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  • 1915
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attempt. It was quite evident that Emily meant to go and equally certain, in her cousin’s mind, that the reason for the sudden departure was the scene with John Kendrick. Emily refused to discuss the latter’s conduct or to permit the mention of his name. She seemed reluctant even to speak of the Holliday Kendrick matter, although all of East Wellmouth was now talking of little else. When Mrs. Barnes, driven to desperation, begged her to say what should be done, she shook her head.

“I wish I could tell you, Auntie,” she said, “but I can’t. Perhaps you don’t need to do anything yet. Mr. Daniels says the idea that that man can force you into selling is ridiculous.”

“I know he does. But I’m a woman, Emily, and what I don’t know about law would fill a bigger library than there is in this town by a consider’ble sight. It’s always the woman, particularly a widow woman, that gets the worst of it in this kind of thing. I’d feel better if I knew somebody was lookin’ out for me. Oh dear, if only Mr. John Kendrick hadn’t–“

“Auntie, please.”

“Yes, I know. But it don’t seem as if he could act so to me. It don’t seem–“

“Hush! It is quite evident he can. Don’t say any more.”

“Well, I won’t. But what shall I do? Shall I put it all in Mr. Daniels’ hands? He says he’ll be glad to help; in fact about everybody thinks he is helpin’, I guess. Hannah Parker told me–“

“Don’t, Auntie, don’t. Put it in Mr. Daniels’ hands, if you think best. I suppose it is all you can do. Yes, let Mr. Daniels handle it for you.”

“All right. I’ll tell him you and I have agreed–“

“No. Tell him nothing of the sort. Don’t bring my name into the matter.”

“But, Emily, you don’t think I ought to sell–“

“No! No! Of course I don’t think so. If I were you I should fight to the last ditch. I would never give in–never! Oh, Auntie, I feel wicked and mean to leave you now, with all this new trouble; but I must–I must. I can’t stay here–I–“

“There, there, Emily, dear! I understand, I guess. I know how hard it is for you. And I thought so much of him, too. I thought he was such a fine young–“

“Aunt Thankful, are you daring to hint that I–I–care in the least for that–him? How dare you insinuate such a thing to me? I–I despise him!”

“Yes, yes,” hastily. “Course you do, course you do. Well, we won’t worry about that, any of it. Mr. Daniels says there’s nothin’ to worry about anyhow, and I’ll tell him he can do what he thinks ought to be done when it’s necessary. Now let’s finish up that packin’ of yours, dearie.”

Thankful did not trust herself to accompany her cousin to Wellmouth Centre. She was finding it hard enough to face the coming separation with outward cheerfulness, and the long ride to the railway station she found to be too great a strain. So she made the lameness of George Washington’s off fore leg an excuse for keeping that personage in the stable, and it was in Winnie S.’s depot-wagon that Emily journeyed to the Centre.

They said good-by at the front gate. Emily, too, was trying to appear cheerful, and the parting was hurried.

“Good-by, Auntie,” she said. “Take care of yourself. Write often and I will answer, I promise you. I know you’ll be lonely after I’ve gone, but I have a plan–a secret. If I can carry it through you won’t be SO lonely, I’m pretty sure. And don’t worry, will you? The mortgage is all right and as for the other thing–well, that will be all right, too. You won’t worry, will you?”

“No, no; I’ll be too busy to worry. And you’ll come down for the Christmas vacation? You will, won’t you?”

“I’ll try . . . I mean I will if I can arrange it. Good-by, dear.”

The depot-wagon rattled out of the yard. Winnie S. pulled up at the gate to shout a bit of news.

“Say, Mrs. Barnes,” he yelled, “we got one of your boarders over to our place now. John Kendrick’s come there to live. Lots of folks are down on him ‘count of his heavin’ you over and takin’ up along with Mr. Holliday; but Dad says he don’t care about that so long’s he pays his board reg’lar. Git dap, Old Hundred!”

A last wave of Thankful’s hand, the answering wave of a handkerchief from the rear seat of the depot-wagon, and the parting was over. Thankful went into the house. Lonely! She had never been more lonely in her life, except when the news of her husband’s death was brought to her. The pang of loneliness which followed her brother Jedediah’s departure for the Klondike was as nothing to this. She had promised not to worry, and she must keep that promise, but there was certainly plenty to cause worry. The mortgage which Emily had so comfortably declared “all right” was far from that. Solomon Cobb had not been near her since their interview. He had not yet said that he would renew the mortgage when it fell due. Mrs. Barnes began to fear that he did not intend to renew it.

Heman Daniels, when he came in for supper, seemed disturbed to find that Miss Howes had gone. Somehow or other he had gained the impression that she was to leave the next morning.

“Did she–did Miss Howes leave no message for me?” he inquired, with a carelessness which, to Thankful, seemed more assumed than real.

“No,” answered the latter, “no, unless you call it a message about takin’ the responsibility of Holliday Kendrick and his schemes off my hands. That is,” remembering Emily’s desire not to have her name mentioned in the matter, “she didn’t leave that. But I guess you can take charge of that mess, if you want to.”

Mr. Daniels smiled a superior smile. “I intended doing so,” he said, “as a matter of friendship, Mrs. Barnes. You may rest easy. I have taken pains to let the town-folks know that your interests are mine and I think our–er–late–er–friend is learning what our best citizens think of his attitude.”

There was truth in this statement. John Kendrick had foreseen the effect upon his popularity which his espousal of his wealthy relative’s cause might have and his prophecy concerning “moral leprosy” was in process of fulfillment. Opinion in the village was divided, of course. There were some who, like Darius Holt, announced that they did not blame the young yellow. E. Holliday had money and influence and, as a business man, his attorney would be a fool not to stick by the cash-box. But there were others, and these leading citizens and hitherto good friends, who openly expressed disgust both with the rich man and his lawyer. Several of these citizens called upon Thankful to tell her of their sympathy and of their wish to help her in any way.

“Not that you’re liable to need help,” said one caller. “This property’s yours and even John D. himself couldn’t get it from you unless you were willin’. But it’s a dirty trick just the same and young Kendrick, that all hands thought was so straight and honest, takin’ part in it is the dirtiest thing in it. Well, he’s hurt himself more’n he has anybody else.”

Captain Obed Bangs was a gloomy man that fall. He had always liked John and the liking had grown to an ardent admiration and affection. He made several attempts to speak with the young man on the subject, but the latter would not discuss it. He was always glad to see the captain and quite willing to talk of anything but Mrs. Barnes’ property and of Emily Howes. These topics were taboo and Captain Obed soon ceased to mention them. Also he no longer made daily calls at the ex-barber-shop and, in spite of himself, could not help showing, when he did call, the resentment he felt. John noticed this and there was a growing coldness between the two.

“But,” declared the captain, stoutly, when he and Thankful were together, “I still say ’tain’t so. I give in that it looks as if ’twas, but I tell you there’s a nigger in the woodpile somewheres. Some day he’ll be dug out and then there’s a heap of tattle-tales and character naggers in this town that’ll find they’ve took the wrong channel. They’ll be good and seasick, that’s what they’ll be.”

Mr. E. Holliday Kendrick, if he knew that his own popularity had suffered a shock, did not appear to care. He went on with his plans for enlarging his estate and, when he left East Wellmouth for New York, which he did early in October, told those who asked him that he had left the purchase of the “boarding-house nuisance” in the hands of his attorney. “I shall have that property,” he announced, emphatically. “I may not get it for some time, but I shall get it. I make it a point to get what I go after.”

Emily, in her letters, those written soon after her arrival in South Middleboro, said nothing concerning her plan, the “secret” which was to cheer Mrs. Barnes’ loneliness. Thankful could not help wondering what the secret might be, but in her own letters she asked no questions. And, one day in mid-October, that secret was divulged.

Thankful, busy in the kitchen with Imogene, preparing dinner, heard the sound of wheels and horse’s hoofs in the yard. Going to the door, she was surprised to see Captain Obed Bangs climbing from a buggy. The buggy was her own and the horse to which it was attached was her own George Washington. Upon the seat of the buggy was a small boy. Thankful merely glanced at the boy; her interest just then centered upon the fact that the captain was, or apparently had been, using her horse and buggy without her knowledge or consent. She certainly had no objection to his so using it, but it was most unlike him to do so.

“Good mornin’, ma’am,” he hailed, cheerfully. His eyes were twinkling and he appeared to be in high good humor.

“Why, good mornin’, Cap’n,” said Thankful. “I–you–you’re goin’ somewhere, I should judge.”

The captain shook his head. “No,” he replied, “I’ve been. Had an errand up to the Centre. I knew somethin’ was comin’ on the mornin’ train so I drove up to fetch it. Thought you wouldn’t mind my usin’ your horse and buggy. Imogene knew I was usin’ it.”

Thankful was surprised. “She did?” she repeated. “That’s funny. She didn’t say a word to me.”

“No, I told her not to. You see, the–the somethin’ I was expectin’ was for you, so I thought we’d make it a little surprise. Emily–Miss Howes, she sent it.”

“Emily–sent somethin’ to me?”

“Yup.”

“For the land sakes! Well,” after a moment, “did it come? Where is it?”

“Oh, yes, it came. It’s right there in the buggy. Don’t you see it?”

Thankful looked at the buggy. The only thing in it, so far as she could see, was the little boy on the seat. The little boy grinned.

“Hello, Aunt Thankful,” he said. “I’ve come to stay with you, I have.”

Thankful started, stared, and then made a rush for the buggy.

“Georgie Hobbs!” she cried. “You blessed little scamp! Come here to me this minute. Well, well, well!”

Georgie came and was received with a bear hug and a shower of kisses.

“Well, well!” repeated Thankful. “And to think I didn’t know you! I’m ashamed of myself. And you’re the surprise, I suppose. You ARE one, sure and sartin. How did you get here?”

“I came on the cars,” declared Georgie, proudly. “Ma and Emmie put me on ’em and told me to sit right still until I got to Wellmouth Centre and then get off. And I did, too; didn’t I, Mr.–I mean Captain Bangs.”

“You bet you did!” agreed the delighted captain. “That’s some relation you’ve got there, Mrs. Barnes. He’s little but Oh my! He and I have had a good talk on the way down. We got along fust- rate; hey, commodore? The commodore’s agreed to ship second-mate along with me next v’yage I make, if I ever make one.”

Thankful held her “relation”–he was Emily’s half-brother and her own favorite next to Emily herself in that family–at arm’s length. “You blessed little–little mite!” she exclaimed. “So you come ‘way down here all alone just to see your old auntie. Did you ever in your life! And I suppose you’re the ‘secret’ Emily said she had, the one that was to keep me from bein’ lonesome.”

Georgie nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Emmie, she’s wrote you all about me. I’ve got the letter pinned inside of me here,” patting his small chest. “And I’m goin’ to stay ever so long, I am. I want to see the pig and the hens and the–and the orphan, and everything.”

“So you shall,” declared Thankful. “I’m glad enough to see you to turn the house inside out if you wanted to look at it. And you knew all about this, I suppose?” turning to Captain Obed.

The captain laughed aloud.

“Sartin I did,” he said. “Miss Howes and I have been writin’ each other like a couple of courtin’ young folks. I knew the commodore was goin’ to set sail today and I was on hand up to the depot to man the yards. Forgive me for hookin’ your horse and buggy, will you, Mrs. Thankful?”

Forgiveness was granted. Thankful would have forgiven almost anything just then. The “commodore” announced that he was hungry and he was hurried into the house. The cares of travel had not taken away his appetite. He was introduced to Imogene, at whom he stared fixedly for a minute or more and then asked if she was the “orphan.” When told that she was he asked if her mamma and papa were truly dead. Imogene said she guessed they were. Then Georgie asked why, and, after then, what made them that way, adding the information that he had a kitty that went dead one time and wasn’t any good any more.

The coming of the “commodore” brought a new touch of life to the High Cliff House, which had settled down for its winter nap. Thankful, of course, read Emily’s letter at the first opportunity. Emily wrote that she felt sure Georgie would be company for her cousin and that she had conceived the idea of the boy’s visit before leaving East Wellmouth, but had said nothing because she was not sure mother would consent. But that consent had been granted and Georgie might stay until Christmas, perhaps even after that if he was not too great a care.

He was something of a care, there was no doubt of that. Imogene, whom he liked and who liked him, declared that “that young one had more jump in him than a sand flea.” The very afternoon of his arrival he frightened the hens into shrieking hysterics, poked the fat and somnolent Patrick Henry, the pig, with a sharp stick to see if he was alive and not “gone dead” like the kitten, and barked his shins and nose by falling out of the wheelbarrow in the barn. Kenelm, who still retained his position at the High Cliff House and was meek and lowly under the double domination of his fiancee and his sister, was inclined to grumble. “A feller can’t set down to rest a minute,” declared Kenelm, “without that young one’s jumpin’ out at him from behind somethin’ or ‘nother and hollerin’, ‘Boo!’ Seems to like to scare me into a fit. Picks on me wuss than Hannah, he does.”

But even Kenelm confessed to a liking for the “pesky little nuisance.” Captain Obed idolized him and took him on excursions along the beach or to his own fish-houses, where Georgie sat on a heap of nets and came home smelling strongly of cod, but filled to the brim with sea yarns. And Thankful found in the boy the one comfort and solace for her increasing troubles and cares. Altogether the commodore was in a fair way to become a thoroughly spoiled officer.

With November came the rains again, and, compared with them, those of early September seemed but showers. Day after day and night after night the wind blew and the water splashed against the windows and poured from the overflowing gutters. Patrick Henry, the pig, found his quarters in the new pen, in the hollow behind the barn, the center of the flood zone, and being discovered one morning marooned on a swampy islet in the middle of a muddy lake, was transferred to the old sty, that built by the late Mr. Laban Eldredge, beneath the woodshed and adjoining the potato cellar. Thankful’s orderly, neat soul rebelled against having a pig under the house, but, as she expressed it, “’twas either that or havin’ the critter two foot under water.”

Captain Obed, like every citizen of East Wellmouth, was disgusted with the weather. “I was cal’latin’ to put in my spare time down to the shanty buildin’ a new dory,” he said, “but I guess now I’ll build an ark instead. If this downpour keeps on I’ll need one bad as Noah ever did.”

Heman Daniels, Miss Timpson and Caleb Hammond were now the only boarders and roomers Mrs. Barnes had left to provide for. There was little or no profit in providing for them, for the rates paid by the two last named were not high, and their demands were at times almost unreasonable. Miss Timpson had a new idea now, that of giving up the room she had occupied since coming to the Barnes boarding-house and moving her belongings into the suite at the rear of the second floor, that comprising the large room and the little back bedroom adjoining, the latter the scene of Thankful’s spooky adventure on the first night of her arrival in East Wellmouth. These rooms ordinarily rented for much more than Miss Timpson had paid for her former apartment, but she had no thought of paying more for them. “Of course I shouldn’t expect to get ’em for the same if ’twas summer,” she explained to Thankful, “but just now, with ’em standin’ empty, I might as well move there as not. I know you’ll be glad to have me, won’t you, Mrs. Barnes, you and me being such good friends by this time.”

And Thankful, although conscious of an injustice somewhere, did not like to refuse her “good friend.” So she consented and Miss Timpson moved into the back rooms. But she no sooner had her trunks carried there than she was struck by another brilliant idea. Thankful, hearing unusual sounds from above that Saturday morning, ascended the back stairs to find the school mistress tugging at the bureau, which she was apparently trying to drag from the small room into the larger.

“It came to me all of a sudden,” panted Miss Timpson, who was out of breath but enthusiastic. “That little room’s awful small and stuffy to sleep in, and I do hate to sleep in a stuffy room. But when I was standing there sniffing and looking it came to me.”

“What came to you?” demanded the puzzled Thankful. “What are you talkin’ about–the bureau?”

“No, no! The idea! The bureau couldn’t come to me by itself, could it? No, the idea came to me. That little room isn’t good for much as a bedroom, but it will make the loveliest study. I can put my table and my books in there and move the bed and things in here. Then I’ll have a beautiful, nice big bedroom and the cutest little study. And I’ve always wanted a study. Now if you and Imogene help me with the bureau and bed it’ll be all fixed.”

So Imogene, assisted by Kenelm, who was drafted in Thankful’s place, spent a good part of the afternoon shifting furniture and arranging the bedroom and the “study.” Miss Timpson superintended, and as she was seldom satisfied until each separate item of the suite’s equipment had been changed about at least twice, in order to get the “effect,” all three were nervous and tired when the shifting was over. Miss Timpson should have been happy over the attainment of the study, but instead she appeared gloomy and downcast.

“I declare,” she said, as she and Thankful sat together in the living-room that evening, “I don’t know’s I’ve done right, after all. I don’t know’s I wish I had stayed right where I was.”

“Mercy on us! Why?” demanded Thankful, a trifle impatiently.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe ’cause I’m kind of tired and nervous tonight. I feel as if–as if something was going to happen to me. I wonder if I could have another cup of tea before I went to bed; it might settle my nerves, you know.”

Considering that the lady had drunk three cups of tea at supper Mrs. Barnes could not help feeling doubtful concerning the soothing effect of a fourth. But she prepared it and brought it into the living-room. Miss Timpson sipped the tea and groaned.

“Do you ever have presentiments, Mrs. Barnes?” she asked.

“Have what?”

“Presentiments? Warnings, you know? I’ve had several in my life and they have always come to something. I feel as if I was going to have one now. Heavens! Hear that wind and rain! Don’t they sound like somebody calling–calling?”

“No, they don’t. They sound cold and wet, that’s all. Dear me, I never saw such a spell of weather. I thought this mornin’ ’twas goin’ to clear, but now it’s come on again, hard as ever.”

“Well,” with dismal resignation, “we’ll all go when our time comes, I suppose. We’re here today and gone tomorrow. I don’t suppose there’s any use setting and worrying. Be prepared, that’s the main thing. Have you bought a cemetery lot, Mrs. Barnes? You ought to; everybody had. We can’t tell when we’re liable to need a grave.”

“Goodness gracious sakes! Don’t talk about cemetery lots and graves. You give me the blue creeps. Go to bed and rest up. You’re tired, and no wonder; you’ve moved no less’n three times since mornin’, and they say one movin’s as bad as a fire. Here! Give me that tea-cup. There’s nothin’ left in it but grounds, and you don’t want to drink THEM.”

Miss Timpson relinquished the cup, took her lamp and climbed the stairs. Her good night was as mournful as a funeral march. Thankful, left alone, tried to read for a time, but the wailing wind and squeaking shutters made her nervous and depressed, so, after putting the key under the mat of the side door for Heman Daniels, who was out attending a meeting of the Masonic Lodge, she, too, retired.

It was not raining when she awoke, but the morning was gray and cloudy. She came downstairs early, so early–for it was Sunday morning, when all East Wellmouth lies abed–that she expected to find no one, not even Imogene, astir. But, to her great surprise, Miss Timpson was seated by the living-room stove.

“Land sakes!” exclaimed Thankful. “Are you up? What’s the matter?”

Miss Timpson, who had started violently when Mrs. Barnes entered, turned toward the latter a face as white, so Thankful described it afterward, “as unbleached muslin.” This was not a bad simile, for Miss Timpson’s complexion was, owing to her excessive tea-drinking, a decided yellow. Just now it was a very pale yellow.

“Who is it?” she gasped. “Oh, it’s you, Mrs. Barnes. It IS you, isn’t it?”

“Me? Of course it’s me. Have I changed so much in the night that you don’t know me? What is it, Miss Timpson? Are you sick? Can I get you anything?”

“No, no. I ain’t sick–in body, anyway. And nobody can get me anything this side of the grave. Mrs. Barnes, I’m going.”

“You’re GOIN’? What? You don’t mean you’re dyin’?”

Considering her lodger’s remarks of the previous evening, those relating to “going when the time came,” it is no wonder Thankful was alarmed. But Miss Timpson shook her head.

“No,” she said, “I don’t mean that, not yet, though that’ll come next; I feel it coming already. No, Mrs. Barnes, I don’t mean that. I mean I’m going away. I can’t live here any longer.”

Thankful collapsed upon a chair.

“Goin’!” she repeated. “You’re goin’ to leave here? Why–why you’ve just fixed up to stay!”

Miss Timpson groaned. “I know,” she wailed; “I thought I had, but I–I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to leave–now.”

By way of proof she pointed to her traveling-bag, which was beside her on the floor. Mrs. Barnes had not noticed the bag before, but now she saw that it was, apparently, packed.

“My trunks ain’t ready yet,” went on the schoolmistress. “I tried to pack ’em, but–but I couldn’t. I couldn’t bear to do it alone. Maybe you or Imogene will help me by and by. Oh, my soul! What was that?”

“What? I didn’t hear anything.”

“Didn’t you? Well, perhaps I didn’t, either. It’s just my nerves, I guess! Mrs. Barnes, could you help me pack those trunks pretty soon? I’m going away. I must go. If I stay in this house any longer I shall DIE.”

She was trembling and wringing her hands. Thankful tried to comfort her and did succeed in quieting her somewhat, but, in spite of her questionings and pleadings Miss Timpson refused to reveal the cause of her agitation or of her sudden determination to leave the High Cliff House.

“It ain’t anything you’ve done or haven’t done, Mrs. Barnes,” she said. “I like it here and I like the board and I like you. But I must go. I’m going to my cousin’s down in the village first and after that I don’t know where I’ll go. Please don’t ask me any more.”

She ate a few mouthfuls of the breakfast which Thankful hastily prepared for her and then she departed for her cousin’s. Thankful begged her to stay until Kenelm came, when he might harness the horse and drive her to her destination, but she would not wait. She would not even remain to pack her trunks.

“I’ll come back and pack ’em,” she said. “Or perhaps you and Imogene will pack ’em for me. Oh, Mrs. Barnes, you’ve been so kind. I hate to leave you this way, I do, honest.”

“But WHY are you leavin’?” asked Thankful once more. For the first time Miss Timpson seemed to hesitate. She looked about, as if to make sure that the two were alone; then she leaned forward and whispered in her companion’s ear.

“Mrs. Barnes,” she whispered, “I–I didn’t mean to tell you. I didn’t mean to tell anybody. ‘Twas too personal, too sacred a thing to tell. But I don’t know’s I shan’t tell you after all; seem’s as if I must tell somebody. Mrs. Barnes, I shan’t live much longer. I’ve had a warning.”

Thankful stared at her.

“Rebecca Timpson!” she exclaimed. “Have you gone crazy? What are you talkin’ about? A warnin’!”

“Yes, a warning. I was warned last night. You–you knew I was a twin, didn’t you?”

“A which?”

“A twin. Probably you didn’t know it, but I used to have a twin sister, Medora, that died when she was only nineteen. She and I looked alike, and were alike, in most everything. We thought the world of each other, used to be together daytimes and sleep together nights. And she used to–er–well, she was different from me in one way–she couldn’t help it, poor thing–she used to snore something dreadful. I used to scold her for it, poor soul. Many’s the time I’ve reproached myself since, but–“

“For mercy sakes, what’s your sister’s snorin’ got to do with–“

“Hush! Mrs. Barnes,” with intense solemnity. “As sure as you and I live and breathe this minute, my sister Medora came to me last night.”

“CAME to you! Why–you mean you dreamed about her, don’t you? There’s nothin’ strange in that. When you took that fourth cup of tea I said to myself–“

“HUSH! Oh, hush! DON’T talk so. I didn’t dream. Mrs. Barnes, I woke up at two o’clock this morning and–and I heard Medora snoring as plain as I ever heard anything.”

Thankful was strongly tempted to laugh, but the expression on Miss Timpson’s face was so deadly serious that she refrained.

“Goodness!” she exclaimed. “Is that all? That’s nothin’. A night like last night, with the rain and the blinds and the wind–“

“Hush! It wasn’t the wind. Don’t you suppose I know? I thought it was the wind or my imagination at first. But I laid there and listened and I kept hearing it. Finally I got up and lit my lamp; and still I heard it. It was snoring and it didn’t come from the room I was in. It came from the little back room I’d made into a study.”

Thankful’s smile faded. She was conscious of a curious prickling at the roots of her black hair. The back bedroom! The room in which Laban Eldredge died! The room in which she herself had heard–

“I went into that room,” continued Miss Timpson. “I don’t know how I ever did it, but I did. I looked everywhere, but there was nobody there, not a sign of anybody. And still that dreadful snoring kept on and on. And then I realized–” with a shudder, “I realized what I hadn’t noticed before; that room was exactly the size and shape of the one Medora and I used to sleep in. Mrs. Barnes, it was Medora’s spirit that had come to me. Do you wonder I can’t stay here any longer?”

Thankful fought with her feelings. She put a hand on the back of her neck and rubbed vigorously. “Nonsense!” she declared, bravely. “You imagined it. Nonsense! Whoever heard of a snorin’ ghost?”

But Miss Timpson only shook her head. “Good-by, Thankful,” she said. “I shan’t tell anybody; as I said, I didn’t mean to tell you. If–if you hear that anything’s happened to me–happened sudden, you know–you’ll understand. You can tell Imogene and Mr. Daniels and Mr. Hammond that I–that I’ve gone visiting to my cousin Sarah’s. That’ll be true, anyway. Good-by. You MAY see me again in this life, but I doubt it.”

She hurried away along the path. Thankful reentered the house and stood in the middle of the kitchen floor, thinking. Then she walked steadily to the foot of the back stairs, ascended them, and walked straight to the apartments so recently occupied by the schoolmistress. Miss Timpson’s trunks were there and the greater part of her belongings. Mrs. Barnes did not stop to look at these. She crossed the larger room and entered the little back bedroom.

The clouds were breaking and the light of the November sun shone in. The little room was almost cheerful. There were no sounds except those from without, the neigh of George Washington from his stall, the cackle of the hens, the hungry grunts of Patrick Henry, the pig, in his sty beside the kitchen.

Thankful looked and listened. Then she made a careful examination of the room, but found nothing mysterious or out of the ordinary. And yet there was a mystery there. She had long since decided that her own experience in that room had been imagination, but now that conviction was shaken. Miss Timpson must have heard something; she HAD heard something which frightened her into leaving the boarding- house she professed to like so well. Ghost or no ghost, Miss Timpson had gone; and one more source of income upon which Mrs. Barnes had depended went with her. Slowly, and with the feeling that not only this world but the next was conspiring to bring about the failure of her enterprise and the ruin of her plans and her hopes, Thankful descended the stairs to the kitchen and set about preparing breakfast.

CHAPTER XII

Mr. Caleb Hammond rose that Sunday morning with a partially developed attack of indigestion and a thoroughly developed “grouch.” The indigestion was due to an injudicious partaking of light refreshment–sandwiches, ice cream and sarsaparilla “tonic”– at the club the previous evening. Simeon Baker had paid for the refreshment, ordering the supplies sent in from Mr. Chris Badger’s store. Simeon had received an unexpected high price for cranberries shipped to New York, and was in consequence “flush” and reckless. He appeared at the club at nine-thirty, after most of its married members had departed for their homes and only a few of the younger set and one or two bachelors, like Mr. Hammond, remained, and announced that he was going to “blow the crowd.” The crowd was quite willing to be blown and said so.

Mr. Hammond ate three sandwiches and two plates of ice cream, also he smoked two cigars. He did not really feel the need of the second cream or the second cigar, but, as they were furnished without cost to him, he took them as a matter of principle. Hence the indigestion.

The “grouch” was due partially to the unwonted dissipation and its consequences and partly to the fact that his winter “flannels” had not been returned by Mrs. Melinda Pease, to whom they had been consigned for mending and overhauling.

It was the tenth of November and for a period of twenty-four years, ever since his recovery from a severe attack of rheumatic fever, Caleb had made it a point to lay aside his summer underwear on the morning of November tenth and don a heavy suit. Weather, cold or warm, was not supposed to have any bearing on this change. The ninth might be as frigid as a Greenland twilight and the tenth as balmy as a Florida noon–no matter; on the ninth Mr. Hammond wore light underwear and shivered; on the tenth he wore his “flannels” and perspired. It was another of his principles, and Caleb had a deserved reputation for adhering to principle and being “sot” in his ways.

So, when, on this particular tenth of November, this Sabbath morning, he rose, conscious of the sandwiches and “tonic,” and found no suit of flannels ready for him to don, his grouch began to develop. He opened his chamber door a crack and shouted through the crack.

“Mrs. Barnes,” he called. “Hi–i, Mrs. Barnes!”

Thankful, still busy in the kitchen, where she had been joined by Imogene, sent the latter to find out what was the matter. Imogene returned, grinning.

“He wants his flannels,” she announced. “Wants to know where them winter flannels Mrs. Pease sent home yesterday are. Why, ain’t they in his room, he says.”

Thankful sniffed. Her experience with Miss Timpson, and the worry caused by the latter’s leaving, had had their effect upon her patience.

“Mercy sakes!” she exclaimed. “Is that all? I thought the house was afire. I don’t know where his flannels are. Why should I? Where’d Melindy put ’em when she brought ’em here?”

Imogene chuckled. “I don’t think she brought ’em at all,” she replied. “She wa’n’t here yesterday. She–why, yes, seems to me Kenelm said he heard she was sick abed with a cold.”

Thankful nodded. “So she is,” she said. “Probably the poor thing ain’t had time to finish mendin’ ’em. It’s a good deal of a job, I guess. She told me once that that Hammond man wore his inside clothes till they wa’n’t anything BUT mendin’, just hung together with patches, as you might say. His suits and overcoats are all right enough ‘most always, but he can’t seem to bear to spend money for anything underneath. Perhaps he figgers that patches are good as anything else, long’s they don’t show. Imogene, go tell him Melindy didn’t fetch ’em.”

Imogene went and returned with her grin broader than ever.

“He says she did bring ’em,” she announced. “Says she always brings him his things on the ninth. He’s pretty peppery this mornin’, seems to me. Says he don’t cal’late to stand there and freeze much longer.”

“Freeze! Why, it’s the warmest day we’ve had for a fortni’t. The sun’s come out and it’s cleared up fine, like Indian summer. Oh, DO be still!” as another shout for “Mrs. Barnes” came from above. “Here, never mind, Imogene; I’ll tell him.”

She went into the front hall and called up the stairs.

“Your things ain’t here, Mr. Hammond,” she said. “Melindy didn’t bring ’em. She’s laid up with a cold and probably couldn’t get ’em ready.”

“Course she’s got ’em ready! She always has ’em ready. She knows I want ’em.”

“Maybe so, but she ain’t always sick, ’tain’t likely. They ain’t here, anyway. You won’t need ’em today.”

“Need ’em? Course I need ’em. It’s colder than Christmas.”

“No, it isn’t. It’s almost as warm as September. Put on two suits of your others, if you’re so cold. And come down to breakfast as soon as you can. We’ve all had ours.”

When Mr. Hammond did come down to breakfast his manner was that of a martyr. The breakfast itself, baked beans and fishballs, did not appeal to him, and he ate little. He grumbled as he drank his coffee.

“Healthy note, this is!” he muttered. “Got to set around and freeze to death just ’cause that lazy critter ain’t finished her job. I pay her for it, don’t I?”

Thankful sniffed. “I suppose you do,” she said, adding under her breath, “though how much you pay is another thing.”

“Is this all the breakfast you’ve got?” queried Caleb.

“Why, yes; it’s what we always have Sunday mornin’s. Isn’t it what you expected?”

“Oh, I expected it, all right. Take it away; I don’t want no more. Consarn it! I wish sometimes I had a home of my own.”

“Well, why don’t you have one? I should think you would. You can afford it.”

Mr. Hammond did not reply. He folded his napkin, seized his hat and coat and went out. When he crossed the threshold he shivered, as a matter of principle.

He stalked gloomily along the path by the edge of the bluff. Captain Obed Bangs came up the path and they met.

“Hello, Caleb!” hailed the captain. “Fine weather at last, eh? Almost like August. Injun summer at last, I cal’late. What you got your coat collar turned up for? Afraid of getting your neck sunburned?”

Mr. Hammond grunted and hurried on. Captain Obed had chosen a poor topic if he desired a lengthy conversation.

Mrs. Pease lived at the farther end of the village and when Caleb reached there he was met by the lady’s niece, Emma Snow.

“Aunt Melindy’s real poorly,” said Emma. “She’s been so for ‘most three days. I’m stayin’ here with her till she gets better. No, she ain’t had time to do your mendin’ yet. Anyhow it’s so nice and warm you don’t need the things, that’s a comfort.”

It may have been a comfort to her, but it was not to Caleb. He growled a reply and turned on his heel. The churchgoers along the main road received scanty acknowledgment of their greetings.

“Ain’t you comin’ to meetin’?” asked Abbie Larkin.

“Naw,” snarled Caleb, “I ain’t.”

“Why not? And it’s such a lovely day, too.”

“Ugh!”

“Why ain’t you comin’ to meetin’, Mr. Hammond?”

“‘Cause I don’t feel like it, that’s why.”

“I want to know! Well, you DON’T seem to be in a pious frame of mind, that’s a fact. Better come; you may not feel like church, but I should say you needed it, if ever anybody did.”

Caleb did not deign a reply. He stalked across the road and took the path to the shore.

As he came opposite the Parker cottage he saw Hannah Parker at the window. He nodded and his nod was returned. Hannah’s experience was as gloomy as his own. She did not look happy and somehow the idea that she was not happy pleased him; Abbie Larkin had been altogether too happy; it grated on him. He was miserable and he wanted company of his own kind. He stopped, hesitated, and then turned in at the Parker gate.

Hannah opened the door.

“Good mornin’, Caleb,” she said. “Come in, won’t you? It looks sort of chilly outdoor.”

This WAS a kindred spirit. Mr. Hammond entered the Parker sitting- room. Hannah motioned toward a chair and he sat down.

“Mornin’, Hannah,” said Caleb. “‘Tis chilly. It’ll be a mercy if we don’t catch our deaths, dressed the way some of us be. How’s things with you?”

Miss Parker shook her head. “Oh, I don’t know, Caleb,” she answered. “They ain’t all they might be, I’m afraid.”

“What’s the matter? Ain’t you feelin’ up to the mark?”

“Oh, yes–yes; I’m feeling well enough in body. I ain’t sick, if that’s what you mean. I’m kind of blue and–and lonesome, that’s all. I try to bear up under my burdens, but I get compressed in spirit sometimes, I can’t help it. Ah, hum a day!”

She sighed and Mr. Hammond sighed also.

“You ain’t the only one,” he said. “I’m bluer’n a whetstone myself, this mornin’.”

“What’s the trouble?”

“Trouble? Trouble enough! Somethin’ happened this mornin’ that riled me all up. It–” he paused, remembering that the cause of the “rilin'” was somewhat personal, not to say delicate. “Well– well, never mind what it was,” he added. “‘Twas mighty aggravatin’, that’s all I’ve got to say.”

Hannah sighed again. “Ah, hum!” she observed. “There’s aggravations enough in this life. And they generally come on account of somebody else, too. There’s times when I wish I didn’t have any flesh and blood.”

“Hey? Good land! No flesh and blood! What do you want–bones?”

“Oh, I don’t mean that. I wish I didn’t have any–any relations of my own flesh and blood.”

“Humph! I don’t know’s you’d be any better off. I ain’t got nobody and I ain’t what you might call cheerful. I know what’s the matter with you, though. That Kenelm’s been frettin’ you again, I suppose.”

He had guessed it. Kenelm that morning had suddenly announced that he was to have a day off. He was cal’latin’ to borrow Mrs. Barnes’ horse and buggy and go for a ride. His sister promptly declared that would be lovely; she was just wishing for a ride. Whereupon Kenelm had hemmed and hawed and, at last, admitted that his company for the drive was already provided.

“Oh!” sneered Hannah. “I see. You’re goin’ to take that precious inmate of yours along. And I’ve got to set here alone at home. Well, I should think you’d be ASHAMED.”

“What for? Ain’t nothin’ in takin’ a lady you’re keepin’ company with out drivin’, is there? I don’t see no shame in that.”

“No, I presume likely YOU don’t. You’re way past shame, both of you. And when I think of all I’ve done for you. Slaved and cooked your meals–“

“Well, you’re cookin’ ’em yet, ain’t you? I ain’t asked you to stop.”

“I will stop, though. I will.”

“All right, then; heave ahead and stop. I cal’late my wife’ll be willin’ to cook for me, if it’s needful.”

“Your wife! She ain’t your wife yet. And she shan’t be. This ridiculous engaged business of yours is–is–“

“Well, if you don’t like the engagin’, why don’t you stop it?”

“Why don’t YOU stop it, you mean. You would if you had the feelin’s of a man.”

“Humph! And let some everlastin’ lawyer sue me out of my last cent for damages. All right, I’ll stop it if you say so. There’s plenty of room in the poorhouse, they tell me. How’d you like to give us this place and move to the poorhouse, Hannah?”

“But–but, O Kenelm, I can’t think of your gettin’ married! I can’t think of it!”

“Don’t think of it. I ain’t thinkin’ of it no more’n I can help. Why ain’t you satisfied with things as they be? Everything’s goin’ on all right enough now, ain’t it? You and me are livin’ together same as we have for ever so long. You’re here and I–well, I–“

He did not finish the sentence, but his sister read his thought. She knew perfectly well that her brother was finding a measure of enjoyment in the situation, so far as his dealings with her were concerned. He was more independent than he had been since she took him in charge. But she realized, too, her own impotence. She could not drive him too hard or he might be driven into marrying Imogene. And THAT Hannah was determined should be deferred as long as possible.

So she said no more concerning the “ride” and merely showed her feelings by moping in the corner and wiping her eyes with her handkerchief whenever he looked in her direction. After he had gone she spent the half-hour previous to Mr. Hammond’s arrival in alternate fits of rage and despair.

“So Kenelm’s been actin’ unlikely, has he?” queried Caleb. “Well, if he was my brother he’d soon come to time quick, or be put to bed in a hospital. That’s what would happen to HIM.”

Miss Parker looked as if the hospital picture was more appealing than dreadful.

“I wish he was your brother,” she said. “Or I wish I was independent and had a house of my own.”

“Huh! Gosh! So do I wish I had one. I’ve been wishin’ it all the mornin’. If I had a home of my own I’d have what I wanted to eat– yes, and wear. And I’d have ’em when I wanted ’em, too.”

“Don’t they give you good things to eat over at Mrs. Barnes’?”

“Oh, they’re good enough maybe, if they’re what you want. But boardin’s boardin’; ’tain’t like your own home.”

“Caleb, it’s a wonder to me you don’t rent a little house and live in it. You’ve got money enough; least so everybody says.”

“Humph! What everybody says is ‘most generally lies. What would be the sense of my hirin’ a house? I’d have to have a housekeeper and a good one costs like thunder. A feller’s wife has to get along on what he gives her, but a housekeeper–“

He stopped short, seemingly struck by a new and amazing idea. Miss Parker rambled on about the old days when “dear papa” was alive; how happy she was then, and so on, with occasional recourse to the handkerchief. Suddenly Caleb slapped his knee.

“It’s all right,” he said. “It’s fine–and it’s commonsense, too. Hannah, what’s the matter with you and me gettin’ married?”

Hannah stared at him.

“Married!” she repeated. “Me get married! Who to, for the land sakes? Are you out of your head?”

“Not a mite. What’s the matter with you marryin’ me?”

“My soul! Is this a funny-paper joke, or are you–“

“‘Tain’t a joke; I mean it. Is there any reason why we shouldn’t marry and settle down together, you and me? I don’t see none. You could keep house for me then, and ‘twouldn’t cost–that is, you could look out for me, and I–well, I suppose likely I could look out for you, too. Why not?”

“Why, how you talk, Caleb Hammond!”

“No, I don’t talk neither. I mean it. You was wishin’ for a home of your own; so was I. Let’s have one together.”

“Well, I swan! Get married at our–at our age! I never did hear such talk! We’d be a nice young bride and groom, wouldn’t we? I guess East Wellmouth folks would have somethin’ to laugh at then.”

“Let ’em laugh. Laughin’ don’t cost nothin’, and, if it does, we won’t have to pay for it. See here, Hannah, this ain’t any foolish front-gate courtin’, this ain’t. It’s just common-sense business. Let’s do it. I will if you will.”

Miss Parker shook her head. The prospect of being Mrs. Caleb Hammond was not too alluring. Caleb’s reputation as a husband was not, while his wife lived, that of a “liberal provider.” And yet this was Hannah’s first proposal, and it had come years after she had given up hoping for one. So she prolonged the delicious moment as long as possible.

“I suppose you’re thinkin’ about that brother of yours,” suggested Mr. Hammond. “Well, he’ll be all right. ‘Cordin’ to what I’ve heard, and seen myself, he’s hangin’ around that hired help girl at the High Cliff pretty reg’lar these days. Maybe he’ll marry her and you’ll be left without anybody. If he don’t marry her he can come to live along of us–maybe. If he does he’ll mind his p’s and q’s, I tell you that. He’ll find out who’s boss.”

This speech had an effect. For the first time Hannah’s determination wavered. Kenelm was, although Caleb did not know it, actually engaged to marry Imogene. His sister was even then writhing under the humiliation. And here was an opportunity to get even, not only with Kenelm, but with the “inmate.” If she, Hannah, were to marry and leave the pair instead of being herself left! Oh, the glory of it–the triumphant glory of it! How she could crush her brother! How she could gloat over and sneer at Imogene! The things she might say–she, the wife of a rich man! Oh, wonderful!

“Well, come on, Hannah, come on,” urged the impatient Caleb. “What do you say?”

But Miss Parker still shook her head. “It ain’t any use, Caleb,” she declared. “Even if–if I wanted to, how could I tell Kenelm? He’d raise an awful fuss. He’d tell everybody and they–“

“No, he wouldn’t. I’d break his neck if he did. . . . And–eh–” as another idea came to him, “he needn’t know till ’twas all over. We could get married right off now, and not tell a soul–Kenelm or anybody else–till it was done. Then they could talk or shut up, we wouldn’t care. They couldn’t change nothin’.”

“Caleb Hammond, do you suppose I’d have the face to go to a minister in this town and have you tell him we’d come to get married? I’d be so ashamed–“

“Hold on! We don’t have to go to a minister in this town. There’s other towns with parsons in them, ain’t they? We could drive over somewheres else.”

“Everybody’d see us drivin’ together.”

“What of it? They see us drivin’ to the Cattle Show together, didn’t they?”

“Yes, and they’ve talked about it ever since, some of ’em. That Abbie Larkin said–Oh, I can’t tell you what she said. No, I shan’t do it. I shouldn’t have the face. And everybody’d ask where we was bound, and I’d–I’d be so–so mortified and–and–why, I’d act like a reg’lar–er–er–domicile that had run away from the Idiots’ Home. No, no, no! I couldn’t.”

Mr. Hammond thought it over. Then he said:

“See here, Hannah, I cal’late we can fix that. We’ll start in the night, after all hands have gone to bed. I’ll sneak out about quarter to twelve and borrow Thankful’s horse and buggy out of her barn. I know where she keeps the key. I’ll be ready here at twelve prompt–or not here, maybe, but down in the hollow back of your henhouse. You must be there and we’ll drive over to Trumet–“

“Trumet! Why, Caleb Hammond, I know everybody in Trumet well’s I do here. And gettin’ to Trumet at three o’clock in the mornin’ would be–“

“Then we won’t go to Trumet. We’ll go to Bayport. It’s quite a trip, but that’s all the better ’cause we won’t make Bayport till daylight. Then we’ll hunt up a parson to marry us and come back here and tell folks when we get good and ready. Thankful’ll miss the horse and team, I cal’late, but I’ll fix that; I’ll leave a note sayin’ I took the critter, bein’ called away on business.”

“Yes, but what will I tell Kenelm?”

“Don’t tell him anything, the foolhead. Why, yes, you can leave a note sayin’ you’ve gone up to the village, to the store or somethin’, and that he must get his own breakfast ’cause you won’t be back till after he’s gone to work over to Thankful’s. That’ll fix it. By crimus! That’ll fix it fine. Look here, Hannah Parker; I’ve set out to do this and, by crimus, I’m goin’ to do it. Come on now; let’s.”

Caleb was, as has been said, “sot” in his ways. He was “sot” now, and although Hannah continued to protest and declare she could not do such a thing, she yielded at last. Mr. Hammond left the Parker cottage in a triumphant mood. He had won his point and that had pleased him for a time; then, as he began to ponder upon that point and its consequences his triumph changed to misgiving and doubt. He had had no idea, until that forenoon, of marrying again. His proposal had been made on impulse, on the spur of the moment. He was not sure that he wished to marry Hannah Parker. But he had pleaded and persuaded her into accepting him that very night. Even if he wished to back out, how could he–now? He was conscious of an uneasy feeling that, perhaps, he had made a fool of himself.

He went to his room early in the evening and stayed there, looking at his watch and waiting for the rest of the family to retire. He heard Georgie’s voice in the room at the end of the hall, where Mrs. Barnes was tucking the youngster in for the night. Later he heard Imogene come up the backstairs and, after her, Thankful herself. But it was nearly eleven before Heman Daniels’ important and dignified step sounded on the front stairs and by that time the Hammond nerves were as taut as banjo strings.

It was nearly twelve before he dared creep downstairs and out of the back door, the key of which he left in the lock. Luckily the barn was a good distance from the house and Mrs. Barnes and Imogene were sound sleepers. But even with those advantages he did not dare attempt getting the buggy out of the barn, and decided to use the old discarded carryall, relic of “Cap’n Abner,” which now stood under the open shed at the rear.

George Washington looked at him in sleepy wonder as he tiptoed into the barn and lit the lantern. To be led out of his stall at “midnight’s solemn hour” and harnessed was more than George’s equine reasoning could fathom. The harnessing was a weird and wonderful operation. Caleb’s trembling fingers were all thumbs. After a while, however, the harnessing was accomplished somehow and in some way, although whether the breeching was where the bridle should have been or vice versa was more than the harnesser would have dared swear. After several centuries, as the prospective bridegroom was reckoning time, the horse was between the shafts of the carriage and driven very carefully along the road to the Parker homestead.

He hitched the sleepy animal to a pine tree just off the road and tiptoed toward the hollow, the appointed rendezvous. To reach this hollow he was obliged to pass through the Parker yard and, although he went on tiptoe, each footstep sounded, in his ears, like the crack of doom. He tried to think of some explanation to be made to Kenelm in case the latter should hear and hail him, but he could think of nothing more plausible than that he was taking a walk, and this was far from satisfactory.

And then he was hailed. From a window above, at the extreme end of the kitchen, came a trembling whisper.

“Caleb! Caleb Hammond, is that you?”

Mr. Hammond’s heart, which had been thumping anything but a wedding march beneath the summer under-flannels, leaped up and stuck in his throat; but he choked it down and gasped a faint affirmative.

“Oh, my soul and body! Where HAVE you been? I’ve been waitin’ and waitin’.”

“What in time did you wait up there for? Why don’t you come down?”

“I can’t. Kenelm’s locked the doors, and the keys are right next to his room door. I can’t get down.”

Here was an unexpected obstacle. Caleb was nonplused.

“Go home!” wailed the voice from above. “Don’t stand there. Go HOME! Can’t you SEE it ain’t any use? Go HOME!”

Five minutes before he received this order Mr. Hammond would have been only too glad to go home. Now he was startled and angry and, being angry, his habitual stubbornness developed.

“I shan’t go home neither,” he whispered, fiercely. “If you can’t come down I’ll–I’ll come up and get you.”

“Shh–shh! He’ll hear you. Kenelm’ll hear you.”

“I don’t care much if he does. See here, Hannah, can’t you get down nohow? How about that window? Can’t you climb out of that window? Say, didn’t I see a ladder layin’ alongside the woodshed this mornin’?”

“Yes, there’s a ladder there, but–where are you goin’? Mr. Hammond–Caleb–“

But Caleb was on his way to the woodshed. He found the ladder and laboriously dragged it beneath the window. Kenelm Parker had a local reputation for sleeping like the dead. Otherwise Mr. Hammond would never have dared risk the noise he was making.

Even after the ladder had been placed in position, Miss Parker hesitated. At first she flatly refused to descend, asserting that no mortal power could get her down that thing alive. But Caleb begged and commanded in agonized whispers, and finally she was prevailed upon to try. Mr. Hammond grasped the lower end of the ladder with a grip that brought the perspiration out upon his forehead, and the lady, with suppressed screams and ejaculations of “Oh, good Lord!” and “Heavens and earth! What shall I do?” reached the ground safe and more or less sound. They left the ladder where it was, and tiptoed fearfully out to the lane.

“Whew!” panted the exhausted swain, mopping his brow. “I’m clean tuckered out. I ain’t done so much work for ten years.”

“Don’t say a word, Caleb Hammond. If I ain’t got my death of–of ammonia or somethin’, I miss my guess. I’m all wheezed up from settin’ at that open winder waitin’ for you to come; and I thought you never WOULD come.”

As Caleb was helping the lady of his choice into the carryall he noticed that she carried a small hand-bag.

“What you got that thing for?” he demanded.

“It’s my reticule; there’s a clean handkerchief and a few other things in it. Mercy on us! You didn’t suppose I’d go off to get married without even a decent handkerchief, did you? I feel enough like a sneakin’ ragamuffin and housebreaker as ’tis. Why I ever was crazy enough to–where have you put the horse?”

Mr. Hammond led her to where George Washington was tethered. The father of his country was tired of standing alone in the damp, and he trotted off briskly. The first mile of their journey was accomplished safely, although the night was pitch-dark, and when they turned into the Bayport Road, which for two-thirds of its length leads through thick soft pine and scrub-oak woods, it was hard to distinguish even the horse’s ears. Miss Parker insisted that every curtain of the carryall–at the back and both sides– should be closely buttoned down, as she was fearful of the effects of the night air.

“Fresh air never hurts nobody,” said Caleb. “There ain’t nothin’ so good for a body as fresh air. I sleep with my window open wide winter and summer.”

“You DO? Well, I tell you right now, I don’t. I should say not! I shut every winder tight and I make Kenelm do the same thing. I don’t run any risks from drafts.”

Mr. Hammond grunted, and was silent for some little time, only brightening up when the lady, now in a measure recovered from her fright and the anxiety of waiting, began to talk of the blessings that were to come from their independent wedded life in a home of their own.

“We’ll keep chickens,” she said, “because I do like fresh eggs for breakfast. Let’s see; this is the way ’twill be; you’ll get up about five o’clock and kindle the fire, and–“

“Hey?”

“I say you’ll get up at five o’clock and kindle the fire.”

“ME get up and kindle it?”

“Sartin; you don’t expect I’m goin’ to, do you?”

“No-o, I suppose not. It come kind of sudden, that’s all. You see, I’ve been used to turnin’ out about seven. Seldom get up afore that.”

“Seven! My soul! I always have my breakfast et by seven. Well, as I say, you get up at five and kindle the fire, and then you’ll go out to the henyard and get what eggs there is. Then–“

“Then I’ll come in and call you, and you’ll come down and get breakfast. What breakfasts we will have! Eggs for you, if you want ’em, and ham and fried potatoes for me, and pie–“

“Pie? For breakfast?”

“Sartin. Laviny Marthy, my first wife, always had a piece of pie warmed for me, and I’ve missed it since. I don’t really care two cents for breakfast without pie.”

“Well now, Caleb, if you think I’m goin’ to get up and warm up pie every mornin’, let alone fryin’ potatoes, and–“

“See here, Hannah! Seems to me if I’m willin’ to turn out at that ungodly hour and then go scratchin’ around the henhouse to please you, you might be willin’ to have a piece of pie het up for me.”

“Well, maybe you’re right. But I must say–well, I’ll try and do it. It’ll seem kind of hard, though, after the simple breakfasts Kenelm and I have when we’re alone. But–what are you stoppin’ for?”

“There seems to be a kind of crossroads here,” said Caleb, bending forward and peering out of the carryall. “It’s so everlastin’ dark a feller can’t see nothin’. Yes, there is crossroads, three of ’em. Now, which one do we take? I ain’t drove to Bayport direct for years. When we went to the Cattle Show we went up through the Centre. Do you know which is the right road, Hannah?”

Hannah peered forth from the blackness of the back seat. “Now, let me think,” she said. “Last time I went to Bayport by this road was four year ago come next February. Sarah Snow’s daughter Becky was married to a feller named Higgins–Solon Higgins’ son ’twas. No, ‘twa’n’t his son, because–“

“Aw, crimus! Who cares if ’twas his aunt’s gran’mother? What I want to know is which road to take.”

“Well, seems to me, nigh as I can recollect, that we took the left- hand road. No, I ain’t sure but ’twas the right-hand. There’s a bare chance that it might have been the middle one, ’cause there was trees along both sides. I know we was goin’ to Becky Snow’s weddin’–“

“Trees ‘long it! There ain’t nothin’ BUT trees for two square miles around these diggin’s. Git dap, you! I’ll take the right- hand road. I think that’s the way.”

“Well, so do I; but, as I say, I ain’t sure. You needn’t be so cross and unlikely, whether ’tis or ’tain’t.”

If the main road had been dark, the branch road was darker, and the branches of the trees slapped and scratched the sides of the carryall. Caleb’s whole attention was given to his driving, and he said nothing. Miss Parker at length broke the dismal silence.

“Caleb,” she said, “what time had we ought to get to Bayport?”

“About four o’clock, I should think. We’ll drive ’round till about seven o’clock, and then we’ll go and get married. I used to know the Methodist minister there, and–“

“METHODIST minister! You ain’t goin’ to a Methodist minister to be married?”

“I sartin shouldn’t go to no one else. I’ve been goin’ to the Methodist church for over thirty year. You know that well’s I do.”

“I snum I never thought of it, or you wouldn’t have got me this far without settlin’ that question. I was confirmed into the Baptist faith when I was twelve year old. And you must have known that just as well as I knew you was a Methodist.”

“Well, if you knew I was one you ought to know I’d want a Methodist to marry me. ‘Twas a Methodist married me afore.”

“Humph! What do you suppose I care who married you before? I’m the one that’s goin’ with you to be married now; and if I was married by anybody but a Baptist minister I wouldn’t feel as if I was married at all.”

“Well, I shan’t be married by no Baptist.”

“No Methodist shall marry ME.”

“Now, look here, Hannah–“

“I don’t care, Caleb. You ain’t done nothin’ but contradict me since we started. I’ve been settin’ up all night, and I’m tired out, and there’s a draft comin’ in ’round these plaguy curtains right on the back of my neck. I’ll get cold and die and you’ll have a funeral on your hands instead of a weddin’. And I don’t know’s I’d care much,” desperately.

Caleb choked down his own irritation.

“There, there, Hannah,” he said, “don’t talk about dyin’ when you’re just gettin’ ready to live. We won’t fret about the minister business. If worst comes to worst I’ll give in to a Baptist, I suppose. One reason I did figger on goin’ to a Methodist was that, I bein’ of that faith, I thought maybe he’d do the job a little cheaper for us.”

“Cheaper? What do you mean? Was you cal’latin’ to make a BARGAIN with him?”

“No, no, course not. But there ain’t any sense in heavin’ money away on a parson more’n on anybody else.”

“Caleb Hammond, how much do you intend givin’ that minister?”

Mr. Hammond stirred uneasily on the seat of the carryall.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he answered evasively.

“Yes, you do know, too. How much?”

“I don’t know. Two or three dollars, maybe.”

“TWO or three dollars! My soul and body! Is two dollars all you’re willin’ to give up to get MARRIED? Is THAT all the ceremony’s worth to you? Two dollars! My soul!”

“Oh, let up! I don’t care. I’ll–I’ll–” after a desperate wrestle with his sense of economy. “I’ll give him whatever you say–in reason. Eh! . . . What’s that foolhead horse stoppin’ for now? What in the tunket’s the matter with him?”

The matter was simply that in his hasty harnessing Mr. Hammond had but partially buckled one of the girths, and the horse was now half-way out of the shafts, with the larger part of the harness well up towards his ears. Caleb groaningly climbed down from the seat, rummaged out and lit the lantern, which he had been thoughtful enough to put under the seat before starting, and proceeded to repair damages. This took a long time, and in getting back to the carryall he tore a triangular rent in the back of his Sunday coat. He had donned his best clothes to be married in, and, to add to his troubles, had left his watch in the fob-pocket of his everyday trousers, so they had no means of knowing the time.

“That’s a nice mess,” he grumbled, taking off his coat to examine the tear by the light of the lantern. “Nice-lookin’ rag-bag I’ll be to get married.”

“Maybe I can mend it when we get to Bayport,” said Miss Parker.

“What’ll you mend it with–pins?”

“No, there’s a needle and thread in my reticule. Wait till we get to Bayport and then–“

“Can’t mend it in broad daylight ridin up and down the main street, can you? And I’d look pretty shuckin’ my coat in the minister’s parlor for you to patch up the holes in it. Couldn’t you mend it now?”

Hannah announced her willingness to try, and the reticule being produced, the needle was threaded after numerous trials, and the mending began. Caleb, holding the lantern, watched the operation anxiously, his face falling at every stitch.

“I’m afraid I haven’t made a good job of it,” sighed Hannah, gazing sorrowfully at the puckered and wrinkled star in the back of the garment. “If you’d only held that lantern steady, instead of jigglin’ it round and round so, I might have done better.”

Mr. Hammond said nothing, but struggled into his coat, and picked up the reins. He sighed, heavily, and his sigh was echoed from the back seat of the carryall.

The road was now very rough, and the ruts were deep and full of holes. George Washington seemed to be stumbling through tall grass and bushes, and the carryall jolted and rocked from side to side. Miss Parker grew more and more nervous. After a particularly severe jolt she could not hold in any longer.

“Land of love, Caleb!” she gasped. “Where ARE you goin’! It doesn’t seem as if this could be the right road!”

“I don’t know whether ’tis or not; but it’s too narrow and too dark to turn ’round, so we’ve got to go ahead, that’s all.”

“Oh, heavens! What a jounce that was! Seems to me you’re awful reckless. I wish Kenelm was drivin’; he’s always so careful.”

This was too much. Mr. Hammond suppressed his feelings no longer.

“I wish to thunder he was!” he roared. “I wish Kenelm or some other dam’ fool was here instead of me.”

“Caleb HAMMOND!”

“I don’t care, Hannah. You’re enough to drive a deacon to swearin’. It’s been nothin’ but nag, nag, nag, fight, fight, fight ever since this cruise started. If–if we row like this afore we’re married what’ll it be afterwards? Talk about bein’ independent! Git dap there!” this a savage roar at George Washington, who had stopped again. “I do believe the idiot’s struck with a palsy.”

Hannah leaned forward and touched her fellow-sufferer on the arm. “Sshh, shh, Caleb!” she said. “Don’t holler so. I don’t blame you for hollerin’ and–and I declare I don’t know as I much blame you for swearin’, though I never thought I’D live to say a thing like that. But it ain’t the horse deserves to be sworn at. He ain’t the idiot; the idiots are you and me. We was both of us out of sorts this mornin’, I guess–I know I was–and then you come along and we talked and–and, well, we both went into this foolish, ridiculous, awful piece of silliness without stoppin’ to figger out whether we really wanted to, or whether we was liable to get along together, or anything else. Caleb, I’ve been wantin’ to say this for the last hour or more–now I’m goin’ to say it: You turn that horse’s head around and start right home again.”

Mr. Hammond shook his head.

“No,” he said.

“I say yes. I don’t want to marry you and I don’t believe you want to marry me. Now do you–honest?”

Caleb was silent for a full minute. Then he drew a deep breath.

“It don’t make no difference whether I do or not, fur’s I can see,” he said, gloomily. “It’s too late to start home now. I don’t know what time ’tis, but we must have been ridin’ three or four hours– seems eight or ten year to me–and we ought to be pretty near to Bayport. If we should turn back now we wouldn’t get home till long after daylight, and everybody would be up and wantin’ to know the whys and wherefores. If we told ’em we’d been ridin’ around together all night, and didn’t give any reasons for it, there’d be talk enough to last till Judgment. No, we’ve just got to get married now. That’s all there is to it.”

Hannah groaned as the truth of this statement dawned upon her. Caleb gathered the reins in his hands preparatory to driving on, when a new thought came to him.

“Say, Hannah,” he observed, “I suppose you left that note for Kenelm, didn’t you?”

Miss Parker uttered a faint shriek.

“Oh, my soul!” she cried. “I didn’t! I didn’t! I wrote it, but I was so upset when I found I couldn’t get the doorkey and get out that way that I left the note in my bureau drawer.”

“Tut, tut! Huh! Well, he may find it there; let’s hope he does.”

“But he won’t! He WON’T! He never finds anything, even if it’s in plain sight. He won’t know what’s become of me–“

“And he’ll most likely have the whole town out lookin’ for you. I guess now you see there’s nothin’ to do but for us to get married– don’t you?”

“Oh! Oh! Oh!” wailed Miss Parker, and burst into tears.

Caleb groaned. “Git dap!” he shouted to the horse. “No use cryin’, Hannah. Might’s well grin and bear it. The joyful bridal party’ll now proceed.”

But the horse refused to proceed, and his driver, peering forward, dimly saw a black barrier in front of him. He lit the lantern once more and, getting out of the carryall, discovered that the road apparently ended at a rail fence that barred further progress.

“Queer,” he said. “We must be pretty nigh civilization. Got to Bayport, most likely, Hannah; there seems to be a buildin’ ahead of us there. I’m goin’ to take the lantern and explore. You set still till I come back.”

But this Miss Parker refused to do. She declared that she would not wait alone in those woods for anybody or anything. If her companion was going to explore so was she. So Mr. Hammond assisted her to alight, and after he had taken down the bars, the pair went on through a grove to where a large building loomed against the sky.

“A church,” said Caleb. “One of the Bayport churches, I cal’late. Wonder which ’tis?”

“There’s always a sign on the front of a church,” said Hannah. “Let’s go around front and see.”

There were no trees in front of the church, and when they came out by the front platform, Miss Parker exclaimed, “Well, I never! I wouldn’t believe I’d remember so clear. This church seems just as familiar as if I was here yesterday. Why, what’s the matter?”

Mr. Hammond was standing on the platform, holding his lantern up before a gilt-lettered placard by the church door.

“Hannah,” he gurgled, “this night’s been too much for me. My foolishness has struck out of my brains into my eyes. I can’t read straight. Look here.”

Hannah clambered up beside her agitated companion, and read from the placard these words:

FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH

REV. JONATHAN LANGWORTHY, PASTOR

“Good land!” she exclaimed. “Mr. Langworthy! Why, Mr. Langworthy is the minister at Wellmouth Centre, ain’t he? I thought he was.”

“He is, but perhaps there’s another one.”

“No, there ain’t–not another Baptist. And–and this church, what little I can see of it, LOOKS like the Wellmouth Centre Baptist Church, too; I declare it does! . . . Where are you goin’?”

Caleb did not reply, neither did he turn back. Hannah, who did not propose to be left alone there in the dark, was hurrying after him, but he stopped and when she reached his side she found him holding the lantern and peering at an iron gate in a white fence. His face, seen by the lantern light, was a picture of bewildered amazement.

“What is it?” she demanded. “What IS it?”

He did not answer, but merely pointed to the gate.

“Eh? What–why–why, Caleb, that’s–ain’t that the Nickerson memorial gate? . . . It can’t be! But–but it IS! Why–“

Mr. Hammond was muttering to himself.

“We took the wrong road at the crossin’,” he said. “Then we must have switched again, probably when we was arguin’ about kindlin’ the fire; then we must have turned again when the harness broke; and that must have fetched us into Lemuel Ellis’ wood-lot road that comes out–“

“Eh? Lemuel Ellis’ wood-lot? Why, Lemuel’s wood-lot is at–“

“It’s at Wellmouth Centre, that’s where ’tis. No wonder that church looked familiar. Hannah, we ain’t been nigh Bayport. We’ve been ridin’ round and round in circles through them woods all night.”

“Caleb HAMMOND!”

Before Caleb could add anything to his astonishing statement the silence of the night was broken by the clang of the bell in the tower of the church. It clanged four times.

“WHAT!” exclaimed Caleb. “Only four o’clock! It can’t be!”

“My soul!” cried Miss Parker. “only four! Why–why, I thought we’d been ridin’ ten hours at least. . . . Caleb Hammond, you and me don’t want to find a minister; what we need to look up is a pair of guardians to take care of us.”

But Mr. Hammond seized her arm.

“Hannah,” he cried, excitedly, “do you understand what that means– that clock strikin’? It means that, bein’ as we’re only five miles from home, we can GET home, if we want to, afore anybody’s out of bed. You can sneak up that ladder again; I can get that horse and team back in Thankful’s stable; we can both be in our own beds by gettin’-up time and not one soul need ever know a word about this foolishness. If we–“

But Miss Parker had not waited for him to finish; she was already on her way to the carryall.

At a quarter after seven that morning Thankful knocked at the door of her boarder’s room.

“Mr. Hammond!” she called. “Mr. Hammond!”

Caleb awoke with a start.

“Eh?” he said.

“Are you up? It’s most breakfast time.”

Caleb, now more thoroughly awake, looked about his room. It was real; he was actually in it–and safe–and still single.

“Yes–yes; all right,” he said. “I’ll get right up. Must have overslept myself, I guess. What–what made you call me? Nothin’– er–nothin’s happened, has it?”

“No, nothin’s happened. But you’re usually up by seven and, as I hadn’t heard a sound from you, I was afraid you might be sick.”

“No, no; I ain’t sick. I’m feelin’ fine. Has–has Kenelm Parker got here yet?”

“Yes, he’s here.”

“Ain’t–ain’t said nothin’, has he?”

“Said anything? No. What do you mean? What did you expect him to say?”

“Nothin’, nothin’, I–I wondered what sort of a drive he and Imogene had yesterday, that’s all. I thought it would be fine to hear him tell about it. You run along, Mrs. Barnes; I’ll hurry and get dressed.”

He jumped out of bed. He was tired and lame and his head ached– but, Oh, he was happy! He had stabled George Washington and reached his room without disturbing anyone. And, as Kenelm had, according to Mrs. Barnes, spoken and appeared as usual, it was evident that Hannah Parker, too, had gotten safely and undetected to her own apartment.

Thankful knocked at his door again.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but Melindy Pease hasn’t sent home your mendin’ yet. I’m afraid you’ll have to do without your–er–your winter things for one more day.”

“Hey? My winter–Oh, yes, yes. Well, I don’t care. It’s warmer today than ’twas yesterday.”

“Oh no, it isn’t; it’s a good deal colder. I hope you won’t catch cold.”

“No, no, I shan’t. I’m feelin’ fine.”

“Well, thank goodness for that.”

“Thank goodness for a good many things,” said Mr. Hammond, devoutly.

CHAPTER XIII

If Kenelm noticed that George Washington seemed unusually tired that morning, or that the old carryall behind the barn had some new scratches on its sides and wheels, and leaves and pine needles on its cushions and floor, he did not mention what he saw. For a day or two both Mr. Hammond and Miss Parker were anxious and fearful, but as nothing was said and no questions were asked, they began to feel certain that no one save themselves knew of the elopement which had turned out to be no elopement at all. For a week Hannah’s manner toward her brother was sweetness itself. She cooked the dishes he liked and permitted him to do as he pleased without once protesting or “nagging.” She had done comparatively little of the latter since the announcement of the “engagement,” but now she was more considerate and self-sacrificing than ever. If Kenelm was aware of the change he made no comment upon it, perhaps thinking it good policy to let well enough alone. Gradually the eloping couple began to feel that their secret was secure and to cease worrying about it. But Caleb called no more at the Parker cottage and when he and Hannah met they bowed, but did not stop to converse.

Miss Timpson’s sudden departure from the High Cliff House caused less talk than Thankful had feared. It happened that the “cousin Sarah” to whose home Miss Abigail had fled, was seized with an attack of grippe and this illness was accepted as the cause of the schoolmistress’s move. And Miss Timpson herself kept her word; she told no one of the “warning” she had received. So Thankful was spared the gossip and questioning concerning the snoring ghost in the back bedroom. For so much she was grateful, but she missed the weekly room rent and the weekly board money. The financial situation was becoming more and more serious for her, and as yet Solomon Cobb had not made known his decision in the matter of the mortgage.

During the week following Miss Timpson’s departure Thankful spent several nights in the rooms the former had vacated, lying awake and listening for sounds from the back bedroom. She heard none. No ghost snored for her benefit. Then other happenings, happenings of this world, claimed her attention and she dropped psychical research for the time.

The first of these happenings was the most surprising. One forenoon Kenelm returned from an errand to the village bringing the morning’s mail with him. There were two letters for Mrs. Barnes. One was from Emily and, as this happened to be on top, Thankful opened it first.

There was good news in the letter, good news for Georgie and also for Mrs. Barnes herself. Georgie had been enjoying himself hugely during his stay in East Wellmouth. He spent every moment of pleasant weather out of doors and his energetic exuberance kept the livestock as well as the humans on the “Cap’n Abner place” awake and lively. He fed the hens, he collected the eggs, he pumped and carried water for George Washington; and the feeding of Patrick Henry was his especial care. That pig, now a plump and somnolent porker, was Georgie’s especial favorite. It was past “hog-killing time” in East Wellmouth, but Thankful had given up the idea of turning Patrick Henry into spare ribs and lard, at least until her lively young relative’s visit was at an end. That end was what Georgie feared. He did not want to go home. Certainly Thankful did not want him to go, and she and Captain Obed–the latter’s fondness for his “second mate” stronger than ever–wrote to Miss Howes, begging her to use her influence with the family to the end that Georgie’s visit might be prolonged until after Christmas, at any rate.

And in Emily’s reply, the letter which Kenelm brought from the postoffice that morning, the permission was granted. Georgie might stay until New Year’s Day.

Then [wrote Emily], he must come back with me. Yes, with me; for, you see, I am going to keep my word. I am coming to spend my Christmas vacation with you, just as I said I should if it were possible. There! aren’t you glad? I know you are, for you must be so lonely, although one not knowing you as well as I do would never guess it from your letters. You always write that all is well, but I know. By the way, are there any developments in the matter of the loan from Mr. Cobb? I am very glad the renewal of the mortgage is to be all right, but I think he should do more than that. And have you been troubled in the other affair, that of your neighbor? You have not mentioned it–but have you?

Thankful had not been troubled in the “other affair.” That is to say, she had not been troubled by E. Holliday Kendrick or his attorney. No move had been made, at least so far as anyone could learn, in the project of forcing her to sell out, and Heman Daniels declared that none would be made. “It is one thing to boast,” said Mr. Daniels, “and another to make good. My–ahem–er–professional rival is beginning to realize, I think, that he has in this case bitten off more than he can–er–so to speak, chew. That young man has succeeded in ruining himself in this community and that is all he has succeeded in.”

John said nothing. At his new boarding-place, Darius Holt’s, he answered no questions concerning his plans, and was silent and non- communicative. He kept to himself and made no effort to regain his lost popularity or to excuse his action. Thankful saw him but seldom and even Captain Obed no longer mentioned John’s name unless it was mentioned to him. Then he discussed the subject with a scornful sniff and the stubborn declaration that there was a mistake somewhere which would some day be explained. But his confidence was shaken, that was plain, and his optimism assumed. He and Mrs. Barnes avoided discussion of John Kendrick and his affairs.

Thankful read and reread the letter from Emily Howes. The news it contained was so good that she forgot entirely the fact that there was another envelope in the mail. Only when, as she sprang to her feet to rush out into the yard and tell Georgie that his plea for an extension of his visit was granted, was her attention called to this second letter. It fell from her lap to the floor and she stooped and picked it up.

The first thing she noticed was that the envelope was in a remarkably crumpled and dirty condition. It looked as if it had been carried in a pocket–and a not too clean pocket–for many days. Then she noticed the postmark–“Omaha.” The address was the last item to claim her attention and, as she stared at the crumpled and crooked hand-writing, she gasped and turned pale.

Slowly she sank back into her chair and tore open the envelope. The inclosure was a dingy sheet of cheap notepaper covered with a penciled scrawl. With trembling fingers she unfolded the paper and read what was written there. Then she leaned back in the chair and put her hand to her forehead.

She was sitting thus when the door of the dining-room opened and a voice hailed: “Ahoy there! Anybody on deck?”

She turned to see Captain Obed Bangs’ cheery face peering in at her.

“Hello!” cried the captain, entering the room and tossing his cap on the table. “You’re here, are you? I was lookin’ for you and Imogene said she cal’lated you was aboard ship somewheres, but she wa’n’t sartin where. I’ve come to get that second mate of mine. I’m goin’ off with a gang to take up the last of my fish weirs and I thought maybe the little shaver’d like to go along. I need help in bossin’ the fo’mast hands, you see, and he’s some consider’ble of a driver, that second mate is. Yes sir-ee! You ought to hear him order ’em to get up anchor. Ho! ho! I–Hey? Why–why, what’s the matter?”

Thankful’s face was still pale and she was trembling.

“Nothin’, nothin’, Cap’n Bangs,” she said. “I’ve had a–a surprise, that’s all.”

“A surprise! Yes, you look as if you had.” Then, noticing the letter in her lap, he added. “You ain’t had bad news, have you?”

“No. No, not exactly. It’s good news. Yes, in a way it’s good news, but–but I didn’t expect it and–and it has shook me up a good deal. . . . And–and I don’t know what to do. Oh, I don’t know WHAT I’d ought to do!”

The distress in her tone was so real that the captain was greatly disturbed. He made a move as if to come to her side and then, hesitating, remained where he was.

“I–I’d like to help you, Thank–er–Mrs. Barnes,” he faltered, earnestly. “I like to fust-rate, if–if I could. Ain’t there–is there anything I could do to help? Course you understand I ain’t nosin’ in on your affairs, but, if you feel like tellin’ me, maybe I– Look here, ’tain’t nothin’ to do with that cussed Holliday Kendrick or his meanness, is it?”

Thankful shook her head. “No,” she said, “it isn’t that. I’ve been expectin’ that and I’d have been ready for anything he might do–or try to do. But I wasn’t expectin’ THIS. How COULD anybody expect it? I thought he was dead. I thought sure he must be dead. Why, it’s six year since he–and now he’s alive, and he wants– What SHALL I do?”

Captain Obed took a step forward.

“Now, Mrs. Barnes,” he begged, “I wish you would–that is, you know if you feel like it I–well, here I am. Can’t I do SOMETHIN’?”

Thankful turned and looked at him. She was torn between an intense desire to make a confidant of someone and her habitual tendency to keep her personal affairs to herself. The desire overcame the habit.

“Cap’n Bangs,” she said, suddenly, “I will tell you I’ve just got to tell somebody. If he was just writin’ to say he was all right and alive, I shouldn’t. I’d just be grateful and glad and say nothin’. But the poor thing is poverty-struck and friendless, or he says he is, and he wants money. And–and I haven’t got any money just now.”

“I have,” promptly. “Or, if I ain’t got enough with me I can get more. How much? Just you say how much you think he’ll need and I’ll have it for you inside of a couple of hours. If money’s all you want–why, that’s nothin’.”

Thankful heard little, apparently, of this prodigal offer. She took up the letter.

“Cap’n Bangs,” said she, “you remember I told you, one time when we were talkin’ together, that I had a brother–Jedediah, his name was–who used to live with me after my husband was drowned?”

“Yes. I remember. You said he’d run off to go gold-diggin’ in the Klondike or somewheres. You said he was dead.”

“I thought he must be. I gave him up long ago, because I was sartin sure if he wasn’t dead he’d have written me, askin’ me to let him come back. I knew he’d never be able to get along all by himself. But he isn’t dead. He’s alive and he’s written me now. Here’s his letter. Read it, please.”

The captain took the letter and slowly read it through. It was a rambling, incoherent epistle, full of smudges where words had been scratched out and rewritten, but a pitiful appeal nevertheless. Jedediah Cahoon had evidently had a hard time since the day when, after declaring his intention never to return until “loaded down with money,” he had closed the door of his sister’s house at South Middleboro and gone out into the snowstorm and the world. His letter contained few particulars. He had wandered far, even as far as his professed destination, the Klondike, but, wherever he had been, ill luck was there to meet him. He had earned a little money and lost it, earned a little more and lost that; had been in Nome and Vancouver and Portland and Seattle; had driven a street car in Tacoma.

I wrote you from Tacoma, Thankful [the letter said], after I lost that job, but you never answered. Now I am in ‘Frisco and I am down and out. I ain’t got any good job and I don’t know where I will get one. I want to come home. Can’t I come? I am sorry I cleared out and left you the way I done, and if you will let me come back home again I will try to be a good brother to you. I will; honest. I won’t complain no more and I will split the kindling and everything. Please say I can come. Do PLEASE.

Then came the appeal for money, money for the fare east. It was to be sent to an address in San Francisco, in care of a person named Michael Kelly.

I am staying with this Kelly man [concluded Jedediah]. He keeps a kind of hotel like and I am doing chores for him. If you send the money right off I will get it I guess before he fires me. Send it QUICK for the Lord sakes.

Captain Obed finished the letter.

“Whew!” he whistled. “He’s in hard luck, ain’t he?”

Thankful wrung her hands. “Yes,” she answered, “and I must help him somehow. But how I’m goin’ to do it just now I don’t see. But I must, of course. He’s my brother and I MUST.”

“Sartin you must. We–er–that is, that can be fixed all right. Humph! He sent this to you at South Middleboro, didn’t he, and ’twas forwarded. Let’s see when he wrote it. . . . Eh? Why, ’twas written two months ago! Where in the world has it been all this time?”

“I don’t know. I can’t think. And he says he is in San Francisco, and the postmark on that envelope is Omaha, Nebraska.”

“Land of love, so ’tis. And the postmark date is only four days back. Why did he hang on to the thing for two months afore he mailed it? And how did it get to Omaha?”

“I don’t know. All I can think of is that he gave the letter to somebody else to mail and that somebody forgot it. That’s all I can think of. I can’t really think of anything after a shock like this. Oh, dear! Oh, dear! The poor, helpless, incompetent thing! He’s probably starved to death by this time and it’s all my fault. I NEVER should have let him go. What SHALL I do? Wasn’t there enough without this?”

For the first time Thankful’s troubles overcame her courage and self-restraint. She put her handkerchief to her eyes.

The captain was greatly upset. He jammed his hands into his pockets, took them out again, reached for his own handkerchief, blew his nose violently, and began pacing up and down the room. Suddenly he seemed to have made up his mind.

“Mrs. Barnes,” he said, “I–I–“

Thankful’s face was still buried in her handkerchief.

“I–I–” continued Captain Obed. “Now, now, don’t do that. Don’t DO it!”

Mrs. Barnes wiped her eyes.

“I won’t,” she said, stoutly. “I won’t. I know I’m silly and childish.”

“You ain’t neither. You’re the pluckiest and best woman ever was. You’re the finest–er–er– Oh, consarn it, Thankful, don’t cry any more. Can’t you,” desperately, “can’t you see I can’t stand it to have you?”

“All right, Cap’n Bangs, I won’t. Don’t you bother about me or my worries. I guess likely you’ve got enough of your own; most people have.”

“I ain’t. I ain’t got enough. Do me good if I had more. Thankful, see here; what’s the use of your fightin’ all these things alone? I’ve watched you ever since you made port here in South Wellmouth and it’s been nothin’ but fight and worry all the time. What’s the use of it? You’re too good a woman to waste your life this way.