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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Portygee - Chapter 10
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The Portygee - Chapter 10 Post by :pearlventures Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :731

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The Portygee - Chapter 10

CHAPTER X

The remainder of that summer was a paradisical meandering over the cloth of gold beneath the rainbows. Albert and his Madeline met often, very often. Few poems were written at these meetings. Why trouble to put penciled lines on paper when the entire universe was a poem especially composed for your benefit? The lovers sat upon the knoll amid the sand dunes and gazed at the bay and talked of themselves separately, individually, and, more especially, collectively. They strolled through the same woody lanes and discussed the same satisfactory subjects. They met at the post office or at the drug store and gazed into each other's eyes. And, what was the most astonishing thing about it all, their secret remained undiscovered. Undiscovered, that is to say, by those by whom discovery would have meant calamity. The gossips among the townspeople winked and chuckled and cal'lated Fletcher Fosdick had better look out or his girl would be took into the firm of Z. Snow and Co. Issachar Price uttered sarcastic and sly innuendoes. Jane Kelsey and her set ragged the pair occasionally. But even these never really suspected that the affair was serious. And neither Mrs. Fletcher Fosdick nor Captain and Mrs. Zelotes Snow gave it a minute's attention.

It was serious enough with the principals, however. To them it was the only serious matter in the world. Not that they faced or discussed the future with earnest and complete attention. Some day or other--that was of course the mutually accepted idea--some day or other they were to marry. In the meantime here was the blissful present with its roses and rainbows and here, for each, was the other. What would be likely to happen when the Fosdick parents learned of the engagement of their only child to the assistant bookkeeper of the South Harniss lumber and hardware company was unpleasant to contemplate, so why contemplate it? Upon one point they were agreed--never, never, NEVER would they give each other up. No power on earth--which included parents and grandparents--should or could separate them.

Albert's conscience troubled him slightly at first when he thought of Helen Kendall. It had been in reality such a short time--although of course it seemed ages and ages--since he had fancied himself in love with her. Only the previous fall--yes, even that very spring, he had asked her to pledge herself to him. Fortunately--oh, how very fortunately!--she had refused, and he had been left free. Now he knew that his fancied love for her had been merely a passing whim, a delusion of the moment. This--THIS which he was now experiencing was the grand passion of his life. He wrote a poem with the title, "The Greater Love"--and sold it, too, to a sensational periodical which circulated largely among sentimental shopgirls. It is but truthful to state that the editor of the magazine to which he first submitted it sent it back with the brief note--"This is a trifle too syrupy for our use. Fear the pages might stick. Why not send us another war verse?" Albert treated the note and the editor with the contempt they deserved. He pitied the latter; poor soul, doubtless HE had never known the greater love.

He and Madeline had agreed that they would tell no one--no one at all--of their betrothal. It should be their own precious secret for the present. So, under the circumstances, he could not write Helen the news. But ought he to write her at all? That question bothered him not a little. He no longer loved her--in fact, he was now certain that he never had loved her--but he liked her, and he wanted her to keep on liking him. And she wrote to him with regularity. What ought he to do about writing her?

He debated the question with himself and, at last, and with some trepidation, asked Madeline's opinion of his duty in the matter. Her opinion was decisive and promptly given. Of course he must not write Helen again. "How would you like it if I corresponded with another fellow?" she asked. Candor forced him to admit that he should not like it at all. "But I want to behave decently," he said. "She is merely a friend of mine"--oh, how short is memory!--"but we have been friends for a long time and I wouldn't want to hurt her feelings." "No, instead you prefer to hurt mine." "Now, dearest, be reasonable." It was their nearest approach to a quarrel and was a very, very sad affair. The making-up was sweet, of course, but the question of further correspondence with Helen Kendall remained just where it was at the beginning. And, meanwhile, the correspondence lapsed.

September came far, far too soon--came and ended. And with it ended also the stay of the Fosdicks in South Harniss. Albert and Madeline said good-by at their rendezvous by the beach. It was a sad, a tearful, but a very precious farewell. They would write each other every day, they would think of each other every minute of every day, they would live through the winter somehow and look forward to the next spring and their next meeting.

"You will write--oh, ever and ever so many poems, won't you, dear?" begged Madeline. "You know how I love them. And whenever I see one of your poems in print I shall be so proud of you--of MY poet."

Albert promised to write ever and ever so many. He felt that there would be no difficulty in writing reams of poems--inspired, glorious poems. The difficulty would be in restraining himself from writing too many of them. With Madeline Fosdick as an inspiration, poetizing became as natural as breathing.

Then, which was unusual for them, they spoke of the future, the dim, vague, but so happy future, when Albert was to be the nation's poet laureate and Madeline, as Mrs. Laureate, would share his glory and wear, so to speak, his second-best laurels. The disagreeable problems connected with the future they ignored, or casually dismissed with, "Never mind, dear, it will be all right by and by." Oh, it was a wonderful afternoon, a rosy, cloudy, happy, sorrowful, bitter-sweet afternoon.

And the next morning Albert, peeping beneath Z. Snow and Co.'s office window shade, saw his heart's desire step aboard the train, saw that train puff out of the station, saw for just an instant a small hand waved behind the dingy glass of the car window. His own hand waved in reply. Then the raucous voice of Mr. Price broke the silence.

"Who was you flappin' your flipper at?" inquired Issachar. "Girl, I'll bet you! Never saw such a critter as you be to chase after the girls. Which one is it this time?"

Albert made no reply. Between embarrassment and sorrow he was incapable of speech. Issachar, however, was not in that condition; at all times when awake, and sometimes when asleep, Mr. Price could, and usually did, speak.

"Which one is it this time, Al?" demanded Issy. "Eh? Crimus, see him get red! Haw, haw! Labe," to Mr. Keeler, who came into the office from the inner room, "which girl do you cal'late Al here is wavin' by-bye to this mornin'? Who's goin' away on the cars this mornin', Labe?"

Laban, his hands full of the morning mail, absently replied that he didn't know.

"Yes, you do, too," persisted Issy. "You ain't listenin', that's all. Who's leavin' town on the train just now?"

"Eh? Oh, I don't know. The Small folks are goin' to Boston, I believe. And George Bartlett's goin' to Ostable on court business, he told me. Oh, yes, I believe Cap'n Lote said that Fosdick woman and her daughter were goin' back to New York. Back to New York--yes--yes--yes."

Mr. Price crowed triumphantly. "Ah, ha!" he crowed. "Ah, ha! That's the answer. That's the one he's shakin' day-days to, that Fosdick girl. I've seen you 'round with her at the post office and the ice cream s'loon. I'm onto you, Al. Haw, haw! What's her name? Adeline? Dandelion? Madeline?--that's it! Say, how do you think Helen Kendall's goin' to like your throwin' kisses to the Madeline one, eh?"

The assistant bookkeeper was still silent. The crimson, however, was leaving his face and the said face was paling rapidly. This was an ominous sign had Mr. Price but known it. He did not know it and cackled merrily on,

"Guess I'll have to tell Helen when she comes back home," he announced. "Cal'late I'll put a flea in her ear. 'Helen,' I'll say, 'don't feel too bad now, don't cry and get your handkerchief all soakin', or nothin' like that. I just feel it's my duty to tell ye that your little Albert is sparkin' up to somebody else. He's waitin' on a party by the name of Padeline--no, Madeline--Woodtick--no, Fosdick--and . . .' Here! let go of me! What are you doin'?"

That last question was in the nature of a gurgle. Albert, his face now very white indeed, had strode across the office, seized the speaker by the front of his flannel shirt and backed him against the wall.

"Stop," commanded Albert, between his teeth. "That's enough of that. Don't you say any more!"

"Eh? Ugh! Ur-gg! Leggo of my shirt."

Albert let go, but he did not step back. He remained where he was, exactly in front of Mr. Price.

"Don't you say any more about--about what you were saying," he repeated.

"Eh? Not say any more? Why not? Who's goin' to stop me, I'd like to know?"

"I am."

"I want to know! What'll you do?"

"I don't know. If you weren't so old, I would--but I'll stop you, anyhow."

Albert felt a hand on his arm and heard Mr. Keeler's voice at his ear.

"Careful, Al, careful," it said. "Don't hit him."

"Of course I shan't hit him," indignantly. "What do you think I am? But he must promise not to mention--er--Miss Fosdick's name again."

"Better promise, Is," suggested Laban. Issachar's mouth opened, but no promise came forth.

"Promise be darned!" he yelled furiously. "Mention her name! I'll mention any name I set out to, and no Italyun Portygee is goin' to stop me, neither."

Albert glanced about the office. By the wall stood two brimming pails of water, brought in by Mr. Price for floor-washing purposes. He lifted one of the pails.

"If you don't promise I'll duck you," he declared. "Let go of me, Keeler, I mean it."

"Careful, Al, careful," said Mr. Keeler. "Better promise, Is."

"Promise nawthin'! Fosdick! What in time do I care for Fosdicks, Madelines or Padelines or Dandelions or--"

His sentence stopped just there. The remainder of it was washed back and down his throat by the deluge from the bucket. Overcome by shock and surprise, Mr. Price leaned back against the wall and slid slowly down that wall until he reclined in a sitting posture, upon the floor.

"Crimustee," he gasped, as soon as he could articulate, "I'm--awk--I'm drownded."

Albert put down the empty bucket and picked up the full one.

"Promise," he said again.

Laban Keeler rubbed his chin.

"I'd promise if I was you, Is," he said. "You're some subject to rheumatism, you know."

Issachar, sitting in a spreading puddle, looked damply upward at the remaining bucket. "By crimustee--" he began. Albert drew the bucket backward; the water dripped from its lower brim.

"I--I--darn ye, I promise!" shouted Issachar. Albert put down the bucket and walked back to his desk. Laban watched him curiously, smiling just a little. Then he turned to Mr. Price, who was scrambling to his feet.

"Better get your mop and swab up here, Is," he said. "Cap'n Lote'll be in 'most any minute."

When Captain Zelotes did return to the office, Issachar was industriously sweeping out, Albert was hard at work at the books, and Laban was still rubbing his chin and smiling at nothing in particular.

The next day Albert and Issachar made it up. Albert apologized.

"I'm sorry, Issy," he said. "I shouldn't have done it, but you made me mad. I have a--rather mean temper, I'm afraid. Forgive me, will you?"

He held out his hand, and Issachar, after a momentary hesitation, took it.

"I forgive you this time, Al," he said solemnly, "but don't never do nothin' like it again, will ye? When I went home for dinner yesterday noon I give you my word my clothes was kind of dampish even then. If it hadn't been nice warm sunshine and I was out doors and dried off considerable I'd a had to change everything, underclothes and all, and 'tain't but the middle of the week yet."

His ducking had an effect which Albert noticed with considerable satisfaction--he was never quite as flippantly personal in his comments concerning the assistant bookkeeper. He treated the latter, if not with respect, at least with something distantly akin to it.

After Madeline's departure the world was very lonely indeed. Albert wrote long, long letters and received replies which varied in length but never in devotion. Miss Fosdick was obliged to be cautious in her correspondence with her lover. "You will forgive me if this is not much more than a note, won't you, dear?" she wrote. "Mother seems to be very curious of late about my letters and to whom I write and I had to just steal the opportunity this morning." An older and more apprehensive person might have found Mrs. Fosdick's sudden interest in her daughter's correspondence suspicious and a trifle alarming, but Albert never dreamed of being alarmed.

He wrote many poems, all dealing with love and lovers, and sold some of them. He wrote no more letters to Helen. She, too, had ceased to write him, doubtless because of the lack of reply to her last two or three letters. His conscience still troubled him about Helen; he could not help feeling that his treatment of her had not been exactly honorable. Yet what else under the circumstances could he do? From Mr. Kendall he learned that she was coming home to spend Thanksgiving. He would see her then. She would ask him questions? What should his answer be? He faced the situation in anticipation many, many times, usually after he had gone to bed at night, and lay awake through long torturing hours in consequence.

But when at last Helen and he did meet, the day before Thanksgiving, their meeting was not at all the dreadful ordeal he had feared. Her greeting was as frank and cordial as it had always been, and there was no reproach in her tone or manner. She did not even ask him why he had stopped writing. It was he, himself, who referred to that subject, and he did so as they walked together down the main road. Just why he referred to it he could not probably have told. He was aware only that he felt mean and contemptible and that he must offer some explanation. His not having any to offer made the task rather difficult.

But she saved him the trouble. She interrupted one of his blundering, stumbling sentences in the middle.

"Never mind, Albert," she said quietly. "You needn't explain. I think I understand."

He stopped and stared at her. "You understand?" he repeated. "Why--why, no, you don't. You can't."

"Yes, I can, or I think I can. You have changed your mind, that is all."

"Changed my mind?"

"Yes. Don't you remember I told you you would change your mind about--well, about me? You were so sure you cared so very, very much for me, you know. And I said you mustn't promise anything because I thought you would change your mind. And you have. That is it, isn't it? You have found some one else."

He gazed at her as if she were a witch who had performed a miracle.

"Why--why--well, by George!" he exclaimed. "Helen--how--how did you know? Who told you?"

"No one told me. But I think I can even guess who it is you have found. It is Madeline Fosdick, isn't it?"

His amazement now was so open-mouthed as well as open-eyed that she could not help smiling.

"Don't! Don't stare at me like that," she whispered. "Every one is looking at you. There is old Captain Pease on the other side of the street; I'm sure he thinks you have had a stroke or something. Here! Walk down our road a little way toward home with me. We can talk as we walk. I'm sure," she added, with just the least bit of change in her tone, "that your Madeline won't object to our being together to that extent."

She led the way down the side street toward the parsonage and he followed her. He was still speechless from surprise.

"Well," she went on, after a moment, "aren't you going to say anything?"

"But--but, Helen," he faltered, "how did you know?"

She smiled again. "Then it IS Madeline," she said. "I thought it must be."

"You--you thought--What made you think so?"

For an instant she seemed on the point of losing her patience.

Then she turned and laid her hand on his arm.

"Oh, Al," she said, "please don't think I am altogether an idiot. I surmised when your letters began to grow shorter and--well, different--that there was something or some one who was changing them, and I suspected it was some one. When you stopped writing altogether, I KNEW there must be. Then father wrote in his letters about you and about meeting you, and so often Madeline Fosdick was wherever he met you. So I guessed--and, you see, I guessed right."

He seized her hand.

"Oh, Helen," he cried, "if you only knew how mean I have felt and how ashamed I am of the way I have treated you! But, you see, I--I COULDN'T write you and tell you because we had agreed to keep it a secret. I couldn't tell ANY ONE."

"Oh, it is as serious as that! Are you two really and truly engaged?"

"Yes. There! I've told it, and I swore I would never tell."

"No, no, you didn't tell. I guessed. Now tell me all about her. She is very lovely. Is she as sweet as she looks?"

He rhapsodized for five minutes. Then all at once he realized what he was saying and to whom he was saying it. He stopped, stammering, in the very middle of a glowing eulogium.

"Go on," said Helen reassuringly. But he could not go on, under the circumstances. Instead he turned very red. As usual, she divined his thought, noticed his confusion, and took pity on it.

"She must be awfully nice," she said. "I don't wonder you fell in love with her. I wish I might know her better."

"I wish you might. By and by you must. And she must know you. Helen, I--I feel so ashamed of--of--"

"Hush, or I shall begin to think you are ashamed because you liked me--or thought you did."

"But I do like you. Next to Madeline there is no one I like so much. But, but, you see, it is different."

"Of course it is. And it ought to be. Does her mother--do her people know of the engagement?"

He hesitated momentarily. "No-o," he admitted, "they don't yet. She and I have decided to keep it a secret from any one for the present. I want to get on a little further with my writing, you know. She is like you in that, Helen--she's awfully fond of poetry and literature."

"Especially yours, I'm sure. Tell me about your writing. How are you getting on?"

So he told her and, until they stood together at the parsonage gate, Madeline's name was not again mentioned. Then Helen put out her hand.

"Good morning, Albert," she said. "I'm glad we have had this talk, ever so glad."

"By George, so am I! You're a corking friend, Helen. The chap who does marry you will be awfully lucky."

She smiled slightly. "Perhaps there won't be any such chap," she said. "I shall always be a schoolmarm, I imagine."

"Indeed you won't," indignantly. "I have too high an opinion of men for that."

She smiled again, seemed about to speak, and then to change her mind. An instant later she said,

"I must go in now. But I shall hope to see you again before I go back to the city. And, after your secret is out and the engagement is announced, I want to write Madeline, may I?"

"Of course you may. And she'll like you as much as I do."

"Will she? . . . Well, perhaps; we'll hope so."

"Certainly she will. And you won't let my treating you as--as I have make any difference in our friendship?"

"No. We shall always be friends, I hope. Good-by."

She went into the house. He waited a moment, hoping she might turn again before entering, but she did not. He walked home, pondering deeply, his thoughts a curious jumble of relief and dissatisfaction. He was glad Helen had seen her duty and given him over to Madeline, but he felt a trifle piqued to think she had done it with such apparent willingness. If she had wept or scolded it would have been unpleasant but much more gratifying to his self-importance.

He could not help realizing, however, that her attitude toward him was exceptionally fine. He knew well that he, if in her place, would not have behaved as she had done. No spite, no sarcasm, no taunts, no unpleasant reminders of things said only a few months before. And with all her forgiveness and forbearance and understanding there had been always that sense of greater age and wisdom; she had treated him as she might have treated a boy, younger brother, perhaps.

"She IS older than I am," he thought, "even if she really isn't. It's funny, but it's a fact."

December came and Christmas, and then January and the new year, the year 1917. In January, Z. Snow and Co. took its yearly account of stock, and Captain Lote and Laban and Albert and Issachar were truly busy during the days of stock-taking week and tired when evening came. Laban worked the hardest of the quartette, but Issy made the most fuss about it. Labe, who had chosen the holiday season to go on one of his periodical vacations, as rather white and shaky and even more silent than usual. Mr. Price, however, talked with his customary fluency and continuity, so there was no lack of conversation. Captain Zelotes was moved to comment.

"Issy," he suggested gravely, looking up from a long column of figures, "did you ever play 'Door'?"

Issachar stared at him.

"Play 'Door'?" he repeated. "What's that?"

"It's a game. Didn't you ever play it?"

"No, don't know's I ever did."

"Then you'd better begin right this minute. The first thing to do is to shut up and the next is to stay that way. You play 'Door' until I tell you to do somethin' else; d'you hear?"

At home the week between Christmas and the New Year was rather dismal. Mr. Keeler's holiday vacation had brought on one of his fiancee's "sympathetic attacks," and she tied up her head and hung crape upon her soul, as usual. During these attacks the Snow household walked on tiptoe, as if the housekeeper were an invalid in reality. Even consoling speeches from Albert, who with Laban when the latter was sober, enjoyed in her mind the distinction of being the reincarnation of "Robert Penfold," brought no relief to the suffering Rachel. Nothing but the news brought by the milkman, that "Labe was taperin' off," and would probably return to his desk in a few days, eased her pain.

One forenoon about the middle of the month Captain Zelotes himself stopped in at the post office for the morning mail. When he returned to the lumber company's building he entered quietly and walked to his own desk with a preoccupied air. For the half hour before dinner time he sat there, smoking his pipe, and speaking to no one unless spoken to. The office force noticed his preoccupation and commented upon it.

"What ails the old man, Al?" whispered Issachar, peering in around the corner of the door at the silent figure tilted back in the revolving chair, its feet upon the corner of the desk. "Ain't said so much as 'Boo' for up'ards of twenty minutes, has he? I was in there just now fillin' up his ink-stand and, by crimus, I let a great big gob of ink come down ker-souse right in the middle of the nice, clean blottin' paper in front of him. I held my breath, cal'latin' to catch what Stephen Peter used to say he caught when he went fishin' Sundays. Stevey said he generally caught cold when he went and always caught the Old Harry when he got back. I cal'lated to catch the Old Harry part sure, 'cause Captain Lote is always neat and fussy 'bout his desk. But no, the old man never said a word. I don't believe he knew the ink was spilled at all. What's on his mind, Al; do you know?"

Albert did not know, so he asked Laban. Laban shook his head.

"Give it up, Al," he whispered. "Somethin's happened to bother him, that's sartin'. When Cap'n Lote gets his feet propped up and his head tilted back that way I can 'most generally cal'late he's doin' some real thinkin'. Real thinkin'--yes, sir-ee--um-hm--yes--yes. When he h'ists his boots up to the masthead that way it's safe to figger his brains have got steam up. Um-hm--yes indeed."

"But what is he thinking about? And why is he so quiet?"

"I give up both riddles, Al. He's the only one's got the answers and when he gets ready enough maybe he'll tell 'em. Until then it'll pay us fo'mast hands to make believe we're busy, even if we ain't. Hear that, do you, Is?"

"Hear what?" demanded Issachar, who was gazing out of the window, his hands in his pockets.

"I say it will pay us--you and Al and me--to make believe we're workin' even if we ain't."

"'Workin'!" indignantly. "By crimus, I AM workin'! I don't have to make believe."

"That so? Well, then, I'd pick up that coal-hod and make believe play for a spell. The fire's 'most out. Almost--um-hm--pretty nigh--yes--yes."

Albert and his grandfather walked home to dinner together, as was their custom, but still the captain remained silent. During dinner he spoke not more than a dozen words and Albert several times caught Mrs. Snow regarding her husband intently and with a rather anxious look. She did not question him, however, but Rachel was not so reticent.

"Mercy on us, Cap'n Lote," she demanded, "what IS the matter? You're as dumb as a mouthful of mush. I don't believe you've said ay, yes or no since we sat down to table. Are you sick?"

Her employer's calm was unruffled.

"No-o," he answered, with deliberation.

"That's a comfort. What's the matter, then; don't you WANT to talk?"

"No-o."

"Oh," with a toss of the head, "well, I'm glad I know. I was beginnin' to be afraid you'd forgotten how."

The captain helped himself to another fried "tinker" mackerel.

"No danger of that around here, Rachel," he said serenely. "So long as my hearin's good I couldn't forget--not in this house."

Olive detained her grandson as he was following Captain Zelotes from the dining room.

"What's wrong with him, Albert?" she whispered. "Do you know?"

"No, I don't, Grandmother. Do you think there is anything wrong?"

"I know there's somethin' troublin' him. I've lived with him too many years not to know the signs. Oh, Albert--you haven't done anything to displease him, have you?"

"No, indeed, Grandmother. Whatever it is, it isn't that."

When they reached the office, the captain spoke to Mr. Keeler.

"Had your dinner, Labe?" he asked.

"Yes--yes, indeed. Don't take me long to eat--not at my boardin' house. A feller'd have to have paralysis to make eatin' one of Lindy Dadgett's meals take more'n a half hour. Um-hm--yes."

Despite his preoccupation, Captain Zelotes could not help smiling.

"To make it take an hour he'd have to be ossified, wouldn't he, like the feller in the circus sideshow?" he observed.

Laban nodded. "That--or dead," he replied. "Yes--just about--just so, Cap'n."

"Where's Issachar?"

"He's eatin' yet, I cal'late. He don't board at Lindy's."

"When he gets back set him to pilin' that new carload of spruce under Number Three shed. Keep him at it."

"Yes, sir. Um-hm. All right."

Captain Zelotes turned to his grandson. "Come in here, Al," he said. "I want to see you for a few minutes."

Albert followed him into the inner office. He wondered what in the world his grandfather wished to see him about, in this very private fashion.

"Sit down, Al," said the captain, taking his own chair and pointing to another. "Oh, wait a minute, though! Maybe you'd better shut that hatch first."

The "hatch" was the transom over the door between the offices. Albert, remembering how a previous interview between them had been overheard because of that open transom, glanced at his grandfather. The twinkle in the latter's eye showed that he too, remembered. Albert closed the "hatch." When he came back to his seat the twinkle had disappeared; Captain Zelotes looked serious enough.

"Well, Grandfather?" queried the young man, after waiting a moment. The captain adjusted his spectacles, reached into the inside pocket of his coat and produced an envelope. It was a square envelope with either a trade-mark or a crest upon the back. Captain Lote did not open the envelope, but instead tapped his desk with it and regarded his grandson in a meditative way.

"Al," he said slowly, "has it seemed to you that your cruise aboard this craft of ours here had been a little smoother the last year or two than it used to be afore that?"

Albert, by this time well accustomed to his grandfather's nautical phraseology, understood that the "cruise" referred to was his voyage as assistant bookkeeper with Z. Snow and Co. He nodded.

"I have tried to make it so," he answered. "I mean I have tried to make it smoother for you."

"Um-hm, I think you have tried. I don't mind tellin' you that it has pleased me consid'ble to watch you try. I don't mean by that," he added, with a slight curve of the lip, "that you'd win first prize as a lightnin'-calculator even yet, but you're a whole lot better one than you used to be. I've been considerable encouraged about you; I don't mind tellin' you that either. . . . And," he added, after another interval during which he was, apparently, debating just how much of an admission it was safe to make, "so far as I can see, this poetry foolishness of yours hasn't interfered with your work any to speak of."

Albert smiled. "Thanks, Grandfather," he said.

"You're welcome. So much for that. But there's another side to our relations together, yours and mine, that I haven't spoken of to you afore. And I have kept still on purpose. I've figgered that so long as you kept straight and didn't go off the course, didn't drink or gamble, or go wild or the like of that, what you did was pretty much your own business. I've noticed you're considerable of a feller with the girls, but I kept an eye on the kind of girls and I will say that so far as I can see, you've picked the decent kind. I say so far as I can see. Of course I ain't fool enough to believe I see all you do, or know all you do. I've been young myself, and when I get to thinkin' how much I know about you I try to set down and remember how much my dad didn't know about me when I was your age. That--er--helps some toward givin' me my correct position on the chart."

He paused. Albert's brain was vainly striving to guess what all this meant. What was he driving at? The captain crossed his legs and continued.

"I did think for a spell," he said, "that you and Helen Kendall were gettin' to understand each other pretty well. Well, Helen's a good girl and your grandma and I like her. Course we didn't cal'late anything very serious was liable to come of the understandin', not for some time, anyhow, for with your salary and--well, sort of unsettled prospects, I gave you credit for not figgerin' on pickin' a wife right away. . . . Haven't got much laid by to support a wife on, have you, Al?"

Albert's expression had changed during the latter portion of the speech. Now he was gazing intently at his grandfather and at the letter in the latter's hands. He was beginning to guess, to dread, to be fearful.

"Haven't got much to support a wife on, Al, have you?" repeated Captain Zelotes.

"No, sir, not now."

"Um. . . . But you hope to have by and by, eh? Well, I hope you will. But UNTIL you have it would seem to older folks like me kind of risky navigatin' to--to . . . Oh, there was a letter in the mail for you this mornin, Al."

He put down the envelope he had hitherto held in his hand and, reaching into his pocket, produced another. Even before he had taken it from his grandfather's hand Albert recognized the handwriting. It was from Madeline.

Captain Zelotes, regarding him keenly, leaned back again in his chair. "Read it if you want to, Al," he said. "Maybe you'd better. I can wait."

Albert hesitated a moment and then tore open the envelope. The note within was short, evidently written in great haste and agitation and was spotted with tear stains. He read it, his cheeks paling and his hand shaking as he did so. Something dreadful had happened. Mother--Mrs. Fosdick, of course--had discovered everything. She had found all his--Albert's--letters and read them. She was furious. There had been the most terrible scene. Madeline was in her own room and was smuggling him this letter by Mary, her maid, who will do anything for me, and has promised to mail it. Oh, dearest, they say I must give you up. They say--Oh, they say dreadful things about you! Mother declares she will take me to Japan or some frightful place and keep me there until I forget you. I don't care if they take me to the ends of the earth, I shall NEVER forget you. I will never--never--NEVER give you up. And you mustn't give me up, will you, darling? They say I must never write you again. But you see I have--and I shall. Oh, what SHALL we do? I was SO happy and now I am so miserable. Write me the minute you get this, but oh, I KNOW they won't let me see your letters and then I shall die. But write, write just the same, every day. Oh what SHALL we do?

Yours, always and always, no matter what everyone does or says, lovingly and devotedly,

MADELINE.


When the reading was finished Albert sat silently staring at the floor, seeing it through a wet mist. Captain Zelotes watched him, his heavy brows drawn together and the smoke wreaths from his pipe curling slowly upward toward the office ceiling. At length he said:

"Well, Al, I had a letter, too. I presume likely it came from the same port even if not from the same member of the family. It's about you, and I think you'd better read it, maybe. I'll read it to you, if you'd rather."

Albert shook his head and held out his hand for the second letter. His grandfather gave it to him, saying as he did so: "I'd like to have you understand, Al, that I don't necessarily believe all that she says about you in this thing."

"Thanks, Grandfather," mechanically.

"All right, boy."

The second letter was, as he had surmised, from Mrs. Fosdick. It had evidently been written at top speed and at a mental temperature well above the boiling point. Mrs. Fosdick addressed Captain Zelotes Snow because she had been given to understand that he was the nearest relative, or guardian, or whatever it was, of the person concerning whom the letter was written and therefore, it was presumed, might be expected to have some measure of control over that person's actions. The person was, of course, one Albert Speranza, and Mrs. Fosdick proceeded to set forth her version of his conduct in sentences which might almost have blistered the paper. Taking advantage of her trust in her daughter's good sense and ability to take care of herself--which trust it appeared had been in a measure misplaced--he, the Speranza person, had sneakingly, underhandedly and in a despicably clandestine fashion--the lady's temper had rather gotten away from her here--succeeded in meeting her daughter in various places and by various disgraceful means and had furthermore succeeded in ensnaring her youthful affections, et cetera, et cetera.


"The poor child actually believes herself in love with him," wrote the poor child's mother. "She protests ridiculously that she is engaged to him and will marry him in spite of her father or myself or the protests of sensible people. I write to you, therefore, assuming you likewise to be a sensible person, and requesting that you use your influence with the--to put the most charitable interpretation of his conduct--misguided and foolish young man and show him the preposterous folly of his pretended engagement to my daughter. Of course the whole affair, CORRESPONDENCE INCLUDED, must cease and terminate AT ONCE."


And so on for two more pages. The color had returned to Albert's cheeks long before he finished reading. When he had finished he rose to his feet and, throwing the letter upon his grandfather's desk, turned away.

"Well, Al?" queried Captain Zelotes.

Albert's face, when he turned back to answer, was whiter than ever, but his eyes flashed fire.

"Do you believe that?" he demanded.

"What?"

"That--that stuff about my being a--a sneak and--and ensnaring her--and all the rest? Do you?"

The captain took his pipe from his mouth.

"Steady, son, steady," he said. "Didn't I tell you before you begun to read at all that I didn't necessarily believe it because that woman wrote it."

"You--you or no one else had better believe it. It's a lie."

"All right, I'm glad to hear you say so. But there's a little mite of truth here and there amongst the lies, I presume likely. For instance, you and this Fosdick girl have been--er--keepin' company?"

"Her name is Madeline--and we are engaged to be married."

"Oh! Hum--I see--I see. And, bein' as the old lady--her mother, Mrs. Fosdick, I mean--hasn't suspected anything, or, at any rate, hasn't found out anything until now, yesterday, or whenever it was, I judge you have been meetin'--er--Madeline at places where there wasn't--well, too large a crowd. Eh?"

Albert hesitated and was, momentarily, a trifle embarrassed. But he recovered at once.

"I met her first at the drug store last summer," he said defiantly. "Then I met her after that at the post office and at the hotel dance last fall, and so on. This year I met her--well, I met her first down by the beach, where I went to write. She liked poetry and--and she helped me with mine. After that she came--well, she came to help me again. And after that--after that--"

"After that it just moved along kind of natural, eh? Um-hm, I see."

"Look here, Grandfather, I want you to understand that she is--is--by George, she is the cleanest, finest, best girl in the world. Don't you get the idea that--that she isn't. She came to meet me just because she was interested in my verse and wanted to help. It wasn't until the very last that we--that we found out we cared for each other."

"All right, boy, all right. Go on, tell me the whole yarn, if you feel like it. I don't want to pry too much into your affairs, but, after all, I AM interested in those affairs, Al. Tell me as much as you can."

"I'll tell you the whole. There's nothing I can't tell, nothing I'm not proud to tell. By George, I ought to be proud! Why, Grandfather, she's wonderful!"

"Sartin, son, sartin. They always are. I mean she is, of course. Heave ahead."

So Albert told his love story. When he had finished Captain Zelote's pipe was empty, and he put it down.

"Albert," he said slowly, "I judge you mean this thing seriously. You mean to marry her some day."

"Yes, indeed I do. And I won't give her up, either. Her mother--why, what right has her mother got to say--to treat her in this way? Or to call me what she calls me in that letter? Why, by George--"

"Easy, son. As I understand it, this Madeline of yours is the only child the Fosdicks have got and when our only child is in danger of bein' carried off by somebody else--why, well, their mothers and fathers are liable to be just a little upset, especially if it comes on 'em sudden. . . . Nobody knows that better than I do," he added slowly.

Albert recognized the allusion, but he was not in the mood to be affected by it. He was not, just then, ready to make allowances for any one, particularly the parental Fosdicks.

"They have no business to be upset--not like that, anyhow," he declared. "What does that woman know about me? What right has she to say that I ensnared Madeline's affection and all that rot? Madeline and I fell in love with each other, just as other people have, I suppose."

"You suppose right," observed Captain Zelotes, dryly. "Other people have--a good many of 'em since Adam's time."

"Well, then! And what right has she to give orders that I stop writing or seeing Madeline,--all that idiotic stuff about ceasing and terminating at once? She--she--" His agitation was making him incoherent--"She talks like Lord Somebody-or-other in an old-fashioned novel or play or something. Those old fools were always rejecting undesirable suitors and ordering their daughters to do this and that, breaking their hearts, and so on. But that sort of thing doesn't go nowadays. Young people have their own ideas."

"Um-hm, Al; so I've noticed."

"Yes, indeed they have. Now, if Madeline wants to marry me and I want to marry her, who will stop us?"

The captain pulled at his beard.

"Why, nobody, Al, as I know of," he said; "provided you both keep on wantin' to marry each other long enough."

"Keep on wanting long enough? What do you mean by that?"

"Why, nothin' much, perhaps; only gettin' married isn't all just goin' to the parson. After the ceremony the rent begins and the grocers' bills and the butchers' and the bakers' and a thousand or so more. Somebody's got to pay 'em, and the money's got to come from somewhere. Your wages here, Al, poetry counted in, ain't so very big yet. Better wait a spell before you settle down to married life, hadn't you?"

"Well--well, I--I didn't say we were to be married right away, Grandfather. She and I aren't unreasonable. I'm doing better and better with my writings. Some day I'll make enough, and more. Why not?"

There was enough of the Speranza egotism in this confident assurance to bring the twinkle to the captain's eye. He twisted his beard between his finger and thumb and regarded his grandson mildly.

"Have you any idea how much 'enough' is liable to be, Al?" he inquired. "I don't know the facts about 'em, of course, but from what I have heard I judge the Fosdicks have got plenty of cash. I've heard it estimated around town from one million to fifty millions. Allowin' it's only one million, it seems likely that your--er--what's-her-name--Madeline has been used to havin' as much as fifty cents to spend whenever she wanted it. Do you cal'late to be able to earn enough makin' up poetry to keep her the way her folks have been doin'?"

"No, of course not--not at first."

"Oh, but later on--when the market price of poetry has gone up--you can, eh?"

"Look here, Grandfather, if you're making fun of me I tell you I won't stand it. This is serious; I mean it. Madeline and I are going to be married some time and no one can stop us."

"All right, son, all right. But it did seem to me that in the light of this letter from--er--your mother-in-law that's goin' to be, we ought to face the situation moderately square, anyhow. First comes marriage. Well, that's easy; any fool can get married, lots of 'em do. But then, as I said, comes supportin' yourself and wife--bills, bills, and more bills. You'll say that you and she will economize and fight it out together. Fine, first-rate, but later on there may be more of you, a child, children perhaps--"

"Grandfather!"

"It's possible, son. Such things do happen, and they cost money. More mouths to feed. Now I take it for granted that you aren't marryin' the Fosdick girl for her money--"

The interruption was prompt and made with fiery indignation.

"I never thought of her money," declared Albert. "I don't even know that she has any. If she has, I don't want it. I wouldn't take it. She is all I want."

Captain Zelotes' lip twitched.

"Judgin' from the tone of her ma's last letter to me," he observed, "she is all you would be liable to get. It don't read as if many--er--weddin' presents from the bride's folks would come along with her. But, there, there, Al don't get mad. I know this is a long ways from bein' a joke to you and, in a way, it's no joke for me. Course I had realized that some day you'd be figgerin', maybe, on gettin' married, but I did hope the figgerin' wouldn't begin for some years yet. And when you did, I rather hoped--well, I--I hoped. . . . However, we won't stop to bother with that now. Let's stick to this letter of Mrs. Fosdick's here. I must answer that, I suppose, whether I want to or not, to-day. Well, Al, you tell me, I understand that there has been nothin' underhand in your acquaintance with her daughter. Other than keepin' the engagement a secret, that is?"

"Yes, I do."

"And you mean to stick by your guns and. . . . Well, what is it? Come in!"

There had been a knock upon the office door. In answer to his employer's summons, Mr. Keeler appeared. He held a card in his hand.

"Sorry to disturb you, Cap'n Lote," he said. "Yes, I be, yes, sir. But I judged maybe 'twas somethin' important about the lumber for his house and he seemed anxious to see you, so I took the risk and knocked. Um-hm--yes, yes, yes."

Captain Zelotes looked at the card. Then he adjusted his spectacles and looked again.

"Humph!" he grunted. "Humph! . . . We-ell, Labe, I guess likely you might show him in here. Wait just a minute before you do it, though. I'll open the door when I want him to come."

"All right, Cap'n Lote. Yes, yes," observed Mr. Keeler and departed. The captain looked thoughtfully at the card.

"Al," he said, after a moment's reflection, "we'll have to cut this talk of ours short for a little spell. You go back to your desk and wait there until I call you. Hold on," as his grandson moved toward the door of the outer office. "Don't go that way. Go out through the side door into the yard and come in the front way. There's--er--there's a man waitin' to see me, and--er--perhaps he'd better not see you first."

Albert stared at him uncomprehendingly.

"Better not see ME?" he repeated. "Why shouldn't he see me?"

Captain Zelotes handed the card to Albert.

"Better let me talk with him first, Al," he said. "You can have your chance later on."

The card bore the name of Mr. Fletcher Story Fosdick.

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