Joseph C. Lincoln
posted April 2007
This story appeared in Joseph C. Lincoln's short story collection, All Alongshore, 1931, pp. 455-483.
Alice P. Kenney saw the story as directly reflecting Lincoln's philosophy on life and writing.
CAPTAIN JONATHAN TAYLOR sat by the center table in his sitting room reading a novel. The sitting room was a good-sized apartment. Its furniture was of the Chester A. Arthur period, which was the period when the captain—then really a captain in command of a coasting schooner—bought it to furnish a home for his bride. He had given up the sea shortly afterward, to embark upon a land voyage, a venture in the coal and lumber business in his native New England town. The venture had been a profitable one. Now Captain Taylor—still "Cap'n" by courtesy of his fellow townsfolk—was the leading merchant in the village, a director in the bank, chairman of the board of selectmen, a respected and substantial citizen. Also he was a widower with one child, a daughter, born when her father was forty-five. Now she was eighteen, which makes the captain's age and that of his furniture simple matters of arithmetic. The furniture was solid and substantial, heavily upholstered, and of a design no longer considered beautiful by the majority. This description would, with equal fitness, apply to its owner.
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The novel which Captain Jonathan was reading—he was almost through the last chapter—was "The Life Veritable," by Sergius Hartshorn. Three hundred thousand people had read it already; probably fifty thousand were reading it at that moment; perhaps another fifty thousand were discussing it. The newspapers and reviews had printed pages about it and more pages about its young author. It was a tale of the great city, the metropolis, not as sentimental romancers have pictured it, but as it is, as the author of "The Life Veritable" and his exalters admit it to be, with all its grim-ness and griminess, its sins and its shoddy, its tin and its tinsel, its mills and its millions, its mud and its morgues. Before the youthful creator of "The Life Veritable" got busy, hosts of unsuspecting ones in their innocence believed that the city was a place where there was at least a certain measure of happiness and honesty and sunshine and good intent; when he had finished they realized their frightful mistake. They knew that within its ward limits were but shameful luxury and grinding capitalism and sordid misery and blasted hopes. They knew all this because Mr. Sergius Hartshorn told them so. And they knew he knew because he said so—not only once, but repeatedly.
Captain Jonathan turned the last page of "The greatest masterpiece of realism in our literature"— see Isaac Kaplan in The Emancipator, July 10, page 6—breathed heavily, slowly shook his head, and laid the book upon the black walnut center table at his elbow. His daughter, Mabel, seated in the plush-covered armchair at the other side of the table, had been watching him intently.
She waited a moment, evidently expecting him to say something. When instead of speaking he merely sighed,
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she herself spoke. ''Well, daddy," she observed, "you've finished it at last, haven't you?"
Her father started. "Eh?" he ejaculated. "Oh! Oh, yes; I've finished it at last."
"Eh? Well, what?"
"Oh, you know what I mean. Wasn't I right? Isn't it a great book?"
Captain Jonathan nodded. "Seems so," he admitted. "There's over five hundred pages in it."
"Don't tease. Come, daddy, be honest. You never read anything like it before, now did you?"
The reply this time was promptness itself. "No," declared the captain.
"I thought not. What were you going to say?"
"Nothing, daughter, nothing."
"You were too. Daddy, don't tell me you didn't like 'The Life Veritable.' Why, it is wonderful! Everybody is reading it and talking about it. The critics—all the worthwhile ones, the up-to-date, modern thinkers— say—"
Her father interrupted. "Yes, yes," he put in hastily, "I know. You told me they did."
"They do. They say—why, you should see what Elmore Black wrote in his review in The Planet. Such a review! Three whole columns of praise. And Isaac Kaplan said it was 'one of those books which had to be written.' "
"He did, eh? Why?" he asked. "What would have happened if it hadn't been written?"
"Daddy!" reproachfully. "You don't like it, do you? I'm so sorry. I wanted you to so much. What don't you like about it? Tell me."
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Captain Jonathan stirred uneasily in his chair. "I— I'm old-fashioned, I guess," he began.
Mable nodded. "Of course you are," she acquiesced promptly. "You can't help that, dear. You're a Victorian, you know. But why didn't you like 'The Life Veritable'? Isn't it interesting?"
"Why—why, I suppose it might be—to anybody that was interested."
"What an answer that is! Tell me! Isn't it truth itself? Is there one happening in it that couldn't have happened?"
"I guess not."
"Aren't the people in it just like real people? Don't they act like real people, and talk like real people, and think like real people? Isn't it life?"
"Well—humph! Seems more like death to me. About everybody dies before the thing is over."
"Isn't that real? Doesn't everybody on this earth die sooner or later?" Mabel insisted seriously.
"Um-h'm. But the rest don't usually pay two dollars apiece to sit up with 'em through their sufferings. And all hands are so everlasting mean in this yarn. Just as you begin to think somebody is doing a decent thing, it turns out he is doing it for a selfish reason, not because he wants to be decent."
"And isn't that true? Aren't we all selfish underneath?"
"Are we? Maybe we are, but—but some of us are generous, too, sometimes. And why don't the folks in this book laugh once in a while? A laugh is just as real as a tear, isn't it? And a wedding is as much a part of life as a funeral, seems to me. And there are happy marriages. And—"
"Daddy! You won't change, will you? You like the
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old-fashioned, impossible, romantic make-believes such as you have on the bookshelves over there. The 'Lorna Doones' and the 'Foul Plays' and the—"
"Here, hold on, Mabel; hold on! 'Foul Play' is a mighty good yarn."
"It's sheer sugary sentimentality and melodrama, not life. That sort of fairy tale has had its day, thank goodness. We don't believe in Santa Claus any more. We don't swallow sentiment and sugar and call it truth. We don't pretend to believe that just because two people are married they are necessarily happy forever afterwards."
"But they ain't necessarily unhappy, either, are they?"
"No-o. But—oh, daddy, dear, don't you see? There have been hundreds of novels written about city life, but none of them have been like 'The Life Veritable.' The authors of those others have told only part of the truth. This book tells—"
"The other part."
"Don't! This is a new generation. We face the world as it is. That is what makes 'The Life Veritable' so great. When Serg—when Mr. Hartshorn went to the city for his material he didn't look merely at the pretty things, the outside, the shams. He made up his mind to find the other things, the things beneath, that he knew were there. And he found them—he found them!"
In her enthusiasm she forgot her father momentarily. Her eyes flashed; her pretty face was alight. Captain Jonathan, looking across the table at her, realized that, although her six months' sojourn at the New York art school had changed her looks, it had not spoiled them —or her.
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When she first returned to her native village he had been a little alarmed and fearful. Her hair had been long and beautiful; to see it bobbed was a shock.
But now he rather liked the effect. It was new—for her and to him—but it was, after all, a sensible fashion and becoming. And her manner of speaking and thinking was different, but very interesting. He was old-fashioned—Victorian, she called it—but he must not permit his prejudices to interfere with his common sense, Mabel no longer deferred to his opinion just as she used; she had decided opinions of her own. But he liked that on the whole.
She went on with her rhapsody. "He knew what he meant to find in city life," she declared, "and he found it. And that is why every one is reading his book. Isaac Kaplan—oh, I do wish you might have read his review, daddy!—said that 'The Life Veritable' was 'as clear cut and pitilessly revealing as a photograph.' Those were his exact words. Now, daddy, be honest. Don't you think it is like a photograph?"
Her father stroked his Victorian chin beard. "Why, perhaps so," he admitted.
"There isn't any 'perhaps.' He knew what he meant to find; he found it, and he photographed it. And the likeness—every one worth while says so—is wonderful. Now what were you going to say?"
"Nothing—nothing particular. I guess maybe you're right, girlie. If a man sets out to find a thing, and means hard enough to find just that, he'll generally get what he goes after. As to this 'Life Veritable' book being a photograph of city folks, I—well, I don't know enough about 'em to say. But I'll bet something it's a good likeness of—of—"
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"Why, nothing much. I'm rambling in my old age, seems so. But see here, daughter, you told me at suppertime you had a favor to ask me. What is it?"
The question seemed to embarrass her a bit. She colored, hesitated, and then, coming around the table, sat upon the arm of his chair.
"Daddy," she asked, "would—would you mind if I had a friend from the city come here to make us a little visit?"
"Eh? Mind! Why, what a question! This house is yours to command, same as your old dad is. Tell your friend to come along; I'd like to see her."
Again she hesitated. "It isn't a 'her,' daddy," she said. "It's a 'him.' "
"What!" He turned to look at her. She was looking at the floor and her cheeks were red. "A him?" he repeated slowly. "A man, you mean? You want a man to come and visit us?"
"Whew! ... Humph.... Well, this is sort of sudden, as the rat said when the trap sprung. Mabel, are you—hum! Well, let's have it over with. Are you— er—engaged?"
"No, daddy. Not yet!"
"Not yet? What does that mean—that you're going to be?"
"I—I don't know. I haven't made up my mind. I— I could be; he wants me to be. But—well, dear, I— I wanted you to see him—first. May he come?"
Her father's reply was not immediate; yet, considering everything, it was remarkably prompt and, outwardly at least, hearty. "Come?" he repeated. "Of course he may come. And the sooner the better. I shall
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be mighty glad to see him. He's a good picker; I'll say that for him."
She put her arms about his neck and kissed him. "You're a dear," she whispered.
"Eh? Thought I was one of those—what-d'ye-call-em ?—Victorians."
"Well, you are. But you're a dear all the same, and the very best man in all the world."
"Careful! There's this new man coming, you know. What's his name? Who is he? He ought to be somebody if he figures to be good enough for my girl."
He could hear the pride in her voice as she answered. "He is," she declared. "Oh, he is! He is famous already. Daddy, I am going to surprise you. He is Sergius Hartshorn, and he wrote 'The Life Veritable.' That is why I did so want you to like it."
So to the Taylor homestead a few days later came Mr. Sergius Hartshorn. Mabel met him in her motor car at the railway station, and Captain Jonathan met him when the little car stopped in the driveway by the Taylor door.
The captain's welcome and handshake were hearty. Mr. Hartshorn's acknowledgment of the greeting was good-humored and quite free from embarrassment. Mabel was a trifle confused and her father the least bit self-conscious; but their guest was as cool and cheerful as if meeting for the first time the parent of the young woman one intends to marry was an everyday affair.
He grasped the captain's hand, gave its owner a
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quick, appraising look which seemed to take him in from head to foot, smiled and said, "How are you?" His tone was brisk, his manner entirely self-possessed, his carriage free and easy. Captain Jonathan, who had met many men of all ages in all sorts of places, could not remember meeting one who was more completely sure of himself than this young fellow.
This impression deepened during the days which followed. From the moment of Hartshorn's first step across the threshold he might have been the owner of the place instead of its visitor. He greeted Mrs. Phoebe Jane Pulcifer, the captain's ancient housekeeper, with a nod, a smile, and the same appraising look. He glanced about the sitting-room; at the plush furniture, the marble clock, the shells on the mantel, the Rock-of-Ages engraving on the wall, and somehow seemed to take them all in, to catalogue them, to find in them a certain quality which afforded him a satisfactory understanding not only of their artistic value, but of the establishment of which they were a part. He did not speak of them, nor ask questions concerning them. Somehow Captain Jonathan felt that for this young man to ask questions about anything would be quite unnecessary. He knew without asking—and knew that he knew.
After supper that first evening the three sat in the sitting-room, the men smoking and Mabel embroidering a cross-stitch table cover, an employment which seemed, for some reason or other, to interest the distinguished guest. He watched her busy fingers for a moment or two and then asked quietly: "Influence of environment, Mabel?"
She looked up and caught his eye. In it was the expression which, during their acquaintance, Captain
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Jonathan so often saw there—or imagined that he saw—a slight gleam of condescending amusement.
The captain did not understand the question, but perhaps his daughter did, for she answered it. "I'm doing this for father," she said. "He likes such things."
Mr. Hartshorn smiled. "Of course," he observed.
He did most of the talking. He, it seemed, was acquainted with the majority of the famous people of the United States, and his opinions concerning them were quite candid. The captain, like most rural New Englanders of his age, was a staunch conservative in politics. Generally speaking, he believed thoroughly in the men and measures of one party and distrusted the other.
Mr. Hartshorn, it appeared, distrusted almost everybody. He seldom contradicted his host, but his slight smile was much in evidence, as was the amused gleam in his eye.
Captain Jonathan spoke of town affairs, dwelling at length upon the disputed question of a new meetinghouse for the Universalist Society. "I talk to 'em for hours," he declared in disgust. "And so do half a dozen more of the progressive men in the church. But this is a little gang of hard-shells that sit tight and say 'No, no, no.' Anybody'd think that morals and religion wasn't worth fussing about."
Mr. Hartshorn yawned behind his hand. "Are they?" he observed languidly.
The captain stared. "Are they!" he repeated aghast. "Why—"
His daughter interrupted. "Sergius didn't mean that they weren't," she put in. "He meant that—that to that sort of people they didn't appear to be."
"Oh, yes, of course," said Mr. Hartshorn. "Hum
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—ah—speaking of the so-called peace conference—"
When she was saying good-night to her father that evening Mabel asked him how he liked their gifted visitor.
Captain Jonathan did his best to please. "He's a good-looking young fellow," he declared.
"Oh, never mind his looks, daddy. How do you like him?"
"Eh ? Oh—er—well, I haven't known him very long yet. He's bright and smart."
"Everybody knows that," impatiently. "The whole world knows it. What I want to know is how you, yourself, like him. Because—"
"Because you think you like him a whole lot, eh? Well, I tell you, girlie, I—I— See here, you don't think he's laughing at me, do you ?"
"Laughing at you! The very idea! Do you suppose I would like any one that laughed at my father! What put such a silly idea into your head?"
"Oh, nothing, only—well, you see, the tired way he listens to what I have to say, and what Phoebe Jane says, and that sort of—of patronizing twinkle in his eye when he looks at us and the things in the house here, and the way he has of agreeing when you're pretty sure he doesn't agree—"
"Daddy! That's all your foolish imagination. Sergius —Mr. Hartshorn, I mean—isn't a common man at all. You and—and lots of us—we take people like the President and the Supreme Court and—and the laws and churches and—oh, I'm getting it all mixed, but you know what I mean; we take—I know / used to— all these people and things at their own valuation or what the newspapers say about them, you know. He doesn't; he sees underneath; he thinks his own thoughts
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and makes his own estimates. He's a great genius, daddy. Everybody says so. That is, everybody but foolish, prejudiced, old-fashioned— Oh, I don't mean you, dear! You aren't like that, and you mustn't be."
"Mustn't I? Well, I won't. I haven't run afoul of many geniuses, I own up. And you say that everybody worth while says he's one. He don't contradict 'em, does he?"
"There, there, girlie. I haven't a bit of doubt he is a great man. As for liking him—well, that'll probably come in time. Just now I'm betwixt and between."
Next day Mr. Hartshorn casually mentioned that, during his sojourn with the Taylors, he intended to get out among the village people a good deal. He meant, he said, to gather material at first hand for his next novel. In that novel he planned to do for the country what "The Life Veritable" had done for the city, show it as it was.
The Hartshorn visit of two weeks drew to its end. On the morning of the final day Captain Taylor bade his guest farewell. There was to be a general separation. The captain was taking the early train to Boston, called to the city on a business errand which might keep him there a week. By the afternoon train Mr. Hartshorn was leaving for New York. Mabel would accompany him as far as Wapatomac, the third station up the road, where she would change for the branch line to Coltsville. She was planning to visit a girl friend in that village. Mrs. Pulcifer would be left alone in charge of the Taylor home.
Captain Jonathan departed. His good-by to young Hartshorn was hearty enough.
At three that afternoon the two young people were
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standing on the bluff by the shore, looking out over the bay. It was a stark calm, the water like glass, the air heavy and humid. Below, at her landing, lay the Taylor gasoline launch, a little twenty-foot Gloucester dory, named the Chugalong. Mabel had named her years before, when the captain bought her secondhand.
Hartshorn looked at the still water, the misty horizon, and then, over his shoulder, at the distant roof of the railway station. "Whew!" he exclaimed. "I dread that trip in the train. It is going to be hotter than blazes. Wish I could go in that launch of yours, Mabel. Eh? What are you thinking about?"
Miss Taylor seemed to be considering. "Why," she said slowly, "I suppose we could go in her—as far as Wapatomac. That is where I take the Coltsville train, you know. We should have plenty of time if we started right away. And it would be so much cooler."
He turned toward her. "Is your bag packed?" he demanded. "Good. So is mine. What wraps do you need? All right, I'll get them. Go down to the landing. I'll meet you there."
He was hurrying to the house.
She called after him: "Tell Phoebe Jane I'll leave the Chugalong at Wapatomac and have some one bring her over from there. Hurry! We haven't too much time."
She went down to the landing. He hastened to the house. Mrs. Pulcifer, as it happened, had gone to a neighbor's to borrow some pastry flour and, incidentally, to discuss the various shortcomings of the new Methodist minister. Hartshorn wasted no time in hunting for her. He picked up the wraps and bags and followed Miss Taylor to the beach and the boat.
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The Chugalong plugged along out into the bay. Mabel, accustomed to boats, was at the helm.
"Did you fill the gas tank yesterday, Sergius?" she inquired. "I asked you to, you know?"
Mr. Hartshorn did not hear her. Sprawled on the thwart forward of the laboring engine, he was thinking of other things. "I must come back here again before long," he mused aloud. "I haven't got just the material for my novel that I hoped to find. Your father is well enough, so far as he goes, but—"
She interrupted rather sharply. "You don't mean that you are going to put my father in your novel?" she exclaimed.
"What? Oh, no, not exactly. He is a fairly good specimen of his age and location. Prejudiced, mid-Victorian, and all that sort of thing. He is a representative of his class, of course, and I could use him; but I don't think I shall."
"Indeed you won't! Why, my father is one of the best men in the world."
He looked at her and smiled. He did not know it, but that condescending smile of his was beginning to get on her nerves. During their acquaintance in the city, when "The Life Veritable" was in the making, she had seen him smile at certain types there, and had smiled with him. He had expressed his opinion of those types and she had listened in admiration as he, so to speak, dissected their mental processes and with pitiless assurance bared the bones of the actual motives underlying their pretentions and custom-bound hypocrisies. But here, in her own home, it—well, it was different somehow. She might—and did—smile at the furnishings of the Taylor sitting-room, at Captain Jonathan's glorification of the national administration
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and the works of Charles Reade, but she did not like to have any one else, even the brilliant Sergius Hartshorn, do it. Certainly not in that cold, analytically superior way.
But he was smiling now as he looked at her. "Mabel," he said quietly, "be careful. Don't forget that we are of the new age. We have a mission. Life is a hard, real thing, and it is our business to face it as it is. That is what makes my work different—I thank heaven—from that of the fool romanticists."
She hesitated. "I know," she admitted. "That is true. But my father—well, he is rather Victorian, I suppose, but—"
He laughed. "You suppose !" he repeated. "My dear girl, you know."
"I don't care. My father is kind—and—and—good —and—"
He waved his hand. "Of course," he said. "Naturally you think he is. I think the same thing of my own people. But I shouldn't put that in a book. I should try to get an impersonal view, the real unprejudiced view. When my dad took me to the theater when I was a kid, to see some ridiculous fairy pantomime or something, I used to think he did it solely to please me. Now I realize that he wanted to see the thing himself and was ashamed—as he ought to have been—and used me as an excuse. Natural? Surely. But—"
The tone in which the "don't" was uttered was distinctly a new one from her to him. He sat up on the thwart and regarded her with marked interest. Then he smiled once more and slowly shook his head. "Sentimentality is an inherited trait in us all, isn't it?" he observed. "Well, that makes the job of getting rid
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of it all the more worth while. You and I, Mabel—"
He went on to speak of his future—their future, he called it—of his plans for the new book, and of others to follow. And she was to help him, to be his inspiration, his comrade. He was an enthralling talker when he chose to be, and now he chose. She listened, forgetting her resentment and dreaming anew the dreams which had been hers when this handsome, brilliant young fellow had first shown an interest in her.
Suddenly, in the midst of a sentence, he stopped and pointed off to port. "Why, what's that?" he exclaimed.
She looked. A thick gray cloud was moving toward them over the placid bay. "It is fog," she cried. "And there is wind behind it. We haven't the compass on board. Oh, dear!"
Then the engine of the Chugalong puffed spasmodically, turned over once or twice, and stopped altogether. Mr. Hartshorn, his gifted brain busy with higher matters, had forgotten to fill the gasoline tank!
At five o'clock that evening Mrs. Abial Howland, Christian name Deborah, was setting the table for supper. The Howland house was the sole dwelling on Ogansett Island. Ogansett is not much of an island, and, for that matter, the Howland home was not much of a house. Nevertheless, Abial and Deborah were pretty well satisfied with it. It was built by the former's grandfather, who had lived in it until he died, at the age of seventy-three. Abial's father had lived and died in it.
Mrs. Howland finished setting the table. Then she
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glanced at the ancient and infirm wooden clock on the mantel, and walking over to where the barometer hung on the wall by the door, looked at that. The glass was still falling. A storm was coming, just as her husband had prophesied. Even now the wind was wailing around the gables of the little old house, and when she peeped under the tattered window shade—it had a picture of a castle on it and was one of the set she and Abial bought in Boston just after they were married—she could see nothing but a wall of fog. It was time for Abial to be back. Anticipating the gale, he had gone down to the shore to see to the moorings of his catboat and his lobster dory. Evidently this had taken longer than he had expected.
Now she heard him coming, and, to her vast astonishment, he was talking. Except herself and husband there was, so far as she knew, no living soul on Ogansett. Yet he was talking. She ran to the door and opened it. In came Abial, still talking, and with him two people, a young man and a young woman, both dripping wet.
"My soul and body!" exclaimed Mrs. Howland.
Her husband closed the door. "Shipwreck," he announced tersely. "Cap'n Jonathan Taylor's power boat run out of gas and smashed to pieces on Sou'east P'int. This is his daughter and this is Mr.—er—er—What's-his-name that was with her. I heard 'em hailin' and was just in time to lay alongside with the dory. Get some dry things, Debby. Get some hot water. Get some—"
His wife interrupted. "I cal'late to know what to get," she declared briskly. "You get a couple of armfuls of stovewood out of the shed, 'Bial. Now Miss —er—Taylor, isn't it?—you come along with me and
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get off them wet clothes. 'Bial'll tend to your young man."
Half an hour later they all sat down at the supper table. Mabel was garbed in raiment belonging to Mrs. Howland. Hartshorn was wearing Abial's Sunday suit. Both sets of garments were, to say the least, ample. Mr. Howland declared that they fitted like "a shirt on a handspike."
"I'm so sorry I didn't know you was comin'," said Deborah when the meal was over. "If I had I'd 'a' had more to eat. To-morrow noon for dinner I'll make an apple pie."
Her husband shouted. "Apple pie!" he repeated. "Say, old lady, you'll have these folk's appetites so pampered up they won't eat common vittles when they get back to the main."
"Apple pie?" queried Hartshorn. "Do you raise apples off here?"
The Howlands looked at each other and smiled. Mr. Howland laughed aloud. "Well, scarcely," he declared. Any kind of a tree on Ogansett wouldn't last more'n one winter. The first February twister would blow it to Chiny. Evaporated apples is what we use. They've got more flavor to 'em anyhow."
Sergius Hartshorn's facial expression was worth looking at.
But Mabel was thinking of other things. "To-morrow noon!" she exclaimed. "Why, we must start for home to-morrow morning. I wish we might go tonight. You have a boat, Mr. Howland, of course. And—"
Abial interrupted. "Listen," he ordered. "Do you hear that wind? By to-morrer mornin' that'll be a howlin' gale and a pourin'-down rainstorm. We're in
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for a three-day no'theaster. I'll take you off just soon's it's safe, Miss Mabel, but that won't be to-morrer."
Mabel turned to her fellow castaway. "But, Sergius," she said, "we must go. Phoebe Jane knows we went in the Chugalong and she'll be worried to death. She'll telegraph father and he— Oh, we must get word to him somehow."
Sergius was not in the least perturbed. "It's all right, Mabel," he said. "The—er—Pulcifer woman won't worry, and she won't trouble your father. She thinks we went in the train. I didn't tell her we changed our plans."
"You didn't! Why, I told you to be sure and tell her."
"I know, I know. But she didn't seem to be about when I went back to the house, and I was in too great a hurry to hunt her up. It's all right. We're here and we'll have to stay until it's safe for us to leave. I am satisfied.
He looked meaningly about the room, at the Howlands, and then at her once more. He smiled, the smile she was beginning to know almost too well.
"I'm quite satisfied," he repeated. "All this is— well, if I were a Victorian I suppose I should call all this a special Providence."
After supper Deborah washed the dishes. She would not hear of Miss Taylor's assisting her. Abial and Hartshorn sat in rocking chairs and talked.
They talked of many things, and to Mabel, who, because of Mrs. Howland's constant chatter, paid littel attention to the masculine dialogue, it seemed as if Abial talked by far the most.
At half past nine she asked to be shown to her room. Deborah conducted her there, Abial acting as guide
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for Mr. Hartshorn. The young people had only a moment alone together.
"Aren't they quaint, kind people, Sergius?" whispered Mabel.
He was bubbling over with enthusiasm. "Quaint!" he repeated. "Have you seen your bedroom, Mabel? And the bed? And the wall paper? And did you inspect this—er—living-room here? And that meal! Oh, my heavens! And did you hear what that lobster chap was saying to me? They live here, those two, They have always lived here—like this. They like it, actually like it. They are contented. I'm glad I came. This—this is just what I wanted to find. . . . Eh? What?"
She was not looking at him. "I'm tired," she said. "Good-night."
All that night the gale increased and the rain poured. The next morning the weather was, if anything, worse. All the forenoon Abial and Hartshorn sat in the rocking-chairs and talked.
They talked of many things. Mr. Howland, admitting that the weather of that day was about as bad as it could be, professed optimism concerning the morrow.
"It'll die down, the gale I mean, in the night," he prophesied, "and fair off some time to-morrer. Perhaps it'll be so we can sail acrost to the mainland by to-morrer afternoon. If I only had one of them power boats of my own 'twould be an easy job. Only I'd have to look out and have enough gasoline aboard, eh?"
And he winked at Mabel.
Mr. Hartshorn ignored the reference to gasoline. "Why don't you get a power boat?" he asked.
Abial grinned. "Same reason I don't wear diamond jewelry, I cal'late," he observed. "Same reason Debby
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here don't buy a new sewin' machine. She's goin' to have that, though, some of these days," he added. "Just soon as I can put by money enough."
His wife put in a word. "The first money we can spare to spend," she declared, "will be to buy a new pair of rubber boots and a good warm overcoat for you. You need them a whale more than I need a sewin' machine."
Abial laughed. "You hear that?" he asked, with another wink at his guests. "A body would think I was a reg'lar dude to hear her, wouldn't you? That, or a sissy that's afraid of gettin' his feet wet. She'd make a baby out of me if she had her way. That's all right, old lady; you're goin' to have that sewin' machine next fall if I have to go barefoot to pay for it."
Mrs. Howland shook her head. "He never thinks about his comfort," she declared. "You dare to buy me a machine, or anything else, afore you buy yourself those boots and that coat and see what happens."
The husband filled and lighted his pipe. "Oh, but say," he observed, "speaking of power boats, you ought to see the new steam cruiser that them Coltons over to Wapatomac Neck have got this summer. Feller that's skipper in her took me over her a week or so ago. Godfreys mighty, there's a craft! Mahogany cabins and crocheted curtains and gold-plated doodads till you can't rest. Cost over a hundred thousand dollars, that boat did. Think of it! But it's a match for what old Colton calls his summer cottage. That man's worth ten million of money, they tell me. And yet he's just as everyday and sociable as—as I am, pretty nigh."
Sergius Hartshorn's smile had vanished. His handsome face darkened.
"The damned robber," he snarled.
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Mr. and Mrs. Howland looked at him in astonishment.
"Why—why, what makes you call him that?" asked Abial. "He's straight as can be, far's ever I heard. Pays his bills, and gives his help good wages, and—and all like that. He didn't rob nobody; he made his money out of inventions. Invented some kind of newfangled light or somethin'."
Hartshorn's frown deepened. "What of it?" he demanded. "What difference does that make? What right has he to have millions while you haven't enough to buy a sewing machine?"
"Why—why, I don't know. I never was lucky enough to invent nothin'. Haven't got the right kind of stuff inside my head, I guess likely."
"Don't you want to kill him?"
"Kill him! Good land, no! What for?"
"Aren't you a human being as he is? Aren't you entitled to as much happiness as he? Heavens and earth, man, don't you ever get furious when you think of what he has and you haven't?"
Abial scratched his chin. "Well," he drawled, "I don't know's I do. And so fur as that goes, I don't know's he's much happier'n I am. Anyhow—ha, ha— I can eat a square meal three times a day and he can't. He was telling me about his dyspepsy one time. Settin' over there on the wharf, we was, and talkin' about it.
"Him and I are pretty good friends in a way—call each other by our front names, and he never puts on no airs. The way I look at it is like this: The Almighty kind of evens things up in this world. Some folks have money and others don't. Some have good healthy stomachs and others don't. If you can't have cake, then
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take your hard-tack and make the best of it. Growlin' and spite don't do no good. I—"
But his guest seemed to have heard enough. "Oh, by gad!" he snorted. "Mabel, can you believe it?"
He rose from his chair and walked to the other end of the room. Mrs. Howland whispered in Mabel's ear. "He's tired, poor boy, and it makes him cross," she confided. "Yesterday's storm was too much for him. I get that way myself, housecleanin' time usually."
The great man's good humor returned a little later, or seemed to, for it was not long before he and his host were again deep in conversation. On the wall of the sitting-room hung a portrait, a "crayon enlargement" of a young man in uniform.
Abial said it was the likeness of his younger brother, Ephraim, killed in the Spanish-American War. Judging by the portrait Brother Ephraim had had it taken while frozen stiff. The Howlands, however, were immensely proud of it.
"I presume," observed Hartshorn, his sarcastic smile in evidence, "that you think he did right to enlist? You're a patriot, aren't you, Mr. Howland? You believe this is the only country on earth?"
"I believe it's the best one," declared Abial with conviction.
"Strong for the flag? Call it 'Old Glory,' don't you?"
"No-o, not very often. Like to hear the election speechifiers call it that, though. But you bet your life I'm for it. Hist her to the masthead every Fourth of July."
"Vote the Republican ticket, don't you? And vote it straight?"
"Me? Not by a consider'ble sight. I'm a Democrat. Always vote that ticket straight, you bet you."
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"Why? Because your father did, I suppose?"
Abial grinned. "Shouldn't wonder," he admitted. "The Howlands have been Democrats ever since there was any."
At bedtime that evening Hartshorn was even more enthusiastic than the night before. His was a contemptuous enthusiasm, but not the less real. "These people are perfect," he vowed. "Absolute types, by gad! They are bovine, stupid, and as narrow as a crack in a door. And the way they think—or don't think—and the way they live, and the stuff they are contented to live on! I'm getting material every day. I shan't go if I can help it."
"Why, what do you mean?"
"Oh, nothing. Good-night."
The third morning found the wind dying to little more than a moderate breeze and the sea, although still rough, not impossible. The rain and fog had vanished entirely. But a new trouble had developed. Mr. Hartshorn's ankle, bruised—so he said—when the Chugalong struck, was now so lame and sore that he could scarcely step on it. His groans and distress were pitiful.
Mrs. Howland recommended all sorts of old-fashioned, homemade remedies. Some of these she insisted on preparing. Ginger tea was one. He was to drink it, "piping hot."
"Best thing in the world when you've been wet through," declared Deborah.
Her husband chopped and sawed quantities of wood for the stove, because heat, so he declared, was the best thing possible for rheumatics and he was inclined to think the soreness in the ankle more likely to be due to rheumatism than a bruise.
"Great place for rheumatism down here," he de-
The Realist 479
clared. "Toast your leg, Mr. Hornhart; toast it good. Take the big chair and set right up to the stove and be easy. I've got to go off to the weir again and see if there's anything there to feed you with. You set still. You mustn't think of leavin' here for another day, anyhow. And not then unless you're well."
Mabel—she was strangely silent all the morning— insisted upon helping Deborah with the housework. The latter went out to feed the hens about eleven o'clock, and Miss Taylor accompanied her. She came back alone and was amazed to see the invalid walking briskly about the living-room, with no sign of lameness apparent. "Why, Sergius!" she cried. "Your ankle!"
He motioned her to be silent. "Hush! Don't let them hear you. My ankle is all a bluff. I don't want to leave this place to-day, and I had to have an excuse for staying."
She stopped and gazed at him. "Do you mean," she asked slowly, "that there is nothing at all the matter with you? That you were just pretending?"
"Of course," impatiently. "I thought you understood. The longer I can stay here and see these—these curiosities and the way they think and live, the better it will be. Why, they're priceless, Mabel. They are just the types I need. You—"
"Hush! Stop! And you were willing to pretend and —and lie like that in order to impose upon their good nature and hospitality and sympathy. Can't you see what they have done for us already? They are as poor as poor can be; they have given us everything they had, much more than they can afford; every hour we stay is a further sacrifice for them. They haven't thought of it that way. They wouldn't. But we—"
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"Mabel! Don't be foolish. Another day won't hurt them, and it will be worth everything to me. Of course I shall pay them."
"And do you think they will let you pay them?"
He shook his head. "My dear girl," he began pityingly.
"Don't call me that again," she broke in sharply.
"But, Mabel, what is the matter with you? Let me pay them? You bet they will. You didn't swallow all that old hick's sentimental nonsense, I hope. Don't you suppose they know we're going to pay for the dried-apple pie and ginger tea—good heaven, what stuff!— and straw beds? They've been talking it over every night, I'll bet—the amount they'll get and all the rest of it. I know human nature; it is my business to know it. But never mind the price, they're worth it, whatever it is. I—"
"Stop! I don't want to hear another word."
He stared at her. Her face was white and her eyes flashing. He stared and wondered. Then he smiled. "Humph! Getting sentimental, after all, aren't you?"
"I don't know; perhaps I am. I want to be whatever—and wherever—you are not. That I do know."
That afternoon a fast launch came in sight of Organsett Island. Mr. Howland saw it and signaled. When it ran up to the landing the first man ashore was Captain Jonathan Taylor. In another moment his daughter was in his arms.
He had come back from the city sooner than he expected, found the Chugalong missing, phoned the people at Coltsville, discovered that Mabel had not been there, and set out upon a desperate, almost hopeless search.
He heard the story of the shipwreck.
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"My girl, my girl!" he exclaimed. "Thank the good Lord for His mercies! My, my, but you've had a narrow escape!"
She looked up into his face, then over her shoulder to where Sergius Hartshorn, a peculiar expression upon his face, was returning a roll of bills to his pocket.
"Oh, daddy," she sobbed, "indeed I have! You don't know how narrow."
The new novel is published and on sale. It is in all the bookstores and on all the news stands. It is too early yet to be certain that its popularity will equal that of "The Life Veritable," but the advertisements proclaim its greatness. So, too, do the reviewers—some of them; in particular the select, if somewhat small, group of "up-to-date, modern thinkers."
Listen once more to Mr. Kaplan, in The Emancipator, a full page this time. "Again," proclaims the great Kaplan, with the unhesitating certainty of knowledge which is his strongest asset, "has our young apostle of realism produced a masterpiece. The glowing promise which his genius gave in 'The Life Veritable' has been fulfilled in this new triumph. In it he has done for life in the country what, in his former novel, he did for that in the city. Unsparing, unflinching, wielding his pen like a surgeon's scalpel, he has stripped from the self-satisfied bourgeois dweller in the small town, from the dull bigoted clod in the rural district, every vestige of sentimental glamour, of..." etc. "Again he has produced the book which had to be written." . . . "Here they are as they are." . . , " 'The Grubbers' by Sergius Hartshorn is a photograph."
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Mabel Taylor bought a copy of "The Grubbers" as soon as it appeared. She read it through to the end, where the heroine died of tuberculosis and the hero was deported for defying the draft. On the ninetieth page she was introduced to a character who, like her father, was the leading citizen of a village markedly resembling that in which Captain Jonathan lived. The house in which this character dwelt was furnished as was the captain's. The furniture, like the house, was described with minute accuracy. Further on, in the tale, the reader met and sojourned with a married pair who, although their name was not Howland, wore the Howland clothes and occupied the Howland home. Here the scalpel had been really busy. The little gray house on Ogansett was shown inside and out, in all its grayness and bleakness and poverty-stricken hopelessness. Abial's dialect, his expressions, his narrowness and lack of ambition, his stereotyped patriotism, his servile admiration of a rich neighbor's luxuries, his ignorance and political docility—all were there; and there also were Deborah's horrible coffee and ginger tea and evaporated apple pie and fried bread and bovine contentment. Nothing was exaggerated, nothing was glossed over, nothing omitted except—well, those things which the eyes of Mr. Sergius Hartshorn, the "realist," were not fashioned for seeing.
When Captain Jonathan had read "The Grubbers" to the bitter—the extremely bitter—end, his daughter handed him The Emancipator containing Mr. Kaplan's eulogism. He read that too.
"Well," he observed reflectively, "in a way, Mabel, I guess that fellow is right. This book is a photograph."
Mabel was shocked. "Oh, daddy!" she protested.
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"Not of the Howlands! Those dear, kind, thoughtful, self-sacrificing people! You don't mean you think it is a true photograph of them."
Her father shook his head. "Why, no!" he said. "I shouldn't call it more than a half way photograph of 'Bial and Debby. But as a real, revealing likeness of the fellow that wrote the yarn—humph! Well, as a photograph of him I don't see how it could be improved on."