The Great Quest - Charles Hawes - ebook
Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1921

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Opis ebooka The Great Quest - Charles Hawes

The experiences of Josiah Woods of Topham, and of those others with whom he sailed for Cuba and the Gulf of Guinea.

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Fragment ebooka The Great Quest - Charles Hawes

About
Part 1 - OLD ACQUAINTANCE
Chapter 1 - THE STRANGER
Chapter 2 - MY UNCLE BEHAVES QUEERLY
Chapter 3 - HIGGLEBY'S BARN
Chapter 4 - SWORDS AND SHIPS

About Hawes:

Charles Boardman Hawes (January 24, 1889 – 1923) was an American author. He was posthumously awarded the 1924 Newbery Medal for The Dark Frigate (1923). Additionally, The Great Quest (1921) was a 1922 Newbery Honor book. Source: Wikipedia

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Part 1
OLD ACQUAINTANCE


Chapter 1 THE STRANGER

ONE morning early in the summer of 1826, I brushed the sweat from my forehead and the flour from my clothes, unrolled my shirt-sleeves to my wrists, donned my coat, and, with never a suspicion that that day was to be unlike any other, calmly walked out into the slanting sunshine. Rain had fallen in the night, and the air was still fresh and cool. Although the clock had but just struck six, I had been at work an hour, and now that my uncle, Seth Upham, had come down to take charge of the store, I was glad that some business discussed the evening before gave me an excuse to go on an errand to the other end of the village.

Uncle Seth looked up from his ledger as I passed. "You are prompt to go," said he. "I've scarce got my hat on the peg. Well, the sooner the better, I suppose. Young Mackay's last shipment of oil was of poor quality and color. The rascal needs a good wigging, but the best you can do is tell the old man my opinion of his son's goods. If he gets a notion that we're likely to go down to nine cents a gallon on the next lot, he'll bring the boy to taw, I'll warrant you. Well, be gone. The sooner you go, the sooner you'll come, and we're like to have a busy day."

I nodded and went down the steps, but turned again and looked back. As Uncle Seth sat at his desk just inside the door, his bald head showing above the ledgers, he made me think of a pigeon-holed document concerned with matters of trade — weights and measures, and dollars and cents. He was a brisk, abrupt little man, with keen eyes and a thin mouth, and lines that cut at sharp angles into his forehead and drew testy curves around his chin; and in his way he was prominent in the village. Though ours was a community of Yankees, he had the reputation, in which he took great pride, of being an uncommonly sharp hand at a bargain. That it could be a doubtful compliment, he never suspected.

He owned property in three towns besides our own village of Topham; he kept a very considerable balance in a Boston bank; he loaned money at interest from one end of the county to the other, and he held shares in two school ers and a bark — not to mention the bustling general store that was the keystone of his prosperity.

If anyone had presumed so far as to suggest that a close bargain could be aught but creditable, Uncle Seth would have shot a testy glance at him, -with some such comment as, "Pooh! He's drunk or crazy!" And he would then have atoned for any little trickery by his generosity, come Sunday, when the offering was taken at church.

There were, to be sure, those who said, by allusion or implication, that he would beat the devil at his own game, for all his pains to appear so downright honest. But they were ne'er-do-weels and village scoundrels, whom Uncle Seth, although he was said to have known them well enough in early youth, passed without deigning to give them so much as a nod; and of course no one believed the word of such as they.

For my own part, I had only friendly feelings toward him, for he was always a decent man, and since my mother died, his odd bursts of generosity had touched me not a little. Grumpy old Uncle Seth! Others might call him "nigh," but for all his abrupt manner, he was kind to me after a queer, short fashion, and many a banknote had whisked from his pocket to mine at moments when a stranger would have thought him in furious temper.

Turning on my heel, I left him busy at his desk amid his barrels and cans and kegs and boxes, and unwittingly set forth to meet the beginning of the wildest, maddest adventure that I ever heard of outside the pages of fiction.

As I went down past the church, the parsonage, and the smithy, the little group of buildings that, together with our general store, formed the hub on which the life of the country for many miles thereabouts revolved, — I was surprised to see no one astir. Few country people then were — or now are — so shameless as to lie in bed at six o'clock of a summer morning.

By rights I should have heard the clank of metal, the hum of voices, men calling to their horses, saws whining through wood, and hammers driving nails. But there was no sound of speech or labor; the nail-kegs on which our village worthies habitually reposed during long intervals of the working day were unoccupied; the fire in the blacksmith's forge, for want of blowing, had died down to a dull deep red. Three horses were tugging at their halters inside the smithy, and a well-fed team was waiting outside by a heavy cart; yet no one was anywhere to be seen.

Perceiving all this from a distance, I was frankly puzzled; and as I approached, I cast about with lively curiosity to see what could cause so strange a state of affairs. It was only when I had gone past the smithy, that I saw the smith and his customers and his habitual guests gathered on the other side of the building, where I had not been able to see them before. They were staring at the old village tavern, which stood some distance away on a gentle rise of land.

My curiosity so prevailed over my sense of duty that I turned from the road through the tall grass, temporarily abandoning my errand, and picked my way among some old wheels and scrap iron to join the men.

Their talk only aggravated my wonder.

Clearing his throat, the smith gruffly muttered, "It does act like him, and yet I can't believe it'll be him."

"Why shouldn't he come back?" one of the farmers asked in a louder voice. "Things done twenty years ago will never be dragged up to face him, and he'd know that,"

The smith grunted. "Where would Neil Gleazen find the money to buy a suit of good clothes and a beaver hat?"

"That's easy answered," a third speaker put in. And they all exchanged significant glances.

In the silence that followed I made bold to put a question for myself. "Of whom are you talking?" I asked.

They looked closely at me and again exchanged glances.

"There's someone up yonder at the inn, Joe," the smith said kindly; "and Ben, here, getting sight of him last night and again this morning, has took a notion that it's a fellow who used to live here years ago and who left town — well, in a hurry. As to that, I can't be sure, but I vum, I'd not be surprised if it was Neil Gleazen after all."

I now discerned in one of the rocking-chairs on the porch the figure of a stranger, well dressed so far as we could see at that distance, who wore a big beaver hat set rakishly a trifle forward. He had thrust his thumbs into the armholes of his waistcoat, and as he leaned back, with his feet raised against one of the columns that supported the porch-roof, he sent clouds of white cigar-smoke eddying up and away.

The others were so intent on their random speculations that, when I asked more about who and what Neil Gleazen was, they ignored my question, and continued to exchange observations in low voices.

I could hear little of their talk without forcing myself into their very midst, and of what little I heard I made still less, for it was full of unfamiliar names and reminiscences that meant nothing to me.

When some one spoke of Seth Upham, my mother's brother, I was all ears on the instant; but I saw the smith glance at me, and probably he nudged the speaker, for, after a moment's pause, they went on about indifferent matters. I then perceived that I was unlikely to learn more, so I returned to the road and continued on my way.

As I passed the tavern I took occasion to see what I could, in courtesy, of the stranger; but he looked so hard at me while I was passing that I could steal only glances at him, unless I gave him stare for stare, which I did not wish to do. So I got only a brief glimpse of tall hat, bold dark eyes under bushy brows, big nose, smooth-shaven chin, and smiling mouth, all of which a heavy stock and voluminous coat seemed to support. I thought that I caught the flash of a jeweled pin in the man's stock and of a ring on his ringer, but of that I was not sure until later. Pushing on, I left him in the old inn chair, as proud as a sultan, puffing clouds of white smoke from a long cigar and surveying the village as grandly as if he owned it, while I went about my uncle's business at the other end of the town.

But when I had gone far on my way, his dark face and arrogant manner were still in my mind. While I was arguing with surly old Dan Mackay about whale-oil and horses and sugar and lumber, I was thinking of those proud, keen eyes and that smiling, scornful mouth; while I was bargaining with Mrs. Mackay for eggs and early peas, I was thinking of the beaver that the man had worn and the big ring on his finger; and while I was walking back over two miles of country road, on which the sun was now pouring down with ever-increasing heat, I was thinking of how my uncle's name had popped out in the conversation beside the smithy — and how it had popped, so to speak, discreetly back again.

I was all eagerness, now, for another and better look at the stranger, and was resolved to stare him out of countenance, if need be, to get it. Imagine, then, my disappointment when, hot and sweaty, I once more came in sight of the tavern and saw the unmistakable figure under the beaver hat walk jauntily down the steps, pause a moment in the road, and, turning hi the opposite direction, go rapidly away from me.

The stranger should not escape me like that, I thought with a grim chuckle; and warm though I was, I lengthened my stride and drew slowly up on him.

As he passed the smithy, he looked to neither right nor left, yet I was by no means sure that he did not see the curious faces that filled the door when he went by. A man can see so much without turning his head!

While I toiled on after him, trying to appear indifferent and yet striving to overtake him before he should go beyond the store, where I must turn in, would I or would I not, he passed the church, the parsonage, and the schoolhouse. He wore his hat tilted forward at just such an angle, and to one side over his right eye; swinging his walking-stick nonchalantly, he clipped the blossoms off the buttercups as he passed them; now he paused to light a fresh cigar from the butt of the one that he was smoking; now he lingered a moment in the shade of an old chestnut tree. All the time I was gaining on him; but now the store was hard by.

Should I keep on until I had passed him and, turning back, could meet him face to face? No, Uncle Seth would surely stop me. In my determination to get a good look at the man, I was about to break into a run, when, to my amazement, he turned to the left toward the very place where I was going.

So close to him had I now come that, when he stood on the threshold, I was setting foot on the lower step. I could see Uncle Seth's clerks, Arnold Lament, a Frenchman, and Simeon Muzzy, busily at work in the back room. I could see, as before, Uncle Seth's bald head shining above the top of his desk. But my eyes were all for the stranger, and I now saw plainly that in the ring on his finger there flashed a great white diamond.

Uncle Seth, hearing our steps, raised his head. "Well?" he said sharply, in the dictatorial way that was so characteristic of him.

"Well!" repeated the stranger in a voice that startled me. It was deep and gruff, and into the monosyllable the man put a solid, heavy emphasis, which made my uncle's sharpness seem as light as a woman's burst of temper.

Uncle Seth, too, was startled, I think, for he raised his head and irritably peered over the steel rims of his spectacles. "Well," he grumpily responded, "what do you want of me?';

"An hour of your time," said the stranger, lowering his voice.

"Time's money," returned my uncle.

"I'm the lad to transmute it into fine gold for you, Seth Upham," said the stranger.

"How do you know my name?"

"That's a foolish question to ask. Everyone in town can tell a stranger the name of the man who keeps the village store."

My uncle grunted irritably, and brushed his chin with the feather of his quill.

"Come," said the stranger, "where's a chair?"

"Them that come to this store to loaf," my uncle cried, "generally sit on cracker-boxes. I'm a busy man."

He was still looking closely at the stranger, but his voice indicated that, after all, it might not be so hard to mollify him.

"Well, I ain't proud," the stranger said with a conciliatory gesture, but without the faintest nicker of a smile. "It won't be the first time I've set on a crackerbox and talked to Seth Upham. I mind a time once when old Parker used to keep the store, and me and you had stole our hats full of crackers, which we ate in the little old camp over by the river."

"Who," cried Uncle Seth, "who in heaven's name are you?"

He was pale to the very summit of his bald head; unconscious of what he was doing, he had thrust his pen down on the open ledger, where it left a great blotch of wet ink.

"Hgh! You've got no great memory for old friends, have you, Seth? You're rich now, I hear. Money-bags full of gold. Well, 'tune's money,' you said. You're going to put in a golden hour with me this day."

Uncle Seth got up and laid a trembling hand on the back of his desk. "Neil Gleazen! Cornelius Gleazen!" he gasped.

The stranger pushed his beaver back on his head, and with the finger on which the diamond sparkled flicked the ash from his cigar. "It's me, Seth," he returned; and for the first time since I had seen him he laughed a deep, hearty laugh.

"Well, what'll you have?" Uncle Seth demanded hotly. "I'm an honest man. I'm a deacon in the church. My business is an honest business. There's nothing here for you, Neil! What do you want?':

In spite of his apparent anger, or because of it, Uncle Seth's voice trembled.

"Well, what do you mean by all this talk of an honest man? Ain't I an honest man?"

"Why —why—"

"Hgh! You've not got much to say to that, have you?"

"I — why — I don't — know—"

"Of course you don't know. You don't know an honest man when you see one. Don't talk to me like that, Seth Upham. You and me has robbed too many churches together when we was boys to have you talk like that now. You and me—"

"For heaven's sake keep still!" Uncle Seth cried. "Customers are coming."

Neil Gleazen grunted again. Pushing a cracker-box into the corner behind Uncle Seth's desk and placing his beaver on it, he settled back in Uncle Seth's own chair, with a cool impudent wink at me, as if for a long stay, while Uncle Seth, with an eagerness quite unlike his usual abrupt, scornful manner, rushed away from his unwelcome guest and proceeded to make himself surprisingly agreeable to a pah- of country women who wished to barter butter for cotton cloth.


Chapter 2 MY UNCLE BEHAVES QUEERLY

THE village of Topham, to which, after an absence of twenty years, Cornelius Gleazen had returned as a stranger, lay near the sea and yet not beside it, near the post road and yet not upon it. From the lower branches of an old pine that used to stand on the hill behind the tavern we could see a thread of salt water, which gleamed like silver in the sun; and, on the clearest days, if we climbed higher, we could sometimes catch a glimpse of tiny ships working up or down the coast.

In the other direction, if we faced about, we could see, far down a long, broad valley, between low hills, a bit of white road that ran for a mile or two between meadows and marshes; and on the road we sometimes saw moving black dots trailing tiny clouds of dust, which we knew were men and horses and coaches.

In Topham I was born, and there I spent my boyhood. I suppose that I was quieter than the average boy and more studious, for I was content to find adventures in the pages of books, and I read from cover to cover all the journals of the day that came to hand. Certainly I was a dreamy lad, who knew books better than men, and who cared so little for "practical affairs" that much passed me by unnoticed which many another youth of no more native keenness would instantly have perceived.

When my mother, some years after my father's death, came to live with her brother and keep his house for him, it did not make so great a change in my manner of life as one might have expected. Bustling, smart Uncle Seth ruled the household with a quick, nervous hand; and for the time, as he bent all his energies to the various projects in which he was interested and in which he was more than ordinarily successful, he almost ignored his nephew.

It was not strange that after my mother died Uncle Seth should give me more thought, for he was left a second time alone in the world, and except for me he had neither close friend nor blood relation. I think that his very shrewdness, which must have shown him how much a man needs friends, perversely kept him from making them; it built around him a fence of cold, calculating, selfish appraisal that repelled most people whom he might have drawn closer to him. But to me, who had on him claims of a kind, and whom he had come by slow stages to know intimately, he gave a queer, testy, impulsive affection; and although the first well-meant but illchosen act by which he manifested it was to withdraw me from my books to the store, where he set me to learn the business, for which I was by no means so grateful as I should have been, both I and his two clerks, Sim Muzzy and Arnold Lamont, to whom long association had revealed the spontaneous generosity of which he seemed actually to be ashamed, had a very real affection for him.

It was no secret that he intended to make me his heir, and I was regarded through the town as a young man of rare prospects, which reconciled me in a measure to exchanging during the day my worn volumes of Goldsmith and Defoe for neat columns that represented profit and loss on candles and sugar and spice; and my hard, faithful work won Uncle Seth's confidence, and with it a curiously grudging acknowledgment. Thus our little world of business moved monotonously, though not unpleasantly, round and round the cycle of the seasons, until the day when Cornelius Gleazen came back to his native town.

He continued to sit in my uncle's chair, that first morning, while Uncle Seth, perspiring, it seemed to me, more freely than the heat of the day could have occasioned, bustled about and waited on his customers. I suppose that Neil Gleazen really saw nothing out of the ordinary in Uncle Seth's manner; but to me, who knew him so well now, it was plain that, instead of trying to get the troublesome women and their little business of eggs and cloth done with and out of the store as quickly as possible, which under the circumstances was what I should have expected of him, he was trying by every means hi his power to prolong their bartering. And whether or not Neil Gleazen suspected this, with imperturbable assurance he watched Uncle Seth pass from one end of the store to the other.

When at last the women went away and Uncle Seth returned to his desk, Gleazen removed the beaver from the cracker-box, and blowing a ring of smoke out across the top of the desk, watched the draft from the door tear it into thin blue shreds. "Sit down," he said calmly.

I was already staring at them in amazement; but my amazement was fourfold when Uncle Seth hesitated, gulped, and seated himself on the cracker-box.

"Joe," he said in an odd voice, "go help Arnold and Sim in the back shop."

So I went out and left them; and when I came back, Cornelius Gleazen was gone. But the next day he came again, and the next, and the next.

That he was the very man the smith and his cronies had thought him, I learned beyond peradventure of a doubt. Strange tales were whispered here and there about the village, and women covertly turned their eyes to watch him when he passed. Some men who had known him in the old days tried to conceal it, and pretended to be ignorant of all that concerned him, and gave him the coldest of cold stares when they chanced to meet him face to face. Others, on the contrary, courted his attention and called on him at the tavern, and went away, red with anger, when he coldly snubbed them.

At the time it seemed to make little difference to him what they thought. Strangely enough, the Cornelius Gleazen who had come back to his boyhood home was a very different Cornelius, people found, from the one who, twenty years before, had gone away by night with the town officers hot on his trail.

Strange stories of that wild night passed about the town, and I learned, in one way and another, that Gleazen was not the only lad who had then disappeared. There was talk of one Eli Norton, and of foul play, and an ugly word was whispered. But it had all happened long before, much had been forgotten, and some things had never come to light, and the officers who had run Gleazen out of town were long since dead. So, as the farmer by the smithy had said would be the case, the old scandals were let lie, and Gleazen went his way unmolested.

That my uncle would gladly have been rid of the fellow, for all his grand airs and the pocketfuls of money that he would throw out on the bar at the inn or on the counter at the store, I very well knew; I sometimes saw him wince at Gleazen's effrontery, or start to retort with his customary sharpness, and then go red or pale and press his lips to a straight line. Yet I could not imagine why this should be. If any other man had treated him so, Uncle Seth would have turned on him with the sharpest words at his command.

It was not like him to sit meekly down to another's arrogance. He had been too long a leading man in our community. But Cornelius Gleazen seemed to have cast a spell upon him. The longer Gleazen would sit and watch Uncle Seth, the more overbearing would his manner become and the more nervous would Uncle Seth grow.

I then believed, and still do, that if my uncle had stood up to him, as man to man, on that first day, Neil Gleazen would have pursued a very different course. But Uncle Seth, if he realized it at all, realized it too late.

At the end of a week Gleazen seemed to have become a part of the store. He would frown and look away out of the window, and scarcely deign to reply if any of the poorer or less reputable villagers spoke to him, whether their greeting was casual or pretentious; but he would nod affably, and proffer cigars, and exchange observations on politics and affairs of the world, when the minister or the doctor or any other of the solid, substantial men of the place came in.

I sometimes saw Uncle Seth surreptitiously watching him with a sort of blank wonder; and once, when we had come home together late at night, he broke a silence of a good two hours by remarking as casually as if we had talked of nothing else all the evening, "I declare to goodness, Joe, it does seem as if Neil Gleazen had reformed. I could almost take my oath he's not spoken to one of the old crowd since he returned. Who would have thought it? It's strange — passing strange."

It was the question that the whole town was asking - who would have thought it? I had heard enough by now of the old escapades, drunken revels in the tavern, raids on a score of chicken-roosts and gardens, arrant burglary, and even, some said, arson, to understand why they asked the question. But more remarkable by far to me was the change that had come over my uncle. Never before had the business of the store been better; never before had there been more mortgages and notes locked up in the big safe: never had our affairs of every description flourished so famously. But whereas, in other seasons of greater than ordinary prosperity, Uncle Seth had become almost genial, I had never seen him so dictatorial and testy as now. Some secret fear seemed to haunt him from day to day and from week to week.

Thinking back on that morning when Cornelius Gleazen first came to our store, I remembered a certain sentence he had spoken. "You and me has robbed too many churches together when we was boys - I wondered if I could not put my finger on the secret of the change that had come over my uncle.


Chapter 3 HIGGLEBY'S BARN

THAT Cornelius Gleazen had returned to Topham a reformed and honest man, the less skeptical people in the village now freely asserted. To be sure, some said that no good could come from any man who wore a diamond on his finger, to say nothing of another in his stock, and the minister held aloof for reasons known only to himself. But there was something hearty and wholesome in Gleazen's gruff voice and blunt, kindly wit that quite turned aside the shafts of criticism, particularly when he had made it plain that he would associate only with people of unquestioned respectability; and his devout air, as he sat in the very front pew in church and sang the hymns in a fine, reverberating bass, almost - although never quite — won over even the minister. All were agreed that you could pardon much in a man who had lived long in foreign parts; and if any other argument were needed, Gleazen's own free-handed generosity for every good cause provided it.

There were even murmurs that a man with Seth Upham's money might well learn a lesson from the stranger within our gates, which came to my uncle's ears, by way of those good people you can find in every town who feel it incumbent on them to repeat in confidence that which they have gained in confidence, and caused him no little uneasiness.

Of the probity of Cornelius Gleazen the village came gradually to have few doubts; and those of us who believed in the man were inclined to belittle the blacksmith, who persisted in thinking ill of him, and even the minister. Unquestionably Gleazen had seen the error of his youthful ways and had profited by the view, which, by all accounts, must have been extensive.

It was a fine thing to see him sitting on the tavern porch or in my uncle's store and discoursing on the news of the day. By a gesture, he would dispose of the riots in England and leave us marveling at his keenness. The riots held a prominent place in the papers, and we argued that a man who could so readily place them where they belonged must have a head of no mean order. Of affairs in South America, where General Paez had become Civil and Military Dictator of Venezuela, he had more to say; for General Paez, it seemed, was a friend of his. I have wondered since about his boasted friendship with the distinguished general, but at the time he convinced us that Venezuela was a fortunate state and that her affairs were much more important to men of the world than a bill to provide for the support of aged survivors of the Army of the Revolution, which a persistent onelegged old chap from the Four Corners tried a number of times to introduce into the conversation.

There came a day when both the doctor and the minister joined the circle around Cornelius Gleazen. Never was there prouder man! He fairly expanded in the warmth of their interest. His gestures were more impressive than ever before; his voice was more assertive. Yet behind it all I perceived a curious twinkle in his eyes, and I got a perverse impression that even then the man was laughing up his sleeve. This did not in itself set my mind on new thoughts; but to add to my curiosity, when the doctor and the minister were leaving, I saw that they were talking in undertones and smiling significantly.

Late one night toward the end of that week, I was returning from Boston, whither I had gone to buy ten pipes of Schiedam gin and six of Old East India Madeira, which a correspondent of my uncle's had lately imported. An acquaintance from the next town had given me a lift along the post road as far as a certain short cut, which led through a pine woods and across an open pasture where once there had been a farmhouse and where, although the house had burned to the ground eight or ten years since, a barn still stood, which was known throughout the countryside as "Higgleby's."

The sky was overcast, but the moonlight nevertheless sifted through the thin clouds: and with a word of thanks to the lad who had brought me thus far, I vaulted the bars and struck off toward the pines.

My eyes were already accustomed to the darkness, and the relief from trying to see my way under the thickly interwoven branches of the grove made the open pasture, when I came to it, seem nearly as light as day, although, of course, to anyone coming out into it from a lighted room, it would have seemed quite otherwise. Of the old barn, which loomed up on the hill, a black, gaunt, lonesome object a mile or so away, I thought very little, as I walked along, until it seemed to me that I saw a glimmer of fire through a breach where a board had been torn off.

Now the barn w T as remote from the woods and from the village; but the weather had been dry, the dead grass in the old pasture was as inflammable as tinder, and what wind there was, was blowing toward the pines. Since it was plain that I ought to investigate that flash of fire, I left the path and began to climb the hill.

Stopping suddenly, I listened with all my ears. I thought I had heard voices; it behooved me to be cautious. Prudently, now, I advanced, and as silently as possible. Now I knew that I heard voices. The knowledge that there were men in the old barn relieved me of any sense of duty in the matter of a possible fire, but at the same time it kindled my imagination. Who were they, and why had they come, and what were they doing? Instead of walking boldly up to the barn door, I began to climb the wall that served as the foundation.

The wall was six or eight feet high, but built of large stones, which afforded me easy hold for foot and hand, and from the top I was confident that I could peek in at a window just above. Very cautiously I climbed from rock to rock, until I was on my knees on the topmost tier. Now, twisting about and keeping flat to the barn with both arms extended so as not to overbalance and fall, I raised myself little by little, only to find, to my keen disappointment, that the window was still ten inches above my eyes.

That I should give up then, never occurred to me. I placed both hands on the sill and silently lifted myself until my chin was well above it.

In the middle of the old barn, by the light of four candles, a number of men were playing cards. I could hear much of what they said, but it concerned only the fortunes of the game, and as they spoke in undertones I could not recognize their voices.

For all that I got from their conversation they might as well have said naught, except that the sound of their talking and the clink of money as it changed hands served to cover whatever small noises I may have made, and thus enabled me to look in upon them undiscovered. Nor could I see who they were, for the candle light was dim and flickered, and those who were back to me, as they pressed forward in their eagerness to follow the play, concealed the faces of those opposite them. Moreover, my position was extremely uncomfortable, perhaps even dangerous. So I lowered myself until my toes rested on the wall of rock, and kneeling very cautiously, began to descend.

Exploring with my foot until I found a likely stone, I put my weight on it, and felt it turn. Failing to clutch the top of the wall, I went down with a heavy thud.

For a moment I lay on the ground with my wind knocked out of me, completely helpless. Then sharp voices broke the silence, and the sound of someone opening the barn door instilled enough wholesome fear into me to enable me to get up on all fours after a fashion, and creep cautiously away.

From the darkness outside, my eyes being already accustomed to the absence of light, I could see a number of men standing together in front of the barn door. They must have blown out the candles, for the door and the windows and the chinks between the boards were dark. Cursing myself for a silly fool, I made off as silently as possible.

I had not recognized one of the players, I had got a bad tumble and sore joints for my trouble, and my pride was hurt. In short, I felt that I had fallen out of the small end of the horn, and I was in no cheerful mood as I limped along. But by the tune I came into the village half an hour later, I had recovered my temper and my wind; and so, although I earnestly desired to go home and to bed, to rest my lame bones, I decided to go first to the store and report to Uncte Seth the results of my mission.

Through the lighted windows of the store, as I approached, I could see Arnold Lamont and Sim Muzzy playing chess in the back room. They were a strange pair, and as ill matched as any two you ever saw. Lamont was a Frenchman, who had appeared, seemingly from nowhere, ten or a dozen years before, and in quaintly precise English had asked for work — only because it was so exceedingly precise, would you have suspected that it was a foreigner's English. He carried himself with a strange dignity, and his manner, which seemed to confer a favor rather than to seek one, had impressed Uncle Seth almost against his will.

"Why, yes," he had said sharply, "there's work enough to keep another man. But what, pray, has brought you here?"

"It is the fortune of war," Lamont had replied. And that was all that my uncle ever got out of him.

Without more ado he had joined Sim Muzzy, a wellmeaning, simple fellow who had already worked for Uncle Seth for some eight years, and there he had stayed ever since.

Arnold and Sim shared the room above the store and served both as watchmen and as clerks; but it was Sim who cooked their meals, who made their beds, who swept and dusted and polished. Although the two worked for equally small pay and, all in all, were as satisfactory men as any storekeeper could hope to have, Arnold had carried even into the work of the store that same odd, foreign dignity; and it apparently never occurred, even to petulant, talkative Sim, that Arnold, so reserved, so quietly assured, should have lent his hand to mere domestic duties.

Learning early in their acquaintance, each that the other played chess, they had got a board and a set of men, and, hi spite of a disparity in skill that for some people must have made it very irksome, had kept the game up ever since. Arnold Lamont played chess with the same precision with which he spoke English; and if Sim Muzzy managed to catch him napping, and so to win one game in twenty, it was a feat to be talked about for a month to come.

Through the windows, as I said, I saw them playing chess in the back shop; then, coming round the corner of the store, I saw someone just entering. It was no other than Cornelius Gleazen, in beaver, stock, coat, and diamonds, with the perpetual cigar bit tight between his teeth.

A little to my surprise, I noticed that there were beads of perspiration on his forehead. I had been walking fast myself, and yet I had not thought of it as a warm evening: the overcast sky and the wind from the sea, with then* promise of rain to break the drouth, combined to make the night the coolest we had had for some weeks. It surprised me also to see that Gleazen was breathing hard — but was he? I could not be sure.

Then, through the open door, I again saw Arnold Lament in the back room. In his hand he was holding a knight just over the square on which it was to rest; but with his eyes he was following Cornelius Gleazen across the store and round behind my uncle's desk, where now there was a second chair in place of the cracker-box.

When Gleazen had sat down beside my uncle, he tapping the desk with a long pencil, which he had drawn from his pocket, Uncle Seth bustling about among his papers, with quick useless sallies here and there, and into the pigeonholes, as if he were confused by the mass of business that confronted him, — it was a manner he sometimes affected when visitors were present, — Arnold Lamont put down the knight and absently, as if his mind were far away, said in his calm, precise voice, "Check!"

"No, no! You mustn't do that! You can't do that! That's wrong! See! You were on that square there - see? and you moved so! You can't put your knight there," Sim Muzzy cried.

That Lament had transgressed by mistake the rules of the game hit Sim like a thunderclap and even further befuddled his poor wits.

"Ah," said Lamont, "I see. I beg you, pardon my error. So! Check."

He again moved the knight, apparently without thought; and Sim Muzzy fell to biting his lip and puzzling this way and that and working his fingers, which he always did when he was getting the worst of the game.

Arnold Lamont seemed not to care a straw about the game. Through the door he was watching Cornelius Gleazen. And Cornelius Gleazen was wiping his forehead with his handkerchief.

I wondered if it was my lively imagination that made me think that he was breathing quickly. How long would it have taken him, I wondered, to cut across the pasture from Higgleby's barn to the north road? Coming thus by the Four Corners, could he have reached the store ahead of me? Or could he, by way of the shunpike, have passed me on the road?


Chapter 4 SWORDS AND SHIPS

HAVING succeeded in establishing himself in the society and confidence of the more substantial men of the village, and having discomfited completely those few — among whom remained the blacksmith — who had treated him shabbily in the first weeks of his return and had continued ever since to regard him with suspicion, Cornelius Gleazen began now to extend his campaign to other quarters, and to curry favor among those whose good-will, so far as I could see, was really of little weight one way or another. He now cast off something of his arrogant, disdainful air, and won the hearts of the children by strange knickknacks and scrimshaws, which he would produce, sometimes from his pockets, and sometimes, by delectable sleight of hand, from the very air itself. Before long half the homes in the village boasted whale's teeth on which were wrought pictures of whales and ships and savages, or chips of ivory carved into odd little idols, and every one of them, you would find, if you took the trouble to ask, came from the old chests that Neil Gleazen kept under the bed in his room at the tavern, where now he was regarded as the prince of guests.

To those who were a little older he gave more elaborate trinkets of ivory and of dark, strange woods; and the report grew, and found ready belief, that he had prospered greatly in trade before he decided to retire, and that he had brought home a fortune with which to settle down in the old town; for the toys that he gave away so freely were worth, we judged, no inconsiderable sum. But to the lads in their early twenties, of whom I was one, he endeared himself perhaps most of all when, one fine afternoon, smoking one of his long cigars and wearing his beaver tilted forward at just such an angle, he came down the road with a great awkward bundle under his arm, and disclosed on the porch of my uncle's store half a dozen foils and a pair of masks.

He smiled when all the young fellows in sight and hearing gathered round him eagerly, and called one another to come and see, and picked up the foils and passed at one another awkwardly. There was an odd satisfaction in his smile, as if he had gained something worth the having. What a man of his apparent means could care for our good-will, I could not have said if anyone had asked me, and at the time I did not think to wonder about it. But his air of triumph, when I later had occasion to recall it to mind, convinced me that for our good-will he did care, and that he was manoeuvring to win and hold it.

It was interesting to mark how the different ones took his playthings. Sim Muzzy cried out in wonder and earnestly asked, "Are those what men kill themselves with in duels? Pray how do they stick 'em in when the points are blunted?" Arnold Lament, without a word or a change of expression, picked up a foil at random and tested the blade by bending it against the wall. Uncle Seth, having satisfied his curiosity by a glance, cried sharply, "That's all very interesting, but there's work to be done. Come, come, I pay no one for gawking out the door."

The lively hum of voices continued, and a number of town boys remained to examine the weapons; but Arnold, Sim, and I obediently turned back into the store.

"That's all right, lads," Cornelius Gleazen cried. "Come evening, I'll show you a few points on using these toys. I'll make a fencing-master and a good one, I'll have you know, and there are some among you that have the making of swordsmen. You're one, Joe Woods, you're one."

I was pleased to be singled out, and went to my work with a will, thinking meanwhile of the promised lessons. It never occurred to me that Cornelius Gleazen could have had a motive that did not appear on the surface for so choosing my name from all the rest.

That evening, true to his promise, he took us in hand on the village green, with four fifths of the village standing by to watch, and gave us lessons in thrusting and parrying and stepping swiftly forward and backward. We were an awkward company of recruits, and for our pains we got only hearty laughter from the onlookers; but the new sport captured our imagination, and realizing that, once upon a time, even Cornelius Gleazen himself had been a tyro, we zealously worked to learn what we could, and in our idle moments we watched with frank admiration the grand flourishes and great leaps and stamps of which Gleazen was master.

The diamond on the finger of his gracefully curved left hand flashed as he sprang about, and his ruffled shirt, damped by his unwonted exercise, clung close to his big shoulders and well-formed back. Surely, we thought, few could equal his surprising agility; the great voice in which he roared his suggestions and commands increased our confidence in his knowledge of swordsmanship.

When, after my second turn at his instruction, I came away with my arms aching from the unaccustomed exertion and saw that Arnold Lament was watching us and covertly smiling, I flamed red and all but lost my temper. Why should he laugh at me, I thought. Surely I was no clumsier than the others. Indeed, he who thought himself so smart probably could not do half so well. Had not Mr. Gleazen praised me most of all? In my anger at Arnold's secret amusement, I avoided him that evening and for several days to come.

It was on Saturday night, when we were closing the store for the week, that quite another subject led me back to my resentment in such a way that we had the matter out between us; and as all that we had to say is more or less intimately connected with my story I will set it down word for word.

A young woman in a great quilted bonnet of the kind that we used to call calash, and a dress that she no doubt thought very fetching, came mincing into the store and ordered this thing and that in a way that kept me attending closely to her desires. When she had gone mincing out again, I turned so impatiently to put the counter to rights, that Arnold softly chuckled.

"Apparently," said he, with a quiet smile, "the lady did not impress you quite as she desired, Joe."

"Impress me!" I snorted, ungallantly imitating her mincing manner. "She impressed me as much as any of them."

"You must have patience, Joe. Some day there will come a lady—"

"No, no!" I cried, with the cocksure assertiveness of my years.

"But yes!"

"Not I! No, no, Arnold , 'needles and pins, needles and pins' —"

"'When a man marries his trouble begins'?" Sadness now shadowed Arnold's expressive face. "No! Proverbs sometimes are pernicious."

"You are laughing at me!"

I had detected, through the veil of melancholy that seemed to have fallen over him, a faint ray of something akin to humor.

"I am not laughing at you, Joe." His voice was sad. "You will marry some day marry and settle down. It is good to do so. I—"

There was something in his stopping that made me look at him in wonder. Immediately he was himself again, calm, wise, taciturn; but in spite of my youth I instinctively felt that only by suffering could a man win his way to such kindly, quiet dignity.

I had said that I would not marry: no wonder, I have since thought, that Arnold looked at me with that gentle humor. Never dreaming that in only a few short months a new name and a new face were to fill my mind and my heart with a world of new anxieties and sorrows and joys, never dreaming of the strange and distant adventures through which Arnold and I were to pass, if a fortuneteller had foretold the story, I should have laughed it to scorn, I was only angry at his amused smile. Perhaps I had expected him to argue with me, to try to correct my notions. In any case, when he so kindly and yet keenly appraised at its true worth my boyish pose, I was sobered for a moment by the sadness that he himself had revealed; then I all but flew into a temper.

"Oh, very well! Go on and laugh at me. You were laughing at me the other night when I was fencing, too. I saw you. I'd like to see you do better yourself. Go on and laugh, you who are so wise."

Arnold's smile vanished. "I am not laughing at you, Joe. Nor was I laughing at you then."

"You were not laughing at me?"

"No."

"At whom, then, were you laughing?"

To this Arnold did not reply.

The fencing lessons, begun so auspiciously that first evening, became a regular event. Every night we gathered on the green and fenced together until twilight had all but settled into dark. Little by little we learned such tricks of attack and defense as our master could teach us, until we, too, could stamp and leap, and parry with whistling circles of the blade. And as we did so, we young fellows of the village came more and more to look upon Cornelius Gleazen almost as one of us.

Though his coming had aroused suspicion, though for many weeks there were few who would say a good word for him, as the summer wore away, he established himself so firmly in the life of his native town that people began to forget, as far as anyone could see, that he had ever had occasion to leave it in great haste.

If he praised my fencing and gave me more time than the others, I thought it no more than my due — was I not a young man of great prospects? If Uncle Seth had at first regarded him with suspicion, Uncle Seth, too, had quite returned now to his old abrupt, masterful way and was again as sharp and quick of tongue as ever, even when Neil Gleazen was sitting in Uncle Seth's own chair and at his own desk. Perhaps, had we been keener, we should have suspected that something was wrong, simply because no one expect a few stupid persons like the blacksmith had a word to say against Neil Gleazen. You would at least have expected his old cronies to resent his leaving them for more respectable company. But not even from them did there come a whisper of suspicion or complaint.

Why should not a man come home to his native place to enjoy the prosperity of his later years? we argued. It was the most natural thing in the world; and when Cornelius Gleazen talked of foreign wars and the state of the country and the deaths of Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson, and of the duel between Mr. Clay and Mr. Randolph, the most intelligent of us listened with respect, and found occasion in his shrewd observations and trenchant comment to rejoice that Topham had so able a son to return to her in the full power of his maturity.

There was even talk of sending him to Congress, and that it was not idle gossip I know because three politicians from Boston came to town and conferred with our selectmen and Judge Bordman over their wine at the inn for a long evening; and Peter Nuttles, whose sister waited on them, spread the story to the ends of the county.

Late one night, when Uncle Seth and I were about to set out for home, leaving Arnold and Sim to lock up the store, we parted with Gleazen on the porch, he stalking off to the right hi the moonlight and swinging his cane as he went, we turning our backs on the village and the bright windows of the tavern, and stepping smartly toward our own dark house, in which the one lighted lamp shone from the window of the room that Mrs. Jameson, our housekeeper, occupied.

"He's a man of judgment," Uncle Seth said, as if meditating aloud, "rare judgment and a wonderful knowledge of the world."

He seemed to expect no reply, and I made none.

"He was venturesome to rashness as a boy," Uncle Seth presently continued. "All that seems to have changed now."

We walked along through the dust. The weeds beside the road and the branches of the trees and shrubs were damp with dew.

"As a boy," Uncle Seth said at last, "I should never have thought of going to Neil Gleazen for judgment - aye, or for knowledge." And when we stood on the porch in the moonlight and looked back at the village, where all the houses were dark now except for a lamp here and there that continued to burn far into the night, he added, "How would you like to leave all this, Joe, and wrestle a fall with fortune for big stakes — aye, for rich stakes, with everything in our favor to win?"

At something in his voice I turned on my heel, my heart leaping, and stared hard at him.

As if he suddenly realized that he had been saying things he ought not to say, he gave himself a quick shake, and woke from his meditations with a start. "We must away to bed," he cried sharply. "It's close on midnight."

Here was a matter for speculation. For an hour that afternoon and for another hour that evening Uncle Seth and Neil Gleazen had sat behind my uncle's desk, with their chairs drawn close together and the beaver laid on the cracker-box, and had scribbled endless columns of figures and mysterious notes on sheet after sheet of foolscap. What, I wondered, did it mean?

At noon next day, as I was waiting on customers in the front of the store, I saw a rider with full saddlebags pass, on a great black horse, and shortly afterwards I heard one of the customers remark that the horse was standing at the inn. Glancing out of the window, I saw that the rider had dismounted and was talking with Cornelius Gleazen; though the distance was considerable, Gleazen's bearing and the forward tilt of his beaver were unmistakable. When next I passed the window, I saw that Gleazen was posting down the road toward the store, with his beaver tipped even farther over his right eye, his cane swinging, and a bundle under his arm.

As I bowed the customers out, Gleazen entered the store, brushing past me with a nod, and loudly called, "SethUpham! Seth Upham! Where are you?"

"Here I am. What's wanted?" my uncle testily retorted, as he emerged from a bin into which he had thrust his head and shoulders in his efforts to fill a peck measure.

"Come, come," cried Gleazen in his great, gruff voice. "Here's news!"

"News," returned my uncle, sharply; "news is no reason to scare a man out of a year's growth."

Neil Gleazen laughed loudly and gave my uncle a resounding slap on the back that made him wTithe. "News, Seth, news is the key to fortune. Come, man, come, lay by your pettifogging. Here's papers just in by the post. You ain't going to let 'em lie no more than I am."

To my amazement, I could never get used to it, my uncle's resentment seemed to go like mist before the sun, and he said not a word against the boisterous roughness of the friend of his youth, although I almost believe that, if anyone else had dared to treat him so, he would have grained the man with a hayfork. Instead, he wiped his hands on his coarse apron and followed Gleazen to the desk, where they sat down in the two chairs that now were always behind it.

For a time they talked in voices so low that I heard nothing of their conversation; but after a while, as they became more and more absorbed in their business, their voices rose, and I perceived that Gleazen was reading aloud from the papers some advertisements in which he seemed especially interested.

"Here's this," he would cry. "Listen to this. If this ain't a good one, I'll miss my guess. 'Executor's sale, Ship Congress: on Saturday the 15th, at twelve o'clock, at the wharf of the late William Gray, Lynn Street, will be sold at public auction the ship Congress, built at Mattapoisett near New Bedford hi the year 1823 and designed for the whale fishery. Measures 349 tons, is copper fastened and was copper sheathed over felt in London on the first voyage, and is in every respect a first-rate vessel. She has two suits of sails, chain and hemp cables, and is well found in the usual appurtenances. By order of the executors of the late William Gray, Whitewell, Bond and Company, Auctioneers.' There, Seth, there's a vessel for you, I'll warrant you."

My uncle murmured something that I could not hear; then Gleazen tipped his beaver back on his head — for once he had neglected to set it on the cracker-box — and hoarsely laughed. "Well, I'll be shot!" he roared. "How's a man to better himself, if he's so confounded cautious? Well, then, how's this: 'Marshal's Sale. United States of America, District of Massachusetts, Boston, August 31, 1826. Pursuant to a warrant from the Honorable John Davis, Judge of the District Court for the District aforesaid, I hereby give public notice that I shall sell at public auction on Wednesday the 8th day of September, at 12 o'clock noon, at Long Wharf, the schooner Caroline and Clara, libelled for wages by William Shipley, and the money arising from the sale to be paid into court. Samuel D. Hains, Marshal.' That'll come cheap, if cheap you'll have. But mark what I tell you, Seth, that what comes cheap, goes cheap. There's no good in it. It ain't as if you hadn't the money. The plan's mine, and I tell you, it's a good one, with three merry men waiting for us over yonder. Half's for you, a whole half, mind you; and half's to be divided amongst the rest of us. It don't pay to try to do things cheap. What with gear carried away and goods damaged, it don't pay."

Uncle Seth was marking lines on the margin of the newspaper before them.

"I wonder," he began, "how much-

Then they talked in undertones, and I heard nothing more.