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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFair Harbor: A Novel - Chapter 6
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Fair Harbor: A Novel - Chapter 6 Post by :brennan Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :3130

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Fair Harbor: A Novel - Chapter 6


Sears put in a disagreeable day or two after his call upon the judge. He was dissatisfied with the ending of their interview. He felt that he had been foolishly soft-hearted in promising to call at the Fair Harbor, or, to consider for another hour the preposterous offer of management of that institution. He must say no in the end. How much better to have said it then and there. Fifteen hundred a year looked like a lot of money to him. It tempted him, that part of the proposition. But it did not tempt him sufficiently to overcome the absurdities of the remaining part. How could _he manage an old woman's home? And what would people say if he tried?

Nevertheless, he had promised to visit the place and look it over and the promise must be kept. He dreaded it about as much as he had ever dreaded anything, but--he had promised. So on the morning of the third day following that of his call upon Judge Knowles he hobbled painfully and slowly up the front walk of the Fair Harbor to the formidable front door, with its great South Sea shells at each end of the granite step--relics of Captain Sylvanus's early voyages--and its silver-plated name plate with "SEYMOUR" engraved upon it in Gothic lettering. To one looking back from the view-point of to-day such a name plate may seem a bit superfluous and unnecessary in a village where every one knew not only where every one else lived, but how they lived and all about them. The fact remains that in Bayport in the '70's there were many name plates.

Sears gave the glass knob beside the front door a pull. From the interior of the house came the resultant "_JINGLE_; _jingle_; jingle, jing, jing." Then a wait, then the sound of footsteps approaching the other side of the door. Then a momentary glimpse of a reconnoitering eye behind one of the transparent urns engraved in the ground glass pane. Then a rattle of bolt and latch and the door opened.

The woman who opened it was rather good looking, but also she looked--well, if the captain had been ordered to describe her general appearance instantly, he would have said that she looked "tousled." She was fully dressed, of course, but there was about her a general appearance of having just gotten out of bed. Her hair, rather elaborately coiffured, had several loose strands sticking out here and there. She wore a gold pin--an oval brooch with a lock of hair in it--at her throat, but one end was unfastened. She wore cotton gloves, with holes in them.

"Good mornin'," said the captain.

The woman said "Good morning." There was no "r" in the "morning" so, remembering what he had heard concerning Mrs. Isaac Berry's rearing, Kendrick decided that this must be she.

"This is Mrs. Berry, isn't it?" he inquired.

"Yes." The lady's tone was not too gracious, in fact there was a trace of suspicion in it, as if she was expecting the man on the step to produce a patent egg-beater or the specimen volume of a set of encyclopedias.

"How do you do, Mrs. Berry," went on the captain. "My name is Kendrick. I'm your neighbor next door, and Judge Knowles asked me to be neighborly and cruise over and call some day. So I--er--so I've cruised, you see."

Mrs. Berry's expression changed. She seemed surprised, perhaps a little annoyed, certainly very much confused.

"Why--why, yes, Mr. Kendrick," she stammered. "I'm so glad you did.... I am so glad to see you.... Ah--ah---- Won't you come in?"

Captain Sears entered the dark front hall. It smelt like most front halls of that day in that town, a combination smell made up of sandal-wood and Brussels carpet and haircloth and camphor and damp shut-up-ness.

"Walk right in, do," urged Mrs. Berry, opening the parlor door. The captain walked right in. The parlor was high-studded and square-pianoed and chromoed and oil-portraited and black-walnutted and marble-topped and hairclothed. Also it had the fullest and most satisfying assortment of whatnot curios and alum baskets and whale ivory and shell frames and wax fruit and pampas grass. There was a majestic black stove and window lambrequins. Which is to say that it was a very fine specimen of a very best parlor.

"Do sit down, Mr. Kendrick," gushed Mrs. Berry, moving about a good deal but not, apparently, accomplishing very much. There had been a feather duster on the piano when they entered, but it, somehow or other, had disappeared beneath the piano scarf--partially disappeared, that is, for one end still protruded. The lady's cotton dusting-gloves no longer protected her hands but now peeped coyly from behind a jig-sawed photograph frame on the marble mantelpiece. The apron she had worn lay on the floor in the shadow of the table cloth. These habiliments of menial domesticity slid, one by one, out of sight--or partially so--as she bustled and chatted. When, after a moment, she raised a window shade and admitted a square of sunshine to the grand apartment, one would scarcely have guessed that there was such drudgery as housework, certainly no one would have suspected the elegant Mrs. Cordelia Berry of being intimately connected with it.

She swept--in those days the breadth of skirts made all feminine progress more or less of a sweep--across the room and swished gracefully into a chair. When she spoke she raised her eyebrows, at the end of the sentence she lowered them and her lashes. She smiled much, and hers was still a pretty smile. She made attractive little gestures with her hands.

"I am _so glad you dropped in, Mr. Kendrick," she declared. "So very glad. Of course if we had known when you were coming we might have been a little better prepared. But there, you will excuse us, I know. Elizabeth and I--Elizabeth is my daughter, Mr. Kendrick.... But it is _Captain Kendrick, isn't it? Of course, I might have known. You look the sea--you know what I mean--I can always tell. My dear husband was a captain. You knew that, of course. And in the old days at my girlhood home so many, _many captains used to come and go. Our old home--my girlhood home, I mean--was always open. I met my husband there.... Ah me, those days are not these days! What my dear father would have said if he could have known.... But we don't know what is in store for us, do we?... Oh, dear!... It's such charming weather, isn't it, Captain Kendrick?"

The captain admitted the weather's charm. He had not heard a great deal of his voluble hostess's chatter. He was there, in a way, on business and he was wondering how he might, without giving offence, fulfill his promise to Judge Knowles and see more of the interior of the Fair Harbor. Of the matron of that institution he had already seen enough to classify and appraise her in his mind.

Mrs. Berry rambled on and on. At last, out of the tumult of words, Captain Sears caught a fragment which seemed to him pertinent and interesting.

"Oh!" he broke in. "So you knew I was--er--hopeful of droppin' in some time or other?"

"Why, yes. Elizabeth knew. Judge Knowles told her you said you hoped to. Of course we were delighted.... The poor dear judge! We are _so fond of him, my daughter and I. He is so--so essentially aristocratic. Oh, if you knew what that means to me, raised as I was among the people I was. There are times when I sit here in this dreadful place in utter despair--utter.... Oh--oh, of course, Captain Kendrick, I wouldn't have you imagine that Elizabeth and I don't like this house. We _love it. And dear 'Belia Seymour is my _closest friend. But, you know----"

She paused, momentarily, and the captain seized the opportunity----

"So Judge Knowles told you I was liable to call, did he?" he queried. He was somewhat surprised. He wondered if the Judge had hinted at a reason for his visit.

"Why, yes," replied Mrs. Berry, "he told Elizabeth. She said---- Oh, here you are, dearie. Captain Kendrick, our next door neighbor, has run in for a little call. Isn't it delightful of him? Captain Kendrick, this is my daughter, Elizabeth."

She had entered from the door behind the captain's chair. Now she came forward as he rose from it.

"How do you do, Cap'n Kendrick?" she said. "I am very glad to see you again. Judge Knowles told me you were planning to call."

She extended her hand and the captain took it. She was smiling, but it seemed to him that the smile was an absent-minded one. In fact--of course it might be entirely his imagination--he had a feeling that she was troubled about something.

However, he had no time to surmise or even reply to her greeting. Mrs. Berry had caught a word in that greeting which to her required explanation.

"Again?" she repeated. "Why, Elizabeth, have you and Captain Kendrick met before?"

"Yes, Mother, that day when our hens got into Mr. Cahoon's garden. You remember I told you at the time."

"I don't remember any such thing. I remember Elvira said that she and Aurora met him one afternoon, but I don't remember your saying anything about it."

"I told you. No doubt you have forgotten it."

"Nonsense! you know I never forget. If there is one thing I can honestly pride myself on it is a good memory. You may have thought you told me, but---- Why, what's that noise?"

The noise was a curious babble or chatter, almost as if the sound-proof door--if there was such a thing--of a parrot cage had been suddenly opened. It came from somewhere at the rear of the house and was, apparently, produced by a number of feminine voices all speaking very fast and simultaneously.

Elizabeth turned, glanced through the open door behind her, and then at Mrs. Berry. There was no doubt now concerning the troubled expression upon her face. She was troubled.

"Mother--" she began, quickly. "Excuse us, Cap'n Kendrick, please--mother, have Elvira and Susan Brackett been talking to you about buying that collection of--of what they call garden statuary at Mrs. Seth Snowden's auction in Harniss?"

And now Mrs. Berry, too, looked troubled. She turned red, stammered and fidgetted.

"Why--why, Elizabeth," she said, "I--I don't see why you want to discuss that now. We have a visitor and I'm sure Captain Kendrick isn't interested."

Her daughter did not seem to care whether the visitor was interested or not.

"Tell me, mother, please," she urged. "_Have they been talking with you about their plan to buy that--those things?"

Mrs. Berry's confusion increased. "Why--why, yes," she admitted. "Elvira did tell me about it, something about it. She said it was beautiful--the fountain and the--the deer and--and how pretty they would look on the lawn and----"

"Mother, you didn't give them the least encouragement, did you? They say--Elvira and Mrs. Brackett say you told them you thought it a beautiful idea and that you were in favor of what they call their committee going to the sale next Monday and buying those--those cast-iron dogs and children with the Fair Harbor money? I am sure you didn't say that, did you, mother?... I'm awfully sorry, Cap'n Kendrick, to bring this matter into the middle of your call, but really it is very important and it can't be postponed, because.... Tell me, Mother, they will be here in a moment. You didn't say any such thing, did you?"

Mrs. Berry's fine eyes--they had been called "starlike" twenty years before, by romantic young gentlemen--filled with tears. She wrung her hands.

"I--I only said--" she stammered, "I---- Oh, I don't think I said anything except--except that---- Well, they were so sure they were lovely and a great bargain--and you know Captain Snowden's estate in Harniss was perfectly _charming_. You know it was, Elizabeth!"

"Mother, you didn't tell them they might buy them?"

"Why--why, no, I--I don't think I did. I--I couldn't have because I never do anything like that without consulting you.... Oh, Elizabeth, _please_, don't let us have a scene here, with Captain Kendrick present. What _will he think? Oh, dear, dear!"

Her handkerchief was called into requisition. Sears Kendrick rose from his chair. Obviously he must go and, just as obviously, he knew that in order to fulfill his promise to the judge in spirit as well as letter he ought to stay. This was just the sort of situation to shed light upon the inner secrets of the Fair Harbor and its management.... Nevertheless, he was not going to stay. His position was much too spylike to suit him. But before he could move there were other developments.

While Miss Berry and her mother had been exchanging hurried questions and answers the parrot-cage babble from the distant places somewhere at the end of the long entry beyond the door had been continuous. Now it suddenly grew louder. Plainly the babblers were approaching along that entry and babbling as they came.

A moment more and they were in the room, seven of them. In the lead was the dignified Miss Elvira herself, an impressive figure of gentility in black silk and a hair breast pin. Close behind her, of course, was the rotund Mrs. Aurora Chase, and equally close--yes even a little in advance of Aurora, was a solidly built female with gray hair, a square chin, and a very distinct mustache. The others were in the rear, but as they came in one of these, a little woman in a plain gingham dress, who wore steel spectacles upon a sharp little nose, left the group and took a stand a little apart, regarding the company with lifted chin and a general air of determination and uncompromising defiance. Later on Captain Sears was destined to learn that the little woman was Mrs. Esther Tidditt, and the lady with the mustache Mrs. Susanna Brackett. And that the others were respectively Mrs. Hattie Thomas, Miss Desire Peasley, and Mrs. Constance Cahoon. Each of the seven was, of course, either a captain's widow or his sister.

Just at the moment the captain, naturally, recognized nobody except Miss Snowden and Mrs. Chase. Nor did he notice individual peculiarities except that something, excitement or a sudden jostle or something, had pushed Aurora's rippling black locks to one side, with the result that the part which divided the ripples, instead of descending plumb-line fashion from the crown of the head to a point directly in the center of the forehead, now had a diagonal twist and ended over the left eye. The effect was rather astonishing, as if the upper section of the lady's head had slipped its moorings.

He had scarcely time to notice even this, certainly none in which to speculate concerning its cause. Miss Snowden, who held a paper in her hand, stepped forward and began to speak, gesticulating with the paper as she did so. She paid absolutely no attention to the masculine visitor. She was trembling with excitement and it is doubtful if she even saw him.

"Mrs. Berry," she began, "we are here--we have come here, these ladies and I--we have come here--we---- Oh, what _is it?"

This last was addressed to Mrs. Chase, who was tugging at her skirt.

"Talk louder," cautioned Aurora, in a stage whisper. "I can't hear you."

With an impatient movement Miss Snowden freed her garment and began again.

"Mrs. Berry," she repeated, "we are here, these ladies and I, to--to ask a question and to express our opinion on a very important matter. We are all agreed----"

Here she was again interrupted, this time by Mrs. Esther Tidditt, the little woman in the gingham dress. Mrs. Tidditt's tone was brisk and sharp.

"No, we ain't agreed neither," she announced, with a snap of her head which threatened shipwreck to the steel spectacles. "_I think it's everlastin' foolishness. Don't you say _I'm agreed to it, Elvira Snowden."

Elvira drew her thin form erect and glared. "We are practically agreed," she proclaimed crushingly. "You are the only one who doesn't agree."

"Humph! And I'm the only one that is practical. Of all the silly----"

"Esther Tidditt, was you appointed to do the talking for this committee or was I?"

"You was, but that don't stop me from talkin' when I want to. I ain't on the committee, thank the good lord. I'm my own committee."

This declaration of independence was received with an outburst of indignant exclamations, in the midst of which Mrs. Chase could be heard demanding to be told what was the matter and who said what. Elizabeth Berry stilled the hubbub.

"Hush, hush!" she pleaded. "Don't, Esther, please. You can say your word later. I want mother--and Cap'n Kendrick--to hear this, all of it."

The captain was still standing. He had risen when the "committee" entered the room. Its members, most of them, had been so intent upon the business which had brought them there that they had ignored his presence. Now, of course, they turned to look at him. There was curiosity in their look but by no means enthusiastic approval. Miss Snowden's nod was decidedly snippy. She looked, sniffed and turned again to Mrs. Berry.

"We want your mother to hear it," she declared. "We've come here so she shall hear it--all of it. If--if _others_--who may not be 'specially interested want to hear they can, I suppose. I don't know why not.... _We haven't anything to hide. _We ain't ashamed--are not, I should say. Are we?" turning to those behind and beside her.

Mrs. Brackett announced that she certainly should say not, so did several others. There was a general murmur of agreement. Every one continued to look at the captain. He was embarrassed.

"I think perhaps I had better be goin'," he said, addressing Miss Berry. "I ought to be gettin' home, anyway."

But the young lady would not have it.

"Cap'n Kendrick," she said, earnestly, "I hope you won't go. Judge Knowles told me you were going to call. I was very glad when I found you had called now--at this time. And I should like to have you stay. You can stay, can't you?"

Sears hesitated. "Why--why, yes, I presume likely I can," he admitted.

"And will you--please?"

He looked at her and she at him. Then he nodded.

"I'll stay," he said, and sat down in his chair.

"Thank you," said Elizabeth. "Now, Elvira.... Wait, mother, please."

Miss Snowden sniffed once more. "Now that that important matter is settled I _suppose I may be allowed to go on," she observed, with sarcasm. "Very good, I will do so in spite of the presence of--of those not--ahem--intimately concerned. Mrs. Berry, on behalf of this committee here, a committee of the whole----"

"No such thing," this from Mrs. Tidditt. "I'm part of the whole but I ain't part of that committee. Stick to the truth, Elviry--pays better."

"Hush, Esther," begged Miss Berry. "Let her go on, please. Go on, Elvira."

The head of the committee breathed fiercely through her thin nostrils. Then she made another attempt.

"I address you, Mrs. Cordelia Berry," declaimed Elvira, "because you are supposed--I say _supposed_--to be officially the managing director--or directress, to speak correct--of this institution. Not," she added, hastily, "that it is an institution in any sense of the word--like a home or any such thing. We all know that, I hope and trust. Although," with a venomous glance in the direction of Mrs. Esther, "there appear to be _some that know precious little. I mention no names."

"You don't need to," retorted the Tidditt lady promptly. "Never mind, I know enough not to vote to buy a lot of second-handed images and critters just because they belong to one of your relations. I know that much, Elviry Snowden."

This was a body blow and Elvira visibly winced. For just an instant Captain Sears thought she was contemplating physical assault upon her enemy. But she recovered and, white and scornful, proceeded.

"I shan't deign to answer such low--er--insinuations," she declared, her voice shaking. "I scorn them and her that makes them. I scorn them--both. _BOTH!_"

This last "Both" was fired like a shot from a "Big Bertha." It should have annihilated the irreverent little female in the gingham gown. It did not, however; she merely laughed. The effect of the blast was still further impaired by Mrs. Chase, who although listening with all her ears, such as they were, had evidently heard neither well nor wisely.

"That's right, Elviry," proclaimed Aurora, "that's just what I say. Why, the lion alone is worth the money."

Mrs. Brackett touched the Snowden arm. "Never mind, Elvira," she said. "Don't pay any attention. Go right ahead and read the resolutions."

Elvira drew a long breath, two long breaths. "Thank you, Susanna," she said, "I shall. I'm going to. Mrs. Berry," she added, turning to that lady, who was quite as much agitated as any one present and was clutching her chair arm with one hand and her daughter's arm with the other. "Mrs. Berry," repeated Miss Snowden, "this resolution drawn up and signed by the committee of the whole here present--signed with but one exception, I should say, one _trifling exception--" this with a glare at Mrs. Tidditt--"is, as I said, addressed to you because you are supposed--" a glare at Elizabeth this time--"to be in charge of the Fair Harbor and what goes on and is done within its--er--porticos. Ahem! I will now read as follows."

And she proceeded to read, using both elocution and gestures. The resolutions made a rather formidable document. They were addressed to "Mrs. Cordelia Imogene Berry, widow of the late Captain Isaac Stephens Berry, in charge of the Fair Harbor for Mariners' Women at Bayport, Massachusetts, United States of America. Madam: Whereas----"

There were many "Whereases." Captain Kendrick, listening intently, found the path of his understanding clogged by them and tangled by Miss Elvira's flowers of rhetoric. He gathered, nevertheless, that the "little group of ladies resident at the Fair Harbor, having been reared amid surroundings of culture, art and refinement" were, naturally, desirous of improving their present surroundings. Also that a "truly remarkable opportunity" had come in their way by which the said surroundings might be improved and beautified by the expenditure of a nominal sum, seventy-five dollars, no more. With this seventy-five dollars might be bought "the entire collection of lawn statuary and the fountain which adorned the grounds of the estate of the late lamented deceased Captain Seth Snowden at Harniss and now the property of his widow, namely to wit, Mrs. Hannah Snowden."

"And I'll say this," put in Elvira, before reading further, "although hints and insinuations have been cast at me in the hearing of those present to-day about my being a relation--relative, that is--of Captain Seth, and he was my uncle on my father's side, nevertheless it's just because I am a relation--relative--that we are able to buy all those elegant things for as cheap a price as seventy-five dollars when they cost at least five hundred and.... But there! I will proceed.

"'The said statuary, etcetera, consisting of the following, that is to say:

"'No. 1. Item ... 1 Lawn Fountain. Hand painted iron. Representing two children beneath umbrella.'"

"And it's the cutest thing," put in the hitherto silent Desire Peasley, with enthusiastic suddenness. "There's them two young ones standin' natural as life under that umbrella--just same as anybody _would stand under an umbrella if 'twas rainin' like fury--and the water squirts right down over top of 'em and drips off the ribs--off the ribs of the umbrella, I mean--and there they stand and--and---- _Well_, when I see _that I says, 'My glory!' I says, 'what'll they contrive next?' That's what I said. All hands heard me.... What's that you're mutterin', Esther Tidditt?"

"I wasn't mutterin', 'special. I just said I bet they heard you if they was anywheres 'round."

"Is that so? Do tell! Well, I'll have you to understand----"

Elvira and Miss Berry together intervened to calm this new disturbance. Then the former went on with the reading of the "resolutions."

"'No. 2. Item ... 1 Hand painted lion. Iron....' Hush, Aurora!... Yes, 'lion,' that's right.... I did say 'iron.' It's an iron lion, isn't it?... Oh, _do be quiet! We'll never get through if everybody keeps interrupting. 'No. 2 ... Item ... 1 Hand painted lion iron'--iron lion, I mean.... Oh, my soul and body! If everybody keeps talking I shan't know what I mean.... 'A very wonderful piece of statuary. In perfect condition. Paint needs touching up, that's all.

"'No. 3--Item.... 1 Deer. Hand painted iron. Perfectly lovely--'"

"Stuff!" This from the irrepressible Mrs. Tidditt, of course. "One horn is broke off and it looks like the Old Harry. No, I'll take that back; the Old Harry is supposed to have two horns. But that deer image is a sight, just the same. Why, it ain't got any paint left on it."

"Nonsense! It may need a little paint, here and there, but----"

"Humph! A little here and a lot there and a whole lot more in between. Elvira Snowden, that image looks as if 'twas struck with leprosy, like Lazarus in the Bible; you know it well as I do."

Sears Kendrick enjoyed the reading of these resolutions. If it were not for certain elements in the situation he would have considered the morning's performance the most amusing entertainment he had witnessed afloat or ashore. He managed not to laugh aloud, although he was obliged to turn his head away several times and to cough at intervals. Once or twice he and Elizabeth Berry exchanged glances and the whimsical look of resignation and humorous appreciation in her eyes showed that she, too, was keenly aware of the joke.

But at other times she was serious enough and it was her expression at these times which prevented the captain's accepting the whole ridiculous affair as a hilarious farce. Then she looked deeply troubled and careworn and anxious. He began to realize that this affair, funny as it was, was but one of a series, a series of annoyances and trials and petty squabbles which, taken in the aggregate, were anything but funny to her. For it was obvious, the truth of what Judah Cahoon had said and Judge Knowles intimated, that this girl, Elizabeth Berry, was bearing upon her young shoulders the entire burden of responsibility for the conduct and management of affairs in the Fair Harbor for Mariners' Women at Bayport. Her mother was supposed to bear this burden, but it was perfectly obvious that Cordelia Berry was incapable of bearing any responsibilities, including her own personal ones.

Miss Snowden solemnly read the concluding paragraph of the resolutions. It summed up those preceding it and announced that those whose names were appended, "being guests at the Fair Harbor, the former home of our beloved benefactress and friend Mrs. Lobelia Phillips, _nee Seymour, are unanimously agreed that as a simple matter of duty to the institution and those within its gates, not to mention the beautifying of Bayport, the collection of lawn statuary and fountain now adorning the estate of the late deceased Captain Seth Snowden be bought, purchased and obtained from that estate at the very low price of seventy-five dollars, this money to be paid from the funds in the Fair Harbor treasury, and the said statuary and fountain to be erected and set up on the lawns and grounds of the Fair Harbor. Signed----"

Miss Elvira read the names of the signers. They included, as she took pains to state, the names of every guest in the Fair Harbor with one--ahem--exception.

"And I'm it, praise the lord," announced Mrs. Tidditt, promptly. "I ain't quite crazy yet, nor I ain't a niece-in-law of Seth Snowden's widow neither."

"Esther Tidditt, I've stood your hints and slanders long enough."

"Nobody's payin' _me no commissions for gettin' rid of their old junk for 'em."

"Esther, be still! You shouldn't say such things. Elvira, stop--stop!" Miss Berry stepped forward. Mrs. Tidditt was bristling like a combative bantam and Elvira was shaking from head to feet and crooking and uncrooking her fingers. "There mustn't be any more of this," declared Elizabeth. "Esther, you must apologize. Stop, both of you, please. Remember, Cap'n Kendrick is here."

This had the effect of causing every one to look at the captain once more. He felt unpleasantly conspicuous, but Elizabeth's next speech transferred the general gaze from him to her.

"There isn't any use in saying much more about this matter, it seems to me," she said. "It comes down to this: You and the others, Elvira, think we should buy the--the statues and the fountain because they would, you think, make our lawns and grounds more beautiful."

"We don't think at all--we know," declared Elvira. Mrs. Brackett said, "Yes indeed, we do," and there was a general murmur of assent. Also a loud sniff from the Tidditt direction.

"And your mother thinks so, too," spoke up Miss Peasley, from the group. "She told me herself she thought they were lovely. Didn't you, Cordelia? You know you did."

Before Mrs. Berry could answer--her embarrassment and distress seemed to be bringing her again to the verge of tears--her daughter went on.

"It doesn't make a bit of difference what mother and I think about their--beauty--and all that," she said. "The whole thing comes down to the matter of whether or not we can afford to buy them. And we simply cannot. We haven't the money to spare. Spending seventy-five dollars for anything except the running expenses of the Harbor is now absolutely impossible. I told you that, Elvira, when you first suggested it."

Miss Snowden, still trembling, regarded her resentfully. "Yes, _you told me," she retorted. "I know you did. You are always telling us we can't do this or that. But why should _you tell us? That is what we can't understand. _You ain't--aren't--manager here, so far as we know. We never heard of your appointment. _We always understood your mother was the manager, duly appointed. Isn't she?"

"Of course she is, but----"

"Yes, and when we have spoken to _her_--two or three of us at different times--she has said she thought buying these things was a lovely idea. I shouldn't be surprised if she thought so now.... Cordelia, don't you think the Fair Harbor ought to buy those statues and that fountain?"

This pointed appeal, of course, placed Mrs. Berry directly in the limelight and she wilted beneath its glare. She reddened and then paled. Her fingers fidgetted with the pin at her throat. She picked up her handkerchief and dropped it. She looked at Elvira and the committee and then at her daughter.

"Why--why, I don't know," she faltered. "I think--of course I think the--the statuary is very beautiful. I--I said so. I--I am always fond of pretty things. You know I am, Elizabeth, you----"

"Wait a minute, Cordelia. Didn't you tell me you thought the Fair Harbor ought to buy them? Didn't you tell Suzanna and me just that?"

Mrs. Berry squirmed. She did not answer but, so far as Sears Kendrick was concerned, no answer was necessary. He was as certain as if she had sworn it that she had told them just that thing. And, looking at Elizabeth's face, he could see that she, too, was certain of it.

"Didn't you, Cordelia?" persisted Miss Snowden.

"Why--why, I don't know. Perhaps I did, but--but what difference does it make? You heard what Elizabeth said. She says we can't afford it. She always attends to such matters, you know she does."

"Yes," with sarcastic emphasis, "we do, but we don't know _why she should. And in this case we aren't going to stand it. You are supposed to be managing this place, Cordelia Berry, and if you are willing to turn your duties over to a--a mere child we aren't willing to let you. Once more I ask you----"

Elizabeth interrupted. "There, there, Elvira," she said, "what _is the use? It isn't a question of mother's opinion or what she has said before. It is just a matter of money. We can't afford it."

Miss Snowden ignored her. "We shall not," she repeated, "permit our future and--and all like that to be ruined by the whims of a mere child. _That is final."

She pronounced the last sentence with solemn emphasis. The pause which followed should have been impressive but Mrs. Tidditt spoiled the effect.

"Mere child!" she repeated, significantly. "Well, I presume likely she _is a mere child compared to some folks. Only she just looks childish and they act that way."

There was another outburst of indignant exclamations from the committee. The head of that body turned to her followers.

"It is quite evident," she declared, furiously, "that this conference is going to end just as the others have. But this time we are not going to sit back and be trampled on. There are those higher up to be appealed to and we shall appeal to them. Come!"

She stalked majestically to the door and marched out and down the hall, the committee following her. Only Mrs. Tidditt remained, and she but for a moment.

"They're goin' to the back room to have another meetin'," she whispered. "If there's anything up that amounts to anything, 'Lizabeth, I'll come back and let you know."

Elizabeth did not answer, but Kendrick offered a suggestion. "You don't belong to this committee," he observed. "Perhaps they won't let you into the meetin'."

The eyes behind the steel spectacles snapped sparks. "I'd like to see 'em try to keep me out," declared Mrs. Esther, and hurried after the others. Elizabeth turned to her mother.

"Mother," she said, earnestly, "we must be very firm in this matter. We simply can't afford to spend any money just now except for necessities. If they come to you again you must tell them so. You will, won't you?"

And now Mrs. Berry's agitation reached its climax. She turned upon her daughter.

"Oh, I suppose so," she cried hysterically, "I suppose so! I shall have to go through another scene and be spoken to as if--as if I were dirt under these women's feet instead of being as far above them in--in position and education and refinement as the clouds. Why can't I have peace--just a little peace and quiet? Why must I _always have to undergo humiliation after humiliation? I----"

"Mother, mother, please don't----"

But her mother was beyond reason.

"And you--" she went on, "you, my own daughter, why must you always take the other side, and put me in such positions, and--and humiliate me before--before---- Oh, why can't I die? I _wish I were dead! I do! I do!"

She burst into a storm of hysterical sobs and hurried toward the door. Elizabeth would have gone to her but she pushed her aside and rushed into the front hall and up the stairs. They heard her sobs upon the upper landing.

Sears Kendrick, feeling more like an interloper than ever, looked in embarrassment at the flowered carpet. He did not dare look at the young woman beside him. He had never in his life felt more sorry for any one. Judge Knowles had said he hoped that he--Kendrick--might obtain a general idea of the condition of affairs in the Fair Harbor. The scenes he had just witnessed had given him a better idea of that condition than anything else could have done. And, somehow or other, it was the last of those scenes which had affected him most. Elizabeth Berry had faced the sarcasms and sneers of the committee, had never lost her poise or her temper, had never attempted to shift the responsibility, had never reproached her mother for the hesitating weakness which was at the base of all the trouble. And, in return, her mother had accused her of--all sorts of things.

And yet when Elizabeth spoke it was in defence of that mother.

"I hope, Cap'n Kendrick," she said, "that you won't misunderstand my mother or take what she just said too seriously. She is not very well, and very nervous, and, as you see, her position here is a trying one sometimes."

The captain could not keep back the speech which was at his tongue's end.

"_Your position is rather tryin', too, isn't it?" he observed. "It sort of would seem that way--to me."

She smiled sadly. "Why, yes--it is," she admitted. "But I am younger and--and perhaps I can bear it better."

It occurred to him that the greatest pity of all was the fact that she should be obliged to bear it. He did not say so, however, and she went on, changing the subject and speaking very earnestly.

"Cap'n Kendrick," she said, "I am very glad you heard this--this disagreement this morning. Judge Knowles told me you were going to call at the Harbor here and when he said it he--well, I thought he looked more than he said, if you know what I mean. I didn't ask any questions and he said nothing more, but I guess perhaps he wanted you to--to see--well, to see what he wasn't well enough to see--or something like that."

She paused. The captain was embarrassed. He certainly felt guilty and he also felt as if he looked so.

"Why--why, Miss Berry," he stammered, "I hope you--you mustn't think----"

She waved his protestations aside.

"It doesn't make a bit of difference," she said. "No matter why you came I am very glad you did. This ridiculous statuary business is just one--well, symptom, so to speak. If it wasn't that, it might be something else. It comes, you see, from my position here--which really isn't any position at all--and their position, Elvira Snowden's and the rest. They pay a certain sum to get here in the first place and a small sum each year. There is the trouble. They think they pay for board and lodging and are guests. Of course what they pay amounts to almost nothing, but they don't realize that, or don't want to, and they expect to have their own way. Mother is--well, she is nervous and high strung and she hates scenes. They take advantage of her, some of them--no doubt they don't consider it that, but it seems to me so--and so I have been obliged to take charge, in a way. They don't understand that and resent it. I don't know that I blame them much. Perhaps I should resent it if I were in their place. Only.... But never mind that now.

"This is only one of a good many differences of opinion we have had," she went on. "In the old days--and not older than a year ago, for that matter--if the differences were too acute I used to go to Judge Knowles. He always settled everything, finally and sensibly. But now, since he has been so sick, I--well, I simply can't go to him. He has been very kind to us, to mother and me, and I am very fond of him. He was a great friend of my father's and I think he likes me for father's sake. And now I will not trouble him in his sickness with my troubles--I will _not_."

She raised her head as she said it and Captain Sears, regarding her, was again acutely conscious of the fact that it was a very fine head indeed.

"I understand," he said.

"Yes, I knew you would. And I know I could fight this out by myself. And shall, of course. But, nevertheless, I am glad you were here as--well, as a witness, if it ever comes to that. You heard what Elvira--Miss Snowden--said about appealing to those higher up. I suppose she means Mrs. Phillips, the one who founded the Harbor. If they should write to her I---- What is it, Esther?"

Mrs. Tidditt had rushed into the room, bristling. She waved her arms excitedly.

"'Lizbeth, 'Lizbeth," she whispered, "they're goin' to tell him. They're makin' up the yarn now that they're goin' to tell him."

"Tell him? Tell who?"

"Judge Knowles. They've decided to go right straight over to the judge's house and--and do what they call appeal to him about them images. Elviry she's goin', and Susanna, and Desire Peasley, too, for what I know. What do you want me to do? Ain't there any way I can help stop 'em?"

For the first time in that distressing forenoon Captain Kendrick saw Miss Berry's nerve shaken. She clasped her hands.

"Oh dear!" she cried. "Oh, dear, that is the very thing they mustn't do! I wouldn't have Judge Knowles worried or troubled about this for the world. I have kept everything from him. He is _so ill! If those women go to him and---- Oh, but they mustn't, they mustn't! I can't let them."

Mrs. Tidditt, diminutive but combative, offered a suggestion.

"Do you want me to go out and stop 'em?" she demanded. "I'll go and stand in the kitchen doorway, if you want me to. They won't get by if I'm there, not in a hurry, anyway."

"Oh no, no, Esther, of course not."

"I tell you what I'll do. I'll go and tell Emmeline not to let 'em in the judge's house. She's my cousin and she'll do what I ask--sometimes--if I don't ask much."

"No, that wouldn't do any good, any permanent good. But they must not go to the judge. They must not. He has been so kind and forbearing and he is so very sick. The doctor told me that he.... They shan't go. They can say anything they please to me, but they shan't torment him."

She started toward the door through which Mrs. Tidditt had entered. At the threshold she paused for an instant and turned.

"Please excuse me, Cap'n Kendrick," she said. "I almost forgot that you were here. I think I wouldn't wait if I were you. There will be another scene and I'm sure you have had scenes enough. I have, too, but.... Oh, well, it will be all right, I'm sure. Please don't wait. Thank you for calling."

She turned again but the captain stopped her. As she faced him there in the doorway their eyes had met. Hers were moist--for the first time she was close to the breaking point--and there was a look in them which caused him to forget everything except one, namely, that the crowd in the "parrot cage" at the other end of that hall should not trouble her further. It was very seldom that Captain Sears Kendrick, master mariner, acted solely on impulse. But he did so now.

"Stop," he cried. "Miss Elizabeth, don't go. Stay where you are.... Here--you--" turning to Mrs. Tidditt. "You go and tell those folks I want to see 'em. Tell 'em to come aft here--now."

There was a different note in his voice, a note neither Elizabeth nor the Tidditt woman had before heard. Yet if Judah Cahoon had been present he would have recognized it. He had heard it many times, aboard many tall ships, upon many seas. It was the captain's quarter-deck voice and it meant business.

Mrs. Tidditt and Elizabeth had not heard it, and they looked at the speaker in surprise. Captain Sears looked at them, but not for long.

"Lively," he commanded. "Do you hear? Go for'ard and tell that crew in the galley, or the fo'castle, or wherever they are, to lay aft here. I've got somethin' to say to 'em."

It was seldom that Esther Tidditt was at a loss for words. As a usual thing her stock was unlimited. Now she merely gasped.

"You--you--" she stammered. "You want me to ask--to ask Elviry and Susanna and them to come in here?"

"Ask? Who said anything about askin'? I want you to tell 'em I say for them to come here. It's an order, and you can tell 'em so, if you want to."

Mrs. Tidditt gasped again. "Well!" she exclaimed. "Well, my good lordy, if this ain't---- A-ll right, _I'll tell 'em."

She hastened down the corridor. Elizabeth ventured a faint protest.

"But, Cap'n Kendrick--" she began. He stopped her.

"It is all right, Miss Elizabeth," he said. "I'm handlin' this matter now. All you've got to do is look on.... Well, are they comin' or must I go after 'em?"

Apparently he had forgotten that his lameness made going anywhere a slow proceeding. As a matter of fact he had. He had forgotten everything except the business of the moment and the joy of being once more in supreme command.

The message borne by Mrs. Tidditt had, presumably, been delivered. The messenger had left the dining room door open and through it came a tremendous rattle of tongues. Obviously the captain's order had created a sensation.

Elizabeth listened.

"Well?" repeated Sears, again. "Are they goin' to come?"

Miss Berry smiled faintly. "I think they will come," she answered. "If they are as--as curious as I am they will."

They were. At any rate they came. Miss Snowden, Mrs. Brackett and Mrs. Chase in the lead, the others following. Mrs. Tidditt brought up the rear, marshaling the stragglers, as it were.

Elvira was, of course, the spokeswoman. She was the incarnation of dignified and somewhat resentful surprise.

"We have been told," she began, loftily, "we have been _told_, Cap'n Kendrick, that you wished to speak to us. We can't imagine why, but we have came--come, I should say. _Do you wish to speak to us?"

Kendrick nodded. "Yes," he said crisply, "I do. I want to tell you that you mustn't go to Judge Knowles about buyin' those iron statues of Cap'n Seth's or about anything else. He is sick and mustn't be worried. Miss Berry says so, and I agree with her."

He paused From the committee came a gasp, or concert of gasps and muttered exclamations, indicating astonishment. Elvira voiced the feeling.

"You agree with her!" she exclaimed. "_You agree? Why--I never did!"

"Yes. And I agree with her, too, about buyin' those--er--lions and dogs and--hogs, or whatever they are. I don't say they aren't worth seventy-five dollars or more--or less--I don't know. But I do say that, until I have had time to look into things aboard here, I don't want any money spent except for stores and other necessities. There isn't a bit of personal feelin' in this, you must understand, it is business, that's all."

He paused once more, to let this sink in. It sank apparently and when it again came to the surface an outburst of incoherent indignation came with it. Every committee-woman said something, even Mrs. Chase, although her observations were demands to know what was being said by the rest. Elizabeth was the only one who remained silent. She was gazing, wide-eyed, at the captain, and upon her face was a strange expression, an expression of eagerness, dawning understanding, and--yes, of hope.

Miss Snowden was so completely taken aback that she was incapable of connected speech. Mrs. Susanna Brackett, however, was of a temperament less easily upset. She stepped forward.

"Cap'n Kendrick," she demanded, "what are you talkin' about? What right have you got to say how the Fair Harbor money shall be spent? What are you interferin' here for I'd like to know?"

"I'm not interferin'. I'm taking charge, that's all.

"Takin' _charge_?... My land of love!... Charge of what?"

"Of this craft here, this Fair Harbor place. Judge Knowles offered me the general management of it three days ago."

Even the Brackett temperament was not proof against such a shock. Susanna herself found difficulty in speaking.

"You--you--" she sputtered. "My soul to heavens! Do you mean---- Are you crazy?"

"Um--maybe. But, anyhow, crazy or not, I'm in command aboard here from now on. Miss Elizabeth here--and her mother, of course--will be captain and mate, same as they've always been, but I'll be--well, commodore or admiral, whichever you like to call it. It's a queer sort of a job for a man like me," he added, with a grim smile, "but it looks as if it was what we'd all have to get used to."

For a moment there was silence, absolute silence, in the best parlor of the Fair Harbor for Mariners' Women. Then that silence was broken.

"What is he sayin'?" wailed Mrs. Aurora Chase. "Elviry Snowden, why don't you tell me what he's a-sayin'?"

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Fair Harbor: A Novel - Chapter 10 Fair Harbor: A Novel - Chapter 10

Fair Harbor: A Novel - Chapter 10
CHAPTER XSears Kendrick left the Fair Harbor, perhaps fifteen minutes later, with that thought still uppermost in his mind. This was not at all the Egbert Phillips he had expected. From Judge Knowles' conversation, from Judah Cahoon's stories, from fragmentary descriptions he had picked up here and there about Bayport, he had fashioned an Egbert who had come to be in his mind a very real individual. This Egbert of his imagining was an oily, rather flashily dressed adventurer, a glib talker, handsome in a stage hero sort of way, with exaggerated politeness and a toothsome smile. There should be about

Fair Harbor: A Novel - Chapter 5 Fair Harbor: A Novel - Chapter 5

Fair Harbor: A Novel - Chapter 5
CHAPTER VJudge 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