A TIGHT FIT.
IF The Pines was a refreshing rest to Sanford after the daily anxieties at the Ledge, an enchanted castle to Helen and Jack, and a mine of luxury to Smearly and the other good Bohemians who followed in Mrs. Leroy’s train, to the major it was a never ending source of pure delight.
Until that day on which he had stepped within its portals, his experience of Northern hospitality had been confined to Jack’s and Sanford’s bachelor apartments, for years ideal realms of elegance and ease. These now seemed to him both primitive and meagre. Where Jack had but one room to spare for a friend, and Sanford but two, The Pines had whole suites opening into corridors terminating in vistas of entrancing lounging-places, with marvelous fittings and draperies. Where Sam and Jefferson, in their respective establishments, performed unaided every household duty, from making a cocktail to making a bed, The Pines boasted two extra men who assisted Buckles at the sideboard, to say nothing of countless maids, gardeners, hostlers, stable-boys, and lesser dependents.
Moreover, the major had come upon a most capacious carriage-house and outbuildings, sheltering a wonderful collection of drags, coupés, and phaetons of patterns never seen by him before, particularly a most surprising dog-cart with canary-colored wheels ; and a stable full of satin-skinned horses with incredible pedigrees, together with countless harnesses mounted in silver, saddles, bridles, whips, and blankets decorated with monograms. Last, but by no means least, he had discovered, to his infinite joy, a spick-and-span perfectly appointed steam yacht, with sailingmaster, engineer, firemen, and crew constantly on board, and all ready, at a moment’s notice, to steam off to the uttermost parts of the earth in search of booty or adventure.
The major had found, in fact, all that his wildest flights and his most mendacious imaginings had pictured. The spacious piazzas, velvet lawns, and noble parks of which he had so often boasted as being “upon the estate of a ve’y dear friend of mine up No’th, suh, where I spend so many happy days; ” the wonderful cuisine, fragrant Havanas, crusty port and old Hennessy, — the property as well of this diaphanous gentleman, —had at last become actual realities. The women of charming mien and apparel, so long creations of his brain, — “Dianas, suh. clothed one hour in yachtin’ jackets, caps, and dainty yellow shoes, and the next in webs of gossamer, their lovely faces shaded by ravishin’ pa’asols and crowned by wonderful hats, ”—now floated daily along the very gravel walks that his own feet pressed, or were attended nightly by gay gallants in immaculate black and white, whose elbows touched his own.
Of all these luxuries had he dreamed for years, and about all these luxuries had he lied, descanting on their glories by the hour to that silent group of thirsty Pocomokians before the village bar, or to the untraveled neighbors who lightened with their presence the lonely hours at Crab Island; but never until Mrs. Leroy had opened wide to him the portals of The Pines had they been real to his sight and touch.
It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that, with the flavor of all this magnificence steeping his soul, a gradual change took place in his tone and demeanor. Before a week had passed he had somehow persuaded himself that although the lamp of Aladdin was exclusively the property of Mrs. Leroy, the privilege of rubbing it was unquestionably his own. Gradually, and by the same mental process, he had become convinced not only that he was firmly installed in the Leroy household as High Rubber - in - Chief, the master of the house being temporarily absent, and there being no one else to fill his place, but that the office, if not a life position, at least would last long enough to tide him over until cold weather set in.
Mrs. Leroy at first looked on in amazement, and then, as the humor of the situation dawned upon her, gave him free rein to do as he would. Months before she had seen through his harmless assumptions, and his present pretensions amused her immensely.
“My dear madam,” he would say, “I see the lines of care about yo’r lovely eyes. Let me take you a spin down the shell road in that yaller cyart. It will bring the roses back to yo’r cheeks. ” Or, “Sanford, my dear fellow, try one of those Reina Victorias; you’ll find them much lighter. Buckles, open a fresh box.”
It is worthy of note, too, that when once the surprise at the novelty of the situation had passed away, his hostess soon realized that no one could have filled the post of major-domo to better satisfaction. The same qualities that served him at Crab Island, making him the best of company when off on an outing with the boys, were displayed in even greater perfection at The Pines. He was courteous, good-humored, unselfish, watchful of everybody’s comfort, buoyant as a rubber ball, and ultimately so self-poised that even Buckles began to stand in awe of him, — a victory, by the way, which so delighted Jack Hardy that he rolled over on the grass with shouts of laughter when he discussed it with Sanford and Smearly.
Nor were the greater duties neglected. He was constantly on the lookout for various devices by which his hostess might be relieved in the care of her guests. Tennis tournaments, fishing parties, and tableaux followed in quick succession, each entertainment the result of his ingenious activity and his untiring efforts at making everybody happy.
This daily routine of gayety was interrupted by the important announcement that a committee of engineers, headed by General Barton, would inspect the work at Shark Ledge in the morning.
This visit of the engineers meant to Sanford a possible solution of his embarrassment. Carleton still withheld the certificate, and the young engineer had had the greatest difficulty in tiding over his payments. A second and last section of the work was nearly completed, thanks to the untiring efforts of Captain Joe and his men and to the stability of the machinery, and there was every probability that everything included in these two sections would be finished before the snow began to fly. This had been the main purpose of Sanford ’s summer, and the end was in sight. And yet, with all that had been accomplished, Sanford knew that a technical ruling of the Board in sustaining Carleton’s unjust report when rejecting the work might delay his payments for months, and if prolonged through the winter might eventually ruin him.
The inspection, then, was all the more important at this time; for while the solidity of the masonry and the care with which it was constructed would speak for themselves, the details must be seen and inspected to be appreciated. If the day, therefore, were fine, and the committee able to land, Sanford had no fear of the outcome; provided, of course, that Carleton could be made to speak the truth.
There was no question that parts of the work as they then stood were in open violation of the plans and specifications of the contract. The concrete base, or disk, was acknowledged by Sanford to be six inches out of level. This error was due to the positive orders of Carleton against the equally positive protest of Sanford and Captain Joe. But the question remained whether the Board would sustain Carleton’s refusal to give a certificate in view of the error, and whether Carleton could be made to admit that the error was his own, and not Sanford’s. So it was not surprising that Caleb only looked calmly out to sea, and turned away without replying, when Lonny Bowles inquired whether Carleton had covered himself up in the coal-bunkers. No one noticed his abstraction, nor the fact that he did not answer Lonny Bowles. His fellow Workmen were accustomed to the moodiness which had come over him since Betty left him. They knew he was thinking of her, but they failed to read in his face the conflict that was raging in him; and they did not know that, besides Betty’s face, another’s was always haunting him, bringing the hot blood to his cheek and setting his finger-nails deep into the palms of his hands. That was Bill Lacey’s, It was only at rare intervals, when Caleb had run into Stonington aboard the Screamer or on one of the tugs short of coal or water, that he had seen Lacey, and then only at a distance. The rigger was at work around the cars on the dock. Caleb had never known whether Lacey had seen him. He thought not. The men said the young fellow always moved away when any of the Keyport boats came in, so that really the two had never met,
So far as the permanence of the structure was concerned, this six inches’ rise over so large an area as the base was immaterial. The point — a vital one — was whether the technical requirements of the contract would be insisted upon. Its final decision lay with the Board.
To Mrs. Leroy the occasion was one of more than usual importance. She sent for the sailing - master, ordered steam up at an early hour, gave Sam — Buckles had assigned Sam certain duties aboard the yacht — particular directions as to luncheon the following day, and prepared to entertain the whole committee, provided that august body could be induced to accept the invitation she meant to extend. She had already selected General Barton as her especial victim, while Helen was to make herself agreeable to some of the younger members.
The value of linen, glass, cut flowers, dry champagne, and pretty toilettes in settling any of the affairs of life was part of her social training, and while she did not propose to say one word in defense or commendation of Sanford and his work, she fully intended so to soften the rough edges of the chief engineer and his assistants that any adverse ruling would be well-nigh impossible.
If Mrs. Leroy lent a cheerful and willing hand, the presiding genius of the weather was equally considerate. The morning broke clear and bright. The sun silvered the tall grass of the wide marsh crossed by the railroad trestle and draw, and illumined the great clouds of white steam puffed out by the passing trains. The air was balmy and soft, the sky a turquoise flecked with sprays of pearl, the sea a sheet of silver.
When the maid opened her windows, Mrs. Leroy stepped to the balcony and drank in the beauty and freshness of the morning. Even the weather powers, she said to herself, had ceased hostilities, declared a truce for the day, restraining their turbulent winds until the council of war which was to decide Sanford’s fate was over.
As her eye roamed over her perfectly appointed and well kept lawns, her attention was drawn to a singular-looking figure crossing the grass in the direction of the dock where the yacht was moored. It was that of a man dressed in the jacket and cap of a club commodore. He bore himself with the dignity of a lord high admiral walking the quarter-deck. Closer inspection revealed the manly form of no less distinguished a personage than Major Thomas Slocomb of Pocomoke.
Subsequent inquiries disclosed these facts : Finding in his room,the night before, a hitherto unsuspected closet door standing partly open, the major, in harmless curiosity, had entered the closet and inspected the contents, and had come upon some attractive garments. That these clothes had evidently been worn by, and were then the sole property of his host, Morgan Leroy, Commodore N. Y. Y. C., a man whom he had never seen, only added to the charm of the discovery. Instantly a dozen thoughts crowded through his head, each more seductive than the one before it. Evidently, this open door and the carefully hung jacket and cap meant something out of the ordinary! It was the first time the door had been left open ! It had been done purposely, of course, that he might see the garments! Everything in this wonderful palace of luxury was free, — cigars, brandy, even the stamps on the writingtable before him; why not, then, these yachting clothes? To-morrow was the great day for the yacht. His age and position naturally made him the absent commodore’s rightful successor. Had Leroy been at home, undoubtedly he would have worn these clothes himself. The duty of his substitute, therefore, was too plain to admit of a moment’s hesitation. He must certainly wear the clothes. One thing, however, touched him deeply, — the delicacy of his hostess in putting them where he could find them, and the exquisite tact with which it had all been done. Even if every other consideration failed, he could not disappoint that queen among women, that Cleopatra of modern times.
As he squeezed his arms into the jacket—Leroy was two thirds the major’s size — and caught the glint of the gilt buttons in the mirror, his last lingering doubt faded.
This, then, was the figure Mrs. Leroy saw from her balcony.
When the major boarded the yacht the sailing - master saluted him with marked deference, remembering the uniform even if he did not the wearer, and the sailors holystoning the decks came up to a half present as he passed them on his way to the saloon to see if Sam had carried out his instructions about certain brews necessary for the comfort of the day.
“Where the devil did you get that rig, major? ” roared Smearly, when he and Sanford came down the companionway, half an hour later. “You look like a cross between Dick Deadeye and Little Lord Fauntleroy. It’s about two sizes too small for you.”
“ Do yo think so. gentlemen ? ” twisting his back to the mirrors to get a better view. His face was a study. “ It’s some time since I wore ’em ; they may be a little tight. I’ve noticed lately that I am gaining flesh. Will you sit down here, gentlemen, or shall I order something coolin’ on deck?” — not a quaver in his voice. “Here, Sam,” he called, catching sight of that darky’s face, “take these gentlemen’s orders! ”
When Helen and Mrs. Leroy appeared, followed by several ladies, with Hardy as escort, the major sprang forward to meet them with all the suppressed exuberance of a siphon of Vichy. He greeted Helen first.
“All, my dear Helen, you look positively charmin’ this mornin’; you are like a tea-rose wet with dew; nothing like these Maryland girls.—unless, my dear madam, ” he added, turning to Mrs. Leroy, bowing as low to his hostess as the grip of his shoulders would permit, “unless it be yo’r own queenly presence. Sam, put a cushion behind the lady’s back, — or shall I order coffee for you on deck ? ”
But it was not until the major came up on the return curve of his bow to a perpendicular that his hostess realized in full the effect of Morgan Leroy’s nautical outfit. She gave a little gasp, and her face flushed.
“I hope none of these ladies will recognize Morgan’s clothes, Henry, ” she whispered behind her fan to Sanford. “ I must say this is going a step too far. ”
“But didn’t you send them to his room, Kate? He told me this morning he wore them out of deference to your wishes. He found them hanging in his closet.” Sanford’s face wore a quizzical smile.
“I send them?” Then the whole thing burst upon her. With the keenest appreciation of the humor of the situation in every line of her face, she turned to the major and said, “I must congratulate you, major, on your new outfit, and I must thank you for wearing it to-day. It was very good of you to put it on. It is an important occasion, you know, for Mr. Sanford. Will you give me your arm and take me on deck ? ”
Helen stared in complete astonishment as she listened to Mrs. Leroy. This last addition to the major’s constantly increasing wardrobe — he had a way of borrowing the clothes of any friend with whom he stayed — had for the moment taken her breath away. It was only when Jack whispered an explanation to her that she too entered into the spirit of the scene.
Before the yacht had passed through the draw of the railroad trestle, on her way to the Ledge, the several guests had settled themselves in the many nooks and corners about the deck, or on the more luxurious cushions of the saloon. Mrs. Leroy, now that her guests were happily placed, sat well forward, out of immediate hearing, where she could talk over the probable outcome of the day with Sanford, and lay her plans if Carleton’s opposition threatened serious trouble. Helen and Jack were as far aft as they could get, watching the gulls dive for scraps thrown from the galley, while Smearly in the saloon below was the centre of a circle of ladies,
— guests from the neighboring cottages,
— who were laughing at his stories, and who, thus early in the day, had voted him the most entertaining man they had ever met, although a trifle cynical.
As for the major, he was as restless as a newsboy, and everywhere at once : in the galley, giving minute directions to the chef regarding the slicing of the cucumbers and the proper mixing of the salad; up in the pilot-house, interviewing the sailing-master on the weather, on the tides, on the points of the wind, on the various beacons, shoals, and currents; and finally down in the pantry, where Sam, in white apron and immaculate waistcoat and tie, was polishing some pipe-stemmed glasses, intended receptacles of cooling appetizers composed of some ingredients of the major’s own selection.
“You lookin’ mighty fine, major, dis mornin’, ” said Sam, his mouth stretched in a broad grin. “Dat’s de tip-nist, top-nist git-up I done seen fur a coon’s age, ” detecting a certain —to him — cake-walk cut to the coat and white duck trousers, “ Did dat come up on de train las’ night, sail ? ” he continued, walking round the major, and wiping a glass as he looked him over admiringly.
“Yes, Sam, and it’s the first time I wore ’em. Little tight in the sleeves, ain’t they? ” he asked, holding out his arm.
“ Does seem ter pinch leetle mite round de elbows; but you do look good, fur a fac’.”
These little confidences were not unusual. Indeed, of all the people about him, the major understood Sam the best and enjoyed him the most, — an understanding, by the way, which was mutual. There never was any strain upon the Pocomokian’s many resources of high spirits, willingness to please, and general utility, when he was alone with Sam. He never had to make an effort to keep his position: that Sam accorded him. But then, Sam believed in the major.
As the yacht rounded the east end of Crotch Island, Sanford made out quite plainly over the port bow the lighthouse tender steaming along from a point in the direction of Little Gull Light.
“There they come,” he said to Mrs. Leroy. “Everything is in our favor to-day, Kate. I was afraid they might be detained. We ’ll steam about here for a while until the tender lands at the new wharf which we have just finished at the Ledge. The yacht draws a little too much water to risk the wharf, and we had better lie outside of the government boat. It’s as still as a mill-pond at the Ledge to-day, and we can all go ashore. If you will permit me, Kate, I ’ll call to your sailingmaster to slow down until the tender reaches the wharf, ”
At this moment the major’s head appeared around the edge of the pilothouse door. He had overheard Sanford’s remark. “Allow me, madam, ” he said in a voice of great dignity, and with a look at Sanford as if somehow that gentleman had infringed upon his own especial privileges. The next instant the young engineer’s suggestion to “slow down ” was sent bounding up to the sailing-master, who answered it with a touch of two fingers to his cap, an “Ay, ay, sir,” and three sharp, quick pulls on the engine-room gong.
Mrs. Leroy smiled at the major’s nautical knowledge and quarter-deck air, and rose to her feet to sec the approaching tender. Under Sanford’s guiding finger she followed the course of the long thread of black smoke lying on the still horizon, unwinding slowly from the spool of the tender’s funnel.
Everybody was now on deck. Helen and the other youuger ladies of the party leaned over the yacht’s rail watching the rapidly nearing steamer, and the older ladies became fully persuaded that the Ledge with its derricks and shanty — a purple-gray mass under the morning glare — was unquestionably the expected boat.
Soon the Ledge loomed up in all its proportions, with its huge rim of circular masonry lying on the water-line like a low monitor rigged with derricks for masts. When the rough shanty for the men, and the platforms filled with piles of cement-barrels, and the hoistingengine were distinctly outlined against the sky, everybody crowded forward to see the place of which they had heard so much.
Mrs. Leroy stood on one side, that Sanford might explain without interruption the several objects as they came into view.
“ Why, Henry, ” she exclaimed, after everybody had said how wonderful it all was, “how much work you have really done since I saw it in the spring! And there is the engine, is it, to which the pump belonged that nearly drowned Captain Joe and Caleb? And are those the big derricks you had so much trouble over? They don’t look very big.”
“They are twice the size of your body, Kate, ” said Sanford, laughing. “They may look to you like knittingneedles from this distance, but that is because everything around them is on so large a scale. You would n’t think that shanty, which looks like a coal-bin, could accommodate twenty men and their stores.”
As Sanford ceased speaking, the major turned quickly, entered the pilothouse, and almost instantly reappeared with the yacht’s spyglass. This he carefully adjusted, resting the end on the ratlines. “Victory is ours. We are getting along splendidly, my dear boy,” he said slowly, closing the glass. “I have n’t a doubt about the result.”
THE RECORD OF NICKLES, THE COOK.
The yacht and the lighthouse tender were not the only boats bound for the Ledge. The Screamer, under charge of a tug, — her sails would have been useless in the still air, — was already clear of Keyport Light, and heading for the landing-wharf, a mile away. Captain Bob Brandt held the tiller, and Captain Joe and Caleb leaned out of the windows of the pilot-house of the towing tug.
If Carleton “ played any monkey tricks, ” to quote Captain Brandt, they wanted to be there to see. None of them had had cause to entertain a friendly spirit toward the superintendent. It had often been difficult for Caleb to keep his hands away from that official’s throat, since his experience with him under the willows. As for Captain Brandt, he still remembered the day the level was set, when Carleton had virtually given him the lie.
The Screamer arrived first; she made fast to the now completed dock, and the tug dropped back in the eddy. Then the lighthouse tender came alongside and hooked a line into the Screamer’s deck-cleats. The yacht came last, lying outside the others. This made it necessary for the passengers aboard the yacht to cross the deck of the tender, and for those of both the yacht and the tender to cross the deck of the Screamer, before stepping upon the completed masonry of the lighthouse itself.
Nothing could have suited Mrs. Leroy better than this enforced intermingling of guests and visitors. Interchanges of courtesy established at once a cordiality which augured well for the day’s outcome, and added another touch of sunshine to its happiness. Mrs. Leroy relaxed none of her efforts to propitiate the gods, so eager was she to have a favorable decision rendered for Sanford.
It is worthy of note that Carleton played no part in the joyous programme of the day. He sprang ashore as soon as the tender made fast to the Screamer’s side (he had met the party of engineers at the railroad depot, and had gone with them to Little Gull Light), and began at once his work of “superintending ” with a vigor and alertness never seen in him before, and, to quote Nickles, the cook, who was watching the whole performance from the shanty window, “with more airs than a Noank goat with a hoop-skirt.”
The moment the major’s foot was firmly planted upon the Ledge a marked change was visible in him. The straight back, head up, rear - admiral manner, which had distinguished him, gave way to one of a thoughtful repose. Engineering problems began to absorb him. Leaving Hardy and Smearly to help the older ladies pick their way over the mortar-incrusted platforms and up and down the rude ladders to the top rim of masonry, he commenced inspecting the work with the eye of a skilled mechanic. He examined carefully the mortar joints of the masonry; squinted his eye along the edges of the cut stones to see if they were true ; turned it aloft, taking in the system of derricks, striking one with the palm of his hand and listening for the vibration, to assure himself of its stability. And he asked questions of the men in a way that left no doubt in their minds that he was past grand master in the art of building lighthouses.
All but one.
This doubter was Lonny Bowles, the big quarryman from Noank, whom the Pocomokian had cared for in the old warehouse hospital the night of the explosion. Bowles had quietly dogged the major’s steps over the work, in the hope of being recognized. At last the goodnatured lineaments of the red-shirted quarryman fastened themselves upon the major’s remembrance.
“My dear suh! ” he broke out, as he jumped down from a huge coping-stone and grasped Lonny’s hand. “Of co’se I remember you. I sincerely hope you ’re all right again, ” stepping back, and looking him over with an expression of real pride and admiration.
“Oh yes, I ’m purty hearty, thank ye, ” said Bowles, laughing as he hitched his sleeves up his arms, bared to the elbow. “How’s things gone 'long o’ yerself ? ”
The major expressed his perfect satisfaction with life in its every detail, and was about to compliment Bowles on the wonderful progress of the work so largely due to his efforts, when the man at the hoisting-engine interrupted with, “Don’t stand there, now, lalligaggin’, Lonny. Where ye been this half hour ? Hurry up with that monkey - wrench. Do ye want this drum to come off? ”
When Lonny, who had instantly turned his attention to the work, had given the last turn to the endangered nut, the man said, “Who’s the duck with the bobtail coat, Lonny? ”
“Oh, he’s one o’ the boss’s city gang. Fust time I see him he come inter th’ warehouse when we was stove up. I thought he was a sawbones till I see him a-fetchin’ water fur th’ boys. Then I thought he was a parson till he began to swear. But he ain’t neither one; he ’s an out-an’-out ol’ sport, he is, every time, an’ a good un. He ’s struck it rich up here, I guess, from th’ way he ’s boomin’ things with them Leroy folks, ” — which conviction seemed to be shared by the men around him, now that they were assured of the major’s identity. Many of them remembered the nankeen and bombazine suit which the Pocomokian wore on that fatal day, and the generally disheveled appearance that he presented the following morning, and they found the present change in his attire incomprehensible.
During all this time, Sanford, with the assistance of Captain Joe and Caleb, was adjusting his transit, in order that he might measure for the committee the exact difference between the level shown on the plans and the level found in the concrete base. In this adjustment, the major, who had now joined the group, took the deepest interest, discoursing most learnedly, to the officers about him, upon the marvels of modern science; punctuating his remarks every few minutes with pointed allusions to his dear friend Henry, “that Archimedes of the New World,” who in this the greatest of all of his undertakings had eclipsed all former achievements. The general listened with an amused smile, in which the whole committee joined before long.
Either General Barton’s practiced eye forestalled any need of the instrument, or Carleton had already fully posted him as to which side of the circle was some inches too high.
“Is n’t the top of that concrete base out of level, Mr. Sanford? ” he asked, with some severity.
“Yes, sir; some inches too high near the southeast derrick, ” replied Sanford promptly.
“ How did that occur ? ”
“I should prefer you to ask the superintendent,” said Sanford quietly.
Mrs. Leroy, who was standing a short distance away on a dry plank that Sanford had put under her feet, her ears alert, stopped talking to Smearly and turned her head. She did not want to miss a word.
“What have you to say, Mr. Carleton ? Did you give any orders to raise that level? ” The general looked over his glasses at the superintendent.
Carleton had evidently prepared himself for this ordeal, and had carefully studied his line of answers. As long as he kept to the written requirements under the contract he was safe.
“If I understand my instructions, sir, I am not here to give orders. The plans show what is to be done.” He spoke in a low, almost gentle voice, and with a certain deference of manner which no one had ever seen in him before, and which Sanford felt was even more to be dreaded than his customary bluster.
Captain Joe stepped closer to Sanford’s side, and Caleb and Captain Bob Brandt, who stood on the outside of the circle of officers grouped around the tripod, leaned forward, listening intently. They too had noticed the change in Carleton’s manner. The other men dropped their shovels and tools, and edged up, not obtrusively, but so as to overhear everything.
“ Is this the reason you have withheld the certificate, of which the contractor complains ? ” said the general, with a tone in his voice as of a judge interrogating a witness.
Carleton bowed his head meekly in assent. “I can’t sign for work that’s done wrong, sir. ”
Captain Joe made a movement as if to speak, when Sanford, checking him with a look, began: “The superintendent is right as far as he goes, general, but there is another clause in the contract which he seems to forget. I ’ll quote it. ” drawing an important-looking document from his pocket and spreading it out on the top of a cementbarrel : “ ' Any dispute arising between the United States engineer, or his superintendent, and the contractor, shall be decided by the former, and his decision shall be final.’ If the level of this concrete base does not conform to the plans, there is no one to blame but the superintendent himself. ”
Sanford’s flashing eye and rising voice had attracted the attention of the ladies as well as that of their escorts. They ceased talking, and played with the points of their parasols, tracing little diagrams in the cement dust, preserving a strict neutrality, like most people overhearing a quarrel in which they have no interest, but alert to lose no move in the contest. Sanford would have liked less publicity in the settlement of the matter, and so expressed himself in a quick glance toward the guests. This anxiety was instantly seen by the major, who, with a tact that Sanford had not given him credit for, led the ladies away out of hearing on pretense of showing them some of the heavy masonry.
The engineer-in-chief looked curiously at Carleton, and the awakened light of a new impression gleamed in his eye. Sanford’s confident manner and Carleton’s momentary agitation, upsetting for an instant his lamblike reserve, evidently indicated something hidden behind this dispute, which until then had not come to the front.
“I ’ll take any blame that ’s coming to me, ” said Carleton, his meekness merging into a dogged, half-imposed-on tone, “but I can’t be responsible for other folks’ mistakes. I set that level myself two months ago, and left the bench-marks for ’em to work up to. When I come out next time they’d altered them. I told ’em it would n’t do, and they ’d have to take up what concrete they M set and lower the level again. They said they was behind and wanted to catch up, that it made no difference anyhow, and they would n’t do it.”
General Barton turned to Sanford and was about to speak, when Captain Bob Brandt’s voice rang out clear and sharp, “That’s a lie! ”
Everybody looked about for the speaker. If a bomb had exploded above their heads, the astonishment could not have been greater.
Before any one could speak the skipper forced his way into the middle of the group. His face was flushed with anger, his lower lip was quivering. “I say it again. That’s a lie, and you know it, ” he said calmly, pointing his finger at Carleton, whose cheek paled at this sudden onslaught. “This ain’t my job, gentlemen,” and he faced General Barton and the committee, “an’ it don’t make no difference to me whether it gits done 'r not. I ’m hired here 'long with my sloop a-layin’ there at the wharf, an’ I git my pay. But I been here all summer, an’ I stood by when this ’ere galoot you call a superintendent sot this level; and when he says Cap’n Joe did n’t do the work as he ordered it he lies like a thief, an’ I don’t care who hears it. Ask Cap’n Joe Bell and Caleb West, a-standin’ right there longside o’ ye: they’ll gin it to ye straight; they’re that kind.”
Barton was an old man and accustomed to the respectful deference of a government office, but he was also a keen observer of human nature. The expression on the skipper’s face and on the faces of the others about him was too fearless to admit of a moment’s doubt of their sincerity.
Carleton shrugged his shoulders, as if it were to be expected that Sanford’s men would stand by him. Then he said, with a half - sneer at Captain Brandt, “Five dollars goes a long ways with you fellers.” The cat had unconsciously uncovered its claws.
Brandt sprang forward, with a wicked look in his eye, when the general raised his hand.
“Come, men, stop this right away.” There was a tone in the chief engineer’s voice which impelled obedience. “We are here to find out who is responsible for this error. I am surprised, Mr. Sanford, ” turning almost fiercely upon him, “that a man of your experience did not insist on a written order for this change of plan. While six inches over an area of this size do not materially injure the work, you are too old a contractor to alter a level to one which you admit now was wrong, and which at the time you knew was wrong, without some written order. It violates the contract. ”
Here, Nickles, who had been craning his neck out of the shanty window so as not to lose a word of the talk, withdrew it so suddenly that one of the men standing by the door hurried into the shanty, thinking something unusual was the matter.
“ I have never been able to get a written order from this superintendent for any detail of the work since he has been here, ” said Sanford in a positive tone, “and he has never raised his hand to help us. What the cause of his enmity is I do not know. We have all of us tried to treat him courteously, and to follow his orders whenever it was possible to do so. He insisted on this change, after both my master diver, Caleb West here, Captain Joe Bell, and others of my best men had protested against it, and we had either to stop work and appeal to the Board, and so lose the summer’s work and be liable to the government for non-completion on time, or obey him. I took the latter course, and you can see the result. It was my only way out of the difficulty.”
At this instant there came a crash whieh sounded like breaking china, evidently in the shanty, and a cloud of white dust, the contents of a partly empty flour-barrel, sifted out through the open window.
The general turned his head in inquiry, and, seeing nothing, said, “You should have stopped work, sir, and appealed. The government does not want its work done in a careless, unworkmanlike way, and will not pay for it.” His voice had a tone in it that sent a pang of anxiety to Mrs. Leroy’s heart.
Carleton smiled grimly. He was all right, he said to himself. Nobody believed the Yankee skipper.
Before Sanford could gather his wits to reply, the shanty door was flung wide open, and Nickles backed out, carrying in his arms a pine door, higher and wider than himself. He had lifted it from its hinges in the pantry, upsetting everything about it.
“I guess mebbe I ain’t been a-watchin’ this all summer fur nothin’, gents,” he said, planting the door square before the general. “You kin read it fur yerself, — it’s ’s plain ’s print. If ye want what ye call an ' order, ’ here it is large as life.”
It was the once clean pine door of the shanty, on which Sanford and the men had placed their signatures in blue pencil the day the level was fixed, and Carleton, defying Sanford, had said it should “go that way,” or he would stop the work.
General Barton adjusted his eyeglasses and began reading the inscription. A verbatim record of Carleton’s instructions was before him. The other members of the Board crowded around, reading it in silence.
The general replaced his gold-rimmed eyeglasses carefully in their case, and for a moment looked seaward in an abstracted sort of way. The curiously inscribed door had evidently made a deep impression upon him.
“I had forgotten about that record, general,” said Sanford, “but I am very glad it has been preserved. It was made at the time, so we could exactly carry out the superintendent’s instructions. As to its truth, I should prefer you to ask the men who signed it. They are all here around you.”
The general looked again at Captain Joe and Caleb. There was no questioning their integrity. Theirs were faces that disarmed suspicion at once.
“Are these your signatures?” he asked, pointing to the scrawls in blue lead pencil subscribed under Sanford’s.
“They are, sir,” said Captain Joe and Caleb almost simultaneously; Caleb answering with a certain tone, as if he were still in government service and under oath, lifting his hat as he spoke. Men long in government employ have this sort of unconscious awe in the presence of their superiors.
“Make a copy of it,” said the general curtly to the secretary of the Board. Then he turned on his heel, crossed the Screamer’s deck, and entered the cabin of the tender, where he was followed by the other members of the committee.
Ten minutes later the steward of the tender called Carleton. The men looked after him as he picked his way over the platforms and across the deck of the sloop. His face was flushed, and a nervous twitching of the muscles of his mouth showed his agitation over the summons. The apparition of the pantry door, they thought, had taken the starch out of him.
Mrs. Leroy crossed to Sanford’s side, and whispered anxiously, “ What do you think, Henry? ”
“I don’t know yet, Kate. Barton is a gruff, exact man, and a martinet, but he hasn’t a dishonest hair on his head. Wait.”
The departure of the engineers aboard the tender, followed almost immediately by that of the superintendent, left the opposition, so to speak, unrepresented. Those of the ladies who were on sufficiently intimate terms with Sanford to mention the fact at all, and who, despite the major’s efforts to lead them out of range, had heard every word of the discussion, expressed the hope that the affair would come out all right. One, a Mrs. Corson, said in a half-querulous tone that she thought they ought to be ashamed of themselves to find any fault, after all the hard work he had done. Jack and Smearly consulted apart. They were somewhat disturbed, but still believed that Sanford would win his case.
To the major, however, the incident had a far deeper and much more significant meaning.
“It’s a part of their infernal system, Henry, ” he said in a sympathetic voice, now really concerned for his friend’s welfare, — “ a trick of the damnable oligarchy, suh, that is crushing out the life of the people. It is the first time since the wah that I have come as close as this to any of the representatives of this government, and it will be the last, suh. ”
Before Sanford could soothe the warlike Spirit of his champion, the steward of the tender again appeared, and, touching his cap, said the committee wished to see Mr. Sanford.
The young engineer excused himself to those about him, and followed the steward; Mrs. Leroy looking after him with a glance of anxiety as he crossed the deck of the Screamer,— an anxiety which Sanford tried to relieve by an encouraging wave of his hand.
As Sanford entered the saloon Carleton was just leaving it, his eyes on the floor, his hat in his hand. His face was a blue-white. Little flecks of saliva were sticking in the corners of his mouth, as if his breath were dry.
General Barton sat at the head of the saloon table. The other members of the Board were seated below him.
“Mr. Sanford,” said the general, “we have investigated the differences between yourself and the superintendent with the following result: First, the committee has accepted the work as it stands, believing in the truthfulness of yourself and your men, confirmed by a record which it could not doubt. Second, the withheld certificate will be signed and checks forwarded to you as soon as the necessary papers can be prepared. Third, Superintendent Carleton has been relieved from duty at Shark Ledge Light.”
A BROKEN DRAW.
Carleton’s downfall was known all over the Ledge and on board every boat that lay at its wharf, long before either he or Sanford regained the open air.
The means of communication was that same old silent current that requires neither pole nor battery to put it into working order. Within thirty seconds of the time the ominous words fell from the general’s lips, the single word “ Dennis, ” the universal sobriquet for a discharged man our working world over, was in every man’s mouth. Whatever medium was used, the meaning was none the less clear and unmistakable. The steward may have winked to the captain in the pilot-house, or the cook shrugged his shoulders, opening his mouth with the gasping motion of a strangling chicken, and so conveyed the news to the forecastle; or one of the crew, with ears wide open, may have found it necessary to uncoil a rope outside the cabin window at the precise moment the general gave his decision, and have instantly passed the news along to his nearest mate. Of one thing there was no doubt: Carleton had given his last order on Shark Ledge.
An animated discussion followed among the men.
“Ought to give him six months,” said Captain Bob Brandt, whose limited experience of government inspecting boards led him to believe that its officers were clothed with certain judicial powers. “Hadn’t ’a’ been for old Ham-fats” (Nickles’s nickname) “an’ his pantry door, he ’d ’a’ swore Cap’n Joe’s character away.”
“Well, I’m kind o’ sorry for him, anyway,” replied Captain Joe, not noticing the skipper’s humorous allusion. “Poor critter, he ain’t real responsible. What ’s he goin’ to do fur a livin’, now that the gov’ment ain’t a-goin’ to support him no more ? ”
“Ain’t nobody cares; he ’ll know better ’n to lie, nex’ time,” said Lonny Bowles. “Is he comin’ ashore here agin, Caleb, er has he dug a hole fur himself ’board the tender in the coalbunkers? ”
Caleb smiled grimly, but made no reply. He never liked to think of Carleton, much less to talk of him. Since the night when he had waylaid Betty coming home from Keyport, his name had not passed the diver’s lips. He had always avoided him on the work, keeping out of his way, not so much from fear of Carleton as from fear of himself, — fear that in some uncontrollable moment he might fall upon him and throttle him. No one except Betty, Carleton, and himself had known of the night attack; not even Captain Joe. It was best not to talk about it; it might injure her. Carleton’s assault had always caused Caleb, too, a slight twinge about the heart. Was he doing right in letting Betty shift for herself? The world would take its cue from him as to how it should treat her. Had he done his whole duty to the little wife he had promised to protect ?
These chance, far-off glimpses, however, left their mark upon Caleb’s mind, steeling his heart against Betty for days after. “'It ain’t my fault she lef’ me, ” he would say bitterly, sitting alone by his fire, “an’ for a cur like him! ”
These were the thoughts he was carrying in his heart as he went about his work, or listened to the men as they discussed the leading topics of the day.
If a certain sigh of relief went up from the working force over Carleton’s downfall and Sanford’s triumph, a much more joyous feeling permeated the yacht. Not only were Jack and Smearly jubilant, but even Sam, with a grin the width of his face, had a little double shuffle of his own in the close quarters of the galley, while the major began forthwith to concoct a brew in which to drink Sanford’s health, and of such mighty power that for once Sam disobeyed his instructions, and poured a pint of Medford spring water instead of an equal amount of old Holland gin into the seductive mixture. “ ’Fo’ God, Mr. Sanford, dey would n’t one o’ dem ladies knowed deir head from a whirlumgig, if dey ’d drank dat punch,” he said afterward to his master, in palliation of his sin.
But of all the happy souls that breathed the air of this lovely autumn day Mrs. Leroy was the happiest. She felt, somehow, that the decision of the committee was a triumph for both Sanford and herself: for Sanford because of his constant fight against the elements, for her because of her advice and encouragement. As the words fell from Sanford’s lips, telling her of the joyful news, — he had told her first of all, — her face flushed and her eyes lighted with genuine pleasure.
“What did I tell you! ” she said, holding out her hand in a hearty, generous way, as a man would have done. “I knew you would do it. Oh, I am so proud of you, you great splendid fellow! ”
If she had thought for a moment, she would have known that really the master spirits of the work were Captain Joe and Caleb and Captain Brandt, — men whose pluck, devotion, and personal courage made possible the completion of the work, — a fact which Sanford had never concealed from her. And yet, deep down in her own mind she could never forget his days and nights of anxiety, and could not divest herself of the belief that somehow he had inspired these men to do their best, and hence the credit was his, and in a less degree her own.
As her mind dwelt on these things a sudden inspiration seized her. Before her guests were seated around the wellappointed table in the cabin of the yacht, she darted back again to the Ledge in search of Captain Joe, her dainty skirts raised about her tiny boots to keep them from the rough platforms.
“Do come and lunch with us, Captain Bell, ” she said in her joyous way. “ I really want you, and the ladies would so love to talk to you.” She had not forgotten his tenderness over Betty, the morning he came for her; more than that, he had stood by Sanford.
The captain, somewhat surprised, looked down into her eyes with the kindly expression of a big mastiff diagnosing a kitten.
“Well, that ’s real nice o’ ye, an’ I thank ye kindly,” he said, his eyes lighting up at her evident sincerity. “But ye see yer vittles wouldn’t do me no good. Only man I know that kin eat both kinds is Mr. Sanford. So if ye won’t take no offense, I ’ll kind o’ grub in with the other men. Cook’s jes’ give notice to all hands.”
Then Mrs. Leroy, seeing Caleb at a little distance, turned and walked toward him. But it was not to ask him to luncheon.
“ I have heard Mr. Sanford speak so often of you that I wanted to know you before I left the work, ” she said, holding out her little gloved hand. Caleb looked into her face and touched the dainty glove with two of his fingers, — he was afraid to do more, it was so small — and, with his eyes on hers, listened while she spoke in a tender, sympathetic tone, lowering her voice so that no one could hear but himself, not even Sanford. “I have heard all about your troubles, Mr. West, and I am so sorry for you both. She stayed with me one night last summer. Poor child, she was very miserable ; it ’s an awful thing to be alone in the world.”
Sanford took the situation with a calmness customary to him when things were going well. His principle in life was to do his level best every time, and leave the rest to fate. When he worried, it was before a crisis. He had not belittled the consequences of a rejection of the work. He knew how serious it might have been. Had the Board become thoroughly convinced that he had openly and without just cause violated both the written contract and the instructions of the superintendent, they might have been forced to make an example of him, and to require all the upper masonry to be torn down and rebuilt on a true level, —a result which would have entailed the loss of thousands of dollars.
His reply to General Barton and the Board had been a grim, reserved “ I thank you, gentlemen, ” with an added hope that the new superintendent might be instructed to give written orders when any departure from the contract was insisted upon, to which the chief engineer agreed.
Later, when he called his men about him on the Ledge and gave them the details of the interview, — he never kept anything of this kind from his working force, — he cautioned one and all of them to exercise the greatest patience and good temper toward the new superintendent, whoever he might be, who was promised in a few days, so that nothing might happen which would incur his ill will; reminding them that it would not do for a second superintendent to be disgruntled, no matter whose fault it was: to which Captain Joe sententiousiy replied. “All right; let ’em send who they like, — sooner the better. But one thing I kin tell ’em, an’ that is that none on ’em can’t stop us now from gittin’ through, no matter how ornery they be. ”
And yet, even with the happiness of his triumph, Sanford grew conscious of a strange feeling of disappointment. He began without reason to wonder whether the companionship with Kate would now be as close as before, and whether the daily conferences would end, since he had no longer any anxieties to lay before her.
Something in her delight, and the frank way in which she had held out her hand like a man friend in congratulation, had chilled rather than cheered him. He felt hurt, without knowing why. A sense of indefinable personal loss came over him. In the whirl of contending emotions suddenly assailing him, he began to doubt whether she had understood his motives, that night on the veranda, when he had kissed her hand, — whether, in fact, he had understood her at all. Had she really conquered her feelings as he had his? Or had there been nothing to conquer ? Then another feeling rose in his heart, — a vague jealousy of the very work which had bound them so closely together, and which now seemed to claim all her interest.
Throughout the luncheon that followed aboard the yacht, the major had been the life of the party. He had offered no apology either to Sanford or to any member of the committee for his hasty conclusions regarding “the damnable oligarchy.” He considered that he had wiped away all bitterness, when, rising to his feet, and rapping with his knife for order, he had said with great dignity and suavity of manner: — “On behalf of this queen among women,”— turning to Mrs. Leroy,— “our lovely hostess, as well as these fair young buds ” — a graceful wave of his hand — (some of these buds had grandchildren) “who adorn her table, I rise to thank you, suh,”—semi-military salute to General Barton, — “for the opportunity you have given them of doing honor to a gentleman and a soldier, ” — a double-barreled compliment that brought a smile to that gentleman’s face, and a suppressed ripple of laughter from the other members of the committee.
In the same generous way he had filled his own and everybody else’s bumper for Sanford out of the bowl that Sam had rendered innocuous, addressing his friend as that “young giant, who has lighted up the pathway of the vasty deep.” To which bit of grandiloquence Sanford replied that the major was premature, but that he hoped to accomplish it the following year.
In addition to conducting all these functions, the Pocomokian had neglected no minor detail of the feast. He had insisted upon making the coffee after an especial formula of his own, and had cooled in a new way and with his own hands the several cordials banked up on Sam’s silver tray. He had opened parasols for the ladies and champagne for the men with equal grace and dexterity; had been host, waiter, valet, and host again; and throughout the livelong day had been one unfailing source of enthusiasm, courtesy, and helpfulness. With all this he had never overstepped the limits of his position, — as High Rubber-in-Chief, of course, — his main purpose having been to get all the fun possible out of the situation, not so much for himself as for those about him. While the general and the committee had several times, in their own minds, put him down for a charlatan and a mountebank, especially when they deliberated upon the fit of his clothes and his bombastic and sometimes fulsome speeches, all the vagaries of the distinguished Pocomokian only endeared him the more to Sanford and his many friends. They saw a little deeper under the veneer, and knew that if the major did smoke his hostess’s cigars and drink her cognac, it was always as her guest and in her presence; that, poor and often thirsty as he was, he would as soon have thought of stuffing his carpet-bag with the sheets that covered his temporary bed as of filling his private flask with the contents of the decanter that Buckles brought nightly to his room. It was just this delicate sense of honor that saved him from pure vagabondage.
When coffee and cigars had been served, the general and his party again crossed the gangplank to the tender, the mooring-lines were thrown off, and the two boats, with many wavings of hands from yacht and Ledge, kept on their respective courses. The tender was to keep on to Keyport, where the committee were to board the train for New York, and the yacht was to idle along until sundown, and so on into Medford Harbor. Captain Joe and Caleb were to follow later in the tug that had towed out the Screamer, they being needed in Keyport to load some supplies.
As the tender steamed away, the men on the Ledge looked eagerly for Carleton, that they might give him some little leave - taking of their own, — it would have been a pleasant one, — but he was nowhere to be seen.
“Buried up in the coal-bunkers, jes’ ’s I said,” laughed Lonny Bowles.
With the final wave of a red handkerchief, the property of the major, toward the fast disappearing tender, a salute returned by the general standing in the stern of the boat, Mrs. Leroy’s party settled themselves on the forward deck of the yacht to enjoy the run back to Medford. The ladies were made comfortable with cushions from the saloon below, while some of the men threw themselves flat, on the deck cushions, or sat Turkish fashion in those several sprawling positions possible only under like conditions, and most difficult for an underbred man to learn to assume properly. Jack Hardy knew to a nicety how to stow his legs away, and so did Sanford. Theirs were always invisible. Smearly never tried the difficult art. He thought it beneath his dignity ; and then, again, there was too much of him in the wrong place. The major wanted to try it, and no doubt would have done so with decorum and grace but for his clothes. It was a straight and narrow way that the major laid been walking all day, and he could run no risks.
Everything aboard the yacht had been going as merry as a marriage or any other happy bell of good cheer, — the major at his best, Smearly equally delightful, Helen and Jack happy as two song-birds, and Mrs. Leroy with a joyous word for every one between her confidences to Sanford.
It was just when the gayety was at its height that two quick, sharp rings in the engine-room below were heard, and almost at the same moment one of the crew touched Sanford on the shoulder and whispered something in his ear.
Sanford sprang to his feet and looked eagerly toward the shore.
The yacht, at the moment, was entering the narrow channel of Medford Harbor, and the railroad trestle and draw could be plainly seen from its deck. Sanford’s quick eye had instantly detected a break in the outlines. The end of the railroad track placed on the trestle, and crossing within a few hundred feet of Mrs. Leroy’s cottage, was evidently twisted out of shape, while, across the channel, on its opposite end rested an engine and two cars, the outer one derailed and toppled over. On the water below were crowded small boats of every conceivable kind, hurrying to the scene. They filled the space under the draw, they blocked up the broken ends of the structure, while the surrounding banks were black with people looking anxiously at a group of men on board a scow, who were apparently trying to keep above water a large object which looked like a floating house.
It was clear that something serious had happened.
A panic of apprehension immediately seized the guests on the yacht. Faces which but a few moments before had been rosy with smiles became suddenly anxious and frightened. Some of the ladies spoke in whispers; could it be possible, every one asked, that the train with General Barton and the committee on board had met with an accident ?
Sanford, followed by Mrs. Leroy, hurried into the pilot-house, to search the horizon from that elevation and see the better. One moment’s survey removed all doubt from his mind. A train had gone through the draw; whether passenger or freight he could not tell. One thing was certain: some lives must be in danger, or the crowd would not watch so intently the group who were working with such energy aboard the rescuing scow. At Sanford’s request, two quick, short bells sounded again in the engine-room, and the yacht quivered along her entire length as she doubled her speed. When she came within hailing distance of the shore, a lobster-fisherman pulled out and crossed the yacht’s bow.
“What ’s happened ? ” shouted Sanford, waving his hat to attract attention.
The fisherman stopped rowing, and the yacht slowed down.
“ Train through the draw, ” came the answer.
“Passenger or freight ? ”
“’T ain’t neither one. It’s a repair train from Stonin’ton, with a lot o’ dagos an’ men. Caboose went clean under, an’ two cars piled on top.”
Sanford breathed freer; the Board were safe, anyhow.
“Anybody killed? ”
“Yes. Some says six; some says more. None in the caboose got out. The dagos was on the dirt - car, an’ jumped. ”
The yacht sped on. As she neared the railroad draw, Jack took Helen’s hand and led her down into the cabin. He did not want her to see any sight that would shock her. Mrs. Leroy stood by Sanford. The yacht was her house, so to speak; some one might need its hospitality and shelter, and she wanted to be the first to offer it. The same idea had crossed Sanford’s mind.
“Major,” said Sanford, “please tell Sam to get some brandy ready, and bring some of the mattresses from the crew’s bunks up on deck; they may be useful.”
A voice hailed Sanford. It came from the end of the scow nearest the sunken house, now seen to be one end of a caboose car. “Is there a doctor aboard your yacht ? ”
“Yes, half a one. Who wants him ? ” said Smearly, leaning over the rail in the direction of the sound.
“We ’ve got a man here we can’t bring to. He’s alive, but that’s all.”
The yacht backed water and moved close to the scow. Sanford jumped down, followed by Smearly carrying the brandy and the major with a mattress, and ran along her deck to where the man lay. The yacht kept on. It was to land the ladies a hundred yards away, and then return.
“Hand me that brandy, quick, major ! ” said Smearly, as he dropped on one knee and bent over the sufferer, parting the lips with his fingers and pouring a little between the closed teeth. “Now pull that mattress closer, and some of you fellows make a pillow of your coats, and find something to throw over him when he comes to; it’s the cold that’s killing him. He ’ll pull through, I think.”
The major was the first man in his shirt-sleeves; Leroy’s coat was beginning to be of some x*eal service. Two of the scow’s crew added their own coats, and then ran to the cabin for an army blanket. The man was lifted upon the mattress and made more comfortable, with the coats placed under his head and the army blanket tucked about him. Smearly’s early training in the hospital service during the war had more than once stood him in good stead.
The man gave a convulsive gasp and partly opened his eyes. The brandy was doing its work. Sanford leaned over him to see if he could recognize him, but the ooze and slime clung so thickly to the mustache and closely trimmed beard that he could not make out his features. He seemed to be under thirty years of age, strong and well built. He was dressed in a blue shirt and overalls, and looked like a mechanic.
“How many others?” asked Sanford, looking toward the wreck.
“He’s the only one alive,” answered the captain of the scow. “We hauled him through the winder of the caboose just as she was a-turnin’ over. He’s broke something, some’ers, I guess, or he’d ’a’ come to quicker. There’s two dead under there,” pointing to the sunken caboose, “so the brakeman says. If we had a diver we could git ’em up. The railroad superintendent ’s been here, an’ says he ’ll send for one; but you know what that means, —he’ll send for a diver after they git this caboose up; by that time their bodies ’ll be smashed into pulp.”
The yacht had now steamed back to the wreck with word from Mrs. Leroy to send for whatever would be needed to make the injured men comfortable. Sam delivered the message, standing in the bow of the yacht. He had not liked the idea of leaving Sanford, when the yacht moved off from the scow, and had so expressed himself to the sailingmaster. He was Sanford’s servant, — not Mrs. Leroy’s, —he had said; and when people were getting blown up and his master had to stay and attend to them, his place was beside him, not waiting on ladies.
With the approach of the yacht Sanford looked at his watch thoughtfully, and raising his voice to the sailing-master, who was standing in the pilot-house, his hand on the wheel, said, " Captain, I want you to tow this scow to Mrs. Leroy’s dock, so the doctor can get at this wounded fellow. He needs hot blankets at once. Then crowd on everything you’ve got and run to Keyport. Find Captain Joe Bell, and tell him to put my big air-pump aboard and bring Caleb West and his diving-dress. There are two dead men down here who must be got up before the wrecking-train begins on the caboose. My colored boy, Sam, will go with you and help you find the captain’s house, — he knows where he lives. If you are quick, you can make Keyport and back in an hour.”
THE SWINGING GATE.
When the tug landed Caleb at Keyport, this same afternoon, he hurried through his duties and went straight to his cabin. Mrs. Leroy’s sympathetic words were still in his ears. He could hear the very tones of her voice and recall the pleading look in her eyes. He wished he had told her the whole truth then and there, and how he felt toward Betty; and he might have done so had not the other ladies been there, expecting her aboard the yacht. He did not feel hurt or angry; he never was with those who spoke well of his wife. Her words had only deepened the conviction that had lately taken possession of his own mind. — that he alone, of all who knew Betty, had shut his heart against her. Even this woman — a total stranger — had taken her out of the streets and befriended her, and still pleaded for her. Would his own heart ever be softened ? What did he want her to do for him ? Crawl back on her hands and knees, and lie outside his door until he took her in? And if she never came,
— what then?
Would she be able to endure this being shut out from everything and everybody ? He had saved her from Carleton, but who else would try to waylay and insult her ? Maybe his holding out so long against her would force her into other temptations, and so ruin her. What if it was already too late? Lacey had been seen round Keyport lately,
— once at night. He knew the young rigger wrote to her. Bert Simmons, the postman, had shown him the letters with the Stonington postmark. Was Lacey hanging round Keyport because she had sent for him ? And if she went back to him, after all, — whose fault was it ?
At the thought of Lacey the beads of sweat stood on his forehead. Various conflicting emotions took possession of him: haunting fears lest she should be tempted beyond her strength, followed by an almost uncontrollable anger against the man who had broken up his home. Then his mind reverted to Captain Joe, and to the night he pleaded for her, and to the way he said over and over again, “She ain’t nothin’ but a child, Caleb, an’ all of us is liable to go astray.” These words seemed to burn themselves into his brain.
As the twilight came on he went upstairs on tiptoe, treading as lightly as if he knew she was asleep and he feared to waken her. Standing by the bed, he looked about him in an aimless, helpless way, his eyes resting finally on the counterpane, and the pillow he had placed every night for her on her side of the bed. It was yellow and soiled now. In the same half-dazed, dreamy way he stepped to the closet, opened the door cautiously, and laid his hand upon her dresses, which hung where she had left them, smoothing them softly. He could easily have persuaded himself, had she been dead, that her spirit was near him, whispering to him, leading him about, her hand in his.
As he stood handling the dresses, with their little sleeves and skirts, all the paternal seemed suddenly to come out in him. She was no longer his wife, no longer the keeper of his house, no longer the custodian of his good name. She was his child, his daughter, his own flesh and blood, — one who had gone astray, one who had pleaded for forgiveness, and who was now alone in the world, with every door closed against her but Captain Joe’s.
In the brightness of this new light of pity in him a great weight seemed lifted from his heart. His own sorrow and loneliness were trivial and selfish beside hers: he big and strong, fearless to go and come, able to look every man in the face; and she a timid girl, shrinking, frightened, insulted, hiding even from those who loved her. What sort of man was he to shut his door in her face, and send her shuddering down the road ?
With these new thoughts there came a sudden desire to help, to reach out his arms toward her, to stand up and defend her, — defend her, out in the open, before all the people.
Catching up his hat. he hurried from the house and walked briskly down the road. It was Betty’s hour for coming home. Since the encounter with Carleton there had been few evenings in the week he had not loitered along the road, with one excuse or another, hiding behind the fish-house until she passed, watching her until she reached the swinging gate. Soon the residents up and down the road began to time his movements. “Here comes Caleb, ” they would say ; “ Betty ain’t far off. Ain’t nothin’ goin’ to touch her as long as Caleb’s round.”
This watchful care had had its effect. Not only had Captain Joe and Aunty Bell taken her part, but Caleb was looking after her, too. When this became common talk the little remaining gossip ceased. Better not talk about Betty, the neighbors said among themselves; Caleb might hear it.
When the diver reached the top of the hill overlooking Captain Joe’s cottage, his eye fell upon Betty’s slight figure stepping briskly up the hill, her shawl drawn tightly about her shoulders, her hat low down on her face. She had passed the willows, and was halfway to the swinging gate. Caleb quickened his pace and walked straight toward her.
She saw him coming, and stopped in sudden fright. For an instant she wavered, undecided whether she would turn and run, or brave it out and pass him. If she could only get inside the garden before he reached her! As she neared the gate she heard his footsteps on the road, and could see from under the rim of her hat the rough shoes and coarse trousers cement-stained up as far as his knees. Only once since she had gone with Lacey had she been so close to him.
She gathered all her strength and sprang forward, her hand on the swinging gate.
“I’ll hold it back, child,” came a low, sweet voice, and an arm was stretched out before her. “It shan’t slam to and hurt ye.”
He was so close she could have touched him. She saw, even in her agony, the gray, fluffy beard, and the wrinkled, weather - stained throat within the unbuttoned collar of the flannel shirt. She saw, too, the big brown hand, as it rested on the gate.
She did not see his eyes. She dared not look so high.
As she entered the kitchen door she gave a hurried glance behind. He was following her slowly, as if in deep thought; his hands behind his back, his eyes on the ground.
Aunty Bell was bending over the stove when Betty dashed in.
“It’s Caleb! He’s coming in! Oh, aunty, don’t let him see me — please — please! ”
The little woman turned quickly, startled at the sudden interruption.
“He don’t want ye, child.” The girl’s appearance alarmed her. She is not often this way, she thought.
“He does — he does! He spoke to me — Oh, where shall I go ? ” she moaned, wringing her hands, her whole body trembling like one with an ague.
“Go nowhere, ” answered Aunty Bell in decided tones. “Stay where ye be. I ’ll go see him. ’T ain’t nothin’, child, only somethin’ for the cap’n.” She had long since given up all hope of Caleb’s softening.
As she spoke, the diver’s slow and measured step could be heard sounding along the plank walk.
Aunty Bell let down her apron and stepped to the door. Betty crept behind the panels, watching him through the crack, stifling her breath lest she should miss his first word. Oh, the music of his voice at the gate! Not his words, but the way he spoke, — the gentleness, the pity, the compassion of it all! As this thought surged through her mind she grew calmer; a sudden impulse to rush out and throw herself at his feet took possession of her. He could not repel her when his voice carried such tenderness to her heart. A great sob rose in her throat. The measured, slow step came closer.
At this instant she heard the outer gate swing to a second time with a resounding bang, and Captain Joe’s voice calling, “Git yer dress, Caleb, quick as God ’ll let ye! Train through the Medford draw an’ two men drownded.
I 've been lookin’ fur ye everywhere.”
“Who says so?” answered Caleb calmly, without moving.
“Mr. Sanford’s sent the yacht. His nigger ’s outside now. Hurry, I tell ye; we ain’t got a minute.”
Betty waited, her heart throbbing. Caleb paused for an instant, and looked earnestly and hesitatingly toward the house. Then he turned quickly and followed Captain Joe.
Aunty Bell waited until she saw both men cross the road on their way to the dock. Then she went in to find Betty.
She was still crouched behind the door, her limbs trembling beneath her. On her face was the dazed look of one who had missed, without knowing why, a great crisis.
“Don’t cry, child,” said the little woman, patting her cheek. “It ’s all right. I knowed he didn’t come for ye.”
“But, Aunty Bell, Aunty Bell,” she sobbed, as she threw her arms about the older woman’s neck, “I wanted him so! ”
CALEB TRIMS HIS LIGHTS.
The purple twilight had already settled over Medford Harbor when the yacht, with Captain Joe and Caleb on board, glided beneath the wrecked trestle with its toppling cars, and made fast to one of the outlying spiles of the draw. As the yacht’s stern swung in toward the sunken caboose which coffined the bodies of the drowned men, a small boat put off from the shore and Sanford sprang aboard. He had succeeded in persuading the section boss in charge of the wrecking gang to delay wrecking operations until Caleb could get the bodies, insisting that it was inhuman to disturb the wreck until they were recovered. As the yacht was expected every moment, and the services of the diver would be free, the argument carried weight.
“Everything is ready, sir, ” said Captain Joe, as Sanford walked aft to meet him. “We’ve ’iled up the cylinders, an’ the pump can git to work in a minute. I ’ll tend Caleb; I know how he likes his air. Come, Caleb, git inter yer dress; this tide’s on the turn.”
The three men walked along the yacht’s deck to where the captain had been oiling the air-pump. It had been lifted clear of its wooden case and stood near the rail, its polished brasses glistening in the light of a ship’s lantern slung to the ratlines. Sprawled over a deck settee lay the rubber diving-dress, — body, arms, and legs in one piece, like a suit of seamless underwear, — and beside it the copper helmet, a trunkless head with a single staring eye. The air-hose and life-line, together with the back-plate and breast-plate of lead and the iron-shod shoes, lay on the deck.
Caleb placed his folded coat on a camp-stool, drew off his shoes, tucked his trousers into his stocking legs, and began twisting himself into his rubber dress, Sanford helping him with the arms and neckpiece. Captain Joe, meanwhile, overhauled the plates and loosened the fastenings of the weighted shoes.
With the screwing on of Caleb’s helmet and the tightening of his face-plate the crowd increased. The news of the coming diver had preceded the arrival of the yacht, and the trestle and shores were lined with people.
When Caleb, completely equipped, stepped on the top round of the ladder fastened to the yacht’s side, the crowd climbed hurriedly over the wrecked cars to the stringers of the trestle, to get a better view of the huge man-fish with its distorted head and single eye, and its long antennæ of hose and life-line. Such a sight would be uncanny even when the blazing sun burnished the diver’s polished helmet and the one eye of the face-plate glared ominously; but at night, under the wide sky, with only a single swinging lamp to illumine the gloomy shadows, the man-fish became a thing of dread, — a ghoulish spectre who prowled over foul and loathsome things, and rose from the slime of deep bottoms only to breathe and sink again.
Caleb slowly descended the yacht’s ladder, one iron-shod foot at a time, until the water reached his armpits. Then he swung himself clear, and the black, oily ooze closed over him.
Captain Joe leaned over the yacht’s rail, the life-line wound about his wrist, his sensitive hand alert for the slightest nibble of the man-fish below ; these nibbles are the unspoken words of the diver to his “tender” above. His life often depends on these being instantly understood and answered.
For the diver is more than amphibious; he is twice-bodied,—one man below, one man above, with two heads and four hands. The connecting links between these two bodies — these Siamese twins — are the life-line and signal-cord through which they speak to each other, and the air-hose carrying their life-breath.
As Caleb dropped out of sight the crew crowded to the yacht’s rail, straining their eyes in the gloom. In the steady light of the lantern they could see the cord tighten and slacken, as the diver felt His way among the wreckage or sank to the bottom. They could follow, too, the circle of air - bubbles floating on the water above where he worked. No one spoke ; no one moved. An almost deathly stillness prevailed. The only sounds were the wheezing of the air-pump turned by the sailor, and the swish of the life-line cutting through the water as the diver talked to his tender. With these were mingled the unheeded sounds of the night and of the sea, — the soft purring of the tall grasses moving gently to and fro in the night-wind, and the murmuring of the sluggish water stirred by the rising tide and gurgling along the yacht’s side on its way to the stern.
“Has he found them yet, Captain Joe?” Sanford asked, after some moments, under his breath.
“Not yet, sir. He’s been through one car, an’ is now crawlin’ through t’other. He says they ’re badly broke up. Run that air-hose overboard, sir; let it all go; he wants it all. Thank ye. He says the men are in their bunks at t’other end, if anywheres. That’s it, sir.”
There came a quick double jerk, answered by one long pull.
“More air, sir, — more air ! ” Captain Joe cried in a quick, rising voice. “So-o, that ’ll do.”
The crew looked on in astonishment. The talk of the man-fish was like the telephone talk of a denizen from another world.
Not a single tremor had been felt along the life-line for a quarter of an hour, nor had Captain Joe moved from his position on the rail. His eye was still on the circle of bubbles that rose and were lost in the current. Sanford grew uneasy.
“What’s he doing now, captain?” he asked in an anxious voice.
“Don’t know, sir; ain’t heard from him in some time.”
“No, sir; better let him alone. He might be crawlin’ through somewheres; might tangle him up if I moved the line. He’s got to feel his way, sir. It ’s black as mud down there. If the men warn’t in the caboose, he wouldn’t never find ’em at night.”
A quick jerk from under the surface now sent the life-line swishing through the water, followed by a series of rapid pulls,— strong seesaw pulls, as if some great fish were struggling with the line.
“He’s got one of ’em, sir,” said the captain,with sudden animation. “Says that’s all. He’s been through two cars an’ felt along every inch o’ the way. If there’s another, he’s got washed out o’ the door.”
As he spoke, the air-hose slackened and the life-line began to sag.
Captain Joe turned quickly to Sanford. “Pull in that hose, Mr. Sanford,” hauling in the slack of the lifeline himself. “He ’s a-comin’ up; he ’ll bring him with him.”
These varied movements on the yacht stirred the overhanging crowd into action. They hoped the diver was coming up; they hoped, too, he would bring the dead man. His appearing with his awful burden would be less terrible than not knowing what the man-fish was doing. The crew of the yacht crowded still closer to the rail; this fishing at night for the dead had a fascination they could not resist. Some of them even mounted the ratlines, and others ran aft to see the diver rise from the deep sea.
In a moment more the black water heaved in widening circles, and Caleb’s head and shoulders were thrust up within an oar’s length of the yacht.
The light of the lantern fell upon his wet helmet and extended arm.
The hand clutched a man’s boot. Attached to the boot were a pair of blue overalls and a jacket. The head of the drowned man hung down in the water. The face was hidden.
Captain Joe leaned forward, lowered the lantern that Caleb might see the ladder, reeled in the life-line hand over hand, and dragged the diver and his burden nearer.
Caleb placed his foot on the ladder and drew himself up until his waist was clear of the water. Captain Joe dropped the life-line, now that Caleb was safe, called for a boat-hook, and, reaching down, held the foot close to the yacht’s side; then a sailor threw a noose of marline twine around the boot. The body was now safe from the treacherous tide.
Caleb raised himself slowly until his helmet was just above the level of the deck. Captain Joe removed the lead plates from his breast and back, unscrewed his glass face-plate, letting out his big beard, and letting in the cool night-air.
“Anymore down there? ” he cried, his mouth close to Caleb’s face as he spoke.
Caleb shook his head inside the copper helmet. “ No ; don’t think so, Cap’n Joe. Guess ye thought I was a-goin’ to stay all night, did n’t ye? I had ter crawl through two cars ’fore I got him ; when I found him he was under a tool-chest. One o’ them lower cars, I see, has got its end stove out.”
“Jes’ ’s I told ye, Mr. Sanford,” said Captain Joe in a positive tone; “t’other body went out with the tide.”
The yacht, with the dead man on board, steamed across the narrow channel, reversed her screw, and touched the fender spiles of her wharf as gently as one would tap an egg. Sanford, who after the body was found had gone ahead in the small boat in search of the section boss, was waiting on the wharf for the arrival of the yacht.
“There ’s more trouble, Captain Joe,” he said. “There ’s a man here that the scow saved from the wreck. Mr. Smearly thought he would pull through, but the doctor who ’s with him says he can’t live an hour. His spine is injured. Major Slocomb and Mr. Smearly are now in Stonington in search of a surgeon. The section boss tells me his name is Williams, and that he works in the machine shops. Better look at him and see if you know him.”
Captain Joe and Caleb walked toward the scow. She was moored close to the grassy slope of the shore. On her deck stood half a dozen men, the injured man lying in the centre. Beside the sufferer, seated on one of Mrs. Leroy’s piazza chairs, was the village doctor; his hand was on the patient’s pulse. One of Mrs. Leroy’s maids knelt at the wounded man’s feet, wringing out cloths that had been dipped in buckets of boiling water brought by the men servants. Mrs. Leroy and her guests were on the lawn waiting for news from the wounded man. Over by the stable swinging lights could be seen glimmering here and there, as if men were hurrying. There were lights, too, on the lawn and on the scow’s deck ; one hung back of the sufferer’s head, where it could not shine on his eyes.
The wounded man, who had been stripped of his wet clothes, lay on a clean mattress. Over him was thrown a soft white blanket. His head was propped up on a pillow taken from one of Mrs. Leroy’s beds. She had begged to have him moved to the house, but the doctor would not consent until the surgeon arrived. So he kept him out in the warm night-air, lying face up under the stars.
Dying and dead men were no new sight to Captain Joe and Caleb. The captain had sat by too many wounded men, knocked breathless by falling derricks, and seen their life-blood ooze away, and Caleb had dragged too many sailors from sunken cabins. This accident was not serious; only three killed and one wounded out of twenty. In the morning their home people would come and take them away, — in clothcovered boxes or in plain pine. That was all.
Captain Joe walked toward the sufferer, nodded to the Medford doctor sitting beside him, picked up the lantern which hung behind the man’s head, and turned the light full on the pale face. Caleb stood at one side talking with the captain of the scow.
“All broke up, ain’t he? ” said Captain Joe, as he turned to the doctor. “He ain’t no dago. Looks to me like one o’ them young fellers what’s ” — He stopped abruptly. Something about the face attracted him.
Then he dropped on one knee beside the bed, pushed back the matted hair from the man’s forehead, and examined the skin carefully.
For some moments he remained silent, scanning every line in the face. Then he rose to his feet, folded his arms across his chest, his eyes still fastened on the sufferer, and said slowly and thoughtfully to himself, “Well, I 'm damned ! ”
The doctor bent his head in expectation, eager to hear the captain’s next words, but the captain was too absorbed to notice the gesture. For some minutes he continued looking at the dying man.
“Come here, Caleb ! ” he called,beckoning to the diver. “Hold the lantern close. Who’s that? ” His voice sank almost to a whisper. “Look in his face.”
“I don’t know, cap’n; I never see him afore.”
At the sound of the voices the head on the pillow turned, and the man half opened his eyes and groaned heavily. He was evidently in great pain, — too great for the opiates wholly to deaden.
“ Look agin, Caleb; see that scar on his cheek; that’s where the Screamer hit ’im. It’s Bill Lacey.”
Caleb caught up the lantern as Captain Joe had done, and turned the light full on the dying man’s face. Slowly and carefully he examined its every feature, — the broad forehead, deep-sunk eyes, short curly hair about the temples, and the mustache and close-trimmed beard which had been worn as a disguise, no doubt, along with his new name of Williams. In the same searching way his eye passed over the broad shoulders and slender, supple body outlined under the clinging blanket, and so on down to the small, well-shaped feet that the kneeling maid was warming.
“It’s him,” he said quietly, stepping back to the mast, and folding his arms behind his back, while his eyes were fixed on the drawn face.
During this exhaustive search Captain Joe followed every expression that swept over the diver’s face. How would the death of this man affect Betty?
He picked up an empty nail-keg and crossing the deck with it sat down again beside the mattress, his hands on his knees, watching the sufferer. As he looked at the twitching muscles of the face and the fading color, the bitterness cherished for months against this man faded away. He saw only the punishment that had come, its swiftness and its sureness. Then another face came before him, — a smaller one, with large and pleading eyes.
“Ain’t no chance for him, I s’pose? ” he said to the doctor in a low tone.
The only answer was an ominous shake of the head and a significant rubbing of the edge of the doctor’s hand across the waist-line of the captain’s back. Captain Joe nodded his head; he knew, — the spine was broken.
The passing of a spirit is a sacred and momentous thing, an impressive spectacle even to rough men who have seen it so often.
One by one the watchers on the scow withdrew. Captain Joe and the doctor remained beside the bed; Caleb stood a few feet away, leaning against the mast, the full glow of the lantern shedding a warm light over his big frame and throwing his face into shadow. What wild, turbulent thoughts surged through his brain no one knew but himself. Beads of sweat had trickled down his face, and he loosened his collar to breathe the better.
Presently the captain sank on his knee again beside the mattress. His face had the firm, determined expression of one whose mind has been made up on some line of action that has engrossed his thoughts. He put his mouth close to the dying man’s ear.
“It’s me, Billy, — Cap’n Joe. Do ye know me ? ”
The eyes opened slowly and fastened themselves for an instant upon the captain’s face. A dull gleam of recognition stirred in their glassy depths; then the lids closed wearily. The glimpse of Lacey’s mind was but momentary, yet to the captain it was unmistakable. The brain was still alert.
With a sigh of relief he leaned back and beckoned to Caleb.
“Come over ’ere,” he said in a low whisper, “an’ git down close to ’im. He ain’t got long ter live. Don’t think o’ what he done to you, — git that out o’ yer head; think o’ where he’s a-goin’. Don’t let him go with that on yer mind; it ain’t decent, an’ it ’ll haunt ye. Git down close to ’im, an’ tell ’im ye ain’t got nothin’ agin ’im; do it for me. Ye won’t never regret it, Caleb.”
The diver knelt in a passive, listless way, as one drops in a church to the sound of an altar-bell. The flame of the lantern fell on his face and shaggy beard, lighting up the earnest, thoughtful eyes and tightly pressed lips.
“Pull yerself together, Billy,— jes’ once, fur me,” said Captain Joe in a half-coaxing voice. “It’s Caleb bendin’ over ye; he wants to tell ye something.”
The sunken, shriveled lids parted quickly, and the eyes rested for a moment on the diver’s face. The lips moved, as if the man were about to speak. But no words came. Over the cheeks and nose there passed a convulsive twitching, the neck stiffened, the head straightened back upon the pillow. Then the jaw fell.
“He’s dead,” said the doctor, laying his hand over Laeey’s heart.
Captain Joe drew the blanket over the dead face, rose from his knees, and, with his arm in Caleb’s, left the scow and walked slowly toward the yacht. The doctor gathered up his remedies, gave some directions to the watchman, and joined Mrs. Leroy and the ladies on the lawn.
Only the watchman on the scow was left, and the silent stars, — stern, unflinching, terrible, like the eyes of many judges.
Caleb and Captain Joe sat on the yacht’s deck, on their way back to Keyport. The air-pump had been lifted into its case, and the dress and equipment had been made ready to be put ashore at the paraphernalia dock.
The moon had risen, flooding the yacht with white light and striping the deck with the clear-cut, black shadows of the stanchions. On the starboard bow burned Keyport Light, and beyond flashed Little Gull, a tiny star on the far-off horizon.
Caleb leaned back on a settee, his eyes fixed on the glistening sea. He had not spoken a word since his eyes rested on Lacey’s face.
“Caleb,” said Captain Joe, laying his hand on the diver’s knee, “mebbe ye don’t feel right to me fur sayin’ what I did, but I did n’t want ye to let ’im go an’ not tell ’im ye hadn’t no hatred in yer heart toward ’im. It ’d come back to plague ye, and ye ’ve had sufferin’ enough already ’long o’ him. He won’t worry you nor her no more. He’s lived a mean, stinkin’ life, an’ he ’s died ’s I allus knowed he would, — with nobody’s hand ter help ’im. Caleb, ” — he paused for an instant and looked into the diver’s face, — “you ’n’ me ’s knowed each other by an’ large a many a year; ye know what I want ye to do; ye know what hurts me, an’ has ever sence the child come back. He’s out o’ yer hands now, God’s punished him. Be good to yerself an’ to her, an’ forgive her. Take Betty back.”
The old man turned, and slipped his hand over Captain Joe’s, — a hard, horny hand, with a heart-throh in every finger-tip.
“Cap’n Joe, I know how ye feel. There ain’t nothin’ between us; but yer wrong about him. As I stood over him to-night I fit it all out with myself. If he ’d ’a’ lived long ’nough I’d ’a’ told him, jes’ ’s ye wanted me to. But yer ain’t never had this thing right; I ain’t a-blamin’ him, an’ I ain’t a-blamin’ her.”
“Then take ’er home, an’ quit this foolish life ye ’re leadin’, an’ her heart a-breakin’ every day for love o’ ye. Ain’t ye lonely ’nough without her? God knows she is without you.”
Caleb slowly withdrew his hand from Captain Joe’s and put his arms behind his head, making a rest of his interlocked fingers.
“When ye say she ’s a-breakin’ her heart for me, Cap’n Joe, ye don’t know it all.” His eyes looked up at the sky as he spoke. “’T ain’t that I ain’t willin’ to take ’er back. I allus wanted to help her, an’ I allus wanted to take care of her, — not to have her take care o’ me. I made up my mind this mornin’, when I see how folks was a-treatin’ ’er, to ask ’er to come home. If I ’d treat ’er right, they ’d treat ’er right; I know it. But I warn’t the man for her, an’ she don’t love me now no more ’n she did. That ’s what hurts me an’ makes me afraid. Now I ’ll tell ye why I know she don’t love me, tell ye something ye don’t know at all, ” — he turned his head as he spoke, and looked the captain full in the eyes, his voice shaking; “an’ when I tell ye, I want to say I ain’t a-blamin’ ’em.” The words that followed came like the slow ticking of a clock or the measured dropping of water. “He’s — been — a-writin’ — to ’er— ever sence — she left ’im. Bert Simmons—showed me the letters.”
“Ye found that out, did ye?” said Captain Joe, a sudden angry tremor in his voice. “Ye ’re right; he has ! Been a-writin’ to her ever sence she left ’im, — sometimes once a month, sometimes once a week, an’ lately about every day. ”
Caleb raised his head. This last was news to him.
“And that ain’t all. Every one o’ them letters she’s brought to me, jes’ ’s fast as she got ’em, an’ I locked ’em in my sea-chest, an’ they ’re there now. An’ there ’s more to it yet. There ain’t nary seal broke on any one of 'em. Whoever ’s been a-lyin’ to ye, Caleb, ain’t told ye one half o’ what he ought to know.”
Captain Joe swung back his garden gate and walked quickly up the plank walk, his big, burly body swaying as be moved. The house was dark, except for a light in the kitchen window, and another in Betty’s room. He saw Aunty Bell in a chair by the table, but he hurried by, on his way upstairs, without a word. When Caleb, who had followed him with slow and measured steps, reached the porch. Aunty Bell had left her seat and was standing on the mat.
“Why, Caleb, be ye cornin’ in, too? ” she said. “I ’ll git supper for both o’ ye. Guess ye ’re tuckered out.”
“I don’t want no supper,” he answered gravely, without looking at her. “I ’ll go into the settin’-room an’ wait, if ye ’ll let me.”
She opened the door silently for him, wondering if he was in one of his moods. The only light in the room came from the street-lamp, stenciling the vines on the drawn shades.
“I’ll fetch a light for ye, Caleb,” she said quietly, and turned toward the kitchen. In the hall she paused, her knees shaking, a prayer in her heart. Captain Joe and Betty were coming down the stairs, Betty’s face hidden on his shoulder, her trembling fingers clinging to his coat.
“Ain’t nothin’ to scare ye, child,” the captain said, patting the girl’s cheek as he stopped at the threshold. “It ’s all right. He’s in there waitin’, ” and he closed the door upon them.
Then he walked straight toward Aunty Bell, two big tears rolling down his cheeks, and, laying his hand upon her shoulder, said, “Caleb ’s got his lights trimmed, an’ Betty ’s found harbor. The little gal’s home.”
F. Hopkinson Smith.