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  • 1915
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Thankful nodded. “Yes,” she said, “I suppose we had. He’s alive, I know that much, for I had Imogene knock on his door just now and he answered. But I guess maybe we’d better–“

She did not finish the sentence for at that moment the subject of the conversation entered the room. It was Solomon Cobb who entered, but, except for his clothes, he was a changed man. His truculent arrogance was gone, he came in slowly and almost as if he were walking in his sleep. His collar was unbuttoned, his hair had not been combed, and the face between the thin bunches of whiskers was white and drawn. He did not speak to either Emily or Thankful, but, dragging one foot after the other, crossed the room and sat down in a chair by the window.

Thankful spoke to him.

“Are you sick, Solomon?” she asked.

Mr. Cobb shook his head.

“Eh?” he grunted. “No, no, I ain’t sick. I guess I ain’t; I don’t know.”

“Breakfast is all ready, Mr. Cobb,” suggested Emily.

Solomon turned a weary eye in her direction. He looked old, very old.

“Breakfast!” he repeated feebly. “Don’t talk about breakfast to me! I’ll never eat again in this world.”

Thankful pitied him; she could not help it.

“Oh, yes, you will,” she said, heartily. “Just try one of those clam fritters of Imogene’s and you’ll eat a whole lot. If you don’t you’ll be the first one.”

He shook his head. “Thankful,” he said, slowly, “I–I want to talk to you. I’ve got to talk to you–alone.”

“Alone! Why, Emily’s just the same as one of the family. There’s no secrets between us, Solomon.”

“I don’t care. I wan’t to talk to you. It’s you I’ve got to talk to.”

Thankful would have protested once more, but Emily put a hand on her arm.

“I’ll go into the living-room with Georgie, Auntie,” she whispered. “Yes, I shall.”

She went and closed the door behind her. Thankful sat down in a chair, wondering what was coming next. Solomon did not look at her, but, after a moment, he spoke.

“Thankful Cahoon,” he said, calling her by her maiden name. “I– I’ve been a bad man. I’m goin’ to hell.”

Thankful jumped. “Mercy on us!” she cried. “What kind of talk–“

“I’m goin’ to hell,” repeated Solomon. “When a man does the way I’ve done that’s where he goes. I’m goin there and I’m goin’ pretty soon. I’ve had my notice.”

Thankful stood up. She was convinced that her visitor had been driven crazy by his experience in the back bedroom.

“Now, now, now,” she faltered. “Don’t talk so wicked, Solomon Cobb. You’ve been a church man for years, and a professor of religion. You told me so, yourself. How can you set there and say–“

Mr. Cobb waved his hand.

“Don’t make no difference,” he moaned. “Or, if it does, it only makes it worse. I know where I’m goin’, but–but I’ll go with a clean manifest, anyhow. I’ll tell you the whole thing. I promised the dead I would and I will. Thankful Cahoon, I’ve been a bad man to you. I swore my solemn oath as a Christian to one that was my best friend, and I broke it.

“Years ago I swore by all that was good and great I’d look out for you and see that you was comf’table and happy long’s you lived. And instead of that, when I come here last night–LED here, I know now that I was–my mind was about made up to take your home away from you, if I could. Yes, sir, I was cal’latin’ to foreclose on you and sell this place to Kendrick. I thought I was mighty smart and was doin’ a good stroke of business. No mortal man could have made me think diff’rent; BUT AN IMMORTAL ONE DID!”

He groaned and wiped his forehead. Thankful did not speak; her surprise and curiosity were too great for speech.

“‘Twas your Uncle Abner Barnes,” went on Solomon, “that was the makin’ of me. I sailed fust mate for him fourteen year. And he always treated me fine, raised my wages right along, and the like of that. ‘Twas him that put me in the way of investin’ my money in them sugar stocks and the rest. He made me rich, or headed me that way. And when he lost all he had except this place here and was dyin’ aboard the old schooner, he calls me to him and he says:

“‘Sol,’ he says, ‘Sol, I’ve done consider’ble for you, and you’ve said you was grateful. Well, I’m goin’ to ask a favor of you. I ain’t got a cent of my own left, and my niece by marriage, Thankful Cahoon that was, that I love same as if she was my own child, may, sometime or other, be pretty hard put to it to get along. I want you to look after her. If ever the time comes that she needs money or help I want you to do for her what I’d do if I was here. If you don’t,’ he says, risin’ on one elbow in the bunk, ‘I’ll come back and ha’nt you. Promise on your solemn oath.’ And I promised. And you know how I’ve kept that promise. And last night he come back. Yes, sir, he come back!”

Still Thankful said nothing. He groaned again and went on:

“Last night,” he said, “up in that bedroom, I woke up and, as sure as I’m settin’ here this minute, I heard Cap’n Abner Barnes snorin’ just as he snored afore his death aboard the schooner, T. I. Smalley, in the stateroom next to mine. I knew it in a minute, but I got up and went all round my room and the empty one alongside. There was nothin’ there, of course. Nothin’ but the snorin’. And I got down on my knees and swore to set things right this very day. Give me a pen and ink and some paper.”

“Eh? What?”

“Give me a pen and some ink and paper. Don’t sit there starin’! Hurry up! Can’t you see I want to get this thing off my chest afore I die! And–and I–I wouldn’t be surprised if I died any minute. Hurry UP!”

Thankful went into the living-room in search of the writing materials. Emily, who was sitting on the floor with Georgie and the presents, turned to ask a question.

“What is it, Auntie?” she whispered, eagerly. “Is it anything important?”

Her cousin made an excited gesture.

“I–I don’t know,” she whispered in reply. “Either he’s been driven looney by what happened last night, or else–or else somethin’s goin’ to happen that I don’t dast to believe. Emily, you stand right here by the door. I may want you.”

“Where’s that pen and things?” queried Solomon from the next room. “Ain’t you ever comin’?”

When the writing materials were brought and placed upon the dining- room table he drew his chair to that table and scrawled a few lines.

“Somebody ought to witness this,” he cried, nervously. “Some disinterested person ought to witness this. Then ’twill hold in law. Where’s that–that Howes girl? Oh, here you be! Here! you sign that as a witness.”

Emily, who had entered at the mention of her name, took the paper from his trembling fingers. She read what was written upon it.

“Why–why, Auntie!” she cried, excitedly. “Aunt Thankful, have you seen this? He–“

“Stop your talk!” shouted Solomon. “Can’t you women do nothin’ BUT talk? Sign your name alongside of mine as a witness.”

Emily took the pen and signed as directed. Mr. Cobb snatched the paper from her, glanced at it and then handed it to Thankful.

“There!” he cried. “That’s done, anyhow. I’ve done so much. Now– now don’t say a word to me for a spell. I–I’m all in; that’s what I am, all in.”

Thankful did not say a word; she couldn’t have said it at that moment. Upon the paper which she held in her hand was written a cancellation of the fifteen-hundred-dollar mortgage and a receipt in full for the loan itself, signed by Solomon Cobb.

Dimly and uncomprehendingly she heard Emily trying to thank their visitor. But thanks he would not listen to.

“No, no, no!” he shouted. “Go away and let me alone. I’m a wicked, condemned critter. Nobody’s ever cared a durn for me, nobody but one, and I broke my word to him. Friendless I’ve lived since Abner went and friendless I’ll die. Serve me right. I ain’t got a livin’ soul of my own blood in the world.”

But Thankful was in a measure herself again.

“Don’t talk so, Solomon,” she cried. “You have got somebody of your own blood. I’m a relation of yours, even if ’tis a far-off relation. I–I don’t know how to thank you for this. I–“

He interrupted again.

“Yes,” he wailed, “you’re my relation. I know it. Think that makes it any better? Look how I’ve treated you. No, no; I’m goin’ to die and go–“

“You’re goin’ to have breakfast, that’s what you’re goin’ to have. And it shan’t be warmed up fried clams either. Emily, you stay with him. I’m goin’ to the kitchen.”

She fled to the kitchen, where, between fits of crying and laughing, which would have alarmed Imogene had she been there, she tried to prepare a breakfast which might tempt the repentant money- lender. Emily joined her after a short interval.

“He won’t listen to anything,” said the young lady. “He has been frightened almost to death, that’s certain. He is praying now. I came away and left him praying. Oh, Auntie, isn’t it wonderful! Isn’t it splendid!”

Thankful sighed. “It’s so wonderful I can scarcely believe it,” she said. “To think of his givin’ up money–givin’ it away of his own accord! I said last night that Jedediah’s comin’ home was a miracle. This one beats that all to pieces. I don’t know what to do about takin’ that thousand from him,” she added. “I declare I don’t. ‘Course I shan’t take it in the long run; I’ll pay it back soon as ever I can. But should I pretend to take it now? That’s what troubles me.”

“Of course you should. He is rich and he doesn’t need it. What have you done with that receipt? Put it away somewhere and in a safe place. He is frightened; that–that something, whatever it was, last night–frightened him so that he will give away anything now. But, by and by, when his fright is over he may change his mind. Lock up that paper, Aunt Thankful. If you don’t, I will.”

“But what was it that frightened him, Emily? I declare I’m gettin’ afraid to stay in this house myself. What was it he heard–and we heard?”

“I don’t know, but I mean to find out. I’m a sensible person this morning, not an idiot, and I intend to lay that ghost.”

When they went back into the dining-room they were surprised at what they saw. Solomon was still sitting by the window, but Georgie was sitting in a chair beside him, exhibiting the pictures in one of his Christmas books and apparently on the best of terms with his new acquaintance.

“I’m showin’ him my ‘Swiss Family Robinson,'” said the boy. “Here’s where they built a house in a tree, Mr. Cobb. Emmie told me about their doin’ it.”

Solomon groaned.

“You better take this child away from me,” he said. “He came to me of his own accord, but he hadn’t ought to stay. A man like me ain’t fit to have children around him.”

Thankful had an inspiration.

“It’s a sign,” she cried, clapping her hands. “It’s a sign sent to you, Solomon. It means you’re forgiven. That’s what it means. Now you eat your breakfast.”

He was eating, or trying to eat, when someone knocked at the door. Winnie S. Holt was standing on the step.

“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Barnes,” he hailed. “Ain’t drowned out after the gale, be you? Judas priest! Our place is afloat. Dad says he cal’lates we’ll have to build a raft to get to the henhouse on. Here; here’s somethin’ Mr. Kendrick sent to you. Wanted me to give it to you, yourself, and nobody else.”

The something was a long envelope with “Mrs. Barnes, Personal,” written upon it. Thankful read the inscription.

“From Mr. Kendrick?” she repeated. “Which Mr. Kendrick?”

“Mr. John, the young one. Mr. Holliday’s comin’, though. He telephoned from Bayport this mornin’. Came down on the cars far’s there last night, but he didn’t dast to come no further ‘count of bein’ afraid to drive from the Centre in the storm. He’s hired an automobile and is comin’ right over, he says. The message was for John Kendrick, but Dad took it. What’s in the envelope, Mrs. Barnes?”

Thankful slowly tore the end from the envelope. Emily stood at her elbow.

“What can it be, Auntie?” she asked, fearfully.

“I don’t know. I’m afraid to look. Oh, dear! It’s somethin’ bad, I know. Somethin’ to do with that Holliday Kendrick; it must be or he wouldn’t have come to East Wellmouth today. I–I–well, I must look, of course. Oh, Emily, and we thought this was goin’ to be a merry Christmas, after all.”

The enclosure was a long, legal-looking document. Thankful unfolded it, read a few lines and then stopped reading.

“Why–why–” she stammered.

“What is it, Auntie?” pleaded Emily.

“It–I can’t make out. I MUST be crazy, or–or somebody is. It looks like– Read it, Emily; read it out loud.”

CHAPTER XVII

Captain Obed Bangs rose at his usual hour that Christmas morning, and the hour was an early one. When he looked from his bedroom window the clouds were breaking and a glance at his barometer, hung on the wall just beside that window, showed the glass to be rising and confirmed the promise of a fair day. He dressed and came downstairs. Hannah Parker came down soon afterward. The captain wished her a merry Christmas.

Miss Parker shook her head; she seemed to be in a pessimistic mood.

“I’m much obliged to you, Cap’n Bangs,” she said, “and I’m sure I wish you the same. But I don’t know; don’t seem as if I was liable to have many more merry Christmases in this life. No, merry Christmases ain’t for me. I’m a second fiddle nowadays and I cal’late that’s what I’m foreordinated to be from now on.”

The captain didn’t understand.

“Second fiddle,” he repeated. “What have you got to do with fiddlin’, for goodness’ sakes?”

“Nothin’, of course. I don’t mean a real fiddle. I mean I shan’t never be my own mistress any more. I’ve been layin’ awake thinkin’ about it and shiverin’, ’twas so damp and chilly up in my room. There’s a loose shingle right over a knot hole that’s abreast a crack in my bedroom wall, and it lets in the dampness like a sieve. I’ve asked Kenelm to fix it MORE times; but no, all he cares to do is look out for himself and that inmate. If SHE had a loose shingle he’d fix it quick enough. All I could do this mornin’ was lay to bed there and shiver and pull up the quilt and think and think. It kept comin’ over me more and more.”

“The quilt, you mean? That’s what you wanted it to do, wasn’t it?”

“Not the quilt. The thought of the lonesome old age that’s comin’ to me when Kenelm’s married. I’ve had him to look after for so long. I’ve been my own boss, as they say.”

She might have added, “And Kenelm’s, too,” but Captain Obed added it for her, in his mind. He laughed.

“That’s all right, Hannah,” he observed, by way of consolation. “Kenelm ain’t married yet. When he is you can help his wife look out for him. Either that or get married. Why don’t you get married, Hannah?”

“Humph! Don’t be silly, Obed Bangs.”

“That ain’t silliness, that’s sense. All you need to do is just h’ist the signal, ‘Consort wanted,’ and you’d have one alongside in no time. There’s Caleb Hammond, for instance; he’s a widower and– eh! look out!”

Miss Parker had dropped the plate she was just putting down upon the table. Fortunately it fell only a few inches and did not break.

“What do you mean by that?” she demanded sharply.

“I meant the plate. Little more and you’d have sent it to glory.”

“Never you mind the plate. I can look out for my own crockery. ‘Twas cracked anyhow. And I guess you’re cracked, too,” she added. “Talkin’ about my–my marryin’ Caleb Hammond. What put that in your head?”

“I don’t know. I just–“

“Well, don’t be silly. When I marry Caleb Hammond,” she added with emphasis, “’twill be after THIS.”

“So I cal’lated. I didn’t think you’d married him afore this. There now, you missed a chance, Hannah. You and he ought to have got married that time when you went away together.”

Miss Parker turned pale. “When we went–away–TOGETHER!” she faltered. “WHAT are you talkin’ about?”

“When you went over to the Cattle Show that time.”

“Is that what you meant?”

“Sartin. What are you glarin’ at me that way for? You ain’t been away together any other time, have you? No, Hannah, that was your chance. You and Caleb might have been married in the balloon, like the couples we read about in the papers. Ho! ho! Think of the advertisin’ you’d have had! ‘A high church weddin’.’ ‘Bride and groom up in the air.’ Can’t you see those headlines?”

Hannah appeared more relieved than annoyed.

“Humph!” she sniffed. “Well, I should say YOU was up in the air, Obed Bangs. What’s the matter with you this mornin’? Has the rain soaked into your head? It seems to be softenin’ up pretty fast. If you’re so set on somebody gettin’ married why don’t you get married yourself? You’ve been what the minister calls ‘unattackted’ all your life.”

The minister had said “unattached,” but Captain Obed did not offer to correct the quotation. He joked no more and, during breakfast, was silent and absent-minded.

After breakfast he went out for a walk. The storm had gullied the hills and flooded the hollows. There were pools of water everywhere, shining cold and steely in the winter sunshine. The captain remembered the low ground in which the barn and outbuildings upon the “Cap’n Abner place” stood, and judged that he and Kenelm might have to do some rescue work among the poultry later on. He went back to the house to suggest that work to Mr. Parker himself.

Kenelm and his sister were evidently in the midst of a dispute. The former was seated at the breakfast table and Hannah was standing by the kitchen door looking at him.

“Goin’ off to work Christmas Day!” she said, as the captain entered. “I should think you might stay home with me THAT day, if no other. ‘Tain’t the work you’re so anxious to get to. It’s that precious inmate of yours.”

Kenelm’s answer was as surprising as it was emphatic.

“Darn the inmate!” he shouted. “I wish to thunder I’d never seen her!”

Captain Obed whistled. Miss Parker staggered, but she recovered promptly.

“Oh,” she said, “that’s how you feel, is it? Well, if I felt that way toward anybody I don’t think I’d be plannin’ to marry ’em.”

“Ugh! What’s the use of talkin’ rubbish? I’ve GOT to marry her, ain’t I? She’s got that paper I was fool enough to sign. Oh, let me alone, Hannah! I won’t go over there till I have to. I’d ruther stay to home enough sight.”

Hannah put her arms about his neck. “There, there, Kenelm, dearie,” she said soothingly, “you eat your breakfast like a nice brother. I’LL be good to you, if nobody else ain’t. And I didn’t have to sign any paper afore I’d do it either.”

Kenelm grunted ungraciously.

“‘Twas your fault, anyhow,” he muttered. “If you hadn’t bossed me and driven me into workin’ for Thankful Barnes ‘twouldn’t have happened. I wouldn’t have thought of gettin’ engaged to be married.”

“Never mind, dearie. You ain’t married yet. Perhaps you won’t be. And, anyhow, you know I’LL never boss you any more.”

Kenelm looked at her. There was an odd expression in his eyes.

“You bet you won’t!” he said, slowly. “I’ll see to that.”

“Why, Kenelm, what do you mean?”

“I don’t mean nothin’–maybe. Give me some more coffee.”

Captain Obed decided that the present was not the time to suggest a trip to the High Cliff House. He went out again, to walk along the path and think over what he had just heard. It was interesting, as showing the attitude of one of the contracting parties toward the “engagement,” the announcement of which had been such a staggering finish to the “big day” of the County Fair.

Winnie S. came whistling up the path from the village.

“Hi, Cap’n Bangs!” he shouted. “I was just goin’ to stop at Hannah’s to tell you somethin’.”

“You was, eh?”

“Yup. Then I was goin’ on to the High Cliff. I’ve got somethin’ to take to Mrs. Thankful. What do you suppose ’tis?”

He exhibited the long envelope.

“John Kendrick sent it to her,” he said. “I don’t know what’s in it. And he wants you to come to his office right off, Cap’n Obed. That’s what I was goin’ to tell you. He says not to wait till afternoon, same as he said, but to come now. It’s important, he says.”

John was seated at the desk in his office when the captain opened the door. He bowed gravely.

“Take off your hat and coat, Captain,” he said. “Sit down. I’m glad you got my message and came early. I am expecting the other party at any moment.”

Captain Obed was puzzled.

“The other party?” he repeated. “What other party?”

“My–er–well, we’ll call him my client. He is on his way here and I may need you–as a witness.”

“Witness? What to?”

“You will see. Now, Captain, if you’ll excuse me, I have some papers to arrange. Make yourself as comfortable as you can. I’m sure you won’t have to wait long.”

Fifteen minutes later the rasping, arrogant “honk” of a motor horn came from the road outside. Heavy, important steps sounded upon the office platform. The door opened and in came Mr. E. Holliday Kendnick.

Captain Obed had known of the great man’s expected arrival, but he had not expected it so early in the day. E. Holliday wore a luxurious fur-lined coat and looked as prosperous and important as ever, but also–so it seemed to the captain–he looked disturbed and puzzled and angry.

The captain rose to his feet and said, “Good morning,” but except for a nod of recognition, his greeting was unanswered. Mr. Kendrick slammed the door behind him, stalked across the office, took a letter from his pocket and threw it down upon his attorney’s desk.

“What’s the meaning of that?” he demanded.

John was perfectly calm. “Sit down, Mr. Kendrick,” he said.

“No, I won’t sit down. What the devil do you mean by sending me that thing? You expected me, didn’t you? You got my wire saying I was coming.”

“Yes, I got it. Sit down. I have a good deal to say and it may take some time. Throw off your coat.”

E. Holliday threw the fur coat open, but he did not remove it. He jerked a chair forward and seated himself upon it.

“Now what does that thing mean?” he demanded, pointing to the envelope he had tossed on the desk.

John picked up the envelope and opened it. A letter and a bank check fell out.

“I will explain,” he said quietly. “Mr. Kendrick, you know Captain Obed Bangs, I think. Oh, it is all right. The captain is here at my request. I asked him to be here. I wanted a reliable witness and he is reliable. This,” he went on, taking up the letter, “is a note I wrote you, Mr. Kendrick. It states that I am resigning my position as your attorney. And this,” picking up the other paper, “is my check for five hundred dollars, the amount of your retainer, which I am returning to you. . . . You understand this so far, Captain?”

E. Holliday did not wait to hear whether the captain understood or not. His big face flamed red.

“But what the devil?” he demanded.

John held up his hand.

“One moment, please,” he said. “Captain Bangs, I want to explain a few things. As you know, I have been acting as Mr. Kendrick’s attorney in the matter of the property occupied by Mrs. Barnes. He wished me to find a means of forcing her to sell that property to him. Now, when a person owning property does not wish to sell, that person cannot be forced into giving up the property unless it is discovered that the property doesn’t belong to that particular person. That’s plain, isn’t it?”

He was speaking to Captain Obed, and the captain answered.

“But it does belong to her,” he declared. “Her Uncle Abner Barnes willed it to her. Course it belongs to her!”

“I know. But sometimes there are such things as flaws in a title. That is to say, somewhere and at some time there has been a transfer of that property that was illegal. In such a case the property belongs to the previous holder, no matter in how many instances it has changed hands since. In the present case it was perfectly plain that Mrs. Barnes thought she owned that land, having inherited it from her uncle. Therefore she could not be forced to sell unless it was discovered that there was a flaw in the title–that she did not own it legally at all. I told my client–Mr. Kendrick, here–that, and he ordered me to have the title searched or to search it myself. I have spent a good deal of time at the recorder’s office in Ostable doing that very thing. And I discovered that there was such a flaw; that Mrs. Barnes did not legally own that land upon which her house stands. And, as the land was not hers, the house was not hers either.”

Holliday Kendrick struck the desk a thump with his fist.

“Good!” he cried. “Good enough! I told ’em I generally got what I wanted! Now I’ll get it this time. Kendrick–“

“Wait,” said John. “Captain Obed, you understand me so far?”

The captain’s outraged feelings burst forth.

“I understand it’s durn mean business!” he shouted. “I’m ashamed of you, John Kendrick!”

“All right! all right! The shame can wait. And I want YOU to wait, too–until I’ve finished. There was a flaw in that title, as I said. Captain Bangs, as you know, the house in which Mrs. Barnes is now living originally stood, not where it now stands, but upon land two or three hundred yards to the north, upon a portion of the property which afterward became the Colfax estate and which now belongs to Mr. Kendrick here. You know that?”

Captain Obed nodded. “Course I know it,” he said. “Cap’n Abner could have bought the house and the land it stood on, but he didn’t want to. He liked the view better from where it stands now. So he bought the strip nigher this way and moved the old house over. But he DID buy it and he paid cash for it. I know he did, because–“

“All right. I know he bought it and all the particulars of the purchase perhaps better than you do. A good deal of my time of late has been given to investigating the history of that second strip of land. Captain Abner Barnes, Mrs. Barnes’ uncle, bought the land upon which he contemplated moving, and later, did move the house, of Isaiah Holt, Darius Holt’s father, then living. Mr. Holt bought of a man named David Snow, who, in turn, bought of–“

Holliday Kendrick interrupted. “Snow bought of me,” he growled. “Worse luck! I was a fool to sell, or so I think now; but it was years ago; I had no idea at that time of coming here to live; and shore land was of no value then, anyhow. The strip came to me as a part of my father’s estate. I thought myself lucky to get anything for it. But what’s all this ancient history got to do with it now? And what do you mean by sending me this letter and that check?”

“I’ll explain. I am trying to explain. The peculiar point comes in just here. You, Mr. Kendrick, never owned that land.”

E. Holliday bounced in his chair.

“Didn’t own it!” he roared. “What nonsense are you talking? The land belonged to my father, Samuel Kendrick, and I inherited it from him.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“I tell you I did. He left everything he had to me.”

“Yes, so he did. But he didn’t own that land. He owned it at one time, probably he owned it when he made his will, but he didn’t own it at the time of his death. Your father, Mr. Kendrick, was in financial straits at various times during his residence here in Orham and he borrowed a good deal of money. The most of these were loans, pure and simple, but one at least wasn’t. At one time– needing money badly, I presume–he sold this strip of land. The purchaser thought it was worth nothing, no doubt, and never mentioned owning it–at least, until just before he died. He simply had the deed recorded and forgot it. Everyone else forgot it, too. But the heirs, or the heir, of that purchaser, I discovered, was the legal owner of that land.”

Captain Obed uttered an exclamation.

“Why, John Kendrick!” he shouted. “Do you mean–“

“Hush, Captain! Mr. Kendrick,” addressing the red-faced and furious gentleman at his left, “have I made myself clear so far? Do you follow me?”

“Follow you? I don’t believe it! I–I–don’t believe it! Who was he? Who did my father sell that land to?”

“He sold it to his brother, Bailey Kendrick, and Bailey Kendrick was my father. Under my father’s will what little property he had came to me. If anything is sure in this world, it is that that land occupied by Mrs. Barnes belonged, legally, to me.”

Neither of his hearers spoke immediately. Then E. Holliday sprang to his feet.

“It belongs to you, does it!” he shouted. “It belongs to you? All right, so much the better. I can buy of you as well as anybody else. That’s why you sent me back your retainer, was it? So you and I could trade man to man. All right! I don’t believe it yet, but I’ll listen to you. What’s your proposition?”

John shook his head.

“No,” he said. “You’re wrong there. I sent you the retainer because I wished to be absolutely free to do as I pleased with what was mine. I couldn’t remain in your employ and act contrary to your interests–or, according to my way of thinking, I couldn’t. As I saw it I did not own that land–morally, at least. So, having resigned my employment with you I–well, I gave the land to the person who, by all that is right and–and HONEST, should own it. I had the deed made out in her name and I sent it to her an hour ago.”

Captain Obed had guessed it. Now HE sprang from his chair.

“John Kendrick,” he shouted, in huge delight, “you gave that land to Thankful Barnes. The deed was in that big envelope Winnie S. Holt was takin’ to her this very mornin’!”

The happenings of the next few minutes were noisy and profane. E. Holliday Kendrick was responsible for most of the noise and all of the profanity. He stormed up and down the office, calling his cousin every uncomplimentary name that occurred to him, vowing the whole story to be a lie, and that the land should be his anyway; threatening suit and personal vengeance. His last words, as he strode to the door, were:

“And–and you’re the fellow, the poor relation, that I gave my business to just from kindness! All right! I haven’t finished with you yet.”

John’s answer was calm, but emphatic.

“Very well,” he said. “But this you must understand: I consider myself under no obligation whatever to you, Mr. Kendrick. In the very beginning of our business relationship you and I had a plain talk. I told you when I consented to act as your attorney that I did so purely as a matter of business and that philanthropy and kinship were to have no part in it. And when you first mentioned your intention of forcing Mrs. Barnes to give up her home I told you what I thought of that, too.”

East Wellmouth’s wealthiest summer resident expressed an opinion.

“You’re a fool!” he snarled. “A d–d impractical fool!”

The door slammed behind him. John laughed quietly.

“As a judge of character, Captain Bangs,” he observed, “my respected cousin should rank high.”

Captain Obed’s first act after E. Holliday’s departure was to rush over, seize the young man’s hand with one of his own, and thump him enthusiastically upon the back with the other.

“I said it!” he crowed. “I knew it! I knew you was all right and square as a brick all the time, John Kendrick! NOW let me meet some of those folks that have been talkin’ against you! You never did a better day’s work in your life. HE’S down on you, but every decent man in Ostable County’ll be for you through thick and thin after this. Hooray for our side! John, shake hands with me again.”

They shook, heartily. The captain was so excited and jubilant that he was incoherent. At last, however, he managed to recover sufficiently to ask a question.

“But how did you do it,” he demanded. “How did you get on the track of it? You must have had some suspicions.”

John smiled. His friend’s joy evidently pleased him, but he, himself, was rather sober and not in the least triumphant.

“I did have a suspicion, Captain,” he said. “In fact, I had been told that I had a claim to a piece of land somewhere along the shore here in East Wellmouth. My father told me years ago, when he was in his last sickness. He said that he owned a strip of land here, but that it was probably worth little or nothing. When I came here I intended looking into the matter, but I did not do so. Where the original deed may be, I don’t know even now. It may be among some of my father’s papers, which are stored in New York. But the record of the transfers I found in Ostable; and that is sufficient. My claim may not be quite as impregnable as I gave my late client to understand, but it will be hard to upset. I am the only possible claimant and I have transferred my claim to Mrs. Barnes. The land belongs to her now; she can’t be dispossessed.”

“But–but, John, why didn’t you say so sooner? What made you let everyone think–what they did think?”

Before John could reply there came an interruption. The door opened and Thankful Barnes entered. She paid no attention to Captain Obed, but, walking straight to the desk, laid upon it the long envelope which Winnie S. had brought to her house that morning.

“Will you tell me,” she asked, sharply, “what that means?”

John rose. “Yes,” he said, “I will tell you, Mrs. Barnes. It is a rather long story. Sit down, please.”

Thankful sank into the chair he indicated. He took up the envelope.

“I will tell you, Mrs. Barnes,” he said, “why I sent you this deed. Don’t go, Captain Bangs, you know already and I should like to have you stay. Here is the story, Mrs. Barnes.”

He told it briefly, without superfluous words, but so clearly that there could be no possibility of a misunderstanding. When he began Thankful’s attitude was cold and unbelieving. When he finished she was white and trembling.

“Mrs. Barnes,” he said, in conclusion, “I’m a peculiar fellow, I’m afraid. I have rather–well, suppose we call them impractical ideas concerning the ethics of my profession, duty to a client, and that sort of thing. I have always been particular in taking a case, but when I have taken it I have tried to carry it through. I–as you know, I hesitated before accepting my cousin’s retaining fee and the implied obligation. However, I did accept.”

He might have given his reasons for accepting but he did not. He went on.

“When this matter of your property came up,” he said, “I at first had no idea that the thing was serious. You owned the property, as I supposed, and that was sufficient. I had told my cousin that and meant to tell you. I meant to tell you a portion of what I have just told the captain here, but I–well, I didn’t. Mr. Daniels’ remarks irritated me and I–well, he put the case as a test of legal skill between himself and me, and–and I have my share of pride, I suppose. So I determined to beat him if I could. It was wrong, as I see it now, and I beg your pardon.”

Thankful put a hand to her forehead.

“But you did–beat him, didn’t you?” she stammered. “You found I didn’t own the land.”

“Yes. I found I owned it myself, legally. If I had found it belonged to anyone else, I–well, I scarcely know what I should have done. You see,” with a half smile, “I’m trying to be perfectly frank. Finding that I was the owner made it easy.”

She did not understand. “It made it easy,” she repeated slowly. “But you gave it to ME!”

He leaned forward. “Please don’t misunderstand me,” he said earnestly. “As I see it, that land belonged to you by all that is right and fair. Legally, perhaps, it didn’t, but legal honesty isn’t always moral honesty. I’ve found that out even in my limited practice.”

Captain Obed tried to put in a word. “Don’t you see, Thankful?” he said. “John knew you thought you owned the land and so–“

“Hush! Please don’t. I–I don’t see. Mr. Kendrick, you–you have prided yourself on bein’ honest with your clients, and Mr. Holliday Kendrick WAS your client.”

John smiled. “I compromised there,” he answered. “I returned his money and resigned as his attorney before I sent you the deed. It was a compromise, I admit, but I had to choose between him and– well, my honor, if you like; although that sounds theatrical. I chose to be honest with myself–that’s all. The land is yours, Mrs. Barnes.”

He handed her the envelope containing the deed. She took it and sat there turning it over and over in her fingers, not looking at it, but thinking, or trying to think.

“You give it to me,” she said. “It was yours and you give it to me. Why should you? Do–do you think I can TAKE it from you?”

“Certainly, you must take it.”

“But I can’t! I can’t!”

“Certainly you can. Why not?”

“Why NOT? After the things I’ve thought about you? And after the way I’ve treated you? And–and after Emily–“

“She didn’t know either,” broke in Captain Obed. “She didn’t understand. She–“

“That’s enough, Captain,” interrupted John. “Mrs. Barnes, you mustn’t misunderstand me again. Neither you nor–nor Miss Howes must misunderstand my motives. I give this to you because I honestly believe it belongs to you, not because I expect anything in return. I–I confess I did hesitate a little. I feared–I feared she–“

“He means Emily,” broke in the irrepressible captain. “You mean Emily, don’t you, John?”

“Yes,” with some embarrassment. “Yes, I do mean Miss Howes. She and I had been–friends, and I feared she might misinterpret my reasons. It was not until yesterday afternoon, when I learned of the–of the engagement, that I felt certain neither you nor she could misunderstand. Then I felt perfectly free to send you the deed.”

Captain Obed, who had grasped his meaning, would have spoken, but Thankful spoke first. She, evidently, was quite at sea.

“The engagement?” she repeated. “What engagement?”

“Miss Howes’ engagement to Mr. Daniels. They were congratulating him on his engagement yesterday at the station. I overheard the congratulations. I had not known of it before.”

At last Thankful understood. She looked at the speaker, then at Captain Obed, and the color rushed to her face.

“And even though Emily–Hush, Obed Bangs! you keep still–and even though you knew Emily was engaged to Heman Daniels, you could still give me and her–this?”

“Now, Mrs. Barnes, do you think–“

“Think! John Kendrick, I think I ought to get down on my knees and beg your pardon for what I’ve thought these last two months. But I’m thinkin’ right now and you ain’t. Heman Daniels ain’t engaged to Emily Howes at all; he’s engaged to that Bayport woman, the one he’s been so attentive to for a year or more. Oh, it’s true! Winnie S. told me so just now. The news had just come to town and he was full of it. Heman’s over to Bayport spendin’ Christmas with her this very minute.”

Even Captain Obed had not a word to say. He was looking at John Kendrick and John’s face was white.

“And I’ll tell you somethin’ else,” went on Thankful, “somethin’ that Emily herself told me last night. She might have been engaged to Heman Daniels; he asked her to be. But she wouldn’t have him; she told him no.”

John stepped from behind the desk. “She–she told him no,” he repeated. “She . . . Why?”

Thankful laughed aloud. “That,” she cried, “I SHAN’T tell you. If you don’t know yourself then I ain’t the one to tell you.”

Obed was at her side. “That’s enough,” he ordered, taking her by the arm. “That’s enough, Thankful Barnes. You come right along with me and fetch that deed with you. This young feller here has got some thinkin’ to do, I cal’late. His mind needs overhaulin’. You come with me.”

He led her out to the sidewalk and on until they reached the postoffice. Then, still grasping her arm, he led her into that building. The office was open for a few hours, even though the day was Christmas.

“Here!” he whispered, eagerly. “Stand here by the window where we can see whether he comes out or not.”

“But, Obed, what are you doin’?”

“Doin’! I’m waitin’ to see whether that boy is a permanent fool or just a temporary one. Wait now; wait and watch.”

The wait was but momentary. The door of John Kendrick’s office opened and John himself came out. He shut the door, but he did not wait to lock it. They saw him cross the road and stride off down the lane toward the shore.

Captain Obed laughed aloud.

“No,” he cried, exultantly, “’twas only temporary. He’s got his senses now. Thankful, let’s you and me go for a walk. We shan’t be needed at the High Cliff House for a spell–and we won’t be WANTED there, either.”

CHAPTER XVIII

The walk was a long one. It took them a good way from the more populous section of East Wellmouth, over the hills and, at last, along the beach at the foot of the bluff. It was an odd season of the year for a stroll by the seaside, but neither Thankful nor the captain cared for that. In fact it is doubtful if either could have told afterward just where they had been. There were so many and such wonderful things to tell, to speculate upon, and to discuss.

Thankful told of her brother’s return, of Mr. Cobb’s miraculous generosity, and, for the first time, of the ghostly haunting of the little back bedroom. In the latter story Captain Obed seemed to find much amusement. He was skeptical.

“I’ve heard of a good many ghosts in my time,” he said, “but I never heard of one that could stand daylight or common-sense. The idea of your bein’ troubled all this time by that snorin’ business or whatever ’tis. Why didn’t you tell me about it? I’d have had that spook out of that bedroom afore this, I bet you.”

“It seemed so silly,” confessed Thankful, “that I was ashamed to tell anybody. But there’s SOMETHIN’ there. I heard it the first night I came, and Rebecca Timpson heard it later on, and then Emily and I and Solomon heard it all together.”

“Yes. Well, then, let’s see WHEN you heard it. Every time ’twas when there was a storm; rain and wind and the like of that, eh?”

“Yes. I’ve slept in that room myself a good many times, but never when there was a gale of wind or rain. That’s so; ’twas always in a storm that it came.”

“Um-hum. And it always snored. Ho! ho! that IS funny! A ghost with a snore. Must have a cold in its head, I cal’late.”

“You wouldn’t laugh if you’d heard it last night. And it didn’t snore the first time. It said ‘Oh, Lord,’ then.”

“Humph! so you said. Well, that does complicate things, I will give in. The wind in a water-pipe might snore, but it couldn’t say ‘Oh, Lord!’ not very plain. You heard that the first night, afore Kenelm and I got there.”

“Yes. And there wasn’t another person in that house except Emily and me; I know that.”

“I wonder if you do know it. . . . Well, I’ll have a whack at that room myself and if a spook starts snorin when I’m there I’ll–I’ll put a clothespin on its nose, after I’ve thanked it for scarin’ old Sol into repentance and decency. It took a spirit to do that. No livin’ human could have worked THAT miracle.”

“I agree with you. Well, now I know why he acted the way he did whenever Uncle Abner’s name was mentioned. I have a feelin’–at least I imagine there may have been somethin’ else, somethin’ we don’t know and never will know, between Solomon and my uncle. There may be some paper, some agreement, hid around somewheres that is legally bindin’ on the old sinner. I can’t hardly believe just breakin’ a promise would make him give anybody fifteen hundred dollars.”

“Maybe, but I don’t know; he’s always been superstitious and a great feller for Spiritu’list camp-meetin’s and so on. And he was always regular at prayer-meetin’. Sometimes that sort of a swab, knowin’ how mean he actually is, tries to square his meanness with the Almighty by bein’ prominent in the church. There may be the kind of paper you say, but I shouldn’t wonder if ’twas just scare and a bad conscience.”

“Well, I’m grateful to him, anyhow. And, as for John’s kindness, I–I don’t know what to say. Last night I thought this might be the blackest Christmas ever I had; but now it looks as if it might be one of the brightest. And it’s all so strange, so strange it should have come on Christmas. It seems as if the Lord had planned it so.”

“Maybe He did. But it ain’t so strange when you come to think of it. Your brother came home on Christmas Eve because he thought–or I shouldn’t wonder if he did–that you’d be more likely to forgive him and take him in then. Solomon came over when he did on account of his hearin’ that Holliday Kendrick was comin’. All days, Christmas or any other, are alike to Sol when there’s a dollar to be sighted with a spyglass. And as for John’s givin’ you the deed today, I presume likely that was a sort of Christmas present; probably he meant to give it to you for that. So the Christmas part ain’t so wonderful, after all.”

“Yes, it is. It’s all wonderful. I ought to be a very, very happy woman. If John and Emily only come together again I shall be, sure and sartin’. Of course, though,” she added, with emphasis, “I shan’t let him give me that land. I’ll make some arrangement to pay him for it, a little at a time, if no other way.”

The captain opened his mouth to protest, but there was an air of finality in Thankful’s tone which caused him to defer the protest until another time.

“Well–well, all right,” he said. “That can be talked about later on. But how about yourself? I suppose you’ll keep right on with the boardin’-house now?”

“Of course.”

“It’ll be pretty hard work for you alone, won’t it? Especially if Emily and John should take a notion to get married.”

“Oh, well! I’m used to bein’ alone. I shan’t mind–much. Why! here we are right at the foot of our path. I’ve been talkin’ so fast I didn’t realize we’d got here already. Do you suppose it’s safe to go up to the house now, Obed?”

“I guess so. We can go in the kitchen way and I’ll make noise enough to warn all hands that we’re comin’. Who’s that by the back door; John, ain’t it? No, it ain’t; it’s Kenelm.”

Kenelm and Imogene were standing at the kitchen door. When the captain and Mrs. Barnes drew near they saw that they were in danger of interrupting what seemed to be a serious conversation. Neither of the parties to that conversation noticed them until they were close at hand. Imogene had a slip of paper in her hand.

Captain Obed, whose mind was occupied with but one thought just then, asked a question.

“Imogene,” he asked in a loud whisper, “where’s Miss Emily?”

Imogene started and turned. Kenelm also started. He looked embarrassed.

“Eh!” cried Imogene. “Oh, it’s you, Mrs. Thankful. I was wonderin’ where you was. I’ve been havin’ a little talk with Kenelm here. It’s all right, Mrs. Thankful.”

“What’s all right?” asked Thankful.

“About your brother workin’ here in Kenelm’s place. He don’t mind. You don’t, do you, Kenelm?”

Mr. Parker, who had been standing upon one foot and pawing like a restless horse with the other, shifted his position.

“No-o,” he drawled. “I–I don’t know’s I do.”

Thankful was disturbed. “I’m sorry you said anything yet awhile, Imogene,” she said. “My plans about Jedediah are hardly made yet. I do hate to make you lose your place, Kenelm. If I could see my way clear to keepin’ two men I’d do it, but I declare I can’t see it.”

“That’s all right, ma’am,” said Kenelm. “I ain’t partic’lar.”

“He don’t mind a bit, Mrs. Thankful,” put in Imogene. “Honest, he don’t. He don’t have to work unless he’s obliged to–not much anyhow. Kenelm’s got money, you know.”

“I know; at least I’ve heard he had some money. But ’tain’t because he needs the money that I feel bad; it’s because of his engagement to you, Imogene. I suppose you’re plannin’ to be married some time or other and–“

“Oh, that’s all right, too,” interrupted Imogene eagerly. “You needn’t worry about our engagement. She needn’t worry about that, need she, Kenelm?”

“No,” said Kenelm shortly.

Captain Obed thought it time to repeat his first question.

“Where’s Miss Emily?” he asked.

“She’s in the livin’-room.”

“Is–is anybody with her?”

Imogene nodded. “Um-hum,” she said gleefully, “he’s there, too.”

“Who?” The captain and Thankful spoke in concert.

“Mr. John Kendrick. I let him in and I didn’t tell her who it was at all. She didn’t know till she went in herself and found him. Then I came right out and shut the door. Oh,” with another nod, “I’ve got some sense, even if I did come from the Orphans’ Home.”

Captain Obed and Thankful looked at each other.

“Then he did come here,” exclaimed Thankful.

“Course he did. I told you he wa’n’t quite a fool. Been there some time, has he?”

“Yes. Shall I tell ’em you’ve come? I’ll knock first.”

“No, no.” Thankful’s reply was emphatic. “Where’s the rest of the folks?” she asked.

“Georgie and Mr. Cahoon–your brother, I mean–have gone up to the village with the other one, the Cobb man.”

“What have they gone to the village for?”

“To help Mr. Cobb get his horse and team at Chris Badger’s. He’s gone, you know.”

“Who’s gone?”

“Why, the Cobb one. He’s gone home again. I tried to get him to stay for dinner; so did Miss Emily. We knew you’d want him to. But he wouldn’t stay. Said he was goin’ home. Seemed to me he wanted to get out of the house quick as ever he could. He gave Georgie a dollar for Christmas.”

“WHAT!” Captain Obed leaned against the corner of the house. “A dollar!” he groaned. “Sol Cobb gave somebody a dollar for Christmas! Don’t pinch me, anybody; I don’t want to wake up. Let me enjoy my dream long as I can. Thankful, did you say Sol looked sick?”

“I said he looked pretty nearly sick when he came down this mornin’.”

“I believe it. It must have been a mighty serious attack. Did Georgie take the dollar with him?”

“No. He left it with Miss Emily.”

“That’s a mercy. The outdoor air may make Sol feel more rational and soon’s he came to his senses, he’d want that dollar back. Tut! tut! tut! Don’t talk to ME! I shall believe in ghosts pretty soon.”

Thankful looked troubled and annoyed.

“I’m awful sorry he went,” she said. “The poor old thing! He was so miserable I did pity him. I must drive over and see him tomorrow, sure. But what makes me feel the worst,” she added, “is to think of Jedediah’s cruisin’ up to the village dressed in the rags he was wearin’. He looked like–like somethin’ the cat brought in. And everybody’ll want to know who he is; and when they find he’s my brother! And on Christmas Day, too!”

“Imogene!” it was Emily’s voice. “Imogene, where are you?”

Captain Obed roared a greeting.

“Merry Christmas, all hands,” he shouted. “Hey, you, John Kendrick; are you there?”

There was no answer. Thankful did not wait for one; she rushed into the house. John Kendrick was alone in the living-room when she reached it. Emily had fled. Thankful looked at Mr. Kendrick and the look gave her the information she wanted.

“Oh, Mr. Kendrick–John,” she cried. “I shall call you John now; I can, can’t I–where is she?”

John smiled. He looked ready to smile at all creation. “I think she is upstairs,” he said. “At least she ran in that direction when she heard the captain call.”

Thankful started for the hall and the stairs. At the door she turned.

“Don’t you go away, John,” she ordered. “Don’t you dare go away from this house. You’re goin’ to have dinner here THIS day, if you never do again.”

John, apparently, had no intention of going away. He smiled once more and walked toward the dining-room. Captain Obed met him at the threshold.

“Well?” shouted the captain. “Well? What have you got to say for yourself now, eh?”

John laughed. “Not much, Captain,” he answered, “not much, except that I’ve been an idiot.”

“Yup. All right. But that ain’t what I want to know. I want to know–” he stopped and gazed keenly at his friend’s face. “I don’t know’s I do want to know, either,” he added. “I cal’late I know it already. When a young feller stands around looking as sheepish as if he’d been caught stealin’ hens’ eggs and grinnin’ at the same time as if he was proud of it, then–then there’s just one thing happened to him. I cal’late you’ve found out why she wouldn’t marry Heman Daniels, eh? My, but I’m glad! You don’t deserve it, but I’m glad just the same. Let’s shake hands again.”

They were still shaking and the captain was crowing like a triumphant rooster over his friend’s good fortune and the humiliation in store for the “tattle-tales and character-naggers” among his fellow-townsmen when Imogene appeared.

“Is Mrs. Thankful here?” she asked. “Well, never mind. You’ll do, Cap’n Bangs. Will you and Mr. Kendrick come out here to the back door a minute? I’d like to have you witness somethin’.”

Captain Obed’s forehead wrinkled in surprise.

“Witness somethin’?” he repeated. Then, with a glance at John, who was as puzzled as he, “Humph! I witnessed somethin’ this mornin’ and now I’m to witness somethin’ else. I’ll begin to be an expert pretty soon, won’t I? Humph! What–well, heave ahead, Imogene. I’ll come.”

Imogene conducted them to the kitchen door where Mr. Parker still stood, looking remarkably foolish. Imogene’s manner, however, was very business-like.

“Now then,” she said, addressing the two “witnesses,” “you see this piece of paper. Perhaps you’d better read it first.”

She handed the paper to Captain Obed, who looked at it and passed it over to John. It was the statement, signed by Kenelm, in which he agreed to marry Imogene whenever she asked him to do so.

“You see what ’tis, don’t you?” asked Imogene. “Yes. Well, now you watch and see what I do with it.”

She tore the agreement into small pieces. Stepping into the kitchen she put the pieces in the stove.

“There!” she exclaimed, returning to the door. “That ends that. He and I,” pointing to Kenelm, “ain’t engaged any longer, and he don’t have to work here any longer. Is it all plain to both of you?”

It was not altogether plain even yet. The expression on the faces of the witnesses proved that.

“Now, Kenelm,” said Imogene cheerfully, “you can leave if you want to. And,” with a mischievous chuckle, “when you get there you can give your sister my love, the inmate’s love, you know. Lordy! Won’t she enjoy gettin’ it!”

When Kenelm had gone, which he did immediately and without a word, Imogene vouchsafed an explanation.

“I never did want to marry him,” she said. “When I get ready to marry anybody it’ll be somebody with more get-up-and-git than he’s got, I hope. But I was ready to do anything to help Mrs. Thankful from frettin’ and when he talked about quittin’ his job right in the busy season I had to keep him here somehow, I just HAD to. He was kind of–of mushy and soft about me first along–I guess guys of his kind are likely to be about any woman that’ll listen to ’em– and when his sister got jealous and put him up to leavin’ I thought up my plan. I got him to ask me–he’d as much as asked me afore–and then I made him sign that paper. Ugh! the silliness I had to go through afore he would sign it! Don’t ask me about it or I shan’t eat any dinner. But he did sign it and I knew I had him under my thumb. He’s scared of that sister of his, but he’s more scared of losin’ his money. And she’s just as scared of that as he is. THEY didn’t want any breachin’ of promises–No sir-ee! Ho! ho!”

She stopped to laugh in gleeful triumph. John laughed too. Captain Obed scratched his head.

“But, hold on there; heave to, Imogene!” he ordered. “I don’t seem to get the whole of this yet. You did agree to marry him. Suppose he’d said you’d got to marry him, what then?”

“He wouldn’t. He didn’t want to marry me–not after I’d took my time at bossin’ him around a while. And if he had–well, if he had, and I’d had to do it, I would, I suppose. I’d do anything for Mrs. Thankful, after what’s she’s done for me. Miss Emily and me had a talk about self-sacrifice and I see my duty plain. I told Miss Emily why I did it that night when you all came home from the Fair. She understood the whole thing.”

The captain burst into a roar of laughter.

“Ho! ho!” he shouted. “Well, Imogene, I said you beat all my goin’ to sea, and you do–you sartin do. Now, I’d like to be on hand and see how Hannah takes it. If I know her, now that that engagement ain’t hangin’ over her, she’ll even up with her brother for all she’s had to put up with. Ho! ho! Poor old Kenelm’s in for a warm Christmas.”

And yet Kenelm’s Christmas was not so “warm” after all. He told Hannah of his broken engagement, wasting no words–which, for him, was very remarkable–and expressing no regret whatever. Hannah listened, at first with joy, and then, when Imogene’s “love” was conveyed to her, with growing anger.

“The idea!” she cried. “And you bring me over a message like that. From her–from an Orphans’ Home inmate to your own sister! And you let her walk over you, chuck you out as if you was a wornout doormat she’d wiped her boots on, and never said a word. Well, I’ll say it for you. I’ll tell her what I think of her. And she was cal’latin’ to sue YOU for breaches of promise, was she? Humph! Two can play at that game. I don’t know’s I shan’t have you sue her.”

“I don’t want to. I told you this mornin’ I didn’t care nothin’ about marryin’ her. And you didn’t want me to yourself. Now that it’s all over you ought to he happy, I should think. I don’t see what you’re growlin’ about.”

“No, I suppose you don’t. You–you,” with withering contempt, “you haven’t got the self-respect of–of a woodtick. I’m–I declare I’m perfectly prospected with shame at havin’ such a brother in my family. And after cruisin’ around with her and takin’ her to the Cattle Show–“

“You went to the Cattle Show yourself.”

“I don’t care if I did. Now you march yourself upstairs and change your clothes.”

“Aw, now, Hannah. These clothes are good enough.”

“Good enough! For Christmas Day! I should think you’d be ashamed. Oh, you make me so provoked! If folks knew what I know about you–“

Kenelm interrupted, a most unusual thing for him.

“S’posin’ they knew what I know about you,” he observed.

“What? What do you mean by that? What have I done to be ashamed of?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what you did. I don’t even know where you went. But when a person crawls down a ladder in the middle of the night and goes off somewhere with–with somebody else and don’t get home until ‘most mornin’, then–well, then I cal’late folks might be interested if they knew, that’s all.”

Hannah’s face was a picture, a picture to be studied. For the first time in her life she was at a loss for words.

“I ain’t askin’ no questions,” went on Kenelm calmly. “I ain’t told nobody and I shan’t unless–unless somebody keeps naggin’ and makes me mad. But I shan’t change my clothes this day; and I shan’t do nothin’ else unless I feel like it, either.”

His sister stared at him blankly for a moment. Then she fled from the room. Kenelm took his pipe from his pocket, filled and lighted it, and smoked, smiling between puffs at the ceiling. The future looked serene and rosy–to Kenelm.

Christmas dinner at the High Cliff House was a joyful affair, notwithstanding that the promise of fair weather had come to naught and it was raining once more. John stayed for that dinner, so did Captain Obed. The former and Miss Emily said very little and their appetites were not robust, but they appeared to be very happy indeed. Georgie certainly was happy and Jedediah’s appetite was all that might have been expected of an appetite fed upon the cheapest of cheap food for days and compelled to go without any food for others. Thankful was happy, too, or pretended to be, and Captain Obed laughed and joked with everyone. Yet he seemed to have something on his mind, and his happiness was not as complete as it might have been.

Everyone helped Imogene wash the dishes; then John and Emily left the kitchen bound upon some mysterious errand. Captain Obed and Georgie donned what the captain called “dirty weather rigs” and went out to give George Washington and Patrick Henry and the poultry their Christmas dinner.

The storm had flooded the low land behind the barn. The hen yard was in the center of a miniature island. The walls of the pigsty which Thankful had had built rose from a lake.

“It’s a mercy Pat moved to drier quarters, eh, second mate!” chuckled the captain. “He’d have had to sleep with a life- preserver on if he stayed here.”

They fed the hens and gave George Washington a liberal measure of oats and a big forkful of hay.

“Don’t want him to go hungry Christmas Day,” said Captain Obed. “Now let’s cruise around and see if Patrick Henry is singin’ out for liberty or death.”

The pig was not, apparently, “singing out” for anything. When they reached the wall of the pen by the washshed he was not in sight. But they heard him, somewhere back in the darkness beneath the shed, breathing stertorously, apparently sound asleep.

Georgie laughed. “Hear him,” he said. “He’s so fat he always makes that noise when he’s asleep. And he’s awful smart. When it’s warm and nice weather he sleeps out here in the sun. When it rains and is cold, same as now, he always goes way back in there. Hear him! Don’t he make a funny noise.”

Emily came hurrying around the corner of the house.

“Captain Bangs,” she whispered. “Captain Bangs!”

The captain looked at her. He was about to ask why she whispered instead of speaking aloud, but the expression on her face caused him to change his question to “What’s the matter?”

Emily looked at Georgie before replying.

“I–I want to see you,” she answered. “I want you to come with me. Come quick. Georgie, you must stay in the kitchen with Imogene.”

Georgie did not want to stay in the kitchen, but when he found Jedediah there he was more complacent. The ex-gold seeker and his tales of adventure had a tremendous fascination for Georgie.

Emily led the way toward the front stairs and Captain Obed followed.

“What’s up?” he whispered. “What’s all the mystery about?”

“We don’t know–yet. But we want you to help us find out. John and I have been up to look at the haunted room and–and IT’S THERE.”

“There! What?”

“The–the ghost, or whatever it is. We heard it. Come!”

At the door of the rooms which were the scene of Mr. Cobb’s recent supernatural experience and of Miss Timpson’s “warning” they found Thankful and John standing, listening. Thankful looked rather frightened. John was eager and interested.

“You found him, Emily,” he whispered. “Good. Captain, you and I are commissioned to lay the ghost. And the ghost is in. Listen!”

They listened. Above the patter and rattle of the rain on the roof they heard a sound, the sound which two or three members had heard the previous night, the sound of snoring.

“I should have gone in before,” whispered John, “but they wanted me to wait for you. Come on, Captain.”

They opened the door of the larger room and entered on tiptoe. The snoring was plainly heard now and it seemed, as they expected, to come from the little room adjoining. Into that room the party proceeded, the men in the lead. There was no one there save themselves and nothing out of the ordinary to be seen. But the snoring kept on, plainer than ever.

John looked behind the furniture and under the bed.

“It’s no use doin’ that,” whispered Thankful. “I’ve done that myself fifty times.”

Captain Obed was walking about the room, his ear close to the wall, listening. At a point in the center of the rear wall, that at the back of the house, he stopped and listened more intently than ever.

“John,” he whispered eagerly, “come here.”

John came.

“Listen,” whispered the captain. “It’s plainer here than anywhere else, ain’t it?”

“Yes. Yes, I think it is. But where does it come from?”

“Somewhere overhead, seems to me. Give me that chair.”

Cautiously and silently he placed the chair close to the wall, stood upon it, and, with his ear against the wallpaper, moved his head backward and forward and up and down. Then he stopped moving and reaching up felt along the wall with his hands.

“I’ve got it,” he whispered. “Here’s the place.”

His fingers described a circle on the wall. He tapped gently in the middle of the circle.

“Hark!” he said. “All solid out here, but here–hollow as a drum. It’s–it’s a stovepipe hole, that’s what ’tis. There was a stove here one time or ‘nother and the pipe hole was papered over.”

“But–but what of it?” whispered Thankful. “I don’t care about stovepipe holes. It’s that dreadful noise I want to locate. I hear it now, just as plain as ever.”

“Where could a stovepipe go to from here?” mused the captain. “Not into the kitchen; the kitchen chimney’s way over t’other side. Maybe there was a chimney here afore the house was moved.”

“But the snoring?” faltered Emily. “Don’t you hear it?”

Captain Obed put his ear against the covered stovepipe hole. He listened and as he listened his face took on a new expression, an expression of sudden suspicion, then of growing certainty, and, a moment later, of huge amusement.

He stepped down from the chair.

“Stay right where you are,” he ordered. “Don’t move and don’t make any noise. I’ll be right back.”

He hurried out. They waited. The snoring kept on and on. Suddenly it ceased. Then, in that very room, or so it seemed, sounded a grunt and a frightened squeal. And then a voice, a hollow voice which cried:

“Ahoy, all hands! I’m the ghost of Nebuchadnezzar’s first wife and I want to know what you folks mean by wakin’ me up.”

The three in the back bedroom looked at each other.

“It’s Captain Bangs!” cried Emily.

“It’s Obed!” exclaimed Thankful.

“He’s found it,” shouted Kendrick. “Come on.”

The captain was not in the kitchen when they got there. He had gone out of doors, so Imogene said. Unmindful of the rain they rushed out and around the corner, behind and below the washshed. Patrick Henry was running about his pen, apparently much disturbed, but Captain Obed was not in sight.

“Where is he?” demanded Thankful. “Where’s he gone to?”

“Hello there, John!” cried a voice from the darkness at the rear of the pigsty under the kitchen. “Come in here. Never mind your clothes. Come in.”

John vaulted over the rail of the pen and disappeared. A few moments later he came out again in company with the captain. Both were laughing heartily.

“We’ve got the answer,” puffed Captain Obed, who was out of breath. “We’ve laid the ghost. You remember I told you that day when we first explored this place that old Laban Eldredge had this pigpen built. Afore that ’twas all potato cellar, and at one time afore the house was made over there must have been a stove in that back bedroom. There’s no chimney, but there’s cracks between the boards at the back of that pigpen and any noise down here goes straight up between the walls and out of that stovepipe hole like a speakin’ tube. You heard me when I spoke to you just now, didn’t you?”

“Yes–yes,” answered Emily. “We heard you, but–but what was it that snored? What was the ghost?”

Captain Obed burst into a shout of laughter. “There he is,” he said, pointing.

Thankful and Emily looked.

“What?” cried the latter.

“The PIG?” exclaimed Thankful.

“That’s what. Georgie gave me a hint when he and I was out here just now. Old Pat was asleep way in back there and snorin’ like a steam engine. And Georgie said he never slept there unless ’twas a storm, rainin’ same as ’tis now. And every time you heard the–ho! ho!–the ghost, ’twas on a stormy night. It stormed the night you got here, and when Becky Timpson had her warnin’, and last night when Sol Cobb got his. Ho! ho! ho! Patrick Henry’s the ghost. Well, he’s a healthy old spirit.”

Emily laughed until the tears came into her eyes.

“The pig!” she cried. “Oh, Aunt Thankful! You and I were frightened almost to death last night–and of that creature there. Oh, dear me!”

Thankful laughed, too, but she was not fully convinced.

“Maybe ’twas the pig that snored,” she admitted. “And of course whatever we heard came up that pipe hole. But there was no pig there on that first night; I didn’t buy the pig until long afterwards. And, besides, what I heard THAT night talked; it said, ‘Oh, Lord!’ Patrick Henry may be a smart pig, but he can’t talk.”

This was something of a staggerer, but the captain was still certain he was on the right track.

“Then somethin’ else was there,” he declared. “Somebody was down under the house here, that’s sartin. Who could it have been? Never mind; I’ll find out. We’ll clear up the whole of this ghost business, now we’ve got started. Maybe we can find some hint in there now. John, go up and fetch a lantern, there’s a good fellow, and we’ll have a look.”

John brought the lantern and by its light the two men explored the recesses of Patrick Henry’s bed chamber. When they emerged, covered with dust and cobwebs, the captain held something in his hand.

“I don’t know what ’tis,” he said. “Maybe nothin’ of any account, but ’twas trod down in the corner close to the wall. Humph? Eh? Why, it’s a mitten, ain’t it?”

It was a mitten, a much worn one, and on the inside of the wrist- hand were worked three letters.

“K. I. P.” read Captain Obed. “What’s ‘K. I. P.’ stand for?”

Imogene, who had joined the group, clapped her hands.

“I know,” she cried. “Kenelm Issachar Parker.”

Thankful nodded. “That’s it,” she agreed. “And–and–why, now I come to think of it, I remember hearin’ Hannah pitchin’ into Kenelm that first mornin’ after our night at her house, for losin’ his umbrella and a mitten.”

“Right you are!” Captain Obed slapped his knee. “And Kenelm was out somewheres that night afore he and I came over here. He found his umbrella and he brought it home whole a week or so later. But it wa’n’t whole all that time, because Seth Ellis told me Kenelm brought an umbrella in for him to fix. All turned inside out it was. Eh? Yes, sir! We’re gettin’ nigher port all the time. Kenelm came by this house that night, because ’twas him that saw your light in the window. I’ll bet you he smashed his new umbrella on the way down from the club and crawled in here out of the wet to fix it. He couldn’t fix it, so he left it here and came back after it the next day. And ’twas then he dropped this mitten.”

Emily offered a suggestion.

“You said you saw someone hiding behind the henhouse that next morning, Captain,” she said.

“So I did. And I thought ’twas one of Solon Taylor’s boys. I’ll bet ’twas Kenelm; he’d sneaked over to get the umbrella. It was him that said, ‘Oh, Lord’ that night; I’ll bet high on it. When he thought of what Hannah’d say to his smashin’ the umbrella she gave him it’s a wonder he didn’t say more than that. That’s the answer– the whole answer–and I’ll prove it next time I see Kenelm.”

Which, by the way, he did.

Later in the afternoon John and Emily walked up to the village together. They asked Thankful and Captain Obed to accompany them, but the invitation was declined. However, as John had suddenly remembered that he had left his office door unlocked, he felt that he should go and Emily went with him.

“I presume likely,” observed the captain, as he looked after them, “that I ought to feel conscience-struck for not sayin’ yes when they asked me to come along, but somehow I don’t. I have a sneakin’ feelin’ that they’ll get on first-rate without our company, Thankful.”

Thankful was silent. She was sitting by the window. The pair were alone together in the living-room now. Imogene and Jedediah and Georgie were in the kitchen making molasses candy.

“Well,” observed Captain Obed, “that’s so, ain’t it? Don’t you agree with me?”

Still there was no answer and, turning, the captain was surprised to see his companion wiping her eyes with her handkerchief.

“For thunder sakes!” he exclaimed, in dismay. “What’s happened now? Are you cryin’?”

Thankful tried to smile. “No,” she said. “I’m not cryin’. At least, I hadn’t ought to cry. I ought to be awful happy and I am. Seein’ those two go off together that way made me think that pretty soon they’d be goin’ away for good. And I–I was a little lonesome, I guess.”

“Sho! sho! You mustn’t be lonesome. They won’t get married yet awhile, I cal’late.”

“No. I suppose not. But Emily will have to go next week back to her school, and she’ll take Georgie with her. I’ll miss ’em both terribly.”

“Yes, so you will. But you’ve got your brother now. He’ll be some company.”

“Yes. But, unless he’s changed more than I’m afraid he has, he’ll be more responsibility than comfort. He means well enough, poor Jed, but he ain’t what you’d call a capable person.”

“Well, Imogene’s capable enough, and she’ll be here.”

“Yes.”

Silence for a time. Then Captain Obed spoke.

“Thankful,” he said, earnestly, “I know what’s worryin’ you. It’s just what you said, the responsibility of it all. It’s too much for you, the responsibility of handlin’ this big house and a houseful of boarders when they come. You hadn’t ought to do it alone. You ought to have somebody to help.”

“Perhaps I had, but I don’t know who ’twill be. I can’t afford to hire the kind of help I need.”

“Why don’t you take a partner?”

“A partner? Who, for goodness sakes?”

“Well–me. I’ve got some money of my own. I’ll go in partners with you here. . . . Oh, now, now!” he added hastily. “Don’t think there’s any charity in this. There ain’t at all. As I see it, this boardin’ house is mighty good business and a safe investment. Suppose you and I go in partners on it, Thankful.”

Thankful shook her head.

“You’re awfully good,” she said.

“No, I ain’t.”

“Yes, you are. But I couldn’t do it, Obed.”

“Why not?”

“You know why not. For the same reason I couldn’t say yes to what you asked me a while ago. I can’t let you help me out of pity.”

“Pity!” He turned and stared at her. “Pity!” he repeated.

“Yes, pity. I know you’re sorry for me. You said you were. And I know you’d do anything to help me, even–even–“

He interrupted.

“Thankful Barnes,” he said, “did you think I asked you what I asked that time out of PITY?”

“Now, Obed–“

“Stop! Answer me. Did you think such a fool thing as THAT? You stay right where you are! I want you to look me in the face.”

“Don’t, Obed! Don’t! Let me be. Don’t!”

He paid not the slightest attention. He was bending over her, his hand beneath her chin, forcing her to look at him.

“Don’t, Obed!” she begged.

“Thankful, you tell me. Did you think I asked you to marry me just because I pitied you. Just because I was sorry for you? Did you?”

“Obed, please!”

“Thankful, I’ve come to care for you more’n anything else in the world. I don’t pity you. I’ve been pityin’ myself for the last month because I couldn’t have you–just you. I want you, Thankful Barnes, and if you’ll marry me I’ll be the happiest critter that walks.”

“Oh, Obed, don’t make it so hard for me. You said you wouldn’t. And–and you can’t care–really.”

“I can’t! Do you care for me? That’s what I want to know.”

“Obed, you and I ain’t young folks. We’re gettin’ on towards old age. What would folks say if–“

He threw his arms about her and literally lifted her from the chair.

“I don’t care a durn WHAT they say,” he shouted, exultantly. “You’ve said what I was waitin’ for. Or you’ve looked it, anyhow. Now then, WHEN shall we be married? That’s the next thing for you to say, my girl.”

They sat there in the gathering dusk and talked. The captain was uproariously gay. He could scarcely keep still, but whistled and drummed tunes upon the chair arm with his fingers. Thankful was more subdued and quiet, but she was happy, completely happy at last.

“This’ll be some boardin’-house, this one of ours,” declared the captain. “We’ll build the addition you wanted and we’ll make the city folks sit up and take notice. And,” with a gleeful chuckle, “we won’t have any ghost snorin’ warnin’s, either.”

Thankful laughed. “No, we won’t,” she said. “And yet I’m awfully grateful to that–that–that pig ghost. If it hadn’t been for him that mortgage would still be hangin’ over us. And Solomon would never have been scared into doin’ what he promised Uncle Abner he would do. Perhaps he’ll be a better man, a more generous man to some of his other poor victims after this. I hope he will.”

“So do I, but I have my doubts.”

“Well, we’ll never kill old Patrick Henry, will we? That would be TOO ungrateful.”

Captain Obed slapped his knee.

“Kill him!” he repeated: “I should say not! Why, he’s your Uncle Abner and Rebecca Timpson’s sister Medora and old Laban Eldredge and I don’t know how many more. Killin’ him would be a double back-action massacre. No indeed, we won’t kill him! Come on, let’s go out and have a look at him now. I’d like to shake his hand, if he had one.”

“But, Obed, it’s rainin’.”

“What of it? We don’t care for rain. It’s goin’ to be all sunshine for you after this, my lady. I’m the weather prophet and I tell you so. God bless you, Thankful Barnes.”

Thankful smiled.

“He has blessed me already, Obed,” she said.