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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Portygee - Chapter 7
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The Portygee - Chapter 7 Post by :leonard063083 Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :3304

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The Portygee - Chapter 7


It was Rachel who first discovered "To My Lady's Spring Hat" in the Item three weeks later. She came rushing into the sitting room brandishing the paper.

"My soul! My soul! My soul!" she cried.

Olive, sitting sewing by the window, was, naturally, somewhat startled. "Mercy on us, Rachel!" she exclaimed. "What IS it?"

"Look!" cried the housekeeper, pointing to the contribution in the "Poets' Corner" as Queen Isabella may have pointed at the evidence of her proteges discovery of a new world. "LOOK!"

Mrs. Snow looked, read the verses to herself, and then aloud.

"Why, I declare, they're real sort of pretty, ain't they?" she exclaimed, in astonished admiration.

"Pretty! They're perfectly elegant! And right here in the paper for all hands to see. Ain't you PROUD of him, Mrs. Snow?"

Olive had been growing more and more proud of her handsome grandson ever since his arrival. She was prouder still now and said so. Rachel nodded, triumphantly.

"He'll be a Robert Penfold afore he dies, or I miss MY guess!" she declared.

She showed it to feminine acquaintances all over town, and Olive, when callers came, took pains to see that a copy of the Item, folded with the "Poets' Corner" uppermost, lay on the center table. Customers, dropping in at the office, occasionally mentioned the poem to its author.

"See you had a piece in the Item, Al," was their usual way of referring to it. "Pretty cute piece 'twas, too, seemed to me. Say, that girl of yours must have SOME spring bunnit. Ho, ho!"

Issachar deigned to express approval, approval qualified with discerning criticism of course, but approval nevertheless.

"Pretty good piece, Al," he observed. "Pretty good. Glad to see you done so well. Course you made one little mistake, but 'twan't a very big one. That part where you said--What was it, now? Where'd I put that piece of poetry? Oh, yes, here 'tis! Where you said--er--er--

'It floats upon her golden curls
As froth upon the wave.'

Now of course nothin'--a hat or nothin' else--is goin' to float on top of a person's head. Froth floatin', that's all right, you understand; but even if you took froth right out of the water and slapped it up onto anybody's hair 'twouldn't FLOAT up there. If you'd said,

'It SETS up onto her golden curls,
Same as froth sets on top of a wave.'

that would have been all right and true. But there, don't feel bad about it. It's only a little mistake, same as anybody's liable to make. Nine persons out of ten wouldn't have noticed it. I'm extry partic'lar, I presume likely. I'm findin' mistakes like that all the time."

Laban's comment was less critical, perhaps, but more reserved.

"It's pretty good, Al," he said. "Yes--er--yes, sir, it's pretty good. It ain't all new, there's some of it that's been written before, but I rather guess that might have been said about Shakespeare's poetry when he fust commenced. It's pretty good, Al. Yes--yes, yes. It is so."

Albert was inclined to resent the qualified strain in the bookkeeper's praise. He was tempted to be sarcastic.

"Well," he observed, "of course you've read so much real poetry that you ought to know."

Laban nodded, slowly. "I've read a good deal," he said quietly. "Readin' is one of the few things I ain't made a failure of in this life. Um-hm. One of the few. Yes yes--yes."

He dipped his pen in the inkwell and carefully made an entry in the ledger. His assistant felt a sudden pang of compunction.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Keeler," he said. "That was pretty fresh of me. I'm sorry."

Laban looked up in mild surprise. "Sorry?" he repeated. "What for? . . . Oh, that's all right, Al, that's all right. Lord knows I'm the last one on earth who'd ought to criticize anybody. All I had in mind in sayin' what I did was to--well, to kind of keep you from bein' too well satisfied and not try harder on the next one. It don't pay to be too well satisfied. . . . Years ago, I can remember, _I was pretty well satisfied--with myself and my work. Sounds like a joke, I know, but 'twas so. . . . Well, I've had a nice long chance to get over it. Um-hm. Yes--yes. So I have, so I have."

Only Captain Zelotes at first said nothing about the poem. He read it, his wife saw to that, but his comment even to her was a non-committal grunt.

"But don't you think it's real sort of pretty, Zelotes?" she asked.

The captain grunted again. "Why, I guess likely 'tis if you say so, Mother. I don't know much about such things."

"But everybody says it is."

"Want to know! Well, then 'twon't make much difference whether I say it or not."

"But ain't you goin' to say a word to Albert about it, Zelotes?"

"Humph! I don't know's I know what to say."

"Why, say you like it."

"Ye-es, and if I do he'll keep on writin' more. That's exactly what I don't want him to do. Come now, Mother, be sensible. This piece of his may be good or it may not, _I wouldn't undertake to say. But this I do know: I don't want the boy to spend his time writin' poetry slush for that 'Poets' Corner.' Letitia Makepeace did that--she had a piece in there about every week--and she died in the Taunton asylum."

"But, Zelotes, it wasn't her poetry got her into the asylum."

"Wan't it? Well, she was in the poorhouse afore that. I don't know whether 'twas her poetryin' that got her in there, but I know darned well it didn't get her out."

"But ain't you goin' to say one word? 'Twould encourage him so."

"Good Lord! We don't want to encourage him, do we? If he was takin' to thievin' you wouldn't encourage him in that, would you?"

"Thievin'! Zelotes Snow, you don't mean to say you compare a poet to a THIEF!"

The captain grinned. "No-o, Mother," he observed drily. "Sometimes a thief can manage to earn a livin' at his job. But there, there, don't feel bad. I'll say somethin' to Al, long's you think I ought to."

The something was not much, and yet Captain Zelotes really meant it to be kindly and to sound like praise. But praising a thing of which you have precious little understanding and with which you have absolutely no sympathy is a hard job.

"See you had a piece in the Item this week, Al," observed the captain.

"Why--yes, sir," said Albert.

"Um-hm. I read it. I don't know much about such things, but they tell me it is pretty good."

"Thank you, sir."

"Eh? Oh, you're welcome."

That was all. Perhaps considering its source it was a good deal, but Albert was not of the age where such considerations are likely to be made.

Helen's praise was warm and enthusiastic. "I knew you could do it if you only would," she declared. "And oh, I'm SO glad you did! Now you must keep on trying."

That bit of advice was quite superfluous. Young Speranza having sampled the sublime intoxication of seeing himself in print, was not ready to sober off yet a while. He continued to bombard the Item with verses. They were invariably accepted, but when he sent to a New York magazine a poem which he considered a gem, the promptness with which it was returned staggered his conceit and was in that respect a good thing for him.

However, he kept on trying. Helen would not have permitted him to give up even if he had wished. She was quite as much interested in his literary aspirations as he was himself and her encouragement was a great help to him. After months of repeated trial and repeated rejection he opened an envelope bearing the name of a fairly well-known periodical to find therein a kindly note stating that his poem, "Sea Spaces" had been accepted. And a week later came a check for ten dollars. That was a day of days. Incidentally it was the day of a trial balance in the office and the assistant bookkeeper's additions and multiplications contained no less than four ghastly errors.

The next afternoon there was an interview in the back office. Captain Zelotes and his grandson were the participants. The subject discussed was "Business versus Poetry," and there was a marked difference of opinion. Albert had proclaimed his triumph at home, of course, had exhibited his check, had been the recipient of hugs and praises from his grandmother and had listened to paeans and hallelujahs from Mrs. Ellis. When he hurried around to the parsonage after supper, Helen had been excited and delighted at the good news. Albert had been patted on the back quite as much as was good for a young man whose bump of self-esteem was not inclined toward under-development. When he entered the private office of Z. Snow and Co. in answer to his grandfather's summons, he did so light-heartedly, triumphantly, with self-approval written large upon him.

But though he came like a conquering hero, he was not received like one. Captain Zelotes sat at his desk, the copy of the Boston morning paper which he had been reading sticking out of the waste basket into which it had been savagely jammed a half hour before. The news had not been to the captain's liking. These were the September days of 1914; the German Kaiser was marching forward "mit Gott" through Belgium, and it began to look as if he could not be stopped short of Paris. Consequently, Captain Zelotes, his sympathies from the first with England and the Allies, was not happy in his newspaper reading.

Albert entered, head erect and eyes shining. If Gertie Kendrick could have seen him then she would have fallen down and worshiped. His grandfather looked at him in silence for a moment, tapping his desk with the stump of a pencil. Albert, too, was silent; he was already thinking of another poem with which to dazzle the world, and his head was among the rosy clouds.

"Sit down, Al," said Captain Zelotes shortly.

Albert reluctantly descended to earth and took the battered armchair standing beside the desk. The captain tapped with his pencil upon the figure-covered sheet of paper before him. Then he said:

"Al, you've been here three years come next December, ain't you?"

"Why--yes, sir, I believe I have."

"Um-hm, you have. And for the heft of that time you've been in this office."

"Yes, sir."

"Yes. And Labe Keeler and I have been doin' our best to make a business man out of you. You understand we have, don't you?"

Albert looked puzzled and a little uneasy. Into his roseate dreams was just beginning to filter the idea that his grandfather's tone and manner were peculiar.

"Why, yes, sir, of course I understand it," he replied.

"Well, I asked you because I wasn't quite sure whether you did or not. Can you guess what this is I've got on my desk here?"

He tapped the figure-covered sheet of paper once more. Before Albert could speak the captain answered his own question.

"I'll tell you what it is," he went on. "It's one of the latest samples of your smartness as a business man. I presume likely you know that Laban worked here in this office until three o'clock this mornin', didn't you?"

Albert did not know it. Mr. Keeler had told him nothing of the sort.

"Why, no," he replied. "Did he? What for?"

"Ye-es, he did. And what for? Why, just to find out what was the matter with his trial balance, that's all. When one of Labe's trial balances starts out for snug harbor and ends up on a reef with six foot of water in her hold, naturally Labe wants to get her afloat and pumped dry as quick as possible. He ain't used to it, for one thing, and it makes him nervous."

Albert's uneasiness grew. When his grandfather's speech became sarcastic and nautical, the young man had usually found that there was trouble coming for somebody.

"I--I'm sorry Laban had to stay so late," he stammered. "I should have been glad to stay and help him, but he didn't ask me."

"No-o. Well, it may possibly be that he cal'lated he was carryin' about all your help that the craft would stand, as 'twas. Any more might sink her. See here, young feller--" Captain Zelotes dropped his quiet sarcasm and spoke sharp and brisk: "See here," he said, "do you realize that this sheet of paper I've got here is what stands for a day's work done by you yesterday? And on this sheet there was no less than four silly mistakes that a child ten years old hadn't ought to make, that an able-bodied idiot hadn't ought to make. But YOU made 'em, and they kept Labe Keeler here till three o'clock this mornin'. Now what have you got to say for yourself?"

As a matter of fact, Albert had very little to say, except that he was sorry, and that his grandfather evidently did not consider worth the saying. He waved the protestation aside.

"Sorry!" he repeated impatiently. "Of course you're sorry, though even at that I ain't sure you're sorry enough. Labe was sorry, too, I don't doubt, when his bedtime went by and he kept runnin' afoul of one of your mistakes after another. I'm sorry, darned sorry, to find out that you can make such blunders after three years on board here under such teachin' as you've had. But bein' sorry don't help any to speak of. Any fool can be sorry for his foolishness, but if that's all, it don't help a whole lot. Is bein' sorry the best excuse you've got to offer? What made you make the mistakes in the first place?"

Albert's face was darkly red under the lash of his grandfather's tongue. Captain Zelotes and he had had disagreements and verbal encounters before, but never since they had been together had the captain spoken like this. And the young fellow was no longer seventeen, he was twenty. The flush began to fade from his cheeks and the pallor which meant the rise of the Speranza temper took its place.

"What made you make such fool blunders?" repeated the captain. "You knew better, didn't you?"

"Yes," sullenly, "I suppose I did."

"You know mighty well you did. And as nigh as I can larn from what I got out of Laban--which wasn't much; I had to pump it out of him word by word--this ain't the first set of mistakes you've made. You make 'em right along. If it wasn't for him helpin' you out and coverin' up your mistakes, this firm would be in hot water with its customers two-thirds of the time and the books would be fust-rate as a puzzle, somethin' to use for a guessin' match, but plaguey little good as straight accounts of a goin' concern. Now what makes you act this way? Eh? What makes you?"

"Oh, I don't know. See here, Grandfather--"

"Hold on a minute. You don't know, eh? Well, I know. It ain't because you ain't smart enough to keep a set of books and keep 'em well. I don't expect you to be a Labe Keeler; there ain't many bookkeepers like him on this earth. But I do know you're smart enough to keep my books and keep 'em as they'd ought to be, if you want to keep 'em. The trouble with you is that you don't want to. You've got too much of your good-for-nothin--" Captain Lote pulled up short, cleared his throat, and went on: "You've got too much 'poet' in you," he declared, "that's what's the matter."

Albert leaned forward. "That wasn't what you were going to say," he said quickly. "You were going to say that I had too much of my father in me."

It was the captain's turn to redden. "Eh?" he stammered. "Why, I--I--How do you know what I was goin' to say?"

"Because I do. You say it all the time. Or, if you don't say it, you look it. There is hardly a day that I don't catch you looking at me as if you were expecting me to commit murder or do some outrageous thing or other. And I know, too, that it is all because I'm my father's son. Well, that's all right; feel that way about me if you want to, I can't help it."

"Here, here, Al! Hold on! Don't--"

"I won't hold on. And I tell you this: I hate this work here. You say I don't want to keep books. Well, I don't. I'm sorry I made the errors yesterday and put Keeler to so much trouble, but I'll probably make more. No," with a sudden outburst of determination, "I won't make any more. I won't, because I'm not going to keep books any more. I'm through."

Captain Zelotes leaned back in his chair.

"You're what?" he asked slowly.

"I'm through. I'll never work in this office another day. I'm through."

The captain's brows drew together as he stared steadily at his grandson. He slowly tugged at his beard.

"Humph!" he grunted, after a moment. "So you're through, eh? Goin' to quit and go somewheres else, you mean?"


"Um-hm. I see. Where are you goin' to go?"

"I don't know. But I'm not going to make a fool of myself at this job any longer. I can't keep books, and I won't keep them. I hate business. I'm no good at it. And I won't stay here."

"I see. I see. Well, if you won't keep on in business, what will you do for a livin'? Write poetry?"


"Um-m. Be kind of slim livin', won't it? You've been writin' poetry for about a year and a half, as I recollect, and so far you've made ten dollars."

"That's all right. If I don't make it I may starve, as you are always saying that writers do. But, starve or not, I shan't ask YOU to take care of me."

"I've taken care of you for three years or so."

"Yes. But you did it because--because--Well, I don't know why you did, exactly, but you won't have to do it any longer. I'm through."

The captain still stared steadily, and what he saw in the dark eyes which flashed defiance back at him seemed to trouble him a little. His tugs at his beard became more strenuous.

"Humph!" he muttered. "Humph! . . . Well, Al, of course I can't make you stay by main force. Perhaps I could--you ain't of age yet--but I shan't. And you want to quit the ship altogether, do you?"

"If you mean this office--yes, I do."

"I see, I see. Want to quit South Harniss and your grandmother--and Rachel--and Labe--and Helen--and all the rest of 'em?"

"Not particularly. But I shall have to, of course."

"Yes. . . . Um-hm. . . . Yes. Have you thought how your grandmother's liable to feel when she hears you are goin' to clear out and leave her?"

Albert had not thought in that way, but he did now. His tone was a trifle less combative as he answered.

"She'll be sorry at first, I suppose," he said, "but she'll get over it."

"Um-hm. Maybe she will. You can get over 'most anything in time--'MOST anything. Well, and how about me? How do you think I'll feel?"

Albert's chin lifted. "You!" he exclaimed. "Why, you'll be mighty glad of it."

Captain Zelotes picked up the pencil stump and twirled it in his fingers. "Shall I?" he asked. "You think I will, do you?"

"Of course you will. You don't like me, and never did."

"So I've heard you say. Well, boy, don't you cal'late I like you at least as much as you like me?"

"No. What do you mean? I like you well enough. That is, I should if you gave me half a chance. But you don't do it. You hate me because my father--"

The captain interrupted. His big palm struck the desk.

"DON'T say that again!" he commanded. "Look here, if I hated you do you suppose I'd be talkin' to you like this? If I hated you do you cal'late I'd argue when you gave me notice? Not by a jugful! No man ever came to me and said he was goin' to quit and had me beg him to stay. If we was at sea he stayed until we made port; then he WENT, and he didn't hang around waitin' for a boat to take him ashore neither. I don't hate you, son. I'd ask nothin' better than a chance to like you, but you won't give it to me."

Albert's eyes and mouth opened.

"_I won't give YOU a chance?" he repeated.

"Sartin. DO you give me one? I ask you to keep these books of mine. You could keep 'em A Number One. You're smart enough to do it. But you won't. You let 'em go to thunder and waste your time makin' up fool poetry and such stuff."

"But I like writing, and I don't like keeping books."

"Keepin' books is a part of l'arnin' the business, and business is the way you're goin' to get your livin' by and by."

"No, it isn't. I am going to be a writer."

"Now DON'T say that silly thing again! I don't want to hear it."

"I shall say it because it is true."

"Look here, boy: When I tell you or anybody else in this office to do or not to do a thing, I expect 'em to obey orders. And I tell you not to talk any more of that foolishness about bein' a writer. D'you understand?"

"Yes, of course I understand."

"All right, then, that much is settled. . . . Here! Where are you goin'?"

Albert had turned and was on his way out of the office. He stopped and answered over his shoulder, "I'm going home," he said.

"Goin' HOME? Why, you came from home not more than an hour and a half ago! What are you goin' there again now for?"

"To pack up my things."

"To pack up your things! To pack up--Humph! So you really mean it! You're really goin' to quit me like this? And your grandma, too!"

The young man felt a sudden pang of compunction, a twinge of conscience.

"Grandfather," he said, "I'm sorry. I--"

But the change in his attitude and tone came too late. Captain Lote's temper was boiling now, contradiction was its worst provocative.

"Goin' to quit!" he sneered. "Goin' to quit because you don't like to work. All right, quit then! Go ahead! I've done all I can to make a man of you. Go to the devil in your own way."

"Grandfather, I--"

"Go ahead! _I can't stop you. It's in your breed, I cal'late."

That was sufficient. Albert strode out of the private office, head erect. Captain Zelotes rose and slammed the door after his departing grandson.

At ten that evening Albert was in his room, sitting in a chair by the window, gloomily looking out. The packing, most of it, had been done. He had not, as he told his grandfather he intended doing, left the office immediately and come straight home to pack. As he emerged from the inner office after the stormy interview with the captain he found Laban Keeler hard at work upon the books. The sight of the little man, so patiently and cheerfully pegging away, brought another twinge of conscience to the assistant bookkeeper. Laban had been such a brick in all their relationships. It must have been a sore trial to his particular, business-like soul, those errors in the trial balance. Yet he had not found fault nor complained. Captain Zelotes himself had said that every item concerning his grandson's mistakes and blunders had been dragged from Mr. Keeler much against the latter's will. Somehow Albert could not bear to go off and leave him at once. He would stay and finish his day's work, for Labe Keeler's sake.

So stay he did and when Captain Zelotes later came out of his private office and found him there neither of them spoke. At home, during supper, nothing was said concerning the quarrel of the afternoon. Yet Albert was as determined to leave as ever, and the Captain, judging by the expression of his face, was just as determined to do nothing more to prevent him. After supper the young man went to his room and began the packing. His grandfather went out, an unusual proceeding for him, saying that he guessed he would go down street for a spell.

Now Albert, as he sat there by the window, was gloomy enough. The wind, howling and wailing about the gables of the old house, was not an aid to cheerfulness and he needed every aid. He had sworn to go away, he was going away--but where should he go? He had a little money put by, not much but a little, which he had been saving for quite another purpose. This would take him a little way, would pay his bills for a short time, but after that--Well, after that he could earn more. With the optimism of youth and the serene self-confidence which was natural to him he was sure of succeeding sooner or later. It was not the dread of failure and privation which troubled him. The weight which was pressing upon his spirit was not the fear of what might happen to him.

There was a rap upon the door. Then a voice, the housekeeper's voice, whispered through the crack.

"It's me, Al," whispered Mrs. Ellis. "You ain't in bed yet, are you? I'd like to talk with you a minute or two, if I might."

He was not anxious to talk to her or anyone else just then, but he told her to come in. She entered on tiptoe, with the mysterious air of a conspirator, and shut the door carefully after her.

"May I set down just a minute?" she asked. "I can generally talk better settin'."

He pulled forward the ancient rocker with the rush seat. The cross-stitch "tidy" on the back was his mother's handiwork, she had made it when she was fifteen. Rachel sat down in the rocker.

"Al" she began, still in the same mysterious whisper, "I know all about it."

He looked at her. "All about what?" he asked.

"About the trouble you and Cap'n Lote had this afternoon. I know you're plannin' to leave us all and go away somewheres and that he told you to go, and all that. I know what you've been doin' up here to-night. Fur's that goes," she added, with a little catch in her breath and a wave of her hand toward the open trunk and suitcase upon the floor, "I wouldn't need to know, I could SEE."

Albert was surprised and confused. He had supposed the whole affair to be, so far, a secret between himself and his grandfather.

"You know?" he stammered. "You--How did you know?"

"Laban told me. Labe came hurryin' over here just after supper and told me the whole thing. He's awful upset about it, Laban is. He thinks almost as much of you as he does of Cap'n Lote or--or me," with an apologetic little smile.

Albert was astonished and troubled. "How did Labe know about it?" he demanded.

"He heard it all. He couldn't help hearin'."

"But he couldn't have heard. The door to the private office was shut."

"Yes, but the window at the top--the transom one, you know--was wide open. You and your grandpa never thought of that, I guess, and Laban couldn't hop up off his stool and shut it without givin' it away that he'd been hearin'. So he had to just set and listen and I know how he hated doin' that. Laban Keeler ain't the listenin' kind. One thing about it all is a mercy," she added, fervently. "It's the Lord's own mercy that that Issy Price wasn't where HE could hear it, too. If Issy heard it you might as well paint it up on the town-hall fence; all creation and his wife wouldn't larn it any sooner."

Albert drew a long breath. "Well," he said, after a moment, "I'm sorry Labe heard, but I don't suppose it makes much difference. Everyone will know all about it in a day or two . . . I'm going."

Rachel leaned forward.

"No, you ain't, Al," she said.

"I'm not? Indeed I am! Why, what do you mean?"

"I mean just what I say. You ain't goin'. You're goin' to stay right here. At least I hope you are, and I THINK you are. . . . Oh, I know," she added, quickly, "what you are goin' to say. You're goin' to tell me that your grandpa is down on you on account of your father, and that you don't like bookkeepin', and that you want to write poetry and--and such. You'll say all that, and maybe it's all true, but whether 'tis or not ain't the point at all just now. The real point is that you're Janie Snow's son and your grandpa's Cap'n Lote Snow and your grandma's Olive Snow and there ain't goin' to be another smash-up in this family if I can help it. I've been through one and one's enough. Albert, didn't you promise me that Sunday forenoon three years ago when I came into the settin'-room and we got talkin' about books and Robert Penfold and everything--didn't you promise me then that when things between you and your grandpa got kind of--of snarled up and full of knots you'd come to me with 'em and we'd see if we couldn't straighten 'em out together? Didn't you promise me that, Albert?"

Albert remembered the conversation to which she referred. As he remembered it, however, he had not made any definite promise.

"You asked me to talk them over with you, Rachel," he admitted. "I think that's about as far as it went."

"Well, maybe so, but now I ask you again. Will you talk this over with me, Albert? Will you tell me every bit all about it, for my sake? And for your grandma's sake. . . . Yes, more'n that, for your mother's sake, Albert; she was pretty nigh like my own sister, Jane Snow was. Different as night from day of course, she was pretty and educated and all that and I was just the same then as I am now, but we did think a lot of each other, Albert. Tell me the whole story, won't you, please. Just what Cap'n Lote said and what you said and what you plan to do--and all? Please, Albert."

There were tears in her eyes. He had always liked her, but it was a liking with a trace of condescension in it. She was peculiar, her "sympathetic attacks" were funny, and she and Laban together were an odd pair. Now he saw her in a new light and he felt a sudden rush of real affection for her. And with this feeling, and inspired also by his loneliness, came the impulse to comply with her request, to tell her all his troubles.

He began slowly at first, but as he went on the words came quicker. She listened eagerly, nodding occasionally, but saying nothing. When he had finished she nodded again.

"I see," she said. "'Twas almost what Laban said and about what he and I expected. Well, Albert, I ain't goin' to be the one to blame you, not very much anyhow. I don't see as you are to blame; you can't help the way you're made. But your grandfather can't help bein' made his way, either. He can't see with your spectacles and you can't see with his."

He stirred rebelliously. "Then we had better go our own ways, I should say," he muttered.

"No, you hadn't. That's just what you mustn't do, not now, anyhow. As I said before, there's been enough of all hands goin' their own ways in this family and look what came of it."

"But what do you expect me to do? I will not give up every plan I've made and my chance in the world just because he is too stubborn and cranky to understand them. I will NOT do it."

"I don't want you to. But I don't want you to upset the whole kettle just because the steam has scalded your fingers. I don't want you to go off and leave your grandma to break her heart a second time and your grandpa to give up all his plans and hopes that he's been makin' about you."

"Plans about me? He making plans about me? What sort of plans?"

"All sorts. Oh, he don't say much about 'em, of course; that ain't his way. But from things he's let drop I know he has hoped to take you in with him as a partner one of these days, and to leave you the business after he's gone."

"Nonsense, Rachel!"

"No, it ain't nonsense. It's the one big dream of Cap'n Lote's life. That Z. Snow and Co. business is his pet child, as you might say. He built it up, he and Labe together, and when he figgered to take you aboard with him 'twas SOME chance for you, 'cordin' to his lookout. Now you can't hardly blame him for bein' disappointed when you chuck that chance away and take to writin' poetry pieces, can you?"

"But--but--why, confound it, Rachel, you don't understand!"

"Yes, I do, but your grandpa don't. And you don't understand him. . . . Oh, Albert, DON'T be as stubborn as he is, as your mother was--the Lord and she forgive me for sayin' it. She was partly right about marryin' your pa and Cap'n Lote was partly right, too. If they had met half way and put the two 'partlys' together the whole thing might have been right in the end. As 'twas, 'twas all wrong. Don't, don't, DON'T, Albert, be as stubborn as that. For their sakes, Al,--yes, and for my sake, for I'm one of your family, too, or seems as if I was--don't."

She hastily wiped her eyes with her apron. He, too was greatly moved.

"Don't cry, Rachel," he muttered, hurriedly. "Please don't. . . . I didn't know you felt this way. I didn't know anybody did. I don't want to make trouble in the family--any more trouble. Grandmother has been awfully good to me; so, too, has Grandfather, I suppose, in his way. But--oh, what am I going to do? I can't stay in that office all my life. I'm not good at business. I don't like it. I can't give up--"

"No, no, course you mustn't. I don't want you to give up."

"Then what do you want me to do?"

"I want you to go to your grandpa and talk to him once more. Not givin' up your plans altogether but not forcin' him to give up his either, not right away. Tell him you realize he wants you to go on with Z. Snow and Company and that you will--for a while--"


"For a while, I said; three or four years, say. You won't be so dreadful old then, not exactly what you'd call a Methusalem. Tell him you'll do that and on his side he must let you write as much as you please, provided you don't let the writin' interfere with the Z. Snow and Co. work. Then, at the end of the three or four years, if you still feel the same as you do now, you can tackle your poetry for keeps and he and you'll still be friends. Tell him that, Albert, and see what he says. . . . Will you?"

Albert took some moments to consider. At length he said: "If I did I doubt if he would listen."

"Oh, yes he would. He'd more than listen, I'm pretty sartin. I think he'd agree."

"You do?"

"Yes, I do. You see," with a smile, "while I've been talkin' to you there's been somebody else talkin' to him. . . . There, there! don't you ask any questions. I promised not to tell anybody and if I ain't exactly broke that promise, I've sprained its ankle, I'm afraid. Good night, Albert, and thank you ever and ever so much for listenin' so long without once tellin' me to mind my own business."

"Good night, Rachel. . . . And thank you for taking so much interest in my affairs. You're an awfully good friend, I can see that."

"Don't--don't talk that way. And you WILL have that talk with your grandpa?"

"Yes, I will."

"Oh, I'm SO glad! There! Good night. I come pretty nigh kissin' you then and for a woman that's been engaged to be married for upwards of eighteen years that's a nice way to act, ain't it! Good night, good night."

She hurried out of the room. Albert sat down again in his chair by the window. He had promised to go to his grandfather and talk to him. As he sat there, thinking of the coming interview, he realized more and more that the keeping of that promise was likely to be no easy matter. He must begin the talk, he must break the ice--and how should he break it? Timid and roundabout approaches would be of little use; unless his grandfather's state of mind had changed remarkably since their parting in the Z. Snow and Co. office they and their motive would be misunderstood. No, the only way to break the ice was to break it, to plunge immediately into the deepest part of the subject. It promised to be a chilly plunge. He shivered at the prospect.

A half hour later he heard the door of the hall open and shut and knew that Captain Zelotes had returned. Rising, he descended the stairs. He descended slowly. Just as he reached the foot of the narrow flight Captain Zelotes entered the hall from the dining-room and turned toward him. Both were surprised at the meeting. Albert spoke first.

"Good evening, Grandfather," he stammered. "I--I was just coming down to see you. Were you going to bed?"

Captain Lote shook his head. "No-o," he said, slowly, "not exactly."

"Do you mind waiting a minute? I have a few things--I have something to say to you and--and I guess I shall sleep better if I say it to-night. I--I won't keep you long."

The captain regarded him intently for an instant, then he turned and led the way to the dining-room.

"Go ahead," he ordered, laconically. Albert squared his shoulders, preparatory to the plunge.

"Grandfather," he began, "first of all I want to tell you I am sorry for--for some of the things I said this afternoon."

He had rehearsed this opening speech over and over again, but in spite of the rehearsals it was dreadfully hard to make. If his grandfather had helped him even a little it might have been easier, but the captain merely stood there, expressionless, saying nothing, waiting for him to continue.

Albert swallowed, clenched his fists, and took a new start.

"Of course," he began, "I am sorry for the mistakes I made in my bookkeeping, but that I have told you before. Now--now I want to say I am sorry for being so--well, so pig-headed about the rest of it. I realize that you have been mighty kind to me and that I owe you about everything that I've got in this world."

He paused again. It had seemed to him that Captain Zelotes was about to speak. However, he did not, so the young man stumbled on.

"And--and I realize, too," he said, "that you have, I guess, been trying to give me a real start in business, the start you think I ought to have."

The captain nodded slowly. "That was my idea in startin' you," he said.

"Yes--and fact that I haven't done more with the chance is because I'm made that way, I guess. But I do want to--yes, and I MEAN to try to succeed at writing poetry or stories or plays or something. I like that and I mean to give it a trial. And so--and so, you see, I've been thinking our talk over and I've concluded that perhaps you may be right, maybe I'm not old enough to know what I really am fitted for, and yet perhaps _I may be partly right, too. I--I've been thinking that perhaps some sort of--of--"

"Of what?"

"Well, of half-way arrangement--some sort of--of compromise, you know, might be arranged. I might agree to stay in the office and do my very best with bookkeeping and business for--well, say, three years or so. During that time I should be trying to write of course, but I would only do that sort of writing evenings or on Saturdays and holidays. It shouldn't interfere with your work nor be done in the time you pay me for. And at the end of the three or four years--"

He paused again. This time the pause was longer than ever. Captain Lote broke the silence. His big right hand had wandered upward and was tugging at his beard.

"Well? . . . And then?" he asked.

"Why, then--if--if--Well, then we could see. If business seemed to be where I was most likely to succeed we'd call it settled and I would stay with Z. Snow and Co. If poetry-making or--or--literature seemed more likely to be the job I was fitted for, that would be the job I'd take. You--you see, don't you, Grandfather?"

The captain's beard-pulling continued. He was no longer looking his grandson straight in the eye. His gaze was fixed upon the braided mat at his feet and he answered without looking up.

"Ye-es," he drawled, "I cal'late I see. Well, was that all you had to say?"

"No-o, not quite. I--I wanted to say that which ever way it turned out, I--I hoped we--you and I, you know--would agree to be--to be good-natured about it and--and friends just the same. I--I--Well, there! That's all, I guess. I haven't put it very well, I'm afraid, but--but what do you think about it, Grandfather?"

And now Captain Zelotes did look up. The old twinkle was in his eye. His first remark was a question and that question was rather surprising.

"Al," he asked, "Al, who's been talkin' to you?"

The blood rushed to his grandson's face. "Talking to me?" he stammered. "Why--why, what do you mean?"

"I mean just that. You didn't think out this scheme all by yourself. Somebody's been talkin' to you and puttin' you up to it. Haven't they?"

"Why--why, Grandfather, I--"

"Haven't they?"

"Why--Well, yes, someone has been talking to me, but the whole idea isn't theirs. I WAS sorry for speaking to you as I did and sorry to think of leaving you and grandmother. I--I was sitting up there in my room and feeling blue and mean enough and--and--"

"And then Rachel came aboard and gave you your sailin' orders; eh?"

Albert gasped. "For heaven's sake how did you know that?" he demanded. "She--Why, she must have told you, after all! But she said--"

"Hold on, boy, hold on!" Captain Lote chuckled quietly. "No," he said, "Rachel didn't tell me; I guessed she was the one. And it didn't take a Solomon in all his glory to guess it, neither. Labe Keeler's been talkin' to ME, and when you come down here and began proposin' the same scheme that I was just about headin' up to your room with to propose to you, then--well, then the average whole-witted person wouldn't need more'n one guess. It couldn't be Labe, 'cause he'd been whisperin' in MY ear, so it must have been the other partner in the firm. That's all the miracle there is to it."

Albert's brain struggled with the situation. "I see," he said, after a moment. "She hinted that someone had been talking to you along the same line. Yes, and she was so sure you would agree. I might have known it was Laban."

"Um-hm, so you might. . . . Well, there have been times when if a man had talked to me as Labe did to-night I'd have knocked him down, or told him to go to--um--well, the tropics--told him to mind his own business, at least. But Labe is Labe, and besides MY conscience was plaguin' me a little mite, maybe . . . maybe."

The young man shook his head. "They must have talked it over, those two, and agreed that one should talk to you and the other to me. By George, I wonder they had the nerve. It wasn't their business, really."

"Not a darn bit."

"Yet--yet I--I'm awfully glad she said it to me. I--I needed it, I guess."

"Maybe you did, son. . . . And--humph--well, maybe I needed it, too. . . . Yes, I know that's consider'ble for me to say," he added dryly.

Albert was still thinking of Laban and Rachel.

"They're queer people," he mused. "When I first met them I thought they were about the funniest pair I ever saw. But--but now I can't help liking them and--and--Say, Grandfather, they must think a lot of your--of our family."

"Cal'late they do, son. . . . Well, boy, we've had our sermon, you and me, what shall we do? Willin' to sign for the five years trial cruise if I will, are you?"

Albert couldn't help smiling. "It was three years Rachel proposed, not five," he said.

"Was, eh? Suppose we split the difference and make it four? Willin' to try that?"

"Yes, sir."

"Agreement bein' that you shall stick close to Z. Snow and Co. durin' work hours and write as much poetry as you darned please other times, neither side to interfere with those arrangements? That right?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good! Shall we shake hands on it?"

They shook, solemnly. Captain Lote was the first to speak after ratification of the contract.

"There, now I cal'late I'll go aloft and turn in," he observed. Then he added, with a little hesitation, "Say, Al, maybe we'd better not trouble your grandma about all this fool business--the row this afternoon and all. 'Twould only worry her and--" he paused, looked embarrassed, cleared his throat, and said, "to tell you the truth, I'm kind of ashamed of my part---er--er--that is, some of it."

His grandson was very much astonished. It was not often that Captain Zelotes Snow admitted having been in the wrong. He blurted out the question he had been dying to ask.

"Grandfather," he queried, "had you--did you really mean what you said about starting to come to my room and--and propose this scheme of ours--I mean of Rachel's and Labe's--to me?"

"Eh? . . . Ye-es--yes. I was on my way up there when I met you just now."

"Well, Grandfather, I--I--"

"That's all right, boy, that's all right. Don't let's talk any more about it."

"We won't. And--and--But, Grandfather, I just want you to know that I guess I understand things a little better than I did, and--and when my father--"

The captain's heavy hand descended upon his shoulder.

"Heave short, Al!" he commanded. "I've been doin' consider'ble thinkin' since Labe finished his--er--discourse and pronounced the benediction, and I've come to a pretty definite conclusion on one matter. I've concluded that you and I had better cut out all the bygones from this new arrangement of ours. We won't have fathers or--or--elopements--or past-and-done-with disapp'intments in it. This new deal--this four year trial v'yage of ours--will be just for Albert Speranza and Zelotes Snow, and no others need apply. . . . Eh? . . . Well, good night, Al."

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The Portygee - Chapter 8 The Portygee - Chapter 8

The Portygee - Chapter 8
CHAPTER VIIISo the game under the "new deal" began. At first it was much easier than the old. And, as a matter of fact, it was never as hard as before. The heart to heart talk between Captain Zelotes and his grandson had given each a glimpse of the other's inner self, a look from the other's point of view, and thereafter it was easier to make allowances. But the necessity for the making of those allowances was still there and would continue to be there. At first Albert made almost no mistakes in his bookkeeping, was almost painfully careful. Then

The Portygee - Chapter 6 The Portygee - Chapter 6

The Portygee - Chapter 6
CHAPTER VIA goodly number of the South Harniss "natives," those who had not seen him play tennis, would have been willing to swear that running was, for Albert Speranza, an impossibility. His usual gait was a rather languid saunter. They would have changed their minds had they seen him now. He ran along that path as he had run in school at the last track meet he had been second in the hundred-yard dash. He reached the spot where the sod had broken and, dropping on his knees, looked fearfully over. The dust was still rising, the sand and pebbles