KENT KNOWLES: QUAHAUG
By Joseph C. Lincoln
I. Which is not a chapter at all
II. Which repeats, for the most part, what Jim Campbell said to me and what I said to him
III. Which, although it is largely family history, should not be skipped by the reader
IV. In which Hephzy and I and the Plutonia sail together
V. In which we view, and even mingle slightly with, the upper classes
VI. In which we are received at Bancroft's Hotel and I receive a letter
VII. In which a dream becomes a reality
VIII. In which the pilgrims become tenants
IX. In which we make the acquaintance of Mayberry and a portion of Burgleston Bogs
X. In which I break all previous resolutions and make a new one
XI. In which complications become more complicated
XII. In which the truth is told at last
XIII. In which Hephzy and I agree to live for each other
XIV. In which I play golf and cross the channel
XV. In which I learn that all abbeys are not churches
XVI. In which I take my turn at playing the invalid
XVII. In which I, as well as Mr. Solomon Cripps, am surprised
XVIII. In which the pilgrimage ends where it began
XIX. Which treats of quahaugs in general
KENT KNOWLES: QUAHAUG
Which is Not a Chapter at All
It was Asaph Tidditt who told me how to begin this history. Perhaps I should be very much obliged to Asaph; perhaps I shouldn't. He has gotten me out of a difficulty—or into one; I am far from certain which.
Ordinarily—I am speaking now of the writing of swashbuckling romances, which is, or was, my trade—I swear I never have called it a profession—the beginning of a story is the least of the troubles connected with its manufacture. Given a character or two and a situation, the beginning of one of those romances is, or was, pretty likely to be something like this:
"It was a black night. Heavy clouds had obscured the setting sun and now, as the clock in the great stone tower boomed twelve, the darkness was pitchy."
That is a good safe beginning. Midnight, a stone tower, a booming clock, and darkness make an appeal to the imagination. On a night like that almost anything may happen. A reader of one of my romances—and readers there must be, for the things did, and still do, sell to some extent—might be fairly certain that something WOULD happen before the end of the second page. After that the somethings continued to happen as fast as I could invent them.
But this story was different. The weather or the time had nothing to do with its beginning. There were no solitary horsemen or strange wayfarers on lonely roads, no unexpected knocks at the doors of taverns, no cloaked personages landing from boats rowed by black-browed seamen with red handkerchiefs knotted about their heads and knives in their belts. The hero was not addressed as "My Lord"; he was not "Sir Somebody-or-other" in disguise. He was not young and handsome; there was not even "a certain something in his manner and bearing which hinted of an eventful past." Indeed there was not. For, if this particular yarn or history or chronicle which I had made up my mind to write, and which I am writing now, had or has a hero, I am he. And I am Hosea Kent Knowles, of Bayport, Massachusetts, the latter the village in which I was born and in which I have lived most of the time since I was twenty-seven years old. Nobody calls me "My Lord." Hephzy has always called me "Hosy"—a name which I despise—and the others, most of them, "Kent" to my face and "The Quahaug" behind my back, a quahaug being a very common form of clam which is supposed to lead a solitary existence and to keep its shell tightly shut. If anything in my manner had hinted at a mysterious past no one in Bayport would have taken the hint. Bayporters know my past and that of my ancestors only too well.
As for being young and handsome—well, I was thirty-eight years old last March. Which is quite enough on THAT subject.
But I had determined to write the story, so I sat down to begin it. And immediately I got into difficulties. How should I begin? I might begin at any one of a dozen places—with Hephzy's receiving the Raymond and Whitcomb circular; with our arrival in London; with Jim Campbell's visit to me here in Bayport; with the curious way in which the letter reached us, after crossing the ocean twice. Any one of these might serve as a beginning—but which? I made I don't know how many attempts, but not one was satisfactory. I, who had begun I am ashamed to tell you how many stories—yes, and had finished them and seen them in print as well—was stumped at the very beginning of this one. Like Sim Phinney I had worked at my job "a long spell" and "cal'lated" I knew it, but here was something I didn't know. As Sim said, when he faced his problem, "I couldn't seem to get steerage way on her."
Simeon, you see—He is Angeline Phinney's second cousin and lives in the third house beyond the Holiness Bethel on the right-hand side of the road—Simeon has "done carpentering" here in Bayport all his life. He built practically every henhouse now gracing or disgracing the backyards of our village. He is our "henhouse specialist," so to speak. He has even been known to boast of his skill. "Henhouses!" snorted Sim; "land of love! I can build a henhouse with my eyes shut. Nowadays when another one of them foolheads that's been readin' 'How to Make a Million Poultry Raisin'' in the Farm Gazette comes to me and says 'Henhouse,' I say, 'Yes sir. Fifteen dollars if you pay me cash now and a hundred and fifteen if you want to wait and pay me out of your egg profits. That's all there is to it.'"
And yet, when Captain Darius Nickerson, who made the most of his money selling fifty-foot lots of sand, beachgrass and ticks to summer people for bungalow sites—when Captain Darius, grown purse-proud and vainglorious, expressed a desire for a henhouse with a mansard roof and a cupola, the latter embellishments to match those surmounting his own dwelling, Simeon was set aback with his canvas flapping. At the end of a week he had not driven a nail. "Godfrey's mighty!" he is reported to have exclaimed. "I don't know whether to build the average cupola and trust to a hen's fittin' it, or take an average hen and build a cupola round her. Maybe I'll be all right after I get started, but it's where to start that beats me."
Where to start beat me, also, and it might be beating me yet, if I hadn't dropped in at the post-office and heard Asaph Tidditt telling a story to the group around the stove. After he had finished, and, the mail being sorted, we were walking homeward together, I asked a question.
"Asaph," said I, "when you start to spin a yarn how do you begin?"
"Hey?" he exclaimed. "How do I begin? Why, I just heave to and go to work and begin, that's all."
"Yes, I know, but where do you begin?"
"At the beginnin', naturally. If you was cal'latin' to sail a boat race you wouldn't commence at t'other end of the course, would you?"
"I might; practical people wouldn't, I suppose. But—what IS the beginning? Suppose there were a lot of beginnings and you didn't know which to choose."
"Oh, we-ll, in that case I'd just sort of—of edge around till I found one that—that was a beginnin' of SOMETHIN' and I'd start there. You understand, don't you? Take that yarn I was spinnin' just now—that one about Josiah Dimick's great uncle's pig on his mother's side. I mean his uncle on his mother's side, not the pig, of course. Now I hadn't no intention of tellin' about that hog; hadn't thought of it for a thousand year, as you might say. I just commenced to tell about Angie Phinney, about how fast she could talk, and that reminded me of a parrot that belonged to Sylvanus Cahoon's sister—Violet, the sister's name was—loony name, too, if you ask ME, 'cause she was a plaguey sight nigher bein' a sunflower than she was a violet—weighed two hundred and ten and had a face on her as red as—"
"Just a minute, Ase. About that pig?"
"Oh, yes! Well, the pig reminded me of Violet's parrot and the parrot reminded me of a Plymouth Rock rooster I had that used to roost in the pigpen nights—wouldn't use the henhouse no more'n you nor I would—and that, naturally, made me think of pigs, and pigs fetched Josiah's uncle's pig to mind and there I was all ready to start on the yarn. It pretty often works out that way. When you want to start a yarn and you can't start—you've forgot it, or somethin'—just begin somewhere, get goin' somehow. Edge around and keep edgin' around and pretty soon you'll fetch up at the right place TO start. See, don't you, Kent?"
I saw—that is, I saw enough. I came home and this morning I began the "edging around" process. I don't seem to have "fetched up" anywhere in particular, but I shall keep on with the edging until I do. As Asaph says, I must begin somewhere, so I shall begin with the Saturday morning of last April when Jim Campbell, my publisher and my friend—which is by no means such an unusual combination as many people think—sat on the veranda of my boathouse overlooking Cape Cod Bay and discussed my past, present and, more particularly, my future.
Which Repeats, for the Most Part, What Jim Campbell Said to Me and What I Said to Him
"Jim," said I, "what is the matter with me?"
Jim, who was seated in the ancient and dilapidated arm-chair which was the finest piece of furniture in the boathouse and which I always offered to visitors, looked at me over the collar of my sweater. I used the sweater as I did the arm-chair when I did not have visitors. He was using it then because, like an idiot, he had come to Cape Cod in April with nothing warmer than a very natty suit and a light overcoat. Of course one may go clamming and fishing in a light overcoat, but—one doesn't.
Jim looked at me over the collar of my sweater. Then he crossed his oilskinned and rubber-booted legs—they were my oilskins and my boots—and answered promptly.
"Indigestion," he said. "You ate nine of those biscuits this morning; I saw you."
"I did not," I retorted, "because you saw them first. MY interior is in its normal condition. As for yours—"
"Mine," he interrupted, filling his pipe from my tobacco pouch, "being accustomed to a breakfast, not a gorge, is abnormal but satisfactory, thank you—quite satisfactory."
"That," said I, "we will discuss later, when I have you out back of the bar in my catboat. Judging from present indications there will be some sea-running. The 'Hephzy' is a good, capable craft, but a bit cranky, like the lady she is named for. I imagine she will roll."
He didn't like that. You see, I had sailed with him before and I remembered.
"Ho-se-a," he drawled, "you have a vivid imagination. It is a pity you don't use more of it in those stories of yours."
"Humph! I am obliged to use the most of it on the royalty statements you send me. If you call me 'Hosea' again I will take the 'Hephzy' across the Point Rip. The waves there are fifteen feet high at low tide. See here, I asked you a serious question and I should like a serious answer. Jim, what IS the matter with me? Have I written out or what is the trouble?"
He looked at me again.
"Are you in earnest?" he asked.
"I am, very much in earnest."
"And you really want to talk shop after a breakfast like that and on a morning like this?"
"Was that why you asked me to come to Bayport and spend the week-end?"
"No-o. No, of course not."
"You're another; it was. When you met me at the railroad station yesterday I could see there was something wrong with you. All this morning you've had something on your chest. I thought it was the biscuits, of course; but it wasn't, eh?"
"It was not."
"Then what was it? Aren't we paying you a large enough royalty?"
"You are paying me a good deal larger one than I deserve. I don't see why you do it."
"Oh," with a wave of the hand, "that's all right. The publishing of books is a pure philanthropy. We are in business for our health, and—"
"Shut up. You know as well as I do that the last two yarns of mine which your house published have not done as well as the others."
I had caught him now. Anything remotely approaching a reflection upon the business house of which he was the head was sufficient to stir up Jim Campbell. That business, its methods and its success, were his idols.
"I don't know any such thing," he protested, hotly. "We sold—"
"Hang the sale! You sold quite enough. It is an everlasting miracle to me that you are able to sell a single copy. Why a self-respecting person, possessed of any intelligence whatever, should wish to read the stuff I write, to say nothing of paying money for the privilege, I can't understand."
"You don't have to understand. No one expects an author to understand anything. All you are expected to do is to write; we'll attend to the rest of it. And as for sales—why, 'The Black Brig'—that was the last one, wasn't it?—beat the 'Omelet' by eight thousand or more."
"The Omelet" was our pet name for "The Queen's Amulet," my first offence in the literary line. It was a highly seasoned concoction of revolution and adventure in a mythical kingdom where life was not dull, to say the least. The humblest character in it was a viscount. Living in Bayport had, naturally, made me familiar with the doings of viscounts.
"Eight thousand more than the last isn't so bad, is it?" demanded Jim Campbell combatively.
"It isn't. It is astonishingly good. It is the books themselves that are bad. The 'Omelet' was bad enough, but I wrote it more as a joke than anything else. I didn't take it seriously at all. Every time I called a duke by his Christian name I grinned. But nowadays I don't grin—I swear. I hate the things, Jim. They're no good. And the reviewers are beginning to tumble to the fact that they're no good, too. You saw the press notices yourself. 'Another Thriller by the Indefatigable Knowles' 'Barnacles, Buccaneers and Blood, not to Mention Beauty and the Bourbons.' That's the way two writers headed their articles about 'The Black Brig.' And a third said that I must be getting tired; I wrote as if I was. THAT fellow was right. I am tired, Jim. I'm tired and sick of writing slush. I can't write any more of it. And yet I can't write anything else."
Jim's pipe had gone out. Now he relit it and tossed the match over the veranda rail.
"How do you know you can't?" he demanded.
"Can't write anything but slush?"
"Ah ha! Then it is slush. You admit it."
"I don't admit anything of the kind. You may not be a William Shakespeare or even a George Meredith, but you have written some mighty interesting stories. Why, I know a chap who sits up till morning to finish a book of yours. Can't sleep until he has finished it."
"What's the matter with him; insomnia?"
"No; he's a night watchman. Does that satisfy you, you crossgrained old shellfish? Come on, let's dig clams—some of your own blood relations—and forget it."
"I don't want to forget it and there is plenty of time for clamming. The tide won't cover the flats for two hours yet. I tell you I'm serious, Jim. I can't write any more. I know it. The stuff I've been writing makes me sick. I hate it, I tell you. What the devil I'm going to do for a living I can't see—but I can't write another story."
Jim put his pipe in his pocket. I think at last he was convinced that I meant what I said, which I certainly did. The last year had been a year of torment to me. I had finished the 'Brig,' as a matter of duty, but if that piratical craft had sunk with all hands, including its creator, I should not have cared. I drove myself to my desk each day, as a horse might be driven to a treadmill, but the animal could have taken no less interest in his work than I had taken in mine. It was bad—bad—bad; worthless and hateful. There wasn't a new idea in it and I hadn't one in my head. I, who had taken up writing as a last resort, a gamble which might, on a hundred-to-one chance, win where everything else had failed, had now reached the point where that had failed, too. Campbell's surmise was correct; with the pretence of asking him to the Cape for a week-end of fishing and sailing I had lured him there to tell him of my discouragement and my determination to quit.
He took his feet from the rail and hitched his chair about until he faced me.
"So you're not going to write any more," he said.
"I'm not. I can't."
"What are you going to do; live on back royalties and clams?"
"I may have to live on the clams; my back royalties won't keep me very long."
"Humph! I should think they might keep you a good while down here. You must have something in the stocking. You can't have wasted very much in riotous living on this sand-heap. What have you done with your money, for the last ten years; been leading a double life?"
"I've found leading a single one hard enough. I have saved something, of course. It isn't the money that worries me, Jim; I told you that. It's myself; I'm no good. Every author, sometime or other, reaches the point where he knows perfectly well he has done all the real work he can ever do, that he has written himself out. That's what's the matter with me—I'm written out."
Jim snorted. "For Heaven's sake, Kent Knowles," he demanded, "how old are you?"
"I'm thirty-eight, according to the almanac, but—"
"Thirty-eight! Why, Thackeray wrote—"
"Drop it! I know when Thackeray wrote 'Vanity Fair' as well as you do. I'm no Thackeray to begin with, and, besides, I am older at thirty-eight than he was when he died—yes, older than he would have been if he had lived twice as long. So far as feeling and all the rest of it go, I'm a second Methusaleh."
"My soul! hear the man! And I'm forty-two myself. Well, Grandpa, what do you expect me to do; get you admitted to the Old Man's Home?"
"I expect—" I began, "I expect—" and I concluded with the lame admission that I didn't expect him to do anything. It was up to me to do whatever must be done, I imagined.
He smiled grimly.
"Glad your senility has not affected that remnant of your common-sense," he declared. "You're dead right, my boy; it IS up to you. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
"I am, but that doesn't help me a whole lot."
"Nothing will help you as long as you think and speak as you have this morning. See here, Kent! answer me a question or two, will you? They may be personal questions, but will you answer them?"
"I guess so. There has been what a disinterested listener might call a slightly personal flavor to your remarks so far. Do your worst. Fire away."
"All right. You've lived in Bayport ten years or so, I know that. What have you done in all that time—besides write?"
"Well, I've continued to live."
"Doubted. You've continued to exist; but how? I've been here before. This isn't my first visit, by a good deal. Each time I have been here your daily routine—leaving out the exciting clam hunts and the excursions in quest of the ferocious flounder, like the one we're supposed—mind, I say supposed—to be on at the present moment—you have put in the day about like this: Get up, bathe, eat, walk to the post-office, walk home, sit about, talk a little, read some, walk some more, eat again, smoke, talk, read, eat for the third time, smoke, talk, read and go to bed. That's the program, isn't it?"
"Not exactly. I play tennis in summer—when there is anyone to play with me—and golf, after a fashion. I used to play both a good deal, when I was younger. I swim, and I shoot a little, and—and—"
"How about society? Have any, do you?"
"In the summer, when the city people are here, there is a good deal going on, if you care for it—picnics and clam bakes and teas and lawn parties and such."
"Heavens! what reckless dissipation! Do you indulge?"
"Why, no—not very much. Hang it all, Jim! you know I'm no society man. I used to do the usual round of fool stunts when I was younger, but—"
"But now you're too antique, I suppose. Wonder that someone hasn't collected you as a genuine Chippendale or something. So you don't 'tea' much?"
"Not much. I'm not often invited, to tell you the truth. The summer crowd doesn't take kindly to me, I'm afraid."
"Astonishing! You're such a chatty, entertaining, communicative cuss on first acquaintance, too. So captivatingly loquacious to strangers. I can imagine how you'd shine at a 'tea.' Every summer girl that tried to talk to you would be frost-bitten. Do you accept invitations when they do come?"
"Not often nowadays. You see, I know they don't really want me."
"How do you know it?"
"Why—well, why should they? Everybody else calls me—"
"They call you a clam and so you try to live up to your reputation. I know you, Kent. You think yourself a tough old bivalve, but the most serious complaint you suffer from is ingrowing sensitiveness. They do want you. They'd invite you if you gave them half a chance. Oh, I know you won't, of course; but if I had my way I'd have you dragged by main strength to every picnic and tea and feminine talk-fest within twenty miles. You might meet some persevering female who would propose marriage. YOU never would, but SHE might."
I rose to my feet in disgust.
"We'll go clamming," said I.
He did not move.
"We will—later on," he answered. "We haven't got to the last page of the catechism yet. I mentioned matrimony because a good, capable, managing wife would be my first prescription in your case. I have one or two more up my sleeve. Tell me this: How often do you get away from Bayport? How often do you get to—well, to Boston, we'll say? How many times have you been there in the last year?"
"I don't know. A dozen, perhaps."
"What did you do when you went?"
"Various things. Shopped some, went to the theater occasionally, if there happened to be anything on that I cared to see. Bought a good many books. Saw the new Sargent pictures at the library. And—and—"
"And shook hands with your brother fossils at the museum, I suppose. Wild life you lead, Kent. Did you visit anybody? Meet any friends or acquaintances—any live ones?"
"Not many. I haven't many friends, Jim; you know that. As for the wild life—well, I made two visits to New York this year."
"Yes," drily; "and we saw Sothern and Marlowe and had dinner at the Holland. The rest of the time we talked shop. That was the first visit. The second was more exciting still; we talked shop ALL the time and you took the six o'clock train home again."
"You're wrong there. I saw the new loan collections at the Metropolitan and heard Ysaye play at Carnegie Hall. I didn't start for home until the next day."
"Is that so. That's news to me. You said you were going that afternoon. That was to put the kibosh on my intention of taking you home to my wife and her bridge party, I suppose. Was it?"
"Well—well, you see, Jim, I—I don't play bridge and I AM such a stick in a crowd like that. I wanted to stay and you were mighty kind, but—but—"
"All right. All right, my boy. Next time it will be Bustanoby's, the Winter Garden and a three A. M. cabaret for yours. My time is coming. Now—Well, now we'll go clamming."
He swung out of the arm-chair and walked to the top of the steps leading down to the beach. I was surprised, of course; I have known Jim Campbell a long time, but he can surprise me even yet.
"Here! hold on!" I protested. "How about the rest of that catechism?"
"You've had it."
"Were those all the questions you wanted to ask?"
"Humph! And that is all the advice and encouragement I'm to get from you! How about those prescriptions you had up your sleeve?"
"You'll get those by and by. Before I leave this gay and festive scene to-morrow I'm going to talk to you, Ho-se-a. And you're going to listen. You'll listen to old Doctor Campbell; HE'LL prescribe for you, don't you worry. And now," beginning to descend the steps, "now for clams and flounders."
"And the Point Rip," I added, maliciously, for his frivolous treatment of what was to me a very serious matter, was disappointing and provoking. "Don't forget the Point Rip."
We dug the clams—they were for bait—we boarded the "Hephzy," sailed out to the fishing grounds, and caught flounders. I caught the most of them; Jim was not interested in fishing during the greater part of the time. Then we sailed home again and walked up to the house. Hephzibah, for whom my boat is named, met us at the back door. As usual her greeting was not to the point and practical.
"Leave your rubber boots right outside on the porch," she said. "Here, give me those flatfish; I'll take care of 'em. Hosy, you'll find dry things ready in your room. Here's your shoes; I've been warmin' 'em. Mr. Campbell I've put a suit of Hosy's and some flannels on your bed. They may not fit you, but they'll be lots better than the damp ones you've got on. You needn't hurry; dinner won't be ready till you are."
I did not say anything; I knew Hephzy—had known her all my life. Jim, who, naturally enough, didn't know her as well, protested.
"We're not wet, Miss Cahoon," he declared. "At least, I'm not, and I don't see how Kent can be. We both wore oilskins."
"That doesn't make any difference. You ought to change your clothes anyhow. Been out in that boat, haven't you?"
"Well, then! Don't say another word. I'll have a fire in the sittin'-room and somethin' hot ready when you come down. Hosy, be sure and put on BOTH the socks I darned for you. Don't get thinkin' of somethin' else and come down with one whole and one holey, same as you did last time. You must excuse me, Mr. Campbell. I've got saleratus biscuits in the oven."
She hastened into the kitchen. When Jim and I, having obeyed orders to the extent of leaving our boots on the porch, passed through that kitchen she was busy with the tea-kettle. I led the way through the dining-room and up the front stairs. My visitor did not speak until we reached the second story. Then he expressed his feelings.
"Say, Kent" he demanded, "are you going to change your clothes?"
"Why? You're no wetter than I am, are you?"
"Not a bit, but I'm going to change, just the same. It's the easier way."
"It is, is it! What's the other way?"
"The other way is to keep on those you're wearing and take the consequences."
"Jamaica ginger, hot water bottles and an afternoon's roast in front of the sitting-room fire. Hephzibah went out sailing with me last October and caught cold. That was enough; no one else shall have the experience if she can help it."
"But—but good heavens! Kent, do you mean to say you always have to change when you come in from sailing?"
"Except in summer, yes."
"Because Hephzy tells me to."
"Do you always do what she tells you?"
"Generally. It's the easiest way, as I said before."
"Good—heavens! And she darns your socks and tells you what—er lingerie to wear and—does she wash your face and wipe your nose and scrub behind your ears?"
"Not exactly, but she probably would if I didn't do it."
"Well, I'll be hanged! And she extends the same treatment to all your guests?"
"I don't have any guests but you. No doubt she would if I did. She mothers every stray cat and sick chicken in the neighborhood. There, Jim, you trot along and do as you're told like a nice little boy. I'll join you in the sitting-room."
"Humph! perhaps I'd better. I may be spanked and put to bed if I don't. Well, well! and you are the author of 'The Black Brig!' 'Buccaneers and Blood!' 'Bibs and Butterscotch' it should be! Don't stand out here in the cold hall, Hosy darling; you may get the croup if you do."
I was waiting in the sitting-room when he came down. There was a roaring fire in the big, old-fashioned fireplace. That fireplace had been bricked up in the days when people used those abominations, stoves. As a boy I was well acquainted with the old "gas burner" with the iron urn on top and the nickeled ornaments and handles which Mother polished so assiduously. But the gas burner had long since gone to the junk dealer. Among the improvements which my first royalty checks made possible were steam heat and the restoration of the fireplace.
Jim found me sitting before the fire in one of the two big "wing" chairs which I had purchased when Darius Barlay's household effects were sold at auction. I should not have acquired them as cheaply if Captain Cyrus Whittaker had been at home when the auction took place. Captain Cy loves old-fashioned things as much as I do and, as he has often told me since, he meant to land those chairs some day if he had to run his bank account high and dry in consequence. But the Captain and his wife—who used to be Phoebe Dawes, our school-teacher here in Bayport—were away visiting their adopted daughter, Emily, who is married and living in Boston, and I got the chairs.
At the Barclay auction I bought also the oil painting of the bark "Freedom"—a command of Captain Elkanah Barclay, uncle of the late Darius—and the set—two volumes missing—of The Spectator, bound in sheepskin. The "Freedom" is depicted "Entering the Port of Genoa, July 10th, 1848," and if the port is somewhat wavy and uncertain, the bark's canvas and rigging are definite and rigid enough to make up. The Spectator set is chiefly remarkable for its marginal notes; Captain Elkanah bought the books in London and read and annotated at spare intervals during subsequent voyages. His opinions were decided and his notes nautical and emphatic. Hephzibah read a few pages of the notes when the books first came into the house and then went to prayer-meeting. As she had announced her intention of remaining at home that evening I was surprised—until I read them myself.
Jim came downstairs, arrayed in the suit which Hephzy had laid out for him. I made no comment upon his appearance. To do so would have been superfluous; he looked all the comments necessary.
I waved my hand towards the unoccupied wing chair and he sat down. Two glasses, one empty and the other half full of a steaming mixture, were on the little table beside us.
"Help yourself, Jim," I said, indicating the glasses. He took up the one containing the mixture and regarded it hopefully.
"What?" he asked.
"A Cahoon toddy," said I. "Warranted to keep off chills, rheumatism, lumbago and kindred miseries. Good for what ails you. Don't wait; I've had mine."
He took a sniff and then a very small sip. His face expressed genuine emotion.
"Whew!" he gasped, choking. "What in blazes—?"
"Jamaica ginger, sugar and hot water," I explained blandly. "It won't hurt you—longer than five minutes. It is Hephzy's invariable prescription."
"Good Lord! Did you drink yours?"
"No—I never do, unless she watches me."
"But your glass is empty. What did you do with it?"
"Emptied it behind the back log. Of course, if you prefer to drink it—"
"Drink it!" His "toddy" splashed the back log, causing a tremendous sizzle.
Before he could relieve his mind further, Hephzy appeared to announce that dinner was ready if we were. We were, most emphatically, so we went into the dining-room.
Hephzy and Jim did most of the talking during the meal. I had talked more that forenoon than I had for a week—I am not a chatty person, ordinarily, which, in part, explains my nickname—and I was very willing to eat and listen. Hephzy, who was garbed in her best gown—best weekday gown, that is; she kept her black silk for Sundays—talked a good deal, mostly about dreams and presentiments. Susanna Wixon, Tobias Wixon's oldest daughter, waited on table, when she happened to think of it, and listened when she did not. Susanna had been hired to do the waiting and the dish-washing during Campbell's brief visit. It was I who hired her. If I had had my way she would have been a permanent fixture in the household, but Hephzy scoffed at the idea. "Pity if I can't do housework for two folks," she declared. "I don't care if you can afford it. Keepin' hired help in a family no bigger than this, is a sinful extravagance." As Susanna's services had been already engaged for the weekend she could not discharge her, but she insisted on doing all the cooking herself.
Her conversation, as I said, dealt mainly with dreams and presentiments. Hephzibah is not what I should call a superstitious person. She doesn't believe in "signs," although she might feel uncomfortable if she broke a looking-glass or saw the new moon over her left shoulder. She has a most amazing fund of common-sense and is "down" on Spiritualism to a degree. It is one of Bayport's pet yarns, that at the Harniss Spiritualist camp-meeting when the "test medium" announced from the platform that he had a message for a lady named Hephzibah C—he "seemed to get the name Hephzibah C"—Hephzy got up and walked out. "Any dead relations I've got," she declared, "who send messages through a longhaired idiot like that one up there"—meaning the medium,—"can't have much to say that's worth listenin' to. They can talk to themselves if they want to, but they shan't waste MY time."
In but one particular was Hephzy superstitious. Whenever she dreamed of "Little Frank" she was certain something was going to happen. She had dreamed of "Little Frank" the night before and, if she had not been headed off, she would have talked of nothing else.
"I saw him just as plain as I see you this minute, Hosy," she said to me. "I was somewhere, in a strange place—a foreign place, I should say 'twas—and there I saw him. He didn't know me; at least I don't think he did."
"Considering that he never saw you that isn't so surprising," I interrupted. "I think Mr. Campbell would have another cup of coffee if you urged him. Susanna, take Mr. Campbell's cup."
Jim declined the coffee; said he hadn't finished his first cup yet. I knew that, of course, but I was trying to head off Hephzy. She refused to be headed, just then.
"But I knew HIM," she went on. "He looked just the same as he has when I've seen him before—in the other dreams, you know. The very image of his mother. Isn't it wonderful, Hosy!"
"Yes; but don't resurrect the family skeletons, Hephzy. Mr. Campbell isn't interested in anatomy."
"Skeletons! I don't know what you're talkin' about. He wasn't a skeleton. I saw him just as plain! And I said to myself, 'It's little Frank!' Now what do you suppose he came to me for? What do you suppose it means? It means somethin', I know that."
"Means that you weren't sleeping well, probably," I answered. "Jim, here, will dream of cross-seas and the Point Rip to-night, I have no doubt."
Jim promptly declared that if he thought that likely he shouldn't mind so much. What he feared most was a nightmare session with an author.
Hephzibah was interested at once. "Oh, do you dream about authors, Mr. Campbell?" she demanded. "I presume likely you do, they're so mixed up with your business. Do your dreams ever come true?"
"Not often," was the solemn reply. "Most of my dream-authors are rational and almost human."
Hephzy, of course, did not understand this, but it did have the effect for which I had been striving, that of driving "Little Frank" from her mind for the time.
"I don't care," she declared, "I s'pose it's awful foolish and silly of me, but it does seem sometimes as if there was somethin' in dreams, some kind of dreams. Hosy laughs at me and maybe I ought to laugh at myself, but some dreams come true, or awfully near to true; now don't they. Angeline Phinney was in here the other day and she was tellin' about her second cousin that was—he's dead now—Abednego Small. He was constable here in Bayport for years; everybody called him 'Uncle Bedny.' Uncle Bedny had been keepin' company with a woman named Dimick—Josiah Dimick's niece—lots younger than he, she was. He'd been thinkin' of marryin' her, so Angie said, but his folks had been talkin' to him, tellin' him he was too old to take such a young woman for his third wife, so he had made up his mind to throw her over, to write a letter sayin' it was all off between 'em. Well, he'd begun the letter but he never finished it, for three nights runnin' he dreamed that awful trouble was hangin' over him. That dream made such an impression on him that he tore the letter up and married the Dimick woman after all. And then—I didn't know this until Angie told me—it turned out that she had heard he was goin' to give her the go-by and had made all her arrangements to sue him for breach of promise if he did. That was the awful trouble, you see, and the dream saved him from it."
I smiled. "The fault there was in the interpretation of the dream," I said. "The 'awful trouble' of the breach of promise suit wouldn't have been a circumstance to the trouble poor Uncle Bedny got into by marrying Ann Dimick. THAT trouble lasted till he died."
Hephzibah laughed and said she guessed that was so, she hadn't thought of it in that way.
"Probably dreams are all nonsense," she admitted. "Usually, I don't pay much attention to 'em. But when I dream of poor 'Little Frank,' away off there, I—"
"Come into the sitting-room, Jim," I put in hastily. "I have a cigar or two there. I don't buy them in Bayport, either."
"And who," asked Jim, as we sat smoking by the fire, "is Little Frank?"
"He is a mythical relative of ours," I explained, shortly. "He was born twenty years ago or so—at least we heard that he was; and we haven't heard anything of him since, except by the dream route, which is not entirely convincing. He is Hephzy's pet obsession. Kindly forget him, to oblige me."
He looked puzzled, but he did not mention "Little Frank" again, for which I was thankful.
That afternoon we walked up to the village, stopping in at Simmons's store, which is also the post-office, for the mail. Captain Cyrus Whittaker happened to be there, also Asaph Tidditt and Bailey Bangs and Sylvanus Cahoon and several others. I introduced Campbell to the crowd and he seemed to be enjoying himself. When we came out and were walking home again, he observed:
"That Whittaker is an interesting chap, isn't he?"
"Yes," I said. "He is all right. Been everywhere and seen everything."
"And that," with an odd significance in his tone, "may possibly help to make him interesting, don't you think?"
"I suppose so. He lives here in Bayport now, though."
"So I gathered. Popular, is he?"
"Satisfied with life?"
"Seems to be."
"Hum! No one calls HIM a—what is it—quahaug?"
"No, I'm the only human clam in this neighborhood."
He did not say any more, nor did I. My fit of the blues was on again and his silence on the subject in which I was interested, my work and my future, troubled me and made me more despondent. I began to lose faith in the "prescription" which he had promised so emphatically. How could he, or anyone else, help me? No one could write my stories but myself, and I knew, only too well, that I could not write them.
The only mail matter in our box was a letter addressed to Hephzibah. I forgot it until after supper and then I gave it to her. Jim retired early; the salt air made him sleepy, so he said, and he went upstairs shortly after nine. He had not mentioned our talk of the morning, nor did he until I left him at the door of his room. Then he said:
"Kent, I've got one of the answers to your conundrum. I've diagnosed one of your troubles. You're blind."
"Yes, blind. Or, if not blind altogether you're suffering from the worse case of far-sightedness I ever saw. All your literary—we'll call it that for compliment's sake—all your literary life you've spent writing about people and things so far off you don't know anything about them. You and your dukes and your earls and your titled ladies! What do you know of that crowd? You never saw a lord in your life. Why don't you write of something near by, something or somebody you are acquainted with?"
"Acquainted with! You're crazy, man. What am I acquainted with, except this house, and myself and my books and—and Bayport?"
"That's enough. Why, there is material in that gang at the post-office to make a dozen books. Write about them."
"Tut! tut! tut! You ARE crazy. What shall I write; the life of Ase Tidditt in four volumes, beginning with 'I swan to man' and ending with 'By godfrey'?"
"You might do worse. If the book were as funny as its hero I'd undertake to sell a few copies."
"Funny! I couldn't write a funny book."
"Not an intentionally funny one, you mean. But there! There's no use to talk to you."
"There is not, if you talk like an imbecile. Is this your brilliant 'prescription'?"
"No. It might be; it would be, if you would take it, but you won't—not now. You need something else first and I'll give it to you. But I'll tell you this, and I mean it: Downstairs, in that dining-room of yours, there's one mighty good story, at least."
"The dining-room? A story in the dining-room?"
"Yes. Or it was there when we passed the door just now."
I looked at him. He seemed to be serious, but I knew he was not. I hate riddles.
"Oh, go to blazes!" I retorted, and turned away.
I looked into the dining-room as I went by. There was no story in sight there, so far as I could see. Hephzy was seated by the table, mending something, something of mine, of course. She looked up.
"Oh, Hosy," she said, "that letter you brought was a travel book from the Raymond and Whitcomb folks. I sent a stamp for it. It's awfully interesting! All about tours through England and France and Switzerland and everywhere. So cheap they are! I'm pickin' out the ones I'm goin' on some day. The pictures are lovely. Don't you want to see 'em?"
"Not now," I replied. Another obsession of Hephzy's was travel. She, who had never been further from Bayport than Hartford, Connecticut, was forever dreaming of globe-trotting. It was not a new disease with her, by any means; she had been dreaming the same things ever since I had known her, and that is since I knew anything. Some day, SOME day she was going to this, that and the other place. She knew all about these places, because she had read about them over and over again. Her knowledge, derived as it was from so many sources, was curiously mixed, but it was comprehensive, of its kind. She was continually sending for Cook's circulars and booklets advertising personally conducted excursions. And, with the arrival of each new circular or booklet, she picked out, as she had just done, the particular tours she would go on when her "some day" came. It was funny, this queer habit of hers, but not half as funny as the thought of her really going would have been. I would have as soon thought of our front door leaving home and starting on its travels as of Hephzy's doing it. The door was no more a part and fixture of that home than she was.
I went into my study, which adjoins the sitting-room, and sat down at my desk. Not with the intention of writing anything, or even of considering something to write about. That I made up my mind to forget for this night, at least. My desk chair was my usual seat in that room and I took that seat as a matter of habit.
As a matter of habit also I looked about for a book. I did not have to look far. Books were my extravagance—almost my only one. They filled the shelves to the ceiling on three sides of the study and overflowed in untidy heaps on the floor. They were Hephzy's bugbear, for I refused to permit their being "straightened out" or arranged.
I looked about for a book and selected several, but, although they were old favorites, I could not interest myself in any of them. I tried and tried, but even Mr. Pepys, that dependable solace of a lonely hour, failed to interest me with his chatter. Perhaps Campbell's pointed remarks concerning lords and ladies had its effect here. Old Samuel loved to write of such people, having a wide acquaintance with them, and perhaps that very acquaintance made me jealous. At any rate I threw the volume back upon its pile and began to think of myself, and of my work, the very thing I had expressly determined not to do when I came into the room.
Jim's foolish and impossible advice to write of places and people I knew haunted and irritated me. I did know Bayport—yes, and it might be true that the group at the post-office contained possible material for many books; but, if so, it was material for the other man, not for me. "Write of what you know," said Jim. And I knew so little. There was at least one good yarn in the dining-room at that moment, he had declared. He must have meant Hephzibah, but, if he did, what was there in Hephzibah's dull, gray life-story to interest an outside reader? Her story and mine were interwoven and neither contained anything worth writing about. His fancy had been caught, probably, by her odd combination of the romantic and the practical, and in her dream of "Little Frank" he had scented a mystery. There was no mystery there, nothing but the most commonplace record of misplaced trust and ingratitude. Similar things happen in so many families.
However, I began to think of Hephzy and, as I said, of myself, and to review my life since Ardelia Cahoon and Strickland Morley changed its course so completely. And now it seems to me that, in the course of my "edging around" for the beginning of this present chronicle—so different from anything I have ever written before or ever expected to write—the time has come when the reader—provided, of course, the said chronicle is ever finished or ever reaches a reader—should know something of that life; should know a little of the family history of the Knowles and the Cahoons and the Morleys.
Which, Although It Is Largely Family History, Should Not Be Skipped by the Reader
Let us take the Knowleses first. My name is Hosea Kent Knowles—I said that before—and my father was Captain Philander Kent Knowles. He was lost in the wreck of the steamer "Monarch of the Sea," off Hatteras. The steamer caught fire in the middle of the night, a howling gale blowing and the thermometer a few degrees above zero. The passengers and crew took to the boats and were saved. My father stuck by his ship and went down with her, as did also her first mate, another Cape-Codder. I was a baby at the time, and was at Bayport with my mother, Emily Knowles, formerly Emily Cahoon, Captain Barnabas Cahoon's niece. Mother had a little money of her own and Father's life was insured for a moderate sum. Her small fortune was invested for her by her uncle, Captain Barnabas, who was the Bayport magnate and man of affairs in those days. Mother and I continued to live in the old house in Bayport and I went to school in the village until I was fourteen, when I went away to a preparatory school near Boston. Mother died a year later. I was an only child, but Hephzibah, who had always seemed like an older sister to me, now began to "mother" me, the process which she has kept up ever since.
Hephzibah was the daughter of Captain Barnabas by his first wife. Hephzy was born in 1859, so she is well over fifty now, although no one would guess it. Her mother died when she was a little girl and ten years later Captain Barnabas married again. His second wife was Susan Hammond, of Ostable, and by her he had one daughter, Ardelia. Hephzy has always declared "Ardelia" to be a pretty name. I have my own opinion on that subject, but I keep it to myself.
At any rate, Ardelia herself was pretty enough. She was pretty when a baby and prettier still as a schoolgirl. Her mother—while she lived, which was not long—spoiled her, and her half-sister, Hephzy, assisted in the petting and spoiling. Ardelia grew up with the idea that most things in this world were hers for the asking. Whatever took her fancy she asked for and, if Captain Barnabas did not give it to her, she considered herself ill-used. She was the young lady of the family and Hephzibah was the housekeeper and drudge, an uncomplaining one, be it understood. For her, as for the Captain, the business of life was keeping Ardelia contented and happy, and they gloried in the task. Hephzy might have married well at least twice, but she wouldn't think of such a thing. "Pa and Ardelia need me," she said; that was reason sufficient.
In 1888 Captain Barnabas went to Philadelphia on business. He had retired from active sea-going years before, but he retained an interest in a certain line of coasting schooners. The Captain, as I said, went to Philadelphia on business connected with these schooners and Ardelia went with him. Hephzibah stayed at home, of course; she always stayed at home, never expected to do anything else, although even then her favorite reading were books of travel, and pictures of the Alps, and of St. Peter's at Rome, and the Tower of London were tacked up about her room. She, too, might have gone to Philadelphia, doubtless, if she had asked, but she did not ask. Her father did not think of inviting her. He loved his oldest daughter, although he did not worship her as he did Ardelia, but it never occurred to him that she, too, might enjoy the trip. Hephzy was always at home, she WAS home; so at home she remained.
In Philadelphia Ardelia met Strickland Morley.
I give that statement a line all by itself, for it is by far the most important I have set down so far. The whole story of the Cahoons and the Knowleses—that is, all of their story which is the foundation of this history of mine—hinges on just that. If those two had not met I should not be writing this to-day, I might not be writing at all; instead of having become a Bayport "quahaug" I might have been the Lord knows what.
However, they did meet, at the home of a wealthy shipping merchant named Osgood who was a lifelong friend of Captain Barnabas. This shipping merchant had a daughter and that daughter was giving a party at her father's home. Barnabas and Ardelia were invited. Strickland Morley was invited also.
Morley, at that time—I saw a good deal of him afterward, when he was at Bayport and when I was at the Cahoon house on holidays and vacations—was a handsome, aristocratic young Englishman. He was twenty-eight, but he looked younger. He was the second son in a Leicestershire family which had once been wealthy and influential but which had, in its later generations, gone to seed. He was educated, in a general sort of way, was a good dancer, played the violin fairly well, sang fairly well, had an attractive presence, and was one of the most plausible and fascinating talkers I ever listened to. He had studied medicine—studied it after a fashion, that is; he never applied himself to anything—and was then, in '88, "ship's doctor" aboard a British steamer, which ran between Philadelphia and Glasgow. Miss Osgood had met him at the home of a friend of hers who had traveled on that steamer.
Hephzy and I do not agree as to whether or not he actually fell in love with Ardelia Cahoon. Hephzy, of course, to whom Ardelia was the most wonderfully beautiful creature on earth, is certain that he did—he could not help it, she says. I am not so sure. It is very hard for me to believe that Strickland Morley was ever in love with anyone but himself. Captain Barnabas was well-to-do and had the reputation of being much richer than he really was. And Ardelia WAS beautiful, there is no doubt of that. At all events, Ardelia fell in love, with him, violently, desperately, head over heels in love, the very moment the two were introduced. They danced practically every dance together that evening, met surreptitiously the next day and for five days thereafter, and on the sixth day Captain Barnabas received a letter from his daughter announcing that she and Morley were married and had gone to New York together. "We will meet you there, Pa," wrote Ardelia. "I know you will forgive me for marrying Strickland. He is the most wonderful man in the wide world. You will love him, Pa, as I do."
There was very little love expressed by the Captain when he read the note. According to Mr. Osgood's account, Barnabas's language was a throwback from the days when he was first mate on a Liverpool packet. That his idolized daughter had married without asking his consent was bad enough; that she had married an Englishman was worse. Captain Barnabas hated all Englishmen. A ship of his had been captured and burned, in the war time, by the "Alabama," a British built privateer, and the very mildest of the terms he applied to a "John Bull" will not bear repetition in respectable society. He would not forgive Ardelia. She and her "Cockney husband" might sail together to the most tropical of tropics, or words to that effect.
But he did forgive her, of course. Likewise he forgave his son-in-law. When the Captain returned to Bayport he brought the newly wedded pair with him. I was not present at that homecoming. I was away at prep school, digging at my examinations, trying hard to forget that I was an orphan, but with the dull ache caused by my mother's death always grinding at my heart. Many years ago she died, but the ache comes back now, as I think of her. There is more self-reproach in it than there used to be, more vain regrets for impatient words and wasted opportunities. Ah, if some of us—boys grown older—might have our mothers back again, would we be as impatient and selfish now? Would we neglect the opportunities? I think not; I hope not.
Hephzibah, after she got over the shock of the surprise and the pain of sharing her beloved sister with another, welcomed that other for Ardelia's sake. She determined to like him very much indeed. This wasn't so hard, at first. Everyone liked and trusted Strickland Morley at first sight. Afterward, when they came to know him better, they were not—if they were as wise and discerning as Hephzy—so sure of the trust. The wise and discerning were not, I say; Captain Barnabas, though wise and shrewd enough in other things, trusted him to the end.
Morley made it a point to win the affection and goodwill of his father-in-law. For the first month or two after the return to Bayport the new member of the family was always speaking of his plans for the future, of his profession and how he intended soon, very soon, to look up a good location and settle down to practice. Whenever he spoke thus, Captain Barnabas and Ardelia begged him not to do it yet, to wait awhile. "I am so happy with you and Pa and Hephzy," declared Ardelia. "I can't bear to go away yet, Strickland. And Pa doesn't want us to; do you, Pa?"
Of course Captain Barnabas agreed with her, he always did, and so the Morleys remained at Bayport in the old house. Then came the first of the paralytic shocks—a very slight one—which rendered Captain Barnabas, the hitherto hale, active old seaman, unfit for exertion or the cares of business. He was not bedridden by any means; he could still take short walks, attend town meetings and those of the parish committee, but he must not, so Dr. Parker said, be allowed to worry about anything.
And Morley took it upon himself to prevent that worry. He spoke no more of leaving Bayport and settling down to practice his profession. Instead he settled down in Bayport and took the Captain's business cares upon his own shoulders. Little by little he increased his influence over the old man. He attended to the latter's investments, took charge of his bank account, collected his dividends, became, so to speak, his financial guardian. Captain Barnabas, at first rebellious—"I've always bossed my own ship," he declared, "and I ain't so darned feeble-headed that I can't do it yet"—gradually grew reconciled and then contented. He, too, began to worship his daughter's husband as the daughter herself did.
"He's a wonder," said the Captain. "I never saw such a fellow for money matters. He's handled my stocks and things a whole lot better'n I ever did. I used to cal'late if I got six per cent. interest I was doin' well. He ain't satisfied with anything short of eight, and he gets it, too. Whatever that boy wants and I own he can have. Sometimes I think this consarned palsy of mine is a judgment on me for bein' so sot against him in the beginnin'. Why, just look at how he runs this house, to say nothing of the rest of it! He's a skipper here; the rest of us ain't anything but fo'most hands."
Which was not the exact truth. Morley was skipper of the Cahoon house, Ardelia first mate, her father a passenger, and the foremast hand was Hephzy. And yet, so far as "running" that house was concerned the foremast hand ran it, as she always had done. The Captain and Ardelia were Morley's willing slaves; Hephzy was, and continued to be, a free woman. She worked from morning until night, but she obeyed only such orders as she saw fit.
She alone did not take the new skipper at his face value.
"I don't know what there was about him that made me uneasy," she has told me since. "Maybe there wasn't anything; perhaps that was just the reason. When a person is SO good and SO smart and SO polite—maybe the average sinful common mortal like me gets jealous; I don't know. But I do know that, to save my life, I couldn't swallow him whole the way Ardelia and Father did. I wanted to look him over first; and the more I looked him over, and the smoother and smoother he looked, the more sure I felt he'd give us all dyspepsy before he got through. Unreasonable, wasn't it?"
For Ardelia's sake she concealed her distrust and did her best to get on with the new head of the family. Only one thing she did, and that against Motley's and her father's protest. She withdrew her own little fortune, left her by her mother, from Captain Barnabas's care and deposited it in the Ostable savings bank and in equally secure places. Of course she told the Captain of her determination to do this before she did it and the telling was the cause of the only disagreement, almost a quarrel, which she and her father ever had. The Captain was very angry and demanded reasons. Hephzibah declared she didn't know that she had any reasons, but she was going to do it, nevertheless. And she did do it. For months thereafter relations between the two were strained; Barnabas scarcely spoke to his older daughter and Hephzy shed tears in the solitude of her bedroom. They were hard months for her.
At the end of them came the crash. Morley had developed a habit of running up to Boston on business trips connected with his father-in-law's investments. Of late these little trips had become more frequent. Also, so it seemed to Hephzy, he was losing something of his genial sweetness and suavity, and becoming more moody and less entertaining. Telegrams and letters came frequently and these he read and destroyed at once. He seldom played the violin now unless Captain Barnabas—who was fond of music of the simpler sort—requested him to do so and he seemed uneasy and, for him, surprisingly disinclined to talk.
Hephzy was not the only one who noticed the change in him. Ardelia noticed it also and, as she always did when troubled or perplexed, sought her sister's advice.
"I sha'n't ever forget that night when she came to me for the last time," Hephzy has told me over and over again. "She came up to my room, poor thing, and set down on the side of my bed and told me how worried she was about her husband. Father had turned in and HE was out, gone to the post-office or somewheres. I had Ardelia all to myself, for a wonder, and we sat and talked just the same as we used to before she was married. I'm glad it happened so. I shall always have that to remember, anyhow.
"Of course, all her worry was about Strickland. She was afraid he was makin' himself sick. He worked so hard; didn't I think so? Well, so far as that was concerned, I had come to believe that almost any kind of work was liable to make HIM sick, but of course I didn't say that to her. That somethin' was troublin' him was plain, though I was far enough from guessin' what that somethin' was.
"We set and talked, about Strickland and about Father and about ourselves. Mainly Ardelia's talk was a praise service with her husband for the subject of worship; she was so happy with him and idolized him so that she couldn't spare time for much else. But she did speak a little about herself and, before she went away, she whispered somethin' in my ear which was a dead secret. Even Father didn't know it yet, she said. Of course I was as pleased as she was, almost—and a little frightened too, although I didn't say so to her. She was always a frail little thing, delicate as she was pretty; not a strapping, rugged, homely body like me. We wasn't a bit alike.
"So we talked and when she went away to bed she gave me an extra hug and kiss; came back to give 'em to me, just as she used to when she was a little girl. I wondered since if she had any inklin' of what was goin' to happen. I'm sure she didn't; I'm sure of it as I am that it did happen. She couldn't have kept it from me if she had known—not that night. She went away to bed and I went to bed, too. I was a long while gettin' to sleep and after I did I dreamed my first dream about 'Little Frank.' I didn't call him 'Little Frank' then, though. I don't seem to remember what I did call him or just how he looked except that he looked like Ardelia. And the next afternoon she and Strickland went away—to Boston, he told us."
From that trip they never returned. Morley's influence over his wife must have been greater even than any of us thought to induce her to desert her father and Hephzy without even a written word of explanation or farewell. It is possible that she did write and that her husband destroyed the letter. I am as sure as Hephzy is that Ardelia did not know what Morley had done. But, at all events, they never came back to Bayport and within the week the truth became known. Morley had speculated, had lost and lost again and again. All of Captain Barnabas's own money and all intrusted to his care, including my little nest-egg, had gone as margins to the brokers who had bought for Morley his worthless eight per cent. wildcats. Hephzy's few thousands in the savings bank and elsewhere were all that was left.
I shall condense the rest of the miserable business as much as I can. Captain Barnabas traced his daughter and her husband as far as the steamer which sailed for England. Farther he would not trace them, although he might easily have cabled and caused his son-in-law's arrest. For a month he went about in a sort of daze, speaking to almost no one and sitting for hours alone in his room. The doctor feared for his sanity, but when the breakdown came it was in the form of a second paralytic stroke which left him a helpless, crippled dependent, weak and shattered in body and mind.
He lived nine years longer. Meanwhile various things happened. I managed to finish my preparatory school term and, then, instead of entering college as Mother and I had planned, I went into business—save the mark—taking the exalted position of entry clerk in a wholesale drygoods house in Boston. As entry clerk I did not shine, but I continued to keep the place until the firm failed—whether or not because of my connection with it I am not sure, though I doubt if my services were sufficiently important to contribute toward even this result. A month later I obtained another position and, after that, another. I was never discharged; I declare that with a sort of negative pride; but when I announced to my second employer my intention of resigning he bore the shock with—to say the least—philosophic fortitude.
"We shall miss you, Knowles," he observed.
"Thank you, sir," said I.
"I doubt if we ever have another bookkeeper just like you."
I thanked him again, fighting down my blushes with heroic modesty.
"Oh, I guess you can find one if you try," I said, lightly, wishing to comfort him.
He shook his head. "I sha'n't try," he declared. "I am not as young and as strong as I was and—well, there is always the chance that we might succeed."
It was a mean thing to say—to a boy, for I was scarcely more than that. And yet, looking back at it now, I am much more disposed to smile and forgive than I was then. My bookkeeping must have been a trial to his orderly, pigeon-holed soul. Why in the world he and his partner put up with it so long is a miracle. When, after my first novel appeared, he wrote me to say that the consciousness of having had a part, small though it might be, in training my young mind upward toward the success it had achieved would always be a great gratification to him, I did not send the letter I wrote in answer. Instead I tore up my letter and his and grinned. I WAS a bad bookkeeper; I was, and still am, a bad business man. Now I don't care so much; that is the difference.
Then I cared a great deal, but I kept on at my hated task. What else was there for me to do? My salary was so small that, as Charlie Burns, one of my fellow-clerks, said of his, I was afraid to count it over a bare floor for fear that it might drop in a crack and be lost. It was my only revenue, however, and I continued to live upon it somehow. I had a small room in a boarding-house on Shawmut Avenue and I spent most of my evenings there or in the reading-room at the public library. I was not popular at the boarding-house. Most of the young fellows there went out a good deal, to call upon young ladies or to dance or to go to the theater. I had learned to dance when I was at school and I was fond of the theater, but I did not dance well and on the rare occasions when I did accompany the other fellows to the play and they laughed and applauded and tried to flirt with the chorus girls, I fidgeted in my seat and was uncomfortable. Not that I disapproved of their conduct; I rather envied them, in fact. But if I laughed too heartily I was sure that everyone was looking at me, and though I should have liked to flirt, I didn't know how.
The few attempts I made were not encouraging. One evening—I was nineteen then, or thereabouts—Charlie Burns, the clerk whom I have mentioned, suggested that we get dinner downtown at a restaurant and "go somewhere" afterward. I agreed—it happened to be Saturday night and I had my pay in my pocket—so we feasted on oyster stew and ice cream and then started for what my companion called a "variety show." Burns, who cherished the fond hope that he was a true sport, ordered beer with his oyster stew and insisted that I should do the same. My acquaintance with beer was limited and I never did like the stuff, but I drank it with reckless abandon, following each sip with a mouthful of something else to get rid of the taste. On the way to the "show" we met two young women of Burns' acquaintance and stopped to converse with them. Charlie offered his arm to one, the best looking; I offered mine to the discard, and we proceeded to stroll two by two along the Tremont Street mall of the Common. We had strolled for perhaps ten minutes, most of which time I had spent trying to think of something to say, when Burns' charmer—she was a waitress in one of Mr. Wyman's celebrated "sandwich depots," I believe—turned and, looking back at my fair one and myself, observed with some sarcasm: "What's the matter with your silent partner, Mame? Got the lock-jaw, has he?"
I left them soon after that. There was no "variety show" for me that night. Humiliated and disgusted with myself I returned to my room at the boarding-house, realizing in bitterness of spirit that the gentlemanly dissipations of a true sport were never to be mine.
As I grew older I kept more and more to myself. My work at the office must have been a little better done, I fancy, for my salary was raised twice in four years, but I detested the work and the office and all connected with it. I read more and more at the public library and began to spend the few dollars I could spare for luxuries on books. Among my acquaintances at the boarding-house and elsewhere I had the reputation of being "queer."
My only periods of real pleasure were my annual vacations in summer. These glorious fortnights were spent at Bayport. There, at our old home, for Hephzibah had sold the big Cahoon house and she and her father were living in mine, for which they paid a very small rent, I was happy. I spent the two weeks in sailing and fishing, and tramping along the waved-washed beaches and over the pine-sprinkled hills. Even in Bayport I had few associates of my own age. Even then they began to call me "The Quahaug." Hephzy hugged me when I came and wept over me when I went away and mended my clothes and cooked my favorite dishes in the interval. Captain Barnabas sat in the big arm-chair by the sitting-room window, looking out or sleeping. He took little interest in me or anyone else and spoke but seldom. Occasionally I spent the Fourth of July or Christmas at Bayport; not often, but as often as I could.
One morning—I was twenty-five at the time, and the day was Sunday—I read a story in one of the low-priced magazines. It was not much of a story, and, as I read it, I kept thinking that I could write as good a one. I had had such ideas before, but nothing had come of them. This time, however, I determined to try. In half an hour I had evolved a plot, such as it was, and at a quarter to twelve that night the story was finished. A highwayman was its hero and its scene the great North Road in England. My conceptions of highwaymen and the North Road—of England, too, for that matter—were derived from something I had read at some time or other, I suppose; they must have been. At any rate, I finished that story, addressed the envelope to the editor of the magazine and dropped the envelope and its inclosure in the corner mail-box before I went to bed. Next morning I went to the office as usual. I had not the faintest hope that the story would be accepted. The writing of it had been fun and the sending it to the magazine a joke.
But the story was accepted and the check which I received—forty dollars—was far from a joke to a man whose weekly wage was half that amount. The encouraging letter which accompanied the check was best of all. Before the week ended I had written another thriller and this, too, was accepted.
Thereafter, for a year or more, my Sundays and the most of my evenings were riots of ink and blood. The ink was real enough and the blood purely imaginary. My heroes spilled the latter and I the former. Sometimes my yarns were refused, but the most of them were accepted and paid for. Editors of other periodicals began to write to me requesting contributions. My price rose. For one particularly harrowing and romantic tale I was paid seventy-five dollars. I dressed in my best that evening, dined at the Adams House, gave the waiter a quarter, and saw Joseph Jefferson from an orchestra seat.
Then came the letter from Jim Campbell requesting me to come to New York and see him concerning a possible book, a romance, to be written by me and published by the firm of which he was the head. I saw my employer, obtained a Saturday off, and spent that Saturday and Sunday in New York, my first visit.
As a result of that visit began my friendship with Campbell and my first long story, "The Queen's Amulet." The "Amulet," or the "Omelet," just as you like, was a financial success. It sold a good many thousand copies. Six months later I broke to my employers the distressing news that their business must henceforth worry on as best it could without my aid; I was going to devote my valuable time and effort to literature.
My fellow-clerks were surprised. Charlie Burns, head bookkeeper now, and a married man and a father, was much concerned.
"But, great Scott, Kent!" he protested, "you're going to do something besides write books, ain't you? You ain't going to make your whole living that way?"
"I am going to try," I said.
"Great Scott! Why, you'll starve! All those fellows live in garrets and starve to death, don't they?"
"Not all," I told him. "Only real geniuses do that."
He shook his head and his good-by was anything but cheerful.
My plans were made and I put them into execution at once. I shipped my goods and chattels, the latter for the most part books, to Bayport and went there to live and write in the old house where I was born. Hephzy was engaged as my housekeeper. She was alone now; Captain Barnabas had died nearly two years before.
Among the Captain's papers and discovered by his daughter after his death was a letter from Strickland Morley. It was written from a town in France and was dated six years after Morley's flight and the disclosure of his crookedness. Captain Barnabas had never, apparently, answered the letter; certainly he had never told anyone of its receipt by him. The old man never mentioned Morley's name and only spoke of Ardelia during his last hours, when his mind was wandering. Then he spoke of and asked for her continually, driving poor Hephzibah to distraction, for her love for her lost sister was as great as his.
The letter was the complaining whine of a thoroughly selfish man. I can scarcely refer to it without losing patience, even now when I understand more completely the circumstances under which it was written. It was not too plainly written or coherent and seemed to imply that other letters had preceded it. Morley begged for money. He was in "pitiful straits," he declared, compelled to live as no gentleman of birth and breeding should live. As a matter of fact, the remnant of his resources, the little cash left from the Captain's fortune which he had taken with him had gone and he was earning a precarious living by playing the violin in a second-rate orchestra. "For poor dead Ardelia's sake," he wrote, "and for the sake of little Francis, your grandchild, I ask you to extend the financial help which I, as your heir-in-law, might demand. You may consider that I have wronged you, but, as you should know and must know, the wrong was unintentional and due solely to the sudden collapse of the worthless American investments which the scoundrelly Yankee brokers inveigled me into making."
If the money was sent at once, he added, it might reach him in time to prevent his yielding to despondency and committing suicide.
"Suicide! HE commit suicide!" sniffed Hephzy when she read me the letter. "He thinks too much of his miserable self ever to hurt it. But, oh dear! I wish Pa had told me of this letter instead of hidin' it away. I might have sent somethin', not to him, but to poor, motherless Little Frank."
She had tried; that is, she had written to the French address, but her letter had been returned. Morley and the child of whom this letter furnished the only information were no longer in that locality. Hephzy had talked of "Little Frank" and dreamed about him at intervals ever since. He had come to be a reality to her, and she even cut a child's picture from a magazine and fastened it to the wall of her room beneath the engraving of Westminster Abbey, because there was something about the child in the picture which reminded her of "Little Frank" as he looked in her dreams.
She and I had lived together ever since, I continuing to turn out, each with less enthusiasm and more labor, my stories of persons and places of which, as Campbell said but too truly, I knew nothing whatever. Finally I had reached my determination to write no more "slush," profitable though it might be. I invited Jim to visit me; he had come and the conversation at the boathouse and his remarks at the bedroom door were all the satisfaction that visit had brought me so far.
I sat there in my study, going over all this, not so fully as I have set it down here, but fully nevertheless, and the possibility of finding even a glimmer of interest or a hint of fictional foundation in Hephzibah or her life or mine was as remote at the end of my thinking as it had been at the beginning. There might be a story there, or a part of a story, but I could not write it. The real trouble was that I could not write anything. With which, conclusion, exactly what I started with, I blew out the lamp and went upstairs to bed.
Next morning Jim and I went for another sail from which we did not return until nearly dinner-time. During that whole forenoon he did not mention the promised "prescription," although I offered him plenty of opportunities and threw out various hints by way of bait.
He ignored the bait altogether and, though he talked a great deal and asked a good many questions, both talk and questions had no bearing on the all-important problem which had been my real reason for inviting him to Bayport. He questioned me again concerning my way of spending my time, about my savings, how much money I had put by, and the like, but I was not particularly interested in these matters and they were not his business, to put it plainly. At least, I could not see that they were.
I answered him as briefly as possible and, I am afraid, behaved rather boorishly to one, who next to Hephzy, was perhaps the best friend I had in the world. His apparent lack of interest hurt and disappointed me and I did not care if he knew it. My impatience must have been apparent enough, but if so it did not trouble him; he chatted and laughed and told stories all the way from the landing to the house and announced to Hephzy, who had stayed at home from church in order to prepare and cook clam chowder and chicken pie and a "Queen pudding," that he had an appetite like a starved shark.
When, at last, that appetite was satisfied, he and I adjourned to the sitting-room for a farewell smoke. His train left at three-thirty and it lacked but an hour of that time. He had worn my suit, the one which Hephzibah had laid out for him the day before, but had changed to his own again and packed his bag before dinner.
We camped in the wing chairs and he lighted his cigar. Then, to my astonishment, he rose and shut the door.
"What did you do that for?" I asked.
He came back to his chair.
"Because I'm going to talk to you like a Dutch uncle," he replied, "and I don't want anyone, not even a Cape Cod cousin, butting in. Kent, I told you that before I went I was going to prescribe for you, didn't I? Well, I'm going to do it now. Are you ready for the prescription?"
"I have been ready for it for some time," I retorted. "I began to think you had forgotten it altogether."
"I hadn't. But I wanted it to be the last word you should hear from me and I didn't want to give you time to think up a lot of fool objections to spring on me before I left. Look here, I'm your doctor now; do you understand? You called me in as a specialist and what I say goes. Is that understood?"
"I hear you."
"You've got to do more than hear me. You've got to do what I tell you. I know what ails you. You've buried yourself in the mud down here. Wake up, you clam! Come out of your shell. Stir around. Stop thinking about yourself and think of something worth while."
"Dear! dear! hark to the voice of the oracle. And what is the something worth while I am to think about; you?"
"Yes, by George! me! Me and the dear public! Here are thirty-five thousand seekers after the—the higher literature, panting open-mouthed for another Knowles classic. And you sit back here and cover yourself with sand and seaweed and say you won't give it to them."
"You're wrong. I say I can't."
"You will, though."
"I won't. You can bet high on that."
"You will, and I'll bet higher. YOU write no more stories! You! Why, confound you, you couldn't help it if you tried. You needn't write another 'Black Brig' unless you want to. You needn't—you mustn't write anything UNTIL you want to. But, by George! you'll get up and open your eyes and stir around, and keep stirring until the time comes when you've found something or someone you DO want to write about. THEN you'll write; you will, for I know you. It may turn out to be what you call 'slush,' or it may not, but you'll write it, mark my words."
He was serious now, serious enough even to suit me. But what he had said did not suit me.
"Don't talk nonsense, Jim," I said. "Don't you suppose I have thought—"
"Thought! that's just it; you do nothing but think. Stop thinking. Stop being a quahaug—a dead one, anyway. Drop the whole business, drop Bayport, drop America, if you like. Get up, clear out, go to China, go to Europe, go to—Well, never mind, but go somewhere. Go somewhere and forget it. Travel, take a long trip, start for one place and, if you change your mind before you get there, go somewhere else. It doesn't make much difference where, so that you go, and see different things. I'm talking now, Kent Knowles, and it isn't altogether because it pays us to publish your books, either. You drop Bayport and drop writing. Go out and pick up and go. Stay six months, stay a year, stay two years, but keep alive and meet people and give what you flatter yourself is a brain house-cleaning. Confound you, you've kept it shut like one of these best front parlors down here. Open the windows and air out. Let the outside light in. An idea may come with it; it is barely possible, even to you!"
He was out of breath by this time. I was in a somewhat similar condition for his tirade had taken mine away. However, I managed to express my feelings.
"Humph!" I grunted. "And so this is your wonderful prescription. I am to travel, am I?"
"You are. You can afford it, and I'll see that you do."
"And just what port would you recommend?"
"I don't care, I tell you, except that it ought to be a long way off. I'm not joking, Kent; this is straight. A good long jaunt around the world would do you a barrel of good. Don't stop to think about it, just start, that's all. Will you?"
I laughed. The idea of my starting on a pleasure trip was ridiculous. If ever there was a home-loving and home-staying person it was I. The bare thought of leaving my comfort and my books and Hephzy made me shudder. I hadn't the least desire to see other countries and meet other people. I hated sleeping cars and railway trains and traveling acquaintances. So I laughed.
"Sorry, Jim," I said, "but I'm afraid I can't take your prescription."
"For one reason because I don't want to."
"That's no reason at all. It doesn't make any difference what you want. Anything else?"
"Yes. I would no more wander about creation all alone than—"
"Take someone with you."
"Who? Will you go, yourself?"
He shook his head.
"I wish I could," he said, and I think he meant it. "I'd like nothing better. I'D keep you alive, you can bet on that. But I can't leave the literature works just now. I'll do my best to find someone who will, though. I know a lot of good fellows who travel—"
I held up my hand. "That's enough," I interrupted. "They can't travel with me. They wouldn't be good fellows long if they did."
He struck the chair arm with his fist.
"You're as near impossible as you can be, aren't you," he exclaimed. "Never mind; you're going to do as I tell you. I never gave you bad advice yet, now did I?"
"No—o. No, but—"
"I'm not giving it to you now. You'll go and you'll go in a hurry. I'll give you a week to think the idea over. At the end of that time if I don't hear from you I'll be down here again, and I'll worry you every minute until you'll go anywhere to get rid of me. Kent, you must do it. You aren't written out, as you call it, but you are rusting out, fast. If you don't get away and polish up you'll never do a thing worth while. You'll be another what's-his-name—Ase Tidditt; that's what you'll be. I can see it coming on. You're ossifying; you're narrowing; you're—"
I broke in here. I didn't like to be called narrow and I did not like to be paired with Asaph Tidditt, although our venerable town clerk is a good citizen and all right, in his way. But I had flattered myself that way was not mine.
"Stop it, Jim!" I ordered. "Don't blow off any more steam in this ridiculous fashion. If this is all you have to say to me, you may as well stop."
"Stop! I've only begun. I'll stop when you start, and not before. Will you go?"
"I can't, Jim. You know I can't."
"I know you can and I know you're going to. There!" rising and laying a hand on my shoulder, "it is time for ME to be starting. Kent, old man, I want you to promise me that you will do as I tell you. Will you?"
"I can't, Jim. I would if I could, but—"
"Will you promise me to think the idea over? Think it over carefully; don't think of anything else for the rest of the week? Will you promise me to do that?"
I hesitated. I was perfectly sure that all my thinking would but strengthen my determination to remain at home, but I did not like to appear too stubborn.
"Why, yes, Jim," I said, doubtfully, "I promise so much, if that is any satisfaction to you."
"All right. I'll give you until Friday to make up your mind. If I don't hear from you by that time I shall take it for granted that you have made it up in the wrong way and I'll be here on Saturday. I'll keep the process up week in and week out until you give in. That's MY promise. Come on. We must be moving."
He said good-by to Hephzy and we walked together to the station. His last words as we shook hands by the car steps were: "Remember—think. But don't you dare think of anything else." My answer was a dubious shake of the head. Then the train pulled out.
I believe that afternoon and evening to have been the "bluest" of all my blue periods, and I had had some blue ones prior to Jim's visit. I was dreadfully disappointed. Of course I should have realized that no advice or "prescription" could help me. As Campbell had said, "It was up to me;" I must help myself; but I had been trying to help myself for months and I had not succeeded. I had—foolishly, I admit—relied upon him to give me a new idea, a fresh inspiration, and he had not done it. I was disappointed and more discouraged than ever.
My state of mind may seem ridiculous. Perhaps it was. I was in good health, not very old—except in my feelings—and my stories, even the "Black Brig," had not been failures, by any means. But I am sure that every man or woman who writes, or paints, or does creative work of any kind, will understand and sympathize with me. I had "gone stale," that is the technical name for my disease, and to "go stale" is no joke. If you doubt it ask the writer or painter of your acquaintance. Ask him if he ever has felt that he could write or paint no more, and then ask him how he liked the feeling. The fact that he has written or painted a great deal since has no bearing on the matter. "Staleness" is purely a mental ailment, and the confident assurance of would-be doctors that its attacks are seldom fatal doesn't help the sufferer at the time. He knows he is dead, and that is no better, then, than being dead in earnest.
I knew I was dead, so far as my writing was concerned, and the advice to go away and bury myself in a strange country did not appeal to me. It might be true that I was already buried in Bayport, but that was my home cemetery, at all events. The more I thought of Jim Campbell's prescription the less I felt like taking it.
However, I kept on with the thinking; I had promised to do that. On Wednesday came a postcard from Jim, himself, demanding information. "When and where are you going?" he wrote. "Wire answer." I did not wire answer. I was not going anywhere.
I thrust the card into my pocket and, turning away from the frame of letter boxes, faced Captain Cyrus Whittaker, who, like myself, had come to Simmons's for his mail. He greeted me cordially.
"Hello, Kent," he hailed. "How are you?"
"About the same as usual, Captain," I answered, shortly.
"That's pretty fair, by the looks. You don't look too happy, though, come to notice it. What's the matter; got bad news?"
"No. I haven't any news, good or bad."
"That so? Then I'll give you some. Phoebe and I are going to start for California to-morrow."
"You are? To California? Why?"
"Oh, just for instance, that's all. Time's come when I have to go somewhere, and the Yosemite and the big trees look good to me. It's this way, Kent; I like Bayport, you know that. Nobody's more in love with this old town than I am; it's my home and I mean to live and die here, if I have luck. But it don't do for me to stay here all the time. If I do I begin to be no good, like a strawberry plant that's been kept in one place too long and has quit bearin.' The only thing to do with that plant is to transplant it and let it get nourishment in a new spot. Then you can move it back by and by and it's all right. Same way with me. Every once in a while I have to be transplanted so's to freshen up. My brains need somethin' besides post-office talk and sewin'-circle gossip to keep them from shrivelin'. I was commencin' to feel the shrivel, so it's California for Phoebe and me. Better come along, Kent. You're beginnin' to shrivel a little, ain't you?"
Was it as apparent as all that? I was indignant.
"Do I look it?" I demanded.
"No—o, but I ain't sure that you don't act it. No offence, you understand. Just a little ground bait to coax you to come on the California cruise along with Phoebe and me, that's all."
It was not likely that I should accept. Two are company and three a crowd, and if ever two were company Captain Cy and his wife were those two. I thanked him and declined, but I asked a question.
"You believe in travel as a restorative, you do?" I asked.
"Hey? I sartin do. Change your course once in awhile, same as you change your clothes. Wearin' the same suit and cruisin' in the same puddle all the time ain't healthy. You're too apt to get sick of the clothes and puddle both."
"But you don't believe in traveling alone, do you?"
"No," emphatically, "I don't, generally speakin.' If you go off by yourself you're too likely to keep thinkin' ABOUT yourself. Take somebody with you; somebody you're used to and know well and like, though. Travelin' with strangers is a little mite worse than travelin' alone. You want to be mighty sure of your shipmate."
I walked home. Hephzibah was in the sitting-room, reading and knitting a stocking, a stocking for me. She did not need to use her eyes for the knitting; I am quite sure she could have knit in her sleep.
"Hello, Hosy," she said, "been up to the office, have you? Any mail?"
"Nothing much. Humph! Still reading that Raymond and Whitcomb circular?"
"No, not that one. This is one I got last year. I've been sittin' here plannin' out just where I'd go and what I'd see if I could. It's the next best thing to really goin'."
I looked at her. All at once a new idea began to crystallize in my mind. It was a curious idea, a ridiculous idea, and yet—and yet it seemed—
"Hephzy," said I, suddenly, "would you really like to go abroad?"
"WOULD I? Hosy, how you talk! You know I've been crazy to go ever since I was a little girl. I don't know what makes me so. Perhaps it's the salt water in my blood. All our folks were sailors and ship captains. They went everywhere. I presume likely it takes more than one generation to kill off that sort of thing."
"And you really want to go?"
"Of course I do."
"Then why haven't you gone? You could afford to take a moderate-priced tour."
Hephzy laughed over her knitting.
"I guess," she said, "I haven't gone for the reason you haven't, Hosy. You could afford, it, too—you know you could. But how could I go and leave you? Why, I shouldn't sleep a minute wonderin' if you were wearin' clothes without holes in 'em and if you changed your flannels when the weather changed and ate what you ought to, and all that. You've been so—so sort of dependent on me and I've been so used to takin' care of you that I don't believe either of us would be happy anywhere without the other. I know certain sure I shouldn't."
I did not answer immediately. The idea, the amazing, ridiculous idea which had burst upon me suddenly began to lose something of its absurdity. Somehow it began to look like the answer to my riddle. I realized that my main objection to the Campbell prescription had been that I must take it alone or with strangers. And now—
"Hephzy," I demanded, "would you go away—on a trip abroad—with me?"
She put down the knitting.
"Hosy Knowles!" she exclaimed. "WHAT are you talkin' about?"
"But would you?"
"I presume likely I would, if I had the chance; but it isn't likely that—where are you goin'?"
I did not answer. I hurried out of the sitting-room and out of the house.
When I returned I found her still knitting. The circular lay on the floor at her feet. She regarded me anxiously.
"Hosy," she demanded, "where—"
I interrupted. "Hephzy," said I, "I have been to the station to send a telegram."
"A telegram? A TELEGRAM! For mercy sakes, who's dead?"
Telegrams in Bayport usually mean death or desperate illness. I laughed.
"No one is dead, Hephzy," I replied. "In fact it is barely possible that someone is coming to life. I telegraphed Mr. Campbell to engage passage for you and me on some steamer leaving for Europe next week."
Hephzibah turned pale. The partially knitted sock dropped beside the circular.
"Why—why—what—?" she gasped.
"On a steamer leaving next week," I repeated. "You want to travel, Hephzy. Jim says I must. So we'll travel together."
She did not believe I meant it, of course, and it took a long time to convince her. But when at last she began to believe—at least to the extent of believing that I had sent the telegram—her next remark was characteristic.
"But I—I can't go, Hosy," declared Hephzibah. "I CAN'T. Who—who would take care of the cat and the hens?"
In Which Hephzy and I and the Plutonia Sail Together
The week which began that Wednesday afternoon seems, as I look back to it now, a bit of the remote past, instead of seven days of a year ago. Its happenings, important and wonderful as they were, seem trivial and tame compared with those which came afterward. And yet, at the time, that week was a season of wild excitement and delightful anticipation for Hephzibah, and of excitement not unmingled with doubts and misgivings for me. For us both it was a busy week, to put it mildly.
Once convinced that I meant what I said and that I was not "raving distracted," which I think was her first diagnosis of my case, Hephzy's practical mind began to unearth objections, first to her going at all and, second, to going on such short notice.
"I don't think I'd better, Hosy," she said. "You're awful good to ask me and I know you think you mean it, but I don't believe I ought to do it, even if I felt as if I could leave the house and everything alone. You see, I've lived here in Bayport so long that I'm old-fashioned and funny and countrified, I guess. You'd be ashamed of me."
I smiled. "When I am ashamed of you, Hephzy," I replied, "I shall be on my way to the insane asylum, not to Europe. You are much more likely to be ashamed of me."
"The idea! And you the pride of this town! The only author that ever lived in it—unless you call Joshua Snow an author, and he lived in the poorhouse and nobody but himself was proud of HIM."
Josh Snow was Bayport's Homer, its only native poet. He wrote the immortal ballad of the scallop industry, which begins:
"On a fine morning at break of day, When the ice has all gone out of the bay, And the sun is shining nice and it is like spring, Then all hands start to go scallop-ING."
In order to get the fullest measure of music from this lyric gem you should put a strong emphasis on the final "ing." Joshua always did and the summer people never seemed to tire of hearing him recite it. There are eighteen more verses.
"I shall not be ashamed of you, Hephzy," I repeated. "You know it perfectly well. And I shall not go unless you go."
"But I can't go, Hosy. I couldn't leave the hens and the cat. They'd starve; you know they would."
"Susanna will look after them. I'll leave money for their provender. And I will pay Susanna for taking care of them. She has fallen in love with the cat; she'll be only too glad to adopt it."
"And I haven't got a single thing fit to wear."
"Neither have I. We will buy complete fit-outs in Boston or New York."
There were innumerable "buts." I answered them as best I could. Also I reiterated my determination not to go unless she did. I told of Campbell's advice and laid strong emphasis on the fact that he had said travel was my only hope. Unless she wished me to die of despair she must agree to travel with me.