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Title: Caleb West, Master Diver
Author: Smith, Francis Hopkinson, 1838-1915
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Caleb West, Master Diver" ***

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[Illustration: “I ain’t blamin’ her, nor never will”]



                       CALEB WEST, MASTER DIVER

                        BY F. HOPKINSON SMITH



                        WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY

                 MALCOLM FRASER AND ARTHUR I. KELLER



                         BOSTON AND NEW YORK
                    HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY

                    The Riverside Press, Cambridge
                                 1898



        COPYRIGHT, 1897 AND 1898, BY HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND CO.
                COPYRIGHT, 1898, BY F. HOPKINSON SMITH
                         ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



CONTENTS

        I. The Cape Ann Sloop
       II. A Morning’s Mail
      III. Captain Brandt at the Throttle
       IV. Among the Blackfish and Tomcods
        V. Aunty Bell’s Kitchen
       VI. A Little Dinner for Five
      VII. Betty’s First Patient
     VIII. The “Heave Ho” of Lonny Bowles
       IX. What the Butcher Saw
        X. Strains from Bock’s ’Cello
       XI. Captain Joe’s Telegram
      XII. Captain Joe’s Creed
     XIII. A Shanty Door
      XIV. Two Envelopes
       XV. A Narrow Path
      XVI. Under the Willows
     XVII. The Song of the Fire
    XVIII. The Equinoctial Gale
      XIX. From the Lantern Deck
       XX. At the Pines
      XXI. The Record of Nickles, the Cook
     XXII. After the Battle
    XXIII. A Broken Draw
     XXIV. The Swinging Gate
      XXV. Under the Pitiless Stars
     XXVI. Caleb Trims His Lights



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

    “I ain’t blamin’ her, nor never will”
    “Swung back the gate with the gesture of a rollicking boy”
    “Helen ... in white muslin—not a jewel”
    “No, it’s my Betty”
    “What’s she but a chit of a child that don’t know no better”
    “Sanford ... raised her hand to his lips”
    “Thank God, Tony! Thank God!”
    “Victory is ours!”
    “The diver knelt in a passive, listless way”
    “Ain’t nothin’ to skeer ye, child”



                     CALEB WEST, MASTER DIVER



CHAPTER I

THE CAPE ANN SLOOP


The rising sun burned its way through a low-lying mist that hid the
river, and flashed its search-light rays over the sleeping city. The
blackened tops of the tall stacks caught the signal, and answered in
belching clouds of gray steam that turned to gold as they floated
upwards in the morning air. The long rows of the many-eyed tenements
cresting the hill blinked in the dazzling light, threw wide their
shutters, and waved curling smoke flags from countless chimneys.

Narrow, silent alleys awoke. Doors opened and shut. Single figures
swinging dinner-pails, and groups of girls with baskets, hurried to
and fro. The rumbling of carts was heard and shrill street cries.

Suddenly the molten ball swung clear of the purple haze and flooded
the city with tremulous light. The vanes of the steeples flashed and
blazed. The slanting roofs, wet with the night dew, glistened like
silver. The budding trees, filling the great squares, flamed pink and
yellow, their tender branches quivering in the rosy light.

Now long, deep-toned whistles—reveille of forge, spindle, and
press—startled the air. Surging crowds filled the thoroughfares;
panting horses tugged at the surface cars; cabs rattled over the
cobblestones, and loaded trucks began to block the crossings.

The great city was astir.

At the sun’s first gleam, Henry Sanford had waked with joyous start.
Young, alert, full of health and courage as he was, the touch of its
rays never came too early for him. To-day they had been like the hand
of a friend, rousing him with promises of good fortune.

Dressing with eager haste, he had hurried into the room adjoining his
private apartments, which served as his uptown business office.
Important matters awaited him. Within a few hours a question of vital
moment had to be decided,—one upon which the present success of his
work depended.

As he entered, the sunshine, pouring through the wide windows, fell
across a drawing-table covered with the plans of the lighthouse he was
then building; illumined a desk piled high with correspondence, and
patterned a wall upon which were hung photographs and sketches of the
various structures which had marked the progress of his engineering
career.

But it was toward a telegram lying open on his desk that Sanford
turned. He took it in his hand and read it with the quiet satisfaction
of one who knows by heart every line he studies. It was headed
Keyport, and ran as follows:—

    To Henry Sanford, C. E., Washington
    Square, New York.

    Cape Ann sloop arrived and is a corker.
    Will be at your uptown office in the morning.

                                     Joseph Bell.

“Dear old Captain Joe, he’s found her at last!” he said to himself,
and laughed aloud.

With a joyous enthusiasm that lent a spring and vitality to every
movement, he stepped to the window and raised the sash to let in the
morning air.

It was a gala-day for the young engineer. For months Captain Joe had
been in search of a sloop of peculiar construction,—one of so light a
draught that she could work in a rolling surf, and yet so stanch that
she could sustain the strain of a derrick-boom rigged to her mast.
Without such a sloop the building of the lighthouse Sanford was then
constructing for the government on Shark Ledge, lying eight miles from
Keyport, and breasting a tide running six miles an hour, could not go
on. With such a sloop its early completion was assured.

The specifications for this lighthouse provided that the island which
formed its base—an artificial one made by dumping rough stones over
the sunken rock known as Shark’s Ledge—should be protected not only
from sea action, but from the thrust of floating ice. This Sanford was
to accomplish by paving its under-water slopes with huge granite
blocks, to form an enrockment,—each block to be bedded by a diver.

The engineer-in-chief of the Lighthouse Board at Washington had
expressed grave doubts as to the practicability of the working methods
submitted by Sanford for handling these blocks, questioning whether a
stone weighing twelve tons could be swung overboard, as suggested by
him, from the deck of a vessel and lowered to a diver while the boat
was moored in a six-mile current. As, however, the selection of the
means to be employed lay with the contracting engineer, and not with
the Board, Sanford’s working plans had finally been approved. He had
lacked only a sloop to carry them out. This sloop Captain Joe had now
found.

No wonder, then, that the splendor of the early sunshine had seemed a
harbinger of success, nor that as the minutes flew his eagerness
increased to grasp the captain’s hand.

At the first sound of his heavy step in the hall outside, Sanford
sprang from his desk and threw the door wide open to welcome the big,
burly fellow,—comrade and friend for years, as well as foreman and
assistant engineer on his force.

“Are you sure she’ll handle the stones?” were the first words he
addressed to the captain,—there were no formalities between these
men. “Nothing but a ten-horse engine, remember, will lift them from
the dock. What’s the sloop’s beam?”

“Thirty foot over all, an’ she’s stiff as a church,” answered Captain
Joe, all out of breath with his run up the stairs,—pushing his Derby
hat back from his forehead as he spoke. “An’ her cap’n ain’t no
slouch, nuther. I see him yesterday ’fore I come down. Looks’s ef he
hed th’ right stuff in him. Says he ain’t afeard o’ th ’Ledge, an’
don’t mind layin’ her broadside on, even ef she does git a leetle mite
scraped.”

“How’s her boiler?” Sanford asked, with sudden earnestness.

“I ain’t looked her b’iler over yit, but her cylinders is big enough.
If her steam gives out, I’ll put one of our own aboard. She’ll do,
sir. Don’t worry a mite; we’ll spank that baby when we git to ’t,”—and
his leathery, weather-tanned face cracked into smiles.

Sanford laughed again. The cheerful humor of this man, whose judgment
of men never failed him, and whose knowledge of sea-things made him
invaluable, was always a tonic to him.

“I’m glad you like her skipper,” he said, taking from a pigeonhole in
his perfectly appointed desk, as he spoke, the charter-party of the
sloop. “I see his name is Brandt, and the sloop’s name is the
Screamer. Hope she’ll live up to her name. The charter-party, I think,
ought to contain some allusion to the coast-chart, in case of any
protest Brandt may make afterwards about the shoaliness of the water.
Better have him put his initials on the chart,” he added, with the
instinctive habit of caution which always distinguished his business
methods. “Do you think the shallow water round the Ledge _will_
scare him?” he continued, as he crossed the room to a row of shelves
filled with mechanical drawings, in search of a round tin case holding
the various charts of Long Island Sound.

Captain Joe did not answer Sanford’s question at once. His mind was on
something else. He took off his hat and pea-jacket, hung them on a
hook, moved back the pile of books from the middle of the table, with
as little consideration as he would have shown to so many bricks,
corked a bottle of liquid ink for safety, flattened with his big hands
the chart which Sanford had unrolled, weighted its four corners with a
T square and some color-pans, and then, bending his massive head,
began studying its details with all the easy confidence of a first
officer on a Cunarder.

As he leaned over the chart the sunlight played about his face and
brought into stronger relief the few gray hairs which silvered the
short brown curls crisped about his neck and temples. These hairs
betrayed the only change seen in him since the memorable winter’s day
when he had saved the lives of the passengers on the sinking
ferry-boat near Hoboken by calking with his own body the gash left in
her side by a colliding tug. But time had touched him nowhere else. He
was still the same broad-as-he-was-long old sea-dog; tough, sturdy,
tender-eyed, and fearless. His teeth were as white, his mouth was as
firm, his jaw as strong and determined.

The captain placed his horn-tipped finger on a dot marked “Shark’s
Ledge Spindle,” obliterating in the act some forty miles of sea-space;
repeated to himself in a low voice, “Six fathoms—four—one and a
half—hum, ’t ain’t nothin’; that Cape Ann sloop can do it;” and then
suddenly remembering Sanford’s question, he answered, with quick
lifting of his head and with a cheery laugh, “Skeer him? Wait till ye
see him, sir. And he won’t make no _pro_-test, nuther. He ain’t
that kind.”

When the coast-chart had been rolled up and replaced in the tin case,
to be taken to Keyport for the skipper’s initials, both men resumed
their seats by Sanford’s desk. By this time some of the young
engineer’s enthusiasm over the finding of the sloop had begun to cool.
He seemed, as he sat there, a different man, as with businesslike
address he turned to the discussion of various important details
connected with the work.

“Anything left of the old house, captain?” he asked, taking from the
table a rough sketch of the new shanty to be built on the Ledge,—the
one used while the artificial island was being built having been
injured by the winter storms.

“Not much, sir: one side’s stove in an’ the roof’s smashed. Some o’
the men are in it now, gittin’ things in shape, but it’s purty
rickety. I’m a-goin’ to put the new one here,”—his finger on the
drawing,—“an’ I’m goin’ to make it o’ tongue-an’-grooved stuff an’
tar the roof to git it water-tight. Then I’ll hev some iron bands made
with turnbuckles to go over the top timbers an’ fasten it all down in
the stone-pile. Oh, we’ll git her so she’ll stay put when hell breaks
loose some night down Montauk way!” and another hearty laugh rang out,
shaking the captain’s brawny chest, as he rolled up the drawing and
tucked it in the case for safety.

“There’s no doubt we’ll have plenty of that,” said Sanford, with a
slight touch of anxiety in his tones. “And now about the working
force. Will you make many changes?” he asked.

“No, sir. We’ll put Caleb West in charge of the divin’; ain’t no
better man’n Caleb in or out a dress. Them enrockments is mighty ugly
things to set under water, an’ I won’t trust nobody but Caleb to do
it. Lonny Bowles’ll help tend derricks; an’ there’s our regular
gang,—George Nickles an’ the rest of ’em. I only got one new man so
far: that’s a young feller named Bill Lacey. He looks like a
skylarkin’ chap, but I kin take that out o’ him. He kin climb like a
cat, an’ we want a man like that to shin the derricks. He’s tended
divers, too, he says, an’ he’ll do to look after Caleb’s life-line an’
hose when I can’t. By the way, sir, I forgot to ask ye about them
derricks. We got to hev four whackin’ big sticks to set them big stone
on top o’ the concrete when we git it finished, an’ there ain’t no
time to lose on ’em. I thought maybe ye’d order ’em to-day from
Medford?”

While Sanford was writing a telegram to a shipbuilder at Medford
ordering “four clean, straight, white pine masts not less than twenty
inches at the butt,” and delivering it to his negro servant, Sam, whom
he called from the adjoining room, Captain Joe had arisen from his
chair and had taken down his pea-jacket and Derby hat, without which
he never came to New York,—it was his one concession to metropolitan
exactions: the incongruity between the pea-jacket and the Derby hat
always delighted Sanford.

“But, Captain Joe,” said Sanford, looking up, “you mustn’t go;
breakfast will be ready in a minute. Young Mr. Hardy is coming, whom
you met here once before. He wants to meet you again.”

“Not this mornin’, sir. I’ve got a lot o’ things to look after ’fore I
catch the three-ten. I’m obleeged to ye all the same,” and he humped
his arms and shoulders into his weather-beaten pea-jacket and picked
up the tin case.

“Well, I wish you would,” said Sanford, with a hand on the captain’s
shoulder, and real disappointment in his tone, “but you know best, I
suppose.”

With the big brown hand of the captain in his own he followed him to
the top of the stairs, where he stood watching the burly figure
descending the spiral staircase, the tin case under his arm, spy-glass
fashion.

“You’ll see me in the morning, captain,” Sanford called out, not
wanting him to go without another word. “I’ll come by the midnight
train.”

The captain looked up and waved his hand cheerily in lieu of a reply.

Sanford waited until the turn of the staircase hid him from view, then
turned, and, drawing the heavy curtains of the vestibule, passed
through it to his private apartments, flooded with the morning light.



CHAPTER II

A MORNING’S MAIL


Sanford dropped into a brown leather chair, and Sam, with the fawning
droop of a water-spaniel, placed the morning paper before him, moved a
small table nearer, on which his master could lay the morning’s mail
as it was opened, adjusted the curtains so as to keep the glare from
his paper, and with noiseless tread withdrew to the kitchen. Whatever
the faults of this product of reconstruction might have been,—and Sam
had many,—neglect of Sanford’s comfort was not one of them.

According to his lights he was scrupulously honest. Although he
dressed with more care on Sunday afternoons than his master,—generally
in that gentleman’s cast-off clothes, and always in his discarded
neckties and gloves,—smoked his tobacco, purloined his cigars, and
occasionally drank his wine, whenever the demands of his social life
made such inroads on Sanford’s private stock necessary to maintain a
certain prestige among his ebonized brethren, he invariably drew the
line at his master’s loose change and his shirt-studs. This was due,
doubtless, to some drops of blood, trickling through his veins and
inherited from an old family butler of an ancestor, which, while they
permitted him the free use of everything his master ate, drank, and
wore,—a common privilege of the slave days,—debarred him completely
from greater crimes.

His delinquencies—all of them perfectly well known to Sanford—never
lost him his master’s confidence: he knew the race, and never expected
the impossible. Not only did he place Sam in charge of his household
expenditures, but he gave him entire supervision as well of his rooms
and their contents.

In these apartments Sam took the greatest pride. They were at the top
of one of those old-fashioned, hip-roofed, dormer-windowed houses
still to be found on Washington Square, and consisted of five rooms,
with dining-room and salon.

Against the walls of the salon stood low bookcases, their tops covered
with curios and the hundred and one knickknacks that encumber a
bachelor’s apartment. Above these again hung a collection of etchings
and sketches in and out of frames, many of them signed by fellow
members of the Buzzards, a small Bohemian club of ten who often held
their meetings here.

Under a broad frieze ran a continuous shelf, holding samples of half
the pots of the universe, from a Heidelberg beer-mug to an East Indian
water-jar; and over the doors were grouped bunches of African arrows,
spears, and clubs, and curious barbaric shields; while the centre of
the room was occupied by a square table covered with books and
magazines, ashtrays, Japanese ivories, and the like. Set in among them
was an umbrella-lamp with a shade of sealing-wax red. At intervals
about the room were smaller tables, convenient for decanters and
crushed ice, and against the walls, facing the piano, were wide divans
piled high with silk cushions, and near the window which opened on a
balcony overlooking the square stood a carved Venetian wedding-chest,
which Sanford had picked up on one of his trips abroad.

Within easy reach of reading-lamp and chair rested a four-sided
bookcase on rollers, filled with works on engineering and books of
reference; while a high, narrow case between two doors was packed with
photographs and engravings of the principal marine structures of our
own and other coasts. It was at once the room of a man of leisure and
a man of work.

Late as was the season, a little wood fire smouldered in the open
fireplace,—one of the sentiments to which Sanford clung,—while
before it stood the brown leather chair in which he sat.

“I forgot to say that Captain Bell will not be here to breakfast, Sam,
but Mr. Hardy is coming,” said Sanford, suddenly recollecting himself.

“Yaas, sah; everything’s ready, sah,” replied Sam, who, now that the
telegram had been dispatched and the morning papers and letters
delivered, had slipped into his white jacket again.

Sanford picked up the package of letters, a dozen or more, and began
cutting the envelopes. Most of them were read rapidly, marked in the
margin, and laid in a pile beside him. There were two which he had
placed by themselves without opening: one from his friend Mrs. Morgan
Leroy, and the other from Major Tom Slocomb, of Pocomoke, Maryland.

Major Slocomb wrote to inform him of his approaching visit to New
York, accompanied by his niece, Miss Helen Shirley, of Kent
County,—“a daughter, sir, of Colonel Talbot Shirley, one of our
foremost citizens, whom I believe you had the honor of meeting during
your never-to-be-forgotten visit among us.”

The never-to-be-forgotten visit was one that Sanford had made the
major the winter before, when he was inspecting the site for a stone
and brush jetty he was about to build for the government, in the
Chesapeake, near those famous estates which the Pocomokian inherited
from his wife, “the widow of Major Talbot, suh.”

During this visit the major had greatly endeared himself to the young
engineer. Under all the Pocomokian’s veneer of delightful mendacity,
utter shiftlessness, and luxurious extravagance, Sanford had
discovered certain qualities of true loyalty to those whom he loved,
and a very tender sympathy for the many in the world worse off than
himself. He had become convinced too that the major’s conversion from
a vagabond with gentlemanly instincts to a gentleman with strong
Bohemian tendencies might easily be accomplished were a little more
money placed at the Pocomokian’s disposal. With an endless check-book
and unlimited overdrafts, settlements to be made every hundred years,
the major would be a prince among men.

The niece to whom the major referred in his letter lived in an
adjoining county with a relative much nearer of kin. Like many other
possessions of this acclimated Marylander, she was really not his
niece at all, but another heritage from his deceased wife. The major
first saw her on horseback, in a neat-fitting riding-habit which she
had made out of some blue army kersey bought at the country store. One
glance at her lovely face, the poise of her head, the easy grace of
her seat, and her admirable horsemanship decided him at once.
Henceforward her name was to be emblazoned on the scroll of his family
tree!

It was not until Sanford had finished the major’s letter that he
turned to that from Mrs. Leroy. He looked first at the circular
postmark to see the exact hour at which it had been mailed; then he
rose from the big chair, threw himself on the divan, tucked a pillow
under his head, and slowly broke the seal. The envelope was large and
square, decorated with the crest of the Leroys in violet wax, and
addressed in a clear, round, almost masculine hand. “My dear Henry,”
it began, “if you are going to the Ledge, please stop at Medford and
see how my new dining-room is getting on. Be sure to come to luncheon
to-morrow, so we can talk it over,” etc., and ended with the hope that
he had not taken cold when he left her house the night before.

It had contained but half a dozen lines, and was as direct as most of
her communications; yet Sanford held it for a long time in his hands,
read and re-read it, looked at the heading, examined the signature,
turned it over carefully, and, placing it in its envelope, thrust it
under the sofa-pillow. With his hands behind his head he lay for some
time in thought. Then taking Mrs. Leroy’s letter from under the
pillow, he read it again, put it in his pocket, and began pacing the
room.

The letter had evidently made him restless. He threw wide the sashes
of the French window which opened on the iron balcony, and looked for
a moment over the square below, where the hard, pen-line drawing of
its trees was blurred by the yellow-green bloom of the early spring.
He turned back into the room, rearranged a photograph or two on the
mantel, and, picking up a vase filled with roses, inhaled their
fragrance and placed them in the centre of the dainty breakfast-table,
with its snowy linen and polished silver, that Sam had just been
setting near him. Reseating himself in his chair, he called again to
the ever watchful darky, who had been following his movements through
the crack of the pantry door.

“Sam.”

“Yaas ’r,” came a voice apparently from the far end of the pantry;
“comin’, sah.”

“Look over the balcony again and see if Mr. Hardy is on his way across
the square. Why! what’s become of the fellow?” he said to himself,
consulting the empire clock with broken columns which decorated the
mantel. “It’s after ten now. I’ll wager Helen wrote him by the same
mail. No wonder he’s late. Let me see! She gets here in three days.
Jack will be out of his head.” And Sanford sighed.

“I ’spec’s dat’s him a-comin’ up now, sah,” Sam called. “I yeared de
downstairs do’ click a minute ago. Here he is, sah,” drawing aside the
curtain that hid the entrance to the outer hall.

“Sorry, old man,” came a voice increasing in distinctness as the
speaker approached, “but I couldn’t help it, I had a lot of letters to
answer this morning, or I should have been on time. It don’t make any
difference to you; it’s your day off.”

“My day off, is it? I was out of bed this morning at six o’clock.
Captain Joe stopped here on his way from the train; he has just left;
and if you had stayed away a minute more, I’d have breakfasted without
you. And that isn’t all. That sloop I’ve been looking for has arrived,
and I go to Keyport to-night.”

“The devil you do!” said Jack, a shade of disappointment crossing his
face. “That means, I suppose, you won’t be back this spring. How long
are you going to be building that lighthouse, anyhow, Henry?”

“Two years more, I’m afraid,” said Sanford thoughtfully. “Breakfast
right away, Sam. Take the seat by the window, Jack. I thought we’d
breakfast here instead of in the dining-room; the air’s fresher.”

Jack opened his coat, took a rose from the vase, adjusted it in his
buttonhole, and spread his napkin over his knees.

He was much the younger of the two men, and his lot in life had been
far easier. Junior partner in a large banking-house down town, founded
and still sustained by the energy and business tact of his father,
with plenty of time for all the sports and pastimes popular with men
of his class, he had not found it a difficult task to sail easily
through life without a jar.

“What do you hear from Crab Island, Jack?” asked Sanford, a sly
twinkle in his eye, as he passed him the muffins.

“They’ve started the new club-house,” said Jack, with absolute
composure. “We are going to run out that extension you suggested when
you were down there last winter.” He clipped his egg lightly, without
a change of countenance.

“Anything from Helen Shirley?”

“Just a line, thanking me for the magazines,” Jack answered in a
casual tone, not the faintest interest betraying itself in the
inflections of his voice. Sanford thought he detected a slight
increase of color on his young friend’s always rosy cheeks, but he
said nothing.

“Did she say anything about coming to New York?” Sanford asked,
looking at Jack quizzically out of the corner of his eye.

“Yes; now I come to think of it, I believe she did say something about
the major’s coming, but nothing very definite.”

Jack spoke as if he had been aroused from some reverie entirely
foreign to the subject under discussion. He continued to play with his
egg, flecking off the broken bits of shell with the point of his
spoon. With all his pretended composure, however, he could not raise
his eyes to those of his host.

“What a first-class fraud you are, Jack!” said Sanford, laughing at
last. He leaned back in his chair and looked at Hardy good-humoredly
from under his eyebrows. “I would have read you Slocomb’s letter,
lying right before you, if I hadn’t been sure you knew everything in
it. Helen and the major will be here next week, and you know the very
hour she’ll arrive, and you have staked out every moment of her time.
Now don’t try any of your high-daddy tricks on me. What are you going
to do next Tuesday night?”

Jack laughed, but made no attempt to parry a word of Sanford’s thrust.
He looked up at last inquiringly over his plate and said, “Why?”

“Because I want you to dine here with them. I’ll ask Mrs. Leroy to
chaperon Helen. Leroy is still abroad, and she can come. We’ll get
Bock, too, with his ’cello. What other ladies are in town?”

Jack’s face was aglow in an instant. The possibility of dining in
Sanford’s room, with its background of rich color and with all its
pretty things that Helen he knew would love so well, lent instant
interest to Sanford’s proposition. He looked about him. He made up his
mind just where he would seat her after dinner: the divan nearest the
curtains was the best. How happy she would be, and how new it would
all be to her! He could have planned nothing more delightful. Then
remembering that Sanford had asked him a question, he recovered
himself and nonchalantly gave the names of several young women he knew
who might be agreeable guests. But after a moment’s reflection he
suggested as a second thought that Sanford leave these details to Mrs.
Leroy. Jack knew her tact, and he knew to a nicety just how many young
girls Mrs. Leroy would bring. The success of bachelor dinners, from
Hardy’s present standpoint, was not dependent upon the attendance of
half a dozen extra young women and _two_ men; quite the reverse.

The date for the dinner arranged, and the wisdom of leaving the list
of guests to Mrs. Leroy agreed upon, the talk drifted into other
channels: the Whistler pastels at Klein’s; the garden-party to be
given at Mrs. Leroy’s country-seat near Medford when the new
dining-room was finished and the roses were in bloom; the opportunity
Sanford might now enjoy of combining business with pleasure, Medford
being a short run from Shark Ledge; the success of Smearly’s last
portrait at the Academy, a photograph of which lay on the table; the
probable change in Slocomb’s fortunes, now that, with the consent of
the insurance company who held the mortgage, he had rented what was
left of the Widow Talbot’s estate to a strawberry planter from the
North, in order to live in New York; and finally, under Jack’s
guidance, back to Helen Shirley’s visit.

When the two men, an hour later, passed into the corridor, Sanford
held two letters in his hand ready to mail: one addressed to Major
Slocomb, with an inclosure to Miss Shirley, the other to Mrs. Morgan
Leroy.

Sam watched them over the balcony until they crossed the square, cut a
double shuffle with both feet, admired his black grinning face in the
mirror, took a corncob pipe from the shelf in the pantry, filled it
with some of Sanford’s best tobacco, and began packing his master’s
bag for the night train to Keyport.



CHAPTER III

CAPTAIN BRANDT AT THE THROTTLE


The sun was an hour high when Sanford arrived at Keyport and turned
quickly toward the road leading from the station to Captain Joe’s
cottage, a spring and lightness in his step which indicated not only
robust health, but an eagerness to reach at once the work absorbing
his mind. When he gained the high ground overlooking the cottage and
dock, he paused for a view that always charmed him with its play of
light and color over sea and shore, and which seemed never so
beautiful as in the early morning light.

Below him lay Keyport Village, built about a rocky half-moon of a
harbor, its old wharves piled high with rotting oil-barrels and
flanked by empty warehouses, behind which crouched low, gray-roofed
cabins, squatting in a tangle of streets, with here and there a white
church spire tipped with a restless weather-vane. Higher, on the
hills, were nestled some old homesteads with sloping roofs and wide
porches, and away up on the crest of the heights, overlooking the sea,
stood the more costly structures with well-shaved lawns spotted with
homesick trees from a warmer clime, their arms stretched appealingly
toward the sea.

At his feet lay the brimming harbor itself, dotted with motionless
yachts and various fishing-craft, all reflected upside down in the
still sea, its glassy surface rippled now and then by the dipping
buckets of men washing down the decks, or by the quick water-spider
strokes of some lobster-fisherman,—the click of the row-locks
pulsating in the breathless morning air.

On the near point of the half-moon stood Keyport Light,—an
old-fashioned factory chimney of a Light,—built of brick, but painted
snow-white with a black cigar band around its middle, its top
surmounted by a copper lantern. This flashed red and white at night,
over a radius of twenty miles. Braced up against its base, for a
better hold, was a little building hiding a great fog-horn, which on
thick days and nights bellowed out its welcome to Keyport’s best.

On the far point of the moon—the one opposite the Light, and some two
miles away—stretched sea-meadows broken with clumps of rock and
shelter-houses for cattle, and between these two points, almost
athwart the mouth of the harbor, like a huge motionless whale lay
Crotch Island, its backbone knotted with summer cottages. Beyond the
island away out under the white glare of the risen sun could be seen a
speck of purplish-gray fringed with bright splashes of spray glinting
in the dazzling light. This was Shark’s Ledge.

As Sanford looked toward the site of the new Light a strange sensation
came over him. There lay the work on which his reputation would rest
and by which he would hereafter be judged. Everything else he had so
far accomplished was, he knew, but a preparation for this his greatest
undertaking. Not only were the engineering problems involved new to
his experience, but in his attitude in regard to them he had gone
against all precedents as well as against the judgments of older
heads, and had relied almost exclusively upon Captain Joe’s personal
skill and pluck. While it was true that he never doubted his ultimate
success, there always came a tugging at his heartstrings and a
tightening of his throat whenever he looked toward the site of the
lighthouse.

Turning from the scene with a long drawn breath, he walked with
slackened step down the slope that led to the long dock fronting the
captain’s cottage. As he drew nearer he saw that the Screamer had been
moored between the captain’s dock (always lumbered with paraphernalia
required for sea-work) and the great granite-wharf, which was piled
high with enormous cubes of stone, each as big as two pianos.

On her forward deck was bolted a hoisting-engine, and thrust up
through the hatch of the forecastle was the smoke-stack of the boiler,
already puffing trial feathers of white steam into the morning air.
She had, too, the heavy boom and stout mast used as a derrick. Captain
Joe had evidently seen no reason to change his mind about her, for he
was at the moment on her after-deck, overhauling a heavy coil of
manilla rope, and reeving it in the block himself, the men standing by
to catch the end of the line.

When Sanford joined the group there was no general touching of
hats,—outward sign of deference that a group of laborers on land
would have paid their employer. In a certain sense, each man here was
chief. Each man knew his duty and did it, quietly, effectually, and
cheerfully. The day’s work had no limit of hours. The pay was never
fixed by a board of delegates, one half of whom could not tell a
marlinespike from a monkey-wrench. These men had enlisted for a war
with winds and storms and changing seas, and victory meant something
more to them than pay once a month and plum duff once a week. It meant
hours of battling with the sea, of tugging at the lines, waist-deep in
the boiling surf that rolled in from Montauk. It meant constant,
unceasing vigilance day and night, in order that some exposed site
necessary for a bedstone might be captured and held before a
southeaster could wreck it, and thus a vantage-point be lost in the
laying of the masonry.

Each man took his share of wet and cold and exposure without
grumbling. When, by some accident, a cowardly and selfish spirit
joined the force, Captain Joe, on the first word of complaint, handed
the man his money and put him ashore. The severity of the work was
never resented. It was only against their common enemies, the winds
and the seas, that murmurs were heard. “Drat that wind!” one would
say. “Here she’s a-haulin’ to the east’rd agin, an’ we ain’t got them
j’ints [in the masonry] p’inted.” Or, “It makes a man sick to see th’
way this month’s been a-goin’ on,—not a decent clay since las’
Tuesday.”

Sanford liked these men. He was always at home with them. He loved
their courage, their grit, their loyalty to one another and to the
work itself. The absence of ceremony among them never offended him.
His cheery “Good-morning” as he stepped aboard was as cheerily
answered, but no other demonstration took place.

Captain Joe stopped work only long enough to shake Sanford’s hand and
to present him to the newcomer, Captain Bob Brandt of the Screamer.

“Cap’n Bob!” he called, waving his hand.

“Ay, ay, sir!” came the ready response of his early training.

“Come aft, sir. Mr. Sanford wants ye.” The “sir” was merely a
recognition of the captain’s rank.

A tall, straight, blue-eyed young fellow of twenty-two, with a face
like an open book, walked down the deck,—one of those perfectly
simple, absolutely fearless, alert men found so often on the New
England coast, with legs and arms of steel, body of hickory, and hands
of whalebone: cabin-boy at twelve, common sailor at sixteen, first
mate at twenty, and full captain the year he voted.

Sanford looked him all over, from his shoes to his cap. He knew a
round full man when he saw him. This one seemed to be without a flaw.
Sanford saw too that he possessed that yeast of good nature without
which the best of men are heavy and dull.

“Can you lift these blocks, Captain Brandt?” he asked in a hearty
tone, more like that of a comrade than an employer, his hand extended
in greeting.

“Well, I can try, sir,” came the modest reply, the young man’s face
lighting up as he looked into Sanford’s eyes, where he read with equal
quickness a ready appreciation, so encouraging to every man who
intends to do his best.

Captain Brandt and every member of the gang knew that it was not the
mere weight of these enrockment blocks which made the handling of them
so serious a matter; twelve tons is a light lift for many
boat-derricks. It was the fact that they must be loaded aboard a
vessel not only small enough to be easily handled in any reasonable
weather, but with a water-draught shoal enough to permit her lying
safely in a running tide alongside the Ledge while the individual
blocks were being lowered over her side.

The hangers-on about the dock questioned whether any sloop could do
this work. All winter, in fact, they had discussed it about the tavern
stoves.

“Billy,” said old Marrows, an assumed authority on stone-sloops, but
not in Sanford’s employ, although a constant applicant, “I ain’t
sayin’ nothin’ agin her beam, mind, but she’s too peaked forrud.
’Nother thing, when she’s got them stones slung, them chain-plates
won’t hold ’er shrouds. I wouldn’t be s’prised to see that mast jerked
clean out’er her.”

Bill Lacey, the handsome young rigger to whom the remark was
addressed, leaned over the sloop’s rail, scanned every bolt in her
plates, glanced up at the standing rigging, tried it with his hand as
if it were a tight-rope, and with a satisfied air answered, “Them
plates is all right, Marrows,—it’s her b’iler that’s a-worryin’ me.
What do you say, Caleb?” turning to Caleb West, a broad-shouldered,
grizzled man in a sou’wester, who was mending a leak in a
diving-dress, the odor of the burning cement in a pan beside him
mingling with the savory smell of frying pork coming up from the
galley.

“Wall, I ain’t said, Billy,” replied Caleb in a cheery voice, stroking
his bushy gray beard. “Them as don’t know better keep shet.”

There was a loud laugh at the young rigger’s expense, in which
everybody except Lacey and Caleb joined. Lacey’s face hardened under
the thrust, while Caleb still smiled, a quaint expression
overspreading his features,—one that often came when something
pleased him, and which by its sweetness showed how little venom lay
behind his reproofs.

“These ’ere sloops is jes’ like women,” said George Nickles, the cook,
a big, oily man, with his sleeves rolled up above his elbows, a greasy
apron about his waist. He was dipping a bucket overboard. “Ye can’t
tell nothin’ about ’em till ye tries ’em.”

The application of the simile not being immediately apparent,—few of
Nickles’ similes ever were,—nobody answered. Lacey stole a look at
Nickles and then at Caleb, to see if the shot had been meant for him,
and meeting the diver’s unconscious clear blue eyes, looked seaward
again.

Lonny Bowles, a big derrickman from Noank quarries, in a red shirt,
discolored on the back with a pink Y where his suspenders had crossed,
now moved nearer and joined in the discussion.

“She kin h’ist any two on ’em, an’ never wet ’er deck combin’s. I seen
these Cape Ann sloops afore, when we wuz buildin’ Stonin’ton
breakwater. Ye wouldn’t believe they had it in ’em till ye see ’em
work. Her b’iler’s all right.”

“Don’t you like the sloop, Caleb?” said Sanford, who had been
listening. “Don’t you think she’ll do her work?” he continued, moving
a rebellious leg of the rubber dress to sit the closer.

“Well, of course, sir, I ain’t knowed ’er long ’nough to swear by yit.
She’s fittin’ for loadin’ ’em on land, maybe, but she may have some
trouble gittin’ rid of ’em at the Ledge. Her b’iler looks kind o’ weak
to me,” and the master diver bent over the pan, stirring the boiling
cement with his sheath-knife, the rubber suit sprawled out over his
knees, the awkward, stiff, empty legs and arms of the dress flopping
about as he patched its many leaks. Then he added with a quaint smile,
“But if Cap’n Joe says she’s all right, ye can pin to her.”

Sanford moved a little closer to Caleb, holding the pan of cement for
him, and watching him at work. He had known him for years as a
fearless diver of marvelous pluck and endurance; one capable of
working seven consecutive hours under water. When an English bark had
run on top of Big Spindle Reef and backed off into one hundred and ten
feet of water, the captain and six of the crew were saved, but the
captain’s wife, helpless in the cabin, had been drowned. Caleb had
gone below, cleared away the broken deck that pinned her down, and had
brought her body up in his arms. His helmet was spattered inside with
the blood that trickled from his ears, owing to the enormous pressure
of the sea. This had been not a twelvemonth since.

The constant facing of dangers had made of the diver a quiet, reticent
man. There was, too, a gentleness and restful patience about him that
always appealed to Sanford, and next to Captain Joe he was the one man
on the working force whom he trusted most. Of late his pale blue eyes
had shone with a softer light, as if he were perpetually hugging some
happiness to himself. Those who knew him best said that all this happy
gentleness had come with the girl wife. Since he had entered Sanford’s
employment he had married a second and a younger wife,—a mere child,
the men said, young enough to be his daughter, too young for a man of
forty-five.

And yet Caleb was not an old man, if the possession of vigor and
energy meant anything. His cheeks had the rosy hue of perfect health,
and his step was lighter and more agile than that of many men half his
years. Only his beard was gray. Yet he was called by his shipmates
old, for in the hard working world in which he lived none but the
earlier years of a man’s life counted as youth.

His cabin, a small, two-story affair, bought with the money he had
saved during his fifteen years on the Lightship and after his first
wife’s death, lay a short distance up the shore above that of Captain
Joe, and in plain sight of the Screamer.

When Caleb rose to wash his hands, he caught sight of a blue apron
tossing on its distant porch. Bill Lacey saw the apron too, and had
answered it a moment later with a little wave of his own. Caleb did
not notice Billy’s signal, but Captain Joe did, and a peculiar look
filled his eye that the men did not often see. In his confusion Lacey
flushed scarlet, and upset the pan of cement.

When Nickles announced breakfast, Captain Joe soused a bucket
overboard, rested it on the rail and plunged in his hands, the
splashing drops glistening in the sunlight, and called out:—

“Come, Mr. Sanford,—breakfast’s ready, men.” Then, waving his hand to
Caleb and the others who had been discussing the Screamer, he said,
laughing, “All you men what’s gittin’ skeery ’bout this sloop kin step
ashore. I’m a-goin’ to load three o’ them stone aboard here after
breakfast, if I roll her over bottom side up.”

Sanford sat at the head of the table, his back to the companionway,
the crew’s bunks within reach of his hand. He was the only man who
wore a coat. Set out before him were fried eggs sizzling in squares of
pork; hashed potatoes, browned in what was left of the sizzle;
saleratus biscuit, full of dark spots; and coffee in tin cups. There
was also a small jug of molasses, protected by a pewter top, and there
was, too, a bottle of tomato catsup, whose contents were
indiscriminately spattered over every plate.

Long years of association had familiarized Sanford with certain rules
of etiquette to be observed at a meal like this. Whoever finished
first, he knew, must push back his stool out of the way and instantly
mount to the deck. In confined quarters, elbow-room is a luxury, and
its free gift a courtesy. He also knew that to leave anything on his
plate would have been regarded as an evidence of extreme bad manners,
suggesting moreover a reflection upon the skill of the cook. It was
also a part of the code to wipe one’s knife carefully on the last
piece of bread, which was to be swallowed immediately, thus
obliterating all traces of the repast, except, of course, the bones,
which must be picked clean and piled on one side of the plate. Captain
Joe himself never neglected any of these little amenities.

Sanford forgot none of them. He wiped his knife and cleared his plate
as carefully as any of his men. He drank from his tin cup, and ate his
eggs and fried pork too with the same zest that he would have felt
before one of Sam’s choicest breakfasts. He really enjoyed these
repasts. To him there was something wonderfully inspiring in watching
a group of big, strong, broad-breasted, horny-handed laboring men
intent on satisfying a hunger born of fresh air and hard work. There
was an eagerness about their movements, a relish as each mouthful
disappeared, attended by a good humor and sound digestion that would
have given a sallow-faced dyspeptic a new view of life, and gone far
toward converting a dilettante to the belief that although forks and
napkins were perhaps indispensable luxuries, existence might not be
wholly desolate with plain fingers and shirt-cuffs.

Breakfast over, Captain Joe was the first man on deck. He had left his
pea-jacket in the cabin, and now wore his every-day outfit—the blue
flannel shirt, long since stretched out of shape in its efforts to
accommodate itself to the spread of his shoulders, and a pair of
trousers in which each corrugated wrinkle outlined a knotted muscle
twisted up and down a pair of legs sturdy as rudder-posts.

“Come, men!” he called in a commanding voice, with none of the gentler
tones heard at the breakfast-table. “Pull yourselves together.... Bill
Lacey, lower away that hook and git them chains ready.... Fire up,
Cap’n Brandt, and give ’er every pound o’ steam she’ll carry....
Here,—one or two of ye, run this ’ere line ashore and make her bow
fast.... Drop that divin’-suit, Caleb; this ain’t no time to patch
things.”

These orders were volleyed at the men as he stepped from the sloop to
the wharf, each man springing to his place with an alacrity seldom
seen among men of other crews. Close association with Captain Joe
always inspired a peculiar confidence and loyalty not only among his
own men, but in all the others who heard his voice. His personal
magnetism, his enthusiasm, his seeming reckless fearlessness, and yet
extreme caution and watchful care for the safety of his men, had
created among his employees a blind confidence in his judgment that
always resulted in immediate and unquestioned obedience to his orders,
no matter what the risk might seem.

The sloop was now lying alongside the wharf, with beam and stern lines
made fast to the outlying water-spiles to steady her. When the tackle
was shaken clear, the boom was lowered at the proper angle; the heavy
chain terminating in an enormous S-hook, which hung directly over the
centre of one of the big enrockment blocks.

Captain Joe moved down the dock and adjusted with his own hands the
steel “Lewis” that was to be driven into the big trial stone.
Important details he never left to others. If this Lewis should slip,
with the stone suspended over the sloop’s deck, the huge block would
crush through her timbers, sinking her instantly.

The Screamer’s captain was at the throttle, watching the steadily
rising steam-gauge.

“Give ’er a turn and take up the slack!” shouted Captain Joe.

“Ay, ay, sir!” answered the skipper quickly, as the cogs of the
hoisting-engine began to move, winding all the loose slackened “fall”
around the drum, until it straightened out like a telegraph wire.

“What’s she carryin’ now, Cap’n Bob?” again shouted Captain Joe.

“Seventy-six pounds, sir.”

“Give ’er time—don’t push ’er.”

A crowd began to gather on the dock: fishermen and workmen on their
way to the village, idlers along the shore road, and others. They all
understood that the trial of the sloop was to be made this morning,
and great interest was felt. The huge stones had rested all winter on
this wharf, and had been discussed and rediscussed until each one
outweighed the Pyramids. Loading such pieces on board a vessel like
the Screamer had never been done in Keyport before.

Old Marrows whispered certain misgivings, as he made fast a line far
up on the wharf. Some of the listeners moved back across the road,
yielding to the vague fear of the inexperienced. Bets were offered
that “her mast would be tore clean out of her;” or that “she’d put her
starboard rail under water afore she’d start ’em;” and that “she’d
sink where she lay.”

The needle of the gauge on the sloop’s boiler revolved slowly until it
registered ninety pounds. Little puffs of blue vaporless steam hissed
from the safety-valve. The boiler was getting ready to do its duty.

Captain Joe looked aloft, ordered the boom topped a few inches, so
that the lift would be plumb, sprang upon the sloop’s deck,
scrutinized the steam-gauge, saw that the rope was evenly wound on the
drum, emptied an oil-can into the sunken wooden saddle in which the
butt of the boom rested, followed with his eye every foot of the
manilla fall from the drum through the double blocks to the chain
hanging over the big stone, called to the people on the dock to get
out of harm’s way, saw that every man was in his place, and shouted
the order, clear and sharp,—

“Go ahead!”

The cogs of the drum of the hoisting-engine spun around until the
great weight began to tell; then the strokes of the steam-pistons
slowed down. The outboard mooring-lines were now tight as standing
rigging. The butt of the boom in the sunken saddle was creaking as it
turned, a pungent odor from the friction-heated oil filling the air.
The strain increased, and the sloop careened toward the wharf until
her bilge struck the water, drawing taut as bars of steel her outboard
shrouds. Ominous clicks came from the new manilla as its twists were
straightened out.

Captain Bob Brandt still stood by the throttle, one of his crew
firing,—sometimes with refuse cotton waste soaked in kerosene. He was
watching every part of his sloop then under strain to see how she
stood the test.

The slow movement of the pistons continued.

The strain on the outboard shroud became intense. A dead silence
prevailed, broken only by the clicking fall and the creak of the
roller blocks.

Twice the safety-valve blew a hoarse note of warning.

Slowly, inch by inch, the sloop settled in the water, stopped
suddenly, and quivered her entire length. Another turn of the drum on
her deck and the huge stone canted a point, slid the width of a dock
plank, and with a hoarse, scraping sound turned half round and swung
clear of the wharf!

A cheer went up from the motley crowd on the dock.

Not a word escaped the men at work. The worst was yet to come.

The swinging stone must yet be lowered on deck.

“Tighten up that guy,” said Captain Joe quietly, between his teeth,
never taking his eyes from the stone; his hand meanwhile on the fall,
to test its strain.

Bill Lacey and Caleb ran to the end of the dock, whipped one end of a
line around a mooring-post, and with their knees bent to the ground
held on with all their strength. The other end of the guy was fastened
to the steel S-hook that held the Lewis now securely in the stone.

“Easy—ea-s-y!” said Captain Joe, a momentary shadow of anxiety on his
face. The guy held by Caleb and Lacey gradually slackened. The great
stone, now free to swing clear, moved slowly in mid-air over the edge
of the wharf, passed above the water, cleared the rail of the sloop,
and settled on her deck as gently as a grounding balloon.

The cheer that broke from all hands brought the fishwives to their
porches.



CHAPTER IV

AMONG THE BLACKFISH AND TOMCODS


Hardly had the men ceased cheering when the boom was swung back,
another huge stone was lifted from the wharf, and loaded aboard the
sloop. A third followed, was lowered upon rollers on the deck and
warped amidships, to trim the boat. The mooring-lines were cast off,
and the sloop’s sail partly hoisted for better steering, and a
nervous, sputtering little tug tightened a tow-line over the
Screamer’s bow.

The flotilla now moved slowly out of the harbor toward the Ledge.
Captain Brandt stood at the wheel. His face was radiant. His boat had
met the test, just as he knew she would. She had stood by him too many
times before for him to doubt her now.

There had been one night at Rockport when she lay till morning, bow on
to a gale, within a cable’s length of the breakwater. This saw-toothed
ledge, with the new floating buoys of Captain Joe’s, could not
frighten him after that.

Yet not a word of boasting passed his lips. He spun his wheel and held
his peace.

When the open harbor was reached, the men overhauled the boom-tackle,
getting ready for the real work of the day. Bill Lacey and Caleb West
lifted the air-pump from its case, and oiled the plunger. Caleb was to
dive that day himself,—work like this required an experienced
hand,—and find a bed for these first three stones as they were
lowered under water. Lacey was to tend the life-line.

As the tug and sloop passed into the broad water, Medford Village
could be seen toward the southeast. Sanford adjusted his marine-glass,
and focused its lens on Mrs. Leroy’s country-house. It lay near the
water, and was surmounted by a cupola he had often occupied as a
lookout when he had been Mrs. Leroy’s guest, and the weather had been
too rough for him to land at the Ledge. He saw that the bricklayers
were really at work, and that the dining-room extension was already
well under way, the scaffolding being above the roof. He meant, if the
weather permitted, to stop there on his way home.

Soon the Ledge itself loomed up. The concrete men were evidently busy,
for the white steam from the mixers rose straight into the still air.

An hour more and the windows on the lee side of the shanty could be
distinguished, and a little later, the men on the platform as they
gathered to await the approaching flotilla. When they caught sight of
the big blocks stored on the Screamer’s deck, they broke into a cheer
that was followed by a shrill saluting whistle from the big
hoisting-engine on the Ledge, answered as cheerily by the approaching
tug. Work on the Ledge could now begin in earnest.

If Crotch Island was like the back of a motionless whale, Shark’s
Ledge was like that of a turtle,—a turtle say one hundred and fifty
feet long by a hundred wide, lying in a moving sea, and always fringed
by a ruffling of surf curls, or swept by great waves that rolled in
from Montauk. No landing could ever be made here except in the eddy
formed by the turtle itself, and then only in the stillest weather.

The shell of this rock-incrusted turtle had been formed by dumping on
the original Ledge, and completely covering it, thousands of tons of
rough stone, each piece as big as a cart-body. Upon this stony shell,
which rose above high-water mark, a wooden platform had been erected
for the proper storage of gravel, sand, barrels of cement,
hoisting-engines, concrete mixers, tools, and a shanty for the men. It
was down by the turtle’s side—down below the slop of the surf—that
the big enrockment blocks were to be placed, one on the other, their
sides touching close as those on a street pavement. The lowest stone
of all was to be laid on the bottom of the sea in thirty feet of
water; the top one was to be placed where its upper edges would be
thrust above its splash. In this way the loose rough stones of the
turtle’s shell would have an even covering and the finished structure
be protected from the crush of floating ice and the fury of winter
gales.

By a change of plan the year before, a deep hole nearly sixty feet in
diameter had been made in the back of this turtle by lifting out these
rough stones. This hole was now being filled with concrete up to
low-water level and retained in form by circular iron bands. On top of
this enormous artificial bedstone was to be placed the tower of the
lighthouse itself, constructed of dressed stone, many of the single
pieces to be larger than those now on the Screamer’s deck. The four
great derrick-masts with “twenty-inch butts” which had been ordered by
telegraph the day before in Sanford’s office were to be used to place
these dressed stones in position.

The situation was more than usually exposed. The nearest land to the
Ledge was Crotch Island, two miles away, while to the east stretched
the wide sea, hungry for fresh victims, and losing no chance to worst
the men on the Ledge. For two years it had fought the captain and his
men without avail. The Old Man of the Sea hates the warning voice of
the fog-horn and the cheery light in the tall tower—they rob him of
his prey.

The tug continued on her course for half a mile, steered closer, the
sloop following, and gained the eddy of the Ledge out of the racing
tide. Four men from the platform now sprang into a whaleboat and
pulled out to meet the sloop, carrying one end of a heavy hawser which
was being paid out by the men on the Ledge. The hawser was made fast
to the sloop’s cleats and hauled tight. The tug was cast loose and
sent back to Keyport. Outboard hawsers were run by the crew of the
whaleboat to the floating anchor-buoys, to keep the sloop off the
stone-pile when the enrockment blocks were being swung clear of her
sides.

Caleb and Lacey began at once to overhaul the diving-gear. The
air-pump was set close to the sloop’s rail; and a short ladder was
lashed to her side, to enable the diver to reach the water easily. The
air-hose and life-lines were then uncoiled.

Caleb threw off his coat and trousers, that he might move the more
freely in his diving-dress, and with Lonny Bowles’s assistance twisted
himself into his rubber suit,—body, arms, and legs being made of one
piece of air-tight and water-tight rubber cloth.

By the time the sloop had been securely moored, and the boom-tackle
made ready to lift the stone, Caleb stood on the ladder completely
equipped, except for his copper helmet, the last thing done to a diver
before he sinks under water. Captain Joe always adjusted Caleb’s
himself. On Caleb’s breast and between his shoulders hung two lead
plates weighing twenty-five pounds each, and on his feet were two
iron-shod shoes of equal weight. These were needed as ballast, to
overbalance the buoyancy of his inflated dress, and enable him to sink
or rise at his pleasure. Firmly tied to his wrist was a stout
cord,—his life-line,—and attached to the back of the copper helmet
was a long rubber hose, through which a constant stream of fresh air
was to be pumped inside his helmet and suit.

In addition to these necessary appointments there was hung over one
shoulder a canvas haversack, containing a small cord, a chisel, a
water-compass, and a sheath-knife. The sheath-knife is the last
desperate resource of the diver when his air-hose becomes tangled or
clogged, his signals are misunderstood, and he must either cut his
hose in the effort to free himself and reach the surface, or suffocate
where he is.

Captain Joe adjusted the copper helmet, and stood with Caleb’s glass
face-plate in his hand, thus leaving his helmet open for a final order
in his ear, before he lowered him overboard. The cogs of the
Screamer’s drum began turning, followed by the same creaking and
snapping of manilla and straining of boom that had been heard when she
was loaded.

Meanwhile between the sea and the sloop a fight had already begun. The
current which swept by within ten feet of her bilge curled and eddied
about the buoy-floats, tugging at their chains, while wave after wave
tried to reach her bow, only to fall back beaten and snapping like
hungry wolves.

The Cape Ann sloop had fought these fights before: all along her
timber rail were the scars of similar battles. She had only to keep
her bow-cheeks from the teeth of these murderous rocks, and she could
laugh all day at their open jaws.

With the starting of the hoisting-engine the steam began to hiss
through the safety-valve, and the bow-lines of the sloop straightened
like strands of steel. Then there came a slight, staggering movement
as she adjusted herself to the shifting weight. Without a sound, the
stone rose from the deck, cleared the rail, and hung over the sea.
Another cheer went up—this time from both the men on board the sloop
and those on the Ledge. Captain Brandt smiled with closed lips. Life
was easy for him now.

“Lower away,” said Captain Joe in the same tone he would have used in
asking for the butter, as he turned to screw on Caleb’s face-plate,
shutting out the fresh air, and giving the diver only pumped air to
breathe.

The stone sank slowly into the sea, the dust and dirt of its long
outdoor storage discoloring the clear water.

“Hold her,” continued Captain Joe, his hand still on Caleb’s
face-plate, as he stood erect on the ladder. “Stand by, Billy. Go on
with that pump, men,—give him plenty of air.”

Two men began turning the handles of the pump. Caleb’s dress filled
out like a balloon; Lacey took his place near the small ladder, the
other end of Caleb’s life-line having been made fast to his wrist, and
the diver sank slowly out of sight, his hammer in his hand, the air
bubbles from his exhaust-valve marking his downward course.

As Caleb sank, he hugged his arms close to his body, pressed his knees
together, forcing the surplus air from his dress, and dropped rapidly
toward the bottom. The thick lead soles of his shoes kept his feet
down and his head up, and the breast-plates steadied him.

At the depth of twenty feet he touched the tops of the sea-kelp
growing on the rocks below,—he could feel the long tongues of leaves
scraping his legs. Then, as he sank deeper, his shoes struck an
outlying boulder. Caleb pushed himself off, floated around it,
measured it with his arms, and settled to the gravel. He was now
between the outlying boulder and the Ledge. Here he raised himself
erect on his feet and looked about: the gravel beneath him was white
and spangled with starfish; little crabs lay motionless, or scuttled
away at his crunching tread; the sides of the isolated boulder were
smooth and clean, the top being covered with waving kelp. In the dim,
greenish light this boulder looked like a weird head,—a kind of
submarine Medusa, with her hair streaming upward. The jagged rock-pile
next it, its top also covered with kelp, resembled a hill of purple
and brown corn swaying in the ceaseless current.

Caleb thrust his hand into his haversack, grasped his long knife,
slashed at the kelp of the rock-pile to see the bottom stones the
clearer, and sent a quick signal of “All right—lower away!” through
the life-line, to Lacey, who stood on the sloop’s deck above him.

Almost instantly a huge square green shadow edged with a brilliant
iridescent light sank down towards him, growing larger and larger in
its descent. Caleb peered upward through his face-plate, followed the
course of the stone, and jerked a second signal to Lacey’s wrist. This
signal was repeated in words by Lacey to Captain Brandt, who held the
throttle, and the shadowy stone was stopped within three feet of the
gravel bottom. Here it swayed slowly, half turned, and touched on the
boulder.

Caleb watched the stone carefully until it was perfectly still, crept
along, swimming with one hand, and measured carefully with his eye the
distance between the boulder and the Ledge. Then he sent a quick
signal of “Lower—all gone,” up to Lacey’s wrist. The great stone
dropped a chain’s link; slid halfway the boulder, scraping the kelp in
its course; careened, and hung over the gravel with one end tilted on
a point of the rocky ledge. As it hung suspended, its lower end buried
itself in the gravel near the boulder, while the upper lay aslant up
the slope of the rock-covered ledge.

Caleb again swam carefully around the stone, opened his arms, and
inflating his dress rose five or six feet through the green water,
floated over the huge stone, and grasping with his bare hand the
lowering chain by which the stone hung, tested its strain. The chain
was as rigid as a bar of steel. This showed that the stone was not
fully grounded, and therefore dangerous, being likely to slide off at
any moment. The diver now sent a telegram of short and long jerks
aloft, asking for a crowbar; hooked his legs around the lowering chain
and pressed his copper helmet to the chain links to listen to Captain
Joe’s answer. A series of dull thuds, long and short, struck by a
hammer above—a means of communication often possible when the depth
of water is not great—told him that the crowbar he had asked for
would be sent down at once. While he waited motionless, a blackfish
pressed his nose to the glass of his face-plate, and scurried off to
tell his fellows living in the kelp how strange a thing he had seen
that day.

A quick jerk from Lacey, and the point of the crowbar dangled over
Caleb’s head. In an instant, to prevent his losing it in the kelp, he
had lashed another and smaller cord about its middle, and with the bar
firmly in his hand laid himself flat on the stone. The diver now
examined carefully the points of contact between the boulder and the
hanging stone, inserted one end of the bar under its edge, sent a
warning signal above, braced both feet against the lowering chain,
threw his whole strength on the bar, and gave a quick, sharp pull. The
next instant the chain tightened; the bar, released from the strain,
bounded from his hand; there was a headlong surge of the huge shadowy
mass through the waving kelp, and the great block slipped into its
place, stirring up the bottom silt in a great cloud of water-dust.

The first stone of the system of enrockment had been bedded!

Caleb clung with both hands to the lowering chain, waited until the
water cleared, knocked out the Lewis pin that held the S-hook, thus
freeing the chain, and signaled “All clear—hoist.” Then he hauled the
crowbar towards him by the cord, signaled for the next stone, moved
away from the reach of falling bodies, and sank into a bed of sea-kelp
as comfortably as if it had been a sofa-cushion.

These breathing spells rest the lungs of a diver and lighten his work.
Being at rest he can manage his dress the better, inflating it so that
he is able to get his air with greater ease and regularity. The relief
is sometimes so soothing that in long waits the droning of the
air-valve will lull the diver into a sleep, from which he is suddenly
awakened by a quick jerk on his wrist. Many divers, while waiting for
the movements of those above, play with the fish, watch the crabs, or
rake over the gravel in search of the thousand and one things that are
lost overboard and that everybody hopes to find on the bottom of the
sea.

Caleb did none of these things. He was too expert a diver to allow
himself to go to sleep, and he had too much to think about to play
with the fish. He sat quietly awaiting his call, his thoughts on the
day of the week and how long it would be before Saturday night came
again, and whether, when he left that morning, he had arranged
everything for the little wife, so that she would be comfortable until
his return. Once a lobster moved slowly up and nipped his red fingers
with its claw, thinking them some tidbit previously unknown. (The
dress terminates at the wrist with a waterproof and air-tight band,
leaving the hands bare.) At another time two tomcods came sailing
past, side by side, flapped their tails on his helmet, and scampered
off. But Caleb, sitting comfortably on his sofa-cushion of seaweed
thirty feet under water, paid little heed to outside things. His eyes
only saw a tossing apron and a trim little figure on a cabin porch, as
she waved him a last good-by.

                        *    *    *    *    *

In the world above, a world of fleecy clouds and shimmering sea, some
changes had taken place since Caleb sank out of the sunlight. Hardly
had the second stone been made ready to be swung overboard, when there
came a sudden uplifting of the sea. One of those tramp waves preceding
a heavy storm had strayed in from Montauk and was making straight for
the Ledge.

Captain Joe sprang on the sloop’s rail and looked seaward, and a shade
of disappointment crossed his face.

“Stand by on that outboard ha’sser!” he shouted in a voice that was
heard all over the Ledge.

The heavy outboard hawser holding the sloop whipped out of the sea
with the sudden strain, thrashed the spray from its twists, and
quivered like a fiddle-string. The sloop staggered for an instant,
plunged bow under, careened to her rail, and righted herself within
oar’s touch of the Ledge. Three feet from her bilge streak crouched a
grinning rock with its teeth set!

Captain Joe smiled and looked at Captain Brandt.

“Ain’t nothin’ when ye git used to’t, Cap’n Bob. I ain’t a-goin’ ter
scratch ’er paint. Got to bank yer fires. Them other two stone’ll have
to wait till the tide turns.”

“Ay, ay, sir,” replied the skipper, throwing the furnace door wide
open. The danger was passed for the second time, and in the final test
his boat had proved herself. Yet again he did not boast. There was
only a fearless ready-to-meet-anything air about him as, with
shoulders squared and head up, he walked down the deck and said to
Captain Joe, in a tone as if he were only asking for information, but
without the slightest shade of anxiety, “If that ’ere ha’sser’d
parted, Cap’n Joe, when she give that plunge, it would ’a’ been all up
with us,—eh?”

“Yes,—’spec’ so,” answered the captain, his mind, now that the danger
had passed, neither on the question nor on the answer. Then suddenly
awakening with a look of intense interest, “That line was a new one,
Cap’n Bob. I picked it out a-purpose; them kind don’t part.”

Sanford, who had been standing by the tiller, anxiously watching the
conflict with the sea, walked forward and grasped the skipper’s hand.

“I want to congratulate you,” he said, “on your sloop and on your
pluck. It is not every man can lie around this stone-pile for the
first time and keep his head.”

Captain Brandt flushed like a bashful girl, and turned away his face.
“Well, sir—ye see”—He never finished the sentence. The compliment
had upset him more than the escape of the sloop.

All was bustle now on board the Screamer. The boom was swung in
aboard, lowered, and laid on the deck. Caleb had been hauled up to the
surface, his helmet unscrewed, and his shoes and breast-plate taken
off. He still wore his dress, so that he could be ready for the other
two stones when the tide turned. Meanwhile he walked about the deck
looking like a great bear on his hind legs, his bushy beard puffed out
over his copper collar.

During the interval of the change of tide dinner was announced, and
the Screamer’s crew went below to more sizzle and doughballs, and this
time a piece of corned beef, while Sanford, Captain Joe, Caleb, and
Lacey sprang into the sloop’s yawl and sculled for the shanty and
their dinner, keeping close to the hawser still holding the sloop.

                        *    *    *    *    *

The unexpected made half the battle at the Ledge. It was not unusual
to see a southeast roll, three days old, cut down in an hour to the
smoothness of a mill-pond by a northwest gale, and before night to
find this same dead calm followed by a semi-cyclone. Only an expert
could checkmate the consequences of weather manœuvres like these.
Before Captain Joe, sitting at the head of the table, had filled each
man’s plate with his fair proportion of cabbage and pork, a whiff of
wind puffed in the bit of calico that served as a curtain for the
shanty’s pantry window,—the one facing east. Captain Joe sprang from
his seat, and, bareheaded as he was, mounted the concrete platforms
and looked seaward. Off towards Block Island he saw a little wrinkling
line of silver flashing out of the deepening haze, while toward Crotch
Island scattered flurries of wind furred the glittering surface of the
sea with dull splotches,—as when one breathes upon a mirror. The
captain turned quickly, entered the shanty, and examined the
barometer. It had fallen two points.

“Finish yer dinner, men,” he said quietly. “That’s the las’ stone
to-day, Mr. Sanford. It’s beginnin’ ter git lumpy. It’ll blow a livin’
gale o’ wind by sundown.”

A second and stronger puff now swayed the men’s oilskins, hanging
against the east door. This time the air was colder and more moist.
The sky overhead had thickened. In the southeast lay two sun-dog
clouds, their backs shimmering like opals, while about the feverish
eye of the sun itself gathered a reddish circle like an inflammation.

Sanford was on the platform, reading the signs of the coming gale. It
was important that he should reach Keyport by night, and he had no
time to spare. As the men came out one after another, each of them
glanced toward the horizon, and quickening his movements fell to work
putting the place in order. The loose barrow planks were quickly
racked up on the shanty’s roof, out of the wash of the expected surf;
an extra safety-guy was made fast to the platform holding the
hoisting-engine, and a great tarpaulin drawn over the cement and
lashed fast. Meanwhile Captain Joe busied himself in examining the
turnbuckles of the holding-down rods, which bound the shanty to the
Ledge, and giving them another tightening twist, ordering the heavy
wooden shutters for the east side of the shanty to be put up, and
seeing that the stove-pipe that stuck through the roof was taken down
and stored inside.

All this time the Screamer tugged harder at her hawser, her bow
surging as the ever-increasing swell raced past her.

Orders to man the yawl were now given and promptly obeyed.

“Keep everything snug, Caleb, while I’m gone!” Captain Joe shouted, as
he stepped into the boat. “It looks soapy, but it may be out to the
nor’ard an’ clear by daylight. Sit astern, Mr. Sanford. Pull away,
men, we ain’t got a minute.”

                        *    *    *    *    *

When the Screamer, with two unset stones still on her deck, bore away
from the Ledge with Sanford, Captain Joe, and Lacey on board, the
spray was flying over the shanty roof.

Caleb stood on the platform waving his hand. He was still in his
diving-dress. His helmet only had been removed, and his bushy beard
was flying in the wind.

“Tell Betty I’ll be home for Sunday,” the men heard him call out, as
they flew by under close reef.



CHAPTER V

AUNTY BELL’S KITCHEN


The storm was still raging, the wind beating in fierce gusts against
the house and rattling the window-panes, when Sanford awoke in the
low-ceiled room always reserved for him at Captain Joe’s.

“Turrible dirty, ain’t it?” the captain called, as he came in with a
hearty good-morning and threw open the green blinds. “I guess she’ll
scale off; it’s hauled a leetle s’uth’ard since daylight. The glass is
a-risin’, too. Aunty Bell says breakfas’ ’s ready jes’ ’s soon’s you
be.”

“All right, captain. Don’t wait. I’ll come in ten minutes,” replied
Sanford.

Outside the little windows a wide-armed tree swayed in the storm, its
budding branches tapping the panes. Sanford went to the window and
looked out. The garden was dripping, and the plank walk that ran to
the swinging-gate was glistening in the driving rain.

These changes in the weather did not affect his plans. Bad days were
to be expected, and the loss of time at an exposed site like that of
the Ledge was always considered in the original estimate of the cost
of the structure. If the sea prevented the landing of stone for a day
or so, the sloop, as he knew, could load a full cargo of blocks from
the wharf across the road, now hidden by the bursting lilacs in the
captain’s garden; or the men could begin on the iron parts of the new
derricks, and if it cleared, as Captain Joe predicted, they could trim
the masts and fit the bands. Sanford turned cheerfully from the
window, and picked up his big sponge that lay by the tin tub Aunty
Bell always filled for him the night before.

The furniture and appointments about him were of the plainest. There
were a bed, a wash-stand and a portable tub, three chairs, and a small
table littered with drawing materials. Dimity curtains, snow-white,
hung at the windows, and the bureau was covered with a freshly
laundered white Marseilles cover. On the walls were tacked mechanical
drawings, showing cross-sections of the several courses of
masonry,—prospective views of the concrete base and details of the
cisterns and cellars of the lighthouse. Each of these was labeled
“Shark Ledge Lighthouse. Henry Sanford, Contractor,” and signed, “W.
A. Carleton, Asst. Supt. U. S. L. Estb’t.” In one corner of the room
rested a field transit, and a pole with its red-and-white target.

The cottage itself was on the main shore road leading from the village
to Keyport Light, and a little removed from the highway. It had two
stories and a narrow hall with rooms on either side. In the rear were
the dining-room and kitchen. Overlooking the road in front was a wide
portico with sloping roof.

There were two outside doors belonging to the house. These were always
open. They served two purposes,—to let in the air and to let in the
neighbors. The neighbors included everybody who happened to be
passing, from the doctor to the tramp. This constant stream of
visitors always met in the kitchen,—a low-ceiled, old-fashioned
interior, full of nooks and angles, that had for years adapted itself
to everybody’s wants and ministered to everybody’s comfort,—and was
really the cheeriest and cosiest room in the house.

Its fittings and furnishings were as simple as they were convenient.
On one side, opposite the door, were the windows, looking out upon the
garden, their sills filled with plants in winter and sou’wester hats
in summer. In the far corner stood a pine dresser painted bright
green, decorated with rows of plates and saucers set up on edge,
besides various dishes and platters, all glistening from the last
touch of Aunty Bell’s hand polish. Next to the dresser was a broad,
low settle, also of pine and also bright green, except where countless
pairs of overalls had worn the paint away. Chairs of all kinds stood
about,—rockers for winter nights, and more ceremonious straight-backs
for meal-times. There was a huge table, too, with always a place for
one more, and a mantel-rest for pipes and knickknacks,—never known
to be without a box of matches or a nautical almanac. There were rows
of hooks nailed to the backs of the doors, especially adapted to
rubber coats and oilskins. And tucked away in a corner under the
stairs was a fresh, sweet-smelling, brass-hooped cedar bucket with a
cocoanut dipper that had helped to cool almost every throat from
Keyport Village to Keyport Light.

But it was the stove that made this room unique: not an ordinary,
commonplace cooking-machine, but a big, generous, roomy arrangement,
pushed far back out of everybody’s way, with out-riggers for broiling,
and capacious ovens for baking, and shelves for keeping things hot,
besides big and little openings on top for pots and kettles and
frying-pans, of a pattern unknown to the modern chef; each and every
one dearly prized by the cheery little soul who burnt her face to a
blazing red in its service. This cast-iron embodiment of all the
hospitable virtues was the special pride of Aunty Bell, the captain’s
wife, a neat, quick, busy little woman, about half the size of the
captain in height, width, and thickness. Into its recesses she poured
the warmth of her heart, and from out of its capacious receptacles she
took the products of her bounty. Every kettle sang and every griddle
“sizzed” to please her, and every fire crackled and laughed at her
bidding.

When Sanford entered there was hardly room enough to move. A damp,
sweet smell of fresh young grass came in at an open window. Through
the door could be seen the wet graveled walks, washed clean by the
storm, over which hopped one or more venturesome robins in search of
the early worm.

Carleton, the government superintendent, sat near the door, his chair
tilted back. In the doorway itself stood Miss Mary Peebles, the
schoolmistress, an angular, thin, mild-eyed woman, in a rain-varnished
waterproof. Even while she was taking it off, she was protesting that
she was too wet to come in, and could not stop. Near the stove stooped
Bill Lacey, drying his jacket. Around the walls and on the
window-sills were other waifs, temporarily homeless,—two from the
paraphernalia dock (regular boarders these), and a third, the captain
of the tug, whose cook was drunk.

All about the place—now in the pantry, now in the kitchen, now with a
big dish, now with a pile of plates or a pitcher of milk—bustled
Aunty Bell, with a smile of welcome and a cheery word for every one
who came.

Nobody, of course, had come to breakfast,—that was seen from the way
in which everybody insisted he had just dropped in for a moment out of
the wet to see the captain, hearing he was home from the Ledge, and
from the alacrity with which everybody, one after another, as the
savory smells of fried fish and soft clams filled the room, forgot his
good resolutions and drew up his chair to the hospitable board.

Most of them told the truth about wanting to see the captain. Since
his sojourn among them, and without any effort of his own, he had
filled the position of adviser, protector, and banker to half the
people along the shore. He had fought Miss Peebles’s battle, when the
school trustees wanted the girl from Norwich to have her place. He had
recommended the tug captain to the towing company, and had coached him
over-night to insure his getting a license in the morning. He had
indorsed Caleb West’s note to make up the last payment on the cabin he
had bought to put his young wife Betty in; and when the new furniture
had come over from Westerly, he had sent two of his men to unload it,
and had laid some of the carpets himself on a Saturday when Betty
expected Caleb in from the Ledge, and wanted to have the house ready
for his first Sunday at home.

When Mrs. Bell announced breakfast, Captain Joe, in his shirt-sleeves,
took his seat at the head of the table, and with a hearty, welcoming
wave of his hand invited everybody to sit down,—Carleton first, of
course, he being the man of authority, and representing to the
working-man that mysterious, intangible power known as the
“government.”

The superintendent generally stopped in at the captain’s if the
morning were stormy; it was nearer his lodgings than the farmhouse
where he took his meals—and then breakfast at the captain’s cost
nothing. He had come in on this particular day ostensibly to protest
about the sloop’s having gone to the Ledge without a notification to
him. He had begun by saying, with much bluster, that he didn’t know
about the one stone that Caleb West was “reported” to have set; that
nothing would be accepted unless he was satisfied, and nothing paid
for by the department without his signature. But he ended in great
good humor when the captain invited him to breakfast and placed him at
his own right hand. Carleton liked little distinctions when made in
his favor; he considered them due to his position.

The superintendent was a type of his class. His appointment at Shark
Ledge Light had been secured through the efforts of a brother-in-law
who was a custom-house inspector. Before his arrival at Keyport he had
never seen a stone laid or a batch of concrete mixed. To this
ignorance of the ordinary methods of construction was added an
overpowering sense of his own importance coupled with the knowledge
that the withholding of a certificate—the superintendent could choose
his own time for giving it—might embarrass everybody connected with
the work. He was not dishonest, however, and had no faults more
serious than those of ignorance, self-importance, and conceit. This
last broke out in his person: he wore a dyed mustache, a yellow
diamond shirt-pin, and on Sundays patent leather shoes one size too
small.

Captain Joe understood the superintendent thoroughly. “Ain’t it
cur’us,” he would sometimes say, “that a man’s old’s him is willin’
ter set round all day knowin’ he don’t know nothin’, never larnin’,
an’ yit allus afeard some un’ll find it out?” Then, as the
helplessness of the man rose in his mind, he would add, “Well, poor
critter, somebody’s got ter support him; guess the guv’ment’s th’ best
paymaster fur him.”

When breakfast was over, the skipper of the Screamer dropped in to
make his first visit, shaking the water from his oilskins as he
entered.

“Pleased to meet yer, Mis’ Bell,” he said in his bluff, wholesome way,
acknowledging the captain’s introduction to Mrs. Bell, then casting
his eyes about for a seat, and finally taking an edge of a window-sill
among the sou’westers.

“Give me your hat an’ coat, and do have breakfast, Captain Brandt,”
said Mrs. Bell in a tone as hearty as if it were the first meal she
had served that day.

“No, thank ye, I had some ’board sloop,” replied Captain Brandt.

“Here, cap’n, take my seat,” said Captain Joe. “I’m goin’ out ter see
how the weather looks.” He picked up the first hat he came to,—as was
his custom,—and disappeared through the open door, followed by nearly
all the seafaring men in the room.

As the men passed out, each one reached for his hat and oilskins
hanging behind the wooden door, and waddling out stood huddled
together in the driving rain like yellow penguins, their eyes turned
skyward.

Each man diagnosed the weather for himself. Six doctors over a patient
with a hidden disease are never so impressive nor so obstinate as six
seafaring men over a probable change of wind. The drift of the
cloud-rack scudding in from the sea, the clearness of the air, the
current of the upper clouds, were each silently considered. No
opinions were given. It was for Captain Joe to say what he thought of
the weather. Breaking clouds meant one kind of work for them,—fitting
derricks, perhaps,—a continued storm meant another.

If the captain arrived at any conclusion, it was not expressed. He had
walked down to the gate and leaned over the palings, looking up at the
sky across the harbor, and then behind him toward the west. The rain
trickled unheeded down the borrowed sou’wester and fell upon his blue
flannel shirt. He looked up and down the road at the passers-by
tramping along in the wet: the twice-a-day postman, wearing an old
army coat and black rubber cape; the little children crowding together
under one umbrella, only the child in the middle keeping dry; and the
butcher in the meat wagon with its white canvas cover and swinging
scales. Suddenly he gave a quick cry, swung back the gate with the
gesture of a rollicking boy, and threw both arms wide open in a mock
attempt to catch a young girl who sprang past him and dashed up the
broad walk with a merry ringing laugh that brought every one to the
outer door.

“Well, if I live!” exclaimed Mrs. Bell. “Mary Peebles, you jes’ come
here an’ see Betty West. Ain’t you got no better sense, Betty, than to
come down in all this soakin’ rain? Caleb’ll be dreadful mad, an’ I
don’t blame him a mite. Come right in this minute and take that shawl
off.”

“I ain’t wet a bit, Aunty Bell,” laughed Betty, entering the room. “I
got Caleb’s high rubber boots on. Look at ’em. Ain’t they big!”
showing the great soles with all the animation of a child. “An’ this
shawl don’t let no water through nowhere. Oh, but didn’t it blow round
my porch las’ night!” Then turning to the captain, who had followed
close behind, “I think you’re real mean, Cap’n Joe, to keep Caleb out
all night on the Ledge. I was that dead lonely I could’er cried. Oh,
is Mr. Sanford here?” she asked quickly, and with a little shaded tone
of deference in her voice, as she caught sight of him in the next
room. “I thought he’d gone to New York. How do you do, Mr. Sanford?”
with another laugh and a nod of her head, which Sanford as kindly
returned.

“We come purty nigh leavin’ everybody on the Ledge las’ night, Betty,
an’ the sloop too,” said Captain Joe, “cutting” his eye at the skipper
as he spoke. Then in a more serious tone, “I lef’ Caleb a-purpose,
child. We got some stavin’ big derricks to set, an’ Mr. Sanford wants
’em up week arter next, an’ there ain’t nobody kin fix the anchor
sockets but me an’ Caleb. He’s at work on ’em now, an’ I had to come
back to git th’ bands on ’em. He’ll be home for Sunday, little gal.”

“Well, you jes’ better, or I’ll lock up my place an’ come right down
here to Aunty Bell. Caleb wasn’t home but two nights last week, and
it’s only the beginnin’ of summer. I ain’t like Aunty Bell,—she can’t
get lonely. Don’t make no difference whether you’re home or not, this
place is so chuck-full of folks you can’t turn round in it; but ’way
up where I live, you don’t see a soul sometimes all day but a peddler.
Oh, I jes’ can’t stand it, an’ I won’t. Land sakes, Aunty Bell, what a
lot of folks you’ve had for breakfast!”

[Illustration: “Swung back the gate with the gesture of a rollicking boy”]

With another laugh she turned to the table, picked up a pile of
plates, and carried them into the pantry to Miss Peebles, who was
there helping in the wash-up.

Lacey, who had stopped to look after his drying coat when the men went
out, watched her slender, graceful figure, and bright, cheery, joyous
face, full of dimples and color and sparkle, the hair in short curls
all over her head, the throat plump and white, the little ears
nestling and half hidden.

She had been brought up in the next village, two miles away, and had
come over every morning, when she was a girl, to Miss Peebles’s
school. Almost everybody knew her and loved her; Captain Joe as much
as if she had been his own child. She filled a place in his heart of
which he seldom spoke,—never to Aunty Bell,—a place empty until
Betty came, and always aching since he and his wife had laid away, on
the hill back of the village church, the only child that had ever come
to them.

When Caleb gave up the lightship Captain Joe had established him with
Betty’s mother as boarder, and that was how the marriage came about.

When Betty returned to the room again, her arms loaded with plates,
Carleton and Lacey were standing.

“Take this seat; you must be tired walking down so far,” said
Carleton, with a manner never seen in him except when some pretty
woman was about.

“No, I’m not a bit tired, but I’ll set down till I get these boots
off. Aunty Bell, can you lend me a pair of slippers? One of these
plaguy boots leaks.”

“I’ll take ’em off,” offered Carleton, with a gesture of gallantry.

“You’ll do nothin’ of the kind!” she exclaimed, with a toss of her
head. “I’ll take ’em off myself,” and she turned her back, and slipped
the boots from under her dress. “But you can take ’em to Aunty Bell
an’ swap ’em for her slippers,” she added, with a merry laugh at the
humor of her making the immaculate Carleton carry off Caleb’s old
boots. The slippers on, she thanked him, with a nod, and, turning her
head, caught sight of Lacey.

“What are you doing here, Bill Lacey?” she asked. “Why ain’t you at
the Ledge?”

Although the young rigger had been but a short time on the captain’s
force, he had employed every leisure moment of it in making himself
agreeable to the wives of the men. To Betty his attentions had been
most marked.

He had saved her the best of the long thin shavings that curled from
his spoke-shave when he was planing the huge derrick masts on the
wharf. And when she came to gather them as kindling for her stove, he
had done everything in his power to win her confidence, detaining her
in talk long after the other women had departed with their loads.

When he answered her sally to-day, his white teeth gleamed under his
curling mustache.

“Captain wants me,” he said, “to fit some bands round the new
derricks. We expect ’em over from Medford to-day, if it clears up.”

“An’ there ain’t no doubt but what ye’ll get yer job, Billy,” burst
out the captain; “it’s breakin’ now over Crotch Island,” and he
bustled again out of the open door, the men who had followed him
turning back after him.

Carleton waited until he became convinced that no part of his
immaculate personality burdened Betty’s mind, and then, a little
disconcerted by her evident preference for Lacey, joined Sanford in
the next room. There he renewed his complaint about the enrockment
block having been placed without a notification to him, and it was not
until Sanford invited him on the tug for a run to Medford to inspect
Mrs. Leroy’s new dining-room that he became pacified.

As Mrs. Bell and the schoolmistress, Miss Peebles, were still in the
pantry, a rattling of china marking their progress, the kitchen was
empty except for Lacey and Betty. The young rigger, seeing no one
within hearing, crossed the room, and, bending over Betty’s chair,
said in a low tone, “Why didn’t you come down to the dock yesterday
when we was a-hoistin’ the stone on the Screamer? ’Most everybody
’longshore was there. I had some chips saved for ye.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” returned Betty indifferently.

“Ye ought’er seen the old man yesterday,” continued Lacey; “me an’ him
held the guy, and he was a-blowin’ like a porpoise.”

Betty did not answer. She knew how old Caleb was.

“Hadn’t been for me it would’er laid him out.”

The girl started, and her eyes flashed. “Bill Lacey, Caleb knows more
in a minute than you ever will in your whole life. You shan’t talk
that way about him, neither.”

“Well, who’s a-talkin’?” said Lacey, looking down at her, more
occupied with the curve of her throat than with his reply.

“You are, an’ you know it,” she answered sharply.

“I didn’t mean nothin’, Betty. I ain’t got nothin’ agin him ’cept his
gittin’ you.” Then in a lower tone, “You needn’t take my head off, if
I did say it.”

“I ain’t takin’ your head off, Billy.” She looked into his eyes for
the first time, her voice softening. She was never angry with any one
for long; besides, she felt older than he, and a certain boyishness in
him appealed to her.

“You spoke awful cross,” he said, bending until his lips almost
touched her curls, “an’ you know, Betty, there ain’t a girl, married
or single, up ’n’ down this shore nor nowheres else, that I think as
much of as I do you, an’ if”—

“Here, now, Bill Lacey!” some one shouted.

The young rigger stepped back, and turned his head.

Captain Joe was standing in the doorway, with one hand on the frame,
an ugly, determined expression filling his eyes.

“They want ye down ter the dock, young feller, jes’ ’s quick ’s ye kin
get there.”

Lacey’s face was scarlet. He looked at Captain Joe, picked up his hat,
and walked down the garden path without a word.

Betty ran in to Aunty Bell.

When the two men reached the swinging-gate, Captain Joe laid his hand
on Lacey’s shoulder, whirled him round suddenly, and said in a calm,
decided voice that carried conviction in every tone, “I don’t say
nothin’, an’ maybe ye don’t mean nothin’, but I’ve been a-watchin’ ye
lately, an’ I don’t like yer ways. One thing, howsomever, I’ll tell
ye, an’ I don’t want ye ter forgit it: if I ever ketch ye a-foolin’
round Caleb West’s lobster-pots, I’ll break yer damned head. Do ye
hear?”



CHAPTER VI

A LITTLE DINNER FOR FIVE


Sanford’s apartments were in gala-dress. Everywhere there was a
suggestion of spring in all its brightness and promise. The divans of
the salon were gay with new cushions of corn-yellow and pale green.
The big table was resplendent in a new cloth,—a piece of richly
colored Oriental stuff that had been packed away and forgotten in the
Venetian wedding-chest that stood near the window. All the pipes,
tobacco pouches, smoking-jackets, slippers, canes, Indian clubs,
dumb-bells, and other bachelor belongings scattered about the rooms
had been tucked out of sight, while books and magazines that had lain
for weeks heaped up on chairs and low shelves, and unframed prints and
photographs that had rested on the floor propped up against the wall
and furniture, had been hidden in dark corners or hived in their
several portfolios.

On the table stood a brown majolica jar taller than the lamp, holding
a great mass of dogwood and apple blossoms, their perfume filling the
room. Every vase, umbrella jar, jug, and bit of pottery that could be
pressed into service, was doing duty as flower-holder, while over the
mantel and along the tops of the bookcases, and even over the doors
themselves, streamed festoons of blossoms intertwined with smilax and
trailing vines.

Against the tapestries covering the walls of the dining-room hung big
wreaths of laurel tied with ribbons. One of these was studded with
violets, forming the initials H. S. The mantel was a bank of flowers.
From the four antique silver church lamps suspended in the four
corners of the room swung connecting festoons of smilax and blossoms.
The dinner-table itself was set with the best silver, glass, and
appointments that Sanford possessed. Some painted shades he had never
seen before topped the tall wax candles.

Sanford smiled when he saw that covers had been laid for but five.
That clever fellow Jack Hardy had carried his point,—all those
delicate questions relating to the number and the selection of the
guests had been left to Mrs. Leroy. She had proved her exquisite tact:
Bock had been omitted, there were no superfluous women, and Jack could
have his tête-à-tête with Helen undisturbed. It was just as well,
Sanford thought. With these two young persons happy, the dinner was
sure to be a success.

Upon entering his office, he found that the decorative raid had
extended even to this his most private domain. The copper helmet of a
diving-dress—one he sometimes used himself when necessity
required—had been propped up over his desk, the face-plate unscrewed,
and the hollow opening filled with blossoms, their leaves curling
about the brass buttons of the collar. The very drawing-boards had
been pushed against the wall, and the rows of shelves holding his
charts and detailed plans had been screened from sight by a piece of
Venetian silk exhumed from the capacious interior of the old chest.

The corners of Sam’s mouth touched his ears when Sanford looked at
him, and every tooth was lined up with a broad grin.

“Doan’ ask me who done it, sah. I ain’t had nuffin to do wid it,—wid
nuffin but de table. I sot dat.”

“Has Mrs. Leroy been here?” Sanford asked, coming into the
dining-room, and looking again at the initials on the wall. He knew
that Jack could never have perfected the delicate touch alone.

“Yaas ’r, an’ Major Slocomb an’ Mr. Hardy done come too. De gen’lemen
bofe gone ober to de club. De major say he comin’ back soon’s ever you
gets here. But I ain’t ter tell nuffin ’bout de flowers, sah. Massa
Jack say ef I do he brek my neck, an’ I ’spec’s he will. But Lord,
sah, _dese_ ain’t no flowers. Look at dis,” he added, uncovering
a great bunch of American Beauties,—“dat’s ter go ’longside de lady’s
plate. An’ dat ain’t ha’f of ’em. I got mos’ a peck of dese yer
rose-water roses in de pantry. Massa Jack gwine ter ask yer to
sprinkle ’em all ober de table-cloth; says dat’s de way dey does in de
fust famblies South.”

“Have the flowers I ordered come?” Sanford asked, as he turned towards
the sideboard to fill his best decanter.

“Yaas ’r, got ’em in de ice-chest. But Massa Jack say dese yer
rose-water roses on de table-cloth’s a extry touch; don’t hab dese
high-toned South’n ladies ebery day, he say.”

Sanford reëntered the salon and looked about. Every trace of its
winter dress too had gone. Even the heavy curtains at the windows had
been replaced by some of a thin yellow silk.

“That’s so like Kate,” he said to himself. “She means that Helen and
Jack shall be happy, at any rate. She’s missed it herself, poor girl.
It’s an infernal shame. Bring in the roses, Sam: I’ll sprinkle them
now before I dress. Any letters except these?” he added, looking
through a package on the table, a shade of disappointment crossing his
face as he pushed them back unopened.

“Yaas ’r, one on yo’ bureau dat’s jus’ come.”

Sanford forgot Jack’s roses, and with a quick movement of his hand
drew the curtains of his bedroom and disappeared inside. The letter
was there. He seldom came home from any journey without finding one of
these little missives to greet him. He broke the seal and was about to
read the contents when the major’s cheery, buoyant voice was heard in
the outside room. The next instant he had pushed the curtains aside
and peered in.

“Where is he, Sam? In here, did you say?”

Not to have been able to violate the seclusion of Sanford’s bedroom at
all times, night or day, would have grievously wounded the
sensibilities of the distinguished Pocomokian; it would have implied a
reflection on the closeness of their friendship. It was true he had
met Sanford but half a dozen times, and it was equally true that he
had never before crossed the threshold of this particular room. But
these trifling drawbacks, mere incidental stages in a rapidly growing
friendship, were immaterial to him.

“My dear boy,” he cried, as he entered the room with arms wide open,
“but it does my heart good to see you!” and he hugged Sanford
enthusiastically, patting his host’s back with his fat hands over the
spot where the suspenders crossed. Then he held him at arm’s length.

“Let me look at you. Splendid, by gravy! fresh as a rose, suh,
handsome as a picture! Just a trace of care under the eyes, though. I
see the nights of toil, the hours of suffering. I wonder the brain of
man can stand it. But the building of a lighthouse, the illumining of
a pathway in the sea for those buffeting with the waves,—it is
gloriously humane, suh!”

Suddenly his manner changed, and in a tone as grave and serious as if
he were full partner in the enterprise and responsible for its
success, the major laid his hand, this time confidingly, on Sanford’s
shirt-sleeve, and said, “How are we getting on at the Ledge, suh? Last
time we talked it over, we were solving the problem of a colossal mass
of—of—some stuff or other that”—

“Concrete,” suggested Sanford, with an air as serious as that of the
major. He loved to humor him.

“That’s it,—concrete; the name had for the moment escaped
me,—concrete, suh, that was to form the foundation of the
lighthouse.”

Sanford assured the major that the concrete was being properly
amalgamated, and discussed the laying of the mass in the same
technical terms he would have used to a brother engineer, smiling
meanwhile as the stream of the Pocomokian’s questions ran on. He liked
the major’s glow and sparkle. He enjoyed most of all the never ending
enthusiasm of the man,—that spontaneous outpouring which, like a
bubbling spring, flows unceasingly, and always with the coolest and
freshest water of the heart.

“And how is Miss Shirley?” asked the young engineer, throwing the
inquiry into the shallows of the talk as a slight temporary dam.

“Like a moss rosebud, suh, with the dew on it. She and Jack have gone
out for a drive in Jack’s cyart. He left me at the club, and I went
over to his apartments to dress. I am staying with Jack, you know.
Helen is with a school friend. I know, of co’se, that yo’r dinner is
not until eight o’clock, but I could not wait longer to grasp yo’r
hand. Do you know, Sanford,” with sudden animation and in a rising
voice, “that the more I see of you, the more I”—

“And so you are coming to New York to live, major,” said Sanford,
dropping another pebble at the right moment into the very middle of
the current.

The major recovered, filled, and broke through in a fresh place. The
new questions of his host only varied the outlet of his eloquence.

“Coming, suh? I have _come_. I have leased a po’tion of my estate
to some capitalists from Philadelphia who are about embarking in a
strawberry enterprise of very great magnitude. I want to talk to you
about it later.” (He had rented one half of it—the dry half, the half
a little higher than the salt-marsh—to a huckster from Philadelphia,
who was trying to raise early vegetables, and whose cash advances upon
the rent had paid the overdue interest on the mortgage, leaving a
margin hardly more than sufficient to pay for the suit of clothes he
stood in, and his traveling expenses.)

By this time the constantly increasing pressure of his caller’s
enthusiasm had seriously endangered the possibility of Sanford’s
dressing for dinner. He glanced several times uneasily at his watch,
lying open on the bureau before him, and at last, with a hurried
“Excuse me, major,” disappeared into his bathroom, and closed its
flood-gate of a door, thus effectually shutting off the major’s
overflow, now perilously near the danger-line.

The Pocomokian paused for a moment, looked wistfully at the blank
door, and, recognizing the impossible, called to Sam and suggested a
cocktail as a surprise for his master when he appeared again. Sam
brought the ingredients on a tray, and stood by admiringly (Sam always
regarded him as a superior being) while the major mixed two comforting
concoctions,—the one already mentioned for Sanford, and the other
designed for the especial sustenance and delectation of the
distinguished Pocomokian himself.

This done he took his leave, having infused into the apartment, in ten
short minutes, more sparkle, freshness, and life than it had known
since his last visit.

Sanford saw the cocktail on his bureau when he entered the room again,
but forgot it in his search for the letter he had laid aside on the
major’s entrance. Sam found the invigorating compound when dinner was
over, and immediately emptied it into his own person.

“Please don’t be cross, Henry, if you can’t find all your things,” the
letter read. “Jack Hardy wanted me to come over and help him arrange
the rooms as a surprise for the Maryland girl. He says there’s nothing
between them, but I don’t believe him. The blossoms came from Newport.
I hope you had time to go to Medford and find out about my
dining-room, and that everything is going on well at the Ledge. I will
see you to-night at eight. —K. P. L.”

Sanford, with a smile of pleasure, shut the letter in his bureau
drawer, and entering the dining-room, picked up the basket of roses
and began those little final touches about the room and table which he
never neglected. He lighted the tapers in the antique lamps that hung
from the ceiling, readjusting the ruby glass holders; he kindled the
wicks in some quaint brackets over the sideboard; he moved the
Venetian flagons and decanters nearer the centrepiece of
flowers,—those he had himself ordered for his guests and their
chaperon,—and cutting the stems from the rose-water roses sprinkled
them over the snowy linen.

With the soft glow of the candles the room took on a mellow, subdued
tone; the pink roses on the cloth, the rosebuds on the candle-shades,
and the mass of Mermets in the centre being the distinctive features,
and giving the key-note of color to the feast. To Sanford a
dinner-table with its encircling guests was always a palette. He knew
just where the stronger tones of black coats and white shirt-fronts
placed beside the softer tints of fair shoulders and bright faces must
be relieved by blossoms in perfect harmony, and he understood to a
nicety the exact values of the minor shades in linen, glass, and
silver, in the making of the picture.

The guests arrived within a few minutes of one another. Mrs. Leroy, in
yellow satin with big black bows caught up on her shoulder, a string
of pearls about her throat, came first: she generally did when dining
at Sanford’s; it gave her an opportunity to have a chance word with
him before the arrival of the other guests, and to give a supervising
glance over the appointments of his table. And then Sanford always
deferred to her in questions of taste. It was one of the nights when
she looked barely twenty-five, and seemed the fresh, joyous girl
Sanford had known before her marriage. The ever present sadness which
her friends often read in her face had gone. To-night she was all
gayety and happiness, and her eyes, under their long lashes, were
purple as the violets which she wore. Helen Shirley was arrayed in
white muslin,—not a jewel,—her fair cheeks rosy with excitement.
Jack was immaculate in white tie and high collar, while the
self-installed, presiding genial of the feast, the major, appeared in
a costume that by its ill-fitting wrinkles betrayed its pedigree,—a
velvet-collared swallow-tail coat that had lost its onetime freshness
in the former service of some friend, a skin-tight pair of trousers,
and a shoestring cravat that looked as if it had belonged to Major
Talbot himself (his dead wife’s first husband), and that was now so
loosely tied it had all it could do to keep its place.

“No one would have thought of all this but you, Kate,” said Sanford,
lifting Mrs. Leroy’s cloak from her shoulders.

“Don’t thank me, Henry. All I did,” she answered, laughing, “was to
put a few flowers about, and to have my maid poke a lot of man-things
under the sofas and behind the chairs, and take away those horrid old
covers and curtains. I know you’ll never forgive me when you want
something to-morrow you can’t find, but Jack begged so hard I couldn’t
help it. How did you like the candle-shades? I made them myself,” she
added, tipping her head on one side like a wren.

“I knew you did, and I recognized your handiwork somewhere else,”
Sanford answered, with a significant shrug of his shoulders towards
the dining-room, where the initial wreath was hung.

“It is a bower of beauty, my dear madam!” exclaimed the major, bowing
like a French dancing-master of the old school when Sanford presented
him, one hand on his waistcoat buttons, the right foot turned slightly
out. “I did not know when I walked through these rooms this afternoon
whose fair hands had wrought the wondrous change. Madam, I salute
you,” and he raised her hand to his lips.

[Illustration: “Helen ... in white muslin—not a jewel”]

Mrs. Leroy looked first in astonishment as she drew back her fingers.
Then as she saw his evident sincerity, she made him an equally
old-fashioned curtsy, and broke into a peal of laughter.

While this bit of comedy was being enacted, Jack, eager to show Helen
some of Sanford’s choicest bits, led her to the mantelpiece, over
which hung a sketch by Smearly,—the original of his Academy picture;
pointed out the famous wedding-chest and some of the accoutrements
over the door; and led her into the private office, now lighted by
half a dozen candles, one illuminating the copper diving-helmet with
its face-plate of flowers. Helen, who had never been in a bachelor’s
apartment before, thought it another and an enchanted world.
Everything suggested a surprise and a mystery.

But it was when she entered the dining-room on Sanford’s arm that she
gave way completely. “I never saw anything so charming!” she
exclaimed. “And H. S. all in a lovely wreath—why, these are
_your_ initials, Mr. Sanford,” looking up innocently into his
eyes.

Sanford smiled quizzically, and a shade of cruel disappointment
crossed Jack’s face. Mrs. Leroy broke into another happy, contagious
laugh, and her eyes, often so impenetrable in their sadness, danced
with merriment.

The major watched them all with ill-disguised delight, and, beginning
to understand the varying expressions flitting over his niece’s face,
said, with genuine emotion, emphasizing his outburst by kissing her
rapturously on the cheek, “You dear little girl, you, don’t you know
your own name? H. S. stands for Helen Shirley, not Henry Sanford.”

Helen gave a little start, avoiding Jack’s gaze, and blushed scarlet.
She might have known, she said to herself, that Jack would do
something lovely, just to surprise her. Why did she betray herself so
easily?

When, a moment later, in removing her glove, she brushed Jack’s hand,
lying on the table-cloth beside her own, the slightest possible
pressure of her little finger against his own conveyed her thanks.

Everybody was brimful of happiness: Helen radiant with the inspiration
of new surroundings so unlike those of the simple home she had left
the day before; Jack riding in a chariot of soap-bubbles, with
butterflies for leaders, and drinking in every word that fell from
Helen’s lips; the major suave and unctuous, with an old-time gallantry
that delighted his admirers, boasting now of his ancestry, now of his
horses, now of his rare old wines at home; Sanford leading the
distinguished Pocomokian into still more airy flights, or engaging him
in assumed serious conversation whenever that obtuse gentleman
insisted on dragging Jack down from his butterfly heights with Helen,
to discuss with him some prosaic features of the club-house at Crab
Island; while Mrs. Leroy, happier than she had been in weeks, watched
Helen and Jack with undisguised pleasure, or laughed at the major’s
good-natured egotism, his wonderful reminiscences and harmless
pretensions, listening between pauses to the young engineer by her
side, whose heart was to her an open book.

Coffee was served on the balcony, the guests seating themselves in the
easy-chairs. Mrs. Leroy selected a low camp-stool, resting her back
against the railing, where the warm tones of the lamp fell upon her
dainty figure. She was at her best to-night. Her prematurely gray
hair, piled in fluffy waves upon her head and held in place by a long
jewel-tipped pin, gave an indescribable softness and charm to the rosy
tints of her skin. Her blue-gray eyes, now deep violet, flashed and
dimmed under the moving shutters of the lids, as the light of her
varying emotions stirred their depths. About her every movement was
that air of distinction, and repose, and a certain exquisite grace
which never left her, and which never ceased to have its fascination
for her friends. Added to this were a sprightliness and a vivacity
which, although often used as a mask to hide a heavy heart, were
to-night inspired by her sincere enjoyment of the pleasure she and the
others had given to the young Maryland girl and her lover.

When Sam brought the coffee-tray she insisted on filling the cups
herself, dropping in the sugar with a dainty movement of her fingers
that was bewitching, laughing as merrily as if there had never been a
sorrow in her life. At no time was she more fascinating to her
admirers than when at a task like this. The very cup she handled was
instantly invested with a certain preciousness, and became a thing to
be touched as delicately and as lightly as the fingers that had
prepared it.

The only one who for the time was outside the spell of her influence
was Jack Hardy. He had taken a seat on the floor of the balcony, next
the wall—and Helen.

“Jack, you lazy fellow,” said Mrs. Leroy, with mock indignation, as
she rose to her feet, “get out of my way, or I’ll spill the coffee.
Miss Shirley, why don’t you make him go inside? He’s awfully in the
way here.”

One of Jack’s favorite positions, when Helen was near, was at her
feet. He had learned this one the summer before at her house on Crab
Island, when they would sit for hours on the beach.

“I’m not in anybody’s way, my dear Mrs. Leroy. My feet are tied in a
Chinese knot under me, and my back has grown fast to the rain-spout.
Major, will you please say something nice to Mrs. Leroy and coax her
inside?”

Sam had rolled a small table, holding a flagon of cognac and some
crushed ice, beside the major, who sat half buried in the cushions of
one of Sanford’s divans. The Pocomokian struggled to his feet.

“You mustn’t move, major,” Mrs. Leroy called. “I’m not coming in. I’m
going to stay out here in this lovely moonlight, if one of these very
polite young gentlemen will bring me an armchair.” With a look of
pretended dignity at Jack and Sanford.

“Take _my_ seat,” said Jack, with a laugh, springing to his feet,
suddenly realizing Mrs. Leroy’s delicate but pointed rebuke. “Come,
Miss Helen,” a better and more retired corner having at this moment
suggested itself to him, “we won’t stay where we are abused. Let us
join the major.” And with an arm to Miss Shirley and a sweeping bow to
Mrs. Leroy, Jack walked straight to the divan nearest the curtains.

When Helen and Jack were out of hearing, Mrs. Leroy looked toward the
major, and, reassured of his entire absorption in his own personal
comfort, turned to Sanford, and said in low, earnest tones, in which
there was not a trace of the gayety of a moment before, “Can the new
sloop lay the stones, Henry? You haven’t told me a word yet of what
you have been doing for the last few days at the Ledge.”

“I think so, Kate,” replied Sanford in an equally serious voice. “We
laid one yesterday before the easterly gale caught us. You got my
telegram, didn’t you?”

“Of course! but I was anxious for all that. Ever since I had that talk
with General Barton I’ve felt nervous over the laying of those stones.
He frightened me when he said no one of the Board at Washington
believed you could do it. It would be so awful if your plan should
fail.”

“But it’s not going to fail, Kate. I can do it, and will.” There was a
decided tone in his voice, and his eyebrows were knitted in the way
she loved: she read his determination in every word and look. “All I
wanted was a proper boat, and I’ve got that. I watched her day before
yesterday. I was a little nervous until I saw her lower the first
stone. Her captain is a plucky fellow,—Captain Joe likes him
immensely. I wish you could have been there to see how cool he
was,—not a bit flustered when he saw the rocks under the bow of his
sloop.”

Kate handed him her empty coffee-cup, and going to the edge of the
balcony rested her elbows on the railing, a favorite gesture of hers,
and looked down on the treetops of the square.

“Caleb West, of course, went down with the first stone, didn’t he?”
she asked when he joined her again. She knew Caleb’s name as she did
those of all the men in Sanford’s employ. There was no detail of the
work he had not explained to her.

“And was the sea-bottom as you expected to find it?” she added.

“Even better,” he answered, eager to discuss his plans with her.
“Caleb reports that as soon as he gets the first row of enrockment
stones set, the others will lie up like bricks. And it’s all coming
out exactly as we have planned it, too, Kate.”

He went over with her again, as he had done so many times before, all
of his plans for carrying on the work and the difficulties that had
threatened him. He talked of his hopes and fears, of his confidence in
his men, his admiration for them, and his love for the work itself. To
Sanford, as to many men, there were times when the sympathy and
understanding of a woman, the generous faith and ready belief of one
who listens only to encourage, became a necessity. To have talked to a
man as he did to Kate would not only have bored his listener, but
might have aroused a suspicion of his own professional ability.

“I wonder what General Barton will think when he finds your plan
succeeds? He says everywhere that you cannot do it,” Kate continued,
with a certain pride in her voice, after listening to some further
details of Sanford’s plans for placing the enrockment blocks.

“I don’t know and I don’t care. It’s hard to get these old-time
engineers to believe in anything new, and this foundation is new. But
all the same, I’d rather pin my faith to Captain Joe than to any one
of them. What we are doing at the Ledge, Kate, requires mental pluck
and brute grit,—nothing else. Scientific engineering won’t help us a
bit.”

Sanford now stood erect, with face aglow and kindling eyes, his back
to the balcony rail. Every inflection of his voice showed a keen
interest in the subject.

“And yet, after all, Kate, I realize that my work is mere child’s
play. Just see what other men have had to face. At Minot’s Ledge, you
know,—the light off Boston,—they had to chisel down a submerged rock
into steps, to get a footing for the tower. But three or four men
could work at a time, and then at dead low water. They got only one
hundred and thirty hours’ work the first year. The whole Atlantic
rolled in on top of them, and there was no shelter from the wind.
Until they got the bottom courses of their tower bolted to the steps
they had cut in the rock, they had no footing at all, and had to do
their work from a small boat. Our artificial island helps us
immensely; we have something to stand on. And it was even worse at
Tillamook Rock, on the Pacific coast. There the men were landed on a
precipitous crag sticking up out of the sea, from breeches buoys slung
to the masthead of a vessel. For weeks at a time the sea was so rough
that no one could reach them. They were given up for dead once. All
that time they were lying in canvas tents lashed down to the sides of
the crag to keep them from being blown into rags. All they had to eat
and drink for days was raw salt pork and the rain-water they caught
from the tent covers. And yet those fellows stuck to it day and night
until they had blasted off a place large enough to put a shanty on.
Every bit of the material for that lighthouse, excepting in the
stillest weather, was landed from the vessel that brought it, by a
line rigged from the masthead to the top of the crag; and all this
time, Kate, she was thrashing around under steam, keeping as close to
the edge as she dared. Oh, I tell you, there is something stunning to
me in such a battle with the elements!”

Kate’s cheeks burned as Sanford talked on. She was no longer the
dainty woman over the coffee-cups, nor the woman of the world she had
been a few moments before, eager for the pleasure of assembled guests.

Her eyes flashed with the intensity of her feelings. “When you tell me
such things, Henry, I am all on fire,” she cried. Then she stopped as
suddenly as if some unseen hand had been laid upon her, chilling and
shriveling the hot burning words. “The world is full of such great
things to be done,” she sighed, “and I lead such a mean little life.”

Sanford looked at her in undisguised admiration. Then, as he watched
her, his heart smote him. He had not intended to wound her by his
enthusiasm over his own work, nor to awaken in her any sense of her
own disappointments; he had only tried to allay her anxieties over his
affairs. He knew by the force of her outburst that he had
unconsciously stirred those deeper emotions, the strength of which
really made her the help she was to him. But he never wanted them to
cause her suffering.

These sudden transitions in her moods were not new to him. She was an
April day in her temperament, and would often laugh the sunniest of
laughs when the rain of her tears was falling. These were really moods
he loved.

It was the present frame of mind, however, that he dreaded, and from
which he always tried to save her. It did not often show itself. She
was too much a woman of the world to wear her heart upon her sleeve,
and too good and tactful a friend to burden even Sanford with sorrows
he could not lighten. He knew what had inspired the outburst, for he
had known her for years. He had witnessed the long years of silent
suffering which she had borne so sweetly,—even cheerfully at
times,—had seen with what restraint and self-control she had
cauterized by silence and patient endurance every fresh wound, and had
watched day by day the slow coming of the scars that drew all the
tighter the outside covering of her heart.

As he looked at her out of the corner of his eye,—she leaning over
the balcony at his side,—he could see that the tears had gathered
under her lashes. It was best to say nothing when she felt like this.
He recognized that to have made her the more dissatisfied, even by
that sympathy which he longed to give, would have hurt in her that
which he loved and honored most,—her silence, and her patient loyalty
to the man whose name she bore. “She’s had a letter from Leroy,” he
said to himself, “and he’s done some other disgraceful thing, I
suppose;” but to Kate he said nothing.

Gradually he led the talk back to Keyport, this time telling her of
his men and their peculiarities and humors; of Caleb and his young and
pretty wife; and of Aunty Bell’s watchful care over his comfort
whenever he spent the night at Captain Joe’s.

Nothing had disturbed the other guests. The clink of the major’s glass
and the intermittent gurgle of the rapidly ebbing decanter as Sam
supplied his wants could still be heard from the softly lighted room.
On the foreordained divan, half hidden by a curtain, sat Jack and
Helen, their shoulders touching, studying the contents of a
portfolio,—some of the drawings upside down, their low talk broken
now and then by a happy, irrelevant laugh.

By this time the moon had risen over the treetops, the tall buildings
far across the quadrangle breaking the sky-line. Below could be seen
the night life of the Park: miniature figures strolling about under
the trees, flashing in brilliant light or swallowed up in dense
shadow, as they passed through the glare of the many lamps scattered
among the budding foliage; a child romping with a dog, or a belated
woman wheeling a baby carriage home. The night was still, the air soft
and balmy; only the hum of the busy street a block away could be heard
where they stood.

Suddenly the figure of a boy darted across the white patch of pavement
below them. Sanford leaned far over the railing, a strange,
unreasoning dread in his heart.

“What is it, Henry?” asked Mrs. Leroy.

“Looks like a messenger,” Sanford answered.

Mrs. Leroy bent over the railing, and watched the boy spring up the
low steps of the street door, ring the bell violently, and beat an
impatient tattoo with his foot.

“Whom do you want?” Sanford called gently.

The boy looked up, and, seeing the two figures on the balcony,
answered, “Mr. Henry Sanford. Got a death message.”

“A death message, did he say?” gasped Mrs. Leroy. Her voice was almost
a whisper.

“Yes; don’t move.” He laid a hand on her arm and pointed toward the
group inside. A quick, sharp contraction rose in his throat. “Sam,” he
called in a lowered tone.

“Yaas ’r,—comin’ direc’ly.”

“Sam, there’s a boy at the outside door with a telegram. He says it’s
a death message. Get it, and tell the boy to wait. Go quietly, now,
and let no one know. You will find me here.”

Mrs. Leroy sank into a chair, her face in her hands. Sanford bent over
her, his voice still calm.

“Don’t give way, Kate; we shall know in a moment.”

She grasped his hand and held on. “Oh, who do you suppose it is,
Henry? Will Sam _never_ come?”

While he was comforting her, urging her to be patient and not to let
Helen hear, Sam reëntered the room,—his breath gone with the dash
down and up three flights of stairs,—walked slowly toward the
balcony, and handed Sanford a yellow envelope. Its contents were as
follows:—

    Screamer’s boiler exploded 7.40 to-night.
    Mate killed; Lacey and three men injured.

                                Joseph Bell.

Sanford looked hurriedly at his watch, forgetting, in the shock, to
hand Mrs. Leroy the telegram.

Mrs. Leroy caught his arm. “Tell me quick! Who is it?”

“Forgive me, dear Kate, but I was so knocked out. It is no one who
belongs to you. It is the boiler of the Screamer that has burst. Three
men are hurt,” reading the dispatch again mechanically. “I wonder who
they are?” as if he expected to see their names added to its brief
lines.

For a moment he leaned back against the balcony, absorbed in deep
thought.

“Twenty-three minutes left,” he said to himself, consulting his watch
again. “I must go at once; they will need me.”

She took the telegram from his hand. “Oh, Henry, I am so sorry,—and
the boat, too, you counted upon. Oh, how much trouble you have had
over this work! I wish you had never touched it!” she exclaimed, with
the momentary weakness of the woman. “But look! read it again.” Her
voice rose with a new hope in it. “Do you see? Captain Joe signs
it,—he’s not hurt!”

Sanford patted her hand abstractedly, and said, “Dear Kate,” but
without looking at her or replying further. He was calculating whether
it would be possible for him to catch the midnight train and go to the
relief of the men.

“Yes, I can just make it,” he said, half aloud, to himself. Then he
turned to Sam, who stood trembling before him, looking first at Mrs.
Leroy and then at his master, and said in an undertone, “Sam, send
that boy for a cab, and get my bag ready. I will change these clothes
on the train. Ask Mr. Hardy to step here; not a word, remember, about
this telegram.”

Jack came out laughing, and was about to break into some raillery,
when he saw Mrs. Leroy’s face.

Sanford touched his shoulder, and drew him one side out of sight of
the inmates of the room. “Jack, there has been an explosion at the
work, and some of the men are badly hurt. Say nothing to Helen until
she gets home. I leave immediately for Keyport. Will you and the major
please look after Mrs. Leroy?”

                        *    *    *    *    *

Sanford’s guests followed him to the door of the corridor: Helen
radiant, her eyes still dancing; the major bland and courteous, his
face without a ruffle; Jack and Mrs. Leroy apparently unmoved.

“Oh, I’m so sorry you must go!” exclaimed Helen, holding out her
hands. “Mr. Hardy says you do nothing but live on the train. Thank you
ever so much, dear Mr. Sanford; I’ve had _such_ a lovely time.”

“My dear suh,” said the major, “this is positively cruel! This
Hennessy”—he was holding his glass—“is like a nosegay; I hoped you
would enjoy it with me. Let me go back and pour you out a drop before
you go.”

“Why not wait until to-morrow?” said Jack in perfunctory tones, the
sympathetic pressure of his hand in Sanford’s belying their sincerity.
“This night traveling will kill you, old man.”

Sanford smiled as he returned the pressure, and, with his eyes resting
on Helen’s joyous face, replied meaningly, “Thank you, Jack; it’s all
right, I see. Not a word until she gets home.”

Helen’s evening had not been spoiled, at all events.

Once outside in the corridor,—Sam down one flight of steps with
Sanford’s bag and coat,—Mrs. Leroy half closed the door, and laying
her hand on Sanford’s shoulder said, with a force and an earnestness
that carried the keenest comfort straight to his heart, “I’ve seen you
in worse places than this, Henry; you always get through, and you will
now. I shall not worry, and neither will you. I know it looks dark to
you, but it will be brighter when you reach Keyport and get all the
facts. I will come up myself on the early morning train, and see what
can be done for the men.”



CHAPTER VII

BETTY’S FIRST PATIENT


The wounded men lay in an empty warehouse which in the whaling-days
had been used for the storing of oil, and was now owned by an old
whaler living back of the village.

Captain Joe had not waited for permission and a key when the accident
occurred and the wounded men lay about him. He and Captain Brandt had
broken the locks with a crowbar, improvised an operating-table for the
doctors out of old barrels and planks, and dispatched messengers up
and down the shore to pull mattresses from the nearest beds.

The room he had selected for the temporary hospital was on the ground
floor of the building. It was lighted by four big windows, and
protected by solid wooden shutters, now slightly ajar. Through these
openings timid rays of sunlight, strangers here for years, stole down
slanting ladders of floating dust to the grimy floor, where they lay
trembling, with eyes alert, ready for instant retreat. From the
overhead beams hung long strings of abandoned cobwebs encrusted with
black soot, which the bolder breeze from the open door and windows
swayed back and forth, the startled soot falling upon the white cots
below. In one corner was a heap of rusty hoops and mouldy
staves,—unburied skeletons of old whaling-days. But for the
accumulation of years of dust and mould the room was well adapted to
its present use.

Lacey’s cot was nearest the door. His head was bound with bandages;
only one eye was free. He lay on his side, breathing heavily. The
young rigger had been blown against the shrouds, and the iron
foot-rest had laid open his cheek and forehead. The doctor said that
if he recovered he would carry the scar the rest of his life. It was
feared, too, that he had been injured internally.

Next to his cot were those of two of the sloop’s crew,—one man with
ribs and ankle broken, the other with dislocated hip. Lonny Bowles,
the quarryman, came next. He was sitting up in bed, his arm in a
sling,—Captain Brandt was beside him; he had escaped with a gash in
his arm.

Captain Joe was without coat or waistcoat. His sleeves were rolled up
above the elbows, his big brawny arms black with dirt. He had been up
all night; now bending over one of the crew, lifting him in his arms
as if he had been a baby, to ease the pain of his position, now
helping Aunty Bell with the beds.

Betty sat beside Lacey, fanning him. Her eyes were red and heavy, her
pretty curls matted about her head. She and Aunty Bell had not had
their clothes off. Their faces were smudged with the soot and grime
that kept falling from the ceiling. Aunty Bell had taken charge of the
improvised stove, heating the water, and Betty had assisted the
doctors—there were two—with the bandages and lint.

“It ain’t as bad as I thought when I wired ye,” said Captain Joe to
Sanford, stopping him as he edged a way through the group of men
outside. “It’s turrible hard on th’ poor mate, jes’ been married.
Never died till he reached th’ dock. There warn’t a square inch o’
flesh onto him, the doctor said, that warn’t scalded clean off. Poor
feller,” and his voice broke, “he ain’t been married but three months;
she’s a-comin’ down on the express. Telling her’s the wust thing we’ve
got to do to-day. Cap’n Bob’s goin’ ter meet ’er. The other boys is
tore up some,” he went on, “but we’ll have ’em crawlin’ ’round in a
week or so. Lacey’s got th’ worst crack. Doctor sez he kin save his
eye if he pulls through, but ye kin lay yer three fingers in th’ hole
in his face. He won’t be as purty as he was,” with an effort at a
smile, “but maybe that’ll do him good.”

Sanford crossed at once to Lacey’s bed, and laid his hand tenderly on
that of the sufferer. The young fellow opened his well eye, and a
smile played for an instant about his mouth, the white teeth gleaming.
Then it faded with the pain. Betty bent over him still closer and
adjusted the covering about his chest.

“Has he suffered much during the night, Betty?” asked Sanford.

“He didn’t know a thing at first, sir. He didn’t come to himself till
the doctor got through. He’s been easier since daylight.” Then, with
her head turned toward Sanford, and with a significant gesture,
pointing to her own forehead and cheek, she noiselessly described the
terrible wounds, burying her face in her hands as the awful memory
rose before her. “Oh, Mr. Sanford, I never dreamed anybody could
suffer so.”

“Where does he suffer most?” asked Sanford in a whisper.

Lacey opened his eye. “In my back, Mr. Sanford.”

Betty laid her fingers on his hand. “Don’t talk, Billy; doctor said ye
weren’t to talk.”

The eye shut again wearily, and the brown, rough, scarred hand with
the blue tattoo marks under the skin closed over the little fingers
and held on.

Betty sat fanning him gently, looking down upon his bruised face. As
each successive pain racked his helpless body she would hold her
breath until it passed, tightening her fingers that he might steady
himself the better: all her heart went out to him in his pain. Aunty
Bell watched her for a moment; then going to her side, she drew her
hand with a caressing stroke under the girl’s chin, a favorite
love-touch of hers, and said:—

“Cap’n says we got to go home, child, both of us. You’re tuckered out,
an’ I got some chores to do. We can’t do no more good here. You come
’long an’ get washed up ’fore Caleb comes. You don’t want to let him
see ye bunged up like this, an’ all smudged and dirty with th’ soot
a-droppin’ down. He’ll be here in half an hour. They’ve sent the tug
to the Ledge for him an’ the men. Come, Betty, that’s a good child.”

“I ain’t a-goin’ a step, Aunty Bell. I ain’t sleepy a bit. There ain’t
nobody to change these cloths but me. Caleb knows how to get along,”
she answered, her eyes watching the quick, labored breathing of the
injured man.

The mention of Caleb’s name brought her back to herself. Since the
moment when she had left her cottage, the night before, and in all her
varying moods since, she had not once thought of her husband. At the
sound of the explosion she had run out of her house bareheaded, and
had kept on down the road, overtaking Mrs. Bell and the neighbors. She
had not stopped even to lock her door. She only knew that the men were
hurt, and that she had seen Captain Joe and the others working on the
sloop’s deck but an hour before. She still saw Lacey’s ghastly face as
the lantern’s light fell upon it, and his limp body carried on the
barrow plank and laid outside the warehouse door, and could still hear
the crash of Captain Joe’s iron bar when he forced off the lock. She
would not leave the sufferer, now that he had crawled back to life and
needed her,—not, at least, until he was out of all danger. When
Captain Joe passed a few minutes later with a cup of coffee for one of
the sufferers, she was still by Lacey’s side, fanning gently. He
seemed to be asleep.

“Now, little gal,” the captain called out, “you git along home. You
done fust-rate, an’ the men won’t forgit ye for it. Caleb’ll be mighty
proud when I tell ’im how you stood by las’ night when they all piled
in on top o’ me. You run ’long now after Aunty Bell, an’ git some
sleep. I’m goin’ ’board the sloop to see how badly she’s hurted.”

Betty only shook her head. Then she rested her face against Captain
Joe’s strong arm and said, “No, please don’t, Captain Joe. I can’t go
now.”

She was still there, the fan moving noiselessly, when Mrs. Leroy, her
maid, and Major Slocomb entered the hospital. The major had escorted
Mrs. Leroy from New York, greatly to Sanford’s surprise, and greatly
to Mrs. Leroy’s visible annoyance. All her protests the night before
had only confirmed him in his determination to meet her at the train
in the morning.

“Did you suppose, my dear suh,” he said, in answer to Sanford’s
astonished look, as he handed that dainty woman from the train on its
arrival at Keyport, “that I would permit a lady to come off alone into
a God-forsaken country like this, that raises nothin’ but rocks and
scrub pines?”

Mrs. Leroy seemed stunned when she saw the four cots upon which the
men lay. She advanced a step toward Lacey’s bed, and then, as she
caught sight of the bandages and the ghastly face upon the
blood-stained pillow, she stopped short and grasped Sanford’s arm, and
said in a tremulous whisper, “Oh, Henry, is that his poor wife sitting
by him?”

“No; that’s the wife of Caleb West, the master diver. That’s Lacey
lying there. He looks to be worse hurt than he is, Kate,” anxious to
make the case as light as possible.

Her eyes wandered over the room, up at the cobwebbed ceiling and down
to the blackened floor.

“What an awfully dirty place! Are you going to keep them here?”

“Yes, until they can get to work again. The building is perfectly dry
and healthy, with plenty of ventilation. We will have it cleaned
up,—it needs that.”

Betty merely glanced at the group as she sat fanning the sleeping man.
Their entrance had made but little impression upon her; she was too
tired to move, and too much absorbed in her charge to offer the fine
lady a chair.

Something in the girl’s face touched the visitor.

“Have you been here all the morning?” she asked, crossing to Betty’s
side of the cot, and laying a hand on her shoulder. With the passing
of the first shock the natural tenderness of her heart had overcome
her. She wanted to help.

Betty raised her eyes, the rims red with her long vigil, and the
whites all the whiter because of the fine black dust that had sifted
down and discolored her pale cheeks.

“I’ve been here all night, ma’am,” she said sweetly and gently, drawn
instinctively by Mrs. Leroy’s sympathetic face.

“How tired you must be! Can I do anything to help you? Let me fan him
while you rest a little.”

Betty shook her head.

The major crossed over to the cot occupied by Lonny Bowles, the big
Noank quarryman, whose arm was in a sling, and sat down on the edge of
the bed. No one had yet thought of bringing in chairs, except for
those nursing the wounded. As the Pocomokian looked into Bowles’s
bronzed, ruddy face, at the wrinkles about his neck, as seamy as those
of a young bull, the great broad hairy chest, and the arms and hands
big and strong, he was filled with astonishment. Everything about the
quarryman seemed to be the exact opposite of what he himself
possessed. This almost racial distinction was made clearer when, in
the kindness of his heart, he tried to comfort the unfortunate man.

“I’m ve’y sorry,” the major began, with an embarrassment entirely new
to him, and which he could not account for in himself, “at finding you
injured in this way, suh. Has the night been a ve’y painful one? You
seem better off than the others. How did you feel at the time?”

Bowles looked him all over with a curious expression of countenance.
He was trying to decide in his mind, from the major’s white tie,
whether he was a minister, whose next remark would be a request to
kneel down and pray with him, or whether he were a quack doctor who
had come to do a little business on his own account. The evident
sincerity and tenderness of the speaker disconcerted him for the
moment. He hesitated for a while, and finally formulated a reply in
his mind that would cover the case if his first surmise as to his
being a minister were correct, and might at the same time result in
his being let alone if the second proved to be the case.

“Wall, it was so damn sudden. Fust thing I knowed I wuz in the water
with th’ wind knocked out’er me, an’ the next wuz when I come to an’
they bed me in here an’ the doctor a-fixin’ me up. I’m all right, ye
see, only I’m drier’n a lime-kiln. Say, cap,”—he looked over toward
the water-bucket, and called to one of the men standing near the
door,—“fetch me a dipper.”

To call a landsman “cap” around Keyport is to dignify him with a title
which he probably does not possess, but which you think would please
him if he did.

“Let me get you a drink,” said the major, rising from the bed with a
quick spring indicative of his hearty desire to serve him. He clipped
the floating tin in the bucket and brought it to the thirsty man.

Bowles drained the contents to its last drop. “He ain’t no preach an’
he ain’t no sawbones,” he said to himself, as he returned the empty
tin to Slocomb with a “Thank ye,—much obleeged.”

Somehow the reply satisfied the major far more than the most
elaborately prepared speech of thanks which he remembered ever to have
received.

Then the two men continued to talk freely with each other, the one act
of kindness having broken down the barrier between them. The
Pocomokian, completely forgetting himself, told of his home on the
Chesapeake, of his acquaintance with Sanford, of his coming up to look
after Mrs. Leroy. The major’s tone of voice was as natural and
commonplace as if he had been conversing with himself alone. “Couldn’t
leave a woman without protection, you know,” to which code of
etiquette Bowles bobbed his head in reply; the genuine, unaffected
sympathy of the rough man before him seemed to have knocked every
fictitious prop from under his own personality.

The quarryman, in turn, talked about the Ledge, and what a rotten
season it had been,—nothing but southeasters since work opened; last
week the men only got three days’ work. It was terrible rough on the
boss (the boss was Sanford), paying out wages to the men and getting
so little back; but it wasn’t the men’s fault,—they were standing by
day and night, catching the lulls when they came; they’d make it up
before the season was over; he and Caleb West had been up all the
night before getting ready for the big derricks that Captain Joe was
going to set up as soon as they were ready; didn’t know what they were
going to do now with that Screamer all tore up: a record of danger,
unselfishness, loyalty, pluck, hard work, and a sense of duty that was
a complete revelation to Slocomb, whose whole life had been one
prolonged loaf, and whose ideas of the higher type of man had
heretofore been somehow inseparably interwoven with a veranda, a
splint-bottomed chair, a palm-leaf fan, and somebody within call to
administer to his personal wants.

When Captain Joe returned from an inspection of the sloop’s
injuries,—strange to say, they were very slight compared to the force
of the explosion,—Mrs. Leroy was still talking to Sanford, suggesting
comforts for the men, and planning for mosquito nettings to be placed
over their cots. The maid, a severe-looking woman in black, who had
never relaxed her grasp of the dressing-case, had taken a seat on an
empty nail-keg which somebody had brought in, and which she had
carefully dusted with her handkerchief before occupying. It was
evident from her manner that there was absolutely nothing she could do
for anybody.

Captain Joe looked at the party for a moment, noted Mrs. Leroy’s
traveling costume of blue foulard and dainty bonnet, ran his eye over
the maid, glanced at the major, in an alpaca coat, with white
waistcoat and necktie and gray slouch hat, and said in his calm,
forceful, yet gentle way to Mrs. Leroy, “It was very nice of ye to
come an’ bring yer friend,” pointing to the maid, “an’ any o’ Mr.
Sanford’s folks is allers welcome at any time; but we be a rough lot,
an’ the men’s rough, and ye kin see for yerself we ain’t fixed up fur
company. They’ll be all right in a week or so. Ef ye don’t mind now,
ma’am, I’m goin’ to shet them shetters to keep the sun out o’ their
eyes an’ git th’ men quiet,—some on ’em ain’t slep’ any too much. The
tug’ll be here to take ye all over to Medford whenever ye’re ready;
she’s been to th’ Ledge fur th’ men. Mr. Sanford said ye’d be goin’
over soon.” He glanced about the room as he spoke, until his eye
rested on Sanford. “Ye’re goin’ ’long, didn’t I hear ye say, sir?”
Then addressing Slocomb, whose title he tried to remember, “We’ve done
th’ best we could, colonel. It ain’t like what ye’re accustomed to,
mebbe,—kind’er ragged place,—but we got th’ men handy here where we
kin take care on ’em, an’ still look after th’ work, an’ we ain’t got
no time to lose this season; it’s been back’ard, blowin’ a gale half
the time. There’s the tug whistle now, ma’am,” turning again to Mrs.
Leroy.

Mrs. Leroy did not answer. She felt the justice of the captain’s
evident want of confidence in her, and realized at once that all of
her best impulses could not save her from being an intrusion at this
time. None of her former experience had equipped her for a situation
of such gravity as this. With a curious feeling of half contempt for
herself, she thought, as she looked around upon the great strong men
suffering there silently, how little she had known of what physical
pain must be. She had once read to a young blind girl in a hospital,
during a winter, and she had sent delicacies for years to a poor man
with some affliction of the spine. She remembered that she had been
quite satisfied with herself and her work at the time; and so had the
pretty nurses in their caps, and the young doctors whom she met, the
head surgeon even escorting her to her carriage. But what had she done
to prepare herself for a situation like this? Here was the reality of
suffering, and yet with all her sympathy she felt within herself a
fierce repugnance to it. After all her aspirations, how weak she was,
and how heartily she despised herself!

As she turned to leave the building, holding her skirts in her hand to
avoid the dirt, the light of the open door was shut out, and eight or
ten great strong fellows in rough jackets and boots, headed by Caleb
West, just landed by a tug from the Ledge, walked hurriedly into the
room, with an air as if they belonged there and knew they had work to
do, and at once.

Caleb strode straight to Lacey’s bed. His cap was off, his hands were
clasped behind his back. He felt his eyes filling, and a great lump
rose in his throat as he stood looking down at him. He never could see
suffering unmoved.

The young rigger opened his well eye, and the pale cheek flushed
scarlet as he saw Caleb’s face bending over him.

“Where did it hit ye, sonny?” asked Caleb, bending closer, and
slipping one hand into Betty’s as he spoke.

Betty pointed to her own cheek. Lacey, she said, was too weak to
answer for himself.

“I’ve been afeard o’ that b’iler,” Caleb said, turning to one of the
men, “ever sence I see it work.”

Betty shook her head warningly, holding a finger to her lips. Caleb
and the men stopped talking.

“You been here all night, Betty?” whispered Caleb, putting his mouth
close to her ear, and one big hand on her rounded shoulder.

Betty nodded her head.

“Ye ought’er be mighty proud o’ her, Caleb,” said Captain Joe, joining
the group, and speaking in a lowered tone. “Ain’t many older women
’longshore would’er done any better. I tried ter git ’er to go home
with Aunty Bell two hours ago, but she sez she won’t.”

Caleb’s face glowed and his heart gave a quick bound as he listened to
Captain Joe’s praise of the girl wife that was all his own. His rough
hand pressed Betty’s shoulder the closer. He had always known that the
first great sorrow or anxiety that came into her life would develop
all her nature and make a woman of her. Now the men about him would
see the strong womanly qualities which had attracted him.

“Lemme take hold now, Betty,” said Caleb, still whispering, and
stooping over her again. “Ye’re nigh beat out, little woman.”

He slipped his arm around her slender waist as if to lift her from the
chair. Betty caught his fingers and loosened his hand from its hold.

“I’m all right, Caleb. You go home. I’ll be ’long in a little while to
get supper.”

Caleb looked at her curiously. Her tone of voice was new to him. She
had never loosened his arm before, not when she was tired and sick.
She had always crept into his lap, and put her pretty white arms
around his neck, and tucked her head down on his big beard.

“What’s the matter, little one?” he asked anxiously. “Maybe it’s
hungry ye be?”

“Yes, I guess I’m hungry, Caleb,” said Betty wearily.

“I’ll go out, Betty, an’ git ye some soup or somethin’. I’ll be back
right away, little woman.” He tiptoed past the cot, putting on his cap
as he went.

Two of the men followed him with their eyes and smiled. One looked
significantly at Lacey and then toward the retreating figure, and
shook his head in a knowing way.

Betty had not answered Caleb. She did not even turn her head to follow
his movements. She saw only the bruised, pale face before her as she
listened to the heavy breathing of the sufferer. She would have
dropped from her chair with fatigue and exhaustion but for some new
spirit within her which seemed to hold her up, and to keep the fan
still in her hand.

When Sanford, after escorting Mrs. Leroy to her home, returned to the
improvised hospital, he found the lanterns lighted, and learned that
the doctor had dressed the men’s wounds, and had reported everybody on
the mend, especially Lacey; at Betty’s urgent request he had made a
careful examination of the young rigger’s wounds, and had pronounced
him positively out of danger. Only then had she left her post and gone
to her own cottage with Caleb.

Captain Joe had followed Aunty Bell home for a few hours’ rest, and
all the watchers had been changed.

There was but one exception. Beside the cot upon which lay the sailor
with the dislocated hip sat the major, with hat and coat off, his
shirt-cuffs rolled up. He was feeding the sufferer from a bowl of soup
which he held in his hand. He seemed to enjoy every phase of his new
experience. It might have been that his sympathies were more than
usually aroused, or it might have been that the spirit of vagabondage
within him, which fitted him for every condition in life, making him
equally at home among rich and poor, and equally agreeable to both,
had speedily brought him into harmony with the men about him.
Certainly no newly appointed young surgeon in a charity hospital could
have been more entirely absorbed in the proper running of the
establishment than was Slocomb in the care of these rough men. He had
refused point-blank Mrs. Leroy’s pressing invitation to spend the
night at her house, his refusal causing much astonishment to those who
misunderstood his reasons.

“I’m going to take charge here to-night, major,” said Sanford, walking
toward him, realizing for the first time that he had neglected his
friend all day, and with a sudden anxiety as to where he should send
him for the night. “Will you go to the hotel and get a room, or will
you go to Captain Joe’s cottage? You can have my bed. Mrs. Bell will
make you very comfortable for the night.”

The major turned to Sanford with an expression of profound sympathy in
his face, hesitated for a moment, and said firmly, with a slight
suggestion of wounded dignity in his manner, and in a voice which was
sincerity itself, “By gravy, suh, you wouldn’t talk about going to bed
if you’d been yere ’most all day, as I have, and seen what these po’
men suffer. My place is yere, suh, an’ yere I’m going to stay.”

Sanford had to look twice before he could trust his own eyes and ears.
What was the matter with the Pocomokian?

“But, major,” he continued in protest, determining finally in his mind
that some quixotic whim had taken possession of him, “there isn’t a
place for you to lie down. You had better get a good night’s rest, and
come back in the morning. There’s nothing you can do here. I’m going
to sit up with the men myself to-night.”

The major did not even wait for Sanford’s reply. He placed the hot
soup carefully on the floor, slipped one hand under the wounded man’s
head that he might swallow more easily, and then raised another
spoonful to the sufferer’s lips.



CHAPTER VIII

THE “HEAVE HO” OF LONNY BOWLES


The accident to the Screamer had delayed work at the Ledge but a few
days. Other men had taken the place of those injured, and renewed
efforts had been made by Sanford and Captain Joe to complete to
low-water mark the huge concrete disk, forming a bedstone sixty feet
in diameter and twelve feet thick, on which the superstructure was to
rest. This had been accomplished after three weeks of work, and the
men stood in readiness to begin the masonry of the superstructure
itself so soon as the four great derricks required in lifting and
setting the cut stone of the masonry could be erected. They were only
waiting for Mr. Carleton’s acceptance of the concrete disk, the first
section of the contract. The superintendent’s certificate of approval
was important, one rule of the Department being that no new section of
the work should begin until the preceding section was officially
approved.

Carleton, however, declined to give it. His ostensible reason was that
the engineer-in-chief was expected daily at Keyport, and should
therefore pass upon the work himself. His real reason was a desire to
settle a score with Captain Joe by impeding the progress of the work.

This animosity to Captain Joe had been aroused by an article very
flattering to the superintendent, published in the “Medford Journal,”
in which great credit had been given to Carleton for his “heroism and
his prompt efficiency in providing a hospital for the wounded men.”
The day after its publication, the “Noank Times,” a political rival,
sent to make an investigation of its own, in the course of which the
reporter encountered Captain Joe. The captain had not seen the Medford
article until it was shown him by the reporter. He thereupon gave the
exact facts in regard to the accident and the subsequent care of the
wounded men, generously exonerating the government superintendent from
all responsibility for the notice; adding with decided emphasis that
“Mr. Carleton couldn’t ’a’ said no such thing ’bout havin’ provided
the hospital himself, ’cause he was over to Medford to a circus the
night the accident happened, and didn’t git home till daylight next
mornin’, when everything was over an’ the men was in their beds.” The
result of this interview was a double-leaded column in the next issue
of the “Noank Times,” which not only ridiculed its rival for the
manufactured news, but read a lesson on veracity to Carleton himself.

The denial made by the “Times” was the thrust that had rankled
deepest; for Carleton, unfortunately for himself, had inclosed the
eulogistic article from the “Medford Journal” in his official report
of the accident to the Department, and had become the proud possessor
of a letter from the engineer-in-chief commending his “promptness and
efficiency.”

So far the captain had kept his temper, ignoring both the obstacles
Carleton had thrown in his way and the ill-natured speeches the
superintendent was constantly making. No open rupture had taken place.
Those, however, who knew the captain’s explosive temperament
confidently expected that he would break out upon the superintendent,
in answer to some brutal thrust, in a dialect so impregnated with
fulminates that the effect on Carleton would be disastrous. But they
were never gratified. “’T ain’t no use answerin’ back,” was all he
said. “He don’t know no better, poor critter.”

Indeed, it was only when a great personal danger threatened his men
that the captain’s every-day, conventional English seemed inadequate.
On such occasions, when the slightest error on the part of his working
force might result in the instant death or the maiming of one of them,
certain and it is to be hoped unrecorded outbursts of profanity,
soaring into crescendos and ending in fortissimos, would often escape
from the captain’s lips with a vim and rush that would have raised the
hair of his Puritan ancestors,—rockets of oaths, that kindled with
splutters of dissatisfaction, flamed into showers of abuse, and burst
into blasphemies which cleared the atmosphere like a thunderclap. For
these transgressions he never made any apology. In the roar of the sea
they seemed sometimes the only ammunition he could depend upon.
“Somebody’ll git hurted round here, if ye ain’t careful; somehow I
can’t make ye understand no other way,” he would say. This was as near
as he ever came to apologizing for his sinfulness. But he never wasted
any of these explosives on such men as Carleton.

As the superintendent persisted in his refusal to give the certificate
of acceptance, and as each day was precious, Sanford, whose confidence
in the stability and correctness of the work which he and Captain Joe
had done was unshaken, determined to begin the erection of the four
derricks at once. He accordingly gave orders to clear away the
mixing-boards and tools; thus burning his bridges behind him, should
the inspection of the engineer-in-chief necessitate any additional
work on the concrete disk.

These derricks, with their winches and chain guys, were now lying on
the jagged rocks of the Ledge, where they had been landed the day
before by Captain Brandt with the boom of the Screamer,—now stanch and
sound as ever, a new engine and boiler on her deck. They were designed
to lift and set the cut-stone masonry of the superstructure,—the top
course at a height of fifty-eight feet above the water-line. These
stones weighed from six to thirteen tons each.

During the delay that followed the accident the weather had been
unusually fine. Day after day the sun had risen on a sea of silver
reflecting the blue of a cloudless sky, with wavy tidelines engraved
on its polished surface. At dawn Crotch Island had been an emerald,
and at sunset an amethyst.

With the beginning of the dog-days, however, the weather had changed.
Dull leaden fogbanks dimming the distant horizon had blended into a
pearly-white sky. Restless, wandering winds sulked in dead calms, or
broke in fitful, peevish blasts. Opal-tinted clouds showed at sunrise,
and prismatic rings of light surrounded the moon,—all sure signs of a
coming storm.

Captain Joe watched the changing sky where hour by hour were placarded
the bulletins of the impending outbreak, and redoubled his efforts on
the lines of the watch-tackles at which the men were tugging, pulling
the derricks to their places.

By ten o’clock on the 15th of August, three of the four derricks,
their tops connected by heavy wire rope, had been stepped in their
sockets and raised erect, and their seaward guys had been made fast,
Caleb securing the ends himself. By noon, the last derrick—the fourth
leg of the chair, as it were—was also nearly perpendicular, the men
tugging ten deep on the line of the watch-tackles. This derrick, being
the last of the whole system and the most difficult to handle, was
under the immediate charge of Captain Joe. On account of its position,
which necessitated the bearing of its own strain and that of the other
three derricks as well, its outboard seaward guy was as heavy as that
of a ship’s anchor-chain. The final drawing taut of this chain, some
sixty feet in length, stretching, as did the smaller ones, from the
top of the derrick-mast down to the enrockment block, and the
fastening of its sea end in the block, would not only complete the
system of the four erected derricks, but would make them permanent and
strong enough to resist either sea action or any weight that they
might be required to lift. The failure to secure this chain guy into
the anchoring enrockment block, or any sudden break in the other guys,
would result not only in instantly toppling over the fourth derrick
itself, but in dragging the three erect derricks with it. This might
mean, too, the crushing to death of some of the men; for the slimy,
ooze-covered rocks and concrete disk on which they had to stand and
work made hurried escape impossible.

To insure an easier connection between this last chain and the
enrockment block, Caleb had fastened below water, into the Lewis hole
of the block, a long iron hook. Captain Joe’s problem, which he was
now about to solve, was to catch this hook into a steel ring which was
attached to the end of the chain guy. The drawing together of this
hook and ring was to be done by means of a watch-tackle, which
tightened the chain guy inch by inch, the gang of men standing in line
while Captain Joe, ring in hand, waited to slip it into the hook. A
stage manager stretching a tight-rope supported on saw-horses, with a
similar tackle, solves, on a smaller scale, just such a problem every
night.

Carleton, who never ran any personal risks, sat on the platform, out
of harm’s way, sneering at the men’s struggles, and protesting that it
was impossible to put up the four derricks at once. Sanford was across
the disk, some fifty feet from Captain Joe, studying the effect of the
increased strain on the outboard guys of the three derricks already
placed.

The steady rhythmic movement of the men, ankle-deep in the water,
swaying in unison, close-stepped, tugging at the tackle-line, like a
file of soldiers, keeping time to Lonny Bowles’s “Heave ho,” had
brought the hook and ring within six feet of each other, when the foot
of one of the men slipped on the slimy ooze and tripped up the man
next him. In an instant the whole gang were floundering among the
rocks and in the water, the big fourth derrick swaying uneasily, like
a tree that was doomed.

“Every man o’ ye as ye were!” shouted Captain Joe, without even a look
at the superintendent, who had laughed outright at their fall. While
he was shouting he had twisted a safety-line around a projecting rock
to hold the strain until the men could regain their feet. The great
derrick tottered for a moment, steadied itself like a drunken man, and
remained still. The other three quivered, their top connecting guys
sagging loose.

“Now make fast, an’ two ’r three of ye come here!” cried the captain
again. In the easing of the strain caused by the slipping of the men,
the six feet of space between hook and ring had gone back to ten.

Two men scrambled like huge crabs over the slippery rocks, and
relieved Captain Joe of the end of the safety-line. The others stood
firm and held taut the tug-lines of the watch-tackle. The slow,
rhythmic movement of the gang to the steady “Heave ho” began again.
The slack of the tackle was taken up, and the ten feet between the
hook and the ring were reduced to five. Half an hour more, and the
four great derricks would be anchored safe against any contingency.

The strain on the whole system became once more intense. The seaward
guy of the opposite derrick—the one across the concrete disk—shook
ominously under the enormous tension. Loud creaks could be heard as
the links of the chain untwisted and the derricks turned on their
rusty pintles.

Then a sound like a pistol-shot rang out clear and sharp.

Captain Joe heard Sanford’s warning cry, but before the men could ease
the strain one of the seaward guys that fastened the top of its
derrick to its enrockment-block anchorage snapped with a springing
jerk, writhed like a snake in the air, and fell in a swirl across the
disk of concrete, barely missing the men.

The gang at the tug-line turned their heads, and the bravest of them
grew pale. The opposite derrick, fifty feet away, was held upright by
but a single safety-rope. If this should break, the whole system of
four derricks, with its tons of chain guys and wire rope, would be
down upon their heads.

Carleton ran to the end of the platform, ready to leap. Sanford
ordered him back. Two of the men, in the uncertainty of the moment,
slackened their hold. A third, a newcomer, turned to run towards the
concrete, as the safer place, when Caleb’s viselike hand grasped his
shoulder and threw him back in line.

There was but one chance left,—to steady the imperiled derrick with a
temporary guy strong enough to stand the strain.

“Stand by on that watch-tackle, every —— —— man o’ ye! Don’t one
o’ ye move!” shouted Captain Joe in a voice that drowned all other
sounds.

The men sprang into line and stood together in dogged determination.

“Take a man, Caleb, as quick’s God’ll let ye, an’ run a wire guy out
on that derrick.” The order was given in a low voice that showed the
gravity of the situation.

Caleb and Lonny Bowles stepped from the line, leaped over the slippery
rocks, splashed across the concrete disk, now a shallow lake with the
rising tide, and picked up another tackle as they plunged along to
where Sanford stood, the water over his rubber boots. They dragged a
new guy towards the imperiled derrick. Lonny Bowles, in his eagerness
to catch the dangling end of the parted guy, began to scale the
derrick-mast itself, climbing by the foot-rests, when Captain Joe’s
crescendo voice overhauled him. He knew the danger better than Bowles.

“Come down out’er that, Lonny!” (Gentle oaths.) “Come down, I tell
ye!” (Oaths crescendo.) “Don’t ye know no better’n to”—(Oaths
fortissimo.) “Do ye want to pull that derrick clean over?” (Oaths
fortissimisso.)

Bowles slid from the mast just as Sanford’s warning cry scattered the
men below him. There came a sudden jerk; the opposite derrick
trembled, staggered for a moment, and swooped through the air towards
the men, dragging in its fall the two side derricks with all their
chains and guys.

“Down between the rocks, heads under, every man o’ ye!” shouted the
captain.

The captain sprang last, crouching up to his neck in the sea, his head
below the jagged points of two rough stones, just as the huge fourth
derrick, under which he had stood, lunged wildly, and with a ringing
blow struck a stone within three feet of his head,—the great
anchor-chain guy twisting like a cobra over the slimy rocks.

When all was still, Sanford’s anxious face rose cautiously from behind
a protecting rock near where the first derrick had struck. There came
a cheer of safety from Caleb and Bowles, answered by another from
Captain Joe, and Sanford and the men crawled out of their holes, and
clambered upon the rocks, the water dripping from their clothing.

Not a man had been hurt!

“What did I tell you?” called out Carleton sneeringly, more to hide
his alarm than anything else.

“That’s too bad, Mr. Sanford, but we can’t help it,” said Captain Joe
in his customary voice, paying no more attention to Carleton’s talk
than if it had been the slop of the waves at his feet. “All hands,
now, on these derricks. We got’er git ’em up, boys, if it takes all
night.”

Again the men sprang to his orders, and again and again the crescendos
of oaths culminated in fortissimos of profanity as the risks for the
men increased.

For five consecutive hours they worked without a pause.

Slowly and surely the whole system, beginning with the two side
derricks, whose guys still held their anchorage, was raised upright,
Sanford still watching the opposite derrick, a new outward guy having
replaced the broken one.

It was six o’clock when the four derricks were again fairly erect. The
same gang was tugging at the watch-tackle, and the distance between
the hook and the ring was once more reduced to five feet. The hook
gained inch by inch towards its anchorage. Captain Joe’s eyes gleamed
with suppressed satisfaction.

All this time the tide had been rising. Most of the rough, above-water
rocks were submerged, and fully three feet of water washed over the
concrete disk. Only the tops of the rough stones where Sanford stood,
and the platform where Carleton sat, out of all danger from derricks
or sea, were clear of the incoming wash.

Meanwhile the Screamer’s life-boat—the only means the men had that
day of leaving the Ledge and boarding the sloop, moored in the lee of
the Ledge—had broken from her moorings, and lay dangerously near the
rocks. The wind too had changed to the east. With it came a long,
rolling swell that broke on the eastern derrick,—the fourth one, the
key-note of the system, the one Captain Joe and the men were
tightening up.

Suddenly a window was opened somewhere in the heavens, and a blast of
wet air heaped the sea into white caps, and sent it bowling along
towards the Ledge and the Screamer lying in the eddy.

Captain Joe, as he stood with the hook in his hand, watched the sea’s
carefully planned attack, and calculated how many minutes were left
before it would smother the Ledge in a froth and end all work. He
could see, too, the Screamer’s mast rocking ominously in the rising
sea. If the wind and tide increased, she must soon shift her position
to the eddy on the other side of the Ledge. But no shade of anxiety
betrayed him.

The steady movement of the tugging men continued, Lonny’s “Heave ho”
ringing out cheerily in perfect time. Four of the gang, for better
foothold, stood on the concrete, their feet braced to the iron mould
band, the water up to their pockets. The others clung with their feet
to the slippery rocks.

The hook was now within two feet of the steel ring, Captain Joe
standing on a rock at a lower level than the others, nearly waist-deep
in the sea, getting ready for the final clinch.

Sanford from his rock had also been watching the sea. As he scanned
the horizon, his quick eye caught to the eastward a huge roller pushed
ahead of the increasing wind, piling higher as it swept on.

“Look out for that sea, Captain Joe! Hold fast, men,—hold fast!” he
shouted, springing to a higher rock.

Hardly had his voice ceased, when a huge green curler threw itself
headlong on the Ledge, wetting the men to their arm-pits. Captain Joe
had raised his eyes for an instant, grasped the chain as a brace, and
taken its full force on his broad back. When his head emerged, his cap
was gone, his shirt clung to the muscles of his big chest, and the
water streamed from his hair and mouth.

Shaking his head like a big water-dog, he waved his hand, with a
laugh, to Sanford, volleyed out another rattling fire of orders, and
then held on with the clutch of a devil-fish as the next green roller
raced over him. It made no more impression upon him than if he had
been an offshore buoy.

The fight now lay between the rising sea and the men tugging at the
watch-tackle. After each wave ran by the men gained an inch on the
tightening line. Every moment the wind blew harder, and every moment
the sea rose higher. Bowles was twice washed from the rock on which he
stood, and the newcomer, who was unused to the slime and ooze, had
been thrown bodily into a water-hole. Sanford held to a rock a few
feet above Captain Joe, watching his every movement. His anxiety for
the safe erection of the system had been forgotten in his admiration
for the superb pluck and masterful skill of the surf-drenched
sea-titan below him.

Captain Joe now moved to the edge of the anchor enrockment block,
standing waist-deep in the sea, one hand holding the hook, the other
the ring. Six inches more and the closure would be complete.

In heavy strains like these the last six inches gain slowly.

“Give it to ’er, men—all hands now—give it to ’er! Pull, Caleb!
Pull, you —— ——!” (Air full of Greek fire.) “Once more—all
together —— ——!” (Sky-bombs bursting.) “All to—”

Again the sea buried him out of sight, quenching the explosives
struggling to escape from his throat.

The wind and tide increased. The water swirled about the men, the
spray flew over their heads, but the steady pull went on.

A voice from the platform now called out,—it was that of Nickles, the
cook: “Life-boat’s a-poundin’ bad, sir! She can’t stan’ it much
longer.”

Carleton’s voice shouting to Sanford from the platform came next: “I’m
not going to stay here all night and get wet. I’m going to Keyport in
the Screamer. Send some men to catch this life-boat.”

The captain raised his head and looked at Nickles; Carleton he never
saw.

“Let ’r pound an’ be damned to ’er! Go on, Caleb, with that tackle.
Pull, ye”—Another wave went over him, and another red-hot explosive
lost its life.

With the breaking of the next roller the captain uttered no sound. The
situation was too grave for explosives. Whenever his profanity stopped
short the men grew nervous: they knew then that a crisis had arrived,
one that even Captain Joe feared.

The captain bent over the chain, one arm clinging to the anchorage,
his feet braced against a rock, the hook in his hand within an inch of
the ring.

“_Hold hard!_” he shouted.

Caleb raised his hand in warning, and the rhythmic movement ceased.
The men stood still. Every eye was fixed on the captain.

“LET GO!”

The big derrick quivered for an instant as the line slackened, stood
still, and a slight shiver ran through the guys. The hook had slipped
into the ring!

The system of four derricks, with all their guys and chains, stood as
taut and firm as a suspension bridge!

Captain Joe turned his head calmly towards the platform, and said
quietly, “There, Mr. Carleton, they’ll stand now till hell freezes
over.”

                        *    *    *    *    *

As the cheering of the men subsided, the captain, squeezing the water
from his hair and beard with a quick rasp of his fingers, sprang to
Sanford’s rock, grasped his outstretched hand, shook it heartily, and
called to Caleb, in a firm, cheery voice that had not a trace of
fatigue in it after twelve hours of battling with sea and derricks,
“All o’ you men what’s goin’ in the Screamer with Mr. Carleton to
Keyport for Sunday ’d better look out for that life-boat. Come, Lonny
Bowles, pick up them tackles an’ git to the shanty. It’ll be awful
soapy round here ’fore mornin’.”



CHAPTER IX

WHAT THE BUTCHER SAW


Caleb sat on the deck of the Screamer on her homeward run, his face
turned toward Keyport Light, beyond which his little cabin lay. His
eyes glistened, and there came a choking in his throat as he thought
of meeting Betty. He could even feel her hand slipped into his, and
could hear the very tones of her cheery welcome, when she met him at
the gate and they walked together up the garden path to the porch.

Most of the men who had stood to the watch-tackles in the rolling surf
sat beside him on the sloop. Those who were still wet, including
Sanford, had gone below into the cabin, out of the cutting wind. Those
who, like Caleb, had changed their clothes, sat on the after deck.
Captain Joe, against Sanford’s earnest protest, had remained on the
Ledge for the night. He wanted, he said, to see how the derricks would
stand the coming storm.

It had been a busy month for the diver. Since the explosion he had
been almost constantly in his rubber dress, working not only his
regular four hours under water,—all that an ordinary man could
stand,—but taking another’s place for an hour or two when some piece
of submarine work at the Ledge required his more skillful eye and
hand. He had set some fifty or more of the big enrockment blocks in
thirty feet of water, each block being lowered into position by the
Screamer’s boom, and he had prepared the anchor sockets in which to
step the four great derricks. Twice he had been swept from his hold by
the racing current, and once his helmet had struck a projecting rock
with such force that he was deaf for days. His hands, too, had begun
to blister from the salt water and hot sun. Betty, on his last Sunday
at home, had split up one of her own little gloves for plasters, and
tried to heal his blisters with some salve. But it had not done his
bruises much good, he thought, as he probed with his stub of a thumb
the deeper cracks in his tough, leathery palms.

Now that the men were convalescent he gloried more and more in his
wife’s energy and capacity. To relieve a wounded man, serve him night
and day, and by skill, tenderness, and self-sacrifice get him once
more well and sound and on his legs, able to do a day’s work and earn
a day’s pay,—this, to Caleb, was something to be proud of and to
glory in. But for her nursing, he would often say, poor Billy would
now be among the tombstones on the hill back of Keyport Light.

Caleb’s estimate of Betty’s efforts was not exaggerated. Her patient
had been the most severely injured, and her task had therefore been
longer and more severe. The cut on Lacey’s cheek and frontal bone,
dividing his eyebrow like a sabre slash, had been deep and ugly and
slow to heal; and the bruise on his back had developed into a wound
that in its progress had sapped his youthful strength. He had been her
patient from the first, and she had never neglected him an hour since
the fatal night when she helped the doctor wind his bandages. When on
the third day fever set in, she had taken her seat by his bedside
until the delirium had passed. Mrs. Bell and Miss Peebles, the
schoolmistress, had relieved each other in the care of the other
wounded men,—all of them, strange to say, were single men, and all of
them away from home.

Betty would go to her own cabin for an hour each day, but as soon as
her work was done she would pull down the shades, lock the house door,
and, with a sunbonnet on her head and some little delicacy in her
hand, hurry down the shore road again to the warehouse hospital. This
had been the first real responsibility of her life, the first time in
which anything had been expected of her apart from the endless cooking
of three meals a day, and the washing up and sweeping out that
followed.

There were no more lonely hours for her now. A new tenderness, too,
had been aroused in her nature because of the helplessness of the boy
whose feeble, hot fingers clutched her own. The love which this
curly-headed young rigger had once avowed for her when there were
strength and ruggedness in every sinew of his body, when his red lips
were parted over the white teeth and his eyes shone with pride, had
been quite forgotten as she watched by his bed. It was this
helplessness of his which was ever present in her mind, his suffering.
She realized that the prostrate young fellow before her was dependent
on her for his very life and sustenance, as a child might have been.
It was for her he waited in the morning, refusing to touch his
breakfast until she gave it to him,—unable at first, reluctant
afterward. It was for her last touch on his pillow that he waited at
night before he went to sleep. It was she alone who brought the smiles
to his face, or inspired him with a courage he had almost lost when
the pain racked him and he thought he might never be able to do a
day’s work again.

The long confinement had left its mark on Lacey. He was a mere outline
of himself the first day he was able to sit in the sunshine at the
warehouse door. His hands were white, and his face was bleached. When
he gained a little strength, Captain Joe gave him light duties about
the wharf, the doctor refusing to let him go to the Ledge. But even
after he was walking about, Betty felt him still under her care, and
prepared dainty dishes for him. When she took them to him, she saw,
with a strange sinking of her heart, that he gained but slowly, and
was still weak and ill enough to need a woman’s care.

The story of her nursing and of the doctor’s constant tribute to her
skill was well known, and Caleb, usually so reticent, would talk of it
again and again. Most of the men liked to humor his pride in her, for
Betty’s blithesome, cheery nature made her a favorite wherever she was
known.

“I kind’er wish Cap’n Joe had come ashore to-night,” Caleb said,
turning to Captain Brandt, who stood beside him, his hand on the
tiller. “He’s been soakin’ wet all day, an’ he won’t put nothin’ dry
on ef I ain’t with him. ’T warn’t for Betty I’d ’a’ stayed, but the
little gal’s so lonesome ’t ain’t right to leave her. I don’ know what
Lacey ’d done but for Betty. Did ye see ’er, Lonny, when she come in
that night?” All the little by-paths of Caleb’s talk led to Betty.

It was the same old question, but Lonny, seated on the other side of
the deck, fell in willingly with Caleb’s mood.

“See ’er? Wall, I guess! I thought she’d keel over when the doctor
washed Billy’s face. He did look ragged, an’ no mistake, Caleb; but
she held on an’ never give in a mite.”

Carleton sat close enough to overhear the remark.

“Why shouldn’t she?” he sneered, behind his hand, to the man next him.
“Lacey’s a blamed sight better looking fellow than what she’s got. The
girl knows a good thing when she sees it. If it was me, I’d”—

He never finished the sentence. Caleb overheard the remark, and rose
from his seat, with an expression in his eyes that could not be
misunderstood. Sanford, watching the group through the cabin window,
and not knowing the cause of Caleb’s sudden anger, said afterwards
that the diver looked like an old gray wolf gathering himself for a
spring, as he stood over Carleton with hands tightly clinched.

The superintendent made some sort of half apology to Caleb, and the
diver took his seat again, but did not forgive him; neither did the
older men, who had seen Betty grow up, and who always spoke of her
somehow as if she belonged to them.

“T’ain’t decent,” said Lonny Bowles to Sanford when he had joined him
later in the cabin of the Screamer and had repeated Carleton’s remark,
“for a man to speak agin a woman; such fellers ain’t no better ’n
rattlesnakes an’ ought’er be trompled on, if they is in guv’ment pay.”

When the sloop reached Keyport harbor, the men were landed as near as
possible to their several homes. Caleb, in his kindly voice, bade
good-night to Sanford, to Captain Brandt, to the crew, and to the
working gang. To Carleton he said nothing. He would have overlooked
and forgotten an affront put upon himself, but never one upon Betty.

“She ain’t got nobody but an ol’ feller like me,” he often said to
Captain Joe,—“no chillen nor nothin’, poor little gal. I got to make
it up to her some way.”

As he walked up the path he was so engrossed with Carleton’s flippant
remark, conning it over in his mind to tell Betty,—he knew she did
not like him,—that he forgot for the moment that she was not at the
garden gate.

He looked up at the house and noticed that the shades were pulled down
on the garden side of the house.

“She ain’t sick, is she?” he said to himself. “I guess nussin’ Lacey’s
been too much for her. I ought’er knowed she’d break down. ’Pears to
me she did look peaked when I bid her good-by las’ Monday.”

“Ye ain’t sick, little woman, be ye?” he called out as he opened the
door.

There was no response. He walked quickly through the kitchen, passed
into the small hall, calling her as he went, mounted the narrow
stairs, and opened the bedroom door softly, thinking she might be
asleep. The shutters were closed, the room was in perfect order. The
bed was empty. The sheet and covering were turned neatly on his side,
and the bedding was clean and had not been slept in. At its foot,
within reach of his hand, lay his big carpet slippers that she had
made for him. He stooped mechanically, gazing at the untouched pillow,
still wondering why she had turned the sheet, his mind relieved now
that she was not ill.

Then he remembered that it was not yet dark, and that, on account of
the coming storm, he was an hour earlier than usual in getting home.
His face lightened. He saw it all now: Betty had not expected him so
soon, and would be home in a little while.

When he entered the kitchen again he saw the table. There was but one
plate laid, with the knife and fork beside it. This was covered by a
big china bowl. Under it was some cold meat with the bread and butter.
Near the table, by the stove, a freshly ironed shirt hung over a
chair.

He understood it all now. She had put his supper and his shirt where
he would find them, and was not coming home till late. He would “clean
up” right away, so as to be ready for her.

When he had washed, dressed himself in his house clothes, and combed
his big beard, he dragged a chair out on the front porch, to watch for
her up and down the road.

The men going home, carrying their dinner-pails, nodded to him as they
passed, and one stopped and leaned over the gate long enough to wonder
whether the big August storm would break that night, adding, “We
generally has a blow ’bout this time.”

While he sat waiting the butcher stopped to leave the weekly piece of
meat for Sunday,—the itinerant country butcher, with his shop in one
of the neighboring villages, and his customers up and down all the
roads that led out of it; supplies for every household in his wagon,
and the gossip of every family on his lips.

His wagon had sides of canvas painted white, with “Fish, Meat and
Poultry” in a half-moon of black letters arching over the owner’s
name, and was drawn by a horse that halted and moved on, not by the
touch of the lines,—they were always caught to a hook in the roof of
the wagon,—but by a word from the butcher, who stood at the
tail-board, where the scales dangled, sorting fish, hacking off pieces
of red meat, or weighing scraggly chickens proportionate to the wants
and means of his various customers. He was busying himself at this
tail-board, the dripping of the ice pock-marking the dusty road below,
when he caught sight of Caleb.

“Wall, I kind’er hoped somebody’d be hum,” he said to himself,
wrapping the six-pound roast in a piece of yellow paper. With a tuck
to his blue over-sleeves, he swung open the gate. “So ye didn’t go
’long, Caleb, with Mis’ West? I see it begin to blow heavy, and was
wond’rin’ whether you’d get in—best cut, you see,” opening the paper
for Caleb’s inspection, “and I broke them ribs jes’ ’s Mis’ West
allers wants ’em. Then I wondered agin how ye could leave the Ledge at
all to-day. Mis’ Bell tol’ me yesterday the cap’n was goin’ to set
them derricks. I see ’em a-layin’ on the dock ’fore that Cape Ann
sloop loaded ’em, an’ they was monstrous, an’ no mistake. Have some
butter? She didn’t order none this mornin’, but I got some come in
this forenoon, sweet’s a nut,—four pounds for a dollar, an’”—

Caleb looked at him curiously. “Where did the wife say she was
a-goin’?” he interrupted.

“Wall, she didn’t say, ’cause I didn’t ketch up to her. I was comin’
down Nollins Hill over to Noank, when I see her ahead, walkin’ down
all in her Sunday rig, carryin’ a little bag like. I tho’t maybe she
was over to see the Nollins folks, till I left seven pounds fresh
mackerel nex’ door to Stubbins’s, an’ some Delaware eggs. Then I see
my stock of ice was nigh gone, so I druv down to the steamboat dock,
an’ there I catched sight of ’er agin jes’ goin’ aboard. I knowed
then, of course, she was off for Greenport an’ New York, an’ was jes’
sayin’ to myself, Wall, I’ll stop an’ see if anybody’s ter hum, an’ if
they’re all gone I won’t leave the meat, but”—

“Put the meat in the kitchen,” said Caleb, without rising from his
chair.

When the butcher drove off, the diver had not moved. His gaze was
fixed on the turn of the road. Beads of sweat stood out on his
forehead. A faint sickness unnerved him. Had he been cross or
impatient with her the last time he was at home, that she should serve
him so? Then a surge of anxiety swept over him, as he thought of Betty
going without letting him know. Why should she walk all the way to
Noank and take the boat across the Sound, twenty miles away, if she
wanted to go to New York? The railroad station was nearer and the fare
through was cheaper. He would have taken her himself, if he had only
known she wanted to go. He could have asked Captain Joe to give him a
couple of days off, and would have gone with her. If she had only left
some message, or sent some word by the men to the Ledge! Then, as his
thoughts traveled in a circle, catching at straws, his brain whirling,
his eye fell upon the clump of trees shading Captain Joe’s cottage.
Aunty Bell would know, of course; why had he not thought of that
before? Betty told Aunty Bell everything.

The busy little woman sat on the porch shelling peas, the pods popping
about her bright tin pan, as Caleb came up the board walk.

“Why, ye needn’t hev give yerself the trouble, Caleb, to come all the
way down!” she called out as he came within hearing. “Lonny Bowles’s
jest been here and told me cap’n ain’t comin’ home till Monday. I’m
’mazin’ glad them derricks is up. He ain’t done nothin’ but worrit
about ’em since spring opened, ’fraid somebody’d get hurted when he
set ’em. Took a lantern, here, night ’fore last, jest as we was goin’
to bed, after he’d been loadin’ ’em aboard the Screamer all day, an’
went down to the dock to see if Bill Lacey’d shrunk them collars on
tight enough. Guess Betty’s glad yer home. I ain’t see her to-day, but
I don’t lay it up agin her. I knowed she was busy cleanin’ up ’gin ye
come.”

Caleb’s heart leaped into his throat. If Betty had not told Aunty
Bell, there was no one else who would know her movements. It was on
his lips to tell her what the butcher had seen, when something in his
heart choked his utterance. If Betty had not wanted any one to know,
there was no use of his talking about it.

A man of different temperament, a nervous or easily alarmed or
suspicious man, would have caught at every clue and followed it to the
end. Caleb waited and kept still. She would telegraph or write him and
explain it all, he said to himself, or send some one to see him before
bedtime. So he merely answered he was glad Aunty Bell knew about
Captain Joe, nodded good-night, and passed slowly down the board walk
and up the road, his head on his chest, his big beard blowing about
his neck in the rising wind. He kept saying to himself that Betty
would telegraph or write and explain it all, or send some one to see
him before bedtime.

It was dark when he reached home. He lit the kerosene lamp and pulled
down the shades. He did not want passers-by to know he was alone. For
an hour or more he strode up and down the kitchen, his thumbs in his
suspenders, his supper untouched. Now and then he would stop as if
listening for a footfall, or fix his eye minutes at a time on some
crack in the floor or other object, gazing abstractedly at it, his
thoughts far away. Once he drew the lamp close and picked up the
evening paper, adjusting his big glasses; reading the same lines over
and over, until the paper fell of itself from his hands. Soon, worn
out with the hard fight of the day, he fell asleep in his chair,
awaking some hours after, his mind torn with anxiety. Then he took off
his shoes and crept upstairs in his stocking feet, holding to the
balustrade as a tired man will do, entered his bedroom, and dropped
into a chair.

All through the night he slept fitfully; waking with sudden starts,
roused by the feeling that some horrible shadow had settled upon him,
that something he could not name to himself was standing behind
him—always there, making him afraid to turn and look. When he was
quite awake, and saw the dim outlines of the untouched bed with its
smooth white pillows, the undefinable fear would slowly take shape,
and he would start up in his chair, and as if to convince himself he
would take a long look at the bed, with the relief of one able at last
to explain a horror the vagueness of which had tortured him. “Yes, I
know, Betty’s gone.” Then, overcome with fatigue, he would doze again.

With the breaking of the day he sprang from his chair, half dazed,
threw up the narrow sash to feel the touch of the cool, real world,
and peered between the slats of the shutters, listening to the wind
outside, now blowing a gale and dashing against the blinds.

None of the other houses were open yet. He was glad of that, glad of
their bare, cold, indifferent exteriors, blind to the outside world.
It was as though he felt his secret still safe from prying eyes, and
he meant to guard it always from them; to let none of them know what
his night had been, or that Betty had been away for so long without
telling him. When she came home again she would help, he knew, to
smooth away the marks of it all, the record of his pain. Her bright
face would look up into his, her little hands pat his cheeks, and he
would then know all about it, why she went and where, and he would
take the little girl wife in his arms, and comfort her in the
suffering that would surely come to her when she discovered that her
thoughtlessness had caused him any misery.

No! He would tell no one. He would simply wait, all day if necessary,
all day and another night. He could trust her. It was all right, he
knew. He did not even mind the waiting.

Then while he was still thinking, still determining to keep silent,
still satisfying himself that all was well, he turned rapidly and
tiptoed downstairs.

With nervous, trembling fingers he took a suit of tarpaulins and a
sou’wester from a hook behind the porch door, and walked down to the
dock. Some early lobstermen, bailing a skiff, saw him stand for a
moment, look about him, and spring aboard a flat-bottomed sharpie, the
only boat near by,—a good harbor boat, but dangerous in rough
weather. To their astonishment, he raised the three-cornered sail and
headed for the open sea.

“Guess Caleb must be crazy,” said one man, resting his scoop for a
moment, as he watched the boat dip almost bow under. “Thet sharpie
ain’t no more fittin’ for thet slop sea ’n ever was. What do ye s’pose
ails him, anyhow? Gosh A’mighty! see her take them rollers. If it was
anybody else but him he wouldn’t git to the P’int. Don’t make no
difference, tho’, to him. He kin git along under water jes’ ’s well’s
on top.”

As the boat flew past Keyport Light and Caleb laid his course to the
Ledge, the keeper, now that the dawn had come, was in the lantern
putting out his light and drawing down his shades. Seeing Caleb’s boat
tossing below him, he took down his glass.

“What blamed fool is that tryin’ to get himself measured for a
coffin?” he said.

The men were still asleep when Caleb reached the Ledge and threw open
the door of the shanty,—all but Nickles, who was preparing breakfast.
He looked at Caleb as if he had been an apparition, and followed him
to the door of Captain Joe’s cabin, a little room by itself. He wanted
to hear the dreadful news he brought. Unless some one was dead or
dying no man would risk such a sea alone,—not even an old sailor like
the diver.

Caleb opened the door of the captain’s little room and closed it tight
behind him, without a word to the cook. The captain lay asleep in his
bunk, one big arm under his head, his short curly hair matted close.

“Cap’n Joe,” said Caleb, laying his hand on the sleeping man’s
shoulder and shaking him gently,—“Cap’n Joe, it’s me,—Caleb.”

The captain raised his head and stared at him. Then he sat upright,
trying to collect his thoughts.

“Cap’n, I had to come for ye,—I want ye.”

“It ain’t Aunty Bell, is it?” said Captain Joe, springing to the
floor. The early hour, the sough of the wind and beating of the rain
on the roof of the shanty, Caleb dripping wet, with white drawn face,
standing over him, told him in a flash the gravity of the visit.

“No, it’s my Betty. She’s gone,—gone without a word.”

[Illustration: “No, it’s my Betty”]

“Gone! Who with?”

Caleb sunk on Captain Joe’s sea-chest, and buried his face in his
blistered hands. For a moment he dared not trust himself to answer.

“I don’t know—I don’t know”—The broken words came between his rough
fingers. Big tears rolled down his beard.

“Who says so? How do you know she’s gone?”

“The butcher seen ’er goin’ ’board the boat at Noank yesterday
mornin’. She fixed everythin’ at home ’fore she went. I ain’t been to
bed all night. I don’t know what ye kin do, but I had to come. I
thought maybe you’d go home with me.”

The captain did not answer. Little scraps of gossip that he had heard
now and then among the men floated through his memory. He had never
paid any attention to them, except once when he had rebuked Nickles
for repeating some slurring remark that Carleton had made one night at
table. But even as he thought of them Betty’s face rose before
him,—her sweet, girlish face with its dimples.

“It’s a dirty lie, Caleb, whoever said it. I wouldn’t believe it if I
see it myself. Ain’t no better gal ’n Betty ever breathed. Go with
you! Course I will’s soon’s I get my clo’es on.” He dressed hurriedly,
caught up his oilskins, flung wide the shanty door, and made his way
over the platforms towards the wharf.

When they reached the little cove in the rocks below, where the
smaller boats were always sheltered, and he saw the sharpie, he
stopped short.

“You ain’t come out here in that, Caleb?”

“It was all I could get; there warn’t nothin’ else handy, Cap’n Joe.”

The captain looked the frail sharpie over from stem to stern, and then
called to Nickles: “Bring down one ’er them empty ker’sene five-gallon
cans; we got some bailin’ to do, I tell ye, ’fore we make Keyport
Light. No, there ain’t nothin’ up,” noticing Nickles’s anxious face.
“Caleb wants me to Keyport,—that’s all. Get breakfast, and tell the
men, when they turn out, that I’ll be back to-morrow in the Screamer,
if it smooths down.”

Caleb took his seat on the windward side of the tossing boat, holding
the sheet. The captain sat in the stern, one hand on the tiller. The
kerosene-can lay at their feet. The knees of the two men touched.

No better sailors ever guided a boat, and none ever realized more
clearly the dangers of their position.

The captain settled himself in his seat in silence, his eyes watching
every wave that raced by, and laid his course towards the white tower
five miles away, blurred gray in the driving rain. Caleb held the
sheet, his eyes facing the long, low line of hills where his cabin
lay. As he hauled the sheet closer a heavy sigh broke from him. It was
the first time since he had known Betty that he had set his face
homeward without a thrill of delight filling his heart. Captain Joe
heard the smothered sigh, and, without turning his head, laid his
great hand with its stiff thole-pin fingers tenderly on Caleb’s wrist.
These two men knew each other.

“I wouldn’t worry, Caleb,” he said, after a little. “That butcher sees
too much, an’ sometimes he don’t know nothin’. He’s allers got some
cock-an’-bull story ’bout somebody ’r other. Only las’ week he come
inter Gardiner’s drug store with a yarn ’bout the old man bein’
pisened, when it warn’t nothin’ but cramps. Ease a little, Caleb—s-o.
Seems to me it’s blowin’ harder.”

As he spoke, a quick slash of the cruel wind cut the top from a
pursuing wave and flung it straight in Caleb’s face. The diver, with
his stiffened fingers, combed the dripping spray from his beard, and
without a word drew his tarpaulins closer. Captain Joe continued:—

“Wust 'r them huckster fellers is they ain’t got no better sense 'an
to peddle everythin’ they know 'long with their stuff. Take
in—_take in, Caleb_! That _was_ a soaker.” The big wave
that had broken within a foot of the rail had drenched them from head
to foot. “Butcher didn’t say nobody was with Betty, did he?” he asked,
with a cant of his sou’wester to free it from sea-water.

Caleb shook his head.

“No, and there warn’t nobody. I tell ye this thing’ll straighten
itself out. Ye can’t tell what comes inter women’s heads sometimes.
She might’er gone over to Greenport to git some fixin’s for Sunday,
an’ would’er come back in the afternoon boat, but it blowed so. Does
she know anybody over there?”

Caleb did not answer. Somehow since he had seen Captain Joe hope had
gone out of his heart. He had understood but too clearly the doubting
question that had escaped the captain’s lips, as he sprang from the
bed and looked into his eyes. He was not a coward; he had faced
without a quiver many dangers in his time; more than once he had cut
his air-hose, the last desperate chance of a diver when his lines are
fouled. But his legs had shaken as he listened to Captain Joe. There
was something in the tone of his voice that had unmanned him.

For a mile or more the two men did not speak again. Wave after wave
pursued them, and tossed its angry spray after them. Captain Joe now
managed the sail with one hand, and steered with the other. Caleb
bailed incessantly.

When they ran under the lee of the lighthouse the keeper hailed them.
He had recognized Captain Joe. Indeed, he had followed the sharpie
with his glass until it reached the Ledge, and had watched its return
“with two fools instead of one,” he said.

“Anybody sick?” he shouted.

Captain Joe shook his head, and the sharpie plunged on and rounded the
point into the perfect calm of the protecting shore.

Caleb made fast the boat when land was reached, while the captain
sprang out. Then they both hurried up Caleb’s garden walk to the cabin
door.

There was no change in the house. The white china bowl still lay over
the supper, the newspaper on the floor; no one had entered since Caleb
had left.

The captain began a close search through the rooms: inside the clock,
all over the mantelpiece, and on the sitting-room table. No scrap of
writing could he find that shed a ray of light on Betty’s movements.
Then he walked upstairs, Caleb following him, and opened the bedroom
closet door. Her dresses hung in their usual places,—all but the one
she wore and her cloak, Caleb said.

“She ain’t gone for long,” said the captain thoughtfully, looking into
the closet. “You wait here, Caleb, and git yerself some breakfast. I
may be gone two hours, I may be gone all day. When I find out for sure
I’ll come back. I’m goin’ to Noank fust, to see them hands aboard the
boat. It’s Sunday, an’ she ain’t a-runnin’.”

Caleb waited by the fireless stove. Hour after hour went by. Now and
then he would open the front door and peer down the road, trying to
make out the captain’s burly, hurrying form. When it grew dark he put
a light in the window, and raised one shade on the kitchen side of the
house, that the captain might know he was still at home and waiting.

About nine o’clock Caleb heard the whistle of a tug and a voice
calling for some one to catch a line. He opened the kitchen door and
looked out on the wet gloom, that was broken here and there by the
masthead lights rocking in the wind. Then he recognized one of the big
Medford tugs lying off the dock below his garden; the hands were
making fast to a dock spile. Captain Joe sprang ashore, and the tug
steamed off.

The captain walked slowly towards the porch, entered the kitchen
without a word, and sank heavily into a chair. Caleb made no sound; he
stood beside him, waiting, one hand grasping the table.

“She’s gone, ain’t she?”

The captain nodded his head.

“Gone! Who with?” asked Caleb, unconsciously repeating the words that
had rung all day in his ears.

“Bill Lacey,” said the captain, with choking voice.



CHAPTER X

STRAINS FROM BOCK’S 'CELLO


Mrs. Leroy was one of the few women in town who realized what Sanford
and his friends had long ago discovered,—the possibilities of New
York in summer. To her it had now become its most delightful season, a
season of long days and short nights—days and nights of utter
idleness, great content, and blessed peace of mind; a season when one
could dine where one chose without a waiting cab and a hurried
departure at the bidding of somebody else; when the eleven o’clock
lecturer is silent, the afternoon tea a memory, and the epidemic of
the ten-course dinner a forgotten plague.

She had grown to believe with Sanford that if one could impress the
possibility of these truths upon the friends one loved, so that they,
and only they, could tiptoe back into their houses, keep their blinds
closed and their servants hidden, and so delude the balance of the
world—those they did not love, the uncongenial, the tiresome, the
bumptious, and the aggressive—into believing that they had fled; if
this little trick could be played on the world every June, and for
three long happy months only congenial spirits could spread themselves
over space and eat their lotus in peace (and with their fingers, if
they so pleased), then would each one discover that New York in summer
could indeed be made the Eldorado of one’s dreams.

Her own front door on Gramercy Park was never barricaded, nor was her
house dismantled. She changed its dress in May and put it into
charming summer attire of matting and chintz, making it a rare and
refreshing retreat; and more than half her time she spent within its
walls, running down to Medford whenever the cares of that
establishment required attention, or a change of mood made a change of
scene desirable.

Since the visit when Captain Joe had dismissed her with his thanks
from the warehouse hospital at Keyport she had gone to Medford but
once.

The major had been a constant visitor, and Jack Hardy and his fiancée,
Helen Shirley, had on more than one occasion hidden themselves, on
moonlight nights, in the shadows of the big palms fringing her balcony
overlooking the Park. Sanford had not seen her as often as he wished.
Work on the Ledge had kept him at Keyport, and allowed him but little
time in town.

With the setting of the derricks, however, he felt himself at liberty
for a holiday, and he had looked forward with a feeling of almost
boyish enthusiasm—which he never quite outgrew—to a few days’
leisure in town, and a morning or two with Mrs. Leroy.

When the maid brought up his card, Mrs. Leroy was at her desk in the
little boudoir, with its heaps of silk cushions, its disorder of
books, and bloom of mignonette and red geraniums filling the windows
that looked straight into the trees of the Park. Here the sun shone in
winter, and here the moonlight traced the outlines of bare branches
upon her window-shades, and here in summer the coolest of cool shadows
fell from tree and awning.

“Why, I expected you yesterday, Henry,” she said, holding out her
hand, seating Sanford upon the divan, and drawing up a chair beside
him. “What happened?”

“Nothing more serious than an elopement.”

“Not Jack and Helen Shirley?” she said, laughing.

“No; I wish it were; they would go on loving each other. This affair
brings misery. It’s Caleb West’s wife. Captain Joe is half crazy about
it, and poor Caleb is heartbroken. She has gone off with that young
fellow she was nursing the day you came up with the major.”

“Eloped! Pretty doings, I must say. Yes, I remember her,—a trim,
rather pretty little woman with short curly hair. I caught a glimpse
of Caleb, too, you know, as he came in from the Ledge. He seemed years
older than she. What had he done to her?”

“Nothing, so far as I know, except love her and take care of her. Poor
Caleb!”

“What did he let her go for, then? I’m sorry for the old diver, but it
was his fault, somewhere. The girl had as good a face as I ever looked
into. She never left her husband without some cause, poor child. What
else has happened at Keyport?”

“Kate, don’t talk so. She’s treated him shamefully. They have only
been married two years.”

Mrs. Leroy bent her head and looked out under the awnings for a moment
in a thoughtful way. “Only two years?” she said, with some bitterness.
“The poor child was impatient. When she had tried it for fifteen she
would have become accustomed to it. It is the same old story, I
suppose. We hear it every day. He ugly and old and selfish, never
thinking of what she would like and what she longed for, keeping her
shut up to sing for him when she wanted now and then to sing for
herself; and then she found the door of the cage open, and out she
flew. Poor little soul! I pity her. She had better have borne it; it
is a poor place outside for a tired foot; and she’s nothing but a
child.” Then musing, patting her slipper impatiently, “What sort of a
man has she gone with? I couldn’t see him that morning, she hung over
him so close, and his head was so bandaged.”

“I don’t know much about him. I haven’t known him long,” Sanford
answered carelessly.

“Good-looking, isn’t he, and alive, and with something human and
manlike about him?” she asked, leaning forward eagerly, her hands in
her lap.

“Yes, I suppose so. He could climb like a cat, anyway,” said Sanford.

“Yes, I know, Henry. I see it all. I knew it was the same old story.
She wanted something fresh and young,—some one just to play with,
child as she is, some one nearer her own age to love. She was lonely.
Nothing for her to do but sit down and wait for him to come home. Poor
child,” with a sigh, “her misery only begins now. What else have you
to tell me?”

“Nothing, except that all of the derricks tumbled. I wired you about
it. They are all up now, thank goodness.” He knew her interest was
only perfunctory. Her mind, evidently, was still on Betty, but he went
on with his story: “Everybody got soaking wet. Captain Joe was in the
water for hours. But we stuck to it. Narrowest escape the men have had
this summer, Kate, since the Screamer’s. It’s a great mercy nobody was
hurt. I expected every minute some one would get crushed. No one but
Captain Joe could have got them up that afternoon. It blew a gale for
three days. When did you get here? I thought you had gone back to
Medford until Sam brought me your note.”

“No, I am still here, and shall be here for a week. Now, don’t tell me
you’re going back to-night?”

“No, I’m not, but I can’t say how soon; not before the masonry begins,
anyhow. Jack Hardy is coming to-morrow night to my rooms. I have asked
a few fellows to meet him,—Smearly and Curran, and old Bock with his
'cello, and some others. Since Jack’s engagement he’s the happiest
fellow alive.”

“They all are at first, Henry,” said Mrs. Leroy, laughing, her head
thrown back. The memory of Jack and Helen was still so fresh and happy
a one that it instantly changed her mood.

Betty and Caleb for the moment were forgotten, while they talked of
Helen’s future, of the change in Jack’s life, of his new housekeeping,
and of the thousand and one things that interested them both,—the
kind of talk that two such friends indulge in who have been parted for
a week or more, and who, in the first ten minutes, run lightly over
their individual experiences, so that both may start fresh again with
nothing hidden in either life. When he rose to go, she kept him
standing while she pinned in his buttonhole a sprig of mignonette
picked from her window-box, and said, with the deepest interest, “I
can’t get that poor child out of my mind. Don’t be too hard on her,
Henry; she’s the one who will suffer most.”

When Sanford reached his rooms again he sank into a chair which Sam
had drawn close to the window, and sighed with content. “Oh, these
days off!” he exclaimed.

The appointments of his own apartments seemed never so satisfying and
so welcome as when he had spent a week with his men, taking his share
of the exposure with all the discomforts that it brought. His early
life had fitted him for these changes, and a certain cosmopolitan
spirit in the man, a sort of underlying stratum of Bohemianism, had
made it easy for him to adapt himself to his surroundings, whatever
they might be. Not that his restless spirit could long have endured
any life, either rough or luxurious, that repeated itself day after
day. He could idle with the idlest, but he must also work when the
necessity came, and that with all his might.

Sam always made some special preparation for his home-coming. To-day
the awnings were hung over window and balcony, and the most delightful
of luncheons had been arranged,—cucumbers smothered in ice,
soft-shell crabs, and a roll of cream cheese with a dash of Kirsch and
sugar. “I know he don’t git nuffin fit for a dog to eat when he’s
away. 'Fo’ God I don’t know how he stands it,” Sam was accustomed to
observe to those of his friends who sometimes watched his
preparations.

“Major’s done been hyar 'mos’ ebery day you been gone, sah,” he said,
drawing out Sanford’s chair, when luncheon was served. “How is it,
sah,—am I to mix a cocktail _ebery_ time he comes? An’ dat box
ob yo’ big cigars am putty nigh gone; ain’t no more ’n fo’r 'r five of
’em lef.” The major, Sam forgot to mention, was only partly to blame
for these two shrinkages in Sanford’s stores.

“What does he come so often for, Sam?” asked Sanford, laughing.

“Dat’s mor’ 'an I know, sah, ’cept he so anxious to git you back, he
says. He come twice a day to see if you’re yere. Co’se dere ain’t
nuffin cooked, an’ so he don’t git nuffin to eat, but golly! he’s
powerful on jewlips. I done tole him yesterday you wouldn’t be back
till to-morrow night. Dat whiskey’s all gin out; he saw der empty
bottle hisse’f; he ain’t been yere agin to-day,” with a chuckle.

“Always give the major whatever he wants,” said Sanford. “And Sam,” he
called as that darky was disappearing in the pantry, “a few gentlemen
will be here to supper to-morrow night. Remind me to make a list in
the morning of what you will want.”

The list was made out, and a very toothsome and cooling list it
was,—a frozen melon tapped and filled with a pint of Pommery sec, by
way of beginning. All the trays and small tables with their pipes and
smokables were brought out, a music-stand was opened and set up near a
convenient shaded candle, and the lid of the piano was lifted and
propped up rabbit-trap fashion.

Just as the moon was rising, silvering the tops of the trees in the
square below, Smearly in white flannels and flaming tie arrived fresh
from his studio, where he had been at work on a ceiling for some
millionaire’s salon. Jack followed in correct evening dress, and
Curran from his office, in a business suit. The major was arrayed in a
nondescript combination of yellow nankeen and black bombazine, that
would have made him an admirable model for a poster in two tints. He
was still full of his experiences at the warehouse hospital after the
accident to the Screamer. His little trip to Keyport as acting escort
to Mrs. Leroy had not only opened his eyes to a class of workingmen of
whose existence he had never dreamed, but it had also furnished him
with a new and inexhaustible topic of conversation. Every visitor at
his downtown office had listened to his recital by the hour. To-night,
however, the major had a new audience, and a new audience always added
fuel to the fire of his eloquence.

When the subject of the work at the Ledge came up, and the sympathy of
everybody was expressed to Sanford over the calamity to the
Screamer,—they had not seen him since the explosion,—the major broke
out:—

“You ought to have gone with us, my dear Smearly.” (To have been the
only eye-witness at the front, except Sanford himself, gave the major
great scope.) “Giants, suh,—every man of ’em; a race, suh, that would
do credit to the Vikings; bifurcated walruses, suh; amphibious titans,
that can work as well in water as out of it. No wonder our dear Henry”
(this term of affection was not unusual with the major) “accomplishes
such wonders. I can readily understand why you never see such fellows
anywhere else; they dive under water when the season closes,” he
continued, laughing, and, leaning over Curran’s shoulder, helped
himself to one of the cigars Sam was just bringing in.

“And the major outdid himself, that day, in nursing them,” interrupted
Sanford. “You would have been surprised, Jack, to see him take hold.
When I turned in for the night on a cot, he was giving one of the
derrickmen a sponge bath.”

“Learned it in the army,” said Curran, with a sly look at Smearly.
Both of them knew the origin of the major’s military title.

The major’s chin was upturned in the air; his head was wreathed in
smoke, the match, still aflame, held aloft with outstretched hand. He
always lighted his cigars in this lordly way.

“Many years ago, gentlemen,” the major replied, distending his chest,
throwing away the match, and accepting the compliment in perfect good
faith; “but these are things one never forgets.” The major had never
seen the inside of a camp hospital in his life.

The guests now distributed themselves, each after the manner of his
likes: Curran full length on a divan, the afternoon paper in his hand;
Jack on the floor, his back to the wall, a cushion behind his head;
Smearly in an armchair; and the major bolt upright on a camp-stool
near a table which held a select collection of drinkables, presided
over by a bottle of seltzer in a silver holder. Sam moved about like a
restless shadow, obedient to the slightest lifting of Sanford’s
eyebrow, when a glass needed filling or a pipe replenishing.

At ten o’clock, lugging in his great 'cello, Bock came,—short, round,
and oily, with a red face that beamed with good humor, and fat puffy
hands that wrinkled in pleats when he held his bow. Across a
perpetually moist forehead was pasted a lock of black hair. He wore a
threadbare coat spattered with spots, baggy black trousers, and a
four-button brown holland waistcoat, never clean,—sometimes connected
with a collar so much ashamed of the condition of its companion
shirt-front that it barely showed its face over a black stock that was
held together by a spring. A man who was kindly and loyal; who loved
all his kind, spoke six languages, wrote for the Encyclopædia, and
made a 'cello sing like an angel.

Despite his frouziness, everybody who knew Bock liked him; those who
heard him play loved him. There was a pathos, a tender, sympathetic
quality in his touch, that one never forgot: it always seemed as if,
somehow, ready tears lingered under his bow. “With a tone like Bock’s”
was the highest compliment one could pay a musician. To Sanford this
man’s heart was dearer than his genius.

“Why, Bock, old man,” he called, “we didn’t expect you till eleven.”

“Yes, I know, Henri, but ze first wiolin, he take my place. Zey will
not know ze difference.” One fat hand was held up deprecatingly, the
fingers outspread. “Everybody fan and drink ze beer. Ah, Meester
Hardy, I have hear ze news; so you will leave ze brotherhood. And I
hear,” lowering his voice and laying his other fat hand affectionately
on Jack’s, “zat she ees most lofely. Ah, it ees ze best zing,” his
voice rising again. “When ve get old and ugly like old Bock, and so
heels over head wiz all sorts of big zings to build like Mr. Sanford,
or like poor Smearly paint, paint, all ze time paint, it ees too late
to zink of ze settle down. Ees it not so, you man Curran over zere,
wiz your newspaper over your head?” This time his voice was flung
straight at the recumbent editor as a climax to his breezy salutation.

“Yes, you’re right, Bock; you’re ugly enough to crowd a dime museum,
but I’ll forgive you everything if you’ll put some life into your
strings. I heard your orchestra the other night, and the first and
second violins ruined the overture. What the devil do you keep a lot
of”—

“What ees ze matter wiz ze overture, Meester Ole Bull?” said Bock,
pitching his voice in a high key, squeezing down on the divan and
pinching Curran’s arm with his fat fingers.

“Everything was the matter. The brass drowned the strings, and Reynier
might have had hair-oil on his bow for all the sound you heard. Then
the tempo was a beat too slow.”

“Henri Sanford, do you hear zis crazy man zat does not know one zing,
and lie flat on his back and talk such nonsense? Ze wiolin, Meester
Musical Editor Curran, must be pianissimo,—only ze leetle, ze ve’y
leetle, you hear. Ze aria is carried by ze reeds.”

“Carried by your grandmother!” said Curran, springing from the divan.
“Here, Sam, put a light on the piano. Now listen, you pagan. Beethoven
would get out of his grave if he could hear you murder his music. The
three bars are so,”—touching the keys, “not so!” And thus the
argument went on.

Out on the balcony, Smearly and Quigley, the marine painter, who had
just come in, were talking about the row at the Academy over the
rejection of Morley’s picture, while the major was in full swing with
Hardy, Sanford, and some of the later arrivals, including old
Professor Max Shutters, the biologist, who had been so impressively
introduced by Curran to the distinguished Pocomokian that the
professor had at once mistaken the major for a brother scientist.

“And you say, Professor Slocomb,” said the savant, his hand forming a
sounding-board behind his ear, “that the terrapin, now practically
extinct, was really plentiful in your day?”

“My learned suh, I have gone down to the edge of my lawn, overlooking
the salt-marsh, and seen ’em crawling around like potato bugs. The
niggahs couldn’t walk the shore at night without trampling on ’em.
This craze of yo’r millionaire epicures for one of the commonest
shell-fish we have is”—

“Amphibia,” suggested the professor, as if he had recognized a mere
slip of the tongue. “I presume you are referring to the _Malaclemmys
palustris_,—the diamond-back species.”

“You are right, suh,” said the major. “I had forgotten the
classification for the moment,” with an air of being perfectly at home
on the subject. “The craze for the palustris, my dear suh, is one of
the unaccountable signs of the times; it is the beginning of the fall
of our institutions, suh. We cannot forget the dishes of peacock
tongues in the old Roman days,—a thousand peacocks at a cou’se, suh.”

The major would have continued down through Gibbon and Macaulay if
Curran had not shouted out, “Keep still, every soul of you! Bock is
going to give us the Serenade.”

The men crowded about the piano. Smearly stood ready to turn the
leaves of the music for Curran, and Jack drew a chair closer to the
'cellist.

Bock uncovered the 'cello and held it between his knees, his fat hand
resting lightly on the strings. As Curran, with his foot on the pedal
of the piano, passed his hand rapidly over the keys, Bock’s head sank
to the level of his shoulders, his straggling hair fell over his coat
collar, his raised fingers balanced for a moment the short bow, and
then Schubert’s masterpiece poured out the very fullness of its heart.

A profound hush, broken only by the music, fell on the room. The old
professor leaned forward, both hands cupped behind his ears. Sanford
and Jack smoked on, their eyes half closed, and even the major
withheld his hand from the well-appointed tray and looked into his
empty glass.

At a time when the spell was deepest and the listeners held their
breath, the perfect harmony was broken by a discordant ring at the
outer door. Curran turned his head angrily, and Sanford looked at Sam,
who glided to the door with a catlike tread, opening it without a
sound, and closing it gently behind him. The symphony continued, the
music rising in interest, and the listeners forgot the threatened
interruption.

Then the door opened again, and Sam, making a wide détour, bent over
Sanford and whispered in his ear. A woman wanted to see him in the
hall. Sanford started, as if annoyed, arose from his seat, and again
the knob was noiselessly turned and the door as noiselessly closed,
shutting Sanford into the corridor.

“Do you wish to see me, madam?” he asked, crossing to a chair in which
the woman sat wrapped in a long cloak, her face buried in her hands.

The woman turned her head towards him without raising her eyelids.

“And you don’t know me any more, Mr. Sanford?”

“Betty! You here!” said Sanford, looking in astonishment at the
crouching figure before him.

“I had to come, sir. The druggist at the corner showed me the house. I
was a-waitin’ outside in the street below, hopin’ to see you come in.
Then I heard the music and knew you were home.” The voice shook with
every word. The young dimpled face was drawn and pale, the pretty
curly hair in disorder about her forehead. She had the air of one who
had been hunted and had just found shelter.

“Does Lacey know you are here?” asked Sanford, a dim suspicion rising
in his mind.

Betty shivered slightly, as if the name had hurt her. “No, sir. I left
him two nights ago. I got away while he was asleep. All I want now is
a place for to-night, and then perhaps to-morrow I can get work.”

“And you have no money?” asked Sanford.

Betty shook her head. “I had a little of my own, but it’s all gone,
and I’m so tired, and—the city frightens me so—when the night
comes.” The head dropped lower, the sobs choking her. After a little
she went on, drying her eyes with her handkerchief, rolled tight in
one hand; and resting her cheek on the bent fingers, “I didn’t know
nobody but you, Mr. Sanford. I can pay it back.” The voice was
scarcely audible.

Sanford stood looking down upon her bowed head. The tired eyelids were
half closed, the tears glistening in the light of the overhanging
lamp, the shadows of her black curls flecking her face. The cloak hung
loosely about her, the curve of her pretty shoulders outlined in its
folds. Then she lifted her head, and, looking Sanford in the eyes for
the first time, said in a broken, halting voice, “Did you—did
you—see—Caleb—Mr. Sanford?”

Sanford nodded slowly in answer. He was trying to make up his mind
what he should do with a woman who had broken the heart of a man like
Caleb. Through the closed door he heard the strains of Bock’s 'cello,
the notes vibrating plaintively. They belonged to some other world.

“Betty,” he said, leaning over her, “how could you do it?”

The girl covered her face with her hands and shrank within her cloak.
Sanford went on, his sense of Caleb’s wrongs overpowering him: “What
could Lacey do for you? If you could once see Caleb’s face you would
never forgive yourself. No woman has a right to leave a man who was as
good to her as your husband was to you. And now what has it all come
to? You’ve ruined yourself, and broken his heart.”

The girl trembled and bent her head, cowering under the pitiless
words; then, in a half-dazed way, she rose from her seat, and, without
looking at Sanford, said in a tired, hopeless voice, as if every word
brought a pain, “I think I’ll go, Mr. Sanford.”

Sanford watched her silently as she drew her cloak about her and
turned to the door. The pathos of the shrinking girlish figure
overcame him. He began to wonder if there were something under it all
that even Captain Joe did not know of. Then he remembered the tones of
compassion in Mrs. Leroy’s voice when her heart had gone out to this
girl the morning before, as she said, “Poor child, her misery only
begins now; it is a poor place for a tired foot.”

For an instant he stood irresolute. “Wait,” he said. “Wait a moment.”

Betty stood still, without raising her head.

Sanford paused in deep thought, with averted eyes.

“Betty,” he murmured at last in a softened voice, “you can’t go out
like this alone. I’ll take you, child, where you will be safe for the
night.”



CHAPTER XI

CAPTAIN JOE’S TELEGRAM


The morning after Betty’s visit to Sanford’s apartments, Captain Joe
was seen hurrying up the shore road at Keyport toward his cottage. His
eyes shone with excitement, and his breath came in short, quick puffs.
He wore his rough working-clothes, and held a yellow envelope in his
hand. When he reached the garden gate he swung it open with so mighty
a jerk that the sound of the dangling ball and chain thumping against
the palings brought Aunty Bell running to the porch.

“Sakes alive, Cap’n Joe!” she exclaimed, following him into the
kitchen, “whatever’s the matter? Ain’t nobody hurted, is there?”

“There will be ef I don’t git to New York purty quick. Mr. Sanford’s
got Betty, an’ them Leroy folks is a-keepin’ on her till I git there.”

Aunty Bell sank into a chair, her hands twisted in her apron, the
tears starting in her eyes.

“Who says so?”

“Telegram—come in the night,” he answered, almost breathless,
throwing the yellow envelope into her lap. “Git me a clean shirt quick
as God’ll let ye. I ain’t got but ten minutes to catch that eight-ten
train.”

“But ye ain’t a-goin’ till ye see Caleb, be ye? He won’t like it,
maybe, if”—

“Don’t ye stop there talkin’, Aunty Bell. Do as I tell ye,” he said,
stripping off his suspenders and tugging at his blue flannel shirt. “I
ain’t a-goin’ to stop for nobody nor nothin’. That little gal’s
fetched up hard jes’ where I knowed she would, an’ I won’t have a
minute’s peace till I git my hands onto her. I ain’t slep’ a night
since she left, an’ you know it.”

“How do ye know she’ll come with ye?” asked Aunty Bell, as she gave
him his shirt. Her hands were trembling.

“I ain’t a-worritin’,” he answered, thrusting his head and big chest
into the stiff garment; fumbling, as he spoke, with his brown hands,
for the buttons. “Gimme that collar.”

“Well, I’m kind’er wonderin’ if ye hadn’t better let Caleb know. I
don’t know what Caleb’ll say”—

“I ain’t a-carin’ what Caleb says. I’ll stop that leak when I git to
't.” He held his breath for a moment and clutched the porcelain button
with his big fingers, trying to screw it into his collar, as if it had
been a nut on a bolt. “Here, catch hold o’ this button; it’s so plaguy
tight. No,—I don’t want no toothbrush, nor nothin’. I wouldn’t ’er
come home at all, but I was so gormed up, an’ she’s along with them
Leroy folks Mr. Sanford knows. My—my”—he continued, forcing his
great arms through the tight sleeves of his Sunday coat with a humping
motion of his back, and starting toward the door. “Jes’ to think o’
Betty wanderin’ ’bout them streets at night!”

“Why, ye ain’t got no cravat on, Cap’n Joe!” called Aunty Bell,
running after him, tie in hand, to the porch.

“Here, give it to me!” he cried, snatching it and cramming it into his
pocket. “I’ll fix it on the train.” In another moment he was halfway
down the plank walk, waving his hand, shouting back over his shoulder,
“Send word to Cap’n Bob to load them other big stone an’ git ’em to
the Ledge to-day; the wind’s goin’ to haul to the south’ard. I’ll be
back ’bout eight o’clock to-night.”

Aunty Bell looked after his hurrying figure until the trees shut it
from view; then, gasping with excitement, angry with herself for
having asked so little, she reëntered the kitchen and again dropped
into a chair.

Betty’s flight had been a sore blow to the bustling little wife. She
had been the last to believe that Betty had really deserted Caleb for
Lacey, even after Captain Joe had told her how the mate of the
Greenport boat had seen them board the New York train together.

As for the captain, he had gone about his work with his mind filled
with varying emotions: sympathy for Caleb, sorrow and mortification
over Betty’s fall, and bitter, intense, dangerous hatred of Lacey.
These were each in turn, as they assailed her, consumed by a never
ending hunger to get the child home again, that she might begin the
undoing of her fatal step. To him she was still the little girl he
used to meet on the road, with her hair in a tangle about her head,
her books under her arm. As he had never fully realized, even when she
married Caleb, that anything had increased her responsibilities, or
that she could be anything but the child she looked,—so he could not
now escape the conviction that somehow or other “she’d been hoodooed,”
as he expressed it, and that when she came to herself her very soul
would cry out in bitter agony.

Every day since her flight he had been early and late at the telegraph
office, and had directed Bert Simmons, the letter-carrier on the shore
road, to hunt him up wherever he might be,—on the dock or aboard his
boat,—should a letter come bearing his name. The telegram, therefore,
was not a surprise. That Sanford should have found her was what he
could not understand.

Aunty Bell, with the big secret weighing at her heart, busied herself
about the house, so as to make the hours pass quickly. She was more
conservative and less impulsive in many things than the captain; that
is, she was apt to consider the opinions of her neighbors, and shape
her course accordingly, unless stopped by one of her husband’s
outbursts and won over to his way of thinking. The captain knew no law
but his own emotions, and his innate sense of right and wrong
sustained by his indomitable will and courage. If the other folks
didn’t like it, the other folks had to get out of the way; he went
straight on.

“Ain’t nobody goin’ to have nothin’ to do with Betty, if she does git
tired of Lacey an’ wants to come home, poor child,” Aunty Bell had
said to Captain Joe only the night before, as they sat together at
supper. “Them Nevins gals was sayin’ yesterday they’d pass her on the
road and wouldn’t speak to her, not if they see her starvin’, and was
a-goin’ on awful about it; and Mis’ Taft said”—

The captain raised his head quickly. “Jane Bell,”—when the captain
called Aunty Bell “Jane” the situation was serious,—“I ain’t got
nothin’ to do with them Nevins gals, nor Mis’ Taft, nor nobody else,
and you ain’t got nothin’, neither. Ain’t we hed this child runnin’ in
an’ out here jes’ like a kitten ever since we been here? Don’t you
know clean down in yer heart that there ain’t no better gal ever lived
'n Betty? Ain’t we all liable to go ’stray, and ain’t we all of us so
dirt mean that if we had our hatches off there ain’t nobody who see
our cargo would speak to us? Now don’t let me hear no more about folks
passin’ her by. I ain’t a-goin’ to pass her by, and you ain’t,
neither, if them Nevins gals and old Mother Taft and the whole kit and
caboodle of ’em walks on t’other side.”

She remembered the very sound of these words, as she rested for a
moment, rocking to and fro, in the kitchen, after the captain had
gone, her fat little feet swinging clear of the floor. She could even
hear the tone of his voice, and could see the flashing of his eye. The
remembrance gave her courage. She wanted some one to come in, that she
might put on the captain’s armor and fight for the child herself.

She had not long to wait. Mrs. Taft was already coming up the
walk,—for dinner, perhaps. Carleton was walking beside her. They had
met at the gate.

“I heard the captain had to go to New York, Aunty Bell, and so I
thought maybe you’d be alone,” said Mrs. Taft, taking off her bonnet.
“No news from the runaway, I suppose? Ain’t it dreadful? She’s the
last girl in the world I would ’a’ thought of doing a thing like
that.”

“We ain’t none of us perfect, Mis’ Taft. Take a chair, Mr. Carleton.
If we was, we could most of us stay here; there wouldn’t be no use o’
heaven.”

“But, Aunty Bell!” exclaimed the visitor, “you surely don’t
think—Why, it’s awful for Betty to go and do what she did”—

“I ain’t judgin’ nobody, Mis’ Taft. I ain’t a-blamin’ Betty, an’ I
ain’t a-blamin’ Caleb. I’m only thinkin’ of all the sufferin’ that
poor child’s got to go through now, an’ what a mean world this is for
her to have to live in.”

“Serves the old man right for marrying a girl young enough to be his
daughter,” said Carleton, with a laugh, tilting back his chair,—his
favorite attitude. “I made up my mind the first day I saw her that she
was a little larky. She’s been fooling West all summer,—anybody could
see that.” He had not forgiven the look in Caleb’s eye that afternoon
aboard the Screamer. “When ’s the captain coming home?”

Aunty Bell looked at the superintendent, her lips curling, as the
hard, dry laugh rang in her ears. She had never fancied him, and she
liked him less now than ever. Her first impulse was to give him a
piece of her mind,—an indigestible morsel when served hot. Then she
remembered that her husband was having some difficulty with him about
the acceptance of the concrete disk, and so her temper, chilled by
this more politic second thought, cooled down and stiffened into a
frigid determination not to invite him to dinner if she ate nothing
herself all day.

“Cap’n 'll be here in the mornin’,” she answered curtly. “Got any
message for him?”

“Yes. Tell him I was out to the Ledge yesterday with my transit, and
the concrete is too low by six inches near the southeast derrick. It’s
got to come up to grade before I can certify. I thought I’d come in
and tell him,—he wanted to know.”

The door opened, and the tall form of Captain Bob Brandt, the
Screamer’s skipper, entered.

“Excuse me, Mis’ Bell,” he said, removing his hat and bowing
good-humoredly to everybody. “I saw ye pass, Mr. Carleton, an’ I
wanted to tell ye that we’re ready now to h’ist sail fur the Ledge. We
got 'leven stone on. Caleb ain’t workin’ this week, an’ one o’ the
other divers’s a-goin’ to set ’em. Guess it’s all right; the worst is
all done. Will you go out with us, or trust me to git ’em right?”

“Well, where are you going to put ’em?” asked Carleton in his voice of
authority.

“Las’ time Caleb was down, sir, he said he wanted four more stone near
the boat-landin’, in about twelve foot o’ water, to finish that row;
then we kin begin another layer nex’ to ’em, if ye say so. S’pose you
know Cap’n Joe ain’t here?—gone to New York. Will you go with us?”

“No; you set ’em. I’ll come out in the tug in the morning and drop a
rod on ’em, and if they’re not right you’ll have to take 'em up again.
That concrete’s out of level, you know.”

“What concrete?”

“Why, the big circular disk,” snapped Carleton.

This was only another excuse of Carleton’s for refusing to sign the
certificate. The engineer had postponed his visit, and so this fresh
obstruction was necessary to maintain his policy of delay.

“Not when I see it, sir, three days ago,” said Captain Brandt in
surprise. “It was dead low water, an’ the tide jest touched the edges
of the outer band all round even.”

“Well, I guess I know,” retorted the superintendent, flaring up. “I
was out there yesterday with a level, an’ walked all over it.”

“Must’er got yer feet wet, then, sir,” said the skipper, with a laugh,
as he turned toward the door. “The tide’s been from eight inches to a
foot higher ’n usual for three days past; it’s full-moon tides.”

During the talk Aunty Bell and Mrs. Taft had slipped into the
sitting-room, and the superintendent, finding himself alone, called to
the skipper, and joined him on the garden walk.

As the afternoon hours wore on, and no other callers came in,—Mrs.
Taft having gone,—Aunty Bell brought a big basket, filled with an
assortment of yarn stockings of varied stains and repairs, out to a
chair on the porch, and made believe to herself that she was putting
them in order for the captain when he should need a dry pair. Now and
then she would stop, her hand in the rough stocking, her needle
poised, her mind going back to the days when she first moved to
Keyport, and this curly-haired girl from the fishing-village a mile or
more away had won her heart. Since the death of that baby girl of long
ago, Betty, somehow, had filled day by day all the deep corners of the
sore heart, still aching from this earlier sorrow. When the girl’s
mother died, a few months after Betty’s marriage, Aunty Bell had
thrown a shawl over her head, and, going to Caleb’s cabin, had mounted
the stairs to Betty’s little room and shut the door. With infinite
tenderness she had drawn the girl’s head down on her own bosom, and
had poured out to her all the mother’s love she had in her own heart,
and had told her of that daughter of her dreams. Betty had not
forgotten it, and among all those she knew on the shore road she loved
Aunty Bell the best. There were few days in the week—particularly in
the summer, when Caleb was away—that she was not doing something for
Aunty Bell, her bright face and merry, ringing laugh filling the house
and the little woman’s life,—an infectious, bubbling, girlish laugh
that made it a delight to be with her.

But a fresh thought, like a draft from an open door, rushed into Aunty
Bell’s mind with a force that sent a shiver through her tender heart,
and chilled every kind impulse. Suppose Caleb should turn his back on
this girl wife of his. What then? Ought she to take her to her heart
and brave it out with the neighbors? What sort of an example was it to
other young women along the shore, Aunty Bell’s world? Could they,
too, run off with any young fellows they met, and then come home and
be forgiven? It was all very well for the captain,—he never stopped
to think about these things,—that was his way; but what was
_her_ duty in the matter? Would it not be better in the end for
Betty if she were made to realize her wrong-doing, and to suffer for
it?

These alternating memories and perplexities absorbed her as she sat on
the porch, the stockings in her lap, her mind first on one course of
action and then on another, until some tone of Betty’s voice, or the
movement of her hand, or the toss of her head came back, and with it
the one intense, overwhelming desire to help and comfort the child she
loved.

When it began to grow dark she lighted the lamp in the front room, and
made herself a cup of tea in the kitchen. Every few minutes she
glanced at the clock, her ears alert for the whistle of the incoming
train. Losing confidence even in the clock, she again took her seat on
the porch, her arms on the rail, her plump chin resting on her hands,
straining her eyes to see far down the road.

When the signaling whistle of the train was heard, the long-drawn
sound reverberating over the hills, she ran to the gate, and stood
there, her apron thrown over her head. Soon a carriage passed, filled
with summer visitors, their trunks piled in front, and drove on up the
road. Then a man carrying a bag hurried by with two women, their arms
full of bundles. After that the road was deserted. These appeared to
be all the passengers coming her way. As the minutes dragged, and no
sound of footsteps reached her ear, and no big burly figure with a
slender girl beside it loomed against the dim light of the fading sky,
her courage failed and her eyes began to grow moist. She saw it all
now: Betty dared not come home and face Caleb and the others!

Suddenly she heard her name called from inside the house, and again
from the kitchen door.

“Aunty Bell! Aunty Bell! where be ye?”

It was the captain’s voice: he must have left the train at the
drawbridge and crossed lots, coming in at the rear gate.

She hurried up the plank walk, and met him at the kitchen door. He was
leaning against the jamb. It was too dark to see his face. A dreadful
sense of some impending calamity overcame her.

“Where’s Betty?” she faltered, scarcely able to speak.

The captain pointed inside.

The little woman pushed past him into the darkening room. For a moment
she stood still, her eyes fixed on Betty’s slender, drooping figure
and bowed head, outlined against the panes of the low window.

“Betty!” she cried, running forward with outstretched arms.

The girl did not move.

“Betty—my child!” Aunty Bell cried again, taking the weeping woman in
her arms.

Then, with smothered kisses and halting, broken speech, these two—the
forgiving and the forgiven—sank to the floor.

Outside, on a bench by the door, sat the captain, rocking himself,
bringing his hands down on his knees, and with every seesaw repeating
in a low tone to himself, “She’s home. She’s home.”



CHAPTER XII

CAPTAIN JOE’S CREED


When Captain Joe flung open Caleb’s cabin door, the same cry was on
his lips: “She’s home, Caleb, she’s home! Run 'way an’ lef’ him, jes’
’s I knowed she would, soon’s she got the spell off’n her.”

Caleb looked up over the rim of his glasses into the captain’s face.
He was sitting at the table in his shirt-sleeves and rough overalls,
the carpet slippers on his feet. He was eating his supper,—the supper
that he had cooked himself.

“How d’ ye know?” he asked. The voice did not sound like Caleb’s; it
was hoarse and weak.

“She come inter Mr. Sanford’s place night 'fore last, scared almost to
death, and he tuk her to them Leroy folks; they was stavin’ good to
her an’ kep’ ’er till mornin’, an’ telegraphed me. I got the eight-ten
this mornin’. There warn’t no time, Caleb,”—in an apologetic
tone,—“or I’d sent for ye, jes’ ’s Aunty Bell wanted me to; but I
knowed ye’d understand. We jes’ got back. I’d brought ’er up, only
she’s dead beat out, poor little gal.”

It was a long answer of the captain’s to so direct a question, and it
was made with more or less misgiving. It was evident from his manner
that he was a little nervous over the result. He did not take his eyes
from the diver’s face as he fired these shots at random, wondering
where and how they would strike.

“Where is she now?” inquired Caleb quietly.

“Down on my kitchen floor with her head in Aunty Bell’s lap. Git yer
hat and come 'long.” The captain leaned over the table as he spoke,
and rested one hand on the back of Caleb’s chair.

Caleb did not raise his eyes nor move. “I can’t do her no good no
more, Cap’n Joe. It was jes’ like ye to try an’ help her. Ye’d do it
for anybody that was a-sufferin’; but I don’t see _my_ way clear.
I done all I could for her 'fore she lef’ me,—leastwise I thought I
had.” There was no change in the listless monotone of his voice.

“You allus done by her, Caleb.” The captain’s hand had slipped from
the chair-back to Caleb’s shoulder. “I know it, and she knows it now.
She ain’t ever goin’ to forgive herself for the way she’s treated
ye,—tol’ me so to-day comin’ up. She’s been hoodooed, I tell
ye,—that’s what’s the matter; but she’s come to now. Come along; I’ll
git yer hat. She ought’er go to sleep purty soon.”

“Ye needn’t look for my hat, Cap’n Joe. I ain’t a-goin’,” said Caleb
quietly, leaning back in his chair. The lamp shone full on his face
and beard. Captain Joe could see the deep lines about the eyes,
seaming the dry, shrunken skin. The diver had grown to be a very old
man in a week.

“You say you ain’t a-goin’, Caleb?” In his heart he had not expected
this.

“No, Cap’n Joe; I’m goin’ to stay here an’ git along th’ best way I
kin. I ain’t blamin’ Betty. I’m blamin’ myself. I been a-thinkin’ it
all over. She done ’er best to love me and do by me, but I was too old
for ’er. If it hadn’t been Billy, it would’er been somebody
else,—somebody younger ’n me.”

“She don’t want nobody else but you, Caleb.” The captain’s voice rose
quickly. He was crossing the room for a chair as he spoke. “She told
me so to-day. She purty nigh cried herself sick comin’ up. I was
afeard folks would notice her.”

“She’s sorry now, cap’n, an’ wants ter come back, ’cause she’s skeered
of it all, but she don’t love me no more ’n she did when she lef’ me.
When Billy finds she’s gone, he’ll be arter her agin”—

“Not if I git my hands on him,” interrupted the captain angrily,
dragging the chair to Caleb’s side.

“An’ when she begins to hunger for him,” continued Caleb, taking no
notice of the outburst, “it’ll be all to do over agin. She won’t be
happy without him. I ain’t got nothin’ agin ’er, but I won’t take ’er
back. It’ll only make it wus for her in the end.”

“Ye ain’t a-goin’ ter chuck that gal out in the road, be ye?” cried
Captain Joe, seating himself beside the table, his head thrust forward
in Caleb’s face in his earnestness. “What’s she but a chit of a child
that don’t know no better?” he burst out. “She ain’t more ’n twenty
now, and here’s some on us more ’n twice ’er age and liable to do wus
every day. Think of yerself when ye was her age. Do ye remember all
the mean things ye done, and the lies ye told? S’pose you’d been
chucked out as ye want to do to Betty. It ain’t decent for ye to talk
so, Caleb, and I don’t like ye fur it, neither. She’s a good gal, and
you know it,” and the captain, in his restlessness, shifted the chair
and planted it immediately in front of Caleb, where he could look him
straight in the eye. Aunty Bell had told him just what Caleb would
say, but he had not believed it possible.

“I ain’t said she warn’t, Cap’n Joe. I ain’t blamin’ her, nor never
will. I’m blamin’ myself. I ought’er stayed tendin’ light-ship
instead’er comin’ ashore and spilin’ ’er life. I was lonely, and the
fust one was allus sickly, an’ I thought maybe my time had come then;
and it did while she was with me. I’d ruther heared her a-singin’,
when I come in here at night, than any music I ever knowed.” His voice
broke for a moment. “I done by her all I could, but I begin to see
lately she was lonelier here with me than I was 'board ship with
nothin’ half the time to talk to but my dog. I didn’t think it was
Billy she wanted, but I see it now.”

Captain Joe rose from his chair and began pacing the room. His
onslaughts broke against Caleb’s indomitable will with as little
effect as did the waves about his own feet the day he set the
derricks.

[Illustration: “What’s she but a chit of a child that don’t know no
better”]

His faith in Betty’s coming to herself had never been shaken for an
instant. If it had, it would all have been restored the morning she
met him at Mrs. Leroy’s, and, throwing her arms about him, clung to
him like a frightened kitten. His love for the girl was so great that
he had seen but one side of the question. Her ingratitude, her
selfishness in ignoring the disgrace and misery she would bring this
man who had been everything to her, had held no place in the captain’s
mind. To him the case was a plain one. She was young and foolish, and
had committed a fault; she was sorry and repentant; she had run away
from her sin; she had come back to the one she had wronged, and she
wanted to be forgiven. That was his steadfast point of view, and this
was his creed: “Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more.” That
Caleb did not view the question in the same way at first astonished,
then irritated him. If she had broken the Master’s command again, he
would perhaps have let her go her way,—for what was innately bad he
hated,—but not now, when she had awakened to a sense of her sin. He
continued to pace up and down Caleb’s kitchen, his hands behind his
broad back, his horny, stubby fingers twisting nervously together.
Caleb sat still in his chair, the lamplight streaming over his face.
In all the discussion his voice had been one low monotone. It seemed
but a phonographic echo of his once clear tones.

The captain resumed his seat with a half-baffled, weary air.

“Caleb,” he said,—there was a softness now in the tones of his voice
that made the diver raise his head,—“you and me hev knowed each other
off 'n’ on for nigh on to twenty years. We’ve had it thick and nasty,
and we’ve had as clear weather as ever a man sailed in. You’ve tried
to do square 'tween man and man, and so far’s I know, ye have, and I
don’t believe ye’re goin’ to turn crooked now. From the time this
child used to come down to the dock, when I fust come to work here,
and talk to me 'tween school hours, and Aunty Bell would take her in
to dinner, down to the time she got hoodooed by that smooth face and
lyin’ tongue,—damn him! I’ll spile t’other side for him, some day,
wus than the Screamer did,—from that time, I say, this ’ere little
gal ain’t been nothin’ but a bird fillin’ everything full of singin’
from the time she got up till she went to bed agin. I ask ye now, man
to man, if that ain’t so?”

Caleb nodded his head.

“During all that time there ain’t been a soul up and down this road,
man, woman, nor child, that she wouldn’t help if she could,—and
there’s a blame’ sight of ’em she did help, as you an’ I know: sick
child’en, sittin’ up with ’em nights; an’ makin’ bonnets for folks as
couldn’t git ’em no other way, without payin’ for 'em; and doin’ all
she could to make this place happier for her bein’ in it. Since she’s
been yer wife, there ain’t been a tidier nor nicer place along the
shore road than yours, and there ain’t been a happier little woman nor
home nowheres. Is that so, or not?”

Again Caleb nodded his head.

“While all this is a-goin’ on, here comes that little skunk, Bill
Lacey, with a tongue like ’n ile-can, and every time she says she’s
lonely or tired—and she’s had plenty of it, you bein’ away—he up’s
with his can and squirts it into ’er ear about her bein’ tied to an
old man, and how if she’d married him he wouldn’t ’a’ lef her a
minute”—

Caleb looked up inquiringly, an ugly gleam in his eyes.

“Oh, I ketched him at it one day in my kitchen, and I tol’ him then
I’d break his head, and I wish to God I had, now! Purty soon comes the
time with the Screamer, and his face gets stove in. What does Betty
do? Leave them men to git 'long best way they could,—like some o’ the
folks round here that was just as well able to 'ford the time,—or did
she stand by and ketch a line and make fast? I’ll tell ye what she
done, ’cause I was there, and you warn’t. Fust one come ashore was
Billy; he looked like he’d fallen off a topgall’nt mast and struck the
deck with his face. Lonny Bowles come next; he warn’t so bad mashed
up. What did Betty do? Pick out the easiest one? No, she jes’ anchored
right 'longside that boy, and hung on, and never had ’er clo’es off
for nigh on to forty-eight hours. If he’s walkin’ round now he owes it
to her. Is that so, or not?”

“It’s true, cap’n,” said Caleb, his eyes fastened on the captain’s
face. The lids were heavy now; only his will held back the tears.

“For three weeks this went on, she a-settin like a little rabbit with
her paws up starin’ at him, her eyes gettin’ bigger all the time, an’
he lyin’, coiled up like a snake, lookin’ up into her face until he’d
hoodooed her and got her clean off her centre. Now there’s one thing
I’m a-goin’ to ask ye, an’ before I ask ye, an’ before ye answer it,
I’m a-goin’ to ask ye another: when the Three Sisters come ashore on
Deadman Shoal las’ winter in that sou’easter, ’cause the light warn’t
lit, an’ all o’ them men was drownded, whose fault was it?”

“Why, you know, Cap’n Joe,” Caleb interposed quickly, eager to defend
a brother keeper, a pained and surprised expression over-spreading his
face. “Poor Charles Edwards had been out o’ his head for a week.”

“That’s right, Caleb; that’s what I heard, an’ that’s true, an’ the
dead men and the owners hadn’t nobody to blame, an’ didn’t. Now I’ll
ask ye the other question: When Betty, after livin’ every day of her
life as straight as a marlin spike, run away an’ lef’ ye a week ago,
an’ broke up yer home, who’s to blame,—Betty, or the hoodoo that’s
put ’er out’er her mind ever since the Screamer blowed up?”

Caleb settled back in his chair and rested his chin on his hand, his
big fluffy beard hiding his wrist and shirt-cuff. For a long time he
did not answer. The captain sat, with his hands on his knees, looking
searchingly into Caleb’s face, watching every expression that crossed
it.

“Cap’n Joe,” said the diver in his calm, low voice, “I hearn ye talk,
an’ I know ye well 'nough to know that ye believe every word ye say,
an’ I don’t know but it’s all true. I ain’t had much ’sperience o’
women folks, only two. But I don’t think ye git this right. It ain’t
for myself that I’m thinkin’. I kin git along alone, an’ do my own
cookin’ an’ washin’ same as I allus used to. It’s Betty I’m thinkin’
of. She’s tried me more’n a year, an’ done her best, an’ give it up.
She wouldn’t ’a’ been 'hoodooed,’ as ye call it, by Bill Lacey if her
own heart warn’t ready for it ’fore he began. It’s agin natur’ for a
gal as young’s Betty to be happy with a man ’s old’s me. She can’t do
it, no matter how hard she tries. I didn’t know it when I asked her,
but I see it now.”

“But she knows better now, Caleb; she ain’t a-goin’ to cut up no more
capers.” There was a yearning, an almost pitiful tone in the captain’s
voice. His face was close to Caleb’s.

“Ye think so, an’ maybe she won’t; but there’s one thing yer don’t
seem to see, Cap’n Joe: she can’t git out’er love with me an’ inter
love with Billy an’ back agin to me in a week.”

These last words came slowly, as if they had been dragged up out of
the very depths of his heart.

“She never was out’er love with ye, Caleb, nor in with Lacey. Don’t I
tell ye?” he cried impatiently, too absorbed in Betty’s welfare to
note the seriousness of Caleb’s tone.

“Yes,” said Caleb. His voice had fallen almost to a whisper. “I know
ye think so, but th’ bes’ thing now for the little gal is to give ’er
’er freedom, an’ let ’er go ’er way. She shan’t suffer as long’s I’ve
got a dollar, but I won’t have ’er come home. It’ll only break her
heart then as well’s mine. Now—now—it’s only me—that is”—Caleb’s
head sank to the table until his face lay on his folded arms.

Captain Joe rose from his chair, bent down and laid his hand softly on
the diver’s shoulder. When he spoke his voice had the pleading tones
of a girl.

“Caleb, don’t keep nothin’ back in yer heart; take Betty home. You
needn’t go down for her. I’ll go myself an’ bring her here. It won’t
be ten minutes 'fore her arms’ll be round yer neck. Lemme go for her?”

The diver raised his head erect, looked Captain Joe calmly in the eye,
and, without a trace of bitterness in his voice, said: “She’ll never
set foot here as my wife agin, Cap’n Joe, as long ’s she lives. I
ain’t got the courage to set still an’ see her pine away day arter
day, if she comes back, an’ I won’t. I love ’er too much for that. If
she was my own child instead o’ my wife, I’d say the same thing. It’s
Betty I’m a-thinkin’ of, not myself. It’d be twict ’s hard for ’er the
next time she got tired an’ wanted to go. It’s all over now, an’ she’s
free. Let it all stay so.”

“Don’t say that, Caleb.” The shock of the refusal seemed to have
stunned him. “Don’t say that. Think o’ that child, Caleb: she come
back to ye, an’ you shut your door agin ’er.”

Caleb shook his head, with a meaning movement that showed the iron
will of the man and the hopelessness of further discussion.

“Then she ain’t good 'nough for ye, ’s that it?”

The captain was fast losing his self-control. He knew in his heart
that in these last words he was doing Caleb an injustice, but his
anger got the better of him.

Caleb did not answer.

“That’s it. Say it out. You don’t believe in her.” His voice now rang
through the kitchen. One hand was straight up over his head; his lips
quivered. “Ye think she’s some low-down critter instead of a poor
child that ain’t done nobody no wrong intentional. I ask ye for th’
las’ time, Caleb. Be decent to yerself. Be a father to ’er, if ye
can’t be no more; an’ if ye can’t be that,—damn ye!—stan’ up an’
forgive her like a man.”

Caleb made no sign. The cruel thrust had not reached his heart. He
knew his friend, and he knew all sides of his big nature. The clear
blue eyes still rested on the captain’s face.

“You won’t?” There was a tone almost of defiance in the captain’s
words.

The diver again shook his head.

“Then I’ll tell ye one thing, Caleb, right here” (he was now bent
forward, his forefinger in Caleb’s face straight out like a spike):
“ye’re doin’ the meanest thing I ever knowed a man to do in my whole
life. I don’t like ye fur it, an’ I never will ’s long ’s I live. I
wouldn’t serve a dog so, let alone Betty. An’ now I’ll tell ye
another: if she ain’t good 'nough to live with you, she’s good 'nough
to live with Aunty Bell an’ me, an’ there’s where she’ll stay jes’ ’s
long ’s she wants to.”

Without a word of good-night he picked up his hat and strode from the
room, slamming the door behind him with a force that rattled every
plate on the table.

Caleb half started from his chair as if to call him back. Then, with a
deep indrawn sigh, he rose wearily from the chair, covered the
smouldering fire with ashes, locked the doors, fastened the two
shutters, and, taking up the lamp, went slowly upstairs to his empty
bed.

                        *    *    *    *    *

The following Sunday Captain Joe shaved himself with the greatest
care,—that is, he slashed his face as full of cuts as a Heidelberg
student’s after a duel; squeezed his big broad shoulders into his
black coat,—the one inches too tight across the back, the cloth all
in corrugated wrinkles; tugged at his stiff starched collar until his
face was purple; hauled taut a sleazy cravat; and, in a determined
quarterdeck voice rarely heard from him, ordered Aunty Bell to get on
her best clothes, call Betty, and come with him.

“What in natur’ ’s got into ye, Cap’n Joe?”

“Church’s got inter me, and you an’ Betty’s goin’ along.”

“Ye ain’t never goin’ to church, be ye?” No wonder Aunty Bell was
thunderstruck. Neither of them had been inside of a church since they
moved to Keyport. Sunday was the captain’s day for getting rested, and
Aunty Bell always helped him.

“I ain’t, ain’t I? That’s all ye know, Jane Bell. You git Betty an’
come along, jes’ ’s I tell ye. I’m a-runnin’ this ship.” There was
that peculiar look in the captain’s eye and tone in his voice that his
wife knew too well. It was never safe to resist him in one of these
moods.

Betty burst into tears when the little woman told her, and said she
dared not go, and couldn’t, until a second quick, not-to-be-questioned
order resounded up the staircase:—

“Here, now, that church bell’s purty nigh done ringin’. We got ter git
aboard ’fore the gangplank’s drawed in.”

“Come along, child,” said Aunty Bell. “’T ain’t no use; he’s got one
o’ his spells on. Which church be ye goin’ to, anyway?” she called to
him, as they came downstairs. “Methodist or Dutch?”

“Don’t make no difference,—fust one we come to; an’ Betty’s goin’ to
set plumb in the middle ’tween you an’ me, jes’ so’s folks kin see. I
ain’t goin’ to have no funny business, nor hand-whispers, nor
head-shakin’s about the little gal from nobody along this shore, from
the preacher down, or somebody’ll git hurted.”

All through the service—he had marched down the middle aisle and
taken the front seat nearest the pulpit—he sat bolt upright, like a
corporal on guard, his eyes on the minister, his ears alert. Now and
then he would sweep his glance around, meeting the wondering looks of
the congregation, who had lost interest in everything about them but
the three figures in the front pew. Then, with a satisfied air, now
that neither the speaker nor his hearers showed anything but
respectful curiosity, and no spoken word from the pulpit bore the
remotest connection with the subject uppermost in his mind,—no
Magdalens nor Prodigal Sons, nor anything of like significance (there
is no telling what would have happened had there been),—he settled
himself again, and looked straight at the minister.

When the benediction had been pronounced he waited until the crowd got
thickest around the door,—he knew why the congregation lagged behind;
then he made his way into its midst, holding Betty by the arm as if
she had been under arrest. Singling out old Captain Potts, a retired
sea-captain, a great churchgoer and something of a censor over the
morals of the community, he tapped him on the shoulder, and said in a
voice loud enough to be heard by everybody:—

“This is our little gal, Betty West, Cap’n Potts. Caleb’s gin her up,
and she’s come to live with us. When ye’re passin’ our way with yer
folks, it won’t do ye no harm to stop in to see her.”



CHAPTER XIII

A SHANTY DOOR


Sanford had expected, when he led Betty from his door, that Mrs. Leroy
would give her kindly shelter, but he had not been prepared for all
that he heard the next day. Kate had not only received the girl into
her house, but had placed her for the night in a bedroom adjoining her
own; arranging the next morning a small table in her dressing-room
where Betty could breakfast alone, free from the pryings of
inquisitive servants. Mrs. Leroy told all these things to Sanford:
describing the heartbroken weariness of the girl when she arrived; the
little joyful cry she gave when big, burly Captain Joe, his eyes
blinded by the hot midday glare outside, came groping his way into the
darkened boudoir; and Betty’s glad spring into his arms, where she lay
while the captain held her with one hand, trying to talk to both Betty
and herself at once, the tears rolling down his cheeks, his other
great hand with the thole-pin fingers patting the girl’s tired face.
Mrs. Leroy told Sanford all these things and more, but she did not say
how she herself had sat beside Betty on the divan that same morning,
before Captain Joe arrived, winning little by little the girl’s
confidence, until the whole story came out. Neither did she tell him
with what tact and gentleness she, the woman of the world, whose hours
of loneliness had been more bitter and intense than any that Betty
ever knew, had shown this inexperienced girl how much more noble it
would have been to suffer and stand firm, doing and being the right,
than to succumb as she had done. Nor yet did she tell Sanford how
Betty’s mind had cleared, as she talked on, and of the way in which
the girl’s brown hand had crept toward her own till it nestled among
her jeweled fingers, while with tender words of worldly wisdom she had
prepared her foster sister for what she still must face in penance for
her sin; instructing her in the use of those weapons of self-control,
purity of purpose, and patience, with which she must arm herself if
she would win the struggle. Nor how, before the morning hours were
gone, she had received the girl’s promise to go back to her home, and,
if her husband would not receive her, to fight on until she again won
for herself the respect she had lost, and among those, too, who had
once loved her. Least of all did she tell Sanford that when the talk
was over and Betty was gone, she had thrown herself on her own bed in
an agony of tears, wondering after all which one of the two had done
the better for herself in the battle of life,—she or the girl.

Sanford knew nothing of this. As he sat in the train, on his way back
to Keyport, his heart had gone out to the girl, for he had been
greatly wrought up by the story Kate told him and by the pictures she
had given of the interview. Yet, strange to say, he found himself
bewildered by the fact that, even more than the story, he remembered
the tones of Kate’s voice and the very color of her eyes as she
talked. He was constantly seeing, too, as he lingered over its
details, a vision of Kate herself as she stood in the hall and bade
him good-by,—her full white throat above the ruffles of her
morning-gown. As he rode on, he found it difficult to turn his mind to
other things, or to quiet his inner enthusiasm for her gentleness and
charity.

And yet there were important affairs to which he owed immediate
attention. Carleton’s continued refusal to sign a certificate for the
concrete disk, without which no payment would be made by the
government, would, if persisted in, cause him serious embarrassment.
The difficulty with Carleton had already reached an acute stage.
Captain Joe had altogether failed in his efforts to make the
superintendent sign the certificate, and Carleton had threatened to
wire the Department and demand a board of survey if his orders were
not complied with at once. The captain generally retired from the
field and left the campaign to Sanford whenever, in the course of
their work, it became necessary to fight the United States
government—the sea was his enemy.

In this discussion, however, he had taken the pains to explain to
Carleton patiently, and he thought intelligently, the falsity of the
stand he took, showing him that his idea about the concrete base being
too low was the result of a mere optical illusion, due to the action
of the tide which backed the water up higher within the breakwater on
the southeast side; that when the first course of masonry was laid,
bringing the mass of concrete out of water, his—Carleton’s—mistake
would be instantly detected.

Captain Joe was as much out of patience as he ever permitted himself
to be with Carleton, when he shook Sanford’s hand on his arrival.

“Ain’t no man on earth smart ’nough to make eleven inches a foot, let
alone a critter like him!” he said, as he explained the latest
development.

Once over the sloop’s side, Sanford laid his bag on the deck and
turned to the men.

“Who saw the concrete at dead low water during that low tide we had
after the last northwest blow?” he inquired.

“I did, sir,” answered Captain Brandt. “I told Mr. Carleton he was
wrong. The water jes’ tetched the outer iron band all round when I see
it. It was dead calm an’ dead low water.”

“What do you say to that, Mr. Carleton?” asked Sanford, laughing.

“I’m not here to take no back talk from nobody,” replied Carleton in a
surly tone.

“Lonny,” said Sanford,—he saw that further discussion with the
superintendent was useless,—“go ashore and get my transit and target
rod; you’ll find them in my bedroom at the captain’s; and please put
them here in the skipper’s bunk, so they won’t get broken. I’ll run a
level on the concrete myself, Mr. Carleton, when we get to the Ledge.”

“There ain’t no use of your transit,” retorted Carleton, with a sneer.
“It’s six inches too low, I tell you. You’ll fix it as I want it, or
I’ll stop the work.”

Sanford looked at him, but held his peace. It had not been his first
experience with men of Carleton’s class. He proposed, all the same, to
know for himself who was right. He had seen Carleton use a transit,
and had had a dim suspicion at the time that the superintendent was
looking through the eyepiece while it was closed.

“Get ready for the Ledge, Captain Brandt, as soon as Lonny returns,”
said Sanford. “Where’s Caleb, Captain Joe? We may want him.”

The captain touched Sanford on the shoulder and moved down the deck
with him, where he stood behind one of the big stones, out of hearing
of the other men.

“He’s all broke up, sir. He ain’t been to work since the little gal
left. I want to thank ye, Mr. Sanford, for what ye did for ’er; and
that friend o’ yourn couldn’t ’a’ been no better to her if she’d been
her sister.”

“Oh, that’s all right, captain,” said Sanford, laying a hand on his
shoulder. “Betty is at your house, I hear. How does she bear it?”

“Gritty as she kin be, but she ain’t braced up much; Aunty Bell’s got
’er arms round ’er most of the time. I wish you’d send for Caleb;
nothin’ else’ll bring him out. He won’t come for me. I’ll go for him
myself, if ye say so.”

“Go get him. I may want him to hold a rod in four or five feet of
water. He won’t need his helmet, but he’ll need his dress. Do you hear
anything about Lacey?”

“He ain’t been round where any of us could see him—and git hold of
him,” answered Captain Joe, knitting his brows. “I jes’ wish he’d come
once. I heared he was over to Stonin’ton, workin’ on the railroad.”

The captain jumped into the yawl and sculled away toward the diver’s
cabin. He had not felt satisfied with himself since the night when
Caleb had refused to take Betty back. He had said then, in the heat of
the moment, some things which had hurt him as much as they had hurt
Caleb. He would have told him so before, but he had been constantly at
the Ledge receiving the big cut stones for the masonry, nine of which
were then piled up on the Screamer’s deck. After that there had arisen
the difficulty with Carleton. This now was his opportunity.

The men on the sloop, somehow, knew Caleb was coming, and there was
more or less curiosity to see him. Nickles, standing inside the galley
and within earshot, had probably overheard Sanford’s request.

All the men liked the old diver. His courage, skill, and many heroic
acts above and under water had earned their respect, while his
universal kindness and cheeriness had won their confidence. The
calamity that had overtaken him had been discussed and re-discussed;
and while many hopes were indulged in regarding the future condition
of Lacey’s soul and the present state of his eyes, profane hopes that
would have interfered seriously with the eternal happiness of the
first and the seeing qualities of the second, and while numerous
criticisms were as freely passed upon Betty, nothing but kindness and
sympathy was felt for Caleb.

When Caleb came up over the sloop’s rail, followed by Captain Joe, it
was easy to see that all was right between him and the captain. One
hearty handshake inside the cabin’s kitchen, and a frank outspoken
“I’m sorry, Caleb; don’t lay it up agin me,” had done that. When Caleb
spoke to the men, in his usual gentle manner, each one of them said or
did some little thing, as chance offered an unobtrusive opportunity,
that conveyed to the diver a heartfelt sorrow for his troubles,—every
one but Carleton, who purposely, perhaps, had gone down into the
cabin, his temper still ruffled over his encounter with Captain Joe
and Sanford.

And so Caleb once more took his place on the working force.

As the Screamer rounded to and made fast in the eddy, the Ledge gang
were engaged in using the system of derricks, which since the final
anchoring had never needed an hour’s additional work. They were moving
back from the landing-wharf the big cut stones required to lay the
first course of masonry, the work to begin as soon as the controversy
over the proper level of the concrete was settled.

With the making fast of the Screamer to the floating buoys in the
eddy, the life-boat from the Ledge pulled alongside, and landed
Sanford, Carleton, Captain Joe, Caleb, and the skipper,—Lonny Bowles
carrying the transit and rod as carefully as if they had been two long
icicles. When the party reached the Ledge the concrete was found to be
awash with three feet of water; nothing of the mass itself could be
seen by the naked eye. It was therefore apparent that if the dispute
was to be settled it could be done only by a series of exact
measurements. Carleton showed every evidence of satisfaction. He had
begun to suspect he might be wrong, but his obstinacy sustained him.
Now that the disk was covered with water there was still reason for
dispute.

Caleb squeezed himself into his diving-dress, and began operations,
Captain Joe fastening the water-tight cuffs over his wrists, leaving
his hands free. The diver then picked up the rod with its adjustable
target and plunged across the shallow basin, the water coming up to
his hips. Sanford meanwhile arranged the tripod on the platform,
leveled his instrument, directing Caleb where to hold the rod, and
began his survey. Captain Joe stood one side recording his findings
with a big blue lead pencil on a short strip of plank.

The first entries showed that the two segments of the circle—the
opposite segments, southeast and northwest—varied barely three tenths
of an inch in height. This, of course, was immaterial over so large a
surface. The result proved conclusively that Carleton’s claim that one
section of the concrete was six inches too low was absurd.

“I’m afraid I shall have to decide against you this time, Mr.
Carleton,” said Sanford pleasantly. “Run your eye through this
transit; you can see yourself what it shows.”

“Right or wrong,” broke out Carleton, now thoroughly angry, both over
his defeat and at the half-concealed, jeering remarks of the men,
“it’s got to go up six inches, or not a cut stone will be laid. That’s
what I’m here for, and what I say _goes_.”

“But please take the transit and see for yourself, Mr. Carleton,”
urged Sanford.

“I don’t know nothin’ about _your_ transit, nor who fixed it to
suit you,” snarled Carleton.

Sanford bit his lip, and made no answer. There were more important
things to be done in the building of a light than the resenting of
such insults or quarreling with a superintendent. The skipper,
however, to whom the superintendent was a first experience, and who
took his answer as in some way a reflection on his own veracity,
walked quickly toward him with his fist tightly clinched. His big
frame towered over Carleton’s.

“Thank you, Captain Brandt,” said Sanford, noticing the skipper’s
expression and intent. “But Mr. Carleton isn’t in earnest. _His_
transit is not here, and we cannot tell who fixed that.”

The men laughed, and the skipper stopped and stood aside, awaiting any
further developments that might require his aid.

“In view of these measurements,” asked Sanford, as he held before
Carleton’s eyes the piece of plank bearing Captain Joe’s record, “do
you still order the six inches of concrete put in?”

“Certainly I do,” said Carleton. His ugly temper was gradually being
hidden under an air of authority. Sanford’s tact had regained him a
debating position.

“And you take the responsibility of the change?”

“I do,” replied Carleton in a blustering voice.

“Then please put that order in writing,” said Sanford quietly, “and I
will see it done as soon as the tide lowers.”

Carleton’s manner changed; he saw the pit that lay before him. If he
were wrong, the written order would fix his responsibility; without
that telltale record he could deny afterward having given the order,
if good policy so demanded.

“Well, that ain’t necessary; you go ahead,” said Carleton, with less
vehemence.

“I think it is, Mr. Carleton. You ask me to alter a bench-mark level
which I know to be right, and which every man about us knows to be
right. You refuse a written certificate if I do not carry out your
orders, and yet you expect me to commit this engineering crime because
of your personal opinion,—an opinion which you now refuse to back up
by your signature.”

“I ain’t given you a single written order this season: why should I
now?” in an evasive tone.

“Because up to this time you have asked for nothing unreasonable. Then
you refuse?”

“I do, and I’m not to be bulldozed, neither.”

“Caleb,” said Sanford, with the air of a man who had made up his mind,
raising his voice to the diver, still standing in the water, “put that
rod on the edge of the iron band.”

Caleb felt around under the water with his foot, found the band, and
placed on it the end of the rod. Sanford carefully adjusted the
instrument.

“What does it measure?”

“Thirteen feet six inches, sir!” shouted Caleb.

“Lonny Bowles,” continued Sanford, “take three or four of the men and
go along the breakwater and see if Caleb is right.”

The men scrambled over the rocks, Lonny plunging into the water beside
Caleb, so as to get closer to the rod.

“Thirteen feet six inches!” came back the voices of Lonny and the
others, speaking successively.

“Now, Captain Joe, look through this eyepiece and see if you find the
red quartered target in the centre of the spider-web lines. You, too,
skipper.”

The men put their eyes to the glass, each announcing that he saw the
red of the disk.

“Now, Caleb, make your way across to the northwest derrick, and hold
the rod on the band there.”

The old diver waded across the concrete, and held the rod and target
over his head. The men followed him around the breakwater,—all except
Bowles, who, being as wet as he could be, plunged in waist-deep.

Sanford turned the transit without disturbing the tripod, and adjusted
it until the lens covered the target.

“Raise it a little, Caleb!” shouted Sanford,—“so! What is she now?”

“Thirteen feet six inches and—a—half!”

“Right! How is it, men?”

“Thirteen six and a half!” came back the replies, after each man had
assured himself.

“Now bring me a clean, dry plank, Captain Joe,” said Sanford. “That’s
too small,” as the captain held out the short piece containing the
record. Clean planks were scarce on the cement-stained work; dry ones
were never found.

Everybody went in search of a suitable plank. Carleton looked on at
this pantomime with a curl on his lips, and now and then a little
shiver of uncertain fear creeping over him. Sanford’s quiet,
determined manner puzzled him.

“What’s all this circus about?” he broke out impatiently.

“One minute, Mr. Carleton. I want to make a record which will be big
enough for the men to sign; one that won’t get astray, lost, or
stolen.”

“What’s the matter with this?” asked Captain Joe, opening the wooden
door of the new part of the shanty. “Ye can’t lose this ’less ye take
away the house.”

“That’s the very thing!” exclaimed Sanford. “Swing her wide open,
Captain Joe. Please give me that big blue pencil.”

When the door flew back it was as white and clean as a freshly
scrubbed pine table.

Sanford wrote as follows:—

  _August 29_, Shark Ledge Light.

  We, the undersigned, certify that the concrete
  disk is perfectly level except opposite the
  northwest derrick, where it is three tenths
  of an inch too high. We further certify that
  Superintendent Carleton orders the concrete
  raised six inches on the southeast segment,
  and refuses to permit any cut stone to be
  set until this is done.

                      Henry Sanford, Contractor.

“Come, Captain Joe,” said Sanford, “put your signature under mine.”

The captain held the pencil in his bent fingers as if it had been a
chisel, and inscribed his full name, “Joseph Bell,” under that of
Sanford. Then Caleb and the others followed, the diver fumbling inside
his dress for his glasses, the search proving fruitless until Captain
Joe ran his arm down between the rubber collar of the diving-dress and
Caleb’s red shirt and drew them up from inside his undershirt.

“Now, Captain Joe,” said Sanford, “you can send a gang in the morning
at low water and raise that concrete. It will throw the upper masonry
out of level, but it won’t make much difference in a circle of this
size.”

The men gave a cheer, the humor of the situation taking possession of
everyone. Even Caleb forgot his sorrow for a moment. Carleton laughed
a little halting laugh himself, but there was nothing of spontaneity
in it. Nickles, the cook, who, now that the cut stone was about to be
laid, was permanently transferred from the Screamer to the shanty, and
under whose especial care this door was placed by reason of its
position,—it opened into the kitchen,—planted his fat, oily body
before the curious record, read it slowly word for word, and delivered
himself of this opinion: “That ’ere door’s th’ biggest receipt for
stores I ever see come into a kitchen.”

“Big or little,” said Captain Joe, who could not see the drift of most
of Nickles’s jokes, “you spatter it with yer grease or spile it any,
and ye go ashore.”



CHAPTER XIV

TWO ENVELOPES


Betty’s flight had been of such short duration, and her return home
accomplished under such peculiar circumstances, that the stories in
regard to her elopement had multiplied with the hours. One feature of
her escapade excited universal comment,—her spending the night at
Mrs. Leroy’s. The only explanation that could be given of this
extraordinary experience was that so high a personage as Mrs. Leroy
must have necessarily been greatly imposed upon by Betty, or she could
never have disgraced herself and her home by giving shelter to such a
woman.

Mrs. Leroy’s hospitality to Betty inspired another theory,—one that,
not being contradicted at the moment of its origin by Aunty Bell, had
seemed plausible. Miss Peebles, the schoolmistress, who never believed
ill of anybody, lent all her aid to its circulation. The conversation
out of which the theory grew took place in Aunty Bell’s kitchen. Betty
was upstairs in her room, and the talk went on in lowered tones, lest
she should overhear.

“I never shall believe that a woman holding Mrs. Leroy’s position
would take Betty West into her house if she knew what kind of a woman
she was,” remarked the elder Miss Nevins.

“And that makes me think there’s some mistake about this whole thing,”
said Miss Peebles. “Who saw her with Lacey, anyhow? Nobody but the
butcher, and he don’t know half the time what he’s talking about, he
rattles on so. Maybe she never went with Lacey at all.”

“What did she go ’way for, then?” asked the younger Nevins girl, who
was on her way to the store, and had stopped in, hoping she might, by
chance, get a look at Betty. “I guess Lacey’s money was all
gone—that’s why she imposed on Mrs. Leroy.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Miss Peebles. “Betty may have been foolish,
but she never told a lie in her life.”

“Well, it may be,” admitted the younger sister in a softened tone. “I
hope so, anyhow.”

Aunty Bell kept still. Betty was having trouble enough; if the
neighbors thought her innocent, and would give her the benefit of the
doubt, better leave it so. There were one or two threads of worldly
wisdom and canny policy twisted about the little woman’s heart which
now and then showed their ends.

Captain Joe was in the sitting-room, reading. He had come in from the
Ledge, wet, as usual, had put on some dry clothes, and while waiting
for supper had picked up the “Noank Times.” Aunty Bell and the others
saw him come in, but thought he had changed his clothes and had gone
to the dock.

He had overheard every word of the discussion. There were no raveled
threads in the captain’s make-up. He threw down his paper, pushed his
way into the group, and said:—

“There’s one thing I don’t want no mistake over, and I won’t have it.
Betty didn’t tell no lies to Mrs. Leroy nor to nobody else, an’ I
ain’t a-goin’ to have nobody lie for ’er. Mrs. Leroy knows all about
it. She took care of her ’cause she’s got a heart inside of her. Betty
went off with Bill Lacey ’cause he’d hoodooed ’er, an’ when she come
to herself she come home agin: that’s all ther’ is to that. She’s
sorry for what she’s done, an’ ther’ ain’t nobody outside o’ heaven
can do more. She’s goin’ to stay here ’cause me and Aunty Bell love
her now more’n we ever did before. But she’s goin’ to start life agin
fair an’ square, with no lies of her own an’ no lies told about ’er by
nobody else.” The captain looked at Aunty Bell. “Them that don’t like
it can lump it. Them as don’t like Betty after this can stay away from
me,” and he turned about on his heel and went down to the dock.

Two currents had thus been started in Betty’s favor: one the outspoken
indorsement of Captain Joe; and the other the protection of Mrs.
Leroy, “the rich lady who lived at Medford, in that big country-seat
where the railroad crossed, and who had the yacht and horses, and who
must be a good woman, or she wouldn’t have come to nurse the men, or
sent them delicacies, and who came herself to put up the mosquito-nets
over their cots.”

As the August days slipped by and the early autumn came, the gossip
gradually died. Caleb continued to live alone, picking up once more
the manner of life he had practiced for years aboard the light-ship:
having a day every two weeks for his washing,—always Sunday, when the
neighbors would see him while on their way to church,—hanging out his
red and white collection on the line stretched in the garden. He
cooked his meals and cleaned the house himself. Nobody but Captain Joe
and Aunty Bell crossed his threshold, except the butcher who brought
him his weekly supplies. He had been but seldom to the village in the
daytime,—somehow he did not like to pass Captain Joe’s when any one
could see him,—and had confined his outings to going from the cabin
to the Ledge and back again as his duties required, locking the rear
door and hanging the key on a nail beside it until his return.

He had seen Betty only once, and that was when he had passed her on
the road. He came upon her suddenly, and he thought she started back
as if to avoid him, but he kept his eyes turned away and passed on.
When he reached the hill and looked back he could see her sitting by
the side of the road, a few rods from where they met, her head resting
on her hand.

Only one man had dared to speak to him in an unsympathetic way about
Betty’s desertion, and that was his old friend Tony Marvin, the keeper
of Keyport Light. They had been together a year on Bannock Rip during
the time the Department had doubled up the keepers. He had not heard
of Caleb’s trouble until several weeks after Betty’s flight;
lighthouse-keepers staying pretty close indoors.

“I hearn, Caleb, that the new wife left ye for that young rigger what
got his face smashed. ’Most too young, warn’t she, to be stiddy?”

“No, I ain’t never thought so,” replied Caleb quietly. “Weren’t no
better gal ’n Betty; she done all she knowed how. You’d ’a’ said so if
ye knowed her like I did. But ’twas agin natur’, I bein’ so much
older. But I’d rather had her go than suffer on.”

“Served ye durn mean, anyhow,” said the keeper. “Did she take anything
with ’er?”

“Nothin’ but the clo’es she stood in. But she didn’t serve me mean,
Tony. I don’t want ye to think so, an’ I don’t want ye to say so, nor
let nobody say so, neither; an’ ye won’t if you’re a friend o’ mine,
which you allers was.”

“I hearn there was some talk o’ yer takin’ her back,” the keeper went
on in a gentler tone, surprised at Caleb’s blindness, and anxious to
restore his good feeling. “Is that so?”

“No, that ain’t so,” Caleb answered firmly, ending the conversation on
that topic and leading it into other channels.

This interview of the light-keeper’s was soon public property. Some of
those who heard of it set Caleb down as half-witted over his loss, and
others wondered how long it would be before he would send for Betty
and patch it all up again, and still others questioned why he didn’t
go over to Stonington and smash the other side of Lacey’s face; they
heard that Billy had been seen around there.

As for Betty, she had found work with a milliner on the edge of the
village, within a mile of Captain Joe’s cottage, where her taste in
trimming bonnets secured her ready employment, and where her past was
not discussed. That she was then living with Captain Joe and his wife
was enough to gain her admission.

There had been days, however, after her return, when she would have
given way under the strain, had it not been for her remembered promise
to Mrs. Leroy,—the only woman, except Aunty Bell, who had befriended
her,—and for the strong supporting arm of Captain Joe, who never lost
an opportunity to show his confidence in her.

And yet in spite of these promises and supports she could have plunged
into the water many a time at the end of the dock and ended it all.
She would sit for hours in her little room next Aunty Bell’s, on
Saturday afternoons, when she came earlier from work, and watch for
the Screamer or one of the tugs to round in, bringing Caleb and the
men. She could not see her own cottage from the window where she sat,
but she could see her husband come down the sloop’s side and board the
little boat that brought him to his landing. She would often think
that she could catch his good-night as he pushed off. On Monday
mornings, too, when she knew he was going out, she was up at daylight,
watching for a meagre glimpse of him when the skiff shot out from
behind the dock and took him aboard to go to his work on the Ledge.

Little by little the captain’s devotion to Betty’s interests, and the
outspoken way in which he praised her efforts to maintain herself,
began to have their effect. People who had passed her by without a
word, as they met her on the road, volunteered a timid good-morning,
which was answered by a slight nod of the head by Betty. Even one of
the Nevins girls—the younger one—had joined her and walked as far as
the milliner’s, with a last word on the doorstep, which had detained
them both for at least two minutes in full sight of the other girls
who were passing the shop.

Betty met all advances kindly, but with a certain reserve of manner.
She appreciated the good motive, but in her own eyes it did not
palliate her fault,—that horrible crime of ingratitude, selfishness,
and waywardness, the memory of which hung over her night and day like
a pall.

Most of her former acquaintances respected her reserve,—all except
Carleton. Whenever he met her under Captain Joe’s roof he greeted her
with a nod, but on the road he had more than once tried to stop and
talk to her. At first the attempt had been made with a lifting of the
hat and a word about the weather, but the last time he had stopped in
front of her and tried to take her hand.

“What’s the matter with you?” he said in a coaxing tone. “I ain’t
going to hurt you.”

Betty darted by him, and reached the shop all out of breath. She said
nothing to any one about her encounter, not being afraid of him in the
daytime, and not wanting her affairs talked of any more.

If Caleb knew how Betty lived, he never mentioned it to Captain Joe or
Aunty Bell. He would sometimes ask after her health and whether she
was working too hard, but never more than that.

One Saturday night—it was the week Betty had hurt her foot and could
not go to the shop—Caleb came down to Captain Joe’s and called him
outside the kitchen door. It was pay-day with the men, and Caleb had
in his hand the little envelope, still unopened, containing his
month’s pay. The lonely life he led had begun to tell upon the diver.
The deathly pallor that had marked his face the first few days after
his wife’s departure was gone, and the skin was no longer shrunken,
but the sunken cheeks remained, and the restless, eager look in the
eyes that told of his mental strain.

Caleb was in his tarpaulins; it was raining at the time.

“Come in, Caleb, come in!” cried Captain Joe in a cheery voice, laying
his hand on the diver’s shoulder. “Take off yer ileskins.” The captain
never despaired of bringing husband and wife together, somehow.

Betty was sitting inside the kitchen, reading by the kerosene lamp,
out of sound of the voices.

“No, I ain’t washed up nor had supper yit, thank ye. I heared from
Aunty Bell that Betty was laid up this week, an’ so I come down.” Here
Caleb stopped, and began slitting the pay-envelope with a great
thumb-nail shaped like a half-worn shoe-horn. “I come down, thinkin’
maybe you’d kind’er put this where she could git it,” slowly unrolling
two of the four bills and handing them to the captain. “I don’t like
her to be beholden to ye for board nor nothin’.”

“Ye can’t give me a cent, Caleb. I knowed her ’fore you did,” said the
captain, protesting with his hand upraised, a slightly indignant tone
in his voice. Then a thought crept into his mind. “Come in and give it
to her yerself, Caleb,” putting his arm through the diver’s.

“No,” said Caleb slowly, “I ain’t come here for that, and I don’t want
ye to make no mistake, cap’n. I come here ’cause I been a-thinkin’ it
over, and somehow it seems to me that half o’ this is hern. I don’t
want ye to tell ’er that I _give_ it to her, ’cause it ain’t so.
I jes’ want ye to lay it som’eres she’ll find it; and when she asks
about it, say it’s hern.”

Captain Joe crumpled the bills in his hand.

“Caleb,” he said, “I ain’t goin’ to say nothin’ more to ye. I’ve said
all I could, and las’ time I said too much; but what seems to me to be
the cussedest foolishness out is for ye to go back an’ git yer supper
by yerself, when the best little gal you or I know is a-settin’ within
ten feet o’ ye with her heart breakin’ to git to ye.”

“I’m sorry she’s sufferin’, Cap’n Joe. I don’t like to see nobody
suffer, leastways Betty, but ye don’t know it all. Jes’ leave them
bills as I asked ye. Tell Aunty Bell I got the pie she sent me when I
come home,—I’ll eat it to-morrow. I s’pose ye ain’t got no new orders
’bout that last row of enrockment? I set the bottom stone to-day, an’
I ought’er get the last of ’em finished nex’ week. The tide cut
turrible to-day, an’ my air comin’ so slow through the pump threw me
’mong the rocks an’ seaweed, an’ I got a scrape on my hand,” showing a
deep cut on its back; “but it’s done hurtin’ now. Good-night.”

On his way home, just before he reached his cabin, Caleb came upon
Bert Simmons, the shore road letter-carrier, standing in the road,
under one of the village street lamps, overhauling his package of
letters.

“About these letters that’s comin’ for yer wife, Caleb? Shall I leave
’em with you or take ’em down to Cap’n Joe Bell’s? I give the others
to her. Here’s one now.”

Caleb took the letter mechanically, looked it over slowly, noted its
Stonington postmark, and, handing it back, answered calmly, “Better
leave ’em down to Cap’n Joe’s, Bert.”



CHAPTER XV

A NARROW PATH


When Sanford, after dining, rang her bell, Mrs. Leroy was seated on
the veranda that overlooked the garden,—a wide and inviting veranda,
always carpeted in summer with mats and rugs, and made comfortable
with cane chairs and straw divans that were softened into luxurious
delights by silk cushions. During the day the sunshine filtered its
way between the thickly matted vines, lying in patterns on the floor,
or was held in check by thin Venetian blinds. At night the light of a
huge eight-sided lantern festooned with tassels shed its glow through
screens of colored gauze.

Mrs. Leroy was dressed in a simple gown of white crêpe, which clung
and wrinkled about her slight figure, leaving her neck and arms bare.
On a low table beside her rested a silver tray with a slender-shaped
coffee-pot and tiny egg-shell cups and saucers.

She looked up at him, smiling, as he pushed aside the curtains. “Two
lumps, Henry?” she called, holding the sugar-tongs in her hand. Then,
as the light of the lantern fell upon his face, she exclaimed, “Why,
what’s the matter? You are worried: is there fresh trouble at the
Ledge?” and she rose from her chair.

“No; only Carleton,” he replied, looking down at her. “He holds on to
that certificate, and I can get no money until he gives it up; yet I
have raised the concrete six inches to please him. I wired Captain Joe
yesterday to see him at once and to get his answer,—yes or no. What
do you suppose he replied? ‘Tell him he don’t own the earth. I’ll sign
it when I get to it.’ Not another word, nor would he give any reason
for not signing it.”

“Why don’t you appeal to the Board? General Barton would not see you
suffer an unjust delay. I’ll write him myself,” she said, sitting bolt
upright on the divan.

Sanford smiled. Her rising anger soothed him as flattery might have
done at another time. He felt in it a proof of how close to her heart
she really held his interests and his happiness.

“That would only prolong the agony, and might lose us the season’s
work. The Board is always fair and honest, only it takes so long for
it to move.” As he spoke he piled the cushions high behind her head,
and drew a low chair opposite to her. “It’s torture to a contractor
who is behind time,” he continued, flecking the ashes of his cigar
into his saucer. “It means getting all tangled up in the red tape of a
government bureau. I must give up my holiday and find Carleton; there
is nothing else to be done now. I leave on the early train to-morrow.
But what a rest this is!” he exclaimed, breaking into the strained
impetuosity of his own tones with a long-drawn sigh of relief, as he
looked about the dimly lighted veranda. “Nothing like it anywhere.”

As he spoke his eyes wandered over her dainty figure, half reclining
before him,—the delicately modeled waist, the shapely wrists, and the
tiny slippers peeping beneath the edge of her dress that fell in folds
to the floor. “Another new gown, I see?”

“Never mind about my gown. I want to hear more about this man
Carleton,” she said. Her face was alight with the pleasure of his
tribute, but she spoke as though she had hardly heard it. “What have
you done to him to make him hate you?”

“Nothing but try to keep him from ruining the work.”

“And you told him he was ruining it?”

“Certainly; there was nothing else to do. He’s got the concrete now
six inches out of level; you can see it plainly at low water.”

“No wonder he takes his revenge,” she said, cutting straight into the
heart of the matter with that marvelous power peculiar to some women.
“What else has gone wrong?” She meant him to tell her everything,
knowing that to let him completely unburden his mind would give him
the only real rest that he needed. She liked, too, to feel her
influence over him. That he always consulted her in such matters was
to Kate one of the keenest pleasures that his friendship brought.

“Everything, I sometimes think. We are very much behind. That concrete
base should have been finished two weeks ago. The equinoctial gale is
nearly due. If we can’t get the first two courses of masonry laid by
the middle of November, I may have to wait until spring for another
payment, and that about means bankruptcy.”

“What does Captain Joe think?”

“He says we shall pull through if we have no more setbacks. Dear old
Captain Joe! nothing upsets him. We certainly have had our share of
them this season: first it was the explosion, and now it is Carleton’s
spite.”

“Suppose you _do_ lose time, Henry, and _do_ have to wait
until spring to go on with the work. It will not be for the first
time.” There was a sympathetic yet hopeful tone in her voice. “When
you sunk the coffer-dam at Kingston, three years ago, and it lay all
winter in the ice, didn’t you worry yourself half sick? And yet it all
came out right. Oh, you needn’t raise your eyebrows; I saw it myself.
You know you are better equipped now, both in experience and in means,
than you were then. Make some allowance for your own temperament, and
please don’t forget the nights you have lain awake worrying over
nothing. It will all come out right.” She leaned toward him and laid
her hand on his, as an elder sister might have done, and in a gayer
tone added, “I’m going to Medford soon, myself, and I’ll invite this
dreadful Mr. Carleton to come over to luncheon, and you’ll get your
certificate next day. What does he look like?”

Sanford broke into a laugh. “You wouldn’t touch him with a pair of
tongs, and I wouldn’t let you,—even with them.”

“Then I’ll do it, anyway, just to show you how clever I am,” she
retorted, with a pretty, bridling toss of her head. She had taken her
hand away. Sanford still held his own extended.

Kate’s tact was having its effect. Under the magic of her sympathy his
cares had folded their tents. Carleton was fast becoming a dim speck
on the horizon, and his successive troubles were but a string of
camels edging the blue distance of his thoughts.

It was always like this. She never failed to comfort and inspire him.
Whenever his anxieties became unbearable it was to Kate that he
turned, as he had done to-night. The very touch of her soft hand, so
white and delicate, laid upon his arm, and the exquisite play of
melody in her voice, soothed and strengthened him. Things were never
half so bad as they seemed, when he could see her look at him
mischievously from under her lowered eyelids as she said, “Mercy,
Henry! is that all? I thought the whole lighthouse had been washed
away.” And he never missed the inspiration of the change that
followed,—the sudden quiet of her face, the very tensity of her
figure, as she added in earnest tones, instinct with courage and
sympathy, some word of hopeful interest that she of all women best
knew how to give.

With the anxieties dispelled which had brought him hurrying to-night
to Gramercy Park, they both relapsed into silence,—a silence such as
was common to their friendship, one which was born neither of ennui
nor of discontent, the boredom of friends nor the poverty of meagre
minds, but that restful silence which comes only to two minds and
hearts in entire accord, without the necessity of a single spoken word
to lead their thoughts; a close, noiseless fitting together of two
temperaments, with all the rough surfaces of their natures worn smooth
by long association each with the other. In such accord is found the
strongest proof of true and perfect friendship. It is only when this
estate no longer satisfies, and one or both crave the human touch,
that the danger-line is crossed. When stealthy fingers set the
currents of both hearts free, and the touch becomes electric,
discredited friendship escapes by the window, and triumphant love
enters by the door.

The lantern shed its rays over Kate’s white draperies, warming them
with a pink glow. The smoke of Sanford’s cigar curled upward in the
still air and drifted out into the garden, or was lost in the vines of
the jessamine trailing about the porch. Now and then the stillness was
broken by some irrelevant remark suggested by the perfume of the
flowers, the quiet of the night, the memory of Jack’s and Helen’s
happiness; but silence always fell again, except for an occasional
light tattoo of Kate’s dainty slipper on the floor. A restful
lassitude, the reaction from the constant hourly strain of his work,
came over Sanford; the world of perplexity seemed shut away, and he
was happier than he had been in weeks. Suddenly and without
preliminary question, Mrs. Leroy asked sharply, with a strange,
quivering break in her voice, “What about that poor girl Betty? Has
she patched it up yet with Caleb? She told me, the night she stayed
with me, that she loved him dearly. Poor girl! she has nothing but
misery ahead of her if she doesn’t.” She spoke with a certain tone in
her voice that showed but too plainly the new mood that had taken
possession of her.

“Pity she didn’t find it out before she left him!” exclaimed Sanford.

“Pity he didn’t do something to show his appreciation of her, you
mean!” she interrupted, with a quick toss of her head.

“You are all wrong, Kate. Caleb is the gentlest and kindest of men.
You don’t know that old diver, or you wouldn’t judge him harshly.”

“Oh, he didn’t beat her, I suppose. He only left her to get along by
herself. I wish such men would take it out in beating. Some women
could stand that better. It’s the cold indifference that kills.” She
had risen from her seat, and was pacing the floor of the veranda.

“Well, that was not his fault, Kate. While the working season lasts he
must be on the Ledge. He couldn’t come in every night.”

“That’s what they all say! If it’s not one excuse, it’s another. I’m
tired to death of hearing about men who would rather make money than
make homes. Now that he has driven her out of her wits by his
brutality, he closes his door against her, even when she crawls back
on her knees. But don’t _you_ despise her.” She stood before him,
looking down into his face for a moment. “Be just as sweet and gentle
to her as you can. If she ever goes wrong again, it will be the
world’s fault or her husband’s,—not her own. Tell her from me that I
trust her and believe in her, and that I send her my love.”

Sanford listened to her with ill-concealed admiration. It was when she
was defending or helping some one that she appealed to him most. At
those times he recognized that her own wrongs had not imbittered her,
but had only made her the more considerate.

“There’s never a day you don’t teach me something,” he answered
quietly, his eyes fixed on her moving figure. “Perhaps I have been a
little hard on Betty, but it’s because I’ve seen how Caleb suffers.”

She stopped again in her walk and leaned over the rail of the veranda,
her chin on her hand. Sanford watched her, following the bend of her
exquisite head and the marvelous slope of her shoulders. He saw that
something unusual had stirred her, but he could not decide whether it
was caused by the thought of Betty’s misery or by some fresh sorrow of
her own. He threw away his cigar, rose from his chair, and joined her
at the railing. He could be unhappy himself and stand up under it,
but he could not bear to see a shade cross Kate’s face.

“You are not happy to-night,” he said.

She did not answer.

Sanford waited, looking down over the garden. He could see the shadowy
outlines of the narrow walks and the white faces of the roses drooping
over the gravel. When he spoke again there were hesitating, halting
tones in his voice, as if he were half afraid to follow the course he
had dared to venture on.

“Is Morgan coming home, Kate?”

“I don’t know,” she replied dreamily, after a pause.

“Didn’t he say in his last letter?”

“Oh yes; answered as he always does,—when he gets through.”

“Where is he now?”

“Paris, I believe.”

She had not moved nor lifted her chin from her hand.

Minutes went by without her speaking again. A strange hush fell about
them. Sanford could hear the click of the old clock in the hall, and
the monotonous song of the crickets in the grass below.

A sense of great remoteness from her came over him. It was as though
she had gone into a room alone with her griefs and her sobs, and had
locked the door behind her. He had not meant to wound her by his
questions, only to discover whether some new phase of the old grief
were hurting her. If it were anything else but the sorrow he never
touched, he stood ready to give her all his strength.

He looked at her intently. She had never appeared to him so beautiful,
so pathetic: there was a hopeless weariness in her pose that vibrated
through him as nothing had done in months. The change in her mood had
come suddenly, as all changes did in her, but to-night he seemed
unable to meet them. A great rush of feeling surged over him. He
stepped closer, lifting his hand to lay on her head. Then, with an
abrupt gesture, he turned and began pacing the veranda, his head
bowed, his hands clasped behind his back. Strange, unutterable
thoughts whirled through his brain; unbidden, unspeakable words
crowded in his throat. He made one great effort at self-control,
stopped once more, this time laying his hand upon her shoulder. He
felt in his heart that it was the same old sorrow which now racked
her, but an uncontrollable impulse swept him on. All the restraint of
years seemed slipping from him.

“Kate, what is it? You break my heart. Is there something else to
worry you,—something you haven’t told me?”

She shivered slightly as she felt the hand tighten on her shoulder.
Then a sudden, tingling thrill ran through her.

“I have never any right to be unhappy when I have you, Henry. You are
all the world to me,—all I have.”

It was not the answer he had expected. For an instant the blood left
his face, his heart stood still.

Kate raised her head, and their eyes met.

There are narrow paths in life where one fatal step sends a man
headlong. There are eyes in women’s heads as deep as the abyss below.
Hers were wide open, with the fearless confidence of an affection she
was big enough to give. He saw down into their depths, and read
there—as they flashed toward him in intermittent waves over the
barrier of the reserve she sometimes held—love, truth, and courage.
To disturb these, even by the sympathy she longed to receive and he to
give, might, he knew, endanger the ideal of that loyalty to another in
her which he venerated most. To go behind it and break down the wall
of that self-control of hers which held in check the unknown,
untouched springs of her heart might loosen a flood that would wreck
the only bark which could keep them both afloat on the troubled waters
of life,—their friendship.

Sanford bent his head, raised her hand to his lips, kissed it
reverently, and without a word walked slowly toward his chair.

As he regained his seat the butler pushed aside the light curtains of
the veranda, and in his regulation monotone announced, “Miss Shirley,
Major Slocomb, and Mr. Hardy.”

“My dear madam,” broke out the major in his breeziest manner, before
Mrs. Leroy could turn to greet him, “what would life be in this
bake-oven of a city but for the joy of yo’r presence? And Henry! You
here, too? Do you know that that rascal Jack has kept me waiting for
two hours while he took Helen for a five minutes’ walk round the
square, or I would have been here long ago. Where are you, you young
dog?” he called to Jack, who had lingered in the darkened hall with
Helen.

“What’s the matter now, major?” inquired Jack, shaking hands with Mrs.
Leroy, and turning again toward the Pocomokian. “I asked your
permission. What would you have me do? Let Helen see nothing of New
York, because you”—

“Do hush up, cousin Tom,” said Helen, pursing her lips at the major.
“We stayed out because we wanted to, didn’t we, Jack? Don’t you think
he is a perfect ogre, Mrs. Leroy?”

“He forgets his own younger days, my dear Miss Shirley,” she answered.
“He shan’t scold you. Henry, make the major join you in a cigar, while
I give Miss Helen a cup of coffee.”

“They are both forgiven, my dear madam, when so lovely an advocate
pleads their cause,” said the Pocomokian grandiloquently, bowing low,
his hand on his chest. “Thank you; I will join you,” and leaned over
Sanford as he spoke, and lighted a cigar in the blue flame of the tiny
silver lamp.

[Illustration: “Sanford ... raised her hand to his lips”]

It was delightful to note how the coming alliance of the Hardy and
Slocomb families had developed the paternal, not to say patriarchal
attitude of the major toward his once boon companion. He already
regarded Jack as his own son,—somebody to lean upon in his declining
years, a prop and a staff for his old age. He had even sketched out in
his mind a certain stately mansion on the avenue, to say nothing of a
series of country-seats,—one on Crab Island in the Chesapeake,—all
with porticoes and an especial suite of rooms on the ground floor; and
he could hear Jack say, as he pointed them out to his visitors, “These
are for my dear old friend Major Slocomb of Pocomoke,—member of my
wife’s family.” He could see his old enemy, Jefferson, Jack’s servant,
cowed into respectful obedience by the new turn in his master’s
affairs, in which the Pocomokian had lent so helpful a hand.

“She is the child of my old age, so to speak, suh, and I, of co’se,
gave my consent after great hesitation,” he would frequently say,
fully persuading himself that Helen had really sought his approbation,
and never for one moment dreaming that, grateful as she was to him for
his chaperonage of her while in New York, he was the last person in
the world she would have consulted in any matter so vital to her
happiness.

Jack accepted the change in the major’s manner with the same good
humor that seasoned everything that came to him in life. He had known
the Pocomokian for too many years to misunderstand him now, and this
new departure, with its patronizing airs and fatherly oversight, only
amused him.

Mrs. Leroy had drawn the young girl toward the divan, and was already
discussing her plans for the summer.

“Of course you are both to come to me this fall, when the beautiful
Indian summer weather sets in. The Pines is never so lovely as then.
You shall sail to your heart’s content, for the yacht is in order; and
we will then see what this great engineer has been doing all summer,”
she added, glancing timidly from under her dark eyelashes at Sanford.
“Mr. Leroy’s last instructions were to keep the yacht in commission
until he came home. I am determined you shall have one more good time,
Miss Helen, before this young man ties you hand and foot. You will
come, major?”

“I cannot promise, madam. It will depend entirely on my arrangin’ some
very important matters of business. I hope to be able to come for
perhaps a day or so.”

Jack looked at Sanford and smiled. Evidently Mrs. Leroy did not know
the length of the major’s “day or so.” Nor that it was apt to depend
upon the date of the next invitation. He was still staying with Jack,
and had been there since the spring.

Buckles, the butler, had been bending over the major as that gentleman
delivered himself of this announcement of his hopes. When he had
filled to the brim the tiny liqueur glass, the major—perhaps in a
moment of forgetfulness—said, “Thank you, suh,” at which Buckles’s
face hardened. Such slips were not infrequent. The major was, in fact,
always a little uncomfortable in Buckles’s presence. Jack, who had
often noticed his attitude, thought that these conciliatory remarks
were intended as palliatives to the noiseless English flunky with the
immovable face and impenetrable manner. The Pocomokian never extended
such deference to Sam, Sanford’s own servant, or even to Jefferson.
“Here, Sam, you black scoundrel, bring me my hat,” he would say
whenever he was leaving Sanford’s apartments, at which Sam’s face
would relax quite as much as Buckles’s had hardened. But then the
major knew Sam’s kind, and Sam knew the major, and, strange to say,
believed in him.

When Buckles had retired, Sanford started the Pocomokian on a
discussion in which all the talking would fall to the latter’s share.
Mrs. Leroy turned to Helen and Jack again. There was no trace, in her
voice nor on her features, of the emotion that had so stirred her. All
that side of her nature had been shut away the moment her guests
appeared.

“Don’t mind a word Jack says to you, my dear, about hurrying up the
wedding-day,” she laughed, in a half-earnest and altogether charming
way,—not cynical, but with a certain undercurrent of genuine anxiety
in her voice, all the more keenly felt by Sanford, who waited on every
word that fell from her lips. “Put it off as long as possible. So many
troubles and disappointments come afterwards, and it is so hard to
keep everything as it should be. There is no happier time in life than
that just before marriage. Oh, you needn’t scowl at me, you young
Bluebeard; I know all about it, and you don’t know one little bit.”

Helen looked at Jack in some wonder. She was at a loss to know how
much of the talk was pure badinage, and how much, perhaps, the result
of some bitter worldly experience. The young girl shuddered, yet
without knowing what inspired the remark or what lay behind it. But
she laughed quite heartily, as she said, “It is all true, no doubt;
only I intend to begin by being something of a tyrant myself, don’t I,
Jack?”

Before Jack could reply, Smearly, who had hurried by Buckles, entered
unannounced, and with a general smile of recognition, and two fingers
to the major, settled himself noiselessly in an easy-chair, and
reached over the silver tray for a cup. It was a house where such
freedom was not commented on, and Smearly was one of those big
Newfoundland-dog kind of visitors who avail themselves of all
privileges.

“What is the subject under discussion?” the painter asked, as he
dropped a lump of sugar into his cup and turned to his hostess.

“I have just been telling Miss Shirley how happy she will make us when
she comes to The Pines this autumn.”

“And you have consented, of course?” he inquired carelessly, lifting
his bushy eyebrows.

“Oh yes,” answered Helen, a faint shadow settling for a moment on her
face. “It’s so kind of Mrs. Leroy to want me. You are coming, too, are
you not, Mr. Sanford?” and she moved toward Henry’s end of the divan,
where Jack followed her. She had never liked Smearly. She did not know
why, but he always affected her strangely. “He looks like a bear,” she
once told Jack, “with his thick neck and his restless movements.”

“Certainly, Miss Helen, I am going, too,” replied Sanford. “I tolerate
my work all summer in expectation of these few weeks in the autumn.”

The young girl raised her eyes quickly. Somehow it did not sound to
her like Sanford’s voice. There was an unaccustomed sense of strain in
it. She moved a little nearer to him, however, impelled by some subtle
sympathy for the man who was not only Jack’s friend, but one she
trusted as well.

“Lovely to be so young and hopeful, isn’t it?” said Mrs. Leroy to
Smearly, with a movement of her head toward Helen. “Look at those two.
Nothing but rainbows for her and Jack.”

“Rainbows come after the storm, my dear lady, not before,” rejoined
Smearly. “If they have any prismatics in theirs, they will appear in a
year or two from now.” He had lowered his voice so that Helen should
not hear.

“You never believe in anything. You hate women,” said Mrs. Leroy
impatiently in an undertone.

“True, but with some exceptions; you, for instance,” with a mock bow.
“But why fool ourselves, my dear lady? The first year is one of
sugar-plums, flowers, and canary-birds. We can’t keep our hands off
them; we love them so we want to eat them up.”

“Just like any other wild beast,” interrupted Mrs. Leroy, with a
gurgling laugh, her head bent coquettishly on one side.

“The second year both are pulling in opposite directions.” (He
affected not to have heard her thrust.) “Then comes a snap of the
matrimonial cord, and over they go. Of course neither of these two
turtle-doves has the slightest idea of anything of the kind. They
expect to go on and on and on, like the dear little babes in the wood;
but they won’t, all the same. Some day an old crow of an attorney will
come and cover them over with dried briefs, and that will be the last
of it.”

Sanford took no part in the general talk. He was listless, absorbed.
He felt an irresistible desire to be alone, and stayed on only because
Helen’s many little confidences, told to him in her girlish way, as
she sat beside him on the divan, required but an acquiescing nod now
and then, or a random reply, which he could give without betraying
himself.

He was first of all the guests to rise. In response to Mrs. Leroy’s
anxious glance, as he bade her good-night between the veranda
curtains, he explained, in tones loud enough to be heard by everybody,
that it was necessary to make an early start in the morning for the
Ledge, and that he had some important letters to write that night.

“Don’t forget to telegraph me if you get the certificate,” was all she
said.

Helen and Jack followed Sanford. They too wanted to be alone; that is,
together,—in their case the same thing.

Once outside and under the trees of the park, Helen stopped in a
secluded spot, their shadows under the electric light flecking the
pavement, took the lapels of Jack’s coat in her hands, and said,
“Jack, dear, I wasn’t happy there to-night. She never could have loved
anybody.”

“Who, darling?”

“Why, Mrs. Leroy. Did you hear what she said?”

“Yes, but it was only Kate. That’s her way, Helen. She never means
half she says.”

“Yes, but the _way_ she said it, Jack. She doesn’t know what love
means. Loving is not being angry all the time. Loving is
helping,—helping everywhere and in everything. Whatever either needs
the other gives. I can’t say it just as I want to, but you know what I
mean. And that Mr. Smearly; he didn’t think I heard, but I did.”

“Dear heart,” said Jack, smoothing her cheek with his hand, “don’t
believe everything you hear. You are not accustomed to the ways of
these people. Down in your own home in Maryland people mean what they
say; here they don’t. Smearly is all right. He was ‘talking through
his hat,’ as the boys say at the club,—that’s all. You’d think, to
hear him go on, that he was a sour, crabbed old curmudgeon, now,
wouldn’t you? Well, you never were more mistaken in your life. Every
penny he can save he gives to an old sister of his, who hasn’t seen a
well day for years. That’s only his talk.”

“But why does he speak that way, then? When people love as they ought
to love, every time a disappointment in the other comes, it is just
one more opportunity to help,—not a cause for ridicule. I love you
that way, Jack; don’t you love me so?” and she looked up into his
eyes.

“I love you a million ways, you sweet girl,” and, with a rapid glance
about him to see that no one was near, he slipped his arm about her
and held her close to his breast.

He felt himself lifted out of the atmosphere of romance in which he
had lived for months. This gentle, shrinking Southern child whom he
had loved and petted and smothered with roses, this tender, clinging
girl who trusted him so implicitly, was no longer his sweetheart, but
his helpmate. She had all at once become a woman,—strong, courageous,
clear-minded, helpful, ready to lead him if need be.

A new feeling rose in his heart and spread itself through every fibre
of his being,—a feeling without which love is a plaything. It was
reverence.

                        *    *    *    *    *

When Sanford reached his apartments Sam was waiting for him, as usual.
The candles were lighted instead of the lamp. The windows of the
balcony were wide open.

“You need not wait, Sam; I’ll close the blinds,” he said, as he
stepped out and sank into a chair.

Long after Sam had gone he sat there without moving, his head bent,
his forehead resting on his hand. He was trying to pick up the threads
of his life again, to find the old pattern which had once guided him
in his course, and to clear it from the tangle of lines that had
suddenly twisted and confused him.

For a long time he saw nothing but Kate’s eyes as they had met his
own, with the possibilities which he had read in their depths. He
tried to drive the picture from him; then baffled by its persistence
he resolutely faced it; held it as it were in his hands, and, looking
long and unflinchingly at it, summoned all his courage.

He had read Kate’s heart in her face. He knew that he had revealed his
own. But he meant that the future should be unaffected by the
revelations made. The world must never share her confidence nor his,
as it would surely do at their first false step. It should not have
the right to turn and look, and to wonder at the woman whom he was
proud to love. That open fearlessness which all who knew her gloried
in should still be hers. He realized the value of it to her, and what
its loss would entail should a spoken word of his rob her of it, or
any momentary weakness of theirs deprive her of the strength and
comfort which his open companionship could give.

No! God willing, he would stand firm, and so should she.

An hour later he was still there, his unlighted cigar between his
lips, his head on his hands.



CHAPTER XVI

UNDER THE WILLOWS


The mile or more of shore skirting the curve of Keyport harbor from
Keyport Village to Captain Joe’s cottage was lighted by only four
street lamps. Three of these were hung on widely scattered
telegraph-poles; the fourth was nailed fast to one end of old Captain
Potts’s fish-house.

When the nights were moonless, these faithful sentinels, with eyes
alert, scanned the winding road, or so much of it as their lances
could protect, watching over deep culverts, and in one place guarded a
treacherous bridge without a rail.

When the nights were cloudy and the lantern-panes were dimmed by the
driving sleet, these beacons confined their efforts to pointing out
for the stumbling wayfarer the deep puddles or the higher rows of
soggy seaweed washed up by the last high tide into the highway itself.
Only on thick nights, when the fog-drift stole in from the still sea,
and even Keyport Light burned dim, did their scouting rays retreat
discomfited, illumining nothing but the poles on which the lanterns
hung.

Yet in spite of this vigilance there were still long stretches of road
between, which even on clear nights were dark as graveyards and as
lonesome. Except for the ruddy gleam slanted across the path from some
cabin window, or the glare of a belated villager’s swinging lantern
flecking the pale, staring fences with seesawing lights and shadows,
not a light was visible.

Betty knew every foot of this road. She had trundled her hoop on it,
her hair flying in the wind, when she first came to Keyport to school.
She had trodden it many a time with Caleb; had idled along its curves
with Lacey before the day when her life came to an end, and had
plodded over it many a weary hour since, as she went to her work in
the village or returned to Captain Joe’s. Every stone and tree and
turn were familiar to her, and she could have found her way in the
pitch-dark to the captain’s or to Caleb’s, just as she had done again
and again in the days before the street lights were set, or when Caleb
would be standing on the porch, if she were late, shading his eyes and
peering down the road, the kitchen lamp in his hand. “I was gittin’
worrited, little woman; what kep’ ye?” he would say. She had never
been afraid in those days, no matter what the hour. Everybody knew
her. “Oh, that’s you, Mis’ West, is it? I kind o’ mistrusted it was,”
would come from some shadowy figure across the road.

All this was changed for her now. There were places along the highway
that made her draw her shawl closer, often half hiding her face. She
would shudder as she turned the corner by the church, the one where
the captain and Aunty Bell had taken her the first Sunday after her
coming back. The big, gloomy oil warehouse where she had nursed Lacey
seemed to her haunted and uncanny, and at night more gloomy than ever
without a ray of light in any one of its broken, staring windows. Even
the fishing-smacks, anchored out of harm’s way for the night, looked
gruesome and mysterious, with single lights aloft, and black hulls and
masts reflected in the water. It was never until she reached the
willows that her agitation disappeared. These grew just opposite
Captain Potts’s fish-house. There were three of them, and their
branches interlocked and spread across the road, the spaces between
the trunks being black at night, despite the one street lamp nailed to
the fish-house across the way. When Betty gained these trees her
breath always came freer. She could then see along the whole road,
away past Captain Joe’s, and up the hill. She could see, too, Caleb’s
cabin from this spot, and the lamp burning in the kitchen window. She
knew who was sitting beside it. From these willows, also, she could
run for Captain Joe’s swinging gate with its big ball and chain,
getting safely inside before Caleb could pass and see her, if by any
chance he should be on the road and coming to the village. Once she
had met him this side of their dark shadows. It was on a Saturday, and
he was walking into the village, his basket on his arm. He was going
for his Sunday supplies, no doubt. The Ledge gang must have come in
sooner than usual, for it was early twilight. She had seen him coming
a long way off, and had looked about for some means of escape. There
was no mistaking his figure. She would know him as far as she could
see him,—that strong, broad figure, with the awkward, stiff walk
peculiar to so many seafaring men, particularly lightship-keepers like
Caleb, who have walked but little. She knew, too, the outline of the
big, fluffy beard that the wind caught and blew over his ruddy face.
No one could be like her Caleb but himself.

These chance meetings she dreaded with a fear she could not overcome.
On this last occasion, finding no concealing shelter, she had kept on,
her eyes on the ground. When Caleb had passed, his blue eyes staring
straight ahead, his face drawn and white, the lips pressed close, she
turned and looked after him, and he turned, too, and looked after
her,—these two, man and wife, within reach of each other’s arms and
lips, yet with only the longing hunger of a dead happiness in their
eyes. She could have run toward him, and knelt down in the road, and
begged him to forgive her and take her home again, had not Captain
Joe’s words restrained her: “Caleb says he ain’t got nothin’ agin ye,
child, but he won’t take ye back s’ long ’s he lives.”

Because, then, of the dread of these chance meetings, and because of
the shy looks of many of the villagers, who, despite Captain Joe’s
daily fight, still passed her with but a slight nod of recognition,
she was less unhappy when she walked the road at night than in the
daylight. The chance of being recognized was less. Caleb might pass
her in the dark and not see her, and then, too, there were fewer
people passing after dark.

On the Saturday night succeeding that on which they had met and looked
at each other, she determined to wait until it was quite dark. He
would have come in then, and she could slip out from the shop where
she worked and gain the shore road before he had finished making his
purchases in the village.

Her heart had been very heavy all day. The night before she had left
her own bed and tapped at Aunty Bell’s door, and had crept under the
coverlid beside the little woman, the captain being at the Ledge, and
had had one of her hearty cries, sobbing on the elder woman’s neck,
her arms about her, her cheek to hers. She had gone over with her for
the hundredth time all the misery of her position, wondering what
would become of her; and how hard it was for Caleb to do all his work
alone,—washing his clothes and cooking his meals just as he had done
on board the lightship; pouring out her heart until she fell asleep
from sheer exhaustion. All of her thoughts were centred in him and his
troubles. She longed to go back to Caleb to take care of him. It was
no longer to be taken care of, but to care for him.

As she hurried through the streets, after leaving the shop, and gained
the corner leading to the shore road, she glanced up and down, fearing
to see the sturdy figure with the basket. But there was no one in
sight whom she knew. At this discovery she slackened her steps and
looked around more quietly. When she reached the bend in the road, a
flash of light from an open door in a cabin near by gave her a
momentary glimpse of a housewife bending over a stove and a man
putting a dinner-pail on the kitchen table. Then all was dark again.
It was but a momentary glimpse of a happiness the possibility of which
in her own life she had wrecked, but it sent the blood tingling to her
face. She stopped, steadying herself by the stone wall, then she
walked on.

When she passed into the black shadows of the overhanging willows, a
man stepped from behind a tree-trunk.

“Aren’t you rather late this evening?” he asked.

Betty stood still, the light of the street lamp full on her face. The
abruptness of the sound startled her.

“Oh, you needn’t be afraid; I’m not going to hurt you.”

The girl peered into the gloom. She thought the voice was familiar,
though she was not sure. She could distinguish only a shadowy face.

“What makes you so skittish, anyhow?” the man asked again,—in a lower
tone this time. “You didn’t use to be so. I thought maybe you might
like to drive over to Medford and see the show to-night.”

Betty made no answer, but she took a step nearer to him, trying to
identify him. She was not afraid; only curious. Then all at once it
occurred to her that it could be for no good purpose he had stopped
her. None of the men had spoken to her in the street, even in the
daytime, since her return home.

“Please let me pass,” she said quietly and firmly.

“Oh, you needn’t be in a hurry. We’ve got all night. Come along, now,
won’t you? You used to like me once, before you shook the old man.”

Betty knew him now!

The terror of her position overcame her; a deathly faintness seized
her.

She saw it all; she knew why this man dared. She realized the
loneliness and desolation of her position, poor child that she was.
Every cabin near her filled with warmth and cheer and comfort, and she
friendless and alone! Not a woman near but had the strong arm of
husband or brother to help and defend her. The very boats in the
harbor, with their beacon-lights aloft, protected and safe. Only she
in danger; only she unguarded, waylaid, open to insult, even by a man
like this.

She stood shivering, looking into his cowardly face. Then rousing
herself to her peril, she sprang toward the road. In an instant the
man had seized her wrist. She felt his hot breath on her face.

“Oh, come now, none of that! Say, why ain’t I as good as Bill Lacey?
Give me a kiss.”

“Let me go! _Let me go!_ How dare you!” she cried, struggling in
his grasp. When she found his strength gaining on her, she screamed.

Hardly had she made her outcry, when from behind the fish-house a man
with a flowing beard darted into the shadows, flung himself on Betty’s
assailant, and dragged him out under the glare of the street lamp. The
girl fled up the road without looking behind.

“That’s what ye’re up to, is it, Mr. Carleton?” said the man, holding
the other with the grip of a steel vise. “I ’spected as much when I
see ye passin’ my place. Damn ye! If it warn’t that it would be worse
for her, I’d kill ye!”

Every muscle in the speaker’s body was tense with anger. Carleton’s
head was bent back, his face livid from the pressure of his
assailant’s fingers twisted about his throat.

The man slowly relaxed his hold. “Ain’t she got trouble ’nough without
havin’ a skunk like you a-runnin’ foul o’ her?”

Carleton made a quick gesture as if to spring aside and run. The diver
saw the movement and stepped in front of him.

“Ain’t ye ashamed o’ yerself? Ain’t it mean o’ ye to make up to a gal
like Betty?” His voice was low and measured.

“What’s it your business, anyhow?” Carleton gasped between his
breaths, shaking himself like a tousled dog. “What are you putting on
frills about her for, anyhow? She’s nothing to you, if she is your
wife. I guess I know what I’m doing.”

Caleb’s fingers grew hard and rigid as claws.

“So do I know what ye’re a-doin’. Ye’d drag that child down an’ stomp
on her, if ye could. Ye’d make a _thing_ of her,”—the words came
with a hiss,—“you—you—callin’ yerself a man!”

“Why don’t you take care of her, then?” snarled Carleton, with an
assumed air of composure, as he adjusted his collar and cuffs.

“That’s what I’m here for; that’s why I follered ye; there ain’t a
night since it begun to git dark I ain’t watched her home. She’s not
yourn; she’s mine. Look at me,”—Caleb stepped closer and raised his
clinched fist. “If ever ye speak to her agin, so help me God, I
_will_ kill ye!”

With one swing of his arm he threw the superintendent out of his way,
and strode up the street.

Carleton staggered from the blow, and would have fallen but for the
wall of the fish-house. For a moment he stood in the road looking
after Caleb’s retreating figure. Then, with a forced bravado in his
voice, he called out in the darkness, “If you think so damn much of
her, why don’t you take her home?” and slunk away toward the village.

The old man did not turn. If he heard, he made no sign. He walked on,
with his head down, his eyes on the road. As he passed Captain Joe’s
he loitered at the gate until he saw the light flash up in Betty’s
bedroom; then he kept on to his own cabin.



CHAPTER XVII

THE SONG OF THE FIRE


The fire was nearly out when Caleb entered his kitchen door and drew a
chair to the stove. Carleton’s taunting words, “Why don’t you take her
home?” rang in his ears. Their sting hurt him. Everything else seemed
to fall away from his mind. He knew why he did not take her home, he
said to himself; every one else knew why,—every one up and down
Keyport knew what Betty had done to ruin him. If she was friendless,
tramping the road, within sight of her own house, whose fault was it?
Not his. He had never done anything but love her and take care of her.

He reached for a pair of tongs, stirred the coals, and threw on a
single piece of driftwood. The fire blazed up brightly at once, its
light flickering on the diver’s ruddy face, and as quickly died out.

“Why don’t I take care of ’er, eh? Why didn’t she take care of
herself?” he cried aloud, gazing into the smouldering embers. “She
sees what it is now trampin’ the road nights, runnin’ up agin such
curs as him. He’s a nice un, he is. I wish I’d choked the life out’er
him; such fellers ain’t no right to live,” looking about him as if he
expected to find Carleton behind the door, and as quickly recovering
himself. “I wonder if he hurt ’er,”—his voice had softened. “She
screamed turrible. I ought, maybe, to ’a’ ketched up to her. Poor
little gal, she ain’t used to this.” He was silent awhile, his head
bent, his shoulders updrawn, his big frame stretched out in the chair.

“She ain’t nothin’ but a child, anyhow,” he broke out again,—“Cap’n
Joe says so. He says I don’t think o’ this; maybe he’s right. He says
I’m bigger an’ twice as old’s she be, an’ ought’er know more; that it
ain’t me she’s hurted,—it’s herself; that I married her to take care
of ’er; and that the fust time she got in a hole I go back on ’er,
’cause she’s dragged me in arter ’er. Well, ain’t I a-takin’ care of
’er? Ain’t I split squar’ in two every cent I’ve earned since she run
away with that”—

Caleb paused abruptly. Even to himself he never mentioned Lacey’s
name. Bending forward he poked the fire vigorously, raking the coals
around the single stick of driftwood. “It’s all very well for th’
cap’n to talk; he ain’t gone through what I have.”

Pushing back his chair he paced the small room, talking to himself as
he walked, pausing to address his sentences to the several articles of
furniture,—the chairs, the big table, the kitchen sink, whatever came
in his way. It was an old trick of his when alone. “I ain’t a-goin’ to
have ’er come home so late no more,” he continued. His voice had sunk
to a gentle whisper. “I’m goin’ to tell them folks she works for that
they’ve got to let ’er out afore dark, or she shan’t stay.” He was
looking now at an old rocker as if it were the shopkeeper himself.
“She’ll be so scared arter this she won’t have a minute’s peace. She
needn’t worrit herself, though, ’bout that skunk. She’s shut o’
_him_. But there’ll be more of ’em. They all think that now I’ve
throwed ’er off they kin do as they’ve a mind to.” He stopped again
and gazed down at the floor, seemingly absorbed in a hole in one of
the planks. “Cap’n Joe sez I ain’t got no business to throw ’er off.
He wouldn’t treat a dog so,—that’s what ye said, cap’n; I ain’t never
goin’ to forgit it. _I_ ain’t throwed _her_ off. She throwed
_me_ off,—lef’ me here without a word; an’ ye know it, cap’n. Ye
want me to take ’er back, do ye?” He spoke with as much earnestness as
though the captain stood before him. “S’pose I do, an’ she finds out
arter all that her comin’ home was ’cause she was skeared of it all,
and that she still loved”—

He stopped, reseated himself, and picking up another stick threw it on
the fire, snuggling the two together. The sticks, cheered by each
other’s warmth, burst into a crackling flame.

“Poor little Betty!” he began again aloud. “I’m sorry for ye.
Everybody’s agin ye, child, ’cept Cap’n Joe’s folks. I know it hurts
ye turrible to have folks look away from ye. Ye always loved to have
folks love ye. I ain’t got nothin’ agin ye, child, indeed I ain’t. It
was my fault, not yourn. I told Cap’n Joe so; ask him,—he’ll tell
ye.” He turned toward the empty chair beside him, as if he saw her sad
face there. “I know it’s hard, child,” shaking his head. “Ain’t nobody
feels it more ’n me,—ain’t nobody feels it more ’n me. I guess I must
take care o’ ye; I guess there ain’t nobody else but me kin do it.”

The logs blazed cheerily; the whole room was alight. “I wish ye loved
me like ye did onct, little woman,—I wouldn’t want no better
happiness; jest me an’ you, like it useter was. I wonder if ye do? No,
I know ye don’t.” The last words came with a positive tone.

For a long time he remained still, gazing at the blazing logs locked
together, the flames dancing about them. Then he got up and roamed
mechanically around the room, his thoughts away with Betty and her
helpless condition, and her rightful dependence on him. In the same
dreary way he opened the cupboard, took out a piece of cold meat and
some slices of stale bread, laying them on the table, poured some tea
into a cup and put it on the stove; it was easier making the tea that
way than in a pot. He drew the table toward the fire, so that his
supper would be within reach, stirring the brewing tea meanwhile with
a fork he had in his hand, and began his frugal meal. Since Betty left
he had never set the table. It seemed less lonely to eat this way.

Just as he had finished there came a knock at the front door. Caleb
started, and put down his cup. Who could come at this hour? Craning
his head toward the small open hall, he saw through the glass in the
door the outlines of a woman’s figure approaching him through the
hall. His face flushed, and his heart seemed to jump in his throat.

“It’s me, Caleb,” said the woman. “It’s Aunty Bell. The door was open,
so I didn’t wait. Cap’n sent me up all in a hurry. He’s jes’ come in
from the Ledge, and hollered to me from the tug to send up and get ye.
The pump’s broke on the big h’ister. A new one’s got to be cast
to-night and bored out to-morrer, if it _is_ Sunday. Cap’n says
everything’s stopped at the Ledge, and they can’t do another stroke
till this pump’s fixed. Weren’t nobody home but Betty, and so I come
myself. Come right along; he wants ye at the machine shop jes’ ’s
quick as ye kin git there.”

Caleb kept his seat and made no reply. Something about the shock of
discovering who the woman was had stunned him. He did not try to
explain it to himself; he was conscious only of a vague yet stinging
sense of disappointment. Automatically, like a trained soldier obeying
a command, he bent forward in his chair, drew his thick shoes from
under the stove, slipped his feet into them, and silently followed
Aunty Bell out of the house and down the road. When they reached
Captain Joe’s gate he looked up at Betty’s window. There was no light.

“Has Betty gone to bed?” he asked quietly.

“Yes, more ’n an hour ago. She come home late, all tuckered out. I see
’er jes’ before I come out. She said she warn’t sick, but she wouldn’t
eat nothin’.”

Caleb paused, looked at her as if he were about to speak again,
hesitated, then, without a word, walked away.

“Stubborn as a mule,” said Aunty Bell, looking after him. “I ain’t got
no patience with such men.”



CHAPTER XVIII

THE EQUINOCTIAL GALE


When Sanford arrived at Keyport, a raw, southeast gale swept through
the deserted streets. About the wharves of the village itself idle
stevedores lounged under dripping roofs, watching the cloud-rack and
speculating on the chances of going to work. Out in the harbor the
fishing-boats rocked uneasily, their long, red pennants flattened
against the sky. Now and then a frightened sloop came hurrying in with
close-reefed jib, sousing her bow under at every plunge.

Away off in the open a dull gray mist, churned up by the tumbling
waves, dimmed the horizon, blurring here and there a belated coaster
laboring heavily under bare poles, while from Crotch Island way came
the roar of the pounding surf dashed headlong on the beach. The
long-expected equinoctial storm was at its height.

So fierce and so searching were the wind and rain that Sanford was
thoroughly drenched when he reached Captain Joe’s cottage.

“For the land’s sake, Mr. Sanford, come right in! Why, ye’re jest’s
soakin’ as though ye’d fell off the dock. Cap’n said ye was a-comin’,
but I hoped ye wouldn’t. I ain’t never see it blow so terrible, I
don’t know when. Gimme that overcoat,” slipping it from his shoulders
and arms. “Be yer feet wet?”

“Pretty wet, Mrs. Bell. I’ll go up to my room and get some dry
socks”—

“Ye ain’t a-goin’ to move one step. Set right down an’ get them shoes
off. I’ll go for the socks myself. I overhauled ’em last week with the
cap’n’s, and sot a new toe in one o’ them. I won’t be a minute!” she
cried, hurrying out of the room, and returning with heavy woolen socks
and a white worsted sweater.

“Guess ye’ll want these, too, sir,” she said, picking up a pair of
slippers.

“Where is Captain Joe?” asked Sanford, as he pulled off his wet shoes
and stockings and moved closer to the fire. It was an every-day scene
in Aunty Bell’s kitchen, where one half of her visitors were wet half
the time, and the other half wet all the time.

“I don’t jes’ know. He ain’t been home sence Saturday night but jes’
long ’nough to change his clothes an’ git a bite to eat. Come in from
the Ledge Saturday night on the tug two hours after the Screamer
brought in the men, an’ hollered to me to go git Caleb an’ come down
to the machine shop. You heared they broke the pump on the
h’istin’-engine, didn’t ye? They both been a-workin’ on it pretty much
ever sence.”

“Not the big hoister?” Sanford exclaimed, with a start, turning pale.

“Well, that’s what the cap’n said, sir. He an’ Caleb worked all
Saturday night an’ Sunday, an’ got a new castin’ made, an’ bored it
out yesterday. I told him he wouldn’t have no luck, workin’ on Sunday,
but he didn’t pay no more ’tention to me than th’ wind a-blowin’. It
was to be done this mornin’. He was up at five, an’ I ain’t seen him
sence. Said he was goin’ to git to the Ledge in Cap’n Potts’ cat-boat,
if it mod’rated.”

“He won’t go,” said Sanford, with a sigh of relief now that he knew
the break had been repaired without delay. “No cat-boat can live
outside to-day.”

“Well, all I know is, I heared him tell Lonny Bowles to ask Cap’n
Potts for it ’fore they went out,” she replied, as she hung Sanford’s
socks on a string especially reserved for such emergencies. “Said they
had two big cut stone to set, an’ they couldn’t get a pound o’ steam
on the Ledge till he brought the pump back.”

Sanford instinctively looked out of the window. The rain beat against
the panes. The boom of the surf sounded like distant cannon.

“Ye can’t do nothin’ with him when he gits one o’ his spells on,
noways,” continued Aunty Bell, as she raked out the coals. “Jes’ wait
till I grind some fresh coffee,—won’t take a minute. Then I’ll git
breakfast for ye.”

Sanford stepped into the sitting-room, closed the door, took off his
coat and waistcoat, loosened his collar, pulled on the sweater, and
came back into the kitchen, looking like a substitute in a game of
football. He always kept a stock of such dry luxuries in his little
room upstairs, Aunty Bell looking after them as she did after the
captain’s, and these rapid changes of dress were not unusual.

“How does Betty get on?” asked Sanford, drawing up a chair to the
table. The bustling little woman was bringing relays of bread, butter,
and other comforts, flitting between the pantry and the stove.

“Pretty peaked, sir; ye wouldn’t know her, poor little girl; it’d
break yer heart to see her,” she answered, as she placed a freshly
baked pie on the table. “She’s upstairs now. Cap’n wouldn’t let her
git up an’ go to work this mornin’, it blowed so. That’s her now
a-comin’ downstairs.”

Sanford rose and held out his hand. He had not seen Betty since the
memorable night when she had stood in his hallway, and he had taken
her to Mrs. Leroy’s. He had been but seldom at the captain’s of late,
going straight to the Ledge from the train, and had always missed her.

Betty started back, and her color came and went when she saw who it
was. She didn’t know anybody was downstairs, she said half
apologetically, addressing her words to Aunty Bell, her eyes averted
from Sanford’s face.

“Why, Betty, I’m glad to see you!” exclaimed Sanford in a cheery tone,
his mind going back to Mrs. Leroy’s admonition.

Betty raised her eyes with a timid, furtive glance, her face flushed
scarlet, but, reading Sanford’s entire sincerity in his face, she laid
her hand in his, saying it was a bad day, and that she hoped he was
not wet. Then she turned to help Mrs. Bell with the table.

Sanford watched her slight figure and care-worn face as she moved
about the room—hardly a trace in them of the Betty of old. When Aunty
Bell had gone down into the cellar, he called Betty to him and said in
a low voice, “I have a message for you.”

She turned quickly, as if anticipating some unwelcome revelation.

“Mrs. Leroy told me to give you her love.”

Betty’s eyes filled. “Is that what she said, Mr. Sanford?”

“Every word, Betty, and she means it all.”

The girl stood fingering the handles of the knives she had just laid
upon the cloth. After a pause, Sanford’s eyes still upon her face, she
answered slowly, with a pathos that went straight home to his heart:—

“Tell her, please, sir, that I thank her so much, and that I never
forget her. I am trying so hard—so hard—I promised her I would. You
don’t know, Mr. Sanford,—nobody won’t never know how good she was to
me. If I’d been her sister she couldn’t ’a’ done no more.”

It was but a slight glimpse of the girl’s real nature, but it settled
for Sanford all the misgivings he had had. It sent a quiver through
him, too, as his mind reverted to Kate’s own account of the interview.
He was about to tell her of Mrs. Leroy’s expected arrival at Medford,
and urge her to go over some Sunday, when Aunty Bell bustled in with a
covered dish.

“Come, child,” she said, “sit right down alongside o’ Mr. Sanford an’
git your breakfas’. You ain’t eat a morsel yet.”

There were no seats of honor and no second table in this house, except
for those who came late.

Here a sharp, quick knock sounded on the outer door, and in stalked
Captain Bob Brandt, six feet or more of wet oilskins, the rain
dripping from his sou’wester, his rosy, good-natured face peering out
from under the puckered brim.

“Cap’n Joe sent me down to the station for ye, sir, in case ye come,
but I missed ye, somehow. Mr. Carleton was on the platform, an’ said
he see ye git off. Guess ye must ’a’ come cross lots.”

“Did Mr. Carleton mention anything about receiving a telegram from me,
saying I wanted to see him?” inquired Sanford, as he shook the
skipper’s hand.

“Yes, sir; said he knew yer was comin’, but that he was goin’ over to
Medford till the storm was over.”

Sanford’s brow knit. Carleton had evidently avoided him.

“Did he leave any message or letter with Captain Joe?” Sanford asked,
after a pause. He still hoped that the coveted certificate had finally
been signed.

“Guess not, sir. Don’t think he see ’im. I suppose ye know Cap’n Joe’s
gone to the Ledge with the new pump?”

“Not in this storm?” cried Sanford, a look of alarm overspreading his
face.

“Yes, sir, half an hour ago, in Cap’n Potts’ Dolly. I watched ’em till
they run under the P’int, then I come for you; guess that’s what got
me late. She was under double reefs then, an’ a-smashin’ things for
all she was worth. I tell ye, ’t ain’t no good place out there for
nobody, not even Cap’n Joe.” As he spoke he took off his hat and
thrashed the water from it against the jamb of the door. “No, thank
ye, ma’am,” with a wave of his hand in answer to Mrs. Bell’s gesture
to sit down opposite Betty. “I had breakfast ’board the Screamer.”

“Who’s with him?” exclaimed Sanford, now really uneasy. Captain Joe’s
personal safety was worth more to him than the completion of a dozen
lighthouses.

“Caleb and Lonny Bowles. They’d go anywheres cap’n told ’em. He was
holdin’ tiller when I see him last; Caleb layin’ back on the sheet and
Lonny bailin’. Cap’n said he wouldn’t ’a’ risked it, only we was
behind an’ he didn’t want ye worried. I’m kind’er sorry they started;
it ain’t no picnic out there, I tell ye.”

Betty gave an anxious look at Aunty Bell.

“Is it a very bad storm, Cap’n Brandt?” she asked, almost in a
whisper.

“Wust I ever see, Mis’ West, since I worked round here,” nodding
kindly to Betty as he spoke, his face lighting up. He had always
believed in her because the captain had taken her home. “Everything
comin’ in under double reefs,—them that _is_ a-comin’ in. They
say two o’ them Lackawanna coal-barges went adrift at daylight an’
come ashore at Crotch Island. Had two men drownded, I hear.”

“Who told you that?” asked Sanford. The news only increased his
anxiety.

“The cap’n of the tow line, sir. He’s just telegraphed to New Haven
for a big wreckin’ tug.”

Sanford told Captain Brandt to wait, ran upstairs two steps at a time,
and reappeared in long rubber boots and mackintosh.

“I’ll walk up toward the lighthouse and find out how they are getting
on, Mrs. Bell,” he said. “We can see them from the lantern deck. Come,
Captain Brandt, I want you with me.” A skilled seaman like the skipper
might be needed before the day was over.

Betty and Aunty Bell looked after them until they had swung back the
garden gate with its clanking ball and chain, and had turned to breast
the gale in their walk of a mile or more up the shore road.

“Oh, aunty,” said Betty, with a tremor in her voice, all the blood
gone from her face, “do you think anything will happen?”

“Not ’s long ’s Cap’n Joe’s aboard, child. He ain’t a-takin’ no risks
he don’t know all about. Ye needn’t worry a mite. Set down an’ finish
yer breakfas’. I believe Mr. Sanford ain’t done more ’n swallow his
coffee,” she added, with a pitying look, as she inspected his plate.

The fact that her husband was exposed in an open boat to the fury of a
southeaster made no more impression upon her mind than if he had been
reported asleep upstairs. She knew there was no storm the captain
could not face.



CHAPTER XIX

FROM THE LANTERN DECK


Tony Marvin, the keeper of Keyport Light, was in his little room next
the fog-horn when Sanford and the skipper, wet and glistening as two
seals, knocked at the outer door of his quarters.

“Well, I want to know!” broke out Tony in his bluff, hearty way, as he
opened the door. “Come in,—come in! Nice weather for ducks, ain’t it?
Sunthin’ ’s up, or you fellers wouldn’t be out to-day,” leading the
way to his room. “Anybody drownded?” he asked facetiously, stopping
for a moment on the threshold.

“Not yet, Tony,” said Sanford in a serious tone. He had known the
keeper for years,—had, in fact, helped him get his appointment at the
Light. “But I’m worried about Captain Joe and Caleb.” He opened his
coat, and walked across the room to a bench set against the
whitewashed wall, little streams of water following him as he moved.
“Did you see them go by? They’re in Captain Potts’s Dolly Varden.”

“Gosh hang, no! Ye ain’t never tellin’ me, be ye, that the cap’n ’s
gone to the Ledge in all this smother? And that fool Caleb with him,
too?”

“Yes, and Lonny Bowles,” interrupted the skipper. As he spoke he
pulled off one of his water-logged boots and poured the contents into
a fire-bucket standing against the wall.

“How long since they started?” asked the keeper anxiously, taking down
his spyglass from a rack above the buckets.

“Half an hour ago.”

“Then they’re this side of Crotch Island yit, if they’re anywheres.
Let’s go up to the lantern. Mebbe we can see ’em,” he said, unlatching
the door of the tower. “Better leave them boots behind, Mr. Sanford,
and shed yer coat. A feller’s knees git purty tired climbin’ these
steps, when he ain’t used to’t; there’s a hundred and ten of ’em.
Here, try these slippin’s of mine,” and he kicked a pair of slippers
from under a chair. “Guess they’ll fit ye. Seems to me Caleb’s been
doin’ his best to git drownded since that high-flyer of a gal left
him. He come by here daylight, one mornin’ awhile ago, in a sharpie
that you wouldn’t cross a creek in, and it blowin’ half a gale. I
ain’t surprised o’ nothin’ in Caleb, but Cap’n Joe ought’er have more
sense. What’s he goin’ for, anyhow, to-day?” he grumbled, as Sanford
drew on the slippers and placed his foot on the first iron step of the
spiral staircase.

“He’s taken the new pump with him,” said Sanford, as he followed the
keeper up the winding steps, the skipper close behind. “They broke the
old pump on Saturday, and everything is stopped on the Ledge. Captain
knows we’re behind, and he doesn’t want to lose an hour. But it was a
foolish venture. He had no business to risk his life in a blow like
this, Tony.” There was a serious tone in Sanford’s voice which
quickened the keeper’s step.

“What good is the pump to him, if he does get it there? Men can’t work
to-day,” Tony answered. He was now a dozen steps ahead, his voice
sounding hollow in the reverberations of the round tower.

“Oh, that ain’t a-goin’ to stop us!” shouted the skipper from below,
resting a moment to get his breath as he spoke. “We’ve got the masonry
clean out o’ water; we’re all right if Cap’n Joe can git steam on the
hoister.”

The keeper, whose legs had become as supple as a squirrel’s in the
five years he had climbed up and down these stairs, reached the
lantern deck some minutes ahead of the others. He was wiping the sweat
from the lantern glass with a clean white cloth, and drawing back the
day curtains so that they might see better, when Sanford’s head
appeared above the lens deck.

Once upon the iron floor of the deck, the roar of the wind and the
dash of the rain, which had been deadened by the thick walls of the
structure surrounding the staircase below, burst upon them seemingly
with increased fury. A tremulous, swaying motion was plainly felt. A
novice would have momentarily expected the structure to measure its
length on the rocks below. Above the roar of the storm could be heard,
at intervals, the thunder of the surf breaking on Crotch Island beach.

“Gosh A’mighty!” exclaimed the keeper, adjusting the glass, which he
had carried up in his hand. “It’s a-humpin’ things, and no mistake.
See them rollers break on Crotch Island,” and he swept his glass
around. “I see ’em. There they are,—three o’ them. There’s Cap’n
Joe,—ain’t no mistakin’ him. He’s got his cap on, same’s he allers
wears. And there’s Caleb; his beard’s a-flyin’ straight out. Who’s
that in the red flannen shirt?”

“Lonny Bowles,” said the skipper.

“Yes, that’s Bowles. He’s a-bailin’ for all he’s worth. Cap’n Joe’s
got the tiller and Caleb’s a-hangin’ on the sheet. Here, Mr. Sanford,”
and he held out the glass, “ye kin see ’em plain ’s day.”

Sanford waved the glass away. The keeper’s eyes, he said, were better
accustomed to scanning a scene like this. He himself could see the
Dolly, a mile or more this side of Crotch Island Point, and nearly two
miles away from where the three watchers stood. She was hugging the
inside shore-line, her sail close-reefed. He could even make out the
three figures, which were but so many black dots beaded along her
gunwale. All about the staggering boat seethed the gray sea, mottled
in wavy lines of foam. Over this circled white gulls, shrieking as
they flew.

“He’s gittin’ ready to go about,” continued the keeper, his eye still
to the glass. “I see Caleb shiftin’ his seat. They know they can’t
make the P’int on that leg. Jiminy-whiz, but it’s soapy out there! See
’er take that roller! Gosh!”

The boat careened, the dots crowded together, and the Dolly bore away
from the shore. It was evidently Captain Joe’s intention to give
Crotch Island Point a wide berth and then lay a straight course for
the Ledge, now barely visible through the haze, the derricks and
masonry alone showing clear above the fringe of breaking surf tossed
white against the dull gray sky.

All eyes were now fixed on the Dolly. Three times she laid a course
toward the Ledge, and three times she was forced back behind the
island.

“They’ve got to give it up,” said the keeper, laying down his glass.
“That tide cuts round that ’ere P’int like a mill-tail, to say nothin’
o’ them smashers that’s rollin’ in. How she keeps afloat out there is
what beats me.”

“She wouldn’t if Cap’n Joe wasn’t at the tiller,” said the skipper,
with a laugh. “Ye can’t drown him no more ’n a water-rat.” He had an
abiding faith in Captain Joe almost as great as that of Aunty Bell.

Sanford’s face brightened. An overwhelming anxiety for the safety of
the endangered men had strangely, almost unaccountably unnerved him.
It was some comfort to feel Captain Brandt’s confidence in Captain
Joe’s ability to meet the situation; for that little cockle-shell
battling before him as if for its very life—one moment on top of a
mountain of water, and the next buried out of sight—held between its
frail sides not only two of the best men whom he knew, but really two
of the master spirits of their class. One of them, Captain Joe,
Sanford admired more than any other man, loving him, too, as he had
loved but few.

With a smile to the skipper, he looked off again toward the sea. He
saw the struggling boat make a fourth attempt to clear the Point, and
in the movement lurch wildly; he saw, too, that her long boom was
swaying from side to side. Through the driving spray he made out that
two of the dots were trying to steady it. The third dot was standing
in the stern.

Here some new movement caught his eye. He strained his neck forward;
then taking the glass from the skipper watched the little craft
intently.

“There’s something the matter,” he said nervously, after a moment’s
pause. “That’s Captain Joe waving to one of those two smacks out there
scudding in under close reefs. Look yourself; am I right, Tony?” and
he passed the glass to the keeper again.

“Looks like it, sir,” replied Tony in a low tone, the end of the glass
fixed on the tossing boat. “The smack sees ’em now, sir. She’s goin’
about.”

The fishing-smack careened, fluttered in the wind like a baffled
pigeon, and bore across to the plunging boat.

“The spray’s a-flyin’ so ye can’t see clear, sir,” said the keeper,
his eye still at the glass. “She ain’t actin’ right, somehow; that
boom seems to bother ’em. Cap’n Joe’s runnin’ for’ard. Gosh! that one
went clean over ’er. Look out! _Look out!_” in quick crescendo,
as if the endangered crew could have heard him. “See ’er take ’em!
There’s another went clean across. My God, Mr. Sanford! she’s
over,—capsized!”

Sanford made a rush for the staircase, a rash, unreasonable impulse to
help taking possession of him. The keeper caught him firmly by the
arm.

“Come back, sir! You’re only wastin’ yer breath. That smack’ll get
’em.”

Captain Brandt picked up the glass that the keeper had dropped. His
hands shook so he could hardly adjust the lens.

“The boom’s broke,” he said in a trembling voice; “that’s what ails
’em. She’s bottom side up. Lord, if she ain’t a-wallowin’! I never
’spected to see Cap’n Joe in a hole like that. They’re all three in
th’ water; ain’t a man livin’ can swim ashore in that sea! Why don’t
that blamed smack go about? They’ll sink ’fore she can get to ’em.
Where’s the cap’n? He ain’t come up yet. There’s Lonny and Caleb, but
I don’t see Cap’n Joe nowhere.”

Sanford leaned against the brass rail of the great lens, his eyes on
the fishing-smack swooping down to the rescue. The helplessness of his
position, his absolute inability to help the drowning men, overwhelmed
him: Captain Joe and Caleb perishing before his eyes, and he powerless
to lift a hand.

“Do you see the captain anywhere?” he asked, with an effort at
self-control. The words seemed to clog his throat.

“Not yet, sir, but there’s Lonny, and there’s Caleb. You look, Mr.
Marvin,” he said, turning to the keeper. He could not trust himself
any longer. For the first time his faith in Captain Joe had failed
him.

Marvin held the glass to his eye and covered the boat. He hardly dared
breathe.

“Can’t see but two, sir.” His voice was broken and husky. “Can’t make
out the cap’n nowheres. Something must ’a’ struck him an’ stunned him.
My—my—ain’t it a shame for him to cut up a caper like this! I allers
told Cap’n Joe he’d get hurted in some foolish kick-up. Why in hell
don’t them other fellers do something? If they don’t look out, the
Dolly’ll drift so far they’ll lose him,—standin’ there like two
dummies an’ lettin’ a man drown! Lord! Lord! ain’t it too bad!” The
keeper’s eyes filled. Everything was dim before him.

The skipper sank on the oil-chest and bowed his head. Sanford’s hands
were over his face. If the end had come, he did not want to see it.

The small, close lantern became as silent as a death-chamber. The
keeper, his back against the lens rail, folded his arms across his
chest and stared out to sea. His face bore the look of one watching a
dying man. Sanford did not move. His thoughts were on Aunty Bell. What
should he say to her? Was there not something he could have done?
Should he not, after all, have hailed the first tug in the harbor and
gone in search of them before it was too late?

The seconds dragged. The silence in its intensity became unbearable.
With a deep indrawn sigh, Captain Brandt turned toward Sanford and
touched him. “Come away,” he said, with the tenderness of one strong
man who suffers and is stirred with greater sorrow by another’s grief.
“This ain’t no place for you, Mr. Sanford. Come away.”

Sanford raised his eyes and was about to speak, when the keeper threw
up his arms with a joyous shout and seized the glass. “There he is! I
see his cap! That’s Cap’n Joe! He’s holdin’ up his hands. Caleb’s
crawlin’ along the bottom; he’s reachin’ down an’ haulin’ Cap’n Joe
up. Now he’s on ’er keel.”

Sanford and Captain Brandt sprang to their feet, crowding close to the
lantern glass, their eyes fastened on the Dolly. Sanford’s hands were
trembling. Hot, quick tears rolled down his cheeks and dropped from
his chin. The joyful news had unnerved him more than the horror of the
previous moments. There was no doubt of its truth; he could see, even
with the naked eye, the captain lying flat on the boat’s keel. He
thought he could follow every line of his body,—never so precious as
now.

“He’s all right,” he said in a dazed way—“all right—all right,”
repeating it mechanically over and over to himself, as a child would
do. Then he turned and laid his hand on the keeper’s shoulder.

“Thank God, Tony! Thank God!”

The keeper’s hand closed tight in Sanford’s. For a moment he did not
speak.

“Almighty close shave, sir,” he said slowly in a broken whisper,
looking into Sanford’s eyes.

Captain Brandt’s face was radiant. “Might ’a’ knowed he’d come up
some’ers, sir. Didn’t I tell ye, ye couldn’t drown him? But where in
thunder has he been under water all this time?” he asked, with a laugh
that had the unshed tears of a strong man in it, and the exultation of
one just recovered from a fright that had almost unnerved him. The
laugh not only expressed his joy at the great relief, but carried with
it a reminder that he had never seriously doubted the captain’s
ability to save himself.

All eyes were now fastened on the rescuing smack. As she swept past
the capsized boat, her crew leaned far over the side, reached down and
caught two of the shipwrecked men, leaving one man still clinging to
the keel, the sea breaking over him every moment. Sanford took the
glass, and saw that this man was Lonny Bowles, and that Captain Joe,
now safe aboard the smack, was waving his cap to the second smack,
which hove to in answer. Presently the hailed smack rounded in,
lowered her mainsail, and hauled Lonny aboard. She then took the
overturned Dolly in tow, and made at once for the harbor. When this
was done, the first smack, with Captain Joe and Caleb on board, shook
a reef from its mainsail, turned about, and despite the storm laid a
straight course back to the Ledge.

[Illustration: “Thank God, Tony! Thank God!”]

This daring and apparently hopeless attempt of Captain Joe to carry
out his plan of going to the Ledge awoke a new anxiety in Sanford.
There was no longer the question of personal danger to the captain or
the men; the fishing-smack was, of course, a better sea boat than the
Dolly, but why make the trip at all when the pump had been lost from
the overturned boat, and no one could land at the Ledge? Even from
where they all stood in the lantern they could see the big rollers
flash white as they broke over the enrockment blocks, the spray
drenching the tops of the derricks. No small boat could live in such a
sea,—not even the life-boat at the Ledge.

As the incoming smack drew near, Sanford, followed by the keeper and
Captain Brandt, hurried down the spiral staircase and into the
keeper’s room below, where they drew on their coats and heavy boots,
and made their way to the lighthouse dock.

When she came within hailing distance, Captain Brandt mounted a spile
and shouted above the roar of the gale, “Bowles, ahoy! Anybody hurt,
Lonny?”

A man in a red shirt detached himself from among the group of men
huddled in the smack’s bow, stepped on the rail, and, putting his
hands to his mouth, trumpeted back, “No!”

“What’s the cap’n gone to the Ledge for?”

“Gone to set the pump!”

“Thought the pump was lost overboard!” cried Sanford.

“No, sir; cap’n dived under the Dolly an’ found it catched fast, an’
Caleb hauled it aboard. Cap’n tol’ me to tell ye that he’d hev it set
all right to-day, blow or no”—The last words were lost in the wind.

“Ain’t that jes’ like the cap’n?” shouted the keeper, with a loud
laugh, slapping his thigh with his hand. “That’s where he was when we
thought he was drownded,—he was a-divin’ fer that pump. Land o’
Moses, ain’t he a good un!”

Captain Brandt said nothing, but a smile of happy pride overspread his
face. Captain Joe was still his hero.

                        *    *    *    *    *

Sanford spent the afternoon between Aunty Bell’s kitchen and the
paraphernalia dock, straining his eyes seaward in search of an
incoming smack which would bring the captain. The wind had shifted to
the northwest, sweeping out the fog and piling the low clouds in
heaps. The rain had ceased, and a dash of pale lemon light shone above
the blue-gray sea.

About sundown his quick eye detected a tiny sail creeping in behind
Crotch Island. As it neared the harbor and he made out the lines of
the fishing-smack of the morning, a warm glow tingled through him; it
would not be long now before he had his hands on Captain Joe.

When the smack came bowling into the harbor under double reefs, her
wind-blown jib a cup, her sail a saucer, and rounded in as graceful as
a skater on the outer edge, Sanford’s hand was the first that touched
the captain’s as he sprang from the smack’s deck to the dock.

“Captain Joe,” he said. His voice broke as he spoke; all his love was
in his eyes. “Don’t ever do that again. I saw it all from the
lighthouse lantern. You have no right to risk your life this way.”

“’T ain’t nothin’, Mr. Sanford.” His great hand closed tight over that
of the young engineer. “It’s all right now, and the pump’s screwed
fast. Caleb had steam up on the h’ister when I left him on the Ledge.
Boom on the Dolly hadn’t ’a’ broke short off out there, we’d ’a’ been
there sooner.”

“We thought you were gone, once,” continued Sanford, his voice full of
anxiety, still holding to the captain’s hand as they walked toward the
house.

“Not in the Dolly, sir,” the captain answered in an apologetic tone,
as if he wanted to atone for the suffering he had caused his friend.
“She’s got wood enough in ’er to float anywheres. That’s what I took
’er out for.”

Aunty Bell met them at the kitchen door.

“I hearn ye was overboard,” she said quietly, no more stirred over the
day’s experience than if some child had stepped into a puddle and had
come in for a change of shoes. “Ye’re wet yet, be n’t ye?” patting his
big chest to make sure.

“Yes, guess so,” he answered carelessly, feeling his own arms as if to
satisfy himself as to the reason of his wife’s inquiry. “Got a dry
shirt?”

“Yes; got everything hangin’ there on a chair ’fore the kitchen fire,”
and she closed the door upon him and Sanford.

“Beats all, Mr. Sanford, don’t it?” the captain continued in short
sentences, broken by breathless pauses, as he stripped off his wet
clothes before the blazing fire, one jerk for the suspenders, another
for the trousers, Sanford, jubilant over the captain’s safety and
eager to do him any service, handing him the dry garments one after
another.

“Beats all, I say; don’t it, now? There’s that Cap’n Potts: been a
seaman, man an’ boy, all his life,”—here the grizzled wet head was
hidden for a moment as a clean flannel shirt was drawn over it,—“yet
he ain’t got sense ’nough to keep a boom from rottin’ ’board a
cat-boat,”—the head was up now, and Sanford, fumbling under the chin
whisker, was helping the captain with the top button,—“an’ snappin’
square off in a little gale o’ wind like that. There, thank ye, guess
that’ll do.”

When he had seated himself in his chair, his sturdy legs—stout and
tough as two dock-logs—stretched out before the fire, his rough hands
spread to the blaze, warming the big, strong body that had been
soaking wet for ten consecutive hours, Sanford took a seat beside him,
and, laying his hand on his knee, said in a gentle voice, “Why did you
risk your life for that pump, Captain Joe?”

“’Cause she acted so durned ornery,” he blurted out in an angry tone.
“Jes’ see what she did: gin out night ’fore last jes’ ’s we was
gittin’ ready to h’ist that big stretcher; kep’ me an’ Caleb up two
nights a-castin’ an’ borin’ on ’er out; then all of a sudden she
thought she’d upset an’ fool us. I tell ye, ye’ve got to take hold of
a thing like that good an’ early, or it’ll git away with ye.”

One hand was swung high over his head as if it had been a
sledge-hammer.

“Now she’ll stay put till I git through with her. I ain’t a-goin’ to
let no damned pump beat me!”



CHAPTER XX

AT THE PINES


The Indian summer days had come,—soft, dreamy days of red and gold,
with veils of silver mist at sunrise, and skeins of purple clouds at
twilight. The air was hazy with the smoke of dull fires smouldering on
the hillside. The stems of the bare birches shone white; wreaths of
scarlet crowned the low stone walls; dead leaves strewed the lawns,
and tall chrysanthemums flamed in the garden-beds. Here and there a
belated summer rose, braving the cold, shivered with close-folded
lips, or hung head down, pierced by the night-frost.

Sanford had shifted his quarters from the little room over Captain
Joe’s kitchen to the big east room at The Pines, opening out upon a
wide balcony, from which he could see with his glass the feathers of
white steam on the Ledge. His apartments in Washington Square had been
closed, and Sam ordered to join his master at Keyport, where he found
himself promoted from the position of man-of-all-work to that of
valet-in-chief, with especial instructions to report daily to Buckles,
who grew more reticent and imposing by reason of the added charge.

And with the dreamy days came Helen and Jack; Smearly with a big
canvas, which he never afterward touched; and the major, with a
nondescript wardrobe, as curious as it was astonishing.

To Helen The Pines was a land of romance and charm. She had been
brought up in the country, and loved its quiet, the rest of its shady
lanes and cool woods, and the life it brought. The city had charmed
her at first. She liked its novelty, its theatres, galleries, and
crowded streets, but long before her visit in town was done, she had
begun to sigh for green fields, and rose gardens, and the freedom of
her young days at home. She had passed the summer with her school
friends, Jack spending his Sundays with her whenever he could manage
an invitation. But the homes of her friends had been simple ones, with
none of the luxury and comfort and the poetry of The Pines.

Mrs. Leroy had begun at once on her arrival to carry out her promise
to give the young Maryland girl one more good time before that
“Bluebeard Jack bound her hand and foot.” She had done this as much
from a sincere interest in Helen, as from a sense of duty to Jack and
Sanford. She had not, as yet, completely won the girl’s confidence.
The talk with Smearly, in which Mrs. Leroy had cried out against the
marriage relation, still lingered in Helen’s mind. Its last impression
wore away only when Kate had taken her out on the lawn, on the second
morning of her visit, to show her a secluded summer-house smothered in
climbing vines and overlooking the water.

“This is for you and Jack,” she had said, with a merry twinkle in her
eye and a depth of tenderness in her tone. “And for nobody else, dear.
Not a soul will be able to find you.” Though Helen had laughed and
said that she and Jack had been engaged too long to need such
retirement, every succeeding morning had found them there, oblivious
to the outside world until aroused by a peculiar shuffling sound on
the gravel, followed by a warning cough.

“Lunch ready, Marse Jack,—so de waiter-man says.”

It was always Sam,—his face as full of smiles as a suddenly disturbed
puddle is of ripples.

But if The Pines was an enchanted realm to Helen and Jack, a
refreshing retreat to Sanford, and a mine of luxury to Smearly, 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
out-buildings, 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, and 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 sailing-master,
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
that he was not only 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.

At first Mrs. Leroy 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 ago 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 your 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.

This visit of the engineers meant to Sanford a possible solution of
his difficulties. 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 now
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 on the Ledge, 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 still 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 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 to 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 necked 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, and 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 had, in harmless curiosity, 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
other. Evidently this open door and this 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 its contents! Everything in this wonderful palace of luxury
was free,—cigars, brandy, even the stamps on the writing-table before
him,—why not, then, these yachting clothes? To-morrow was the great
day for the yacht, when the inspection of the engineers was to take
place. His age and position naturally made him the absent commodore’s
rightful successor. Had Leroy been at home, he would, undoubtedly,
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 all other considerations 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 his
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 bedroom window.

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 you 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 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 greet them with all the
suppressed exuberance of a siphon of Vichy. He greeted Helen first.

“Ah, 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 some
cushions behind the ladies’ backs, 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 had, thus early
in the day, 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,
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, sah?” he asked, 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?” the major inquired, 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 sailing-master
to slow down until the tender reaches the wharf.”

At this moment the major’s head appeared around the edge of the
pilot-house 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 some 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 see 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.

[Illustration: “Victory is ours!”]

Everybody was now on deck. Helen and the other younger ladies of the
party leaned over the yacht’s rail watching the rapidly nearing
steamer; the older ladies mounted the deck from the cabin, some of
them becoming 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 hoisting-engine
were distinctly outlined against the sky, everybody crowded forward to
see the place of which they had heard so much.

Mrs. Leroy stood 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 knitting-needles from this distance, but
that is because everything around them is on so large a scale. You
wouldn’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
pilot-house, and almost instantly reappeared with the yacht’s
spyglass. This he carefully adjusted, resting the end on the ratlines.
“Victory is ours,” he said slowly, closing the glass. “I haven’t a
doubt about the result.”



CHAPTER XXI

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. They wanted to be there to see if
Carleton “played any monkey tricks,” to quote Captain Brandt.

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 from Carleton’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 around 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. The 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, and so
she relaxed none of her efforts to propitiate the gods.

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,—their
first stopping-place), 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
in a way that left no doubt in the minds of the men that he was past
grand master in the art of building lighthouses.

All but one man.

This doubter was Lonny Bowles, 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 good-natured 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 you want this drum to come off?” Lonny instantly turned his
attention to the work. When he 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
preach 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. The present change in his attire was
therefore the more 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 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, for he asked, with some
severity:—

“Isn’t the top of that concrete base out of level, Mr. Sanford?”

“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 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?” asked 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 so 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 cement barrel: “‘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 who are
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 over Sanford’s statement,
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 wouldn’t do, and
they’d have to take up what concrete they’d set and lower the level
again. They said they was behind and wanted to catch up, that it made
no difference anyhow, and they wouldn’t do it.”

General Barton turned to Sanford and was about to speak, when a 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 Captain Bob Brandt 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’ve 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 didn’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 does 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, the cook, 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 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 which 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 unusual,
continued:—

“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 in 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 squarely 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.

General Barton 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 of solemnity, 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, hat in
hand. He did not raise his eyes. His face was 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.”



CHAPTER XXII

AFTER THE BATTLE


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
pilothouse, 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, might 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,” blurted out 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 Hamfats” (Nickles’s nickname) “an’ his pantry door,
he’d ’a’ swore Cap’n Joe’s character away.”

“Well, I’m kind’er sorry for him, anyway,” said 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,” grunted
Lonny Bowles. “Is he comin’ ashore here agin, Caleb, er has he dug a
hole fur himself ’board the tender in the coal bunkers?”

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.

If a certain sigh of relief went up from the working force on the
Ledge 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 emptied a pint of Medford spring water instead
of an equal amount of old Holland gin into the seductive mixture.
“’Fo’ God, Mr. Sanford, dey wouldn’t one o’ dem ladies knowed deir
head from a whirlum-gig if dey’d drank dat punch,” he said afterwards
to his master, in palliation of his sin.

Sanford took the situation with a calmness customary to him when
things were going well. His principle in life was to do his 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 own reply to General Barton and the Board was 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.

His greatest satisfaction, though, was really over his men. The
vindication of his course was as much their triumph as his. He knew
who had been its master spirits; the credit was not due to him, but to
Captain Joe, Caleb, and Captain Brandt, whose pluck, skill, and
devotion both to himself and the work had made its success possible.
He had only inspired them to do their best.

Later, when he called them together 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 sententiously 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.”

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 found her
aboard the yacht and 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!”

Then a sudden inspiration seized her. 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 exclaimed 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 stopped, somewhat surprised, and 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 answered,
his eyes lighting up at her evident sincerity. “But ye see yer vittles
would do me no good. So if ye won’t take no offense I’ll kind’er grub
in with the other men. Cook’s jes’ give notice to all hands.”

As she looked into his eyes her thoughts reverted to that morning in
the hospital when the captain’s same sense of the fitness of things
had saved her from being established as nurse to the wounded men. She
was about to press her request again when her glance fell on Caleb
standing by himself a little way off. She 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.
She said, poor child, she was very miserable; it’s an awful thing to
be alone in the world.”

Sanford watched her as she flitted over the rough platforms like a
bird that sings as it flies. Unaccountable as it was to him even in
the happiness of his triumph, a strange feeling of disappointment came
over him. He began in an utterly unreasonable way to wonder whether
their intimacy 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 especially in 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 rush 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 ever understood her. 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.



CHAPTER XXIII

A BROKEN DRAW


Throughout the luncheon that followed aboard the yacht the major was
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 the handle of
his knife for order, he 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 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
neglected no minor detail of the feast. He insisted upon making the
coffee after an especial formula of his own, and cooled in a new way
and with his own hands the several cordials banked up on Sam’s silver
tray. He opened parasols for the ladies and champagne for the men with
equal grace and dexterity; was host, waiter, valet, and host again;
and throughout the livelong day one unfailing source of enthusiasm,
courtesy, and helpfulness. With all this be it said to his credit, he
had never overstepped the limits of his position, as High
Rubber-in-Chief,—his main purpose having been to get all the fun
possible out of the situation, both for himself and for those about
him. These praiseworthy efforts were not appreciated by all of the
guests. 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 these several vagaries, however, 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. They knew, too, 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 characteristic 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 to the fast disappearing tender of a red
handkerchief, the property of the major, returned by the general
standing in the stern of his own boat, Mrs. Leroy’s party settled
themselves on the forward deck of the yacht to enjoy the afternoon run
back to Medford.

The ladies sat under the awnings, where they 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 only possible under like conditions, and
most difficult for some men 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 had 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, when just as the gayety was at its height a quick sharp ring
was heard in the engine-room below. Almost at the same instant 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
sky-line. 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 every conceivable kind
of small boat hurrying to the scene, while the surrounding banks were
black with people watching intently 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.

Something serious had evidently happened.

A panic of apprehension instantly 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 three quick, short
bells sounded in the engine-room below, 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 now 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?” called 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!” exclaimed Smearly, as he dropped
on one knee and bent over the sufferer, parting the lips with his
fingers and pouring a spoonful 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.”

Smearly’s early training in the hospital service while making sketches
during the war had more than once stood him in good stead.

The major was the first man in his shirt-sleeves; Leroy’s commodore
coat was beginning to be of some real service. Two of the scow’s crew
added their own coats, and then ran for an army blanket in the cabin
of the scow. The sufferer was lifted up on the mattress and made more
comfortable, the coats placed under his head, the army blanket tucked
about him.

The injured 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 men 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 they’d 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 man
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
sailing-master. 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 “waitin’ on de
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 a doctor can get at
this wounded man. 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 at
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.”



CHAPTER XXIV

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,—who had taken her
out of the streets and befriended her still pleaded for her. When
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?

How long would she be able to endure her present life? He had saved
her from Carleton. So far 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. 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 he wrote to her; Bert Simmons, the letter-carrier, had
shown him other 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, bringing the hot
blood to his cheek and setting his fingernails deep into the palms of
his hands. It was only at rare intervals, when he had run into
Stonington aboard the Screamer, or on one of the tugs short of coal or
water, that he had seen the man who had ruined his home, and then only
at a distance. The young 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. 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
with his rough fingers. 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 seemed
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 her encounter
with Carleton there had been few evenings in the week he had not, with
one excuse or another, loitered along the road, 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 tattle ceased. Better not
talk about Betty, the gossips 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 off with Lacey had she been so close to him.

Gathering all her strength she 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
with 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 surely 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, some 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
her neck, “I wanted him so.”



CHAPTER XXV

UNDER THE PITILESS STARS


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 who 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. These nibbles are the unspoken words of the diver below 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
under water, 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.

A quarter of an hour passed. Not a single tremor had been felt along
the life-line, 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.”

“Ask him.”

“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, sharp jerk from under the surface now swished through the
water, followed by a series of strong, rapid pulls,—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 life-line 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 to the foot of the ladder. Sanford seized 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, and unscrewed his glass face-plate, letting out his big beard
and letting in the cool night-air.

“Any more 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.
Guess ye thought I was a-goin’ to stay all night, didn’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 rescued dead man laid on the deck and covered with
a sheet, 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, now that 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 called. “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,—one a diver sent by the manager of the road, and who had arrived
with his dress and equipment too late to be of service.

The injured man lay in the centre. Beside him, 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 Helen and one or two
guests sat a short distance away on the lawn. Over by the stables
swinging lights could be seen glimmering here and there, as if men
were hurrying. There were lights, too, on the dock 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, 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 cloth-covered boxes, or
in plain pine. That was all.

With these thoughts in his mind, and in obedience to Sanford’s
request, 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.

“He ain’t no dago,” said Captain Joe, as he turned to the doctor.
“Looks to me like one o’ them young fellers what’s”—He stopped
abruptly. Something about the injured man attracted him.

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. That’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
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?

With an absorbed air, the captain picked up an empty nail-keg, and
crossing the deck sat down 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 sufferer’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.

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, Caleb. Ye won’t never regret it.”

The diver knelt in a passive, listless way, as one kneels 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
somethin’.”

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 the man’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, pitiless, like the eyes of many judges.

[Illustration: “The diver knelt in a passive, listless way”]



CHAPTER XXVI

CALEB TRIMS HIS LIGHTS


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 didn’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-throb 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’ 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’ her.” The words that followed came like the slow
ticking of a clock. “He’s—been—a-writin’—to ’er—ever since—she
left ’im. Bert Simmons—showed me the letters.”

“You 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 him,—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 along o’
the money ye gin her every week, an’ the money and letters are there
now. An’ there’s more to it yet. _There ain’t nary seal broke on any
one of Lacey’s._ 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 he 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. Caleb followed with slow and measured
step. When he reached the porch, Aunty Bell had left her seat and was
standing on the mat.

“Why, Caleb, be ye comin’ 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.

[Illustration: “Ain’t nothin’ to skeer ye, child”]

“Ain’t nothin’ to skeer 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.”

                        *    *    *    *    *

In another room, some miles away, before a window that looked upon the
sea, sat a woman, with cheeks tight pressed between her hands. The
low-lying drowsy moon shed a white light on her thoughtful face and
silvered the fluff of loosened hair that fell about her shoulders. She
had sat there for hours—long after the house was silent. Outside the
world was still: only the lapping of little wave-tongues along the
shore was heard; the croaking of frogs in the marsh, and the cry of
the night-hawk circling as he flew.

On the desk beside her lay an open letter with a Paris postmark. It
had come by the late mail.

Once in a while her eyes would rest on the shimmer of silver framing
the Ledge. Then some remembrance of the day would rush over her: the
anxious waiting for the verdict; Sanford’s upraised hand as he entered
the cabin; the gaunt outline of the wrecked trestle and the ghostly
lantern that burned above the head of the dying man. From out the
turmoil of these contending memories one face shone clear and strong,
with fixed and questioning eyes.

In that one look she had read his inmost depth. She had caught the
sudden uplifting of the lids, the wondering glance at her joyous words
of praise, and the shadow that followed.

“It is best so,” she whispered to herself at last. “It is the only
way. I did not mean to hurt him,—only to help. Help him—and me.”

With a tired, listless air, she rose from her seat, folded the letter
slowly, and locked it in her desk.

                               THE END.



                         The Riverside Press

                  CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS, U. S. A.
                     ELECTROTYPED AND PRINTED BY
                        H. O. HOUGHTON AND CO.



                          FICTION AND TRAVEL

                        By F. Hopkinson Smith.

CALEB WEST, MASTER DIVER. Illustrated. 12mo, $1.50.

TOM GROGAN. Illustrated. 12mo, gilt top, $1.50.

A GENTLEMAN VAGABOND, AND SOME OTHERS. 16mo, $1.25.

COLONEL CARTER OF CARTERSVILLE.

    With 20 illustrations by the author and E. W. Kemble. 16mo, $1.25.

A DAY AT LAGUERRE’S AND OTHER DAYS. 16mo, $1.25.

A WHITE UMBRELLA IN MEXICO.

    Illustrated by the author. 16mo, gilt top, $1.50.

GONDOLA DAYS. Illustrated. 12mo, $1.50.

WELL-WORN ROADS OF SPAIN, HOLLAND, AND ITALY,
traveled by a Painter in search of the Picturesque.

    With 16 full-page photo-type reproductions of water-color
    drawings, and text by F. Hopkinson Smith, profusely illustrated
    with pen-and-ink sketches. A Holiday volume. Folio, gilt top,
    $15.00.

THE SAME.

    Popular Edition. Including some of the illustrations of the above.
    16mo, gilt top, $1.25.

                       HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.
                         Boston and New York.





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