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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 7. Out Of The Bag
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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 7. Out Of The Bag Post by :vonjohn Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :2484

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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 7. Out Of The Bag

CHAPTER VII. OUT OF THE BAG

"I'm married, and I've got a wife livin'," continued Seth; adding hurriedly and fiercely, "don't you say nothin' to me! Don't you put me out. I'm goin' to tell you! I'm goin' to tell you all of it--all, by time! I am, if I die for it."

He was speaking so rapidly that the words were jumbled together. He knocked his hat from his forehead with a blow of his fist and actually panted for breath. Brown had never before seen him in this condition.

"Hold on! Wait," he cried. "Atkins, you needn't do this; you mustn't. I am asking no questions. We agreed to--"

"Hush up!" Seth waved both hands in the air. "DON'T you talk! Let me get this off my chest. Good heavens alive, I've been smotherin' myself with it for years, and, now I've got started, I'll blow off steam or my b'iler'll bust. I'm GOIN' to tell you. You listen--

"Yes, sir, I'm a married man," he went on. "I wa'n't always married, you understand. I used to be single once. Once I was single; see?"

"I see," said Brown, repressing a smile.

Seth was not aware that there was anything humorous in his statement.

"Yes," he said, "I was single and--and happy, by jiminy! I was skipper of a mack'rel schooner down Cape Ann way, never mind where, and Seth Atkins is only part of my name; never mind that, neither. I sailed that schooner and I run that schooner--I RUN her; and when I said 'boo' all hands aboard jumped, I tell you. When I've got salt water underneath me, I'm a man. But I told you that afore.

"However, this is what I didn't tell you nor nobody else in this part of the state: I stayed single till I got to be past forty. Everybody set me down as an old bach. Then I met a woman; yes, sir, I met a woman."

He made this assertion as if it was something remarkable. His companion on the bench made no comment.

"She was a widow woman," went on Seth, "and she had a little property left her by her first husband. Owned a house and land, she did, and had some money in the bank. Some folks cal'lated I married her for that, but they cal'lated wrong. I wanted her for herself. And I got her. Her name was Emeline. I always thought Emeline was a sort of pretty name."

He sighed. Brown observed that Emeline was a very pretty name, indeed.

"Um-hm. That's what I thought, and Emeline was a real pretty woman, for her age and heft--she was fleshy. She had some consider'ble prejudice against my goin' to sea, so I agreed to stay on shore a spell and farm it, as you might say. We lived in the house she owned and was real happy together. She bossed me around a good deal, but I didn't mind bein' bossed by her. 'Twas a change, you see, for I'd always been used to bossin' other folks. So I humored her. And, bein' on land made me lose my--my grip or somethin'; 'cause I seemed to forget how to boss. But we was happy, and then--then Bennie D. come. Consarn him!"

His teeth shut with a snap, and he struck his knee with his fist. "Consarn him!" he repeated, and was silent.

The substitute assistant ventured to jog his memory.

"Who was Bennie D.?" he asked.

"What? Hey? Bennie D.? Oh, he was her brother-in-law, her husband's brother from up Boston way. He was a genius--at least, he said he was--and an inventor. The only invention I ever could l'arn he'd invented to a finish was how to live without workin', but he'd got that brought to a science. However, he was forever fussin' over some kind of machine that was sartin sure to give power to the universe, when 'twas done, and Emeline's husband--his name was Abner--thought the world and all of him. 'Fore he died he made Emeline promise to always be kind to Bennie D., and she said she would. Abner left him a little money, and he spent it travelin' 'for his health.' I don't know where he traveled to, but, wherever 'twas, the health must have been there. He was the healthiest critter ever I see--and the laziest.

"Well, his travels bein' over, down he comes to make his sister-in-law a little visit. And he stays on and stays on. He never took no shine to me--I judge he figgered I hadn't no business sharin' Abner's property--and I never took to him, much.

"Emeline noticed Bennie D. and me wa'n't fallin' on each other's necks any to speak of, and it troubled her. She blamed me for it. Said Bennie was a genius, and geniuses had sensitive natures and had to be treated with consideration and different from other folks. And that promise to Abner weighed on her conscience, I cal'late. Anyhow, she petted that blame inventor, and it made me mad. And yet I didn't say much--not so much as I'd ought to, I guess. And Bennie D. was always heavin' out little side remarks about Emeline's bein' fitted for better things than she was gettin', and how, when his invention was 'perfected,' HE'D see that she didn't slave herself to death, and so on and so on. And he had consider'ble to say about folks tryin' to farm when they didn't know a cucumber from a watermelon, and how 'farmin'' was a good excuse for doin' nothin', and such. And I didn't have any good answer to that, 'cause I do know more about seaweed than I do cucumbers, and the farm wasn't payin' and I knew it.

"If he'd said these things right out plain, I guess likely I'd have give him what he deserved. But he didn't; he just hinted and smiled and acted superior and pityin'. And if I got mad and hove out a little sailor talk by accident, he'd look as sorry and shocked as the Come-Outer parson does when there's a baby born to a Universalist family. He'd get up and shut the door, as if he was scart the neighbors' morals would suffer--though the only neighbor within hearin' was an old critter that used to run a billiard saloon in Gloucester, and HIS morals had been put out of their misery forty years afore--and he'd suggest that Emeline better leave the room, maybe. And then I'd feel ashamed and wouldn't know what to do, and 'twould end, more'n likely, by my leavin' it myself.

"You can see how matters was driftin'. I could see plain enough, and I cal'late Emeline could, too--I'll give her credit for that. She didn't begin to look as happy as she had, and that made me feel worse than ever. One time, I found her cryin' in the wash room, and I went up and put my arm round her.

"'Emeline,' I says, 'don't; please don't. Don't cry. I know I ain't the husband I'd ought to be to you, but I'm doin' my best. I'm tryin' to do it. I ain't a genius,' I says.

"She interrupted me quick, sort of half laughin' and half cryin'. 'No, Seth,' says she, 'you ain't, that's a fact.'

"That made me sort of mad. 'No, I ain't,' I says again; 'and if you ask me, I'd say one in the house was enough, and to spare.'

"'I know you don't like Bennie,' she says.

"''Taint that,' says I, which was a lie. 'It ain't that,' I says; 'but somehow I don't seem to fit around here. Bennie and me, we don't seem to belong together.'

"'He is Abner's brother,' she says, 'and I promised Abner. I can't tell him to go. I can't tell him to leave this house, his brother's house.'

"Now, consarn it, there was another thing. It WAS Abner's house, or had been afore he died, and now 'twas hers. If I ever forgot that fact, which wa'n't by no means likely to happen, Bennie D. took occasions enough to remind me of it. So I was set back again with my canvas flappin', as you might say.

"'No,' says I, 'course you can't. He's your brother-in-law.'

"'But you are my husband,' she says, lookin' at me kind of queer. Anyhow, it seems kind of queer to me now. I've thought about that look a good deal since, and sometimes I've wondered if--if . . . However, that's all past and by.

"'Yes,' I says, pretty average bitter, 'but second husbands don't count for much.'

"'Some of 'em don't seem to, that's a fact,' she says.

"'By jiminy,' I says, 'I don't count for much in this house.'

"'Yes?' says she. 'And whose fault is that?'

"Well, I WAS mad. 'I tell you what I CAN do,' I sings out. 'I can quit this landlubber's job where I'm nothin' but a swab, and go to sea again, where I'm some account. That's what I can do.'

"She turned and looked at me.

"'You promised me never to go to sea again, she says.

"'Humph!' says I; 'some promises are hard to keep.'

"'I keep mine, hard or not,' says she. 'Would you go away and leave me?'

"'You've got Brother Bennie,' says I. 'He's a genius; I ain't nothin' but a man.'

"She laughed, pretty scornful. 'Are you sartin you're that?' she wanted to know.

"'Not since I been livin' here, I ain't,' I says. And that ended that try of makin' up.

"And from then on it got worse and worse. There wan't much comfort at home where the inventor was, so I took to stayin' out nights. Went down to the store and hung around, listenin' to fools' gabble, and wishin' I was dead. And the more I stayed out, the more Bennie D. laughed and sneered and hinted. And then come that ridic'lous business about Sarah Ann Christy. That ended it for good and all."

Seth paused in his long story and looked out across the starlit sea.

"Who was Sarah Ann?" asked Brown. The lightkeeper seemed much embarrassed.

"She was a born fool," he declared, with emphasis; "born that way and been developin' extry foolishness ever since. She was a widow, too; been good lookin' once and couldn't forget it, and she lived down nigh the store. When I'd be goin' down or comin' back, just as likely as not she was settin' on the piazza, and she'd hail me. I didn't want to stop and talk to her, of course."

"No, of course not."

"Well, I DIDN'T. And I didn't HAVE to talk. Couldn't if I wanted to; she done it all. Her tongue was hung on ball-bearin' hinges and was a self-winder guaranteed to run an hour steady every time she set it goin'. Talk! my jiminy crimps, how that woman could talk! I couldn't get away; I tried to, but, my soul, she wouldn't let me. And, if 'twas a warm night, she'd more'n likely have a pitcher of lemonade or some sort of cold wash alongside, and I must stop and taste it. By time, I can taste it yet!

"Well, there wa'n't no harm in her at all; she was just a fool that had to talk to somebody, males preferred. But my stayin' out nights wasn't helpin' the joyfulness of things to home, and one evenin'--one evenin' . . . Oh, there! I started to tell you this and I might's well get it over.

"This evenin' when I came home from the store I see somethin' was extry wrong soon's I struck the settin' room. Emeline was there, and Bennie D., and I give you my word, I felt like turnin' up my coat collar, 'twas so frosty. 'Twas hotter'n a steamer's stoke-hole outside, but that room was forty below zero.

"Nobody SAID nothin', you know--that was the worst of it; but I'd have been glad if they had. Finally, I said it myself. 'Well, Emeline,' says I, 'here I be.'

"No answer, so I tried again. 'Well, Emeline,' says I, 'I've fetched port finally.'

"She didn't answer me then, but Bennie D. laughed. He had a way of laughin' that made other folks want to cry--or kill him. For choice I'd have done the killin' first.

"'More nautical conversation, sister,' says he. 'He knows how fond you are of that sort of thing.'

"You see, Emeline never did like to hear me talk sailor talk; it reminded her too much that I used to be a sailor, I s'pose. And that inventor knew she didn't like it, and so he rubbed it in every time I made a slip. 'Twas just one of his little ways; he had a million of 'em.

"But I tried once more. 'Emeline,' I says, 'I'm home. Can't you speak to me?'

"Then she looked at me. 'Yes, Seth,' says she, 'I see you are home.'

"'At last,' put in brother-in-law, '"There is no place like home"--when the other places are shut up.' And he laughed again.

"'Stop, Bennie,' says Emeline, and he stopped. That was another of his little ways--to do anything she asked him. Then she turned to me.

"'Seth,' she asks, 'where have you been?'

"'Oh, down street,' says I, casual. 'It's turrible warm out.'

"She never paid no attention to the weather signals. 'Where 'bouts down street?' she wanted to know.

"'Oh, down to the store,' I says.

"'You go to the store a good deal, don't you,' says she. Bennie D. chuckled, and then begged her pardon. That chuckle stirred my mad up.

"'I go where folks seem to be glad to see me,' I says. 'Where they treat me as if I was somebody.'

"'So you was at the store the whole evenin'?' she asks.

"'Course I was,' says I. 'Where else would I be?'

"She looked at me hard, and her face sort of set. She didn't answer, but took up the sewin' in her lap and went to work on it. I remember she dropped it once, and Bennie D. jumped to pick it up for her, quick as a wink. I set down in the rockin' chair and took the Gloucester paper. But I didn't really read. The clock ticked and ticked, and 'twas so still you could hear every stroke of the pendulum. Finally, I couldn't stand it no longer.

"'What on earth is the matter?' I sings out. 'What have I done this time? Don't you WANT me to go to the store? Is that it?'

"She put down her sewin'. 'Seth,' says she, quiet but awful cold, 'I want you to go anywheres that you want to go. I never'll stand in your way. But I want you tell the truth about it afterwards.'

"'The truth?' says I. 'Don't I always tell you the truth?'

"'No,' says she. 'You've lied to me tonight. You've been callin' on the Christy woman, and you know it.'

"Well, you could have knocked me down with a baby's rattle. I'd forgot all about that fool Sarah Ann. I cal'late I turned nineteen different shades of red, and for a minute I couldn't think of a word to say. And Bennie D. smiled, wicked as the Old Harry himself.

"'How--how did you--how do you know I see Sarah Ann Christy?' I hollered out, soon's I could get my breath.

"'Because you were seen there,' says she.

"'Who see me?'

"'I did,' says she. 'I went down street myself, on an errand, and, bein' as you weren't here to go with me, Bennie was good enough to go. It ain't pleasant for a woman to go out alone after dark, and--and I have never been used to it,' she says.

"That kind of hurt me and pricked my conscience, as you may say.

"'You know I'd been tickled to death to go with you, Emeline,' I says. 'Any time, you know it. But you never asked me to go with you.'

"'How long has it been since you asked to go with me?' she says.

"'Do you really want me to go anywheres, Emeline?' says I, eager. 'Do you? I s'posed you didn't. If you'd asked--'

"'Why should I always do the askin'? Must a wife always ask her husband? Doesn't the husband ever do anything on his own responsibility? Seth, I married you because I thought you was a strong, self-reliant man, who would advise me and protect me and--'

"That cussed inventor bust into the talk right here. I cal'late he thought twas time.

"'Excuse me, sister,' he says; 'don't humiliate yourself afore him. Remember you and me saw him tonight, saw him with our own eyes, settin' on a dark piazza with another woman. Drinkin' with her and--'

"'Drinkin'!' I yells.

"'Yes, drinkin',' says he, solemn. 'I don't wonder you are ashamed of it.'

"'Ashamed! I ain't ashamed.'

"'You hear that, sister? NOW I hope you're convinced.'

"''Twa'n't nothin' but lemonade I was drinkin',' I hollers, pretty nigh crazy. 'She asked me to stop and have a glass 'cause 'twas so hot. And as for callin' on her, I wa'n't. I was just passin' by, and she sings out what a dreadful night 'twas, and I said 'twas, too, and she says won't I have somethin' cold to drink. That's all there was to it.'

"Afore Emeline could answer, Bennie comes back at me again.

"'Perhaps you'll tell us this was the first time you have visited her,' he purrs.

"Well, that was a sockdolager, 'cause twa'n't the first time. I don't know how many times 'twas. I never kept no account of 'em. Too glad to get away from her everlastin' tongue-clackin'. But when 'twas put right up to me this way, I--I declare I was all fussed up. I felt sick and I guess I looked so. Emeline was lookin' at me and seemin'ly waitin' for me to say somethin'; yet I couldn't say it. And Bennie D. laughed, quiet but wicked.

"That laugh fixed me. I swung round and lit into him.

"'You mind your own business,' I roars. 'Ain't you ashamed, makin' trouble with a man's wife in his own house?'

"'I was under the impression the house belonged to my sister-in-law,' he says. And again I was knocked off my pins.

"'You great big loafer!' I yelled at him; 'settin' here doin' nothin' but raisin' the divil generally! I--I--'

"He jumped as if I'd stuck a brad-awl into him. The shocked expression came across his face again, and he runs to Emeline and takes her arm.

"'Sister, sister,' he says, quick, but gentle, 'this is no place for you. Language like that is . . . there! there! don't you think you'd better leave the room?'

"She didn't go. As I remember it now, it keeps comin' back to me that she didn't go. She just stood still and looked at me. And then she says: 'Seth, why did you lie to me?'"

"'I didn't lie,' I shouts. 'I forgot, I tell you. I never thought that windmill of a Christy woman was enough importance to remember. I didn't lie to you--I never did. Oh, Emeline, you know I didn't. What's the matter with you and me, anyway? We used to be all right and now we're all wrong.'

"'One of us is,' says Bennie D. That was the final straw that choked the camel.

"'Yes,' I says to him, 'that's right, one of us is, and I don't know which. But I know this: you and I can't stay together in this house any longer.'

"I can see that room now, as 'twas when I said that. Us three lookin' at each other, and the clock a-tickin', and everything else still as still. I choked, but I kept on.

"'I mean it,' I says. 'Either you clear out of this house or I do.'

"And, while the words was on my lips, again it came to me strong that it wa'n't really my house at all. I turned to my wife.

"'Emeline,' says I, 'it's got to be. You must tell him to go, or else--'

"She'd been lookin' at me again with that kind of queer look in her eyes, almost a hopeful look, seem's if 'twas, and yet it couldn't have been, of course. Now she drawed a long breath.

"'I can't tell him to go, Seth,' says she. 'I promised to give him a home as long as I had one.'

"I set my jaws together. 'All right,' I says; 'then I'M goin'. Good by.'

"And I went. Yes, sir, I went. Just as I was, without any hat or dunnage of any kind. When I slammed the back door it seemed as if I heard her sing out my name. I waited, but I guess I was mistaken, for she didn't call it again. And--and I never set eyes on her since. No, sir, not once."

The lightkeeper stopped. John Brown said nothing, but he laid a hand sympathetically on the older man's shoulder. Seth shuddered, straightened, and went on.

"I cleared out of that town that very night," he said. "Walked clear into Gloucester, put up at a tavern there till mornin', and then took the cars to Boston. I cal'lated fust that I'd ship as mate or somethin' on a foreign voyage, but I couldn't; somehow I couldn't bring myself to do it. You see, I'd promised her I wouldn't ever go to sea again, and so--well, I was a dum idiot, I s'pose, but I wouldn't break the promise. I knew the superintendent of lighthouses in this district, and I'd been an assistant keeper when I was younger. I told him my yarn, and he told me about this job. I changed my name, passed the examination and come directly here. And here I've stayed ever since."

He paused again. Brown ventured to ask another question.

"And your--and the lady?" he asked. "Where is she?"

"I don't know. Livin' in her house back there on Cape Ann, I s'pose. She was, last I knew. I never ask no questions. I want to forget--to forget, by time! . . . Hi hum! . . . Well, now you know what nobody this side of Boston knows. And you can understand why I'm willin' to be buried alive down here. 'Cause a woman wrecked my life; I'm done with women; and to this forsaken hole no women scarcely ever come. But, when they DO come, you must understand that I expect you to show 'em round. After hearin' what I've been through, I guess you'll be willin' to do that much for me."

He rose, evidently considering the affair settled. Brown stroked his chin.

"I'm sorry, Atkins," he observed, slowly; "and I certainly do sympathize with you. But--but, as I said, 'I guess you'll have to hire another boy!'"

"What? What do you mean?"

"I mean that you're not the only woman-hater on the beach."

"Hey? Has a woman given YOU the go by?"

"No. The other way around, if anything. Look here, Atkins! I'm not in the habit of discussing my private affairs with acquaintances, but you've been frank with me--and well, hang it! I've got to talk to somebody. At least, I feel that way just now. Let's suppose a case. Suppose you were a young fellow not long out of college--a young fellow whose mother was dead and whose dad was rich, and head over heels in money-making, and with the idea that his will was no more to be disputed than a law of the Almighty. Just suppose that, will you?"

"Huh! Well, 'twill be hard supposin', but I'll try. Heave ahead."

"Suppose that you'd never been used to working or supporting yourself. Had a position, a nominal one, in your dad's office but absolutely no responsibility, all the money you wanted, and so on. Suppose because your father wanted you to--and HER people felt the same--you had become engaged to a girl, a nice enough girl, too, in her way. But, then suppose that little by little you came to realize that her way wasn't yours. You and she liked each other well enough, but the whole thing was a family arrangement, a money arrangement, a perfectly respectable, buy-and-sell affair. That and nothing else. And the more you thought about it, the surer you felt that it was so. But when you told your governor he got on his ear and sailed into you, and you sailed back, until finally he swore that you should either marry that girl or he'd throw you out of his house and office to root for yourself. What would you do?"

"Hey? Land sakes! I don't know. I always HAD to root, so I ain't a competent judge. Go on, you've got me interested."

"Well, I said I'd root, that's all. But I didn't have the nerve to go and tell the girl. The engagement had been announced, and all that, and I knew what a mess it would make for her. I sat in my room, among the things I was packing in my grip to take with me, and thought and thought. If I went to her there would be a scene. If I said I had been disinherited she would want to know why--naturally. I had quarreled with the governor--yes, but why? Then I should have to tell her the real reason: I didn't want to marry her or anybody else on such a bargain-counter basis. That seemed such a rotten thing to say, and she might ask why it had taken me such a long time to find it out. No, I just COULDN'T tell her that. So, after my think was over, I wrote her a note saying that my father and I had had a disagreement and he had chucked me out, or words to that effect. Naturally, under the circumstances, marriage was out of the question, and I released her from the engagement. Good by and good luck--or something similar. I mailed the letter and left the town the next morning."

He paused. The lightkeeper made no comment. After a moment the young man continued.

"I landed in Boston," he said, "full of conceit and high-minded ideas of working my own way up the ladder. But in order to work up, you've got to get at least a hand-hold on the bottom rung. I couldn't get it. Nobody wanted a genteel loafer, which was me. My money gave out. I bought a steamboat passage to another city, but I didn't have enough left to buy a square meal. Then, by bull luck, I fell overboard and landed here. And here I found the solution. I'm dead. If the governor gets soft-hearted and gets private detectives on my trail, they'll find I disappeared from that steamer, that's all. Drowned, of course. SHE'LL think so, too. 'Good riddance to bad rubbish' is the general verdict. I can stay here a year or so, and then, being dead and forgotten, can go back to civilization and hustle for myself. BUT a woman is at the bottom of my trouble, and I never want to see another. So, if my staying here depends upon my seeing them, I guess, as I've said twice already, 'you'll have to hire another boy.'"

He, too, rose. Seth laid a big hand on his shoulder.

"Son," said the lightkeeper, "I'm sorry for you; I cal'late I know how you feel. I like you fust-rate, and if it's a possible thing, I'll fix it so's you can stay right here long's you want to. As for women folks that do come--why, we'll dodge 'em if we can, and share responsibility if we must. But there's one thing you've GOT to understand. You're young, and maybe your woman hate'll wear off. If it does, out you go. I can't have any sparkin' or lovemakin' around these premises."

The assistant snorted contemptuously.

"If ever you catch me being even coldly familiar with a female of any age," he declared, "I hereby request that you hit me, politely, but firmly, with that axe," pointing to the kindling hatchet leaning against the door post.

Seth chuckled. "Good stuff!" he exclaimed. "And, for my part, if ever you catch me gettin' confectionery with a woman, I . . . well, don't stop to pray over me; just drown me, that's all I ask. It's a bargain. Shake!"

So they shook, with great solemnity.

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