CAPTAIN JOE’S TELEGRAM.
THE morning after Betty’s visit to Sanford’s apartments, Captain Joe was seen hurrying up the shore road at Keyport toward his cottage. His eyes snapped with excitement, and his breath came in short, quick puffs. He wore his rough working-clothes, and held a yellow envelope in his hand. When he reached the garden gate he swung it open with so mighty a jerk that the sound of the dangling ball and chain thumping against the palings brought Aunty Bell running to the porch.
“Sakes alive, Cap’n Joe!” she exclaimed, following him into the kitchen, “whatever ’s the matter? Ain’t nobody hurted, is there ? ”
“There will be ef I don’t git to New York purty quick. Mr. Sanford ’s got Betty, an’ them Leroy folks is a-keepin’ on her till I git there.”
Aunty Bell sank into a chair, her hands twisted in her apron, the tears starting in her eyes.
“ Who says so ? ”
“Telegram — come in the night,” he answered, almost breathless, throwing the yellow envelope into her lap. “Git me a clean shirt quick as God ’ll let ye. I ain’t got but ten minutes to catch that eight-ten train.”
“But ye ain’t a-goin’ till ye see Caleb, be ye? He won’t like it, maybe, if ” —
“Don’t ye stop there talkin’, Aunty Bell. Do as I tell ye, ” he said, stripping off his suspenders and tugging at his blue flannel shirt. “I ain’t a-goin’ to stop for nobody nor nothin’. That little gal ’s fetched up hard jes’ where I knowed she would, an’ I won’t have a minute’s peace till I git my hands onto her. I ain’t slop’ a night since she left, an’ you know it,” he added, hurriedly dragging a suit of clothes from a closet, as he talked, still out of breath.
“How do ye know she ’ll come with ye ? ” asked Aunty Bell, as she gave him his shirt. Her hands were trembling.
“I ain’t a-worritin’,” he answered, thrusting his head and big chest into the stiff shirt; fumbling, as he spoke, with his brown hands, for the buttons. “Gimme that collar.”
“Well, I’m kind’er wonderin’ if ye had n’t better let Caleb know. I don’t know what Caleb ’ll say ” —
“I ain’t a-carin’ what Caleb says. I ’ll stop that leak when I git to ’t.” He held his breath for a moment and clutched the button with his big fingers, trying to screw it into his collar, as if it had been a nut on a bolt. “Here, catch hold o’ this button ; it ’s so plaguy tight. No, — I don’t want no toothbrush, nor nothin’. I would n’t ’er come home at all, but I was so gormed up, an’ she ’s along with them Leroy folks Mr. Sanford knows. My — my ” — he continued, forcing his great arms through the tight sleeves of his Sunday coat with a humping motion of his back, and starting toward the door. “Jes’ to think o’ Betty wanderin’ ’bout them streets at night! ”
“Why, ye ain’t got no cravat on, Cap’n Joe! ” called Aunty Bell, running after him, tie in hand.
“ Here, give it to me! ” he cried, snatching it and cramming it into his pocket. “I ’ll fix it on the train.” In another moment he was halfway down the plank walk, waving his hand, shouting over his shoulder as he swung open the gate, his eye on the sky, “Send word to Cap’n Bob to load them other big stone an’ git ’em to the Ledge today; the wind ’s goin’ to haul to the south’ard. I ’ll be back ’bout eight o’clock to-night.”
Aunty Bell looked after his hurrying figure until the trees shut it from view; then she reëntered the kitchen and again dropped into a chair.
Betty’s flight had been a sore blow to the bustling little wife,—the last to believe that Betty had really deserted Caleb for Lacey, even after Captain Joe had told her how the mate of the Greenport boat had seen them board the New York train together.
As for the captain, he had gone about his work with his mind filled with varying emotions: sympathy for Caleb, sorrow and mortification over Betty’s fall, and bitter, intense, dangerous hatred of Lacey. These were each in turn, as they assailed her, consumed by a never ending hunger to get the child home again, that she might begin the undoing of her fatal step. To him she was still the little girl he used to meet on the road, with her hair in a tangle about her head, her books under her arm. As he had never fully realized, even when she married Caleb, that anything had increased her responsibilities,— that she was no longer the child she looked,— so he could not now escape the conviction that somehow or other “she ’d been hoodooed,” as be expressed it, and that when she came to herself her very soul would cry out in bitter agony.
Every day since her flight he had been early and late at the telegraph office, and had directed Bert Simmons, the letter-carrier on the shore road, to hunt him up wherever he might be, — on the dock or aboard his boat, — should a letter come bearing his name. The telegram, therefore, was not a surprise. That Sanford should have found her was what he could not understand.
Aunty Bell, with the big secret weighing at her heart, busied herself about the house, so as to make the hours pass quickly. She was more conservative and less impulsive in many things than the captain; that is, she was apt to consider the opinions of her neighbors, and shape her course accordingly, unless stopped by one of her husband’s outbursts and won over to his way of thinking. The captain knew no law but his own emotions, and his innate sense of right and wrong sustained by his indomitable will and courage. If the other folks did n’t like it, the other folks had to get out of the way; he went straight on.
“ Ain’t nobody goin’ to have nothin’ to do with Betty, if she does git tired of Lacey an’ wants to come home, poor child,” Aunty Bell had said to Captain Joe only the night before, as they sat together at supper. “Them Nevins gals was sayin’ yesterday they wouldn’t speak to her if they see her starvin’, and was a-goin’ on awful about it; and Mis’ Taft said ” —
The captain raised his head quickly. “Jane Bell. ” — when the captain called Aunty Bell “Jane” the situation was serious,— “I ain’t got nothin’ to do with them Nevins gals, nor Mis’ Taft, nor nobody else, and you ain’t got nothin’, neither. Ain’t we bed this child runnin’ in an’ out here jes’ like a kitten ever since we been here? Don’t you know clean down in yer heart that there ain’t no better gal ever lived ’n Betty ? Ain’t we all liable to go ’stray, and ain’t we all of us so dirt mean that if we had our hatches off there ain’t nobody who see our cargo would speak to us? Now don’t let me hear no more about folks passin’ remarks nor passin’ her by. I ain’t a-goin’ to pass her by, and you ain’t, neither, if them Nevins gals and old Mother Taft and the whole kit and caboodle of ’em walks on t’other side. ”
She remembered the very sound of these words, as she rested for a moment, rocking to and fro, in the kitchen, after the captain had gone, her fat little feet swinging clear of the floor. She could even hear the tone of his voice, and could see the flashing of his eye. The remembrance gave her courage. She wanted some one to come in, that she might put on the captain’s armor and fight for the child herself.
She had not long to wait. Mrs. Taft was already coming up the walk,— for dinner, perhaps, her husband being away fishing. Carleton was walking beside her. They had met at the gate.
“I heard the captain had to go to New York, Aunty Bell, and so I thought maybe you ’d be alone, ” said Mrs. Taft, taking off her bonnet. “No news from the runaway, I suppose ? Ain’t it dreadful? She ’s the last girl in the world I would ’a’ thought of doing a thing like that.”
“We ain’t none of us perfect, Mis’ Taft. Take a chair, Mr. Carleton,” placing one for him. “If we was, we could most of us stay here; there would n’t be no use o’ heaven.”
“But, Aunty Bell,” exclaimed the visitor in astonishment, “you surely don’t think— Why, it’s awful for Betty to go and do what she did ” —
“I ain’t judgin’ nobody, Mis’ Taft. I ain’t a-blamin’ Betty, an’ I ain’t a-blamin’ Caleb. I’m only thinkin’ of all the sufferin’ that poor child ’s got to go through now, an’ what a mean world this is for us to have to live in,”
“Serves the old man right for marrying a girl young enough to be his daughter, ” said Carleton, with a laugh, tilting back his chair, —his favorite attitude. “I made up my mind the first day I saw her that she was a little larky. She ’s been fooling West all summer, — anybody could see that.” He had not forgiven the look in Caleb’s eye that afternoon aboard the Screamer. “When’s the captain coming home? ”
Aunty Bell looked at the superintendent, her lips curling, as the hard, dry laugh rang in her ears. She had never fancied him, and she liked him less now than ever. Her first impulse was to give him a piece of her mind, — an indigestible morsel when served hot. Then she remembered that her husband was having some difficulty with him about the acceptance of the concrete disk, and so her temper, chilled by this more politic second thought, cooled down and stiffened into a frigid determination not to invite him to dinner if she ate nothing herself all day.
“Cap’n ’ll be here in the mornin’,” she answered curtly. “ Got any message for him ? ”
“Yes. Tell him I was out to the Ledge yesterday with my transit, and the concrete is too low by six inches near the southeast derrick. It’s got to come up to grade before I can certify. I thought I’d come in and tell him, — he wanted to know.”
The door opened, and the tall form of Captain Bob Brandt, the Screamer’s skipper, entered.
“Excuse me, Mis’ Bell,” he said, removing his hat and bowing goodhumoredly to everybody. “I saw ye pass, Mr. Carleton, an’ I wanted to tell ye that we ’re ready now to h’ist sail fur the Ledge. We got ’leven stone on. Caleb ain’t workin’ this week, an’ one o’ the other divers’s a-goin’ to set ’em. Guess it’s all right; the worst is all done. Will you go out with us, or trust me to git ’em right? ”
“Well, where are you going to put ’em ? ” said Carleton, in his voice of authority.
“Well, las’ time Caleb was down, sir, he said he wanted four more stone near the boat-landin’, in about twelve foot o’ water, to finish that row ; then we kin begin another layer nex’ to ’em, if ye say so. S’pose you know Cap’n Joe ain’t here ? — gone to New York. Will you go with us ? ”
“ No ; you set ’em. I ’ll come out in the tug in the morning and drop a rod on ’em, and if they ’re not right you ’ll have to take ’em up again. That concrete ’s out of level, you know.”
“What concrete? ”
“Why, the big circular disk,” snapped Carleton.
This was only another excuse of Carleton’s for refusing to sign the certificate. The engineer had postponed his visit, and so this fresh obstruction was necessary to maintain his policy of delay.
“Not when I see it, sir, three days ago,” said Captain Brandt in surprise. “It was dead low water, an’ the tide jest touched the edges of the outer band all round even.”
“ Well, I guess I know, ” retorted the superintendent, flaring up. “I was out there yesterday with a level, an’ walked all over it.”
“Must’er got yer feet wet, then, sir,” said the skipper, with a laugh, as he turned toward the door. “The tide ’s been from eight inches to a foot higher ’n usual for three days past; it’s fullmoon tides now.”
During the talk Aunty Bell and Mrs. Taft had slipped into the sitting-room, and the superintendent, finding himself alone, with no prospect of dinner, called to the skipper, and joined him on the garden walk.
As the afternoon hours wore on, and no other callers came in, — Mrs. Taft having gone, — Aunty Bell brought a big basket, filled with an assortment of yarn stockings of varied stains and repairs, out to a chair on the porch, and made believe to herself that she was putting them in order for the captain when he should need a dry pair. Now and then she would stop, her hand in the rough stocking, her needle poised, her mind going back to the days when she first moved to Keyport, and this curlyhaired girl from the fishing - village a mile or more away had won her heart. She had had no child of her own since the death of that baby girl of long ago, and Betty, somehow, had taken her place, filling day by day all the deep corners of the sore heart, still aching from this earlier sorrow. When the girl’s mother died, a few months after Betty’s marriage, Aunty Bell had thrown her shawl over her head, and, going to Caleb’s cabin, had mounted the stairs to Betty’s little room and shut the door. With infinite tenderness she had drawn the girl’s head down on her own bosom, and had poured out to her all the mother’s love she had in her own heart, and had told her of that daughter of her dreams. Betty had not forgotten it, and among all those she knew on the shore road she loved Aunty Bell the best. There were few days in the week — particularly in the summer, when Caleb was away — that she was not doing something for Aunty Bell, her bright face and merry, ringing laugh filling the house and the little woman’s life, —an infectious, bubbling, girlish laugh that made it a delight to be with her.
Then a fresh thought, like a draught from an open door, rushed into Aunty Bell’s mind with a force that sent a shiver through her tender heart, and chilled every kind impulse. Suppose Caleb should turn his back on this girl wife of his. What then? Ought she to take her to her heart and brave it out with the neighbors ? What sort of an example was it to other young women along the shore, Aunty Bell’s world? Could they, too, run off with any young fellows they met, and then come home and be forgiven ? It was all very well for the captain,— he never stopped to think about these things, — that was his way; but what was her duty in the matter? Would it not be better in the end for Betty if she were made to realize her wrong - doing, and to suffer for it ?
These alternating memories and perplexities absorbed her as she sat on the porch, the stockings in her lap, her mind first on one course of action and then on another, until some tone of Betty’s voice, or the movement of her hand, or the toss of her head came back, and with it the one intense, overwhelming desire to help and comfort the child she loved.
When it began to grow dark she lighted the lamp in the front room, and made herself a cup of tea in the kitchen. Every few minutes she glanced at the clock, her ears alert for the whistle of the incoming train. Losing confidence even in the clock, she again took her seat on the porch, her arms on the rail, her plump chin resting on her hands, straining her eyes to see far down the road.
When the signaling whistle of the train was heard, the long-drawn sound reverberating over the hills, she ran to the gate, and stood there, her apron thrown over her head, her mind in a whirl, her throat aching with the thumping of her heart. Soon a carriage passed, filled with summer visitors, their trunks piled in front, and drove on up the road. Then a man carrying a bag hurried by with two women, their arms full of bundles. After that the road was deserted. These appeared to be all the passengers coming her way. As the minutes dragged, and no sound of footsteps reached her ear, and no big burly figure with a slender girl beside it loomed against the dim light of the fading sky, her courage failed and her eyes began to grow moist. She saw it all now : Betty dared not come home and face Caleb and the others!
Suddenly she heard her name called from inside the house, and again from the kitchen door.
“Aunty Bell! Aunty Bell! where be ye ? ”
It was the captain’s voice: he must have left the train at the drawbridge and crossed lots, coming in at the rear gate.
She hurried up the plank walk, and met him at the kitchen door. He was leaning against the jamb. It was too dark to see His face. A dreadful sense of some impending calamity overcame her.
“Where’s Betty? ” she faltered, scarcely able to speak.
The captain pointed inside.
The little woman pushed past him into the darkening room. For a moment she stood still, her eyes fixed on Betty’s slender, drooping figure and bowed head, outlined against the panes of the low window.
“ Betty! ” she cried, running forward with outstretched arms.
The girl did not move.
“ Betty —my child! ” cried Aunty Bell again, taking the weeping woman in her arms.
Then, with smothered kisses and halting, broken speech, these two — the forgiving and the forgiven — sank to the floor.
Outside, on a bench by the door, sat the captain, rocking himself, bringing his hands down on his knees, and with every seesaw repeating in a low tone to himself, “She’s home. She’s home.”
CAPTAIN JOE’S CREED.
When Captain Joe flung open Caleb’s cabin door, the same cry was on his lips: “She’s home, Caleb, she’s home! Run ’way an’ lef’ him, jes’ ’s I knowed she would, soon’s she got the spell off’n her. ”
Caleb looked up over the rim of his glasses into the captain’s face. He was sitting at the table in his shirtsleeves and rough overalls, the carpet slippers on his feet. He was eating his supper, — the supper that he had cooked himself.
“How d’ ye know? ” he asked. The voice did not sound like Caleb’s; it was hoarse and weak.
“She come inter Mr. Sanford’s place night ’fore last, scared almost to death, and he tuk her to them Leroy folks; they was stavin’ good to her an’ kep’ ’er till mornin’, an’ telegraphed me. I got the eight-ten this mornin’. There warn’t no time, Caleb,” —in an apologetic tone, — “or I ’d sent for ye, jes’ ’s Aunty Bell wanted me to; but I knowed ye ’d understand. We jes’ got back. I ’d brought ’er up, only she ’s dead, beat out, poor little gal.”
It was a long answer of the captain’s to so direct a question, and it was made with more or less misgiving. It was evident from his manner that he was a little nervous over the result. He did not take his eyes from the diver’s face as he fired these shots at random, wondering where and how they would strike.
“Where is she now?” inquired Caleb quietly.
“Down on my kitchen floor with her head in Aunty Bell’s lap. Git yer hat and come ’long.” The captain leaned over the table as he spoke, and rested one hand on the back of Caleb’s chair.
Caleb did not raise his eyes nor move. “I can’t do her no good no more, Cap’n Joe. It was jes’ like ye to try an’ help her. Ye ’d do it for anybody that was a-sufferin’ ; but I don’t see my way clear. I done all I could for her ’fore she lef’ me,—leastwise I thought I had.” There was no change in the listless monotone of his voice.
“You allus done by her, Caleb.” The captain’s hand had slipped from the chair-back to Caleb’s shoulder. “I know it, and she knows it now. She ain’t ever go in’ to forgive herself for the way she’s treated ye, —tol’ me so to-day comin’ up. She’s been hoodooed. I tell ye, — that ’s what ’s the matter; but she ’s come to now. Come along; I ’ll git yer hat. She ought’er go to sleep purty soon. ”
“Ye need n’t look for my hat. Cap’n Joe. I ain’t a-goin’,” said Caleb quietly, leaning back in his chair. The lamp shone full on his face and beard. Captain Joe could see the deep lines about the eyes, seaming the dry, shrunken skin. The diver had grown to be a very old man in a week.
“You say you ain’t a-goin’, Caleb? ” In his heart he had not expected this.
“No, Cap’n Joe; I ’m goin’ to stay here an’ git along th’ best way I kin. I ain’t blamin’ Betty. I ‘m blamin’ myself. I been a-thinkin’ it all over. She done ’er best to love me and do by me, but I was too old for ’er. If it hadn’t been Billy, it would’er been somebody else, —somebody younger ’n me. ”
“She don’t want nobody else but you. Caleb.” The captain’s voice rose quickly. He was crossing the room for a chair as he spoke. “She told me so to-day. She purty nigh cried herself sick comin’ up. I was afeard folks would notice her.”
“She’s sorry now, cap’n, an’ wants ter come back, ’cause she ’s skeered of it all, but she don’t love me no more ’n she did when she lef’ me. When Billy finds she’s gone, he ’ll he arter her agin ” —
“Not if I git my hands on him,” interrupted the captain angrily, dragging the chair to Caleb’s side.
“An’ when she begins to hunger for him, ” continued Caleb, taking no notice of the outburst, “it ’ll be all to do over agin. She won’t be happy without him. I ain’t got nothin’ agin ’er, but I won’t take ’er back. It ’ll only make it wus for her in the end.”
“Ye ain’t a-goin’ ter chuck that gal out in the road, be ye? ” cried Captain Joe, seating himself beside the table, his head thrust forward in Caleb’s face in his earnestness. “What’s she but a chit of a child that don’t know no better? ” he burst out. “She ain’t more ’n twenty now, and here ’s some on us more ’n twice ’er age and liable to do wus every day. Think of yerself when ye was her age. Do ye remember all the mean things ye done, and the lies ye told? S’pose you ’d been chucked out as ye want to do to Betty. It ain’t decent for ye to talk so, Caleb, and I don’t like ye fur it, neither. She’s a good gal, and you know it, ” and the captain, in his restlessness, shifted the chair and planted it immediately in front of Caleb, where he could look him straight in the eye. Aunty Bell had told him just what Caleb would say, but he had not believed it possible.
“I ain’t said she warn’t, Cap’n Joe. I ain’t blamin’ her, nor never will. I’m blamin’ myself. I ought’er stayed tendin’ light - ship instead’er comin’ ashore and spilin’ ’er life. I was lonely, and the fust one was allus sickly, an’ I thought maybe my time had come then; and it did while she was with me. I’d ruther beared her a-singin’, when I come in here at night, than any music I ever knowed.” His voice broke for a moment. “I done by her all I could, but I begin to see lately she was lonelier here with me than I was ’board ship with nothin’ half the time to talk to but my dog. I did n’t think it was Billy she wanted, but I see it now.”
Captain Joe rose from his chair and began pacing the room. Caleb’s indomitable will seemed to break against this man’s calm, firm talk with as little effect as did the waves about his own feet the day he set the derricks.
His faith in Betty’s coming to herself had never been shaken for an instant. If it had, it would all have been restored the morning she met him in Mrs. Leroy’s boudoir, and, putting her arms about him, clung to him like a frightened kitten. His love for the girl was so great that he had seen but one side of the question. Her ingratitude, her selfishness in ignoring the disgrace and misery she would bring this man who had been everything to her, had held no place in the captain’s mind. To him the case was a plain one. She was young and foolish, and had committed a fault; she was sorry and repentant; she had run away from her sin; she had come back to the one she had wronged, and she wanted to be forgiven. That was his steadfast point of view, and this was his creed: “ Neither do I condemn you ; go and sin no more.” That Caleb did not view the question in the same way at first astonished, then irritated him.
He had only compassion and love for Betty in his heart. If she had broken the Master’s command again, he would perhaps have let her go her way, — for what was innately bad he hated, — but not now, when she had awakened to a sense of her sin. He continued to pace up and down Caleb’s kitchen, his hands behind his broad back, his horny, stubby fingers twisting nervously together. Caleb was still in his chair, the lamplight streaming over his face. In all the discussion his voice had been one low monotone. It seemed but a phonographic echo of his once clear voice.
The captain resumed his seat with a half-baffled, weary air.
“Caleb, ” he said,— there was a softness now in the tones of his voice that made the diver raise his head,— “you and me hev knowed each other off ’n’ on for nigh on to twenty years. We’ve had it thick and nasty, and we ’ve had as clear weather as ever a man sailed in. You’ve tried to do square ’tween man and man, and so far ’s I know, ye have, and I don’t believe ye ’re goin’ to turn crooked now. From the time this child used to come down to the dock, when I fust come to work here, and talk to me ’tween school hours, and Aunty Bell would take her in to dinner, down to the time she got hoodooed by that smooth face and lyin’ tongue,— damn him ! I ’ll spile t’other side for him, some day, wus than the Screamer did, — from that time, I say, this ’ere little gal ain’t been nothin’ but a bird fillin’ everything full of singin’ from the time she got up till she went to bed agin. I ask ye now, man to man, if that ain’t so? ”
Caleb nodded his head.
“During all that time there ain’t been a soul up and down this road, man, woman, nor child, that she would n’t help if she could, —and there’s a blame’ sight of ’em she did help, as you an’ I know: sick child’en, sittin’ up with ’em nights ; an’ makin’ bonnets for folks as could n’t git ’em no other way, without payin’ for ’em; and doin’ all she could to make this place happier for ’er bein’ in it. Since she ’s been yer wife, there ain’t been a tidier nor nicer place along the shore road than yours, and there ain’t been a happier little woman nor home nowheres. Is that so, or not ? ”
Again Caleb nodded his head.
“While all this is a-goin’ on, here comes that little skunk, Bill Lacey, with a tongue like ’n ile-can, and every time she says she ’s lonely or tired— and she ’s had plenty of it, you bein’ away — he up’s with his can and squirts it into ’er ear about her bein’ tied to an old man, and how if she ’d married him he wouldn’t ’a’ lef’ her a minute ” —
Caleb looked up inquiringly, an ugly gleam in his eyes.
“Oh, I ketched him at it one day in my kitchen, and I tol’ him then I ’d break his head, and I wish to God I had, now! Purty soon comes the time with the Screamer, and his face gets stove in. What does Betty do? Leave them men to git ’long best way they could, — like some o’ the folks round here that was just as well able to ’ford the time, — or did she stand by and ketch a line and make fast? I ’ll tell ye what she done, ’cause I was there, and you warn’t. Fust one come ashore was Billy; he looked like he ’d fallen off a top-gall’nt mast and struck the deck with his face. Lonny Bowles come next; he warn’t so bad mashed up. What did Betty do? Pick out the easiest one? No, she jes’ anchored right ’longside that boy, and hung on, and never had ’er clo’es off for nigh on to forty-eight hours. If he ’s walkin’ round now he owes it to her. Is that so, or not ? ”
“It’s true, cap’n,” said Caleb, his eyes fastened on the captain’s face. The lids were heavy now; only his will held back the tears.
“ For three weeks this went on, she a-settin’ like a little rabbit with her paws up starin’ at him, her eyes gettin’ bigger all the time, an’ he lyin’, coiled up like a snake, lookin’ up into her face until he ’d hoodooed her and got her clean off her centre. Now there’s one thing I’m a-goin’ to ask ye, an’ before I ask ye, an’ before ye answer it, I ’m a-goin’ to ask ye another: when the Three Sisters come ashore las’ winter in that sou’easter on Deadman Shoal, ’cause the light warn’t lit, an’ all o’ them men was drownded, whose fault was it? ”
“Why, you know, Cap’n Joe,” Caleb interposed quickly, eager to defend a brother keeper, a pained and surprised expression overspreading his face. “Poor Charles Edwards had been out o’ his head for a week.”
“That’s right, Caleb: that’s what I heard, an’ that’s true, an’ the dead men and the owners hadn’t nobody to blame, an’ did n’t. Now I ’ll ask ye another question: When Betty, after livin’ every day of her life as straight as a marlin spike, run away an’ lef’ ye a week ago, an’ broke up yer home,who’s to blame,— Betty, or the hoodoo that’s put ’er out’er her mind ever since the Screamer blowed up ? ”
Caleb settled back in his chair and rested his chin on his hand, his big fluffy beard hiding his wrist and shirtcuff. For a long time he did not answer. The captain sat, with his hands on his knees, looking searcliingly into Caleb’s face, watching every expression that crossed it.
“Cap’n Joe,” said the diver in his calm, low voice, “I hearn ye talk, an’ I know ye well ’nough to know that ye believe every word ye say, an’ I don’t know but it’s all true. I ain’t had much ’sperience o’ women folks, only two. But I don’t think ye git this right. It ain’t for myself that I ’m thinkin’. I kin git along alone, an’ do my own cookin’ an’ washin’ same as I allus used to. It’s Betty I’m thinkin’ of. She ’s tried me more ’n a year, an’ done her best, an’ give it up. She would n’t ’a’ been ‘hoodooed,’ as ye call it, by Bill Lacey if her own heart warn’t ready for it ’fore he began. It’s agin natur’ for a gal as young ’s Betty to be happy with a man ’s old ’s me. She can’t do it, no matter how hard she tries. I did n’t know it when I asked her, but I see it now.”
“But she knows better now, Caleb; she ain’t a-goin’ to cut up no more capers.” There was a yearning, an almost pitiful tone in the captain’s voice. His face was close to Caleb’s.
“Ye think so, an’ maybe she won’t; but there ’s one thing yer don’t seem to see, Cap’n Joe : she can’t git out’er love with me an’ inter love with Billy an’ back agin to me in a week. ”
These last words came slowly, as if they had been dragged up out of the very depths of his heart.
“She never was out’er love with ye, Caleb, nor in with Lacey. Don’t I tell ye? ” he cried impatiently, too absorbed in Betty’s welfare to note the seriousness of Caleb’s tone.
“Yes,” said Caleb. His voice had fallen almost to a whisper. “ I know, ye think so, but th’ bes’ thing now for the little gal is to give ’er ’er freedom, an’ let ’er go ’er way. She shan’t suffer as long’s I ’ve got a dollar, but I won’t have ’er come home. It ’ll only break her heart then as well ’s mine. Now — now — it ’s only me — that is ” — Caleb’s head sank to the table until his face lay on his folded arms.
Captain Joe rose from his chair, bent down and laid his hand softly on the diver’s shoulder. When he spoke his voice had the pleading tones of a girl.
“Caleb, don’t keep nothin’ back in yer heart; take Betty back. You need n’t go down for her. I ’ll go myself an’ bring her here. It won’t be ten minutes 'fore her arms 'll be round yer neck. Lemme go for her ? ”
The diver raised his head erect, looked Captain Joe calmly in the eye, and, without a trace of bitterness in his voice, said: “She ’ll never set foot here as my wife agin, Cap’n Joe, as long ’s she lives. I ain’t got the courage to set still an’ see her pine away day arter day, if she comes back, an’ I won’t. I love ’er too much for that. If she was my own child instead o’ my wife, I ’d say the same thing. It ’s Betty I’m a-thinkin’ of, not myself. It’d be twict’s hard for ’er the next time she got tired an’ wanted to go. It’s all over now, an’ she ’s free. Let it all stay so.”
“Don’t say that, Caleb.” The shock of the refusal seemed to have stunned him. “Don’t say that. Think o’ that child, Caleb: she come back to ye, an’ you shut your door agin ’er. ”
Caleb shook his head, with a meaning movement that showed the iron will of the man and the hopelessness of further discussion.
“Then she ain’t good ’nough for ye, ’s that it ? ”
The captain was fast losing his selfcontrol. He knew in his heart that in these last words he was doing Caleb an injustice, but his anger got the better of him.
Caleb did not answer.
“That’s it. Say it out. You don’t believe in her. ” His voice now rang through the kitchen. One hand was straight up over his head; his lips quivered. “ Ye think she ’s some lowdown critter instead of a poor child that ain’t done nobody no wrong intentional. I ask ye for th’ las’ time, Caleb. Be a father to ’er, if ye can’t be no more; an’ if ye can’t be that, — damn ye! — be decent to yerself, an’ stan’ up an’ forgive her like a man.”
Caleb made no sign. The cruel thrust had not reached his heart. He knew his friend, and he knew all sides of his big nature. The clear blue eyes still rested on the captain’s face.
“You won’t?” There was a tone almost of defiance in the words.
The diver again shook his head.
“Then I ’ll tell ye one thing, Caleb, right here ” (he was now bent forward, his forefinger in Caleb’s face straight out like a spike) : “ye ’re doin’ the meanest thing I ever knowed a man to do in my whole life. I don’t like ye fur it, an’ I never will ’s long ’s I live. I would n’t serve a dog so, let alone Betty. An’ now I ’ll tell ye another : if she ain’t good ’nough to live with you, she ’s good ’nough to live with Aunty Bell an’ me, an’ there ’s where she ’ll stay jes’ ’s long ’s she wants to.”
Without a word of good - night he picked up his hat and strode from the room, slamming the door behind him with a force that rattled every plate on the table.
Caleb half started from his chair as if to call him back. Then, with a deep indrawn sigh, he rose wearily from the chair, covered the smouldering fire with ashes, locked the doors, fastened the two shutters, and, taking up the lamp, went slowly upstairs to his empty bed.
The following Sunday Captain Joe shaved himself with the greatest care, — that is, he slashed his face as full of cuts as a Heidelberg student’s after a duel; squeezed his big broad shoulders into his black coat, — the one inches too tight across the back, the cloth all in corrugated wrinkles ; tugged at his stiff starched collar until his face was purple ; hauled taut a sleazy cravat; and, in a determined quarter-deck voice rarely heard from him, ordered Aunty Bell to get on her best clothes, call Betty, and come with him.
“What in natur’ ’s got into ye, Cap’n Joe ? ”
“Church ’s got inter me, and you an’ Betty’s goin’ along.”
“Ye ain’t never goin’ to church, he ye ? ” No wonder Aunty Bell was thunderstruck. Neither of them had been inside of a church since they moved to Keyport. Sunday was the captain’s day for getting rested, and Aunty Bell always helped him.
“I ain’t, ain’t I? That’s all ye know, Jane Bell. You git Betty an’ come along, jes’ ’s I tell ye. I’m a-runnin’ this ship.” There was that peculiar look in the captain’s eye and tone in his voice that his wife knew too well. It was never safe to resist him in one of these moods.
Betty burst into tears when the little woman told her, and said she dared not go, and could n’t, until a second quick, not-to-be-questioned order resounded up the staircase: —
“Here, now, that church bell ’s purty nigh done ringin’. We got ter git aboard ’fore the gangplank ’s drawed in.”
“Come along, child,” said Aunty Bell. “’T ain’t no use; he’s got one o’ his spells on. Which church be ye goin’ to, anyway? ” she called to him, as they came downstairs. “Methodist or Dutch ? ”
“Don’t make no difference,— fust one we come to; an’ Betty’s goin’ to set plumb in the middle ’tween you an’ me, jes’ so’s folks kin see. I ain’t goin’ to have no funny business, nor hand-whispers, nor head-shakin’s about the little gal from nobody along this shore, from the preacher down, or somebody ’ll git hurted.”
All through the service — he had marched down the middle aisle and taken the front seat nearest the pulpit — he sat bolt upright, like a corporal on guard, his eyes on the minister, his ears alert. Now and then he would sweep his glance around, meeting the wondering looks of the congregation, who had lost interest in everything about them but the three figures in the front pew. Then, with a satisfied air, now that neither the speaker nor his hearers showed anything hut respectful curiosity, and no spoken word from the pulpit bore the remotest connection with the subject uppermost in his mind, — no Magdalens nor Prodigal Sons, nor anything of like significance (there is no telling what would have happened had there been), — he settled himself again and looked straight at the minister.
When the benediction had been pronounced he waited until the crowd got thickest around the door, — he knew why the congregation lagged behind; then he made his way into its midst, holding Betty by the arm as if she had been under arrest. Singling out old Captain Potts, a retired sea-captain, a great church-goer and something of a censor over the morals of the community, he tapped him on the shoulder, and said in a voice loud enough to be heard by everybody: —
“This is our little gal, Betty West, Cap’n Potts. Caleb ’s gin her up, and she’s come to live with us. When ye ’re passin’ our way with yer folks, it won’t do ye no harm to stop in to see her. ”
A SHANTY DOOR.
Sanford had expected, when he led Betty from his door, that Mrs. Leroy would give her kindly shelter, but he had not been prepared for all that he heard the next day. Kate had not only received the girl into her house, but had placed her for the night in a bedroom adjoining her own; arranging the next morning a small table in her dressing-room where Betty could breakfast alone, free from the pryings of inquisitive servants. Mrs. Leroy told all these things to Sanford: the heartbroken weariness of the girl when she arrived; the little joyful cry she gave when big, burly Captain Joe, his eyes blinded by the hot midday glare outside, came groping his way into the darkened boudoir; and Betty’s glad spring into his arms, where she lay while the captain held her with one hand, trying to talk to both Betty and herself at once, the tears rolling down his cheeks, his other great hand with the thole-pin fingers patting the girl’s tired face. Mrs. Leroy told Sanford all these things and more, but she did not say how she herself had sat beside Betty on the divan that same morning, before Captain Joe arrived, winning little by little the girl’s confidence, until the whole story came out. Neither did she tell him with what tact and gentleness she, the woman of the world, whose hours of loneliness had been more bitter and intense than any that Betty ever knew, had shown this inexperienced girl how much more noble it would have been to suffer and stand firm, doing and being the right, than to succumb as she had done. Nor yet did she tell Sanford how Betty’s mind had cleared, as she talked on, and of the way in which the girl’s brown hand had crept toward her own till it nestled among her jeweled fingers, while with tender words of worldly wisdom she had prepared her foster sister for what she still must face in penance for her sin; instructing her in the use of those weapons of self-control, purity of purpose, and patience with which she must arm herself if she would win the struggle. Before the morning hours were gone she had received the girl’s promise to go back to her home, and, if her husband would not receive her, to fight on until she again won for herself the respect she had lost, and among those, too, who had once loved her. But least of all did she tell Sanford that when the talk was over and Betty was gone, she had thrown herself on her own bed in an agony of tears, wondering after all which one of the two had done best for herself in the battle of life, she or the girl.
Sanford knew nothing of this. As he sat in the train, on his way back to Keyport, he was sorry and anxious for Mrs. Leroy, wrought up by what she had told him and by the pictures she had given. Yet he found himself bewildered by the fact that, even more than the story, he remembered the tones of Kate’s voice and the very color of her eyes. He was constantly seeing before him a vision of Kate herself as she stood in the hall and bade him good-by, — her full white throat above the ruffles of her morning-gown. He found it difficult to turn his mind to other things, to quiet his inner enthusiasm for her gentleness and charity.
And yet there were important affairs to which he owed immediate attention. Carleton’s continued refusal to sign a certificate for the concrete disk, without which no payment would be made by the government, would, if persisted in, cause him serious embarrassment. He discovered, in fact, as he stepped over the Screamer’s rail at Keyport, that the difficulty with Carleton had already reached an acute stage. Captain Joe had altogether failed in his efforts to make the superintendent sign the certificate, and Carleton had threatened to wire the Department and demand a board of survey if his orders were not complied with at once. Captain Joe generally retired from the field and left the campaign to Sanford whenever, in the course of their work, it became necessary to fight the United States government. The sea was his enemy.
In this discussion, however, he had taken the pains to explain to Carleton patiently, and he thought intelligently, the falsity of the stand he took, showing him that his idea about the concrete base being too low was the result of a mere optical illusion, due to the action of the tide which backed the water up higher within the breakwater on the southeast side; that when the first course of masonry was laid, bringing the mass of concrete out of water, his — Carleton’s— mistake would be instantly detected.
Captain Joe was as much out of patience as he ever permitted himself to be with Carleton, when he shook Sanford’s hand on his arrival.
“Ain’t no man on earth smart ’nough to make eleven inches a foot, let alone a critter like him! ” he said, as he explained the latest development to Sanford.
Once over the sloop’s side, Sanford laid his bag on the deck and turned to the men.
“Who saw the concrete at dead low water during that low tide we had after the last northwest blow? ” he inquired.
“I did, sir,” answered Captain Bob. “I told Mr. Carleton he was wrong. The water jes’ tetched the outer iron band all round when I see it. It was dead calm an’ dead low water.”
“What do you say to that, Mr. Carleton ? ” asked Sanford, laughing.
“I’m not here to take no back talk from nobody, ” replied Carleton in a surly tone.
“Lonny,” said Sanford,—he saw that further discussion with the superintendent was useless, — “go ashore and get my transit and target rod ; you ’ll find them in my bedroom at the captain’s; and please put them here in the skipper’s bunk, so they won’t get broken. I ’ll run a level on the concrete myself, Mr. Carleton, when we get to the Ledge.”
“There ain’t no use of your transit, ” said Carleton, with a sneer. “It’s six inches too low, I tell you. You ’ll fix it as I want it, or I ’ll stop the work.”
Sanford looked at him, but Held his peace. It had not been his first experience with men of Carleton’s class. He proposed, all the same, to know for himself who was right. He had seen Carleton use a transit, and had had a dim suspicion at the time that the superintendent was looking through the eyepiece while it was closed.
“Get ready for the Ledge, Captain Brandt, as soon as Lonny returns, ” said Sanford. “Where’s Caleb, Captain Joe? We may want him.”
The captain touched Sanford on the shoulder and moved down the deck with him, where he stood behind one of the big stones, out of hearing of the other men.
“He ’s all broke up, sir. He ain’t been to work since the little gal left. I want to thank ye, Mr. Sanford, for what ye did for ’er; and that friend o’ yourn could n’t ’a’ been no better to her if she ’d been her sister.”
“That ’s all right, captain,” said Sanford, laying a hand on his shoulder. “Betty is at your house, I hear. How does she bear it ? ”
“Gritty as she kin be, but she ain’t braced up much; Aunty Bell ’s got ’er arms round 'er most of the time. I wish you ’d send for Caleb ; nothin’ else ’ll bring him out. He won’t come for me. I ’ll go myself, if ye say so.”
“Go get him. I may want him to bold a rod in four or five feet of water. He won’t need his helmet, but he ’ll need his dress. Do you hear anything about Lacey ? ”
“He ain’t been round where any of us could see him — and git hold of him,” answered Captain Joe, knitting his brows. “ I jes’ wish he ’d come once. I beared he was over to Stonin’ton, workin’ on the railroad.”
The captain jumped into the yawl and sculled away toward the diver’s cabin. He had not felt satisfied with himself since the night when Caleb had refused to take Betty back. He had said then, in the heat of the moment, some things which had hurt him as much as they had hurt Caleb. He would have told him so before, but he had been constantly at the Ledge receiving the big cut stones for the masonry, nine of which were then piled up on the Screamer’s deck. After that there had arisen the difficulty with Carleton. This now was his opportunity.
The men on the sloop, somehow, knew Caleb was coming, and there was more or less curiosity to see him. Nickles, standing inside the galley and within earshot, had probably overheard Sanford’s request.
All the men liked the old diver. His courage, skill, and many heroic acts above and under water had earned their respect, while his universal kindness and cheeriness had won their confidence. The calamity that had overtaken him had been discussed and re-discussed, and while many profane hopes were indulged in regarding the future condition of Lacey’s soul and eyes, of a kind that would have interfered seriously with the eternal happiness of the first and the seeing qualities of the second, and while numerous criticisms were as freely passed upon Betty, nothing but kindness and sympathy was felt for Caleb.
When Caleb came up over the sloop’s rail, followed by Captain Joe, it was easy to see that all was right between him and the captain. One hearty handshake inside the cabin’s kitchen, and a frank outspoken “I’m sorry, Caleb; don’t lay it up agin me, ” had done that. When Caleb spoke to the men, in his usual gentle manner, each one of them said or did some little thing, as chance offered an unobtrusive opportunity, that conveyed to the diver a heartfelt sorrow for his troubles,— every one but Carleton, who purposely, perhaps, had gone down into the cabin, his temper still ruffled over his encounter with Captain Joe and Sanford.
And so Caleb once more took his place on the working force.
As the Screamer rounded to and made fast in the eddy, the Ledge gang were using the system of derricks, which since the final anchoring had never needed an hour’s additional work. They were moving back from the landing-wharf the big cut stones. While waiting for deliveries of the enrockment blocks from the quarries, the Screamer had carried the stones of the superstructure from Keyport to the Ledge. These were required to lay the first course of masonry, the work to begin as soon as the controversy over the proper level of the concrete was settled.
With the making fast of the Screamer to the floating buoys in the eddy, the life-boat from the Ledge pulled alongside, and landed Sanford, Carleton, Captain Joe, Caleb, and the skipper, — Lonny Bowles carrying the transit and rod as carefully as if they had been two long icicles. The wind was blowing fresh from the east, and the concrete was found to be awash with three feet of water; nothing of the mass itself could be seen by the naked eye. It was therefore apparent that if the dispute was to be settled it could be done only by a series of exact measurements. Carleton’s glance took in the situation with every evidence of satisfaction. He had begun to suspect that perhaps after all he might be wrong, but his obstinacy sustained him. Now that the disk was covered with water there was still reason for dispute.
As soon as the party landed at the shanty, Caleb squeezed himself into his diving-dress, Captain Joe fastening the water-tight cuffs over his wrists, leaving his hands free. Caleb picked up the rod with its adjustable target and plunged across the shallow basin, the water coming up to his hips. Sanford arranged the tripod on the platform, leveled his instrument, directed Caleb where to hold the rod, and began his survey; Captain Joe recording his findings with a big blue lead pencil on a short strip of plank.
The first entries showed that the two segments of the circle — the opposite segments, southeast and northwest — varied barely three tenths of an inch in height. This, of course, was immaterial over so large a surface. The result proved conclusively that Carleton’s claim that one section of the concrete was six inches too low was absurd.
“I’m afraid I shall have to decide against you this time, Mr. Carleton. Run your eye through this transit; you can see yourself what it shows.”
“ Right or wrong, ” broke out Carleton, now thoroughly angry, both over his defeat and at the half-concealed, jeering remarks of the men, “it ’s got to go up six inches, or not a cut stone will be laid. That’s what I 'm here for, and what I say goes. ”
“But please take the transit and see for yourself, Mr. Carleton,” urged Sanford.
“I don’t know nothin’ about your transit, nor who fixed it to suit you,” snarled Carleton.
Sanford bit his lip, and made no answer. There were more important things to be done in the building of a light than the resenting of such insults or quarreling with a superintendent. The skipper, however, to whom the superintendent was a first experience, and who took his answer as in some way a reflection on his own veracity, walked quickly toward him with his fist tightly clinched. His big frame towered over Carleton’s.
“Thank you, Captain Bob,” said Sanford, noticing the skipper’s expression and intent, “but Mr. Carleton is n’t in earnest. His transit is not here, and we cannot tell who fixed that.”
The men laughed, and the skipper stopped and stood aside, awaiting any further developments that might require his aid.
“In view of these measurements,” asked Sanford, as he held before Carleton’s eyes the piece of plank bearing Captain Joe’s record, “do you still order the six inches of concrete put in ? ”
“Certainly I do,” said Carleton. His ugly temper was gradually being hidden under an air of authority. Sanford’s tact had regained him a debating position.
“And you take the responsibility of the change ? ”
“I do.” replied Carleton in a blustering voice.
“Then please put that order in writing,” said Sanford quietly, “and I will see it done as soon as the tide lowers.”
Carleton’s manner changed ; he saw the pit that lay before him. If he were wrong, the written order would fix his responsibility ; without that telltale record he could deny afterward having given the order, if good policy so demanded.
“Well, that ain’t necessary; you go ahead,” said Carleton, with less vehemence.
“I think it is, Mr. Carleton. You ask me to alter a bench-mark level which I know to be right, and which every man about us knows to be right. You refuse a written certificate if I do not carry out your orders, and yet you expect me to commit this engineering crime because of your personal opinion, — an opinion which you now refuse to back up by your signature.”
“I ain’t given you a single written order this season: why should I now? ” in an evasive tone.
“Because up to this time you have asked for nothing unreasonable. Then you refuse ? ”
“I do, and I 'm not to be bulldozed, neither, ”
“Caleb,” said Sanford, with the air of a man who had made up his mind, raising his voice to the diver, still standing in the water, “put that rod on the edge of the iron band.”
Caleb felt around under the water with his foot, found the band and placed on it the end of the rod. Sanford carefully adjusted the instrument.
“What does it measure? ”
“Thirteen feet six inches, sir! ” shouted Caleb.
“ Lonny Bowles, ” continued Sanford. “take three or four of the men and go along the breakwater and see if Caleb is right.”
The men scrambled over the rocks, Lonny plunging into the water beside Caleb, so as to get closer to the rod.
“Thirteen feet six inches!” came back the voices of Lonny and the others, speaking successively.
“Now, Captain Joe, look through this eyepiece and see if you find the red quartered target in the centre of the spider-web lines. You, too, skipper.”
The men put their eyes to the glass, each announcing that he saw the red of the disk.
“Now, Caleb, make your way across to the northwest derrick, and hold the rod on the hand there. ”
The old diver waded across the concrete, and held the rod and target over his head. The men followed him around the breakwater, — all except Bowles, who, being as wet as he could be, plunged in waist-deep.
Sanford turned the transit without disturbing the tripod, and adjusted it until the lens covered the target.
“Raise it a little, Caleb! ” shouted Sanford,— “so! What is she now? ”
“Thirteen feet six inches and —a — half! ” answered Caleb.
“Right! How is it, men?”
“Thirteen six and a half!” came back the replies, after each man had assured himself.
“Now bring me a clean, dry plank, Captain Joe,” said Sanford. “That’s too small, ” as the captain held out the short piece containing the record. Clean planks were scarce on the cementstained work; dry ones were never found.
Everybody went in search of a suitable plank. Carleton looked on at this pantomime with a curl on his lips, and now and then a little shiver of uncertain fear creeping over him. Sanford’s quiet, determined manner puzzled him.
“What’s all this circus about? ” he broke out impatiently.
“One minute, Mr. Carleton. I want to make a record which will be big enough for the men to sign; one that won’t get astray, lost, or stolen.”
“What’s the matter with this?” asked Captain Joe. opening the wooden door of the new part of the shanty. “Ye can’t lose this ’less ye take away the house. ”
“That’s the very thing! ” exclaimed Sanford. “Swing her wide open. Captain Joe. Please give me that big blue pencil. ”
When the door flew back it was as fresh and clean as a freshly scrubbed pine table,
Sanford wrote as follows: —
August 29, SHARK LEDGE LIGHT.
We, the undersigned, certify that the concrete disk is perfectly level except opposite the northwest derrick, where it is three tenths of an inch too high. We further certify that Superintendent Carleton orders the concrete raised six inches on the southeast segment, and refuses to permit any cut stone to be set until this is done.
HENRY SANFORD, Contractor.
“Come, Captain Joe, ” said Sanford, “put your signature under mine.”
The captain held the pencil in his bent fingers as if it had been a chisel, and inscribed his full name, “Joseph Bell, ” under that of Sanford. Then Caleb and the others followed, the old man fumbling inside his dress for his glasses, the search proving fruitless until Captain Joe ran his arm down between the rubber collar of the divingdress and Caleb’s red shirt and drew them up from inside his undershirt.
“Now, Captain Joe,” said Sanford, “you can send a gang in the morning at low water and raise that concrete. It will throw the upper masonry out of level, but it won’t make much difference in a circle of this size. ”
The men gave a cheer, the humor of the situation taking possession of every one. Even Caleb forgot his sorrow for a moment. Carleton laughed a little halting laugh himself, but there was nothing of spontaneity in it. Nickles, the cook, who divided his time between the Screamer and the shanty on the Ledge, and who, now that the cut stone was about to be laid, was permanently transferred to the shanty, and under whose especial care this door was placed by reason of its position, —it opened into the kitchen, — planted his fat, oily body before the curious record, read it slowly word for word, and delivered himself of this opinion: “That ’ere door’s th’ biggest receipt for stores I ever see come into a kitchen.”
“ Big or little, ” said Captain Joe, who could not see the drift of most of Nickles’s jokes, “you spatter it with yer grease or spile it any, and ye go ashore. ”
Betty’s flight had been of such short duration, and her return home accomplished under such peculiar circumstances, that the stories in regard to her elopement had multiplied with the hours. One feature of her escapade excited universal comment, — her spending the night at Mrs. Leroy’s. The only explanation that could be given of this extraordinary experience was that so high a personage as Mrs. Leroy must have necessarily been greatly imposed upon by Betty, or she could never have disgraced herself and her home by giving shelter to such a woman.
Mrs. Leroy’s hospitality to Betty inspired another theory, — one that, not being contradicted at the moment of its origin by Aunty Boll, had seemed plausible. Miss Peebles, the schoolmistress, who never believed ill of anybody, lent all her aid to its circulation. The conversation out of which the theory grew took place in Aunty Bell’s kitchen. Betty was upstairs in her room, and the talk went on in whispers, lest she should overhear.
“I never shall believe that a woman holding Mrs. Leroy’s position would take Betty West into her house if she knew what kind of a woman she was,” remarked the elder Miss Nevins.
“And that makes me think there’s some mistake about this whole thing, ” said Miss Peebles. “Who saw her with Lacey, anyhow ? Nobody but the butcher, and he don’t know half the time what he ’s talking about, he rattles on so. Maybe she never went with Lacey at all.”
“What did she go ’way for, then? ” asked the younger Nevins girl, who was on her way to the store, and had stopped in, hoping she might, by chance, get a look at Betty. “I guess Lacey’s money was all gone,— that ’s why she imposed on Mrs. Leroy.”
“I don’t believe it,” said Miss Peebles. “Betty may have been foolish, but she never told a lie in her life.”
“Well, it may be,” admitted the younger sister in a softened tone. “I hope so, anyhow.”
Aunty Bell kept still. Betty was having trouble enough; if the neighbors thought so, and would give her the benefit of the doubt, better leave it so. She made no effort to contradict it. There were one or two threads of worldly wisdom and canny policy twisted about the little woman’s heart that now and then showed their ends.
Captain Joe was in the sitting-room, reading. He had come in from the Ledge, wet, as usual, had put on some dry clothes, and while waiting for supper had picked up the Noank Times. Aunty Bell and the others saw him come in, but thought he changed his clothes and went to the dock.
He had overheard every word of the discussion. There were no raveled threads in the captain’s make-up. He threw down his paper, pushed his way into the group, and said: —
“There ’s one thing I don’t want no mistake over, and I won’t have it. Betty didn’t tell no lies to Mrs. Leroy nor to nobody else, an’ I ain’t a-goin’ to have nobody lie for’er. Mrs. Leroy knows all about it. She took care of her ’cause she ’s got a heart inside of her. Betty went off with Bill Lacey ’cause he’d hoodooed ’er, an’ when she come to herself she come home agin: that ’s all ther’ is to that. She’s sorry for what she’s done, an’ ther’ ain’t nobody outside o’ heaven can do more. She’s goin’ to stay here ’cause me and Aunty Bell love her now more ’n we ever did before. But she ’s goin’ to start life agin fair an’ square, with no lies of her own an’ no lies told about ’er by nobody else.” The captain looked at Aunty Bell. “Them that don’t like it can lump it. Them as don’t like Betty after this can stay away from me, ” and he turned about on his heel and went down to the dock.
Two currents had thus been started in Betty’s favor: one the outspoken indorsement of Captain Joe; and the other the protection of Mrs. Leroy, “the rich lady who lived at Medford, in that big country-seat where the railroad crossed, and who had the yacht and horses, and who must be a good woman, or she wouldn’t have come to nurse the men, and who sent them delicacies, and came herself and put up the mosquito-nets over their cots.”
As the August days slipped by and the early autumn came, the gossip gradually died. Caleb continued to live alone, picking up once more the manner of life he had practiced for years aboard the light-ship; having a day every two weeks for his washing, — always Sunday, when the neighbors would see him while on their way to church, — hanging out his red and white collection on the line stretched in the garden. He cooked his meals and cleaned the house himself. Nobody but Captain Joe and Aunty Bell crossed his threshold, except the butcher who brought him his weekly supplies. He had been but seldom to the village, — somehow he did not like to pass Captain Joe’s, — and had confined his outings to going from the cabin to the Ledge and back again as his duties required, locking the rear door and hanging the key on a nail beside it until his return.
He had seen Betty only once, and that was when he had passed her on the road. He came upon her suddenly, and he thought she started back as if to avoid him, but he kept his eyes turned away and passed on. When he came to the hill and looked back he could see her sitting by the side of the road, a few rods from where they met, her head resting on her hand.
Only one man had dared to speak to him in an unsympathetic way about Betty’s desertion, and that was his old friend Tony Marvin, the keeper of Keyport Light. They had been together a year on Bannock Rip during the time the Department had doubled up the keepers. He had not heard of Caleb’s trouble until several weeks after Betty’s flight; lighthouse-keepers staying pretty close indoors.
“I hearn, Caleb, that the new wife left ye for that young rigger what got his face smashed. ’Most too young, warn’t she, to be stiddy ? ”
“No, I ain’t never thought so,” said Caleb quietly. “ Were n’t no better gal ’n Betty; she done all she knowed how. You’d ’a’ said so if ye knowed her like I did. But ’t was agin natur’, I bein’ so much older. But I’d rather had her go than suffer on.”
“Served ye durn mean, anyhow,” said the keeper. “Did she take anything with ’er? ”
“Nothin’ but the olo’es she stood in. But she didn’t serve me mean, Tony. I don’t want ye to think so, an’ I don’t want ye to say so, nor let nobody say so, neither; an’ ye won’t if you’re a friend o’ mine, which you allers was.”
“I hearn there was some talk o’ yer takin’ her back,” the keeper went on in a gentler tone, surprised at Caleb’s blindness, and anxious to restore his good feeling. “Is that so? ”
“No, that ain’t so, ” said Caleb firmly, ending the conversation on that topic and leading it into other channels.
This interview of the light-keeper’s was soon public property. Some of those who heard of it set Caleb down as half-witted over his loss, and others wondered how long it would be before he would send for Betty and patch it all up again, and still others questioned why he did n’t go over to Stonington and smash the other side of Lacey’s face; they heard that Billy had been seen around there.
As for Betty, she had found work with a milliner on the edge of the village, within a mile of Captain Joe’s cottage, where her taste in trimming bonnets secured her ready employment, and where her past was not discussed. That she was then living with Captain Joe and his wife was enough to gain her admission. She would have given way under the strain long before, had it not been for her remembered promise to Mrs. Leroy,— the only woman, except Aunty Bell, who had befriended her,— and for the strong supporting arm of Captain Joe, who never lost an opportunity to show his confidence in her.
There had been days, however, after her return, when in spite of her promises she could have plunged into the water at the end of the dock; and then had followed days of an intense longing to see Caleb, or even to hear his voice. She sat for hours in her little room next Aunty Bell’s, on Saturday afternoons, when she came earlier from work, and watched for the Screamer or one of the tugs to round in, bringing Caleb and the men. She could not see her own cottage from the window where she sat, but she could see her husband come down the sloop’s side and board the little boat that brought him to his landing. She thought now and then that she could catch his good-night as he pushed off. On Monday mornings, too, when she knew he was going out, she was up at daylight, watching for a meagre glimpse of him when the skiff shot out from behind the dock and took him aboard to go to his work on the Ledge.
Little by little the captain’s devotion to Betty’s interests, and the outspoken way in which he praised her efforts to maintain herself, began to have their effect. People who had passed her by without a word, as they met her on the road, volunteered a timid good-morning, which was answered by a slight nod of the head by Betty. Even one of the Nevins girls — the younger one — had joined her and walked as far as the milliner’s, with a last word on the doorstep, which had detained them both for at least two minutes in full sight of the other girls who were passing the shop.
Betty met all advances kindly, but with a certain reserve of manner. She appreciated the good motive, but in her own eyes it did not palliate her fault,— that horrible crime of ingratitude, selfishness, and waywardness, the memory of which hung over her night and day like a pall.
Most of her former acquaintances respected her reserve, — all except Carleton. Whenever he met her under Captain Joe’s roof he greeted her with a nod, but on the road he had more than once tried to stop and talk to her. At first the attempt had been made with a lifting of the hat and a word about the weather, but the last time he had stopped in front of her and tried to take her hand.
“What’s the matter with you? ” he said in a coaxing tone. “I ain’t going to hurt you.”
Betty darted by him, and reached the shop all out of breath. She said nothing to any one about her encounter, not being afraid of him in the daytime, and not wanting any more talk of her affairs.
If Caleb knew how Betty lived, he never mentioned it to Captain Joe or Aunty Bell. He would sometimes ask after her health and whether she was working too hard, but never more than that.
One Saturday night — it was the week Betty had hurt her foot and could not go to the shop — Caleb came down to Captain Joe’s and called him outside the kitchen door. It was payday with the men, and Caleb had in his hand the little envelope, still unopened, containing his month’s pay. The lonely life he led had begun to tell upon the diver. The deathly pallor that had marked his face the first few days after his wife’s departure was gone, and the skin was no longer shrunken, but the sunken cheeks remained, and the restless, eager look in the eyes that told of his mental strain.
The diver was in his tarpaulins; it was raining at the time.
“Come in, Caleb, come in!” cried Captain Joe in a cheery voice, laying his hand on the diver’s shoulder. “Take off yer ileskins.” The captain never despaired of bringing husband and wife together, somehow.
Betty was sitting inside the kitchen, reading by the kerosene lamp, out of sound of the voices.
“No, I ain’t washed up nor had supper yit, thank ye. I heared from Aunty Bell that Betty was laid up this week, an’ so I come down.” Here the diver stopped, and began slitting the pay-envelope with a great thumb-nail shaped like a half-worn shoe-horn. “I come down, thinkin’ maybe you ’d kind’er put this where she could git it, ” slowly unrolling two of the four bills and handing them to the captain. “I don’t like her to be beholden to ye for board nor nothin’.”
“Ye can’t give me a cent, Caleb. I knowed her ’fore you did,” said the captain, protesting with his hand upraised, a slightly indignant tone in his voice. Then a thought crept into his mind. “Come in and give it to her yerself, Caleb, ” putting his arm through the diver’s.
“No,” said Caleb slowly, “I ain’t come here for that, and I don’t want ye to make no mistake, cap’n. I come here ’cause I been a-thinkin’ it over, and somehow it seems to me that half o’ this is hern. I don’t want ye to tell ’er that I give it to her, ’cause it ain’t so. I jes’ want ye to lay it som’eres she ’ll find it; and when she asks about it, say it ’s hern.”
Captain Joe crumpled the bills in his hand.
“Caleb,” he said, “I ain’t goin’ to say nothin’ more to ye. I’ve said all I could, and las’ time I said too much; but what seems to me to be the cussedest foolishness out is for ye to go back an’ git yer supper by yerself, when the best little gal you or I know is a-settin’ within ten feet o’ ye with her heart breakin’ to git to ye.”
“I’m sorry she’s sufferin’, Cap’n Joe. I don’t like to see nobody suffer, leastways Betty, but ye don’t know it all. Jes’ leave them bills as I asked ye. Tell Aunty Bell I got the pie she sent me when I come home, —I ’ll eat it to-morrow. I s’pose ye ain’t got no new orders ’bout that last row of enrockment ? I set the bottom stone to-day, an’ I ought’er get the last of ’em finished nex’ week. The tide out terrible to-day, an’ my air comin’ so slow through the pump threw me ’mong the rocks an’ seaweed, an’ I got a scrape on my hand, ” showing a deep cut on its back; “but it’s done hurtin’ now. Good-night. ”
That night, just before Caleb reached his cabin, he came upon Bert Simmons, the shore road letter-carrier, standing in the road, under one of the village street lamps, overhauling his package of letters.
“About these letters that’s comin’ for yer wife, Caleb? Shall I leave ’em with you or take ’em down to Cap’n Joe Bell’s? I give the others to her. Here’s one now.”
Caleb took the letter mechanically, looked it over slowly, noted its Stonington postmark, and, handing it back, answered calmly, “Better leave ’em down to Cap’n Joe’s, Bert.”
When Betty fell asleep, that night, an envelope marked “For Caleb ” was tucked under her pillow. In it were the two bank-notes.
The letter from Bill Lacey lay on her table, unopened.
After this, whenever Caleb’s pay came, half of it went to Captain Joe for Betty. This she placed in the envelope, which she slipped under her pillow, where she could put her hand on it in the night when she awoke, — touching something that he had touched, something that he himself had sent her. But not a penny of the money did she spend.
F. Hopkinson Smith.
(To be continued.)