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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFair Harbor: A Novel - Chapter 5
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Fair Harbor: A Novel - Chapter 5 Post by :brennan Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1935

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Fair Harbor: A Novel - Chapter 5

CHAPTER V

Judge Knowles's answer to his caller's assertion concerning the need of a physician's services was another chuckle.

"Sit down, Cap'n," he ordered.

Kendrick shook his head. "No," he began, "I'm----"

"Sit down."

"Judge, look here: I don't suppose you're serious, but if you are, I tell you----"

"No, I'm going to tell _you_. SIT DOWN."

This time the invalid's voice was raised to such a pitch that Mrs. Tidditt came hurrying from the kitchen.

"My soul and body, Judge!" she exclaimed. "What is it? What _is the matter?"

Her employer turned upon her.

"The matter is that that confounded door is open again," he snapped.

"Why--why, of course 'tis. I just opened it when I came in."

"Umph! Yes. Well then, hurry up and shut it when you go out. _Shut it!"

Emmeline, going, not only shut but slammed the door. The judge smiled grimly.

"Sit down, Kendrick," he commanded once more, panting. "Sit down, I--I'm out of breath. Confound that woman! She seems to think I'm four years old. Ah--ah--whew!"

His exhaustion was so apparent that Sears was alarmed.

"Don't you think, Judge----" he began, but was interrupted.

"Sshh!" ordered Knowles. "Wait.... Wait.... I'll be all right in a minute!"

The captain waited. It took more than a minute, and even then the judge's voice was husky and his sentences broken, but his determination was unshaken.

"I want you to listen to me, Cap'n Kendrick," he said. "I know it sounds crazy, this proposal of mine, but it isn't. How much do you know about this Fair Harbor place; its history and so on?"

Captain Sears explained that his sister had written him some facts concerning it and that recently Judah Cahoon had told him more details. The judge wished to know what Judah had told. When informed he nodded.

"That's about right, so far as it goes," he admitted. "Fairly straight, for a Bayport yarn. It doesn't go far enough, though. Here is the situation:

"Lobelia, when she first conceived the fool notion," he said, "came to me, of course, to arrange it. I was her father's lawyer for years, and so naturally I was looking out for her affairs. I said all I could against it, but she was determined, and had her way. She, through me, set aside the Sylvanus Seymour house and land to be used as a home for what she called 'mariners' women' as long as--well, as long as she should continue to want it used for that purpose. She would have been contented to pay the bills as they came, but, of course, there was no business method in that, so we arranged that she was to hand over to me fifty thousand dollars in bonds, the income from that sum, plus the entrance fees and one hundred dollars yearly paid by each inmate, was to run the place. That is the way it has been run. She christened it the Fair Harbor. Heaven knows I had nothing to do with that.

"For a year or so she lived there herself and had a beautiful time queening it over the inmates. Then that Phillips chap drifted into Bayport."

The captain interrupted here. "Oh, then the Fair Harbor was off the ways before she married Phillips?" he said. "Judah told me it was afterwards."

"He's wrong. No, the thing had been running two years when that confounded.... Humph! You never met Egbert Phillips, did you, Cap'n?"

"No."

"You've heard about him?"

"Only what Judah told me the other day."

"Humph! What did he tell?"

"Why, he--he gave me to understand that this Phillips was a pretty smooth article."

"Smooth! Why, Kendrick, he is.... But there, you'll meet him some day and no feeble words of mine could do him justice. Besides all my words are getting too feeble to waste--even on anything as beautiful as Egbert the great.... And that condemned doctor will be here pretty soon, so we must get on.... Ah.... Well, he came here to teach singing, Phillips did, and he had all the women in tune before the first lesson was over. They said he was wonderful, and he was--good God, yes! They kept on thinking he was wonderful until he married Lobelia Seymour."

"Then they changed their minds, eh?"

"Humph! You don't know women, do you, Cap'n? Never mind, you've got time enough left to learn in.... No, they didn't change their minds. They thought Egbert was as wonderful as ever, but they agreed that Lobelia had roped him in. _She had roped _him in! Oh, lord!... Well, they were married and went to Boston to live. Afterwards they went to Europe. Five years ago they came back here for a week's visit. Cahoon tell you about that?"

"No."

"Probably he didn't know about it. They did, though, and stayed here with me, of course. Lobelia settled that, I imagine--one of the times when she settled something herself. And while she was here she and I settled something else. She added a codicil to her will making the fifty thousand dollars in my possession and the house and Seymour land a gift, absolute, to the Fair Harbor. And she appointed me as sole trustee of the fund and financial manager of the home, with authority to appoint my own successor. And her husband didn't know a thing about it. Didn't when they went away; I'm sure I don't know whether he does now or not, but he didn't then. No, sir, we settled the Fair Harbor fund and Egbert's hash, so far as it was concerned. Ha, ha! And a blessed good job, too, Kendrick.... Hand me that glass of water, will you? Thanks."

He drank a swallow or two of water and lay back upon the pillow. Captain Sears was a little anxious. He suggested that, perhaps, he had better be told the rest another time.

"I think you had better rest now, Judge," he counseled. The judge consigned the "rest" idea to a place where, according to tradition, there is very little of it.

"I want you to hear this," he snapped. "Don't bother me, but listen.... Where was I?... Oh, yes.... Well, Lobelia and her husband went away, to Europe again. They have been there ever since, living in Italy. Egbert finds the climate there agrees with him, I suppose---- Humph!... I have had letters from Lobelia. The later ones were shorter and not encouraging. She wrote that she wasn't well and the doctors didn't seem to help her much. After two or three of these letters I wrote one, myself--to the American consul at Florence. He is the son of a good friend of mine. I explained the situation and asked him to find out just what ailed her and what the prospects were. His reply explained things. Poor Lobelia is in my position--except that my age entitles me to be there and hers doesn't; she has an incurable disease and she is likely to die at any time. No hope for her. And now, it seems she has found it out. About a month ago I had another letter from her.... Humph!... Wait a minute, Cap'n. Give me that glass again, will you. Sorry to be such a condemned nuisance--particularly to other people.... Wait! Hold on! When I've finished you can talk. Hear the rest of it first.

"Lobelia's latest--last, I shouldn't wonder--letter was a sad sort of a thing. I'm a tough old fellow, but I declare I'm sorry for that poor woman. Fool to marry Phillips? Of course she was, but most of us are fools, some time or other. And, if I don't miss my guess, she has repented of her foolishness many times and all the time. She wrote me she knew she was going to die. And she said---- But here is the letter. Read it, that page of it."

He fumbled among the papers and books on the table beside him, selected a sheet of paper, covered with closely written lines, and extended it in a shaking hand to his caller.

"That explains things a little," he said. "It's illuminating. Read it."

Captain Sears read.... "And so I am _very anxious, dear Judge Knowles, whatever else happens, that the Fair Harbor shall always be as it is, a home for sisters and widows and daughters of men who went down to the sea in ships, as father did. I know he would have liked it. And _please_, after I'm gone, don't let it be sold or given up, or anything like that. I am asking this of you, because I know I can trust you. You have proved it so many times. And--I never have written you this before but it is true--I have so little left except the Fair Harbor and its endowment. You will wonder where the money has gone. I do not know. It seems to have slipped away little by little and neither my husband nor I can account for...."

The page ended there. The captain would have handed it back to Knowles, but the latter asked him to put it on the table.

"Put it in the envelope and put the envelope in the drawer, will you, Kendrick?" he said. "My housekeeper is a good housekeeper, but what is mine is hers--including correspondence.... Well, you see? She can't account for the disappearance of the money. I can. When you have a five thousand dollar income and spend ten thousand you can account for a lot.... Humph! Well, the fact is that I am expecting to hear of Lobelia's death at any time. She may be dead to-day--or to-morrow--or next week. And as soon as I hear of it I shall say to myself.... Humph! Cap'n, you know how the Old Farmer's Almanac, along in November, prophesies the weather, don't you? 'About this time look out for snow.' Yes, well, on a date about a month after the day I hear of Lobelia Phillips's death I should write on the calendar: 'About this time look for Egbert.' ... Humph.... Eh? See, don't you, Cap'n Kendrick?"

Kendrick smiled, he couldn't help it. He tugged thoughtfully at his beard.

"Yes," he admitted, "I guess likely I see. But I don't see where I come in. You can handle Egbert, Judge, or I don't know much about men."

The judge snorted. "Handle him," he repeated. "I think I could handle him--and enjoy the job. The trouble is I shan't have the chance. I won't be here. I'll be in the graveyard."

He spoke of it as casually as he might of Boston or New York. Again his listener could not help but protest.

"Why, Judge," he began, "that's perfectly ridiculous. You----"

The judge interrupted. "Perhaps," he said, drily. "In fact, I agree with you. The graveyard is a ridiculous place for anybody to be, but I shall be there--and soon. But I am not going to let it interfere with my plans concerning the Fair Harbor. Lobelia Seymour I've known since she was a little girl, and whether I'm dead or alive, I'm going to have her wishes carried out. That's why I'm telling you these things, Sears Kendrick. I am counting on you to carry them out."

The captain leaned back in his chair.

"Why pick on me?" he asked, drily.

"Why? Because I've got to pick on somebody and do it while I have the strength to pick. You and I have never been close friends, Kendrick, but I've watched you and kept track of you for years, in a general sort of way. Your sister and I have had a long acquaintanceship. There's another woman who made a mistake.... Eh?"

Sears nodded.

"I'm afraid so," he admitted. "Joel is a good enough fellow, in his way, but----"

"But--that's it. Well, he's got a good wife and she's your sister. I know you can handle this Fair Harbor job if you will and if you take it on I shall go to--well, to that graveyard we were talking about, with an easier mind. Look here--why----"

"Hold on a minute, Judge. Heave to and let me say a word. If there wasn't any other reason why I shouldn't feel like takin' the wheel of an old woman's home there would be this one: You need a business man there and I'm no business man."

"How do you know you're not?"

"Because I've just proved it. You heard somethin' of how my voyage in business ashore turned out. I'll tell you the truth about it."

He did, briefly, giving the facts of his disastrous sojourn in ship-chandlery.

"So that's how good a business man _I am," he said in conclusion. "And I'm a cripple besides. Much obliged, Judge, but you'll have to ship another skipper, I'm afraid."

He was rising but Judge Knowles barked a profane order for him to keep his seat.

"I know all that," he snapped. "Knew about it just after it happened. And I know, too, that you paid your share of the debts dollar for dollar. I'll risk you in this job I'm offering you.... Yes, and you're the only man I will risk--the only one in sight, that is. Come now, don't say no. Think it over. I'll give you a week to think it over in. I'd give you a month, but I might not be here at the end of it.... Will you take the offer under consideration and then come back and have another talk with me? Eh? Will you?"

The captain hesitated. He wanted to say no, of course, should say it sooner or later, but he hated to be too abrupt in his refusal. After all, the offer, although absurd, was, in a way, a compliment and he liked the old judge. So he hesitated, stammered and then asked another question.

"You've got a skipper aboard the Fair Harbor already, haven't you?" he inquired. "Judah told me that Cap'n Ike Berry's widow was runnin' the place."

"Humph! That isn't all he told you, is it?"

Kendrick smiled. "Why"--he hesitated, "I--"

"Come, come, come! Of course he told you that Cordelia Berry was another one of those mistakes we've been talking about. She is, but her husband was one of my best friends and his daughter is another. No mistake there, Cap'n Kendrick, I tell you.... But you've met Elizabeth, I understand, eh?"

He chuckled as he said it. Sears was surprised and a trifle confused. Evidently she had told of their encounter in Judah's garden.

"Well, yes," he admitted. "We met."

"Ha, ha! So I heard. Handled the poultry pretty well, didn't she? She ought to, she's had experience in handling old hens for some time."

"I presume likely. Then I don't see why you don't let her keep on handlin' 'em. What do you want me for?"

"Oh, damnation, man, haven't I told you! I want you because I'm going to die and somebody--some man--must take my place.... Look here, Kendrick. I appoint you general manager of the Fair Harbor, take it or leave it. But _if you leave it don't do it for a week, and, before you do, promise me you'll go over there some day and look around. Meet Cordelia and talk to her, meet Elizabeth and talk to her. Meet some of the--er--hens and talk to them. But, this is the main thing, look around, listen, see for yourself. Then you can come back and, if you accept, we'll discuss details. Will you do that much?"

Captain Sears looked troubled. "Why, yes, I suppose so," he said, reluctantly, "to oblige you, Judge. But it's wasted time, I shan't accept. Of course I thank you for the offer and all that, but I might as well, seems to me, say no now as next week."

"No such thing. And you will go there and look around?"

"Why--yes, I guess so. But won't the Berry woman and the rest of 'em think I'm nosin' in where I don't belong? I should, if I were they, and I'd raise a row about it, too."

"Nonsense. They can't object to your making a neighborly call, can they? And if they do, let 'em. A healthy row won't do a bit of harm over there. Give 'em the devil, it's what they need.... See here, will you go?"

"Yes."

"Good! And, remember, you are appointed to this job this minute if you want it. Or you may take it at any time during the week; don't bother to speak to me first. Fifteen hundred a year, live with Cahoon or whoever you like, precious little to do except be generally responsible for the Fair Harbor--oh, how I hate that syrupy, sentimental name!--financially and in a business way.... Easy berth, as you sailors would say, eh? Ha, ha!... Well, good day, Cap'n. Can you find your way out? If not call that eternally-lost woman of mine and she'll pilot you.... Ah.... yes.... And just hand me that water glass once more.... Thanks.... I shall hope to hear you've accepted next time I see you. We'll talk details and sign papers then, eh?... Oh, yes, we will. You won't be fool enough to refuse. Easy berth, you know, Kendrick. And don't forget Egbert; eh? Ha, ha.... Umph--ah, yes.... Where's that damned housekeeper?"

Mike Callahan asked no questions as he drove his passenger back to the General Minot place--no direct questions, that is--but it was quite evident that his curiosity concerning the reasons for Captain Kendrick's visit was intense.

"Well, the ould judge seen you at last, Cap'n," he observed.

"Yes."

"I expect 'twas a great satisfaction to him, eh?"

"Maybe so. Looks as if it was smurrin' up for rain over to the west'ard, doesn't it?"

Mr. Callahan delivered his passenger at the Minot back door and departed, looking grumpy. Then Mr. Cahoon took his turn.

"Well, Cap'n Sears," he said, eagerly, "you seen him."

"Yes, Judah, I saw him."

"Um-hm. Pretty glad to see you, too, wan't he?"

"I hope so."

"Creepin' prophets, don't you _know so? Ain't he been sendin' word by Emmeline Tidditt that he wanted to see you more'n a million times?"

"Guess not. So far as I know he only wanted to see me once."

"No, no, no. You know what I mean, Cap'n Sears.... Well--er--er--you seen him, anyway?"

"Yes, I saw him."

"Um-hm ... so you said."

"Yes, I thought I did."

"Oh, you did--yes, you did.... Um-hm--er--yes."

So Judah, too, was obliged to do without authentic information concerning Judge Knowles's reason for wishing to meet Sears Kendrick. He hinted as far as he dared, but experience gained through years of sea acquaintanceship with his former commander prevented his doing more than hint. The captain would tell just exactly what he wished and no more, Judah knew. He knew also that attempting to learn more than that was likely to be unpleasant as well as unprofitable. It was true that his beloved "Cap'n Sears" was no longer his commander but merely his lodger, nevertheless discipline was discipline. Mr. Cahoon was dying to know why the judge wished to talk to the captain, but he would have died in reality rather than continue to work the pumps against the latter's orders, expressed or intimated. Judah was no mutineer.

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