As he stared with him from frightened female face to frightened female face, Mr. Montagu realized shamefully that his own features were helplessly mirroring the detestation of the boy's, and he changed from very pale to very red himself as woman after woman flushed crimson under his gaze. Yet the boy's face grew calm and his voice was perfectly so as he turned at last from his horrid review and met the eyes of his host.
"I see what you meant, now, by 'painted' women. Well, they'd much better be dead!"
At the tone, cruelly cool as if he planned to see that they were, Mr. Montagu shivered. "Why, why do you hate them like that?" he whispered.
The fierce anger flickered dangerously in the great eyes again.
"Because they're my enemy! Because they and the wicked thing they mean are my prowling, triumphant enemy, and the enemy of all others like me!"
"Oh, my boy, my boy!" pleaded the man of the world, sickly. "You don't realize it, but I can tell you from appearances—some of those women you stared at are here with their husbands!"
"So was your wife when she came here," said the boy.
Mr. Montagu fell back in his chair with a gasp. As swiftly as it had leapt into his mind, the frightful implication of the words leapt out again in his amazement at the boy's knowledge of the incident.
But the waiter stepped between them with the order, and in obvious terror now instead of simple aversion, clattered it down with trembling hands.
"Go away! Go away!" commanded Mr. Montagu angrily. "I'll arrange it! Go!" And the waiter escaped.
"How did you know?" he asked; but without waiting for a reply he poured out the boy's wine and his own, and took a long hasty draft.
"Now, how did you?"
"Oh!" cried the boy piteously. "Don't ask me! I shouldn't have said it! I knew I'd let it out if you came here with me! I'll be telling you everything in a minute, and you'll go stark mad when you know!"
The inference rushed again upon Henry Montagu, a worse vague horror than any yet, and he almost sprang from his chair.
"Are you going to tell me my wife was unfaithful to me, and with—with—"
"Fool! Fool!" cried the boy. "I wish to God she had been unfaithful to you! I tried to make her, I can tell you that! Then there'd have been at least half a chance for me! But now that she's dead, there's no chance for either of us, even you! Unless—O God!—unless you'll control yourself and think! I beg you again, I beg of you, think again! Go away from here, go now, without asking me anything more, and there's just a shade of a chance for you! I told you there was none if you left the house, but there may be, there may be! Go home, and forget this, and be satisfied your wife loved you, for she did. She kept herself for you at my expense! Go now, and they'll let you go. But if you stay here and talk to me, you'll leave this place in manacles! I'm here, among those women, and I'm with you! My secret will come out and drag you down, as I planned it should before I began to like you! And you like me, too—I feel it. For my sake, then, for God's sake and for your sake, won't you go?"
"No!" cried Mr. Montagu, almost roughly in his eagerness. "I don't judge you, but it's your duty, and in your power, to put me where I can! I harbored you, thinking you were a frightened fugitive, and you weren't. I'm your voluntary host in circumstances of mysterious horror and you ask me to quit you in ignorance! I won't! You sicken me with a doubt about the wife I loved—Who are you? What are you?"
"If you believed I knew as much of her as I said I did," cried the boy, "why don't you believe me when I assure you that she loved you? What more should you demand? I meant everything I said, and more—your wife was nothing but a licensed wanton, and you knew it! You ask me who and what I am—so long as she loved you, who are you, and what are you, to point a finger at her?"
A rush of instinctive fury filled the man, but he felt as dazed at finding himself angry at the beautiful unhappy youth, as if he had known him for years, and he only gasped and stared.
"If you think I'm crazy," cried the boy, "I'll show you, as I showed you once before, that I know what I'm talking about! I'll tell you something that was a secret between you two, and your wife didn't tell me, either! The night you'd been here, after you'd gone home, after you were locked in your room, you disputed about this place! She refused to come here again, and she refused to tell you why! But I know why!"
Once more Mr. Montagu gasped and with a thrill of wondering terror.
"Who are you and what are you?" he demanded. "I command you to solve this mystery and solve it now!"
His voice had risen to a shout, but a sudden lump in his throat silenced it, for the boy was weeping again.
"Oh," wept the boy, "if you've liked me at all, put it off as long as you can, for you'll make me tell you I hate you, and why I hate you!"
It had struck Henry Montagu like a flail in the face, wiping away his anger, his astonishment at the boy's uncanny knowledge, even his astonishment that the word was able to strike him so.
"I—I've suffered enough through you!" he stammered painfully. "And if I've got to suffer more, I insist on doing it now and getting it over with!"
"Don't! don't! It will never be over with!" gulped the boy.
"I'm through!" cried Mr. Montagu. "Who are you? What are you?"
At the determined finality of the voice the boy quivered like a helpless thing, and his stuttering ejaculations came as if shaken out of him by the shivering of his body.
"Wh—who am I?"
"Wh—what am I?"
Never yet had he been so awful as in the torment and majesty that gazed like fate at Henry Montagu now, and the frightful fire of the eyes seemed to dry up the tears on his cheeks at its first flare of accusing righteousness.
"I'm the child that you and your wife refused to have!"
As the aghast man shrank back before his blighting fury, he leaned farther and farther toward him.
"Now do you know why I hate you as no human thing can hate? Your wilful waste has made my hideous want! Now do you know why I said I'd done a more terrific thing than had ever been done in the world's history before? I've gotten in! At last, at last, I've gotten in, in spite of you, and after she was dead! I've done a greater and more impossible thing than that great Mystery the world adores! I've gotten in despite you, and without even a woman's help! When we spoke of that life once before to-night, I shocked you! Do you believe now that my history is more terrible, or not? He suffered, and suffered, and He died. But He'd lived! His torture was a few hours—for mine to-night, I've waited almost as many years as He did, and to what end? To nothing! God, God, do you see that?"
He twisted open his hands and held out his bruised wrists before the trembling man's eyes. "For all those years—"
He suddenly drew himself to his full height and threw them passionately above his head in the posture that had haunted Henry Montagu from the first instant's glimpse of him.
"For all those endless years, ever since your marriage-night, I've stood beating, beating, beating at the door of life until my wrists have bled! And you didn't hear me! You couldn't and she wouldn't! You didn't want to! You wouldn't listen! And you—you never have heard that desperate pounding and calling, not even to-night, though even so, with that woman out of the way, I made you feel me! But she'd heard me, the ghoul! She heard me again and again! I made her! I told her what she was, and that you knew it, and I meant it! Her marriage certificate was her license! She gave you a wanton's love, and you gave her just what you got! And I made her understand that! I made her understand it right here in this place! That's why I wanted to come here—I could see only her picture, and I wanted to see a real one of them! Until to-night, I could never see either of you, but I always knew where you were!
"And when you brought her here, I made her look at that enemy of me and my kind that I could always feel—those women that she was one of and that she knew she was one of when I screamed it at her in this place! For I was with you two that night! I was with you till after you'd gone home, you demons! That's why she'd never come near the place again, the coward, the miserable coward! That's why I hate her worse than I hate you! There's a pitiful little excuse for the men, because they're stupider.
"For the hideous doom of all our hopeless millions, the women are more wickedly to blame, because they must face the fact that we are waiting to get in. God, God, I'd gladly be even a woman, if I could! But you're bad enough—bad enough—bad enough to deserve the fate you face to-night! And now, God help you, you're facing it, just as I said you would! You deserve it because you were put here with a purpose and you flatly wouldn't fulfil it! God only demands that mankind should be made in His image. In a wisdom that you have no right to question. He lets the images go their own way, as you've gone yours. Yet you, and all others like you, the simple, humble image-workers, instead of rejoicing that you have work to do, set your little selves up far greater than Great God, and actually decide whether men shall even be!
"You have a lot of hypercritical, self-justifying theories about it—that it's better for them not to live at all than to suffer some of the things that life, even birth itself, can wither them with. But there never yet was any living creature, no matter how smeared and smitten, that told the truth when he said he wished he'd never been born, while we, the countless millions of the lost, pound and shriek for life—forever shriek and hope! That's the worst anguish of the lost—they hope! I've shown what can be done through that anguish, as it's never been shown before. Even the terrible night that woman died, I hoped! I hoped more than ever, for knowing then that for all eternity it was too late, I hoped for revenge! And revenge was my right! Yes, every solitary soul has a right to live, even if it lives to wreck, kill, madden its parents! And now, oh, God, I've got my revenge when I no longer want it! The way you took me in, the way you wanted me to stay when I'd almost frightened you to death, made me want to spare you! It was my fate that I—I liked you—I—more than liked you. And I tried to save you! Oh, God, God, how I've tried!"
As he stood with his hands thrown forth again and his wretched eyes staring into those of the white-faced man, Henry Montagu met the wild gaze unflinchingly. He had sat dumbstruck and shuddering, but the spasmodic quivering of his body had lessened into calmness, and his whispered, slow words gained in steadiness as they came: "My boy, I admit you've nearly driven me to madness just now. I was close to the border! I can't dispute one shred of reproach, of accusation, of contempt. Your fearful explanation of this night, the awful import of your visit and yourself have shaken me to the center of my being. But its huge consistency is that of a madman. You poor, you pitiful, deluded boy, you tell me to believe you are an unborn soul, while you stand there and exist before my eyes!"
The boy gave a cry of agony—agony so immortal that as he sank into his chair and clutched the table, an echoing moan of it wrenched from the older man.
"I don't exist! Didn't I tell you my secret was more terrible than any living heart had ever held? I'm real to you since I made you let me into your thoughts to-night. I'm real to you, and through your last moment of consciousness through eternity I always will be! But I won't be with you! You don't believe me yet, but the moment you do, I won't be here! And I never can be real to any other creature in the universe—not even that prostitute who refused to be my mother! I don't exist, and never can exist!"
"But you do! You do! You do! You're there before me now!" gasped Mr. Montagu through chattering teeth. "How can you deny that you're sitting here with me in this restaurant? I forgive you—I love you, and I forgive you, but, thank God, I see through you at last! You're a fanatic, a poor, frenzied maniac on this subject, and you've morbidly spied on and studied me as a typical case of it; through your devilish understanding and divination you've guessed at that conversation between me and my wife, and like the creature I pictured you in my house, a ravening, devouring thing, you've sought to drag me into your hell of madness! But you shan't! I tell you I see through you at last, you pitiful mad creature! You know you're there before my eyes, and just so truly as you are, not one syllable do I believe of what you've told me!"
As the boy sprang with a venomous shout to his feet, all the hate in his terrible being sprang tenfold into his eyes.
"Do you call me 'mad,' and 'creature'? Do you dare deny me, now, after all I've told you? You coward, you coward! You've denied me life, but you can't deny this night! The people in this place will let you know presently! I tried to spare you. Though I'd thirsted for my revenge I pleaded with you, prayed to you to spare yourself! If you'd stayed in the house, you might have come to your senses and forgotten me! But what hope for you is there now? Do you still believe I exist? Look back at the night! Do you remember the portrait? You commanded me to stop—commanded, as you've always commanded my fate, and I was powerless. To me, that was a parental command—from you, you who deliberately wouldn't be my parent! Did you see me wince under it? If you hadn't done it, you'd have found me out right then! I'm not a physical thing, and I couldn't have moved it! I only said I was going to Maurice's! I couldn't have come here if you hadn't brought me! When you wondered, as we were starting out, whether I had a hat, I stooped down in the hall. But you only thought I picked one up! As we came in here, you only thought I checked it! Did you see the man stare as you reached out to take my check away from me? Have I eaten or drunk to-night? I've not, for I'm not a creature! And mad, I? Look to yourself, as I told you to look before it was too late! You fool, you've been staring inoffensive women out of countenance, with all the hate from my face printed on yours, and in the eyes of all these people you've been sitting here for half an hour talking to yourself, and ordering wine and food for an empty chair! You won't ever believe you're mad, but every one else will!"
"So help me God," cried Henry Montagu, white and trembling, "you're there! I swear you're there!"
"So help you God, I'm there!" cried the boy frightfully, pointing straight at him.
"Right there, in your brain, there, there, and only there! I'm no more flesh and blood than—than I ever was, because, you murderer, you and your damned wife never would let me be! Well, do you see through me now?"
"No! No!" screamed Mr. Montagu. "I don't see through you! I don't!" But as he leaned forward to clutch at him in his terror, all that he could see before him was a closed door beyond a dozen tables, a disused entranceway diagonally opposite the one that had let them in. "I don't believe you!" he wailed. "Oh, my God, my God, my God, where are you?" He turned frantically to the men and women nearest him. "You saw him! There was a boy with me, wasn't there? Wasn't there? Yes, see, there, isn't he going for that door? Oh, my boy, my boy!" And he dashed toward it. He heard the terrible screams of women, and chairs and a table crashed in his wake. He reached it. It was locked.
Desperately sobbing, he hurled himself against it.
It seemed to him as if all the men in the restaurant fell upon him. Strong, merciless hands dragged down and pinioned the wrists with which he had beaten against the door.
[Note 11: Copyright, 1919, by The Pictorial Review Company. Copyright, 1920, by Susan Glaspell Cook.]
BY SUSAN GLASPELL
From The Pictorial Review
Joe Doane couldn't get to sleep. On one side of him a family were crying because their man was dead, and on the other side a man was celebrating because he was alive.
When he couldn't any longer stand the wails of the Cadaras, Joe moved from his bedroom to the lounge in the sitting-room. But the lounge in the sitting-room, beside making his neck go in a way no neck wants to go, brought him too close to Ignace Silva's rejoicings in not having been in one of the dories that turned over when the schooner Lillie-Bennie was caught in the squall last Tuesday afternoon and unable to gather all her men back from the dories before the sea gathered them. Joe Cadara was in a boat that hadn't made it—hence the wails to the left of the Doanes, for Joe Cadara left a wife and four children and they had plenty of friends who could cry, too. But Ignace Silva—more's the pity, for at two o'clock in the morning you like to wish the person who is keeping you awake was dead—got back to the vessel. So to-night his friends were there with bottles, for when a man might be dead certainly the least you can do is to take notice of him by getting him drunk.
People weren't sleeping in Cape's End that night. Those who were neither mourning nor rejoicing were being kept awake by mourners or rejoicers. All the vile, diluted whisky that could be bought on the quiet was in use for the deadening or the heightening of emotion. Joe Doane found himself wishing he had a drink. He'd like to stop thinking about dead fishermen—and hearing live ones. Everybody had been all strung up for two days ever since word came from Boston that the Lillie-Bennie was one of the boats "caught."
They didn't know until the Lillie-Bennie came in that afternoon just how many of her men she was bringing back with her. They were all out on Long Wharf to watch her come in and to see who would come ashore—and who wouldn't. Women were there, and lots of children. Some of these sets of a woman and children went away with a man, holding on to him and laughing, or perhaps looking foolish to think they had ever supposed he could be dead. Others went away as they had come—maybe very still, maybe crying. There were old men who came away carrying things that had belonged to sons who weren't coming ashore. It was all a good deal like a movie—only it didn't rest you.
So he needed sleep, he petulantly told things as he rubbed the back of his neck, wondered why lounges were made like that, and turned over. But instead of sleeping, he thought about Joe Cadara. They were friendly thoughts he had about Joe Cadara; much more friendly than the thoughts he was having about Ignace Silva. For one thing, Joe wasn't making any noise. Even when he was alive, Joe had made little noise. He always had his job on a vessel; he'd come up the Front street in his oilskins, turn in at his little red house, come out after a while and hoe in his garden or patch his wood-shed, sit out on the wharf and listen to what Ignace Silva and other loud-mouthed Portuguese had to say—back to his little red house. He—well, he was a good deal like the sea. It came in, it went out. On Joe Cadara's last trip in, Joe Doane met him just as he was starting out. "Well, Joe," says Joe Doane, "off again?" "Off again," said Joe Cadara, and that was about all there seemed to be to it. He could see him going down the street—short, stocky, slow, dumb. By dumb he meant—oh, dumb like the sea was dumb—just going on doing it. And now—
All of a sudden he couldn't stand Ignace Silva. "Hell!" roared Joe Doane from the window, "don't you know a man's dead?" In an instant the only thing you could hear was the sea. In—Out—
Then he went back to his bedroom. "I'm not sleeping either," said his wife—the way people are quick to make it plain they're as bad off as the next one.
At first it seemed to be still at the Cadaras. The children had gone to sleep—so had the friends. Only one sound now where there had been many before. And that seemed to come out of the sea. You got it after a wave broke—as it was dying out. In that little let-up between an in, an out, you knew that Mrs. Cadara had not gone to sleep, you knew that Mrs. Cadara was crying because Joe Cadara was dead in the sea.
So Joe Doane and his wife Mary lay there and listened to Annie Cadara crying for her husband, Joe Cadara.
Finally Mrs. Doane raised on her pillow and sighed. "Well, I suppose she wonders what she'll do now—those four children."
He could see Joe Cadara's back going down the Front street—broad, slow, dumb. "And I suppose," he said, as if speaking for something that had perhaps never spoken for itself, "that she feels bad because she'll never see him again."
"Why, of course she does," said his wife impatiently, as if he had contradicted something she had said.
But after usurping his thought she went right back to her own. "I don't see how she will get along. I suppose we'll have to help them some."
Joe Doane lay there still. He couldn't help anybody much—more was the pity. He had his own three children—and you could be a Doane without having money to help with—though some people didn't get that through their heads. Things used to be different with the Doanes. When the tide's in and you awake at three in the morning it all gets a good deal like the sea—at least with Joe Doane it did now. His grandfather, Ebenezer Doane, the whaling captain—In—Out—Silas Doane—a fleet of vessels off the Grand Banks—In—Out—All the Doanes. They had helped make the Cape, but—In—Out—Suddenly Joe laughed.
"What are you laughing at?" demanded his wife.
"I was just laughing," said Joe, "to think what those old Doanes would say if they could see us."
"Well, it's not anything to laugh at," said Mrs. Doane.
"Why, I think it is," good-humoredly insisted her husband, "it's such a joke on them."
"If it's a joke," said Mrs. Doane firmly, "it's not on them."
He wasn't sure just who the joke was on. He lay thinking about it. At three in the morning, when you can't sleep and the tide's in, you might get it mixed—who the joke was on.
But, no, the joke was on them, that they'd had their long slow deep In—Out—their whaling and their fleets, and that what came after was him—a tinkerer with other men's boats, a ship's carpenter who'd even work on houses. "Get Joe Doane to do it for you." And glad enough was Joe Doane to do it. And a Portagee livin' to either side of him!
He laughed. "You've got a funny idea of what's a joke," his wife said indignantly.
That seemed to be so. Things he saw as jokes weren't jokes to anybody else. Maybe that was why he sometimes seemed to be all by himself. He was beginning to get lost in an In—Out. Faintly he could hear Mrs. Cadara crying—Joe Cadara was in the sea, and faintly he heard his wife saying, "I suppose Agnes Cadara could wear Myrtie's shoes, only—the way things are, seems Myrtie's got to wear out her own shoes."
Next day when he came home at noon—he was at work then helping Ed. Davis put a new coat on Still's store—he found his two boys—the boys were younger than Myrtie—pressed against the picket fence that separated Doanes from Cadaras.
"What those kids up to?" he asked his wife, while he washed up for dinner.
"Oh, they just want to see," she answered, speaking into the oven.
"See what?" he demanded; but this Mrs. Doane regarded as either too obvious or too difficult to answer, so he went to the door and called, "Joe! Edgar!"
"What you kids rubberin' at?" he demanded.
Young Joe dug with his toe. "The Cadaras have got a lot of company," said he.
"They're crying!" triumphantly announced the younger and more truthful Edgar.
"Well, suppose they are? They got a right to cry in their own house, ain't they? Let the Cadaras be. Find some fun at home."
The boys didn't seem to think this funny, nor did Mrs. Doane, but the father was chuckling to himself as they sat down to their baked flounder.
But to let the Cadaras be and find some fun at home became harder and harder to do. The Lillie-Bennie had lost her men in early Summer and the town was as full of Summer folk as the harbor was of whiting. There had never been a great deal for Summer folk to do in Cape's End, and so the Disaster was no disaster to the Summer's entertainment. In other words, Summer folk called upon the Cadaras. The young Doanes spent much of their time against the picket fence; sometimes young Cadaras would come out and graciously enlighten them. "A woman she brought my mother a black dress." Or, "A lady and two little boys came in automobile and brought me kiddie-car and white pants." One day Joe Doane came home from work and found his youngest child crying because Tony Cadara wouldn't lend him the kiddie-car. This was a reversal of things; heretofore Cadaras had cried for the belongings of the Doanes. Joe laughed about it, and told Edgar to cheer up, and maybe he'd have a kiddie-car himself some day—and meanwhile he had a pa.
Agnes Cadara and Myrtie Doane were about of an age. They were in the same class in high school. One day when Joe Doane was pulling in his dory after being out doing some repairs on the Lillie-Bennie he saw a beautiful young lady standing on the Cadaras' bulkhead. Her back was to him, but you were sure she was beautiful. She had the look of some one from away, but not like the usual run of Summer folk. Myrtie was standing looking over at this distinguished person.
"Who's that?" Joe asked of her.
"Why," said Myrtie, in an awed whisper, "it's Agnes Cadara—in her mourning."
Until she turned around, he wouldn't believe it. "Well," said he to Myrtie, "it's a pity more women haven't got something to mourn about."
"Yes," breathed Myrtie, "isn't she wonderful?"
Agnes's mourning had been given her by young Mrs. MacCrea who lived up on the hill and was herself just finishing mourning. It seemed Mrs. MacCrea and Agnes were built a good deal alike—though you never would have suspected it before Agnes began to mourn. Mrs. MacCrea was from New York, and these clothes had been made by a woman Mrs. MacCrea called by her first name. Well, maybe she was a woman you'd call by her first name, but she certainly did have a way of making you look as if you weren't native to the place you were born in. Before Agnes Cadara had anything to mourn about she was simply "one of those good-looking Portuguese girls." There were too many of them in Cape's End to get excited about any of them. One day he heard some women on the beach talking about how these clothes had "found" Agnes—as if she had been lost.
Mrs. MacCrea showed Agnes how to do her hair in a way that went with her clothes. One noon when Joe got home early because it rained and he couldn't paint, when he went up-stairs he saw Myrtie trying to do this to her hair. Well, it just couldn't be done to Myrtie's hair. Myrtie didn't have hair you could do what you pleased with. She was all red in the face with trying, and being upset because she couldn't do it. He had to laugh—and that didn't help things a bit. So he said:
"Never mind, Myrtie, we can't all go into mourning."
"Well, I don't care," said Myrtie, sniffling, "it's not fair."
He had to laugh again and as she didn't see what there was to laugh at, he had to try to console again. "Never mind, Myrt," said he, "you've got one thing Agnes Cadara's not got."
"I'd like to know what," said Myrtie, jerking at her hair.
He waited; funny she didn't think of it herself. "Why—a father," said he.
"Oh," said Myrtie—the way you do when you don't know what to say. And then, "Well,——"
Again he waited—then laughed; waited again, then turned away.
Somebody gave Mrs. Cadara a fireless cooker. Mrs. Doane had no fireless cooker. So she had to stand all day over her hot stove—and this she spoke of often. "My supper's in the fireless cooker," Mrs. Cadara would say, and stay out in the cool yard, weeding her flowerbed bed. "It certainly would be nice to have one of those fireless cookers," Mrs. Doane would say, as she put a meal on the table and wiped her brow with her apron.
"Well, why don't you kill your husband?" Joe Doane would retort. "Now, if only you didn't have a husband—you could have a fireless cooker."
Jovially he would put the question, "Which would you rather have, a husband or a fireless cooker?" He would argue it out—and he would sometimes get them all to laughing, only the argument was never a very long one. One day it occurred to him that the debates were short because the others didn't hold up their end. He was talking for the fireless cooker—if it was going to be a real debate, they ought to speak up for the husband. But there seemed to be so much less to be said for a husband than there was for a fireless cooker. This struck him as really quite funny, but it seemed it was a joke he had to enjoy by himself. Sometimes when he came home pretty tired—for you could get as tired at odd jobs as at jobs that weren't odd—and heard all about what the Cadaras were that night to eat out of their fireless cooker, he would wish that some one else would do the joking. It was kind of tiresome doing it all by yourself—and kind of lonesome.
One morning he woke up feeling particularly rested and lively. He was going out to work on the Lillie-Bennie, and he always felt in better spirits when he was working on a boat.
It was a cool, fresh, sunny morning. He began a song—he had a way of making up songs. It was, "I'd rather be alive than dead." He didn't think of any more lines, so while he was getting into his clothes he kept singing this one, to a tune which became more and more stirring. He went over to the window by the looking-glass. From this window you looked over to the Cadaras. And then he saw that from the Cadaras a new arrival looked at him.
He stared. Then loud and long he laughed. He threw up the window and called, "Hello, there!"
The new arrival made no reply, unless a slight droop of the head could be called a reply.
"Well, you cap the climax!" called Joe Doane.
Young Doanes had discovered the addition to the Cadara family and came running out of the house.
"Pa!" Edgar called up to him, "the Cadaras have got a Goat!"
"Well, do you know," said his father, "I kind of suspected that was a goat."
Young Cadaras came out of the house to let young Doanes know just what their privileges were to be with the goat—and what they weren't. They could walk around and look at her; they were not to lead her by her rope.
"There's no hope now," said Joe, darkly shaking his head. "No man in his senses would buck up against a goat."
The little Doanes wouldn't come in and eat their breakfast. They'd rather stay out and walk round the goat.
"I think it's too bad," their mother sighed, "the kiddie-car and the ball-suit and the sail-boat were enough for the children to bear—without this goat. It seems our children haven't got any of the things the Cadaras have got."
"Except—" said Joe, and waited for some one to fill it in. But no one did, so he filled it in with a laugh—a rather short laugh.
"Look out they don't put you in the fireless cooker!" he called to the goat as he went off to work.
But he wasn't joking when he came home at noon. He turned in at the front gate and the goat blocked his passage. The Cadaras had been willing to let the goat call upon the Doanes and graze while calling. "Get out of my way!" called Joe Doane in a surly way not like Joe Doane.
"Pa!" said young Joe in an awed whisper, "it's a government goat."
"What do I care if it is?" retorted his father. "Damn the government goat!"
Every one fell back, as when blasphemy—as when treason—have been uttered. These Portuguese kids looking at him like that—as if they were part of the government and he outside. He was so mad that he bawled at Tony Cadara, "To hell with your government goat!"
From her side of the fence, Mrs. Cadara called, "Tony, you bring the goat right home," as one who calls her child—and her goat—away from evil.
"And keep her there!" finished Joe Doane.
The Doanes ate their meal in stricken silence. Finally Doane burst out, "What's the matter with you all? Such a fuss about the orderin' off of a goat."
"It's a government goat," lisped Edgar.
"It's a government goat," repeated his wife in a tense voice.
"What do you mean—government goat? There's no such animal."
But it seemed there was, the Cadaras had, not only the goat, but a book about the goat. The book was from the government. The government had raised the goat and had singled the Cadaras out as a family upon whom a government goat should be conferred. The Cadaras held her in trust for the government. Meanwhile they drank her milk.
"Tony Cadara said, if I'd dig clams for him this afternoon he'd let me help milk her to-night," said young Joe.
This was too much. "Ain't you kids got no spine? Kowtowing to them Portuguese because a few folks that's sorry for them have made them presents. They're ginnies. You're Doanes."
"I want a goat!" wailed Edgar. His father got up from the table.
"The children are all right," said his wife, in her patient voice that made you impatient. "It's natural for them to want a few of the things they see other children having."
He'd get away! As he went through the shed he saw his line and picked it up. He'd go out on the breakwater—maybe he'd get some fish, at least have some peace.
The breakwater wasn't very far down the beach from his house. He used to go out there every once in a while. Every once in a while he had a feeling he had to get by himself. It was half a mile long and of big rocks that had big gaps. You had to do some climbing—you could imagine you were in the mountains—and that made you feel far off and different. Only when the tide came in, the sea filled the gaps—then you had to "watch your step."
He went way out and turned his back on the town and fished. He wasn't to finish the work on the Lillie-Bennie. They said that morning they thought they'd have to send down the Cape for an "expert." So he would probably go to work at the new cold storage—working with a lot of Portagee laborers. He wondered why things were this way with him. They seemed to have just happened so. When you should have had some money it didn't come natural to do the things of people who have no money. The money went out of the "Bank" fishing about three years before his father sold his vessels. During those last three years Captain Silas Doane had spent all the money he had to keep things going, refusing to believe that the way of handling fish had changed and that the fishing between Cape's End and the Grand Banks would no longer be what it had been. When he sold he kept one vessel, and the next Winter she went ashore right across there on the northeast arm of the Cape. Joe Doane was aboard her that night. Myrtie was a baby then. It was of little Myrtie he thought when it seemed the vessel would pound herself to pieces before they could get off. He couldn't be lost! He had to live and work so his little girl could have everything she wanted—After that the Doanes were without a vessel—and Doanes without a vessel were fish out of sea. They had never been folks to work on another man's boat. He supposed he had never started any big new thing because it had always seemed he was just filling in between trips. A good many years had slipped by and he was still just putting in time. And it began to look as if there wasn't going to be another trip.
Suddenly he had to laugh. Some joke on Joe Cadara! He could see him going down the Front street—broad, slow, dumb. Why, Joe Cadara thought his family needed him. He thought they got along because he made those trips. But had Joe Cadara ever been able to give his wife a fireless cooker? Had the government presented a goat to the Cadaras when Joe was there? Joe Doane sat out on the breakwater and laughed at the joke on Joe Cadara. When Agnes Cadara was a little girl she would run to meet her father when he came in from a trip. Joe Doane used to like to see the dash she made. But Agnes was just tickled to death with her mourning!
He sat there a long time—sat there until he didn't know whether it was a joke or not. But he got two haddock and more whiting than he wanted to carry home. So he felt better. A man sometimes needed to get off by himself.
As he was turning in at home he saw Ignace Silva about to start out on a trip with Captain Gorspie. Silva thought he had to go. But Silva had been saved—and had his wife a fireless cooker? Suddenly Joe Doane called.
"Hey! Silva! You're the government goat!"
The way Doane laughed made Silva know this was a joke; not having a joke of his own he just turned this one around and sent it back. "Government goat yourself!"
"Shouldn't wonder," returned Joe jovially.
He had every Doane laughing at supper that night. "Bear up! Bear up! True, you've got a father instead of a goat—but we've all got our cross! We all have our cross to bear!"
"Say!" said he after supper, "every woman, every kid, puts on a hat, and up we go to see if Ed. Smith might happen to have a soda."
As they were starting out, he peered over at the Cadaras in mock surprise. "Why, what's the matter with that goat? That goat don't seem to be takin' the Cadaras out for a soda."
Next day he started to make a kiddie-car for Edgar. He promised Joe he'd make him a sail-boat. But it was up-hill work. The Cape's End Summer folk gave a "Streets of Bagdad" and the "disaster families" got the proceeds. Then when the Summer folk began to go away it was quite natural to give what they didn't want to take with them to a family that had had a disaster. The Doanes had had no disaster; anyway, the Doanes weren't the kind of people you'd think of giving things to. True, Mr. Doane would sometimes come and put on your screen-doors for you, but it was as if a neighbor had come in to lend a hand. A man who lives beside the sea and works on the land is not a picturesque figure. Then, in addition to being alive, Joe Doane wasn't Portuguese. So the Cadaras got the underwear and the bats and preserves that weren't to be taken back to town. No one father—certainly not a father without a steady job—could hope to compete with all that wouldn't go into trunks.
Anyway, he couldn't possibly make a goat. No wit or no kindness which emanated from him could do for his boys what that goat did for the Cadaras. Joe Doane came to throw an awful hate on the government goat. Portagees were only Portagees—yet they had the government goat. Why, there had been Doanes on that Cape for more than a hundred years. There had been times when everybody round there worked for the Doanes, but now the closest his boys could come to the government was beddin' down the Cadaras' government goat! Twenty-five years ago Cadaras had huddled in a hut on the God-forsaken Azores! If they knew there was a United States government, all they knew was that there was one. And now it was these Cadara kids were putting on airs to him about the government. He knew there was a joke behind all this, behind his getting so wrought up about it, but he would sit and watch that goat eat leaves in the vacant lot across from the Cadaras until the goat wasn't just a goat. It was the turn things had taken. One day as he was sitting watching Tony Cadara milking his goat—wistful boys standing by—Ignace Silva, just in from a trip, called out, "Government goat yourself!" and laughed at he knew not what.
By God!—'t was true! A Doane without a vessel. A native who had let himself be crowded out by ignorant upstarts from a filthy dot in the sea! A man who hadn't got his bearings in the turn things had taken. Of a family who had built up a place for other folks to grow fat in. Sure he was the government goat. By just being alive he kept his family from all the fancy things they might have if he was dead. Could you be more of a goat than that?
Agnes Cadara and Myrtie came up the street together. He had a feeling that Myrtie was set up because she was walking along with Agnes Cadara. Time had been when Agnes Cadara had hung around in order to go with Myrtie! Suddenly he thought of how his wife had said maybe Agnes Cadara could wear Myrtie's shoes. He looked at Agnes Cadara's feet—at Myrtie's. Why, Myrtie looked like a kid from an orphan asylum walking along with the daughter of the big man of the town!
He got up and started toward town. He wouldn't stand it! He'd show 'em! He'd buy Myrtie—— Why, he'd buy Myrtie——! He put his hand in his pocket. Change from a dollar. The rest of the week's pay had gone to Lou Hibbard for groceries. Well, he could hang it up at Wilkinson's. He'd buy Myrtie——!
He came to a millinery store. There was a lot of black ribbon strewn around in the window. He stood and looked at it. Then he laughed. Just the thing!
"Cheer up, Myrt," said he, when he got back home and presented it to her. "You can mourn a little. For that matter, you've got a little to mourn about."
Myrtie took it doubtfully—then wound it round her throat. She liked it, and this made her father laugh. He laughed a long time—it was as if he didn't want to be left without the sound of his laughing.
"There's nothing so silly as to laugh when there's nothing to laugh at," his wife said finally.
"Oh, I don't know about that," said Joe Doane.
"And while it's very nice to make the children presents, in our circumstances it would be better to give them useful presents."
"But what's so useful as mourning?" demanded Doane. "Think of all Myrtie has got to mourn about. Poor, poor Myrtie—she's got a father!"
You can say a thing until you think it's so. You can say a thing until you make other people think it's so. He joked about standing between them and a fireless cooker until he could see them thinking about it. All the time he hated his old job at the cold storage. A Doane had no business to be ashore freezing fish. It was the business of a Doane to go out to sea and come home with a full vessel.
One day he broke through that old notion that Doanes didn't work on other men's boats and half in a joke proposed to Captain Cook that he fire a ginnie or two and give him a berth on the Elizabeth. And Bill Cook was rattled. Finally he laughed and said, "Why, Joe, you ought to be on your own vessel"—which was a way of saying he didn't want him on his. Why didn't he? Did they think because he hadn't made a trip for so long that he wasn't good for one? Did they think a Doane couldn't take orders? Well, there weren't many boats he would go on. Most of them in the harbor now were owned by Portuguese. He guessed it wouldn't come natural to him to take orders from a Portagee—not at sea. He was taking orders from one now at the cold storage—but as the cold storage wasn't where he belonged it didn't make so much difference who he took orders from.
At the close of that day Bill Cook told him he ought to be on his own vessel, Joe Doane sat at the top of those steps which led from his house down to the sea and his thoughts were like the sails coming round the Point—slowly, in a procession, and from a long way off. His father's boats used to come round that Point this same way. He was lonesome to-night. He felt half like an old man and half like a little boy.
Mrs. Cadara was standing over on the platform to the front of her house. She too was looking at the sails to the far side of the breakwater—sails coming home. He wondered if she was thinking about Joe Cadara—wishing he was on one of those boats. Did she ever think about Joe Cadara? Did she ever wish he would come home? He'd like to ask her. He'd like to know. When you went away and didn't come back home, was all they thought about how they'd get along? And if they were getting along all right, was it true they'd just as soon be without you?
He got up. He had a sudden crazy feeling he wanted to fight for Joe Cadara. He wanted to go over there and say to that fireless cooker woman, "Trip after trip he made, in the cold and in the storm. He kept you warm and safe here at home. It was for you he went; it was to you he came back. And you'll miss him yet. Think this is going to keep up? Think you're going to interest those rich folks as much next year as you did this? Five years from now you'll be on your knees with a brush to keep those kids warm and fed."
He'd like to get the truth out of her! Somehow things wouldn't seem so rotten if he could know that she sometimes lay in her bed at night and cried for Joe Cadara.
It was quiet to-night; all the Cadara children and all the Doanes were out looking for the government goat. The government goat was increasing her range. She seemed to know that, being a government goat, she was protected from harm. If a government goat comes in your yard, you are a little slow to fire a tin can at her—not knowing just how treasonous this may be. Nobody in Cape's End knew the exact status of a government goat, and each one hesitated to ask for the very good reason that the person asked might know and you would then be exposed as one who knew less than some one else. So the government goat went about where she pleased, and to-night she had pleased to go far. It left the neighborhood quiet—the government goat having many guardians.
Joe Doane felt like saying something to Mrs. Cadara. Not the rough, wild thing he had wanted to say a moment before, but just say something to her. He and she were the only people around—children all away and his wife up-stairs with a headache. He felt lonesome and he thought she looked that way—standing there against the sea in light that was getting dim. She and Joe Cadara used to sit out on that bulkhead. She moved toward him, as if she were lonesome and wanted to speak. On his side of the fence, he moved a little nearer her. She said,
"My, I hope the goat's not lost!"
He said nothing.
"That goat, she's so tame," went on Joe Cadara's wife with pride and affection, "she'll follow anybody around like a dog."
Joe Doane got up and went in the house.
It got so he didn't talk much to anybody. He sometimes had jokes, for he'd laugh, but they were jokes he had all to himself and his laughing would come as a surprise and make others turn and stare at him. It made him seem off by himself, even when they were all sitting round the table. He laughed at things that weren't things to laugh at, as when Myrtie said, "Agnes Cadara had a letter from Mrs. MacCrea and a mourning handkerchief." And after he'd laughed at a thing like that which nobody else saw as a thing to laugh at, he'd sit and stare out at the water. "Do be cheerful," his wife would say. He'd laugh at that.
But one day he burst out and said things. It was a Sunday afternoon and the Cadaras were all going to the cemetery. Every Sunday afternoon they went and took flowers to the stone that said, "Lost at Sea." Agnes would call, "Come, Tony! We dress now for the cemetery," in a way that made the Doane children feel that they had nothing at all to do. They filed out at the gate dressed in the best the Summer folk had left them and it seemed as if there were a fair, or a circus, and all the Doanes had to stay at home.
This afternoon he didn't know they were going until he saw Myrtie at the window. He wondered what she could be looking at as if she wanted it so much. When he saw, he had to laugh.
"Why, Myrt," said he, "you can go to the cemetery if you want to. There are lots of Doanes there. Go on and pay them a visit.
"I'm sure they'd be real glad to see you," he went on, as she stood there doubtfully. "I doubt if anybody has visited them for a long time. You could visit your great-grandfather, Ebenezer Doane. Whales were so afraid of that man that they'd send word around from sea to sea that he was coming. And Lucy Doane is there—Ebenezer's wife. Lucy Doane was a woman who took what she wanted. Maybe the whales were afraid of Ebenezer—but Lucy wasn't. There was a dispute between her and her brother about a quilt of their mother's, and in the dead of night she went into his house and took it off him while he slept. Spunk up! Be like the old Doanes! Go to the cemetery and wander around from grave to grave while the Cadaras are standin' by their one stone! My father—he'd be glad to see you. Why, if he was alive now—if Captain Silas Doane was here, he'd let the Cadaras know whether they could walk on the sidewalk or whether they were to go in the street!"
Myrtie was interested, but after a moment she turned away. "You only go for near relatives," she sighed.
He stood staring at the place where she had been. He laughed; stopped the laugh; stood there staring. "You only go for near relatives." Slowly he turned and walked out of the house. The government goat, left home alone, came up to him as if she thought she'd take a walk too.
"Go to hell!" said Joe Doane, and his voice showed that inside he was crying.
Head down, he walked along the beach as far as the breakwater. He started out on it, not thinking of what he was doing. So the only thing he could do for Myrtie was give her a reason for going to the cemetery. She wanted him in the cemetery—so she'd have some place to go on Sunday afternoons! She could wear black then—all black, not just a ribbon round her neck. Suddenly he stood still. Would she have any black to wear? He had thought of a joke before which all other jokes he had ever thought of were small and sick. Suppose he were to take himself out of the way and then they didn't get the things they thought they'd have in place of him? He walked on fast—fast and crafty, picking his way among the smaller stones in between the giant stones in a fast, sure way he never could have picked it had he been thinking of where he went. He went along like a cat who is going to get a mouse. And in him grew this giant joke. Who'd give them the fireless cooker? Would it come into anybody's head to give young Joe Doane a sail-boat just because his father was dead? They'd rather have a goat than a father. But suppose they were to lose the father and get no goat? Myrtie'd be a mourner without any mourning. She'd be ashamed to go to the cemetery.
He laughed so that he found himself down, sitting down on one of the smaller rocks between the giant rocks, on the side away from town, looking out to sea.
He forgot his joke and knew that he wanted to return to the sea. Doanes belonged at sea. Ashore things struck you funny—then, after they'd once got to you, hurt. He thought about how he used to come round this Point when Myrtie was a baby. As he passed this very spot and saw the town lying there in the sun he'd think about her, and how he'd see her now, and how she'd kick and crow. But now Myrtie wanted to go and visit him—in the cemetery. Oh, it was a joke all right. But he guessed he was tired of jokes. Except the one great joke—joke that seemed to slap the whole of life right smack in the face.
The tide was coming in. In—Out—Doanes and Doanes. In—Out—Him too. In—Out—He was getting wet. He'd have to move up higher. But—why move? Perhaps this was as near as he could come to getting back to sea. Caught in the breakwater. That was about it—wasn't it? Rocks were queer things. You could wedge yourself in where you couldn't get yourself out. He hardly had to move. If he'd picked a place he couldn't have picked a better one. Wedge himself in—tide almost in now—too hard to get out—pounded to pieces, like the last vessel Doanes had owned. Near as he could come to getting back to sea. Near as he deserved to come—him freezing fish with ginnies. And there'd be no fireless cooker!
He twisted his shoulders to wedge in where it wouldn't be easy to wedge out. Face turned up, he saw something move on the great flat rock above the jagged rocks. He pulled himself up a little; he rose; he swung up to the big rock above him. On one flat-topped boulder stood Joe Doane. On the other flat-topped boulder stood the government goat.
"Go to hell!" said Joe Doane, and he was sobbing. "Go to hell!"
The government goat nodded her head a little in a way that wagged her beard and shook her bag.
"Go home! Drown yourself! Let me be! Go 'way!" It was fast, and choked, and he was shaking.
The goat would do none of these things. He sat down, his back to the government goat, and tried to forget that she was there. But there are moments when a goat is not easy to forget. He was willing there should be some joke to his death—like caught in the breakwater, but he wasn't going to die before a goat. After all, he'd amounted to a little more than that. He'd look around to see if perhaps she had started home. But she was always standing right there looking at him.
Finally he jumped up in a fury. "What'd you come for? What do you want of me? How do you expect to get home?" Between each question he'd wait for an answer. None came.
He picked up a small rock and threw it at the government goat. She jumped, slipped, and would have fallen from the boulder if he hadn't caught at her hind legs. Having saved her, he yelled: "You needn't expect me to save you. Don't expect anything from me!"
He'd have new gusts of fury at her. "What you out here for? Think you was a mountain goat? Don't you know the tide's comin' in? Think you can get back easy as you got out?"
He kicked at her hind legs to make her move on. She stood and looked at the water which covered the in-between rocks on which she had picked her way out. "Course," said Joe Doane. "Tide's in—you fool! You damned goat!" With the strength of a man who is full of fury he picked her up and threw her to the next boulder. "Hope you kill yourself!" was his heartening word.
But the government goat did not kill herself. She only looked around for further help.
To get away from her, he had to get her ashore. He guided and lifted, planted fore legs and shoved at hind legs, all the time telling her he hoped she'd kill herself. Once he stood still and looked all around and thought. After that he gave the government goat a shove that sent her in water above her knees. Then he had to get in too and help her to a higher rock.
It was after he had thus saved the government goat from the sea out of which the government goat had cheated him that he looked ahead to see there were watchers on the shore. Cadaras had returned from the cemetery. Cadaras and Doanes were watching him bring home the government goat.
From time to time he'd look up at them. There seemed to be no little agitation among this group. They'd hold on to each other and jump up and down like watchers whose men are being brought in from a wreck. There was one place where again he had to lift the government goat. After this he heard shouts and looked ashore to see his boys dancing up and down like little Indians.
Finally they had made it. The watchers on the shore came running out to meet them.
"Oh, Mr. Doane!" cried Mrs. Cadara, hands out-stretched, "I am thankful to you! You saved my goat! I have no man myself to save my goat. I have no man. I have no man!"
Mrs. Cadara covered her face with her hands, swayed back and forth, and sobbed because her man was dead.
Young Cadaras gathered around her. They seemed of a sudden to know they had no father, and to realize that this was a thing to be deplored. Agnes even wet her mourning handkerchief.
Myrtie came up and took his arm. "Oh, Father," said she, "I was so 'fraid you'd hurt yourself!"
He looked down into his little girl's face. He realized that just a little while before he had expected never to look into her face again. He looked at the government goat, standing a little apart, benevolently regarding this humankind. Suddenly Joe Doane began to laugh. He laughed—laughed—and laughed. And it was a laugh.
"When I saw you lift that goat!" said his wife, in the voice of a woman who may not have a fireless cooker, but—!
Young Joe Doane, too long brow-beaten not to hold the moment of his advantage, began dancing round Tony Cadara with the taunting yell, "You ain't got no pa to save your goat!" And Edgar lispingly chimed in, "Ain't got no pa to save your goat!"
"Here!" cried their father, "Stop devilin' them kids about what they can't help. Come! Hats on! Every Doane, every Cadara, goes up to see if Ed. Smith might happen to have a soda."
But young Joe had suffered too long to be quickly silent. "You ain't got no pa to get you soda!" persisted he.
"Joe!" commanded his father, "stop pesterin' them kids or I'll lick you!"
And Joe, drunk with the joy of having what the Cadaras had not, shrieked, "You ain't got no pa to lick you! You ain't got no pa to lick you!"
[Note 12: Copyright, 1919, by The Pictorial Review Company. Copyright, 1920, by Henry Goodman.]
BY HENRY GOODMAN
From The Pictorial Review
"Martha Sloan is goin' the way o' Jim," said Deems Lennon to his wife. "See," and he pointed through the open window toward the cemetery. "I seen her before Jim's stone, beggin' on her knees an' mumblin' with her hands stretched out. She been that way a number o' times when I come upon her as I was fixin' up the graves."
Mrs. Lennon, a stout, pleasant-faced woman, looked in the direction indicated by her husband. Together they watched Martha Sloan, white-haired, thin, and bent, making her way up the cemetery path. She was nervous and her walk was broken by little, sudden pauses in which she looked about.
"Poor soul," said Mrs. Lennon, "she's afraid. She ain't been herself sence Dorothy died. Losin' the two children right after Jim has broken her up completely."
"She's afraid for herself," said her husband. "If you heard her up there by that stone you'd have thought she was speakin' to some one alive, to some one who could do her things."
"Oh well, that's enough to make any one queer," Mrs. Lennon said. Then she stopped, and watched the figure on the hillside.
"Look," said Mrs. Lennon, "look at her. She's down on her knees."
Deems stood by her near the window.
"That's it," he exclaimed. "That's exactly what she's been doing now for some time. I heard her speak. I don't know where she got the idea. She thinks Jim's following her—reaching out for her—trying to grasp her. I heard her plead. I don't know what'll come of it."
They were both startled when, as suddenly as Martha Sloan had knelt, she rose from her place before the gravestone and, moving in nervous haste, ran down the pathway.
"Deems, we must go to her," said Mrs. Lennon. "Maybe we can do something for her." And as they both hurried into the kitchen and out of the house, Martha Sloan, panting and white-faced with fright, rushed to the house.
"Deems," she gasped. "Deems, it's Jim. He's reaching out. He's reaching out to seize me."
"Martha, calm yourself," said Deems, taking Martha Sloan's shaking hand in his. "That ain't right. You're sensible. You mustn't think so much of it. You must keep your mind away."
"That's right, Martha," Mrs. Lennon said, as she helped Martha Sloan into the house. "You mustn't keep thinking of Jim, and keep going up there all the time. There's many things waiting for you at home, and when you're through there why don't you come over to us?"
But Martha Sloan, either not hearing or not heeding the words of Deems and his wife, sat huddled, nervously whispering, more to herself than to her friends. "It's Jim. It's his hand reaching out to me. He took Dorothy. He took Joseph, and he's reaching out now to me. He can't stand having me living."
She was nervous and in the power of a fear that was stronger than her will. She sat uneasily looking about her as if knowing that she was safe in the house of friends, but as if feeling herself momentarily in the presence of something strange and frightful. She cast frightened looks about her, at the room, at Mrs. Lennon, and at Deems. She looked at them in silence as if she did not know how to speak to them until, prompted by great uneasiness, she spoke in a loud whisper, "Take me home. Take me home, Deems. I want to get away."
Deems slipped into his coat, said to his wife, "I'll be back soon," then, helping Martha from the chair, walked out with her.
"Come now, Martha, you know us well enough. We're your friends, aren't we? And we tell you there's nothing to fear. It's all your believing. There's nothing after you. There's nothing you need fear."
"You don't know. It was he took my two children. He took Dorothy. When they laid her out in the parlor, I could just see him standing at her head. He was cruel when he lived. He beat them; Dorothy and Joseph, they hated him. And when they laid out Joseph after his fall, when the bridge gave way, Jim was standing by his head, and his eyes were laughing at me like he'd say, 'I took him, but now there's you.' And he's trying for me now."
Deems was pleased that she was speaking. He hoped that in conversing she would find respite from her thoughts.
"No, Martha," he said, "that wasn't Jim took Dorothy and Joseph. You know there's a God that gives and takes. Their years were run. Can't you see, Martha?"
"It was Jim who took. He couldn't see them living. When he lived he couldn't see them growing up to be themselves. He took them like he took me from you. D' you remember, Deems, how he came and in no time I was his? He owned me completely."
Deems was silent. There was no arguing. Even now there was vividly alive in his mind, and, he knew, in the minds of the other villagers, the recollection of that sense of possession which went with Jim Sloan. He recalled that William Carrol had hanged himself when he could not pay Jim Sloan the debt he owed him. It was true that Jim Sloan had owned his children as if they were pieces of property. The whole village had learned to know this fact soon after these children had grown up. Deems, recalling his feelings for Martha Sloan, remembered now the amazement, the astonishment, with which he had viewed the change that came over Martha immediately after her marriage to Jim Sloan.
She had been light-hearted and joyful as if overflowing with the vitality natural to the country about the village. There had been gladness in her laugh. Immediately after her marriage all this had changed.
Martha had been wont to run lightly about her father's house. Her movements had become suddenly freighted with a seriousness that was not natural to her. Her laughter quieted to a restrained smile which in turn gave way to a uniform seriousness. The whole village noted and remarked the change. "He is older than she," they said, "and is making her see things as he does."
When they reached the house, Martha, without a word, left Deems and hurried in. Deems turned away, looking back and shaking his head, the while he mumbled to himself, "There's no good in this. There's no good for Martha."
He was struck motionless when suddenly he beheld Martha by the window. He had thought her slightly composed when she had left him, for her manner was more quiet than it had been. Now he was startled. Out of the window she leaned, her eyes fastened on the distant gravestone—white, large, and dominating—a shaft that rose upright like a gigantic spear on the crest of the hill. He watched her face and head and saw that her movements were frightened. As she moved her head—it seemed she was following something with her eyes which, look as closely as he could, he failed to make out—there was a jerkiness of movement that showed her alert and startled.
From the musty, dark parlor Martha looked out on the cemetery. There, clear in the evening light, stood the large white stone—a terrible symbol that held her. To her nervous mind, alive with the creations of her fear, it seemed she could read the lines,
JAMES SLOAN BORN SEPT. 14, 1857 DIED NOV. 12, 1915
and below it, stamped clearly and illumined by her fright,
HIS FAITHFUL WIFE MARTHA SLOAN BORN AUG. 9, 1871. DIED——
At the thought of the word "Died," followed by the dash, she recoiled. The dash reaching out to her—reaching to her—swept into her mind all the graspingness of James which had squeezed the sweetness out of life—all the hardness which had marked his possession of her. Was it her mind, prodded by terror, that visualized it? There, seeming to advance from the hill, from the cemetery, from the very gravestone which was beginning to blot and blurr in her vision, she saw a hand—his hand! It was coming—coming to her, to crush what of life was left in her.
Even in her own mind, it was a miracle that she had survived Jim's tenacity. When Jim had died, she began suddenly to recover her former manner of life. She began to win back to herself. It was as if, the siege of Winter having lifted, the breath and warmth of Spring might now again prevail.
Then had come the horrors of uncontrollable dreams followed by the death by fire of Dorothy. That had shaken her completely.
She recalled their rescuing Dorothy, how they had dragged her out of the fire, her clothes all burned off. They had sought to nurse her back to health, and in the week before her daughter died she had learned something of what had happened the night of the fire. In her sleep Dorothy had heard herself called and she thought it was her father's voice. She had arisen when she seemed to see beside her her father as he had looked in life.
She had followed him to the barn and suddenly he had told her that he had come back to take her with him as he had promised to before his death. In her struggle to escape him she had flung the lantern. In the parlor they had laid out Dorothy—a blackened, burnt frame.
All her care and love and solicitude she concentrated on Joseph. She thought that perhaps by an intenser, all embracing love for Joseph she would be enabled to defeat the spell that she felt hanging over her life. Then, when it seemed that life would begin anew to take on a definite meaning—Joseph, grown up, was giving purpose to it—she remembered that some one had knocked timidly on the door and had announced in a frightened voice: "Mrs. Sloan! There's been a terrible accident, the bridge fell——?" She remembered that she had screamed, "My Joseph! My boy!" and then had found herself in the parlor, the body laid out on the couch.
She remembered suddenly that the parlor had seemed to contain the presence of Jim. She had looked up to see dimly what seemed the figure and face of her dead husband. In the eyes that seemed to be laughing she read the threat, "I took him, but now there's you."
As these recollections flooded and flowed through her mind, a frightened nervousness seized upon Martha, standing by the window. Somehow she was being held by a fear to move. Something seemed to have robbed her of the strength and resolution to turn from the window.
There came to her the impression that there was some one in the room with her. The feeling grew subtly upon her and added to her fear of turning around. So she kept her eyes looking out of the window up at where the shaft of the gravestone stood. But, more clearly now than before, she sensed something that seemed to reach out from the gravestone and carry to her, and at the same time there grew the feeling that the presence in the room was approaching her.
She was held in fright. All her nervous impulses impelled her to flight. Like a whip that was descending over her head, came the mirage from the gravestone until, in a mad, wild attempt to evade it, she flung about in the room as if to dash across and away from the window. Suddenly she was halted in her passage by the presence of Jim. The dim parlor was somehow filled with a sense of his being there, and in the dusk near the mantelpiece and at the head of the couch, there stood in shadowy outline her husband, come back.
"Jim!" she uttered, in a frightened gasp, and threw her hands outward to protect herself from his purpose. But she saw clearly the shadowy face and eyes that said unmistakably, "I have come for you."
She was terror-bound. There was no advance, for moving forward meant coming closer to that presence, meant walking into his very grasp.
She was about to speak, to plead for herself, to beg, "Jim, leave me."
In her terror and dread of his approach, she turned hastily to the window and leaped down. Wildly she scrambled up, bruised and shaken, and screaming hoarsely, while in unthinking terror she moved her hands, as if beating off unwelcome hands, she ran pantingly up the road which led to Deems's house.
The silence and the air of happy quietness that filled the house of her friends seemed to lay a spell upon Martha. Caring for her as if she were of the household, Deems and his wife were gratified by the change that apparently was coming over their charge.
In their room, after Martha had bid them good night, Deems questioned his wife.
"And how is Martha behavin', now?"
"You couldn't tell she's the same woman. Remember how she was when we found her at the door that night—all mumbling and frightened so she couldn't talk? Well, now she's calm and happy like. What she needed was being with some one."
The quietness of her surroundings had had its effect on Martha. They showed in the calm self-possession with which she walked about, persisting in her efforts to help Mrs. Lennon in her household work. The atmosphere of bustling activity—Deems's coming and going from the village, from the cemetery, whither he went with his trowel and spade to keep in repairs the many graves and plots on the hillside—all this seemed to have drawn on some reservoir of unsuspected vitality and composure within Martha.
These were the visible effects. In fact, however, there had grown in Martha's mind a plan—a desire to cut herself forever free of Jim's sinister possession—and this plan she fed from a reservoir of nervous power that was fear and terror converted into cunning and despair. She went about the house not as if relieved of fear of Jim, but cautiously, as if somewhere in back of her mind was a way out, a way out, to win which required care and watchfulness.
In this spirit she observed Deems's movements about the house until she learned where he left his lantern and the box where he put away his trowel and mallet and chisel. Now that the plan was clear in her own mind, there was nothing to do but carry it out. She would cut the dreadful tie that held her to Jim—the tie, the potency of which gave to the dead man the power of holding her so completely. Reckoning thus, she became wary of her companions as if fearing that they might in some way interfere with her plans if they got wind of them. She knew that her every move was watched, for she found that Mrs. Lennon had constituted herself her guardian. Since her coming to the house, she had never left its shelter, finding at first that companionship and reassurance which gave her courage and resolution against Jim and the power to survive the terror of thought of him, and finding finally that, with the formation of her plan, she would have to conceal it from Deems and his wife. She came to this conclusion in this wise.
One day, in the kitchen she came upon a newly sharpened cleaver, its edge invisibly thin and its broad, flat side gleaming in the sun. Mrs. Lennon was by the window and from without came the sounds of Deems chopping wood.
Her mind was filled with a sudden clearness of thought and, swinging the cleaver in the air, she said to Mrs. Lennon:
"You know—here's how I can break away from Jim. When he reaches out—reaches out for me, I can just cut off his hand."
Mrs. Lennon stood motionless, startled by the unexpected words. She had thought Martha's mind free of all fears of Jim. She was brought up sharply by this sudden speech and gesture. "Deems," she called, "Deems, come here."
Deems had taken the cleaver hastily from Martha's hands, and that night told his wife that Martha would have to be watched closely. He feared that Martha was becoming deranged.
Martha had discovered that she was watched when one night she left her room. She heard the door open and instantly she felt the hands of Mrs. Lennon on her arm and heard a gentle, persuasive voice asking her to return to bed.
It was the next day, in the dusk of a turn in the hallway, that Martha once more felt the presence of Jim. If her life in the peaceful household of her friends had brought an outward calm, a mantle of repose and quiet, this was instantly torn up by the vision that formed before her eyes in the half dim hallway. Instantly she was the old Martha, held in the grasp of terror. Her face was drawn in tense, white lines, her lips were deformed, and with trembling gaunt hands she thrust back the apparition. Her screams, "Jim, let me be, let me be," brought Mrs. Lennon running and called Deems from his work in the wood-shed.
They found her in a faint on the floor. They carried her to her room and put her to bed, Mrs. Lennon speaking to her, soothing and trying to bring her back to her former calm.
There followed a few days of rain which seemed in some way to make Martha less uneasy and restless. Deems and his wife, seeing her silent and apparently resting, felt that slowly the terror she had been suffering was being washed out. Martha's attitude encouraged this feeling. She rested in silence, attentive to the dropping of the rain and learning once more to wear her old-time composure.
When Deems returned toward nightfall one day, it was with the news that the incessant rains had done serious damage in the cemetery. Dripping from the drenching he had received in his tour of inspection, his boots muddy, and his hands dirty from holding to the precarious bushes, he shook with cold as he reported on what he had found. In his narrative he had quite forgotten the presence of Martha who sat by, silent and waxen-faced.
"And you ought to see," he said, turning to his wife, "how the rain has run down those graves. You know, it's loosened Jim Sloan's stone so, I'm afraid it'll fall against the first heavy blow."
Martha's exclamation "Oh!" recalled to him her presence. He stopped talking for a while, then hoping to blot out the effects of his statement he began a lively story of the number of trees that had fallen across the road, and how he had been told that over at Rampaco the post-office had been struck by lightning.
He did not know it, but Martha was deaf to his reports. She had her own thoughts. She felt herself curiously strong of will, and there raced in her blood the high determination to act that very night. Not for nothing had she spent the rain drenched days in terrified silence in her room. All of her energies that were still capable of being mustered to her resolve, she had converted in the crucible of her will, and huddled in terror, she had forged the determination to go out when the time came and to cut herself free of the fiendish power that was searing her mind and slowly crushing her. She remembered that in her faint, when she lay limp and inert, a thing of dread, she had felt herself crumple up at the touch of Jim—Jim reaching out to her. Now she would cut herself free of him at the very source of his power over her. She would go that very night.
She cast a glance toward the closet where Deems kept his trowel and chisel. She would have need of them, she knew. She said "Good night" rather more loudly and vehemently than she had intended, for she was feeling nervous.
She was awakened by a feeling of cold. As she sat up she saw that the door was open. What was it drew her eyes through the hallway and out into the open and brought her up suddenly? There came upon her an eeriness that startled and chilled her, and suddenly, as if it were coming at her through the open door, fingers out-thrust, there appeared the hand.
She was out of bed on the instant. Somehow in her throat she repressed the upstartled cry, "Jim," by an effort that strained all her nerves and made her face bloodless white. She could not, however, repress completely the instinctive movement of her hands to ward off the menacing hand. Suddenly a panic seized her and in terrified haste she moved to the closet and, feeling a moment, took what she knew was Deems's chisel.
Do what she could, she could not stem the flow of panic, and suddenly as she began to pant and breathe heavily with the strain of terror, she began also to gasp her pleadings to Jim.
"Don't, Jim. Don't take me," and, as if not at all of her own volition, but at that of a guiding power, she moved out of the house, ghastly in the night, mumbling and shivering.
She was still atremble—she was now chilled by the dampness of ground and air—when she stood by Jim Sloan's gravestone. White it gleamed against the sky, and now Martha's trembling and murmuring turned into a furious industry as she raised the chisel to the stone.
"Jim—you'll let me be, won't you? You'll let me be? I want 'a live yet." She began a frenzied hacking at the gravestone, seeing nothing but the play of her chisel, and the white, fearful stone towering over her, hearing nothing but the rasp of the chisel—not even hearing the rattle of the loosened gravel as it slid from under the stone.
Deems Lennon and his wife were awakened by a heavy crash. "What can it be?" he asked his wife, and then left the bed and ran up to Martha's room. She was gone. Instantly they were both fully awake.
"It's Jim's grave she's gone to," ventured Deems. "Remember the way she said 'Oh!' that time I told how the rain loosened the stone? Come on, we'll go see."
In the dark when they were near the spot where the stone used to stand, they heard a moaning. They approached and found Martha caught under the stone, her body crushed, her dying breath coming slowly and heavily, carrying her words, "Let me go! Jim, let me go!"
TO THE BITTER END
[Note 13: Copyright, 1919, by The Curtis Publishing Company. Copyright, 1920, by Richard Matthews Hallet.]
BY RICHARD MATTHEWS HALLET
From The Saturday Evening Post
The feud between Hat Tyler and Mrs. Elmer Higgins sprang out of a chance laugh of Elmer's when he was making his first trip as cadet. Hat Tyler was a sea captain, and of a formidable type. She was master of the Susie P. Oliver, and her husband, Tyler, was mate. They were bound for New York with a load of paving stones when they collided with the coasting steamer Alfred de Vigny, in which Elmer was serving his apprenticeship as a cadet officer.
The old cadet had just come up on the bridge from taking a sounding—he even had a specimen of the bottom in his hand, he said later, sand with black specks and broken shell—when something queer attracted his attention half a point on the starboard bow. It was a thick foggy night, ships bellowing all round, and a weird-looking tow coming up astern with a string of lights one over another like a lot of Chinese lanterns. It was probably these lights that had drawn the mate's attention away from the ship's bows.
At all events he was standing with a megaphone to his ear hearkening for noises on the port hand when Elmer took him by the elbow and called out: "What in the name of Sam Hill would you call that great contraption mouching across our bows? My sorrows, Fred, it's a schooner!"
The mate went cold along his spine, and the vertebrae distributed there jostled together like knucklebones on the back of a girl's hand, and he yelled "Port helm!"
"I told Fred," Elmer said in discussing this circumstance later with his cronies of the Tall Stove Club—he had got back safe and sound to Winter Harbor by that time—"I says to him, 'Fred, we're going to bump into that ship jest as sure as taxes!' There he stood, swearing a blue streak. I never knew a man to be so downright profane over the little things of life as he was. And I was right when it come to that too. There was that long Spanish ghost of a schooner dead in our path, with her port light shining out there as red as an apple. They wanted me to say later—I know the skipper come to me personally and says, 'Elmer, now you know you didn't see no light.' 'Captain Tin,' I says to him, 'I have got the greatest respect for you as a man, and I would favor you in all ways possible if 'twas so 'st I could; but if I was to testify the way you want me to I would go against conscience. I wouldn't feel that I could go on paying my pew tax. These people here want to know the truth and I am going to give it to them.' Yes, sir, I saw the light as plain as plain, and I pointed it out to Fred, but the devil and Tom Walker couldn't have prevented them ships from walking right up and into each other, situated as they was then.
"My conscience, warn't there works when those two come together! 'Fred,' I says—I was down on my knees; throwed there, you understand—'we're hit!' 'Tell me something I don't know, will you?' he says. He always was comical, jest as comical as he could be. 'Get down there and look at her snout,' he said to me. 'Find out which of us is going to sink.' That was Fred all over—one of these fellows, all bluster, where it's a bucket of wind against a thimbleful of go-ahead."
"I know him," interposed another member of the Tall Stove Club. "I knew the whole family. He never amounted to nothing till he got to going to sea."
"Well, I down off the bridge," went on Elmer, "and I up on the fo'c'stle head, and there I see the schooner leaning over sort of faintish, jest the way a man will when he's sick to his stomach, and I says to myself, 'That ship's going the way of the wicked.' I sung out to Fred to keep the Alfred going slow ahead, so as to give the crew a chance to come aboard, and it warn't no time before they was swarming up into our chains like so many ants out of a hill that has been knocked galley-west. I see we was all wrinkled up forward ourselves—the Alfred was a tin ship—and it warn't to be wondered at when you come to consider that the Susie Oliver was jest as full as she could hold of paving stones.
"And the next thing I knew there was Jed Tyler, right out of the blue sky, standing side of me in his shirt sleeves, and looking down, mournful enough. 'Where's Hat?' I sung out to him. 'Drowned,' he says. 'Drowned, am I?' Hat sung out. 'I guess that's just another case of the thought being father to the wish, that's what I guess!'
"So I leaned down, and my stars, there was Hat Tyler! She'd come up jest as she was—there she was sitting on the fluke of the starboard anchor. And warn't she immense! I down over the ship's side with a rope, and s' I, 'Heave and away, my girl!' and I got a grip of her, and away she come over the rail, mad as a wet hen, and jest as wet, too, with her hair stringing down, and her dander up, if ever I see a woman with her dander up."
"I hear she leads Tyler a life," said a member.
"Well, I laughed; I couldn't help it," continued Elmer, moving his ears at the recollection of it.
"'Hat,' I says, 'you never was caught out this way before in all your born days,' I says. She was fit to be tied. 'Laugh!' she says. 'You great booby!' 'Hat,' I says, 'I shall give up, I know I shall.' 'It's jest your ignorance,' she says. 'I know it,' I says, 'but I couldn't help it no more than if you had slid a knife into me.' And I out with another. 'Come down into my cabin,' I says, 'and I will give you a little something in a glass.' And down she come, past all them sailors, in the face and eyes of everybody."
"She didn't lose nothing by what I hear," said Zinie Shadd. "They tell me the underwriters had just as good as told her that they wouldn't let the schooner go to sea again."
And now by your leave a word from Hat herself. There are two sides to every story. She told her tale just across the street from the ship chandler's, where the Tall Stove Club held its meetings. In Mrs. Kidder's bake-shop were gathered the henchmen of Hat Tyler.
"Well, I never see your equal for falling on your feet," Lena Kidder said admiringly. "If I've told my husband once I've told him twenty times I'd rather have Hat Tyler's luck than a license to steal."
"Everybody has got a right to their own opinion on that point," said Hat Tyler heavily, sinking her jaws toward the mug of milk which Mrs. Kidder had set before her.
Hat Tyler was certainly a handful. Her shoulders were wide, as she often said herself, her cheeks were brick-red, her voice was as deep as the fattest gold pipe on the church organ, and the palm of her hand rasped when she took hold of a body. There wasn't a hornier-handed woman in the county. She wore tarred rope round her girth for a belt, knotted at the ends with star knots. She was what Margaret Fuller had in mind when she said to Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Let them be sea captains if they will."
"Where was you when she hit, Hat?" asked Mrs. Kidder.
"Asleep," said Mrs. Tyler. "I come up out of my bunk all standing, and went out on deck just as I was. And lo and behold, I had just time to get a grip on that anchor when the Oliver give a lurch and over she went. She didn't shilly-shally, I can tell you, with that load of paving stones in her belly. Let me have another quart of milk, Lena. Talking's thirsty business. Well, I thought I'd get my never-get-over, waiting for those men to get a rig ready for me. And then who should I see but that fool Elmer Higgins looking down at me. 'Hang on, Hat,' he said, 'while I think what to do,' 'Think what to do!' I says. 'If you're any part of a man you'll fling me a rope.' 'Jest half a second,' he says. 'Rome wasn't built in a day.' 'It was burned up in a night, though,' I says quick as a flash, and I guess that floored him. 'Can't you lift me up, man?' 'Much as ever I can,' he says. 'And you call yourself an able seaman,' I said to him. 'I would sell out if I was you.'"
"He's going round with a different version, Hat," said Lena Kidder. "Didn't he laugh as he says he did?"
"Laugh? I would like to see the man that would laugh," said Hat in her great hardy voice. Her fist closed round the mug of milk. "I'll have him laughing on the wrong side of his face."
"He says he give a bellow fit to wake the dead."
"That man? He stood there like a brazen image, and I had to say to him: 'Are you going to let me stand here in this perishing cold without so much as lifting a hand? Just you stir your stumps and hotfoot a slug of square-faced gin into me if you know what's for your own best good.'
"That man? Why, I taught him all he knows. I was sailing my own ships when he was a deckhand."
The truth was—and Pearl Higgins, his wife, could never quite forget it or forgive it—Elmer had once shipped before the mast on Hat Tyler's ships; and Hat was not likely to forget it either. Rumor had it that Hat and Elmer had been as thick as thieves at one time, and that it was You-tickle-me-and-I'll-kiss-you between them then. But if such was the case they had later had a falling out, and Elmer had gone one way and Hat another.
"As a matter of fact I was more glad than sorry at what took place," Hat now continued. "That cargo of paving stones up and shifted and started her in a new place. She was leaking like a sieve. That little rat of an underwriter said to me: 'If I were you, as soon as I got out of sight of land I would turn round and kick the stern off her with a tap of my foot.' 'Maybe I will, for all you know,' I said. I'd like to see them bamboozle me!"
"Trust you, Hat!" said Lena Kidder in a voice of admiration.
"And so Elmer Higgins has the cast-iron nerve to say that he laughed at me to my face, does he?" continued Mrs. Tyler. "Well, he lies when he says it."
So the lie was passed, and hostilities began; for before night word came to Pearl Higgins that Hat Tyler was back in town running down her husband for his part in the rescue. Elmer's wife, a dark thin-featured woman, had felt all along that Elmer had never been able to shake off vestiges of that time when he and Hat had been so kind of hand-in-glove; and she had privately determined to put the woman at a safe distance once and for all.
"The long and short of it is," she said grimly when Elmer had come home and spread his navigation books on the kitchen table "she's round town calling you a liar; and now I suppose you'll be just meek enough to put up with it."
Elmer took off his spectacles and rubbed his brow thoughtfully.
"I shouldn't wonder if it was a case of necessity, mamma," he said musingly. "If I know one thing better than another it is that I would want to go in training for a spell before crossing that woman. I know when I was before the mast with her—"
Pearl Higgins burst into tears promptly. "I think you might spare me an account of that," she sobbed. "I'm sure I don't want to hear about your goings-on with anyone so ignorant as Hat Tyler. Yes, she is; she's ignorant, and comes of ignorant people. What does she amount to, I'd like to know? There's nothing to her at all. And now," she blazed forth in fierier tones, "you're half in sympathy with the woman this blessed minute! I suppose you think just because you rescued her from a watery grave you're in duty bound to side in with her and take her part against your own wife. I don't know how it is, but everything seems to fall out in that woman's favor."
"Well, ain't it so!" said Elmer, not as a question but as if the full force of the proposition had just struck him. "Now you mention it, I don't know that I ever knew Hat Tyler to come off second best in a transaction. I was talking to a party only the other day, and he said the same thing himself. He says, 'Hat's a smart woman, Elmer.'"
"Why didn't you have her then, when you might have had her?"
"Always said I wouldn't marry a woman that had the heft of me," said Elmer sagely with a fond twinkle at his Pearl. "I know that night when I saw her arm on the fluke of that anchor I said to myself, 'I done just right to steer clear of you, my lady.' There 't was, bare to the shoulder, freckled all the way up, and jest that pretty size!"
"It's as big as a stovepipe!" shrieked Pearl.
"'T was smooth as a smelt," Elmer averred dreamily, "and jest of a bigness to work, and work well, in a pinch. A woman like that would be some protection to a man, Pearl. I wish you could have seen how she clim up into those anchor chains. But I said to myself, 'That woman has got too much iron in her blood to go with my constitution!'
"But she's smart; Hat is smart. All is, a man never knows how to take her. But she's smart as a steel trap."
"Well, I wish she'd shut it then," said Pearl Higgins grimly.
Silence reigned; and in that silence could be heard the steeple clock ticking on the mantel and the sound of waves lapping under the house. They were living in Pearl's father's house. Pearl's father had been a seaman and wharf owner, and in his declining years had established a sea grill on one of his wharves, and lived up over it. To get to the Higgins home you ascended an outside staircase.
The subject of Hat Tyler had a fatal fascination for Pearl Higgins.
"Do you know what I heard downtown this morning?" she resumed. "They say Jim Rackby's going to make her skipper of the new schooner. After she's just lost one by not keeping her eyes open too! The luck of some women! I don't pretend to know how she does it. A great coarse thing like her——"
"Still there's a different kind of a send-off to her, I was going to say," said Elmer. "Hat's a seaman, I'll say that for her."
"I guess there ain't much you won't say for her," Pearl retorted.
"Then again, when the Alfred run her down she had the right of way."
"I guess her weight give her that," countered his wife.
Elmer got up and stared across the harbor at the new schooner which Hat was to command. The Minnie Williams sat on the ways resplendent, her masts of yellow Oregon pine tapering into a blue sky. A mellow clack of calking hammers rang across the water.
"Those ways are pitched pretty steep, it seems to me," he said. "When she goes she'll go with a flourish."
Among those who swore by Elmer for a man of wisdom was Jim Rackby, the owner of the schooner. Next day the two men met in her shadow. The ship had just been pumped full of water, and now the calking gang were going round staring up with open mouths to see where the water came out. Taking advantage of their absorption Jim Rackby asked Elmer in low tones whether he considered Hat Tyler a fit person to be intrusted with a ship.
"I don't know a better," Elmer answered in the same low tone.
"How about her losing this last ship?"
"I wouldn't say this to my wife, it would only aggravate her," said Elmer, grinding up a piece off his plug, "but the loss of that ship is only another example of what that woman can do in the way of pure calculation when she sets out to. There she had that good-for-nothing schooner on her hands. Why, she had to come in here on these very flats and squat and squirt mud up into her seams, trip after trip, as I've seen with my own eyes, to keep the cargo from falling out as much as anything, let alone water coming in; and as soon as the mud had washed out it was all hands on the pumps, boys, for dear life.
"Well, as I say, she took that ship out there in a fog, like a cat in a bag you might say, and filled up with paving stones to boot, and she planted her right there where the Alfred could come slap up against her and give the owners a chance to say 'Good morning' to the underwriters. And she owner of a good fourth at the time. Why, she's got dollars laid away now where you and I have got buttons. And, mind you, the underwriters had as good as told her that that would be her last trip. The insurance was going to fall in as soon as she made port. Now ain't that what you would call a smart woman, laying all joking aside? But I wouldn't want my wife to hear this, Jim. There's a little jealousy mixed in there, between you and me and the bedpost."
"Well," said Rackby, satisfied, "I had always understood that she was one of these kind that if they was let out they would always find their way home somehow."
"Yes, sir!" said Elmer heartily. "Why, I was over here the day they was stepping the mainmast, and Hat was going to slip a five-dollar gold piece under the mast for luck, the way the last man did, but she thought better of it. I see her change her mind at the last minute and reach in and take out a bright penny and creep that under quick, thinking the Lord would never notice the difference. I never knew a woman that was more downright fore-handed. Yes, sir, she's a dabster!"
How true it is that we never know our friends in this world so largely made up of conjecture! Could Hat have known how powerfully Elmer had pleaded her cause, and at a time when it was half lost, would she have moved heaven and earth, as she was moving them, to bring him into disrepute? Would she have looked at him when they met with a dagger in either eye and one between her teeth? Would she have tugged that rope girdle tighter about her hips and passed him, as she did, with only a resolute quiver of her person?
Elmer was in hopes that she would come round in time. "She's not much of a hand to hold a thing up against a body, Hat isn't," he tried to tell himself. And yet a vague presentiment, something like trouble in the wind, oppressed him.
Affairs were in this posture when launching day dawned fair. The Minnie Williams stood ready on the ways, dressed in her international code flags, which flew from all trucks. Sails of stiff new duck were bent to the booms, anchor chains had been roused up and laid on the windlass wildcat, a fire was kindled in the galley and a collation laid in the saloon. The owner was aboard.
Hat Tyler was very much in evidence, fore and aft, giving orders to the crew as to what was to be done as soon as the ship left the ways.
"I want that starboard hook dropped the minute we get the red buoy abeam. Understand? Jake Hawkins, you stand by the windlass. Take care when you snub her not to break that friction band. And stand by to let go the other hook in case we need it. This harbor ain't much bigger than a ten-quart can, when all is said."
Hat was dressed in a splendid traveling suit of heavy brocaded stuff. She wore an enormous green-and-purple hat and carried a green bottle with red, white and blue streamers tied round its neck. Being skipper and a lady at one and the same time, she had chosen to christen the ship herself.
"What's in the bottle, Hat?" sang out one of her admirers.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" Hat retorted wittily. She was in high spirits.
"Ain't it a waste of good stuff!" shouted another. "I guess it ain't everybody that can be trusted to christian a ship these hard times."
"It ain't the last drink she will get either," a more remote voice floated up to her. "I hear she's taking rum to France from Porto Rico."
Hat Tyler took a firmer grip of the bottle under its streamers, for this was the voice of Pearl Higgins.
Time pressed. Already the shore gang were splitting out the keel blocks. The whole town stood at gaze. The children had been let out of school. A group of the larger ones were gathered on the after deck, ready to sing America when the ship took the water. It was a gala day. Hat felt that all eyes were centered on her, and her commands rolled along the decks like so many red-hot solid shot.
The strokes of the men under her keel rang faster and faster yet. When the last block was split out from under that oaken keel it was expected that the ship would settle on the ways, that two smooth tallowed surfaces would come together, that the ship and all her five hundred tons would move the fraction of an inch, would slip, would slide, would speed stern foremost into what is called her native element. But ships are notional, and these expectations are sometimes dashed.
And now Elmer and his wife, who were stationed ankle deep in that yellow sea of chips under her prow, could see the brows of the shore gang beaded with sweat, and a look of desperate hurry in the eyes of the youngster coming with the paint pot and painting the bottom of the keel as the blocks fell one by one. Well he might hurry; for sometimes the ship trips the last dozen blocks or so, and thus stepped on with all that tonnage they snap and crackle, and splinters fly in every direction.