by Joseph C. Lincoln
I.— IN WHICH KEZIAH HEARS OF TWO PROPOSALS AND THE BEGINNING OF A THIRD
II.— IN WHICH KEZIAH UNEARTHS A PROWLER
III.— IN WHICH KEZIAH ASSUMES A GUARDIANSHIP
IV.— IN WHICH KEZIAH'S PARSON DECIDES TO RUN IT BLINDFOLD
V.— IN WHICH THE PARSON CRUISES IN STRANGE WATERS
VI.— IN WHICH OLD FRIENDS MEET
VII.— IN WHICH CAPTAIN NAT PICKS UP A DERELICT
VIII.— IN WHICH THE PARSON AND MR. PEPPER DECLARE THEIR INDEPENDENCE
IX.— IN WHICH MISS DANIELS DETERMINES TO FIND OUT
X.— IN WHICH KEZIAH'S TROUBLES MULTIPLY
XI.— IN WHICH CAPEN EBEN RECEIVES A CALLER
XII.— IN WHICH CAPTAIN EBEN MAKES PORT
XIII.— IN WHICH KEZIAH BREAKS THE NEWS
XIV.— IN WHICH THE SEA MIST SAILS
XV.— IN WHICH TRUMET TALKS OF CAPTAIN NAT
XVI— IN WHICH THE MINISTER BOARDS THE SAN JOSE
XVII.— IN WHICH EBENEZER CAPEN IS SURPRISED
XVIII.—IN WHICH KEZIAH DECIDES TO FIGHT
XIX.— IN WHICH A RECEPTION IS CALLED OFF
XX.— IN WHICH THE MINISTER RECEIVES A LETTER
XXI.— IN WHICH MR. STONE WASHES HIS HANDS
XXII.— IN WHICH KEZIAH'S PARSON PREACHES ONCE MORE
by Joseph C. Lincoln
IN WHICH KEZIAH HEARS TWO PROPOSALS AND THE BEGINNING OF A THIRD
Trumet in a fog; a fog blown in during the night by the wind from the wide Atlantic. So wet and heavy that one might taste the salt in it. So thick that houses along the main road were but dim shapes behind its gray drapery, and only the gates and fences of the front yards were plainly in evidence to the passers-by. The beach plum and bayberry bushes on the dunes were spangled with beady drops. The pole on Cannon Hill, where the beacon was hoisted when the packet from Boston dropped anchor in the bay, was shiny and slippery. The new weathervane, a gilded whale, presented to the "Regular" church by Captain Zebedee Mayo, retired whaler, swam in a sea of cloud. The lichened eaves of the little "Come-Outer" chapel dripped at sedate intervals. The brick walk leading to the door of Captain Elkanah Daniels's fine residence held undignified puddles in its hollows. And, through the damp stillness, the muttered growl of the surf, three miles away at the foot of the sandy bluffs by the lighthouse, sounded ominously.
Directly opposite Captain Elkanah's front gate, on the other side of the main road, stood the little story-and-a-half house, also the captain's property, which for fourteen years had been tenanted by Mrs. Keziah Coffin and her brother, Solomon Hall, the shoemaker. But Solomon had, the month before, given up his fight with debt and illness and was sleeping quietly in Trumet's most populous center, the graveyard. And Keziah, left alone, had decided that the rent and living expenses were more than her precarious earnings as a seamstress would warrant, and, having bargained with the furniture dealer in Wellmouth for the sale of her household effects, was now busy getting them ready for the morrow, when the dealer's wagon was to call. She was going to Boston, where a distant and condescending rich relative had interested himself to the extent of finding her a place as sewing woman in a large tailoring establishment.
The fog hung like a wet blanket over the house and its small yard, where a few venerable pear trees, too conservative in their old age to venture a bud even though it was almost May, stood bare and forlorn. The day was dismal. The dismantled dining room, its tables and chairs pushed into a corner, and its faded ingrain carpet partially stripped from the floor, was dismal, likewise. Considering all things, one might have expected Keziah herself to be even more dismal. But, to all outward appearances, she was not. A large portion of her thirty-nine years of life had been passed under a wet blanket, so to speak, and she had not permitted the depressing covering to shut out more sunshine than was absolutely necessary. "If you can't get cream, you might as well learn to love your sasser of skim milk," said practical Keziah.
She was on her knees, her calico dress sleeves, patched and darned, but absolutely clean, rolled back, uncovering a pair of plump, strong arms, a saucer of tacks before her, and a tack hammer with a claw head in her hand. She was taking up the carpet. Grace Van Horne, Captain Eben Hammond's ward, who had called to see if there was anything she might do to help, was removing towels, tablecloths, and the like from the drawers in a tall "high-boy," folding them and placing them in an old and battered trunk. The pair had been discussing the subject which all Trumet had discussed for three weeks, namely, the "calling" to the pastorate of the "Regular" church of the Rev. John Ellery, the young divinity student, who was to take the place of old Parson Langley, minister in the parish for over thirty years. Discussion in the village had now reached a critical point, for the Reverend John was expected by almost any coach. In those days, the days of the late fifties, the railroad down the Cape extended only as far as Sandwich; passengers made the rest of their journey by stage. Many came direct from the city by the packet, the little schooner, but Mr. Ellery had written that he should probably come on the coach.
"They say he's very nice-looking," remarked Miss Van Horne soberly, but with a MISCHIEVOUS glance under her dark lashes at Keziah. The lady addressed paused long enough to transfer several tacks from the floor to the saucer, and then made answer.
"Humph!" she observed. "A good many years ago I saw a theater show up to Boston. Don't be shocked; those circumstances we hear so much tell of—the kind you can't control—have kept me from goin' to theaters much, even if I wanted to. But I did see this entertainment, and a fool one 'twas, too, all singin' instead of talkin'—op'ra, I believe they called it. Well, as I started to say, one of the leadin' folks in it was the Old Harry himself, and HE was pretty good-lookin'."
Grace laughed, even though she had been somewhat shocked.
"Why, Aunt Keziah!" she exclaimed—those who knew Keziah Coffin best usually called her aunt, though real nephews and nieces she had none—"why, Aunt Keziah! What do you mean by comparing the—the person you just mentioned with a MINISTER!"
"Oh, I wasn't comparin' 'em; I'll leave that for you Come-Outers to do. Drat this carpet! Seems's if I never saw such long tacks; I do believe whoever put 'em down drove 'em clean through the center of the earth and let the Chinymen clinch 'em on t'other side. I haul up a chunk of the cellar floor with every one. Ah, hum!" with a sigh, "I cal'late they ain't any more anxious to leave home than I am. But, far's the minister's concerned, didn't I hear of your Uncle Eben sayin' in prayer meetin' only a fortni't or so ago that all hands who wa'n't Come-Outers were own children to Satan? Mr. Ellery must take after his father some. Surprisin', ain't it, what a family the old critter's got."
The girl laughed again. For one brought up, since her seventh year, in the strictest of Come-Outer families, she laughed a good deal. Many Come-Outers considered it wicked to laugh. Yet Grace did it, and hers was a laugh pleasant to hear and distinctly pleasant to see. It made her prettier than ever, a fact which, if she was aware of it, should have been an additional preventive, for to be pretty smacks of vanity. Perhaps she wasn't aware of it.
"What do you think Uncle Eben would say if he heard that?" she asked.
"Say I took after my father, too, I presume likely. Does your uncle know you come here to see me so often? And call me 'aunt' and all that?"
"Of course he does. Aunt Keziah, you mustn't think Uncle Eben doesn't see the good in people simply because they don't believe as he does. He's as sweet and kind as—"
"Who? Eben Hammond? Land sakes, child, don't I know it? Cap'n Eben's the salt of the earth. I'm a Regular and always have been, but I'd be glad if my own society was seasoned with a few like him. 'Twould taste better to me of a Sunday." She paused, and then added quizzically: "What d'you s'pose Cap'n Elkanah and the rest of our parish committee would say if they heard THAT?"
"Goodness knows! Still, I'm glad to hear you say it. And uncle says you are as good a woman as ever lived. He thinks you're misled, of course, but that some day you'll see the error of your ways."
"Humph! I'll have to hurry up if I want to see 'em without spectacles. See my errors! Land sakes! much as I can do to see the heads of these tacks. Takin' up carpets is as hard a test of a body's eyesight as 'tis of their religion."
Her companion put down the tablecloth she was folding and looked earnestly at the other woman. To an undiscerning eye the latter would have looked much as she always did—plump and matronly, with brown hair drawn back from the forehead and parted in the middle; keen brown eyes with a humorous twinkle in them—this was the Keziah Coffin the later generation of Trumet knew so well.
But Grace Van Horne, who called her aunt and came to see her so frequently, while her brother was alive and during the month following his death, could see the changes which the month had wrought. She saw the little wrinkles about the eyes and the lines of care about the mouth, the tired look of the whole plucky, workaday New England figure. She shook her head.
"Religion!" she repeated. "I do believe, Aunt Keziah, that you've got the very best religion of anybody I know. I don't care if you don't belong to our church. When I see how patient you've been and how cheerful through all your troubles, it—"
Mrs. Coffin waved the hammer deprecatingly. "There! there!" she interrupted. "I guess it's a good thing I'm goin' away. Here's you and I praisin' up each other's beliefs, just as if that wasn't a crime here in Trumet. Sometimes when I see how the two societies in this little one-horse place row with each other, I declare if it doesn't look as if they'd crossed out the first word of 'Love your neighbor' and wrote in 'Fight,' instead. Yet I'm a pretty good Regular, too, and when it comes to whoopin' and carryin' on like the Come-Outers, I—Well! well! never mind; don't begin to bristle up. I won't say another word about religion. Let's pick the new minister to pieces. ANY kind of a Christian can do that."
But the new minister was destined to remain undissected that morning, in that house at least. Grace was serious now and she voiced the matter which had been uppermost in her mind since she left home.
"Aunt Keziah," she said, "why do you go away? What makes you? Is it absolutely necessary?"
"Why do I go? Why, for the same reason that the feller that was hove overboard left the ship—cause I can't stay. You've got to have vittles and clothes, even in Trumet, and a place to put your head in nights. Long's Sol was alive and could do his cobblin' we managed to get along somehow. What I could earn sewin' helped, and we lived simple. But when he was taken down and died, the doctor's bills and the undertaker's used up what little money I had put by, and the sewin' alone wouldn't keep a healthy canary in bird seed. Dear land knows I hate to leave the old house I've lived in for fourteen years and the town I was born in, but I've got to, for all I see. Thank mercy, I can pay Cap'n Elkanah his last month's rent and go with a clear conscience. I won't owe anybody, that's a comfort, and nobody will owe me; though I could stand that, I guess," she added, prying at the carpet edge.
"I don't care!" The girl's dark eyes flashed indignantly. "I think it's too bad of Cap'n Elkanah to turn you out when—"
"Don't talk that way. He ain't turnin' me out. He ain't lettin' houses for his health and he'll need the money to buy his daughter's summer rigs. She ain't had a new dress for a month, pretty near, and here's a young and good-lookin' parson heavin' in sight. Maybe Cap'n Elkanah would think a minister was high-toned enough even for Annabel to marry."
"He's only twenty-three, they say," remarked Grace, a trifle maliciously. "Perhaps she'll adopt him."
Annabel was the only child of Captain Elkanah Daniels, who owned the finest house in town. She was the belle of Trumet, and had been for a good many years.
"Well," she said, "anyhow I've got to go. Maybe I'll like Boston first rate, you can't tell. Or maybe I won't. Ah, hum! 'twouldn't be the first thing I've had to do that I didn't like."
Her friend looked at her.
"Aunt," she said, "I want to make a proposal to you, and you mustn't be cross about it."
"A proposal! Sakes alive! What'll I say? 'This is so sudden!' That's what Becky Ryder, up to the west part of the town, said when Jim Baker, the tin peddler, happened to ask her if she'd ever thought of gettin' married. 'O James! this is so sudden!' says Becky. Jim said afterwards that the suddenest thing about it was the way he cleared out of that house. And he never called there afterwards."
Grace smiled, but quickly grew grave.
"Now, auntie," she said, "please listen. I'm in earnest. It seems to me that you might do quite well at dressmaking here in town, if you had a little—well, ready money to help you at the start. I've got a few hundred dollars in the bank, presents from uncle, and my father's insurance money. I should love to lend it to you, and I know uncle would—"
Mrs. Coffin interrupted her.
"Cat's foot!" she exclaimed. "I hope I haven't got where I need to borrow money yet a while. Thank you just as much, deary, but long's I've got two hands and a mouth, I'll make the two keep t'other reasonably full, I wouldn't wonder. No, I shan't think of it, so don't say another word. NO."
The negative was so decided that Grace was silenced. Her disappointment showed in her face, however, and Keziah hastened to change the subject.
"How do you know," she observed, "but what my goin' to Boston may be the best thing that ever happened to me? You can't tell. No use despairin', Annabel ain't given up hope yet; why should I? Hey? Ain't that somebody comin'?"
Her companion sprang to her feet and ran to the window. Then she broke into a smothered laugh.
"Why, it's Kyan Pepper!" she exclaimed. "He must be coming to see you, Aunt Keziah. And he's got on his very best Sunday clothes. Gracious! I must be going. I didn't know you expected callers."
Keziah dropped the tack hammer and stood up.
"Kyan!" she repeated. "What in the world is that old idiot comin' here for? To talk about the minister, I s'pose. How on earth did Laviny ever come to let him out alone?"
Mr. Pepper, Mr. Abishai Pepper, locally called "Kyan" (Cayenne) Pepper because of his red hair and thin red side whiskers, was one of Trumet's "characters," and in his case the character was weak. He was born in the village and, when a youngster, had, like every other boy of good family in the community, cherished ambitions for a seafaring life. His sister, Lavinia, ten years older than he, who, after the death of their parents, had undertaken the job of "bringing up" her brother, did not sympathize with these ambitions. Consequently, when Kyan ran away she followed him to Boston, stalked aboard the vessel where he had shipped, and collared him, literally and figuratively. One of the mates venturing to offer objection, Lavinia turned upon him and gave him a piece of her mind, to the immense delight of the crew and the loungers on the wharf. Then she returned with the vagrant to Trumet. Old Captain Higgins, who skippered the packet in those days, swore that Lavinia never stopped lecturing her brother from the time they left Boston until they dropped anchor behind the breakwater.
"I give you my word that 'twas pretty nigh a stark calm, but there was such a steady stream of language pourin' out of the Pepper stateroom that the draught kept the sails filled all the way home," asserted Captain Higgins.
That was Kyan's sole venture, so far as sailoring was concerned, but he ran away again when he was twenty-five. This time he returned of his own accord, bringing a wife with him, one Evelyn Gott of Ostable. Evelyn could talk a bit herself, and her first interview with Lavinia ended with the latter's leaving the house in a rage, swearing never to set foot in it again. This oath she broke the day of her sister-in-law's funeral. Then she appeared, after the ceremony, her baggage on the wagon with her. The bereaved one, who was sitting on the front stoop of his dwelling with, so people say, a most resigned expression on his meek countenance, looked up and saw her.
"My land! Laviny," he exclaimed, turning pale. "Where'd you come from?"
"Never mind WHERE I come from," observed his sister promptly. "You just be thankful I've come. If ever a body needed some one to take care of 'em, it's you. You can tote my things right in," she added, turning to her grinning driver, "and you, 'Bishy, go right in with 'em. The idea of your settin' outside takin' it easy when your poor wife ain't been buried more'n an hour!"
"But—but—Laviny," protested poor Kyan, speaking the truth unwittingly, "I couldn't take it easy AFORE she was buried, could I?"
"Go right in," was the answer. "March!"
Abishai marched, and had marched under his sister's orders ever since. She kept house for him, and did it well, but her one fear was that some female might again capture him, and she watched him with an eagle eye. He was the town assessor and tax collector, but when he visited dwellings containing single women or widows, Lavinia always accompanied him, "to help him in his figgerin'," she said.
Consequently, when he appeared, unchaperoned, on the walk leading to the side door of the Coffin homestead, Keziah and her friend were surprised.
"He's dressed to kill," whispered Grace, at the window. "Even his tall hat; and in this fog! I do believe he's coming courting, Aunt Keziah."
"Humph!" was the ungracious answer. "He's come to say good-by, I s'pose, and to find out where I'm goin' and how much pay I'm goin' to get and if my rent's settled, and a few other little things that ain't any of his business. Laviny put him up to it, you see. She'll be along pretty quick. Well, I'll fix him so he won't talk much. He can help us take down that stovepipe. I said 'twas a job for a man, and a half one's better than none—Why, how d'ye do, 'Bishy? Come right in. Pretty thick outside, isn't it?"
Mr. Pepper entered diffidently.
"Er—er—how d'ye do, Keziah?" he stammered. "I thought I'd just run in a minute and—"
"Yes, yes. Glad to see you. Take off your hat. My sakes! it's pretty wet. How did Laviny come to let you—I mean how'd you come to wear a beaver such a mornin's this?"
Kyan removed the silk hat and inspected its limp grandeur ruefully.
"I—I—" he began. "Well, the fact is, I come out by myself. You see, Laviny's gone up to Sarah B.'s to talk church doin's. I—I—well, I kind of wanted to speak with you about somethin', Keziah, so—Oh! I didn't see you, Gracie. Good mornin'."
He didn't seem overjoyed to see Miss Van Horne, as it was. In fact, he reddened perceptibly and backed toward the door. The girl, her eyes twinkling, took up her jacket and hat.
"Oh! I'm not going to stop, Mr. Pepper," she said. "I was only helping Aunt Keziah a little, that's all. I must run on now."
"Run on—nonsense!" declared Keziah decisively. "You're goin' to stay right here and help us get that stovepipe down. And 'Bishy'll help, too. Won't you, 'Bish?"
The stovepipe was attached to the "air-tight" in the dining room. It—the pipe—rose perpendicularly for a few feet and then extended horizontally, over the high-boy, until it entered the wall. Kyan looked at it and then at his "Sunday clothes."
"Why, I'd be glad to, of course," he declared with dubious enthusiasm. "But I don't know's I'll have time. Perhaps I'd better come later and do it. Laviny, she—"
"Oh, Laviny can spare you for a few minutes, I guess; 'specially as she don't know you're out. Better take your coat off, hadn't you? Grace, fetch one of those chairs for Ky—for 'Bishy to stand in."
Grace obediently brought the chair. It happened to be the one with a rickety leg, but its owner was helping the reluctant Abishai remove the long-tailed blue coat which had been his wedding garment and had adorned his person on occasions of ceremony ever since. She did not notice the chair.
"It's real good of you to offer to help," she said. "Grace and I didn't hardly dast to try it alone. That pipe's been up so long that I wouldn't wonder if 'twas chock-full of soot. If you're careful, though, I don't believe you'll get any on you. Never mind the floor; I'm goin' to wash that before I leave."
Reluctantly, slowly, the unwilling Mr. Pepper suffered himself to be led to the chair. He mounted it and gingerly took hold of the pipe.
"Better loosen it at the stove hole first," advised Keziah. "What was it you wanted to see me about, 'Bish?"
"Oh, nothin', nothin'," was the hasty response. "Nothin' of any account—that is to say—"
He turned redder than ever and wrenched at the pipe. It loosened at its lower end and the wires holding it in suspension shook.
"I guess," observed the lady of the house, "that you'd better move that chest of drawers out so's you can get behind it. Grace, you help me. There! that's better. Now move your chair."
Kyan stepped from the chair and moved the latter to a position between the high-boy and the wall. Then he remounted and gripped the pipe in the middle of its horizontal section.
"Seems to stick in the chimney there, don't it?" queried Keziah. "Wiggle it back and forth; that ought to loosen it. What was it you wanted to say, 'Bish?"
Apparently, Mr. Pepper had nothing to say. The crimson tide had reached his ears, which, always noticeable because of their size and spread, were now lit up like a schooner's sails at sunset. His hands trembled on the pipe.
"Nothin', nothin', I tell you," he faltered. "I—I just run in to say how d'ye do, that's all."
"Really, I think I'd better be going," said Grace, glancing from Kyan's embarrassed face to that of the unsuspecting Mrs. Coffin. "I'm afraid I'm in the way."
"No, no!" shouted the occupant of the chair. "No, no, you ain't!"
"But I'm afraid I am. And they'll be expecting me at home. Aunt Keziah, I—"
"Don't be in such a hurry," interrupted Keziah. "Does stick in the chimney, don't it? Tell you what you can do, Grace; you can go in the woodshed and fetch the hammer that's in the table drawer. Hurry up, that's a good girl."
Kyan protested that he did not need the hammer, but his protest was unheeded. With one more glance at the couple, Grace departed from the kitchen, biting her lips. She shut the door carefully behind her. Mr. Pepper labored frantically with the pipe.
"No use to shake it any more till you get the hammer," advised Keziah. "Might's well talk while you're waitin'. What was it you wanted to tell me?"
Abishai drew one hand across his forehead, leaving a decorative smooch of blacking on his perspiring countenance. He choked, swallowed, and then, with a look at the closed door, seemed to reach a desperate resolve.
"Keziah," he whispered hurriedly, "you've known me quite a spell, ain't you?"
"Known you? Known you ever since you were born, pretty nigh. What of it?"
"Yes, yes. And I've known you, you know. Fact is, we've known each other."
"Hear the man! Land sakes! don't everybody in Trumet know everybody else? What ARE you drivin' at?"
"Keziah, you're a single woman."
His companion let go of the chair, which she had been holding in place, and stepped back.
"I'm a single woman?" she repeated sharply. "What do you mean by that? Did—did anybody say I wasn't?"
"No, no! 'Course not. But you're a widow, so you BE single, you know, and—"
"Well? Did you think I was twins? Get down off there this minute. You've gone crazy. I thought so when I saw that beaver. Either that or you've been drinkin'. Grace! What DOES make her so long gettin' that hammer?"
Finding the hammer did seem to take a long time. There was no sound from the kitchen. Kyan, steadying himself with one hand on the pipe, waved the other wildly.
"S-s-sh! s-sh-h!" he hissed. "Hush! be still! Don't get her in here. Keziah, you're single and so am I. You ain't got nobody to take care of you and I ain't, neither—that is, I don't want to be took care of—I mean, I've been took care of too much."
Mrs. Coffin took another step in the direction of the kitchen.
"He IS loony!" she exclaimed under her breath. "I—"
"No, no! I ain't loony. I want to make a proposal to you. I want to see if you won't marry me. I'm sick of Laviny. Let's you and me settle down together. I could have some peace then. And I think a whole lot of you, too," he added, apparently as an afterthought.
Keziah's face was red now, and growing redder every instant.
"Kyan Pepper!" she cried in amazed incredulity. "Kyan Pepper, do you—"
"Hurry up!" pleaded Abishai, in agitated impatience. "Say yes quick. She'll be back in a minute."
"Say YES! Why, you—"
"Don't stop to argue, Keziah. I've got 'most fifteen hundred dollars in the bank. Laviny keeps the pass book in her bureau, but you could get it from her. I own my house. I'm a man of good character. You're poor, but I don't let that stand in the way. Anyhow, you're a first-rate housekeeper. And I really do think an awful lot of you."
Mrs. Coffin stepped no farther in the direction of the kitchen. Instead, she strode toward the rickety chair and its occupant. Kyan grasped the pipe with both hands.
"You poor—miserable—impudent—" began the lady.
"Why, Keziah, don't you WANT to?" He spoke as if the possibility of a refusal had never entered his mind. "I cal'lated you'd be glad. You wouldn't have to go away then, nor—My soul and body! some one's knockin' at the door! AND THIS DUMMED PIPE'S FETCHED LOOSE!"
The last sentence was a smothered shriek. Keziah heeded not. Neither did she heed the knock at the door. Her hands were opening and closing convulsively.
"Be glad!" she repeated. "Glad to marry a good-for-nothin' sand-peep like you! You sassy—GET down off that chair and out of this house! Get down this minute!"
"I can't! This stovepipe's loose, I tell you! Be reason'ble, Keziah. Do—don't you touch me! I'll fall if you do. Pl-e-ase, Keziah!—O Lordy! I knew it. LAVINY!"
The door opened. On the threshold, arms akimbo and lips set tight, stood Lavinia Pepper. Her brother's knees gave way; in their collapse they struck the chair back; the rickety leg wabbled. Kyan grasped at the pipe to save himself and, the next moment, chair, sections of stovepipe, and Mr. Pepper disappeared with a mighty crash behind the high-boy. A cloud of soot arose and obscured the view.
Keziah, too indignant even to laugh, glared at the wreck. In the doorway of the kitchen Grace Van Horne, hammer in hand, leaned against the jamb, her handkerchief at her mouth and tears in her eyes. Lavinia, majestic and rigid, dominated the scene. From behind the high-boy came coughs, sneezes, and emphatic ejaculations.
Miss Pepper was the first to speak.
"Abishai Pepper," she commanded, "come out of that this minute."
Her answer was a tremendous sneeze. Then from the dusky cloud by the wall sounded a voice feebly protesting.
"Now, Laviny," began poor Kyan, "I never in my life—"
"Do you hear me? Come out of that!"
There was a sound of scrambling. More soot floated in the air. Then around the corner of the high-boy appeared Mr. Pepper, crawling on his hands and knees. His hair was streaked with black; his shirt front and collar and shirt sleeves were spotted and smeared with black; and from his blackened cheeks his red whiskers flamed like the last glowing embers in a fire-scarred ruin.
"Laviny," he panted, "I never was so surprised and upsot in all my life afore."
This was too much for Grace. She collapsed in a chair and laughed hysterically. Even the wrathful Keziah smiled. But Lavinia did not smile. For that matter, neither did her brother.
"Hum!" sneered Miss Pepper. "Upsot! Yes, I see you're upsot. Get up, and try to look as much like a Christian as you can!"
Kyan rose from his knees to his feet and rubbed his back. He glanced reproachfully at Grace, then fearfully at his sister.
"I was just tryin' to help Keziah take down her stovepipe," he explained. "You see, she didn't have no man to—"
"Yes, I see. Well, I judge you got it down. Now you go out to the sink and wash your face. Heavens and earth! Look at them clothes!"
"I do hope you didn't hurt yourself, Abishai," said the sympathetic Keziah. Then, as remembrance of what had led to the upset came to her, she added: "Though I will say 'twas your own fault and nobody else's."
Lavinia whirled on her.
"His own fault, was it?" she repeated, her voice shrill and trembling. "Thank you very much, marm. I cal'late 'twas his own fault comin' here, too, wa'n't it? Nobody led him on, I s'pose. Nobody put him up to riggin' out in his best bib and tucker and sneakin' here the minute I was out of the house. No, nobody did! Of COURSE not!"
"No, nobody did," said Keziah briskly. "And you may know what you're hintin' at, but I don't."
"Dear me! Ain't we innocent! We've got plenty of money, WE have. Widowers with property ain't no attraction to US. Everybody knows that—oh, yes! And they never talk of such a thing—oh, no! Folks don't say that—that—Well," with a snarl in the direction of the kitchen, "are you anywheres nigh clean yet? Get your coat and hat on and come home with me."
She jerked her brother into the blue coat, jammed the tall hat down upon his head, and, seizing him by the arm, stalked to the door.
"Good day, marm," she said. "I do hope the next widower you get to take down your stovepipe—yes, indeed! ha! ha!—I hope you'll have better luck with him. Though I don't know who 'twould be; there ain't no more idiots in town that I know of. Good day, and thank you kindly for your attentions to our family."
She pulled the door open and was on the step; but Mrs. Coffin did not intend to let her go in just that way.
"Laviny Pepper," she declared, her eyes snapping, "I don't know what you're talkin' about, but if you dare to mean that I want any of your money, or your brother's money, you're mistaken—'cause I don't. And I don't want your brother either—Lord help him, poor thing! And I tell you right now that there's nobody that does; though some kind-hearted folks have said 'twould be a Christian act to poison him, so's to put him out of his misery. There! Good mornin' to you."
She slammed the door. Lavinia was speechless. As for her brother, but one remark of his reached Grace, who was watching from the window.
"Laviny," pleaded Kyan, "just let me explain."
At nine o'clock that night he was still "explaining."
Keziah turned from the door she had closed behind her visitor.
"Well!" she ejaculated. "WELL!"
Her friend did not look at her. She was still gazing out of the window. Occasionally she seemed to choke.
Keziah eyed her suspiciously.
"Humph!" she mused. "'Twas funny, wasn't it?"
"Oh, dreadfully!" was the hurried answer.
"Yes. Seems to me you took an awful long time findin' that hammer."
"It was away back in the drawer. I didn't see it at first."
"Hum! Grace Van Horne, if I thought you heard what that—that THING said to me, I'd—I'd—Good land of mercy! somebody ELSE is comin'."
Steps, measured, dignified steps, sounded on the walk. From without came a "Hum—ha!" a portentous combination of cough and grunt. Grace dodged back from the window and hastily began donning her hat and jacket.
"It's Cap'n Elkanah," she whispered. "I must go. This seems to be your busy morning, Aunt Keziah. I"—here she choked again—"really, I didn't know you were so popular."
Keziah opened the door. Captain Elkanah Daniels, prosperous, pompous, and unbending, crossed the threshold. Richest man in the village, retired shipowner, pillar of the Regular church and leading member of its parish committee, Captain Elkanah looked the part. He removed his hat, cleared his throat behind his black stock, and spoke with impressive deliberation.
"Good morning, Keziah. Ah—er—morning, Grace." Even in the tone given to a perfunctory salutation like this, the captain differentiated between Regular and Come-Outer. "Keziah, I—hum, ha!—rather expected to find you alone."
"I was just going, Cap'n Daniels," explained the girl. The captain bowed and continued.
"Keziah," he said, "Keziah, I came to see you on a somewhat important matter. I have a proposal I wish to make you."
He must have been surprised at the effect of his words. Keziah's face was a picture, a crimson picture of paralyzed amazement. As for Miss Van Horne, that young lady gave vent to what her friend described afterwards as a "squeal," and bolted out of the door and into the grateful seclusion of the fog.
IN WHICH KEZIAH UNEARTHS A PROWLER
The fog was cruel to the gossips of Trumet that day. Mrs. Didama Rogers, who lived all alone, except for the society of three cats, a canary, and a white poodle named "Bunch," in the little house next to Captain Elkanah's establishment, never entirely recovered from the chagrin and disappointment caused by that provoking mist. When one habitually hurries through the morning's household duties in order to sit by the front window and note each passer-by, with various fascinating surmises as to his or her errand and the reasons for it, it is discouraging to be able to see only one's own front fence and a scant ten feet of sidewalk. And then to learn afterwards of a dozen most exciting events, each distinctly out of the ordinary, which might have been used as excuses for two dozen calls and as many sensations! As Captain Zeb Mayo, the irreverent ex-whaler, put it, "That fog shook Didama's faith in the judgment of Providence. 'Tain't the 'all wise,' but the 'all seein'' kind she talks about in meetin' now."
The fog prevented Mrs. Rogers's noting the entrance of Mr. Pepper at the Coffin front gate. Also his exit, under sisterly arrest. It shut from her view the majestic approach of Captain Elkanah Daniels and Grace's flight, her face dimpled with smiles and breaking into laughter at frequent intervals. For a young lady, supposed to be a devout Come-Outer, to hurry along the main road, a handkerchief at her mouth and her eyes sparkling with fun, was a circumstance calculated to furnish material for enjoyable scandal. And Didama missed it.
Other happenings she missed, also. Not knowing of Captain Daniels's call upon Keziah, she was deprived of the pleasure of wonder at the length of his stay. She did not see him, in company with Mrs. Coffin, go down the road in the opposite direction from that taken by Grace. Nor their return and parting at the gate, two hours later. She did not see—but there! she saw nothing, absolutely nothing—except the scraggy spruce tree in her tiny front yard and the lonely ten feet of walk bordering it. No one traversed that section of walk except old Mrs. Tinker, who was collecting subscriptions for new hymn books for the Come-Outer chapel. And Didama was particularly anxious NOT to see her.
The dismal day dragged on. The silver-leaf trees dripped, the hedges were shining with moisture. Through the stillness the distant surf along the "ocean side" of the Cape growled and moaned and the fog bell at the lighthouse clanged miserably. Along the walk opposite Didama's—the more popular side of the road—shadowy figures passed at long intervals, children going to and from school, people on errands to the store, and the like. It was three o'clock in the afternoon before a visitor came again to the Coffin front gate, entered the yard and rapped at the side door.
Keziah opened the door.
"Halloa!" she exclaimed. "Back, are you? I begun to think you'd been scared away for good."
Grace laughed as she entered.
"Well, auntie," she said, "I don't wonder you thought I was scared. Truly, I didn't think it was proper for me to stay. First Kyan and then Cap'n Elkanah, and both of them expressing their wishes to see you alone so—er—pointedly. I thought it was time for me to go. Surely, you give me credit for a little delicacy."
Keziah eyed her grimly.
"Humph!" she sniffed. "If you'd been a little less delicate about fetchin' that hammer, we might have been spared at least one smash-up. I don't s'pose Laviny'll ever speak to me again. Oh, dear! I guess likely I'll never get the memory of that—that Kyan thing out of my mind. I never was so set back in my born days. Yes, you can laugh!"
She laughed herself as she said it. As for Grace, it was sometime before that young lady became coherent.
"He DID look so funny!" she gasped. "Hopping up and down on that shaky chair and holding on to that pipe and—and—O Aunt Keziah, if you could have seen your face when I opened that door!"
"Yes; well, I will say you was sometime gettin' it open. And then, on top of the whole fool business, in parades Elkanah Daniels and—"
She paused. Her companion looked delightedly expectant.
"Yes," she cried eagerly. "Then Cap'n Elkanah came and the very first thing he said was—I almost laughed in his face."
"Almost! Humph! that's no exaggeration. The way you put out of that door was a caution."
"Yes, but what did the cap'n mean? Is it a secret? Ahem! shall I congratulate you, auntie?"
"Grace Van Horne! there's born fools enough in this town without your tryin' to be one. You know 'twa'n't THAT. Though what 'twas was surprise enough, I will say," she added. "Grace, I ain't goin' away to-morrow."
"You're not? Oh, splendid! Has the cap'n decided to let you stay here?"
"I guess his decidin' wouldn't influence me, if twas stayin' in his house he meant. The only way I could live here would be on his charity, and that would be as poor fodder as sawdust hasty puddin', even if I was fond of charity, which I ain't. He said to me—Well, you take your things off and I'll tell you about it. You can stay a little while, can't you?"
"Yes, I was going to stay all the afternoon and for supper, if you'd let me. I knew you had so much to do and I wanted to help. I told uncle and he said certainly I ought to come. He said he should try to see you and say good-by before you left tomorrow."
"You don't say! And me a Regular! Well, I'm much obliged, though I guess your Uncle Eben won't see me to-morrow—nor speak to me again, when he knows what I AM going to do. Grace, I ain't goin' to leave Trumet, not for the present, anyhow. I've got a way of earnin' my livin' right here. I'm goin' to keep house for the new minister."
The girl turned, her hat in her hand.
"Oh!" she cried in utter astonishment.
Keziah nodded. "Yes," she affirmed. "That was what Elkanah's proposal amounted to. Ha! ha! Deary me! When he said 'proposal,' I own up for a minute I didn't know WHAT was comin'. After Kyan I was prepared for 'most anything. But he told me that Lurany Phelps, who the parish committee had counted on to keep house for Mr. Ellery, had sent word her sister was sick and couldn't be left, and that somebody must be hired right off 'cause the minister's expected by day after to-morrow's coach. And they'd gone over every likely candidate in town till it simmered down to Mehitable Burgess. And Cap'n Zeb Mayo spoke right up in the committee meetin' and gave out that if Mehitable kept house for Mr. Ellery he, for one, wouldn't come to church. Said he didn't want to hear sermons that was inspired by HER cookin'. Seems she cooked for the Mayos one week when Mrs. Mayo had gone to Boston, and Cap'n Zeb declares his dreams that week was somethin' awful. 'And I'm a man with no nerves and mighty little imagination,' he says. 'Land knows what effect a dose of Mehitable's biscuits might have on a MINISTER.'
"And so," continued Keziah, "they decided Mehitable wouldn't do, and finally somebody thought of me. I have a notion 'twas Zeb, although Cap'n Elkanah did his best to make me think 'twas himself. And the cap'n was made a delegate to come and see me about it. Come he did, and we settled it. I went down to the parsonage with him before dinner and looked the place over. There's an awful lot of sweepin' and dustin' to be done afore it's fit for a body to live in. I did think that when I'd finished with this house I could swear off on that kind of dissipation for a while, but I guess, judgin' by the looks of that parsonage, what I've done so far is only practice." She paused, glanced keenly at her friend and asked: "Why! what's the matter? You don't act nigh so glad as I thought you'd be."
Grace said of course she was glad; but she looked troubled, nevertheless.
"I can hardly make it seem possible," she said. "Is it really settled—your salary and everything? And what will you do about your position in Boston?"
"Oh, I'll write Cousin Abner and tell him. Lord love you, HE won't care. He'll feel that he did his duty in gettin' me the Boston chance and if I don't take it 'tain't his fault. HIS conscience'll be clear. Land sakes! if I could clean house as easy as some folks clear their consciences I wouldn't have a backache this minute. Yes, the wages are agreed on, too. And totin' them around won't make my back ache any worse, either," she added drily.
Grace extended her hand.
"Well, Aunt Keziah," she said, "I'm ever and ever so glad for you. I know you didn't want to leave Trumet and I'm sure everyone will be delighted when they learn that you're going to stay."
"Humph! that includes Laviny Pepper, of course. I cal'late Laviny's delight won't keep her up nights. But I guess I can stand it if she can. Now, Grace, what is it? You AIN'T real pleased? Why not?"
The girl hesitated.
"Auntie," she said, "I'm selfish, I guess. I'm glad for your sake; you mustn't think I'm not. But I almost wish you were going to do something else. You are going to live in the Regular parsonage and keep house for, of all persons, a Regular minister. Why, so far as my seeing you is concerned, you might as well be in China. You know Uncle Eben."
Keziah nodded understandingly.
"Yes," she said, "I know him. Eben Hammond thinks that parsonage is the presence chamber of the Evil One, I presume likely. But, Grace, you mustn't blame me, and if you don't call I'll know why and I shan't blame you. We'll see each other once in a while; I'll take care of that. And, deary, I HAD to do it—I just had to. If you knew what a load had been took off my mind by this, you'd sympathize with me and understand. I've been happier in Trumet than I ever was anywhere else, though I've seen some dark times here, too. I was born here; my folks used to live here. My brother Sol lived and died here. His death was a heavy trouble to me, but the heaviest came to me when I was somewheres else and—well, somehow I've had a feelin' that, if there was any real joys ever planned out for me while I'm on this earth, they'd come to me here. I don't know when they'll come. There's times when I can't believe they ever will come, but—There! there! everybody has to bear burdens in this life, I cal'late. It's a vale of tears, 'cordin' to you Come-Outer folks, though I've never seen much good in wearin' a long face and a crape bathin' suit on that account. Hey? What are you listenin' to?"
"I thought I heard a carriage stop, that was all."
Mrs. Coffin went to the window and peered into the fog.
"Can't see anything," she said. "'Tain't anybody for here, that's sure. I guess likely 'twas Cap'n Elkanah. He and Annabel were goin' to drive over to Denboro this afternoon. She had some trimmin' to buy. Takes more than fog to separate Annabel Daniels from dressmakin'. Well, there's a little more packin' to do; then I thought I'd go down to that parsonage and take a whack at the cobwebs. I never saw so many in my born days. You'd think all the spiders from here to Ostable had been holdin' camp meetin' in that shut-up house."
The packing took about an hour. When it was finished, the carpet rolled up, and the last piece of linen placed in the old trunk, Keziah turned to her guest.
"Now, Gracie," she said, "I feel as though I ought to go to the parsonage. I can't do much more'n look at the cobwebs to-night, but to-morrow those spiders had better put on their ascension robes. The end of the world's comin' for them, even though it missed fire for the Millerites when they had their doin's a few years ago. You can stay here and wait, if 'twon't be too lonesome. We'll have supper when I get back."
Grace looked tempted.
"I've a good mind to go with you," she said. "I want to be with you as much as I can, and HE isn't there yet. I'm afraid uncle might not like it, but—"
"Sho! Come along. Eben Hammond may be a chronic sufferer from acute Come-Outiveness, but he ain't a ninny. Nobody'll see you, anyway. This fog's like charity, it'll cover a heap of sins. Do come right along. Wait till I get on my things."
She threw a shawl over her shoulders, draped a white knitted "cloud" over her head, and took from a nail a key, attached by a strong cord to a block of wood eight inches long.
"Elkanah left the key with me," she observed. "No danger of losin' it, is there. Might as well lose a lumber yard. Old Parson Langley tied it up this way, so he wouldn't miss his moorin's, I presume likely. The poor old thing was so nearsighted and absent-minded along toward the last that they say he used to hire Noah Myrick's boy to come in and look him over every Sunday mornin' before church, so's to be sure he hadn't got his wig on stern foremost. That's the way Zeb Mayo tells the yarn, anyhow."
They left the house and came out into the wet mist. Then, turning to the right, in the direction which Trumet, with unconscious irony, calls "downtown," they climbed the long slope where the main road mounts the outlying ridge of Cannon Hill, passed Captain Mayo's big house—the finest in Trumet, with the exception of the Daniels mansion—and descended into the hollow beyond. Here, at the corner where the "Lighthouse Lane" begins its winding way over the rolling knolls and dunes to the light and the fish shanties on the "ocean side," stood the plain, straight-up-and-down meeting house of the Regular society. Directly opposite was the little parsonage, also very straight up and down. Both were painted white with green blinds. This statement is superfluous to those who remember Cape architecture at this period; practically every building from Sandwich to Provincetown was white and green.
They entered the yard, through the gap in the white fence, and went around the house, past the dripping evergreens and the bare, wet lilac bushes, to the side door, the lock of which Keziah's key fitted. There was a lock on the front door, of course, but no one thought of meddling with that. That door had been opened but once during the late pastor's thirty-year tenantry. On the occasion of his funeral the mourners came and went, as was proper, by that solemn portal.
Mrs. Coffin thrust the key into the keyhole of the side door and essayed to turn it.
"Humph!" she muttered, twisting to no purpose; "I don't see why—This must be the right key, because—Well, I declare, if it ain't unlocked already! That's some of Cap'n Elkanah's doin's. For a critter as fussy and particular about some things, he's careless enough about others. Mercy we ain't had any tramps around here lately. Come in."
She led the way into the dining room of the parsonage. Two of the blinds shading the windows of that apartment had been opened when she and Captain Daniels made their visit, and the dim gray light made the room more lonesome and forsaken in appearance than a deeper gloom could possibly have done. The black walnut extension table in the center, closed to its smallest dimensions because Parson Langley had eaten alone for so many years; the black walnut chairs set back against the wall at regular intervals; the rag carpet and braided mats—homemade donations from the ladies of the parish—on the green painted floor; the dolorous pictures on the walls; "Death of Washington," "Stoning of Stephen," and a still more deadly "fruit piece" committed in oils years ago by a now deceased boat painter; a black walnut sideboard with some blue-and-white crockery upon it; a gilt-framed mirror with another outrage in oils emphasizing its upper half; dust over everything and the cobwebs mentioned by Keziah draping the corners of the ceiling; this was the dining room of the Regular parsonage as Grace saw it upon this, her first visit. The dust and cobwebs were, in her eyes, the only novelties, however. Otherwise, the room was like many others in Trumet, and, if there had been one or two paintings of ships, would have been typical of the better class.
"Phew!" exclaimed Keziah, sniffing disgustedly. "Musty and shut up enough, ain't it? Down here in the dampness, and 'specially in the spring, it don't take any time for a house to get musty if it ain't aired out regular. Mr. Langley died only three months ago, but we've been candidatin' ever since and the candidates have been boarded round. There's been enough of 'em, too; we're awful hard to suit, I guess. That's it. Do open some more blinds and a window. Fresh air don't hurt anybody—unless it's spiders," with a glare at the loathed cobwebs.
The blinds and a window being opened, more light entered the room. Grace glanced about it curiously.
"So this is going to be your new home now, Aunt Keziah," she observed. "How queer that seems."
"Um—h'm. Does seem queer, don't it? Must seem queer to you to be so near the headquarters of everything your uncle thinks is wicked. Smell of brimstone any, does it?" she asked with a smile.
"No, I haven't noticed it. You've got a lot of cleaning to do. I wish I could help. Look at the mud on the floor."
"Mud?" she exclaimed. "Why, so 'tis! How in the world did that come here? Wet feet, sure's you're born. Man's foot, too. Cap'n Elkanah's, I guess likely; though the prints don't look hardly big enough for his. Elkanah's convinced that he's a great man and his boots bear him out in it, don't they? Those marks don't look broad enough for his understandin', but I guess he made 'em; nobody else could. Here's the settin' room."
She threw open another door. A room gloomy with black walnut and fragrant with camphor was dimly visible.
"Cheerful's a tomb, ain't it?" was Mrs. Coffin's comment. "Well, we'll get some light and air in here pretty soon. Here's the front hall and there's the front stairs. The parlor's off to the left. We won't bother with that yet a while. This little place in here is what Mr. Langley used to call his 'study.' Halloa! how this door sticks!"
The door did stick, and no amount of tugging could get it open, though Grace added her efforts to those of Keziah.
"'Tain't locked," commented Mrs. Coffin, "cause there ain't any lock on it. I guess it's just swelled and stuck from the damp. Though it's odd, I don't remember—Oh, well! never mind. Let's sweeten up this settin' room a little. Open a window or two in here. We'll have to hurry if we want to do anything before it gets dark. I'm goin' into the kitchen to get a broom."
She hurried out, returning in a moment or two with a broom and a most disgusted expression.
"How's a body goin' to sweep with that?" she demanded, exhibiting the frayed utensil, the business end of which was worn to a stub. "More like a shovel, enough sight. Well, there's pretty nigh dust enough for a shovel, so maybe this'll take off the top layers. S'pose I'll ever get this house fit for Mr. Ellery to live in before he comes? I wonder if he's a particular man?"
Grace, who was struggling with a refractory window, paused for breath.
"I'm sure I don't know," she replied. "I've never seen him."
"Nor I either. Sol was so bad the Sunday he preached that I couldn't go to meetin'. They say his sermon was fine; all about those who go down to the sea in ships. That's what got the parish committee, I guess; they're all old salts. I wonder if he's as fine-lookin' as they say?"
Miss Van Horne tossed her head. She was resting, prior to making another assault on the window.
"I don't know," she said. "And I'm sure I don't care. I don't like good-looking ministers."
"Deary me! You're different from most females in this town, then. And you spoke of his good looks yourself this very mornin'. Why don't you like the good-lookin' ones?"
"Oh, because they're always conceited and patronizing and superior—and spoiled. I can just imagine this Mr. Ellery of yours strutting about in sewing circle or sociables, with Annabel and Georgianna Lothrop and the rest simpering and gushing and getting in his way: 'O Mr. Ellery, I did so enjoy that sermon of yours Sunday!' and 'O Mr. Ellery, it was SO good of you to come this afternoon!' Pooh! I'm glad I'm a Come-Outer. Not that I would simper over him if I wasn't. He couldn't patronize me—not more than once, at any rate."
Keziah was greatly amused.
"Sakes alive!" she chuckled. "You're awfully high and mighty, seems to me. And changeable since mornin'. You was willin' enough to talk about him then. Now, Gracie, you mustn't take a spite against poor Mr. Ellery just because I've got to keep house for him. 'Tain't his fault; he don't even know it yet."
"I don't care. I know he'll be a conceited little snippet and I shall hate the sight of him. There! there! Auntie, you mustn't mind me. I told you I was a selfish pig. But don't you ask me to LIKE this precious minister of yours, because I shan't do it. He has no business to come and separate me from the best friend I've got. I'd tell him so if he was here—What was that?"
Both women looked at each other with startled faces. They listened intently.
"Why, wa'n't that funny!" whispered Keziah. "I thought I heard—"
"You DID hear. So did I. What do you suppose—"
"S-s-s-h-h! It sounded from the front room somewhere. And yet there can't be anybody in there, because—My soul! there 'tis again. I'm goin' to find out."
She grasped the stubby broom by the handle and moved determinedly toward the front hall. Grace seized her by the arm.
"Don't you do it, auntie!" she whispered frantically. "Don't you DO it! It may be a tramp."
"I don't care. Whoever or whatever it is, it has no business in this house, and I'll make that plain in a hurry. Just like as not it's a cat got in when Elkanah was here this forenoon. Don't be scared, Grace. Come right along."
The girl came along, but not with enthusiasm. They tiptoed through the dark, narrow hall and peered into the parlor. This apartment was dim and still and gloomy, as all proper parlors should be, but there was no sign of life.
"Humph!" sniffed Keziah. "It might have been upstairs, but it didn't sound so. What did it sound like to you?"
"Like a footstep at first; and then like something falling—and rustling. Oh, what is the matter?"
Mrs. Coffin was glancing back down the hall with a strange expression on her face. Her grip upon the broom handle tightened.
"What IS it?" pleaded the girl in an agonized whisper.
"Grace," was the low reply, "I've just remembered somethin'. That study door isn't stuck from the damp, because—well, because I remember now that it was open this mornin'."
Before her companion could fully grasp the import of this paralyzing fact, Keziah strode down the hall and seized the knob of the study door.
"Whoever you are in there," she commanded sternly, "open this door and come out this minute. Do you hear? I'm orderin' you to come out."
There was an instant of silence; then a voice from within made answer, a man's voice, and its tone indicated embarrassment.
"Madam," it said, "I—I am—I will be out in another minute. If you will just be patient—"
Grace interrupted with a smothered shriek. Keziah brandished the broom.
"Patient!" she repeated sharply. "Well, I like that! What do you mean by—Open that door! Grace, run out and get the—the constable."
This command was delivered entirely for effect. The office of constable in Trumet is, generally speaking, a purely honorary one. Its occupant had just departed for a week's cruise as mate of a mackerel schooner. However, the effect was instantaneous. From behind the door came sounds of hurry and commotion.
"Don't get the police on my account, please," said the voice. "If you will be patient until I get this—I'm just as anxious to come out as you can be to have me. Of all the ridiculous—"
"Come out then!" snapped Keziah. "Come out! If you're so everlastin' anxious, then come out. Patience! Of all the cheek! Why don't you come out NOW?"
The answer was brisk and to the point. Evidently, the unknown's stock of the virtue which he demanded of others was diminishing.
"Well, to be frank, since you insist," snapped the voice, "I'm not fully dressed."
This was a staggerer. For once Keziah did not have a reply ready. She looked at Grace and the latter at her. Then, without words, they retreated to the sitting room.
"Shall—shall I go for help?" whispered the girl. "Hadn't we better leave him here and—He doesn't sound like a tramp, does he. What DO you suppose—"
"I hope you won't be alarmed," continued the voice, broken by panting pauses, as if the speaker was struggling into a garment. "I know this must seem strange. You see, I came on the coach as far as Bayport and then we lost a wheel in a rut. There was a—oh, dear! where IS that—this is supremely idiotic!—I was saying there happened to be a man coming this way with a buggy and he offered to help me along. He was on his way to Wellmouth. So I left my trunk to come later and took my valise. It rained on the way and I was wet through. I stopped at Captain Daniels's house and the girl said he had gone with his daughter to the next town, but that they were to stop here at the parsonage on their way. So—there! that's right, at last!—so I came, hoping to find them. The door was open and I came in. The captain and his daughter were not here, but, as I was pretty wet, I thought I would seize the opportunity to change my clothes. I had some dry—er—things in my valise and I—well, then you came, you see, and—I assure you I—well, it was the most embarrassing—I'm coming now."
The door opened. The two in the sitting room huddled close together, Keziah holding the broom like a battle-ax, ready for whatsoever might develop. From the dimness of the tightly shuttered study stepped the owner of the voice, a stranger, a young man, his hair rumpled, his tie disarranged, and the buttons of his waistcoat filling the wrong buttonholes. Despite this evidence of a hasty toilet in semidarkness, he was not unprepossessing. Incidentally, he was blushing furiously.
"I'm—I'm sure I beg your pardon, ladies," he stammered. "I scarcely know what to say to you. I—"
His eyes becoming accustomed to the light in the sitting room, he was now able to see his captors more clearly. He looked at Keziah, then at Miss Van Horne, and another wave of blushes passed from his collar up into the roots of his hair. Grace blushed, too, though, as she perfectly well knew, there was no reason why she should.
Mrs. Coffin did not blush. This young fellow, although evidently not a tramp or a burglar, had caused her some moments of distinct uneasiness, and she resented the fact.
"Well," she observed rather tartly, "I'm sorry you don't know what to say, but perhaps you might begin by telling us who you are and what you mean by makin' a—er—dressin' room of a house that don't belong to you, just because you happened to find the door unlocked. After that you might explain why you didn't speak up when we first come, instead of keepin' so mighty quiet. That looks kind of suspicious to me, I must say."
The stranger's answer was prompt enough now. It was evident he resented the suspicion.
"I didn't speak," he said, "because you took me by surprise and I wasn't, as I explained—er—presentable. Besides, I was afraid of frightening you. I assure you I hurried as fast as I could, quietly, and when you began to talk"—his expression changed and there was a twitch at the corner of his mouth—"I tried to hurry still faster, hoping you might not hear me and I could make my appearance—or my escape—sooner. As for entering the house—well, I considered it, in a way, my house; at least, I knew I should live in it for a time, and—"
"Live in it?" repeated Keziah. "LIVE in it? Why! mercy on us! you don't mean to say you're—"
She stopped to look at Grace. That young lady was looking at her with an expression which, as it expressed so very much, is beyond ordinary powers of description.
"My name is Ellery," said the stranger. "I am the minister—the new minister of the Regular society."
Then even Keziah blushed.
IN WHICH KEZIAH ASSUMES A GUARDIANSHIP
Didama would have given her eyeteeth—and, for that matter, the entire upper set—to have been present in that parsonage sitting room when the Rev. John Ellery made his appearance. But the fates were against Didama that day and it was months afterwards before she, or any of what Captain Zeb Mayo called the "Trumet Daily Advertisers," picked up a hint concerning it. Keziah and Grace, acquainted with the possibilities of these volunteer news gatherers, were silent, and the Reverend John, being in some respects a discreet young man with a brand-new ministerial dignity to sustain, refrained from boasting of the sensation he had caused. He thought of it very often, usually at most inconvenient times, and when, by all the requirements of his high calling, his thought should have been busy with different and much less worldly matters.
"I declare!" said Mrs. Thankful Payne, after the new minister's first call at her residence, a week after his arrival at Trumet, "if Mr. Ellery ain't the most sympathetic man. I was readin' out loud to him the poem my cousin Huldy B.—her that married Hannibal Ellis over to Denboro—made up when my second husband was lost to sea, and I'd just got to the p'int in the ninth verse where it says:
'The cruel billows crash and roar, And the frail craft is tempest-tossed, But the bold mariner thinks not of life, but says, "It is the fust schooner ever I lost."'
And 'twas, too, and the last, poor thing! Well, I just got fur as this when I looked up and there was the minister lookin' out of the window and his face was just as red, and he kept scowlin' and bitin' his lips. I do believe he was all but sheddin' tears. Sympathy like that I appreciate."
As a matter of fact, Mr. Ellery had just seen Grace Van Horne pass that window. She had not seen him, but for the moment he was back in that disgusting study, making a frenzied toilet in the dusk and obliged to overhear remarks pointedly personal to himself.
Grace left the parsonage soon after the supposed tramp disclosed his identity. Her farewells were hurried and she firmly refused Mrs. Coffin's not too-insistent appeal to return to the house "up street" and have supper. She said she was glad to meet Mr. Ellery. The young minister affirmed his delight in meeting her. Then she disappeared in the misty twilight and John Ellery surreptitiously wiped his perspiring forehead with his cuff, having in his late desire for the primal necessities forgotten such a trifling incidental as a handkerchief.
"Well, Mr. Ellery," observed Keziah, turning to her guest, or employer, or incumbrance—at present she was more inclined to consider him the latter—"well, Mr. Ellery, this has been kind of unexpected for all hands, ain't it? If I'd known you was comin' to-day, I'd have done my best to have things ready, but Cap'n Elkanah said not before day after to-morrow and—but there, what's the use of talkin' that way? I didn't know I was goin' to keep house for you till this very forenoon. Mercy me, what a day this has been!"
The minister smiled rather one-sidedly.
"It's been something of a day for me," he admitted. "I am ahead of time and I've made a lot of trouble, I'm afraid. But yesterday afternoon I was ready and, to tell the truth, I was eager to come and see my new home and get at my work. So I started on the morning train. Then the stage broke down and I began to think I was stranded at Bayport. But this kind-hearted chap from Wellmouth—I believe that's where he lived—happened to pull up to watch us wrestling with the smashed wheel, and when he found I was in a hurry to get to Trumet, offered to give me a lift. His name was—was Bird. No, that wasn't it, but it was something like Bird, or some kind of a bird."
"Bird?" repeated Keziah thoughtfully. "There's no Birds that I know of in Wellmouth. Hum! Hey? 'Twa'n't Sparrow, was it?"
"That was it—Sparrow."
"Good land! Emulous Sparrow. Run consider'ble to whiskers and tongue, didn't he?"
"Why, yes; he did wear a beard. As for tongue—well, he was conversational, if that's what you mean."
"That's what I mean. If you rode twelve mile with Emulous, you must have had an earache for the last six. Did he ask a question or two about your personal affairs, here and there between times?"
Mr. Ellery laughed.
"Yes, one or two, between times," he admitted.
"I shan't die of surprise. Did you tell him who you was?"
"No-o, to be honest, I didn't. He was so very anxious to find out, that—well, I dodged. I think he believed I was going to visit Captain Daniels."
"Good enough! If I was governor of this state I wouldn't send any Thanksgivin' proclamations down this way. I'd just write Em Peters and Didama Rogers and a couple more like them and save myself the trouble. They'd have all I wanted to proclaim spread from one end of the county to the other in less'n a day, and a peck or two of extrys pitched in for good measure. I'm awful glad you didn't tell Emulous you was the minister. You see, Trumet's Trumet, and, considerin' everything, maybe it's just as well nobody knows about your bein' shut up in that study. Not but what 'twas all right, you know, but—"
"I understand. I'm not proud of it. Still, some one may have seen me come here."
"No, no, they didn't. This fog is as thick as Injun-meal puddin'. Nobody saw you."
"Well," with some hesitation, "the young lady who was here with you—"
"Oh, Grace Van Horne! She's all right. She won't tell. She ain't that kind."
"Van Horne? That doesn't sound like a New England name."
"'Tisn't. Her folks come from Jersey somewheres. But she was adopted by old Cap'n Hammond, who keeps the tavern down on the bay shore by the packet wharf, and she's lived in Trumet since she was six years old. Her father was Teunis Van Horne, and he was mate on Cap'n Eben's coastin' schooner and was drowned off Hatteras. Eben was saved just by the skin of his teeth and got a broken hip and religion while it happened. His hip's better except that he's some lame; but his religion's been more and more feverish ever since. He's one of the head Come-Outers, and built their chapel with his own money. You mustn't think I'm speakin' lightly of religion, nor of Cap'n Eben, either. He's a dear good soul as ever was, but he is the narrowest kind of Come-Outer. His creed is just about as wide as the chapel door, and that's as narrow as the way leadin' to salvation; it IS the way, too, so the Come-Outers think."
"What are Come-Outers? Some new sect?"
"Sakes alive! Haven't you heard of Come-Outers? Cat's foot! Well, you'll hear of 'em often enough from now on. They're folks who used to go to our church, the Regular, but left because the services was too worldly, with organs and choir singin', and the road to paradise too easy. No need for me to tell you any more. You'll learn."
Mr. Ellery was interested. He had been in Trumet but once before, on the occasion when he preached his trial sermon, and of that memorable visit remembered little except the sermon itself, the pews filled with captains and their families, and the awe-inspiring personality of Captain Elkanah Daniels, who had been his host. To a young man, the ink upon his diploma from the theological school still fresh, a trial sermon is a weighty matter, and the preaching of it weightier still. He had rehearsed it over and over in private, had delivered it almost through clinched teeth, and had returned to his room in the Boston boarding house with the conviction that it was an utter failure. Captain Elkanah and the gracious Miss Annabel, his daughter, had been kind enough to express gratification, and their praise alone saved him from despair. Then, to his amazement, the call had come. Of casual conversation at the church and about the Daniels's table he could recall nothing. So there was another religious organization in town and that made up of seceders from his own church. He was surprised.
"Er—this Miss Van Horne?" he asked. "Is she a—Come-Outer?"
Mrs. Coffin nodded.
"Yes," she said. "She's one. Couldn't be anything else and live with her Uncle Eben, as she calls him."
The minister experienced a curious feeling of disappointment and chagrin. This young person, already predisposed to regard a clergyman of his denomination with disapproval, had seen him for the first time under most humiliating circumstances. And he should never have the opportunity to regain her favor, or his own self-respect, by his efforts in the pulpit. No matter how well he might preach she would never hear him.
"Has this Captain Hammond no children of his own?" he asked.
Keziah's answer was short for her.
"Yes," she said. "One."
"Ah! another daughter?"
"No, a son. Name's Nathaniel, and he's a sea captain. He's on his way from Surinam to New York now. They expect him to make port most any time, I believe. Now, Mr. Ellery, I s'pose we've got to arrange for your supper and stayin' overnight; and with this house the way 'tis and all, I don't see—"
But the minister was still interested in the Hammond household.
"This Nathaniel Hammond?" he asked. "You don't seem enthusiastic over him. Is he a black sheep?"
This reply also was short, but emphatic.
"No," said Keziah. "He's a fine man."
Then she resumed her semisoliloquy concerning her companion's entertainment.
"I guess," she said, "that the best thing for you to do will be to go to Cap'n Elkanah's. They'll be real glad to see you, I know, and you'll be in time for supper, for Elkanah and Annabel have been to Denboro and they'll be late home. They can keep you overnight, too, for it's a big house with lots of rooms. Then, after breakfast to-morrow you come right here. I'll have things somewhere near shipshape by then, I guess, though the cleanin'll have to be mainly a lick and a promise until I can really get at it. Your trunk'll be here on the coach, I s'pose, and that'll be through early in the forenoon. Get on your hat and coat and I'll go with you to Elkanah's."
The young man demurred a little at thrusting himself upon the hospitality of the Daniels's home, but Keziah assured him that his unexpected coming would cause no trouble. So he entered the now dark study and came out wearing his coat and carrying his hat and valise in his hand.
"I'm sure I'm ever so much obliged to you," he said. "And, as we are going to be more or less together—or at least I guess as much from what you say—would you mind if I suggest a mutual introduction. I'm John Ellery; you know that already. And you—"
Keziah stopped short on her way to the door.
"Well, I declare!" she exclaimed. "If I ain't the very worst! Fact is, you dropped in so ahead of time and in such a irregular sort of way, that I never once thought of introducin' anybody; and I'm sure Grace didn't. I'm Keziah Coffin, and Cap'n Elkanah and I signed articles, so to speak, this mornin', and I'm goin' to keep house for you."
She explained the reason upsetting the former arrangement by which Lurania Phelps was to have had the position.
"So I'm to keep house for you," she concluded. Adding: "For a spell, anyhow."
"Why do you say that?" asked the minister.
"Well, you might not like me. You may be particular, you know."
"I think I can run that risk."
"Yes; well, you can't tell. Or I might not like you. You see, I'm pretty particular myself," she added with a laugh.
At the Daniels's door Keziah turned her new charge over to Matilda Snow, the hired girl. It was an indication of the family's social position that they kept "hired help." This was unusual in Trumet in those days, even among the well to do.
"Good night," said the young man, extending his hand. "Good night, Miss—or is it Mrs.—Coffin?"
"Mrs. Good night."
"She's a widow," explained Matilda. "Husband died 'fore she come back here to live. Guess he didn't amount to much; she never mentions his name."
"There was one thing I meant to tell her," mused the minister, hesitating on the threshold. "I meant to tell her not to attempt any cleaning up at the parsonage to-night. To-morrow will do just as well."
"Heavens to Betsy!" sniffed the "hired help," speaking from the depths of personal conviction, "nobody but a born fool would clean house in the night, 'specially after the cleanin' she's been doin' at her own place. I guess you needn't worry."
So Mr. Ellery did not worry. And yet, until three o'clock of the following morning, the dull light of a whale-oil lantern illuminated the rooms of the parsonage as Keziah scrubbed and swept and washed, giving to the musty place the "lick and promise" she had prophesied. If the spiders had prepared those ascension robes, they could have used them that night.
After breakfast the wagons belonging to the Wellmouth furniture dealer drove in at the gate of the little house opposite Captain Elkanah's, and Keziah saw, with a feeling of homesickness which she hid beneath smiles and a rattle of conversation, the worn household treasures which had been hers, and her brother's before her, carried away out of her life. Then her trunks were loaded on the tailboards of the wagons, to be left at the parsonage, and with a sigh and a quick brush of her hand across her eyes, she locked the door for the last time and walked briskly down the road. Soon afterwards John Ellery, under the eminently respectable escort of Captain Elkanah and Miss Annabel, emerged from the Daniels's gate and followed her. Mrs. Didama Rogers, thankful for a clear atmosphere and an unobstructed view, saw them pass and recognized the stranger. And, within a quarter of an hour, she, arrayed in a hurried calling costume, was spreading the news along the main road. The "Trumet Daily Advertiser" had, so to speak, issued an extra.
Thus the new minister came to Trumet and thus Keziah Coffin became his housekeeper. She entered upon her duties with the whole-hearted energy peculiar to her. She was used to hard work, and, as she would have said, felt lonesome without it. She cleaned that parsonage from top to bottom. Every blind was thrown open and the spring sunshine poured in upon the braided mats and the rag carpets. Dust flew in clouds for the first day or two, but it flew out of windows and doors and was not allowed to settle within. The old black walnut furniture glistened with oil. The mirrors and the crockery sparkled from baths of hot water and soap. Even St. Stephen, in the engravings on the dining-room wall, was forced to a martyrdom of the fullest publicity, because the spots and smears on the glass covering his sufferings were violently removed. In the sleeping rooms upstairs the feather beds were beaten and aired, the sheets and blankets and patchwork comforters exposed to the light, and the window curtains dragged down and left to flap on the clothesline. The smell of musty dampness disappeared from the dining room and the wholesome odors of outdoors and of good things cooking took its place.
Keziah, in the midst of her labors, found time to coach her employer and companion in Trumet ways, and particularly in the ways which Trumet expected its clergymen to travel. On the morning following his first night in the parsonage, he expressed himself as feeling the need of exercise. He thought he should take a walk.
"Well," said his housekeeper from her station opposite him at the breakfast table, "if I was you I wouldn't take too long a one. You'd better be back here by ten, anyhow. Where was you thinkin' of goin'?"
Mr. Ellery had no particular destination in mind. He would like to see something of the village and, perhaps, if she could give him the names of a few of his parishioners, he might make a few calls. Keziah shook her head.
"Gracious goodness!" she exclaimed. "I wouldn't advise you to do that. You ain't been here long enough to make forenoon calls. If you should catch some of the women in this town with aprons and calico on, they'd never forgive you in this world. Wait till afternoon; they'll be expectin' you then and they'll be rigged out in their best bibs and tuckers. S'pose you found Annabel Daniels with her hair done up in curl papers; what do you think would happen? Mornin's are no time for ministers' calls. Even old Mr. Langley never made calls in the forenoon—and he'd been here thirty-odd years."
"All right, you know best. Much obliged for the advice. Then I'll simply take my walk and leave the calls until later."
"I'd be back by ten, though. Folks'll begin callin' on you by that time."
"They will? Doesn't the rule work both ways?"
"Not with new ministers it don't. Cat's foot! You don't s'pose Didama Rogers and Laviny Pepper and their kind'll wait any longer'n they can help afore they come to see what you look like, do you?"
"Well, they must have seen me when I preached here before. I remember—"
"Mercy on us! that was in meetin'. Meetin's diff'rent. All they could say to you then was how much they liked your sermon. They say that to every minister that comes, no matter how they may pick him to pieces afterwards. But here they can ask you questions; about how you came to come here and what you think of it far's you've got, and what your views are on certain points in the creed. Likewise, who your folks were and whether they was well off, and a few things like that. Then they'll want to see what kind of clothes you wear and—"
"Whew!" Ellery whistled. "You're unfolding a pleasant prospect for me, I must say. Am I supposed to be catechized on all of my private affairs?"
"Of course! A minister hasn't got any private affairs; he's a public character. There!" she laughed, as she poured the coffee, "I mustn't discourage you. But don't you see that every mother's son—and, for that matter, every daughter and children's child unto the third and fourth generation—feel that, so long as they pay pew rent or put a cent in the collection, they own a share in you. And we always keep a watch on our investments down this way. That's the Yankee shrewdness you read so much about, I guess."
The minister absently played with his spoon.
"I'm afraid you're a cynic," he said.
"No, no, I ain't. Though sometimes, considerin' everything, I feel as though I had excuse enough if I wanted to belong to that tribe. But you're young. You mustn't mind my sayin' that; if you was old, of course, I wouldn't talk about ages. But you are young and this is your first church. So you must start right. I'm no cynic, bless you. I've got trust in human nature left—most kinds of human nature. If I hadn't, I'd have more money, I s'pose. Perhaps you've noticed that those who trust a good deal are usually poor. It's all right, Mr. Ellery; you go and take your walk. And I'll walk into that pantry closet. It'll be a good deal like walkin' into the Slough of Despond, but Christian came out on the other side and I guess likely I will, if the supply of soapsuds holds out."
When, promptly at ten o'clock, the minister returned from his walk, he found Mrs. Rogers waiting in the sitting room. It is a prime qualification of an alert reporter to be first on the scene of sensation. Didama was seldom beaten. Mr. Ellery's catechism began. Before it was over Keziah opened the door to admit Miss Pepper and her brother. "Kyan" was nervous and embarrassed in the housekeeper's presence. Lavinia was a glacier, moving majestically and freezing as it moved. Keziah, however, was not even touched by the frost; she greeted the pair cordially, and begged them to "take off their things."
It was dinner time before the catechizers departed. The catechized came to the table with an impaired appetite. He looked troubled.
"Don't let it worry you, Mr. Ellery," observed Keziah calmly. "I think I can satisfy you. Honest and true, I ain't half as bad as you might think."
The minister looked more troubled than before; also surprised.
"Why, Mrs. Coffin!" he cried. "Could you hear—"
"No, no! I couldn't hear nothin' in that closet except my own opinion on dirt and dust. But if I was as deaf as the man that set on the powder keg and dropped his pipe ashes into it, it wouldn't have made any difference. The man said after they picked him up that they needn't have been so rough, he'd have moved without bein' pushed if they'd have made signs they wanted to use the keg. And if I was out in the next lot I'd have known what you was listenin' to in that sittin' room. They hinted that they were real sorry for you, but 'twasn't any of THEIR doin's. The parish committee, bein' just men, was apt to make mistakes in certain matters. Of course everything MIGHT be well enough, and if you wa'n't TOO particular about cookin' and so on, why—Anyhow, you mustn't think that THEY were criticisin'. 'Twas only that they took an interest and—That was about it, wasn't it?"
"Mrs. Coffin, I—I hope you don't think I paid any attention to their remarks—of that kind, I mean. Honestly, I did my best to stop them. I said—"
"Man alive! I'm not worried. Why should you be? We were talkin' about trust just now—or I was. Well, you and I'll have to take each other on trust for a while, until we see whether we're goin' to suit. If you see anything that I'm goin' wrong in, I wish you'd tell me. And I'll do the same by you, if that's agreeable. You'll hear a lot of things said about me, but if they're very bad I give you my word they ain't true. And, to be real frank, I'll probably hear some about you, which I'll take for what they're worth and considerin' who said 'em. That's a good wholesome agreement, I think, for both of us. What do you think?"
John Ellery said, with emphasis, that he thought well of it. He began to realize that this woman, with her blunt common sense, was likely to be a pilot worth having in the difficult waters which he must navigate as skipper of the Regular church in Trumet. Also, he began to realize that, as such a skipper, he was most inexperienced. And Captain Daniels had spoken highly—condescendingly but highly—of his housekeeper's qualifications and personality. So the agreement was ratified, with relief on his part.
The first Sunday came and with it the first sermon. He read that sermon to Keziah on Saturday evening and she approved of it as a whole, though she criticised some of its details.
"Don't be afraid to put in plenty of salt," she said. "Where you've got the Christian life and spirit written down as bein' like a quiet, peaceful home, free from all distrust, and like that, why don't you change it to a good safe anchorage, where the soul can ride forever without fear of breakers or no'theasters or the dangers besettin' the mariner on a lee shore. They'll understand that; it gets right home to 'em. There's scarcely a man or a woman in your congregation that ain't been out of sight of land for weeks on a stretch."
The breakfast hour on Sunday would be at nine o'clock, instead of seven, as on week days, she told him.
"Trumet lays to bed Sunday mornin's," she explained. "It's almost a part of its religion, as you might say, and lived up to more conscientious than some other parts, I'm afraid. Six days shalt thou labor and wear comfort'ble clothes; and on the seventh you must be lazy and dress up. Likewise you must have baked beans Saturday for supper, as we're havin' 'em, and more beans with fish balls next mornin'. That is, if you want to be orthodox."
The service began at eleven o'clock. At half past ten the sexton, old Mr. Jubal Knowles, rang the "first bell," a clanging five-minute reminder. Twenty minutes later he began on the second and final call. Mr. Ellery was ready—and nervous—before the first bell had finished ringing. But Keziah, entering the sitting room dressed in black alpaca and carrying the hymn book with her name in gilt letters on the cover, forbade his leaving the parsonage thus early.
"I shall go pretty soon," she said, "but you mustn't. The minister ain't expected until the last bell's 'most done. Parson Langley used to wait until the Winslows went in. Gaius Winslow is a widower man who lives up to the west end of the town and he's got nine children, all boys. You'll know 'em because they always drive down to meetin' in one carryall with a white horse. Gaius is as punctual as a boardin'-house dinner. The old parson used to wait until the last Winslow had toddled up the meetin'-house steps and then he'd come out of this side door with his sermon in his hand. It's a pretty good rule to remember and saves watchin' the clock. Besides, it's what we've been used to, and that goes a good ways with some folks. Good-by, Mr. Ellery. You'll see me in the third pew from the back, on the right side, wishin' you luck just as hard as I can."
So, as in couples or family groups, afoot or in all sorts of vehicles, the members of Trumet's Regular society came to the church to hear their new minister, that functionary peeped under the parlor window shade of the parsonage and waited, fidgetting and apprehensive, for the Winslows. They arrived at last, and were not hard to recognize, for ten individuals packed into one carriage are hard to overlook anywhere. As Gaius, with the youngest in his arms, passed in at the church door, John Ellery passed out of the parsonage gate. The last bell clanged its final stroke, the vibrations ceased, the rustle of skirts and the sounds of decorous coughing subsided and were succeeded by the dry rattle of the hymn-book pages, the organ, presented by Captain Elkanah and played by his daughter, uttered its preliminary groan, the service began.
Outside the spring breeze stirred the budding silver-leafs, the distant breakers grumbled, the crows in the pines near Captain Eben Hammond's tavern cawed ribald answers to the screaming gulls perched along the top of the breakwater. And seated on one of the hard benches of the little Come-Outer chapel, Grace Van Horne heard her "Uncle Eben," who, as usual, was conducting the meeting, speak of "them who, in purple and fine linen, with organs and trumpets and vain shows, are gathered elsewhere in this community to hear a hired priest make a mock of the gospel." (A-MEN!)
But John Ellery, the "hired priest," knew nothing of this. He did know, however, that he was the center of interest for his own congregation, the people among whom he had been called to labor. Their praise or criticism meant everything to him; therefore he preached for dear life.
And Keziah Coffin, in the third pew from the back, watched him intently, her mind working in sympathetic unison with his. She was not one to be greatly influenced by first impressions, but she had been favorably impressed by this young fellow, and had already begun to feel that sense of guardianship and personal responsibility which, later on, was to make Captain Zebedee Mayo nickname the minister "Keziah's Parson."
The sermon was a success.
IN WHICH KEZIAH'S PARSON DECIDES TO RUN IT BLINDFOLD
On Monday afternoon the minister made a few calls. Keziah made out a short list for him to follow, a "sort of chart of the main channel," she called it, "with the safe ports marked and the shoals and risky places labeled dangerous."
"You see," she said, "Trumet ain't a course you can navigate with your eyes shut. We divide ourselves into about four sets—aristocrats, poor relations, town folks, and scum. The aristocrats are the big bugs like Cap'n Elkanah and the other well-off sea captains, afloat or ashore. They 'most all go to the Regular church and the parish committee is steered by 'em. The poor relations are mainly widows and such, whose husbands died or were lost at sea. Most of them are Regulars. The town folks are those that stay ashore and keep store or run salt works or somethin'. And the scum work around on odd jobs or go fishin'. So, if you really want to be safe, you must call on the aristocrats first, after that on the poor relations, and so on down. You won't be bothered with scum much; they're mainly Come-Outers."
Ellery took the list from her hand and looked it over.
"Hum!" he said musingly. "Am I supposed to recognize these—er—class distinctions?"
"Yes. That is, not in meetin' or sewin' circle or anything like that, or not out and out and open anywhere. But you want to cultivate a sort of different handshake and how-dy-do for each set, so's to speak. Gush all you want to over an aristocrat. Be thankful for advice and always SO glad to see 'em. With the poor relations you can ease up on the gush and maybe condescend some. Town folks expect condescension and superiority; give it to 'em. When it comes to scum, why—well, any short kind of a bow and a 'Mornin' 'll do for them. 'Course the Lord, in His infinite mercy, made 'em, same as He did potato bugs, but it's necessary to keep both bugs and them down to their proper place."
She delivered this in the intervals between trips to the kitchen with the dinner dishes. The minister listened with a troubled expression on his face.
"Mrs. Coffin," he said, "I guess I'm dull. There was a Scotch professor at college and the fellows used to say his bump of humor was a dent. Maybe mine isn't much better. Are you joking?"
Keziah stacked the cups and saucers.
"I ain't jokin'," she declared. "I've been a poor relation in this village for a good while and my brother was a shoemaker and on the upper fringe of the town-folk class. My humor bump would have to stick up like Cannon Hill afore I could see any joke in that."
"But you're not seriously advising me to treat a rich man differently from a poor one?"
"Not openly different—no. But if you want to steer a perfectly SAFE course, one that'll keep deep water under your keel the whole voyage, why, there's your chart."
Mr. Ellery promptly tore the "chart" into small pieces.
"I'm going out," he said. "I shall be back by supper time."
Mrs. Coffin eyed him grimly.
"Goin' to run it blindfold, are you?" she asked.
"Yes, I am."
Her grimness disappeared and she smiled.
"I'll have your supper ready for you," she said. "Bring back a good appetite."
The young man hesitated on the threshold.
"Mrs. Coffin," he demanded, "would YOU have called only on the aristocrats at first?"
She shook her head, smiling still.
"No," she replied, "not me. I've always taken risks. But I didn't know but you might be a safe sailor. It saves a lot of trouble in this world."
"How about the next?"
"Oh, well, perhaps even the scum may count for somethin' over there." She turned to face him and her smile vanished. "Go on, Mr. Ellery," she said. "Go and call where you please. Far be it from me that I should tell you to do anything else. I suppose likely you hope some day to be a great preacher. I hope you will. But I'd enough sight rather you was a good man than the very greatest. No reason why you can't be both. There was a preacher over in Galilee once, so you told us yesterday, who was just good. 'Twa'n't till years afterwards that the crowd came to realize that he was great, too. And, if I recollect right, he chummed in with publicans and sinners. I'm glad you tore up that fool paper of mine. I hoped you might when I gave it to you. Now you run along, and I'll wash dishes. If cleanliness is next to godliness, then a parson ought to eat out of clean plates."
As a matter of fact, the minister's calls were in the nature of a compromise, although an unintentional one. He dropped in on Zebedee Mayo, owner of the big house on the slope of the hill. Captain Zeb took him up into what he called his "cupoler," the observatory on the top of the house, and showed him Trumet spread out like a map. The main road was north and south, winding and twisting its rutted, sandy way. Along it were clustered the principal houses and shops, shaded by silver-leaf poplars, a few elms, and some willows and spruces. Each tree bent slightly away from the northeast, the direction from which blew the heavy winter gales. Beyond the main road were green slopes and pastures, with swamps in the hollows, swamps which were to be cranberry bogs in the days to come. Then the lower road, with more houses, and, farther on, the beach, the flats—partially uncovered because it was high tide—and the bay.
Behind the Mayo house was the crest of Cannon Hill, more hills, pastures and swamps, scattered houses and pine groves. Then began the tumbled, humped waste of sand dunes, and, over their ragged fringes of beach plum and bayberry bushes, the deep blue of the wide Atlantic. The lighthouse was a white dot and the fish shanties a blotch of brown. Along the inner edge of the blue were scars of dancing white, the flashing teeth of hungry shoals which had torn to pieces and swallowed many a good ship. And, far out, dotted and sprinkled along the horizon, were sails.
"See?" said Captain Zeb, puffing still from the exertion of climbing the ladder to the "cupoler," for he was distinctly "fleshy." "See? The beacon's up. Packet come in this mornin'. There she is. See her down there by the breakwater?"
Sure enough, the empty barrel, painted red, was hoisted to the top of its pole on the crest of Cannon Hill. And, looking down at the bay and following the direction of the stubby pointing finger, Ellery saw a little schooner, with her sails lowered, lying, slightly on her side, in a shallow pool near a long ridge of piled stones—the breakwater. A small wharf made out from the shore and black figures moved briskly upon it. Carts were alongside the schooner and there more dots were busy.
"Eben's pennant's flyin'," said Captain Zeb. "He always sets colors when the packet's in. Keeps packet tavern, Eben does. That's it, that old-fashioned, gambrel-roofed house on the rise by the wharf. Call it 'Saints' Rest,' they do now, 'cause Eben's so mighty religious."
The minister saw the long, rambling house, with one lonely, twisted tree in its yard, a flag flying from a pole beside it. So that was where the Hammonds lived. And where the girl lived who was certain he was a "conceited snippet." Whatever he might be in reality he hoped it was not that. "Snippet" was not in his dictionary, but he didn't like the sound of it.
"Who owns the packet?" he asked, to make conversation.
"Zach Foster. Married Freewill Doane's daughter over to Harniss. She's dead now."
"A good sailor, is he?"
Captain Zeb spat in supreme disgust.
"Good farmer!" he snorted. "Zach took over the packet for a debt when the chap that used to run her died. His dad, old man Foster, raised garden truck at the same time mine went to sea. Both of us took after our fathers, I guess. Anyhow, my wife says that when I die 'twill be of salt water on the brain, and I'm sure Zach's head is part cabbage. Been better for him if he'd stuck to his garden. However, I s'pose he does his best."
"They say angels can do no more."
"Um-m. Well, Zach'll be an angel pretty soon if he keeps on cruisin' with that old hooker as she is. 'Bijah Perry, he's mate and the only good seaman aboard, tells me that most of the riggin's rotten and the main topmast ain't sound, by a good deal. The old man's put off havin' her overhauled for two reasons, one that repairs cost money, and t'other that puttin' off is the main sheet of his gospel. When there's no rain the roof don't leak and long's it don't blow too hard 'most any kind of gear'll hold. That's philosophy—cabbage philosophy."
Ellery decided that he should like Captain Zeb, although it was evident that the old whaler had decided opinions of his own which he did not hesitate to express. He judged that the Mayos were of the so-called aristocracy, but undoubtedly unique specimens. He visited four more households that afternoon. The last call was at Mrs. Thankful Payne's, and while there, listening to the wonderful "poem," he saw Miss Van Horne pass the window, as has already been told. He came home to a Cape Cod supper of scalloped clams, hot biscuits, and baked Indian pudding, and Keziah greeted him with a cheery smile which made him feel that it WAS home. His summary disposal of the "chart" had evidently raised him in his housekeeper's estimation. She did not ask a single question as to where he had been.
Next day he had a taste of Trumet's real aristocracy, the genuine article. Captain Elkanah Daniels and his daughter made their first formal call. The captain was majestic in high hat, fur-collared cape, tailed coat, and carrying a gold-headed cane. Miss Annabel wore her newest gown and bonnet and rustled as she walked. They entered the sitting room and the lady glanced superciliously about the apartment.
"Hum—ha!" barked Captain Elkanah. "Ahem! Mr. Ellery, I trust you're being made comfortable. The parish committee are—hum—ah—anxious that you should be. Yes?"
The minister said that he was very comfortable indeed.
"It isn't what you've been used to, we know," observed Miss Annabel. "Mr. Langley, our former pastor, was a sweet old gentleman, but he was old-fashioned and his tastes were queer, especially in art. Have you noticed that 'fruit piece' in the dining room? Isn't it too ridiculous?"