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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 10. The Bungalow Woman
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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 10. The Bungalow Woman Post by :brennan Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1955

Click below to download : The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 10. The Bungalow Woman (Format : PDF)

The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 10. The Bungalow Woman

CHAPTER X. THE BUNGALOW WOMAN

When, an hour later, the swimming teacher, his guilty conscience pricking him, and the knowledge of having been false to his superior strong within him, came sneaking into the kitchen, he was startled and horrified to find the lightkeeper awake and dressed. Mentally he braced himself for the battery of embarrassing questions which, he felt sure, he should have to answer. It might be that he must face something more serious than questions. Quite possible Seth, finding him absent, had investigated--and seen. Well, if he had, then he had, that was all. The murder would be out, and Eastboro Twin-Lights would shortly be shy a substitute assistant keeper.

But there were no embarrassing questions. Atkins scarcely noticed him. Seated in the rocker, he looked up as the young man entered, and immediately looked down again. He seemed to be in a sort of waking dream and only dimly conscious of happenings about him.

"Hello!" hailed the assistant, with an assumption of casual cheerfulness.

"Hey? Oh! how be you?" was Mr. Atkins's reply.

"I've been for my dip," explained Brown. "The water was fine to-day."

"Want to know!"

"You're up early, aren't you?"

"Hey? Yes, I guess likely I be."

"What's wrong? Not sick, are you?"

"No. Course I ain't sick. Say!" Seth seemed to take a sudden interest in the conversation, "you come straight up from the cove, have you?"

"Yes. Why?"

"You ain't been hangin' around outside here, have you?"

"Hanging around outside? What do you mean?"

"Nothin'. Why do you stand there starin' at me as if I was some sort of dime show curiosity? Anything queer about me?"

"No. I didn't know I was staring." The young man was bewildered by this strange behavior. He was prepared for suspicion concerning his own actions; but Seth seemed rather to be defending himself from suspicion on the part of his helper.

"Humph!" The lightkeeper looked keenly at him for a moment. Then he said:

"Well, ain't there nothin' to do but stand around? Gettin' pretty nigh to supper time, ain't it? Put the kettle on and set the table."

It was not supper time, but Brown obeyed orders. Seth went to cooking. He spoke perhaps three words during the culinary operations, and a half dozen more during the meal, of which he ate scarcely a mouthful. After it was over, he put on his cap and went out, not to his usual lounging spot, the bench, but to walk a full half mile along the edge of the bluff and there sit in the seclusion of a clump of bayberry bushes and gaze stonily at nothing in particular. Here he remained until the deepening dusk reminded him that it was time the lights were burning. Returning, he lit the lanterns and sat down in the room at the top of the left-hand tower to think, and think, and think.

The shadows deepened; the last flush of twilight faded from the western sky; the stars came out; night and the black silence of night shrouded Eastboro Twin-Lights. The clock in the tower room ticked on to nine and then to ten. Still Seth sat, a huddled, dazed figure in the camp chair, by the great lantern. At last he rose and went out on the iron balcony. He looked down at the buildings below him; they were black shapes without a glimmer. Brown had evidently gone to bed. In the little stable Joshua thumped the side of his stall once or twice--dreaming, perhaps, that he was again pursued by the fly-papered Job--and subsided. Atkins turned his gaze across the inlet. In the rear window of the bungalow a dim light still burned. As he watched, it was extinguished. He groaned aloud, and, with his arms on the railing, thought and thought.

Suddenly he heard sounds, faint, but perceptible, above the low grumble of the surf. They were repeated, the sounds of breaking sticks, as if some one was moving through the briers and bushes beyond the stable. Some one was moving there, coming along the path from the upper end of the cove. Around the corner of the stable a bulky figure appeared. It came on until it stood beneath the balcony.

"Seth," called a low voice; "Seth, are you there?"

For a moment the agitated lightkeeper could not trust his voice to answer.

"Seth," repeated the voice; "Seth."

The figure was moving off in the direction of the other tower. Then Seth answered.

"Here--here I be," he stammered, in a hoarse whisper. "Who is it?"

He knew who it was, perfectly well; the question was quite superfluous.

"It's me," said the voice. "Let me in, I've got to talk to you."

Slowly, scarcely certain that this was not a part of some dreadful nightmare, Seth descended the iron ladder to the foot of the tower, dragged his faltering feet to the door, and slowly swung it open. The bulky figure entered instantly.

"Shut the door," said Mrs. Bascom.

"Hey? What?" stammered Seth.

"I say, shut that door. Hurry up! Land sakes, HURRY! Do you suppose I want anybody to know I'm here?"

The lightkeeper closed the door. The clang reverberated through the tower like distant thunder. The visitor started nervously.

"Mercy!" she exclaimed; "what a racket! What made you slam it?"

"Didn't," grumbled Seth. "Any kind of a noise sounds up in here."

"I should think as much. It's enough to wake the dead."

"Ain't nobody BUT the dead to wake in this place."

"Yes, there is; there's that young man of yours, that Brown one. He ain't dead, is he?"

"Humph! he's asleep, and that's next door to dead--with him."

"Well, I'm glad of it. My nerves are pretty steady as a general thing, but I declare I'm all of a twitter to-night--and no wonder. It's darker than a pocket in here. Can't we have a light?"

Atkins stumbled across the stone floor and took the lantern from the hook by the stairs. He struck a match, and it went out; he tried another, with the same result. Mrs. Bascom fidgeted.

"Mercy on us!" she cried; "what DOES ail the thing?"

Seth's trembling fingers could scarcely hold the third match. He raked it across the whitewashed wall and broke the head short off.

"Thunder to mighty!" he snarled, under his breath.

"But what DOES--"

"What does? What do you s'pose? You ain't the only one that's got nerves, are you?"

The next trial was successful, and the lantern was lighted. With it in his hand, he turned and faced his caller. They looked at each other. Mrs. Bascom drew a long breath.

"It is you," she said. "I couldn't scarcely believe it. It is really you."

Seth's answer was almost a groan. "It's you," he said. "You--down here."

This ended the conversation for another minute. Then the lady seemed to awake to the realities of the situation.

"Yes," she said, "it's me--and it's you. We're here, both of us. Though why on earth YOU should be, I don't know."

"Me? Me? Why, I belong here. But you--what in time sent you here? Unless," with returning suspicion, "you came because I--"

He paused, warned by the expression on his caller's face.

"What was that?" she demanded.

"Nothin'."

"Nothin', I guess. If you was flatterin' yourself with the idea that I came here to chase after you, you never was more mistaken in your life, or ever will be. You set down. You and I have got to talk. Set right down."

The lightkeeper hesitated. Then he obeyed orders by seating himself on an oil barrel lying on its side near the wall. The lantern he placed on the floor at his feet. Mrs. Bascom perched on one of the lower steps of the iron stairs.

"Now," she said, "we've got to talk. Seth Bascom--"

Seth started violently.

"What is it?" asked the lady. "Why did you jump like that? Nobody comin', is there?"

"No. No . . . But I couldn't help jumpin' when you called me that name."

"That name? It's your name, isn't it? Oh," she smiled slightly; "I remember now. You've taken the name of Atkins since we saw each other last."

"I didn't take it; it belonged to me. You know my middle name. I just dropped the Bascom, that's all."

"I see. Just as you dropped--some other responsibilities. Why didn't you drop the whole christenin' and start fresh? Why did you hang on to 'Seth'?"

The lightkeeper looked guilty. Mrs. Bascom's smile broadened. "I know," she went on. "You didn't really like to drop it all. It was too much of a thing to do on your hook, and there wasn't anybody to tell you to do it, and so you couldn't quite be spunky enough to--"

He interrupted her. "That wa'n't the reason," he said shortly.

"What was the reason?"

"You want to know, do you?"

"Yes, I do."

"Well, the 'Bascom' part wa'n't mine no more--not all mine. I'd given it to you."

"O--oh! oh, I see. And you ran away from your name as you ran away from your wife. I see. And . . . why, of course! you came down here to run away from all the women. Miss Ruth said this mornin' she was told--I don't know who by--that the lightkeeper was a woman-hater. Are you the woman-hater, Seth?"

Mr. Atkins looked at the floor. "Yes, I be," he answered, sullenly. "Do you wonder?"

"I don't wonder at your runnin' away; that I should have expected. But there," more briskly, "this ain't gettin' us anywhere. You're here--and I'm here. Now what's your idea of the best thing to be done, under the circumstances?"

Seth shifted his feet. "One of us better go somewheres else, if you ask me," he declared.

"Run away again, you mean? Well, I sha'n't run away. I'm Miss Ruth's housekeeper for the summer. I answered her advertisement in the Boston paper and we agreed as to wages and so on. I like her and she likes me. Course if I'd known my husband was in the neighborhood, I shouldn't have come here; but I didn't know it. Now I'm here and I'll stay my time out. What are you goin' to do?"

"I'm goin' to send in my resignation as keeper of these lights. That's what I'm goin' to do, and I'll do it to-morrow."

"Run away again?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Why? WHY? Emeline Bascom, do you ask me that?"

"I do, yes. See here, Seth, we ain't children, nor sentimental young folks. We're sensible, or we'd ought to be. Land knows we're old enough. I shall stay here and you ought to. Nobody knows I was your wife or that you was my husband, and nobody needs to know it. We ain't even got the same names. We're strangers, far's folks know, and we can stay strangers."

"But--but to see each other every day and--"

"Why not? We've seen each other often enough so that the sight won't be so wonderful. And we'll keep our bein' married a secret. I sha'n't boast of it, for one."

"But--but to SEE each other--"

"Well, we needn't see each other much. Why, we needn't see each other any, unless I have to run over to borrer somethin', same as neighbors have to every once in a while. I can guess what's troublin' you; it's young Brown. You've told him you're a woman-hater, haven't you?"

"Yes, I have."

"Humph! Is he one, too?"

The lightkeeper's mouth was twisted with a violent emotion. He remembered his view of that afternoon's swimming lesson.

"He said he was," he snarled. "He pretends he is."

Mrs. Bascom smiled. "I want to know," she said. "Umph! I thought . . . However, it's no matter. Perhaps he is. Anyhow he can pretend to be and you can pretend to believe him. That'll be the easiest way, I guess. Of course," she added, "I ain't tellin' you what to do with any idea that you'll do it because I say so. The time for that is all past and gone. But it seems to me that, for once in my life, I'd be man enough to stick it out. I wouldn't run away again."

Seth did not answer. He scowled and stared at the circle of lantern light on the stone floor. Mrs. Bascom rose from her seat on the stairs.

"Well," she observed, "I must be gettin' back to the house if I want to get any sleep to-night. I doubt if I get much, for a body don't get over a shock, such as I've had, in a minute. But I'm goin' to get over it and I'm goin' to stay right here and do my work; I'm goin' to go through with what seems to be my duty, no matter how hard it is. I've done it afore, and I'll do it again. I've promised, and I keep my promises. Good night."

She started toward the door. Her husband sprang from the oil barrel.

"Hold on," he cried; "you wait a minute. I've got somethin' to say."

She shook her head. "I can't wait," she said; "I've got to go."

"No, you ain't, neither. You can stay a spell longer, if you want to."

"Perhaps, but I don't want to."

"Why not? What are you afraid of?"

"Afraid! I don't know as I'm afraid of anything--that is," with a contemptuous sniff, "nothin' I see around here."

"Then what are YOU runnin' away for?"

This was putting the matter in a new light. Mrs. Bascom regarded her husband with wrathful amazement, which slowly changed to an amused smile.

"Oh," she said, "if you think I'm runnin' away, why--"

"I don't see what else 'tis. If I ain't scart to have you here, I don't see why you should be scart to stay. Set down on them stairs again; I want to talk to you."

The lady hesitated an instant and then returned to her former seat. Seth went back to his barrel.

"Emeline," he said. "I'll stay here on my job."

She looked surprised, but she nodded.

"I'm glad to hear it," she said. "I'm glad you've got that much spunk."

"Yup; well, I have. I came down here to get clear of everybody, women most of all. Now the one woman that--that--"

"That you 'specially wanted to get clear of--"

"No! No! that ain't the truth, and you know it. She set out to get clear of me--and I let her have her way, same as I done in everything else."

"She didn't set out to get clear of you."

"She did."

"No, she didn't."

"I say she did."

Mrs. Bascom rose once more. "Seth Bascom," she declared, "if all you wanted me to stay here for is to be one of a pair of katydids, hollerin' at each other, I'm goin'. I'm no bug; I'm a woman."

"Emeline, you set down. You've hove out a whole lot of hints about my not bein' a man because I run away from your house. Do you think I'd have been more of a man if I'd stayed in it? Stayed there and been a yaller dog to be kicked out of one corner and into another by you and--and that brother-in-law of yours. That's all I was--a dog."

"Humph! if a dog's the right breed--and big enough--it's his own fault if he's kicked twice."

"Not if he cares more for his master than he does for himself--'taint."

"Why, yes, it is. He can make his master respect him by provin' he ain't the kind of dog to kick. And maybe one of his masters--his real master, for he hadn't ought to have but one--might be needin' the right kind of watchdog around the house. Might be in trouble her--himself, I mean; and be hopin' and prayin' for the dog to protect her--him, I should say. And then the--"

"Emeline, what are you talkin' about?"

"Oh, nothin', nothin'. Seth, what's the use of us two settin' here at twelve o'clock at night and quarrelin' over what's past and settled? I sha'n't do it, for one. I don't want to quarrel with you."

Seth sighed. "And I don't want to quarrel with you, Emeline," he agreed. "As you say, there's no sense in it. Dear! dear! this, when you come to think of it, is the queerest thing altogether that ever was in the world, I guess. Us two had all creation to roam 'round in, and we landed at Eastboro Twin-Lights. It seems almost as if Providence done it, for some purpose or other."

"Yes; or the other critter, for HIS purposes. How did you ever come to be keeper of a light, Seth?"

"Why--why--I don't know. I used to be in the service, 'fore I went to sea much. You remember I told you I did. And I sort of drifted down here. I didn't care much what became of me, and I wanted a lonesome hole to hide in, and this filled the bill. I've been here ever since I left--left--where I used to be. But, Emeline, how did YOU come here? You answered an advertisement, you told me; but why?"

"'Cause I wanted to do somethin' to earn my livin'. I was alone, and I rented my house and boarded. But boardin' ain't much comfort, 'specially when you board where everybody knows you, and knows your story. So I--"

"Wait a minute. You was alone, you say? Where was--was HE?"

"He?"

"Yes. You know who I mean."

He would not speak the hated name. His wife spoke it for him.

"Bennie?" she asked. "Oh, he ain't been with me for 'most two year now. He--he went away. He's in New York now. And I was alone and I saw Miss Graham's advertisement for a housekeeper and answered it. I needed the money and--"

"Hold on! You needed the money? Why, you had money."

"Abner left me a little, but it didn't last forever. And--"

"You had more'n a little. I wrote to bank folks there and turned over my account to you. And I sent 'em a power of attorney turnin' over some stocks--you know what they was--to you, too. I done that soon's I got to Boston. Didn't they tell you?"

"Yes, they told me."

"Well, then, that ought to have helped along."

"You don't s'pose I took it, do you?"

"Why--why not?"

"Why not! Do you s'pose I'd use the money that belonged to the husband that run off and left me? I ain't that kind of a woman. The money and stocks are at the bank yet, I s'pose; anyhow they're there for all of me."

The lightkeeper's mouth opened and stayed open for seconds before he could use it as a talking machine. He could scarcely believe what he had heard.

"But--but I wanted you to have it," he gasped. "I left it for you."

"Well, I didn't take it; 'tain't likely!" with fiery indignation. "Did you think I could be bought off like a--a mean--oh, I don't know what?"

"But--but I left it at the bank--for you. What--what'll I do with it?"

"I don't know, I'm sure. You might give it to Sarah Ann Christy; I wouldn't wonder if she was less particular than I be."

Seth's guns were spiked, for the moment. He felt the blood rush to face, and his fists, as he brandished them in the air, trembled.

"I--I--you--you--" he stammered. "I--I--you think I--"

He knew that his companion would regard his agitation as an evidence of conscious guilt, and this knowledge did not help to calm him. He strode up and down the floor.

"Look out," said Mrs. Bascom, coldly, "you'll kick over the lantern."

Her husband stopped in his stride. "Darn the lantern!" he shouted.

"S-sh-sh! you'll wake up the Brown man."

This warning was more effective. But Seth was still furious.

"Emeline Bascom," he snarled, shaking his forefinger in her face, "you've said over and over that I wa'n't a man. You have, haven't you?"

She was looking at his shirt cuff, then but a few inches from her nose.

"Who sewed on that button?" she asked.

This was so unexpected that his wrath was, for the instant, displaced by astonishment.

"What?" he asked. "What button?"

"That one on your shirt sleeve. Who sewed it on?"

"Why, I did, of course. What a crazy question that is!"

She smiled. "I guessed you did," she said. "Nobody but a man would sew a white button on a white shirt--or one that was white once--with black thread."

He looked at the button and then at her. His anger returned.

"You said I wa'n't a man, didn't you?" he demanded.

"Yes, I did. But I'll have to take part of it back. You're half a man anyhow; that sewin' proves it."

"Huh! I want to know. Well, maybe I ain't a man; maybe I'm only half a one. But I ain't a fool! I ain't a fool!"

She sighed wearily. "Well, all right," she admitted. "I sha'n't argue it."

"You needn't. I ain't--or anyhow I ain't an EVERLASTIN' fool. And nobody but the everlastin'est of all fools would chase Sarah Ann Christy. I didn't. That whole business was just one of your--your Bennie D.'s lies. You know that, too."

"I know some one lied; I heard 'em. They denied seein' Sarah Ann, and I saw 'em with her--with my own eyes I saw 'em. . . . But there, there," she added; "this is enough of such talk. I'm goin' now."

"I didn't lie; I forgot."

"All right, then, you forgot. I ain't jealous, Seth. I wa'n't even jealous then. Even then I give you a chance, and you didn't take it--you 'forgot' instead. I'm goin' back to the bungalow, but afore I go let's understand this: you're to stay here at the lights, and I stay where I am as housekeeper. We don't see each other any oftener than we have to, and then only when nobody else is around. We won't let my Miss Graham nor your Brown nor anybody know we've ever met afore--or are meetin' now. Is that it?"

Seth hesitated. "Yes," he said, slowly, "I guess that's it. But," he added, anxiously, "I--I wish you'd be 'specially careful not to let that young feller who's workin' for me know. Him and me had a--a sort of agreement and--and I--I--"

"He sha'n't know. Good-by."

She fumbled with the latch of the heavy door. He stepped forward and opened it for her. The night was very dark; a heavy fog, almost a rain, had drifted in while they were together. She didn't seem to notice or mind the fog or blackness, but went out and disappeared beyond the faint radiance which the lantern cast through the open door. She blundered on and turned the corner of the house; then she heard steps behind her.

"Who is it?" she whispered, in some alarm.

"Me," whispered the lightkeeper, gruffly. "I'll go with you a ways."

"No, of course you won't. I'm goin' alone."

"It's too dark for you to go alone. You'll lose the way."

"I'm goin' alone, I tell you! Go back. I don't want you."

"I know you don't; but I'm goin'. You'll fetch up in the cove or somewheres if you try to navigate this path on your own hook."

"I sha'n't. I'm used to findin' my own way, and I'm goin' alone--as I've had to do for a good while. Go back."

She stopped short. Seth stopped, also.

"Go back," she insisted, adding scornfully: "I don't care for your help at all. I'm partic'lar about my company."

"I ain't," sullenly. "Anyhow, I'm goin' to pilot you around the end of that cove. You sha'n't say I let you get into trouble when I might have kept you out of it."

"Say? Who would I say it to? Think I'm so proud of this night's cruise that I'll brag of it? WILL you go back?"

"No."

They descended the hill, Mrs. Bascom in advance. She could not see the path, but plunged angrily on through the dripping grass and bushes.

"Emeline--Emeline," whispered Seth. She paid no attention to him. They reached the foot of the slope and suddenly the lady realized that her shoes, already wet, were now ankle deep in water. And there seemed to be water amid the long grass all about her.

"Why? What in the world?" she exclaimed involuntarily. "What is it?"

"The salt marsh at the end of the cove," answered the lightkeeper. "I told you you'd fetch up in it if you tried to go alone. Been tryin' to tell you you was off the track, but you wouldn't listen to me."

And she would not listen to him now. Turning, she splashed past him.

"Hold on," he whispered, seizing her arm. "That ain't the way."

She shook herself from his grasp.

"WILL you let me be, and mind your own business?" she hissed.

"No, I won't. I've set out to get you home, and I'll do it if I have to carry you."

"Carry me? You? You DARE!"

His answer was to pick her up in his arms. She was no light weight, and she fought and wriggled fiercely, but Seth was big and strong and he held her tight. She did not scream; she was too anxious not to wake either the substitute assistant or Miss Graham, but she made her bearer all the trouble she could. They splashed on for some distance; then Seth set her on her feet, and beneath them was dry ground.

"There!" he grumbled, breathlessly. "Now I cal'late you can't miss the rest of it. There's the bungalow right in front of you."

"You--you--" she gasped, chokingly.

"Ugh!" grunted her husband, and stalked off into the dark.

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CHAPTER IX. THE BUNGALOW GIRLDuring the following day the occupants of the lightkeeper's dwelling saw little or nothing of the newcomers at the bungalow. Brown, his forehead resembling a section of a relief map of the Rocky Mountains, remained indoors as much as possible, working when there was anything to do, and reading back-number magazines when there was not. Seth went, as usual, to his room soon after noon. His slumbers must, however, have been fitful ones, for several times the substitute assistant, turning quickly, saw the bedroom door swing silently shut. The third time that this happened he ran to
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