McIntyre's False Face
SAMUEL MCINTYRE, a rough young fellow, who meant no great harm, brought over from the main-land what he spoke of chiefly as a “ false face.” It was a mask of the ordinary grotesque kind, with prodigious nose, goggle eyes, and rubicund complexion. The first, probably, that had ever been introduced on Little Box Island, it had for a short time a distinguished success. Boisterous guffaws issuing from the store at the wharf, the evening of its arrival, drew in an unusual attendance to that always popular resort. “ Them things had n’t ought to be allowed,” said one member of the company, recovering with difficulty from the fright that had been put upon him with it as he entered the door. “ What in time be they for ? ” inquired a younger member, with genuine scientific interest; and the goings-on with them in cities in the carnival season were explained to him by traveled associates.
But now McIntyre, desirous to extend the field of his triumphs, slipped slyly out, to call with his false face at the Skeltons’. Skelton boarded the quarry hands, when there were any, — it was a quarry of much less importance than that on Great Box Island, — and his daughter was considered “ the greatest case to carry on ” in the settlement. The fun at Skelton’s was certain to be fast and furious.
McIntyre knocked at the door of the large kitchen which was also the sittingroom, and at once entered. He was surprised to find but a single figure present, and that the one of all his circle with whom he was the least acquainted. It was the quiet, delicate-looking young wife of Amos Cooley. She sat there expectantly, with a shawl over her head and a tin pail in her hand, as if having run over on an errand for milk. Amos had brought his wife from a still smaller island of the archipelago, inhabited by but one other family besides her own. She started up wildly when she saw McIntyre in his false face. She gasped, put her hand to her side, screamed horribly,— all before he had a chance to snatch off the absurd imposition and reassure her, — and fell to the floor in convulsions.
She was out of her mind for a month after this, and within two years she died, never having recovered, it was said, from the shock. Amos Cooley, her husband, took to drink and general good-for-nothingness, and did not long survive. In the first fury of his rage and grief at the occurrence, he struck at McIntyre with an axe.
“ I did n’t go to do it, Amos ! ” cried the luckless masquerader, deprecatingly.
But only the interposition of friends, who hurried him at once into his boat and off to the main, saved him from ruthless slaughter. Amos even took down his gun aud hunted him later, with remorseless purpose, on the main; so that he was obliged to take refuge somewhere indefinitely known as “ out south,” where he was supposed to have permanently settled. This was the last that was heard of McIntyre, and is the whole of his personal adventure ; but the grimace of his trumpery mask went on, smiling a fixed and baleful influence down into the lives of future generations
Amos Cooley’s wife left behind her two sons, one born not long after her fright, the other a year later. There were found, or invented, for them the names Albon and Alrick, in deference to the taste in euphony of a locality where there were found a Uno and a Una, a Cöello and Cöella, a Martecia, a Violena, and a Leonorena. Albon was confessedly imbecile ; nothing was adduced against Alrick but a sullen temper, which might have been justified by the many mortifications he endured on his brother’s account, and his situation in general. Albon was a standing resource of the island for amusement in every idle hour. He grew large of his age, spare and loose-jointed, and ran about in a shambling way, with his head much bent forward. He had little forehead to speak of. His appetite was represented as something tremendous. Sometimes he turned at his persecutors and cried, “ You dog, you ! ” — likening them to that which he himself pathetically most resembled.
The children were grudgingly maintained, till the elder was towards his twelfth year, by an uncle on their father’s side. He was said to put Albon to sleep in the cellar, and to beat Alrick cruelly for slight cause. He made affidavit, finally, that he was no longer able to continue his benevolent care, and threw them on the public for support.
A peculiar case arose. Little Box Island, under the laws of the sovereign State of which it made a part (as a community having insufficient inhabitants to become a township), was organized with a primitive government as a Plantation. There was no copy of the revised statutes on the island, and a case of pauperism had not before arisen ; but it was the recollection of the most eminent jurists in Maxon’s store that, while a Plantation was obliged to make its own roads and school its own children, if it had any paupers it sent them to the nearest town to be taken care of. The chief official therefore conveyed Albon and Alrick to the nearest town, — Great Box Island, about the same distance out to sea, and twelve miles to the eastward, — and there happily got rid of them.
But in less than a week, on a day when the government of Little Box Island was in session on general affairs, over came the constable of Great Box, and strode into the midst. He curried Albon and Alrick by the collars of their jackets, one in each hand, and set them down on the floor with a thump for emphasis.
“ There they be, and don't you send ’em over our way no more. We 've got enough of our own to tend to. Ef I ’d a ben down to the poor-farm, to Baker’s Neck, the day they come, they would n’t a ben left there, you bet. Where paupers is born and brung up is where it belongs fur ’em to be took care of. We don’t bundle none of ourn over to you, and ask you to shell out for their grub.”
The magnates of Little Box reiterated in alarm their legal theory of the case. The constable of Great Box was severely caustic throughout. “ That don’t hardly jibe,” he said ; “ that won’t wash, don’t ye see ? Go to lor about it, — go on! Take it up to some boss tribunil. Take it to Wash’nton, — or to Payris or Genevy, for what I care. Mebbe it 'll cost ye’s much ’s though ye’d tended to the young ’uns to home, ’fore ye git through.”
The Little Box people appeared, in fact, impressed by this consideration, and disposed themselves to make some new provision. But before it was completed one half their embarrassment was suddenly removed. A farmer of Great Box, one Bowker, who happened at the island that day, also heard of the case, and declaring that he wanted a boy went up and took Alrick away with him. “ I have got a house full of girls,” he said, “ and there ought to be some boy somewheres. You could go along o’ me and tend sheep, and do chores, and go to school some, between times, could n’t ye, think ? ”
Alrick gave him a furtive look, — there was a touch of obliquity in his bright eyes in moments of agitation, — then a nod of his mop-like head. A small sum upon this was voted to Albon, who went back to the guardianship of his relative, and, sustained somehow by his wonderful appetite, slept regularly in the cellar for many a long year thereafter.
Alrick came with his new patron to a large old farm-house, with which numerous out-buildings combined to make up a pleasing mass, all silver gray with the weather. He slept here in the attic on a comfortable cot, spread with horse blankets and a quilt patched of calico blocks. About it were bags of meal and seed corn, festoons of dried apples, an old horse-hair trunk with broken lid, the best harness and whip, used only on state occasions, and the farmer’s boots and oilskin suit for rainy weather. He was warm and contented. He did not mind the scampering mice. He liked the bar of sunlight that came into the dusky place and traced the squares of the window on the floor. Of mornings in summer the scratching of branches against the panes and the cackle of the barnyard awoke him. In spring he smelled lilacs and cherry blossoms. How pure and sweet the dew was ! A procession of white schooners paraded along on the blue belt of sea. He went down and followed the cows to pasture, munching lazily a mouthful here and there by the way as they passed. He turned the crank of the churn, brought in fire-wood, gee-hawed the oxen, followed the mowers with his rake, topped turnips, lent the farmer a hand in putting up a new length of fence or mending a stone-wall, and between times got such schooling — for which, in truth, he had no great fancy — as he could.
He was perverse and sullen to begin with. The farmer’s wife kept a stick for him in the fire-place, and often took it down " to break his temper.”
“ We don’t want no boys round here that won’t mind ! ” she said. “ Our boys allers had to mind” (they were dead or married off and absent now), “ and you will.” It was predicted by the neighbors that he would run away. The Bowkers had had a boy before, one Fred, who did that, going off to join a circus, and taking stolen property with him, and why should not this one follow his example?
But Alrick did not run away. On the contrary, he came, through humane treatment, to be an entirely tractable and reliable person. He was a playmate of the children and a member of the family quite on equal terms. He played with Marietta, he played with Caroline, and he played with Idella, whom he particularly liked. Up to fifteen he was swift and agile. He came out of the hobbledehoy period with a rustic heaviness which remained with him, though at no time was he a bad-looking fellow.
The quarry on Great Box Island, having been prosperous once, “ failed up ” in time, and owed its employees, storekeepers, and others. It came, under a legal claim, into the hands of a building firm of New York. Pending some complications about the title, the firm sent a young man, a nephew of the senior partner, to keep an eye out in a general way, and see that none of the movable property was disturbed.
This young man, Francis Fosdick by name, found on his arrival a straggling hamlet of poor wooden houses, catching such a foot-hold as it could on a hillside full of granite bowlders. There were no noticeable trees. The midsummer aspect was almost as dreary as midwinter elsewhere. His quarry was on the hill to the right. Rust-colored water stood deep in its pits. The blocks taken from them, some for sills and doorsteps, others to roar as Belgian pavement in the traffic of a great city, lay forlornly about. Here was a broken derrick; there a great pair of rusted wheels; again a forge, with scraps of mildewed leather within; by it a tool-house, with padlocked door and a portentous air of mystery.
“ Kinder dull, like, around,” said a denizen of the place, picking his way past, as the new-comer sat meditating above his charge.
Fosdick admitted that it was dull, and listened to the denizen’s account of what it used to be, — how there had been more than fifty fellers at work ; how they used to be down to the wharf every night, and used to hold neck-tie parties and other festivities in the hall, — and then continued his meditations. The gist of them perhaps was that such a banishment seemed rather hard lines for a person of his age, twenty-four, who had been a club man and attained to a dog-cart and confidently aspired—if only the issue of the great C. Q. & K. venture had been different — to a four-in-hand. But then be recalled to himself that he was the same person who had made the C. Q. & K. venture, lured into it, to the loss of his own and most of a too yielding relative’s substance, by the wiles of a man in whose employ he was to learn the business of banking and brokerage. It had been decidedly harder lines recently, when he had been going around with no occupation at all, acceding humbly to the views of those who doubted whether he should ever make a figure of any kind in the world. The facing of the disagreeable, he had been informed and believed, was a condition of success, and the prospect here was surely disagreeable enough to be full of hope, — except, on the other hand, that it might not endure more than a couple of months.
He faced the situation, therefore, somewhat resolutely. He read some books he had brought with him, went out in a dory to fish in the Reach, and cultivated the store-keepers. There was one whom he complimented as a “drawist,” who scrawled rude diagrams of yachts on sheets of wrapping paper, and ornamented his walls with them. “ Sho ! ” said the drawist, with affected modesty. “I drawr ’em off jess ’s they come. I never learned to drawr ’em by rule.” The young daughter of his landlord dressed up in the evening and played the melodeon, but there was in her a hopeless commonplaceness of view and lack of imagination he thought, that kept her from being of the slightest use as a resource.
He took to exploring the island, and found it nicer within than near the landing. He recalled some fragments of botany and geology he had once learned, and tried to develop bucolic tastes. On the first day of August, in the neighborhood of the south shore, where the view of the ocean was broad and the bluffs were high and crested at times with dense little groves of spruce, fir, and cedar, he came to a large farm-house with numerous shingled out-buildings around it, all as gray as the granite bowlders cropping out in the sheep pastures. Fosdick rendered account of it to himself as somewhat “ the kind of thing you read about.” He desired to see the interior, and went up to an open door from which he saw faces peering out at him as he advanced, and made the conventional demand for a glass of milk. An old woman in a faded gown of red and black, with the end of a coil of rusty hair falling over one ear, and a young girl of pale complexion were engaged in domestic duties.
“ ’Pears to be a close day for travelin’,” said the old woman. “ Walk into the settin’-room and set down. Marietta, you fetch some milk inter the settin’room.”
The kitchen, with its large fire-place, and a wool-wheel, evidently in use, in the sitting-room, were sufficiently in keeping with the interesting exterior. “ But is there never” he mused impatiently, as he sipped his milk in the presence of the pale Marietta, “ in the whole country, a person of the feminine sex who attracts you to look at her a second time ? ” In the very moment of this aspiration a door opened to admit another young girl, who entered saunteringly and went and sat down in a small wooden rockingchair, with an indifferent air, as though the fact of somebody’s being there had nothing whatever to do with it. Fosdick felt his question charmingly answered. The sterile region did not produce much that was attractive, he thought, but when it did it made a very complete job of it. An ascetic elegance, a piquancy of effect in a gingham frock with barely a single frill (and really not completely buttoned down the back), enhanced here a type that justified whatever eulogists had ever taken occasion to say of rural comeliness. Her lightish hair was cut square across her forehead. Her nose pointed, in just the slightest degree, upward. The blue of her eyes seemed of an opaque kind, and was visible across the room, so that he connected it with the blue of the sea and the mountains on the main which showed through the open doors. She folded her arms across a slender figure, and rocked a little in the chair. The motion showed small slippers which thin elastics, crossing the instep, retained in place. Marietta addressed her as Idella.
The young man who was thus pleased with Miss Idella was of much better looks and manners than their usual visitors, and she on her side was wandering, through her assumed indifference, who he might be. He was certainly neither cabinet-organ, sewing-machine, reaper, nor lightning-rod agent. Nor with more reason could he be taken for the most plausible of the men who tried to sell at high prices good-for-nothing silks and velvets purporting to have been smuggled. Fosdick was loath to go away, and he made as much talk as possible. He told them the old story of the city person who resented the untidiness of being served with milk with a greasy yellow scum on it in the country ; but it was not old there, and was well received.
“ Which way was you from ? ” inquired the housewife, beginning to manifest an interest in him. He was not sorry to establish himself in their respect, and told them of New York and his purpose in the island. The pretty sister, who had been offish before, addressed him more attention, also, upon this. It was of an aggressive sort, but this might have been only a form of her coquetry.
“ I don’t like New Yorkers,” she said. “ You can’t trust them.”
“ I’ve noticed that myself in a few; but I’ve always thought it might be due to association at some time with some Great Box I— ”
“ Don’t be afraid to say Great Box Islanders, if you want to. It’s going a pretty good ways for a reason, but I ’m sure ” —
Sudden laughing shrieks without interrupted the exchange of repartee at this point.
A third young girl, followed close by a stout young farm-hand, burst into the kitchen in a tumult; but seeing a stranger present, they retreated through opposite doors almost as precipitately.
“ Ca’line Bowker, what is the matter ? ” called the mother. There was a sound of hasty ablutions in a tin basin. Then the pursued girl returned, rather breathless still, and, sending a demure, speaking glance at the visitor from nice dark eyes, said, —
“ Alrick jumped out and chased me just as I was goin’ to blow the horn for supper, and rubbed blackberries in my face.”
“ He is the roughest hoy. I guess I’d make him stop,” said Idella.
The pursuer, somewhat later, having made a toilette by soddening down his stiff hair with water and bringing it in wisps forward of his ears, came and leaned a stalwart shoulder against the door-jamb.
“ Has the calves been fed, Alrick ?” Mrs. Bowker asked.
“ Yes 'm. I give ’m all the feed there was. That there chunky-built one is the fearfulest eater, ’most, I ever see.”
“ Ca’line, you come and see what there is to make some more mash of,” said Mrs. Bowker.
“ Ca-a’line,” mimicked Idella, with impatient emphasis, momentarily left alone with the visitor. “ I wish she would say Carrie or Cad, but she won’t.”
“ You ’re all right, though,” he ventured,— whether it was his real opinion is not relevant; “you’ve got a nice name.”
“ I don’t like my last one.”
“ Oh, you ’ll get rid of that easily enough.”
“ No, I guess not,” with a deprecating rising inflection; but she gave him an approving glance.
Alrick gave him (a person who came there perpetrating that novel and wishy-washy kind of talk) one quite the reverse.
When he had gone away he was the subject of discussion at the supper-table. Alrick leveled coarse sarcasms at him, taking the polish of manners, to which he was unaccustomed, for a foppish “putting on of frills.” But the girls defended him, particularly Idella, who found herself once so considerably in advance of the rest that she came to a sudden halt.
“ Look a’ Dell blush,” said Etta.
“ Shut up ! ” cried Dell. “ I guess I ain't.”
But the fact is that she was, a little.
Fosdick carried a pleasing image in his mind that day, as he pursued his way back through the wood and over the considerable stretch of road between him and the forlorn quarries. In the prevailing dreariness any touch of grace had an extreme value, and perhaps he exaggerated what he had found. It was not beauty, but a piquant comeliness of a purely Yankee type, which, before he had seen France, would have coincided with his notion of the ideally French. The other sisters too, though rustic more in the regular way, were not uninteresting. Caroline was almost pretty, and Marietta of a certain activity of mind; besides that, they were all extremely sprightly.
He made the pretext of desiring to find a vein of copper, said to exist somewhere in the neighborhood, to stop at the farm-house soon again.
“ I want to know ef they set any store by that yet,” said Mrs. Bowker, stopping her rolling-pin. “There ain’t nothin’ of it but fools’ gold. My son from Californy told ’em so years ago, when he was on.”
“ Oh, mother says Californy,” said Marietta, giving the old woman, hopeless of elegant embellishments, an apologetic hug.
“ Well, ’t is Californy, hain’t it? San Francisco ? ”
Idella donned a large straw hat, and went as far as the gate, to give Fosdick his bearings. He complimented the farm-house and the scenery. She was highly indifferent to the views, and said of the house, “ Yes, it ’ll look a little better when it gets some paint on it. Father is going to paint in the spring.”
“ Don’t ever let him put a brush on it; it will spoil it.” But this was a kind of banter beyond her, and she kept silence. A man of thirty or so, with a sandy beard, drove by in a wagon, and she exchanged salutations with him.
“ It’s the mail boy, or man, or whatever he is,” she explained, when he had passed along. “ He’s always asking me to ride with him. He says, ‘ You ’re gettin’ to be a regular old maid. Why don’t you ever stir out anywheres ? ’ He’s got two nice horses and a farm. I guess I ’ll have to ‘ go for ’ him,” and she laughed. Fosdick thought it a very nice sort of laugh.
“ Oh, do ‘ go for ’ me,” he appealed.
“ May be I will; ” and she laughed again.
He had said he would stop and let them know what he found, on his return. Marietta and Caroline were still in calico then, but Idella had put on more careful raiment. Was it for his benefit ? This new costume, — he came to know it because he saw it often, — of modest dark brown, comprised a kind of plaited jacket, with a white ruffle at the top, belted around a slender, little-developed figure. It seemed of an eminent simplicity and adaptation to the circumstances, yet at the same time of an undeniable air. Hers was surely one of those cases of a natural distinction in the midst of unpropitious conditions worthy of so much credit.
He brought the talk around to these new acquaintances with the literal Miss Emeline, his landlord’s daughter. Some sort of a feud between them appeared, and her accounts were not the most favorable.
She considered them, among other things, very much “ stuck up.”
“What about ? ”
“ That’s more than I know, unless it is on account of their visitin’ in Boston. They’ve got a sister married there. Dell’s been there most o’ the time the past two years. She only seems to come home for a kind of vacation in the summer.”
Mr. Fosdick pursed up his lips for a whistle. “ Oh ho ! ” he began, “ you mean to say, then ” — But he continued, “ And the brother, is he stuck up too ? ”
“ There ain’t no brother. Oh, you mean Alrick Cooley.” Then she gave him the history of Alrick, including, of course, that of Albon. Alrick, Miss Emeline said, had left the Bowkers when he was twenty-one, and gone into various occupations, — sailing in vessels, working in the quarries, and so on; but he continually turned up there again. He was always hanging round after Idella.
“ I thought it was the other one he seemed to be fond of.”
“No, Della. My ! if I was as airified as she sets up to be, I would n’t have no poor-house trash round me.”
So then it was sophistication, and not a phenomenal rustic grace. It was the married sister in the city, the latest supplement of modes, an emanation from the show-windows and pavements of a metropolis, to whose subtle influence he had yielded. That barely a single frill on the gingham frock had been artfully planned; that simple belted jacket had as likely as not been copied on Beacon Street.
These disclosures, however, by no means put an end to our young quarry superintendent’s need of distractions. He returned to the farm-house again and again. For the pleasure of being with Idella he drew the farmer into long narrations, to which he did not thereafter always pay the closest attention.
“ I had a step-mother, and was licked around from pillar to post, when I was a boy,” the browned and baked old farmer, sitting in his shirt-sleeves and a waistcoat of faded check, would say. “ I run away from her when I was ten, and never see home again till I was twenty-one, and then I’d been most all over the world and was master of a vessel. I s’pose I’ve caught more fish than any other man in the United States. I’ve sailed sixty odd trips in a Grand Banker. I was nigh gettin’ into the slave-trade once. A man from these parts persuaded me. He was one o’ the smartest there was. They sailed out o’ Salem then, — yes, God-and-morality Massachusetts, that’s it, that’s it. An old don in Cuby worth his millions got him into it. He made loads o’ money, but it took most of it to get pardoned out so’s he could come back here. Sumner done it for him, when Andrew Johnson was president.”
The farmer had sailed out of New Bedford, too, in a clipper ship half as long as from where he sat to tell the tale to the school-house at the crossroads. He had been on Alexander Selkirk’s island and on Easter Island and in New Holland, where the natives could track a deserter from a ship over solid rock by scent alone.
Fosdick could amplify a detail here and there from his reading. It was not certain that he added much to his general standing in this way, but he certainly did to the growing jealousy of Alrick, who put in a remark, of little pertinence, occasionally, to show that he was not wholly crowded out of the talk. “ Well, we ain’t had time to do much readin’ here,” said the mother of the family. “ We’ve always had to work. What we know is mostly what we’ve see. I was ’fraid the girls would get in a kind of readin’, idlin’ way down to Boston, but I dunno’s they have. Dell, you ain’t readin’ novils and such like when you ’re down to Georgiana’s, be you ? ”
“ Why, do you s’pose I would ? ” returned Idella; but she smiled slyly at Fosdick at the same time.
“ Land ! I dunno, I dunno ; there’s so much goin’s on beyond mo these times.”
Alrick had a confidante in the matter of his regard for Idella. It was Mrs. Wixon, a sort of nurse and general utility woman in the neighborhood. She sustained, on stray copies of the weekly story-papers, an amiable sentimentalism rare in the practical community, and took the interest of a school-girl in any affair of the heart. She encouraged the young folks of the humbler sort to come to her cottage, and they held many a fine merry-making there of evenings. But Alrick had got in a way of sober and serious conferences with her at quiet moments. In return for his confidence she always predicted the most hopeful things. He came now to complain in alarm of the aggressive intimacy of Fosdick. “ I am as good as him, any day,” he concluded, indignantly. She agreed with him in this, and assured him indeed that he was much better. He was to keep cool, and be certain that everything would come out all right in due time.
“ They ’re an empty, flighty set, these city fellers,” she said. “ They don’t amount to a row o’ pins. I know ’em of old. You see, this one will get tired and go off pretty quick, and besides, Dell ’ll be sick of him before that.”
In the Bowker family “ father ” was held in severe respect, and the girls waited before the carrying out of some of their lively plans till he was down the road in his wagon, or off at sea in his boat, while with “mother” a certain reliance was placed upon wheedling. One of their projects, set for an afternoon when father should be securely out of the way, was for a visit to Baker’s Neck. At Baker’s Neck, in a rude cabin, lived an old couple, half-Indian it was said, and Mrs. Baker, the woman, told fortunes with a tea-cup. “Ask Em to come, too,” they suggested. But Fosdick’s landlord’s daughter, who had so little imagination, declined.
“ There ain’t no Indian about ’em, as I know of,” she said. “ They’ve always lived that way, cookin’ their vittles over a few sticks, and shootin’ and fishin’ round a little, because they’d rather do that than work. They ain’t folks I should care to associate much with. The town poor are kept there, to their house, when there is any. They get so much for takin’ care of ’em. They used to have a woman pauper with teeth much ’s two inches long. I dunno but she’s dead, though, by this time. I did hear, the other day, that there was talk of puttin’ Albon Cooley there again. Everybody on Little Box is tired of him and willin’ to pay for his keep. Alrick hain’t ever wanted him round where he was, though, so I don’t know how they ’ll manage it,”
Baker’s Neck was best reached by water, after crossing some fields. The expedition was a merry one. Fosdick was considerate enough to keep Alrick in good temper by leaving Idella to him some part of the way. He spoke, when he rejoined her, of what he had heard of the possibility of the unfortunate Albon’s being found at the place. “ Oh, I do hope it is n’t so,” she said; “ Alrick’s so worried by him,” While in the boat, a fog of a light consistency prevailing there, almost dry as it seemed, and holding the sunshine in suspense, like a silver powder, drifted momentarily over them, and they splashed and spattered to all points of the compass, pretending to have lost their way. Alrick spoke contemptuously of the fortune-telling nonsense, and taking a pail strolled off to pick berries while they were occupied with it. The rest, from a high bowlder, where Della left them to wait while she stole down to prepare Mrs. Baker, who was often surly, she said, reconnoitred the cabin, and then followed in response to her signal.
There were no visible paupers but three tow-headed little children, who cowered against the wall and drew the open door back so as to cover their rustic confusion ; but it was learned that Albon was in fact present on the island. The “ preparation ” of Mrs. Baker had not been very effectual. She took little notice of their presence more than to inquire of one of the girls, “ How’s your mar, deary ? ” and went on imperturbably with some culinary operation at the fire, which she replenished from a pile of brushwood occupying a considerable space of the floor. In the shadow, by a ladder which mounted to a loft, was discerned the old man, who sat with a crutch across his lap, and made a remark about his “ rheumatiz.”
“ Heavens ! ” said Fosdick, “ to think of a fortune-teller surviving at this time of day who smokes a short, black pipe, wears a red handkerchief on her head, and says ‘ deary ’ ! ”
Della was obliged to renew her solicitations.
“ I can’t, deary, I can’t,” Mrs. Baker replied, in a monotonous, harsh croak. “ It’s all lies I tell ye, any way. ’Sides, I got to git supper. Some other time, gals, —some other time.”
Against this it was urged that the visitor would not then be there. Without changing at all her indifferent demeanor, and as if it were some casual part of the occupation in which she was engaged, she brought, upon this, a cup containing a little water and grounds of tea, and handed it to Fosdick. She told him to turn it around and spill the water out, at the same time framing a wish. The fortune was construed, it appeared, from the appearance of the particles of tea stranded on the sides of the cup.
“ You ’ll get your wish ” ( it was a no more important one, perhaps, than for a kiss from the pretty Idella). “You’ll have a letter ’fore long. You ’re thinkin’ of writin’ a letter. You’re goin’ to have some trouble with a dark man. ’Pears as though you’d come through all right. Yes, you ’ll come through all right. You’re goin’ to cross water afore long. You want to look out sharp for that dark man. Here ’s a light woman and a dark woman, but I can’t exac’ly see now how you stan’ towards ’em. You’ve see some un sence you come on this island that you think a mighty good deal on.”
“ Why, did n’t we tell you he was a married man?” cried the girls. They had agreed upon this little fiction, in order to test the old woman’s occult art to the utmost.
“ I don’t care ; he’s see somebody on this island he loves more ’n he does himself. No, he hain’t married,” she pronounced boldly, the next moment, interpreting one of the amused glances passing between them.
To Della she said, “You’ll get your wish, too. You ’ll meet a man with a hat brim a foot wide. Your husband ’ll be wuth ’bout fifty thousand dollars. He ’ll take you away to the city. It’s a big city. There’t is, plain’s can be,” and she pointed with a bony, leathern finger to a considerable number of the tea particles collected in a mass.
To the other girls she prophesied lovers, handsome husbands, money and happiness in unstinted supply. Marietta was to have a lawyer, Caroline a doctor, each worth one hundred thousand in gold.
“ Oh, Mrs. Baker,” complained Della, “ it’s too mean of you to give them more than me.”
“ I can’t help it, child, can I, ef it reads that way ? But — ’pears as though, lookin' at yours ag’in, there was suthin’ comin’ to you, by will or some such way.” And thus the good-natured sorceress deftly equalized the fates.
The company romped back, in the gayest spirits, to the shore, where Alrick awaited them. Fosdick and Della trimmed each other’s straw hats with flowers and the small, short-stemmed cranberries growing out of dry moss on the very tops of the rocks. Then they put them on their heads. “ You know what the forfeit is when a lady wears a gentleman’s hat,” he said, as they exchanged back. He made a gentlemanly feint of claiming his privilege, which she easily evaded.
“ You shan’t kiss my sister,” said Caroline, bristling a little at sight of it.
“ I did n’t,” he said, with an assumed air of injury ; “ she would n’t let me ; ” and then they all laughed.
As they two loitered behind, the others got first into the boat, and pretended to row away and abandon them. They sat down comfortably on the shore. “ Are you a phrenologist ? ” said Della. “ Can you tell people’s characters ? ”
“ Let me try,” he said. She bared her pretty head saucily to the fragrant summer air. He touched it lightly here and there. “ This, now, I should say,” he began, with an imitation of the professional manner, “ was a person who had a married sister in Boston, and visited there a great deal ” —
“ Stuff! ” she said, twisting suddenly away. “ You knew that. How did you find out ? ” They talked about Boston. She gave him, diffidently, an address, if he should ever come there, and care to call on her. She seemed to have something else on her mind at the same time, but did not speak it out.
She hated the island, she said, and thought the folks on it horrid. She hated housekeeping, and she hated the country. She did not know so much of the flowers and shrubs, even, as he did. She could not tell him hackmatack from cedar, nor wheat from oats, but knew the cereals all alike as “ grain.” She boasted that she could not spin. Perhaps she fancied she should commend herself to the young man by assuming an exclusive interest in a more luxurious order of things than that to which she had been used. If so, it was a great mistake. He desired to look at her from the bucolic point of view. If he wanted to sentimentalize about her, it was as a nymph of the woods and pastures, — that sort of thing, — who might become, if it were certain that he was not ordained by destiny for dog-carts and four-in-hands, the head of a very superior order of modest rural establishment.
“ Oh, you ought to like housekeeping and the country, yon know,” he said.
Another time he reprimanded her for wearing afield the thin slippers which were disclosed by the accident of getting into a piece of marshy ground. He got but pert answers, however, when he took this tone.
But for this delay on the bank the excursion would have been without an apparent flaw. While the small boat was still a few rods distant, the ungainly figure of Albon Cooley shambled down the hill and came up to the couple. He peered into their faces with evident pleasure, and would have taken hold of Della. She shrank away in disgust. Fosdick put himself between, and enabled her to embark unmolested ; but then he was detained with an elfish pertinacity himself.
“ Alrick, you ’ll have to get him away,” appealed Etta to the young farm hand, who sat in the boat, an agonized witness of this humiliating scene. He had not suspected the presence of Albon on the island, or he would not have come. How could he hold up his head again to the city chap when he was thus shamed before them all !
He leaped from the boat and strode to his brother, with a black and savage face. He freed Fosdick from his grasp, and, when Albon would have fastened on him in turn, thrust him off with such a brutal violence that he fell heavily among the rocks. He had been a sympathizer and protector at other times, but now he could have blasted the hateful presence from existence.
The imbecile gathered himself up, and sent feeble missiles with an uncertain aim after the retreating boat. During all of the homeward journey, though the rest tried to draw him out, but a bare monosyllable or two escaped Alrick’s parched and contracted lips.
Mrs. Bowker regarded so much of this “ gallivanting ’round ” as a graceless waste of time, and was not deterred — of a day when Fosdick came by appointment to join a rowing party — by any considerations of the awkwardness of the thing from saying so. The daughters, assembled in the sitting-room with this polished visitor, upon whom they were desirous to make the best impression, exchanged glances and frowns of consternation without avail.
“ Dell, you ain’t a-goin’ out on the water again ! ” the shrill voice of Mrs. Bowker exclaimed from the kitchen. “ There’s the fog comin’ up so thick now you can’t see High Head. You’ll catch your deaths. Gracious sakes ! there ’s more work in this house ! Who’s goin’ to fetch the cows, I ’d like to know ? Who’s goin’ to do the milkin’ ? Alrick, he’s away, — gone down to see ’bout gittin’ Moseley’s mowin’-machine,—and your pa, he’s away. Nett, you come along and wash up these dishes that’s been stannin’ ever sence mornin’. Dell, you ’ve got to git the cows, or Ca’line, — one. Land sakes ! ”
“ I’ll get the cows,” volunteered Fosdick, and restored the spirits of the embarrassed circle by his charming way of taking it.
“ You don’t know where to find them. But you can come with Cad and me, if you want to,” said Dell. It was a long stretch they made, up and down the rocky pastures. Caroline scampered over the fences unaided. Idella paused in dainty perplexity on the tops, and permitted considerable assistance to be extended to her.
It was a bond of intimacy between them, in the fancy of Fosdick, that her mother had scolded them together,— a woman in a faded gown, who said " Californy” and “ settin’-room,” had scolded him, the ex-club man. They lighted upon a spring running into a moss-grown tub, and Idella gave him a drink from an original birch-bark dipper, found in a cleft of the rock ; Cad stampeded the cows, which broke through the bushes, whisking their tails and throwing out their legs sideways in awkward fashion; they thought they saw a man in the edge of the woods; they were caught in a piece of soft ground (this was the episode of the slippers) : and these were all of their petty adventures.
In three days after, Fosdick came to bid them good-by. Ancient Mrs. Baker’s fortune was coming true. He had received a letter. It recalled him from the island, and he must leave by the Canisteo the next morning. He stayed to tea this last evening. They gave him, with other viands, a strip of the sundried salt-fish, a favorite article of food there, which they instructed him was “ the dream-line.” Whoever ate it was likely to be visited at night by a vision of his future wife, who would offer him water to quench his thirst. By a natural association of ideas he dreamed that night, in fact, of Della, and received again at her hand the draught from the birch-bark dipper at the spring.
But he was not suffered to depart with a formal leave-taking. It was a charming mild night of summer, with light, milky clouds drifting across the moon, and his new-found friends would escort him on part of his journey. They went all arm in arm at first, singing, but by degrees he was left in the rear with Idella. Whatever matters, light or ponderous, they may have begun with, he was found saying after a while, —
“ It was pretty unprincipled of you to refuse to pay the penalty, that day, for wearing my hat. Do you not think so ? ”
“ No, I do not think so.”
“It is the custom of the country, and I should suppose you would want to stand by it. I should n’t wonder if it came over in the Mayflower, and had its origin in the most ancient times.”
“ It came over in the Canisteo, I guess.”
“ You are very hard-hearted.”
“It would n’t do you any good.” There was certainly relenting in this.
“ Oh, yes, it would, dear. I am going away. It is the last time ; I shall carry such a sweet remembrance.” He bent down, and for a brief, charming instant her head was suffered to rest against his shoulder and her lips to meet his, with but the faintest shade of resistance demanded by self-respect.
Then he went on alone. All at once he halted in the midst of the lights and shadows of the wood, where they stained the road in sharp blots in front and melted palely together down the vistas of the interior, and said to himself, “ What do I mean by it all, now that it is over ? ” Then he moved on in a profoundly pensive mood. He spoke again out of this. “ Well, she has amused herself, too, I suppose. She does not have persons of my quality to play off her little points on every day.” Then, the recollection of these little points in detail and in mass coming over him, he concluded, “ It’s particularly lucky that I’m getting away from here.”
In the morning who should be at the boat, again, but Idella. Alas, poor mail boy ! had she accepted your invitation to-day, and aroused in your honest breast delusive hopes that your merits were at last beginning to be recognized as they should, only for this, — to be given a final interview with the favored rival ? She made to Fosdick the pretext of having brought in a little package, a few unimportant trifles that he had left at the farm-house. Another coquettish new costume to-day, of dark blue. What with the effect of it and his recollections of the evening and the night, he made her much warmer speeches of farewell than he intended or approved to his conscience.
“ Ninety-seven Mackintosh Street,” he said at the last, as if making an appointment at the address she had given him in Boston.
“ Ninety-six ; but — if you don’t find me there, you will at Gay & Talbot’s. I ’tend there.” She had had this on her mind to tell him for a long time.
With this he got on board. She 'tended there ? She came very well indeed by her civilized appearance if she were one of the stylish young women behind Gay & Talbot’s counters. It was a very choice order of goods they sold there, and to handle them so freely must be almost as good as owning them; but he liked the idea of her better as the girl of the woods and waters and unpainted old farm-house. Fosdick smoked his cigar on the upper deck of the Canisteo, vanishing away among blue islands with which mirages played continual tricks, and felt particularly wicked and uncomfortable. He thought more vigorously than before how lucky it was for him to be getting away from there.
No sooner was he gone than Alrick Cooley, seizing the most unpropitious time imaginable to speak his mind to Idella, said to her, —
“ I want you to marry me, Dell. You’ve know’d it all along.”
“I have n’t known anything of the kind.”
“Well, you know it now.”
“ I don’t want to know it.”
“ That city feller’s turned your head. He ’ll make another Jen Belden of you, ef you take up with him ; that’s what he ’ll do.”
The case of Jenny Belden, well known in the place, was that of an island girl who had married a city man and been abandoned by him, under particularly distressing circumstances.
“ Alrick Cooley, I won’t listen to no such talk!” and she started to go, in dudgeon.
“ I did n’t mean nothin’, Doll,” he said, taking a humble tone, and she turned back. “ I’ve got quite a little pile o’ money saved up, for these parts, and I know how I kin make more. Your father’s gittin’ old, and wants summun round he kin depend on. You understan’ farmin’ business, too. We should callate to take the farm and keep it right along, when the old folks is done with it.” He paused, but she did not speak. “ There ain’t no kind of a livin’ for girls in them stores. So I’ve heard say by them that knows.” Another pause without a response. “I suppose Albon’s got somethin’ to do with it; but I could n’t help that, could I? That might happen to anybody.”
“ He has n’t, either.”
“Your father was a poor boy himself, once. He come up from nothin’, too. You’ve often heerd him say so.”
“ Well, I did n’t, and I don’t calculate to go down to it, either.”
“ Look out you don’t! ” cried Alrick savagely, and picked up his rake and walked off.
But he put it down in the barn instead of going to the fields, and resigned his place that day. He took service first in the mackerel fleet, and then was heard of in coasters, and as making the dangerous winter voyages from Gloucester to George’s Banks. His confidante, Mrs. Wixon, watched over his poor interests as she could during his absence. Towards spring she felt it incumbent on her to address him the gossip of the island by letter, somewhat as follows : —
FREND ALRICK, — Dallas Munson’s Engaigment is Broke off. Eudora herd something about him after they was publishd and the Wedding all reddy. He was so set in his Way he don’t clear up nothing, sayin he guess he could stan it if she can. Otis Watson’s wife carrid off the Prize at spinning-match down to Judson’s Cove last week. Nobody sepposed she was so Spry. Same week the folks was up to our House one nite, high goins on Wisht you had been Along. Emeline Benson was down to Boston and she stop in to see Idella Bowker at her store, thinkin she would. Whoshd she meet comin out but that city felow, the same one, F. Fosdick. Idella she blusht Up and denied it. Likely he goes a Great eel. So if I was you Id give it up and not wate enny more on Idella Bowker. There Is plenty more jesst as good and mighty site better, the wether is cold. So no more at Presant from your true Frend,
CATHERIN AGNES WIXON.
To which, in course of time, Alrick responded:—
DEER FREND MISSES WIXON,— Its no Use I kant help Thinkin of Her thow other Gurls may bee just as good as you Say. I pass by her stor. Bein to Boston one day but dont go In not bein stile enough to her taist (So I suppose) I hav ben wreck down Block Island way sense I seen you. We left Swamscot wind bein fresh at the time S. E. bein thick and Foggy. Run till the skipper judge himself as up with the Island, header her off S. E. with his jib Haul to the Winderd, made Breakers ahed, tried her for stays she would not come roun. went ashore stern forrard, a total Lost. Cargo bein Lime took fire but no lifes lost. If one Was, you no who, some folks woodnt a cared much. So no more at Presant from your tru frend, ALRICK COOLEY.
Having escaped from his entanglement before, as it seemed, any serious harm was done, Mr. Fosdick, now under guidance of what he was pleased to call his better judgment, was disposed to guard himself carefully against a renewal of it. This was the easier every day, as new impressions and interests, including most likely new sentimental attachments as well, obliterated the old in a memory never too keenly retentive. He advanced to higher grades in the service of the building firm, and began to take a more favorable view of his prospects. Idella was as good as forgotten. Once only, happening in Boston, he half yielded, of an idle moment, to an enticement in her direction. While standing on the steps of his hotel, a walking advertisement thrust into his hand a bill describing the bargains of Gay & Talbot. Gay & Talbot were selling off, it appeared, dress patterns, Balbriggan and Lisle thread hosiery, silk and embroidered handkerchiefs, articles of bronze, gilt, ivory, and Russia leather, at prices exquisitely adjusted to the times. The store was not far distant. He stepped down the street and entered ; but no sooner was he fairly in the heavy, patchouli-scented air and the loitering crowd than a strong sense of the folly of what he was going to do overcame him, and he turned on his heel and departed. It was this peculiar visit in which he was observed, as it happened, by Emeline Benson, and which served as the foundation for her statements in the island, reported by Mrs. Wixon to Alrick Cooley.
The following summer Fosdick was stationed again for a while at the quarry, — now out of its legal difficulties and beginning to be worked. He hoped to be able to finish before Idella arrived for her summer vacation. Her sisters were absent now, as well as herself. How strangely uninteresting their house and its remaining inmates were ! He went to Baker’s Neck again, and saw there Albon whittling a stick. He was told by Mrs. Baker another fortune, of a light lady and a dark lady and a letter and a journey, quite different from the first. He talked with the “drawist,” still papering his store with the brown paper yachts produced without rule, and he went out in the Reach in his dory to fish more than ever.
At this time Alrick Cooley, returning by degrees towards the scene of his discomfiture, made part of the crew of the Eleanor Jane, a coaster plying with miscellaneous freight between the several considerable towns on the main, and frequently passing within sight of Great Box Island.
One day the Eleanor Jane came down the Reach before a fresh breeze, with Alrick at the wheel. Brooding moodily over the place whose every stock and stone he knew so well, he lost a couple of points in his steering. The variation would bring the vessel unpleasantly close to a small boat containing a man, lying off Barlow’s Point. Alrick would have brought down his helm to remedy the error, but suddenly he recognized the inmate of the boat, and with a fierce exclamation put it up several points instead.
The man in the boat got up his anchor in a panic, lost one of his oars, and attempted to paddle out of danger with the other. The brig was made to follow all his slight evasions with unerring aim. The shadow of the great black hull was almost over the man. The helmsman gloated in anticipation on the slight scratching of the skiff as it should pass, crushed like an egg-shell, under his keel. By what chance was it that the skipper came on deck that moment, rubbing his eyes from his nap ? He had not time even for an oath. He rushed upon the man, threw him away from the wheel, and gave it a great wrench to starboard. The brig fell off with a sudden yaw. The small boat danced frightfully in its wash for an instant, but was safe. The skipper turned then to his seaman, who affected stupidity, and cursed him roundly.
This account was given Mrs. Wixon by Alrick himself. Sometimes, he said, he trembled and awoke nights with horror at the thought of what he had so nearly done; and again he blamed himself bitterly for his failure to rid the earth of his enemy. This was a point in sentimentalism far beyond the simple Mrs. Wixon. She was secretly much alarmed at his wild and moody temper, and inclined to curtail their confidences thereafter, in which she was soon aided by circumstances.
The Great Box Island quarry delivered on the main a quantity of building stone which was rejected. Fosdick heard of a purchaser for it in a city to the eastward, shipped it on board the Eleanor Jane, which as it happened lay in port open to engagement, and, as the prevailing winds promised a short run, sailed in her himself at the same time. The skipper, three men, and a boy composed the crew of the Eleanor Jane. Fosdick was considerably surprised to observe Alrick as a part of it. He spoke pleasantly to him, but his advances were rebuffed with short and surly answers. There proved to be little “ heft,” as the skipper had it, in the breeze, and instead of passing Great Box in the night they were only abreast of it — some ten miles out to sea — towards noon of the next day. Fosdick, discoursing with the captain at this time, told of his recent narrow escape from being run down in his dory while fishing.
“ Was you the one ? ” cried the captain. “Why, this was the vessel. If I had n’t a grabbed the wheel, you’d a been a drowned man now. Cooley,” he said, — he was in a good humor, and it pleased him to assume a facetious tone with Alrick, who stood at the rail splicing ropes, — “ here’s the party you nigh run down in Great Box Reach. He’s a-comin’ here to pitch you overboard to pay for it.”
“ I wish I had sent him to hell.” There was no responsive humor in this. Alrick scowled darkly, and did not change his position.
“ I ’ll have no such talk out o’ you,” said the skipper.
“ You ’ll have what you kin git.”
The skipper started towards him in a fury, catching up a belaying-pin to strike. Fosdick put himself between them. The intense bitterness of the man towards him, the sense of injury under which he must long have labored, flashed upon him in a quick illumination. With it came the keenest regret that his flippant and purposeless conduct could have been allowed to arouse such a feeling.
“ Let it go this time ! ” he appealed to the skipper. “It was an accident, and he does n’t like to be found fault with. It’s all right. It’s all right, I have no fault to find.”
“ Oh, you don’t find no fault!—you don’t! Much obliged! D—n you!” And with that the sailor knocked Fosdick senseless with an iron bar that furnished a convenient weapon. He paralyzed with it next the hand of the captain, that had drawn a revolver, and possessed himself of this.
The rest would have seized him, but his strength in the struggle was prodigious. He shot one of them in the thigh and drove the others in terror into the rigging, where one at a time he bound them. The captain escaped to his cabin, and when besieged fired through the keyhole from a single-barreled pistol which he found there.
Alrick ranged a while in an untamable Berserker rage, complete master of the vessel. He fired a shot in passing into the prostrate body of his enemy, and spurned it with his foot. Finally, preparing for his escape, he smashed the steering apparatus, cut the sails and every important hoist-rope, staved in all the boats but one, and in that — while the paralyzed sailors worked themselves loose and released the captain, to come on deck and find his craft in this cruel plight, and attend to the wounded — made off for land.
The assassin reached land at evening, turned his boat adrift, threw the revolver into the bushes, climbed the cliffs, and spent the night in the woods. A fog settled down upon the place. Through his cold and fitful slumbers the blowing-buoy, rocking in the surf of the Cup and Saucer reef, cried to him, Wo ! Wo ! and broad, level rays from the light-house on the hill circled round and round upon the fog above the wood, as if searching restlessly for the wretched figure cowering below there in the darkness.
At the break of day, when Mrs. Bowker opened the farm-house door, this figure presented itself before her. He had some ready story to account for his pitiable plight. His bruises and tatters were the result of a fall among the rocks ; he dared to say nothing of the wound in his side, which carried the bullet from the captain’s pistol and trickled warm blood. He wanted only warmth and rest for the day, till he could get taken off by some fishing-boat going back to the main.
Idella was at home. When she came down to breakfast, with her hair not very carefully combed, this figure was lying on three chairs by the kitchen stove. “ Goin’ to shake hands, I s’pose, Dell, ain’t ye ? ” he said, putting out his own.
She had intended to, but when she approached an unconquerable repugnance came upon her. She diverted her course to the pantry, and kept away till the farmer brought word towards evening that a chance offered to go to the main.
“ Like enough you could come back and give us a lift for a spell ag’in, Alrick, ’fore ye go aboard for another trip anywheres,” said the farmer.
“ Like enough I could,” and the man groaned, overcome with his wounds, a sense of his unhappy life, and the destiny before him. It was the gallows that awaited him, and not a season of healthful toil in the hay-field, with the pretty Idella near by at the peaceful farm-house. He had foreseen it even in his fury, but he had said then, with a desperate improvidence, a kind of glory, “ It is the price I will pay.”
They saw no more of him till they saw him in the court of justice in the city of nearest jurisdiction. They looked across at him with a startled fascination. It was incredible that a friend and inmate of their household had done that. They believed almost in some chemical change affecting every atom of his frame, which had made him a totally different being.
The hurts of Fosdick, though slow of cure, were not permanently disabling. And it was not by him, but the friends of the sailor, whose wound gangrened and proved mortal, that the criminal was most fiercely pursued.
Fosdick saw Idella during the trial. She was the neatest figure in all the court; yet somehow his crack on the head — if it were that — had made him amazingly callous. To his new fastidiousness all her solecisms were apparent, and her family and neighbors, taken away from their island, were without such small interest as he had found in them there. She said, " I seen it ” and “I done it,” and at the hotel table she ate with her knife, — daintily, it is true, but still with her knife. He could not get himself to feel in need of further repentance now. He thought it peculiarly arbitrary, in fact, and out of all proportion to the offense, that so tremendous a retribution should have come down upon him a year after he had resolutely broken off the flirtation and harbored no intention of renewing it.
At the same time he was easier in his mind to learn, in a little explanation they had, that she should never in the world have thought of Alrick Cooley, whether she had seen him, Fosdick, or not; and easier still when he learned, within another year, that she had married the mail boy, who had been appointed light-house keeper, and promised to make her an excellent husband.
As to Alrick, in his second trial, which the ingenuity of a persistent counsel was able to procure for him, the plea of unsound mind finally prevailed, and it was to an asylum instead of a prison that he was committed. From this in due time he was released, and went to parts unknown.
The feeble and deformed brother who had been his protégé and his disgrace became in this dark strait his efficient protector. Albon was produced in court, and all the circumstances of the birth and early life of the brothers were rehearsed. In the opinion of a jury, which was locked up no more than forty-eight hours before reaching the decision, the manifestation of irregularity in Alrick’s case, as in Albon’s, was to be ascribed entirely to McIntyre’s false face.
W. H. Bishop.