E-text prepared by Al Haines
CAP'N ABE, STOREKEEPER
A Story of Cape Cod
JAMES A. COOPER
I. A CHOICE II. CAP'N ABE III. IN CAP'N ABE'S LIVING-ROOM IV. THE SHADOW OF COMING EVENTS V. WHAT HAPPENED IN THE NIGHT VI. BOARDED BY PIRATES VII. UNDER FIKE VIII. SOMETHING ABOUT SALT WATER TAFFY IX. SUSPICION HOVERS X. WHAT LOUISE THINKS XI. THE LEADING MAN XII. THE DESCENT OF AUNT EUPHEMIA XIII. WASHY GALLUP'S CURIOSITY XIV. A CHOICE OF CHAPERONS XV. THE UNEXPECTED XVI. A TRAGEDY OF ERRORS XVII. THE ODDS AGAINST HIM XVIII. SOMETHING BREAKS XIX. MUCH ADO XX. THE SUN WORSHIPERS XXI. DISCOVERIES XXII. SHOCKING NEWS XXIII. BETWEEN THE FIRES XXIV. GRAY DAYS XXV. AUNT EUPHEMIA MAKES A POINT XXVI. AT LAST XXVII. SARGASSO XXVIII. STORM CLOUDS THREATEN XXIX. THE SCAR XXX. WHEN THE STRONG TIDES LIFT XXXI. AN ANCHOR TO THE SOUL XXXII. ON THE ROLL OF HONOR
"Of course, my dear, there is nobody but your Aunt Euphemia for you to go to!"
"Oh, daddy-professor! Nobody? Can we rake or scrape up no other relative on either side of the family who will take in poor little me for the summer? You will be home in the fall, of course."
"That is the supposition," Professor Grayling replied, his lips pursed reflectively. "No. Dear me! there seems nobody."
"But Aunt Euphemia!"
"I know, Lou, I know. She expects you, however. She writes——"
"Yes. She has it all planned," sighed Louise Grayling dejectedly. "Every move at home or abroad Aunt Euphemia has mapped out for me. When I am with her I am a mere automaton—only unlike a real marionette I can feel when she pulls the strings!"
The professor shook his head. "There's—there's only your poor mother's half-brother down on the Cape."
"What half-brother?" demanded Louise with a quick smile that matched the professor's quizzical one.
"Why——Well, your mother, Lou, had an older half-brother, a Mr. Silt. He keeps a store at Cardhaven. You know, I met your mother down that way when I was hunting seaweed for the Smithsonian Institution. Your grandmother was a Bellows and her folks lived on the Cape, too. Her family has died out and your grandfather was dead before I married your mother. The half-brother, this Mr. Silt—Captain Abram Silt—is the only individual of that branch of the family left alive, I believe."
"Goodness!" gasped the girl. "What a family tree!"
Again the professor smiled whimsically. "Only a few of the branches. But they all reach back to the first navigators of the world."
"The first navigators?"
"I do not mean to the Phoenicians," her father said. "I mean that the world never saw braver nor more worthy sailors than those who called the wind-swept hamlets of Cape Cod their home ports. The Silts were all master-mariners. This Captain Abe is a bachelor, I believe. You could not very well go there."
Louise sighed. "No; I couldn't go there—I suppose. I couldn't go there——" Her voice wandered off into silence. Then suddenly, almost explosively, it came back with the question: "Why couldn't I?"
"My dear Lou! What would your aunt say?" gasped the professor.
He was a tall, rather soldierly looking man—the result of military training in his youth—with a shock of perfectly white hair and a sweeping mustache that contrasted clearly with his pink, always cleanly shaven cheeks and chin. Without impressing the observer with his muscular power. Professor Grayling was a better man on a long hike and possessed more reserve strength than many more beefy athletes.
His daughter had inherited his springy carriage and even the clean pinkness of his complexion—always looking as though she were fresh from her shower. But there was nothing mannish about Lou Grayling—nothing at all, though she had other attributes of body and mind for which to thank her father.
They were the best of chums. No father and daughter could have trod the odd corners of the world these two had visited without becoming so closely attached to each other that their processes of thought, as well as their opinions in most matters, were almost in perfect harmony. Although Mrs. Euphemia Conroth was the professor's own sister he could appreciate Lou's attitude in this emergency. While the girl was growing up there had been times when it was considered best—usually because of her studies—for Lou to live with Aunt Euphemia. Indeed, that good lady believed it almost a sin that a young girl should attend the professor on any of his trips into "the wilds," as she expressed it. Aunt Euphemia ignored the fact that nowadays the railroad and telegraph are in Thibet and that turbines ply the headwaters of the Amazon.
Mrs. Conroth dwelt in Poughkeepsie—that half-way stop between New York and Albany; and she was as exclusive and opinionated a lady as might be found in that city of aristocracy and learning.
The college in the shadow of which Aunt Euphemia's dwelling basked, was that which had led the professor's daughter under the lady's sway. Although the girls with whom Lou associated within the college walls were up-to-the-minute—if not a little ahead of it—she found her aunt, like many of those barnacles clinging to the outer reefs of learning in college towns, was really a fossil. If one desires to meet the ultraconservative in thought and social life let me commend him to this stratum of humanity within stone's throw of a college. These barnacles like Aunt Euphemia are wedded to a manner of thought, gained from their own school experiences, that went out of fashion inside the colleges thirty years ago.
Originally, in Lou Grayling's case, when she first lived with Aunt Euphemia and was a day pupil at an exclusive preparatory school, it had been drilled into her by the lady that "children should be seen but not heard!" Later, although she acknowledged the fact that young girls were now taught many things that in Aunt Euphemia's maidenhood were scarcely whispered within hearing of "the young person," the lady was quite shocked to hear such subjects discussed in the drawing-room, with her niece as one of the discussers.
The structure of man and the lower animals, down to the number of their ribs, seemed no proper topic for light talk at an evening party. It made Aunt Euphemia gasp. Anatomy was Lou's hobby. She was an excellent and practical taxidermist, thanks to her father. And she had learned to name the bones of the human frame along with her multiplication table.
However, there was little about Louise Grayling to commend her among, for instance, the erudite of Boston. She was sweet and wholesome, as has been indicated. She had all the common sense that a pretty girl should have—and no more.
For she was pretty and, as well, owned that charm of intelligence without which a woman is a mere doll. Her father often reflected that the man who married Lou would be playing in great luck. He would get a mate.
So far as Professor Grayling knew, however (and he was as keenly observant of his daughter and her development as he was of scientific matters), there was as yet no such man in sight. Lou had escaped the usual boy-and-girl entanglements which fret the lives of many young folk, because of her association with her father in his journeys about the world. Being a perfectly normal, well-balanced girl, black boys, brown boys, yellow boys, or all the hues and shades of boys to be met with in those odd corners of the earth where the white man is at a premium, did not interest Lou Grayling in the least.
Without being ultraconservative like Aunt Euphemia, she was the sort of girl whom one might reckon on doing the sensible—perhaps the obvious—thing in almost any emergency. Therefore, after that single almost awed exclamation from the professor—his sole homage to Mrs. Grundy—he added:
"My dear, do as you like. You are old enough and wise enough to choose for yourself—your aunt's opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. Only, if you don't mind——"
"What is it, daddy-prof?" she asked him with a smile, yet still reflective.
"Why, if you don't mind," repeated the professor, "I'd rather you didn't inform me where you decide to spend your summer until I am off. I—I don't mind knowing after I am at sea—and your aunt cannot get at me."
She laughed at him gaily. "You take it for granted that I am going to Cape Cod," she cried accusingly.
"No—o. But I know how sorely I should be tempted myself, realizing your aunt's trying disposition."
"Perhaps this—this half-uncle may be quite as trying."
"Impossible!" was the father's rather emphatic reply.
"What?" she cried. "Traitor to the family fame?"
"You do not know Cape Cod folk. I do," he told her rather seriously. "Some of them are quaint and peculiar. I suppose there are just as many down there with traits of extreme Yankee frugality as elsewhere in New England. But your mother's people, as I knew them, were the very salt of the earth. Our wanderings were all that kept you from knowing the old folk before they passed away."
"You tempt me," was all Louise said. Then the conversation lapsed.
It was the day following that the professor was to go to Boston preparatory to sailing. At the moment of departure his daughter, smiling, tucked a sealed note into his pocket.
"Don't open it, daddy-prof, till you are out of sight of Cohasset Rocks," she said. "Then you will not know where I am going to spend the time of your absence until it is too late—either to oppose or to advise."
"You can't worry me," he told her, with admiration in his glance. "I've every confidence in you, my dear. Have a good time if you can."
She watched him down the long platform between the trains. When she saw him assisted into the Pullman by the porter she turned with a little sigh, and walked up the rise toward Forty-second Street. She could almost wish she were going with him, although seaweed and mollusk gathering was a messy business, and the vessel he sailed in was an ancient converted coaster with few comforts for womenkind. Louise Grayling had been hobbled by city life for nearly a year now and she began to crave new scenes.
There were some last things to do at the furnished apartment they were giving up. Some trunks were to go to the storehouse. Her own baggage was to be tagged and sent to the Fall River boat.
For, spurred by curiosity as well as urged by a desire to escape Aunt Euphemia for a season, Louise was bent upon a visit to Cape Cod. At least, she would learn what manner of person her only other living relative was—her mother's half-brother, Captain Abram Silt.
In the train the next day, which wandered like an erratic caterpillar along the backbone of the Cape, she began to wonder if, after all, she was displaying that judgment which daddy-professor praised so highly. It was too early in the season for the "millionaire's special" to be scheduled, in which those wealthy summer folk who have "discovered" the Cape travel to and from Boston. Lou was on a local from Fall River that stopped at every pair of bars and even hesitated at the pigpens along the right of way.
Getting aboard and getting off again at the innumerable little stations, were people whose like she had never before seen. And their speech, plentifully sprinkled with colloquialisms of a salt flavor, amused her, and sometimes puzzled her. Some of the men who rode short distances in the car wore fishermen's boots and jerseys. They called the conductor "skipper," and hailed each other in familiar idioms.
The women were not uncomely, nor did they dress in outlandish manner. Great is the sway of the modern Catalogue House! But their speech was blunt and the three topics of conversation most popular were the fish harvest, clamming, and summer boarders.
"Land sakes! is that you, Em'line Scudder? What sent you cruisin' in these waters? I thought you never got away from the Haven."
"Good-day, Mrs. Eldredge. You're fairin' well? I just had to come over to Littlebridge for some fixin's. My boarders will be 'long and I got to freshen the house up a little."
"You goin' to have the same folks you had last year, Em'line?"
"Oh, yes. They're real nice—-for city people. I tell Barzillai——"
"How is Barzillai?"
"Middlin'. His leg ain't never been just right since he was helpin' ice the Tryout, come two summers ago. You know, one o' them big cakes from the ice fact'ry fell on him. . . . I tell Barzillai the city folks are a godsend to us Cape Codders in summer time, now that sea-goin' don't seem so pop'lar with the men as it useter be."
"I dunno. Some of these city folks don't seem to be sent by the Lord, but by the other feller!" was the grim rejoinder. "I had tryin' times with my crowd last summer; and the children with 'em was a visitation—like the plagues of Egypt!"
Louise was an amused yet observant listener. She began thus early to gain what these good people themselves would call a "slant" upon their characters and their outlook on life.
Aside from her interest in her fellow-travelers, there were other things to engage the girl's attention. New places always appealed to her more than unfamiliar human beings; perhaps because she had seen so many of the latter in all quarters of the globe and found so little variety in their characters. There were good people and bad people everywhere, Louise had found. Greedy, generous, morose, and laughing; faithful and treacherous, the quick and the stupid; those likable at first meeting as well as those utterly impossible. Of whatever nation and color they might be, she had learned that under their skins they were all just human beings.
But Nature—ah! she was ever changing. This girl who had seen so much of the world had never seen anything quite like the bits of scene she observed from the narrow window of the car. Not beautiful, perhaps, but suggestive and provocative of genre pictures which would remain in her memory long afterward. There were woods and fields, cranberry bogs and sand dunes, between the hamlets; and always through the open window the salt tang of the air delighted her. She was almost prepared to say she was glad she had ventured when she left the train at Paulmouth and saw her trunks put off upon the platform.
A teetering stage, with a rack behind for light baggage, drawn by a pair of lean horses, waited beside the station. The stage had been freshened for the season with a thin coat of yellow paint. The word "Cardhaven" was painted in bright blue letters on the doors of this ancient coach.
"No, ma'am! I can't possibly take your trunks," the driver said, politely explanatory. "Ye see, miss, I carry the mail this trip an' the parcel-post traffic is right heavy, as ye might say. . . . Belay that, Jerry!" he observed to the nigh horse that was stamping because of the pest of flies. "We'll cast off in a minute and get under way. . . . No, miss, I can't take 'em; but Perry Baker'll likely go over to the Haven to-night and he'll fetch 'em for ye. I got all the cargo I can load."
Soon the horses shacked out of town. The sandy road wandered through the pine woods where the hot June sunshine extracted the scent of balsam until its strength was almost overpowering. Louise, alone in the interior of the old coach, found herself pitching and tossing about as though in a heavy sea.
"It is fortunate I am a good sailor," she told herself, somewhat ruefully.
The driver was a large man in a yellow linen duster. He was not especially communicative—save to his horses. He told them frankly what he thought of them on several occasions! But "city folks" were evidently no novelty for him. As he put Louise and her baggage into the vehicle he had asked:
"Who you cal'latin' to stop with, miss?"
"I am going to Mr. Abram Silt's," Louise had told him.
"Oh! Cap'n Abe. Down on the Shell Road. I can't take ye that fur—ain't allowed to drive beyond the tavern. But 'tain't noways a fur walk from there."
He expressed no curiosity about her, or her business with the Shell Road storekeeper. That surprised Louise a little. She had presumed all these people would display Yankee curiosity.
It was not a long journey by stage, for which she was thankful. The noonday sun was hot and the interior of the turnout soon began to take on the semblance of a bake-oven. They came out at last on a wind-swept terrace and she gained her first unobstructed view of the ocean.
She had always loved the sea—its wideness, its mystery, its ever changing face. She watched the sweep of a gull following the crested windrow of the breakers on a near-by reef, busy with his fishing. All manner of craft etched their spars and canvas on the horizon, only bluer than the sea itself. Inshore was a fleet of small fry—catboats, sloops, dories under sail, and a smart smack or two going around to Provincetown with cargoes from the fish pounds.
"I shall like it," she murmured after a deeper breath.
They came to the outlying dwellings of Cardhaven; then to the head of Main Street that descended gently to the wharves and beaches of the inner harbor. Halfway down the hill, just beyond the First Church and the post-office, was the rambling, galleried old structure across the face of which, and high under its eaves, was painted the name "Cardhaven Inn." A pungent, fishy smell swept up the street with the hot breeze. The tide was out and the flats were bare.
The coach stopped before the post-office, and Louise got out briskly with her bag. The driver, backing down from his seat, said to her:
"If ye wait till I git out the mail I'll drive ye inter the tavern yard in style. I bait the horses there."
"Oh, I'll walk," she told him brightly. "I can get dinner there, I suppose?"
"Warn't they expectin' you at Cap'n Abe's?" the stage driver asked. "I want to know! Oh, yes. You can buy your dinner at the tavern. But 'tain't a long walk to Cap'n Abe's. Not fur beyond the Mariner's Chapel."
Louise thanked him. A young man was coming down the steps of the post-office. He was a more than ordinarily good-looking young fellow, deeply tanned, with a rather humorous twist to his shaven lips, and with steady blue eyes. He was dressed in quite common clothing: the jersey, high boots, and sou'wester of a fisherman.
He looked at Louise, but not offensively. He did not remove his hat as he spoke.
"I heard Noah say you wished to go to Cap'n Abe's store," he observed with neither an assumption of familiarity nor any bucolic embarrassment. "I am bound that way myself."
"Thank you!" she said with just enough dignity to warn him to keep his distance if he chanced to be contemplating anything familiar. "But I shall dine at the hotel first."
A brighter color flooded into his cheeks and Louise felt that she might have been too sharp with him. She mended this by adding:
"You may tell me how to get to the Shell Road and Mr. Silt's, if you will be so kind."
He smiled at that. Really, he was an awfully nice-looking youth! She had no idea that these longshore fishermen would be so gentlemanly and so good looking.
"Oh, you can't miss it. Take the first left-hand street, and keep on it. Cap'n Abe's store is the only one beyond the Mariner's Chapel."
"Thank you," she said again and mounted the broad steps of the Inn. The young fellow hesitated as though he were inclined to enter too. But when Louise reached the piazza and glanced quickly down at him, he was moving on.
The cool interior of a broad hall with a stairway mounting out of it and a screened dining-room at one side, welcomed the girl. A bustling young woman in checked gingham, which fitted her as though it were a mold for her rather plump figure, met the visitor.
"How-do!" she said briskly. "Goin' to stop?"
"Only for dinner," Louise said, smiling—and when she smiled her gray eyes made friends.
"Almost over. But I'll run an' tell the cook to dish you up something hot. Come right this way an' wash. I'll fix you a table where it's cool. This is 'bout the first hot day we've had."
She showed the visitor into the dressing-room and then bustled away. Later she hovered about the table where Louise ate, the other boarders having departed.
"My name's Gusty Durgin," she volunteered. "I reckon you're one o' them movin' picture actresses they say are goin' to work down to The Beaches this summer."
"What makes you think so?" asked Louise, somewhat amused.
"Why—you kinder look it. I should say you had 'screen charm.' Oh! I been readin' up about you folks for a long time back. I subscribed to The Fillum Universe that tells all about you. I'd like to try actin' before the cam'ra myself. But I cal'late I ain't got much 'screen charm,'" the waitress added seriously. "I'm too fat. And I wouldn't do none of them comedy pictures where the fat woman always gets the worst of it. But you must take lovely photographs."
"I'm not sure that I do," laughed Louise.
"Land sakes! Course you do. Them big eyes o' yourn must just look fetchin' in a picture. I don't believe I've ever seen you in a movie, have I, Miss———?"
"'Grayling'! Ain't that pretty?" Gusty Durgin gave an envious sigh. "Is it your honest to goodness, or just your fillum name?"
"My 'honest to goodness,'" the visitor confessed, bubbling with laughter.
"Land sakes! I should have to change mine all right. The kids at school useter call me 'Dusty Gudgeon.' Course, my right name's Augusta; but nobody ever remembers down here on the Cape to call anybody by such a long name. Useter be a boy in our school who was named 'Christopher Columbus George Washington Marquis de Lafayette Gallup.' His mother named him that. But everybody called him 'Lafe'—after Lafayette, ye see.
"Land sakes! I should just have to change my name if I acted in the pictures. Your complexion's real, too, ain't it?" pursued this waitress with histrionic ambitions. "Real pretty, too, if 'tis high colored. I expect you have to make up for the pictures, just the same."
"I suppose I should. I believe it is always necessary to accentuate the lights and shadows for the camera."
"'Accentuate'—yep. That's a good word. I'll remember that," said Gusty. "You goin' to stay down to The Beaches long—-and will you like it?"
"That's where you'll work. At the Bozewell house. Swell bungalow. All the big bugs live along The Beaches."
"I am not sure just how long I shall stay," confessed Louise Grayling; "but I know I am going to like it."
"I see by the Globe paper," Cap'n Abe observed, pushing up from his bewhiskered visage the silver-bowed spectacles he really did not need, "that them fellers saved from the wreck of the Gilbert Gaunt cal'late they went through something of an adventure."
"And they did," rejoined Cap'n Joab Beecher, "if they seen ha'f what they tell about."
"I dunno," the storekeeper went on reflectively, staring at a huge fishfly booming against one of the dusty window panes. "I dunno. Cap'n Am'zon was tellin' me once't about what he and two others went through with after the Posy Lass, out o' Bangor, was smashed up in a big blow off Hat'ras. What them fellers in the Globe paper tell about ain't a patch on what Cap'n Am'zon suffered."
There was an uncertain, troubled movement among Cap'n Abe's hearers. Even the fishfly stopped droning. Cap'n Beecher looked longingly through the doorway from which the sea could be observed as well as a strip of that natural breakwater called "The Neck," a barrier between the tumbling Atlantic and the quiet bay around which the main village of Cardhaven was set.
All the idlers in the store on this June afternoon were not natives. There were several young fellows from The Beaches—on the Shell Road to which Cap'n Abe's store was a fixture. In sight of The Beaches the wealthy summer residents had built their homes—dwellings ranging in architectural design from the mushroom-roofed bungalow to a villa in the style of the Italian Renaissance.
The villa in question had been built by I. Tapp, the Salt Water Taffy King, and Lawford Tapp, only son of the house, was one of the audience in Cap'n Abe's store.
"Cap'n Amazon said," boomed the storekeeper a good deal like the fishfly—"Cap'n Amazon said the Posy Lass was loaded with lumber and her cargo's 'bout all that kep' her afloat as fur as Hat'ras. Then the smashin' big seas that come aboard settled her right down like a wounded duck.
"The deck load went o' course; and about ev'rything else was cleaned off the decks that warn't bolted to 'em. The seas rose up and picked off the men, one after t'other, like a person'd clean off a beach plum bush."
"I shouldn't wonder," spoke up Cap'n Beecher, "if we seen some weather 'fore morning."
He was squinting through the doorway at an azure and almost speckless sky. There was an uneasy shuffling of boots. One of the boys from The Beaches giggled. Cap'n Abe—and the fishfly—boomed on together, the storekeeper evidently visualizing the scene he narrated and not the half-lighted and goods-crowded shop. At its best it was never well illumined. Had the window panes been washed there was little chance of the sunshine penetrating far save by the wide open door. On either hand as one entered were the rows of hanging oilskins, storm boots, miscellaneous clothing and ship chandlery that made up only a part of Cap'n Abe's stock.
There were blue flannel shirts dangling on wooden hangers to show all their breadth of shoulder and the array of smoked-pearl buttons. Brown and blue dungaree overalls were likewise displayed—grimly, like men hanging in chains. At the end of one row of these quite ordinary habiliments was one dress shirt with pleated bosom and cuffs as stiff as a board. Lawford Tapp sometimes speculated on that shirt—how it chanced to be in Cap'n Abe's stock and why it had hung there until the flies had taken title to it!
Centrally located was the stove, its four heavily rusted legs set in a shallow box which was sometimes filled with fresh sawdust. The stovepipe, guyed by wires to the ceiling, ran back to the chimney behind Cap'n Abe.
He stood at the one space that was kept cleared on his counter, hairy fists on the brown, hacked plank—the notches of the yard-stick and fathom-stick cut with a jackknife on its edge—his pale eyes sparkling as he talked.
"There she wallered," went on the narrator of maritime disaster, "her cargo held together by rotting sheathing and straining ribs. She was wrung by the seas like a dishrag in a woman's hands. She no longer mounted the waves; she bored through 'em. 'Twas a serious time—to hear Cap'n Am'zon tell it."
"I guess it must ha' been, Abe," Milt Baker put in hastily. "Gimme a piece o' that Brown Mule chewin' tobacker."
"I'll sell it to ye, Milt," the storekeeper said gently, with his hand on the slide of the cigar and tobacco showcase.
"That's what I mean," rejoined Milt boldly, fishing in his pocket for the required nickel.
"For fourteen days while the Posy Lass was drivin' off shore before an easterly gale, Cap'n Am'zon an' two others, lashed to the stump o' the fo'mast, ex-isted in a smother of foam an' spume, with the waves picklin' 'em ev'ry few minutes. And five raw potaters was all they had to eat in all that endurin' time!"
"Five potatoes?" Lawford Tapp cried. "For three men? And for fourteen days? Good-night!"
Cap'n Abe stared at him for a moment, his eyes holding sparks of indignation. "Young man," he said tartly, "you should hear Cap'n Am'zon himself tell it. You wouldn't cast no doubts upon his statement."
Cap'n Joab snorted and turned his back again. Young Tapp felt somewhat abashed.
"Yes, sir!" proceeded Cap'n Abe who seldom lost the thread of one of his stories, "they was lashed to that stump of a mast and they lived on them potaters—scraping 'em fine with their sheath-knives, and husbandin' 'em like they was jewels. One of 'em went mad."
"One o' the potaters?" gasped Amiel Perdue.
"Who went crazy—your brother, Cap'n Abe?" Milt asked cheerfully. He had squandered a nickel in trying to head off the flow of the storekeeper's story, and felt that he was entitled to something besides the Brown Mule.
Cap'n Abe kept to his course apparently unruffled: "Cap'n Am'zon an' the other feller lashed the poor chap—han's an' feet—and so kep' him from goin' overboard. But mebbe 'twarn't a marciful act after all. When they was rescued from the Posy Lass, her decks awash and her slowly breakin' up, there warn't nothing could be done for the feller that had lost his mind. He was put straightaway into a crazy-house when they got to port.
"Now, them fellers saved from the Gilbert Gaunt didn't go through nothin' like that, it stands to reason. Cap'n Am'zon——"
Lawford Tapp was gazing out of the door beside Cap'n Joab, whose deeply tanned, whisker-fringed countenance wore an expression of disgust.
"I declare! I'd love to see this wonderful brother of his. He must have Baron Munchausen lashed to the post," the young man whispered.
"Never heard tell of that Munchausen feller," Cap'n Joab reflected. "Reckon he didn't sail from any of the Cape ports. But you let Abe tell it, Cap'n Am'zon Silt is the greatest navigator an' has the rip-snortin'est adventoors of airy deep-bottom sailor that ever chawed salt hoss."
"Did you ever see him?" Lawford asked.
"No. I didn't never see him. But I've heard Cap'n Abe talk about him—standin' off an' on as ye might say—for twenty year and more."
"Odd you never met him, isn't it?"
"No. I never happened on Cap'n Am'zon when I was sea-farin'. And he ain't never been to Cardhaven to my knowledge."
"Never been here?" murmured Lawford Tapp more than a little surprised. "Wasn't he born and brought up here?"
"No. Neither was Cap'n Abe. The Silts flourish, as ye might say—or, useter 'fore the fam'ly sort o' petered out—down New Bedford way. Cap'n Abe come here twenty-odd year back and opened this store. He's as salt as though he'd been a haddocker since he was weaned. But he's always stuck mighty close inshore. Nobody ever seen him in a boat—'ceptin' out in a dory fishin' for tomcod in the bay, and on a mighty ca'm day at that."
"How does it come that he is called captain, then?" Lawford asked, impressed by Cap'n Beecher's scorn of the storekeeper.
The captain reflected, his jaws working spasmodically. "It's easy 'nough to pick up skipper's title longshore. 'Most ev'ry man owns some kind of a boat; and o' course a man's cap'n of his own craft—or 'doughter be. But I reckon Abe Silt aimed his title honest 'nough."
"How?" urged Lawford.
"When Abe fust come here to Cardhaven there was still two-three wrecking comp'nies left on the Cape. Why, 'tain't been ten years since the Paulmouth Comp'ny wrecked the Mary Benson that went onto Sanders Reef all standin'. They made a good speck out o' the job, too.
"Wal, Abe bought into one o' the comp'nies—was the heaviest stockholder, in fac', so nat'rally was cap'n. He never headed no crew—not as I ever heard on. But the title kinder stuck; and I don't dispute Abe likes it."
"But about his brother—this Captain Amazon?" The line of Cap'n Joab Beecher's jaw, clean shaven above his whisker, looked very grim indeed, and he wagged his head slowly. "I don't know what to make of all this talk o' Cap'n Abe's," was his enigmatical reply.
Lawford turned to gaze curiously at the storekeeper. He certainly looked to be of a salt flavor, did Cap'n Abe Silt, though so many of his years had been spent behind the counter of this gloomy and cluttered shop. He was not a large man, nor commanding to look upon. His eyes were too mild for that—save when, perhaps, he grew excited in relating one of his interminable stories about Cap'n Amazon.
Cap'n Amazon Silt, it seemed, had been everything on sea and land that a mariner could be. No romance of the sea, or sea-going, was too remarkable to be capped by a tale of one of Cap'n Amazon's experiences. Some of these stories of wild and remarkable happenings, the storekeeper had told over and over again until they were threadbare.
Cap'n Abe's brown, gray-streaked beard swept the breast of his blue jersey. He was seldom seen without a tarpaulin on his head, and this had made his crown as bare and polished as a shark's tooth. Under the bulk of his jersey he might have been either thin or deep-chested, for the observer could not easily judge. And nobody ever saw the storekeeper's sleeves rolled up or the throat-latch of his shirt open.
Despite the fact that he held a thriving trade in his store on the Shell Road (especially during the summer season) Cap'n Abe lived emphatically a lonely life. Twenty years' residence meant little to Cardhaven folk. Cap'n Abe was still an outsider to people who were so closely married and intermarried that every human being within five miles of the Haven (not counting the aristocrats of The Beaches) could honestly call each of the others cousin in some degree.
The house and store was set on a lonely stretch of road. It was unlighted at night, for the last street lamp had been fixed by the town fathers at the Mariner's Chapel, as though they said to all mundane illumination as did King Canute to the sea, "Thus far shalt thou come and no farther."
Betty Gallup came cross lots each day to "rid up" Mr. Silt's living-room, which was behind the store, the chambers being overhead. She was gone home long before he put out the store lights and turned out the last lingering idler, for Cap'n Abe preferred to cook for himself. He declared the Widow Gallup did not know how to make a decent chowder, anyway; and as for lobscouse, or the proper frying of a mess of "blood-ends," she was all at sea. He intimated that there were digestive reasons for her husband's death at the early age of sixty-eight.
Milt Baker had successfully introduced another topic of conversation, far removed it would seem from any adventurous happening connected with Cap'n Amazon Silt's career.
"I hear tell," said Milt, chewing Brown Mule with gusto, "that them folks cavortin' down on The Beaches for a week past is movin' picture actors. That so, Lawford?"
"There's a camera man and a director, and several handy men arrived," the son of the Salt Water Taffy King replied. "They are going to use Bozewell's house for some pictures. The Bozewells are in Europe."
"But ain't none of the actorines come?" demanded Milt, who was a sad dog—let him tell it! He had been motorman on a street car in Providence for a couple of winters before he married Mandy Card, and now tried to keep green his reputation for sophistication.
"I believe not," Lawford answered, with reflection. "I presume the company will come later. The director is taking what he calls 'stills' of the several localities they propose using when the films are really made."
"One of 'em told me," chuckled Amiel Perdue, "that they was hopin' for a storm, so's to get a real wreck in the picture."
"Hoh!" snorted Cap'n Joab. "Fine time o' year to be lookin' for a no'theaster on the Cape."
"And do they reckon a craft'll drift right in here if there is a storm an' wrack herself to please 'em?" piped up Washy Gallup—no relation to Betty save through interminable cross-currents of Card and Baker blood.
"Sometimes them fillum fellers buy a boat an' wreck it a-purpose. Look what they did to the old Morning Star," Milt said. "I read once of a comp'ny putting two locomotives on one track an' running 'em full-tilt together so's to get a picture of the smashup."
"Crazy critters!" muttered Cap'n Joab.
"But wait till ye see the fillum actresses," Milt chuckled. "Tell ye what, boys, some of 'em 'll make ye open your eyes!"
"Ye better go easy. Milt, 'bout battin' your eyes," advised Amiel Perdue. "Mandy ain't lost her eyesight none either."
Washy's thin whine broke through the guffaw: "I seen a picture at Paulmouth once't about a feller and a girl lost in the woods o' Borneo. It was a stirrin' picture. They was chased by headhunters, and one o' these here big man-apes tackled 'em—what d'ye call that critter now? Suthin' like ringin' a bell."
"Orang-outang," suggested Lawford.
"That's it. Sounds jest like the Baptist Meetin' House bell. It's cracked."
"Them orang-outangs don't sound like no bell—not when they holler," put in Cap'n Abe, leaning on his counter and staring at the tireless fishfly again. "Cap'n Am'zon Silt, when he was ashore once't in Borneo, met one o' them critters."
"Gosh all fishhooks!" ejaculated Milt. "Ain't there no place on this green airth that brother o' yourn ain't been, Cap'n Abe?"
"He ain't never been in jail, Milt," said the storekeeper mildly, and the assembly broke into an appreciative chuckle. It was well known that on the last Fourth of July Milt Baker had been shut into the calaboose at Paulmouth to sober up.
"As I was sayin'," pursued Cap'n Abe reflectively, "Cap'n Amazon went up country with a Dutchman—a trader, I b'lieve he said the man was—and they got into a part where the orang-outangs was plentiful."
"Jest as thick as sandpipers along The Beaches, I shouldn't wonder," put in Cap'n Joab, at last tempted beyond his strength.
"No; nor like mackerel when ye get a full seine-haul," responded the storekeeper, unruffled, "but thicker'n you'd want sand fleas to be if the fleas measured up to the size of orang-outangs."
Lawford Tapp burst into open laughter. "They can't catch you, can they, Cap'n Abe?" he said. "If that brother of yours has gone through one-half the perils by land and sea I've heard you tell about, he's beat out most sailors from old Noah down to Admiral Dewey."
Cap'n Abe's brows came together in pronounced disapproval. "Young man," he said, "if Cap'n Am'zon was here now ye wouldn't darst cast any aspersions on his word. He ain't the man to stand for't."
"Well, I'd like to see Cap'n Amazon," Lawford said lightly, "if only for the sake of asking him a question or two."
"You'll likely get your wish," returned the storekeeper tartly.
"What d'ye mean?" drawled Milt Baker, who always bobbed up serenely. "Ye don't say Cap'n Am'zon's likely to show up here at Cardhaven after all these years?"
There was barely a second's hesitation on Mr. Silt's part. Then he said: "That's exactly what I mean. I got a—ahem!—a letter from Cap'n Am'zon only lately."
"And he's comin' to see ye?" gasped Cap'n Joab, turning from the door to stare like the others at the storekeeper.
"Yes," the latter confessed. "And he's likely to stay quite a spell when he does come. Says suthin' 'bout settlin' down. He's gettin' along in years like the rest of us. Mebbe I'll let him keep store for me this summer whilst I take a vacation," added Cap'n Abe more briskly, "like I been wantin' to do for a long spell back."
"You took a vacation of a week or more about—was it ten year ago?" demanded Cap'n Joab. "I looked after the place for ye then."
"Ahem! I mean a real vacation," Cap'n Abe declared, still staring at the fishfly now feebly butting its head against the pane. "That week was when I went to the—'hem—buryin' of my a'nt, Joab. I'll go this time mebbe for two-three months. Take a v'y'ge somewhere, I've always wanted to."
"Land sakes!" exploded Cap'n Joab. "I know ye been talkin' 'bout cruisin' around—to see your folks, or the like—for the longest spell. But I didn't s'pose ye re'lly meant it. And your brother comin', too! Well!"
"If he can tell of his adventures as well as you relate them," laughed Lawford, "Cap'n Amazon should be an addition to the Cardhaven social whirl."
"You take my advice, young man," Cap'n Abe said, with sternness, "and belay that sort o' talk afore Cap'n Am'zon when he does come. He's lived a rough sort o' life. He's nobody's tame cat. Doubt his word and he's jest as like as not to take ye by the scruff of the neck and duck ye in the water butt."
There was a general laugh. Almost always the storekeeper managed to turn the tables in some way upon any doubting Thomas that drifted into his shop. Because of his ability in this particular he had managed to hold his audience all these years.
Lawford could think of no reply with which to turn the laugh. His wit was not of a nimble order. He turned to the door again and suddenly a low ejaculation parted his lips.
"There's that girl again!"
Milt Baker screwed his neck around for a look. "See who's come!" he cackled. "I bet it's one o' them moving picture actresses."
Lawford cast on the ribald Milt a somewhat angry glance. Yet he did not speak again for a moment.
"Tidy craft," grunted Cap'n Joab, eying the young woman who was approaching the store along the white road.
"I saw her get out of Noah's ark when he landed at the post-office this noon," Lawford explained to Cap'n Joab. "She looks like a nice girl."
"Trim as a yacht," declared the old man admiringly.
She was plainly city bred—and city gowned—and she carried her light traveling bag by a strap over her shoulder. Her trim shoes were dusty from her walk and her face was pink under her wide hat brim.
Lawford stepped out upon the porch. His gaze was glued again to this vision of young womanhood; but as he stood at one side she did not appear to see him as she mounted the steps.
The heir of the Salt Water Taffy King was twenty-four, his rather desultory college course behind him; and he thought his experience with girls had been wide. But he had never seen one just like Louise Grayling. He was secretly telling himself this as she made her entrance into Cap'n Abe's store.
IN CAP'N ABE'S LIVING-ROOM
Louise came into the store smiling and the dusty, musty old place seemed actually to brighten in the sunshine of her presence. Her big gray eyes (they were almost blue when their owner was in an introspective mood) now sparkled as her glance swept Cap'n Abe's stock-in-trade—the shelves of fly-specked canned goods and cereal packages, with soap, and starch, and half a hundred other kitchen goods beyond; the bolts of calico, gingham, "turkey red," and mill-ends; the piles of visored caps and boxes of sunbonnets on the counter: the ship-lanterns, coils of rope, boathooks, tholepins hanging in wreaths; bailers, clam hoes, buckets, and the thousand and one articles which made the store on the Shell Road a museum that later was sure to engage the interest of the girl.
Now, however, the clutter of the shop gained but fleeting notice from Louise. Her gaze almost immediately fastened upon the figure of the bewhiskered old man, with spectacles and sou'wester both pushed back on his bald crown, who mildly looked upon her—his smile somehow impressing Louise Grayling as almost childish, it was so kindly.
Cap'n Joab had dodged through the door after Lawford Tapp. The other boys from The Beaches followed their leader. Old Washy Gallup and Amiel Perdue suddenly remembered that it was almost chore time as this radiant young woman said:
"I wish to see Mr. Abram Silt—Captain Silt. Is he here?"
"I'm him, miss," Cap'n Abe returned politely.
Milt Baker surely would have remained of all the crowd of idlers, gaping oilily at the visitor across the top of the rusty stove, had not a shrill feminine voice been heard outside the store,
"Is Milt Baker there? Ain't none o' you men seen him? Land sakes! he's as hard to hold as the greased pig on Fourth o' July—an' jest 'bout as useful."
"Milt," said Cap'n Abe suggestively, "I b'lieve I hear Mandy callin' you."
"I'm a-comin'!—I'm a-comin', Mandy!" gurgled Milt, cognizant of the girl's gay countenance turned upon him.
"What did you want, miss?" asked Cap'n Abe, as the recreant husband of the militant Mandy stumbled over his own feet getting out of the store.
Louise bubbled over with laughter; she could not help it. Cap'n Abe's bearded countenance broke slowly into an appreciative grin.
"Yes," he said, "she does have him on a leadin' string. I do admit Mandy's a card."
The girl, quick-witted as she was bright looking, got his point almost at once. "You mean she was a Card before she married him?"
"And she's a Card yet," Cap'n Abe said, nodding. "Guess you know a thing or two, yourself. What can I do for you?"
"You can say: 'Good-evening, Niece Louise,'" laughed the girl, coming closer to the counter upon which the storekeeper still leaned.
"My mother was a Card. That is how I came to see your joke, Uncle Abram."
"Don't you believe me?"
"I—I ain't got but one niece in the world," mumbled Cap'n Abe. "An'—an' I never expected to see her."
"Louise Grayling, daughter of Professor Ernest Grayling and Miriam Card—your half-sister's child. See here—and here." She snapped open her bag, resting it on the counter, and produced an old-fashioned photograph of her mother, a letter, yellowed by time, that Cap'n Abe had written Professor Grayling long before, and her own accident policy identification card which she always carried.
Cap'n Abe stretched forth a hairy hand, and it closed on Lou's as a sunfish absorbs its prey. The girl's hand to her wrist was completely lost in the grip; but despite its firmness Cap'n Abe's handclasp was by no means painful. He released her and, leaning back, smiled benignly.
"Land sakes!" he said again. "I'm glad to see little Mirry's girl. An' you do favor her a mite. But I guess you take mostly after the Graylings."
"People say I am like my father."
"An' a mighty nice lookin' man—an' a pleasant—as I remember him," Cap'n Abe declared.
"Come right in here, into my sittin'-room, Niece Louise, an' lemme take a look at you. Land sakes!"
He lifted the flap in the counter to let her through. The doorway beyond gave entrance to a wide hall, or "entry," between the store and the living-room. The kitchen was in a lean-to at the back. The table in the big room was already spread with a clean red-and-white checked tablecloth and set with heavy chinaware for a meal. A huge caster graced the center of the table, containing glass receptacles for salt, red and black pepper, catsup, vinegar, and oil. Knives, forks, and spoons for two—all of utilitarian style—were arranged with mathematical precision beside each plate.
In one window hung a pot with "creeping Jew" and inchplant, the tendrils at least a yard long. In the other window was a blowzy-looking canary in a cage. A corpulent tortoise-shell cat occupied the turkey-red cushion in one generous rocking chair, There was a couch with a faded patchwork coverlet, several other chairs, and in a glass-fronted case standing on the mantlepiece a model of a brigantine in full sail, at least two feet tall.
"Sit down," said Cap'n Abe heartily. "Drop your dunnage right down there," as Louise slipped the strap of her bag from her shoulder. "Take that big rocker. Scat, you, Diddimus! and let the young lady have your place."
"Oh, don't bother him, Uncle Abram. What a beauty he is," Louise said, as the tortoise-shell—without otherwise moving—opened one great, yellow eye.
"He's a lazy good-for-nothing," Cap'n Abe said mildly. "Friends with all the mice on the place, I swan! But sometimes he's the only human critter I have to talk to. 'Cept Jerry."
"The bird," explained Cap'n Abe, easing himself comfortably into a chair, his guest being seated, and resting his palms on his knees as he gazed at her out of his pale blue eyes. "He's a lot of comfort—Jerry. An' he useter be a great singer. Kinder gittin' old, now, like the rest of us.
"Does seem too bad," went on Cap'n Abe reflectively, "how a bird like him has got to live in a cage all his endurin' days. Jerry's a prisoner—like I been. I ain't never had the freedom I wanted, Miss———?
"Louise, please. Uncle Abram. Lou Grayling," the girl begged, but smiling.
"Then just you call me Cap'n Abe. I'm sort o' useter that," the storekeeper said.
"Of course I will. But why haven't you been free?" she asked, reverting to his previous topic. "Seems to me—down here on the Cape where the sea breezes blow, and everything is open——"
"Yes, 'twould seem so," Cap'n Abe said, but he said it with hesitation. "I been some hampered all my life, as ye might say. 'Tis something that was bred in me. But as for Jerry———
"Jerry was give to me by a lady when he was a young bird. After a while I got thinkin' a heap about him bein' caged, and one sunshiny day—it was a marker for days down here on the Cape, an' we have lots on 'em! One sunshiny day I opened his door and opened the window, and I says: 'Scoot! The hull world's yourn!'"
"And didn't he go?" asked the girl, watching the rapt face of the old man.
"Did he go? Right out through that window with a song that'd break your heart to hear, 'twas so sweet. He pitched on the old apple tree yonder—the August sweet'nin'—and I thought he'd bust his throat a-tellin' of how glad he was to be free out there in God's sunshine an' open air."
"He came back, I see," said Louise thoughtfully.
"That's just it!" cried Cap'n Abe, shaking his head till the tarpaulin fell off and he forgot to pick it up. "That's just it. He come back of his own self. I didn't try to ketch him. When it grew on toward sundown an' the air got kinder chill, I didn't hear Jerry singin' no more. I'd seen him, off'n on, flittin' 'bout the yard all day. When I come in here to light the hangin'-lamp cal'latin' to make supper, I looked over there at the window. I'd shut it. There was Jerry on the window sill, humped all up like an old woman with the tisic."
"The poor thing!" was Lou's sympathetic cry.
"Yes," said Cap'n Abe, nodding. "He warn't no more fit to be let loose than nothin' 'tall. And I wonder if I be," added the storekeeper. "I've been caged quite a spell how.
"But now tell me, Niece Louise," he added with latent curiosity, "how did you find your way here?"
"Father says—'Daddy-professor,' you know is what I call him. He says if we had not always been traveling when I was not at school, I should have known you long ago. He thinks very highly of my mother's people."
"I wanter know!"
"He says you are the 'salt of the earth'—that is his very expression."
"Yes. We're pretty average salt, I guess," admitted Cap'n Abe. "I never seen your father but once or twice. You see, Louise, your mother was a lot younger'n me an' Am'zon."
"Cap'n Am'zon. Oh! I ain't the only uncle you got," he said, watching her narrowly. "Cap'n Am'zon Silt——"
"Have I another relative? How jolly!" exclaimed Louise, clasping her hands.
"Ye-as. Ain't it? Jest," Cap'n Abe said. "Ahem! your father never spoke of Cap'n Am'zon?".
"I don't believe daddy-prof even knew there was such a person."
"Mebbe not. Mebbe not," Cap'n Abe agreed hastily. "And not to be wondered at. You see, Am'zon went to sea when he was only jest a boy."
"Yep. Ran away from home—like most boys done in them days, for their mothers warn't partial to the sea—and shipped aboard the whaler South Sea Belle. He tied his socks an' shirt an' a book o' navigation he owned, up in a handkerchief, and slipped out over the shed roof one night, and away he went." Cap'n Abe told the girl this with that far-away look on his face that usually heralded one of his tales about Cap'n Amazon.
"I can remember it clear 'nough. He walked all the way to New Bedford. We lived at Rocky Head over against Bayport. Twas quite a step to Bedford. The South Sea Belle was havin' hard time makin' up her crew. She warn't a new ship. Am'zon was twelve year old an' looked fifteen. An' he was fifteen 'fore he got back from that v'y'ge. Mebbe I'll tell ye 'bout it some time—or Cap'n Am'zon will. He's been a deep-bottom sailor from that day to this."
"And where is he now?" asked Louise.
"Why—mebbe!—he's on his way here. I shouldn't wonder. He might step in at that door any minute," and Cap'n Abe's finger indicated the store door.
There was the sound of a footstep entering the store as he spoke. The storekeeper arose. "I'll jest see who 'tis," he said.
While he was absent Louise laid aside her hat and made a closer inspection of the room and its furniture. Everything was homely but comfortable. There was a display of marine art upon the walls. All the ships were drawn exactly, with the stays, spars, and all rigging in place, line for line. They all sailed, too, through very blue seas, the crest of each wave being white with foam.
Flanking the model of the brigantine on the mantle were two fancy shell pieces—works of art appreciated nowhere but on the coast. The designs were ornate; but what they could possibly represent Louise was unable to guess.
She tried to interest the canary by whistling to him and sticking her pink finger between the wires of his cage. He was ruffled and dull-eyed like all old birds of his kind, and paid her slight attention. When she turned to Diddimus she had better success. He rolled on his side, stuck all his claws out and drew them in again luxuriously, purring meanwhile like a miniature sawmill.
When Cap'n Abe came back the girl asked:
"Wasn't your customer a young man I saw on the porch as I came in?"
"Yep. Lawford Tapp. Said he forgot some matches and a length o' ropeyarn. I reckon you went to that young man's head. And his top hamper ain't none too secure, Niece Louise."
"Oh, did I?" laughed the girl, understanding perfectly. "How nice."
"Nice? That's how ye take it. Lawford Tapp ain't a fav'rite o' mine."
"But he seemed very accommodating to-day when I asked him how to reach your store."
"So you met him up town?"
"Yes, Uncle Abe."
"He's perlite enough," scolded the storekeeper. "But I don't jest fancy the cut of his jib. Wanted to know if you was goin' to stop here."
"Oh!" exclaimed Louise. "That is what I want to know myself. Am I?"
THE SHADOW OF COMING EVENTS
Cap'n Abe reached for his spectacles and pulled them down upon his nose to look at his guest through the lenses. Not that they aided his sight in the least; but the act helped to cover the fact that he was startled.
"Stop here?" he repeated. "Where's your father? Ain't he with you up to the Inn?"
"No, Cap'n Abe. He is in Boston to-day. But he will sail to-morrow for a summer cruise with a party for scientific research. I am all alone. So I came down here to Cape Cod."
Louise said it directly and as simply as the storekeeper himself might have spoken. Yet it seemed really difficult for Cap'n Abe to get her meaning into his head.
"You mean you was intendin' to cast anchor here—with me?"
"If it is agreeable. Of course I'll pay my board if you'll let me. You have a room to spare, haven't you?"
"Land sakes, yes!"
"And I am not afraid to use my hands. I might even be of some slight use," and she smiled at him till his own slow smile responded, troubled and amazed though he evidently was by her determination. "I've roughed it a good deal with daddy-prof. I can cook—some things. And I can do housework——"
"Bet Gallup does that," interposed Cap'n Abe, finally getting his bearings. "Hi-mighty, ye did take me aback all standin', Niece Louise! Ye did, for a fac'. But why not? Land sakes, there's room enough, an' to spare! Ye don't hafter put them pretty han's to housework. Betty Gallup'll do all that. An' you don't have to pay no board money. As for cookin'——That remin's me. I'd better git to work on our supper. We'll be sharp for it 'fore long."
"And—and I may stay?" asked Louise, with some little embarrassment now. "You are sure it won't inconvenience you?"
"Bless you, no! I cal'late it's more likely to inconvenience you," and Cap'n Abe chuckled mellowly. "I don't know what sort o' 'roughin' it' you've done with your pa; but if there's anything much rougher than an ol' man's housekeepin' down here on the Cape, it must be pretty average rough!"
She laughed gayly. "You can't scare me!"
"Ain't a-tryin' to," he responded, eying her admiringly. "You're an able seaman, I don't dispute. An' we'll git along fine. Hi-mighty! there's Am'zon!"
Louise actually turned around this time to look at the door, expecting to see the mariner in question enter. Then she said, half doubtfully:
"Do you suppose your brother will object if he does come, Cap'n Abe?"
"Land sakes, no!" the storekeeper quickly assured her. "'Tain't that. But I cal'lated 'bout soon's Am'zon anchored here I'd cast off moorin's myself."
"Go away?" Louise demanded.
"Yes. Like poor old Jerry, mebbe," said Cap'n Abe, looking at the caged bird. "Mebbe I'll be glad to come back again—and in a hurry. But while Cap'n Am'zon is here I can take a vacation that I've long hankered for, Niece Louise. I—I got my plans all made."
"Don't for one moment think of changing them on my account," Louise said briskly. "I shall like Uncle Amazon immensely if he's anything like you, Cap'n Abe."
"He—he ain't so much like me," confessed the storekeeper. "Not in looks he ain't. But hi-mighty! I know he'll be as pleased as Punch to see ye."
"Are you sure of that?"
"Wait till you see how he takes to ye," declared her reassuring uncle. "Now, lemme git my apern on and set to work on supper."
"Can't I help, Cap'n Abe?"
"In them things?" the storekeeper objected.
"Well—I'll have plenty of house dresses when my trunks come. I left my checks at the station for a man named Perry Baker. They said he'd bring them over to-night."
"He will," Cap'n Abe assured her. But he stopped a moment, stock-still in the middle of the room, and stared at her unseeingly. Evidently his mind was fixed upon an idea suddenly suggested by her speech. "He will," he repeated. Then:
"I'll get the fat kettle over an' the fry-cage ready. Amiel brought me a likely cod. 'Tain't been out o' the water two hours."
"I love fish," confessed Louise, following him to the kitchen door.
"Lucky you do, if you're going to stay a spell on Cape Cod. For that's what you'll eat mornin', noon, and night. Fish and clams, an' mebbe a pot o' baked beans on a Saturday, or a chicken for Sunday's dinner. I don't git much time to cook fancy."
"But can't this woman who comes to do the work cook for you?"
"She can't cook for me," snorted Cap'n Abe. "I respect my stomach too much to eat after Bet Gallup. She's as good a man afore the mast as airy feller in Cardhaven. An' that's where she'd oughter be. But never let her in the galley."
"Oh, well," Louise said cheerfully. "I'm a dab at camp cooking myself, as I told you. Uncle Amazon and I will make out—if he comes."
"Oh! Ah! 'Hem!" said Cap'n Abe, clearing his throat. He stooped to pick up a dropped potlid and came up very red in the face. "You needn't borrow any trouble on that score, Cap'n Am'zon's as good a cook as I be."
Only twice did Cap'n Abe make forced trips into the shop. The supper hour of Cardhaven was well established and the thoughtful housewives did not seek to make purchases while the fat was hot in Cap'n Abe's skillet. One of these untimely customers was a wandering child with a penny. "I might have waited on him, Cap'n Abe," Louise declared.
"Land sakes! so you might," the storekeeper agreed. "Though if he'd seen you behind my counter I reckon that young 'un of 'Liathel Grummet's would have been struck dumber than nature made him in the fust place."
The other customer was a gangling, half-grown youth after a ball of seine twine and the girl heard him say in a shocked whisper to Cap'n Abe:
"Say! is it true there's one o' them movin' picture actresses goin' to stop here with you, Cap'n Abe? Ma heard so."
"You tell your ma," Cap'n Abe said sternly, "that if she keeps on stretchin' her ears that a-way, she'll hear the kambuoy over Bartell Shoals in a dead calm!"
Cap'n Abe's bald poll began to shine with minute beads of perspiration. He looked over the bib of his voluminous apron like a bewhiskered gnome very busy at some mysterious task. Louise noticed that his movements about the kitchen were remarkably deft.
"All hands called!" he called out at length. "I'm about to dish up."
"Shall I put on another plate, Cap'n Abe? You expected somebody else to supper?"
"Nope. All set. I'm always ready for a messmate; but 'tain't often one boards me 'cept Cap'n Joab now and then. His woman likes to git him out from under foot. You see, when a woman's been useter seein' her husband only 'twixt v'y'ges for forty year, I 'spect 'tis something of a cross to have him litterin' up the house ev'ry day," he confessed. "But as I can't leave the shop myself to go visitin' much in return, Joab acks offish. We Silts was always bred to be hospitable. Poor or rich, we could share what we had with another. So I keep an extry plate on the table.
"I've had occasion," pursued the philosophical storekeeper, drawing up his own chair across the table from the girl, "to be at some folks' houses at meal time and had 'em ask me to set up and have a bite. But it never looked to me as if they meant it 'nless there was already an extry plate there.
"Just like having a spare bedroom. If you can say: 'Stay all night, we got a room for ye,' then that's what I call hospitality. I wouldn't live in a house that warn't big enough to have at least one spare room."
"I believe I must be very welcome here, Cap'n Abe," Louise said, smiling at the kindly old man.
"Land sakes, I sh'd hope ye felt so!" ejaculated Cap'n Abe. "Now, if you don't mind, Niece Louise." He dropped his head suddenly and closed his eyes in reverence. "For what we are about to partake of, Lord, make us duly thankful. Amen!" His countenance became animated again. "Try them biscuit. I made 'em this morning 'twixt Marcy Coe selectin' that piece of gingham for a new dress and John Peckham buying cordage for his smack. But they warmed up right nice in the oven."
Meanwhile he heaped her plate with codfish and fried potatoes cooked to a delicate brown. There was good butter, fat doughnuts, and beach-plum preserve. It was a homely meal but Louise ate it graciously. Already the air of Cardhaven had sharpened her appetite.
"Lend me your apron," insisted the girl when they had finished, "and I will wash these dishes."
"I us'ally let them go till Betty Gallup comes in the morning," the storekeeper said rather ruefully. "It don't look right to me that you should mess with these greasy dishes jest as we get under way, as ye might say."
"You must not make company of me, Cap'n Abe," Louise declared. "There, I hear a customer in the store," and she gave him a little pat on the shoulder as he delivered the huge apron into her hand.
"I dunno," he said, smiling upon her quizzically, "as I shall really want to cast off if Cap'n Am'zon does come. Seems to me 'twould be hi-mighty nice to have a girl like you around the place, Louise."
"Then don't go," she said, briskly beginning to clear off. "I sha'n't mind having two of you for me to boss. Two captains! Think of it."
"Yes. I know. But I got all my plans laid," he murmured, and then went slowly into the store.
There seemed to be some briskness in the after-supper trade, and Louise suspected that it was founded upon the news of her arrival at Cap'n Abe's store. Several of his rather tart rejoinders reached her ears as she went from kitchen to livingroom and back again. Finally removing the apron, her task done, she seated herself with Diddimus in her lap within the radiance of the lamp and within hearing of all that was said in the store.
"No. I dunno's I ever did tell ye quite all my business, Joab. Some things I missed, includin' the list of my relations."
"Yes, I hear tell most of these movin' picture actresses are pretty, Miz' Peckham. They pick 'em for that puppose, I shouldn't wonder. I didn't ask her what part she was goin' to play—if any."
"Land sakes, Mandy, she's just got here! I ain't no idee how long she'll stay. If you think there's any danger of Milt not tendin' to his clammin' proper whilst she's here you'd better send him on a cruise with Cap'n Durgin. The Tryout sails for the Banks to-morrow, I understand."
"No, Washy. That was my A'nt Matildy I went away to help bury ten years ago. She's still dead—an' this ain't her daughter. This is my ha'f sister's child, she that was Miriam Card. She got married to a scientific chap that works for the government, I guess when you write to Washington for your garden seeds next spring, you better ask about him, if ye want to know more'n I can tell ye."
"You got it right for once't, Joab. I do expect Cap'n Am'zon. Mebbe to-night. He may come over from the depot with Perry Baker—I can't tell. What'll I do with the girl? Land sakes! ain't Cap'n Am'zon just as much her uncle as I be? Some o' you fellers better stow your jaw-tackle if Cap'n Am'zon does heave to here. For he ain't no tame cat, like I told you."
"You back again, Lawford Tapp? Hi-mighty! what you forgot this time? Fishhooks? Goin' fishin', be you? Wal, in my 'pinion you're throwin' your hook into unproductive waters around here, as ye might say. Even chummin' won't sarve ye. Good-night!"
After getting rid of this importunate customer, Cap'n Abe closed his door and put out his store lights—an hour earlier than usual—and came back to sit down with Louise. His visage was red and determination sat on his brow.
"I snum!" he emphatically observed. "Cardhaven folks seem bit with some kind o' bug. Talk 'bout curiosity! 'Hem! I dunno what Cap'n Am'zon'll think of 'em."
"I think they are funny," Louise retorted, her laughter bubbling up again.
"Likely it looks so to you," said Cap'n Abe. "They're pretty average funny I do guess to a stranger, as ye might say. But after you've summered 'em and wintered 'em for twenty-odd years like I have, land sakes! the humor's worn hi-mighty thin!"
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE NIGHT
Cap'n Abe produced a pipe. He looked at his niece tentatively. "Do—do you mind tobacker smoke?"
"Daddy-prof is an inveterate," she laughed.
"Huh? An—an invet'rate what?"
"Smoker. I don't begrudge a man smoking tobacco as long as we women have our tea. A nerve tonic in both cases."
"I dunno for sure that I've got any nerves," Cap'n Abe said, the corners of his eyes wrinkling. "Mebbe I was behind the door when they was given out. But a pipeful o' tobacker this time o' the evening does seem sort o' satisfyin'. That, and knittin'."
Having filled his pipe and lit it, he puffed a few times to get it well alight and then reached for a covered basket that Louise had noticed on a small stand under Jerry's cage. He drew from this a half-fashioned gray stocking that was evidently intended for his own foot and the needles began to click in his strong, capable hands.
"Supprise you some, does it, Louise?" Cap'n Abe said. "Cap'n Am'zon taught me. Most old whalers knit. That, an' doin' scrimshaw work, was 'bout all that kep' 'em from losing their minds on them long v'y'ges into the Pacific. An' I've seen the time myself when I was hi-mighty glad I'd l'arned to count stitches.
"Land sakes! Some o' them whalin' v'y'ges lasted three-four years. Cap'n Am'zon was in the old bark Neptune's Daughter when she was caught in the ice and drifted pretty average close't to the south pole.
"You know," said Cap'n Abe reflectively, "the Antarctic regions ain't like the Arctic. 'Cause why? There ain't no folks there. Cap'n Am'zon says there ain't 'nough land at the south pole to make Marm Scudder's garden—and they say she didn't need more'n what her patchwork quilt would cover. Where there's land there's folks. And if there was land in the Antarctic there'd be Eskimos like there is up North.
"'Hem! Well, that wasn't what I begun on, was it? This knitting. Cap'n Am'zon says that many's the time he's thanked his stars he knowed how to knit."
"I shall be glad to meet him," said Louise.
"If he comes," Cap'n Abe rejoined, "an' I go away as I planned to, 'twon't make a mite o' difference to you, Niece Louise. You feel right at home here—and so'll Cap'n Am'zon, though he ain't never been to Cardhaven yet. He'll be a lot better company for you than I'd be."
"Oh, Cap'n Abe, I can scarcely believe that!" cried the girl.
"You don't know Cap'n Am'zon," the storekeeper said. "I tell ye fair: he's ev'rything that I ain't! As a boy—'hem!—Am'zon was always leadin' an' me follerin'. I kinder took after my mother, I guess. She was your grandmother. Your grandfather was a Card—and a nice man he was.
"Our father—me an' Am'zon's—was Cap'n Joshua Silt of the schooner Bravo. Hi-mighty trim and taut craft she was, from all accounts. I—I warn't born when he died," added Cap'n Abe, hesitatingly.
"You were a posthumous child!" said Louise.
"Er—I guess so. Kinder 'pindlin', too. Yes! yes! Cap'n Am'zon's ahead o' me—in ev'ry way. When father died 'twas pretty average hard on mother," Cap'n Abe pursued. "We was llvin' at Rocky Head, I guess I told you b'fore?"
"Yes," Louise said, interested.
"The Bravo was makin' reg'lar trips from Newport to Bangor, Maine. Short-coastin' v'y'ges paid well in them days. There come a big storm in the spring—onexpected. Mother'd got a letter from Cap'n Josh—father he'd put out o' Newport with a sartain tide. He warn't jest a fair-weather skipper. Cap'n Am'zon gits his pluck an' darin' from Cap'n Josh.
"Well, mother knowed he must be out o' sight of Fort Adams and the Dumplin's when the storm burst, and that he'd take the inside passage, the wind bein' what it was. She watched from Rocky Head and she seen what she knowed to be the Bravo heave in sight.
"There warn't no foolin' her," pursued Cap'n Abe, whose pipe had gone out but whose knitting needles twinkled the faster. "No. She knowed the schooner far's she could glim her. She watched the Bravo caught in the cross-current when the gale dropped sudden, and tryin' to claw off shore.
"But no use! She was doomed! There warn't no help for the schooner. She went right on to Toll o' Death Reef and busted up in an hour. Not a body ever was beached, for the current, tide, an' gale was all off shore. And it happened in plain sight of our windows.
"Two months later," Cap'n Abe said reflectively, "I come into the world. Objectin', of course, like all babies. Funny thing that. We all come into it makin' all kinds of a hullabaloo against anchorin' here; and we most of us kick just as hard against slippin' our moorin's to get out of it.
"Land sakes!" he exclaimed in conclusion. "There ye be. I guess my mother hated the sea 'bout as much as any longshore woman ever did. And there's a slew of 'em detest it worse'n cats. Why, ye couldn't hire some o' these Cape Cod females to get into a boat. Their men for generations was drowned and more'n forty per cent. of the stones in the churchyards along the coast, sacred to the mem'ry of the men of the fam'lies, have on 'em: 'Lost at sea.'
"Can't blame the women. Old Ella Coffin that lives on Narrer P'int over yonder ain't been to the main but once't in fifteen years. That was when an off-shore gale blew all the water out o' the breach 'twixt the p'int and the mainland.
"Ye see," said Cap'n Abe, smiling again, "Narrer P'int is re'lly an island, even at low water. But then a hoss an' buggy can splatter across't the breach. But it makes Marm Coffin seasick even to ride through water in a buggy. Marked, she is, as you might say.
"Well, now, Louise, child," the storekeeper added, "I'm a-gassin' 'bout things that don't much int'rest you, I cal'late. I'll light a lamp an' show you up to your room. When Perry Baker comes by and by, I'll help him in with your trunks. You needn't worry about 'em."
It had been foggy on the Sound the night before and Louise had not slept until the boat had rounded Point Judith. So she was not averse to retiring at this comparatively early hour.
Cap'n Abe led her upstairs to a cool, clean, and comfortable chamber. The old four-posted, corded bedstead stood in the middle of the room, covered with a blue-and-white coverlet, with sheets and pillow cases as white as foam. It could not be doubted that Cap'n Abe had carried out his idea of hospitality. The spare room was always ready for the possible guest.
"Good-night, uncle," she said, smiling at him as he handed her the lamp. "I believe I am going to have a delightful time here."
"Of course you be! Of course!" he exclaimed. "An' if I ain't here, Cap'n Am'zon will show you a better time than I could. Good-night. Sleep well, Louise."
He kissed her on the forehead. But she, impulsively, pressed her fresh lips to the storekeeper's weather-beaten cheek. Before she closed the door of the bedroom she heard him clumping downstairs in his heavy boots.
After that he must have removed his footgear for, although she heard doors open and close, she could not distinguish his steps.
"I'm glad I came!" she told herself with enthusiasm as she prepared to retire. "What a delightful old place it is! And Uncle Abram—why, he's a dear! Daddy-prof was not half enthusiastic enough about the Cape Cod folk. It has been a distinct loss to me that I was never here before."
She laid out her toilet requisites upon the painted pine bureau and hung her negligee over the back of a chair. As she retied the ribbon in one of the sleeves of her nightgown she thought:
"And that Tapp boy came back a second time! Some fisherman's son, I suppose. But exceedingly nice looking!"
A little later the feather bed had taken her into its arms and she almost instantly fell asleep. Occasionally through the night she was roused by unfamiliar sounds. There was a fog coming in from the sea and the siren at the lighthouse on the Neck began to bellow like a bereft cow.
There were movements downstairs. Once she heard a wagon stop, and voices. Then the bumping of heavy boxes on the side porch. Her trunks. Voices below in the living-room—gruff, yet subdued. Creaking footsteps on the stair; then Louise realized that they were carrying something heavy down and out to the waiting wagon. She was just dropping to sleep when the wagon was driven away.
There came a heavy summons on her door while it was still dark. But a glance at her watch assured Lou Grayling that it was the fog that made the light so dim.
"Yes, Cap'n Abe?" she called cheerfully, for even early rising could not quench her good spirits.
"'Tain't time to get up yet, Niece Louise," he told her behind the thin panel of the door. "Don't disturb yourself. Cap'n Amazon's come an' I'm off."
"You're what?" gasped the girl sitting up in her nest of feathers.
"I'm a-goin' to Boston. Jest got time to ketch the clam-train at the depot. Don't you bother; Cap'n Am'zon's here and he'll take care of you till I get back. Betty Gallup'll be here by six or a little after to do the work. You can have her stop at night, if you want to."
"Must hurry, Louise," hastily said Cap'n Abe as he heard the bedcords creak and the patter of the girl's feet on the matting. "Cap'n Am'zon knows of a craft that'll sail to-day from Boston and I must jine her crew. Good-bye!"
He was gone. Louise, throwing on the negligee, hurried to the screened window. The fog had breathed upon the wires and clouded them. She heard the door open below, a step on the porch, and then a muffled:
"Bye, Am'zon. Don't take no wooden money. I'm off."
A shrouded figure passed up the road and was quickly hidden by the fog.
BOARDED BY PIRATES
Louise could not go back to sleep. She drew the ruffles of the negligee about her throat and removed the sliding screen the better to see into the outer world.
There was a movement in the fog, for the rising breeze ruffled, it. Full daybreak would bring its entire dissipation. Already the mist held a luster heralding the sun. The "hush-hush" of the surf along The Beaches was more insistent now than at any time since Louise had come to Cap'n Abe's store, while the moan of the breakers on the outer reefs was like the deep notes of a distant organ.
A cock crew, and at his signal outdoor life seemed to awaken. Other chanticleers sounded their alarms; a colt whistled in a paddock and his mother neighed softly from her stall; a cow lowed; then, sweet and clear as a mountain stream, broke forth the whistle of a wild bird in the marsh. This matin of the feathered songster rose higher and higher till he reached the very top note of his scale and then fell again, by cadences, until it mingled with the less compelling calls of other birds.
There was a warm pinkness spreading through the fog in one direction, and Louise knew it must be the reflection of the light upon the eastern horizon. The sun would soon begin a new day's journey.
The fog was fast thinning, for across the road she could see a spiral of blue smoke, mounting through it from the chimney of a neighbor. The kitchen fire there had just been lighted.
Below, and from the living-rooms behind the store, the girl heard some faint noises as though the early morning tasks of getting in wood and filling the coal scuttle were under way. Uncle Amazon must be "takin' holt" just as Cap'n Abe said he would.
Louise was curious to see the returned mariner; but it was too early to go down yet. She might really have another nap before she dressed, she thought, yawning behind a pink palm.
There was a step in the store. Her room overlooked by two windows the roof of the front porch and she could hear what went on below plainly. The step was lighter than Cap'n Abe's. The bolts of the two-leaved door rattled and it was set wide; she heard the iron wedges kicked under each to hold it open. Then a smell of pipe smoke was wafted to her nostrils.
A footstep on the Shell Road announced the approach of somebody from The Beaches. Louise yawned again and was on the point of creeping into bed once more when she descried the figure coming through the fog. She saw only the boots and legs of the person at first; but the fog was fast separating into wreaths which the rising breeze hurried away, and the girl at the window soon saw the full figure of the approaching man—and recognized him.
At almost the same moment Lawford Tapp raised his eyes and saw her; and his heart immediately beat the call to arms. Louise Grayling's morning face, framed by the sash and sill of her bedroom window, was quite the sweetest picture he had ever seen.
It was only for a moment he saw her, her bare and rounded forearm on the sill, the frilly negligee so loosened that he could see the column of her throat. Her gray eyes looked straight into his—then she was gone.
"Actress, or not," muttered the son of the Salt Water Taffy King, "there's nothing artificial about her. And she's Cap'n Abe's niece. Well!"
He saw the figure on the porch, smoking, and hailed it:
"Hey, Cap'n Abe! Those fishhooks you sold me last evening aren't what I wanted—and there's the Merry Andrew waiting out there for me now. I want——"
The figure in the armchair turned its head. It was not Cap'n Abe at all!
"Mornin', young feller," said the stranger cordially. "You'll have to explain a leetle about them hooks. I ain't had a chance to overhaul much of Abe's cargo yet. I don't even know where he stows his small tackle. Do you?"
Fully a minute did Lawford Tapp keep him waiting for an answer while he stared at the stranger. He was not a big man, but he somehow gave the impression of muscular power. He was dressed in shabby clothing—shirt, dungaree trousers, and canvas shoes such as sailors work and go aloft in. The pipe he smoked was Cap'n Abe's—Lawford recognized it.
There was not, however, another thing about this man to remind one of the old storekeeper. This stranger was burned to a rich mahogany hue. Not alone his shaven face, but his bared forearms and his chest where the shirt was left unbuttoned seemed stained by the tropical sun. Under jet-black brows the eyes that gazed upon Lawford Tapp seemed dark.
His sweeping mustache was black; and such hair as was visible showed none of the iron gray of advancing age in it. He wore gold rings in his ears and to cap his piratical-looking figure was a red bandana worn turbanwise upon his head.
"What's the matter with you, young feller? Cat got your tongue?" demanded the stranger.
"Well, of all things!" finally gasped Lawford. "I thought you were Cap'n Abe. But you're not. You must be Cap'n Amazon Silt."
"That's who I be," agreed the other.
"Ain't much like Abe, eh?" and Cap'n Amazon smiled widely.
"Only your voice. That is a little like Cap'n Abe's. Well, I declare!" repeated Lawford, coming deliberately up the steps.
Cap'n Amazon rose briskly and led the way into the store. The fog was clearing with swiftness and a ray of sunlight slanted through a dusty window with sufficient strength to illumine the shelves behind the counter.
"Those boxes yonder are where Cap'n Abe keeps his fishhooks. But isn't he here?"
"He's off," Cap'n Amazon replied. "Up anchor'd and sailed 'bout soon's I come. Been ready to go quite a spell, I shouldn't wonder. Had his chest all packed and sent it to the depot by a wagon. Walked over himself airly to ketch the train. These the hooks, son?"
"But where's he gone?"
"On a v'y'ge," replied Cap'n Amazon. "Why shouldn't he? Seems he's been lashed here, tight and fast, for c'nsider'ble of a spell. He and this store of hisn was nigh 'bout spliced. I don't see how he has weathered it so long."
"Gone away!" murmured Lawford.
Cap'n Amazon eyed him with a tilt to his head and possibly a twinkle of amusement in his eye. "Young man, what's your name?" he asked bluntly. Lawford told him. "Wal, it strikes me," Cap'n Amazon said, "that your tops'ls air slattin' a good deal. You ain't on the wind."
"I am upset, I declare!"
"Sure you got the right hooks this time?"
"Yes. I believe so."
"Then if your Merry Andrew—what is she, cat-rigged or——"
"Then if your Merry Andrew sloop's a-waiting for you, that's the way out," said Cap'n Amazon coolly, pointing with his pipestem to the door. "Come again—when you want to buy anything in Abe's stock. Good day!"
Lawford halted a moment at the door to look back at the bizarre figure behind the counter, leaning on the scarred brown plank just as Cap'n Abe so often did. The amazing difference between the storekeeper's well remembered appearance and that of his substitute grew more startling.
As Cap'n Amazon stood there half stooping, leaning on his hairy fists, the picture rose in Lawford Tapp's mind of a pirate, cutlass in teeth and his sash full of pistols, swarming over the rail of a doomed ship. The young man had it in his mind to ask a question about that wonderfully pretty girl above. But, somehow, Cap'n Amazon did not appear to be the sort of person to whom one could put even a mildly impudent question.
The young man walked slowly down the road toward the shore where his boat was beached. He had no idea that a pair of gray eyes watched him from that window where he had glimpsed the vision of girlish beauty only a few minutes before.
The neighborhood was stirring now and Louise had not gone back to bed. Instead, she dressed as simply as she could until it would be possible to get at her trunks.
While thus engaged she observed the neighborhood as well as she could see it from the windows of her chamber. Down the Shell Road, in the direction of the sea, there were but two or three houses—small dwellings in wind-swept yards where beach grass was about all the verdure that would grow.
Across the road from the store, however, and as far as she could see toward Cardhaven, were better homes, some standing in the midst of tilled fields and orchards. Sandy lanes led to these homesteads from the highway. She could see the blunt spire of the Mariner's Chapel. Yet Cap'n Abe's house and store stood quite alone, for none of the other dwellings were close to the road.
She set her chamber door ajar and suddenly heard the clash of voices. The one that seemed nearest to the stair was gruff, but feminine.
"That must be Betty Gallup," thought Louise. "It is nearly six. I'll go down and interview the lady who Cap'n Abe said ought to sail before the mast."
The foot of the stairway was in the back entry which itself opened upon the rear porch. As she came lightly down the stairs Louise saw a squat, square figure standing in the open doorway. It was topped by a man's felt hat and was dressed in a loose, shapeless coat and a scant skirt down to the tops of a pair of men's shoes.
Over the shoulder of this queer looking person—of whose sex it was hard to be sure—Louise could see an open letter that was evidently being perused not for the first time.
The hands that held the letter were red and hard and blunt-fingered, but not large. They did not look feminine, however; not in the least.
The light tap of the girl's heels as she stepped on the bare floor at the foot of the stairway aroused this person, who turned, revealing a rather grim, weather-beaten face, lit by little sharp brown eyes that proceeded to stare at Louise Grayling with frank curiosity.
"Humph!" ejaculated the woman.
Oh, it was a woman, Louise could now see, although Betty Gallup boasted a pronounced mustache and a voice both deep and hoarse, while she looked every inch the able seaman she was.
"Humph!" she exclaimed again. "You don't look much like a pirate, that's one comfort!"
Louise burst into gay laughter—she could not help it.
"I see by this letter Cap'n Abe left for me that you're his niece—his ha'f sister's child—name, Louise Grayling; and that you've come to stay a spell."
"Yes," the girl rejoined, still dimpling. "And I know you must be Mrs. Gallup!"
"Bet Gallup. Yep. Ain't much chance of mistaking me," the woman said, still staring at Louise. "Humph! you're pretty 'nough not to need m'lasses to ketch flies. Why didn't Cap'n Abe stay to home when you come visiting him?"
"Why, he had his plans all laid to go away, if Uncle Amazon came."
"Ya-as. That's so. You are his niece, too, I s'pose."
"Whose niece? Uncle Amazon's? I suppose I am," Louise gayly replied, "though when I came I had no idea there was a second uncle down here on the Cape."
"What's that?" demanded Betty Gallup, her speech crackling like a rifle shot.
"I had not heard before of Cap'n Amazon," the girl explained. "You see, for several reasons, I have known very little about my mother's kinfolk. She died when I was a baby. We have traveled a good deal, father and I."
"I see. I been told you worked for them movin' pictures. Mandy Card was over to my house last night. Well! what do you think of your Uncle Am'zon?"
"I can express no opinion until I have met him," Louise returned, again dimpling.
"Haven't ye seen him?" gasped Betty in astonishment.
"Ye didn't see him when he came last night?"
"I was in bed."
"Then how—how d'ye know Cap'n Abe's gone? Or that this man is Am'zon Silt? Nobody ever seen this critter 'round Cardhaven before," Betty Gallup declared with strong conviction.
"Oh, no; Uncle Amazon has never been here to visit Cap'n Abe before. Cap'n Abe told me all about it," the girl explained, fearing that scandal was to take root here and now if she did not discourage it. "Of course Uncle Abe went away. He came to my door and bade me good-bye."
Louise was puzzled. She saw an expression in Betty Gallup's face that she could not interpret.
"Ye heard Cap'n Abe say he was goin'," muttered Betty. "His voice sounds mighty like Cap'n Abe's. But mebbe Abe Silt didn't go after all—not rightly."
"What do you mean, Mrs. Gallup?" demanded Louise in bewilderment.
"Well, if you ask me, I should say we'd been boarded by pirates. Go take a look at that Uncle Am'zon of yourn. He's in the store."
"Uncle Amazon?" burst out Louise. "A pirate?"
"That's what he looks like," repeated Betty Gallup, nodding her head on which the man's hat still perched. "I never saw the beat! Why, that man give me the shock of my life when I came in here just now!"
"What do you mean?" the amazed girl asked,
"Why, as I come in—I was a lettle early, knowin' you was here—I heard as I s'posed Cap'n Abe in the sittin'-room. I saw this letter, sealed and directed to me, on the dresser there. 'Humph!' says I, 'Who's writin' billy-doos to me, I'd admire to know?' And I up and opened it and see it's in Cap'n Abe's hand. Just then I heard him behind me——"
"Heard who? Not Cap'n Abe?"
"No, no! This other feller—this Cap'n Am'zon Silt, as he calls himself. But I thought 'twas Cap'n Abe's step I heard. He says: 'Oh! you've found the letter?' I declare I thought 'twas your uncle's voice!"
"But it was my uncle's voice, of course," Louise reminded her, much amused, "Cap'n Amazon Silt is my uncle, too."
"Humph! I s'pose so. Looks to be. If 'tis him. Anyhow," pursued the jerkily speaking Betty Gallup, "I turned 'round when he spoke spectin' to see Cap'n Abe—for I hadn't read this letter then—and there he warn't! Instead—of all the lookin' critters! There! you go take a peek at him and see what you think yourself. I'll put the breakfast on the table. He's made coffee and the mush is in the double-biler and the biscuits in the oven are just browning. I reckon he's as handy 'round the kitchen as Cap'n Abe is. Lots of these old sailors be."
"Fancy! an uncle who is a pirate!" giggled Louise and she ran through the living-room and the dividing hall to the door of the store. First she saw Cap'n Amazon from the rear. The red bandana swathing his bead, below which was a lank fringe of black hair, was the only bizarre thing she noticed about her new-found relative. He seemed to have very quick hearing for almost instantly he swung smartly around to face her.
"Oh!" was expelled from the girl's lips, for she was as startled as Lawford Tapp and Betty Gallup had been.
Compared with the mild-appearing, heavily whiskered Cap'n Abe, this brother of the storekeeper was in looks what Betty had pronounced him. His dark complexion, the long mustache, as black and glossy as a crow's wing, the gold rings in his ears, with the red handkerchief to top it all, made Cap'n Amazon Silt as romantic a figure as ever peered out of a Blackbeard or a Henry Morgan legend.
There were intricate traceries on his forearms in red and blue ink; beneath the open collar of his shirt the girl gained a glimpse of other tattooing. There was a faint scar traced along his right jaw, almost from ear to chin, which added a certain grimness to his expression.
Yet his was not at all a sinister face. His eyes twinkled at her kindly—almost like Cap'n Abe's eyes—and the huge mustache lifted in a smile.
"Ahoy!" he cried jovially. "So this is my niece, Louise, is it? Well, to be sure! Abe didn't overpraise you. You be a pretty tidy craft."
The girl dimpled, coming forward to give him her hand. As on the day before, her hand was lost in a warm, firm clasp, while her uncle continued to look her over with approval.
"Yes, sir!" he ejaculated. "You look to me like one o' the tidiest craft I ever clapped eyes on. I don't scarcely see how Abe could go away and leave you. Dunno's he's got an eye for a pretty woman like me. Bless you! I been a slave to the women all my life."
"Yet never married, Uncle Amazon?" she cried roguishly.
"Tell you how 'twas," he whispered hoarsely, his hand beside his mouth. "I never could decide betwixt and between 'em. No, sir! They are all so desir'ble that I couldn't make up my mind. So I stayed single."
"Perhaps you showed wisdom, Uncle Amazon," laughed the girl. "Still—when you grow old——"
"Oh! there's plenty of sailors' snug harbors," he hastened to say. "And time enough to worry about that when I be old."
"I thought——Why! you look younger than Cap'n Abe," she said.
"Ain't it a fact? He's let himself run to seed and get old lookin'. That's from stayin' ashore all his life. It's the feel of a heavin' deck under his feet that keeps the spring in a man's wishbone. Yes, sir! Abe's all right—good man and all that—but he's no sailor," Cap'n Amazon added, shaking his head.
"Now, here!" he went on briskly, "we ought to have breakfast, hadn't we? I left that woman Abe has pokin' around here, to dish up; and it's 'most six bells. Feel kind of peckish myself, Louise."
"I'll run to see if the biscuits are done," said the girl; and she hurried to the kitchen ahead of him. Betty Gallup was waiting for her.
"What d'ye think of him?" she whispered anxiously.
"Why, he's splendid!" the girl replied scarcely stifling her laughter. "He's a character!"
"Humph! Mebbe. But even if he is your uncle, I got to say right now he ain't a man I'd trust. Nothin' a-tall like Cap'n Abe!"
"I think he seems a great deal like Uncle Abram."
"Humph! How long you knowed Abram Silt? Come here yesterday for the fust time. Lemme tell you, Miss Grayling, we've knowed Cap'n Abe around here for twenty year and more. Course, he ain't Cardhaven born; but we know him. He's as diff'rent from this pirate that calls himself Cap'n Am'zon Silt as chalk is from cheese."
The mush was on the table, Louise called Cap'n Amazon from the store. They sat down to the table just as she had sat opposite to Cap'n Abe the evening before. She thought, for a moment, that Cap'n Amazon was going to ask a blessing as her other uncle had. But no, he began spooning the mush into a rather capacious mouth.
Into the room from the rear strolled Diddimus, the tortoise-shell cat. Louise tried to attract his attention; but she was comparatively a stranger to turn. The cat went around to the chair where Cap'n Abe always sat. He leaped into Cap'n Amazon's lap.
"Well, I never!" said Cap'n Amazon. "Seems quite to home, doesn't he?"
Diddimus, preparing to "make his bed," looked up with topaz eyes into the face of the captain. Louise could see the cat actually stiffen with surprise. Then, with a "p-sst-maow!" he leaped down and ran out of the room at high speed.
"What—what do you think of that?" gasped Cap'n Amazon. "The cat's gone crazy!"
The girl was in a gale of laughter. "Of course he hasn't," she said. "He thought you were Cap'n Abe—till he looked into your face. You can't blame the cat, Uncle Amazon."
Cap'n Amazon smote his knee a resounding smack of appreciation. "You got your bearin's correct, Louise, I do believe. I must have surprised the critter. And Abe set store by him, I've no doubt."
"Diddimus will get over it," said the amused Louise.
"There's that bird," Cap'n Amazon said suddenly, looking around at the cage hanging in the sunlit window. "What's Abe call him?"
"And he told me to be hi-mighty tender with that canary. Wouldn't trust nobody else, he said, to feed and water him." He rose from the table, leaving his breakfast. "I wonder what Jerry thinks of me?"
He whistled to the bird and thrust a big forefinger between the wires of the cage. Immediately, with an answering chirp, the canary hopped along his perch with a queer sidewise motion and, reaching the finger, sprang upon it with a little flutter of its wings.
"There!" cried Cap'n Amazon, with boyish relief. "He takes to me all right."
"That don't show nothin'," said Betty Gallup from the doorway. She had removed her hat and coat and was revealed now as a woman approaching seventy, her iron-gray hair twisted into a "bob" so that it could be completely hidden when she had the hat on her head. "That don't show nothin'," she repeated grimly.