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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 8. Neighbors And Wasps
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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 8. Neighbors And Wasps Post by :brennan Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :751

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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 8. Neighbors And Wasps

CHAPTER VIII. NEIGHBORS AND WASPS

And now affairs at the lights settled down into a daily routine in which the lightkeeper and his helper each played his appointed part. All mysteries now being solved, and the trust between them mutual and without reserve, they no longer were on their guard in each other's presence, but talked freely on all sorts of topics, and expressed their mutual dislike of woman with frequency and point. No regular assistant was appointed or seemed likely to be, for the summer, at least. Seth and his friend, the superintendent, held another lengthy conversation over the wire, and, while Brown's uncertain status remained the same, there was a tacit understanding that, by the first of September, if the young man was sufficiently "broken in," the position vacated by Ezra Payne should be his--if he still wanted it.

"You may change your mind by that time," observed Seth. "This ain't no place for a chap with your trainin', and I know it. It does well enough for an old derelict like me, with nobody to care a hang whether he lives or dies, but you're different. And even for me the lonesomeness of it drives me 'most crazy sometimes. I've noticed you've been havin' blue streaks more often than when you first came. I cal'late that by fall you'll be headin' somewheres else, Mr. 'John Brown,'" with significant emphasis upon the name.

Brown stoutly denied being "bluer" than usual, and his superior did not press the point. Seth busied himself in his spare time with the work on the Daisy M. and with his occasional trips behind Joshua to the village. Brown might have made some of these trips, but he did not care to. Solitude and seclusion he still desired, and there were more of these than anything else at the Twin-Lights.

The lightkeeper experimented with no more dogs, but he had evidently not forgotten the lifesaving man's warning concerning possible thieves, for he purchased a big spring-lock in Eastboro and attached it to the door of the boathouse on the little wharf. The lock was, at first, a good deal more of a nuisance than an advantage, for the key was always being forgotten or mislaid, and, on one occasion, the door blew shut with Atkins inside the building, and he pounded and shrieked for ten minutes before his helper heard him and descended to the rescue.

June crawled by, and July came. Crawled is the proper word, for John Brown had never known days so long or weeks so unending as those of that early summer. The monotony was almost never broken, and he began to find it deadly. He invented new duties about the lights and added swimming and walks up and down the beach to his limited list of recreations.

The swimming he especially enjoyed. The cove made a fine bathing place, and the boathouse was his dressing room, though the fragrance of the ancient fish nets stored within it was not that of attar of roses. A cheap bathing suit was one of the luxuries Atkins had bought for him, by request, in Eastboro. Seth bought the suit under protest, for he scoffed openly at his helper's daily bath.

"I should think," the lightkeeper declared over and over again, "that you'd had salt water soak enough to last you for one spell; a feller that come as nigh drownin' as you done!"

Seth did not care for swimming; the washtub every Saturday night furnished him with baths sufficient.

He was particular to warn his helper against the tide in the inlet: "The cove's all right," he said, "but you want to look out and not try to swim in the crick where it's narrow, or in that deep hole by the end of the wharf, where the lobster car's moored. When the tide's comin' in or it's dead high water, the current's strong there. On the ebb it'll snake you out into the breakers sure as I'm settin' here tellin' you. The cove's all right and good and safe; but keep away from the narrer part of the crick."

Swimming was good fun, and walking, on pleasant days, was an aid in shaking off depression; but, in spite of his denials and his attempts at appearing contented, the substitute assistant realized that he was far from that happy condition. He did not want to meet people, least of all people of his own station in life--his former station. Atkins was a fine chap, in his way; but . . . Brown was lonely . . . and when one is lonely, one thinks of what might have been, and, perhaps, regrets. Regrets, unavailing regrets, are the poorest companions possible.

The lightkeeper, too, seemed lonely, which, considering his years of experience in his present situation, was odd. He explained his loneliness one evening by observing that he cal'lated he missed the painting chaps.

"What painting chaps?" asked Brown.

"Oh, them two young fellers that always used to come to the cottage--what you call the bungalow--across the cove there, the ones I told you about. They was real friendly, sociable young chaps, and I kind of liked to have 'em runnin' in and out. Seems queer to have it July, and they not here to hail me and come over to borrow stuff. And they was forever settin' around under white sunshades, sloppin' paint onto paper. I most wish they hadn't gone to Europe. I cal'late you'd have liked 'em, too."

"Perhaps," said the helper, doubtfully.

"Oh, you would; no perhaps about it. It don't seem right to see the bungalow all shuttered up and deserted this time of year. You'd have liked to meet them young painters; they was your kind."

"Yes, I know. Perhaps that's why I shouldn't like to meet them."

"Hey? . . . Oh, yes, yes; I see. I never thought of that. But 'tain't likely they'd know you; they hailed from Boston, not New York."

"How did you know I came from New York? I didn't tell you that."

"No, you didn't, that's a fact. But, you said you left the city where you lived and came to Boston, so I sort of guessed New York. But that's all right; I don't know and I don't care. Names and places you and me might just as well not tell, even to each other. If we don't tell them, we can answer 'don't know' to questions and tell the truth; hey?"

One morning about a week later, Brown, his dish washing and sweeping done, was busy in the light-room at the top of the right hand tower, polishing the brass of the lantern. The curtains were drawn on the landward side, and those toward the sea open. Seth, having finished his night watching and breakfast, was audibly asleep in the house. Brown rubbed and polished leisurely, his thoughts far away, and a frown on his face. For the thousandth time that week he decided that he was a loafer and a vagabond, and that it would have been much better for himself, and creation generally, if he had never risen after the plunge over the steamer's rail.

He pulled the cloth cover over the glittering lantern and descended the iron stair to the ground floor. When he emerged into the open air, he heard a sound which made him start and listen. The sound was the distant rattle of wheels from the direction of the village. Was another "picnic" coming? He walked briskly to the corner of the house and peered down the winding road. A carriage was in sight certainly, but it was going, not coming. He watched it move further away each moment. Someone--not the grocer or a tradesman--was driving to the village. But where had he been, and who was he? Not Seth, for Seth was asleep--he could hear him.

The driver of the carriage, whoever he was, had not visited the lights. And, as Atkins had said, there was nowhere else to go on that road. Brown, puzzled, looked about him, at the sea, the lights, the house, the creek, the cove, the bluff on the other side of the cove, the bungalow--ah! the bungalow!

For the door of the bungalow was open, and one or two of the shutters were down. The carriage had brought some person or persons to the bungalow and left them there. Instantly, of course, Brown thought of the artists from Boston. Probably they had changed their minds and decided to summer at Eastboro after all. His frown deepened.

Then, from across the cove, from the bungalow, came a shrill scream, a feminine scream. The assistant started, scarcely believing his ears. Before he could gather his wits, a stout woman, with a checked apron in her hand, rushed out of the bungalow door, looked about, saw him, and waved the apron like a flag.

"Hi!" she screamed. "Hi, you! Mr. Lighthouseman! come quick! do please come here quick and help us!"

There was but one thing to do, and Brown did it instinctively. He raced through the beach grass, down the hill, in obedience to the call. As he ran, he wondered who on earth the stout woman could be. Seth had said that the artists did their own housekeeping.

"Hurry up!" shrieked the stout woman, dancing an elephantine fandango in front of the bungalow. "Come ON!"

To run around the shore line of the cove would have taken a good deal of time. However, had the tide been at flood there would have been no other way--excepting by boat--to reach the cottage. But the tide was out, and the narrowest portion of the creek, the stream connecting the cove with the ocean, was but knee deep. Through the water splashed the substitute assistant and clambered up the bank beyond.

"Quick!" screamed the woman. "They'll eat us alive!"

"Who? What?" panted Brown.

"Wasps! They're in there! The room's full of 'em. If there's one thing on earth I'm scart of, it's . . . Don't stop to talk! Go IN!"

She indicated the door of a room adjoining the living room of the little cottage. From behind the door came sounds of upsetting furniture and sharp slaps. Evidently the artists were having a lively time. But they must be curious chaps to be afraid of wasps. Brown opened the door and entered, partly of his own volition, partly because he was pushed by the stout woman. Then he gasped in astonishment.

The wasps were there, dozens of them, and they had built a nest in the upper corner of the room. But they were not the astonishing part of the picture. A young woman was there, also; a young woman with dark hair and eyes, the sleeves of a white shirtwaist rolled above her elbows, and a wet towel in her right hand. She was skipping lightly about the room, slapping frantically at the humming insects.

"Mrs. Bascom," she panted, "don't stand there screaming. Get another towel and--"

Then she turned and saw Brown. For an instant she, too, seemed astonished. But only for an instant.

"Oh, I'm so glad you came!" she exclaimed. "Here! take this! you must hit quick and HARD."

"This" was the towel. The assistant took it mechanically. The young lady did not wait to give further orders. She rushed out of the room and shut the door. Brown was alone with the wasps, and they were lively company. When, at last, the battle was over, the last wasp was dead, the nest was a crumpled gray heap over in the corner, and the assistant's brow was ornamented with four red and smarting punctures, which promised to shortly become picturesque and painful lumps. Rubbing these absently with one hand, and bearing the towel in the other, he opened the door and stepped out into the adjoining room.

The two women were awaiting him. He found them standing directly in front of him as he emerged.

"Have you--have you killed them?" begged the younger of the pair.

"Be they all dead?" demanded the other.

Brown nodded solemnly. "I guess so," he said. "They seem to be."

"Oh, I'm so glad!" cried the dark haired girl. "I'm--we--are so much obliged to you."

"If there's any critters on earth," declared the stout woman, "that I can't stand, it's wasps and hornets and such. Mice, I don't mind--"

"I do," interrupted her companion with emphasis.

"But when I walked into that room and seen that nest in the corner I was pretty nigh knocked over--and," she added, "it takes consider'ble to do that to ME."

The assistant looked at her. "Yes," he said, absently, "I should think it might. That is, I mean--I--I beg your pardon."

He paused and wiped his forehead with the towel. The young lady burst into a peal of laughter, in which the stout woman joined. The laugh was so infectious that even Brown was obliged to smile.

"I apologize," he stammered. "I didn't mean that exactly as it sounded. I'm not responsible mentally--yet--I guess."

"I don't wonder." It was the stout woman who answered. The girl had turned away and was looking out the window; her shoulders shook. "I shouldn't think you would be. Hauled in bodily, as you might say, and shut up in a room to fight wasps! And by folks you never saw afore and don't know from Adam! You needn't apologize. I'd forgive you if you said somethin' a good deal worse'n that. I'm long past the age where I'm sensitive about my weight, thank goodness."

"And we ARE so much obliged to you." The girl was facing him once more, and she was serious, though the corners of her mouth still twitched. "The whole affair is perfectly ridiculous," she said, "but Mrs. Bascom was frightened and so was I--when I had time to realize it. Thank you again."

"You're quite welcome, I'm sure. No trouble at all."

The assistant turned to go. His brain was beginning to regain a little of its normal poise, and he was dimly conscious that he had been absent from duty quite long enough.

"Maybe you'd like to know who 'tis you've helped," observed the stout woman. "And, considerin' that we're likely to be next-door neighbors for a spell, I cal'late introductions are the proper thing. My name's Bascom. I'm housekeeper for Miss Ruth Graham. This is Miss Graham."

The young lady offered a hand. Brown took it.

"Graham?" he repeated. "Where?" Then, remembering a portion of what Seth had told him, he added, "I see! the--the artist?"

"My brother is an artist. He and his friend, Mr. Hamilton, own this bungalow. They are abroad this summer, and I am going to camp here for a few weeks--Mrs. Bascom and I. I paint a little, too, but only for fun."

Brown murmured a conventionality concerning his delight at meeting the pair, and once more headed for the door. But Mrs. Bascom's curiosity would not permit him to escape so easily.

"I thought," she said, "when I see you standin' over there by the lights, that you must be one of the keepers. Not the head keeper--I knew you wa'n't him--but an assistant, maybe. But I guess you're only a visitor, Mister--Mister--?"

"Brown."

"Yes, Mr. Brown. I guess you ain't no keeper, are you?"

"I am the assistant keeper at present. Yes."

"You don't say!" Mrs. Bascom looked surprised. So, too, did Miss Graham. "You don't look like a lighthouse keeper," continued the former. "Oh, I don't mean your clothes!" noticing the young man's embarrassed glance at his wet and far from immaculate garments. "I mean the way you talk and act. You ain't been here long, have you?"

"No."

"Just come this summer?"

"Yes."

"I thought so. You ain't a Cape Codder?"

"No."

"I was sure you wa'n't. Where DO you come from?"

Brown hesitated. Miss Graham, noticing his hesitation, hastened to end the inquisition.

"Mr. Brown can't stop to answer questions, Mrs. Bascom," she said. "I'm sure he wants to get back to his work. Good morning, Mr. Brown. No doubt we shall see each other often, being the only neighbors in sight. Call again--do. I solemnly promise that you shall have to fight no more wasps."

"Say!" The stout woman took a step forward. "Speakin' of wasps . . . stand still a minute, Mr. Brown, won't you. What's them lumps on your forehead? Why, I do believe you've been bit. You have, sure and sartin!"

Miss Graham was very much concerned. "Oh, no!" she exclaimed; "I hope not. Let me see."

"No, indeed!" The assistant was on the step by this time and moving rapidly. "Nothing at all. No consequence. Good morning."

He almost ran down the hill and crossed the creek at the wading place. As he splashed through, the voice of the housekeeper reached his ears.

"Cold mud's the best thing," she screamed. "Put it on thick. It takes out the smart. Good and thick, mind!"

For the next hour or two the lightkeeper's helper moved about his household tasks in a curious frame of mind. He was thoroughly angry--or thought he was--and very much disturbed. Neighbors of any kind were likely to be a confounded nuisance, but two women! Heavens! And the stout woman was sure to be running in for calls and to borrow things. As for the other, she seemed a nice girl enough, but he never wanted to see another girl, nice or otherwise. Her eyes were pretty, so was her hair, but what of it? Oh, hang the luck! Just here he banged his swollen forehead on the sharp edge of the door, and found relief in profanity.

Seth Atkins was profane, also, when he heard the news. Brown said nothing until his superior discovered with his own eyes that the bungalow was open. Then, in answer to the lightkeeper's questions, came the disclosure of the truth.

"Women!" roared Seth. "You say there's two WOMEN goin' to live there? By Judas! I don't believe it!"

"Go and see for yourself, then," was the brusque answer.

"I sha'n't, neither. Who told you?"

"They did."

"They DID? Was you there?"

"Yes."

"What for? I thought you swore never to go nigh a woman again."

"I did, but--well, it wasn't my fault. I--"

"Yes? Go on."

"I went because I couldn't help myself. Went to help some one else, in fact. I expected to find Graham and that other artist. But--"

"Well, go ON."

"I was stung," said Mr. Brown, gloomily, and rubbed his forehead.

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