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The Mark on the Door by Joseph C. Lincoln

 

One nice moonlight evening me and Cap'n Jonadab and Peter T., having, for a wonder, a little time to ourselves and free from boarders, was setting on the starboard end of the piazza, smoking, when who should heave in sight but Cap'n Eri Hedge and Obed Nickerson. They'd come over from Orham that day on some fish business and had drove down to Wellmouth Port on purpose to put up at the Old Home for the night and shake hands with me and Jonadab. We was mighty glad to see 'em, now I tell you.

They'd had supper up at the fish man's at the Centre, so after Peter T. had gone in and fetched out a handful of cigars, we settled back for a good talk. They wanted to know how business was and we told 'em. After a spell somebody mentioned the Todds and I spun my yarn about the balky mare and the Greased Lightning. It tickled 'em most to death, especially Obed.

"Ho, ho!" says he. "That's funny, ain't it. Them power boats are great things, ain't they. I had an experience in one—or, rather, in two—a spell ago when I was living over to West Bayport. My doings was with gasoline though, not electricity. 'Twas something of an experience. Maybe you'd like to hear it."

"'Way I come to be over there on the bay side of the Cape was like this. West Bayport, where my shanty and the big Davidson summer place and the Saunders' house was, used to be called Punkhassett— which is Injun for 'The last place the Almighty made'—and if you've read the circulars of the land company that's booming Punkhassett this year, you'll remember that the principal attraction of them diggings is the 'magnificent water privileges.' 'Twas the water privileges that had hooked me. Clams was thick on the flats at low tide, and fish was middling plenty in the bay. I had two weirs set; one a deep-water weir, a half mile beyond the bar, and t'other just inside of it that I could drive out to at low water. A two-mile drive 'twas, too; the tide goes out a long ways over there. I had a powerboat—seven and a half power gasoline— that I kept anchored back of my nighest-in weir in deep water, and a little skiff on shore to row off to her in.

"The yarn begins one morning when I went down to the shore after clams. I'd noticed the signs then. They was stuck up right acrost the path: 'No trespassing on these premises,' and 'All persons are forbidden crossing this property, under penalty of the law.' But land! I'd used that short-cut ever sence I'd been in Bayport—which was more'n a year—and old man Davidson and me was good friends, so I cal'lated the signs was intended for boys, and hove ahead without paying much attention to 'em. 'Course I knew that the old man— and, what was more important, the old lady—had gone abroad and that the son was expected down, but that didn't come to me at the time, neither.

"I was heading for home about eight, with two big dreeners full of clams, and had just climbed the bluff and swung over the fence into the path, when somebody remarks: 'Here, you!' I jumped and turned round, and there, beating across the field in my direction, was an exhibit which, it turned out later, was ticketed with the name of Alpheus Vandergraff Parker Davidson—'Allie' for short.

"And Allie was a good deal of an exhibit, in his way. His togs were cut to fit his spars, and he carried 'em well—no wrinkles at the peak or sag along the boom. His figurehead was more'n average regular, and his hair was combed real nice—the part in the middle of it looked like it had been laid out with a plumb-line. Also, he had on white shoes and glory hallelujah stockings. Altogether, he was alone with the price of admission, and what some folks, I s'pose, would have called a handsome enough young feller. But I didn't like his eyes; they looked kind of tired, as if they'd seen 'bout all there was to see of some kinds of life. Twenty-four year old eyes hadn't ought to look that way.

"But I wasn't interested in eyes jest then. All I could look at was teeth. There they was, a lovely set of 'em, in the mouth of the ugliest specimen of a bow-legged bulldog that ever tried to hang itself at the end of a chain. Allie was holding t'other end of the chain with both hands, and they were full, at that. The dog stood up on his hind legs and pawed the air with his front ones, and his tongue hung out and dripped. You could see he was yearning, just dying, to taste of a middle-aged longshoreman by the name of Obed Nickerson. I stared at the dog, and he stared at me. I don't know which of us was the most interested.

"'Here, you!' says Allie again. 'What are you crossing this field for?'

"I heard him, but I was too busy counting teeth to pay much attention. 'You ought to feed that dog,' I says, absent-minded like. 'He's hungry.'

"'Humph!' says he. 'Well, maybe he'll be fed in a minute. Did you see those signs?'

"'Yes,' says I; 'I saw 'em. They're real neat and pretty.'

"'Pretty!' He fairly choked, he was so mad. 'Why, you cheeky, long-legged jay,' he says, 'I'll— What are you crossing this field for?'

"'So's to get to t'other side of it, I guess,' says I. I was riling up a bit myself. You see, when a feller's been mate of a schooner, like I've been in my day, it don't come easy to be called names. It looked for a minute as if Allie was going to have a fit, but he choked it down.

"'Look here!' he says. 'I know who you are. Just because the gov'ner has been soft enough to let you countrymen walk all over him, it don't foller that I'm going to be. I'm boss here for this summer. My name's—' He told me his name, and how his dad had turned the place over to him for the season, and a lot more. 'I put those signs up,' he says, 'to keep just such fellers as you are off my property. They mean that you ain't to cross the field. Understand?'

"I understood. I was mad clean through, but I'm law-abiding, generally speaking. 'All right,' I says, picking up my dreeners and starting for the farther fence; 'I won't cross it again.'

"'You won't cross it now,' says he. 'Go back where you come from.'

"That was a grain too much. I told him a few things. He didn't wait for the benediction. 'Take him, Prince!' he says, dropping the chain.

"Prince was willing. He fetched a kind of combination hurrah and growl and let out for me full-tilt. I don't feed good fresh clams to dogs as a usual thing, but that mouth HAD to be filled. I waited till he was almost on me, and then I let drive with one of the dreeners. Prince and a couple of pecks of clams went up in the air like a busted bomb-shell, and I broke for the fence I'd started for. I hung on to the other dreener, though, just out of principle.

"But I had to let go of it, after all. The dog come out of the collision looking like a plate of scrambled eggs, and took after me harder'n ever, shedding shells and clam juice something scandalous. When he was right at my heels I turned and fired the second dreener. And, by Judas, I missed him!

"Well, principle's all right, but there's times when even the best of us has to hedge. I simply couldn't reach the farther fence, so I made a quick jibe and put for the one behind me. And I couldn't make that, either. Prince was taking mouthfuls of my overalls for appetizers. There was a little pine-tree in the lot, and I give one jump and landed in the middle of it. I went up the rest of the way like I'd forgot something, and then I clung onto the top of that tree and panted and swung round in circles, while the dog hopped up and down on his hind legs and fairly sobbed with disapp'intment.

"Allie was rolling on the grass. 'Oh, DEAR me!' says he, between spasms. 'That was the funniest thing I ever saw.'

"I'd seen lots funnier things myself, but 'twa'n't worth while to argue. Besides, I was busy hanging onto that tree. 'Twas an awful little pine and the bendiest one I ever climbed. Allie rolled around a while longer, and then he gets up and comes over.

"'Well, Reuben,' says he, lookin' up at me on the roost, 'you're a good deal handsomer up there than you are on the ground. I guess I'll let you stay there for a while as a lesson to you. Watch him, Prince.' And off he walks.

"'You everlasting clothes-pole,' I yells after him, 'if it wa'n't for that dog of yours I'd—'

"He turns around kind of lazy and says he: 'Oh, you've got no kick coming,' he says. 'I allow you to—er—ornament my tree, and 'tain't every hayseed I'd let do that.'

"And away he goes; and for an hour that had no less'n sixty thousand minutes in it I clung to that tree like a green apple, with Prince setting open-mouthed underneath waiting for me to get ripe and drop.

"Just as I was figgering that I was growing fast to the limb, I heard somebody calling my name. I unglued my eyes from the dog and looked up, and there, looking over the fence that I'd tried so hard to reach, was Barbara Saunders, Cap'n Eben Saunders' girl, who lived in the house next door to mine.

"Barbara was always a pretty girl, and that morning she looked prettier than ever, with her black hair blowing every which way and her black eyes snapping full of laugh. Barbara Saunders in a white shirt-waist and an old, mended skirt could give ten lengths in a beauty race to any craft in silks and satins that ever _I_ see, and beat 'em hull down at that.

"'Why, Mr. Nickerson!' she calls. 'What are you doing up in that tree?'

"That was kind of a puzzler to answer offhand, and I don't know what I'd have said if friend Allie hadn't hove in sight just then and saved me the trouble. He come strolling out of the woods with a cigarette in his mouth, and when he saw Barbara he stopped short and looked and looked at her. And for a minute she looked at him, and the red come up in her cheeks like a sunrise.

"'Beg pardon, I'm sure,' says Allie, tossing away the cigarette. 'May I ask if that—er—deep-sea gentleman in my tree is a friend of yours?'

"Barbara kind of laughed and dropped her eyes, and said why, yes, I was.

"'By Jove! he's luckier than I thought,' says Allie, never taking his eyes from her face. 'And what do they call him, please, when they want him to answer?' That's what he asked, though, mind you, he'd said he knew who I was when he first saw me.

"'It's Mr. Nickerson,' says Barbara. 'He lives in that house there. The one this side of ours.'

"'Oh, a neighbor! That's different. Awfully sorry, I'm sure. Prince, come here. Er—Nickerson, for the lady's sake we'll call it off. You may—er—vacate the perch.'

"I waited till he'd got a clove-hitch onto Prince. He had to give him one or two welts over the head 'fore he could do it; the dog acted like he'd been cheated. Then I pried myself loose from that blessed limb and shinned down to solid ground. My! but I was b'iling inside. 'Taint pleasant to be made a show afore folks, but 'twas the feller's condescending what-excuse-you-got-for-living manners that riled me most.

"I picked up what was left of the dreeners and walked over to the fence. That field was just sowed, as you might say, with clams. If they ever sprouted 'twould make a tip-top codfish pasture.

"'You see,' says Allie, talking to Barbara; 'the gov'nor told me he'd been plagued with trespassers, so I thought I'd give 'em a lesson. But neighbors, when they're scarce as ours are, ought to be friends. Don't you think so, Miss—? Er—Nickerson,' says he, 'introduce me to our other neighbor.'

"So I had to do it, though I didn't want to. He turned loose some soft soap about not realizing afore what a beautiful place the Cape was. I thought 'twas time to go.

"'But Miss Saunders hasn't answered my question yet,' says Allie. 'Don't YOU think neighbors ought to be friends, Miss Saunders?'

"Barbara blushed and laughed and said she guessed they had. Then she walked away. I started to follow, but Allie stopped me.

"'Look here, Nickerson,' says he. 'I let you off this time, but don't try it again; do you hear?'

"'I hear,' says I. 'You and that hyena of yours have had all the fun this morning. Some day, maybe, the boot'll be on t'other leg.'

"Barbara was waiting for me. We walked on together without speaking for a minute. Then I says, to myself like: 'So that's old man Davidson's son, is it? Well, he's the prize peach in the crate, he is!'

"Barbara was thinking, too. 'He's very nice looking, isn't he?' says she. 'Twas what you'd expect a girl to say, but I hated to hear her say it. I went home and marked a big chalk-mark on the inside of my shanty door, signifying that I had a debt so pay some time or other.

"So that's how I got acquainted with Allie V. P. Davidson. And, what's full as important, that's how he got acquainted with Barbara Saunders.

"Shutting an innocent canary-bird up in the same room with a healthy cat is a more or less risky proposition for the bird. Same way, if you take a pretty country girl who's been to sea with her dad most of the time and tied to the apron-strings of a deef old aunt in a house three miles from nowhere—you take that girl, I say, and then fetch along, as next-door neighbor, a good-looking young shark like Allie, with a hogshead of money and a blame sight too much experience, and that's a risky proposition for the girl.

"Allie played his cards well; he'd set into a good many similar games afore, I judge. He begun by doing little favors for Phoebe Ann—she was the deef aunt I mentioned—and 'twa'n't long afore he was as solid with the old lady as a kedge-anchor. He had a way of dropping into the Saunders house for a drink of water or a slab of 'that delicious apple-pie,' and with every drop he got better acquainted with Barbara. Cap'n Eben was on a v'yage to Buenos Ayres and wouldn't be home till fall, 'twa'n't likely.

"I didn't see a great deal of what was going on, being too busy with my fishweirs and clamming to notice. Allie and me wa'n't exactly David and Jonathan, owing, I judge, to our informal introduction to each other. But I used to see him scooting 'round in his launch—twenty-five foot, she was, with a little mahogany cabin and the land knows what—and the servants at the big house told me yarns about his owning a big steam-yacht, with a sailing- master and crew, which was cruising round Newport somewheres.

"But, busy as I was, I see enough to make me worried. There was a good deal of whispering over the Saunders back gate after supper, and once, when I come up over the bluff from the shore sudden, they was sitting together on a rock and he had his arm round her waist. I dropped a hint to Phoebe Ann, but she shut me up quicker'n a snap-hinge match-box. Allie had charmed 'auntie' all right. And so it drifted along till September.

"One Monday evening about the middle of the month I went over to Phoebe Ann's to borrow some matches. Barbara wasn't in—gone out to lock up the hens, or some such fool excuse. But Phoebe was busting full of joy. Cap'n Eben had arrived in New York a good deal sooner'n was expected and would be home on Thursday morning.

"'He's going from Boston to Provincetown on the steamer, Wednesday,' says Phoebe. 'He's got some business over there. Then he's coming home from Provincetown on the early train. Ain't that splendid?'

"I thought 'twas splendid for more reasons than one, and I went out feeling good. But as I come round the corner of the house there was somebody by the back gate, and I heard a girl's voice sayin': 'Oh, no, no! I can't! I can't!'

"If I hadn't trod on a stick maybe I'd have heard more, but the racket broke up the party. Barbara come hurrying past me into the house, and by the light from the back door, I see her face. 'Twas white as a clam-shell, and she looked frightened to death.

"Thinks I: 'That's funny! It's a providence Eben's coming home so soon.'

"And the next day I saw her again, and she was just as white and wouldn't look me in the eye. Wednesday, though, I felt better, for the servants on the Davidson place told me that Allie had gone to Boston on the morning train to be gone for good, and that they was going to shut up the house and haul up the launch in a day or so.

"Early that afternoon, as I was coming from my shanty to the bluff on my way to the shore after dinner, I noticed a steam-yacht at anchor two mile or so off the bar. She must have come there sence I got in, and I wondered whose she was. Then I see a dingey with three men aboard rowing in, and I walked down the beach to meet 'em.

"Sometimes I think there is such things as what old Parson Danvers used to call 'dispensations.' This was one of 'em. There was a feller in a uniform cap steering the dingey, and, b'lieve it or not, I'll be everlastingly keelhauled if he didn't turn out to be Ben Henry, who was second mate with me on the old Seafoam. He was surprised enough to see me, and glad, too, but he looked sort of worried.

"'Well, Ben,' says I, after we had shook hands, 'well, Ben,' I says, 'my shanty ain't exactly the United States Hotel for gilt paint and bill of fare, but I HAVE got eight or ten gallons of home-made cherry rum and some terbacker and an extry pipe. You fall into my wake.'

"'I'd like to, Obed,' he says; 'I'd like to almighty well, but I've got to go up to the store, if there is such a thing in this metropolus, and buy some stuff that I forgot to get in Newport. You see, we got orders to sail in a tearing hurry, and—'

"'Send one of them fo'mast hands to the store,' says I. 'You got to come with me.'

"He hemmed and hawed a while, but he was dry, and I shook the cherry-rum jug at him, figuratively speaking, so finally he give in.

"'You buy so and so,' says he to his men, passing 'em a ten-dollar bill. 'And mind, you don't know nothing. If anybody asks, remember that yacht's the Mermaid—M-U-R-M-A-D-E,' he says, 'and she belongs to Mr. Jones, of Mobile, Georgia.'

"So the men went away, and me and Ben headed for my shanty, where we moored abreast of each other at the table, with a jug between us for a buoy, so's to speak. We talked old times and spun yarns, and the tide went out in the jug consider'ble sight faster than 'twas ebbing on the flats. After a spell I asked him about the man that owned the yacht.

"'Who? Oh—er—Brown?' he says. 'Why, he's—'

"'Brown?' says I. 'Thought you said 'twas Jones?'

"Well, that kind of upset him, and he took some cherry-rum to grease his memory. Then I asked more questions and he tried to answer 'em, and got worse tangled than ever. Finally I had to laugh.

"'Look here, Ben,' says I. 'You can't fetch port on that tack. The truth's ten mile astern of you. Who does own that yacht, anyway?'

"He looked at me mighty solemn—cherry-rum solemn. 'Obed,' he says, 'you're a good feller. Don't you give me away, now, or I'll lose my berth. The man that owns that yacht's named Davidson, and he's got a summer place right in this town.'

"'Davidson!' says I. 'DAVIDSON? Not young Allie Davidson?'

"'That's him,' says he. 'And he's the blankety blankest meanest low-down cub on earth. There! I feel some better. Give me another drink to take the taste of him out of my mouth.'

"'But young Davidson's gone to Boston,' I says. 'Went this morning.'

"'That be hanged!' says Ben. 'All I know is that I got a despatch from him at Newport on Monday afternoon, telling me to have the yacht abreast this town at twelve o'clock to-night, 'cause he was coming off to her then in his launch with a friend. Friend!' And he laughed and winked his starboard eye.

"I didn't say much, being too busy thinking, but Ben went on telling about other cruises with 'friends.' Oh, a steam-yacht can be a first-class imitation of hell if the right imp owns her. Henry got speaking of one time down along the Maine coast.

"'But,' says I, referring to what he was telling, 'if she was such a nice girl and come from such nice folks, how—'

"'How do I know?' says he. 'Promises to marry and such kind of lies, I s'pose. And the plain fact is that he's really engaged to marry a swell girl in Newport.'

"He told me her name and a lot more about her. I tried to remember the most of it, but my head was whirling—and not from cherry rum, either. All I could think was: 'Obed, it's up to you! You've got to do something.'

"I was mighty glad when the sailors hailed from the shore and Ben had to go. He 'most cried when he said good-by, and went away stepping high and bringing his heels down hard. I watched the dingey row off—the tide was out, so there was barely water for her to get clear—and then I went back home to think. And I thought all the afternoon.

"Two and two made four, anyway I could add it up, but 'twas all suspicion and no real proof, that was the dickens of it. I couldn't speak to Phoebe Ann; she wouldn't b'lieve me if I did. I couldn't telegraph Cap'n Eben at Provincetown to come home that night; I'd have to tell him the whole thing and I knew his temper, so, for Barbara's sake, 'twouldn't do. I couldn't be at the shore to stop the launch leaving. What right had I to stop another man's launch, even—

"No, 'twas up to me, and I thought and thought till after supper- time. And then I had a plan—a risky chance, but a chance, just the same. I went up to the store and bought four feet of medium- size rubber hose and some rubber tape, same as they sell to bicycle fellers in the summer. 'Twas almost dark when I got back in sight of my shanty, and instead of going to it I jumped that board fence that me and Prince had negotiated for, hustled along the path past the notice boards, and went down the bluff on t'other side of Davidson's p'int. And there in the deep hole by the end of the little pier, out of sight of the house on shore, was Allie's launch. By what little light there was left I could see the brass rails shining.

"But I didn't stop to admire 'em. I give one look around. Nobody was in sight. Then I ran down the pier and jumped aboard. Almost the first thing I put my hand on was what I was looking for—the bilge-pump. 'Twas a small affair, that you could lug around in one hand, but mighty handy for keeping a boat of that kind dry.

"I fitted one end of my hose to the lower end of that pump and wrapped rubber tape around the j'int till she sucked when I tried her over the side. Then I turned on the cocks in the gasoline pipes fore and aft, and noticed that the carbureter feed cup was chock full. Then I was ready for business.

"I went for'ard, climbing over the little low cabin that was just big enough for a man to crawl into, till I reached the brass cap in the deck over the gasoline-tank. Then I unscrewed the cap, run my hose down into the tank, and commenced to pump good fourteen-cents- a-gallon gasoline overboard to beat the cars. 'Twas a thirty- gallon tank, and full up. I begun to think I'd never get her empty, but I did, finally. I pumped her dry. Then I screwed the cap on again and went home, taking Allie's bilge-pump with me, for I couldn't stop to unship the hose. The tide was coming in fast.

"At nine o'clock that night I was in my skiff, rowing off to where my power-boat laid in deep water back of the bar. When I reached her I made the skiff fast astern, lit a lantern, which I put in a locker under a thwart, and set still in the pitch-dark, smoking and waiting.

"'Twas a long, wearisome wait. There was a no'thwest wind coming up, and the waves were running pretty choppy on the bar. All I could think of was that gasoline. Was there enough in the pipes and the feed cup on that launch to carry her out to where I was? Or was there too much, and would she make the yacht, after all?

"It got to be eleven o'clock. Tide was full at twelve. I was a pretty good candidate for the crazy house by this time. I'd listened till my ear-drums felt slack, like they needed reefing. And then at last I heard her coming—CHUFF-chuff! CHUFF-chuff! CHUFF-chuff!

"And HOW she did come! She walked up abreast of me, went past me, a hundred yards or so off. Thinks I: 'It's all up. He's going to make it.'

"And then, all at once, the 'chuff-chuff-ing' stopped. Started up and stopped again. I gave a hurrah, in my mind, pulled the skiff up alongside and jumped into her, taking the lantern with me, under my coat. Then I set the light between my feet, picked up the oars and started rowing.

"I rowed quiet as I could, but he heard me 'fore I got to him. I heard a scrambling noise off ahead, and then a shaky voice hollers: 'Hello! who's that?'

"'It's me,' says I, rowing harder'n ever. 'Who are you? What's the row?'

"There was more scrambling and a slam, like a door shutting. In another two minutes I was alongside the launch and held up my lantern. Allie was there, fussing with his engine. And he was all alone.

"Alone he was, I say, fur's a body could see, but he was mighty shaky and frightened. Also, 'side of him, on the cushions, was a girl's jacket, and I thought I'd seen that jacket afore.

"'Hello!' says I. 'Is that you, Mr. Davidson? Thought you'd gone to Boston?'

"'Changed my mind,' he says. 'Got any gasoline?'

"'What you doing off here this time of night?' I says.

"'Going out to my—' He stopped. I s'pose the truth choked him. 'I was going to Provincetown,' he went on. 'Got any gasoline?'

"'What in the nation you starting to Provincetown in the middle of the night for?' I asks, innocent as could be.

"'Oh, thunder! I had business there, that's all. GOT ANY GASOLINE?'

"I made my skiff's painter fast to a cleat on the launch and climbed aboard. 'Gasoline?' says I. 'Gasoline? Why, yes; I've got some gasoline over on my power-boat out yonder. Has yours give out? I should think you'd filled your tank 'fore you left home on such a trip as Provincetown. Maybe the pipe's plugged or something. Have you looked?' And I caught hold of the handle of the cabin-door.

"He jumped and grabbed me by the arm. ''Tain't plugged,' he yells, sharp. 'The tank's empty, I tell you.'

"He kept pulling me away from the cabin, but I hung onto the handle.

"'You can't be too sure,' I says. 'This door's locked. Give me the key.'

"'I—I left the key at home,' he says. 'Don't waste time. Go over to your boat and fetch me some gasoline. I'll pay you well for it.'

"Then I was sartin of what I suspicioned. The cabin was locked, but not with the key. THAT was in the keyhole. The door was bolted ON THE INSIDE.

"'All right,' says I. 'I'll sell you the gasoline, but you'll have to go with me in the skiff to get it. Get your anchor over or this craft'll drift to Eastham. Hurry up.'

"He didn't like the idee of leaving the launch, but I wouldn't hear of anything else. While he was heaving the anchor I commenced to talk to him.

"'I didn't know but what you'd started for foreign parts to meet that Newport girl you're going to marry,' I says, and I spoke good and loud.

"He jumped so I thought he'd fall overboard.

"'What's that?' he shouts.

"'Why, that girl you're engaged to,' says I. 'Miss—' and I yelled her name, and how she'd gone abroad with his folks, and all.

"'Shut up!' he whispers, waving his hands, frantic. 'Don't stop to lie. Hurry up!'

"''Tain't a lie. Oh, I know about it!' I hollers, as if he was deef. I meant to be heard—by him and anybody else that might be interested. I give a whole lot more partic'lars, too. He fairly shoved me into the skiff, after a spell.

"'Now,' he says, so mad he could hardly speak, 'stop your lying and row, will you!'

"I was willing to row then. I cal'lated I'd done some missionary work by this time. Allie's guns was spiked, if I knew Barbara Saunders. I p'inted the skiff the way she'd ought to go and laid to the oars.

"My plan had been to get him aboard the skiff and row somewheres— ashore, if I could. But 'twas otherwise laid out for me. The wind was blowing pretty fresh, and the skiff was down by the stern, so's the waves kept knocking her nose round. 'Twas dark'n a pocket, too. I couldn't tell where I WAS going.

"Allie got more fidgety every minute. 'Ain't we 'most there?' he asks. And then he gives a screech. 'What's that ahead?'

"I turned to see, and as I done it the skiff's bow slid up on something. I give an awful yank at the port oar; she slewed and tilted; a wave caught her underneath, and the next thing I knew me and Allie and the skiff was under water, bound for the bottom. We'd run acrost one of the guy-ropes of my fish-weir.

"This wa'n't in the program. I hit sand with a bump and pawed up for air. When I got my head out I see a water-wheel doing business close along-side of me. It was Allie.

"'Help!' he howls. 'Help! I'm drowning!'

"I got him by the collar, took one stroke and bumped against the weir-nets. You know what a fish-weir's like, don't you, Mr. Brown?—a kind of pound, made of nets hung on ropes between poles.

"'Help!' yells Allie, clawing the nets. 'I can't swim in rough water!'

"You might have known he couldn't. It looked sort of dubious for a jiffy. Then I had an idee. I dragged him to the nighest weir- pole. 'Climb!' I hollers in his ear. 'Climb that pole.'

"He done it, somehow, digging his toes into the net and going up like a cat up a tree. When he got to the top he hung acrost the rope and shook.

"'Hang on there!' says I. 'I'm going after the boat.' And I struck out. He yelled to me not to leave him, but the weir had give me my bearings, and I was bound for my power-boat. 'Twas a tough swim, but I made it, and climbed aboard, not feeling any too happy. Losing a good skiff was more'n I'd figgered on.

"Soon's I got some breath I hauled anchor, started up my engine and headed back for the weir. I run along-side of it, keeping a good lookout for guy-ropes, and when I got abreast of that particular pole I looked for Allie. He was setting on the rope, a-straddle of the pole, and hanging onto the top of it like it owed him money. He looked a good deal more comfortable than I was when he and Prince had treed me. And the remembrance of that time come back to me, and one of them things they call inspiration come with it. He was four feet above water, 'twas full tide then, and if he set still he was safe as a church.

"So instead of running in after him, I slowed 'way down and backed off.

"'Come here!' he yells. 'Come here, you fool, and take me aboard.'

"'Oh, I don't know,' says I. 'You're safe there, and, even if the yacht folks don't come hunting for you by and by—which I cal'late they will—the tide'll be low enough in five hours or so, so's you can walk ashore.'

"'What—what do you mean?' he says. 'Ain't you goin' to take me off?'

"'I was,' says I, 'but I've changed my plans. And, Mr. Allie Vander-what's-your-name Davidson, there's other things—low-down, mean things—planned for this night that ain't going to come off, either. Understand that, do you?'

"He understood, I guess. He didn't answer at all. Only gurgled, like he'd swallered something the wrong way.

"Then the beautiful tit for tat of the whole business come to me, and I couldn't help rubbing it in a little. 'As a sartin acquaintance of mine once said to me,' I says, 'you look a good deal handsomer up there than you do in a boat.'

"'You—you—etcetery and so forth, continued in our next!' says he, or words to that effect.

"'That's all right,' says I, putting on the power. 'You've got no kick coming. I allow you to—er—ornament my weir-pole, and 'tain't every dude I'd let do that.'

"And I went away and, as the Fifth Reader used to say, 'let him alone in his glory.'

"I went back to the launch, pulled up her anchor and took her in tow. I towed her in to her pier, made her fast and then left her for a while. When I come back the little cabin-door was open and the girl's jacket was gone.

"Then I walked up the path to the Saunders house and it done me good to see a light in Barbara's window. I set on the steps of that house until morning keeping watch. And in the morning the yacht was gone and the weir-pole was vacant, and Cap'n Eben Saunders come on the first train.

"So's that's all there is of it. Allie hasn't come back to Bayport sence, and the last I heard he'd married that Newport girl; she has my sympathy, if that's any comfort to her.

"And Barbara? Well, for a long time she'd turn white every time I met her. But, of course, I kept my mouth shut, and she went to sea next v'yage with her dad. And now I hear she's engaged to a nice feller up to Boston.

"Oh, yes—one thing more. When I got back to my shanty that morning I wiped the chalkmark off the door. I kind of figgered that I'd paid that debt, with back interest added."

 
 
 

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