This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
by JOSEPH C. LINCOLN
(By Way of Explanation)
A story of mine called, like this, “The Woman-Haters,” appeared recently in one of the magazines. That story was not this one, except in part–the part dealing with “John Brown” and Miss Ruth Graham. Readers of the former tale who perhaps imagine they know all about Seth Atkins and Mrs. Emeline Bascom will be surprised to find they really know so little. The truth is that, when I began to revise and rearrange the magazine story for publication as a book, new ideas came, grew, and developed. I discovered that I had been misinformed concerning the lightkeeper’s past and present relations with the housekeeper at the bungalow. And there was “Bennie D.” whom I had overlooked, had not mentioned at all; and that rejuvenated craft, the Daisy M.; and the high tide which is, or should be, talked about in Eastboro even yet; all these I had omitted for the very good reason that I never knew of them. I have tried to be more careful this time. During the revising process “The Woman-Haters” has more than doubled in length and, let us hope, in accuracy. Even now it is, of course, not a novel, but merely a summer farce-comedy, a “yarn.” And this, by the way, is all that it pretends to be.
JOSEPH C. LINCOLN.
I.–MR. SETH ATKINS
II.–MR. JOHN BROWN
III.–MR. BROWN PUTS IN AN APPLICATION
IV.–THE COMING OF JOB
V.–THE GOING OF JOSHUA
VII.–OUT OF THE BAG
VIII.–NEIGHBORS AND WASPS
IX.–THE BUNGALOW GIRL
X.–THE BUNGALOW WOMAN
XI.–BEHIND THE SAND DUNE
XII.–THE LETTER AND THE ‘PHONE
XIII.–“JOHN BROWN” CHANGES HIS NAME
XV.–THE VOYAGE OF THE Daisy M.
XVI.–THE EBB TIDE
MR. SETH ATKINS
The stars, like incandescent lights fed by a fast weakening dynamo, grew pale, faded, and, one by one, went out. The slate-colored sea, with its tumbling waves, changed color, becoming a light gray, then a faint blue, and, as the red sun rolled up over the edge of the eastern horizon, a brilliant sapphire, trimmed with a silver white on the shoals and along the beach at the foot of the bluff.
Seth Atkins, keeper of the Eastboro Twin-Lights, yawned, stretched, and glanced through the seaward windows of the octagon-shaped, glass-enclosed room at the top of the north tower, where he had spent the night just passed. Then he rose from his chair and extinguished the blaze in the great lantern beside him. Morning had come, the mists had rolled away, and the dots scattered along the horizon–schooners, tugs, and coal barges, for the most part–no longer needed the glare of Eastboro Twin-Lights to warn them against close proximity to the dangerous, shoal-bordered coast. Incidentally, it was no longer necessary for Mr. Atkins to remain on watch. He drew the curtains over the polished glass and brass of the lantern, yawned again, and descended the winding iron stairs to the door at the foot of the tower, opened it and emerged into the sandy yard.
Crossing this yard, before the small white house which the government provided as a dwelling place for its lightkeepers, he opened the door of the south tower, mounted the stairs there and repeated the extinguishing process with the other lantern. Before again descending to earth, however, he stepped out on the iron balcony surrounding the light chamber and looked about him.
The view, such as it was, was extensive. To the east the open sea, the wide Atlantic, rolling lazily in the morning light, a faint breeze rippling the surfaces of the ground-swell. A few sails in sight, far out. Not a sound except the hiss and splash of the surf, which, because of a week of calms and light winds, was low even for that time of year–early June.
To the north stretched the shores of the back of the Cape. High clay bluffs, rain-washed and wrinkled, sloping sharply to the white sand of the beach a hundred feet below. Only one building, except those connected with the lighthouses, near at hand, this a small, gray-shingled bungalow about two hundred yards away, separated from the lights by the narrow stream called Clam Creek–Seth always spoke of it as the “Crick”–which, turning in behind the long surf-beaten sandspit known, for some forgotten reason, as “Black Man’s Point,” continued to the salt-water pond which was named “The Cove.” A path led down from the lighthouses to a bend in the “Crick,” and there, on a small wharf, was a shanty where Seth kept his spare lobster and eel-pots, dory sails, nets, and the like. The dory itself, with the oars in her, was moored in the cove.
A mile off, to the south, the line of bluffs was broken by another inlet, the entrance to Pounddug Slough. This poetically named channel twisted and wound tortuously inland through salt marshes and between mudbanks, widening at last to become Eastboro Back Harbor, a good-sized body of water, with the village of Eastboro at its upper end. In the old days, when Eastboro amounted to something as a fishing port, the mackerel fleet unloaded its catch at the wharves in the Back Harbor. Then Pounddug Slough was kept thoroughly dredged and buoyed. Now it was weed-grown and neglected. Only an occasional lobsterman’s dory traversed its winding ways, which the storms and tides of each succeeding winter rendered more difficult to navigate. The abandoned fish houses along its shores were falling to pieces, and at intervals the stranded hulk of a fishing sloop or a little schooner, rotting in the sun, was a dismal reminder that Eastboro’s ambitious young men no longer got their living alongshore. The town itself had gone to sleep, awakening only in the summer, when the few cottagers came and the Bay Side Hotel was opened for its short season.
Behind the lighthouse buildings, to the west–and in the direction of the village–were five miles of nothing in particular. A desolate wilderness of rolling sand-dunes, beach grass, huckleberry and bayberry bushes, cedar swamps, and small clumps of pitch-pines. Through this desert the three or four rutted, crooked sand roads, leading to and from the lights, turned and twisted. Along their borders dwelt no human being; but life was there, life in abundance. Ezra Payne, late assistant keeper at the Twin-Lights, was ready at all times to furnish evidence concerning the existence of this life.
“My godfreys domino!” Ezra had exclaimed, after returning from a drive to Eastboro village, “I give you my word, Seth, they dummed nigh et me alive. They covered the horse all up, so that he looked for all the world like a sheep, woolly. I don’t mind moskeeters in moderation, but when they roost on my eyelids and make ’em so heavy I can’t open ’em, then I’m ready to swear. But I couldn’t get even that relief, because every time I unbattened my mouth a million or so flew in and choked me. That’s what I said–a million. Some moskeeters are fat, but these don’t get a square meal often enough to be anything but hide-racks filled with cussedness. Moskeeters! My godfreys domino!”
Ezra was no longer assistant lightkeeper. He and his superior had quarreled two days before. The quarrel was the culmination, on Ezra’s part, of a gradually developing “grouch” brought on by the loneliness of his surroundings. After a night of duty he had marched into the house, packed his belongings in a battered canvas extension case, and announced his intention of resigning from the service.
“To the everlastin’ brimstone with the job!” he snarled, addressing Mr. Atkins, who, partially dressed, emerged from the bedroom in bewilderment and sleepy astonishment. “To thunder with it, I say! I’ve had all the gov’ment jobs I want. Life-savin’ service was bad enough, trampin’ the condemned beach in a howlin’ no’theaster, with the sand cuttin’ furrers in your face, and the icicles on your mustache so heavy you got round-shouldered luggin’ ’em. But when your tramp was over, you had somebody to talk to. Here, by godfreys! there ain’t nothin’ nor nobody. I’m goin’ fishin’ again, where I can be sociable.”
“Humph!” commented Seth, “you must be lonesome all to once. Ain’t my company good enough for you?”
“Company! A heap of company you are! When I’m awake you’re alseep and snorin’ and–“
“I never snored in my life,” was the indignant interruption
“What? YOU’LL snore when you’re dead, and wake up the whole graveyard. Lonesome!” he continued, without giving his companion a chance to retort, “lonesome ain’t no name for this place. No company but green flies and them moskeeters, and nothin’ to look at but salt water and sand and–and–dummed if I can think of anything else. Five miles from town and the only house in sight shut tight. When I come here you told me that bungalow was opened up every year–“
“So it has been till this season.”
“And that picnics come here every once in a while.”
“Don’t expect picnickers to be such crazy loons as to come here in winter time, do you?”
“I don’t know. If they’re fools enough to come here ANY time, I wouldn’t be responsible for ’em. There ain’t so many moskeeters in winter. But just LOOK at this hole. Just put on your specs and LOOK at it! Not a man–but you–not a woman, not a child, not a girl–“
“Ah ha! ah ha! NOW we’re gettin’ at it! Not a girl! That’s what’s the matter with you. You want to be up in the village, where you can go courtin’. You’re too fur from Elsie Peters, that’s where the shoe pinches. I’ve heard how you used to set out in her dad’s backyard, with your arm round her waist, lookin’ at each other, mushy as a couple of sassers of hasty-puddin’. Bah! I’ll take care my next assistant ain’t girl-struck.”
“Girl-struck! I’d enough sight ruther be girl-struck than always ravin’ and rippin’ against females. And all because some woman way back in Methusalem’s time had sense enough to heave you over. At least, that’s what everybody cal’lates must be the reason. You pretend to be a woman-hater. All round this part of the Cape you’ve took pains to get up that kind of reputation; but–“
“There ain’t no pretendin’ about it. I’ve got brains enough to keep clear of petticoats. And when you get to be as old as I be and know as much as I do–though that ain’t no ways likely, even if you live to be nine hundred and odd, like Noah in Scripture–you’ll feel the same way.”
“Aw, come off! Woman-hater! You hate women same as the boy at the poorhouse hated ice cream–’cause there ain’t none around. Why, I wouldn’t trust you as fur as I could see you!”
This was the end of the dialogue, because Mr. Payne was obliged to break off his harangue and dodge the stove-lifter flung at him by the outraged lightkeeper. As the lifter was about to be followed by the teakettle, Ezra took to his heels, bolted from the house and began his long tramp to the village. When he reached the first clumps of bayberry bushes bordering the deeply rutted road, a joyful cloud of mosquitoes rose and settled about him like a fog.
So Seth Atkins was left alone to do double duty at Eastboro Twin- Lights, pending the appointment of another assistant. The two days and nights following Ezra’s departure had been strenuous and provoking. Doing all the housework, preparation of meals included, tending both lights, rubbing brass work, sweeping and scouring, sleeping when he could and keeping awake when he must, nobody to talk to, nobody to help–the forty-eight hours of solitude had already convinced Mr. Atkins that the sooner a helper was provided the better. At times he even wished the disrespectful Payne back again, wished that he had soothed instead of irritated the departed one. Then he remembered certain fragments of their last conversation and wished the stove-lifter had been flung with better aim.
Now, standing on the gallery of the south tower, he was conscious of a desire for breakfast. Preparing that meal had been a part of his assistant’s duties. Now he must prepare it himself, and he was hungry and sleepy. He mentally vowed that he would no longer delay notifying the authorities of the desertion, and would urge them to hurry in sending some one to fill the vacant place.
Grumbling aloud to himself, he moved around the circle of the gallery toward the door. His hand was on the latch, when, turning, he cast another glance over the rail, this time directly downward toward the beach below. And there he saw something which caused him to forget hunger and grievances of all kinds; something which, after one horrified look to make sure, led him to dart into the light chamber, spring at a reckless gait down the winding stair, out of the tower, rush to the edge of the bluff, and plunge headlong down the zigzag path worn in the clay.
On the sand, at the foot of the bluff below the lights, just beyond reach of the wash of the surf, lay a man, or the dead body of a man, stretched at full length.
MR. JOHN BROWN
Once before, during his years of service as keeper of Eastboro Twin- Lights, had Seth seen such a sight as that which now caused him to make his dash for the shore. Once before, after the terrible storm of 1905, when the great steamer Bay Queen went down with all on board, the exact spot of her sinking unknown even to this day. Then the whole ocean side of the Cape, from Race Point to Orham, was strewn with ghastly relics. But the Bay Queen met her fate in the winter season, amid a gale such as even the oldest residents could not remember. Now it was early summer; the night before had been a flat calm. There had been no wreck, or the lifesavers would have told him of it. There would be no excuse for a wreck, anyway.
All this, in disjointed fragments, passed through the lightkeeper’s mind as he descended the path in frantic bounds and plowed through the ankle-deep white sand of the beach. As he approached the recumbent figure he yelled a panted “Hi, there!” He did not expect the hail to be answered or even noticed. Therefore, he was pleasantly disappointed when the figure rolled over, raised itself on one elbow, looked at him in a dazed sort of way and replied cheerfully but faintly, “Hello!”
Seth stopped short, put a hand to the breast of his blue flannel shirt, and breathed a mighty sigh of relief.
“Gosh!” he exclaimed with fervor. Then, changing his labored gallop for a walk, he continued his progress toward the man, who, as if his momentary curiosity was satisfied, lay down again. He did not rise when the lightkeeper reached his side, but remained quiet, looking up from a pair of gray eyes and smiling slightly with lips that were blue. He was a stranger to Atkins, a young fellow, rather good looking, dressed in blue serge trousers, negligee shirt, blue socks, and without shoes or hat. His garments were soaked, and the salt water dripped from his shoulders to the sand. The lightkeeper stared at him, and he returned the stare.
“Gosh!” repeated Seth, after an instant of silence. “Jiminy crimps! I feel better.”
The stranger’s smile broadened. “Glad to hear it, I’m sure,” he said, slowly. “So do I, though there’s still room for improvement. What was your particular ailment? Mine seems to have been water on the brain.”
He sat up and shakily ran a hand through his wet hair as he spoke. Atkins, his surprise doubled by this extraordinary behavior, could think of nothing to say.
“Good morning,” continued the young man, as if the meeting had been the most casual and ordinary possible; “I think you said a moment ago that you were feeling better. No relapse, I trust.”
“Relapse? What in the world? Are you crazy? I ain’t sick.”
“That’s good. I must have misunderstood you. Pleasant morning, isn’t it?
“Pleasant morn– Why, say! I–I–what in time are you doin’, layin’ there all soaked through? You scared me pretty nigh to death. I thought you was drowned, sure and sartin.”
“Did you? Well, to be honest, so did I, for a while. In fact, I’m not absolutely sure that I’m not, even yet. You’ll excuse me if I lie down again, won’t you? I never tried a seaweed pillow before, but it isn’t so bad.”
He again stretched himself on the sand. Seth shook his head.
“Well, if this don’t beat me!” he exclaimed. “You’re the coolest critter that ever I–I–“
“I am cool,” admitted the young man, with a slight shiver. “This stretch of ocean here isn’t exactly a Turkish bath. I’ve been swimming since–well, an hour or two ago, and I am just a little chilled.”
He shivered again.
“Swimmin’! An hour or two? Where on earth did you come from?”
“Oh, I fell overboard from a steamer off here somewhere. I–“
Another and emphatic shiver caused him to pause. The lightkeeper awoke to the realities of the situation.
“Good land of love!” he exclaimed. “What am I thinkin’ of? Seein’ you this way, and you talkin’ so kind of every-day and funny drove my senses clean out, I guess. Get right up off that wet place this minute. Come up to the house, quick! Can you walk?”
“Don’t know. I am willing to try. Would you mind giving me a lift?”
Seth didn’t mind, which was fortunate, as his new acquaintance couldn’t have risen unaided. His knees shook under him when he stood erect, and he leaned heavily on the lightkeeper’s arm.
“Steady now,” counselled Atkins; “no hurry. Take it easy. If you’ve navigated water all alone for hours, I cal’late between us we can manage to make a five-minute cruise on dry land. . . . Even if the course we steer would make an eel lame tryin’ to follow it,” he added, as the castaway staggered and reeled up the beach. “Now don’t try to talk. Let your tongue rest and give your feet a chance.”
The climbing of the steep bluff was a struggle, but they accomplished it, and at length the stranger was seated in a chair in the kitchen.
“Now, the fust thing,” observed Seth, “is to get them wet clothes off you. Usually I’d have a good fire here, but that miserable Ezry has–that is, my assistant’s left me, and I have to go it alone, as you might say. So we’ll get you to bed and . . . No, you can’t undress yourself, neither. Set still, and I’ll have you peeled in a jiffy.”
His guest was making feeble efforts to remove his socks. Atkins pushed him back into the chair and stripped the blue and dripping rags from feet which were almost as blue from cold. The castaway attempted a weak resistance, but gave it up and said, with a whimsical smile:
“I’m mightily obliged to you. I never realized before that a valet was such a blessing. Most of mine have been confounded nuisances.”
“Hey?” queried Seth, looking up.
“Nothing. Pardon me for comparing you with a valet.”
“Land sakes! I don’t care what you call me. I was out of my head once myself–typhoid fever ’twas–and they say the things I called the doctor was somethin’ scandalous. You ain’t responsible. You’re beat out, and your brain’s weak, like the rest of you. Now hold on till I get you a nightgown.”
He started for the bedroom. The young man seemed a bit troubled.
“Just a minute,” he observed. “Don’t you think I had better move to a less conspicuous apartment? The door is open, and if any of your neighbors should happen by–any ladies, for instance, I–“
“Ladies!” Mr. Atkins regarded him frowningly. “In the fust place, there ain’t a neighbor nigher’n four miles; and, in the next, I’d have you understand no women come to this house. If you knew me better, young feller, you’d know that. Set where you be.”
The nightshirt was one of the lightkeeper’s own, and, although Seth was a good-sized man, it fitted the castaway almost too tightly for comfort. However, it was dry and warm and, by leaving a button or two unfastened at the neck, answered the purpose well enough. The stranger was piloted to the bedroom, assisted into the depths of a feather bed, and covered with several layers of blankets and patchwork quilts.
“There!” observed Seth, contentedly, “now you go to sleep. If you get to sweatin’, so much the better. ‘Twill get some of that cold water out of you. So long!”
He departed, closing the door after him. Then he built a fire in the range, got breakfast, ate it, washed the dishes and continued his forenoon’s work. Not a sound from the bedroom. Evidently the strange arrival had taken the advice concerning going to sleep. But all the time he was washing dishes, rubbing brass work or sweeping, Mr. Atkins’s mind was busy with the puzzle which fate had handed him. Occasionally he chuckled, and often he shook his head. He could make nothing out of it. One thing only was certain–he had never before met a human being exactly like this specimen.
It was half past twelve before there were signs of life in the bedroom. Seth was setting the table for dinner, when the door of the room opened a little way, and a voice said:
“I say, are you there?”
“I be. What do you want?”
“Would you mind telling me what you’ve done with my clothes?”
“Not a bit. I’ve got ’em out on the line, and they ain’t dry yet. If you’ll look on the chair by the sou’west window you’ll find a rig-out of mine. I’m afraid ’twill fit you too quick–you’re such an elephant–but I’ll risk it if you will.”
Apparently the stranger was willing to risk it, for in a few moments he appeared, dressed in the Atkins Sunday suit of blue cloth, and with Seth’s pet carpet slippers on his feet.
“Hello!” was the lightkeeper’s greeting. “How you feelin’?– better?”
“Tip top, thank you. Where do you wash, when it’s necessary?”
“Basin right there in the sink. Soap in the becket over top of it. Roller towel on the closet door. Ain’t you had water enough for a spell?”
“Not fresh water, thank you. I’m caked with salt from head to foot.”
“Does make a feller feel like a split herrin’, if he ain’t used to it. Think you can eat anything?”
“Can I?” The response was enthusiastic. “You watch me! My last meal was yesterday noon.”
“Yesterday NOON! Didn’t you eat no supper?”
“Well, I–well, to be frank, because I hadn’t the price. It took my last cent to pay my fare on that blessed steamer.”
“Great land of love! What time was it when you fell overboard?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Two o’clock, perhaps.”
“Two o’clock! What was you doin’ up at two o’clock? Why wasn’t you in your stateroom asleep?”
“I hadn’t any stateroom. Staterooms cost money.”
“My soul! And you swum three hours on an empty stomach?”
“Not altogether. Part of it on my back. But, if you’ll excuse familiarity on short acquaintance, those things you’re cooking smell good to me.”
“Them’s clam fritters, and, if YOU’LL excuse my sayin’ so that shouldn’t, they ARE good. Set down and fill up.”
The visitor ate nine of the fritters, a slice of dried-apple pie, and drank two cups of coffee. Seth, between intervals of frying and eating, watched him with tremendous curiosity and as much patience as he could muster. When the pie was finished he asked the first of the questions with which he had been bursting all the forenoon.
“Tell me,” he said, “how’d you come to fall overboard?”
“I’m not very certain just how it happened. I remember leaning over the rail and watching the waves. Then I was very dizzy all at once. The next thing I knew I was in the water.”
“Dizzy, hey? Seasick, may be.”
“I guess not. I’m a pretty good sailor. I’m inclined to think the cause was that empty stomach you mentioned.”
“Um-hm. You didn’t have no supper. Still, you ate the noon afore.”
“Not much. Only a sandwich.”
“A sandwich! What did you have for breakfast?”
“Well, the fact is, I overslept and decided to omit the breakfast.”
“Gosh! no wonder you got dizzy. If I went without meals for a whole day I cal’late I’d be worse than dizzy. What did you do when you found yourself in the water?”
“Yelled at first, but no one heard me. Then I saw some lights off in this direction and started to swim for them. I made the shore finally, but I was so used up that I don’t remember anything after the landing. Think I took a nap.”
“I presume likely. Wonder ’twasn’t your everlastin’ nap! Tut! tut! tut! Think of it!”
“I don’t want to, thank you. It isn’t pleasant enough to think of. I’m here and–by the way, where IS here?”
“This is Eastboro township–Eastboro, Cape Cod. Them lights out there are Eastboro Twin-Lights. I’m the keeper of ’em. My name’s Atkins, Seth Atkins.”
“Delighted to meet you, Mr. Atkins. And tremendously obliged to you, besides.”
“You needn’t be. I ain’t done nothin’. Let me see, you said your name was–“
“Did I?” The young man seemed startled, almost alarmed. “When?”
Seth was embarrassed, but not much. “Well,” he admitted, “I don’t know’s you did say it, come to think of it. What IS your name?”
“Oh, why–my name is Brown–er–John Brown. Not the gentleman who was hanged, of course; distant relative, that’s all.”
“Hum! John Brown, hey? What steamer did you fall off of?”
“Why–why–I can’t seem to remember. That’s odd, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I should say ’twas. Where was she bound?”
“Bound? Oh, you mean where was she going?”
“I think–I think she was going to–to. . . . Humph! how strange this is!”
“Why, that I should forget all these things.”
The lightkeeper regarded his guest with suspicion.
“Yaas,” he drawled slowly, “when you call it strange you ain’t exaggeratin’ none wuth mentionin’. I s’pose,” he added, after a moment, during which he stared intently at Mr. Brown, who smiled in polite acknowledgment of the stare; “I s’pose likely you couldn’t possibly remember what port you hailed from?”
“I suppose not,” was the calm reply.
Seth rose from the table.
“Well,” he observed, “I’ve been up all night, too, and it’s past my bedtime. As I told you, my assistant’s left all of a sudden and I’m alone in charge of gov’ment property. I ought to turn in, but–” he hesitated.
John Brown also rose.
“Mr. Atkins,” he said, “my memory seems to be pretty bad, but I haven’t forgotten everything. For instance,” his smile disappeared, and his tone became earnest, “I can remember perfectly well that I’m not a crook, that I haven’t done anything to be ashamed of–as I see it–that I’m very grateful to you, and that I don’t steal. If you care to believe that and, also, that, being neither a sneak or a thief, I sha’n’t clear out with the spoons while you’re asleep, you might–well, you might risk turning in.”
The lightkeeper did not answer immediately. The pair looked each other straight in the eye.
Then Seth yawned and turned toward the bedroom.
“Ill risk it,” he said, curtly. “If I ain’t awake by six o’clock I wish you’d call me. You’ll find some spare clay pipes and tobacco on the mantelpiece by the clock. So long.”
He entered the bedroom and closed the door. Mr. Brown stepped over to the mantel and helped himself to a pipe.
MR. BROWN PUTS IN AN APPLICATION
At half past five the lightkeeper opened the bedroom door and peeped out. The kitchen was empty. There was no sign of Mr. Brown. It took Seth just four minutes to climb into the garments he had discarded and reach the open air. His guest was seated on the bench beside the house, one of the clay pipes in his hand. He was looking out to sea. He spoke first:
“Hello!” he said. “You’re up ahead of time, aren’t you? It isn’t six yet.”
Atkins grinned. “No,” he answered, “’tain’t! not quite. But sence Ezry cleared out I’ve been a kind of human alarm clock, as you might say. Feelin’ all right, are you?”
“Yes, thank you. I say,” holding up the pipe and regarding it respectfully, “is this tobacco of yours furnished by the government?”
“No. Some I bought myself last time I was over to the Center. Why, what’s the matter with it? Ain’t it good?”
“Then what made you ask? Ain’t it strong enough?”
“Strong enough! You’re disposed to be sarcastic. It’s stronger than I am. What do they flavor it with–tar?”
“Say, let’s see that plug. THAT ain’t smokin’ tobacco.”
“What is it, then–asphalt?”
“Why, haw! haw! That’s a piece of Ezry’s chewin’. Some he left when he went away. It’s ‘Honest Friend.’ ‘TIS flavored up consider’ble. And you tried to smoke it! Ho! ho!”
The young man joined in the laugh.
“That explains why it bubbled so,” he said. “I used twenty-two matches, by actual count, and then gave it up. Bah!” he smacked his lips disgustedly and made a face: “‘Honest Friend’–is that the name of it? Meaning that it’ll stick to you through life, I presume. Water has no effect on the taste; I’ve tried it.”
“Maybe some supper might help. I’ll wash the dinner dishes and start gettin’ it. All there seems to be to this job of mine just now is washin’ dishes. And how I hate it!”
He reentered the kitchen. Then he uttered an exclamation:
“Why, what’s become of the dishes?” he demanded. “I left ’em here on the table.”
Brown arose from the bench and sauntered to the door.
“I washed them,” he said. “I judged that you would have to if I didn’t, and it seemed the least I could do, everything considered.”
“Sho! You washed the dishes, hey? Where’d you put ’em?”
“In the closet there. That’s where they belong, isn’t it?”
Seth went to the closet, took a plate from the pile and inspected it.
“Um!” he grunted, turning the plate over, “that ain’t such a bad job. Not so all-fired bad, for a green hand. What did you wash ’em with?”
“A cloth I found hanging by the sink.”
“I see. Yes, yes. And you wiped ’em on–what?”
“Well, to tell you the truth, I didn’t see any towels in sight, except that one on the door; and, for various reasons, I judged that wasn’t a dish towel.”
“Good judgment. ‘Tisn’t. Go on.”
“So I hunted around, and in the closet in the parlor, or living room, or whatever you call it, I found a whole stack of things that looked like towels; so I used one of those.”
“Is this it?” Seth picked up a damp and bedraggled cloth from the table.
“That’s it. I should have hung it up somewhere, I suppose. I’ll lose my job if I don’t look out.”
“Um! Well, I’m much obliged to you, only–“
“Only you washed them dishes with the sink cloth and wiped ’em with a piller case.”
The volunteer dishwasher’s mouth opened.
“NO!” he gasped.
“A pillow case! Well, by George!”
“Um-hm. I jedge you ain’t washed many dishes in your lifetime.”
“Not so very many. No.”
They looked at each other and burst into a roar of laughter. Brown was the first to recover.
“Well,” he observed, “I guess it’s up to me. If you’ll kindly put me next to a genuine cloth, or sponge, or whatever is the proper caper for dish-washing, I’ll undertake to do them over again. And, for heaven’s sake, lock up the pillow cases.”
Seth protested, declaring that the dishes need not be rewashed that very minute, and that when he got a chance he would do them himself. But the young man was firm, and, at last, the lightkeeper yielded.
“It’s real kind of you,” he declared, “and bein’ as I’ve consider’ble to do, I don’t know but I’ll let you. Here’s a couple of dishcloths, and there’s the towels. I’m goin’ out to see to the lights, and I’ll be back pretty soon and get supper.”
Later in the evening, after supper, the housework done, they sat again on the bench beside the door, each with a pipe, filled, this time, with genuine smoking tobacco. Before and below them was the quiet sea, rolling lazily under the stars. Overhead the big lanterns in the towers thrust their parallel lances of light afar into the darkness. The only sounds were the low wash of the surf and the hum of the eager mosquitoes. Brown was silent, alternately puffing at the pipe and slapping at the insects, which latter, apparently finding his skin easier to puncture than that of the tanned and leathery Atkins, were making the most of their opportunity.
Seth, whose curiosity had been checked but not smothered by his companion’s evident desire to say nothing concerning himself, was busy thinking of various guileful schemes with which to entrap the castaway into the disclosure of his identity. Having prepared his bait, he proceeded to get over a line.
“Mr. Brown,” he said, “I ain’t mentioned it to you afore, ‘count of your needin’ rest and grub and all after your fallin’ overboard last night. But tomorrer you’ll be feelin’ fustrate again, and I cal’late you’ll be wantin’ to get word to your folks. Now we can telephone to the Eastboro depot, where there’s a telegraph, and the depot master’ll send a dispatch to your people, lettin’ ’em know you’re all safe and sound. If you’ll just give me the address and what you want to say, I’ll ‘tend to it myself. The depot master’s a good friend of mine, and he’ll risk sending the dispatch ‘collect’ if I tell him to.”
“Thank you,” replied Brown, shortly.
“Oh, don’t mention it. Now who’ll I send it to?”
“You needn’t send it. I couldn’t think of putting you to further trouble.”
“Trouble! ‘Tain’t no trouble to telephone. Land sakes, I do it four or five times a day. Now who’ll I send it to?”
“You needn’t send it.”
“Oh, well, of course, if you’d ruther send it yourself–“
“I sha’n’t send it. It really isn’t worth while ‘phoning or telegraphing either. I didn’t drown, and I’m very comfortable, thank you–or should be if it weren’t for these mosquitoes.”
“Comf’table! Yes, you’re comf’table, but how about your folks? Won’t they learn, soon’s that steamer gets into–into Portland–or– or–New York or Boston–or . . . Hey?”
“I didn’t speak.”
Seth swallowed hard and continued. “Well, wherever she was bound,” he snapped. “Won’t they learn that you sot sail in her and never got there? Then they’ll know that you MUST have fell overboard.”
John Brown drew a mouthful of smoke through the stem of the pipe and blew it spitefully among the mosquitoes.
“I don’t see how they’ll learn it,” he replied.
“Why, the steamer folks’ll wire em right off.”
“They’ll have to find them first.”
“That’ll be easy enough. There’ll be your name, ‘John Brown,’ of such and such a place, written right on the purser’s book, won’t it.”
“No,” drawled Mr. Brown, “it won’t.”
The lightkeeper felt very much as if this particular road to the truth had ended suddenly in a blind alley. He pulled viciously at his chin whiskers. His companion shifted his position on the bench. Silence fell again, as much silence as the mosquitoes would permit.
Suddenly Brown seemed to reach a determination.
“Atkins,” he said briskly, and with considerable bitterness in his tone, “don’t you worry about my people. They don’t know where I am, and–well, some of them, at least, don’t care. Maybe I’m a rolling stone–at any rate, I haven’t gathered any moss, any financial moss. I’m broke. I haven’t any friends, any that I wish to remember; I haven’t any job. I am what you might call down and out. If I had drowned when I fell overboard last night, it might have been a good thing–or it might not. We won’t argue the question, because just now I’m ready to take either side. But let’s talk about yourself. You’re lightkeeper here?”
“I be, yes.”
“And these particular lights seem to be a good way from everywhere and everybody.”
“Five mile from Eastboro Center, sixteen from Denboro, and two from the nighest life savin’ station. Why?”
“Oh, just for instance. No neighbors, you said?”
“I noticed a bungalow just across the brook here. It seems to be shut up. Who owns it?”
“Bunga–which? Oh, that cottage over on t’other side the crick? That b’longs to a couple of paintin’ fellers from up Boston way. Not house painters, you understand, but fellers that put in their time paintin’ pictures of the water and the beach and the like of that. Seems a pretty silly job for grown-up men, but they’re real pleasant and folksy. Don’t put on no airs nor nothin.’ They’re most gen’rally here every June and July and August, but I understand they ain’t comin’ this year, so the cottage’ll be shut up. I’ll miss ’em, kind of. One of ’em’s name is Graham and t’other’s Hamilton.”
“I see. Many visitors to the lights?”
“Not many. Once in a while a picnic comes over in a livery four- seater, but not often. The same gang never comes twice. Road’s too bad, and they complain like fury about the moskeeters.”
“Do they? How peevish! Atkins, you’re not married?”
It was an innocent question, but it had an astonishing effect. The lightkeeper bounced on the bench as if someone had kicked it violently from beneath.
“What?” he quavered shrilly. “Wha–what’s that?”
Brown was surprised. “I asked if you were married, that’s all,” he said. “I can’t see–“
“Stop!” Seth’s voice shook, and he bent down to glare through the darkness at his companion’s face. “Stop!” he ordered. “You asked me if I was–married?”
“Yes. Why shouldn’t I?”
“Why shouldn’t you? See here, young feller, you–you–what made you ask that?”
“What made me?”
“Stop sayin’ my words after me. Are you a man or a poll-parrot? Can’t you understand plain United States language? What made you? Or WHO made you? Who told you to ask me that question?”
He pounded the bench with his fist. The pair stared at each other for a moment; then Brown leaned back and began to whistle. Seth seized him by the shoulders.
“Quit that foolishness, d’you hear?” he snarled. “Quit it, and answer me!”
The answer was prefaced by a pitying shake of the head.
“It’s the mosquitoes,” observed the young man, musingly. “They get through and puncture the brain after a time, I presume. I’m not surprised exactly, but,” with a sigh, “I’m very sorry.”
“What are you talkin’ about,” demanded Atkins. “Be you crazy?”
“No-o. I’M not.”
“YOU’RE not! Do you mean that I am?”
“Well,” slowly, “I’m not an expert in such cases, but when a perfectly simple, commonplace question sets a chap to pounding and screaming and offering violence, then–well, it’s either insanity or an attempt at insult, one or the other. I’ve given you the benefit of the doubt.”
He scratched a match on his heel and relit his pipe. The lightkeeper still stared, suspicious and puzzled. Then he drew a long breath.
“I–I didn’t mean to insult you,” he stammered.
“Glad to hear it, I’m sure. If I were you, however, I should see a doctor for the other trouble.”
“And I ain’t crazy, neither. I beg your pardon for hollerin’ and grabbin’ hold of you.”
“Thank ye. Now,” hesitatingly, “would you mind tellin’ me why you asked me if I was married?”
“Not in the least. I asked merely because it occurred to me that you might be. Of course, I had seen nothing of your wife, but it was barely possible that she was away on a visit, or somewhere. There is no regulation forbidding lightkeepers marrying–at least, I never heard of any–and so I asked; that’s all.”
Seth nodded. “I see,” he said, slowly; “yes, yes, I see. So you didn’t have no special reason.”
“I did not. Of course, if I had realized that you were subject to– er–fits, I should have been more careful.”
“Hum! . . . Well, I–I beg your pardon again. I–I am kind of touchy on some p’ints. Didn’t I tell you no women came here? Married! A wife! Do I look like a dum fool?”
“Well, then! And I’ve apologized for bein’ one a few minutes ago, ain’t I.”
“Yes, you have. No grudge on my part, I assure you. Let’s forget it and talk of something else.”
They did, but the dialogue was rather jerky. Brown was thinking, and Atkins seemed moody and disinclined to talk. After a time he announced that it was getting late and he cal’lated he would go up to the light room. “You’d better turn in,” he added, rising.
“Just a minute,” said the young man. “Wait just a minute. Atkins, suppose I asked you another question–would you become violent at once? or merely by degrees?”
Seth frowned. The suspicious look returned to his face.
“Humph!” he grunted. “Depended on what you asked me, maybe.”
“Yes. Well, this one is harmless–at least, I hope it is. I thought the other was, also, but I . . . There! there! be calm. Sit down again and listen. This question is nothing like that. It’s about that assistant of yours, the chap who left a day or two before I drifted in. What were his duties? What did he have to do when he was here?”
“Wa-al,” drawled Seth with sarcasm, resuming his seat on the bench; “he was SUPPOSED to do consider’ble many things. Stand watch and watch with me, and scrub brass and clean up around, and sweep and wash dishes and–and–well, make himself gen’rally useful. Them was the duties he was supposed to have. What he done was diff’rent. Pesky loafer! Why?”
“That’s what I’m going to tell you. Have they appointed his successor yet? Have you got any one to take his place?”
“No. Fact is, I’d ought to have telegraphed right off to the Board, but I ain’t. I was so glad to see the last of him that I kept puttin’ it off. I’ll do it tomorrer.”
“Perhaps you won’t need to.”
“Course I’ll need to! Why not? Got to have somebody to help. That’s rules and regulations; and, besides, I can’t keep awake day and night, too. What makes you think I won’t need to?”
The young man knocked the ashes from his pipe. Rising, he laid a hand on his companion’s shoulder.
“Because you’ve got an assistant right here on the premises,” he said. “Delivered by the Atlantic express right at your door. Far be it from me to toot my horn, Mr. Atkins, or to proclaim my merits from the housetops. But, speaking as one discerning person to another, when it comes to an A1, first chop lightkeeper’s assistant, I ask: ‘What’s the matter with yours truly, John Brown?'”
Seth’s reply was not in words. The hand holding his pipe fell limp upon his lap, and he stared at the speaker. The latter, entirely unabashed, waved an airy gesture, and continued.
“I repeat,” he said, “‘What’s the matter with John Brown?’ And echo answers, ‘He’s all right!’ I am a candidate for the position of assistant keeper at Eastboro Twin-Lights.”
“But–but–aw, go on! You’re foolin’.”
“Not a fool. I mean it. I am here. I’m green, but in the sunshine of your experience I agree to ripen rapidly. I can wash dishes– you’ve seen me. I believe I could scrub brass and sweep.”
“You wantin’ to be assistant at a place like this! YOU! an edicated, able young chap, that’s been used to valets and servants and–“
“Why do you say that? How do you know I’ve been used to those things?”
“‘Cause, as I hinted to you a spell ago, I ain’t altogether a dum fool. I can put two and two together and make four, without having the example done for me on a blackboard. You’re a rich man’s son; you’ve been used to sassiety and city ways and good clothes. YOU wantin’ to put in your days and nights in a forsaken hole like this! Nonsense! Get out!”
But Mr. Brown refused to get out.
“No nonsense about it,” he declared. “It is the hand of Fate. With the whole broadside of Cape Cod to land upon, why was I washed ashore just at this particular spot? Answer:–Because at this spot, at this time, Eastboro Twin-Lights needed an assistant keeper. I like the spot. It is beautiful. ‘Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.’ With your permission, I’ll stay here. The leopard may or may not change his spots, but I sha’n’t. I like this one and here I stay. Yes, I mean it. I stay–as your assistant. Come, what do you say? Is it a go?”
The lightkeeper rose once more. “I’m goin’ on watch,” he said with decision. “You turn in. You’ll feel better in the mornin’.”
He started towards the tower. But John Brown sprang from the bench and followed him.
“Not until you’ve answered my question,” he declared. “AM I to be your assistant?”
“No, course you ain’t. It’s dum foolishness. Besides, I ain’t got the say; the government hires its own keepers.”
“But you can square the government. That will be easy. Why,” with a modest gesture, “look what the government is getting. It will jump at the chance. Atkins, you must say yes.”
“I sha’n’t, neither. Let go of my arm. It’s blame foolishness, I tell you. Why,” impatiently, “course it’s foolishness! I don’t know the first thing about you.”
“What of it? I don’t know anything about you, either.”
Again the lightkeeper seemed unaccountably agitated. He stopped in his stride and whirled to face his companion.
“What do you mean by that?” he demanded fiercely. Before the young man could reply, he turned again, strode to the door of the light, flung it open, and disappeared within. The door closed behind him with a thunderous bang.
John Brown gazed after him in bewilderment. Then he shrugged his shoulders and returned to the bench.
The surf at the foot of the bluff grumbled and chuckled wickedly, as if it knew all of poor humanity’s secrets and found a cynic’s enjoyment in the knowledge.
THE COMING OF JOB
The next morning Seth was gloomy and uncommunicative. At the breakfast table, when Brown glanced up from his plate, he several times caught the lightkeeper looking intently at him with the distrustful, half-suspicious gaze of the night before. Though quite aware of this scrutiny, he made no comment upon it until the meal was nearly over; then he observed suddenly:
“It’s all right; you needn’t.”
“Needn’t what?” demanded Atkins, in astonishment.
“Look at me as if you expected me to explode at any minute. I sha’n’t. I’m not loaded.”
Seth colored, under his coat of sunburn, and seemed embarrassed.
“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” he stammered. “Have the moskeeters affected YOUR brains?”
“No. My brains, such as they are, are all right, and I want to keep them so. That’s why I request you not to look at me in that way.”
“How was I lookin’ at you? I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yes, you do. You are wondering how much I know. I don’t know anything and I’m not curious. That’s the truth. Now why not let it go at that?”
“See here, young feller, I–“
“No; you see here. I’m not an Old Sleuth; I haven’t any ambitions that way. I don’t know anything about you–what you’ve been, what you’ve done–“
“Done!” Seth leaned across the table so suddenly that he upset his chair. “Done?” he cried; “what do you mean by that? Who said I’d done anything? It’s a lie.”
“What is a lie?”
“Why–why–er–whatever they said!”
“Why, the ones that–that said what you said they said.”
“I didn’t say anyone had said anything.”
“Then what do you mean by–by hintin’? Hey? What do you mean by it?”
He brandished a clenched fist over the breakfast dishes. Brown leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.
“Call me when the patient recovers his senses,” he drawled wearily. “This delirium is painful to a sensitive nature.”
Atkins’s fist wavered in mid-air, opened, and was drawn across its owner’s forehead.
“Well, by jiminy!” exclaimed the lightkeeper with emphasis, “this is–is– . . . I guess I BE crazy. If I ain’t, you are. Would you mind tellin’ me what in time you mean by THAT?”
“It is not the mosquitoes,” continued his companion, in apparent soliloquy; “there are no mosquitoes at present. It must be the other thing, of course. But so early in the morning, and so violent. Alcohol is–“
“SHUT UP!” It was not a request, but an order. Brown opened his eyes.
“You were addressing me?” he asked, blandly. “Yes?”
“Addressin’ you! For thunder sakes, who else would I be ad– . . . There! there! Now I cal’late you’re hintin’ that I’m drunk. I ain’t.”
“Yes, indeed. And I ain’t out of my head–not yet; though keepin’ company with a Bedlamite may have some effect, I shouldn’t wonder. Mr. John Brown–if that’s your name, which I doubt–you listen to me.”
“Very well, Mr. Seth Atkins–if that is your name, which I neither doubt nor believe, not being particularly interested–I’m listening. Proceed.”
“You told me last night that you wanted the job of assistant keeper here at these lights. Course you didn’t mean it.”
“You DID! . . . Well, YOU must be drunk or loony.”
“I’m neither. And I meant it. I want the job.”
Seth looked at him, and he looked at Seth. At length the lightkeeper spoke again.
“Well,” he said, slowly, “I don’t understand it at all, but never mind. Whatever happens, we’ve got to understand each other. Mind I don’t say the job’s yours, even if we do; but we can’t even think of it unless we understand each other plain. To begin with, I want to tell you that I ain’t done nothin’ that’s crooked, nor wicked, nor nothin’ but what I think is right and what I’d do over again. Do you believe that?”
“Certainly. As I told you, I’m not interested, but I’ll believe it with pleasure if you wish me to.”
“I don’t wish nothin’. You’ve GOT to believe it. And whether you stay here ten minutes or ten years you’ve got to mind your own business. I won’t have any hints or questions about me–from you nor nobody else. ‘Mind your own business,’ that’s the motto of Eastboro Twin-Lights, while I’m boss of ’em. If you don’t like it– well, the village is only five mile off, and I’ll p’int out the road to you.”
He delivered this ultimatum with extraordinary energy. Then he reached for his overturned chair, set it on its legs, and threw himself into it. “Well,” he demanded, after a moment; “what do you say to that?”
“Hurrah!” replied Mr. Brown cheerfully.
“Hurrah? For the land sakes! . . . Say, CAN’T you talk sensible, if you try real hard and set your mind to it? What is there to hurrah about?”
“Everything. The whole situation. Atkins,” Brown leaned forward now and spoke with earnestness, “I like your motto. It suits me. ‘Mind your own business’ suits me down to the ground. It proves that you and I were made to work together in a place just like this.”
“Does, hey? I want to know!”
“You do know. Why, just think: each of us has pleaded ‘not guilty.’ We’ve done nothing–we’re entirely innocent–and we want to forget it. I agree not to ask you how old you are, nor why you wear your brand of whiskers, nor how you like them, nor–nor anything. I agree not to ask questions at all.”
“Humph! but you asked some last night.”
“Purely by accident. You didn’t answer them. You asked me some, also, if you will remember, and I didn’t answer them, either. Good! We forget everything and agree not to do it again.”
“Ugh! I tell you I ain’t done nothin’.”
“I know. Neither have I. Let the dead past be its own undertaker, so far as we are concerned. I’m honest, Atkins, and tolerably straight. I believe you are; I really do. But we don’t care to talk about ourselves, that’s all. And, fortunately, kind Providence has brought us together in a place where there’s no one else TO talk. I like you, I credit you with good taste; therefore, you must like me.”
“Hey? Ho, ho!” Seth laughed, in spite of himself. “Young man,” he observed, “you ain’t cultivated your modesty under glass, have you?”
Brown smiled. “Joking aside,” he said, “I don’t see why I shouldn’t, in time, make an ideal assistant lightkeeper. Give me a trial, at any rate. I need an employer; you need a helper. Here we both are. Come; it is a bargain, isn’t it? Any brass to be scrubbed–boss?”
Of course, had Eastboro Twin-Lights been an important station, the possibility of John Brown’s remaining there would have been nonexistent. If it had been winter, or even early spring or fall, a regular assistant would have been appointed at once, and the castaway given his walking papers. If Seth Atkins had not been Seth Atkins, particular friend of the district superintendent, matters might have been different. But the Eastboro lights were unimportant, merely a half-way mark between Orham on the one hand and the powerful Seaboard Heights beacon on the other. It was the beginning of summer, when wrecks almost never occurred. And the superintendent liked Seth, and Seth liked him. So, although Mr. Atkins still scoffed at his guest’s becoming a permanent fixture at the lights, and merely consented, after more parley, to see if he couldn’t arrange for him to “hang around and help a spell until somebody else was sent,” the conversation with the superintendent over the long distance ‘phone resulted more favorably for Brown than that nonchalant young gentleman had a reasonable right to expect.
“The Lord knows who I can send you now, Atkins!” said the superintendent. “I can’t think of a man anywhere that can be spared. If you can get on for a day or two longer, I’ll try to get a helper down! but where he’s coming from I don’t see.”
Then Seth sprung the news that he had a “sort of helper” already. “He’s a likely young chap enough,” admitted the lightkeeper, whispering the words into the transmitter, in order that the “likely young chap” might not hear; “but he’s purty green yet. He wants the reg’lar job and, give me time enough, I cal’late I can break him in. Yes, I’m pretty sure I can. And it’s the off season, so there really ain’t no danger. In a month he’d be doin’ fust-rate.”
“Who is he? Where did he come from?” asked the superintendent.
“Name’s Brown. He come from–from off here a ways,” was the strictly truthful answer. “He used to be on a steamboat.”
“All right. If you’ll take a share of the responsibility, I’ll take the rest. And, as soon as I can, I’ll send you a regular man.”
“I can’t pay you no steady wages,” Seth explained to his new helper. “Salaries come from the gov’ment, and, until they say so, I ain’t got no right to do it. And I can’t let you monkey with the lights, except to clean up around and such. If you want to stay a spell, until an assistant’s app’inted, I’ll undertake to be responsible for your keep. And if you need some new shoes or stockin’s or a cap, or the like of that, I’ll see you get ’em. Further’n that I can’t go yet. It’s a pretty poor job for a fellow like you, and if I was you I wouldn’t take it.”
“Oh, yes, you would,” replied Brown, with conviction. “If you were I, you would take it with bells on. Others may yearn for the strenuous life, but not your humble servant. As for me, I stay here and ‘clean up around.'”
And stay he did, performing the cleaning up and other duties with unexpected success and zeal. Atkins, for the first day or two, watched him intently, being still a trifle suspicious and fearful of his “substitute assistant.” But as time passed and the latter asked no more questions, seemed not in the least curious concerning his superior, and remained the same cool, easy-going, cheerful individual whom Seth had found asleep on the beach, the lightkeeper’s suspicions were ended. It was true that Brown was as mysterious and secretive as ever concerning his own past, but that had been a part of their bargain. Atkins, who prided himself on being a judge of human nature, decided that his helper was a young gentleman in trouble, but that the trouble, whatever it might be, involved nothing criminal or dishonest. That he was a gentleman, he was sure–his bearing and manner proved that; but he was a gentleman who did not “put on airs.” Not that there was any reason why he should put on airs, but, so far as that was concerned, there was no apparent reason for the monumental conceit and condescension of some of the inflated city boarders in the village. Brown was not like those people at all.
Seth had taken a fancy to him at their first meeting. Now his liking steadily increased. Companionship in a lonely spot like Eastboro Twin-Lights is a test of a man’s temper. Brown stood the test well. If he made mistakes in the work–and he did make some ridiculous ones–he cheerfully undid them when they were pointed out to him. He was, for the most part, good-natured and willing to talk, though there were periods when he seemed depressed and wandered off by himself along the beach or sat by the edge of the bluff, staring out to sea. The lightkeeper made no comment on this trait in his character. It helped to confirm his own judgment concerning the young fellow’s trouble. People in trouble were subject to fits of the “blues,” and during these fits they liked to be alone. Seth knew this from his own experience. There were times when he, too, sought solitude.
He trusted his helper more and more. He did not, of course, permit him to take the night watch in the lights, but he did trust him to the extent of leaving him alone for a whole afternoon while he drove the old horse, attached to the antique “open wagon”–both steed and vehicle a part of the government property–over to Eastboro to purchase tobacco and newspapers at the store. On his return he found everything as it should be, and this test led him to make others, each of which was successful in proving John Brown faithful over a few things and, therefore, in time, to be intrusted with many and more important ones.
Brown, on his part, liked Seth. He had professed to like him during the conversation at the breakfast table which resulted in his remaining at the lights, but then he was not entirely serious. He was, of course, grateful for the kindness shown him by the odd longshoreman and enjoyed the latter’s society and droll remarks as he would have enjoyed anything out of the ordinary and quaintly amusing. But now he really liked the man. Seth Atkins was a countryman, and a marked contrast to any individual Brown had ever met, but he was far from being a fool. He possessed a fund of dry common sense, and his comments on people and happenings in the world–a knowledge of which he derived from the newspapers and magazines obtained on his trips to Eastboro–were a constant delight. And, more than all, he respected his companion’s desire to remain a mystery. Brown decided that Atkins was, as he had jokingly called him, a man with a past. What that past might be, he did not know or try to learn. “Mind your own business,” Seth had declared to be the motto of Eastboro Twin-Lights, and that motto suited both parties to the agreement.
The lightkeeper stood watch in the tower at night. During most of the day he slept; but, after the first week was over, and his trust in his helper became more firm, he developed the habit of rising at two in the afternoon, eating a breakfast–or dinner, or whatever the meal might be called–and wandering off along the crooked road leading south and in the direction of Pounddug Slough. The road, little used and grass grown, twisted and turned amid the dunes until it disappeared in a distant grove of scrub oaks and pitch pines. Each afternoon–except on Sundays and on the occasions of his excursions to the village–Atkins would rise from the table, saunter to the door to look at the weather, and then, without excuse or explanation, start slowly down the road. For the first hundred yards he sauntered, then the saunter became a brisk walk, and when he reached the edge of the grove he was hurrying almost at a dog trot. Sometimes he carried a burden with him, a brown paper parcel brought from Eastboro, a hammer, a saw, or a coil of rope. Once he descended to the boathouse at the foot of the bluff by the inlet and emerged bearing a big bundle of canvas, apparently an old sail; this he arranged, with some difficulty, on his shoulder and stumbled up the slope, past the corner of the house and away toward the grove. Brown watched him wonderingly. Where was he going, and why? What was the mysterious destination of all these tools and old junk? Where did Seth spend his afternoons and why, when he returned, did his hands and clothes smell of tar? The substitute assistant was puzzled, but he asked no questions. And Seth volunteered no solution of the puzzle.
Yet the solution came, and in an unexpected way. Seth drove to the village one afternoon and returned with literature, smoking materials and an announcement. The latter he made during supper.
“I tried to buy that fly paper we wanted today,” he observed, as a preliminary. “Couldn’t get none. All out.”
“But will have some in very shortly, I presume,” suggested the assistant, who knew the idiosyncrasies of country stores.
“Oh, yes, sartin! Expectin’ it every minute. That store’s got a consider’ble sight more expectations in it than it has anything else. They’re always six months ahead of the season or behind it in that store. When it’s so cold that the snow birds get chilblains they’ll have the shelves chuck full of fly paper. Now, when it’s hotter than a kittle of pepper tea, the bulk of their stock is ice picks and mittens. Bah! However, they’re goin’ to send the fly paper over when it comes, along with the dog.”
“The dog?” repeated Brown in amazement.
“Yup. That’s what I was goin’ to tell you–about the dog. I ordered a dog today. Didn’t pay nothin’ for him, you understand. Henry G., the storekeeper, gave him to me. The boy’ll fetch him down when he fetches the fly paper.”
“A dog? We’re–you’re going to keep a dog–here?”
“Sure thing. Why not? Got room enough to keep a whole zoological menagerie if we wanted to, ain’t we? Besides, a dog’ll be handy to have around. Bill Foster, the life saver, told me that somebody busted into the station henhouse one night a week ago and got away with four of their likeliest pullets. He cal’lates ’twas tramps or boys. We don’t keep hens, but there’s some stuff in that boathouse I wouldn’t want stole, and, bein’ as there’s no lock on the door, a dog would be a sort of protection, as you might say.”
“But thieves would never come way down here.”
“Why not? ‘Tain’t any further away from the rest of creation than the life savin’ station, is it? Anyhow, Henry G. give the dog to me free for nothin’, and that’s a miracle of itself. You’d say so, too, if you knew Henry. I was so surprised that I said I’d take it right off; felt ‘twould be flyin’ in the face of Providence not to. A miracle–jumpin’ Judas! I never knew Henry to give anybody anything afore–unless ’twas the smallpox, and then ‘twan’t a genuine case, nothin’ but varioloid.”
“But what kind of a dog is it?”
“I don’t know. Henry used to own the mother of it, and she was one quarter mastiff and the rest assorted varieties. This one he’s givin’ me ain’t a whole dog, you see; just a half-grown pup. The varioloid all over again–hey? Ho, ho! I didn’t really take him for sartin, you understand; just on trial. If we like him, we’ll keep him, that’s all.”
The third afternoon following this announcement, Brown was alone in the kitchen, and busy. Seth had departed on one of his mysterious excursions, carrying a coil of rope, a pulley and a gallon can of paint. Before leaving the house he had given his helper some instructions concerning supper.
“Might’s well have a lobster tonight,” he said. “Ever cook a lobster, did you?”
No, Mr. Brown had never cooked a lobster.
“Well, it’s simple enough. All you’ve got to do is bile him. Bile him in hot water till he’s done.”
“I see.” The substitute assistant was not enthusiastic. Cooking he did not love.
“Humph!” he grunted. “I imagined if he was boiled at all, it was be in hot water, not cold.”
Atkins chuckled. “I mean you want to have the water bilin’ hot when you put him in,” he explained. “Wait till she biles up good and then souse him; see?”
“I guess so. How do you know when he’s done?”
“Oh–er–I can’t tell you. You’ll have to trust to your instinct, I cal’late. When he looks done, he IS done, most gen’rally speakin’.”
“Dear me! how clear you make it. Would you mind hintin’ as to how he looks when he’s done?”
“Why–why, DONE, of course.”
“Yes, of course. How stupid of me! He is done when he looks done, and when he looks done he is done. Any child could follow those directions. HOW is he done–brown?”
“No. Brown! the idea! Red, of course. He’s green when you put him in the kittle, and when you take him out, he’s red. That’s one way you can tell.”
“Yes, that will help some. All right, I’ll boil him till he’s red, you needn’t worry about that.”
“Oh, I sha’n’t worry. So long. I’ll be back about six or so. Put him in when the water’s good and hot, and you’ll come out all right.”
“Thank you. I hope HE will, but I have my doubts. Where is he?”
“Who? the lobster? There’s dozens down in the car by the wharf. Lift the cover and fish one out with the dip net. Pick out the biggest one you can find, ’cause I’m likely to be hungry when I get back, and your appetite ain’t a hummin’ bird’s. There! I’ve got to go if I want to get anything done afore– . . . Humph! never mind. So long.”
He hurried away, as if conscious that he had said more than he intended. At the corner of the house he turned to call:
“I say! Brown! be kind of careful when you dip him out. None of ’em are plugged.”
“I say none of them lobsters’ claws are plugged. I didn’t have time to plug the last lot I got from my pots, so you want to handle ’em careful like, else they’ll nip you. Tote the one you pick out up to the house in the dip-net; then you’ll be all right.”
Evidently considering this warning sufficient to prevent any possible trouble, he departed. John Brown seated himself in the armchair by the door and gazed at the sea. He gazed and thought until he could bear to think no longer; then he rose and entered the kitchen, where he kindled a fire in the range and filled a kettle with water. Having thus made ready the sacrificial altar, he took the long-handled dip-net from its nail and descended the bluff to the wharf.
The lobster car, a good-sized affair of laths with a hinged cover closing the opening in its upper surface, was floating under the wharf, to which it was attached by a rope. Brown knelt on the string-piece and peered down at it. It floated deep in the water, the tide rippling strongly through it, between the laths. The cover was fastened with a wooden button.
The substitute assistant, after a deal of futile and exasperating poking with the handle of the net, managed to turn the button and throw back the leather-hinged cover. Through the square opening the water beneath looked darkly green. There was much seaweed in the car, and occasionally this weed was stirred by living things which moved sluggishly.
John Brown reversed the net, and, lying flat on the wharf, gingerly thrust the business end of the contrivance through the opening and into the dark, weed-streaked water. Then he began feeling for his prey.
He could feel it. Apparently the car was alive with lobsters. As he moved the net through the water there was always one just before it or behind it; but at least ten minutes elapsed before he managed to get one in it. At length, when his arms were weary and his patience almost exhausted, the submerged net became heavy, and the handle shook in his grasp. He shortened his hold and began to pull in hand over hand. He had a lobster, a big lobster.
He could see a pair of claws opening and shutting wickedly. He raised the creature through the opening, balanced the net on its edge, rose on one knee, tried to stand erect, stumbled, lost his hold on the handle and shot the lobster neatly out of the meshes, over the edge of the car, and into the free waters of the channel. Then he expressed his feelings aloud and with emphasis.
Five minutes later he got another, but it was too small to be of use. In twenty minutes he netted three more, two of which got away. The third, however, he dragged pantingly to the wharf and sat beside it, gloating. It was his for keeps, and it was a big one, the great-grandaddy of lobsters. Its claws clashed and snapped at the twine of the net like a pair of giant nut crackers.
Carrying it as far from his body as its weight at the end of the handle would permit, he bore it in triumph to the kitchen. To boil a lobster alive had seemed a mean trick, and cruel, when Seth Atkins first ordered him to do it. Now he didn’t mind; it would serve the thing right for being so hard to catch. Entering the kitchen, he balanced the net across a chair and stepped to the range to see if the water was boiling. It was not, and for a very good reason–the fire had gone out. Again Mr. Brown expressed his feelings.
The fire, newly kindled, had burned to the last ash. If he had been there to add more coal in season, it would have survived; but he had been otherwise engaged. There was nothing to be done except rake out the ashes and begin anew. This he did. When he removed the kettle he decided at once that it was much too small for the purpose required of it. To boil a lobster of that size in a kettle of that size would necessitate boiling one end at a time, and that, both for the victim and himself, would be troublesome and agonizing. He hunted about for a larger kettle and, finding none, seized in desperation upon the wash boiler, filled it, and lifted it to the top of the stove above the flickering new fire.
The fire burned slowly, and he sat down to rest and wait. As he sank into the chair–not that across which the netted lobster was balanced, but another–he became aware of curious sounds from without. Distant sounds they were, far off and faint, but growing steadily louder; wails and long-drawn howls, mournful and despairing.
“What in the world?” muttered Brown, and ran out of the kitchen and around the corner of the house.
There was nothing in sight, nothing strange or unusual, that is. Joshua, Seth’s old horse, picketted to a post in the back yard and grazing, or trying to graze, on the stubby beach grass, was the only living exhibit. But the sounds continued and grew louder.
Over the rise of a dune, a hundred yards off, where the road to Eastboro village dipped towards a swampy hollow, appeared a horse’s head and the top of a covered wagon. A moment later the driver became visible, a freckled faced boy grinning like a pumpkin lantern. The horse trotted through the sand up to the lights. Joshua whinnied as if he enjoyed the prospect of company. From the back of the wagon, somewhere beneath the shade of the cover, arose a heartrending wail, reeking of sorrow and agony.
“For heaven’s sake,” exclaimed the lightkeeper’s helper, running to meet the vehicle, “what is the matter?”
The boy grinned more expansively than ever. “Whoa!” he shouted, to the horse he was driving. The animal stopped in his tracks, evidently glad of the opportunity. Another howl burst from the covered depths of the wagon.
“I’ve got him,” said the boy, with a triumphant nod and a jerk of his thumb over his shoulder. “He’s in there.”
“He? Who? What?”
“Job. He’s in there. Hear him? He’s been goin’ on like that ever since he finished his bone, and that was over two mile back. Say,” admiringly, “he’s some singer, ain’t he! Hear that, will ye?”
Another wail arose from the wagon. Brown hastened to the rear of the vehicle, on the canvas side of which were painted the words “Henry G. Goodspeed, Groceries, Dry and Fancy Goods and Notions, Eastboro,” and peered in over the tailboard. The interior of the wagon was well nigh filled by a big box with strips of board nailed across its top. From between these strips a tawny nose was uplifted. As the helper stared wonderingly at the box and the nose, the boy sprang from his seat and joined him.
“That’s him,” declared the boy. “Hi, there, Job, tune up now! What’s the matter with ye?”
His answer was an unearthly howl from the box, accompanied by a mighty scratching. The boy laughed delightedly.
“Ain’t he a wonder?” he demanded. “Ought to be in church choir, hadn’t he.”
Brown stepped on the hub of a rear wheel, and, clinging to the post of the wagon cover, looked down into the box. The creature inside was about the size of a month old calf.
“It’s a–it’s a dog,” he exclaimed. “A dog, isn’t it?”
“Sure, it’s a dog. Or he’ll be a dog when he grows up. Nothin’ but a pup now, he ain’t. where’s Seth?”
“Seth? Oh, Mr. Atkins; he’s not here.”
“Ain’t he? Where’s he gone?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t ye? When’s he comin’ back? HUSH UP!” This last was a command to the prisoner in the box, who paid absolutely no attention to it.
“I don’t know when he’ll be back. Do you want to see him personally? Won’t I do? I’m in charge here till he returns.”
“Be ye? Oh, you’re the new assistant from Boston. You’ll do. All I want to do is unload him–Job, I mean–and leave a couple bundles of fly paper Seth ordered. Here!” lowering the tailboard and climbing into the wagon, you catch aholt of t’other end of the box, and I’ll shove on this one. Hush up, Job! Nobody’s goin’ to eat ye–‘less it’s the moskeeters. Now, then, mister, here he comes.”
He began pushing the box toward the open end of the wagon. The dog’s whines and screams and scratchings furnished an accompaniment almost deafening.
“Wait! Stop! For heaven’s sake, wait!” shouted Brown. “What are you putting that brute off here for? I don’t want him.”
“Yes, you do. Seth does, anyhow. Henry G. made him a present of Job last time Seth was over to the store. Didn’t he tell ye?”
Then the substitute assistant remembered. This was the “half-grown pup” Atkins had said was to be brought over by the grocery boy. This was the creature they were to accept “on trial.”
“Well, by George!” he exclaimed in disgust.
“Didn’t Seth tell ye?” asked the boy again.
“Yes. . . . Yes, I believe he did. But–“
“Then stand by while I unload him. Here he comes now. H’ist him down easy as you can.”
That was not too easy, for the end of the box slid from the tail- board to the ground with a thump that shook the breath from the prisoner within. But the breath came back again and furnished motive power for more and worse howls and whines. Joshua pricked up his ears and trotted to the further end of his halter.
“There!” said Henry G.’s boy, jumping to the ground beside the box, “that’s off my hands, thank the mercy! Here’s your fly paper. Five dozen sheets. You must have pretty nigh as many flies down here as you have moskeeters. Well, so long. I got to be goin’.”
“Wait a minute,” pleaded Brown. “What shall I do with this–er– blessed dog? Is he savage? Why did you bring him in a crate–like a piano?”
“‘Cause ’twas the easiest way. You couldn’t tie him up, not in a cart no bigger’n this. Might’s well tie up an elephant. Besides, he won’t stay tied up nowheres. Busted more clotheslines than I’ve got fingers and toes, that pup has. He needs a chain cable to keep him to his moorin’s. Don’t ye, Job, you old earthquake? Hey?”
He pounded on the box, and the earthquake obliged with a renewed series of shocks and shakings.
The lightkeeper’s assistant smiled in spite of himself.
“Who named him Job?” he asked.
“Henry G.’s cousin from Boston. He said he seemed to be always sufferin’ and fillin’ the land with roarin’s, like Job in the Bible. So, bein’ as he hadn’t no name except cuss words, that one stuck. I cal’late Henry G.’s glad enough to get rid of him. Ho! ho!”
“Did Mr. Atkins see his–this–did he see his present before he accepted it?”
“No. That’s the best part of the joke. Well,” clambering to his seat and picking up the reins, “I’ve got five mile of sand and moskeeters to navigate, so I’ve got to be joggin’. Oh, say! goin’ to leave him in the box there, be ye?”
“I guess so, for the present.”
“Well, I wouldn’t leave him too long. He’s stronger’n Samson and the Philippines rolled together, and he’s humped up his back so much on the way acrost that he’s started most of the nails in them slats over top of him. I tell ye what you do: Give him a bone or a chunk of tough meat to chaw on. Then he’ll rest easy for a spell. Goodbye. I wish I could stay and see Seth when he looks at his present, but I can’t. Gid-dap, January.”
The grocery wagon rolled out of the yard. The forsaken Job sent a roar of regret after him. Also, he “humped us his back,” and the nails holding the slats in place started and gave alarmingly. John Brown hastened to the house in quest of a bone.
THE GOING OF JOSHUA
He found one, after a time, the relic of a ham, with a good deal of meat on it. Atkins, economical soul, would have protested in horror against the sinful waste, but his helper would cheerfully have sacrificed a whole hog to quiet the wails from the box in the yard. He pushed the ham bone between the slats, and Job received it greedily. The howls and whines ceased and were succeeded by gnawings and crunchings. Brown returned to the kitchen to inspect his neglected fire.
This time the fire was not out, but it burned slowly. The water in the wash boiler was only lukewarm. The big lobster in the net balanced on the chair clashed his claws wickedly as the substitute assistant approached. The door had been left open, and the room hummed with flies. Brown shut the door and, while waiting for the water to heat, separated a dozen sheets of the sticky fly paper and placed them in conspicuous places. He wondered as he did so what some of his former acquaintances would say if they could see him. He–HE–a cook, and a roustabout, a dishwasher and a scrubber of brass at Eastboro Twin-Lights! How long must he stay there? For months at least. He should be thankful that he was there; thankful that there was such a place, where no one came and where he could remain until he was forgotten. He was thankful, of course he was. But what a life to live!
He wondered what Atkins thought of him; how much the lightkeeper guessed concerning his identity and his story. He could not guess within miles of the truth, but he must indulge in some curious speculations. Then he fell to wondering about Seth himself. What was it that the light-keeper was hiding from the world? Odd that two people, each possessing a secret, should come together at that lonely spot. Where was it that Seth went almost every afternoon? Had these daily absences any connection with the great mystery?
He distributed the sheets of fly paper about the room, in places where he judged them likely to do the most good, and had the satisfaction of seeing a number of the tormenting insects caught immediately. Then he tested the water in the boiler. It was warmer, even hot, but not boiling.
He had almost forgotten the dog, but now was reminded by the animal itself, who, having apparently swallowed the bone whole, began once more to howl lugubriously. Brown decided to let him howl for the present, and, going into the living-room, picked up an old magazine and began listlessly to read.
The howls from the yard continued, swelled to a crescendo of shrieks and then suddenly ceased. A moment later there was a thump and a mighty scratching at the kitchen door. The substitute assistant dropped the magazine and sprang from his chair.
“Good Lord!” he exclaimed; “I believe–“
He did not finish the sentence. There was no need. If he had any doubts as to the cause of the racket at the door they were dispelled by a howl like a fog whistle. “Job” had escaped from durance vile and was seeking companionship.
Brown muttered an exclamation of impatience and, opening the door a very little way, peeped through the crack. The pup–he looked like a scrawny young lion–hailed his appearance with a series of wild yelps. His mouth opened like a Mammoth Cave in miniature, and a foot of red tongue flapped like a danger signal.
“Get out, you brute!” ordered Brown.
Job did not get out. Instead he yelped again and capered with the grace of a cow. His feet and legs seemed to have grown out of proportion to the rest of him; they were enormous. Down the length of his yellow back were three raw furrows which the nails of the box cover had scraped as he climbed from under them.
“Nice dog!” coaxed the lightkeeper’s helper. “Nice doggie! Good old boy!”
The good old boy pranced joyfully and made a charge at the door. Brown slammed it shut just in time.
“Clear out!” he yelled, from behind it. “Go away! Go and lie down!”
The answer was a mighty howl of disappointment and an assault on the door which threatened to shatter the panels. Job’s paws were armed with claws proportionate to their size.
This would never do. The paint on that door had been furnished by the government, and Atkins was very careful of it. Brown, within, pounded a protest and again commanded the dog to go and lie down. Job, without, thumped and scratched and howled louder than ever. He had decidedly the best of the duet, and the door was suffering every second. Brown picked up the fire shovel and threw the door wide open.
“Get out!” he roared. “Get out or I’ll kill you!”
He brandished the shovel, expecting an assault. But none came. It was evident that Job knew a shovel when he saw it, had encountered other shovels in the course of his brief young life. His ears and tail drooped, and he backed away.
“Clear out!” repeated Brown, advancing threateningly. With each step of the advance, Job retreated a corresponding distance. When the assistant stopped, he stopped. Brown lowered the shovel and looked at him. The dog grovelled in the sand and whined dolefully.
“Humph!” grunted the young man; “I guess you’re not as dangerous as you look. Stay where you are and keep still.”
He turned to enter the kitchen, turning again just in time to find the pup at his heels. He lifted the shovel, and Job jumped frantically out of reach, sat down in a clump of beach grass, lifted his nose to the sky and expressed his feelings in a howl of utter misery.
“Good–heavens!” observed John Brown fervently, and, shifting the shovel to his left hand, rubbed his forehead with his right. Job howled once more and gazed at him with sorrowful appeal. The situation was so ridiculous that the young man began to laugh. This merriment appeared to encourage the pup, who stopped howling and began to caper, throwing the loose sand from beneath his paws in showers.
“What’s the matter, old boy?” inquired Brown. “Lonesome, are you?”
Job was making himself the center of a small-sized sand spout.
“Humph! Well . . . well, all right. I’m not going to hurt you. Stay where you are, and I won’t shut the door.”
But this compromise was not satisfactory, because the moment the young man started to cross the threshold the dog started to follow. When Brown halted, he followed suit–and howled. Then the substitute assistant surrendered unconditionally.
“All right,” he said. “Come in, then, if you want to. Come in! but for goodness sake keep still when you are in.”
He strode into the kitchen, leaving the door open. Job slunk after him, and crouched with his muzzle across the sill, evidently not yet certain that his victory was complete. He did not howl, however, and his late adversary was thankful for the omission.
Brown bethought himself of the water in the wash boiler and, removing the cover, tested it with his finger. It was steadily heating, but not yet at the boiling point. He pushed the boiler aside, lifted a lid of the range and inspected the fire. From behind him came a yelp, another, a thump, and then a series of thumps and yelps. He turned and saw Job in the center of the floor apparently having a fit.
The moment his back was turned, the pup had sneaked into the kitchen. It was not a large kitchen, and Job was distinctly a large dog. Also, he was suspicious of further assaults with the fire shovel and had endeavored to find a hiding place under the table. In crawling beneath this article of furniture he had knocked off a sheet of the fly paper. This had fallen “butter side down” upon his back, and stuck fast. He reached aft to pull it loose with his teeth and had encountered a second sheet laid on a chair. This had stuck to his neck. Job was an apprehensive animal by nature and as the result of experience, and his nerves were easily unstrung. He forgot the shovel, forgot the human whom he had been fearfully trying to propitiate, forgot everything except the dreadful objects which clung to him and pulled his hair. He rolled from beneath the table, a shrieking, kicking, snapping cyclone. And that kitchen was no place for a cyclone.
He rolled and whirled for an instant, then scrambled to his feet and began running in widening circles. Brown tried to seize him as he passed, but he might as well have seized a railroad train. Another chair, also loaded with fly paper, upset, and Job added a third sheet to his collection. This one plastered itself across his nose