miss Cash listened, her mouth and eyes opening wider and wider. She appeared to be slowly stiffening in her chair. Galusha, growing interested in his own story, was waxing almost eloquent, when he was interrupted by a gasp from his listener. She was staring at him, her face expressing the utmost horror.
"Why, dear me, Primmie, what is it?" he begged.
Primmie gasped again. "And you set there," she said, slowly, "and tell me that you hauled that poor critter that had been buried six thousand years out of—of—My Lord of Isrul! Don't talk no more to me now, Mr. Bangs. I sha'n't sleep none THIS night!" She marched to the door and there, turning, looked at him in awe-stricken amazement.
"And to think," she said, slowly, "that I always cal'lated you was meek and gentle and—and all like that—as Moses's grandmother. WELL, it just shows you can't tell much by a person's LOOKS. Haulin' 'em out of their graves and—and unwrappin' 'em like—like bundles, and cartin' 'em off to museums. And thinkin' no more of it than I would of—of scalin' a flatfish. My savin' soul!"
She breathed heavily once more and departed. That evening she came to her mistress with a new hint concerning the reason for the Bangs' absent-mindedness.
"It's his conscience," she declared. "He's broodin', that's what he's doin'. Broodin' and broodin' over them poor remains in the showcases in the museums. He may be a good man; I don't say he ain't. He's just lovely NOW, and that's why his conscience keeps a-broodin', poor thing. Oh, I know what I'm talkin' about, Miss Martha. You ask him some time where he got that bug thing—a Arab, he calls it—that he wears on his watch chain. Just ask him. You'll hear somethin' THEN, I bet you! Whew!"
Galusha found considerable amusement in talks like those. Primmie was a distinct relief, for she never mentioned the troublesome Development Company. Talk in the village concerning it was dying down and Mr. Pulcifer's assertion that he had bought only the shares of the small holders was becoming more generally believed. But in the Gould's Bluffs settlement this belief was scoffed at. Captain Jeth Hallett told Galusha the truth and his statement was merely a confirmation of Martha Phipps'.
"Raish is hotfoot after that stock of mine," growled the light keeper. "He's 'round to see me every day or two. Don't hint any more neither; comes right out and bids for it. He's got to as high as nineteen a share now. And he'd go higher, too. HOW far he'll go I don't know, but I cal'late I'll keep him stringin' along till I find out."
He pulled at his beard for a moment and then added:
"It's plain enough, of course, that Raish is agent for somebody that wants to buy in that stock. Who 'tis, though, I can't guess. It ain't your Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot crowd, Mr. Bangs. That's plain enough, too."
Galusha tried to look innocently interested.
"Oh—ah—yes," he said. "Is it?"
"Sartin 'tis. THEY wouldn't need to be sendin' anybody to buy my shares, would they? They've bought 'em already. The whole thing is queer. Look here! Why should anybody be chasin' ME for those shares? Why don't they get a list of stockholders from the books? Those transfer books ought to show that I've sold, hadn't they? They would, too, if any transfer had been made. There ain't been any made, that's all the answer I can think of. I signed those certificates of mine in blank, transferred 'em in blank on the back. And somebody—whoever 'twas bought 'em—ain't turned 'em in for new ones in their own name, but have left 'em just the way they got 'em. That's why Raish and his crowd think I've still got my stock. Now ain't that funny, Mr. Bangs? Ain't that strange?"
It was not at all funny to Galusha. Nor strange. The light keeper tugged at his beard and his shaggy brows drew together. "I don't know's I did right to let go of that stock of mine, after all," he said, slowly. "Don't know as I did, no."
Galusha asked him why.
"Because I don't know as I did, that's all. If I'd hung on I might have got more for it. Looks to me as if Raish's crowd, whoever they are, are mighty anxious to buy. And the Denboro Trust Company folks might bid against 'em if 'twas necessary. They've got too much of that stock to let themselves be froze out. Humph!... Humph! I ain't sure as I did right."
"But—but you did get a profit, Captain Hallett. The profit you—ah—expected."
"Humph! I got a profit, but how do I know 'twas the profit Julia meant? I ought to have gone and asked her afore I sold, that's what I ought to have done, I cal'late."
He frowned heavily and added, in a tone of gloomy doubt: "I presume likely I've been neglectin' things—things like that, lately, and that's why punishments are laid onto me. I suppose likely that's it."
Galusha, of course, did not understand, but as the captain seemed to expect him to make some remark, he said: "Oh—ah—dear me! Indeed? Ah—punishments?"
"Yes. I don't know what else they are. When your own flesh and blood—" He stopped in the middle of his sentence, sighed, and added: "Well, never mind. But I need counsel, Mr. Bangs, counsel."
Again Galusha scarcely knew what to say.
"Why—ah—Captain Hallett," he stammered, "I doubt if my advice would be worth much, really, but such as it is I assure you it—"
Captain Jethro interrupted.
"Counsel from this earth won't help me any, Mr. Bangs," he declared. "It's higher counsel that I need. Um-hm, higher."
He walked away without saying more. Galusha wondered what had set him off upon that tack. That afternoon, while in the village, he met Nelson Howard and the latter furnished an explanation. It seemed that the young man had been to see Captain Jethro, had dared to call at the light with the deliberate intention of seeing and interviewing him on the subject of his daughter. The interview had not been long, nor as stormy as Nelson anticipated; but neither had it been satisfactory.
"It's those confounded 'spirits' that are rocking the boat," declared Nelson. "The old man practically said just that. He seems to have gotten over some of his bitterness against me—perhaps it is, as you say, Mr. Bangs, because I have a better position now and good prospects. Perhaps it is that, I don't know. But he still won't consider my marrying Lulie. He seems to realize that we could marry and that he couldn't stop us, but I think he realizes, too, that neither Lulie nor I would think of doing it against his will. 'But why, Cap'n Hallett?' I kept saying. 'WHY? What is the reason you are so down on me?' And all I could get out of him was the old stuff about 'revelations' and 'word from above' and all that. We didn't get much of anywhere. Oh, pshaw! Wouldn't it make you tired? Say, Mr. Bangs, the last time you and I talked you said you were going to 'consider' those Marietta Hoag spirits. I don't know what you meant, but if you could consider some sense into them and into Cap'n Jeth's stubborn old head, I wish you would."
Galusha smiled and said he would try. "I don't exactly know what I meant, myself, by considering them," he admitted. "However, I—ah—doubtless meant something and I'll try and—ah—consider what it was. It seems to me that I had a vague thought—not an idea, exactly, but—Well, perhaps it will come back. I have had a number of—ah—distractions of late. They have caused me to forget the spirits. I'm very sorry, really. I must try now and reconsider the considering. Dear me, how involved I am getting! Never mind, we are going to win yet. Oh, I am sure of it."
The distractions to which he referred were, of course, the recent and mysterious machinations of Raish Pulcifer. And he was to be again distracted that very afternoon. For as, after parting with Howard, he was walking slowly along the main road, pondering deeply upon the problem presented by the love affair of his two young friends and its spirit complications, he was awakened from his reverie by a series of sharp clicks close at his ear. He started, looked up and about, and saw that he was directly opposite the business office of the great Horatio. He heard the clicks again and realized that they were caused by the tapping of the windowpane by a ring upon a masculine finger. The ring appeared to be—but was not—a mammoth pigeon-blood ruby and it ornamented, or set off, the hand of Mr. Pulcifer himself.