Part 2 out of 6
along. "Blessed if he don't pretty nigh purr. I like a cat fust-
rate, but I'm always suspicious of a cat-man. You know he's got
claws, but you can't tell where he's goin' to use 'em. When a
feller like that comes slidin' around and rubbin' his head against
my shin, I always feel like keepin' t'other foot ready for a kick.
You're pretty sartin to need it one time or another."
The train was nearly an hour late this evening, owing to a hot box,
and the "ex-seafaring man" and his two friends peered anxiously out
at it from around the corner of the station. The one coach stopped
directly under the lights, and they could see the passengers as
they came down the steps. Two or three got out, but these were
men. Then came an apparition that caused Captain Jerry to gasp and
clutch at Perez for support.
Down the steps of the car came a tall, coal-black negress, and in
her hand was a canvas extension case, on the side of which was
blazoned in two-inch letters the fateful name, "M. B. Snow,
Captain Eri gazed at this astounding spectacle for a full thirty
seconds. Then he woke up.
"Godfrey domino!" he ejaculated. "BLACK! BLACK! Run! Run for
your lives, 'fore she sees us!"
This order was superfluous. Captain Jerry was already half-way to
the fence, and going at a rate which bid fair to establish a record
for his age. The others fell into his wake, and the procession
moved across country like a steeplechase.
They climbed over stone walls and splashed into meadows. They took
every short cut between the station and their home. As they came
in sight of the latter, Captain Perez' breath gave out almost
"Heave to!" he gasped. "Heave to, or I'll founder. I wouldn't run
another step for all the darkies in the West Indies."
Captain Eri paused, but it was only after a struggle that Captain
Jerry was persuaded to halt.
"I shan't do it, Eri!" he vowed wildly. "I shan't do it! There
ain't no use askin' me; I won't marry that black woman! I won't,
"There! there! Jerry!" said Captain Eri soothingly. "Nobody wants
you to. There ain't no danger now. She didn't see us."
"Ain't no danger! There you go again, Eri Hedge! She'll ask where
I live and come right down in the depot wagon. Oh! Lordy! Lordy!"
The frantic sacrifice was about to bound away again, when Captain
Eri caught him by the arm.
"I'll tell you what," he said, "we'll scoot for Eldredge's shanty
and hide there till she gits tired and goes away. P'raps she won't
The deserted fish shanty, property of the heirs of the late
Nathaniel Eldredge, was situated in a hollow close to the house.
In a few moments the three were inside, with a sawhorse against the
door. Then Captain Eri pantingly sat down on an overturned bucket
and laughed until the tears came into his eyes.
"That's it, laff!" almost sobbed Captain Jerry. "Set there and
tee-hee like a Bedlamite. It's what you might expect. Wait till
the rest of the town finds out about this; they'll do the laffin'
then, and you won't feel so funny. We'll never hear the last of it
in this world. If that darky comes down here, I'll--I'll drown
her; I will--"
"I don't blame Jerry," said Perez indignantly. "I don't see much
to laff at. Oh, my soul and body there she comes now."
They heard the rattle of a heavy carriage, and, crowding together
at the cobwebbed window, saw the black shape of the "depot wagon"
rock past. They waited, breathless, until they saw it go back
again up the road.
"Did you lock the dining-room door, Perez?" asked Captain Eri.
"Course I didn't. Why should I?"
It was a rather senseless question. Nobody locks doors in Orham
except at bedtime.
"Humph!" grunted Captain Eri. "She'll see the light in the dining
room, and go inside and wait, more 'n likely. Well, there's
nothin' for us to do but to stay here for a while, and then, if she
ain't gone, one of us 'll have to go up and tell her she won't suit
and pay her fare home, that's all. I think Jerry ought to be the
one," he added mischievously. "He bein' the bridegroom, as you
"Me!" almost shouted the frantic Captain Jerry. "You go to grass!
You fellers got me into this scrape, and now let's see you git me
out of it. I don't stir one step."
They sat there in darkness, the silence unbroken, save for an
occasional chuckle from the provoking Eri. Perez, however, was
meditating, and observed, after a while:
"Snow! That's a queer name for a darky, ain't it?"
"That colored man up at Barry's place was named White," said
Captain Jerry, "and he was black as your hat. Names don't count."
"They say colored folks make good cooks, Jerry," slyly remarked
Eri. "Maybe you'd better think it over."
The unlucky victim of chance did not deign an answer, and the
minutes crept slowly by. After a long while they heard someone
whistling. Perez went to the window to take an observation.
"It's a man," he said disappointedly. "He's been to our house,
too. My land! I hope he didn't go in. It's that feller
Hazeltine; that's who 'tis."
"Is it?" exclaimed Eri eagerly. "That's so! so 'tis. Let's give
him a hail."
Before he could be stopped he had pulled the saw-horse from the
door, had opened the latter a little way, and, with his face at the
opening, was whistling shrilly.
The electrician looked up and down the dark road in a puzzled sort
of way, but evidently could not make up his mind from what quarter
the whistles came.
"Mr. Hazeltine!" hailed the Captain, in what might be called a
whispered yell or a shouted whisper. "Mr. Hazeltine! Here, on
your lee bow. In the shanty."
The word "shanty" was the only part of the speech that brought
light to Ralph's mind, but that was sufficient; he came down the
hill, left the road, and plunged through the blackberry vines to
"Who is it?" he asked. "Why, hello, Captain! What on earth--"
Captain Eri signaled him to silence, and then, catching his arm,
pulled him into the shanty and shut the door. Captain Jerry
hastened to set the saw-horse in place again.
"Mr. Hazeltine," said Captain Eri, "let me make you acquainted with
Cap'n Perez and Cap'n Jerry, shipmates of mine. You've heard me
speak of 'em."
Ralph, in the darkness, shook two big hands and heard whispered
voices express themselves as glad to know him.
"You see," continued Eri in a somewhat embarrassed fashion, "we're
sort of layin' to, as yer might say, waitin' to git our bearin's.
We ain't out of our heads; I tell you that, 'cause I know that's
what it looks like."
The bewildered Hazeltine laughed and said he was glad to hear it.
To tell the truth, he had begun to think that something or other
had suddenly driven his nearest neighbors crazy.
"I--I--I don't know how to explain it to you," the Captain stumbled
on. "Fact is, I guess I won't jest yit, if you don't mind. It
does sound so pesky ridic'lous, although it ain't, when you
understand it. What we want to know is, have you been to our house
and is there anybody there?"
"Why, yes, I've been there. I rowed over and dropped in for a
minute, as you suggested the other day. The housekeeper--I suppose
it was the housekeeper--that opened the door, said you were out,
He was interrupted by a hopeless groan.
"I knew it!" wailed Captain Jerry. "I knew it! And you said there
wa'n't no danger, Eri!"
"Hush up, Jerry, a minute, for the love of goodness! What was she
doin', Mr. Hazeltine, this woman you thought was the housekeeper?
Did she look as if she was gettin' ready to go out? Did she have
her bunnit on?"
"No. She seemed to be very much at home. That's why I thought--"
But again Captain Jerry broke in, "Well, by mighty!" he ejaculated.
"That's nice, now, ain't it! SHE goin' away! You bet she ain't!
She's goin' to stay there and wait, if it's forever. She's got too
good a thing. Jest as like 's not, M'lissy Busteed, or some other
gab machine like her, 'll be the next one to call, and if they see
that great black critter! Oh! my soul!"
"Black!" said Ralph amazedly. "Why, the woman at your house isn't
black. She's as white as I am, and not bad-looking for a woman of
"WHAT?" This was the trio in chorus. Then Captain Eri said:
"Mr. Hazeltine, now, honest and true, is that a fact?"
"Of course it's a fact."
The Captain wiped his forehead. "Mr. Hazeltine," he said, "if
anybody had told me a fortn't ago that I was one of the three
biggest fools in Orham, I'd have prob'ly rared up some. As 'tis
now, I cal'late I'd thank him for lettin' me off so easy. You'll
have to excuse us to-night, I'm afraid. We're in a ridic'lous
scrape that we've got to git out of all alone. I'll tell you 'bout
it some day. Jest now wish you'd keep this kind of quiet to oblige
Hazeltine saw that this was meant as a gentle hint for his
immediate departure, and although he had a fair share of curiosity,
felt there was nothing else to do. He promised secrecy, promised
faithfully to call again later in the week, and then, the sawhorse
having been removed by Captain Perez,--Captain Jerry was apparently
suffering from a sort of dazed paralysis,--he went away. As soon
as he had gone, Captain Eri began to lay down the law.
"Now then," he said, "there's been some sort of a mistake; that's
plain enough. More 'n likely, the darky took the wrong satchel
when she got up to come out of the car. That woman at the house is
the real Marthy Snow all right, and we've got to go right up there
and see her. Come on!"
But Captain Jerry mutinied outright. He declared that the sight of
that darky had sickened him of marrying forever, and that he would
not see the candidate from Nantucket, nor any other candidate. No
persuasion could budge him. He simply would not stir from that
shanty until the house had been cleared of female visitors.
"Go and see her yourself, if you're so set on it," he declared. "I
"All right," said Captain Eri calmly. "I will. I'll tell her
you're bashful, but jest dyin' to be married, and that she can have
you if she only waits long enough."
With this he turned on his heel and walked out.
"Hold on, Eri!" shouted the frantic Jerry. "Don't you do it!
Don't you tell her that! Land of love, Perez, do you s'pose he
"I don't know," was the answer in a disgusted tone. "You hadn't
ought to have been so pig-headed, Jerry."
Captain Eri, with set teeth and determination written on his face,
walked straight to the dining-room door. Drawing a long breath, he
opened it and stepped inside. A woman, who had been sitting in
Captain Perez' rocker, rose as he entered.
The woman looked at the Captain and the Captain looked at her. She
was of middle age, inclined to stoutness, with a pair of keen eyes
behind brass-rimmed spectacles, and was dressed in a black "alpaca"
gown that was faded a little in places and had been neatly mended
in others. She spoke first.
"You're not Cap'n Burgess?" she said.
"No, ma'am," said the Captain uneasily. "My name is Hedge. I'm a
sort of messmate of his. You're Miss Snow?"
"Mrs. Snow. I'm a widow."
They shook hands. Mrs. Snow calmly expectant; the Captain very
nervous and not knowing how to begin.
"I feel as if I knew you, Cap'n Hedge," said the widow, as the
Captain slid into his own rocker. "The boy on the depot wagon told
me a lot about you and Cap'n Ryder and Cap'n Burgess."
"Did, hey?" The Captain inwardly vowed vengeance on his chum's
grandnephew. "Hope he gave us a clean bill."
"Well, he didn't say nothin' against you, if that's what you mean.
If he had, I don't think it would have made much diff'rence. I've
lived long enough to want to find out things for myself, and not
take folks' say-so."
The lady seeming to expect some sort of answer to this statement,
Captain Eri expressed his opinion that the plan of finding out
things for one's self was a good "idee." Then, after another
fidgety silence, he observed that it was a fine evening. There
being no dispute on this point, he endeavored to think of something
else to say. Mrs. Snow, however, saved him the trouble.
"Cap'n Hedge," she said, "as I'm here on what you might call a
bus'ness errand, and as I've been waitin' pretty nigh two hours
already, p'raps we'd better talk about somethin' besides fine
evenin's. I've got to be lookin' up a hotel or boardin' house or
somewheres to stay to-night, and I can't wait much longer. I jedge
you got my letter and was expectin' me. Now, if it ain't askin'
too much, I'd like to know where Cap'n Burgess is, and why he
wa'n't at the depot to meet me."
This was a leading question, and the Captain was more embarrassed
than ever. However, he felt that something had to be done and that
it was wisest to get it over with as soon as possible.
"Well, ma'am," he said, "we--we got your letter all right, and, to
tell you the truth, we was at the depot--Perez and me and Jerry."
"You WAS! Well, then, for the land of goodness, why didn't you let
me know it? Such a time as I had tryin' to find out where you
lived and all!"
The Captain saw but one plausible explanation, and that was the
plain truth. Slowly he told the story of the colored woman and the
extension case. The widow laughed until her spectacles fell off.
"Well, there!" she exclaimed. "If that don't beat all! I don't
blame Cap'n Burgess a mite. Poor thing! I guess I'd have run,
too, if I'd have seen that darky. She was settin' right in the
next seat to me, and she had a shut-over bag consid'rable like
mine, and when she got up to git out, she took mine by mistake. I
was a good deal put out about it, and I expect I talked to her like
a Dutch uncle when I caught up with her. Dear! dear! Where is
"He's shut up in a fish shanty down the road, and he's so upsot
that I dunno's he'll stir from there tonight. Jerry ain't
prejudiced, but that darky was too much for him."
And then they both laughed, the widow because of the ludicrous
nature of the affair and the Captain because of the relief that the
lady's acceptance of it afforded his mind.
Mrs. Snow was the first to become grave. "Cap'n Hedge," she said,
"there's one or two things I must say right here. In the first
place, I ain't in the habit of answerin' advertisements from folks
that wants to git married; I ain't so hard up for a man as all that
comes to. Next thing, I didn't come down here with my mind made up
to marry Cap'n Burgess, not by no means. I wanted to see him and
talk with him, and tell him jest all about how things was with me
and find out about him and then--why, if everything was shipshape,
I might, p'raps, think about--"
"Jest so, ma'am, jest so," broke in her companion. "That's about
the way we felt. You see, there's prob'ly a long story on both
sides, and if you'll excuse me I'll go down to the shanty and see
if I can't git Jerry up here. It'll be a job, I'm 'fraid, but--"
"No, you shan't either. I'll tell you what we'll do. It's awful
late now and I must be gittin' up to the tavern. S'pose, if
'tain't too much trouble, you walk up there with me and I'll stay
there to-night and to-morrer I'll come down here, and we'll all
have a common-sense talk. P'raps by that time your friend 'll have
the darky woman some off his mind, too."
Needless to say Captain Eri agreed to this plan with alacrity. The
widow carefully tied on a black, old-fashioned bonnet, picked up a
fat, wooden-handled umbrella and the extension case, and said that
she was ready.
They walked up the road together, the Captain carrying the
extension case. They talked, but not of matrimonial prospects.
Mrs. Snow knew almost as much about the sea and the goings and
comings thereon as did her escort, and the conversation was salty
in the extreme. It developed that the Nantucket lady had a distant
relative who was in the life-saving service at Cuttyhunk station,
and as the Captain knew every station man for twenty miles up and
down the coast, wrecks and maritime disasters of all kinds were
discussed in detail.
At the Traveler's Rest Mrs. Snow was introduced by the unblushing
Eri as a cousin from Provincetown, and, after some controversy
concerning the price of board and lodging, she was shown up to her
room. Captain Eri walked home, absorbed in meditation. Whatever
his thoughts were they were not disagreeable, for he smiled and
shook his head more than once, as if with satisfaction. As he
passed John Baxter's house he noticed that the light in the upper
window was still burning.
Captain Perez was half asleep when Eri opened the door of the
shanty. Captain Jerry, however, was very much awake and demanded
to be told things right away. His friend briefly explained the
"I don't care if she stays here till doomsday," emphatically
declared the disgruntled one, "I shan't marry her. What's she
He was surprised at the enthusiasm of Captain Eri's answer.
"She's a mighty good woman; that's what I think she is, and she'd
make a fust-class wife for any man. I hope you'll say so, too,
when you see her. There ain't nothin' hity-tity about her, but
she's got more common-sense than any woman I ever saw. But there!
I shan't talk another bit about her to-night. Come on home and
And go home and turn in they did, but not without protestation from
the pair who had yet to meet the woman from Nantucket.
THE SCHOOLHOUSE BELL RINGS
"All hands on deck! Turn out there! Turnout!"
Captain Eri grunted and rolled over in his bed; for a moment or two
he fancied himself back in the fo'castle of the Sea Mist, the bark
in which he had made his first voyage. Then, as he grew wider
awake, he heard, somewhere in the distance, a bell ringing
"Turn out, all hands! Turn out!"
Captain Eri sat up. That voice was no part of a dream. It
belonged to Captain Jerry, and the tone of it meant business. The
bell continued to ring.
"Aye, aye, Jerry! What's the matter?" he shouted.
"Fire! There's a big fire up in the village. Look out of the
window, and you can see. They're ringing the schoolhouse bell;
don't you hear it?"
The Captain, wide awake enough by this time, jumped out of bed,
carrying the blankets with him, and ran to the window. Opening it,
he thrust out his head. The wind had changed to the eastward, and
a thick fog had come in with it. The house was surrounded by a
wet, black wall, but off to the west a red glow shone through it,
now brighter and now fainter. The schoolhouse bell was turning
somersaults in its excitement.
Only once, since Captain Jerry had been janitor, had the
schoolhouse bell been rung except in the performance of its regular
duties. That once was on a night before the Fourth of July, when
some mischievous youngsters climbed in at a window and proclaimed
to sleeping Orham that Young America was celebrating the
anniversary of its birth. Since then, on nights before the Fourth,
Captain Jerry had slept in the schoolhouse, armed with a horsewhip
and an ancient navy revolver. The revolver was strictly for show,
and the horsewhip for use, but neither was called into service, for
even if some dare-devil spirits did venture near the building, the
Captain's snores, as he slumbered by the front door, were danger
signals that could not be disregarded.
But there was no flavor of the Fourth in the bell's note this
night. Whoever the ringer might be, he was ringing as though it
was his only hope for life, and the bell swung back and forth
without a pause. The red glow in the fog brightened again as the
Captain gazed at it.
Captain Jerry came tumbling up the stairs, breathless and half
"Where do you make it out to be?" he panted.
"Somewhere's nigh the post-office. Looks 's if it might be Weeks's
store. Where's Perez?"
Captain Eri had lighted a lamp and was pulling on his boots, as he
"Here I be!" shouted the missing member of the trio from the dining
room below. "I'm all ready. Hurry up, Eri!"
Captain Eri jumped into his trousers, slipped into a faded pea-
jacket and clattered downstairs, followed by the wildly excited
"Good land, Perez!" he cried, as he came into the dining room, "I
thought you said you was all ready!"
Captain Perez paused in the vain attempt to make Captain Jerry's
hat cover his own cranium and replied indignantly, "Well, I am,
"Seems to me I'd put somethin' on my feet besides them socks, if I
was you. You might catch cold."
Perez glanced down at his blue-yarn extremities in blank
astonishment. "Well, now," he exclaimed, "if I hain't forgot my
"Well, git 'em on, and be quick. There's your hat. Give Jerry
The excited Perez vanished through the door of his chamber, and
Captain Eri glanced at the chronometer; the time was a quarter
They hurried out of the door and through the yard. The wind, as
has been said, was from the east, but there was little of it and,
except for the clanging of the bell, the night was very still. The
fog was heavy and wet, and the trees and bushes dripped as if from
a shower. There was the salt smell of the marshes in the air, and
the hissing and splashing of the surf on the outer beach were
plainly to be heard. Also there was the clicking sound of oars in
"Somebody is comin' over from the station," gasped Captain Jerry.
"Don't run so, Eri. It's too dark. I've pretty nigh broke my neck
They passed the lily pond, where the frogs had long since adjourned
their concert and gone to bed, dodged through the yard of the
tightly shuttered summer hotel, and came out at the corner of the
road, having saved some distance by the "short-cut."
"That ain't Weeks's store," declared Captain Perez, who was in the
lead. "It's Web Saunders's place; that's what it is."
Captain Eri paused and looked over to the left in the direction of
the Baxter homestead. The light in the window was still burning.
They turned into the "main road" at a dog trot and became part of a
crowd of oddly dressed people, all running in the same direction.
"Web's place, ain't it?" asked Eri of Seth Wingate, who was
lumbering along with a wooden bucket in one hand and the pitcher of
his wife's best washstand set in the other.
"Yes," breathlessly answered Mr. Wingate, "and it's a goner, they
tell me. Every man's got to do his part if they're going to save
it. I allers said we ought to have a fire department in this
Considering that Seth had, for the past eight years, persistently
opposed in town-meeting any attempt to purchase a hand engine, this
was a rather surprising speech, but no one paid any attention to it
The fire was in the billiard saloon sure enough, and the back
portion of the building was in a blaze when they reached it.
Ladders were placed against the eaves, and a line of men with
buckets were pouring water on the roof. The line extended to the
town pump, where two energetic youths in their shirtsleeves were
working the handle with might and main. The houses near at hand
were brilliantly illuminated, and men and women were bringing water
from them in buckets, tin pails, washboilers, and even coalscuttles.
Inside the saloon another hustling crowd was busily working to
"save" Mr. Saunders' property. A dozen of the members had turned
the biggest pool table over on its back and were unscrewing the
legs, heedless of the fact that to attempt to get the table through
the front door was an impossibility and that, as the back door was
in the thickest of the fire, it, too, was out of the question. A
man appeared at the open front window of the second story with his
arms filled with bottles of various liquids, "original packages"
and others. These, with feverish energy, he threw one by one into
the street, endangering the lives of everyone in range and, of
course, breaking every bottle thrown. Some one of the cooler heads
calling his attention to these facts, he retired and carefully
packed all the empty bottles, the only ones remaining, into a peach
basket and tugged the latter downstairs and to a safe place on a
neighboring piazza. Then he rested from his labors as one who had
done all that might reasonably be expected.
Mr. Saunders himself, lightly attired in a nightshirt tucked into a
pair of trousers, was rushing here and there, now loudly demanding
more water, and then stopping to swear at the bottle-thrower or
some other enthusiast. "Web's" smoothness was all gone, and the
language he used was, as Abigail Mullett said afterward, "enough to
bring down a jedgment on anybody."
Captain Eri caught him by the sleeve as he was running past and
inquired, "How'd it start, Web?"
"How'd it START? I know mighty well HOW it started, and 'fore I
git through I'll know WHO started it. Somebody 'll pay for this,
now you hear me! Hurry up with the water, you--"
He tore frantically away to the pump and the three captains joined
the crowd of volunteer firemen. Captain Eri, running round to the
back of the building, took in the situation at once. Back of the
main portion of the saloon was an ell, and it was in this ell that
the fire had started. The ell, itself, was in a bright blaze, but
the larger building in front was only just beginning to burn. The
Captain climbed one of the ladders to the roof and called to the
men at work there.
"That shed's gone, Ben," he said. "Chuck your water on the main
part here. Maybe, if we had some ropes we might be able to pull
the shed clear, and then we could save the rest."
"How'd you fasten the ropes?" was the panted reply. "She's all
ablaze, and a rope would burn through in a minute if you tied it
"Git some grapples and anchors out of Rogers' shop. He's got a
whole lot of 'em. Keep on with the water bus'ness. I'll git the
He descended the ladder and explained his idea to the crowd below.
There was a great shout and twenty men and boys started on a run
after ropes, while as many more stormed at the door of Nathaniel
Rogers' blacksmith shop. Rogers was the local dealer in anchors
and other marine ironwork. The door of the shop was locked and
there was a yell for axes to burst it open.
Then arose an agonized shriek of "Don't chop! don't chop!" and Mr.
Rogers himself came struggling to the defense of his property. In
concert the instant need was explained to him, but he remained
"We can't stay here arguin' all night!" roared one of the leaders.
"He's got to let us in. Go ahead and chop! I'll hold him."
"I give you fair warnin', Squealer Wixon! If you chop that door,
I'll have the law onto you. I just had that door painted, and--
STOP! I've got the key in my pocket!"
It was plain that the majority were still in favor of chopping, as
affording a better outlet for surplus energy, but they waited while
Mr. Rogers, still protesting, produced the key and unlocked the
door. In another minute the greater portion of the ironwork in the
establishment was on its way to the fire.
The rope-seekers were just returning, laden with everything from
clothes-lines to cables. Half a dozen boat anchors and a grapnel
were fastened to as many ropes, and the crowd pranced gayly about
the burning ell, looking for a chance to make them fast. Captain
Eri found a party with axes endeavoring to cut a hole through the
side of the saloon in order to get out the pool table. After some
endeavor he persuaded them to desist and they came around to the
rear and, taking turns, ran in close to the shed and chopped at it
until the fire drove them away. At last they made a hole close to
where it joined the main building, large enough to attach the
grapnel. Then, with a "Yo heave ho!" everyone took hold of the
rope and pulled. Of course the grapnel pulled out with only a
board or two, but they tried again, and, this time getting it
around a beam, pulled a large portion of the shed to the ground.
Meanwhile, another ax party had attached an anchor to the opposite
side, and were making good progress. In due time the shed yawned
away from the saloon, tottered, and collapsed in a shower of
sparks. A deluge of water soon extinguished these. Then everyone
turned to the main building, and, as the fire had not yet taken a
firm hold of this, they soon had it under control.
Captain Eri worked with the rest until he saw that the worst was
over. Then he began the search that had been in his mind since he
first saw the blaze. He found Captain Jerry and Captain Perez
perspiringly passing buckets of water from hand to hand in the
line, and, calling them to one side, asked anxiously:
"Have either of you fellers seen John Baxter tonight?"
Captain Perez looked surprised, and then some of the trouble
discernible in Eri's face was apparent in his own.
"Why, no," he replied slowly, "I ain't seen him, now you speak of
it. Everybody in town's here, too. Queer, ain't it?
"Haven't you seen him, either, Jerry?"
Captain Jerry answered with a shake of the head. "But then," he
said, "Perez and me have been right here by the pump ever sence we
come. He might be 'most anywheres else, and we wouldn't see him.
Want me to ask some of the other fellers?"
"No!" exclaimed his friend, almost fiercely. "Don't you mention
his name to a soul, nor let 'em know you've thought of him. If
anybody should ask, tell 'em you guess he's right around
somewheres. You two git to work ag'in. I'll let you know if I
The pair took up their buckets, and the Captain walked on from
group to group, looking carefully at each person. The Reverend
Perley and some of his flock were standing by themselves on a
neighboring stoop, and to them the searcher turned eagerly.
"Why, Cap'n Eri!" exclaimed Miss Busteed, the first to identify
him, "how you've worked! You must be tired pretty nigh to death.
Ain't it awful! But it's the Lord's doin's; I'm jest as sure of
that as I can be, and I says so to Mr. Perley. Didn't I, Mr.
Perley? I says--"
"Lookin' for anybody, Cap'n?" interrupted the reverend gentleman.
"No," lied the Captain calmly, "jest walkin' around to git cooled
off a little. Good-night."
There was the most likely place, and John Baxter was not there.
Certainly every citizen in Orham, who was able to crawl, would be
out this night, and if the old puritan hermit of the big house was
not present to exult over the downfall of the wicked, it would be
because he was ill or because-- The Captain didn't like to think
of the other reason.
Mrs. "Web" Saunders, quietly weeping, was seated on a knoll near
the pump. Three of the Saunders' hopefuls, also weeping, but not
quietly, were seated beside her. Another, the youngest of the
family, was being rocked soothingly in the arms of a stout female,
who was singing to it as placidly as though fires were an every
day, or night, occurrence. The Captain peered down, and the stout
woman looked up.
"Why, Mrs. Snow!" exclaimed Captain Eri.
The lady from Nantucket made no immediate reply. She rose,
however, shook down the black "alpaca" skirt, which had been folded
up to keep it out of the dew, and, still humming softly to the
child, walked off a little way, motioning with her head for the
Captain to follow. When she had reached a spot sufficiently remote
from Mrs. Saunders, she whispered:
"How d'ye do, Cap'n Hedge? I guess the wust is over now, isn't it?
I saw you workin' with them ropes; you must be awful tired."
"How long have you been here?" asked the Captain somewhat
astonished at her calmness.
"Oh, I come right down as soon as I heard the bell. I'm kind of
used to fires. My husband's schooner got afire twice while I was
with him. He used to run a coal vessel, you know. I got right up
and packed my bag, 'cause I didn't know how the fire might spread.
You never can tell in a town like this. Ssh'h, dearie," to the
baby, "there, there, it's all right. Lay still."
"How'd you git acquainted with her?" nodding toward the wife of the
proprietor of the scorched saloon.
"Oh, I see the poor thing settin' there with all them children and
nobody paying much attention to her, so I went over and asked if I
couldn't help out. I haven't got any children of my own, but I was
number three in a fam'ly of fourteen, so I know how it's done. Oh!
that husband of hers! He's a nice one, he is! Would you b'lieve
it, he come along and she spoke to him, and he swore at her
somethin' dreadful. That's why she's cryin'. Poor critter, I
guess by the looks she's used to it. Well, I give HIM a piece of
my mind. He went away with a flea in his ear. I do despise a
profane man above all things. Yes, the baby's all right, Mrs.
Saunders. I'm a-comin'. Good-night, Cap'n Hedge. I s'pose I
shall see you all in the mornin'. You ought to be careful and not
stand still much this damp night. It's bad when you're het up so."
She went back, still singing to the baby, to where Mrs. Saunders
sat, and the Captain looked after her in a kind of amazed fashion.
"By mighty!" he muttered, and then repeated it. Then he resumed
He remembered that there had been a number of people on the side of
the burning shed opposite that on which he had been employed, and
he determined to have one look there before going to the Baxter
homestead. Almost the first man he saw as he approached the dying
fire was Ralph Hazeltine. The electrician's hands and face were
blackened by soot, and the perspiration sparkled on his forehead.
"Hello, Captain!" he said, holding out his hand. "Lively for a
while, wasn't it? They tell me you were the man who suggested
pulling down the shed. It saved the day, all right enough."
"You look as if you'd been workin' some yourself. Was you one of
the fellers that got that anchor in on this side?"
"He was THE one," broke in Mr. Wingate, who was standing at
Hazeltine's elbow. "He waded in with an ax and stayed there till I
thought he'd burn the hair off his head. Web ought to pay you and
him salvage, Eri. The whole craft would have gone up if it hadn't
been for you two."
"I wonder if they got that pool table out," laughed Ralph. "They
did everything but saw it into chunks."
"I never saw Bluey Bacheldor work so afore," commented the Captain.
"I wish somebody'd took a photograph of him. I'll bet you could
sell 'em round town for curiosities. Well, I can't be standin'
"If you're going home I'll go along with you. I may as well be
getting down toward the station. The excitement is about over."
"I ain't goin' right home, Mr. Hazeltine. I've got an errand to
do. Prob'ly I'll be goin' pretty soon, though."
"Oh, all right! I'll wait here a while longer then. See you later
The fog had lifted somewhat and as the Captain, running silently,
turned into the "shore road," he saw that the light in the Baxter
homestead had not been extinguished. The schoolhouse bell had
ceased to ring, and the shouts of the crowd at the fire sounded
faintly. There were no other sounds.
Up the driveway Captain Eri hurried. There were no lights in the
lower part of the house and the dining-room door was locked. The
kitchen door, however, was not fastened and the Captain opened it
and entered. Shutting it carefully behind him, he groped along to
the entrance of the next room.
"John!" he called softly. There was no answer, and the house was
perfectly still save for the ticking of the big clock. Captain Eri
scratched a match and by its light climbed the stairs. His
friend's room was empty. The lamp was burning on the bureau and a
Bible was open beside it. The bed had not been slept in.
Thoroughly alarmed now, the Captain, lamp in hand, went through one
room after the other. John Baxter was not at home, and he was not
with the crowd at the fire. Where was he? There was, of course, a
chance that his friend had passed him on the way or that he had
been at the fire, after all, but this did not seem possible.
However, there was nothing to do but go back, and this time the
Captain took the path across the fields.
The Baxter house was on the "shore road," and the billiard room and
post-office were on the "main road." People in a hurry sometimes
avoided the corner by climbing the fence opposite the Baxter gate,
going through the Dawes' pasture and over the little hill back of
the livery stable, and coming out in the rear of the post-office
and close to the saloon.
Captain Eri, worried, afraid to think of the fire and its cause,
and only anxious to ascertain where his friend was and what he had
been doing that night, trotted through the pasture and over the
hill. Just as he came to the bayberry bushes on the other side he
stumbled and fell flat.
He knew what it was that he had stumbled over the moment that he
fell across it, and his fingers trembled, so that he could scarcely
scratch the match that he took from his pocket. But it was lighted
at last and, as its tiny blaze grew brighter, the Captain saw John
Baxter lying face downward in the path, his head pointed toward his
home and his feet toward the billiard saloon.
CAPTAIN ERI FINDS A NURSE
For a second, only, Captain Eri stood there motionless, stooping
over the body of his friend. Then he sprang into vigorous action.
He dropped upon his knees and, seizing the shoulder of the
prostrate figure, shook it gently, whispering, "John! John!"
There was no answer and no responsive movement, and the Captain
bent his head and listened. Breath was there and life; but, oh, so
little of either! The next thought was, of course, to run for help
and for a doctor, but he took but a few steps when a new idea
struck him and he came back.
Lighting another match he examined the fallen man hurriedly. The
old "Come-Outer" lay in the path with his arms outstretched, as if
he had fallen while running. He was bare-headed, and there was no
sign of a wound upon him. One coat-sleeve was badly scorched, and
from a pocket in the coat protruded the neck of a bottle. The
bottle was empty, but its odor was strong; it had contained
kerosene. The evidence was clear, and the Captain knew that what
he had feared was the truth.
For a moment he stood erect and pondered as to what was best to do.
Whatever it was, it must be done quickly, but if the doctor and
those that might come with him should find the burned coat and the
tell-tale bottle, it were better for John Baxter that consciousness
and life never were his again. There might, and probably would, be
suspicion; but here was proof absolute that meant prison and
disgrace for a man whom all the community had honored and respected.
Captain Eri weighed the chances, speculated on the result, and then
did what seemed to him right. He threw the bottle as far away from
the path as he could and then stripped off the coat, and, folding
it into a small bundle, hid it in the bushes near by. Then he
lifted the limp body, and turned it so that the gray head was
toward the billiard saloon instead of from it.
Perez and Jerry were still busy with the water buckets when their
friend came panting up the knoll to the pump.
"Hello, Eri!" said the former, wiping his forehead with his arm.
"It's 'bout out, ain't it? Why, what's the matter?"
"Nothin'; nothin' to speak of. Put down them buckets, and you and
Jerry come with me. I've got somethin' that I want you to do."
Nodding and exchanging congratulations with acquaintances in the
crowd on the success of the fire-fighting, Captain Eri led his
messmates to a dark corner under a clump of trees. Then he took
each of them by the arm and whispered sharply:
"Dr. Palmer's somewheres in this crowd. I want each of you fellers
to go diff'rent ways and look for him. Whichever one finds him
fust can bring him up to the corner by the post-office. Whistle
when you git there and the rest of us 'll come. Don't stop to ask
questions. I ain't hurt, but John Baxter's had a stroke or
somethin'. I can't tell you no more now. Hurry! And say, don't
you mention to a soul what the matter is."
A sea-faring life has its advantages. It teaches prompt obedience,
for one thing. The two mariners did not hesitate an instant, but
bolted in opposite directions. Captain Eri watched them go, and
then set off in another. He was stopped every few moments and all
sorts of questions and comments concerning the fire and its cause
were fired at him, but he put off some inquiries with a curt "Don't
know" and others with nods or negatives, and threaded his way from
one clump of townspeople to another. As he came close to the
blackened and smoking billiard saloon, Ralph Hazeltine caught him
by the arm.
"Hello!" said the electrician. "Haven't you gone home yet?"
"No, not yit. Say, I'll ask you, 'cause I cal'late you can keep
your mouth shut if it's necessary: Have you seen the Doctor
anywheres 'round lately? He was here, 'cause I saw him when I fust
"Who, Dr. Palmer? No; I haven't seen him. Is anyone hurt? Can I
"I guess not. John Baxter's sick, but--oh, Lord! Here comes
Wingate. He'll talk for a week."
Seth, panting and excited, was pushing his way toward them,
shouting the Captain's name at the top of his voice.
"Hey, Eri!" he hailed. "I want to know if you'll sign a petition
to git the town a fire ingyne? I've been talkin' to a couple of
the s'lectmen and they--"
"Oh, Mr. Wingate," interrupted Ralph, "Mr. Mullett's been looking
for you. He's over there by the pump, I think."
"Who, Lem Mullett? Is that so! He's jest the feller I want to
see. See you later, Eri."
The Captain grinned appreciatively as the convert to the hand-
engine proposal disappeared.
"That wasn't so bad," he said. "I'm much obliged. Hey! There's
the whistle. Come on, Mr. Hazeltine, if you ain't in a special
hurry. Maybe we WILL need you."
They reached the corner by the post-office to find Dr. Palmer, who
had practiced medicine in Orham since he received his diploma,
waiting for them. Captain Perez, who had discovered the physician
on the Nickerson piazza, was standing close by with his fingers in
his mouth, whistling with the regularity of a foghorn.
"Cut it short, Perez!" commanded Eri. "We're here now."
"Yes, but Jerry ain't." And the whistling began again.
"Dry up, for the land's sake! D'you want to fetch the whole tribe
here? There's Jerry, now. Come on, Doctor."
John Baxter was lying just as the Captain had left him, and the
others watched anxiously as the doctor listened at the parted lips,
and thrust his hand inside the faded blue waistcoat.
"He's alive," he said after a moment, "but unconscious. We must
get him home at once."
"He heard the bell and was runnin' to the fire when he was took,"
said Captain Jerry. "Run out in his shirt sleeves, and was took
when he got as fur as here."
"That's the way I figger it," said Eri unblushingly. "Lift him
carefully, you fellers. Now then!"
"I warned him against over-exertion or excitement months ago," said
the Doctor, as they bore the senseless burden toward the big house,
now as black as the grave that was so near its owner. "We must
find someone to take care of him at once. I don't believe the old
man has a relation within a hundred miles."
"Why don't we take him to our house?" suggested Captain Jerry.
"'Twouldn't seem so plaguey lonesome, anyhow."
"By mighty!" ejaculated Captain Eri in astonishment. "Well, Jerry,
I'll be switched if you ain't right down brilliant once in a while.
Of course we will. He can have the spare room. Why didn't I think
of that, I wonder?"
And so John Baxter, who had not paid a visit in his native village
since his wife died, came at last to his friend's home to pay what
seemed likely to be a final one. They carried him up the stairs to
the spare room, as dismal and cheerless as spare rooms in the
country generally are, undressed him as tenderly as their rough
hands would allow, robed him in one of Captain Jerry's nightshirts--
the buttons that fastened it had been sewed on by the Captain
himself, and were all sizes and colors--and laid him in the big
corded bedstead. The Doctor hastened away to procure his medicine
case. Ralph Hazeltine, having been profusely thanked for his
services and promising to call the next day, went back to the
station, and the three captains sat down by the bedside to watch
Captain Eri was too much perturbed to talk, but the other two,
although sympathetically sorry for the sufferer, were bursting with
excitement and curiosity.
"Well, if THIS ain't been a night!" exclaimed Captain Jerry.
"Seem's if everything happened at once. Fust that darky and then
the fire and then this. Don't it beat all?
"Eri," said Captain Perez anxiously, "was John layin' jest the same
way when you found him as he was when we come?"
"Right in the same place," was the answer.
"I didn't say in the same place. I asked if he was layin' the same
"He hadn't moved a muscle. Laid jest as if he was dead."
It will be noticed that Captain Eri was adhering strictly to the
truth. Luckily, Perez seemed to be satisfied, for he asked no
further questions, but observed, "It's a good thing we've got a
crowd to swear how we found him. There's a heap of folks in this
town would be sayin' he set that fire if 'twa'n't for that."
"Some of 'em will be sayin' it anyhow," remarked Jerry.
"Some folks 'll say anything but their prayers," snapped Eri
savagely. "They won't say it while I'm around. And look here! if
you hear anybody sayin' it, you tell 'em it's a lie. If that don't
keep 'em quiet, let me know."
"Oh, all right. WE know he didn't set it. I was jest sayin'--"
"Well, don't say it."
"My, you're techy! Guess fires and colored folks don't agree with
you. What are we goin' to do now? If John don't die, and the Lord
knows I hope he won't, he's likely to be sick here a long spell.
Who are we goin' to git to take care of him? That's what I want to
know. Somebody's got to do it and we ain't fit. If Jerry 'd only
give in and git married now--"
But Captain Jerry's protest against matrimony was as obstinate as
ever. Even Perez gave up urging after a while and conversation
lagged again. In a few minutes the Doctor came back, and his
examination of the patient and demands for glasses of water,
teaspoons, and the like, kept Perez and Jerry busy. It was some
time before they noticed that Captain Eri had disappeared. Even
then they did not pay much attention to the circumstance, but
watched the physician at work and questioned him concerning the
nature of their guest's illness.
"D'you think he'll die, Doctor?" inquired Jerry in a hushed voice,
as they came out of the sick room into the connecting chamber.
"Can't say. He has had a stroke of paralysis, and there seem to be
other complications. If he regains consciousness I shall think he
has a chance, but not a very good one. His pulse is a little
stronger. I don't think he'll die to-night, but if he lives he
will need a good nurse, and I don't know of one in town."
"Nor me neither," said Captain Perez.
"Well, A'nt Zuby might come," suggested Jerry, "but I should hate
to have her nuss me, and as for bein' WELL in a house where she
"A'nt Zuby!" sneered his messmate. "If Lorenzo had a fit and they
called A'nt Zuby he'd have another one and die. A'nt Zuby! I'd
'bout as soon have M'lissy and be done with it."
"Yes, I don't doubt YOU WOULD," was the anything but gentle retort.
What Perez would have said to this thrust must be surmised, for
just then the dining-room door opened and closed again.
"There's Eri," said Captain Jerry. Then he added in an alarmed
whisper, "Who on airth has he got with him?"
They heard their friend's voice warning someone to be careful of
the top step, and then the chamber door opened and Captain Eri
appeared. There were beads of perspiration on his forehead, and he
was carrying a shabby canvas extension-case. Captain Jerry gazed
at the extension-case with bulging eyes.
Captain Eri put down the extension-case and opened the door wide.
A woman came in; a stout woman dressed in black "alpaca" and
wearing brass-rimmed spectacles. Captain Jerry gasped audibly.
"Dr. Palmer," said Captain Eri, "let me make you acquainted with
Mrs. Snow of Nantucket. Mrs. Snow, this is Dr. Palmer."
The Doctor and the lady from Nantucket shook hands, the former with
a puzzled expression on his face.
"Perez," continued the Captain, "let me make you known to Mrs.
Snow--Mrs. Marthy B. Snow,"--this with especial emphasis,--"of
Nantucket. Mrs. Snow, this is Cap'n Perez Ryder."
They shook hands; Captain Perez managed to say that he was glad to
meet Mrs. Snow. Captain Jerry said nothing, but he looked like a
criminal awaiting the fall of the drop.
"Doctor," continued the Captain, paying no attention to the signals
of distress displayed by his friend, "I heard you say a spell ago
that John here needed somebody to take care of him. Well, Mrs.
Snow--she's a--a--sort of relation of Jerry's"--just a suspicion of
a smile accompanied this assertion--"and she's done consid'rable
nussin' in her time. I've been talkin' the thing over with her and
she's willin' to look out for John till he gits better."
The physician adjusted his eyeglasses and looked the volunteer
nurse over keenly. The lady paid no attention to the scrutiny, but
calmly removed her bonnet and placed it on the bureau. The room
was Captain Eri's, and the general disarrangement of everything
movable was only a little less marked than in those of his
companions. Mrs. Snow glanced over the heap of odds and ends on
the bureau and picked up a comb. There were some teeth in it, but
they were distant neighbors.
"I don't use that comb very much," said Captain Eri rather
apologetically. "I gin'rally use the one downstairs."
The new-found relative of Captain Jerry said nothing, but, laying
down the ruin, marched over to the extension-case, opened it, and
took out another comb--a whole one. With this she arranged the
hair on her forehead. It, the hair, was parted in the middle and
drawn back smoothly at the sides, and Captain Eri noticed that it
was brown with a little gray in it. When the last stray wisp was
in place, she turned calmly to the Doctor and said:
"Cap'n Baxter's in here, I s'pose. Shall I walk right in?"
The man of medicine seemed a little surprised at the lady's command
of the situation, but he said:
"Why, yes, ma'am; I guess you may. You have nursed before, I think
the Captain said."
"Five years with my husband. He had slow consumption. Before that
with my mother, and most of my brothers and sisters at one time or
another. I've seen consid'rable sickness all my life. More of
that than anything else, I guess. Now, if you'll come in with me,
so's to tell me about the medicine and so on."
With a short "Humph!" the physician followed her into the sick
room, while the three mariners gazed wide-eyed in at the door.
They watched, as Doctor Palmer explained medicines and gave
directions. It did not need an expert to see that the new nurse
understood her business.
When the Doctor came out his face shone with gratification.
"She'll do," he said emphatically. "If all your relatives are like
that, Cap'n Burgess, I'd like to know 'em; 'twould help me in my
business." Then he added in response to a question, "He seems to
be a little better just now. I think there will be no change for a
while; if there should be, send for me. I'll call in the morning.
Gracious! it's almost daylight now."
They saw him to the door and then came back upstairs. Mrs. Snow
was busy, arranging the pillows, setting the room in something like
order, and caring for her patient's garments, that had been tossed
helter-skelter on the floor in the hurry of undressing. She came
to the door as they entered Captain Eri's chamber.
"Mrs. Snow," said the Captain, "you'd better sleep in my room here
long's you stay. I'll bunk in with Perez downstairs. I'll git my
dunnage out of here right off. I think likely you'll want to clean
The lady from Nantucket glanced at the bureau top and seemed about
to say something, but checked herself. What she did say was:
"P'raps you'd better introduce me to Cap'n Burgess. I don't think
we've ever met, if we ARE relations."
Captain Eri actually blushed a little. "Why, of course," he said.
"Excuse me, ma'am. Jerry, this is Mrs. Snow. I don't know what's
got into me, bein' so careless."
The sacrifice shook the nurse's hand and said something, nobody
knew exactly what. Mrs. Snow went on to say, "Now, I want you men
to go right on to bed, for I know you're all tuckered out. We can
talk to-morrow--I mean to-day, of course: I forgot 'twas next-door
to daylight now. I shall set up with Cap'n Baxter, and if I need
you I'll call you. I'll call you anyway when I think it's time.
They protested, of course, but the lady would not listen. She
calmly seated herself in the rocker by the bed and waved to them to
go, which two of them reluctantly did after a while. The other one
had gone already. It would be superfluous to mention his name.
Downstairs again and in Perez' room Captain Eri came in for a
questioning that bade fair to keep up forever. He shut off all
inquiries, however, with the announcement that he wouldn't tell
them a word about it till he'd had some sleep. Then he would
explain the whole thing, and they could decide whether he had done
right or not. There were all sorts of things to be considered, he
said, and they had better take a nap now while they could.
"Well, I'd jest like to ask you this, Eri Hedge," demanded Captain
Jerry. "What in time did you tell the Doctor that she was a
relation of mine for? That was a nice thing to do, wa'n't it?
I'll have to answer more fool questions 'bout that than a little.
What sort of a relation shall I tell folks she is? Jest tell me
that, will you?"
"Oh, tell 'em she's a relation by marriage," was the answer,
muffled by the bed clothes. "Maybe that 'll be true by the time
they ask you."
"I'll BET it won't!" snorted the rebel.
Captain Perez fell asleep almost immediately. Captain Jerry, tired
out, did the same, but Captain Eri's eyes did not close. The surf
pounded and grumbled. A rooster, early astir, crowed somewhere in
the distance. Daniel thumped the side of his stall and then
subsided for another nap. The gray morning light brightened the
window of the little house.
Then Captain Eri slid silently out of bed, dressed with elaborate
precautions against noise, put on his cap, and tiptoed out of the
house. He walked through the dripping grass, climbed the back
fence and hurried to the hill where John Baxter had fallen. Once
there, he looked carefully around to be sure that no one was
watching. Orham, as a rule, is an early riser, but this morning
most of the inhabitants, having been up for the greater part of the
night, were making up lost sleep and the Captain was absolutely
Assured of this, he turned to the bush underneath which he had
hidden the burned coat, pushed aside the drenched boughs with their
fading leaves and reached down for the tell-tale garment.
And then he made an unpleasant discovery. The coat was gone.
He spent an agitated quarter of an hour hunting through every clump
of bushes in the immediate vicinity, but there was no doubt of it.
Someone had been there before him and had taken the coat away.
HOUSEKEEPER AND BOOK AGENT
There was a knock on the door of Captain Perez's sleeping apartment.
"Cap'n Hedge," said Mrs. Snow, "Cap'n Hedge! I'm sorry to wake you
up, but it's 'most ten o'clock and--"
"What? Ten o'clock! Godfrey scissors! Of all the lazy--I'll be
out in a jiffy. Perez, turn out there! Turn out, I tell you!"
Captain Eri had fallen asleep in the rocker where he had seated
himself upon his return from the fruitless search for the coat.
He had had no intention of sleeping, but he was tired after his
strenuous work at the fire, and had dropped off in the midst of
his worry. He sprang to his feet, and tried to separate dreams
"Land of love, Perez!" he ejaculated. "Here you and me have been
sleepin' ha'f the forenoon. We'd ought to be ashamed of ourselves.
Let's git dressed quicker 'n chain lightnin'."
"Dressed?" queried Perez, sitting up in bed. "I should think you
was dressed now, boots and all. What are you talkin' 'bout?"
The Captain glanced down at his clothes and seemed as much
surprised as his friend. He managed to pull himself together,
however, and stammered:
"Dressed? Oh, I'm dressed, of course. It's you I'm tryin' to git
some life into."
"Well, why didn't you call a feller, 'stead of gittin' up and
dressin' all by yourself. I never see such a critter. Where's my
To avoid further perplexing questions Captain Eri went into the
dining room. The table was set, really set, with a clean cloth and
dishes that shone. The knives and forks were arranged by the
plates, not piled in a heap for each man to help himself. The
"Well, I swan to man!" he said. "Has Jerry had a fit or what's
struck him? I ain't seen him do anything like this for I don't
"Oh, Cap'n Burgess didn't fix the table, if that's what you mean,"
said the new nurse. "Cap'n Baxter seemed to be sleepin' or in a
stupor like, and the Doctor, when he come, said I might leave him
long enough to run downstairs for a few minutes, so--"
"The Doctor? Has the Doctor been here this mornin'?"
"Yes, he come 'bout an hour ago. Now, if you wouldn't mind goin'
up and stayin' with Cap'n Baxter for a few minutes while I finish
gettin' breakfast. I've been up and down so many times in the last
ha'f hour, I don't know's I'm sartin whether I'm on my head or my
The Captain went upstairs in a dazed state. As he passed through
what had been his room he vaguely noticed that the bureau top was
clean, and that most of the rubbish that had ornamented it had
The sick man lay just as he had left him, his white face as
colorless as the clean pillow case against which it rested.
Captain Eri remembered that the pillow cases in the spare room had
looked a little yellow the night before, possibly owing to the fact
that, as the room had not been occupied for months, they had not
been changed. He reasoned that the improvement was another one of
the reforms instituted by the lady from Nantucket.
He sat down in the rocker by the bed and thought, with a shiver, of
the missing coat. There were nine chances out of ten that whoever
found it would recognize it as belonging to the old "Come-Outer."
The contents of the pocket would be almost certain to reveal the
secret if the coat itself did not. It remained to be seen who the
finder was and what he would do. Meanwhile there was no use
worrying. Having come to this conclusion the Captain, with
customary philosophy, resolved to think of something else.
Mrs. Snow entered and announced that breakfast was ready and that
he must go down at once and eat it while it was hot. She, having
breakfasted some time before, would stay with the patient until the
meal was over. Captain Eri at first flatly declined to listen to
any such arrangement, but the calm insistence of the Nantucket
visitor prevailed as usual. The Captain realized that the capacity
for "bossin' things," that he had discerned in the letter, was even
more apparent in the lady herself. One thing he did insist upon,
however, and this was that Mrs. Snow should "turn in" as soon as
breakfast was over. One of the three would take the watch in the
sick room while the other two washed the dishes. The nurse was
inclined to balk on the dishwashing proposition, saying that she
could do it herself after she had had a wink or two, but this the
Captain wouldn't hear of. He went away, however, with an unsettled
conviction that, although he and his partners might wash the
dishes, Mrs. Snow would wash them again as soon as she had an
opportunity. "She didn't say so, but she sort of looked it," he
He found his friends seated at the table and feasting on hot
biscuits, eggs, and clear, appetizing coffee. They greeted him
"Hey, Eri!" hailed Captain Perez. "Ain't this gay? Look at them
eggs; b'iled jest to a T. Ain't much like Jerry's h'af raw kind."
"Humph! You needn't say nothin', Perez," observed Captain Jerry,
his mouth full of biscuit. "When you was cook, you allers b'iled
'em so hard they'd dent the barn if you'd fired 'em at it. How's
Captain Eri gave his and the Doctor's opinion of his friend's
condition and then said, "Now, we've got to have some kind of a
settlement on this marryin' question. Last night, when I was up in
the room there, it come acrost me all of a sudden that, from what
I'd seen of this Nantucket woman, she'd be jest the sort of nurse
that John needed. So I skipped out while you fellers was busy with
the Doctor, found her at the hotel, explained things to her, and
got her to come down. That's all there is to that. I ain't made
no arrangement with her, and somethin's got to be done. What do
you think of her, jedgin' by what you've seen?"
Captain Perez gave it as his opinion that she was "all right," and
added, "If Jerry here wa'n't so pigheaded all at once, he'd marry
her without waitin' another minute."
Eri nodded. "That's my idee," he said emphatically.
But Captain Jerry was as obstinate as ever. He simply would not
consider immediate marriage. In vain his comrades reminded him of
the original compact, and the fact that the vote was two to one
against him; he announced that he had changed his mind, and that
that was all there was about it.
At length Captain Eri lost patience.
"Jerry," he exclaimed, "you remind me of that old white hen we used
to have. When we didn't want her to set she'd set on anything from
a doorknob to a rock, couldn't keep her off; but when we give in
finally and got a settin' of eggs for her, she wouldn't come nigher
to 'em than the other end of the hen-yard. Now you might as well
make up your mind that somethin's got to be done. This Mrs. Snow
ain't nobody's fool. We put out a bait that anybody with sense
would say couldn't catch nothin' but sculpin, and, by mighty, we
hooked a halibut! If the woman was anything like what you'd think
she'd be, answerin' an advertisement like that, I'd be the fust to
say let her go, but she ain't; she's all right, and we need her to
nuss John besides."
"Tell you what we might do," said Perez slowly; "we might explain
to her that Jerry don't feel that 'twould be right to think of
marryin' with Cap'n Baxter so sick in the house and that, if she's
willin', we'll put it off till he dies or gets better. Meantime,
we'll pay her so much to stay here and nuss. Seems to me that's
about the only way out of it."
So they agreed to lay this proposal before the Nantucket lady,
Captain Jerry reluctantly consenting. Then Captain Eri took up
John Baxter, as has been said, had one relative, a granddaughter,
living somewhere near Boston. Captain Eri felt that this
granddaughter should be notified of the old man's illness at once.
The difficulty was that none of them knew the young lady's address.
"Her fust name's Elizabeth, same as her mothers was," said Eri,
"and her dad's name was Preston. They called her Elsie. John used
to write to her every once in a while. P'raps Sam would know where
"Jest' cause Sam's postmaster," observed Perez, "it don't foller
that he reads the name on every letter that goes out and remembers
"Well, if he don't," said Captain Jerry decidedly, "Mary Emma does.
She reads everything, postals and all."
Miss Mary Emma Cahoon was the assistant at the post-office, and was
possessed of a well-developed curiosity concerning other people's
"Humph!" exclaimed Captain Eri, "that's so. We'll write the
letter, and I'll ask Mary Emma for the address when I go up to mail
So Captain Perez went upstairs to take Mrs Snow's place as nurse,
while that lady "turned in." Captain Jerry went into the kitchen
to wash the dishes, and Captain Eri sat down to write the note that
should inform Elizabeth Preston of her grandfather's illness. It
was a very short note, and merely stated the fact without further
information. Having had some experience in that line, the Captain
placed very little reliance upon the help to be expected from
Dr. Palmer had spread the news as he went upon his round of visits
that morning, and callers began to drop in to inquire after the
sick man. Miss Busteed was one of the first arrivals, and, as
Captain Eri had seen her through the window, he went upstairs and
took Perez' place as temporary nurse. To Perez, therefore, fell
the delightful task of entertaining the voluble female for
something like an hour, while she talked fire, paralysis, and
general gossip at express speed.
Ralph Hazeltine came in a little later, and was introduced to Mrs.
Snow, that lady's nap having been but a short one. Ralph was
favorably impressed with the capable appearance of the new nurse,
and so expressed himself to Captain Eri as they walked together
toward the post-office.
"I like her," he said emphatically. "She's quiet and sensible and
cheerful besides. She looks as if trouble didn't trouble her very
"I jedge she's seen enough of it in her time, too," observed the
Captain reflectively. "Queer thing how trouble acts different on
folks. Kind of like hot weather, sours milk, but sweetens apples.
She's one of the sweetened kind. And yet, I cal'late she can be
pretty sharp, too, if you try to tread on her toes. Sort of a
sweet pickle, hey?" and he laughed.
Miss Cahoon remembered the Preston girl's address. It was
Cambridge, Kirkland Street, but the number, she did declare, had
skipped her mind. The Captain said he would chance it without the
number, so the letter was posted. Then, with the electrician, he
strolled over to inspect the remains of the billiard saloon.
There was a small crowd gathered about the building, prominent
among its members being the "train committee," who were evidently
holding a special session on this momentous occasion. The busy
"Squealer," a trifle enlivened by some of Mr. Saunders' wet goods
that had escaped the efforts of the volunteer salvage corps, hailed
the new arrivals as brother heroes.
"Well now, Cap'n Eri!" he exclaimed, shaking hands vigorously.
"And Mr. Hazeltine, too! How're you feelin' after last night? I
says to Web, I says, 'There's folks in this town besides me that
kept you from losin' the whole thing and you ought to thank 'em,' I
says. 'One of 'em 's Cap'n Eri and t'other one's Mr. Hazeltine.
If we three didn't work, then _I_ don't know,' I says."
"Web found out how the fire started yit?" inquired the Captain with
"No, he hain't for sure. There was a lot of us thought old Baxter
might have set it, but they tell me it couldn't have been him,
cause he was took down runnin' to the fire. Web, he's sort of
changed his tune, and don't seem to think anybody set it; thinks it
Mr. Saunders, his smooth self again, with all traces of mental
disturbance gone from his face and all roughness from his tongue,
came briskly up, smiling as if the burning of his place of business
was but a trifling incident, a little annoying, of course, but not
worth fretting about. He thanked the Captain and Hazeltine
effusively for their service of the previous night, and piled the
weight of his obligations upon them until, as Captain Eri said
afterwards, "the syrup fairly dripped off his chin." The Captain
broke in upon the sugary flow as soon as he could.
"How d'you think it started, Web?" he asked.
"Well," replied Mr. Saunders slowly, "I kind of cal'late she
started herself. There was some of the boys in here most of the
evenin', and, jest like's not, a cigar butt, or a match, or
somethin' dropped somewheres and got to smolderin', and smoldered
along till bime-by--puff!" An expressive wave of a fat hand
finished the sentence.
"Humph!" grunted the Captain. "Changed your mind sence last night.
Seems to me I heard you then swearin' you knew 'twas set and who
"Well, ye-es. I was considerable shook up last night and maybe I
said things I hadn't ought to. You see there's been a good deal of
hard feelin's towards me in town and for a spell I thought some
feller'd tried to burn me out. But I guess not; I guess not. More
I think of it, more I think it catched itself. Seems to me I
remember smellin' sort of a scorchin' smell when I was lockin' up.
Oh, say! I was mighty sorry to hear 'bout Cap'n Baxter bein' took
sick. The old man was dreadful down on liquor, but I laid that to
his religion and never had no hard feelin's against him. How's he
Captain Eri brusquely replied that his friend was "'bout the same,"
and asked if Mr. Saunders intended to rebuild. "Web" didn't know
just yet. He was a poor man, didn't carry much insurance, and so
on. Thought likely he should fix up again if it didn't cost too
much. Did the Doctor say whether Captain Baxter would pull through
Captain Eri gave an evasive answer and turned away. He was silent
for some little time, and when Ralph commented on "Web's" overnight
change of manner, his rejoinder was to the effect that "ile was
bound to rise, but that didn't mean there wa'n't dirty water
underneath." On the way home he asked Hazeltine concerning the
trouble at the cable station, and how Mr. Langley had treated the
Ralph replied that Mr. Langley had said nothing to him about it.
It was his opinion that the old gentleman understood the affair
pretty well, and was not disposed to blame him. As for the men,
they had been as docile as lambs, and he thought the feeling toward
himself was not as bitter as it had been. All of which his
companion said he was glad to hear.
They separated at the gate, and the Captain entered the house to
find Mrs. Snow wielding a broom and surrounded by a cloud of dust.
Perez was upstairs with the patient, and Captain Jerry, whose
habits had been considerably upset by the sweeping, was out in the
That evening the situation was explained to Mrs. Snow by Captain
Eri, in accordance with the talk at the breakfast table. The
lady from Nantucket understood and respected Captain Jerry's
unwillingness to discuss the marriage question while John Baxter's
condition continued critical, and she agreed to act as nurse and
housekeeper for a while, at least, for the sum of six dollars a
week. This price was fixed only after considerable discussion by
the three mariners, for Captain Eri was inclined to offer eight,
and Captain Jerry but four.
When Ralph Hazeltine called late in the afternoon of the following
day, the dining room was so transformed that he scarcely knew it.
The dust had disappeared; the chronometer was polished till it
shone; the table was covered with a cloth that was snow-white, and
everything movable had the appearance of being in its place.
Altogether, there was an evidence of order that was almost
Captain Eri came to the door in response to his knock, and grinned
appreciatively at his caller's look of wonder.
"I don't wonder you're s'prised," he said, with a chuckle. "I
ain't begun to git over it yit, myself, and Lorenzo's so shook up
he ain't been in the house sence breakfast time. He's out in the
barn, keepin' Dan'l comp'ny and waitin' for the end of the world to
strike, I cal'late."
Ralph laughed. "Mrs. Snow?" he inquired.
"Mrs. Snow," answered the Captain. "It beats all what a woman can
do when she's that kind of a woman. She's done more swabbin' decks
and overhaulin' runnin' riggin' than a new mate on a clipper. The
place is so all-fired clean that I feel like brushin' myself every
time I go to set down."
"How's Captain Baxter?" asked Hazeltine.
"Seems to be some better. He come to a little this mornin', and
seemed to know some of us, but he ain't sensed where he is yit, nor
I don't b'lieve he will fur a spell. Set down and keep me comp'ny.
It's my watch jest now. Perez, he's over to Barry's; Jerry's up to
the schoolhouse, and Mrs. Snow's run up to the post-office to mail
a letter. John's asleep, so I can stay downstairs a little while,
long's the door's open. What's the news uptown? Web changed his
mind ag'in 'bout the fire?"
It appeared that Mr. Saunders had not changed his mind, at least
so current gossip reported. And it may be remarked here that,
curiously enough, the opinion that the fire "caught itself" came at
last to be generally accepted in the village. For some weeks
Captain Eri was troubled with thoughts concerning the missing coat,
but, as time passed, and the accusing garment did not turn up, he
came to believe that some boy must have found it and that it had,
in all probability, been destroyed. There were, of course, some
persons who still suspected John Baxter as the incendiary, but the
old man's serious illness and respect for his former standing in
the community kept these few silent. The Baxter house had been
locked up and the Captain had the key.
Hazeltine and his host chatted for a few minutes on various topics.
The gilt titles on the imposing "Lives of Great Naval Commanders,"
having received their share of the general dusting, now shone
forth resplendent, and the Captain noticed Ralph's eye as it
involuntarily turned toward them.
"Noticin' our library?" he chuckled. "Perez' property, that is.
'Gusty Black talked him into buyin' 'em. Never met 'Gusty, did
you? No, I guess likely not. She lives over to the Neck, and
don't git down to the village much. 'Gusty's what you call a
business woman. She' always up to somethin' to make a dollar, and
she's as slick a talker as ever was, I guess. She never give Perez
no rest till he signed the deed for them books. Told him they'd
give liter'ry tone to the shebang. Perez started to read 'em out
loud when they fust come, but he had to stop so often to spell out
the furrin names that me and Jerry used to go to sleep. That made
him mad, and he said, liter'ry tone be durned; he wa'n't goin' to
waste his breath readin' us to sleep; so they've been on the shelf
Ralph laughed. "So you have book agents, too?" he said.
"Well, we've got 'Gusty," was the reply, "and she's enough to keep
us goin'. Gits round reg'lar as clockwork once a month to collect
the two dollars from Perez. It's her day now, and I told Perez
that that was why he sneaked off to Barry's. You see, 'Gusty's
after him to buy the history of Methuselah, or some old critter,
and he don't like to see her. She's after me, too, but I'm 'fraid
she don't git much encouragement."
After they had talked a little longer, the Captain seemed to
remember something, for he glanced at his watch and said, "Mr.
Hazeltine, I wonder if I could git you to do me a favor. I really
ought to go down and see to my shanty. Ain't been there sence day
afore yesterday, and there's so many boys 'round, I'm 'fraid to
leave it unlocked much longer. I thought some of the folks would
be back 'fore this, but if you could stay here long enough for me
to run down there a minute or two, I'd be ever so much obliged.
I'll step up and see how John is."
He went upstairs and returned to report that the patient was quiet
and seemed to be asleep.
"If you hear him groan, or anything," he said, "jest come to the
door and whistle. Whistle anyway, if you want me. Ain't nobody
likely to come, 'less it's 'Gusty or the Reverend Perley come to
ask 'bout John. If it's a middlin' good-lookin' young woman with a
satchel, that's 'Gusty. Don't whistle; tell her I'm out. I'll be
back in a jiffy, but you needn't tell either of them so unless your
conscience hurts you TOO much."
After the Captain had gone Ralph took down a volume of the "Great
Commanders" and sat down in a chair by the table to look it over.
He was smiling over the gaudy illustrations and flamboyant
descriptions of battles, when there was a step on the walk outside
and knock at the door. "Which is it," he thought, "'Gusty or the
Obviously it was Miss Black. She stood on the mica slab that
formed the step and looked up at him as he swung the door open.
She had a small leather bag in her hand, just as the Captain had
said she would have, but it flashed across Mr. Hazeltine's mind
that the rest of the description was not a fair one; she was
certainly much more than "middlin' good-lookin'!"
"Is Captain Hedge in?" she asked.
Now, from his friend's hints, Ralph had expected to hear a rather
sharp and unpleasant voice,--certain disagreeable remembrances of
former encounters with female book agents had helped to form the
impression perhaps,--but Miss Black's voice was mellow, quiet, and
rather pleasing than otherwise.
"No," said Mr. Hazeltine, obeying orders with exactitude. "Captain
Hedge is out just now."
"'Gusty"--somehow the name didn't seem to fit--was manifestly
"Oh, dear!" she said, and then added, "Will he be back soon?"
Now this was a question unprovided for. Ralph stammered, and then
miserably equivocated. He really couldn't say just when the
Captain would return.
"Oh, dear!" said the young lady again. Then she seemed to be
waiting for some further observation on the part of the gentleman
at the door. None being forthcoming, she seemed to make up her
mind to act on her own initiative.
"I think I will come in and wait," she said with decision. And
come in she did, Mr. Hazeltine not knowing exactly what to do,
under the circumstances.
Now this was much more in keeping with the electrician's
preconceived ideas of a book agent's behavior; nevertheless, when
he turned and found the young lady standing in the middle of the
floor, he felt obliged to be at least decently polite.
"Won't you take a chair?" he asked.
"Thank you," said the caller, and took one.
The situation was extremely awkward, but Ralph felt that loyalty to
Captain Eri forbade his doing anything that might urge the self-
possessed Miss Black to prolong her visit, so for a time he said
nothing. The young lady looked out of the window and Mr. Hazeltine
looked at her. He was more than ever of the opinion that the
"middlin'" term should be cut out of her description. He rather
liked her appearance, so he decided. He liked the way she wore her
hair; so simple an arrangement, but so effective. Also he liked
her dress. It was the first tailor-made walking suit he had seen
since his arrival in Orham. And worn by a country book agent, of
Just then Miss Black turned and caught him intently gazing at her.
She colored, apparently with displeasure, and looked out of the
window again. Mr. Hazeltine colored also and fidgeted with the
book on the table. The situation was confoundedly embarrassing.
He felt that he must say something now, so he made the original
observation that it had been a pleasant day.
To this the young lady agreed, but there was no enthusiasm in her
tone. Then Ralph, nervously fishing for another topic, thought of
the book in his hand.
"I was just reading this," he said. "I found it quite interesting."
The next moment he realized that he had said what, of all things,
was the most impolitic. It was nothing less than a bid for a
"canvass," and he fully expected to be confronted with the
necessary order blanks without delay. But, strangely enough, the
book lady made no such move. She looked at him, it is true, but
with an expression of surprise and what seemed to be amusement on
her face. He was certain that her lips twitched as she said
"Did you? I am glad to hear it."
This dispassionate remark was entirely unexpected, and the
electrician, as Captain Eri would have said, "lost his bearings"
"Yes--er, yes," he stammered. "Very interesting indeed. I--I
suppose you must take a good many orders in the course of a week."
"A good many ORDERS?"
"Why, yes. Orders for the books, I mean. The books--the 'Great
Naval Lives'--er--these books here."
"I beg your pardon, but who do you think I am?"
And it was then that the perception of some tremendous blunder
began to seize upon Mr. Hazeltine. He had been red before; now, he
felt the redness creeping over his scalp under his hair.
"Why, why, Miss Black, I suppose; that is, I--"
Just here the door opened and Captain Eri came in. He took off his
cap and then, seeing the visitor, remained standing, apparently
waiting for an introduction. But the young lady did not keep him
"Are you Captain Eri Hedge?" she asked.
"Yes'm," answered the Captain.
"Oh, I'm SO glad. Your letter came this morning, and I hurried
down on the first train. I'm Elizabeth Preston."
Perhaps, on the whole, it is not surprising that Captain Eri didn't
grasp the situation. Neither his two partners nor himself had
given much thought to the granddaughter of the sick man in the
upper room. The Captain knew that there was a granddaughter, hence
his letter; but he had heard John Baxter speak of her as being in
school somewhere in Boston, and had all along conceived of her as a
miss of sixteen or thereabouts. No wonder that at first he looked
at the stylishly gowned young woman, who stood before him with one
gloved hand extended, in a puzzled, uncomprehending way.
"Excuse me, ma'am," he said slowly, mechanically swallowing up the
proffered hand in his own mammoth fist, "but I don't know's I jest
caught the name. Would you mind sayin' it ag'in?"
"Elizabeth Preston," repeated the visitor. "Captain Baxter's
granddaughter. You wrote me that he was ill, you know, and I--"
"What!" roared the Captain, delighted amazement lighting up his
face like a sunrise. "You don't mean to tell me you're 'Liz'beth
Baxter's gal Elsie! Well! Well! I want to know! If this don't
beat all! Set down! Take your things right off. I'm mighty glad
to see you."
Captain Eri's hand, with Miss Preston's hidden in it, was moving up
and down as if it worked by a clock-work arrangement. The young
lady withdrew her fingers from the trap as soon as she conveniently
could, but it might have been noticed that she glanced at them when
she had done so, as if to make sure that the original shape
"Thank you, Captain Hedge," she said. "And now, please tell me
about grandfather. How is he? May I see him?"
The Captain's expression changed to one of concern.
"Why, now, Miss Preston," he said, "your grandpa is pretty sick.
Oh, I don't mean he's goin' to die right off or anything like
that," he added hastily. "I mean he's had a stroke of palsy, or
somethin', and he ain't got so yit that he senses much of what goes
on. Now I don't want to frighten you, you know, but really there's
a chance--a leetle mite of a chance--that he won't know you. Don't
feel bad if he don't, now will you?"
"I knew he must be very ill from your letter," said the girl
simply. "I was afraid that he might not be living when I reached
here. They told me at the station that he was at your house and so
I came. He has been very good to me and I--"
Her voice broke a little and she hesitated. Captain Eri was a
picture of nervous distress.
"Yes, yes, I know," he said hastily. "Don't you worry now. He's
better; the Doctor said he was consid'rably better to-day; didn't
he, Mr. Hazeltine? Why, what am I thinkin' of? Let me make you
known to Mr. Hazeltine; next-door neighbor of ours; right acrost
the road," and he waved toward the bay.
Ralph and Miss Preston shook hands. The electrician managed to
utter some sort of formality, but he couldn't have told what it
was. He was glad when the Captain announced that, if Mr. Hazeltine
would excuse them, he guessed Miss Preston and he would step
upstairs and see John. The young lady took off her hat and jacket,
and Captain Eri lighted a lamp, for it was almost dark by this
time. As its light shone upon the visitor's face and hair the
crimson flush before mentioned circumnavigated the electrician's
head once more, and his bump of self-esteem received a finishing
blow. That any man supposed to possess two fairly good eyes and a
workable brain could have mistaken her for an Orham Neck book agent
by the name of "'Gusty--'Gusty Black!" Heavens!
"I'll be down in a few minutes, Mr. Hazeltine," said the Captain.
"Set still, won't you?"
But Mr. Hazeltine wouldn't sit still. He announced that it was
late and he must be going. And go he did, in spite of his host's
"Look out for the stairs," cautioned the Captain, leading the way
with the lamp. "The feller that built 'em must have b'lieved that
savin' distance lengthens out life. Come to think of it, I
wouldn't wonder if them stairs was the reason why me and Jerry and
Perez took this house. They reminded us so of the shrouds on a
Elsie Preston did her best to smile as her companion rattled on in
this fashion, but both the smile and the Captain's cheerfulness
were too plainly assumed to be convincing, and they passed down the
hall in silence. At the open door of the sick room Captain Eri
"He's asleep," he whispered, "and, remember, if he wakes up and
doesn't know you, you needn't feel bad."
Elsie slipped by him and knelt by the bed, looking into the white,
old face on the pillow. Somehow the harsh lines had faded out of
it, and it looked only old and pitiful.
The Captain watched the tableau for a moment or two, and then
tiptoed into the room and placed the lamp on the bureau.
"Now, I think likely," he said in a rather husky whisper, "that
you'd like to stay with your grandpa for a little while, so I'll go
downstairs and see about supper. No, no, no!" he added, holding up
his hand as the girl spoke some words of protest, "you ain't goin'
nowheres to supper. You're goin' to stay right here. If you want
me, jest speak."
And he hurried downstairs and into the kitchen, clearing his throat
with vigor and making a great to-do over the scratching of a match.
Mrs. Snow returned a few minutes later and to her the news of the
arrival was told, as it was also to Perez and Jerry when they came.
Mrs. Snow took charge of the supper arrangements. When the meal
was ready, she said to Captain Eri:
"Now, I'll go upstairs and tell her to come down. I'll stay with
Cap'n Baxter till you're through, and then p'raps, if one of you'll
take my place, I'll eat my supper and wash the dishes. You needn't
come up now. I'll introduce myself."
Some few minutes passed before Miss Preston came down. When she
did so her eyes were wet, but her manner was cheerful, and the
unaffected way in which she greeted Captain Perez and Captain
Jerry, when these two rather bashful mariners were introduced by
Eri, won them at once.
The supper was a great success. It was Saturday night, and a
Saturday night supper to the average New Englander means baked
beans. The captains had long ago given up this beloved dish,
because, although each had tried his hand at preparing it, none had
wholly succeeded, and the caustic criticisms of the other two had
prevented further trials. But Mrs. Snow's baked beans were a
triumph. So, also, was the brown bread.
"I snum," exclaimed Captain Perez, "if I don't b'lieve I'd sooner
have these beans than turkey. What do you say, Jerry?"
"I don't know but I had," assented the sacrifice, upon whose
countenance sat a placidity that had not been there since the night
of the "matching." "'Specially if the turkey was like the one we
tried to cook last Thanksgivin'. 'Member that, Eri?"
Captain Eri, his mouth full, grunted an emphatic assent.
"Tell me," said Miss Preston, who had eaten but little, but was
apparently getting more satisfaction from watching her companions,
"did you three men try to keep house here alone?"
"Yes," answered Eri dryly. "We tried. First we thought 'twas
goin' to be fine; then we thought we'd like it better after we got
used to it; finally we decided that by the time we got used to it
we'd die, like the horse that was fed on sawdust."
"And so you hired Mrs. Snow to keep house for you? Well, I don't
see how you could have made a better choice; she's a dear, good
woman; I'm sure of it. And now I want to thank you all for what
you've done for grandfather. Mrs. Snow told me all about it;
you've been so kind that I--"
"That's all right! that's all right!" hastily interrupted Captain
Eri. "Pity if we couldn't help out a shipmate we've sailed with
for years and years. But you'd ought to have tried some of OUR
cookin'. Tell her about the sugar cake you made, Perez. The one
that killed the yaller chicken."
So Captain Perez told it, and then their visitor set them all
laughing by relating some queer housekeeping experiences that she
and a school friend had had while camping at Chautauqua. Somehow
each one felt at home with her. As Captain Eri said afterwards,
"She didn't giggle, and then ag'in she didn't talk down at you."
As they rose from the table the young lady asked a question
concerning the location of the hotel. The Captain made no answer
at the time, but after a short consultation with the remainder of
the triumvirate, he came to her as she stood by the window and,
laying his hand on her shoulder, said:
"Now, Elsie--I hope you don't mind my callin' you Elsie, but I've
been chums with your grandpa so long seems's if you must be a sort
of relation of mine--Elsie, you ain't goin' to no hotel, that is,
unless you're real set on it. Your grandpa's here and we're here,
and there's room enough. I don't want to say too much, but I'd
like to have you b'lieve that me and Perez and Jerry want you to
stay right in this house jest as long's you stop in Orham. Now you
will, won't you?"
And so it was settled, and Captain Perez harnessed Daniel and went
to the station for the trunk.
That evening, just before going to bed, the captains stood by the
door of the sick room watching Elsie and the lady from Nantucket as
they sat beside John Baxter's bed. Mrs. Snow was knitting, and
Elsie was reading. Later, as Captain Eri peered out of the dining-
room window to take a final look at the sky in order to get a line
on the weather, he said slowly:
"Fellers, do you know what I was thinkin' when I see them two women
in there with John? I was thinkin' that it must be a mighty
pleasant thing to know that if you're took sick somebody like that
'll take care of you."
Perez nodded. "I think so, too," he said.
But if this was meant to influence the betrothed one, it didn't
succeed, apparently, for all Captain Jerry said was:
"Humph! 'Twould take more than that to make me hanker after a
stroke of palsy."
And with the coming of Elsie Preston and Mrs. Snow life in the
little house by the shore took on a decided change. The Nantucket
lady having satisfied herself that John Baxter's illness was likely
to be a long one, wrote several letters to persons in her native
town, which letters, although she did not say so, were supposed by
the captains to deal with the care of her property while she was
away. Having apparently relieved her mind by this method, and
evidently considering the marriage question postponed for the
present, she settled down to nurse the sick man and to keep house
as, in her opinion, a house should be kept. The captains knew
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