Mirthful Haven - Booth Tarkington - E-Book

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Booth Tarkington

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"Mirthful Haven" by Booth Tarkington. Published by Good Press. Good Press publishes a wide range of titles that encompasses every genre. From well-known classics & literary fiction and non-fiction to forgotten−or yet undiscovered gems−of world literature, we issue the books that need to be read. Each Good Press edition has been meticulously edited and formatted to boost readability for all e-readers and devices. Our goal is to produce eBooks that are user-friendly and accessible to everyone in a high-quality digital format.

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Booth Tarkington

Mirthful Haven

Published by Good Press, 2021
EAN 4064066362683

Table of Contents

CHAPTER ONE
CHAPTER TWO
CHAPTER THREE
CHAPTER FOUR
CHAPTER FIVE
CHAPTER SIX
CHAPTER SEVEN
CHAPTER EIGHT
CHAPTER NINE
CHAPTER TEN
CHAPTER ELEVEN
CHAPTER TWELVE
CHAPTER THIRTEEN
CHAPTER FOURTEEN
CHAPTER FIFTEEN
CHAPTER SIXTEEN
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
CHAPTER NINETEEN
CHAPTER TWENTY
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE
CHAPTER THIRTY
CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE
CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

CHAPTER ONE

Table of Contents

Northeastward of the heart of New England there is a broad river that runs widening to the sea, and all along its lower reaches, where it lets in the ocean salt and the tides, it is a boundary marking more than a division between two States of the Union. New England itself seems to end there where the long and staggered coast line of the State of Maine begins; moneyed and sanctified old New England does not appear to cross that salty estuary, nor does the old New England landscape, pastoral, gardened and long completed, survive the interruption of the river. The highways near the coast pass at once into country not so sweetly in order; the farther northward and eastward they go the more rugged lies the land, and, out beyond it, keeping pace with this increasing roughness, so is the sea itself less decorous. The stony land’s long buttresses run far out under the tides; reef and rock are everywhere ready to be whitely shrewish. These waters are island-strewn and surge upon an endlessly scalloped and indented coast.

In the long fringes of pine forest upon the ragged shores there is not timber enough to mark with warning spindle buoys all the rocks and shoals that may imperil a mariner; the wonder is that human speech could find names for all of them and for the innumerable bays, estuaries, coves, inlets, channels, capes and havens. In this, however, the early English navigators assisted happily, sprinkling along the coast names that have the air of improvisation and offer hints of mood and event combined, like hurried jottings in a diary. Dark Harbor seems eloquent of more than shadowy waters and Cape Porpoise probably was christened hastily upon a placid day; but hearty crews and captains must have made good cheer on shipboard when they named Mirthful Haven, Christmas Cove and Merrymeeting Bay.

Of these, Mirthful Haven was earliest seen by the discoverers and had the least time to wait before it floated ships more serious-minded than the first one. The third decade of the Seventeenth Century was new when a solemn little vessel delivered upon the shore some bales, sacks and barrels and a handful of risky folk from old England, who came to stay. A few were ploughmen; but others were already fishermen, and, with their womenkind, nearly all somehow contrived to keep alive and cling to their foothold upon the land. They withdrew from the wintry blasts at the harbor mouth to build habitations a mile from the sea, where at low tide the narrowing water is no more than a little river; and there the village of Mirthful Haven stands to-day. To its own people, and those of the coast and countryside, the name long ago became nothing more than a cluster of identifying sounds; and only to the stranger untutored indeed could it still hint of a populace ever hilariously in carnival. For more than three hundred years the place has borne the label of a single afternoon’s seafaring jollity.

Away from the tumbled coast and the rocky woodland of pine and juniper, the village itself, like some outpost wandered into alien country, wears the very aspect of that old New England left far to the south and west. There are the little streets of clean, white, green-shuttered houses as old as the great wine-glass elms that drip shadows down upon the roofs; there are the two white churches with columned porticoes and Christopher Wren steeples, and, for the landward borders, there are the stone-walled pastures that early summer powders cheerily with buttercups and daisies. But upon that other village border, the river, the resemblance is melancholy; for here is found only a New England relic, one of those faded ports where sea-borne traffic comes no more.

Only students of forgotten things would guess the meaning of the ponderous and barnacled posts that still remain, here and there along the banks, all the way from the harbor mouth to a jumble of half-submerged granite blocks, like the vast traces of a Phœnician quay, a mile above the village. Long useless, these big posts and stones are what is left of the great days of Mirthful Haven; though, of the busy shipyards they served, there is now no token at all, and pine thickets have grown high upon the ground where the old square-riggers were launched above the granite locks to be warped by those sturdy posts down to the sea. Commerce, too, knew Mirthful Haven then and was often lively between the wharves and the mercantile houses of Cargo Square, near by. Barques, brigs, brigantines and freight schooners brought everything and were the life of Mirthful Haven until they passed from the sea, leaving behind them, to live as well as it could by fishing, a village almost helplessly marooned.

Once a hopeful railroad sent a spur that way, but, upon the coming of the automobile, withdrew its tracks, as did a disappointed interurban trolley-line; the population of the village, beginning to dwindle as shipping and ship-building began to perish, still dwindles even to-day, though miraculously there is always some of it left. So is there some commerce left, not upon the soggy wharves but lingering in those same two-storied, wooden, mercantile houses that partially enclose the patch of beaten earth called Cargo Square. The old-time ship-chandlers and merchants of the Square would not recognize the shop windows now staring at one another across that dusty little oblong, with its stone horse-trough at one end and cast-iron Civil War soldier and World War bronze tablet at the other. To those whiskered traders of another day the Square would appear fantastic not only in the character of wares displayed but because its commerce has borrowed a peculiar habit from certain animals of the neighboring woodlands; it hibernates.

The torpidity of the Square, however, sets in earlier than does that of the forest creatures. It begins with a visible abruptness always upon the same date, the first Monday of September, and is complete before the fringing birch trees of the woods are yellow within the autumn haze. Then both Square and village lie dormant except for two daily flickerings of life about the post-office, similar stirrings at the schoolhouse, and thin, occasional movements to and from the white churches. Between the tides the surface of the river thickens in the cold and dulls like pewter; sea-birds gabble and complain along the banks, uttering the only sounds heard there, unless some fisherman’s boat chugs down the harbor or comes in half-frozen from the lonely ocean. The fisherman himself, desiring warmth, may find it perhaps at the grocery or the drug store, though not at noon, when both are locked; nor, if he seeks food as well, may he obtain it then at Mouse’s Restaurant. For, supplementing a window display of a catsup bottle and three printed announcements, “Hot New England Dinner 40¢”, “Clam Chowder with doughnut 25¢”, “Fried Clam Sandwich 10¢”, there hangs from the unpolished brass door-knob a placard thoughtfully explanatory: “Gone Home To Dinner. Geo. H. Mouse Prop’r.”

Torpidity is most complete of all where the seven or eight largest houses of the village are neighbor to one another across ample yards pillared with grand elms. These are houses with the Georgian façade, hinting good mahogany within, and noble of aspect—appropriately so, for here lived those old nobles of the village, the ship-builders and the deep-sea captains. A height of three stories was not enough for several of the maritime grandees; they crowned the roof with a classic cupola whence the ship-owner or the captain’s wife might gaze out to the open sea and early learn what craft turned in toward the harbor mouth. No captain’s wife or vessel magnate carries a spy-glass up the stairs to any of the cupolas now, and from only one of the houses does a light ever fall through a window upon the snow. The others stand shuttered, locked and boarded close throughout the winter; they hibernate, indeed, from September into June and thus make wholly obsolete that mark of the North with which they are all equipped, the covered passageway between house and stable.

Elsewhere in the village such passageways connect lesser houses with smaller stables, and two or three of them still serve their original purpose to provide a snow-bound man with easy means to reach his stock; most of the others only give him a sheltered way to reach an automobile (useless until a snow-plough carves out a road) and gaze wistfully upon a grey old sleigh extinct in an empty stall. Old age boasts of everything long past, even of ancient weather, as if that were its own possession; so the old men of Mirthful Haven maintain testily that the climate is softening. The rousing winters of their boyhood are no longer known, they say, for then the snow would be level above the fences and only the tops of gateposts would be seen; the river would freeze over and the eight-foot tide recede under the solid bridging of two feet of ice; so cold were these old winters of theirs that the ice would form far out beyond the harbor mouth and a man could walk forth upon the very ocean itself. Never again would Mirthful Haven be visited by weather of that polar heartiness, the aged men said, and when, only a few years ago, both coast and inland lay clutched and frozen for months by just such a winter, they were gracious with approval; it was like old times, they said, and inconsistently took some approbation to themselves. “Didn’t I tell you?” they asked, edging closer to the stove.

There was no thaw that could be trusted at all, that year, until April. Then days of rain began to dissolve the packed snow; patches of ground long unseen appeared here and there a little shamefully, but grew raggedly larger until at last after a week of wet Northeaster all the brown earth lay exposed and unfamiliar. Captain Francis Embury, last of the Haven’s deep-sea captains, walking home with the afternoon’s mail, a Boston newspaper, under his arm and his ivory-topped Malakka walking-stick glinting from a hand gloved in sealskin, sniffed better weather in the air. “You can smell it; you can smell it if you can’t tell it any other way,” he paused to inform a deferential fellow-citizen at a corner. “Clouds still from the no’theast; but all they are, they’re just left over. Wind’s about to shift sou’westerly; then you’ll see a mite of a break to the nor’west and we’ll get a dry nor’west wind and fair to-morrow. What’s made this whole winter so cold, it’s the moon. She got off her course—drifted ’way to the no’th of where she ought to’ve been—but now she’s back and we’ll have a regular, nice, good spring, the kind we’re entitled to. I know what I’m talkin’ about!”

No fellow-citizen of the Captain’s would have dreamed of challenging that, and this one went on, enheartened as by information acquired at the very source. The Captain sonorously hummed an air from “The Bohemian Girl” and continued upon his way, walking with his feet wide apart and a slightly swinging motion, as if the soles of his overshoes might be descending upon a deck that alternately rose to meet them and then fell away. Yet there was a kind of gallantry, too, in this sailoring walk, as in the Captain’s roving, bright blue eye and in all of the short stout figure that still expressed both power and liveliness in spite of its years and the present muffling of an antique blue overcoat lined with sealskin and collared with sable. The Haven believed the Captain fairly into his earlier eighties; but the rumor had no countenance from him, nor did anyone ever dare even mention it to him, for naturally he could be severe when roused. It was legendary in the village, learned from Mirthful Haven men who had sailed under him, that he could always make his voice heard above the roarin’ of the tempest.

Turning into his own street, the elm-bordered thoroughfare where stand the shuttered, fine mansions, Captain Embury had to proceed with his feet less wide apart, for here the wooden sidewalk has but the width of two boards laid side by side; and so he came to his own big house, that only one in the ancient grandees’ neighborhood still alive and inhabited through seasons other than the summer. As pleasant tokens of its life, red geranium blossoms showed themselves genially between the symmetrically parted lace curtains of the four front windows of the ground floor, and, if proof were needed that the house was Captain Embury’s, two small, brightly polished brass cannon upon the broad granite doorstep stood cautiously chained to the fluted pillars of the beautiful white doorway. The Captain himself had placed the geraniums in the windows; it was he who kept them watered, and early every morning polished the brass of the two ship’s guns. Forty years a widower and childless, he had never allowed any woman to get a grip upon the ordering of his ship-shape house, not even in the kitchen; and he had found no landsmen servitors who were equal to the care of his collections and instantly active or even wholly placable upon a bellowed word of command. So he lived all alone; the place was his treasure, and, in truth, no house could well have been more a man’s own than this one was the Captain’s.

With his hand on the latch of the picket-gate, he paused and glanced across the street at the only thoroughly ugly building in Mirthful Haven, the schoolhouse. Outlandishly Gothic in effort and faced with cement blocks unpleasantly imitating stone, it was a naive architectural insult to the fine street, and the Captain’s glance at it might well have been one of annoyance. On the contrary, this glance of his was debonair. His habitual expression, in which the air of command collaborated happily with a hint of spicy jauntiness, emphasized the jauntiness decisively; and, except for the whiteness of his small, curled moustache and the neat hair that showed between his sealskin cap and sable collar, he became momentarily the portrait of a youthful captain in foreign ports, glancing sidelong at a Venetian casement, or a latticed window in Algiers, perhaps. “Captain of a clipper ship at twenty-three, I was!” he said sometimes, sighing ruefully. “Captain of a clipper ship in the China seas at twenty-three, and I thought I was God!”

No damsel’s face, nor that of a lively matron, looked forth from any of the schoolhouse windows, however; nothing showed there at all. But a vocal buzzing and sounds of movement came from within the building as the bell of a clock struck four, and, at this, as upon a signal to himself, the Captain promptly opened his gate. He passed along the brick walk that led to the front door; but he did not enter there. Instead, he went round the corner of the house to a side door that opened inward from a long and narrow verandah, let himself in with a large brass key and closed the door behind him. Immediately he removed his heavy overcoat, his sealskin cap and his overshoes; then with gravity he took from one waistcoat pocket a small round mirror backed with celluloid and from another a little comb.

The mirror showed him a plump, handsome old face, rosy after his walk, as he used the comb first to correct a slight disarrangement of his hair and then to prepare his moustache for a hurried curling upon his two forefingers. He unbuttoned his black “cutaway” coat, smoothing back the lapels so that a genteel garniture of gold watch-chain and seals might not be deprived of a proper share of notice; then, departing from the passageway where he had completed this simple toilet, he went into the nearer of the two front parlors that opened upon the broad central hall. Here, after placing a geranium blossom in the buttonhole of the left lapel of his coat, he looked thoughtfully for a moment at the parent plant itself, and, taking it up in its red pot, went out to the granite step before the white front doorway. There he paused and appeared to cogitate, though not upon the fact that April is a little early for geraniums to be brought outdoors.

Seemingly, the Captain was arrested by the slight problem: where best to set the plant as an ornament to his doorway; but in reality his gaze was sidelong, occupied expectantly with the schoolhouse door across the street. The pupils of the lower grades had been dismissed half an hour earlier; the groups just now beginning to emerge were of the high school, and, except for the scuffling and alternately hoarse and falsetto barkings of a few of the younger boys, they came out decorously. The fifteen or twenty girls walked in pairs or trios, with linked arms, and chattered intimately—all but one, who was a little too conspicuously alone in the midst of them. That is, she was not only alone, she was left alone by the others, for those who passed her on the way across the gravelled yard made a little distance between her and themselves, talked more busily together and walked faster as they went by her. Their eyes narrowed a little, too, as they thus gave her no chance to join them; but this exclusion of her did not seem to be founded upon some fresh emotional impulse; on the contrary, it was obviously almost unconscious and had the air of habit. The girl herself looked pensive; and to her also her exclusion was plainly no new thing but habitual.

She was marked apart from her schoolmates by more than their avoidance of her. In the main, the others, boys and girls alike, were meagre-faced and pasty with too much living near the stove in double-windowed houses under the pinch of that hard winter; in her cheeks, alone among them all, glowed a youthful, bright and healthy color, and she was the only one of the girls a stranger would instantly have called pretty. She was fifteen, shapely and lithe in the shabbiest blue sweater, rough skirt, old stockings and patched leather high boots to be seen in the schoolhouse yard; her eyes gleamed blue to the Captain more than a hundred feet away, and her hair was the kind of brown that looks red at a little distance. The Captain, indeed, believed that it was red and admired it not the less on that account.

One of the older boys, coming from behind her, made a pretense of stumbling and fell heavily against her, clutching her shoulder as if to support himself. “Oh, you Edna Pelter!” he whispered, and grinned derisively but did not take his grasping hand from her shoulder.

This, too, must have seemed something habitual to her, for she did not speak or even turn her head to look at him; she jerked herself free, automatically rather than impatiently, and went on, crossing over to the wooden footway on the Captain’s side of the street. She did not seem aware of the gallant figure standing between the two little bright brass cannon, though the Captain’s sidelong gaze had never moved from her since she had appeared in the schoolhouse doorway. With the potted geranium still apparently perplexing him, he watched her until she turned at the next corner, going eastward toward the sea, and was lost to his sight; then he carried the purely histrionic plant, its purpose served, back into the parlor and set it down upon the table whence he had taken it.

Although he had not yet made her acquaintance—did not, indeed, even know her name—it was for this glimpse of the fifteen-year-old girl, Edna Pelter, that Captain Francis Embury, nearing eighty, came directly home every day after mail-time instead of lingering for gossip in the drug store, as formerly had been his wont. He was the only person in the world, except herself, who felt that much interest in her.

CHAPTER TWO

Table of Contents

The boy who had pretended to stumble against her felt his own kind of interest in her, however, and he also watched her until she had turned the corner. He was a swarthy big boy of eighteen, with a heavy figure, thick black hair that seemed never to have been combed, much less washed, and his expression was one of derisive brooding, as though he pondered upon an injustice to himself that he found grossly absurd. He stood waiting, scuffing the gravel of the schoolhouse yard with the sole of his rubber boot and sending furtive glances at the backs of his departing schoolmates until they had passed from sight; then he moved away in the direction taken by Edna Pelter, going slowly at first but walking faster after he had turned the corner. She was a hundred yards or so in advance of him and he let that distance remain between them until the village street had become a country road—Old Road, leading down to the sea over higher and rougher ground than that traversed by River Road, the straight and almost level thoroughfare by the waterside. Old Road winds and dips and rises between lonely stone-walled fields, where ledges of rock come through the thin earth like the bones of a beggar through his tattered garment; there are bordering dark thickets, too, and it was as she approached one of these that the girl heard hurrying footsteps upon the roadway behind her.

She knew whose they were and again did not turn her head, not even when the boy who had followed her, overtaking her, threw clumsy tugging arms about her and pulled her to a halt. She kept her face averted now, however, for a definite reason, and her pensive expression was shaded by a slight, patient annoyance. She scuffled a little; then stood still, enduring with boredom the boy’s heavy embrace. “Oh, go on home, Hugo Wicks,” she murmured, sighing. “Don’t you ever get tired?”

“Come off!” he said huskily. “You can’t put it over on me! I got as much rights as everybody else! You got to let me—”

But at this, as he strove to bring his lips near hers, she struggled away from him, and, disengaging herself, struck him smartly across the mouth with a hard little hand. “Rights!” she said. “Nobody’s got any rights around me!”

Hugo was enraged by the blow, and faced her furiously. “Oh, haven’t they?” he said. “You think everybody don’t know all ’bout you and Vinnie Munson? Who do you think you are, anyways?”

“I’ll show you,” she said sullenly. “I’ll show you who I am if you don’t quit gettin’ funny around me!”

“Big talk!” Hugo jeered, and became bitterly loquacious in a series of jibes. “Big talk when Pelters try to brag about who they are! Pelters! Whose lobster-pots is your father haulin’ up after dark nowadays? Why don’t you never wear that nice sweater of Nina Grier’s you got out o’ the high school cloakroom and had dyed last Feb’uary? Say, Edna, what happened to your sister, Nettie, her never comin’ home from that trip to Boston she took when that railroad man’s wife was huntin’ around fer her two three year’ ago? Listen, Edna, has Vinnie Munson told you ’bout his mother havin’ him up before the preacher fer goin’ with you? Pelters! I’ll show you how much right Pelters got to talk ’bout who they are!”

With that, before she could move to prevent him, he flung his arms about her again and kissed her. She bore this, as she did his taunts, with apparently more mere dreariness than emotion. “Oh, get through!” she said. “Get through and go on home!”

Hugo released her and rather abruptly seemed to become discouraged. “Go on yourself!” he said, and, turning his back, walked sulkily toward the village. Edna, pensive again, as if there had been no interruption, continued upon her way.

Old Road is so crooked that it seems to have been paralysed while wriggling with indifferent success to avoid the stone ledges; it makes into two miles the one straight mile between the village and the sea, and the second mile is through forest so dense in growth and thorny underbrush that the thicket is like an unkempt hedge bordering the narrow roadway. Nevertheless, a few dim paths struggle through the woodland tangle, and, at the emergence of one of these upon the mere wagon-track that Old Road becomes in the forest, a well-dressed boy of sixteen stood waiting. He was dark-haired and dark-eyed, with noticeably long dark eyelashes, a sleek dark skin and shapely features; women of any age would have taken note of him anywhere. His desire, as he waited for the approaching high school girl, however, must have been that nobody at all should take note of him, for he did not step out upon the road. Instead, he stood pressed back into the thicket and not even upon the path itself but a few feet away from it.

When her footsteps upon the stiffened mud of the wagon-track became audible he made no sign, and still stood motionless and silent as these sounds ceased abruptly and he knew that she had halted at the mouth of the path. For a moment she stood as silent as he; but each knew that the other was there, and, after a glance over her shoulder, she entered the path, saw him and smiled faintly at him. He took her hand and with precaution drew her a dozen yards deeper into the underbrush; he would have gone farther and was evidently surprised when she stopped.

“Come on,” he urged her in a whisper. “We can’t stay this near the road; somebody might hear us.”

“I don’t care,” she said; but she spoke in a whisper, too. “What if they did?”

“ ‘What if they did?’ ” he repeated, and stared at her. “My goodness, are you crazy, Edna! Come on!”

“I don’t want to,” she said. “Let’s go sit on the rocks at Great Point.”

“ ‘On the rocks’?” he echoed incredulously. “Why, anybody that wanted to could see us on the rocks. There’s a big sea runnin’ after the No’theaster and there’s nearly always two three people on the Point to look at it; they’d see us.”

“Well, what if they did? We wouldn’t be doin’ any harm, would we?”

“My goodness, Edna! You know as well as I do I couldn’t go where anybody’d be liable to see me with you.”

“Couldn’t you?” she asked gravely. “I thought anyways you might do at least that much for me, if I ever wanted you to.”

The boy’s expression had become one of distressed perplexity. “But what for?” he said. “What do you want me to get seen with you for?”

“I don’t know. I just thought——” She hesitated vaguely, then smiled, tossed her head jauntily and spoke as if imparting a confidential but triumphant bit of news. “Some day I’m goin’ to put it all over this old town, Vinnie. I guess I been eatin’ dirt in this old burg pretty near long enough.”

“What’s the matter?” he whispered, greatly astonished. “What’s come over you? What you want to commence talkin’ this way for all of a sudden, Edna?”

“All of a sudden? It’s not so much as you think; I’ve had notions from a good while back that I wasn’t goin’ to stand everything a whole lot longer. I’m not goin’ to have the whole burg callin’ me bad all my life, I guess! I’m gettin’ kind o’ tired bein’ picked on for the only one that’s bad, too. I could tell a few things about some o’ the girls that think they’re so slick, if I wanted to, I guess!”

“Sh!” he warned her, alarmed by a vehemence in her manner, though her voice was still repressed to no more than a murmur. “Don’t get excited, Edna.”

“I’m not. I guess by this time I ought to be used to the way this burg acts towards me because it’s never been any different since I was born! Sometimes lately it just makes me kind o’ tired, though, and I get to thinkin’ I’m too old to let it go on so much longer; that’s all. I’d like to show a few people—”

“Listen!” he interrupted, and pulled at her hand. “We can’t stand around here talkin’ about it; we’re too near the road. Let’s go where we were Wednesday.”

He moved as if to walk deeper into the woods; but she shook her head. “How about your comin’ to sit a while on the rocks with me, Vinnie? I just thought I’d kind o’ like to have ’em see somebody wouldn’t mind, and it looked to me like you ought to come if I wanted you to.”

“Me!” he said, protesting. “Why, it’d be worse for me than anybody on account of my family’s position; and, besides, look at all the trouble I already been in about you!”

“But this wouldn’t get you into any more, Vinnie,” she returned quickly. “They wouldn’t know anything they don’t know already.”

“About me they would,” he said nervously, still whispering. “There hasn’t been anything ever injured my reputation except whoever found out about us and told my mother, and she told old Reverend Beedy when she took me there, of course; but he and my mother both said if I’d promise to save my soul by never havin’ any more to do with you they’d do all they could to keep it from gettin’ around, so—”

“Did they?” Edna interrupted, with a sharply ejected breath of laughter. “Then I guess whoever told your mother must ’a’ been busy lately. It’s all over town.”

“What!”

“Oh, yes,” she said, again with a breathed effect of laughter but not of mirth. “I guess you’re fixed up with a reputation hardly any better than what I got, myself, Vinnie.”

“I don’t believe it! You just say so because you think maybe it’d get me to go out on the Point with you.”

“No; I’m tellin’ you because it’s true and so’s you’ll see it won’t do you any p’tic’lar harm if you come. It really is all over town, Vinnie, because Hugo Wicks knows it. So what difference would it make if anybody just saw us sittin’ there?”

“My goodness!” Vinnie Munson once more exclaimed under his breath. “How do you know Hugo Wicks knows it?”

“Because he just asked me if you’d told me about your mother takin’ you up to Reverend Beedy’s. So won’t you come out on the rocks with me, Vinnie? Please?” she whispered, and wistfully leaned toward him a little. “Won’t you?”

But he looked away from her, and, swallowing, spoke plaintively. “I guess if Hugo Wicks knows it, then you’re right and it is all over town. My mother said she’d try to keep my father from findin’ out I’d been goin’ with you; but I guess now he’ll hear it.”

“Won’t you?”

“Well, my goodness!” he murmured; and, from beneath his softly shadowing eyelashes, there glinted perceptibly something of the repulsion he naturally felt for a girl who entangled him with disastrous circumstance. The tight clutch of his fingers upon hers relaxed and their hands separated. “I expect you got me in trouble enough without my sittin’ around on any old rocks. I guess you must be crazy!”

“All right,” Edna said, somewhat gloomily thoughtful but unresentful and not at all surprised. “I just thought I’d ask you, anyhow. I didn’t expect you’d want to, maybe.” She paused; then murmured unemotionally, “Well, g’bye,” and, turning from him, began to push her way through the underbrush in the direction of the road. Vinnie Munson made no response to her word of farewell, although both of them vaguely understood that this parting was a farewell indeed, and meant the end of more than the short whispered and murmured conversation that it concluded.

Again upon Old Road, and not more pensive than when she had left it for the thicket, Edna walked slowly onward toward the sea. All the way from the village a sound like forest winds had been growing louder in her ears; now it became deeper, more like the rolling of continuous distant thunder heard indoors, and, as she advanced, separate crashings could be distinguished regularly in an endless series. Old Road escapes from the thick enclosure of the woods only to end the next moment at the broader highway over the sea-cliffs; thus, as if she came out of a dark corridor to look forth from a high balcony, she stepped out into the open, and there suddenly was the wide ocean uproarious below her. All the nearer air was filled with its clamors; and yet in the distance the illimitable grey reaches of water seemed to move silently from a misty and dimensionless horizon.

She turned to the right upon the highway but presently crossed it, pressed through a broad tangle of bayberry bushes and juniper, and, having climbed a pile of great boulders and upthrust stratified rock, sat down upon the topmost stone, where only the highest flung mist of spray from the surf below could reach her. Here, a lonely, small figure upon a vast rough pedestal, she was at the crest of Great Point, the rocky jut that forms the juncture tip of two long crescents of coast line; to left and right of her, as far as her eye could reach, the green surf, rolling up ponderously, broke and plunged upon the land. Below her the seas were heaviest of all; hundreds of yards out, one of them would heave itself into an enormous and ominous ridge, gain momentum, speeding landward; then, steepening and rising prodigiously for an unbearable moment, this running precipice would crash in a white collapse that still swept onward and struck so hard upon the brown rocks that bubbles of foam were flicked almost to the feet of the girl upon the crest of Great Point.

She sat with her elbows upon her knees and her face made into a triangle by her supporting hands—a dreamer’s posture appropriate at the moment; for, instead of the breakers up and down the coast, what she saw were the white manes of companies of horses, racing. The horses ran just beneath the surface, with only their flying manes visible, and to-day they were titanic steeds, galloping monstrously. In easier weather and under a sunny sky they were crystalline ponies, racing cheerily, not with the fury of these colossal submarine chargers; and this fancy, transforming the ocean into a hippodrome, was an old one with her, as it is with other watchers of the sea immemorially.

For half an hour her attitude remained almost without any change at all; then her dreamily fascinated gaze shifted to follow a line of coursers that dashed themselves to pieces upon a pebbled beach a quarter of a mile to leftward of her, and suddenly she sighed, shivering a little. Her glance, happening to move slightly inland, had fallen upon the intrusive presence, not of a human being but of a long grey house, all stone and shingle, with a broad lawn framed in a clipped brown hedge. Nothing could have been more familiar to her than this house, built before she was born, and she did not shiver because of the desolate expression of vacancy imparted to it by its heavily boarded windows and doorways; the sight of it, startling her from revery, seemed to remind her of something distasteful and oppressive. Moreover, the power thus to trouble her was not a property of this house only; next to it and nearer her stood another, a long white house upon a high terrace above a lawn where shrubberies were stacked about with straw; and other houses, two score or more, faced the sea from the ridge behind the highway, all of them expressing the same affluent vacancy; and all of them disturbing to Edna Pelter. For, as if made conscious by the first that the others were there behind her upon Great Point, she rose, turned, and looked frowningly up and down the long irregular line of these empty houses, from one end to the other. Her frown was hostile but not defiant; in her eyes was the look of the native who stares up at the walls of a foreign invader too powerful and too well established to be resisted, and, for the moment that she bore this look, she became, in instinct at least, a true part of the community that despised her. Other eyes of Mirthful Haven had that look whenever they glanced, always a little unwillingly, at these houses by the sea.

CHAPTER THREE

Table of Contents

The gravelled highway over Great Point lies between the rocks and the summer cottages; it still keeps near the sea where it dips down from the Point to low open acres of bayberry bushes and juniper; but, after that, having crossed a little waste of sand dunes and coarse yellow grass near the harbor mouth, it turns abruptly inland and joins River Road, the straight and level thoroughfare that leads to the village. Edna Pelter, coming home sombrely from the rocks and the racing of white-maned coursers, all at once looked more cheerful as she left the grass and sand dunes behind her and stepped upon River Road’s bordering wooden sidewalk; before her, at the other end of the mile of grey roadway, the clustered houses and elms and the two neat spires of Mirthful Haven were delicately miniatured in blue against a rosy sky—but that was never a sight to bring any brightness upon her face.

Half-way from the village to the sea the river widens to form the upper end of the harbor, and from here, all the way to the massive old granite breakwater that protects the harbor mouth, there is ample riding for vessels of moderate draught, except at low tide. With the ebb complete, the channel is narrow, for then only the river itself is left winding sluggishly between mud flats and mussel shoals. River Road comes out from the village with the river upon its right and fields sloping up to Old Road upon its left; but for its second half-mile, nearer the sea, it is the crust of an embankment built over the flats and shoals, and is saved from the tidal water by retaining walls of stone and heavy old water-logged timber. Above these bulwarks, at each side of the road, runs a feebly protective, long wooden fence; the narrow board walk occupies the edge of the road toward the harbor, and here, though the sagging top rail of the fence offers a lounger little encouragement to sit upon it, he may at least rest his elbows if he chooses to brood upon curling processions of sand-eels at high water, or, when the wet flats are bared at low tide, upon the incautious spoutings of clams and the stealthy-mindedness of crabs.

The tide was low when the high school girl came to the board walk and turned her brightening face toward the distant village. A hundred yards in advance of her the protective fence was broken by a gateway that lacked a gate and gave access to a platform of boards resting upon wooden piles driven deep into the mud. The platform was large enough not only to support the gaunt clapboarded building that stood upon it but to serve as a sort of wooden front yard next to the road, and also as the floor of two connecting covered verandahs, one upon the seaward side of the building, the other at the rear, facing the river and known to its owners as the “back porch”. From it a long and narrow wooden pier staggered dubiously across the flats to a couple of landing-floats at the edge of the channel, where a small dismantled sloop and two or three rowboats reposed desolately in the mud; and all parts of this queerly cohesive group—the boats, the pier, the barnacled and slanting piles and the peak-roofed high box of a house, its whole angular shape a little a-tilt upon the platform—were the color of weathered dead wood. The place was ramshackle, haggard, lonely, and looked as if the next high wind would leave no more than the skeleton of it sprawled upon the mud; yet it was what brought light into the sombre eyes of Edna Pelter as she came toward it.

Above the front door that opened upon the little wooden yard was nailed a dingy signboard: “Pelter’s. Sailing and Fishing Parties Acomodated. Boats for Sale or Hire. Lobsters Clams and Fish.” Thus the place was known to Mirthful Haven, and also to those elevated and disturbing houses upon Great Point, as Pelter’s; and at Pelter’s Edna lived and had been born. She had grown up with the little wooden yard, the rickety pier and the mud flats for her playground; visibly her heart was lighter as she came home to this scarecrow of a place, and, when she emerged from the shadow of the long side verandah into the sunset light now golden upon the “back porch”, to find her father smoking there, she even smiled. In response, he turned his head slightly toward her, and, lowering his eyelids, gave her a glance beneath the surface of which a faint surreptitious humor seemed to play; but this exchange was all of their greeting.

He sat tilted back in an untrustworthy old cane-seated rocking-chair, with his long legs stretched upward before him and his brown rubber boots upon the verandah rail—a big, thin, shabby man with tousled, thick fair hair and a face that was hollow-cheeked and cross-lined, yet remained a handsome wreckage, all beauty not yet having been weatherbeaten out of it. Recognizably, his daughter had her looks from him; his eyes, too, were seen at a distance to be blue; but his had a twinkle, at once sardonic and careless, that hers lacked, and Mirthful Haven was fond of saying that he sometimes showed the whites of them like a bad horse. Indifferent to the sharp chill of the northern April air, he sat without a coat, the sleeves of his grey flannel shirt rolled up to the elbows, and its front exposed by the falling away of his buttonless waistcoat; his right hand held his pipe to his mouth and his left rested companionably upon the head of a dog that lay close beside his chair.

The dog, a big mongrel with some leanings toward a remote Airedale branch in his ancestry, rose, went to Edna, and, as she halted, stretched himself amiably before her, looking up at her with fond and intelligent eyes. She did not notice him, however; her father’s humorous glance at her had been but a momentary one, immediately returning to observe the movements of a stout man who was coming toward them from the other end of the pier, brandishing a long boat-hook in his hand. This stout man had lately been deep in the mud, for his high boots of rubber were caked with it almost to their tops; his broad face, moreover, was reddened by an emotion easily discernible as anger, and his lips moved in mutterings not yet audible upon the verandah.

Looking at him, Edna became pensive again. “Found it, did he?” she asked in a low voice. “Not so stingy he’s goin’ to make a fuss over as little a thing as that, is he?”

“Go on in the house,” Pelter said mildly, out of the side of his mouth, not looking at her. “Go on in and git supper.”

“None of the Wickses was ever any good,” she murmured thoughtfully, not moving. “All they live for is just to bother people. Don’t let him——”

“Go on in,” Pelter said, and moved his head in a slight gesture toward the wide doorway partly open behind him. “Freem Wicks ain’t hardly so able he’d know how to bother me much, I guess. You go in git supper started.”

“Well——” she said a little reluctantly; but, apparently obedient, pushed back one of the broad sliding-doors and went into the house. She made a momentary clatter at the stove; then tiptoed back toward the doorway, and, keeping herself out of sight from the verandah, stood listening.

Outside, her father continued imperturbably to watch the approach of the muddied stout figure with the boat-hook, and remained motionless, not even drawing upon his glazed corn-cob pipe, when the visitor’s mutterings became recognizable as semi-profane and inimical to all persons bearing the name of Pelter. “Pelters! My Godfrey Mighty! Always b’en the pests o’ this commun’ty; always will be! Wust pest-hole in the commun’ty! Always was and always will be! Pelters!” Then, arriving at the juncture of the pier with the verandah, the angry man halted and thrust the boat-hook forward for Pelter’s inspection. “See it?” he asked hoarsely. “See them ’nitials burnt into the handle? What you make them ’nitials out to be? ‘F’ and ‘W’, ain’t they? Does ‘F’ and ‘W’ stand fer Long Harry Pelter or fer Freeman Wicks? Which?”

But Pelter, ignoring both the protruded boat-hook and the questions addressed to him, seemed unaware that anything intruded upon a contemplation of the farther side of the harbor. His gaze passed over the mud flats beyond the channel to rest serenely upon the rocky banks and clumps of pine trees and wind-carved sand stretches of the opposite shore. This coolness, however, did nothing to lower the temperature of his questioner.

“You answer me!” the stout man shouted. “Does ‘F’ and ‘W’ stand fer Long Harry Pelter or fer Freeman Wicks? Which?”

“Might stand fer Frank Williams,” Pelter suggested casually, beginning to draw upon his pipe again. “Might stand fer Fred Watts. Might stand fer Ferd Wilson.”

“Yes, they might!” Mr. Wicks agreed, with hot satire. “Espeshually if they was men o’ them names livin’ anywheres nigh to this commun’ty; but as it happens to fall out, they ain’t!”

“No; but there’s a man by the name of Foster Wiles livin’ down east o’ here a piece. He put that boat-hook into a little tradin’ I had with him this March.”

“So you claim it as your own proputty, do you? You’re a-goin’ to git up out o’ that chair and try to hender me from luggin’ it back to my own boat where it belongs, are you?”

“No,” Pelter returned coolly. “I never was one to kick up a hullabaloo over as nothin’ of a thing as a boat-hook.”

“I thought not!” Mr. Wicks said, breathing heavily. “You know how I found out ’twas here? Ed Ma’sh told me. ‘When’d you fust miss it?’ he says to me. ‘Last September,’ I told him. ‘I hain’t see it sence the last night I was herrin’-torchin’ in September.’ ‘Who was out herrin’-torchin’ with you?’ he says. ‘My boy, Hugo, and Jeff Miller and Long Harry Pelter,’ I told him. ‘Then you’d ought to know who took it,’ he says. ‘Where’s the place to look fust in this commun’ty when a man misses his boat-hook or his oar-locks or maybe a block-and-ta’kle or a monkey-wrench, or half a keg o’ nails fer that matter?’ he says. ‘Why, Pelter’s,’ he says. ‘Long Harry’s got his floats out again after the winter,’ he says. ‘You go down to Pelter’s and poke around near that little ves-sell o’ Long Harry’s,’ he says. ‘Poke around Pelter’s, enough,’ he says, ‘and you’ll find it!’ ” Mr. Wicks paused for breath; then added, with a bitter vehemence, “Thought by this time I’d fergot all ’bout missin’ that boat-hook, didn’t you? By Godfrey Mighty, I don’t see how any man can set there and smoke without the grace to feel shame! Look at them ’nitials, I tell you!”

As he spoke, he thrust the handle of the boat-hook so close to the seated man’s face that for a moment Long Harry Pelter’s sidewise glance showed the whites of his eyes in the dangerous look defined by Mirthful Haven as that of a bad horse. Nevertheless, all he did was to smile faintly and say, “I’ll have this Foster Wiles write me a letter and prove it some day, Freem. You better talk ’bout shame to yourself. Seems to me I heard lately you made a great speech over bein’ a sinner up at some church meetin’ in the village. If you’re such a sinner as you say you are, yourself, you ought to feel quite a mite o’ shame, oughtn’t you?”

For a moment Mr. Wicks’s inflamed broad face showed a struggling perplexity; then he became stern. “You better think a little about hell fire!” he said. “You keep your tongue off o’ church matters until you git grace enough into you to beg fer mercy before the Throne! When I speak in church o’ bein’ a sinner, that’s a thing between me and my Maker; it don’t mean nothin’ I got to stand before any livin’ man or woman fer with my head bowed. In the sight o’ the Lord I’m a sinner like all mankind; but among my fellow-citizens I got a right to walk in the pride o’ my self-respect, and that’s somethin’ you hain’t never had the right to do!”

“And yet,” Pelter said reflectively, “it seems to me I recklect you accusin’ me o’ pride once or twice in the past. Seems to me I recklect some such thing.”

“I said the right to pride,” Mr. Wicks returned grimly. “You got Satan’s pride, and enough to lug you straight down into the brimstone when you die! You got the hell-fired pride that wun’t give down, even when you see them ’nitials before your eyes and know in your heart what they convict you of. Yes, and takin’ another man’s proputty ain’t all they convict you of, by a mighty sight! Look at them ’nitials right down on the end o’ the handle. All you had to do was to saw four inches off the end o’ that handle—’t wouldn’t ’a’ spoiled it none ’t all—but you was atchually too lazy to take the trouble! My Godfrey Mighty, when a man’s too lazy to exert himself that little to keep other people’s proputty from bein’ found in his keep, why, my Godfrey Mighty, you can’t hardly tell what to think of it!”

“Can’t you? Might think ‘F’ and ‘W’ stands fer Mr. Foster Wiles, mightn’t you?”

“No, I mightn’t!” Freeman Wicks shouted. “Think I don’t reckanize my own boat-hook? Think you hain’t b’en knowed to do the same thing before now? Ain’t it a piece with all you do? Why, jest look at you!” Here, by coincidence, the indignant man became even more vindictively loquacious than his son, Hugo, had been in the goading of Long Harry’s daughter earlier that afternoon upon Old Road. “Look at you! You had a good, able woman fer your second wife; her and her mother, too, was both good, nice, able women and tried to be a good, nice stepmother and step-grandmother to your two daughters. Even got ’em to Sunday-school a while, their stepmother did, the year before she died, and after that if their step-grandmother could ’a’ stood livin’ at Pelter’s any more she’d ’a’ brought ’em up somethin’ like! You think anybody in the commun’ty believes you ever lifted your little finger to keep ’em from runnin’ wild like they done? I’ll say this much fer Edna, though; anyhow she’s showed more energy ’bout Nina Grier’s sweater than you done ’bout my boat-hook—walked clear over to New Yarmouth and got it dyed blue. You and her ain’t heard the last o’ that, neither, I’ll trouble to warn you!”

“So?” Pelter said quietly. “You’re warnin’ me, are you, Freem?”

“Yes, I am! Abner Grier says he can git the dyein’ store clerks to swear to it, and he’s goin’ to come down on Pelter’s with the dep’ty sheriff and a search-warrant, soon’s he finds time. I ain’t goin’ to waste my breath on what’s the rest o’ the talk about her in this commun’ty, or on what happened to Nettie, all because what kind of any example’d they ever see you a-settin’ ’em, and when’d you ever show gimp or godliness enough to make ’em walk the straight path? I ain’t goin’ to use up my voice talkin’ to you on them questions. I come here to git my boat-hook, and I got it, and that’s everything I want with you. All I got to say is, you hain’t the decency to own even a dog like respectable people own. Look what he done last summer to them new summer people’s dog that rented the J. C. Pemberton cottage! Nigh tore him to pieces! Them people swore if they come back next year and this dog o’ yourn ever shows his face on the Point they’re goin’ to hire somebody to shoot him!”

“Did they?” Pelter inquired in a mild voice. The dog had returned to his side, and Long Harry’s brown hand again rested upon him genially. “How much did they say they’d give you fer doin’ it, Freem?”

The stout man, bafflingly insulted, stared fiercely. “Give who fer doin’ it?” he cried. “Who said—”

“Didn’t you?” Pelter said, stroking the dog’s head. “Didn’t you jest say you ’greed to do it fer ’em? There’s certain people o’ Mirthful Haven that seem to know pretty well which side their bread’s buttered on, and always take the part o’ the summer people against us that rightfully live here. I thought from the way you spoke you must be one o’ them certain people—‘natives’ that turn against ‘natives’ and shoot their dogs, maybe, when there’s a chance to make a dolluh off o’ the summer people. Didn’t you say—”

“I didn’t say nothin’ o’ the kind!” Freeman Wicks shouted. “Don’t you accuse me—”

“I ain’t doin’ any accusin’,” Long Harry Pelter interrupted. “That’s more your line, Freem. I jest take note o’ the fact that you drop around here like a good neighbor and find on my place a boat-hook I traded a man named Foster Wiles fer, and because it’s got his ’nitials on it you think it’s a smart act fer you to take it away with you in the place of one that dropped overboard when we was torchin’ herrin’. Then, because you feel maybe a mite ashamed, you bluster around and taunt me and my family with all our misfortunes and git yourself so worked up sympathizin’ with a summer family’s dog against a dog that was born and raised in Mirthful Haven that you threaten to take the summer family’s money fer shootin’ him. I jest take note of it, Freem; that’s all.”

For some moments Freeman Wicks was speechless; his chest heaved, his short neck appeared to distend slightly and his staring eyes to protrude. “You accuse me—” he said thickly. Then he threw the boat-hook down clattering upon the verandah floor. “By Godfrey Mighty!” he burst out. “I don’t believe a word about no Foster Wiles; but I ain’t goin’ to give no Pelter an excuse to go around this commun’ty accusin’ me o’ stealin’ boat-hooks and shootin’ dogs fer summer families!”

With that, he turned upon his heel and departed, stamping his way noisily upon the loose boards of the verandah at the side of the house. Long Harry did not move until the thumping of these enraged and defeated footsteps had subsided; then he rose, picked up the boat-hook and carried it into the house. When he moved at all, he usually moved quickly, and he crossed the threshold just in time to detect his daughter in the act of turning away from her listening-post to go to the stove. “Been busy?” he inquired dryly.

In response she gave him, over her shoulder, an adoring glance all radiant admiration, and, at this, the left end of his mouth extended slightly into a faint, lopsided smile. “Better git them cod fried,” he said. “Us Pelters got to have nourishment, jest like other people.”