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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 3. Mr. Brown Puts In An Application
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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 3. Mr. Brown Puts In An Application Post by :vonjohn Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :2029

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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 3. Mr. Brown Puts In An Application

CHAPTER III. MR. BROWN PUTS IN AN APPLICATION

At half past five the lightkeeper opened the bedroom door and peeped out. The kitchen was empty. There was no sign of Mr. Brown. It took Seth just four minutes to climb into the garments he had discarded and reach the open air. His guest was seated on the bench beside the house, one of the clay pipes in his hand. He was looking out to sea. He spoke first:

"Hello!" he said. "You're up ahead of time, aren't you? It isn't six yet."

Atkins grinned. "No," he answered, "'tain't! not quite. But sence Ezry cleared out I've been a kind of human alarm clock, as you might say. Feelin' all right, are you?"

"Yes, thank you. I say," holding up the pipe and regarding it respectfully, "is this tobacco of yours furnished by the government?"

"No. Some I bought myself last time I was over to the Center. Why, what's the matter with it? Ain't it good?"

"Perhaps so."

"Then what made you ask? Ain't it strong enough?"

"Strong enough! You're disposed to be sarcastic. It's stronger than I am. What do they flavor it with--tar?"

"Say, let's see that plug. THAT ain't smokin' tobacco."

"What is it, then--asphalt?"

"Why, haw! haw! That's a piece of Ezry's chewin'. Some he left when he went away. It's 'Honest Friend.' 'TIS flavored up consider'ble. And you tried to smoke it! Ho! ho!"

The young man joined in the laugh.

"That explains why it bubbled so," he said. "I used twenty-two matches, by actual count, and then gave it up. Bah!" he smacked his lips disgustedly and made a face: "'Honest Friend'--is that the name of it? Meaning that it'll stick to you through life, I presume. Water has no effect on the taste; I've tried it."

"Maybe some supper might help. I'll wash the dinner dishes and start gettin' it. All there seems to be to this job of mine just now is washin' dishes. And how I hate it!"

He reentered the kitchen. Then he uttered an exclamation:

"Why, what's become of the dishes?" he demanded. "I left 'em here on the table."

Brown arose from the bench and sauntered to the door.

"I washed them," he said. "I judged that you would have to if I didn't, and it seemed the least I could do, everything considered."

"Sho! You washed the dishes, hey? Where'd you put 'em?"

"In the closet there. That's where they belong, isn't it?"

Seth went to the closet, took a plate from the pile and inspected it.

"Um!" he grunted, turning the plate over, "that ain't such a bad job. Not so all-fired bad, for a green hand. What did you wash 'em with?"

"A cloth I found hanging by the sink."

"I see. Yes, yes. And you wiped 'em on--what?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, I didn't see any towels in sight, except that one on the door; and, for various reasons, I judged that wasn't a dish towel."

"Good judgment. 'Tisn't. Go on."

"So I hunted around, and in the closet in the parlor, or living room, or whatever you call it, I found a whole stack of things that looked like towels; so I used one of those."

"Is this it?" Seth picked up a damp and bedraggled cloth from the table.

"That's it. I should have hung it up somewhere, I suppose. I'll lose my job if I don't look out."

"Um! Well, I'm much obliged to you, only--"

"Only?"

"Only you washed them dishes with the sink cloth and wiped 'em with a piller case."

The volunteer dishwasher's mouth opened.

"NO!" he gasped.

"Ya-as."

"A pillow case! Well, by George!"

"Um-hm. I jedge you ain't washed many dishes in your lifetime."

"Not so very many. No."

They looked at each other and burst into a roar of laughter. Brown was the first to recover.

"Well," he observed, "I guess it's up to me. If you'll kindly put me next to a genuine cloth, or sponge, or whatever is the proper caper for dish-washing, I'll undertake to do them over again. And, for heaven's sake, lock up the pillow cases."

Seth protested, declaring that the dishes need not be rewashed that very minute, and that when he got a chance he would do them himself. But the young man was firm, and, at last, the lightkeeper yielded.

"It's real kind of you," he declared, "and bein' as I've consider'ble to do, I don't know but I'll let you. Here's a couple of dishcloths, and there's the towels. I'm goin' out to see to the lights, and I'll be back pretty soon and get supper."

Later in the evening, after supper, the housework done, they sat again on the bench beside the door, each with a pipe, filled, this time, with genuine smoking tobacco. Before and below them was the quiet sea, rolling lazily under the stars. Overhead the big lanterns in the towers thrust their parallel lances of light afar into the darkness. The only sounds were the low wash of the surf and the hum of the eager mosquitoes. Brown was silent, alternately puffing at the pipe and slapping at the insects, which latter, apparently finding his skin easier to puncture than that of the tanned and leathery Atkins, were making the most of their opportunity.

Seth, whose curiosity had been checked but not smothered by his companion's evident desire to say nothing concerning himself, was busy thinking of various guileful schemes with which to entrap the castaway into the disclosure of his identity. Having prepared his bait, he proceeded to get over a line.

"Mr. Brown," he said, "I ain't mentioned it to you afore, 'count of your needin' rest and grub and all after your fallin' overboard last night. But tomorrer you'll be feelin' fustrate again, and I cal'late you'll be wantin' to get word to your folks. Now we can telephone to the Eastboro depot, where there's a telegraph, and the depot master'll send a dispatch to your people, lettin' 'em know you're all safe and sound. If you'll just give me the address and what you want to say, I'll 'tend to it myself. The depot master's a good friend of mine, and he'll risk sending the dispatch 'collect' if I tell him to."

"Thank you," replied Brown, shortly.

"Oh, don't mention it. Now who'll I send it to?"

"You needn't send it. I couldn't think of putting you to further trouble."

"Trouble! 'Tain't no trouble to telephone. Land sakes, I do it four or five times a day. Now who'll I send it to?"

"You needn't send it."

"Oh, well, of course, if you'd ruther send it yourself--"

"I sha'n't send it. It really isn't worth while 'phoning or telegraphing either. I didn't drown, and I'm very comfortable, thank you--or should be if it weren't for these mosquitoes."

"Comf'table! Yes, you're comf'table, but how about your folks? Won't they learn, soon's that steamer gets into--into Portland--or--or--New York or Boston--or . . . Hey?"

"I didn't speak."

Seth swallowed hard and continued. "Well, wherever she was bound," he snapped. "Won't they learn that you sot sail in her and never got there? Then they'll know that you MUST have fell overboard."

John Brown drew a mouthful of smoke through the stem of the pipe and blew it spitefully among the mosquitoes.

"I don't see how they'll learn it," he replied.

"Why, the steamer folks'll wire em right off."

"They'll have to find them first."

"That'll be easy enough. There'll be your name, 'John Brown,' of such and such a place, written right on the purser's book, won't it."

"No," drawled Mr. Brown, "it won't."

The lightkeeper felt very much as if this particular road to the truth had ended suddenly in a blind alley. He pulled viciously at his chin whiskers. His companion shifted his position on the bench. Silence fell again, as much silence as the mosquitoes would permit.

Suddenly Brown seemed to reach a determination.

"Atkins," he said briskly, and with considerable bitterness in his tone, "don't you worry about my people. They don't know where I am, and--well, some of them, at least, don't care. Maybe I'm a rolling stone--at any rate, I haven't gathered any moss, any financial moss. I'm broke. I haven't any friends, any that I wish to remember; I haven't any job. I am what you might call down and out. If I had drowned when I fell overboard last night, it might have been a good thing--or it might not. We won't argue the question, because just now I'm ready to take either side. But let's talk about yourself. You're lightkeeper here?"

"I be, yes."

"And these particular lights seem to be a good way from everywhere and everybody."

"Five mile from Eastboro Center, sixteen from Denboro, and two from the nighest life savin' station. Why?"

"Oh, just for instance. No neighbors, you said?"

"Nary one."

"I noticed a bungalow just across the brook here. It seems to be shut up. Who owns it?"

"Bunga--which? Oh, that cottage over on t'other side the crick? That b'longs to a couple of paintin' fellers from up Boston way. Not house painters, you understand, but fellers that put in their time paintin' pictures of the water and the beach and the like of that. Seems a pretty silly job for grown-up men, but they're real pleasant and folksy. Don't put on no airs nor nothin.' They're most gen'rally here every June and July and August, but I understand they ain't comin' this year, so the cottage'll be shut up. I'll miss 'em, kind of. One of 'em's name is Graham and t'other's Hamilton."

"I see. Many visitors to the lights?"

"Not many. Once in a while a picnic comes over in a livery four-seater, but not often. The same gang never comes twice. Road's too bad, and they complain like fury about the moskeeters."

"Do they? How peevish! Atkins, you're not married?"

It was an innocent question, but it had an astonishing effect. The lightkeeper bounced on the bench as if someone had kicked it violently from beneath.

"What?" he quavered shrilly. "Wha--what's that?"

Brown was surprised. "I asked if you were married, that's all," he said. "I can't see--"

"Stop!" Seth's voice shook, and he bent down to glare through the darkness at his companion's face. "Stop!" he ordered. "You asked me if I was--married?"

"Yes. Why shouldn't I?"

"Why shouldn't you? See here, young feller, you--you--what made you ask that?"

"What made me?"

"Stop sayin' my words after me. Are you a man or a poll-parrot? Can't you understand plain United States language? What made you? Or WHO made you? Who told you to ask me that question?"

He pounded the bench with his fist. The pair stared at each other for a moment; then Brown leaned back and began to whistle. Seth seized him by the shoulders.

"Quit that foolishness, d'you hear?" he snarled. "Quit it, and answer me!"

The answer was prefaced by a pitying shake of the head.

"It's the mosquitoes," observed the young man, musingly. "They get through and puncture the brain after a time, I presume. I'm not surprised exactly, but," with a sigh, "I'm very sorry."

"What are you talkin' about," demanded Atkins. "Be you crazy?"

"No-o. I'M not."

"YOU'RE not! Do you mean that I am?"

"Well," slowly, "I'm not an expert in such cases, but when a perfectly simple, commonplace question sets a chap to pounding and screaming and offering violence, then--well, it's either insanity or an attempt at insult, one or the other. I've given you the benefit of the doubt."

He scratched a match on his heel and relit his pipe. The lightkeeper still stared, suspicious and puzzled. Then he drew a long breath.

"I--I didn't mean to insult you," he stammered.

"Glad to hear it, I'm sure. If I were you, however, I should see a doctor for the other trouble."

"And I ain't crazy, neither. I beg your pardon for hollerin' and grabbin' hold of you."

"Granted."

"Thank ye. Now," hesitatingly, "would you mind tellin' me why you asked me if I was married?"

"Not in the least. I asked merely because it occurred to me that you might be. Of course, I had seen nothing of your wife, but it was barely possible that she was away on a visit, or somewhere. There is no regulation forbidding lightkeepers marrying--at least, I never heard of any--and so I asked; that's all."

Seth nodded. "I see," he said, slowly; "yes, yes, I see. So you didn't have no special reason."

"I did not. Of course, if I had realized that you were subject to--er--fits, I should have been more careful."

"Hum! . . . Well, I--I beg your pardon again. I--I am kind of touchy on some p'ints. Didn't I tell you no women came here? Married! A wife! Do I look like a dum fool?"

"Not now."

"Well, then! And I've apologized for bein' one a few minutes ago, ain't I."

"Yes, you have. No grudge on my part, I assure you. Let's forget it and talk of something else."

They did, but the dialogue was rather jerky. Brown was thinking, and Atkins seemed moody and disinclined to talk. After a time he announced that it was getting late and he cal'lated he would go up to the light room. "You'd better turn in," he added, rising.

"Just a minute," said the young man. "Wait just a minute. Atkins, suppose I asked you another question--would you become violent at once? or merely by degrees?"

Seth frowned. The suspicious look returned to his face.

"Humph!" he grunted. "Depended on what you asked me, maybe."

"Yes. Well, this one is harmless--at least, I hope it is. I thought the other was, also, but I . . . There! there! be calm. Sit down again and listen. This question is nothing like that. It's about that assistant of yours, the chap who left a day or two before I drifted in. What were his duties? What did he have to do when he was here?"

"Wa-al," drawled Seth with sarcasm, resuming his seat on the bench; "he was SUPPOSED to do consider'ble many things. Stand watch and watch with me, and scrub brass and clean up around, and sweep and wash dishes and--and--well, make himself gen'rally useful. Them was the duties he was supposed to have. What he done was diff'rent. Pesky loafer! Why?"

"That's what I'm going to tell you. Have they appointed his successor yet? Have you got any one to take his place?"

"No. Fact is, I'd ought to have telegraphed right off to the Board, but I ain't. I was so glad to see the last of him that I kept puttin' it off. I'll do it tomorrer."

"Perhaps you won't need to."

"Course I'll need to! Why not? Got to have somebody to help. That's rules and regulations; and, besides, I can't keep awake day and night, too. What makes you think I won't need to?"

The young man knocked the ashes from his pipe. Rising, he laid a hand on his companion's shoulder.

"Because you've got an assistant right here on the premises," he said. "Delivered by the Atlantic express right at your door. Far be it from me to toot my horn, Mr. Atkins, or to proclaim my merits from the housetops. But, speaking as one discerning person to another, when it comes to an A1, first chop lightkeeper's assistant, I ask: 'What's the matter with yours truly, John Brown?'"

Seth's reply was not in words. The hand holding his pipe fell limp upon his lap, and he stared at the speaker. The latter, entirely unabashed, waved an airy gesture, and continued.

"I repeat," he said, "'What's the matter with John Brown?' And echo answers, 'He's all right!' I am a candidate for the position of assistant keeper at Eastboro Twin-Lights."

"YOU?"

"Me."

"But--but--aw, go on! You're foolin'."

"Not a fool. I mean it. I am here. I'm green, but in the sunshine of your experience I agree to ripen rapidly. I can wash dishes--you've seen me. I believe I could scrub brass and sweep."

"You wantin' to be assistant at a place like this! YOU! an edicated, able young chap, that's been used to valets and servants and--"

"Why do you say that? How do you know I've been used to those things?"

"'Cause, as I hinted to you a spell ago, I ain't altogether a dum fool. I can put two and two together and make four, without having the example done for me on a blackboard. You're a rich man's son; you've been used to sassiety and city ways and good clothes. YOU wantin' to put in your days and nights in a forsaken hole like this! Nonsense! Get out!"

But Mr. Brown refused to get out.

"No nonsense about it," he declared. "It is the hand of Fate. With the whole broadside of Cape Cod to land upon, why was I washed ashore just at this particular spot? Answer:--Because at this spot, at this time, Eastboro Twin-Lights needed an assistant keeper. I like the spot. It is beautiful. 'Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife.' With your permission, I'll stay here. The leopard may or may not change his spots, but I sha'n't. I like this one and here I stay. Yes, I mean it. I stay--as your assistant. Come, what do you say? Is it a go?"

The lightkeeper rose once more. "I'm goin' on watch," he said with decision. "You turn in. You'll feel better in the mornin'."

He started towards the tower. But John Brown sprang from the bench and followed him.

"Not until you've answered my question," he declared. "AM I to be your assistant?"

"No, course you ain't. It's dum foolishness. Besides, I ain't got the say; the government hires its own keepers."

"But you can square the government. That will be easy. Why," with a modest gesture, "look what the government is getting. It will jump at the chance. Atkins, you must say yes."

"I sha'n't, neither. Let go of my arm. It's blame foolishness, I tell you. Why," impatiently, "course it's foolishness! I don't know the first thing about you."

"What of it? I don't know anything about you, either."

Again the lightkeeper seemed unaccountably agitated. He stopped in his stride and whirled to face his companion.

"What do you mean by that?" he demanded fiercely. Before the young man could reply, he turned again, strode to the door of the light, flung it open, and disappeared within. The door closed behind him with a thunderous bang.

John Brown gazed after him in bewilderment. Then he shrugged his shoulders and returned to the bench.

The surf at the foot of the bluff grumbled and chuckled wickedly, as if it knew all of poor humanity's secrets and found a cynic's enjoyment in the knowledge.

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CHAPTER II. MR. JOHN BROWNOnce before, during his years of service as keeper of Eastboro Twin-Lights, had Seth seen such a sight as that which now caused him to make his dash for the shore. Once before, after the terrible storm of 1905, when the great steamer Bay Queen went down with all on board, the exact spot of her sinking unknown even to this day. Then the whole ocean side of the Cape, from Race Point to Orham, was strewn with ghastly relics. But the Bay Queen met her fate in the winter season, amid a gale such as even
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