Part 8 out of 8
So he went to bed and, eventually, to sleep.
While dressing in the cold light of dawn his perturbations of the
previous night appeared in retrospect as rather boyish and
unnecessary. His sudden and unexpected meeting with Helen and
their talk together had tended to make him over-sentimental, that
was all. He and she were to be friends, of course, but there was
no real danger of his allowing himself to think of her except as a
friend. No, indeed. He opened the bureau drawer in search of a
tie, and there was the package of "snapshots" just where he had
tossed them that night when he first returned home after muster-
out. Helen's photograph was the uppermost. He looked at it--
looked at it for several minutes. Then he closed the drawer again
and hurriedly finished his dressing. A part, at least, of his
resolve of the night before had been sound common-sense. His brain
was suffering from lack of exercise. Work was what he needed, hard
So to work he went without delay. A place to work in was the first
consideration. He suggested the garret, but his grandmother and
Rachel held up their hands and lifted their voices in protest.
"No, INDEED," declared Olive. "Zelotes has always talked about
writin' folks and poets starvin' in garrets. If you went up attic
to work he'd be teasin' me from mornin' to night. Besides, you'd
freeze up there, if the smell of moth-balls didn't choke you first.
No, you wait; I've got a notion. There's that old table desk of
Zelotes' in the settin' room. He don't hardly ever use it
nowadays. You take it upstairs to your own room and work in there.
You can have the oil-heater to keep you warm."
So that was the arrangement made, and in his own room Albert sat
down at the battered old desk, which had been not only his
grandfather's but his great-grandfather's property, to concentrate
upon the first of the series of stories ordered by the New York
magazine. He had already decided upon the general scheme for the
series. A boy, ragamuffin son of immigrant parents, rising, after
a wrong start, by sheer grit and natural shrewdness and ability,
step by step to competence and success, winning a place in and the
respect of a community. There was nothing new in the idea itself.
Some things his soldier chum Mike Kelley had told him concerning an
uncle of his--Mike's--suggested it. The novelty he hoped might
come from the incidents, the various problems faced by his hero,
the solution of each being a step upward in the latter's career and
in the formation of his character. He wanted to write, if he
could, the story of the building of one more worth-while American,
for Albert Speranza, like so many others set to thinking by the war
and the war experiences, was realizing strongly that the gabbling
of a formula and the swearing of an oath of naturalization did not
necessarily make an American. There were too many eager to take
that oath with tongue in cheek and knife in sleeve. Too many, for
the first time in their lives breathing and speaking as free men,
thanks to the protection of Columbia's arm, yet planning to stab
their protectress in the back.
So Albert's hero was to be an American, an American to whom the
term meant the highest and the best. If he had hunted a lifetime
for something to please and interest his grandfather he could not
have hit the mark nearer the center. Cap'n Lote, of course,
pretended a certain measure of indifference, but that was for Olive
and Rachel's benefit. It would never do for the scoffer to become
a convert openly and at once. The feminine members of the household
clamored each evening to have the author read aloud his day's
installment. The captain sniffed.
"Oh, dear, dear," with a groan, "now I've got to hear all that
made-up stuff that happened to a parcel of made-up folks that never
lived and never will. Waste of time, waste of time. Where's my
But it was noticed--and commented upon, you may be sure--by his
wife and housekeeper that the Transcript was likely to be, before
the reading had progressed far, either in the captain's lap or on
the floor. And when the discussion following the reading was under
way Captain Zelotes' opinions were expressed quite as freely as any
one's else. Laban Keeler got into the habit of dropping in to
One fateful evening the reading was interrupted by the arrival of
Mr. Kendall. The reverend gentleman had come to make a pastoral
call. Albert's hero was in the middle of a situation. The old
clergyman insisted upon the continuation of the reading. It was
continued and so was the discussion following it; in fact, the
discussion seemed likely to go on indefinitely, for the visitor
showed no inclination of leaving. At ten-thirty his daughter
appeared to inquire about him and to escort him home. Then he
went, but under protest. Albert walked to the parsonage with them.
"Now we've started somethin'," groaned the captain, as the door
closed. "That old critter'll be cruisin' over here six nights out
of five from now on to tell Al just how to spin those yarns of his.
And he'll talk--and talk--and talk. Ain't it astonishin' how such
a feeble-lookin' craft as he is can keep blowin' off steam that way
and still be able to navigate."
His wife took him to task. "The idea," she protested, "of your
callin' your own minister a 'critter'! I should think you'd be
ashamed. . . . But, oh, dear, I'm afraid he WILL be over here an
Her fears were realized. Mr. Kendall, although not on hand "six
nights out of five," as the captain prophesied, was a frequent
visitor at the Snow place. As Albert's story-writing progressed
the discussions concerning the growth and development of the hero's
character became more and more involved and spirited. They were
for the most part confined, when the minister was present, to him
and Mrs. Snow and Rachel. Laban, if he happened to be there, sat
well back in the corner, saying little except when appealed to, and
then answering with one of his dry, characteristic observations.
Captain Lote, in the rocker, his legs crossed, his hand stroking
his beard, and with the twinkle in his eyes, listened, and spoke
but seldom. Occasionally, when he and his grandson exchanged
glances, the captain winked, indicating appreciation of the
"Say, Al," he said, one evening, after the old clergyman had
departed, "it must be kind of restful to have your work all laid
out for you this way. Take it to-night, for instance; I don't see
but what everything's planned for this young feller you're writin'
about so you nor he won't have to think for yourselves for a
hundred year or such matter. Course there's some little difference
in the plans. Rachel wants him to get wrecked on an island or be
put in jail, and Mother, she wants him to be a soldier and a poet,
and Mr. Kendall thinks it's high time he joined the church or
signed the pledge or stopped swearin' or chewin' gum."
"Zelotes, how ridiculous you do talk!"
"All right, Mother, all right. What strikes me, Al, is they don't
any of 'em stop to ask you what YOU mean to have him do. Course I
know 'tain't any of your business, but still--seems 's if you might
be a little mite interested in the boy yourself."
Albert laughed. "Don't worry, Grandfather," he said. "I'm
enjoying it all very much. And some of the suggestions may be just
what I'm looking for."
"Well, son, we'll hope so. Say, Labe, I've got a notion for
keepin' the minister from doin' all the talkin.' We'll ask Issy
Price to drop in; eh?"
Laban shook his head. "I don't know, Cap'n Lote," he observed.
"Sounds to me a good deal like lettin' in a hurricane to blow out a
match with. . . . Um-hm. Seems so to me. Yes, yes."
Mr. Kendall's calls would have been more frequent still had Helen
not interfered. Very often, when he came she herself dropped in a
little later and insisted upon his making an early start for home.
Occasionally she came with him. She, too, seemed much interested
in the progress of the stories, but she offered few suggestions.
When directly appealed to, she expressed her views, and they were
Albert was resolutely adhering to his determination not to permit
himself to think of her except as a friend. That is, he hoped he
was; thoughts are hard to control at times. He saw her often.
They met on the street, at church on Sunday--his grandmother was
so delighted when he accompanied her to "meeting" that he did so
rather more frequently, perhaps, than he otherwise would--at the
homes of acquaintances, and, of course, at the Snow place. When
she walked home with her father after a "story evening" he usually
went with them as additional escort.
She had not questioned him concerning Madeline since their first
meeting that morning at the parsonage. He knew, therefore, that
some one--his grandmother, probably--had told her of the broken
engagement. When they were alone together they talked of many
things, casual things, the generalities of which, so he told
himself, a conversation between mere friends was composed. But
occasionally, after doing escort duty, after Mr. Kendall had gone
into the house to take his "throat medicine"--a medicine which
Captain Zelotes declared would have to be double-strength pretty
soon to offset the wear and tear of the story evenings--they talked
of matters more specific and which more directly concerned
themselves. She spoke of her hospital work, of her teaching before
the war, and of her plans for the future. The latter, of course,
were very indefinite now.
"Father needs me," she said, "and I shall not leave him while he
They spoke of Albert's work and plans most of all. He began to ask
for advice concerning the former. When those stories were written,
what then? She hoped he would try the novel he had hinted at.
"I'm sure you can do it," she said. "And you mustn't give up the
poems altogether. It was the poetry, you know, which was the
"YOU were the beginning," he said impulsively. "Perhaps I should
never have written at all if you hadn't urged me, shamed me out of
"I was a presuming young person, I'm afraid," she said. "I wonder
you didn't tell me to mind my own business. I believe you did, but
I wouldn't mind."
June brought the summer weather and the summer boarders to South
Harniss. One of the news sensations which came at the same time
was that the new Fosdick cottage had been sold. The people who had
occupied it the previous season had bought it. Mrs. Fosdick, so
rumor said, was not strong and her doctors had decided that the sea
air did not agree with her.
"Crimustee!" exclaimed Issachar, as he imparted the news to Mr.
Keeler, "if that ain't the worst. Spend your money, and a pile of
money, too, buyin' ground, layin' of it out to build a house on to
live in, then buildin' that house and then, by crimus, sellin' it
to somebody else for THEM to live in. That beats any foolishness
ever come MY way."
"And there's some consider'ble come your way at that, ain't they,
Is?" observed Laban, busy with his bookkeeping.
Issachar nodded. "You're right there has," he said complacently.
"I . . . What do you mean by that? Tryin' to be funny again,
Albert heard the news with a distinct feeling of relief. While the
feeling on his part toward Madeline was of the kindliest, and
Madeline's was, he felt sure, the same toward him, nevertheless to
meet her day after day, as people must meet in a village no bigger
than South Harniss, would be awkward for both. And to meet Mrs.
Fosdick might be more awkward still. He smiled as he surmised that
the realization by the lady of that very awkwardness was probably
responsible for the discovery that sea air was not beneficial.
The story-writing and the story evenings continued. Over the
fourth story in the series discussion was warm, for there were
marked differences of opinion among the listeners. One of the
experiences through which Albert had brought his hero was that of
working as general assistant to a sharp, unscrupulous and smooth-
tongued rascal who was proprietor of a circus sideshow and fake
museum. He was a kind-hearted swindler, but one who never let a
question of honesty interfere with the getting of a dollar. In
this fourth story, to the town where the hero, now a man of twenty-
five, had established himself in business, came this cheat of other
days, but now he came as a duly ordained clergyman in answer to the
call of the local church. The hero learned that he had not told
the governing body of that church of his former career. Had he
done so, they most certainly would not have called him. The
leading man in that church body was the hero's patron and kindest
friend. The question: What was the hero's duty in the matter?
Of course the first question asked was whether or not the ex-
sideshow proprietor was sincerely repentant and honestly trying to
walk the straight path and lead others along it. Albert replied
that his hero had interviewed him and was satisfied that he was;
he had been "converted" at a revival and was now a religious
enthusiast whose one idea was to save sinners.
That was enough for Captain Zelotes.
"Let him alone, then," said the captain. "He's tryin' to be a
decent man. What do you want to do? Tell on him and have him
chucked overboard from one church after another until he gets
discouraged and takes to swindlin' again?"
Rachel Ellis could not see it that way.
"If he was a saved sinner," she declared, "and repentant of his
sins, then he'd ought to repent 'em out loud. Hidin' 'em ain't
repentin'. And, besides, there's Donald's (Donald was the hero's
name) there's Donald's duty to the man that's been so good to him.
Is it fair to that man to keep still and let him hire a minister
that, like as not, will steal the collection, box and all, afore he
gets through? No, sir, Donald ought to tell THAT man, anyhow."
Olive was pretty dubious about the whole scheme. She doubted if
anybody connected with a circus COULD ever become a minister.
"The whole--er--er--trade is so different," she said.
Mr. Kendall was not there that evening, his attendance being
required at a meeting of the Sunday School teachers. Helen,
however, was not at that meeting and Captain Zelotes declared his
intention of asking her opinion by telephone.
"She'll say same as I do--you see if she don't," he declared. When
he called the parsonage, however, Maria Price answered the phone
and informed him that Helen was spending the evening with old Mrs.
Crowell, who lived but a little way from the Snow place. The
captain promptly called up the Crowell house.
"She's there and she'll stop in here on her way along," he said
triumphantly. "And she'll back me up--you see."
But she did not. She did not "back up" any one. She merely smiled
and declared the problem too complicated to answer offhand.
"Why don't you ask Albert?" she inquired. "After all, he is the
one who must settle it eventually."
"He won't tell," said Olive. "He's real provokin', isn't he? And
now you won't tell, either, Helen."
"Oh, I don't know--yet. But I think he does."
Albert, as usual, walked home with her.
"How are you going to answer your hero's riddle?" she asked.
"Before I tell you, suppose you tell me what your answer would be."
She reflected. "Well," she said, "it seems to me that, all things
being as they are, he should do this: He should go to the sideshow
man--the minister now--and have a very frank talk with him. He
should tell him that he had decided to say nothing about the old
life and to help him in every way, to be his friend--provided that
he keep straight, that is all. Of course more than that would be
meant, the alternative would be there and understood, but he need
not say it. I think that course of action would be fair to himself
and to everybody. That is my answer. What is yours?"
He laughed quietly. "Just that, of course," he said. "You would
see it, I knew. You always see down to the heart of things, Helen.
You have the gift."
She shook her head. "It didn't really need a gift, this particular
problem, did it?" she said. "It is not--excuse me--it isn't
exactly a new one."
"No, it isn't. It is as old as the hills, but there are always new
twists to it."
"As there are to all our old problems."
"Yes. By the way, your advice about the ending of my third story
was exactly what I needed. The editor wrote me he should never
have forgiven me if it had ended in any other way. It probably
WOULD have ended in another way if it hadn't been for you. Thank
"Oh, you know there was really nothing to thank me for. It was all
you, as usual. Have you planned the next story, the fifth, yet?"
"Not entirely. I have some vague ideas. Do you want to hear
So they discussed those ideas as they walked along the sidewalk of
the street leading down to the parsonage. It was a warm evening, a
light mist, which was not substantial enough to be a fog, hanging
low over everything, wrapping them and the trees and the little
front yards and low houses of the old village in a sort of cozy,
velvety, confidential quiet. The scent of lilacs was heavy in the
They both were silent. Just when they had ceased speaking neither
could have told. They walked on arm in arm and suddenly Albert
became aware that this silence was dangerous for him; that in it
all his resolves and brave determinations were melting into mist
like that about him; that he must talk and talk at once and upon a
subject which was not personal, which--
And then Helen spoke.
"Do you know what this reminds me of?" she said. "All this talk of
ours? It reminds me of how we used to talk over those first poems
of yours. You have gone a long way since then."
"I have gone to Kaiserville and back."
"You know what I mean. I mean your work has improved wonderfully.
You write with a sure hand now, it seems to me. And your view is
so much broader."
"I hope I'm not the narrow, conceited little rooster I used to be.
I told you, Helen, that the war handed me an awful jolt. Well, it
did. I think it, or my sickness or the whole business together,
knocked most of that self-confidence of mine galley-west. For so
much I'm thankful."
"I don't know that I am, altogether. I don't want you to lose
confidence in yourself. You should be confident now because you
deserve to be. And you write with confidence, or it reads as if
you did. Don't you feel that you do, yourself? Truly, don't you?"
"Well, perhaps, a little. I have been at it for some time now. I
ought to show some progress. Perhaps I don't make as many mistakes."
"I can't see that you have made any."
"I have made one . . . a damnable one."
"Why, what do you mean?"
"Oh, nothing. I didn't mean to say that. . . . Helen, do you know
it is awfully good of you to take all this interest in me--in my
work, I mean. Why do you do it?"
"Why, because-- Why shouldn't I? Haven't we always talked about
your writings together, almost since we first knew each other?
Aren't we old friends?"
There it was again--friends. It was like a splash of cold water in
the face, at once awakening and chilling. Albert walked on in
silence for a few moments and then began speaking of some trivial
subject entirely disconnected with himself or his work or her.
When they reached the parsonage door he said good night at once and
strode off toward home.
Back in his room, however, he gave himself another mental picking
to pieces. He was realizing most distinctly that this sort of
thing would not do. It was easy to say that his attitude toward
Helen Kendall was to be that of a friend and nothing more, but it
was growing harder and harder to maintain that attitude. He had
come within a breath that very night of saying what was in his
Well, if he had said it, if he did say it--what then? After all,
was there any real reason why he should not say it? It was true
that he had loved, or fancied that he loved, Madeline, that he had
been betrothed to her--but again, what of it? Broken engagements
were common enough, and there was nothing disgraceful in this one.
Why not go to Helen and tell her that his fancied love for Madeline
had been the damnable mistake he had confessed making. Why not
tell her that since the moment when he saw her standing in the
doorway of the parsonage on the morning following his return from
New York he had known that she was the only woman in the world for
him, that it was her image he had seen in his dreams, in the
delirium of fever, that it was she, and not that other, who--
But there, all this was foolishness, and he knew it. He did not
dare say it. Not for one instant had she, by speech or look or
action, given him the slightest encouragement to think her feeling
for him was anything but friendship. And that friendship was far
too precious to risk. He must not risk it. He must keep still, he
must hide his thoughts, she must never guess. Some day, perhaps,
after a year or two, after his position in his profession was more
assured, then he might speak. But even then there would be that
risk. And the idea of waiting was not pleasant. What had Rachel
told him concerning the hosts of doctors and officers and generals
who had been "shining up" to her. Some risk there, also.
Well, never mind. He would try to keep on as he had been going for
the present. He would try not to see her as frequently. If the
strain became unbearable he might go away somewhere--for a time.
He did not go away, but he made it a point not to see her as
frequently. However, they met often even as it was. And he was
conscious always that the ice beneath his feet was very, very thin.
One wonderful August evening he was in his room upstairs. He was
not writing. He had come up there early because he wished to think,
to consider. A proposition had been made to him that afternoon, a
surprising proposition--to him it had come as a complete surprise--
and before mentioning it even to his grandparents he wished to
think it over very carefully.
About ten o'clock his grandfather called to him from the foot of
the stairs and asked him to come down.
"Mr. Kendall's on the phone," said Captain Zelotes. "He's worried
about Helen. She's up to West Harniss sittin' up along of Lurany
Howes, who's been sick so long. She ain't come home, and the old
gentleman's frettin' about her walkin' down from there alone so
late. I told him I cal'lated you'd just as soon harness Jess and
drive up and get her. You talk with him yourself, Al."
Albert did and, after assuring the nervous clergyman that he would
see that his daughter reached home safely, put on his hat and went
out to the barn. Jessamine was asleep in her stall. As he was
about to lead her out he suddenly remembered that one of the traces
had broken that morning and Captain Zelotes had left it at the
harness-maker's to be mended. It was there yet. The captain had
forgotten the fact, and so had he. That settled the idea of using
Jessamine and the buggy. Never mind, it was a beautiful night and
the walk was but little over a mile.
When he reached the tiny story-and-a-half Howes cottage, sitting
back from the road upon the knoll amid the tangle of silverleaf
sprouts, it was Helen herself who opened the door. She was
surprised to see him, and when he explained his errand she was a
"The idea of Father's worrying," she said. "Such a wonderful night
as this, bright moonlight, and in South Harniss, too. Nothing ever
happens to people in South Harniss. I will be ready in a minute or
two. Mrs. Howes' niece is here now and will stay with her until
to-morrow. Then her sister is coming to stay a month. As soon as
I get her medicine ready we can go."
The door of the tiny bedroom adjoining the sitting room was open,
and Albert, sitting upon the lounge with the faded likeness of a
pink dog printed on the plush cover, could hear the querulous voice
of the invalid within. The widow Howes was deaf and, as Laban
Keeler described it, "always hollered loud enough to make herself
hear" when she spoke. Helen was moving quietly about the sick room
and speaking in a low tone. Albert could not hear what she said,
but he could hear Lurania.
"You're a wonder, that's what you be," declared the latter, "and I
told your pa so last time he was here. 'She's a saint,' says I,
'if ever there was one on this earth. She's the nicest, smartest,
best-lookin' girl in THIS town and . . .' eh?"
There had been a murmur, presumably of remonstrance, from Helen.
"EH? WHO'D you say was there?"
A third murmur.
"WHO? . . . Oh, that Speranzy one? Lote Snow's grandson? The one
they used to call the Portygee? . . . Eh? Well, all right, I
don't care if he did hear me. If he don't know you're nice and
smart and good-lookin', it's high time he did."
Helen, a trifle embarrassed but laughing, emerged a moment later,
and when she had put on her hat she and Albert left the Howes
cottage and began their walk home. It was one of those nights such
as Cape Codders, year-rounders or visitors, experience three or
four times during a summer and boast of the remainder of the year.
A sky clear, deep, stretched cloudless from horizon to horizon.
Every light at sea or on shore, in cottage window or at masthead or
in lighthouse or on lightship a twinkling diamond point. A moon,
apparently as big as a barrel-head, hung up in the east and below
it a carpet of cold fire, of dancing, spangled silver spread upon
the ocean. The sound of the surf, distant, soothing; and for the
rest quiet and the fragrance of the summer woods and fields.
They walked rather fast at first and the conversation was brisk,
but as the night began to work its spell upon them their progress
was slower and there were intervals of silence of which neither was
aware. They came to the little hill where the narrow road from
West Harniss comes to join the broader highway leading to the
Center. There were trees here, a pine grove, on the landward side,
and toward the sea nothing to break the glorious view.
Helen caught her breath. "Oh, it is beautiful, beautiful!" she
Albert did not answer. "Why don't you talk?" she asked. "What are
you thinking about?"
He did not tell her what he was thinking about. Instead, having
caught himself just in time, he began telling her of what he had
been thinking when his grandfather called him to the telephone.
"Helen," he said, "I want to ask your advice. I had an astonishing
proposal made to me this afternoon. I must make a decision, I must
say yes or no, and I'm not sure which to say."
She looked up at him inquiringly.
"This afternoon," he went on, "Doctor Parker called me into his
office. There was a group of men there, prominent men in politics
from about the country; Judge Baxter from Ostable was there, and
Captain Warren from South Denboro, and others like them. What do
you suppose they want me to do?"
"I can't imagine."
"They offer me the party nomination for Congress from this section.
That is, of course, they want me to permit my name to stand and
they seem sure my nomination will be confirmed by the voters. The
nomination, they say, is equivalent to election. They seem certain
of it. . . . And they were insistent that I accept."
"Yes. They said a good many flattering things, things I should
like to believe. They said my war record and my writing and all
that had made me a prominent man in the county-- Please don't
think I take any stock in that--"
"But _I_ do. Go on."
"Well, that is all. They seemed confident that I would make a good
congressman. I am not so sure. Of course the thing . . . well, it
does tempt me, I confess. I could keep on with my writing, of
course. I should have to leave the home people for a part of the
year, but I could be with them or near them the rest. And . . .
well, Helen, I--I think I should like the job. Just now, when
America needs Americans and the thing that isn't American must be
fought, I should like--if I were sure I was capable of it--"
"Oh, but you are--you ARE."
"Do you really think so? Would you like to have me try?"
He felt her arm tremble upon his. She drew a long breath.
"Oh, I should be so PROUD!" she breathed.
There was a quiver in her voice, almost a sob. He bent toward her.
She was looking off toward the sea, the moonlight upon her face was
like a glory, her eyes were shining--and there were tears in them.
His heart throbbed wildly.
"Helen!" he cried. "Helen!"
She turned and looked up into his face. The next moment her own
face was hidden against his breast, his arms were about her,
and . . . and the risk, the risk he had feared to take, was taken.
They walked home after a time, but it was a slow, a very slow walk
with many interruptions.
"Oh, Helen," he kept saying, "I don't see how you can. How can
you? In spite of it all. I--I treated you so badly. I was SUCH
an idiot. And you really care? You really do?"
She laughed happily. "I really do . . . and . . . and I really
have, all the time."
"Well--well, by George! And . . . Helen, do you know I think--
I think I did too--always--only I was such a young fool I didn't
realize it. WHAT a young fool I was!"
"Don't say that, dear, don't. . . . You are going to be a great
man. You are a famous one already; you are going to be great.
Don't you know that?"
He stooped and kissed her.
"I think I shall have to be," he said, "if I am going to be worthy
Albert, sitting in the private office of Z. Snow and Co., dropped
his newspaper and looked up with a smile as his grandfather came
in. Captain Zelotes' florid face was redder even than usual, for
it was a cloudy day in October and blowing a gale.
"Whew!" puffed the captain, pulling off his overcoat and striding
over to warm his hands at the stove; "it's raw as January comin'
over the tops of those Trumet hills, and blowin' hard enough to
part your back hair, besides. One time there I didn't know but
I'd have to reef, cal'late I would if I'd known how to reef an
"Is the car running as well as ever?" asked Albert.
"You bet you! Took all but two of those hills on full steam and
never slowed down a mite. Think of goin' to Trumet and back in a
forenoon, and havin' time enough to do the talkin' I went to do
besides. Why, Jess would have needed the whole day to make the
down cruise, to say nothin' of the return trip. Well, the old
gal's havin' a good rest now, nothin' much to do but eat and sleep.
She deserves it; she's been a good horse for your grandma and me."
He rubbed his hands before the stove and chuckled.
"Olive's still scared to death for fear I'll get run into, or run
over somebody or somethin'," he observed. "I tell her I can
navigate that car now the way I used to navigate the old President
Hayes, and I could do that walkin' in my sleep. There's a little
exaggeration there," he added, with a grin. "It takes about all my
gumption when I'm wide awake to turn the flivver around in a narrow
road, but I manage to do it. . . . Well, what are you doin' in
here, Al?" he added. "Readin' the Item's prophesy about how big
your majority's goin' to be?"
Albert smiled. "I dropped in here to wait for you, Grandfather,"
he replied. "The novel-writing mill wasn't working particularly
well, so I gave it up and took a walk."
"To the parsonage, I presume likely?"
"Well, I did stop there for a minute or two."
"You don't say! I'm surprised to hear it. How is Helen this
mornin'? Did she think you'd changed much since you saw her last
"I don't know. She didn't say so if she did. She sent her love to
you and Grandmother--"
"What she had left over, you mean."
"And said to tell you not to tire yourself out electioneering for
me. That was good advice, too. Grandfather, don't you know that
you shouldn't motor all the way to Trumet and back a morning like
this? I'd rather--much rather go without the votes than have you
do such things."
Captain Zelotes seated himself in his desk chair.
"But you ain't goin' to do without 'em," he chuckled. Obed Nye--
he's chairman of the Trumet committee--figgers you'll have a five-
to-one majority. He told me to practice callin' you 'the
Honorable' because that's what you'd be by Tuesday night of week
after next. And next winter Mother and I will be takin' a trip to
Washin'ton so as to set in the gallery and listen to you makin'
speeches. We'll be some consider'ble proud of you, too, boy," he
added, with a nod.
His grandson looked away, out of the window, over the bleak yard
with its piles of lumber. The voice of Issacher raised in
expostulation with the driver of Cahoon's "truck-wagon" could be
"I shall hate to leave you and Grandmother and the old place," he
said. "If I am elected--"
"WHEN you're elected; there isn't any 'if.'"
"Well, all right. I shall hate to leave South Harniss. Every
person I really care for will be here. Helen--and you people at
"It's too bad you and Helen can't be married and go to Washin'ton
together. Not to stay permanent," he added quickly, "but just
while Congress is in session. Your grandma says then she'd feel as
if you had somebody to look after you. She always figgers, you
know, that a man ain't capable of lookin' out for himself. There'd
ought to be at least one woman to take care of him, see that he
don't get his feet wet and goes to meetin' reg'lar and so on; if
there could be two, so much the better. Mother would have made a
pretty good Mormon, in some ways."
Albert laughed. "Helen feels she must stay with her father for the
present," he said. "Of course she is right. Perhaps by and by we
can find some good capable housekeeper to share the responsibility,
but not this winter. IF I am sent to Washington I shall come back
often, you may be sure."
"When ARE you cal'latin' to be married, if that ain't a secret?"
"Perhaps next spring. Certainly next fall. It will depend upon
Mr. Kendall's health. But, Grandfather, I do feel rather like a
deserter, going off and leaving you here--"
"Good Lord! You don't cal'late I'M breakin' down, runnin' strong
to talk and weakenin' everywhere else, like old Minister Kendall,
"Well, hardly. But . . . well, you see, I have felt a little
ungrateful ever since I came back from the war. In a way I am
sorry that I feel I must give myself entirely to my writing--and my
political work. I wish I might have gone on here in this office,
accepted that partnership you would have given me--"
"You can have it yet, you know. Might take it and just keep it to
fall back on in case that story-mill of yours busts altogether or
all hands in Ostable County go crazy and vote the wrong ticket.
Just take it and wait. Always well to have an anchor ready to let
go, you know."
"Thanks, but that wouldn't be fair. I wish I MIGHT have taken it--
for your sake. I wish for your sake I were so constituted as to be
good for something at it. Of course I don't mean by that that I
should be willing to give up my writing--but--well, you see,
Grandfather, I owe you an awful lot in this world . . . and I know
you had set your heart on my being your partner in Z. Snow and Co.
I know you're disappointed."
Captain Lote did not answer instantly. He seemed to be thinking.
Then he opened a drawer in his desk and took out a box of cigars
similar to those he had offered the Honorable Fletcher Fosdick on
the occasion of their memorable interview.
"Smoke, Al?" he asked. Albert declined because of the nearness to
dinner time, but the captain, who never permitted meals or anything
else to interfere with his smoking, lighted one of the cigars and
leaned back in his chair, puffing steadily.
"We-ll, Al," he said slowly, "I'll tell you about that. There was
a time--I'll own up that there was a time when the idea you wasn't
goin' to turn out a business man and the partner who would take
over this concern after I got my clearance papers was a notion I
wouldn't let myself think of for a minute. I wouldn't THINK of it,
that's all. But I've changed my mind about that, as I have about
some other things." He paused, tugged at his beard, and then
added, "And I guess likely I might as well own up to the whole
truth while I'm about it: I didn't change it because I wanted to,
but because I couldn't help it--'twas changed for me."
He made this statement more as if he were thinking aloud than as if
he expected a reply. A moment later he continued.
"Yes, sir," he said, "'twas changed for me. And," with a shrug,
"I'd rather prided myself that when my mind was made up it stayed
that way. But--but, well, consarn it, I've about come to the
conclusion that I was a pig-headed old fool, Al, in some ways."
"Nonsense, Grandfather. You are the last man to--"
"Oh, I don't mean a candidate for the feeble-minded school. There
ain't been any Snows put there that I can remember, not our branch
of 'em, anyhow. But, consarn it, I--I--" he was plainly finding
it hard to express his thought, "I--well, I used to think I knew
consider'ble, had what I liked to think was good, hard sense.
'Twas hard enough, I cal'late--pretty nigh petrified in spots."
Albert laid a hand on his knee.
"Don't talk like that," he replied impulsively. "I don't like to
"Don't you? Then I won't. But, you see, Al, it bothers me. Look
how I used to talk about makin' up poetry and writin' yarns and all
that. Used to call it silliness and a waste of time, I did--worse
names than that, generally. And look what you're makin' at it in
money, to say nothin' of its shovin' you into Congress, and keepin'
the newspapers busy printin' stuff about you. . . . Well, well,"
with a sigh of resignation, "I don't understand it yet, but know
it's so, and if I'd had my pig-headed way 'twouldn't have been so.
It's a dreadful belittlin' feelin' to a man at my time of life, a
man that's commanded ten-thousand-ton steamers and handled crews
and bossed a business like this. It makes him wonder how many
other fool things he's done. . . . Why, do you know, Al," he
added, in a sudden burst of confidence, "I was consider'ble
prejudiced against you when you first came here."
He made the statement as if he expected it to come as a stunning
surprise. Albert would not have laughed for the world, nor in one
way did he feel like it, but it was funny.
"Well, perhaps you were, a little," he said gravely. "I don't
"Oh, I don't mean just because you was your father's son. I mean
on your own account, in a way. Somehow, you see, I couldn't
believe--eh? Oh, come in, Labe! It's all right. Al and I are
just talkin' about nothin' in particular and all creation in
Mr. Keeler entered with a paper in his hand.
"Sorry to bother you, Cap'n Lote," he said, "but this bill of Colby
and Sons for that last lot of hardware ain't accordin' to agreement.
The prices on those butts ain't right, and neither's those half-inch
screws. Better send it back to em, eh?"
Captain Zelotes inspected the bill.
"Humph!" he grunted. "You're right, Labe. You generally are, I
notice. Yes, send it back and tell 'em--anything you want to."
Laban smiled. "I want to, all right," he said. "This is the third
time they've sent wrong bills inside of two months. Well, Al,"
turning toward him, "I cal'late this makes you kind of homesick,
don't it, this talk about bills and screws and bolts and such?
Wa'n't teasin' for your old job back again, was you, Al? Cal'late
he could have it, couldn't he, Cap'n? We'll need somebody to heave
a bucket of water on Issy pretty soon; he's gettin' kind of pert
and uppish again. Pretty much so. Yes, yes, yes."
He departed, chuckling. Captain Zelotes looked after him. He
tugged at his beard.
"Al," he said, "do you know what I've about made up my mind to do?"
Albert shook his head.
"I've about made up my mind to take Labe Keeler into the firm of
Z. Snow and Co. YOU won't come in, and," with a twinkle, "I need
somebody to keep my name from gettin' lonesome on the sign."
Albert was delighted.
"Bully for you, Grandfather!" he exclaimed. "You couldn't do a
better thing for Labe or for the firm. And he deserves it, too."
"Ye-es, I think he does. Labe's a mighty faithful, capable feller,
and now that he's sworn off on those vacations of his he can be
trusted anywheres. Yes, I've as good as made up my mind to take
him in. Of course," with the twinkle in evidence once more,
"Issachar'll be a little mite jealous, but we'll have to bear up
under that as best we can."
"I wonder what Labe will say when you tell him?"
"He'll say yes. I'll tell Rachel first and she'll tell him to say
it. And then I'll tell 'em both I won't do it unless they agree to
get married. I've always said I didn't want to die till I'd been
to that weddin'. I want to hear Rachel tell the minister she'll
'obey' Labe. Ho, ho!"
"Do you suppose they ever will be married?"
"Why, yes, I kind of think so. I shouldn't wonder if they would be
right off now if it wasn't that Rachel wouldn't think of givin' up
keepin' house for your grandmother. She wouldn't do that and Labe
wouldn't want her to. I've got to fix that somehow. Perhaps they
could live along with us. Land knows there's room enough. They're
all right, those two. Kind of funny to look at, and they match up
in size like a rubber boot and a slipper, but I declare I don't
know which has got the most common-sense or the biggest heart. And
'twould be hard to tell which thinks the most of you, Al. . . .
Eh? Why, it's after half-past twelve o'clock! Olive'll be for
combin' our topknots with a belayin' pin if we keep her dinner
waitin' like this."
As they were putting on their coats the captain spoke again.
"I hadn't finished what I was sayin' to you when Labe came in," he
observed. "'Twasn't much account; just a sort of confession, and
they say that's good for the soul. I was just goin' to say that
when you first came here I was prejudiced against you, not only
because your father and I didn't agree, but because he was what he
was. Because he was--was--"
Albert finished the sentence for him.
"A Portygee," he said.
"Why, yes, that's what I called him. That's what I used to call
about everybody that wasn't born right down here in Yankeeland. I
used to be prejudiced against you because you was what I called a
half-breed. I'm sorry, Al. I'm ashamed. See what you've turned
out to be. I declare, I--"
"Shh! shh! Don't, Grandfather. When I came here I was a little
snob, a conceited, insufferable little--"
"Here, here! Hold on! No, you wa'n't, neither. Or if you was,
you was only a boy. I was a man, and I ought to--"
"No, I'm going to finish. Whatever I am now, or whatever I may be.
I owe to you, and to Grandmother, and Rachel and Laban--and Helen.
You made me over between you. I know that now."
They walked home instead of riding in the new car. Captain Zelotes
declared he had hung on to that steering wheel all the forenoon and
he was afraid if he took it again his fingers would grow fast to
the rim. As they emerged from the office into the open air, he
"Al, regardin' that makin'-over business, I shouldn't be surprised
if it was a kind of--er--mutual thing between you and me. We both
had some prejudices to get rid of, eh?"
"Perhaps so. I'm sure I did."
"And I'm sartin sure I did. And the war and all that came with it
put the finishin' touches to the job. When I think of what the
thousands and thousands of men did over there in those hell-holes
of trenches, men with names that run all the way from Jones and
"Yes, and Whiskervitch and the land knows what more. When I think
of that I'm ready to take off my hat to 'em and swear I'll never be
so narrow again as to look down on a feller because he don't happen
to be born in Ostable County. There's only one thing I ask of 'em,
and that is that when they come here to live--to stay--under our
laws and takin' advantage of the privileges we offer 'em--they'll
stop bein' Portygees or Russians or Polacks or whatever they used
to be or their folks were, and just be Americans--like you, Al."
"That's what we must work for now, Grandfather. It's a big job,
but it must be done."
They walked on in silence for a time. Then the captain said:
"It's a pretty fine country, after all, ain't it, Albert?"
Albert looked about him over the rolling hills, the roofs of the
little town, the sea, the dunes, the pine groves, the scene which
had grown so familiar to him and which had become in his eyes so
"It is MY country," he declared, with emphasis.
His grandfather caught his meaning.
"I'm glad you feel that way, son," he said, "but 'twasn't just
South Harniss I meant then. I meant all of it, the whole United
States. It's got its faults, of course, lots of 'em. And if I was
an Englishman or a Frenchman I'd probably say it wasn't as good as
England or France, whichever it happened to be. That's all right;
I ain't findin' any fault with 'em for that--that's the way they'd
ought to feel. But you and I, Al, we're Americans. So the rest of
the world must excuse us if we say that, take it by and large, it's
a mighty good country. We've planned for it, and worked for it,
and fought for it, and we know. Eh?"
"Yes. We know."
"Yes. And no howlin', wild-eyed bunch from somewhere else that
haven't done any of these things are goin' to come here and run it
their way if we can help it--we Americans; eh?"
Alberto Miguel Carlos Speranza, American, drew a long breath.
"No!" he said, with emphasis.
"You bet! Well, unless I'm mistaken, I smell salt fish and potatoes,
which, accordin' to Cape Cod notion, is a good American dinner.
I don't know how you feel, Al, but I'm hungry."