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Title: Fighting the Sea - Winter at the Life-Saving Station
Author: Rand, Edward R.
Language: English
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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.

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[Illustration: FRONTISPIECE—“_Away went the shot_” (p. 319).]



                           FIGHTING THE SEA


                  Winter at the Life–Saving Station.

                                  BY
                            EDWARD A. RAND

                              _AUTHOR OF_

     “HER CHRISTMAS AND HER EASTER”; “UP THE LADDER SERIES,”—“THE
     KNIGHTS OF THE WHITE SHIELD,” “THE SCHOOL IN THE LIGHTHOUSE,”
       “YARDSTICK AND SCISSORS,” “THE CAMP AT SURF BLUFF,” “OUT
         OF THE BREAKERS”, “SCHOOL AND CAMP SERIES,”—“PUSHING
             AHEAD,” “ROY’S DORY AT THE SEASHORE,” “LITTLE
              BROWN–TOP,” “NELLIE’S NEW YEAR,” ETC., ETC.

                               New York
                           THOMAS WHITTAKER
                          2 AND 3 BIBLE HOUSE
                                 1887

                           Copyright, 1887,
                         By THOMAS WHITTAKER.



                               Dedicated

                                TO THE

                             BRAVE SURFMEN

                                OF THE

                       U.S. LIFE SAVING SERVICE

                                  AND

                    THEIR EFFICIENT SUPERINTENDENT,

                          HON. S. I. KIMBALL.



PREFACE.


Visiting a Life Saving Station on our coast, and passing a night
there, I became deeply interested in the work of the hardy crew. I
have examined with an absorbing gratification various reports of the
Service. We may fittingly have a national pride in the intent and
achievement of this department. The element of the heroic runs through
and makes luminous the pages of what on the face are only ordinary
governmental reports. May the accompanying story interest our young
people in the work of the Life Saving Service. While they accept,
make theirs, and build upon the principles of honesty, reverence, and
temperance laid down in this story, may they extend their sympathy
and prayers also to the brave men who watch the sea while we are
sleeping, and whose generous daring may well provoke us to courage and
self–sacrifice in other spheres.



CONTENTS.


   CHAP.                               PAGE

      I. THE MAN ON THE STEEPLE           7

     II. THE WINTER RIDE                 16

    III. THE LIFE–SAVING STATION         26

     IV. THE PATROL                      38

      V. TURNING THE CORNER              49

     VI. THE STORE                       62

    VII. STANDING FIRM                   82

   VIII. AT THE STATION                 117

     IX. THE HALL SERVICE               130

      X. THE BOAT–RACE                  156

     XI. THE SURF–BOY                   179

    XII. ON HIS BEAT                    193

   XIII. UNDER FIRE                     207

    XIV. TWO BAD CASES                  220

     XV. THE BARNEY LITERARY CLUB       231

    XVI. AN UGLY NIGHT                  249

   XVII. A SOUL IN NEED                 274

  XVIII. DARK DEPTHS UNCOVERED          286

    XIX. A WILD STORM                   309

     XX. CHRISTMAS                      339



FIGHTING THE SEA.



CHAPTER I.

THE MAN ON THE STEEPLE.


“Oh—oh, grandfather! There’s—that—man—on the—steeple—and
he—can’t—get—down!”

“Why, yes, he can! He’s got a ladder!” said the old boat–builder,
Zebulon Smith, looking up from the boat he had partly framed, and
addressing his grandson, who had run excitedly into the shop and was
now making an almost breathless appeal.

“No, he—hasn’t;—he dropped—it!”

“Ladder dropped from the steeple?”

“Yes—gone—all—all—to smash!”

“You don’t say, Cyrus!”

Feeling it might be the man who had come down thus abruptly, and “gone
all to smash,” the boat–builder ran outdoors and gave a hasty look
up at the steeple. He breathed more easily when he saw the man far up
the steeple, clinging to a ball that supported the vane. The steeple,
though, was bare of any ladder, for this lay in fragments on the ground.

“That is interestin’!” exclaimed the boat–builder.

Of course it was. Is it not exceedingly interesting, the situation of a
man on the steeple of a church, without ladders, rope, or staging, that
may have taken him there? What if he grow dizzy and—but who likes to
think of the consequences of such dizziness? Let me tell how this man
got there, and why there.

Zebulon Smith lived near the church, and was its sexton. Besides the
church, he had no neighbor for three quarters of a mile. A stranger
called at the boat–shop one day, and inquired the price of Zebulon’s
wares. He added, “I b’long to a life savin’ station crew, and am
interested in that thing, you know.”

“The station beyond us?”

“Ezackly! And see here! Don’t you want somebody to fix your vane on the
steeple of the church, for I s’pose you go there. I’m used to climbin’.
I have been a sailor.”

“Yes, I go there. I’m the saxton. That vane does need fixin’; but I
can’t seem to get at it. It’s fearfully twisted. I s’pose you’d want
suthin for it.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t ask much. I won’t ask nothin’, if I don’t fix it.”

“All right. Cyrus, you get the ladder back of the shop.”

Cyrus was a boy of sixteen, on a day’s visit to his grandparents, and
he had met there by appointment a boy living in another direction
and a good half–hour’s walk away, Walter Plympton, the hero of our
story. The two boys were interested in archery, and had brought their
apparatus to this accepted meeting–ground for a trial of skill. They
suspended shooting when they knew the church–steeple was to be climbed,
and carried the ladder across the road to the little white church on
the edge of a grove of tall pines that at every touch of the wind
stirred and murmured softly, musically, in response, as if an orchestra
were hidden away in their spreading, fan–like branches. Zebulon and
his assistant mounted the stairs leading to the belfry. There was a
little railing outside the belfry, and planting his ladder inside this
railing, the stranger climbed up to another railing surrounding the
base of the steeple. Here he pulled up his ladder, and planted it now
against the steeple.

“I shan’t want you any longer,” called out the stranger. “If you’re
busy, you can go back. I can manage.”

“Got your hammer?” asked Zebulon.

“Yes, the one you lent me. I’ll knock that vane into shape.”

The boat–builder was indeed anxious to resume his work, and he now
returned to his shop. The man from the life saving station had planted
his ladder so that its summit rested between two projections of the
wood–work of the steeple, that promised to firmly hold it in position.
He then climbed his ladder, and from the topmost round he could reach a
gilded ball beneath the vane. He had planned to draw himself up to the
ball, sit astride this gilded throne in the air, there swing his hammer
like a king flourishing his scepter, and knock that rebellious vane
into an attitude of obedience. Alas, our best expectations sometimes
fail us! Was not that ladder an old one? How could it help growing old,
when its owner, Zebulon, was growing old himself, and complained of
rheumatism in his joints? Rheumatism! That must have been the trouble
with the topmost round of the ladder. But who really expects that an
old ladder will give way to–day? It may to–morrow; but it has served
so many years, it will certainly not fail us this one day. But, the
day had come when that ladder was bound to give way. Zebulon did not
anticipate it, or he would never have assigned it to any steeple–duty.
The stranger of course was not looking for it. The ladder kept its own
secret however, and having, made up its mind to break that very day
and hour, when the man grasped the ball above and springing violently
gave a corresponding push to the ladder–round, it broke out into open
rebellion. It cracked, split, parted hopelessly! That was not all.
The ladder was jarred and pushed out of position, and as the man went
up, and seated himself upon the ball, the ladder went down and took a
position on the ground! As the ladder struck, various rheumatic joints
parted, and this old servant of the sexton lay there at the foot of the
church–tower in fragments.

“Oh, pshaw!” exclaimed the man on the ball. “That’s a poser!”

He thought a moment.

“Well,” he exclaimed philosophically, “I’ll do what I came here for!”

Swinging his hammer, he knocked the vane into proper shape. Zebulon
heard the rapping of the hammer, as orderly and musical as the sound of
any hammer strokes down on the ground. He was surprised when he was
summoned to see the hammerer up in the air and the broken ladder on the
ground.

“Oh, Zebulon!” shrieked a voice. “Git a ladder! Why don’t ye?”

“That’s Nancy!” he said to himself.

Yes, after this voice came a woman, and Zebulon’s wife, rushing up to
his side, put her hands up to her eyes to fence off the sunlight, and
then looked at the occupant of that gilt ball on the church–steeple.

“Git a ladder?” the old sexton murmured. “Where?”

Yes, where? There was no other about the premises, and to visit a
neighbor for that purpose would use up a half–hour, and in the meantime
what if—a person does not like to think what might happen.

“Oh dear, Zebulon! What did you let him go up for?” asked his wife.

“If—if—you had asked that question afore he went up, there would
have been some sense to it. He wanted to go,” replied the old sexton
impatiently. “The thing to do now, is to git him down.”

“Git him down! What if he should come down whether he wants to or not?
What if he gits dizzy? Oh my!”

“You don’t ketch me jest a lookin’ at him. I’m a goin’ to bring a
ladder, find it somewhere.”

“Hold on, Zebulon! Hark, boys!”

The boat–builder and the two young archers, thus addressed by Nancy,
now listened in silence, and at the same time looked up. There they all
stood, with upturned faces, and the man above called down to them:

“Sho—o—o—t! Send—a—string—g!”

As he thus called, his hands let go their hold upon the rod that bore
the vane, and clinging with his feet alone, he went through the motions
of one shooting an arrow from a bow.

“Oh—oh!” shrieked Nancy. “He’s beginnin’ to fall.”

With a horrified expression of countenance, she turned away and faced
the other side of the road.

“Oh, no!” cried Walter Plympton. “He is not falling. He is making
believe shoot. I see what he wants.”

“What?” asked Zebulon.

“Why—why, shoot with our bows and arrow up there, tying a piece of
string to it. It is not a very high steeple.”

“Yes,” said Cyrus, “and he’ll pull it up, and then a stouter one.”

“Oh, yes! Good! Well, boys, get your bows, and I will get the stuff,”
said the boat–builder.

How carefully those young archers shot steepleward their arrows, first
attaching to the latter a long, stout thread!

Oh, hands of the archers, tremble not! Oh, winds above, blow not!
And—and—over, yes, just across the vane went the thread fastened to
Walter Plympton’s arrow! A cord was now tied to the thread, the man
carefully pulling it up, and then there went to him a new clothes–line,
and down he came.

“Much obleeged to you!” he said.

“And we are obleeged to you!” replied the sexton. “And here’s your
money for the job.”

As the stranger turned to go away, he laid his hand on Walter’s
shoulder, and said, “I saw it was your arrer that did the work. I won’t
forgit it.”

Away he walked, disappearing down the road that wound its dusty line
through the green forest.

All the time he had been with his new acquaintances, he had not given
his name. Indeed, nobody asked for it. Walter remembered him only as a
man with a bushy beard.

“Wonder if I shall ever see him again!” thought Walter.

We shall find out.

The weeks slipped by, and winter at last powdered the land as if it
wished to give the earth’s bald head a white wig.



CHAPTER II.

THE WINTER RIDE.


“I’m going to be warm,” said Walter Plympton’s father, a man with
rather sharp features, of slender build, and nervous, sensitive
temperament. “Yes, I’m going to be warm, and bundle up accordingly.”

“You will look like an Eskimo,” replied his wife, who in her very
laugh, so easy and deliberate, as well as in her stout physical build,
was the opposite of her husband. “Those who see you, Ezra, won’t fall
in love with such a stuffed creature.”

“They may keep the love, Louisa, and I’ll hold on to the comfort. I
believe in going warm like the Chinese, who are said in cold weather
to increase the amount of their clothing, rather than their heating
apparatus. How that may be, I don’t know; but I do know that I mean to
be warm. Kitty harnessed, Walter?”

“Yes, father, and she’s waiting in the stable.”

“We will go out then. Oh, the family umbrella!”

The family umbrella was an immense institution, suspended like a big
blue dome above its holder, and promising to make a good parachute. It
had been bought at an auction, and was one of those peculiarities often
coming up to the surface at such sales. For years, it had proved a good
friend on rough, rainy days.

“Do you expect a rain, father?”

“No, but I want to hold it up against the wind. Hoist the sail, and our
craft will be off. Good–bye, Louisa. We will be home to–morrow night,
if a possible thing.”

“Good–bye, mother.”

“Good–bye. Do take care of yourselves.” And after she said this, she
watched the departing team as Kitty slowly pulled the sleigh through
the white snow that had not settled since its fall the day before, but
stretched its diminutive drifts in almost uninterrupted succession
across the road.

Kitty patiently plodded on, but she found the snow deeper than she
liked to pull the sleigh through. The wind blew keen and strong, and
was like an axe–blade wielded by winter; but the riders in the sleigh
were safe behind the blue umbrella.

Walter Plympton differed, as well as his mother, from Mr. Plympton. He
was in looks a “mother’s boy,” though his character was varied with
some of his father’s features of mind. He was a stout, heavy youth of
sixteen, one of those growing boys too, from whose feet their trousers,
recently new, are soon discovered to be running away, and whose wrists
persist in getting far below their coat–sleeves. He had his mother’s
round, full face. His complexion was a rich brown, rather than fair and
white. His eyes were a bright hazel, and his hair of a shade between
brown and black. His voice was rather heavy for one of his years, and
was certain to be heard among those shouting at “baseball,” or “fox
in the wall.” He shared in his father’s sensitiveness of temperament,
and like him was enthusiastic. Unlike either father or mother, the
imaginative element was strongly developed in his character. As to
other qualities, he was generous, rather thoughtless, and his strong,
ringing voice put him among those unfortunate boys who are often told,
“Don’t speak so loud.” He had a very good sized estimate of himself,
was quite sure to be among the speakers—and successful speakers—at a
school exhibition, and was ambitious to throw, in after years, as large
a shadow across the surface of life’s events as Walter Plympton’s
abilities would possibly permit. There was no concealment in his moves
or motives; but open, honest, and naturally confiding, he was sometimes
the dupe of boys cunning and suspicious. He was too bright to be a
dupe twice in the same day, and when he discovered an enemy’s tricks,
would resent an invasion of rights as promptly, stoutly, and noisily,
as anybody. His good nature and sociability made him popular. He was
rather fond of his books, was not afraid to ask questions, and this
made him an interesting, intelligent companion. While there was a large
lump of the “boy” in him, he was a youth of promise, and bade fair to
be in after years a success. His mother stated his greatest need, when
she said, “Walter needs a rudder to steer him. He needs conversion,
that is it. He prays, and once in awhile reads his Bible, and has no
really bad habits. I want him to go farther. I would like to see him
beginning an active religious life, openly, avowedly; and I do hope
soon he will confess his Saviour.”

Motherly Mrs. Plympton! How her thoughts and her prayers went after her
boy, like the wings of a mother bird, flying after and hovering over
her young. And this winter morning she had not forgotten to put up the
often ascending prayer for her boy’s better life. She stood at the
window awhile, watching Kitty and her load, and then stepped back to
her kitchen duties.

“Pretty hard going, father,” said the younger occupant of the sleigh.

“It will be better out in the main road, and we shall strike it soon.
I wouldn’t start to–day, but this is the last chance for going to the
life saving station as I promised, before you leave for school; and you
leave day after to–morrow, and it is evident we must go to the station
to–day, if we go at all. But I think it will be all right out in the
main road.”

“Don’t the trees look handsome?”

“Yes, I never saw them prettier.”

The late fall of snow had draped forest and field.

As our travelers proceeded on their journey, the drifts deepened,
rather than lessened. It was toilsome traveling. By and by, they came
to a road skirted with telegraph–poles. Here they were obliged to jump
out and push the sleigh.

“Father, let us begin to count the telegraph–poles. That will help pass
the time.”

“All right. One!” shouted Mr. Plympton, as they passed the first of the
long line of tall, wooden travelers lining the highway, and stretching
ahead into the dark, green forest.

“Two–o–o!” cried Walter, so glad when he could count off a single
pole. They trudged through the snow, pushing the sleigh, pulling Kitty
forward, calling out at intervals, “Three! Four! Five! Six! Seven!
Eight!”

“Look, father! See those men!”

“I notice. I wonder what they are doing!”

Two men, a little distance ahead, ran out of the woods dragging a long
piece of timber.

“I guess they’re going to fix the telegraph wire, Walter. The storm
broke down some of the wires.”

The men dropped the long timber directly across the road and then
darted into the woods again.

“That’s cool, Walter! What do they want to drop that in our path for?”
The men were now back again, sticking forked branches in the snow; and
they then laid the timber in the forks.

“Can’t we go through?” asked Mr. Plympton in a somewhat provoked tone.

“I wouldn’t advise you to, Cap’n,” replied one of the men who wore a
red woolen jacket. “You see the snow up ’long, is piled higher than
your horse’s back. We know, ’cause we’ve been breakin’ out the road;
but the snow does blow in wuss than pizen, and we concluded to quit
until the wind quits. Where you goin’, Cap’n?”

“Down to the life saving station.”

“Wall, that’s your right road to take, the one to the right, Cap’n. Of
course, you can go ahead, if you wish, but we don’t advise it, as we
have been thar, and know how rough it is. That t’other road is the one
you want to take.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Father, I want to ask—”

Mr. Plympton laughed, knowing Walter’s disposition to ask questions,
and that the process once begun might be protracted too far for the
convenience of travelers.

“I will hold on if you will only ask _two_ questions.”

“I—I promise,” and laughing, Walter leaped out into the snow, and
walked up to the men. He did not like to be limited to two questions,
but he submitted to his chains, and having inquired about the depth of
the snow and the length of the road, he returned to the sleigh.

“Only three miles by the road we take, father, to Uncle Boardman’s.”

“It is a new way to me. I have been accustomed to travel by the road
that is blocked, but if this is a better road I am glad.”

As Kitty began to jingle her bells again, Mr. Plympton said, “There,
Walter! That’s a good lesson. I call that a lesson about God’s
providence, which stops us from taking a certain course, and we may
feel as I did when those men stopped me; but we are led to take a
better way. Left to ourselves, just now, we would have run into a big
drift.”

“I see, though in this life Providence does not always make
explanations, father.”

“No, we must wait till we get into another life, to have all things
explained.”

The road led through a forest of pines, heavily coated. In a slow,
stately fashion, these swayed their tall, plumy tops. Beyond this
forest, the road was drifted once more. The travelers had now a long
tug at road–breaking, but the drifts were all conquered. The country
grew more and more familiar. “The last woods!” said Walter, as they
passed a strip of trees, whose trunks, coated on one side by the storm,
seemed like marble pillars, bearing up a roof of green porphyry. Just
beyond this, Walter cried out, “Look, father!”

Mr. Plympton raised his eyes, and beyond the white glitter of the
snow, saw a strip of vivid blue.

“The sea, father!”

“Ah, so it is!”

The sea stretched far away under the cold, dark, frowning sky, and out
of its waves rose distant snow–covered islands, like frosted cakes on a
very blue table.

“There is Uncle Boardman’s, too, Walter.”

This was a farmhouse located near one corner of the forest.

“Wonder if Uncle Boardman knows we are so near, Walter?” asked Mr.
Plympton, as Kitty pulled the sleigh up to the open space between the
road and the green front door.

“Knows?” At that very moment, Boardman Blake’s much loved, but much
worn old beaver, was about turning the corner of the house, and under
the beaver was Boardman. Aunt Lydia’s spectacles were already at the
front door, and it was now swinging on its hinges.

“Land sakes! Where did you come from? I seed you from our back winder
the moment you turned out of the woods,” shrieked Aunt Lydia. “I told
Boardman it was some of our folks, but he thought he knew better.”

“Well, well,” said a deeper, more agreeable voice, under the beaver,
“what are you up to? Why didn’t you wait till six feet more of snow had
fallen? Come in, come in. I’ll look after your horse.”

The green front door quickly closed on the travelers, and soon after
Kitty disappeared behind a red barn–door.

The wind had its own way once more in the road, and undisturbed, kept
the light snow whirling, as if its mission were that of a broom, to
sweep if possible the open space before the home of that honored
couple, Boardman and Lydia Blake.



CHAPTER III.

THE LIFE SAVING STATION.


“Here we are,” exclaimed Mr. Plympton, entering with Walter the life
saving station. “Jotham, how are you?”

“Ezra, I am really glad to see you,” replied Jotham Barney, the keeper
of the station, with much heartiness. “Take off your riggin’, and make
yourself at home.”

“Cap’n Barney,” as he was often labeled, was a person about forty–five
years old. He was a sandy haired, sandy whiskered man, with a light
complexion, sharp, prominent nose, and blue eyes that had a way of
letting out flashes when he spoke. “Cap’n Barney” was a very social,
talkative man, who had been “about considerable,” though not always in
first class conveyances, and was ready to talk on almost any subject.
What he had not seen, what he did not know, was not worth the seeing
or knowing. He thought very much of his own opinion, and liked to brag;
but he was a kindly natured man, and people bore with his conceit,
because he was so chatty and pleasant. The station to which “Uncle
Sam” had appointed him as the “keeper,” was a yellow building about
forty–five feet long, and perhaps eighteen wide; and how tall was
it? The roof supported in its center a little railed platform called
the “lookout,” and this was between twenty and twenty–five feet from
the ground. In the rear of the station was the living–room, through
whose preface of a little entry, Mr. Plympton and Walter passed;
then, entering the apartment which was not only a kitchen, but a
dining–room; and not only a dining–room but a sitting–room, a parlor,
and everything, except an apartment for sleeping. This living–room was
a little, unambitious place, lighted by two windows toward the east.
Between the windows, was a cook–stove; and over this was a wooden
rack, from which hung a row of towels. A clock stamped “U. S. L. S.
S.” was ticking steadfastly on one wall, and near it was a barometer.
In one corner, was a case marked “U. S. L. S. S. Library, No.—.” Two
patrol lanterns were suspended below, and there were also two sockets
for Coston signals. Around the walls in different places, were the
overcoats, hats, jackets, comforters, the station crew had shed. Upon
the entrance door, that served as a kind of handy bulletin–board, were
tacked various circulars: “Merriman’s Patent Waterproof Dress and
Life–Preservers,” “Watchman’s Improved Time–Detector”; circulars from
the Treasury Department about care of “Marine Glasses,” upon “Leaves
of absence,” and other matters. The only other interesting objects in
the room were human, and these were members of the station crew. They
were all young men. One was weaving a net. Two were playing checkers. A
fourth was officiating as cook; and he was now cutting up salt fish.

Walter noticed everything with eager curiosity. His father and the
keeper had once been schoolboys together, and as they were very busily
talking, Walter’s eyes could without interruption travel from one
object to another.

“Three doors in this room,” thought Walter; “and one goes outdoors; and
I wonder where the other two go.”

He was relieved when the keeper said, “Ezra, come upstairs, and see how
we bunk for the night. Then I will show you the boat–room.”

“That disposes of those two doors, I guess,” reflected Walter.

One of these, approached from the kitchen floor by a single step, the
keeper was now opening.

“Tumble up, Ezra, and see where we stay nights,” was the keeper’s ready
invitation. Up the brown, unpainted stairs, they passed into a little
room, which seemed to be also an entry, connecting the keeper’s room,
at the left over the kitchen, and the men’s quarters, at the right.

“Here is my den,” said the keeper, turning to the left. “Plain, you see
everything is, but at night when a feller is asleep, he doesn’t know
whether a Brussels carpet is on the floor, or whether it is unpainted,
like this. That is my bed in the corner, and there you see I have two
windows toward the east, so I know when it is sunrise. There’s my
writin’ desk, they allow me a chair or two, and so on.”

“Who rooms with you?” asked Mr. Plympton.

“The clock up there! That is my chum; always makin’ a noise, yet never
in the way.”

“Oh! Then this is your room wholly, Jotham?”

“Of course,” said Jotham, turning away with as much dignity as a
sovereign leaving a bed–chamber hung with royal purple.

“Now we will come back into the little entry again at the head of the
stairs.” It was an entry that was also a narrow room.

“Here’s a bed, you see, in the corner; and I have had the stove that
was in my room set here. It throws the heat into the men’s quarters. We
have a store–room on this floor,” said the keeper, opening a door in a
wooden partition; “and we chuck various things in there. Step into the
men’s room.”

They passed into a long, low room in the western end of the building.
Here were six wooden cot–beds ranged along two sides of the room; and
under the thick army blankets that covered them, it seemed as if any
tired surfman would be comfortable. Near each bed was either a blue
chest or a trunk. At the two ends of the room, were various articles
suspended from rows of hooks. Here were trousers, and coats, and
shirts; and one man, who could not have believed in the beard movement,
had here hung his shaving–mug and razor–strop. Near the windows in the
western gable of the sloping roof, was a row of paper signal–flags.

“What are those?” asked Walter.

“They are only pictures of signals that one of the men cut out of
the signal–book. The real signals, the cloth ones, we keep under the
lookout.”

“Could I see them?”

“Sartin. Come up this way,” and the obliging keeper turned to climb a
wooden stairway running up from this room to the “lookout” on the roof.
Before they reached the lookout, Walter saw in a little recess under
the roof, a box.

“There,” said the keeper, pulling the box forward. “This is all full
of little flags, or signals, by which we can communicate with any
craft on the water. We keep ’em here, because it is handy to have the
signals where they can be taken out to the lookout, and run up on the
flag–staff quick as possible.”

Walter looked up through the open scuttle, and saw the lookout with its
railing, and above all rose the tapering flag–staff.

“We have one more room,” said the keeper.

“What’s that, Jotham?” inquired Mr. Plympton.

“The boat–room. Come downstairs.”

They passed from the living–room directly into a treasure house, whose
contents made Walter’s eyes sparkle with eager interest.

“That the boat!” exclaimed Walter.

“Yes, she’s a beauty,” replied the keeper, fondly stroking its gunwale
as if it were a thing of life, and would feel every touch of his
caressing hand. “That’s our surf–boat.”

The surf–boat had the place of honor in the room, occupying all its
center, and reaching almost from the wall of the living–room to the big
door in the western wall.

“It must be over twenty feet long,” thought Walter, who began to fill
up with questions, until his brain seemed charged as fully as a loaded
mitrailleuse. How many articles there were in that boat–room, adapted
to the life–saving work, and in such readiness, that a wreck near shore
might be sure of a visit and of rescue, if there were any possible
chance for such relief! There were guns for throwing lines, and there
were the lines to be thrown. There was a life–car, that could be swung
along a line to a wreck; and there was a breeches–buoy, and there
were—Oh how many articles! The desire for information was swelling
to an intolerable size within Walter’s soul, and he was about to
gratify the longing, when to his great disappointment, a door opened,
and a face with a bushy beard was thrust into the boat–room from the
living–room.

“Cap’n!” called out Bush–beard.

“What say?”

“Could I see you ’bout my patrollin’ to–night, one minute?”

“Why, father,” said Walter, in a low voice to Mr. Plympton, “that is
the man that fixed the vane on the steeple!”

The man of the steeple had recognized them, and was now saying, “How
d’ye do?” at the same time he advanced, and held out a broad, brown
hand to the visiting party.

“Glad to see you,” said Mr. Plympton.

“You know Tom Walker?” asked the station–keeper.

“Guess I do,” replied Walter, readily gripping Tom Walker’s brown hand.

“I s’pose, Tom, you want to see me about your beat. Let me see. You are
on watch from eight till twelve?”

“That’s it, Cap’n. All right, if you understand it. That is what I
wanted.”

“I—I wish—” Walter stopped.

“What is it?” asked Mr. Plympton.

“Why, I was thinking I would like to go with Tom Walker, a while you
know, just to see what it is like.”

“You can, if you wish and your father is willing. Tom would like
’mazin’ well to have company,” said the keeper.

“Sartin!” cried Tom eagerly.

“I’m willing, Walter,” said Mr. Plympton. “Only don’t be gone too
long, as your Aunt Lydia would like, I guess, to have the house shut
up before twelve. We will go over there now. Thank you, Jotham, for
showing us round.”

“You’re welcome. I will expect your boy to–night. He’d better be here
before eight.”

“I’ll give him a welcome,” added Tom. “I haven’t forgotten a kindness
he did me.”

“I will be on hand,” declared the happy Walter.

Mr. Plympton and Walter turned away from the station, and took a
narrow lane running from the beach up to Boardman Blake’s; and there
the lane was promoted, and became a highway. As if to acknowledge that
promotion, and wave the road a graceful, stately wish for success on
its travels, a single elm had been planted where the way widened. The
Blake home had been standing there about fifty years; having been built
by Boardman Blake’s father. It was a two–story house; its green front
door piercing the wall exactly in the middle. On one side of the front
door was the parlor, open only on great occasions, like funerals, or
“comp’ny.” Behind this was the kitchen. On the other side of the front
door, the right, was the store; and in its rear, the sitting–room.

“I like to have things handy,” said Uncle Boardman to Walter’s father;
“and I can jest slip from our sittin’–room to the store and ’tend to
customers, and then slip back.”

It was in the sitting–room, that Uncle Boardman, Aunt Lydia, and the
Plymptons were gathered before the large, open–mouthed fire–place.
Supper had been spread at an early hour on the round dining–table in
the kitchen, and the light had not wholly faded from the west, when the
Blakes and their guests withdrew to the sitting–room. One could look
from the fire on the hearth, to those flames the sun had kindled on a
rival hearth, about the western hills; but the glow of the latter went
out, leaving only ashy clouds behind; while Boardman’s fire continued
to flare and crackle into the night.

“You did have courage to start to–day to come down here,” said
Aunt Lydia to Walter’s father, having adjusted herself in her easy
rocking–chair, and having adjusted also in her waist the corn–cob that
held and steadied her knitting.

“Yes, but it was our last chance before Walter went away. Then when I
started, I did not know it was so bad. I thought when I struck the
main road after leaving our house, we could get along easily enough.
I think, too, over this way, you have had more snow than we. I didn’t
know these facts; and when one has begun, you know he don’t like to
give it up.”

“There, if that isn’t Boardman!” exclaimed Aunt Lydia, throwing down
her knitting–work in her lap as if to emphasize her point. “There has
been a man round, Bezaleel Baggs (I call him Belzebub), and he wants
to buy up a lot of Boardman’s woodland. Boardman has got the idea
he’d better sell, and he does hate to give it up! I don’t like that
Beza—no, Belzebub. I don’t like his looks or—”

“Tinkle, tinkle,” went a little bell in the direction of the store.

“Store, store!” now shrieked Aunt Lydia in the ears of her spouse, and
there was need of the shriek. Uncle Boardman had contentedly folded his
hands in his ample lap, and his head was rising and falling with as
much regularity as the tides out in the adjacent ocean; but of course
much oftener. “Store,” though, was the magic word that could bring
Boardman any time out of the depths of the most profound evening nap.
Rising promptly, he made his way to the sitting–room door, and then
into the store lighted by its one kerosene lamp on the scarred wooden
counter. Aunt Lydia followed him softly to the door, and thrust forward
her sharply featured face. She came back with a pair of flashing dark
eyes, flashing all the brighter behind her spectacles; and holding up
one hand significantly, said in a half–whisper, “I took a peek! It’s
_he_! I knowed as much.”

“Who?” inquired Walter’s father.

“Belzebub—there, Boardman says I ought not to call him that! Well,
it’s the same old fox, that Baggs.”

“You don’t like him?”

“No, not one bit!” and in her intensity of feeling she sat down
forcibly on the corn–cob, that ally in Aunt Lydia’s knitting–work, and
carelessly left in her chair.

“There!” said she jumping up. “I’ve broken that ’ere cob. I wish it had
been Bel—there, I s’pose I ought not to say that.”

Walter felt that the situation at Uncle Boardman’s had suddenly become
very interesting; but he remembered his appointment at the station. He
rose and began to put on his overcoat.



CHAPTER IV.

THE PATROL.


Walter was sitting in the living–room of the station. It was almost
eight o’clock. Two men came stumbling downstairs, and with a sleepy air
entered the room. Seating themselves, they began to put on their huge
rubber boots. One of the men was Tom Walker.

“How are ye?” he said, nodding to Walter in a friendly way. “Goin’?”

“That’s what I am here for.”

A footstep in the entry was now heard. A man entered, wearing a stout,
heavy black coat, and black trousers, and he carried a lantern in his
hand. It was the patrol from the easterly end of the beach.

“Cold!” was his one word of greeting, as he set his lantern on the
table. He also deposited there a leather pouch attached to a long
leather strap.

Another step was heard in the entry, and a man appeared who wore a
thick blue blouse and blue trousers, and had a very much padded look.
He was the patrol from the westerly end of the beach. He expressed his
opinion that it was cold by silently going to the stove; and there
he stood rubbing his hands in the warm atmosphere. He had already
deposited a leather pouch on the table. Tom Walker and the other
arrival from upstairs, were dressing for their duty as patrolmen in the
place of the two whose chilling wintry beat had just been accomplished.
Tom put on a Guernsey jacket, and then drew over it a short, thick sack
coat. He pulled a cap of shaggy cloth down over his hair, drew close
the ear–laps, and then took up a pair of thick, warm mittens lying
under the stove.

“Here,” said the keeper to Walter. “Before you start, let me show you
what the men take with them.”

As he spoke, he lifted a leather pouch that had been deposited on
the table. It was a circular case of leather, about four inches in
diameter, containing a “time–detector”; its works resembling those of
a chronometer. Taking out a key and opening the detector, the keeper
said, “I thought you might like to see this. There, I have put this
round card in the detector. You see it is marked off into hours, and
ten minutes, and five minutes, and is called the dial. The patrol takes
it with him, and at the end of his beat he puts a key in that hole you
see, and gives the key a turn. A kind of punch, stamped like a die, is
forced down on the dial. In the morning, I open the detector, and there
is the dial that tells if he has done his duty. These dials I forward
once a week to Washington.”

“Supposing the man don’t want to go his beat, and turns the key
somewhere this side of the end of the route?” asked Walter.

“Ah,” said the keeper, “the feller can’t play ’possum that way. He must
go to the end of his beat to get his key. It is at a house there. He
must go that far, you see, anyway.”

“As any feller of honor would, key or no key,” growled Tom Walker.

“Oh, sartin, sartin, Tom,” replied the keeper. “They didn’t get it up
for you, but for the fellers in some—some—other station.”

And Tom’s growl changed to a pleasant laugh. “Where’s my Coston
signal?” he asked.

“Here it is,” replied the keeper.

“What’s that?” asked Walter.

“It is for signaling to anybody on the water in the night, and this
burns a red light.”

The Coston signal was a few inches long, marked on the bottom with the
word, “Patrol.”

“This,” said the keeper, “fits into a socket on one end of this wooden
handle which you see I have. At the other end is that brass knob. When
I want to use my signal, I strike that knob, and it forces a rod up
into a little hole in the end of the signal. That strikes a percussion
cap, and ignites a fusee, and out flashes a red light. That is my
explanation of it.”

Out into the cold, shadowy night, they went. Tom led off, slouching
along heavily, carelessly yet doggedly; as if he had a duty before him
which he did not wholly relish, but meant to put it through, like a
horse in a treadmill, whose greatest concern is to put one foot before
the other, and to keep putting until lunch time. There was a bright
glitter of stars in the sky, and the land was white with the pure snow;
but where the sea stretched toward the east, was one vast mass of
blackness. Out of this blackness, came a voice, that shouted all along
the shore, “Ho—ho—ho—ho!” The sea was very smooth, and the sound of
the surf was not heavy enough to interrupt the conversation between
Tom and Walter.

“I suppose,” began Walter, “these stations are scattered all along the
coast.”

“They are all over the country in spots. I ’magine in some places
they are few as muskeeters in December. Then again they are pretty
thick, say on the Jersey coast. Government takes care of ’em all. So
many stations—more or less—makin’ a deestrict, under the care of a
superintendent. Then all these deestricts are under Gen. Sumner I.
Kimball at Washington. Every deestrict, too, has its inspector.”

“How many men do you have to have at this station?”

“There is the keeper, Keeper Barney—we Cap’n him jest among
ourselves—and there are seven surfmen here. We have a cook also. I am
a surfman and then I am called a patrolman too. I’m a patrolman now,
but just let a vessel show itself off there, and I should be a surfman
in less than no time.”

“You don’t stay here all the time?”

“Through the year? No, we come on the first of September, and we go off
the first of May. They don’t have the same dates in all the stations.
The idea is to be here when there’s the most danger. Our keeper,
though, has to be lookin’ arter things, comin’ here now and then,
through the year. He’s keeper, summer and winter.”

“How do you like your work?”

“Well, I like the pay, fifty dollars a month, but it’s hard, resky
work.”

“How long have you been on?”

“Nine years.”

“What is your worst kind of weather?”

“Well, it’s tough when there’s a light snow, and a stiff nor’–west
wind keeps it a blowin’, or a nor’–east storm, when it hails and comes
slashin’ into your face. It’s bad most any time when the lantern goes
out. You see we have to pick our way; good enough on the sand when it’s
hard, but among the rocks, it’s hobbly; and it may be pretty snowy if
you can’t foller the beach.”

“Does your lantern go out?”

“Sometimes. You have to grope your way the best you can, then.”

“You must have seen some tough times.”

“I’ve been an hour and a half goin’ a mile,” exclaimed Tom with the
air of a veteran who has fought his hundred battles, and won at least
ninety–nine. “Poky work, I tell ye!”

“How do you divide your watches?”

“We have four watches, and two men go out at a time. I go to this end
of the beach, and t’other man goes to t’other end. Where two station
deestricts join, the patrolmen from the stations meet, and exchange
what they call ‘checks,’ that they give to their keepers.”

“How is it your watches run?”

“Oh, the hours? From sunset till eight, is the first watch, and from
eight to twelve is the second, and from twelve till four is the third;
and then there’s from four till sunrise. Then by day, we have to watch.
If it’s thick weather, fog, or rain, or snow, if we can’t see two miles
each way from the station, we have to go out agin. If it is clear
weather, we just watch from the lookout, on the buildin’. One man has
to be on the lookout, and he reports all vessels goin’ by. You saw the
lookout?”

“Oh, yes. Do you ever use that Coston signal?”

“Yes, though not much this winter thus far. I have only used mine twice
thus far. A fishin’ vessel was the last one. She got in too near shore,
and I burned my light, so that she might take the hint and haul off.”

“The ice must be piled up bad on the beach, sometimes.”

“Yes; I’ve seen it twenty feet high. The wind drives the snow down on
the beach, and the sea washes over it, and it freezes; and then more
snow may come to be washed and to freeze over, and so on.”

“Out in a cold rain or hail, don’t it bother you?”

“Yes; take hail, and it’s tough. Why, I’ve seen a man come into the
station, and his clothes would be so stiff and frozen, he—he—couldn’t
get ’em off hisself.”

By this time, Tom had reached the end of his beat. He slouched along
in the rear of a barn, turned its corner, and then stopped before an
object that shone in the light of the lantern. It was a key attached
by a chain to the wall. Tom took the key, put it into a hole in his
detector, turned it till a sharp click was heard; and then Walter knew
this faithful recorder had made its mark on the dial. The patrolman
turned, and began the journey back to the station. Crossing a field of
snow, they struck the shore rocks once more, and then moved out upon
the wet, sloping sands. A short walk brought them again to the upper
rim of the beach, strewn with snow.

The lantern flashed its light down upon a footprint.

“Whose is that?” asked Walter.

“T’other patrol’s; one afore me. He’s got a foot big enough to cover up
a pumpkin hill.”

Slowly, Tom and Walter returned to the station.

“I suppose I must say good night, and go to my aunt’s now.”

“Wish _I_ had an aunt’s to go to, now. My beat is short, and I must go
over it twice more, afore I turn in at twelve. If you are down at the
station in the morning, you’ll see on my detector the proof that I’ve
been faithful; but I would be, without the thing,” said the sensitive
knight of the beach. Walter watched Tom as he turned his face again
toward the dark sea and the lonely beach. The light of the lantern
steadily dwindled till it seemed like that of a star about to dip
beneath the waters of the ocean and disappear; and dip and disappear it
did, as Tom stumbled over the shore rocks down upon the beach. Walter
went slowly along the lane to Uncle Boardman’s.

In the morning, he was at the station again.

“Do you want to see me open the detectors?” said the keeper to Walter.
“Come here then.”

Walter watched the keeper as he opened one of the detectors.

“There,” he said, removing a card or dial. “Do you see those marks?”

[Illustration: “_And we might have had to run out the boat_” (p. 47).]

Walter could detect little stamps in the form of a cross.

“There is Tom Walker’s record,” said the keeper. “One stamp was fifteen
minutes of nine, when you went down; another at ten minutes of ten, and
the third at eleven. That shows that Tom Walker did his duty.”

“And he would have done it anyway,” growled the sensitive Tom. “I don’t
like to have that thing nag me round. I do my duty.”

“Oh yes, yes, sartin,” replied the keeper in a mollifying tone.

“Did you burn your light after I left you?” inquired Walter. “I mean
your signal.”

“No, nothin’ turned up.”

“What would you have done if it had?” inquired Walter. “Say, if you had
seen a wreck, what then?”

“What would he have done?” said the keeper, answering for the surfman,
and answering in an oratorical fashion. “What would he have done?
My! Wouldn’t he have flown round! He’d have out with that signal and
burnt it in less than no time. Then he would have run to the station,
big rubber boots and all, roused the crew, and we might have had to
run out the boat and get a line to the wreck,” and the keeper, as he
proceeded, seeing the effect his earnestness had on his young auditor,
grew quite dramatic in his gestures.

“Wish I could see it!” thought Walter. But that was not possible. His
return home must be effected that very afternoon.

“I am leaving so many things behind,” he reasoned, “that I really ought
not to go. There are so many things about the station I would like to
understand; and what a funny store Uncle Boardman has! And there is
that man, ‘Belzebub’ Baggs; I wonder if he will get Uncle Boardman to
sell him that land!”

There was no alternative; Walter must go. He left behind, Uncle
Boardman, and Aunt Lydia, the store, “Belzebub” Baggs, the station, Tom
Walker, Capt. Barney, the crew, the wide, blue ocean so full of unrest
and storm.

“Get up, Katy!” shouted Mr. Plympton. “Now, home with ye!”



CHAPTER V.

TURNING THE CORNER.


The journey home was not a difficult one for Katy, as the roads were
broke out thoroughly by this time. The journey, the subsequent day
however, was a hard one for Mr. and Mrs. Plympton, as they went with
Walter to the cars to see him safely started for his ride to Franklin
Academy.

“Oh!” said Walter, who was not so absorbed in school–plans but that
he could see two pairs of misty eyes when he chanced to turn suddenly
toward them, “don’t feel bad, father and mother. You know I shall be
back by the first of August, and you know, father, what you said about
time going like a sled, the iron on whose runner is rubbed smooth.”

“Yes,” said his father soberly.

“Be a good boy, Walter,” was his mother’s last reminder. About fifty
had preceded it, but she kept this as the last. The next minute, there
were two solemn faces on the platform of a country station, gazing
intently at a car window that moved off rapidly and framed but for a
moment a young, eager, ambitious, hopeful face.

Walter’s stay at Franklin Academy was not an eventful one outwardly.
There was the usual course of instruction for a boy of sixteen, and
Walter acquitted himself creditably. There was the usual proportion
of “bad boys and small scrapes,” but Walter had no affinity for them
and was known as a warm–hearted, enthusiastic youth, but not at all as
a wild one. He gained some note as a fine gymnast. Day after day the
academy bell tinkled out its mild warnings that study or recitation
hours had arrived, and day after day, the same flock of boys and
girls passed along the shaded walks traversing the academy yard.
Outwardly, as already asserted, Walter’s academy course was without
special incident. In the boy’s personal private history though, a very
important corner was turned. That which led to the turn was singular
also.

It was “composition day” in the academy, and various young essayists
had read their opinions upon “School days,” “A Summer landscape,”
and “George Washington.” Then came May Elliott’s piece of pen–work.
May was not very generally known by the students. Her home was not in
town, and the people with whom she boarded lived two miles away, so
that the students did not see very much of her apart from her class
hours. Although not pretty, yet her face interested you. Her blue
eyes had a certain bright, positive look, as if she had something
to say to you, and they arrested your attention. The subject of her
composition was this, “What are we living for?” Her course of thought
was to specify the aims of different people in life, their worthiness
and unworthiness; and then she closed in this fashion: “The life that
does not take into account the need of those about us, that does not
take into account another life, that does not take God into account, is
making,—”

Here May looked up in her bright, positive way. It was a chance look
that she gave in the direction of the north–east rather than the
north–west corner of the schoolroom. “Making—a serious mistake,”
said May. In the north–east corner sat two students on opposite sides
of the same aisle, Walter Plympton and Chauncy Aldrich. Each student
said, “Does she mean me?” May Elliott did not mean either individual.
It was a chance movement of her eyes, but like many of our movements
that without intent are very significant in their results, the look
set two young men to thinking. After school, they discussed the merits
of May’s theme and treatment. Chauncy was the first speaker. He was
a very forcible looking young man, one who seemed to come at you and
collide with you, although he might be a hundred feet off. He brushed
up his hair in a mighty roll above his forehead, and that gave his head
the look of a battering–ram. He was nicknamed “Solomon,” as he talked
and acted as if he carried more native and more acquired wisdom in his
head than all the students, all the teachers, and all the trustees
of Franklin Academy bunched together. And yet he was rather liked in
school, as he had a bright, pleasant face, was generally smiling, and
combined with a really selfish nature, an apparent readiness to help
everybody that came along.

“Walter,” said Chauncy, as they went away from the academy together,
“What do you think of May Elliott’s composition?”

“I thought it was quite good. Anyway she looked over in my corner as if
she meant me.”

“That’s what I thought. I didn’t know but she was looking at me, as
much as to say, ‘Chauncy, this is meant for you.’ However, Miss
Elliott, you may keep looking all day, and I shall only take what
I please of it, and you may dispose of the rest in what market you
please.” Here Chauncy pushed back his hat; and his front knob of hair
came into prominence, and looked very belligerent, as if warning Miss
Elliott to be careful how she threw her ink–arrows in that direction.

“Oh, I didn’t suppose she really meant anything personal, Chauncy.”

“Perhaps not; but my motto is to be on the lookout, and not take people
as meaning to give you a higher per cent than human nature is inclined
to allow you.”

Chauncy was professedly preparing himself for a “business life,” and
terms like “per cent,” “market,” “stock,” were favorite words in his
vocabulary. The wise man now resumed his conversation.

“The fact is, with regard to what she said about other folks’ need, and
another life, and so on, those things of course are so; but as for my
needy neighbor, why, look at my needy self—ha—ha!”

Here Chauncy gave one of his quick, ready laughs, that had something
of the sound of a new half dollar when you throw it on a counter;
ringing, yet hard and metallic. “There is my Uncle Bezaleel. His motto
is, ‘Don’t forget number one,’ and how he has pulled the money in!
Nobody stands higher in the market.”

“Bezaleel?” asked Walter, catching at the word.

“Yes, Bezaleel Baggs.”

“Beelzebub your uncle?” Walter was about to say, remembering Aunt
Lydia’s habit of speech; but he checked this imprudent phraseology and
remarked, “Bez—Bezaleel Baggs your uncle?”

“Yes, and a smart one. He is a great land–owner, buying up whole
forests, and he runs mills and so on. He expects to give me a lift,
perhaps take me in business with him. That’s my uncle.”

“Indeed!” thought Walter.

“Oh,” resumed Chauncy, “we were speaking of May Elliott’s composition.
Well, I was going to say about her pious remarks at the close, that
they are well enough in their place, of course; but if she meant me
when she looked our way, I only want to say that there will be time for
that by and by. _You_ can think them over, if you want to.”

Walter made no reply and the two separated.

It was a casual remark, “You can think them over,” and at another time,
Walter might quickly have forgotten the words. Somehow that day, the
words stayed with Walter. They seemed to have roots, and they took hold
of Walter’s thoughts, and went deep down into his soul, and there they
clung.

“I don’t know what the matter is why I keep thinking of that
composition,” he said, later in the day.

“You look sober, Walt,” observed Chauncy.

“Thinking,” replied Walter laughing.

“About that composition—eh? Well, here is one who is not,” and the
wise man gave two or three satisfied little chuckles.

“Why should he fancy I was thinking about that composition?” Walter
asked himself. “I am, though, and can’t seem to get rid of it.”

He went to his boarding–place, passed directly to his room, and sat
down in a chair by the western window. There was an outlook across
a stretch of green fields waving with grain, up to a round–topped
hill, bushy with vigorous oaks. Over a shoulder of this hill peeped
another, but so distant, that a veil of blue haze covered it all day.
The stillness of the hour, for it was at twilight, the sun going down
behind hangings of crimson along the blue hill, made a quiet in
Walter’s breast, and suggested thoughts that in the hurry and noise of
the day are not likely to be fostered.

“Oh, that composition, ‘What are we living for?’” thought Walter.
“Well, what _am_ I living for?”

Was he living for others? He did trust he was a help to those at home,
and yet he had no conscious, definite purpose to give himself for their
welfare; and as for those outside, he certainly hoped he had done them
no harm, and he ventured to think he might have granted a few favors,
but he had not thought in a very special way about anybody except
Walter Plympton. He had gone on in a boy’s careless fashion, meaning
in a general way to mind his parents and consult their welfare; and to
do “about the fair thing by outsiders,” was also his thought. As for
that other life which we must all meet, the whole subject to his mind
was in a hazy condition like the distant blue hill he was looking at.
Once a week, while sitting in St. Mary’s at home, the old rector saying
some solemn thing in the pulpit or the choir singing a plaintive tune,
he was quite likely to think of another life. The other six days, he
was thinking of school, and farmwork, and his duties at home, or play,
outside. And as for thoughts about God, they would chase through his
mind like the shadows of clouds across a green summer field. They might
visit him at family prayers, or on Sunday, in church, or when praying
by himself at home; but like the hasty cloud–shadows, such thoughts
were soon gone. His general attitude toward all these subjects was that
of a thoughtless indifference; and any particular attention he paid
now and then was the result of a mere habit of going to church, or the
saying of hurried prayers, rather than a direct preference and purpose
of his heart.

“I don’t think I am where I ought to be in such matters,” was Walter’s
conclusion, and if he had a comfortable satisfaction in himself when
he began to think, it had now melted away like a snow–bank in a spring
rain.

“The sun has been down, some time,” he said at last, “and the bright
colors have all faded out of the sky. It looks pretty sober over there
now.”

Walter felt, as the sky looked, “sober.” The distant blue hill had
quickly turned to a dark, undefined mass of shadow. The hill near by
went behind a veil. Soon, the fields shrank out of sight, like green
scrolls rolled up and taken away. Walter rose and left the room. He
did not leave his thoughts behind. Those went with him. For several
days, he was thinking upon that subject: “What am I living for?” The
longer he thought, the more deficient seemed his life. There came
another night when he bowed his head in prayer as never before. Feeling
his unworthiness, how poor and mean his life had been, he asked God
to forgive him. Feeling that his life had been without a strong,
definite, acceptable purpose, he asked God to take him, and help him
live for the highest ends. And there rose up before him Jesus Christ,
as the expression of God’s readiness to forgive a past, deficient life,
sincerely regretted; Jesus Christ, as the perfect, divine Guide by
which to direct all our lives in the future; Jesus Christ, his Saviour
from sin. A letter arrived for the Plymptons one day, and it read thus:

 “_Dear Father and Mother_: I suppose you will be surprised to get this,
 but I wanted to tell you of something that has interested me and I know
 will interest you. I have made up my mind, God helping me, to be a
 different person. I hope I haven’t been what people call a bad boy, but
 still, I might have been better, and thought more of your interests,
 and tried hard to do my duty toward God. You will forgive me for all my
 thoughtlessness, won’t you? And you will pray for me, please, won’t you?
 Your affectionate son,

  “WALTER.”

“The dear boy!” exclaimed Mrs. Plympton. “Yes, father and I will pray
for you, won’t we?”

Mr. Plympton could only nod assent, for the tears filled his eyes.
Indeed there were two people in that house who often looked at one
another with red eyes that day, but it was the redness that goes with
happy hearts, with the bright hopes of a morning sky, and not the glare
of a sad fire that destroys our dearest interests.

It may have been two weeks after the arrival of the above letter, that
another came.

“Here is a letter from your brother Boardman,” said Mr. Plympton,
entering the kitchen, where his wife was cooking her weekly batch of
pies. “Open it, please, and see what he says.”

Mrs. Plympton wiped carefully her floury hands, adjusted her
spectacles, and sitting down by a window where the light streamed in
across the hollyhocks and sunflowers in the yard, began to read:

 “_Dear Ezra and Louisa_:—We are all well, and hope you are the same. I
 suppose you are expecting Walter home before long, this summer, and I
 got the impression from you that he was not going back again. I think I
 can give him a job this fall and winter if you agree to it, and I’ll see
 that he has good wages. I have always, with Lydia’s help, as you know,
 managed my store and post–office myself, but I expect I shall need the
 help of a clerk. I have sold a lot of land, timber land, to Mr. Bezaleel
 Baggs; and I am putting up a steam mill, and I am interested in it, and
 it is going to take me away from the store a good deal. Then I have
 engaged to supply the crew at the life saving station with provisions,
 and also to take their mail to them. So you see somebody has got to go
 and look after their orders, and fetch their goods, and it is more than
 I can conveniently look after. What do you say to letting Walter come
 here the first of September? Please let me know soon.

  “Your affectionate brother,
  “BOARDMAN BLAKE.”

“Well, Ezra, what do you say?”

“I—I—don’t know. I sort of hate to have him away, Louisa.”

“So do I.”

“I suppose though, he must start some time to be doing for himself.”

“Oh, here is a postscript! Tucked away up in one corner. I almost lost
sight of it.”

“What does it say?”

“‘P. S.—He can come home every week.’ That makes it different, Ezra.”

“And it’s only ten miles away. I suppose he’ll be just crazy to see
that life saving station.”

“So he will. When he came back last winter, he said it was just
aggravating to think he could not stay longer.”

“Let us write to Walter and see what he says.”

The result of all this was that the first day of September, when the
life saving station was opened for the season, there appeared at the
door Uncle Boardman’s new clerk, to receive the daily order for the
crew’s provisions.

“I am beginning a new life,” thought Walter.

It was a new life in many ways. About six months ago, the careless,
laughing, kindly–natured youth at home, had left it to assume new
responsibilities elsewhere, at the academy. He had come back still
happy and laughing, but a new and earnest purpose had entered his soul,
and was controlling him. He had since been confirmed, in the little
village church, openly acknowledging his Saviour. He had entered his
uncle’s neighborhood to meet and assume fresh responsibilities. He
would come in contact with the men at the life saving station. He would
meet others in his daily business duties. Would he keep and increase
the religion he had brought with him? Would it lessen?

“I shall try hard to do my duty,” said Walter, in his thoughts.

We shall see what he did.



CHAPTER VI.

THE STORE.


The morning after his arrival at his uncle’s, Walter began his new
duties as clerk, and opened the store. It was in the south–western
corner of the house, and was also in a corner made by two roads. One
was the lane that came up from the life saving station, widening into
a road which went to the outside world. The second, starting at the
store, continued its travels in an easterly direction, and ended them
in a little fishing village overlooking the sea. Opening from the store
into these two roads, as if to solicit and take up all passing custom,
were two doors, and each was bordered by two windows. Above one of
these doors, that on the road to the outside world, was a small sign,
and it said, “B. Blake”; but said it very faintly. The sign once was
black, and the name had been painted in gilt letters; but the rains
had been scouring the sign for years, and the sun bleaching it; and
between the scouring and the bleaching, there had resulted a surface of
shabby, blackish gray, streaked with dim, yellow lines. The store, as
well as the sign, looked old. The entire house looked old. So did its
owner, Boardman Blake; and the great, dark forest of pines beyond the
house seemed to murmur day and night, “Growing old, growing old!” As
one entered the store, in a very hospitable location between the two
doors, he saw a rusty box stove flanked by two benches. The benches
in winter rarely were without an occupant. In the spring, summer, and
fall, these occupants in part were out on the sea, pulling into their
uneasy boats, cod, hake, or haddock; while some were following the
plow, hoeing corn or pitching the fragrant hay into bulky carts. Behind
the benches, on the wall, were posters, announcing to a generally
neglectful and ungrateful world, that “Vandyke’s Life–Bitters” would
cure dyspepsia; that “Peaslee’s Liniment” never failed to take the
stiffness out of a horse’s joints; while “Payson’s Hair Elixir” was
sure to vitalize a bald head into the manufacturing of rich, luxuriant
locks. The counters bordered two sides of the store, and sustained
the weight of a desk in one corner where Boardman attended to his
scanty book–keeping. Then there were two faded old show–cases whose
store of peppermints, lozenges in gaudy wrappings, and gumdrops of
every known rainbow–tint, excited the admiration of every schoolboy.
There were also several pairs of scales, and a cheesebox. Behind the
counters, ranged on shelves that began in some mysterious space below
the counters’ level, and reached to the dusty, fly–specked ceiling, was
an assortment of goods that only a country store can produce. There was
not very much of any one article, but so many articles were gathered
there that variety made up fully for quantity. There were dry goods,
and goods that were not dry, such as bottles of medicine and essences;
there were outfits for the farmer, and outfits for the fisherman.
Hardware was there, like hammers and planes; and software, like sugar
and meal. Goods were there, like boots and shoes; and goods like
caps and clothing. As the storekeeper generally had only one suit of
clothes on hand at a time, there was but little range of choice for the
customer, and if compelled to take what he could find, a giant might
have gone away wretched in the suit of a dwarf, or the dwarf departed
only to be lost in the apparel of a giant.

The store excited Walter’s interest, and as he opened it that first
morning, his eyes made a rapid inventory of its miscellaneous contents.

“And what is that?” he asked, noticing a shelf on which were clustered
a few books. They were not for sale, but their titles and well–thumbed
condition showed that they were for reference. One was a state
gazetteer, another a volume of state laws, a third a small English
dictionary, and a fourth was a Bible. The latter was bound in old
leather covers, and its type was antique. It seemed to be a kind of
safe, as well as aid to devotion, for various documents were there,
like deeds and bills.

“What is this?” exclaimed Walter, as a piece of paper fluttered out of
the old Bible when he chanced to lift and open the book. “Uncle has a
lot of papers in it, and I must look out. I must put this back.”

He could not but see the figures, five hundred, in the left hand corner
of the document, and carelessly had read, “For value received, I
promise to pay Bezaleel Baggs, or order, five hundred dollars.” Walter
stopped.

“I must not read that, and did not intend to,” thought the clerk. He
could but notice a blot in one corner of the bill. It was a singular
blot.

“It looks like an animal. There is its body, and those four streaks
below would make good legs for a small animal. Pig, I guess. Now, I
will put that away and attend to my work,” thought Walter. “Hullo!
Who’s calling? Who’s here at six o’clock?”

Walter noticed that the time by a clock secured to a post, was very
near six o’clock.

Somebody without was apparently shouting for the storekeeper. Stepping
quickly to the door, Walter noticed first a gaily painted wagon. Its
wheels were scarlet, and its shining black body was striped with
scarlet. He was about saying to himself, “It’s a young fellow aboard,”
when this same young fellow lifted a round–topped felt hat, disclosed a
wall of hair, and shouted, “_You_ here? You don’t say!”

“I didn’t say anything about it, but I am glad to see you, Aldrich.
What are you up to?”

“This morning, I am up to bringing my uncle down here. He is out in the
yard, the barnyard. I am clerking it with him, and shall be a neighbor
of yours this winter; that is, a mile off, up at the office of my
uncle. It is near the mill you know, that your uncle has put up for the
sawing of the timber round here. A feller gets a good apprenticeship
with Bezaleel Baggs, I tell you. Oh, he is bright on a trade! I have
learned a good deal by being with him, already. Say, what kind of a
store have you in there? Most everything, I suppose.”

Walter, who was out on the doorstep, here turned to the store. The
upper part of the door was of glass, and one who occupied Walter’s
position, could easily see within.

“Is that a man in the store?” thought Walter. “Is it a man behind the
counter?”

He could not make out anything very distinctly. Besides, Chauncy was
calling out to him, “Look out here, not in there? Do you expect the
Hon. Boardman Blake is in there trading with himself? That would
be handy, for he could be as sharp as he pleased, or as easy as he
pleased. Really, he is out in the barn, for I saw him there a moment
ago.”

“I thought I noticed somebody in the store, but I guess it was only a
shadow.”

“Come, tell me about your plans,” said Chauncy, who seemed anxious to
catch and hold Walters attention. “Tell me what you are up to?”

“Why, I am clerking, am I not?”

“Oh, yes. Of course you are. Well, do you like?”

Walter did not answer at once. He could not rid his mind of the
impression that something was not right in the store. He finally said,
“This is my first morning in the store,” and was about to add, “I think
I shall like here,” when he chanced to look again into the store. A
golden ray of sunlight, as if an auger, had bored its way through the
shadows behind the counter, and it fell upon the shelves that held the
Bible and other volumes. In that light, Walter saw a form, that of a
man, though of no one that he had ever seen before,—a short, heavy
man, with broad shoulders, hatless; and was his hair light, or did
the sunray brighten it as it fell upon it? He noticed that the man’s
side whiskers projected into the sunlight, and also that he leaned
over. Walter was about to lay his hand on the latch of the door when a
terrific yell from Chauncy delayed him.

“Ah–hoo! Ah–hoo!”

Was Chauncy calling to him, or shouting to somebody in the store
that he had already discovered, and perhaps might wish to notify?
If such a thought came into Walter’s mind, it did not come clear as
a ray of sunshine, but it was so confused and dim a suspicion that
it made little impression upon him, and he turned one moment as if
in obedience to Chauncy’s call, who was now shouting, “Ah–hoo–hoo!
Plymp–ton!” Then he laughed heartily: “Ha–ha! You did not recognize my
Indian yell that I have for folks. See here! I only wanted to say, if
you were going into the store, and you have any—any—any—”

It took Chauncy some time to tell what he did want, but fumbling in his
pocket, he produced a ten–cent piece, and said, “Oh, anything! Bring me
some candy!”

“There is a customer in here, and I’ll bring it to you quick as I can.”

“Customer, boy! You are demented! I don’t believe anybody is there,
unless it is the Hon. Boardman, as I said before.”

Chauncy was right. When Walter entered the store, no one was there!
He went behind the counter, and then he looked under the counter. The
usual row of dumb, unintelligent soap–boxes, and spice–boxes, and
candy–boxes, could be seen there. He went to the shelves on which were
the books. The sunshine, as well as the visitor, had mysteriously
vanished. A fly crawling over the books suddenly buzzed in Walter’s
face, as if to ask, in the fly–tongue, “What does this fellow want
here?”

“If this is not strange!” thought Walter.

“Where did that man go? Am I getting ‘demented,’ as Chauncy said? Could
anybody have gone to the sitting–room from the store?”

From the store, one could directly enter the sitting–room. Walter
hastily looked into the sitting–room. The sunray might have retreated
there, and in the rich overflow of light entering two eastern windows,
it certainly would not have been noticed as a separate ray. But had the
rich, strong flood of light swallowed up the man, as well as the ray of
sunshine? If he had gone into the sitting–room, where was he?

“Nonsense!” thought Walter, for he heard the cracked voice of Aunt
Lydia piping an old love–song of her girlhood, as she ironed the week’s
wash in the kitchen opening out of the sitting–room. “Nonsense! If
anybody had come here, of course she would have seen them. She don’t
act as if she had seen anybody.” No. Aunt Lydia was singing in sharp,
slender strains that old love–ditty, as free from any agitation as if
it had been her uninterrupted avocation that morning.

“Plympton! Plympton! Where’s that candy? Have you gone to get your
folks to make that candy?” Chauncy was now calling from the store
door, which he had opened. Walter returned, went to one of the
show–cases, took out the quantity of candy ordered, and handed it to
Chauncy.

“The queerest thing!” exclaimed Walter. “I am sure I saw a man in here;
but where he has gone, I don’t know.”

“Saw a man!” replied Chauncy, with an incredulous air. “Nobody has been
round here except you and me. Here’s your uncle up the road.”

And there indeed Boardman Blake was, slowly moving along toward the
store in his careless, abstracted way.

“There’s _my_ uncle, and you can see him down at the fish–house,”
continued Chauncy. “He would like to find _your_ uncle. That’s what I
brought him down here for. Don’t you see my uncle?”

The fish–house was a black little building, that the rough, strong
sea–winds for the last twenty–five years had been trying to push over,
and had partially succeeded. It had been found necessary to prop it on
one side. Here, the storekeeper accumulated every year a stock of dried
salt fish, purchased of the fishermen and then sold out to customers
from the surrounding country. Chauncy’s uncle was walking about the
fish–house as if trying to find somebody.

“Is that the man I saw in the store?” Walter asked.

“Haw–haw!” laughed Chauncy noisily. “He’s been down at the fish–house
trying to hunt up your uncle, all the time I have been here. Come out
and see him, and let’s ask him.”

Walter stepped back to say to Aunt Lydia that he wanted to go to the
fish–house, and would be back very soon, and then crossed the road with
Chauncy to the fish–house.

“The man I saw in the store was sort of built that way, heavy, and
short, and broad at the shoulders, and was leaning over. I wish this
man would lean over, and let me see how he looks,” thought Walter. The
suspected party now turned his face to the young men, as if aware of
Walter’s desire to inspect it. It was a face round and full, flanked
with thin, gray whiskers. One of the eyes had a cast in it, which gave
“Uncle Bezaleel’s” face a certain crookedness of look; but that does
not necessarily mean crookedness of character. The eyes of some very
honest people have an unfortunate squint. If though, any one looking
at the upper part of B. Bagg’s face should say, “B. Baggs is a crooked
fellow. Look out!” then the voice below entirely contradicted that
impression. It was a mild, agreeable voice, kindly, and rather musical.
It had a persuasive tone, and if the crooked eye was a misfortune,
the voice of which B. Baggs was owner, had proved to be an excellent
piece of property. It had coaxed many poor fellows on to their ruin.
Its softness, its sympathy, its willingness to be your friend at any
sacrifice, and its great grief if you possibly could think it was your
enemy, had brought its possessor much money. It was this voice that had
made its way to the softest place in the soft heart of Boardman Blake,
quicker than the sharpest auger in the world.

“Uncle, have you been in Mr. Blake’s store this morning?” inquired
Chauncy.

“Why, no, child!” said Uncle Bezaleel in the most affectionate and
bland of tones, at the same time winking maliciously with his crooked
eye. “What made you think so?”

“Oh, I didn’t think so. I knew you had been out here all the time,
trying to hunt up Mr. Blake; but my friend Plympton here, uncle,
thought you had been in.”

“Ah, how d’ye do, Mr. Plympton,” said Uncle Bezaleel cordially,
addressing Walter by that title of manhood which goes so straight to a
boy’s heart. Here, with his fat fingers, he softly squeezed Walter’s
hand. “I have been out here and round somewhat, admiring the tidy way
you and your uncle keep things in. Now that barnyard looks trim as a
dining–room. Thrifty as can be, I’m sure.”

The barnyard certainly was very neat for such a place, but that tired,
shabby, leaning old fish–house, and the aspect of the place in general,
did not sustain B. Baggs’ wonderful opinion of thrift. Walter, though,
did not like to mistrust people, and this ready denial, the soft–toned
compliment also, were irresistible, and Walter concluded it must have
been somebody else that he saw in the store.

“Oh, I see, sir,” he cried promptly. “It must have been another man.
Excuse me.”

“All—all right. I must have my little joke, and I guess you—you—ran
into your uncle’s cider barrels, this morning, and couldn’t see
straight.”

“Haw—haw!” shouted Chauncy.

“Oh, no,” laughed Walter. “I don’t imbibe.”

“That’s right, young man. Don’t touch it! Don’t.”

The crooked eye now gave a funny, wicked look at Walter, while Chauncy,
behind Walter’s back, executed with his features a look extraordinary
enough to have fitted out a clown for his performances. Uncle Boardman
here arrived, and the upright, moral B. Baggs, proceeded at once to
confer with him. But who was it that Walter saw in the store? He
intended to speak at once to his uncle and aunt about it, but he was
sent away to The Harbor, the fishing village in the neighborhood, and
when he returned, other duties occupied his mind, and at last, like
other matters we neglect, it went for the present out of his thoughts
altogether.

Aunt Lydia, the evening of this call by Bezaleel Baggs, had a remark
to make to her husband. They were alone in their sitting–room, Aunt
Lydia knitting by a little, red, square–topped stand, that supported a
kerosene lamp. Uncle Boardman was also sitting near the table, reading
the weekly county paper. He had a pleasant face, one to which children,
and dogs, and all kinds of dumb animals never made their appeal in
vain. It was benevolent as the sunlight after three days of cloudy
sky. He may have had brown eyes, but these watchers of the world had
their seat so far under his bushy eyebrows, like overhanging eaves,
that it was hard to tell their color. When he looked at another, one
saw two soft, shining little globes of light directed toward him. As
he always shaved, his big, smooth face had a certain boy–look to it.
When walking, he had a way of looking down, carrying his folded hands
before him. He was likely to come in contact with all sorts of beings
and objects; but no romping child that he collided with, no big dog
bumping against the abstracted pedestrian, ever heard a testy word
of remonstrance from him. He took kindly a knock from a fish–barrel,
or a poke from a passing wheel–barrow. While people joked about him,
everybody respected and trusted his integrity.

“He’s good salt all the way through,” said Nahum Caswell, an old
fisherman at The Harbor. “He trusts other folks too much, and don’t
allers know on which side of his bread the butter is; but then he never
takes other folks’ butter from ’em. You can trust Boardman with a mint
of money, and not a penny will ketch ’tween his fingers. No, sir.”

If Boardman’s eyes, in their great charity, did not at once see into a
man’s mean motives, Aunt Lydia’s did, very soon. Her bright, dark eyes
looked deep, and did not look in vain. Bezaleel Baggs was uneasy the
first time he met her. He felt that a very sharp, clear–seeing pair
of eyes had fastened upon him a look that meant inspection, and he
avoided her in every possible way.

“Queer!” exclaimed Aunt Lydia this evening of our story. “Queer, that
Belzebub Baggs—”

“Bezaleel,” remonstrated Boardman mildly.

“Wall, he is pizen whatever he is; but isn’t it queer he don’t like to
talk with me? He’ll buttonhole you by the hour, Boardman, and palaver
and make his soft speeches; but nary a word does he say to me if he can
help it.”

“Oh, he has business with me.”

“The snake! I wish he had some with me, if I wouldn’t jest scorch him.”

Uncle Boardman let out one of his soft, easy–natured chuckles, and
remarked. “He probably sees you are a dangerous character. Ha—ha!”

“Wall, if he don’t keep away from my winders, I’ll put some b’ilin’
water on him.”

“Keep away from what? What’s he been doin’?”

“My advice to him is to keep away from my winders. There I was this
mornin’ at six o’clock, ironin’ away, and happened to hear a scratchin’
noise behind me—you see I was in the kitchen at the time, and my back
was away from the sittin’–room—and I turned sort of quick, and there
was that Baggs at the winder of the sittin’–room—”

“Inside?”

“No, outside; and yet it seemed sort of queer. His head was turned this
way, and it seemed as if he was a slidin’ down outside the clapboards.
I couldn’t make it out what he was a doin’. For once in his life, he
seemed awful glad to see me, and grinned at me, and really teched his
hat. I don’t want none of his grins or hat–techin’s. When he had gone,
I went to this winder, and I found this clingin’ to the blind. It looks
as if it had been torn from a coat. I jest tucked it in there, because
I wasn’t goin’ upstairs to my rag–bag then, and knew it would be safe.”

Every housekeeper is apt to have a “saving fever,” but its style may
vary extensively in different houses. One housekeeper will carefully
cherish the scraps from the table. Another husbands the coal. A third
burns no superfluous oil or gas. Another garners all bits of paper or
cloth for the rag–man; and a fifth has two eyes out for all possible
lessening of the consumption of butter. Aunt Lydia’s ambition, was to
treasure up every shred of cloth, all ends of threads, and every slip
of paper. She had put the savings of the morning in a little tin box
on the mantel, intending to transfer them to the rag–bag the next time
she journeyed upstairs.

“A piece of cloth!” said Uncle Boardman, handling the relic. “Did you
think it came from Baggs’ coat, though I don’t see how? He wore this
morning that blue frock–coat of his, with the big, silver buttons.”

“It looks more like a piece of coat–linin’.”

“Indeed! Oh, I guess it’s all right,” said Uncle Boardman, rising to
deposit in the box on the mantel this mysterious fragment. About five
minutes later, he was wondering if something were not all wrong. Taking
a candle from the mantel and lighting it, he stepped into the store. It
was very dark, and very still there, save that the clock was ticking
sharply. The storekeeper passed behind the counter to the book–shelf,
where Bible and gazetteer, dictionary and statute–book, kept one
another company in the dark. He took down the Bible, laid it on the
counter, and then proceeded to examine it.

“It’s in here somewhere, I know,” he softly whispered to himself; “for
I tucked it away here, day before yesterday. He inquired for it, and I
told him this morning I would get it, and send it to–morrow.”

The desired document was that promise to pay Bezaleel Baggs five
hundred dollars, which Walter had noticed. It could not now be found.

“Perhaps it’s in the Psalms. I read a good deal there,” thought Uncle
Boardman.

Many promises are in the Psalms, but none to pay B. Baggs five hundred
dollars could be found there.

“Maybe it’s in Daniel. I was a lookin’ at the prophecies there,”
thought the bewildered storekeeper; but the prophet had no such
treasures in his keeping. He now proceeded to make a thorough and
deliberate hunt through the book. He began at Genesis, and was
patiently turning over the leaves in Proverbs, when a sharp voice
rang out overhead, and then came in definite tones down through a
funnel–hole in the ceiling. “You goin’ to bed some time ’fore the
millennium, Boardman?”

It was Aunt Lydia, in her chamber directly above the store; and she
was using a very convenient substitute for a speaking–tube; a disused
funnel–hole that passed through the ceiling of the store and the floor
of Aunt Lydia’s room. Uncle Boardman started back as if the funnel–hole
had been the mouth of a cannon, and Aunt Lydia sent from it a very
effective shot.

“Massy!” he exclaimed inwardly. “I didn’t know she was up there.
Comin’, Lydia!” he shouted. “Comin’ very soon!”

Giving occasional looks at the funnel–hole as if to be in readiness to
dodge the shot that might be expected any moment from that quarter,
he hastily completed his investigation of the Bible. So good a book,
though, was unwilling to promise so untrustworthy a man as B. Baggs
anything without a good assurance of repentance, and Uncle Boardman,
closing the book, placed it on the book–shelf again.

“That _is_ queer!” he murmured. “Well, if anybody found it, the note
won’t do ’em any good, and as for Bezaleel, I can write him another.”

Taking his candle again, he passed into the sitting–room, and then
upstairs. It was time that he did so, for a fluttering of angry steps
around the funnel–hole showed that Aunt Lydia was getting ready another
and far heavier shot.



CHAPTER VII.

STANDING FIRM.


Walter was enjoying a brief furlough at home in October. He was in his
mother’s sewing–room that opened out of the kitchen. It was a little
nest that had room only for a sewing machine, a table, and two chairs.
Walter was now occupying one of these chairs, and his mother sat at her
table, busily preparing some work for her nimble little machine. It
was a mild, autumn day, and through the opened window came the sound
of the cricket’s shrill piping, and the beating of the grain with an
old–fashioned flail, by Farmer Grant, in his barn on the opposite side
of the road. There was a crimson–stained maple near the house, that
suggested to Walter the opening of his conversation with his mother.

“How soon that maple has turned, mother!”

“Oh no. It is time for it.”

“Let me see. It is not so early for it after all. It’s the fifteenth
of October. The fifteenth! Why, that is the day Uncle Boardman said his
mill would be done, and on my way back, I guess I’ll stop there and see
how it looks.”

“That the mill where his trees are to be sawed up?”

“Yes, and I expect a lot more will come there. You see uncle built the
mill, and Baggs buys up the timber where he can, and he and uncle run
the mill together, and divide the profits somehow. But it has cost
something to put that mill up. I know uncle had to borrow money to do
it. I don’t like that Baggs at all, mother. He took me in at first, he
was so soft–spoken, but I think I know him now.”

“He has been up in this neighborhood trying to buy woodland, and wanted
your father to trade with him, but he wouldn’t. We don’t like his looks
up this way.”

There was a lull in the conversation. The cricket without still kept
up his sharp, piercing song, and Farmer Grant patiently beat out an
accompaniment to the cricket’s tune.

“How long is it now, Walter, since you were confirmed?”

“Three months, mother.”

“How are you getting along?”

“Well, mother, I can’t say that I am making much progress, but I am
trying to hold on.”

“Any progress we make in a religious life, comes from doing just what
you say you are doing, holding on. If we are regular in our prayers and
Bible–reading, if we patiently attend to our church duties, and just
try from hour to hour to do our duty to those about us, that is all one
can do. God will do the rest.”

“I had an idea, mother, when I began this life I should make more
progress, get along faster.”

“Don’t mind that. You must just stick to your purpose, and keep on. I
remember what Mark Simpson, an old fisherman down at The Harbor said
once. Said Mark,—‘Going to heaven is like tryin’ to row round B’ilin’
P’int when the tide is agin you. If you stick to your oars, and pull
ahead, you’ll come round all right.’ And I think Mark has shown that,
if any one has. He has had all sorts of troubles, and he does what he
advised, he sticks to his oars and pulls ahead. There’s a good deal,
Walter, in what I call religious habits; in being particular about your
prayers, in reading your Bible, in your attendance at church. Get the
wheel down into that track and keep going steadily, and you will find
everything easier.”

“Yes, I suppose so, mother.”

“And there is one thing which it is well for us all to know, Walter.
It’s the most important thing. I mean we must get hold of Christ,
understand what He has done for us, what He will do for us, and holding
Him before our eyes and in our hearts, try to do for Him, and be like
Him. And Walter, there is this thing I want you to be particular about,
to do some one specific thing for Him. Of course, you try to live for
Him; but I mean a particular duty.”

“What?”

“Well, may I speak of something? It sha’n’t be very hard. Of course,
you will go to church yourself; try to get everybody else you can.
There, do that.”

“Well, I will.”

The conversation went on. By and by, his mother exclaimed, “If it isn’t
eleven o’clock! And there is your lunch, but I will have it ready soon,
and what time do you start?”

“Twelve, in the mail–wagon, you know. I go as far as Uncle Boardman’s
mill, and I promised to stop there for Chauncy Aldrich, this afternoon,
while he is away; and then I walk down to uncle’s at tea–time. It is
not more than a mile to walk.”

Walter declared the lunch to be “splendid.” Then there was “a stitch”
to be taken in Walters coat, for which he said he was “thankful.”

“That does me good,” thought his mother. “I don’t know as Walter
notices it, but since he has begun his new life, he appreciates more
what his father and mother do for him. It may seem to be foolish in me,
but the religion that doesn’t come out in little things, won’t come out
in great ones.”

Oh, patient mothers, hard working fathers, are you “foolish” to be
affected by a child’s gratitude for little things? If children only
knew it, such gratitude makes this a new world for parents. The
mail–wagon soon rolled along to the Plympton farm and halted for
Walter. He was passing through the front yard, hurrying along a lilac
and rose–bordered path, to the waiting mail–wagon before the house,
when his mother called out, “Oh, Walter! Wait a minute.” She ran down
the path.

“I’ll say this for your father, who isn’t at home. It was his charge,
you know when you were little: ‘Honest, boy.’”

Walter laughed. “I guess I have got all my bundles now, mother.
Good–bye.”

“Good–bye, Walter.”

As the wagon rattled away, carrying off Prince Alden, the driver, two
mail–bags, and two passengers, Walter thought of these words, “Honest,
boy.” It was an expression his father had used when Walter was a little
fellow. The motto had an influence over Walter, not only because his
father uttered it, but practiced it. Mr. Plympton’s daily life was the
very crystal of honesty itself; honesty not only shining through his
words but radiant in all his actions. After a ride of nine miles, came
a group of buildings to which had been recently given the name “Blake’s
Mills.” It was a part of the business transaction between Bezaleel
Baggs and Walter’s uncle, that the latter should erect a “tide mill”
at the head of “Muskrat Creek,” a mile from The Harbor. At the head of
this creek, was a large tract of useless land belonging to Boardman
Blake, easily flooded at high tides. Swinging backward and forward with
the tides, were gates, placed in a dam that had been thrown across the
head of the creek. Through these opened gates, swept a strong, clean,
cold current from the ocean, at flood tide, and then the water was
distributed over the low lands, to be held in check until needed to
push the great wheel carrying the machinery of the mill.

“If you’ll build a mill,” said B. Baggs to Uncle Boardman, “and run it
with me, I’ll agree to furnish you with logs.”

At one time, for the sake of his “dear friend Blake,” he talked as if
he would build everything, take all risks and give all profits to that
dear friend.

He did guarantee however, a stated, handsome income to Boardman.
“Then,” he added, “you can run the mill for corn and flour, if you
wish. However I’ll warrant you on logs a long, steady job; and it will
pay you and me enough to make a handsome thing out of it. I’ll furnish
logs for five years at least.”

At the same time, he made a great display of ready money, suggesting
untold resources somewhere. He bought up the trees on extensive tracts
of woodland far and near. Wherever he went, an immense business
movement seemed to go with him. Uncle Boardman was bewildered. This
great being, like a big oceancraft, bore down on him with such an
imposing spread of financial sail, that he and his,—all but Aunt
Lydia—were easy captures. Boardman built the mill, although he was
forced to borrow five hundred dollars of Baggs that he might accomplish
this. It was a note for this amount which Walter had stumbled upon
and which his uncle had subsequently missed, but to cover the debt,
he had written and tendered another. It is true that logs had not
come to the mill so freely as Baggs had prophesied, for even logs
need a little pushing to accomplish a journey; and Uncle Boardman’s
receipts were not so large that the disposition of them had perplexed
him. It was a fact also that some people had begun to label the mill
“Boardman’s Folly;” but Bezaleel Baggs could furnish any amount of
palaver, even if he could not make trees cut themselves down, and roll
in large numbers to the mill; and his softly padded tongue kept Uncle
Boardman quiet. Chauncy Aldrich represented his uncle’s interests at
the mill, as that relative was often absent on mysterious journeys,
from which he returned with an air of vast importance; as if he had
bought up half the world to–day, and it would be delivered at ‘Blake’s
Mills’ to–morrow. In connection with Baggs’ “office,” a small, ragged,
unpainted shanty, there was a “store” to supply the hands at the mill.
Uncle Boardman had stocked this emporium, and Baggs sold the goods on
commission. Uncle Boardman sometimes thought that his profits were
exceedingly small; though he knew that his “branch store,” as Baggs
had pretentiously named it, could have very few customers. Some
people had rashly asserted that liquor was sold at this store, but as
a town–law forbade it, and as Boardman Blake’s principles forbade it
also, the sale of liquor did not seem probable. For all that, something
“mysterious” was sold there. It was at this “branch store” that Walter
expected to serve, the afternoon of his return from his parents, as
Chauncy wished to be away. The mail–wagon deposited Walter at the mill,
and then clattered away. The mill was not running, as it was flood
tide; and the water was rushing in from the sea, storing up the power
that made all mill–running possible. No one seemed to be in the great
barn–like mill, and few logs were accumulated there to feed the hungry
saws when their sharp teeth might be set in motion.

“It looks quiet,” thought Walter.

It certainly was quiet in the big, deserted mill; in the narrow little
road without; in the adjoining fields, so level and green; in the sky
above, through which the sunshine was silently poured down. Nothing
seemed to be stirring save the tide, racing up “Muskrat Creek,” and
that went with an almost intelligent sound. As it rushed, and eddied,
and gurgled, it seemed to say, “On hand, Boardman! We’ll start that
lazy mill, shortly.” Ah, there was one other object stirring, at the
office, store, shanty door, and this was Chauncy. He looked out into
the road, then up to the sky, and then over toward the mill, as if he
expected an arrival from some quarter.

“Ha, Plympton!” he shouted.

“Here I am,” replied Walter. “Am I late, Aldrich?”

“Oh no, but this is one of the days when the market seems to be
paralyzed. Haven’t had a customer, and not a log has been hauled to the
mill. However, Uncle Baggs is off stirring ’em up somewhere, and trade
will begin to move this way. He is a master hand to stir people up and
there will be a movement soon.”

Here he shoved back his cap, and showed that bristling wall of hair
behind which he seemed to be entrenched, and from that impregnable
position was defying all the world. His air was that of a challenge to
Walter to “come on” if he dared, and show that Bezaleel Baggs would not
“stir people up”; yes, “stir ’em up,” and bring on an immense movement
in “the market.”

“Well,” said Walter, dropping his traveling bag, “if there is little
to be done, I can get a chance to read a book I have in my bag. How
long do you want to be away? Suit yourself, you know. I am here to
accommodate you, and sha’n’t be needed at my uncle’s before six.”

“Oh, I will be back by five. Besides, my uncle may come, and he will
relieve you. He is a great hand to drop on folks sort of unexpected.”

“Well, when he drops, I don’t want to be exactly under him, for he
looks like solid weight.”

“Ha—ha! When Uncle Bezaleel _does_ come down on a man, he can drop
heavy. Well, good–bye and good luck to you.”

Off swaggered Chauncy, his cap at one side of his head; his whole air
that of some bragging money king, who had sallied forth to upset “the
market” in behalf of himself; or to accomplish some other great feat of
financial tumbling. Walter was left alone in the office. For awhile,
he read a recent report of the life saving service; for the world that
centered in the little building whose outlook and flags–taff he could
see from Uncle Boardman’s storedoor, interested him exceedingly. Nobody
appeared to interrupt him save a fly, that buzzed up to him vigorously,
in Chauncy’s style, but buzzed back immediately at a wave of the hand,
which was _not_ Chauncy’s style.

“Ah,” said Walter, after an hour’s fascinating reading, “I hear a
footstep. Somebody’s coming. A customer, probably.”

He let his book drop on the counter, and awaited this arrival. A young
man entered, whom Walter thought he had seen before; but where, he
could not readily say.

“He is not over twenty–one,” thought Walter. “He has a nice form.”

The young man had a frame of much symmetry, and the dress–coat that
he wore, instead of the loose blouse common among the fishermen and
farmers, brought out into distinct outline his well–shaped figure.
Although his look was that of a rather strong excitement, which flushed
his face, and gave it an unnatural eagerness, yet Walter was attracted
toward him at once. A little girl, who bore some resemblance to the
young man, closely followed him, clinging to the skirt of his coat. The
young man appeared to be looking for something on one of the shelves,
and with a twinkle of his blue eyes, and in musical, ringing tones, he
called out, “In some stores, they say on a card, ‘If you don’t see a
thing, ask for it.’”

“Well,” replied Walter, “Ask away. I would like to sell something to
somebody.”

The young man did not lower his eyes to notice Walter, but continued to
search with them the objects on the three shelves behind the counter.

“He can’t want soap, or matches, or that pile of mittens for
fishermen,” thought Walter.

The young man, himself, here expressed his wants.

“See here!” he said in a half–whisper, leaning forward. “Where’s that
big bottle Baggs keeps on the upper shelf, generally behind a bundle of
yarn?”

As he leaned forward, Walter noticed by his breath that he had been
drinking an intoxicant of some kind. He noticed also that the little
girl in the rear was now tugging at his coat, as if to pull him back
from an exposed position. Did the child say, “Don’t!”

“Go way, Amy! Don’t pull so!” exclaimed the young man rather testily.
Still he did not look round at this interferer, and he did not even
glance at Walter. His eager eyes were fastened on those generally
uninteresting objects, soap, yarn, and matches. Surely, there could be
no snake’s eye up there to bewilder one.

“Ah, I see the top of it! Just above that big lot of yarn on the third
shelf. That’s how I made my mistake—I was looking at the second shelf,
you see, and—and it’s the third—don’t Amy! Keep quiet, Amy! There,
if you’ll just get that down! A—my, stop!”

Was it a big sob, Walter heard behind this customer? The young man’s
look was no more eager now than Walter’s. The desire to know, was as
strong in the latter, as appetite was in the former, and Walter had
now mounted a rickety, flag–bottomed chair, and was pulling aside the
packages on the shelves. Reaching a big bundle of yarn on the uppermost
shelf, he saw the object of the young man’s intense desire; an immense
black bottle with an immense black stopper.

“There—there she is! Just hand her down; and if you have any water
handy, I’ll mix it myself, you know. Amy, you stop pulling, or I’ll
send you outdoors.”

The young man’s voice, though earnest, was not cross. Indeed, he had
endured a constant twitching from his small companion.

“Just hand her down, please.”

“Well, no, I think not, if it is liquor,” was Walter’s reply.

This, to the young man, was an unexpected turn of affairs. For the
first time, he now looked directly at Walter. Still, he stayed
good–natured, and that attracted Walter the more strongly.

“Why—why—of course it is liquor. You don’t suppose Baggs would hide
kerosene, say, behind his mothy old yarn, would he?” and the young man
laughed.

“Well, no, I should say not,” and Walter laughed also.

“You are here to sell, are you not?” asked the young man.

“Yes, I suppose I am, for the afternoon; but I didn’t agree to sell
everything Baggs might put into this old hole. I don’t know what your
business is, though your face looks natural; but if the man that
employed you, say to catch fish, should say some day, ‘There goes
somebody’s sheep in the road. I am going to shear it, and keep the
wool, and I want you to hold it, for I hired you to work for me,’ I
guess you would let your fingers burn first, before you would touch
the thing that was another man’s.” There was silence now in the little
shanty. The young man began to drum on the counter with his fingers.

“Then, it is against the law to sell liquor in this town,” observed
Walter.

“Oh, Baggs is cute to fix that,” replied the would–be customer in a
whisper. “You need not take any money now. Baggs _gives_ us a glass of
liquor to–day, and in a week from to–day, when we meet him, we say, ‘A
present, Mr. Baggs,’ and we _give_ him money enough to cover the worth
of the liquor.”

The young man was no longer looking at Walter, but at the bottle on the
shelf, as if addressing that.

“I should think,” said Walter, indignantly, “the devil himself would be
ashamed of that mean, underhanded way. I believe in being aboveboard
and honest. No, I am not going to have anything to do with this
business,” and as he spoke, he very resolutely thrust back the yarn,
hiding the bottle from the observation of all save those to whose sight
their appetite gave unusual keenness. While he was doing this, he heard
a noise at the door. It was only a slight stir at first, as of a lively
brush from the wind pushing its way past the door. It was just such
a “lively” effort of the wind, as at sea, may grow into a hurricane.
Turning toward the door, Walter saw Baggs. It was Baggs indeed, and
nobody else, but oh, what a change!

“Well, sir!” he roared.

How unlike that smooth–speaking, mild–tempered man, who usually went
by the name of Baggs! His face was ruffled and darkened with rage. His
skin seemed to be blown out; and as certain unnoticed pimples had
grown also, it had a mottled, puffy look, like that of a frog. In the
midst of this turgidity and discoloration, his twisted eye flashed and
wriggled in a frightful manner, while his voice was hoarse and blatant
as that of a fog–horn.

“You—you are a pretty—feller—in—in this store! Git—git—out of
this!” he shouted, catching his breath.

As his peculiarity of sight made it difficult to always tell whom he
might be looking at, both the young men glanced doubtfully at Baggs,
and then inquiringly at one another; as if about to say, “Whom does he
mean?”

“Git—git—out!” he roared again.

“Who—o—o?” asked the young man outside the counter.

“You—you—_you_!” said Baggs, with tremendous emphasis, advancing
toward the young man inside the counter. “I mean _you_, Walter
Plympton. I—I—have heard your—talk—talk—for the last five minutes.
I mean _you_, sir, whose—whose uncle I have been striving—ving—to
exalt to the—the—pin—pin—_nack_—ul of untold wealth. I mean _you_,
an ungrateful neph—neph—ew. I mean _you_, who wouldn’t give to a
fellow—that’s—that’s faint—a little sip—sip that would do him no
harm. Will the—law—law stop that work of—mer—mercy to the sick?
You were not—asked—as I understand—it—to sell, but simp—simply to
put—as I understand it—the bottle _here_.”

With new and frightful energy, Baggs here pounded the counter, which he
had struck several times before.

“You were not asked—asked—to do anything more. Will you—you
not—befriend the—the—”

Although Baggs’ philanthropy did not fail him, and he could have talked
an hour as the champion of the faint and weary, yet his breath _did_
desert him; and he stood there, gasping, “the—the—the—the—”

Baggs had a great reputation as orator at town meetings, and he was
declared by admirers “always to be equal to the occasion,” and it was
mortifying now to be found so unequal to this emergency. There was no
help for it, though. He could only gasp, “the—the—the—”

“Oh well,” remarked Walter, “I can go as well now, as any time. When
you catch me selling liquor, you will be likely to find at the same
time the Atlantic full of your mill–logs. Good–day, sir.”

This reference to Baggs’ logs, which were not numerous enough that day
to fill anything, so affected the orator, that he did succeed in making
a new forensic effort.

“Go, boy!” he thundered.

The next moment, Walter was rushing out of the door, as indignant on
the side of the clerk, as Baggs was on the side of the employer.

“Such impudence!” exclaimed Baggs, his wrath slowly subsiding. “If you
don’t feel just right, I’ll ’tend to you,” he said to the customer.
“I’ll trouble you to get down that bottle.”

The young man did not stir. He seemed to be in a stupor.

“What’s the matter?” asked Baggs. “Feel wuss?” and a sarcastic humor
lighted up his twisted eye.

“I’m going,” said the young man.

“And not take a drink?”

“No, I’ve seen enough of it. That young fellow is right in not selling,
and if he can’t sell, I won’t be fool enough to drink.”

“Come, come!” said a little voice behind him.

“Yes, Amy; I’m going,” and out of the store he went. Baggs was amazed.
He could not understand it.

“Well, if that ain’t queer!” he muttered. He began to wonder if the
recent scene were real, whether it might not have been a dream. There
was Walter, though, now almost out of sight; and the young man was
moving in the same direction, his coat–skirts still clutched by Amy.
These three were substantial witnesses to the reality of the affair;
and Baggs, wiping his forehead with a very red, and a very dirty
handkerchief, turned toward his desk in what was strictly the “office”
part of the shanty.

Walter did not intend to take the road he was now traveling, but when
he left Baggs, he was feeling so intensely, that the matter of a road
was too trivial to be noticed. The road in which he was walking led
him to The Harbor; and from this village, he could reach his uncle’s,
though his walk would be a long one.

“I have started,” he reflected, “and I might as well keep on. Besides,
if I turn back to take the right road, I shall have to pass Baggs’
office, and I don’t want to go near that rascal. I will walk a mile to
avoid him.” He tramped forward with a kind of fierce energy, busily
thinking.

“The idea! Wanting to exalt Uncle Boardman to a pinnacle of wealth! And
he has been constantly befooling him. He has been pretending to buy up
woodland far and near; and I don’t know but that he has bought it, in
one way, but I don’t believe he has paid for it. Aunt Lydia saw through
him all the time, and she was the sharpest of the lot. Then that liquor
business! Wasn’t he cunning, giving away his whiskey! Well, he found
one person who would neither sell, nor give for him.”

So intensely was Walter thinking, he did not notice how rapidly he was
passing through the little fishing–village. There were not more than
forty houses at The Harbor, and these were located anywhere along the
crooked line of the one narrow street. The neighborhood was very rocky,
and in and out among the ledges, wound this single street. Some of the
houses were very old, and their roofs were patched with moss. Planted
near the ledges, these ancient relics of domestic architecture seemed
more like masses of lichen, that had fastened on the ledges, becoming
a part of them; and resolute to maintain their rocky anchorage as long
as the rough sea winds, and the driving rains, would let them. The
village had a small store, whose proprietor considered himself as a
dangerous competitor of Boardman Blake, and a box schoolhouse, capped
with a rude little belfry, which never had entertained a bell as its
guest. It had also an unpainted “hall,” where one evening a dance might
be pounded out by the vigorous feet of the young men and women of the
village; the next evening might witness an auction; and if the third
evening belonged to Sunday, some kind of a religious service might be
held there. These three public buildings, the store, the schoolhouse,
the hall, Walter had passed. Chancing to look up, he said, “I am
almost through the village. I have been so mad, I have made pretty
quick time; and there is the road that goes up to Uncle Boardman’s;
and—and—there’s the ‘Crescent’! I have a great mind to go home that
way, by the Crescent.”

The Crescent was a peculiarity of rock and sand in the harbor. If it
had been simply a shoal of sand, though shaped like a young moon this
year, the shifting tides every day, the great storms of spring or
autumn, would have worked it over into something very unlike a young
moon another year. There were nubs of rocks at either end, and ledges
were scattered along the sides of this marine scimeter, so that a
measure of the restless sand was retained; and year after year, the
Crescent kept substantially its form.

At low tide, the Crescent could be easily reached by any pedestrian.
One in passing from The Harbor to Boardman Blake’s, could leave the
road, and at low tide cross over to the Crescent, pass along its ledges
and sand, and leaving it, at its easterly extremity, regain the land
without wetting the feet. This course would carry one not far from
the lane that straggled from the life saving station up to Boardman
Blake’s; and although a much longer route than by the road, it had its
attractions for those who liked to see the surf tumble on the rocks.
Walter was of this number, and instead of following any farther the
crooked street that wound among the ledges, and then curved toward
Boardman Blake’s store, he digressed at a point opposite the Crescent;
and he took the longer, but more romantic way home.

“I will cross to those rocks half way down the Crescent, and sit down
a while and watch the waves break over the rocks,” he said. “Splendid
place there.”

It was a tempting outlook upon the somersets thrown by those acrobats
of the ocean, the waves, when they reached the rocky line of the shore,
and there made tumble after tumble. Walter sat a long time watching and
thinking:

“Then I have run against Baggs,” he said, “and I didn’t anticipate
that. Wasn’t he mad! I never thought that smooth–talking man could
rave like one of these waves. I am sorry for Uncle Boardman’s sake, for
I imagine—poor man—he has enough to worry him, and my fuss with Baggs
may make him some trouble. But I don’t see what else I could have done.
That fellow—I wonder where I have seen him—had been drinking already,
and a glass or two more might have just finished him. I could not do
that; no, not even set down the bottle for him. And the law was against
it; and I could not in any way help break the law. Baggs could not ask
it of me, for I didn’t go there for any such purpose. No, sir! I think
I did the right thing, and I’ll stick to it, and stand by it.”

In his earnestness, Walter rose, stamped on the ledges with his feet,
as if to give emphasis to his opinion, and looked off on the wide ocean
of blue, whose play was as restless as that of his thoughts. And as
he looked, somehow it seemed to him as if he had the sympathy of that
wide reach of nature he was watching. The sky seemed to bend down to
him in an approval which the gently blowing wind whispered, and that
great ocean had a voice, sounding in the thousands of waves pressing
toward him, and saying in the roar of the surf, “You are right.” This
secret sympathy between law in nature and its keeper in the sphere
of principle, is one of the rewards of right–doing. And above all, in
his heart, Walter had the sense of satisfaction whose source he knew
to be God. He did not know what might be the personal consequences of
his difficulty with Baggs, but he felt that he was right; and he could
plant his feet on that assurance solid as the ledges under him. He
remained a long time watching the waves, till he was startled to see
what a protracted shadow his form threw on the black ledges.

“Sun is getting low,” he said. “I must be going.”

He turned, and moved away a short distance, when he turned again, and
looked back upon the rocks he had left.

“That is strange,” he said.

He noticed that this particular ledge, called the “Center Rock” by
the fishermen, had a divided summit. The outline of the eastern half
of this summit was curiously like that of a chair; as if placed there
in anticipation of an arrival by sea. No one, though, came out of the
great, empty waste of water, now rapidly blackening in the twilight.

“Sort of funny,” he exclaimed, and hurried away.

“Ho, what is this?” he asked. Looking toward the land, he noticed that
while he had been watching the waves, the tide had turned, and covered
the low, sandy flats with a floor of crystal.

“Well, it is not so very deep, and I can wade ashore,” said Walter.
He was untying his shoes, when he heard the noise of oars. As he
chanced to look up to see who might be coming, the boatman turned, and
resting on his oars, faced Walter. A smile as from an old acquaintance
overspread his features, and he called out, “Hold on there!”

A few more strokes, and the boat was on the sand at Walter’s feet.

“One good turn deserves another,” cried the boatman. “Jump in!”

“Oh, that you?” cried Walter. “Well, I will.” And into the boat he
jumped.

This opportune arrival was the young man he had met in Baggs’ store
that afternoon. He was dressed now for work, and wore a blue blouse.
It could not hide, though, his broad shoulders, and when he rowed, one
could but admire the easy, strong sweep of the arms.

“I was busy watching the waves,” explained Walter, “and I did not
notice that the tide had turned.”

“You would have crossed without much difficulty to the shore, though in
three hours from this time you might have done some swimming.”

“I am good for that.”

“Dare say. You would have got along, though they do tell some boogerish
stories about those rocks. Did you notice the ‘Chair’? It is on the
easterly side of what we call the ‘Center Rock.’”

“Oh yes, I saw that.”

“Well, they say a young girl was caught on the Crescent by the tide
toward night, and a rain and fog set in. Oh, it was years ago, and
we had no station here; and it was when the men folks used to go off
fishing down to Banks—the Newfoundland—and of course there were few
folks at home. I mean men folks. Some of the women thought they heard
screams in the night; but then in a storm, the waves keep up such a
pounding, you can hardly hear your own ears. The storm got worse all
that night, and in the morning, it was bad enough outside the Crescent.
Soon as the storm would let them cross over, some of the people went,
they say; but they didn’t find the girl.”

“Well, how did they know she stayed there? Perhaps she went somewhere
else.”

“They never heard of her anywhere else; and that reminds me of
something I didn’t put in. There was a fishing–sloop running along
the shore, and made harbor here. It passed by the Crescent in the
afternoon, and the skipper saw a girl sitting in what we call the
Chair, on the ocean side of Center Rock. That was the last seen of her,
and the weather had not set in rainy then. Oh, I have heard my mother
tell the story many times; and what was queer, there was a boy mixed
up with the affair,—the girl’s brother. My mother used to say that
the boy and girl had had some quarrel, and he asked her to go over to
Center Rock and see a curious chair there, knowing of course that the
tide would turn and bother her. I think he led her there, and left her
there. I don’t know as he intended anything so serious as her drowning,
but he was mad, and meant to punish her enough to frighten her. But it
set in raining, and the fog you know is bewildering; and then the storm
was pretty bad that night, and the waves wash clear over Center Rock in
a storm. Then my mother used to say—my mother is not living now—the
girl was a stranger here, and didn’t know what the Chair might do for
one. She and her brother were visiting here, I believe; and isn’t it
singular that their name should have been Baggs? Not singular that I
know of, only we had something to do with somebody of the same name
this afternoon, and one thing suggests another.”

The young man here rested on his oars, and looking into Walter’s face,
said: “You did a good thing for me, this afternoon.”

“I am glad if I did.”

“What I call ‘the craze’ was on me then. I had one glass, and that
is always enough to start me, and I thought I must have more. It was
strong, you know, and I can’t touch the stuff safely. It’s too powerful
for me. Our talk though, gave me a chance to think; and when Baggs
came, I surprised him by refusing it,—he offered it to me, you see.
Then I went home, and my sister—she is as good as she can be—gave me
a hot supper and some coffee, and I am all right now.”

“That’s good. I expect Baggs will want to pitch into me.”

“No, he won’t. He knows that I know something about his style of
handling that bottle, and I think that will hold him back. I believe
that he will be very glad to keep on the right side of you. If he
don’t, he will get on the wrong side of me. Baggs is a coward. He can
blow and bluster worse than a nor’easter, but he is a coward at the end
of it.”

“He must stop, though, his liquor business. If nothing more, it will
get my uncle into trouble. You see he owns the goods in—”

“Does he? I didn’t know that.”

“Yes, he owns what is in that pen.”

“Though not the pig, or the two pigs, I should say; counting in that
precious nephew of Baggs’. Ha–ha!”

“That selling, or giving, will give my uncle a bad name.”

“I see, I see, for it will come out and every body know it, sooner or
later, of course.”

“As for the liquor business itself, I won’t have anything to do with
it.”

“You are right, I know; and I want to do the right thing myself. I mean
to do right, and I have just promised my sister I would try again.”

“Ask God to help you,” said Walter in a hearty, boy–fashion.

“Well, yes, I suppose I ought. But here we are ashore, and sooner than
I thought for.”

The boat was in a little sand–cove where, affected by the Crescent, the
roll of the surf was very gentle.

“You go up to your uncle’s, I s’pose, and I go to the life saving
station. I am one of the crew there, and it was my turn to be off
to–day.”

“There! I thought I had seen you somewhere before.”

“I have seen you there, and you would have known me quicker, perhaps,
if I hadn’t shaved off my beard. That alters me somewhat.”

“But it seems to me as if I had seen you before I came this way.”

“Shouldn’t wonder. People meet, you know, under queer circumstances.”

“Hullo, Woodbury,” called out a man dressed like a fisherman, and
waiting on the rocks above the strip of sand. “I’ve been here
a–waitin’, some time.”

“Then his name is Woodbury,” thought Walter. “I know that much.”

The fisherman sprang into the boat vacated by Woodbury and Walter, and
thrusting his oar into the sand, pushed off at once. Woodbury went to
the left toward the station, while Walter took the lane to his uncle’s.

“I am very much surprised to know that Mr. Baggs would do anything
of the kind,” said Uncle Boardman in his slow, meditative way, when
Walter after supper related the affair of the day. Uncle Boardman, as
he spoke, worked his fingers nervously, as if they were pencils, with
which he was working out a problem on a slate.

“Sur–_prised_, Boardman?” inquired Aunt Lydia, thrusting forward her
sharp features. “You sur–_prised_? I am not. I don’t think there is
anything that mean critter won’t be up to, or down to, rather. I
ventur’ to say there’s been queer carryin’s on, if we only knew.” And
Aunt Lydia’s sharp face suggested the beak of a bird that was after its
prey; and woe be to that worm, the unhappy Baggs, if once before the
beak!

“I thought I ought to speak of the matter,” said Walter apologetically.
“I hate anything that looks like telling, but I knew you owned the
goods up there in Baggs’ place, and you might be involved in trouble.”

“Walter, don’t you ’polergize one bit. I shan’t take it, if Boardman
does. That mean critter don’t deserve nary a ’polergy.”

“Jingle, jingle!” went the warning bell in the store.

“I will go, uncle.”

“Oh, no! Somebody may want me.” When Uncle Boardman returned, he
remarked, “I thought as much. It was—”

“Baggs?” said Aunt Lydia eagerly guessing.

“Yes, and I thought there must be some extenuating circumstances.
He brought it in while we were talking together, saying he had had
occasion to give a little liquor to some of the fishermen when sick and
faint, and he allowed that he might have been mistaken, in other cases.”

“Why should he receive presents of money afterwards, and why not take
it at the time, if everything was all right, uncle?”

“Now, Boardman, you mean to be charitable,” ejaculated Aunt Lydia, “and
it says charity shall hide a multitude of sins, but sich a big sinner,
you can’t kiver him up. His sins _will_ stick out.”

“Oh, well, Lydia, I only mean to say what can be said for him, and he
allows he hasn’t always done just right, but he promises to stop.”

“But what will the poor, sick, faint fishermen do?” inquired Aunt Lydia
solicitously, and in a sarcastic tone.

Uncle Boardman, though, had taken a candlestick from the mantel–piece,
had lighted a long specimen of tallow manufacture, by Aunt Lydia, and
was passing out of the door that led upstairs to his chamber.

“Well, I guess,” said Uncle Boardman good–naturedly laughing, “we will
send ’em round to you. I don’t know of a better hand to take care of
tramps and paupers.”

Aunt Lydia had a peculiarity, and that was the indiscriminate relief of
everybody who might ask for her charity. In that way, she had nourished
some very deserving souls, behind the pitiful looks and shabby garments
pleading at her door, and she had also nourished some who were not so
deserving, but were frauds of the worst kind.

The tallow candle carried by Uncle Boardman had now withdrawn its
diminutive rays, and his footsteps had ceased sounding on the
uncarpeted stairway leading to the second story.

“There,” declared Aunt Lydia, “if that man wasn’t a saint, I wouldn’t
take folks’ heads off like that ere Baggs’. There, they do set right
down on him; and it jest riles me.”

“Aunt,” inquired Walter, “did you ever hear about an accident at the
Chair, on the Crescent, when it was said a girl went there, and the
tide cut her off from the land?”

“A storm comin’ up that night?”

“That’s the time.”

“Oh, yes, only it happened thirty years ago. But, Walter—” and Aunt
Lydia looked at him with her sharp, black eyes—“though it was so long
since, I can see that ere gal now.”

“Did you see her?”

“Of course. She went by our winders right down that ’ere road. Poor
thing! She never came back.”

“What was it her brother did?”

“Why, they was a–visitin’ here, and they had some quarrel, and he
urged her to go there, they said, and he met her beyond the house and
went with her. Then, they said, he left her there on purpose—told her
suthin’ to keep her there, I s’pose—and she didn’t know ’bout the
tides, and was caught. I b’lieve he ’lowed to somebody arterwards that
he hadn’t done jest right.”

“Was his name Baggs?”

“Bagster.”

“Oh!”



CHAPTER VIII.

AT THE STATION.


Walter was at the life saving station looking up a stairway leading
from the crew’s room to an open scuttle in the roof. If Walter had put
his head out of the scuttle, he would have seen a railing, hemming in
a small platform; and from its center, rose a modest flag–staff. There
was no chance though for explorations, as the way was entirely blocked.
On the stairway, Walter saw an immense pair of boots, and above them
a stout pair of legs; and then a man’s bulky body, roofed by a huge
“sou’wester.”

“No room for me to pass there,” thought Walter.

The man held in his hand the object that at a life saving station comes
under the head, “marine glasses.”

“Do you see anything?” asked Walter recognizing the man to be Tom
Walker.

“Only a fishin’ smack, and a mean one at that. It’s my watch, you know.”

The boots, the legs, the big body, and the sou’wester all came down.

“Step up if you want to, Walter.”

Climbing the stairway, Walter swept the sea with his bright eyes, and
then looked landward across the black rocks and the fading fields. Then
he turned toward the sea again. Off in the east was the fishing smack,
slowly sailing in the sun. Then he looked up at the flag–staff, which
carried some specimen of marine architecture on its top.

“I see two craft,” said Walter.

“Two?” inquired Tom, solicitously.

“The fishing smack and this on top of the staff.”

“Ho—ho!” roared Tom.

“Only I can’t make out this second one in the air.”

“It _was_ a brig, but the last gale we had tore away its rigging, and
made some improvements; and I don’t know what on airth or water to call
that thing. I guess she is ’phibious, and will go on either.”

Walter’s eager eyes caught a glimpse of a box, on a landing half way up
the stairway to the lookout, and from this box projected bundles of
cloth, here and there showing bits of color.

“That is the signal box?” remarked Walter.

“Yes. Sometime I will explain them to you.”

“Will you?” inquired Walter, his hazel eyes snapping at the prospect
of this new continent of knowledge,—the signal department of the life
saving service.

“Sartin. Give you a hint now. For instance, we have a pennant, a
triangular flag, blue, with a white ball in it; and if I h’ist it, it
would mean ‘no’ to some question asked by a vessel off shore signaling
to me. Or, s’posin’ I h’isted a white pennant with a red ball. That
would mean ‘yes.’”

Walter desired to overhaul that unpretending box at once, but he knew
he must return to the store; and he only remarked, “I would like to see
all those signals out sometime.”

“I guess you can without any doubt. You take a good deal of interest in
our station, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do. It is something entirely new to me.”

“You would make a pretty good surfman,” said Tom, glancing approvingly
at Walter’s compact frame. “Woodbury Elliott says you row a pretty
good stroke.”

“Oh! That his name? I came in his boat from the Crescent the other
night.”

“Yes,” said Tom deliberately, looking at Walter’s frame as if he were a
recruiting officer examining the physical points of a candidate for the
ranks of Uncle Sam’s army. “I think, I think—you would do.”

Walter laughed. “I guess I must be a storekeeper. However, I am pleased
if you think I have strength enough for a surfman.”

Tom now turned away, and with his glass swept the misty horizon again.

“There is the fishin’ smack,” he said. “And hullo! What’s that? I
missed her afore, sartin.”

“What is it?”

“She’s a fore–and–aft, sure as you are born; and—and—it is a coaster,
and she’s headin’ this way. Queer I missed her.”

“I didn’t see her. Uncle Boardman is expecting a coaster to come after
a load of potatoes. I wonder if that’s the one!”

“I shouldn’t wonder one bit. It’s hazy where she is, and that’s the
reason we didn’t see her.”

“I think I had better report that to uncle.”

“Of course,” remarked the surfman, pointing his glass again at the
schooner. “She may go somewhere else, but she acts to me as if she
wanted to run in at The Harbor.”

“I think I will tell Uncle Boardman.”

“What does she bring here, if it’s bound here for your uncle’s
potatoes?”

“I believe she brings a variety of things; some groceries for the
store, some salt for the fishermen, and so on. Her cargo is what they
call miscellaneous.”

It was not long before a coasting schooner was beating off the mouth of
the harbor, saying plainly by her actions that she wished to make port
as soon as possible.

“It must be the _Olive Ann_,” declared Boardman Blake; “and, Walter, I
think you had better go down to Spring’s wharf, and see if everything
is ready for the coaster there.”

Walter went to the wharf. Jabez Wherren, a fisherman, stood leaning
against an oaken pier, watching the fluttering efforts of the coaster
to reach a sheltered resting–place.

“I expect that is a schooner uncle is expecting, and she will come
here, Mr. Wherren. Will you look after her, please? I must go back to
the store.”

Receiving from the gray–headed old man a promise that he would
give the _Olive Ann_ a reception befitting a dame of her commercial
position, Walter hurried away. He returned to the store, and then left
again in an hour for the wharf, above which now shot up two tapering
masts, signaling the arrival of the coaster. He was passing the
schoolhouse at The Harbor, when a little girl playing on the rough step
of stone before the door, looked up and said, “I know you.”

It was Woodbury Elliott’s young companion, the day he had visited
Baggs’ shanty, and found Walter there.

“Oh, that you?” said Walter stopping. “Do you go to school here?”

“Yes.”

“Who is your teacher?”

“Sister.”

“Don’t you have any school to–day?”

“School is just out, but my sister hasn’t gone.”

“I wonder if she is the one that Woodbury said gave him his supper and
hot coffee,” thought Walter. “She knew how to cure a man in trouble.”

“Good afternoon,” said a pleasant voice in the entry. Walter looked
up, and there before him, advancing also toward him with a hand
outstretched in welcome, was May Elliott. The old schoolhouse in
the fishing village seemed to disappear at once, as by the touch
of a magician’s wand. In its place, was the academy. Again, it was
“composition day,” and in May Elliott’s hand was a schoolgirl’s
composition, from which she was reading these words: “The life that
does not take into account the need of those about us, that does not
take into account another life, that does not take God into account, is
making a serious mistake.”

All this came to Walter, and he stood in a daze.

“Don’t you know me, Plympton? May Elliott?”

“Oh, yes,” he said, quickly recovering from his surprise. “But I was
not looking for you, and—”

“It gave you a surprise? Won’t you come in?”

“I am glad to see you, Miss Elliott. Why, I didn’t know you were here!”

He followed her into the low–storied schoolroom, and sat down in a
chair that she placed for him near the door.

“Yes, I am here. My home is here at The Harbor, and you can see the
house through this window; that white house beyond the fishflakes in
the field. There are some apple–trees back of it, which you can see.”

“I didn’t know you were here,” said Walter again, looking off from the
house, and rapidly taking the picture of the young teacher. She was
hardly of medium height, and was simply clad, in a black alpaca dress,
wearing at her throat a crimson ribbon pinned with a small cross of
gold. Her brown hair was very soft and fine, and of a luxuriant growth.
Her features were a little irregular, but her complexion was fair, and
then a certain brightness and directness of look gave her blue eyes a
magnetic power.

“Yes,” she laughingly said, “I suppose you would call me the village
‘schoolmarm,’ at least, this fall. When I was a little girl, I
remember—sitting on one of those benches in front,—I had an ambition
to be some day the teacher of the school. But, Plympton, I have been
wanting to see you, and thank you for your kindness to my brother,
Woodbury. He has—has—a weakness, as you know; and what you did that
afternoon, checked him when he was sorely tempted.”

“I am very glad if I did any good. And—and—I have thought I would
like to thank _you_, sometime.”

“For what?”

“Do you remember your composition?”

“Oh, I believe I wrote a number of them. Which one was it?”

“That one called, ‘What are we living for?’ That influenced me a good
deal,” said Walter, rising as if to go.

“Did it? I never knew that it helped anybody, except, perhaps, it set
me to thinking more fully afterwards on the subject. Are you going?”

“I think I must. But I want to thank you for what you said; and if I
can help Woodbury, I will.”

In response, there was a bright look of sincere pleasure shining out
of May Elliott’s face. Through the day, a pair of blue eyes followed
Walter in his thoughts, as if intent to overtake him and ask him some
question.

“Miss Elliott keeps your school,” he said to Jabez Wherren on the wharf
at a little later hour.

“May, you mean? Wall, yes, and she’s a smart leetle critter, not more’n
sixteen or seventeen; but she makes them young ones toe the mark, I
tell ye. We all think a good deal of May; brought up here amongst us,
you know. There’s Woodbury, her brother; a smart feller as ever lived,
if he would never tech liquor. He might be a captain of his own craft,
jest as easy, jest as easy—as—as—mud.” After this expressive and
telling simile, Jabez recovered the breath he had lost in that effort,
and continued: “It’s a bright family, the Elliotts is. That little
Amy, she’ll beat the whole school a–spellin’—that is, all of her age.
Woodbury’s father and mother are well–to–do, forehanded folks. He’s a
skipper, and is on this very schooner. What’s that?”

Jabez was now directing his attention to the gangway of the _Olive
Ann_, which had been securely moored to the little wharf. A colored
boy in a shabby brown suit was disembarking, carrying a very small
bundle in his hand. Springing out upon the wharf, he looked in various
directions, as if a stranger, and he was calculating which way he had
better go. A choice between two routes offered itself, and he chanced
to take that which would lead him to Boardman Blake’s store.

“Who’s that passenger?” asked Jabez of Captain Elliott, a muscular,
heavy man of fifty.

“I can’t say. He shipped at New York, and worked for his passage. He
wanted to be off soon as I could spare him, and I said he might go now,
or stay longer. He’d rather be off now. I’m afeared he won’t pick up
any work very soon, but he will probably push on till he finds some
sort of a chance.”

Walter went home thinking of this unknown youth, a stranger, homeless,
tramping off anywhere. Aunt Lydia met him in the kitchen. A very broad
grin was on her face, as if the old lady had found a prize that made
her very happy.

“Come into the addition,” said she, beckoning mysteriously. “Step
softly, you know. I’ve got suthin’ to show you.”

The “addition” was built on to the rear of the house, and contained two
rooms, the lower being a kind of store–room.

“There!” said Aunt Lydia, pointing at the corner.

Curled up under an old quilt, a smile brightening a face happy in a
trip to some beautiful dream–land, was the “passenger,” as Jabez had
entitled him, who had just arrived per coaster _Olive Ann_.

“Ho, Aunt Lyddy! You got Young Africa there?” whispered Walter.

“Yes, and I didn’t have the heart to turn him away. You see he came
to the door, and sort of mournful, looked up and asked for a leetle
suthin’ to eat, and said he would work first, and I didn’t have the
heart to refuse him. Then I sez, ‘Where you goin’?’ ‘Dunno,’ he sez;
and I thought it wasn’t jest Christian to let him go a–wanderin’ off
into the world when the night was a–comin’, and I sez, pointin’ to
your Uncle Boardman in the barnyard, ‘you might ax that man, and if
he’s a–willin’, and can give you suthin’ to do, you can stay here
till mornin’.’ And it would have done your soul good to have seen how
grateful that child was when Boardman sez—and I knew he would—‘I’ll
leave it to Lyddy.’”

“What’s his name?” asked Walter, when they were in the kitchen once
more, leaving that “child” to his happy rest under Aunt Lyddy’s
homemade bedquilt; which, like its owner, was a little rough on the
outside, but exceedingly warm within.

“Pedro White, he told me. And jest think, I told it to your Uncle
Boardman, and he laffed and said ‘Pedro’ was Spanish, and he ought to
be called ‘Don Pedro.’ You know your uncle has read a ’mazin’ sight.”

Aunt Lydia had a very large respect for her husband’s “book–larnin’,”
as she called it. It must be acknowledged though, that before
the pressure of each day’s necessities, Uncle Boardman, with his
“book–larnin’,” would often retreat; while Aunt Lydia, gifted only
with her sharp, practical sense, would advance triumphantly. This fact
does not prove that book knowledge is of little worth. It is extremely
valuable. It should go hand in hand with excellent judgment to make it
of the greatest value to its possessor. “That child” slept profoundly
under Aunt Lydia’s bedquilt, which rivaled the rain–bow in its many
colors and the sunshine in its warmth.



CHAPTER IX.

THE HALL SERVICE.


Did I not say there was only one store at The Harbor? I beg Miss P.
Green’s pardon. She did not claim in so many words to “keep store,”
and yet if anybody had actually denied her right to the use of that
grand word, “store,” there would have been a tempest at The Harbor.
She merely said that she “kept a few little articles”; and yet the
black king of the Bigboos in the depths of Africa, would not think
more of a red handkerchief and a hand looking–glass, than Miss P.
Green did of her three shelves of “goods,” and one small show–case of
pins, needles, gooseberries, lemon drops, and stationary, in her front
room. Gooseberries and lemon drops, I say, for Miss P. Green kept only
these, believing that you could sell more if you kept one article,
and “got your name up” on the merits of that one article. In this
case there were two articles; but never were there such gooseberries
before, nor have there been such lemon drops since. The gooseberries
would have been excellent to pitch with—just big, and hard, and round
enough—at a game of baseball; and as for the lemon drops, into what
rapture those sugared acids, or that acidulated sugar rather, would
throw any schoolboy or girl, at “recess–time.” Then Miss P. Green kept
the post–office! There is no adjective I can now recall, of sufficient
magnitude and magnificence to represent the importance which Miss P.
Green attached to this position. Her ideas were not unduly exalted
until she had seen the Boston post–office, and enjoyed an interview
with the Boston post–master. She then felt that her position was
unusual. She never looked upon her humble wooden walls as she came
down the street, but that they changed to a granite façade, with lofty
doors and pillars; and when she entered her abode she walked at once
upon a marble pavement. What importance she felt when she handled the
stamp, whose magic impress she must first make, before any letter could
start on its travels from The Harbor. The Great Charlemagne pounding
with his golden seal, did not feel half as grand. And those clumsy
leathern pouches that were called mai–lbags, and which only Miss P.
Green could open—how she venerated them! True Billings, the driver
of the mail–wagon, handled them roughly, and pitched them upon the
doorstep without ceremony, bawling out, “Here you have ’em!” By the
post–mistress, they were approached with a certain respect and awe,
whose weight would crush the official opening the great treasury–vaults
of the nation, did he regard these with corresponding feelings of
importance. It was stoutly secured to the door frame outside with good
shingle nails, that sign indicating Miss P. Green’s official place in
The Harbor world: “Post–office.” On the door leading from the entry
into the front room was the name “P. Green.” This indicated her place
in the great world of trade. If it had been attached to the outer door,
it would have saved me an ugly omission, for I should at once have
given her honorable mention in the business list of The Harbor. The
sign occupied an outer position once, but boys do not always have that
respect for authority which is becoming, and had changed the name one
night to “Pea Green.” It was indignantly withdrawn the next day. It was
just as well removed, I dare say, for if she had continued to daily see
those two signs, “Post–office,” and “P. Green,” as she approached the
building, the sense of her official and commercial importance would
finally have been too much for her. As it was, she passed from the
contemplation of one sign to the other, and there was a gradual letting
down from that sense of exaltation which she had on seeing the front
door.

But all of Miss P. Green’s merits have not been mentioned. She was a
very little body, and that may seem a detraction from her excellencies,
and yet it was only another praiseworthy feature; for never in such
small compass was packed so much knowledge. No “Saratoga” trunk ever
went to “Springs,” so loaded, crowded, jammed. She was the village
register; could tell the births and deaths and marriages for the
year, giving each date. Not so surprising a fact, considering that
the village was small; but when you add to this a complete knowledge
of every household, how many were in each family, their names,
occupations, what they had for breakfast, dinner and supper, what time
they went to bed, and what time they left their beds, the register
kept by P. Green, grew into a village directory and a village history.
But this tree of knowledge did not stop its growth here. It had other
branches. She knew all of the mysteries of dressmaking and millinery;
had a large acquaintance with housekeeping and nursing; kept posted in
politics, and considered it her duty to defend the “administration,”
though unfairly denied the right of suffrage.

One of the latest achievements of this encyclopedia, was to obtain
complete and reliable information about the life saving station. This
she had done by carefully cultivating the acquaintance of Keeper
Barney. She was now at work on these two subjects, the Baggs family
and all its branches; also the Plympton family; and this had the
second place, as Walter’s arrival was the more recent. Such a wonder!
So very much in so very little! It was a terrible satire on her size,
that misnomer Pea Green, for in one sense it was exceedingly unjust.
Not even the mammoth peas that grow in the land of the giants, could
furnish so much comfort and delight to a dining circle of twelve, as
this feminine wonder by the sea. And to all hungry gossipers, she did
what no restaurant will do; she fed without cost all who came.

It was the most natural thing in the world, then, that Aunt Lydia
should say one day to Walter, “I know how I can find out. I can ask
Miss Green.”

She accordingly went to the post–office and asked Miss Green as
follows: “My nephew, Walter Plympton, wants to know about the Hall. Who
has the say about it; that is, who lets people use it?”

Miss Green was delighted. She would not only find out what this use
of the Hall might mean, but oh, what an opportunity to learn about
the Plympton family! Sitting on a tall stool, which was an innocent
contrivance to eke out her scanty height, she persuasively bent her
gray curls over the show–case. Her once bright eyes had softened down
to a faded blue; and time had laid on her forehead and cheeks its stamp
whose mark was as certain as that of the begrimed die with which she
fiercely struck the daily mail. She had a pleasant voice, an affable
manner, a temperament sunny and hopeful; and people liked to talk with
the post–mistress. The initiated also knew that in a certain back
sitting–room there was a brown teapot always kept on the stove, adding
to the charms of that snug retreat to which any tea–toper might be
favored with an invitation.

“The Hall! Indeed! Going to be a singing–school?—a—a?” inquired the
post–mistress.

“Oh, no! Now it’s strange Walter should have such a notion, you may
think, but he’s one of that kind whose head is allers full of suthin’.
He came to me yesterday, and sez to me, ‘Aunt Lyddy!’ Sez I, ‘What?’
He didn’t say any more, for suthin’ called him to the door, and I was
a–ironin’ and went on where I was. It was warm, you know. Don’t you
think it was? I did feel it over the ironin’.”

Aunt Lydia had a tantalizing way sometimes of telling a story. She
would enter very fully into details, amplifying little items and
leaving the main subject untouched.

“But the point—the point—Lyddy,” gently observed the post–mistress.

“Oh, yes. By and by he came back agin; and what do you s’pose he said
he was a thinkin’ about?”

“I don’t know.”

“I was then in the kitchen. No, I was standin’ afore the clock—yes—”

“But that’s no matter. What did he say, Lyddy? The point, dear?”

“Well, he axed who had the say about the Hall. I told him I didn’t
know; and how could I be ’spected to know, Phebe?”

“Of course not. Then you want to know who can let him or anybody else
have the Hall? It’s Cap’n Elliott, you know. He’s the trustee, as I
call it. Why, the Hall was given by old Nathan Grant for the good of
The Harbor, he said, and he made Cap’n Elliott trustee. So Walter must
ask him.”

“I see, I see.”

“Now, Lyddy! Is Walter’s father’s name Adoniram?”

Aunt Lydia perceived at once that the post–mistress now wished to take
her turn in obtaining information, and she knew it would be a long
turn. She moved towards the door, remarking, “Oh, no, it’s Ezra. Thank
you, Miss Green; I guess I must be a–goin’.”

“But do take a cup of tea before you go,” pleaded Miss Green, fastening
on Aunt Lydia a beseeching look. At the same time, the post–mistress
sidled down from her tall, four–legged throne, and began to move
towards the little brown teapot. Aunt Lydia said something to the
effect that yesterday it was warm, but it was a “chilly east wind
to–day”; and she followed the post–mistress in the direction of the
warmer atmosphere of the teapot. Having obtained all the knowledge she
wished in the Plympton line, Miss P. Green poured out another cup of
tea, and remarked suddenly, “And isn’t Baggs queer?”

“Queer! That don’t begin to describe him, Phebe.”

“He was here the other day. Came, you know, on special business about
his mail, and said he had been a–trying to get down here I don’t know
how long. He wanted an arrangement so that letters could come to him,
in a box. Now that’s very nice, you know, when you have a class of
customers wanting it. They have boxes in the Boston post–office you
know, and I thought I might take it into consideration. He said he was
going to send out circulars about something, and answers would come for
‘Rambler, Box one,’ if I would put one in for him. Well, if you believe
it, before I had a chance to give him an answer, he went to that window
in the office that looks toward the harbor—the offing, I mean.” Miss
Green was, or aimed to be, very correct, having once taught school.
“What a start he gave! and he turned round, pale as—as—that paint on
the office–door.” It was not very white. “I didn’t seem to notice it,
but only said in an off–hand way, ‘Do you see anything, Mr. Baggs?’ I
thought it might be a vessel sailing in. But he didn’t take any notice.
Then I said again—mild, sort of—‘The sea quiet, Mr. Baggs? Anything
out of the way? Can you see the Chair? You know if we can’t see the
Chair on account of fog, it is a bad sign any way; and every day,
people look off there.’ You ought to have seen that man start again and
almost give a real jump. ‘Chair?’ he said. ‘What have I got to do with
that Chair? Chair?’ And if he didn’t rush out of the store! I couldn’t
see anything that was the matter with the Chair. And there that man who
had been so anxious to see me, went off and left everything unsettled.
Now wasn’t it queer, Lyddy?”

“Yes, but that Baggs is a very, very unprofitable subject of talk
for me, and I have made up my mind to shet my mouth on him—for the
present.”

Aunt Lydia’s mouth here shut with all the decision of a portcullis.

Miss Green, though, was not prepared to close her portals of speech,
and question after question did she ask about the Plymptons, back to
the first that came from England.

If she had only known there was a Don Pedro in the world! She had a way
of pursing up her mouth after a question, and then of fastening on one
a very direct look, and all this was as irresistible as a corkscrew
in the presence of a stopper. Aunt Lydia left the post–mistress and
returned home.

But what was Walter’s object that led to this interview? What did he
want the Hall for? St. John’s, the parish church, was a mile and a
half away. On days when the wind was right, its bell could be heard
faintly, musically calling all souls to prayer. Not often though did
these sweet notes travel as far as The Harbor, and the consequence
was, that very few souls traveled up to church. In fair weather, Miss
Green and Mrs. Jabez Wherren might walk there, or they would report at
Uncle Boardman’s in season to take passage in his big covered wagon
that, rain or shine, was sure to be heard rattling along to St. John’s
every Sunday. The remainder of the population virtually ignored St.
John’s, and St. John’s ignored them. Its clergyman came down to say a
few words of Christian farewell over the bodies that might rest behind
the stunted firs in the little cemetery swept by the sea–winds, or to
join for a life–long clasp, the two hands willing thus to fall into one
another. Otherwise St. John’s had very little to do with The Harbor,
and The Harbor responded in the same fashion.

“Why,” thought Walter, walking down through The Harbor one Sunday, “it
doesn’t look much like Sunday down here. Uncle Boardman doesn’t live in
one of these houses.”

The Harbor village had anything but that Sunday look which marked Uncle
Boardman’s premises. Some of the fishermen were out in their yards
overhauling and mending their trawls. One or two were doing a little
autumn work in their rough gardens. In an open lot behind the gray,
lichen–patched ledges, several young fishermen, in red shirts, were
playing ball. There was a row of fishing–smacks at an ancient wharf,
and their owners were improving Sunday’s convenient leisure for the
accomplishment of odd little jobs. Sunday at The Harbor was respected
by the inhabitants after their peculiar fashion. Every fishing–boat
came back to its quiet moorings before Sunday, as promptly as if a
police force had ordered it there. Then came a day at home, not of
entire abstinence from work, but of less work. To do less, not to quit
work altogether, was the Sunday fashion of The Harbor. A man would have
lost caste, and been ranked as a heathen, if he had taken his boat out
to sea, every Sunday. He might stay at home, and be busy all day with
little “jobs,” and not hurt his reputation for religion. One fisherman
abstained entirely from work, Jabez Wherren. He did not go to church,
declaring that “somebody must stay at home and look arter it; at which
place all religion began.” He did not work though. He would lounge
about all day, dressed in his very best suit, and decked out with some
very bright necktie, and flourishing a flaming red or yellow silk
handkerchief, so that he looked like a man–of–war decorated with flags.
Because he did not go to church, Jabez knew that his wife ranked him
as a very deficient being; but on the other hand, because he did not
work, he was well aware that in the eyes of his fellow–fishermen, he
was regarded as a person of superior virtues. In his walk that Sunday,
Walter at last was opposite the Hall, an antiquated, one–storied
building that needed the services of both painter and carpenter. It was
prefaced, though, by a porch, with two very imposing Doric pillars.
This porch compensated for all deficiencies; and the villagers walking
between those pillars felt grand as a Roman army, marching under the
triumphal arch of Titus, in the “Eternal City.” Walter halted before
the Hall and there held this soliloquy. “I have got an idea. Mother
wanted me to do some special religious work; and, I’m afraid—I know I
haven’t. She wanted me to get people to go to church if they didn’t go,
and now here is a chance. There’s the new rector at St. John’s. He is
young, and full of life, and I wonder if he couldn’t come down here and
hold services, once every now and then at any rate. It would be just
the thing, I declare.” Walter’s hazel eyes snapped with interest, and a
smile swept over his round, full face.

“What’s Boardman Blake’s nephew up to, a lookin’ at the Hall?” wondered
Jabez Wherren. Walter did not relieve him of his wonder, but soon
turned about and went home.

“The first thing,” he said, “is to find out who has the letting of the
Hall.”

Aunt Lydia ascertained this fact for him, and informed him that the
trustee was May Elliott’s grandfather.

“Then I must go and see the schoolmarm,” remarked Walter, “and get her
to help me.”

“Then you’re going to really try?” said Aunt Lydia.

“Yes,” answered Walter positively.

“Seems to me they might go up to St. John’s.”

“But they won’t, and St. John’s must come to them.”

“Now, Walter, I don’t want to throw a speck of cold water on it, but do
you expect to succeed?”

“Well, Aunt, it won’t do any harm to try, and I am going to expect to
succeed, too. I was reading about Admiral Farragut, what he said, that
any man who is prepared for defeat would be half defeated before he
commenced. He said he hoped for success and would try to have it, and
trust God for the rest.”

“It looks to me jest like castin’ pearls afore swine.”

Walter laughed, and said he would go to the schoolhouse and find its
mistress. May said she would see her grandfather, and ask for the Hall.

“But whom shall we get to play? Somebody said there was a melodeon in
the Hall, and somebody else said—you—you played on it.”

“And you want me to play? Well, I will do what I can. I am interested,
and where I can help, I will. I will see if I can’t get two or three
singers.”

That day, May went to her grandfather’s. He sat by the window of his
little house that looked out upon the river racing, at the base of the
rough, rocky banks, toward the wide, restless sea. He was not a happy
old man. True he had been a successful seaman. He had a sufficient
amount of property to make him comfortable. He had no vices to regret.
He had, though, known sorrow, losing wife and children. He and his
housekeeper were the only ones in his home. He had been disappointed
in his grandson, Woodbury, whom he desired to share his home with; and
people said that old Capt. Elliott wished to give Woodbury the largest
fraction of the money and other valuables he was supposed to keep in a
certain bulky safe in his sitting–room. Woodbury, though, in the short
interval he had tried to live at his grandfather’s, had been twice
intoxicated, and the last time angry words had flamed between them like
hot coals that they were throwing. He left the house in wrath, and in
wrath Capt. Elliott shut the door after him. The captain was not a
religious man. He was very honest, and having once been cheated by a
professor of religion who was a very scanty possessor of it, wholly
lacking it indeed, Capt. Elliott ever afterwards declared himself
superior to the character that the church required. He shut out God
from his soul, because a hypocrite shut him out from his dues. He made
his honesty his all, and was a prayerless, peevish, fault–finding,
selfish old man. When May called, he was still looking out of the
window. The sea–wind lifted and let fall his thin, white hair, but
could not lift from his stern, sharp–cut features, the shadow of a
cheerless, selfish life. He heard his granddaughter’s voice, and turned
to meet her. When she had made her request, he said, “For how long do
you want the Hall?”

“Oh, I don’t know. We are going to begin at any rate. We want to see
what interest there will be.”

“Well, yes, I s’pose you can have it. That’s what the Hall is for, to
hold all kind of reason’ble meetin’s.”

Here May made a bold movement, and her blue eyes were full of courage
as she asked, “And, grandfather, won’t you come too?”

“Oh, nonsense, child! I have more religion now than you could pack into
St. John’s. Why, I’d be ashamed to do what some of them folks do.”

May was a strategist. She knew it was useless to argue with him. She
also knew that he liked to hear her play her melodeon in the sacred
parlor at home, kept in state there all the week with the dried grasses
on the mantel, and the family register on the wall, and the big family
Bible on the mahogany table.

“Won’t you come to hear me play?”

“May, I’ll make this agreement. I’ll come down and stay as long as
you play and sing, but I’m not a–goin’ to stay and have any min’ster
advise me in a long sermon, for I know as much as he about it, and more
too.”

“Well, grandfather, stay while the singing lasts.”

There was another invitation extended. This was given by Walter to
Chauncy Aldrich.

“Ah, ah,” said Chauncy in his self–important way, lifting his hat, and
with great dignity running his hand through his wall of hair, “you want
me to honor the place with the presence of C. Aldrich? Yes, I’ll come.
But look here, none of your long, prosy sermons, but something warm,
and something short. Ha, ha!”

One by one, all preparations were made for the service. Miss Green
promised to lend her cracked voice to the “choir,” and two or three
young fishermen offered to roar in the bass. Don Pedro, whom Uncle
Boardman had kept at his house to assist in some of the autumn work
on the farm, made himself very helpful in sweeping out the Hall and
arranging its seats.

“What time do you expect the clergyman will hold the service?” inquired
Miss Green, as Walter was about leaving the post–office one day.

“Oh, I think he will come in the evening, if we want him,” replied
Walter.

“There!” reflected this young master of ceremonies as he left the
house. “If that isn’t just like me! I declare if I didn’t forget to
ask the clergyman! But of course he will come, and I will take Uncle
Boardman’s team and go up at once, to ask him.”

Alas, the rector couldn’t come!

Walter drove back in despair.

“I’ll stop at the schoolhouse and see the schoolmarm,” he said, “and
ask what is to be done, though I know she will laugh at me.”

The school had just been dismissed; and May only lingered to set away
her few books in her desk.

“Ah, Miss Elliott,” said Walter confusedly. “I—I—I’m afraid it
doesn’t look hopeful—about—about our Hall service?”

“Why not?”

He laughed, and blushed, and said frankly, “I went ahead and got
everything ready but the minister!”

“You hadn’t spoken to him!”

“No, and it was just like me, mother would say. I got my cart and had
it nicely packed, or you did rather,” a compliment which made the young
teacher look quite rosy,—“I got my cart, but I hadn’t thought about
my horse! When I spoke just now to Dr. Ellton, he said his hands were
full, and he couldn’t possibly come. Just like me! I needed it perhaps,
for I was saying, ‘What a grand thing I am helping along!’ And here is
my cart all packed and ready to start, and where is my horse?”

The young teacher was amused and pleased with Walter’s frankness.

“Oh, well, Plympton, we won’t give up. I have done things that way
myself. Somebody can take the service, I know. Isn’t there any one else
at St. John’s?”

“There is a young fellow who, I believe, comes on Sundays to help the
doctor; Raynham, I think, is his name.”

“You ask him.”

Mr. Raynham was asked. Would he come? His black eyes lighted up as he
gave his answer: “I should be delighted. I only help at the morning
service, and I can come down as well as not in the evening. The doctor
would like to have me, I know.”

“It does me good,” thought Walter, “just the way he accepts my
invitation. Wonder if ministers—and other folks—know how much good it
does when they promise a thing that fashion!”

Mr. Raynham engaged to take tea at Aunt Lydia’s, Sunday afternoon, and
for this young prophet, she heaped her table with biscuit, and cake,
and doughnuts, till it looked liked a fort with its outworks.

“Now,” she said to Mr. Raynham, when he was leaving for the Hall, “you
mustn’t go a–flyin’ over our heads to–night when you speak.”

He gave his shoulders a nervous twitch, smiled, and said, “It’s only a
talk, I have, when we have finished evening prayer.”

“If you let it come from the heart,” said Aunt Lydia encouragingly,
“your arrer will be sent out from a strong bow. You see ’twon’t do
allers to have jest what will do for big–folks. You jest talk out of
your heart, and think of us as leetle folks, and your arrers will hit
the mark, sure.”

“I hope so,” thought the young assistant, “and may God give me my
message.”

He felt his need all the more, for May Elliott came to him and said,
“If you see an old man going out when we have finished the singing,
don’t you think anything of it. I could only get him here on the
condition that he might be excused after the music.”

“Indeed!” reflected Mr. Raynham. “I will see that the music lasts some
time.”

What a service that was! The choir sang with remarkable heartiness,
even if it did not execute with remarkable skill. True, Miss Green’s
voice was a little unsteady on the high notes, and fluttered about like
a man on a high ladder, who growing dizzy, and threatening to fall,
catches distractedly at the rounds.

The young fishermen, too, thundered away on the “Ah–men” as if to
atone for previous deficiencies, and roared for half a minute in a
bass monotone that suggested the ocean. Then there was Don Pedro.
When he was clearing up the hall, May Elliott was rehearsing on the
melodeon, and she heard his voice several times accompanying the tunes.
She impressed him into the musical service at once, and never did any
royal tenor or bass from Italy, feel his importance more sensibly. As
Don Pedro was very lacking in the department of “best clothes,” Aunt
Lydia promised to “rig” him out in some of Uncle Boardman’s superfluous
garments. Don Pedro was somewhat tall and slender, and Uncle Boardman
was short and thick, and the “rigging” was not a close fit. The clothes
hung about Don Pedro like the sails of a ship about the slender poles
of a fishing–smack. Genius, though, is superior to all inconveniences,
and above Uncle Boardman’s immense coat, Don Pedro’s head struggled
manfully. He did not have a sharp sense of the ludicrous, and only
remarked, “I guess as how dese clo’es was made for anudder man, shuah.”

And the audience—it filled all the rough seats in the hall. Did Mr.
Raynham see that face of an old man, sad and hopeless, near the door?
No, he only knew some indefinite, nameless “old man” was there, itching
to go out when the musical part of the service had been completed.

“We will vary the usual order of such services as these, to–night, and
after I have spoken five minutes, we will have more music; a hymn,”
said Mr. Raynham.

“Ah,” thought Capt. Elliott, squirming in his seat and ready to
retreat, “I guess I shall have to hold on, for I promised my
grand–darter.”

How Mr. Raynham did talk “out of his heart,” to some imaginary old
sinner trying to avoid his duty, and get away from God’s house!

What would that soul do when God met him in judgment, and he could not
escape, possibly? Capt. Elliott wriggled very uneasily; but there was
his promise to May!

“We will now have some music,” said Mr. Raynham. Again rose the choir,
Don Pedro struggling above his mammoth outfit; Miss Green springing up
with voice ready to mount to the ladder’s top, and there tumble; the
young fishermen on hand for an oceanic roar—at the close.

“I’ll go now,” thought the captain, but the young prophet called out,
“I will say a few words, and then we will have more music, another
hymn.”

Capt. Elliott felt that he was a pinioned bird. Stay he must, and all
the while the young man on the platform shot his arrows.

“He’s a talkin’ out of his heart to some poor prodigal,” thought Aunt
Lydia. “God help him!”

Then that beautiful appeal in the hymnal was sung, that Advent appeal;

  “O Jesus, thou art standing
    Outside the fast–closed door,
  In lowly patience waiting
    To pass the threshold o’er:
  We bear the name of Christians,
    His name and sign we bear:
  O shame, thrice shame upon us,
    To keep him standing there.”

“O dear!” groaned the captain. “That’s me! I can’t stand this. Guess
I’ll go now.”

The young fishermen were now roaring “Ah–men!” and if they had been
allowed to imitate the ocean long as they pleased, Capt. Elliott
might have escaped. Mr. Raynham saw an old man rising, and guessing
the object of the movement, waved his hand imperatively to the male
singers. The ocean did not finish its roar very gracefully, but
above the confused tumbling of the surf, Mr. Raynham’s voice rose
triumphantly. “We will have music again, in a moment. A few words
more.” Capt. Elliott remembered his promise to May, and reluctantly sat
down.

“Oh, dear! Catch me makin’ sich a promise next time!” inwardly moaned
the captain.

In those “few words more,” Mr. Raynham made a pathetic appeal to his
audience, and especially to those who were old, and yet trying to live
without the love of their Father in heaven.

“That would go to the heart of a stone krockerdile,” declared Aunt
Lydia.

No, it went to the heart of a human being; and stony though it may have
seemed to an outsider, it was tender yet, for homeward went that night
an old man, creeping slowly and alone, sore and wounded in his soul,
conscience–sick.

And Chauncy Aldrich, how did he feel?

“That was a good sermon, Aldrich,” said Walter after the service.

Chauncy gave a laugh, ringing, and hard, and brassy: “Ah—ah! That
young feller did get warmed up, warmed up, Plympton; but you can’t
expect a business man like me, always watching the market and pushing
trade, to be thinking about these things. By and by, Plympton!” Ah,
that by–and–by flag! Many noble ships have sailed fatally under.

The people were interested in the service.

“Come again,” said Aunt Lydia to Mr. Raynham; “come again. We all want
you. Come, if you haven’t anything big for wise folks, and only suthin’
simple for fools; for you will have lots of ’em here.”

Mr. Raynham said he would come another Sunday; perhaps the very next.

The Sunday that the Hall had been occupied, chanced to be Michaelmas
beautiful festival, ripe like the landscape with color and fruitage.
All nature—its maples, its oaks, its fields, its orchards—was shining
with the glow of St. Michael’s triumph over the dragon. And in the
rough little fishing village by the sea, it seemed as if the brave,
mighty archangel had given the old dragon another thrust, and Right had
sorely wounded the Wrong.



CHAPTER X.

THE BOAT–RACE.


No less a wonder than a boat–race was announced on an October day, and
no less a person than Chauncy Aldrich planned the wonder.

“We need to wake ’em up, wake ’em up,” he said to Walter, and he ran
his hand through his bristling rampart of hair. “Trade is dull, and
needs stimulating. People that want to do business must make business.
I have passed a subscription paper round, and the business men of the
community have handed out quite liberally. Your uncle, I am sorry to
say, did not seem to have a commendable local pride, I should say, and
refused to help us. However, we propose to have the race, and give a
purse of twenty–five dollars to the successful boat in a six–oared
race. Entries can be made by any parties living inside of ten miles
from here. Yes, we are going to wake up some trade, and so we have
thought it best to have a boat–race.” A purse of twenty–five dollars!
That sounded large as—the Atlantic Ocean. It consisted, however, of
Baggs’ very liberal “promise” of twenty dollars, or double even (and it
is very easy to multiply a “promise” any number of times), an actual
subscription of four dollars from Timothy Pullins—Uncle Boardman’s
business–rival at The Harbor—and then Miss Green was so tickled to be
accounted one of the business community, and to receive an invitation
to subscribe, that she had actually handed over the magnificent sum of
one silver dollar.

The neighborhood was very much excited over the event. Walter had been
selected as one of the crew in Chauncy’s boat, and with his usual
enthusiasm, he practiced rowing at all leisure moments. Aunt Lydia
found him “going through the motions,” as he declared it, behind the
counter of the store, even.

“What ye doin’, Walter?”

“Ha, ha, Aunt! Only going through the motions, practicing the stroke
Chauncy gave us. He says it is the best in the country. There, you
shove forward so—”

“Nonsense! I want somebody to shove the saw for me in the shed. My fire
is dreadful low. I’ll tend the store while you are gone.”

Walter transferred this trial stroke to the saw–horse at once.

He planned the next morning, to rise half an hour earlier than usual,
and row awhile on the river. “Am I late?” he said, opening his eyes
early, and from his bed looking out of a window toward the sea. The sun
was just coming up, and had suffused with a rich crimson the placid
waters.

“I’m all right,” Walter said, and hurriedly dressed himself. He was
about leaving the room, when he said, “There’s my Bible! I almost
forgot that. The fact is you have to be particular about reading, or
you will miss a morning pretty readily.”

It is very easy to make gaps in our devotions, and a gap made to–day
may mean a gap to–morrow, and when two or three days go by and no Bible
has been read, it is very easy to widen the break into an interval of
a week. There is nothing so weakening as an intermission now and then.
On the other hand, there is nothing that so pays us a handsome profit,
as a little care to keep up a good habit. The human will is a curious
piece of machinery, and the simple fact that we are in the habit of
doing certain things, of going to church, of reading our Bible, saying
our prayers, this year, is one of the strongest reasons why we shall be
likely to do this next year, and will have vast influence in giving a
set and direction to our character. Walter had begun to realize this,
and he said to himself, “If I am going to read my Bible, I must be
particular to read it every morning.” He sat down in a yellow chair by
the window fronting the sea, and opened his Bible. This was one of the
verses he read that morning; “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his
way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy word. With my whole heart,
have I sought Thee: O let me not wander from Thy commandments.”

Somehow, those words were pressed into his memory; printed vividly
there like those shining colors off in the sea. When he had finished
his reading, he stepped softly downstairs, passed out into the yard,
and then made his way to his boat on the shore of the river. The
morning though bright and clear, was chilly, and the rowing of the
new stroke imparted by Chauncy was “good as the stove in Aunt Lyddy’s
kitchen to make one feel warm,” Walter thought. He finished his
practice, and was about stepping from the boat upon the smooth little
pebbles strewn along the “landin’,” as the fishermen called it, when a
sharp voice startled him. “Hul–_lo_!”

Turning, Walter saw Chauncy Aldrich.

“That you, Aldrich?”

“Nobody else, Plympton. Out trying my new stroke?”

“Yes, it’s first rate to warm a fellow up.”

“And you’ll find it good to make a boat go. It’s as good a stroke as
you will find in the market.”

Here Chauncy lifted his hat, and thrusting his hand through his hair
and piling it up anew, gave a defiant look, as if saying to all the
world, “I’ll dare you to bring on another stroke as good as this.” Then
he resumed his conversation.

“See here, Plympton. I just wanted to see you, and I came out here on
purpose, thinking I might find you, after what you said one day that
you thought you should take an early hour for practice. A business man,
you know, must be on hand early to catch custom, and I wanted to see
you about something special. Just you and me, and no more!”

Chauncy said this with an air of secrecy, of patronage also; as if he
had reserved for Walter and Walter only, some unknown, distinguished
honor. He drew close to Walter, and dropping his voice said, “I expect
that our opponents next Tuesday, the day for the race, will be the
Scarlet Grays from Campton.”

“Scarlet Grays?”

“Yes, they wear scarlet caps and gray pants, and then scarlet slippers
again, and look quite nobby. But that’s according to fancy. You and I
mean business, and that’s what we are after, and can get along in our
every day wear. That’s what I think.”

Here he gave a wise little chuckle, and shook his head very decidedly
and knowingly, so that he reminded Walter of those days when the
academy students called him, “Solomon.”

“But here’s to the point. A–hem!”

Chauncy dropped his voice still lower, and tapping the palm of his left
hand with the forefinger of his right, sharply eyed a rock in the river
as if he would be willing to take this rock into the secret, but for no
consideration could he admit a second rock.

“You see, Plympton—ahem!”

Then he shrugged his shoulders. It was evident he wished to say
something, and yet had a misgiving with regard to the fitness of the
message, or Walter’s fitness to hear it.

“Well, out with it, Aldrich!” said Walter, his open, honest face
contrasting strongly with the sly look of reserve on his companion’s
features. “Out with it! That’s business, as you say.”

“Ha, ha, Plympton! You’ve got me there, sure. Well, as I was going to
say, Lang Tripp, the captain of the Scarlet Grays, came to me the other
day and said he, ‘Look here, Aldrich! This is between you and me.’ ‘Of
course,’ said I. ‘Are you anxious to win in that boat–race?’ ‘Well,’
said I, ‘we mean business, of course; but if we are whipped, we must
submit. When a man goes into the market to buy, he must do the best he
can, and let it go at that. That’s the way of it, of course,’ said I.
‘When a man goes into the market,’ he said—you said—no—he said”—

The business man tumbled over half a dozen “saids” and began again.
“I mean that he referred to what I said about going into the market,
and then went on, ‘That helps me to come to the point, which is—is—a
little understanding—trade, some folks might call it, though I don’t.’
Then he went on, and this is what it amounted to. They have gone—I
mean the Scarlet Grays—to a good deal of expense in getting up their
uniform—they’re rich, you know! Rich isn’t the word. O they could buy
out a gold mine and not feel it. Well, after all, they haven’t won a
race. They are going to play with us, you know—row, I mean, and then
they row with a set of mill–hands at Campton. Well, their folks feel
badly because they don’t whip anybody, and Tripp says his mother is
all worked up about it. Then Tripp asked, ‘Who is that rather heavy,
strong, well–built fellow in your crew, who wears a stiff, round–top
felt, and pulls a neat, strong stroke too, for I saw him at it the
other day?’ Well, I knew my goods of course, and I knew it was—you.”

Here Walter straightened up. The compliment was very acceptable, and
Chauncy’s quick eyes saw it. This apt disciple of Baggs appreciated the
customer he was dealing with, and repeated the opinion of the renowned
leader of the “Scarlet Grays.” Then he continued: “After that, Tripp
said, ‘I really feel that we are at your mercy, especially with that
fellow against us—’” here Chauncy looked slyly at Walter, who now
stood erect as a king at a coronation—“‘and I know it’s going to make
our fellers feel bad, and our folks feel bad, and we shall surely lose
that next race with those mill fellers—and of course,’ he said, ‘I
don’t mean that you shall lose by it—’ ‘Lose what?’ said I, for a
business man must have his teeth cut. ‘Oh,’ said Tripp, ‘I am coming
to it. We don’t, or I don’t, care a snap for the money. How much is
it?’ Well, I told him; and then yesterday, I got ten fishermen to
give each fifty cents, making between thirty and forty dollars in all
as—as subscribed. Of course, Uncle Baggs is the heaviest name on the
list, and he didn’t hand it to me; but then he’s good for twenty times
twenty.”

Chauncy did not say whether he was good for the money, or simply for
a “subscription”; a difference which all handlers of “subscription
papers” appreciate. All this time, Walter was wondering what Chauncy
was driving at.

“Of course I said I didn’t care about the money, and Tripp said he
didn’t; and Tripp said that it should be all right. It should all be
paid over to us; or rather, the equivalent of it. His folks would feel
so badly if they lost another race, and he knew his crew wouldn’t have
the heart to row that next race. ‘There,’ said he, ‘it shall be between
us. If you and that Plympton—that’s what you call him—will just let
up now and then on your rowing, and pull easy, I think we can handle
the rest of you, and—and—’”

“What do you mean?” said Walter abruptly. “Sell out?”

He was now more erect than ever, straightening up because stiffened by
a sense of indignation.

“Hold on, Plympton, you don’t understand,” said Chauncy soothingly.
He saw that he had made a mistake. He “had put too many goods on the
market at once,” to use his own phrase. Continuing his soothing tone
of voice, he said: “I can’t but pity the Scarlet Grays, if they are
feeling so badly and their folks are stirred up, and ‘the town is down
on ’em.’ Lang says, why, his mother is just awful, he says, and is real
nervous. To oblige them, I’d give it all away—I mean the prize.”

Such self–sacrifice! He was willing to throw himself away—as far as
this boat–race was concerned—all for the sake of the Scarlet Grays’
feelings! In reality, he had already received a present of “five
dollars” from Tripp, and expected another “five,” if successful with
Walter. Walter’s instincts were always in the right place. A wrong
thing coming to him, he would condemn as wrong, and a right thing, he
would commend as right. But he was sympathetic, while conscientious. He
felt for the individual sinner, while he disapproved of his sin; and
his sympathy might cloud the decision of his judgment. When he thought
of the Scarlet Grays, the occasion of so much parental disappointment,
and the object of so much town talk and town sport, he did pity “the
poor chaps,” as Chauncy whiningly labeled them in his continued talk.
Chauncy saw that he was making an impression; that he was “putting the
right goods on the market, and the right quantity;” and he continued to
deliver them in a sympathetic, pitying, self–sacrificing tone. Suddenly
Walter said to himself, “What am I doing, allowing this fellow to talk
so? Where’s mother’s advice, ‘Honest, boy’? And then that psalm I was
reading from, this morning. What did that say? Why, I can almost seem
to see it written in the sky!”

And looking away to the east all afire with a shining crimson above the
placid sea, he seemed to see those words traced in the clouds:

“Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto
according to Thy word. With my whole heart, have I sought Thee; O let
me not wander from Thy commandments.”

He turned quickly to Chauncy, and said in a very positive way,
“Aldrich, this thing is not right; and I won’t have anything to do with
it.”

“A–em!” said a voice.

Somebody was passing. The two young men turned, and there was Capt.
Barney, the keeper of the life saving station. He passed so near that
they heard his step distinctly, and yet he did not seem to be noticing
them, and rapidly moved away. Another moment, he had turned the corner
of an old mossy ledge, tufted with a few bushes, and planted near the
water’s edge, now sparkling in the sunshine. Chauncy was much confused
for “a cool, clear–headed business man,” as he judged himself to be.
Walter’s decided opinion, again abruptly presented, had taken this
soft talking, pitying young trader by surprise. His face flushed, he
stammered, and he looked angry, as Walter now spoke on his side:—

“Aldrich, this thing is wrong. I don’t care about the money; but as I
understand it, quite a number of people, including those ten fishermen,
have given toward the race. They will all take an interest in the race,
and want The Harbor crew to do its best, its honest best. The people
that take the trouble to come and look at us will all expect us to do
our best. Why, I couldn’t do that thing,—let up on the rowing, and
then walk up the street and hold up my head. As for those ninnies from
Campton, if they didn’t want to get licked, what did they enter for?
They were not obliged to do it!”

Chauncy’s feelings were of a very mixed character. He knew the
proposition from the other crew was not fair, and was really ashamed
of himself; and then he was mad because Walter had shown himself to be
more honest than he. Walter now startled and confused him with another
proposition:—

“See here, Aldrich! If we get the prize–money, I don’t want it any more
than you. Let’s give it away, say to start a library down here at The
Harbor, or somewhere in town; a Town Library, I mean; of course, if the
other fellers in the crew are willing, and if—if—we get it.”

This was another unexpected blow. Chauncy already had begun to reckon
what his share of money from the race would probably be, and had paid
it over in his own mind toward a pair of new trousers which he very
much needed. The failure of his wealthy uncle to pay Chauncy for some
reason all the money he owed his clerk, interfered with the young
man’s desire to dress well on Sunday, at least. With a face reddened
by shame and anger, he had begun to stammer out a reply to Walter,
when his name was suddenly called. Turning, he saw the keeper of the
life saving station. At Capt. Barney’s side was a stranger, who was
introduced as the superintendent of the life saving station district,
Mr. Eames.

“I want to get a little lumber at your mill,” said the keeper, “if you
could go with us.”

“Yes, _sir_!” replied Chauncy with an air of patronage, to his patron.
“I’m ready for a trade.”

Off he strode, glad of any excuse for ending a conversation in which he
felt that he was making little progress. In a jaunty way, he sported
his hat on one side of his head, and moved as proudly as if going off
to a bargain of millions.

The boat–race had been announced to come off the afternoon of the
second day after this interview between Walter and Chauncy, at the hour
of two, and it came off as promptly as that hour itself. There was
great interest felt on the occasion. It seemed as if the sun had given
his golden disk an extra polish, so bright was it; while the maples
that dotted the banks of the river flew their gay banners from morning
till night. All the able bodied inhabitants that The Harbor could
muster, turned out with curious eyes and sympathetic hearts. People
from the outside world came in vehicles of various kinds. Certain
anxious looking women tucked away in a coach, Walter fancied to be the
mothers of some of the Scarlet Grays. But where were the latter?

“There they are!” shouted some one at last, and round a rocky point
in the river, came the brilliant Scarlet Grays. Wearing their scarlet
caps, they looked like poppy stalks all a–blossom, and conspicuous on
their caps were the dark letters S. G. Chauncy’s crew, consisting of
Chauncy, Walter, Don Pedro and others, seemed very humble and tame
beside these brilliant floral oarsmen.

“Fact is we made a blunder,” observed Chauncy, “in not having a
uniform. But never mind; merit wins. The trade does not always go to
the man in the best clothes.”

Remembering their late morning talk, Walter could but think that a
trade, and a bad one, had almost gone in favor of these gaily decorated
seamen.

“Fellers, who are those coming?” asked Chauncy, now slowly rising in
his boat and pointing out another that was now shooting out of a little
creek that emptied into the river. “There are six rowing in it? Does
that mean a new entry? I suppose they have a right to come, as we gave
out that boats could enter any time before the race.”

As the strange craft approached nearer, the comments of Chauncy’s crew
were more curious and eager.

“Seaweed Townies!” exclaimed somebody. All wonder was at an end,
and disgust now began. “Seaweed Town” was a nook of the sea where
half a dozen poor houses were clustered on a rocky shore, and their
inhabitants were shabby people nicknamed “Seaweed Townies.” The
occupants of this boat were boys of about sixteen, lean and scraggy,
with long, tangled black hair. Although not equal in size to the
members of Chauncy’s crew, they had a certain wiry, tough look, and
their dark eyes flashed with an eager ambition to win. The Scarlet
Grays—and how brilliantly they outshone these rivals who did not
indeed shine at all—hailed the advent of this new “entry” with
derision.

“Arabs!” they said with a sneer; but the Seaweed Townies did not reply
to them, only looking more eager, and occasionally giving their oars a
nervous twitch.

Off darted the three boats at the appointed signal; while the
spectators applauded, and the very maples seemed to be waving red
handkerchiefs.

“Don’t they look handsome!” screamed little Miss P. Green. “Those
Scarlet Grays are be—be—witching.”

“Nonsense!” said Aunt Lydia with commendable local pride. “Those little
turkey gobblers hain’t got no last to ’em! Jest see our boys!”

“Our boys” certainly pulled with vigor. Chauncy was now sincerely
anxious to win the laurels of the day, the arrival of the Seaweed
Townies having “toned up the market.” Walter handled his oar with
vigor, and Don Pedro pulled with a grim resoluteness. Who would praise
the Seaweed Townies? Now and then some sympathizing fellow, or “Arab!”
yelled from a boat in the river, a note of cheer; but among The Harbor
populace, Jabez Wherren alone ventured a word of commendation.

“Wall, now,” said Jabez, “them little chaps from Seaweed Town do
pull well. They don’t seem to have any friends, but I shouldn’t
wonder—shouldn’t—wonder—”

“Wall, what?” asked his spouse, impatiently and meaningly.

“Don’t—don’t dare say,” replied Jabez, in a tone of mock humility,
squinting afresh at the struggling crews.

“Wall, _I_ dare to say,” affirmed that warm partisan, Aunt Lydia. “You
ought ter be ashamed of yourself!”

On sped the boats; stoutly pulled the oarsmen; the spectators huzzahed;
while the maples, in silence, showed their warm admiration. The Scarlet
Grays took the lead at the opening of the race, a fact that created
much excitement among the Campton carriages, and, all a–flutter with
fragrant white handkerchiefs was the coach filled with ladies. The
“S. G’s” though, could not maintain their position. They frantically
struggled, and one boy in his violent contortions even lost his scarlet
cap overboard, and pulled bare–headed the rest of the way. When the
stake–boat was reached, and the contending craft rounded this limit of
their course, it was seen that Chauncy’s crew was in the front place.
This excited The Harbor people to furious applause, as soon as this
fact was appreciated by them.

“It looks now,” said Aunt Lydia, “as if our boys would win, and we’ll
have a Libr’y down here. Walter said, the boys all agreed, if they got
the money to give it toward a Public Libr’y.”

“Hoo–ray for our boys!” screamed Miss P. Greene, who had transferred
her admiration from the Scarlet Grays to the proper crew, and wished
to show her appreciation of all “educational movements” as she termed
them. “Hoo—”

She was about to give another cheer, but a tall butter firkin on which
she had been standing because it put her sharp nose and sharp eyes just
above the shoulders of other people, here refused to serve as a lookout
any longer. It was something altogether apart from the usual vocation
of butter tubs; and naturally asserting the right of revolution, or
in this case, of devolution, the tub canted over, and began to roll;
and down somewhere went Miss Green! But while she went down, her voice
went up, the tongue asserting its accustomed supremacy in this trying
moment, even, and the cheer for Chauncy’s crew ended in a scream.
It made a little stir among the spectators, but Jabez Wherren was
promptly on hand, and gallantly fished the post–mistress up. He set the
rebellious butter firkin in its proper subordinate place, and then set
Miss Green on top of it, where like a queen on her throne she received
the commiseration and congratulations of her friends, who shuddered
at her fall, and rejoiced over her rise once more. I am afraid this
fall was ominous though, and my readers will soon see for themselves.
As the crews pulled away in the river, Jabez Wherren, with a lack of
patriotism, declared that those “little Seaweed fellers are givin’ it
to our boat. Jest about up with ’em and crowdin’ ’em hard!”

“There, Jabez!” said his spouse, who like the butter firkin could only
stand a certain amount of strain, “ef you can’t talk any more sensible,
you’d better go hum.”

“No—no,” quietly remarked the grinning Jabez, “I’m goin’—to see the
upshot of this.”

Unlucky prophet! What did he want to use that word “upshot” for? He
had no sooner spoken it, than there was an unhappy commotion noticed
in Chauncy’s boat. The crew had been complaining of the new stroke
which Chauncy had introduced, but he had insisted upon its use, saying
it was very “scientific”; that “just now it was the top thing in the
market, and would fetch a premium any day.” When it was noticed in the
race that the Seaweed Townies were gaining on them, Chauncy, who acted
as captain of The Harbor crew, energetically stimulated them by such
remarks as: “Muscle pays—now, boys!” “Don’t let them have a cheap
bargain. Hum—now!” “Crowd the market! Give it to ’em!”

Finally he called out: “The stroke, boys! Give them our stroke good!
Science, boys!” Every boy now watched his oar intently, and pulled with
all the “science” he could muster. Chauncy aimed to set the example,
and as he strove to handle his oar with precision, he gave it an
unlucky violent jostle in the thole–pins. One of these like the butter
firkin on shore, could not patiently submit to everything, and—broke!
There is such a thing in an oarsman’s experience as “catching a crab.”
The oarsman concludes for some reason, generally an irresistible one,
to go over backwards, and there catch his crab. As he tumbles into the
bottom of the boat, his feet naturally go up and his arms also, while
his head and shoulders go down; and his whole figure may possibly
suggest a crab, with its crooked, wriggling members. Chauncy now
ignominiously “caught a crab.” The great Solomon went down in disgrace
and disaster! The effect on The Harbor spectators was as if the sun had
gone into mourning, while the maples all shivered in sympathy. Chauncy
quickly was up again, a new thole–pin was inserted, and the crew
gallantly pulled away. But there were the Seaweed Townies, ahead now
by two boat lengths! This advanced position, with grins and giggles,
those “dark–eyed monkeys,” as Aunt Lydia promptly labeled them,
stubbornly maintained. Chauncy with frenzied efforts tried to “work up
the market,” but the “Arabs” were victors. Lean and wiry as ever, they
triumphantly pulled their boat ashore.

“Well, boys, we whipped the Scarlet Grays,” said Chauncy, wiping his
face. “Fact was I had from the very outset a strong desire to whip
them, and we succeeded.”

Chauncy’s assertion about his “strong desire” would not bear
investigation.

It was a fact, however, that Chauncy’s crew had whipped the Scarlet
Grays. Like poppies that have been picked and then left out in a frost,
the “S. G.’s” pulled listlessly to the landing–place.

The crowd slowly dribbled away, the people making their comments as
they retired.

“There’s a chance for a Public Library gone,” moaned Miss P. Green.

“Yes, yes,” sympathetically wailed Aunt Lydia and Mrs. Wherren.

“There, Jabez,” said his wife, “I hope another time you won’t cheer fur
the en’my so.”

“I didn’t cheer ’em, Huldy,” replied Jabez in surprise.

“You made sympathizin’ remarks, though.”

“Yes, yes,” said Aunt Lydia, and Miss P. Green.

And poor Jabez went home, feeling that the weight of responsibility
for some great national disaster rested on his shoulders. His wife,
“Huldy,” had remarkable success in making Jabez feel that he was
guilty, even when innocent.



CHAPTER XI.

THE SURF–BOY.


The bright colors of October had faded out of the landscape, and the
soft shades of November followed. With November, came the festival
of “All Saints’,” reminding us of another life, and of those who are
with Christ. Not only are those eminent in the Church suggested to
us,—“apostles,” “martyrs,” “confessors,” the constellations in the
sky, recognized by all,—but how many separate stars better known to us
personally, look down through the shadows of death’s night, and cheer
us in our pilgrim journey! These are our own beloved dead, whose bright
faces smile upon us, and assure us that we are not forgotten. May we
not forget them, and may we prove our memory in our better lives.
“All Saints’” passed, and the sharper days of November arrived at The
Harbor.

Walter’s duties at his Uncle Boardman’s had been steadily continued,
varied by occasional gaps of leisure; and these he had filled up with
home visits. Sunday also was a big, blessed gap of leisure, and each
Sunday night had brought its service at the Hall. The attendance had
been good. Mr. Raynham was earnest, while reverent in his conduct of
the service; and the “choir”—how that had distinguished itself! The
“Cantate Domino,” “Benedic, anima mea,” and other chants, they took up
enthusiastically, and lifted them very high on their soaring wings of
song.

“They make nothin’ of singin’ ’em,” affirmed Aunt Lydia; which
translated meant that they made _something_ of them; for promptness and
heartiness are never without a result, though the melody may not be the
sweetest.

Sunday over, Walter went again to his usual duties in the store.

One Monday morning, there was an unusual call at Uncle Boardman’s.

“Jotham Barney, I do declare!” said Aunt Lydia, looking out of a
kitchen window into the yard. “Here he comes up to the back door. I
wonder what he wants here.”

A lifting of the outside door latch was now heard, and a heavy step was
planted on the floor of the little entry. Then the inside door swung
open, and the keeper of the life saving station entered Aunt Lydia’s
sanctum.

“Good mornin’, Mis’ Blake.”

“That you, Jotham? Set down, do.”

“Much obleeged, but I’m in a bit of a hurry. Where’s your husband?”

“He’s down in the mash field clearin’ up.”

“I s’pose I could see him, and I’ll go down.”

“He will be glad to see you, Jotham; but I guess you’ll have to go
down, for Boardman’s that kind, he wouldn’t leave his work, for the
king.”

“That is all right, and that’s why he is so forehanded.”

“Forehanded!” remarked Aunt Lydia, shaking her head ominously when the
keeper had left the house. “I don’t know, I don’t know! I expect that
Belzebub’s a–swallerin’ up Boardman’s property fast as he can gulp it
down.” This reference to Baggs did not have a soothing effect on her
feelings, and she wisely changed her thoughts by going to the window
that faced the orchard. She watched the keeper, as he took a path
that followed an old stone wall. Soon leaping this, he hurried across
a narrow field that was dotted with the yellow stubs of cornstalks.
Beyond this, was the lot which Aunt Lydia had designated as the “mash
field.” It bordered the broad, flat marsh, beyond which flashed the
blue, bright river. It was a variety field in its crops, yielding a
little corn, more potatoes, and beans mostly. “Clearin’ up” was no
small task, as it meant the removal of bean–poles, and an indefinite
quantity of vines. The latter went no farther than a bonfire in one
corner of the field: and up to it Boardman Blake was now venturing at
intervals, thrusting into its smoke and flames immense armfuls of dead
vines. At the time that the keeper of the station made his appearance,
Boardman was stoutly tugging at a row of very obstinate bean–poles, and
every moment he grew redder in the face, while his scanty breath issued
in warm little puffs.

“Glad—to see ye,—Jothum. How—dy’e—do?” ejaculated Boardman, still
tugging away.

“Well as usual, thank ye. Got some tough customers there?”

“We—e—ll,—yes!” said Boardman.

“Think—”

The world lost that last precious thought. Here a provoking bean–pole
that he had grasped, suddenly broke, and in a great, fat heap, over
went Boardman, cutting Chauncy Aldrich’s figure when in the boat–race
he “caught a crab.”

“Hurt—ye?” cried the keeper, rushing forward and offering his
assistance.

“Oh—no!” said Boardman laughing, and rolling over as easily as Miss P.
Green’s butter firkin, on the day of the fatal boat–race. “The pesky
pole got the better of me.”

“Let me help you,” said the keeper, his vigorous muscle quickly
hoisting into an upright attitude this “fallen merchant,” as Chauncy
would have called him.

“There!” puffed Boardman, resolutely resuming work, and tugging at the
stub of the broken pole. “Now I’m ready for business, if I can help
you.”

“I wanted to see you about Walter.”

“Walter, my nephew?”

“Yes.”

“Hope he has done nothing out of the way. His folks would feel dreadful
bad.”

“Oh, no—no! jest the opposite. Fact is, I want him at the station.”

Boardman looked up, and wiped his broad, benevolent face.

“You don’t say! I thought Walter couldn’t have been up to anything out
of the way, for he is as well meanin’ a boy as you often see. And you
want him at the station? Indeed!”

“You see, Squire”—a title the people gave Boardman when they
wished to be specially attentive, and it was always acceptable to
Boardman—“you see, Silas Fay, one of my men, is not very well; but I
want to hold on to him as he is a powerful feller, and a good boatman.
I thought if Silas took a rest, a month say, he would be able to come
back and pull through the winter. I thought for that month, I might get
your Walter.”

“Is he strong enough?”

“He has a good deal of strength for one of his years, and every day he
will be a–gainin’. Jest look at him! I have watched him a good deal. He
is a good oarsman too. They say he pulled fustrate at the race. Then I
thought he might like the money, and also that you might spare him, as
work at the saw–mill is slack, and I knew you didn’t have to be there
so much, and could be more at the store. Then that colored boy is with
you, isn’t he?”

“Yes, yes, and I think I could get along. We are not doing—well, you
might say, we—we—are doing—not a thing at mill. Baggs has gone out
West to look after some business.”

Boardman looked very despondent.

“Squire, look here.”

The keeper here dropped his voice, though there was no occasion for it,
as the only being that heard him was a musk–rat stealing along in the
shadow of the wall of a ditch near by. In low, confidential tones, the
keeper remarked,—

“I think that—I don’t want to hurt your feelin’s, but I must say it—I
think Baggs will bear a good deal of watchin’. Did you know the men at
the station had been lettin’ him have their money?”

“Why, no.”

“But they have. He said he could give ’em more per cent than the bank
would, and so a number of ’em, when paid off, took their cash to Baggs.
He’s a sly old crittur. One time, he purtended he wasn’t particular
’bout havin’ any more, and one of ’em as good as begged him to take his
money, and Baggs made a good deal of the fact that he calc’lated he was
the ‘poor man’s friend,’ and on the whole, though he didn’t want it,
yet he would ‘’commodate’ him; and that’s the last the feller has seen
of it.”

“Doesn’t Baggs pay interest?”

“Oh, it was in the agreement that the int’rest should stay and
‘’cumulate,’ he called it. He’s a knowin’ one, that Baggs! Squire, I
wouldn’t resk too much.”

Boardman did not enjoy such advice, but he was accustomed to it, as
Aunt Lydia administered frequent doses. There was always a dose
the first thing in the morning, like the sulphur and molasses some
unfortunate children are obliged to take; and other administrations
during the day, might be expected.

“Wall, let that go for what it is worth. To go back, Squire, as I was
a–sayin’ about Walter, I thought you might spare him, this month, say.”

“Oh—yes—yes. I think I can.”

“Then, I’ll speak to him. You see one reason why I’d rather have
him in Silas’ place a month—of course, I don’t s’pose he could be
spared mebbe, any longer time than that—one reason, as I said, is
that I think I can depend on him. I heard him, one mornin’ before the
boat–race, say to Baggs’ nephew a thing—something or other—wasn’t
right, and he wouldn’t have anything to do with it. I liked that in
him. I told the sup’rintendent of our station deestrick who was on, all
’bout Walter, and that I thought he would do as a substitute, and I
mentioned that leetle circumstance. The sup’rintendent said it had the
right ring. So, Squire, if you are ’greeable, I’ll speak to Walter.”

“I’m willing, Jotham, and I’m obliged to you for your good opinion of
my nephew.”

Not only was Boardman “‘greeable,” but so was every one who was
involved in the matter. Aunt Lydia assented, though she declared she
should “miss him.” Don Pedro gave a solemn smile, and said he would do
all he could. Walter’s parents were willing; and as for Walter—he just
sprang for the chance. He met the proposition with all the enthusiasm
of his nature. That yellow building near the beach fascinated him. The
sea beyond was a mystery that awed, and yet ever attracted him. He had
been reading about the life saving service, and he wished with his own
eyes to look inside—not inside of a book, simply, but the service
itself. He went home to pass “Thanksgiving,” that delightful family
festival; and after his return, one brilliant but chilly November
morning, he climbed up into his Uncle Boardman’s high red wagon, and
took his seat by Don Pedro, who had been commissioned to take Walter,
and an old blue chest, down to the station. Walter had found this chest
up in the garret, packed away under the dusky eaves.

“It looks more sailor like than my trunk,” reasoned Walter, “and I
will ask the folks if I can’t take it. Good! It has rope handles,
sailor–fashion. Just the thing!”

The “folks” were willing, and without obtaining the leave of the chest
itself, this was dragged out into the light, upset, dusted, pounded
on every side, and dusted again; and after this rough, unceremonious
treatment, lugged down into Walters chamber. There, it was neatly
packed, and then removed to the red wagon. Before it reaches the
station, there will be time enough to say something about the late work
of that department of Government employ, into which Walter Plympton for
awhile has gone.

By the report of the life saving service for 1885, there were 203
stations planted on the edge of that great kingdom of water whose
violence must so often be fought. Of these stations, 38 were on the
Lakes, 7 on the Pacific, 157 on the Atlantic, and 1 at the Falls of the
Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky.

These stations are grouped into districts: those in Maine and New
Hampshire, constituting the first district; in Massachusetts, the
second; on the coast of Rhode Island and Long Island, the third; and
the New Jersey coast makes the fourth. There is a large number of
stations in the last two districts, for they offer a dangerous coast
on which to trip up the great commerce hurrying into and out of New
York. As we go farther south, the coast from Cape Henlopen to Cape
Charles lies in the fifth district; and that from Cape Henry to Cape
Fear River in the sixth. The eastern coast of Florida, with the coast
of Georgia and South Carolina, is in the seventh, the Gulf coast in the
eighth. Lakes Erie and Ontario make the ninth district; Lakes Huron
and Superior the tenth; Lake Michigan the eleventh; and the Pacific
coast constitutes the twelfth. Each district is in the care of a
superintendent, and over all is the General Superintendent, Hon. Sumner
I. Kimball, whose headquarters are at Washington. The service also has
its Inspector, Capt. J. H. Merryman, and there are twelve Assistant
Inspectors, for the twelve districts. Let us now get up high enough
in imagination to look down on our rough coast, and watch the vessels
struggling with storm and surf while the surfmen gallantly push out to
their relief. 371 disasters were recorded at these stations, and in the
periled vessels, were 2,439 persons; and only eleven were lost. Now
let us look at the property involved in these disasters. The vessels
and their cargoes were estimated to be worth $4,634,380, and of this
amount, there was a saving of $3,379,583. There were 56 vessels totally
lost. This is the last published report. The work at a life saving
station is of varied nature. There are not only wrecks to be visited,
but vessels coming too near shore in the night time must be warned off
by the faithful patrolman’s signal light. A vessel may be stranded,
and need to be “worked off.” If a fisherman’s dory, or a millionaire’s
yacht, should meet with any kind of a disaster, if some unlucky
traveler by the sea may tumble into the water from his little craft, if
any party of mariners, disabled for any reason, may need shelter and
refreshment, it is the life saving station that is expected to furnish
help for all the above cases.

Let us now pack into a nutshell the results of the work of these men,
since this system was inaugurated in 1871. There have been 2,918
disasters that involved property worth $51,763,694, and there was a
saving of $36,277,929. Out of a total of 25,693 persons involved in
these disasters, 25,236 were saved; and the department claims that
it was not responsible for the loss of 197. In the latter cases, the
stations were not open, or service was hindered by distance. 4,829
persons were aided at stations, and the days of relief afforded these
were 13,313. I would add that, the seventh district is peculiar. It
takes in the eastern coast of Florida. Stations here are “provisioned
houses of refuge” in the care of keepers, but without any crew. The
coast is singular, and if a vessel be stranded, the escape of the crew
is as a rule, comparatively easy. In the case of such a disaster as the
above, to a crew, their special peril is from hunger and thirst, when
they have reached a shore very scantily inhabited. Guide posts are set
up for the benefit of such castaways, directing them to the station or
lighthouse that may be nearest.

[Illustration: “_Whose noble mission it is to fight the sea_” (p.
191).]

The vast field of work occupied by the life saving service, let us try
to grasp with our thoughts. Recall once more the stations established;
the figures, too, that represent the life and property already saved;
and think also of the vast interests still at stake in the ships that
are sailing, and the crews that are climbing their rigging. The boy
who sits in the red wagon by the side of Don Pedro, is coming to help
with his young, strong muscles, and nimble wits, that force of about
fifteen hundred, to–day, whose noble mission it is to fight the sea,
and rescue the life and property it would destroy. The red wagon bumps
and jolts over the rough little lane winding down to the station, and
finally halts, as Don Pedro shouts to the horses, “Whoa, dah!” The
blue chest with its clumsy rope handles is lowered to the ground, and
then obediently accompanies Walter and Don Pedro into the station.



CHAPTER XII.

ON HIS BEAT.


Keeper Barney and his family of surfmen were at breakfast as Walter
entered. They were seated about a table on which were two huge steaming
dishes,—one of biscuit, and the other of fried potatoes. By each
surfman’s plate, was a cup of hot coffee. A ready chorus of welcome
went up from these modern knights of the sea. “How are ye, Walter?”
sang out the keeper. “Hullo!” “Good mornin’!” “Come in! come in!”
were the various styles of greeting; while Charlie Lawson, the cook,
shouted, “You look thin as a shadder! Set down, and have something to
fill you out!”

“I’m much obliged,” replied Walter. “I have been to breakfast, though.”

“That means,” explained the keeper, “that he was out last night
practicin’ on a beat, and so took an _early_ cup of coffee; but we
will show him to–night what a _real_ beat is.”

“That’s so!” said Tom Walker. “Them fancy beats don’t amount to
nothin’, beside the real article.”

Walter felt at home at once, and declared that he guessed he would try
“Cook Charlie’s biscuit.”

“Biscuit! Try them fried taters too. One of ’em would keep you a–goin’
a hull day,” declared the cook.

“You look as if they had done a good work for you,” said Woodbury
Elliott to the cook. Something had fatted up “Cook Charlie” as he
was generally called. But what business has a cook to be lean? The
presiding genius of the kitchen, certainly ought to give in his own
body proof of his skill. A lean cook is an inconsistency; while in
a fat cook there is a fitness. And then what right has a cook to be
cross? A good dinner begets a good temper; and the cook ought to be
sweet–natured always. A lean, cross cook, is an inconsistency. Cook
Charlie, was of the kind that harmonizes with the cheerful, comforting
nature of the kitchen stove. All the surfmen were at the breakfast
table excepting Silas Fay, whose place Walter intended to temporarily
fill. There was the sandy haired keeper, and there was Tom Walker,
with his big bushy beard,—a shaggy kind of an animal. Next to Tom,
sat Woodbury Elliott, his blue eyes flashing out occasional glances
of welcome toward Walter. If Cook Charlie was fat, “Slim” Tarleton
was lean; and his first name was bestowed upon him on account of
this peculiarity. He was Capt. Barney’s bony neighbor on the left.
Next to Slim, came two brothers, Seavey, and Nathan Lowd. They were
quiet, inoffensive young men, whose peculiarity was a grin on every
possible occasion, excepting a funeral. They were twins, resembling
one another closely; but showed this difference, that Nathan grinned
more than Seavey. There was one more at the table,—Joe Cardridge, a
black–haired, black–eyed man, on whose face was a cynical expression,
as if he was continually out of humor with the world, and wished to
show it by a sneer. Nobody liked his discontented, jealous disposition,
and it was the keeper’s purpose to get rid of him at the first
opportunity. He was an excellent boatman, and this merit had secured
him the position of surfman. It was true indeed of all the crew; their
knowledge of boating, gained in many trips after cod and pollock,
halibut and haddock, constituted their special fitness for the life
saving service. They were strong, hardy, muscular fellows, and Slim
Tarleton—bony, but tough—was no exception.

After breakfast, the keeper led Walter upstairs.

“I want to tell you where you will bunk, Walter, and I guess you had
better take Silas’ bed. Here it is.”

“Who sleeps next?”

“Woodbury Elliott there, and Tom Walker on this side. Each man of the
crew is numbered, and you will take Silas’ number, six. You are Surfman
Six.”

“That’s good. Now, I’ve been round over the station, and know it pretty
well. Could you just give me an insight into the boat–room, more of an
idea of it?”

“Sartin. Let’s come down now.”

From the kitchen or living–room, on the first floor, one passed
directly into the large boat–room; and that immediately proclaimed the
nature of the building, and also the work of its occupants. In the
center, was the surf–boat, twenty–six feet long. At the stern and bows,
were air–chambers.

“That long steering–oar is twenty–two feet long, isn’t it? Somebody
said so.”

[Illustration: “_This was worn about the body under the arms_” (p.
197).]

“Yes. Walter. It gives me a tremendous purchase when I set in the starn
to steer.”

“Of course you have six oars, and then there are two spare ones.”

“Jest so.”

Each oar was stamped, “U. S. L. S. S.,” whose translation is United
States Life Saving Service. On each seat was a cork jacket, consisting
of two rows of cork blocks secured to a belt of canvas. This was worn
about the body under the arms.

“That means,” said Walter, “all ready for use, any moment.”

“Yes, we may be wanted any hour, and we can’t go out, service–time,
unless we put those jackets on.”

“So Tom Walker told me. Let me see—Oh, there’s the axe Tom said you
kept in the boat; and there’s a hatchet, and you have got ‘Uncle Sam’s’
mark on them.”

“Yes. There’s a rudder too, which we can use in smooth water. This is
a surf–boat, but there are in the service some life–boat stations. On
the Lakes, and Pacific coast, you find ’em. Life–boats are better for a
shore that is bold, where the water runs deep.”

Along the right hand wall of the boat–room, extended a miscellaneous
collection of apparatus. There was a mortar for shooting a line to a
wreck, the ball used being a twenty–four pound round shot. There were
shovels and a Merriman rubber suit. Wound ingeniously and carefully
on pins, were long coils of shot–line, that could be slipped off any
moment, and sent whizzing and flying behind an iron ball. There were
also long coils of rope, to be used in completing the connection
between a wreck and the shore. Of the three sizes, the largest, a
four–inch cable, was employed with the life–car, and a three–inch cable
with the breeches buoy.

“There it is!” exclaimed Walter enthusiastically, as he crossed to the
left of the surf–boat and looked up at the life–car. This was suspended
from the ceiling. It resembled a boat, but it was covered. In the
center of the cover or roof, was an opening. At each end of the car,
were air–chambers.

“Woodbury Elliott says four small persons, or three large ones, can get
in there.”

“Yes, we calc’late to stow that number away.”

“And that opening is the manhole.”

“Yes, and when you are in, you can fasten the cover from the inside,
and be tight as a fly inside a drum.”

“I used to wonder how they could breathe, till I found out there were
little air–holes in the top.”

“Sartin.”

“And this is the cart,” said Walter, nodding toward a stout hand–cart.

“Yes, and you see she is all packed for sarvice any moment.”

Here the keeper laid his broad, hard hand on the apparatus in the cart.
There was the breeches buoy, consisting of a large cork ring, from
which drooped very stout, but very short legs, or “breeches.” A Lyle
gun, lighter than a mortar, and used for shooting a line to a wreck,
projected its nozzle from the heap in the cart.

“There is the cartridge–box,” said Walter. “And I suppose of course the
cartridges are there.”

“Yes, all ready, and two dozen primers are in there.”

“Pickaxe and shovel, and tackle and fall,” murmured Walter.

Yes, these were carried by the cart, and Walter saw little
tally–boards, inscribed with directions to a shipwrecked crew, for the
proper fastening of ropes to the vessel.

“Could I look into the closet where the Coston signals and rockets
are?” inquired Walter.

“Round this way,” replied the keeper, who was pleased to notice that
Walter knew so much about the apparatus at the station. He threw open
a door, and a drawer also. In this closet, were various pyrotechnic
treasures, serviceable with their brilliantly flashing fires for the
work of the surfmen.

The store of curiosities in the boat–room had not been exhausted yet.
Near the door of the living–room, was a row of shots that were adapted
to the Lyle gun, one end to rest on the powder, and in the other end
was a shank with an eye to which the line was fastened. On the left
side of the room, was a four–wheeled carriage for the hauling of the
boat. Hanging from the walls were ropes and oil suits. There was also
another closet of supplies. There were patrol lanterns, colored signal
lanterns, speaking trumpets, twenty–four pound shot for the mortars;
and what serviceable piece of apparatus was _not_ there?

“Glad to see you know so much about this ’ere room, Walter,” said the
keeper.

“Oh, yes, I’ve found out what I could,” replied “Surfman Six.”

During any visit at the station, Walter had gone about with two
observant eyes, and a tongue that was not ashamed to ask questions.
What he learned, he packed away for use in his retentive memory.

“You remember your beat when your father let you go one night with Tom
Walker?” said the keeper.

“Oh, yes.”

“All right. At the same time this evening, I’ll get you ready, and you
can patrol that same side of the station.”

At eight o’clock, Walter stood before the keeper like a knight that
some king was equipping and sending out for special service.

“I am all ready,” said the young surfman, his bright, hazel eyes
flashing like two of “Uncle Sam’s” patrol lanterns on a dark night. He
wore a cap that Aunt Lydia had lined with soft, warm flannel for this
particular duty. His feet were encased in rough, but strong boots;
and his clothes, though rough like the boots, were thick, with extra
linings, furnished by the same feminine skill as that which lined his
cap. He had buttoned up his stout fishing–jacket and now awaited the
keeper’s orders.

“There,” said the keeper. “Here is your time–detector, and here’s your
Coston signal. You know where the key to the detector is kept, I guess
I’ve given you directions enough ’bout lettin’ off your Coston signal
ef you see a vessel too near shore, or ef you want to signal to a craft
in any trouble. Wall, good luck!”

Out into the quiet, cool November night, Walter promptly stepped. He
halted one moment at the outside door. There was a moon somewhere in
the sky, and somewhere behind the station; and it threw its light on
that part of the shore and the sea which Walter fronted.

“How low the tide runs!” thought Walter. Beyond that rocky rim against
which the surf daily fretted, turning over and over like a wheel trying
to grind out of the way an obstacle, now stretched the uncovered sands.
He could easily mark off with his eye the dry sand, and then the wet
sand glistening in the moonlight. Then came the surf, a tumble of
silver. Beyond were dark, swelling, threatening folds, forever coming
up out of the sea as if to drown the earth; and yet forever breaking
down into white surf that rolled away in an impotent wrath. Beyond all,
was an untroubled surface of light and peace; this in turn ending in a
dark, hazy belt that encircled the horizon. There were two lighthouses
whose red fires flashed through this belt of haze, and jeweled it.
Above, were the stars, soft and peaceful.

“I will walk down on the sands,” thought the young patrol, and his
light was soon flashing above the floor of wet, glistening sand.
With keen eyes, he searched the surface of the sea for some sign of
danger; but the sea was innocent of all disturbance save the tumbling,
roaring surf at his feet. He saw a light up the beach that shifted
its place—a kind of firebug crawling away; but he knew it was only
the lantern of the other patrolman as he slowly walked his beat. What
a sense of responsibility came down on Walter’s shoulders! It seemed
as if he would be held accountable for any disaster to the world’s
shipping on his side of the station; while Slim Tarleton must look out
for all harm that threatened navigation on his, the westerly side of
the globe. After a while, this sense of responsibility lightened. He
was not accountable for _all_ the disasters on this, the easterly side
of the globe, but only on the ocean between Walter Plympton, surfman,
and Old England. This stretch of jurisdiction gradually narrowed. It
became only the ocean that he could see. This, though, was so quiet,
lamb–like, lustrous, that it dulled all sense of alarm; and Walter
began to think of something else, as he plodded along. There were the
stars. How quiet it was up in their sphere!

“There’s Orion!” he exclaimed, tracing the outlines of that celestial
hunter, whose acquaintance he had made in the academy.

“Where’s the Great Bear?” he said. And there it was; its fires mild
as dove’s eyes, that night. Then he hunted up the North Star, the
Pleiades, and other worthies. Having finished his astronomy, and as no
vessel out at sea sent up any rockets, and no vessel near the shore
needed his warning lantern, since the moon hung out a better one, he
began to watch the shadows of rocky bluffs, thrown down on the sands.
These were huge masses of blackness projected across the shining sands,
into which ran little rivulets of gold, where the water, left in pools,
tried to make its way down to the sea again. These golden streams,
though, could not wash away the great, ebony shadows.

“There’s the Crescent!” exclaimed Walter. He could make out its dark
ledges, and he located also the probable neighborhood of the Chair. He
plodded along in his uneventful walk. He reached the houses at the end
of his beat, and turned aside to hunt up the particular building where
he might expect to find the key of his detector.

“When I patrolled this beat that night with Tom Walker, I had no idea I
would ever be coming after that key to–night. Ah, there she is now!”
he exclaimed.

The key was in its accustomed place. Walter seized it, thrust it into
the hole in the detector, turned it, and proudly made his first record
as a surfman. Then he retraced his way to the sands, still glistening
in the moonlight, and slowly trudged back to the station. When at the
close of his long watch, he wearily passed upstairs, and dropped into
his warm bed, he went readily to sleep, but not into oblivion. He was
busily dreaming, dreaming that he was a knight, and King Barney was
dressing him in armor. Then he thought that armed with shield and spear
and sword, he went out upon the beach to fight the perils of the sea.
These took the form of a monster wriggling out of the surf; and as in
the old Grecian fable, Perseus was moved to rescue the maiden Andromeda
from a sea–horror, so he was striving to save May Elliott, bound like
Andromeda to the rocks on the shore. The battle was a long one and it
did not come off till toward morning. He was suddenly aroused by—was
it an angry stroke from a claw of the sea–dragon? It seemed so to
Walter; and looking up in a shivering horror, expecting to see the
most diabolical face ever invented, wasn’t he delighted to see—Tom
Walker’s shaggy head:

“Oh—h—Tom! That you! Well, if I ain’t glad to see you!”

Tom roared.

“Well, if I don’t call that a cordial greetin’! Ha—ha! Folks are apt
to feel t’other way, when waked up. Glad to see me! Ha—ha! Well, I’m
glad to see you. Come, breakfast’s ready. Cook Charlie’s taters will
soon be cold as the heart of a mermaid, if you ever dream of sich
things.”

Walter did not say whether he had been dreaming of such a character.



CHAPTER XIII.

UNDER FIRE.


Boardman Blake sat in his store, patiently holding his hands in his
lap, and waiting for a customer. Indeed, there seemed to be nothing
else that he could very well do. He was not needed in the barn, for
Don Pedro was there, looking faithfully after oxen and cows; after
“Old Jennie,” the mare, also. Boardman had just brought from the well
all that Aunt Lydia needed in her department—“two heapin’ pails of
water.” He was tired of looking at the few books on the shelves in the
store, and he had gone through the _County Bugle_ from its first note
to its last one. As no customer arrived, his only occupation was to
nurse his hands in his lap, and wait in hope. If Boardman had waited
until an actual customer had arrived, there would have been a good deal
of nursing. He supposed at first it was a customer, when he heard a
footstep at the door, and then caught the tinkle of the watchful bell.

“Ho, Walter, that you? I am glad to see you,” and as Uncle Boardman
welcomed the young man, he expressed his pleasure in a very beaming
smile and a very firm hand–grip. Walter explained the errand about
certain goods which Keeper Barney wanted Uncle Boardman to send to the
station, and the conversation then became a personal one.

“Well, Walter, how do you like the surf business?”

“Oh, I have enjoyed it so far. It’s not all play, though.”

“No, no! It’s a rough–and–tumble life when the winter sets in. However,
I would make the best of it.

“Oh, I mean to do that, uncle.”

Here Uncle Boardman looked out of the window, and twirling his hands in
his lap, talked away on this subject of making the best of things.

“Now, at the station you won’t find everything to your mind. You won’t
like all the men; but then you can make a good deal of what you do
like; and what you don’t like, you can just look over it, and try not
to mind it, Walter.”

“I know it. There’s Joe Cardridge. I don’t take to him a bit; but I try
not to mind him. And as for Tom Walker and Woodbury Elliott, I could
do anything for them. There’s Cook Charlie—he’s a jolly team, and the
Lowds, they’re great grinners, and the men make a deal of fun of them;
but they’re good–hearted as the days are long. I like Slim Tarleton.”

“Pretty hard trampin’ backwards and forwards, some nights, ain’t it?”

“Yes, that’s so; but then I say, ‘Well, there will be a warm bed when
I get through,’ and then in the morning, I can’t say I enjoy getting
up, turning out into a cold room; but I say, ‘There’s a lovely hot
breakfast downstairs,’ and I pop up quicker.”

“That’s it, Walter. I guess you’re getting the hang of the house.
How—how do you come on since—” Uncle Boardman hesitated. He felt the
pressure of a certain amount of responsibility, as he stood in the
place of Walter’s father and mother, and he wished to ask about his
religious life.

“Since—since you were confirmed, Walter?”

“I—I try to do right, uncle, and—”

“You stick to your prayers and your Bible?”

“Oh, yes. I miss my church, Sundays.”

“Well, Walter, do the best you can, your duty toward God and toward
man; but do it naturally.”

“What, sir?”

“Why, I mean by that—let me see how I shall put it? It seems to me
that I might—of course I don’t intend it—be too—too conscious of my
religion. Seems to me a man may be painfully so, going round with a
kind of holier–than–thou way. Do you understand me?”

“I think I do.”

“Just be natural. Let your religion just take possession of you, and
then come out just—just as song comes out of a bird. I don’t see
why it shouldn’t, for religion is the happiest thing in the world.
Sometimes, I find a man, and he makes me feel that he is so dreadful
good, why it would be taking a liberty, to laugh in his presence. Now
that man is sort of painfully conscious of his religion, all the time
a–worrying about it and a–fussing over it; and makes the people uneasy
all round him. Just be natural, Walter, and without your fussing over
it, it will come out easy and smooth as a bird’s singing. I tell you,
Walter, a good kind of religion is one that says when you weigh a
thing, ‘Sixteen ounces make a pound;’ and when you talk, ‘Thou shalt
not bear false witness against thy neighbor;’ and when it comes to our
no licensing, that says, ‘Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink,
that puttest thy bottle to him and makest him drunken also.’ Do you
understand, Walter? Be thorough in your religion. Pray, but act as you
pray.”

“I want to do that way.”

This was the answer Walter made audibly. What he added silently, and
what he repeated as he was going to the station, was this: “Uncle
Boardman can afford to talk, for Uncle Boardman practices. I don’t care
how much I have of that man’s religion. ‘Make the best of things,’ he
said. I wonder if he isn’t having a hard time in his mill business with
Baggs, and if it don’t come hard to be cheerful!”

It did “come hard be cheerful,” for Uncle Boardman had only been a
fly in the web of that spider, “Belzebub” Baggs. To erect the mill
and inaugurate the business there, Uncle Boardman had been obliged to
put on his home a mortgage, additional to one already existing. The
first burden, the house might have sustained; but under the additional
pressure of the second, the house threatened, as a piece of of Blake
property, to collapse. Did not the fly know he was walking into a
spider’s web, when “Belzebub” came, and spoke soft words, and made
extravagant promises? The fly was suspicious, but the spider showed him
a recommendation from two men of excellent judgment whom he personally
knew. Enticed by the assurance that B. Baggs was a man of business, a
man of money, and a man of morals, the fly walked into the spider’s
web. Discovering his mistake, Uncle Boardman was now trying to rectify
it; refusing to place any more money in the mill enterprise. And
didn’t the spider threaten vengeance! Didn’t he turn on the poor fly,
and torment him with the fact that he held a certain note against him
almost due, and whose payment he would press!

“Oh!” thought Uncle Boardman. “It’s that note for $500, which I lost
somehow, and then I gave him another. Well!”

That was all the fly could say. He knew he had made mistakes, but they
were mistakes based on the opinion of those whom he supposed he could
trust. Now that the toils of the spider were closing about him, he was
doing his best to struggle out of them.

“I won’t, though, make others just miserable with my troubles,” he
declared. “I won’t give up. I’ll—I’ll—”

When he reached this place, Boardman Blake always looked up; and
amid the storm clouds, steadily gathering, not slowly but rapidly
increasing, he could see one little place that held a star.

“I’ll trust my Heavenly Father,” he said, trying to be cheerful,
patiently bearing Aunt Lydia’s reflections, (those were rather gingery
at first), good–naturedly standing up, and taking the raillery of his
neighbors also. Aunt Lydia! She _was_ gingery at first, peppery even,
and that of the cayenne sort, but when she understood the nature of the
influence brought to bear upon her husband, that he had been guided by
the judgment of others, who were supposed to be wiser, she sheathed her
tongue in all possible charity. She played the part of the true wife,
and silently looking at him through the eyes of a woman’s pity, stood
by him, and defended him, with all of a woman’s devotion and courage.

As Walter neared the station, there was a sneer leaning against the
door, and this sneer was two–legged: it was Joe Cardridge. It was a
mild December day, and he was lazily enjoying its sunshine. As Walter
approached, he superciliously looked him over, and said “Hullo,
surf–boy!”

“How are ye!” replied Walter pleasantly.

“Surf–boy” was a title, which, spoken in Joe’s sneering way, Walter
did not fancy. If Tom Walker had roared it out, Tom would have put into
it a tone of hearty good–will; and Walter would have worn the name
gladly. Joe added a sneer to it, and the title galled Walter. However,
he kept his temper under, and always addressed Joe courteously. The
other surfmen noticed Joe’s manner, and silently criticised it by
treating Walter’s youth with all the greater considerateness.

On one occasion when Joe contemptuously and with the spirit of a bully
had flung this title at him, Slim Tarleton remarked, “Hullo, Walter!
You’ve got a lot of strength, I know. You have got master arms. We’ve
got an old stump in our cow pasture, and I mean to tell father to let
you try on it when we are takin’ up stumps.”

There was no Slim standing at the station door to offset Joe’s present
sneer with the tender of another stump.

“Ben movin’ the world, boy?” continued Joe.

“I have been up to Uncle Boardman’s,” replied Walter.

“How is his mill gettin’ on? ‘A fool and his money is soon parted,’
they say.”

“He is not a fool,” said Walter resolutely. “I believe if he had an
honest man to deal with, he would get along.”

“Indeed!” remarked Joe sneeringly.

Several of the surfmen now came to the door, tempted by the mild air,
whose softness seemed to be on sea and land, softening all glaring
color and over all roughness throwing a veil of purplish haze. It was
one of the fine effects of that scenic painter, Nature.

Who of those present understood that Joe Cardridge was not only an ally
of the great Baggs, but also his hired—I can hardly say paid—agent?
It was he that had induced a number of the men to intrust their money
with Baggs; and on every man’s money he had been promised a commission.

“I most–er–wish I had taken out my kermission fust, afore sendin’ Baggs
the money,” Joe had said; but it was too late to make changes. He
still lived, though, in the hope that out of those exhaustless money
fountains Baggs was reputed to own, a golden stream might run some day
into Joe Cardridge’s pocket. Feeling that he was the representative
of the great house of Baggs, he did not fancy the nature of Walter’s
remark, knowing its meaning. However, the thunder storm raging under
his vest he prudently concealed in the presence of Tom Walker, Cook
Charlie, and Woodbury Elliott. Although he had received no pay from the
great mercantile house employing him, he meant in its behalf to give
“pay,” in an underhand fashion to the young fellow now insulting Baggs,
as he thought.

“Fellers,” he said, “it’s pleasant, and the grass is thick and dry; and
it won’t hurt if we git tumbled; and let’s have a rastle.”

The proposition of a friendly wrestle did not seem unpleasant to these
young fishermen, proud of their muscle, and ambitious to show it.

“I’m willin’,” said Tom Walker, gaping, and at the same time
ostentatiously throwing up a pair of brawny arms.

“So am I,” said Woodbury Elliott, straightening up, and bringing into
firm outline his splendid frame.

“So—so—am I,” said Cook Charlie, waddling about; “pervided—you let
me beat.”

This proposition was welcomed with a laugh, but it was instantly
followed by another from Joe.

“Come, surf–boy, let’s you and me try.”

“Surf–boy!” growled Tom Walker. “He has got a lot of strength, Joe.”

“Oh, I’m willing,” said Walter pleasantly “Any time.”

Joe was the older and the taller of the two, but Walter was as heavy,
and his frame was more compact. Joe’s bones had been put together
loosely. If Walter could have looked down to the bottom of Joe’s
dark, evil eyes, he would have read this determination there: “I’ll
punish this boy smartly ’fore I git through with him to–day.” Walter
however saw no such sinister spirit, and he only said, “Ready!” The two
gripped, and quickly Joe came to the ground in a heap. Joe looked angry
when he rose. “Let’s try that agin!” he said.

Woodbury noticed the anger in Joe’s face, and called out, “Fair play,
fair!”

Joe made no answer, but renewed his effort, only to make a worse heap
on the ground than before. When he rose the second time, he was furious
with wrath and immediately struck at Walter. The “surf–boy” though,
quietly pinioned his arms and laid him on the ground a third time.
Rising again, his fury was his master, and he would have thrown himself
on Walter, but Tom Walker and Woodbury Elliott planted themselves
before Joe, and called out to him to stop.

“I challenge—him!” said the almost breathless Joe. “I
want—to—try—it—in fightin’ fashion.”

“I shan’t fight,” said Walter. “But I can take care of myself if I am
attacked.”

“You are afeared!”

“Quiet, Joe!” said Tom. “He has come off fust best, and he is not
afraid; and he could use you all up, and I ’vise you to keep quiet. You
ought to be ashamed of yourself that you can’t play fair. Here comes
the keeper, too.”

Hearing this, Joe stumbled off into the station, looking like a
disgraced animal, which he really was. He muttered vengeance however,
as he stole away.

“Didn’t that boy carry himself well?” said Tom to Woodbury, as they
strolled back of the station. “I’ve been a–watchin’ him and he has
stood Joe’s mean fire like a hero. I think he means to do the right
thing.”

“No doubt about that; but I guess he felt pretty well stirred up.”

“That’s so. I imagine he jest felt like bilin’ over; but he didn’t show
it more than the outside of an iron pot, where the bilin’ is. I think
he did well. He jest conquered that Joe, and he conquered himself; and
I think I could more easily give ten lickin’s of the fust sort, to one
of the second.”

As for Walter, he had entered the station, gone upstairs, and was
looking out of a window that faced the west, where the sun was
frescoing the misty walls of the sky with daintiest shades. He was
in no quiet mood. He was sorry that he had consented to any trial of
strength ending so unpleasantly. He was sorry to find out that under
the roof with him, was an avowed enemy. The world looks friendly to the
young, and it is a bitter discovery to hear lions roaring about our
path. Walter resolved, though, he would try the harder to do only the
thing that was right; and as he stood with his face to the flaming sky,
he asked God to help him.



CHAPTER XIV.

TWO BAD CASES.


Old Capt. Elliott, so the people called him, could not climb a certain
stairway. That was not so strange, for it was the stairway of a new
life, and amendment is sometimes the hardest thing one can attempt.
And yet it does not seem as if a little piece of paper, would have so
hindered Capt. Elliott—a little piece of paper in his pocket—for it
bore him down as if it had been a mill–stone round his neck, and climb,
he could not. Say rather, climb he _would_ not. The facts were these.
He had been very much agitated by the services at the Hall. They were a
glass to his soul, in which he had looked, and had seen what a needy,
miserable being he was. He resolved he would begin a new life, and he
climbed one step in that stairway—the step of prayer. He thought he
had climbed another step, which is just as important, repentance; that
he had begun to leave behind him old sins and was on the way to speedy
improvement. But a call one evening from Miss P. Green led him to think
otherwise. She suddenly appeared at his door, interrupting him while he
was praying, her bright eyes flashing and her little curls dancing, and
handing him a letter, remarked, “I found this in the mail, Cap’n, and
none of your folks were down, and as I was over this way, I thought I
would bring it along.”

“Thank ye,” he replied gruffly, and taking the proffered note, he
turned away, leaving Miss P. Green on the broad stone steps before his
door.

She withdrew her bright eyes and her dancing little curls, saying,
“There, I should have thought he might have said, ‘It’s from
so–and–so.’ That would have been some pay; but _I_ know! It’s from
Boardman Blake. I can tell his handwriting a mile off. I wonder what he
is writing for, when he might come himself.”

Capt. Elliott also wondered; but some things we can say better with our
pens than we can with our tongues, and this was Boardman’s situation.

The old man forced open the envelope with his big fingers, and read
this:

  “CAPT. ELLIOTT;

 “_Dear Sir_,—I am aware that the time on my mortgage is up, and I know
 you have a right to come over and take my house. I thought perhaps you
 might give me a little time, as it is very hard just now to raise any
 money. If you could do this, it would be a great favor to me. I am a
 good deal worried about it, and am sorry you can’t have your money.
 Hoping you can oblige me, I am,

  “Truly yours,
  “BOARDMAN BLAKE.”

“Can’t pay!” sneered the captain. “How does he get money to live on?
How does he s’pose I can live? Wants a little time? Well, hasn’t he had
it? It is that old mill into which his money has gone, and now he wants
more time. Nonsense!”

Capt. Elliott put the document in his pocket and tried to pray once
more, but he couldn’t. The step he wanted to climb up was so hard,
or rather that paper in his pocket was so weighty! “A little time,”
he kept mumbling to himself. Gray–headed old man, chafing because a
worried neighbor begged him not to take his house, but give him a
little time in which to attempt payment, while he himself was only
a beggar at God’s throne, and had not that Heavenly Father given
him a long time for repentance? Who was he, thus gripping another
unfortunate by the neck and refusing him the solicited favor? Get up
from your knees, Capt. Elliott. Stop your praying and go to writing.
Tell Boardman Blake he shall have his “little time.” Then kneel again
and ask God to have mercy on you, an undeserving old beggar. As it is,
that note in your pocket clogs your progress, holds you down and holds
you back. You thought you were getting along rapidly, and had mounted
several stairs and were up quite high. Now you feel bruised and sore,
and down in the depths, as if you had had a tumble and were lying at
the foot of the stairway again. A bad case indeed.

Ah, God will not take us unless we come to him whole–hearted in our
desire to serve Him, and not only ready to give up every sin, but
actually giving it up, letting go old grudges, willing to do the just
and honest and generous thing by our neighbor. Then He takes us up in
His arms and calls us, “Son, Daughter!”

Another bad case, and that very day too. The day was not stormy, and
yet threatening. The sea looked cold, and the white crests of the
waves were like patches of snow, pure but chilling, while between
these wintry tufts were black hollows of water. A mist had advanced
so far toward the station that the shore could not be inspected from
the lookout two miles either way. The patrols were on duty therefore,
and Walter was at the Crescent end of the beach, as that part facing
the rocks in the river was called. Wrapped in his thick, warm fisher
jacket, he faced the keen, chilly though not violent wind blowing from
the north–east. Now he made broad footprints in the gray sand with his
big rubber boots, then he stumbled over rocks matted with the rich
brown of the sea–weed, or some bold encroachment of the sea would
compel him to withdraw to the top of a high wall of rock. He was near
the end of his beat, and halted a moment to watch the play of the waves
about the Chair.

He soon became aware of the presence of another spectator, somebody
looking in the same direction. It was a man leaning upon a bulky rock
projecting from the sands. As soon as Walter saw his bending form,
the broad back, the strong shoulders supporting a round head, and
noticed that he was a person of short stature, he exclaimed, “That’s
the man! That’s the way the man looked whom I saw one morning in Uncle
Boardman’s store, standing behind the counter as if handling the books
on those shelves. I have been hunting for him all this time. Yes,
that’s—” The man here turned quickly about, and involuntarily Walter
added, and said it aloud, “Baggs!”

“Hum, did you want me?” replied Baggs rather ungraciously.

“Oh!” said Walter confusedly. “Beg your pardon, Mr. Baggs. Good
morning!”

“Well, no, I should think it was a bad morning. I want to know why you
are interrupting me.”

“I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I am on my beat, and I only wish to
attend to that. I saw you looking at the Chair, and I was looking at it
myself.”

“Well, can’t a man look at the Chair and not be interrupted?” replied
Baggs, with a good deal of warmth.

“Oh, yes, and I can too,” said Walter, who was not the person to
be crowded when in the discharge of his duties. He felt that he
represented the whole Life Saving Service of the Atlantic coast, and
he was not willing that Baggs or any one else should do anything that
looked like interference. “I suppose,” added Walter, “I looked at you
rather hard, for you made me think of a man who mysteriously appeared
and then disappeared in my uncle’s store one morning.” The next
moment, Walter was saying to himself, “There, I did not intend to say
that. Just like me to let a thing out.”

Walter’s impulsive nature could not easily retain in concealment
anything that interested him. It was like an arrow on the string of a
drawn bow, and fly it might, any moment. Baggs was disposed to let fly
something also.

“Then you haven’t forgotten that, have you?” he said testily. “What
do you suppose a man would want in there, at that time? He couldn’t
be stealin’, for I’d like to know what your uncle has got in there
that’s worth stealin’, or got anywhere as to that matter. No, sir, I
wasn’t the man. My mission is not that of a thief,” said the pure and
lofty Baggs, striking an attitude designed to be majestic, but which
only made more conspicuous the awkward proportions of his thick, squat
figure.

“If you had let my uncle alone,” exclaimed Walter very decidedly, “he
would have had something that might have been worth the envying.”

“Are you going to teach _me_, sir?”

“No, I am going about my business,” replied Walter coolly, “for I can’t
stay here any longer.”

“Well, sir, another time don’t interrupt anybody looking off.”

“I am willing any one should look at the Chair all day, Mr. Baggs. Good
day, sir.”

Walter had said, “Well, I’ll treat him decently anyway,” but his last
remark had an effect that does not generally follow “decent” remarks.
Baggs trembled with excitement, blustered, almost foamed, and inquired
stammeringly, “Why—why should I—look at—the Chair? Why—why—what
have I done—to it—why—what have I done to the Chair? You, you’re
mistaken, sir, you—”

Walter turned away in silence and walked on to the end of his beat.
Baggs remained, muttering to himself as he looked toward the ill–omened
rocks. When he did leave, he took the road leading to the village,
passed through The Harbor and then followed the winding line of the
water up to the mill.

“My nephew!” he exclaimed, and stopped as that brisk vigorous young
trader approached.

“Not much trade stirring to–day,” remarked Chauncy, rubbing his hands.

“Won’t be in this hole,” replied the uncle gloomily.

“Oh, yes,” said Chauncy encouragingly, “it will come, it will come.
Fact is, the weather is against us. You can’t force a market against
the weather.”

The two had halted near the water. Just beyond their feet, in a little
curve of the shore, the water suddenly deepened. The boys of the
neighborhood called it the “Pool,” and sometimes used it as a bathing
tub.

“There are too many people that are against us ever to expect much,
Chauncy.”

“What do you mean, uncle?”

“Well,” said Baggs, dropping his voice and moving his head nearer to
Chauncy’s ear as if afraid that somebody might hear him, “there is that
Walter Plympton. I think he knows more than is good for our business.
He must somehow be forced out of the neighborhood. As I understand it,
he will not be at the station long, but he must not stay here at all. I
will get his old booby uncle to send him home; and I want you, nephew”
(he always said this when he wished to be affectionate, and sincerely
affectionate he never was), “I want you, nephew, to say round here and
there, you know, that you—don’t think he is much of a feller—indeed
you know of his bein’—bein’—”

“Being what, uncle?” asked Chauncy eying sharply his relative.

“Well, if you don’t just know, get up something. Well—”

“Get up what, uncle?”

“Well, now, at the ’cademy, wasn’t there some scrape, wasn’t there
drinkin’, wasn’t there—”

Chauncy was flippant and conceited and brassy, and he had veneered
certain of his uncle’s tricks of trade with the name “business
methods,” and had practiced them as the customary thing among shrewd,
enterprising men, and therefore permissible. Chauncy was not base
enough to spatter with lies the character of one whom he knew to be
trustworthy. He had rather avoided Walter since the boat–race, but he
could not deliberately go to work to ruin his character. Chauncy now
mildly demurred; but at the same time, he lifted his cap and stroked
those formidable locks of hair, and that meant a pugnacious attitude, a
very decided, “I won’t.”

“Oh, I don’t believe I would, uncle,” said Chauncy. “I don’t really
know anything against Walter. He’s a sort of a Puritan, and thinks
considerable of Walter Plympton; but we all of us have a pretty good
idea of ourselves. Guess I wouldn’t,” and he added a title sometimes
used among the great man’s relatives, “Uncle Bezzie.”

This fond uncle was not in a mood to be contradicted, and then patted
with a soft title. He turned fiercely on Chauncy, his face swelling
and darkening, his crooked eye flashing, and his voice roughening.

“What are you—you—makin’ opposition for? Who raised you,—who—raised
you, sir,—yes, raised from—from obscurity, and gave you a place
in—in—a fust class mercantile house? What—why—do you oppose for?
You ought to be ashamed of yourself, sir, yes—and—take that.”

The uncle here lost control of the temper hidden behind the usually
mild voice. He lost control of himself altogether, for advancing toward
the astonished Chauncy, who was peacefully but decidedly rubbing his
lofty knob of hair, he suddenly and violently pushed his beloved nephew
over into the water. There was a fearful agitation, for a few moments,
down in that hitherto peaceful pool; but Chauncy soon crawled out of
the unexpected bath.

“That’s—that’s mean!” he ejaculated, spitting the water from his mouth
and shaking it off from his dripping clothes. Baggs, though, did not
hear him. He was angrily moving away.



CHAPTER XV.

THE BARNEY LITERARY CLUB.


Cook Charlie was a blessing. Nature had made him that handsome present
of a happy temperament, and common sense had taught him to take good
care of the gift.

“I know my man,” said Keeper Barney when he hired him. “He’s worth a
fortin.”

I have already said that Cook Charlie was fat. He was also bald. Though
not over thirty, his appearance of age gave a certain authority to his
opinions, and a second title for him was that of “old man.” Old man or
young man, he was always good–natured. Did it blow without? Did the
wind bring a sting with every blast? Cook Charlie was calm. Did the
sky scowl on the tired surfman? Cook Charlie was sure to smile. Did
any discussion in the living–room become a disputation, ill–natured,
angry, and did the men turn uneasily in their chairs, stamping stormily
on the floor with their hard, heavy boots? “So—so, boys,” Cook Charlie
would exclaim. “Now, look here! Let me put that question.” And this
amiable manipulator of contentious souls would “put the question” so
skillfully that both sides might find themselves on the same side!
Then Cook Charlie was monarch of the kitchen stove. He knew that, and
what a center of comfort and happiness he made that stove! No sulking
fire—one big, black pout—awaited the chilled surfman when he came
from his windy beat; but a cheery heat radiated from that stove, in
whose ascending current the patrolman rubbed and bathed his hands
gratefully. Then the breakfasts, dinners, and suppers! There was not
a great variety of food, but it was sure to be hot. It was sure to be
abundant also. Then Cook Charlie would have a little “surprise” for the
men, perhaps a pudding that he would covertly slip out of the oven and
land on the table amid a series of, “Oh—Oh—Oh!” I think he realized
that he had a mission in that bleak little station, and with his cook
stove he could do marvels. He did not say it in words, but there was a
cheerful little tune forever sounding in his thoughts, and this was the
burden of the song:

        “My stove is king,
         My stove is king.”

“Mr. Barney,” said the district superintendent Baker, one day, “who is
your right hand man here—I mean the one you get the most help from?”

“My cook,” said the keeper promptly. “Of course he wants his wages, but
I don’t think he works just for them. I think he takes a pleasure in
seein’ how well he can do. He keeps his fire in good condition all the
time, so that the boys can warm themselves handy any hour; and then,
you know, surfmen must be well fed if you want good work of them. I
call Cook Charlie my steerin’ oar.”

It was Cook Charlie that Walter had a special talk with one morning.
The young surfman’s watch was now toward sunrise. He halted as he was
about finishing his beat, and from the doorstep of the station, looked
off upon the sea. Winter was whitening the earth, but the warm flush of
summer was on the sea and in the sky. It was a holiday sky, a long fold
of purple swathing the horizon. Then came a pink flush, and deep set in
this was the morning star. The sea was one vast sheet of silver, warm
and placid. Along the shore, it was wrinkled and broken into surf. Far
at the right, the sky was of a cold azure, and the sea beneath it was
chilled and shadowy also. Here were two vessels sailing. They seemed to
be eagerly pushing toward that summer light in the east and that sea of
silver.

“I’ll watch the sun come up,” said Walter, and this sentinel of the
Life Saving Service, his extinguished lantern in his hand, stood
sharply watching as if for an enemy that would come by water. A noise
on the land called his attention away for a few minutes. When he turned
again, no enemy was there on that still, shining sea, but away off on
the horizon’s edge was a tiny, pink boat, a boat without oar or sail,
a boat that must have come for a carnival, but had mistaken the time
of the year. The pink flamed into silver, and the little boat became a
gay turban of some royal Turk about to show his eyes and peep over the
horizon line at the earth. Was this the enemy that the young coastguard
expected? No, the turban expanded into a very big innocent–looking
frozen pudding laid by Neptune’s jolly cook on this smooth, polished
table of the sea. This confectioner’s dish soon began to rise, growing
into a lofty, bulging dome, a towering dome, rising, swelling, rounding
out—till there swung clear of the sea a globe of fire, the sun
himself! He began to assert his presence in the most unmistakable way,
sending out the sharpest, the most dazzling rays, from which Walter was
glad to turn away his eyes.

“A new day,” said Walter, “and what is to be done to–day? Breakfast,
and then I may turn in awhile, and have a nap. The newspaper will come,
and I suppose I shall read that. We shall have a drill of some kind,
and the watch from the lookout must be kept up. Then I suppose we shall
be loafing about Charlie’s stove. I believe I have about gone through
that library in the corner. I wish—yes—and I’ll ask Charlie about it
right off.”

Cook Charlie was alone with his stove, his coffee–pot, and frying–pan.
An appetizing fragrance welcomed the hungry young surfman as he opened
the door of the station.

“Good chance now,” thought Walter, “and I’ll speak about it.”

“Charlie,” said Walter, laying down his time–detector and signal, and
hanging up his lantern, “I wanted to ask your opinion.”

“Ask away. No charge made.”

“You know time hangs a little heavy here.”

“That’s so, Walter, but what of it?”

“Well, I was thinking if we couldn’t have a little variety here. Now
there are some subjects that it would be rather interesting to know
about, it seems to me, and it would be in our line of business. I mean
such as the sea and storm, or commerce, or our Life Saving Service and
that of England. You know somebody might write on them, and we have a
little society–meeting and read our pieces. We could have a certain
afternoon for it, and then we could discuss subjects. We might call it
the ‘Mutual Improvement Society,’ or something like that, you know.”

“That’s quite an idea, Walter. The name though might frighten some of
’em out of doors.”

“Call it—call it ‘Round the Stove Society.’”

“Ha–ha, we have that all the time. That’s a sticker, the name. What
shall she be? Well, I guess we had better get our boat before we name
it. You let me speak to the Cap’n, and then if he favors it, you say a
word to Tom and Woodbury, and I’ll try the rest.”

Keeper Barney that morning was delayed by his work, and took his fried
potatoes, biscuit and coffee after the usual breakfast hour. Cook
Charlie thought, “Now is the time. We are alone, and I’ll bring up
that little matter now. Let me see; how shall I take him? The Cap’n
is a fustrate feller, but he likes to have the credit of siggestin’,
and doin’ things hisself. I must jest fix it in some way so that he’ll
mention it hisself. Let’s see.”

Fingering his bald head as if he expected to find the right idea on
the outside, if not inside, he approached the keeper, holding out
an additional plate of “fried taters” just from the pan, steaming
and savory, as an innocent magnet to bring the keeper’s heart into a
favorable attitude toward the new plan.

“Oh, Charlie, you’re real good,” exclaimed the keeper.

“You earn it, Cap’n. You have to work hard enough on somethin’ all the
time, fussin’ or worryin’. I wish the men only had somethin’ to occupy
their time.”

“‘Twould be a good idea if they would jest till up their spare
minutes,” remarked the keeper, as he drank with avidity his coffee.

“A readin’ somethin’, you know; and it wouldn’t hurt ’em to be
a–studyin’.”

“I know it. I wish our superintendent at Washington would send us two
or three—four or five nice new books every winter for our lib’ry.
Congress, of course, must give him the money.”

“Why, Cap’n, I’ve let your cup be empty! Jest let me fill it up smokin’
hot.”

“Charlie, you know jest where a man feels tender. You ought to run a
beach hotel.”

“I am a–doin’ it now, Cap’n. Ha–ha! There, take another biscuit, a hot
one. I do wish the men would be improvin’ their minds. Everybody can
do somethin’. One winter I was at Duxton, the young people there had
a little society, to write on subjects, you know. Fact is, people can
improve themselves if they want ter.”

The keeper made no reply, not even saying, “A–hem!” He continued to eat
in silence. Charlie eyed him sharply.

“Hullo! He’s got an idea! That’s the way he allers does when an idea
strikes him. He says nothin’ and eats faster and faster, as if an idea
on four legs, its mouth open, was after him. Hold on!” thought the cook.

Soon came a communication from the silent eater. He looked up, and then
slammed his hands on the table.

“Charlie, I’ve got an idea! Now what do you think of it? There’s no
sense in the men’s loafin’ round the stove forever. Let’s get up a
society, a kind of readin’, perhaps speakin’ or debatin’ society. Call
it—the—the—”

“Cap’n, you’ve hit the nail on the head. A cap’tul idee! Call it the
Barney Lit’rary Club. Hoor–rah!”

And here Cook Charlie in his enthusiasm began to swing the dish that he
held in his hand. It was half full of crisp brown potatoes, and they
too were unable to resist the excitement of the hour, and danced off in
every direction.

“Oh, Cap’n, there’s the rest of your breakfast!”

“No matter!” said the keeper, a light flashing from his eyes that made
still warmer the color of his hair, his face and his beard. “No matter!
I’ve had a good breakfast. We’ve got an idee, you know, to pay for it.”

“That’s so, Cap’n. You brought down the right bird that time.”

“You might sound the men on the subject and tell ’em what I’m
a–thinkin’ of.”

“I will, Cap’n.”

“There’s Walter. He’s handy with his pen. You tech him up.”

“I will, sure.”

“I must be off now on the beach.”

As he left the room, Cook Charlie went to the door leading upstairs
and called out, “Come here, Walter. The Cap’n’s proposed jest what we
wanted, and I engaged to speak to you. Come down! I want to ‘tech’ you
up.”

Details were all arranged, and one afternoon the “Barney Literary
Club” held its first meeting. It was a wintry day without. The wind
blew sharp and strong from the north–west, and meeting the tide that
was coming in, broke up the sea into short, fierce little waves whose
dark, angry blue was spattered with flakes of white, chilling foam.
Across the frozen land and the dark sea, the brightest of suns looked
smilingly out of a clear sky, but his smiles did not warm the land or
cheer the sea. Did not all this though, make the living–room of the
station a snugger, jollier place?

“A grain small,” thought the keeper, “is this room when we and our big
boots all try to get into it, but we have had some good times here, and
we will have to–day another.”

The keeper, as president, sat in the chair of honor, and that was an
ordinary chair placed against the wall between the boat–room door and
the outer door. At his right sat Cook Charlie, the secretary, awkwardly
fumbling a lead pencil and sheet of paper. Walter was on the left of
the president. An eager yet embarrassed look was on his face, for he
had been appointed to read a paper which he nervously clutched with
both hands. The other members of the crew were scattered about the
room, all of them permanently located except Slim Tarleton. It was his
watch, and every few minutes he would run up the stairs and from the
lookout sweep with his glass the sea, that subtle, treacherous power
which must be watched, day and night. The president made a very short
speech to the “Barney Literary Club,” and then read a paper on the
United States Life Saving Service. The facts given are embodied already
in this book.

“I will now call on Walter for a paper,” said the president.

There was a tickle that needed to be expelled from Walter’s throat, and
at the same time a warm blush spread up to the roots of his hair.

“My paper is on the Life Saving Service of other countries. Great
Britain, which has a coast almost five thousand miles long, has a
Royal National Life–boat Institution. It is supported by voluntary
offerings. Its object is to provide and maintain life–boats, and it
also rewards efforts to save the shipwrecked at points where it may
have no station. A life–boat with all necessary equipments, and that
would include carriage, will cost somewhat over three thousand dollars,
and a boathouse can be built for about seventeen hundred. The cost of
keeping up a station is about three hundred and fifty dollars for the
year, a sum that would support an American station with seven men for
only one month. In England, the above sum pays the crew for going off
to any wrecks, for exercising their boat once every three months, and
covers also the coxswain’s salary and any repairs. The life–boats are
of different sizes—six, eight, ten and twelve–oared. Some of the crews
go out but seldom. When it is rough thereabouts at the Goodwin Sands,
the life–boat men must stand watch all the time. At Ramsgate, the
service is so important that a steamer waits on the boat constantly,
its fires banked up ready for any emergency. Different cities like
Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and others, have given life–boats to the
Institution, and contribute every year to its funds.

“England’s work though for the shipwrecked takes in something else
besides the work of the life–boats. There is the Rocket Service. The
thirtieth of June, 1881, there were two hundred and eighty–eight rocket
stations. The rocket apparatus consists of the rocket, the rocket line,
the whip, the hawser, and sling life–buoy. The rocket has a line, a
light one, fastened to it, which is shot over a wreck. Then the rest of
the apparatus is used. We use the gun or mortar instead of the rocket.
England’s rocket stations are under the control of the Board of Trade.
The men of the coastguard manage the rockets. For every life saved, the
Board of Trade pays a sum of money. It gives medals also to those who
may have shown unusual courage. The wants of sailors and others who may
be saved from shipwreck are now met by the ‘Shipwrecked Fishermen and
Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society.’ The work, then, that we do in our
stations, in England seems to be spread out, and it is done by several
bodies, and how much the whole may cost, I can’t say. Of course, it
is not fair to compare the money expended in England with the amount
we spend, until we know all the expenses there. I think, though, our
system is better than England’s.

“There is a ‘French Society for Saving Life from Shipwreck.’ It was
started in 1865, and not only along the coast of France, but in Algeria
and other colonies, has this society carried on its work. In sixteen
years, it saved two thousand and one hundred and twenty–nine lives.
June 30th, 1881, it had sixty–two life–boat stations, and three hundred
and ninety–one mortar or other projectile stations. It is modeled after
the English system, but it prefers the gun to the rocket.

“There is the ‘German Association for the Rescue of Life from
Shipwreck,’ founded in 1865. It is supported by donations. The last
report I saw, gave it seventy–four life–boat stations, twenty of these
having the mortar or rocket apparatus. There must be a larger number
now. In 1880–81, it saved two ships and a hundred and twenty–two lives;
and from May, 1880, to May, 1881, its members subscribed over a quarter
of a million of dollars. Germany has flat sandy beaches, and it cannot
so well use England’s heavy boats. It is said that in Russia, Italy and
Spain, life saving societies patterned more or less after England’s
‘National Life–boat Institution,’ have been organized. England must
have a magnificent navy of life–boats and a fine rocket service; but
I guess Uncle Sam with his hands in his deep pockets, paying out more
and more every year, has organized a service that can’t be matched
elsewhere. That is my opinion, and I would like to ask the company’s.”

This patriotic appeal to the company was exceedingly popular. Boots
went down heavily, hands came together sharply, and enthusiastic cries
of “Good!” “Good!” were heard all over the room. Then the secretary
read a humorous paper on “The Surfman—his first Stormy Patrol,”
giving experiences he had gleaned from the crew, and so faithfully
reported that they were readily recognized, winning him a round of
hand–claps.

“Woodbury!” “Woodbury!” was now heard from several quarters. “That
Sea–Sarpent! Let us have it!” “Don’t be bashful!”

Woodbury Elliott was nervously twisting in his chair, the color
deepening in his fair complexion, saying, “No! No! I couldn’t!” But
the Literary Club had all attended school with him, save Walter and
Joe Cardridge (a bad specimen of imported humanity) and they knew what
Woodbury could do at “speakin’ pieces.”

That famous character, the sea–serpent, he had made still more famous
by his successful delivery, at school, of a comical criticism upon the
animal, and in after days, it would often be called for, and was always
sure of an admiring audience.

“Well, here goes!” said the surfman, and Woodbury Elliott rose to give
once more this marine gem. The laughter following it was hearty as
ever, but it had not wholly died away when an unexpected orator, Joe
Cardridge, volunteered to entertain the Literary Club.

“Boys, you did not know I was a speaker. Well, I was some, once,” he
asserted in his conceited way, “and if you’d like, I’ll give you the
‘Auctioneer.’”

Without waiting for an answer from the club, he called out to Cook
Charlie, “Where is that butter firkin I saw round here? I want it to
stand on.”

“A leetle ticklish, Joe. I wouldn’t resk it.”

“Oh, it’s good enough. An auctioneer must be up ’bove his crowd, you
know. Fun for ye now, boys, I tell ye. I was always great on it, and I
guess I’m good for it now. Where’s that firkin?”

The firkin was brought, turned upside down, and Joe mounted it. He
had forgotten a part of his speech, but it made no difference in his
enjoyment of his fancied brilliant success. He gesticulated, jumped
up and down, endeavored to work up into buying mood his audience with
frequent threats like this, “Goin’, goin’, genlummum!” The bottom of a
butter firkin can stand what is reasonable, but what self–respecting
firkin will submit to everything? Joe’s would not. In the midst of
several infuriated shrieks. “Goin’, goin’, genlummum,” his audience
looking on with a silent but manifest sneer, several heard a suspicious
“cr—cr—ack!” Joe in his intense admiration of the performer did
not hear it. He gave another jump, the word “gone” issuing from his
throat, when the firkin emphasized this threat by suddenly withdrawing
its bottom, and “gone” it was for the auctioneer! Down he came,
partly in the firkin and partly outside of it, falling in a very
mixed condition. The club roared. Any merriment was now sincere. The
president forgot all his dignity and joined in the laugh. The secretary
was always ready for any fun. As for Joe, he was mad. He declared that
he had been insulted. “Fool!” he shouted at Walter. “What you larfin’
at?” Leering at the company in his rage and mortification, he rushed
out of doors.

“Guess he’ll cool off there,” observed the president. “We will have the
next exercise.”

This was the “Opening of the Drawer.” Any one was at liberty to drop
into an imaginary drawer any question about the papers. He could ask it
orally, or write it on a slip of paper. The club would then attempt to
answer the question.

After a session of two hours, this company of literati broke up. It
resolved itself into a station–crew again. Distinguished orators and
able writers changed into hungry surfmen around a supper table where
huge cups of coffee sent up little clouds of fragrant steam. There
was a further change into patrolmen in thick Scotch caps, and Guernsey
jackets and heavy, stamping boots, into watchers for the night coming
and going. At last the unemployed members of the Literary Club were
all soundly snoring under thick army blankets, the little kitchen was
deserted, save by the keeper, and the stove made but a faint little
murmur by the side of that great black ocean thundering on the rocks
and roaring all through the cold, black night.



CHAPTER XVI.

AN UGLY NIGHT.


The Advent days had now come, when the winds blow keen across the
frozen ground, and nature seems to be in a violent grief over sins it
had hoped to bury in frosty graves forever, but which will not quietly
lie there. “Beyond Advent though is Christmas,” thought Walter, “and I
shall spend it at Uncle Boardman’s. Father and mother will be there.”

Walter’s time at the station had almost expired. He could not say
that he was tired of the service, and yet he noticed something in the
attitude of the men which made him a little discontented. What it was,
he could not definitely say, but there was some coolness on their part.
Tom Walker and Woodbury Elliott were exceptions to any change by way of
coolness, and yet was there not a noticeable warmth of treatment on
their part? It had an element of pity, and as Joe Cardridge froze into
a cold, contemptuous silence toward Walter, as others coolly noticed
him, Tom and Woodbury were more cordial. When the wind, wintry and
sharp, cuts into a party of men out doors, they may protect themselves
against it by a fire. Does the wind blow more and more chilly? Then
they pile the wood higher and higher. So Tom and Woodbury made
friendship’s fire burn all the warmer, because an outside atmosphere
was growing colder.

What did it all mean? Walter could not see to the bottom of this
mystery. What had he done, why one man should shrink from him, and at
the same time another man grow so much more friendly?

In addition to all this, came a very significant look from the keeper,
one afternoon, as he and Walter chanced to be alone, and after the
look, came a significant question. It was one of those sharp looks
where one seems to have a gimlet in his eyes, and he bores deep into
the person he confronts. Such a look as that of the detective meeting a
criminal.

“Walter—I—I—hope I am on the wrong track altogether—but there are
some stories round about you which I think you ought to know, and as
keeper I think I ought to look into ’em. We have to be particular here,
but you know that, of course—and—”

“Well, what is it, Cap’n Barney? Don’t keep a fellow roasting in an
oven longer than is necessary. I am ready to answer any charges.”

Walter’s eyes were flashing, and as he straightened up in his
indignation, it seemed as if he had grown six inches taller during the
short speech the keeper had made.

“I have been suspecting that something was out of the way, because some
of the men have cooled off so, and I’d like to get hold of the trouble
well as you, Cap’n Barney. I’ll pull that rat out of his hole, if I can
catch hold of his tail.”

The keeper smiled. He admired the young man’s spirit of ready, honest
indignation, and Walter s figure of speech amused him.

“Wall, Walter, I don’t say the stories are true, and I have said that
no man is to be held guilty until proved to be, and if you deny them,
that _ends_ ’em for me.”

He emphasized his remarks and put a period to them by bringing a huge,
brown fist down on the long kitchen table, making the Coston signals
and time–detectors there rattle away.

“Well, sir, name the charges, for it is getting awful warm here,” said
Walter, in his impatience to know the charges, which he felt was to
know several lies.

“Wall, they say at the ’cademy where you were, that you were up to
scrapes, a–drinkin’ and carousin’, and that you have been drinkin’
here, even while at the station.”

“It is a lie, one big Atlantic lie, big as that ocean out there!”

“There, I told ye so!” said a voice triumphantly. “I knew it was just
so! Good for you, Walter! S’cuse me, Cap’n, but I happened to come in
just then and couldn’t help a–hearin’ ye.”

It was Tom Walker who had suddenly entered, his bushy beard whitened by
the snow–flakes dropping without.

“If you hadn’t mentioned it, Cap’n, I was goin’ to, this very day.
I thought it was dickerlus and didn’t b’lieve it was worth noticin’
at fust; but it’s got so at last, I should have spoken of it if you
hadn’t, and Woodbury would if I hadn’t.”

“That’s so, Cap’n, every word of it!” and now behind Tom, appeared
Woodbury at the door, brushing the snow off from his coat. “That’s so,”
he continued, and he looked at Walter not at all in the gimlet fashion,
but a friendly smile of recognition lightened up his handsome face.

“Oh, you are of my mind, boys,” said the keeper. “I knew Walter
wouldn’t do that thing. It is not his style at all.”

“Now, Cap’n, I want to know who has been accusing me,” said Walter.
“This thing must be looked into.”

“That is only fair. Several have mentioned it, but Joe Cardridge seems
to be the special one.”

“Joe Cardridge! Where is he?” asked Walter looking at the boat–room
door, the outer door, the door leading upstairs to the crew’s room.
“Where is he? I’ll get him and bring him here and face the charges
here.”

He was starting off, trying to go in several directions at once, when
the keeper said, “Hold on, Walter. It is Joe’s day off. He is not
within a mile of this place now, but he will be back I s’pose in time
to go on his beat. This thing shall be looked into.”

“I insist upon it that it shall,” said Walter.

The weather outside was not at all attractive to the patrolmen that
day, and when the twilight drew its dusky curtains about the station,
the outlook was still bad. A north–west wind was blowing very strong
and cutting. Snow was still falling in light, dry flakes. What was
already on the ground served as a plaything to the wind that seemed
to be intelligently and maliciously gathering it up and then hurling
it into the faces of all travelers, flinging it over their heads in
blinding, cutting sheets, withdrawing these until its victim walked in
an easy, careless confidence, then sending the snow again in sheets
more closely folding and stifling and cutting.

“You’d better wrap up specially warm,” was Tom Walker’s reminder to
Walter, who went on to his beat at night.

“I will, thank you. I will put on that new blue flannel blouse for one
thing.”

“I would, Walter. I find that mine comes in awful handy. You see it is
padded thick and warm. Six of us, I believe, bought them.”

These six new flannel blouses were bought from a traveling
clothing–peddler who came to the station and with a glib tongue so
skillfully paraded the advantages of a purchase, that almost all the
men accepted this rare opportunity.

“Well, Walter, you might have done wuss,” said Aunt Lydia, one day when
Walter chanced to call upon her, and laying it on her sewing basket
asked her to examine the blouse.

“You paid all it’s worth, but it does seem thick and warm, and I guess
it will do you service. I will take a few stitches in it for you where
a needle is wanted.”

“A pretty good looking set of surfmen when we get our new blouses on,
neat and clean, you know, and then turn out for some drill at the
station. The only trouble is that the coats look so much alike and are
of about the same size.”

“Look alike!” thought Aunt Lydia. “Guess I will tuck a blue ‘W’ on
somewhere.”

With her nimble needle, she “tucked” this blue initial inside one of
the sleeves just above the wrist. The blouse lining was white. Without
any reference to this, she handed Walter’s blouse back to him.

He wore this blouse, that night of the wind and snow.

“Glad I have got it,” he said, pushing out into the night. “It helps
keep a fellow warm. Now for it!”

He crossed from the station lot to the beach, and was glad to
find a strip of sand that the rising tide had not yet covered.
“Boom—m—m—m!” went the waves in one unending roar. The wind was
drowned in that chorus, and as it blew from the north–west and drove
at his back, Walter cared little for its fury. When the tide forced
him to walk upon the rocks, though their surface was so uneven and so
slippery with the snow, he made steady progress and completed his beat
in about the usual time, He turned to begin his homeward walk, and then
the wind pounced upon him with all its fury.

“Now I have you!” it seemed to say. “I can drive into your face, blind
your eyes with snow—there, take that!” A flurry of flakes came into
his face, sharp, tingling, compelling him to turn and offer his back to
the charge.

“I can go this way,” thought Walter. “Hard work though! What if I
should see any trouble on the water and have to signal and start for
the station?”

No sign of trouble did the young patrolman discover, no flash from
any rocket. There was only one huge, roaring blackness! He stubbornly
fought his way over the rocks, across any chance bit of sand, now
splashing through the pools left in the ledges by the tide, struggling
over an ice bank to high ground where a field skirted the shore and
along whose edge he could walk and still have before him that ocean
which he must continually watch and ever be prepared to fight. He was
not far from the station, and was saying, “Well, I have whipped the
wind this time,” when he remembered that he still had an ugly place to
cross. It was an abrupt break in a shore ledge, and could be avoided by
keeping to the right and taking the ground in the rear of the ledge.
By making this detour, though, he lost sight of the sea, and in that
interval, what if some vessel sent up from the water its plea for
help—a vain appeal because no vigilant patrol detected the rocket’s
flight?

“I must go down into that hole and keep my eyes on the ocean,” thought
Walter, and guided by his lantern, he was stepping down the rough
declivity in the rock, when the wind as if fearful that it might for a
single instant, in some sheltered nook, lose its opportunity to make
trouble, blew with frantic fury. In the midst of this fiendish blast,
Walter’s light was blown out!

“She’s gone!” he was saying one moment, and the next, he was conscious
that he was making a misstep and was tumbling! Then came a blank, as
if the wind extinguishing his lantern, had extinguished him also,
and down into a black hole he had fallen. There was an interval of
unconsciousness black as the sea beyond him. Finally he was aware that
somebody was calling to him. A light also was trying to reach him as
he lay at the bottom of this deep, black pit. The light flashed into
his eyes, sharpened and expanded, and the voice too sounded louder and
louder. At last, the voice said, “Hullo, boy, what ye up to down here?”

“Joe Cardridge!” thought Walter.

“Come, git up! Lemme help ye!”

“What have you been saying about me?” was Walter’s first thought. Then
he reflected: “Well, this is hardly the time to bring the matter up
when a man is saving you from a fall.”

“Jest lean on me. You had an ugly tumble,” said Joe.

“Oh, I guess I can get up, thank you.”

“There’s blood on your face. You must have hit yourself when you
struck.” Then Joe’s tone changed. “That comes from havin’ surf–boys
round,” he muttered with a sneer. “Ought to be home with their mothers.”

“What did you say?” asked Walter, catching the words with difficulty in
his confused state of mind. “I’m obliged to you for finding me, but I
can walk myself. Surf–boys are good for something,” he added with pride.

“Oh, don’t be techy. Come along.”

“You can go ahead,” said Walter with dignity, “and I will follow.” Joe
made another mutter, but it was unintelligible this time, and Walter
made no reply.

“I have had a bad tumble and did not know anything for some time,” said
Walter, as he entered the station and found Cook Charlie in a chair by
the stove.

“Poor feller!” exclaimed the cook sympathetically. “Sit down here, and
I’ll have you some coffee less than no time. What—blood on ye? Here,
let me wipe it off.”

“Not serious, I guess.”

“No, only a hard rub. I’ll fix it.”

Charlie insisted on caring for Walter, but the latter said he must care
for himself. Cook Charlie’s sympathy though, was pleasant. Something
else was agreeable; Walter’s mortification and bruises were all finally
drowned in the depth of that sea never cruel but always kind—sleep.

Keeper Barney was walking the next morning through the crew’s sleeping
quarters when he heard a stealthy step behind him. With the sound of
the steps came the sound of a voice, “Cap’n.”

“Oh, is that you, Joe?”

“Yes, Cap’n. May I have a word with you?” asked Joe Cardridge.

“Sartin. Say on.”

“I don’t know as it is any of my business, but it is some of your’n.
You know there have been stories round about that boy, Walter—”

“Yes, Joe, and I don’t believe them. I told him about them, and he
wanted to know who said so, and I had to give your name. He is dreadful
anxious to see you, and if you have any proof, I advise you to be ready
to bring it on.”

“Proof!” said Joe sneeringly, flashing a spark of hate out of his
usually dull, sleepy black eyes. “What was last night but proof?”

“Last night? Why, it was an awful tough night, and the feller stumbled.
Did you never fall? Cook Charlie said it was done in the discharge of
duty, so he gethered, that Walter might have avoided the place, but if
he had, he would have lost sight of the ocean, and not bein’ so well
used to the place as some of the rest of us, he did not succeed in
keepin’ his footin’.”

“Keepin’ his footin’!” was Joe’s contemptuous reply. “Look here! What
would you say if I told you the boy was under the influence of liquor
when I found him. I s’pose he took suthin’—it bein’ a cold night—and
he took too much; but you don’t want the men to do that.”

“Neither too much nor too little. I don’t want them to touch it at all.
There is plenty of hot coffee. That will brace ’em up and warm ’em up.
Do you mean to say that you have positive proof that Walter had been
a–foolin’ with drink?”

“He acted jest like it.”

“But he was hurt, and very nat’rally was confused.”

“S’posin’ I should say I saw a bottle stickin’ out of his pockets, when
he was undressin’?”

“You did?”

“May be there now, for all I know,” said Joe carelessly.

“Nonsense. I don’t believe it. You are altogether too suspicious, and I
can prove it now.”

Here the keeper walked to the opposite side of the room, and turning to
the clothes that swung from a row of pegs above Walter’s chest, began
to pull them over. Suddenly he drew back his hand as if it had touched
a red–hot coal! In one of the pockets in Walter’s blue blouse, was a
brandy–flask!

“Indeed!” exclaimed the keeper.

“Didn’t I tell ye so? That’s what I saw in Walter’s pocket last night,
and I smelt his breath. You goin’ to keep such a boy as that round?”

Here Joe looked up into the keeper’s face somewhat as a snake might be
supposed to eye the object he had struck and vanquished.

“Wall—I must look into this. Let everything stay jest as it is. I must
go into my room a few minutes. Soon as Walter comes into the station,
I’ll have him up here, and I want you to be round too.”

“I’m ready any time, Cap’n. I’m down on pickerprites. Only next time,
Cap’n, be willin’ to take my word quick as you do Walter’s.”

Keeper Barney did not hear the last sentence. He hurried away to his
room, glad to close the door and hide his manifest disappointment. His
position was one that bringing responsibility, carried anxiety with
it also. There were many details in his work sometimes perplexing and
always burdening. He expected this. He was prepared to find among the
men in his crew the average amount of laziness and eye–service, of
ill–temper and jealousy. He was not surprised if some men proved to be
treacherous, and after seeing Joe Cardridge’s face once, he expected to
find many bad places in the fabric of his character. Walter Plympton,
he did thoroughly trust, and he was heartsick at the evidence that he
was untrustworthy.

“I did not expect to git that blow,” said the keeper. “However, I’ll
see what Walter has to say ’fore finally condemnin’ him. The evidence
though looks bad. The sooner I go through this thing, the better.
Walter will be in pretty quick, I guess.”

He appeared sooner than he was expected. Joe Cardridge’s boots had
hardly ceased to pound their way downstairs before another pair began
to pound their way up, and somebody rapped on the keeper’s door.

“Come in!” was Keeper Barney’s response. The door opened and Walter
entered.

“Joe Cardridge said you wanted to see me and I told him I wanted to see
him and you together. He has not come though. And then, sir, I had a
letter for you. I brought it with me from the office last evening, but
you were not here when I came, and Cook Charlie thought it would do to
give it to you this morning rather than disturb you, as you were not
feeling just right. It is in my blouse hanging up, and I will get it
now.”

Walter fumbled in his pockets for the letter, but his blouse refused to
yield any such document. Indeed, it had none to yield.

“Why, why, I can’t find it!” stammered Walter.

“What letter?” asked the keeper sternly. He had followed Walter into
the crew’s room, and was eying him sharply.

“It was a letter from the district superintendent,—judging from the
envelope—and I supposed I had it sure, but I can’t find it where
I put it. Let me hunt all through my blouse, look in every pocket.
What’s—this? Why!”

The keeper eyed Walter still more sharply and curiously, watching him
with a smile of wonder to see what Walter would do when he reached the
pocket where the brandy flask was. A guilty person would have attempted
to hide it, but in a natural way Walter pulled it out, held it up, and
manifested his surprise.

“Is that the letter the superintendent sent?” inquired the keeper
sarcastically. “If it is, he has changed his principles a good deal.”

“That isn’t mine. I don’t know anything about it, Cap’n Barney.”

“Look here! Hasn’t this thing gone far enough, Walter? Here you
arrive at the station in a s’picious condition when your patrol is
up, one of the surfmen picking you up, and a brandy flask is found
in your pocket. A letter too is missing, a letter from the deestrick
superintendent, who will make us a visit in five days, and I s’pose it
is a special matter he wants me to look into. It puts me in a pretty
fix. You—you—you.” The keeper was stumbling about in his effort to
find the word he wished to use. He was angry at the loss of the letter,
knowing that it might contain directions whose neglect would seriously
damage him in the opinion of his superior. While he was irritated by a
sense of his loss, Walter was indignant at the thought that he could
be supposed to carry a brandy flask with him for tippling purposes.
His bright hazel eyes were full of fire–flashes, and he threw back his
handsome head in the pride of innocence.

“Cap’n Barney,” he asserted, “I am very sorry that letter can’t be
found. I think it will be found, but if it should not turn up to–day
I will write to the superintendent and tell him frankly of all that
happened, of my misfortune last night, and ask him to write to you,
saying that I am sorry for troubling him, and as for the other matter—”

“Yes,” said a voice breaking in suddenly, “that’s fair enough.” It was
Cook Charlie’s voice. He had come upstairs, unobserved by the keeper
and Walter. “You see, Cap’n,” he continued, and in that tone of voice
which was peculiar to Charlie and was like “oil on troubled waters,”
“I am part to blame ’bout this letter business. Walter had it last
night, and wanted to hand it over then, but I told him jest to hold on
to it, that the mornin’ would do. Of course, you work hard, and you
were sick—and everybody knows you have enough on your mind to make a
hoss sick, and there isn’t a more faithfuler keeper on the coast—and
of course, I did not want to disturb ye. Blame me as well as Walter.
Oh, it will turn up! Besides, he has offered to do the fair thing in
writing to the superintendent, and that relieves a faithful keeper like
you, and nobody could do more.”

Under the skillful stroking of Cook Charlie’s words of praise, Keeper
Barney’s agitation rapidly subsided, and the hard, angry lines in his
face began to fade away.

Walter now spoke; “As for that brandy flask, I have no idea how it came
in my pocket. It is my coat, I allow, but I don’t own what’s in that
pocket. There is some mistake here, and it was put in accidentally or
somebody is trying to harm me. You can dismiss me if you want to, but
I want the superintendent to investigate this whole matter, and if you
will wait until he comes—no, turn me off now if you think it fair
when I have had no chance to turn round, you might say, and speak for
myself.”

“It is Joe Cardridge who says you were not jest right when he found you
last night.”

“Does _he_ say that I had been a–drinking? Then it’s a lie. Let me see
him! Where is he?”

“Quiet, Walter! You have got friends.” This was a new voice, Woodbury
Elliott’s.

By this time, all the crew were upstairs. The loud talking had
attracted one curious head above the railing that guarded the stairs
running up from the kitchen, then another head, then a third, till
finally they all had stolen up stealthily, for no matter what etiquette
might have demanded, the curiosity of human nature inherited from Eve
(and Adam also) was a stronger motive, and there they were in a rough
circle about the keeper and Walter.

“Quiet!” said Woodbury softly to Walter again. “Cap’n Barney, let me
say a word why I think you should let this thing hang over until the
superintendent’s visit, that is supposin’ you had made up your mind
to discharge Walter.” He then proceeded to review the whole case,
beginning with the slanderous stories whispered about Walter, and
closing with a reference to the mysterious discovery of the flask in
Walter’s pocket. Against everything that looked suspicious, he put
Walter’s previous good character and excellent record.

“Cap’n Barney, has a man of us given you so little trouble in his
conduct in the station? Has a man been more prompt to mind you, been
more pleasant among the crew?”

As Woodbury went on, pleading with animation, it was plain that in the
opinion of the crew, he was fully sustaining his reputation as the
best school orator in the “deestrict.” There were little chuckles of
admiration heard now and then, and the keeper himself nodded his assent
to Woodbury’s points.

He had hardly finished his plea, when an eager voice on the outer rim
of the circle squeaked, “Lem _me_ speak! Guess I can speak some,” said
Joe Cardridge, hastily moving forward. “I have a few p’ints to make. I
was the one who found Walter, and know more’n any one else. I’ve told
ye how I found him, and you know what you yourself found in his blouse!
And what do the reggerlations say?”

He now began to quote from a regulation that says, “Keepers are
forbidden to keep or sell, or allow to be kept or sold on the station
premises, any intoxicating liquors; nor will they permit any person
under the influence of intoxicating drinks to enter the station house
or remain upon the premises.”

With all the impressiveness of a jury orator, gesticulating
furiously, amid the undisguised impatience of his auditors, he
continued to quote: “Keepers will—will—not permit any—pusson—under
the—influen—en—za—of intoxicatin’—drinks—drinks—er—er.”

“Er—Er!” said some one in the ring of listeners, and all began to
laugh. Joe was raving. He declared that he would not stay to be
insulted, that Walter was clearly proved guilty. He was careful to
say nothing disrespectful to the keeper, but he did not hesitate to
pay his compliments to the crew in very stalwart Saxon. He then went
downstairs, stamping and raving about “Surf–boys.” He would have
returned, but the keeper stopped him. “I shall do my duty,” coolly
declared the keeper, “and I shall expect you, Joe Cardridge, to do
yours. As for Walter’s case, it shall lie over until the arrival of the
superintendent. If you can explain things, Walter, I shall be glad to
have you. I don’t think any of you will blame me for not dismissing the
case at once when you remember how strictly I shall be held to account,
and how dangerous in our work all tamperin’ with liquor may be. Cool
heads and steady nerves, we must have.”

“I believe that, Cap’n Barney,” said Walter, “and I will help you
maintain discipline. I only want a chance to turn around and defend
myself; for somebody is striking at me in the dark, and I don’t know
where to strike back. It is a cowardly game they are playing. False,
every bit of it.”

“That’s so,” grunted that faithful supporter, Tom Walker.

“Only give me a chance, sir,” insisted Walter.

“You are goin’ to have it.”

When the crew separated, Slim Tarleton patted Woodbury on the shoulder
and said, “You did well, Wood; you did well. ’Twas good as the ‘Sea
Sarpint.’”

The favorite orator of The Harbor was gratified to win this praise,
and he went away happy. With what feelings though did Walter separate
from his mates? Buttoning his coat closely about him, into the wintry
air out he stepped, anxious to seclude himself a while. He went to
a nook in the rocks overshadowing the dismal, unfortunate hole into
which he fell only the night before. The storm was over. The clouds
were breaking up, and the hard, pitiless blue sky was disclosing itself
in irregular patches. The tone of the coloring of the sea was also
that of a hard, pitiless blue, dashed here and there with chilling
foam–streaks. Against a land white and frozen, the surf continually
swept like one snow–drift rolling up against another. Walter sat down
in his rocky corner and looked off upon the sea. It was not pleasant
to be suspected, and suspected wrongfully. It was true that he had
the sympathy of most of the crew, and the keeper wished to find him
innocent, but Keeper Barney showed that he was distrustful. Walter’s
time at the station was almost up. In a week, Silas Fay, for whom
Walter had been serving as substitute, expected to be in his old
place, and Walter wished to leave with credit, not under this horrible
cloud of suspicion. He was going back to Uncle Boardman’s. He would
meet The Harbor people and May Elliott. He would soon visit those at
home. It was not an agreeable thought that he would go as one accused
even if not proved guilty. He felt that these accusations set him
apart, isolated him, and others were looking at him as one suspected.
There was a great, crushing loneliness that bore upon him,—only
for a moment though. While he was watching the sea and the eastern
sky, the sun suddenly broke through the clouds, and a flood of light
swept everywhere, far out to sea, far along the shore, warming the
wave–crests, the surf, the snow–banks. And with this burst of light,
flashed into Walter’s soul the thought of God, filling and glorifying
all space without, all the soul within. It was God who knew him,
understood him, believed him, would befriend him; and Walter was no
longer alone. That revelation of God made in this trying hour was a
new, unanticipated, rich experience. It came when he was hard pressed
and driven in upon himself, so weak, helpless and alone, only to find
that God had not failed him and was with him all the time. God will
not fail any trusting child. He will stand by you. Walter felt strong.
He rose from his seat in the rocks and stood erect as if shaking off a
hard, heavy burden. The tears were in his eyes.

“I did not think God was so near,” he murmured. In his religious life,
he had been trying to follow God, not with all the success he craved,
and yet still trying to follow Him. And now in this hour of trial, of
attack by enemies, that great Leader had come to him and strengthened
him. Is He not always near? There is dimness of sight in us, and not a
lack of nearness on God’s part.

“I will try to keep close to God,” thought Walter.

There came to him also that consciousness of nature’s approbation,
which he had experienced once before. The sky, the sun, the sea, all
seemed to assure him that he was right and that they were in league
with him. That sea, though—could it be trusted? Might it not prove
treacherous, those chilling hidden depths under all the sunlight now
flashing across the waves?

“Five days in which to show I am innocent,” said Walter. “Who knows
what may happen in five days?”

Yes, who could tell?

He turned from the sea and walked back to the station.



CHAPTER XVII.

A SOUL IN NEED.


Two days after Walter’s fall in the night, he had leave of absence
extending from sunrise to sunset. He did not care to take it, his time
at the station was so brief, and especially as he was anxious to prove
his purpose to be loyal to all obligations resting upon him.

“It is your turn to be off, Walter,” said the keeper. “You are fairly
entitled to it, and I want you to have what is yours. Be on hand at
sunset. You may learn something in your favor, and you had better
improve your chance.”

With the keeper’s apparent kindness went an insinuation that Walter’s
course had not entirely been swept clean of every shadow of suspicion,
and if he could find a broom to do this sweeping, it was plainly
suggested that he had better secure it. That remark decided Walter in
his course. He left the station in no pleasant mood of mind, and the
keeper’s words had occasioned it. “If I can, I will get that help,”
thought Walter, walking off rapidly, “but—where?”

He was puzzled. One memory came to him, however. It was what his father
said once: “Walter, if things go wrong, if people say we are wrong
and yet we know we are right, but can’t somehow show it and prove it,
then wait and let God do the proving. He is as much interested in good
character as we, more so even, and He will bring things round right.
Tie up to that post.”

“I will tie up to that post,” declared Walter.

He did not go directly to his uncle’s, but took the road to The Harbor.

“Walter!” said a voice as he was passing the post–office. He turned
quickly. A young woman had just left Miss P. Green’s headquarters,
and was calling to him. It was May Elliott. She looked at him in her
earnest way, her blue eyes brightening as she said, “I only want to say
that I hope you won’t care for those stories about you at the station.
Your friends have confidence in you, and don’t believe what has been
said against you.”

“Thank you. That does me good. It’s pretty hard to be accused when you
are innocent.”

“Well, you wait. The truth will come out; and when it comes, you will
be justified. Oh, there is something else on my mind. Did you know that
Chauncy Aldrich was sick?”

“I only heard that he was indoors with some trouble.”

“They say he is pretty sick, and Miss P. Green, where he is boarding,
says he is low–spirited. I did not know but that you might like to call
and see him.”

Waiter declared that he would go at once. He found Chauncy in a little
room with a single window. From this there was a view across the white
snowfields to the blackish ocean, scowling angrily like an immense eye
under a dark, heavy lid of cloud. Chauncy was lying on his bed, his
head raised a little that he might look out upon the winter scenery.
His eyes were bright but somber, and his hands were thin and white.
That cold bath to which his uncle had unceremoniously treated him,
and which he afterwards attempted to explain as a “little joke,” had
provoked the sickness so bleaching and weakening and thinning the
once vigorous young trader. Every feature showed the effect of the
hard fever that had attacked him. Even the knob of hair that was
so accustomed to bristle on Chauncy’s head and silently to defy all
the world, had now been humbled. His hair in a thick, tangled mass,
suggested a fort in ruins.

“Plympton, how are you? I’m real glad to see you. Sit down, old boy.
Where have you been all this time?”

“At the station, you know. They tie us pretty tight, but it is my day
off. I’m real sorry you are sick, Aldrich.”

“O thank you! Guess I shall pull through it, but it’s awful hard to be
cooped up here,” and as he said this, he kicked at the bed–clothes with
a sudden energy. “A business man, you know, that is used to stirring,
can’t come down to this easily. I’m real glad you came in. Say, are you
going up to your uncle’s?”

“I thought I should.”

“Well—”

Chauncy hesitated. He wished to say something about his Uncle Bezaleel.
He did not know very much about Baggs’ business relations to Boardman
Blake. In spite of Baggs’ blustering display of confidence in his
nephew, any ostentatious intimations that Chauncy knew everything
about his business in general, Chauncy knew very little. One reason
was that the uncle’s business, after all the brag, was very limited,
and then Bezaleel knew that Chauncy had too much principle to back him
in certain dishonest schemes. The young man now hesitated, impelled to
say something about his uncle, and yet held back by an unwillingness to
damage one with whom he had been associated.

“I guess you had better go to your uncle’s, Plympton. There is going
to be a conference there, I believe, my uncle and his lawyer, and
your uncle and his lawyer, and oh, I don’t know what else. Miss Green
told me; and bless me, what that mail–bag don’t know, isn’t worth the
knowing. She will hold more news than an ocean steamer. Now mind,
Plympton, I don’t know what is up. Take my word for it. But there is
something to pay, and I would go there.”

“I shall, most certainly,” and Walter’s eye flashed like that of a
watch dog who starts in the night as he catches the stealthy step of a
burglar. “I hope it is nothing serious with my uncle.”

“I don’t know how it is; but two lawyers—that means a rush in the
market, Plympton; yes, a rush.”

Chauncy ceased talking. His efforts at conversation had already wearied
him. He lay upon his bed silently arguing a point. This “rush in the
market” meant a very significant movement by his enterprising uncle,
though its exact nature was a mystery to Chauncy. His uncle’s slippery
ways had suggested to him one occasion when he himself had been false
to Walter, and almost involuntarily he exclaimed, as one may do in
sickness that weakens the control of the mind over itself,—”I don’t
think I ever tried to deceive you, save once. I hope though you won’t
hold it against me.”

Walter caught this confession imperfectly; and what made him guess
the occasion to which Chauncy referred? Was it a chance look out of
the window toward the rocks of the Crescent, about which the surf
had wound its scarf of snow? Walter thought of the day when he saw
Bezaleel Baggs on the shore looking off toward the Chair. He was
reminded of Bezaleel’s resemblance to the mysterious form he saw one
morning in Boardman Blake’s store, that morning when Chauncy Aldrich
so persistently tried to call off Walter’s attention from the store.
Walter now turned suddenly to the invalid.

“Aldrich, see here. What do you mean by saying you deceived me once? I
can only think of one time when I guess you did try to pull the wool
over my eyes, and I want you to own up if it was so. Do you remember
one morning when I first came this way to stop? I was opening my
uncle’s store and you drove down in a wagon, and I came out to the door
and saw you there, and I fancied I saw somebody else in the store?”

Chauncy nodded his head in assent. Then he added slowly, “That’s—the
time—I mean, too.”

“Look here! Wasn’t that your uncle inside the store?”

Chauncy hesitated. He spoke at last, and with sudden force. “Plympton,
I don’t want to deceive you now; but I did then, and am sorry. It was
my uncle in the store. Now, I don’t want to go back on anybody, sick as
I am. He is my mother’s brother, if he isn’t what he ought to be.” His
lip quivered. He was thinking of a mother, long ago at rest in death.

“Perhaps you mean that you don’t want me to say anything about it, and
that it will look as if you had turned against your uncle. I don’t
think I need to speak of you. I saw him with my own eyes, though I
don’t know what he was up to there in the store.”

“I don’t,” whispered Chauncy.

“It is a satisfaction to have you confirm my opinion, and as for
yourself anything between us is all settled.”

“Thank you.”

“There, I have bothered you too long. I didn’t mean to stay here all
this while.”

“I kept you, I kept you. Don’t go. It’s fearful lonesome here, save
when Green comes up; and then she may look at me and say I make her
think of her brother who died, and cries—well, that don’t help a
feller; and I stay here and think, you know. Say, Plympton!” Chauncy’s
eyes shone out bright and sharp. “Say, I don’t want to die!”

“Oh, I don’t believe you will. I am thinking of this: soon as I get
off from the station,—and my time is up in a few days,—how would you
like to have me be your nurse? I could sit with you, you know, and I am
strong and could lift you easily when you wanted to change about.”

Strong? The very sight of the young surfman so muscular and healthy
was an elixir to Chauncy. He seemed to take strength from Walter at
once, and certainly his own stock needed reinforcement, for he was very
feeble.

Walter pitied him; “Poor fellow!” he said, and Walter laid his hand on
Chauncy’s forehead and gently stroked it. “I’m sorry for you, and I’ll
help you.”

The tears came in Chauncy’s eyes.

“Weak, you see, Plympton, weak as a baby. I should like to have you
come first rate. You make—me—think—of my mother when she was
alive—she did that—put her hand there, you know.” The tears came
faster now.

“Now I would be quiet,” said Walter soothingly.

“Oh, this don’t hurt me, only when Green comes and looks at me, as much
as to say: ‘A bad bargain, a bad bargain!’ See here, Plympton! Do you
remember May Elliott’s composition at the Academy?”

“Yes, I’m sure I do.”

“Well, I have thought of that a lot. You might not think so, but I
have, driving round you know, a business man, watching the market, you
know. She said the life—what was it?”

“The life that does not take others into account, God and another
life—that’s the idea—was making a great mistake.”

“Yes, that’s it; and lying here, I have said to myself, ‘Aldrich,
you’ve made a mistake. You are buying stock that will fetch precious
little. Yes, a mistake.’”

“Well, Aldrich, I won’t keep you talking; but before I go, why not take
God into account, let me ask? Why not tell Him how much you need Him,
that you are sorry, and want Him to help you to a better life, and that
you give yourself to Him?”

“He’d get a tremendous poor bargain if He took me. All run down now.”

“God knows all that. Let’s see. What is that verse about God commending
His love toward us, saying while we were yet sinners, Christ died for
us?”

“Christ died for us! That does me good. That’s like cold water when the
fever is on and you are fearful thirsty,” and Chauncy moved his lips as
if drinking.

“Then there is another verse—I don’t know as I say it exactly, but I
can give the idea—that when we were without strength, Christ died for
the ungodly.”

“Yes, yes,” and again a thirsty soul drank of this cool goblet of good
news.

“Plympton, I say!”

He spoke with much emphasis, as if he had a matter of great importance
to relate or a favor to ask.

“I don’t know as you have a prayer handy you could say, have you?”

Walter hesitated. What prayer could he say that would help another?
There was the Lord’s Prayer, though. He could say that. Kneeling and
holding Chauncy by the hand—how tightly Chauncy clung to that strong,
friendly hand—Walter began, “Our Father!”

“Our Father,” repeated Chauncy, and then followed Walter through the
prayer.

Walter added a few more words in which he tried to approach an ever
present, ever willing Saviour, beseeching that Chauncy might be helped
right there to give himself entirely up to God; braiding into his
words, the touching, solemn collect: “Assist us mercifully, O Lord, in
these our supplications and prayers.”

Walter then rose from his knees.

“That was another good drink,” Chauncy said.

“I did not mean to stay so long, Aldrich. Why, the tide is almost in,”
said Walter, glancing out of the window. “The Crescent is pretty well
covered.”

“Oh, don’t go!”

“Pretty well covered! What’s that verse? It is about God’s forgiveness.
I read it in the Psalter last Sunday; ‘And covered all their sins.’
That is the way it is with God’s mercy.”

And Walter thought of the tide coming in everywhere, and everywhere
covering and hiding the black rocks, the long, sandy bars, the
unsightly flats of mud, burying all under its bright, shining, softly
singing current.

Chauncy appreciated Walter’s meaning; and when the latter left, Chauncy
with a smile in his face was looking afar and watching the tide coming
in.



CHAPTER XVIII.

DARK DEPTHS UNCOVERED.


When Walter left Miss Green’s, he turned away from the sea and walked
rapidly in the direction of his uncle’s. A sleigh with jingling bells
went by him. The driver of the team was well protected against the
cold, and the style as well as the extent of the protection—the rich
buffalo robe snugly tucked about his person, the handsome cap of fur
that could not wholly conceal his gray hair, the warm, heavy, riding
gloves of fur—showed that the driver of the team did not have a mean
and scanty share of this world’s goods. The bright, sharp, intelligent
eyes under the rich cap of fur gave evidence that the owner of the team
was smart enough and shrewd enough to hold whatever he had gained and
also add to it.

“Do you know that man?” Walter said to Jabez Wherren, who, twisted up
by the cold, was moving slowly, shiveringly, over the road.

“That man! He’s Squire Tuck, your uncle’s lawyer. He lives in Groveton.”

“He looks as if he knew something.”

“Knows suthin! For what he knows, I wouldn’t swap all the clams ’tween
here and Novy Scoshy,” replied Jabez, who was a famous clam digger, and
all his estimates of value were determined by one famous standard, a
clam.

“Then,” thought Walter, “Squire Tuck is on his way to that meeting at
uncle’s that Chauncy spoke about. That is my guess.”

He soon came in sight of the well–known buildings so associated with
his life the past autumn. There was the old–fashioned house from whose
big, red chimney lazily drifted the purplish smoke. There was the
store. There was the sign above the door. And there at the post before
the door, was Squire Tuck’s horse.

“And there’s another team at the other post,” said Walter. “Guess that
is Baggs’ team.”

When he entered the store, he noticed that a row of nails near the door
opening into the sitting–room had been already covered with hats and
coats. And who was the thief that Walter saw near one of the coats,
lifting its folds and examining them with such intentness of look that
the ringing of the bell above the door as Walter entered, was scarcely
noticed?

“Guess those bright eyes don’t see me,” thought Walter. “I can say,
‘Caught at last.’ I’ll make the door–bell tap again.”

Jingle, jingle, jingle!

“Massy, Walter! how you skat me! Where did you come from? Now you’ll
say you’ve got me a–peekin’ at folkses’ clothes. I don’t care if you
have. Jest come here!” and Aunt Lydia mysteriously beckoned with
a piece of cloth. Lifting the skirt of a blue frock conspicuously
ornamented with big silver buttons, Aunt Lydia fitted this bit of cloth
into the torn lining.

“There!” said she triumphantly. “The myst’ry is out. I haven’t ben
a–savin’ this all this time for nothin’.”

“Why, whose coat is this?”

“It is that _Thing’s_, that Bel–ze–bub’s!”

“Baggs’? Oh, yes, I’ve seen him with it on. I remember now.”

“I suppose you want to know what I’m up to. Do you remember the fust
mornin’ you were clerk and opened the store? Wall, that mornin’ I seed
that Bel–ze–bub at the settin’–room winder, as ef he were a–lookin’ in,
though he seemed to be a good way in; and arter that, I found this
piece of cloth on the blind. Now I think he was not so much a–lookin’
in as a–gittin’ out, and tore his linin’ while he was a–tryin’ to
accomplish that gentlemanly action; and ef—and ef—” said the old
lady, dropping her voice, but intensifying her emphasis, “ef he don’t
keep out of my settin’–room, I’ll—I’ll scald him! There!”

Walter was as much excited as his Aunt Lydia.

“There, Aunt, that just confirms me in what I believe and know, that
Baggs was in the store that morning when I had stepped out on to the
doorstep.”

“In the store? Where? To buy suthin’?”

“Back of the counter, where uncle keeps those books—that Bible, you
know, and so on. He went out from the store into the sitting–room, and
then through the window undoubtedly.” Walter told the story of the
strange appearance in the store, the first morning of his clerkship.
While Aunt Lydia was expressing her amazement, exclaiming, “Oh dear!”
“Did you ever!” “Pizen!” the door into the store from the sitting–room
opened, and there was the driver of the sleigh that Walter had so
particularly noticed that morning, Squire Tuck. His sharp, keen eyes
searched the store rapidly, and he said, “Ah, Mrs. Blake, you here? I
wanted to see you one moment and ask you about a matter. Won’t you walk
in, please?”

Aunt Lydia stepped toward the opened door, and with one hand that she
held behind her back, she beckoned to Walter to follow. Walter did not
wait for a second flourish from that mute object, but walked after
Aunt Lydia and stood silently behind her, as if a special bodyguard to
attend her and see that she suffered no harm.

It was an unusual scene witnessed that morning in the old–fashioned
sitting–room. There on one side of a large square table in the center
of the room, sat Baggs. He was very smiling, and when Aunt Lydia
entered he very politely said, “Good mornin’, Miss Blake.” Near him sat
his lawyer, who looked somewhat like Baggs, a stout individual with
crafty eyes, who signed himself “P. Allston Varney.” If the middle
name had been “All–stone,” somebody once said, it would have been an
appropriate title. Opposite Baggs was his victim, Uncle Boardman,
and he sat there with an astonished air. The vacant chair near Uncle
Boardman had been occupied by Squire Tuck. After calling Aunt Lydia,
he did not resume his seat, but remained standing, and proceeded to
address the lady he had admitted.

“Mrs. Blake,” he said courteously—Squire Tuck always had a dignified,
stately way of addressing the ladies, bowing slightly as he spoke,—“I
wish to ask you about this note.”

P. Allston Varney closely watched Squire Tuck as he picked up a
document lying before Baggs. It was a piece of paper in the form
of a money–note, long and narrow. Walter’s attention was arrested
immediately by the discovery of a blot in the corner of the note, and
it made him think of the document he saw in the store the morning of
Baggs’ visit, carrying in one corner a blot like a pig.

“There’s that pig again,” he was saying to himself, when Squire Tuck
remarked, “Before asking the question I have in mind, let me make an
explanation. Your husband, Mrs. Blake, gave Mr. Baggs a note for five
hundred dollars in return for money lent him that he might build the
saw–mill. That is all he had against—I mean all that Mr. Baggs had
against your husband, so the latter asserts. It became due the other
day, and your husband went to pay it. I suppose you know this, and that
it was paid also.”

Aunt Lydia nodded assent.

“And you know that Baggs presented another note—this one for fifteen
hundred dollars, which indeed is in your husband’s handwriting, he
allows, but says he never gave it, and can’t explain it. This you know?”

“I know what Baggs says, but my husband don’t owe him any sich sum.”

“Indeed!” exclaimed P. Allston Varney provokingly, while Baggs looked
towards his lawyer with an amused air, as much as to say, “Only think
of it!”

“As you generally know about your husband’s affairs, Mrs. Blake, what
I wished to ask was, if you knew of any such document—but you have
already implied that you did not—and could throw any light in any way
upon this subject, and you might look at this and examine it.”

Baggs and Varney both stirred in their chairs and half arose, as if to
intercept the passage of the precious document into Mrs. Blake’s hands.

“Oh,” said the Squire, “I will guarantee that no harm comes to the
note. I will hold it and you can stand by and watch every thing done.”

As the note was thus held before Aunt Lydia’s sharply scrutinizing
spectacles, her bodyguard in the rear looked over her shoulders and
quickly read it.

“There is that pig!” thought Walter. “Yes, it’s the same sort of
looking document, only the other said five hundred, and not fifteen.”

The sun outdoors had been endeavoring to pierce the clouds and
succeeded for a few moments, and a bright, needle–like ray darted
through the window and fell on the note.

“Doesn’t that ‘fifteen’ have a scratched look?” thought Walter. An idea
came to him as if into his brain also a sunray had darted, making a
sudden light there. It was not Walter’s nature to conceal anything, and
he burst out saying, “Squire, may I call attention—”

Baggs immediately grew red in the face and nudged his lawyer, who
sprang upon his feet at once.

“Who’s this talking? I object, Squire. He was not asked here!” shouted
Varney.

“Oh, it is all right,” rejoined Squire Tuck, his tone and manner
quieting and assuring. “Let the young man speak. You know, Squire
Varney, it wouldn’t look well to shut him up. He may have something
valuable to say, and truth will always stand criticism.”

Amid grunting by Varney and head–shaking by Baggs, Walter proceeded: “I
wanted to call attention to this note. I saw it the first morning I was
here, and I know it was that by that blot which it seemed to me looked
like a pig.”

“Pig!” ejaculated Varney, with a sneer. “Some folks see themselves in
everything they look at.”

“Ha—ha!” roared Baggs.

“Let the young man proceed,” calmly remarked Squire Tuck.

Walter was not used to encounters of this kind, and he felt as if a
head–wind had struck him. He recovered himself, though, and began to
speak again.

A saucy answer was on the end of his tongue, but he remembered
something his father said once, that in a discussion the man more
likely to come out ahead is the man who can control his tongue as
well as use it. He held to his point like a vessel to its course and
said, “I saw something on that note which it may be wished I had not
seen. The words ‘five hundred’ were then on it, not ‘fifteen hundred,’
and—and—that ‘fifteen’ to me has a scratched look.”

Everything was in intense confusion. Uncle Boardman jumped upon his
feet, crying, “Let me see! I lost one note and gave another.” Varney
shouted, advancing towards Walter, “Do you mean to say that my client
is a forger? that Bezaleel Baggs is guilty of scratching notes?”

Walter had no opportunity to reply, for a woman’s sharp voice piped
forth, “Well, I mean to say that Beelzebub is equal to scratchin’
notes.”

“Who, madame?” politely asked Squire Tuck. “Undoubtedly that person is
equal to the operation.”

“I mean—_him_!” declared Aunt Lydia, boldly pointing toward B. Baggs.
“Before we came in here, my nephew here and me were a–comparin’ idees,
and from what he says and the way this note looks, I think Beelzebub—I
think—yes, I’ll stick to it, that’s his name—came into the store,
took that note where he must have found out my husband kept sich
things, his Bible in the store—”

“You certainly did know, Mr. Baggs,” said Uncle Boardman. “I remember
you asked me about the time I gave the note, if I had a safe where I
kept things, and I said I was apt to tuck notes and things into my
Bible in the store,—a careless way I allow.”

“From his Bible, took the note,” resumed Aunt Lydia, “cleared out
through the winder in my sittin’–room, and there’s the rag your
coat—now in the entry—left behind when you climbed out and tore the
linin’!” Here Aunt Lydia held up before Baggs the little rag that she
had so carefully retained.

All but Baggs had risen and were eagerly scrutinizing the note.
Inwardly, Baggs was in a turmoil; outwardly, his face was flushed and
his crooked eye was rolling like a vessel in a storm. When he spoke, he
showed great self–control. His voice was placid as ever, and he waved
his great, fat hands as if quieting an unnecessary tumult.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, what’s all this fuss for? I have
doc—doc—doc—”

“Doctor?” suggested Varney, wishing to help up his stumbling client.
“Want the doctor?”

“No—no! What kind of evidence do you call it? Doc—doc—”

“Documentary?” suggested Squire Tuck.

“Thank you, Squire,” said Baggs, bowing low. “I have dockermentry
evidence about this note, and it’s in the coat that Madame Blake spoke
about.”

Here Baggs bowed toward “Madame Blake.”

“And,” he continued, “if you will permit me, I will bring the very
coat, and splain that rag business too.”

Here he triumphantly looked about upon his auditors as if he were
carrying a point in the town meetings, where he had been famous as an
orator.

“Yes, I will bring the coat, this very moment”—and as he spoke, he
rose and stepped toward the door into the store—“and no one need
feel s’cluded from the investigation. All please stay here. Our young
friend there”—he pointed toward Walter—“may remain. I will satisfy
all—yes—I will—” and he was gone.

“Well,” declared Squire Tuck, “this is interesting business,” and he
looked toward Varney.

“Yes, but just wait and give the man a chance to speak for himself.
It’s a serious thing to charge a man with forgery.”

“I should think, sir,” roared Uncle Boardman, “to take away a man’s
property was a pretty serious matter also!”

“Yes; serious, vile, imperdent, reskelly—” Aunt Lydia stood with
opened mouth pouring out a torrent of hot adjectives, when Squire
Tuck interrupted her and interrupted also the tumult that had become
general, saying, shouting rather, “Now all be quiet! We want to hear
from Baggs. He ought to have got that coat by this time.”

The Squire stepped to the door into the store and opened it, wishing
to assist the tardy Baggs. “Allow me, Brother Tuck, the pleasure of
helping you,” said Varney with much politeness, and he followed the
Squire who had stepped out into the store. Those in the sitting–room
now heard one word from the Squire and it came in no gentle tones:
“Gone!” What a rush there was from that sitting–room!

“Oh!” exclaimed Aunt Lydia, “why didn’t I hold on to that coat while I
had the chance!”

“I know now why he was so willing that ‘our young friend’ should stay
in the sitting–room,” remarked Walter.

“But how did he get out?” inquired Uncle Boardman. “We did not hear the
door–bell ring.”

“There!” shouted the Squire, pointing at an opened window. “He was
cunning enough not to ring that door–bell.”

“Then he’s used to climin’ through folks’ winders,” said Aunt Lydia
sarcastically.

“Why didn’t I arrest him on the spot? Scatter, everybody, and chase
hard! Come out here!” cried the Squire, and his gray hairs led off in
the scramble made for the store door. The little bell rang violently
now, and out they rushed, Aunt Lydia as forward as any.

“He didn’t take any sleigh, you see, for we would have noticed that
from the windows of the sitting–room. You come too!” said the Squire
to Don Pedro, who, bare–headed, chanced to be coming from the direction
of the kitchen. He had been almost asleep in a snug warm corner back of
the stove, but the late banging of the door and that violent ringing
of the door–bell had fully aroused him. He had hastily come out to see
what the matter was. Wishing to avoid the company in the sitting–room,
he had not tried to reach the store from that quarter, and trying
another way, he succeeded in meeting the company by the doorstep.

“What fur?” asked Don Pedro, with widening eyes.

“To chase that rascal, Baggs,” said Squire Tuck.

“Dis moment I’m ready! I’ll go for him! Whar?”

“Get a hat! Be awful spry.”

Interpreting a hat as meaning any hat, Don Pedro went into the store,
and took the first hat he saw in the line where Baggs and others had
hung their wearing apparel.

“Mr. Blake,” said Squire Tuck, “you go along the road through the
woods, rousing neighbors and making inquiries. I’ll take my team and
dash down to The Harbor and rouse them there. Walter, you take the
woods themselves, striking in at the left; and you, boy,” (addressing
Don Pedro) “take the woods over here at the right. If you see Baggs,
grip him and then shout for help, but hold him!”

Off went this police force, Uncle Boardman impressing into his
constabulary force his patient old mare that chanced to be already
harnessed to a red pung, and standing in a shed at the rear of the
house. Squire Tuck sprang into his sleigh, eagerly caught up the reins
and was about to dash off, when he said to Varney, “The counsel on the
other side can join in the pursuit, if he wishes.”

Varney’s answer was a look of scorn. He went to a corner of the house
that gave him a short view of this interesting chase, and there
watched Uncle Boardman who urged on the old mare as if a whirlwind
were after him. Aunt Lydia was anxious to have a hand in the hunt.
Closing and locking the store door, securing all others, even the
back door, as she passed out, lest “the pest” might get in again, she
determined to search the barn. Armed with a pitchfork, she visited
every corner she could think of, prudently sending her fork ahead and
thoroughly “jabbing” the darkness of any nook before giving it personal
examination. No enemy could be found. If one had been there, after
such a reconnoissance with the pitchfork, he would have come out more
dead than alive. Aunt Lydia chanced to think of one more place that
might hide the fugitive. It was a little tool closet. She had laid down
her weapon of search, as the door required a tug with both hands. The
door yielded and flew open. And there in one corner, she spied a pair
of sharp, black eyes!

“Massy!” exclaimed Aunt Lydia, turning to flee, but stumbling and
falling. “Oh—h—h!” she screamed. “It’s he! Help—p!”

The next moment, she was conscious that a spring had been made over
her shoulders, and out of the barn–door went Billy, the old black cat,
mad to think he had been carelessly shut up twenty–four hours in that
hungry place. And Aunt Lydia, who had previously thought she would
be so glad to find Baggs, was just as glad now that this occupant of
the tool closet was not Baggs, and went into the house thoroughly
satisfied. The others still kept up the pursuit. Squire Tuck roused The
Harbor after a fashion not known for years. Uncle Boardman stirred up
every farmhouse on his road. Walter and Don Pedro searched the woods,
but in silence. The command had been not to shout until a seizure had
been made and help was needed. The snow was not very deep in the
woods, and progress was not difficult.

“I don’t see anything!” thought Walter. “A fox has been along there, I
guess, and those are a man’s tracks; but they are old ones.”

Through the silent forest, under the green roof of the pines, across
a frozen brook, Walter vigorously pushed. He saw nothing suspicious,
heard nothing. “Caw—caw!” went an occasional crow overhead, but it was
not Baggs forsaking his feet and taking to wings. Walter reached at
last a low but vigorous young growth of spruce. Above their tops, did
he see a gray stove–pipe hat? Did not Baggs wear such a hat that day?
Walter’s heart leaped within him.

“It’s Baggs’ hat!” he excitedly declared. “Now if he don’t see me and
dodge me, and if I can just follow him without his noticing me a few
moments, I’ll slip up to him so near that though he may dodge all he
pleases, I—shall have him!”

Suddenly, the hat—was it turning? Did Baggs see Walter, possibly?
Walter stooped, then rose again, only to declare that the wearer was
turning to make an observation. Several times this was done, and each
time Walter slightly bowed himself to escape observation. Then the hat
began to move rapidly.

“He’s running!” thought Walter. “Now, go for him sharp!”

It was a furious chase, but Walter did not gain on that violently
bobbing gray hat as he anticipated. “He runs the fastest I ever saw,
for a short, fat man!” declared Walter. “I’ll have him though.” He knew
the woods well enough to be aware that somewhere beyond the low spruce
growth was a swamp, and a bad one. He had heard Uncle Boardman say that
the swamp was not frozen, lately.

“That feller,” thought Walter, “will find he can’t cut through that
swampy place so easily. It won’t hold him, and he will have to keep to
the edge of the spruces and come out down here to the left, and I will
aim for that point and meet him there, surprise and welcome him, and
say, ‘How do you do, Mr. Baggs? Fine day!’ Ha—ha!”

Would Walter’s confident predictions be successful? That agitated old
hat of gray was forced by the yet yielding swamp to keep to the left,
only to be met by Walter, who in turn found under the hat a surprise,
even—Don Pedro!

“Why, Don, you—booby, I’ve been chasing you all this time?”

Don Pedro’s eyes were large and staring.

“Walter, you—jes’ frighten me—a heap! My—breff—clean gone—honey!
Ef I didn’t t’ink you’se a robber. Why—didn’t—you—holler, an’
show—who you was?”

“Holler! We were told not to, till we got something to holler about. It
would have frightened the game. What have you got on Baggs’ hat for? Oh
dear—ha! ha! ha!” And Walter leaned against a tree and laughed till he
was sore.

“Me got Baggs’ hat? Squire said I might hab any, an’ I tuk the fus’
one handy. And do you want to know why I ran so hard? Back dar a piece
I met a man, and he looked bad, and he was a handlin’ a knife sort ob
careless, a bad looking knife.”

Don Pedro rolled his eyes about tragically as he told his story,
deepening his voice as he went on.

“I axed him ef he had seen a man by de name ob Baggs who had probed
hisself to be a reskel, an’ we was a–hantin’ fur him. He opened his
knife and felt the edge sort ob careless an’ tole me I’d better leab;
dat ef he foun’ me in dese woods agin, I’d nebber hab a chance to leab
’em. Dat Baggs he said was whar I couldn’t tech him, an’ he ’vised me
fur to go hum. When I saw you, I s’posed it was him, an’ didn’t I run!
I jest saw a hat and didn’t s’pose you was under it, but dat man, an’
it took de bref out ob me! What will ye do now?”

“The hunt for Baggs, I guess, is up. However, we will make sure and go
to the end of the woods, and there are two or three houses along there.
The people will tell us if any sign of Baggs has been seen.”

The end of the wood–lot was reached and inquiries were made at the
farmhouses. No footprint of the runaway could be discovered anywhere,
and Walter told Don Pedro they would go no farther.

“We might as well take to the woods again on our way back. I’d like
to see who that fellow is round with a knife and telling what he will
do. We will stop that nonsense.” Don Pedro only needed a leader to be
as brave a soldier as ever followed a flag, and he readily assented.
Nothing came from the return search. No object more hostile than a
squirrel was seen, and he gave a very friendly wink with his bright
eyes as he peeped out of his snug quarters for the winter. Don Pedro’s
use of the wrong hat was not the only case of the kind that occurred.
Miss Green called the evening of that day.

“Oh, Miss Blake, you ought to have seen that lawyer, that Varney,
to–day. He came riding by the post–office with a handkerchief tied
round his head, and somebody said they saw him prancing round your
house, trying every door, and he was as bare–headed as a bean when it
has been shelled. I believe he borrowed a hat round here.”

“There!” said Aunt Lydia, “I must have locked that man out afore I went
to the barn! But there was no hats left on the nails where his things
had been, for I looked up to ’em myself and there was nothin’ there
when I went to the barn.”

No, there were only naked nails in the wall. As for Varney’s hat, it
had gone off on the head of Baggs, who had seized the first hat he met
in his hasty exit, a conclusion the lawyer himself reached when making
subsequent inquiries.

Guilty Baggs had gone—nobody knew where. And the mystery of that man
with the knife, in the woods? It was minutely discussed at the station,
where Joe Cardridge had suddenly disappeared, leaving only a message
for the keeper saying he would be back soon and prove that Walter
Plympton was “a good deal wuss than he ought to be.” Joe coolly wished
also to have his place kept for him.

“I guess not,” remarked the keeper. “A man going off that way without
a notice, will have to wait a long time before he has a notice that he
is wanted again. I will fill his place at once. Tucker Jones is home
from his winter fishin’, and I will get him.”

Tucker Jones, a big–boned, rugged young fisherman, was quickly
established in the vacant berth.

“Walter,” said Tom Walker, “putting all things together, I think it
was Joe Cardridge that scared Don Pedro in the woods. He was a–hangin’
round the store somebody said. Probably he knew what was goin’ on, and
followed his master, that Baggs. They were seen together by a man five
miles from here. It is good that he has gone.”

Nobody lamented his departure, not even his family. His wife and
children could manage without him, and far more agreeably. At the
station, the only element of dissension in the crew was now taken away.
All noticed the harmony that marked the station life.

“It only takes one stone in a fellow’s shoe,” remarked Tom Walker, “to
upset everything, and Joe Cardridge has been the stone in the shoe.”

Walter now fully enjoyed his life. True, there were rough, wild beats
before him, but the warm, cheerful shelter followed them. Then there
was the constant sense of danger from that vast, uneasy sea, to give
flavor to a life that might otherwise become insipid.

“I am sorry,” he thought, “that my time at the station is almost up.
It’s up in a few days, and I wonder when the district superintendent
will be here to investigate my trouble. I don’t care for it. Let them
hunt. I am right.”

Yes, let slanders and envy hunt through our lives, and if we are right,
who cares?

Keeper Barney had said, “Joe’s goin’ off leaves Walter without an
accuser, and I can’t easily believe he is wrong, but there is that
bottle! What about that?”

Yes, the flask, what about that? Joe had gone, but the flask remained
on a shelf, and Walter still was confronted by this dumb, black
accuser.



CHAPTER XIX.

A WILD STORM.


At a life saving station, there are various drills in which the surfmen
are exercised. There is the beach apparatus drill. “Open boat–room
doors! Man the beach wagon!” shouts the keeper. Every man knows his
place, the doors are opened, and the cart is rushed out. “Forward!”
cries the keeper, and each man knows just where to station himself and
pull. Then come the other orders. “Halt! Action!” A pole representing
a wreck, the men proceed as if attempting a rescue, sending a line to
the wreck. Then come other orders. “Man weather whip! Haul out! Man lee
whip!”

“Haul ashore!” and the buoy for conveying the crew supposed to be
wrecked, travels backward and forward as often as desired. Then there
is the boat practice, and the boat must be launched through the surf,
and the men drilled in the management of the oars. The crew must also
practice with signals. Stations may be near enough to communicate with
one another, and this is done in the day time with flags and in the
night with star rockets and Coston lights. An example would be the
showing of a red flag by day and the burning of a red Coston light and
firing of a red rocket by night. It is the danger signal, and means
that a wreck has been seen, or a vessel is discovered to be in need
of help. By means of the box of flags that every station keeps under
its roof, the crew can talk with any vessel off shore and needing
assistance. The crew must also be practiced in methods of restoring
the apparently drowned. It was one dreary, rainy day that Keeper
Barney was drilling the crew in these last methods. Cook Charlie had
offered himself as a subject on whom the crew might practice. The
keeper commenced a list of questions, asking: “What first is to be
done to the patient?” Cook Charlie stretched upon the floor submitted
patiently to the pressing and pounding and other parts of the process
of resuscitation.

It was not a practice that on a dreary winter day when the sea was
wrathfully roaring, could be classified as pleasantly suggestive.

While they were resuscitating Cook Charlie, Walter glanced occasionally
out of the window. The sea rapidly roughened, and huge waves were
launching on the sands broken and angry masses of surf. A ragged
curtain of fog was drawn across the rim of the sea, but it was only
ragged near the shore. Farther out, its denseness was without a seam.
The day ended with many jokes about Cook Charlie, the resuscitated
mariner, but mingled with the laughter were dismal cries of the
storm. The rain could be heard splashing against the window panes,
and occasionally the whole window shook as if a violent hand had been
laid upon it. All the while, there was the wrathful thunder of the sea
as if over some invisible bridge just above the station, the heavy
squadrons of the storm were gloomily marching. Still, around the old
cook stove whose fire burnt jollily, echoed the laughter of the surfmen
as they cracked their jokes and told humorous stories of the sea. So
the evening wore away. The storm yet raged. As the different patrolmen
arrived, they came with dripping hats, with faces wet by the storm,
with clothes that hung stiffly about them.

“It’s a howlin’ night,” reported Tom Walker, slamming his lantern on
the table.

“Just so at my end of the beach,” said Woodbury Elliott, who
immediately followed Tom. “Whew—w—w! An old–fashioned nor’easter!”
“You saw nothin?” inquired Capt. Barney. And each patrol said, “Not a
thing.”

“I hope it will stay so, for I think it’s goin’ to be the wust of the
season. Come, boys, all pile upstairs early. There’s some hard trampin’
to be done ’fore daybreak.”

“Wall, we can say we have resuscitated one man to–day,” said Slim
Tarleton.

“Ah, but we may have some real cases to–morrow. God forbid!”

It was Walter’s watch in the morning, from four till sunrise. He slept
uneasily till his watch, vexed by dreams of wreck and rescue, of dead
men’s faces and living wives’ sorrow. Rising, he dressed himself
hurriedly a little before four. How the building shook in the wind,
while the sea without was furious in its uproar!

“I’d like to stay in that warm bed. Booh! That cold walk makes me
shiver! No help for it,” thought Walter, as he moved reluctantly toward
the stairway and then descended it.

In the kitchen, dripping like a fish just pulled out of the water, was
Slim Tarleton. He had finished his watch and Walter was his successor.

“I’d like to go for you, Walter, but it’s four now, and morning’s not
such a terrible way off.”

“All quiet?”

“Everything except the sea, and that acts as bad as it can. Oh, I don’t
imagine there will be any trouble.”

“Here is your Coston light, time–detector and so on,” said Keeper
Barney. “Dress snug, for it blows; and dress thick, for it is cold. If
anything happens, let us know.”

“Aye, aye, Cap’n!” and out into the dark and the cold and the rain,
strode our young knight, looking in his storm gear more like an Eskimo
than a representative of any knightly age. The north–east wind blew at
him as if it wanted to push this meddler back into the station; but
with one arm around his lantern as if it were a baby that he wished to
shield, he struggled over the rocks down to the strip of sand not yet
covered by the tide. He saw nothing ten feet away, but he heard—no pen
can describe the bellowing of this monster plunging and frothing at his
feet. The lantern shot little gleams of light on the confused masses of
foam along the edge of the shore, and he knew that there was a tumbling
wall of ghastly white just beyond.

“What if my lantern should go out!” he exclaimed nervously. He turned
from the wind and unbuttoning his outside coat, folded it around his
lantern, letting out only enough light to show him where to plant his
feet. Then he struggled on. It was a hard walk in a storm that had
no mercy. He was pushing ahead, when, lifting his face to the wild
rain and attempting to look through it, he saw—a jagged line of fire
curving up into the air! The next moment, he trembled with excitement.

“A wreck!” was the thought flashing through his mind. That one glance
at the rocket above the sea seemed to change into an antelope the
slowly plodding surfman. He sprang over the rocks that lined the
beach. There was an ice wall that had bothered him a minute ago, but
he now mastered it and climbed to high ground. Drawing out his signal,
he fired it, and then waving madly this crimson answer of hope to
a mariner’s prayer of fire, he ran to the station. Over fragments
of ice, into pools of water, along sharp ledges, he flew as if some
kindly power had withdrawn his cowhide boots and furnished him with
wings instead; but how much faster he did want to go! If he were only
electricity, or light itself, and could shoot to the station at once!
He reached it though, finally. Keeper Barney was sitting by the stove
trying to read, when Walter threw open the kitchen door, and burst in,
waving his lantern and crying, “A wreck! Quick!”

“Heavens, boy! In this storm! All hands turn out!” he screamed, even
before he reached the foot of the stairs leading up to the crew’s
room. He must have repeated it half a dozen times, on his way to their
beds. The next moment there were several bounces upon the floor. After
a hurried dressing, there was a confused rushing for the stairs. Men
appeared wearing one boot and lugging the other, or with half their
clothes in their arms, while Tucker Jones, the man who took Joe
Cardridge’s place, was trying to work his arms through the legs of his
pants, thinking he was handling his jacket. Seavey Lowd, the other
patrol, now arrived, or rather came rushing in, shouting and confirming
the news. The little living–room was confused with excitement, the men
hurrying here and there, trying to find hat or jacket or coat; and
several were trying hard to find their senses. Keeper Barney had his,
now, and he spoke coolly to the men.

“Now listen, boys! Steady! It will be useless to take the boat. We must
go out with the beach apparatus. Do as well as you can. You all know
your places. Hit as high a mark as you can.” As he spoke, he lead the
way into the boat–room, and then he issued the familiar order: “Open
boat–room doors! Man the beach wagon!”

How those young Titans worked! The outer doors flew open, and a strong,
cold draft of wintry air rushed in. Every man knew his place in
hauling. Two gripped the shafts, four laid hold of the drag ropes.

“Forward!” rang out the word of command from the keeper, who followed
with his lantern.

Through the thick slush or over masses of ice, the cart was dragged to
the sands which the tide had not flooded.

“There’s the wreck!” some one shouted, or tried to shout amid the roar
of the surf. An arrow of fire shooting up into the night shadows still
lingering on the sea, showed the crew that they must go farther down
the beach. What a wearisome journey with the cart it was!

“Cheer ’em up with a Coston light, boys!” the keeper would occasionally
shout. At last, when he judged they were about opposite the wreck,
he cried, “Halt!” There was a waiting for the light, that the exact
location of the wreck might be declared, and in the meantime all
possible preparations for the rescue were made.

The surf men knew what to do, as there had been many drills in the
handling of the apparatus. Each man, according to his number, had his
particular piece of work. It was the place of No. 4, Seavey Lowd, to
throw the breeches buoy off the cart, and Seavey did it. Walter, as No.
6, was one of those that removed the sand anchor, pick and shovel. The
keeper, and No. 1, Tom Walker, took the gun down. Nos. 2 and 3, Slim
Tarleton and Woodbury Elliott, removed the shot–line box.

“Bury the sand anchor up here!” called out the keeper. The sand anchor
consisted of two stout pieces of hard wood, each six feet long, two
inches thick and eight wide. These were crossed at their centers and
securely fastened together. A stout iron ring projected from the center
of the sand anchor. How rapidly pick and shovel were worked, and a deep
trench dug in which the anchor was laid and there firmly imbedded! This
buried anchor was designed to secure the shore end of the hawser to be
sent out to the wreck. The hawser terminated in a double pulley–block,
by which it could be tightened, and a short rope gripped the block and
the anchor, binding them together. The “crotch” was made of two stout
pieces of wood ten feet long. Near the top, these were crossed and
when set up suggested an X. It was No. 4, Seavey Lowd, who looked after
the crotch, and at the proper time he was to set it up on the beach. It
was Seavey’s duty also to carry the end of the hawser to the foot of
the crotch over which it was to be stretched to the sand anchor.

In the meantime the captain and Tom Walker were supposed to look after
the gun, while Slim Tarleton and Woodbury Elliott were expected to
deposit the shot–line box about three feet from the gun. The line had
been coiled about pins in a frame, and the latter was so arranged
that it could be removed, leaving the line wound in diagonal loops,
and at liberty to fly after the shot to which it was to be attached.
During the interim of waiting, the life–car was also brought from the
station. That dismal wreck could at last be plainly seen, about three
hundred feet from the shore. The spray boiled about the dark hull as if
it had been set in the crater of a volcano. The excitement among the
surfmen increased. The keeper had loaded the gun, and the shot had been
inserted and the line tied to an eye in the shank protruding from the
shot. The keeper stood in the rear of the gun, and was sighting over
it, shouting to Nos. 1 and 2, “Right!” or “Left!” And they trained the
muzzle accordingly.

“Well!” he cried, and the gun came to a rest.

It was pointing at the wreck. The necessary elevation was then given
to the gun, and the primer inserted. When everything was arranged, the
keeper shouted, “Ready!”

Whizz—z—bang—g—g!

Away went the shot, the line faithfully following. How its flight was
watched! Would it fall short of the wreck and uselessly drop into the
water? No! it had fallen across the vessel and the crew quickly seized
it. A shout went up from the surfmen: “Hur—rah—h! Hurrah—h—h!”
To the shot–line, was now tied the “whip.” This was reeved through
a single pulley–block, making what is termed an endless line. To it
was attached a tally board carrying printed directions in English and
French, telling those on board how to properly secure this “whip” or
endless line. Keeper Barney was now signaling to the wreck.

“He means to have them haul the whip on board,” thought Walter.

Quickly the whip line was going out to the vessel, and was there made
fast.

“They are signaling to us to go ahead, and do the next thing,” thought
Walter. All the surfmen knew what that next thing was. The whip had
been secured to the sand anchor, and now Nos. 1 and 2, Tom Walker and
Slim Tarleton were handling the hawser, a still stouter line, and they
attached it to the whip. As the keeper paid out the hawser, others
manned the whip and hauled off to the wreck the new sturdy friend
coming to the rescue. The men on the vessel guided by a tally board
attached to the hawser, secured it to the mast a foot and a half higher
than the hauling line or whip. On shore, the hawser had been stretched
across the crotch and connected with the sand anchor. There now swung
above the frothing breakers, reaching from shore to ship, this stout
hawser four inches in circumference, and below it was the endless line
or whip. The breeches buoy was now brought forward. This buoy consisted
of a cork life–preserver, circular, from which hung canvas breeches
with very short legs. Four ropes that gripped the circle of cork, met
above in a ring of iron, and this was connected with a block called a
“traveler.” This block was “snapped on to the hawser,” and the ends of
the whip were also bent into the block–strap and secured. Then the buoy
began its travels to the wreck, the men hauling on the whip. “Somebody
has jumped into that buoy,” cried Tom Walker as he watched the wreck.
Strong hands were laid on the whip, and above the breakers danced the
breeches buoy, a man’s head and body now rising above it while his legs
dangled below.

[Illustration: “_Strong hands were laid on the whip_” (p. 320).]

“Here she comes!” sung out Slim Tarleton.

“Here _he_ comes, I guess,” suggested Woodbury Elliott.

Come, he did, nearer, nearer, the surfmen steadily hauling on the line;
and at last the breeches buoy was in the midst of the brave circle of
rescuers.

“How are ye?” called out the occupant of the buoy, a sharp–nosed,
red–headed man. “Much obleeged.”

“Oh, you’re welcome!” said Keeper Barney.

“How are all the folks at sea?” inquired Tom Walker.

“Does it look nat’ral round here?” asked Seavey Lowd.

“Altogether too nat’ral for me,” replied the arrival by this ocean
air–line. “Ef we didn’t have a tough night!”

The man had now disembarked from this canvas–and–cork ship, and stood
on the sands.

The keeper was hurriedly giving the order to “haul out,” when the
stranger asked, “Haven’t ye suthin’ bigger and snugger ye could send
out? Some of the folks there are awful weak.”

“Passengers?” inquired the keeper.

“Jest so.”

“All right. We will put on the life–car soon as we get some of the crew
ashore. People can ride snug in that life–car. How long will your craft
hold together?”

“She’s a good deal smashed, Cap’n, but she can stand it a while longer.”

“Man the weather–whip! Haul out!” the keeper was shouting. Out to the
wreck, the breeches buoy traveled, and then returned with its freight
of a second man.

“Haul the hawser taut there!” cried the keeper to Walter and Woodbury,
who stood near the sand anchor and handled the tackle for tightening
the hawser. Each rescued man proved a rescuer, going to work at once.
There were three more brought ashore by the buoy, and then the keeper
ordered the life–car forward. The buoy was quickly removed, and in its
place above the roaring surf hung the life–car, riding along the hawser
on its way to the wreck. The life–car was shaped like a boat, made of
galvanized sheet iron. It was about eleven feet long, three deep, and
over four wide, and would carry a load of six or seven persons. It
was roofed over, and its cargo was received through a hatch which was
securely covered, but little openings in the top admitted the air. The
car had now gone to the wreck, had received its load, and in response
to the keeper’s “haul ashore!” was traveling landward along the hawser.
It was a feeble, shivering lot of mortals who crawled through the hatch
at the end of the trip.

[Illustration: “_Come he did, nearer, nearer!_” (p. 321).]

“Any more?” asked the keeper. “Two and the captain,” said an old man.
Once more the life–car was hauled out to the wreck, while Walter was
sent to the station with the chilled passengers and a sailor whom the
storm had overcome. As Walter walked along the sands, he watched the
terrible agitation of the water near him.

The sea would swell into long folds of angry green, and these would
rush toward the shore, swelling, threatening, more and more angry,
greener, perhaps tipped with a scanty wreath of foam, only to roll
over menacingly, tumbling, crashing in furious uproar, breaking into a
million bits of foam. As an opposing rock was struck by a wave, this
would be thrown up into a huge mound of froth that broke all along
its summit into a delicate, misty veil of lace. This wave was only
the front rank of an army whose name was legion, rolling, rushing in
wrath toward the land, breaking and foaming, clambering up the high
shore–ledges to vainly tear at them, smothering and drowning what
could not be rooted up and borne away. In what faultless curves they
turned over, these gigantic billows when they struck the shore, rings
of emerald, wheels of porphyry, arcs of spheres of crystal! Down,
down, down, then plunged the water, and these cataracts met their doom
in a hopeless swirl of surf. All along the beach was the frothing
tumble of these cascades of the ocean. Beyond the shore–waves it was
one confusing mass of ghostly water, of white hands lifted and white
faces raised,—in pity and prayer? No, in an anger where all color
disappears, where is only the aspect, of a wrath, ghastly and awful.
Occasionally some log would come out of this wild whirlpool of the
demons, some fragment of a ship torn by the storm as if an animal, limb
from limb, and flung in scorn upon the shore. What a tale each fragment
could have told! Perhaps it was a handful of moss plucked from a rock,
or a starfish, or the tiniest mussels gathered up from the bottom of
the sea and then shot landward.

How the sea roared! It seemed as if into that wild chorus all the notes
of angry winds and mad torrents, and the crash of thunder, and the
voices of men in their human wrath, and the shouts of demons in their
satanic fury had been gathered, and now were let loose with all the
confusion of the fiercest hurricane. Now and then, Walter thought he
caught the dismal groan of a fog–horn attached to a buoy at the mouth
of the river, and intended to warn mariners of the nearness of sand bar
and rockledge. It was an illusion though, for who in the storm could
hear any such agency piping out its feeble little note of warning?

In the meantime, the car had brought from the wreck its last load. The
captain was a part of it, a stout, heavy, dark–bearded man.

“You all here?” asked Keeper Barney.

“All that started,” replied the captain. “Two men—they were
passengers—left on a life–savin’ mattress. We told ’em to wait any way
till daylight, but they said the tide was right and would drift ’em
ashore and they’d risk it. They was fearful skittish lest the vessel
might break up. Massy! The sea gobbled ’em up less than no time, is my
’pinion. They left some time ago.”

“Well, boys, I’ll have the beach patrolled, of course, and something
may be seen of the men. Those whose watch it is are off already, and
the rest of you pack up what things are here, and go back to the
station, and Cook Charlie will have a hot breakfast ready for the men
from the wreck, and for the rest too, soon as possible.”

While hot coffee and dry clothes were making every one comfortable at
the station, it was Tom Walker, one of the surfmen out patrolling,
that hurried into the living–room, startling the station crew with the
announcement, “There’s a man in the Chair!”

If a rocket from some wreck at sea had come up through the floor of the
station and made its hideous, fiery racket in the very midst of the
station crew, a greater excitement could not have followed. Clinging to
the jagged rocks at the Crescent, was some poor soul thrown up by the
sea, piteously looking in helpless appeal to the houses not so very far
away and yet separated from him by a channel of foaming wrath! Every
surfman could seem to make out in his thoughts a pale face frantically
appealing to him through the wild storm, and they began to dress again
for their perilous work.

“Cap’n Barney,” said Tom Walker to the keeper, “if I may suggest it, I
think we might get somewhere near him with our surf–boat. We couldn’t
have touched the wreck, and can’t now, out there on Split Ledge, but we
might get our boat up to the village and then launch her in the river,
and so work her down toward the Chair. The tide has turned, and every
moment, there is less water ’tween the Crescent and the shore, and that
will help us.”

“Good idea, Tom,” replied the keeper. “And instead of getting horses,
as it will take so much time, there are so many of us here and all will
take hold, we can make better time to haul the boat–carriage ourselves.
What say? It is a man’s life at stake.”

“Aye, aye!” was the deep, hearty chorus in response from all.

As the boat made its appearance in the village volunteers appeared
also, who dragged heartily on the ropes of the carriage. It was
a strange sight in the little village, that stormy morning, the
lengthening file of rough, strong–handed men pulling on the rope of the
carriage while the boys shouted away and thrust in their small hands
wherever any chance for grasping the rope showed itself, and some of
the women that came out hurriedly from their homes, their shawls pinned
over their heads, also joined the procession. The water was reached and
the boat launched.

When, manned by a stalwart crew,—volunteers from The Harbor taking the
place of the absent patrols,—the boat moved off into the river, cheers
arose from those on shore. But what about the man all this time in the
Chair? Did he see the boat coming, and did he cheer also?

“Can you see him now?” eagerly asked the men of Keeper Barney, who
was skillfully managing his steering oar amid the heavy swash of the
current.

The keeper nodded his head in assent.

The boat cleared the last house in the village, and from this point the
Chair could be more distinctly seen.

“See him now, Cap’n?”

The keeper nodded his head. The boat tossed more uneasily now, for the
harbor here began to open into the sea, and the full strength of the
wind from the stormy north–east smote it. The upper end of the Crescent
was very near, and its first ledges, black and stubborn, rose out of
the white, angry tumult. Any one seeking refuge here would not have
found broad standing room, while at the Chair the exposure was far
greater. The man, though, still maintained his hold.

“He’s there, is he?” some one would shout through the noise of the
storm, and Keeper Barney would silently nod assent.

I wonder what the man in the Chair was thinking of, as he grasped
that rocky projection, that little low fence between him and death!
He was one of the two men who had trusted their chances to that
life–preserver. God alone knew where the second man was in this hellish
tumult of wind and sea. The man in the Chair had been flung into it
by a violent wave and he had gripped it with all the energy he could
possibly rally. He did not want to die. The sea looked cold and deep,
and the white foam beating upon him, to his imagination had teeth
that threatened to fasten into him and tear him. He could sometimes,
when his back was half turned to the sea, catch the outlines of the
big billows as they rolled up and rolled toward him, and they came on
with such fury that he shrank closer to this rock, and he clung more
tenaciously even when some of them failed to reach him. Occasionally a
huge billow would strike him and drench him, and then he would shiver
and throw off the foam as if trying to recover from some murderous blow
given by an animal. It would have been easy to have yielded to one of
those waves and allowed it to sweep him away into a swift death, but
who does not cling to life? A wild sky, a pitiless rain, and only a
black rock in a maelstrom—better this than a grave in that maelstrom.
So the man felt. As he held on, his thoughts would go back in spite
of him. Not that he cared to think. He would gladly have given the
subject a grave in that sea from which he shrank, but if he had tried
to throw it off and drop it there, it would have had a resurrection and
come up. He thought of the time when he was a little boy in this very
neighborhood, visiting here, one far off summer. His younger sister was
with him. He could easily recall her blue eyes that framed a constant
smile. He heard the happy ring of her laugh, even out there in the
noisy waters. He did not want to hear it, but hear it he did. There had
been a quarrel with her one day, and he resolved in a mood of anger
that was almost insane, to punish her. The quarrel had occurred at
the Chair which he knew sometimes was a bad place to be in, the older
people had told him. When the tide was high, and behind it was a storm
pushing violently the waters landward, that lonely piece of rock, the
Chair, was a dangerous position to occupy. There was a gray, misty sky
that day, when the boy led his sister, at low tide, across the sands to
the Crescent ledges. He pleasantly told her to stay at the Chair and
he would come for her in a little while. “The waves were pretty,” he
said, “and she could watch them till he came back.” Then he left her.
In half an hour he knew the tide would flood the sands and isolate the
Chair. He would be absent, he said to himself, perhaps two hours. That
would give her a good fright and would be enough to satisfy him. But
he did not get back to the shore so soon as two hours. Something had
detained him. In the meantime, the fog came on. The rain began to beat
down. The men were almost all of them away on fishing cruises. Only a
few decrepit fishermen were at home, and they did not like to venture
off into the uneasy waters now enclosing the Crescent ledges unless
it was some special reason urging them, and as the boy was ashamed to
confess that he had left his sister at the Chair, no rough but friendly
hand of any seaman was reached out to grasp her. In the morning though,
his conscience frightened him into an explanation of his urgency, and a
relief party of old men went at once. The Chair however was empty. That
morning, there came ashore a sweet little face with closed eyes, and
it confirmed the story told by that vacant Chair. So many, many years
ago, did this all happen, and now it was coming back as a sad thing of
yesterday.

“She’s a–lookin’ at me!” said the man in the Chair. “I can see her
eyes!”

Yes, through the veil of the storm they seemed to penetrate and
reproachfully search his heart.

“I will look another way,” he thought, but they seemed to follow him.
Tender and full of sorrow, they looked at him on every side. He saw the
waves rushing at him and he shrank from them only to meet the eyes that
he little cared to behold. He avoided these, but there were the billows
rushing at him again. So he was pursued. It seemed to him as if he must
lose his mind, and then would he not lose his hold on the rock? That
tormented him anew.

But—but—look! Amid the ragged mass of flying foam jutting above the
walls of the angrily rising waves, he saw a boat! Yes, he could make
out the heads of the men that were rowing! They were coming to rescue
him! He had enemies on shore who would seize him and put him behind
stone walls, and these men in the boat might hand him over to those
enemies, but no matter, he would be rescued from the place of torment
he was in. Anything to be saved from that, and those men would save
him! The rush of exultant feeling was so great that it affected him
even as a wave threatening to carry him away, but he tightened his
loosened grasp and looked up again. Yes, they were coming nearer. He
could see them, count them,—one, two, three, four, five, six, besides
the man steering. And they saw him! Yes, they all saw him. To reach
him, the boat slightly changed its course, and now all the crew looking
sidewise could see this castaway. It was Walter who recognized him.
Raising his head, straining his vision to catch a fuller view of the
man bending over and half veiled by the misty spray thrown up above the
Chair there came before Walter once more the form that he had seen that
morning in his uncle’s store when the note so mysteriously disappeared,
that form which he had seen again when patrolling the beach off the
Crescent, one wild November day.

“Baggs!” he now shouted to the crew in the surf–boat. “It is Baggs!” As
by a common impulse, every man ceased rowing and rested on his oar, the
keeper holding the boat with his long steering–oar.

“Yes, yes!” “That is the man!” “It’s Baggs!” were the various
exclamations that broke from the crew’s lips.

“He’s waving a hand to us!” said Walter.

“Let him wave and die!” some one exclaimed.

“No, I’d save a dog off in that place!” said the keeper.

“That’s so!” replied Walter.

“That’s so!” said several.

It was not so much an expression of opinion by one man or several, as
the voice rather of that noble spirit which has its embodiment in our
entire Life Saving Service and proves it by its yearly record.

“Row away, men!” shouted the keeper. “He’s there! I see him.”

But Baggs changed his position. He knew that it would be difficult to
rescue him even with that boat, such a raging sea broke all about the
rock to which he clung. The boat must be held off at a little distance
from the ledge and then a rope thrown to him. He must stand his chances
of grasping this only hope of safety. The tide had begun to subside,
and another part of the ledge was now jutting above the surf. Whether
he thought he could be rescued better from this second position and
so tried to reach it, or whether in the increasing nearness of the
rescue–party he grew careless, and accidentally slipped out of the
Chair and was quickly, eagerly, seized by a wave and hurried away, who
could say? It was Slim Tarleton who just before had said to the keeper,
“He’s holdin’ on, Cap’n, ain’t he?” And the keeper nodded yes with his
head.

“Is he there now, Cap’n?” asked Seavey Lowd the next minute. The
keeper’s head did not move—he only fastened his eyes steadily
on the ledge fringed by the surf, as if trying to determine a
fact with certainty, and then rising in his seat, said solemnly,
“I—b’lieve—he’s—gone! Yes, gone!”

Gone, and he left no more trace behind than a leaf falling through the
air. Gone into that whirling, eddying sea, into that deep, dark grave
so long clutching at him, and which now buried him under its waves
forever! The boat could not possibly reach him. Gone, gone!

“Well, men,” said the keeper to the crew, who resting on their oars
looked with sober faces at the empty Chair into which the waves now
mockingly flung their spray as its only occupant, “we might take a turn
round and then go home, but that hunt is all up. Don’t see a sign of
him.”

The bow of the surf–boat was headed for The Harbor, after a season of
waiting. And strong arms steadily pulled it home.

That afternoon, the captain of the wrecked vessel walking on the sands
at low tide, reported at the station that a body had come ashore. “It’s
t’other passenger,” he said, “who came ashore as I told you. You know
two started on a life–savin’ thing. It’s ’bout two hundred feet from
here.”

Keeper Barney and Walter followed him to the designated spot, and there
lying on the beach, his long dark hair hanging in a tangle over his
face as if trying to veil from the world some dishonored object, was
Joe Cardridge. The body was removed to a shed in a field that skirted
the shore–rocks. Various articles were found upon the body, and they
were removed by the keeper for preservation. “What is this?” asked the
keeper, as he took from an inner pocket of the blouse that Joe had
worn, an envelope. “A letter inside this,” said the keeper, “and it is
directed to me!”

The address was worn and the water had affected it, and yet the
superscription could be made out.

“A letter for me, brought by a strange mail–carrier,” said the keeper.
“I will see what it is.”

“Why,” he exclaimed, “that is a letter from our district
superintendent! Yes, it is the missin’ one that Walter couldn’t find!
There is the date. That clears Walter.”

“I guess he was cleared afore,” declared Tom Walker, who was present.

Another mystery was solved that day. Many people were attracted to the
beach by the tragedy of the wreck, and among them came Miss P. Green,
Aunt Lydia, and other women. Some of Joe Cardridge’s family were at the
station. The blouse that he had worn, was drying before the stove.

“What’s that?” queried Aunt Lydia, who had come to the station. Her
sharp bright eyes were fastened on a sleeve of the blouse, turned back
at the wrist. “If there ain’t that blue W that I tucked away in the
white linin’ of Walter’s blouse!”

“Where?” asked Tom Walker.

“There!” replied Aunt Lydia. “That is Walter’s coat, I know.”

“Walter’s coat?” asked Keeper Barney, who had joined the circle of
inspection.

“Yes,” replied Aunt Lydia, “I sewed a blue W on to the white linin’ of
Walter’s sleeve, and here it is.”

“Humph!” said the keeper. “Joe Cardridge exchanged blouses with Walter,
that is what he did, and carried off the missin’ letter.”

“But—but—” said little Charlie Cardridge who was present, and
overhearing the conversation wished to show that some of the property
in the room did belong to his father, “that’s father’s. Looks like
his, anyway.” He was pointing at the flask found in Walter’s pocket
and now standing on the sill of a window in the station. The flask was
handed to Charlie. Turning it over, he exclaimed, “There’s a C! That is
father’s.”

In the bottom of the flask the letter C had been blown, and it now
proved who the real owner of that mysterious property had been.

“No doubt about it!” declared Tom Walker, who with others of the crew
had come into the kitchen. “No doubt about it! There was an exchange of
blouses by the owner of the flask, and the latter was left by Joe as a
witness agin Walter. A pretty deep game! Walter, give us your hand. I
knew before though that you were all right.”

Tom gripped Walter’s hand as if it were a pump–handle on a dry, hot,
thirsty day. Others congratulated Walter, and none more readily than
the keeper.

There was no investigation by the district superintendent when he
arrived, and the news of the wreck brought him the next day.



CHAPTER XX.

CHRISTMAS.


Uncle Boardman was destined to have a Christmas present. At least,
he began to think it looked like it, for there behind the kitchen
stove, swinging from the wooden shelf over the fire–place, was Uncle
Boardman’s stocking on Christmas morning. If it were a joke, too bad to
send a man barefoot over the cold floors hunting up his property. It
was an enormous stocking. No mean, puny leg did Uncle Boardman carry
about, and the stocking corresponded. It was a blue stocking, and it
was thick and warm. What was a stocking for Uncle Boardman by day,
would have made a good blanket for any baby by night. Uncle Boardman
looked at the stocking and grinned. “Can’t be anything in it,” he said.
“I thought Lydia and I gave up such things long ago.”

But the stocking seemed to say, “Try me and see what I can do for you.”

“I will,” thought Uncle Boardman. Down into the stocking he ran a good
sized fist, and fished out a piece of paper neatly folded up.

“One of Lydia’s jokes,” he said. The paper though was directed to
“Boardman Blake.” He took it to the eastern window, at which the
Christmas sun was hanging an outside curtain of crimson. He opened the
missive and read:

 “_Dear Boardman:_—I have been thinking about your mortgage, and I have
 concluded to extend it as you wished, and I know you have had a hard
 time, and you may have it extended for one or two years, as you like,
 and not pay any interest. With a wish for a Merry Christmas,

  “Your old friend,
  John Elliott.”

Uncle Boardman felt enough like a happy boy to shout “Hurrah!” and then
he skipped upstairs to execute a dance in his wife’s chamber.

“I thought it would make you happy,” said Aunt Lydia. “Miss Green was
in here last evenin’ and brought it from the office, and so I tucked it
into your stockin’.”

“Well, Lydia, you shall have a new gown from this, for your present.”

And what was it that moved Capt. Elliott to make that Christmas
present? Could he say his prayers with comfort nowadays, and had he
found such peace that he wished to take peace to another heart?

His grandchild, Amy, was with him one day, while he was examining the
Blake mortgage and other papers. Looking up, he thought, “That child
is like the Atlantic Ocean.” Like the Atlantic Ocean! She so little,
and that so vast! It was an absurdity. And yet when one looked into
her eyes, of such deep azure, when one witnessed the vivacity of
her nature, the play of whose emotions was so varied, restless, and
oftentimes intense, saw too the sparkles that kept coming and going in
the depths of her eyes, one could but think of that Atlantic whose blue
waves kept coming and going, each wave a crystal flashing in the sun.

Amy Elliott with a child’s keenness of observation was watching her
grandfather as he handled a certain document that had been lying beside
his Bible. It was prayer time with him, one of those seasons when he
would try to climb the stairway of a new and holy life, and somehow
would be baffled and turn back. While reading his Bible, he chanced
to notice a sheet of paper near it, and his thoughts wandering off to
it, he interrupted his Bible reading long enough to find out what it
was that called off his attention. It was Boardman Blake’s note about
the mortgage on his house, asking that a little indulgence be granted
him. The sight of this irritated the old man, and he gave vent to his
irritation in a sharp remark to Amy. “There, there, Amy, you interrupt
me! You go and play somewhere.”

The child had not interrupted him, but that letter disturbed him, and
it was convenient to blame Amy.

“Grandpa reading and praying?” inquired Amy. “That Grandpa’s prayer to
God? Did God hear?” As she spoke, she laid her tapering little finger
on Boardman’s letter. If she had struck him a cruel blow, she could not
have wounded him more deeply. He clutched in his hand the letter, and
muttering to himself, rose and went upstairs to a dark little closet
where he would sometimes shut himself in and pray. Down he dropped upon
his knees. “Grandpa’s prayer to God!” Supposing it had been his prayer
to God, what would God have done with it? If it had been John Elliott
crying to God for favor, what would God have done?

“He hasn’t answered me,” murmured the old man. And then the inquiry
arose in his heart, why God had not answered him?

Somehow there came into his mind with strange swiftness those old
words: “With what measure ye meet, it shall be measured to you again.”

Was not that letter the obstacle on the stairs of the better life
he was trying to climb? Did he not stumble over it again and again?
Would God extend mercy to him until he had had compassion on a fellow
creature?

“I will!” he sobbed. “I will be merciful. I will extend the time for
the payment of that note.”

And down into his soul as through some window opened just above him,
streamed the light of the forgiving presence of God. No obstacle now on
the stairway that John Elliott was trying to climb!

The first thing he did when he left that place of prayer, was to take
pen and paper. At first he thought he would simply extend the time for
the payment of that note.

“I can do better than that,” he said, and wrote the note already given.

To Aunt Lydia, he sent a request that the note might be handed to her
husband, Christmas day. Aunt Lydia dropped it into that capacious
stocking. There was a happy Christmas gathering at Boardman Blake’s.
Walter’s father and mother were there, and some of the neighbors were
invited to “drop in.”

“We must ask the Elliotts,” said Aunt Lydia, and May, Amy, and Capt.
Elliott came to represent them.

Miss P. Green too had been invited, and with her appeared her boarder,
Chauncy Aldrich. Walter had faithfully kept his word to Chauncy, and
careful nursing met with its reward. Back from the gates of death, was
Chauncy brought, and he also came into a new life, spiritually. He
walked after Christ in love and obedience. He returned after Christmas
to the home of his parents, and he took his Christian principles with
him and steadfastly adhered to them.

When the lights at the Christmas gathering had all been extinguished,
and Walter was in his room upstairs, before retiring he looked out of
the window toward the sea. He detected a bright little light crawling
along through the darkness in the direction of the beach opposite the
Crescent, “That is Tom Walker’s lantern,” thought Walter. “It is his
watch, and he is out upon his beat.”

The light disappeared behind a projection of the shore ledges, and then
Walter bowed in prayer and asked God to care for his brave old comrades
who were caring for others and “_Fighting the Sea_.”



                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE:

—Obvious print and punctuation errors were corrected.





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