But still it was clear that Captain Jeth did not understand.
"Sell R. P.?" he repeated. "R. P. Who's R. P.? And what... Eh? Do you mean—"
He paused. When he next spoke his tone was quite different. There was a deeper note in it, almost a note of menace.
"R. P.?" he said again. "Does 'R. P.' mean—is that supposed to stand for Horatio Pulcifer? Eh? Does 'R. P.' mean Raish Pulcifer?"
The control did not reply instantly. The light keeper pressed his question.
"Does it?" he demanded.
"Yes... yes," stammered the Blossom. "Yes, Julia say sellee Raish what he wantee buy."
"Wantee BUY? What have I got he wants to buy?"
"Julia she sayee you know. She say 'De—De—Develop stock.' That's it. Yes, Develop stock. She sayee you sell Raish Develop stock. She sayee she wantee you to. You do right then."
The foghorn howled once more. Captain Jethro was standing erect beside his chair. When, at last, he did speak, his tone was still more tense and threatening. Even the shallowest mind in that room—and, as Miss Phipps had said, practically every "crank" within ten miles was present—even the shallowest realized that something was impending, something ominous.
"Do you mean to say," demanded Jethro Hallett, speaking very slowly, "that Julia's, my wife's spirit is tellin' me to sell my four hundred shares of Wellmouth Development stock to Raish Pulcifer? Do you mean that SHE says that?"
Little Cherry Blossom croaked twice, but the second croak was a feeble "Yes."
"SHE says that? Julia, my dead wife, tells me to do that?"
"Yes. Yes—yes—yes. She say you sell Raish four hundred Develop stock and you be so gladee. She be gladee, too. She—"
The light keeper's shout rang through the room. "Stop!" he shouted again. "You—you LIAR!"
The word shot from beneath his teeth and, judging by the effect, might have hit almost every individual in the room. There was absolute silence for just the briefest instant; then a chorus of faint screams, exclamations, startled and indignant protests. Above them all Primmie's call upon her Lord of Isrul sounded plainly. Captain Jethro paid no heed.
"You liar!" he roared again. "Out of my house, you swindler! You damned cheat!"
This blast, delivered with the full force of the old skipper's quarter-deck voice, had the effect of completely upsetting the already tense nerves of the majority in the circle. Two or three of the women began to cry. Chairs were overturned. There was a babel of cries and confusion. The light keeper stilled it.
"Be still, all hands!" he shouted. "Turn up them lamps! Turn 'em up!"
Mr. Cabot, although himself somewhat startled and disturbed by the unexpected turn of events, was at least as cool as any one. He reached over the prostrate heap at his feet—it was Ophelia Beebe hysterically repeating: "He's gone crazy! He's gone loony! OH, my soul! OH, my land! WHAT'LL I do?" and the like—and turned up one of the lamps. Obed Taylor did the same with the other.
The sudden illumination revealed Captain Jethro, his face pale, his eyes flashing fire, holding the dumpy Miss Hoag fast in her chair with one hand and with the other brandished above her head like the hammer of Thor. The audience, for the most part, were in various attitudes, indicating alarm and a desire to escape. Mrs. Harding had a strangle hold on her husband's neck and was slowly but inevitably choking him to death; Mrs. Peters, as well as Miss Beebe, was on the floor; and Primmie Cash was bobbing up and down, flapping her hands and opening her mouth like a mechanical figure in a shop window. Lulie and Martha Phipps, pale and frightened, were trying to force their way to the captain's side. Galusha Bangs alone remained seated.
The light keeper again commanded silence.
"Look at her!" he cried, pointing his free hand at the cowering figure of the medium. "LOOK at her! The lyin' cheat!"
Marietta was, in a way, worth looking at. She had shrunk as far down in the chair as the captain's grip would permit, her usually red face was now as white as the full moon, which it resembled in some other ways, and she was, evidently, as Primmie said afterwards, "scart to death and some left over."
"Father, father," she pleaded. "Please—oh—please!"
Her father paid no attention. It was to Miss Hoag that he continued his attentions.
"You miserable, swindlin' make-believe!" he growled, his voice shaking with emotion. "You—you come here and—and pretend—Oh, by The Almighty, if you was a man, if you wasn't the—the poor, pitiful fool that you be, I'd—I'd—"
His daughter had reached his side. "Father," she begged. "Father, for my sake—"
"Be still! Be still, girl!... Marietta Hoag, you answer me. Who put you up to tellin' me to sell that stock to Pulcifer? Who did it? Answer me?"
Marietta tried, but she could do little but gurgle. She gurgled, however, in her natural tones, or a frightened imitation of them. Little Cherry Blossom had, apparently, fluttered to the Chinese spiritland.
"I—I—Oh, my good land!" she wailed.
"Father—father!" cried Lulie. "Don't talk so! Don't act so!"
"Act so! Be still! Let me alone, Martha Phipps! This woman here is a cheat. She's a liar! How do I KNOW? DON'T ask such fool questions. I know because—because she says my wife—Julia—my wife—tells me to sell my four hundred shares of Wellmouth Development stock—"
"Yes, of course. But, perhaps—"
"There ain't any perhaps. You, woman," addressing the cowering medium, "didn't you say that?"
"Yes—oh, yes, Cap'n Jeth, I said it. PLEASE don't!"
"And you pretended my dead wife's spirit said it, didn't you?"
"Yes. Yes, she did. Oh—oh—"
"She did not! Listen, all of you!" with scornful disgust. "Listen! That four hundred shares of Development stock this—this critter here says Julia knows I've got and wants me to sell to Raish Pulcifer I SOLD two months ago. Yes, by the everlastin', I sold 'em! And—eh? Yes, there he is. I sold 'em to that Bangs man there. He knows it. He'll tell you I did.... And now this swindler, this cheat, she—she—Who put you up to it? Who did? Was it Pulcifer?"
Marietta began to sob. "Ye-es, yes," she faltered. "He—he said he—"
"I thought so. And you pretended 'twas my—my Julia, my wife.... Oh, my God! And you've been pretendin' all the time. 'Twas all cheatin' and lies, wasn't it? She—she never come to you. She never told you nothin'. Ain't it so?"
Poor, publicity-loving, sensation-loving Marietta's nerve was completely gone. She sobbed wildly.
"Oh—oh, I guess so. I—I guess likely 'twas," she wailed. "I—I don't know. I only—"
Captain Jethro took his hand from her shoulder. He staggered a little.
"Get out of my house!" he ordered. "Out of my house—all of you. You're all liars and cheats together.... Oh, Julia! Oh, my Lord above!"
He collapsed in a chair and put his hands to his head. Lulie, the tears streaming down her face, tried to comfort him. Martha, also weeping, essayed to help. Cabot, walking over to where his cousin was standing, laid a hand on his arm. Galusha, pale and wan, looking as if the world had slipped from under him and he was left hanging in cold space, turned a haggard face in his direction.
"Well, Loosh," said Cousin Gussie, dryly, "I think you and I had better go home, hadn't we? This has been an interesting evening, an—ah—illuminating evening. You appear to be the only person who can add to the illumination, and—well, don't you think it is time you did?"
Galusha did not answer. He regarded his relative vacantly, opened his mouth, closed it, sighed and turned toward the dining room. By this time most of the congregation were already in the yard and, as Cabot and his companion emerged into the dripping blackness of out-of-doors, from various parts of that blackness came the clatter of tongues and the sound of fervent ejaculations and expressions of amazement.
"Well! WELL! Don't talk to ME! If this don't beat all ever I see!..." "I should say it did! I was just sayin' to Sarah B., s' I, 'My soul and body,' s' I, 'if this ain't—'"... "And what do you s'pose made him—" "And when they turned up them lights and I see him standin' there jammin' her down into that chair and wavin' that big fist of his over top her head, thinks I, 'Good-NIGHT! He's goin' to hammer her right down through into the cellar, don't know's he ain't!'"
These were a few fragments which Cousin Gussie caught as they pushed their way to the gate. In one spot where a beam of light from the window faintly illuminated the wet, he glimpsed a flowered and fruited hat picturesquely draped over its wearer's ear while from beneath its lopsided elegance a tearful voice was heard hysterically demanding to be taken home. "Take me home, 'Phelia. I—I—I... Oh, take me home! I—I—I've forgot my rubbers and—and I feel's if my hair was comin' off—down, I mean—but—oh, I don't CARE, take me HOME!"
Galusha, apparently, heard and saw nothing of this. He blundered straight on to the gate and thence along the road to the Phipps' cottage. It seemed to Cabot that he found it by instinct, for the fog was so thick that even the lighted windows could not be seen further than a few yards. But he did find it and, at last, the two men stood together in the little sitting room. Then Cousin Gussie once more laid a hand on his relative's arm.
"Well, Galusha," he said, again, "what about it?"
Galusha heaved another sigh. "Yes—ah—yes," he answered. "Yes—ah—quite so."
"Humph! What is quite so? I want to know about that stock of the Wellmouth Development Company."
"Yes.... Yes, certainly, I know."
"That Captain—um—What's-his-name, the picturesque old lunatic with the whiskers—Hallett, I mean—made a statement that was, to say the least, surprising. I presume he was crazy. That was the most weird collection of insanity that I ever saw or heard. Ha, ha! Oh, dear!... Well, never mind. But what did old Hallett mean by saying he had sold YOU his four hundred shares of that stock?"
Galusha closed his eyes. He smiled sadly.
"He meant that he had—ah—sold them to me," he answered.
"Loosh, are you crazy, too?"
"Very likely. I often think I may be. Yes, I bought the—ah—stock."
"You bought the—YOU? Loosh, sit down."
Mr. Bangs shook his head. "No, Cousin Gussie," he said. "If you don't mind I—I won't sit down. I shall go to my room soon. I bought Captain Hallett's stock. I bought Miss Phipps', too."
It was Cabot himself who sat down. He stared, slowly shook his head, and then uttered a fervent, "Whew!"
Galusha nodded. "Yes," he observed. "Ah—yes."
"Loosh, do you know what you are saying? Do you mean that you actually bought Hallett's four hundred shares and this woman's—?"
"Miss Phipps is her name. Miss Martha Phipps."
"Yes, yes, of course. And you bought... Eh? By Jove! Is THAT what you did with that thirteen thousand dollars?"
Again Galusha nodded. "Yes," he said.
Cousin Gussie whistled again. "But why did you do it, Loosh?" he asked, after a moment. "For heaven's sake, WHY?"
Galusha did not answer immediately. Then he said, slowly: "If—if you don't mind, Cousin Gussie, I think I should tell HER that first. That is, I mean she should—ah—be here when I do tell it.... I—I think I will change my mind and sit down and wait until she comes.... Perhaps. you will wait, too—if you don't mind.... And, please—please don't think me rude if I do not—ah—talk. I do not feel—ah—conversational. Dear me, no."
He sat down. Cabot stared at him, crossed his knees, and continued to stare. Occasionally he shook his head, as if the riddle were proving too much for him. Galusha did not move. Neither man spoke. The old clock ticked off the minutes.
Primmie came home first. "Miss Martha said to tell you she would be over in a few minutes," she announced. "Cap'n Jeth, he's a-comin' around all right, so Miss Martha and Zach and them think. But, my savin' soul, how he does hang onto Lulie! Keeps a-sayin' she's all he's got that's true and honest and—and all that sort of talk. Give me the crawlin' creeps to hear him. And after that seance thing, too! When that everlastin' foghorn bust loose the first time, I cal'lated—"
Galusha interrupted. "Primmie," he suggested, gravely, "would you—will you be—ah—kind enough to go into the kitchen?"
"Hey? Go into the kitchen? Course I will. What do you want in the kitchen, Mr. Bangs?"
He regarded her solemnly. "I should like to have you there, if you don't mind," he observed. "This gentleman and I are—we would prefer to be alone. I'm very sorry, but you must excuse me this time and—ah—go."
"Go? You want me to go out and—and not stay here?"
"Yes. Yes—ah—quite so, Primmie. Ah—good-night."
Primmie departed, slamming the door and muttering indignation. Galusha sighed once more. Then he relapsed into silence.
Twenty minutes later Martha herself came in. They heard her enter the dining room, then Primmie's voice in resentful explanation. When Miss Phipps did come into the sitting room, she was smiling slightly.
"Primmie's heart is broken," she observed. "Oh, don't worry, it isn't a very serious break. She hasn't had so much to talk about for goodness knows when and yet nobody wants to listen to her. I told her to tell Luce about it, but that didn't seem to soothe her much. Luce is Lucy Larcom, Mr. Cabot," she explained. "He is our cat."
Cousin Gussie, already a much bewildered man, looked even more bewildered, but Martha did not observe his condition. She turned to his companion.
"Mr. Bangs," she said, "it's all right. Or goin' to be all right, I'm sure. Cap'n Jeth is takin' the whole thing a good deal better than I was afraid there at first. He is dreadfully shaken, poor man, and he seems to feel as if the last plank had foundered from beneath him, as father used to say; but, if it doesn't have any worse effect than that, I shall declare the whole business a mercy and a miracle. If it has the effect of curin' him of the Marietta Hoag kind of spiritualism—and it really looks like a cure—then it will be worth all the scare it gave us. At first all he would say was that everything was a fraud and a cheat, that his faith had been taken away, there was nothin' left—nothin'. But Lulie, bless her heart, was a brave girl and a dear one. She said, 'I am left, father. You've got me, you know.' And he turned to her and clung to her as if she was his only real sheet anchor. As, of course, she is, and would have been always if he hadn't gone adrift after Little Cherry Blossom and such rubbish. Mr. Bangs, I—"
She paused. She looked first at Galusha and then at the Boston banker. Her tone changed.
"Why, what is it?" she asked, quickly. "What is the matter?... Mr. Bangs—"
Galusha had risen when she entered. He was pale, but resolute.
"Miss Phipps," he began, "I—I have been waiting to—to say something to you. I—ah—yes, to say something. Yes, Miss Phipps."
It was the first time he had addressed her as "Miss Phipps" for many months. He had, ever since she granted him permission and urged him to drop formality, addressed her as Miss Martha and seemed to take pride in that permission and to consider it an honor. Now the very fact of his returning to the old manner was, although she did not yet realize it, an indication that he considered his right to her friendship forfeited.
"Miss Phipps," he began once more, "I—I wish to make a confession, a humiliating confession. I shall not ask you to forgive me. I realize that what I have done is quite beyond pardon."
He stopped again; the road was a hard one to travel. Martha gazed at him, aghast and uncomprehending. Cabot, understanding but little more, shrugged his shoulders.
"For heaven's sake, old man," he exclaimed, "don't speak like that! You haven't committed murder, have you?"
Galusha did not answer nor heed him. It was to Martha Phipps he spoke and at her that he looked, as a guilty man in the prisoners' dock might regard the judge about to pronounce his death sentence.
"Miss Phipps," he began, for the third time, "I have deceived you. I—I have lied to you, not only once but—ah—ah—a great many times. I am quite unworthy of your respect—ah, quite."
Martha's face expressed many things, absolute amazement predominant.
"Why—why, Mr. Bangs!" she gasped. "What—"
"Pardon me," went on Galusha. "I was about to explain. I—I will try to make the explanation brief. It is—ah—very painful to me to make and will be, I fear, as painful for you to hear. Miss Phipps, when I told you—or gave you to understand—that my cousin here, or his firm, Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot, bought that—ah—Development stock of yours, I deceived you; I told you a falsehood. They did not buy it.... I bought it, myself."
He blurted out the last sentence, after a short but apparent mental struggle. Martha's chest heaved, but she said no word. The criminal continued:
"I will not attempt at this time to tell you how I was—ah—forced into buying it," he said; "further than to say that I—I had very foolishly led you to count upon my cousin's buying it and—and felt a certain responsibility and—a desire not to disappoint you. I—of course, I should have told you the truth, but I did not. I bought the stock myself."
Again he paused and still Martha was silent. Cousin Gussie seemed about to speak and then to change his mind.
"Perhaps," went on Galusha, with a pitiful attempt at a smile, "you might have forgiven me that, although it is doubtful, for you had expressly forbidden my lending you money or—or assisting you in any way, which I was—please believe this—very eager to do. But, after having bought it, I, as I say, deceived you, falsified, prevaricated—excuse me—lied to you, over and over.... Oh, dear me!" he added, in a sudden burst, "I assure you it is unbelievable how many falsehoods seemed to be necessary. I lied continually, I did, indeed.
"Well, that is all," he said. "That is all, I believe.... I—I am very sorry.... After your extreme kindness to me, it was—I... I think perhaps, if you will excuse me, I will go to my room. I am—ah—somewhat agitated. Good-night."
He was turning away, but Cabot called to him.
"Here, wait a minute, Loosh," he cried. "There is one thing more you haven't told us. Why on earth did you buy Hallett's four hundred shares?"
Galusha put his hand to his forehead.
"Oh, yes, yes," he said. "Yes, of course. That was very simple. I was—ah—as one may say, coerced by my guilty conscience. Captain Hallett had learned—I don't know precisely how, but it is quite immaterial—that Miss Phipps had, through me and to you, Cousin Gussie, as he supposed, sold her shares. He wished me to sell his. I said I could not. Then he said he should go to your office in Boston and see you, or your firm, and sell them himself. I could not allow that, of course. He would have discovered that I had never been there to sell anything at all and—and might have guessed what had actually happened. So I was obliged to buy his stock also and—and pretend that you had bought it. I lied to him, too, of course. I—I think I have lied to every one.... I believe that is really all. Good-night."
"One more thing, Loosh. What did you do with the certificates, Hallett's and Miss Phipps'? You got them, I suppose."
"Eh? Yes, oh, yes, I got them. I don't know where they are."
"WHAT? Don't know where they ARE?"
"No. I took them to your office, Cousin Gussie. I enclosed them in a large envelope and took them there. I gave them to a person named—ah—Taylor, I think that was the name."
"Taylor? There is no Taylor in our office."
"It was not Taylor. It may have been Carpenter, although that doesn't seem exactly right, either. It was the name of some one—ah—a person who does something to you, you know, like a tailor or a carpenter or a—a butcher—or—"
"Barbour! Was it Barbour?"
"Yes, that was it—Barbour. I gave Mr. Barbour the envelope. I don't know what he did with it; I told him I preferred not to know.... Please excuse me. Good-night."
He turned abruptly and walked from the room. They heard him ascending the stairs. For a moment the pair he had left looked at each other in silence. Then Cabot burst into a shout of laughter. He rocked back and forth in his chair and laughed until Martha, who was not laughing, began to think he might laugh forever.
"Oh, by Jove, this is funny?" he exclaimed, as soon as he could speak. "This is the funniest thing I ever heard of. Excuse the hysterics, Miss Phipps, but it certainly is. For the past month Williams and I, through this fellow Pulcifer down here, have been working heaven and earth to get the six hundred and fifty shares of that stock we supposed you and Hallett owned. And all the time it was locked up in my own safe there in Boston! And to think that old Loosh, of all persons, should have put this over on us. Ho, ho, ho! Isn't it rich!"
He roared and rocked for another interval. Still Martha did not speak, nor even smile. She was not looking at him, but at the braided rug beneath her feet, and he could not see the expression of her face.
"I may as well explain now," he went on, when this particular laugh was over, "that my friend Williams is one of the leading hotel men of this country. He owns two very big hotels in Florida and one in the Tennessee mountains. He has for some time been looking for a site on which to build another here on the northern coast. He was down this way a while ago and, quite by accident, he discovered this shore property which, he found out later, was owned by the Wellmouth Development Company. It was ideal, according to his estimate—view, harbor, water privileges, still water and surf bathing, climate—everything. He came to me and we discussed buying it. Then we discovered that this Development Company owned it. Fifty thousand dollars, the concern's capitalization, was too much to pay. A trust company over here in your next town had twelve hundred shares, but we found out that they knew the value of the property and, if they learned what we were up to, would hold for a fancy price. So, through this chap Pulcifer—we bought HIS five hundred shares—we began buying up the thirteen hundred which would give us a controlling interest and force the other crowd to do what we wanted. We picked up the small holdings easily enough, but we couldn't get yours or Hallett's. And for a very good reason, too. Ho, ho, ho! And old Loosh, of all people! Ho, ho!"
Still Miss Phipps did not laugh, nor did she look at him. "By the way," he observed, "I presume my—er—relative paid you a fair price for the stock, Miss Phipps?"
"He paid me twenty dollars a share," she said, quietly.
"Did he, indeed! Well, that is more than we've paid any one else, except Pulcifer. We allowed him a commission—a margin—on all he succeeded in buying.... Humph!... And I suppose Galusha paid old Hallett par, too. But why he should do such a thing is—well, it is beyond me."
She answered, but still she did not look at him.
"He told you," she said. "He knew I needed money. I was foolish enough to let him guess—yes, I told him that I had a hard time to get along. He was interested and he tried to cheer me up by tellin' me he thought you might buy that stock of mine. He couldn't have been more interested if it had been somethin' of his own. No, not nearly so much; he and his own interests are the last thing he thinks about, I guess. And then he kept cheerin' me up and pretendin' to be more and more sure you would buy and—and when he found you wouldn't he—but there, he told us the truth. I understand why he did it, Mr. Cabot."
The banker shook his head. "Well, I suppose I do, too, in a way," he said. "It is because he is Galusha Bangs. Nobody else on earth would think of doing such a thing."
"No, nobody else would. But thirteen thousand dollars, Mr. Cabot! Why, that's dreadful! It's awful! He must have used every cent he owns, and I didn't suppose he owned any, scarcely. Oh, Mr. Cabot, I must pay him back; I must pay him right away. DO you want to buy that stock he bought? Will you buy it of him, so he can have his money again?"
She was looking at him now and her voice was shaking with anxiety. Cabot laughed once more.
"Delighted, Miss Phipps," he assured her. "That is what I have been trying to do for a month or more. But don't worry about old Galusha's going broke. He—why, what is it?"
"Oh, nothin'. I was thinkin' about what he did and—and—"
"Yes, I know. Isn't it amazing? I have known him all my life, but I'm never sure how he will fly off the handle next. Of course, I realize you must think him a perfect jackass, an idiot—"
"What! Think him WHAT?"
"An idiot, an imbecile. Nine people out of ten, those who don't know him well, do consider him just that. Yet he isn't. In some respects he is a mighty clever man. In his own line, in this musty-dusty museum business of his, this Egyptology he is so cracked about, he is really very close to the top. Geographic societies all over the world have given him medals; he is—why, if he wished to he could write a string of letters after his name a yard long. I believe—hang it, it sounds absurd, but I believe he has been—er—knighted or something like it, in one heathenish little kingdom. And in Washington there, at the Institute, they swear by him."
She nodded. "They have just made him a wonderful offer to be the head of another expedition," she said.
"So? Well, I am not surprised. But in most respects, outside of his mummy-chasing, he is an absolute ass. Money? Why, he would give away every cent if it occurred to him to do so. HE wouldn't know nor care. And what might become of him afterward he wouldn't care, either. If it wasn't that I watch him and try to keep his money out of his hands, I don't know what would happen. Kind? Yes, of course. And generous; good Lord! But when it comes to matters of sentiment like—well, like this stock business for example, he is, as I say, an ass, that's all.... I am telling you this, Miss Phipps, because I wouldn't wish you to consider old Loosh altogether a fool, but only—"
He was sitting there, his knee in his hands, gazing blandly at the ceiling and, in judicial fashion, summing up his relative's failings and virtues, when he was interrupted. And the interruption was a startling one. Martha Phipps sprang to her feet and faced him, her cheeks crimson and her eyes flashing.
"Oh, how dare you!" she cried, with fiery indignation. "How CAN you? You sit there and talk about him and—and call him names in that—that condescendin' way as if he was dirt under our feet and yet—and yet he's as far above us as the sky is. Oh, how can you! Don't you see how good he is? Don't you SEE how he's sufferin' now, poor soul, and why? You say he doesn't care for money; of course he doesn't. If it had cost fifty thousand and he had it, I suppose he'd have used it just the same if he thought it would help—help some friend of his out of trouble. But what is tearin' him to pieces is the idea that he has, as he calls it, cheated ME. That he has lied to Jethro and to me and hasn't been the same straight, honest—GENTLEMAN he always is. That's all. HE doesn't give himself credit for takin' his own money to help other folks with. YOU would, I would, but HE doesn't. He talks as if he'd robbed us, or—or killed somebody or somethin'. He is the best—yes, I think he is the best and finest soul that ever breathed. And you sit there and—swing your foot and—and patronize—and call him a fool. A FOOL!... I—I mustn't talk any more or—or I'll say somethin' I'll wish I hadn't.... Good-night, Mr. Cabot."
She had held her handkerchief tightly crumpled in her hand during this outburst. Now she dabbed hastily with it at either eye, turned and hastened into the dining room, closing the door behind her.
A minute later Primmie came into the room, bearing a lighted lamp.
"I cal'late now I can dast come in here, can't I?" she observed, with dignity. "Anyhow, I hope so, 'cause Miss Martha sent me. She said I was to show you where your bedroom was, Mr. Cabot."
The Boston banker, who had scarcely recovered from the blast launched at his head by his hostess, rose, still blinking in a dazed fashion, and followed the lamp-bearer up the steep and narrow stairs. She opened a door.
"Here you be," she said, tartly. "And I hope you'll sleep 'cause I'm precious sure I sha'n't. All I'll see from now till mornin' is Cap'n Jeth gettin' ready to lam that Marietta Hoag one over the top of the head. My Lord of Isrul! Don't talk to ME!"
Cabot regarded her with interest. "What is YOUR name?" he inquired.
"Um-hm. Name of a flower, 'tis. Some folks don't like it, but I do."
"Primrose!" The visitor slowly shook his head. "Well—er—Primrose," he asked, "is there any other asylum in this vicinity?"
"Hey? ASYLUM? What—"
"Never mind. I wondered, that's all. Good-night."
He took the lamp from her hand and went into his room. The amazed Primmie heard from behind the door of that room a mighty roar of laughter, laughter loud and long continued. Martha, in her room, heard it and stirred indignantly. Galusha, in his room, heard it and moaned.
He wondered how, in all the world, there was any one who, on this night of misery, could laugh.
There were two people in that house who ate a real breakfast the following morning. One was Primmie and the other was Augustus Cabot. It took much, very much, to counteract Miss Cash's attraction toward food, and as for the Boston banker, the combination of Cape Cod air and Martha Phipps' cooking had sharpened his appetite until, as he told his hostess, he was thoroughly ashamed, but tremendously contented.
Martha smiled a faint recognition of the joke. Galusha, sitting opposite her, did not smile; he was plainly quite unaware that there was humor anywhere. The little archaeologist looked, so Primmie told Zach later on, "like one of them wax string beans, thin and drawed-out and yeller." He kept his gaze fixed on his plate and, beyond wishing her an uncertain good-morning, not once did he look at or venture to address Martha Phipps.
While they were at table Lulie came in. Considering all that she had undergone, the young lady was wonderfully radiant. Her eyes sparkled, there was color in her cheeks, and Mr. Cabot, who, in his time, had accounted himself a judge, immediately rated her as a remarkably pretty girl. Her first move, after greeting the company, was to go straight to Galusha and take his hand.
"Mr. Bangs," she cried, "how can I thank you? How can Nelson and I ever, ever thank you?"
Galusha's embarrassment managed to pump a little color into his wan cheeks. "I—I—ah—dear me, it was nothing," he stammered. "I—I am—ah—yes, quite so. Please don't mention it."
"But I shall mention it. Indeed, I shall. Why, Martha, do you realize who was really responsible for father's being so suspicious of Marietta Hoag last evening? It was Mr. Bangs here, and no one else. Do you remember I told you that father had been receiving printed things, booklets and circulars, in the mails for the past few days, and that he had been reading them and they seemed to agitate him very much? Do you remember that?"
Martha said of course she remembered it.
"Yes. Well, those circulars and books came from the Psychical Research Society—the people who look up real spirit things and expose the other kind, the fraud kind, you know. Those told all about lots of cases of cheats like Marietta, and father read them, and he confessed to me this morning that they disturbed his faith in her a lot and he was suspicious when the seance began. Don't you know he hinted something about it?"
"Yes, yes, Lulie, I remember. But what did Mr. Bangs have to do with those circulars and things?"
"He sent them. Or he had them sent, I am sure. They came from Washington and who else could have done it? Who else would have had them sent—from there—to father—and just at the right time? You did have them sent, didn't you, Mr. Bangs?"
Of course, the others now looked at Galusha and also, of course, this had the effect of increasing his embarrassment.
"Why—why, yes," he admitted, "I suppose I am responsible. You see, I—well—ah—I have friends at the Washington branch of the Society and I dropped a line requesting that some—ah—literature be sent to Captain Hallett. But it was nothing, really. Dear me, no. How is your father this morning, Lulie?"
Lulie's face expressed her happiness. "Oh, he is ever and ever so much better," she declared. "Last night I was so afraid that the shock and the dreadful disappointment and all might have a very had effect upon him, but it hasn't. He is weak this morning and tired, of course, but his brain is perfectly clear and he talks as calmly as you or I. Yes, a good deal more calmly than I am talking just now, for I am very much excited."
She laughed a little. Then, with a blush which caused the Boston connoisseur to re-endorse his own estimate of her looks, added: "I just must tell you this, Martha, you and Mr. Bangs, for I know you will be almost as much delighted as I am—of course, I put in the 'almost.' This morning, a little while ago, I ventured to mention Nelson's name to father and to hint that perhaps now that he knew Marietta's 'medium' nonsense to be all a fraud, he would believe as I did that the things she said about Nelson were frauds, too. I said it in fear and trembling, and for some time he didn't answer. Then he called me to him and said he guessed I was probably right. 'You seem to have been right most of the time, Lulie,' he said, 'and I've been clear off the course.' Then he said something about his getting old and about ready for the scrap heap, but at the end he said: 'You ask that young Howard to cruise around here and see me some one of these days. I want to talk to him.' There!" triumphantly. "Isn't that splendid? Isn't that something for him to say?"
Martha beamed delightedly. "For your father to say it's more than somethin', it's a whole big lot," she declared. "Well, well, well! Cap'n Jeth invitin' Nelson to come and see him and talk with him! Mercy me! 'Wonders 'll never cease, fish fly and birds swim,' as my own father used to say," she added, with a laugh. "Mr. Cabot, excuse me for talkin' about somethin' you don't understand, but, you see, Lulie is—Well, Primmie, what is it?"
Primmie's face expressed great excitement as she pushed it around the edge of the kitchen door. "My savin' soul!" was her salutation. "Who do you suppose is comin' right up our walk this very minute? Raish Pulcifer, that's who! And—and I bet you he's heard about last night's doin's, Miss Martha."
A little of Miss Cash's excitement was communicated to the others by her announcement. To every one except Mr. Bangs, of course. Galusha, after his acknowledgment of Lulie's thanks, had relapsed into his absent-minded apathy. Martha looked at Lulie.
"Humph!" she said, after a moment. "Well, let him come, as far as I'm concerned. I never was afraid of Raish Pulcifer yet and I'm not now. Lulie, if you don't want to meet him, you might go into the sitting room."
Lulie hesitated. "Well, perhaps I will," she said. "Father has told me a little about—Well, I imagine Raish will be disagreeable and I don't feel like going through more disagreeableness just now. I'll wait in here till he goes, Martha."
"Perhaps you'd like to go, too, Mr. Cabot," suggested Martha.
Cabot shrugged. "Not unless you wish me to," he replied. "I've never met this agent of ours and I wouldn't mind seeing what he looks like. Williams hired him, so he doesn't know me from Adam."
For the first time that morning Miss Phipps addressed her boarder directly. "How about you, Mr. Bangs?" she asked.
Galusha did not appear to hear the question, and before it was repeated a knock, loud, portentous, threatening, sounded upon the door.
"Let him in, Primmie," commanded Miss Phipps.
Mr. Pulcifer entered. His bearing was as ominous as his knock. He nodded to Martha, glanced inquiringly at Cabot, and then turned his gaze upon Galusha Bangs.
"Well, Raish," said Martha, cheerfully, "you're an early bird this mornin'. How do you do?"
The great Horatio's only acknowledgment of the greeting was a nod. He did not even remove his cap. He was looking at the little man in the chair at the foot of the table and he seemed quite oblivious of any one else. And Galusha, for that matter, seemed quite as oblivious of him.
The Pulcifer mouth opened and the Pulcifer finger pointed.
"Say," commanded Raish. "Say—you!" And as this seemed to have little or no effect upon the individual toward whom the finger pointed, he added: "Say, you—er—What's-your-name—Bangs."
Galusha, who had been absently playing with his napkin, twisting it into folds and then untwisting it, looked up.
"Eh?" he queried. "Oh, yes—yes, of course. How do you do, Mr. Pulcifer?"
This placidity seemed to shut off Raish's breath for the moment, but it returned in full supply.
"How do I DO!" he repeated. "Well, I ain't what you'd call fust-rate, I'd say. I'm pretty darn sick, if anybody should ask you. I've had enough to make me sick. Say, look here, Bangs! What kind of a game is this you've been puttin' over on me—hey?... Hey?"
"Game?... I—ah—pardon me, I don't know that I quite understand, Mr. Pulcifer."
"Don't you? Well, I don't understand neither. But I cal'late to pretty quick. What did Jeth Hallett mean last night by sayin' that he'd sold his four hundred Development a couple of months ago? What did he mean by it?"
Martha Phipps was about to speak. Cabot, too, leaned forward. But Galusha raised a protesting hand.
"Please," he said. "Mr. Pulcifer has a perfect right to ask. I have—ah—been expecting him to do so. Well, Mr. Pulcifer, I presume Captain Hallet meant that he had—ah—sold the stock."
"He did? I want to know! And what did he mean by sayin' he'd sold it to YOU?"
Again Miss Phipps and Cousin Gussie seemed about to take a hand and again Galusha silenced them.
"If you please," he begged. "It is quite all right, really.... I suppose, Mr. Pulcifer, he meant that he had done just that. He did. I—ah—bought his stock."
"You did! YOU did? Say, what kind of a—Say, am I crazy or are you?"
"Oh, I am. Dear me, yes, Mr. Pulcifer. At all events, I purchased the stock from Captain Hallett. I bought Miss Phipps' shares at the same time."
It took more than a trifle to "stump" Raish Pulcifer. He was accustomed to boast that it did. But he had never been nearer to being stumped than at that moment.
"You—bought—" He puffed the words as a locomotive puffs smoke when leaving a station.
"Yes," said Galusha, calmly, "I bought both his and hers."
"You did!... You did!... Well, by cripes! But—but why?"
"Because, I—ah—For reasons of my own, Mr. Pulcifer. Please pardon me if I do not go into that. I do not wish to appear rude, but the reasons are quite personal, really."
"Personal!... Well, I'll be dummed if this ain't the nerviest piece of brass cheek ever I—Say, look here, Bangs! Why didn't you tell me you'd bought them shares? What did you—Why, you must have had 'em all the time I was offerin' you commissions for buyin' 'em. Hey? DID you have 'em then?"
"Why—ah—yes, I did."
"And you never said nothin', but just let me talk! And—and how about this seance thing? You was the one put me up to making Marietta pretend to get messages from Jeth's wife tellin' him to sell his stock to me. YOU done it. I'd never thought of it if you hadn't put the notion in my head. And—and all the time—Oh, by CRIPES!"
Again his agitation brought on a fit of incoherence. And he was not the only astonished person about that table. Galusha, however, was quite calm. He continued to fold and unfold his napkin.
"It may be," he said, slowly, "that I owe you an apology, Mr. Pulcifer. I did deceive you, or, at least, I did not undeceive you." He paused, sighed, and then added, with a twisted smile, "I seem to have been a—ah—universal deceiver, as one might say. However, that is not material just now. I had what seemed to me good reasons for wishing Captain Hallett to learn that Miss Hoag was not a genuine—ah—psychic. It occurred to me that a mention of his late wife's wish to have him sell something he did not possess might accomplish that result. I misled you, of course, and I apologize, Mr. Pulcifer. I am sorry, but it seemed necessary to do so. Yes, quite."
He ceased speaking. Martha drew a long breath. Mr. Cabot looked very much puzzled. Raish slowly shook his head. "Well!" he began; tried again, but only succeeded in repeating the word. Then he blurted out his next question.
"Who'd you buy them shares for?"
"Yes, for. Who did you buy Cap'n Jeth's and Martha's stock for? Who got you to buy it? 'Twasn't the Trust Company crowd, was it?"
"The Trust Company? I beg pardon? Oh, I see—I see. Dear me, no. I bought the stock myself, quite on my own responsibility, Mr. Pulcifer."
Raish could not believe it. "You bought it yourself!" he repeated. "No, no, you don't get me. I mean whose money paid for it?"
"Why, my own."
Still it was plain that Horatio did not believe. As a matter of fact, the conviction that Galusha Bangs was poverty-stricken was so thoroughly implanted in the Pulcifer mind that not even a succession of earthquakes like the recent disclosures could shake it loose. But Raish did not press the point, for at that moment a new thought came to him. His expression changed and his tone changed with it.
"Say, Bangs," demanded he, eagerly, "do you mean you've still got that six hundred and fifty Development? Mean you ain't turned 'em over yet to anybody else?"
"Eh? Why, no, Mr. Pulcifer, I haven't—ah—turned them over to any one else."
"Good! Fust-rate! Fine and dandy! You and me can trade yet. You're all right, Perfessor, you are. You've kind of put one acrost on me, but don't make the mistake of thinkin' I'm holdin' that against you. No, sir-ee! When a feller's smart enough to keep even with your Uncle Raish in a deal then I know he gets up early—yes, sir, early, and that's when I get up myself. Hey, Perfessor? Haw, haw! Now, I tell you: Let's you and me go down to my office or somewheres where we can talk business. Maybe I might want to buy that stock yet, you can't tell. Hey? Haw, haw!"
He was exuding geniality now. But just here Mr. Augustus Cabot spoke. Judging by his face, he had enjoyed the passage at arms between his cousin and his business agent hugely. Now he entered the lists.
"That's all right, Pulcifer," he said. "You needn't trouble. I'll look out for that stock, myself."
Horatio turned and stared. He had scarcely noticed the visitor before, now he looked him over from head to foot.
"Hey? What's that?" he demanded. Cabot repeated his statement. Raish snorted.
"You'll look after the stock!" he repeated. "YOU will? Who are you?"
Cousin Gussie tossed a card across the table. "Cabot is my name," he said.
Galusha suddenly remembered.
"Oh, dear me!" he exclaimed. "I—I forgot. Please forgive me. Cousin Gussie, this is Mr. Pulcifer. Mr. Pulcifer, this gentleman is my—ah—Cousin Gu—I mean my cousin, Mr. Cabot, from Boston."
But Mr. Pulcifer did not hear. He was staring at the names of the individual and of the firm upon the card and icy fingers were playing tunes up and down his vertebrae. For the second time that morning he could not speak. Cabot laughed.
"It's all right, Pulcifer," he said, reassuringly. "You won't have to worry about the Development matter any longer. I'll handle the rest of it. Oh, you did your best. I'm not blaming you. I'll see that you get a fair return, even if you couldn't quite deliver. But you must keep still about the whole thing, of course."
Raish breathed heavily. Slowly the icy fingers ceased trifling with his spine and that backbone began to develop—quoting Miss Phipps' description—at least one new joint to every foot. He suppled visibly. He expressed himself with feeling. He begged the honor of shaking hands with the great man from Boston. Then he shook hands with Galusha and Miss Phipps. If Primmie had been present doubtless he would have shaken hands with her. When Cabot suggested that the interview had best terminate, he agreed with unction and oozed, rather than walked, through that doorway. Watching from the window, they saw him stop when he reached the road, draw a long breath, take a cigar from his pocket, light it, hitch his cap a trifle to one side, and stride away, a moving picture of still unshaken and serene self-confidence.
Cabot laughed delightedly. "That fellow is a joy forever," he declared. "He's one of the seven wonders of the world."
Martha sniffed. "Then the world better keep a sharp watch on the other six," was her comment. "I wouldn't trust Raish Pulcifer alone with Bunker Hill monument—not if 'twas a dark night and he had a wheelbarrow."
Lulie came rushing from the sitting room. She had heard all the Pulcifer-Bangs' dialogue and her one desire was to thank Galusha. But Galusha was not present. While Martha and Mr. Cabot were at the window watching the departure of Raish, the little man had left the room.
"But I must see him," cried Lulie. "Oh, Martha, just think! He is responsible for EVERYTHING. Not only for sending father the Psychical Society books, but for planning all that happened at the seance. You heard what Raish said. He said that Mr. Bangs put him up to bribing Marietta to pretend getting the message ordering father to sell his stock. Why, if that is true—and, of course, it must be—and if—if Nelson and I should—if it SHOULD end right for us—why, Martha, he will be the one who made it possible. Oh, do you believe he did plan it, as Raish said?"
Martha nodded and turned away. "He seems to have spent most of his time plannin' for other folks," she said.
"He didn't come through the sitting room," said Lulie, "so he must be in the kitchen with Primmie. I'm going to find him."
But she did not find him. Primmie said that Mr. Bangs had come out into the kitchen, taken his hat and coat, and left the house by the back door. Looking from that door, they saw his diminutive figure, already a good distance off, moving across the fields.
"He's on his way to the graveyard," declared Primmie. Cabot was startled.
"On his way to the graveyard!" he repeated. "Why, he looked remarkably well to me. What do you mean?"
Lulie laughingly explained. A few minutes later, declaring that she must leave her father alone no longer, she hurried away. Martha watched her go.
"She scarcely knows there is ground under her feet," she observed. "A light heart makes easy ballast, so my father used to say."
Cabot expressed his intention of starting for the city shortly after noon.
"Now that I know where those missing shares are, I can go with an easy conscience," he said. "I came 'way down here to get them and the faster I came the farther off they were. Ha, ha! It's a great joke. I've had a wonderful time, Miss Phipps. Well, I must see Galusha and get him to sell that stock to me. I don't anticipate much difficulty. The old boy didn't even know nor care where Barbour had put it."
Martha seemed to hesitate a moment. Then she said: "Mr. Cabot, I wonder if you could spare a few minutes. I want to talk with you about the money I owe—the money he GAVE me—for that stock, and a little about—about your cousin himself. Last night when you spoke of him I was—well, I was excited and upset and I didn't treat you very well, I'm afraid. I'm sorry, but perhaps you'll excuse me, considerin' all that had happened. Now I want to ask you one or two questions. There are some things I don't—I can't quite understand."
An hour or so later Galusha, sitting, forlorn and miserable, upon the flat, damp and cold top of an ancient tomb in the old Baptist burying ground, was startled to feel a touch upon his shoulder. He jumped, turned and saw his cousin smiling down at him.
"Well, Loosh," hailed the banker, "at your old tricks, aren't you? In the cemetery and perfectly happy, I suppose. No 'Hark from the tombs, a doleful sound' in years, eh?... Hum! You don't look very happy this time, though." Then, with a comprehensive glance at the surroundings, he shrugged and added, "Heavens, no wonder!"
The picture was a dismal one on that particular day. The sky was overcast and gray, with a distinct threat of rain. The sea was gray and cold and cheerless. The fields were bare and bleak and across them moved a damp, chill, penetrating breeze. From horizon to horizon not a breathing creature, except themselves, was visible. And in the immediate foreground were the tumbled, crumbling memorials of the dead.
"Heavens, what a place!" repeated Cabot. "It's enough to give anybody the mulligrubs. Why in the world do you come over here and—and go to roost by yourself? Do you actually LIKE it?"
Galusha sighed. "Sometimes I like it," he said. Then, sliding over on the tomb top, he added, "Won't you—ah—sit down, Cousin Gussie?"
His relative shook his head. "No, I'll be hanged if I do!" he declared; "not on that thing. Come over and sit on the fence. I want to talk to you."
He led the way to a section of the rail fence which, although rickety, was still standing. He seated himself upon the upper rail and Galusha clambered up and perched beside him. The banker's first question was concerning the six hundred and fifty shares of Development stock.
"I know you gave the Phipps woman par for hers," he said. "You told me so and so did she. Did you pay old Whiskers—Hallett, I mean—the same price?"
Galusha shook his head. "I—ah—was obliged to pay him a little more," he said. "His—ah—wife insisted upon it."
"His wife? I thought his wife was dead."
"Yes—ah—she is. Yes, indeed, quite so."
When this matter was satisfactorily explained Cousin Gussie asked if Galusha would be willing to sell his recently purchased shares at the price paid. Of course Galusha would.
"I should be very glad to make you a present of them, Cousin Gussie," he said, listlessly. "I do not care for them, really."
"I don't doubt that, but you won't do anything of the kind. As a matter of fact, your buying those shares and taking them out of the market was a mighty good thing for us. That Trust Company crowd was getting anxious, so the Phipps woman says. By the way, I will send her a check at once for her shares and she will hand it over to you. She was very much disturbed because you had—as she called it—given her that five thousand dollars."
Galusha nodded sadly. "Of course," he said. "It was a—a very dreadful thing to do. Oh, dear!"
His relative, who was watching him intently, smiled. "She and I have had a long talk," he continued. "She couldn't understand about you, how you could have so much money to—er—waste in that way. I gathered she feared you might have impoverished yourself, or pledged the family jewels, or something. And she plainly will not be easy one moment until she has paid you. She is a very extraordinary woman, Loosh."
His companion did not answer. His gaze was fixed upon a winged death's head on a battered slate gravestone near at hand. The death's head was grinning cheerfully, but Galusha was not.
"I say she is remarkable, that Phipps woman," repeated Cousin Gussie. The little man stirred uneasily upon the fence rail.
"Her—ah—name is Martha—Martha Phipps—ah—MISS Martha Phipps," he suggested, with a slight accent upon the "Miss." The banker's smile broadened.
"Apologies, Galusha," he said, "to her—and to you." He turned and gazed steadily down at his relative's bowed head.
"Loosh," he said.
"Eh?" Galusha looked up. "Eh? Did you speak?" he asked.
"I did. No, don't look at that gravestone, look at me. Say, Loosh, why did you do it?"
"Eh?... I beg pardon.... Why did I... You mean why did I—ah—buy the stock—and—and—"
"Of course. Why did you? Oh, I know she was hard up and feared she couldn't keep her home and all that; she has told me her story. And she is a good woman and you were sorry for her. But, my boy, to take five thousand dollars—even for YOU to take five thousand cold, hard, legal tender dollars and toss them away for something which, so far as you knew, was not worth five cents—that argues a little more than sympathy, doesn't it? And when you add eight thousand more of those dollars to the original five, then—Why did you do it, Loosh?"
Galusha's gaze fell. He looked solemnly at the battered cherub upon the gravestone and the cherub's grin was broad.
"I bought Captain Hallett's stock," he explained, "because I did not wish Miss Mar—Miss Phipps to know that I had lied—and all the rest."
"Yes, yes, so you said. But why did you lie, Loosh? Why didn't you tell her that you couldn't sell her stock for her? She would have been disappointed, of course, but she would have understood; she is a sensible woman."
Galusha, apparently, was considering the matter. It was a perceptible interval before he answered.
"I don't know, Cousin Gussie," he confessed, after the interval was over. "Really, I don't know. I think I felt, as I told you last night, as if I had encouraged her to believe I should surely sell her shares and—and that, therefore, I would be responsible for her disappointment. And I—well, really, I simply could not face the thought of that disappointment and all it would mean to her. I could not, indeed, no. I suppose you consider it quite extraordinary, my feeling that so acutely. Dear me, I suppose most people would. But I felt it. And I should do the same thing again, I know I should."
"For her, you mean?"
"Yes—yes, of course, for her."
"Humph! Say, Loosh, may I ask you a purely personal question? Will you promise not to be offended if I do?"
"Eh? Why, of course, Cousin Gussie. Of course. Dear me, ask anything you like."
"All right. Loosh, are you in love with Miss Phipps?"
Galusha started so violently as to throw him off his balance upon the fence rail. He slid forward until his feet touched the ground. His coat-tails, however, caught upon a projecting knot and the garment remained aloft, a crumpled bundle, between his shoulder blades and the back of his neck. He was not aware of it. His face expressed only one emotion, great astonishment. And as his cousin watched, that expression slowly changed to bewilderment and dawning doubt.
"Well, how about it?" queried Cabot. "Are you in love with her, Loosh?"
Galusha's mouth opened. "Why—good gracious!" he gasped. "Dear me—ah—Why—why, I don't know."
The banker had expected almost any sort of reply, except that.
"You don't KNOW!" he repeated.
"No, I—I don't. I—I never thought of such a thing."
Cousin Gussie slowly shook his head.
"Loosh," he declared, "you are superb; do you realize it? So you don't know whether you are in love with her or not. Well, put it this way: Would you like to marry her, have her for your wife, live with her for the rest of your days?"
Galusha considered this astounding proposition, but only for the briefest possible moment. His gentle, dreamy, wistful countenance seemed almost to light up from within. His answer was given in one breath and as if entirely without conscious volition.
"Oh, very much," he said, in a low tone. "Oh, yes, very much."
The Boston banker had been on the point of laughing when he asked the question. But he did not laugh. He whistled instead. Then he smiled, but it was not a smile of ridicule.
Jumping from the fence rail, he laid a hand on his relative's shoulder.
"Well, by Jove!" he exclaimed. "Forgive me, old man, will you? I had no idea you were taking it so seriously. I... Well, by Jove!"
Galusha did not speak. The same queer ecstatic brightness was upon his face and he was looking now, not at the grinning cherub, but at the distant horizon line of gray-green ocean and slate-gray sky. Cabot's grip on his shoulder tightened.
"So you really want to marry her," he said.... "Humph!... Well, I'll be hanged! Loosh, you—you—well, you certainly can surprise a fellow when you really make a business of it."
The brightness was fading from Galusha's face. He sighed, removed his spectacles, and seemed to descend from the clouds. He sighed again, and then smiled his faint smile.
"Dear me," he said, "how ridiculous it was, wasn't it? You like a joke, don't you, Cousin Gussie?"
"Was it a joke, Loosh? You didn't look nor speak like a joker."
"Eh? Oh, yes, it was a joke, of course. Is it likely that a woman like that would marry ME?"
Again he astonished his relative into turning and staring at him. "Marry you?" he cried. "SHE marry YOU? For heaven's sake, you don't imagine there is any doubt that she would marry you if you asked her to, do you?"
"Why, of course. Why should she?"
"Why SHOULD she? Why shouldn't she jump at the chance, you mean!"
"Oh—oh, no, I don't. No, indeed. You are joking again, Cousin Gussie, of course you are. Women don't like me; they laugh at me, they always have, you know. I don't blame them. Very often I laugh at myself. I am eccentric. I'm 'queer'; that is what every one says I am—queer. I don't seem to think just as other people do, or—or to be able to dress as they do—or—ah—oh, dear, everything. It used to trouble me a good deal when I was young. I used to try, you know—ah—try very hard not to be queer. I hated being queer. But it wasn't any use, so at last I gave up trying. My kind of queerness is something one can't get over, apparently; it's a sort of incurable disease. Dear me, yes, quite incurable."
He had moved forward and his coat-tails had fallen into their normal position, so the "queerness" of his outward appearance was modified; but, as he stood there, with his puzzled, wistful expression, slowly and impersonally picking himself to pieces, so to speak, Cabot felt an overwhelming rush of pity for him, pity and a sort of indignant impatience.
"Oh, shut up, Galusha!" he snapped. "Don't be so confoundedly absurd. You are one of the cleverest men in the world in your line. You are distinguished. You are brilliant. If you were as queer as Dick's hatband—whatever that is—it would make no difference; you have a right to be. And when you tell me that a woman—yes, almost any woman, to say nothing of one lost down here in these sand-hills—wouldn't marry you in a minute, you're worse than queer—you're crazy, absolutely crazy."
"But—but Cousin Gussie, you forget. If there were no other reasons, you forget what I have done. She could never believe in me again. No, nor forgive me."
"Oh, DON'T! You disturb my digestion. Do you suppose there is a woman on earth who wouldn't forgive a man who gave up thirteen thousand dollars just to help her out of a difficulty? Gave it up, as you did, without a whimper or even a whisper? And whose one worry has been that she might find out the truth about his weird generosity? Oh, Loosh, Loosh, you ARE crazy."
Galusha made no attempt to deny the charge of insanity. He was thinking rapidly now and his face expressed his thought.
"Do you—do you really think she might forgive me?" he asked, breathlessly.
"Think! Why, she and I had a long talk just before I came over here. She thinks you are the best and most wonderful man on earth and all she feared was that you had taken your last cent, or even borrowed the money, to come to her rescue. When I told her you were worth a quarter of a million, she felt better, but it didn't lessen her gratitude. Forgive you! Oh, good Lord!"
Galusha had heard only the first part of this speech. The ecstatic expression was returning. He drew a long breath.
"I—I wonder if she really would consider such a thing?" he murmured.
"Consider what? Marriage? Well, I should say she wouldn't take much time for consideration. She'll jump at it, I tell you. You are the one to consider, old man. You are rich, and famous. Yes, and, although I have never pinned quite as much faith to the 'family' idea as most of our people do, still we have a sort of tradition to keep up, you know. Now this—er—Miss Phipps is all right, no doubt; her people were good people, doubtless, but—well, some of our feminine second and third cousins will make remarks, Galusha. They surely will."
Galusha did not even trouble to answer this speech. His cousin continued.
"But that is your business, of course," he said. "And I honestly believe that in a good many ways she would make the ideal wife for you. She is not bad looking, in a wholesome sort of way, she is competent and very practical, has no end of common sense, and in all money matters she would make the sort of manager you need. She... Say, look here, have you heard one word of all I have been saying for the last three minutes ?"
"Eh?... Oh, yes, indeed. Of course, quite so."
"I know better; you haven't."
"Yes—yes. That is, I mean no.... Pardon me, Cousin Gussie, I fear I was not paying attention.... I shall ask her. Yes, if—if you are QUITE sure she has forgiven me, I shall ask her."
He started toward the cemetery gate as if he intended asking her at the first possible moment. His cousin followed him, his expression indicating a mixture of misgiving and amusement. Suddenly he laughed aloud. Galusha heard him and turned. His slight figure stiffened perceptibly.
"I beg pardon," he said, after a moment. "Doubtless it is—ah—very amusing, but I confess I do not quite see the joke."
Cabot laughed again.
"Is it—ah—so funny?" inquired Galusha. "It does not seem so to me."
The banker took him by the arm. "No offense, old chap," he said. "Funny? Of course it's funny. It's wildly funny. Do you know what I was just thinking? I was thinking of Aunt Clarissa. What do you suppose she would have said to this?"
He shouted at the thought. Galusha joined him to the extent of a smile. "She would have said it was just what she expected of me," he observed. "Quite so—yes."
They walked on in silence for some time. Then Galusha stopped short.
"I have just thought of something," he said. "It—it MAY have some influence. She has often said she wished she might see Egypt. We could go together, couldn't we?"
Cousin Gussie roared again. "Of course you could," he declared. "And I only wish I could go along. Loosh, you are more than superb. You are magnificent."
He telephoned for his car and chauffeur and, soon after dinner, said good-by to his hostess and his cousin and prepared to start for Boston. The Sunday dinner was a bountiful one, well cooked, and he did justice to it. Galusha, however, ate very little. He seemed to be not quite certain whether he was at the table or somewhere in the clouds.
The chauffeur discovered that he had scarcely oil and gasoline sufficient for his hundred-mile trip and decided to drive to Trumet to obtain more. Cabot, who felt the need of exercise after his hearty meal, took a walk along the bluff edge as far as the point from which he could inspect the property owned by the Development Company.
He was gone almost an hour. On his return he met Galusha walking slowly along the lane. The little man was without his overcoat, his hands were clasped behind him and, although his eyes were open, he seemed to see nothing, for he stumbled and staggered, sometimes in the road and sometimes in the dead weeds and briars beside it. He did not see his cousin, either, until the latter spoke. Then he looked up and nodded recognition.
"Oh!" he observed. "Yes, of course. Ah—How do you do?"
Cabot was looking him straight in the face.
"Loosh," he asked, sharply. "What is it? What is the matter?"
Galusha passed his hand across his forehead.
"Oh, nothing, nothing," he answered.
"Nonsense! You look as if—Well, you can't tell me nothing is wrong. ISN'T there something wrong?"
The saddest smile in all creation passed across Galusha's face. "Why—why, yes," he said. "I suppose everything is wrong. I should have expected it to be, of course. I—I did, but—ah—for a little while I was—ah—foolish and—and hoped. It is quite all right, Cousin Gussie, absolutely so. She said it was—ah—impossible. Of course it is. She is quite right. Oh, quite."
Cabot caught his meaning. "Do you mean to say," he demanded, "that you asked that—that Phipps woman to marry you and she REFUSED?"
"Eh? Oh, yes, she refused. I told you she would not think of such a thing. That is exactly what she said; it was impossible, she could not think of it."
"Well, confound her impudence!... Oh, all right, Galusha, all right. I beg your pardon—and hers. But, really—"
Galusha stopped him. "Cousin Gussie," he said, "if you don't mind I think I won't talk about it any more. You will excuse me, won't you? I shall be all right, quite all right—after I—ah—after a time, you know."
"Where are you going now?"
"Eh? Oh, I don't know. Just somewhere, that's all. Good-by, Cousin Gussie."
He turned and walked on again, his hands clasped behind his back and his head bent. Cabot watched him for several minutes, then, entirely upon impulse and without stopping to consider, he began what was, as he said afterwards, either the craziest or the most inspired performance of his life. He walked straight to the Phipps' gate and up the walk to the Phipps' door. His chauffeur called to him that the car was ready, but he did not answer.
Primmie opened the door in answer to his knock. Yes, Miss Martha was in the sitting room, she said. "But, my savin' soul, what are you doin' back here, Mr. Cabot? Has the automobile blowed up?"
He did not satisfy her curiosity. Instead, he knocked on the door of the sitting room and, when Miss Phipps called to him to come in, he obeyed, closing the door behind him. She was sitting by the window and her sewing was in her lap. Yet he was almost certain she had not been sewing. Her face was very grave and, although he could not see distinctly, for the afternoon was cloudy and the room rather dark, it seemed to him that there was a peculiar look about her eyes. She, like her maid, was surprised to see him again.
"Why, Mr. Cabot," she cried, rising, "what is it? Has something happened?"
He plunged headfirst into the business that had brought him there. It was the sort of business which, if approached with cool deliberation, was extremely likely never to be transacted.
"Miss Phipps," he said, "I came back here on an impulse. I have something I want to say to you. In a way it isn't my affair at all and you will probably consider my mentioning it a piece of brazen interference. But—well, there is a chance that my interfering now may prevent a very serious mistake—a grave mistake for two people—so I am going to take the risk. Miss Phipps, I just met my cousin and he gave me to understand that you had refused his offer of marriage."
He paused, momentarily, but she did not speak. Her expression said a good many things, however, and he hurried on in order to have his say before she could have hers.
"I came here on my own responsibility," he explained. "Please don't think that he has the slightest idea I am here. He is, as you know, the mildest person on earth, but I'm not at all sure he wouldn't shoot me if he knew what I came to say to you. Miss Phipps, if you possibly can do so I earnestly hope you will reconsider your answer to Galusha Bangs. He is very fond of you, he would make you a kind, generous husband, and, honestly, I think you are just the sort of wife he needs."
She spoke then, not as if she had meant to, but more as if the words were involuntarily forced from her by shock.
"You—you think I am the sort of wife he needs?" she gasped. "I?"
"Yes, you. Precisely the sort."
"For—for HIM. YOU think so?"
"Yes. Now, of course, if you do not—er—care for him, if you could not think of him as a husband—oh, hang it, I don't know how to put it, but you know what I mean. If you don't WANT to marry him then that is your business altogether and you are right in saying no. But if you SHOULD care for him and refused him because you may have thought there was any—er—unsuitability—er—unfitness—oh, the devil, I don't know what to call it—if you thought there was too large an element of that in the match, then I beg of you to reconsider, that's all. He needs you."
"Needs me? Needs ME?... Oh—oh, you must be crazy!"
"Not a bit of it. He needs you. You have all the qualities, common sense, practicability, everything he hasn't got. It is for his sake I'm asking this, Miss Phipps. I truly believe you have the making or marring of his future in your hands—now. That is why I hope you will—well, change your mind.... There! I have said it. Thank you for listening. Good-day."
He turned to the door. She spoke once more. "Oh, you MUST be jokin'!" she cried. "How CAN you say such things? His people—his family—"
"Family? Oh... well, I'll tell you the truth about that. When he was young he had altogether too much family. Now he hasn't any, really—except myself, and I have expressed my opinion. Good-by, Miss Phipps."
He went out. Martha slowly went back to her rocking-chair and sat down. A moment later she heard the roar of the engine as the Cabot car got under way. The sound died away in the distance. Martha rose and went up the stairs to her own room. There she sat down once more and thought—and thought.
Some time later she heard her lodger's footstep—how instantly she recognized it—in the hall and then in his bedroom. He was in that room but a short time, then she heard him go down the stairs again. Perhaps ten minutes afterward Primmie knocked. She wished permission to go down to the village.
"I just thought maybe I'd go down to the meetin' house," explained Primmie. "They're goin' to have a Sunday school concert this afternoon at four o'clock. Zach he said he was cal'latin' to go. And besides, Mr. Bangs he give me this letter to leave to the telegraph office, Miss Martha."
"The telegraph office isn't open on Sundays, Primmie."
"No'm, I know 'tain't. But Ras Beebe he takes care of all the telegraphs there is and telephones 'em over to Denboro, where the telegraph place IS open Sundays."
"Oh, all right, Primmie, you may go. Is Mr. Bangs in?"
"No'm, he ain't. He's gone out somewheres. To walk, I cal'late. Last I see of him he was moonin' along over towards the lighthouse way."
Primmie departed and Martha, alone in the gathering dimness of the afternoon, resumed her thinking. It was an endless round, that thinking of hers—but, of course, it could end in but one way. Even to wish such things was wicked. For his sake, that was what Mr. Cabot had said. Ah, yes, but it was for his sake that she must remain firm.
A big drop of rain splashed, and exploded like a miniature watery bombshell, against the windowpane. Martha looked up. Then she became aware of a faint tinkling in the room below. The telephone bell was ringing.
She hurried downstairs and put the receiver to her ear. It was Mr. Beebe speaking and he wished to ask something concerning a message which had been left in his care by Primmie Cash.
"It's signed by that Mr. Galushy Bangs of yours," explained Erastus. "I've got to 'phone it to the telegraph office and there's a word in it I can't make out. Maybe you could help me, Martha, long's Bangs isn't there. 'Tain't nothin' private, I don't cal'late. I'll read it to you if you want I should."
He began to read without waiting for permission. The message was addressed to the Board of Directors of the National Institute at Washington, D. C., and began like this:
"Deeply regret necessity of refusing your generous and flattering offer to lead—"
It was just here that Mr. Beebe's ability to decipher the Bangs' handwriting broke down.
"I can't make out the next word, Martha," he said. "It begins with an F, but the rest of it ain't nothin' but a string of kinks. It's all head and no tail, that word is."
"What does it look like?"
"Hey? Looks like a whiplash or an eel, more'n anything else. It might be 'epizootic' or—or—'eclipsin''—or—The word after it ain't very plain neither, but I kind of think that it's 'expedition.'"
"'Expedition'? Is the word you can't make out 'Egyptian'?"
"Hey?... 'Egyptian?' Well, I snum, I guess 'tis! 'Egyptian.' . . . Humph! I never thought of that. I—"
"Read me the whole of that telegram, Erastus. Read it."
Mr. Beebe read it. "Deeply regret necessity of refusing your generous and flattering offer to lead Egyptian expedition. Do not feel equal to the work. Decision final. Will write.—Galusha Bangs."
Martha's hand shook as it held the receiver to her ear. He had refused the greatest honor of his life. He had declined to carry out the wonderful "plan" concerning which he and she had so often speculated.... And she knew why he had refused.
"Erastus! Ras!" she called. "Hello, Ras! Hold that telegram. Don't send it yet. Do you hear?"
Mr. Beebe's voice expressed his surprise. "Why, yes, Martha," he said, "I hear. But I don't know. You see, Mr. Bangs, he sent a note along with the telegram sayin' he wanted it rushed."
"Never mind. You hold it until you hear from me again—or from him. Yes, I'll take all the responsibility. Erastus Beebe, don't you send that telegram."
She hung up the receiver and hurried to the outer door. Galusha was nowhere in sight. Then she remembered that Primmie had said he had gone toward the lighthouse. She threw a knitted scarf over her shoulders, seized an umbrella from the rack—for the walk showed broad splashes where drops of rain had fallen—and started in search of him. She had no definite plan. She was acting as entirely upon impulse as Cabot had acted in seeking their recent interview; but of one thing she was determined—he should not wreck his career if she, in any way, could prevent it.
She reached the gate of the government property, but she did not open it. She was certain he would not be in the light keeper's cottage; she seemed to have an intuition as to where he was, and, turning, followed the path along the edge of the bluff. She followed it for perhaps three hundred yards, then she saw him. He was sitting upon a knoll, his hands clasped about his knees. The early dusk of the gloomy afternoon was rapidly closing in, the raindrops were falling more thickly, but he did not seem to realize these facts, or, if he did, to care. He sat there, a huddled little bundle of misery, and her heart went out to him.
He did not hear her approach. She came and stood beside him.
"Mr. Bangs," she said.
Then he looked up, saw her, and scrambled to his feet.
"Why—why, Miss Martha!" he exclaimed. "I did not see you—ah—hear you, I mean. What is it? Is anything wrong?"
She nodded. She found it very hard to speak and, when she did do so, her voice was shaky.
"Yes," she said, "there is. Somethin' very wrong. Why did you telegraph the Institute folks that you wouldn't accept their offer?... Oh, I found it out. Ras Beebe couldn't get one word in your message and he read it to me over the 'phone. But that doesn't matter. That doesn't count. Why did you refuse, Mr. Bangs?"
He put his hand to his forehead. "I—I am sorry if it troubled you," he said. "I didn't mean for you to know it—ah—yet. I refused because—well, because I did not care to accept. The—the whole thing did not appeal to me, somehow. I have lost interest in it—ah—quite. Dear me, yes—quite."
"Lost interest! In Egypt? In such a wonderful chance as this gives you? Oh, you can't! You mustn't!"
He sighed and then smiled. "It does seem queer, doesn't it?" he admitted. "Yet it is quite true. I have lost interest. I don't seem to care even for Egypt. Now that is very odd."
"But—but if you refuse this what WILL you do?"
He smiled again. "I don't know," he said. "I don't seem to care. But it is quite all right, Miss Martha. Really it is. I—I wouldn't have you think—Oh, dear, no!"
"But what WILL you do? Tell me."
"I don't know. No doubt I shall do something. One has to do that, I suppose. It is only that—" Then, as a new thought came to him, he turned to her in alarm. "Oh, of course," he cried, hastily, "I sha'n't remain here. Please don't think I intend imposing upon you longer. I shall go—ah—at once—to-morrow—ah almost immediately. You have been extremely kind and long-suffering already and—and—"
She interrupted. "Don't!" she said, hurriedly. "Don't! Mr. Bangs, have you truly made up your mind not to go to Egypt with that expedition? Won't you PLEASE do it, if I beg you to?"
He slowly shook his head.
"It is like you," he said, "to take such an interest, but, if—if you don't mind, I had rather not. I can't. Really, I—ah—can't. It—Well, the thought of it—ah—repels me. Please don't ask me, Miss Martha, because—I can't."
She hesitated. Then she said, "Would you go if I went with you?"
He had been looking, not at her, but at the sea. Now he slowly turned.
"Why—why—" he stammered. "Why, Miss—Oh, dear me, you don't—you can't mean—"
She shook her head. "I suppose I mean anything," she said, "anything that will stop you from throwin' away your life work."
He was very pale and his eyes were fixed upon her face. "Do you mean—" he began, "do you mean you could—you would marry me?"
She shook her head again. "I think I must be crazy," she said, desperately. "I think we all must be, your cousin as well as the rest of us. He came to me a little while ago and asked me to—to say yes to you. HE did! He, of all people! The—the very one that I—I—"
"Yes, yes, yes, of course." Galusha was trembling with eagerness. "Yes, of course. Cousin Gussie is an extraordinarily able man. He approves of it highly. He told me so."
She scarcely heard him. "Oh, don't you see," she went on, "why it would be wicked for me to think of such a thing? You are a great man, a famous man; you have been everywhere and seen everything; I haven't had any real education, any that counts besides yours; I haven't been anywhere; I am just a country old maid. Oh, you would be ashamed of me in a month.... No, no, no, I mustn't. I won't."
"But, Miss Martha—"
"No. Oh, no!"
She turned away. Galusha had what was, for him, an amazing and unprecedented inspiration.
"Very well," he declared. "I shall go to—to the devil, I think. Yes, I will. I shall give away my money, all of it, and go to the devil."
It was absurd enough, but the absurdity of it did not strike either of them then.
"Oh, WON'T you go to Egypt?" she begged. "Won't you, PLEASE?"
He was firm. "No," he declared. "Not unless you go with me. Ah—ah—Miss Martha, will you?"
She hesitated, wrung her hands—and surrendered. "Oh, I suppose I shall have to," she said.
He did not dare believe it.
"But—but I don't want you to have to," he cried. "YOU mustn't marry me for—for Egypt, Miss Martha. Of course, it is too much to ask; no doubt it is quite impossible, but you—you mustn't marry me unless you really—ah—want to."
And then a very astonishing thing happened. Martha turned to him, and tears were in her eyes.
"Oh," she cried, breathlessly, "do you suppose there is a woman in this world who wouldn't want to marry a man like YOU?"
After a while they discovered that it was raining. As a matter of fact, it had been raining for some time and was now raining hard, but as Galusha said, it didn't make a bit of difference, really. They put up the umbrella, which until now had been quite forgotten, and walked home along the wet path, between the dripping weeds and bushes. It was almost dark and, as they passed the lighthouse, the great beacon blazed from the tower.
Galusha was babbling like a brook, endlessly but joyful.
"Miss Martha—" he began. Then he laughed aloud, a laugh of sheer happiness. "It—it just occurred to me," he exclaimed. "How extraordinary I didn't think of it before. I sha'n't have to call you Miss Martha now, shall I? It is very wonderful, isn't it? Dear me, yes! Very wonderful!"
Martha laughed, too. "I'm afraid other people are goin' to think it is very ridiculous," she said. "And perhaps it is. Two middle-aged, settled folks like us startin' up all at once and gettin' married. I know I should laugh if it was anybody else."
But Galusha stoutly maintained there was nothing ridiculous about it. It was wonderful, that was all.
"Besides," he declared, "we are not old; we are just beginning to be young, you and I. Personally, I feel as if I could jump over a bush and annihilate a—ah—June bug, as Luce did that night when we went out to see the moon."
Luce himself was at the door waiting to be let in. He regarded the pair with the air of condescending boredom which the feline race assumes when confronted with the idiosyncrasies of poor humanity. Possibly he was reflecting that, at least, he knew enough to go in when it rained. Martha opened the door, but Galusha paused for a moment on the threshold.
"Do you know," he said, "that, except—ah—occasionally, in wet weather, it scarcely ever rains in Egypt?"
(A letter from Mrs. Galusha Bangs to Miss Lulie Hallett.)
Shepheard's Hotel, Cairo, Egypt, February tenth.
MY DEAR LULIE:
Well, as you can see by this hotel letter paper, here we are, actually here. Of course we are only a little way toward where we are going, but this is Egypt, and I am beginning to believe it. Of course, I can't yet quite believe it is really truly me that is doing these wonderful things and seeing these wonderful places. About every other morning still I wake up and think what a splendid dream I have had and wonder if it isn't time for me to call Primmie and see about getting breakfast. And then it comes to me that it isn't a dream at all and that I don't have to get up unless I want to, that I don't have to do anything unless I want to, and that everything a sensible person could possibly want to do I CAN do, and have a free conscience besides, which is considerable. I don't mean that I lay a-bed much later than I used to. I never could abide not getting up at a regular time, and so half past seven generally finds me ready to go down to breakfast. But, oh, it is a tremendous satisfaction to think that I could sleep later if I ever should want to. Although, of course, I can't conceive of my ever wanting to.
Well, I mustn't fill this whole letter with nonsense about the time I get up in the morning. There is so much to write about that I don't know where to begin. I do wish you could see this place, Lulie. I wish you could be here now looking out of my room window at the crowds in the street. I could fill a half dozen pages telling you about the clothes the people wear, although I must say that I have seen some whose clothes could be all told about in one sentence, and not a very long sentence at that. But you see all kinds of clothes, uniforms, and everyday things such as we wear, and robes and fezzes and turbans and I don't know what. You know what a fez is, of course. It's shaped like a brown-bread tin and they wear it little end up with a tassel hanging down. And turbans! To me, when I used to see pictures of people wearing turbans, they were just pictures, that's all. It didn't seem as if any one actually tied up the top of their head in a white sheet and went parading around looking like a stick with a snowball stuck on the end of it. But they do, and most of them look as dignified as can be, in spite of the snowball. And I have seen camels, quantities of them, and donkeys, and, oh, yes, about a million dogs, not one of them worth anything and perfectly contented to be that way. And dirt! Oh, Lulie, I didn't believe there was as much dirt in all creation as there is in just one of the back streets over here. Galusha asked me the other day if I didn't wish I could go into one of the houses and see how the people lived; he meant the poor people. I told him no, not if he ever expected me to get anywhere else. If the inside of one of those houses was like the outside, I was sure and certain that I should send for a case of soap and a hundred barrels of hot water and stay there scrubbing the rest of my life. And, oh, yes, I have seen the Pyramids.
Of course, you want to know how I got along on the long voyage over. I wrote you a few lines from Gibraltar telling you a little about that. I wasn't seasick a single bit. I think it must be in our blood, this being able to keep well and happy on salt water. Our family has always been to sea, as far back as my great-great-grandfather, at least, and I suppose that explains why, as soon as I stepped aboard the steamer, I felt as if I was where I belonged. And Galusha, of course, has traveled so much that he is a good sailor, too. So, no matter whether it was calm or blowy, he and I walked decks or sat in the lee somewhere and talked of all that had happened and of what was going to happen. And, Lulie, I realized over and over, as I have been realizing ever since I agreed to marry him, what a wonderful man he is and what a happy and grateful woman I ought to be—and am, you may be sure of that. Every day I make a little vow to myself that I will do my best not to make him ashamed of me. Of course, no matter what I did he would think it all right, but I mean to prevent other people from being ashamed for him. That is, if I can, but I have so much to learn.
You should see how he is treated over here, by the very finest people, I mean. It seems to me that every scientist or explorer or professor of this or that from China to London has been running after him, all those that happen to be in this part of the world, I mean. And always he is just the same quiet, soft-spoken, gentle person he was at the Cape, but it is plain to see that when it comes to matters about his particular profession, my husband is known and respected everywhere. Perhaps you will think, Lulie, that I am showing off a little when I write "my husband" like that. Well, I shouldn't wonder if I was. Nobody could help being proud of him.
I had a trial the other evening. That is, it seemed as if it would be the greatest trial that ever I had to face and my, how I dreaded it. Sir Ernest Brindlecombe, an English scientist, and, so Galusha says, a very great man, indeed, is here with his wife, and they have known Galusha for years. So nothing would do but we must come to their house to dinner. He is in the English government service and they have a wonderful home, more like a palace than a house—that is, what I have always supposed a palace must be like. I felt as if I COULDN'T go, but Galusha had accepted already, so what was there to do?
Of course, you are wondering what I wore. Well, as I wrote you from Washington, I had bought a lot of new things. The wife of Professor Lounsbury, at the Institute, helped me pick them out, and oh, what should I have done without her! Galusha, of course, would have rigged me up like the Queen of Sheba, if he had had his way. I tried going shopping with him at first, but I had to give it up. Every pretty dress he saw, no matter if it was about as fitting for my age and weight as a pink lace cap would be for a cow, he wanted to buy it right off. If the price was high enough, that seemed to be the only thing that counted in his mind. I may as well say right here, Lulie, that I have learned by this time, when he and I do go shopping together, to carry the pocketbook myself. In that way we can manage to bring home something, even if it is only enough to buy a postage stamp.
But I am wandering, as usual. You want to know about the dinner at the Brindlecombes'. Well, thanks to Mrs. Lounsbury's help and judgment, I had two dresses to pick from, two that seemed right for such a grand affair as I was afraid this was going to be. And I picked out a black silk, trimmed—
(Two pages of Mrs. Bangs' letter are omitted here)
There is more of it at the top and bottom than there was to a whole lot of evening gowns I have seen, on the steamer and in Washington, but I can't help that. I guess I am old-fashioned and countrified, but it does seem to me that the place to wear a bathing suit is in the water, especially for a person of my age. However, it is a real sensible and rich-looking dress, even if it is simple, and I think you would like it. At any rate, I put it on and Galusha got into his dress suit, after I had helped him find the vest, and stopped him from putting one gold stud and two pearl ones in his shirt. HE didn't notice, bless him, he was thinking of everything but what he was doing at the minute, as he always is.
So, both in our best bibs and tuckers, and all taut and ready for the sea, as father would have said, we were driven over to the Brindlecombe house, or palace, whichever you call it. Mr. Brindlecombe—or Sir Ernest I suppose he should be called, although I never remembered to do it, but called him Mr. Brindlecombe the whole evening—was a fleshy, bald-headed man, who looked the veriest little bit like Mr. Dearborn, the Congregational minister at Denboro, and was as pleasant and jolly as could be. His wife was a white-haired little lady, dressed plainly—the expensive kind of plainness, you know—and with a diamond pin that was about as wonderful as anything I ever saw. And I kept thinking to myself: "Oh, what SHALL I say to you? What on EARTH shall we talk about?" and not getting any answer from myself, either.
But I needn't have worried. She was just as sweet and gentle and every-day as any one could be, and pretty soon it came out that we both loved flowers. That was enough, of course, and so while Mr. Sir Ernest and Galusha were mooning along together about "dynasties" and "papyri" and "sphinxes" and "Ptolemies" and "hieroglyphics" and mummies and mercy knows what, his wife and I were having a lovely time growing roses and dahlias and lilies. She told me a new way to keep geranium roots alive for months after taking them up. She learned it from her gardener and if ever I get a chance I am going to try it. Well, Lulie, instead of having a dreadful time I enjoyed every minute of it, and yesterday Mrs. Brindlecombe—Lady Brindlecombe, I suppose she really is—came and took me to drive. We shopped and had a glorious afternoon. I presume likely I said "Mercy me" and "Goodness gracious" as often as I usually do and that they sounded funny to her. But she said "My word" and "Fancy" and they sounded just as funny to me. And it didn't make a bit of difference.
There was one thing that came from our dinner at the Brindlecombes' which I must tell you, because it is so very like this blessed husband of mine. I happened to speak of Mrs. Brindlecombe's pin, the wonderful one I just wrote about. The very next day Galusha came trotting in, bubbling over with mischief and mystery like the boy he is in so many things, and handed me a jeweler's box. When I opened it there was a platinum brooch with a diamond in it as big—honestly, Lulie, I believe it was as big as my thumbnail, or two thirds as big, anyway. This husband of mine had, so he told me, made up his mind that nobody's wife should own a more wonderful pin than HIS wife owned. "Because," he said, "nobody else has such a wonderful wife, you know. Dear me, no. No, indeed."
Well, I almost cried at first, and then I set about thinking how I could get him to change the pin and do it without hurting his feelings. As for wearing it—why, Lulie, I would have looked like the evening train just coming up to the depot platform. That diamond flashed like the Gould's Bluffs light. The sight of it would have made Zach Bloomer feel at home. And when I found out what it cost! My soul and body! Well, I used all the brains I had and strained them a little, I'm afraid, but at last I made him understand that perhaps something a tiny bit smaller would look, when I wore it in the front of my dress, a little less like a bonfire on a hill and we went back to the jewelry store together. The upshot of it was that I have a brooch—lots smaller, of course—and a ring, either of which is far, far too grand for a plain woman like me, and which I shall wear only on the very stateliest of state occasions and NEVER, I think, both at the same time, and I saved Galusha a good many dollars besides.
So, you see, Lulie, that he is the same impractical, absent-minded, dear little man he was down there in East Wellmouth, even though he is such a famous scientist and discoverer. I think I got the best salve for my conscience from knowing that, otherwise I should always feel that I never should have let him marry me. In most respects I am not a bit the wife he should have, but I hope I am of some use in his practical affairs and that at last I can keep him from being imposed upon. I try. For instance, on the steamer his cap blew overboard. I wish you could have seen the cap the ship's steward sold him. The thing he bought at Ras Beebe's store was stylish and subdued compared to it. And I wish you could have seen that steward when I got through talking to him. Every day smooth-talking scamps, who know him by reputation, come with schemes for getting him to invest in something, or with pitiful tales about being Americans stranded far away from home. I take care of these sharks and they don't bite me, not often. I told one shabby, red-nosed rascal yesterday that, so far as he was concerned, no doubt it was tough to be stranded with no way of getting to the States, as he called them; but that I hadn't heard yet how the States felt about it. So I help Galusha with money matters and see that he dresses as he should and eats what and when he should, and try, with Professor King, his chief assistant with the expedition, to keep his mind from worry about little things. He seems very happy and I certainly mean to keep him so, if I can.
We talk about you and Nelson and Captain Jethro every day. The news in your last letter, the one we found at Gibraltar, was perfectly splendid. So you are to be married in June. And Galusha and I can't come to your wedding; that is a shame. By the time we get back you will be so long settled in the cottage at the radio station that it won't seem new at all to you. But it will be very new to us and we shall just love to see it and the new furniture and your presents and everything. We both think your father's way of taking it perfectly splendid. I am glad he still won't have a word to say to Marietta Hoag or her crowd of simpletons. Galusha says to tell your father that he must not feel in the least obliged to him for his help in exposing Marietta as a cheat. He says it was very good fun, really, and didn't amount to much, anyway. You and I know it did, of course, but he always talks that way about anything he does. And your thanks and Captain Jethro's pleased him very much.