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Title: Mermaid
Author: Overton, Grant Martin
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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MERMAID


[Illustration: “_‘Out of the ocean you came,’ he said.... ‘Mermaid! The
name is poetry and the story is romance’_”]


MERMAID

by

GRANT M. OVERTON


[Illustration]


Frontispiece by Henry A. Botkin



Garden City      New York
Doubleday, Page & Company
1920

Copyright, 1920, by
Doubleday, Page & Company
All Rights Reserved, Including That of
Translation into Foreign Languages,
Including the Scandinavian



  FOR
  GENE STRATTON-PORTER



MERMAID



MERMAID



PART ONE


I

“No one,” snapped Keturah Smiley, “can play Providence to a married
couple.”

“Some women can play Lucifer,” retorted her brother. His hoarse but not
unmusical voice shook with anger.

“I had nothing to do with your wife’s running away,” Keturah Smiley
answered. “What is this child you have adopted?”

“I have adopted no child,” said Cap’n John Smiley with coldness. “A
child was saved from the wreck of the _Mermaid_ and the men at the
station have adopted her. The fancy struck them and--I certainly had no
objection. It’s--she’s--a girl, a little girl of about six. We don’t
know her name. The men are calling her Mermaid after the ship.”

Keturah Smiley sniffed. She wrapped the man’s coat she wore more
closely about her, and made as if to return to her gardening.

Her brother eyed her with a wrathful blue eye. He never saw her that
they did not quarrel. He was aware that, deep down, she loved him; he
was aware that it was this jealous love of Keturah’s which had caused
her to nag the young girl he had married some seven years earlier. Mary
Rogers, in Keturah’s eyes, was a silly, thoughtless, flighty person
quite unfitted to fill the rôle of John Smiley’s wife and the mother of
John Smiley’s children. She must be made to feel this; Keturah had done
her best to make her feel it. And there could be no question that the
young wife had felt it. So much so that, joined to John Smiley’s long
absences on duty at the Coast Guard station on the beach, joined to her
loneliness, joined to who knows what secret doubts and anguish, she
had disappeared one day some months after their child was born, taking
the baby girl with her and leaving no word, no note, no token. And she
had never come back. She had never been traced. She might be dead; the
child might be dead; no one knew.

Of course this was the crowning evidence of the unfitness Keturah
Smiley had found in her; but somehow Keturah Smiley did not make that
triumphant point before her brother. It is possible that Keturah Smiley
who wore a man’s old coat, who drove hard bargains at better than six
per cent., whose tongue made the Long Islanders of Blue Port shrink as
under a cutting lash--it is possible that Keturah Smiley was just the
least bit afraid of her brother.

If so she could hardly be said to show it. There was no trace of the
stricken conscience in the air with which she always faced him. There
was none now.

“Well, John,” she said, almost pleasantly, as she hoed her onion bed.
“You’re blowing from the southeast pretty strong to-day and you appear
to be bringing trouble. I’ll just take three reefs in my temper and
listen to what further you have to say.”

John Smiley was not heeding her. He had found that there are times in
life when it is necessary not to listen if you would keep sane and
kind. He was reflecting on the difficulty of his errand.

“Keturah,” he asked, off-handedly, “this little girl has got to have
some clothes. Do you suppose----”

“Perhaps you would like me to adopt her,” his sister interrupted. “No,
I thank you, John. As for clothes, I daresay that if you and your
men are going to bring up a six-year-old girl the lot of you can get
clothes from somewhere.”

Do we always torture the things we love? Love and jealousy, jealousy
and torture. Cap’n Smiley saw red for a moment; then he turned on his
heel and strode down the path and out the gate.

He walked up the long main street until he came to the handful of
stores at the crossroads. Entering one of the largest he went to the
counter where a pleasant-faced woman confronted him.

“Oh, Cap’n Smiley!” exclaimed the shopwoman. “Are you all right? Are
all the men all right? What a terrible time you _have_ been a-having!
That ship--she’s pounded all to pieces they say.”

The Coast Guard keeper nodded. He began his errand:

“I’ve got to get some clothes for a little girl that was saved--only
one we got ashore alive except one of the hands. I guess I need a
complete outfit for a six-year-old,” he explained.

The shopwoman, with various exclamations, bustled about. She spread out
on the counter a variety of garments. The keeper eyed them with some
confusion. It appeared he had to make a selection; impossible task!
“What would you think was best?” he inquired, anxiously. The shopwoman
came to his aid and a bundle was made up. Two little gingham dresses, a
warm coat; and did he want a nice dress? A dress-up dress? The keeper
had given no thought to the matter. A pity the little girl wasn’t
along! It was hard to tell what would become her. She had blue eyes and
reddish hair? Something dark and plain, but not too dark. A plaid; yes,
a warm plaid would be best. Here was a nice pattern.

“I s’pose you’ll be bringing her over here,” ventured the shopkeeper.
“Does any one know who she is?... What a pity! Mermaid! After the ship!
I declare. I don’t know’s I ever heard that for a girl’s name, though
it’s suitable, to be sure. I s’pose you’ll look after her.”

“The--the men have sort of adopted her,” Cap’n Smiley said, hastily.
“We thought we could look after her and it would be rather nice having
a youngster around. Of course, it’s unusual,” he went on in answer to
the shopwoman’s expression of amazement. He thanked her, and taking his
bundles, fared forth.

The woman in the shop sent after him a curious and softened look. She
had a habit of saying aloud the things that struck her most forcibly.
She remarked now to the empty store:

“Adopt her! Well, there’s those will say a crew of Coast Guardsmen are
no fit lot to bring up a six-year-old girl. But any child will be safe
with John Smiley to look after her.” A new and important thought struck
her.

“Goodness!” she ejaculated. “This will be something for Keturah to
exercise her brain about!”


II

Cap’n Smiley went from the shop directly to the creek where his boat
lay. He stowed his bundles and gave several energetic turns to the
flywheel; the engine began to chug loudly, the keeper cast off his
line, and taking the tiller started back across the Great South Bay.

It was a five-mile trip across to the Lone Cove Coast Guard Station
and Keeper John had a little time for reflection. He had not meant to
quarrel with his sister; he had gone with the express determination
not to have the usual row, but this had proved impossible. No one
could avoid fighting with his sister, himself least of all. If it was
not some allusion to his wife it was some allusion to their aunt’s
will which, drawn to leave her considerable property equally to John
and his sister, had at the last moment been altered to leave all to
Keturah because of dissatisfaction with John’s marriage. The keeper
had never cared about that while he had had his wife and for a few
precious months the baby girl; and after he had lost them it would seem
he might have cared less than ever. What was money then? Never-ceasing
pain still gnawed at his heart, but for that very reason the gibes
of his sister became the more unendurable. Was it not she who was in
great measure responsible for the loss of Mary and the little Mary?
Cap’n Smiley was a clear-minded man; he did not absolve his wife from
blame, but she had been, after all, but a young girl and despite her
lightmindedness he had loved her. With all her little affectations,
with all her craving for amusement, with all her utter inefficiency as
a housekeeper, with all her childishness akin to that of the childlike
Dora whom David Copperfield cherished--with all and in spite of all
John Smiley had loved this young girl. And he could not but believe
that his sister was as much to blame for her behaviour in leaving him
as Mary’s own weak nature.

And then the baby girl! How deep the wound of losing her John Smiley
would never let the world know. Her name, too, had been Mary.

He thought of the mute little figure awaiting him and his bundles on
the beach. She was just the age, as nearly as could be surmised, that
his own child would have been if ... if....

What was that his sister had said in regard to his own experience? “No
one can play Providence to a married couple.” Well, a pretty thing for
her to say! She had certainly played a rôle anything but providential
in her brother’s marriage. But if no one could play Providence to
married folk it might still be possible for someone to be a Providence
to a single soul.

This little girl, he thought with a thrill, this little girl of the
age his own would have been, with her blue eyes and her reddish hair,
coppery, almost burnished--she could play Providence in his life,
perhaps.

He remembered how, the night of the wreck, he had put her to bed in his
own bed and had slept in some blankets on the floor. In the middle of
the night he had been wakened by her crying. Some memory in her sleep
had made her sob. Very weak, pitiful sobs. They had stirred him to try
to comfort her and after a little she had returned to sleep.


III

There was in the crew of the Lone Cove Coast Guard Station a man named
Hosea Hand and called Ho Ha, partly because these were the first
letters of his first and last names, partly because of the presence
among the crew of another man called Ha Ha. Ha Ha’s name was Harvey
Hawley and he was a silent, sorrowful, drooping figure. He resembled
a gloomy question mark and not a joyful exclamation point. Ho Ha,
however, was merry; Ho Ha was blithe and gay. Ha Ha, in the week of the
six-year-old child’s existence at Lone Cove, had hardly done more than
eye her with misgiving. But Ho Ha had picked her up a dozen times a day
for little journeys down to the surf, back to the station, over to the
bay, and up on the dunes. He had her now, pick-a-back, at the end of
the little pier that stuck out into the bay shallows. The chugging of
the keeper’s launch grew louder every minute.

“Wave to the Cap’n,” Ho Ha urged her. Mermaid answered his smile with a
smile of her own. The afternoon sun struck her coppery hair and framed
the smile in a halo.

Of a sudden the chug-chugging stopped, the launch came about neatly,
and Ho Ha, hastily setting Mermaid down on the pier, caught the rope
end Cap’n Smiley tossed him. Then he laid hold of the keeper’s bundles
while John Smiley picked up the little girl and carried her to the
station.

Spring had not conquered the chill of nightfall yet. The big stove in
the long living room of the station gave forth a happy warmth, and the
front lids were red. In the kitchen, through which arrivals passed into
the living room, Warren Avery, Surfman No. 4, was working, apron-clad,
at the task of dinner. It was his week to cook and he thanked God
the agony would soon be over. Cake! He had never been able to make
cake with confidence since the day when he had put in salt instead of
saleratus. The cake had not risen but his fellows had.

“What you trying to do, Avery?” Ha Ha had demanded. “This might have
been made by Lot’s wife.”

In the living room sat the other members of the crew, all except Tom
Lupton who was forth on the east patrol. All smoked pipes except the
youngest, Joe Sayre, Surfman No. 7. Joe was eighteen and Cap’n Smiley
suffered great anxiety lest cigarettes impair the physique inherited
from generations of bay-going ancestors.

All smoked; at the word that dinner was ready all would cease to smoke
and begin to eat. At the conclusion of dinner they would light up
again. All were hungry, all were hardy. Seven nights before, drenched
to the skin, blinded by rain and hail and braced against a full gale,
they had battled all night to save men from a ship smashing to pieces
on the outer bar. Not one of them showed a sign of that prolonged and
terrible struggle.

Cap’n Smiley drew up his chair at one end of the table, which thus
became the head. Mermaid was seated beside him. For her there was mush
and milk, the latter supplied by the only cow on the beach, which
belonged to Mrs. Biggles. For the others huskier fare: corned beef and
cabbage, hardtack and butter, bread pudding and coffee. Each waited on
himself and on the others. There must be conversation; Cap’n Smiley
valued certain amenities as evidence of man’s civilized state and table
conversation was one of them. It devolved on him to start it. He said:

“Has the beach been gone over to-day for wreckage?”

It appeared it had. Jim Mapes and Joe Sayre, aided somewhat by Mrs.
Biggles’s husband, had walked east and west almost to the stations on
either side of Lone Cove. There was much driftwood from the lost ship.
Some tinned provisions had come ashore but seemed hopelessly spoiled.
And one body.

“Found it well up on the beach about two miles east,” Jim Mapes told
the keeper. “That of the captain. Biggles took it over to Bellogue. I
kept the papers he had on him. Put ’em on your desk, Cap’n.”

“Look ’em over later,” the keeper remarked. “Did Biggles take off that
fo’c’s’le scum?”

“He did.”

“And a good riddance,” declared the keeper. “Evil-looking fellow, if
I ever saw one. A squarehead, too. Some Dutch name or other--Dirk or
Derrick or just plain Dirt. The owners said to let him go. But the
curious thing is they couldn’t tell me what I wanted to know.”

He glanced at the small girl beside him. She had finished her supper
and sat back in her chair, looking a little timidly and a little
sleepily at the men. Cap’n Smiley interrupted his meal to carry her to
his room whence, after an interval, he returned grinning happily.

“Eyes closed as soon as she was in bed,” he informed his crew. Then his
forehead wrinkled again as he sat down.

“The owners,” he explained, “say that the captain was unmarried. The
mate had a wife but no children. The second was a youngster and single.
There was no passenger, not even one signed on as ‘medical officer’ or
anything like that. The ship was direct from San Francisco, 130 days
out. The child must have come aboard before she sailed, but there is no
record to show who she is. Have any of you talked to her?”

“I have,” Ho Ha answered. “Easy-like, you know, Cap’n. She says she
hasn’t any name. The captain looked after her and she lived in a spare
cabin. The steward she remembers because he was kind to her and because
he was lame. She had never seen any one aboard before she came on the
ship. Doesn’t know how she got there. Woke up to find herself in the
cabin and the ‘bed rocking.’ Before being on the boat she lived with ‘a
tall lady’ whom she called Auntie. Just Auntie, nothing else. It was in
the country, some place near Frisco, maybe. On shipboard the captain
and the steward called her ‘little girl’ when they called her anything.
None of the others spoke to her.”

Most of the men had finished eating. Cap’n Smiley got up and went to
his desk. He picked up the papers that had been washed ashore with
the body of the _Mermaid’s_ skipper. There were certain of the ship’s
papers, a little memorandum book with no entries, and a personal
letter. The ink had run badly on the soaked documents and the letter
was illegible except for a few words. These were far apart and
decipherable after much pains.

“‘Only child ... return her ... precautions ... do not want my
whereabouts ... so no message ... forgiveness’” puzzled out the
keeper. From hand to hand the letter went to confirm these conjectural
readings. The keeper scratched his head. His forehead showed little
vertical lines. His blue eyes were thoughtful, and the wrinkles that
converged at their corners, the result of much sea gazing, showed up
like little furrows of light and shadow under the rays of the big oil
lamp hanging overhead. The sense of so much as he had read was clear
enough, but the story was woefully incomplete. What were a few words
in a couple of sentences of a long letter? Four large sheets had
been covered by that shaky and rather small handwriting; and for the
fourteen words he could make out there were at least four hundred lost.

Footfalls sounded on the boardwalk outside the door, not the steady
tramp of Tom Lupton returning from the easterly stretch of the beach
but lighter steps of someone running. The door opened quickly and Mrs.
Biggles appeared among them, white and breathless.

“Cap’n,” she panted. “There’s a stranger on the beach. My Henry
hasn’t got back yet--he maybe’ll be staying over to Bellogue till
morning. I heard a noise at a window and there was a man’s face. He
disappeared quick. I was so frightened I couldn’t run and I couldn’t
stay; so finally I run over here. ’Twasn’t any face I ever saw before.
It’s--it’s a sailor like the one Henry took off. And--oh, have mercy on
us!--they’re all drowned!”


IV

Cap’n Smiley, young Joe Sayre, and Jim Mapes went back with Mrs.
Biggles. It was a clear night with many stars but the moon had not yet
risen. The fresh, damp southeast wind was playing great chords upon the
organ of the surf. Eight minutes’ tramping over the dunes brought the
four persons to the Biggles house--a fisherman’s shack of two rooms,
but tight and dry. The lamp’s glow came through window panes. After
circling the house Cap’n Smiley moved to one of the windows. He came
back immediately and said to the others with a low chuckle:

“Whoever he is, he’s hungry. Mrs. Biggles, he’s eating your provender!”

All fear left the bayman’s wife. With an exclamation she advanced
before the others could restrain her. They followed her through the
door in time to hear her exclaim:

“You good-for-nothing, what are you doing eating my Henry’s cold samp
porridge!”

The man choked on a mouthful. Swiftly he rose and tried to slip by her.
She gave him a heavy box on the head and the men at the door caught and
held him.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” asked Cap’n Smiley, sharply,
though amazed mirth at the transformation of Mrs. Biggles caused his
eyes to twinkle. The sailor stood quietly enough. His English was
poor. He was, he said, one of the crew of the wrecked ship. He had
been washed ashore unconscious on the night of the disaster but had
recovered his senses before dawn, creeping into the sandhills. There
he had hidden in bushes and slept. He had slept all day and at night
he had prowled about. Breaking into one of the few summer cottages on
the beach he had found a little food and on that he had subsisted. He
hadn’t approached the Coast Guard Station nor made himself known to any
one because of a fight in San Francisco in which he had killed a man.
A boarding-house keeper had sheltered him and put him on the _Mermaid_,
but the captain knew who he was and he had expected to be arrested when
the ship made New York. The wreck had seemed to offer him a miraculous
chance of escape, and he had somehow escaped with his life. Was he to
survive in the face of such odds only to lose his life ashore? But
now, half-starved and plainly feverish, he could struggle no longer;
he would confess and take his chances. His eye remained with a fixed
fascination on the food that lay on the table. He wriggled feebly in
Cap’n Smiley’s hard grasp to reach it; then sank down limply with
delirious mutterings.

The keeper and Joe Sayre picked him up and carried him, as men on
shipboard carry a lighter sail, to the station. Mrs. Biggles, entirely
reassured, they left in her cabin. At the station a bed was made on the
floor in the living room, not far from the stove. The keeper got out
his medicine chest and prepared to spend a wakeful night.

The man was evidently in a very bad state. Sedatives seemed to have no
effect on him. He tossed about on the floor as if he felt a heaving
deck under him. He talked almost continuously. His exchanges with the
boarding-house keeper and with the skipper of the _Mermaid_ were on his
lips; and interspersed with cringing entreaties were sentences that
must have been uttered in a quarrel with the man he had killed. Cap’n
Smiley listened patiently, but he could not make much of it.

The man killed in the fight had not been a sailor but a landsman, that
was evident, and he had had something to do with a woman--no, a girl.
Then came the words, “Six years old,” and the keeper suddenly realized
that all this might relate to the child sleeping in his bed. He bent
down and waited for her name, but it never came. Most likely the
speaker did not know it. There was something about a “Captain King,”
but the name of the _Mermaid’s_ captain had been Jackson.... This
Captain King had had something to do with the six-year-old girl.... She
was not his child but another’s.... He had arranged to send her back
... keeping himself out of it.... Child ... Cap’n Smiley’s thoughts
travelled to the letter found with the body of the _Mermaid’s_ skipper.
It must have been from this Captain King. But to whom was he returning
this child who was not his? And who were her parents? All this sick
man knew he had learned from an agent of Captain King who had brought
the child to the master of the _Mermaid_, and who had been drinking
with the money someone, presumably King, had paid him.... The keeper,
with a beating heart, gave heed to the sailor’s talking. Much of it
was irrelevant and not a little was unclean; once the man sang part of
a chantey, and once he cursed a fellow working beside him aloft on a
yard. It was a long and strained vigil that the Coast Guardsman kept,
and when, toward morning, the poor wretch on the floor sank into a
coma and died, he had an intolerable sense of being cheated, first by
a dead man who should have kept his papers in oilskin packets, and
then by a dying man whose tongue should either have wagged a few hours
longer or never have wagged at all.


V

Spring advanced. The velvety grass of the salt meadows became a
delightful green. Mermaid of the Lone Cove Station played all day
among the dunes and down by the surf, and the men, particularly Ho Ha,
played with her. She had a part in their daily drills and exercises.
When they wigwagged with red and white flags she wigwagged with a
small red and white flag, too. When the little brass cannon was fired
and Jim Mapes, standing on a platform that encircled a high pole--a
platform that represented the maintop as the pole represented a ship’s
mainmast--caught the heaving line and made it fast Mermaid, her hair
glinting in the sunlight, stood beside him. The line rigged, Mermaid
made the round trip to the dunes and back, and then a last trip to the
dunes in the breeches buoy. Her two small legs protruded ridiculously,
and the tip of her head was hidden in the big circle of the buoy’s
belt. On other days there was drill with the surf boat, but on these
occasions Mermaid could only stand on the beach and jump up and down
with excitement while her uncles (as she was taught to call them)
waded warily out in big hip boots, watched for the right moment, and
pushed beyond the breakers. Cap’n Smiley, who was always helping the
little girl to invent games, had suggested to her that she play she was
on a desert island. He had explained to her what a desert island was,
and had made her acquainted, verbally, with one Robinson Crusoe.

She, Mermaid, was a desert islander and the surfboat, returning, was a
boat come to take her off. She had been alone, utterly alone, on the
desert island for years. At the sight of the boat coming through the
surf emotion should be hers. It was, and would have been anyway; but it
might never have been the imaginative and kindled thing it became with
the keeper’s help. Standing at the tiller he would call out, as the
boat turned shoreward:

“Courage! You shall be restored to your family and friends!”

And when the boat was beached he would advance to the child, bow
respectfully before her, and even sometimes, kneeling, kiss her hand.
He would say:

“Your gracious Majesty, we have voyaged to the Indies and have taken
possession of them in the name of Castile!”

Or:

“Welcome, my lady, back to the world of living men!”

Or, merely bowing, and with a deference as studied as Stanley’s in the
African jungle:

“Madame Mermaid, I believe!”

Mermaid received him without full comprehension but with high glee.
With a deplorable lack of etiquette she invariably reached up both
arms, put them around his lowered neck, and kissed him.

She was pretty with the promise of loveliness, perhaps of beauty. It
was not only her hair and her eyes but the modelling of her chin and
the spacing of her features. The skin was unusually clear, with colour
in the cheeks, and a few faint, clustered freckles.

The men were devoted to her and she returned their affection. Even Ha
Ha, the sad soul, the introspective one, though he never smiled, was
less gloomy in his opinions when Mermaid stood by. Ho Ha, unable to
compete with the keeper in telling engrossing stories, set himself to
work to provide pets. There were foxes on the beach and he had come
upon a litter. The cubs were dedicated to Mermaid--until nightfall
when their mother gnawed the ropes which fastened them. Ho Ha sought
vainly in Bellogue and Blue Port for a white rabbit with pink eyes. The
beach was infested with plain brown rabbits, for the most part rather
unafraid of man. Mermaid could approach within a few feet of these
but they would not stay to let her touch them. Occasionally, trotting
along the ocean shore beside Ho Ha, Mermaid came upon the round-toed
tracks of a cat. Then the coast guardsman would explain how some of the
summer people had left their cats on the beach in the fall to fend
for themselves. Cats so abandoned, explained Ho Ha, quickly became
wild; they doubtless caught birds and visited the water’s edge in the
reasonable hope of finding a bit of fish for supper. They were as wild
as the foxes and much more savage; if Mermaid should see one she must
not make advances lest she be set upon and clawed. The sinuous line in
the sand was the trail of a snake, probably a harmless garter snake,
but possibly a black snake. Mermaid shuddered and her little hand
closed more firmly over Ho Ha’s fingers.

While her natural education was thus proceeding Cap’n Smiley gave much
thought to the question of her schooling. Soon she would be seven,
if, indeed, she were not already. Since the lack of a birthday is
troublesome he bestowed his own upon her and promised some sort of a
birthday party come May 27th.

But before this celebration ripened the agreeable course of life on the
beach suffered an intrusion. On a fine May day Cap’n Smiley was puzzled
to see advancing along the beach and turning in toward his station a
group of women whom he recognized, as they neared, to be from Blue
Port. Hastily assuring himself that his sister was not one, he arrested
the drill with the breaches buoy and stepped forward to meet them.
There were Mrs. Horton, Mrs. Brand, Mrs. Dayton, and Miss Errily. The
four came up slowly, talking among themselves with earnestness. When
they were within earshot they stopped and Miss Errily seemed to take
the lead, her thin lips closed in a straight line.

“Good morning,” said Cap’n Smiley, pleasantly. “We’re about finished
with the drill, but there’s time enough to see it done over if----”

Miss Errily interrupted him:

“We didn’t come to see the drill, Cap’n Smiley,” she said in the severe
tone natural to her. “We came to protest, on behalf of good people,
against your allowing that child with the improper name to stay here.
No one knows anything about her and I dare say the name you’ve given
her is no worse than the rest if it were known; but a crew of rough men
is not a fit surrounding in which any child should be brought up.”

For an ex-schoolteacher Miss Errily’s sentence construction was not
flattering, but it was not the construction which bothered the keeper.
The pleasant expression left his face.

“I don’t like insinuations, Miss Errily. Say what you have to say right
out.”

Miss Errily compressed her lips more tightly before reopening them.

“Everyone knows, Cap’n Smiley, that this girl is a nobody-knows-who.”

“Go on,” the keeper told her.

“Doubtless,” pursued Miss Errily, “she is a--no, I cannot bring myself
to say it, and it is unnecessary--an Improper Child” (Miss Errily’s
tone capitalized the words) “With Improper Origins and Antecedents.
Her proper place is an Institution. Naturally, the Children’s Home
connected with the county house and poor farm. They train them very
well for domestic service, and good servants are becoming scarce. Few
nowadays can keep their place and so, few keep their places. Besides,
it is a Scandal--I speak frankly--an Open Scandal for a child of her
years to be living here with rough men who cannot look after her
properly nor discipline her. School, church, and home; she goes without
all three.”

Cap’n Smiley’s blue eyes flashed as the blue ocean at which he had
been gazing flashed when the sun caught the waves. Now he turned and
faced the women, but Ho Ha, who had been listening with clenched fists,
was before him. At the beginning of Miss Errily’s remarks Ho Ha had
whispered in Mermaid’s ear and the child had scampered toward the
station, not unpleased, for she did not like the looks the visitors
gave her.

“Wait a minute, Miss Errily,” said Ho Ha. He drawled the words.
“Wait--a--minute. You are not holding school, now. Who sent you?”

The spokeswoman stiffened. She replied, angrily:

“We represent the Feeling of a Community. We----”

“And this,” observed Ho Ha, not waiting for her, “is another
community. If you represent any feelings except your own and those of a
few other meddlesome women, Miss Errily, it’s the first time in forty
years--you’re about sixty-two, aren’t you? My father was in your first
class and you were about twenty-two then.”

“Hosea!” said the keeper, in a low tone of rebuke, but he shook oddly
as he said it.

“My age,” quivered Miss Errily, “whatever it is, should be sufficient
to insure Respectful Treatment.” But she was obviously upset. Mrs.
Brand took her place.

“Insult me, if you dare, Hosea Hand!” she cried, challengingly. Ho Ha
looked at her thoughtfully.

“I wouldn’t tell any one to his face what you write about people to
other people, Maria Brand,” he rejoined. “I still have your letter in
which you wrote me that Cap’n Smiley’s sister----”

“I never wrote such a letter!” almost shrieked Maria Brand, with a look
of half terror at the keeper, whose eye, fixed on the glittering ocean,
remained there. Ho Ha, turning to Mrs. Dayton as if he were finishing a
sentence addressed to her, went on implacably.

“--if you must look after other people’s children, why not look after
your husband’s?” Mrs. Dayton went red and white, half opened her lips,
and then started to walk rapidly away. The ranks had broken. Miss
Errily and Maria Brand, followed by Mrs. Horton, were also in rapid
retreat in the direction taken by Amelia Dayton who had no children,
and whose husband’s did not bear the name of Dayton. Cap’n Smiley
frowned on his surfman. “That was going too far!” he censured him.

“Not a bit, not a bit!” said Ho Ha with heat. “Nothing but a pack of
busybodies! Dick Dayton’s brats roll in dirt while Amelia Dayton lends
money at usury. My regret is that I didn’t get a chance to ask Jane
Horton if she had paid her farmer’s fine yet. You know he watered the
milk and I can guess by whose orders!”


VI

For the birthday party they had Mrs. Biggles and her Henry as guests,
and a great cake made by Ho Ha from a recipe supplied by Mrs. Biggles.
It carried seven candles--one for each of Mermaid’s years and one,
the same ones, to be sure, for each of her seven uncles. Dad, as
Cap’n Smiley desired her to call him, blew them all out with one
vasty breath, whereat Mrs. Biggles cried out that this was Mermaid’s
privilege. But the little girl could not extinguish her seven candles
all at once any more than she could kiss her seven uncles collectively,
so she gave individual attention to each candle and each uncle. Mrs.
Biggles must have a kiss, too, and returned it several times over; and
became so excited that she kissed her Henry in his and the public eye,
but then, as she observed, his whiskers left her hardly any other
region and her surroundings left her hardly any other choice. There
was much jesting and even a drinking of healths in some cider Mrs.
Biggles’s Henry had contributed, the chief toast being Cap’n Smiley’s
“to my seven surfmen and one surfwoman” with a pinch of Mermaid’s soft
pink cheek.

Spring swept into summer; the green meadows were set off by great
blooms of pink marsh mallow; the sun, shining down vertically on the
white sand of the beach, caused a brilliant glare that changed, at the
horizons, to a blue haze of heat. White-sailed boats moved over the
five-mile width of Great South Bay, taking to and fro men in white
trousers and gaily-clad women and children who might wish to spend a
day at the tavern to the westward of the station, a place of ragtime
music, clicking billiard balls, “shore” dinners, and home-prepared
lunches. The clean sand was daily littered with empty shoeboxes and
crumpled paper napkins by these family groups who picnicked between
dips in the surf. Except for a few inevitable “fine swimmers” they
clung, laughing and shrieking, to a line of rope tethered to a barrel
just beyond the break of the waves.

With the children of these beach parties Mermaid could play the day
long and sometimes did; many of the visitors were summer residents of
the south shore of Long Island, but not many of them had heard the
little girl’s story; if they gave her any thought they accepted her
as a child of one of the Coast Guardsmen. Strollers who came to the
station to look at the apparatus of life saving--the breeches buoy,
the life car which travelled to and from a distressed ship and the
shore, the surf boat resting on its truck, and ready to be hauled
laboriously through a mile or more of sand, the gun--these people would
see Mermaid, but never think to ask her history. Why should they,
indeed, even suppose she had one? And in telling of wrecks along the
beach Cap’n Smiley generally omitted any mention of one; if he was
asked about the time the _Mermaid_ came ashore he would answer quite
willingly, but a specific question was necessary to elicit the most
romantic and still mysterious part of that story.

The keeper had many other tales unusual enough to satisfy the craving
of the casual caller for a picturesque yarn. Out of his thirty years
at the station he could supply episodes ranging from the ridiculous
to the horrible, and many rehearsals, joined to some natural gift as
a narrator, enabled him to tell his stories well. In pleasant summer
weather, however, they lost much of their possible effectiveness; to
appraise them at their true worth you had to hear them in winter,
sitting and smoking or dreaming by the blazing stove in the station’s
long living room, a lamp swinging overhead, the wind shaking the
building while the sound of the not-distant surf came in to you as a
thunderous and unbroken roar. On a summer’s night with all the stars
shining, the wind whispering and bringing coolness from the leagues
of ocean, the surf merely murmuring and--yes, the mosquitoes biting
moderately--on such a night you could form no just conception of the
setting in which these tales belonged.

With fall, came the question of Mermaid and school. After a severe
mental struggle Cap’n Smiley decided that this could go over for a
year. He could teach the child her letters; as a matter of fact, she
already knew most of them from the weekly practice at wigwagging with
the red and white flags. The keeper knew of no one on “the mainland” to
whom he felt willing to entrust the child; he was inclined to consider
his sister out of the question; in another year some satisfactory
arrangement might present itself. Besides, both he and the men, but
he himself particularly, would be loath to part with Mermaid. She was
a big thing in their lives, and in Cap’n Smiley’s the biggest. Mrs.
Biggles had said lately that she and her Henry were getting along;
they contemplated giving up life on the beach except for a short while
in summer. They would take a house in Blue Port and live there ten
months out of the twelve. Should they do this Mermaid would have a
good home while she was getting her schooling; Cap’n Smiley and the
crew would miss her sorely, but their minds would be easy, and every
one of them on his twenty-four hours’ leave could look in on her and
see how she was.... When the time should be ripe to carry this general
scheme into execution it was Cap’n Smiley’s intention legally to adopt
Mermaid, although, as he said to himself, Mermaid Smiley would _not_
do as a name. It had altogether too strong a flavour of the portraits
on certain pages of the Sunday newspapers. He would adopt her as Mary
Smiley ... though in all likelihood she would always be called Mermaid.
The name well befitted her, dancing about down there on the beach and
slipping in and out of the water in the bathing suit Mrs. Biggles had
made for her from some old dress of pale green with silver edgings.
Musing over the name Cap’n Smiley burst into such laughter that Ha Ha
the Gloomy, peeling potatoes in the kitchen, gave a start and cut his
finger.

“I was just thinking of Henry Biggles’s father,” the keeper explained.
“’Member him? Lived here on the beach. Eighteen children. Old Jacob
Biggles hadn’t much education; in fact, he couldn’t read and write.
Named most of the children after vessels that came ashore on the beach.
One was Monarch Biggles--you’ve heard of Mon Biggles?--and another was
Siamese Prince Biggles--that’s Si Biggles. Then along came a lot of
boys and a lot of wrecks named the _Queen_, the _Merry Maid_, and other
unsuitable things. Poor Jacob was in despair. Some of the boys had to
wait eight years to get a handle.”

“He could have got names out of the Bible,” Ha Ha pointed out.

“He could get ’em but he couldn’t pronounce ’em.”


VII

In September Mermaid and Cap’n Smiley and Ho Ha went beach-plumming. As
they wandered over the dunes picking the blue-red-purple berries there
was much conversation, sometimes conducted in shouts, when the three
were spread a little apart.

“D’ you know the Latin name of these plums, Hosea?” demanded the
keeper. Ho Ha looked very serious.

“My bad mark in school was always in Latin!”

The keeper winked at Mermaid. Ho Ha had gone to a little red
schoolhouse, winters, until he was thirteen.

“It’s _prunus maritima_,” he reminded the scholar. “That’s almost
calling ’em maritime prunes.”

“They’re commoner than prunes with us. Do they get the name from being
served in sailors’ boarding-houses?”

“You were shanghaied to sea, once, weren’t you, Hosea?”

“Sixteen when it happened. On South Street, New York. Froze my feet
standing a trick at the wheel off Cape Horn. Mate came into the
fo’c’s’le and grabbed one foot and twisted it until I howled; then he
pulled me out on deck,” said the Coast Guard, reminiscently. “I’d
always been sort of crazy about the sea from a kid.” He emptied his
pickings into a big basket, straightened up a moment, resumed his
picking, and said:

“I worshipped, just about, an uncle, my mother’s brother, who’d been
to sea all his life. And when I was a shaver on our farm up in the
hills in the middle of the Island I slept in the attic. Every night,
Cap’n, as I got in bed I could see through a little attic window, right
over the tree tops Fire Island light. ’Twas maybe twenty miles away.
’Twould show, just a faint spark, then kindle, then glow bright, then
flame like--like a beacon. Just for a few seconds; then ’twould die
out. Occulting. It seemed to beckon to me. I was only a kid and there
was something wonderful and friendly about that light! And secret, too.
It seemed to be signalling just to me, a little chap in an ice-cold
attic on a lonely hill farm. Seemed as if that light said: ‘Come on,
Hosea Hand! I’m set here to tell you that there’s a great world out
here waiting for you! I’m an outpost! There’s lands and peoples and
adventures and ten thousand leagues of ocean--and there’s life, the
greatest adventure of all! Hurry up and grow up, Hosea Hand!’ And then
all shivering and excited, I’d crouch under the big, pieced quilt and
watch that light come and glow, shine and dim, flame and go out--until
I’d fall asleep and dream I was out there where it called me!”

The little girl listened, fascinated. She had stopped picking, and her
childish breast rose and fell with quick breathing. Cap’n Smiley picked
perfunctorily and once his hand closed so tightly about the coloured
plums that they crushed them. Ho Ha worked steadily and after a few
moments he went on:

“I was fourteen when my father died. The year before I’d quit school
to help work the farm. In those days there wasn’t any science called
agriculture. We just tilled the soil. My father was always trying to
get more land; I used to wonder what for, when it was such slavery to
work it! Maybe he suspicioned the day would come when we’d understand
the soil and know how to make it yield without back-breaking and
heart-break.”

“Your brother is pretty comfortably off, Hosea.”

“Yes,” said Ho Ha, with a curious inflection. “Yes, Richard’s
comfortable. But he’s getting along. You know he’s ten years older than
me.”

Cap’n Smiley gave an ejaculation of surprise. There had been some
unfairness of dealing by Richard Hand with Hosea Hand after their
father’s death, but the keeper did not know exactly what it was. The
Blue Port story had it that Richard Hand had wanted his brother to stay
and help work the farm, and Ho Ha had run off to sea instead. Back of
this lay a tale of the father’s will. This had left the dead man’s
estate to be divided equally between the sons. Richard, however, was to
have the farm intact; and he was to effect such a settlement as would
assure Hosea of his share in cash for whatever use he wanted to make of
it. The father’s idea had been simple: the younger boy hated the farm
and wanted an education; this money would help him get it; after that
he must fend for himself.

So much Cap’n Smiley knew; so much, indeed, everybody knew. The rest
no one appeared exactly to know, but the general impression was that
Richard, as executor, had wound up his father’s affairs to suit himself.

“What happened?” Cap’n Smiley asked himself as he picked away, giving
only absent attention to Mermaid’s chatter. “Knowing Richard Hand as
I do, I suspect Hosea never got a cent of money and never will. I can
make a pretty good guess that after paying the debts there was nothing
left but the farm. To settle fairly with the boy, Dick Hand would have
had to borrow money by mortgaging the place--and I don’t see him doing
that!

“Humph!” concluded the keeper to himself. “Fourteen-year-old boy with
no one to look out to see he got his rights. No lawyer had a hand in
that estate! Dick delays the settlement; in the meantime, his young
brother gets restless. Dick treats him badly; insists the boy stay
and help work the farm; Hosea runs away. Dick winds up the estate;
represents himself willing to settle with his brother but unable to;
don’t know his whereabouts. Ho Ha away for years; when he comes back he
tells his brother to go to the devil!”

Mermaid was conducting a dialogue with the wronged Hosea.

“Uncle Ho!” she cried, and Cap’n Smiley was reminded of the “Land, ho!”
of the sailor. “Wasn’t that a queer way for David to deal with the
Ph’listines?” Mrs. Biggles read the Bible Sunday mornings to her Henry
and Mermaid.

“Why,” inquired Mermaid, “do you suppose he spanked them?”

“Who spanked?”

“David spanked the Ph’listines,” explained Mermaid. Ho Ha and the
keeper eyed each other and then looked perplexedly at the red-haired
mite. “How do you know he spanked the Philistines?” ventured the keeper.

“Why, it says he smote--that means struck--them ‘hip and thigh,’” she
replied. “I’ll be awful glad when I can read about it myself. David
threw a stone at Gollyath and killed him. Maybe a good spanking was all
Gollyath needed.”

“Maybe,” assented Cap’n Smiley. Ho Ha was speechless. The keeper looked
at him. “See your uncle, Mermaid,” he directed. “Living up to his name,
isn’t he?”

The child caught the contagion of laughter and bubbled with it herself.
“Do tell me what’s so funny, Uncle Ho,” she begged. “Please do!”

“A ghost just told me a joke,” said Ho Ha, looking at her with
twinkling eyes. Mermaid was alert and excited at once. She believed in
ghosts, not only because she was seven years old but because she lived
on the Great South Beach where ghosts are natural and both respectable
and respected. She clamoured to hear the joke. Ho Ha considered. He
did not know as he ought to tell her; perhaps the ghost would not like
that; it might want to tell Mermaid itself.

“Could you tell me what ghost it is?” the youngster besought him. “Was
it the Duneswoman?”

“No,” Ho Ha answered. “It was one of the pirates. One of Kidd’s men.
One of those fellows with gold earrings and black whiskers. Well--I
don’t know’s there’s any harm in my telling you. He said if Kidd had
been spanked proper as a boy----” Ho Ha stopped, as if no more need be
said, and shook his head with a regretful air. Mermaid remarked:

“Do you suppose, Uncle Ho, that Mrs. Biggles spanks Mr. Biggles?”

“No doubt she has to sometimes,” agreed Ho Ha, with perfect seriousness.

Mermaid emptied her apron of a pint of plums. Her mind slipped back to
ghosts.

“Dad,” she asked Cap’n Smiley, “does the Duneswoman know everything
about the beach?”

“I think she does, pretty nearly,” the keeper told her. “Do you see
much of her?”

“Only her head and arms. Sometimes she reaches out her arm to me.”

“I meant, do you see her often?”

“Oh, yes! Except when I’m with Mrs. Biggles. Mrs. Biggles says she
never has seen her. She says I ought not to see her and mustn’t pay any
’tention to her,” Mermaid informed him.

“Perhaps that’s because Mrs. Biggles never sees her and doesn’t know
how nice she is.”

“Just what _I_ said.” Mermaid bit a plum and made a wry face. She
wanted to ask Dad more about the Duneswoman.

That was a ghost only he and she had seen--a lovely Face and Arm that
sometimes floated for an instant on the dark summer ocean, looked
toward you ... and was gone.


VIII

A golden October when, for days, the sun shone and the beach was veiled
with faintly coloured mists; when the crack of duck hunters’ guns came
from over the bay; when the ocean advanced on the smoothly sanded shore
in long and majestic curves, so that to stand upon the dunes and look
at it was like looking down a flight of steps of boundless width....
The Atlantic made itself into a glittering staircase leading straight
to the sun.

October! Driftwood was gathered from the beach for burning in the
Biggles’s fireplace where it snapped and was consumed by the green and
blue and parti-coloured flames. Before the singing and rainbow fire
Mermaid often knelt at dusk. Mrs. Biggles would spread a slice of bread
for her with jelly made from the beach plums gathered a month earlier.
There is a wild-woodish, bitter-sweet flavour peculiar to beach plum
jelly and preserves. Mermaid loved it. To taste it while dreaming
before the magic fire was delicious beyond words.

October! It began to be sharp o’ nights. The men at the station rolled
themselves in blankets, as they slept without sheets in an unheated
attic. Only Mermaid had a regular bed with sheets and pillow cases and
a gay comforter. Stormy days began, and long, wonderful evenings about
the blazing stove in the station’s big room. Cap’n Smiley read aloud
and told stories; the men asked questions and spun yarns. Mermaid,
curled up in a corner, listened eagerly, hardly daring to speak lest
the hour be noted and they pack her off to bed.

Wild stories, weird stories. Cap’n Smiley is speaking.

“Ah,” says the keeper. “There was that steamship which broke her
machinery some way off here and could only move on reversed propellers.
She backed all the way from here to Sandy Hook. And there was that ship
with the cargo of salt. When she came ashore it salted the ocean; the
water was a little brinier for days. And we got aboard as she lay on
the bar at low tide, the sea having gone down. Not a soul. All swept
overboard and lost. We peered down a hatch, then I went down all alone.
I had an awful setback when, on my moving some sacks, out bobbed a
dead man staring straight at me. Dead, and propped up in the salt. But
the worst was the wreck of the _Farallone_. Some of you weren’t here
then and as for you, Joe”--he addressed the youngest surfman--“you
hadn’t been born. The _Farallone_. Yes.

“She came ashore on a night when you couldn’t see your upraised hand.
She struck hard on the outer bar and broached to in the trough of the
sea. It was freezing cold. We saw--nothing. Up there on the dunes we
fired shot after shot, sending out line after line; pure guesswork.
Finally one landed and was made fast. The crew began coming ashore.
About a dozen trips of the buoy, I think. And from what we could learn
the captain and the cook were left.

“The cook came along all right, and then we hauled the buoy back for
the skipper.

“At the signal--jerks on the line--we pulled. The buoy came along for
maybe fifteen feet and then checked. Dead stop. We couldn’t budge it a
foot farther. We hauled back and tried over again. Came just so far and
then stuck, immovable.

“You couldn’t see, you couldn’t hear. There was nothing to do but to
haul back and forward, back and forward about a hundred times. We wore
ourselves all out, though probably the work was all that kept us from
freezing to death. Some of us had frostbites. After a while a faint
light appeared. Dawn, frightened by that merciless gale. Dawn, and
then daylight; and at last we could see. The ocean went down; wind had
gone down in the night. What we saw was the body of the captain of the
_Farallone_ hanging stiffly in the buoy.

“The line had been made fast to the mast too near the deck. As we
hauled away each man, coming to the ship’s bulwark, had to lift his
body over it. The last man had been able to get into the buoy, but in
the minute or two before he reached the bulwark he had frozen helpless;
and when he came to it he couldn’t lift himself over.”

There was a silence in which men drew on their pipes. The hand of young
Joe Sayre, Surfman No. 7, rolling a cigarette, shook slightly. Mermaid
saw the scene. She burned to ask her Dad if he, or any of the others,
had seen the Duneswoman that night in the fearful storm. Had she walked
abroad on the waters, passing unharmed through the great breakers of
inky-black water with invisible crests of white and curling foam? Her
face--did no one see it beside the staring form of the dying skipper?
Did none see her arm about him? Why had she not lifted him over the
rail? See.... Dad had said no one could see anything. But you could
_always_: see the Duneswoman when she was about, however black the
night. Who was she? The little girl lost herself in a timid reverie.

“Lemons,” Uncle Ho was saying. “Oranges, onions--fine big Spanish
onions from Valencia; pineapples and pomegranates, even Havana see-gars
but mostly spoiled by salt water. Once, army blankets; we slept warm
that winter. Cocoanuts every little while. The next cocoanut I find
I’ll carve a mask out of for Mermaid.”

Her cheeks flushed and she tossed her hair and looked at him with
dancing eyes. Wasn’t Uncle Ho good! And he was wonderfully skillful
with a knife; a full rigged ship carved in a great glass bottle lay
in the keeper’s room to witness his craftsmanship. He did marvellous
things with bits of rope. He had promised to make her a hammock and
with some fine white rope he was braiding a mat to adorn the little
shelf which was her dressing table. Rose knots, diamond knots; knots
and hitches and splices without number--Uncle Ho was master of them
all. Mermaid listened to his further talk about the things that ships
jettison and the things that wash ashore.

“Even little girls come ashore,” said Uncle Ho with great seriousness
and nodding his head many times. “Not to speak of animals. We brought
a Shetland pony to land in the breeches buoy and, Mermaid, you should
have heard him squeal!” Mermaid gave a little squeal of her own. “Not
like that,” corrected Ho Ha. “He said, ‘Nay-ay-ay. Nay-yay-yay-yay!’
That means ‘No!’ Why, a Dutch ship, named the Dutch for good luck, had
a cow in the afterhold to provide the skipper with fresh milk every
morning. And lots of ships have pigs aboard ’em. Sheep, too. You might
get wool enough for a new suit of homespun.

“But the strangest thing was the animal ship. Mind I don’t say it _was_
Noah’s Ark, Mermaid. The skipper was a youngish man, not old enough to
be Noah. Maybe one of his sons. Now this Ark of Noah & Sons came ashore
in fine weather, but very thick. So much fog young Noah couldn’t tell
where he was. He couldn’t shoot the sun at noon. Well----

“He had pairs of almost all kinds of animals aboard. They were a
consignment to the big Zoo in New York. There was a pair of camels and
a pair of leopards and a pair of lions and pairs of snakes and two
beautiful giraffes with necks so long that they could see as well as a
man in the topgallant rigging. The Ark came on in fine weather but it
didn’t stay fine. Bad southeasterly storm blew up and when it abated
the Ark was so leaky that the skipper--young Noah--put the animals over
the side thinking they’d drown. He hated to do it, but the ship was all
going to pieces. But you know, Mermaid, that all animals can swim. And
most of these critters swam ashore. Little girl, you should have seen
them! But, no! I’m glad you weren’t here. Life wasn’t safe on the beach
here then with those pairs of animals ranging about. Finally we had to
shoot them all with the little brass cannon.”

Mermaid had been listening, at first doubtfully and with enchanted
pleasure; but now something about the story itself joined to some
oddity of expression in the faces of her other uncles caused her to say:

“Uncle Ho, that isn’t so, is it?”

“Not so, but so-so,” replied Ho Ha, persuasively. “If you mean, is it
true, why----”

“Oh, I don’t mind it’s not being true,” explained the little girl,
twisting her fingers. “It spoils things to have them true--just a
little--doesn’t it?”

The smile left Ho Ha’s face.

“By gracious! I believe that’s a fact!” he exclaimed.


IX

Keturah Smiley stopped digging potatoes and walked briskly back to her
house. She washed her hands, but did not change her shabby old man’s
coat. Keturah’s everyday attire was preponderantly masculine. She
refrained, however, from wearing trousers. But a man’s soft hat was
generally pinned to her head, a man’s coat was usually on her back, and
her low-heeled, heavy-soled walking shoes were number eights.

She dried her hands, put them in the coat pockets and started up the
lane to the centre of the village. On the way she met Sim Jenkins, and
told him sharply that if he didn’t pay the interest on his mortgage
more promptly she would demand the principal. Sim looked frightened. He
knew that Keturah would not hesitate to foreclose.

At the principal street intersection of Blue Port stood the postoffice
and the few clustered shops. There was one two-story structure which
constituted Blue Port’s only office building. On the ground floor were
a real estate agent, a milliner, and a store where cigars and soft
drinks, magazines and writing paper could be bought. Up the flight of
stairs were a doctor’s office and the places of business of Blue Port’s
lawyers. Blue Port had one saloon, two churches, and three lawyers, one
of whom was a justice of the peace. To this functionary, Judge Hollaby,
Miss Smiley made her way.

The Judge was sitting in his office with his feet on the desk and his
hat on his head, reading Seneca on old age. He had not enjoyed a plate
of oysters the evening before with his usual relish, and this had
profoundly depressed him. He was therefore reading; Judge Hollaby found
in reading the consolation that some men find in drink, although he was
by no means a teetotaler.

Miss Smiley opened the door without knocking. As she entered rapidly
Judge Hollaby put down his feet with an almost youthful spryness,
and hastily removed his hat. His visitor, to his pain, picked up the
half-smoked cigar that lay extinguished on a corner of his desk and
threw it in the cuspidor. The name of it was La Coloratura and it had
cost 13 cents straight.

Judge Hollaby knew better than to waste breath in formal greetings.
Keturah Smiley seated herself and said:

“Don’t beat around the bush but tell me in words I understand just the
disposition of the property my aunt left me.”

The lawyer felt momentarily flurried. He really had forgotten the
provisions of old Keturah Hawkins’s will. However, it would not do to
say so--wouldn’t do at all.

“Entailed, Miss Smiley, entailed,” he said with what he intended to
be a retrospective and thoughtful air. To his client it seemed merely
absent-minded.

“Please put your mind on this, Judge Hollaby!” she commanded in a tone
that reminded the lawyer of several schoolma’ams rolled into one. “I
ask you to use plain words and you start off by using a word like
‘entailed’! Explain yourself. What is entail?”

The Judge was very uncomfortable. He made the absurd mistake of trying
to impress his visitor.

“Under entail,” he began to explain, “an estate is so bequeathed
that the inheritors cannot bequeath it at their pleasure; the fee is
abridged and curtailed----”

An impatient sound escaped Miss Smiley.

“Curtail, if you please,” she said, “your fine-sounding description. As
I understand the matter, my aunt left me all her property in and for my
lifetime. I am to have the free use of it. I can throw it all in the
bay if I like----”

“Except the real estate,” interjected the Judge.

“I daresay I could dam Hawkins creek and flood that,” retorted Keturah,
then went on: “I can use every cent of it, spend it, waste it; and if
there is nothing left, no one will inherit it.”

“Naturally not,” assented Judge Hollaby.

“Unnaturally,” said his client, sharply. “It would be an unnatural
thing to do.”

“Certainly it would,” said her lawyer, nervously. “Not the least in
your character.” Some misfortune of accent caught the lady’s ear and
she rounded on him quickly.

“What _is_ my character, Judge Hollaby?” she demanded.

Perhaps it was the oysters, perhaps it was Seneca on old age, perhaps
it was a sign of old age itself; at any rate, the justice’s mind could
not leap gracefully into the breach thus torn in his defences.

“Your character, Miss Smiley?” He tried to express a sense of shock by
his intonation.

“I am not loved, I suspect,” Miss Smiley said, ignoring his palpable
distress. “I think it very likely there are those who hate me. But
if I am not respected in the community it is time I knew it. I am
honest and I deal uprightly. I don’t write slanderous letters, like
Maria Brand; I don’t cheat, like Jane Horton; I don’t try to improve
everybody like that uncommon nuisance of an Errily woman. Nor do I
countenance a disgraceful husband, as Amelia Dayton does. You will say
that I talk like a Pharisee, ‘holier than thou’ and so forth. Judge
Hollaby, if there were more Pharisees it would be a better world! A
precious lot of men and women can only walk straight when it’s to
outshine their neighbours who are walking crooked!”

Gradually recovering, the lawyer heard Miss Smiley saying:

“I’m not here to preach a sermon, but to get information and some
advice. The advice I may take and I may not; the information I’ll
certainly take if I can get it out of you.”

She reverted to Keturah Hawkins’s will. “I can do as I please
absolutely with the property?”

“Unquestionably. But whatever you leave goes to your brother, if he
survives you, and to his children, if he has any, in the event he
predeceases you.”

“Predeceases!” snorted Miss Smiley, thrusting her hands in her pockets.
“What a word! That applies only to the property my aunt left?”

“Only.”

“And only to so much of that as I leave?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you call it entail?”

The lawyer’s heart sank.

“Under our laws,” he explained, “the bequest could go no farther. The
old English law of entail is broken here. You can doubly devise but you
cannot do more. The law says that the dead hand shall not----”

Keturah reflected, her severe eyes looking at and through the man. She
could question him freely whether he saw the drift of her questions
or not. She had a moderate contempt for Horace Hollaby, as she had
for most men, a contempt based on her dealings with them in which
she invariably came out best. The justice had one virtue, however,
that Keturah considered rare in males. There were things he heard,
things he knew, and things he guessed, about which he never talked. On
certain matters she had never been able to bully a word out of him. And
whatever she told him would be kept in the back of his head.

“My brother,” she said, her face almost expressionless, “has, or had, a
wife and child. Are they presumed to be legally dead?”

Judge Hollaby told her they were not.

“In any case, my sister-in-law could not come into any of the property?”

“No.”

“Could an adopted child of my brother inherit the property?”

“I should say not; I should want to look at the exact wording of your
aunt’s will.”

“You needn’t,” said Miss Smiley, rising with abruptness. “For if my
brother ever adopts a child I shall give away or throw away every cent
of that money!” She moved with decision toward the door. With her hand
on the knob she turned and said brutally: “Keep your mouth shut!”

The door came to after her with a business-like bang.


X

In winter the Great South Bay is sometimes frozen over, and then it
can be crossed very swiftly on a scooter, a better vehicle than the
Hudson River iceboat because it will go from ice into water and back
again on to ice without a spill. It is also more easily handled and
travels faster. But there are days and sometimes weeks when the bay is
impassable even for a scooter, which is merely a tiny boat with a pair
of runners, after all. Thaw and freeze, freeze and thaw; a bay full of
big, floating masses of ice, or so ridged and hillocked that nothing
but an airplane will take you over it. And there were no airplanes when
Mermaid, all wrapped and mittened, looked out upon the bay that winter
of her eighth year.

There was a telephone linking the Coast Guard stations on the beach
with one at Quogue on the Island itself, but direct communication with
the ordinary system there was none. On one side of the living room of
the Quogue Station was the beach phone, on the opposite wall was a
“local and long distance.” Members of the Quogue crew, called up on
either wire, obligingly relayed messages along the other.

In this manner it was made known to Cap’n Smiley one February morning
that his sister wished to see him.

The keeper was privately astounded. So far as a hasty recollection
served him, his sister had never before asked to see him about
anything. The bay could not be crossed and he sent her word to that
effect, thinking that she might disclose her purpose. Her reply, toned
down by the drawl of Surfman No. 3, Quogue Station, was merely for him
to visit her as soon as possible and to bring the little girl.

While waiting for the bay to freeze smooth, or clear from further
thaws, Cap’n Smiley had some uneasy moments. He had never taken Mermaid
to his sister’s and he did not like the idea. She had seen the little
girl; had met him walking with Mermaid on the streets of Blue Port;
had stopped to exchange a frosty word or two and then had walked on,
ignoring the child completely. What could she be up to now?

He was so uneasy that he raised the question, in a guarded way, with Ho
Ha. He could do this, for Ho Ha knew all about his sister, and without
actually saying very much, both could say a good deal.

“My opinion she has some proposition to lay before you,” commented Ho
Ha.

“I don’t care to consider propositions,” replied the keeper.

Ho Ha drew his weathered cheek together with his fingers.

“It might advantage Mermaid some way,” he suggested.

The keeper made a motion indicative of distrust.

About a week elapsed before the bay froze hard. Mermaid, in many layers
of wool, with a red muffler about her throat, trotted down to the
bayside where her Dad put her in the scooter. Then as the odd little
craft gathered way, he half reclined so as to steer with her jib and
roll about handily to ballast her.

They shot along at a mile a minute or better. The air was like
impalpable ice pressing against Mermaid’s small cheeks and roaring in
her ears. She could hardly open her eyes for the rush of tears. She
shouted, but could barely make herself heard. It was all over in five
or six minutes. The five-mile stretch had been crossed; Dad rounded to;
the sail, so enormous a top-hamper on so tiny a potbellied body, came
down, and they were off Blue Port, with only a little way to walk to
tread the reassuring, if rutty, earth.

Mermaid put her hand in Dad’s and they walked to the old-fashioned and
heavily shuttered house where Keturah lived. She met them at the door
and ushered them into the living room, which was also the kitchen, but
very large, so that there was no sense of crowding. A hot fire burned
in the stove, and slowly Cap’n Smiley divested Mermaid of her cocoon.
It was a little butterfly of an unusual sort that emerged. Keturah,
looking with a severe, impassive face at the proceeding, said at last,
without altering a muscle of her face or softening her customary tone:

“She looks very much as you would have looked, John, at her age, if you
had been a girl.”

Her brother stared at the child with a gentleness in his eyes that left
them when he glanced at his sister.

“Are you going to adopt her, John?”

The answer came with decision.

“I think I shall.”

“What about her schooling?”

“I shall arrange for that next year. She knows her letters.”

“I’ll take her here and look after her.”

The keeper was startled, but he had long kept himself in hand in the
presence of his sister.

“Thank you,” he paused slightly, “but I shall send her to the
Biggleses’.”

Keturah, as if recalling the duties of hospitality, said, “Sit down.
I’ll make a cup of tea. Do you like bread and jelly?”

The question was directed at Mermaid. The child had been eyeing the
woman with attentiveness. Now she answered politely, though she did not
smile:

“I’m fond of it.”

Keturah Smiley entered her pantry and emerged with a brown jar and a
loaf. She cut two large slices, spread them, and set a teapot on the
stove. She said no more until the tea was brewed. As she poured out
two steaming cups of it she remarked, pushing one toward her brother:

“What I leave of Aunt Keturah’s property goes to you. As I am not a
spendthrift, in the natural course of events I would leave you more
than I inherited. If you die before me it goes to your children. It
would go to her.”

John Smiley swallowed too hastily and burnt his throat.

“This is not a matter to discuss before Mermaid,” he said, shortly.

“I sent for her because I wanted to have a good look at her, and I
wanted you to have her to look at while you choose,” Keturah rejoined.
“At first I thought it would not go to an adopted child, and so did
Judge Hollaby. But he looked it up and the wording of the will is such
that he thinks it would. I said once, to him, that if you ever adopted
a child I would give or throw away every cent of that money. I was
a fool; I can be as big a fool sometimes as any one else, brother.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to add “yourself included,” but she
checked it.

“Now I’ve had a good look at her. You take a good look at her, too. I
know you more than half hate me, but that’s neither here nor there. Let
the girl live with me and go to school and you can adopt her if you
like, and I’ll do all I can in reason for her. Send her here to live
with the Biggleses, and I’ll keep my promise to Judge Hollaby!”

The tight-lipped rather hard-visaged woman was determined, but she
was curiously excited, too. Her rather flat chest rose and fell with
her breath, and her breathing was almost audible in the stillness of
the room. Mermaid, who had finished her slices of bread, looked with
wonder, but with a childish gravity and apparently a suspension of
judgment, at this strange woman. The little girl knew who she was: she
was Dad’s sister, but evidently as unlike him as possible. Still, her
Dad’s sister was entitled to respect and a certain deference, if not
to affection. They were talking about money and Dad was angry. She had
never seen him so angry, not even when her youngest uncle, Uncle Joe,
had capsized the life boat in the surf.

John Smiley was indeed mad clear through. Only the presence of Mermaid
restrained him. He stood up in all his height and placed himself
squarely in front of his sister, his hands clenching and unclenching
and clenching again.

“You can take your money, Keturah,” he said, rather slowly, “and give
it away or throw it away, as you please. I don’t care what you do with
it. But there are some things it won’t buy you!”

“I know money means nothing to you, John,” said Keturah,
sarcastically, “but it might mean something to someone else. You’re
forgetting her, John, you’re forgetting the girl. Money can’t buy me
some things I want, maybe, and it can’t buy you some things you want,
maybe; but it can buy her things she’ll want. You’ve no right to throw
away her chance!”

Her brother, his eyes on the child, seemed just perceptibly to waver,
and then he burst out:

“What’s at the bottom of this? What are _you_ after?”

Keturah, calmed a little by the success of her argument, answered him:

“It might be just wanting to have a young and growing creature around
me, John! It might be that I’m not the inhuman creature you take me
for, that I’m sometimes lonely; that company would cheer me up; that I
might even be a softer body than I’m generally considered to be if I
had someone to talk to and listen to and work for and with! It might
be all that, but I won’t tax your powers of belief, brother, by asking
you to suppose so. No! The real reason is simply this--” her excitement
returned and she appeared almost feminine in her rage--“that I am just
human enough, and just woman enough, and just fool enough to hate
having people say my own brother couldn’t trust his adopted daughter
to live with me, and had to farm her out to Susan and Henry Biggles to
care for!”

The keeper was impressed. There was no denying Keturah spoke the
truth, so far as her own feeling was concerned. She, who cared nothing
for the good will of her neighbours, for gossip, for backbiting, for
well-earned dislike or worse, she, Keturah Smiley, with her grasping
ways and her old clothes and her bitter tongue, had a streak of
femininity--or plain humanity--left in her after all these years.
She could still care for public opinion on some things. They might
call her stingy, mean, heartless in many ways; they might laugh at
her, sneer at her, and hate her for many things; but that they should
hold her in contempt; that they should be able to say that her own
brother would not trust her with his little girl--that she dreaded.
The prospect of it cut her like a lash. She might not care what people
said about her behaviour toward John Smiley’s wife, for John Smiley’s
wife had run away and left him, taking their baby, and so had sealed
her unworthiness. She _would_ care what people said about her behaviour
toward John Smiley’s daughter, whether a daughter of his own blood or
a waif washed ashore from the ocean. She cared about that now and she
would continue to care. John Smiley saw this and knew that he held a
hostage for her good behaviour. While the feeling lasted, anyway.... He
spoke gently:

“Mermaid, would you be willing to live with my sister here, and go to
school?”

The child, with the soberness that was so unlike her usual mood, but
that had been evident since she entered the house, looked straight at
him and then straight at Keturah Smiley. She had gathered that a matter
of importance was at stake. It might be that she could help her Dad in
some way, doing this. She said clearly and gravely:

“Yes, Dad.”

Keturah gave no demonstration of pleasure. She was not triumphant, but
she seemed genuinely relieved. She looked at Mermaid with a stern sort
of satisfaction, and said nothing.

As they left the house and headed for the bay Mermaid’s hand closed in
a tight pressure over the keeper’s.

“You’ll come to see me as often as you are over, won’t you, Dad?” she
asked him, anxiously.

His answer was to lift her in his arms and kiss her.



PART TWO


I

On the morning of the last day of October, several years after it was
decided that Mermaid should live with Keturah Smiley in Blue Port, a
thin, pleasant-faced boy stopped in front of Keturah Smiley’s house and
whistled. Thereupon a girl of eleven slipped out of the second front
door of the house, the front door that faced the street from a jog on
the south side of the building, and ran out to meet him. She was as
tall as the boy, and he was thirteen; she had long and slightly curling
hair of so coppery a red as almost to match the polished mahogany in
Keturah Smiley’s tight-shut front parlour. She had a very white skin,
accentuated by three freckles of varying size on and about her straight
little nose. The firm and rounded chin was without a dimple, but two
dimples showed in her cheeks as she smiled, and she was smiling now;
and her blue eyes were of that brilliant and flashing blue that is to
be seen, as seamen say, “off soundings.” People who had occasion to say
much to Mary Smiley, whom everyone in Blue Port called Mermaid, were
frequently deceived by her eyes. The blue of them was so light that it
seemed shallow, nothing more than the reflection of the day’s sunshine
or the quicksilvering on two round little mirrors reflecting the merry
heart within her. Only a mariner, after all, could be expected to guess
that the very brightness and blueness was a sign of unfathomable depths.

“Good morning, Richard Hand, Jr.,” said the girl.

“Howdy, Mermaid,” retorted the boy.

They looked at each other a moment and smiled. They had become chums at
school on the day they discovered an uncle in common. But Hosea Hand of
the Lone Cove Coast Guard Station, known as Ho Ha, was Dick Hand’s real
uncle, the brother of his father, whereas he was only Mermaid’s uncle
by adoption.

“To-night’s the night,” said the boy, amicably offering a jawbreaker.
Mermaid accepted the candy and said, with her mouth full, “I’ve
unfastened most of ’em, so if the wind doesn’t blow and make them bang,
they’ll be all ready for you. All you’ll have to do is unhinge them. Do
you suppose you can do that?”

“Sure,” said Dick. “They’re just ordinary shutters. Maybe a little
rusted.”

“I oiled some of them while she was up street yesterday,” the girl
reassured him.

They were conspiring, as a Hallowe’en prank, to detach as many
shutters as possible from Keturah Smiley’s tightly shuttered house;
and particularly, the shutters were to be got off the windows of the
sacred, sealed front parlour. In the three years or more that Mermaid
had been living with Cap’n Smiley’s sister these shutters had been
unfastened but twice a year: for a few hours in spring and a few hours
in fall at the time of Keturah Smiley’s semi-annual housecleaning. For
six months, from spring to fall, and again for six months, from fall to
spring, the front parlour and most of the other rooms of the house lay
in darkness. It seemed impossible that anything, even dust, could enter
there, but dust there always was when cleaning time came. At which
Mermaid used to wonder greatly, and Keturah Smiley to rage.

“Where do you suppose it comes from?” the girl would ask Miss Smiley.

“I don’t know where it comes from, but I know where it’s going to,”
Keturah replied, with such a savage accent as to make her remark almost
profane.

“Hell?” inquired Mermaid.

Miss Smiley straightened up and looked at her sternly.

“I was only asking a question,” explained Mermaid. “I wouldn’t think of
saying ‘hell’ except to ask a question. But any one who says ‘hell’ is
asking a big question, isn’t he, Miss Smiley?”

The funny child, as some folks in Blue Port called her, was not
expressing her doubt for the first time. She had first shocked a
Sunday School teacher with it. The Sunday School teacher had spoken to
Keturah Smiley but had regretted it immediately, for Keturah had said:

“Well, what’s the matter? Can’t you convince her there’s a hell? That’s
_your_ job! Why put it on me?”

So now when Mermaid put the general inquiry as to whether any one
saying “hell” were not asking a big question, Keturah merely gazed at
her darkly and replied:

“Most likely he’s answering one about himself.”

This tickled Mermaid. She renewed an old controversy concerning the
front parlour.

“What’s the use of singing, as we do at Sunday School, ‘Let a Little
Sunshine In,’ if the shutters are always fastened?” she demanded. “How
can you expect me to stand up and sing, ‘There’s Sunshine in My Heart
To-day,’ Miss Smiley, when there’s not even sunshine in the house?”

Keturah snorted. “My heart is not as big as my house,” she answered.
“Sunshine in some people’s hearts, like sunshine in some people’s
houses, would show up a good deal that would better be hidden.”

Mermaid’s blue eyes shone, even in the semi-darkness. From the very
first she had liked living with her Dad’s sister, despite that sister’s
dark moods and bleak rages, because Keturah Smiley had a gift for
saying sharp, true things, and saying them so you remembered them. She
had not been unkind to the girl and had even shown a certain grudging
liking for her as Mermaid, whether from some natural gift or from
crossing blades in conversational fencing, developed a faculty for
thinking her own thoughts and putting them in her own words--and more
and more the right words.

They had many duels, and Keturah Smiley did not always win them. She
early found in the child a streak of obstinacy as pronounced as her
own. When Mermaid was convinced of her right Keturah might be able to
silence her, but she would not be able to move her. And sometimes, to
her dumb astonishment, Miss Smiley found herself giving ground.

She had had to yield in quite a number of instances. When the
eight-year-old girl had come to live in Blue Port she had refused to
sleep with Miss Smiley, and Keturah had been forced to open a small
bedroom for her after the night when the child had run out of the house
and fastened herself in the woodshed. Mermaid had declined to walk two
miles in the noon recess of school and Keturah found herself putting
up a lunch and having the hot meal of her day at suppertime. This had
irked her a good deal, for Mermaid would not merely walk but run two
miles at play. The girl refused outright to wear to school a man’s old
coat fixed over as a jacket. She was as contrary as possible, it seemed
to Keturah, about her clothes. After repeated quarrels on the subject,
in the last of which Mermaid had threatened to appeal to her Dad the
next time he came over from the beach, Miss Smiley gave in. For it
was true that her brother gave her money to clothe the child, and she
knew him well enough to know that he would make her account for every
cent of it. Keturah Smiley was strictly honest, but it galled her to
put money on any one’s back. She would not even buy a mustard plaster,
though she would buy those mustard plasters which went by the name of
first mortgages--when she could get them sufficiently cheap. But she
did not starve the girl; she set a good table. She was stingy with
money and affection, but not with food and principles.

In three years she had come to respect her brother’s adopted daughter,
and sometimes to wonder where the girl got her firmness of character
and general good humour. Keturah had never seen her in tears. Once,
when she had been so angered as to lift her hand with a threat to
strike Mermaid, the girl, without wincing, had said quietly:

“If you hit me I’ll go away.”

She had not said she would tell her father. She had never, in any of
their disputes, threatened to appeal to Cap’n Smiley except in the long
dispute about what she should have to wear. And she had explained that
at the time by saying: “It’s only that Dad is buying them. If he says
you’re right, that’ll settle it.”

Keturah never reopened the argument. She put the money in the girl’s
hand.

“All right, Missy, spend the last cent and wear ribbons!”

But Mermaid had insisted on Miss Smiley’s going with her to the shop,
and had followed her advice on the quality of the goods, which Keturah
shredded with her fingers along the selvage and bit, a thread at a
time, with her very sound (and very own) teeth. Mermaid had then made
her own selection of styles and patterns, and on the way home had
handed Keturah $5 with the remark: “Will you send that to the savings
bank in Patchogue for me?”

“It might have been twice as much,” was Keturah’s only remark.

“And it might have been twice as little. And I might be half as happy,”
Mermaid exclaimed. “Would you be twice as happy if you had twice as
much money, Miss Smiley?”

“I’d be willing to try and find out,” said Keturah, sententiously.

Mermaid looked at her speculatively. “If there’s a chance of it, I’ll
help you all I can to get rich!” she declared with so much seriousness
that Keturah was uncertain how to take her, and so took her in silence.

Probably Mermaid’s words were not really so ironical as they sounded.
The girl was generally in earnest when she was not plainly in fun; as
children usually are. She had only the vaguest notion of Miss Smiley’s
means, and a very vivid notion of her money-stinting ways; Mermaid,
however, liked her Dad’s sister in spite of the difficulties of living
with her. Miss Smiley was “square” for all her harshness and even
hardness; she said cutting things which were, however, never mean, and
seldom really unkind. She could be wrathful, but she did not sneer, and
she had only scorn for those who sneered at her. Very little mercy, but
a rigid adherence to what she thought just, distinguished Keturah in
the girl’s eyes. And no one, Mermaid concluded, could live with Miss
Smiley and not be struck by the fact that she was thoroughly unhappy.
What would make her happy Mermaid had not the least idea; but if the
child could have given it to the woman she would have done it, even
at some cost to herself. For she was a generous child and she felt
generosity all about her, guarding her, befriending her, helping her.
Her Dad’s and her uncles’ liberality to her always touched her heart.
She knew now, at the age of eleven, that her Dad was not really her
Dad and that her uncles were not related to her by blood or marriage.
She knew she was a nameless child of unknown lineage, washed ashore
from the wreck of the ship by whose name she was known. Everyone except
Miss Smiley called her Mermaid; Miss Smiley called her Mary when she
called her by name at all, or “Missy,” when Mermaid had irritated her.
From the first the girl had called the woman Miss Smiley; it had never
occurred to her to address her as “Aunt Keturah,” and no one, not even
her Dad, had suggested it.


II

In the evening of the day when Mermaid ran out to meet young Dick Hand
on the sidewalk, sprites were abroad. As if it had conspired with Dick
and Mermaid, the wind refrained all day long from blowing and rattling
Keturah Smiley’s unfastened shutters, and thus giving the two youthful
conspirators away. But at night there came a wrenching sound, as if
the broadside of the house were being ripped off. Keturah Smiley gave
an exclamation and jumped to her feet. She rushed from the room and
returned a moment later carrying a pistol.

Mermaid saw it and screamed. Then she flung herself at the woman.

“No, no! Miss Smiley,” she implored in little gasps. “It’s only boys!
It’s only Hallowe’en!”

“Nonsense,” Keturah retorted, holding the pistol out of reach and
checking the girl with her other hand. “I’m not going to murder ’em.
I’m only going to frighten ’em into behaving themselves, and leaving my
property alone!”

She moved quickly to the door, opened it, and fired two shots. From the
darkness came an awful cry, as of mortal pain, followed by whimpers and
the sound of scurrying feet. Keturah became utterly pale, and her tall
figure seemed to lose its rigidity.

“Do you suppose one of those boys could have been perched in the big
maple?” she inquired, faintly. “I shot in the air!”

There was a great rushing about and the woman and girl finally went
outside with a lantern. The light bobbed about under the maple and
around the house, but no white, stricken face was illuminated by the
rays; they heard no other cries, no moans; and except for the rustle
of the fallen leaves they trod upon there was no sound. Gradually
recovering herself in the chill air Keturah strode indoors, Mermaid
following her. Miss Smiley, as her fright left her, became more and
more indignant.

“It’s that Dick Hand’s boy,” she commented. “Always up to mischief,
like his father. A bad lot, the Hands, all except Hosea, who’s a fool.”

At this mention of her Uncle Ho Mermaid pricked up her ears. Miss
Smiley was in a talkative mood, seeking relief from her vexation. The
girl could not refrain from asking, “Is Uncle Ho a fool?”

“Yes, he is, to have let his brother cheat him out of his rightful
property all these years,” Keturah Smiley told her.

Mermaid felt a pang.

“Uncle Ho is awfully good to me,” she said, sadly. “I can’t have
anything to do with Dick if his father cheated Uncle Ho.”

Keturah gave her a curious look.

“Don’t make other folks’ quarrels your quarrels, Mary,” she observed.
“And while ‘the boy is father to the man,’ Dick Hand’s boy may be a
better man than his father.”

“I won’t be friends with Dick if his father cheated Uncle Ho,” the girl
persisted.

“You go on being friends with Dick,” Keturah advised her, “and leave me
to deal with his father.”

A strange, grim expression was on her face, an expression which had
more of satisfaction in it than Mermaid had ever observed before, an
expression that was almost happy, and that was not unknown in Blue
Port. The senior Richard Hand had seen it on the day when he first
came to Keturah Smiley to borrow money. His brother, Hosea Hand, had
never witnessed it; and Hosea Hand thought he knew every shade of
Keturah Smiley’s countenance--a countenance that was singularly inapt
at denoting the finer shades of feeling. For Hosea Hand had even seen a
look of tenderness in those sharp eyes; he had seen that mouth, so firm
at the corners, relax into smiles at the smile he gave her. Once upon a
time Hosea Hand had been young, and once upon a time Keturah Smiley had
been young, and it was about that time that Hosea Hand’s brother--of
whom a reasonable doubt might be entertained as to whether he had ever
been young at all--that Dick Hand, the older, had come between two
lovers.

In the morning three shutters were gone from the front parlour windows
and the streaming sunshine had already, according to Keturah Smiley’s
emphatic pronouncement, begun to fade the old rose carpet. What was
worse, the shutters could not be found, though what appeared to be
their ashes lay, still smouldering, in a lot a quarter of a mile away.
Keturah poked through the black remains and fished out a peculiarly
shaped hinge, adding to her observations of the evening before on the
badness of the Hands. But she expressed no intention of putting her
hand in her pocket to buy new window coverings. With a wrench that
bade fair to take them from their rollers she pulled down the parlour
shades. Yet a spell had been broken. The sacred room could never regain
its dark repose. Mermaid, dusting the mahogany “deacon’s chairs,”
ventured discreetly to raise the shades a little at the bottom, and
gradually they rose higher and higher until they shielded the upper
sashes only. An agreeable light streamed into the room and lit up the
curios brought back from his sea voyages by Captain John Hawkins,
husband of Keturah Hawkins and master of the clipper ship _China
Castle_, curios that Keturah Smiley had inherited from Keturah Hawkins
along with the house and her aunt’s land and money. Though not more
wonderful than the full-rigged ship which Uncle Ho had carved in the
glass bottle, these heirlooms were perceptibly more precious.

There was a jade Buddha which, on its first appearance in Blue Port
fifty years earlier, had administered its shock to the Christian ladies
of the Missionary Society, and had long been retired into oblivion.
There was a collection of swords and cutlasses with which Keturah
Smiley might have defended herself against all Blue Port advancing
against her. On a mantel were ivory ornaments, intricately carved,
and on either side of the fireplace were mammoth elephants’ tusks.
Gold gleamed from damascened swords; silver bands shone more coldly
from the tusks; some copper vessels on the floor dully reflected the
unaccustomed daylight; but the precious stones which had once enhanced
the beauty of these relics of far ports had been removed from their
settings and their fires smothered forever in the feathers of a pillow
on Keturah Smiley’s four-poster bed.

Mermaid used to look at the empty sockets and express sorrow that all
these must once have held jewels which had been lost. She took an
imaginative joy in restoring them, in her mind’s eye, to their rightful
places, and in deciding just what gem belonged with every background.
She had a sense in these matters, and she never enshrined a diamond
where a ruby should have been bleeding.

Of the permanent results of their Hallowe’en pranks she apprised
thirteen-year-old Dick Hand when they met at school. She told him of
some of the treasures brought to light, but she said nothing of the
value of them and she never spoke of the vanished jewels. She was
curious, however, about the cry of pain and the whimpering that had
frightened Miss Smiley on the night of the raid. Dick, who was a merry
boy, laughed. “Oh, we knew she’d fire a pistol in the air; she’s done
it before. I just made those noises to scare her,” he explained.

Then, as Mermaid laughed with him, the boy became suddenly earnest. He
looked at the girl with an air of surprise.

“Say, Mermaid, you’re an awful nice girl,” he said, and looking at
her he slowly reddened. In a moment he recovered himself and finished
successfully, “An awful nice girl to be living with that--that--_old
cat_!”

Mermaid was really indignant. She told him so, and then she left him,
which was not what he wanted at all. He hardly knew what he wanted. As
for Mermaid, she was too incensed to be observant; she was certainly
not aware that he wanted anything. The boy stood looking after her
faintly dismayed, but a good deal more perplexed. Then he scratched his
head, gave a whistle to another boy across the street, and sang out:
“Hey, Tom! Did you find out who that new feller is on your street?”

Young Tom Lupton, son of Tom Lupton of the Lone Cove Coast Guard
Station, and therefore one of Mermaid’s cousins by courtesy in the
queer relationships that sprang out of her rescue from the surf,
waggled his head.

“C’m over and I’ll tell you all about him,” he invited.

Dick crossed the street and punched Tom’s head in a comradely fashion.
They clinched, broke away, sparred a little, and then stopped,
breathless and satisfied.

“Who is he?”

“Search me,” replied Tom Lupton 2nd, less in the voice of entreaty than
with the air of a man making a succinct statement. “I tried to talk
to him to-day over the fence and the guy only said ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ to
ever’thing. I got his name--that Guy.”

“What is it?” asked Dick, innocently.

“Guy,” answered Tom. “Ow!” He doubled over to protect his ribs from the
impatient Mr. Hand. “I told yuh, Guy! Guy! His name is Guy! Like--like
‘Guy Mannering,’” explained Mr. Lupton, who was fifteen and didn’t look
it, and was taking English I in Patchogue High School, and didn’t speak
it.

“Mannering, what sort of a name is that?” demanded Mr. Hand.

“It isn’t Mannering, it’s Vanton,” said Tom, wisely not trying to
explain. Whereupon Mr. Hand, remarking, “You said it was Mannering,
I’ll Mannering you!” fell upon him afresh and they punched each other
happily for several minutes until a shadow fell athwart them.

Stopping to see who approached, they were almost borne down by a
huge, elderly man who walked with a peculiar tread, planting his feet
firmly at each step and taking short steps. His preoccupied and lordly
expression took no cognizance of the young men as he went through them,
like a massive keel cutting in two a couple of sportive little waves.

Immense sidewhiskers, like studding sails, expanding the spread of his
ample countenance, fluttered in the breeze. His weathered cheeks looked
hard as the sides of a steel ship; there was a stony, distant stare in
his eyes, wrinkled at their corners. He wore a coat cut like a huge
boy’s reefer; there were brass buttons on it and his hands were thrust
in the pockets.

The boys gazed at his wake, and when he was out of all possible hearing
young Mr. Lupton nudged his companion.

“That’s him!” he exclaimed. “That’s Captain Vanton, this Guy’s father.
You know they say he was master of a three skysail-yarder that made a
passage from New York to Honolulu in 90 days. Doesn’t he look like a
Damn-Your-Eyes?”

Dick agreed.

“A regular brute!” ejaculated Tom. “Must have wads of money. Built
that house and it’s finished in mahogany and teakwood like a ship’s
cabin--cost a fortune! He must have been in the slave trade, eh? Where
does a sea captain get all that money, even if he’s been master of a
clipper ship?”

Dick, who reeked naught of the sea and cared less, didn’t know.

“That kid of his,” the garrulous Tom continued, “he’s a regular sissy.
I s’pose his father frightens the life out of him. Probably flogs him
with a rope’s end before breakfast.”

“Is he coming to school?” inquired young Mr. Hand.

“Naw. Leastways, I don’t believe so,” Tom responded. “He’d been by this
time. They were here before school started. Why, it’s months since they
moved into that house, and none of ’em has ever so much as spoke to
anybody in Blue Port. They eat their meals at the Roncador House, but
they never go _anywhere_. Not even to church.”

Everybody went to church in Blue Port. The information was astounding.
The two boys agreed that a real mystery invested the Vantons; and as
for Captain Vanton, he must have done something hellish to have so much
money and hold so aloof and walk down Main Street as if it were his
sacred quarterdeck on the queenly _China Castle_.


III

The _China Castle_! She had been a wonderful ship in her day, a
Bath-built clipper. John Hawkins, husband of Keturah Hawkins, uncle by
marriage of Keturah Smiley, had been the first master of her; Captain
Vanton had come to her cabin much later, in the days of her decline.
It was John Hawkins and not Buel Vanton who had made the passage from
New York to Honolulu in 90 days. Young Tom Lupton had not known or
remembered the name of the three skysail-yarder whose glory descended
upon every master who trod her quarterdeck. Only a few persons in Blue
Port, indeed, recalled anything when they heard that Captain Vanton had
been master of the _China Castle_. “Eh?” said these old fogies to each
other. “She was John Hawkins’s ship!” This Captain Vanton could not, of
course, have been the mariner that John Hawkins was, for Captain John
had sailed his fine, fast vessel to California, making quick passages,
and afterward took her into the China trade for which she had been
built. Nevertheless, out of a sense of politeness, these oldtimers had,
on one occasion or another, attempted to address Captain Vanton; it
was a sort of duty to let him know that he was not a total stranger in
Blue Port. No man could have a better sponsor than a ship John Hawkins
had sailed. They were frozen by Captain Vanton’s hard stare. At the
mention of the _China Castle_ he merely looked through their eyes and
out the backs of their heads and into the bar of the Roncador House.
At the various polite and hearty references to “Cap’n John Hawkins” he
had but one course of behaviour: uttering a loud “Humph!” he would turn
squarely on his heel, and lurch away evenly in the opposite direction.

An exasperating man; did he think himself above everybody ashore, as
if he were still the master of a vessel? Be hornswoggled if _we’d_ go
out of our way again to speak to such an uncivil devil. He could take
his money and his pindling boy and his sick wife--she always appeared
to be just convalescing--and shut himself up in his expensive house
and be hanged to him. Why, Cap’n John Hawkins!--and then the oldtimers
would go off into reminiscences all wool, a yard wide and the afternoon
long, sitting about the stove in the store and postoffice in winter
or in back-tilted chairs on the store porch in summer. When Captain
Vanton came in for his mail there was a momentary silence, faces were
carefully averted, and tobacco juice was sprinkled on the floor.

Buel Vanton never noticed the idlers. He never noticed anybody.
Therefore Mermaid was stricken almost mute with astonishment one day
when, answering a peremptory rap at the door, not the side front door,
but the frontest front door leading into the small hall that gave into
the front parlour, she opened it to find the bulky form of Captain
Vanton standing before her. As usual he did not look at her, but merely
asked in a loud, hard voice if this had been John Hawkins’s house.
Mermaid affirmed it; he then asked if her mother were in.

“Miss Smiley is in. She is not my mother. I just live with her,” the
girl replied. Captain Vanton made no response, but as he continued to
stand there she added, “I will call her.”

She did not invite him to enter, and as she went in search of Keturah
Smiley she murmured to herself, “Rude old man! She can ask him in, I
won’t!”

Keturah Smiley, summoned, confronted the visitor and asked abruptly,
“You wish to see me?”

Captain Vanton did not indicate whether he did or not. His eyes dropped
for the merest instant and he replied: “I was told this was John
Hawkins’s house.”

“It was in his lifetime,” said Keturah, shortly. “He was my uncle,” she
added. “Mother’s sister’s husband.”

Captain Vanton made no reply. He said, as if it were relevant: “I
commanded the _China Castle_ after he left her. Some time after,” he
added. “Did he ever speak of a man named King?” And now he looked
Keturah Smiley straight in the eyes. Keturah gave his stare back.

“King?” she rasped. “I can’t say he did, and I can’t say he didn’t.
What King?”

“First officer, Boston to Shanghai, third voyage,” answered Buel Vanton
in his hard, uninflected tones. “Triced up by the thumbs and flogged
before the crew by Captain Hawkins’s orders. First officer, too!
Insulted Mrs. Hawkins.”

Keturah Smiley’s face settled into its severest lines.

“You’re likely mistaken,” she said with a bite in her words. “Captain
Hawkins would never have flogged a man for that: he’d have killed him!”

“Did almost. Killing too easy. Better to flog. Torture,” declared
Buel Vanton, reflectively. “Afterward Captain King. Knew him in San
Francisco. Retired. Devil. Swore he’d get even. Then Captain Hawkins
died. King heard of it. Near crazy. I’ve come to tell you he’s dead!”

“Dead?” echoed Keturah Smiley, who had become slightly confused by the
visitor’s elliptical language. “Captain Hawkins is dead. Of course he’s
dead, what of it?”

“Not Hawkins, King!” barked Captain Vanton from his impassive face
framed in the spreading sidewhiskers. “He’s done you all the harm he
ever will. All of you. He’s dead. ‘The King is dead. Long live the
King!”’ He uttered a harsh sound, a bitter laugh. Turning squarely
about he started off the porch and away from the house. Keturah Smiley,
who had been eyeing him with amazement, suddenly called after him, “How
do you know he’s dead?”

Captain Vanton half turned his head.

“Killed him myself,” he declared abruptly, and lurched away.


IV

Standing well back in the hall Mermaid had heard this extraordinary
conversation. Now she slipped into the front parlour ahead of Miss
Smiley, who stood, apparently forgetful or stunned, for two or three
minutes in the open doorway. Then she closed the door with a bang,
entered the front parlour, and went through it into the living room.
She stood before the stove a moment, warming her hands. Her face was
working and her mouth was twisting, but her lips remained closed.
Mermaid looked at her with deep sympathy and with a certain terror at
the memory of what she had just heard. Neither emotion drowned the
awful curiosity within the girl to know what it had all been about. But
she dared not ask questions.

In silence the two got their supper, in silence they ate it. Once
Keturah Smiley sighed, once she spoke, but only to say: “Thank the
Lord, John will be coming over to-morrow!”

Mermaid, who had been looking forward to this visit of her Dad,
thinking he might give her a scooter ride on the smoothly frozen bay,
said: “How rich do you suppose Cap’n Vanton is, Miss Smiley?”

Keturah looked at her absently.

“Not rich enough to buy an easy conscience, probably,” she replied,
drily. Mermaid hesitated, and then took her courage in both hands.

“Miss Smiley, I heard some of what he said. I--I guess I heard most of
it,” she said.

Keturah showed neither surprise nor anger. She looked at Mermaid
attentively and there was a flicker of interest in her eyes as she
asked: “Well, and what did you make of it?”

“He said he’d killed a Captain King!” the girl blurted out. “How could
he do that and not be in jail for it?”

“Maybe he has been,” Keturah suggested.

“But then how could he be so rich?” persisted Mermaid.

“Maybe it isn’t his money,” Miss Smiley replied.

“It seems to be now.” Mermaid rested on the fact, solidly buttressed by
all appearances.

“So it does,” agreed the woman.

But she was at some pains, the next day, to talk to her brother only
after Mermaid had had her scooter ride and had gone out to do errands
at the store.

“When he first spoke of ‘a man named King,’” Keturah explained to John
Smiley, “I couldn’t make the connection. Then I remembered the entry
about the flogging in Uncle John’s log of that passage. Aunt Keturah
was with him on that voyage. The log only says that the mate refused to
obey orders. I never heard Aunt Keturah utter a word of such a thing,
but it’s perfectly possible; more than that, it’s likely. Mates, first
mates, weren’t flogged before the crew for insubordination. There was
something personal, I suspect. As for his--this fellow’s--having killed
King, that’s neither here nor there with us. He said King had done us
all the harm he ever would, but what harm did he ever do? Uncle John
and Aunt Keturah lived to a peaceful old age and died comfortably in
their beds--leastways, I suppose they were as comfortable as a person
can be dying.”

But the “Captain King” struck a full chord of memory in John Smiley’s
breast.

“Don’t you remember?” he cried. “That miserable devil we found on the
beach after the wreck of the _Mermaid_, one of the crew? Remember I
told you I sat up all night with him and that I made out from his
delirious talking that a ‘Captain King’ had had the little girl, and
had been sending her back to someone? He wanted to keep himself out
of it and he wanted ‘forgiveness’--at any rate, that was one word in
the letter we found in the pocket of the _Mermaid’s_ skipper.” He was
deep in the painful process of recollection. “But still I can’t make
head nor tail of it,” he confessed. “This man King may have hated John
Hawkins and been willing to do anything he could to hurt him, he may
have hated Aunt Keturah, but they’re dead and that’s an end of them!
As for his harming us, he never could have had a chance. And as he’s
dead he’ll never get one. And that’s an end of _him_! Captain Vanton
says he killed him, and probably if he did it was a good job. He must
have thought that King had bothered us somehow. Thoughtful of him to
come and assure us that the dirty dog’s dead. I suppose,” he continued,
reflectively, “I might go see him and talk with him. Perhaps he may
have learned something from King that will set us on the track of
Mermaid’s people. I’ll go!”

Keturah was inclined to dissuade him.

“He thinks,” she said, with her usual shrewdness, “that we know
something we don’t know, and that he does know. Or else,” she wavered,
“he’s after something, and if we go after him we’ll be playing right
into his hands. I don’t know----” She came to a dead stop for a moment,
and a rare look of uncertainty, almost of panic, appeared in her eyes.
“Better keep away, John. Better wait and see what he does. If he comes
around here bragging of having killed another man I’ll ask him for the
death certificate.” She had recovered her usual poise. And when her
brother repeated his intention of calling on Captain Vanton she merely
remarked:

“Well, I sha’n’t mind hearing how you’re received.”

The interview between Captain Vanton and John Smiley was extremely
short and, to the keeper of the Lone Cove Coast Guard Station,
hopelessly baffling. Captain Vanton, with more courtesy than Keturah
had shown him, ushered her brother into a room which resembled nothing
so much as a ship’s cabin. He seated his visitor, but himself paced up
and down the floor, a very fine floor which seemed to have been freshly
scrubbed and holystoned until it was of the whiteness of an afterdeck.
Cap’n Smiley came to the point at once.

“The little girl who lives with my sister is my adopted daughter,” he
began. “She was rescued from the wreck of the _Mermaid_.” He went on
to tell of the few decipherable words in the letter found on the body
of the _Mermaid’s_ skipper; then of the delirious sailor who had talked
of “Captain King.” Captain Vanton paced to and fro in perfect silence.
He seemed not to be paying attention, but to be thinking.

“Anything you may have learned that would help us to find out the
child’s identity----” John Smiley began, and then he stopped with a
sudden sinking of the heart. If Mermaid’s identity were established he
would probably lose her! The thought gave him, as he afterward put it,
“a turn.” He never finished his sentence, and while he was recovering
himself Captain Vanton uttered his first words of the conversation.

“I know--knew of--the child,” he muttered. “He sent her back. Yes. No,
I don’t know anything that would make matters any better than they
are.” He did not look through Cap’n Smiley, as was his customary way
with people, but seemed to avoid his eye. He frowned at the floor as he
might have frowned at the deck if the holystoning and cleaning had not
been thorough. John Smiley, rising, thanked him and took his departure.
The sense of relief at the thought that Mermaid would not be taken
from him was so strong that he felt not in the least disappointed, but
really grateful for Vanton’s reticence. Captain Vanton may even have
thought him effusive in his thanks. Keturah Smiley heard her brother’s
report of his failure with calmness.

“Did he wear the scalp at his belt?” she inquired.

Mermaid appearing, they all sat down and had a hot supper after which
Cap’n Smiley and Mermaid played checkers and Keturah walked about with
a yardstick in an effort to decide where she would have three shelves
put up. She had a passion for shelves and drawers.

“What are these shelves to be for, Miss Smiley?” asked Mermaid, looking
up from the board after she had beat her Dad for the third time.

“Medicine, most like,” Keturah, told her.

“Why not for our books?” Mermaid suggested.

“Bottles break,” said Keturah, concisely. “Do you prefer books to
medicine? Not when you’re sick, I’ll warrant!”

“Yes, I do,” Mermaid insisted, and then she explained to her antagonist
with a smile:

“You see, Dad, it’s because--it’s because books can make you happy
while you’re dying, but medicine can only make you miserable while
you’re getting well!”

Keturah gave the girl a look in which a skilled observer might have
detected something resembling admiration.

“What an upside-down mind you have, child!” she said. “But then,” she
allowed, “you use it and do your own thinking!”

“I wish she’d do some of my thinking,” exclaimed Cap’n Smiley,
looking ruefully at the checkerboard. “Appears to me as if I had been
out-thunk again!” He liked the defeated, “ker-plunk” sound of this past
participle of his invention, and always used it to describe Mermaid’s
victories.

Mermaid got up, went to the pantry, came back with a pan of sugared
crullers, offered her Dad one, took one herself, put up the pan, and
then cuddled contentedly against his arm. “I made them myself,” she
murmured.

Her Dad stroked her hair. It was remarkably like the colour his own
had been before thirty years of beach sunshine--and other things--had
bleached the colour out of it.

“What are you going to be when you grow up, Mermaid?” he asked,
dreamily.

“I shall try to make you a good home and keep you happy,” she assured
him. “I’m knitting the slippers you’ll wear, now.”

They hugged each other in anticipation of their peaceful old age
together, and went to bed.


V

Sometimes it isn’t what you don’t know about people but what you do
know that makes them mysterious, as Mermaid once said.

She did not say it respecting the senior Dick Hand but she might well
have done so. Richard Hand First was not only his proper designation
but his motto, his war-cry, his watchword, and his slogan. Richard Hand
first and everybody else nowhere, just about summed up the golden rule
in Blue Port. Richard made the rule and Blue Port lived up to it.

If Blue Port had been a pretty good-sized town, like near-by Patchogue,
with a couple of mills, two or three banks, an electric light company,
and other rudiments of an American municipality, Dick Hand would
have owned them all--not outright, of course, but as the heaviest
shareholder and the preferred creditor. But Blue Port had none of these
things. Blue Port had only a two-three of stores, a justice of the
peace (Judge Hollaby), an unorganized oyster industry, a faded little
railroad station, and a postoffice. Nearly all the people in Blue Port
got their living on or from the Great South Bay. They went oystering,
fishing, eeling, clamming, duck shooting. They kept, some of them,
a cow and a few pigs; all of them raised vegetables. Thus there was
plenty to eat. There was not so much to wear, but there was enough. As
for making money, mostly no one made any money. There was no way to.
A few hundred dollars in cash, to buy a few clothes and pay, perhaps,
a low rent, was enough for a whole family from one year’s end to the
other. Such a place might be considered, and rightly, to offer very
restricted opportunities for the capitalist, but Dick Hand made it do.

He was not a daring financier. For years he had lived on a farm in the
middle of Long Island, a farm in semi-hilly country, the farm left him
by his father. It had to be worked hard, and when, after some dozen
years of labour, the chance came to Dick Hand to sell it at a fabulous
figure, he lost no time in doing so. A wealthy New Yorker had come
along and bought the place simply because he saw in the lie of the land
possibilities for a corkingly good private golf course. The course
was never laid out. The New Yorker died while still quarrelling with
his architect over the plans for a $200,000 summer “cottage,” and his
executors and heirs looked ruefully at the large tract of land which
had been his latest whim and which was difficult to “turn over”--even
with a plough. But Dick Hand had received $20,000 in cold cash for 200
acres. He was satisfied.

It was an impressive lot of money. It would have been greeted
respectfully in Patchogue, and even in larger places. But the sudden
possession of so much riches made Mr. Hand more cautious than ever. How
to make it grow fastest?

He had had enough of land. By most wonderful fortune, he had been
enabled to convert land into money. It was a miracle. Water had
been turned into wine; he would not depend upon it happening again.
His wife, who had always been submissive to him, ventured a single
suggestion:

“Now would be a good time to straighten out matters with Hosea,” she
remarked. Dick Hand looked at her coldly. She went on, uncomfortably:
“I s’pose ’twouldn’t take so much. It wasn’t more’n $2,500, his share
of father’s estate, was it?”

“He had no share of the estate,” her husband answered, shortly. “For
God’s sake, Fanny, how often have I got to tell you that there wa’n’t
nothing for him.” Under stress of emotion Mr. Hand used colloquial
speech. “The will read plain: I was to have the farm and he was to
have the rest to do as he pleased with, but after father’s debts had
been paid there wa’n’t nothing. I stood ready to mortgage the farm if
nec’ssary to give him what he’d oughter had,” said the man, virtuously
and untruthfully--doubtless he thought his wife would readjust her
recollection accordingly--“but he run away and went to sea. Stayed away
for years, and me struggling with the farm.” Mr. Hand began gradually
doing himself justice as a heavily laden, plodding, self-sacrificing
figure. “When he finally showed up I offered to do what was right
and he sneered at me, the ongrateful and onnatural brother. I says
to Hosea, ‘I’m ready to forget and forgive. Bygones kin be bygones.’
He was courting Keturah Smiley. It was before her aunt died, and she
hadn’t a cent. O’ course it was plain she’d have prop’ty some day,
though no one could foresee she’d have all the Hawkins’s money. John
Smiley hadn’t married that Mary Rogers then. So after I’d talked with
Hosea and offered to do right by him--and more’n right, considering
how he’d acted--I went to Keturah Smiley, and told her just how things
stood.”

“Oh, Richard, you hadn’t ought to have done that,” Mrs. Hand murmured.
“You had ought to have kept out of it.”

“Maybe I had, maybe I had,” retorted her husband. “But I was never one
to reckon the consequences of doing a neighbourly act. I was trying to
do the square thing, and more’n square, by Hosea. So I went to Keturah
and I says to her: ‘Hosea won’t take this money. Of course,’ I says,
‘there’s no claim upon me for it, and never was a valid claim, but I
always wanted to do the utmost by the boy and I want to be generous to
the man; even if he has behaved badly and said things to me he oughter
be ashamed of, and will be some day, I don’t hold it against him. I
harbour no resentment,’ I says, ‘and if he won’t take this money I
wish you would. Every one knows,’ I went on, ‘that you’ll have prop’ty
some day and you can pay me back then if you feel you should. Or,’ I
continued, wanting to make it as easy as I could for her, ‘you can
give me your note o’ hand for the amount at six per cent., and I’ll
promise you it won’t leave my hands. I’ll shave it for nobody,’ I says,
reassuring her, ‘and nobody need ever know about it unless you want to
tell Hosea about it afterward to bring him to a proper appreciation of
the onnatural things he said to his brother.’”

Mrs. Hand, who had been clasping and unclasping her fingers, exclaimed:
“But, Richard! Don’t you think ’twas a mistake to go to Keturah with
it? A girl is so likely to misunderstand such matters.”

A look of inscrutable sorrow crept into Mr. Hand’s crafty eyes. He
hunched up his shrunken body and nodded earnestly.

“Yes-yes!” he confirmed, using a characteristic ejaculation of the Long
Islander. “Keturah was never the woman to understand things in any but
her own way. She flared right up at me and said some hard things. I
won’t repeat’em, though I remember some of ’em to this day. For one
thing,” he went on, disregarding his promise of the breath before,
“she accused me of trying to cheat Hosea--to _cheat_ him! She p’tended
to think I was trying to keep from Hosea what was rightfully his, when
I was right there trying to give it back! She says to me: ‘I’ve heard
of folks who wanted to eat their cake and have it, too, but you’re the
first ever I see that wanted to give someone else his bite and have it
back.’ Then she cried out: ‘I wouldn’t marry a man with a brother so
mean as you!’ I went away a good deal upset, for I was real consarned
to see her married to Hosea and them both happy. Hosea didn’t have
nothing, but she was sure to have plenty from her aunt, and I figgered
’twould be money in the family.” Mr. Hand shook his head regretfully
and a sigh whistled between his teeth.

Mrs. Hand smoothed her apron. After a few moments’ silence she
observed: “Well, I s’pose it’s all for the best.” It was her favourite
observation, and on the philosophy compressed into that one short
sentence she had managed to live, hardly but not so unhappily, with
Richard Hand for these many years. She wanted to ask him what he was
going to do with the extraordinary sum of $20,000 of which he was now
possessed, but she knew he would not tell her. Afterward, she would
learn, little by little. She did not have to worry, for he was not
likely to lose it. She fell to speculating as to whether he would give
her enough to buy a black silk dress for Sundays--but it was an idle
speculation.... Her thoughts went along in an ineffectual fashion until
she rose to get supper.

Her husband ate in silence, undisturbed by his boy’s chatter about
the people of Blue Port, to which they had just removed. His mind was
already occupied with the possibilities of $20,000 carefully handled,
as he would handle it. He would not buy land, he would buy people. He
would look about for good mortgages that could be picked up cheap.
There must be a few Keturah Smiley had not got hold of. He would go
slow and keep money in the savings bank for a while, even though it
yielded him only a miserable four per cent. If something good came
along he would have it handy. Perhaps he could organize some industry
and have people working for him directly. He liked to drive people.
The oyster industry, for example--there ought to be something in that
for a man who would use a little capital and get control of the trade.
Blue Port oysters were famous the world over. A little legal work would
be necessary; the thought of paying a lawyer hurt him, but there were
papers that would have to be drawn up, articles of incorporation, etc.
He would stop in and talk with Judge Hollaby to-morrow.

The upshot of this meditation ultimately was the formation of the
Blue Port Bivalve Company, Richard Hand, president; Horace Hollaby,
vice-president and secretary; Richard Hand, treasurer. The company
gradually obtained liens on most of the boats in which the men of
Blue Port went forth to dredge the oyster beds. It acquired these
beds. There were also free beds, belonging to the township, but as
Richard Hand’s company came to own the boats it suffered less and less
competition. Everything went on about as before; the only difference
was that everybody came to be in debt to Richard Hand and worked for
him. The only person in Blue Port who remained independent of him was
Keturah Smiley.


VI

Mermaid, hurrying down the street from school, did not notice a boy
coming out of the side street on which young Dick Hand lived. The boy
was walking along with a most unboyish air. His head was down and he
looked up too late to avoid a collision. It nearly knocked Mermaid’s
breath out of her. When she could talk she accepted his confused
apology, and smiled.

“You’re Guy Vanton, aren’t you?”

He was a short boy with very black hair, a snub nose, and a pale face.
His eyes, which were brown, had something uncanny about them; Mermaid
was struck with their resemblance to the eyes of wild animals. She had
seen deer with eyes like that. The boy stood before her with his cap
in his hand; he was somehow not in the least like Dick Hand or Tommy
Lupton or any of the other Blue Port boys. He seemed to have very good
manners and to be politely exercising them. Mermaid unconsciously
assumed her own.

“Guy Vanton, yes, _mademoiselle_.” The French word aroused Mermaid to
a high pitch of curiosity, and the immediate effect of her heightened
curiosity was to make her still more polite.

“I--I beg your pardon,” the boy repeated. “It was all my fault. I was
not looking where I was going, _mademoiselle_.”

She noticed that he spoke English without the Blue Port twang, but also
without a foreign accent; his speech was like that of one or two of the
schoolteachers she had had.

He seemed about to replace his cap and hurry away. He made a little
bow to her--from the waist. Mermaid had seen the bow before. Dickie
Hand had learned it in a children’s dancing class at Patchogue. She
smiled at young Mr. Vanton, who was so eager to get along. She had no
intention he should go until they were fairly acquainted.

“You speak French?”

“_Mais oui, mademoiselle!_” His uncanny eyes fixed her for a moment and
his pale face flushed a little.

“Oh, I don’t speak it,” Mermaid explained, hastily, whereupon he looked
down at the ground, as if he had lost interest. “What was that you just
said?”

“I said: ‘But yes!’”

“I wish I knew it,” she exclaimed. “I should love to study it, but I
don’t think they teach it even in High School at Patchogue.”

He said, without looking at her: “I learned it in Paris. I--we used to
live there. My mother----” He stopped.

Mermaid said, sympathetically: “She’s an invalid, isn’t she?”

“Oh, that isn’t--I mean--why, why, yes. She is--she has to walk with
a crutch. And then, only a little.” His confusion was so evident that
Mermaid felt sorry for him. With true feminine instinct she decided
that he must suffer some more so that ultimately she might help him.
She knew he did not go to school, she knew that he lived all alone,
shut up in that expensive house, surrounded by gloomy evergreens, which
must be as sunless as Miss Smiley’s front parlour had been once on a
time. He lived there with a crippled mother and a formidable father,
a retired sea captain who was undoubtedly a stern disciplinarian. He
was pale and undersized. Mermaid had heard stories of sea captains all
her remembering life and knew them to be a peculiar race of men. Her
imagination worked rapidly on the problem presented by Guy Vanton, and
she concluded, perhaps somewhat rashly, that his father had spent most
of his money on the mahogany and teakwood of the parlour and fed his
boy on ship’s biscuits and water. At any rate, he looked it. But his
eyes fascinated her. Considering briefly the means of further advancing
their acquaintance she decided that he should teach her French. In
turn, she would ask him home with her to supper, and see that he got a
square meal.

“I wonder if you wouldn’t teach me French?”

Guy Vanton looked surprised, but then an expression of pleasure came
into the brown eyes. He nodded. Mermaid continued: “I could come over
in the afternoon, sometimes, when I haven’t to help Miss Smiley clean
house. We could be very still and not bother your mother. And sometimes
you could come to our house. I’m sure Miss Smiley wouldn’t mind. I
bring Dickie Hand there and she gives him cookies though she hates his
father like anything.”

They were walking along the street together. Young Mr. Vanton had got
his cap back on his head at last, but he walked stiffly, a little
deferentially, his body half turned toward the girl. Mermaid chattered
along easily on whatever themes came into her head, occasionally
punctuating her talk with a question calling for no answer more
elaborate than a “Yes” or a “No.” She was much gratified when Dick Hand
and Tommy Lupton stopped their regular afternoon pastime of punching
each other’s heads to stare across the street at her escort. She heard
Dickie say to Tom: “Well, will you look? Girls make me sick!”

As if this were the very effect she desired to produce, Mermaid was
remarking to the Vanton heir: “That’s Dick Hand over there, and Tommy
Lupton. You know them, don’t you? Dick is thirteen and Tommy’s fifteen.
I’m only eleven, but I’m as big as either of them. You’re fifteen,
aren’t you?”

“I’m seventeen,” he divulged. Mermaid stood still in her astonishment.

“Seven-teen!” she gasped. “Why, but you’re no bigger than
Dickie--though you know French and he doesn’t, and you know a lot more
than he does and are lots--lots nicer,” she added, by way of retrieving
her blunder. “But you won’t want anything to do with me,” she said with
honest candor. “You’ll think I’m only a little girl. I suppose I am.”

He did not seem ready to cast her off as infantile and beneath his
notice.

“I am too small,” he admitted. “I was not so small in Paris--I mean,
the boys at school there were not so large as fellows of the same age
here. I was average height. Here I’m a little--runt.”

“What a lot you must have seen,” Mermaid marvelled. “I hope you’ll tell
me all about it. You can do that and teach me French that way, can’t
you? I’ve never been anywhere except here and on the beach. You know I
came ashore in a shipwreck.”

She told him about the wreck, what she had heard of it from her Dad and
other men of the Lone Cove Station; of her home with Keturah Smiley,
and of life on the beach. Then she spoke of Captain John Hawkins and
the clipper ship _China Castle_.

“You know your father commanded her afterward.”

Guy did not seem to know it. “He never talks about his ships,” the boy
explained. With the help of some questions from Mermaid, he told her
about himself.

He had been born in San Francisco and had lived there for some years.
In the Presidio section of the city. As he talked of the town Mermaid’s
face took on a puzzled look.

“It’s the funniest thing,” she declared. “Do you know, I have a feeling
that I lived there once on a time. It seems as if it came back to me,
as if I just sort of half-remembered----You know the _Mermaid_, the
ship I was aboard, came from San Francisco.”

After they left San Francisco, the Vantons had gone to live in Paris.
Guy’s father had then given up definitely all idea of going to sea
again.

“He had really never had a ship since I was born,” the boy explained.
“But he kept thinking, up to the time we went to Paris, that he would
take another command. My mother----” he hesitated, with a trace of the
confusion he had shown before in speaking of her, and then went on:
“We had plenty of money, and so there was no need for him to go, but in
San Francisco he kept thinking of it, and every day he would walk down
to the foot of Market Street and along the waterfront and look at all
the ships. Sometimes he would go aboard them and talk to the captains.
He used to take me with him. It was very interesting. Ships from all
over the world--British, Japanese, American, German, French, Norwegian,
Russian and a lot more. He would take me on board the square-riggers
and teach me the ropes. ‘This,’ he would say, ‘is the fore t’ gallant
halyard. This is the fore royal sheet. This is the fore topmast stays’l
sheet. Now what is this?’ I always got it wrong and it used to make
him terribly angry. Then he would tell me to go aloft. I liked that,
because you could always get such a splendid view of San Francisco Bay
and the city, built on hills, and the mountains over in Marin County,
with Oakland and Alameda and all the other places spread out before
you.”

“Weren’t you dizzy?” Mermaid asked.

“Only the first time.”

They had reached Keturah Smiley’s house. Mermaid invited little, old
Mr. Vanton in. She gave him crullers and coffee, made him acquainted
with Miss Smiley, and then said good-bye to him at the gate. It was
agreed that they should meet the next afternoon _pour parler Français_.
As the French instructor hurried homeward he lit a cigarette. This was
observed by the Messrs. Hand and Lupton, who were considerably dazed.

“And I called him a sissy,” murmured Mr. Hand.

“D’ye know what I think?” exclaimed his side partner. “He’s a
foreigner, that’s what he is, a cigarette-smoking foreigner. Mermaid
ought not to have anything to do with a fellow like that,” Tommy
concluded, virtuously, and with the sense of the protecting male.


VII

Mermaid and Monsieur Guy Vanton made friends with each other quickly,
aided, perhaps, by the graces of the French language. At eleven years
it is not hard to learn French, especially if your instructor speaks
with a pure accent and makes conversation in it the order of the day.
Mermaid found that Guy did not go to school because his father didn’t
wish him to, for reasons not given. Guy said he didn’t know what was
back of his father’s objections, unless it was that he would have to go
away from home. “You see, I’ve had the equivalent of high school,” he
told Mermaid. “It would have to be college--or maybe a year somewhere
to get ready for college. I don’t much care. I read a lot--we’ve heaps
of books--and I--I write sometimes,” he confessed, diffidently.

“What do you write?” Mermaid ventured. “Say it in French,” he reminded
her and after he had corrected her question so put, he replied in
French: “Mostly poetry.”

He got quite red, so that Tommy Lupton, who had been dishonourably
spying from behind a shrub in the next yard, was incensed.

“Some day I’m going to knock his block off,” Tommy told himself.

Afterward he accosted Mermaid down the street, greeting her calmly but
with a touch of sadness in his tone. She was a nice, if misguided,
girl; Tommy didn’t want to hurt her feelings but this business couldn’t
be allowed to go on.

“Say, Mermaid,” he began, and then faltered a moment in the performance
of his unpleasant duty. “We--we never see anything of you any more
these days,” he finished. It was not just the thing, but it was,
perhaps, best to lead up to the point gradually.

Mermaid seemed unaware that anything was wrong.

“Come down to the house, Tommy, and I’ll give you a cookie,” she
invited him sweetly.

“I don’t believe I want a cookie. I don’t believe I want anything to
eat,” answered Mr. Lupton, seriously.

Mermaid looked at him with attention. “You aren’t sick, are you?” she
said, anxiously. “There’s two cases of scarlet fever in Patchogue, I
heard. You ought not to be going there to high school if you feel that
way.”

Indignation at the turn the conversation was taking overcame Mr.
Lupton. He did not want to talk about himself but about Mermaid, and
particularly about the dangerous acquaintances--well, acquaintance--she
was cultivating. He abandoned the possible diplomatic approaches to
the subject and blurted out: “What do you want to have anything to do
with that Vanton feller, for, anyway, Mermaid? If we fellers don’t have
anything to do with him I shouldn’t think you’d--you’d----” He stuck
hopelessly.

Mermaid’s very bright blue eyes were on him and he found it difficult
to collect his thoughts and present his argument.

“Shouldn’t think you’d--have him around,” he concluded, unhappily.

Mermaid lifted her chin and her eyes flashed.

“I’d like to know, Tommy Lupton, what _you_ know about him, anyway!”

Just the opening Mr. Lupton craved. He poured it all out eagerly.

“Why--why, he’s a regular sissy, Mermaid, and you know it. He’s a--a
hermit. I mean he never mixes with us fellers, and of course we’re
glad of it; we wouldn’t have anything to do with him,” Tommy assured
her, not bothering the logic. “He’s some kind of a foreigner, probably
a dago,” he inferred, darkly. “He smokes cigarettes.” Mr. Lupton, who
smoked only cornsilk in secret, saw the distinction clearly. “If you
don’t look out some of these days he’ll be putting his arm around you!”

He stopped, appalled at his own frankness. But Mermaid merely laughed.

“He’s _not_ a foreigner; he only just speaks French. He lived in Paris
and learned it there,” she said quite easily. “That doesn’t make him
a foreigner; besides, he learned good manners, Tommy. And as for his
not mixing with you and Dickie and the rest, he’s older and doesn’t go
to school--and anyway, you never go near him. I don’t care if he does
smoke. _You_ smoke. Only you hide, and he doesn’t! I guess if he’s
seventeen and has lived abroad where everybody smokes early he can
smoke if he wants to. I guess if his father didn’t think it was all
right he’d stop him. If he puts his arm around me and I need your help
I’ll scream, Tommy, and when you come I’ll tell him you kissed me at
your last birthday party! Will you fight him, Tommy? While he was in
Paris he learned all about duelling, and you two can have a duel. I’ll
steal one of the swords from our front parlour and you can practise
with it.”

Mr. Lupton was perfectly red with rage and white with mortification.
He was two colours, and presented an alarming spectacle. Mermaid, done
with taunting, suddenly approached him and laid her hand on his arm.

“Don’t be mad, Tommy. I was only teasing. Of course he’s different
from you and Dick, but he’s lived in strange places--in San Francisco
and Paris--and he’s moved around a lot. And he has a sick mother and
a queer father. You’d be funny in his place. And queer. And he’s
seventeen, Tommy, and no bigger than you and I are! Don’t you think you
could eat a cookie?” she asked, solicitously.

“It’s only--only that I think such a lot of you, Mermaid,” he
protested. His natural dignity reasserted itself. “I’ll walk home with
you.”

The procession formed, two abreast, and they went on toward Keturah
Smiley’s. Mr. Lupton ate three cookies and an apple and examined, with
an air of interest, the swords and cutlasses in the front parlour,
which he had never handled before.

“Does Vanton really know how to fight with a sword?” he ventured,
curiously.

“He had fencing lessons. Not a sword, a rapier,” Mermaid explained. “A
sharp point that you stick into the other man. I think I’ll get him to
give me lessons.”

“What would a girl be doing with fencing lessons?” exclaimed Mr.
Lupton, scornfully.

“Oh, I don’t know. Just exercise. It might be useful sometime,” said
Mermaid, vaguely.

“You’re just thinking of something you two can do together.” Jealousy
reawakened in Mr. Lupton’s bosom.

“Well, he writes poetry, and we can’t write poetry together.”

“No, but he can write it and read it to you,” the youth said, bitterly.
“Wishy-washy stuff, poetry. All except ‘Marmion,’” he qualified.

“Oh, Tommy, don’t be foolish,” sighed the young woman.

An amusing thought struck Mr. Lupton.

“Wait till I tell Dick he writes poetry,” he cried. “Ow! Won’t he yell?
Won’t he?

“Just like a foreigner to stab a man with a thing like this,” Tommy
continued, imperilling the haircloth seat of one of the “deacon’s
chairs” with an unskilful lunge.

At this Mermaid lost all patience.

“He’s _not_ a foreigner!” she snapped. “And if you think he can’t put
up his fists you just try him some day. I’ll bet you’ll find you made a
mistake!”

Mr. Lupton sulked for a moment, but recovered, and after borrowing a
book and eating two more cookies took a calm departure. On the highway,
however, the thoughts that had disturbed him returned.

“Just the same I’ll have to give him a good licking yet, I bet,” he
muttered. He hoped supper would be ready, for he felt hungry after the
strife and passions of the afternoon.


VIII

Richard Hand the elder had come to own all Blue Port with the exception
of Keturah Smiley when the balance of power, if you could call it that,
was altered, imperceptibly at first, by the advent of Captain Vanton.

“Buel Vanton, Buel Vanton,” said Dick Hand, fretfully, to his wife one
morning some months after the studding-sail whiskers became a familiar
sight in Blue Port. “Should like you to tell me who this Buel Vanton
is.”

Mrs. Hand, whose frequent tattling of village gossip made her more
valuable to her husband than he ever admitted, repeated such news as
was current. She described, not quite accurately, the mahogany and
teakwood parlour, expatiated on the invalid wife, who was never seen
outdoors, referred to the small boy. It had got about that the boy was
older than he looked, and the father more brutal than he spoke, and the
wife as mysterious as she was invisible. The town figured that Captain
Vanton flogged the boy, or had flogged him when he was little, thus
arresting his growth; probably he had made his wife an invalid by his
cruelty. Mrs. Hand repeated and worked speculative embroidery on the
meagre facts and unsatisfying conjectures.

“Humph!” sneered Richard Hand, his eyes fixed on his plate. “How much
money has he got?”

Mrs. Hand didn’t know. And what made things worse, there seemed
absolutely no way of finding out. Captain Vanton didn’t own property
in Blue Port, except a lot and the house he had built on it. He didn’t
even have an account at a Patchogue bank. He sometimes made trips to
the city, but they lived very simply. The only evidence of wealth,
after all, was the costly fittings of that front parlour which no one
in Blue Port had ever entered since the Vantons moved in. Mrs. Hand did
not know of Cap’n Smiley’s short call. Keturah Smiley never met “with
the ladies” and never talked any one else’s business unless it was her
business, too.

Her husband meditated aloud:

“’F he has money,” he observed, “we might make some effort to get
acquainted with them. You could call on his wife. And Dick,” with a
glance at his son, “could make friends with his boy. I might stop the
Captain on the street some day and ask him how he’s fixed to ’nvest a
little money in shares of the Blue Port Bivalve Comp’ny.”

Dick Junior looked at his father rebelliously.

“Say, Pop,” he remarked, “I’m not a-going to have anything to do with
that Guy Vanton for you nor nobody else. He’s--he’s a big softy!”

His father looked at the boy with his nearest approach to good nature.

“Maybe that girl that lives with Keturah Smiley--what’s her name?--some
kind of fish--might tell you something about him.”

Young Mr. Hand choked on the coffee he was swallowing and rose from the
table, though there were three steaming pancakes left of the morning’s
pile.

“I don’t see why you insult Mermaid,” he said with a comical boyish
rage in his voice. “She’s a--a--nice girl, even if that softy does get
around her. Why--why, I wouldn’t _think_ of asking her anything about
that fellow. She might think I was jealous.”

Young Mr. Hand went out and wandered disconsolately down the street,
thinking miserably of Mermaid and the three untouched pancakes. It was,
however, incompatible with his wounded dignity to make overtures to
either.

Old Richard Hand, shuffling down the street, looking at the sidewalk,
perhaps to see where he was going, perhaps to see where someone else
had been, did not observe a large, heavy craft also outward bound but
in the opposite direction and on the other side of the thoroughfare.
No signals were exchanged and Captain Vanton, studding-sails set, went
careering on his way. It was some time later when he showed up at
the bare little room which was Richard Hand’s place of business and
(except for Judge Hollaby’s office) the Blue Port Bivalve Company’s
headquarters.

Captain Vanton was under all plain sail to royals. He was making ten
knots or better when he entered the shabby room. He towered over the
puny form of Richard Hand as might a great clipper, crowding her white
canvas, tower above a fishing smack under her bows. And for a moment
he appeared quite likely to run down the village miser. Richard Hand
could feel himself cut in half and his wits drowning. He came to his
senses with an effort. After all, it was merely the sea captain’s
physical presence, aided by those expansive whiskers. Stage stuff! With
an inward sneer Mr. Hand got hold of himself. He had always despised
whiskers and was clean shaven because he had never been able to grow
a beard. A beard would have covered that nasty chin and those cruelly
tight lips, and would have softened the look in those eyes. With the
benevolent aid of a beard Richard might have been a deacon, as his
father had been before him; and he knew it. In a business way, it
would have been an advantage to him, now and then, to have been Deacon
Hand. Though it gave him the greatest possible satisfaction to collect
interest six days a week there was something painful about the fact
that none could be collected Sundays. Deacon Hand, passing the plate,
would have felt a vicarious joy. The seventh day would not have been
entirely wasted.

Rising hastily, the thwarted deacon managed a familiar but far from
warming smile. “This is--er--Captain Vanton?” he asked, in a suave tone
very few persons in Blue Port had ever heard.

The visitor did not say whether it was or was not. He looked around, as
he might have on coming on deck, to see whether the mate was doing his
work properly. Richard Hand lugged a chair forward, but Captain Vanton
gave no sign that he noticed this. He spoke a few words in his best
quarterdeck voice:

“When did you last hear from Captain King?”

The effect on Richard Hand was curious. For a moment his weak and
vicious jaw dropped. A look of immense distrust invaded his crafty
eyes. Then he seemed to recover himself. Rubbing his hands, as if they
were cold, as they doubtless were, Mr. Hand eyed his questioner up and
down a moment and then gave question for question:

“Have you a letter from him?”

Captain Vanton, who had not hitherto looked at the village miser
at all, now turned and gazed squarely at him, and with so cold and
glittering and truculent an eye that Mr. Hand seemed to become more
shrunken than ever.

“No,” Captain Vanton told him. Then he asked, “Have you?”

The village miser shuffled and cleared his throat. He mumbled
something, a negative apparently. There was a moment’s silence which
was broken by the Captain, whose tone had a chilled steel edge.

“Why don’t you answer my question, sir?”

It was not the polite “sir” of the land but the formal, and often
positively insulting, “sir” of the sea. Mr. Hand had never been so set
down in his life. There was never much starch in him, and what there
was went out completely.

“I--I heard from him--why, quite recently, less than a month ago, in
fact,” he explained not very readily. “But you--you have later news of
him, I can see that.” The Uriah Heep in the man came to the surface
and old Mr. Hand exhibited his favourite brand of cordiality--the oily
voice and the skimped smile. “Yes-yes. I hope he is well!”

“He is,” affirmed Captain Vanton and added non-committally: “He is
dead.”

An expression of shocked surprise appeared on the face of the village
miser. He made curious, clucking noises.

“Dear me. Dear me,” he managed to say, finally, as an inadequate
expression of his regret that Captain King was well--and dead.

Captain Vanton glared at the opposite wall, resolutely taking no notice
of this contemptible land creature.

“How did he die?” pursued the much-affected Hand.

“Violently,” barked Captain Vanton. The mortgage miser recoiled. When
he spoke again his voice was feeble:

“I suppose you knew him very well?”

The Captain paid no attention to this. Suddenly he turned and looked
through Mr. Hand about two inches to the left of the breastbone and in
the latitude of the third rib, where Mr. Hand’s heart should have been
sighted by the experienced mariner, if the miser had had any. Mr. Hand
could not have been more disconcerted if Captain Vanton had pulled a
sextant from his pocket and taken an observation with that.

“Why do you lie to me?” asked Captain Vanton at length, and the tone
which had made men perspire off Cape Horn induced a cold kind of sweat
on the body of Hand, the miser. It really was the tone more than the
words, and surely the words were unpleasant enough.

“I don’t know what you mean. I lie to you?” the land crab got out.

“Certainly. Why, damn your eyes, you know you haven’t heard from
Captain King in a month, nor six months, not a year!”

Mr. Hand stuttered in a process of recollection. Captain Vanton
muttered something about “chronometer error” and seemed to swell up
with a slow inflation of wrath. He might have expanded with this until
the pinprick of the miser’s speech punctured the envelope of his
maritime self-command, but, as if some thought arrested him, he stood
still, and regarded Mr. Hand attentively for the first time. Captain
Vanton’s regard was neither favourable nor unfavourable, and it took
no account of what Mr. Hand seemed to be trying to say. “A month?”
Of course he had been mistaken. It must have been longer than that;
much longer, come to think it over. Several months and by gracious! it
might be a full year. Time slips by so fast, and he was a busy man with
the affairs of the Blue Port Bivalve Company on his hands as well as
personal business. Investments. Couldn’t be neglected. Must be watched
night and day....

Mr. Hand trailed off easily into an account of the operations of the
Blue Port Bivalve Company. He painted its bivalvular prospects. Aided
by his descriptive faculty Blue Port ceased to be Blue Port and became
another Golden Gate.

At the name of that entrance--and exit--to and from El Dorado Captain
Vanton’s large bulk quivered slightly about the back and shoulders.

With fixed eyes he listened to all that Mr. Hand poured forth,
saying nothing, storing in his brain, perhaps, some of these
wonderful adjectives. Along with the adjectives Mr. Hand delivered a
well-assorted general lading of information, in fragments and pieces
which Captain Vanton seemed to be carefully ticketing for ready
reassembling on some distant pier.

At length Mr. Hand’s discourse dwindled. Would Captain Vanton care to
invest in the Blue Port Bivalve Company’s shares? More capital was
needed and substantial men, men of affairs. But the man of affairs,
after drinking in all that Mr. Hand had to say, shut up as tightly as
one of Mr. Hand’s own bivalves. He had nothing to say and said it. Mr.
Hand, concealing his disappointment, expressed the hope that Captain
Vanton would consider. The Captain, who perhaps thought no answer
necessary in view of his very obvious consideration of something,
turned to go. And then it was that the same stray thought that had
struck Keturah Smiley struck Richard Hand. How did he know of Captain
King’s death?

Captain Vanton explained in not more than three words. They were, in
fact, the same three words with which he had answered Miss Smiley.

Richard Hand was left all of a tremble. “Killed him myself!” A
self-confessed murderer! Good God, what was the world coming to that
such men stalked about in it!


IX

Tommy Lupton had made up his mind to knock the block off Guy Vanton,
and no suitable pretext or occasion offering, he went around to the
Vanton house one day and rather awkwardly invited the objectionable Guy
to take a walk with him.

Guy Vanton, with a flicker of surprise which changed quickly into a
look of pleasure, accepted the invitation. The two boys started north
toward the woods encircling a small pond. They said little to each
other at first. Tommy was concerned only to reach a small clearing in
the woods, a place carpeted with pine needles and reasonably secure
from intrusion by passersby. Guy was puzzled by Mr. Lupton’s stride and
a feeling that this was somehow less a pleasure stroll than an errand.

“You’re almost through High School, aren’t you?” asked Mr. Vanton.

“Year more,” returned Tommy, going rapidly ahead on the wood path.

“Shall you go to college after that?”

“Cornell,” Tommy informed him.

“For the engineering course?” guessed Guy amicably.

“For the crew,” corrected Tommy.

“I’ve never rowed,” Guy commented, finding it difficult to make
conversation at the pace they were travelling. “Except a little, on
the Seine near Paris, just for sport.”

“Bragging of where he’s been,” thought the grim young man beside Mr.
Vanton. “I’ll give him something to brag about!” Aloud he said: “Ever
box?”

“No. I’ve had fencing lessons. I used to wrestle a little. Nothing else
much.”

They had gained the clearing. Tommy moved to the centre of it and then
turned and faced his companion.

“I’ve brought you up here to tell you something,” he began, white-faced
and with blazing eyes. “You--you’ve got to have nothing to do
with--with her--with Mermaid,” Tommy found it distasteful to name the
woman in the case, “from now on or I’ll knock your block off. I think
I’ll just do it, anyway,” shouted Tommy, his fury, the accumulation of
weeks of suffering, breaking forth. “You don’t box, but you say you
can wrestle. I’m going to hit you and you can clinch and we’ll see who
comes out on top! Being a--a _damn_ foreigner I suppose you won’t fight
fair, but if you try biting or gouging I’ll _get_ you, don’t you forget
it!”

Guy Vanton, open-mouthed with surprise at the first few words, had
reddened with anger. His curious, wild-animal eyes, ordinarily so shy,
had lost their light and were fixed steadily but unseeingly on the
boiling young man confronting him. The colour left his face. He lowered
his eyes, stepped back several paces, muttered, “_En garde_,” and
awaited Tommy’s onset.

With a desperate sort of roar Tommy charged. His blood was up, his head
was down. His fist shot out but only grazed Guy’s cheek. At the same
instant his head struck his antagonist’s collarbone, he felt himself
caught under the shoulders, and before he could steady himself he was
on his back on the ground. Young Mr. Vanton made no effort to keep him
pinned there. Tommy rose and attacked again.

This time he flung himself on the other boy, head up and ready to
clinch. But he clutched the air. Something slipped under his arm and
caught his leg, throwing him from his balance. As he staggered he was
picked up and thrown bodily a few feet through the air, landing on his
shoulder.

A sense of awful lameness came over Tommy as he picked himself up.
Unsteadily he planted a fist where his opponent’s breathing apparatus
should have been, but wasn’t. He felt his head caught in a vise and
shoved downward with such violence as to make it seem likely it had
been permanently detached from his body. Shoulders fitted themselves
into the extended curve of Tommy’s right arm; he half spun about like
a tee-totum, and then, having four legs instead of the usual two, at
right angles to each other, Tommy was uncertain which way he faced. All
four legs gave way under him, his face brushed the pine needles, he
turned a low somersault and found himself lying on the soft and scented
earth, looking with a blurred vision at the tops of the pine trees and
a patch of blue sky. They faded from sight after a second. Tommy was
senseless.

Water trickling down his face awakened him, water brought by his late
antagonist. Young Mr. Vanton’s black hair was in disarray, his normally
white face looked whiter than ever, and his strange eyes were filled
with anxiety.

“Tommy!”

Closing his eyes for a moment to consider whether this referred to the
late Tommy Lupton or to himself, the young man with the wetted face
decided that he would take the chance that it was intended for him.
He opened his eyes again, sat up with a painful effort, looked at Guy
Vanton, and smiled--a sad, calm smile such as befitted the victim of
a mistake. But Guy Vanton seemed to think he had made no mistake. He
flung himself on the ground beside the warrior and put his arm about
the warrior’s shoulders. The shoulders gave a sharp twinge, but the
warrior, with an effort, reached up his arm and crooked it reciprocally
about the shoulders of the black-haired boy. So intertwined they sat
side by side on the pine needles for a moment, and then Tommy struggled
to his feet, the arm of the other helping him. After a moment of
dizziness Tommy disengaged himself and held out his hand.

“Shake!”

They shook. Young Mr. Vanton exhibited no air of triumph. Instead, he
seemed actually dejected. The two, as by common consent, took the
homeward path. Tommy burst out: “You licked me fair and square. I--I’d
like to be friends. I--I guess you’re all right. Mermaid----”

Tommy stopped. For the first time it struck full upon him that though
he had done all that lay in him to settle matters and settle them
right, matters, at any rate the all-important matter, remained much as
they were before.

Mr. Vanton broke in: “I want to be friends, too. We ought to be, hadn’t
we, after this?”

A point bothered Mr. Lupton. “You haven’t made me take back what I said
about you.”

Looking down at the ground Mr. Vanton flushed and said: “Oh, well, you
didn’t mean it. It--it’s not important I’m not a foreigner, you know. I
was born in San Francisco. I keep dropping into French. You just poke
me when I do it. And about--her----” Mr. Vanton broke off, seeming to
find the exact words difficult. Then he went on: “You see, it isn’t
anything. She likes to hear me talk about France and San Francisco and
she’s learning a little French. And--there’s nothing to it, except that
I don’t know any one here and she’s company.”

A doubt deep in Mr. Lupton found expression. “I s’pose she won’t want
anything to do with me after this.”

“_I_ won’t tell her,” asserted the other boy. He hesitated, then said:
“Tommy, you know she thinks an awful lot of you. And, anyway, she’s got
to decide for herself.”

To this mature and final view old, young Mr. Lupton assented. “Of
_course_! I guess it’s not how we feel about her, but how _she_ feels.
Well, I don’t care if I do,” concluded Mr. Lupton, recklessly, taking
one of Mr. Vanton’s cigarettes. He lit it, finding the flavour much
unlike a pipe of cornsilk. It was not his, however, to pronounce the
taste inferior in the face of the world’s judgment. Tommy puffed and
felt a strange sense of elevation. “That was a dandy fight you put up,”
he conceded. “Say, where did you get all that stuff? Will you show me
how?” Mr. Vanton agreed. “I’ve forgotten a lot,” he confessed. “I used
to have a Japanese wrestler when I was a kid in San Francisco, and
later I had some lessons in Paris.” Mr. Lupton had ceased to listen,
however. The curing of Turkish tobacco was suddenly distasteful to
him. After a while he apologized: “You pretty well knocked me out,”
and managed an admirable smile. They walked back to Blue Port together
and Tommy did not even wince at an allusion by the shy-eyed Mr. Vanton
to the fact that Mr. Vanton had a longing to become a writer some day.
“I scribble a lot now. I even write verse,” explained Mr. Vanton, his
innocent brown eyes glancing for a moment into Tommy’s more worldly
blue ones. Tommy did not smile or shout. His allegiance to the new
friendship was complete and unequivocal; and besides, there was coming
into his mind a recognition of certain impalpable things which a girl
always fell for and which he, Tommy Lupton, had not to offer. Travel, a
foreign language, manners that were polite without being stuck-up, an
ability to talk, and a gift of expression; a sort of good looks, too,
in spite of the snub nose and the pallor; sophistication extending to
the consumption of Turkish cigarettes; and a knack of writing poetry.
Tommy, who ached not a little, felt a spiritual depression. What had
he to offer Mermaid in comparison with these endowments? He had a good
spirit, however; he was a sport and quite ready to exclaim, “May the
best man win!” And Guy had won in a fair fight, and he and Guy were
friends.

A feeling that school was intolerable crept over young Mr. Lupton. He
longed to be with his father at the Coast Guard Station on the beach
where, in the fortunate event of a shipwreck, he might alone and
single-handed save life.

None of these thoughts seemed to fill the mind of Guy Vanton, who was
talking desultorily about San Francisco and Telegraph Hill and the
Presidio and the Mission; Paris, boating on the Seine, and streets
with meaningless French names. The two boys parted in front of the
Vanton house, guarded by tall evergreens, a ship stranded in a forest
of Christmas trees. To and fro on the veranda, walking with short
steps and heavy tread, paced Captain Vanton, a mysterious Santa Claus
wearing enormous sidewhiskers.


X

The way in which Richard Hand senior came to go to Keturah Smiley for
money was this: The affairs of the Blue Port Bivalve Company, though
generally prosperous, required, at certain seasons, ready money. And
despite his $20,000, now considerably grown, Richard Hand could not
always put his fingers on it. He had little use for banks. He paid
doctor’s bills for babies at about eight per cent., equipped young
married couples at as high as sixteen per cent.--for had they not the
rest of their lives to pay it off in?--and buried people at an average
rate of twelve per cent. This was good business.

He had got all Blue Port under his thumb except Keturah Smiley. It
irked him to see walking along Main Street the tall, stiff figure of
the only woman who had ever turned him down on a business proposition.
He would go over, speculatively, the character, disposition, and
probable fortune of his lost sister-in-law.

She owned a good deal of land. Richard Hand did not love land, but this
was good land, in one large tract, reaching from the South Country Road
to the bay. The larger part was high ground, partly wooded. Through the
centre of it flowed Hawkins Creek. Summer cottages, the creek being
dredged as a boat basin, or, with a spur of track, a factory site?

When he saw Keturah Smiley he explained, with a good deal of tiresome
detail, the affairs of the Blue Port Bivalve Company.

“I won’t put a cent in it,” Keturah told him.

“I don’t ask you to. I don’t ask you to,” Mr. Hand explained,
soothingly. “I know how women feel about such things. ’Tirely right,
too, ’tirely right. But it’s a good company and in good shape. Only we
need money in hand to lease more oyster beds to p’vide for expanding
business. Just $5,000 would set us right.”

“Five thousand shucks! I wouldn’t trust you with five cents!”

“Well, maybe you’d trust Horace Hollaby. I’ll pledge the leases with
him as security.”

Keturah thought it over. There could be no question of Judge Hollaby’s
honesty. A $5,000 mortgage coming due in six months was certain to be
paid. Meantime, the bank would let her have the money. There would be
no profit in it, of course, but curiously enough, for once she was not
thinking of that. She was thinking of an interview many years ago, and
of how she would love to hurt this man.

A desire to pay him off surprised and dominated her. She did not see in
the least how it was to be done, but if it was to be done this entrance
into business relations with him was necessary and would constitute,
in some way not now clear, the first step.

“You take the leases up to Judge Hollaby. I’ll go over them with him,
and if they’re all right you go to him and get the money,” she directed.

And then she thought--hard.


XI

Keturah Smiley was no fool. When the leases of the oyster beds were
made out they were made out in her name, and the Blue Port Bivalve
Company had exactly nothing to do with the transaction. Judge Hollaby,
purely in his capacity as Miss Smiley’s lawyer, attended to the matter.
Purely as Miss Smiley’s lawyer he attended to the details of a loan
of $5,000 by Miss Smiley to Richard Hand. Solely as a man, an oldish
fellow who had seen a good deal of human nature and knew both parties
in the case, he wondered what would happen next.

He had not long to wait. The oyster beds were not extensive, but they
were the richest in that part of the Great South Bay. Keturah Smiley,
deserting Judge Hollaby for the first time in her life, went to a
Patchogue lawyer and formed with him the Luscious Oyster Corporation.

The Luscious Oyster Corporation took over the leases of the oyster
beds held by Keturah Smiley and took an option on a large part of the
Smiley land. The Patchogue lawyer held that indiscretion was sometimes
the better part of valour. He was very, very indiscreet; he was
deliberately and extensively indiscreet. And the world that cared about
Blue Port oysters soon knew all the plans and purposes of the Luscious
Oyster Corporation.

It would build a large factory on Hawkins Creek. Arrangements for
special railway trackage were being made. There was plenty of capital
back of the new corporation. It had the rights to a new and hitherto
unannounced process for making several first-class products from oyster
shells. Its oysters, the best, the fattest, the most succulent in all
the Great South Bay, would be shipped, opened, in sanitary containers
with a distinctive label and carried in refrigerator cars. The shells
would be turned over to the factory where, aside from certain novelties
and trinkets and toys, vast numbers of them would be used in the
composition of a new kind of cement for floors in office buildings and
for roofing.

This cement was superior to anything yet discovered for these two
purposes, and possibly for others--experimentation with it was still
going on. As a roofing it was clean, smooth, of an attractive dull
white finish which could be tinted to any desired shade. It was
absolutely tight and waterproof and noiseless! The hardest shower,
striking upon it, was inaudible. As a flooring the cement had all
these advantages and several others besides. It could be flushed with
water, and if wiped only partly dry would dry quickly by atmospheric
absorption. Footsteps could hardly be heard upon it. If left white it
reflected artificial light and enhanced the illumination of the room;
moreover, it was, because of its whiteness, next to impossible to lose
anything upon it. Tinted, it matched any rug or floor covering. And it
was tremendously durable. Prolonged tests with hard substances scuffing
continuously over a sample of the cement had not worn away the surface
perceptibly, but should it wear away, the texture of the cement was
uniform throughout. The worn spot would look exactly like the rest of
the floor.

No stock was for sale.

This last announcement filled with incredulity the dismayed Richard
Hand, reading the newspapers and gnashing his teeth which were not so
well preserved as Keturah Smiley’s. There must be stock for sale! There
always was, in a thing like this. What was the use of all this puffing
if it was not to unload stock on unsuspecting purchasers? Still,
this piece of canniness did not help Mr. Hand along mentally. _He_
didn’t want the worthless stock. He wanted those oyster beds; and most
particularly he wanted this talk about the Luscious Oyster Corporation,
its plans, its purposes, its enterprise, and its prospective glory
stopped--absolutely stopped. It was hurting the business of the Blue
Port Bivalve Company, and if unchecked would hurt it still more.

He went to see Keturah.

“Unfair?” snapped Miss Smiley, answering Mr. Hand’s principal
accusation. “When did you ever take up the little problems of fairness,
Dick Hand? Besides, I have nothing to do with it. I am not the Luscious
Oyster Corporation, and sha’n’t be. I’ve merely sub-leased some oyster
beds to them and given them an option on a piece of land. Go see Mr.
Brown. He’s doing the talking.”

She went to the door with him. “Mind you’re ready with that money when
it’s due,” she admonished him.

Mr. Hand was ready neither with money not a retort. He repaired to the
office of Mr. Brown, the Patchogue lawyer.

“Absolutely true, every word of it, Mr. Hand,” said Lucius Brown,
bringing his right fist against the palm of his left hand.
“Ab-so-lute-ly true! No stock for sale. Patents all right. Samples over
there on the desk. Tests whenever you’d like to see them.”

“I don’t care for your samples and tests,” snarled old Mr. Hand,
showing how bad his teeth were. “What do you want to quit this
nonsense?”

“What do you mean?” inquired the younger man, suddenly grave.

“How much money?” shouted Richard Hand, his fingers closing and
unclosing. He trembled with rage. The face of the other man suddenly
assumed a dark and menacing expression.

“Is this a bribe, Mr. Hand?”

“Call it what you like. I want you should shet up,” answered the
caller, doggedly. “Only question is, how much will you take to shet up
this fool’s talk?”

Mr. Brown’s face mirrored mixed emotions.

“You’re making a serious mistake, Mr. Hand, when you address me that
way,” he informed the miser. “You are badly advised when you talk
about paying me money to ‘shet up.’ If you want to make a business
proposition to buy the leases of oyster beds held by the Luscious
Oyster Corporation and our option on Miss Smiley’s land, I am here to
receive it.”

Richard Hand reflected. His crafty glance travelled out of the window
and across the street. As if she were there precisely to focus his
thoughts at this moment, Keturah Smiley, with Mermaid beside her,
walked along the opposite side of the thoroughfare bent on some
enterprise of shopping. She was very straight, as usual; her shoulders,
thrown squarely back, were inexpressibly odious in the sight of the
drooping Mr. Hand. Even more odious was the relaxation of her severe
face as she turned to answer some question the girl beside her had been
asking. Mr. Hand made up his mind quickly.

“I don’t want none o’ your patents nor samples nor stock,” he declared
in a surly and savage tone. “I’ll buy those leases of you for just
what they cost me--$5,000.” A thought stunned him. Then he raised his
voice almost to a scream.

“Here,” he cried, “what am I buying back my own property for? Them
leases is mine. It’s a swindle!”

Mr. Brown seemed interested. A thin foam appeared on Richard Hand’s
lips.

“I borrowed $5,000 from Keturah Smiley to lease those beds,” he
shouted. “That fool Hollaby makes out the leases in her name. Makes out
a note for ninety days for $5,000, my note, and gives it t’ her. Hands
me the money and I pay for the leases. I--why, I _own_ those leases.
Give ’em back, you robber, give ’em back!”

“Moderate your language or I’ll throw you out of here and down the
stairs,” Lucius Brown advised the old man. “Don’t talk robbery or
swindling in this office. Now see here, let’s see just what this is.
You borrowed $5,000 of Miss Smiley to lease these beds. But the leases
were made out in her name. Well, then, man, everything depends upon
your understanding with Keturah Smiley. Can’t you see that there are
two separate transactions? Can’t you see that it was no concern of
hers what you did with $5,000 she lent you? The owners of those beds
got their money. And you got $5,000 on your personal note. Did Judge
Hollaby conceal from you the fact that the leases were being made out
to Miss Smiley?”

“No,” groaned Richard Hand.

“Then there’s nothing more to say,” finished the lawyer. “You put
yourself in her hands. Has she broken faith? Did she ever promise you
in word or writing any money or other valuable consideration for those
leases? No? Was there any verbal understanding with you respecting
them?”

“I told her I’d pledge ’em with Judge Hollaby, but when they were drawn
she insisted they be made out to her,” Mr. Hand explained. He was
dazed. “She threatened to back out at the last moment. She--she didn’t
exactly promise anything. She said they must be leased to her. She said
she’d lend me $5,000 on my note of hand.”

“As nearly as I can make out,” observed Lucius Brown, “Miss Smiley
talked little and made no engagements. You can’t prove anything by what
she said, and you can’t prove anything by what she thought. You might
succeed in proving your own lack of brains; in fact, you have satisfied
me that you haven’t any.”

Mr. Hand said no more. With a look of actual agony on his face he
turned and drooped away in the direction of the door. But with the
tenacity of a drowning man--drowning in grief, rage, mortification, and
dismay--he clutched at a straw. Pausing at the doorway of the lawyer’s
office he took a half step back.

“But--now--there’s that option on the Smiley tract,” he stammered. “I
might buy that. I’ve been thinking for a long time of buying a likely
piece of land. How long’s that option for, and how much would you want
for it?”

Mr. Brown considered. “Twenty thousand dollars,” he said, finally. Mr.
Hand, recoiling, sneered.

“Twenty thousand! Nonsense! Why, the land itself ain’t worth more’n
ten. I’d be buying it twice over.”

“Well, it seems to be a passion with you to buy things twice over,”
said the lawyer, reflectively. “It’s an option to buy only, and must be
exercised in six months, otherwise it is forfeit. But you must consider
that in buying this option you practically do away with the Luscious
Oyster Corporation. All our plans are predicated upon dredging Blue
Port oysters from a few beds and preparing and shipping them from this
nearest available site, working up the shells for commercial purposes.
If you buy our option we cannot go on. There is no other site, and
there are no other beds except the free beds, unsuitably located for
our purpose and yielding inferior oysters. You might as well buy our
capital stock, patent rights, and everything, lock, stock, and barrel,
as buy that option. Naturally we have to ask a high price for it, even
if we only paid $1,000 to get it.”

“You figure your assets, outside the option, at $19,000,” deduced
Richard Hand. “Option, $1,000; leases of beds, $5,000; patents and
prospects and lawyer’s fees”--here he sneered--“$14,000. I’m to pay
you $20,000 and then pay Keturah Smiley $5,000 more for part of that
$20,000 worth.”

“See here, Mr. Hand,” said the lawyer, earnestly. He changed his tone
to one of warning persuasion. “I have no doubt that when the time comes
Miss Smiley will refuse to take any money on that note for $5,000,
preferring to keep the lease of the oyster beds. Mr. Hand,” and Lucius
Brown’s voice had a ring in it, “this is a dead serious proposition.
The Luscious Oyster Corporation, which honours me by misspelling my
first name, is no joke. Everything that I have said about it can
be substantiated and will be. Every prediction I have made will be
verified. What that will mean to the Blue Port Bivalve Company and to
you personally I can’t say, because I don’t know and I don’t care. But
this much I do know: if you buy anything from us you will not pay too
high a price for it, and you will pay for it only once. What you don’t
buy you will go without. We purpose to go ahead with our plans and do
not expect to be molested; but if you are looking for a fight you can
get it right here.”

Richard Hand was facing a man younger than himself, of greater
intelligence and better education, a man trained in the law who
presumably knew exactly what he could do, and when and how--and how
much. There was no knowing what was behind him. It might be one of
the banks, Richard Hand reflected. It might be (a shudder) rich New
Yorkers; capitalists that you read about. The young man named no names,
but this only enhanced the dread stirring in Richard Hand’s mind. The
unknown is fearful.

If the Luscious Oyster Corporation once got started it very likely
spelled the ruin of the Blue Port Bivalve Company. It would break the
monopoly he had so carefully and laboriously built up, take away from
him the little czardom he had created, and leave him a poor man.

But $20,000! He was worth, now, more than that. Not so _much_ more,
though. It would take away from him exactly the sum with which he
had started operations in Blue Port; it would put him back where
he had been then. He would have enough left to keep him out of the
poorhouse.... Either that or a life--and--death grapple, with the loss
of every cent he had!

There was a sort of mist before his eyes as he stood in Lucius Brown’s
office. He had never been so terrified in his life. A pain that had
arisen in the back of his head troubled him. He seemed to be on fire,
all aching; and the next moment he was cold, his head swam, and he
felt near to nausea. Gradually every other feeling but the one of fear
left him--fear and physical pain. His mind, as distinguished from the
head that contained it, was numb. He could not think. He heard himself
saying:

“I’ll buy. I’ll buy. I’ll buy--everything. Only I must have my note
back. Keturah Smiley must give me my note back.” He began to whimper
like a little child. “My note, give me back my note! It’s $5,000.
Five--thousand--dollars.”

Lucius Brown turned away in a sort of pity, which was for the man’s
physical distress only.

“Come in to-morrow and I will have things ready for you,” he said,
sitting down at his desk and leaving his caller to get out as well as
he might.

And so it came about that Richard Hand, as president of the Blue Port
Bivalve Company, signed a contract whereby the Blue Port Bivalve
Company bought the capital stock of the Luscious Oyster Corporation,
with all rights, leases, options, patents, etc., etc., held by the said
corporation; in consideration whereof the company aforesaid agreed to
pay and deliver to the said corporation the sum of $20,000--of which
$1,000 was payable in cash on the signing of the contract, and the
remaining $19,000 was payable in instalments as thereinafter set forth.

With a copy of this agreement, Lucius Brown handed to Richard Hand the
note for $5,000. In the street Richard Hand suddenly stopped, pulled
this note from his pocket, and with frenzied fingers tore it to shreds.

“Damn you!” he sobbed.


XII

The relation of Keturah Smiley to the events in Lucius Brown’s office
was fairly simple; at least, she and Mr. Brown seemed to find it so.
They met later in the day. Miss Smiley was unaccompanied.

“Now about this money,” she said, in her most decided tones. “Most of
it must go to Hosea Hand. It will be the sum Dick Hand withheld from
him, with interest at 6 per cent. for more’n a quarter of a century. If
Hosea knows where it came from he won’t take it,” she told Mr. Brown
with a grin. “Fix it up. Left him by a cousin several thousand dollars
removed.

“I’ll take the $1,000 for the option on my land and run the risk Dick
Hand’ll exercise it. He hasn’t enough money left for _that_. How much
do you want?”

Mr. Brown, without affecting embarrassment, named a fee.

“Too little,” Keturah commented. “I have, besides the money for the
option, $5,000 for the leases, the money I lent that old fox. That’s
$6,000. I figure it’ll take $12,000 to set Hosea right. That leaves
$2,000. Take it. You deserve all of it. I’m not saying you don’t
deserve more. It’s worth that to me to take the hair and some of the
hide off that man.”

“About the patents, Miss Smiley?” Lucius Brown suggested.

“I’m not forgetting them,” answered Keturah. “But they didn’t cost me
anything and I don’t want anything for them. I once fed and housed a
crazy inventor--that is, he was crazy some ways but his inventions seem
to be all right. He left ’em to me for his keep and out of gratitude,
maybe. Anyway, I’ve had ’em, along with other odds and ends, these many
years. I saw enough to convince me that they were worth something;
so did you. Just how much I don’t know; I was never one to monkey
with those things. But it won’t hurt Richard Hand to part with a few
thousands for them. They’re all in good shape and order. If he goes
ahead and makes a mint o’ money with them I’ll be sorry!”

“He hasn’t the necessary capital,” said Brown.

“And he can’t get it,” finished Miss Smiley. “And he has no more
nerve than a hen crossing the road. It takes a young man to do those
things. Some day that boy of his might make something out of them--if
he’s got any stuff in him besides the Hand meanness!” she concluded,
thoughtfully.

“I don’t know why I’m so generous with Dick Hand,” she continued,
after a moment. “Twelve thousand dollars of this money represents an
accumulated sum unrighteously withheld from his brother. Two thousand
dollars represents your fee. That’s fourteen thousand--and for it he is
getting patents that may be worth ten times that. But we had to give
him something,” she said, half humorously. “I wish I had a little less
conscience so’s to use him as he’s used others!”

A knock sounded on the door. Mr. Brown called out, “Come in,” and
Mermaid entered. She wore a dark green tailored suit, and her skirts
had lengthened. Her abundant coppery red hair had been “put up,” and
she looked an astonishingly mature young lady. The three freckles
remained in place and the dimples had deepened.

“Aunt Keturah,” she said, using a new form of address, “time to go
home! Dickie Hand is outside waiting for me. Have you heard the news?
His father told Dickie and his mother that he’d broken a tooth and lost
all his money. Must have been his wisdom tooth,” surmised the girl as
Miss Smiley rose to go with her.


XIII

When Hosea Hand, otherwise and generally Ho Ha, learned through a visit
from Lucius Brown that $12,000 had been left him by a cousin he was
astounded, happy, and perplexed. For some time he did nothing but treat
his friends and acquaintances. He bought Mermaid countless ice cream
sodas and Mr. Brown countless cigars, and various others a considerable
number of drinks (always taking a cigar himself). Occasionally he
got confused in his happiness, as when he asked Mermaid to have a
cigar and Lawyer Brown whether he wanted lemon or orange phosphate.
His perplexity arose over the cousin whose beneficiary he had so
unexpectedly become. Mr. Brown seemed unable to make this end of the
wonder suitably clear.

“A fourth or fifth cousin, Hosea,” said the lawyer, carelessly, over
the substitute for the phosphate. “She--he--they--I mean, it--was
someone you never knew. She--they--had a lot of money. Remembered all
the relatives.”

“Well, father and mother both came of large families,” observed Ho
Ha. “I must have had a couple dozen cousins. I can’t remember who was
fourth and who was fifth among ’em. I don’t know--would you think I
might show my appreciation by putting up a nice tombstone to this
cousin?”

“Good Lord, certainly not! I mean--I’m sure there will be a suitable
memorial,” replied Mr. Brown, slightly choking over the near-phosphate
as his mind imaged a tall shaft in honour of Keturah Smiley.

“What was the name?” asked Ho Ha.

“Ke----” began the lawyer, thoughtlessly, caught himself in time, and
changed the syllable to the similitude of a sneeze. “Ke-chew! Ke-chew!”
He sneezed again, as though an encore might confer verisimilitude. Ho
Ha did not appear to suspect the sneeze.

“I s’pose that cussed brother of mine got a share,” Ho Ha meditated
aloud. “The wonder is he didn’t get mine, too.”

Mermaid mixed her drinks recklessly, following a pineapple ice cream
soda with a raspberry. It was before the day of the more fanciful
concoctions or Mermaid would have had a week of sundaes.

“What are you going to do, Uncle Ho?” she inquired with the interest
that, from a young woman, is always so flattering to a man, even an
uncle.

“Oh, I guess I’ll build a little shack on the beach and put the rest in
the bank,” Ho Ha told her.

“I didn’t mean what are you going to do with the money, but what are
you going to do with yourself?”

Hosea twinkled. “P’raps I’ll marry,” he hinted. “Now if I was only a
young man----” He looked at her roguishly.

“It’s never too late to marry,” Mermaid said, between spoonfuls. “But
if you’re going to marry you won’t want a shack on the beach--or your
wife won’t, which amounts to the same thing.”

Ho Ha nodded repeatedly. “I don’t want to marry the first woman that
proposes to me,” he announced with his most sagacious air. “I might
advertise, eh?”

They strolled down the street together until they reached Keturah
Smiley’s. Mermaid commanded her uncle to enter. Keturah was making a
batch of cookies in the kitchen.

“Come in, Hosea,” she said, cordially. “Child, if Dickie Hand comes
here this evening, do for goodness’ sake make the boy eat yesterday’s
crullers so we can have a taste of these cookies ourselves. I declare,
Hosea, I don’t know what my own cake tastes like any longer.”

“I do,” said Ho Ha, looking at her attentively.

“Have one,” said Keturah, slightly flustered by the look he gave
her. Could he have learned anything? Ho Ha fell silent a moment, and
then after several mouthfuls said: “You were always a great hand for
relationships, Keturah. Can you tell me who this cousin was that’s left
me some money?”

Miss Smiley faced away from him and began energetically stowing her
batch in a cake box.

“I don’t know, Hosea,” she answered. “I never could keep track of your
relations.”

“I don’t believe this cousin was a relation,” said Ha Ha. “I never
heard of any relations except poor relations. Most likely this was some
conscience-stricken person, repenting of evil gains----”

“Nonsense!” exclaimed Miss Smiley with an emphasis and a touch of
indignation that seemed unnecessary. “She had as clear a conscience as
some others, I guess.”

“Oh, so ’twas a woman?” observed Ho Ha, innocently. “Well, now, that’s
funny. I can’t think of any _woman_----”

“I didn’t say ’twas a woman,” parried Keturah. “She or he or whoever it
was probably had more than she--he--knew what to do with. Left to the
next of kin. It’s a common thing.”

“Uncommon common,” agreed Ho Ha somewhat paradoxically. “Happens every
day. You read about it in the newspapers. I dare say she, he, or it got
the idea while lining the pantry shelves with ’em. What’s money for,
anyway, Keturah?”

“Money,” interjected Mermaid, “is to make those who haven’t it want it
and those who have it want more.”

“Money,” said Miss Smiley, sententiously, “is to hang on to until you
know when to let go.”

“Money,” Ho Ha framed his own definition, “is only to make some other
things more valuable.”

“You’re right, Uncle Ho,” Mermaid conceded. “If Dickie Hand’s
father--your brother--didn’t have as much money as he has, Dickie would
be worth almost nothing to me.”

“Child!” Keturah rebuked her.

“Oh, Aunt Keturah, I don’t mean that I value Dickie for his father’s
money,” explained Mermaid, impatiently, “but don’t you see if his
father were poor Dickie would be so--so _unmanageable_. I shouldn’t
be able to do a _thing_ with him! But his father’s rather rich, even
if he did lose a lot of money a while ago, and I can just make Dickie
behave himself by telling him that he can’t possibly get any credit for
what he makes of himself because there’s all that money to help him.
That makes Dickie simply wild, and he says he’ll be somebody in spite
of his father and his money. He gets almost desperate--which is quite
necessary,” she added, thoughtfully. “The other day he said, ‘Damn my
father’s money! I’ll show you it hasn’t anything to do with _me_!’ Of
course I gave him the--the dickens but I couldn’t help being rather
pleased.”

Miss Smiley regarded Mermaid with great sternness, but Ho Ha’s
shoulders seemed to move queerly. Finally he choked.

“If my cooking chokes you, Hosea, you’d better not eat it,” Keturah
said with considerable dignity.

“I beg your pardon, Keturah,” was the humble reply.

Mermaid had been eyeing the two as if a surprising notion had just
occurred to her. Now she slipped on a jacket and started to leave the
house, “I have to see Dickie,” she explained to Miss Smiley, “and
get him mad enough so he’ll study to-night and pass his chemistry
examination to-morrow.” She slipped out.

Left alone, the man and the woman said nothing for a while. Miss Smiley
found various supper preparations to occupy her. Ho Ha watched her with
the air of a person who wanted to say something but found it difficult
to choose the right words. At length, “Keturah,” he got out, “do you
remember a time when money made trouble between us?”

Miss Smiley did not answer him. She did not look at him.

“Of course you do,” Ho Ha resumed, undisturbed, apparently, by the
silence. “Now what I would like to know is whether the thing that made
us trouble can’t be made to mend it?”

Still she did not answer nor appear to heed him.

“I know very well,” said Ho Ha, as if to the furniture, and nodding
at the grandfather’s clock which stood at one end of the large living
room, “I know well that my fourth cousin or fifth cousin or whoever it
was that left me this money left it to me because it belonged to me.
I suspect Cousin What’s-the-Name _got_ the money because it belonged
to me, and got it from the person who owed it to me expressly to put
in my hands. I’m obliged to Cousin Who’s-This as much for trying to
do the right thing as for getting me the money. And I feel, somehow,
that Cousin You-Can-Guess-Whom thought less about the money than about
something else. A cousinly sort of a cousin, but real cousins don’t act
that way. Real cousins let each other fend for themselves. But, anyway,
that’s no matter, one way or t’other. The main thing is to set things
right. The money was only good to show something else that was worth
a good deal more than the money--and that was a good feeling. A--a
_strong_ and _enduring_ feeling,” emphasized Ho Ha. “A feeling that’s
there’s only one word for, and the word doesn’t express it. Keturah,”
he exclaimed, getting up and approaching the woman who kept her back so
persistently toward him, “you and I aren’t young any longer. We--we
were cheated out of something, or else we cheated ourselves out of
something, and it was a good deal. But, Keturah, it isn’t all gone. We
didn’t lose everything. We made a mistake, a terrible mistake, but it
was only a mistake; it wasn’t an ’ntentional wrong either of us did the
other. Keturah, can’t--can’t we just salvage some happiness out of the
wreckage?” He was standing close to her now.

Suddenly he put his arm awkwardly and eagerly about her. She had raised
her hands to her face, and as she took them away he could see she was
crying....

Out of doors, Mermaid, without any definite knowledge of what was going
on inside, strained her diplomacy to the utmost to keep young Mr. Hand
from entering the yard and passing the living-room windows and even,
like as not, entering in quest of food to sustain his strength until
supper. Dickie was a tall, thin, light-haired boy with a blond skin of
singular freshness and brown eyes of singular alterations. Just now
they showed a puzzled impatience with Mermaid’s whims.

“Will you go to the dance with me this evening?” he demanded.

Mermaid shook her head. “I want you to walk up street with me,” she
announced.

“But why?” interrogated the young man. “I’ve just come from there, and
you say you don’t want anything.”

“I want a serious talk with you,” corrected Mermaid. “How would you
prepare H^{2}SO^{4}, Dickie?”

“Hang chemistry!” ejaculated Mr. Hand. “Wait a moment till I get a
cookie.” He started into the yard. Mermaid made a short dash and
checked him.

“Nothing but yesterday’s crullers,” she stated.

“Well, a cruller, then,” grumbled Dickie.

Mermaid plucked at his sleeve.

“Dick Hand,” she informed him, “you must not go in that house, now.
Aunt Keturah has a--a caller.”

“Huh. I don’t suppose he’ll bite me.”

“Well, I will,” the exasperated young woman retorted. “I’ll not speak
to you or go to a party with you, if you don’t come along this minute!”
Then a purely feminine inspiration seized her. “Do as you like,” she
said, with excellent indifference, “I daresay I can get Guy Vanton or
Tommy----”

Leaving the sentence unfinished, she controlled herself with an
effort and half turned away. Dickie forgot the need of sustenance.
Intolerable feelings prompted the young man to fall in at her side.
Together they marched solemnly northward. Said Mr. Hand: “Say, Mermaid,
I--it--you----”

“They--we--him. Yes, Dickie?”

“You--don’t you think we might become engaged?”

“Why--I suppose we might, some day, Dickie.”

“To-day. I’m going on eighteen and you’re sixteen. Lots of people are
engaged for years--as long as three years. I’d be twenty-one and you
nineteen.”

“Yes, Dickie; when you’re twenty-one, I’ll be nineteen.”

“But, Mermaid, don’t you--don’t you _care_?”

“If it would help you pass that chemistry exam, I’d become engaged to
you right away, Dickie,” sighed Mermaid. “Of course I care. If you
flunk that you can’t enter technical school or anywhere else.”

“Oh, _damn_ the chemistry!” roared Mr. Hand. “Exam, Damn!”

“That’s a short poem; remarkable poem,” Mermaid commented with
some coldness. “Full of--full of emotion. Conforms to Wordsworth’s
definition of poetry, ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity.’ But you’re
not tranquil enough, Dickie. I don’t think I want to be engaged to any
one who swears regularly.”

“Beg your pardon, ’m sure,” Mr. Hand mumbled, sulkily. “I won’t say it
again. Go on, don’t mind me! Go on, go with Tommy. He’s almost twenty.
Or _Mister_ Vanton, who is twenty-two. _I’m_ only about eighteen.” He
pulled out a pack of cigarettes and said loftily: “If you don’t mind.”
Lifting his cap, he inclined his head and moved away.

Mermaid looked after him uneasily. Suddenly she called out, “Dickie!”

He returned, but with a certain effect of distant politeness.

“Come over after supper and I’ll quiz you on the chemistry best I can,”
she offered.

He relaxed somewhat. “All right,” he agreed, magnanimously. “I’ll walk
back with you,” he went on, as if uttering an after-thought.

Mermaid acquiesced. As they entered the yard they met Ho Ha coming out
of the house. He stopped, looking at them happily and mysteriously, and
propounded a riddle to Mermaid.

“If an uncle of yours,” he said, “were to marry your aunt, what
relation would that make your uncle’s nephew to your aunt’s niece?”

“Friends once removed,” said Mermaid. “Oh, Uncle Ho, I’m tickled to
death!”


XIV

At sixteen Mermaid was not adequately to be described by Longfellow’s
lines about the maiden

  Standing with reluctant feet
  Where the brook and river meet.

She was, without doubt, a girl still, despite her height of five
feet two inches, despite the coiled beauty of her coppery hair and
the wise young glance of her blue eyes. The three freckles about her
nose, the dimples when she smiled, the faint colour in her cheeks, and
the slender straightness of her body were wholly girlish; so was her
general attitude toward older people. It was only when she was with
certain boys slightly her seniors that a sort of womanliness seemed her
predominant quality. The nature of this grown-up atmosphere varied.
With Guy Vanton, who was twenty-two, Mermaid would have appeared
to most onlookers to be rather sisterly. With Tommy Lupton, who was
twenty, she was simply an attractive young person of the other sex.
But in her attitude toward seventeen-to-eighteen-year-old Richard
Hand the girl alternated the rôle of comrade and equal with that of
motherly management. These variations were not a matter of ages but
of personalities. They were determined by the fact that Guy Vanton,
from a lonely boyhood, was developing into a lonely young man; that
Tommy Lupton was perfectly normal and a healthy youth who was Mermaid’s
senior by an interval which, between a boy and a girl or a man and a
woman, is without significance; by the further fact that Dickie Hand
needed special treatment and looking after.

For Dickie was a gifted boy who was always on a seesaw. He had his ups
and downs of which his grasping old father was but seldom aware, and
could have viewed with nothing but contempt. Nor was Dickie likely to
get much good of his mother’s philosophy. All her life Mrs. Hand had
supposed that everything was for the best; and this opiate of age is
no drug to feed to youth. Dickie, whose spirits were either aloft in
the air or bumping the ground, could not play seesaw alone. Mermaid
recognized as much and seated herself on the other end of the plank.
Occasionally Dickie would forget the equilibrium necessary and would
make more or less horizontal advances toward her. To restore the
balance Mermaid had to meet him halfway, but she seized the first
opportunity to remind him that his place was at a distance.

At sixteen Mermaid was halfway through High School at Patchogue. The
question of her future remained undecided. Cap’n Smiley, her Dad, and
his sister, Keturah, quarrelled mildly about it. The keeper of the Lone
Cove Coast Guard Station did not like the notion of losing sight of his
adopted daughter except for holidays. Keturah thought the girl ought to
go away to school.

“Don’t be a fool, John,” she counselled the keeper. “The child will
be home two months or more in summer. You won’t be on duty on the
beach then, and we can all four--you and she and Hosea and myself--be
together. She’s got to have something in her life besides Blue Port,
and she’s got to have something in her life besides those three boys.
They’re all right as boys go,” she added in qualification, “but I don’t
suppose you want her to stay here and spend her life as your daughter
and my niece, the Vanton boy’s sister, Tommy Lupton’s sweetheart, and
Dickie Hand’s mother!”

“Seems to me, Keturah,” interjected her new husband, Ho Ha, “being all
those things would be considerable.”

“It isn’t anything to be somebody,” his wife answered. “On the other
hand, there’s a lot of tomfoolery in the talk of ‘doing’ this and that.
There’s no sense in doing anything unless it’s going to enable you to
be somebody, and there’s no sense in being somebody unless it enables
you to do something.”

“Hold on, hold on,” protested Ho Ha. “You go too fast for me to follow
you. I didn’t marry you for your philosophy.”

“Well, you have to take my philosophy along with the rest,” said
Keturah, briskly. “I didn’t marry you to bake pancakes every morning of
my life, but I guess I’ll have to.”

“There’s a lot of philosophy in pancakes,” asserted Ho Ha. “They go
flip-flop, and that’s the way life goes.”

“That’s why these people who can turn somersaults gracefully always get
along well, eh?” said Cap’n Smiley with a grin.

“To stick to the subject and not to the griddle,” resumed Keturah,
“the child ought to go away this fall. She likes chemistry and she
likes cooking and she mixes all sorts of messes in both. I live in
constant dread that she’ll serve me some good-tasting poison by
accident or that the baked potatoes will explode. I don’t know anything
about this scientific cookery you hear so much about, but Mermaid might
as well get what there is in it. They say the way to a man’s heart is
through his stomach, though I must say that the job of filling his
stomach is about all a woman could be expected to handle.” She looked
at Ho Ha, a notable eater.

“Well, then, I think she might spend this summer on the beach with
me--with all of us,” amended Cap’n Smiley. “I’ll be there anyway
this year. You and Hosea and Mermaid can take the Biggles house, or
something more sizable if you want; there’s plenty of little houses
within a quarter of a mile of the station.”

Mermaid, entering, had heard her Dad’s suggestion and clapped her hands
in applause.

“That’ll be splendid!” she cried. “Captain Vanton has taken a little
bungalow, and Guy is going to be over there; Tommy Lupton and Dickie
Hand are going to spend August camping on the beach; so we’ll have
company all summer!”

The three adults exchanged amused glances.


XV

Any girl of sixteen fond of chemistry and cooking can have a first-rate
time on the Great South Beach in summer. Any girl of sixteen
companioned by from one to three youths slightly older than herself,
and of nicely differentiated ages and temperaments, can have a good
time in summer anywhere. Mermaid was as happy on the beach as if
she had been born there as, indeed, for all practical purposes, she
had. She was not “as happy as if she had lived there all her life,”
because no one can be happy in a place that has not gained some charm
by contrast with other places. The girl collected shells and sea
creatures, drifting from chemistry into biology and back again; she
analyzed sea weed and admired it; she divided with Keturah Smiley the
labour of cooking meals to which the salt air gave inimitable savour;
she boated, she swam, waded, tramped the dunes, and sunned herself on
the sands. She read everything from the habits of jellyfish to the
loves of Maurice Hewlett’s heroes and heroines, moving against mediæval
backgrounds as rich and varied as the scenes in old tapestries. She
flirted; and once she found herself in a game of hearts.

Twenty-two-year-old Guy Vanton, rather short, snub-nosed, with black
hair and attractive eyes, had gone into the surf with her and, with the
ignorance of those unacquainted with that shore, had ventured too far
out. The huge curl of a breaker caught him, for a southeast wind was
blowing and the ocean was beginning to show whitecaps. Guy was struck
on the shoulder by the full force of the falling wave, knocked down,
buried, washed about, and dragged out as the tons of water flung upon
the sloping sand shingle receded with a baffled roar. Mermaid, higher
up on the slope, saw him fall. She breasted the water and, as the
bottom sank away from under her feet, struck out, swimming.

Diving head first through the next huge sea she lifted her head and
caught sight of Guy struggling a few yards away. She got up to
him just as another breaker, a colossal wall of a dark glassiness,
towered for a second above them and then toppled down with a noise
like Niagara. Mermaid forced herself and Guy beneath the water, which
carried them some distance up the beach, and just then he began to
clutch her with the grip of one drowning. She broke his hold and, half
swimming, tugging with all her might, got him to a place where she
could touch bottom. Then she worked forward until she stood, partly
supporting him, in a boiling sea waist high. She was nearly exhausted
when she finally dragged him up on the beach beyond the wash of the
sea. It happened that there was no one near by; evidently they had
not been observed from higher up on the shore, so Mermaid began the
task of resuscitation. Fortunately Guy Vanton opened his eyes almost
immediately under her wearied ministrations.

He did not say anything as he gradually recovered himself. The two
sat beside each other on the empty beach. Mermaid, shivering, had
thrown sweaters about herself and Guy. At length young Vanton turned
and looked in her eyes with the curious, shy, wild-animal look that
everyone noticed in his own. At the same time he seized her hand.

“Mermaid, you saved my life--_my_ life.”

He spoke in wonder, as if there were something inexplicable about it.
Mermaid smiled at him, white and tired and anxious.

“You’re all right, Guy?”

His fingers tightened on her hand. There was something steady in the
fire of his look.

“I owe you so much,” he said, brokenly. “Almost everything. You were
my first friend. Five years ago. I--I’ve never been able to make it
up to you, and now I never shall. I’ve--I’ve loved you all this time.
I--won’t you let me kiss you?”

The last words were perhaps laughable, but something that was not a
drop of salt water from his black hair rolled down his cheek. Mermaid’s
own eyes glistened.

“Of course--this once, Guy,” she murmured. His lips brushed her wet
cheek. She rose to her feet a little unsteadily and reaching down her
arm half pulled him to his. “They’ll be frightened if we don’t get
back soon,” she explained. “You--you mustn’t put your arm about me,
Guy. Can you walk all right? See here, I’ll put my arm about you.” She
was matter-of-fact. They went unhurriedly along the shore to where a
boardwalk at the edge of the dunes led to the house Captain Vanton
had rented for the summer. There they parted, with the appearance of
unconcern. Keturah Hand met Mermaid at the door of their cottage.

“Child, is it necessary for you to hug that Vanton boy publicly?” she
inquired. Mermaid explained.

“How did you bring him to?” asked her aunt.

“I kissed him. Now, Aunt Keturah, it’s all right. There was nobody
around and he doesn’t know.”


XVI

Tommy Lupton was a great, tall, strapping youth with everything
indeterminate about him, from the colour of his hair and eyes to his
behaviour. He had no visible ambitions beyond becoming a bayman like
his father and ultimately a surfman in one of the Coast Guard Stations
on the beach, preferably the one at Lone Cove where John Smiley was
keeper and his father a member of the crew. Since the day, some years
earlier, when Guy Vanton had thrown Tommy around in a pine-needled
clearing in the woods about Blue Port, Tommy and Guy had been good
friends, so far as too utterly unlike young men can be fast friends.
Neither fully understood the other. Mermaid, who liked them both, had
constantly to be explaining Guy to Tommy and interpreting Tommy to Guy.

“Tommy likes you but thinks he ought not to,” she told Guy. “Tommy is
the sort of boy that thinks he ought not to like anybody unless he can
admire him, too. If Tommy’s best friend were running against--oh, well,
say Colonel Roosevelt--for some office, Tommy would vote for Roosevelt.
You see, he’d _admire_ Roosevelt.”

“It’s a principle,” elucidated Guy.

“It’s unreasonable,” elucidated Mermaid.

“It is better than just voting for a man because he’s a friend of
yours.”

“Of course. But to have to admire a person in order to like him
comfortably is just like--like a boy!” exclaimed the young lady. “Like
a _little_ boy,” she added.

To the hero-worshipping Tommy she had something else to say.

“You’ll never see how much there is in Guy Vanton if you keep looking
for what isn’t there,” she admonished him. Tommy looked at her,
cloudily.

“I suppose it takes a girl to see what there is in him,” he surmised,
jealously. “You--I don’t suppose Guy sees anything in me. I guess you
don’t, either. I guess there isn’t anything much in me,” went on poor
young Mr. Lupton, pathetically. “I sha’n’t ever amount to a lot. I’ve
never been anywhere, and I can’t jabber French, and I never wrote
poetry except on a valentine. I hate school and I’m glad I’m through
with it. And I’d rather be a Coast Guard than write a book, as Guy’s
doing, or become a great chemical engineer, as you say Dickie may some
day. I’ll never be rich and I’ll never be famous, and you can’t make me
either.”

Mermaid was building things in the sand. She brushed her hands and
looked at him with a smile.

“I don’t want to make you anything, Tommy,” she said. “Go on and be a
Coast Guard. My Dad’s a Coast Guard. Your father’s a Coast Guard. Being
a Coast Guard is just as good as anything else and better than most. It
all depends upon the _man_.”

“Well, I’m a man,” avowed Mr. Lupton. “And, anyway, you say that now,
but after you’ve been away at school and all that you’ll look down on
me. You won’t want anything to do with me, much. You won’t want me
around. And I won’t _be_ around,” he concluded. Mermaid looked at him,
briefly, and then glanced away. A slight uneasiness beset her. It was
justified when Tommy suddenly reached over for her hand, taking it
roughly.

“Mermaid,” he said. He stopped, and then went on, stammering a little:
“You--you must know I love you--like everything,” he finished,
helplessly. “You--of course I can’t expect you feel the same way----”

Mermaid, much disturbed, cut in: “No, I don’t, Tommy.”

“You oughtn’t to interrupt like that.” Mr. Lupton’s voice was boyishly
irritated. “You--you wouldn’t interrupt Guy Vanton! I can’t expect you
to listen to me, I suppose. Maybe I haven’t any right to speak.” He was
immediately astonishingly grown-up again. “You’ve got to hear me--at
least, I hope you’ll hear me,” he went on, imploringly. “I told you you
couldn’t make anything of me but you could help me make something of
myself.”

A sixteen-year-old girl, listening to such words, can hardly be
blamed for a slight sense of self-importance. It is part of a girl’s
education, or ought to be. Perhaps not at sixteen; but Mermaid had
already experienced the self-importance that comes from handling rather
risky material, even though it was only inert powder or colourless
acid. This was one of those situations where there is no danger
if the substances are not brought near to a spark. She therefore
dampened her sympathy before mixing it with Tommy’s unreserve. She
felt self-importance, but she did not abate her caution. More than one
explosion in the laboratory had taught her humility. It is fair to say
that she was not consciously experimenting and she was not heartless
when she answered the boy.

“I don’t want to help you make something of yourself, Tommy. I don’t
want to make anything of anybody except _my_self. I’ll have all I can
do, maybe, to do that,” she continued. “I--I like you, and that’s all.
No, it isn’t; I’ll let you alone. There--that’s a good deal, isn’t it?
It’s supposed to be, from a girl.”

Poor Tommy was in no condition to jest. He picked himself up,
unhappily, from the sand. For a moment Mermaid’s mind ran back
curiously to the story that, as a very little girl, she had heard her
Uncle Ho tell of his boyhood. Nightly, through the pane of a little
attic window high up in the hills of the middle of Long Island, he had
seen the flash of the Fire Island Lighthouse, many miles distant, a
beacon inviting the youngster to adventures in the great world whose
shores it guarded. Mermaid, who was imaginative, had often re-lived
those childish hours in the dark attic invaded by the beckoning ray.
As she stood up now, gathering up her sweater and one or two books
from the beach, it came home to her that Tommy Lupton, who was twenty,
would never undergo such an experience. Poor Tommy was not imaginative;
for him no beacon flamed anywhere; his whole idea of life was work
well-performed, a wife and children (probably), and a comfortable
home to visit in his hours off duty. And once, if fortune brought it
about, once in a long lifetime of work and play and peacefulness, an
heroic moment, one deed worthy of admiration, a single act of bravery
or courage or devotion that would show the stuff that was in him--all
the rest would be background. If the moment never came that would not
matter. The only thing that mattered was to be ready for it if it
should come.

Whereas Mermaid must be forever seeking moments and doing her
part, when she was ready, to create them. There was a profound
difference. Tommy stood on guard, his back to the rock; she would be
advancing--retreating, too, sometimes, no doubt--but constantly gaining
ground. There was young Dickie Hand with his unquestionable gifts;
he would go forward, and go far if--if--he had the right incentive.
And Guy Vanton.... Mermaid paused with a pang. In this process of
definition it struck upon her for the first time that Guy would neither
go forward like herself or Dickie Hand nor stand steadfast like Tommy;
he would shrink back. He would conduct a well-covered withdrawal, a
leisurely, unobtrusive withdrawal; and it would be a retreat!

The pang was caused by the knowledge that of the three she most nearly
loved Guy.


XVII

The summer spent itself with no further eventfulness except in the
matter of ghosts.

Many people, perhaps most, do not believe in ghosts, but Mermaid did
and so did her Dad. Uncle Ho was well acquainted with the principal
ghosts peopling the beach. Keturah Hand ridiculed the idea of their
existence. In general, those who had lived on the beach for any length
of time were believers or of open mind; those whose visits to the
beach had been confined chiefly to all-day picnics thought the legends
nonsense.

“Captain Kidd,” stated Keturah, “may have buried a chest of treasure
in the bald-headed dune with the very steep slope. I know my father
used to tell of people digging there to recover it. Kidd was certainly
round about here in the _Quedagh Merchant_ or the _Antonio_; and
everybody knows that he stopped at Gardiner’s Island and got supplies
and presented Mrs. Gardiner with a bolt of--calico, wasn’t it? If he
buried a chest in that dune over there, he, or his crew, certainly
may have killed a gigantic negro, spilling his blood over the chest
so that his wraith would guard the treasure. I think it likely that
the crew did it. Seamen are always so superstitious.” Here she looked
pointedly at her husband, an ex-sailor. “Hosea here, just because they
used to cut a cross in the mast to bring a fair wind, started carving
the bedpost the other day so the wind would blow from the southwest
instead of the north. Kidd was, or had been, too much of a gentleman to
entertain such low ideas; and if his crew killed the negro and spilled
his blood I fancy he washed his hands of it.”

“Of the blood?” interpolated Ho Ha, innocently. His wife looked at him
sharply and, without answering, went on:

“But when it comes to that negro’s spirit guarding the treasure, and
when it comes to dark, swarthy Spanish ghosts with rings in their ears;
and drowned sailors in flapping dungaree trousers, and ghosts of old
sea captains, lost passengers, and Heaven knows who else, I, for one,
don’t take the least stock in them.”

“Don’t you believe in the Duneswoman, Aunt Keturah?” inquired Mermaid.

“No, not in a Dunesman, nor in the Dunes children, unless you mean
those eighteen children of old Jacob Biggles that were named after
wrecks and ragged as ghosts,” Mrs. Hand retorted.

“But, Aunt, I’ve seen the Duneswoman,” protested Mermaid. “So has Dad.”

“All you’ve seen is a face and an arm,” corrected Mrs. Hand. “And I
can’t find any one else who has seen as much as that. A face and an arm
are not a ghost. They’re a--I don’t know what,” she finished.

“A hallucination,” Mermaid offered.

“A hallelujah. That’s what you say when you see one. You say
‘Hallelujah!’” came from Ho Ha.

“When I see one I may say something even more remarkable,” his wife
responded, grimly.

It was several nights later when she awoke and uttered a long-drawn
scream of terror.

“Hosea!” she cried, clutching her pillow. “Hosea, there’s someone at
the window!”

Ho Ha leaped up manfully, went to the window, stuck his head through
the netting which was tacked on as a screen, and drew it in again.

“Nonsense, Keturah,” he said, gently. “No one in sight except Captain
Vanton standing on the dune in front of his house.” The Vanton cottage
was a dune away, but a valley lay between. “You--why, you must have
seen a ghost. Oh, ho-ho-ho!”

He communicated the nature of the disturbance to Mermaid in the next
room, and when Cap’n Smiley, who slept at the station, came over for
breakfast next morning, there was some chaffing about the ghost Keturah
had seen.

“I certainly saw something,” said Mrs. Hand, emphatically. “And if it
was a ghost it was the ghost of a live man. It had sidewhiskers exactly
like Captain Vanton! You all know he prowls around at night. There’s
something mighty queer about it; but then, everything about that man
is queer. When it comes to his looking in my bedroom window, though, I
think I shall do something.”

“Oh, pshaw, Keturah,” said her brother. “Vanton may be a peculiar
fellow, but it’s not likely he walks by your windows. At two in the
morning, anyway.”

“You seem to think I have nothing he might covet, John, but I have a
few trinkets that anybody would set a value to!”

“Is that why you hugged your pillow?” inquired her husband, innocently.
Keturah gave a little jump and looked about her nervously, a
performance entirely contrary to her nature. As if she realized that
she had betrayed herself she said, finally: “Well, I wasn’t going to
say anything about it but I did bring my stones over here. I felt it
wasn’t safe to leave ’em in Blue Port, and of course I sleep with ’em
under my head.”

“Stones?” exclaimed Mermaid in mystification. “You don’t mean jewels,
do you, Aunt Keturah?”

“Of course I mean jewels,” replied Mrs. Hand, with some asperity.
“I’ve never told you anything about them--young people get their heads
turned with such things--but I have every one of the stones that
belonged to my aunt, Keturah Hawkins, Captain Hawkins’s wife; and I
also have the stones that belong in settings in the curios and things
in our parlour. There’s quite a lot of them, and if I weren’t used to a
hard pillow I daresay I’d not be able to sleep a wink.”

“Oh, Aunt, may I see them?”

“I suppose you may, though it’s a lot of trouble to get them out. It’s
risky, too, for some of the littler ones might roll away and get lost,”
commented Mrs. Hand.

After breakfast she brought out her pillow and exposed the contents
to the two men and the girl. John Smiley had seen the jewels, though
not for many years. Ho Ha knew of their existence, but had never seen
them and had supposed them secreted in Blue Port. To Mermaid their very
existence was a revelation, and their beauty a greater one.

All kinds of jewels seemed to be represented, and there were also
Eastern stones which none of the four could name. Sapphires were
especially abundant, very large ones, of darkest blue. They had been
Keturah Hawkins’s favourites, but Mermaid worshipped the emeralds which
she knew she could have worn in her hair, and the diamonds which would
have been no more brilliant than her blue eyes. There were wonderful
pearls which needed to be worn to regain their finest lustre, and there
were rubies of as dark a hue as the blood that must have been shed for
them. The majority of the gems were loose; the pearls were roped,
however, and there were a few bracelets and other simple ornaments. All
the settings were old and Eastern, suggestive of bare arms and bare
necks--bare ankles, too. At least one of the ornaments was an anklet,
they conjectured. Where Captain Hawkins had got them Keturah Hand was
unable to say. He had, she supposed, picked them up at various times
and in many places. He had visited, in his career, every port from
Bombay to Tientsin; Ceylon, Madagascar, and South Africa; Peru he had
touched at more than once. And he had sometimes done business by barter.

After they had admired the jewels Keturah, with Mermaid’s help, checked
them off on a list she had and restored them to their hiding place.

The next night, after they had spent the day on the bay in Cap’n
Smiley’s small sailboat, pillow and all were gone.


XVIII

The loss of the jewels affected Keturah Hand strangely. At first it
made her ill, but soon she was not only well, but better than she had
been for a long time. She declared herself actually relieved, in a
sense, to be rid of the stones. They had been a constant worriment for
years. Now she did not have the care and anxiety of them--and she knew
they were in safe hands.

“Any one who steals them is going to take pretty good care of them,”
she declared. “And I think I know who stole them, and why.”

“Was it the ghost of one of Kidd’s pirates?” asked Mermaid, upon
whom the theft of the jewels had seemed to have a more persistently
depressing effect than it had had upon her aunt.

“He may have been one of Kidd’s pirates in a previous incarnation, and
he may have been Kidd himself in an earlier life,” responded Keturah.
“At present he’s a retired sea captain whose story wouldn’t look pretty
in print, I suspect. Not that it will ever get printed,” she added. “He
took them because----” She broke off. “I don’t know as I’m called upon
to air my guesses,” she explained. “I’m not a detective in a detective
story and I’ll not do any deducing out loud.”

Both Ho Ha and John Smiley were much upset by the disappearance of the
stones, though both felt called upon to remonstrate with Keturah when
she said, quite calmly, that Captain Vanton had got what he was after.

“If there’s the slightest shred of evidence that Captain Vanton took
them, Hosea and I can handle him,” her brother told her. “You won’t let
the theft be known, and you won’t hire a detective. You won’t tell us
anything that points to Vanton.”

“Because I can’t,” cut in Keturah. “I’m not like a good many women.
I don’t mistake my intuitions for evidence. I just _feel_ that he has
them--and I don’t much care if he has. I also feel that he won’t break
them up and sell them, and that eventually they will get where they
belong, as nearly as possible. Jewels aren’t like any other kind of
property, and everybody who has much to do with them knows it. I’m not
superstitious, but you don’t have to be superstitious to believe that
a sort of curse attends the possession of most really valuable gems
whenever they’re not in the right hands. They don’t rightly belong to
me, never did. As I say, it’s no use to hand down jewels like other
property. My aunt, to whom they belonged as rightfully as any one else,
had no more sense than to leave them to me along with her land and
furniture. I’ve always known they weren’t for me, but what could I do
about it? Nothing, except wait for them to get into the right hands
or throw them in the bay. Maybe they’ve got into the right hands now.
If they haven’t, they’ll make whoever’s got ’em trouble enough until
they do. If they belong to him it won’t matter how he came by them, or
whether he deserves ’em, or whether he is a good man or a devil; but if
they don’t belong in his hands, he may be a living saint and still be
sorrier than the worst sinner.”

Ho Ha and Cap’n Smiley affected to treat this argument as foolishness,
but something in it appealed to the mysticism in Mermaid. It fitted in
with what she had observed of the illogicality of life, and she was
readier than many an older person to believe that the world is ruled as
much by sentiment as by law, and that life is a series of compromises
only for those who can’t accept its contradictions, and go on with
their work.

She expressed this view to Guy Vanton without mentioning the loss of
the stones.

It was Mermaid’s last day on the beach. In a week she would be in New
York, taking special courses at Columbia and perhaps elsewhere. She was
going in for cooking and chemistry, the chemistry of foods, and later
she might take some medical courses leading to a study of the chemistry
of digestion.

“The chemistry of the human body,” she said to Guy, “is a job for the
next fifty years.”

Guy considered, lazily. “If you like it, I suppose,” he said,
reflectively. “I wish I knew enough chemistry to analyze my father,
for instance. Not his digestion, which is perfect, but his mind. But I
think the best approach to the mind is still alchemy. The philosopher’s
stone probably exists, only we’ve always been on the wrong track in
hunting it. It would be an idea that would transmute base-mindedness to
rare-mindedness, and not base metals to gold. My father needs that kind
of a philosopher’s stone; perhaps I do, too. We’re very unlike, you
know; often it seems to me as if he weren’t my father at all. Sometimes
I think he hates me, but even if he did--there are ties hate can’t
break.” His voice lowered and his queer eyes looked into the distance.
“Some day,” he said, “some day, Mermaid, I’ll tell you, maybe----You
pulled me out once, you know.” He looked at her with a painful appeal.
His eyes were those of a wild fawn. An almost overpowering desire to
answer that appeal swept through the girl, met the solid wall of her
final doubt of him, and was broken to pieces. She gave his hand a
friendly squeeze. “Good-bye,” she said, and left him.



PART THREE


I

In the room, besides the people, there was a coffin and a black flag
decorated with the skull and crossbones of buccaneers--or fictioneers.
Every once in a while persons went down a ladder to a dim, smoky
room where heads bumped the ceiling and where casks and kegs and
straw-covered wine bottles stood and hung about in an ornamental
sort of way. Mediterranean-looking servitors went to and fro in the
subterranean crypt or chamber with great mugs of ginger ale. Visitors
usually bent over the large, dark table in the centre whereon lay a
carefully executed map--the map of “Treasure Island.” The men wore
their hair long, the women wore theirs bobbed. Candles, the only light,
threw grotesque shadows. Occasionally a waiter sang, “Pour, oh, pour
the pirate sherry” from “The Pirates of Penzance” or “Yo-ho-ho! and a
bottle of rum.” Somewhere in obscure darkness a parrot squawked. The
sounds were favourably construed into cries of “Pieces of eight! Pieces
of eight!”

Mermaid, otherwise Mary Smiley, wore coiled upon her head such a
magnificence of dark, red-gold hair as to make her the target of
envious glances from cropped young women all about her. Of these looks
she seemed completely unaware, but they excited the amusement of her
companion. Dick Hand did not fit in with the general Bohemian scheme
of the place. He was in Greenwich Village but not of it. His proper
environment was a certain office much farther down town in New York,
on Broadway a little above Bowling Green. There, in the region of
tall buildings at once rigid and supple and perfectly self-possessed
as only skyscrapers can be, Dick worked by day. By night he pleasured
about town. He was by no means addicted to the Pirates’ Den, nor to the
Purple Pup, nor Polly’s, but Mermaid, in her last year of special study
at Columbia, had expressed a desire to visit--or, rather, revisit--the
Village. So they had come down on a bus to Washington Square and then
fared along afoot. Mermaid had been expressing her satisfaction with
the evening.

“How badly they do this sort of thing here,” she said, glancing again
about her. “You and I, Dickie, wouldn’t be so unoriginal, I hope!”

Dickie, who had no instinct in these matters, asked, “Are they
unoriginal?”

“Of course.” She smiled at him and two tiny shadows marked the
dimples in her cheeks. “They have simply no ideas. Don’t you see how
religiously they have copied all the traditional stuff and accepted
all the traditional ideas of what a pirates’ den ought to be? A real
pirates’ den was never like this. Pirates lived in a ship’s fo’c’s’le
or, on occasion, in a cave; or they went glitteringly along a white
beach such as we have at home across the bay from Blue Port. They did
not live in a litter of empty casks; an empty bottle was only good to
heave overboard unless you had occasion to break it over a comrade’s
head. Pirates never had a skillfully executed chart. Usually they had
no chart at all; only certain sailing directions and a cross bearing.
Robert Louis Stevenson, writing ‘Treasure Island,’ burlesqued an
ancient, if not very honourable, profession.”

“Never thought about it,” responded Dick, carelessly. “You may be
right. But what do _you_ know about pirates, anyway. Where do you get
all this stuff?”

“There are just as many pirates as ever there were,” asserted the young
woman. “There’s Captain Vanton out home. He is a typical pirate. The
pirates who visited the Great South Beach at one time or another are
still there, off and on.”

“Oh, say, Mermaid. You don’t really believe in ghosts, do you?”

“I don’t have to believe in them, Dickie, I have seen them.”

“On the beach, home?”

“On the beach, home, and here in New York, too.”

“What were they?”

“Just people, Dickie. I don’t pretend they were flesh and blood. I
don’t pretend they ever spoke to me or looked at me. They looked
through me, sometimes.”

“But, Mermaid, you know it’s silly.”

“But, Dickie, I know it’s not.”

Young Hand finished his ginger ale and made a face at the mug. Then he
asked: “Well, how do you account for ’em?”

“Have I got to account for them, Dickie?”

“I mean, why can’t I see them?”

“How do you know you can’t?”

“I never have.”

“That doesn’t prove anything--it doesn’t prove you never will. Dick,
see here, go back to your mathematics. There’s the fourth dimension.
All we can see and feel has only three dimensions--length, breadth, and
thickness or height--but mathematics tells you things may exist which
measure four ways instead of three.”

“But I can’t see ’em; neither can you or anybody else.”

“Of course. But you can see representations of them. A house on
paper is not a house, but a picture of one. A ghost may only be a
representation, a sort of picture, a projection of Something or
Somebody that measures four ways. A house measures three ways and you
can put it, after a fashion, on a sheet of paper where it measures only
two ways. Why can’t a ghost be a three-dimensional----”

“Tommy Lupton never saw a ghost,” interrupted Dick, with a smile. “Can
you picture Tommy patrolling the beach at night as a dutiful Coast
Guard and coming upon a projection of Captain Kidd?”

“Certainly. Tommy is extremely likely to meet Captain Vanton,” said
Mermaid, promptly.

“You mean that Captain Vanton is Captain Kidd living on earth again?”
jested the young man.

“A reincarnation? No. He might be the shadow of Captain Kidd, though.
He might be the three-dimensional shadow of a four-dimensional
creature.”

“Come off! You said awhile ago that you didn’t pretend the ghosts you
saw were flesh and blood.”

“Is Captain Vanton flesh and blood?” asked Mermaid. “Did you ever pinch
him or see him bleed?”

Dick stared at her with pain and disapproval.

“Mermaid, what a crazy thing to suggest! And how--how confoundedly
gruesome! Sounds like Poe. We’ve been living with a spectre all these
years out in Blue Port. A spectre with an invalid wife nobody ever
sees. Seems to me Mrs. Vanton is more likely to be the ghost. And a
spectre with a son. _He’s_ flesh and blood, for Tommy Lupton once
punched his head. Guy’s flesh and blood, Mermaid.”

A colour overspread the young woman’s check. “I know that,” she said.

Then with a triumphant thought Hand exclaimed: “Besides, lots of people
have heard Captain Vanton talk. What do you say to that? You said
ghosts didn’t talk.”

“I said I had never had them speak to me,” she corrected him. “I said
they looked through you, and not at you. Captain Vanton does not look
at you.”

Dick felt aggrieved. “I didn’t think you’d quibble, Mermaid,” he said.
“It isn’t like you.”

Mermaid reached up and patted a coil of her hair. Then she rested her
cheek on that hand and, reaching across the table, closed the other
gently over Dick’s.

“I’m not quibbling, Dickie,” she declared. “I mean just what I say.
Captain Vanton is a ghost to me and that’s all about it. I don’t have
to pretend. Once, years ago, he came to see Aunt Keturah and I answered
the door. I don’t remember whether he looked at me then or not. It
doesn’t matter. If we can see ghosts, ghosts can certainly see us. They
can certainly speak to us, too, if they wish; though whether we can
speak to them I’m not so sure. You’ve got the wrong idea entirely.

“A ghost is simply a person or thing that joins you with the past, the
unremembered or unrecorded or unknown past. Somewhere, sometime, at
some place, and in some manner, Captain Vanton and I have met. I don’t
know it; I feel it. You’re a chemical engineer and I’m a chemist, too,
of a sort. I’m getting into chemico-therapy, the chemistry of the body,
and chemical agencies in healing. Now chemistry is all right, in fact,
it’s wonderful, but it doesn’t explain everything and it never will.
You may say that’s because there’s a lot yet to be explored. There is,
but when it has all been dug up and tested, something will still remain
in the dark. The world will always have its ghosts.”

Dick looked at her sympathetically. “If you were any one else, Mermaid,
I’d say you were nutty,” he vouchsafed. “I’ll admit this place is
enough to make a person go plumb insane. Look at that coffin! And look
at these freaks about us!”

Mermaid smiled. By the flickering of the candles he could see three
freckles, the three he always remembered, about her nose, rather
high up, a decorative arrangement to call attention, perhaps, to the
brilliant blue of her eyes. He was struck again with the sense of her
charm and unusualness. He had never met another girl like her, and he
knew he never would. There couldn’t be, anywhere. What other girl,
versed in exact science, would argue earnestly for the existence of
ghosts? Dick knew that she meant what she was saying. He thought to
himself: “It’s only the difficulty of getting it over to me. There
aren’t the words, I suppose. She’d always be two jumps ahead of you!”
Aloud he said: “Then your ghost may be someone else’s flesh and blood.
Ghost--flesh--blood--coffin--skull and crossbones--nightmare people.
This is the life!”

Mermaid laughed. There was a ring in her laugh of complete surrender to
mirth. A joyful surrender. She said: “I am worried about Aunt Keturah.
She hasn’t been well. I’m going home as soon as college closes. I don’t
suppose I’ll see you again soon, Dickie.”

“Why not?” said her companion. “Come West with me--you and she--to San
Francisco this summer. I’ve a water purification job across the bay in
Marin County. It would do your aunt a lot of good to see California.
There’ll be days when I’ll have nothing to do--waiting around while
tests are going on and contracts are being drawn. We could go to Palo
Alto and Monterey and Lake Tahoe. Perhaps farther.”

Mermaid considered.

“I have a particular wish to visit San Francisco,” she said. “It has to
do with ghosts. I’ll try to persuade her, Dickie.”

Mr. Hand was elated. They rose and went out into the coolness of
the springtime night. They walked, and found themselves presently
in Washington Square. Something in the moment took Dick Hand by the
throat. In a shadowy lane, a little apart from the benches of people,
his words dulled by the rumble of the Fifth Avenue omnibuses, he took
Mermaid’s hand, his fingers closing over it with intensity.

“Can’t we--can’t we make it a honeymoon trip, Mermaid?” he asked.

He could just see the slight movement of her silhouetted head. She
murmured: “I’m afraid not, Dickie. I--I want to be very sure.”

He unclasped her hand slowly and they walked to one of the green
monsters, vain of their size and path and importance, which take people
uptown.


II

College closed. Mermaid went home. She found Keturah Hand in “poor
health,” but a diagnosis of any specific complaint seemed difficult.

“Old age and remorse, my girl,” her aunt assured her. “Thinking of
all the things I’ve done I might better not have done, or have done
differently.”

“Why, any one can do that,” Mermaid answered. “I looked for you to
develop some interesting ailment, Aunt Keturah, something new and
original that I might exercise my knowledge upon. I am now certified to
be competent to analyze you. I know all the diets. If there is anything
you’d like particularly to eat, don’t eat it.”

“You remind me of John Pogginson of Patchogue,” protested Mrs. Hand.
“An up-to-date doctor put him on a diet some time ago. But instead of
telling John what he couldn’t eat he gave him a list of all the things
he could eat. There were eighty-seven of them; and in the eighty-seven
were things John Pogginson had never heard of. He had a wonderful time.
But his wife almost died of indigestion. She said it wasn’t what she
ate, but seeing the things John could eat, that made her ill.”

The two women sat down that night for what Keturah called “a long
talk.” Mrs. Hand wanted first to discuss Mermaid’s plans; but Mermaid
said she hadn’t any.

“Thanks to you,” she told her aunt, “I’ve been able to get what I
wanted; but I confess I don’t know yet what I want to do with it. I
want to go to work, of course, and I hope I can get into experimental
work of some kind. Perhaps at the Rockefeller Institute, perhaps
elsewhere. Chemicals won’t cure all the ills flesh is heir to, but they
will cure a lot more than we know about. I don’t care about a career,
that is, I don’t care about making a world-startling discovery or
getting particularly rich or especially famous. I do care about getting
a reasonable amount of happiness and satisfaction out of life; and
that means being busy at something congenial to you. And going ahead a
little in one direction or another.”

“I hope you’ll marry,” said Mrs. Hand, abruptly.

“I hope so, too,” assented Mermaid. “If I can be so fortunate as to
find the right man, or if some man can be fortunate enough to find me
the right woman, or--well, both. We’ve both got to find each other, I
suppose.”

“Children,” said Mrs. Hand, with condensation.

“The more the merrier.” Mermaid did not speak lightly. Some deepening
of her voice took all the flippancy from the words.

“You’ll have money, my money,” pursued Keturah Hand. “Eventually; it
goes to John first. He’s a good brother to me and he’s been a good
father to you, as good as he could have been to his own flesh and
blood. You know the story?” she asked, with harsh suddenness.

“Dad has told me,” Mermaid replied, quietly. “It is so many years ago
that he has no thought but that his wife and his own daughter are dead.”

“I have something to answer for in that connection,” her aunt said, and
in spite of the harshness with which she spoke, her voice trembled. “I
made Mary Smiley, that was Mary Rogers, very unhappy. I thought her
unfit to be John’s wife. I--I rubbed it into her that she was unfit.
Little, silly, childish, frivolous creature. How much I am to blame for
her running away with her baby I don’t know--never shall, I suppose,
until the time comes to answer for it.”

“Whatever you said to her, the facts remain,” the girl commented.
“Actions not only speak louder than words, they talk the universal
language. She ran away.”

“I think John felt that,” said Keturah. “He has a strict sense of
justice and she wronged it. It was the child. That cut him to the
heart, and no wonder. After five years you were washed ashore. I’ve
always believed in miracles since that day.”

Mermaid nodded.

“When you study science, Aunt,” she said, confidingly, “you come to
believe in miracles as a matter of course. That is, unless you have
one of these impossible minds that thinks a thing more wonderful than
the explanation. It’s the explanation of everything that’s really
miraculous. For instance, you used to scoff at Dad and myself because
we saw ghosts. There was the Duneswoman----”

“You wrote me that it was an effect of phosphor----” Mrs. Hand paused,
helplessly.

“Phosphorescence,” supplied Mermaid, “the wonderful glow you see
sometimes in sea water. It’s rare as far north as this but very common
in the tropics. But to say it is an effect of phosphorescence doesn’t
explain it, except to the impossible, narrow little mind. The real
explanation lies in the mind of the person seeing it. If it were just a
peculiar phosphorescent outline everybody should see it--everybody who
was around. Dad and I see it; the others don’t. Do you know why?”

Keturah hesitated, then shook her head.

“It is something in common,” Mermaid told her. “There is, or was,
someone who knew us both, and who becomes manifest to us both in that
way. It’s like two people seeing the same ghost. Why should the ghost
appear in that way? I can’t tell you. Perhaps the person was drowned.
Why should the Duneswoman appear to us at all? Perhaps to witness to
something. We may never discover what; and then again the day may come
when that vision will be the last impalpable evidence necessary to make
something clear. Then the Duneswoman may make complete the explanation
of a surprising but perfectly ordinary set of facts; and the
explanation, and not the facts themselves, will make up the miracle.”

“I guess likely you’re right enough,” surmised Mrs. Hand, “though I’m
not sure I follow you all through. I’m a matter-of-fact kind of a
person. That’s why any one like Captain Vanton gives me the creeps and
gets on my nerves so. I don’t know what he does to that wife of his, or
what he has done, but I don’t wonder we never see anything of her. She
must be a wreck, living with that man. And he’s ruining that boy.”

“Guy?” asked Mermaid. A quick ear would have caught the peculiar note
in her voice.

“Guy goes around with a hang-dog look. He never speaks to any one. He
lives like a hermit, and his father’ll make him as bad as himself,”
stated Keturah, with conviction.

“I must go see him,” said the girl. Her voice was deep and vibrant. “I
must see his father.”

“His father has got Aunt Keturah’s jewels,” announced Mrs. Hand. “I’ve
been sure of it ever since the day they disappeared over to the beach.
How he knew about them I don’t pretend to say; but as he followed
Captain John Hawkins in the command of the _China Castle_ he must have
come to knowledge of them some way or other. Do you remember when you
were not more than eleven his coming to call here?”

“I’ve never forgotten it.”

“He said a Captain King was dead and that he had killed him. He said
this Captain King wouldn’t trouble us any longer--your father and me.
Your father remembered then that one of the crew from the wreck of
the ship, the ship you were saved from, had talked of a Captain King
when he was dying and of a little girl that must have been you. So we
thought--your father thought, anyway--that Captain Vanton might have
known something about you.” She reached over and took Mermaid’s hand,
awkwardly. “He went to see him, but Captain Vanton couldn’t or wouldn’t
tell him anything.” Keturah paused and sighed.

“Captain Vanton told Dickie Hand’s father about the death of Captain
King,” said Mermaid, surprising her aunt. “Dickie once told me so.”

“I want to know!” exclaimed Keturah. She was silent for several moments
in busy speculation.

“What do you make of it all?” she asked, finally, lifting her head.
Mermaid, who had been looking steadfastly at the wall, her hands
clasped behind her head, the whiteness of her arm gleaming against the
rich colouring of her hair, spoke without looking at her aunt, without
shifting her pose.

“I make something of it,” she said, “and I am going to find
out--something. I may not find out the truth of it all, but I will at
least find out if I am wrong.”


III

Captain Vanton looked much less like a ghost than a man who had seen
a ghost when Mermaid confronted him in the mahogany and teakwood
parlour. She had with her a black bag, as if she were about to take a
journey. She seated herself easily and her manner was composed, though
her heart was beating rapidly. The short, thick figure of the retired
seaman moved back and forth across the polished and whitened floor of
the room as it had moved across the whitened and polished afterdeck of
tall ships. His spreading sidewhiskers with their misleading air of
benevolence could not contradict the disturbance in his reddened eyes.
He had not looked at his caller since her arrival, and he did not now.
Stranger still, he had not spoken to her. A few gestures and she was in
the parlour, seated; the door was closed and they were alone.

“Captain Vanton,” began Mermaid. She paused an instant, then went on:
“I am grown up and it is time that you told me my story.”

She saw the hands of the mariner, clasped behind him as he paced away
from her, tighten. She knew she must say more to make him address her.

“Captain King----” she began.

The heavy tread was cut short. He was standing in front of her. He was
speaking in a throaty voice as if his words had to carry against the
force of a powerful gale to reach her.

“Don’t speak that man’s name,” he was saying.

“You must tell me my story,” Mermaid repeated.

He stood there irresolutely, an abject figure of shame, a sea captain
unready with an instant decision, an order, a command, a shouted
epithet. He hesitated; and when he would have put his helm hard over it
was too late.

“My aunt and I are going to San Francisco,” the girl was saying. “In
San Francisco they will remember Captain King.”

And now his hands twisted and shook, and again he turned toward her. He
muttered: “I will tell you all that matters.”

But he could not begin. He cleared his throat and shook his head.
His red and tormented eyes looked her way. She found herself looking
directly into them--and then away. She could not read all they held;
and she knew she did not want to.

“You find it difficult. Correct me if I go wrong.”

He made a sound that could be taken for assent.

“I was in San Francisco as a very small child,” Mermaid began. “This
I know because the ship, from the wreck of which I was saved, sailed
from there. But I know it quite as much because Guy has told me about
the city and it recalls something to me. For a long time it recalled
nothing distinct--only a vague sense of the familiar. I have thought
and thought about it, and some time ago there came to me a definite
image of something in the past. It was the figure of a man, a sea
captain like yourself, coming and going to the house or wherever it was
that I had my home. I don’t remember anything about it. I only remember
that there was someone in it--it must have been my mother--who had a
childish voice.... And she was pretty, too, in a girlish way; at least
I suppose she was. I remember no faces; I remember no figures except
the single figure of the seaman who came and went; I remember only the
childish voice and the sense of prettiness about me. One other thing I
do remember and that was seasons of fright. I think they were connected
with the coming and going of that seaman. He was, no doubt, the man you
have refused to let me name. Very well; it is unnecessary to name him.
What I want to know is--did he live with my mother?”

The man in front of her had been standing stock still. Still with his
back turned to her he answered, “Yes.”

“He was not my father?”

“No.”

“Who was?”

“John Smiley.”

The girl showed no surprise, only relief. She drew a deep breath, then
murmured: “Thank God for that!”

From the motionless figure facing away from her came a question: “You
knew?”

“I was certain.”

“How?”

“Both my father and I have seen her.”

“Since--since----?”

“Since her death.”

The standing bulk of Captain Vanton quivered. He reached for the arm of
a chair and collapsed in it. He kept his back to his visitor.

“She was drowned at sea?” Mermaid put the question in a shaky voice.

“Aye,” he answered, and the unexpected word had in it a ring of terror.

Suddenly Mermaid found herself sobbing silently in a terrible anguish
of thankfulness and wonder and sorrow. The stifled sound of her weeping
filled the room. Captain Vanton made no move but sat with his head
fallen on his breast, the white sidewhiskers concealing his profile.
His breast rose and fell slowly.

The girl got control of herself, and said: “I have what I need to
know. The rest does not matter, except as it concerns--Guy.” Her voice
trembled again and her eyes filled. “Your own story--that’s your
affair. But you have no right to ruin his life because of it--and
that’s what you are doing!”

Something of the awful sternness of the patriarch sounded in his reply:
“I will save him.”

The words stung the girl. In a moment he had become a silly and
tyrannical and destructive old man with a fixed idea, a delusion--the
worst possible delusion, a delusion of a duty to be performed.

“You are making of him a hermit, a recluse, a solitary and distorted
young man,” she said. Her voice was like the lash of a whip. “You
have poisoned his mind, and you will permanently poison his peace and
happiness. Everything that would shame him you have told him; without
knowing what it is you have told him, I have sensed that. And this has
been going on for years. You have forbidden him to associate with other
boys and other young men. The sunlight of companionship you have shut
away from him. Here in this desolate house, shrouded in these wintry
evergreens, in the dark, in the damp, in the company of a sick woman
and an old man full of years and past evil, you have kept him and tried
to form him. If he is not wholly misshapen it is through no omission of
yours. It must stop!”

She was thinking to herself, in her rage, that of all madnesses a
monomania was the most terrible to contend with. She was in no doubt
as to the form of his malady. He was obsessed by a notion of saving
Guy from the snare of the world’s wickedness into which he himself had
fallen, into which he had seen so many men fall. He had seen the trap
spring and close on himself and others. Not many had ever escaped it;
those who had were mutilated for life. There had been this mutilation
in his own life. He would not trust the boy to walk warily, he would
not trust himself to teach him to avoid the snare. He would keep him
where he could not walk into it if he had to seal him in a living tomb
to accomplish his purpose.

With many a boy the undertaking would have been a preposterous
impossibility. With a sensitive youth of a poetic and dreamy
temperament, under absolute control from earliest childhood, the thing
was feasible; more, it was being done. Mermaid recalled with a sense of
pitiful compunction Guy’s strange eyes with their wild animal look, the
most characteristic thing about him. But at least then, in his teens,
he had held up his head, and looked about him. Now.... She had passed
him on the street twice and he had not even seen her. She had spoken to
him once and he had hardly been articulate in his reply; had seemed to
hate and distrust her, not as Mermaid, not as a woman, but as a person
of his own kind.

She came back to a consciousness of what Guy’s father, after an
interval of silence, was saying:

“... I have told him only the truth.”

“The truth! You have not told him the truth, nor shown him the truth.
What you have told him is worse than a lie. For a lie is like certain
substances which are poisonous only in large doses. Strychnine, for
example. Tiny quantities, a nerve tonic; larger quantities, convulsions
and death. But a little truth is a deadly poison, always. And the only
antidote is more truth and more and more! There cannot be too much of
it; but you have never given him anything but the truth of two or three
persons out of the millions of men and women that dwell on earth.”

She rose from her chair, picked up the black bag she had brought with
her, walked around deliberately in front of the seated man and opening
it showed him the contents--jewels. Roped pearls and lovely sapphires,
Oriental rubies, diamonds, unnamable stones--all the blazing wealth of
gems that Keturah Hand had kept stuffed in a pillow for many years and
had lost one summer on the beach.

“See,” said Mermaid, quietly. “Here is a ransom. Take it. Let Guy go
free. Let him live the life of a man. Let him stumble and sin and
suffer, pick himself up, breathe the fresh air, and feel the warmth
of the sunshine. You, who choose to live here in the darkness, can be
happy in the artificial light of--these.”

The man’s face became red in a ghastly setting of white whiskers. He
struggled to sit up. He put out one thick hand and clutched a rope of
pearls. Then, with a great effort, he unclenched his hand and drew it
slowly back to his side as if he were dragging a heavy weight back with
it. He managed to articulate one word:

“Where?”

“They were once Keturah Hawkins’s,” she told him. At the name his
shoulders twitched. “They were coveted by the mate of the _China
Castle_. He insulted their owner, and for it he was flogged. I do not
know what crimes they may have been responsible for before they came
into John Hawkins’s hands. But they have been responsible, since that
time, for a flogging, the wreck of one life, the destruction of one
soul, and now I offer them to you to save a boy’s happiness. Will you
take them and be satisfied?”

“They spell ruin,” he muttered, thickly. He made no gesture. Mermaid
quietly closed the black bag.

“Since you will not take them as a ransom I will return them,” she
said, “and offer another ransom in their stead.” Her low utterance was
without the note of determination and equally without assurance of
success.

He heard the door close after her. Then the man called Captain Vanton
did an unpremeditated thing. He went to a drawer in the desk at the
end of the mahogany and teakwood cabin-parlour, drew out a bundle of
manuscript, wrote carefully a signature upon it, and the date, then
thrust it back. Again he drew out something, this time a pistol, and
shot himself dead.


IV

The first thing to note about the manuscript left by the late Captain
Buel Vanton, a resident of Blue Port, Long Island, who inexplicably
shot himself dead after affixing the date, was unquestionably the
name, written at the end of the document a few seconds before the
author took leave of it--and a good many other things--forever. Captain
Vanton signed his narrative, for a narrative it turned out to be upon
examination, with what had, at first, the appearance of a pen name. It
was entirely legible, and read: “Jacob King.”

Not a name of any distinction. It suggested absolutely nothing to the
coroner. In fact, it would have been regarded as a piece of annoying
irrelevance on the part of the late Captain Vanton had not his son,
a young fellow with a hang-dog look, said sullenly that it was the
real name of the writer. The coroner had been mightily puzzled and not
a little suspicious. Whereupon Guy Vanton had suggested, still more
sullenly, that the manuscript itself might supply an explanation fuller
and more convincing than his own assertion. The coroner thereupon
turned his attention again to the document before him, and read it--a
serious occupation that took him as long as an ordinary inquest. Yet,
in a way, the occupation saved trouble if not time, for after his
perusal the coroner decided that it was “a plain case of suicide--man
plumb crazy--must have been crazy for years”; and that an inquest
was wholly unnecessary. As the manuscript on which the late Captain
Vanton (or Jacob King) had lavished so much literary skill (or insane
invention) thus became, through the coroner’s intervention, an official
record, any one caring to hunt through the dusty and sneeze-provoking
accumulation of papers in the coroner’s office could read it in full,
from beginning to end, written, as it had been, at various times and
in various places, in several colours of ink, but always in the same
small, slanting, distinctive hand. So perused, it ran as follows:


V

  I, Jacob King, was born in New York City. I ran away to sea at the
  age of 14, and at 19 I was a ship’s officer.

  At 19 I was a man, not a young man but a grown man, and any one who
  has followed the sea will know what that means. The sea ripens a man
  early, ripens him and fixes his mind for good or for evil, according
  to his capacity to understand the life about him. Nowadays on shore
  I see young fellows of 19 that are not much better than children,
  except that they have stretched enough to wear long trousers. That
  is the life of the land, where such a thing as responsibility seems
  to be unknown until men have begun to decay. I was not that way; and
  if I had had a better mind I might have made a success of life. I
  think I would have been successful ashore, anyway, for I was quick
  and clever and never shirked work; but mostly I think so because
  I was hard and young and brazen. I knew how to fight and I knew
  how to bluff. Ashore, it would have been enough to know how to
  bluff, I should not have had to fight. At sea a man cannot succeed,
  permanently, without actual worth and fighting and winning. On the
  land, so far as my observation goes, actual worth is by no means
  necessary to success. Any number of things may make a landsman
  successful; he may acquire money or fame and his success is measured
  by what of these things he has acquired; it is not measured by the
  stuff in him, as it is at sea, but by what he gets hold of; and if he
  cannot keep hold of it he becomes a failure again, though he is no
  worse a man than before. Landsmen do not value the man but what he
  has. By that measure I have become, I suppose, a pretty successful
  person ashore; I, who was a disgrace to salt water, can hold up my
  head here with some of the best of them. I am not famous, it is true,
  but I have a fortune of $200,000 more or less, a pretty considerable
  figure in these days.

  At 19 I was a ship’s officer and at 21 I was a first mate. It was
  then, on my first passage as chief officer, that the first of a
  series of events which I have to relate occurred. The ship on which I
  was then was the fast clipper _China Castle_, John Hawkins, master,
  and the passage was from Boston to Shanghai. Captain Hawkins was a
  young man in years, like myself--about 26, I think. He had sailed the
  _China Castle_ between New York and San Francisco at the time of the
  California gold rush and was now taking her out on her first passage
  to the East. At last she was to be put into the tea trade, for which
  she had been built, but from which she had been taken from her very
  launching for the immensely profitable California route. Besides
  myself and Captain Hawkins there was in the cabin Mrs. Hawkins, his
  young wife; she is the only other person aft who matters in my story.
  She had not been married to Captain Hawkins long, only a year or
  so, and this was her first passage with him and a sort of deferred
  honeymoon.

  Mrs. Hawkins was a beautiful woman, a young woman, of course. She
  was, I think, two or three years younger than her husband and about
  as much older than I. She was very pleasant, as agreeable as she was
  beautiful; and she did not stand on ceremony as a captain’s wife is
  likely to do. I suppose this was partly because it was her first
  voyage and it may have been partly because we were all about the
  same age; but it was mainly her own gracious nature. I, for my part,
  had not seen or met many women and I had never seen or met any woman
  like her. From a boy I had been to sea, and while I had been on ships
  where the captains had their wives along they had never been women of
  my own age. They had never been good-looking women, let alone being
  half so lovely as Keturah Hawkins, and I had never been aft as first
  officer and privileged to associate with them on terms of something
  resembling social equality. Of course, social equality is impossible
  on board a ship; but in so far as it could be brought about Mrs.
  Hawkins brought it about in the cabin of the _China Castle_. That and
  her beauty turned my head. She used to wear splendid jewels that her
  husband had got for her, though they were nothing to what he procured
  afterward, I judge, in the Orient. She had very fine blue eyes, a
  bright and flashing blue such as you see in midocean, particularly
  in the tropics in fine weather, the blue of deepest water. Her hair
  was a dark red, in great coils as thick as the heaviest rope cable
  aboard the ship, and her skin was a white that did not seem to tan
  or lose its whiteness from wind or weather, though sometimes a faint
  freckle or two would appear upon it. Her grandniece, though but a
  young girl, is wonderfully like her in every appearance. The sight of
  this girl tears me to pieces. It brings it all back. It brings back
  the hour in which I went clean out of my senses, sitting there alone
  in the cabin with Keturah Hawkins. She did not scream or struggle,
  but in a moment she ran away and bolted herself in her room. Of
  course when the Captain came down from the poop deck, where his
  regular pacing had been audible over our heads all this time, she
  told him.

  I don’t know why he didn’t shoot me dead; well, yes, I think I do. I
  think his wife interceded for me and I think he believed the proper
  punishment could only be something everlastingly shameful and as
  painful as possible. He had me triced up by the thumbs and flogged
  in the sight of the crew. I was flogged till I lost consciousness.
  It was two days before I could stand a watch. My only idea then was
  to kill him. I told him so, which was an unnecessary thing to do.
  He took precautions, however, such as seeing that I had no weapons,
  and never giving me an opportunity to attack him. Mrs. Hawkins kept
  to her room; I had my work to do, and that went on as though nothing
  had happened. No private affair, no matter how serious, relaxes the
  discipline of the sea. When I told Captain Hawkins that I would kill
  him some day he only looked at me and said: “You’re a good ship’s
  officer but you’re a disgrace to salt water. If you want to kill a
  man, the first man for you to kill is Jacob King.”

  I thought he meant suicide--“go drown yourself” as the contemptuous
  phrase of the fo’c’s’le puts it. It was years before I saw what he
  meant by that “If you want to kill a man, the first man for you to
  kill is Jacob King.” I know now just what he was driving at. I have
  killed Jacob King. I have killed my man. I won’t need to kill another.

  But that has come a long time after. A long time. Too long, maybe.

  When we reached Shanghai I got my discharge, of course, and a good
  discharge it was, for I had done my work well and Captain Hawkins,
  as fine a seaman as ever lived, was strictly just. I stayed ashore
  awhile and lived an evil life, drinking and smoking opium and
  consorting with thieves and ticket-of-leave men and all the riffraff
  of an Eastern seaport. All the while I was haunted by the remembrance
  of Keturah Hawkins. Drunk or sober, sane or in opium dreams, I
  saw her--saw her great cables of dark red hair, her white skin,
  her dazzling blue eyes, her delightful smile that she had smiled
  expressly for the benefit of the young and capable first mate of
  her husband’s fine ship. If I had been able to do it I would have
  possessed myself of her even then. I would have killed her husband, I
  would have killed every one aboard the _China Castle_, to have her.
  In opium dreams I did kill them all; I slew all Shanghai and burned
  the city and launched as many ships to pursue her as were launched to
  bring back Helen from ancient Troy. All dreams, all mad delusions! I
  was a fevered, burning, babbling, stupefied wretch of a sailor with
  no money in my pockets and nothing to fall back upon but a splendid
  ruggedness of body and a good discharge as first mate.

  The good discharge was sufficient to get me a berth on a ship sailing
  for San Francisco. Once at sea again I was all right except in my
  mind. That had been all twisted and distorted by the punishment
  inflicted upon me by Captain Hawkins. I couldn’t get over the
  disgrace of it; which was deserved, of course, though I didn’t
  think so. I kept thinking of myself as a man who had been shamed
  beyond all deserving. I was convinced that I had merely been too
  rashly assuming, and that if I had gone about it differently or
  had taken more time, had not acted so impulsively----All this was
  self-deception, of course, and it degraded Keturah Hawkins, in my
  thoughts, at least. Perhaps I thought that if I could not lift myself
  up to her I could pull her down to my level. What I didn’t see was
  that a good woman--or a good man either, likely--cannot be lowered by
  whatever baseness any one may choose to think or say. The only person
  that is lowered is the thinker or the sayer. You’ll find this and a
  whole lot more coiled away in that poem of Emerson’s about Brahma:
  “I am the thinker and the thought,” or something like that, it runs.
  I don’t know whether a man makes the thought that passes through his
  mind, but I do know that the thought makes the man. At least, it
  made me. I was still Jacob King, but I wasn’t the same Jacob King.
  Something in me had been poisoned. The slow poisoning of----? The
  swiftest poison is not the most sure.

  I was very bad, I mean mentally, when I got to San Francisco, and
  the life I led there did not mend me. Gradually as I kept seeing the
  image of Keturah Hawkins in all states of sleep and waking, at all
  hours and under the influence of all sorts of drugs and in the midst
  of all kinds of surroundings the image itself faded; or changed and
  coarsened. I did not notice that the dazzling blue, as of sunshine
  trying vainly to shaft through unfathomable depths, had disappeared
  from her eyes, but soon I could no longer see those heavy cables of
  dark red hair, made up of so many twisted strands, nor the wonderful
  milky whiteness of the skin. The features became indistinct, and soon
  I saw clearly nothing but the magnificent jewels she had worn--the
  ropes of pearls that took lustre from her skin; the emeralds that
  shone in green drops in the rich, dark, smouldering red of her
  hair; the sapphires that seemed to condense and make permanent the
  more brilliant blue of her eyes. About these gems that she had worn
  there was the glitter, the undying glitter of hard stones. All
  that was lovely, all that was spiritual, all that was human in the
  vision of her perished; and still the splendour of those jewels
  remained. I used to see her as an imperceptible outline--no face, no
  rounded arm, no wealth of hair, just an imagined outline with here
  and there certain gorgeous jewels in an ornamental and decorative
  arrangement--fastened on the air. At such times I went clean crazy,
  but I could do nothing. I was getting too besotted to straighten up
  for any length of time. And there wasn’t any cure. How could there
  be? I couldn’t cure myself. I was being poisoned by the irremediable
  past. How abolish the past? It’s all very well to talk about living
  a thing down, but the only thing that can be lived down is the thing
  that wasn’t entirely so. My past was.

  It was in San Francisco that I got acquainted with a man named Hosea
  Hand and came into a strange relationship with his brother, one
  Richard Hand. Hosea Hand was a sailor, one of the crew of the ship
  on which I had come from Shanghai. He was younger than I, and after
  we got to San Francisco and the ship’s discipline relaxed I saw a
  good deal of him, first and last. One day in a lonely mood he told
  me his story. His brother had cheated him out of an inheritance, or
  so he figured, and he had run away to sea, like myself, as a boy.
  Two things about the story struck me: his brother, if what he said
  was true, might pay money to have him stay away from home--not that
  Hosea Hand had any thought of returning home but I could represent
  him as being bent on doing so, and myself as able to keep him away,
  for a price; the other thing--and this impressed and excited me much
  the more strongly--was that the Hand farm was on Long Island not far
  from the little town of Blue Port where Keturah Hawkins had her home.
  I turned the whole thing over in my mind during the sodden days and
  nights of a week. I do not believe that in the condition I was in
  all that time I was capable of reaching a bold decision--not even
  boldly evil. At last I wrote to Richard Hand. I told him that I, a
  stranger to him, not only knew his brother’s whereabouts but knew
  his story; and I had found Hosea Hand resolved to return home and
  settle accounts. I could keep the boy away, but must have something
  for doing it. It would be a sensible thing for him to do business
  with me. I wanted money, and I wanted information. His reply and its
  enclosure would be evidence of good faith.

  He replied; and it was plain that he was frightened. Hosea Hand was
  no longer in San Francisco, having shipped on a vessel for New York.
  Richard Hand did not send much money, but any sum looked large to me
  at the moment. I spent the money in one night, and began to consider
  how I could get more, or how I should proceed next, having in mind
  the fact that the young brother had expressed an intention of going
  home. If he did so, I knew he would not bother Richard Hand further
  than to tell him to his face that he was a cheat and might go to
  the devil as fast as he liked. Then I should be unable to get more
  money. I wrote to Richard Hand--the letter would reach him before
  his brother appeared--asking about Captain Hawkins. Where was he,
  where was his wife, what were their means, what connections had they?
  Richard Hand sent back a pretty full account of the Hawkinses. Both
  were at sea at the time. There was property. They had no child as
  yet. Mrs. Hawkins had an older sister, married, with two children, a
  boy and a girl. Their name was Smiley and the girl was named after
  Mrs. Hawkins. In the event of the Hawkinses remaining childless,
  these two would most likely inherit their property. All this did not
  interest me much and I wrote no more to Richard Hand at that time. Of
  a sudden the passion for that woman of the dark red hair and milky
  skin reawakened in me. I was young; I shook off my dissipation, and
  set out to find her.

  In all sorts of ships and in any sort of berth I went about the
  world, from seaport to seaport; and as I was a good ship’s officer
  I had no trouble to get about. I sailed from San Francisco to New
  York, and there I heard that Captain Hawkins had left the _China
  Castle_ and was somewhere on the Western Ocean, as seamen term the
  North Atlantic, with cotton for Liverpool. I followed, as nearly as
  possible, but got to Liverpool after he had sailed on his return
  trip. A long chase followed. There is no point in setting it down
  here. It lasted for years. We three ranged from Singapore to Boston
  and from Rotterdam to the Cape Settlement. Twice in that time I
  caught glimpses of Keturah Hawkins. Once I saw her standing on the
  afterdeck of her husband’s ship, clearing from Havre as we entered
  the harbour; again I saw her driven past, on a boulevard in Rio de
  Janeiro. The third time I did not have merely a glimpse of her but
  met her face to face.

  It was totally unexpected. I did not even know that the other vessel
  in the harbour of Almeria was her husband’s. Almeria is a Spanish
  town with nothing to recommend it to any one except the trader. I was
  in ballast and called on the chance of a cargo--grapes or anything.
  Above the town, on the bare brown hills, lies the ruin of the Moorish
  fort, just a long enclosure, a masonry wall about shoulder high, with
  embrasures. It is the only thing to see. She had come ashore to see
  it, leaving her husband supervising the work of loading cargo, a job
  he never left entirely to his mate. I was wandering around with a
  young Spaniard; not that either of us could understand the other very
  well but some kind of company seemed essential. We came upon her,
  all alone, a foolhardy thing, but she had superb self-confidence.
  She lifted her eyes, saw me, half turned and started away, walking
  steadily but with no appearance of flight. I overtook her. I don’t
  know, as I live, what I said, but whatever it was she never answered,
  nor did she look at me. As we passed through the gateway out of the
  fort she paused for an instant and gave a beggar a small coin. At
  that moment I saw Captain Hawkins approaching.

  He looked straight at me, never moving a muscle of his face,
  approached her, and said something in an undertone, a request to
  wait, I imagine. Then he came toward me and I turned and led the way
  into the fort, within those shell-like walls four centuries old.
  Inside I faced him. It was easy to see what was coming.

  I was beaten, badly beaten. His fists, hard as iron belaying pins,
  broke down my defence and hammered blows upon my head, my shoulders,
  my body. I was soon winded and down, and still he did not leave off
  beating me. He kicked me about as I grovelled there in the fine dust
  of that Moorish citadel, the outpost of Granada. I was a dog and he
  used me like a dog. When I was senseless he left. How I got out of it
  I don’t know; I think the young Spaniard got others to help him and
  put me on board my vessel. When I recovered the next day the other
  ship had gone.

  All the evil in me was loosed by this adventure. I swore to myself
  that I would be revenged upon those people and any and all of their
  people, and that I would live if only to accomplish that. But
  eighteen months in which I lost all track of the Hawkinses cooled
  that purpose. I married, and Keturah Hawkins was half forgotten. Of
  my marriage it is not necessary to say anything. It took place in San
  Francisco and was forced upon me at the point of a pistol. My wife
  died within a year. I left the sea and became a prospector when I was
  not an idler. I was nearly 50 when a child was born. This is the boy
  known as Guy Vanton. After his mother’s death, very shortly after,
  I struck it rich. Concerning my money and the source of it I have
  nothing to say; concerning the boy’s mother nothing except that we
  were not married. I may not be his father, but I am the only father
  he has known. All these things I have told him. I would save him,
  if possible, from what has befallen me. You will see what that is
  shortly.

  After I became rich--so rich that I could not waste my substance in
  a night, or a week, or a year; so old that caution was the stronger
  impulse always and made me hoard what I had--after the death of Guy
  Vanton’s mother I lived just outside San Francisco with the boy and
  the memories of a vicious life. There is nothing like old age to
  intensify the good or evil in a man. Here was I with my memories,
  which all at once, in my loneliness, became vivid, alive, crawling. I
  thought of Keturah Hawkins and writhed. I thought of her jewels and
  a terrible greed filled me. I thought of that flogging on the _China
  Castle_ and my shoulders twitched; of the impact of Captain Hawkins’s
  fists and quivered, half raising a protective arm. I wrote again
  to Richard Hand and learned that these two people were dead; that
  their nephew had married and displeased Keturah Hawkins; that her
  fortune had gone to her niece. From Richard Hand I was able to learn
  something about these persons and to figure out a way I might strike
  at them and hurt or crush them. How was I able to get this out of
  him? Partly by threats to show him up as compounding with me to keep
  his brother out of a lawful inheritance; partly with money. I have no
  time for details and there are things that are better to go forever
  unrecorded.

  It was I, Jacob King, who hired a man to make love to and fascinate
  John Smiley’s wife. It was an easy thing to do, with her husband
  mostly absent on the beach. To avoid the townspeople’s eyes was
  more difficult, but it was managed with secret meetings of one sort
  or another. She was led to leave him, taking her baby girl with her;
  eventually she was led to me. How much of this Richard Hand surmised
  I don’t know or care. But he had no part in it beyond giving me facts
  about the Smileys to go upon.

  I subjected Mary Smiley to all the tortures I could devise. She
  lived with me though she was John Smiley’s wife. She was a silly,
  childish creature and she was absolutely at my mercy. I made her
  life a hell for several years. In the meantime, her little girl was
  growing--into a tiny image of Keturah Hawkins. It was that which
  conquered me, or the settled wickedness within me. I, who had set out
  to wreak remotely my revenge on Keturah Hawkins, was myself becoming
  the victim of a living punishment. For here was Keturah Hawkins in
  the house with me. Every physical characteristic was there in the
  child later known as Mermaid Smiley, the daughter of John Smiley
  and Mary Rogers Smiley, the grandniece of the woman I remembered.
  The child had Keturah Hawkins’s hair, eyes, skin, and features;
  even, in embryo, her manner. I could torture her silly and pitiable
  mother and the child would enter the room, a living taunt to me. Here
  she was, and she would outlive me; she would be flesh and blood,
  wonderful glinting hair, flashing blue eyes, matchless white skin,
  unconquerably alive and superb, unconquerably young and gay when I
  was not merely a cruel and old and despicable man, but dust. She
  would dance on my grave.

  I stood it as long as I could and then something happened within me,
  a mental overthrow comparable to the physical defeats I had suffered
  because of Keturah Hawkins. Something in the continual presence of
  that child rained blows upon me until I was numb in my mind, until
  I couldn’t think or plan at all, until the torture I could inflict
  on her mother was a meaningless thing; and there had always been a
  terrible futility about it for the reason that I could not make my
  revenge anywhere near complete and satisfactory. I could not, for
  instance, communicate to John and Keturah Smiley the triumph of
  vengeance that was mine. John Hawkins was not alive to witness it;
  Keturah Hawkins----Was she alive, in the person of that child, to see
  it? Perhaps, and perhaps she was alive in the person of that child to
  thwart it. She would beat me down; dead or living she would best me.
  A superstitious, or perhaps a holy, terror laid hold of me so that
  I dared not lay hands on the little girl, or even say to her things
  that might bring tears to childish eyes. I dared not, I tell you! And
  besides, it would be laying hands on Keturah herself.

  You see the situation? Do you see how the poison of evil had worked
  in me all these years, how it had dominated me for a time, how
  it had lain dormant, how it had cropped out hideously like some
  unspeakable and inexterminable disease? Silently through the years
  it had corrupted me, corrupting my mind even more than my body, more
  insidiously and more surely, and with more deadly a result. And at
  last from a small boat on San Francisco Bay--we had gone into the
  city to live--John Smiley’s wife was drowned. I was left with the
  child on my hands and with no embodiment for my fancied vengeance. I
  think I went nearly insane then, if I was not insane already.

  I determined to make what atonement I could. I took certain cowardly
  precautions and prepared to send the child back to her father. There
  is something supernatural in the manner in which that return was
  accomplished. I did not learn of it for some years. I took the boy,
  Guy, and went to Paris, taking a servant with me in the semblance of
  my wife and his mother. She became an invalid abroad, but I have not
  cast her off.

  In Paris I came to see that my atonement must be as complete as I
  could make it. So I came back to New York and made inquiries through
  Richard Hand. I was then “Captain Vanton,” or “Buel Vanton” but I
  wrote him as Jacob King. He replied; from what he told me--and I
  paid him, of course--I was able to piece together the truth that was
  hidden from him and from others. The next step was the appearance of
  Captain Vanton in Blue Port.

  The rest, externally, is known; what can never be known is the
  suffering I have endured. It is all deserved and much more, no
  doubt, but endurance is nearing an end. I am probably insane in some
  peculiar fashion. I see nothing but jewels; jewels arranged as if in
  the hair and on the bosom of an invisible woman. Then I see Keturah
  Hawkins, a very young Keturah Hawkins, but Keturah Hawkins beyond
  question, pass along the street--and she wears no jewels. I think her
  aunt has them, and some day in my madness I shall break in and steal
  them, just to handle them, these stones that touched her white skin
  and were nested in that wine-dark hair. Pray God, I may never lay
  hold of them or I shall go raving mad! The girl, this reincarnation
  of the woman I once held in my arms, I have no further concern with.
  If ever she comes to me to know her story I shall tell her. But she
  is Keturah. She knows.

  The boy, young Guy, I have kept close by me, and I have told him some
  of this shameful story in order that, if he does indeed have any of
  my blood in his veins, he may have, in knowledge of the truth, some
  antidote to its poison. The girl will have money, and I will provide
  for the boy.

  The girl and boy are friends; something else may ripen of their
  friendship. If he is my son and if, as may be, she loves him, or
  comes to love him, will that be a final triumphant twist in my favour
  against Keturah? Will that be the last word--my word--in this problem
  of revenge? You see, you see how deeply it has poisoned me. Perhaps I
  will anticipate the end.

The signature of “Jacob King” completed this narrative, obviously too
incredible in its statements and too monomaniacal in its tone to have
any bearing on the death of Captain Buel Vanton from a pistol wound,
self-inflicted.


VI

“I can’t,” said the smooth-shaven young man--young but evidently
not so very young, either. His pale face had dark circles under the
strange-lighted eyes. His black, straight hair was not brushed. The
wind which ruffled it brought no colour to his cheeks. His nostrils--he
had rather a snub nose--twitched. At his sides his hands kept closing
and unclosing, and he stood stiffly, like a scarecrow absurdly taken
from a field and firmly rooted in this spot on the sand of the Great
South Beach.

The young woman who faced him, with her glowing hair and her eyes and
skin which seemed to reflect every atom of the downpouring sunlight,
made no gesture, but met his denial with an affirmation. Two words
pronounced in a low, vibrating voice:

“You can.”

They were ordinary young people of the twentieth century in appearance,
the one perhaps more striking in beauty, the other certainly more
distraught, than the average of their ages. But, except for the absence
of any archaism from their speech, they might have been speakers in a
drama as dark as “Hamlet.”

“You are thirty,” began the girl; “I am twenty-four. You have a
fortune--well, $200,000 anyway. Enough for our needs. You have another
inheritance, and I do not mean a blood inheritance. You are not likely
to be the son of Jacob King.”

“But the son of Jacob King’s----”

“Don’t say it,” she interrupted, quietly. “She has not mattered these
thirty years, why should she now? No, the inheritance I mean is not of
blood, but of dread, shame, and repulsion. Isn’t it enough, Guy, that
in his crazed lifetime he did everything that a man could do to make
you as bad as himself? Are you going to let him rule you now that he
is dead? Are you going to accept that inheritance? For you need not.
While he lived he dominated your life, he made you share his thoughts,
he made you an innocent accomplice in evil; you were an accessory after
the fact of his wrong-doing. But now he has liberated you. When he shot
himself dead it was an act of emancipation. He struck the shackles from
you and set you free at the same instant that he went forward to meet
his sentence and punishment.”

“I--I can’t,” repeated the man, hopelessly. “You forget the living tie,
the woman there in the house, the one who is known as Mrs. Vanton.” The
words seemed to hurt his throat.

The woman’s breast rose and fell, but there was tremendous control in
her over herself, and she exerted some of it in her answer.

“There is only one thing to do,” she assured him. “It is to sever
everything that joins you with him, dead or alive. Do this: put the
inheritance money in a trust. The income will care for--for Mrs.
Vanton, completely: medical attendance, nursing, everything. Give
her the house, give her every dollar, but leave! You can take every
precaution to see that she is properly cared for but you must get away.
You must have a physical and a mental escape. You have got to renounce
the past and everything in the present that threads you to the past.
You have got to get out into a sunlit world, a world of normal men
and women, of fighting and playing and loving, of shops and homes, of
marriage and children, of discomforts and hardships, adventures and
trifling worries and happiness. At thirty you must act, you who have
been passive and acted upon. You have a life to live. Live it. Oh, Guy,
live your own life!”

She turned away from him. Something in her voice galvanized him,
communicated an electric thrill along the dead circuit of his nerves,
startled him, shocked him from his inertia. He looked up quickly, took
a step or two, and saw that she was crying. As if it were a reflex
action he took two steps more and stood beside her, then put his arm
timidly about her. For one instant she relaxed slightly, so that her
weight fell upon the arm, then she was alive again and turned to him a
smiling face with cheeks still wet.

“It doesn’t matter what you do,” she assured him. “Why don’t you do
this? You aren’t in trim, physically; that’s plain. You’re in need of
conditioning, some sort of outdoor life, something that will harden
you. And you need company, companionship. Why not stay here on the
beach this summer and then through next winter with my father at the
Coast Guard station? He can’t take you on as a surfman, of course, for
you’d have to pass an examination. Though you might do that, a surfman
has to have had several years experience as a bayman, too. But you
could be a sort of volunteer member of the crew. You wouldn’t make
any money but you won’t need any money. You’ll have bad hours, but
fewer than you suppose. You won’t even have the ordinary loneliness,
for you can’t take a beach patrol and you’ll always be out with one
of the other men. And there’s Tommy Lupton--he’s here. You and he can
travel together; you’re good friends. And Uncle Ho. Aunt Keturah can’t
persuade him to leave the beach permanently. She says,” Mermaid smiled
at the recollection, “she says that marriage with him has made no
difference, that she sees him as often as ever.

“You haven’t to look a long way ahead,” she continued. “You oughtn’t
to. Those who look too far ahead see the reflection of the past. You
must live, as nearly as possible, from day to day. Plan for a year and
plan, in the circumstances, no farther. Keep to the beach. Keep to the
men, especially Uncle Ho and Tommy. They have something they can share
with you, something you need above everything else just now.”

So it was decided and so arranged. Mermaid, who was concerned over her
aunt’s health, felt that to go to California might do Keturah Hand a
world of good. It could be tried, anyway. She came over to the beach
one morning to say good-bye to her father, to Hosea Hand, to the men
generally, one or two of whom, particularly Joe Sayre, remembered her
from her childhood among them. And to say good-bye to Guy Vanton.

He already looked better physically, she thought, noting the trace of
colour in his face and the absence of the dark rings from under his
eyes. Their gaze met as they said good-bye. His curious, fawn-like
glance was fixed on the shining blue surfaces that hid such great deeps
within her eyes, a wild creature of the shore looking with wonder on
the unfathomable sea. He said:

“Good-bye. I shall see you every time the sun shines on the ocean.
You--you must come back. Please do write to me.”

“I shall be back,” she answered, with calm warmth. Only the blue
opacity of her eyes concealed the great tides moving within her. “I
shall write. Work hard. Sand and sea and sun are great chemicals to
act upon the mind. The beach here is so like a desert island. You
must think of yourself as on a desert island, cut off by the sea of
present living from the lands of past remembrance. And eventually, like
Atlantis, those lands will sink beneath the sea.”

With a firm handclasp they parted.


VII

On the train travelling westward Mermaid and her aunt had some talk of
events, recent and not so recent.

“But why did you take my jewels?” demanded Keturah.

“Because they worried you. They were like a piece of bone, a tiny
fragment pressing on the brain,” responded the young woman. “I knew
that if they disappeared in such a way as to make it seem that they had
been stolen--and I suppose, strictly, they were stolen--the worrying
would cease. What made you think of Captain Vanton as the thief?”

“Because it was impossible to think of any one else, I suppose,” said
Mrs. Hand. “And while I never guessed that he was the man King, still
he evidently knew more about King than any of us did; and King had
known or seen Keturah Hawkins and knew of or had seen the stones. Any
one might want to steal them who knew about them. And he did.”

Mermaid had a question in turn:

“I should have thought Uncle Ho would have recognized Captain Vanton as
the Jacob King he had known in San Francisco.”

“Child, half a century had elapsed between his acquaintance with Jacob
King and the appearance of Captain Vanton in Blue Port. Then, those
sidewhiskers....”

“Dickie will come out next week,” Mermaid said, absently.

“Are you going to marry young Dick Hand?” Keturah inquired, with her
natural abruptness.

“Aunt, you wouldn’t have me marry a man just because he asks me, would
you?”

“Well, I hope you wouldn’t marry him without his asking you to.”

“I might ask him.”

“Dickie?”

“Oh, no--that is--I mean--Dickie has asked me, but I mean I
might--sometime----” Mermaid seemed unnecessarily embarrassed. Her aunt
looked at her intently; then, as if she thought it better to swerve the
conversation slightly, remarked abruptly: “Well, old Richard Hand died
a natural death at the end of his unnatural life, after all.”

“I don’t think you can call death from fear a natural death,” objected
the younger woman.

“Fear! What was he afraid of?”

“He was partly senile, of course, but he could not be convinced that
Captain Vanton was really dead. He heard more or less of Captain
Vanton’s story. The coroner didn’t give it out, but things like that
always get around, or some of them. When they told him that Captain
Vanton was Jacob King, he had a stroke. Paralysis. After that he kept
looking about him and saying: ‘The King is dead! Long live the King!’
And when they told him that Captain Vanton had been buried he cried
out: ‘Nothing is ever buried. He’ll come to life again.’ Later he had
delusions that he saw King or Vanton. Do you remember when Dad went
to see him? He caught sight of Dad and shrieked: ‘Don’t kill me, John
Smiley! I didn’t steal your daughter! Kill King! Only you can’t kill
him!’”

Mermaid finished with a shudder.

Mrs. Hand asked: “How much of the whole story does young Dick know?”

“His father’s part in it pretty fully. The rest--about Guy and Mrs.
Vanton and all--no more than the other Blue Port people. About all they
know is that Mrs. Vanton wasn’t the Captain’s wife and that the Captain
was a mad old man who made his boy’s life miserable and who had had
something underhanded to do with Richard Hand.”

“I’ve always wondered what you told that man to make him tell you that
you were John Smiley’s daughter,” Mrs. Hand remarked.

“Only what I guessed. He was ready to tell me,” said Mermaid. “I was
really fighting for Guy. I offered your jewels to him as a ransom for
Guy. It sounds ridiculous, but since I knew you thought he had taken
them I knew you must think he coveted them, had some craving that
they might satisfy. I was more or less in the dark; I went ahead by
instinct.”

“It’s a wonder, since he shot himself right after you left the house,
that you were not accused of murder,” said Keturah, grimly. “You might
have shot him dead and walked away.”

“You forget Mrs. Vanton,” Mermaid reminded her. “She had come to the
head of the stairs. She saw the door close after me. It was two or
three minutes later before she heard the pistol shot.”

“She’s honest, it seems.”

“Yes, poor creature.”

“Mary,” asked Keturah Hand as she leaned forward while her niece
adjusted the pillows behind her in the big Pullman chair, “when that
man refused the jewels you told him that you would offer another ransom
for Guy Vanton. What had you in mind?”

The younger woman was behind her aunt. Mrs. Hand twisted about suddenly
to see her face. It was flushed, but Mermaid’s deep and brilliant eyes
met her aunt’s unflinchingly.

“I would have married Guy,” she said, her voice vibrating slightly.
“His father--that is, that man--talked about saving him. I would have
matched my salvation of him against his--father’s. I would have fought
for him against all the past evil that was dragging him down. Now his
father is dead. He can--possibly--pull himself out alone, unaided. If
not, I am ‘standing by.’ Oh, yes--I love him,” she finished, answering
the interrogation that leaped from Keturah Hand’s eyes.


VIII

In the sunshine of California, in the cheerfulness of life in San
Francisco, Keturah grew steadily better. Dick Hand executed a variety
of projects, and only Mermaid remained unstirred and uninfluenced by
her surroundings, by the change of air and scene. It is perhaps wrong
to speak of her as “unstirred.” She was stirred and very deeply, but
by no trifle of environment or of company. Down in her the great tides
were swinging, moving resistlessly and in vast volume, imperceptible
in their drift and direction on the surface. As was inevitable, Dick
Hand again asked her to marry him and this time she gave him a final
refusal. She did not put him off. She knew it would be useless. The
current had set and was sweeping on through her. She could chart it,
and she knew it would not shift. Something tremendous, something
massive in her life would be required to deflect it.

“Why,” she asked herself, “should I pretend to myself any longer? I
love Guy Vanton. I think I have always loved him. He is in peril and he
needs my help. When he was caught in the surf did I wait to see if he
could save himself? Not one instant! Why do I wait now? Why do I risk
losing him, by letting him drown, forever? It isn’t right.”

She did up her hair in great coils, like thick cables of ship’s rope,
and it seemed to her that each separate strand, so slender, so easily
snapped, redoubled in its tensile power as it was gathered with the
hundreds of others.

“Life,” she thought to herself, “is like that. We are tied to the past
by a thousand filaments, every one of them slight, fragile, easily
snapped, quickly broken. But they are all twisted together. They are
like this coil of hair. They are like a thousand threads spun together,
not to be snapped, not to be broken. A thousand things join Guy to the
past. Some of the threads join the two of us.”

A fresh thought struck her.

“He can never escape wholly from his past. And I am almost the only
thing or person in it that is pleasant or even halfway wholesome for
him to remember.”

She recalled what she had told him, that he must no longer be passive
but must act. Did not this counsel apply to herself? She knew she
wanted him. She knew he wanted her. But however great his want of
her he could not and would not call upon her to make what might be
the sacrifice of a life--her life--to save his own. How could he, a
man nearing middle age, really nameless, a child of disgrace and the
son and heir of evil, lonely, sensitive, not unliked, but virtually
friendless--how could he ask her to become his wife? He could ask of
her nothing that she did not freely and of her own impulse offer and
give him--friendship, sympathy, help, advice. The last item had an
ironical ring in Mermaid’s consciousness. Advice to the drowning!

If he had the strength to save himself he had that strength, and that
was all there was to it. For what was she waiting? To see him exercise
it? But she loved him. It was not proof of his strength she required.
What he had, what he lacked, was nothing--simply nothing. If he hadn’t
it, she had strength enough for two. Suppose she failed? Suppose she
knew she would fail? The old image persisted before her. If he were
drowning and she knew that her effort to save him would not succeed,
would she abandon him, just stand there watching, or await what would
happen with averted eyes? Of course not. You had to make the effort
no matter if it was absolutely foredoomed to failure. And this effort
which confronted her was not necessarily foredoomed at all; at least,
so far as she or any one else could see. They might shake their heads
but they could not tell.

In her way, the best way she could manage, she put this to her aunt,
who listened almost silently until the end and then said, suddenly
and abruptly: “Of course, Mary, if you love him--why, that settles
everything.”

Mermaid felt bound to insist on the logic leading to this conclusion.

“Nonsense!” exclaimed Mrs. Hand, irritably. “You can’t reason
about such a thing. When two persons love each other it settles
everything--and unsettles everything, too,” she added. “There’s only
one thing to do, and there’s only one person to do it.”

“There’s really no reason why a woman shouldn’t propose to a man,”
continued Keturah. “I’m no great respecter of conventions. You may
remember the time when I used to wear a man’s old coat. Conventions
were made for the man and not man for the conventions, except political
conventions.” She was resorting, as was not unusual with her, to
flippancy to cover emotion. “I don’t know but that I may be said to
have proposed to your Uncle Hosea, when I got money that was rightfully
his from his brother and put it in his hands, indirectly, as a lover
sends a box of flowers to his sweetheart. Only I couldn’t have the
florist, Lawyer Brown, put my card in the box,” she noted. “However, it
wasn’t necessary; it seldom is. You always know who sent the flowers.

“I believe, though I don’t know, that Keturah Hawkins proposed to John
Hawkins,” she went on. “John was a speechless sort of man all his life.
I’m sure he never brought himself to utter any such words as: ‘Will you
marry me?’ They would have choked him. I suspect that at the proper
time Keturah began calmly to talk about plans for the house I live in,
progressing by easy stages to such matters as the date of the wedding
and the clothes he would need, down to his underwear, winter weight.

“They say the way to resume is to resume, but often the way to begin
is to resume, too. Each night that John called, Keturah resumed the
subject she had not discussed the night before; and so they were
married and lived happily ever after.”

Mermaid, reduced to laughter by this narration, said: “Well, to resume
what we were not talking about just now, I shall go East day after
to-morrow if you are willing. I will bring Guy out here and then I can
see you home. You ought not to travel alone.”

“Don’t think you are going away and leave me in this place 3,000
miles from Blue Port, missy!” exclaimed her aunt. “I won’t stay here.
Besides, Dick Hand is cross as a catamount since you told him for the
last time that----”

Mrs. Hand broke off the sentence as she might have bitten off a thread
of unnecessary length. She looked at her niece and sighed.

“You are a fine woman, my dear,” she said. “Come here and kiss me. You
don’t have to put your mind on it. Just a dutiful kiss will do.”

Mermaid kissed her with undutiful violence.


IX

They met, the two, on the beach, on a long sweep of the ocean shore
where snipe were running at the edge of the lacy waves but where there
was no other human being within sight or sound of them. They had
met, you may say, before--at the Lone Cove Coast Guard Station, for
instance, where Mermaid had kissed her father and shaken hands with
everybody, including the one or two surviving honorary uncles of her
childhood. They had sat them down at the long table over which Cap’n
Smiley still presided, encouraging the art of conversation as one of
those social amenities that marked the civilized man. They had eaten
heartily of simple and appetizing fare, had joked, laughed, told
stories. Mermaid had been delighted at the physical transformation
in Guy. He was broader shouldered, or certainly seemed so, and was
obviously heavier, “filled out,” as her father put it. The colour in
his cheeks was a thing to wonder at; so was the calm of his eyes. They
were still those wild-animal eyes, but the look in them was that of a
creature at peace with the world and, for the rest, unafraid. He was,
except for the fact of a somewhat wider education, one of them.

But that had not been a meeting. This was their meeting, here on the
smooth and endless stretch of hard-packed sand at the ocean’s edge.

They stood side by side, not looking at each other but at the ocean, at
the curling, magnificent breakers which the southeast wind was driving
in. The sun shone, the air was magic. Bird cries reached them, a tiny
treble to the bass of the water’s roar.

“Out of the ocean you came,” he said. “Will you slip away and return
into it again some day, I wonder? Mermaid! The name is poetry and the
story is romance. When you go back, you must look for me. I shall be a
wreathed Triton, blowing upon a conch shell. I shall be among those who
pull the sea god’s chariot while you will be among those who swim in
his escort. And we shall be much together. Always.”

“You have done it!” she said, exultingly. “You have become a man, and
yet you have not lost the child and the poet in you. You are really the
Guy Vanton I first knew, only grown, matured, with the world before
you.”

“I have it all yet to conquer,” he told her, half laughing.

“Your greatest conquest has been made.”

He reached for her hand, pressed it, and held it.

“Guy,” she said, suddenly, “will you marry me?”

She felt his hand tremble. The tremendous tide within her swept on, and
in her ears there was a noise like singing. She felt his arm about her,
and it was needed. She made out his voice, saying: “Mermaid, will you
have me? Will you--have--me? Oh, if you will!”

It was a cry of entreaty, a prayer, a thanksgiving.

She suddenly slipped down onto the sand and quite ridiculously
collapsed in a heap. And he was on the sand beside her, folding her
to him, murmuring little words that were inaudible and precious. She
felt his hair against her cheek and for an instant their strange eyes
confronted each other. In his were brown and golden lights; hers were
less brilliantly blue, as if the surface reflection were gone, and
looking into them it would be possible, almost for the first time, to
guess at the depths concealed by their mirror-like quality.

They sat there for a long time while the sun declined slowly through
the heavens, a futile effort of the wheeling universe to measure by
cycles and hours a moment of eternity.


X

The death of “Mrs. Vanton”--no one ever was heartless enough to call
her anything else--left entirely to Guy the moderate fortune which had
been Captain Vanton’s. And now he had a use for it.

Mermaid and her husband travelled about, crossing the Atlantic and
visiting Paris, where Guy showed his wife some scenes of his boyhood.
They rambled through little towns. And in these the streets seemed
always to be crowded with youngsters at play.

Mermaid had hold of Guy’s arm. He felt her red-gold hair brush his
cheek.

“Children!” he said, and fell silent. “We, too, were children once. I
think we will always remain children, you and I. The spirit does not
die, but the body must be renewed. It is ours to renew it.”

They walked on together, and everywhere the children looked up from the
excitement and laughter of their games to glance at them interestedly
or disinterestedly, curiously or with indifference, and here and there
they caught a smile, fleeting and momentary, fashioned expressly for
them, inviting them to share the instant’s joy. As they walked they
drew closer together. They were no longer blissfully happy, moving in
a thoughtless perfection of shared and reciprocated love. They were
intelligently happy, perceptively, hopefully happy. To the delight of
the moment and of each other was added the delight of anticipation.
They walked on and looked down the long vista of the future.

Their love had now a meaning and a purpose for both of them that
transcended the dear comradeship and pleasure of the present. It
was still love, but it was not the same love; it had in it a sense
of obligation, an instinct of fidelity, a passion of service, an
element of devotion. In a little village church they knelt together,
reverently, before the altar, and the same prayer was in both their
hearts.



PART FOUR


I

Her oldest child, a boy, was fourteen when Mrs. Guy Vanton lost her
husband.

They had lived together for a little more than fifteen years. The
newspapers of those years contain nothing to show or suggest what may
have been wrong in their lives. If there was anything it did not show
outwardly.

In the files of the Patchogue _Advance_, to be sure, the patient
searcher might come upon a record of the death of Keturah Hand, only
sister of John Smiley and a life-long resident of Blue Port. The
article referred to her as the widow of Hosea Hand, who had lost his
life three years earlier in an endeavour to save seamen from the
wreck of a three-masted schooner, the _Sirius_. The _Advance_ did
not recall the details of this tragedy, no doubt because they were
familiar to almost all its readers. Hosea Hand, with a rope about
his waist, had gone into a maelstrom of pounding surf at the foot of
the sand dunes, a maelstrom in which several dark bundles of what
appeared to be water-soaked clothing were clashing about. The bundles
were human flotsam, three poor devils washed from the rigging of the
_Sirius_. Before Hosea Hand could lay hold of a single one a big piece
of floating timber, part of the ship’s fence, struck him. He never
recovered consciousness after being hauled inshore.

The tragedy had its effect on Keturah Hand in a perceptible loss of the
rude vigour which had always characterized her. She failed very fast.

Keturah Hand left more than $200,000 which passed to her brother, John,
keeper of the Lone Cove Coast Guard Station, and this was settled by
him upon his daughter, Mrs. Guy Vanton, with whom, after he quitted the
Coast Guard service, he lived until his death. The closing years of
John Smiley’s life were years of quiet happiness. He had a comfortable
home, he had his daughter, and he had about him her four children. The
oldest was named for him--John Smiley Vanton.

The father of the four children perplexed those youngsters vastly
more than a father ought to do. Guy Vanton was quiet, self-contained,
sometimes a little dreamy, rather quickly responsive to people and
occurrences about him. Fashioner of several small volumes of verse
which had received some discriminating praise, he was also the author
of at least one play which had met with indifferent success. “At least
one play,” for he never wrote under his own name and never used the
same pen name twice; which may have been the result of modesty or of
something else, lack of confidence, perhaps. Once or twice when those
who knew him ventured to tax him with this peculiarity he smiled and
said something about “changing personalities.” His wife, and possibly
his father-in-law, could have been the only persons to fathom his odd
behaviour. They knew that Guy Vanton considered himself a nameless
man, something less than human, a misshapen legacy of a past at once
monstrous and oppressive.

There are many kinds of oppression in the world, but the one that is
never completely overthrown is the oppression of memory. Nothing could
entirely displace from Guy Vanton’s life the first thirty years of
it--thirty years, the entire formative period in the human existence.

The mould in which Guy Vanton had been shaped was broken just before
his marriage with Mary Smiley, called Mermaid, but that was too late.
The plasticity of youth was gone. And after a thing has begun to “set”
what matters is not the shape but the material. Clay is often very
beautiful, it has some exquisite colourings; it remains clay.

In a characteristic fit of melancholia Guy Vanton executed a deed
by which he placed all his property in trust for his wife and his
children. And having by this act safeguarded them so far as a man may,
the man wrote a few lines informing his wife of what he had done and
dropped out of sight.


II

Mrs. Guy Vanton’s closest friend, at the time of her husband’s
disappearance, was Tom Lupton, the Tommy Lupton of her girlhood,
who had succeeded her father as keeper of the Lone Cove Coast Guard
Station. She went to Tommy--she had, very humanly and naturally, to go
to someone--to tell him the news and talk over with him what should be
done. She felt that she could the more honourably do this as Tom and
her husband had been firm friends from the time, now many years ago,
when seventeen-year-old Guy Vanton had thrown fifteen-year-old Tommy
Lupton three times in a wrestling match of an unexpected character.
Mary Smiley Vanton knew all about that match and knew the occasion
of it, which had been herself. She was not self-conscious enough to
suppose, however, that the outcome of that encounter in a clearing in
the woods joined to certain sequential events had kept Tom Lupton a
bachelor all these years. If she had thought about it at all she would
probably have argued, quite justly, that the life of a Coast Guardsman
on the Great South Beach is not favourable to marriage.

“This has not hit me so badly as I should have thought it would,” she
confessed to her old friend as they sat together in the living room of
the house John Hawkins had built, almost a century earlier, for himself
and his wife. “Nor so badly, I am afraid, as it ought to hit me. Which
is a wicked sign, or a sign of wickedness, I suppose. Not a good sign,
anyway.”

“Why?” Tom Lupton wanted to know.

“Because,” she answered, “when things are not as bad as we expect them
to be we generally think them a good deal better than they are.”

Tom Lupton turned over the implications of this remark in his mind for
several minutes. At length he asked: “I imagine you have decided what
you want to do?”

Mrs. Vanton let her hands fall loosely in her lap. They had been
hovering for a moment over dark red hair, as heavy in its coils, as
full of sombre brilliance, as it had been on the day of her marriage
to Guy Vanton. The milky whiteness of her skin was not suggestive of
a woman nearly forty. Her face was unwrinkled and her blue eyes were
keen; reflecting, not reflective. Only in the look of her mouth was
there some slight alteration indicative of the passage, not so much of
time, as of experience.

“There are only two things to do, of course,” she answered. “One is
to search actively for him, and the other is to accept the situation.
Were I free to do so I think I should go out and try to find him. That
might be against his wish but I should feel I had to do it. But I am
not free. There are the children, four of them. They are my children as
well as his, and I must do my best for them. I’m sure that he wanted to
do his best for them, and he must have believed that in acting as he
has done he was doing it.”

She paused and looked at Tom Lupton expectantly, as if waiting to be
prompted further. And indeed, this may subconsciously have been her
need of him. It was not so much that she needed his advice and counsel,
in all likelihood, as that she needed someone who by a listening
presence and by an occasional question or comment would help her to
think the thing out and reach and record a clear conclusion. Her friend
may have been aware of this. At any rate, he said: “Poor old Guy! I
don’t think he’s to blame, do you?”

For an instant she was horrified by a conjecture.

“You don’t mean that you think he was not himself? That he was--out of
his mind or anything like that?”

The man hastily disclaimed any such idea.

“I only meant,” he said, “that the person who is to blame is that old
beast who brought him up.”

At this reference to Captain Buel Vanton she shuddered slightly, then
said: “Yes, of course. But that would be a hopeful augury. Jacob King
disappeared and Captain Vanton turned up in Blue Port. It was as if Dr.
Jekyll had triumphed over Mr. Hyde.”

“I’d hardly call Captain Vanton a Dr. Jekyll,” Tom Lupton dissented.

Mary Vanton went on: “I think my husband wanted to remove from our
children’s lives any trace of the darkness in which he himself grew up.
He had, as you know, his moods of profound dejection, never lasting,
but liable to make us all unhappy with the sense of something that
could not be shaken off. It wasn’t his fault. Had the children been
older it would not have mattered so much. But, as you know, they all
worshipped him.”

With the idea of helping her past this obstacle the man said: “You have
made up your mind what you will tell them--the children?”

She made a sound of assent.

“To John, the oldest, I shall tell part of the whole story. I shall
tell him of his father’s boyhood and of Captain Vanton’s life here in
Blue Port; I shall simply tell him that Captain Vanton was an insane
man whose idea was that the world was so full of wickedness that no
boy of his could be trusted in it; and so he kept his boy tied closely
to a dreary old house with two old persons in it, the one always sick,
the other insane. I shall tell him--John--that his father has never
got over that experience, that the memory of it was what made him so
unhappy from time to time, that he realized that these spells made
everybody about him unhappy and worried. Then I shall tell John that
his father, unable to overcome these feelings, has simply gone away. I
shall tell the boy that we may never see him again, that he may come
back some day entirely recovered and well and cheerful, or that we may
see him return ill and old and unhappier than ever.

“That much I can say to my oldest; but I can and I shall say much more,
and of greater importance. I want to impress upon him that he _is_ the
oldest and that I now have no one nearly related to me upon whom I can
depend except himself. He must be as much of a man for my sake as he
has it in him to be.

“Later, of course, I shall tell him more. I want to tell him now enough
to awaken in him the sense of responsibility. As for the incentive to
live up to that responsibility, that exists in myself, his mother, and
his brother and two sisters, younger than he. The other incentive,
which would exist if we were poor or penniless, I can’t create for him.

“I don’t know,” she continued, thoughtfully, after a moment’s pause.
“I don’t know. Perhaps I ought to spend every cent I have--_I_ have;
you know I can’t touch Guy’s money--in hunting for him. But--I’m a
mother. The instinct of the mother is to guard everything for her
children. Money, and other things. I can’t go away on a hunt that might
last for years and leave them. But what is most important is this: If
I go looking for Guy what will the children think of their father?
What shall I tell them? Won’t they think of him as a sort of guilty
fugitive, a deserter, someone to be hunted and tracked down and brought
to some sort of justice? Of course they will. And how far could I keep
the whole story from them? I’m afraid there wouldn’t be much that they
wouldn’t quickly know, and what they didn’t know would be matter for
dreadful guesses.

“Their whole young lives would be dominated by their father’s act and
the things that lay behind it, things they must not know until they are
older. Their whole young lives would be shaped by the circumstance that
their father ran away from something--or to something.”

Tom Lupton, smoking quietly, looked up at her at that.

“It was really running away to something and not from something, I
think,” he said.

Mary Vanton developed this idea.

“Decidedly,” she assured him. “The only thing that Guy could have
wished to run away from was the past; and there is no escape from that
except in the present. The future doesn’t count, can’t be made to count
for the purposes of escape. Guy was running away to the present--the
present outside himself. Outside of us here. Out in the world he will
find something that he ought to have had in the past. I feel that, even
though I can’t say just what it is he will find. It amounts to this, I
think: he will get a new past, and when he has got it he will bring it
back to us. He will come back to us entirely reconstructed, the same
and yet quite different.”

He was glad, with the gladness of a sincere and honourable friendship,
to see her choice of the alternatives that awaited Guy Vanton, who
might conceivably, but not very probably, return.

“The younger children I shall tell as little as possible--and that what
John and I decide upon,” Mary Vanton was saying. “I am going to take
all the children and go over to the beach house for the summer. It will
give everything a chance to settle, including ourselves. I am glad now
that we built a really comfortable house on the beach and I am glad it
is at some distance from any of the beach settlements. It is not too
far from Lone Cove for you to get over rather frequently to see us.
With the boys you can help me a lot. Then in the fall I shall send John
to school and I may take the younger children and go away somewhere.”

Tom Lupton rose. She offered him her hand and he shook it warmly. She
smiled at him.

“Thank you, Tom,” she said. “You are a good friend, and you have helped
me as much this day as in all the rest of your life put together.”

For a second an impulse to tell her how much he had always wanted to
help her nearly took him off his feet. A slight quiver passed along his
tall, broad-shouldered frame, and beneath the browned surface of his
cheek a muscle moved slightly. His voice was the least bit husky as he
said: “Any time. Any time at all. Send for me.”

He went out, quickly.


III

The unaccountable gray eyes of John Smiley Vanton looked straight at
his mother as she talked to him. They saved her a good deal. In a way
they offset the black hair and the snub nose which made him so strongly
resemble, outwardly at least, his father. And there was something
wonderfully cool and strong, to the mother, in the grayness of those
boyish eyes. Granite colour.

“You aren’t telling me everything, mother,” said the boy.

She admitted it. In extenuation she promised that when he was older he
should know the rest.

“You see, John, it really isn’t all mine to tell. If your father were
dead it would be different. But there are some things which it is his
right to tell you, and to be the only one to tell you, while he lives.
Suppose he were to come back in a month or a year; then he could take
it up with you himself, and that would be much fairer.”

He considered this and approved it.

“I ought to tell you this,” his mother added, “there is nothing that
dishonours your father in what I have not told.”

“You know it all?” he asked. “Everything there is to tell?”

“I know all that there is to know,” she assured him, gravely.

With this he was satisfied. They then spoke about his sister Keturah,
who was two years younger. “You’d better,” John told his mother, “tell
her just what you’ve told me. She’ll hear it, anyway. Guy and Mermaid
are only ten and six and don’t matter much. I’ll talk to Guy.”

The masterful assumption of responsibility toward his younger brother
pleased Mary Vanton. She checked an impulse to fold him to her. She
offered her hand instead and he shook it, manifestly proud to conclude
a compact of equals.

Keturah Vanton listened to her mother’s explanation silently. Tears
stood in her eyes, but her anxiety seemed to be mostly for her mother.
She asked her no questions but kissed her with fervour. Ten-year-old
Guy heard what his older brother told him with the incuriosity of a
person engaged in an intensive task of teaching a new dog old tricks.

“Play dead, Dick,” he commanded. Dick obeyed by rising hastily and
loping away. At which six-year-old Mermaid burst out crying as if her
heart would break. For some time afterward she appeared to entertain
the appalling notion that her father had disappeared rather than play
dead.

Mary Vanton lost no time in settling her house in Blue Port and taking
her family over to the beach. She and her husband had what was by
no means the most expensive house on that sand barrier separating
bay and ocean, though it had always seemed to both of them the most
comfortable. It fronted squarely on the ocean, bulwarked and protected
by a tall and grassy line of dunes. There were a half dozen bedrooms
and, on the ground floor, two immense living rooms with fireplaces.
The house was constructed with unusual care and was habitable even in
winter. And it gave, to the everlasting joy of those whose home it was,
on the veritable sea. For the eternal Atlantic, the “Western Ocean”
of sailors, is a breeding ground of men. A cleanser and sweetener of
continents and islands, the ocean of storms and the ocean of victories,
at once the world’s greatest highway and the last, the perpetual
frontier. A sight nowhere transcended!

Mary Vanton often looked upon it. It renewed in her the sense of
wonder, the sense of mystery, the feeling of hope, without which the
soul is extinguished, without which the very heart of life dies.


IV

Tom Lupton got over to see the Vantons at least twice a week through
the summer. And whether she was on the wide veranda or sitting under a
beach parasol on the sand while the children bathed in the surf, Mary
Vanton was always glad to see him. Sometimes she found herself looking
forward to his coming, and then she had a moment of hesitation and
self-rebuke. Yet ... why should she not? She expected a visitor in
September and contemplated his coming with a pleasurable interest, as
she told Tom Lupton.

“You’ll be glad to see Dick Hand again, won’t you?” she asked, as they
sat on the beach together.

“Why, sure,” Tom answered, with some surprise. “Is he coming out?” Dick
was still in New York, a chemical engineer of tremendous reputation.
His latest feat had been to develop some old and neglected patents
that were his father’s. The rights had nearly expired when Dick got to
work at them and made improvements that enabled him to re-patent them.
He thought he was going to make a fortune--or another fortune. He had
several already.

“What are those patents of his, anyway?” asked Tom Lupton, rather
perfunctorily.

“Why, they are processes with oyster shells by which he makes a sort of
concrete that can be used for flooring, and some other substance that
is good for roofs.”

Tom Lupton grew interested.

“Are those the patents he got from your aunt?” he inquired. “I mean the
ones his father got from her?”

“I don’t know. What were those?”

Mary Vanton had never heard the story, but Tom Lupton had, and he
related how Keturah Smiley, later Keturah Hand, had bested Richard
Hand, Sr.

Mary Vanton heard it through and then exclaimed: “Wasn’t that like
Aunt Keturah? I’m glad, though, that Dick is going to make something
out of the patents.”

“It seems almost as if you really had a stake in them,” commented
Keeper Tom. “Your aunt gave them away, practically, if they are worth
anywhere near what Dick seems to think they are.”

“Oh, no; I have no right of any sort in them,” she disclaimed, quickly.
“Aunt Keturah must have parted with them with the full consciousness of
their possible value. She would never have realized anything from them
nor would I. Besides, the greater part of their value has probably come
as a result of the work Dick has done.”

“I suppose he is married and has children,” said Tom, absently. Mary
glanced at him with equal indifference as she responded carelessly:

“No.”


V

Dick Hand at forty-two had, as has been said, a tremendous reputation
and an equally tremendous dissatisfaction. The one had no perceptible
relation to the other. Of the one the world was thoroughly aware, of
the other it was not. His dissatisfaction was known to Richard Hand
alone.

There were times when it swayed him absolutely, When it “came over
him,” and he could not get away from it. He could not have told you
what it was, really; for sometimes he felt it to be one thing,
sometimes another. Now it was an immense discontent with all he had
done or was doing, now it was an unreasonable irritation with life
itself.

Everything, he found at such times, was worthless.

One day, in a fit of absolute disgust, he went to a specialist. He had
no expectation that the man could help him, but he had got where he
must do something.

He had expected to be shown into a darkened room where a fellow more or
less dressed for a part would take his hand gravely, as if performing a
rite, and then, retreating to the distance and becoming semi-invisible,
would intone questions in a ceremonial voice while the conversation was
written down on the wax tablets of a silently travelling phonograph.

But the office was as unlike that as possible, and so was the
specialist.

A bright room with a sort of sun-parlour on the south side, a place
of wicker furniture and cretonnes, with books and magazines lying
about and tobacco on the table. With his eyeglasses and a sober
seriousness of face when in repose, the man who received him was hardly
distinguishable from a business man of comfortable habit, moderately
large affairs, and fairly frequent preoccupations. They shook hands;
the specialist offered Mr. Hand a cigarette and took one himself.

“Let’s come out here,” he said, indicating the sun-parlour. “It’s
pleasanter and the chairs are better to lounge in.”

They disposed themselves and puffed away for a moment or two.

“I’ve come to see if you can help me,” explained Dick Hand, rather
desperately. The other nodded.

“I get fairly sick of--existence,” Dick went on. “I’m restless and
rottenly dissatisfied, and I don’t know why. Nothing seems to mean
anything. I have these spells, and they are commoner than they used to
be.”

“Tell me all about yourself,” suggested the other. “Only what you call
to mind and only what you care to tell.”

Dick hesitated. “I thought,” he said, “that you people asked
questions--to get at certain things hidden from us of whom you ask
them.”

“Well, we do that,” admitted the specialist. “But it usually is better
to hear a man’s own story first. After we have got the things a man
readily recalls, comes the problem of getting at the things he doesn’t
recall.”

“I suppose the idea is the relief afforded by making a clean breast of
things,” hazarded Dick.

“Not entirely. It goes beyond that. It aims at relieving unsuspected
pressures. There’s a sort of an analogy in a physical injury, such as a
fracture. The man who has the fracture knows that something is wrong,
he suffers intense pain, but he doesn’t know that a bone is broken,
or, if he does, he doesn’t know just where, nor how to set it. And he
suffers too much to be able to find out.”

“Well, there’s certainly a fracture somewhere in my life,” said Dick
Hand, grimly. “And I suffer. And I don’t know where it is or how to set
it.”

After a little pause he entered upon his story. It was when he had
entirely finished and sat silent that the specialist spoke again.

“You say you were once in love?”

“It was the only time I ever was in love,” replied Richard Hand. “She
was two years younger than I. We more or less grew up together. We were
both in our twenties when she refused me for good and all. She was
already in love with another man and she was married to him a little
later.”

“You use the past tense. Is she dead?”

“No, she isn’t. She is alive and has four children. Her husband has
disappeared lately, left her and the children. By the way, he would
make a case for you! If you could cure him I’d say you could cure
anybody.”

“It isn’t we who cure,” explained the other man patiently. “We no more
cure a man than does the surgeon who sets a broken bone. We just try,
like him, to get things straightened out so they can cure themselves.
Tell me about her husband, who has disappeared.”

Dick recounted Guy Vanton’s story. It was a long recital but the
specialist seemed interested. At the end Dick asked: “What do you make
of it?”

“It is a bad case,” thoughtfully, “but it isn’t hopeless. It might even
come out all right. I’m afraid not, though. If she--if his wife could
not straighten things out for him there isn’t much likelihood that
anybody else can. She must be a very fine woman. And they genuinely
loved each other. No doubt of that. Love--and children. They are the
ultimate satisfaction of most men and women, but not of all. I imagine
that he is an exception to the general rule. There was something else
that he hadn’t got. Perhaps he will find it.”

“A fine woman.... Love--and children ... the ultimate satisfaction.”
The words struck something in Richard Hand. He looked up suddenly and
spoke in a harsh voice:

“I suppose if I had got her and if--if they were my children...?”

The adviser looked at him gravely.

“I think there is no doubt about it,” he answered.

They sat there in the gathering twilight for some time in a silence
fraught with the pain of a deep revelation. Richard Hand struggled with
the thing that stood revealed to him and within him. After a while
he said, in words that seemed to choke him: “But what shall I do?
What--what _can_ I do--about it--now?”

“Look the thing full in the face, as you are doing now, and conquer
it,” the other counselled.

After a pause he went on to explain: “You love her, you have always
loved her. And because you love her you will love her children, as a
part of her. As long as you suppressed your love for her, as long as
you refused to acknowledge it even to yourself, so long it continued
to punish you in other ways. It did not so act upon you as to prevent
you doing good work and profiting by it; but when you had done great
work and had profited by it this suppressed longing stepped in and
robbed you of the reward you had earned by destroying all the beauty
and meaning of life for you, by turning your victories to ashes in your
mouth, by making everything you were doing or had done or might do,
pointless and futile. For you the final satisfaction would have lain
exclusively in doing all these things for her.

“Why haven’t you done them for her? Why don’t you? You can. You
can make her yours and her children your own. I’m not, of course,
suggesting anything disgraceful or dishonourable. I am suggesting that
you look the truth in the face like an honest man--though you haven’t
been intentionally dishonest with yourself. Outward conventions are
responsible for most of the ingrowing minds. Look the truth in the face
like an honest man and fight the good fight like a brave man.

“Say to yourself--you won’t have to say it to her--just this: ‘I love
her; I have always loved her. I always shall. I have done everything
I have done for her, always, though I didn’t perhaps know it, and
certainly did not admit it. It isn’t wrong to recognize it and it’s
not wrong to admit it to myself; it’s merely a piece of honesty, and
it’s an outlet for what would otherwise be suppressed and denied until
it fouled and poisoned my whole life. At the same time this thing
must be kept under control, just as any outlet must be controlled. I
mustn’t let it, in its flow, do damage as great as it would in its
stagnation--and a worse. I must be as honest as the day about it and as
strong as I am honest.’”

It was quite dark. The two sat there motionless for a while. Then
Richard Hand got up and came toward the other man, offering him his
hand.

“Thank you,” he said, and his voice was boyish and alive. “I think you
have shown me a way out--if I am strong enough to take it and hold to
it. I--I think I shall go and visit her--and find out.”

The adviser gripped his hand and shook it warmly.

“Go, by all means,” he declared. “Nothing is gained by denial of the
truth; nothing is gained by suppression. Everything worth winning is
won by fighting, and there is no impulse in us which cannot be bitted
and bridled and curbed and made to serve us for a righteous end.”


VI

It was like an Old Home Week, Mary Vanton declared, when the three of
them were all together on the ocean shore in front of the beach house.
Dick had come down with the promise to stay a week and was living at
the Coast Guard Station with Tommy. At least he was sleeping there and
so, formally, Tommy’s guest. Actually he was Mary’s guest and all his
hours were spent at her house or on the bay with her and the children,
or in the surf with the children. Except for breakfast, which he and
Tommy got for themselves, he ate at the Vantons’. Tommy, too, contrived
to spend a good deal of time at the Vantons’ and to take rather better
than half his meals there that week. Although as Keeper he remained
technically on duty at the Coast Guard Station through the summer
months, there was actually little for him to do.

“It’s rather hard on the visitors,” he explained to Mary about his
absences, “who come over in droves, mornings and afternoons, but even
if I were there I couldn’t demonstrate the use of the apparatus myself
without the aid of any of my crew.”

The three sat regarding the ocean in which the four children were
frolicking. The two boys could both swim, but were wisely not
attempting to do more than duck in and out of the breakers.

“I think I shall stay here all winter,” Mary Vanton said, suddenly.

The men looked at her, but neither spoke.

“I have always loved the beach,” she went on, after a little
hesitation. “I have always thought I should like to live here. We
shall be comfortable and I think it will be good for the children.”

She spoke in a matter-of-fact way. Tommy Lupton wondered if she was
setting herself a vigil of watching and waiting against the possibility
and improbability of her husband’s return. Richard Hand also thought
of this, but decided--he could hardly have said why--that there was
something she wanted to think out, some plan she wanted to arrive at
respecting herself and the children. Here, in a comparative isolation,
she could work it out for herself. It seemed more in her character,
somehow.


VII

When he left, Guy Vanton had in his pocket the sum of $350. With part
of this he bought a railway ticket to San Francisco. He boarded the
train, and as it was evening, dined, retreated to the club car, smoked
and read for a couple of hours, and then went to his compartment.

The main thing was plainly to hit upon something to do that would make
a little money, enough for his necessities, while he made acquaintance
with the world, the real world, the world outside himself, outside Blue
Port, outside his peculiar past.

It had taken him a long time to realize that what he needed, what he
must have if life were to become worth living, was a touchstone in the
shape of some direct experience, real and rough--something that would
not be eaten away by the acid of his thoughts nor carven into gargoyles
and grotesques, the chisellings of memory.

Guy Vanton was a poet. It was natural that he should recall the lives
and adventures of other poets, and in the performance of Vachel
Lindsay he found an example of what he sought. Lindsay had gone about
the country with scrip and wallet preaching a gospel, the gospel of
beauty, exchanging his poems, printed on slips of paper, for food and
lodging. In the Colorado ranges, along Southern roads to the doors of
mountaineers’ cabins, by Kansas wheatfields, and over stretches of
prairie, from farmhouse to farmhouse Lindsay had travelled--chanting,
reading, conversing, discoursing--and these adventures he had afterward
chronicled. Guy had no armful of poems to read in exchange for food
and a bed; he was certainly not the possessor of a gospel that people
would stop to hear. He could not emulate Lindsay and the idea of doing
it, to give him credit, never entered his head. What struck him was the
fact that in America, at any rate, there was still room for a pioneer.
Americans find something zestful and admirable in the spectacle of a
man breaking a new path.


VIII

He was a long time turning the matter over in his mind. And after it
all, he could make up his mind to one thing only. He would go through
with what he had begun. This journey to San Francisco, for instance.
Once there he would look about.... He could, at any rate, go to the
Federal Employment Bureau, and see what he could get in the way of
work. A job. Something to do. Something to worry about. Something
two-fisted, hard ... but not hopeless.


IX

He got it. Lying in San Francisco Bay was the British ship _Sea
Wanderer_, of Liverpool, a vessel of 2,000 tons, old and rather
disreputable in appearance, ready to carry such cargo as she could
get and make a precarious profit for her owners. Soon she would be
scrapped. That is, if she did not go to pieces first.

And yet despite the clumsiness of her outline, with all her sail set,
she was a beauty, a perfect swan of a ship; a swan with a streaked and
dark and dirty breast and body. She had loaded with grain at Port Costa
and now lay anchored in midstream waiting to get a crew. The skipper,
a Welshman of Cardiff, had a charter to fulfil and was rapidly growing
frantic. He was shipping anything and anybody who offered. He took a
sharp look at Guy Vanton, noted the fact that here was a man no longer
young, noted the further fact that this man no longer young was a
person of intelligence and education, found out that Guy had had no sea
experience, cursed a little, computed wages, remembered that Guy would
be so many added pounds of beef on a rope and took him.

The passage was from San Francisco to Leith in Scotland. In the course
of it Guy put on fifteen pounds and came to a clear understanding with
himself and at least one man of the crew.

They fought, he and this other man, in the waist, surrounded by a
ring of seamen whose sympathy was entirely against Guy and with the
Scotchman, named Macpherson. Macpherson was about ten pounds heavier
than Guy but made the mistake of clinching. Whereupon Guy turned the
fight into a wrestling match and threw his opponent. Macpherson’s head
striking on an iron butt, there was no more battle in him that day. Nor
did he challenge Guy in the rest of the passage.

Guy’s understanding with himself was as forcible and as fortuitous. It
was gained, as such comprehensions are, in loneliness and in struggle.
He got some of it on the ship’s yards, striving with half-frozen
fingers to clutch the wet and stiffened sail. He got some more of
it as he lay at night in the tropics on the hatch, looking up at
a star-sprinkled and gently rocking sky. He got most of it in the
spectacle of his fellows, a race of men dedicated to the achievement
of a common purpose for no real or visible reward. Certainly they did
not sail the seas for the sake of the few dollars it put in their
pockets. They could live more comfortably ashore in the easeful jails
for vagrants--“with running water and everything,” as one of them put
it. They were where they were for the sake of doing something together.
They would sail that ship from port to port. They would sail her
along a trackless path across the eternal frontier of the ocean in a
voyage without precedent. Every ship, it came home to Guy Vanton, is
a _Santa Maria_; every sailor a Columbus. If they failed, they failed
gallantly; if they succeeded, they succeeded in an enterprise bigger
than themselves.

And they did succeed. At night, under the glare of the arc-lights,
alongside a stone quay at Leith they stood, a patient little group up
forward, and heard the mate, standing on the fo’c’s’le head, address
them with the immemorial benediction of the sea, four words:

“That’ll do ye, men.”

A straggling cheer went up and they turned to the shore.


X

Guy Vanton saw now what he had never seen before, what he had come
more than 15,000 miles to see: that the world of men and women is a
fellowship into which all are admitted in such degree as they care to
enter and on such terms as they make for themselves.

Without any subtleties he perceived that the past could bind him only
in so far as he allowed it to do so. It was not his father who proposed
him for fellowship in the community of men and women, nor could his
father withhold that fellowship from him.

Nor his mother, nor anything that they had done or left undone. With
the birth of every mortal a new and clean page is turned in human
history.

Every man writes his own page. What had he written? And he was getting
out of middle age. There was not so much more time left to write. Not
so much space.

He would go home to her whom he should never have left; to her whose
page opened facing his; to her, the mother of his children, whom he had
left to teach them, unaided by him, how to write on the clean, white
page.

Together they would work out something better than themselves. What is
written, lives on. What they wrote would stand as a record, for better
or worse, after they were through inscribing it. The thing was--it must
be done together.

He wandered about Edinburgh for a week and then shipped for New York
from Liverpool. This was in early winter.


XI

Before Richard Hand said good-bye to Mary Vanton that September he told
her frankly of his love for her.

“I am not doing a dishonourable thing,” he insisted. “If I tell you
this, now, it is my right to speak and your right to hear.”

Mary Vanton sat looking directly at him, the brilliance gone from her
blue eyes, the depths in them showing, the depths in her showing, too,
in the way she listened, and the words she uttered. Her wonderful hair,
darkly red, lay framed against the white linen of a chair covering, a
chair with a tall back that seemed to shield and protect her and bring
out in relief the milky whiteness of her fine skin, unchanged by the
sun and salt air, like a pure and unspotted marble.

“No,” she said, slowly, “it is not dishonourable. For it is not myself,
Mary Vanton, that you love, but the girl Mermaid. I am not she. I am
much altered.”

“You are Mermaid,” he said, simply, and in his voice there was
reverence.

She shook her head at this and seemed to fall to pondering the
questions his confession raised.

“Your husband,” he went on, “has deliberately turned his back. It
is necessary that you should have some material assistance. It will
be necessary--from time to time. I don’t mean money, but I do mean
counsel, advice, someone to talk things over with, help with the
children, particularly with the boys. Young John, for example. He’s
fourteen and you are sending him away to school. You’re letting me take
him and you don’t know what it means to me!” Like most people, Dick
Hand was not ashamed to show feeling, though he hesitated, embarrassed,
before a revelation of the depth of it. And this went deep. He lifted
his head abruptly and his glance pierced the blue surface of the
woman’s eyes and sank silently to unfathomable soundings.

In those strange regions they met. It was like the embodiment of a
fancy as old as Kingsley’s “Water-Babies.” But it was not a meeting of
sprites, not a meeting in play. She was Mermaid; he was Merman. She was
the incarnation of youth for him; he was the incarnation of dreams for
her. Each saw in the other something lost or denied.

“You are what I would most wish to be, were I not Mary Vanton,” she
was saying, evenly, and he found it hard to believe that she was
uttering the words, so magically did they echo his silent thought.
“Remember that I, too, was a girl. I also studied--chemistry. Call it
alchemy--wonderworking--the miracle of facts invested with the romance
of their exploration and discovery. In my simplicity and eagerness I
dreamed for myself a career.... You have had the career.... In your
simplicity and hopefulness you dreamed for yourself the perpetuation of
youth in an ideal love and the renewal of youth in your children....
That--has been mine. I have had the greater satisfaction. I have it
now.

“But mine is the basic satisfaction. I have had, I still have, an ideal
love. I have my children. The rest I can forego. The other dream I can
have as a vicarious satisfaction in the splendid work you have done
and are doing. You, on the other hand, have not had the underlying
satisfaction that has been mine.... These things cannot be undone. We
have to deal with them as they are. We have to make the most of them,
exploit them bravely, gallantly. It is the feat of living which, I
suppose, everyone is called upon to perform.”

“You are right,” he said, affirmatively. “But you are also partly
wrong. I was your lover and am now your friend; I love your children,
and it is at least permitted me to love them as if they were my own.”

“They are that part of me which it is still permitted you to love,”
she said, gravely. “And as a friend, as an old friend, as my one-time
lover, as the realizer of that part of my dream which I in my own
person never can realize--as such you are near and dear to me. Between
us there exists a strong tie. I do not think that anything will ever
break it.”

“It is unbreakable and it exists. It can be no different, it need be no
stronger,” he avowed.

A few moments later she heard him on the veranda, talking with her
oldest boy.

“I’ll swim you a hundred yards in the bay and beat you,” he was saying
to John in a youthfully challenging voice.

“You’re on,” replied the fourteen-year-old, concisely. “Say, you can’t
do it, though!”

They moved away and their voices dwindled. Mary Vanton listened to the
attenuating sound of their movements and chatter. A great thankfulness
filled her heart, and when she rose from the chair where she had been
sitting, motionless, tears were in her eyes.


XII

But Tom Lupton was not articulate. He walked beside Mary Vanton, sat
at her table, declined cigars and apologetically lit his pipe instead,
looked at his hostess and old friend with something kindling in his
countenance, talked--the casual talk that there was to exchange in
cheerful barter--and said nothing of what was in his heart. Yet Mary
Vanton knew what was there.

The same thing was there that had been in the heart of the youngster,
the boy, Tommy Lupton, she had known. It would be there always. But his
attitude was different from Richard Hand’s. In spite of an existence
that gave him plenty of opportunity for thinking things out there were
things that Tommy never would think out. He would only dumbly feel.

If he couldn’t think them out he certainly couldn’t utter them in
words. Without doubt he thought it wrong to feel them. All his life he
had loved Mary Vanton just as, in a boyish way, he had loved the girl
Mermaid. But he did not realize it; would have thought it a wicked
thing in him if he had realized it.

His attitude was simple. Mary developed it one day and defined it for
her own satisfaction--developed and defined it for his unconscious
satisfaction, too. He would feel the better for it, she knew, though he
would not know why.

“What,” she asked him as they were walking along the ocean shore
together, “are you going to do--eventually?”

Tom Lupton considered.

“Oh, I suppose I shall just stick along here,” he confessed. “It isn’t
much. It’s all I have to look forward to.

“Other men,” he said, a moment later, “haven’t any special thing to
look forward to, either. Take the fellows at the station. All the older
ones are married and expect to retire on their pensions some day and
take it easy. They’ve children. They can watch them grow up. I’m not
married. I’ll probably stay in the harness as long as I’m able and
then I’ll have to quit, I suppose, whether I want to or not. I can
watch other people’s children growing up. I can occupy myself some way.
That’s what it comes to mostly--occupying yourself some way--doesn’t
it?”

“Why don’t you marry?” If it was a cruelty he was mercifully
unconscious of it.

He looked straight at her and replied: “I’ve never thought of marrying.”

It was literal truth. Mary Vanton understood that instantly. He had,
from boyhood, always put her clean above him. He had fought for her,
a boyish battle, and been defeated; and after that, while he continued
to feel the same way about her, while he continued to love her, the
fancy of adolescence maturing into the devotion of the grown man, he
had never figured himself in the running. She had stepped outside of
the circle of his life, and when she reëntered it, it was as the wife
of another man--which was the whole story.

“Of course,” he was saying, with his admirable simplicity and
acceptance of the facts--so far as he recognized them. “Of course I
wish I might have married. It would have been pleasanter. I should
either have been much happier or very much unhappier.”

Again he looked at her with his smile in which the boy he had been was
so clearly visible. When he smiled the little wrinkles at the comers of
his eyes, got from much seaward gazing, made him look younger.

“I’m worried about you,” he told her, with the directness that was to
be expected of him. “Do you think you ought to stay here this winter?”

“I think I must,” she answered. “It’s not from any idea of shunning
people but because I have got to arrive at some way of living. If Guy
were dead I could make an unalterable decision. With Guy alive I have
to consider the possibility of his return, the probability of it.”

“You feel sure he will return?”

“Quite sure. If I thought he were never to return I would reconcile
myself to it as best I could, make my plans, and go ahead. Even then
I should have to provide for the fact that he might come back. But
believing as I do that he is sure to come back, and feeling as I do
utterly uncertain how long he will be away, I am very badly perplexed.”

“Why do anything?” he asked, wonderingly. “It is not as if you had to
earn your bread.”

“It is more difficult,” she explained. “When you have to earn your
bread, and your children’s bread, you are spared the necessity of any
decision. You just set about earning it the best way you can, and
puzzle over nothing except how more advantageously to earn it. Or how
to earn more.

“Those are not my problems and I have everything to be thankful for, no
doubt, that they aren’t. And yet--I wonder if it isn’t easier to deal
with difficulties under the pressure of necessity? Do you realize that
I have no necessity, immediate or remote, pressing upon me to compel me
to address myself to my problem, to solve it?”

This was not so subtle but that Tom Lupton saw it and said so.

“You’d be better off, in a way, if you had to make up your mind to
something,” he agreed. “But what I can’t see is what you need to make
up your mind to.”

Mary Vanton permitted herself a slight gesture of spreading hands.

“If Guy were to be gone but a short time, if I knew that, could feel
certain of it, I would simply stay here and keep things as they are,”
she declared. “The children come first in any calculation I may make.
But if I knew he were to be gone for a period of years I’d do quite
differently. I’d go into something, something where I could have them
with me and where we’d all be pretty constantly at work together. A big
farm, I think. I don’t know anything about farming, but I dare say I
could learn something about it, and surely a boy like John could learn
it from the ground up--or perhaps farming is learned from the ground
down,” she finished, smilingly.

“What I am getting at is this,” she went on. “I feel the need of
productive labour. I am not a theorist and I have no set of passionate
political or economic interests. But I count it a real misfortune that
at this crisis in my life I do not have to work for my living and my
children’s living. It would be better for me if I had to, and it will
be better for them if they are trained to. Under the trust left by
Guy I can’t impoverish myself and the children if I wished to; and
certainly I don’t wish to. Money is an obligation, just as much as any
other form of property, and more than most. The obligation is to use
it as rightly as you know how, as productively as you can. And that
obligation certainly isn’t discharged by filling our five mouths with
food and putting clothes on the five of us. It is rather more fitly
discharged by educating ourselves, but it can only be fully discharged
in the end by productive labour. That’s the conscientious and dutiful
view I take of it; from the purely selfish view there is a good deal
also to be said for a big farm. We need a new set of interests and
healthful occupation. It needn’t be a farm, except that I can’t think
of any other productive occupation where the children could healthfully
bear their share. I couldn’t,” she added, humorously, “organize a
factory for the five of us nor set up a factory in which we would be
much use to the world or to ourselves.”

“You could carry out this idea, anyway,” Tom Lupton meditated aloud.

“I shouldn’t feel that I could embark on anything of the sort if I
felt certain of Guy’s return within a comparatively short time,” she
corrected. “If he comes back and approves of my idea we ought to
execute it together. That would be as it should be. If I knew he were
not going to return for five or ten years I would go ahead. Because
five or ten years would change all of us so much that an absolutely
new adjustment would be necessary, anyway. And it would be as easily
made in an entirely different setting as in the old one but a little
altered--more easily, I have no doubt. You must remember, Tommy, that
after years of any absence we always return to make rediscoveries. The
delight is in finding something essential and unchanged in what is
superficial and very much changed. If things are outwardly the same we
are disappointed and stop there with our disappointment--we never do
get beneath the surface again.”

Big Tom Lupton, with his simple way of viewing everything about him,
felt himself beyond his depth.

“How will you decide what to do?” he asked, finally.

“This winter will tell me,” Mary Vanton asserted. “I can do nothing
about it before spring--I won’t, at least. If by spring I have received
no word, if there is then no indication, nothing to guide me, I shall
have to go ahead in my own fashion, take all our lives in my own hands,
run my own risks, make my own mistakes, stand or fall by what I do and
the way I do it.”


XIII

Richard Hand had taken John Vanton to a school in New Jersey and had
seen him settled there before going back to New York to prepare for a
job in Arizona. The Western enterprise necessitated a long absence from
his office in lower Broadway, and made it improbable that he would be
able to see the Vantons for nearly a year. But late in October Mary
Vanton got a letter from him in which he said:

  Things are in such shape here that I think I shall be able to run
  away for a couple of weeks at Christmas time, and if you like I will
  go to the school and pick up John, who will be coming home about then
  for the holidays. I am going to invite myself to come and stay with
  you part of the time I am East--the first part of it. After Christmas
  I shall have to get back to the New York office and clean up some
  work there. May I come?

  I do not suppose you have heard from Guy, though I sincerely hope
  you may have. I made some inquiries in New York and did a little
  investigation by wire. Through a friend in Washington I had a search
  made of records of the Federal Employment Bureaus in some of the
  cities and we found that under his own name he had been shipped on a
  British vessel, the _Sea Wanderer_, of Liverpool, sailing from San
  Francisco to Leith, Scotland. That was months ago.

  The _Sea Wanderer_ is an old ship, a squarerigger, and she went
  around Cape Horn. Of course I inquired right away about her and
  learned that she arrived safely at Leith after a passage of five
  months--not very swift, you see. I wasn’t able to find out what
  became of Guy after that, but he reached Scotland all right, for
  there was no trouble on the passage and no one was lost or died. He
  was paid off at the Board of Trade office in Leith along with the
  rest of the crew.

  He appears to have gone straight to San Francisco from New York and
  to have shipped there on this passage before doing anything else.
  The time interval is too short to have allowed him to do anything
  else. It was not more than ten days, apparently, from the time he
  left New York to the day the _Sea Wanderer_ sailed. The people at the
  Federal Employment Bureau in San Francisco have no recollection of
  him. They don’t recall anything he said nor what he looked like. He
  was just one of hundreds of others they deal with every day. The only
  actual identification, of course, lies in the name, and it is highly
  improbable that the man who was shipped on the _Sea Wanderer_ was
  some other Guy Vanton. I think that, in a way, you will be glad to
  know that he kept his own name. It makes him seem more like a fellow
  going about his proper business and not trying to hide or run away
  from something.

  He wasn’t doing that, I feel sure. He was just going after something
  he hadn’t got. Let’s hope he gets it and comes back safely with it.

  John is a trump. I like that older boy of yours and suspect he’s
  got great stuff in him--not that it surprises me. As your boy I
  should be surprised if he hadn’t. I rather expected, though, that
  he would say something about his father, talk to me about him in
  some way, try to get my opinion or something of that sort. But he
  never opened his mouth on the subject. He’s self-contained without
  being conceited. He’ll get on well at school. And whatever befalls,
  when he gets a little older you are going to be able to have real
  reliance on him. He writes me regularly and seems to like the place
  and the fellows. I think he inherits your taste for chemistry,
  and as I’m a chemical engineer he thinks something of me on that
  account. In fact, when we’re alone together it’s pretty much a
  case of “talk shop” for me all the time. Not that I mind that! I
  never knew before how interesting shop talk can be. And if I give
  him my confidence he won’t withhold his. I wonder, anyway, if a
  certain relation of friendliness and exchanged confidence and shared
  confidence doesn’t come rather easier between two people who aren’t
  joined by ties of blood. It has sometimes struck me, from what I’ve
  seen of other men and their sons, that the very fact that a man is
  a boy’s father somehow makes it more difficult for him to come into
  a real confidential relation with the boy--at times, anyway. For
  even nowadays the father is more or less an embodiment of Authority,
  more or less the sovereign, and intimacy with the sovereign is not
  particularly easy. Since I have no real authority over John he is
  rather more inclined to listen to my advice and heed it. “If I were
  you” gets farther, lots of times, than “You must.” Well, I won’t
  theorize about it; the fact is what matters, and the fact is what
  gives me immense pleasure and a sort of general gratitude that
  belongs to you and John and things in general.

  I wish there were some way of finding out what Guy did after reaching
  Leith, but from the day when he left the Sailors’ Home there no trace
  of him appears. I have had the people at the Sailors’ Home questioned
  but he did not talk about his plans. They remember him there rather
  distinctly--not his personal appearance but the fact that he seemed
  to be a man of education and breeding. When he left he took his
  dunnage with him, which would make it seem probable that he intended
  to go to sea again. If so he may be on his way home now. I sincerely
  hope so. I not only hope he’ll come back, but I hope he’ll come
  back as speedily as possible and in his best estate, physically and
  mentally and spiritually.

  Tell me what the girls would most like for Christmas presents. And if
  there is anything I can get for you on my way East let me know. John
  and I are planning to spend a day in New York buying some gifts. What
  would _you_ like? I shall bring along a toy wireless outfit for Guy,
  Jr.

Mary Vanton read this letter with attention. The news it contained
of her husband stirred her profoundly. At first she wondered if the
career of Captain Vanton had had anything to do with Guy Vanton going
to sea; but after some reflection she concluded it had not. Guy had
always loved the sea, which was one of the reasons they had built
the beach house she was living in. The sea had been a mutual bond
between them--the sea and the beach. Fully half of the verse he had
from time to time written dealt with the ocean, and he and she had
shared a certain interpretation of it, that the sea was the last, the
irremovable, the perpetual frontier on which the race of men could
renew themselves, renew their hardihood, exhibit their courage, their
daring, their resourcefulness, their faith.

“The sea,” Guy had once avowed, “is the only frontier that never
vanishes and never recedes. Men triumph over it: ‘A thousand fleets
roll over thee in vain,’ and the same victory has to be won anew each
time a ship sets sail. Steam and wireless and all sorts of other
inventions make sea travel safer and easier and swifter only in the
long run, and in the case of the ‘thousand fleets’--in the case of
any single voyage or any single ship the actual risks, the possible
hardships, the prerequisite of latent courage and absolute devotion on
the part of the men who sail her, remain exactly the same as when the
Phoenicians went forth in trading vessels and shuddered to go beyond
the pillars of Hercules, into the dark, unknown ocean that rolled away
to the end of the world.”

This, he had argued, and Mary Vanton agreed with him, constituted the
real immortality of the sea and the undying freshness of its adventure.
They both felt that there was something in their attitude that wasn’t
a part of the ordinary landsman’s attitude toward deep water. Both had
been brought up in the tradition of tall ships and men who manned them.
It showed in their outlook on life and their tastes in reading. Joseph
Conrad was the passion of both. Although they agreed in thinking his
greatest novel to be not a sea tale at all--“Nostromo”--they were of
one mind respecting his finest story. Together they picked “Youth,”
despite the apparent preponderance of critical opinion in favour of
“Heart of Darkness.” Perhaps this was because in their own lives they
had their heart of darkness; and in Guy’s case there must have been,
in respect of “Youth,” an inextinguishable yearning for something he
could hardly be said ever to have enjoyed in his own strange and sad
experience.

Much of all this passed through Mary Vanton’s mind as she stood on the
wide veranda of the beach house, alone. The water was now far too cold
for bathing and the children had scattered to their own devices. It
was a chilly, sunshiny, October day. Hull down on the restless horizon
Mary could see a steamship moving almost imperceptibly westward. By
nightfall she would be at anchor off Quarantine. That same night or
the next morning her passengers would troop ashore and add themselves
to New York’s millions. And even as she watched this liner creep along,
not more rapidly than the minute hand of a watch, a thin plume of smoke
on the eastern horizon announced the presence of another vessel. So
they followed each other, day in and day out, going west, going east,
seldom missing from the scene for an hour. More rarely you saw a great
ship under full sail come up over the rim of the world, move past with
curved white beauty, and then sink over the world’s rim again.


XIV

The vessel struck with the greatest suddenness and with such force that
even above the roar of the wind and the thunder of the surf pounding at
the foot of the dunes the people gathered in the Vanton house heard the
dull crash and jumped to their feet.

Dick Hand exclaimed: “What’s that!”

Mary Vanton answered with the thought that was in all their minds: “A
ship!”

Her mind ran instantly to the children, absurdly, as if they were in
danger.

Seven-year-old Mermaid, the youngest, was in bed and was not likely
to be awakened by sounds outside. Keturah and the two boys were with
Richard Hand and herself.

She spoke to the three of them with stern distinctness:

“Children, whatever happens, you mustn’t leave the house. You mustn’t
step off the veranda. The sea is up to the foot of the dunes.”

She called the servant and governess and ordered them to keep to the
house and to help her.

Richard Hand was already at the telephone and calling the Lone Cove
Station.

“Hello, Tommy!” they heard him say. “A ship has struck just opposite
the house. Wait a moment.” He lifted his head from the transmitter and
asked: “Can you see anything?”

“They’re sending up rockets,” replied Mary Vanton. She was at the
window, the two boys crowding close to her to look out.

“It’s certain,” Richard Hand said into the telephone. “We can see her
distress signals.... All right.”

He hung up the receiver with a crash and went to the window to see for
himself.

The utter darkness of the angry night was broken, at a distance of
perhaps 400 yards from where these onlookers were clustered, by a
stream of rockets, which lit the blackness faintly for an instant
and then expired, making the night seem darker than before. The
illumination was not sufficient to disclose much of the vessel but she
seemed to be a schooner or ship with three masts. Not a large craft;
something of about 2,500 tons and something more than 200 feet long,
Richard Hand surmised.

There was no sail on her that they could see. What little she had been
carrying must have been blown from the bolt-ropes before she struck,
and this, indeed, had probably caused the disaster to her, forcing her
on a lee shore. The gale was from the southwest. It had been blowing
all day, with hail and snow flurries, and it was bitterly cold.

Mary Vanton left the window and taking the servant went into the
kitchen. She dragged out a washboiler, took from a cupboard a fresh
can of coffee, emptied the coffee in the washboiler, but not without
measuring and estimating, put the boiler on the stove and began pouring
in water.

She ransacked the pantry and sent her older boy to the cellar. From
that region John emerged bringing a side of bacon.

“Bread!” exclaimed Mary, and for a moment she stopped in complete
perplexity. Then a recollection relieved her.

“John,” she told the boy, “go down cellar again and bring up all the
hardtack there is there. Bring it up a little at a time. Don’t try to
bring it all at once. There’s plenty of that, anyway.”

Her attention was caught by certain preparations that Dick Hand was
making.

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to join the United States Coast Guard on a temporary
assignment to active duty,” he responded, grinning as he struggled
to get into a pair of hipboots belonging to her husband. Mary’s face
showed a moment’s dismay but cleared instantly.

“Tommy will appreciate it.”

“He’d better,” Dick asserted. “Pretty way to celebrate the holiday
season, this!” But he changed his tone a second later. “I ought to be
kicked for jesting about it,” he said. “Think of the poor devils on
that boat!”

He had got into the boots and was wrapping an oilskin coat about him.

John and Guy, holding the lookout at the window, shouted: “The man on
patrol is out here sending up answering rockets.”

Keturah, dissatisfied, came to her mother’s side in the kitchen.

“Can’t I help here?” she asked.

“Break out some of the ship’s biscuit,” replied her mother, perhaps
unconsciously falling into sea speech. Keturah began opening a box of
the hardtack.

Having got under way the work of preparing food and a hot drink for
those who would soon be needing both, Mary Vanton allowed herself a
moment at the window with the boys.

Above the steady diapason of wind and ocean came sounds of men
shouting faintly. This was the crew of the Lone Cove Station, dragging
apparatus to the dunes close by the Vanton house. A moment later Keeper
Tom Lupton came in, banging the door; that being, indeed, the only way
to close it against the force of the gale.

Mary Vanton hastened toward him.

“We shall go around the house,” he said, without wasting time in
greeting her. “We can work better in the lee of the house. It will be a
wonderful protection to us and if the line falls short it will be less
likely to be fouled.”

“The whole house is yours,” Mary Vanton told him, quietly. “Use it.
Come and go as you like. I am making gallons of hot coffee; there will
be bacon and bread or hardtack.”

He thanked her and praised her with a single glance. “I must be getting
outside,” he said, and left.

The boys had deserted the south window for one looking east where they
could see the life savers bringing up their apparatus on the crest of a
dune close by the house. Their mother spoke to them:

“John and Guy, bring in wood and get some dry wood up from the cellar
and start fires in the fireplaces.”

They obeyed willingly enough. Mary went into the kitchen and sped the
servant and her daughter in the task of victualling.


XV

It is bad enough to move Coast Guard apparatus along the level ocean
shore, dragging it through the sand, but to move it back from the
ocean, up and down over the uneven line of the sand dunes, is more
difficult still. When the ocean is up to the foot of the dunes and is
biting angrily at their bases this difficult portage has to be made.

The Vanton house was not more than a half mile east of the Lone Cove
Station, so the Coast Guardsmen’s task was not as bad as it might have
been in this respect. Sometimes it is necessary to drag life boats
mounted on trucks, and all the other paraphernalia, for several miles.

To be able to work with such a base as this big house right at hand was
an immense advantage, and to be able to work in the lee of it, more or
less huddled under its eastern wall, seemed a piece of fortune hardly
less great.

Everything else was about the worst it could have been in the
circumstances. The darkness was absolute. The gale was of hurricane
force, blowing at more than 60 miles an hour. It was early in the
evening, not yet ten o’clock, and there was all the night to fight
through. The barometer, as Keeper Tom Lupton well knew, was still
falling, and the height of the storm had probably not been reached
and would not be reached until toward morning. The chance of the sky
lightening, until daybreak compelled a recession of the darkness, was
almost nil. The chance of the wind abating was no better. And even
should the night become a little lighter and the wind lessen, the
tremendous seas which were assaulting the sand dunes and breaking over
the stranded ship would not go down. It takes hours after a heavy gale
for the sea it has kicked up to lessen perceptibly.

The wind, against which a man could sometimes hardly stand or keep upon
his feet, was not the worst thing for those who had to make the fight
to save life from the shore. It was hailing intermittently and the
ice particles were fairly driven into the skin of men’s faces like a
peppering of fine shot. There was little snow on the ground, which was
a thing to be thankful for. More, however, would come later when the
wind began to abate.

Keeper Tom marshalled his men and his machinery as close as possible
to the Vanton house. Within forty minutes from the time he himself
finished speaking with Richard Hand, his men and his apparatus were
posted and he was ready to begin operations. In the meantime, Dick Hand
had bumped against him in the blackness and shouted indistinctly:

“Tommy!... Dick! Anything you want ... help you....”

“Thanks!” the keeper had bawled back with his hands on his old friend’s
shoulders.

The little cannon began booming and a thin line began whipping seaward.

Nothing was visible. What those ashore would have seen, if there had
been light, was a three-masted ship which had struck the outer bar
and had been driven past that until she lay on the inner bar, so far
inshore that it might have been possible to wade to her at low tide
in peaceful weather. The stress of her blow on the outer bar and the
pounding to which she had been subjected in being driven past it, as
well as the continuous assault she was now under, had battered her very
badly. She had not opened up at her seams but would, and at almost any
instant. Her foremast had been carried away completely--snapped off
a few feet above her deck. Some of her yards--the spars carrying her
sails--were gone; two of these dangled loosely, menacing the lives of
any one on her decks. But there was no one on her decks. All hands had,
of necessity, taken to the rigging.

They could just be glimpsed by the flare of her rocketing distress
signals--little dark figures in the maintop, in the topgallant
crosstrees, in the mizzen shrouds. They appeared not at all human. They
seemed to be nothing but slight lumps or warts on the fine tracery of
the rigging, the slender filaments of masts and yards and stays, wood,
wire and rope, limned against the formidable blackness in which sky and
sea met each other and were indistinguishable.

No boat, of course, could live for a moment in the sea that was raging.
The only chance was in getting a line to the vessel. And in doing that
every instant counted.

The first shots with the line were useless, as was to have been
expected. It was necessary to determine direction and drift, and to
make a heavy and exact allowance for windage. The ship lay directly
south, the gale was from the southwest. The line had to be shot almost
straight against the wind, which then carried it to the south. But so
shot, it became evident that it was falling short. A heavier charge was
used and still the line fell short.

“We can’t stay here,” bellowed Keeper Tom who, when he wanted to give
an order, was under the practical necessity of bawling it separately
in each man’s ear. “We’ll have to leave the lee of the house and go to
windward, well to windward.”

This was that they might not have to shoot the line squarely in
the teeth of the gale when the wind, getting under it, lifted it
high in the air and seriously shortened the horizontal distance it
travelled--like a “pop” fly in a baseball game or a golf ball driven
straight into the wind.

Leaving the lee of the Vanton house was just another hardship added
to those they were already enduring. All the apparatus was moved and
a post was taken on a dune well to the west. From this site better
results were got almost immediately. The gale still carried the line to
the eastward but this could be allowed for and the lateral journey of
the line was not materially lessened. After a few shots to get the wind
allowance the line was dropped squarely over the wreck.


XVI

Inside the house Mary Vanton, having assured herself that there would
be plenty to eat and drink when it was wanted, having approved the work
of her sons in building roaring wood fires in the fireplaces, went
upstairs and began to overhaul bedding. In this she had the help of the
governess while Keturah and the servant remained active in the kitchen.
There was a great deal of bedding in the house and Mary got it all out.
Some of it she carried down to one of the living rooms, requisitioning
John and Guy to struggle with the mattresses.

Then she went to her medicine closet and looked that over. Most of
the rough-and-ready remedies were there in reasonable quantities.
Alcohol, peroxide of hydrogen, iodine, camphor, and so on. There was
some prepared bandaging and, of course, linen could be torn up in
strips. She bethought herself of stimulants and was relieved to recall
a half-dozen bottles of brandy in the cellar.

Was there plenty of hot water?

What next?

Something new occurred to her always before she completed the task
in hand. At length she went through the house, upstairs and down.
Everything, she decided, was as nearly ready for the emergency as it
could be. The fires burned brightly in the living rooms and the smell
of coffee filled the place. In one of the living rooms four mattresses
were ranged on the floor and had been made up with sheets, pillows, and
coverlets. In the other the large table had been cleared of books and
papers. A cloth covered it and it was heaped high with piles of plates,
with hardtack, with some cold meat, with what bread there was, with
cups. In the centre stood several pots of coffee. In the kitchen the
servant was frying bacon, Keturah slicing it for her. The governess had
run upstairs to assure herself that Mermaid, the youngest, had not been
wakened by all the bustle, or to quiet her if she had. The two boys
were replenishing the fires and between times darting to the windows,
now the south and now the west windows. But they could see little or
nothing from either.

Mary completed her inspection and stepped to the south window. It was
at that instant that the lifeline reached the wreck.


XVII

The line passed close to the mainmast and a stiffened arm reached
out and caught it, drew it inboard at the maintop, some thirty feet
or so above the wave-washed deck. There followed an interval of
minutes--they did not seem like hours but they seemed tragically
long--in which the two or three men gathered in the maintop, which is
a small semi-circular platform with barely standing room for three,
made various movements making fast the line; and having guarded against
losing it they began slowly to pull its length in toward them.

The light line for firing carried to them a stouter rope, bent to the
end of it, and a block and tackle. Eventually the block reached them
and the people on shore prepared for the running out of the breeches
buoy.

And all this dark and sightless while the distress of the motionless
figures lashed in the mizzen rigging was something palpable, acute,
and sensed without the need of a single gesture, a single sign, a
moment’s glimpse. How were these unfortunates to avail themselves of
the breeches buoy even when it reached the ship? To get to it they
would have to unlash themselves, descend, and cross the deck between
the mizzenmast and the mainmast and ascend to the maintop. To cross the
deck would be impossible. As well try to walk fifty feet on the surface
of the Atlantic.

It was not certain, furthermore, that those in the mizzen retained
any power of physical movement. They did not shift their positions.
Although they had lashed themselves in pairs close together they did
not strike each other about the head, shoulders, and body, as they
should be doing if they had any vigour left, in the imperative effort
to keep from freezing.

Slowly, with a painful slowness, the line was got ready for the running
of the breeches buoy. And then it was that Keeper Tom Lupton manifested
his intention of being hauled out in the buoy to the vessel.

There was emphatic dissent. The men pleaded with him in shouts,
shrieking arguments that the wind tore from their lips and the great
thunder of the ocean drowned. These were not circumstances under which
he should feel impelled to go aboard; the risk of travel either way
was too serious for a single unnecessary journey in the buoy to be
undertaken; the line might not have been made fast properly, in which
event he would be the first man lost; in the conditions that existed
he could do nothing when he got aboard, and he would become merely one
more man to be hauled ashore.

These pleas were without avail. Keeper Tom admitted that he “didn’t
know what he could do till he got there. The thing,” he added, “is to
get there.”

“Dick,” he shouted in Richard Hand’s ear, “in any case, I can’t do much
alone. I can’t ask any of my men to risk their lives by coming out on
the next trip out of the buoy. I’m not asking you to. But men----”

The racket of the storm made the end of the sentence inaudible. Dick
Hand did not need it. He flung his arm about Tom Lupton and bellowed:
“I’ll be there. Next trip out.”

Keeper Tom communicated the order to his men. It was not until Tom
Lupton was in the buoy and moving over the boiling surf at the foot of
the sand dunes that Richard Hand thought, with a shock, of Mary Vanton.
Three men in the world were charged, in varying degrees, with some
responsibility to stand by her and aid her. One had disappeared and the
other two were about to jeopard their lives.


XVIII

He felt he must see Mary for a moment and speak to her. He left the
cluster of men on the dune and hurried to the house.

He found her on the rug in the east living room. One or two of the crew
were warming their hands and swallowing hot coffee in the other large
room. The men came over, not more than two at a time, at intervals, to
get thawed out.

“Tom,” he said, “has gone off in the buoy.”

“I know,” she answered. “I saw someone being hauled out and I knew it
must be he.”

He hesitated, then told her.

“The worst of it is, I must go on the next trip. He practically asked
me to. And I said I would.”

At that for the first time in all her life, so far as he could
remember, she seemed panicky and likely, for an instant, to collapse.
He stepped hurriedly toward her but she had got hold of herself and
made a gesture to keep him away.

“No, no! I’m all right.” But she let John, who had approached them,
bring her a chair and she leaned on it. The boy kept near them,
regarding them silently. His gray eyes were inscrutable but the look he
gave his mother was one of sympathy, and Dick Hand thought that there
was confidence in the glance that was directed at himself. It somehow
came over Dick that this boy was a big factor in all their lives,
potentially at least. If Tommy and himself did not come back----

Mary Vanton was calm and self-reliant again. She motioned to Richard
Hand that he had better drink some coffee. He took the hand she offered
him, waved to John, and hurried into the other room, impatiently
swallowing the coffee and going out the door with the two other men.


XIX

The buoy had travelled out safely and the half-frozen workers ashore
had seen the Keeper disengage himself and clamber into the maintop.
They had also seen him help one of the crew into the buoy and had
received the signal--jerks on the rope--to haul away.

Hauling away with a will they brought to the top of the dune,
half-drowned by the upleaping surf as he was borne shoreward, a sailor,
one of the forecastle crowd. Two men picked him up and carried him to
the house.

As they cleared the buoy for the trip out Dick Hand came forward to
take his place in it. He put himself in, first one leg then the other,
and shouted: “All fast!”

They began hauling him out.

Out he went, not rapidly, out over the dark and frightful tangle
of waters that flooded the smooth beach below him. He was facing
shoreward. The moment his feet left the edge of the dune he was, to all
intents and purposes, in the midst of an immense void, a bottomless
region of water and blackness and cutting, stinging wind without
landmark or landfall, terrible, thunderous, and empty of anything but
sound. Beneath him the stout strength of the buoy bore him up. That, at
least, was tangible. It was as if he rode slowly through chaos on an
invisible steed, winged, at home in the air.

A little way and then a great wall of water coming unseen out of the
darkness rose and curved and fell upon him. One instant he sensed its
black, glittering height at his back, the next he was in the midst
of it, as submerged as though he had been a thousand fathoms below
the immense Atlantic; an instant later he was free of the barrier,
drenched, drowning, water running off him in streams--riding slowly
seaward, riding slowly on.

The line carrying the breeches buoy was as taut as it was possible to
make it but inevitably it sagged in the middle, especially when the
buoy was bearing a man’s weight. For a part of his journey Dick was
under water almost continuously. He had to hold his breath and draw
breath as cautiously as a swimmer in a heavy sea. The impact of waves
bruised and shook him, the roar of the water deafened him. He could see
neither ship nor shore. He grew doubtful, almost, of his own existence.
Still he rode on.

As he neared the ship he was lifted above the angry flood that seethed
about the vessel. Now he went forward more slowly, for he had to be
hauled not only out but upward. Eventually he found himself hard upon
the ship’s maintop, her torn rigging, singing deep bass notes in the
wind, all about him. A little farther, a little farther, yet a little
more and he was able to reach out his hand and clutch a ratline. A
moment more and he was struggling to get his feet on the tiny platform
of the top, Tom’s hand was under his shoulders, and Tom’s voice was in
his ear.

“Fine work! Good boy! You’re just....” That much Tom’s voice managed to
get to him above the awful noise.


XX

Mary did not see Richard Hand’s trip out in the buoy. She was busy
ministering to the first man ashore, the sailor whom two of the Lone
Cove crew had brought to the house. One of the men hurried back to
help haul the buoy; the other stayed and, aided by John, stripped
the sailor of his wet clothing and got him into night clothes and a
bathrobe. He was unconscious.

Mary, arriving with a bottle of brandy, poured out a drink and they
managed to get it down his throat as he revived.

He sat up and looked about him stupidly and pathetically. He was a big
fellow with blond hair and blue eyes, a Scandinavian, apparently. After
he had swallowed a little more brandy they put him in one of the beds
in the living room which Mary had converted for hospital purposes. He
did not appear to be frostbitten and, closing his eyes, he fell into a
slumber that was not much lighter than the unconscious state in which
he had reached the land.

Mary stood for a moment regarding the first--and it might be the
only--life wrested from the clutch of the sea. He was handsome in a
way and evidently not very old. A mere, overgrown boy, she thought
to herself, but he might not be so young as he looked with his light
hair and fair skin, almost beardless. He came of a seafaring race,
whether Norwegian, Swedish, or Dane; he would not think very deeply
of his adventure. She wondered for a moment what he thought about the
sea, how he felt about it, how he would feel about it now; but she
reflected that his escape would probably present itself to him as a
piece of luck, nothing more, as something all in the day’s--or the
year’s--work--nothing romantic about it.


XXI

Mutely, working together on the slight foothold that the maintop
afforded them, the few boards beneath their feet shaking to the
tremendous violence of waves breaking over the decks below, Tom Lupton
and Richard Hand got first one and then the other of the two men on
the maintop with them into the breeches buoy and sent them ashore. In
the rigging above, close to the topgallant crosstrees, were two other
figures. But even as they worked, getting their second man into the
buoy, one of these black huddles that was a man dropped past them and
struck the deck with a noise distinct and apart from the noise of the
general tumult. In the spectacle of that hopeless black clump falling
down past them, in the sound of that blow as it struck the deck, in the
quickness with which the shape was swallowed up by the glassy black of
the ocean, raging with frothing crests, there was something to make the
bravest soul momentarily faint and turn the body sick.

“I’m going after the other,” said Keeper Tom by gesture. And by gesture
Dick inquired if he should go, too. Tom Lupton shook his head. “Stay
here,” he ordered, and started up the ratlines.

From below, fearful and anxious to aid him but feeling the obligation
to obey orders, Dick Hand watched.

The keeper went up slowly, the wind flattening him against the weather
rigging. Dick saw him gain the crosstrees and moving toward the lashed
man begin work with a sheath knife. After some moments the keeper got
the man free. The fellow was so little able to help or move about that
the keeper abandoned an evident intention to carry him down the weather
rigging on his back. He slashed about with his sheath knife, and Dick
could make out that he had cut some sail rope. This he proceeded to tie
about the man, fastening it under his shoulders and knotting a bowline.
Very slowly, very cautiously, working on the weather side, the keeper
began to lower the man to the maintop. It was a perilous enterprise
and was only managed by turns of the rope around a shroud; and it took
minutes. But it was accomplished and Dick received the man safely.

He contrived to get the fellow in the buoy and away while Tom was
climbing carefully down.

There remained now the great problem of the people on the mizzenmast.
The deck was impassable. Not only that, but the ship was beginning
to break up. Her bow had been bitten off raggedly by the sea. It was
impossible to tell where she would split or when. She might break in
twain amidships. In that case the mainmast would almost certainly go
by the board, Dick and Tom would both be lost, the connection with the
shore would be broken, and in all likelihood not another soul would
reach the beach alive.

They had rescued four. There were three on the mizzenmast. A full half
of the crew had certainly been drowned, some, perhaps, going down when
the foremast had broken off.

Something like a miracle happened as Dick Hand and Keeper Tom stood
together again in the maintop, having sent four men ashore.

A wave of unusual height rose up, shone inkily against the blackness
of the sky, curled, and burst, burying the poop deck completely and
falling with all its might against the base of the mizzenmast. There
was a noise of splitting wood and of rending stays that rose above the
loud song of the wind in the rigging, and with a tremendous crash the
mizzenmast fell. By some freak of circumstance it fell straight to
windward, and the wind and some resisting fibres of wood at the point
of fracture retarded its fall. It came down slowly, tearing through
the outer main rigging to windward, the mizzen topmast shearing things
down. For the moment the mizzenmast rested squarely on the main upper
topsail yard halfway out, then as the ship rolled slightly it came
inboard and close to the mast. Dick and Tom, watching anxiously and in
terror, waited to see what it would do. But it had done what it had to
do. There it rested, close to the mainmast, supported by the main upper
topsail yard; there it seemed destined to stay for no one knew just how
long--perhaps ten seconds, perhaps ten minutes, perhaps an hour.

But the inexplicable chance which had broken off the mizzenmast and
laid it carelessly, like a match, diagonally against the mainmast and
close to the maintop had shaken from their lashings two of the three
human figures that had been visible on it and had brought the third,
and only remaining one, almost within arm’s reach of the two rescuers.

There was no trouble getting him free and into the maintop where the
buoy was waiting, empty, ready to give someone a ride to the shore.

He was immovable and partly frozen, lifeless or nearly so. One would
not have judged that there could be much chance of saving him even
if he were got ashore; but that was not a question to take into
consideration.

The wind howled, the sea made an indescribable noise. The two could
just manage to strap the man to the buoy and give the signal to haul
away.


XXII

Ashore, in the house, Mary Vanton’s foresight and careful preparation
were being vindicated, and the facilities that she had at her disposal
were being taxed to the limit.

Four men had been brought ashore in the buoy. All four of them had to
be stripped of their clothing and partially reclothed in dry apparel.
All four needed brandy, coffee, food, none of them was in a condition
to receive. Of these and of the Coast Guardsmen some were frostbitten
and had to be rubbed with snow, others had cuts and bruises that
required attention. Two were delirious, and for these she found some
sedative; no one, herself included, ever could remember afterward what
it was. One long living room did really resemble a hospital ward. The
other living room resembled a free-lunch counter in unusual disarray.
Food was beginning to play out, but of hot coffee there remained a
plenty for all.

Keturah and the servant tended to the food and drink, except that Mary
herself kept charge of the brandy. The governess was busy with bandages
and liniments; John stood watch over the patients and ministered to
them as best he could, helping his mother. Young Guy, exhausted from
the excitement, had been carried at last, half asleep, to his bed and
simply dropped upon it with his clothes on. Through all the excitement
the youngest child, Mermaid, had slept without waking. It was now two
o’clock in the morning.

The door opened, for the one hundred and thirty-first time, perhaps,
that night, and two Coast Guardsmen stumbled in carrying the lifeless
body of Guy Vanton. Mary Vanton looked upon it without a tremor, kept
control of herself absolutely until it was certain that he was dead.
Then she had him carried into her room upstairs and herself covered his
face. She came out quietly and turned the key in the door, slipped it
into her pocket, and started downstairs.

Something in her expression sent terror striking right through the
heart of her first-born. John was beside her, had kept beside her from
the moment when his father’s body was brought in. His arm went about
her.

“Mother!”

She stopped uncertainly on the staircase and looked at him. Her lips
moved a little but she did not say anything. Her foot slipped on the
step, but she caught herself by the handrail and then stood there in
absolute quiet. The boy looked at her steadily. Their eyes met. She
reached out her hand, with a weary effort, and drew him close to her.


XXIII

Dick Hand did his best to compel Torn Lupton to get in the buoy, but
could not. Tom, who had muscles of iron, held back and at the same time
gripped Dick with a grip that meant business and thrust him forward,
yelling against the side of his face: “Skipper last! I’m skipper here
... all there is.... Get in. Wonderful work ... thanks....”

So Dick got in and was hauled back to land. He made all haste to the
house and got there to find Mary Vanton at the foot of the staircase,
her boy beside her.

At the sight of him she lifted her eyes, and they showed some of their
usual brilliance in the joy at seeing him standing safely before her.
She made a gesture up the stairs, took the key of her room from her
pocket, and handed it to him.

Dick went up, not knowing what he should find. He took a long look at
the face of what had been Guy Vanton, left the room, quietly relocking
the door, and came downstairs. Without pausing for warmth or coffee he
hurried out into the storm. He must be on hand when Tommy landed.

He gained the top of the dune and looked seaward. It was still two
hours or more to faintest daybreak. Out of the blackness beyond the
signal to haul away had been received. The men began hauling.

Just what happened is a matter of conjecture. Whether the whole ship
dissolved in pieces all at once or whether the mainmast, weighted
by the fallen mizzen carried away and fell, it can never matter. Of
a sudden the line bearing the buoy collapsed into the water. With
shrieks, yells, prayers, and frantic effort the men of the crew, Dick
helping them, hauled away as for their lives--it was, most certainly,
for one of their lives, the best, the worthiest. But the falling line
had become entangled in floating wreckage; there was no light to see
what had taken place; after a succession of mighty efforts the line
snapped and they hauled inshore nothing but a frayed end of rope. Tommy
Lupton, who had been keeper of the Lone Cove Coast Guard Station,
who had risked his life to save a few poor sailors, Tommy, forever a
boy, forever dreaming of doing some act of bravery, simple, devoted,
courageous Tommy, had fulfilled his hope and gained his desire.

There is something priceless in the world. He possessed it.


XXIV

There was no more to do that night, although some of the crew remained
always on the dune until day, dawning, showed no trace of a vessel, but
only traces of where a vessel had been, pieces of wreckage floating
about. The wind had gone down; the sea was still high but would soon
begin to lessen in violence. Already snow was commencing to fall. It
fell all day, mantling the dunes, covering all the external marks of
the night’s horrors, a great winding sheet laid upon the trampled
ground. Only where it struck the black and restless sea did the white
blanket fail to disguise what had taken place--that which would take
place again and again, from generation to generation, as long as the
sea rolled and men sailed.

But even the snow did not go on falling, stopping at dusk, and the next
day it was fair. The sun shone and the air was warm--the weather might
have been that of late spring. And on the day following it was equally
warm and pleasant; and this was Christmas.

Richard Hand remained with the Vantons for two weeks after Christmas.
At length Mary Vanton decided to close the beach house and spend the
rest of the winter in Blue Port. Richard Hand saw her settled there
and then, with her reluctant assent, took John back to school.

He had postponed his own work, let it drop, let it wait, let it go!
Work could not matter just then.

But after he had left John at school he returned to New York and
pitched in as hard as he could. It was some time before he could get
away to run down to Blue Port, but at last he managed it.

Mary Vanton met him at the little station, smiling. All the way to the
house he was conscious of nothing but her presence beside him. When
they stood together in the house, alone, facing each other, something
dynamic swept over him. He could hardly see, and tears sprang to his
eyes. He felt himself suffocating, drowning in a sea of feeling. The
Mermaid of immortal youth who lived on in Mary Vanton was folded in his
eager arms.


[Illustration]

  THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS
  GARDEN CITY, N. Y.



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber’s note:

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.





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