"I ought to send both of you to the hospital," said Tunis in a grim voice. "But I'm satisfied if you beg her pardon and let her go." This to the restaurant proprietor.
The man opened his lips to emit something besides an apology, although the smaller man was already quelled. But the look in Tunis Latham's face made the black-haired man pause.
"Well, she can't cause a disturbance here. But I meant no offense."
The smaller man hastened to add:
"So help me! I was that mad I didn't know what I said. I didn't mean nothing."
Tunis nodded solemnly.
"Get your coat and hat, miss," he said. "I guess it won't be a pleasant place for you to work in after this."
She slipped away. Tunis let the men go. They both stepped away from him, panting, relaxing their shoulders, eyeing the young captain with as much curiosity as apprehension.
Suddenly there was an added commotion at the front door. Tunis saw a policeman enter. The coarse-featured proprietor of the restaurant instantly recovered all his courage.
"This way, officer! This way!" he cried. "Here's the man."
At that moment Tunis felt a tug at his coat. He flashed a glance over his shoulder. It was the girl. She wore a little hat pulled down over all that black hair, and she was buttoning a shabby jacket. There was a way out by the alley; he well knew it. Nor was he anxious of appearing before either a police lieutenant or a magistrate for creating a disturbance in the place.
"Run along. I'll be right behind you," he whispered.
The policeman was some distance, and several tables away. Tunis looked to see if all was clear. The girl was just passing through the swinging door into the kitchen. Tunis stepped back, turned suddenly, while the restaurant proprietor was making ready to address the policeman, and leaped for the rear exit.
"There he goes!" squealed the patron who had been the cause of the trouble.
But nobody stopped Tunis Latham. At a flash, when he got into the kitchen, he saw the girl opening the outer door. The way was clear. He crossed the room in several quick strides and caught up with her. The startled chef and his assistants merely stared.
The alley was empty, but they walked swiftly away from the square. The arc lamp on the corner which they approached sputtered continuously, like soda water bubbling out of a bottle. He looked down at her curiously in the flickering illumination from this lamp and found the girl looking up at him just as curiously.
"That was an unwise thing to do. You might have been arrested," she said, ever so gently. Then she added: "And it has cost me my job."
"That is the only thing that worries me," he rejoined promptly.
"You need not mind, sir. I really am not sorry. I could not have stood it much longer. And Mr. Sellers paid yesterday."
"So they don't owe you much on account, then," Tunis said soberly. "I came away without paying for my dinner. I'll pay the worth of my check to you; that'll help some."
For the first time she laughed. Once he had sat all afternoon in a gully back of Big Wreck Cove in the pine woods and listened to the cheerful gurgle of a spring bubbling from under a stone. That silvery chuckle was repeated in this girl's laugh With all her timidity and shyness, she was naturally a cheerful body. That laugh was quite involuntary.
"I think I may be able to get along," she said, with that quiet tone of finality which Tunis felt would keep the boldest man at a distance. "It is difficult, however, to get a position without references."
"I'll go back and wring one out of him—when the cop has gone," grinned Tunis.
"I don't think a reference from Mr. Sellers would do me much good," she sighed. "But at the time I took the place I was quite desperate."
The captain of the Seamew made no comment. They were walking up the hill through a quiet street. Of course, there was no pursuit. But the young man began to feel that he might have done the girl more harm than good by espousing her cause in the restaurant. Perhaps he had been too impulsive.
"You—you can find other and more pleasant work, I am sure," he said with hesitation. "I hope you will forgive me for thrusting myself into your concerns, but I really could not stand for that man backing up your customer instead of you. He did order meringue pie. I heard him."
She smiled, and he caught the faint flicker of it as it curved her lips and made her eyes shine for an instant. Minute following minute, she was becoming more attractive. His voice trembled when he spoke again:
"I—I hope you will forgive me."
"You did just what I should have expected my brother to do, if I had a brother," she replied frankly. "But few girls who work at Sellers' have brothers."
"No?" Something in her voice, rather than in the words, startled Tunis.
"Let me put it differently," she said, still with that gentle cadence which ameliorated the bitterness of her tone. "Girls who have brothers seldom fall into Sellers' clutches. You see, he is a last resort. He does not demand references, and he poses as a philanthropist."
Tunis felt confused, in a maze. He could not imagine where the girl was tacking. He was keenly aware, however, that there was a mystery about her being employed at all in Sellers' restaurant.
They came out at last upon the brow of the hill overlooking the Common. The lamps glimmered along Tremont Street through an opalescent haze which was stealing over the city from the bay. Without question they went down the steps side by side. There was a bench in a shadow and, without touching her, Tunis steered the girl's steps toward it.
She sat down with an involuntary sigh of weariness. She had been on her feet most of the time since eleven o'clock. She relaxed in contact with the back of the bench, and he could see the contour of her throat and chin thrown up in relief against the background of shadow. The whole relaxed attitude of her slim body betrayed exhaustion.
"I hope you will not blame me too severely," Tunis stammered.
"I don't blame you."
"I fear you will after you have taken time to think it over. But—but perhaps there may be some way in which I can repair the damage I have done."
She looked at him levelly, curiously.
"You are a seaman, are you not?"
"I'm Tunis Latham. I own the schooner Seamew, and command her. We are going to run back and forth from Boston to the Cape—Cape Cod."
"Oh! I could scarcely fill a position on your schooner, Captain Latham."
She smiled again. It was a weary smile, however, not like the former flash of amusement she had shown. Her head drooped as her mind sank into unhappy retrospection. Tunis looked aside at her with a great hunger in his heart to take all her trouble—no matter what it was—upon his own mind and give her the freedom she needed. What or who the girl was did not matter. Even what she had done, or what she had not done meant little to Tunis Latham.
She was the one girl in all this world who had ever interested him beyond a passing moment, and he was convinced that she alone would ever interest him. The cheap environment of their meeting meant nothing. If she was free, her own mistress, and he could get her, he meant to make this girl his wife.
"You didn't tell me your name," he said directly. "Won't you? I have been frank with you."
"Why, so you have," said the girl. There might have been a strata of laughter underlying the words; yet her face was sober enough. "If you really wish to know, Captain Latham, my name is Macklin."
"Miss Macklin?" he asked, a positive tremor in his voice.
"Certainly. Sheila Macklin, spinster."
Tunis drew a long breath. That was enough! He would take his chance in the game with any other man as long as she was not promised. But there was no use in spoiling everything by being too precipitate. The captain of the Seamew might be simple, but he was not the man to ruin a thing through impulsiveness. That exhibition in the restaurant was hooked up with wrath.
There had been an undercurrent of thought in his mind ever since he had met this girl for the second time, and it was quite a natural thought, comparing her with Ida May Bostwick. If Sheila Macklin had only been Ida May, after all! It was a ridiculous idea. Not a feature or betrayed trait of character was like any that the disappointing great-niece of Prudence Ball possessed. This girl sitting beside Tunis on the bench and Ida May Bostwick were as little alike as though they were inhabitants of two different worlds.
He had begun to imagine, too, how well this girl beside him would fit into the needs of the old couple living there alone on Wreckers' Head. It was an idle thought, of course. He had no plan, or scheme, or definite suggestion in his mind. It was only a wish, a keen longing for an impossible conjunction of circumstances which would have enabled him to present Sheila Macklin to Cap'n Ira and Prudence and say:
"This is the girl you sent me for."
"Just what will you do now that you have lost that job, Miss Macklin?" Tunis asked abruptly.
"Oh, after I am rested, I will go home!"
He had a sudden flash of the memory of that stark lodging house where Ida May Bostwick lived, and he felt assured this girl's home could be no better. But he did not mention this thought.
"I did not mean it just that way," he told her, smiling. "First you and I will go and get supper somewhere. I did not half finish mine, and you have had none at all."
"I don't know about that," she interposed. "It is generous of you. But ought I to accept?"
"You need not question that. We are going to be friends, Miss Macklin. Is it necessary for me to bring you references?"
"It may be necessary for me to obtain a sponsor," she said, quite seriously. "You do not know a thing about me, Captain Latham."
"You know nothing about me, except what I have told you." And he laughed.
"And what I read in your countenance," she said soberly.
He grinned at her, but rather ruefully.
"I never knew my thoughts were advertised in my face."
"Oh, no! Not that! But your character is. Otherwise I would not be sitting here with you."
"I guess that's all right then," he declared with satisfaction. "Well, let's call it a draw. If you take me at face value, I'll take you at the same rating. Anyhow, we can risk going to supper together."
"Well, somewhere to a quiet place. Don't take me where you are known, Captain Latham."
"No?" He was puzzled again. "But, then, I am not known anywhere in Boston."
"All the better. I ought not to lend myself in any way to making you possible future trouble."
"I do not understand you, Miss Macklin."
He sat up suddenly on the bench to look at her more sharply. There was an underlying, but important, meaning to her speech.
"I know you do not understand," she rejoined gently. She sighed. "I must make you clearly see just who I am and the risk you run in associating with me."
"The risk I run!"
He uttered the words in both amazement and ridicule.
"You do not quite understand, Captain Latham," she repeated in the same gentle tone.
There was no raillery in her voice now. She was altogether serious. Her eyes, luminous, yet darkly unfathomable, were held full upon his face. He felt rather than saw that she was under a mental strain. The revelation she was about to make throbbed in her voice when she spoke again.
"You do not quite understand. Sellers gives girls work in his restaurant who could by no possibility offer proper references, girls from the Protectory, from homes, as they are called; some, even, who have served jail sentences. I had been two years in the St. Andrew's School for Girls when I went to work for Sellers."
A GIRL'S STORY
There was a ringing in Tunis Latham's ears. As you make Paulmouth Harbor coming from seaward, on a thick day you hear the insistent tolling of the bell buoy over Bitter Reef. That was the distant, but incessant sound that the captain of the Seamew seemed to hear as he sat on that bench on Boston Common beside this strange girl.
Without being a prig, Tunis Latham was undeniably a good man. Whether he was altogether a wise man was perhaps a subject for argument. At least, his future conduct must settle that point.
But for the moment, when Sheila Macklin had made her last statement, it seemed that every atom of thought and all ability to consider matters logically were drained out of the man's mind. That mind was perfectly blank. What the girl had said seemed mere sound, sound without meaning. He could not grasp its significance.
And yet he knew it was tragic. It was something that had made the girl what she was. It explained all Tunis had been unable heretofore to understand about Sheila Macklin. That timidity, that whispering shyness, the shrinking from observation and from any attention, were all explained. She had suffered persecution and punishment, harsh and undeserved, that made her recoil from contact with other more fortunate people. She felt herself outcast, ostracized, and was unable to defend herself from malign fortune.
Gradually Tunis regained his usual self-control.
If Sheila had said anything following the bare statement that she had spent two years in the St. Andrew's Reformatory for Women, he had not comprehended it. Nor could he have told how long he sat silent on the bench getting control of his voice and of his tongue. When he did speak he said quite casually:
"And what kind of a place is that—er—school, Miss Macklin?"
"You can imagine. It harbors the weak-minded, the vicious, and the unfortunate runaway girls, thieves' consorts, and women of the streets. It is, I think, a little like hell, if there really is such a place, Captain Latham."
The poignancy of expression in her voice and words made the man tremble. And yet she did not speak bitterly nor angrily. Her feeling was beyond all passion. It was the expression of a soul that had suffered everything and could no longer feel. That was just it, Tunis told himself. It explained her attitude, even the tone of her voice. She had endured and seen so much misery and heartache that there seemed nothing left for her to experience.
"Can you bear to tell me what misfortune took you to that place?" he asked gently, yet fighting down all the time that desire to roar with rage.
"Why do you not say 'crime,' Captain Latham?" she asked in that same low, strained voice.
"Because I know that crime and you could not be associated, Miss Macklin," he said hoarsely.
At that she began suddenly to weep. Not aloud, but with her hands pressed over her eyes and her shoulders, shaking with long, shuddering sobs which betrayed how the horror of past thoughts and experiences controlled her when once she gave way. Tunis Latham could have behaved like a madman. That berserk rage that had seized him in the restaurant welled up in his heart now. He gripped the back of the bench till the slat cracked. But there was no opponent here upon whom he could vent his violence that he longed to express.
"Don't cry! For God's sake, don't cry!" he whispered hoarsely. "I know it was all a mistake. It must have been a mistake. How could anybody have been so wicked, so utterly senseless, as to believe you guilty of—of—what did they accuse you of?"
"Stealing," whispered the girl.
"'Stealing?' What nonsense!"
He put a wealth of disdain into the words. She sat up straighter. She dropped her hands from her face and looked at him. Dark as it was on the bench, he could see that her expression was one of wonder.
"Do—do you really feel that way about it, Captain Latham?"
"It is ridiculous!" he acclaimed heartily.
She sighed. Her momentary animation fell and she spoke again:
"It did not seem ridiculous to the police or to the magistrate. I worked in a store. A piece of sterling silverware disappeared. Other pieces had previously been stolen. The police traced the last missing piece to a pawnshop. The pawnbroker testified that a girl pawned it. His identification of me was close enough to satisfy the judge."
"I was what they call a first offender. At least, I had no police record. Ordinarily I might have been let go under suspended sentence or been put on probation. But I had nobody to say a good word for me. I had been in Boston only a year, and I could not let people where I came from know about my trouble. Even if the judge had given me a jail sentence, I could have shortened it by good behavior. He did what he thought was best, I suppose. He considered me a hardened young criminal. He sent me to the St. Andrew's School until I was twenty-one—two years. Two long, long years.
"Six months ago I got out and Sellers gave me a job. Now, that is all, Captain Latham. You will readily see my position. I do not want to go anywhere with you to eat where your friends are likely to see you."
He uttered a sudden, stinging, harsh sound; then he removed his cap and bent toward her.
"But what you have said—Why, were they all crazy? Couldn't they see that such a thing would be impossible for you? Impossible!"
She put a hand gently on his arm to quiet his excitement, for others were passing. Her eyes glowed up into his for an instant. Her lips parted in a happier smile than he had seen on them before.
"Then you will not get up from this bench, Captain Latham, and excuse yourself? I should not blame you if you did so."
"Do you think I'm that kind of a fellow?" he demanded bluntly.
"I—I told you I thought I had quite read your character in your face. But that is no reason why I should take advantage of your kindness to do you harm."
"Harm? How do you mean, 'harm?'"
"Sheila Macklin is a creature from a reformatory. She has been sentenced by a magistrate. She was arrested by the police. She was accused by her employers of theft, and the theft was proved. If any of your friends should see you with me, and I should be identified as the Sheila Macklin who was sentenced for stealing—"
"Cat's foot!" ejaculated Tunis with a sudden reversion to his usual cheerful manner. "Are you going through the rest of your life feeling like that?"
"Why shouldn't I? I am always expecting somebody to see and recognize me. Even in Sellers' place. That man this evening, when he called me 'jailbird'—"
"I wish I had wrung his neck!" exclaimed the captain of the Seamew heartily.
"I appreciate your kindness." Her eyes twinkled. For a moment he caught a glimpse of what Sheila Macklin must have been before tragedy had come into her life. "You are a good, kind man, Captain Latham."
"You just look on me as though I were your brother," he said sturdily. "You are not going to be alone any more, not really. If you had had friends before, when it happened, somebody to speak for you, I am sure nothing like what did happen to you could have happened."
"I come of respectable people," she said quietly. "But they are all dead. I was an orphan before I came to Boston. The friends I had in the little inland town I came from would not have understood. They did not approve of my coming to the city at all. Oh, I wish I had not come!"
"And now you ought not to stay here. Should you?"
"What can I do? I must support myself. I cannot go back. I could not explain those two years. Yet I am always expecting somebody to make inquiry for Sheila Macklin. And then I cannot conceal my story longer."
He nodded thoughtfully. It seemed that, once she had opened the dam of speech, she was glad to talk about herself and her trouble.
"I do hate the city. I have been so unhappy here. If I were only a man I would start right out into the country. I would tramp until I found a place to work. You don't know what it means to be a girl, Captain Latham, and be in trouble."
"I guess all city girls aren't alike after all," he said with a short laugh. Then he looked at her keenly again. "Do you know what sort of an errand brought me up into the city from T-Wharf to-day?"
"What errand? I cannot imagine."
"There are two old people down on the Cape that I am much interested in. They live near my home."
He told her quietly, yet with earnestness, about Cap'n Ira and Prudence. He described their home and their need of some young person to live with them, somebody who would not only help them, but who would love to help them. Then he related, perhaps rather tartly, his experience with Ida May Bostwick.
"What a foolish girl!" she breathed. "And she would not accept a chance like that?"
"Lucky for Cap'n Ira and for Aunt Prue that she won't take up with their offer," he said grimly. "But I dread taking back word to them about her. It will be hard to make them understand. And then, they need the help a good girl could give them."
"Captain Latham, if I only had a chance like that!" she exclaimed. "I'd work my fingers to the bone for a home like that, for shelter, and kindness, and—and—oh, well, some girls have all the best of it, I guess!"
She sighed. It was half a sob. He saw her hands clasp tightly before her in the dusk. The gesture was like a prayer. He knew that her pale face was flushed with earnestness. He cleared his throat.
"You have the chance, if you want it, Miss Macklin," he said.
There was a long minute of utter silence following Tunis Latham's last words. Then the girl's whisper, tense, yet shaking like a frightened child's:
"You do not know what you are saying."
"I know exactly what I am saying," he replied.
"They—they would not have me."
"They will welcome you—gladly."
"Never! I am a stranger. They must be told all about me. They could never welcome Sheila Macklin."
He knew that. He knew it only too well. She was just the sort of girl to make Cap'n Ira Ball and Prudence happy, to bring to their latter years the comfort and joy the old couple should have. But the Puritanism which, after all, ingrained their characters would never allow the Balls to welcome a girl with the stain Sheila Macklin bore upon her name. Tunis remembered clearly how scornfully Cap'n Ira had spoken of the possibility of their taking in a girl from the poor farm. Pride of family and of name is inbred in their class of New Englanders.
The old people wanted a girl whom they could love and look upon as their own. They would welcome nobody else. They had set their minds and hearts upon Ida May Bostwick. The fact that Ida May failed to come up to their expectations, that she was perfectly worthless and inconsequential, did not open the way for another girl to be substituted for Ida May. Possibly Tunis might be successful in an attempt to interest the Balls in Sheila Macklin's case. But the girl did not want charity, not charity as the word is used in its general and harsher sense.
Should she carry with her wherever she went this name which had been so smirched—the identity of Sheila Macklin, the ghost of whose past misfortune might rise to shame her at any time—the girl could never be happy. Did Tunis Latham succeed in getting the Balls to take Sheila in and give her a home, this story that so bowed her down would continually threaten its revelation, like a pirate ship hovering in the offing!
And there was, too, a deeper reason why he could not introduce Sheila Macklin to Big Wreck Cove folk. It was no reason he could give the girl at this time. In some ways the captain of the Seamew was wise enough. He felt that this was no time to put forward his personal and particular desires. Enough that she had admitted him to her friendship and had given him her confidence.
She had accepted him in all good faith in a brotherly sense. He dared not spoil his influence with her by revealing a deeper interest.
"We may as well look at this thing calmly and sensibly," Tunis said, answering her statement of what was indubitably a fact. "It is quite true my old neighbors would not accept you as Sheila Macklin. But they need you; no other kind of a girl would so suit their need. And you could not help loving them; nor they you, once they learned to know you."
"I am sure I should love them," breathed Sheila.
"Then, as you are just the person they want and their home is just the place you need for shelter, I am going to take you back with me."
"Oh, Captain Latham! We—we can't do it. My name—somebody will some time be sure to hear about me, and the dreadful secret will come out."
"No, it won't," said Tunis doggedly. "There will be no secret, not such as you mean, to come out."
She gazed upon him in open-eyed surprise, her lips parted, her face aglow.
"We'll leave Sheila Macklin sitting on this bench, if you will agree. She need never be traced from this point. Let her drop out of the ken of the whole world that knew her. The name can only bring you harm; it has brought you harm. Through it you are threatened with trouble, with disaster. Your whole future is menaced through that name and the stain upon it."
She looked at him still, scarcely breathing. Latham did not realize the power he held over this girl at the moment. He was to her a living embodiment of the All Good. Almost any suggestion, no matter how reckless, he might have made, would have found an echo in her heart and the will to do it.
To few is vouchsafed that knowledge which makes all clear before the mental vision. Tunis Latham's perspicacity did not compass this thing. He did not grasp the psychological moment, as we moderns call it, and consummate there and then the only reasonable and righteous plan that it was given him to complete.
The captain of the Seamew was a young man very much in love. He did not question this fact at all. But in his wildest imaginings he could never have believed that the girl beside him on this bench returned his passion, that she would even listen to his protestations of affection. Not for a long time, at least.
Nor had he ever considered marriage as possible in any case when there was not love on both sides. Although he commiserated Sheila Macklin's situation most deeply, he could not dream of those depths of despair into which the girl's heart had sunk before he came upon the scene of action. He did not understand that she was at that bitterly desperate point where she would grasp at any means of rescue which promised respectability.
He almost feared to put before her the proposition he did have in his mind. In the dusk, even, those violet eyes seemed to look to the very bottom of his soul. Fortunate for him that its clarity was visible to the girl at that moment.
He bent closer. His lips almost brushed her ear. He whispered several swift sentences into it. She listened. Some of that glow of exaltation drained out of her countenance, but it registered no disagreement. They sat for some time thereafter, talking, planning, this desperate young girl and the captain of the Seamew.
* * * * *
"What do you know about this?" Orion Latham growled. "The mate bunkin' in with cooky and the skipper slingin' a hammock in the fo'c's'le while the whole cabin's to be given up to a girl. A woman aboard! Never knew no good to come of that on any craft. What is this schooner, a passenger packet?"
"You was sayin' she was already hoodooed," chuckled Horace Newbegin. "I cal'late a gal sailing one trip won't materially harm the Seamew nor her crew."
"Who is she? That's what I want to know," said the supercargo, who seemed to consider the matter a personal affront.
"Skipper says she's going to live with Cap'n Ira Ball. She's some kin of his wife's. And they need somebody with 'em, up there in that lonesome place," said the ancient seaman reflectively. "That's what the skipper was doin' all day yesterday, lookin' this gal up and making arrangements for her going back to the Seamew. He's gone up town to get her now. We'll get away come the turn of the tide, if he's back in time."
The taxicab with Tunis and the girl arrived in season for the tide. It was quite dark on the dock to which the Seamew was still moored. The Captain hailed, and two of the hands were sent up for the trunk. Tunis carried the girl's hand bag.
Every member of the crew was loitering on deck, even Johnny Lark and Tony, the boy, to get a glimpse of the mysterious passenger. They saw only a slender, graceful, quick-stepping figure, her face veiled, her hands neatly gloved. Just how she was dressed and what she really looked like only daylight would reveal.
Tunis went below with her and remained until the men brought down the trunk. It was a small trunk and brand-new, as was the bag. Had one observed, the hat she wore, and even her simple frock, were likewise just out of the shop. At least the girl who was going with the Seamew to Big Wreck Cove seemed to have made certain preparations for a new life.
The captain came out on deck and closed the slide. The commercial tug was puffing in toward the Seamew's berth.
"Come alive, boys!" said Captain Latham, taking instant command of the deck. "Cast off those lines! Get that tug hawser inboard, Horry. Mr. Chapin, will you see that those lines are coiled down properly? Keep the deck shipshape. Make less work for your watch when we get under canvas.
"Lay aft here with your men now, Horry. Tail on to those mainsheets. All together! Get away on her so we can cast loose as soon as possible from that smoky scuttle butt."
He referred to the tug. He stepped aft to take the wheel himself. The mainsail was going up smartly. The old boatswain and the Portygees swung upon the lines with vehemence. There was not more than a capful of wind; but once let the canvas fill, and the schooner would get steerageway.
"I'd rather take my chance through the channel under sail than depend on that tug," the captain added. "Like a puppy dragging around an old rubber boot. Lively there! Ready to cast off, Mr. Chapin."
The schooner was freed of the "puffing abomination," the smoke of which sooted the Seamew's clean sails. The heavy hawser splashed overboard and the schooner staggered away rather drunkenly at first, tacking among the larger craft anchored out there in the harbor.
The wind was not a very helpful one and soon after midnight it fell almost calm. There were only light airs to urge the Seamew on. Yet she glided through the starlit murk in a ghostly fashion as though some monstrous submarine hand forced her seaward.
The water chuckled and gurgled under her bow, flashing in ripples now and then. There was no phosphorescence, no glitter or sparkle. The schooner moved on as through a tideless sea. Now and then a clutter of spars or a suit of listless sails loomed up in the dark. But even if the other craft likewise was tacking seaward, the Seamew passed it and dropped it behind.
Tunis paced the deck—Horry was at the wheel—and quite approved of the feat his schooner was performing.
"If she can sail like this on only a breath of wind, what can she do in a gale?" he said buoyantly in the old man's hearing.
"That's all right. She sails pretty. But I don't like that tug to sta'bo'd," growled Horry. "It 'minds me too much of the Marlin B."
Captain Latham gave no heed.
The sun stretched red beams from the horizon and took the Seamew, all dressed out at sunrise in her full suit of canvas, in his arms. She danced as lightly over the whitecaps that had sprung up with the breeze at dawn as though she had not a ton of ballast in her hold. Yet she was pretty well down to her Plimsoll mark.
The girl's first glimpse through the cabin window at sea and sky was a heartening one. If she had sought repose with doubt, uncertainty, and some fear weighing upon her spirit, this beautiful morning was one to revive her courage. She was fully dressed and prepared to go on deck when Tunis tapped at the slide.
"Miss Bostwick," he called, "any time you are ready the boy will come in and lay the table for breakfast."
She ran to the companionway, pushed back the door, and appeared smiling in the frame of the doorway.
"Good morning, captain!"
Her cheerfulness was infectious. All night Tunis Latham, even while lying in his hammock in the forecastle, had been ruminating in anything but a cheerful mood. Determined as he was to carry his plan through, and confident as he was of its being a good one and eminently practical, he had been considering many chances which at first blush had not appeared to him.
With his first look into her smiling countenance all those anxieties seemed dissipated. He met her smile with one which transfigured his own handsome face.
"May I come out on deck, captain?"
"We shall be honored by your company up here, Miss Bostwick."
She even made him a little face in secret for the formality of his address, as she flashed past him. There was a dancing light in her eye he had not seen before—at least, not in the openness of day. There was something daring about her that was a revelation. He knew at once that he need not fear her attitude when they reached the point where she must carry on her part without his aid. She displayed an innocent boldness that must dissipate suspicion in the mind of the keenest critic.
Tunis introduced Mason Chapin to her, who quite evidently liked the girl at once. Orion Latham lounged aft to meet her, his pale eyes betraying surprise as well as admiration.
"Hi golly!" said the supercargo. "I guess you come honest by the Honey side of your family tree, Miss Bostwick, though you don't favor them much in looks."
"'Rion is given to flattery," said the captain dryly.
Horace Newbegin touched his forelock. He had been a naval man in his prime and knew what was expected when a lady trod the deck. The Portygees were all widely asmile. Indeed, the entire company of the Seamew was cheered by the girl's presence.
At breakfast time, which was served by Tony to the guest and the mate as well as Captain Latham, her sweet laughter floated out of the cabin and caught the attention of everybody on deck. Horry grinned wryly upon Orion.
"How 'bout this schooner being hoodooed?" he rumbled in his deep bass. "Lemme tell you, boy, I'd sail to ary end o' the world with that gal for mascot. This won't be no Jonah ship while she's aboard."
"Hi golly! Tunis Latham has all the luck," whined Orion. "Taking her down to live with Cap'n Ball and Prudence! Huh! She won't live with 'em long."
"Why not?" demanded the old salt.
"Can't you see what he's up to?" sneered Orion. "Aunt 'Cretia will be takin' a back seat 'fore long. 'Latham's Folly' will be getting a new mistress."
"Latham's Folly" was a name Medway Latham's big brown house behind Wreckers' Head had gained soon after it was built. Such a huge house for so limited a family had suggested the term to the sharp-tongued Cape Codders.
Horry Newbegin turned the idea and his quid over several times, then commented:
"Well, the skipper wouldn't be doing so bad at that!"
AT BIG WRECK COVE
The girl had never been to sea before, not even on a pleasure boat down the harbor. The delights of a sail to Nantasket were quite unknown to her. Naturally this voyage out through the bay and into the illimitable ocean was sure to be either a delight or a most unpleasant experience.
Happily it was the former. She proved to be a good sailor.
"You was born for a sailor's bride, miss," Horry told her.
But he said it when nobody else was by to see the blush which stained her cheek. And yet she did not look happy after the old salt's observation. He hastened to interest her in another theme.
It was the tail of the afternoon watch. Because of the light and shifting airs the Seamew, in spite of her wonderful sailing qualities, had only then raised the northern extremity of the Cape and, turning on her heel, was now running out to sea again on the long leg of a tack into the southeast.
Horry hung to the spokes of the wheel while the skipper was helping Orion make up the manifest. The steersman had jettisoned his usual quid of tobacco when the girl approached him, and without that aid to complacency Horry just had to talk.
"Did you see the wheel jerk then, miss? That tug to sta'bo'd is the only fault I find with this here schooner. She's a right tidy craft, and Cap'n Tunis is a good judge of sailing ships, as his father was afore him.
"But although this Seamew looks like a new craft, she isn't. Sure, he knowed she wasn't new, Cap'n Tunis did, when he bought her up there to Marblehead. Only trouble is, he didn't seem to go quite deep enough into her antecedents, as the feller said. He bought her on the strength of her condition and the way she sailed on a trial trip."
"Well, isn't that all right?" asked his listener. "How would one go about buying a ship?"
"Huh—ship? Well, a schooner ain't a ship, Miss Bostwick. Howsomever, buying a schooner is like buying a race horse. You want to know his pedigree. They said the Seamew had been brought up from the Gulf to sell. And maybe she was. But she is Yankee built, every timber and rope of her. She warn't built down South none."
"Shouldn't that make the bargain all the more satisfactory?" queried the girl, smiling.
"Ordinarily, yes, ma'am. But it looks like they was hidin' something. It looks like, too, she was built for sailing and fishing, not to be a cargo boat."
"I think she is beautiful."
"She is sightly, I grant ye," said Horace. "But there's something to be considered 'sides looks when a man is putting his money into a craft. As I say, her pedigree oughter be looked up. What was the schooner before they changed the slant of them masts, painted her over, and put a new name under her stern?"
"I don't understand you at all, Mr. Newbegin," said the girl, staring at him with a strange look dawning in her own countenance.
He bent toward her, after casting a knowing glance aloft. His weather-bitten face was preternaturally solemn.
"Ye can't help havin' your suspicions 'bout ships or folks that are sailin' under cover. There's got to be some reason for a man changing his name and trying to get by on one that ain't his'n. Same with a schooner like this."
"There is such things as hoodooed ships, Miss Bostwick, just like there is hoodooed folks," he said hoarsely, without seeming to notice her shrinking from him and her changed countenance.
"Oh! Is there?" she inquired faintly.
"Surest thing you know," acclaimed the old seaman with his most impressive manner. "There was a hoodooed schooner sailed out o' Salem some years back, the Marlin B. She had the same tug to sta'bo'd that I feel when I'm steerin' of this here schooner."
The girl was recovering from her momentary excitement. She saw that Newbegin had no ulterior meaning in his speech. He shook his head and cast a wary glance toward the companionway to see that the skipper was not appearing from below.
"Listen here, Miss Bostwick," he said hoarsely. "It's a mighty curious thing. I had just come back from a v'y'ge to New Guinea, and I thinks I'd like a trip to the Banks, not having been fishin' since I was a boy. I went to Sutro Brothers in Salem and got me a berth on the Marlin B. I marked that every man aboard her, skipper and all, warn't Salem men, nor yet from Gloucester nor Marblehead. But I didn't suspicion nothing.
"Tell you, Miss Bostwick, them that goes down to the sea in ships runs against more than natur's wonders. There's mysteries that ain't to be explained, scurce to be spoke of. I dunno why we shouldn't believe in spirits and ghosts and dead men come alive. The Bible's full of such, ain't it?
"Well, then! And what I tell you is as sure, as sure. I took the Marlin B. out of that harbor, being at the wheel. It was February, and a nasty snow squall come up and smothered us complete and proper. That schooner was a hummer; she sailed just so pretty as this one. She did for a fact. But I felt that tug to sta'bo'd. Do you know, Miss Bostwick, as I was tellin' Cap'n Tunis, there ain't never two craft just alike, no more than there is two men."
"Is that so?" she said.
"Ships is almost human. I never did see two so much alike as this Seamew and the Marlin B. Well, to continue, as the feller said, we was smothered in that snow squall for 'bout ten minutes. At the wheel there I heard off to windward the rushing sound of another craft. She was a tall ship, too, and she had as much canvas spread as we had. She came down on us like a shot.
"I shouted to the mate, but he had heard it too. He yelled for all hands on deck. We both knowed the Marlin B. was due to be run under unless a miracle intervened. It was a moment I ain't likely to forget, for we stood there, the whole ship's company, hanging on by backstay and rail, peering out into the smother of the snow, while the amazing rush of that unknown craft deafened us.
"Then out of her upper works—I swear I could see the tangle of ropes and slatting canvas—came a voice that rang in my ears for many a day, no matter how the others heard it. It shouted:
"We're the spirits of them ye run under! We're the spirits of them ye run under!"
"My soul and body, Miss Bostwick, but I was scairt!" confessed the old salt. "That rushing sound and the voices crashed on through our rigging and went down wind in a most amazing style. It was a ghost warning like nothing I'd ever heard before or since. And it struck the whole crew the same way. We begun to question what the Marlin B. was. She was a new schooner and had made but one trip to the Banks previous to this one we was on. We began to ask why her original crew had not stayed with her.
"You can't fool sailormen, Miss Bostwick," continued the old man, shaking his head with great solemnity. "They sees too much and they knows too much. Sutro Brothers had got rid of the Marlin B.'s first crew and picked up strangers, but murder will out. The story come to us through the night and in the snow squall. We couldn't stand for no murder ship. We made the skipper put back."
"Why, wasn't that mutiny?" gasped the girl.
"He was glad enough to turn back hisself. Even if he lost his ticket he would have turned back. Then we learned what it meant. On her first trip for fish, returning to Salem, the Marlin B. run under a smaller fishing craft and every soul aboard of her was lost. And it stands to reason that every time that murder schooner went out of the harbor and came to the spot where she'd run the other craft down, those uneasy souls would rise up and denounce the Marlin B."
"Oh!" gasped the girl, startled, for Tunis Latham and Orion stood behind her.
"Your tongue's hung in the middle and wags both ends, Horry," growled the young skipper. "You trying to scare Miss Bostwick out of her wits? What you poor, weak-minded, misguided fellows heard that time in the snow squall was a flock of black gulls coming down with the wind. And somebody aboard of the Marlin B. was a ventriloquist. Your whole crew weren't ignorant of the accident that happened on her first trip. Somebody had it in for Sutro Brothers, and made much of little, same as usual."
"Oh, they did?" muttered Horry.
"Anyway," said Captain Latham, "that's neither here nor there. We aren't sailing the Marlin B., for she's in Chilean waters, owned by a South American millionaire. You can stow that kind of talk, Horry—anyway, while Miss Bostwick is aboard."
They were until late in the evening beating into Paulmouth Harbor, but the heavens were starlit and the air as soft as spring. The tolling of the bell buoy over Bitter Reef was mellow and soothing; they heard it for a long time before the Seamew made the short leg of the final tack and went rushing in past the danger mark under the urge of a sudden puff of the fitful breeze.
"The old bell is welcoming us, Ida May," Captain Latham said to the girl who reclined in a canvas chair which the cook had raked out of the lazaret for her use. "I've beat my way in here when it hasn't sounded so cheerful."
"I am wondering what sort of welcome I shall receive when we get to—Wreckers' Head, do you call it?" she asked softly.
"That'll be all right, too," he told her with confidence. "Just wait and see."
They dropped anchor near the Main Street dock in order that they should be able to warp the schooner in to unload her cargo in the morning. Tunis allowed shore leave, late as the hour was. But he sat beside the passenger on the Seamew's deck, and they talked. It was surprising how much those two found to talk about! Perhaps a good deal of their inconsequential chatter was to hide the anxiety each felt in secret as to the future.
However, that talk was a memorable one for both Tunis Latham and the girl posing as Ida May Bostwick. Two young people can tell a great deal to each other under certain circumstances in the mid-watch of a starlit night. The lap, lap of the wavelets whispering against the schooner's hull, the drone of the surf on a distant bar, and the sounds of insect life from the shore were accompaniments to their long talk.
Orion Latham, tumbling over the forward rail from a waterside dinghy, whispered hoarsely in Johnny Lark's ear:
"What do you know about that? There they are, billin' and cooin', just where we left 'em when we went ashore. Wouldn't it sicken you?"
But Johnny only grinned and chuckled, shaking the tiny gold rings in his ears till they sparkled in the faint light. He had a girl himself in Portygee Town, at Big Wreck Cove.
The creaking of the hawsers and the "heave hos" of the crew as they warped the Seamew in to the wharf awoke the girl passenger in the cabin. There was little fancy about the schooner's after house, but it was comfortable.
There was a tarry smell about the place that rather pleased the girl. The lamp over the round table vibrated in its gimbals, but did not swing. There were several prints upon the walls of the cabin, prints which showed the rather exceptional taste of the Seamew's master, for they had been tacked up since she had come into Tunis Latham's possession.
There was, too, a somewhat faded photograph on a background of purple velvet, boxed in with glass, screwed to the forward stanchion. It was the photograph of an overhealthy-looking young woman, with scallops of hair pasted to her forehead undoubtedly with quince-seed pomatum, her basque wrinkled across her bust because of the high-shouldered cut of it. But it had been in the extreme mode when it was made and worn, in the eighties.
The brooch which fastened the lace collar had been painted yellow by the "artist photographer" of that day, and even the earrings she wore had been touched up, or perhaps painted on with the air brush.
This was Tunis Latham's mother, the girl who had seemed so promising an addition to the family in the opinion of Medway Latham, the builder of "Latham's Folly." The rather blowzy prettiness of Captain Randall Latham's young wife had been translated into real beauty in her son; for Tunis had got his physique and open, bold physiognomy from his mother.
The girl lying in an upper berth, a close cap tied over her neatly braided hair, parted the cretonne curtains to look at these ornaments hung about the cabin. She realized that the photograph, so strangely contrasting with the prints of some of the world's masterpieces, was a sort of shrine to Tunis Latham. He revered the mother whom he had told the girl he could not remember of ever having seen. His love and admiration for that unknown mother had helped make the captain of the Seamew what he was.
He was a good man, a safe man for any girl to trust. And yet he was lending himself to a species of masquerade which, if ever it became known, would bring upon his head both derision and scorn. He risked this contumely cheerfully and with a reckless disregard for what might arise through the plans they had made while sitting beside each other on that bench on Boston Common.
He would not admit the point of his own risk. He would not consider it when they had talked, only the night before, on the deck of the schooner. He scouted every possibility of any harm coming to him through their attempt to replace the girl in a firm niche in society and give the Cap'n Ira Balls what they needed of companionship and care.
The girl sat up in the berth and let her bare legs dangle a moment before dropping to the rug. In her bare feet she padded to the photograph of Captain Randall Latham's young wife.
The girl stood before the old photograph, her hands clasped, her gaze raised to the pictured face, as a votary might stand before the Madonna. There were tears in the girl's violet eyes. At that moment she was uplifted, carried out of herself by the wealth of feeling in her heart. Her lips moved.
"I promise," she said softly, "I promise you that I will never do anything that will hurt him. I promise you that I will never let him do anything that may harm him. He has given me my chance. I promise before you and God that he shall not be sorry, ever, that he has raised me out of the dust."
She stood on tiptoe and pressed her lips to the glass which covered the photograph.
The wind held fair, a quartering offshore blow, and the schooner, having discharged her cargo, just past noon spread her upper sails, caught a gentle breeze of old Boreas, and shot out of the harbor and so to the southward with a following wind which brought her to the mouth of Big Wreck Cove long before nightfall.
Upon the bluff of Wreckers' Head was to be dimly seen the sprawling Ball homestead. Tunis pointed it out to the passenger.
"That is where you are going to be happy, Ida May," he said to her softly.
"I wonder," murmured the girl.
He looked down into her rapt face. The violet eyes were fixed upon the old house and the brown-and-green fields immediately surrounding it. Perhaps Cap'n Ira and Prudence were out there now, watching from the front yard the white-winged Seamew threading so saucily the crooked passage into the cove, the sand bars on one hand and the serried teeth of the Lighthouse Point Reef on the other.
Inside the cove the schooner's canvas was reduced smartly to merely a topsail and jib, the wind in which carried her close enough to Luiz Wharf for a line to be cast ashore. Tier upon tier of barrels of clams were stored under the open sheds, ready to be packed away in the Seamew's hold. Orion loudly acclaimed against a malign fate.
"Hi golly! Ain't we goin' to have no spare time at all? This running in a coasting packet is plain slavery; that's what it is! A man don't have a chance even to go home and change his socks 'tween trips."
"Have a clean pair in your duffel bag; then you won't have to go home for 'em, 'Rion," advised Tunis. "We've got to make hay while the sun shines. There'll be loafing enough to cut into the profits by and by when bad weather breaks."
Orion grunted pessimistically. Little in this world ever just suited Orion.
"She's a hoodooed packet. I said it from the first," he muttered to Horry. "You know well enough what she was before they gave her a lick of paint and a new name. We'll all pay high yet for sailin' in her."
"I wouldn't let Cap'n Tunis hear me say that 'nless I was seekin' a new berth," rejoined the old mariner.
Tunis left the mate and Horry to carry on while he took the passenger ashore, meaning to spend the night himself at home with Aunt Lucretia. He stopped to get Eunez Pareta's father to harness up his old horse and transfer Miss Bostwick's trunk and bag to the Ball homestead. Eunez was in evidence—as she always was when Tunis came by—a bird of paradise indeed. Her languishing glances at Tunis flashed in their change to suspicious glares at the girl waiting in the roadway.
"You have a guest, Tunis Latham?" she asked with a composure which scarcely hid her jealousy and doubt.
"I'm taking her up to the Balls'. She's Mrs. Ball's niece, Eunez," Tunis said good-naturedly. He was always friendly with these Portygees. That was why he got along so well with them and they liked to work for him. Many of the Big Wreck Cove folk looked upon them even now as "furriners" who had to be shouted at if one would make them understood.
"What does she come for?" asked Eunez sharply.
"They need her up there. Mrs. Ball is feeble and so is the captain. She is going to live with them right along."
"Ah-ha!" whispered Eunez, as he passed her to step outside the house again. She seized his arm and swung him around to face her, for she was strong. "You think she is pretty, Tunis?" she demanded.
"Eh? What's eating on you, Eunez? I never stopped to think whether she was or not?"
But he flushed, and she saw it. Eunez smiled in a way which might have puzzled Tunis Latham had he stopped to consider it. But he joined the girl who was waiting for him, and they went on up the road and out of the town without his giving a backward glance or thought to the fiery Portygee girl.
When they mounted to the windswept headland the visitor looked about with glowing eyes, breathing deeply. The flush of excitement rose in her cheek. He knew that as far as the physical aspect of the place went, she was more rejoiced than ever she had expected to be.
"Beautiful—and free," she whispered.
"You've said it, now, Ida May," he agreed. "From up here it looks like the whole world was freer and a whole lot brighter. It is a great outlook."
"And is that the house?" the girl asked, for in approaching the Ball homestead from this angle it looked different from its appearance as viewed standing on the deck of the inbound Seamew.
"That is the Ball house, and Aunt Prue taking in her wash," Tunis replied. "I suppose she had John-Ed Williams' wife over to wash for her, but Myra will have gone home before this to get the supper. Tush! Aunt Prue ought not to try to do that."
The fresh wind blowing over the headland filled every garment on the lines like ballooning sails. The frail, little old woman had to stand on tiptoe to get each article unpinned from the line. The wind wickedly sought to drag the linen from her grasp.
Cap'n Ira, hobbling around from the front of the house, hailed his wife in some rancor:
"I don't see why you have to do that. Don't we pay that woman for washing them clothes? And ain't she supposed to take 'em down off'n the halyards? I swan! You'll be inter that basket headfirst, yet, like ye was inter the grain chist. Look out!"
"They wasn't all dry when Myra Williams went home, Ira. And I don't dare leave 'em out all night. Half of 'em would blow over the edge of the bluff. The wind is terrible strong."
It was much too strong for her frail arms, that was sure. The captain turned in anger to look for help about the open common. He saw the two figures briskly moving up the road toward the house.
"I swan! Who's this here?" he exclaimed. "Tunis Latham, and—and Ida May!"
His face broadened into a delighted smile. He had seen the Seamew come in, and had prayerfully hoped her master had brought the girl that he believed would be their salvation. This person with the captain of the Seamew could only be Ida May Bostwick!
At the moment Prudence was taking down her own starched, blue house dress from the line. It was hung like a pirate in chains by its sleeves, was blown out as round as a barrel, and was as stiff as a board. Just as the pins came out an extra heavy puff of wind shrieked around the corner of the house, as though it had been lying in wait for just this opportunity.
The dress was whipped out of Aunt Prue's hands. She herself, as Cap'n Ira had warned her, was cast, face downward, into the half-filled clothes basket. The blue dress was whirled high in the air, skirt downward. Before the old man was warned by Prudence's muffled scream that something had gone wrong, the starched dress plumped down over his head and shoulders, and he was bound fast and blinded in its folds.
"Drat the thing! What did I tell ye?" bawled Cap'n Ira. "Take this here thing off'n me! Want to make me more of an old Betty than I be a'ready—a-dressin' me in women's clothes? I swan!"
A NEW HAND AT THE HELM
Tunis ran to the old man's rescue, but it was the girl who lifted Prudence from out the laundry-basket.
"Drat the thing!" ejaculated Cap'n Ira, fighting off the starched dress. "Feel like I was being smothered by a complete suit of sails. That you, Tunis?"
"Yes, Cap'n Ira. You're all right now. Hold on! Don't let's mess up Aunt Prue's wrapper more than can be helped. 'Vast there!"
"I swan! Don't it beat all what a pickle we get into? We ain't no more fit to be alone, me an' Prue, than a pair o' babies. For the lan's sake, Tunis! Who is that?"
He was staring at the girl, who led forward the trembling old woman, her strong, young arms about the thin shoulders. Prudence was tearful but smiling.
"This is the girl you sent me for," said the captain of the Seamew.
The girl was smiling, too. To the delight of the young man there was no suspicion of fear or shyness in her expression. Her eyes were luminous. Her smile he thought would have ravished the heart of a misogynist.
"I swan!" murmured Cap'n Ira, almost prayerfully.
"Ain't she pretty, Ira?" cried Prudence, almost girlish herself in her new happiness. "Just like Sarah Honey was when she was Ida May's age. And ain't it sweet, her coming to us this way? She's brought her trunk. She's going to stay."
"And I know I shall be happy here, Uncle Ira," said the girl, giving him her hand.
Cap'n Ira's smile was as ecstatic as that of his wife. He looked sidewise at Tunis, a glance of considerable admiration.
"It takes you to do it, Tunis. I couldn't have brought home a nicer lookin' gal myself. I swan!"
"Now, you hesh your foolin', Ira," cried his wife, while the younger man's blush admitted unmistakably his feelings. "Don't you mind him, Ida May. Come into the house, now, and you, too, Tunis. We'll have supper in a jiffy."
"No," said the captain of the Seamew. "I must be getting on. Aunt Lucretia will be expecting me, for, of course, she saw the schooner heading in for the cove. Good night, Ida May." He shook hands with her quietly. "I know you will be happy here, with your own folks."
The girl looked deep into the young man's eyes; nor did she free her hand from his clasp immediately. At one side stood the two old people, both smiling, and not a little knowingly and slyly at each other, while the captain of the Seamew and the girl bade each other good night. Cap'n Ira whispered in his wife's ear:
"Look at that now! How long d'you think we'll be able to keep Ida May with us? I cal'late we'd better build our boundary fence a great sight higher and shut him out o' walkin' across this farm."
But Prudence only struck at him with a gently admonitory hand. Tunis and Ida May had taken down the remainder of the wash and the former carried it into the house before he started on for his own home.
The girl, walking behind the old couple into the homelike kitchen, sensed the warming hospitality of the place. It was just as though she had known all this before, as though, in some past time, she had called the Ball homestead home.
"Lay off your hat and coat, Ida May, on the sitting-room lounge," said Prudence. "We'll have supper before I show you upstairs. Me and Ira sleep down here, but there's a nice, big room up there I've fixed up for you."
"Before you were sure I could come?" the girl asked in some wonder.
"She's got faith enough to move mountains, Prudence has," broke in Cap'n Ira proudly. "At least, I cal'late she's got enough to move this here Wreckers' Head if she set out to." And he chuckled.
"But you believed Ida May would come, too. You said so, Ira," cried his wife.
"I swan! I had to say it to keep up with you," he returned. "Otherwise you'd have sailed fathoms ahead of me. However, if you hadn't come, gal, neither of us could have well said to the other them bitterest of all human words: 'I told you so!'"
"How could you suppose I would not come?" asked the girl gayly. "Who would refuse such a generous offer?"
"I knowed you'd see it that way," said Prudence happily.
"But there might have been circumstances we could not foresee," Cap'n Ira said. "You—you didn't have many friends where you was stopping?"
"No real friends."
"Well, there is a difference, I cal'late. No young man, o' course, like Tunis Latham, for instance?"
"Now, Ira!" admonished Prudence.
But Ida May only laughed.
"Nobody half as nice as Captain Latham," she said with honesty.
"Well, I cal'late he would be hard to beat, even here on the Cape," agreed the inquisitive old man.
He took a pinch of snuff and prepared to enjoy it. Suddenly remembering his wife's nervousness, he shouted in a high key:
"Good—Well, ye did warn me that time, Ira, for a fact. But if I had a cake in the oven 'stead of biscuit, I guess 'twould have fell flat with that shock. I do wish you could take snuff quiet. Look an' see, will you, Ida May, if those biscuits are burning?"
The girl opened the oven door to view briefly the two pans of biscuit.
"They are not even brown yet, Aunt Prue. But soon."
"The creamed fish is done. I hope you like salt fish, Ida May?"
"I adore it!"
"Lucky you do," put in Cap'n Ira. "I can't say that I think it is actually 'adorable.' But then, I ain't been eatin' it as a steady shore diet much more'n sixty-five year."
"Don't you run down your victuals, Ira," said his wife.
"No, I don't cal'late to. But if I may be allowed to express my likes and dislikes, I got to be honest and say that there's victuals I eat that would have suited me better for a steady diet than pollack and potatoes. And now we don't even have the potatoes, 'cause we can't raise 'em no more."
"But you have land. I see a garden," said Ida May briskly.
"Yes, it's land," said Cap'n Ira, in the same pessimistic way. "But it ain't had a coat of shack fish for three years and this spring not much seaweed. Besides that, after the potatoes are planted, who is to hoe 'em and knock the bugs off?"
"Oh!" commented Ida May, with a small shudder.
He grinned broadly.
"There's a whole lot o' work to farming. I'd rather plow the sea than plow the land, and that's no idle jest! Never could see how a man could be downright honest when he says he likes to putter with a garden. Why, it's working in one place all the time. When he looks up from his job, there's the same old reefs and shoals he's been beatin' about for years. No matter how often he shoots the sun, the computation's bound to be just the same. He's there, or thereabout."
"That's the way with most longshoremen, Ida May," said Prudence, sighing. "They make awful poor farmers if they are good seamen. Can't seem to combine the two trades."
"I cal'late that's so," agreed Cap'n Ira, his eyes twinkling. "They'd ought to examine all the babies born on the Cape first off, and them that ain't web-footed ought to be sent to agricultural school 'stead of to the fishing. But that ain't why our potato crop's a failure this year. And as far as I see, talking won't cure many fish, either."
"Can't I help?" asked Ida May in her gentle voice. "You know, I've come here to work. I don't expect to play lady."
"Well, I don't know. It ain't the kind of work you are used to."
"I've been used to work all my life, and all kinds of work," interposed the girl bravely.
"But you seem so eddicated," Prudence said.
"Getting an education did not keep me from learning how to use my hands."
"Well, Sarah Honey was a right good housekeeper," granted Prudence.
At that the girl fell suddenly silent, as she did whenever Sarah Honey's name was mentioned. And yet she knew she must get used to such references to her presumed mother. Prudence frequently recalled incidents which had happened when Sarah Honey visited the Ball house before she was married.
They had supper, a plentiful meal if there was not much variety. Prudence had made a "two-egg cake" and opened a jar of beach-plum preserves to follow the creamed fish and biscuits.
"I must learn to make biscuit as good as these," said Ida May.
"I expect you are more used to riz bread. City folks are. But on the Cape we don't have that much. Our men folks want hot bread at every meal. We pamper 'em," said Prudence.
"I'm pampered 'most to death, that's a fact," grumbled Cap'n Ira.
Ida May briskly cleared the table and washed the dishes. She would not allow Prudence even to wipe them.
"I'm sitting here like a lady, Ira," said the little old woman. "This child will work herself to death if we let her."
"A willin' horse always does get driv' too fast," commented Cap'n Ira.
"A new broom sweeps clean," laughed the girl, rinsing out the dishcloths and hanging them on the line behind the stove.
They went outside in the gloaming and sat in a sheltered nook where they could watch the lights twinkling all along the coast to the southward, the revolving lantern at Lighthouse Point, the steady beacon on Eagle's Head, and now and then the flash of the great one of Monomoy Point so far away. It was peaceful, quiet, assuring, and, the girl thought, heavenly! She thought for a moment of Sellers' restaurant and the little room she had occupied on Hanover Street. This was contentment.
Old Pareta had brought her trunk and bag and carried them up to the big, well-furnished room she was to occupy. By and by Prudence went up with her to see that she was made comfortable there, and to watch her unpack, for the old woman was not without curiosity regarding the "city fashions."
One window of the room looked to the north. Through this Ida May saw the steady beam of a lamp shining from a house down in what seemed to be a depression behind the Head. She asked Prudence what that was.
"That must be a light at 'Latham's Folly,' Tunis' house, you know," said the little old woman, likewise peering through the window. "Shouldn't be surprised if 'twas right in his room. He sleeps this end of the house. Yes, that's what it is."
"So Captain Latham lives just there?" the girl said softly.
"When he's ashore. He and his Aunt Lucretia. They are the only Lathams left of their branch of the family."
Afterward, when Ida May had come upstairs to go to bed, she looked to the northward again. The light was still there. She knelt by the open window in her nightgown and watched the light for a long time. When it finally was extinguished she crept into bed.
She heard the nasal tones of the two old people below, for her door on the stairs was open. She heard, too, the occasional cry of a night fowl and, in the distance, the barking of an uneasy watchdog.
But after all, and in spite of the many, many thoughts which shuttled to and fro in her mind, she did not lie awake for long. It was a clear and sparkling night; there were no foghorns to disturb her dreams with their raucous warnings, and the surf along the beaches below the Head merely scuffed its way up and down the strand with a soothing "Hush! Hush-sh!"
At dawn, however, there came a noise which roused the newcomer to Wreckers' Head. She awoke with a start. Something had clattered upon her window sill, that window looking toward the north. She sat upright in bed to listen. The clatter was repeated. In the dim, gray light she saw several tiny objects bounding into the room.
She scrambled out of the high four-poster and shrugged her feet into slippers. She crept to the window, holding the nightgown close at the neck. She felt one of the tiny objects under the soft sole of her slipper and stooped to secure it. It was a pebble.
More pebbles rattled on the window sill. She stepped forward then with considerable bravery, and looked down. What she saw at first startled her. A tall, misty, gray object stood below the window, something quite ghostly in appearance, something which moved in the dim light.
Then the thing stamped and blew a faint whinny. She saw a pale, long face raised and two pointed ears twitching above it.
A darker figure rose up suddenly from before the strange animal.
"Why, Captain Latham!"
"Cat's foot!" exclaimed the captain of the Seamew. "I thought I'd never wake you up without disturbing the old folks. No need to ask you if you rested well."
"Oh, gloriously!" whispered the girl, beaming down upon him, but keeping out of the full range of his vision.
"Sorry I had to wake you, but I'm due at the wharf right now to see that the hands get those clams stowed aboard. We want to get away on the morning tide. I brought Queenie home and thought I'd better tell you."
"The Queen of Sheba, you know. I was telling you about Cap'n Ira's old mare."
"Oh, yes! Wait. I'll dress and be right down."
"That's all right," said Tunis. "I'll wait."
She scurried into the clothes she had laid out before going to bed. In five minutes she crept down the stairs into the kitchen and out of the back door. Tunis, holding the sleepy mare by her rope bridle, met her between the kitchen ell and the barn.
"You look as bright as a new penny," he chuckled. "But it's early yet for you to be astir. I'll put Queenie in her stable and show you where the feed is. Aunt Prue will like to have her back. She sets great store by the old mare. She won't be much bother to you, Ida May."
"Nothing will ever be a bother to me here, Captain Latham," said the girl cheerfully.
"That's the way to talk," he said, with satisfaction. "Just you keep on that tack, Ida May, and things will go swimmingly, I've no doubt."
In ten minutes he was briskly on his way to the town. The girl watched him from the back stoop as long as he was to be seen in the morning mist. Then she went back into the house, made a more careful toilet, and when Cap'n Ira came hobbling into the kitchen an hour later breakfast was in preparation on the glowing stove.
"I swan! This is comfort, and no mistake," chuckled the old man, rubbing his chin reflectively. "You're going to be a blessing in this house, Ida May."
"I hope you'll always say so, Uncle Ira," returned the girl, smiling at him.
"I cal'late. Now I'll get washed, but that derned shavin'."
"You sit down in that rocker and I'll shave you," she said briskly. "Oh, I can do it! I shaved my own father when he was sick last—"
She stopped, turned away, and fell silent. It was the first time she had spoken of either of her parents, but Cap'n Ira did not notice her sudden confusion. He prepared for the ordeal, making his own lather and opening the razor.
"I can't strop it, Ida May," he groaned. "That's one of the things that's beyont my powers."
She came to him with a clean towel which she tucked carefully in at the neckband of his shirt. Practically she lathered his face and rubbed the lather into the stubble with brisk hands. He grunted ecstatically, lying back in the chair in solid comfort. He eyed her manipulation of the razor on the strop with approval.
For the first time in many a morning he was shaved neatly and with dispatch. When Prudence came feebly into the room, he hailed her delightedly.
"You've lost your job, old woman!" he cried.
"And ain't there a thing for me to do?" queried Prudence softly, yet smiling.
"Just sit down at the table, auntie," said the girl. "The coffee is made. How long do you want your eggs boiled? The water is bubbling."
"Eggs!" exclaimed Cap'n Ira. "I thought them hens of Prue's had give up layin' altogether."
"I found some stolen nests in the barn," returned Ida May. "They have been playing tricks on you."
It was near noon when Ida May from an upper window saw the Seamew beating out of the cove on her return trip to Boston. She watched the schooner as long as the white sails were visible. But her heart was not wholly with the beautiful schooner. A great content filled her soul. Afterward she bustled about, straightening up the house, her cheerful smile always ready when the old folks spoke. They watched her with such a feeling of thankfulness as they could not openly express.
After dinner she started on the ironing and proved herself to be as capable in that line as in everything else.
"Maybe she's been a shopgirl, Ira," Prudence observed in private to her husband; "but Sarah Honey didn't neglect teaching her how to keep any man's home neat and proper."
"Sh!" admonished Cap'n Ira. "Don't put no such ideas in the gal's head."
"What ideas?" the old woman asked wonderingly.
His eyes twinkled and he rewarded himself with a generous pinch of snuff before repeating his bon mot:
"If you don't tell her she'll make some man a good wife, maybe she won't never know it! Looker out, Prudence! A-choon!"
SOME YOUNG MEN APPEAR
A house plant brought out into the May sunshine and air expands almost immediately under the rejuvenating influences of improved conditions. Its leaves uncurl; its buds develop; it turns at once and gratefully to the business of growing which has been restricted during its incarceration indoors.
So with Sheila Macklin—she who now proclaimed herself Ida May Bostwick and who was gladly welcomed as such by the old people at the Ball homestead on Wreckers' Head. After the girl's experiences of more than three years since leaving her home town, the surroundings of the house on the headland seemed an estate in paradise.
As for the work which fell to her share, she enjoyed it. She felt that she could not do too much for the old people to repay them for this refuge they had given her. That Cap'n Ira and Prudence had no idea of the terrible predicament in which she had been placed previous to her coming made no difference to the girl's feeling of gratitude toward them. She had been serving a sentence in purgatory, and Tunis Latham's bold plan had opened the door of heaven to her.
The timidity which had so marked her voice and manner when Tunis had first met her soon wore away. With Cap'n Ira and Prudence she was never shy, and when the captain of the Seamew came back again he found such a different girl at the old house on Wreckers' Head that he could scarcely believe she was the Sheila Macklin who had told him her history on the bench on Boston Common.
"I swan, Tunis," hoarsely announced Cap'n Ira, "you done a deed that deserves a monument equal to that over there to Plymouth. Them Pilgrim fathers—to say nothing of the mothers—never done no more beneficial thing than you did in bringing Ida May down here to stay along o' Prudence and me. And I cal'late Prue and me are more thankful to you than the red Indians was to the Pilgrims for coming ashore in Plymouth County and so puttin' the noses of Provincetown people out o' joint."
"She's as sweet as them rose geraniums of Prue's and just as sightly looking. Did you ever notice how that black hair of hers sort of curls about her ears, and them ears like little, tiny seashells ye pick up 'long shore? Them curls just lays against her neck that pretty! I swan! I don't see how the young fellers kept their hands off her where she come from. Do you?"
"Why, you old Don Juan!" exclaimed Tunis, grinning. "Ain't you ashamed of yourself?"
"Me? Aha! I've come to that point of age and experience, Tunis, where whatever I say about the female sect can't be misconstrued. That's where I have the advantage of you."
"Uh-huh!" agreed Tunis, nodding.
"Now, if you begun raving about that gal's black hair—An' come to think of it, Tunis, her mother, Sarah Honey's hair was near 'bout red. Funny, ain't it?"
"The Bostwicks must have been dark people," said Tunis evenly.
But he remembered in a flash the "fool's gold" which had adorned in rich profusion the head of the girl in the lace department of Hoskin & Marl's.
"Well, the Honeys warn't. None I ever see, leastways," announced Cap'n Ira. "Howsomever, Ida May fits her mother's maiden name in disposition, if ever a gal did. She's pure honey, Tunis; right from the comb! And she takes to everything around the house that handy."
Prudence was equally enthusiastic. And Tunis Latham could see for himself many things which marked the regime of the newcomer at the Ball homestead as one of vast improvement over that past regime of the old couple, who had been forced to manage of late in ways which troubled their orderly souls.
"Catch as catch can," was Cap'n Ball's way of expressing the condition of the household and other affairs before the advent of Ida May. Now matters were already getting to be "shipshape," and no observer could fail to note the increased comfort enjoyed by Cap'n Ira and Prudence.
Nor need Tunis feel anxious, either, regarding the girl's state of mind or body. She was so blithe and cheerful that he could scarcely recall the picture of that girl who had waited upon him in the cheap restaurant on Scollay Square. Here was a transformation indeed!
Nor had Ida May's activities been confined wholly to the house and the old folks' comfort. He noted that the wire fence of the chicken run was handily repaired; that Aunt Prue's few languishing flowers had been weeded; and that one end of the garden was the neater for the use of hoe and rake.
It was too late in the season, of course, for much new growth in the vegetable beds; but the half-hearted attention of John-Ed, junior, had never brought about this metamorphosis, Tunis well knew. He went on to the Latham house, feeling well pleased. Aside from all other considerations, he was glad to know that his Machiavellian plan had brought about these good results.
He did not have much time to spend with Sheila, for the Seamew's freighting business was good. He never remained ashore but one night between trips, and he spent that evening with his Aunt Lucretia, whose enjoyment of his presence in the house was none the less keen because inarticulate.
But when he started off across the fields for the port in the early morning he saw Sheila's rising light, and she was at the back door to greet him when he went past. They stole a little time to be together there, whispering outside the door so as not to awaken Cap'n Ira and Prudence. And Tunis Latham went on to the wharf where the Seamew tied up with a warmth at his heart which he had never experienced before.
That another girl rose betimes on these mornings and waited and watched for him to pass, the young schooner captain never noticed. That Eunez Pareta should be lingering about the edge of Portygee Town as he came down from the Head made small impression on his mind. He never particularly remarked her presence or her smile as being for him alone. It was that Eunez did not count in any of his calculations.
"That girl at Cap'n Ball's place, Tunis," said the Portygee girl. "Does she like it up there?"
"Oh, yes! She's getting on fine," was his careless response.
"And will they keep her?"
"Of course they will keep her." He laughed. "Who wouldn't, if they got the chance?"
"Si?" Eunez commented sibilantly.
Naturally, many people besides Eunez Pareta in and about Big Wreck Cove were interested in the coming of the stranger to Cap'n Ira Ball's. Those housewives who lived on Wreckers' Head and in the vicinity were able more easily to call at the Ball homestead for the express purpose of meeting and becoming acquainted with "Sarah Honey's daughter." And they did so.
"I'd got into the way of thinking," remarked Cap'n Ball dryly, "that most folks—'ceptin' John-Ed and his wife—had got the notion we'd dried up here, Prue and me, and blowed away. Some of 'em ain't never come near in six months. I swan!"
"Now, Ira," admonished his wife, "do have charity."
"Charity? Huh! I'll take a pinch of snuff instead. That's a warnin', Prudence! A-choon!"
Not until the second Sunday after the Seamew had brought Ida May from Boston did Big Wreck Cove folk in general get a "good slant," as they expressed it, at the Balls' visitor. There was an ancient carryall in the barn, and on the Saturday previous little John-Ed was caught and made to clean this vehicle, rub up the green-molded harness, and give the Queen of Sheba more than "a lick and a promise" with the currycomb and brush.
At ten o'clock on Sunday morning Sheila herself backed the gray mare out of her stable and harnessed her into the shafts of the carryall.
"For a city gal, you are the handiest creature!" sighed Prudence, marveling.
The girl only smiled. She was now used to such comments. They did not make her heart flutter as had any reference to her past life at first.
The bell in the steeple of the green-blinded, white-painted church on the farther edge of the port was tinkling tinnily as the girl drove the old mare down the hill, with Cap'n Ira and Prudence in the rear seat of the carriage.
"We ain't felt we could undertake churchgoing for months, Ida May," the old woman said. "And I miss Elder Minnett's sermons."
"So do I," agreed her husband, with his usual caustic turn of speech. "I swan! I can sleep better under the elder's preaching than I can to home."
"If you go to sleep to-day, Ira, I shall step on your foot," warned his wife.
"You'd better take care which one you step on," rejoined Cap'n Ira. "I got a corn on one that jumps like an ulcerated tooth. If you touch that I shall likely surprise you more'n I do when I take snuff."
The Portygees had a chapel devoted to their faith. The carriage passed that on the way to the Congregational Church. A girl, very dark as to features, very red as to lips, and dressed in very gay colors in spite of her destination, was mounting the chapel steps. She halted to stare particularly at the quietly dressed girl driving the gray mare.
"Ain't that Pareta's girl, Ira?" asked Prudence.
"What a bold-looking thing she's grown to be! But she's pretty."
"As a piney," agreed Cap'n Ira. "I reckon she sets all these Portygee boys by the ears. I hear tell two of 'em had a knife fight over her in Luiz's fish house some time ago. She'll raise real trouble in the town 'fore she's well and safely married."
"That is awful," murmured the old woman, casting another glance back at the girl and wondering why Eunez Pareta scowled so hatefully after them.
Following service, as usual, there was social intercourse on the steps of the church and at the horse sheds back of it. Particularly did the women gather about Aunt Prudence and Sheila. As for the men, both young and old, the newcomer's city ways and unmistakable beauty gave them much to gossip about. Several of the younger masculine members of Elder Minnett's congregation came almost to blows over the settlement of who should take the fly cloth off Queenie, back her around, and lead her out to the front of the church when the time came to drive back to the Head.
In addition, Cap'n Ira found himself as popular with the young men as he was wont to be in the old days when he was making up his crew at the port for the Susan Gatskill.
"Prudence," he said to his wife, but quite loud enough for the girl to hear as they drove sedately homeward, "I cal'late I shall have to buy me some shot and powder and load up the old gun I put away in the attic, thinking I wouldn't never go hunting no more."
"Goodness gracious gallop!" ejaculated his wife. "What for? I cal'late you won't go hunting at your time of life!"
"I dunno. I may be forced to load it up for protection. But maybe rock salt will do instead of shot," said Cap'n Ira, still with soberness. "A feller has got a right to protect himself and his family."
"Against what, I want to know?"
"I can see the Ball place is about to be overrun with a passel of young sculpins that are going to be more annoying than a dose of snuff in your eye. That's right."
"Why, how you talk!"
"Didn't ye see 'em all standing around as we drove away from the church, casting sheep's eyes? And they're hating each other already like a hen hates dishwater. I swan!"
"For the land's sake!"
"No. For Ida May's sake," chuckled Cap'n Ira. "That's who I've got to defend with a shotgun."
The girl flushed rosily, but she laughed, too.
"You can leave them to me, Uncle Ira. I shall know how to get rid of them."
"Maybe they won't come," said Prudence.
"They won't? I swan!" snorted her husband. "They all see she's more'n half Honey. Couldn't keep 'em away any more than you can flies."
It was quite as Cap'n Ira prophesied. The path from Big Wreck Cove across the fields to the Head, a path which had become grass-grown of late years, was soon worn smooth. It was a shorter way from the town than the wagon road.
The errands invented by the youthful and more or less unattached male inhabitants of the port to bring them by this path through the Ball premises were most ingenious indeed. Early on Monday morning, while Sheila was hanging out her first lineful of clothes, Andrew Roby, clam basket and hoe on arm, appeared as the first of a long line of itinerant pedestrians who more or less bashfully bade Cap'n Ira good day as he sat in his armchair in the sun.
"What's the matter?" asked the old man soberly. "All the clams give out down to the cove? I heard they was getting scarce. You got to come clean over here to the beaches, I cal'late, to find you a mess for dinner, Andy?"
"Well—er—Cap'n Ira, mother was wishing for some big chowder clams," said young Roby, his eyes squinting sidewise at the slim figure of Sheila on tiptoe to reach the line.
"Ye-as," considered the old man. "You got that cat still, Andy?"
"The Maybird? Oh, yes, sir!"
"And there's a fair wind. She'd have taken you in half the time to the outer beaches, and saved your legs," said the caustic speaker. "But exercise is good for you, I don't dispute."
A match, one might think, could easily have been touched off at Andrew's face. He had not much more to say, and went on without having the joy of more than a nod and smile from the busy Sheila.
Then came Joshua Jones. Joshua usually was to be found behind his father's counter, the elder Jones being proprietor of one of the general stores in Big Wreck Cove. Joshua was a bustling young man with a reddish ruff of hair back of a bald brow, "side tabs" of the same hue as his hair before each red and freckled ear, and a nose a good deal like an eagle's beak. In fact, the upper part of his face—Cap'n Ira had often remarked it—was of noble proportions, while the lower part fell away surprisingly in a receding chin which seemed saved from being swallowed completely only by a very prominent Adam's apple.
"I swan!" the captain had said judiciously. "It's more by good luck than good management that Josh's chin didn't fall into his stomach. Only that knob in his neck acts like a stopper."
But when the lanky young storekeeper appeared on this occasion, Cap'n Ira hailed him cheerfully before Joshua could reach the back door.
"Hi, Josh! You ain't goin' for clams, too, be ye?"
"No, no, Cap'n Ira!" cried young Jones cheerfully. "I'm looking to pick up some eggs regular. We want to begin to ship again, and eggs seem to be staying in the nests. He, he! Has Mrs. Ball got any to spare?"
"I don't cal'late she has. You see," said Cap'n Ira soberly, "we got another mouth to feed eggs to now. Did you know we had Ida May Bostwick visiting us? A young lady from Boston. Prue's niece, once removed."
"Why—I—I—ahem! I saw her at church, Cap'n Ira," faltered Joshua.
"Did ye, now?" rejoined Cap'n Ira, in apparent wonder. "I didn't suppose you would ever notice her, you not being much for the ladies, Joshua."
"Oh, I ain't so blind!" giggled the young man, peering in through the kitchen door, where Sheila was stepping briskly from tubs to sink and back again.
"That's a fortunate thing," agreed the old man. "But you've got a long v'y'ge before you, if you cal'late to go to all the houses on the Head to pick up eggs. Good luck to you, Joshua!"
Josh found himself passed along like a country politician in line at a presidential reception. His legs got to working without volition, it seemed, and he was several rods away before he realized that he had not spoken to the girl at all.
Zebedee Pauling, whose ancestor had been an admiral and was never forgotten by the Pauling family—Paulmouth was said to have been named in their honor—arrived at the Ball back door just as the family was finishing the usual "picked-up" washday dinner. Zebedee took off his cap with a flourish, and his grin advertised to all beholders the fact that he felt shy but pleased at his own courage in appearing thus on the Head.
"Why, Zeb!" exclaimed Prudence. "We haven't seen you up here for a dog's age. Won't you set?"
"Oh, no'm, no'm! I was just stopping by and thought I'd ask how are you all, Aunt Prue."
He bobbed and smiled, but kept his gaze fixed upon Sheila to the exclusion of the two old people. But Cap'n Ira was never to be overlooked.
"You're going to be mighty neighborly, now, Zeb," he said. "We shall see you often."
"Er—I don't know, Cap'n Ira," stammered Zebedee, rather taken aback.
The old man rose and hobbled toward the door with the aid of his cane, fumbling in his pocket meanwhile.
"Here, Zeb," he said, producing a dime. "You're a willin' friend, I know. I'm running low on snuff. Get me a packet, will ye? American Affection is my brand. Just slip it in your pocket and bring it along with you when you come by to-morrow."
"But—but I don't know as I shall be up this way to-morrow, Cap'n Ira. Though maybe I shall." And he glanced again at the smiling girl.
"Course you will, or next day at the latest," said the old man stoutly. "I can see plainly that you ain't going to neglect Prue and me no more. And I shall want that snuff."
"If you don't come," pursued the perfectly sober captain, "you can hand the snuff to Andy Roby, or to Josh Jones, or to 'most any of the boys. They'll be up this way pretty near every day, I shouldn't wonder."
Zebedee took the hint and the dime.
He was no "slow coach" if he was longshore bred. He got the chance of carrying another heavy basket of clothes out to the lines for Sheila, who rewarded him with a smile, and then he nodded to the old man as he left.
"I'll bring that snuff myself, Cap'n Ira," he assured him.
"Don't it beat all?" queried the captain, shaking his head reflectively, as he resumed his seat. "Don't it beat all? For old folks, Prue, we do certainly seem to be popular."
"Oh, you hesh!" exclaimed his wife.
But Sheila giggled delightedly. The way Cap'n Ira handled the several visitors who thereafter came to Wreckers' Head continued to amuse the girl immensely. Nor did the visits cease. The Ball homestead was no longer a lonely habitation. Somebody was forever "just stopping by," as the expression ran; and the path from the port was trodden brown and sere as autumn drew on apace.
THE HARVEST HOME FESTIVAL
It was not that Sheila Macklin had no graver moments. There were nights when, in spite of her healthful weariness of body, arising from the work of the household, she lay awake for long hours of restless, anxious thought. And sometimes her pillow was wet with tears. Yet she was not of a lachrymose disposition. She could not invent imaginary troubles or build in her mind gibbets on which remorse and sorrow might hang in chains.
Indeed, how could she be sorrowful? Why should she feel remorse? She had taken another girl's name and claim of parentage, and she filled a place which the other girl might have had. But the rightful owner of the name had scorned this refuge. The real Ida May Bostwick had no appreciation of what the Balls had to offer, and she had been unwilling even to open communication with her relatives down on the Cape.
Besides, Tunis Latham always cheered the girl who was playing an imposter's part with the declaration that she had done just right—that without her presence on Wreckers' Head Cap'n Ira and his wife would be in a very bad way, indeed.
She could see that this was so. Her coming to them had been as great a blessing in their lives as it had been in her own.
She fully realized that Cap'n Ira and his wife would not have admitted her to their home and to their hearts had she come in her own person and identity. This was not so much because of their strict morality as because of their strict Puritanism. For a puritan may not be moral always, but he must be just. And justice of that character is seldom tempered by mercy. What they might have forgiven the real Ida May they could scarcely be expected to forgive a stranger.
In spite of this situation, the Balls were being blessed by the presence of a girl in their household who had been tainted with a sentence to a reformatory. Even now, when she knew they loved her and could scarcely imagine what they would do without her, Sheila Macklin was quite convinced that a whisper about these hidden miseries would turn Cap'n Ball, and even Prudence, against her.
Therefore she was careful, putting a guard upon her tongue and almost keeping watch upon her secret thoughts. She never allowed herself to lapse into reverie in their presence for fear the old people might suspect that she had a past that would not endure open discussion.
And, deliberately and with forethought, the intelligent girl went about strengthening her position with the Balls and making her identity as Ida May Bostwick unassailable. She had a retentive memory. Nothing Aunt Prudence ever said in her hearing about Sarah Honey, her ways when she was young, or what the old woman knew or surmised about her dead niece's marriage and her life thereafter, escaped the girl. She treasured it all.
When visitors were by—especially the neighboring women who likewise remembered Sarah Honey—the masquerader often spoke in a way to reduce to a minimum any suspicion that she was not the rightful Ida May. Even a visit from Annabell Coffin—"she who was a Cuttle"—went off without a remark being made which would yield a grain of doubt.
Mrs. Coffin had heard of Ida May while she visited "his folks" in Boston, in a most roundabout way. She did say to the girl, however:
"Let's see, Ida May, didn't they tell me that you worked for a spell in one of them great stores? I wish you could see 'em, Aunt Prue! The Marshall & Denham department store on Washington Street covers acres—acres! Was it there that you worked, Ida May?"
"No," replied Ida May calmly.
"What store did you work in?"
"Hoskin & Marl's," said the girl, still unruffled.
"To be sure. That's what Esther Coffin said she heard, I remember. But I never got to that store. Couldn't go to all of 'em. It tired me to death, just going around Marshall & Denham's."
This and similar incidents were building blocks in the structure which she was raising. Nor did she consider it a structure of deceit. The foundation only was of doubtful veracity. These people had accepted her as somebody she was not, it was true; but she gained nothing thereby that the real Ida May would not have had to win for herself.
With Tunis approving and encouraging her, how could the girl spend much time in doubt or any at all in despair? She felt that she was a much better girl—morally as well as physically—in this environment than she had been for many, many months. Instead of being conscience wrung in playing the part of impostor and living under an assumed name and identity, she felt a sense of self-congratulation.
And when in the company of the captain of the Seamew she felt almost exalted. There was a pact between them that made their tie more than that of sister and brother. Yet, of love they never spoke—not during those first weeks on Wreckers' Head. He never failed to talk with Sheila as he came up from the town when the schooner lay at her moorings in the cove or was docked ready to discharge or take aboard freight. Business remained good, but all was not plain sailing for the young shipmaster. He confided in the girl many of his perplexities. When he went away again, rain or shine, the girl did not fail to be up and about when he passed the Ball homestead. He knew that she did this purposely—that she was on the watch for him. Her reason for doing so was not so clear to the young man, but he appreciated her interest.
Was he overmodest? Perhaps. He might have gained courage regarding the girl's attitude toward him had he known that, on the nights he was at home, she sat in her darkened, upper room and watched the lamp he burned until it was extinguished. On the other hand, Tunis Latham's brotherly manner and cheerful kindness were a puzzle to Sheila. She knew that he had been kinder to her than any other man she had ever met. But what was the root of that kindness?