CAP'N DAN'S DAUGHTER
By Joseph C. Lincoln
CAP'N DAN'S DAUGHTER
The Metropolitan Dry Goods and Variety Store at Trumet Centre was open for business. Sam Bartlett, the boy whose duty it was to take down the shutters, sweep out, dust, and wait upon early-bird customers, had performed the first three of these tasks and gone home for breakfast. The reason he had not performed the fourth—the waiting upon customers—was simple enough; there had been no customers to wait upon. The Metropolitan Dry Goods and Variety Store was open and ready for business—but, unfortunately, there was no business.
There should have been. This was August, the season of the year when, if ever, Trumet shopkeepers should be beaming across their counters at the city visitor, male or female, and telling him or her, that "white duck hats are all the go this summer," or "there's nothin' better than an oilskin coat for sailin' cruises or picnics." Outing shirts and yachting caps, fancy stationery, post cards, and chocolates should be changing hands at a great rate and the showcase, containing the nicked blue plates and cracked teapots, the battered candlesticks and tarnished pewters, "genuine antiques," should be opened at frequent intervals for the inspection of bargain-seeking mothers and their daughters. July and August are the Cape Cod harvest months; if the single-entry ledgers of Trumet's business men do not show good-sized profits during that season they are not likely to do so the rest of the year.
Captain Daniel Dott, proprietor of the Metropolitan Store, bending over his own ledger spread on the little desk by the window at the rear of his establishment, was realizing this fact, realizing it with a sinking heart and a sense of hopeless discouragement. The summer was almost over; September was only three days off; in another fortnight the hotels would be closed, the boarding houses would be closing, and Trumet, deserted by its money spending visitors, would be falling asleep, relapsing into its autumn and winter hibernation. And the Dott ledger, instead of showing a profit of a thousand or fifteen hundred dollars, as it had the first summer after Daniel bought the business, showed but a meager three hundred and fifty, over and above expenses.
Through the window the sun was shining brightly. From the road in front of the store—Trumet's "Main Street"—came the rattle of wheels and the sound of laughter and conversation in youthful voices. The sounds drew nearer. Someone shouted "Whoa!" Daniel Dott, a ray of hope illuminating his soul at the prospect of a customer, rose hurriedly from his seat by the desk and hastened out into the shop.
A big two-horsed vehicle, the "barge" from the Manonquit House, had stopped before the door. It was filled with a gay crowd, youths and maidens from the hotel, dressed in spotless flannels and "blazers," all talking at once, and evidently carefree and happy. Two of the masculine members of the party descended from the "barge" and entered the store. Daniel, smiling his sweetest, stepped forward to meet them.
"Good mornin', good mornin'," he said. "A fine mornin', ain't it?"
The greeting was acknowledged by both of the young fellows, and one of them added that it was a fine morning, indeed.
"Don't know as I ever saw a finer," observed Daniel. "Off on a cruise somewhere, I presume likely; hey?"
"Picnic down at the Point."
"Well, you've got picnic weather, all right. Yes sir, you have!"
Comment concerning the weather is the inevitable preliminary to all commercial transactions in Trumet. Now, preliminaries being over, Daniel waited hopefully for what was to follow. His hopes were dashed.
"Is—is Miss Dott about?" inquired one of the callers.
"Miss Dott? Oh, Gertie! No, she ain't. She's gone down street somewheres. Be back pretty soon, I shouldn't wonder."
"Humph! Well, I'm afraid we can't wait. We hoped she might go with us on the picnic. We—er—we wanted her very much."
"That so? I'm sorry, but I'm afraid she couldn't go, even if she was here. You see, it's her last day at home, and—we—her mother and I—that is, I don't believe she'd want to leave us to-day."
"No; no, of course not. Well, tell her we wish she might have come, but we understand. Yes, yes," in answer to the calls from the "barge," "we're coming. Well, good by, Captain Dott."
"Er—good by. Er—er—don't want anything to take along, do you? A nice box of candy, or—or anything?"
"No, I think not. We stopped at the Emporium just now, and loaded up with candy enough to last a week. Good morning."
"How are you fixed for sun hats and things? I've got a nice line of hats and—well, good by."
The "barge" moved off. Daniel, standing dejectedly in the door, remembered his manners.
"Hope you have a nice time," he shouted. Then he turned and moved disconsolately back to the desk. He might have expected it. It was thus in nine cases out of ten. The Emporium, Mr. J. Cohen, proprietor, was his undoing in this instance as in so many others. The Emporium got the trade and he got the good bys. Mr. Cohen was not an old resident, as he was; Mr. Cohen's daughter was not invited to picnics by the summer people; Mrs. Cohen was not head of the sewing circle and the Chapter of the Ladies of Honor, and prominent socially, as was Mrs. Dott; but Mr. Cohen bought cheap and sold cheap, and the Emporium flourished like a green bay tree, while the Metropolitan Store was rapidly going to seed. Daniel, looking out through the front window at the blue sea in the distance, thought of the past, of the days when, as commander and part owner of the three masted schooner Bluebird, he had been free and prosperous and happy. Then he considered the future, which was bluer than the sea, and sighed again. Why had he not been content to stick to the profession he understood, to remain on the salt water he loved; instead of retiring from the sea to live on dry land and squander his small fortune in a business for which he was entirely unfitted?
And yet the answer was simple enough. Mrs. Dott—Mrs. Serena Dott, his wife—was the answer, she and her social aspirations. It was Serena who had coaxed him into giving up seafaring; who had said that it was a shame for him to waste his life ordering foremast hands about when he might be one of the leading citizens in his native town. It was Serena who had persuaded him to invest the larger part of his savings in the Metropolitan Store. Serena, who had insisted that Gertrude, their daughter and only child, should leave home to attend the fashionable and expensive seminary near Boston. Serena who—but there! it was all Serena; and had been ever since they were married. Captain Daniel, on board his schooner, was a man whose word was law. On shore, he was law abiding, and his words were few.
The side door of the store—that leading to the yard separating it from the Dott homestead—opened, and Azuba Ginn appeared. Azuba had been the Dott maid of all work for eighteen years, ever since Gertrude was a baby. She was married, but her husband, Laban Ginn, was mate on a steam freighter running between New York and almost anywhere, and his shore leaves were short and infrequent. Theirs was a curious sort of married life. "We is kind of independent, Labe and me," said Azuba. "He often says to me—that is, as often as we're together, which ain't often—he says to me, he says, 'Live where you want to, Zuby,' he says, 'and if you want to move, move! When I get ashore I can hunt you up.' We don't write many letters because time each get t'other's, the news is so plaguey old 'tain't news at all. You Dotts seem more like home folks to me than anybody else, so I stick to you. I presume likely I shall till I die."
Azuba entered the store in the way in which she did most things, with a flurry and a slam. Her sleeves were rolled up, she wore an apron, and one hand dripped suds, demonstrating that it had just been taken from the dishpan. In the other, wiped more or less dry on the apron, she held a crumpled envelope.
"Well!" she exclaimed, excitedly. "If some human bein's don't beat the Dutch then I don't know, that's all. If the way some folks go slip-slop, hit or miss, through this world ain't a caution then—Tut! tut! tut! don't talk to ME!"
Captain Dan looked up from the ledger.
"What?" he asked absently.
"I say, don't talk to ME!"
"We—ll," with deliberation, "I guess I shan't, unless you stop talkin' yourself, and give me a chance. What's the matter now, Zuba?"
"Matter! Don't talk to ME! Carelessness is the matter! Slip-sloppiness is the matter! Here's a man that calls himself a man and goes mopin' around pretendin' to BE a man, and what does he do?"
"I don't know. I'd tell you better, maybe, if I knew who he was."
"Who he was! I'll tell you who he was—is, I mean. He's Balaam Hambleton, that's who he is."
"Humph! Bale Hamilton, hey? Then it's easy enough to say what he does—nothin', most of the time. Is that letter for me?"
"Course it's for you! And it's a week old, what's more. One week ago that letter come in the mail and the postmaster let that—that Hambleton thing take it, 'cause he said he was goin' right by here and could leave it just as well as not. And this very mornin' that freckle-faced boy of his—that George Washin'ton one—what folks give such names to their young ones for I can't see!—he rung the front door bell and yanked me right out of the dish water, and he says his ma found the letter in Balaam's other pants when she was mendin' 'em, and would I please excuse his forgettin' it 'cause he had so much on his mind lately. Mind! Land of love! if he had a thistle top on his mind 'twould smash it flat. Don't talk to me!"
"I won't," drily; "I WON'T, Zuba, I swear it. Let's see the letter."
He bent forward and took the letter from her hand. Then, adjusting his spectacles, he examined the envelope. It was of the ordinary business size and was stamped with the Boston postmark, and a date a week old. Captain Dan looked at the postmark, studied the address, which was in an unfamiliar handwriting, and then turned the envelope over. On the flap was printed "Shepley and Farwell, Attorneys, ——- Devonshire Street." The captain drew a long breath; he leaned back in his chair and sat staring at the envelope.
Azuba wiped the suds from her wet hand and arm upon her apron. Then she wrapped it and the other arm in said apron and coughed. The cough was intended to arouse her employer from the trance into which he had, apparently, fallen. But it was without effect. Captain Daniel did stop staring at the envelope, but he merely transferred his gaze to the ink-spattered blotter and the ledger upon it, and stared at them.
"Well?" observed Azuba.
The captain started. "Hey?" he exclaimed, looking up. "Did you speak?"
"I said 'Well?'. I suppose that's speakin'?"
"'Well?' Well what?"
"Oh, nothin'! I was just wonderin'—"
"I was wonderin' if that letter was anything important. Ain't you goin' to open it and see?"
"Hey? Open it? Oh, yes, yes. Well, I shouldn't wonder if I opened it some time or other, Zuba. I gen'rally open my letters. It's a funny habit I have."
"Humph! Well, all right, then. I didn't know. Course, 'tain't none of my business what's in other folks's letters. I ain't nosey, land knows. Nobody can accuse me of—"
"Nobody can accuse you of anything, Zuba. Not even dish washin' just now."
Azuba drew herself up. Outraged dignity and injured pride were expressed in every line of her figure. "Well!" she exclaimed; "WELL! if that ain't—if that don't beat all that ever I heard! Here I leave my work to do folks favors, to fetch and carry for 'em, and this is what I get. Cap'n Dott, I want you to understand that I ain't dependent on nobody for a job. I don't HAVE to slave myself to death for nobody. If you ain't satisfied—"
"There, there, Zuba! I was only jokin'. Don't get mad!"
"Mad! Who's mad, I'd like to know? It takes more'n that to make me mad, I'd have you understand."
"That's good; I'm glad of it. Well, I'm much obliged to you for bringin' the letter."
"You're welcome. Land sakes! I don't mind doin' errands, only I like to have 'em appreciated. And I like jokes well as anybody, but when you tell me—"
"Hold on! don't get het up again. Keep cool, Zuba, keep cool! Think of that dish water; it's gettin' cooler every minute."
The answer to this was an indignant snort followed by the bang of the door. Azuba had gone. Captain Daniel looked after her, smiled faintly, shook his head, and again turned his attention to the letter in his hand. He did not open it immediately. Instead he sat regarding it with the same haggard, hopeless expression which he had worn when he first read the firm's name upon the envelope. He dreaded, perhaps, as much as he had ever dreaded anything in his life, to open that envelope.
He was sure, perfectly sure, what he should find when he did open it. A letter from the legal representatives of Smith and Denton, the Boston hat manufacturers and dealers, stating that, unless the latter's account was paid within the next week, suit for the amount due would be instituted in the courts. A law suit! a law suit for the collection of a debt against him, Daniel Dott, the man who had prided himself upon his honesty! Think of what it would mean! the disgrace of it! the humiliation, not only for himself but for Serena, his wife, and Gertrude, his daughter!
He did not blame Smith and Denton; they had been very kind, very lenient indeed. The thirty-day credit originally given him had been extended to sixty and ninety. They had written him many times, and each time he had written in reply that as soon as collections were better he should be able to pay in full; that he had a good deal of money owed him, and as soon as it came in they should have it. But it did not come in. No wonder, considering that it was owed by the loafers and ne'er-do-wells of the town and surrounding country, who, because no one else would trust them, bestowed their custom upon good-natured, gullible Captain Dan. The more recent letters from the hat dealers had been sharper and less kindly. They had ceased to request; they demanded. At last they had threatened. And now the threat was to be fulfilled.
The captain laid the envelope down upon the open ledger, rose, and, going to the front of the store, carefully closed the door. Then, going to the door communicating with the other half of the store, he made sure that no one was in the adjoining room. He had a vague feeling that all the eyes in Trumet were regarding him with suspicion, and he wished to shut out their accusing gaze. He wanted to be alone when he read that letter. He had half a mind to take it to the cellar and open it there.
His fingers shook as he tore the end from the envelope. They shook still more as he drew forth the enclosure, a typewritten sheet, and held it to the light. He read it through to the end. Then, with a loud exclamation, almost a shout, he rushed to the side door, flung it open and darted across the yard, the letter fluttering from his fingers like a flag. The store was left unguarded, but he forgot that.
He stumbled up the steps into the kitchen. Azuba, a saucer in one hand and the dish towel in the other, was, to say the least, startled. As she expressed it afterward, "the everlastin' soul was pretty nigh scart out of her." The saucer flew through the air and lit upon the top of the cookstove.
"What—what—what—" stammered Azuba. "Oh, my land! WHAT is it?"
"Where's Serena?" demanded Captain Daniel, paying no attention to the saucer, except to tread upon the fragments.
"Hey? Oh, what IS it? Is the store afire?"
"No, no! Where's Serena?"
"Where's SERENA, I ask you?"
"In her room, I cal'late. For mercy sakes, what—"
But the captain did not answer. Through dining-room, sitting-room, and parlor he galloped, and up the front stairs to the bedroom occupied by himself and wife. Mrs. Dott was standing before the mirror, red-faced and panting, both arms behind her and her fingers busily engaged. Her husband's breath was almost gone by the time he reached the foot of the stairs; consequently his entrance was a trifle less noisy and startling than his sky-rocket flight through the kitchen. It is doubtful if his wife would have noticed even if it had been. She caught a glimpse of him in the mirror, and heaved a sigh of relief.
"Oh, it's you, is it!" she panted. "My, I'm glad! For mercy sakes fasten those last three hooks; I'm almost distracted with 'em."
But the hooks remained unfastened for the time. Captain Dan threw himself into a chair and waved the letter.
"Serena," he cried, puffing like a stranded porpoise, "what—WHAT do you suppose has happened? Aunt Laviny is dead."
Serena turned. "Dead!" she repeated. "Your Aunt Lavinia Dott? The rich one?"
"Yes, sir; she's gone. Died in Italy a fortnight ago. Naples, I think 'twas—or some such outlandish place; you know she's done nothin' but cruise around Europe ever since Uncle Jim died. The letter says she was taken sick on a Friday, and died Sunday, so 'twas pretty sudden. I—"
But Mrs. Dott interrupted. "What else does it say?" she asked excitedly. "What else does that letter say? Who is if from?"
"It's from her lawyers up to Boston. What made you think it said anything else?"
"Because I'm not blind and I can see your face, Daniel Dott. What else does it say? Tell me! Has she—did she—?"
Captain Dan nodded solemnly. "She didn't forget us," he said. "She didn't forget us, Serena. The letter says her will gives us that solid silver teapot and sugar-bowl that was presented to Uncle Jim by the Ship Chandlers' Society, when he was president of it. She willed that to us. She knew I always admired that tea-pot and—"
His wife interrupted once more.
"Tea-pot!" she repeated strongly. "Tea-pot! What are you talking about? Do you mean to say that all she left us was a TEA-POT? If you do I—"
"No, no, Serena. Hush! She's left us three thousand dollars besides. Think of it! Three thousand dollars—just now!"
His voice shook as he said it. He spoke as if three thousand dollars was an unheard-of sum, a fortune. Mrs. Dott had no such illusion. She sat down upon the edge of the bed.
"Three thousand dollars!" she exclaimed. "Is that all? Three thousand dollars!"
"All! My soul, Serena! Why, ONE thousand dollars just now is like—"
"Hush! Do be still! Three thousand dollars! And she worth a hundred thousand, if she was worth a cent. A lone woman, without a chick or a child or a relation except you, and that precious young swell of a cousin of hers she thought so much of. I suppose he gets the rest of it. Oh, how can anybody be so stingy!"
"Sh-sh, sh-h, Serena. Don't speak so of the dead. Why, we ought to be mournin' for her, really, instead of rejoicing over what she left us. It ain't right to talk so. I'm ashamed of myself—or I ought to be. But, you see, I thought sure the letter was from those hat folks's lawyers, sayin' they'd started suit. When I found it wasn't, I was so glad I forgot everything else. Ah hum!—poor Aunt Laviny!"
He sighed. His wife shook her head.
"Daniel," she said, "I—I declare I try not to lose patience with you, but it's awful hard work. Mourning! Mourn for her! What did she ever do to make you sorry she was gone? Did she ever come near us when she was alive? No, indeed, she didn't. Did she ever offer to give you, or even lend you, a cent? I guess not. And she knew you needed it, for I wrote her."
"You DID? Serena!"
"Yes, I did. Why shouldn't I? I wrote her six months ago, telling her how bad your business was, and that Gertie was at school, and we were trying to give her a good education, and how much money it took and—oh, everything. When your Uncle Jim's business was bad, in the hard times back in '73, who was it that helped him out and saved him from bankruptcy? Why, his brother—your own father. And he never got a cent of it back. I reminded her of that, too."
Daniel sprang out of his chair.
"You did!" he cried again. "Serena, how could you? You knew how Father felt about that money. You knew how I felt. And yet, you did that!"
"I did. Somebody in this family must be practical and worldly-minded, and I seem to be the one. YOU wouldn't ask her for a cent. You wouldn't ask anybody for money, even if they owed it a thousand years. You sell everybody anything they want from the store; and trust them for it. You know you do. You sold that good-for-nothing Lem Brackett a whole suit of clothes only last week, and he owes you a big bill and has owed it for a year."
Her husband looked troubled. "Well," he answered, slowly, "I suppose likely I didn't do right there. But those Bracketts are poor, and there's a big family of 'em, and the fall's comin' on, and—and all. So—"
"So you thought it was your duty to help support them, I suppose. Oh, Daniel, Daniel, I don't know what to do with you sometimes."
Captain Dan looked very grave.
"I guess you're right, Serena," he admitted. "I ain't much good, I'm afraid."
Mrs. Dott's expression changed. She rose, walked over, and kissed him. "You're too good, that's the main trouble with you," she said. "Well, I won't scold any more. I'm glad we've got the three thousand anyway—and the tea-pot."
"It's a lovely tea-pot, all engravin' and everything. And the sugar-bowl's almost as pretty. You'll like 'em, Serena."
"Yes, I'll love 'em, I don't doubt. You and I can look at them and think of that cousin of Aunt Lavinia's spending the rest of her fortune. No wonder she didn't leave him the tea-pot; precious little tea he drinks, if stories we hear are true. Well, there's one good thing about it—Gertie can keep on with her college. This is her last year."
"Yes; I thought of that. I thought of a million things when I was racin' across the yard with this letter. Say, Serena, you've never told Gertie anything about how trade was or how hard-up we've been?"
"Of course not."
"No, I knew you wouldn't. She's such a conscientious girl; if she thought we couldn't afford it she wouldn't think of keepin' on with that college, and I've set my heart on her havin' the best start in life we can give her."
"I know. Ah hum! I wish she could have the start some people's daughters have. Mrs. Black was with me at the lodge room yesterday—we are decorating for the men's evening to-morrow night, you know—and Mrs. Black has been helping me; she's awfully kind that way. You'd think she belonged here in Trumet, instead of being rich and living in Scarford and being way up in society there. She and her husband are just like common folks."
"Humph! Barney Black IS common folks. He was born right here in Trumet and his family was common as wharf rats. HE needn't put on airs with me."
"He doesn't. And yet, if he was like some people, he would. So successful in his big factory, and his wife way up in the best circles of Scarford; she's head of the Ladies of Honor there as I am here, and means to get a national office in the order; she told me so. But there! that reminds me that I was going to meet her at the lodge room at ten, and it's half-past nine now. Do help me with these hooks. If I wasn't so fleshy I could do them myself, but I almost died hooking the others."
"Why didn't you call Zuba? She'd have hooked 'em for you."
"Azuba! Heavens and earth! She's worse than nobody; her fingers are all thumbs. Besides, she would talk me deaf, dumb and blind. She doesn't know her place at all; thinks she is one of the family, I suppose."
"Well, she is, pretty nigh. Been here long enough."
"I don't care. She isn't one of the family; she's a servant, or ought to be. Oh dear! when I hear Annette Black telling about her four servants and all the rest it makes me so jealous, sometimes."
"Don't make ME jealous. I'd rather have you and Gertie and this place than all Barney Black owns—and that means his wife, too."
"Daniel, I keep telling you not to call Mr. Black 'Barney.' He is B. Phelps Black now. Mrs. Black always calls him 'Phelps.' So does everybody in Scarford, so she says."
"Want to know! He was Barney Black when he lived here regular. Havin' a summer cottage here and a real house in Scarford must make a lot of difference. By the way, speakin' of Scarford, that's where Aunt Laviny used to live afore she went abroad. She owned a big house there."
"Why, so she did! I wonder what will become of it. I suppose that cousin will get it, along with the rest. Oh dear! suppose—just suppose there wasn't any cousin. Suppose you and I and Gertie had that house and the money. Wouldn't it be splendid? WE could be in society then."
"Humph! I'd look pretty in society, wouldn't I?"
"Of course you would. You'd look as pretty as Barney—B. Phelps Black, wouldn't you? And I—Oh, HOW I should love it! Trumet is so out of date. A real intelligent, ambitious woman has no chance in Trumet."
The captain shook his head. He recognized the last sentence as a quotation from the works of Mrs. Annette Black, self-confessed leader in society in the flourishing manufacturing city of Scarford, and summer resident and condescending patroness of Trumet.
"Well," he observed; "we've got more chance, even in Trumet, than we've had for the last year, thanks to Aunt Laviny's three thousand. It gives us a breathin' spell, anyhow. If only trade in the store would pick up, I—Hey! Good heavens to Betsy! I forgot the store altogether. Sam hadn't got back from breakfast and I left the store all alone. I must be crazy!"
He bolted from the room and down the stairs, the legacy forgotten for the moment, and in his mind pictures of rifled showcases and youthful Trumet regaling itself with chocolates at his expense. Azuba shrieked another question as her employer once more rushed through the kitchen, but again her question was unanswered. She hurried to the window and watched him running across the yard.
"Well!" she exclaimed, in alarmed soliloquy. "WELL, the next time I fetch that man a letter I'll fetch the doctor along with it. Has the world turned upside down, or what is the matter?"
She might have made a worse guess. The Dott world was turning upside down; this was the beginning of the revolution.
Captain Dan's fears concerning the safety of his showcases were groundless. Even as he sprang up the steps to the side door of his place of business, he heard familiar voices in the store. He recognized the voices, and, halting momentarily to wipe his forehead with his handkerchief and to regain some portion of his composure and his breath, he walked in.
Gertrude, his daughter, was seated in his chair by the desk, and John Doane was leaning upon the desk, talking with her. In the front of the store, Sam Bartlett, the boy, who had evidently returned from breakfast, was doing nothing in particular, and doing it with his usual air of enjoyment. It was only when required to work that Sam was unhappy.
Gertrude looked up as her father entered; prior to that she had been looking at the blotter on the desk. John Doane, who had been looking at Gertrude, also changed the direction of his gaze. Captain Dan struggled with the breath and the composure.
"Why, Dad!" exclaimed Gertrude. "What is it?"
"What's the matter, Cap'n Dott?" asked Mr. Doane.
Daniel did his best to appear calm; it was a poor best. At fifty-two one cannot run impromptu hurdle races against time, and show no effects.
"Hey?" he panted. "Matter? Nothin's the matter. I left the store alone for a minute and I was in a kind of hurry to get back to it, that's all."
The explanation was not entirely satisfactory. Gertrude looked more puzzled than ever.
"A minute," she repeated. "Left it a minute! Why, John and I have been here fifteen minutes, and Sam was here when we came."
The captain looked at his watch. "Well, maybe 'twas a little more'n a minute," he admitted.
Master Bartlett sauntered up to take part in the conversation.
"I got here twenty minutes ago," he observed, grinning, "and you wasn't here then, Cap'n Dan'l. I was wonderin' what had become of ye."
Daniel seized the opportunity to change the subject.
"Anybody been in since you came?" he asked, addressing Sam.
"No, nobody special. Abel Calvin was in to see if you wanted to buy some beach plums for puttin' up. He said he had about a bushel of first-rate ones, just picked."
"Beach plums! What in time would I want of beach plums? I don't put up preserves, do I? Why didn't he go to the house?"
"I asked him that, myself, and he said 'twa'n't no use."
"No use! What did he mean by that?"
"Well, he said—he said—" Sam seemed suddenly to realize that he was getting into deep water; "he said—he said somethin' or other; I guess I've forgot what 'twas."
"I guess you ain't. WHAT did he say?"
"Well, he said—he said Serena—Mrs. Dott, I mean—was probably gallivantin' down to the lodge room by this time. Said 'twa'n't no use tryin' to get her to attend to common things or common folks nowadays; she was too busy tryin' to keep up with Annette Black."
This literal quotation from the frank Mr. Calvin caused a sensation. Captain Dan struggled to find words. His daughter laid a hand on his sleeve.
"Never mind, Dad," she said, soothingly. "You know what Abel Calvin is; you don't mind what he says. Sam, you shouldn't repeat such nonsense. Run away now and attend to your work. I'm sure there's enough for you to do."
"You—you go and clean up the cellar," ordered the irate captain. Sam departed cellarward, muttering that it wasn't his fault; HE hadn't said nothin'. Gertrude spoke again.
"Don't mind that, Dad," she urged. "Why, how warm you are, and how excited you look. What is it? You haven't spoken a word to John."
Her father shook his head. "Mornin', John," he said. "I beg your pardon. I ain't responsible to-day, I shouldn't wonder. I—I've had some news that's drivin' everything else out of my mind."
"News? Why, Dad! what do you mean? Bad news?"
"No, no! Good as ever was, and.... Humph! no, I don't mean that. It is bad news, of course. Your Great-aunt Laviny's dead, Gertie."
He told of the lawyer's letter, omitting for the present the news of the legacy. Gertrude was interested, but not greatly shocked or grieved. She had met her great-aunt but once during her lifetime, and her memory of the deceased was of a stately female, whose earrings and brooches and rings sparkled as if she was on fire in several places; who sat bolt upright at the further end of a hotel room in Boston, and ordered Captain Dan not to bring "that child" any nearer until its hands were washed. As she had been the child and had distinctly disagreeable recollections of the said hands having been washed three times before admittance to the presence, the memory was not too pleasant. She said she was sorry to hear that Aunt Lavinia was no more, and asked when it happened. Her father told what he knew of the circumstances attending the bereavement, which was not much.
"She's gone, anyhow," he said. "It's liable to happen to any of us, bein' cut off that way. We ought to be prepared, I suppose."
"I suppose so. But, Daddy, Aunt Lavinia wasn't cut off exactly, was she? She was your aunt and she must have been quite old."
"Hey? Why, let's see. She was your grandpa's brother's wife, and he—Uncle Jim, I mean—was about four years older than Father. She was three years younger'n he was when he married her. Let's see again. Father—that's your grandpa, Gertie—was sixty-five when he died and... Humph! No, Aunt Laviny was eighty-eight, or thereabouts. She wasn't exactly cut off, was she, come to think of it?"
Gertrude's brown eyes twinkled. "Not exactly—no," she said, gravely. "Well, Daddy, I'm sure I am sorry she has gone, but, considering that she has never deigned to visit us or have us visit her, or even to write you a letter for the past two years, I don't think we should be expected to mourn greatly. And," glancing at him, "I don't understand just what you meant by saying first that the news was good, and then that it was bad. There is something else, isn't there?"
Her father smiled, in an embarrassed way. "Well, ye—es," he admitted, "there is somethin' else, but—but I don't know as I didn't do wrong to feel so good over it. I—I guess I'll tell you by and by, if you don't mind. Maybe then I won't feel—act, I mean—so tickled. It don't seem right that I should be. Let me get sort of used to it first. I'll tell you pretty soon."
His daughter laughed, softly. "I know you will, Dad," she said. "You couldn't keep a secret in that dear old head of yours if you tried. Not from me, anyway; could you, dear?"
"I guess not," regarding her fondly. "Anyhow, I shan't try to keep this one. Well, this time to-morrow you'll be back at college again, in among all those Greek and Latin folks. Wonder she'll condescend to come and talk plain United States to us Cape Codders, ain't it, John."
John Doane admitted that it was a wonder. He seemed to regard Miss Dott as a very wonderful young person altogether. Gertrude glanced up at him, then at her father, and then at the blotter on the desk. She absently played with the pages of the ledger.
"Dad," she said, suddenly, "you are not the only one who has a secret."
The captain turned and looked at her. Her head was bent over the ledger and he could see but the top of a very becoming hat, a stray lock of wavy brown hair, and the curve of a very pretty cheek. The cheek—what he could see of it—was crimson. He looked up at Mr. Doane. That young man's face was crimson also.
"Oh!" said Captain Daniel; and added, "I want to know!"
"Yes, you're not the only one. We—I—there is another secret. Daddy, dear, John wants to talk with you."
The captain looked at Mr. Doane, then at the hat and the face beneath it.
"Oh!" he said, again.
"Yes. I—I—" She rose and, putting her arms about her father's neck, kissed him. "I will be back before long, dear," she whispered, and hurried out. Mr. Doane cleared his throat. Captain Dan waited.
"Well, sir," began the young man, and stopped. The captain continued to wait.
"Well, sir," began Mr. Doane, again, "I—I—" For one who, as Gertrude had declared, wished to talk, he seemed to be finding the operation difficult. "I—Well, sir, the fact is, I have something to say to you."
Captain Dan, who was looking very grave, observed that he "wanted to know." John Doane cleared his throat once more, and took a fresh start.
"Yes, sir," he said, "I have something to say to you—er—something that—that may surprise you."
A faint smile disturbed the gravity of the captain's face.
"May surprise me, hey?" he repeated. "Is that so?"
"Yes. You see, I—Gertie and I—have—are—"
Daniel looked up.
"Hard navigatin', ain't it, John?" he inquired, whimsically. "Maybe I could help you over the shoals. You and Gertie think you'd like to get married sometime or other, I presume likely. Is that what you're tryin' to tell me?"
There was no doubt of it. The young man's face expressed several emotions, relief that the great secret was known, and surprise that anyone should have guessed it.
"Why, yes, sir," he admitted, "that is it. Gertie and I have known each other for years, ever since we were children, in fact; and, you see—you see—" he paused once more, began again, and then broke out impatiently with, "I'm making an awful mess of this. I don't know why."
Captain Dan's smile broadened.
"I made just as bad a one myself, once on a time," he observed. "Just as bad, or worse—and I didn't know why either. There, John, you sit down. Come to anchor alongside here, and let's talk this thing over in comfort."
Mr. Doane "came to anchor" on an empty packing case beside the desk. As he was tall and big, and the box was low and small, the "comfort" was doubtful. However, neither of the pair noticed this at the time.
"So you think you want Gertie, do you, John?" said the captain.
"I know it," was the emphatic answer.
"So. And she thinks she wants you?"
"She says so."
"Humph!" with a sidelong glance. "Think she means it?"
"I'm trying to believe she does."
The tone in which this was uttered caused Captain Dan to chuckle. "'Tis strange, I'll give in," he remarked, drily. "No accountin' for taste, is there—Well," his gravity returning, "I suppose likely you realize that her mother and I think consider'ble of her."
"I realize that thoroughly."
"You don't realize it as much as you will some day, perhaps. Yes, we think Gertie's about right. She's a smart girl and, what's more, she's a good girl, and she's all the child we've got. Of course we've realized that she was growin' up and that—Oh, good mornin', Alphy. Fine weather, ain't it. Lookin' for somethin', was you?"
He hurried out into the store to sell Mrs. Theophilus Berry, known locally as "Alphy Ann," a box of writing paper and a penholder. The transaction completed, he returned to his chair. John Doane, who had recovered, in a measure, from his embarrassment, was ready for him.
"Cap'n Dott," said the young man, "I know how you feel, I think. I know what Gertie is to you and how anxious you and her mother must be concerning her future. If I did not feel certain—practically certain—that I could give her a good home and all that goes with it, I should not have presumed to speak to her, or to you, concerning marriage. My business prospects are good, or I think they are. I—"
The captain held up his hand. "Er—er—John," he said, uneasily, "maybe you'd better tell about that part of it when Serena's around. She's the practical one of us two, I guess, far's money's concerned, anyway. I used to think I was pretty practical when I was on salt water, but—but lately I ain't so sure. I'm afraid—"
He stopped, began to speak again, and then relapsed into silence, seeming to forget his companion altogether. The latter reminded him by saying:
"I shall be glad to tell Mrs. Dott everything, of course. I have been with the firm now employing me for eight years, ever since I left high school. They seem to like me. I have been steadily advanced, my salary is a fairly good one, and in another year I have the promise of a partnership. After that my progress will depend upon myself."
He went on, in a manly, straightforward manner, to speak of his hopes and ambitions. Daniel listened, but the most of what he heard was incomprehensible. Increased output and decreased manufacturing costs were Greek to him. When the young man paused, he brought the conversation back to what, in his mind, was the essential.
"And you're certain sure that you two care enough for each other?" he asked. "Not just care, but care enough?"
"Well, then, I guess I ain't got much to say. There's one thing, though. Gertie's young. She ain't finished her schoolin' yet, and—"
"And you think she should. So do I. She wishes to do it, herself, and I should be the last to prevent her, even if I could. We have agreed that she shall have the final year at college and then come back to you. After that—well, after that, the time of our marriage can be settled. Gertie and I are willing to wait; we expect to. In a few years I shall have a little more money, I hope, and be more sure of success in life. I may never be a rich man, but Gertie's tastes and mine are modest. She does not care for society—"
The captain interrupted. "That's so," he said, hastily, "she don't. She don't care for 'em at all. Her mother has the greatest work to get her to go to lodge meetin's. No, she don't care for societies any more'n I do. Well, John, I—I—it'll come pretty hard to give her up to anybody. Wait till you have a daughter of your own and you'll know how hard. But, if I've got to give her up, I'd rather give her to you than anybody I know. You're a Trumet boy and I've known you all my life, and so's Gertie, for that matter. All I can say is, God bless you and—and take good care of my girl, that's all."
He extended his hand and John seized it. Then the captain coughed, blew his nose with vigor, and, reaching into his pocket, produced two battered cigars.
"Smoke up, John," he said.
At dinner, a meal at which Mrs. Dott, still busy with the lodge room decorations, was not present, Gertrude and her father talked it over.
"It comes kind of hard, Gertie," he admitted, "but, Lord love you, there's a heap of hard things in this world. John's a good fellow and—and, well, we ain't goin' to lose you just yet, anyhow."
Gertrude rose and, coming around the table, put her arms about his neck.
"Indeed you're not, dear," she said. "If I supposed my marriage meant giving you up, I shouldn't think of it."
"Want to know! Wouldn't think of John, either, I suppose, hey?"
"Well, I—I might think of him a little, just a tiny little bit."
"I shouldn't wonder. That's all right. You can't get rid of me so easy. After you two are all settled in your fine new house, I'll be comin' around to disgrace you, puttin' my boots on the furniture and—"
"Won't I? Well, maybe I won't. I cal'late by that time I'll be broke to harness. Your mother's gettin' in with the swells so, lately, Barney Black's wife and the rest, that I'll have to mind my manners. There! let's go into the sittin'-room a few minutes and give Zuba a chance to clear off. Sam's tendin' store and his dinner can wait a spell; judgin' by the time he took for breakfast he hadn't ought to be hungry for the next week."
In the sitting-room they spoke of many things, of Gertrude's departure for school—she was leaving on the three o'clock train—of the engagement, of course, and of the three thousand dollar windfall from Aunt Lavinia. The captain had told that bit of news when they sat down to dinner.
"What is that cousin's name?" asked Gertrude. "The one who inherits all of your aunt's fortune?"
"Let's see. His name? I ought to know it well's I know my own. It's—it's Starvation, or somethin' like that. Somethin' about bein' hungry, anyhow. Hungerford, Percy Hungerford, that's it!"
Gertrude looked surprised.
"Not Percy Hungerford—of Scarford!" she cried. "What sort of a man is he? What does he look like?"
"Looked like a picked chicken, last time I saw him. Kind of a spindlin' little critter, with sandy complexion and hair, but dressed—my soul! there wasn't any picked chicken look about his clothes."
Gertrude nodded. "I believe it is the same one," she said. "Yes, I am sure of it. He came out to the college at one of our commencements. One of the girls invited him. He danced with me—once. They said he was very wealthy."
"Humph! All the wealth he had come from Aunt Laviny, far's I ever heard. He was her pet and the only thing she ever spent money on, except herself. And you met him! Well, this is a small world. Like him, did you?"
"No," said Gertrude, and changed the subject.
Before her father departed for the store and she went to her room to finish packing, she sat upon the arm of his chair and, bending down, said:
"Daddy, if you hadn't got this money, this three thousand dollars, do you know what I had very nearly made up my mind to do?"
"No, I'm sure I don't."
"I had almost decided not to stay at college, but to come back here and live with you and mother."
"For the land sakes! Why?"
"Because I was sure you needed me. You never told me, of course—being you, you wouldn't—but I was sure that you were troubled about—about things."
"Me? Troubled? What put that into your head? I'm the most gay, happy-go-lucky fellow in the world. I don't get troubled enough. Ask your mother if that ain't so."
"I shall not ask anybody but you. Tell me truly: Weren't you troubled; about the business, and the store? Truly, now."
Captain Dan rubbed his chin. He wished very much to deny the allegation, or at least to dodge the truth. But he was a poor prevaricator at any time, and his daughter was looking him straight in the eye.
"Well," he faltered, "I—I—How in time did you guess that? I—Humph! why, yes, I was a little mite upset. You see, trade ain't been first rate this summer, and collections were awful slow. I hate to drive folks, especially when I know they're hard up. I was a little worried, but it's all right now. Aunt Laviny's three thousand fixed that all right. It'll carry me along like a full sail breeze. You go back to school, like a sensible girl, and don't you worry a mite. It's all right now, Gertie."
"Honest to Betsy!" with an emphatic nod.
He meant it; he really thought it was all right. The fact that he owed a thousand already and that the remaining two would almost certainly be swept into the capacious maw of the Metropolitan Store did not occur to him then. Daniel Dott was a failure as a business man but as an optimist he was a huge success.
"Then you're sure you can afford to have me go back for my last year?"
"Course I am. I couldn't afford to do anything else."
His absolute certainty stifled his daughter's doubts for the time, but she asked another question.
"And there's nothing that troubles you at all?"
"No-o." The captain's answer was not quite as emphatic this time. Gertrude smiled, and patted his shoulder.
"Daddy, dear," she said, "you're as transparent as a window pane, aren't you. Well, don't worry any more. That will be all right pretty soon, too. Mrs. Black doesn't stay in Trumet all the year."
Her father gasped. That this child of his, whom he had always regarded as a child, should dive into the recesses of his soul and drag to light its most secret misgivings was amazing.
"What on earth?" he demanded.
"You know what I mean. I'm not blind. I can see. Mother is just a little carried away. She has heard so much about big houses and servants and society and woman's opportunity, and all the rest of it, that she has been swept off her feet. But it won't last, I'm sure. She isn't really discontented; she only thinks she is."
Daniel sighed. "I know," he said. "Fact is, I ain't up-to-date enough, myself, that's what's the matter. She's a mighty able, ambitious woman, your mother is, Gertie, and I don't wonder she gets to thinkin', sometimes, that Trumet is a kind of one-horse town. I like it; I AM one-horse, I suppose. But she ain't, and she ain't satisfied to be satisfied, like me. It's a good thing she ain't, I guess. Somebody's got to live up to the responsibilities of life, and—"
Gertrude laughed. "She said that, didn't she," she interrupted.
"Why, yes, she did. She says it every once in a while. How did you know?"
"I guessed. And I imagine Mrs. Phelps Black said it first. But there, Dad, be patient and.... Sh-sh! here's Mother now."
It was Serena, sure enough, breathless from hurrying, her hat a bit on one side, one glove off and the other on, but full of energy and impatience.
"I suppose you've had dinner," she exclaimed. "Well, all right, I don't care. I couldn't help being late, there was so much to do at the lodge rooms and nobody to do it right, except me. If Mrs. Black hadn't helped and superintended and—and everything, I don't know where we should have been. And those visiting delegates from Boston coming! I must get a bite and hurry back. Where's Azuba? Azuba!"
She was rushing in the direction of the kitchen, but her husband detained her.
"Hold on, Serena," he shouted. "Goin' back! What do you mean? You ain't goin' back to that lodge this afternoon, are you? Why, Gertie's goin' on the up-train!"
"I know, but I must go back, Daniel. Goodness knows what would happen if I didn't. If you had seen some of the decorations those other women wanted to put up, you would think it was necessary for someone with respectable taste to be there. Why, Sophronia Smalley actually would have draped the presiding officer's desk—MY desk—with a blue flag with a white whale on it, if I hadn't been there to stop her."
"Well, I—Why, Serena, you know Sophrony thinks a sight of that flag. Simeon Smalley, her father, was in the whalin' trade for years, and that flag was his private signal. She always has that flag up somewhere."
"Well, she shan't have it on my desk. Annette—Mrs. Black, I mean—said it was ridiculous. If such a thing happened in Scarford the audience would have hysterics. Would you want your wife to make a spectacle of herself, before those Boston delegates, standing behind a white whale, and a dirty white at that! Gertie, I shall be at the depot to say good by, but I must be at that lodge room first. I MUST. You understand, don't you?"
Gertrude said she understood perfectly and her mother hurried to the kitchen, where she ate lukewarm fried fish and apple pie, while Azuba washed the dishes and prophesied darkly concerning "dyspepsy." Gertrude went to her room to put the last few things in her trunks, and Captain Dan returned to the store, where he found the Bartlett boy pacifying a gnawing appetite with chocolate creams abstracted from stock.
At a quarter to three the captain was at the railway station, where he was joined by John Doane, who, his vacation over, was returning to Boston. After a five-minute wait Serena and Gertrude appeared. The latter had called at the lodge room for her mother and, during the walk to the station, had broken the news of her engagement.
Serena was not surprised, of course; she, like everyone else, had expected it, and she liked John. But she was a good deal agitated and even the portentous business of the lodge meeting was driven from her mind. She and Mr. Doane shook hands, but the young man felt very much like a thief, and a particularly mean sort of thief, as young men are likely to feel under such circumstances. Farewells were harder to say than usual, although Gertrude tried her best to seem cheerful, and the captain swallowed the lump in his throat and smiled and joked in a ghastly fashion all through the ceremony. Just before the train started, his daughter led him to one side and whispered:
"Now, Daddy, remember—you are not to worry. And, if you need me at any time, you will tell me so, and I shall surely come. You'll promise, won't you? And you will write at least once a week?"
The captain made both promises. They kissed, Serena and Gertrude exchanged hugs, and John Doane solemnly shook hands once more. Then the train moved away from the station.
Daniel and Serena walked homeward, Mrs. Dott wiping her eyes with a damp handkerchief, and her husband very grave and silent. As they passed the lodge building the lady said:
"I ought to go right back in there again. I ought to, but I just can't, not now. I—I want to be with you, Daniel, a time like this."
"Goodness knows I want you, Serena; but—but for mercy sakes don't call it a 'time like this.' Sounds as if we'd just come from the cemetery instead of the depot. We ain't been to a funeral; we're only lookin' for'ard to a weddin'."
In spite of this philosophical declaration the remainder of that afternoon was rather funereal for Captain Dan. He moped about the store, waiting half-heartedly upon the few customers who happened in, and the ring of the supper bell was welcome, as it promised some company other than his thoughts.
But the promise was not fulfilled. He ate his supper alone. Mrs. Dott had gone back to the lodge room, so Azuba said.
"I don't think she was intendin' to," remarked the latter, confidentially. "She said she guessed she'd 'lay down a spell'; said she was 'kind of tired.' But afore she got upstairs scarcely, along comes that Black automobile with that Irish 'shover man'—that's what they call 'em, ain't it?—drivin' it and her in the back seat, and he gets out and comes and rings the front door bell, and when I answer it—had my hands all plastered up with dough, I did, for I was makin' pie, and it took me the longest time to get 'em clean—when I answered it he said that she said she wanted to see her and—"
"Here! hold on, Zuba!" interrupted her bewildered employer. "'Vast heavin' a second, will you? You ought to run that yarn of yours through a sieve and strain some of the 'hes' and 'shes' out of it. 'He said that she said she wanted to see her.' Who wanted to see what?"
"Why, Barney Black's wife. She wanted to see Serena. So in she came, all rigged up in her best clothes and—"
"How do you know they were her best ones?"
"Hey? Well, they would have been MY best ones, if I owned 'em, I tell you that. I never see such clothes as that woman has! All trimmin' and flounces and didos, and—"
"Hi! steady there, Zuba. Keep your eye on the compass. You're gettin' off the course again. Annette—Mrs. Black, I mean—came to see Mrs. Dott; that's plain sailin' so far. What happened after that?"
"Why, they went off together in the automobile and Serena said to tell you she had to go to lodge, and she'd be back when she could and not to wait supper. That's all I know."
The captain finished his lonely meal and returned to the store, where he found Abel Blount's wife and their twin boys, aged eight, waiting to negotiate for rubber boots. The boots were for the boys, but Mrs. Blount did the buying and it was a long and talky process. At last, however, the youngsters were fitted and clumped proudly away, bearing their leather shoes in their hands. It was a dry evening, but to separate the twins from those rubber boots would have been next door to an impossibility.
"There!" exclaimed the lady, as she bade the captain good night, "that's done; that much is settled anyhow. I'm thankful I ain't got four twins, instead of two, Cap'n Dott."
Daniel, entering the sale in the ledger, was thankful also. If the lengthy Blount account had been settled he would have been still more so.
At nine o'clock he and Sam locked up, extinguished the lamps, and closed the Metropolitan Store for the night. Crossing the yard to the house, which he entered by the front door, he found Serena in the sitting-room. She was reclining upon the couch. She was tired, and out of sorts.
"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed, acknowledging her husband's greeting with a nod, "I am just about worn out, Daniel."
"I should think you would be, Serena. You've been makin' tracks between here and that lodge room all to-day and yesterday, too. I should think you'd be about dead."
"It isn't that. I don't mind the work. It's the thanklessness of it all that breaks me down. I give my time and effort to help the lodge, and what does it amount to?"
"Well, I—I give in that it don't seem to me to amount to much, 'cordin' to my figurin'. I don't care much for lodge meetin's and sociables and such, myself. I'd rather have one evenin' at home with you than the whole cargo of 'em."
This statement was frank, but it was decidedly undiplomatic. Serena sniffed contempt.
"Of course you would!" she said. "I don't get a bit of encouragement here at home, either. I should think you'd be proud to have your wife the head of the Chapter, presiding at meetings and welcoming the visiting delegates and—and all."
"I am," hastily. "I'm proud of you, Serena. Always have been, far's that goes. But I'm just as proud of you here in this sittin'-room as I am when you're back of that pulpit, poundin' with your mallet and tellin' Alphy Ann Berry to 'come to order.' Notwithstanding that you're the only one can make her come—or go, either—unless she takes a notion. Why," with a chuckle, "it takes her husband half an hour to make her go home after meetin's over."
Mrs. Dott did not chuckle.
"You think it's a joke," she said. "I don't. It is the Berry woman and her kind that make me disgusted. I'm tired of them all. I'm tired of Trumet. I wish we were somewhere where I had an opportunity; somewhere where I might be appreciated."
"I appreciate you, Serena."
Serena ignored the remark. "I wish we had never settled here," she went on. "I'd leave in a minute, if I could. I'd like to be in with nice people, cultivated people, intelligent, up-to-date society, where I could have a chance to go on and be somebody. I'd like to be a leader. I could be. Annette says I would be in a city like Scarford. She says I 'have the faculty of the born leader.' All I lack is the opportunity."
Her husband sighed. He had heard all this before. Inwardly he wished Mrs. Black at Scarford, or China, or anywhere, provided it was not Trumet.
His wife heard the sigh. "There, Daniel," she said; "I won't be complaining. I try not to be. But," she hesitated, "there is one thing I'd like to ask, now that we've got your Aunt Lavinia's three thousand: Don't you suppose I could have some new clothes; I need at least two dresses right away."
"Why—why, I guess likely you could, Serena. Yes, course you can. You go see Sarah Loveland right off."
Miss Loveland was the Trumet dressmaker. At the mention of her name Serena shook her head.
"I don't want Sarah to make them, Daniel," she said. "Mrs. Black says the things she makes are awful old-fashioned; 'country,' she calls them."
Daniel snorted. "I want to know!" he exclaimed. "Well, I remember her husband when his ma used to make his clothes out of his dad's old ones. I don't know whether they was 'country' or not, but they were the dumdest things ever I saw. Country, huh! Scarford ain't any Paris, is it? I never heard it was."
"Well, it isn't Trumet. No, Daniel, if we could afford it, I'd like to have these dresses made up in Boston, where Gertie gets hers. Mrs. Black often speaks of Gertie's gowns; she says they are remarkably stylish, considering."
"CONSIDERIN'! What does she mean by that?"
"Don't be cross. I suppose she meant considering that they were not as expensive as her own. DO you suppose I could go to that Boston dressmaker, Daniel?"
Captain Dan's reply was slow in coming. He hated to say no; in fact, he said it so seldom that he scarcely knew how. So he temporized.
"Well, Serena," he began, "I—I'd like to have you; you know that. If 'twasn't for the cost I wouldn't hesitate a minute."
"But we have that three thousand dollars."
"Well, we ain't got all of it. Or we shan't have it long. I was footin' up what I owed—what the store owes, I mean—just now, and it come to a pretty high figure. Over twelve hundred, it was. That's GOT to be paid. Then there's Gertie's schoolin' and her board. Course, I never tell her we ain't so well off as we were. You and I agreed she shouldn't know. But it takes a lot of money and—"
Mrs. Dott sat up on the couch. Her eyes snapped. "Oh!" she cried; "money! money! money! It's always money! If only just once I had all the money I wanted, I should be perfectly happy. If I wouldn't GO IT!"
Steps sounded on the front porch, and the patent door bell clicked and clanged.
Next morning an astonishing rumor began to circulate through Trumet. It spread with remarkable quickness, and, as it spread, it grew. The Dotts had inherited money! The Dotts were rich! The Dotts were millionaires! Captain Daniel's brother had died and left him fifty thousand dollars! His brother's wife had died and left him a hundred thousand! It was not his brother's wife, but Serena's uncle who had died, and the inheritance was two hundred and fifty thousand at least. By the time the story reached Trumet Neck it seemed to be fairly certain that all the Dott relatives on both sides of the house had passed away, leaving the sole survivors of the family all the money and property in the world, with a few trifling exceptions.
Captain Dan, coming in for dinner,—one must eat, or try to eat, even though the realities of life have been blown away, and one is moving in a sort of dream, with the fear of awakening always present—Captain Dan, coming into the house for dinner, expressed his opinion of Trumet gossip mongers.
"My heavens and earth, Serena!" he cried, sinking into his chair at the table, "am I me, or somebody else? Do I know what I'm doin' or what's happened to me, or don't I?"
Serena, a transformed, flushed, excited Serena, beamed at him across the table.
"I should hope you did, Daniel," she answered.
"Well, if I do, then nobody else does, and if THEY do, I don't. I've heard of more dead relations this forenoon than I ever had alive. And yarns about 'em! and about you and me! My soul and body! Say, did you know you had a cousin-in-law in Californy?"
"I? In California? Nonsense!"
"No nonsense about it. You had one and he was a lunatic or a epileptic or an epizootic or somethin', and lived in a hospital or a palace or a jail, and he was worth four millions or forty, I forget which, and fell out of an automobile or out of a balloon or out of bed—anyhow, it killed him—and—"
"Daniel Dott! DON'T talk so idiotic!"
"Humph! that's nothin' to the idiocy that's been talked to me this forenoon. I've done nothin' for the last hour but say 'No' to folks that come tearin' in to unload lies and ask questions. And some of 'em was people you'd expect to have common sense, too. My head's kind of wobbly this mornin', after the shock that hit it last night, but it's a regular Dan'l Webster's alongside the general run of heads in this town. Aunt Laviny's will has turned Trumet into an asylum, and the patients are all runnin' loose."
"But WHAT foolishness was that about a cousin in California?"
"'Twa'n't foolishness, I tell you. You ask any one of a dozen folks you meet outside the post-office now, and they'll all tell you you had one. They might not agree whether 'twas a cousin or a grandmother or a step-child, or whether it lived in Californy or the Cape of Good Hope, but they all know it's dead now, and we've got anywheres from a postage stamp to a hogshead of diamonds. Serena, if you hear yells for help this afternoon, don't pay any attention. It'll only mean that my patience has run out and I'm tryin' to make this community short one devilish fool at least. There'll be enough left; he'll never be missed."
"Daniel, I never saw you so worked up. You must expect people to be excited. I'm excited myself."
The captain wiped his forehead with his napkin. "I ain't exactly a graven image, now that you mention it," he admitted. "But you and I have got some excuse and they ain't. Haven't they been in to see you; or did you lock the doors?"
"I have had callers, of course. Mrs. Berry was here, and Mrs. Tripp, and the Cahoon girls, and Issachar Eldredge's wife. The first four pretended they came on lodge business, and the Eldredge woman to get my recipe for chocolate doughnuts; but, of course, I knew what they really came for. Daniel, HOW do you suppose the news got out so soon? I didn't tell a soul and you promised you wouldn't."
"I didn't, neither. Probably that lawyer man dropped a hint down at the Manonquit House, and that set things goin'. Just heave over one seed of a yarn in most any hotel or boardin' house and you'll have a crop of lies next mornin' that would load a three-master. They come up in the night, like toadstools."
"But you didn't tell anyone how much your Aunt Lavinia left us?"
"You bet I didn't. I told 'em I didn't know yet. I was cal'latin' to hire a couple of dozen men and a boy to count it, and soon's the job was finished I'd get out a proclamation. What did you tell your gang?"
"I simply said," Serena unconsciously drew herself up and spoke with a gracious dignity; "I said they might quote me as saying it was NOT a million."
Azuba entered from the kitchen, heaving a steaming platter.
"There!" she exclaimed, setting the dish before her employers; "I don't know as clam fritters are what rich folks ought to eat, but I done the best I could. I'm so shook up and trembly this day it's a mercy I didn't fry the platter."
Yes, something had happened to the Dotts, something vastly more wonderful and surprising than falling heir to three thousand dollars and a silver tea-pot. When Captain Daniel shut up the Metropolitan Store the previous evening and started for the house, the bearer of the great news was on his way from the Manonquit House, where he had had supper. When Serena bewailed her fate and expressed a desire for an opportunity, he was almost at the front gate, and the ring of the bell which interrupted her conversation with her husband was the signal that Opportunity, in the person of Mr. Glenn Farwell, Junior, newest member of the firm of Shepley and Farwell, attorneys, of Boston, was at the door.
Mr. Farwell was spruce and brisk and businesslike; also he was young, a fact which he tried to conceal by a rather feeble beard, and much professional dignity of manner and expression. Occasionally, in the heat of conversation, he forgot the dignity; the beard he never forgot. Shown into the Dott sitting-room by Azuba, who, as usual, had neglected to remove her kitchen apron, he bowed politely and inquired if he had the pleasure of addressing Captain and Mrs. Daniel Abner Dott. The captain assured him that he had. Serena was too busy glaring at the apron and its wearer to remember etiquette.
"Won't you—won't you sit down, Mr. er—er—" began the captain.
Mr. Farwell introduced himself, and sat down, as requested. After a glance about the room, which took in the upright piano—purchased second-hand when Gertrude first began her music lessons—the what-not, with its array of shells, corals, miniature ships in bottles, and West Indian curiosities, and the crayon enlargement over the mantel of Captain Solon Dott, Daniel's grandfather, he proceeded directly to business.
"Captain Dott," he said, addressing that gentleman, but bowing politely to Serena to indicate that she was included in the question, "you received a letter from our firm about a week ago, did you not?"
Captain Dan, who had scarcely recovered from his surprise at his caller's identity, shook his head. "As a matter of fact," he stammered, "I—I only got it to-day. It came all right, that is, it got as far as the post-office, but the postmaster, he handed it over to Balaam Hamilton, to bring to me. Well, Balaam is—well, his underpinnin's all right; he wears a number eleven shoe—but his top riggin' is kind of lackin' in spots. You'd understand if you knew him. He put the letter in his pocket and—"
"Mercy!" cut in Serena, impatiently, "what do you suppose Mr. Farwell cares about Balaam Hamilton? He forgot the letter, Mr. Farwell, and we only got it this morning. That is why it hasn't been answered. What about the letter?"
The visitor did not answer directly. "I see," he said. "That letter informed you that Mrs. Lavinia Dott—your aunt, Captain,—was dead, and that we, her legal representatives, having, as we supposed, her will in our possession, and being in charge of her affairs—"
Mrs. Dott interrupted. Her excitement had been growing ever since she learned the visitor's name and, although her husband did not notice the peculiar phrasing of the lawyer's sentence, she did.
"As you supposed?" she repeated. "You did have the will, didn't you?"
"We had a will, one which Mrs. Dott drew some eight or nine years ago. But we received word from Italy only yesterday that there was another, a much more recent one, which superseded the one in our possession. Of course, that being the case, the bequests in the former were not binding upon the estate. That is to say, our will was not a will at all."
Serena gasped. She looked at her husband, and he at her.
"Then we—then she didn't leave us the three thousand dollars?" she cried.
"Or—or the tea-pot?" faltered Captain Dan.
Mr. Farwell smiled. He was having considerable fun out of the situation. However, it would not do to keep possibly profitable clients in suspense too long, so he broke the news he had journeyed from Boston to impart.
"She left you a great deal more than that," he said. "In the former will, her cousin, Mr. Percy Hungerford of Scarford, was the principal legatee. He was a favorite of hers, I believe, and she left the bulk of her property—some hundred and twenty thousand dollars in securities, and her estate at Scarford—to him. But last February it appears that he and she had a falling out. He—Mr. Hungerford—is, so I am told, a good deal of a sport—ahem! that is, he is a young gentleman of fashionable and expensive tastes, and he wrote his aunt, asking for money, rather frequently. The February letter reached her when she was grouchy—er—not well, I mean, and she changed her will, practically disinheriting him. Under the new will he receives twenty thousand dollars in cash. The balance—" Mr. Farwell, who, during this long statement, had interspersed legal dignity of term with an occasional lapse into youthful idiom, now spoke with impressive solemnity,—"the balance," he said, "one hundred thousand in money and securities, and the house at Scarford, which is valued, I believe, at thirty-five thousand more, she leaves to you, as her only other relative, Captain Dott. I am here to congratulate you and to offer you my services and those of the firm, should you desire legal advice."
Having sprung his surprise, Mr. Farwell leaned back in his chair to enjoy the effect of the explosion. The first effect appeared to be the complete stupefaction of his hearers. Those which followed were characteristic.
"My soul and body!" gasped Captain Dan. "I—I—my land of love! And only this mornin' I was scared I couldn't pay my store bills!"
"A hundred thousand dollars!" cried Serena. "And that beautiful house at Scarford! OURS! Oh! oh! oh!"
Mr. Farwell crossed his knees. "A very handsome little windfall," he observed, with condescension.
"We get a hundred thousand!" murmured the captain. "My! I wish Father was alive to know about it. But, say, it's kind of rough on that young Hungerford, after expectin' so much, ain't it now!"
"A hundred thousand!" breathed his wife, her hands clasped. "And that lovely house! Why, we could move to Scarford to-morrow if we wanted to! Yes, and live there! Oh—oh, Daniel! I—I don't know why I'm doing it, but I—I believe I'm going to cry."
Her husband rushed over to the couch and threw his arm about her shoulder.
"Go ahead, old lady," he commanded. "Cry, if you want to. I—I'm goin' to do SOMETHIN' darn ridiculous, myself!"
Thus it was that Fortune and Opportunity came to the Dott door, and it was the news of the visitation, distorted and exaggerated, which set all Trumet by the ears next day.
Azuba's clam fritters were neglected that noon, just as breakfast had been. Neither Captain Dan nor his wife had slept, and they could not eat. They pretended to, they even tried to, but one or the other was certain to break out with an exclamation or a wondering surmise, and the meal was, as the captain said, "all talk and no substantials." They had scarcely risen from the table when the doorbell rang.
Azuba heard it and made her entrance from the kitchen. She had remembered this time to shed the offending apron, but she carried it in her hand.
"I'm a-goin'," she declared; "I'm a-goin', soon's ever I can."
She started for the sitting-room, but the captain stepped in front of her.
"You stay right where you are," he ordered. "I'll answer that bell myself this time."
"Daniel," cried his wife, "what are you going to do?"
"Do? I'm goin' to head off some more fools, that's what I'm goin' to do. They shan't get in here to pester you to death with questions, not if I can help it."
"But, Daniel, you mustn't. You don't know who it may be."
"I don't care."
"Oh, dear me! What are you going to say? You mustn't insult people."
"I shan't insult 'em. I'll tell 'em—I'll tell 'em you're sick and can't see anybody."
"But I'm not sick."
"Then, I am," said Captain Dan. "They make me sick. Shut up, will you?" addressing the bell, which had rung the second time. "I'll come when I get ready."
He seemed to be quite ready that very moment. At all events he strode from the room, and his anxious wife and the flushed Azuba heard him tramping through the front hall.
"What—WHAT is he going to do?" faltered Serena; "or say?"
Azuba shook her head. "Land knows!" she exclaimed. "I ain't seen him this way since the weasel got into the hen-house. He went for THAT with the hoe-handle. And as for what he said! Well, don't talk to ME!"
But no riot or verbal explosion followed the opening of the door. The anxious listeners in the dining-room heard voices, but they were subdued ones. A moment later Captain Dan returned. He looked troubled.
"It's Barney Black and his wife," he answered, in a whisper. "I couldn't tell THEM to go to thunder. They're in the front room, waitin'. I suppose we'll have to see 'em, won't we?"
Mrs. Dott was hurriedly shaking the wrinkles out of her gown and patting her hair into presentable shape.
"See 'em!" she repeated. "Of course we'll see them. I declare! I think it's real kind of 'em to call. Daniel, do fix your necktie. It's way round under your ear."
They entered the parlor, Serena, outwardly calm, in the lead and her husband following, and tugging at the refractory tie.
Mrs. and Mr. Black—scanning them in the order of their importance—rose as they appeared. Mrs. Black was large and impressive, and gorgeous to view. She did not look her age. Her husband was not as tall as his wife, and did not look his height. Annette swept forward.
"Oh, my dear Mrs. Dott," she gushed, taking Serena's hand in her own gloved one. "We've just heard the news, Phelps and I, and we couldn't resist dropping in to congratulate you. Isn't it wonderful!"
Serena admitted that it was wonderful. "We can hardly believe it yet, ourselves," she said. "But it was real nice of you to come. Do sit down again, won't you? Daniel, get Mr. Black a chair."
Captain Dan and Mr. Black shook hands. "Sit down anywhere, Barney," said the former. "Anywhere but that rocker, I mean; that's got a squeak in the leg."
Mr. Black, who had headed for the rocker, changed his course and sank into an arm chair. The shudder with which his wife heard the word "Barney," and the glare with which Serena favored her husband, were entirely lost upon the latter.
"We had that rocker up in the attic till last month," he observed; "but Serena found out 'twas an antique, and antiques seem to be all the go now-a-days, though you do have to be careful of 'em. I suppose it's all right. We'll be antiques ourselves before many years, and we'll want folks to be careful of us. Hey? Ha! ha! ... Why, what's the matter, Serena?"
Mrs. Dott replied, rather sharply, that "nothing was the matter."
"The rocker isn't very strong," she explained, addressing Mrs. Black. "But it belonged to my great—that is, it has been in our family for a good many years and we think a great deal of it."
Mrs. Black condescendingly expressed her opinion that the rocker was a "dear."
"I love old-fashioned things," she said. "So does Mr. Black. Don't you, Phelps?"
"Yes," replied that gentleman. His love did not appear to be over-enthusiastic.
"But do tell us about your little legacy," went on the lady. "Of course we have heard all sorts of ridiculous stories, but we know better than to believe them. Why, we even heard that you were worth a million. Naturally, THAT was absurd, wasn't it? Ha! ha!"
Captain Dan opened his mouth to reply, but his wife flashed a glance in his direction, and he closed it again.
"Yes," said Serena, addressing Mrs. Black, "that was absurd, of course."
"So I told Phelps. I said that the way in which these country people exaggerated such things was too funny for anything. Why, we heard that your cousin had died—that is, I heard it was a cousin; Phelps heard it was an uncle. An uncle was what you heard, wasn't it, Phelps?"
"Yes," said Phelps. It was his second contribution to the conversation.
"So," went on Mrs. Black, "we didn't know which it was."
She paused, smilingly expectant. Again Captain Dan started to speak, and again a look from his wife caused him to change his mind. Before he had quite recovered, Mrs. Black, who may have noticed the look, had turned to him.
"Wasn't it funny!" she gushed. "I don't wonder you laugh. Here was I saying it was a cousin and Phelps declaring it was an uncle. It was so odd and SO like this funny little town. Do tell us; which was it, really, Captain Dott?"
Daniel, staggering before this point blank attack, hesitated. "Why," he stammered, "it was—it was—" He looked appealingly at Serena.
"Why don't you answer Mrs. Black?" inquired his wife, rather sharply.
"It was my Aunt Laviny," said the captain.
Mrs. Black nodded and smiled.
"Oh! your aunt!" she exclaimed. "There! isn't that funny! And SO characteristic of Trumet. Neither an uncle nor a cousin, but an aunt. What did you say her name was?"
"Yes, I know. Laviny—what an odd name! I don't think I ever heard it before. Was the rest of it as odd as that?"
Serena, who had been fidgeting in her chair, cut in here.
"It wasn't Laviny at all," she said. "That is only Daniel's way of pronouncing it. It is what he used to call her when he was a child. A—a sort of pet name, you know."
"Why, Serena! how you talk! She never had any pet name, far's I ever heard. You might as well give a pet name to the Queen of Sheba. She—"
"Hush! it doesn't make any difference. Her name, Mrs. Black, was Lavinia. She was Mrs. Lavinia Dott, and her husband was James Dott, Daniel's father's brother. I shouldn't wonder if you knew her. She has spent most of her time in Europe lately, but her home, her American home, was where you live, in Scarford."
This statement caused a marked sensation. Mrs. Black gasped audibly, and leaned back in her chair. B. Phelps evinced his first sign of interest.
"What!" he exclaimed. "Mrs. Lavinia Dott, of Scarford? You don't say! Why, of course we knew her; that is, we knew who she was. Everybody in Scarford did. Her place is one of the finest in town."
Serena bowed. Life, for her, had not offered many sweeter moments than this.
"Yes," she said, calmly, "so we understand. The place—er—that is, the estate—is a PART—" she emphasized the word—"a PART of what she left to my husband."
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Mr. Black. His wife said nothing, but her face was a study.
Captain Dan crossed his knees.
"I remember seein' that place after Uncle Jim first built it," he observed, reminiscently. "I tell you it looked big enough to me! I was only a young feller, just begun goin' to sea, and that house looked big as a town hall, you might say. Ho! ho! when I got inside and was sittin' in the front parlor, I declare I was all feet and hands! didn't know what to do with 'em.... Hey? did you speak, Serena?"
"I was only going to say," replied his wife, "that that was a good while ago, of course. You have been about the world and seen a great deal since. Things look different after we grow up, don't they, Mrs. Black?"
Annette's composure, a portion of it, had returned by this time. Nevertheless, there was an odd note in her voice.
"They do, indeed," she said. "I remember the Dott house, of course. It was very fine, I believe, in its day."
Her husband interrupted. "In its day!" he repeated. "Humph! there's nothing the matter with it now, that I can see. I wish I had as good. Why—"
"Phelps!" snapped Annette, "don't be silly. Mrs. Dott understands what I meant to say. The place is very nice, very attractive, indeed. Perhaps some might think it a bit old-fashioned, but that is a matter of taste."
"Humph! it's on the best street in town. As for being old-fashioned—I thought you just said you loved old-fashioned things. That's what she said, wasn't it, Dan?"
Mrs. Black's gloved fingers twitched, but she ignored the remark entirely. Daniel, too, did not answer, although he smiled in an uncertain fashion. It was Serena who spoke.
"I haven't any doubt it is lovely," she said. "We're just dying to see it, Daniel and I. I hope you can be with us when we do, Mrs. Black. You might suggest some improvements, you know."
"Improvements!" the visitor repeated the word involuntarily. "Improvements! You're not going to LIVE there, are you?"
"I don't know. We may. Now, Daniel, don't argue. You know we haven't made up our minds yet what we shall do. And Scarford is a beautiful city. Mrs. Black has told us so ever so many times. What were you going to say, Mrs. Black?"
The lady addressed looked as if she would like to say several things, particularly to her husband, who was grinning maliciously. But what she did was to smile, a smile of gracious sweetness, and agree that Scarford was beautiful.
"And so is the place, my dear Mrs. Dott," she added. "A very charming, quaint old house. But—you'll excuse my saying so, won't you; you know Phelps and I have had some experience in keeping up a city estate—don't you think it might prove rather expensive for you to maintain?"
Serena's armor was not even dented. "Oh," she said, lightly, "that wouldn't trouble us, I'm sure. Really, we've hardly thought of the expense. The Scarford place wasn't ALL that Aunt Lavinia left us, Mrs. Black."
"Indeed!" rather feebly, "wasn't it?"
"My goodness, no! But there! I mustn't talk about ourselves and our affairs any more. Have you seen the lodge rooms to-day? I must find time to run down there this afternoon for a last look around. I want this open meeting to go off nicely. Who knows—well, I may not have the care of the next one."
Azuba appeared in the doorway.
"The minister and his wife's comin'," she announced.
Mrs. Dott turned.
"The minister and his wife?" she repeated. "The bell hasn't rung, has it? How do you know they're coming here?"
"See 'em through the window," replied Azuba, cheerfully. "They was at the gate quite a spell. She was gettin' her hat straight, and he was helpin' her. Here they be," as the callers' footsteps sounded on the porch. "Shall I let 'em in?"
"Let them in! Why, of course! Why shouldn't you let them in?"
"Well, I didn't know. The way the cap'n was talkin' when you was havin' dinner, I thought—oh, that reminds me," addressing the horror stricken Daniel, "Sam was in just now and wanted you to come right out to the store. Ezra Taylor's there and he wants another pair of them checkered overalls, same as he had afore."
That evening when, having closed the Metropolitan Store at an early hour, the captain and his wife were on their way to the lodge meeting, Daniel voiced a feeling of perplexity which had disturbed his mind ever since the Blacks' call.
"Say, Serena," he asked, "ain't you and Barney Black's wife friends any more?"
"Why, of course we're friends. What a question that is."
"Humph! didn't seem to me you acted much like friends this afternoon. Slappin' each other back and forth—"
"Slappin' each other! Have you lost your brains altogether? What DO you mean?"
"I don't mean slappin' each other side of the head. 'Tain't likely I meant that. But the way you talked to each other—and the way you looked. And when 'twa'n't her it was me. She as much as asked you four or five times who it was that had died and you wouldn't tell, so, of course, I supposed you didn't want to. And yet, when she asked me and I was backin' and fillin', tryin' to get off the shoals, you barked out why didn't I 'answer her'? That may be sense, but I don't see it, myself."