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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Portygee - Chapter 3
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The Portygee - Chapter 3 Post by :leonard063083 Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :782

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The Portygee - Chapter 3

CHAPTER III

A brisk rap on the door; then a man's voice.

"Hello, there! Wake up."

Albert rolled over, opened one eye, then the other and raised himself on his elbow.

"Eh? Wh-what?" he stammered.

"Seven o'clock! Time to turn out."

The voice was his grandfather's. "Oh--oh, all right!" he answered.

"Understand me, do you?"

"Yes--yes, sir. I'll be right down."

The stairs creaked as Captain Zelotes descended them. Albert yawned cavernously, stretched and slid one foot out of bed. He drew it back instantly, however, for the sensation was that of having thrust it into a bucket of cold water. The room had been cold the previous evening; plainly it was colder still now. The temptation was to turn back and go to sleep again, but he fought against it. Somehow he had a feeling that to disregard his grandfather's summons would be poor diplomacy.

He set his teeth and, tossing back the bed clothes, jumped to the floor. Then he jumped again, for the floor was like ice. The window was wide open and he closed it, but there was no warm radiator to cuddle against while dressing. He missed his compulsory morning shower, a miss which did not distress him greatly. He shook himself into his clothes, soused his head and neck in a basin of ice water poured from a pitcher, and, before brushing his hair, looked out of the window.

It was a sharp winter morning. The wind had gone down, but before subsiding it had blown every trace of mist or haze from the air, and from his window-sill to the horizon every detail was clean cut and distinct. He was looking out, it seemed, from the back of the house. The roof of the kitchen extension was below him and, to the right, the high roof of the barn. Over the kitchen roof and to the left he saw little rolling hills, valleys, cranberry swamps, a pond. A road wound in and out and, scattered along it, were houses, mostly white with green blinds, but occasionally varied by the gray of unpainted, weathered shingles. A long, low-spreading building a half mile off looked as if it might be a summer hotel, now closed and shuttered. Beyond it was a cluster of gray shanties and a gleam of water, evidently a wharf and a miniature harbor. And, beyond that, the deep, brilliant blue of the sea. Brown and blue were the prevailing colors, but, here and there, clumps and groves of pines gave splashes of green.

There was an exhilaration in the crisp air. He felt an unwonted liveliness and a desire to be active which would have surprised some of his teachers at the school he had just left. The depression of spirits of which he had been conscious the previous night had disappeared along with his premonitions of unpleasantness. He felt optimistic this morning. After giving his curls a rake with the comb, he opened the door and descended the steep stairs to the lower floor.

His grandmother was setting the breakfast table. He was a little surprised to see her doing it. What was the use of having servants if one did the work oneself? But perhaps the housekeeper was ill.

"Good morning," he said.

Mrs. Snow, who had not heard him enter, turned and saw him. When he crossed the room, she kissed him on the cheek.

"Good morning, Albert," she said. "I hope you slept well."

Albert replied that he had slept very well indeed. He was a trifle disappointed that she made no comment on his promptness in answering his grandfather's summons. He felt such promptness deserved commendation. At school they rang two bells at ten minute intervals, thus giving a fellow a second chance. It had been a point of senior etiquette to accept nothing but that second chance. Here, apparently, he was expected to jump at the first. There was a matter of course about his grandmother's attitude which was disturbing.

She went on setting the table, talking as she did so.

"I'm real glad you did sleep," she said. "Some folks can hardly ever sleep the first night in a strange room. Zelotes--I mean your grandpa--'s gone out to see to the horse and feed the hens and the pig. He'll be in pretty soon. Then we'll have breakfast. I suppose you're awful hungry."

As a matter of fact he was not very hungry. Breakfast was always a more or less perfunctory meal with him. But he was surprised to see the variety of eatables upon that table. There were cookies there, and doughnuts, and even half an apple pie. Pie for breakfast! It had been a newspaper joke at which he had laughed many times. But it seemed not to be a joke here, rather a solemn reality.

The kitchen door opened and Mrs. Ellis put in her head. To Albert's astonishment the upper part of the head, beginning just above the brows, was swathed in a huge bandage. The lower part was a picture of hopeless misery.

"Has Cap'n Lote come in yet?" inquired the housekeeper, faintly.

"Not yet, Rachel," replied Mrs. Snow. "He'll be here in a minute, though. Albert's down, so you can begin takin' up the things."

The head disappeared. A sigh of complete wretchedness drifted in as the door closed. Albert looked at his grandmother in alarm.

"Is she sick?" he faltered.

"Who? Rachel? No, she ain't exactly sick . . . Dear me! Where did I put that clean napkin?"

The boy stared at the kitchen door. If his grandmother had said the housekeeper was not exactly dead he might have understood. But to say she was not exactly sick--

"But--but what makes her look so?" he stammered. "And--and what's she got that on her head for? And she groaned! Why, she MUST be sick!"

Mrs. Snow, having found the clean napkin, laid it beside her husband's plate.

"No," she said calmly. "It's one of her sympathetic attacks; that's what she calls 'em, sympathetic attacks. She has 'em every time Laban Keeler starts in on one of his periodics. It's nerves, I suppose. Cap'n Zelotes--your grandfather--says it's everlastin' foolishness. Whatever 'tis, it's a nuisance. And she's so sensible other times, too."

Albert was more puzzled than ever. Why in the world Mrs. Ellis should tie up her head and groan because the little Keeler person had gone on a spree was beyond his comprehension.

His grandmother enlightened him a trifle.

"You see," she went on, "she and Laban have been engaged to be married ever since they were young folks. It's Laban's weakness for liquor that's kept 'em apart so long. She won't marry him while he drinks and he keeps swearin' off and then breaking down. He's a good man, too; an awful good man and capable as all get-out when he's sober. Lately that is, for the last seven or eight years, beginnin' with the time when that lecturer on mesmerism and telegraphy--no, telepathy--thought-transfers and such--was at the town hall--Rachel has been havin' these sympathetic attacks of hers. She declares that alcohol-takin' is a disease and that Laban suffers when he's tipsy and that she and he are so bound up together that she suffers just the same as he does. I must say I never noticed him sufferin' very much, not at the beginnin,' anyhow--acts more as he was havin' a good time--but she seems to. I don't wonder you smile," she added. "'Tis funny, in a way, and it's queer that such a practical, common-sense woman as Rachel Ellis is, should have such a notion. It's hard on us, though. Don't say anything to her about it, and don't laugh at her, whatever you do."

Albert wanted to laugh very much. "But, Mrs. Snow--" he began.

"Mercy sakes alive! You ain't goin' to call me 'Mrs. Snow,' I hope."

"No, of course not. But, Grandmother why do you and Captain--you and Grandfather keep her and Keeler if they are so much trouble? Why don't you let them go and get someone else?"

"Let 'em go? Get someone else! Why, we COULDN'T get anybody else, anyone who would be like them. They're almost a part of our family; that is, Rachel is, she's been here since goodness knows when. And, when he's sober Laban almost runs the lumber business. Besides, they're nice folks--almost always."

Plainly the ways of South Harniss were not the ways of the world he had known. Certainly these people were "Rubes" and queer Rubes, too. Then he remembered that two of them were his grandparents and that his immediate future was, so to speak, in their hands. The thought was not entirely comforting or delightful. He was still pondering upon it when his grandfather came in from the barn.

The captain said good morning in the same way he had said good night, that is, he and Albert shook hands and the boy was again conscious of the gaze which took him in from head to foot and of the quiet twinkle in the gray eyes.

"Sleep well, son?" inquired Captain Zelotes.

"Yes . . . Yes, sir."

"That's good. I judged you was makin' a pretty good try at it when I thumped on your door this mornin'. Somethin' new for you to be turned out at seven, eh?"

"No, sir."

"Eh? It wasn't?"

"No, sir. The rising bell rang at seven up at school. We were supposed to be down at breakfast at a quarter past."

"Humph! You were, eh? Supposed to be? Does that mean that you were there?"

"Yes, sir."

There was a surprised look in the gray eyes now, a fact which Albert noticed with inward delight. He had taken one "rise" out of his grandfather, at any rate. He waited, hoping for another opportunity, but it did not come. Instead they sat down to breakfast.

Breakfast, in spite of the morning sunshine at the windows, was somewhat gloomy. The homesickness, although not as acute as on the previous night, was still in evidence. Albert felt lost, out of his element, lonely. And, to add a touch of real miserableness, the housekeeper served and ate like a near relative of the deceased at a funeral feast. She moved slowly, she sighed heavily, and the bandage upon her forehead loomed large and portentous. When spoken to she seldom replied before the third attempt. Captain Zelotes lost patience.

"Have another egg?" he roared, brandishing the spoon containing it at arm's length and almost under her nose. "Egg! Egg! EGG! If you can't hear it, smell it. Only answer, for heaven sakes!"

The effect of this outburst was obviously not what he had hoped. Mrs. Ellis stared first at the egg quivering before her face, then at the captain. Then she rose and marched majestically to the kitchen. The door closed, but a heartrending sniff drifted in through the crack. Olive laid down her knife and fork.

"There!" she exclaimed, despairingly. "Now see what you've done. Oh, Zelotes, how many times have I told you you've got to treat her tactful when she's this way?"

Captain Lote put the egg back in the bowl.

"DAMN!" he observed, with intense enthusiasm.

His wife shook her head.

"Swearin' don't help it a mite, either," she declared. "Besides I don't know what Albert here must think of you." Albert, who, between astonishment and a wild desire to laugh, was in a critical condition, appeared rather embarrassed. His grandfather looked at him and smiled grimly.

"I cal'late one damn won't scare him to death," he observed. "Maybe he's heard somethin' like it afore. Or do they say, 'Oh, sugar!' up at that school you come from?" he added.

Albert, not knowing how to reply, looked more embarrassed than ever. Olive seemed on the point of weeping.

"Oh, Zelotes, how CAN you!" she wailed. "And to-day, of all days! His very first mornin'!"

Captain Lote relented.

"There, there, Mother!" he said. "I'm sorry. Forget it. Sorry if I shocked you, Albert. There's times when salt-water language is the only thing that seems to help me out . . . Well, Mother, what next? What'll we do now?"

"You know just as well as I do, Zelotes. There's only one thing you can do. That's go out and beg her pardon this minute. There's a dozen places she could get right here in South Harniss without turnin' her hand over. And if she should leave I don't know WHAT I'd do."

"Leave! She ain't goin' to leave any more'n than the ship's cat's goin' to jump overboard. She's been here so long she wouldn't know how to leave if she wanted to."

"That don't make any difference. The pitcher that goes to the well--er--er--"

She had evidently forgotten the rest of the proverb. Her husband helped her out.

"Flocks together or gathers no moss, or somethin', eh? All right, Mother, don't fret. There ain't really any occasion to, considerin' we've been through somethin' like this at least once every six months for ten years."

"Zelotes, won't you PLEASE go and ask her pardon?"

The captain pushed back his chair. "I'll be hanged if it ain't a healthy note," he grumbled, "when the skipper has to go and apologize to the cook because the cook's made a fool of herself! I'd like to know what kind of rum Labe drinks. I never saw any but his kind that would go to somebody else's head. Two people gettin' tight and only one of 'em drinkin' is somethin'--"

He disappeared into the kitchen, still muttering. Mrs. Snow smiled feebly at her grandson.

"I guess you think we're funny folks, Albert," she said. "But Rachel is one hired help in a thousand and she has to be treated just so."

Five minutes later Cap'n 'Lote returned. He shrugged his shoulders and sat down at his place.

"All right, Mother, all right," he observed. "I've been heavin' ile on the troubled waters and the sea's smoothin' down. She'll be kind and condescendin' enough to eat with us in a minute or so."

She was. She came into the dining-room with the air of a saint going to martyrdom and the remainder of the meal was eaten by the quartet almost in silence. When it was over the captain said:

"Well, Al, feel like walkin', do you?"

"Why, why, yes, sir, I guess so."

"Humph! You don't seem very wild at the prospect. Walkin' ain't much in your line, maybe. More used to autoin', perhaps?"

Mrs. Snow put in a word. "Don't talk so, Zelotes," she said. "He'll think you're makin' fun of him."

"Who? Me? Not a bit of it. Well, Al, do you want to walk down to the lumber yard with me?"

The boy hesitated. The quiet note of sarcasm in his grandfather's voice was making him furiously angry once more, just as it had done on the previous night.

"Do you want me to?" he asked, shortly.

"Why, yes, I cal'late I do."

Albert, without another word, walked to the hat-rack in the hall and began putting on his coat. Captain Lote watched him for a moment and then put on his own.

"We'll be back to dinner, Mother," he said. "Heave ahead, Al, if you're ready."

There was little conversation between the pair during the half mile walk to the office and yards of "Z. Snow and Co., Lumber and Builders' Hardware." Only once did the captain offer a remark. That was just as they came out by the big posts at the entrance to the driveway. Then he said:

"Al, I don't want you to get the idea from what happened at the table just now--that foolishness about Rachel Ellis--that your grandmother ain't a sensible woman. She is, and there's no better one on earth. Don't let that fact slip your mind."

Albert, somewhat startled by the abruptness of the observation, looked up in surprise. He found the gray eyes looking down at him.

"I noticed you lookin' at her," went on his grandfather, "as if you was kind of wonderin' whether to laugh at her or pity her. You needn't do either. She's kind-hearted and that makes her put up with Rachel's silliness. Then, besides, Rachel herself is common sense and practical nine-tenths of the time. It's always a good idea, son, to sail one v'yage along with a person before you decide whether to class 'em as A. B. or just roustabout."

The blood rushed to the boy's face. He felt guilty and the feeling made him angrier than ever.

"I don't see why," he burst out, indignantly, "you should say I was laughing at--at Mrs. Snow--"

"At your grandmother."

"Well--yes--at my grandmother. I don't see why you should say that. I wasn't."

"Wasn't you? Good! I'm glad of it. I wouldn't, anyhow. She's liable to be about the best friend you'll have in this world."

To Albert's mind flashed the addition: "Better than you, that means," but he kept it to himself.

The lumber yards were on a spur track not very far from the railway station where he had spent that miserable half hour the previous evening. The darkness then had prevented his seeing them. Not that he would have been greatly interested if he had seen them, nor was he more interested now, although his grandfather took him on a personally conducted tour between the piles of spruce and pine and hemlock and pointed out which was which and added further details. "Those are two by fours," he said. Or, "Those are larger joist, different sizes." "This is good, clear stock, as good a lot of white pine as we've got hold of for a long spell." He gave particulars concerning the "handiest way to drive a team" to one or the other of the piles. Albert found it rather boring. He longed to speak concerning enormous lumber yards he had seen in New York or Chicago or elsewhere. He felt almost a pitying condescension toward this provincial grandparent who seemed to think his little piles of "two by fours" so important.

It was much the same, perhaps a little worse, when they entered the hardware shop and the office. The rows and rows of little drawers and boxes, each with samples of its contents--screws, or bolts, or hooks, or knobs--affixed to its front, were even more boring than the lumber piles. There was a countryfied, middle-aged person in overalls sweeping out the shop and Captain Zelotes introduced him.

"Albert," he said, "this is Mr. Issachar Price, who works around the place here. Issy, let me make you acquainted with my grandson, Albert."

Mr. Price, looking over his spectacles, extended a horny hand and observed: "Yus, yus. Pleased to meet you, Albert. I've heard tell of you."

Albert's private appraisal of "Issy" was that the latter was another funny Rube. Whatever Issy's estimate of his employer's grandson might have been, he, also, kept it to himself.

Captain Zelotes looked about the shop and glanced into the office.

"Humph!" he grunted. "No sign or symptoms of Laban this mornin', I presume likely?"

Issachar went on with his sweeping.

"Nary one," was his laconic reply.

"Humph! Heard anything about him?"

Mr. Price moistened his broom in a bucket of water. "I see Tim Kelley on my way down street," he said. "Tim said he run afoul of Laban along about ten last night. Said he cal'lated Labe was on his way. He was singin' 'Hyannis on the Cape' and so Tim figgered he'd got a pretty fair start already."

The captain shook his head. "Tut, tut, tut!" he muttered. "Well, that means I'll have to do office work for the next week or so. Humph! I declare it's too bad just now when I was countin' on him to--" He did not finish the sentence, but instead turned to his grandson and said: "Al, why don't you look around the hardware store here while I open the mail and the safe. If there's anything you see you don't understand Issy'll tell you about it."

He went into the office. Albert sauntered listlessly to the window and looked out. So far as not understanding anything in the shop was concerned he was quite willing to remain in ignorance. It did not interest him in the least. A moment later he felt a touch on his elbow. He turned, to find Mr. Price standing beside him.

"I'm all ready to tell you about it now," volunteered the unsmiling Issy. "Sweepin's all finished up."

Albert was amused. "I guess I can get along," he said.

"Don't worry."

"_I ain't worried none. I don't believe in worryin'; worryin' don't do folks no good, the way I look at it. But long's Cap'n Lote wants me to tell you about the hardware I'd ruther do it now, than any time. Henry Cahoon's team'll be here for a load of lath in about ten minutes or so, and then I'll have to leave you. This here's the shelf where we keep the butts--hinges, you understand. Brass along here, and iron here. Got quite a stock, ain't we."

He took the visitor's arm in his mighty paw and led him from shelves to drawers and from drawers to boxes, talking all the time, so the boy thought, "like a catalogue." Albert tried gently to break away several times and yawned often, but yawns and hints were quite lost on his guide, who was intent only upon the business--and victim--in hand. At the window looking across toward the main road Albert paused longest. There was a girl in sight--she looked, at that distance, as if she might be a rather pretty girl--and the young man was languidly interested. He had recently made the discovery that pretty girls may be quite interesting; and, moreover, one or two of them whom he had met at the school dances--when the young ladies from the Misses Bradshaws' seminary had come over, duly guarded and chaperoned, to one-step and fox-trot with the young gentlemen of the school--one or two of these young ladies had intimated a certain interest in him. So the feminine possibility across the road attracted his notice--only slightly, of course; the sophisticated metropolitan notice is not easily aroused--but still, slightly.

"Come on, come on," urged Issachar Price. "I ain't begun to show ye the whole of it yet . . . Eh? Oh, Lord, there comes Cahoon's team now! Well, I got to go. Show you the rest some other time. So long . . . Eh? Cap'n Lote's callin' you, ain't he?"

Albert went into the office in response to his grandfather's call to find the latter seated at an old-fashioned roll-top desk, piled with papers.

"I've got to go down to the bank, Al," he said. "Some business about a note that Laban ought to be here to see to, but ain't. I'll be back pretty soon. You just stay here and wait for me. You might be lookin' over the books, if you want to. I took 'em out of the safe and they're on Labe's desk there," pointing to the high standing desk by the window. "They're worth lookin' at, if only to see how neat they're kept. A set of books like that is an example to any young man. You might be lookin' 'em over."

He hurried out. Albert smiled condescendingly and, instead of looking over Mr. Keeler's books, walked over to the window and looked out of that. The girl was not in sight now, but she might be soon. At any rate watching for her was as exciting as any amusement he could think of about that dull hole. Ah hum! he wondered how the fellows were at school.

The girl did not reappear. Signs of animation along the main road were limited. One or two men went by, then a group of children obviously on their way to school. Albert yawned again, took the silver cigarette case from his pocket and looked longingly at its contents. He wondered what his grandfather's ideas might be on the tobacco question. But his grandfather was not there then . . . and he might not return for some time . . . and . . . He took a cigarette from the case, tapped, with careful carelessness, its end upon the case--he would not have dreamed of smoking without first going through the tapping process--lighted the cigarette and blew a large and satisfying cloud. Between puffs he sang:


"To you, beautiful lady,
I raise my eyes.
My heart, beautiful lady,
To your heart cries:
Come, come, beautiful lady,
To Par-a-dise,
As the sweet, sweet--'"


Some one behind him said: "Excuse me." The appeal to the beautiful lady broke off in the middle, and he whirled about to find the girl whom he had seen across the road and for whose reappearance he had been watching at the window, standing in the office doorway. He looked at her and she looked at him. He was embarrassed. She did not seem to be.

"Excuse me," she said: "Is Mr. Keeler here?"

She was a pretty girl, so his hasty estimate made when he had first sighted her was correct. Her hair was dark, so were her eyes, and her cheeks were becomingly colored by the chill of the winter air. She was a country girl, her hat and coat proved that; not that they were in bad taste or unbecoming, but they were simple and their style perhaps nearer to that which the young ladies of the Misses Bradshaws' seminary had worn the previous winter. All this Albert noticed in detail later on. Just then the particular point which attracted his embarrassed attention was the look in the dark eyes. They seemed to have almost the same disturbing quality which he had noticed in his grandfather's gray ones. Her mouth was very proper and grave, but her eyes looked as if she were laughing at him.

Now to be laughed at by an attractive young lady is disturbing and unpleasant. It is particularly so when the laughter is from the provinces and the laughee--so to speak--a dignified and sophisticated city man. Albert summoned the said dignity and sophistication to his rescue, knocked the ashes from his cigarette and said, haughtily:

"I beg your pardon?"

"Is Mr. Keeler here?" repeated the girl.

"No, he is out."

"Will he be back soon, do you think?"

Recollections of Mr. Price's recent remark concerning the missing bookkeeper's "good start" came to Albert's mind and he smiled, slightly. "I should say not," he observed, with delicate irony.

"Is Issy--I mean Mr. Price, busy?"

"He's out in the yard there somewhere, I believe. Would you like to have me call him?"

"Why, yes--if you please--sir."

The "sir" was flattering, if it was sincere. He glanced at her. The expression of the mouth was as grave as ever, but he was still uncertain about those eyes. However, he was disposed to give her the benefit of the doubt, so, stepping to the side door of the office--that leading to the yards--he opened it and shouted: "Price! . . . Hey, Price!"

There was no answer, although he could hear Issachar's voice and another above the rattle of lath bundles.

"Price!" he shouted, again. "Pri-i-ce!"

The rattling ceased. Then, in the middle distance, above a pile of "two by fours," appeared Issachar's head, the features agitated and the forehead bedewed with the moisture of honest toil.

"Huh?" yelled Issy. "What's the matter? Be you hollerin' to me?"

"Yes. There's some one here wants to see you."

"Hey?"

"I say there's some one here who wants to see you."

"What for?"

"I don't know."

"Well, find out, can't ye? I'm busy."

Was that a laugh which Albert heard behind him? He turned around, but the young lady's face wore the same grave, even demure, expression.

"What do you want to see him for?" he asked.

"I wanted to buy something."

"She wants to buy something," repeated Albert, shouting.

"Hey?"

"She wants to--BUY--something." It was humiliating to have to scream in this way.

"Buy? Buy what?"

"What do you want to buy?"

"A hook, that's all. A hook for our kitchen door. Would you mind asking him to hurry? I haven't much time."

"She wants a hook."

"Eh? We don't keep books. What kind of a book?"

"Not book--HOOK. H-O-O-K! Oh, great Scott! Hook! HOOK! Hook for a door! And she wants you to hurry."

"Eh? Well, I can't hurry now for nobody. I got to load these laths and that's all there is to it. Can't you wait on him?" Evidently the customer's sex had not yet been made clear to the Price understanding. "You can get a hook for him, can't ye? You know where they be, I showed ye. Ain't forgot so soon, 'tain't likely."

The head disappeared behind the "two by fours." Its face was red, but no redder than Mr. Speranza's at that moment.

"Fool rube!" he snorted, disgustedly.

"Excuse me, but you've dropped your cigarette," observed the young lady.

Albert savagely slammed down the window and turned away. The dropped cigarette stump lay where it had fallen, smudging and smelling.

His caller looked at it and then at him.

"I'd pick it up, if I were you," she said. "Cap'n Snow HATES cigarettes."

Albert, his dignity and indignation forgotten, returned her look with one of anxiety.

"Does he, honest?" he asked.

"Yes. He hates them worse than anything."

The cigarette stump was hastily picked up by its owner.

"Where'll I put it?" he asked, hurriedly.

"Why don't you--Oh, don't put it in your pocket! It will set you on fire. Put it in the stove, quick."

Into the stove it went, all but its fragrance, which lingered.

"Do you think you COULD find me that hook?" asked the girl.

"I'll try. _I don't know anything about the confounded things."

"Oh!" innocently. "Don't you?"

"No, of course I don't. Why should I?"

"Aren't you working here?"

"Here? Work HERE? ME? Well, I--should--say--NOT!"

"Oh, excuse me. I thought you must be a new bookkeeper, or--or a new partner, or something."

Albert regarded her intently and suspiciously for some seconds before making another remark. She was as demurely grave as ever, but his suspicions were again aroused. However, she WAS pretty, there could be no doubt about that.

"Maybe I can find the hook for you," he said. "I can try, anyway."

"Oh, thank you ever so much," gratefully. "It's VERY kind of you to take so much trouble."

"Oh," airily, "that's all right. Come on; perhaps we can find it together."

They were still looking when Mr. Price came panting in.

"Whew!" he observed, with emphasis. "If anybody tells you heavin' bundles of laths aboard a truck-wagon ain't hard work you tell him for me he's a liar, will ye. Whew! And I had to do the heft of everything, 'cause Cahoon sent that one-armed nephew of his to drive the team. A healthy lot of good a one-armed man is to help heave lumber! I says to him, says I: 'What in time did--' Eh? Why, hello, Helen! Good mornin'. Land sakes! you're out airly, ain't ye?"

The young lady nodded. "Good morning, Issachar," she said. "Yes, I am pretty early and I'm in a dreadful hurry. The wind blew our kitchen door back against the house last night and broke the hook. I promised Father I would run over here and get him a new one and bring it back to him before I went to school. And it's quarter to nine now."

"Land sakes, so 'tis! Ain't--er--er--what's-his-name--Albert here, found it for you yet? He ain't no kind of a hand to find things, is he? We'll have to larn him better'n that. Yes indeed!"

Albert laughed, sarcastically. He was about to make a satisfyingly crushing reproof to this piece of impertinence when Mr. Price began to sniff the air.

"What in tunket?" he demanded. "Sn'f! Sn'f! Who's been smokin' in here? And cigarettes, too, by crimus! Sn'f! Sn'f! Yes, sir, cigarettes, by crimustee! Who's been smokin' cigarettes in here? If Cap'n Lote knew anybody'd smoked a cigarette in here I don't know's he wouldn't kill 'em. Who done it?"

Albert shivered. The girl with the dark blue eyes flashed a quick glance at him. "I think perhaps someone went by the window when it was open just now," she suggested. "Perhaps they were smoking and the smoke blew in."

"Eh? Well, maybe so. Must have been a mighty rank cigarette to smell up the whole premises like this just goin' past a window. Whew! Gosh! no wonder they say them things are rank pison. I'd sooner smoke skunk-cabbage myself; 'twouldn't smell no worse and 'twould be a dum sight safer. Whew! . . . Well, Helen, there's about the kind of hook I cal'late you need. Fifteen cents 'll let you out on that. Cheap enough for half the money, eh? Give my respects to your pa, will ye. Tell him that sermon he preached last Sunday was fine, but I'd like it better if he'd laid it on to the Univer'lists a little harder. Folks that don't believe in hell don't deserve no consideration, 'cordin' to my notion. So long, Helen . . . Oh say," he added, as an afterthought, "I guess you and Albert ain't been introduced, have ye? Albert, this is Helen Kendall, she's our Orthodox minister's daughter. Helen, this young feller is Albert--er--er--Consarn it, I've asked Cap'n Lote that name a dozen times if I have once! What is it, anyway?"

"Speranza," replied the owner of the name.

"That's it, Sperandy. This is Albert Sperandy, Cap'n Lote's grandson."

Albert and Miss Kendall shook hands.

"Thanks," said the former, gratefully and significantly.

The young lady smiled.

"Oh, you're welcome," she said. "I knew who you were all the time--or I guessed who you must be. Cap'n Snow told me you were coming."

She went out. Issachar, staring after her, chuckled admiringly. "Smartest girl in THIS town," he observed, with emphasis. "Head of her class up to high school and only sixteen and three-quarters at that."

Captain Zelotes came bustling in a few minutes later. He went to his desk, paying little attention to his grandson. The latter loitered idly up and down the office and hardware shop, watching Issachar wait on customers or rush shouting into the yard to attend to the wants of others there. Plainly this was Issachar's busy day.

"Crimus!" he exclaimed, returning from one such excursion and mopping his forehead. "This doin' two men's work ain't no fun. Every time Labe goes on a time seem's if trade was brisker'n it's been for a month. Seems as if all creation and part of East Harniss had been hangin' back waitin' till he had a shade on 'fore they come to trade. Makes a feller feel like votin' the Prohibition ticket. I WOULD vote it, by crimustee, if I thought 'twould do any good. 'Twouldn't though; Labe would take to drinkin' bay rum or Florida water or somethin', same as Hoppy Rogers done when he was alive. Jim Young says he went into Hoppy's barber-shop once and there was Hoppy with a bottle of a new kind of hair-tonic in his hand. 'Drummer that was here left it for a sample,' says Hoppy. 'Wanted me to try it and, if I liked it, he cal'lated maybe I'd buy some. I don't think I shall, though,' he says; 'don't taste right to me.' Yes, sir, Jim Young swears that's true. Wan't enough snake-killer in that hair tonic to suit Hoppy. I--Yes, Cap'n Lote, what is it? Want me, do ye?"

But the captain did not, as it happened, want Mr. Price at that time. It was Albert whose name he had called. The boy went into the office and his grandfather rose and shut the door.

"Sit down, Al," he said, motioning toward a chair. When his grandson had seated himself Captain Zelotes tilted back his own desk chair upon its springs and looked at him.

"Well, son," he said, after a moment, "what do you think of it?"

"Think of it? I don't know exactly what--"

"Of the place here. Shop, yards, the whole business. Z. Snow and Company--what do you think of it?"

Privately Albert was inclined to classify the entire outfit as one-horse and countrified, but he deemed it wiser not to express this opinion. So he compromised and replied that it "seemed to be all right."

His grandfather nodded. "Thanks," he observed, dryly. "Glad you find it that way. Well, then, changin' the subject for a minute or two, what do you think about yourself?"

"About myself? About me? I don't understand?"

"No, I don't suppose you do. That's what I got you over here this mornin' for, so as we could understand--you and me. Al, have you given any thought to what you're goin' to do from this on? How you're goin' to live?"

Albert looked at him uncomprehendingly.

"How I'm going to live?" he repeated. "Why--why, I thought--I supposed I was going to live with you--with you and Grandmother."

"Um-hm, I see."

"I just kind of took that for granted, I guess. You sent for me to come here. You took me away from school, you know."

"Yes, so I did. You know why I took you from school?"

"No, I--I guess I DON'T, exactly. I thought--I supposed it was because you didn't want me to go there any more."

"'Twasn't that. I don't know whether I would have wanted you to go there or not if things had been different. From what I hear it was a pretty extravagant place, and lookin' at it from the outside without knowin' too much about it, I should say it was liable to put a lot of foolish and expensive notions into a boy's head. I may be wrong, of course; I have been wrong at least a few times in my life."

It was evident that he considered the chances of his being wrong in this instance very remote. His tone again aroused in the youth the feeling of obstinacy, of rebellion, of desire to take the other side.

"It is one of the best schools in this country," he declared. "My father said so."

Captain Zelotes picked up a pencil on his desk and tapped his chin lightly with the blunt end. "Um," he mused. "Well, I presume likely he knew all about it."

"He knew as much as--most people," with a slight but significant hesitation before the "most."

"Um-hm. Naturally, havin' been schooled there himself, I suppose."

"He wasn't schooled there. My father was a Spaniard."

"So I've heard. . . . Well, we're kind of off the subject, ain't we? Let's leave your father's nationality out of it for a while. And we'll leave the school, too, because no matter if it was the best one on earth you couldn't go there. I shouldn't feel 'twas right to spend as much money as that at any school, and you--well, son, you ain't got it to spend. Did you have any idea what your father left you, in the way of tangible assets?"

"No. I knew he had plenty of money always. He was one of the most famous singers in this country."

"Maybe so."

"It WAS so," hotly. "And he was paid enough in one week to buy this whole town--or almost. Why, my father--"

"Sshh! Sssh!"

"No, I'm not going to hush. I'm proud of my father. He was a--a great man. And--and I'm not going to stand here and have you--"

Between indignation and emotion he choked and could not finish the sentence. The tears came to his eyes.

"I'm not going to have you or anyone else talk about him that way," he concluded, fiercely.

His grandfather regarded him with a steady, but not at all unkindly, gaze.

"I ain't runnin' down your father, Albert," he said.

"Yes, you are. You hated him. Anybody could see you hated him."

The captain slowly rapped the desk with the pencil. He did not answer at once.

"Well," he said, after a moment, "I don't know as I ought to deny that. I don't know as I can deny it and be honest. Years ago he took away from me what amounted to three-quarters of everything that made my life worth while. Some day you'll know more about it than you do now, and maybe you'll understand my p'int of view better. No, I didn't like your father--Eh? What was you sayin'?"

Albert, who had muttered something, was rather confused. However, he did not attempt to equivocate. "I said I guessed that didn't make much difference to Father," he answered, sullenly.

"I presume likely it didn't. But we won't go into that question now. What I'm tryin' to get at in this talk we're having is you and your future. Now you can't go back to school because you can't afford it. All your father left when he died was--this is the honest truth I'm tellin' you now, and if I'm puttin' it pretty blunt it's because I always think it's best to get a bad mess out of the way in a hurry--all your father left was debts. He didn't leave money enough to bury him, hardly."

The boy stared at him aghast. His grandfather, leaning a little toward him, would have put a hand on his knee, but the knee was jerked out of the way.

"There, that's over, Al," went on Captain Zelotes. "You know the worst now and you can say, 'What of it?' I mean just that: What of it? Bein' left without a cent, but with your health and a fair chance to make good--that, at seventeen or eighteen ain't a bad lookout, by any manner of means. It's the outlook _I had at fifteen--exceptin' the chance--and I ain't asked many favors of anybody since. At your age, or a month or two older, do you know where I was? I was first mate of a three-masted schooner. At twenty I was skipper; and at twenty-five, by the Almighty, I owned a share in her. Al, all you need now is a chance to go to work. And I'm goin' to give you that chance."

Albert gasped. "Do you mean--do you mean I've got to be a--a sailor?" he stammered.

Captain Zelotes put back his head and laughed, laughed aloud.

"A sailor!" he repeated. "Ho, ho! No wonder you looked scared. No, I wan't cal'latin' to make a sailor out of you, son. For one reason, sailorin' ain't what it used to be; and, for another, I have my doubts whether a young feller of your bringin' up would make much of a go handlin' a bunch of fo'mast hands the first day out. No, I wasn't figgerin' to send you to sea . . . What do you suppose I brought you down to this place for this mornin'?"

And then Albert understood. He knew why he had been conducted through the lumber yards, about the hardware shop, why his grandfather and Mr. Price had taken so much pains to exhibit and explain. His heart sank.

"I brought you down here," continued the captain, "because it's a first-rate idea to look a vessel over afore you ship aboard her. It's kind of late to back out after you have shipped. Ever since I made up my mind to send for you and have you live along with your grandmother and me I've been plannin' what to do with you. I knew, if you was a decent, ambitious young chap, you'd want to do somethin' towards makin' a start in life. We can use--that is, this business can use that kind of a chap right now. He could larn to keep books and know lumber and hardware and how to sell and how to buy. He can larn the whole thing. There's a chance here, son. It's your chance; I'm givin' it to you. How big a chance it turns out to be 'll depend on you, yourself."

He stopped. Albert was silent. His thoughts were confused, but out of their dismayed confusion two or three fixed ideas reared themselves like crags from a whirlpool. He was to live in South Hamiss always--always; he was to keep books--Heavens, how he hated mathematics, detail work of any kind!--for drunken old Keeler; he was to "heave lumber" with Issy Price. He--Oh, it was dreadful! It was horrible. He couldn't! He wouldn't! He--

Captain Zelotes had been watching him, his heavy brows drawing closer together as the boy delayed answering.

"Well?" he asked, for another minute. "Did you hear what I said?"

"Yes."

"Understood, did you?"

"Yes--sir."

"Well?"

Albert was clutching at straws. "I--I don't know how to keep books," he faltered.

"I didn't suppose you did. Don't imagine they teach anything as practical as bookkeepin' up at that school of yours. But you can larn, can't you?"

"I--I guess so."

"I guess so, too. Good Lord, I HOPE so! Humph! You don't seem to be jumpin' for joy over the prospect. There's a half dozen smart young fellers here in South Harniss that would, I tell you that."

Albert devoutly wished they had jumped--and landed--before his arrival. His grandfather's tone grew more brusque.

"Don't you want to work?" he demanded.

"Why, yes, I--I suppose I do. I--I hadn't thought much about it."

"Humph! Then I think it's time you begun. Hadn't you had ANY notion of what you wanted to do when you got out of that school of yours?"

"I was going to college."

"Humph! . . . Yes, I presume likely. Well, after you got out of college, what was you plannin' to do then?"

"I wasn't sure. I thought I might do something with my music. I can play a little. I can't sing--that is, not well enough. If I could," wistfully, "I should have liked to be in opera, as father was, of course."

Captain Zelotes' only comment was a sniff or snort, or combination of both. Albert went on.

"I had thought of writing--writing books and poems, you know. I've written quite a good deal for the school magazine. And I think I should like to be an actor, perhaps. I--"

"Good God!" His grandfather's fist came down upon the desk before him. Slowly he shook his head.

"A--a poetry writer and an actor!" he repeated. "Whew! . . . Well, there! Perhaps maybe we hadn't better talk any more just now. You can have the rest of the day to run around town and sort of get acquainted, if you want to. Then to-morrow mornin' you and I'll come over here together and we'll begin to break you in. I shouldn't wonder," he added, dryly, "if you found it kind of dull at first--compared to that school and poetry makin' and such--but it'll be respectable and it'll pay for board and clothes and somethin' to eat once in a while, which may not seem so important to you now as 'twill later on. And some day I cal'late--anyhow we'll hope--you'll be mighty glad you did it."

Poor Albert looked and felt anything but glad just then. Captain Zelotes, his hands in his pockets, stood regarding him. He, too, did not look particularly happy.

"You'll remember," he observed, "or perhaps you don't know, that when your father asked us to look out for you--"

Albert interrupted. "Did--did father ask you to take care of me?" he cried, in surprise.

"Um-hm. He asked somebody who was with him to ask us to do just that."

The boy drew a long breath. "Well, then," he said, hopelessly, "I'll--I'll try."

"Thanks. Now you run around town and see the sights. Dinner's at half past twelve prompt, so be on hand for that."

After his grandson had gone, the captain, hands still in his pockets, stood for some time looking out of the window. At length he spoke aloud.

"A play actor or a poetry writer!" he exclaimed. "Tut, tut, tut! No use talkin', blood will tell!"

Issachar, who was putting coal on the office fire, turned his head.

"Eh?" he queried.

"Nothin'," said Captain Lote.

He would have been surprised if he could have seen his grandson just at that moment. Albert, on the beach whither he had strayed in his desire to be alone, safely hidden from observation behind a sand dune, was lying with his head upon his arms and sobbing bitterly.

A disinterested person might have decided that the interview which had just taken place and which Captain Zelotes hopefully told his wife that morning would probably result in "a clear, comf'table understandin' between the boy and me"--such a disinterested person might have decided that it had resulted in exactly the opposite. In calculating the results to be obtained from that interview the captain had not taken into consideration two elements, one his own and the other his grandson's. These elements were prejudice and temperament.

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