Galusha stared uncomprehendingly at the hand and ring. Then the hand beckoned frantically. Mr. Bangs raised his eyes and saw, through the dingy pane, the face of the owner of the hand. The lower portion of the face was in eager motion. "Come in," Mr. Pulcifer was whispering. "Come on in!"
Galusha wonderingly entered the office. He had no desire for conversation with its proprietor, but he was curious to know what the latter wanted.
"Ah—good-afternoon, Mr. Pulcifer," he said.
Raish did not answer immediately. His first move was to cross to the door by which his visitor had entered, close and lock it. His next was to lower the window shade a trifle. Then he turned and smiled—nay, beamed upon that visitor.
"Set down, set down, Perfessor," he urged, with great cordiality. "Well, well, well! It's good to see you again, be hanged if it ain't now! How's things down to the bluffs? Joggin' along, joggin' along in the same old rut, the way the feller with the wheelbarrer went to market? Eh? Haw, haw, haw! Have a cigar, Perfessor?"
Galusha declined the cigar. He would also have declined the invitation to sit, but Mr. Pulcifer would not hear of it. He all but forced his caller into a chair.
"Set down," he insisted. "Just as cheap settin' as standin' and consider'ble lighter on shoe leather, as the feller said. Haw, haw! Hey? Yes, indeed. Er—Have a cigar?"
But Galusha was still resolute as far as the cigar was concerned. Raish lighted one himself and puffed briskly. To a keen observer he might have appeared a trifle nervous. Galusha was not a particularly keen observer and, moreover, he was nervous himself. If there had been no other reason, close proximity to a Raish Pulcifer cigar was, to a sensitive person, sufficient cause for nervousness.
Mr. Pulcifer continued to talk and talk and talk, of the weather, of the profits of the summer season just past, of all sorts of trivialities. Mr. Bangs' nervousness increased. He fidgeted in his chair.
"Really," he stammered, "I—I fear I must be going. You will excuse me, I hope, but—ah—I must, really."
Pulcifer held up a protesting hand. It was that holding the cigar and he waved it slowly back and forth. One of Galusha's experiences had been to be a passenger aboard a tramp steamer loaded with hides when fire broke out on board. The hides had smoked tremendously and smelled even more so. As the dealer in real estate slowly waved his cigar back and forth, Galusha suddenly remembered this experience. The mental picture was quite vivid.
"Wait, Perfessor," commanded Horatio. "Throttle her down. Put her into low just a minute. Say, Perfessor," he lowered his voice and leaned forward in his chair: "Say, Perfessor," he repeated, "do you want to make some money?"
Galusha gazed at him uncomprehendingly.
"Why—ah—Dear me!" he faltered. "I—that is—well, really, I fear I do not fully grasp your—ah—meaning, Mr. Pulcifer."
Raish seemed to find this amusing. He laughed aloud. "No reason why you should yet awhile, Perfessor," he declared. "I'll try to get it across to you in a minute, though. What I asked was if you wanted to make money. Do, don't you?"
"Why—why, I don't know. Really, I—"
"Go 'way, boy!" derisively. "Go 'way! Don't tell me you don't want money. Everybody wants it. You and me ain't John D.'s yet, by a consider'ble sight. Hey? Haw, haw! Anyhow I ain't, and I'll say this for you, Perfessor, if you are, you don't look it. Haw, haw!"
He laughed again. Galusha glanced despairingly at the locked door. Mr. Pulcifer leaned forward and gesticulated with the cigar just before his visitor's nose. The visitor leaned backward.
"If—if you don't mind," he said, desperately, "I really wish you wouldn't."
"Put that thing—that cigar quite so near. If you don't mind."
Raish withdrew the cigar and looked at it and his companion.
"Oh, yes, yes; I see!" he said, after a moment. "You object to tobacco, then?"
Galusha drew a relieved breath. "Why—ah—no," he said, slowly, "not to—ah—tobacco." Then he added, hastily: "But, really, Mr. Pulcifer, I must be going."
Pulcifer pushed him back into the chair again. His tone became brisk and businesslike. "Hold on, Perfessor," he said. "You say you want to make money?"
Galusha had not said so, but it seemed scarcely worth while to deny the assertion. And Raish waited for no denial. "You want to make money," he repeated. "All right, so do I. And I've got a scheme that'll help us both to make a little. Now listen. But before I tell you, you've got to give me your word to keep it dark; see?"
Galusha promised and Raish proceeded to explain his scheme. Briefly it amounted to this: Galusha Bangs, being a close acquaintance of Martha Phipps and Jethro Hallett, was to use that acquaintanceship to induce them to sell their shares in the Development Company. For such an effort, if successful, on the part of Mr. Bangs, he, Horatio Pulcifer, was prepared to pay a commission of fifty dollars, twenty-five when he received Martha's shares and twenty-five when Jethro's were delivered.
"There," he said, in conclusion, "is a chance I'm offerin' you, as a friend, to clean up fifty good, hard, round dollars. What do you say, old man?"
The "old man"—Galusha winced slightly at the appellation—did not seem to know what to say. His facial expression might have indicated any or all of a variety of feelings. At last, he stammered a question. Why did Mr. Pulcifer wish to obtain the Development stock? This question Raish would not answer.
"Never mind," he said. "I do, that's all. And I've got the money to do it with. I'll pay cash for their stock and I'll pay you cash when you or they hand it over. That's business, ain't it?"
"But—but, dear me, Mr. Pulcifer, why do you ask ME to do this? Why—"
"Ain't I told you? You're a friend of mine and I'm givin' you the chance because I think you need the money. That's a reason, ain't it?"
"Why—yes. It is—ah—a reason. But why don't you buy the stock yourself?"
For an instant Raish's smoothness deserted him. His temper flared.
"Because the cussed fools won't sell it to me," he snapped. "That is, they ain't said they'd sell yet. Perhaps they're prejudiced against me, I don't know. Maybe they will sell to you; you and they seem to be thicker'n thieves. Er—that is, of course, you understand I don't mean—Oh, well, you know what I mean, Perfessor. Now what do you say?"
Galusha rose and picked up his hat from the floor.
"I'm afraid I must say no," he said, quietly, but with a firmness which even Raish Pulcifer's calloused understanding could not miss. "I could not think of accepting, really."
"But, say, Perfessor—"
"No, Mr. Pulcifer. I could not."
"But why not? IF—Well, I tell you, maybe I might make it sixty dollars instead of fifty for you."
"No. I couldn't, Mr. Pulcifer.... If you will kindly unlock the door?"
Pulcifer swore. "Well, you must be richer'n you look, that's all I've got to say," he snarled. He kicked the wastebasket across the room and growled: "I'll get the stuff away from 'em yet, just the same. What the fools are hangin' on for is more'n I can see. Martha Phipps was down on her knees beggin' me to buy only a little spell ago. Old Jeth, of course, thinks his 'spirits' are backin' HIM up. Crazy old loon! Spirits! In this day and time! God sakes! Humph! I wish to thunder I could deal with the spirits direct; might be able to do business with THEM. Perfessor, now come, think it over. There ain't anything crooked about it.... Why, what is it, Perfessor?" eagerly. "Changed your mind, have you?"
Galusha's expression had changed, certainly. He looked queerly at Mr. Pulcifer, queerly and for an appreciable interval of time. There was an odd flash in his eye and the suspicion of a smile at the corner of his lips. But he was grave enough when he spoke.
"Mr. Pulcifer," he said, "I appreciate your kindness in—ah—considering me in this matter. I—it is impossible for me to accept your offer, of course, but—but—"
"Now, hold on, Perfessor. You think that offer over."
"No, I cannot accept. But it has occurred to me that perhaps... perhaps... Mr. Pulcifer, do you know Miss Hoag?"
"Hey? Marietta Hoag? KNOW her? Yes, I know her; know her too well for my own good. Why?"
"Have you any—ah—influence with her? That is, would she be likely to listen to a suggestion from you?"
"Listen! SHE? Confound her, I've got a note of hers for seventy-five dollars and it's two months overdue. She'd BETTER listen! Say, what are you drivin' at, Perfessor?"
Galusha deposited his hat upon the floor again, and sat down in the chair he had just vacated. Now it was he who, regardless of the cigar, leaned forward.
"Mr. Pulcifer," he said, "an idea occurred to me while you were speaking just now. I don't know that it will be of any—ah—value to you. But you are quite welcome to it, really. This is the idea—"
If Ras Beebe or Miss Blount or some others of the group of East Wellmouthians who guessed Galusha Bangs to be "a little teched in the head," had seen that gentleman walking toward home after his interview with Mr. Pulcifer in the latter's office—if they had seen him on his way to Gould's Bluffs that day, they would have ceased guessing and professed certain knowledge. Galusha meandered slowly along the lane, head bent, hands clasped behind him, stumbling over tussocks and stepping with unexpected emphasis into ruts and holes. Sometimes his face wore a disturbed expression, almost a frightened one; at other times he smiled and his eyes twinkled like those of a mischievous boy. Once he laughed aloud, and, hearing himself, looked guiltily around to see if any one else had heard him. Then the frightened expression returned once more. If Primmie Cash had been privileged to watch him she might have said, as she had on a former occasion, that he looked "as if he was havin' a good time all up one side of him and a bad one all down t'other."
As a matter of fact, this estimate would not have been so far wrong. Galusha was divided between pleasurable anticipation and fear. There was adventure ahead, adventure which promised excitement, a probable benefit to some individuals and a grievous shock to others, and surprise to all. But for him there was involved a certain amount of risk. However, so he decided before he reached the Phipps' gate, he had started across the desert and it was too late to turn back. Whether he brought his caravan over safely or the Bedouins got him was on the knees of the gods. And the fortunes of little Galusha Bangs had been, ere this, on the knees of many gods, hawk-headed and horned and crescent-crowned, strange gods in strange places. It was quite useless to worry now, he decided, and he would calmly wait and see. At the best, the outcome would be good, delightful. At the worst, except for him—well, except for him it could not be much worse than it now was. For him, of course—he must not think about that.
He endeavored to assume an air of light-hearted, care-free innocence and sometimes overdid it a bit. Primmie, the eagle-eyed, remarked to her mistress: "Well, all's I can say is that I never see such a change in a body as there is in Mr. Bangs. He used to be so—so quiet, you know, all the time, and he is yet most of it. When I used to come along and find him all humped over thinkin', and I'd ask him what he was thinkin' about, he'd kind of jump and wake up and say, 'Eh? Oh, nothin', nothin,' Primmie, really. Er—quite so—yes.' And then he'd go to sleep again, as you might say. But he don't do so now; my savin' soul, no! This mornin' when I says, 'What you thinkin' about, Mr. Bangs?' he says, 'Nothin', nothin', Primmie,' same as usual; but then he says, 'DON'T look at me like that, Primmie. I wasn't thinkin' of anything, I assure you. Please don't DO it.' And then he commenced to sing, sing out loud. I never heard him do it afore and I don't know's I exactly hanker to have him do it again, 'cause 'twas pretty unhealthy singin', if you ask ME. But what—"
"Oh, now run along, run along, Primmie, for mercy's sakes! I never heard any one use so many words and get so little good out of 'em in my life. Let Mr. Bangs alone."
"I ain't doin' nothin' to him. Lord of Isrul, no! But, Miss Martha, what started him to singin' all to once? If 'twas somebody else but him and I didn't know the cherry rum was all gone, I—"
"What? What's that? How did you know the cherry rum was all gone?"
Primmie blinked and swallowed hard. "Why—er—why—er—Miss Martha," she stammered, "I—I just happened to find it out—er—sort of by accident. Zach—Zacheus Bloomer, I mean—over to the lighthouse, you know—"
"There, there! Know? Of course I know Zach Bloomer, I should think I might. Don't be any sillier than the Lord made you, Primmie. It isn't necessary."
"Well—well, you see, Miss Martha, Zach he was over here one time a spell ago and—and—Well, we got to—to kind of arguin' with one another—er—er—arguin', you know."
"Yes, I know. I ought to. Go on."
"Yes'm. And Zach he got to—to bettin', as you might say. And we got talkin' about—er—cherry rum, seems so. It's kind of funny that we done it, now I come to think of it, but we did. Seems to me 'twas Zach started it."
"Um.... I see. Go on."
"Well, we argued and argued and finally he up and bet me there wasn't a drink of cherry rum in this house. Bet me five cents, he did, and I took him up. And then I went and got the bottle out of the soup tureen in the closet and fetched it and showed it to him. 'There!' says I. 'There's your drink, Zach Bloomer,' says I. 'Now hand over my five cents.' 'Hold on, Posy,' he says, 'hold on. I said a drink. There ain't a drink in that bottle.' 'Go 'long,' says I, 'the bottle's half full.' But he stuck it out there wasn't a drink in it and afore he'd pay me my bet he had to prove it to himself. Even then, after he'd swallowed the whole of it, he vowed and declared there wasn't a real drink. But he had to hand over the five cents.... And—and that's how I know," concluded Primmie, "that there ain't any cherry rum in the house, Miss Martha."
Miss Phipps' remarks on the subject of the wily Mr. Bloomer and the rum drove the thoughts of Mr. Bangs' odd behavior from the mind of her maid. But the consciousness of conspiracy was always present with Galusha, try as he might to forget it. And he was constantly being reminded—of it. Down at the post office at mail time he would feel his coat-tail pulled and looking up would see the face of Mr. Pulcifer solemnly gazing over his head at the rows of letter boxes. Apparently Raish was quite unconscious of the little man's presence, but there would come another tug at the coat-tail and a barely perceptible jerk of the Pulcifer head toward the door.
Feeling remarkably like a fool, Galusha would follow to the front steps of the post office. There Raish would suddenly and, in a tone of joyful surprise, quite as if they had not met for years, seize his hand, pump it up and down and ask concerning his health, the health of the Gould's Bluffs colony and the "news down yonder." Then, gazing blandly up the road at nothing in particular, he would add, speaking in a whisper and from the corner of his mouth: "Comin' along, Perfessor. She's a-comin' along. Keep your ear out for signals.... What say? Why, no, I don't think it does look as much like rain as it did, Mr. Bangs."
One evening Galusha, entering the Phipps' sitting room, found Lulie there. She and Martha were in earnest conversation and the girl was plainly much agitated. He was hurriedly withdrawing, but Miss Phipps called him back.
"Come in, Mr. Bangs," she said. "I think Lulie would like to talk to you. She said she would."
"Yes. Yes, I would, Mr. Bangs," put in Lulie, herself. "Could you spare just a minute or two?"
Galusha cheerfully avowed that he had so many spare minutes that he did not know what to do with them.
"If time were money, as they say it is," he added, "I should be a—ah—sort of mint, shouldn't I?" Then he smiled and added: "Why, no, not exactly that, either. A mint is where they make money and I certainly do not make time. But I have just as much time as if I did. Yes—ah—quite so. As our philosophizing friend Zacheus is so fond of saying, I have 'all the time there is.' And if time IS money—why—ah.... Eh? Dear me, possibly you ladies know what I am talking about; I don't."
They both burst out laughing and he smiled and stroked his chin. Martha looked him over.
"What makes you so nervous, Mr. Bangs?" she asked. He started and colored. He was a trifle nervous, having a shrewd suspicion as to what Miss Hallett wished to talk with him about. She promptly confirmed the suspicion.
"Mr. Bangs," she said, "I am in such trouble. It's about father, as usual. I'm afraid he is at it again."
"Eh? I beg pardon? Oh, yes, certainly."
Martha shook her head. "He hasn't the slightest idea what you mean, Lulie," she declared. "That's why he says 'Oh, yes, certainly.' She means, Mr. Bangs, that Cap'n Jethro is beginnin' to break out with another attack of Marietta Hoag's spirits, and we've been tryin' to think of a way to stop him. We haven't yet. Perhaps you can. Can you?"
Lulie went on to explain. Her father had been more gloomy and thoughtful for the last week or two. She had noticed it and so had Zach. He talked with her less and less as the days passed, lapsed into silences at meals, and on nights when he was supposed to be off duty and asleep she often heard him walking about his room. If she asked him, as, of course, she often did, what was the matter, if he was not feeling well or if there was anything troubling him, he only growled a negative or ordered her not to bother him.
"And when, last Wednesday at supper," she went on, "Zach said something about the engine for the foghorn not working just as it should, father's answer showed us both what was in his mind. I had guessed it before and Zach says he had, but then we knew."
"Tell Mr. Bangs what he said," urged Martha.
"He didn't say so very much, Mr. Bangs, but it was the way he said it. He glowered at poor Zach, who hadn't said or done anything wrong, and pulled his beard as he always does. Then he said: 'There's no wonder the engine's out of kilter. There's no wonder about that. The wonder is that anything's right aboard here. We've been trying to steer without a compass. We've got so we think we don't need a pilot or a chart, but are so everlasting smart we can cruise anywhere on our own hook.' 'Why, father,' said I, 'what do you mean?' He glared at me then. 'Mean?' he asked. 'I mean we've had guidance offered to us, offered to us over and over again, and we've passed it by on the other side.'"
She paused. Galusha looked puzzled.
"Ah—um, yes," he observed. "On the other side? Yes—ah—quite so."
"Oh, that was just his way of speaking, Mr. Bangs. I tried to change the subject. I asked him if he didn't think we should report the engine trouble to the inspector when he came next month. It was a mistake, my saying that. He got up from his chair. 'I'm going to report,' he said. 'I'm going to make my report aloft and ask for guidance. The foghorn ain't the only thing that's runnin' wild. My own flesh and blood defies me.'"
Martha interrupted. "You hear that, Mr. Bangs?" she said. "And we were all hopin' THAT snarl was straightenin' itself out."
Galusha looked very uneasy. "Dear me," he said. "Really, now. Oh, dear!"
"Well," continued Lulie, "that was enough, of course. And the next day, last Thursday, Zacheus said Ras Beebe told him that Ophelia—that's his sister, you know—told him that Abel Harding told her that his wife said that Marietta Hoag told HER—I HOPE I've got all the 'hims' and 'hers' straight—that Cap'n Jeth Hallett was going to have another seance down at the light pretty soon. Marietta said that father felt he needed help from 'over the river'.... What is it, Mr. Bangs?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing. For a moment I did not get the—ah—allusion, the 'over the river,' you know. I comprehend now, the—ah—Styx; yes."
But now Martha looked puzzled.
"Sticks!" she repeated. "Lulie didn't say anything about sticks. Neither did Cap'n Jethro. Spirits he was talkin' about."
"Yes, I know. Certainly, quite so. The shades beyond the Styx."
"SHADES? STICKS! For mercy's sakes, Mr. Bangs—!"
Lulie laughed aloud. "He means the River Styx, Martha," she explained. "Don't you know? The river of the dead, that the ancients believed in, where Charon rowed the ferry."
And now Martha laughed. "My goodness gracious me!" she cried. "Yes, yes, of course. I've read about it, but it was a long while ago. Mr. Bangs, I'm dreadfully ignorant, I realize it about once every ten minutes when I'm with you. Perhaps I've got a little excuse this time. I've been figurin' I must buy new curtains for the dinin' room. I was thinkin' about it all this forenoon. And when YOU began to talk about shades and sticks, I—Mercy me! I am funny, I declare!"
She laughed again and Lulie and Galusha joined her. They were still laughing when the dining room door opened. Mr. Bloomer's substantial if not elegant form appeared.
"Ain't buttin' in, be I?" inquired Zach. "I knew you was over here, Lulie, so I stopped to tell you the news. It's all settled."
"Settled?" Lulie and Martha repeated the word together. Zach nodded, portentously.
"Um-hm," he declared. "Settled's the word. The whistle's piped to quarters. All hands, alow and aloft, are ordered to report on board the good ship Gould's Bluffs Lighthouse, Cap'n Jethro Hallet commandin', on Friday next, the—er—I-forget-what of this month, at seven bells in the—"
"Zach! Zach!" broke in Lulie. "Stop it! What are you talking about?"
"Talkin' about what I'm tryin' to tell you," said Zacheus, who seemed, for him, a good deal disturbed. "All able believers, fo'mast hands, and roustabouts and all full-rated ghosts, spooks, sperits and Chinee controls are ordered to get together in the parlor next Saturday night and turn loose and raise-whatever 'tis they raise. Signed, Marietta Hoag, Admiral, and Cap'n Jethro Hallett, Skipper. There, by Godfreys! Now if you don't know 'tain't my fault, is it? Yes, sir, there's goin' to be another one of them fool sea-ants, or whatever 'tis they call 'em, over to the house next Friday night. And I think it's a darn shame, if you want to know what I think. And just as you and me, Lulie, was hopin' the old man was gettin' so he'd forgot Marietta and all her crew. A healthy note, by Godfreys, ain't it now!"
"A healthy note," or words to that effect, was exactly what it was; Martha and Lulie were in thorough accord with Zach as to that. Galusha did not say very much. He rubbed his chin a good deal and when, after Bloomer had departed, Lulie came close to breaking down and crying, he still was silent, although nervous and evidently much disturbed. Lulie bravely conquered her emotion.
"Please don't mind me," she begged. "It's awfully silly of me, I know. But, you see, Nelson and I had really begun to think that perhaps father had broken away from—from all that. For a time he was—oh, different. Nelson told you that he bowed to him once and I told you how—But what is the use? Here he goes again. And now goodness knows what dreadful ideas that Hoag woman will put into his head. Nelson and I had hoped that perhaps—perhaps we might be married in six months or a year. Now—Oh, it is SO discouraging!"
Martha soothed her, told her not to be discouraged, that no doubt this spirit outbreak would be only a mild one, that she was sure Captain Jeth would "come around all right" in time, and grasped at any other straws of comfort she found afloat. Galusha stood awkwardly by, his face expressing concern, but his tongue silent. When Lulie declared she must go home, he insisted upon walking to the light with her.
"But you don't need to, Mr. Bangs," she declared. "It is a pleasant night and such a little way. And you know I am used to running about alone. Why, what on earth do you think would be likely to hurt me, down here in this lonesomeness?"
Nevertheless, he insisted. But, although she chatted during their short walk, it was not until they reached the light keeper's gate that he spoke. Then he laid a hand on her arm.
"Ah—ah—Miss Lulie—" he began, but she stopped him.
"I thought we had settled long ago," she said, "that I wasn't to be 'Miss' Lulie. Now you are beginning again."
"Yes—yes. I beg your pardon, of course. Well, Miss—Oh, dear me, HOW ridiculous I am! Well, Lulie, I should like to tell you a story. May I?"
It seemed a queer place and an odd time to tell stories, but she said of course he might.
"It wasn't a very long story," he went on, "but it is a true one. I happened to think of it just now while we were talking, you and I and—ah—Miss Martha. It is about me. On one of my expeditions in Egypt, Miss Lu—Oh, good gracious!—On one of my Egyptian expeditions, Lulie, I was in search of a certain tomb, or group of tombs. It was on this expedition, by the way, that we found the very remarkable statue of Amenemhait; Amenemhait III, you know."
Lulie smiled. "I DON'T know," she said, "but it doesn't matter."
"Eh? Oh, no, not at all, not in the least. He was a Pharaoh of the first Theban period. But that doesn't matter either; and he hasn't anything to do with this story. We had learned of the existence of this group of tombs, or that they had existed at one time, and of their approximate location, from an inscription dug up by myself at—"
The door of the light keeper's cottage swung open with a bang. A voice roared across the night.
"Lulie!" shouted Captain Jethro. "Lulie!"
The Bangs' story broke off in the middle. Its narrator and his young companion turned startled faces toward the sound.
"Lulie!" bellowed Captain Jeth, again. "Lulie!"
Lulie answered. "Why, yes, father," she said. "I am right here, at the gate. Why are you shouting so? What is the matter?"
The captain seemed much surprised. He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the lamplight in the room behind him.
"Hey?" he queried. "Where be you? You ain't right there at the gate, are you?"
"Why, yes, of course I am."
"Humph!..." Then, with renewed suspicion, "Who's that with you?"
"Mr. Bangs. I ran over to Martha's for a minute or two, and he walked home with me."
"Good-evening, Captain Hallett," hailed Galusha. Captain Jethro pulled his beard.
"Humph!" he grunted. "Humph! Mr. Bangs, eh?... Humph! I thought—Cal'late I must have fell asleep on the sofy and been dreamin'.... Humph!... Lulie, you better come in now, it's chilly out here. Mr. Bangs can come, too, I suppose likely—if he wants to."
It was not the most cordial of invitations and Galusha did not accept it.
"I must get back to the house, Captain," he said. "It IS chilly, as you say. No doubt he is right, Lulie. You mustn't stay. Good-night."
"But, Mr. Bangs, you haven't finished your story."
"Eh? Dear me, so I haven't. Well—"
"Lulie!" Captain Jethro's voice was fretful. "Lulie, you come along in now. I want you."
Lulie shook her head resignedly. "Yes, father," she replied, "I'm coming this minute. You see?" she whispered. "He is getting back all the impatience and—and strangeness that he had last fall. It is that dreadful spirit business. Oh, dear!"
Galusha softly patted her shoulder. "I won't finish my story," he said, in a low tone. "It isn't necessary, because I can tell you the—ah—moral, so to speak, and that will do as well. We found those tombs at last by doing a thing which, we were all sure, was the worst thing we could possibly do. It turned out to be that 'worst thing' which saved us. And—and I wish you would think that over, Lulie," he added, earnestly. "It looked to be the very worst thing and—and it turned out to be the best.... Ah—good-night."
But she detained him. "I don't understand, Mr. Bangs," she said. "What do you mean? You said you were going to tell me the moral of your story. That isn't a moral, is it?"
"Eh? No—ah—no. I suppose it isn't. But—but you think it over, to please me, you know. A—a something which looked to be the worst that could happen was the miracle that gave us our tombs. Perhaps the—perhaps what you dread most may give you yours. Not your tomb; dear me, no! I hope not. But may be the means of—of saving the situation. There, there, I must go. Good-night."
"Wait, wait, Mr. Bangs.... Oh, yes, father, I'm coming now.... Mr. Bangs, what DO you mean? What I dread the most? What I dread—I think I dread that silly seance next Saturday night more than anything else. Mr. Bangs, you don't mean—"
"Now, now, now, Lulie. I mustn't say a word more. I—I have said too much, I know. Just think over the—ah—moral, that's all. Think it over—but don't mention it to any one else, please. Good-night. Good-night, Captain Hallett."
He hurried away. Lulie stared after him, wonderingly; then she turned and walked slowly and thoughtfully to the door. Her father regarded her with a troubled expression.
"I dreamed," he said, slowly, "that Julia come to me and said somethin' about you. I don't seem to recollect just what 'twas she said. But 'twas somethin' about you—somethin' about me lookin' out for you.... Seem's if," he added, doubtfully, "as if she said you'd look out for me, but that's just foolishness and wouldn't mean nothin'. It couldn't be, that couldn't.... Humph! Well, come on in."
The remainder of that week the seance to be held in the light keeper's cottage on Saturday evening was much talked about. The devout, including the Beebes, the Hardings and the Blounts were quite excited about it. The scoffers derided and waxed sarcastic. Of these scoffers the most outspoken was Horatio Pulcifer. He declared that the whole fool business made him tired. Old Cap'n Jeth Hallett must be getting cracked as one of them antique plates. He wasn't sure that the selectmen hadn't ought to stop the thing, a lot of ninnies sitting in a round circle holding hands and pretending to get spirit messages. Huh! Just let 'em get a message that proved something, that meant something to somebody, and he'd believe, too, he'd be glad to believe. But he was from Missouri and they'd got to show him. With much more to the same effect.
In private, and in the ear of Galusha Bangs, he made a significant remark.
"Go?" he repeated. "Me go to that seance thing? Not so you'd notice it, Perfessor. I'm what they call a wise bird. I get up early, a consider'ble spell before breakfast. Um-hm, a consider'ble spell. Saturday night I'm goin' to be a long ways from Gould's Bluffs lighthouse, you bet on that."
Galusha expressed surprise and gave reasons for that emotion. Raish winked and nodded.
"Yes, I know," he said, "but I'm goin' to have what they call an alibi. You ain't been to court much, I presume likely, Perfessor, so you may not be on to what alibi is. When Bill Alworthy was hauled up for sellin' without a license we had an alibi for him. He proved he was fourteen mile away from where he sold the stuff—I mean from where they said he sold it—and it was that what got him off. Well, on Saturday night I'm goin' to have an alibi. I'm goin' to be settin' in at a little penny-ante in Elmer Rogers' back room over to the Centre. An alibi's a nice thing to have in the house, Perfessor. Hey? Haw, haw, haw! Yes, sir-ee! In case there's any talk they won't be able to pin much on your Uncle Raish, not much they won't."
He nudged the Bangs' ribs and walked off, chuckling. Galusha, too, smiled as he watched him go. Both he and Mr. Pulcifer seemed to find amusement in the situation. Yet, and Galusha realized it, there was also for him that element of risk.
On Thursday Captain Jethro stopped at the Phipps' home to invite its inmates to the Saturday evening meeting. His invitation was not precisely whole-hearted, but the reason he gave for offering it caused its acceptance.
"Lulie seems to want you and Mr. Bangs," he said, "so come along if you feel like it. I know you're one of the don't-believers, Martha, and I guess likely Bangs is, but never mind. The door's open if you want to come. Maybe you'll hear somethin' that'll lead you to the light; let's hope so. Anyhow, Lulie wants you."
It will be noticed that Primmie's name was not mentioned in the invitation, but that did not prevent her acceptance. That evening, after the supper dishes were washed, Miss Phipps heard agonized wails coming from the kitchen and, going there, found her maid seated in a chair, swaying back and forth, and, as Zach Bloomer once described a similar performance, "tootin' her everlastin' soul into the harmonica."
"I'm practicin' up for Saturday night," she informed her mistress, cheerfully. "I've been tryin' to think up some other hymn tunes and I've thought of one, but I can't remember what 'tis, the whole of it, I mean. You know, Miss Martha, the one about:
'Oh, what a sight 'twill be When the somethin'-or-other host we see, As numberless as the sands on the seashore.'
What kind of a host is it, Miss Martha? All I can think of is 'rancid' and I'm plaguy sure 'tain't THAT."
Martha burst out laughing. "It is 'ransomed,' Primmie," she said. "But if you're figurin' on playin' that thing over at the seance, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. Cap'n Jethro has had the old melodeon repaired, I believe. And, so far as I've heard, you haven't been asked to come, have you?"
Primmie became a statue of despair.
"Oh, Miss Martha," she pleaded, "CAN'T I go? Can't I please go? You're goin' and so's Mr. Bangs, and—and I do like 'em so, those spirit meetin's. They scare me 'most to death and I just love 'em. PLEASE can't I go, Miss Martha?"
Martha took pity on her. "Well, all right, Primmie," she said. "Go, if you want to. I don't believe Jethro will care. And," with a shrug, "I don't know as another idiot, more or less, added to the rest of us, will make much difference."
Saturday, the eventful day, or the day of the eventful evening, was fine and clear. At noon an unexpected event, the first of several, occurred; Zacheus, bringing the mail from the post office, brought a large and heavy letter addressed to Galusha Bangs, Esq., and stamped in the upper left-hand corner with the name of the National Institute of Washington. Galusha opened it in his room alone. It was the "plan," the long-ago announced and long-expected plan in all its details. An expedition was to be fitted out, more completely and more elaborately than any yet equipped by the Institute, and was to go to the Nile basin for extended and careful research lasting two years at least. And he was offered the command of that expedition, to direct its labors and to be its scientific head. Whatever it accomplished, he would have accomplished; the rewards—the understanding gratitude of his fellow archaeologists the world over would be his, and his alone.
He sat there in his room and read and reread the letter. The terms in which the offer had been made were gratifying in the extreme. The confidence in his ability and scientific knowledge were expressed without stint. But, and more than this, between the lines he could read the affection of his associates there at the Institute and their pride in him. His own affection and pride were touched. A letter like this and an offer and opportunity like these were wonderful. The pride he felt was a very humble pride. He was unworthy of such trust, but he was proud to know they believed him worthy.
He sat there, the many sheets of the letter between his fingers, looking out through the window at the brown, windswept hollows and little hills and the cold gray-green sea beyond. He saw none of these. What he did see was the long stretch of ridged sand, heaving to the horizon, the brilliant blue of the African sky, the line of camels trudging on, on. He saw the dahabeah slowly making its way up the winding river, the flat banks on either side, the palm trees in silhouetted clusters against the sunset, the shattered cornice of the ruins he was to explore just coming into view. He saw and heard the shrieking, chattering laborers digging, half naked, amid the scattered blocks of sculptured stone and, before and beneath them, the upper edge of the doorway which they were uncovering, the door behind which he was to find—who knew what treasures.
"Mr. Bangs," called Martha from the foot of the stairs, "dinner's ready."
Galusha was far away, somewhere beyond the Libyan desert, but he heard the summons.
"Eh?" he exclaimed. "Oh, yes, yes, Miss Martha, I am coming."
As he descended the stairs, it occurred to him that the voices calling him to dinner across the sands or beneath the palms would be quite different from this one, they would be masculine and strange and without the pleasant, cheerful cordiality to which he had become accustomed. Martha Phipps called one to a meal as if she really enjoyed having him there. There was a welcome in her tones, a homelike quality, a... yes, indeed, very much so.
At table he was unusually quiet. Martha asked him why he looked at her so queerly.
"Eh? Do I?" he exclaimed. "Oh, I'm so sorry! I wasn't aware. I beg your pardon. I hope you're not offended."
She laughed. "Mercy me," she said, "I'm not offended so easily. And if your absent-mindedness could make me take offense, Mr. Bangs, we should have quarreled long ago. But I should like to know what you were thinkin' about. You sat there and stared at me and your face was as solemn as—as Luce's when it is gettin' past his dinner time. You looked as if you had lost your best friend."
He did not smile even then. Nor did he make any reply worth noting. As a matter of fact, he was awakening to the realization that if he accepted the call to Egypt—and accept he must, of course—he would in solemn truth lose his best friend. Or, if not lose her exactly, go away and leave her for so long that it amounted to a loss. He must leave this dining room, with its plants and old pictures and quaint homeliness, leave the little Phipps' cottage, leave its owner.... The dazzling visions of sands and sphinxes, of palms and pyramids, suddenly lost their dazzle. The excitement caused by the reading of the letter dulled and deadened. The conviction which had come upon him so often of late returned with redoubled vigor, the conviction that he had been happy where he was and would never be as happy anywhere else. Egypt, even beloved Egypt with all the new and wonderful opportunities it now offered him, did not appeal. The thought was alarming. When he did not want to go to Egypt there must be something the matter with him, something serious. What was it?
After dinner he told her of the offer which had been made him.
"Perhaps you would like to see the letter," he said. "It is a very kind one. Dear me, yes. Much kinder than I deserve."
She read the long letter through, read the details of the great plan from end to end. When the reading was finished she sat silent, the letter in her lap, and she did not look at him.
"They are very kind to me, aren't they?" he said, gravely. "Very kind and generous. The thought of it quite—ah—overwhelms me, really. Of course, I know what they say concerning my—ah—the value of my service is quite ridiculous, overstated and—and all that, but they do that thinking to please me, I suppose. I... Why—why, Miss Martha, you—you're not—"
She smiled, a rather misty smile. "No," she said, "I'm not. But I think I shall if you keep on talkin' in that way."
"But—but, Miss Martha, I'm so sorry. I assure you I did not mean to hurt your feelings. If I have said anything to distress you I'm VERY sorry. Dear me, dear me! What did I say? I—"
She motioned him to silence. "Hush, hush!" she begged. "You didn't say anything, of course, except what you always say—that what you have done doesn't amount to anything and that you aren't of any consequence and—all that. You always say it, and you believe it, too. When I read this letter, Mr. Bangs, and found that THEY know what you really are, that they had found you out just as—as some of your other friends have, it—it—"
She paused. Galusha turned red. "I—I—" he stammered. "Oh, you mustn't talk so, Miss Martha. It's all nonsense, you know. Really it is."
She shook her head and smiled once more.
"All right," she argued. "Then we'll call it nonsense; but it's pretty glorious nonsense, seems to me. I do congratulate you, Mr. Bangs. And I congratulate the Institute folks a great deal more. Now tell me some more about it, please. Where is this place they want you to go to?"
That afternoon Galusha spent in wandering about the countryside. He went as far from home as the old graveyard in South Wellmouth. He took a long walk and it should have been a pleasant one, but somehow it was not, particularly. All he could think of was the two facts—one, that he had been offered a wonderful opportunity, for which he should be eagerly and hugely grateful; two, that he was not grateful at all, but resentful and rebellious. And what on earth was the matter with him?
Martha was setting the supper table when he came in. He went to his room and when he came down supper was almost ready. Primmie was in the kitchen, busy with the cooking.
"We're having an early supper, Mr. Bangs," said Martha. "That everlastin' seance begins about half past seven, so Cap'n Jethro took pains to tell me, and he'll be crosser'n a hen out in a rainstorm if we're not on time."
Galusha looked surprised. He had forgotten the seance altogether. Yes, he had quite forgotten it. And, up to that noon, he had thought of very little else the entire week. What WAS the matter with him?
"Lulie is goin' to send Zach over to tell us when they're ready to set sail for Ghost Harbor," went on Martha. "That will save us watchin' the clock. What say?"
But he had not said anything and she went on arranging the dishes. After an interval she asked a question.
"How soon—that is, when will you have to leave us—leave here, Mr. Bangs?" she asked. She was not looking at him when she asked it.
Galusha sighed. "In about two weeks, I—ah—suppose," he said.
There was another silent interval. Then Martha turned her head to listen.
"Wasn't that an automobile I heard then?" she asked. "Yes, it is. It can't be the Spiritualist crowd comin' so soon. No, it is stoppin' here, at our gate. Is it Doctor Powers, I wonder?"
She went to the window, pulled aside the shade and looked out.
"It is a big car," she said. "It isn't the doctor, that's sure. There's a man gettin' out, a big man in a fur coat. Who on earth—?"
Steps sounded without upon the walk, then there was a knock upon the side door, that of the dining room. Martha opened the door. A man's voice, a brisk, businesslike voice, asked a question.
"Why, yes," replied Miss Phipps, "he lives here. He's right here now. Won't you step in?"
The man who had asked the question accepted the invitation and entered the dining room. He was a big, broad-shouldered man in a raccoon motor coat. He took off a cap which matched the coat and looked about the room. Then he saw Galusha.
"Why, hello, Loosh!" he said.
Galusha knew him, had recognized the voice before he saw its owner. His mouth opened, shut, and opened again. He was quite pale.
"Ah—ah—why, Cousin Gussie!" he stammered.
For the man in the fur coat standing there in Martha Phipps' dining room was the senior partner of Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot.
For perhaps thirty seconds after the exchange of greetings, the trio in the Phipps' dining room stood where they were, practically without moving. Mr. Cabot, of course, was smiling broadly, Miss Phipps was gazing in blank astonishment from one to the other of the two men, and Galusha Bangs was staring at his relative as Robinson Crusoe stared at the famous footprint, "like one thunderstruck."
It was Cabot who broke up the tableau. His smile became a hearty laugh.
"What's the matter, Loosh?" he demanded. "Great Scott, old man, I expected to surprise you, but I didn't expect to give you a paralytic stroke. How are you?"
He walked over and held out his hand. Galusha took it, but he looked as if he was quite unaware of doing so. "Cousin Gussie!" he repeated, faintly. Then he added his favorite exclamation. "Dear me!"
Even Martha, who by this time was used to his eccentricities, thought his conduct strange.
"Why, Mr. Bangs," she cried, "are you sick? What is it?"
Galusha blinked, put a hand to his forehead, knocked off his spectacles, picked them up again and, in doing so, appeared to pick up a little of his normal self.
"Why, Cousin Gussie," he observed, for the third time; adding, "I—I am surprised."
His cousin's laugh made the little room echo.
"Good, Loosh!" he exclaimed. "I guessed as much; you looked it. Well, it is all right; I'm here in the flesh. Aren't you glad to see me?"
Galusha stammered that he was very glad to see him—yes, indeed—ah—quite so—very, of course.
"Ah—ah—won't you sit down?" he asked.
Martha could stand it no longer. "Why, mercy's sakes, Mr. Bangs," she exclaimed, "of course he'll sit down! And he'd probably take off his coat, if you asked him."
This pointed hint had an immediate effect. Her lodger sprang forward.
"Oh, dear me!" he cried. "I'm so sorry. Of course, of course. I BEG your pardon, Cousin Gussie."
He hindered a little more than he helped with the removal of the coat and then stood, with the garment in his arms, peering over the heap of fur like a spectacled prairie-dog peeping out of a hole.
"Ah—sit down, sit down, please," he begged. "I—ah—please do."
Again Martha interrupted. "Here, let me take that coat, Mr. Bangs," she said, and took it forthwith. Galusha, coming to himself still more, remembered the conventionalities.
"Oh, Miss Phipps," he cried, "may I introduce my—ah—cousin, Mr. Cabot. Mr. Cabot, this is the lady who has taken charge of me, so to speak."
Both Martha and Cabot burst out laughing.
"That sounds as if I had arrested him, doesn't it?" observed the former. "But it is all right, Mr. Cabot; I've only taken him to board."
"I understand. Well, unless he has changed a lot since I used to know him, he needs some one to take charge of him. And it agrees with him, too. Why, Loosh, I thought you were an invalid; you look like a football player. Oh, pardon me, Miss Phipps, but don't trouble to take that coat away. I can stay only a little while. My chauffeur is waiting outside and I must get on to the hotel or I'll be late for dinner."
Martha, who was on her way to the hall and the coat rack, turned. "Hotel?" she repeated. "What hotel, Mr. Cabot?"
"Why, the Something-or-other House over in the next town. The Robbins House, is it? Something like that."
"Robbins House? There isn't any. Oh, do you mean Roger's Hotel at the Centre?"
"Why, yes, that is it. I was told there was a hotel here, but they forgot to tell me it was open only in the summer. What sort of place is this Roger's Hotel?"
Martha looked at him and then at Galusha.
"Altogether too bad for any relation of Mr. Bangs's to go to," she declared. "At least, to eat supper. You and Mr. Bangs will excuse me, won't you? I'll be right back."
She hung the fur coat upon the rack and hastened back through the dining room and out into the kitchen. Cabot took a chair and turned toward Galusha.
"She is a capable woman," he observed, with a jerk of his head toward the kitchen door. "She has certainly taken good care of you. You look better than when I saw you last and that was—Good Lord, how long ago was it?"
Galusha replied that it was a good many years ago and then switched the subject to that which was causing painful agitation in his bosom at the moment, namely, the reason for his cousin's appearance in East Wellmouth.
Cousin Gussie laughed. "I came to see you, Loosh," he declared. "Family ties, and all that. I thought I would run down and get you to picnic on the beach with me. How is the bathing just now?"
The chill October wind rattled the sash and furnished answer sufficient. Galusha smiled a sad sort of acknowledgment of the joke. He did not feel like smiling. The sensation of sitting on a powder barrel had returned to him, except that now there was no head to the barrel and the air was full of sparks.
"I—I did not expect you," he faltered, for the sake of saying something. Cabot laughed again.
"Of course you didn't," he said. "Well, to tell you the truth, I didn't come purposely to see you, old man. There has been a little business matter down here which hasn't gone as I wanted it to, and I decided, pretty much on the spur of the moment, to motor down and see what was the matter. The friend for whom I was trying to handle the thing—it is only a little matter—was coming with me, but this morning I got a wire that he was detained and couldn't make it. So, as it was a glorious day and my doctor keeps telling me to forget business occasionally, I started alone. I didn't leave town until nearly eleven, had some motor trouble, and didn't reach here until almost five. Then I found the fellow I came to see had gone somewhere, nobody knew where, and the hotel was closed for the season. I inquired about you, was given your address at the post office, and hunted you up. That's the story."
Galusha's smile was less forced this time. He nodded reflectively.
"That explains it," he said, slowly. "Yes, quite so. Of course, that explains it."
"Why—ah—it explains why you came here, you know."
"Well, I hope it does. That was the idea. If it doesn't I don't know what will."
Miss Phipps entered briskly from the kitchen. She proceeded to set another place at the supper table.
"Mr. Bangs," she said, "hadn't you better take Mr. Cabot up to your room? Probably he'd like to clean up after ridin' so far. Better go right away, because supper is nearly ready. Mr. Cabot, it is Saturday night and you'll get a Saturday night supper, beans and brown bread. I hope you won't mind."
Galusha's relative was somewhat taken aback.
"Why, Miss Phipps," he protested, "of course I can't think of dining here. It is extremely kind of you, but really I—"
Martha calmly interrupted. "It isn't kind at all," she said. "And it isn't dinner, it is supper. If you don't stay I shall think it is because you don't like baked beans. I may as well tell you," she added, "that you will get beans and nothin' else over at Elmer Roger's. They won't be as good as these, that's all. That isn't pride," she continued, with a twinkle in her eye. "Anybody's beans are better than Elmer's, they couldn't help bein'."
The visitor still hesitated. "Well, really, Miss Phipps," he said, "I—Well, I should like to stay. I should, indeed. But, you see, my chauffeur is outside waiting to take me over to the Roger's House."
Martha smiled. "Oh, no, he isn't," she said. "He is havin' his supper in the kitchen now. Run along, Mr. Bangs, and you and your cousin hurry down as soon as you can."
On the way upstairs Cabot asked a question.
"She is a 'reg'lar' woman, as the boys say," he observed. "I like her. Does she always, so to speak, boss people like that?"
Galusha nodded, cheerfully. "When she thinks they need it," he replied.
"Humph! I understand now what you meant by saying she had taken charge of you. Does she boss you?"
Another cheerful nod. "I ALWAYS need it," answered Galusha.
Martha, of course, presided at the supper table. Primmie did not sit down with the rest. She ate in the kitchen with the Cabot chauffeur. But she entered the dining room from time to time to bring in hot brown bread or beans or cookies, or to change the plates, and each time she did so she stared at Cousin Gussie with awe in her gaze. Evidently the knowledge that the head of Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot was sitting there before her had impressed her hugely. It was from Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot, so Primmie remembered, that Mr. Bangs had procured the mammoth pile of bank notes which she had seen upon her mistress's center table. She had never actually been told where those notes came from, but she had guessed. And now the proprietor of the "money factory"—for that is very nearly what it was in her imagination—was there, sitting at the Phipps' 'dining table, eating the baked beans that she herself had helped prepare. No wonder that Primmie was awe-stricken, no wonder that she tripped over the mat corner and just escaped showering the distinguished guest with a platterful of those very beans.
Mr. Cabot seemed to enjoy his supper hugely. He was jolly, talkative, and very entertaining. He described his camp sojourn in Nevada and, according to him, life in a mountain sanitarium, under the care of a doctor and two husky male nurses, was a gorgeous joke. Martha, who, to tell the truth, had at first secretly shown a little of Primmie's awe, was soon completely at ease. Even Galusha laughed, though not as often. It was hard for him to forget the powder barrel sensation. Each time his cousin opened his mouth to speak, he dreaded to hear reference to a dangerous subject or to be asked a question which would set fire to the fuse.
The clock struck seven. Martha glanced at it and suddenly uttered an exclamation.
"My goodness gracious!" she exclaimed. "I declare, Mr. Bangs, you and I have forgotten all about that blessed seance. And half past seven was the time for it to begin. Good gracious me!"
Galusha started. "Dear me, dear me!" he cried. "So it was. I had completely forgotten it, really I had."
He put his hand to his forehead.
"I shall have to go to it," declared Martha. "Lulie begged me to come and the cap'n won't like it if I stay away. But I don't see that you need to, Mr. Bangs. You and your cousin can stay right here and talk and be comfortable. He is goin' to stay overnight. Oh, yes, you are, Mr. Cabot. I wouldn't let a stray cat go to Elmer Roger's hotel if I could help it, to say nothin' of Mr. Bangs' cousin. The spare room's all ready and Primmie is up there now, airin' it. She took your bag up with her; I had your chauffeur bring it in from the car."
Her guest stared at her for a moment, laughed and shook his head.
"Well, really, Miss Phipps," he said, "I don't know what to say to you. You rather take me off my feet. It is very kind of you and, of course, I am very much obliged; but, of course, too, I couldn't think of staying."
"Now, please, Mr. Cabot! It isn't the least little bit of trouble, and that's honest. Mr. Bangs, you tell him to stay."
Galusha, thus appealed to, tried to say something, but succeeded only in looking distressed.
"We WANT him to stay, don't we, Mr. Bangs?" urged Martha.
"Why—why, certainly. Oh, yes, indeed. Ah—yes," faltered Galusha. If there was one thing which he distinctly did not want, it was just that. And there was no doubt that Cabot was wavering.
"But, you see, Miss Phipps," said Cousin Gussie, "it will be quite impossible. My chauffeur—"
"Yes, I know. I'm awfully sorry I haven't got a room for him. I wish I had. But he can go to Elmer's. He wouldn't mind so much—at least I hope he wouldn't—and there's a garage for the car over there. I spoke to him about it and he's only waitin' for you to say the word, Mr. Cabot."
The visitor protested a bit more and then yielded. "Frankly, Miss Phipps," he said, "I have been wanting to stay ever since I entered your door. This house takes me back to my boyhood, when I used to visit my great-uncle Hiram down at Ostable. You remember him, Galusha, Uncle Hiram's dining room had the same wholesome, homey atmosphere that yours has, Miss Phipps. And I honestly believe I haven't enjoyed a meal since those old days as I have enjoyed this supper of yours."
Martha colored with pleasure. Galusha, forgetting his powder barrel, beamed in sympathy.
"But there is just one more thing," continued Cousin Gussie. "You and Bangs were going out somewhere, were expected at some—er—social affair, weren't you?"
Miss Phipps and her lodger exchanged looks. Both appeared embarrassed.
"Well—well, you see," faltered the former. Then, after a moment's reflection, she added, "Well, I'll tell you, Mr. Cabot."
She did tell him, briefly, of Captain Hallett's spirit obsession, of her friendship and sympathy for Lulie. She said nothing, of course, concerning the latter's love story.
"So," she said, in conclusion, "although I haven't the least bit of belief in Marietta Hoag or any of her seances, I am sorry for Cap'n Jethro and I am very fond of Lulie. She is worried, I know, and she has asked me to be there tonight. You and Mr. Bangs will excuse me, everything considered, won't you?"
But Galusha had something to say. "Miss Martha," he said, "I am afraid I must go, too. I promised Mr.—ah—um—I mean I promised Lulie I would be there. And this is going to be a very important seance."
Martha turned to him.
"It is?" she asked. "Important—how? What do you mean?"
Her lodger looked as if he had said more than he intended. Also as if he did not know what to say next. But Cabot saved him the trouble.
"I wonder if I might attend this—er—function?" he suggested. "It is in the nature of a public affair, isn't it? And," with a twinkle of the eye, "it sounds as if it might be interesting."
Galusha and Miss Phipps regarded him gravely. Both seemed a little troubled. It was Martha who answered.
"There isn't any real reason why you shouldn't go, if you want to, Mr. Cabot," she said. "There is only one thing—only one reason why I didn't say yes right away. I guess Mr. Bangs knows that reason and feels the same as I do about it. Don't you, Mr. Bangs?"
"You see," went on Miss Phipps, "Cap'n Hallett is kind of—well, queer in some ways, but he has been, in his day, a good deal of a man. And his daughter is a lovely girl and I think the world of her. I wouldn't want to hurt their feelings. If they should see you laugh—well, you understand—"
Cousin Gussie nodded.
"Don't say any more, Miss Phipps," he replied. "It is quite all right. I'll stay in your home here and be perfectly happy."
"But you didn't wait for me to finish. I was goin' to say that if you should laugh you must manage not to let any one hear you; especially Cap'n Jeth. Lulie has lots of common sense; she wouldn't mind except for the effect on her father, and she realizes how funny it is. But her father doesn't and—and he is pretty close to the breakin' point sometimes. So save up your laughs until we get back, please."
"You seem to take it for granted that I shall feel like laughing. Perhaps I sha'n't. I only suggested my attending this affair because I thought it would be a novelty to me."
"Yes, yes, of course. Well, it will be a novelty, I guess likely, and a pretty novel novelty, too. But there's one thing more, Mr. Cabot, that I want you to promise me. Don't you dare take that crowd at that seance as a fair sample of Wellmouth folks, because they're not."
"Why, Miss Phipps—"
"Because they're not. Every town and every neighborhood, city or country, has its freaks and every freak within five miles will be over in that lighthouse parlor to-night. Just take 'em for freaks, that's all, but DON'T take 'em for samples of our people down here." She paused, and then added, with an apologetic laugh, "I guess you think I am pretty peppery on the subject. Well, I get that way at times, particularly just after the summer is over and the city crowd has been here lookin' for 'characters.' If you could see some of the specimens who come over from the hotel, see the way they dress and act and speak! 'Oh,' one creature said to me; 'oh, Miss Phipps,' she gushed, 'I am just dyin' to meet some of your dear, funny, odd, quaint characters. Where can I find them?' 'Well,' said I, 'I think I should try the Inn, if I were you. There are funnier characters there than anywhere else I know.' Of course, I knew she was at the Inn herself, but that didn't make it any the less true.... There! I've preached my sermon. Now, Mr. Cabot, we'll go into the sittin' room and let Primmie clear off the table. Zach Bloomer—he's the assistant light keeper—is comin' to tell us when it's time to go to the seance."
In the sitting room they talked of various things. Galusha, listening to his cousin's stories and jokes, had almost forgotten his powder barrel. And then, all at once, a spark fell, flashed, and the danger became imminent.
Said the banker, addressing Martha and referring to her lodger: "What does this cousin of mine find to do down here, Miss Phipps? How does he manage to spend so much money?"
"Money?" repeated Martha. "He—spend money? Why, I didn't know that he did, Mr. Cabot. He is very prompt in paying his board. Perhaps I charge him too much. Is that what you mean?"
"I guess not. He hasn't paid you thirteen thousand dollars for board, has he?"
"Thirteen thousand dollars! Well, I guess not—scarcely. What are you talkin' about, Mr. Cabot? What is the joke?"
"I don't know. That's one of the things which, now that I am down here, I should like to find out. Somehow or other, since he has been on the Cape, he has managed to get rid of over thirteen thousand dollars. He SAYS he has given it to some of his mummy-hunting friends, but I am rather suspicious. He hasn't been organizing a clam trust, has he, Miss Phipps?"
Plainly, Martha did not know what to make of this speech. It was a joke, of course, but just where the point of the joke was located she was not sure. To her, thirteen thousand dollars was an enormous sum. The idea that her lodger, gentle, retiring little Galusha Bangs, possessed a half of that fortune was a joke in itself. But... And then she saw Galusha's face and the expression upon it.
"Why—why, Mr. Bangs!" she exclaimed.
Cabot turned and he, too, saw the expression. He burst out laughing.
"See!" he cried. "Doesn't he look guilty? It IS a clam trust, Miss Phipps. By Jove, Loosh, you are discovered! Galusha Bangs, the Clam King! Ha, ha, ha! Look at him, Miss Phipps! Look at him! Did you ever see a plainer case of conscious guilt? Ha, ha!"
He was enjoying himself hugely. And really Galusha was a humorous spectacle. He was very red in the face, he was trembling, and he appeared to be struggling for words and finding none.
"I—I insist," he stammered. "I—I mean I protest. It is ridiculous—ah—ah—absurd! I—I—"
His cousin broke in upon him. "Ha, ha!" he cried. "The secret is out. And you gave me to understand the mummy-hunters had it. Oh, Galusha!"
Galusha made another attempt.
"I—I told you—" he faltered. "I—I told you—"
"You told me it had gone to Egypt. But I was suspicious, old man. Why, Miss Phipps, isn't it glorious? Look at him!"
Martha was looking. Her face wore a puzzled expression.
"Isn't it glorious?" repeated Cousin Gussie.
She shrugged. "I suppose it is," she said. "Maybe it would be more so if I knew what it was all about. And Mr. Bangs doesn't look as if he found much glory in it."
"Of course he doesn't. Serves him right, the rascal. You see, Miss Phipps, I am supposed to take care of his money for him, and, while I was away in the mountains, my secretary sent him a check for over fourteen thousand dollars, sent it to him by mistake. I never should have done it, of course. I know him of old, where money is concerned. Well, almost immediately after receiving the check, up he comes to our Boston office and—"
"Cousin Gussie! I—I protest! I—"
"Up he comes, Miss Phipps, and draws five thousand of the fourteen thousand in cash, in money, and takes it away with him. Then—"
"Cousin Gussie! Mr. Cabot!"
The tone in which Galusha spoke was so different from his usual one, and the fact of his addressing his relative as "Mr. Cabot" so astonishing, that the latter was obliged to stop even in the full tide of his enjoyment of the joke. He turned, to find Galusha leaning forward, one hand upon the center table, and the other extending a forefinger in his direction. The finger shook a little, but its owner's countenance was set like a rock. And now it was not crimson, but white.
"Mr. Cabot," said Galusha, "I must insist that you say no more on this matter. My personal business is—ah—presumably my own. I—I must insist. Insist—ah—absolutely; yes."
His cousin looked at him and he returned the look. Cabot's hesitation was but momentary. His astonishment was vast, but he accepted the situation gracefully. He laughed no more.
"I beg your pardon, Galusha," he said. "I'm sorry. I had no thought of offending you, old man. I—well, perhaps I am inclined to joke too freely. But, really, I didn't suppose—I never knew you to be—"
He paused. Galusha's expression did not change; he said nothing.
"I am very sorry," went on the banker. "It was only thoughtlessness on my part. You'll forgive me, Loosh, I hope."
Galusha bowed, but he did not smile. A little of the color came back to his cheeks.
"Ah—ah—Yes, certainly," he stammered. "Certainly, quite so."
He sat down in his chair again, but he did not look in Miss Phipps' direction. He seemed to know that she was regarding him with a fixed and startled intentness.
"Five thousand dollars!" she said, in a low tone. Neither of the men appeared to hear her. Cabot, too, sat down. And it was he who, plainly seeking for a subject to relieve the tension, spoke next.
"I was telling my cousin," he said, addressing Martha, "that I came down here to attend to a little matter of business. The business wasn't my own exactly, but it was a commission from a friend and client of mine and he left it in my charge. He and I supposed we had an agent here in your town, Miss Phipps, who was attending to it for us, but of late he hasn't been very successful. I received a letter from Williams—from my friend; he is in the South—asking me to see if I couldn't hurry matters up a bit. So I motored down. But this agent of ours was not in. Probably you know him. His name is Pulcifer."
Martha and Galusha started simultaneously.
"Pulcifer?" queried Martha. "Raish Pulcifer, do you mean?"
"It doesn't seem to me that his Christian name is—What did you say, Miss Phipps?"
"I said 'Raish'; that's what every one down here calls the man I mean. His real name, of course, is Horatio."
"Horatio? That sounds more like it. I didn't hire him—Williams did that—and I have never met him, although he and Thomas, my secretary, have had some correspondence. Wait a moment, I have his name here."
He took from his pocket a memorandum book and turned over the leaves.
"Yes," he said, "that's it. Horatio Pulcifer. Here is his card. 'Horatio Pulcifer, Dealer in Real Estate of All Kinds; Cranberry Bog Property Bought and Sold; Mortgages Arranged For; Fire, Life and Accident Insurance; Money Loaned; Claims Adjusted; Real or Household Goods Auctioned Off or Sold Private; etc., etc.' Humph! Comprehensive person, isn't he? Is this the fellow you know, Miss Phipps?"
Martha nodded. "Yes," she said, "I know him."
Cabot glanced at her. "I see," he observed. "Well, what sort of a character is he? Would you trust him?"
She hesitated. "Why—why," she replied, "I suppose I should, if—if—"
"If he was not too far away, or around the corner, or anything like that? I understand."
Martha was a bit disturbed. "You mustn't put words in my mouth, Mr. Cabot," she said. "I didn't say Raish Pulcifer was dishonest."
"No, that is true. And I beg your pardon for asking embarrassing questions. I have seen some of the fellow's letters and usually a letter is a fairly good indication of character—or lack of it. I have had my surmises concerning the ubiquitous Horatio for some time."
Martha seemed to be thinking.
"I understood you to say he was your agent for somethin' down here, Mr. Cabot," she said. "Sellin' somethin', was he? That kind of an agent?"
"No. As a matter of fact, he was supposed to be buying something, but he hasn't made much progress. He started out well, but of late he seems to have found trouble. I am rather surprised because we—that is, Williams—pay him a liberal commission. I judge he doesn't hate a dollar and that kind of man usually goes after it hammer and tongs. You see—But there, I presume I should not go into particulars, not yet."
"No, no, Mr. Cabot. Of course not, of course not."
"No." Cabot had been turning over the leaves of the memorandum book while speaking. "And yet," he went on, "there are one or two names here concerning which you might be able to help us. Pulcifer writes that two of the largest stockholders.... Humph!... Eh? Why, by Jove, this is remarkable! You are Miss Martha Phipps, aren't you?"
"Was your father, by any chance, James H. Phipps?"
"Well, I declare! This IS remarkable.... And—why, you have been speaking of a Captain—er—Jethro Somebody? Is he—He isn't Jethro Hallett, is he?"
"Why, yes. I told you his name. He is the light keeper here at Gould's Bluffs and we are all goin' over to his house in a few minutes, for the seance, you know."
"Well, well, well! And here I have been sitting and talking with one of the very persons whom I came down here hoping to see."
"To see? You came down here hopin' to see ME? Mr. Cabot, is this another joke?"
"Not a bit of it. If it is, the joke is on me for not identifying you with the Martha Phipps that Pulcifer writes he can't do business with. Miss Phipps, you own something we want to buy."
"I? Somethin' you want to buy?"
"Yes. Williams wants to buy it and I am interested with him. Miss Phipps, you own two hundred and fifty shares of the stock of the Wellmouth Development Company, don't you?"
He must have been surprised at the effect of this question. Martha stared at him. Then, without speaking, she turned and looked past him at Galusha Bangs. She looked so long and so steadily that Cabot also turned and looked. What he saw caused him to utter an exclamation.
"For heaven's sakes, Loosh!" he exclaimed.
His cousin, as white as the proverbial sheet, which means much whiter than some sheets, Elmer Rogers', for example, was slowly rising from his chair. One hand was pressed against his forehead and he looked as if he were dazed, stunned, suffering from a stroke. As a matter of fact, he was suffering from all three. The spark had at last reached the powder and the barrel was in the very act of disintegrating.
"Galusha," demanded Cousin Gussie, "are you sick? What is it?"
Galusha did not answer. Before the alarmed banker could repeat his question there came a knock at the door.
"Miss Martha," called Primmie, in tremulous excitement. "Miss Martha, Zach he's come and he says the seance is just a-goin' to begin and Cap'n Jeth says to hurry right straight over. Zach says the old man is as tittered up and nervous as ever he see him and 'twon't do to keep him waitin' a minute. My savin' soul, no! Zach says for all hands to heave right straight ahead and come."
In the melodramas, the sort which most people laugh at as "old-fashioned" and enjoy thoroughly, there is usually a scene in which the hero, or the heroine, or both, are about to be drowned in the sinking ship or roasted in the loft of the burning building, or butchered by the attacking savages, or executed by the villain and his agents. The audience enjoys some delightful thrills while watching this situation—whichever it may be—develop, but is spared any acute anxiety, knowing from experience that just at the last moment the rescuing boat, or the heroic firemen, or the troops, or a reprieve from the Governor, will arrive and save the leading man or woman and the play from a premature end and for another act.
It does not happen as often in real life, at least one cannot count upon it with the certainty of the theater. But when Miss Primrose Cash knocked upon the door of the Phipps' sitting room and delivered her call to the seance, she was as opportune and nick-of-timey as was ever a dramatic Governor's messenger. Certainly that summons of hers was to Galusha Bangs a reprieve which saved him from instant destruction.
Cousin Gussie, who had been on the point of repeating his demand to know if his relative was ill, turned instead to look toward the door. Martha, whose gaze had been fixed upon her lodger with an intentness which indicated at least the dawning of a suspicion, turned to look in the same direction. Galusha, left poised upon the very apex of the explosion, awaited the moment when the fragments, of which he was one, should begin to fall.
But they did not fall—then. Primmie gave them no opportunity to do so.
"Miss Martha," she cried, "Miss Martha, do you hear me? Zach—he says—"
Her mistress answered. "Yes, yes, Primmie," she said, "I hear you." Then, turning again toward the banker and his relative, she said, "Mr. Cabot, I—did I understand you to say—?"
"Miss Martha!" The voice outside the door was more insistent than ever. "Miss Martha, Zach he says we've all hands got to come right straight off, 'cause if we don't there'll be hell to pay.... My savin' soul, I never meant to say that, Miss Martha! Zach, he said it, but I never meant to. I—I—Oh, my Lord of Isrul! I—I—oh, Miss Martha!"
Further wails of the frightened and repentant one were lost in an ecstatic shout of laughter from Mr. Cabot. Martha slowly shook her head.
"Well," she observed, dryly, "I guess likely we'd better go, hadn't we? If it is as bad as all that I should say we had, sure and certain. Primmie Cash, I'm ashamed of you. Mr. Cabot, we'll finish our talk when we come back. What under the sun you can possibly mean I declare I don't understand.... But, there, it will keep. Come, Mr. Bangs."
She led the way from the sitting room. Cabot followed her and, staggering slightly and with a hand still pressed to his forehead, Galusha followed them. He was saved for the time, he realized that, but for such a very short time. For an hour or two he was to hang in the air and then would come the inevitable crash. When they returned home, after the seance was over, Martha would question Cousin Gussie, Cousin Gussie would answer, then he would be questioned and—and the end would come. Martha would know him for what he was. As they emerged from the Phipps' door into the damp chill and blackness of that October evening, Galusha Bangs looked hopelessly up and down and for the first time in months yearned for Egypt, to be in Egypt, in Abyssinia, in the middle of the great Sahara—anywhere except where he was and where he was fated to be.
The windows of the light keeper's cottage were ablaze as they drew near. Overhead the great stream of radiance from the lantern in the tower shot far out. There was almost no wind, and the grumble of the surf at the foot of the bluff was a steady bass monotone.
Zacheus, who had waited to walk over with them, was in a fault-finding state of mind. It developed that he could not attend the meeting in the parlor; his superior had ordered that he "tend light."
"The old man says I hadn't no business comin' to the other sea-ants thing," said Zach. "Says him and me ain't both supposed never to leave the light alone. I cal'late he's right, but that don't make it any better. There's a whole lot of things that's right that hadn't ought to be. I presume likely it's right enough for you to play that mouth organ of yours, Posy. They ain't passed no law against it yet. But—"
"Oh, be still, Zach Bloomer! You're always talkin' about my playin' the mouth organ. I notice you can't play anything, no, nor sing neither."
"You're right, Pansy Blossom. But the difference between you and me is that I know I can't.... Hey? Why, yes, Martha, I shouldn't be a bit surprised if the fog came in any time. If it does that means I've got to tend foghorn as well as light. Godfreys!"
Before they opened the side door of the Hallett home, the buzz of voices in the parlor was distinctly audible. Lulie heard the door open and met them in the dining room. She was looking anxious and disturbed. Martha drew her aside and questioned her concerning her father. Lulie glanced toward the parlor door and then whispered:
"I don't know, Martha. Father seems queer to-night, awfully queer. I can't make him out."
"Queer? In what way? He is always nervous and worked up before these silly affairs, isn't he?"
"Yes, but I don't mean that, exactly. He has been that way for over a week. But for the last two days he has been—well, different. He seems to be troubled and—and suspicious."
"Suspicious? Suspicious of what?"
"I don't know. Of every one."
"Humph! Well, if he would only begin to get suspicious of Marietta and her spirit chasers I should feel like givin' three cheers. But I suppose those are exactly the ones he isn't suspicious of."
Lulie again glanced toward the parlor door.
"I am not so sure," she said. "It seemed to me that he wasn't as cordial to them as usual when they came to-night. He keeps looking at Marietta and pulling his beard and scowling, the way he does when he is puzzled and troubled. I'm not sure, but I think something came in the mail yesterday noon and another something again to-day which may be the cause of his acting so strangely. I don't know what they were, he wouldn't answer when I asked him, but I saw him reading a good deal yesterday afternoon. And then he came into the kitchen where I was, took the lid off the cookstove and put a bundle of printed pages on the fire. I asked him what he was doing and he snapped at me that he was burning the words of Satan or something of that sort."
"And couldn't you save enough of the—er—Old Scratch's words to find out what the old boy was talkin' about?"
"No. There was a hot fire. But to-day, when the second package came, I caught a glimpse of the printing on the wrapper. It was from The Psychical Research Society; I think that was it. There is such a society, isn't there?"
"I believe so. I... Ssh! Careful, here he is."
Captain Jethro strode across the parlor threshold. He glared beneath his heavy eyebrows at the couple.
"Lulie," he growled, "don't you know you're keepin' the meetin' waitin'? You are, whether you know it or not. Martha Phipps, come in and set down. Come on, lively now!"
"Cap'n Jeth," she said, "you remind me of father callin' in the cat. You must think you're aboard your old schooner givin' orders. All right, I'll obey 'em. Ay, ay, sir! Come, Lulie."
They entered the parlor, whither Galusha, Mr. Cabot and Primmie had preceded them and were already seated. The group in the room was made up about as on the occasion of the former seance, but it was a trifle larger. The tales of the excitement on the evening when the light keeper threatened to locate and destroy the "small, dark outsider" had spread and had attracted a few additional and hopeful souls. Mr. Obed Taylor, driver of the Trumet bake-cart, and a devout believer, had been drawn from his home village; Miss Tamson Black, her New Hampshire visit over, was seated in the front row; Erastus Beebe accompanied his sister Ophelia. The Hardings, Abel and Sarah B., were present and accounted for, and so, too, was Mrs. Hannah Peters.
Galusha Bangs, seated between Miss Cash and the immensely interested Cousin Gussie, gazed dully about the circle. He saw little except a blur of faces; his thoughts were elsewhere, busy in dreadful anticipation of the scene he knew he must endure when he and his cousin and Miss Phipps returned to the house of the latter. He did not dare look in her direction, fearing to see once more upon her face the expression of suspicion which he had already seen dawning there—suspicion of him, Galusha Bangs. He sighed, and the sigh was so near a groan that his relative was startled.
"What's the matter, Galusha?" he whispered. "Brace up, old man! you look as if you were seeing spooks already. Not sick—faint, or anything like that?"
Galusha blushed. "Eh?" he queried. "Oh—oh, no, no. Quite so, really. Eh? Ah—yes."
Cabot chuckled. "That's a comprehensive answer, at any rate," he observed. "Come now, be my Who's-Who. For example, what is the name of the female under the hat like a—a steamer basket?"
Galusha looked. "That is Miss Hoag, the—ah—medium," he said.
"Oh, I see. Did the spirits build that hat for her?"
Miss Hoag's headgear was intrinsically the same she had worn at the former seance, although the arrangement of the fruit, flowers, sprays and other accessories was a trifle different. The red cherries, for example, no longer bobbed at the peak of the roof; they now hung jauntily from the rear eaves, so to speak. The purple grapes had also moved and peeped coyly from a thicket of moth-eaten rosebuds. The wearer of this revamped millinery triumph seemed a bit nervous, even anxious, so it seemed to Martha Phipps, who, like Cabot and Galusha, was looking at her. Marietta kept hitching in her seat, pulling at her gown, and glancing from time to time at the gloomy countenance of Captain Jethro, who, Miss Phipps also noticed, was regarding her steadily and slowly pulling at his beard. This regard seemed to add to Miss Hoag's uneasiness.
The majority of those present were staring at the senior partner of Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot. The object of the attention could not help becoming aware of it.
"What are they all looking at me for?" he demanded, under his breath.
Galusha did not hear the question, but Primmie did, and answered it.
"They don't know who you be," she whispered.
"What of it? I don't know who they are, either."
Miss Cash sniffed. "Humph!" she declared, "you wouldn't know much worth knowin' if you did—the heft of 'em.... Oh, my savin' soul, it's a-goin' to begin! Where's my mouth organ?"
But, to her huge disappointment, her services as mouth organist were not to be requisitioned this time. Captain Hallett, taking charge of the gathering, made an announcement.
"The melodeon's been fixed," he said, "and Miss Black's kind enough to say she'll play it for us. Take your places, all hands. Come on, now, look alive! Tut, tut, tut! Abe Hardin', for heaven's sakes, can't you pick up your moorin's, or what does ail you? Come to anchor! Set down!"
Mr. Harding was, apparently, having trouble in sitting down. He made several nervous and hurried attempts, but none was successful. His wife begged, in one of her stage whispers, to be informed if he'd been "struck deef." "Don't you hear the cap'n talkin' to you?" she demanded.
"Course I hear him," retorted her husband, testily, and in the same comprehensively audible whisper. "No, I ain't been struck deef—nor dumb neither."
"Humph! You couldn't be struck any dumber than you are. You was born dumb. Set DOWN! Everybody's lookin' at you. I never was so mortified in my life."
The harassed Abel made one more attempt. He battled savagely with his chair.
"I CAN'T set down," he said. "This everlastin' chair won't set even. I snum I believe it ain't got but three laigs. There! Now let's see."
He seated himself heavily and with emphasis. Mr. Jim Fletcher, whose place was next him, uttered an agonized "Ow!"
"No wonder 'twon't set even, Abe," he snorted. "You've got the other laig up onto my foot. Yus, and it's drove half down through it by this time. Get UP! Whew!"
A ripple of merriment ran around the circle. Every one laughed or ventured to smile, every one except the Hardings and Captain Hallett and, of course, Galusha Bangs. The latter's thoughts were not in the light keeper's parlor. Cousin Gussie leaned over and whispered in his ear:
"Loosh," whispered Mr. Cabot, chokingly, "if the rest of this stunt is as good as the beginning I'll forgive you for handing that fourteen thousand to the mummy-hunters. I wouldn't have missed it for more than that."
Captain Jethro, beating the table, drove his guests to order as of old he had driven his crews. Having obtained silence and expressed, in a few stinging words, his opinion of those who laughed, he proceeded with his arrangements.
"Tamson," he commanded, addressing Miss Black, "go and set there by the organ. Come, Marietta, you know where your place is, don't you? Set right where you did last time. And don't let's have any more mockery!" he thundered, addressing the company in general. "If I thought for a minute there was any mockery or make-believe in these meetin's, I—I—" He paused, his chest heaving, and then added, impatiently, but in a milder tone, "Well, go on, go on! What are we waitin' for? Douse those lights, somebody."
Miss Hoag—who had been glancing at the light keeper's face and behaving in the same oddly nervous, almost apprehensive manner which Martha had noticed when she entered the parlor—took her seat in the official chair and closed her eyes. Mr. Beebe turned down the lamps. The ancient melodeon, recently prescribed for and operated upon by the repairer from Hyannis, but still rheumatic and asthmatic, burst forth in an unhealthy rendition of a Moody and Sankey hymn. The seance for which Galusha Bangs had laid plans and to which he had looked forward hopefully if a little fearfully—that seance was under way. And now, such was the stunning effect of the most recent blow dealt him by Fate, he, Galusha, was scarcely aware of the fact.
The melodeon pumped on and on. The rustlings and shiftings in the circle subsided and the expectant and shivery hush which Primmie feared and adored succeeded it. Miss Black wailed away at the Moody and Sankey selection. Miss Hoag's breathing became puffy. She uttered her first preliminary groan. Cousin Gussie, being an unsophisticated stranger, was startled, as Mr. Bangs had been at the former seance, but Primmie's whisper reassured him.
"It's all right," whispered Primmie. "She ain't sick nor nothin'. She's just a-slippin' off."
The banker did not understand.
"Slipping off?" he repeated. "Off what?"
"Off into sperit land. In a minute you'll hear her control talkin' Chinee talk.... There! My savin' soul! hear it?... Ain't it awful!"
"Little Cherry Blossom" had evidently been waiting at the transmitter. The husky croak which had so amazed Galusha was again heard.
"How do? How do, everybodee?" hailed Little Cherry Blossom. "I gladee see-ee you. Yes, indeedee."
Cabot made mental note of the fact that the Blossom spoke her spirit pidgin-English with a marked Down-East accent. Before he had time to notice more, the control announced that she had a message. The circle stirred in anticipation. Primmie wiggled in fearful ecstasy.
"Listen!" commanded Little Cherry Blossom. "Everybodee harkee. Spirit comee heree. He say-ee—"
As prophesied by Mr. Zacheus Bloomer, the fog had come in and Zacheus, faithful to his duties as associate guardian of that section of the coast, had turned loose the great foghorn.
The roar was terrific. The windows rattled and the whole building seemed to shake. The effect upon the group in the parlor, leaning forward in awed expectation to catch the message from beyond, was upsetting, literally and figuratively. Miss Tamson Black, perched upon the slippery cushion of a rickety and unstable music stool, slid to the floor with a most unspiritual thump and a shrill squeal. Primmie clutched her next-door neighbor—it chanced to be Mr. Augustus Cabot—by the middle of the waistcoat, and hers was no light clutch. Mr. Abel Harding shouted several words at the top of his lungs; afterward there was some dispute as to just what the exact words were, but none whatever as to their lack of propriety. Almost every one jumped or screamed or exclaimed. Only Captain Jeth Hallett, who had heard that horn many, many times, was quite unmoved. Even his daughter was startled.
But perhaps the most surprising effect of the mammoth "toot" was that which it produced in the spirit world. It seemed to blow Little Cherry Blossom completely back to her own sphere, for it was a voice neither Chinese nor ethereal which, coming from Miss Hoag's lips, shrieked wildly: "Oh, my good land of love! Wh—what's that?"
It was only after considerable pounding of the table and repeated orders for silence that Captain Jethro succeeded in obtaining it. Then he explained concerning the foghorn.
"It'll blow every minute from now on, I presume likely," he growled, "but I don't see as that need to make any difference about our goin' on with this meetin'. That is, unless Marietta minds. Think 'twill bother you about gettin' back into the trance state, Marietta?"
Erastus Beebe had turned up one of the lamps and it happened to be the one just above Miss Hoag's head. By its light Martha Phipps could see the medium's face, and it seemed to her—although, as she admitted afterward, perhaps because of subsequent happenings she only imagined that it seemed so—it seemed to her that Marietta was torn between an intense desire to give up mediumizing for that evening and a feeling that she must go on.
"She looked to me," said Martha, "as if she was afraid to go on, but more afraid to stop."
However, go on she did. She told the light keeper that she guessed she could get back if Tamson would play a little spell more. Miss Black agreed to do so, provided she might have a chair instead of a music stool.
"I wouldn't risk settin' on that plaguy, slippery haircloth thing again for no mortal soul," declared the irate Tamson, meaning, doubtless, to include immortals. A chair was provided, again the lights were dimmed, and the seance resumed, punctuated now at minute intervals by the shattering bellows of the great foghorn.
In a few minutes the messages began to arrive. They were of similar vague import to those of the previous seance and, couched in Little Cherry Blossom's weird gibberish, were vaguer still. Occasionally a spirit seeking identification went away unrecognized, but not often. For the most part the identifying details supplied were so general that they were almost certain to fit a departed relative or friend of some one present. And, as is usual under such circumstances, the would-be recognizer was so pathetically eager to recognize. Even Galusha, dully inert as he was just then, again felt his indignation stirred by the shabby mockery of it all.
Obed Taylor received a message from his brother Daniel who had died in infancy. Daniel declared himself very happy. So, too, did Ophelia Beebe's great-aunt Samona, who had "passed over" some time in the 'fifties. Aunt Samona was joyful—oh, so joyful. Miss Black's name was called.
"Tamson!" croaked Little Cherry Blossom. "Some one heree wantee Tamson."
Miss Black uttered an exclamation of startled surprise. "Good gracious me!" she cried. "Who is it?"
"Namee seem likee—likee Flora—Flora—somethin'," announced the control. The circle rustled in anticipation while Tamson ransacked her memory.
"Flora?" she repeated. "Flora?"
"Yes—yes. Flora—ah—ah—somethin'. Somethin'—soundee likee somethin' you ring."
"Somethin' I RING. Why, all a body rings is a bell. Hey? My heavens above, you don't mean Florabel? That ain't the name, is it—Florabel?"
"Yes—yes—yes—yes." Little Cherry Blossom was eagerly certain that that was the name.
"Mercy on us! Florabel? You don't mean you've got a message from my niece Florabel Tidditt, do you?"
"Yes—yes—yes—oh, yes!" The control was just as certain that niece Florabel was on the wire.
"I don't believe a word of it."
This unusual manner of receiving a message shocked the devout. A murmur of protest arose.
"Now, now, now, Tamson," remonstrated Miss Beebe. "You mustn't talk so. Course you believe it if the control says so."
"I don't neither. Florabel Tidditt ain't dead. She's as well as I be. I had a letter from her yesterday."
There was considerable agitation for a few minutes. Then it developed that the Florabel seeking to communicate was not Miss Tidditt, but another, a relative so long gone that Tamson had forgotten she ever existed. At length she was brought to the point of admitting that it seemed as if she had heard of a cousin of her grandmother's named Florabel or Annabel or something. The message was not very coherent nor particularly interesting, so the incident ended.
A short time later came the sensation which was to make the evening memorable in East Wellmouth's spiritualistic circles. Little Cherry Blossom called the name which many had expected and some, Lulie Hallett and Martha Phipps in particular, dreaded to hear.
"Jethro!" croaked the Blossom. "Jethro!"
Captain Hallett had been very quiet, particularly since the Florabel message was tangled in transit. Martha could see his shaggy head in silhouette against the dim light of the lamp and had noticed that that head scarcely moved. The light keeper seemed to be watching the medium very intently. Now he spoke.
"Yes?" he said, as if awakened from sleep. "Yes, here I am. What is it?"
"Jethro," cried the control once more. "Jethro, somebodee come speakee to you.... Julia! Julia!"
Captain Jethro rose from his chair. The loved name had as always an instant effect. His heavy voice shook as he answered.
"Yes, yes, Julia," he cried. "Here I am, Julia, waitin'—waitin'."
It was pathetic, pitiful. One listener in that circle felt, in spite of his own misery, a pang of remorse and a little dread. After all, perhaps it would have been better to—
"Julia," cried the light keeper. "Speak to me. I'm waitin'."
The foghorn boomed just here, but even after the sound had subdued Little Cherry Blossom seemed to find it difficult to proceed. She—or the medium—choked, swallowed, and then said:
"Julia got message. Yes, indeedee. Important message, she sayee, for Jethro. Jethro must do what she sayee."
The captain's big head nodded vigorously. Martha could see it move, a tousled shadow against the light.
"Yes, yes, Julia, of course," he said. "I always do what you say. You know I do. Go on."
"Father!" It was Lulie's voice, raised in anxious protest. "Father, please."
Her father sharply ordered her to be quiet.
"Go on, Julia," he persisted. "Tell me what you want me to do."
Again Little Cherry Blossom seemed to have difficulty in articulating. There was a quaver in her voice when she did speak.
"Julia say," she faltered; "Julia sayee 'Jethro, you sell R.P.'"
This was unexpected. It was not at all the message the group of listeners, with one exception, had anticipated. There was no hint of Nelson Howard here. They did not know what to make of it. Nor, it was evident, did Jethro Hallett.
"What?" he demanded. "What, Julia? I don't understand."
Little Cherry Blossom cleared her—or the medium's—throat and falteringly went on.
"Julia sayee 'Jethro, you sell R. P. what you got.' Sellee him what you got, what he want buyee. You know. You sellee R. P. the stock."