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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 11. Behind The Sand Dune
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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 11. Behind The Sand Dune Post by :brennan Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :2217

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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 11. Behind The Sand Dune

CHAPTER XI. BEHIND THE SAND DUNE

"A fog last night, wasn't there?" inquired Brown. Breakfast was over, and Seth was preparing for his day's sleep.

"Yes, some consider'ble," was the gruff answer; then, more sharply, "How'd you know? 'Twas all gone this mornin'."

"Oh, I guessed, that's all."

"Humph! Guessed, hey? You wa'n't up in the night, was you?"

"No. Slept like a top all through."

"Humph! . . . Well, that's good; sleep's a good thing. Cal'late I'll turn in and get a little myself."

He moved toward the living room. At the door he paused and asked another question.

"How'd you--er--guess there was fog last night?" he inquired.

"Oh, that was easy; everything--grass and bushes--were so wet this morning. Those boots of yours, for example," pointing to the pair the lightkeeper had just taken off, "they look as if you had worn them wading."

His back was toward his superior as he spoke, therefore he did not see the start which the latter gave at this innocent observation, nor the horrified glare at the soaked boots. But he could not help noticing the change in Seth's voice.

"Wa--wadin'?" repeated Atkins faintly. "What's that you say?"

"I said the boots were as wet as if you had been wading. Why?"

"Wha--what made you say a fool thing like that? How could I go wadin' on top of a lighthouse?"

"I don't know. . . . There, there!" impatiently, "don't ask any more questions. I didn't say you had been wading, and I didn't suppose you really had. I was only joking. What IS the matter with you?"

"Nothin' . . . nothin'. So you was just jokin', hey? Ha, ha! Yes, yes, wadin' up in a lighthouse would be a pretty good joke. I--I didn't see it at first, you know. Ha, ha! I thought you must be off your head. Thought you'd been swimmin' too much or somethin'. So long, I'm goin' to bed."

But now it was the helper's turn to start and stammer.

"Wait!" he cried. "What--what did you say about my--er--swimming, was it?"

"Oh, nothin', nothin'. I was just jokin', same as you was about the wadin'. Ha, ha!"

"Ha, ha!"

Both laughed with great heartiness. The door shut between them, and each stared doubtfully at his side of it for several moments before turning away.

That forenoon was a dismal one for John Brown. His troublesome conscience, stirred by Seth's reference to swimming, was again in full working order. He tried to stifle its reproaches, tried to give his entire attention to his labors about the lights and in the kitchen, but the consciousness of guilt was too strong. He felt mean and traitorous, a Benedict Arnold on a small scale. He had certainly treated Atkins shabbily; Atkins, the man who trusted him and believed in him, whom he had loftily reproved for "spying" and then betrayed. Yet, in a way his treason, so far, had been unavoidable. He had promised--had even OFFERED to teach the Graham girl the "side stroke." He had not meant to make such an offer or promise, but Fate had tricked him into it, and he could not, as a gentleman, back out altogether. He had been compelled to give her one lesson. But he need not give her another. He need not meet her again. He would not. He would keep the agreement with Seth and forget the tenants of the bungalow altogether. Good old Atkins! Good old Seth, the woman-hater! How true he was to his creed, the creed which he, Brown, had so lately professed. It was a good creed, too. Women were at the bottom of all the world's troubles. They deserved to be hated. He would never, never--

"Well, by George!" he exclaimed aloud.

He was looking once more at the lightkeeper's big leather boots. One of them was lying on its side, and the upturned sole and heel were thickly coated with blue clay. He crossed the room, picked up the boots and examined them. Each was smeared with the clay. He put them down again, shook his head, wandered over to the rocking-chair and sat down.

Seth had cleaned and greased those boots before he went to bed the day before; Brown had seen him doing it. He had put them on after supper, just before going on watch; the substitute assistant had seen him do that, also. Therefore, the clay must have been acquired sometime during the evening or night just past. And certainly there was no clay at the "top of the lighthouse," or anywhere in the neighborhood except at one spot--the salt marsh at the inner end of the cove. Seth must have visited that marsh in the nighttime. But why? And, if he had done so, why did he not mention the fact? And, now that the helper thought of it, why had he been so agitated at the casual remark concerning wading? What was he up to? Now that the Daisy M. and story of the wife were no longer secrets, what had Seth Atkins to conceal?

Brown thought and guessed and surmised, but guesses and surmises were fruitless. He finished his dishwashing and began another of the loathed housekeeping tasks, that of rummaging the pantry and seeing what eatables were available for his luncheon and the evening meal.

He spread the various odds and ends on the kitchen table, preparatory to taking account of stock. A part of a slab of bacon, a salt codfish, some cold clam fritters, a few molasses cookies, and half a loaf of bread. He had gotten thus far in the inventory when a shadow darkened the doorway. He turned and saw Mrs. Bascom, the bungalow housekeeper.

"Good mornin'," said Mrs. Bascom.

Brown answered coldly. Why on earth was it always his luck to be present when these female nuisances made their appearance? And why couldn't they let him alone, just as he had determined to let them alone--in the future? Of course he was glad that the caller was not Miss Graham, but this one was bad enough.

"Morning," he grunted, and took another dish, this one containing a section of dry and ancient cake, Seth's manufacture, from the pantry.

"What you doin'? Gettin' breakfast this time of day?" asked the housekeeper, entering the kitchen. She had a small bowl in her hand.

"No," replied Brown.

"Dinner, then? Pretty early for that, ain't it?"

"I am not getting either breakfast or dinner--or supper, madam," replied the helper, with emphasis. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Well, I don't know but there is. I come over hopin' you might. How's the stings?"

"The what?"

"The wasp bites."

"They're all, right, thank you."

"You're welcome, I'm sure. Did you put the cold mud on 'em, same as I told you to?"

"No. . . . What was it you wanted?"

Mrs. Bascom looked about for a seat. The rocker was at the opposite side of the room, and the other chair contained a garment belonging to Mr. Atkins, one which that gentleman, with characteristic disregard of the conventionalities, had discarded before leaving the kitchen and had forgotten to take with him. The lady picked up the garment, looked at it, and sat down in the chair.

"Your boss is to bed, I s'pose likely?" she asked.

"You mean Mr. Atkins? I suppose likely he is."

"Um. I judged he was by"--with a glance at the garment which she still held--"the looks of things. What in the world ARE you doin'--cleanin' house?"

The young man sighed wearily. "Yes," he said with forced resignation, "something of that sort."

"Seein' what there was to eat, I guess."

"You guess right. You said you had an errand, I think."

"Did I? Well, I come to see if I couldn't . . . What's that stuff? Cake?"

She rose, picked up a slice of the dry cake, broke it between her fingers, smelled of it, and replaced it on the plate.

"'Tis cake, ain't it?" she observed; "or it was, sometime or other. Who made it? You?"

"No."

"Oh, your boss, Mr.--er--Atkins, hey?"

"Yes. Considering that there are only two of us here, and I didn't make it, it would seem pretty certain that he must have."

"Yes, I guess that's right; unless 'twas some that washed ashore from Noah's Ark, and it's too dry for that. What on earth are these?" picking up one of the molasses cookies; "stove lids?"

Brown grinned, in spite of his annoyance.

"Those are supposed to be cookies," he admitted.

"Are they? Yes, yes. Mr. Atkins responsible for them?"

"No--o. I'm afraid those are one of my experiments, under Mr. Atkins's directions and orders. I'm rather proud of those cookies, myself."

"You'd ought to be. There, there!" with a smile, "I guess you think I'm pretty free with my criticism and remarks, don't you? You must excuse me. Housekeepin'--'specially the cookin' part--is my hobby, as you might say, and I was interested to see how a couple of men got along with the job. I mustn't set around and keep you from your work. You might want to make some more cookies, or somethin'."

The substitute assistant laughed aloud. "I wasn't thinking of it," he said; "but I shall be glad to make the attempt if it would afford you amusement."

Mrs. Bascom laughed, too. "I guess you're better natured than I thought you was," she observed. "It might amuse me some, I will admit, but I ain't got the time. I came to borrow some butter, if you've got any to spare. Down here we're as far from supplies as the feller that run the Ark I was mentionin', old Noah himself."

Brown took the bowl from her hands and went to the pantry to get the butter. When he turned again she was standing by the door, one hand hidden beneath her apron. She took the bowl with the other.

"Much obliged," she said. "I'll fetch this back soon's the grocery cart comes. Miss Graham made arrangements to have him drive across every Saturday. Or, rather, I arranged for it myself. Her head's too full of paintin' and scenery to think of much else. I tell her you can't eat an ile paintin'--unless you're born a goat. Good-by."

She went away. Brown chuckled and went on with his account of stock.

Seth "turned out" rather early that day. At half past one he appeared in the kitchen, partially dressed.

"Where in time is my shirt?" he demanded impatiently.

"Your what?"

"My shirt. I thought I took it off out here. Could have sworn I did. Guess likely I didn't, though. Must be gettin' absent-minded."

He was on his way back to the bedroom when his helper called.

"You did take it off out here," he cried. "It was on that chair there. I remember seeing it. Probably it has fallen on the floor somewhere."

Atkins returned, grumbling that the kitchen floor was a "healthy place to heave a shirt."

"Where is it?" he asked after a hurried search. "I can't find it nowheres. Didn't put it in the fire, did ye?"

"Of course I didn't. I saw it. . . . Why, I remember that woman's picking it up when she sat down."

"Woman? What woman?"

"That Baskin--Buskin--whatever her name is. The housekeeper at the bungalow."

"Was she--HERE?" Seth's question was almost a shout. His helper stared at him.

"Yes," he answered; "she was. She came to borrow some butter."

"To--to borrow--butter?"

"Why, yes. You didn't think I invited her in for a morning call, did you? Don't act as if you had been struck by lightning. It's not so very serious. We've got to expect some trouble of that kind. I got rid of her as soon as I could."

"You--you did?"

"Yes, I did. You should thank me. I am on duty during the day, and I suppose most of that sort of thing will fall on me. You're lucky. Our neighbors aren't likely to make many calls after dark. . . . What's the matter now? Why are you looking at me like that?"

Seth walked to the door and leaned against the post. Brown repeated his question. "What IS the matter?" he asked. "You act just as you did when I first happened into this forsak--this place. If you've got any more hideous secrets up your sleeve I'm going to quit."

"Secrets!" Atkins laughed, or tried to. "I ain't got any secrets," he declared, "any more than you have."

The latter half of this speech shut off further questioning. Brown turned hastily away, and the lightkeeper went into his bedroom and finished dressing.

"Find your shirt?" asked the young man an hour or so later.

"Hey? Yes, yes; I found it."

"In your room? That's odd. I could have sworn I saw it out here. Is that it you're wearing?"

"Hey? No. That was--was sort of s'iled, so I put on my other one. I--I cal'late I'll go over and work on the Daisy M. a spell, unless you need me."

"I don't need you. Go ahead."

The time dragged for John Brown after his superior's departure. There was work enough to be done, but he did not feel like doing it. He wandered around the house and lights, gloomy, restless and despondent. Occasionally he glanced at the clock.

It was a beautiful afternoon, just the afternoon for a swim, and he was debarred from swimming, not only that day, but for all the summer days to come. No matter what Seth's new secret might be, it was surely not connected with the female sex, and Brown would be true to the solemn compact between them. He could not bathe in the cove because Miss Graham would be there.

At four o'clock he stood in the shadow of the light tower looking across the cove. As he looked he saw Miss Graham, in bathing attire, emerge from the bungalow and descend the bluff. She did not see him and, to make sure that she might not, he dodged back out of sight. Then he saw something else.

Out on the dunes back of the barn he caught a glimpse of a figure darting to cover behind a clump of bushes. The figure was a familiar one, but what was it doing there? He watched the bushes, but they did not move. Then he entered the house, went upstairs, and cautiously peered from the back attic window.

The bushes remained motionless for some minutes. Then they stirred ever so slightly, and above them appeared the head of Seth Atkins. Seth seemed to be watching the cove and the lights. For another minute he peered over the bushes, first at the bathing waters below and then at his own dwelling. Brown ground his teeth. The light-keeper was "spying" again, was watching to see if he violated his contract.

But no, that could not be, for now Seth, apparently sure that the coast was clear, emerged from his hiding place and ran in a stooping posture until he reached another clump further off and nearer the end of the cove. He remained there an instant and then ran, still crouching, until he disappeared behind a high dune at the rear of the bungalow. And there he stayed; at least Brown did not see him come out.

What he did see, however, was just as astonishing. The landward door of the bungalow opened, and Mrs. Bascom, the housekeeper, stepped out into the yard. She seemed to be listening and looking. Apparently she must have heard something, for she moved away for some little distance and stood still. Then, above the edge of the dune, showed Seth's head and arm. He beckoned to her. She walked briskly across the intervening space, turned the ragged, grass-grown corner of the knoll and disappeared, also. Brown, scarcely believing his eyes, waited and watched, but he saw no more. Neither Seth nor the housekeeper came out from behind that dune.

But the substitute assistant had seen enough--quite enough. Seth Atkins, Seth, the woman-hater, the man who had threatened him with all sorts of penalties if he ever so much as looked at a female, was meeting one of the sex himself, meeting her on the sly. What it meant Brown could not imagine. Probably it explained the clay smears on the boots and Seth's discomfiture of the morning; but that was immaterial. The fact, the one essential fact, was this: the compact was broken. Seth had broken it. Brown was relieved of all responsibility. If he wished to swim in that cove, no matter who might be there, he was perfectly free to do it. And he would do it, by George! He had been betrayed, scandalously, meanly betrayed, and it would serve the betrayer right if he paid him in his own coin. He darted down the attic stairs, ran down the path to the boathouse, hurriedly changed his clothes for his bathing suit, ran along the shore of the creek and plunged in.

Miss Graham waved a hand to him as he shook the water from his eyes.

Over behind the sand dune a more or less interesting interview was taking place. Seth, having made sure that his whistles were heard and his signals seen, sank down in the shadow and awaited developments. They were not long in coming. A firm footstep crunched the sand, and Mrs. Bascom appeared.

"Well," she inquired coldly, "what's the matter now?"

Mr. Atkins waved an agitated hand.

"Set down," he begged. "Scooch down out of sight, Emeline, for the land sakes. Don't stand up there where everybody can see you."

The lady refused to "scooch."

"If I ain't ashamed of bein' seen," she observed, "I don't know why you should be. What are you doin' over here anyhow; skippin' 'round in the sand like a hoptoad?"

The lightkeeper repeated his plea.

"Do set down, Emeline, please," he urged. "I thought you and me'd agreed that nobody'd ought to see us together."

Mrs. Bascom gathered her skirts about her and with great deliberation seated herself upon a hummock.

"We did have some such bargain," she replied. "That's why I can't understand your hidin' at my back door and whistlin' and wavin' like a young one. What did you come here for, anyway?"

Seth answered with righteous indignation.

"I come for my shirt," he declared.

"Your shirt?"

"Yes, my other shirt. I left it in the kitchen this mornin', and that--that helper of mine says you was in the chair along with it."

"Humph! Did he have the impudence to say I took it?"

"No--o. No, course he didn't. But it's gone and--and--"

"What would I want of your shirt? Didn't think I was cal'latin' to wear it, did you?"

"No, but--"

"I should hope not. I ain't a Doctor Mary Walker, or whatever her name is."

"But you did take it, just the same. I'm sartin you did. You must have."

The lady's mouth relaxed, and there was a twinkle in her eye.

"All right, Seth," she said. "Suppose I did; what then?"

"I want it back, that's all."

"You can have it. Now what do you s'pose I took it for?"

"I--I--I don't know."

"You don't know? Humph! Did you think I wanted to keep it as a souveneer of last night's doin's?"

Her companion looked rather foolish. He picked up a handful of sand and sifted it through his fingers.

"No--o," he stammered. "I--I know how partic'lar you are--you used to be about such things, and I thought maybe you didn't like the way that button was sewed on."

He glanced up at her with an embarrassed smile, which broadened as he noticed her expression.

"Well," she admitted, "you guessed right. There's some things I can't bear to have in my neighborhood, and your kind of sewin' is one of 'em. Besides, I owed you that much for keepin' me out of the wet last night."

"Oh! I judged by the way you lit into me for luggin' you acrost that marsh that all you owed me was a grudge. I DID lug you, though, in spite of your kickin', didn't I?"

He nodded with grim triumph. She smiled.

"You did, that's a fact," she said. "I was pretty mad at the time, but when I come to think it over I felt diff'rent. Anyhow I've sewed on those buttons the way they'd ought to be."

"Much obliged. I guess they'll stay now for a spell. You always could sew on buttons better'n anybody ever I see."

"Humph!" . . . Then, after an interval of silence: "What are you grinnin' to yourself about?"

"Hey? . . . Oh, I was just thinkin' how you mended up that Rogers young one's duds when he fell out of our Bartlett pear tree. He was the raggedest mess ever I come acrost when I picked him up. Yellin' like a wild thing he was, and his clothes half tore off."

"No wonder he yelled. Caught stealin' pears--he expected to be thrashed for that--and he KNEW Melindy Rogers would whip him, for tearin' his Sunday suit. Poor little thing! Least I could do was to make his clothes whole. I always pity a child with a stepmother, special when she's Melindy's kind."

"What's become of them Rogerses? Still livin' in the Perry house, are they?"

"No. Old Abel Perry turned 'em out of that when the rent got behind. He's the meanest skinflint that ever strained skim milk. He got married again a year ago."

"NO! Who was the victim? Somebody from the Feeble-Minded Home?"

She gave the name of Mr. Perry's bride, and before they knew it the pair were deep in village gossip. For many minutes they discussed the happenings in the Cape Ann hamlet, and then Seth was recalled to the present by a casual glance at his watch.

"Land!" he exclaimed. "Look at the time! This talk with you has seemed so--so natural and old-timey, that . . . Well, I've got to go."

He was scrambling to his feet. She also attempted to rise, but found it difficult.

"Here," he cried, "give me your hand. I'll help you up."

"I don't want any help. Let me alone. Let me ALONE, I tell you."

His answer was to seize her about the waist and swing her bodily to her feet. She was flushed and embarrassed. Then she laughed shortly and shook her head.

"What are you laughin' at?" he demanded, peering over the knoll to make sure that neither John Brown nor Miss Graham was in sight.

"Oh, not much," she answered. "You kind of surprise me, Seth."

"Why?"

"'Cause you've changed so."

"Changed? How?"

"Oh, changed, that's all. You seem to have more spunk than you used to have."

"Humph! Think so, do you?"

"Yes, I do. I think bein' a lightkeeper must be good for some folks--some kind of folks."

"I want to know!"

"Yes, you better be careful, or you'll be a real man some day."

His answer was an angry stare and a snort. Then he turned on his heel and was striding off.

"Wait!" she called. "Hold on! Don't you want your shirt? Stay here, and I'll go into the house and fetch it."

He waited, sullen and reluctant, until she returned with the article of apparel in one hand and the other concealed beneath her apron.

"Here it is," she said, presenting the shirt to him.

"Thank you," he grumbled, taking it. "Much obliged for sewin' on the button."

"You're welcome. It squares us for your pilotin' me over the marsh, that's all. 'Twa'n't any favor; I owed it to you."

He was turning the shirt over in his hands.

"Well," he began, then stopped and looked fixedly at the garment.

"I see you've mended that hole in the sleeve," he said. "You didn't owe me that, did you?"

She changed color slightly.

"Oh," she said, with a toss of her head, "that's nothin'. Just for good measure. I never could abide rags on anybody that--that I had to look at whether I wanted to or not."

"'Twas real good of you to mend it, Emeline. Say," he stirred the sand with his boot, "you mentioned that you cal'lated I'd changed some, was more of a man than I used to be. Do you know why?"

"No. Unless," with sarcasm, "it was because I wa'n't around."

"It ain't that. It's because, Emeline, it's because down here I'm nigher bein' where I belong than anywheres else but one place. That place is at sea. When I'm on salt water I'm a man--you don't believe it, but I am. On land I--I don't seem to fit in right. Keepin' a light like this is next door to bein' at sea."

"Seth, I want to ask you a question. Why didn't you go to sea when you ran--when you left me? I s'posed of course you had. Why didn't you?"

He looked at her in surprise.

"Go to sea?" he repeated. "Go to SEA? How could I? Didn't I promise you I'd never go to sea again?"

"Was that the reason?"

"Sartin. What else?"

She did not answer. There was an odd expression on her face. He turned to go.

"Well, good-by," he said.

"Good-by. Er--Seth."

"Yes; what is it?"

"I--I want to tell you," she stammered, "that I appreciated your leavin' that money and stocks at the bank in my name. I couldn't take 'em, of course, but 'twas good of you. I appreciated it."

"That's all right."

"Wait. Here! Maybe you'd like these." She took the hand from beneath her apron and extended it toward him. It held a pan heaped with objects flat, brown, and deliciously fragrant. He looked at the pan and its contents uncomprehendingly.

"What's them?" he demanded.

"They're molasses cookies. I've been bakin', and these are some extry ones I had left over. You can have 'em if you want 'em."

"Why--why, Emeline! this is mighty kind of you."

"Not a mite," sharply. "I baked a good many more'n Miss Ruth and I can dispose of, and that poor helper man of yours ought to be glad to get 'em after the cast-iron pound-weights that you and he have been tryin' to live on. Mercy on us! the thoughts of the cookies he showed me this mornin' have stayed in my head ever since. Made me feel as if I was partly responsible for murder."

"But it's kind of you, just the same."

"Rubbish! I'd do as much for a pig any day. There! you've got your shirt; now you'd better go home."

She forced the pan of cookies into his hand and moved off. The lightkeeper hesitated.

"I--I'll fetch the pan back to-morrer," he called after her in a loud whisper.

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