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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Portygee - Chapter 6
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The Portygee - Chapter 6 Post by :leonard063083 Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1622

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The Portygee - Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI

A goodly number of the South Harniss "natives," those who had not seen him play tennis, would have been willing to swear that running was, for Albert Speranza, an impossibility. His usual gait was a rather languid saunter. They would have changed their minds had they seen him now.

He ran along that path as he had run in school at the last track meet, where he had been second in the hundred-yard dash. He reached the spot where the sod had broken and, dropping on his knees, looked fearfully over. The dust was still rising, the sand and pebbles were still rattling in a diminishing shower down to the beach so far below. But he did not see what he had so feared to see.

What he did see, however, was neither pleasant nor altogether reassuring. The bluff below the sod at its top dropped sheer and undercut for perhaps ten feet. Then the sand and clay sloped outward and the slope extended down for another fifty feet, its surface broken by occasional clinging chunks of beach grass. Then it broke sharply again, a straight drop of eighty feet to the mounds and dunes bordering the beach.

Helen had of course fallen straight to the upper edge of the slope, where she had struck feet first, and from there had slid and rolled to the very edge of the long drop to the beach. Her skirt had caught in the branches of an enterprising bayberry bush which had managed to find roothold there, and to this bush and a clump of beach grass she was clinging, her hands outstretched and her body extended along the edge of the clay precipice.

Albert gasped.

"Helen!" he called breathlessly.

She turned her head and looked up at him. Her face was white, but she did not scream.

"Helen!" cried Albert, again. "Helen, do you hear me?"

"Yes."

"Are you badly hurt?"

"No. No, I don't think so."

"Can you hold on just as you are for a few minutes?"

"Yes, I--I think so."

"You've got to, you know. Here! You're not going to faint, are you?"

"No, I--I don't think I am."

"You can't! You mustn't! Here! Don't you do it! Stop!"

There was just a trace of his grandfather in the way he shouted the order. Whether or not the vigor of the command produced the result is a question, but at any rate she did not faint.

"Now you stay right where you are," he ordered again. "And hang on as tight as you can. I'm coming down."

Come down he did, swinging over the brink with his face to the bank, dropping on his toes to the upper edge of the slope and digging boots and fingers into the clay to prevent sliding further.

"Hang on!" he cautioned, over his shoulder. "I'll be there in a second. There! Now wait until I get my feet braced. Now give me your hand--your left hand. Hold on with your right."

Slowly and cautiously, clinging to his hand, he pulled her away from the edge of the precipice and helped her to scramble up to where he clung. There she lay and panted. He looked at her apprehensively.

"Don't go and faint now, or any foolishness like that," he ordered sharply.

"No, no, I won't. I'll try not to. But how are we ever going to climb up--up there?"

Above them and at least four feet out of reach, even if they stood up, and that would be a frightfully risky proceeding, the sod projected over their heads like the eaves of a house.

Helen glanced up at it and shuddered.

"Oh, how CAN we?" she gasped.

"We can't. And we won't try."

"Shall we call for help?"

"Not much use. Nobody to hear us. Besides, we can always do that if we have to. I think I see a way out of the mess. If we can't get up, perhaps we can get down."

"Get DOWN?"

"Yes, it isn't all as steep as it is here. I believe we might sort of zig-zag down if we were careful. You hold on here just as you are; I'm going to see what it looks like around this next point."

The "point" was merely a projection of the bluff about twenty feet away. He crawfished along the face of the slope, until he could see beyond it. Helen kept urging him to be careful--oh, be careful!

"Of course I'll be careful," he said curtly. "I don't want to break my neck. Yes--yes, by George, it IS easier around there! We could get down a good way. Here, here; don't start until you take my hand. And be sure your feet are braced before you move. Come on, now."

"I--I don't believe I can."

"Of course you can. You've GOT to. Come on. Don't look down. Look at the sand right in front of you."

Getting around that point was a decidedly ticklish operation, but they managed it, he leading the way, making sure of his foothold before moving and then setting her foot in the print his own had made. On the other side of the projection the slope was less abrupt and extended much nearer to the ground below. They zigzagged down until nearly to the edge of the steep drop. Then Albert looked about for a new path to safety. He found it still farther on.

"It takes us down farther," he said, "and there are bushes to hold on to after we get there. Come on, Helen! Brace up now, be a sport!"

She was trying her best to obey orders, but being a sport was no slight undertaking under the circumstances. When they reached the clump of bushes her guide ordered her to rest.

"Just stop and catch your breath," he said. "The rest is going to be easier, I think. And we haven't so very far to go."

He was too optimistic. It was anything but easy; in fact, the last thirty feet was almost a tumble, owing to the clay giving way beneath their feet. But there was soft sand to tumble into and they reached the beach safe, though in a dishevelled, scratched and thoroughly smeared condition. Then Helen sat down and covered her face with her hands. Her rescuer gazed triumphantly up at the distant rim of broken sod and grinned.

"There, by George!" he exclaimed. "We did it, didn't we? Say, that was fun!"

She removed her hands and looked at him.

"WHAT did you say it was?" she faltered.

"I said it was fun. It was great! Like something out of a book, eh?"

She began to laugh hysterically. He turned to her in indignant surprise. "What are you laughing at?" he demanded.

"Oh--oh, don't, please! Just let me laugh. If I don't laugh I shall cry, and I don't want to do that. Just don't talk to me for a few minutes, that's all."

When the few minutes were over she rose to her feet.

"Now we must get back to the pavilion, I suppose," she said. "My, but we are sights, though! Do let's see if we can't make ourselves a little more presentable."

She did her best to wipe off the thickest of the clay smears with her handkerchief, but the experiment was rather a failure. As they started to walk back along the beach she suddenly turned to him and said:

"I haven't told you how--how much obliged I am for--for what you did. If you hadn't come, I don't know what would have happened to me."

"Oh, that's all right," he answered lightly. He was reveling in the dramatic qualities of the situation. She did not speak again for some time and he, too, walked on in silence enjoying his day dream. Suddenly he became aware that she was looking at him steadily and with an odd expression on her face.

"What is it?" he asked. "Why do you look at me that way?"

Her answer was, as usual, direct and frank.

"I was thinking about you," she said. "I was thinking that I must have been mistaken, partly mistaken, at least."

"Mistaken? About me, do you mean?"

"Yes; I had made up my mind that you were--well, one sort of fellow, and now I see that you are an entirely different sort. That is, you've shown that you can be different."

"What on earth do you mean by that?"

"Why, I mean--I mean--Oh, I'm sure I had better not say it. You won't like it, and will think I had better mind my own affairs--which I should do, of course."

"Go on; say it."

She looked at him again, evidently deliberating whether or not to speak her thought. Then she said:

"Well, I will say it. Not that it is really my business, but because in a way it is begging your pardon, and I ought to do that. You see, I had begun to believe that you were--that you were--well, that you were not very--very active, you know."

"Active? Say, look here, Helen! What--"

"Oh, I don't wonder you don't understand. I mean that you were rather--rather fond of not doing much--of--of--"

"Eh? Not doing much? That I was lazy, do you mean?"

"Why, not exactly lazy, perhaps, but--but--Oh, how CAN I say just what I mean! I mean that you were always saying that you didn't like the work in your grandfather's office."

"Which I don't."

"And that some day you were going to do something else."

"Which I am."

"Write or act or do something--"

"Yes, and that's true, too."

"But you don't, you know. You don't do anything. You've been talking that way ever since I knew you, calling this a one-horse town and saying how you hated it, and that you weren't going to waste your life here, and all that, but you keep staying here and doing just the same things. The last long talk we had together you told me you knew you could write poems and plays and all sorts of things, you just felt that you could. You were going to begin right away. You said that some months ago, and you haven't done any writing at all. Now, have you?"

"No-o. No, but that doesn't mean I shan't by and by."

"But you didn't begin as you said you would. That was last spring, more than a year ago, and I don't believe you have tried to write a single poem. Have you?"

He was beginning to be ruffled. It was quite unusual for any one, most of all for a girl, to talk to him in this way.

"I don't know that I have," he said loftily. "And, anyway, I don't see that it is--is--"

"My business whether you have or not. I know it isn't. I'm sorry I spoke. But, you see, I--Oh, well, never mind. And I do want you to know how much I appreciate your helping me as you did just now. I don't know how to thank you for that."

But thanks were not exactly what he wanted at that moment.

"Go ahead and say the rest," he ordered, after a short pause. "You've said so much that you had better finish it, seems to me. I'm lazy, you think. What else am I?"

"You're brave, awfully brave, and you are so strong and quick--yes, and--and--masterful; I think that is the right word. You ordered me about as if I were a little girl. I didn't want to keep still, as you told me to; I wanted to scream. And I wanted to faint, too, but you wouldn't let me. I had never seen you that way before. I didn't know you could be like that. That is what surprises me so. That is why I said you were so different."

Here was balm for wounded pride. Albert's chin lifted. "Oh, that was nothing," he said. "Whatever had to be done must be done right off, I could see that. You couldn't hang on where you were very long."

She shuddered. "No," she replied, "I could not. But _I couldn't think WHAT to do, and you could. Yes, and did it, and made me do it."

The chin lifted still more and the Speranza chest began to expand. Helen's next remark was in the natures of a reducer for the said expansion.

"If you could be so prompt and strong and--and energetic then," she said, "I can't help wondering why you aren't like that all the time. I had begun to think you were just--just--"

"Lazy, eh?" he suggested.

"Why--why, no-o, but careless and indifferent and with not much ambition, certainly. You had talked so much about writing and yet you never tried to write anything, that--that--"

"That you thought I was all bluff. Thanks! Any more compliments?"

She turned on him impulsively. "Oh, don't!" she exclaimed. "Please don't! I know what I am saying sounds perfectly horrid, and especially now when you have just saved me from being badly hurt, if not killed. But don't you see that--that I am saying it because I am interested in you and sure you COULD do so much if you only would? If you would only try."

This speech was a compound of sweet and bitter. Albert characteristically selected the sweet.

"Helen," he asked, in his most confidential tone, "would you like to have me try and write something? Say, would you?"

"Of course I would. Oh, will you?"

"Well, if YOU asked me I might. For your sake, you know."

She stopped and stamped her foot impatiently.

"Oh, DON'T be silly!" she exclaimed. "I don't want you to do it for my sake. I want you to do it for your own sake. Yes, and for your grandfather's sake."

"My grandfather's sake! Great Scott, why do you drag him in? HE doesn't want me to write poetry."

"He wants you to do something, to succeed. I know that."

"He wants me to stay here and help Labe Keeler and Issy Price. He wants me to spend all my life in that office of his; that's what HE wants. Now hold on, Helen! I'm not saying anything against the old fellow. He doesn't like me, I know, but--"

"You DON'T know. He does like you. Or he wants to like you very much indeed. He would like to have you carry on the Snow Company's business after he has gone, but if you can't--or won't--do that, I know he would be very happy to see you succeed at anything--anything."

Albert laughed scornfully. "Even at writing poetry?" he asked.

"Why, yes, at writing; although of course he doesn't know a thing about it and can't understand how any one can possibly earn a living that way. He has read or heard about poets and authors starving in garrets and he thinks they're all like that. But if you could only show him and prove to him that you could succeed by writing, he would be prouder of you than any one else would be. I know it."

He regarded her curiously. "You seem to know a lot about my grandfather," he observed.

"I do know something about him. He and I have been friends ever since I was a little girl, and I like him very much indeed. If he were my grandfather I should be proud of him. And I think you ought to be."

She flashed the last sentence at him in a sudden heat of enthusiasm. He was surprised at her manner.

"Gee! You ARE strong for the old chap, aren't you?" he said. "Well, admitting that he is all right, just why should I be proud of him? I AM proud of my father, of course; he was somebody in the world."

"You mean he was somebody just because he was celebrated and lots of people knew about him. Celebrated people aren't the only ones who do worth while things. If I were you, I should be proud of Captain Zelotes because he is what he has made himself. Nobody helped him; he did it all. He was a sea captain and a good one. He has been a business man and a good one, even if the business isn't so very big. Everybody here in South Harniss--yes, and all up and down the Cape--knows of him and respects him. My father says in all the years he has preached in his church he has never heard a single person as much as hint that Captain Snow wasn't absolutely honest, absolutely brave, and the same to everybody, rich or poor. And all his life he has worked and worked hard. What HE has belongs to him; he has earned it. That's why I should be proud of him if he were my grandfather."

Her enthusiasm had continued all through this long speech. Albert whistled.

"Whew!" he exclaimed. "Regular cheer for Zelotes, fellows! One--two--! Grandfather's got one person to stand up for him, I'll say that. But why this sudden outbreak about him, anyhow? It was me you were talking about in the beginning--though I didn't notice any loud calls for cheers in that direction," he added.

She ignored the last part of the speech. "I think you yourself made me think of him," she replied. "Sometimes you remind me of him. Not often, but once in a while. Just now, when we were climbing down that awful place you seemed almost exactly like him. The way you knew just what to do all the time, and your not hesitating a minute, and the way you took command of the situation and," with a sudden laugh, "bossed me around; every bit of that was like him, and not like you at all. Oh, I don't mean that," she added hurriedly. "I mean it wasn't like you as you usually are. It was different."

"Humph! Well, I must say--See here, Helen Kendall, what is it you expect me to do; sail in and write two or three sonnets and a 'Come Into the Garden, Maud,' some time next week? You're terribly keen about Grandfather, but he has rather got the edge on me so far as age goes. He's in the sixties, and I'm just about nineteen."

"When he was nineteen he was first mate of a ship."

"Yes, so I've heard him say. Maybe first-mating is a little bit easier than writing poetry."

"And maybe it isn't. At any rate, he didn't know whether it was easy or not until he tried. Oh, THAT'S what I would like to see you do--TRY to do something. You could do it, too, almost anything you tried, I do believe. I am confident you could. But--Oh, well, as you said at the beginning, it isn't my business at all, and I've said ever and ever so much more than I meant to. Please forgive me, if you can. I think my tumble and all the rest must have made me silly. I'm sorry, Albert. There are the steps up to the pavilion. See them!"

He was tramping on beside her, his hands in his pockets. He did not look at the long flight of steps which had suddenly come into view around the curve of the bluff. When he did look up and speak it was in a different tone, some such tone as she had heard him use during her rescue.

"All right," he said, with decision, "I'll show you whether I can try or not. I know you think I won't, but I will. I'm going up to my room to-night and I'm going to try to write something or other. It may be the rottenest poem that ever was ground out, but I'll grind it if it kills me."

She was pleased, that was plain, but she shook her head.

"Not to-night, Albert," she said. "To-night, after the picnic, is Father's reception at the church. Of course you'll come to that."

"Of course I won't. Look here, you've called me lazy and indifferent and a hundred other pet names this afternoon. Well, this evening I'll make you take some of 'em back. Reception be hanged! I'm going to write to-night."

That evening both Mrs. Snow and Rachel Ellis were much disturbed because Albert, pleading a headache, begged off from attendance at the reception to the Reverend Mr. Kendall. Either, or both ladies would have been only too willing to remain at home and nurse the sufferer through his attack, but he refused to permit the sacrifice on their part. After they had gone his headache disappeared and, supplied with an abundance of paper, pens and ink, he sat down at the table in his room to invoke the Muse. The invocation lasted until three A. M. At that hour, with a genuine headache, but a sense of triumph which conquered pain, Albert climbed into bed. Upon the table lay a poem, a six stanza poem, having these words at its head:


TO MY LADY'S SPRING HAT
By A. M. Speranza.


The following forenoon he posted that poem to the editor of The Cape Cod Item. And three weeks later it appeared in the pages of that journal. Of course there was no pecuniary recompense for its author, and the fact was indisputable that the Item was generally only too glad to publish contributions which helped to fill its columns. But, nevertheless, Albert Speranza had written a poem and that poem had been published.

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CHAPTER VIIIt was Rachel who first discovered "To My Lady's Spring Hat" in the Item three weeks later. She came rushing into the sitting room brandishing the paper. "My soul! My soul! My soul!" she cried. Olive, sitting sewing by the window, was, naturally, somewhat startled. "Mercy on us, Rachel!" she exclaimed. "What IS it?" "Look!" cried the housekeeper, pointing to the contribution in the "Poets' Corner" as Queen Isabella may have pointed at the evidence of her proteges discovery of a new world. "LOOK!" Mrs. Snow looked, read the verses to herself, and then aloud. "Why, I declare, they're real
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CHAPTER VOutside of the gates of the Snow place Albert was making many acquaintances and a few friends. After church on Sundays his grandmother had a distressful habit of suddenly seizing his arm or his coat-tail as he was hurrying toward the vestibule and the sunshine of outdoors, and saying: "Oh, Albert, just a minute! Here's somebody you haven't met yet, I guess. Elsie"--or Nellie or Mabel or Henry or Charlie or George, whichever it happened to be--"this is my grandson, Albert Speranza." And the young person to whom he was thus introduced would, if a male, extend a hesitating hand,
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