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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 9. The Bungalow Girl
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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 9. The Bungalow Girl Post by :brennan Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :2305

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The Woman-haters: A Yarn Of Eastboro Twin-lights - Chapter 9. The Bungalow Girl

CHAPTER IX. THE BUNGALOW GIRL

During the following day the occupants of the lightkeeper's dwelling saw little or nothing of the newcomers at the bungalow. Brown, his forehead resembling a section of a relief map of the Rocky Mountains, remained indoors as much as possible, working when there was anything to do, and reading back-number magazines when there was not. Seth went, as usual, to his room soon after noon. His slumbers must, however, have been fitful ones, for several times the substitute assistant, turning quickly, saw the bedroom door swing silently shut. The third time that this happened he ran to the door and threw it open in season to catch Mr. Atkins in an undignified dive for the bed. A tremendous snore followed the dive. The young man regarded him in silence for a few moments, during which the snores continued. Then he shook his head.

"Humph!" he soliloquized; "I must 'phone for the doctor at once. Either the doctor or the superintendent. If he has developed that habit, he isn't fit for this job."

He turned away. The slumberer stirred uneasily, rolled over, opened one eye, and sat up.

"Hi!" he called. "Come back here! Where you goin'?"

Brown returned, looking surprised and anxious.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, "are you awake?"

"Course I'm awake! What a fool question that is. Think I'm settin' up here and talkin' in my sleep?"

"Well, I didn't know."

"Why didn't you know? And, see here! what did you mean by sayin' you was goin' to 'phone the doctor or the superintendent, one or t'other? Yes, you said it. I heard you."

"Oh, no! you didn't."

"Tell you I did. Heard you with my own ears."

"But how could you? You weren't awake."

"Course I was awake! Couldn't have heard you unless I was, could I? What ails you? Them stings go clear through to your brains, did they?"

Again Brown shook his head.

"This is dreadful!" he murmured. "He walks in his sleep, and snores when he's awake. I MUST call the doctor."

"What--what--" The lightkeeper's wrath was interfering with his utterance. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and sputtered incoherently.

"Be calm, Atkins," coaxed the assistant. "Don't complicate your diseases by adding heart trouble. Three times today I've caught you peeping at me through the crack of that door. Within fifteen seconds of the last peep I find you snoring. Therefore, I say--"

"Aw, belay! I was only--only just lookin' out to see what time it was."

"But you must have done it in your sleep, because--"

"I never. I was wide awake as you be."

"But why did you snore? You couldn't have fallen asleep between the door and the bed. And you hadn't quite reached the bed when I got here."

"I--I--I--Aw, shut up!"

Brown smiled blandly. "I will," he said, "provided you promise to keep this door shut and don't do any more spying."

"Spyin'? What do you mean by that?"

"Just what I said. You and I had a discussion concerning that same practice when I fell over the bank at the Slough a while ago. I was not spying then, but you thought I was, and you didn't like it. Now I think you are, and I don't like it."

"Wh--what--what would I be spyin' on you for? Wh--what reason would I have for doin' it?"

"No good reason; because I have no intention of visiting our new neighbors--none whatever. That being understood, perhaps you'll shut the door and keep it shut."

Seth looked sheepish and guilty.

"Well," he said, after a moment's reflection, "I beg your pardon. But I couldn't help feelin' kind of uneasy. I--I ought to know better, I s'pose; but, with a young, good-lookin' girl landed unexpected right next to us, I--I--"

"How did you know she was good-looking? I didn't mention her looks."

"No, you didn't, but--but . . . John Brown, I've been young myself, and I know that at your age most ANY girl's good-lookin'. There!"

He delivered this bit of wisdom with emphasis and a savage nod of the head. Brown had no answer ready, that is, no relevant answer.

"You go to bed and shut the door," he repeated, turning to go.

"All right, I will. But don't you forget our agreement."

"I have no intention of forgetting it."

"What ARE you goin' to do?"

"Do? What do you mean?"

"I mean what are you goin' to do now that things down here's changed, and you and me ain't alone, same as we was?"

"I don't know. I'm not sure that I sha'n't leave--clear out."

"What? Clear out? Run away and leave me alone to--to . . . By time! I didn't think you was a deserter."

The substitute assistant laughed bitterly. "You needn't worry," he said. "I couldn't go far, even if I wanted to. I haven't any money."

"That's so." Seth was evidently relieved. "All right," he observed; "don't you worry. 'Twon't be but a couple of months anyway, and we'll fight it through together. But ain't it a shame! Ain't it an everlastin' shame that this had to happen just as we'd come to understand each other and was so contented and friendly! Well, there's only one thing to do; that's to make the best of it for us and the worst for them. We'll keep to ourselves and pay no attention to em no more'n if they wa'n't there. We'll forget 'em altogether; hey? . . . I say we'll forget 'em altogether, won't we?"

Brown's answer was short and sharp.

"Yes," he said, and slammed the door behind him. Seth slowly shook his head before he laid it on the pillow. He was not entirely easy in his mind, even yet.

However, there was no more spying, and the lightkeeper did not mention the bungalow tenants when he appeared at supper time. After the meal he bolted to the lights, and was on watch in the tower when his helper retired.

Early the next afternoon Brown descended the path to the boathouse. He had omitted his swim the day before. Now, however, he intended to have it. Simply because those female nuisances had seen fit to intrude where they had no business was no reason why he should resign all pleasure. He gave a quick glance upward at the opposite bank as he reached the wharf. There was no sign of life about the bungalow.

He entered the boathouse, undressed, and donned his bathing suit. In a few minutes he was ready, and, emerging upon the wharf, walked briskly back along the shore of the creek to where it widened into the cove. There he plunged in, and was soon luxuriating in the cool, clear water.

He swam with long, confident strokes, those of a practiced swimmer. This was worth while. It was the one place where he could forget that he was no longer the only son of a wealthy father, heir to a respected name--which was NOT Brown--a young man with all sorts of brilliant prospects; could forget that he was now a disinherited vagabond, a loafer who had been unable to secure a respectable position, an outcast. He swam and dove and splashed, rejoicing in his strength and youth and the freedom of all outdoors.

Then, as he lay lazily paddling in deep water, he heard the rattle of gravel on the steep bank of the other side of the cove. Looking up, he saw, to his huge disgust, a female figure in a trim bathing suit descending the bluff from the bungalow. It was the girl who had left him to fight the wasps. Her dark hair was covered with a jauntily tied colored handkerchief, and, against the yellow sand of the bluff, she made a very pretty picture. Not that Brown was interested, but she did, nevertheless.

She saw him and waved a hand. "Good morning," she called. "Beautiful day for a swim, isn't it?"

"Yes," growled the young man, brusquely. He turned and began to swim in the opposite direction, up the cove. The girl looked after him, raised a puzzled eyebrow, and then, with a shrug, waded into the water. The next time the assistant looked at her, she was swimming with long, sweeping strokes down the narrow creek to the bend and the deep hole at the end of the wharf. Round that bend and through that hole the tide whirled, like a rapid, out into the miniature bay behind Black Man's Point. It was against that tide that Seth Atkins had warned him.

And the girl was swimming directly toward the dangerous narrows. Brown growled an exclamation of disgust. He had no mind to continue the acquaintance, and yet he couldn't permit her to do that.

"Miss Graham!" he called. "Oh, Miss Graham!"

She heard him, but did not stop.

"Yes?" she called in answer, continuing to swim. "What is it?"

"You mustn't--" shouted Brown. Then he remembered that he must not shout. Shouting might awaken the lightkeeper, and the latter would misunderstand the situation, of course. So he cut his warning to one word.

"Wait!" he called, and began swimming toward her. She did not come to meet him, but merely ceased swimming and turned on her back to float. And, floating, the tide would carry her on almost as rapidly as if she assisted it. That tide did not need any assistance. Brown swung on his side and settled into the racing stroke, the stroke which had won him cups at the athletic club.

He reached her in a time so short that she was surprised into an admiring comment.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "you CAN swim!"

He did not thank her for the compliment. There was no time for that, even if he had felt like it.

"You shouldn't be here," he said sharply.

She looked at him.

"Why, what do you mean?" she demanded.

"It isn't safe. A little farther, and the tide would carry you out to sea. Come back, back up to the cove at once."

He expected her to ask more questions, but she did not. Instead she turned and struck out in silence. Against the tide, even there, the pull was tremendous.

"Shall I help you?" he asked.

"No, I can make it."

And she did. It was his turn to be surprised into admiration.

"By Jove!" he panted, as they swung into the quiet water of the cove and stood erect in the shallows, "that was great! You are a good swimmer."

"Thank you," she answered, breathlessly. "It WAS a tug, wasn't it? Thank you for warning me. Now tell me about the dangerous places, please."

He told her, repeating Seth's tales of the tide's strength.

"But it is safe enough here?" she asked.

"Oh, yes! perfectly safe anywhere this side of the narrow part--the creek."

"I'm so glad. This water is glorious, and I began to be afraid I should have to give it up."

"The creek, and even the bay itself are safe enough at flood," he went on. "I often go there then. When the tide is coming in it is all right even for--"

He paused. She finished the sentence for him. "Even for a girl, you were going to say." She waded forward to where the shoal ended and the deeper part began. There she turned to look at him over her shoulder.

"I'm going to that beach over there," she said, pointing across the cove. "Do you want to race?"

Without waiting to see whether he did or not, she struck out for the beach. And, without stopping to consider why he did it, the young man followed her.

The race was not so one-sided. Brown won it by some yards, but he had to work hard. His competitor did not give up when she found herself falling behind, but was game to the end.

"Well," she gasped, "you beat me, didn't you? I never could get that side stroke, and it's ever so much faster."

"It's simple enough. Just a knack. I'll teach you if you like."

"Will you? That's splendid."

"You are the strongest swimmer, Miss Graham, for a girl, that I ever saw. You must have practiced a great deal."

"Yes, Horace--my brother--taught me. He is a splendid swimmer, one of the very best."

"Horace Graham? Why, you don't mean Horace Graham of the Harvard Athletic?"

"Yes, I do. He is my brother. But how . . . Do you know him?"

The surprise in her tone was evident. Brown bit his lip. He remembered that Cape Cod lightkeepers' helpers were not, as a usual thing, supposed to be widely acquainted in college athletic circles.

"I have met him," he stammered.

"But where--" she began; and then, "why, of course! you met him here. I forgot that he has been your neighbor for three summers."

The assistant had forgotten it, too, but he was thankful for the reminder.

"Yes. Yes, certainly," he said. She regarded him with a puzzled look.

"It's odd he didn't mention you," she observed. "He has told me a great deal about the bungalow, and the sea views, and the loneliness and the quaintness of it all. That was what made me wish to spend a month down here and experience it myself. And he has often spoken," with an irrepressible smile, "of your--of the lightkeeper, Mr. Atkins. That is his name, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"I want to meet him. Horace said he was--well, rather odd, but, when you knew him, a fine fellow and full of dry humor. I'm sure I should like him."

Brown smiled, also--and broadly. He mentally pictured Seth's reception of the news that he was "liked" by the young lady across the cove. And then it occurred to him, with startling suddenness, that he had been conversing very familiarly with that young lady, notwithstanding the solemn interchange of vows between the lightkeeper and himself.

"I must be going," he said hastily; "good morning, Miss Graham."

He waded to the shore and strode rapidly back toward the boathouse. His companion called after him.

"I shall expect you to-morrow afternoon," she said. "You've promised to teach me that side stroke, remember."

Brown dressed in a great hurry and climbed the path to the lights at the double quick. All was safe and serene in the house, and he breathed more freely. Atkins was sound asleep, really asleep, in the bedroom, and when he emerged he was evidently quite unaware of his helper's unpremeditated treason. Brown's conscience pricked him, however, and he went to bed that night vowing over and over that he would be more careful thereafter. He would take care not to meet the Graham girl again. Having reached this decision, there remained nothing but to put her out of his mind entirely; which he succeeded in doing at a quarter after eleven, when he fell asleep. Even then she was not entirely absent, for he dreamed a ridiculous dream about her.

Next day he did not go for a swim, but remained in the house. Seth, at supper, demanded to know what ailed him.

"You're as mum as the oldest inhabitant of a deaf and dumb asylum," was the lightkeeper's comment. "And ugly as a bull in fly time. What ails you?"

"Nothing."

"Humph! better take somethin' for it, seems to me. Little 'Stomach Balm,' hey? No? Well, GO to bed! Your room's enough sight better'n your company just now."

The helper's ill nature was in evidence again at breakfast time. Seth endeavored to joke him out of it, but, not succeeding, and finding his best jokes received with groans instead of laughter, gave it up in disgust and retired. The young man cleared the table, piled the dishes in the sink, heated a kettleful of water and began the day's drudgery, drudgery which he once thought was fun.

Why had he had the ill luck to fall overboard from that steamer. Or why didn't he drown when he did fall overboard? Then he would have been comfortably dead, at all events. Why hadn't he stayed in New York or Boston or somewhere and kept on trying for a position, for work--any kind of work? He might have starved while trying, but people who were starving were self-respecting, and when they met other people--for instance, sisters of fellows they used to know--had nothing to be ashamed of and needn't lie--unless they wanted to. He was a common loafer, under a false name, down on a sandheap washing dishes. At this point he dropped one of the dishes--a plate--and broke it.

"D--n!" observed John Brown, under his breath, but with enthusiasm.

He stooped to pick up the fragments of the plate, and, rising once more to an erect position, found himself facing Miss Ruth Graham. She was standing in the doorway.

"Don't mind me, please," she said. "No doubt I should feel the same way if it were my plate."

The young man's first move, after recovery, was to make sure that the door between the kitchen and the hall leading to the lightkeeper's bedroom was shut. It was, fortunately. The young lady watched him in silence, though her eyes were shining.

"Good morning, Mr. Brown," she observed, gravely.

The assistant murmured a good morning, from force of habit.

"There's another piece you haven't picked up," continued the visitor, pointing.

Brown picked up the piece.

"Is Mr. Atkins in?" inquired the girl.

"Yes, he's--he's in."

"May I see him, please?"

"I--I--"

"If he's busy, I can wait." She seated herself in a chair. "Don't let me interrupt you," she continued. "You were busy, too, weren't you?"

"I was washing dishes," declared Brown, savagely.

"Oh!"

"Yes. Washing and sweeping and doing scrubwoman's work are my regular employments."

"Indeed! Then I'm just in time to help. Is this the dish towel?" regarding it dubiously.

"It is, but I don't need any help, thank you."

"Of course you do. Everyone is glad to be helped at doing dishes. I may as well make myself useful while I'm waiting for Mr. Atkins."

She picked up a platter and proceeded to wipe it, quite as a matter of course. Brown, swearing inwardly, turned fiercely to the suds.

"Did you wish to see Atkins on particular business?" he asked, a moment later.

"Oh, no; I wanted to make his acquaintance, that's all. Horace told me so many interesting things about him. By the way, was it last summer, or the summer before, that you met my brother here?"

No answer. Miss Graham repeated her question. "Was it last summer or the summer before?" she asked.

"Oh--er--I don't remember. Last summer, I think."

"Why, you must remember. How could any one forget anything that happened down here? So few things do happen, I should say. So you met him last summer?"

"Yes."

"Hum! that's odd."

"Shall I call Atkins? He's in his room."

"I say it is odd, because, when Mrs. Bascom and I first met you, you told us this was your first summer here."

There wasn't any answer to this; at least the assistant could think of none at the moment.

"Do you wish me to call Atkins?" he asked, sharply. "He's asleep, but I can wake him."

"Oh! he's asleep. Now I understand why you whisper even when you sw--that is, when you break a plate. You were afraid of waking him. How considerate you are."

Brown put down the dishcloth. "It isn't altogether consideration for him--or for myself," he said grimly. "I didn't care to wake him unless you took the responsibility."

"Why?"

"Because, Miss Graham, Seth Atkins took the position of lightkeeper here almost for the sole reason that no women ever came here. Mr. Atkins is a woman-hater of the most rabid type. I'll wake him up if you wish, but I won't be responsible for the consequences."

The young lady stared at him in surprise, delighted surprise apparently, judging by the expression of her face.

"A woman-hater?" she repeated. "Is he really?"

"He is." Mr. Brown neglected to add that he also had declared himself a member of the same fraternity. Perhaps he thought it was not necessary.

"A woman-hater!" Miss Graham fairly bubbled with mischievous joy. "Oh, jolly! now I'm CRAZY to meet him!"

The assistant moved toward the hall door. "Very good!" he observed with grim determination. "I think he'll cure your lunacy."

His hand was outstretched toward the latch, when the young lady spoke again.

"Wait a minute," she said. "Perhaps I had better not wake him now."

"Just as you say. The pleasure is--or will be--entirely mine, I assure you."

"No--o. On the whole, I think I'll wait until later. I may call again. Good morning."

She moved across the threshold. Then, standing on the mica slab which was the step to the kitchen door, she turned to say:

"You didn't swim yesterday."

"No--o. I--I was busy."

"I see."

She paused, as if expecting him to say something further on the subject. He was silent. Her manner changed.

"Good morning," she said, coldly, and walked off. The assistant watched her as she descended the path to the cove, but she did not once look back. Brown threw himself into a chair. He had never hated anyone as thoroughly as he hated himself at the moment.

"What a cheerful liar she must think I am," he reflected. "She caught me in that fool yarn about meeting her brother here last summer; and now, after deliberately promising to teach her that stroke, I don't go near her. What a miserable liar she must think I am! And I guess I am. By George, I can't be such a cad. I've got to make good somehow. I must give her ONE lesson. I must."

The tide served for bathing about three that afternoon. At ten minutes before that hour the substitute assistant keeper of Eastboro Twin-Lights tiptoed silently to the bedroom of his superior and peeped in. Seth was snoring peacefully. Brown stealthily withdrew. At three, precisely, he emerged from the boathouse on the wharf, clad in his bathing suit.

Fifteen minutes after three, Seth Atkins, in his stocking feet and with suspicion in his eye, crept along the path to the edge of the bluff. Crouching behind a convenient sand dune he raised his head and peered over it.

Below him was the cove, its pleasant waters a smooth, deep blue, streaked and bordered with pale green. But the water itself did not interest Seth. In that water was his helper, John Brown, of nowhere in particular, John Brown, the hater of females, busily engaged in teaching a young woman to swim.

Atkins watched this animated picture for some minutes. Then, carefully crawling back up to the path until he was well out of possible sight from the cove, he rose to his feet, raised both hands, and shook their clenched fists above his head.

"The liar!" grated Mr. Atkins, between his teeth. "The traitor! The young blackguard! After tellin' me that he . . . And after my doin' everything for him that . . . Oh, by Judas, wait! only wait till he comes back! I'LL l'arn him! I'LL show him! Oh, by jiminy crimps!"

He strode toward the doorway of the kitchen. There he stopped short. A woman was seated in the kitchen rocker; a stout woman, with her back toward him. The room, in contrast to the bright sunshine without, was shadowy, and Seth, for an instant, could see her but indistinctly. However, he knew who she must be--the housekeeper at the bungalow--"Basket" or "Biscuit" his helper had said was her name, as near as he could remember it. The lightkeeper ground his teeth. Another female! Well, he would teach this one a few things!

He stepped across the threshold.

"Ma'am," he began, sharply, "perhaps you'll tell me what you--"

He stopped. The stout woman had, at the sound of his step, risen from the chair, and turned to face him. And now she was staring at him, her face almost as white as the stone-china cups and saucers on the table.

"Why . . . why . . . SETH!" she gasped.

The lightkeeper staggered back until his shoulders struck the doorpost.

"Good Lord!" he cried; "good . . . LORD! Why--why--EMELINE!"

For over a minute the pair stared at each other, white and speechless. Then Mrs. Bascom hurried to the door, darted out, and fled along the path around the cove to the bungalow. Atkins did not follow her; he did not even look in the direction she had taken. Instead, he collapsed in the rocking-chair and put both hands to his head.

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