Jack Starbuck of Nantucket
JACK STARBUCK OK NANTUCKET.
JACK STARBUCK had never been inside a theatre. Neither had his father before him, and it is probable that a long line of seafaring ancestors had never, by so much as a thought, countenanced such a sinful and frivolous entertainment.
Yet Jack Starbuck stood before a large coloured lithograph representing a young woman in a low-cut gown, seemingly unable to resist its fascination.
Jack would be twenty-four years old come Christmas Day, and five of those years he had spent on the high seas. Many a vision of beauty he had seen in foreign lands, and many a comely maid of Nantucket had smiled upon him rosily. Still, as he gazed at the pictured face pinned up in the window of Hiram Folger's "hardware" shop, he said in his heart that its loveliness was beyond any he had ever looked upon.
It was but a poorly executed daub, with a crude wash of Naples yellow spread over the waving hair, and a crimson bravery adorning lips and cheeks, a trifle ragged at the edges. And yet the great brown eyes that gazed softly at him from under shadowy lashes! Were ever eves of woman so lovely, or so sad? Was it possible that the small straight nose and tender mouth, with a wistful droop at the corners, could truthfully represent the features of a living woman—a woman breathing the very air which her beauty caused him to draw unevenly? For beneath the lithograph was pasted a notice setting forth that the English actress, Miss Zephine Dayton, supported by her powerful company, would on that night and the next appear as "Galatea," and the "Lady of Lyons," at the Nantucket Athenæum. The notice also advised its readers that this was an announcement extraordinary. Never had Nantucket been favoured as it was now about to be, by the appearance of this beautiful and talented young actress from London.
Full ten good minutes did Jack Starbuck squander in eye-service of the gaudy presentment. Possibly he might have lingered even longer, had not his friend Dick Coffin accosted him, soliciting his company for a stroll down Main Street.
"I guess that's a fine gal, if she's any like her picture," observed Dick Coffin carelessly. But for some reason, Jack Starbuck felt aggrieved by his friend's comment, and vouchsafed no reply.
Dick, unaware of his punishment, continued. "She an' her whole troupe's stoppin' at the Veranda House, Alf Folger says. He's seen 'em, and allows they're a better-lookin' lot than most show folks that comes to th' Island. I guess I'll go round to th' theatre to-night. What do you say?"
"I don' know," responded Jack sheepishly. "My folks have never been theatre-goers."
"No more ain't mine. But I've got a sorter notion to go this time."
"When I used to live at home last, there wasn't many troupes came here. Not two a year, I guess," said Jack thoughtfully. He was wondering whether he, too, had a strong enough "notion" to carry him to the theatre. But, should he decide on going, a curious internal something informed him distinctly that Dick's society would be uncongenial. He might drop in late, perhaps, and take a seat at the back, or—but Dick was talking, and Jack had not heard a word that he had said.
"The last show we had, there wasn't a baker's dozen in the house," Dick was finishing. "And it's most always so. The summer folks 'd rather spend the evenin' outdoors, and now it's so late in the year, there ain't many city birds left. But I reckon the show people hope fur better luck—or else they ain't got nowhere else to go."
"I reckon," responded Jack mechanically. All day he thought of the face in the picture. He lounged about the streets longer than was his wont, even making an errand to the Veranda House, but among the few whom the cold weather had not frightened from the hotel "piazzas," he could not find the one he sought.
That night at supper, old Captain Starbuck challenged his son to a game of chess. Now Jack was on shore solely for his father's sake, because, little as the retired sea-captain relished flying the colours of an invalid, he was in fact "ailing," and wanted "the boy" in Nantucket. Jack's mother had felt the need of him too, in her anxiety; and even lacking her sly hints as to the most tactful methods of humouring his father, he would have held himself ready to comply with the old man's lightest whim.
But to-night, the very fact that he was required for duty sent a wayward yearning thrilling through his pulses. Perhaps his expression made the captain ask: "Had ye set yer mind on anythin' outside, boy?"
"No, nothin' particular, father," Jack answered ruefully. But his face belied his words, and the sea-dog was not to be deceived.
"Look here, I ain't a child, to be humoured," said he, with a growl which meant a twinge of rheumatism. "Go yer ways, an' now I think on it, ye can git me a packet o' tobaccy fur my pipe. You know the kind I use, an' I'll hev no other."
Thus fortune favoured Jack, and almost before he realised what he was doing, he found himself inside the doors of the little theatre. Often, as a boy, he had come to the Athenæum, for there was the museum, containing the giant whale's jaw, the models of famous ships, and all the marvellous trophies of sea and distant shore in which he had delighted. But for him the "theatre part" was an undiscovered country. The curtain was up and the play had begun when he entered. He could not understand what it was all about. A man and a woman, in clothes which seemed to him outlandish, were talking on the stage, and he began to fear that he had deceived himself. The company had perhaps bought the beautiful picture to attract people to their plays, while no original existed. He was meditating departure, when a large curtain at the back of the stage was drawn apart, and the whole world, real as well as mimic, was changed for Jack Starbuck. No longer were the lights dim, the stage settings old and dilapidated. He saw only a lovely statue—a statue which presently moved, and lived, and spoke in a low, sweet voice, which appealed to his simple heart, as if in a new language. After it was all over, and he knew he could see her no more, because everybody was going away, he wandered home, half dazed, and through the night and next day was lost in a maze of waking dreams—until it was time again for the theatre.
How real it all was to him on this occasion! How he felt with Claude, and envied him, and execrated him, and how glad he was when Pauline was happy at last! Yet the gladness was fleeting, and tinged with a vague sadness such as he had never known. And when the curtain had shut her face away from him for the last time he walked slowly and thoughtfully through the darkness of night to the water-side.
As he stood gazing into the black, unquiet ocean, with crowding masts like a network between his eyes and the wind-swept sky, two figures approached and stood within a few yards of him, unconscious of his presence. Jack would have moved away, seeing that they were women, had not a voice arrested him.
It was the voice in which Pauline had spoken to her lover.
"Oh, Cassie!" it sighed. "Why could you not have let me come here alone?"
"Because I knew you were a little fool," another voice returned—brutally, it seemed to Jack Starbuck. "Don't you suppose I guessed you had a reason for wanting to be alone?"
"I—wanted the darkness, and the cold salt wind, and the peacefulness, without the need of speaking to anyone."
"That's what you say. But I know better. You thought nobody would see you in the dark, whatever happened."
"Oh, Cassie! how I wish I were dead! You all used to be fond of me, and kind to me, and call me the 'English Rose.' But now——!" There was a sob in the voice which cut Jack Starbuck like a knife. He knew he had no right to hear such words—he knew he ought not to remain. And yet he could not go. Yet it was not that he would yield weakly to mere curiosity.
"It's your own fault that we don't feel as we did. You've got us into trouble, and you won't get us out, when you can as well as not. You ought to think of the good of the many. But you know I've stood by you better than any of the others."
"Oh, yes; you are good to me. But am I not in sore trouble too?—so sore, that I would gladly end it all in that black water."
"You know how to end it, in a way that would do everybody more good than that."
"By spoiling my whole life? And you wouldn't care—none of you would care."
"It's the only thing to do. Telegraph to-morrow. We can't stay on here, but we can't get away without paying. What else is there to be done?"
"Oh, I don't know! I'll think it over again. I—I'll do my best for you." And then, with a despairing lifting of both hands above its head, the dark figure turned quickly, going toward the town. The other followed, but Jack Starbuck stood still, thinking. Nothing was clear to him, save that she was in trouble, and he meant to help her. How he did not know; but there must be a way, and he would find it.
That night he scarcely slept. Many plans occurred to him, only to be dismissed again. In the morning he went to the Veranda House.
"Are Miss Dayton's people gone yet?" he inquired, shamefacedly but steadily.
"No, nor likely to be," was the surly answer. "Their manager's gone off by this morning's boat, and left 'em without anybody to pay their bills, so they say. Something's got to be done about it pretty quick, for we ain't the folks to keep 'em here for nothin'."
"No," said Jack slowly. "But just let 'em stay a day or two without making any fuss. If it doesn't come all right, I'll—be responsible for 'em."
"You?" Only the one word, but it meant a great deal. It meant: "You, the son of Captain Starbuck and a church-going Methodist mother, guarantee to pay the bills of a parcel of worthless actors?"
But Jack's honest eyes were looking steadily into those of Ben Rogers, the hotel proprietor, and the latter might have experienced some difficulty in uttering his whole thought.
"Friend of any of the folks?" he did venture to ask, after a moment's hesitation.
"Perhaps. But anyhow, you think it over, and don't talk of it outside. I mean what' I say. An' I guess you know who I am.
And Jack was on his way to the "office" door.
"Say, some feller's wired money to pay the show folks' bills, all but Miss Dayton's. She's what they call the 'star,' you know. An' they're goin' by the afternoon boat,' said Ben Rogers, meeting Jack Starbuck in the street next day. "We gave 'em back their trunks, which we'd took for security. I thought ye'd like to know somebody 'd lifted th' responsibility off your shoulders."
"And she—Miss Dayton—is she going with them?" lack faltered.
"No. Didn't I tell ye her bills wasn't paid? Nobody's said much about her. She's to stay till she gets money to pay, I guess. But we've got both her trunks, which is middlin' big, so we're all right for a few days."
"Give her the trunks," Jack commanded, with a crimson face. "Don't let her know why. But I'll step round and pay her bill, and you slip a ticket for the boat into her hand—and—and a bit over, so she can go with the others, will you?"
"All right," responded Mr. Rogers. He thought he was beginning to see into the mystery, and his eyes twinkled.
When Jack knew that the boat had sailed from the Island, he went to the Veranda House. He would have been thankful to see her face again, but he feared that Mr. Rogers might clumsily have betrayed his secret, and besides, a certain inexplicable delicacy of feeling would in any case have kept him away. A curious hush lay over the hotel when he entered. A few people stood whispering together in groups, and a white-haired doctor, who had attended Jack's childish ailments, conversed in low tones with Rogers at the desk.
Jack wondered what could have happened.
"It's going to hurt my house, that's what I think of," he heard Ben Rogers say in answer to some remark from his companion. "I guess some other place has got to be found fur her."
A strange presentiment knocked coldly at Jack Starbuck's heart. "What is the matter?" he inquired.
"A young woman has tried to take her own life," said the doctor. "I'm thankful to say, however, that we've been able to prevent a tragedy. She is still in a low state, mentally and physically, and I've been telling Mr. Rogers that in common humanity he should do his best to make her comfortable."
"Who—is she?" breathed Jack.
"Miss Dayton, an English actress. There's no use now in trying to keep it secret. It's all over Nantucket by this time, I've no doubt, and I shouldn't wonder if the town crier wasn't shouting it by night," said the doctor, alluding to that survival of an ancient Nantucket custom, not without a grim sense of humour.
"A telegram 's just come for her," observed Mr. Rogers. "I wonder if we'd oughter open it?"
"Let it alone!" cried Jack angrily. "I'm her friend. She is to have the best of care—the best of everything—do you hear me?"
"All right, Jack, o' course I hear. An' I guess I understand." Ben Rogers was not a native of Nantucket, and it was not given him to read the heart of the honest young islander aright.
There was an old-fashioned garden behind Captain Starbuck's house, with gravelled paths, bordered with box, and boasting a wealth of flowers in endless and exquisite variety. Hollyhocks grew along the high "board fence," and there were rows of tall white lilies, fading now as the summer died. Late roses there were, too, and beds of spicy " grass pinks." Mrs. Starbuck's especial pride.
As evening fell, Jack stole out into the dewy fragrance, guiltily tiptoeing along the various pathways, and never resting till his hands were filled with lilies and pinks, roses, verbena and mignonette, all bunched clumsily together. It was easy enough to bribe one of the small black inhabitants of Nantucket's "Guinea" to carry this posy to the hotel for Miss Dayton, and she need never guess whence it came.
His heart was full of thanksgiving that the tortured soul—tortured he knew not how—had been held within the bonds of its mortality. He could do nothing to show forth this feeling, save to send the flowers, and to go next morning and inquire for her welfare. By the "office" desk lounged a stranger, who stared at Jack as if he were but an awkward country lout, to be regarded as a curiosity.
"I've been expecting you, Mr.—er—Starbuck," said the stranger, whose face Jack did not like. "Step out into the verandah with me a moment, will you?"
It was now the young sailor's turn to stare, but he did as he was requested.
"You're a native of Nantucket, aren't you?" queried the new-comer contemptuously.
"Yes. I'm a native." Jack lifted his handsome head proudly. "What do you want with me?"
"Are you the man who paid Miss Dayton's bill?"
"What right have you got to ask me?"
"What right had you to do it?"
By this time both men eyed each other fiercely.
"I'll answer none of your damned lubberly questions!" shouted Jack, forgetting prudence, forgetting his whereabouts, and employing the convenient vernacular of his home, the sea.
"I'll make you answer them fast enough!"
"Try it! But one thing I'll tell you, or anybody—that I never spoke to Miss Dayton in my life."
"You're a liar, you impudent sea-carrion!"
In an instant the speaker was sprawling his length upon the ground, and in another a crowd had apparently risen out of the earth to watch the little drama.
Even in quiet Nantucket it does not take long to bring together a group of eager, curious men.
"What's the meanin' of all this?" questioned Ben Rogers and Hiram Folger.
"The meanin' is that this man doesn't understand Nantucket manners," Jack explained grimly, as his late antagonist was assisted to his feet.
"An' you've ben givin' him a lesson?"
"Just so. And now he can make what he likes of it, so far as I'm concerned. There's jest one name he's got to keep out o' his mouth, though, or I'll knock it down his throat, an' his teeth after it, that's all."
"I'll have the law of you for this," the stranger growled as he adjusted his deranged attire and picked up his "citified" silk hat, which had rolled along the verandah. "And it'll be before you're many hours older."
"Soon as you like," Jack returned. And as he looked at the mean face, with its evasive eyes and cruel mouth, scarcely hidden by a thin sandy moustache, he experienced for the first time in his life the poignant stab of hatred.
"I call everybody to witness that I asked this fellow a civil question, and you saw how he answered it," the stranger said.
"The way you asked it only left one kind o' answer," Jack responded as the man walked off, probably intent on carrying out his threat.
"Thet's as may be," grumbled Ben Rogers. "But I wish, when ye want to fight, you'd find some place besides my hotel to do it in." He might have gone further with his reproaches had not Jack been the son of the rich old retired sea-captain.
But the Starbuck family was held in respect throughout Nantucket.
"How is Miss Dayton?" questioned Jack when the crowd had dispersed as it had come.
"I don' know. Not much better, I guess. But say, that reminds me, my wife wants to speak to you, Jack."
"I'll find her," said the young sailor, who knew the ways of the hotel.
Nancy Rogers was a Nantucketer, and a good soul. Jack had felt sure that the actress would not lack for kindness at her hands.
He found her overseeing the manufacture of the day's pastry. "Look here, Jack," said she, brushing the flour from her hands and motioning her guest towards the dining-room, "I wanted to talk to ye about that poor gel who tried t' kill herself; the Lord forgive her fur her sin!"
"Well, what about her?" queried Jack.
"She's a play-actress, an' I shouldn't 'a s'posed I'd 'a had so much sympathy fur her. But she has got the appealin'est ways! And when that ugly, hang-faced feller came after her yest'day, an' sent up word he must see her, why she jest went right out o' her head like!
"She talked awful, not realisin' what she said, an' I made out the man had sent money t' git the troupe away, an' now he was comin' round expectin' her t' pay him off by marryin' him. I guess it had been a promise, but she'd never 'a said out as much if she'd had her senses, fur she's bin awful close-mouthed since she came." As Mrs. Rogers talked she had watched Jack's changing face uneasily.
"The reason I'm tellin' all this," she went on, "is 'cause I thought ye might 'a met the gal afore, in some trip when you was fust mate of the Mary Coffin, though I must say, whatever your poor mother 'd dew, if she know'd ye was pay in' money fur a play-actress, is more than I kin tell! Howsoever"—and Mrs. Rogers picked nervously at a mosquito-netting which protected one of the tables—"ef ye are acquainted with any o' the gal's folks in England ye'd better write 'em what a fix she's in. It's pretty clear this man's got some power over her, and whatever her faults may be, bein' on the stage, an' the likes o' thet, she's a young gal, an' it don't go with my conscience to see any harm come to her."
Neither did it go with Jack's conscience. And he had not even the right of a friend to interfere.
"I don't know as much about her as I wish I did," he said, with true Nantucket caution. "But I think I see a way out o' this trouble. I'll come round again and tell you in an hour or so."
Jack had spoken truly. He did "see a way out," but whether his people could be brought to see it also, was a different matter.
He knew what his mother would be doing. It was her hour in the garden, and there he found her—a slip of a woman, with an ancient bloom in her cheeks, and grey hair, neatly folded over her ears. She carried a pair of shears in one hand, and held together her apron, flower-filled, with the other. Jack was the youngest of three boys, and neither of his brothers had lived to see manhood. Next to him, Mrs. Starbuck loved her husband, and after both, came her flowers. It was a good omen for Jack that he should have found her in the garden.
He plucked a sprig of geranium, and thrust the stem through the big brooch set with the braided hair of her dead children, which she always wore at her breast.
"That's just the colour of your cheeks, mother," he said, and the slip of a woman blushed ut the compliment. "You've got a young face, dear, and a young heart too," be went on. "It's so young that I guess there's lots of pity and kindness for everybody in it, as well as for me. Isn't there?"
"I hope so, boy," she answered him, smiling, and wondering a little.
Then he told her what was the thing he would have her do for him. With what simple eloquence he had, he set before her the picture of a young girl, ill, helpless, friendless, with some strange plot against her peace of mind.
"She's a stranger to me, mother," he said, with passionate frankness, "but I know she's a good girl. I'd stake my life on it, or I wouldn't ask you to have her in your house—for that's what I do ask you. She's a play-actress, and her ways are different from our ways, but who's to say they are not as good? Just think, mother; maybe it's a life you can save, maybe even more. For you can save her if you'll take her away—I know you can."
Thus he talked on with his arm thrown across his mother's frail shoulders—his honest face on fire with enthusiasm.
How she was finally persuaded, the little woman could not have told. Take a stranger into her peaceful household—a woman of the theatre, too? The bare thought was a mental earthquake. But she was persuaded at last. And she even set about the task of helping Jack to win the consent of his father, a task also difficult of accomplishment.
It was in his favour that both the old hearts were themselves too clean and honest to admit a suspicion of his motives. He was their son. They had known him for more than twenty-three years. He had never been ashamed to look into their faces. That was enough. And all their reasonings against his desire Jack found a way to silence.
To the girl whose name appeared on the play-bills as Zephine Dayton, the present seemed a dream. It was only the past which was real, and that was far away. She had kept her promise. She had done her best for the people who accused her of bringing this trouble upon them. Then she had realised what the consequences must be for herself. She thought continually, with her hot hands pressed against her hotter brows, and the thoughts brought such horror that life seemed too hateful for her to bear. She knew where escape lay. It was in the chloral which she kept and took sometimes for sleeplessness. Far away in dear old England, when she had been lighthearted and surrounded with friends, the physician had given it to her. She had done what she could for the members of her company. Surely now she had a right to choose whether death were better, or life. And there was no one who would care. Friendship had been proved a dream, and she was alone. She had mixed the chloral with water—a potion to kill. She had looked at it long, trembling between the fear of life and the dread of ending it. She had offered a prayer, not finding excuses for her sin, but begging—if it were possible—forgiveness. The mixture had been bitter as she drank it, and soon it had given her unconsciousness. This would have been the end had not a maid, bringing something to the room, been frightened at the marble face of the sleeper, and called assistance. It had seemed good to the girl known as Zephine Dayton to die, and thus to be hurried back into life again was horrible. To have tried to die, and failed even in that! She felt that whatever element of dignity—of tragedy—might have been in her fate was brought to bathos. She was a mere selfish, cowardly woman, who had made a scene for a curious crowd to gossip about. She was a disturber of the public peace. She had had no right to court death in the house of strangers. She writhed under her sense of shame and helpless misery. She hated the medicines which were to bring her strength, she hated the little lumps upon her arms into which brandy had been injected and saved her life.
Then the man had come, and insisted upon his right to see her. After that she remembered nothing. Only a motherly face had shone upon her, sometimes out of a ruddy mist, and she had talked to it. She could hear herself talking—always talking—and vet she did not know what were the words she said.
Something dreadful was going to happen. The motherly face would save her if it could. But then it had no body. It was only a face, in the red mist.
At last there came a time when she knew that someone was putting on her clothes and wrapping her in shawls. She was carried down many stairs and laid in a curious old coach, whose like she had never seen. A good many people stood watching in the road, but she did not care. They had stupid faces. There were cracks in the stones of the pavement, with moss and grass sprouting up between.
She could see them, as her face hung over somebody's shoulder. Inside the coach there was twilight and a musty smell. She wondered if there were spiders, but she thought it would be troublesome to ask. She heard a voice—like the voice which belonged to the face in the mist—and it asked a question.
"Wasn't it lucky that he wasn't anywhere around?"
Then a deeper voice said in a low tone—
"I guess I wouldn't have had much trouble getting rid of him."
She wondered whose trouble it was, and concluded it must be hers, since she alone in all the world knew what real trouble could be. And then her tears began dropping slowly, while somebody wiped them away, and she heard a quick sigh, which seemed to come from another part of the carriage.
There was a good deal of jolting over stones, and it hurt her head, so that she was very glad to stop. There was a big square white wooden house, with a great many windows, all alike, having small panes of glass, and green outside shutters. There was a platform on the top of the house, with a railing round it. She wondered if the people could see Heaven from the platform, and she laughed—but she remembered that it must be there that they looked for ships. Someone was carrying her up a white path, and she could hear the rattling of gravel. There were sweet scents, and flowers and bushes all around her, which swam in a maze of vivid colours before her eves. A wide door stood open, and there was green, cool darkness inside. A figure—such a tiny, slim figure—stood out clearly against this darkness, and a voice said, "Poor child! Poor lamb!" Then her own tears came in torrents. She heard herself crying, "I want my mother—oh, I want my mother!" and she wept the more, because she knew that her mother had been buried in far distant Devonshire, when she was a little girl.
Still weeping, she was put to bed in a large, light room, with four windows. The bed-linen was cool, and smelt of lavender. She did not wonder about anything, after that. She felt that her hot, tear-stained face was being bathed, and she thought there must be rose-leaves in the water. Someone was very good to her. Nobody had been good to her for a long, long time. There was a sense of peace and purity and rest about this large white place. It seemed that no evil could reach out and grasp her here. And then she fell asleep.
When she awoke, she smiled into an old, fresh-hued face, with bands of dove-coloured hair folded round it. And the face smiled back at her.
"What time is it?" she asked.
"I guess it's near about five o'clock," answered the face. This face had a body. A little, thin body, dressed all in black, with a broad crochetted collar. And there were bright knitting-needles in the small, veiny hands. There was a background of straight, high-backed mahogany chair, and the face beamed pleasantly upon Zephine Dayton.
"What day is it?"
"Tuesday, my dear."
"Why"—a flood of recollection overwhelming her—"it was Thursday when—oh, it must be Thursday still."
"You've been having such a nice long rest," explained the little old lady. "You've rested here, in this house, ever since last Thursday. Isn't that a nice long rest?"
"Oh! Here—in this house? What house?"
"Just a—friend's house. We thought you'd maybe feel happier here, and get well faster, so we—my son—brought you here, from the hotel."
"And he—the man, you know, who came to see me that last day?"
"There ain't any man in this whole town thet's agoin' to bother ye." And the little old lady nodded reassuringly over her knitting-work.
"I went to sleep thinking that someone was being so kind to me, and now I wake up and find it is true."
The world-worn actress closed her eyelids, and as the simple old Nantucketer looked down on the white and delicate profile, her heart was quickened to tenderness. She was glad that the "poor lamb" had been given shelter within her fold.
"The boy was right," she told herself. "I guess he most generally is."
She was propped up against pillows on the curious cushioned sofa, with its covering and vallance of flowered chintz, to which Mrs. Starbuck alluded as the "settee." An ugly green carpet lay on the sitting-room floor; numerous high-backed chairs were ranged grimly along the walls; a "what-not," adorned with gorgeous shells and branches of coral, stood in one corner, a cabinet, filled with foreign curiosities and surmounted by the model of a ship, faced it in another. The wall was papered with the counterfeit presentment of many vessels under full sail, which made no pretence of matching at the edges. There were pictures of more ships in big gilt frames, and portraits done in oils of Captain Starbuck and his bride, with wooden hands, and a solemn stare in their dull eyeballs. It would have seemed but a dreary interior had it not been for the flower-laden table, drawn near the fire-place, where sparkled the rose and violet blaze of driftwood, and the capacious rocking-chairs, which creaked out a time-tried welcome for Captain and Mrs. Starbuck. A delicious fragrance of infusing tea and crisply browning muffins was wafted to the invalid as she nestled among her pillows.
It was a week since full consciousness had returned to her. For three days she had been carried downstairs at tea-time, and Jack Starbuck's strong arms had found her a light burden.
He had been a revelation, a new specimen of manhood, to the actress. She had never seen anyone at all like the big, shy, sunbrowned young sailor. Through his mother's fond gossip, she had learned how he had constituted himself her knight in her time of need, and her soul went out to him in gratitude. If she had chanced to meet him in happier days and under ordinary circumstances, she might only have recognised in him a fine-looking, countrified young man, far removed from her own sphere, and it is possible that she might even have smiled good-naturedly at his big hands, rough clothes, odd way of speaking, and bashful manner. But now it was different. He had unobtrusively shown her that all men were not cruel and wicked, using their superior power only to intimidate helpless women, for so her sorrowful experience had lately taught her to regard mankind. She was thinking gratefully of Jack when he entered, on tiptoe at first, and then more noisily when he saw that she was not sleeping. He had brought her a novel, fearing that she had wearied with his mother's annuals and Books of Beauty.
"Father and mother will be going to meeting to-night, I guess," he said. "and I thought maybe you'd let me read out loud to you—unless you'd rather go upstairs."
"I should love to hear you read if it wouldn't trouble you," she replied.
"Trouble?" Jack laughed joyously.
And then Mrs. Starbuck came in from the kitchen, calling the captain from his "constitutional" in the garden, and Hannah, the apple-cheeked maid, who was "most like one o' the fam'ly," brought the tea-things, flanked by various substantial viands sacred to Nantucket.
Later, the cracked sweetness of the old church bells smote the air, and Mrs. Starbuck, in the quaintest of bonnets and finest of Indian shawls, went away bv the side of her tall, lame old husband.
"I declare," exclaimed the little dame, as the captain's cane clanked against the stone pavement, "it's a wonderful thing how quick ye kin git t' love a stranger body. You'd never dream that sweet-spoken little critter was a play-actress. She's that grateful, she brings the tears up in my eyes a dozen times a day. I'm sure I don't know what will become o' us all when she goes away."
"No need t' begin talkin' o' that yet awhile," said the captain testily, for the small sad face of his young guest had appealed to him from the first with the power which weakness wields over strength. Left alone with the invalid, Jack would have found himself tongue-tied if the words of the novelist had not stood him in good stead. He read on until he fancied his monotonous tones had lulled his companion to sleep. But, turning, he found her large eyes fixed upon his face.
"I've tired you! I ain't much of a reader, I know," he said uneasily.
"I'm not tired," she replied. "I was only thinking, and if you don't mind, 1'll tell you some of my thoughts. I've wanted to speak for days, but your mother always stopped me, and said I must wait till I was well. I'm well now, and I should like to say something to you."
There was a slight emphasis on the last word, which quickened the beating of his heart.
"You've all been so good to me," she went on, "you, more than anyone. Oh, don't stop me! I wonder what made you do it? But that isn't what I want to speak of first. Do you know, you haven't even heard my real name? Zephine Dayton was only for America and the stage. I am really Barbara Lincoln. I should like you all to call me Barbara, till—I go away. There are other things I should be glad to say about myself, but I must ask you what became of—that man. At first I was so weak, and so at peace here, I scarcely thought of him, but now everything has come back. Has he gone away really? Will he return by and by?"
"No," Jack answered promptly, "he won't bother you again—the coward!"
"Then he must have been persuaded—been paid back the money he advanced, because I—I promised something. Who paid him? You?"
Jack flushed painfully. "You see," he stammered, "I got into a little row with him when I first saw him, and he went to law about it. But things kind of ran against him, and—some more things came out before the lawyers, so I got a good chance to scare him, and he sneaked away from Nantucket for good."
"But the money he'd spent in backing the company, and then in paying all the bills—did he say nothing about that?"
"Ye—es." Jack fidgeted in his chair. "That was part of it. But we made it all right at last."
"You paid him—I know it!"
"Well, if I did—it wasn't much, and—and—if you only knew how—how thunderin' glad I was to do it you'd never say another word. Please—please don't speak of it. You—it does hurt me so, Miss—Barbara."
She looked at him with luminous eyes. "Another time you will let me speak, perhaps. There is no use in my thanking you. You understand."
"It wasn't anything," Jack repeated doggedly.
There was a pause, and the tall clock in the corner struck the hour of eight. Very soon Captain and Mrs. Starbuck would return from church, and supper-time would come.
"I should like to explain a few things to you," the girl said chokingly. "I'm sure you don't think badly of me or you wouldn't have brought me to your mother's house. But you are charitable—when you know I tried to kill myself. Everything was so hard! I was far from my own country, and that man had once pretended to be such a friend. He had put money in our company, but I think now he believed all along that we should fail, and that he would have me in his power. He said he would send no more money, unless I promised to marry him—and I sold all my jewellery, but it was not enough, not nearly enough. The people in the company soon found out how it was, and those who had been my friends were so no longer, for they said I was selfish—that I had got them into trouble, and must help them out, no matter what happened to me. I was nearly mad, and—you know the rest." Her voice broke, and she buried her face among the pillows, which bulged protectingly around her golden head.
What would Jack Starbuck not have given if he might have touched, ever so lightly, one stray curl? But he sat rocking miserably to and fro, pulling his fingers, and tracing the pattern in the carpet with his ungainly fashioned boots.
And then Captain Starbuck's voice was heard at the front door.
"A letter for Miss Zephine Dayton."
Jack held a businesslike-looking envelope in his hand.
Barbara Lincoln had been filling the captain's pipe, and when this task was finished, she meant to read aloud such news as might have strayed into the Nantucket paper. For it had come to pass in the six weeks during which she had been an inmate of his house, that an exceeding tenderness for the young girl had filled the old man's heart, and it was sweet to him that she should minister to all his trifling requirements.
A letter for Zephine Dayton! During the past few weeks "Zephine Dayton" had been well-nigh forgotten by the Starbucks, Barbara Lincoln alone living in their thoughts and affections.
Barbara handed the captain his pipe. Then she walked to the farthest window with her letter. Jack and his father eyed her wistfully. How did it happen that she should have a letter? Who knew that she might be addressed in care of Captain Abinadab Starbuck, Nantucket? And would the missive bring her tidings good or ill?
She had nothing to say, however, when she had read the letter, merely putting it quietly away in her pocket.
But that night, at the supper-table, after maintaining an unusual silence throughout the meal, she spoke at last.
"I must tell you," she said sadly, "that I shall have to go away in a few days."
"Go away?" The echo of her words came from all three of the Starbucks—and Hannah, at the dining-room door.
"Yes. It had to come some time, though I have been so happy. It was too good to last. I could not be always—I mean, I knew I must go to work again. So I wrote to the dramatic agent in New York who got me my first American engagement. I wrote nearly three weeks ago, and he has answered saying he can offer me something—not very good, but it is better than to be idle and—dependent."
The Starbucks were not a family of many words. They thought much and talked little, like most Nantucketers. When Barbara had told her news silence fell upon the group. But nobody cared for any more supper. By and by Barbara slipped away to her own room. Everyone felt sure that now she would be replying to her letter.
The captain could not smoke. Something, he said, must be wrong with that new tobacco. Mrs. Starbuck knitted industriously, and for many moments no sound was to be heard save the measured ticking of the clock and the click of the glittering needles. Jack watched their quick play almost sullenly. Life had been so full of meaning to him of late. Of course he had known for a long time that he loved Barbara. He felt for her the dumb devotion of a dog. For what was he save a country lout, with clumsy ways, and little learning, save of the sea? She was going away now, and she had been sweet to feel content in the dullness of his home for so many weeks. She must be longing for her own world again. How poor and mean the old-fashioned bravery of the house must have seemed in her eyes all this time! How kind she had been not to smile at the Books of Beauty, and the pictures and the shells! A pained sensitiveness, born of his great love, told the young islander that the surroundings he knew could not be what she had been used to. As he sat watching his mother's needles and eating his heart out in his dumb misery, the captain spoke with sudden gruffness.
"Look ye here, boy! Do you mean t' let thet gel go away from us?"
"I? How can I help it? What can I do?" stuttered Jack.
"Do? Ye darned young idiot! What should an able-bodied, well-grown feller o' your age an' build do t' keep a gel from goin' out o' the family?"
Jack was shocked into silence, and the knitting-needles had ceased plying.
The slip of a woman looked excitedly from the face of tall husband to that of tall son. But she knew the duty of woman, and held her peace.
"Well?" queried the captain. "I little thought ever t' ask a son o' mine such a question about a play-actin' gal. But queer things come to a man when he's on shore and grown old. I tell ye, I want thet little crittur in this house as long as I'm alive, an' I guess there's on'y one way to keep her."
"I—she wouldn't hev me, father," muttered Jack, shamed in his own eyes, and before his parents.
"Well, damn it! ye kin try, can't ye?" The captain brought his fist down upon the table with a violence which, mingled with his profanity, caused Mrs.Starbuck to jump.
"Don't ye want her? What sort o' stuff are ye made of, boy?"
Jack was on his feet, his blue eyes flashing. "Yes, I do want her, father. But I can't hear another word from you now."
When he had left the room Mrs. Starbuck tiptoed gently to the window. She was glad to see that her son's emotion had carried him no farther away than the high front "stoop." There he sat, the picture of despair, dangling his long legs among the much later when Barbara appeared at the sitting-room door in hat and jacket.
"I thought I'd walk down to the post-office before it grows too dark," she timidly explained, involuntarily glancing about for someone who was absent.
"Well, dear," said Mrs. Starbuck, "Jack's on the front stoop. I guess he'll be glad to go with ye."
"Will you come?" asked Barbara. And without a word, Jack came. Down the shadowed, hilly old street they walked side by side in silence. Past the quaint "shingled" houses and the fragrant gardens, bright now with the gaudy flowers of autumn. Darkness was falling. The streets were deserted, but lights gleamed cheerily from many a small-paned window. A keen, salt-laden breeze from the ocean smote their faces, and Barbara's hair clung to her forehead in clusters of small damp rings.
"Are you goin' to mail your letter?" Jack ventured at length.
"Yes. It will leave by the morning boat?"
"Won't you walk down to the water first? We can go the straight way, and back by the post-office, later."
"Very well," said Barbara with a sigh—a sigh which came because a letter must be sent at all. And Jack misunderstood, and dared not hope. His heart beat sickeningly, and a throbbing in his throat half suffocated him. He had made up his mind to risk everything to-night, but he thought he was sure of what his answer must be.
Presently they stood together by the water-side. Far away red and yellow lights cast quivering ladder-like reflections into the liquid depths. A star gleamed suddenly out of the purple sky, and a faint pearly radiance growing along the horizon heralded the rising of the moon. The only sounds were the water rippling against the shore and knocking faintly upon the sides of a flock of moored boats.
"Oh, it's all too lovely!" cried the girl. "And I shall go away from it, and see it no more."
"Could you—you wouldn't really mind living here?" Jack scarcely knew the sound of his own voice.
"Mind? You don't know how I've always loved the sea."
"And the theatre?" breathed Jack. "All the world that's lying off there?" he pointed across the heaving water. "Could you give it all up, Miss Barbara?"
"I hate the theatre—I hate the world," she protested. "Yet I must go back and fight the battle over again."
"Why must you go?" He scarcely knew what words came from his lips—so confused, so wild were they in his own ears. But somehow, at last, he made her understand, and stood waiting, agonising, till she should pronounce his doom.
"Don't!" she cried brokenly. His heart stood still, though he had known how it would be. Then—"Do you think I can bear to be—pitied—as much as that?"
"Pitied?" he echoed unbelievingly. "I don't know what you mean. I've loved you better than my life since the first day I saw you. Only I didn't dream I could be any more to you than the ground you walk on—fur that's as near as I'm fit t' come to you."
For answer, she bent impulsively and kissed the big brown hand that was closing and unclosing in his agitation.
Jack Starbuck drew his breath sharply.
Over the sea the moon was rising and casting toward them a bridge of living light. But they did not see it, for the tiny spot of earth circled round with wide dark water was a world beyond which they needed not to look