SHEILA OF BIG WRECK COVE A Story of Cape Cod
By JAMES A. COOPER
AUTHOR OF "Tobias o' the Light," "Cap'n Jonah's Fortune" "Cap'n Abe, Storekeeper," etc.
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY R. EMMETT OWEN
A. L. BURT COMPANY Publishers New York
Published by arrangement with George Sully & Company Printed in U.S.A.
COPYRIGHT, 1921 (AS A SERIAL)
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY GEORGE SULLY & COMPANY
[Frontispiece: "Come here and look at this craft, Prudence." Page 11 (Sheila of Big Wreck Cove.)]
CHAPTER I. CAP'N IRA AND PRUE II. THE CAPTAIN OF THE SEAMEW III. THE QUEEN OF SHEBA IV. AT THE LATHAM HOUSE V. LOOKING FOR IDA MAY VI. AN UNSATISFACTORY INTERVIEW VII. AT THE RESTAURANT VIII. SHEILA IX. A GIRL'S STORY X. THE PLOT XI. AT BIG WRECK COVE XII. A NEW HAND AT THE HELM XIII. SOME YOUNG MEN APPEAR XIV. THE HARVEST HOME FESTIVAL XV. AN INVITATION ACCEPTED XVI. MEMORIES—AND TUNIS XVII. AUNT LUCRETIA XVIII. IDA MAY THINKS IT OVER XIX. THE ARRIVAL XX. THE LIE XXI. AT SWORDS' POINTS XXII. A WAY OUT XXIII. A CALL UNANNOUNCED XXIV. EUNEZ PARETA XXV. TO LOVE AND BE LOVED XXVI. ELDER MINNETT HAS HIS SAY XXVII. CAP'N IRA SPEAKS OUT XXVIII. GONE XXIX. ON THE TRAIL XXX. THE STORM XXXI. BITTER WATERS XXXII. A GIRL TO THE RESCUE XXXIII. A HAVEN OF REST
CAP'N IRA AND PRUE
Seated on this sunshiny morning in his old armchair of bent hickory, between his knees a cane on the head of which his gnarled hands rested, Captain Ira Ball was the true retired mariner of the old school. His ruddy face was freshly shaven, his scant, silvery hair well smoothed; everything was neat and trig about him, including his glazed, narrow-brimmed hat, his blue pilot-cloth coat, pleated shirt front as white as snow, heavy silver watch chain festooned upon his waist-coat, and blue-yarn socks showing between the bottom of his full, gray trouser legs and his well-blacked low shoes.
For Cap'n Ira had commanded passenger-carrying craft in his day, and was a bit of a dandy still. The niceties of maritime full dress were as important to his mind now that he had retired from the sea to spend his remaining days in the Ball homestead on Wreckers' Head as when he had trod the quarter-deck of the old Susan Gatskill, or had occupied the chief seat at her saloon table.
"I don't know what's to become of us," repeated Cap'n Ira, wagging a thoughtful head, his gaze, as that of old people often is, fixed upon a point too distant for youthful eyes to see.
"I can't see into the future, Ira, any clearer than you can," rejoined his wife, glancing at his sagging, blue-coated shoulders with some gentle apprehension.
She was a frail, little, old woman, one of those women who, after a robust middle age, seem gradually to shrivel to the figure of what they were in their youth, but with no charm of girlish lines remaining. Her face was wrinkled like a russet apple in February, and it had the colorings of that grateful fruit. She sat on the stone slab which served for a back door stoop peeling potatoes.
"I swan, Prue, you cut me in two places this mornin' when you shaved me," said Cap'n Ira suddenly and in some slight exasperation. "And I can't handle that dratted razor myself."
"Maybe you could get John-Ed Williams to come over and shave you, Ira."
"John-Ed's got his work to do. Then again, how're we going to pay him for such jobs? I swan! I can't afford a vally, Prue. Besides, you need help about the house more than I need a steward. I can get along without being shaved so frequent, I s'pose, but there's times when you can't scurce lift a pot of potatoes off the stove."
"Oh, now, Ira, I ain't so bad as all that!" declared his wife mildly.
"Yes, you be. I am always expecting you to fall down, or hurt yourself some way. And as for looking out for the Queen of Sheby—"
"Now, Ira, Queenie ain't no trouble scurcely."
"Huh! She's more trouble than all our money, that's sure. And she's eating her head off."
"Now, don't say that," urged his wife in that soothing tone which often irritated Cap'n Ira more than it mollified him.
He tapped the metal top of the huge knob of his cane and the spring cover flew open. Ira took a pinch of snuff, inhaled it, closed the cover of the box, delicately brushed a few flecks of the pungent powder from his coat lapel and shirt front, and then, burying his nose in a large silk handkerchief, vented a prodigious:
Prudence uttered a surprised squeak, like a mouse being stepped on, jerked herself to a half-standing posture, and the potatoes rolled to every point of the compass.
"Goodness gracious gallop!" she ejaculated, quite shaken out of her usual calm. "I should think, Ira, as many times as I've told you that scares me most into a conniption, that you'd signal me when you're going to take snuff. I—I'm all of a shake, I be."
"I swan! I'm sorry, Prue. I oughter fire a gun, I allow, before speakin' the ship."
"Fire a gun!" repeated the old woman, panting as she scrambled for the potatoes. "That's what I object to, Ira. You want to speak this ship 'fore you shoot that awful noise. I never can get used to it."
"There, there!" he said, trying to poke the more distant potatoes toward her with his cane. He could not himself stoop; or, if he did, he could only sit erect again after the method of a ratchet wheel. "I won't do so again, Prudence. I be an onthoughtful critter, if ever there was one."
Prudence had recovered the last potato. She stopped to pat his ruddy cheek, nor was it much wrinkled, before she returned to peeling the potatoes.
"I know you don't mean to, Iry," she crooned. Married couples like the Balls, where the man has been at home only for brief visits between voyages, if they really love each other, never grow weary of the little frills on connubial bliss usually worn shabby by other people before the honeymoon is past. "I know you don't mean to. But when you sneeze I think it's the crack o' doom."
"I'm sorry about them potatoes," repeated Cap'n Ira. "I make you a lot of extry work, Prue. Sometimes I feel, fixed as I be in health, I oughter be in the Sailors' Snug Harbor over to Paulmouth. I do, for a fact."
"And what would become of me?" cried the old woman, appalled.
"Well," returned Cap'n Ira, "you couldn't be no worse off than you be. We'd miss each other a heap, I know."
"Ira!" cried his wife. "Ira, I'd just die without you now that I've got you to myself at last. Those long years you were away so much, and us not being blessed with children—"
Ira Ball made a sudden clucking sound with his tongue. That was a sore topic of conversation, and he always tried to dodge it.
"It did seem sometimes," pursued Prudence, wiping her eyes with a bit of a handkerchief that she took from her bosom, "as though I wasn't an honestly married woman. I know that sounds awful"—and she shook her head—"but it was so, you only getting home as you did between voyages. But I was always looking forward to the time when you would be home for good."
"Don't you s'pose I looked forward to casting anchor?" he demanded warmly. "Seemed like the time never would come. I was always trying to speculate a little so as to make something besides my skipper's pay and share. That—that's why I got bit in that Sea-Gold proposition. That feller's prospectus did read mighty reasonable, Prudence."
"I know it did, Ira," she agreed cordially. "I believed in it just as strong as you did. You warn't none to blame."
"Well, I dunno. It's mighty nice of you to say so, Prue. But they told me afterward that I might have knowed that a feller couldn't extract ten dollars' wuth of gold from the whole Atlantic Ocean, not if he bailed it dry!"
"We've got enough left to keep us, Ira."
"Just about. Just about. That is just it. When I was taken down with this rheumatiz and the hospital doctors in New York told me I could never think of pacing my own quarter no more, we had just enough left invested in good securities for us to live on the int'rest."
"And the old place, here, Ira," added his wife cheerfully.
"Which ain't much more than a shelter," he rejoined rather bitterly. "And just as I say, it isn't fit for two old folks like us to live alone in. Why, we can't even raise our own potatoes no more. And I never yet heard of pollack swimmin' ashore and begging to be split and dried against winter. No, sir!"
"The Lord's been good to us, Ira. We ain't never suffered yet," she told him softly.
"I know that. We ain't suffering for food and shelter. But, I swan, Prue, we be suffering for some young person about the house. Now, hold on! 'Twarn't for us to have children. That warn't meant. We've been all through that, and it's settled. But that don't change the fact that we need somebody to live with us if we're going to live comfortable."
"Oh, dear, if my niece Sarah had lived! She used to stay with me when she was a gal and you was away," sighed Prudence.
"But she married and had a gal of her own. She brought her here that time I was home after my first v'y'ge on the Susan Gatskill. A pretty baby if ever there was one."
"Ida May Bostwick! Bostwick was Sarah's married name. I heard something about Ida May only the other day."
"You did?" exclaimed Cap'n Ira, much interested.
"Yes, Ira. Annabell Coffin, she who was a Cuttle, was visiting his folks in Boston, and she learned that Sarah Bostwick's daughter was working behind the counter in some store there. She has to work for her livin', poor child."
"I swan!" ejaculated the captain.
Much as he had been about the world, Cap'n Ira looked upon most mundane affairs with the eyes of the true Cape man. Independence is bred in the bone of his tribe. A tradesman or storekeeper is, after all, not of the shipmaster caste. And a clerk, working "behind the counter" of any store, is much like a man before the mast.
"It does seem too bad," sighed Prudence. "She was a pretty baby, as you say, Ira."
"Sarah was nice as she could be to you," was the old man's thoughtful comment.
"Yes. But her husband, Bostwick, was only a mechanic. Of course, he left nothing. Them city folks are so improvident," said Prudence. "I wish't we was able to do something for little Ida May, Ira. Think of her workin' behind a counter!"
"I am a-thinkin'," growled the old captain. "See here, Prue. What's to hinder us doin' something for her?"
Prudence looked at him, startled.
"Why, Iry, you say yourself we can scurce help ourselves."
"It's a mighty ill wind that don't blow fair for some craft," declared the ancient mariner, nodding. "We do need help right here, Prudence, and that gal of Sarah Bostwick's could certainly fill the bill. On the other hand, she'd be a sight better off here on the Cape, living with us, getting rosy and healthy, and having this old place and what we've got left when we die, than she would be slavin' behind a counter in any city store. What d'you think?"
"Ira!" exclaimed his wife, clasping her hands, potato knife and all. "Ira! I think that's a most wonderful idea. It takes you to think up things. You're just wonderful!"
Cap'n Ira preened himself like the proud old gander he was. He heaved himself out of the chair by the aid of his cane, a present from one grateful group of passengers that had sailed in his charge, on the Susan Gatskill.
"Well, well!" he said. "Let's think of it. Let's see, where's my glass? Here 'tis."
He seized the old-fashioned collapsible spyglass, which he favored rather than the newer binoculars, and started off to "pace the quarter," as he called the path from the back door to the grassy cart track which joined the road at the lower corner of the Ball premises. This highway wandered down from the Head into the fishing village along the inner beach of Big Wreck Cove. Prudence watched Ira with fond but comprehending eyes. She saw how broken he was, how stumbling his feet when he first started off, and the swaying locomotion that betrayed that feebleness of both brain and body that can never be denied.
Somewhere on the Head in the old days the wreckers had kept their outlook for ships in distress. Those harpies of the coast had fattened on the bones of storm-racked craft. It was one of those battered freighters that, nearly two centuries before, had been driven into the cove itself, to become embalmed in Cape history as "the big wreck."
The Balls and the Lathams, the Honeys and the Coffins of that ancient day had "wracked" the stranded craft most thoroughly. But they had not overlooked the salvation of her ship's company of foreigners. She had been a Portuguese vessel, and although the Cape Codder, then, as now, was opposed to "foreigners," refuge was extended to the people saved from the big wreck.
Near the straggling settlement at the cove a group of shacks had sprung up to shelter the "Portygees" from the stranded-vessel. As her bones were slowly engulfed in the marching sands, through the decades that passed, the people who had come ashore from the big wreck had waxed well to do, bred families of strong, handsome, brown men and black-eyed, glossy-haired women who flashed their white teeth in smiles that were almost startling. Now one end of "the port," as the village of Big Wreck Cove was usually called by the natives, was known as Portygee Town.
Wreckers' Head boasted of several homes of retired shipmasters and owners of Cap'n Ira's ilk. These ancient sea dogs, on such a day as this, were unfailingly found "walking the poop" of their front yards, or wherever they could take their diurnal exercise, binoculars or spyglass in hand, their vision more often fixed seaward than on the land.
Cap'n Ira had scarcely put the glass to his eye for a first squint at his "position" when he exclaimed:
"I swan! That's a master-pretty sight. I ain't seen a prettier in many a day. Come here and look at this craft, Prudence."
She hurried to join him. Her motions when she was on her feet were birdlike, yet there was the same unsteadiness in her walk as in Cap'n Ira's. Only, at the moment, he did not see it, for his eye was glued to the telescope.
"What do you see, Ira?" she asked.
"Clap this glass to your eye," said her husband. He steadied the telescope, having pointed it for her. "See that suit of sails? Ain't they grand? And the taper of them masts? She's a bird!"
"Why, what schooner is it?" asked Prudence. "I never saw her before, did I? She's bearing in for the cove."
"I cal'late she is," agreed Cap'n Ira. "And I cal'late by the newness of that suit of sails and her lines and all that she's Tunis Latham's new craft that he went up to Marblehead last week to bring down here and put into commission."
"The Seamew!" cried Prudence, in a pleased voice. "Isn't she a pretty sight?"
"She's a sightly craft. Looks more like a racing yacht than a cargo boat. Still and all, Tunis has got judgment. And he's put nigh every cent he's got, all Peke Latham left him, into this schooner. And she not new."
"I hope Tunis has made no mistake," sighed Prudence, releasing the glass for Ira to look through once more. "There has been trouble enough over Peleg Latham's money."
"More trouble than the money amounted to. Split the family wide open. 'Rion Latham was saying to me he believed Peke never meant the money should go all one way. The Medway Lathams, them 'Rion belongs to, is all as sore as carbuncles about Tunis getting it. But I tell Tunis as long as the court says the money should be his, let 'Rion and all them yap like the hungry dogs they be. Tunis has got the marrer bone."
"Does seem a pity," the old woman said, still watching the white splotch against the background of gray and blue. "Families ought to be at peace."
"Peace! I swan!" snorted Cap'n Ira. "'Rion Latham is about as much given to peace as a wild tagger. But he knows which half of his biscuit's buttered. He'll sail with Tunis as long as Tunis pays him wages."
The captain continued to study the approaching schooner while Prudence went back to her household tasks.
THE CAPTAIN OF THE SEAMEW
Tunis Latham's Seamew, tacking for the channel into Big Wreck Cove, wings full-spread, skimming the heaving blue of the summer sea, looked like a huge member of the tern family. From Wreckers' Head and the other sand bluffs guarding this roadstead from the heave of the Atlantic rollers, the schooner with her yachtlike lines was truly a picture to please the most exacting mariner.
On her deck paced the young captain whose personal affairs had been a subject of comment between Cap'n Ira Ball and his wife. He was a heavy-set, upstanding, blue-jerseyed figure, lithe and as spry on his feet as a cat. Tunis Latham was thirty, handsome in the bold way of longshore men, and ruddy-faced. He had crisp, short, sandy hair; his cheeks, chin, and lip were scraped as clean as his palm; his eyes were like blue-steel points, but with humorous wrinkles at the outer corners of them, matched by a faint smile that almost always wreathed his lips. Altogether he was a man that a woman would be sure to look at twice.
The revelation of the lighter traits of his character counteracted the otherwise sober look of Tunis Latham. His sternness and fitness to command were revealed at first glance; his softer attributes dawned upon one later.
As he swayed back and forth across the deck of the flying Seamew, rolling easily in sailor gait to the pitching of the schooner, his sharp glance cast alow and then aloft betrayed the keen perception and attentive mind of the master mariner, while his surface appearance merely suggested a young man pridefully enjoying the novelty of pacing the deck of his first command. For this was the maiden trip of the Seamew under this name and commanded by this master.
She was not a new vessel, but neither was she old. At least, her decks were not marred, her rails were ungashed with the wear of lines, and even her fenders were almost shop-new. Of course, any craft may have a fresh suit of sails; and new paint and gilding on the figurehead or a new name board under the stern do not bespeak a craft just off the builder's ways. Yet there was an appearance about the schooner-yacht which would assure any able seaman at first glance that she was still to be sea-tried. She was like a maiden at her first dance, just venturing out upon the floor.
An old salt hung to the Seamew's wheel as the bonny craft sped channelward. Horace Newbegin was a veritable sea dog. He had sailed every navigable sea in all this watery world, and sailed in almost every conceivable sort of craft. And he had sailed many voyages under Tunis Latham's father, who had owned and commanded the four-master Ada May, which, ill-freighted and ill-fated at last, had struck and sunk on the outer Hebrides, carrying to the bottom most of the hands as well as the commander of the partially insured ship.
This misfortune had kept Tunis Latham out of a command of his own until he was thirty; for Cape Cod boys that come of masters' families and are born navigators usually tread their own decks years before the age at which Tunis was pacing that of the Seamew on this summer day.
"How does she handle now, Horry?" asked the skipper, wheeling suddenly to face the old steersman.
"Thar's still that tug to sta'bo'd, Captain Tunis," growled the old man.
"But you keep her full on her course."
"Spite o' that? In course. But I can feel her tuggin' like a big bluefish trying to bolt with hook and sinker. Never did feel that same tug to sta'bo'd but once before on any craft. I told you that."
Tunis Latham nodded. The old man's keen eyes tried to read the skipper's face. He could scan the signs in sea and sky at a glance, but he confessed that the captain of the Seamew revealed no more of his inner thoughts than had the mahogany countenance of the older Captain Latham with whom Horry Newbegin had so long sailed.
"Well," the steersman said finally, "I've told ye all I can tell ye. That other schooner that had a tug to sta'bo'd like this, the Marlin B., got a bad name from the Georges to Monomoy P'int. You know that."
"Cat's foot!" ejaculated Tunis cheerfully. "The Marlin B. was sold for a pleasure yacht and taken half around the world. A Chilean guano millionaire bought her the year after the Sutro Brothers took her off the Banks."
"Ye-as. That's what Sutro Brothers says," and the old man wagged his head doubtfully. "But there's just as much difference in ships, as there is in men. Ain't never been two men just perzact-ly alike. No two craft ever sailed or steered same as same, Captain Tunis. I steered the Martin B. out o' Salem on her second trip, without knowing what she'd been through, you can believe, on her first."
"Well, well!" Tunis broke in sharply. "Just keep your mind on what you are doing now, Horry. You're supposed to be steering the Seamew into Big Wreck Cove. Don't undertake to shave a piece off the Lighthouse Point reef."
The steersman did not answer. From long experience with these Lathams, Horace Newbegin knew just how much interference or advice they would stand.
"And, by gum, that ain't much!" he growled to himself.
He took the beautifully sailing schooner in through the channel in a masterly manner. He knew that more ancient skippers than Cap'n Ira Ball, up there on Wreckers' Head, would be watching the Seamew make the cove, and old Horry Newbegin wanted them to say it was well done.
Half an hour later the anchor was dropped fifty yards off Portygee Town. Captain Tunis ordered the gig lowered to take him ashore and, after giving the mate some instructions regarding stowage and the men's shore leave, he was rowed over to Luiz Wharf. 'Rion Latham, a red-headed, pimply faced young man, sidled up to Horace Newbegin.
"Well, what do you think of the hoodoo ship, Horrors?" he hoarsely whispered.
Newbegin stared at him unwaveringly, and the red-haired one repeated the question. The old salt finally batted one eye, slowly and impressively.
"D'you know what answer the little boy got that asked the quahog the time o' day?" he drawled. "Not a word. Not a derned word, 'Rion."
Landing at the fish wharf, Tunis Latham walked up the straggling street of the district inhabited for the most part by smiling brown men and women. Fayal and Cape Cod are strangely analogous, especially upon a summer's day. The houses he passed had one room; they were little more than shacks. But there were gay colors everywhere in the dress of both men and women. It was believed that these Portygee fishermen would have their seines dyed red and yellow if the fish would swim into them.
A young woman sitting upon a doorstep, nursing a little, bald, brown-headed baby, dropped a gay handkerchief over her bared bosom but nodded and smiled at the captain of the Seamew with right good fellowship. He knew all these people, and most of them, the young women at least, admired Tunis; but he was too self-centered and busied with his own thoughts and affairs to comprehend this.
At the corner of one of the houses a girl stood—a tall, lean-flanked, but deep-bosomed creature, as graceful as a well-grown sapling. Her calico frock clung to the lines of her matured figure as though she had just stepped up out of the sea itself. Around her head she had banded a crimson bandanna, but it allowed the escape of glossy black hair that waved prettily. Her lips were as red as poppies, full, voluptuous; her eyes were sloe-black and as soft as a cow's. Fortunately for the languishing girl's peace of mind—she had placed herself there at the corner of the house to wait for Tunis since the moment the Seamew had dropped anchor—she did not know that the young captain had noticed her only as "that cow" as he swung by on his way to the road that wound up the slope of Wreckers' Head.
Neither Eunez Pareta—nor any other girl of the port, Portygee or Yankee—had ever made Tunis Latham's heart flutter. He was not impervious to the blandishments of all feminine beauty. As Cap'n Ira Ball would have said, Tunis was "a general admirer of the sect." And as the young man passed the languishing Eunez with a cheerful nod and smile there flashed into his memory an entirely different picture, but one of a girl nevertheless. Somehow the memory of that girl in Scollay Square kept coming back to his mind.
He had gone up by train for the Seamew and her crew, and naturally he had spent one night in Boston. Coming up out of the North End after a late supper, he had stopped upon one side of the square to watch the passing throng, some hurrying home from work, some hurrying to theaters and other places of amusement, but all hurrying. Nowhere did he see the slow, but carrying, stride of a man used to open spaces. And the narrow-skirted girls could scarcely hobble.
A narrow skirt, however, had not led Tunis Latham to give particular note to one certain girl in the throng. She had stepped through the door of a cheap but garish restaurant. Somebody had thrown a peeling on the sidewalk, and she had slipped on it. Tunis had leaped and caught her before she measured her length. She looked up into his face with startled, violet eyes that seemed, in that one moment, to hold in them a fascination and power that the Cape man had never dreamed a woman's eyes could possess.
"You're all right, ma'am," he said, confused, setting her firmly on her feet.
"My skirt!" She almost whispered it. There seemed to be not a shyness, but a terrified timidity in her voice and manner. Tunis saw that the shabby skirt was torn widely at the hem.
"Let's go somewhere and get that fixed," he suggested awkwardly.
"Thank you, sir. I will go back into the restaurant. I work there. I can get a pin or two."
He had to let her go, of course. Nor could he follow her. He lacked the boldness that might have led another man to enter the restaurant and order something to eat for the sake of seeing what became of the girl with the violet eyes and colorless velvet cheeks. There had been an appeal in her countenance that called Tunis more and more as he dreamed about her.
And standing there on Scollay Square dreaming about her had done the young captain of the Seamew positively no good! She did not come out again, although he stood there for fully an hour. At the end of that time he strolled up an alley and discovered that there was a side door to the restaurant for the use of employees, and he judged that the girl, seeing him lingering in front, had gone out by this way. It made him flush to his ears when he thought of it. Of course, he had been rude.
Marching up the winding road by the Ball homestead, Tunis Latham revisioned this adventure—and the violet-eyed girl. Well, he probably would never see her again. And in any case she was not the sort of girl that he would ever take home to Aunt Lucretia. He was headed toward home now, to the old brown house in the saucer-like valley some distance beyond Cap'n Ira's.
As he came within hail of the old homestead in which the Balls had been born and had died—if they were not lost at sea—for many generations, the captain of the Seamew became suddenly aware that something was particularly wrong there. He heard somebody shouting. Was it for help? He hastened his stride.
Quite unexpectedly the hobbling figure of Cap'n Ira appeared in the open barn door. He saw Tunis. He waved his cane in one hand and beckoned wildly with the other. Then he disappeared.
The young captain vaulted the fence and ran across the ill-tended garden adjoining the Balls' side yard. Again he heard Cap'n Ira's hail.
"Come on in here, Tunis!"
"What's the matter, Cap'n Ira?"
"That dratted Queen of Sheby! I knowed she'd be the death of one of us some day. I swan! Tunis Latham, come here! I can't get her out, and you know derned well Prudence can't stand on her head that a way without strangling. Lend us a hand, boy. This is something awful! Something awful!"
Tunis Latham, much disturbed by the old man's words and excited manner, pushed into the dimly lit interior of the barn.
THE QUEEN OF SHEBA
The barn was a roomy place, as well built as the Ball house itself, and quite as old. The wagon floor had a wide door, front and rear. The stables were on either side of this floor and the mows were above. In one mow was a small quantity of hay and some corn fodder, but the upper reaches were filled only with a brown dusk.
The pale face of a gray mare was visible at the opening over one of the mangers. She was the sole recognized occupant of the stable. In a dark corner Tunis Latham saw a huge grain box, for once the Ball farm had supported several span of oxen and a considerable dairy herd, its cover raised and its maw gaping wide. There was something moving there in the murk, something fluttering.
"Come here, boy!" gasped Cap'n Ira, hurrying across the barn door. "I'm so crippled I can't git her up, and she's dove clean to the lower hold, tryin' to scrape out a capful o' oats for that dratted Queen of Sheby."
"Aunt Prue!" shouted Tunis, reverting to the title he had addressed her by in his boyhood. "It's never her?"
A muffled voice stammered:
"Get me out! Get me out!"
"Heave hard, Tunis! All together now!" gasped Cap'n Ira, as the younger man reached over the old woman's struggling heels and seized her around the waist.
"Up she comes!" continued the excited old man, as though he were bossing a capstan crew starting one of the Susan Gatskill's anchors.
Tunis Latham set Prudence Ball on her feet, but the old woman was forced to lean against the stalwart young man for a minute. She addressed her husband in some heat.
"Goodness gracious gallop! Why don't you sing a chantey over me, I want to know? You'd think I was a bale of jute being snaked out of a ship's hold. Good land!"
"There, there, Prudence!" exclaimed Cap'n Ira. "You're safe, after all! It—it was something awful!"
"I cal'late it was," rejoined the old woman rather bitterly. "And I didn't get them oats, after all."
"I'll 'tend to all that, Aunt Prue," said Tunis.
"If it hadn't been for that dratted Queen of Sheby"—Cap'n Ira glared malevolently at the rather surprised-looking countenance of the gray mare in her box—"you wouldn't have got into that jam."
"If it hadn't been for you taking that dose of snuff when I was expecting nothing of the kind, I wouldn't have dove into that feed box, Ira, and you know it very well."
"I swan!" admitted her husband in a feeble voice. "I forgot again, didn't I?"
"I don't know as you forgot, but I know you mighty near sneezed your head off. You'll be the death of me some day, Ira, blowin' up that way. I wonder I didn't jump clean through the bottom of that feed box when I was just reaching down to get a measure of oats."
"Aunt Prue," Tunis interposed, "why do you keep the little tad of feed you have to buy for Queenie in this big old chest?"
"There!" Cap'n Ira hastened to rejoin, glad likewise to turn the trend of conversation. "That's all that dratted boy's doings, little John-Ed Williams. Who else would have ever thought of dumping a two-bushel bag of oats into a twenty-bushel bin? We always put feed in that covered can yonder, so as to keep shet of the rats. But that boy, when he brought the oats, dumped 'em into the box before I could stop him. He's got less sense than his father; and you know, Tunis, John-Ed himself ain't got much more wit than the law allows."
"But if you hadn't sneezed—" began Prudence again.
"You take her into the house, Cap'n Ira," said Tunis. "I'll feed Queenie. What do you give her—this measure full of oats? And a hank of that hay?"
"And a bunch of fodder. Might as well give her a dinner while you're about it," grumbled the old man, leading his tottering wife toward the door. "As I say, that old critter is eatin' her head off."
"Well, she long ago earned her keep in her old age," Tunis said, laughing.
He could remember when the Queen of Sheba had come to the Ball barn as a colt. Many a clandestine bareback ride had he enjoyed. He fed the mare and petted her as if she were his own. Then he scraped the oats out of the bin and poured them into the galvanized-iron can, so that Cap'n Ira could more easily get at the mare's feed.
He went to the house afterward to see if there was any other little chore he could do for the old couple before going on to his own home.
"You can't do much for us, Tunis, unless you can furnish me a new pair of legs," said Cap'n Ira. "I might as well have timber ones as these I've got. What Prue and me needs is what you've got but can't give away—youth."
"You ought to have somebody living with you to help, Cap'n Ira," said the young man.
"I cal'late," said the other dryly, "that we've already made that discovery, Tunis. Trouble is, we ain't fixed right to increase the pay roll. I'd like to know who you'd think would want to sign up on this craft that even the rats have deserted?"
"Never mind, Ira. Don't be downhearted," Prudence said, now recovered from her excitement. "Perhaps the Lord has something good in store for us."
Cap'n Ira pursed his lips.
"I ain't doubting the Lord's stores is plentiful," he returned rather irreverently. "The trouble is for us poor mortals to get at 'em. Well, Tunis, I certainly am obliged to you."
The flurry of excitement was over. But Ira Ball was a determined man. It was in his mind that the trouble of taking care of the old mare was too great for Prudence, and he could not do the barn chores himself. They really had no use for the gray mare, for nowadays the neighbors did all their errands in town for them, and the few remaining acres of the old farm lay fallow.
Nor, had he desired to sell the mare, would anybody be willing to pay much for the twenty-two-year-old Queenie. In truth, Ira Ball was too tender-hearted to think of giving the Queen of Sheba over to a new owner and so sentence her to painful toil.
"She'd be a sight better off in the horse heaven, wherever that is," he decided. But he was careful to say nothing like this in his wife's hearing. "Women are funny that way," he considered. "She'd rather let the decrepit old critter hang around eatin' her head off, like I say, than mercifully put her out of her misery."
Stern times call for stern methods. Cap'n Ira Ball had seen the tragic moment when he was forced to separate a bridegroom from his bride with a sinking deck all but awash under his feet. What had to be done had to be done! Prudence could no longer be endangered by the stable tasks connected with the old mare. He could not relieve her. They could scarcely afford a hired hand merely to take care of Queenie.
He remained rather silent that evening, and even forgot to praise Prue's hot biscuit, of which he ate a good many with his creamed pollack. The sweet-tempered old woman chatted as she knitted on his blue-wool hose, but she scarcely expected more than his occasional grunted acknowledgment that he was listening. She always said it was "a joy to have somebody besides the cat around to talk to." The loneliness of shipmasters who sail the seven seas is often mentioned in song and in story; the loneliness of their wives at home is not usually marked.
They went to bed. Old men do not usually sleep much after second cock-crow, and it was not far from three in the morning when Cap'n Ira awoke. Like most mariners, he was wide awake when he opened his eyes. He lay quietly for several moments in the broad bed he occupied alone. The half-sobbing breathing of the old woman sounded from her room, through the open door.
"It's got to be done," Cap'n Ira almost audibly repeated.
He got out of the bed with care. It was both a difficult and a painful task to dress. When he had on all but his boots and hat he tiptoed to a green sea chest in the corner, unlocked it, and from beneath certain tarpaulins and other sea rubbish drew out something which he examined carefully in the semidarkness of the chamber. He finally tucked this into an inner pocket of the double-breasted pilot coat he wore. It sagged the coat a good deal on that side.
He crept out of the chamber, crossed the sitting room, and went into the ell-kitchen with his shoes in his hand. When he opened the back door he faced the west, but even the sky at that point of the compass showed the glow of the false dawn. Down in the cove the night mist wrapped the shipping about in an almost opaque veil. Only the lofty tops of craft like the Seamew were visible, black streaks against the mother-of-pearl sky line.
The captain closed the kitchen door softly behind him. He sat down on a bench and painfully pulled on his shoes and laced them. When he tried to straighten up it was by a method which he termed, "easy, by jerks." He sat and recovered his breath after the effort.
Then, taking his cane, he hobbled off to the barn. The big doors were open, for it had been a warm night. The pungent odor from Queenie's stall made his nostrils wrinkle. He stumbled in, and the pale face of the old mare appeared at the opening above her manger. She snorted her surprise.
"You'll snort more'n that afore I'm done with you," Cap'n Ira said, trying to seem embittered.
But when he unknotted the halter and backed her out of the stable, quite involuntarily he ran a tender hand down her sleek neck. He sighed as he led her out of the rear door.
The old mare hung back, stretching first one hind leg and then the other as old horses do when first they come from the stall in the morning.
"Come on, you old nuisance!" exploded Cap'n Ira under his breath, giving an impatient tug at the rope.
He did not look around at her, but set his face sternly toward the distant lot which had once been known as the east meadow. It was no longer in grass. Wild carrots sprang from its acidulous soil. The herbage would scarcely have nourished sheep. There were patches of that gray moss which blossoms with a tiny red flower, and there was mullein and sour grass. Altogether the run-down condition of the soil could not be mistaken by even the casual eye.
The hobbling old man and the hobbling old mare, making their way across the bare lot, made as drab a picture in the early morning as a Millet. At a distance their moving shapes would have seemed like shadows only. There was no other sign of life upon Wreckers' Head.
A light but keen and salty breath blew in from the sea. Cap'n Ira faced this breeze with twitching nostrils. The old mare's lower lip hung down in depression. She groaned. She did not care to be led out of her comfortable stall at this unconscionably early hour.
"Grunt, you old nuisance!" muttered Cap'n Ira bitterly. "You don't even know what a dratted, useless thing you be, I swan!"
There was a depression in the field. When the heavy spring and fall rains came the water ran down into this sink and stood, sometimes a foot or two deep over several acres. In some past time of heavy flood the water had washed out to the edge of the highland overlooking the ocean beach. There it had crumbled the brink of the Head away, the water gullying year after year a deeper and broader channel, until now the slanting gutter began a hundred yards back from the brink.
The recurrent downpours, aided by occasional landslips, had made a slanting trough to the beach itself, which was all of two hundred feet below the brink of Wreckers' Head. Many such water-worn gullies are to be found along the face of the Cape headlands, up which the fishermen and seaweed gatherers freight their cargoes from the shore. There was no wheel track here; merely a trough of sliding sand, treacherous under foot and almost continuously in motion. As the gully progressed seaward, the banks on either hand became more than forty feet high, the trough itself being scarcely half as wide.
Determinedly Cap'n Ira led the old mare into and down the slope of this gully.
It was steep. He went ahead haltingly, trying to steady his footsteps with the cane, which sank deeply into the sand, making orifices which, in the pale light of the dawn, seemed to startle the mare. She held back, scuffling and snorting.
"Come on, drat ye!" adjured the captain. "You needn't blow your nose. You ain't been taking snuff."
The sand was so light and dry that it seemed to be on the move all about them. There was a stealthy sound to the whispering particles, too, as though they breathed. "Hush.' Hush-sh-sh!" The old man was made nervous by it. He began to glance back over his shoulder at the faintly objecting mare. When Queenie slipped a little and scrambled in the unstable sand he uttered such an exclamation as might have been wrung from him at time of stress upon his quarter-deck.
"I swan! I'd rather be keelhauled than do this," burst from his lips finally.
But they were well into the gully now. The walls on either hand towered far above their heads. He halted, and the mare stood still, again blowing softly through her nostrils.
The old man, with shaking hands, took from under his coat the heavy article that had sagged his pocket. It was a black, old-fashioned, seven-chambered revolver, well oiled and as grim-looking as a rifled cannon on a battleship. He produced three greased cartridges, broke the weapon, inserted the cartridges, then closed it and spun the cylinder. It was not an unfamiliar weapon, this. Its mere grim appearance, stuck into Cap'n Ira's waistband, had once quelled mutiny aboard the Susan Gatskill.
While he was thus engaged he had not even glanced around at the old mare. Suddenly he felt a touch upon his shoulder, then upon the sleeve of his coat. He felt a creepy chill the length of his spine. It seemed as if the hand of Prudence had been laid softly upon him.
"I swan!" he gulped, shaking himself. "I'm as flighty as a gal. What th'—" He looked back. Queenie was nuzzling his arm questioningly. Her ears were cocked forward; her surprised face was almost ridiculously human in its expression.
Cap'n Ira groaned again. He shuddered. But his gnarled hand gripped the hard-rubber butt of the revolver with the desperation of the deed he had screwed his courage to do. Better the old mare should be put out of the way than that she should fall into hands that would misuse her. And he feared what other accident might happen if Prudence continued to take care of the animal.
"I swan! It's a wrench," admitted Cap'n Ira, swerving to point the muzzle of the revolver at the gray mare.
He looked all about again. Yes, the position was right. If she fell here, a man with a shovel could easily pry down tons of sand from either bank upon her in a few minutes. The burial might be done by himself without any other soul knowing what had become of Queenie.
He cocked the old revolver.
Suddenly the Queen of Sheba gave a snort of alarm. She looked back over her withers. The light in the cut between the sand banks was dim. Was somebody coming?
To tell the truth, Cap'n Ira had a vision of Prudence, having missed him, getting out of her bed and traveling down through the lots after him and the old mare. The idea shook him to his marrow, or was it the weight of the heavy weapon that made his hand so unsteady?
"I swan!" His oft-repeated ejaculation was almost a prayer.
At the moment he felt the sand giving under his feet. The old mare uttered again her terrified snort. He saw dimly the path behind them moving—a swift, serpentlike slide. Heavy as the mare was, she felt the landslip, too.
Cap'n Ira was not a man who easily lost his self-possession. He had been through too much to show the white flag when danger menaced. He realized that peril threatened now.
He turned squarely about and, cocked pistol in one hand and huge-knobbed cane in the other, he started away from the spot at a cripple's gallop. The whole trough of the gully of sand seemed to be in motion. Behind him the old mare scrambled and whistled with fear, quite as unable to keep her feet as was the captain.
For, before he had gone far, Cap'n Ira found himself seated on the moving plane of sand. He glanced fearfully behind him. The Queen of Sheba was seated on her tail, her forefeet braced against nothing more stable than the avalanche itself, and she was sailing down the slope behind him like a winged Pegasus!
"My soul and body!" ejaculated Cap'n Ira. "We're certainly on our way."
AT THE LATHAM HOUSE
The Latham house stood in the middle of the shallow valley behind Wreckers' Head. The fields surrounding it were arable and well kept. The house was not as old as the Ball house and was of an entirely different style of architecture. Whereas the Ball house was low-roofed and sprawling, squatting like a huge and ugly toad on the gale-swept Head, the house Tunis Latham's grandfather had built was three-story, including the mansard roof, painted a tobacco brown, and it was surrounded by wry-limbed cedars which could grow here because they were sheltered from the gales.
It was a gloomy-looking house even in midsummer, standing like a grim figure menaced by the tortured limbs of the trees surrounding it, stark and alone. No other human habitation was in view from its site. The Latham who had built the twelve-room house had built on hope. He desired and expected to fill the great house with a breed of Lathams that would do honor to the Cape on sea and on land. But his young wife had died the next year, after giving birth to her second child.
Tunis Latham's father, Randall Latham, had been the elder Latham's sole hope of perpetuating the family name and filling the big, ugly brown house behind Wreckers' Head with tow-headed little Lathams, for the other child was a girl.
It was said that Medford Latham had seldom spoken to or of his daughter, Lucretia. She must have led a very lonely and repressed life while she was a little girl. Medford Latham did not go to sea, for he had business that kept him on shore.
Medford Latham lived long enough to see Randall grow up, walk his own quarter-deck, and marry a maiden from the port who promised to be able to fulfill his hopes of a flourishing houseful of children. She bore Tunis while young Captain Randall Latham was away, and he came back in time to christen the boy with the name of the most colorful city he had touched on the trip, not an uncommon practice of seagoing fathers on the Cape. But Mrs. Randall Latham, watching her husband's ship bear off to seaward in the face of a keen gale, caught a severe cold, and when Captain Randall returned the next time he came not to a cradle in the great living room of the big, brown house, but to an already-sodden grave in the family plot on the west side of the saucerlike valley.
Lucretia Latham had grown to be a tall, large-boned, silent, and quick-stepping woman—a woman of understanding and infinite tenderness, although this tenderness was exhibited in deeds, not words.
The big, quiet-faced woman, who had never had a lover and on whom no man had ever looked with admiration, seemed to the casual observer cold and uncompromising. She might speak to the dog, call the fowls to their meals, but she never otherwise spoke unless she was forced to. When he was little, Tunis had found in her arms and against her breast a refuge from all hurt and fear, but it was a wordless comfort Aunt Lucretia gave him.
When he walked over from the cove that afternoon, after seeing the anchor of the Seamew over-side for the first time in this roadstead, Tunis found his Aunt Lucretia much as usual. She watched him approach from the side porch, a warm smile of greeting on her rather gaunt face. He knew that she must have watched the Seamew skim by, making for the channel into the cove; for he had written her when to expect him. But she would say nothing about it unless he forced the gates of her silence by some direct question which demanded more than a "yes" or a "no."
Lucretia folded him in her arms, however, and patted his broad shoulder with little love pats as he put his arms about her. Her kiss for him was as warm on his lips as a girl's. They understood each other pretty well, these two; for Tunis had caught something of her muteness, living so long alone with her.
He went to wash and change his shirt. Then he sat down in one of the huge porch chairs and rocked quietly, waiting for supper. He could see into the kitchen, which was the family dining room as well, and when he saw his Aunt Lucretia take the coffee-pot from the stove and put it on the square Dutch tile by her own place, Tunis knew it was the only call to supper there would be.
He rose and went in, taking his place at the head of the table. His aunt's head was bowed and her lips moved soundlessly. He respected her whispered grace and always felt that he could add nothing to it in thankfulness or reverence if he uttered an orison himself. During the cheerful and plentiful meal the young captain of the Seamew related certain matters he thought would interest the woman regarding his purchase of the schooner and the voyage down to the Cape. He told her he was sure the Seamew was fast enough for a Boston market boat.
"Speed is what is wanted now to compete with the Old Colony," Tunis declared. "We've got fish and clams and cranberries in season, and some vegetables, that have to be shaken up and jounced together and squashed on those jolting steam trains. I'll lay down a crate of lobsters at the T-wharf without a hair being ruffled. I know how to stow a cargo."
She nodded both her understanding and her belief that Tunis was right. The legacy he had received from the estate of Peleg Latham, Medford Latham's brother, had enabled Tunis to buy this beautiful schooner. Undoubtedly an eye for the beauty of the craft had more than a little drawn the young man into her purchase. Yet there was a foundation of solid sense under his streak of romance.
In this day a man must serve a long apprenticeship before he gets a command unless he owns the craft on which he is skipper. To own a schooner of the size of the Seamew is not enough. One must be a good merchant as well as a good skipper.
The coast trade from port to port along the North Atlantic shore must be fostered and coaxed like a stumbling baby. The tentacles of the hated railroad reach to many of the Cape ports. Yet everybody knows that a cargo properly stowed in a seaworthy craft reaches market in much the better condition than by rail, though perhaps it is some hours longer on the way.
There were docks, too, at which Tunis Latham could pick up well-paying freights which would have to be carted over bad roads to the nearest railway station. And there were always full or part cargoes to be had at Boston for certain single consignees along the Cape, which would pay a fair profit on the upkeep of the schooner. Medford Latham had lost almost all his fortune before he died so unhappily, leaving only the homestead and small farm to his son. The son, Captain Randall Latham, had lost the ship Ada May and every cent he possessed. Tunis had only his great uncle's legacy to begin on, and he had waited for that until he was thirty.
In the morning the young man arose early, for the tide was then low, and started forth with basket and clam hoe on his arm. Aunt Lucretia had promised him, by a smiling nod, a mess of fritters for dinner if he would supply the necessary clams. Alongshore the soft clam is the only clam used for fritters; the tough, long-keeping quahog is shipped to the less-enlightened "city trade."
It was not yet sunrise, but as Tunis walked down through one of those cuts in the edge of the headland, following a well-defined cart track, he saw the rose-glow of the sun's round face staining the mist on the eastern horizon.
He came down upon the hard sand of the beach and walked toward a tiny cove into which the mud flats extended and on which he knew the clams were plentiful and ripe. Glistening pools of black water, showing where other diggers had raided the flat, were interspersed with trembling patches of black sand. When Tunis began to cross the flat the sand before his boots became alive with tiny, shooting geysers of clean water. He set to work.
And while he was thus engaged he heard suddenly a shrill outcry and a most mysterious sound up in one of the gullies toward the summit of Wreckers' Head. Here thousands of tons of sand had run out of the cut in the steep bank and formed a dykelike way to the beach itself. More and more sand was slipping down this way all the time. A strong man could scarcely make his way up the incline, the sand was so unstable.
Tunis stood and stared up the slope. There shot into view, carried rapidly upon the forefront of the avalanche, a white-haired old man who waved a stick in one hand and a cocked pistol in the other, while from his mouth came shrill cries of excitement, if not of alarm.
But it was what followed Cap'n Ira Ball—whom Tunis immediately recognized—that caused the captain of the Seamew such utter surprise. Sitting on her rump, pawing at the sliding sand with her front hoofs, and whistling her terror and amazement, the Queen of Sheba appeared flying after the harassed old man.
It was a scene to surprise more than to entertain the beholder. The avalanche promised disaster to the participants in it. Tons upon tons of sand, undulating and sinuous in appearance, traveled faster and yet faster behind the old gray mare and the gray old sea captain. The smoke of the slide hid all that lay behind them, and these wreaths of sand dust threatened a higher wave that might, at any moment, entirely overwhelm both the equine and the human victim of the catastrophe.
Tunis dropped his clam hoe and started for the dyke of sand on the crest of which the old man and the old mare were sliding like naughty children down a woodshed roof.
"Hey, Tunis! Tunis!" bawled the captain. "Take her off'n me! She'll be afoul my hawser in another second, I do believe."
It was evident that he spoke of the Queen of Sheba, but Tunis could not see how the mare was intentionally threatening Cap'n Ira's peace of mind or safety of body. She was, however, "close aboard" Cap'n Ira as he tobogganed down the sandy way.
"Stern all!" shouted the old man, throwing another startled, backward glance at the Queen of Sheba. "Drat the derned old critter! Don't she know nothin' at all? Tunis! Do you see what's goin' to happen?"
While the young man had been running toward the ridge of sand, the avalanche bearing Cap'n Ira and the Queen of Sheba on its bosom swept down the slope of the huge windrow, but not altogether along its spine. The mass slid over one pitch of the ridge, and suddenly, following on the heels of Cap'n Ira's final question, the old man was shot to the beach, several tons of loose sand and the snorting mare almost on top of him.
In fact, he would have been overwhelmed, and perhaps seriously hurt, had not Tunis Latham arrived at the spot at just the time Cap'n Ira did, and suddenly pulled out the old man.
"What are you doing? Trying to run a race with Queenie?" demanded the captain of the Seamew.
The mare had come down right side up, more by good luck than by good management. She stood deep in the sand, her naturally surprised expression vastly enhanced. In all her twenty-two years Queenie had never before gone through such an experience.
"I swan!" ejaculated Cap'n Ira. "Ain't this the beatenest you ever heard of, Tunis?"
Tunis stared from the old mare to the old mariner, especially at the cocked revolver in the captain's hand. He pointed at the tightly gripped weapon.
"What's that for, Cap'n Ira?" he asked.
"I—I—well, I swan!" stammered Cap'n Ira, now looking, himself, at the old seven-chambered revolver as though he had never seen it before. "I cal'late it does look sort o' funny to you, Tunis, to see me come sailing down this way, armed like a pirate."
"I wouldn't call it exactly funny. But it is surprising," admitted Tunis. "And Queenie looks as surprised as anybody."
"Yes, she does, for a fact," agreed Cap'n Ira, squinting across the heap of loose sand at the gray mare. "I kind o' wonder what she's thinking about."
"I'm wondering hard enough myself," put in Tunis pointedly.
"I swan!" murmured Cap'n Ira reflectively.
He carefully lowered the hammer of the pistol, his cane stuck upright in the sand before him. Then he put the weapon back in the inside pocket of his coat. He tapped the knob of his cane for a pinch of snuff before he said another word. His mighty "A-choon!" startled the Queen of Sheba almost as it startled Prudence.
"Avast!" exclaimed Cap'n Ira. "Did you ever see such a scary old lubber, Tunis?"
"But what's it all about?" again demanded the younger man, seizing the rope halter and aiding the mare to flounder out upon the firmer sand below high-water mark. "What are you doing up so early? And what were you going to do with Queenie?"
"I swan!" groaned Cap'n Ira again. "I don't wonder that you ask me that. It don't really seem reasonable that a sane man would get in such a jam, does it? Me and the Queen of Sheby sailin' down that sand pile. Tunis! We'll never be able to get up it in this world."
"No. You must come along to our road, and get up that way," his young friend told him. "It is longer, but easier. But tell me how you came down that gully, you and Queenie?"
"I'm sort of ashamed to tell you, Tunis, and that's a fact," the old captain said, wagging his head. "And don't you ever tell Prudence."
"I'll not say a word to Aunt Prue," promised the captain of the Seamew.
"Yet," grumbled the old man, "that dratted Queen of Sheby is too much for Prudence. You see yourself only yesterday how she is like to come to her death because of the mare."
"I know that you should have somebody living with you, Cap'n Ira," urged Tunis. "But what does this mean?"
"I—I can't scurcely tell you, Tunis. I swan! I was goin' to murder the old critter."
"What do you mean?" gasped Tunis in apparent horror. "Not Aunt Prue?"
"What's the matter with you?" snapped Cap'n Ira. "I mean that old mare. I was going to murder her in cold blood, only the sand slide wrecked my plans."
"If you had killed her, Aunt Prue would have had hard work to forgive you. Come on now. I'll lead Queenie up to our barn. Let her stay there for a spell. I tell you, Cap'n Ira, you and Aunt Prue must have somebody to live with you."
"Get a girl from the port."
"Huh! One o' them Portygees? They're as dirty and useless in the kitchen as their men folks are aboard ship."
"Oh, they are not all like that!" objected the captain of the Seamew. "I've got a good crew of 'em aboard my schooner."
"You think so. Wait till you get in a jam. And the men ain't so bad as the gals. All hussies."
"I don't know, then, what you'll do."
"I do," interrupted the old man, hobbling along the hard sand beside Tunis and the horse. "It's just like I told Prudence yesterday. I know just what we've got to do whether you or Prue or anybody else knows," and he was very emphatic.
"Let's hear your plan, Cap'n," said Tunis.
"It's like this," went on Cap'n Ira. "Prudence ain't got but one living relative, a grandniece, that's kin to her. That Ida May Bostwick we must have come and live with us, and that's all there is about it."
Tunis stared. He said:
"Never heard of her. She doesn't live anywhere around here, does she?"
"No, no! Lives to Boston."
Why was it Tunis Latham felt that his heart skipped a beat? Memory of that pale, violet-eyed girl who worked in the restaurant on Scollay Square flashed across his mind like a shooting star. Indeed, he was so confused that he heard only a little at first of Cap'n Ira's rambling explanation. Then he caught:
"And if you will go to that address—Prue's got the street and number—and see Ida May Bostwick and tell her about us, you'd be doing us a kindness, Tunis."
"Me?" exclaimed the startled captain of the Seamew.
"Yes, you. The gal won't bite you. You're going to Boston next week, you say. Will you do it?"
"Sure I will, Cap'n Ira," said the young man heartily. "It's a good move, and I'll say all I can to get the girl to come down here."
"That's the boy! You're going on an errand of mercy; that's as sure as sure. Prue and me need that gal. And maybe she needs us. I don't know what sort of a place she works at, but no city job for a gal can be the equal of living down here on the Cape, with her own folks, as you might say. Yes, Tunis, you'll be doing an errand of mercy mebbe both ways."
LOOKING FOR IDA MAY
The Seamew was put in commission in a very few days. Tunis Latham had many friends in and about Big Wreck Cove, and he had little difficulty in picking up a cargo, which was loaded right at the port.
As for the schooner's crew, Tunis could have filled every billet four times over had he so desired. But he had already picked his crew with some care. Mason Chapin was mate, a perfectly capable navigator who might have used his ticket to get a berth on a much larger craft than the Seamew. But he had an invalid wife and wished only to leave home on brief voyages. Johnny Lark was shipped as cook, with a Portygee boy, Tony, to help him.
Forward, Horace Newbegin served as boatswain and Orion Latham was a sort of supercargo and general handy man. He was Tunis' cousin, several times removed. There were four Portygees to make up the company, a full crew for a sailing vessel of the tonnage of the Seamew. Yet every man was needed in handling her lofty canvas and in loading and unloading freight.
With a well-stowed cargo below deck the schooner sailed even better than she had in ballast. She slipped out of the cove through the rather tortuous channel like an eel through the meshes of a broken trap. In the dawn, and with a fresh outside breeze just ruffling the sea into whitecaps, they broke out her upper sails and caught the very last breath of the gale the canvas would draw.
Cap'n Ira, and even Prudence, had got up before daybreak to see the schooner pass. They watched her, turn and turn about at the spyglass, till she was blotted out by the distant fog bank.
"I swan," said the old man, "when she heaves into view again I hope she'll have Ida May Bostwick aboard! That is what I hope."
"The dear girl!" breathed Prudence.
It never crossed their simple minds that Ida May Bostwick might see this chance they offered her in a different light from that in which they looked at it. The old couple made their innocent plans for the welcoming of the "grandniece," positive that a happy future was in store for both Ida May and themselves.
In Tunis Latham's mind there was more uncertainty regarding the mysterious Ida May Bostwick than there was in the minds of Cap'n Ira and Prudence. Whenever he considered his "errand of mercy" the captain of the Seamew had a flash of that girl with the violet eyes who worked in the restaurant on Scollay Square. The Balls did not know where Ida May worked. Prudence only had obtained the lodging-house address of her young relative from Annabell Coffin, "she who was a Cuttle."
Of course, it was merely a faint and tenuous possibility that Ida May was a waitress. Still fainter was the chance that she would prove to be the girl with the violet eyes that Tunis Latham remembered so distinctly. The Balls knew that she worked in a store, and all stores were the same to them. There might be a few hundred thousand other girls in Boston besides that particular girl whom he had saved from falling on the square.
Nevertheless, when the Seamew had unloaded and been warped to a berth in an outer tier of small craft to await her turn to load barrels and box shooks for a concern at Paulmouth, Captain Tunis started up into the city. He knew his way about Boston as well as any one not a native, and his first objective point was that restaurant on Scollay Square.
It was the dogwatch when Tunis Latham entered the eating place, but the dogwatch here was not at the same time of day as aboard ship. The captain's first startled glance about the room assured him that there was not a girl employee in sight, not even at the cashier's desk, and very few customers.
He ordered a late but hearty breakfast of the unshaven waiter in half-spoiled apron and coat who lounged over his table.
"I thought they used to have girl waiters in this place?" the captain said when the man brought the tableware and glass of water.
"On from 'leven till eight. You're too early if you got a jane in your eye, bo," was the ribald reply. "The boss is a good guy." He sneered in the direction of the black-haired, coarse-looking man in the cashier's cage. "He hires them girls for five dollars less a week than he'd have to pay union waiters, and he asks no questions." He closed his recital with a wink so full of meaning that Tunis' palm itched to slap him.
But the guest's wind-bitten face betrayed no confusion nor further interest. The waiter judged he had mistaken his man, after all, and sheered off until the ordered viands were ready at the slide.
He hesitated to question that coarse man, even to mention Ida May Bostwick's name to him. The waiter had misinterpreted his first remark about the waitresses. The proprietor might hold any question he asked regarding Ida May against the record of the violet-eyed girl, if by any wild possibility that should be her name. There was time still, he thought, to find her at her lodgings before she started for the restaurant, if she worked here.
So Tunis paid his check and strode forth. The lodging of Ida May Bostwick was not in this neighborhood, of course, not even in the West End. In fact, it was in the South End, in one of those streets running more or less parallel to lower Shawmut Avenue. He took a car in the subway and got off near the address Prudence Ball had given him.
To the mind of the Cape man, used as he was to the open spaces of both sea and land, these dingy blocks of brick houses, three and four stories in height, all quite alike in smoke and squalor and even in the pattern of the net curtains at their parlor windows, made as dreary a picture as he had ever imagined. He thought of that pale, slender, violet-eyed girl coming back to this ugly block at night, after long hours at the restaurant, having to look forward to nothing more beautiful, in all probability, inside the house where she lodged. Who would not be glad, overjoyed, indeed, to get away from such an environment?
He found the number. The house was no worse and no better than its neighbors. By stains on the blistered bricks beside the door frame he gathered that scraps of paper advertising empty rooms had often been pasted there. He rang the bell at the top of the rail-guarded steps. After a time he rang again.
He could hear the bell jangle somewhere in a distant part of the house. Nobody came in answer to his summons, not even after his third ring. At length the creaking, iron-barred gate in the area warned him that the main door at which he rang was not in use at that hour of the day. A woman in a house dress as ugly as the street itself, and with untidy gray hair and a bar of smut on her cheek, craned her neck from this opening to look up at him.
"There's no use your ringing. I ain't got an empty room, young man," she announced.
He descended spryly into the area before she could close the gate. Her near-sighted scowl misjudged him again, for she added:
"Nor I don't want to buy anything."
"One moment, ma'am," he cried. "I have nothing for sale. I'd like to see somebody who lodges here."
"Who?" asked the woman, peering at him curiously.
"You'll have to come this evening."
"Oh! She has—has gone to work already?"
"My stars! Do you know what time it is, young man?" demanded the lodging-house keeper. "It's after ten o'clock."
Already Tunis Latham's hopes began to sink.
"Then—then she goes to work early?"
"Lemme tell you, them that works for Hoskin & Marl have to show up by eight or they lose their jobs."
"And she will not be in until evening?" he repeated.
"'Bout seven. She gets her supper before she comes home. I don't give meals."
"Where is this place she works at?" asked the captain of the Seamew, with a suppressed sigh.
"Guess you are a stranger in town, aren't you?" said the curious landlady. "I thought everybody knew Hoskin & Marl's. It's on Tremont Street. The big department store."
"Oh! Miss Bostwick works there?"
"In the laces. You can't know her very well, young man."
"I come from her folks down on the Cape," he thought it his duty to explain. "I've a message for her."
"On the Cape? My stars! I never knowed she had any country relatives. Are they rich? They ain't died and left her a fortune, have they?" were the eager questions.
"The ones I speak of are still alive," Tunis said gravely, backing up the steps to the sidewalk. "Thank you, ma'am. I'll go to that store and speak to her there. Thank you."
Before she could evolve another question, Tunis had escaped. He walked smartly away, not only to outdistance the lodging-house keeper's voice, but because he was confused and disappointed. Ida May Bostwick could not work in a department store and in an eating house as well. Of course not! And now that this point was an established fact in his mind, he admitted that he had been utterly foolish to imagine for a moment that he had already met her, that she was the violet-eyed girl in whom he had taken an interest.
Right at the start he had known that a girl working in an eating house like that was not the sort of person he could introduce to Aunt Lucretia. And so why had he imagined that she would prove to be the great-niece of Prudence Ball? It was ridiculous!
Of course, this Ida May came of good Cape stock. At least, on one side of her family. The Honeys were as good as the Lathams or the Balls.
Thus condemning his foolish fancies he strode downtown again. He knew where Hoskin & Marl's was. He had been in the place. When he reached the department store he marched straight in, meaning to have an immediate interview with the girl at the lace counter.
AN UNSATISFACTORY INTERVIEW
Tunis Latham suffered all the timidity of the average man when he got into the maze of that department store. There is a psychological reason for the haberdashery goods, the line for the mere male, being placed always within sight of a principal exit. The catacombs of Rome would be no more terrifying in prospect for a man than a venture into the farther intricacies of Hoskin & Marl's.
The captain of the Seamew could box the compass with the next seafarer, but he lost all idea of the points on the card before he had been three minutes in the store, and he had to hail a floor-walker to get his bearings.
"Lace counter? Right this way, sir. Yes, sir. Just over there. Our—er—Miss Bostwick will serve you, sir. Forward!"
The wind and sun had heightened Tunis Latham's naturally florid complexion to about as deep a red as can easily be imagined, but he felt the back of his neck and his ears burning as he approached the counter to which he was directed. A girl had detached herself from a group at the farther end, and now came toward him. All that he first saw clearly, however, was a pair of eyes staring at him from behind the counter. They were not violet eyes.
The girl who owned those twinkling, needle-sharp eyes was nothing like that girl he had been thinking of so much since his previous visit to Boston. She was rather small, dressed in the extreme mode in a cheap way, wearing a tawdry gilt chain, several rings, and a wrist watch. There was something about her which reminded Tunis very strongly of the girls of Portygee Town, although she was a pronounced blonde.
Her hair was really her only attractive possession. Those sharp brown eyes did not please Tunis Latham at all. And there was a certain smart boldness in her manner, too, which caused him a distinct feeling of repugnance.
He plunged into his errand with all the boldness that a bashful man usually displays when he finally gets his courage to the sticking point.
"You are Miss Bostwick?" he asked.
"What kind of lace—goodness! Who are you?" asked the girl, her stilted, saleslady manner changing to amazement with surprising suddenness.
"I live at Big Wreck Cove. I guess you've heard of it," said Tunis.
"Big Wreck Cove? Do tell!" Her eyes danced. "You're from down on the Cape, then. I guess you want some lace for your wife. What kind did she send you for?"
Tunis brushed this aside bluntly.
"I don't want any lace," he told her. "I come from your aunt, Mrs. Ira Ball."
"My aunt? Fancy!"
"She has heard about you," went on Tunis. "I guess she thought a heap of your mother. She—she'd like to see you, Mrs. Ball would."
The girl patted her hair into place with a languid hand. Her lips parted in a teasing smile. This "hick" really amused her.
"Just to think! Would she?" she drawled. "Is she in town?"
"Who? Mrs. Ball? I should say not. She's down at Big Wreck Cove, I tell you."
"Oh, really? I thought by the way you spoke she was outside—in her car." She tossed her head with that same tantalizing smile, almost a grimace. "What did you want to tell me?"
Tunis realized that he could not talk to her here, after all. The idle girls at the end of the counter were already whispering, and their smiles were poignant javelins of ridicule. The captain of the Seamew knew that he was far beyond his depth.
"Where can I talk to you?" he asked.
"I get away for my lunch hour in a few minutes. I could talk to you then. But us girls ain't supposed to entertain our friends at the counter." She flashed him another amused and quite comprehending glance.
"I've a message for you from Aunt Prue and the captain. Captain Ira Ball. He's her husband," explained Tunis jerkily.
"Oh, really? Mr. Judson is coming this way." She flirted open a card of cheap lace lying on the counter. "Won't this do, sir?"
"Cat's foot! I don't want any lace," growled the captain of the Seamew.
"And I don't want to lose my job," rejoined the girl sharply.
"Where'll I meet you so we can talk?"
"At twelve forty-five," hissed the girl out of the corner of her mouth, beginning to wind up the lace again. "Back entrance to the store." Then, aloud: "Sorry, sir. We haven't any cheaper quality in that pattern."
He knew she was ridiculing him. He was cognizant, however, of the department head's hard stare and the amused glances of the other saleswomen. He strode out of the store, and on the sidewalk halted to mop his face and neck with a blue-bordered handkerchief.
"She's as sassy as a chipmunk. I declare! What would Cap'n Ira and Aunt Prue do with a girl like her around the house? And the way she's dressed!"
In his mind the idea germinated that he would be doing a far better thing if he did not go around to the employees' door and wait for Ida May Bostwick. What sort of life would she lead the two old people down there on Wreckers' Head? He actually shrank from being a party to such an arrangement.
Not for a moment did he think that Miss Bostwick might not jump at the chance to change her place of residence from a South End lodging house to the Ball homestead overlooking Big Wreck Cove and the sea. He had seen that she was afraid of her boss in the store. The rules there must be very strict. He had noted that everything about the girl, her apparel and her ornaments, was cheap and tawdry. She must be both poor and unhappy. Why should she not jump at the chance of bettering herself?
What would Cap'n Ira say when he caught his first glimpse of that painted and powdered face? How could good Aunt Prue take to her heart the bold, jeering shopgirl, evidently born and bred as far from the old standards of Cape Cod breeding as could be imagined? No matter how fine a girl Sarah Honey was, her daughter was of a cheap city type.
But Tunis Latham did not stand in the position of a judge. He had not been told to use his powers of observation before placing the Balls' offer before Ida May Bostwick. He had no discretion in the matter at all.
So he went around to the street behind Hoskin & Marl's at the required time and spent five or ten minutes backed up against a blank wall under the sharp scrutiny of every girl who hurried out of the big store on her way to lunch. Ida May came, at last.
Tunis Latham in his go-ashore uniform and cap was no unsightly figure. A stern tranquillity of countenance lent him dignity. He attracted a certain respect wherever he went, but, as has been said, there was nothing harsh in his appearance.
The girl gave him an appraising scrutiny as she walked toward him. While covering those few yards she made up her mind about Tunis on several points. One was that she would not lunch this noon at any cafeteria or automat!
"Really," she said, with downcast glance, as the man got into step beside her, "I don't feel that I know you well enough to talk to you at all, Mister—Mister—"
"My name's Tunis Latham. I'm owner and skipper of the schooner Seamew. I live right handy to your uncle and aunt."
"Goodness! You don't mean I've got an uncle and aunt down there on the Cape? I never heard of them."
"They are your great-uncle and great-aunt. Aunt Prue must have been your mother's own aunt."
"So you are my Cousin—er—Tunis?"
His face flamed and he did not look at her.
"That doesn't follow," he said. "Aunt Prue is my aunt only in a manner of speaking. But she is your blood relation."
"Yes? I suppose she's a dear old soul?"
"They are mighty nice folks," Tunis replied stoutly. "As nice as any in all Barnstable County."
"But—er—sort of simple?"
The girl asked it with a perfectly innocent countenance. Tunis flashed her a look that showed comprehension.
"Just about as simple as I am," he said.
"Where'll we go to eat?" he asked cheerfully, considering that he had the best of it so far.
They came out upon Tremont Street and now started downtown. He desired to get no nearer to that eating house on Scollay Square. At least, not with his present companion.
"There's the Barquette," said Miss Bostwick, with the air of one used daily to the grandeur of such hostelries.
But Tunis had seen her lodgings! However, her airs amused him, and Tunis Latham was no penny-squeezer. He headed straight in for the dining room, where a gloriously appareled negro head waiter appraised him as being "all right," and Ida May got by, without knowing it, upon the captain's substantial appearance.
While the waiter was away, Tunis bluntly put his errand before her. He felt it his duty to make the offer as attractive as possible. But he did not make small the fact that the Balls were old and needed her services.
"Goodness! What do they want me for—a nurse?" she demanded tartly.
The question put Tunis on his mettle. He explained that Cap'n Ira and his wife were comfortably "fixed," as Cape people considered comfort, with a home free and clear of all encumbrances, and investments that yielded a sufficient support. Ida May, as he understood it, would share their home and their means.
"And you want I should go down to that place and live on pollack and potatoes till them folks die, for the sake of just a home?" she demanded, her brown eyes snapping.
"I don't want you to do anything," he pointed out coolly enough. "I am merely repeating their offer. They are your folks."
"And I know all about what it is down there," the girl said quickly. "My mother came from there. She was glad enough to get away, too, I warrant. Why should I give up a good job and the city to live in such a dead-and-alive hole?"
"That is for you to decide," Tunis replied, not without secret relief.
He could not understand her attitude. He remembered that South End lodging house with secret horror. But evidently Ida May Bostwick was wedded to the tawdry conveniences and gayeties of city life. Tunis could not wholly understand why any sane person should assume this attitude; in fact, he suspected a good deal of it was put on. How could a girl, even one as inconsequential and flighty as Ida May evidently was, hold in contempt the offer he had brought her from Cap'n Ira and his wife?
But he had done all that could be expected of him. All, indeed, that he thought wise. Disappointed as the old couple would be by Ida May's refusal, Tunis felt that to urge her to reconsider the matter would not be in the best interests of her elderly relatives. They needed a young companion there on Wreckers' Head, needed one very sorely, but not such a person as Ida May Bostwick.
"Then, that will be your final answer, Miss Bostwick?" he said slowly, as Ida May played with her ice.
"Say! I wouldn't go down to that hole for a million," scoffed the girl. "I guess you wouldn't stand it yourself, only you're off on your ship most of the time."
"I like the Cape," he said briefly.
"Never lived in the city, did you?"
"I never did."
"Then you don't know any better," she told him confidently. "And you don't really look like such a dead one, at that."
She smiled saucily into his rather grim face. Then she opened her bag and deliberately powdered her nose before rising from the table.
"Thanks for a pleasant hour," she drawled. "You tell Auntie and Uncle Josh to get a girl from the poor farm or somewhere to do their chores and tuck 'em in nights. Me, I don't mean to live out of sight of movie signs and electric lights. I'd like to see myself!"
She was both rude and common. Tunis was glad to get out of the dining room. Ida May attracted altogether too much attention. And she had quite openly eyed his well-lined wallet when he paid the waiter. To a girl like Ida May, all was fish that swam into her net. Crude as she considered him, Tunis Latham was a man with some money. And he evidently knew how to spend it.
"When you're in town I'd be glad to see you any time, Mr. Latham. Or do I say captain?"
She smiled up at the big, broad-shouldered fellow bravely as she trotted along in the skirt that made her hobble like a cripple. The captain of the Seamew did not respond very cordially, and quite overlooked her personal question.
"I don't expect to spend much time in Boston," he said. "Thank you. Then I shall report to Aunt Prue and Cap'n Ira that you will not consider their offer at all?"
"I should say not!" She laughed lightly. "You don't know, I guess, what we girls expect nowadays, if we give up our independence."
"Independence!" snorted Tunis.
"That's what I said," rejoined Ida May tartly. "When the store closes my time's my own. I can do as I please. And I've got nobody to please but myself. Oh, you don't understand at all, Captain Latham!"
He said no more. Nor did he escort her farther than the corner. There he lifted his cap and took her offered hand. Although it was beringed and the nails were stained and polished, Tunis could not help noticing that Ida May's hand was not altogether clean.
"Well, au revoir, captain!" she said lightly. "I hope I see you again."
He bowed silently and watched her depart. The sunshine glinted gloriously upon her fluffy hair.
"Fool's gold," he muttered.
AT THE RESTAURANT
The captain of the Seamew found himself facing an unpleasant problem. How could he make the Balls, either Cap'n Ira or Prudence, understand the kind of girl Ida May was? How could he even bring them to understand that nothing he could have said would have ever made Ida May Bostwick see the situation in its true light?
Why, the old couple could never be made to believe that a girl in her sane senses would turn down cold such a proposition as they had made. They would suspect that he had failed to put it to her in the proper light. His "errand of mercy," as Cap'n Ira had called it, had seemed so reasonable for both sides!
Tunis realized that he had not overurged the matter to the girl. But there was a reason for that. The difficulty would be in explaining to the Balls just how unsuitable Ida May was. They would never believe that the daughter of Sarah Honey could be such a cheap and inconsequential person as she had actually proved to be.
"It's going to hit 'em 'twixt wind and water, and hit 'em hard," muttered the captain of the Seamew. "One thing that girl said was right, I guess. They'd better get somebody from the poor farm, rather than take her into their house. Such a creature would be happier with the Balls, and make them happier. But it's pretty tough when those of your own blood go back on you."
The experience had left a bad taste in Tunis Latham's mouth. He hoped heartily that he would never see Ida May Bostwick again. He never intended to if he could help it. To take his mind off the fiasco entirely, he hopped on to a car and rode out to the art museum and spent the afternoon in the quiet galleries where the masters, little and great, are hung.
He came downtown at nightfall, threading the paths of the public gardens and the common malls of Charles and Beacon Streets, with a feeling of immense calm in his soul. Tunis Latham possessed keenly contrasting attributes of character. On the one hand he was of a rather practical mind and thought; on the other, his love of beauty and appreciation of nature's greater forces might have made of him an artist under more liberal conditions of birth and breeding.
Ida May Bostwick had rasped all the finer feelings of the captain of the Seamew. He was happy to be able to get her out of his mind. In fact, he had put aside thought of any girl. Romance no longer enmeshed his cogitations. He was utterly calm, unruffled, serene, as he descended by the twists and turns of certain streets beyond the State House and came out finally upon the now lighted and bustling square.
He halted, like a pointer dog, before the eating place where he had had breakfast.
Tunis Latham felt a certain shock. That girl with the violet eyes had been farthest from his thought at the moment, and for some hours now. He had lumped together the whole girl question and had relegated it to the back of his mind.
And perhaps he was cured. He looked at it more sensibly after the first moment. It was not thought of the girl that had brought him here. Habit is strong in most of us. The urge of a healthy appetite was more likely what had caused him to halt before the restaurant door.
It was after seven. Following his walk from the Back Bay it was little wonder that he was hungry. But should he enter this place? There were several other restaurants in sight of about the same standard. Tunis Latham did not make a practice of patronizing places similar to the Barquette when he ate alone.
To pass on and enter another restaurant would be to confess weakness. He really cared nothing about that girl with the violet eyes. She very probably was no better and no worse than Ida May Bostwick. All these city shopgirls were about of a pattern. He had allowed sentiment to sway him for a few hours. But sentiment had received a jolt during his interview with the girl from the lace department of Hoskin & Marl's.
"Cat's foot!" ejaculated the captain of the Seamew. "I guess I'm not afraid to take another look at that girl, if she's in here. Probably two looks will be about all I want," and he grinned rather wryly as he approached the door.
The place was well patronized at this hour; and the "lady help" was much in evidence, flying back and forth from tables to slide and "dealing 'em off the arm" with a rapidity and dexterity that was most amazing, Tunis thought. There was even a girl in the cashier's cage, while the black-haired man he had paid his check to that forenoon was walking about with a sharp eye for everything that went on.
The Cape man started down the room for an empty seat. Somebody was ahead of him and he backed away. A soft voice, a voice that thrilled Tunis Latham before he saw the speaker at all, said just behind him:
"There is a seat here, sir."
He knew it was she of the violet eyes before he turned about. It seemed to the seaman the voice matched the beautiful eyes of which he had thought so often during the past few days. They must belong together!
He turned to look at her. She was gathering up the soiled dishes from a table at which was an empty seat. First of all, Tunis secured it. Then he glanced keenly at the girl.
Would she remember him? Had his face and appearance been photographed upon her memory as her face had been printed on his? She did not look at him then. She was busy clearing the enameled top of the table and wiping off the coffee stains and the wet rings made by the water glass.
She had black hair and a great deal of it, deep black, glossy, fine of texture, and very well brushed. Black hair and those velvety violet eyes, the long, black lashes of which were a most delicate fringe! The brows were boldly dashed on against her smooth, almost colorless, but perfect skin. Tunis had never before seen any feminine loveliness the equal of this girl, this waitress in a cheap restaurant! Yet a casual glance would scarcely have discovered much attractive about the girl. Had he not looked so deep into her violet eyes at the instant of their first meeting, perhaps the captain of the Seamew would never have given her the second glance. There was a timidity about her, a shrinking in her very attitude, that would naturally displease even an observant person.
Her nose, mouth, and chin, were only ordinarily well formed. Nothing remarkable at all about them. But the texture of her skin, it seemed to the man, was the finest he had ever beheld. Her figure was slight, but supple. Every line, accentuated by the common black dress she wore, was graceful. Her throat was bare and she wore no ornament. His sharp gaze flashed to her left hand. It was guiltless of any band. He had begun to flush at the thought which prompted this last observation, and grabbed at a stained bill of fare to cover his sudden confusion.
She moved away with the piled-up dishes. His gaze followed her covertly. Even her walk was graceful, not at all the hobble or the jerky pace or the slouch of the other waitresses.
By and by she came back. She brought tableware and a glass of water. She placed them meticulously before him. Then, for the first time it seemed, she looked at Tunis Latham. She halted, her hand still upon the water glass. She quivered all over. The water slopped upon the table.
"Oh, is it you, sir?" she said in that timid, breathless whisper he so well remembered.
"Good evening," Tunis rejoined. "I hope you are well?"
"Oh, yes, sir! Quite well. What will you have, sir?"
She no longer looked at him. Her gaze was roving about her tables, but more often fixed upon the broad, alpaca-coated shoulders of the restaurant proprietor at the front of the room.
Tunis ordered almost at random. She repeated the viands named. There was a tiny tendril of her hair that curled low upon her neck at one side, caressing the pale satin sheen of the skin. He felt an overpowering desire to lean forward and press his lips to the tiny curl!
As though she comprehended his secret wish, a wave of color stained her throat and cheeks from the line of her frock to her hair. It poured up under the pallor of the skin, transfiguring her expression ravishingly. Instead of her countenance being rather wan and weary looking, in a moment it became as vivid as a freshly opened flower.
She turned swiftly, departing with his order. Tunis was conscious of a hoarse voice at his elbow. He glanced aside. His neighbor in the next chair was a little, common man, with a little, common face, on which was a little, common leer.
"A pip, I'll tell the world," was the neighbor's comment. "Whadjer s'pose brought her into this dump?"
"The necessity for earning her living," replied Tunis, without looking again at the man.
"With a face like that?" suggested the man, and fell wordless again, but not silent, as he attacked his soup.
If there was an opportunity to speak to the girl again, Tunis could scarcely do so, he thought, for her own sake. It would attract the attention not only of the fellow beside him, but of others.
He felt an overpowering desire, however, to talk with her. His recently born determination to have nothing more to do with any girl had melted like snow in July. That feeling, which had come through his experience with Ida May Bostwick, seemed a sacrilege when he considered this girl.
The man beside him, noisily finishing his soup, ordered apple-meringue pie when the waitress returned with Tunis' order. The latter noted that her fingers still trembled when she placed his food before him. When she brought the pie she reached for the man's check and punched another hole in it. Tunis was careful not to raise his own eyes to her face. But all the time he was trying to invent some way by which he might further his acquaintance with her.
He must be back at the Seamew that night. Tomorrow the cargo would come aboard and, wind and tide being ordinarily favorable, the schooner would put to sea as soon as the hatches were battened down. He could not continue to come here to the restaurant for his meals and so grasp the frail chance of bolstering his acquaintance with the girl. Indeed, he felt that such an obvious course would utterly wreck any chance he might naturally have of knowing her better.
The timidity she evinced was nothing put on. It was real. Its cause he could not fathom, but to Tunis Latham it seemed that this girl with the violet eyes was a gentle girl, if not gently bred, and that she shrank from contact with the rougher elements of life. How she came to be working in this place was not of moment to him. It would not have mattered to Tunis Latham where he had met her or under what circumstances; he only knew that there was a mysterious charm about her which attracted and held his heart captive.
"Will you have anything more, sir?" The low, yet penetrating voice was in his ear. She hovered over his chair and her near presence thrilled him. He had not much more than played with the food. Now he replied briefly, without thinking:
His neighbor pushed back his chair and got up noisily. He picked up his check, glanced at it, and snorted.
"Hey!" he said to the girl returning with Tunis' pie. "What's this for?"
"You've rung me up an extry nickel. What's the idea?"
"Fifteen cents for meringue, sir."
"Huh? Who had meringue? I had apple pie, plain apple pie. It's ten cents. This feller"—indicating Tunis—"ordered apple-meringue; not me."
He held out the check for correction belligerently.
"You ordered apple-meringue, sir, and I brought it. You ate it. The check is correct."
Low and timid as the voice was, gently as the words were spoken, Tunis sensed an undercurrent of firmness and determination in the girl's character that he had not before suspected.
"Say, you don't put nothing like that over on me!" exclaimed the man loudly.
Tunis moved in his chair. He saw the black-haired man at the front of the restaurant swing about to face down the room. He had heard this unseemly disturbance.
"I will call the manager."
"And so will I—I'll call him good!" sneered the patron. "He knows that you crooks in here over-charge. He puts you up to it. That's why he hires jailbirds and—"
Tunis had got up, pushed back his chair with his foot, and as the girl uttered a horrified gasp at the rough speech, he seized the man. His grip on the back of the fellow's coat between his shoulders brought a startled grunt from lips parted to continue his blackguardism.
"Hey! What d'ye mean?" roared the fellow, as Tunis twisted him into the aisle.
"You dog!" said the captain of the Seamew in a low voice. "Down on your knees and ask the lady's pardon for that speech!"
The black-haired man started toward them. His coarse face had a smile on it as vicious as the snarl of a tiger. He put up his hand in a gesture of command.
"Beg her pardon!" repeated Tunis, and by the great weight of his hand crushed the squalling patron of the restaurant to his knees before the terrified girl.
"Stop that! What do you mean?" cried the manager of the restaurant, still several yards away.
The patrons of the place had been thinning out for the last few minutes. Most of those remaining were near the front. Some of the waitresses were already seated at a table next to the kitchen slide, eating their suppers.
"Take him off me!" roared the man squirming on the floor under Tunis Latham's hand. "That thief of a girl set him on me. This is a nice thing, be overcharged and then assaulted!"
He was talking for the benefit of the black-haired man. The latter swooped down upon them. His face was purple with wrath and his fat jowls trembled.
"Let him up! Do you hear me?" he exclaimed.
"He insulted this lady," said Tunis, indicating the waitress. "You just heard him repeat it. He'll beg her pardon or I'll wring his neck."
"What do you mean?" cried the restaurant man. "What's the girl to you? One of her friends, are you? Well, you are doing her no good with me, I assure you."
The captain of the Seamew flung the little man face down upon the floor and held him there with his foot while he reached with both hands for the proprietor. He got him. The latter uttered a squeak like a captured rat.
"You're another of the same breed, are you?" Tunis demanded. "You'll beg her pardon, too, or I'll crack the heads of the two of you together! Come!"
He stood the man on his feet before the waitress with such force that his teeth rattled. He stooped and yanked the other to an upright posture likewise. The shrinking girl, Tunis noticed, was not weeping. She looked at all he did as though she approved. The other girls were shrieking. The cashier had run to the door and cried into the street for the police. But that violet-eyed girl, timid as she naturally was, did not open her lips.
"She's a plucky little lady," thought Tunis Latham. "But somebody's got to stand up for her."
The captain of the Seamew held the two struggling, cursing men as though they were small boys. His eyes flamed a question at the girl. She understood and nodded, if ever so faintly.