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  • 1915
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by his cussin’ instead of a stove. ‘Most always cussin’, he was– cussin’ and groanin’.”

Thankful was silent. Emily said: “Groaning? You mean he groaned when he was ill?”

“Yes, and when he was well, too. A habit of his, groanin’ was. I don’t know why he done it–see himself in the lookin’-glass, maybe; that was enough to make anybody groan. He’d groan in his sleep–or snore–or both. He was the noisiest sleeper ever I set up with. Shall we go upstairs?”

The narrow front stairs creaked as loudly in the daytime as they had on the previous night, but the long hall on the upper floor was neither dark nor terrifying. Nevertheless it was with just a suspicion of dread that Mrs. Barnes approached the large room at the end of the hall and the small one adjoining it. Her common- sense had returned and she was naturally brave, but an experience such as hers had been is not forgotten in a few hours. However, she was determined that no one should know her feelings; therefore she was the first to enter the little room.

“Here’s where Laban bunked,” said the captain. “You’d think with all the big comf’table bedrooms to choose from he wouldn’t pick out this two-by-four, would you? But he did, probably because nobody else would. He was a contrary old rooster, and odd as Dick’s hat- band.”

Thankful was listening, although not to their guide’s remarks. She was listening for sounds such as she had heard–or thought she had heard–on the occasion of her previous visit to that room. But there were no such sounds. There was the bed, the patchwork comforter, the chair and the pictures on the walls, but when she approached that bed there came no disturbing groans. And, by day, the memory of her fright seemed absolutely ridiculous. For at least the tenth time she solemnly resolved that no one should ever know how foolish she had been.

Emily uttered an exclamation and pointed.

“Why, Auntie!” she cried. “Isn’t that–where did that lantern come from?”

Captain Obed looked where she was pointing. He stepped forward and picked up the overturned lantern.

“That’s Darius Holt’s lantern, I do believe,” he declared. “The one Winnie S. was makin’ such a fuss about last night. How in the nation did it get up here?”

Thankful laughed. “I brought it up,” she said. “I come on a little explorin’ cruise when Emily dropped asleep on that sittin’- room lounge, but I hadn’t much more’n got in here when the pesky thing went out. You ought to have seen me hurryin’ along that hall to get down before you woke up, Emily. No, come to think of it, you couldn’t have seen me–’twas too dark to see anything. . . . Well,” she added, quickly, in order to head off troublesome questioning, “we’ve looked around here pretty well. What else is there to see?”

They visited the garret and the cellar; both were spacious and not too clean.

“If I ever come here to live,” declared Thankful, with decision, “there’ll be some dustin’ and sweepin’ done, I know that.”

Emily looked at her in surprise.

“Come here to live!” she repeated. “Why, Auntie, are you thinking of coming here to live?”

Her cousin’s answer was not very satisfactory. “I’ve been thinkin’ a good many things lately,” she said. “Some of ’em was even more crazy than that sounds.”

The inside of the house having been thus thoroughly inspected they explored the yard and the outbuildings. The barn was a large one, with stalls for two horses and a cow and a carriage-room with the remnants of an old-fashioned carryall in it.

“This is about the way it used to be in Cap’n Abner’s day,” said Captain Obed. “That carryall belonged to your uncle, the cap’n, Mrs. Barnes. The boys have had it out for two or three Fourth of July Antiques and Horribles’ parades; ‘twon’t last for many more by the looks of it.”

“And what,” asked Thankful, “is that? It looks like a pigsty.”

They were standing at the rear of the house, which was built upon a slope. Under the washshed, which adjoined the kitchen, was a rickety door. Beside that door was a boarded enclosure which extended both into the yard and beneath the washshed.

Captain Bangs laughed. “You’ve guessed it, first crack,” he said. “It is a pigpen. Some of Laban’s doin’s, that is. He used to keep a pig and ’twas too much trouble to travel way out back of the barn to feed it, so Labe rigged up this contraption. That door leads into the potato cellar. Labe fenced off half the cellar to make a stateroom for the pig. He thought as much of that hog as if ’twas his own brother, and there WAS a sort of family likeness.”

Thankful snorted. “A pigsty under the house!” she said. “Well, that’s all I want to know about THAT man!”

As they were returning along the foot-path by the bluff Captain Obed, who had been looking over his shoulder, suddenly stopped.

“That’s kind of funny,” he said.

“What?” asked Emily.

“Oh, nothin’, I guess. I thought I caught a sight of somebody peekin’ around the back of that henhouse. If ’twas somebody he dodged back so quick I couldn’t be sure. Humph! I guess I was mistaken, or ’twas just one of Solon Taylor’s young ones. Solon’s a sort of–sort of stevedore at the Colfax place. Lives there and takes care of it while the owners are away. No-o; no, I don’t see nobody now.”

Thankful was silent during the homeward walk. When she and Miss Howes were alone in their room, she said:

“Emily, are you real set on gettin’ back to South Middleboro tonight?”

“No, Auntie. Why?”

“Well, if you ain’t I think I’d like to stay over another day. I’ve got an idea in my head and, such a thing bein’ kind of unusual, I’d like to keep company with it for a spell. I’ll tell you about it by and by; probably ‘twon’t come to anything, anyway.”

“But do you think we ought to stay here, as Miss Parker’s guests? Wouldn’t it be–“

“Of course it would. We’ll go over to that hotel, the one we started for in the first place. Judgin’ from what I hear of that tavern it’ll be wuth experiencin’; and–and somethin’ may come of that, too.”

She would not explain further, and Emily, knowing her well, did not press the point.

Hannah Parker protested volubly when her “company” declared its intention of going to the East Wellmouth Hotel.

“Of course you shan’t do no such thing,” she declared. “The idea! It’s no trouble at all to have you, and that hotel really ain’t fit for such folks as you to stay at. Mrs. Bacon, from Boston, stayed there one night in November and she pretty nigh famished with the cold, to say nothin’ of havin’ to eat huckleberry preserves for supper two nights runnin’. Course they had plenty of other things in the closet, but they’d opened a jar of huckleberries, so they had to be et up afore they spiled. That’s the way they run THAT hotel. And Mrs. Bacon is eastern Massachusetts delegate from the State Grange. She’s Grand Excited Matron. Just think of treatin’ her that way! Well, where’ve you been all the forenoon?”

The question was addressed to her brother, who entered the house by the side door at that moment. Kenelm seemed a trifle confused.

“I–I been lookin’ for that umbrella, Hannah,” he explained. “I knew I must have left it somewheres ’cause–’cause, you see I–I took it out with me last night and–and–“

“And come home without it. It wouldn’t take a King Solomon to know that. Did you find it?”

Kenelm’s embarrassment appeared to increase.

“Well,” he stammered, “I ain’t exactly found it–but–“

“But what?”

“I–I’m cal’latin’ to find it, Hannah.”

“Yes, I know. You’re cal’latin’ to get to Heaven some time or other, I s’pose, but if the path is as narrow and crooked as they say ’tis I should he scared if I was you. You’ll find a way to lose it, if there is one. Oh, dear me!” with a sudden change to a tone almost pleading. “Be you goin’ to smoke again?”

Kenelm’s reply was strange for him. He scratched a match and lit his pipe with calm deliberation.

“I’m cal’latin’ to,” he said, cheerfully. And his sister, to the surprise of Mrs. Barnes and Emily, did not utter another word of protest.

Captain Obed volunteered to accompany them to the hotel and to the store of Mr. Badger. On the way Thankful mentioned Mr. Parker’s amazing independence in the matter of the pipe.

The captain chuckled. “Yes,” he said, “Kenelm smokes when he wants to, and sometimes when he don’t, I guess, just to keep his self- respect. Smokin’ is one p’int where he beat out Hannah. It’s quite a yarn, the way he done it is. Some time I’ll tell it to you, maybe.”

The hotel–it was kept by Darius Holt, father of Winnie S.–was no more inviting than Miss Parker’s and Captain Bangs’ hints had led them to expect. But Thankful insisted on engaging a room for the night and on returning there for dinner, supper and breakfast the following day.

“After that, we’ll see,” she said. “Now let’s go and make a call on that rent collector of mine.”

Mr. Badger was surprised to meet the owner of the Barnes house, surprised and a bit taken aback, so it seemed to Mrs. Barnes and her cousin. He was very polite, almost obsequiously so, and his explanations concerning the repairs which he had found it necessary to make and the painting which he had had done were lengthy if not convincing.

As they left him, smiling and bowing in the doorway of his store, Thankful shook her head. When they were out of earshot she said:

“Hum! The paint he says he put on that precious property of mine don’t show as much as you’d expect, but he used enough butter and whitewash this morning to make up. He’s a slick party, that Mr. Badger is, or I miss my guess. His business arithmetic don’t go much further than addition. Everything in creation added to one makes one and he’s the one. Mr. Chris Badger’s got jobs enough, accordin’ to his sign. He won’t starve if he don’t collect rents for me any more.”

The hotel dinner was neither bountiful nor particularly well cooked. The Holts joined them at table and Winnie S. talked a good deal. He expressed much joy at the recovery of his lantern.

“But when I see you folks in that house last night,” he said, “I thought to myself, ‘Judas priest!’ thinks I. ‘Them women has got more spunk than I’ve got.’ Gettin’ into a house like that all alone in the dark–Whew! Judas priest! I wouldn’t do it!”

“Why not?” asked Emily.

“Oh, just ’cause I wouldn’t, I suppose. Now I don’t believe in such things, of course, but old Laban he did die there. I never heard nothin’, but they tell me–“

“Rubbish!” broke in Mr. Holt, Senior. “‘Tain’t nothin’ but fool yarns, the whole of it. Take an old house, a hundred year old same as that is, and shut her up and ’tain’t long afore folks do get to pretendin’ they hear things. I never heard nothin’. Have some more pie, Miss Howes? Huh! There AIN’T no more, is there!”

After dinner Emily retired to her room for a nap. She did so under protest, declaring that she was not tired, but Thankful insisted.

“If you ain’t tired now you will be when the excitement’s over,” she said. “My conscience is plaguin’ me enough about fetchin’ you on this cruise, as it is. Just take it as easy as you can, Emily. Lie down and rest, and please me.”

So Emily obeyed orders and Mrs. Barnes, after drawing the curtains and asking over and over again if her cousin was sure she was comfortable, went out. It was late in the afternoon when she returned.

“I’ve been talkin’ until my face aches,” she declared. “And my mind is about made up to do–to do what may turn out to be the craziest thing I ever DID do. I’ll tell you the whole thing after supper, Emily. Let’s let my tongue have a vacation till then.”

And, after supper, which, by the way, was no better than the dinner, she fulfilled her promise. They retired to the bedroom and Thankful, having carefully closed the windows and door and hung a towel over the keyhole, told of her half-formed plan.

“Emily,” she began, “I presume likely you’ll feel that you’d ought to go back home tomorrow? Yes, I knew you’d feel that way. Well, I ain’t goin’ with you. I’ve made up my mind to stay here for a few days longer. Now I’ll tell you why.

“You see, Emily,” she went on, “my comin’ down here to East Wellmouth wa’n’t altogether for the fun of lookin’ at the heirloom Uncle Abner left me. The first thing I wanted to do was see it, but when I had seen it, and if it turned out to be what I hoped it might be, there was somethin’ else. Emily, Mrs. Pearson’s dyin’ leaves me without a job. Oh, of course I know I could ‘most likely get another chance at nursin’ or keepin’ house for somebody, but, to tell you the truth, I’m gettin’ kind of tired of that sort of thing. Other folks’ houses are like other folks’ ailments; they don’t interest you as much as your own do. I’m sick of askin’ somebody else what they want for dinner; I’d like to get my own dinner, or, at least, if somebody else is to eat with me, I want to decide myself what they’ll have to eat. I want to run my own house once more afore I die. And it seems–yes, it seems to me as if here was the chance; nothin’ but a chance, and a risky one, but a chance just the same. Emily, I’m thinkin’ of fixin’ up Uncle Abner’s old rattletrap and openin’ a boardin’-house for summer folks in it.

“Yes, yes; I know,” she continued, noticing the expression on her companion’s face. “There’s as much objection to the plan as there is slack managin’ in this hotel, and that’s some consider’ble. Fust off, it’ll cost money. Well; I’ve saved a little money and those cranberry bog shares Mrs. Pearson left me will sell for two thousand at least. That would be enough, maybe, if I wanted to risk it all, but I don’t. I’ve got another scheme. This property of mine down here is free and clear, but, on account of its location and the view, Cap’n Bangs tells me it’s worth consider’ble more than I thought it was. I believe–yes, I do believe I could put a mortgage on it for enough to pay for the fixin’ over, maybe more.”

Emily interrupted.

“But, Auntie,” she said, “a mortgage is a debt, isn’t it? A debt that must be paid. And if you borrow from a stranger–“

“Just a minute, Emily. Course a mortgage is a debt, but it’s a debt on the house and land and, if worse comes to worst, the house and land can go to pay for it. And I don’t mean to borrow from a stranger, if I can help it. I’ve got a relation down here on the Cape, although he’s a pretty fur-off, round-the-corner relation, third cousin, or somethin’ like that. His name’s Solomon Cobb and he lives over to Trumet, about nine mile from here, so Cap’n Bangs says. And he and Uncle Abner used to sail together for years. He was mate aboard the schooner when Uncle Abner died on a v’yage from Charleston home. This Cobb man is a tight-fisted old bachelor, they say, but his milk of human kindness may not be all skimmed. And, anyhow, he does take mortgages; that’s the heft of his business–I got that from the cap’n without tellin’ him what I wanted to know for.”

Miss Howes smiled.

“You and Captain Bangs have been putting your heads together, I see,” she said.

“Um–hm. And his head ain’t all mush and seeds like a pumpkin, if I’m any judge. The cap’n tells me that east Wellmouth needs a good summer boardin’-house. This–this contraption we’re in now is the nighest thing there is to it, and that’s as far off as dirt is from soap; you can see that yourself. ‘Cordin’ to Cap’n Bangs, lots and lots of city people would come here summers if there was a respectable, decent place to go to. Now, Emily, why can’t I give ’em such a place? Seems to me I can. Anyhow, if I can mortgage the place to Cousin Sol Cobb I think–yes, I’m pretty sure I shall try. Now what do you think? Is your Aunt Thankful Barnes losin’ her sense–always providin’ she’s ever had any to lose–or is she gettin’ to be a real business woman at last?”

Emily’s reply was at first rather doubtful. She raised one objection after the other, but Mrs. Barnes was always ready with an answer. It was plain that she had looked at her plan from every angle. And, at last, Miss Howes, too, became almost enthusiastic.

“I do believe,” she said, “it may turn out to be a splendid thing for you, Auntie. At least, I’m sure you will succeed if anyone can. Oh dear!” wistfully. “I only wish it were possible for me to stay here and help with it all. But I can’t–I can’t. Mother and the children need the money and I must go back to my school.”

Thankful nodded. “Yes,” she admitted, “I suppose likely you must, for the present. But–but if it SHOULD be a go and I SHOULD see plainer sailin’ ahead, then I’d need somebody to help manage, somebody younger and more up-to-date than I am. And I know mighty well who I shall send for.”

They talked for a long time, but at last, after they were in bed and the lamp was extinguished, Emily said:

“I hate to go back and leave you here, Auntie; indeed I do. I shall be so interested and excited I shall scarcely be able to wait for your letters. You will write just as soon as you have seen this Mr. Cobb, won’t you?”

“Yes, sartin sure I will. I know it’s goin’ to be hard for you to go and leave me, Emily, but I shan’t be havin’ a Sunday-school picnic, exactly, myself. From what I used to hear about Cousin Solomon, unless he’s changed a whole lot since, gettin’ a dollar from him won’t be as easy as pullin’ a spoon out of a kittle of soft-soap. I’ll have to do some persuadin’, I guess. Wish my tongue was as soothin’-syrupy as that Mr. Badger’s is. But I’m goin’ to do my best. And if talkin’ won’t do it I’ll–I swear I don’t know as I shan’t give him ether. Maybe he’d take THAT if he could get it for nothin’. Good night.”

CHAPTER V

“Well,” said Thankful, with a sigh, “she’s gone, anyhow. I feel almost as if I’d cut my anchor rope and was driftin’ out of sight of land. It’s queer, ain’t it, how you can make up your mind to do a thing, and then, when you’ve really started to do it, almost wish you hadn’t. Last night–yes, and this mornin’–I was as set on carryin’ through this plan of mine as a body could be, but just now, when I saw Emily get aboard those cars, it was all I could do to keep from goin’ along with her.”

Captain Obed nodded. “Sartin,” he agreed. “That’s natural enough. When I was a youngster I was forever teasin’ to go to sea. I thought my dad was meaner than a spiled herrin’ to keep on sayin’ no when I said yes. But when he did say yes and I climbed aboard the stagecoach to start for Boston, where my ship was, I never was more homesick in my life. I was later on, though–homesick and other kinds.”

They were standing on the station platform at Wellmouth Centre, and the train which was taking Emily back to South Middleboro was a rapidly moving, smoking blur in the distance. The captain, who seemed to have taken a decided fancy to his prospective neighbor and her young relative, had come with them to the station. Thankful had hired a horse and “open wagon” at the livery stable in East Wellmouth and had intended engaging a driver as well, but Captain Bangs had volunteered to act in that capacity.

“I haven’t got much to do this mornin’,” he said. “Fact is, I generally do have more time on my hands than anything else this season of the year. Later on, when I put out my fish weirs, I’m pretty busy, but now I’m a sort of ‘longshore loafer. You’re figurin’ to go to Trumet after you’ve seen Miss Emily leave the dock, you said, didn’t you? Well, I’ve got an errand of my own in Trumet that might as well be done now as any time. I’ll drive you over and back if you’re willin’ to trust the vessel in my hands. I don’t set up to be head of the Pilots’ Association when it comes to steerin’ a horse, but I cal’late I can handle any four-legged craft you’re liable to charter in East Wellmouth.”

His offer was accepted and so far he had proved a competent and able helmsman. Now, Miss Howes having been started on her homeward way, the next port of call was to be the office of Mr. Solomon Cobb at Trumet.

During the first part of the drive Thankful was silent and answered only when spoken to. The parting with Emily and the sense of heavy responsibility entailed by the project she had in mind made her rather solemn and downcast. Captain Obed, noticing this, and suspecting the cause, chatted and laughed, and after a time his passenger seemed to forget her troubles and to enjoy the trip.

They jogged up the main street of Trumet until they reached the little three-cornered “square” which is the business center of the village. Next beyond the barbershop, which is two doors beyond the general store and postoffice, was a little one-story building, weather-beaten and badly in need of paint. The captain steered his “craft” up to the sidewalk before this building and pulled up.

“Whoa!” he ordered, addressing the horse. Then, turning to Thankful, he said:

“Here you are, ma’am. This is Sol Cobb’s place.”

Mrs. Barnes looked at the little building. Its exterior certainly was not inviting. The windows looked as if they had not been washed for weeks, the window shades were yellow and crooked, and one of the panes of glass in the front door was cracked across. Thankful had not seen her “Cousin Solomon” for years, not since she was a young woman, but she had heard stories of his numerous investments and business prosperity, and she could scarcely believe this dingy establishment was his.

“Are you sure, Cap’n Bangs?” she faltered. “This can’t be the Solomon Cobb I mean. He’s well off and it don’t seem as if he would be in an office like this–if ’tis an office,” she added. “It looks more like a henhouse to me. And there’s no signs anywhere.”

The captain laughed. “Signs cost money,” he said. “It takes paint to make a sign, same as it does to keep a henhouse lookin’ respectable. This is the only Sol Cobb in Trumet, fur’s I ever heard, and he’s well off, sartin. He ought to be; I never heard of him lettin’ go of anything he got hold of. Maybe you think I’m talkin’ pretty free about your relation, Mrs. Barnes,” he added, apologetically. “I hadn’t ought to, I suppose, but I’ve had one or two little dealin’s with Sol, one time or ‘nother, and I–well, maybe I’m prejudiced. Excuse me, won’t you? He may be altogether different with his own folks.”

Thankful was still staring at the dubious and forbidding front door.

“It doesn’t seem as if it could be,” she said. “But if you say so of course ’tis.”

“Yes, ma’am, I guess ’tis. That’s Sol Cobb’s henhouse and the old rooster is in, judgin’ by the signs. Those are his rubbers on the step. Wearin’ rubbers winter or summer is a habit of his. Humph! I’m talkin’ too much again. You’re goin’ in, I suppose, ma’am?”

Thankful threw aside the carriage robe and prepared to clamber from the wagon.

“I surely am,” she declared. “That’s what I came way over here for.”

The captain sprang to the ground and helped her to alight.

“I’ll be right across the road at the store there,” he said. “I’ll be on the watch when you came out. I–I–“

He hesitated. Evidently there was something else he wished to say, but he found the saying difficult. Thankful noticed the hesitation.

“Yes, what was it, Cap’n Bangs?” she asked.

Captain Obed fidgeted with the reins.

“Why, nothin’, I guess,” he faltered. “Only–only–well, I tell you, Mrs. Barnes, if–if you was figgerin’ on doin’ any business with Mr. Cobb, any money business, I mean, and–and you’d rather go anywheres else I–I–well, I’m pretty well acquainted round here on the Cape amongst the bank folks and such and I’d be real glad to–“

Thankful interrupted. She had, after much misgiving and reluctance, made up her mind to approach her distant relative with the mortgage proposition, but to discuss that proposition with strangers was, to her mind, very different. She had mentioned the proposed mortgage to Emily, but she had told no one else, not even the captain himself. And she did not mean to tell. The boarding house plan must stand or fall according to Mr. Cobb’s reception of it.

“No, no,” she said, hastily. “It ain’t anything important–that is, very important.”

“Well, all right. You see–I only meant–excuse me, Mrs. Barnes. I hope you don’t think I meant to be nosey or interferin’ in your affairs.”

“Of course I don’t. You’ve gone to a lot of trouble on my account as ’tis, and you’ve been real kind.”

The captain hurriedly muttered that he hadn’t been kind at all and watched her as she walked up the short path to Mr. Cobb’s front door. Then, with a solemn shake of the head, he clinched again at the wagon seat and drove across the road to the hitching-posts before the store. Thankful opened the door of the “henhouse” and entered.

The interior of the little building was no mare inviting than its outside. One room, dark, with a bare floor, and with cracked plastered walls upon which a few calendars and an ancient map were hanging. There was a worn wooden settee and two wooden armchairs at the front, near the stove, and at the rear an old-fashioned walnut desk.

At this desk in a shabby, leather-cushioned armchair, sat a little old man with scant gray hair and a fringe of gray throat whiskers. He wore steel-rimmed spectacles and over these he peered at his visitor.

“Good mornin’,” said Thankful. It seemed to her high time that someone said something, and the little man had not opened his lips. He did not open them even now.

“Um,” he grunted, and that was all.

“Are you Mr. Solomon Cobb?” she asked. She knew now that he was; he had changed a great deal since she had last seen him, but his eyes had not changed, and he still had the habit she remembered, that of pulling at his whiskers in little, short tugs as if trying to pull them out. “Like a man hauling wild carrots out of a turnip patch,” she wrote Emily when describing the interview.

He did not answer the question. Instead, after another long look, he said:

“If you’re sellin’ books, I don’t want none. Don’t use ’em.”

This was so entirely unexpected that Mrs. Barnes was, for the moment, confused and taken aback.

“Books!” she repeated, wonderingly. “I didn’t say anything about books. I asked you if you was Mr. Cobb.”

Another look. “If you’re sellin’ or peddlin’ or agentin’ or anything I don’t want none,” said the little man. “I’m tellin’ you now so’s you can save your breath and mine. I’ve got all I want.”

Thankful looked at him and his surroundings. This ungracious and unlooked for reception began to have its effect upon her temper; as she wrote Emily in the letter, her “back fin began to rise.” It was on the tip of her tongue to say that, judging by appearances, he should want a good many things, politeness among others. But she did not say it.

“I ain’t a peddler or a book agent,” she declared, crisply. “When I ask you to buy, seems to me ‘twould be time enough to say no. If you’re Solomon Cobb, and I know you are, I’ve come to see you on business.”

The word “business” had an effect. Mr. Cobb swung about in his chair and regarded her fixedly. There was a slight change in his tone.

“Business, hey?” he repeated. “Well, I’m a business man, ma’am. What sort of business is it you’ve got?”

Thankful did not answer the question immediately. Instead she walked nearer to the desk.

“Yes,” she said, slowly, “you’re Solomon Cobb. I should know you anywhere now. And I ain’t seen you for twenty year. I presume likely you don’t know me.”

The man of business stared harder than ever. He took off his spectacles, rubbed them with his handkerchief, put them on and stared again.

“No, ma’am, I don’t,” he said. “You don’t live in Trumet, I know that. You ain’t seen me for twenty year, eh? Twenty year is quite a spell. And yet there’s somethin’ sort of–sort of familiar about you, now that I look closer. Who be you?”

“My name is Thankful Barnes–now. It didn’t used to be. When you knew me ’twas Thankful Cahoon. My grandmother, on my father’s side, was your mother’s own cousin. Her name was Matilda Myrick. That makes you and me sort of distant relations, Mr. Cobb.”

If she expected this statement to have the effect of making the little man more cordial she was disappointed. In fact, if it had any effect at all, it was the opposite, judging by his manner and expression. His only comments on the disclosure of kinship were a “Humph!” and a brief “Want to know!” He stared at Thankful and she at him. Then he said:

“Well?”

Mrs. Barnes was astonished.

“Well?” she repeated. “What’s well? What do you mean by that?”

“Nothin’s I know of. You said you came to see me about some business or other. What sort of business?”

“I came to see you about gettin’ some money. I need some money just now and–“

Solomon interrupted her.

“Humph!” he grunted. “I cal’lated as much.”

“You cal’lated it! For the land sakes–why?”

“Because you begun by sayin’ you was a relation of mine. I’ve got a good many relations floatin’ around loose and there ain’t nary one of ’em ever come to see me unless ’twas to get money. If I give money to all my relations that asked for it I’d be a dum sight poorer’n I be now.”

Thankful was by this time thoroughly angry.

“Look here,” she snapped. “If I’d come to you expectin’ you to GIVE me any money I’d be an idiot as well as a relation. Far’s that last part goes I ain’t any prouder of it than you are.”

This pointed remark had no more effect than the statement of relationship. Mr. Cobb was quite unruffled.

“You came to see me,” he said, “and you ain’t come afore for twenty year–you said so. Now, when you do come, you want money, you said that, too.”

“Well, what of it?”

“Nothin’ of it, ‘special. Only when a party comes to me and commences by sayin’ he or she’s a relation I know what’s comin’ next. Relations! Humph! My relations never done much for me.”

Thankful’s fingers twitched. “‘Cordin’ to all accounts you never done much for them, either,” she declared. “You don’t even ask ’em to sit down. Well, you needn’t worry so far’s I’m concerned. Good-by.”

She was on her way out of the office, but he called her back.

“Hi, hold on!” he called. “You ain’t told me what that business was yet. Come back! You–you can set down, if you want to.”

Thankful hesitated. She was strongly tempted to go and never return. And yet, if she did, she must go elsewhere to obtain the mortgage she wished. And to whom should she go? Reluctantly she retraced her steps.

“Set down,” said Mr. Cobb, pulling forward a chair. “Now what is it you want?”

Mrs. Barnes sat down. “I’ll tell you what I don’t want,” she said with emphasis. “I don’t want you to give me any money or to lend me any, either–without it’s bein’ a plain business deal. I ain’t askin’ charity of you or anybody else, Solomon Cobb. And you’d better understand that if you and I are goin’ to talk any more.”

Mr. Cobb tugged at his whiskers.

“You’ve got a temper, ain’t you,” he declared. “Temper’s a good thing to play with, maybe, if you can afford it. I ain’t rich enough, myself. I’ve saved a good many dollars by keepin’ mine. If you don’t want me to give you nor lend you money, what do you want?”

“I want you to take a mortgage on some property I own. You do take mortgages, don’t you?”

More whisker pulling. Solomon nodded.

“I do sometimes,” he admitted; “when I cal’late they’re safe to take. Where is this property of yours?”

“Over in East Wellmouth. It’s the old Abner Barnes place. Cap’n Abner willed it to me. He was my uncle.”

And at last Mr. Cobb showed marked interest. Slowly he leaned back in his chair. His spectacles fell from his nose into his lap and lay there unheeded.

“What? What’s that you say?” he asked, sharply. “Abner Barnes was your uncle? I–I thought you said your name was Cahoon.”

“I said it used to be afore I was married, when I knew you. Afterwards I married Eben Barnes, Cap’n Abner’s nephew. That made the captain my uncle by marriage.”

Solomon’s fingers groped for his spectacles. He picked them up and took his handkerchief from his pocket. But it was his forehead he rubbed with his handkerchief, not the glasses.

“You’re–you’re Abner Barnes’ niece!” he said slowly.

“Yes–niece by marriage.”

“The one he used to talk so much about? What was her name– Patience–Temp’rance–“

“Thankful–that’s my name. I presume likely Uncle Abner did use to talk about me. He always declared he thought as much of me as if I was his own child.”

There was an interval of silence. Mr. Cobb replaced his spectacles and stared through them at his visitor. His manner was peculiar– markedly so.

“I went mate for Cap’n Abner a good many v’yages,” he said, after a moment.

“Yes, I know you did.”

“He–he told you so, I suppose.”

“Yes.”

“What else did he tell you; about–about me, I mean?”

“Why, nothin’ ‘special that I know of. Why? What was there to tell?”

“Nothin’. Nothin’ much, I guess. Abner and me was sort of–sort of chums and I didn’t know but he might have said–might have told you considerable about me. He didn’t, hey?”

“No. He told me you was his mate, that’s all.”

It may have been Thankful’s imagination, but it did seem as if her relative was a trifle relieved. But even yet he did not seem quite satisfied. He pulled at his whiskers and asked another question.

“What made you come here to me?” he asked.

“Mercy on us! I’ve told you that, haven’t I? I came to see about gettin’ a mortgage on his old place over to East Wellmouth. I knew you took mortgages–at least folks said you did–and bein’ as you was a relation I thought–“

A wave of the hand interrupted her.

“Yes, yes,” broke in Solomon, hastily. “I know that. Was that the only reason?”

“I presume likely ’twas. I did think it was a natural one and reason enough, but I guess THAT was a mistake. It looks as if ’twas.”

She made a move to rise, but he leaned forward and detained her.

“There! there!” he said. “Set still, set still. So you’re Abner Barnes’ niece?”

“My soul! I’ve told you so three times.”

“Abner’s niece! I want to know!”

“Well, I should think you might know by this time. Now about that mortgage.”

“Hey? Oh, yes–yes! You want a mortgage on Abner’s place over to East Wellmouth. Um! Well, I know the property and about what it’s wuth–which ain’t much. What are you cal’latin’ to do–live there?”

“Yes, if I can carry out the plan I’ve got in my head. I’m thinkin’ of fixin’ up that old place and livin’ in it. I’m figgerin’ to run it as a boardin’-house. It’ll cost money to put it in shape and a mortgage is the simplest way of raisin’ that money, I suppose. That’s the long and short of it.”

The dealer in mortgages appeared to hear and there was no reason why he should not have understood. But he seemed still unsatisfied, even suspicious. The whiskers received another series of pulls and he regarded Thankful with the same questioning stare.

“And you say,” he drawled, “that you come to me just because–“

“Mercy on us! If you don’t know why I come by this time, then–“

“All right, all right. I–I’m talkin’ to myself, I guess. Course you told me why you come. So you’re cal’latin’ to start a boardin’-house, eh? Risky things, boardin’-houses are. There’s a couple of hundred launched every year and not more’n ten ever make a payin’ v’yage. Let’s hear what your plan is, the whole of it.”

Fighting down her impatience Thankful went into details concerning her plan. She explained why she had thought of it and her growing belief that it might be successful. Mr. Cobb listened.

“Humph!” he grunted, when she had finished. “So Obed Bangs advised you to try it, hey? That don’t make me think no better of it, as I know of. I know Bangs pretty well.”

“Yes,” dryly; “I supposed likely you did. Anyhow, he said he knew you.”

“He did, hey? Told you some things about me, hey?”

“No, he didn’t tell me anything except that you and he had had some dealin’s. Now, Mr. Cobb, we’ve talked a whole lot and it don’t seem to me we got anywheres. If you don’t want to take a mortgage on that place–“

“Sshh! Who said I didn’t want to take it? How do I know what I want to do yet? Lord! How you women do go on! Suppose I should take a mortgage on that place–mind, I don’t say I will, but suppose I should–how would I know that the mortgage would be paid, or the interest, or anything?”

“If it ain’t paid you can foreclose when the time comes, I presume likely. As for the interest–well, I’m fairly honest, or I try to be, and that’ll be paid reg’lar if I live.”

“Ya’as. Well, fur’s honesty goes, I could run a seine through Ostable County any day in the week and load a schooner with honest folks; and there wouldn’t nary one of ’em have cash enough to pay for the wear and tear on the net. Honesty’s good policy, maybe, but it takes hard money to pay bills.”

Thankful stood up.

“All right,” she said, decidedly, “then I’ll go where they play the honest game. And you needn’t set there and weed your face any more on my account.”

Mr. Cobb rose also. “There! there!” he protested. “Don’t get het up. I don’t say I won’t take your mortgage, do I?”

“You’ve said a good deal. If you say any more of the same kind you can say it to yourself. I tell you, honest, I don’t like the way you say it.”

The owner of the “hen-house” looked as if he wished very much to retort in kind. The glare he gave his visitor prophesied direful things. But he did not retort; nor, to her surprise, did he raise his voice or order her off the premises. Instead his tone, when he spoke again, was quiet, even conciliatory.

“I–I’m sorry if I’ve said anything I shouldn’t,” he stammered. “I’m gettin’ old and–and sort of short in my talk, maybe. I–I– there’s a good many folks round here that don’t like me, ‘count of my doin’ business in a business way, ‘stead of doin’ it like the average poor fool. I suppose they’ve been talkin’ to you and you’ve got sort of prejudiced. Well, I don’t know’s I blame you for that. I shan’t hold no grudge. How much of a mortgage do you cal’late to want on Abner’s place?”

“Two thousand dollars.”

“Two thousand! . . . There, there! Hold on, hold on! Two thousand dollars is a whole lot of money. It don’t grow on every bush.”

“I know that as well as you do. If I did I’d have picked it afore this.”

“Um–hm. How long a time do you want?”

“I don’t know. Three years, perhaps.”

Solomon shook his head.

“Too long,” he said. “I couldn’t give as long a mortgage as that to anybody. No, I couldn’t do it. . . . Tell you what I will do,” he added. “I–I don’t want to act mean to a relation. I think as much of relations as anybody does. I’d like to favor you and I will if I can. You give me a week to think this over in and then I’ll let you know what I’ll do. That’s fair, ain’t it?”

Mrs. Barnes declined the offer.

“It may be fair to you,” she said, “but I can’t wait so long. I want to settle this afore I go back to South Middleboro. And I shall go back tomorrow, or the day after at the latest.”

Another session of “weeding.” Then said Mr. Cobb: “Well, all right, all right. I’ll think it over and then I’ll drive across to East Wellmouth, have another look at the property, and let you know. I’ll see you day after tomorrow forenoon. Where you stoppin’ over there?”

Thankful told him. He walked as far as the door with her.

“Hope you ain’t put out with me, ma’am,” he said. “I have to be kind of sharp and straight up and down in my dealin’s; they’d get the weather gauge on me a dozen times a day if I wa’n’t. But I’m real kind inside–to them I take a notion to. I’ll–I’ll treat you right–er–er–Cousin Thankful; you see if I don’t. I’m real glad you come to me. Good day.”

Thankful went down the path. As she reached the sidewalk she turned and looked back. The gentleman with the kind interior was standing peering at her through the cracked glass of the door. He was still tugging at his whiskers and if, as he had intimated, he had “taken a notion” to her, his expression concealed the fact wonderfully.

Captain Obed, who had evidently been on the lookout for his passenger, appeared on the platform of the store on the other side of the road. After asking if she had any other “port of call” in that neighborhood, he assisted her into the carriage and they started on their homeward trip. The captain must have filled with curiosity concerning the widow’s interview with Mr. Cobb, but beyond asking if she had seen the latter, he did not question. Thankful appreciated his reticence; the average dweller in Wellmouth–Winnie S., for instance–would have started in on a vigorous cross-examination. Her conviction that Captain Bangs was much above the average was strengthened.

“Yes,” she said, “he was there. I saw him. He’s a–a kind of queer person, I should say. Do you know him real well, Cap’n Bangs?”

The captain nodded. “Yes,” he said, “I know him about as well as anybody outside of Trumet does. I ain’t sure that anybody really knows him all the way through. Queer!” he chuckled. “Well, yes– you might say Sol Cobb was queer and you wouldn’t be strainin’ the truth enough to start a plank. He’s all that and then consider’ble.”

“What sort of a man is he?”

“Sol? Hum! Well, he’s smart; anybody that beats Sol Cobb in a trade has got to get up a long ways ahead of breakfast time. Might stay up all night and then not have more leeway than he’d be liable to need.”

“Yes, Yes, I’m sure he’s smart in business. But is he–is he a GOOD man?’

The captain hesitated before replying.

“Git dap!” he ordered, addressing the horse. “Good? Is Sol good? Well, I cal’late that depends some on what dictionary you hunt up the word in. He’s pious, sartin. There ain’t many that report on deck at the meetin’-house more reg’lar than he does. He don’t cal’late to miss a prayer-meetin’ and when there’s a revival goin’ on he’s right up front with the mourners. Folks do say that his favorite hymn is ‘I’m Glad Salvation’s Free’ and they heave out consider’ble many hints that if ‘twa’n’t free he wouldn’t have got it; but then, that’s an old joke and I’ve heard ’em say the same thing about other people.”

“But do you think he’s honest?”

“I never heard of his doin’ anything against the law. He’ll skin honesty as close as he can, there ain’t much hide left when he gets through; but I cal’late he thinks he’s honest. And maybe he is– maybe he is. It all depends on the definition, same as I said. Sol’s pious all right. I cal’late he’d sue anybody that had a doubt as to how many days Josiah went cabin passenger aboard the whale. His notion of Heaven may be a little mite hazy, although he’d probably lay consider’ble stress on the golden streets, but he’s sot and definite about t’other place. Yes, siree!” he added, reflectively, “Sol is sartin there’s a mighty uncomf’table Tophet, and that folks who don’t believe just as he does are bound there. And he don’t mean to go himself, if ‘tendin’ up to meetin’ ‘ll keep him clear.

“It’s kind of queer to me,” he went on, slowly, “to see the number of folks that make up their minds to be good–or what they call good–because they’re scared to be bad. Doin’ right because right IS right, and lettin’ the Almighty credit ’em with that, because He’s generally supposed to know it’s right full well as they do– that ain’t enough for their kind. They have to keep hollerin’ out loud how good they are so He’ll hear and won’t make any mistake in bookin’ their own particular passage. Sort of takin’ out a religious insurance policy, you might say ’twas. . . . Humph!” he added, coming out of his reverie and looking doubtfully at his companion, “I–I hope I ain’t shocked you, ma’am. I don’t mean to be irreverent, you understand. I’ve thought consider’ble about such things and I have funny ideas maybe.”

Thankful declared that she was not shocked. She had heard but little of her driver’s long dissertation. She was thinking of her interview with Mr. Cobb and the probability of his accepting her proposal and taking a mortgage on her East Wellmouth property. If he refused, what should she do then? And if he accepted and she went on to carry her plan into execution, what would be the outcome? The responsibility was heavy. She would be risking all she had in the world. If she succeeded, well and good. If she failed she would be obliged to begin all over again, to try for another position as housekeeper, perhaps to “go out nursing” once more. She was growing older; soon she would be beyond middle life and entering upon the first stages of old age. And what a lonely old age hers was likely to be! Her husband was dead; her only near relative, brother Jedediah, was–well, he might be dead also, poor helpless, dreamy incompetent. He might have died in the Klondike, providing he ever reached that far-off country, which was unlikely. He would have been but an additional burden upon her had he lived and remained at home, but he would have been company for her at least. Emily was a comfort, but she had little hope of Emily’s being able to leave her school or the family which her salary as teacher helped to support. No, she must carry her project through alone, all alone.

She spoke but seldom and Captain Obed, noticing the change in her manner and possibly suspecting the cause, did his best to divert her thoughts and cheer her. He chatted continuously, like, as he declared afterwards, “a poll parrot with its bill greased.” He changed the topic from Mr. Cobb and his piety to the prospects of good fishing in the spring, from that to the failure of the previous fall’s cranberry crop, and from that again to Kenelm Parker and his sister Hannah. And, after a time, Thankful realized that he was telling a story.

CHAPTER VI

“Takin’ other folks’ advice about your own affairs,” began Cap’n Obed, “is like a feller readin’ patent medicine circulars to find somethin’ to cure a cold. Afore he gets through his symptoms have developed into bronchitis and pneumony, with gallopin’ consumption dead ahead. You never can tell what’ll happen.

“You noticed how Hannah Parker sort of riz up when Kenelm started smokin’ yesterday? Yes, I know you did, ’cause you spoke of it. And you notice, too, how meek and lowly she laid down and give in when he kept right on doin’ it. That ain’t her usual way with Kenelm by a consider’ble sight. I told you there was quite a yarn hitched to that smokin’ business. So there is.

“Kenelm’s an old bach, you know. One time he used to work, or pretend to, because he needed the money; but his Aunt Phoebe up to Brockton died and left him four or five thousand dollars and he ain’t worked of any account since. He’s a gentleman now, livin’ on his income–and his sister.

“Hannah ain’t got but precious little money of her own, but she knows how to take care of it, which her brother don’t. She was housekeepin’ for some folks at Wapatomac, but when the inheritances landed she headed straight for East Wellmouth, rented that little house they’re in now, and took charge of Kenelm. He wa’n’t overanxious to have her do it, but that didn’t make any difference. One of her pet bugaboos was that, now her brother was well-off– ‘cordin’ to her idea of well-offness–some designin’ woman or other would marry him for his money. Down she come, first train, and she’s been all hands and the cook, yes, and paymaster–with Kenelm a sort of steerage passenger, ever since. She keeps watch over him same as the sewin’ circle does over the minister’s wife, and it’s ‘No Anchorage for Females’ around that house, I can tell you.

“Another of her special despisin’s–next to old maids and young widows–used to be tobacco smoke. We had a revival preacher in East Wellmouth that first winter and he stirred up things like a stick in a mudhole. He was young and kind of good-lookin’, with a voice like the Skakit foghorn, and he took the sins of the world in his mouth, one after the other, as you might say, and shook ’em same’s a pup would a Sunday bunnit. He laid into rum and rum sellin’, and folks fairly got in line to sign the pledge. ‘Twas ‘Come early and avoid the rush.’ Got so that Chris Badger hardly dast to use alcohol in his cigar-lighter.

“Then, havin’ dried us up, that revival feller begun to smoke us out. He preached six sermons on the evils of tobacco, and every one was hotter’n the last. Accordin’ to him, if you smoked now you’d burn later on. Lots of the men folks threw their pipes away, and took to chewin’ slipp’ry ellum.

“Now, Kenelm smoked like a peat fire. He lit up after breakfast and puffed steadily until bedtime, only puttin’ his pipe down to eat, or to rummage in his pocket for more tobacco. Hannah got him to go to one of the anti-tobacco meetin’s. He set through the whole of it, interested as could be. Then, when ’twas over, he stopped in the church entry to load up his pipe, and walked home with his sister, blowin’ rings and scratchin’ matches and talkin’ loud about how fine the sermon was. He talked all next day about that sermon; said he’d go every night if they’d let you smoke in there.

“So Hannah was set back a couple of rows, but she wa’n’t discouraged–not by a forty fathom. She got after her brother mornin’, noon and night about the smokin’ habit. The most provokin’ part of it, so she said, was that he always agreed with her.

“‘It’s ruinin’ your health,’ she’d say.

“‘Yes,’ says Kenelm, lookin’ solemn, ‘I cal’late that’s so. I’ve been feelin’ poorly for over a year now. Worries me consider’ble. Pass me that plug on the top of the clock, won’t you, Hannah?’

“Now what can you do with a feller like that?

“She couldn’t start him with fussin’ about HIS health, so she swung over on a new tack and tried her own. She said so much smoke in the house was drivin’ her into consumption, and she worked up a cough that was a reg’lar graveyard quickstep. I heard her practicin’ it once, and, I swan, there was harps and halos all through it!

“That cough made Kenelm set up and take notice; and no wonder. He listened to a hundred or so of Hannah’s earthquakes, and then he got up and pranced out of the house. When he came back the doctor was with him.

“Now, this wa’n’t exactly what his sister was lookin’ for. She didn’t want to see the doctor. But Kenelm said she’d got to have her lungs sounded right off, and he guessed they’d have to use a deep-sea lead, ’cause that cough seemed to come from the foundations. He waylaid the doctor after the examination was over and asked all kinds of questions. The doctor tried to keep a straight face, but I guess Kenelm smelt a rat.

“Anyway, Hannah coughed for a day or two more, and then her brother come totin’ in a big bottle of med’cine.

“‘There!’ he says. ‘That’ll fix you!’

“‘Where’d you get it?’ says she.

“‘Down to Henry Tubman’s,’ he says.

“‘Henry Tubman! What on earth! Why, Henry Tubman’s a horse doctor!’

“‘I know he is,’ says Kenelm, solemn as a roostin’ pullet, ‘but we’ve been fishin’ with the wrong bait. ‘Tain’t consumption that’s ailin’ you, Hannah; you’ve got the heaves.’

“So Hannah didn’t cough much more, ’cause, when she did, Kenelm would trot out the bottle of horse med’cine, and chuck overboard a couple of barrels of sarcasm. She tried openin’ all the windows, sayin’ she needed fresh air, but he locked himself up in the kitchen and filled that so full of smoke that you had to navigate it by dead reckonin’–couldn’t see to steer. So she was about ready to give up; somethin’ that anybody but a stubborn critter like her would have done long afore.

“But one afternoon she was down to the sewin’ circle, and the women folks there, havin’ finished pickin’ to pieces the characters of the members not on hand, started in to go on about the revivals and how much good they was doin’. ‘Most everybody had some relation, if ‘twa’n’t nothin’ more’n a husband, that had stopped smokin’ and chewin’. Everybody had some brand from the burnin’ to brag about– everybody but Hannah; she could only set there and say she’d done her best, but that Kenelm still herded with the goats.

“They was all sorry for her, but the only one that had any advice to give was Abbie Larkin, she that was Abbie Dillin’ham ‘fore she married old man Larkin. Larkin had one foot in the grave when she married him, and she managed to crowd the other one in inside of a couple of years afterward. Abbie is a widow, of course, and she is middlin’ good-lookin’ and dresses pretty gay. Larkin left her a little money, but I guess she’s run through most of it by this time. The circle folks was dyin’ to talk about her, but she was always on hand so early that they hardly ever got a chance.

“Well, after supper was over, Abbie gets Hannah over in a corner, and says she:

“‘Miss Parker,’ says she, ‘here’s an advertisement I cut out of the paper and saved a-purpose for you. I want you to look at it, but you mustn’t tell anybody I gave it to you.’

“So Hannah unfurls the piece of newspaper, and ’twas an advertisement of ‘Kill-Smudge,’ the sure cure for the tobacco habit. You could give it to the suff’rer unbeknownst to him, in his tea or soup or somethin’, and in a couple of shakes he’d no more smoke than he’d lend money to his brother-in-law, or do any other ridic’lous thing. There was testimonials from half a dozen women that had tried it, and everyone showed a clean bill.

“Hannah read the advertisement through twice. ‘Well, I never!’ says she.

“‘Yes,’ says Abbie, and smiles.

“‘Of course,’ says Hannah, lookin’ scornful, ‘I wouldn’t think of tryin’ the stuff, but I’ll just take this home and read it over. It’s so curious,’ she says.

“‘Ain’t it?’ says Abbie, and smiles some more.

“So that night, when Kenelm sat by the stove, turnin’ the air blue, his sister set at the other side of the table with that advertisement hid behind the Wellmouth Advocate readin’ and thinkin’. She wrote a letter afore she went to bed and bought a dollar’s worth of stamps at the postoffice next day. And for a week she watched the mails the way one of these city girls does when the summer’s ‘most over and eight or nine of her fellers have finished their vacations and gone back to work.

“About ten days after that Kenelm begins to feel kind of off his feed, so’s to speak. Somethin’ seemed to ail him and he couldn’t make out what ’twas. They’d had a good many cranberries on their bog that year and Hannah’d been cookin’ ’em up fast so’s they wouldn’t spile. But one night she brings on a cranberry pie, and Kenelm turned up his nose at it.

“‘More of that everlastin’ sour stuff!’ he snorts. ‘I’ve et cranb’ries till my stomach’s puckered up as if it worked with a gath’rin’ string. Take it away! I don’t want it!’

“‘But, Kenelm, you’re always so fond of cranb’ry pie.’

“‘Me? It makes me shrivel just to look at it. Pass that sugar bowl, so’s I can sweeten ship.’

“Next day ’twas salt fish and potatoes that wa’n’t good. He’d been teasin’ for a salt-fish dinner for ever so long, so Hannah’d fixed up this one just to please him, but he swallered two or three knifefuls and then looked at her kind of sad and mournful.

“‘To think,’ says he, ‘that I’ve lived all these years to be p’isoned fin’lly! And by my own sister, too! Well, that’s what comes of bein’ wuth money. Give me my pipe and let me forget my troubles.’

“‘Course this kind of talk made Hannah mad, but she argued that ’twas the Kill-Smudge gettin’ in its work, so she put a double dose into his teacup that night, and trusted in Providence.

“And the next day she noticed that he swallered hard between every pull at his pipe, and when, at last, he jumped out of his chair, let out a swear word and hove his pipe at the cat, she felt consider’ble encouraged. She thought ’twas her duty, however, to warn him against profane language, but the answer she got was so much more prayerful than his first remarks, that she come about and headed for the sittin’-room quick.

“Well, to make a long yarn short, the Kill-Smudge done the bus’ness. Kenelm stuck to smokin’ till he couldn’t read a cigar sign without his ballast shiftin’, and then he give it up. And–as you might expect from that kind of a man–he was more down on tobacco than the Come-Outer parson himself. He even got up in revival meetin’ and laid into it hammer and tongs. He was the best ‘horrible example’ they had, and Hannah was so proud of him that she couldn’t sleep nights. She still stuck to the Kill-Smudge, though–layin’ in a fresh stock every once in a while–and she dosed the tea about every other day, so’s her brother wouldn’t run no danger of relapse. I’m ‘fraid Kenelm didn’t get any too much joy out of his meals.

“And so everything was all right–‘cordin’ to Hannah’s reckonin’– and it might have stayed all right if she hadn’t took that trip to Washington. Etta Ellis was goin’ on a three weeks’ cut-rate excursion, and she talked so much about it, that Hannah got reckless and fin’lly said she’d go, too.

“The only thing that worried her was leavin’ Kenelm. She hated to do it dreadful, but he seemed tame enough and promised to change his flannels if it got cold, and to feed the cat reg’lar, and to stay to home, and one thing and another, so she thought ’twas safe to chance it. She cooked up a lot of pie and frosted cake, and wrote out a kind of time-table for him to eat and sleep by, and then cried and kissed him good-by.

“The first three days after she was gone Kenelm stayed ’round the house and turned in early. He was feelin’ fine, but ’twas awful lonesome. The fourth day, after breakfast, he had a cravin’ to smoke. Told me afterward it seemed to him as if he MUST smoke or die of the fidgets. At last he couldn’t stand it no longer, but turned Hannah’s time-table to the wall and went out for a walk. He walked and walked and walked. It got ‘most dinner time and he had an appetite that he hadn’t had afore for months.

“Just as he was turnin’ into the road by the schoolhouse who should come out on the piazza of the house on the corner but Abbie Larkin. She’d left the door open, and the smell of dinner that blew through it was tantalizin’. Abbie was dressed in her Sunday togs and her hair was frizzed till she couldn’t wrinkle her forehead. If the truth was known, I cal’late she’d seen Kenelm go past her house on the way downtown and was layin’ for him when he come back, but she acted dreadful surprised.

“‘Why, Mr. Parker!’ says she. ‘how DO you do? Seems’s if I hadn’t seen you for an age! Ain’t it dreadful lonesome at your house now your sister’s away?’

“Kenelm colored up some–he always h’isted danger signals when women heave in sight–and agreed that ’twas kind of poky bein’ all alone. Then they talked about the weather, and about the price of coal, and about the new plush coat Cap’n Jabez Bailey’s wife had just got, and how folks didn’t see how she could afford it with Jabez out of work, and so on. And all the time the smell of things cookin’ drifted through the doorway. Fin’lly Abbie says, says she:

“‘Was you goin’ home, Mr. Parker?’

“‘Yes, ma’am,’ says Kenelm. ‘I was cal’latin’ to go home and cook somethin’ for dinner.’

“‘Well, there, now!’ says Abbie. ‘I wonder why I didn’t think of it afore! Why don’t you come right in and have dinner with me? It’s ALL ready and there’s plenty for two. DO come, Mr. Parker, to please ME!’

“‘Course Kenelm said he couldn’t, and, likewise, of course, he did. ‘Twas a smashin’ dinner–chicken and mashed potatoes and mince pie, and the land knows what. He ate till he was full clear to the hatches, and it seemed to him that nothin’ ever tasted quite so good. The widow smiled and purred and colored up and said it seemed SO good to have a man at the table; seemed like the old days when Dan’l–meanin’ the late lamented–was on deck, and so forth.

“Then, when the eatin’ was over, she says, ‘I was expectin’ my cousin Benjamin down for a week or so, but he can’t come. He’s a great smoker, and I bought these cigars for him. You might as well use them afore they dry up.’

“Afore Kenelm could stop her she rummaged a handful of cigars out of the table drawer in the settin’-room.

“‘There!’ she says. ‘Light right up and be comfortable. It’ll seem just like old times. Dan’l was such a ‘smoker! Oh, my!’ and she gave a little squeal; ‘I forgot you’ve stopped smokin’.’

“Well, there was the cigars, lookin’ as temptin’ as a squid to a codfish; and there was Kenelm hankerin’ for ’em so his fingers twitched; and there was Abbie lookin’ dreadful disapp’inted, but tryin’ to make believe she wasn’t. You don’t need a spyglass to see what happened.

“‘I’d like to,’ says Kenelm, pickin’ up one of the cigars. ‘I’d like to mighty well, but’–here he bites off the end–”twouldn’t hardly do, now would it? You see–‘

“‘I see,’ says Abbie, scratchin’ a match; ‘but WE’LL never tell. We’ll have it for our secret; won’t we, Mr. Parker?’

“So that’s how Kenelm took his first tumble from grace. He told me all about it one day a good while afterward. He smoked three of the cigars afore he went home, and promised to come to supper the next afternoon.

“‘You DO look so comfortable, Mr. Parker,’ purrs Abbie, as sweet and syrupy as a molasses stopper. ‘It must be SUCH a comfort to a man to smoke. I don’t care WHAT the minister says, you can smoke here just as much as you want to! It must be pretty hard to live in a house where you can’t enjoy yourself. I shouldn’t think it would seem like home. A man like you NEEDS a good home. Why, how I do run on!’

“Oh, there ain’t really nothin’ the matter with the Widow Larkin– so fur’s smartness is concerned, there ain’t.

“And for five days more Kenelm ate his meals at Abbie’s and smoked and was happy, happier’n he’d been for months.

“Meantime, Hannah and Etta was visitin’ the President–that is to say, they was lookin’ over the White House fence and sayin’ ‘My stars!’ and ‘Ain’t it elegant!’ Nights, when the sightseein’ was over, what they did mostly was to gloat over how mean and jealous they’d make the untraveled common tribe at sewin’ circle feel when they got back home. They could just see themselves workin’ on the log-cabin quilt for the next sale, and slingin’ out little reminders like, ‘Land sakes! What we’re talkin’ about reminds me of what Etta and me saw when we was in the Congressional Libr’ry. YOU remember that, Etta?’ And that would be Etta’s hint to look cute and giggle and say, ‘Well! I should say I DID!’ And all the rest of the circlers would smile kind of unhealthy smiles and try to look as if trips to Washington wa’n’t nothin’; THEY wouldn’t go if you hired ’em to. You know the game if you’ve ever been to sewin’ circle.

“But all this plannin’ was knocked in the head by a letter that Hannah got on an afternoon about a week after she left home. It was short but there was meat in it. It said: ‘If you want to keep your brother from marryin’ Abbie Larkin you had better come home quick!’ ‘Twas signed ‘A Friend.’

“Did Hannah come home? Well, didn’t she! She landed at Orham the next night. And she done some thinkin’ on the way, too. She kept out of the way of everybody and went straight up to the house. ‘Twas dark and shut up, but the back door key was under the mat, as usual, so she got in all right. The plants hadn’t been watered for two days, at least; the clock had stopped; the cat’s saucer was licked dry as a contribution box, and the critter itself was underfoot every second, whoopin’ for somethin’ to eat. The whole thing pretty nigh broke Hannah’s heart, but she wa’n’t the kind to give up while there was a shot in the locker.

“She went to the closet and found that Kenelm’s Sunday hat and coat was gone. Then she locked the back door again and cut acrost the lots down to Abbie’s. She crept round the back way and peeked under the curtain at the settin’-room window. There set Abbie, lookin’ sweet and sugary. Likewise, there was Kenelm, lookin’ mighty comfortable, with a big cigar in his mouth and more on the table side of him. Hannah gritted her teeth, but she kept quiet.

“About ten minutes after that Chris Badger was consider’ble surprised to hear a knock at the back door of his store and to find that ’twas Hannah that had knocked.

“‘Mr. Badger,’ says Hannah, polite and smilin’, ‘I want to buy a box of the best cigars you’ve got.’

“‘Ma’am!’ says Chris, thinkin’ ’twas about time to send for the constable or the doctor–one or t’other.

“‘Yes,’ says Hannah; ‘if you please. Oh! and, Mr. Badger, please don’t tell anyone I bought ’em. PLEASE don’t, to oblige me.’

“So Chris trotted out the cigars–ten cents straight, they was–and said nothin’ to nobody, which is a faculty he has when it pays to have it.

“When Kenelm came home that night he was knocked pretty nigh off his pins to find his sister waitin’ for him. He commenced a long rigmarole about where he’d been, but Hannah didn’t ask no questions. She said that Washington was mighty fine, but home and Kenelm was good enough for her. Said the thoughts of him alone had been with her every minute, and she just HAD to cut the trip short. Kenelm wa’n’t any too enthusiastic to hear it.

“Breakfast next mornin’ was a dream. Hannah had been up since five o’clock gettin’ it ready. There was everything on that table that Kenelm liked ‘special. And it all tasted fine, and he ate enough for four. When ’twas over Hannah went to the closet and brought out a bundle.

“‘Kenelm,’ she says, ‘here’s somethin’ I brought you that’ll surprise you. I’ve noticed since I’ve been away that about everybody smokes–senators and judges, and even Smithsonian Institute folks. And when I see how much comfort they get out of it, my conscience hurt me to think that I’d deprived my brother of what he got such a sight of pleasure from. Kenelm, you can begin smokin’ again right off. Here’s a box of cigars I bought on purpose for you; they’re the kind the President smokes.’

“Which wa’n’t a bad yarn for a church member that hadn’t had any more practice than Hannah had.

“Well, Kenelm was paralyzed, but he lit up one of the cigars and found ’twas better than Abbie’s brand. He asked Hannah what she thought the church folks would say, but she said she didn’t care what they said; her travels had broadened her mind and she couldn’t cramp herself to the ideas of a little narrow place like East Wellmouth.

“Dinner that day was a bigger meal than breakfast, and two of the cigars went fine after it. Kenelm hemmed and hawed and fin’lly said that he wouldn’t be home to supper; said he’d got to go downtown and would get a bite at the Trav’lers’ Rest or somewheres. It surprised him to find that Hannah didn’t raise objections, but she didn’t, not a one. Just smiled and said, ‘All right,’ and told him to have a good time. And Abbie’s supper didn’t seem so good to him that night, and her cigars–bein’ five centers–wa’n’t in it with that Washington box.

“Hannah didn’t have dinner the next day until two o’clock, but ’twas worth waitin’ for. Turkey was twenty-three cents a pound, but she had one, and plum puddin’, too. She kept pressin’ Kenelm to have a little more, so ’twas after three when they got up from the table.

“‘Twas a rainy, drizzly afternoon and the stove felt mighty homey and cozy. So did the big rocker that Hannah transplanted from the parlor to the settin’-room. That chair had been a kind of sacred throne afore, and to set in it had been sort of sacrilegious, but there ’twas, and Kenelm didn’t object. And those President cigars certainly filled the bill.

“About half-past five Kenelm got up and looked out of the window. The rain come spattin’ against the pane and the wind whined and sounded mean. Kenelm went back to the chair again. Then he got up and took another observation. At last he goes back to the chair, stretches himself out, puts his feet against the stove, pulls at the cigar, and says he:

“‘I was cal’latin’ to go downtown on a bus’ness trip, same’s I did last night. But I guess,’ he says–‘I guess I won’t. It’s too comfort’ble here,’ says he.

“And I cal’late,” said Captain Obed, in conclusion, “that afore Hannah turned in that night she gave herself three cheers. She’d gained a tack on Abbie Larkin that had put Abbie out of the race, for that time, anyhow.”

“But who sent the ‘friend’ letter?” asked Thankful, whose thoughts had been diverted from her own troubles by hearing those of Miss Parker.

The captain laughed.

“That’s a mystery, even yet,” he said. “I’m pretty sure Hannah thinks ’twas Elvira Paine. Elvira lives acrost the road from Abbie Larkin and, bein’ a single woman with mighty little hopes of recovery, naturally might be expected to enjoy upsettin’ anybody else’s chance. But, at any rate, Mrs. Barnes, the whole thing bears out what I said at the beginnin’: takin’ other folks’ advice about your own affairs is mighty risky. I hope, if you do go ahead with your boardin’-house plan, it won’t be because I called it a good one.”

Thankful smiled and then sighed. “No,” she said, “if I go ahead with it it’ll be because I’ve made up my mind to, not on account of anybody else’s advice. I’ve steered my own course for quite a long spell and I sha’n’t signal for a pilot now. Well, here we are home again–or at East Wellmouth anyhow.”

“So we be. Better come right to Hannah’s along with me, hadn’t you? You must have had enough of the Holt Waldorf-Astory by this time.”

But Thankful insisted upon going to the hotel and there her new friend–for she had begun to think of him as that–left her. She informed him of her intention to remain in East Wellmouth for another day and a half and he announced his intention of seeing her again before she left.

“Just want to keep an eye on you,” he said. “With all of Mrs. Holt’s temptin’ meals set afore you you may get gout or somethin’ from overeatin’. Either that or Winnie S.’ll talk you deef. I feel a kind of responsibility, bein’ as I’m liable to be your next- door neighbor if that boardin’-house does start up, and I want you to set sail with a clean bill of health. If you sight a suspicious-lookin’ craft, kind of antique in build, broad in the beam and makin’ heavy weather up the hills–if you sight that kind of craft beatin’ down in this direction tomorrow you’ll know it’s me. Good day.”

Thankful lay awake for hours that night, thinking, planning and replanning. More than once she decided that she had been too hasty, that her scheme involved too great a risk and that, after all, she had better abandon it. But each time she changed her mind and at last fell asleep determining not to think any more about it, but to wait until Mr. Cobb came to accept or decline the mortgage. Then she would make a final decision.

The next day passed somehow, though it seemed to her as if it never would, and early the following forenoon came Solomon himself. The man of business was driving an elderly horse which bore a faint resemblance to its owner, being small and thin and badly in need of a hairdresser’s services. If the animal had possessed whiskers and could have tugged at them Thankful was sure it would have done it.

Solomon tugged at his own whiskers almost constantly during that forenoon. He and Mrs. Barnes visited the “Captain Abner place” and Solomon inspected every inch of its exterior. For some reason or other he absolutely refused to go inside. His conversation during the inspection was, for the most part, sniffs and grunts, and it was not until it was ended and they stood together at the gate, that he spoke to the point, and then only because his companion insisted.

“Well!” said Thankful.

Mr. Cobb “weeded.”

“Eh?” he said.

“That’s what I say–eh? What are you goin’ to do about that mortgage, Mr. Cobb?”

More weeding. Then: “Waal, I–I don’t cal’late to want to be unreasonable nor nothin’, but I ain’t real keen about takin’ no mortgage on that property; not myself, I ain’t.”

“Well, it is yourself I’m askin’ to take it. So you won’t, hey? All right; that’s all I wanted to know.”

“Now–now–now, hold on! Hold on! I ain’t sayin’ I WON’T take it. I–I’d like to be accommodatin’, ‘specially to a relation. But–“

“Never mind the relation business. I found out what you think of relations afore you found out I was one. And I ain’t askin’ accommodation. This is just plain business, seems to me. Will you let me have two thousand dollars on a mortgage on this place?”

Mr. Cobb fidgeted. “I couldn’t let you have that much,” he said. “I couldn’t. I–I–” he wrenched the next sentence loose after what seemed a violent effort, “I might let you have half of it–a thousand, say.”

But Thankful refused to say a thousand. That was ridiculous, she declared. By degrees, and a hundred at a time, Solomon raised his offer to fifteen hundred. This being the sum Mrs. Barnes had considered in the first place–and having asked for the two thousand merely because of her judgment of human nature–she announced that she would think over the offer. Then came the question of time. Here Mr. Cobb was firm. Three years–two years– he would not consider. At last he announced that he would take a one-year mortgage on the Barnes property for fifteen hundred dollars; and that was all he would do.

“And I wouldn’t do that for nobody else,” he declared. “You bein’ my relation I don’t know’s it ain’t my duty as a perfessin’ Christian to–to help you out. I hadn’t ought to afford it, but I’m willin’ to go so far.”

Thankful shook her head. “I’m glad you said, ‘PROFESSIN’ Christian.'” she observed. “Well,” drawing a long breath, “then I suppose I’ve got to say yes or no. . . . And I’ll say yes,” she added firmly. “And we’ll call it settled.”

They parted before the hotel. She was to return to South Middleboro that afternoon. Mr. Cobb was to prepare the papers and forward them for her signature, after which, upon receipt of them duly signed, he would send her the fifteen hundred dollar check.

Solomon climbed into the buggy. “Well, good-by,’ he said. “I hope you’ll do fust-rate. The interest’ll be paid regular, of course. I’m real pleased to meet you–er–Cousin Thankful. Be sure you sign them papers in the right place. Good-by. Oh–er–er– sometimes I’ll be droppin’ in to see you after you get your boardin’-house goin’. I come to East Wellmouth once in a while. Yes–yes–I’ll come and see you. You can tell me more about Captain Abner, you know. I’d–I’d like to hear what he said to you about me. Good-by.”

That afternoon, once more in the depot-wagon, which had been refitted with its fourth wheel, Thankful, on her way to the Wellmouth railway station, passed her “property.” The old house, its weather-beaten shingles a cold gray in the half-light of the mist-shrouded, sinking sun, looked lonely and deserted. A chill wind came from the sea and the surf at the foot of the bluff moaned and splashed and sighed.

Thankful sighed also.

“What’s the matter?” asked Winnie S.

“Oh, nothin’ much. I wish I was a prophet, that’s all. I’d like to be able to look ahead a year.”

Winnie S. whistled. “Judas priest!” he said. “So’d I. But if I’d see myself drivin’ this everlastin’ rig-out I’d wished I hadn’t looked. I don’t know’s I’d want to see ahead as fur’s that, after all.”

Thankful sighed again. “I don’t know as I do, either,” she admitted.

CHAPTER VII

March, so to speak, blew itself out; April came and went; May was here. And on the seventeenth of May the repairs on the “Cap’n Abner place” were completed. The last carpenter had gone, leaving his shavings and chips behind him. The last painter had spilled his last splash of paint on the sprouting grass beneath the spotless white window sills. The last paper-hanger had departed. Winnie S. was loading into what he called a “truck wagon” the excelsior and bagging in which the final consignment of new furniture had been wrapped during its journey from Boston. About the front yard Kenelm Parker was moving, rake in hand. In the kitchen Imogene, the girl from the Orphans’ Home in Boston, who had been engaged to act as “hired help,” was arranging the new pots and pans on the closet shelf and singing “Showers of Blessings” cheerfully if not tunefully.

Yes, the old “Cap’n Abner place” was rejuvenated and transformed and on the following Monday it would be the “Cap’n Abner place” no longer: it would then become the “High Cliff House” and open its doors to hoped-for boarders, either of the “summer” or “all-the- year” variety.

The name had been Emily Howes’ choice. She and Mrs. Barnes had carried on a lengthy and voluminous correspondence and the selection of a name had been left to Emily. To her also had been intrusted the selection of wallpapers, furniture and the few pictures which Thankful had felt able to afford. These were but few, for the cost of repairing and refitting had been much larger than the original estimate. The fifteen hundred dollars raised on the mortgage had gone and of the money obtained by the sale of the cranberry bog shares–Mrs. Pearson’s legacy–nearly half had gone also. Estimates are one thing and actual expenditures are another, a fact known to everyone who has either built a house or rebuilt one, and more than once during the repairing and furnishing process Thankful had repented of her venture and wished she had not risked the plunge. But, having risked it, backing out was impossible. Neither was it possible to stop half-way. As she said to Captain Obed, “There’s enough half-way decent boardin’-houses and hotels in this neighborhood now. There’s about as much need of another of that kind as there is of an icehouse at the North Pole. Either this boardin’-house of mine must be the very best there can be, price considered, or it mustn’t be at all. That’s the way I look at it.”

The captain had, of course, agreed with her. His advice had been invaluable. He had helped in choosing carpenters and painters and it was owing to his suggestion that Mrs. Barnes had refrained from engaging an East Wellmouth young woman to help in the kitchen.

“You could find one, of course,” said the captain. “There’s two or three I could think of right off now who would probably take the job, but two out of the three wouldn’t be much account anyhow, and the only one that would is Sarah Mullet and she’s engaged to a Trumet feller. Now let alone the prospect of Sarah’s gettin’ married and leavin’ you ‘most any time, there’s another reason for not hirin’ her. She’s the everlastin’est gossip in Ostable County, and that’s sayin’ somethin’. What Sarah don’t know about everybody’s private affairs she guesses and she always guesses out loud. Inside of a fortnight she’d have all you ever done and a whole lot you never thought of doin’ advertised from Race P’int to Sagamore. She’s a reg’lar talkin’ foghorn, if there was such a thing–only a foghorn shuts down in clear weather and SHE don’t shut down, day or night. Talks in her sleep, I shouldn’t wonder. If I was you, Mrs. Barnes, I wouldn’t bother with any help from ’round here. I’d hire a girl from Boston, or somewheres; then you could be skipper of your own ship.”

Thankful, after thinking the matter over, decided that the advice was good. The difficulty, of course, was in determining the “somewhere” from which the right sort of servant, one willing to work for a small wage, might be obtained. At length she wrote to a Miss Coffin, once a nurse in Middleboro but now matron of an orphans’ home in Boston. Miss Coffin’s reply was to the effect that she had, in her institution, a girl who might in time prove to be just the sort which her friend desired.

Of course [she wrote], she isn’t at all a competent servant now, but she is bright and anxious to learn. And she is a good girl, although something of a character. Her Christian name is Marguerite, at least she says it is. What her other name is goodness only knows. She has been with us now for nearly seven years. Before that she lived with and took care of a drunken old woman who said she was the girl’s aunt, though I doubt if she was. Suppose I send her to you on trial; you can send her back to us if she doesn’t suit. It would be a real act of charity to give her a chance, and I think you will like her in spite of her funny ways.

This doubtful recommendation caused Thankful to shake her head. She had great confidence in Miss Coffin’s judgment, but she was far from certain that “Marguerite” would suit. However, guarded inquiries in Wellmouth and Trumet strengthened her conviction that Captain Obed knew what he was talking about, and, the time approaching when she must have some sort of servant, she, at last, in desperation wrote her friend to send “the Marguerite one” along for a month’s trial.

The new girl arrived two days later. Winnie S. brought her down in the depot-wagon, in company with her baggage, a battered old valise and an ancient umbrella. She clung to each of these articles with a death grip, evidently fearful that someone might try to steal them. She appeared to be of an age ranging from late sixteen to early twenty, and had a turned-up nose and reddish hair drawn smoothly back from her forehead and fastened with a round comb. Her smile was of the “won’t come off” variety.

Thankful met her at the back door and ushered her into the kitchen, the room most free from workmen at the moment.

“How do you do?” said the lady. “I’m real glad to see you. Hope you had a nice trip down in the cars.”

“Lordy, yes’m!” was the emphatic answer, accompanied by a brilliant smile. “I never had such a long ride in my life. ‘Twas just like bein’ rich. I made believe I WAS rich most all the way, except when a man set down in the seat alongside of me and wanted to talk. Then I didn’t make believe none, I bet you!”

“A man?” grinned Thankful. “What sort of a man?”

“I don’t know. One of the railroad men I guess ’twas; anyhow he was a fresh young guy, with some sort of uniform hat on. He asked me if I didn’t want him to put my bag up in the rack. He said you couldn’t be too careful of a bag like that. I told him never mind my bag; it was where it belonged and it stayed shut up, which was more’n you could say of some folks in this world. I guess he understood; anyhow he beat it. Lordy!” with another smile. “I knew how to treat HIS kind. Miss Coffin’s told me enough times to look out for strange men. Is this where I’m goin’ to live, ma’am?”

“Why–why, yes; if you’re a good girl and try hard to please and to learn. Now–er–Marguerite–that’s your name, isn’t it?”

“No, ma’am, my name’s Imogene.”

“Imo–which? Why! I thought you was Marguerite. Miss Coffin hasn’t sent another girl, has she?”

“No, ma’am. I’m the one. My name used to be Marguerite, but it’s goin’ to be Imogene now. I’ve wanted to change for a long while, but up there to the Home they’d got kind of used to Marguerite, so ’twas easier to let it go at that. I like Imogene lots better; I got it out of a book.”

“But–but you can’t change your name like that. Isn’t Marguerite your real name?”

“No’m. Anyhow I guess ’tain’t. I got that out of a book, too. Lordy,” with a burst of enthusiasm, “I’ve had more names in my time! My Aunt Bridget she called me ‘Mag’ when she didn’t make it somethin’ worse. And when I first came to the Home the kids called me ‘Fire Alarm,’ ’cause my hair was red. And the cook they had then called me ‘Lonesome,’ ’cause I guess I looked that way. And the matron–not Miss Coffin, but the other one–called me ‘Maggie.’ I didn’t like that, so when Miss Coffin showed up I told her I was Marguerite. But I’d rather be Imogene now, if you ain’t particular, ma’am.”

“Why–um–well, I don’t know’s I am; only seems to me I’d settle on one or t’other and stay put. What’s your last name?”

“I ain’t decided. Montgomery’s a kind of nice name and so’s St. John, or Wolcott–there used to be a Governor Wolcott, you know. I s’pose, now I’m out workin’ for myself, I ought to have a last name. Maybe you can pick one out for me, ma’am.”

“Humph! Maybe I can. I’ve helped pick out first names for babies in my time, but pickin’ out a last name for anybody would be somethin’ new, I will give in. But I’ll try, if you want me to. And you must try to do what I want and to please me. Will you promise me that?”

“Lordy, yes’m!”

“Um! Well, you might begin by tryin’ not to say ‘Lordy’ quite so many times. That would please me, for a start.”

“All right’m. I got in the habit of sayin’ it, I guess. When I first come to the Home I used to say, ‘God sakes,’ but the matron didn’t like that.”

“Mercy on us! I don’t wonder. Well–er–Imogene, now I’ll show you the house and your room and all. I hope you like ’em.”

There was no doubt of the liking. Imogene was delighted with everything. When she was shown the sunny attic bedroom which was to be hers she clapped her hands.

“It’s elegant, ma’am,” she cried. “Just grand! OH! it’s too splendid to believe and yet there ain’t any make-believe in it. Lordy! Excuse me, ma’am, I forgot. I won’t say it again. I’ll wait and see what you say and then I’ll say that. And now,” briskly, “I guess you think it’s time I was gettin’ to work. All right, I can work if I ain’t got no other accomplishments. I’m all ready to begin.”

As a worker she was a distinct success. There was not a lazy bone in her energetic body. She was up and stirring each morning at five o’clock and she evinced an eager willingness to learn that pleased Mrs. Barnes greatly. Her knowledge of cookery was limited, and deadly, but as Thankful had planned to do most of the cooking herself, for the first season at least, this made little difference. Altogether the proprietress of the High Cliff House was growing more and more sure that her female “hired help” was destined to prove a treasure.

“I am real glad you like it here so well, Imogene,” she said, at the end of a fortnight. “I was afraid you might be lonesome, down here so far from the city.”

Imogene laughed. “Who? Me?” she exclaimed. “I guess not, ma’am. Don’t catch me bein’ lonesome while there’s folks around I care about. I was lonesome enough when I first came to the Home and the kids used to make fun of me. But I ain’t lonesome now, with you so kind and nice. No indeedy! I ain’t lonesome and I ain’t goin’ to be. You watch!”

Captain Obed heartily approved of Imogene. Of Kenelm Parker as man-of-all-work his approval was much less enthusiastic. He had been away attending to his fish weirs, when Kenelm was hired, and the bargain was made before he returned. It was Hannah Parker who had recommended her brother for the position. She had coaxed and pleaded and, at last, Thankful had consented to Kenelm’s taking the place on trial.

“You’ll need a nice, trustworthy man to do chores,” said Hannah. “Now Kenelm’s honest; there ain’t a more honest, conscientious man in East Wellmouth than my brother, if I do say it. Take him in the matter of that umbrella he lost the night you first came, Mrs. Barnes. Take that, for instance. He’d left it or lost it somewheres, he knew that, and the ordinary person would have been satisfied; but not Kenelm. No sir-ee! He hunted and hunted till he found that umbrella and come fetchin’ of it home. ‘Twas a week afore he did that, but when he did I says, ‘Well,’ I says, ‘you have got more stick-to-it than I thought you had. You–‘”

“Where did he find it?” interrupted Thankful.

“Land knows! He didn’t seem to know himself–just found it, he said. He acts so sort of upsot and shameful about that umbrella that he and I don’t talk about it any more. But it did show that he had a sense of responsibleness, and a good one. Anybody that’ll stick to and persecute a hunt for a lost thing the way he done will stick to a job the same way. Don’t you think so yourself, Mrs. Barnes?”

Thankful was not convinced, but she yielded. When she told Captain Bangs he laughed and observed: “Yup, well, maybe so. Judgin’ by other jobs Kenelm’s had he’ll stick to this one same as he does to his bed of a Sunday mornin’–lay down on it and go to sleep. However, I presume likely he ought to have the chance. Of course Hannah’s idea is plain enough. Long’s he’s at work over here, she can keep an eye on him. And it’s a nice, satisfactory distance from the widow Larkin, too.”

So Kenelm came daily to work and did work–some. When he did not he always had a plausible excuse. As a self-excuser he was a shining light.

Thankful had, during the repairs on the house, waited more or less anxiously for developments concerning the mystery of the little back bedroom. Painters and paperhangers had worked in that room as in others, but no reports of strange sounds, or groans, or voices, had come from there. During the week preceding the day of formal opening Thankful herself had spent her nights in that room, but had not heard nor seen anything unusual. She was now pretty thoroughly convinced that the storm had been responsible for the groans and that the rest had been due to her imagination. However, she determined to let that room and the larger one adjoining last of all; she would take no chances with the lodgers, she couldn’t afford it.

Among the equipment of the High Cliff House or its outbuildings were a horse, a pig, and a dozen hens and two roosters. Captain Obed bought the horse at Mrs. Barnes’ request, a docile animal of a sedate age. A second-hand buggy and a second-hand “open wagon” he also bought. The pig and hens Thankful bought herself in Trumet. She positively would not consent to the pig’s occupying the sty beneath the woodshed and adjoining the potato cellar, so a new pen was built in the hollow at the rear of the house. Imogene was tremendously interested in the live-stock. She begged the privilege of naming each animal and fowl. Mrs. Barnes had been encouraging the girl to read literature more substantial than the “Fireside Companion” tales in which she had hitherto delighted, and had, as a beginning, lent her a volume of United States history, one of several discarded schoolbooks which Emily Howes sent at her cousin’s request. Imogene was immensely interested in the history. She had just finished the Revolution and the effect of her reading was evident when she announced the names she had selected.

The horse, being the most important of all the livestock, she christened George Washington. The pig was named Patrick Henry. The largest hen was Martha Washington. “As to them two roosters,” she explained, “I did think I’d name the big handsome one John Hancock and the littlest one George Three. They didn’t like each other, ma’am, that was plain at the start, so I thought they’d ought to be on different sides. But the very first fight they had George pretty near licked the stuffin’ out of John, so I’ve decided to change the names around. That ought to fix it; don’t you think so, ma’am?”

On the seventeenth the High Cliff House was formally opened. It was much too early to expect “summer” boarders, but there were three of the permanent variety who had already engaged rooms. Of these the first was Caleb Hammond, an elderly widower, and retired cranberry grower, whose wife had died fifteen years before and who had been “boarding around” in Wellmouth Centre and Trumet ever since. Caleb was fairly well-to-do and although he had the reputation of being somewhat “close” in many matters and “sot” in his ways, he was a respected member of society. He selected a room on the second floor–not a front room, but one on the side looking toward the Colfax estate. The room on the other side, across the hall, was taken by Miss Rebecca Timpson, who had taught the “upstairs” classes in the Wellmouth school ever since she was nineteen, a considerable period of time.

The large front rooms, those overlooking the bluff and the sea, Thankful had intended reserving for guests from the city, but when Mr. Heman Daniels expressed a wish to engage and occupy one of them, that on the left of the hall, she reconsidered and Mr. Daniels obtained his desire. It was hard to refuse a personage like Mr. Daniels anything. He was not an elderly man; neither was he, strictly speaking, a young one. His age was, perhaps, somewhere in the late thirties or early forties and he was East Wellmouth’s leading lawyer, in fact its only one.

Heman was a bachelor and rather good-looking. That his bachelorhood was a matter of choice and not necessity was a point upon which all of East Wellmouth agreed. He was a favorite with the ladies, most of them, and, according to common report, there was a rich widow in Bayport who would marry him at a minute’s notice if he gave the notice. So far, apparently, he had not given it. He was a “smart” lawyer, everyone said that, and it is probable that he himself would have been the last to deny the accusation. He was dignified and suave and gracious, also persuasive when he chose to be.

He had been boarding with the Holts, but, like the majority of the hotel lodgers and “mealers,” was very willing to change. The location of the High Cliff House was, so he informed Thankful, the sole drawback to its availability as a home for him.

“If a bachelor may be said to have a home, Mrs. Barnes,” he added,