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Fair Harbor: A Novel - Chapter 20 Post by :mimiabas Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1709

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Fair Harbor: A Novel - Chapter 20


It was April and one of those beautiful early spring days with which New England is sometimes favored. The first buds were showing on the trees, the first patches of new green were sprinkling the sheltered slopes of the little hills, and under the dead leaves by the edges of the woods boys had been rummaging for the first mayflowers.

It was supper time at the Fair Harbor and the "guests"--quoting Mrs. Susannah Brackett--or the "inmates"--quoting Mr. Judah Cahoon--were seated about the table. There were some notable vacancies in the roster. At the head, where Mrs. Cordelia Berry had so graciously and for so long presided, there was now an empty chair. That chair would soon be filled, however; the new matron of the Harbor was at that moment in the office discussing business matters with Mr. Bradley, the new "outside manager." She had told the others not to wait for her; she would come to supper as soon as she could. So Mrs. Brackett, who had moved up to the seat once glorified by the dignity of Miss Elvira Snowden, was serving the cold corned beef; while opposite her, in the chair where Elizabeth Berry used to sit, Mrs. Aurora Chase was ladling forth the preserved pears. And, in the absence of the matron, it was of course natural that conversation should turn to subjects which could not be discussed as freely or pointedly in her presence.

Miss Desire Peasley began the discussion. She looked at the ancient clock on the mantel. The time was a quarter to six.

"H'm," sniffed Miss Peasley, with a one-sided smile. "I suppose likely the great event's took place long afore this. They're married and off on their honeymoon by now.... If you can call a cruise on board a ship bound to an outlandish place like Singapore a honeymoon. I took one voyage to Bombay with my brother, and 'twan't the honeymoon trip I'd pick out. _Such a place! And such folks! The clothes those poor heathens wore--or didn't wear! Shameful! Don't talk!"

The order not to talk was plainly not considered binding, for every one immediately began to talk.

"I should like to have seen the weddin'," proclaimed Mrs. Hattis Thomas, with a giggle. "Must have looked more like an adoptin' ceremony than a marryin'. I've always been thankful for one thing, I married a man somewheres nigh my own age, anyhow."

"Wonder how Cordelia likes bein' left alone?" observed Mrs. Constance Cahoon. "She's been used to havin' a daughter to wait on her hand and foot. Now she'll have to wait on herself for a spell. But I presume likely she won't mind that. Livin' up to Boston, with the interest of twenty-five thousand dollars to live on, will suit her down to the ground. She'll be airy enough now. Won't speak to common folks, I suppose. Well, she won't have to put herself out to speak to _me_. _I shan't go a-visitin' her, even if she begs me to."

There was no immediate symptom of Mrs. Berry's begging for visitors, at least none present had so far received an invitation. But all nodded, indicating that they, too, would scorn the plea when it came.

"That poor man!" sighed Mrs. Brackett, pityingly. "How those two, mother and daughter, did pull the wool over his eyes. I suppose he thinks we all believe he wouldn't take a cent of Elizabeth's money. Humph! Good reason why Jack wouldn't eat his supper--he didn't have a chance. Ha, ha! I cal'late he'd taken it if he could have got it. But his wife knew a trick worth two of that. She'll keep him afloat and hard at work earnin' more for her to spend. Well, I hope his poor lame legs won't give out on him. If he has to give up goin' to sea _again_, I pity him, that's all I've got to say."

Mrs. Chase, her jet black locks a trifle askew as usual, was listening, the hand holding the preserve spoon cupped behind her ear and the spoon itself sticking out like a Fiji Islander's head ornament. As usual she had heard next to nothing.

"That's what _I say!" she declared. "Why, Mr. Bradley, or whoever was responsible, let Sears Kendrick put a woman with six children in as matron of this place, I can't understand. Of course it's plain enough why Cap'n Sears wanted her to have the job. Joel Macomber's wages ain't more than twelve dollars a week and the salary here'll give 'em all the luxuries and doodads they want. Fust thing you know that Sary-Mary of hers'll be goin' to the Middleboro Academy to school. I wouldn't put it past her.... Hey? What did you say, Susanna?"

Mrs. Brackett had not said anything. She and some of the others were glancing uneasily in the direction of the hall door. All agreed that the appointment of Sarah Macomber as matron of the Fair Harbor was an outrage, but no one cared to have Mrs. Macomber know of that agreement. It was an experiment, that appointment, and Sarah herself was by no means confident of its success, although she had at last agreed to give it three months' trial. Half of that time was over and so far all was well. Bradley expressed huge satisfaction. Mrs. Macomber came to the Harbor early each morning and went home again after supper. Sarah-Mary and a hired girl, wages three dollars a week, were doing the Macomber housework.

"Hey?" shouted Aurora once more. "What did you say, Susanna?"

Mrs. Brackett, after another uneasy glance at the hall door, nodded and smiled. Mrs. Cahoon spoke quickly, in order to change the subject.

"What do you suppose I heard to-day?" she answered. "I met Josiah Ellis down to 'Liphalet's store and he told me he see Mr. Phillips yesterday. Josiah drove one of the livery hoss-'n'-teams over to Denboro--had a Boston notion drummer to cart over there, he did--and who should come drivin' along but Mr. Phillips. Josiah said he was dressed just as elegant as ever was, and the hoss-'n'-team he was drivin' was styled-up to match. Josiah hailed him and Mr. Phillips stopped and talked for a few minutes. Nice as always, not a bit of airs. No, Elviry wan't with him. Mr. Phillips said she was to home gettin' him ready to go away for a little vacation. Seems he's cal'latin' to go to New York for a fortni't. Mr. Phillips told Josiah that Elviry was kind of tired out, they'd done so much entertainin' this winter, and he was goin' away so's she could have a little rest. Ain't that just like him? Self-sacrificin'--my sakes! Elviry's a lucky woman, that's all I've got to say. I don't say so much about _his luck; but when she got him she done well."

There was a general buzz of agreement about the table. Then from the kitchen, where she had gone to get a fresh supply of cream-of-tartar biscuit, came little Mrs. Tidditt. She put the plate of biscuits on the table and sat down.

"What's that, Constance?" she demanded.

Mrs. Cahoon repeated the news of the Phillips family. Aurora put in a word.

"There's one thing I've always been sorry for," she said. "Of course I wouldn't take anything away from Elviry, she and I have always been good friends. But she's got enough as 'tis, and I _do wish--I do wish that Sears Kendrick had stayed away from this place until we'd had a chance to buy them lovely lawn statues. We'll never have another chance like that again."

Esther Tidditt smiled. "Yes, you will, Aurora," she snapped. "Yes, you will. Give him time and about two or three more New York trips, and those images will be up at auction again. Thirty thousand don't last some folks long, and Elviry and her Eg will be needin' money to pay grocery bills. You can't eat an iron lion. Just wait, Aurora. We may have that menagerie in the yard here yet. Possess your soul in patience."

There was another buzz about the table, this time of scornful disapproval. Mrs. Chase leaned forward.

"What's she sayin', Susanna?" she demanded, querulously. "Susanna Brackett, why don't you or the rest tell me what she's sayin'?"

* * * * *

At that moment the ship _Gold Finder_, of Boston, Winthrop and Hunniwell, owners, Sears Kendrick, master, was sailing out over the waters of Massachusetts Bay. Astern, a diamond point against the darkening sky, Minot's Light shone. The vessel was heeling slightly in the crisp evening wind, her full, rounded sails rustling overhead, her cordage creaking, foam at her forefoot and her wake stretching backward toward the land she was leaving. Her skipper stood aft by the binnacle, feeling, with a joy quite indescribable, the lift of the deck beneath him and the rush of the breeze across his face.

From the open door of the galley lamplight streamed. Within Judah Cahoon sang as he worked over the stove. Judah had had a glorious afternoon. His chanteys had cast off the hawsers, had walked away with the ropes, had hoisted the sails, had bade the tug good-by. Now his voice was a thought frayed, but he sang on.

Elizabeth--now Elizabeth Berry no more forever--came up the companion ladder. She joined her husband by the after rail. The sea air was chill and she was wearing one of the captain's pea jackets, the collar turned up; a feathery strand of her brown hair blew out to leeward. She stood beside him. The man at the wheel was looking down into the binnacle and Sears took her hand.

"Well?" he said, after a moment.

She looked up at him. "Well?" she said.

Neither spoke immediately. Then Kendrick breathed a sigh, a sigh expressive of many things.

She understood. As always she knew what he was thinking.

"Yes," she said, "it is glorious. Glorious for me; but for you, Sears----"

"Yes. It's pretty fine. I really never expected to make sail out of Boston harbor again. And if anybody had told me that I was to--" with another look at the helmsman, and lowering his voice--"to leave port this way--with you----"

He laughed aloud.

She laughed, too. "And just think," she said; "no more little worries or pettinesses, no more whispers, or faultfinding, or----"

"Or Fair Harbors. You're right, my girl. We're off, clean away from it all, bound out."

From the galley Judah's voice came, beginning the second verse of his song,

"'Aloft! Aloft!' our jolly bos'n cries.
Blow high! blow low! and so sailed we.
'Look ahead, look astern, look a-weather and a-lee,
Look along down the coast of the High Bar-ba-ree.'

"'There's none upon the starn, there's none upon the lee.'
Blow high! blow low! and so sailed we.
'There's a lofty ship to wind'ard a-sailin' fast and free,
Sailin' down along the coast of the High Bar-ba-ree.'"

Joseph Crosby Lincoln's Book: Fair Harbor: A Novel

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