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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 12. The Letter And The 'Phone
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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 12. The Letter And The 'Phone Post by :brennan Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :3123

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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 12. The Letter And The 'Phone

CHAPTER XII. THE LETTER AND THE 'PHONE

The cookies appeared on the table that evening. Brown noticed them at once.

"When did you bake these?" he asked.

Atkins made no reply, so the question was repeated with a variation.

"Did you bake these this afternoon?" inquired the substitute assistant.

"Humph? Hey? Oh, yes, I guess so. Why? Anything the matter with 'em?"

"Matter with them? No. They're the finest things I've tasted since I came here. New receipt, isn't it?"

"Cal'late so."

"I thought it must be. I'll take another."

He took another, and many others thereafter. He and his superior cleared the plate between them.

Brown was prepared for questions concerning his occupation of the afternoon and was ready with some defiant queries of his own. But no occasion arose for either defiance or cross-examination. Seth never hinted at a suspicion nor mentioned the young lady at the bungalow. Brown therefore remained silent concerning what he had seen from the attic window. He would hold that in reserve, and if Atkins ever did accuse him of bad faith or breach of contract he could retort in kind. His conscience was clear now--he was no more of a traitor than Seth himself--and, this being so, he felt delightfully independent. If trouble came he was ready for it, and in the meantime he should do as he pleased.

But no trouble came. That day, and for many days thereafter, the lightkeeper was sweetness itself. He and his helper had never been more anxious to please each other, and the house at Twin-Lights was--to all appearances--an abode of perfect trust and peace. Every day, when Seth was asleep or out of the way, "working on the Daisy M.," the assistant swam to the cove, and every day he met Miss Graham there! During the first week he returned from his dips expecting to be confronted by his superior, and ready with counter accusations of his own. After this he ceased to care. Seth did not ask a question and was so trustful and unsuspecting that Brown decided his secret was undiscovered. In fact, the lightkeeper was so innocent that the young man felt almost wicked, as if he were deceiving a child. He very nearly forgot the meeting behind the sand dune, having other and much more important things to think of.

July passed, and the first three weeks of August followed suit. The weather, which had been glorious, suddenly gave that part of the coast a surprise party in the form of a three days' storm. It was an offshore gale, but fierce, and the lighthouse buildings rocked in its grasp. Bathing was out of the question, and one of Seth's dories broke its anchor rope and went to pieces in the breakers. Atkins and Brown slept but little during the storm, both being on duty the greater part of the time.

The fourth day broke clear, but the wind had changed to the east and the barometer threatened more bad weather to come. When Seth came in to breakfast he found his helper sound asleep in a kitchen chair, his head on the table. The young man was pretty well worn out. Atkins insisted upon his going to bed for the forenoon.

"Of course I sha'n't," protested Brown. "It's my watch, and you need sleep yourself."

"No, I don't, neither," was the decided answer. "I slept between times up in the tower, off and on. You go and turn in. I've got to drive over to Eastboro by and by, and I want you to be wide awake while I'm away. We ain't done with this spell of weather yet. We'll have rain and an easterly blow by night, see if we don't. You go right straight to bed."

"I shall do nothing of the sort."

"Yes, you will. I'm your boss and I order you to do it. No back talk, now. Go!"

So Brown went, unwilling but very tired. He was sound asleep in ten minutes.

Seth busied himself about the house, occasionally stepping to the window to look out at the weather. An observer would have noticed that before leaving the window on each of these occasions, his gaze invariably turned toward the bungalow. His thoughts were more constant than his gaze; they never left his little cottage across the cove. In fact, they had scarcely left it for the past month. He washed the breakfast dishes, set the room in order, and was turning once more toward the window, when he heard a footstep approaching the open door. He knew the step; it was one with which he had been familiar during other and happier days, and now, once more--after all the years and his savage determination to forget and to hate--it had the power to awaken strange emotions in his breast. Yet his first move was to run into the living room and close his helper's chamber door. When he came back to the kitchen, shutting the living-room door carefully behind him, Mrs. Bascom was standing on the sill. She started when she saw him.

"Land sakes!" she exclaimed. "You? I cal'lated, of course, you was abed and asleep."

The lightkeeper waved his hands.

"S-sh-h!" he whispered.

"What shall I s-sh-h about? Your young man's gone somewhere, I s'pose, else you wouldn't be here."

"No, he ain't. He's turned in, tired out."

"Oh, then I guess I'd better go back home. 'Twas him I expected to see, else, of course, I shouldn't have come."

"Oh, I know that," with a sigh. "Where's your boss, Miss Graham?"

"She's gone for a walk along shore. I came over to--to bring back them eggs I borrowed."

"Did you? Where are they?"

The housekeeper seemed embarrassed, and her plump cheeks reddened.

"I--I declare I forgot to bring 'em after all," she stammered.

"I want to know. That's funny. You don't often--that is, you didn't use to forget things hardly ever, Emeline."

"Hum! you remember a lot, don't you."

"I remember more'n you think I do, Emeline."

"That's enough of that, Seth. Remember what I told you last time we saw each other."

"Oh, all right, all right. I ain't rakin' up bygones. I s'pose I deserve all I'm gettin'."

"I s'pose you do. Well, long's I forgot the eggs I guess I might as well be trottin' back. . . . You--you've been all right--you and Mr. Brown, I mean--for the last few days, while the storm was goin' on?"

"Um-h'm," gloomily. "How about you two over to the bungalow? You've kept dry and snug, I judge."

"Yes."

"I didn't know but you might be kind of nervous and scart when 'twas blowin'. All alone so."

"Humph! I've got used to bein' alone. As for Miss Ruth, I don't think she's scart of anythin'."

"Well, I was sort of nervous about you, if you wa'n't about yourself. 'Twas consider'ble of a gale of wind. I thought one spell I'd blow out of the top of the tower."

"So did I. I could see your shadow movin' 'round up there once in a while. What made you come out on the gallery in the worst of it night afore last?"

"Oh, the birds was smashin' themselves to pieces against the glass same as they always do in a storm, and I . . . But say! 'twas after twelve when I came out. How'd you come to see me? What was your doin' up that time of night?"

Mrs. Bascom's color deepened. She seemed put out by the question.

"So much racket a body couldn't sleep," she explained sharply. "I thought the shingles would lift right off the roof."

"But you wa'n't lookin' at the shingles. You was lookin' at the lighthouses; you jest said so. Emeline, was you lookin' for me? Was you worried about me?"

He bent forward eagerly.

"Hush!" she said, "you'll wake up the other woman-hater."

"I don't care. I don't care if I wake up all creation. Emeline, I believe you was worried about me, same as I was about you. More'n that," he added, conviction and exultation in his tone, "I don't believe 'twas eggs that fetched you here this mornin' at all. I believe you came to find out if we--if I was all right. Didn't you?"

"I didn't come to SEE you, be sure of that," with emphatic scorn.

"I know. But you was goin' to see Brown and find out from him. Answer me. Answer me now, didn't--"

She stepped toward the door. He extended an arm and held her back.

"You answer me," he commanded.

She tried to pass him, but his arm was like an iron bar. She hesitated a moment and then laughed nervously.

"You certainly have took to orderin' folks round since the old days," she said. "Why, yes, then; I did come to find out if you hadn't got cold, or somethin'. You're such a child and I'm such a soft-headed fool I couldn't help it, I cal'late?"

"Emeline, s'pose I had got cold. S'pose you found I was sick--what then?"

"Why--why, then I guess likely I'd have seen the doctor on my way through Eastboro. I shall be goin' that way to-morrer when I leave here."

"When you leave here? What do you mean by that?"

"Just what I say. Miss Graham's goin' to Boston to-morrer, and I'm goin' with her--as far as the city."

"But--but you're comin' back!"

"What should I come back here for? My summer job's over. If you want to know, my principal reason for comin' here this mornin' was to say good-by--to Mr. Brown, of course."

Seth's arm dropped. He leaned heavily against the doorpost.

"You're goin' away!" he exclaimed. "You're goin' away! Where?"

"I don't know. Back home, I s'pose. Though what I'll do when I get there I don't know. I've sold the house, so I don't exactly know where I'll put up. But I guess I'll find a place."

"You've sold your house? The house we used to live in?"

"Yes. The man that's been hirin' it has bought it. I'm glad, for I need the money. So good-by, Seth. 'Tain't likely we'll meet again in this life."

She started toward the door once more, and this time he was too greatly disturbed and shaken by what she had told him to detain her. At the threshhold she turned and looked at him.

"Good-by, Seth," she said again. "I hope you'll be happy. And," with a half smile, "if I was you I'd stay keepin' lights; it, or somethin' else, has improved you a whole lot. Good-by."

Then he sprang forward. "Emeline," he cried, "Emeline, wait. You mustn't go. I can't let you go this way. I . . . What's that?"

"That" was the sound of horse's feet and the rattle of wheels. The lightkeeper ran to the window.

"It's Henry G.'s grocery cart," he said. "I cal'late he's fetchin' some truck I ordered last week. Do you want him to see you here?"

"I don't care. He don't know but what you and me are the best of friends. Yet, I don't know. Maybe it's just as well he don't see me; then there'll be no excuse for talk. I'll step inside and wait."

She returned to the kitchen, and Seth went out to meet the wagon. Its driver was the boy who had brought the flypaper and "Job."

"Hello," hailed the youngster, pulling in his steed; "how be you, Mr. Atkins? I've got some of them things you ordered. The rest ain't come from Boston yet. Soon's they do, Henry G.'ll send 'em down. How you feelin' these days? Ain't bought no more dogs, have you?"

Seth curtly replied that he "wa'n't speculatin' in dogs to no great extent any more," and took the packages which the boy handed him. With them was a bundle of newspapers and an accumulation of mail matter.

"I fetched the mail for the bungalow, too," said the boy. "There's two or three letters for that Graham girl and one for Mrs. Bascom. She's housekeeper there, you know."

"Yes. Here, you might's well leave their mail along with mine. I'll see it's delivered, all right."

"Will you? Much obliged. Goin' to take it over yourself? Better look out, hadn't you? That Graham girl's a peach; all the fellers at the store's talkin' about her. Seems a pity she's wastin' her sassiety on a woman-hater like you; that's what they say. You ain't gettin' over your female hate, are you? Haw, haw!"

Mr. Atkins regarded his questioner with stern disapproval.

"There's some things--such as chronic sassiness--some folks never get over," he observed caustically. "Though when green hides are too fresh they can be tanned; don't forget that, young feller. Any more chatty remarks you've got to heave over? No? Well, all right; then I'd be trottin' back home if I was you. Henry G.'ll have to shut up shop if you deprive him of your valuable services too long. Good day to you."

The driver, somewhat abashed, gathered up the reins. "I didn't mean to make you mad," he observed. "Anything in our line you want to order?"

"No. I'm cal'latin' to go to the village myself this afternoon, and if I want any more groceries I'll order 'em then. As for makin' me mad--well, don't you flatter yourself. A moskeeter can pester me, but he don't make me mad but once--and his funeral's held right afterwards. Now trot along and keep in the shade much as you can. You're so fresh the sun might spile you."

The boy, looking rather foolish, laughed and drove out of the yard. Seth, his arms full, went back to the kitchen. He dumped the packages and newspapers on the table and began sorting the letters.

"Here you are, Emeline," he said. "Here's Miss Graham's mail and somethin' for you."

"For me?" The housekeeper was surprised. "A letter for me! What is it, I wonder? Somethin' about sellin' the house maybe."

She took the letter from him and turned to the light before opening it. Seth sat down in the rocker and began inspecting his own assortment of circulars and papers. Suddenly he heard a sound from his companion. Glancing up he saw that she was leaning against the doorpost, the open letter in her hand, and on her face an expression which caused him to spring from his chair.

"What is it, Emeline?" he demanded. "Any bad news?"

She scarcely noticed him until he spoke again. Then she shook her head.

"No," she said slowly. "Nothin' but--but what I might have expected."

"But what is it? It is bad news. Can't I help you? Please let me, if I can. I--I'd like to."

She looked at him strangely, and then turned away. "I guess nobody can help me," she answered. "Least of all, you."

"Why not? I'd like to; honest, I would. If it's about that house business maybe I--"

"It ain't"

"Then what is it? Please, Emeline. I know you don't think much of me. Maybe you've got good reasons; I'm past the place where I'd deny that. I--I've been feelin' meaner'n meaner every day lately. I--I don't know's I done right in runnin' off and leavin' you the way I did. Don't you s'pose you could give me another chance? Emeline, I--"

"Seth Bascom, what do you mean?"

"Just what I say. Emeline, you and me was mighty happy together once. Let's try it again. I will, if you will."

She was staring at him in good earnest now.

"Why, Seth!" she exclaimed. "What are you talkin' about? You--the chronic woman-hater!"

"That be blessed! I wa'n't really a woman-hater. I only thought I was. And--and I never hated you. Right through the worst of it I never did. Let's try it again, Emeline. You're in trouble. You need somebody to help you. Give me the chance."

There was a wistful look in her eyes; she seemed, or so he thought, to be wavering. But she shook her head. "I was in trouble before, Seth," she said, "and you didn't help me then. You run off and left me."

"You just as much as told me to go. You know you did."

"No, I didn't."

"Well, you didn't tell me to stay."

"It never seemed to me that a husband--if he was a man--would need to be coaxed to stay by his wife."

"But don't you care about me at all? You used to; I know it. And I always cared for you. What is it? Honest, Emeline, you never took any stock in that Sarah Ann Christy doin's, you know you didn't; now, did you?"

She was close to tears, but she smiled in spite of them.

"Well, no, Seth," she answered. "I will confess that Sarah Ann never worried me much."

"Then DON'T you care for me, Emeline?"

"I care for you much as I ever did. I never stopped carin' for you, fool that I am. But as for livin' with you again and runnin' the risk of--"

"You won't run any risk. You say I've improved, yourself. Your principal fault with me was, as I understand it, that I was too--too--somethin' or other. That I wa'n't man enough. By jiminy crimps, I'll show you that I'm a man! Give me the chance, and nothin' nor nobody can make me leave you again. Besides, there's nobody to come between us now. We was all right until that--that Bennie D. came along. He was the one that took the starch out of me. Now he's out of the way. HE won't bother us any more and . . . Why, what is it, Emeline?"

For she was looking at him with an expression even more strange. And again she shook her head.

"I guess," she began, and was interrupted by the jingle of the telephone bell.

The instrument was fastened to the kitchen wall, and the lightkeeper hastened to answer the ring.

"Testin' the wire after the storm, most likely," he explained, taking the receiver from the hook. "Hello! . . . Hello! . . . Yep, this is Eastboro Lights. . . . I'm the lightkeeper, yes. . . . Hey? . . . Miss Graham? . . . Right next door. . . . Yes. . . . WHO?" Then, turning to his companion, he said in an astonished voice: "It's somebody wants to talk with you, Emeline."

"With ME?" Mrs. Bascom could hardly believe it. "Are you sure?"

"So they say. Asked me if I could get you to the 'phone without any trouble. She's right here now," he added, speaking into the transmitter. "I'll call her."

The housekeeper wonderingly took the receiver from his hand.

"Hello!" she began. "Yes, this is Mrs. Bascom. . . . Who? . . . What? . . . OH!"

The last exclamation was almost a gasp, but Seth did not hear it. As she stepped forward to the 'phone she had dropped her letter. Atkins went over and picked it up. It lay face downward on the floor, and the last page, with the final sentence and signature, was uppermost. He could not help seeing it. "So we shall soon be together as of old. Your loving brother, Benjamin."

When Mrs. Bascom turned away from the 'phone after a rather protracted conversation she looked more troubled than ever. But Seth was not looking at her. He sat in the rocking-chair and did not move nor raise his head. She waited for him to speak, but he did not.

"Well," she said with a sigh, "I guess I must go. Good-by, Seth."

The lightkeeper slowly rose to his feet. "Emeline," he stammered, "you ain't goin' without--"

He stopped without finishing the sentence. She waited a moment and then finished it for him.

"I'll answer your question, if that's what you mean," she said. "And the answer is no. All things considered, I guess that's best."

"But Emeline, I--I--"

"Good-by, Seth."

"Sha'n't I," desperately, "sha'n't I see you again?"

"I expect to be around here for another day or so. But I can't see anythin' to be gained by our meetin'. Good-by."

Taking her letter and those addressed to Miss Graham from the table she went out of the kitchen. Seth followed her as far as the door, then turned and collapsed in the rocking-chair.

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