JESS OF THE REBEL TRAIL
H. A. CODY
AUTHOR OF "THE FRONTIERSMAN," "THE LONG PATROL," "THE CHIEF OF THE RANGES," "THE FOURTH WATCH," "GLEN OF THE HIGH NORTH," ETC.
McCLELLAND AND STEWART
PUBLISHERS : : TORONTO
BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
MY UNCLE AND NAMESAKE
Long Since Passed Within the Vail
This Book is Dedicated
In Grateful and Loving Remembrance
I THE HOLD-UP II REBELLION III THE "EB AN' FLO" IV UNDER COVER V CAPTAIN SAMUEL GOES SHOPPING VI EBEN MAKES A DISCOVERY VII GIVING MARTHA THE GO-BY VIII WHAT THE COW DID IX MARTHA TAKES A HAND X UNWELCOME VISITORS XI IN PERIL OF DEATH XII CORNERED XIII A TRICKY PASSENGER XIV ANOTHER VICTIM XV TWO WOMEN'S TROUBLES XVI MORE THAN A DREAM XVII CAPTAIN SAM'L GOES HOME XVIII HARD LUCK XIX THE CAPTAIN GIVES ADVICE XX MRS. GRIMSBY'S MISSION XXI EBEN COMES ASHORE XXII ON THE REBEL TRAIL XXIII STRAIGHT TALK XXIV EBEN ATTENDS TO GRIMSBY XXV THE FOREST FIRE XXVI IN THE RING OF DEATH XXVII IN THE NICK OF TIME XXVIII IN URGENT NEED XXIX CONFESSION XXX JOY AT EVENTIDE
"I have no other but a woman's reason; I think him so, because I think him so."
"When all other rights are taken away, the right of rebellion is made perfect."
"Women are never stronger than when they arm themselves with their weakness."
MADAME DU DEFFAND
JESS OF THE REBEL TRAIL
The glowing coals in the spacious grate seemed to fascinate the woman as she sat huddled in a big luxurious chair. The book she had been reading was lying open and unheeded on her lap. Her surroundings were by no means in keeping with her dejected manner. The room was cosy and lavishly furnished, while the shaded electric reading-lamp cast its gentle radiance upon the woman's white hair and soft evening-gown. It was a rough night, and the wind howling outside beat furiously against the closely-blinded windows.
It was a night such as this, nearly twenty years before, of which the woman was thinking. She was once again in a room in a private hospital, lying weak and helpless from the ordeal through which she had passed. It all came back to her now with a stinging intensity, causing her white hands to clench hard, and her eyes to widen with a nameless fear.
A maid entered and announced a visitor.
"I can't see anyone to-night," the woman before the fire declared, without even turning her head.
"But——" the maid began.
"That is all, Maggie. You need not say anything more. I wish to be left entirely alone."
The maid hesitated a few seconds before obeying the imperious command. Then she slowly turned, and had almost reached the door when it was suddenly pushed open and a man entered. Without a word, he stepped past her and glided across the room toward the fire. His unexpected appearance startled the woman crouching there. She straightened quickly up and stared at the intruder in amazement.
"Who are you?" she demanded. "How dare you come here? Maggie, put this man out."
But Maggie had disappeared, so the woman was left to face the man alone.
"I won't harm you, madame," he smilingly informed her, as he moved closer to the fire and stretched put his hands. "I'm as harmless as a kitten."
"Keep back," the woman ordered. "Don't come so close."
"Oh, I'm all right. Don't you worry about me."
Again the man smiled as he rubbed his hands together.
"I wasn't worrying about you," the woman retorted. "I would like to see you burn yourself for your impudence."
Her fear had now vanished, and she was angry. She carefully noted the man's slight figure, and threadbare clothes. But his face was what attracted her most of all. It was somewhat chubby, and when the mouth was expanded by the almost incessant smile the cheeks were wrinkled like corrugated iron. His head was bald, save for a few tufts of hair above the ears. His bulging eyes twinkled with good humour, causing an observer to feel that their owner was well satisfied with himself and the entire world.
"Who are you?" the woman again demanded. "How dare you come uninvited into my room?"
The man straightened, himself up, and standing with his back to the fire brought forth a package of cigarettes, selected one, and deliberately lighted it.
"You don't mind if I have a smoke, do you?" he asked. "It's good for the nerves."
"Indeed I do," the woman replied. "I hate smoking. I never allow it in this room."
"I'm sorry, madame, but you'll soon forget all about it. I have come to see you to-night on very important business, and when I tell you what it is you won't think any more about the smoke."
"Important business! With me? Why, I never saw you before, and I have not the slightest idea who you are. What do you want, anyway?"
"Yes, it's important business, as I have just said, and when I learned that you would see no one to-night I was compelled to force myself upon your presence."
"How did you know that I would see no one to-night? Were you listening at the door?"
"Madame, when you get to know me better you will learn that I am able to read people's thoughts, though doors may intervene. Words are unnecessary to me. I know all."
The man blew a cloud of smoke into the air, and smiled. "Yes," he continued, "I even read your thoughts to-night as you sat before this fire."
"You did!" The woman's eyes grew wide with fear and amazement. "Who are you, anyway?"
"I am merely a stand-between; that has been my business for years."
"Yes, I stand between people and ignorance. I supply them with mental food, books of the first-water. They all know me, and look upon me as a public benefactor."
"So you are a book-agent, then? And you want to sell me some books, I suppose? Is that your business here to-night?"
The man waved his hand haughtily, and flicked the ashes from his cigarette into the fire.
"No, madame, it is not. Business is somewhat dull these days, I must confess. People are not as anxious as formerly for pure literature. There are too many counter attractions. This being so, I find it is becoming more difficult to stand between my family and poverty. Therefore, I am here to-night."
"So you want me to give you some money; is that it?"
"Ah, now I see you understand," and the man's face beamed. "But remember, I come not as a beggar, neither as a suppliant, but merely to receive payment for a favor."
"Payment for a favor!" the woman exclaimed. "What do you mean? I owe you nothing. I never saw you before. What favor?"
"The favor of silence. I know what you were thinking about to-night as you sat here. Your thoughts were in the past, to another night such as this. You were in a private hospital, and——"
He was interrupted by a startled cry from the woman. She was sitting bolt upright, her hands gripping hard the arms of the chair, and her face ghastly white.
"W-what do you know?" she gasped.
"Calm yourself, madame. Although I know all, you have no need to fear."
For a few seconds the woman stared at the man before her. Then she gave an hysterical laugh and sank back in her chair. What did this stranger know? she wondered. Perhaps nothing, and she had made a fool of herself by showing her agitation.
"My nerves are somewhat shaken to-night," she confessed. "I have not been well of late, so your sudden appearance and strange words have rather unsettled me. What do you mean by referring to another night such as this, and to a private hospital? What have they to do with me?"
"A great deal, I should say, madame. If you doubt my knowledge, it is only necessary to mention the name of Hettie Rawlins, now my wife, Mrs. Gabriel Grimsby."
"Hettie Rawlins!" the woman's face showed her perplexity.
"Yes, Hettie Rawlins, the girl who exchanged the babies. Don't you remember her?"
But the woman did not reply. She sat staring at the man before her.
"There is no doubt now about my knowledge is there?" the stranger asked with a smile.
"Heavens, no!" the unhappy woman groaned. "And to think that after all these years I should be thus confronted in my own house, and by a complete stranger. And so your wife told you all?"
"Everything, although she kept the secret for a long time. She told me how you bribed her to exchange your little baby boy for a girl which was born in the hospital on the same day, and the amount you gave the baby's mother for making the exchange."
"Stop, stop," the woman pleaded. "You will kill me."
"But you know it all, madame. You were thinking about it to-night, were you not?"
"I was, I was," and the woman buried her face in her hands.
Presently she lifted her head.
"Where is the boy?" she asked in a hoarse whisper. "Is he alive?"
"And so you are interested in him, madame?"
"Interested? Why, he is with me night and day. Though he must be a young man now, yet I always see him as the little babe I held to my breast. If you know where he is, tell me. I must see him somehow, though he must never know who I am."
"What about the girl, your daughter?" the man questioned. "She must be a comfort to you now, and well takes the place of—of your son."
"Nothing can ever take his place," the woman vehemently declared. I thought so once, fool that I was. But I know better now when it is too late. Where is he? For God's sake, tell me!"
"And you have had no word from him?" the man asked.
"Nothing. I do not even know the woman's name who took him. I thought I would never want to know."
"Then, madame, it is better for you to remain in ignorance. It would do you no good now to learn anything about him. I, at any rate, shall not enlighten you."
"No, not now."
"Then why have you come here to-night to inflict this torture upon me? What good can it do to increase the agony of my tormented soul? Surely I have endured enough already."
"I come, madame, merely as a stand-between. Business with me has been dull of late, as I have just told you. Therefore, when one door closes another opens. I am not a man to let a good opportunity of earning a few honest dollars slip. I know your story, and, accordingly, am here to receive payment."
"Payment! For what?" the woman asked in amazement.
"For silence. I suppose you don't want this matter known?"
"Good heavens, no! What would my husband and daughter think? Why, I could never face the world again."
"Very well, madame. I am pleased to know that you realise the situation," and the man smiled blandly upon his victim. He was succeeding much better than he had expected. "I shall see that this matter is kept a profound secret."
"Oh, will you?" and the woman looked her relief.
"Indeed I will, providing you make it worth while. I am always open for business."
The woman looked keenly at the man.
"Do I understand that you want to be paid for keeping silent?" she at length found voice to ask.
"Certainly. That's what I'm here for. Business is business, remember, and if I cannot make a living at my regular profession, I must turn to the next best thing that offers."
"But this is a hold-up. Are you not afraid to do such a thing?"
"Afraid! Of what?"
The sudden flush that mantled the woman's face plainly showed that she understood. The man noted it, and smiled.
"You realise the situation, madame, I see. That is very fortunate. I have nothing to fear, as you would do almost anything rather than let your secret be known."
"But suppose I do not accede to your demand, what then?"
"That would remain for you to find out, madame. Are you willing to run the risk?"
"Heavens, no! It must not be. What is your price? Tell me quick, and let us get through with this painful interview."
"Willingly, madame. I am as anxious to get through as you are. My price is very moderate, considering the favor I am bestowing upon you. I want five hundred dollars."
"Five hundred dollars!" The woman gasped as she stared at her visitor. "Why, you are a scoundrel, and nothing less."
Grimsby smiled, and rubbed his hands. He felt sure of his quarry, and it mattered little to him what he was called. It was all in the way of business, so he told himself. Then he picked up his hat from the floor where he had deposited it, and made as though he was about to leave.
"Very well, then," he casually remarked. "If you think it is too much I am sorry. Next week, perhaps, you will consider it very cheap, and would be willing to give far more. But it may be too late then. However, if you are unwilling to meet my moderate demand, it is no use for me to remain longer."
He started to leave the fire-place, but the woman detained him.
"Don't go just yet," she ordered. "I realise that I must give you something. But isn't your price exorbitant?"
"It might be for some, but not for you, Mrs. Randall. I understand that you are one of the largest tax-payers in this city, and in your own name at that. Why, I am astonished at myself for my moderation in asking for so little from such a rich woman. I might have made it a thousand at least."
For a few minutes the woman remained in deep thought. Grimsby never took his eyes from her face. He was quite elated with himself, for he felt sure of success.
At length the woman gave a weary sigh, rose slowly from her chair, and crossing the room, sat down before a handsome writing-table. When she at last came back to the fire-place she was holding a cheque in her hand. Eagerly the man reached out to receive it. But the woman waved him back.
"Just a minute," she told him. "Before I give you this I want you to promise upon your word of honour that you will never ask me for any more money."
"I promise, madame," Grimsby replied, bowing, and placing his right hand upon his heart in a dramatic manner. "I shall make myself as scarce as I always do when my creditors are after me. What more can I say?"
"And you will never breathe a word of this to anyone?"
"Trust me to keep the secret, madame, I shall not even tell my wife."
The woman was about to say something more, but a startled look came into her eyes, as she turned apprehensively toward the door. Nervously she thrust the cheque into the man's hand.
"Here, take this," she ordered, "and leave the house at once. Somebody is coming."
Without a word Grimsby seized his hat, sped across the room, opened the door and disappeared. Trembling violently, the woman sank down in the chair and buried her face in her hands, a veritable picture of abject misery and despair.
The man had been gone but a few minutes when the door was again opened and a girl entered. She was a vision fair to behold as she paused for an instant while her eyes rested upon the woman crouched before the fire. She evidently had just come in out of the night, for she wore her out-of-door cloak, and her hair was somewhat tossed by the violence of the wind. The rich colour of her cheeks betokened the healthy exercise of one who had walked some distance. An expression of anxiety came into her dark-brown eyes as she crossed the room, and bent over the woman in the chair.
"Mother, mother, what is the matter?" she demanded. "Are you ill?"
"Oh, it's you, Jess, is it?" the woman languidly asked as she lifted her head. "I thought it was Maggie. I was not expecting you so soon. What brought you home so early?"
"It must have been my guiding angel," the girl smilingly replied. "So you were lonely without me? Was that the trouble?"
"Yes, I suppose that had something to do with it. But I am not feeling well to-night. This room seems very oppressive."
"You are too warm," and the girl glanced down at the fire. Her eyes at once rested upon the stub of the cigarette lying upon the grate where Grimsby had thrown it. She also smelled the smoke of tobacco and instantly surmised that something out of the ordinary had happened to agitate her usually self-possessed mother.
"Somebody has been here annoying you," she cried, turning impulsively to the woman. "Was it Tom asking for more money?"
Again the woman bowed her head, and made no immediate answer. Her thoughts were active, and she was glad of any excuse.
"How did you know he was here?" she at length asked, without looking up.
"I met a man hurrying from the door as I came in. It was too dark to see who he was, and he did not seem to notice me at all. Tom knows my opinion of him, and so he is not anxious to meet me. I did not think of Tom, though, until I found you so upset. And he was smoking too, for there is the stub of his cigarette. Why can't he leave you alone?"
"He never will, Jess. He is just like Will and Dick. They are always bothering me about money, as if I haven't been giving to them for years. They are just like helpless children."
"Worse, mother. They are three useless men. It is well that I am a girl, for I might be tempted to follow their miserable example. Are you not glad that you have only three sons instead of four?"
Receiving no reply, the girl took off her hat, laid aside her wraps, and rang for the maid. Then she drew up a chair and sat down by her mother's side.
"My, this fire is pleasant," she remarked, as she leaned back and gazed into the glowing coals. "I am glad after all that I came home."
"Why didn't Mr. Donaster come in, Jess? I have not seen him for some time."
"Neither have I, mother." The girl's face flushed, and there was a challenge in her voice.
"You haven't! Why, I thought you were with him to-night."
"Indeed I was not. You know as well as I do that I wish to have nothing to do with that man. I have told you so over and over again."
This sudden outburst aroused the woman from her crouching position. She sat upright, and the expression in her eyes told how deeply she was offended.
"Now, look here, Jess," she began, "I want no more of this nonsense. I have made up my mind that you are to marry Mr. Donaster, and marry him you shall."
"Would you force me to marry such a man as that?" the girl asked.
"And why not?"
"Because I detest him, and hate the very sight of him."
"But he is of a fine family, and his father, Lord Donaster, is immensely rich. Burton is his only son, and he will inherit the estate, so you will be Lady Donaster. It is very seldom a girl meets with such an opportunity in this province."
The girl gave her head a slight toss, and her face flushed more than ever.
"I can hardly believe it possible that you are willing to barter your only daughter for such baubles," she indignantly replied. "It is unnatural."
The presence of the maid with tea and toast interrupted the conversation for a few minutes. Jess poured the tea for her mother, but took none herself.
"Are you not going to have any tea?" her mother asked.
"No, I do not care for any now, as I had some at Mrs. Merton's."
"So that's where you were, eh? Why didn't you go to the play?"
"I didn't want to. I preferred to spend a quiet hour or two with Mrs. Merton. She is a woman who does things of some importance instead of spending her time upon a giddy butterfly-life. She is a regular tonic, and always inspires me to be up and doing."
"You are silly, Jess." Her mother was visibly annoyed. "Why should you talk about being up and doing? Haven't you everything that you desire, with the prospect of a brilliant career before you?"
"As Lady Donaster, of course. To what else should I refer?"
"And you call that a career, mother? Slavery is the right word to use. I wish to be of some benefit to the world and not to drift through life like a wretched puppet."
"If this is what you have learned from Mrs. Merton you must not go there any more. I have always known that she held peculiar views, but I had no idea that she would try to unsettle the minds of young girls."
"But I am not a young girl, remember, mother. I am nearly twenty now, and should be able to think somewhat for myself. Mrs. Merton's views were mine even before I met her. For several years I have been dissatisfied with a life that held out little or no promise of anything definite. I want to make my own way in the world."
"But you have not been trained for that, so what can you expect to do?"
"I know it only too well, mother," was the bitter reply. "You brought me up to shine in society and nothing else. But I have youth on my side, with an abundance of health, and strength, so I am not afraid."
"This is all nonsense, Jess. You are talking like an irresponsible child. You know not what it means to earn your own living. And think what a disgrace it would be to have our only daughter working as a common girl. Imagine Jess Randall as a clerk in a drygoods store or in an office. The idea is preposterous! You must give it up at once."
"I can't see anything disgraceful about it, mother. I am sure it is far better to earn one's own living than to be always depending upon others. But I shall not disgrace you, so you need not worry about that."
"What do you intend to do?"
"I have several things in view, and I know that daddy will provide me with money to carry them out."
"He will do nothing of the sort. His mind is as fully made up as mine that you are to marry Mr. Donaster. Don't you think that we are more capable of judging for your good than you?"
"I have very serious doubts about that. I know you will consider me ungrateful for saying so, but you ask me, and so I am forced to tell the truth."
"Well, I declare!" and Mrs. Randall looked her astonishment. "What has come over you, Jess? I never knew you to talk like this before. You seem to have lost all confidence in your parents' judgment."
"Not all, mother. But I know how you interfered with the boys' welfare, and look how they have turned out. There was a time when they wished to go to work and win their own way in the world. But you would not let them, and spoiled their lives by giving them too much money to spend, and telling them that it was not dignified to work. And look what they are now; helpless to do anything for themselves, and a burden to you. Daddy agreed with everything you said, and see what has happened. You made a sad mistake with them, and I am determined that it shall not be so with me."
The girl was trembling violently as she finished, and she had risen to her feet. The colour had fled from her face, and her hands were firmly clasped before her. Her mother also rose, and confronted her daughter.
"You are a rebellious and an ungrateful girl," she charged. "To think of your saying such things after all we have done for you. What do you mean?"
"Just what I have said, as you will find out. It is about time for me to assert myself when you are determined to shackle me to a creature I detest."
"Mr. Donaster is a gentleman, and the son of a gentleman, so you must not refer to him in such an offensive manner. I absolutely forbid it."
"He may be a gentleman according to the standard of some, but not according to mine. He is nothing but an unbearable cad, and with no more character than a jelly-fish. And to think of my having to put up with a thing like that for the rest of my life. Why, I would rather be dead."
"It would be almost a relief to me if you were," and Mrs. Randall gave a deep sigh of despair. "A daughter as wilful as you will only bring disgrace upon her parents."
"I am surprised at your saying such a thing," the girl replied. "One would almost imagine you are not my mother at all, you are so heartless. Would a real mother be willing to sacrifice her only daughter?"
Mrs. Randall gave a sudden start, and looked keenly into the eyes of the girl standing so defiantly before her. "Does she suspect anything?" she asked herself. Then she gave a nervous laugh, and resumed her seat.
"Leave me alone now," she ordered. "I see it is no use talking to you any more to-night, you are so unreasonable and headstrong. Your father will have to take you in hand. He will soon knock this nonsense out of your head. He is determined that you shall marry Mr. Donaster, and you might as well make up your mind to that first as last."
"Mother, I shall go now. But let me tell you, as I shall tell daddy, that nothing on earth can make me marry the man I do not love."
"Tut, tut. Love has nothing to do with marriages these days," Mrs. Randall impatiently replied. "There is no such a thing as love in marriage, it is merely a matter of convenience."
"If I believed that, I should never marry, mother."
"And don't you?"
"Indeed I do not."
"What do you know about love?"
"I know, perhaps, more than you think." The girl's face was now deeply flushed, and this her mother noted.
"Jess, what is the meaning of this? Is there someone else in whom you are interested besides Mr. Donaster? Tell me. I must know the truth at once. It is no use trying to conceal it from me."
The girl's eyes dropped, and she turned her face partly away to hide her emotion.
"In Mr. Donaster I am not even interested," she confessed. "But in another, I am more than interested, for I love him with my whole heart. There, you now know the truth, and so you can say and do what you like. Goodnight."
Without another word, the girl turned and hurried out of the room, leaving her mother speechless with anger and amazement.
THE "EB AN' FLO"
Just how it happened Samuel Tobin, owner and captain of the "Eb and Flo," was never able to explain with any degree of clearness. He knew that he was on his knees, scrubbing the floor of the little cabin and humming
"Here I'll raise my Ebenezer, Hither by Thy grace I'll come,"
when a form darkened the narrow doorway overhead.
Then followed a scream of fright, and before he had hardly time to look around she was lying by his side, a confused heap of silk, lace, and flowing dark-brown hair.
"Well, I'll be jiggered!" Samuel exclaimed, scrambling to his feet. "What in time——?"
A merry laugh interrupted him, as the girl sprang lightly to her feet, arranged her disordered dress, and brushed back her hair.
"My! that was a surprise," she remarked, glancing at the steps down which she had just tumbled. "I didn't know they were there."
"Ye didn't, eh?" and Samuel looked curiously at his unexpected visitor. "Thought ye was walkin' into a parlour, I s'pose."
"Do you own this boat?" the girl suddenly and somewhat anxiously asked.
"Well, I thought I did, Miss, until you arrived, but now I ain't quite sartin. I feel somethin' like Bill Slocum said he did when a bear dropped in on him one night when he was campin' out on his back medder."
"What did he do?"
"Oh, Bill, jist lit out an' left the bear in charge, the same as any sensible man would do."
"I hope you do not compare me to a bear," and the girl smiled.
"No, I wouldn't like to do that, Miss. But ye must have had some mighty good reason fer comin' down them steps the way ye did. It's a wonder to me yer neck wasn't broken."
"I have a good reason," was the emphatic reply. "I am running away."
"Runnin' away!" Samuel's eyes opened wide in amazement, and he stared hard at the girl. He would have been less than human if his pulse had not quickened, and his heart beat faster, for she was truly possessed of more than ordinary beauty and grace of figure. Her large dark expressive eyes betrayed anxiety, and her cheeks were flushed. Once she gave a slight start and glanced nervously up the steps as if expecting to see someone following her.
"Yes, I am running away," she repeated, "and I want you to hide me on this boat."
"Runnin' away, an' want me to hide ye!" Samuel ran his fingers through his hair, a sure sign of his perplexity. "Ye ain't been stealin' or murderin' anybody, have ye?"
"No, no; it's not so bad as that. But it might be suicide, though, if you don't help me. And you will, won't you?" she pleaded, turning her eyes full upon the captain's face.
The latter made no immediate reply. He picked up his pail and set it carefully aside. He then unrolled the turned-up sleeves of his coarse shirt, and deliberately buttoned them about his thick hairy wrists,
"Set down, Miss," he at length ordered, motioning to the only chair the cabin contained. "Thar, that's better," he said as the girl immediately obeyed. "Sorry me accommodations are so poor, but then this ain't no ocean liner. She's nuthin' but an old woodboat, an' not much of a place fer receivin' the likes of you."
"But I think it's fine," the girl replied, "and I know you will let me stay here for a while. You need a woman to look after this cabin, and I will wash and cook for you."
"Certainly. If you will only let me stay, I think you will find me quite useful."
"H'm, queer work you'd do in them dandy togs. An' besides, this craft can't afford to keep up much style. I s'pose ye'd want clean linen on the table every day, to say nuthin' of napkins, an' sich gear. No, I'm afraid ye'd prove too expensive fer the 'Eb an' Flo.' I've been cook here fer so long that I wouldn't know what to do with a woman around. Martha tried it once, but a week was enough fer her, so she got out. Said she couldn't stand me housekeepin' methods."
"Who is Martha?" the girl asked.
"Oh, she's me wife, an' runs things ashore. Her an' Flo do all right thar, but me an' Eb feel more at home on the water, with no women buttin' in."
"Is Flo your daughter?"
"Sure. An' Eb's me son. Jist the two, so I named this craft after 'em, ye see, Eb an' Flo sounds about right to my way of thinkin'. When yer boatin' on this river ye have to be allus considerin' the ebb an' flow of the tide, so the name is quite handy."
"It certainly is," and the girl smiled. "I am sure I shall like it. Where is your son now?"
"Oh, he's ashore gittin' some molasses an' other stuff from the store. He should be back soon, Miss, so I think ye'd better leave before he comes. Thar might be trouble. He's dead set aginst strange women, Eben is."
"Will you start as soon as your son returns?" the girl asked, unheeding the captain's warning.
"Start! Start where?"
"Sailing, of course."
"Not until the wind springs up. Thar's a dead calm now, an' the tide's aginst us."
"Oh, I wish it would blow a gale," and the girl looked anxiously around. "I want to get away from this place as soon as possible."
"Well, I think the best thing then fer you to do is to go ashore an' light out. Ye kin do it quicker thar than here."
"But I can't get ashore, Captain."
"Ye can't! An' why not, I'd like to know?"
"Because my boat has gone adrift. I let it go on purpose."
"Good Lord!" Samuel sat down upon a biscuit box and eyed his visitor curiously. "Say, are you crazy, or a fool, or what are ye, anyway?" he asked.
"I'm just a poor unfortunate girl, that's who I am," was the decided reply.
"An' ye ain't done nuthin' bad; nuthin' that yer ashamed of, Miss?"
"No, no," and the girl's face crimsoned. "I'm proud of what I have done," and she lifted her head haughtily, while her eyes flashed. "Any girl with the least self-respect would do the same, so there."
"That's all right, Miss, that's all right," Samuel hurriedly assured her. "I wasn't castin' any reflection upon yer character. I was only wonderin', that's all. Ye see, Flo's about your age, from what I judge, an' I wouldn't like her to be actin' this way."
"I know you wouldn't. But my case is different. Oh, I wish I could tell you all, but I can't. You will trust me, anyway, won't you, and let me stay here for a while?"
The captain sighed and looked helplessly around.
"Well, I'll be jiggered!" he growled. "This is sartinly some fix an' I don't know what to do. The accommodation isn't much here fer the likes of you, though it ain't too bad fer me an' Eb. If you occupy this cabin, we'll have to camp out on deck, an' I know what Eb'll say about that. He's more'n fond of sleep, that boy is, the greatest I ever saw. Why he'd sooner sleep than eat any day, an' he likes a good soft bed at that. I had to buy a special spring an' mattress before I could git him to come with me this year. He doesn't take much to boatin', an' I have to make things as smooth as possible."
"But can't you put his cot on deck?" the girl suggested. "I am very sorry that I am giving you so much trouble, but I shall pay you well. Money is no object if you will only help me out of my trouble. I am sure you will never regret it."
"I hope not, Miss, fer I don't want to git into any fix. It wouldn't look very nice if the papers got hold of this affair. Jist imagine a big write-up about Capt. Sam'l Tobin keepin' a fine lookin' runaway gal on the 'Eb an' Flo.' Why, I'd never be able to hold up me head agin, an' I guess it 'ud about break Martha's heart, to say nuthin' about Flo. They're mighty pertic'ler about sich things, they surely are."
"This must never get into the papers," the girl declared, "for you must promise that you will keep it a dead secret, and not tell anyone, not even your own family."
"I don't see how I kin do that, Miss. I guess ye don't know Martha as well as I do. If ye did, ye wouldn't talk about keepin' this racket a secret from me family. An' besides, thar's Eben, who'll be here in a jiffy now. How am I to explain matters to him? No, Miss, I reckon ye'd better light out while the coast is clear. I'll git the boy to take ye ashore, an' tell him that ye hit the wrong craft."
But the girl was not to be baffled in her purpose. She rose to her feet and stood before the captain. Her eyes were wide with a nameless fear, and her face showed very white where the light of the bracket-lamp fell upon it.
"Don't, don't send me away," she pleaded. "Let me stay here until you go from this place. Then you can put me ashore in the woods, or throw me overboard, I don't care which, but for the love of heaven let me stay now!"
Captain Samuel's big right hand dove suddenly into his pocket and clawed forth a clay pipe, a plug of tobacco, and a large jack-knife. He examined them carefully for a few seconds, the girl all the time watching him most intently.
"You will let me stay, won't you?" she coaxed. "Don't send me away."
"I don't see how I kin, Miss. Yer here, an' that's all thar is about it. Ye won't go of yer own accord, an' I've never yit laid hands on a woman. Now, if you was a man I'd show ye a thing or two in a jiffy, but what kin one do with a woman when she once makes up her mind?"
"Oh, thank you so much," and the girl's face brightened. "You will never regret your kindness to me. And look, I'm going to pay you well for letting me stay."
"Pay!" The captain's eyes bulged with astonishment.
"Yes, pay," and the girl smiled. "I'm a passenger, you see, so I'm going to pay my fare. There, you must not object, for I have made up my mind, so it's no use for you to say a word. I'm going to give you fifty dollars now and more later."
The pipe fell from the captain's hand and broke in two upon the floor.
"Blame it all!" he growled, as he stood staring upon the wreck. "I wonder what's comin' over me, anyway? Guess I'm losin' me senses."
"No you're not; you are just getting them, Captain. It's better to break a pipe than a girl's heart, isn't it?"
"I s'pose so, Miss. But a pipe means a good smoke, while a woman means——"
He paused, and looked helplessly around.
"What?" The girl's eyes twinkled.
"Trouble; that's what."
"But isn't she worth it?"
"That all depends upon what an' who she is."
"Certainly. Now you are talking sense. Isn't your daughter worth all the trouble she has been to you?"
"Sure, sure; yer sartinly right thar, Miss. Flo's given me a heap of trouble, but not half as much as Eben. That boy's a caution, an' he's given me an' Martha no end of worry."
"In what way?"
The captain scratched his head in perplexity, and shifted uneasily from one foot to another.
"I kin hardly explain," he at length replied. "He don't drink, nor swear, nor do nuthin' bad. But the trouble is, he don't do nuthin', an' don't want to do nuthin' but sleep an' eat."
"Perhaps you have not brought him up right, Captain."
"Not brought him up right!" Samuel's amazement was intense. "Why, Miss, we've done nuthin' but bring that boy up. Me an' Martha have slaved fer the raisin' of Eben. We started when he was a baby to raise him, right, an' the very next Sunday after he was born didn't they sing in church—
"'Here I'll raise my Ebenezer'."
"And so you've been singing it ever since, even when scrubbing the cabin?" The girl smiled at the recollection of the suddenly discontinued tune.
"Sure, why shouldn't I? It's a great hymn, it sartinly is, an' it's inspired me many a time. It has kept before me my duty, an' if Eben doesn't amount to somethin', it won't be my fault, nor Martha's, either, fer that matter."
"Have you taken the same care with your daughter?" the girl asked.
"No, not as much," was the reluctant confession. "Gals don't need sich special care. They ginerally grow up all right, an' git along somehow. But it's different with boys. They're a problem, they sartinly are."
"And so you have given most of your attention to your son, and let your daughter grow up any way. Is that it, Captain?"
"That's about it, Miss."
"And how is your daughter getting along?"
"Fust rate. We've no trouble with her. She's a good worker, happy an' cheerful as a bird, an' does what she's told. She's a fine gal, Flo is, an' thar's no mistake about that. I wish to goodness Eben was like her."
"It seems to me, Captain, that you tried too hard to raise your son, and spoiled him. Isn't that it?"
"D'ye think so?"
"I am sure of it. You are not the only ones who have spent all their care upon their sons and let their daughters grow up as they please. I know too much about it."
"Ye do!" Samuel's eyes opened wide in wonder. "An' you only a young gal, too."
"But I am old in experience, and know what I say is true. But what is that?" A startled look leaped into her eyes. "Do you suppose it is someone after me?"
With a bound the captain sprang up the stairs. He paused for an instant, however, and glanced back.
"Don't be scared, Miss," he encouraged. "It's only Eben. He's bumped hard aginst the boat. You keep close under cover, an' I'll do what I kin with the boy."
By the time the captain reached the side of the boat, Eben had his small skiff tied to the deck-rail. He was standing up, a tall, gaunt, ungainly youth, freckled faced, and sandy haired. He wore a dark-brown sweater, and a pair of overalls, baggy at the knees. He did not speak as his father approached, but mechanically handed up to him a jug of molasses, and several paper parcels. He then leaped lightly upon deck, and headed for the cabin. But the captain detained him by laying a firm and heavy hand upon his shoulder.
"Keep out of thar," he ordered. "I've jist been scrubbin' an' don't want ye to dirty the place up."
The tone of his father's voice caused Eben to swing suddenly around.
"Me feet ain't dirty," he drawled. "An' s'pose they are, what's the difference? The cabin ain't no parler. Let me go; I'm most starved."
But the captain's grip increased as he yanked his son a few feet back.
"I'm in charge of this craft," he reminded, "an' what I say goes. Yer not goin' down into that cabin to-night, so jist make up yer mind to that fust as last."
The boy now stared in speechless amazement. Never before had he seen his father so agitated, nor heard him speak to him in such a manner.
"D'ye understand?" the captain asked.
"That yer not goin' down in that cabin. Isn't that what I jist said? Where are yer ears?"
A sullen look leaped into the boy's eyes, and with an effort he shook himself free from his father's grasp.
"D'ye mean it?" he growled.
"Sartinly I mean it. An' what's more, I don't want ye to ask any fool questions. We'll eat an' sleep on deck to-night, up forrad. I'll bring the grub an' clothes from the cabin, but you stay out."
Eben was about to reply in an angry manner, when the form of his countenance instantly changed, and a peculiar expression, half-humorous, appeared in his eyes. He stood looking at his father for a few seconds in an absent-minded manner. Then, without a word, he picked up the jug of molasses and strode up forward. The captain gazed after him in astonishment, greatly wondering what had come over his son to make him so obedient all of a sudden. He said nothing, however, but went at once down into the cabin where he found the girl making herself perfectly at home tidying up the place.
"Eben's come," the captain laconically remarked,
"So I understand," and the girl smiled.
"Ye heard what was said, eh?"
"Certainly. I'm not deaf."
"Sure, sure. Me temper got the best of me to-night. But I couldn't help it, fer that boy did more'n stir me up. Guess he's cooled down now, though I'm mighty surprised that he knuckled under so soon. It's not a bit like Eb's way, let me tell ye that."
"I am very sorry to give all this trouble," the girl acknowledged. "I feel ashamed of myself."
"Most likely ye do, Miss. We all feel that way at times. But I must git a hustle on, an' tote up some clothes fer the night, an' a snack of grub fer Eben. He's mighty fond of his stummick, that boy is. He'd eat every hour of the day, jist the same as a chicken, an' then wouldn't be satisfied."
Captain Tobin was much surprised that his son asked him no questions that night. He did not even refer to the cabin, but after he had eaten two large slices of bread, well soaked in molasses, he stretched himself out upon the deck, drew a heavy quilt over his body, and was soon fast asleep. The captain, however, did not sleep for some time. He sat upon the cover of the hatchway and puffed at an old corn-cob, which had been brought into service after the ruin of his favourite clay pipe. It was a beautiful night, and not a breath of wind ruffled the surface of the river. The captain was thinking seriously, as he was greatly puzzled what to do with the girl who had thrust herself so unceremoniously upon him. He could not put her ashore, that was quite evident, and he knew that he could not keep her presence a secret from Eben for any length of time. And then there was Martha. What would she and Flo say when they heard of it? This thought brought the perspiration to his forehead, causing him to shift uneasily. And the neighbours! What a rare bit of gossip it would be when they heard of it. And hear of it they certainly would, and he would be disgraced. It was somewhat late when he at length rolled himself up in his blanket by his son's side. Silence reigned near the cabin, and he fell asleep feeling that he had done the best that he could under the circumstances.
He awoke early, and scrambled to his feet. Eben was still asleep, so he moved about as quietly as possible so as not to disturb him. Far off in the east the dawn of a new day was breaking, and the sky was resplendent with the soft rosy tints of the virgin morn. From the shore came faint twitterings of birds just awaking from slumber. Presently the raucous honks of autos some distance down the road fell upon his ears. In a few minutes the cars appeared, and drew up at the wharf not far away. Several men alighted, and from their actions the captain could tell that they were very much excited. Then more autos arrived, until about twenty men were standing upon the wharf and the road. He wondered what they wanted, and what had brought them there at such an early hour. When, however, he saw them rowing from the shore in several flat-bottom boats, the meaning of the commotion flashed upon his mind. They were searching for the missing girl, believing that she had been drowned the night before. The captain was in a quandary. His first impulse was to hail the men, and tell them that the missing one was safe. But what would the girl think of him if he betrayed her? No, he would not do such a thing without speaking to her first. He glanced toward the cabin, and to his surprise saw smoke coming from the stove-pipe protruding through the roof of the cabin. The girl, he knew, must be awake, so he might as well inform her at once.
He hurried away aft, and paused at the cabin door. It was open, and glancing down he saw the girl busily engaged in preparing breakfast. The appetising odour of coffee greeted his nostrils, and he heard something sizzling in the frying-pan. Just then the girl glanced up, and a bright smile of welcome illumined her face. Her cheeks were flushed with the heat and exercise, and the captain thought he had never beheld a more charming face.
"Good morning," she greeted. "Come in; breakfast is almost ready."
"Well, I'll be hanged!" the captain ejaculated as he descended the stairs. "What in time are ye up so early fer?"
"Isn't the cook always supposed to be up early?" the girl questioned, while her eyes sparkled with merriment.
"S'pose so," and the captain scratched his head in a dubious manner. "But I wasn't lookin' upon you as a cook, fer I had no idea that ye understood anything about a kitchen."
"Well, then, you were much mistaken. Just sit down, and try this egg-on-toast, and this coffee. I have learned a few things, so am not altogether useless. Cooking is one of my accomplishments, though, perhaps, I may not suit such an expert as you."
After the captain had washed himself in the granite-iron basin, and carefully brushed his hair, he sat down at the little side-table. His breakfast was already before him, but he would not touch it until the girl was ready for hers. He noted with appreciation that the oil-cloth on the table was especially clean, and how neatly the few dishes were arranged.
"Well, this is some breakfast," he complimented. "I never expected to find this awaitin' me."
"Are you satisfied with your cook now?" the girl smilingly asked.
"Satisfied!" The captain paused in the act of lifting his cup of coffee to his lips. "Did I ever say I wasn't satisfied?"
"Not exactly, though you acted that way last night."
"I know I did, an' I'm of the same opinion still. I'm not satisfied while them fellers are out draggin' the river fer yer body."
At these words a startled look came into the girl's eyes, and she dropped her fork upon her plate.
"Dragging the river for my body!" she gasped.
"Sure, thar are several boats not fer from here now, an' the men in 'em seem mighty excited. It does seem a pity fer 'em to be doin' sich a thing while you are safe an' sound in this cabin. Thar's something uncanny about it, which is not at all to my likin'. Don't ye think I'd better holler out, an' tell 'em that you're all right?"
"No, no," the girl protested, rising to her feet. "Don't say a word. If they think I'm drowned, all the better. That's just what I want them to think."
"Good Lord!" The captain stared in amazement at the agitated girl. "What am I to do, then? I can't stay here an' see them poor fellers doin' sich a useless job. An' besides, they must be about heart-broken."
"Indeed they're not," the girl emphatically declared. "If they are the ones I believe they are, you needn't worry about them, for they have no hearts to break. I must have a peek at them."
"Be careful, if ye don't want to be seen, Miss," the captain warned, as the girl stood, on one of the steps and cautiously peered out. She was instantly down again, her face very white.
"There's a boat coming straight for us!" she excitedly explained. "It's only a short distance off. Go on deck quick and send the men away. Don't let them come on board."
With a bound the captain was up out of the cabin. He was determined to protect the girl, although he felt that he was making a fool of himself. But while she was on his boat, and under his care, no one was going to molest her. He stood silently watching the row-boat as it drew near. It contained three men, two at the oars, and one seated astern.
"Say," the latter called out, "did you see a young woman drifting about here in a boat last night?"
"Did I see what?" the captain asked, apparently surprised.
"A young woman, Miss Randall, in a boat last night? She has disappeared, and we're afraid she's drowned."
"No, I didn't see any young woman driftin' around here in a boat last night," the captain replied. "What makes ye think she's drowned herself?"
"Because a boat was found adrift in South Bay last night, containing one oar and a woman's hat. The hat belonged to Miss Randall, and as she is missing, it is feared that she either drowned herself or met with an accident."
"Dear me, that's serious. Why would she want to drown herself?"
"Oh, some family trouble, I guess. Her folks wanted her to marry a man she had no use for. That's him standing there on the wharf now."
"Ye don't tell!" The captain turned his head and looked shoreward. "Wonder why he isn't helpin' to search fer his sweetheart. He seems to be mighty cool about the affair."
"Oh, he's afraid of soiling his hands and clothes." The man spoke in a low voice, for he was now close alongside. "He's Lord Something-or-Other's son, an' wouldn't think of associating with such common cusses as us. He belongs to the upper-crust, doncher-know." The man smiled, and his companions grinned. It was quite evident that they were all familiar with the story.
"An' so ye say the gal yer lookin' fer is Miss Randall, daughter of Henry Randall, the big lumber merchant?" the captain asked.
"That's who she is; his only daughter."
"An' he wants her to marry that?" and the captain motioned toward the wharf.
"Sure. Is it any wonder she'd want to commit suicide? She'd be a fool if she wouldn't. But, there, we must get back to work. We just dropped alongside, thinking ye might have seen her drifting around, last night, and heard a scream or a splash."
"What makes ye think it was around here she done the deed?" the captain asked.
"Because her folks have their summer house a short distance below the wharf, and the boat which was found drifting in South Bay belongs to Bill Sanson up on the hill. Aren't they reasons enough?"
"It does look reasonable," the captain acknowledged. "I s'pose her pa an' ma are about crazy over her disappearance. I know I should be about Flo."
"Her father isn't home," the man explained. "He's away somewhere on a business trip. As for her mother, well——" He paused, pulled a plug of tobacco out of his pocket, and bit off a chew. Then he turned to his companions. "Come, boys, suppose we get back? We've wasted too much time already."
The captain watched them as they rowed away, and his eyes twinkled with merriment. He was smiling when he returned to the cabin. The girl there was smiling, too, although it was easy to tell that she had been greatly agitated.
"Have they gone?" she asked in a low voice.
"Oh, yes, they've gone back to look fer you. Say, Miss, I don't like this bizness one bit. It's a mighty spooky affair, an' gits on me nerves. Don't ye feel a bit shaky yerself?"
"I suppose I should," the girl thoughtfully replied. "But under the circumstances I can't. Don't you remember what that man told you?"
"About you marryin' that Lord Fiddlesticks?"
"Yes, though that is not his name."
"I know it isn't, but it doesn't matter. But, thar, I must take some grub to Eben. He'll be down here soon, I'm sartin, if I don't head him off. Thar's nuthin' like grub to hold that boy in check. I've got to go ashore this mornin' to git some tea. Eben fergot all about it last night."
"Will you get a few things for me?" the girl asked. "I will make out a list at once."
"I was expectin' something like that, Miss. I knew ye wouldn't be satisfied with what this cabin contains, but would want many things extry. I s'pose ye'll order a hull outfit of table linen, a set of chiny dishes, a new coffee pot, an' dear knows what all. I'd have to go to the city fer them things."
"No, not at all," the girl laughingly replied. "I can get along nicely with what you have here. I only need something for myself, as I came away without anything, not even a comb. I hope you don't mind."
"Oh, I don't mind, as fer as I'm consarned. But I'm wonderin' what Martha an' Flo'll think if they ever hear of it."
"I am sure they will be pleased, Captain, when they know how kind you have been to an unfortunate girl. When I see them I shall explain, so everything will be all right."
"I hope so, Miss. But if ye knew Martha as well as I do mebbe ye wouldn't feel so sure. Anyway, I s'pose it can't be helped now. Jist have yer list ready when I come back from feedin' Eben, an' I'll do the best I kin."
CAPTAIN SAMUEL GOES SHOPPING
Captain Tobin rowed toward the shore with long steady strokes. He was in no hurry as he had all the morning on his hands. He did not expect the wind to rise until the turn of the tide, which would be about noon. He was thinking of Eben, and wondering what had come over the boy to make him so docile in such a short time. He had seemed more animated than usual, and had eaten his breakfast without making any embarrassing enquiries. He had not even referred to the men searching the river for the missing girl, neither did he speak of the conversation that had taken place between his father and the man in the small boat. All this was puzzling to the captain, for it was very unlike Eben's usual manner. Was it possible that the boy knew anything about the matter, or had a hand in the affair himself? he wondered. He banished the idea, however, as too absurd to be entertained even for a moment.
Reaching the wharf, he tied the boat, and was making his way to the store when he was suddenly hailed.
"Hi, there," someone called, "let me have your boat, will you?"
Looking around, he saw the immaculately-dressed young man coming toward him from the lower side of the wharf. He knew that this must be the missing girl's lover, and he had no desire to meet him. There seemed to be no escape, however, so he was forced to stop and wait until the man sauntered up to where he was standing.
"Was ye callin' me?" the captain asked.
"I was," the man replied. "I want your boat."
"Ye do, eh? Well, I guess I want it meself more'n you do, by the look of things."
"But I want to help with the search."
"Oh, so you're Lord Fiddlesticks' son, are ye? Glad to meet ye," and the captain held out his hand. "I'm Sam'l Tobin, captain an' owner of the 'Eb an' Flo,' layin' jist out yonder."
"So I supposed," was the drawling response. "But it makes no difference to me who or what you are. You might be the devil for all I care. All I want is your small boat."
"Come, come, Mr. Lord Fiddlesticks, don't talk in sich a high an' mighty manner; it might not be good fer yer health. A young chap about your make-up tried it once upon me, but it didn't work out to his satisfaction. He acknowledged it when he got out of the hospital. See?"
"Oh, I didn't mean to offend you," and the young man retreated a few steps. "I'm all upset this morning over Miss Randall's disappearance, and so am hardly responsible for what I say. Let me have your boat, will you? I'll pay you well for it."
The captain eyed the young man critically from head to foot, especially his soft white hands. Then he shook his head in a doubtful manner.
"What's the matter?" the young man impatiently asked. "Is there anything wrong with me ?"
"That's what I'm jist tryin' to figger out. I s'pose it's really me duty to take ye home to yer ma, but I ain't got time this mornin'. Does she knew where ye are?"
"What do you mean, you ignorant clodhopper? Do you take me for a baby?"
"Not exactly, as yer too big fer one. But accordin' to yer togs one would imagine that ye've jist come from the nursery. No, it wouldn't be right to let ye have me boat, fer ye'd be sure to spile yer pretty white hands an' soil yer bib an' pinny. An' besides, if anything happened to ye, I'd be held responsible. No, ye'd better trot along home to yer mamma before she comes after ye with a strap."
The young man was now very angry, and he was about to give vent to his feelings in a furious outburst. But the stopping of an auto on the road near by suddenly arrested his attention, causing him to stare hard at the driver who had just alighted. Glad of this timely diversion, the captain moved away and made toward the store. In passing the car, he did not recognise the driver, who, with his back toward him, was examining the engine, and seemed to be heeding nothing else. But no sooner had the captain passed than he straightened himself up, cast one swift glance toward the man down on the wharf, and at once followed the captain into the store, where he stood quietly at one side without speaking to anybody.
The captain was already at the counter, fumbling with the list which had been given him. He was well acquainted with the storekeeper, a middle-aged man of genial countenance.
"Here's a list of things I want, Ezry," he explained, as he handed over the paper. "Guess ye kin make out the writin'."
The storekeeper adjusted his spectacles and studied the paper for a few minutes. Then he looked keenly at his customer, while his eyes twinkled.
"Are yer wife an' daughter with ye on this trip, Captain?" he asked. "They seem to be out of 'most everything women need. It's a wonder ye didn't get them outfitted in the city. D'ye think this is a department store? Guess they must have been studying Eaton's catalogue."
Captain Samuel coughed and shuffled uneasily.
"Why, what's on the list, Ezry?"
"Didn't ye read it?"
"No, never looked at it. I thought it was all right, an' that ye kept 'most everything here."
"Well, I don't, and never expect to. Now, look at this, for instance," and the storekeeper touched the paper with the forefinger of his right hand. "A kimona, just think of that! I never had a call for such a thing before."
"Is that down thar?" the captain enquired, reaching for the list.
"Sure, ye can see for yourself. But that isn't all. A pair of pyjamas is wanted, bedroom slippers, table-cloth, and napkins. Say, Captain, your wife an' daughter must be getting some new fandangled notions all of a sudden. Going to use them on the boat, eh?"
The captain made no reply. His face was very red, and he was mopping his forehead with a big pocket-handkerchief.
"It does work ye up, doesn't it?" the storekeeper chuckled.
"Work me up! Why, I'm bilin' hot. But fer the love of heaven, isn't there anything on that list ye do keep? Guess we'll have to send to Eaton's after all, only them things are wanted right away."
The storekeeper again studied the list, and with a pencil scored out the articles he did not have.
"I haven't that, nor that, nor that," he commented.
"Well, fer goodness' sakes what have ye got, Ezry? Tell me quick, fer I can't stay here all the mornin'."
"Nor that, nor that, nor that," the storekeeper continued. "Ah, I have that," and his face brightened. "Yes, I've got a tooth-brush, or I did have one a year ago. Let me see." He turned and began to rummage in a dilapidated show-case, and at length brought forth with triumph the required article. He laid it carefully on the counter, and resumed his study of the list. A brush and comb were the next requisites, and these, after considerable searching, were produced.
"Yer doin' fine, Ezry," the captain encouraged. "Don't work too hard, though I would like to git back to me boat before the river freezes. I don't want to lay out thar all winter. What's next on the program?"
"A box of choc'lates, hard-centres. I don't keep 'em, Captain. I've only mixed-candy an' conversation lozenges. Maybe they 'd like some of them."
"All right, put 'em in; it's all the same to me. I never eat sich things. Is that all?"
"Yes, I guess that's all I can supply," the storekeeper replied as he finally viewed the list. "If ye wanted molasses, sugar, or anything in the hardware line I could accommodate ye. But kimonas, pyjamas, bedroom slippers, and such things, I don't carry."
During this conversation the auto driver had been an attentive listener. At times it was difficult for him to refrain from laughing outright, especially at the captain's embarrassment. It was not for amusement, however, that he was there, but for something far more important. What he learned seemed to please him, so with the light of satisfaction in his eyes, he left the store and returned to his car. When the captain came out a few minutes later he greeted him in a friendly manner.
"Fine morning, Captain," he accosted.
"Hello, John!" the captain replied. "I didn't know it was you. Where did ye drop from?"
"Oh, just on my way from the city. I didn't expect to meet you here."
"An' I didn't expect to be here, John. I've been hung up fer hours, an' can't git a breath of wind. I should be loadin' at Spoon Island by this time."
"Perhaps a rest will do you good, Captain. A trip ashore once in a while will do you no harm. You have been shopping, I see? I didn't know your wife and Flo were with you on this trip. They were home when I left."
"What makes ye think they're with me?" the captain somewhat sharply asked.
"Oh, it was merely a surmise on my part," and the young man smiled. "I happened to overhear the conversation between you and the storekeeper; that was all."
"Well, s'pose I was buyin' things fer me wife an' daughter, what of it? Why should ye think they're on the boat when I buy things they want?"
"It was just a notion on my part. I happened to hear what they wanted, and naturally wondered why you should go to a store like that when you could have got all the articles in the city to far better advantage. It's none of my business, of course, only it made me somewhat curious."
The captain made no reply but turned and looked out upon the river, where the men were searching for the missing girl. The young man, too, looked, and there was an amused expression in his eyes as he at length turned them upon the captain's face.
"They don't seem to be meeting with much success, do they?" he casually remarked.
"Seems not," was the quiet reply.
"Perhaps they are not searching in the right place. They may be all astray, and the girl is not drowned after all."
"What makes ye think that?" the captain somewhat anxiously asked.
"Oh, certain things have made me come to the conclusion that the girl did not drown herself. It would be a most unlikely thing for Miss Randall to do. She is not that kind."
"H'm, that's no reason," the captain retorted. "Ye never know these days what notions gals'll take."
"I believe you are right," and the young man smiled. "They do take queer notions at times, as was proven by the list of articles you tried to buy in the store just a few minutes ago."
"Hey, what's that yer sayin'?" the captain demanded, swinging swiftly around. "What d'ye mean by them words?"
"Don't you know, sir? I think you understand my meaning. Look well after Miss Randall, and tell her to keep out of sight. So long. I hope to see you later."
The young man sprang into his car, and in another minute was speeding up the road, leaving the captain staring after him, dumb with astonishment.
EBEN MAKES A DISCOVERY
After Eben had eaten his breakfast he sat for a few minutes watching his father as he rowed ashore. He next turned his eyes upon the boats searching for the missing girl. He even smiled, a somewhat unusual thing for him, especially at such an early morning hour. He was sitting upon deck, leaning against the mast full in the glare of the slowly-strengthening sun. Presently his left hand was run through his mass of tousled hair, while his right came down with a resounding whack upon his knee. Something out of the ordinary was amusing this tall ungainly youth which would have surprised his father had he been present.
At length he rose slowly to his feet, yawned, stretched himself, and moved cautiously along the deck toward the cabin. He walked around it once without deigning to look at the open door. The second time he shot a swift furtive glance, and caught a fleeting glimpse of someone in the cabin. His heart gave a great leap and he was about to hurry on his way, when a merry laugh arrested his steps, causing him to turn and peer down into the cabin. Then his cheeks crimsoned as he saw the girl standing at the foot of the steps, her face wreathed with a sunny smile.
"Don't be afraid; I won't hurt you," she told him. "I'm as harmless as a kitten."
Instantly Eben's mouth expanded into a grin, and he looked sheepishly around. He knew that he was on forbidden ground, and this added to his embarrassment. At the same time it gave him a certain degree of pleasure, as forbidden sweets are always the most delectable.
"Come on down," the girl invited. "I want someone to talk to, for it is rather lonesome here."
"You'd better come up," Eben found voice to reply. "It's nicer here in the sun."
"I know it is," and the girl's face became sober in an instant. "But I am afraid."
"What are ye afraid of?"
"Those men in the boats, of course."
"That they'll git ye?"
"But they won't out there, though," and again Eben grinned. "I knew ye didn't drown yerself. Ye'd be a fool to do it, wouldn't ye?"
"How did you know?"
"Oh, I saw ye last night headin' fer the 'Eb an' Flo.'"
"Did you see me come on board?"
"No, it was too dark. But when dad wouldn't let me go into the cabin, I guessed what was up. It was nicer down there than floatin' in the river, wasn't it? Wonder where ye'd be now, an' how ye'd feel if ye had drowned yerself."
The girl shivered, and her face turned white.
"Are you hungry?" she unexpectedly asked.
"Why, I jist had me breakfast."
"I know you did, but your father said you are always hungry. Suppose you come down and I'll give you something more. You didn't have much to eat."
To his own surprise Eben at once obeyed, lumbered down the steps, and seated himself by the little table. The girl placed a boiled egg before him, cut a slice of bread, and poured out a cup of coffee.
"I cooked one egg too many," she explained.
"Lucky ye did," Eben replied, as he broke the shell. "Say, it's great havin' you here. What's yer name!"
"Only Jess. I hope you will like it."
"I like it already. I think it's nice. An' say, I won't let anyone git ye."
"That's kind of you. But I thought you hated girls."
"Who told ye that?"
"Your father, of course. Isn't it true?"
"Mebbe it is, an' mebbe it isn't. An' mebbe after all it is. I never did take much stock in girls."
"Dunno, 'cept it's me make-up. Girls are too fussy fer me, so I like to keep out of their way."
"But you came my way this morning, though," the girl smilingly reminded.
"Oh, you're different. I like what you did. You came here to be protected, an' I'm goin' to see that ye are. I won't let them men git ye."
"What will you do if they come on board?"
Eben dropped his knife and fork suddenly upon the table, while his hands clenched hard.
"They won't come on board," he declared. "They'll do well to git close to this boat. Look," and he pointed to a rifle standing in one corner of the cabin.
"Oh, you mustn't shoot," the girl protested. "You might kill someone, and then you would be hung for murder."
"No, it's not likely I'll shoot, though I'll feel like doin' it if them men come snookin' 'round here. I'll jist keep the gun in me hands, that's all. Guess that'll be hint enough fer them fellers."
"Oh, I wish a strong wind would blow," the girl fervently exclaimed. "I want to get away from here, and out of sight of those men searching for me over there."
"It does give one a kind of creepy feelin', doesn't it?" Eben replied. "But I think we'll git a breeze when the tide comes up, an' then we'll show ye what this old tub kin do."
"Won't that be great! I have often longed for a sail on the river in a boat such as this. How you must enjoy this life. I know I should."
"Would ye?" Eben asked. "Well, I guess ye'd soon git tired of it if ye had to do it all the time. It makes a mighty big difference whether ye do a thing fer pleasure or fer business. I don't like it, anyway, an' I'm goin' to git clear of it as soon as I kin. Mebbe I'll follow your example, an' run away."
"Where do you want to go to, and what do you want to do?"
"I want to go to college an' learn to be an engineer."
"An engineer! What, to run an engine on the railroad?"
"No, not that. I want to be a civil engineer, to build bridges, an' do sich things. I'd like it better'n anything else."
"Why don't you, then? Won't your father let you?"
"No. He thinks it's all nonsense. He says he's raisin' me to take charge of this boat some day. But, gee whiz, he's countin' on the wrong chicken. Anyway, by the time dad's done sailin' this boat, it'll be fit fer the scrap heap."
"Why do you want to be a civil engineer?" the girl asked. "Do you know anything about the work?"
"Y' bet I do," and Eben smacked his lips. "I've been studyin' bridges fer years, 'specially the one across the falls. I've a lot of drawin's of it. Would ye like to see 'em?"
"Indeed I should," was the interested reply. "I used to draw some myself."
"Ye did!" Eben looked at the girl in admiration. "I never met anyone before who could draw. Hope ye won't make fun of my scrawls."
"Certainly not. You don't think I would do such a thing, do you?"
Eben made no reply as he was already on his feet, groping with his right hand upon a shelf over his bunk. In a few minutes he brought down a well worn scribbler, opened it, and laid it with pride upon the table.
"There's my drawin's," he began. "No one but meself ever sot eyes upon 'em before."
"You didn't even show them to your parents or sister?" the girl asked in surprise, as she looked upon the first drawing presented to view.
"Indeed I didn't. They'd only make fun of me if I did. I hate to be laughed at, don't you? It riles one all up."
"It does sometimes," the girl acknowledged. "But, then, it is better not to mind what people say or do, but just go on with our work. Why, what nice drawings you have here. I can hardly believe you did them yourself without anyone to teach you."
Eben made no reply, but his eyes shone with complete satisfaction. The girl was seated at the table and he was standing by her side. A thrill of joy possessed him such as he had never experienced before. This beautiful girl appreciated his drawings, and that was enough.
The sketches were crude, but they showed considerable signs of promise, and this Jess realised as she carefully examined them. One bridge, especially, arrested her attention, the one which spanned the falls.
"You must have made a long study of this," she remarked, "I recognised it at once."
"I did, Miss. I spent a whole day there once, an' every time we go under it I see something new. I ain't got it quite right yit."
For a few minutes the girl examined the drawings without speaking. There was a far-away look in her eyes when at length she pushed the book a little from her.
"Your drawings are remarkably good, considering everything," she told him. "But how would you like for me to give you some lessons?"
"How would I like it?" Eben gasped in amazement. "You give me lessons in drawin'!"
"And why not? We shall have time, I am sure, and I have not yet forgotten all I learned."
"Oh, it would be great! But what about dad? I'm afraid he won't let ye. He might think it will spoil me from bein' a captain some day. He wants me to study navigation, or something like that, which I hate."
Before any reply could be made, a slight shock was heard against the side of the boat which startled them both. The girl sprang to her feet, and looked up the stairway. Then the sound of footsteps was heard upon the deck above.
"They are after me!" she gasped. "Oh, where can I hide?"
"Stay right here," Eben ordered, as he leaped toward the stairs. "I'll fix 'em."
His foot had barely touched the first step when his father's body bulked large in the doorway above. Instinctively Eben drew back, and stood on the defensive, with every nerve strung to the highest tension.
Slowly the captain descended, and when he had reached the bottom of the stairway he stopped and looked around. In an instant he comprehended the situation, and a twinkle appeared in his eyes as he turned them upon his son.
"Is this the way ye obey orders?" he demanded. "Didn't I tell ye not to come near this cabin?"
"I know ye did, but that was last night," was the surly reply. "Ye didn't tell me to stay away this mornin'."
The captain stared at his son for a few seconds as if he had not heard aright.
"Well, I declare!" he exclaimed. "I gave ye credit fer some brains, but I guess I was mistaken."
"Don't blame your son, Captain," the girl interposed. "It was not his fault that he is here, but mine. I asked him to come."
"Ye did! Why, I thought ye didn't want anybody 'cept me to know of yer whereabouts."
"But it's different with your son here. He had to find out, anyway, you see, so it was just as well for him to do so this morning."
"So ye waited until I got on shore, eh? H'm, I guess all gals are alike, as sly as a weasel. As soon as the old man was out of the way, you two became very chummy. Fergot everything else most likely. It's a wonder ye weren't paradin' up an' down the deck."
"Oh, we took good care to keep out of sight," the girl laughingly replied. "We had enough sense left for that. This is certainly a great hiding place."
"D'ye think so, Miss? But mebbe it isn't so good as ye imagine."
A startled expression came into the girl's eyes, as she turned them full upon the captain's face.
"Thar, thar, don't be alarmed," the latter comforted. "I didn't mean to frighten ye. I only wanted to warn ye, that's all."
"Did you hear anything about me while ashore?" the girl asked. "Has anyone any suspicion that I am here?"
"It seems that way."
"Yes," the captain continued, "I was talkin' to a young feller on shore, an' he sent ye his kind regards."
"Not Mr. Donaster! Oh, say it wasn't that man."
"No, it wasn't that critter, but another, an' a fine chap, too. Mebbe ye kin guess his name. He seemed mighty interested, an' asked me a number of questions."
"Did he?" The sigh of relief which the girl gave was more expressive than words. The captain chuckled as he watched her, and his eyes twinkled.
"Yes, Miss, he came along in a car an' tried to pump me dry with his queer questions. An' he was a mighty nice feller, too, good-natured, an' handsome enough fer any gal, no matter how pertic'ler she might be. He told me to take good care of ye. Hello! what's the matter?"
The cause of the captain's exclamation was the expression of confusion which suddenly overspread the girl's face. Eben also noticed it, and for the first time in his life a strange feeling began to agitate his heart. He could not account for it, but intuitively he felt a spirit of resentment against the man with the car. This beautiful girl had come into his lonely, misunderstood life like the sweet invigorating breath of spring, and he could not bear the thought that anyone else should have the slightest claim upon her. It was the jealous unreasoning throb of a first great love. The cabin seemed to be unusually close. He must have fresh air, and he wanted to be by himself that he might think. With a bound he was up the stairs to the deck above.
"Well, I declare!" the captain ejaculated, as he stared after his son. "What's the matter with that boy, anyway? Ye'd think a hull pack of wolves was chasin' him by the way he left this cabin. I can't understand him nohow."
The captain had barely finished speaking when a gust of wind struck the boat, causing the cabin door to close with a bang.
"Guess the breeze has come at last," he remarked. "It should be a big blow after this long calm. You jist keep close here while I go on deck. By the look of things we should be out of this in a few minutes. How'll that suit ye?"
"Oh, I shall be so thankful," the girl declared. "I cannot feel safe while we are so near that search-party. Please get away as soon as you can."
GIVING MARTHA THE GO-BY
The wind which had come up with the tide was steadily increasing in strength, causing the "Eb and Flo" to scud rapidly forward with every inch of her one big sail stretched to its full capacity. There had been considerable work before the boat was well under way, and as the captain now stood at the wheel he was breathing heavily from his strenuous exertions. But the light of satisfaction glowed in his eyes as he looked straight ahead, and gave a few final orders to his son.
Jess Randall stood by his side, her face aglow with animation, and her heart lighter than at any time since she had first come on board. It was a great relief to be out of the cabin and once more in the open with the fresh breeze whipping about her, and tossing her hair over cheeks and brow. The searching party was left behind, and the small boats seemed like mere vanishing specks in the distance. She had no fear now, for she believed that the "Eb and Flo" would carry her safely away from her pursuers, whither she did not know. The strain through which she had recently passed, and the want of sleep the night before were telling upon her now, causing her to feel very tired. She leaned against the cabin for support, and this the captain at once noted.
"Here, take this wheel fer a minute," he ordered. "I want to go below. Jist keep her at that," he continued, when the girl with uncertain hands laid hold of the wheel. "Ye kin do it all right."
For the first time in her life, Jess was in command of a vessel, and a delightful thrill swept through, her as she watched, the full-swelled sail, and listened to the ripple of the boat as it cut through the water. What an easy thing it was to control such a craft, and cause it to do one's slightest bidding. And what a sense of freedom possessed her. It was a life for which she had so often longed, and she thought with amusement of her various social activities in the city. She had always been fond of life in the open, and she was never happier than when wandering through the fields or along some secluded woodland way. But such opportunities had been rare, for the barriers which surrounded her had been too firm and high.
In another minute the captain came from the cabin, carrying a three-legged stool, which he placed upon the deck.
"Thar, Miss," he said, "I think that'll be more comfortable than standin'. Ye kin lean aginst the cabin, providin' ye don't go to sleep an' push it over."
The girl smiled as she resigned the wheel and sat down upon the stool. It was certainly a relief to sit there leaning against the cabin for she felt unusually tired.
"You are very good to me, Captain," she remarked, turning her face to his. "I do not know how I can ever thank you."
"Don't try, Miss. I don't like to be thanked, anyway. It takes all the pleasure out of doin' anything, accordin' to my way of thinkin'."
The girl made no immediate reply, but sat looking out upon the river and away to the road winding along the shore. She could see an occasional auto speeding on its way, and she wondered what had become of the one which had been at the store when the captain was there. She was quite certain who the young driver was, and her heart beat somewhat faster when she thought of him. She longed to know how he had surmised where she was, and what he had said to the captain. She did not like to ask any questions lest she should betray her feelings, so she preferred to remain silent. She was aroused from her reverie by the captain shouting to his son.
"Hi, thar, Eben," he called, "hustle up an' split some wood. It's dinner time, an' thar isn't a stick cut. Guess ye must have burned it all up this mornin', Miss," he added, turning to his fair companion. "Anyway, that boy never keeps enough on hand. I wish to goodness he'd take some interest in things instead of mopin' around all the time."
"Perhaps he does take an interest in things he likes," the girl suggested.
"Then I'd like to find out what they are, Miss. I know he's mighty fond of eatin' an' sleeping but I guess that's about as fer as it goes."
"I made a discovery this morning, Captain," was the quiet reply.
"Ye did! In what way?"
"I discovered that your son has a great fondness for drawing."
"Humph!" the captain grunted, as he gave the wheel a quick, savage turn to the right. "Say, I nearly ran through that salmon net. It's too fer out, blamed if it isn't. Yes, I know Eben's fond of drawin', an' that's the trouble. He'd fiddle around all day with a paper an' pencil if I'd let him, an' not do a hand's turn."
"But suppose he should make a success of his drawing, though?"
"In what way? Wouldn't it be better fer him to learn boatin' so he kin take charge of this craft some day?"
"He never will do that, Captain. His mind is set upon being an engineer, and you should encourage him all you can."
"An engineer!" The captain stared at the girl in amazement.
"Yes, an engineer. He has a great liking for that, and the drawings he has made are remarkably good, considering that he has had no one to teach him."
"Ye don't tell! But what has drawin's to do with engineering I'd like to know. Ye don't have to make drawin's to run an engine, do ye ?"
"To be a civil engineer you do, and that is what your son wants to be. His mind is set upon bridge building, and you should see the drawings he has made of the bridge across the falls. I suppose you have never seen them?"
"No. Eben never showed 'em to me. Guess he was too scart."
"That's just the trouble, Captain. You have misunderstood the boy, and he has been doing this work on the sly. He showed them to me, though, and I have promised to give him some lessons."
"Yes, providing you will let me. And you will, won't you? It would be a great pity not to help and encourage him. If you do, you may be proud of him some day."
The captain gripped the wheel with firm hands, and looked straight before him. His face was a study, and the girl watched him somewhat curiously. She knew how his heart was set upon fitting Eben to take his place, and to relinquish that hope would be a great hardship.
"Guess I'll have to talk this over with Martha," he at length announced. "She an' Flo are so dead set upon Eben bein' a captain that I don't believe they'll listen to me fer a minute."
"But suppose Eben should take matters into his own hands?" Jess queried. "You may think you can control him, but you cannot tell how soon he may slip from your grasp. Would it not be better to hold his affections by helping him in every way you can? I wish I could see your wife and daughter. I feel quite sure that I could make them see the matter in a different light. Perhaps I could change their minds."
"Mebbe ye could, Miss," and the captain gave a deep sigh. "But I can't hold out much hope. If ye knew 'em as well as I do, ye wouldn't feel very sure, let me tell ye that. An' besides, Miss, I don't think ye'll ever see 'em, anyway, not on this craft."
"I won't!" The expression in the girl's eyes showed her surprise. "Why, I thought we would be at your home to-day, and that I would surely meet them."
"Yes, we'll be at me home, all right," and the captain's face grew serious. "We'll see it, but we won't stop. Oh, no, it would be all up with me if Martha an' Flo should catch you here. We'll jist give 'em the go-by to-day, an' it'll be the fust time I've ever done sich a thing. I've been allus mighty glad to git home, even fer a few minutes."
"Captain, are you really afraid of your wife and daughter?" the girl asked. "Wouldn't it be very easy to explain how I came on this boat, and that it wasn't your fault at all?"
"I wouldn't git a chance to explain, Miss. Ye see, Martha an' Flo are fine women when it comes to cookin', lookin' after the house, an' sich things. But when it comes to the question of other women, an' 'specially one who has run away from home, an' can't give a reasonable account of herself, well, that's different."
"Oh, I see!" The girl caught her breath, and her face flushed. "They might think I'm not exactly straight; is that it?"
"Mebbe they might, an' that would make it hard fer me an' Eben."
"But won't they listen to reason, Captain? Surely they will believe you and your son."
"They might, Miss, but I don't like to face 'em. I'm no coward when it comes to runnin' this craft in a nasty gale, or doin' something extry risky; but I do wilt right down before Martha an' Flo when their ginger's up. Why, a man hasn't a ghost of a chance with them women. They're a wonder, an' no mistake."
"Then what do you intend to do?"
"Do! Why, thar's only one thing to do in sich a case, an' that is to give 'em the go-by, an' then git clear of you. As soon as we reach the quarry you'll have to light out. I hate to say it, Miss, but thar's too much at stake fer me to keep ye on board any longer. I should have sent ye away before this, but ye wouldn't go, so what was I to do?"