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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Portygee - Chapter 11
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The Portygee - Chapter 11 Post by :pearlventures Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :3200

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The Portygee - Chapter 11

CHAPTER XI

Albert read the name on the card. He was too astonished to speak. Her father! He was here! He--

His grandfather spoke again, and his tone was brisk and businesslike.

"Go on, Al," he ordered. "Out through this side door and around to the front. Lively, son, lively!"

But the young man's wits were returning. He scowled at the card.

"No," he said stoutly, "I'm not going to run away. I'm not afraid of him. I haven't done anything to be ashamed of."

The captain nodded. "If you had, I should ASK you to run away," he said. "As it is, I just ask you to step out and wait a little while, that's all."

"But, Grandfather, I WANT to see him."

"All right, I want you to--but not until he and I have talked first. Come, boy, come! I've lived a little longer than you have, and maybe I know about half as much about some things. This is one of 'em. You clear out and stand by. I'll call you when I want you."

Albert went, but reluctantly. After he had gone his grandfather walked to the door of the outer office and opened it.

"Step aboard, Mr. Fosdick," he said. "Come in, sir."

Mr. Fletcher Fosdick was a large man, portly, and with a head which was rapidly losing its thatch. His smoot-shaven face was ruddy and his blue eye mild. He entered the private office of Z. Snow and Co. and shook the hand which Captain Zelotes proffered.

"How do you do, Captain Snow?" he asked pleasantly. "You and I have had some business dealings, but we have never met before, I believe."

The captain waved toward a chair. "That's a fact, Mr. Fosdick," he said. "I don't believe we ever have, but it's better late than by and by, as the feller said. Sit down, sit down, Mr. Fosdick. Throw off your coat, won't you? It's sort of warm in here compared to out door."

The visitor admitted the difference in temperature between the interior and exterior of the building, and removed his overcoat. Also he sat down. Captain Zelotes opened a drawer of his desk and produced a box of cigars.

"Have a smoke, won't you?" he inquired.

Mr. Fosdick glanced at the label on the box.

"Why--why, I was rather hoping you would smoke one of mine," he said. "I have a pocket full."

"When I come callin' on you at your place in New York I will smoke yours. Now it kind of looks to me as if you'd ought to smoke mine. Seems reasonable when you think it over, don't it?"

Fosdick smiled. "Perhaps you're right," he said. He took one of the gaudily banded perfectos from his host's box and accepted a light from the match the captain held. Both men blew a cloud of smoke and through those clouds each looked at the other. The preliminaries were over, but neither seemed particularly anxious to begin the real conversation. It was the visitor who, at last, began it.

"Captain Snow," he said, "I presume your clerk told you I wished to see you on a matter of business."

"Who? Oh, Labe, you mean? Yes, he told me."

"I told him to tell you that. It may surprise you, however, to learn that the business I wished to see you about--that I came on from New York to see you about--has nothing whatever to do with the house I'm building down here."

Captain Zelotes removed his cigar from his lips and looked meditatively at its burning end. "No-o," he said slowly, "that don't surprise me very much. I cal'lated 'twasn't about the house you wished to see me."

"Oh, I see! . . . Humph!" The Fosdick mild blue eye lost, for the moment, just a trifle of its mildness and became almost keen, as its owner flashed a glance at the big figure seated at the desk. "I see," said Mr. Fosdick. "And have you--er--guessed what I did come to see you about?"

"No-o. I wouldn't call it guessin', exactly."

"Wouldn't you? What would you call it?"

"We-ll, I don't know but I'd risk callin' it knowin'. Yes, I think likely I would."

"Oh, I see. . . . Humph! Have you had a letter--on the subject?"

"Ye-es."

"I see. From Mrs. Fosdick, of course. She said she was going to write--I'm not sure she didn't say she had written; but I had the impression it was to--well, to another member of your family, Captain Snow."

"No, 'twas to me. Come this mornin's mail."

"I see. My mistake. Well, I'm obliged to her in a way. If the news has been broken to you, I shan't have to break it and we can get down to brass tacks just so much sooner. The surprise being over--I take it, it WAS a surprise, Captain?"

"You take it right. Just as much of a surprise to me as you."

"Of course. Well, the surprise being over for both of us, we can talk of the affair--calmly and coolly. What do you think about it, Captain?"

"Oh, I don't know as I know exactly what to think. What do YOU think about it, Mr. Fosdick?"

"I think--I imagine I think very much as you do."

"I shouldn't be surprised. And--er--what's your notion of what I think?"

Captain Zelotes' gray eye twinkled as he asked the question, and the Fosdick blue eye twinkled in return. Both men laughed.

"We aren't getting very far this way, Captain," observed the visitor. "There's no use dodging, I suppose. I, for one, am not very well pleased. Mrs. Fosdick, for another, isn't pleased at all; she is absolutely and entirely opposed to the whole affair. She won't hear of it, that's all, and she said so much that I thought perhaps I had better come down here at once, see you, and--and the young fellow with the queer name--"

"My grandson."

"Why yes. He is your grandson, isn't he? I beg your pardon."

"That's all right. I shan't fight with you because you don't like his name. Go ahead. You decided to come and see him--and me--?"

"Yes, I did. I decided to come because it has been my experience that a frank, straight talk is better, in cases like this, than a hundred letters. And that the time to talk was now, before matters between the young foo--the young people went any further. Don't you agree with me?"

Captain Zelotes nodded.

"That now is a good time to talk? Yes, I do," he said.

"Good! Then suppose we talk."

"All right."

There was another interval of silence. Then Fosdick broke it with a chuckle. "And I'm the one to do the talking, eh?" he said.

Captain Lote's eye twinkled. "We-ll, you came all the way from New York on purpose, you know," he observed. Then he added: "But there, Mr. Fosdick, I don't want you to think I ain't polite or won't talk, myself. I'll do my share when the time comes. But it does seem to me that you ought to do yours first as it's your family so far that's done the objectin'. . . . Your cigar's gone out. Have another light, won't you?"

The visitor shook his head. "No, thank you, not now," he said hastily, placing the defunct cigar carefully on the captain's desk. "I won't smoke for the minute. So you want me to begin the talking, do you? It seems to me I have begun it. I told you that I do not like the idea of my daughter's being engaged to--to say nothing of marrying--your grandson. My wife likes it even less than I do. That is enough of a statement to begin with, isn't it?"

"Why, no, not exactly, if you'll excuse my sayin' so. Your daughter herself--how does she feel about it?"

"Oh, she is enthusiastic, naturally. She appears to be suffering from temporary insanity on the subject."

"She don't seem to think it's quite as--er--preposterous, and ridiculous and outrageous--and Lord knows what all--as your wife does, eh?"

"No. I say, Snow, I hope you're not too deeply offended by what my wife wrote you. I judge you are quoting from her letter and apparently she piled it on red-hot. You'll have to excuse her; she was almost wild all day yesterday. I'll ask your pardon on her behalf."

"Sho, sho! No need, Mr. Fosdick, no need at all. I know what women are, even the easy-goin' kind, when they've got steam up. I've got a wife--and I had a daughter. But, gettin' back on the course again, you think your daughter's crazy because she wants to marry my grandson. Is that it?"

"Why, no, I wouldn't say that, exactly. Of course, I wouldn't say that."

"But, you see, you did say it. However, we'll leave that to one side for a spell. What objection--what real objection is there to those two marryin'--my grandson and your daughter--provided that they care for each other as they'd ought to?"

Mr. Fosdick's expression changed slightly. His tone, as he replied to the question, was colder and his manner less cordial.

"I don't know that it is worth while answering that in detail," he said, after an instant's pause. "Frankly, Captain Snow, I had rather hoped you would see, for yourself, the reasons why such a marriage wouldn't be desirable. If you don't see them, if you are backing up your grandson in his business, why--well, there is no use in our discussing the matter any further, is there? We should only lose our tempers and not gain much. So we had better end it now, I think."

He rose to his feet. Captain Zelotes, leaning forward, held up a protesting hand.

"Now--now, Mr. Fosdick," he said earnestly, "I don't want you to misunderstand me. And I'm sorry if what I said has made you mad."

Fosdick smiled. "Oh, I'm not mad," he answered cheerfully. "I make it a rule in all my business dealings not to get mad, or, more especially, not to let the other fellow know that I'm getting that way. My temper hasn't a ruffle in it just now, and I am leaving merely because I want it to remain smooth. I judge that you and I aren't going to agree. All right, then we'll differ, but we'll differ without a fight, that's all. Good afternoon, Captain."

But Captain Lote's hand still remained uplifted.

"Mr. Fosdick," he said, "just a minute now--just a minute. You never have met Albert, my grandson, have you? Never even seen him, maybe?"

"No, but I intend to meet him and talk with him before I leave South Harniss. He was one of the two people I came here to meet."

"And I was the other, eh? Um-hm. . . . I see. You think you've found out where I stand and now you'll size him up. Honest, Mr. Fosdick, I . . . Humph! Mind if I tell you a little story? 'Twon't take long. When I was a little shaver, me and my granddad, the first Cap'n Lote Snow--there's been two since--were great chums. When he was home from sea he and I stuck together like hot pitch and oakum. One day we were sittin' out in the front yard of his house--it's mine, now--watchin' a hoptoad catch flies. You've seen a toad catch flies, haven't you, Mr. Fosdick? Mr. Toad sits there, lookin' half asleep and as pious and demure as a pickpocket at camp-meetin', until a fly comes along and gets too near. Then, Zip! out shoots about six inches of toad tongue and that fly's been asked in to dinner. Well, granddad and I sat lookin' at our particular toad when along came a bumble-bee and lighted on a honeysuckle blossom right in front of the critter. The toad didn't take time to think it over, all he saw was a square meal, and his tongue flashed out and nailed that bumble-bee and snapped it into the pantry. In about a half second, though, there was a change. The pantry had been emptied, the bumble-bee was on his way again, and Mr. Toad was on his, hoppin' lively and huntin' for--well, for ice water or somethin' coolin', I guess likely. Granddad tapped me on the shoulder. 'Sonny,' says he, 'there's a lesson for you. That hoptoad didn't wait to make sure that bumble-bee was good to eat; he took it for granted, and was sorry afterward. It don't pay to jump at conclusions, son,' he says. 'Some conclusions are like that bumble-bee's, they have stings in 'em.'"

Captain Lote, having finished his story, felt in his pocket for a match. Fosdick, for an instant, appeared puzzled. Then he laughed.

"I see," he said. "You think I made too quick a jump when I concluded you were backing your grandson in this affair. All right, I'm glad to hear it. What do you want me to do, sit down again and listen?"

He resumed his seat as he asked the question. Captain Zelotes nodded.

"If you don't mind," he answered. "You see, you misunderstood me, Mr. Fosdick. I didn't mean any more than what I said when I asked you what real objection there was, in your opinion to Albert's marryin' your--er--Madeline, that's her name, I believe. Seems to me the way for us to get to an understandin'--you and I--is to find out just how the situation looks to each of us. When we've found out that, we'll know how nigh we come to agreein' or disagreein' and can act accordin'. Sounds reasonable, don't it?"

Fosdick nodded in his turn. "Perfectly," he admitted. "Well, ask your questions, and I'll answer them. After that perhaps I'll ask some myself. Go ahead."

"I have gone ahead. I've asked one already."

"Yes, but it is such a general question. There may be so many objections."

"I see. All right, then I'll ask some: What do the lawyers call 'em?--Atlantic? Pacific? I've got it--I'll ask some specific questions. Here's one. Do you object to Al personally? To his character?"

"Not at all. We know nothing about his character. Very likely he may be a young saint."

"Well, he ain't, so we'll let that slide. He's a good boy, though, so far as I've ever been able to find out. Is it his looks? You've never seen him, but your wife has. Don't she like his looks?"

"She hasn't mentioned his looks to me."

"Is it his money? He hasn't got any of his own."

"We-ell, of course that does count a little bit. Madeline is our only child, and naturally we should prefer to have her pick out a husband with a dollar or so in reserve."

"Um-hm. Al's twenty-one, Mr. Fosdick. When I was twenty-one I had some put by, but not much. I presume likely 'twas different with you, maybe. Probably you were pretty well fixed."

Fosdick laughed aloud. "You make a good cross-examiner, Snow," he observed. "As a matter of fact, when I was twenty-one I was assistant bookkeeper in a New Haven broker's office. I didn't have a cent except my salary, and I had that only for the first five days in the week."

"However, you got married?"

"Yes, I did. More fool I! If I had known anything, I should have waited five years at least. I didn't have any one to tell me so. My father and mother were both dead."

"Think you'd have listened to 'em if they had been alive and had told you? However, however, that's all to one side. Well, Albert's havin' no money to speak of is an objection--and a good honest one from your point of view. His prospects here in this business of mine are fair, and he is doin' better at it than he was, so he may make a comf'table livin'--a comf'table South Harniss livin', that is--by and by."

"Oh, he is with you, then? Oh, yes, I remember my wife said he worked in your office. But she said more about his being some sort of a--a poet, wasn't it?"

For the first time since the interview began the captain looked ill at ease and embarrassed.

"Thunderation!" he exclaimed testily, "you mustn't pay attention to that. He does make up poetry' pieces--er--on the side, as you might say, but I keep hopin' all the time he'll grow out of it, give him time. It 'ain't his regular job, you mustn't think 'tis."

The visitor laughed again. "I'm glad of that," he said, "both for your sake and mine. I judge that you and I, Snow, are in complete agreement as far as our opinion of poetry and that sort of stuff is concerned. Of course I'm not condemning all poetry, you understand. Longfellow and Tennyson and the regular poets are all right. You understand what I'm getting at?"

"Sartin. I used to know 'Down went the R'yal George with all her crew complete,' and a lot more. Used to say 'em over to myself when I first went to sea and stood watch alone nights. But they were different, you know; they--they--"

"Sure! My wife--why, I give you my word that my own wife and her set go perfectly daffy over chaps who write stuff that rhymes and that the papers are printing columns about. Snow, if this grandson of yours was a genuine press-touted, women's club poet instead of a would-be--well, I don't know what might happen. In that case she might be as strong FOR this engagement as she is now against it."

He paused, seeming a bit ashamed of his own heat. Captain Zelotes, however, regarded him with more approval than he had yet shown.

"It's been my observation that women are likely to get off the course chasin' false signals like that," he observed. "When a man begins lettin' his hair and his mouth run wild together seems as if the combination had an attraction for a good many women folks. Al keeps his hair cut, though, I'll say that for him," he added. "It curls some, but it ain't long. I wouldn't have him in the office if 'twas."

"Well, Mr. Fosdick," he continued, "what other objections are they? Manners? Family and relations? Education? Any objections along that line?"

"No-o, no; I--well, I don't know; you see, I don't know much about the young fellow."

"Perhaps I can help you out. As to manners--well, you can judge them for yourself when you see him. He seems to be in about every kind of social doin's there is down here, and he's as much or more popular with the summer folks than with the year-'rounders. Education? Well, that's fair to middlin', as I see it. He spent nine or ten years in a mighty expensive boardin' school up in New York State."

"Did he? What school?"

The captain gave the name of the school. Fosdick looked surprised.

"Humph! That IS a good school," he said.

"Is it? Depends on what you call good, I cal'late. Al learned a good deal of this and that, a little bit of foreign language, some that they call dead and some that ought to be dead--and buried, 'cordin' to my notion. When he came to me he couldn't add up a column of ten figgers without makin' a mistake, and as for business--well, what he knew about business was about equal to what Noah knew about a gas engine."

He paused to chuckle, and Fosdick chuckled with him.

"As to family," went on Captain Lote, "he's a Snow on his mother's side, and there's been seven generations of Snow's in this part of the Cape since the first one landed here. So far as I know, they've all managed to keep out of jail, which may have been more good luck than deservin' in some cases."

"His father?" queried Fosdick.

The captain's heavy brows drew together. "His father was a Portygee--or Spaniard, I believe is right--and he was a play-actor, one of those--what do you call 'em?--opera singers."

Fosdick seemed surprised and interested. "Oh, indeed," he exclaimed, "an opera singer? . . . Why, he wasn't Speranza, the baritone, was he?"

"Maybe; I believe he was. He married my daughter and--well, we won't talk about him, if you don't mind."

"But Speranza was a--"

"IF you don't mind, Mr. Fosdick."

Captain Lote lapsed into silence, drumming the desk with his big fingers. His visitor waited for a few moments. At length he said:

"Well, Captain Snow, I have answered your questions and you have answered mine. Do you think we are any nearer an agreement now?"

Captain Zelotes seemed to awake with a start. "Eh?" he queried. "Agreement? Oh, I don't know. Did you find any--er--what you might call vital objections in the boy's record?"

"No-o. No, all that is all right. His family and his education and all the rest are good enough, I'm sure. But, nevertheless--"

"You still object to the young folks gettin' married."

"Yes, I do. Hang it all, Snow, this isn't a thing one can reason out, exactly. Madeline is our only child; she is our pet, our baby. Naturally her mother and I have planned for her, hoped for her, figured that some day, when we had to give her up, it would be to--to--"

"To somebody that wasn't Albert Speranza of South Harniss, Mass. . . . Eh?"

"Yes. Not that your grandson isn't all right. I have no doubt he is a tip-top young fellow. But, you see--"

Captain Lote suddenly leaned forward. "Course I see, Mr. Fosdick," he interrupted. "Course I see. You object, and the objection ain't a mite weaker on account of your not bein' able to say exactly what 'tis."

"That's the idea. Thank you, Captain."

"You're welcome. I can understand. I know just how you feel, because I've been feelin' the same way myself."

"Oh, you have? Good! Then you can sympathize with Mrs. Fosdick and with me. You see--you understand why we had rather our daughter did not marry your grandson."

"Sartin. You see, I've had just the same sort of general kind of objection to Al's marryin' your daughter."

Mr. Fletcher Fosdick leaned slowly backward in his chair. His appearance was suggestive of one who has received an unexpected thump between the eyes.

"Oh, you have!" he said again, but not with the same expression.

"Um-hm," said Captain Zelotes gravely. "I'm like you in one way; I've never met your Madeline any more than you have met Al. I've seen her once or twice, and she is real pretty and nice-lookin'. But I don't know her at all. Now I don't doubt for a minute but that she's a real nice girl and it might be that she'd make Al a fairly good wife."

"Er--well,--thanks."

"Oh, that's all right, I mean it. It might be she would. And I ain't got a thing against you or your folks."

"Humph,--er--thanks again."

"That's all right; you don't need to thank me. But it's this way with me--I live in South Harniss all the year round. I want to live here till I die, and--after I die I'd like first-rate to have Al take up the Z. Snow and Co. business and the Snow house and land and keep them goin' till HE dies. Mind, I ain't at all sure that he'll do it, or be capable of doin' it, but that's what I'd like. Now you're in New York most of the year, and so's your wife and daughter. New York is all right--I ain't sayin' a word against it--but New York and South Harniss are different."

The Fosdick lip twitched. "Somewhat different," he admitted.

"Um-hm. That sounds like a joke, I know; but I don't mean it so, not now. What I mean is that I know South Harniss and South Harniss folks. I don't know New York--not so very well, though I've been there plenty of times--and I don't know New York ways. But I do know South Harniss ways, and they suit me. Would they suit your daughter--not just for summer, but as a reg'lar thing right straight along year in and out? I doubt it, Mr. Fosdick, I doubt it consid'able. Course I don't know your daughter--"

"I do--and I share your doubts."

"Um-hm. But whether she liked it or not she'd have to come here if she married my grandson. Either that or he'd have to go to New York. And if he went to New York, how would he earn his livin'? Get a new bookkeepin' job and start all over again, or live on poetry?"

Mr. Fosdick opened his mouth as if to speak, seemed to change his mind and closed it again, without speaking. Captain Zelotes, looking keenly at him, seemed to guess his thoughts.

"Of course," he said deliberately, but with a firmness which permitted no misunderstanding of his meaning, "of course you mustn't get it into your head for one minute that the boy is figgerin' on your daughter's bein' a rich girl. He hasn't given that a thought. You take my word for that, Mr. Fosdick. He doesn't know how much money she or you have got and he doesn't care. He doesn't care a continental darn."

His visitor smiled slightly. "Nevertheless," he began. The captain interrupted him.

"No, there ain't any nevertheless," he said. "Albert has been with me enough years now so that I know a little about him. And I know that all he wants is your daughter. As to how much she's worth in money or how they're goin' to live after he's got her--I know that he hasn't given it one thought. I don't imagine she has, either. For one reason," he added, with a smile, "he is too poor a business man to think of marriage as a business, bill-payin' contract, and for another,--for another--why, good Lord, Fosdick!" he exclaimed, leaning forward, "don't you know what this thing means to those two young folks? It means just moonshine and mush and lookin' into each other's eyes, that's about all. THEY haven't thought any practical thoughts about it. Why, think what their ages are! Think of yourself at that age! Can't you remember. . . . Humph! Well, I'm talkin' fifty revolutions to the second. I beg your pardon."

"That's all right, Snow. And I believe you have the situation sized up as it is. Still--"

"Excuse me, Mr. Fosdick, but don't you think it's about time you had a look at the boy himself? I'm goin' to ask him to come in here and meet you."

Fosdick looked troubled. "Think it is good policy?" he asked doubtfully. "I want to see him and speak with him, but I do hate a scene."

"There won't be any scene. You just meet him face to face and talk enough with him to get a little idea of what your first impression is. Don't contradict or commit yourself or anything. And I'll send him out at the end of two or three minutes."

Without waiting for a reply, he rose, opened the door to the outer office and called, "Al, come in here!" When Albert had obeyed the order he closed the door behind him and turning to the gentleman in the visitor's chair, said: "Mr. Fosdick, this is my grandson, Albert Speranza. Al, shake hands with Mr. Fosdick from New York."

While awaiting the summons to meet the father of his adored, Albert had been rehearsing and re-rehearsing the speeches he intended making when that meeting took place. Sitting at his desk, pen in hand and pretending to be busy with the bookkeeping of Z. Snow and Company, he had seen, not the ruled page of the day book, but the parental countenance of the Honorable Fletcher Fosdick. And, to his mind's eye, that countenance was as rugged and stern as the rock-bound coast upon which the Pilgrims landed, and about as unyielding and impregnable as the door of the office safe. So, when his grandfather called him, he descended from the tall desk stool and crossed the threshold of the inner room, a trifle pale, a little shaky at the knees, but with the set chin and erect head of one who, facing almost hopeless odds, intends fighting to the last gasp.

To his astonishment the Fosdick countenance was not as his imagination had pictured it. The blue eyes met his, not with a glare or a glower, but with a look of interest and inquiry. The Fosdick hand shook his with politeness, and the Fosdick manner was, if not genial, at least quiet and matter of fact. He was taken aback. What did it mean? Was it possible that Madeline's father was inclined to regard her engagement to him with favor? A great throb of joy accompanied the thought. Then he remembered the letter he had just read, the letter from Madeline's mother, and the hope subsided.

"Albert," said Captain Zelotes, "Mr. Fosdick has come on here to talk with us; that is, with me and you, about your affairs. He and I have talked up to the point where it seemed to me you ought to come in for a spell. I've told him that the news that you and his daughter were--er--favorably disposed toward each other was as sudden and as big a surprise to me as 'twas to him. Even your grandma don't know it yet. Now I presume likely he'd like to ask you a few questions. Heave ahead, Mr. Fosdick."

He relit his cigar stump and leaned back in his chair. Mr. Fosdick leaned forward in his. Albert stood very straight, his shoulders braced for the encounter. The quizzical twinkle shone in Captain Lote's eye as he regarded his grandson. Fosdick also smiled momentarily as he caught the expression of the youth's face.

"Well, Speranza," he began, in so cheerful a tone that Albert's astonishment grew even greater, "your grandfather has been kind enough to get us through the preliminaries, so we'll come at once to the essentials. You and my daughter consider yourselves engaged to marry?"

"Yes, sir. We ARE engaged."

"I see. How long have you--um--been that way, so to speak?"

"Since last August."

"Why haven't you said anything about it to us--to Mrs. Fosdick or me or your people here? You must excuse these personal questions. As I have just said to Captain Snow, Madeline is our only child, and her happiness and welfare mean about all there is in life to her mother and me. So, naturally, the man she is going to marry is an important consideration. You and I have never met before, so the quickest way of reaching an understanding between us is by the question route. You get my meaning?"

"Yes, sir, I guess I do."

"Good! Then we'll go ahead. Why have you two kept it a secret so long?"

"Because--well, because we knew we couldn't marry yet a while, so we thought we had better not announce it for the present."

"Oh! . . . And the idea that perhaps Mrs. Fosdick and I might be slightly interested didn't occur to you?"

"Why, yes, sir, it did. But,--but we thought it best not to tell you until later."

"Perhaps the suspicion that we might not be overjoyed by the news had a little weight with you, eh? Possibly that helped to delay the--er--announcement?"

"No, sir, I--I don't think it did."

"Oh, don't you! Perhaps you thought we WOULD be overjoyed?"

"No, sir. We didn't think so very much about it. Well, that's not quite true. Madeline felt that her mother--and you, too, sir, I suppose, although she didn't speak as often of you in that way--she felt that her mother would disapprove at first, and so we had better wait."

"Until when?"

"Until--until by and by. Until I had gone ahead further, you know."

"I'm not sure that I do know. Gone ahead how? Until you had a better position, more salary?"

"No, not exactly. Until my writings were better known. Until I was a little more successful."

"Successful? Until you wrote more poetry, do you mean?"

"Yes, sir. Poetry and other things, stories and plays, perhaps."

"Do you mean--Did you figure that you and Madeline were to live on what you made by writing poetry and the other stuff?"

"Yes, sir, of course."

Fosdick looked across at Captain Zelotes. The Captain's face was worth looking at.

"Here, here, hold on!" he exclaimed, jumping into the conversation. "Al, what are you talkin' about? You're bookkeeper for me, ain't you; for this concern right here where you are? What do you mean by talkin' as if your job was makin' up poetry pieces? That's only what you do on the side, and you know it. Eh, ain't that so?"

Albert hesitated. He had, momentarily, forgotten his grandfather and the latter's prejudices. After all, what was the use of stirring up additional trouble.

"Yes, Grandfather," he said.

"Course it's so. It's in this office that you draw your wages."

"Yes, Grandfather."

"All right. Excuse me for nosin' in, Mr. Fosdick, but I knew the boy wasn't puttin' the thing as plain as it ought to be, and I didn't want you to get the wrong notion. Heave ahead."

Fosdick smiled slightly. "All right, Captain," he said. "I get it, I think. Well, then," turning again to Albert, "your plan for supporting my daughter was to wait until your position here, plus the poetry, should bring in sufficient revenue. It didn't occur to you that--well, that there might be a possibility of getting money--elsewhere?"

Albert plainly did not understand, but it was just as plain that his grandfather did. Captain Zelotes spoke sharply.

"Mr. Fosdick," he said, "I just answered that question for you."

"Yes, I know. But if you were in my place you might like to have him answer it. I don't mean to be offensive, but business is business, and, after all, this is a business talk. So--"

The Captain interrupted. "So we'll talk it in a business way, eh?" he snapped. "All right. Al, what Mr. Fosdick means is had you cal'lated that, if you married his daughter, maybe her dad's money might help you and her to keep goin'? To put it even plainer: had you planned some on her bein' a rich girl?"

Fosdick looked annoyed. "Oh, I say, Snow!" he cried. "That's too strong, altogether."

"Not a mite. It's what you've had in the back of your head all along. I'm just helpin' it to come out of the front. Well, Al?"

The red spots were burning in the Speranza cheeks. He choked as he answered.

"No," he cried fiercely. "Of course I haven't planned on any such thing. I don't know how rich she is. I don't care. I wish she was as poor as--as I am. I want HER, that's all. And she wants me. We don't either of us care about money. I wouldn't take a cent of your money, Mr. Fosdick. But I--I want Madeline and--and--I shall have her."

"In spite of her parents, eh?"

"Yes. . . . I'm sorry to speak so, Mr. Fosdick, but it is true. We--we love each other. We--we've agreed to wait for each other, no matter--no matter if it is years and years. And as for the money and all that, if you disinherit her, or--or whatever it is they do--we don't care. I--I hope you will. I--she--"

Captain Zelotes' voice broke in upon the impassioned outburst.

"Steady, Al; steady, son," he cautioned quietly. "I cal'late you've said enough. I don't think any more's necessary. You'd better go back to your desk now."

"But, Grandfather, I want him to understand--"

"I guess likely he does. I should say you'd made it real plain. Go now, Al."

Albert turned, but, with a shaking hand upon the doorknob, turned back again.

"I'm--I--I'm sorry, Mr. Fosdick," he faltered. "I--I didn't mean to say anything to hurt your feelings. But--but, you see, Madeline--she and I--we--"

He could not go on. Fosdick's nod and answer were not unkindly. "All right, Speranza," he said, "I'm not offended. Hope I wasn't too blunt, myself. Good-day."

When the door had closed behind the young man he turned to Captain Lote.

"Sorry if I offended you, Snow," he observed. "I threw in that hint about marrying just to see what effect it would have, that's all."

"Um-hm. So I judged. Well, you saw, didn't you?"

"I did. Say, Captain, except as a prospective son-in-law, and then only because I don't see him in that light--I rather like that grandson of yours. He's a fine, upstanding young chap."

The captain made no reply. He merely pulled at his beard. However, he did not look displeased.

"He's a handsome specimen, isn't he?" went on Fosdick. "No wonder Madeline fell for his looks. Those and the poetry together are a combination hard to resist--at her age. And he's a gentleman. He handled himself mighty well while I was stringing him just now."

The beard tugging continued. "Um-hm," observed Captain Zelotes dryly; "he does pretty well for a--South Harniss gentleman. But we're kind of wastin' time, ain't we, Mr. Fosdick? In spite of his looks and his manners and all the rest, now that you've seen him you still object to that engagement, I take it."

"Why, yes, I do. The boy is all right, I'm sure, but--"

"Sartin, I understand. I feel the same way about your girl. She's all right, I'm sure, but--"

"We're agreed on everything, includin' the 'but.' And the 'but' is that New York is one place and South Harniss is another."

"Exactly."

"So we don't want 'em to marry. Fine. First rate! Only now we come to the most important 'but' of all. What are we going to do about it? Suppose we say no and they say yes and keep on sayin' it? Suppose they decide to get married no matter what we say. How are we goin' to stop it?"

His visitor regarded him for a moment and then broke into a hearty laugh.

"Snow," he declared, "you're all right. You surely have the faculty of putting your finger on the weak spots. Of course we can't stop it. If these two young idiots have a mind to marry and keep that mind, they WILL marry and we can't prevent it any more than we could prevent the tide coming in to-morrow morning. _I realized that this was a sort of fool's errand, my coming down here. I know that this isn't the age when parents can forbid marriages and get away with it, as they used to on the stage in the old plays. Boys and girls nowadays have a way of going their own gait in such matters. But my wife doesn't see it in exactly that way, and she was so insistent on my coming down here to stop the thing if I could that--well, I came."

"I'm glad you did, Mr. Fosdick, real glad. And, although I agree with you that the very worst thing to do, if we want to stop this team from pullin' together, is to haul back on the bits and holler 'Whoa,' still I'm kind of hopeful that, maybe . . . humph! I declare, it looks as if I'd have to tell you another story. I'm gettin' as bad as Cap'n Hannibal Doane used to be, and they used to call him 'The Rope Walk' 'cause he spun so many yarns."

Fosdick laughed again. "You may go as far as you like with your stories, Captain," he said. "I can grow fat on them."

"Thanks. Well, this ain't a story exactly; it just kind of makes the point I'm tryin' to get at. Calvin Bangs had a white mare one time and the critter had a habit of runnin' away. Once his wife, Hannah J., was in the buggy all by herself, over to the Ostable Fair, Calvin havin' got out to buy some peanuts or somethin'. The mare got scared of the noise and crowd and bolted. As luck would have it, she went right through the fence and out onto the trottin' track. And around that track she went, hell bent for election. All hands was runnin' alongside hollerin' 'Stop her! Stop her! 'but not Calvin--no SIR! He waited till the mare was abreast of him, the mare on two legs and the buggy on two wheels and Hannah 'most anywheres between the dasher and the next world, and then he sung out: 'Give her her head, Hannah! Give her her head. She'll stop when she runs down.'"

He laughed and his visitor laughed with him.

"I gather," observed the New Yorker, "that you believe it the better policy to give our young people their heads."

"In reason--yes, I do. It's my judgment that an affair like this will hurry more and more if you try too hard to stop it. If you don't try at all so any one would notice it, it may run down and stop of itself, the way Calvin's mare did."

Fosdick nodded reflectively. "I'm inclined to agree with you," he said. "But does that mean that they're to correspond, write love letters, and all that?"

"Why, in reason, maybe. If we say no to that, they'll write anyhow, won't they?"

"Of course. . . . How would it do to get them to promise to write nothing that their parents might not see? Of course I don't mean for your grandson to show you his letters before he sends them to Madeline. He's too old for that, and he would refuse. But suppose you asked him to agree to write nothing that Madeline would not be willing to show her mother--or me. Do you think he would?"

"Maybe. I'll ask him. . . . Yes, I guess likely he'd do that."

"My reason for suggesting it is, frankly, not so much on account of the young people as to pacify my wife. I am not afraid--not very much afraid of this love affair. They are young, both of them. Give them time, and--as you say, Snow, the thing may run down, peter out."

"I'm in hopes 'twill. It's calf love, as I see it, and I believe 'twill pay to give the calves rope enough."

"So do I. No, I'm not much troubled about the young people. But Mrs. Fosdick--well, my trouble will be with her. She'll want to have your boy shot or jailed or hanged or something."

"I presume likely. I guess you'll have to handle her the way another feller who used to live here in South Harniss said he handled his wife. 'We don't never have any trouble at all,' says he. 'Whenever she says yes or no, I say the same thing. Later on, when it comes to doin', I do what I feel like.' . . . Eh? You're not goin', are you, Mr. Fosdick?"

His visitor had risen and was reaching for his coat. Captain Zelotes also rose.

"Don't hurry, don't hurry," he begged.

"Sorry, but I must. I want to be back in New York tomorrow morning."

"But you can't, can you? To do that you'll have to get up to Boston or Fall River, and the afternoon train's gone. You'd better stay and have supper along with my wife and me, stay at our house over night, and take the early train after breakfast to-morrow."

"I wish I could; I'd like nothing better. But I can't."

"Sure?" Then, with a smile, he added: "Al needn't eat with us, you know, if his bein' there makes either of you feel nervous."

Fosdick laughed again. "I think I should be willing to risk the nervousness," he replied. "But I must go, really. I've hired a chap at the garage here to drive me to Boston in his car and I'll take the midnight train over."

"Humph! Well, if you must, you must. Hope you have a comf'table trip, Mr. Fosdick. Better wrap up warm; it's pretty nigh a five-hour run to Boston and there's some cool wind over the Ostable marshes this time of year. Good-by, sir. Glad to have had this talk with you."

His visitor held out his hand. "So am I, Snow," he said heartily. "Mighty glad."

"I hope I wasn't too short and brisk at the beginnin'. You see, I'd just read your wife's letter, and--er--well, of course, I didn't know--just--you see, you and I had never met, and so--"

"Certainly, certainly. I quite understand. And, fool's errand or not, I'm very glad I came here. If you'll pardon my saying so, it was worth the trip to get acquainted with you. I hope, whatever comes of the other thing, that our acquaintanceship will continue."

"Same here, same here. Go right out the side door, Mr. Fosdick, saves goin' through the office. Good day, sir."

He watched the bulky figure of the New York banker tramping across the yard between the piles of lumber. A moment later he entered the outer office. Albert and Keeler were at their desks. Captain Zelotes approached the little bookkeeper.

"Labe," he queried, "there isn't anything particular you want me to talk about just now, is there?"

Lahan looked up in surprise from his figuring.

"Why--why, no, Cap'n Lote, don't know's there is," he said. "Don't know's there is, not now, no, no, no."

His employer nodded. "Good!" he exclaimed. "Then I'm goin' back inside there and sit down and rest my chin for an hour, anyhow. I've talked so much to-day that my jaws squeak. Don't disturb me for anything short of a fire or a mutiny."

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CHAPTER XIIHe was not disturbed and that evening, after supper was over, he was ready to talk again. He and Albert sat together in the sitting room--Mrs. Snow and Rachel were in the kitchen washing dishes--and Captain Zelotes told his grandson as much as he thought advisable to tell of his conversation with the Honorable Fletcher Fosdick. At first Albert was inclined to rebel at the idea of permitting his letters to Madeline to be read by the latter's parents, but at length he agreed. "I'll do it because it may make it easier for her," he said. "She'll have a
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CHAPTER XThe 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
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