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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 13. "John Brown" Changes His Name
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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 13. 'John Brown' Changes His Name Post by :brennan Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :3259

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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 13. "John Brown" Changes His Name

CHAPTER XIII. "JOHN BROWN" CHANGES HIS NAME

"So we shall soon be together again as of old. Your loving brother, Benjamin."

The sentence which had met his eyes as he picked up the note which his caller had dropped was still before them, burned into his memory. Benjamin! "Bennie D."! the loathed and feared and hated Bennie D., cause of all the Bascom matrimonial heartbreaks, had written to say that he and his sister-in-law were soon to be together as they used to be. That meant that there had been no quarrel, but merely a temporary separation. That she and he were still friendly. That they had been in correspondence and that the "inventor" was coming back to take his old place as autocrat in the household with all his old influence over Emeline. Seth's new-found courage and manhood had vanished at the thought. Bennie D.'s name had scarcely been mentioned during the various interviews between the lightkeeper and his wife. She had said her first husband's brother had been in New York for two years, and her manner of saying it led Seth to imagine a permanent separation following some sort of disagreement. And now! and now! He remembered Bennie D.'s superior airs, his polite sneers, his way of turning every trick to his advantage and of perverting and misrepresenting his, Seth's, most innocent speech and action into crimes of the first magnitude. He remembered the meaning of those last few months in the Cape Ann homestead. All his fiery determination to be what he had once been--Seth Bascom, the self-respecting man and husband--collapsed and vanished. He groaned in abject surrender. He could not go through it again; he was afraid. Of any other person on earth he would not have been, but the unexpected resurrection of Bennie D. made him a hesitating coward. Therefore he was silent when his wife left him, and he realized that his opportunity was gone, gone forever.

In utter misery and self-hatred he sat, with his head in his hands, beside the kitchen table until eleven o'clock. Then he rose, got dinner, and called Brown to eat it. He ate nothing himself, saying that he'd lost his appetite somehow or other. After the meal he harnessed Joshua to the little wagon and started on his drive to Eastboro. "I'll be back early, I cal'late," were his last words as he drove out of the yard.

After he had gone, and Brown had finished clearing away and the other housekeeping tasks which were now such a burden, the substitute assistant went out to sit on the bench and smoke. The threatened easterly wind had begun to blow, and the sky was dark with tumbling clouds. The young man paid little attention to the weather, however. All skies were gloomy so far as he was concerned, and the darkest day was no blacker than his thoughts. Occasionally he glanced at the bungalow, and on one such occasion was surprised to see a carriage, one of the turnouts supplied by the Eastboro livery stable, roll up to its door and Mrs. Bascom, the housekeeper, emerge, climb to the seat beside the driver, and be driven away in the direction of the village. He idly wondered where she was going, but was not particularly interested. When, a half hour later, Ruth Graham left the bungalow and strolled off along the path at the top of the bluff, he was very much interested indeed. He realized, as he had been realizing for weeks, that he was more interested in that young woman than in anything else on earth. Also, that he had no right--miserable outcast that he was--to be interested in her; and certainly it would be the wildest insanity to imagine that she could be interested in him.

For what the lightkeeper might say or do, in the event of his secret being discovered, he did not care in the least. He was long past that point. And for the breaking of their solemn compact he did not care either. Seth might or might not have played the traitor; that, too, was a matter of no importance. Seth himself was of no importance; neither was he. There was but one important person in the whole world, and she was strolling along the bluff path at that moment. Therefore he left his seat on the bench, hurried down the slope to the inner end of the cove, noting absently that the tide of the previous night must have been unusually high, climbed to the bungalow, turned the corner, and walked slowly in the direction of the trim figure in the blue suit, which was walking, even more slowly, just ahead of him.

It may be gathered that John Brown's feelings concerning the opposite sex had changed. They had, and he had changed in other ways, also. How much of a change had taken place he did not himself realize, until this very afternoon. He did not realize it even then until, after he and the girl in blue had met, and the customary expressions of surprise at their casual meeting had been exchanged, the young lady seated herself on a dune overlooking the tumbling sea and observed thoughtfully:

"I shall miss all this"--with a wave of her hand toward the waves--"next week, when I am back again in the city."

Brown's cap was in his hand as she began to speak. After she had finished he stooped to pick up the cap, which had fallen to the ground.

"You are going away--next week?" he said slowly.

"We are going to-morrow. I shall remain in Boston for a few days. Then I shall visit a friend in the Berkshires. After that I may join my brother in Europe; I'm not sure as to that."

"To-morrow?"

"Yes!"

There was another one of those embarrassing intervals of silence which of late seemed to occur so often in their conversation. Miss Graham, as usual, was the first to speak.

"Mr. Brown," she began. The substitute assistant interrupted her.

"Please don't call me that," he blurted involuntarily. "It--oh, confound it, it isn't my name!"

She should have been very much surprised. He expected her to be. Instead she answered quite calmly.

"I know it," she said.

"You DO?"

"Yes. You are 'Russ' Brooks, aren't you?"

Russell Brooks, alias John Brown, dropped his cap again, but did not pick it up. He swallowed hard.

"How on earth did you know that?" he asked as soon as he could say anything.

"Oh, it was simple enough. I didn't really know; I only guessed. You weren't a real lightkeeper, that was plain. And you weren't used to washing dishes or doing housework--that," with the irrepressible curl of the corners of her lips, "was just as plain. When you told me that fib about meeting my brother here last summer I was sure you had met him somewhere, probably at college. So in my next letter to him I described you as well as I could, mentioned that you were as good or a better swimmer than he, and asked for particulars. He answered that the only fellow he could think of who fitted your description was 'Russ' Brooks--Russell, I suppose--of New York; though what Russ Brooks was doing as lightkeeper's assistant at Eastboro Twin-Lights he DIDN'T know. Neither did I. But then, THAT was not my business."

The substitute assistant did not answer: he could not, on such short notice.

"So," continued the girl, "I felt almost as if I had known you for a long time. You and Horace were such good friends at college, and he had often told me of you. I was very glad to meet you in real life, especially here, where I had no one but Mrs. Bascom to talk to; Mr. Atkins, by reason of his aversion to my unfortunate sex, being barred."

Mr. Brown's--or Mr. Brooks'--next speech harked back to her previous one.

"I'll tell you while I'm here," he began.

"You needn't, unless you wish," she said. "I have no right to know"--adding, with characteristic femininity, "though I'm dying to."

"But I want you to know. As I told Atkins when I first came, I haven't murdered anyone and I haven't stolen anything. I'm not a crook running from justice. I'm just a plain idiot who fell overboard from a steamer and"--bitterly--"hadn't the good luck to drown."

She made no comment, and he began his story, telling it much as he had told it to the lightkeeper.

"There!" he said in conclusion, "that's the whole fool business. That's why I'm here. No need to ask what you think of it, I suppose."

She was silent, gazing at the breakers. He drew his own conclusions from her silence.

"I see," he said. "Well, I admit it. I'm a low down chump. Still, if I had it to do over again, I should do pretty much the same. A few things differently, but in general the very same."

"What would you do differently?" she asked, still without looking at him.

"For one thing, I wouldn't run away. I'd stay and face the music. Earn my living or starve."

"And now you're going to stay here?"

"No longer than I can help. If I get the appointment as assistant keeper I'll begin to save every cent I can. Just as soon as I get enough to warrant risking it I'll head for Boston once more and begin the earning or starving process. And," with a snap of his jaws, "I don't intend to starve."

"You won't go back to your father?"

"If he sees fit to beg my pardon and acknowledge that I was right--not otherwise. And he must do it of his own accord. I told him that when I walked out of his office. It was my contribution to our fond farewell. His was that he would see me damned first. Possibly he may."

She smiled.

"You must have been a charming pair of pepper pots," she observed. "And the young lady--what of her?"

"She knows that I am fired, cut off even without the usual shilling. That will be quite sufficient for her, I think."

"How do you know it will? How do you know she might not have been willing to wait while you earned that living you are so sure is coming?"

"Wait? She wait for me? Ann Davidson wait for a man without a cent while he tried to earn a good many dollars? Humph! you amuse me."

"Why not? You didn't give her a chance. You calmly took it for granted that she wanted only money and social position and you walked off and left her. How do you know she wouldn't have liked you better for telling her just how you felt. If a girl really cared for a man it seems to me that she would be willing to wait for him, years and years if it were necessary, provided that, during that time, he was trying his best for her."

"But--but--she isn't that kind of a girl."

"How do you know? You didn't put her to the test. You owed her that. It seems to me you owe it to her now."

The answer to this was on his tongue. It was ready behind his closed lips, eager to burst forth. That he didn't love the Davidson girl, never had loved her. That during the past month he had come to realize there was but one woman in the wide world for him. And did that woman mean what she said about waiting years--and years--provided she cared? And did she care?

He didn't utter one word of this. He wanted to, but it seemed so preposterous. Such an idiotic, outrageous thing to ask. Yet it is probable that he would have asked it if the young lady had given him the chance. But she did not; after a sidelong glance at his face, she hurriedly rose from the rock and announced that she must be getting back to the house.

"I have some packing to do," she explained; "and, besides, I think it is going to rain."

"But, Miss Graham, I--"

A big drop of rain splashing upon his shoe confirmed the weather prophecy. She began to walk briskly toward the bungalow, and he walked at her side.

"Another storm," she said. "I should think the one we have just passed through was sufficient for a while. I hope Mrs. Bascom won't get wet."

"She has gone to the village, hasn't she?"

"Yes. She has received some message or other--I don't know how it came--which sent her off in a hurry. A livery carriage came for her. She will be back before night."

"Atkins has gone, too. He had some errands, I believe. I can't make out what has come over him of late. He has changed greatly. He used to be so jolly and good-humored, except when female picnickers came. Now he is as solemn as an owl. When he went away he scarcely spoke a word. I thought he seemed to be in trouble, but when I asked him, he shut me up so promptly that I didn't press the matter."

"Did he? That's odd. Mrs. Bascom seemed to be in trouble, too. I thought she had been crying when she came out of her room to go to the carriage. She denied it, but her eyes looked red. What can be the matter?"

"I don't know."

"Nor I. Mr.--er--Brooks--Or shall I still call you 'Brown'?"

"No. Brown is dead; drowned. Let him stay so."

"Very well. Mr. Brooks, has it occurred to you that your Mr. Atkins is a peculiar character? That he acts peculiarly?"

"He has acted peculiarly ever since I knew him. But to what particular peculiarity do you refer?"

"His queer behavior. Several times I have seen him--I am almost sure it was he--hiding or crouching behind the sand hills at the rear of our bungalow."

"You have? Why, I--"

He hesitated. Before he could go on or she continue, the rain came in a deluge. They reached the porch just in time.

"Well, I'm safe and reasonably dry," she panted. "I'm afraid you will be drenched before you get to the lights. Don't you want an umbrella?"

"No. No, indeed, thank you."

"Well, you must hurry then. Good-by."

"But, Miss Graham," anxiously, "I shall see you again before you go. To-morrow, at bathing time, perhaps?"

"Judging by the outlook just at present, bathing will be out of the question to-morrow."

"But I want to see you. I must."

She shook her head doubtfully. "I don't know," she said. "I shall be very busy getting ready to leave; but perhaps we may meet again."

"We must. I--Miss Graham, I--"

She had closed the door. He ran homeward through the rain, the storm which soaked him to the skin being but a trifle compared to the tornado in his breast.

He spent the balance of the day somehow, he could not have told how. The rain and wind continued; six o'clock came, and Seth should have returned an hour before, but there was no sign of him. He wondered if Mrs. Bascom had returned. He had not seen the carriage, but she might have come while he was inside the house. The lightkeeper's nonappearance began to worry him a trifle.

At seven, as it was dark, he took upon himself the responsibility of climbing the winding stairs in each tower and lighting the great lanterns. It was the first time he had done it, but he knew how, and the duty was successfully accomplished. Then, as Atkins was still absent and there was nothing to do but wait, he sat in the chair in the kitchen and thought. Occasionally, and it showed the trend of his thoughts, he rose and peered from the window across the dark to the bungalow. In the living room of the latter structure a light burned. At ten it was extinguished.

At half past ten he went to Seth's bedroom, found a meager assortment of pens, ink and note paper, returned to the kitchen, sat down by the table and began to write.

For an hour he thought, wrote, tore up what he had written, and began again. At last the result of his labor read something like this:


"DEAR MISS GRAHAM:

"I could not say it this afternoon, although if you had stayed I think I should. But I must say it now or it may be too late. I can't let you go without saying it. I love you. Will you wait for me? It may be a very long wait, although God knows I mean to try harder than I have ever tried for anything in my life. If I live I will make something of myself yet, with you as my inspiration. You know you said if a girl really cared for a man she would willingly wait years for him. Do you care for me as much as that? With you, or for you, I believe I can accomplish anything. DO you care?

"RUSSELL BROOKS."


He put this in an envelope, sealed and addressed it, and without stopping to put on either cap or raincoat went out in the night.

The rain was still falling, although not as heavily, but the wind was coming in fierce squalls. He descended the path to the cove, floundering through the wet bushes. At the foot of the hill he was surprised to find the salt marsh a sea of water not a vestige of ground above the surface. This was indeed a record-breaking tide, such as he had never known before. He did not pause to reflect upon tides or such trivialities, but, with a growl at being obliged to make the long detour, he rounded the end of the cove and climbed up to the door of the bungalow. Under the edge of that door he tucked the note he had written. As soon as this was accomplished he became aware that he had expressed himself very clumsily. He had not written as he might. A dozen brilliant thoughts came to him. He must rewrite that note at all hazards.

So he spent five frantic minutes trying to coax that envelope from under the door. But, in his care to push it far enough, it had dropped beyond the sill, and he could not reach it. The thing was done for better or for worse. Perfectly certain that it was for worse, he splashed mournfully back to the lights. In the lantern room of the right-hand tower he spent the remainder of the night, occasionally wandering out on the gallery to note the weather.

The storm was dying out. The squalls were less and less frequent, and the rain had been succeeded by a thick fog. The breakers pounded in the dark below him, and from afar the foghorns moaned and wailed. It was a bad night, a night during which no lightkeeper should be absent from his post. And where was Seth?

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