Part 6 out of 7
Give it up."
"Give it up?"
"Yes, give it up. Give up this wearin' yourself out keepin'
boarders and runnin' this big house. Why don't you stop takin'
care of other folks and take care of yourself for a spell?"
"But I can't. I can't take care of myself. All I have is invested
in this place and if I give it up I lose everything."
"Yes, yes, I know what you mean. But what I mean is--is--"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean--I mean why don't you let somebody take care of you?
That's what I mean."
Thankful turned to stare at him.
"Somebody--else--take care of me?" she repeated.
"Yes--yes. Don't look at me like that. If you do I can't say it.
I'm--I'm havin' a--a hard enough time sayin' it as 'tis. Thankful
Barnes, why--don't LOOK at me, I tell you!"
But she still looked at him, and, if a look ever conveyed a meaning,
hers did just then.
"I ain't crazy," declared Captain Obed. "I can see you think I am,
but I ain't. Thankful, I-- Oh, thunderation! What is the matter
with me? Thankful, let ME take care of you, will you?"
Thankful rose to her feet. "Obed Bangs!" she exclaimed.
"I mean it. I've been meanin' it more and more ever since I first
met you, but I ain't had the spunk to say it. Now I'm goin' to say
it if I keel over on the last word. Thankful, why don't you marry
Thankful was speechless. The captain plunged desperately on.
"Will you, Thankful?" he begged. "I know I'm an old codger, but I
ain't in my second childhood, not yet. I--I'd try mighty hard to
make you happy. I haven't got anybody of my own in the world.
Neither have you--except this brother of yours, and, judgin' from
his letter and what you say, HE won't take any care; he'll BE a
care, that's all. I ain't rich, but I've got money enough to help
you--and him--and me afloat and comf'table. Thankful, will you?"
Thankful was still looking at him. He would have spoken again, but
she raised her hand and motioned him to silence.
"Obed," she asked, after a moment, "what made you say this to me?"
"What made me say it? What kept me still so long, you ought to
ask. Haven't I come to think more and more of you ever since I
knew you? Haven't I been more and more sorry for you? And pitied
She raised her hand again. "I see," she said, slowly. "I see.
Thank you, Obed. You're so kind and self-sacrificin' you'd do
anything or say anything to help a--friend, wouldn't you? But of
course you can't do this."
"Can't? Why can't I? Self-sacrifice be hanged! Thankful, can't
"Yes. Oh yes. I can see. . . . Now let's talk about Jedediah.
Do you think--"
"Jedediah be keelhauled! Will you marry me, Thankful Barnes?"
"Why no, Obed; of course I won't."
"You won't? Why not?"
"Because--well, because I--I can't. There, there, Obed! Please
don't ask me again. Please don't!"
Captain Obed did not ask. He did not speak again for what, to Mrs.
Barnes, seemed a long, long time. At length she could bear it no
"PLEASE, Obed," she begged.
The captain slowly shook his head. Then he laughed a short,
"What an old fool I am!" he muttered. "What an old fool!"
"Obed, don't talk so! Don't! Do you want to make this--
everything--harder for me?"
He straightened and squared his shoulders.
"Thank you, Thankful," he said, earnestly. "Thank you for sayin'
that. That's the way to talk to me. I know I'm an old fool, but I
won't be any more, if I can help it. Make it harder for you? I
"Obed, I'm so sorry."
"Sho! sho! You needn't be. . . . I'm all right. I've been
dreamin' foolish dreams, like a young feller after a church picnic
dinner, but I'm awake now. Yes'm, I'm awake. Now just you forget
that I talked in my sleep. Forget the whole of it and let's get
back to--to that brother of yours. We've got to locate him, that's
the first thing to be done. I'll send a telegram right off to that
Kelly man out in 'Frisco askin' if what's-his-name--Jedediah--is
"Obed, you won't--you won't feel hard towards me? You won't let--
this--interfere with our friendship?"
"Sho! Hush, hush, Thankful! You make me more ashamed of myself
than ever, and that ain't necessary. Now the first thing is to
send that telegram. If we locate your brother then we'll send him
a ticket to Boston and some money. Don't you worry, Thankful;
we'll get him here. And don't you fret about the money neither.
I'll 'tend to that and you can pay me afterwards."
"No, no; of course I shan't let--"
"Yes, you will. There's some things you can't stop and that's one
of 'em. You talked about our friendship, didn't you? Well, unless
you want me to believe I ain't your friend, you'll let me run my
own course this time. So long, Thankful; I'm off to Chris Badger's
to send that telegram."
He snatched up his cap and was on his way to the door. She
"Obed," she faltered, "I--I-- What CAN I say to you? You are SO
"Tut! tut! Me good? Don't let Heman Daniels hear you say that.
He's a church deacon and knows what goodness is. So long,
Thankful. Soon's I hear from Kelly, I'll report."
He hurried from the house. Thankful watched him striding down the
path. Not once did he hesitate or look back. She turned from the
door and, returning to her chair by the center table, sat down.
For a moment she sat there and then, leaning her head upon her arms
on the table, wept tears of absolute loneliness and despair.
The telegram to Michael Kelly of San Francisco brought an answer,
but a most unsatisfactory one. Jedediah Cahoon had not been in the
Kelly employ for more than six weeks. Kelly did not know where he
had gone and, apparently, did not care. Captain Obed then wired
and wrote the San Francisco police officials, urging them to trace
the lost one. This they promised to do, but nothing came of it.
The weeks passed and no word from them or from Jedediah himself was
received. His letter had come to prove that, at the time it was
written, he was alive; whether or not he was still alive, or where
he might be if living, was as great a mystery as ever. Day after
day Thankful watched and waited and hoped, but her waiting was
unrewarded, and, though she still hoped, her hope grew steadily
fainter; and the self-reproach and the worry greater in proportion.
She and Georgie and Imogene spent Thanksgiving Day alone. Heman
Daniels and Mr. Hammond were invited out and Captain Obed, who had
meant to eat his Thanksgiving dinner at the High Cliff House, was
called to Boston on business connected with his fish selling, and
could not return in time.
Early in December Thankful once more drove to Trumet to call upon
Solomon Cobb. The question of the renewal of the mortgage she felt
must remain a question no longer. But she obtained little
satisfaction from her talk with the money-lender. Mr. Cobb's first
remark concerned the Holliday Kendrick offer to buy the "Cap'n
"Did he mean it, do you think?" he demanded. "Is he really so sot
on buyin' as folks say he is?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Huh! And he's hired his lawyer--that young cousin of his--Bailey
Kendrick's son--to make you sell out to him?"
"What's the young feller done about it; anything?"
"No; nothin' that I know of."
"Humph! Sure of that, be ye? I hear he's been spendin' consider'ble
time over to Ostable lately, hangin' round the courthouse, and the
probate clerk's office. Know what he's doin' that for?"
"No, I didn't know he had. How did you know it?"
"I knew. Ain't much goin' on that I don't know; I make it my
business to know. Why don't you sell out to old Holliday?"
"I don't want to sell. My boardin'-house has just got a good start
and why should I give it up? I won't sell."
"Oh, you won't! Pretty independent for anybody with a mortgage
hangin' over 'em, ain't ye?"
"Solomon, are you goin' to renew that mortgage when it comes due?"
Mr. Cobb pulled his whiskers. "I don't know's I am and I don't
know's I ain't," he said. "This Kendrick business kind of mixes
things up. Might be a good idea for me to foreclose that mortgage
and sell the place to him at my own price. Eh? What do you think
"You wouldn't do it! You couldn't be so--"
"So what? Business is business and if he's goin' to put you out
anyhow, I don't see why I shouldn't get my share of the pickin's."
"But he ain't goin' to put me out."
"He says he is. Now--now--clear out and don't bother me. When
that mortgage falls due I'll let you know what I intend doin' with
it. If you pester me now I won't renew anyhow. Go along home and
quit your frettin'. Long's you're there, you BE there. What more
do you want?"
There was a good deal more of this sort of thing, but it was all
quite as unsatisfactory. Thankful gave it up at last.
"I shan't come here again," she declared desperately. "If you want
to see me you can come to my place."
"Well, you will, or not see me. Why haven't you been there? Time
and time again you have promised to come, but you never have. I
shall begin to believe there is some reason why you don't want to
go into that house."
She was on her way to the door, but Solomon called after her.
"Here!" he shouted. "Hold on! What do you mean by that? Why
shouldn't I go into that house if I want to? Why shouldn't I?"
"I don't know; all I know is that you don't seem to want to. I
can't say why you don't want to, but--"
"But, maybe, if someone that's dead and gone was here--he could."
"He--he--who? What? Hi! Where you goin'?"
"I'm goin' home."
"No, you ain't--not until you tell me what you mean by--by somebody
that's dead and gone. What kind of talk is that? What do you
"Maybe I don't know what I mean, Solomon; but I think you do. If
you don't then your looks belie you, that's all."
She went out of the "henhouse." As she drove away she saw Mr. Cobb
peering at her through the window. He was "weeding" with both
hands and he looked agitated and--yes, frightened. Thankful was
more than ever certain that his mysterious behavior was in some way
connected with his past dealings with her Uncle Abner, but, not
knowing what those dealings might have been, the certainty was not
likely to help her. And he had not said that he would renew the
Georgie was the first to meet her when she drove into the yard. He
had been spending the day with Captain Obed and had coaxed the
latter into telling him stories of Santa Claus. Georgie's mind was
now filled with anticipations of Christmas and Christmas presents,
and his faith in Santa, which had been somewhat shaken during his
year at kindergarten in South Middleboro, was reviving again. The
captain and Imogene and Mrs. Barnes all helped in the revival.
"Christmas loses three-quarters of its fun when old Santa's took
out of it," declared Captain Obed. "I know, 'count of havin' been
a young one myself a thousand year ago or such matter. This'll
probably be the second mate's last Santa Claus Christmas, so let's
keep this one the real thing for the boy."
So he and Imogene and Thankful--yes, even Kenelm--discussed Santa
for Georgie's benefit and Georgie believed, although his belief was
not as absolute and unquestioning as it had once been. He asked a
great many questions, some of which his elders found hard to
answer. His dearest wish was for an air-gun, but somehow Mrs.
Barnes did not seem to think the wish would be gratified. She had
a strong presentiment that the combination of Georgie and an air-
gun and the chickens might not be a desirable one, especially for
"But why won't he bring it, Auntie?" demanded Georgie. "You say he
brings good boys what they want. I've been a good boy, ain't I?"
"'Deed you have. I wouldn't ask for a better one."
"Then why won't Santa bring me the gun?"
"Perhaps he'll think a gun isn't nice for such a little boy to
"But it is nice. It's nicer'n anything. If I'm good and I want it
I don't see why I can't have it. I think Santa's mean if he don't
"Oh no, he isn't mean. Just think how good he is! He comes to
every boy and girl--"
"No, he don't."
"Why yes, he does. To every good little boy and girl."
"He never came to Patsy Leary that lived up on the lots in
Middleboro. Patsy said he didn't; he said there wasn't any Santa
Claus, Patsy did."
"Hum! Perhaps Patsy wasn't good."
"Gee! Yes, he was. He can play baseball better'n any boy I know.
And he can lick any kid his size; he told me he could."
This crushing proof of young Leary's goodness was a staggerer for
Thankful. Before she could think of a reply Georgie asked another
"You say he'll come down the chimney?" he queried.
"The livin'-room chimney?"
"No, he won't."
"How can he? He's so fat; he's ever so fat in the pictures. How
can he get through the stovepipe?"
Mrs. Barnes' answer was evasive and Georgie noticed the evasion.
However, his trust in his Aunt Thankful was absolute and if she
said a fat man could get through a stovepipe he probably could.
But the performance promised to be an interesting one. Georgie
wished he might see it. He thought a great deal about it and,
little by little, a plan began forming in his mind.
Three days before Christmas Emily Howes arrived at the High Cliff
House. She was received with rejoicings. The young lady looked
thinner than when she went away and seemed more grave and careworn.
But when Thankful commented upon her appearance Emily only laughed
and declared herself quite well and perfectly happy. She and her
cousin discussed all topics of common interest except one, that one
was John Kendrick. Once or twice Thankful mentioned the young
man's name, but invariably Emily changed the subject. It was
evident that she did not wish to speak of John; also it was, to
Mrs. Barnes, just as evident that she thought of him. Thankful
believed that those thoughts were responsible for the change in her
relative's look and manner.
Christmas was to be, as Thanksgiving had been, a day free from
boarders at the High Cliff House. Caleb was again "asked out," and
Mr. Daniels, so he said, "called away." He had spent little time
in East Wellmouth of late, though no one seemed to know exactly
where he had been or why.
The day before Christmas was cold and threatening. Late in the
afternoon it began to rain and the wind to blow. By supper time a
fairly able storm had developed and promised to develop still more.
Captain Obed, his arms filled with packages, all carefully wrapped
and all mysterious and not to be opened till the next day, came in
just after supper.
"Where's that second mate of mine?" whispered the captain,
anxiously. When told that Georgie was in the kitchen with Imogene
he sighed in relief.
"Good!" he said. "Hide those things as quick as ever you can,
afore he lays eyes on 'em. He's sharper'n a sail needle, that
young one is, and if he can't see through brown paper he can GUESS
through it, I bet you. Take em away and put 'em out of sight--
Emily hurried upstairs with the packages. Captain Obed turned to
"How is she these days?" he asked, with a jerk of the head in the
direction taken by Miss Howes.
"She's pretty well, or she says she is. I ain't so sure myself.
I'm afraid she thinks about--about HIM more than she makes believe.
I'm afraid matters between them two had gone farther'n we guessed."
Captain Obed nodded. "Shouldn't wonder," he said. "John looks
pretty peaked, too. I saw him just now."
"You did? John Kendrick? He's been out of town for a week or two,
so I heard. Where did you see him?"
"At the Centre depot. I was up to the Centre--er--buyin' a few
things and he got off the noon train."
"Did you speak to him?"
"Yes, or he spoke to me. He and I ain't said much to each other--
what little we've seen of each other lately--but that's been his
fault more'n 'twas mine. He sung out to me this time, though, and
I went over to the platform. Say," after a moment's hesitation,
"there's another thing I want to ask you. How's Heman Daniels
actin' since Emily come? Seems more'n extry happy, does he?"
"Why--why, no. He's been away, too, a good deal; on business, he
"Humph! He and--er--Emily haven't been extra thick, then?"
"No. Come to think of it they've hardly seen each other. Emily
has acted sort of--sort of queer about him, too. She didn't seem
to want to talk about him more'n she has about John."
"Humph! That's funny. I can't make it out. You see Heman got on
that same train John got off. He was comin' along the depot
platform just as I got to it. And the depot-master sung out to
"The depot-master? Eben Foster, you mean?"
"Yup. He sung out, 'Congratulations, Heman,' says he."
"'What you congratulatin' him for?' says I.
"'Ain't you heard?' says he. 'He's engaged to be married'."
Thankful uttered an exclamation.
"Engaged!" she repeated. "Mr. Daniels engaged--to be married?"
"So Eben said. I wanted to ask a million questions, of course, but
John Kendrick was right alongside me and I couldn't. John must
have heard it, too, and it did seem to me that he looked pretty
well shook up, but he wa'n't any more shook than I was. I thought--
Well, you see, I thought--"
Thankful knew what he had thought. She also was "shaken up."
"I don't believe it," she cried. "If--if--it can't he HER. Why,
she would have told me, I'm sure. Obed, you don't think--"
"I don't know what to think. Heman's been writin' her pretty
reg'lar, I know that, 'cause Chris Badger told me so a week after
she'd gone. I don't know, Thankful; one thing's sartin, Heman's
kept his engagement mighty quiet. How Eben learned of it I don't
know, but nobody in East Wellmouth knows, for I've been soundin'
ever since I struck here."
Thankful was greatly troubled. "I HOPE it ain't true," she cried.
"I suppose he's all right, but--but I didn't want Emily to marry
"Neither did I. Perhaps she ain't goin' to. Perhaps it's just a
round-the-stove lie, like a shipload of others that's set afloat
every day. But, from somethin' John Kendrick said to me on that
platform I knew he heard what Eben said."
"How do you know?"
"'Cause he as much as told me so. 'Is it true?' says he.
"'I don't know,' says I. 'First I'd heard of it, if 'tis.'
"He just nodded his head and seemed to be thinkin'. When he did
speak 'twas more to himself than to me. 'Well,' says he, 'then
that settles it. I can do it now with a clear conscience.'
"'Do what?' I asked him.
"'Oh, nothin',' he says. 'Cap'n Obed, are you goin' to be busy all
day tomorrow? I know it's Christmas, of course; but are you?'
"'Not so busy it'll wreck my nerves keepin' up with my dates,'
says I. 'Why?'
"'Can you spare a half-hour or so to come 'round to my office at--
well, say two tomorrow afternoon? I've got a little business of my
own and I'd like to have you there. Will you come?'
"'Sartin,' I told him.
"'Of course, if you're afraid of the moral leprosy--'
"'Then I'll look for you,' says he, and off he went. I ain't seen
him since. He come down along of Winnie S. and I had one of Chris
Badger's teams. Now WHAT do you cal'late it all means?"
"I don't know. I don't know. But I can't think Emily-- Hush!
Emily entered the room and Captain Obed began philosophically
concerning the storm, which he declared was "liable to be a
He went away soon after. At the door, when he and Mrs. Barnes were
alone, he whispered, "Ain't changed your mind, have you, Thankful?
About--about what I said to you that day?"
"Obed, please! You said you wouldn't."
"All right, all right. Well, good night. I'll be around tomorrow
to wish you and Emily and the second mate a merry Christmas. Good
After he had gone Thankful and Emily assisted Georgie in hanging up
his stocking and preparing for bed. The boy seemed willing to
retire, a most unusual willingness for him. His only worry
appeared to be concerning Santa Claus, whom he feared might be
delayed in his rounds by the storm.
"He'll be soaked, soppin' wet, won't he?" he asked anxiously.
"Oh, he won't mind. Santa Claus don't mind this kind of weather.
He lives up at the North Pole, so folks say."
"Yes. Won't the chimney soot all stick to him when he's wet?
He'll be a sight, won't he?"
"Perhaps so, but he won't mind that, either. Now, you go to bed,
Georgie, like a good boy."
"I'm a-goin'. Say, Aunt Thankful, will the soot come all off on my
They got him into bed at last and descended to the living-room.
The storm was worse than ever. The wind howled and the rain beat.
"Mercy! What a night!" she exclaimed. "It reminds me of our first
night in this house, Auntie."
"Does; that's a fact. Well, I hope there's nobody prowlin' around
lookin' for a place to put their head in, the way we were then.
"What? What, Auntie? I didn't hear anything."
"I thought I did. Sounded as if somebody was--and they are!
Emily listened. From without, above the noise of the wind and rain
and surf, came a shout.
"Hi!" screamed a high-pitched voice. "Hi! Let me in. I--I'm
Thankful rushed to the door and, exerting all her strength, pushed
it open against the raging storm.
"There's nobody here," she faltered.
"But--but there is, Auntie. I heard someone. I--"
She stopped, for, out of the drenched darkness staggered a figure,
the figure of a man. He plunged across the threshold, tripped over
the mat and fell in a heap upon the floor.
Emily shrieked. Mrs. Barnes pulled the door shut and ran to the
"Who is it?" she asked. "Who IS it? Are you hurt?"
The figure raised its head.
"Hurt!" it panted. "It's a wonder I ain't dead. What's the matter
with ye? Didn't you hear me yellin' for you to open that door?"
Thankful drew a long breath.
"For mercy sakes!" she cried. "Solomon Cobb! WHAT are you doin'
over here a night like this?"
Mr. Cobb slowly raised his head. He looked about him in a
bewildered way, and then his gaze fixed itself upon Mrs. Barnes.
"What--why--YOU!" he gasped.
"Eh?" stammered Thankful, whose surprise and bewilderment were
almost as great as his. "Eh? What?"
"You?" repeated Solomon. "What--what are you doin' here?"
"What am I doin' here? What am I doin'?"
"Yes." Then, after another stare about the room, he added: "This
ain't Kenelm Parker's house? Whose house is it?"
"It's my house, of course. Emily, go and fetch some--some water or
somethin'. He's out of his head."
Emily hurried to the kitchen, Thankful hastened to help the
unexpected visitor to his feet. But the visitor declined to be
"Let me alone," he roared. "Let me be. I--I want to know whose
house this is?"
"It's my house, I tell you. You ought to know whose house it is.
Land sakes! You and I have had talk enough about it lately. Don't
you know where you are? What are you sittin' there on the floor
for? Are you hurt?"
Slowly Mr. Cobb rose to his feet.
"Do you mean to tell me," he demanded, "that this is--is Abner's
place? How'd I get here?"
"I don't know. I ain't hardly had time to make sure you are here
yet. And I'm sartin YOU ain't sure. That was an awful tumble you
got. Seems as if you must have hurt yourself. And you're soppin'
wet through! What in the WORLD?"
She moved toward him again, but he waved her away.
"Let me alone!" he ordered. "I was headin' for Kenelm Parker's.
How'd I get here?"
"I tell you I don't know. I suppose you lost your way. No wonder,
such a night's this. Set down. Let me get you somethin' hot to
drink. Come out in the kitchen by the cookstove. Don't--"
"Hush up! Let me think. I never see such a woman to talk. I--I
don't see how I done it. I left Chris Badger's and came across the
"And you took the wrong path, I guess, likely. Did you WALK from
Chris Badger's? Where's your horse and team? You didn't walk from
the Centre, did you?"
"'Course I didn't. Think I'm a dum fool? My horse fell down and
hurt his knee and I left him in Badger's barn. I cal'lated to go
to Kenelm's and put up over night. I--"
He was interrupted by Emily, who entered with a glass in her hand.
"Here's the water, Auntie," she said. "Is he better now?"
"Better?" snorted Solomon. "What's the matter with you? I ain't
sick. What you got in that tumbler? Water! What in time do I
want of any more water? Don't I look as if I'd had water enough to
last me one spell? I'm--consarn it all, I'm a reg'lar sponge! How
far off is Kenelm's from here? How long will it take me to get
Thankful answered, and her answer was decisive.
"I don't know," she said, "but I do know you ain't goin' to try to
get anywhere 'till mornin'. You and I ain't been any too lovin',
Solomon Cobb, but I shan't take the responsibility of your dyin' of
pneumonia. You'll stay right here, and the first thing I'll do is
head off that chill you've got this very minute."
There was no doubt about the chill. Solomon's face and hands were
blue and he was shaking from head to foot. But his determination
was unshaken. He strode to the door.
"How do I get to Parker's?" he demanded.
"I tell you you mustn't go to Parker's or anywhere else. You're
riskin' your life."
Mr. Cobb did not answer. He lifted the latch and pulled the door
open. A howling gust of wind-driven rain beat in upon him,
drenching the carpet and causing the lamp to flicker and smoke.
For a moment Solomon gazed out into the storm; then he relinquished
his hold and staggered back.
"I--I can't do it!" he groaned. "I've GOT to stay here! I've GOT
Thankful, exerting all her strength, closed the door and locked it.
"Indeed you've got to," she declared. "Now go out into the kitchen
and set by the stove while I heat a kettle and make you some ginger
tea or somethin'."
"He must, Aunt Thankful," urged Emily; "he really must."
The visitor turned to stare at her.
"Who are you?" he demanded, ungraciously. Then, as another chill
racked him from head to foot, he added: "I don't care. Take me
somewheres and give me somethin'--ginger tea or--or kerosene or
anything else, so it's hot. I--I'm--sho--oo--ook all to--pi--ic--
They led him to the kitchen, where Thankful prepared the ginger
tea. During its preparation she managed to inform Emily concerning
the identity of their unexpected lodger. Solomon, introduced to
Miss Howes, merely grunted and admitted that he had "heard tell" of
her. His manner might have led a disinterested person to infer
that what he had heard was not flattering. He drank his tea, and
as he grew warmer inside and out his behavior became more natural,
which does not mean that it was either gracious or grateful.
At length he asked what time it was. Thankful told him.
"I think you'd better be gettin' to bed, Solomon," she suggested.
"I'll hunt up one of Mr. Caleb Hammond's nightshirts, and while
you're sleepin' your wet clothes can be dryin' here by the
Solomon grunted, but he was, apparently, willing to retire. Then
came the question as to where he should sleep. Emily offered a
"Why don't you put him in the back room, Auntie," she said. "The
one Miss Timpson used to have. That isn't occupied now and the bed
Thankful hesitated. "I don't know's he'd better have that room,
Emily," she said.
"Why not? I'm sure it's a very nice room."
"Yes, I know it is, but--"
Mr. Cobb had a remark to make.
"Well, come on, come on," he said, testily. "Put me somewheres and
do it quick. Long's I've GOT to sleep in this house I might's well
be doin' it. Where is this room you're talkin' about? Let's see
Emily took the lamp and led the way up the back stairs. Solomon
followed her and Thankful brought up the rear. She felt a curious
hesitancy in putting even her disagreeable relative in that room on
this night. Around the gables and upon the roof the storm whined
and roared as it had the night when she first explored that upper
floor. And she remembered, now, that it had stormed, though not as
hard, the night when Miss Timpson received her "warning." If there
were such things as ghosts, and if the little back bedroom WAS
haunted, a night like this was the time for spectral visitations.
She had half a mind to give Mr. Cobb another room.
But, before she could decide what to do, before the struggle
between her common-sense and what she knew were silly forebodings
was at an end, the question was decided for her. Solomon had
entered the large room and expressed his approval of it.
"This'll do first rate," he said. "Why didn't you want to put me
in here? Suppose you thought 'twas too good for me, eh? Well, it
might be for some folks, but not for me. What's that, a closet?"
He was pointing to the closed door of the little room, the one
which Miss Timpson had intended using as a study. Thankful had,
after her last night of fruitless spook hunting, closed the door
and locked it.
"What's this door locked for?" asked Mr. Cobb, who had walked over
and was trying the knob.
"Oh, nothing; it's just another empty room, that's all. There's
nothin' in it."
"Humph! Is that so? What do you lock up a room with nothin' in it
for?" He turned the key and flung the door open. "Ugh!" he
grunted, in evident disappointment. "'Tis empty, ain't it? Well,
Emily, whose face expressed a decided opinion concerning the
visitor, walked out into the hall. Thankful remained.
"Solomon," she said, in a whisper, "tell me. Have you made up your
mind about that mortgage?"
"Um? No, I ain't. Part of what I came over here today for was to
find out a little more about this property and about Holliday
Kendrick's offer for it. I may have a talk with him afore I decide
about renewin' that mortgage. It looks to me as if 'twould be
pretty good business to dicker with him. He's got money, and if I
can get some of it, so much the better for me."
"Solomon, you don't mean--"
"I don't know what I mean yet, I tell ye. But I do tell you this:
I'm a business man and I know the value of money. I worked hard
for what I got; 'twa'n't left me by nobody, like some folks's I
hear of. Don't ask me no more questions. I'll see old Kendrick
tomorrow, maybe; he's expected down."
"He is? Mr. Holliday Kendrick? How do you know?"
"I know 'cause I found out, same as I usually find out things.
Chris Badger got a telegram through his office from Holliday to
John Kendrick sayin' he'd come on the noon train."
"But why should he come? And on Christmas day?"
"I don't know. Probably he ain't so silly about Christmas as the
average run of idiots. He's a business man, too. There! Good
night, good night. Leave me alone so's I can say my prayers and
turn in. I'm pretty nigh beat out."
"And you won't tell me about that mortgage?"
"No. I'll tell you when my mind's made up; that ain't yet."
Thankful turned to go. At the threshold she spoke once more.
"I wonder what you say in those prayers of yours, Solomon," she
observed. "I should imagine the Lord might find 'em interestin'."
"I'm glad I said it, Emily," she told her cousin, who was awaiting
her in her bedroom. "I presume likely it'll do more harm than
good, but it did ME good while I was sayin' it. The mean, stingy
old hypocrite! Now let's go downstairs and fill Georgie's
But that ceremony, it appeared, must be deferred. Georgie was
still wide-awake. He called to Emily to ask if the man who had
come was Santa Claus.
"The little rascal," chuckled Thankful. "Well," with a sigh,
"he'll never make a worse guess if he lives to be as old as
Methuselah's grandmarm. Emily, you sneak down and fetch the
stockin' and the presents up here to my room. We'll do the fillin'
here and hang up the stockin' in the mornin' afore he gets up."
While they were filling the stocking and tying the packages
containing gifts too bulky to be put in it Miss Howes cross-
questioned her cousin. Emily had been most unfavorably impressed
with Mr. Cobb during this, her first, meeting with him, and her
suspicions concerning Thankful's financial affairs, already aroused
by the lady's reticence, were now active. She questioned and,
after a time, Thankful told her, first a little and then all the
"I didn't mean to tell you, Emily," she said, tearfully. "I didn't
mean to tell a soul, but I--I just couldn't keep it to myself any
longer. If he doesn't renew that mortgage--and goodness knows what
he'll do after he talks with Mr. Holliday Kendrick--I--I don't see
how I can help losin' everything. It's either that or sell out,
and I don't want to sell--Oh, I don't! I know I can make a go of
this place of mine if I have another year of it. I KNOW I can."
Emily was very much excited and fiercely indignant.
"The beast!" she cried, referring to the pious occupant of the back
bedroom; "the mean, wicked, miserable old miser! To think of his
being a relative of yours, Aunt Thankful, and treating you so! And
accepting your hospitality at the very time when he is considering
taking your home away from you!"
Thankful smiled ruefully. "As to that, Emily," she said, "I ain't
greatly surprised. Judgin' by what I've seen of Sol Cobb, I should
say 'twas a part of his gospel to accept anything he can get for
nothin'. But how he can have the face to pray while he's doin' it
I don't see. What kind of a God does he think he's prayin' to? I
should think he'd be scared to get down on his knees for fear he'd
never be let up again. Well, if there IS a ghost in that room I
should say this was its chance."
"A ghost? What are you talking about, Auntie?"
"Eh? Oh, nothin', nothin'. Did I say 'ghost'? I didn't realize
what I said, I guess."
"Then why did you say it?"
"Oh, I don't know. . . . There, there, don't let's get any more
foolish than we can help. Let's go to bed. We'll have to turn out
awful early in the mornin' to get Georgie's stockin' hung up and
his presents ready. Now trot off to bed, Emily."
"Aunt Thankful, you're hiding something from me. I know you are."
"Now, Emily, you know I wouldn't--"
"Yes, you would. At least, you have. All this time you have been
deceiving me about that mortgage. And now I think there is
something else. What did you mean by a ghost in that room?"
"I didn't mean anything. There ain't any ghost in that room--the
one Solomon's in."
"In THAT room? Is there one in another room?"
"Aunt Thankful, there is something strange in some room; don't deny
it. You aren't accustomed to deceiving people, and you can't
deceive me now. Tell me the truth."
"Well, Emily, it's all such perfect foolishness. You don't believe
in ghosts, do you?"
"Of course I don't."
"Neither do I. Whatever it is that snores and groans in that
little back room ain't--"
"AUNTIE! What DO you mean?"
Thankful was cornered. Her attempts at evasion were useless and,
little by little, Emily drew from her the story of the little back
bedroom, of her own experience there the night of their first
visit, of what Winnie S. had said concerning the haunting of the
"Cap'n Abner place," and of Miss Timpson's "warning." She told it
in a low tone, so as not to awaken Georgie, and, as she spoke, the
wind shrieked and wailed and groaned, the blinds creaked, the water
dripped and gurgled in the gutters, and the shadows outside the
circle of light from the little hand lamp were black and
threatening. Emily, as she listened, felt the cold shivers running
up and down her spine. It is one thing to scoff at superstition in
the bright sunlight; it is quite another to listen to a tale like
this on a night like this in a house a hundred years old. Miss
Howes scoffed, it is true, but the scoffing was not convincing.
"Nonsense!" she said, stoutly. "A ghost that snores? Who ever
heard of such a thing?"
"Nobody ever did, I guess," Thankful admitted. "It's all too silly
for anything, of course. I KNOW it's silly; but, Emily, there's
SOMETHIN' queer about that room. I told you what I heard;
somethin' or somebody said, 'Oh, Lord!' as plain as ever I heard it
said. And somethin' or somebody snored when Miss Timpson was
there. And, of course, when they tell me how old Mr. Eldredge
snored in that very room when he was dyin', and how Miss Timpson's
sister snored when SHE was sick, it--it--"
"Oh, stop, Auntie! You will have ME believing in--in things, if
you keep on. It's nonsense and you and I will prove it so before I
go back to Middleboro. Now you must go to bed."
"Yes, I'm goin'. Well, if there is a ghost in that room it'll have
its hands full with Sol Cobb. He's a tough old critter, if ever
there was one. Good night, Emily."
"Good night, Aunt Thankful. Don't worry about the--ha! ha!--ghost,
"No, I've got enough to worry about this side of the grave. . . .
Mercy! what's the matter?"
"Nothing! I--I thought I heard a noise in--in the hall. I didn't
"No, course you didn't. Shall I go to your room with you?"
"No indeed! I--I should be ashamed to have you. Where is
"She's up in her room. She went to bed early. Goodness! Hear
that wind. It cries like--like somethin' human."
"It's dreadful. It is enough to make anyone think. . . . There!
If you and I talk any longer we shall both be behaving like
children. Good night."
"Good night, Emily. Is Georgie asleep at last?"
"I think so. I haven't heard a sound from him. Call me early,
Thankful lit her own lamp; Emily took the one already lighted and
hastened down the hall. Thankful shut the door and prepared for
bed. The din of the storm was terrific. The old house shook as if
it were trembling with fright and screaming in the agony of
approaching dissolution. It was a long time before Thankful fell
asleep, but at last she did.
She was awakened by a hand upon her arm and a voice whispering in
"Auntie!" whispered Emily. "Auntie, wake up! Oh, DO wake up!"
Thankful was broad awake in a moment. She sat up in bed. The room
was in black darkness, and she felt rather than saw Miss Howes
standing beside her.
"What is it, Emily?" she cried. "What is the matter?"
"Hush, hush! Don't speak so loud. Get up! Get up and light the
Thankful sprang out of bed and hunted for the matchbox. She found
it after a time and the lamp was lighted. Emily, wearing a wrapper
over her night clothes, was standing by the door, apparently
listening. Her face was white and she was trembling.
"What IS it?" whispered Thankful.
"Hush! I don't know what it is. Listen!"
Thankful listened. All she heard were the noises of the storm.
"I don't hear anything," she said.
"No--no, you can't hear it from here. Come out into the hall."
Cautiously and on tiptoe she led the way to the hall and toward the
head of the front stairs. There she seized her cousin's arm and
whispered in her ear.
"Listen--!" she breathed.
"Why--why," she whispered, "there's somebody down in the livin'-
room! Who is it?"
"I don't know. There are more than one, for I heard them talking.
Who CAN it be?"
Thankful listened again.
"Where's Georgie?" she whispered, after a moment.
"In his room, I suppose. . . . What? You don't think--"
Thankful had tiptoed back to her own room and was returning with
the lamp. Together they entered Georgie's bed chamber. But bed
and room were empty. Georgie was not there.
Georgie had gone to bed that Christmas Eve with a well-defined plan
in his small head. He knew what he intended doing and how he meant
to do it. The execution of this plan depended, first of all, upon
his not falling asleep, and, as he was much too excited to be in
the least sleepy, he found no great difficulty in carrying out this
part of his scheme.
He had heard the conversation accompanying Mr. Cobb's unexpected
entrance and had waited anxiously to ask concerning the visitor's
identity. When assured by his sister that Santa had not arrived
ahead of time he settled down again to wait, as patiently as he
could, for the "grown-ups" to retire.
So he waited and waited. The clock struck ten and then eleven.
Georgie rose, tiptoed to his door and listened. There were no
sounds except those of the storm. Then, still on tiptoe, the boy
crept along the hall to the front stairs, down these stairs and
into the living-room. The fire in the "airtight" stove showed red
behind the isinglass panes, and the room was warm and comfortable.
Georgie did not hesitate; his plan was complete to the minutest
details. By the light from the stove he found his way to the sofa
which stood against the wall on the side of the room opposite the
windows. There was a heavy fringe on the sofa which hung almost to
the floor. The youngster lay flat upon the floor and crept under
the fringe and beneath the sofa. There he lay still. Aunt
Thankful and Captain Obed and Imogene had said there was a Santa
Claus; the boy in South Middleboro had said there was none; Georgie
meant to settle the question for himself this very night. This was
his plan: to hide in that living-room and wait until Santa came--if
he came at all.
It was lonely and dark and stuffy under the sofa and the beat of
the rain and the howling gale outside were scary sounds for a
youngster no older than he. But Georgie was plucky and determined
beyond his years. He was tempted to give up and scamper upstairs
again, but he fought down the temptation. If no Santa Claus came
then he should know the Leary boy was right. If he did come then--
well then, his only care must be not to be caught watching.
Twelve o'clock struck; Georgie's eyes were closing. He blinked
owl-like under the fringe at the red glow behind the isinglass.
His head, pillowed upon his outstretched arms, felt heavy and
drowsy. He must keep awake, he MUST. So, in order to achieve this
result, he began to count the ticks of the big clock in the corner.
One--two--three--and so on up to twenty-two. He lost count then;
his eyes closed, opened, and closed again. His thoughts drifted
away from the clock, drifted to--to . . .
His eyes opened again. There was a sound in the room, a strange,
new sound. No, it was not in the room, it was in the dining-room.
He heard it again. Someone in that dining-room was moving
cautiously. The door between the rooms was open and he could hear
the sound of careful footsteps.
Georgie was frightened, very much frightened. He was seized with a
panic desire to scream and rush up-stairs. He did not scream, but
he thrust one bare foot from beneath the sofa. Then he hastily
drew it in again, for the person in the dining-room, whoever he or
she might be, was coming toward the door.
A moment later there was a scratching sound and the living-room was
dimly illumined by the flare of a match. The small and trembling
watcher beneath the sofa shut his eyes in fright. When he opened
them the lamp upon the center table was lighted and Santa Claus
himself was standing by the table peering anxiously about.
It was Santa--Georgie made up his mind to that immediately. There
was the pack, the pack which the pictured Santa Claus always
carried, to prove it, although in this instance the pack was but a
small and rather dirty bundle. There were other points of
difference between the real Santa and the pictures; for instance,
instead of being clothed entirely in furs, this one's apparel
seemed to be, for the most part, rags, and soaked and dripping rags
at that. But he did wear a fur cap, a mangy one which looked like
a drowned cat, and his beard, though ragged like his garments, was
all that might be desired. Yes, it was Santa Claus who had come,
just as they said he would, although--and Georgie's doubts were so
far justified--he had NOT come down the living-room chimney.
Santa was cold, it seemed, for his first move was to go to the
stove and stand by it, shivering and warming his hands. During
this operation he kept looking fearfully about him and, apparently,
listening. Then, to Georgie's chagrin and disappointment, he took
up the lamp and tiptoed into the dining-room again. However, he
had not gone for good, for his pack was still upon the floor where
he had dropped it. And a few minutes later he reappeared, his
pockets bulging and in his free hand the remains of half a ham,
which Georgie himself had seen Aunt Thankful put away in the
He replaced the lamp on the table and from his pockets extracted
the end of a loaf of bread, several doughnuts and a half-dozen
molasses cookies. Then he seated himself in a chair by the stove
and proceeded to eat, hungrily, voraciously, first the ham and
bread and then the doughnuts and cookies. And as he ate he looked
and listened, occasionally starting as if in alarm.
At last, when he had eaten everything but the ham bone, he rose to
his feet and turned his attention to the pack upon the floor. This
was what Georgie had been waiting for, and as Santa fumbled with
the pack, his back to the sofa, the boy parted the fringe and
peered at him with eager expectation.
The pack, according to every story Georgie had been told, should
have been bulging with presents; but if the latter were there they
were under more old clothes, even worse than those the Christmas
saint was wearing. Santa Claus hurriedly pawed over the upper
layer and then took out a little package wrapped in tissue paper.
Untying the string, he exposed a small pasteboard box and from this
box he lifted some cotton and then--a ring.
It was a magnificent ring, so Georgie thought. It had a big green
stone in the center and the rest was gold, or what looked like
gold. Santa seemed to think well of it, too, for he held it to the
lamplight and moved it back and forth, watching the shine of the
green stone. Then he put the ring down, tore a corner from the
piece of tissue paper, rummaged the stump of a pencil out of his
rags, and, humping himself over the table, seemed to be writing.
It took him a long time and was plainly hard work, for he groaned
occasionally and kept putting the point of the pencil into his
mouth. Georgie's curiosity grew stronger each second. Unconscious
of what he was doing, he parted the fringe still more and thrust
out his head for a better view. The top of his head struck the
edge of the sofa with a dull thump.
Santa Claus jumped as if someone had stuck a pin into him and
turned. That portion of his face not covered by the scraggly beard
was as white as mud and dirt would permit.
"Who--who be YOU?" he demanded in a frightened whisper.
Georgie was white and frightened also, but he manfully crept out
from beneath the sofa.
"Who be you?" repeated Santa.
"I--I'm Georgie," stammered the boy.
"Georgie! Georgie who?"
"Georgie Hobbs. The--the boy that lives here."
"Yes." It seemed strange that the person reputed to know all the
children in the world did not recognize him at sight.
Apparently he did not, however, for after an instant of silent and
shaky inspection he said:
"You mean to say you live here--in this house? Who do you live
"Mrs. Barnes, her that owns the house."
Santa gasped audibly. "You--you live with HER?" he demanded.
"Good Lord! She--she ain't married again, is she?"
"Married! No--no, sir, she ain't married."
"Then--then--See here, boy; what's your name--your whole name?"
"George Ellis Hobbs. I'm Mr. Hobbs's boy, up to South Middleboro,
you know. I'm down here stayin' with Aunt Thankful. She--"
"Sshh! sshh! Don't talk so loud. So you're Mr. Hobbs's boy, eh?
What--eh? Oh, yes, yes. You're ma was--was Sarah Cahoon, wa'n't
"Yes, sir. I--I hope you won't be cross because I hid under the
sofa. They said you were coming, but I wasn't sure, and I--I
thought I'd hide and see if you did. Please--" the tears rushed to
Georgie's eyes at the dreadful thought--"please don't be cross and
go away without leaving me anything. I'll never do so again;
honest, I won't."
Santa seemed to have heard only the first part of this plea for
forgiveness. He put a hand to his forehead.
"They said I was comin'!" he repeated. "They said-- WHO said so?"
"Why, everybody. Aunt Thankful and Emily and Imogene and Cap'n
Bangs and Mr. Parker and--all of 'em. They knew you was comin'
tonight, but I--"
"They knew it! Boy, are you crazy?"
Georgie shook his head.
"No, sir." Then, as Santa Claus sat staring blankly with open
mouth and fingers plucking nervously at what seemed to be the only
button on his coat, he added, "Please, sir, did you bring the air-
"Did you bring the air-gun I wanted? They said you probably
wouldn't, but I do want it like everything. I won't shoot the
hens, honest I won't."
Santa Claus picked at the button.
"Say, boy," he asked, slowly. "Who am I?"
Georgie was surprised.
"Why, Santa Claus," he replied. "You are Santa Claus, ain't you?"
"Eh? San . . . Oh, yes, yes! I'm Santa Claus, that's who I be."
He seemed relieved, but still anxious. After fidgeting a moment he
added, "Well, I cal'late I'll have to be goin' now."
Georgie turned pale.
"But--but where are the presents?" he wailed. "I--I thought you
wasn't goin' to be cross with me. I'm awfully sorry I stayed up to
watch for you. I won't ever do it again. PLEASE don't go away and
not leave me any presents. Please, Mr. Santa Claus!"
Santa started. "Sshh!" he commanded in an agonized whisper. "Hush
up! Somebody'll hear. . . . Eh? What's that?"
The front stairs creaked ominously. Georgie did not answer; he
made a headlong dive for his hiding-place beneath the sofa. Santa
seemed to be even more alarmed than the youngster. He glanced
wildly about the room and, as another creak came from the stairs,
darted into the dining-room.
For a minute or more nothing happened. Then the door leading to
the front hall, the door which had been standing ajar, opened
cautiously and Mrs. Barnes' head protruded beyond its edge. She
looked about the room; then she entered. Emily Howes followed.
Both ladies wore wrappers now, and Thankful's hand clutched an
umbrella, the only weapon available, which she had snatched from
the hall rack as she passed it. She advanced to the center table.
"Who's here?" she demanded firmly. "Who lit this lamp? Georgie!
Georgie Hobbs, we know you're here somewhere, for we heard you.
Show yourself this instant."
Silence--then Emily seized her cousin's arm and pointed. A small
bare foot protruded from beneath the sofa fringe. Thankful marched
to the sofa and, stooping, grasped the ankle above the foot.
"Georgie Hobbs," she ordered, "come out from under this sofa."
Georgie came, partly of his own volition, partly because of the
persuasive tug at his ankle.
"Now, then," ordered Thankful; "what are you doin' down here?
Georgie did not answer. He marked a circle on the floor with his
"What are you doin' down here?" repeated Mrs. Barnes. "Did you
light that lamp?"
"No'm," replied Georgie.
"Of course he didn't, Auntie," whispered Emily. "There was someone
here with him. I heard them talking."
"Who did light it?"
Georgie marked another circle. "Santa Claus," he muttered faintly.
Thankful stared, first at the boy and then at her cousin.
"Mercy on us!" she exclaimed. "The child's gone crazy. Christmas
has struck to his head!"
But Emily's fears were not concerning her small brother's sanity.
"Hush, Auntie," she whispered. "Hush! He was talking to someone.
We both heard another voice. WHO did you say it was, Georgie?"
"Santa Claus. Oh, Emmie, please don't be mad. I--I wanted to see
him so--and--and when he came I--I--"
"There, there, Georgie; don't cry, dear. We're not cross. You
were talking to someone you thought was Santa. Where is he?"
"He WAS Santa Claus. He SAID he was. He went away when you came--
into the dinin'-room."
"The dining-room? . . . Auntie, WHAT are you doing? Don't!"
But Thankful had seized the lamp and was already at the threshold
of the dining-room. Holding the light aloft she peered into that
"If there's anybody here," she ordered, "they'd better come out
because. . . . Here! I see you under that table. I--"
She stopped, gasped, and staggered back. Emily, running to her
side, was just in time to prevent the lamp falling to the floor.
"Oh, Auntie," cried the young lady. "Auntie, what IS it?"
Thankful did not answer. Her face was white and she moved her
hands helplessly. And there in the doorway of the dining-room
appeared Santa Claus; and if ever Santa Claus looked scared and
apprehensive he did at that moment.
Emily stared at him. Mrs. Barnes uttered a groan. Santa Claus
"Hello, Thankful," he said. "I--I cal'late you're surprised to see
me, ain't you?"
Thankful's lips moved.
"Are--are you livin' or--or dead?" she gasped.
"Me--Oh, I'm alive, but that's about all. Hey? It's Emily, ain't
it? Why--why, Emily, don't you know me?"
Miss Howes put the lamp down upon the table. Then she leaned
heavily upon a chair back.
"Cousin Jedediah!" she exclaimed. "It can't be--it--Auntie--"
But Thankful interrupted. She turned to Georgie.
"Is--is THIS your Santa Claus?" she faltered.
"Yes'm," answered Georgie.
"Jedediah Cahoon!" cried Thankful. "Jedediah Cahoon!"
For Georgie's "Santa Claus" was her brother, the brother who had
run away from her home so long ago to seek his fortune in the
Klondike; whose letter, written in San Francisco and posted in
Omaha, had reached her the month before; whom the police of several
cities were looking for at her behest.
"Auntie!" cried Emily again.
Thankful shook her head. "Help me to a chair, Emily," she begged
weakly. "This--this is--my soul and body! Jedediah come alive
The returned gold-hunter swallowed several times.
"Thankful," he faltered, "I know you must feel pretty hard agin me,
but--but, you see--"
"Hush! hush! Don't speak to me for a minute. Let me get my
bearin's, for mercy sakes, if I can. . . . Jedediah--HERE!"
"Yes--yes, I'm here. I am, honest. I--"
"Sshh! You're here now, but--but where have you been all this
time? For a man that is, I presume likely, loaded down with money--
I presume you must be loaded down with it; you remember you'd said
you'd never come back until you was--for that kind of a man I must
say you look pretty down at the heel."
"Have you worn out your clothes luggin' the money around?"
"Auntie, don't. Look at him. Think!"
"Hush, Emily! I am lookin' at him and I'm thinkin', too. I'm
thinkin' of how much I put up with afore he run off and left me,
and how I've worried and laid awake nights thinkin' he was dead.
Where have you been all this time? Why haven't you written?"
"I did write."
"You wrote when you was without a cent and wanted to get money from
me. You didn't write before. Let me be, Emily; you don't know
what I've gone through on account of him and now he comes sneakin'
into my house in the middle of the night, without a word that he
was comin', sneakin' in like a thief and frightenin' us half to
Jedediah interrupted. "Sneakin' in!" he repeated, with a desperate
move of his hands. "I had to sneak in. I was scairt to come in
when you was up and awake. I knew you'd be down on me like a
thousand of brick. I--I--Oh, you don't know what I've been
through, Thankful, or you'd pity me, 'stead of pitchin' into me
like this. I've been a reg'lar tramp--that's what I've been, a
tramp. Freezin' and starvin' and workin' in bar-rooms! Why, I
beat my way on a freight train all the way here from New Bedford,
and I've been hidin' out back of the house waitin' for you to go to
bed, so's I'd dare come in."
"So's you'd dare come in! What did you want to come in for if I
"I wanted to leave a note for you, that's why. I wanted to leave a
note and--and that."
He pointed to the ring and the bit of tissue paper on the table.
Thankful took up the paper first and read aloud what was written
"For Thankful, with a larst merry Christmas from brother Jed. I am
going away and if you want me I will be at New Bedford for two
weeks, care the bark Finback."
"'I am goin' away'," repeated Thankful. "Goin' away? Are you
goin' away AGAIN?"
"I--I was cal'latin' to. I'm goin' cook on a whaler."
"Cook! You a cook! And," she took up the ring and stared at it,
"for the land sakes, what's this?"
"It's a present I bought for you. Took my last two dollar bill, it
did. I wanted you to have somethin' to remember me by."
Thankful held the gaudy ring at arm's length and stared at it
helplessly. There was a curious expression on her face, half-way
between laughing and crying.
"You bought this--this thing for me," she repeated. "And did you
think I'd wear it."
"I hoped you would. Oh, Thankful, if you only knew what I've been
through. Why, I was next door to starvin' when I got in here
tonight. If I hadn't eat somethin' I found in the buttry I would
have starved, I guess. And I'm soaked, soppin' through and--"
"There, there. Hush! hush! Jedediah, you're gold-diggin' ain't
changed you much, I guess. You're just as helpless as ever you
was. Well, you're here and I'm grateful for so much. Now you come
with me out into the kitchen and we'll see what can be done about
gettin' you dry. Emily, if you'll just put that child to bed."
But Georgie had something to say. He had listened to this long
dialogue with astonishment and growing dismay. Now the dismay and
conviction of a great disappointment overcame him.
"I don't want to go to bed," he wailed. "Ain't he Santa Claus? He
SAID he was Santa Claus. Where are my presents? Where's my air-
gun? I want my presents. Oh--Oh--Oh!"
He went out crying. Emily ran to him.
"Hush, hush, Georgie, dear," she begged. "Come upstairs with
sister--come. If you don't you may be here when the real Santa
comes and you will frighten him away. Come with me; that's a good
boy. Auntie, I will be down by and by."
She led the disappointed and still sobbing boy from the room.
Thankful turned to her brother.
"Now you march out into that kitchen," she commanded. "I'll get
you warm first and then I'll see about a bed for you. You'll have
to sleep up on the third floor tonight. After that I'll see about
a better room to put you in."
Jedediah stared at her.
"What--what," he faltered. "Do you mean--Thankful, do you mean
you're goin' to let me stay here for--for good?"
"Yes, of course I do. You don't think I'll let you get out of my
sight again, do you? That is, unless you're real set on goin'
gold-huntin'. I'm sure you shan't go cook on any whaler; I've got
too much regard for sailors' digestions to let you do that."
"Thankful, I--I'll work my hands off for you. I'll--"
"All right, all right. Now trot along and warm those hands or you
won't have any left to work off; they'll be SHOOK off with the
shivers. Come, Jed, I forgive you; after all, you're my brother,
though you did run away and leave me."
"Then--then you're glad I came back?"
"Glad!" Thankful shook her head with a tearful smile. "Glad!" she
repeated. "I've been workin' heavens and earth to get you back
ever since I got that pitiful letter of yours. You poor thing!
You MUST have had a hard time of it. Well, you can tell me all
about it by and by. Now you march into that kitchen."
Another hour had passed before Mrs. Barnes reentered the living-
room. There, to her astonishment, she found Emily awaiting her.
"Why, for goodness sakes!" cried Thankful. "What are you doin'
here? I thought you'd gone to bed long ago."
Emily's reply was given in an odd tone. She did not look at her
cousin when she spoke.
"No, no," she said, quickly. "I--I haven't gone to bed."
"I see you haven't, but why?"
"I didn't want to. I--I'm not sleepy."
"Not sleepy! At two o'clock in the mornin'? Well," with a sigh,
"I suppose 'tain't to be wondered at. What's happened this night
is enough to keep anybody awake. I can't believe it even yet. To
think of his comin' back after I've given him up for dead twice
over. It's like a story-book."
"Where is he?"
"Up in bed, in one of the attic rooms. If he hasn't got his death
of cold it'll be a wonder. And SUCH yarns as he's been spinnin' to
me. I--Emily, what's the matter with you? What makes you act so
Emily did not answer. Mrs. Barnes walked across the room and,
stooping, peered into her face.
"You're white as a sheet!" she cried, in alarm. "And you're
tremblin' all over. What in the world IS the matter?"
Emily tried to smile, but it was a poor attempt.
"Nothing, nothing, Auntie," she said. "That is, I--I'm sure it
can't be anything to be afraid of."
"But you are afraid, just the same. What is it? Tell me this
For the first time Emily looked her cousin in the face.
"Auntie," she whispered, "I am--I have been frightened. Something
I heard upstairs frightened me."
"Somethin' you heard upstairs? Where? Has Georgie--"
"No, Georgie is asleep in his room. I locked the door. It wasn't
Georgie; it was something else."
"Somethin'--Emily Howes, do you want to scare me to DEATH? What IS
"I don't know what it is. I heard it first when I came out of
Georgie's room a few minutes ago. Then I went down the hall to his
door and listened. Aunt Thankful, he--he is in there talking--
talking to someone."
"He? Talkin'? Who?"
"Mr. Cobb. It was dreadful. He was talking to--to--I don't know
WHAT he was talking to, but it was awful to hear."
"Talkin'? Solomon Cobb was talkin'? In his sleep, do you mean?"
"No, he wasn't asleep. He was talking to someone, or some THING,
in that room. And that wasn't all. I heard--I heard--Oh, I DID
hear it! I know I did! And yet it couldn't be! It couldn't!"
"Emily Howes, if you keep on I'll--WHAT did you hear?"
"I don't know. . . . Aunt Thankful, where are you going?"
Thankful did not answer. She was on her way to the front hall and
the stairs. Emily rushed after her and would have detained her if
she could, but Thankful would not be detained. Up the stairs they
went together and along the narrow dark hall. At the end of the
hall was the door of the back bedroom, or the larger room adjoining
it. The door was closed, but from beneath it shone lamplight in
sharp, yellow streaks. And from behind it came faintly the sound
of a deep groan, the groan of a soul in agony.
"He's sick," whispered Thankful. "The man's sick. I'm goin' to
"He isn't sick. It--it's something else. I tell you I heard--"
Thankful did not wait to learn what her cousin had heard. She
tiptoed down the hall and Emily followed. The two women crouched
beside the closed door of Mr. Cobb's room. And within that room
they heard Solomon's voice, now rising almost to a shriek, now
sinking to a groan, as its owner raved on and on, talking, pleading,
"Oh, don't--don't, Abner!" cried Mr. Cobb. "Don't, no more!
PLEASE don't! I know what you mean. I know it all. I'm sorry. I
know I ain't done right. But I'll MAKE it right; I swear to the
Almighty I will! I know I've broke my word to you and acted wicked
and mean, but I give you my solemn word I'll make everything right.
Only just quit and go away, that's all I ask. Just quit that--Oh,
there you GO again! QUIT! PLEASE quit!"
It was dreadful to hear, but this was not the most dreadful.
Between the agonized sentences and whenever the wind lulled, the
listeners at the door heard another sound, a long-drawn gasp and
groan, a series of gasps and groans, as of something fighting for
breath, the unmistakable sound of snoring.
Emily grasped her cousin's arm. "Come, come away!" she whispered.
"I--I believe I'm going to faint."
Mrs. Barnes did not wait to be urged. She put her arm about the
young lady's waist and together they tiptoed back to Thankful's
bedroom. There, Mrs. Barnes's first move was to light the lamp,
the second to close and lock the door. Then the pair sat down, one
upon the bed and the other on a chair, and gazed into each other's
Emily was the first to speak.
"I--I don't believe it!" she declared, shakily. "I KNOW it isn't
"So--so do I."
"But--but we heard it. We both heard it."
"Well--well, I give in I--I heard somethin', somethin' that. . . .
My soul! Am I goin' CRAZY to finish off this night with?"
"I don't know. If you are, then I must be going with you. What
can it be, Auntie?"
"I don't know."
"There is no other door to that room, is there?"
"Then what CAN it be?"
"I don't know. Imogene's in her own room; I looked in and saw her
when I took Jedediah up attic. And Georgie's in his with the door
locked. And you and I are here. There can't be a livin' soul in
that room with Solomon, not a livin' soul."
"But we heard--we both heard--"
"I know; I know. And I heard somethin' there before. And so did
Miss Timpson. Emily, did--did you hear him call--call it 'Abner'?"
"Yes," with a shudder. "I heard. Who could help hearing!"
"And Cap'n Abner was my uncle; and he used to live here. . . .
There!" with sudden determination. "That's enough of this. We'll
both be stark, ravin' distracted if we keep on this way. My soul!
Hear that wind! I said once that all the big things in my life had
happened durin' a storm and so they have. Jedediah went away in a
storm and he's come back in a storm. And now if UNCLE ABNER'S
comin' back. . . . There I go again! Emily, do you feel like
goin' to bed?"
"To BED! After THAT? Auntie, how can you!"
"All right, then we'll set up till mornin'. Turn that lamp as high
as you can and we'll set by it and wait for daylight. By that time
we may have some of our sense back again and not behave like two
feeble-minded fools. Turn that wick up--WAY up, Emily Howes! And
talk--talk just as hard as you can--about somethin' or somebody
Emily obeyed orders as far as turning up the wick was concerned,
and she did her best to talk. It was hard work; both she and her
cousin found themselves breaking off a sentence in the middle to
listen and draw closer together as the wild gusts whistled about
the windows and the water poured from the sashes and gurgled upon
the sills. Occasionally Thankful went to the door to look down the
dark hall in the direction of Mr. Cobb's room, or to unlock
Georgie's door and peer in to make sure that the boy was safe and
From the third of these excursions Mrs. Barnes returned with a bit
of reassuring news.
"I went almost there this time," she whispered. "My conscience has
been tormenting me to think of--of Solomon's bein' alone in there
with--with THAT, and I almost made up my mind to sing out and ask
if he was all right. But I didn't have to, thank goodness. His
light's still lit and I heard him movin' around, so he ain't been
scared clean to death, at any rate. For the rest of it I don't
care so much; a good hard scarin' may do him good. He needs one.
If ever a stingy old reprobate needed to have a warnin' from the
hereafter that man does."
"Did you hear anything--anything else?" whispered Emily, fearfully.
"No, I didn't, and I didn't wait for fear I MIGHT hear it. Did I
lock the door when I came in? Emily, I guess you think I'm the
silliest old coward that ever was. I am--and I know it. Tomorrow
we'll both be brave enough, and we'll both KNOW there ain't any
spirits here, or anywhere else this side of the grave; but tonight--
well, tonight's different. . . . Ouch! what was that? There,
there! don't mind my jumpin'. I feel as if I'd been stuffed with
springs, like a sofa. Did you ever know a night as long as this?
Won't mornin' EVER come?"
At five o'clock, while it was still pitch dark, Thankful announced
her intention of going downstairs. "Might as well be in the
kitchen as up here," she said, "and I can keep busy till Imogene
comes down. And, besides, we'd better be puttin' Georgie's
stockin' and his presents in the livin'-room. The poor little
shaver's got to have his Christmas, even though his Santa Claus did
turn out to be a walkin' rag-bag."
Emily started. "Why, it is Christmas, isn't it!" she exclaimed.
"Between returned brothers and," with a little shiver, "ghosts, I
She kissed her cousin's cheek.
"A merry Christmas, Aunt Thankful," she said.
Thankful returned the kiss. "Same to you, dearie, and many of
'em," she replied. "Well, here's another Christmas day come to me.
A year ago I didn't think I'd be here. I wonder where I'll be next
Christmas. Will I have a home of my own or will what I've thought
was my home belong to Sol Cobb or Holliday Kendrick?"
"Hush, Auntie, hush! Your home won't be taken from you. It would
be too mean, too dreadful! God won't permit such a thing."
"I sartin' hope he won't, but it seems sometimes as if he permitted
some mighty mean things, 'cordin' to our way of lookin' at 'em.
That light's still burnin'," she added, peering out into the hall.
"Well, I suppose I ought to pity Solomon, but I don't when I think
how he's treated me. If the ghost--or whatever 'tis in there--
weeded out the rest of his whiskers for him I don't know's I'd
care. 'Twould serve him right, I guess."
They rehung Georgie's stocking--bulging and knobby it was now--and
arranged his more bulky presents beneath it on the floor. Then
Thankful went into the kitchen and Emily accompanied her. The
morning broke, pale and gray. The wind had subsided and it no
longer rained. With the returning daylight Emily's courage began
"I can't understand," she said, "how you and I could have been so
childish last night. We should have insisted on calling to Mr.
Cobb and then we should have found out what it was that frightened
him and us. I mean to go over every inch of those two rooms before
Thankful nodded. "I'll do it with you," she said. "But I've been
over 'em so many times that I'm pretty skeptical. The time to go
over 'em is in the night when that--that snorin' is goin' on. A
ghost that snores ought, by rights, to be one that's asleep, and a
sound-asleep ghost ought to be easy to locate. Oh, yes! I can
make fun NOW. I told you I was as brave as a lion--in the
It was easy to talk now, and they drifted into a discussion of many
things. Thankful retold the story of her struggle to keep the High
Cliff House afloat, told it all, her hopes, her fears and her
discouragements. They spoke of Captain Bangs, of his advice and
help and friendship. Emily brought the captain into the
conversation and kept him there. Thankful said little concerning
him, and of the one surprising, intimate interview between Captain
Obed and herself she said not a word. She it was who first
mentioned John Kendrick's name. Emily was at first disinclined to
speak of the young lawyer, but, little by little, as her cousin
hinted and questioned, she said more and more. Thankful learned
what she wished to learn, and it was what she had suspected. She
learned something else, too, something which concerned another
citizen of East Wellmouth.
"I knew it!" she cried. "I didn't believe 'twas so, and I as much
as told Cap'n Obed 'twasn't this very day--no, yesterday, I mean.
When a body don't go to bed at all the days kind of run into one
"What did you know?" asked Emily. "What were you and Captain Obed
talking of that concerned me?"
"Nothin', nothin', dear. It didn't concern you one bit, and
'twasn't important. . . . Hi hum!" rising and looking out of the
window. "It's gettin' brighter fast now. Looks as if we might
have a pleasant Christmas, after all. Wonder how poor Jedediah'll
feel when he wakes up. I hope he slept warm anyhow. I piled on
comforters and quilts enough to smother him."
Her attempt at changing the subject was successful. Emily's next
question concerned Jedediah.
"What are you goin' to do with him, Auntie?" she asked. "He must
stay here, mustn't he?"
"Course he must. I'll never trust him out of my sight again. He
ain't competent to take care of himself and so I'll have to take
care of him. Well," with a sigh, "it'll only be natural, that's
all. I've been used to takin' care of somebody all my days. I
wonder how 'twould seem to have somebody take care of me for a
change? Not that there's liable to be anybody doin' it," she added
"Jedediah might be useful to work about the place here," said
Emily. "You will always need a hired man, you know."
"Yes, but I don't need two, and I couldn't discharge Kenelm on
Imogene's account. What that girl ever got engaged to that old
image for is more'n I can make out or ever shall."
Emily smiled. "I shouldn't worry about Imogene," she said. "I
think she knows perfectly well what she is about."
"Maybe so, but if she does, then her kind of knowledge is different
from mine. If I was goin' to marry anybody in that family 'twould
be Hannah; she's the most man of the two."
Imogene herself came down a few minutes later. She was much
surprised to find her mistress and Miss Howes dressed and in the
kitchen. Also she was very curious.
"Who's that man," she asked; "the one in the next room to mine, up
attic? Is he a new boarder? He must have come awful late. I
heard you and him talkin' in the middle of the night. Who is he?"
When told the story of Jedediah's return she was greatly excited.
"Why, it's just like somethin' in a story!" she cried. "Long-lost
folks are always comin' back in stories. And comin' Christmas Eve
makes it all the better. Lordy-- There, I ain't said that for
weeks and weeks! Excuse me, Mrs. Thankful. I WON'T say it again.
But--but what are we goin' to do with him? Is he goin' to stay
here for good?"
Thankful answered that she supposed he was, he had no other place
"Is he rich? He ought to be. Folks in stories always come home
rich after they've run off."
"Well, this one didn't. He missed connections, somehow. Rich!
No," drily, "he ain't rich."
"Well, what will he do? Will we have to take care of him--free, I
mean? Excuse me for buttin' in, ma'am, but it does seem as if we
had enough on our hands without takin' another free boarder."
Thankful went into the dining-room. Emily, when the question was
repeated to her, suggested that, possibly, Jedediah might work
about the place, take care of the live-stock and of the garden,
when there was one.
Imogene reflected. "Hum!" she mused. "We don't need two hired
hands, that's a sure thing. You mean he'll take Kenelm's job?"
"That isn't settled, so you mustn't speak of it. I know my cousin
will be very sorry to let Kenelm go, largely on your account,
"On my account?"
"Why, yes. You and he are engaged to be married and of course you
like to have him here."
Imogene burst out laughing. "Don't you worry about that, Miss
Emily," she said. "I shan't, and I don't think Kenelm will,
Breakfast was ready at last and they were just sitting down to the
table--it had been decided not to call Jedediah or Mr. Cobb--when
Georgie appeared. The boy had crept downstairs, his small head
filled with forebodings; but the sight of the knobby stocking and
the heap of presents sent his fears flying and he burst into the
room with a shriek of joy. One by one the packages were unwrapped
and, with each unwrapping, the youngster's excitement rose.
"Gee!" he cried, as he sat in the middle of the heap of toys and
brown paper and looked about him. "Gee! They're all here;
everything I wanted--but that air-gun. I don't care, though.
Maybe I'll get that next Christmas. Or maybe Cap'n Bangs'll give
it to me, anyhow. He gives me most anything, if I tease for it."
Thankful shook her head. "You see, Georgie," she said, "it pays to
be a good boy. If Santa had caught you hidin' under that sofa and
watchin' for him last night you might not have got any of these
Georgie did not answer immediately. When he did it was in a rather
"There ain't any soot on 'em, anyhow," he observed. "And they
ain't wet, either."
Imogene clapped her hand to her mouth and hurried from the room.
"You can't fool that kid much," she whispered to Emily afterward.
"He's the smartest kid ever I saw. I'll keep out of his way for a
while; I don't want to have to answer his questions."
There were other presents besides those given to Georgie; presents
for Emily from Thankful, and for Thankful from Emily, and for
Imogene from both. There was nothing costly, of course, but no one
cared for that.
As they were beginning breakfast Jedediah appeared. His garments,
which had been drying by the kitchen stove all night and which
Imogene had deposited in a heap at his bedroom door, were wrinkled,
but his face shone from the vigorous application of soap and water
and, as his sister said afterward, "You could see his complexion
without diggin' for it, and that was somethin'."
His manner was subdued and he was very, very polite and anxious to
please, but his appetite was in good order. Introduced to Imogene
he expressed himself as pleased to meet her. Georgie he greeted
with some hesitation; evidently the memory of his midnight
encounter with the boy embarrassed him. But Georgie, when he
learned that the shabby person whom he was told to call "Uncle Jed"
was, although only an imitation Santa Claus, a genuine gold-hunter
and traveler who had seen real Esquimaux and polar bears, warmed to
his new relative immediately.
When the meal was over Jedediah made what was, for him, an amazing
"Now," he said, "I cal'late I'd better be gettin' to work, hadn't
I? What'll I do first, Thankful?"
Mrs. Barnes stared at him. "Work?" she repeated. "What do you
"I mean I want to be doin' somethin'--somethin' to help, you know.
I don't cal'late to stay around here and loaf. No, SIR!"
Thankful drew a long breath. "All right, Jed," she said. "You can
go out in the barn and feed the horse if you want to. Kenelm--Mr.
Parker--generally does it, but he probably won't be here for quite
a spell yet. Go ahead. Imogene'll show you what to do. . . .
But, say, hold on," she added, with emphasis. "Don't you go off
the premises, and if you see anybody comin', keep out of sight. I
don't want anybody to see a brother of mine in THOSE clothes.
Soon's ever I can I'll go up to the village and buy you somethin'
to wear, if it's only an 'ilskin jacket and a pair of overalls.
They'll cover up the rags, anyhow. As you are now, you look like
one of Georgie's picture-puzzles partly put together."
When the eager applicant for employment had gone, under Imogene's
guidance, Emily spoke her mind.
"Auntie," she said, "are you going to make him work--now; after
what he's been through, and on Christmas day, too?"
Thankful was still staring after her brother.
"Sshh! sshh!" she commanded. "Don't speak to me for a minute; you
may wake me up. Jedediah Cahoon ASKIN' to go to work! All the
miracles in Scriptur' are nothin' to this."
"But, Auntie, he did ask. And do you think he is strong enough?"
"Hush, Emily, hush! You don't know Jedediah. Strong enough! I'm
the one that needs strength, if I'm goin' to have shocks like this
one sprung on me."
Emily said no more, but she noticed that her cousin was wearing the
two-dollar ring, the wanderer's "farewell" gift, so she judged that
brother Jed would not be worked beyond the bounds of moderation.
Left alone in the dining-room--Georgie had returned to the living-
room and his presents--the two women looked at each other. Neither
had eaten a breakfast worth mentioning and the same thought was in
the mind of each.
"Auntie," whispered Emily, voicing that thought, "don't you think
we ought to go up and--and see if he is--all right."