Cap'n Warren's Wards by Joseph Crosby Lincoln
"Captain Warren," asked Caroline, as they were seated at the breakfast table next morning, "what are your plans for to-day?"
Captain Elisha put down his coffee cup and pulled his beard reflectively. Contrary to his usual desire since he came to the apartment to live, he was in no hurry to finish the meal. This breakfast and the dinner of the previous evening had been really pleasant. He had enjoyed them. His niece had not called him uncle again, it is true, and perhaps that was too much to be expected as yet, but she was cheerful and even familiar. They talked as they ate, and he had not been made to feel that he was the death's head at the feast. The change was marked and very welcome. The bright winter sunshine streaming through the window indicated that the conditions outside were also just what they should be.
"Well," he replied, with a smile, "I don't know, Caroline, as I've made any definite plans. Let's see, to-day's Sunday, ain't it? Last letter I got from Abbie she sailed into me because, as she said, I seemed to have been 'most everywheres except to meetin'. She figgers New York's a heathen place, anyhow, and she cal'lates I'm gettin' to be a backslider like the rest. I didn't know but I might go to church."
Caroline nodded. "I wondered if you wouldn't like to go," she said. "I am going, and I thought perhaps you would go with me."
Her uncle had again raised his cup to his lips. Now he set it down with a suddenness which caused the statuesque Edwards to bend forward in anticipation of a smash. The captain started to speak, thought better of it, and stared at his niece so intently that she colored and dropped her eyes.
"I know," she faltered, "that I haven't asked you before, but--but--" then, with the impulsiveness which was one of her characteristics, and to her guardian her great charm, she looked him full in the face and added, "but I hoped you would understand that--that I understood a little better. I should like to have your company very much."
Captain Elisha drew a long breath.
"Thank you, Caroline," he answered. "I appreciate your askin' me, I sartinly do. And I'd rather go with you than anybody else on earth. But I was cal'latin' to hunt up some little round-the-corner chapel, or Bethel, where I'd feel a little bit at home. I guess likely your church is a pretty big one, ain't it?"
"We attend Saint Denis. It is a large church, but we have always been connected with it. Stephen and I were christened there. But, of course, if you had rather go somewhere else--"
"No, no! I hadn't anywhere in particular to go. I'm a Congregationalist to home, but Abbie says I've spread my creed so wide that it ain't more'n an inch deep anywhere, and she shouldn't think 'twould keep me afloat. I tell her I'd rather navigate a broad and shallow channel, where everybody stands by to keep his neighbor off the shoals, than I would a narrow and crooked one with self-righteousness off both beams and perdition underneath.
"You see," he added, reflectively, "the way I look at it, it's a pretty uncertain cruise at the best. Course there's all sorts of charts, and every fleet is sartin it's got the only right one. But I don't know. We're afloat--that much we are sure of--but the port we left and the harbor we're bound for, they're always out of sight in the fog astern and ahead. I know lots of folks who claim to see the harbor, and see it plain; but they don't exactly agree as to what they see. As for me, I've come to the conclusion that we must steer as straight a course as we can, and when we meet a craft in distress, why, do our best to help her. The rest of it I guess we must leave to the Owner, to the One that launched us. I... Good land!" he exclaimed, coming out of his meditation with a start, "I'm preachin' a sermon ahead of time. And the Commodore's goin' to sleep over it, I do believe."
The butler, who had been staring vacantly out of the window during the captain's soliloquy, straightened at the sound of his nickname, and asked hastily, "Yes, sir? What will you have, sir?" Captain Elisha laughed in huge enjoyment, and his niece joined him.
"Well," she said, "will you go with me?"
"I'd like to fust-rate--if you won't be too much ashamed of me."
"Then it's settled, isn't it? The service begins at a quarter to eleven. We will leave here at half-past ten."
The captain shaved with extra care that morning, donned spotless linen, including a "stand-up" collar--which he detested--brushed his frock-coat and his hair with great particularity, and gave Edwards his shoes to clean. He would have shined them himself, as he always did at home, but on a former occasion when he asked for the "blackin' kit," the butler's shocked and pained expression led to questions and consequent enlightenment.
He was ready by a quarter after ten, but when his niece knocked at his door she bore a message which surprised and troubled him.
"Mrs. Dunn called," she said, "to ask me to go to church with her. I told her I had invited you to accompany me. Would you mind if she joined us?"
Her guardian hesitated. "I guess," he answered, slowly, "it ain't so much a question of my mindin' her as she mindin' me. Does she want me to go along?"
"She said she should be delighted."
"I want to know! Now, Caroline, don't you think I'd be sort of in the way? Don't you believe she'd manage to live down her disappointment if I didn't tag on? You mustn't feel that you've got to be bothered with me because you suggested my goin', you know."
"If I had considered it a bother I should not have invited you. If you don't wish Mrs. Dunn's company, then you and I will go alone."
"Oh, land sakes! I wouldn't have you do that for the world! All right, I'll be out in a jiffy."
He gave his hair a final brush, straightened his tie, turned around once more before the mirror, and walked fearfully forth to meet the visitor. For him, the anticipated pleasure of the forenoon had been replaced by uneasy foreboding.
But Mrs. Corcoran Dunn, as she rose creakingly to greet him, was extremely gracious. She was gowned and furred and hatted in a manner which caused the captain to make hasty mental estimate as to cost, but she extended a plump hand, buttoned in a very tight glove, and murmured her gratification.
"I'm so glad you are to accompany us, Captain Warren," she gushed. "It is a charming winter morning, isn't it?"
Captain Elisha touched the plump glove with his own big finger tips, and admitted that the morning was "fust-rate." He was relieved from the embarrassment of further conversation just then by Caroline's appearance in the library. She, too, was richly dressed.
"Are we all ready?" she asked, brightly. "Then we may as well start."
"I'm afraid we're a trifle early, my dear," said Mrs. Dunn, "but we can stroll about a bit before we go in."
The captain looked at the library clock. The time was a quarter to eleven.
"Early?" he exclaimed, involuntarily. "Why, I thought Caroline said--"
He stopped, suddenly, realizing that he had spoken aloud. His niece divined his thought and laughed merrily.
"The service does begin now," she said, "but no one is ever on time."
"Oh!" ejaculated her uncle, and did not speak again until they were at the door of the church. Then Caroline asked him what he was thinking.
"Nothin' much," he answered, gazing at the fashionably garbed throng pouring under the carved stone arch of the entrance; "I was just reorganizin' my ideas, that's all. I've always sort of thought a plug hat looked lonesome. Now I've decided that I'm wearin' the lonesome kind."
He marched behind his niece and Mrs. Dunn up the center aisle to the Warren pew. He wrote his housekeeper afterwards that he estimated that aisle to be "upwards of two mile long. And my Sunday shoes had a separate squeak for every inch," he added.
Once seated, however, and no longer so conspicuous, his common sense and Yankee independence came to his rescue. He had been in much bigger churches than this one, while abroad during his seagoing years. He knew that his clothes were not fashionably cut, and that, to the people about him, he must appear odd and, perhaps, even ridiculous. But he remembered how odd certain city people appeared while summering at South Denboro. Recollections of pointed comments made by boatmen who had taken these summer sojourners on fishing excursions came to his mind. Well, he had one advantage over such people, at any rate, he knew when he was ridiculous, and they apparently did not.
So, saved from humiliation by his sense of humor, he looked about him with interest. When the procession of choir boys came up the aisle, and Mrs. Dunn explained in a condescending whisper what they were, his answer surprised her a trifle. "Yes," whispered the captain in reply, "I know. I've seen the choir in Saint Peter's at Rome."
Only once did he appear greatly astonished. That was when the offering was taken and a certain dignified magnate, whose fame as a king of finance is world-wide, officiated as one of the collectors.
"Heavens and earth!" murmured Captain Elisha, staring wide-eyed at the unmistakable features so often pictured and cartooned in the daily papers; "Caroline--Caroline, am I seein' things or is that--is that--"
"That is Mr. ----," whispered his niece. "He is one of the vestrymen here."
"My soul!" still gazing after the Emperor of Wall Street; "Him passin' the plate! Well," with a grim smile, "whoever picked him out for the job has got judgment. If he can't make a body shell out, nobody can."
He listened to the sermon, the text of which was from the Beatitudes, with outward solemnity, but with a twinkle in his eye. After the benediction, when Caroline asked how he enjoyed it, the cause of the twinkle became apparent.
"Fine!" he declared, with enthusiasm. "He's a smart preacher, ain't he! And he knew his congregation. You might not guess they was meek perhaps, but they certainly did look as if they'd inherited the earth."
He drew a breath of relief as the trio emerged into the open air. He had enjoyed the novel experience, in a way, but now he felt rather like one let out of jail. The quiet luncheon at home with Caroline was a pleasant anticipation.
But Mrs. Corcoran Dunn smashed his anticipation at a blow. She insisted that he and his niece lunch with her.
"You really must, you know," she declared. "It will be delightful. Just a little family party."
Captain Elisha looked distressed. "Thank you, ma'am," he stammered; "it's awful kind of you, but I wouldn't feel right to go puttin' you to all that trouble. Just as much obliged, but I--I've got a letter to write, you see."
Mrs. Dunn bore his refusal bravely.
"Very well," she said, "but Caroline must come with me. I told Malcolm I should bring her."
"Sure! Sartin! Caroline can go, of course."
But Caroline also declined. Having misjudged her guardian in the matter of the Moriarty family, she was in a repentant mood, and had marked that day on her calendar as one of self-sacrifice.
"No, Captain Warren," she said, "I shall not go unless you do."
"Then the captain will come, of course," declared Mrs. Dunn, with decision. "I'm sure he will not be so selfish as to deprive me--and Malcolm--of your company."
So, because he did not wish to appear selfish, Captain Elisha admitted that his letter might be written later in the afternoon, accepted the invitation, and braced his spirit for further martyrdom.
It was not as bad as he expected. The Dunns occupied a small, brown-stone house on Fifth Avenue, somewhat old-fashioned, but eminently respectable. The paintings and bronzes were as numerous as those in the Warren apartment, and if the taste shown in their selection was not that of Rodgers Warren, the connoisseur, they made quite as much show, and the effect upon Captain Elisha was the same. The various mortgages on the property were not visible, and the tradesmen's bills were securely locked in Mrs. Dunn's desk.
The luncheon itself was elaborate, and there was a butler whose majestic dignity and importance made even Edwards seem plebeian by comparison.
Malcolm was at home when they arrived, irreproachably dressed and languidly non-effusive, as usual. Captain Elisha, as he often said, did not "set much store" by clothes; but there was something about this young man which always made him conscious that his own trousers were a little too short, or his boots too heavy, or something. "I wouldn't wear a necktie like his," he wrote Abbie, after his first meeting with Malcolm, "but blessed if I don't wish I could if I would!"
Caroline, in the course of conversation during the luncheon, mentioned the Moriartys and their sorrow. The captain tried to head her off and to change the subject, but with little success. He was uncomfortable and kept glancing under his brows at Malcolm, with whom, under the circumstances, he could not help sympathizing to an extent. But his sympathy was wasted. The young man did not appear in the slightest degree nervous. The memory of his recent interview with Captain Elisha did not embarrass him, outwardly at least, half as much as it did the captain. He declared that old Pat's death was beastly hard luck, but accidents were bound to happen. It was a shame, and all that. "If there's anything the mater and I can do, Caroline, call on us, of course."
"Yes, do, Caroline," concurred his mother. "However, one must be philosophic in such cases. It is a mercy that people in their station do not feel grief and loss as we do. Providence, in its wisdom, has limited their susceptibilities as it has their intelligence. Don't you agree with me, Captain Warren?"
"Sartin!" was the prompt reply. "It's always a comfort to me, when I go fishin', to know that the fish ain't got so much brains as I have. The hook hurts, I presume likely, but they ain't got the sense to realize what a mean trick's been played on 'em. The one that's caught's dead, and them that are left are too busy hustlin' for the next meal to waste much time grievin'. That eases my conscience consider'ble."
Caroline seemed to be the only one who appreciated the sarcasm in this observation. She frowned slightly. Mrs. Corcoran Dunn tolerantly smiled, and her son laughed aloud.
"Say, Admiral," he commented, "when it comes to philosophy you go some yourself, don't you?"
"Um-hm. I can be as philosophical about other folk's troubles as anybody I ever see." Then, with an involuntary chuckle of admiration at the young gentleman's coolness, he added, "That is, anybody I ever see afore I come to New York."
Malcolm opened his mouth to reply, but closed it again. The captain, noticing his change of purpose and following the direction of his look, saw Mrs. Dunn shake her head in sharp disapproval. He ate the remainder of his salad in silence, but he thought a good deal.
"And now," said Mrs. Dunn, rising and leading the way to the drawing-room, "we must all go for a motor ride. Everyone rides on Sunday afternoon," she explained, turning to her male guest.
The distressed look returned to Captain Elisha's face. His niece saw it, understood, and came to his rescue.
"I think Captain Warren prefers to be excused," she said, smiling. "He has a prejudice against automobiles."
"No!" drawled Malcolm, the irrepressible. "Not really? Admiral, I'm surprised! In these days, you know!"
"It ain't so much the automobiles," snapped Captain Elisha, irritation getting the better of his discretion, "as 'tis the devilish fools that--"
"Yes? Oh, all right, Mater."
"That are careless enough to get in the way of them," finished the captain, with surprising presence of mind. "Still, if Caroline wants to go--"
"I have it!" exclaimed Mrs. Dunn. "The young people shall go, and the others remain at home. Malcolm shall take you for a spin, Caroline, and Captain Warren and I will stay here and wait until you return. We'll have a family chat, Captain, won't we? Because," with a gay laugh, "in a way we are like one family, you see."
And, somewhat to Miss Warren's surprise, her uncle agreed to this proposition. He did not answer immediately, but, when he did, it was with heartiness.
"Why, yes," he said, "that's a good idea. That's fust-rate. You young folks go, and Mrs. Dunn and I'll wait here till you come back. That's the way of the world--young folks on the go, and the old folks at home by the fire, hey, Mrs. Dunn?"
The lady addressed did not relish being numbered with "old folks," but she smiled sweetly, and said she supposed it was. Malcolm telephoned to the garage and to Edwards at the Warren apartment, ordering the butler to deliver his mistress's auto cap and cloak to the chauffeur, who would call for them. A few minutes later the yellow car rolled up to the door.
In the hall Mrs. Dunn whispered a reassuring word to her departing guest.
"Now enjoy yourself, dear," she whispered. "Have a nice ride and don't worry about me. If he--if our encumbrance bores me too much I shall--well, I shall plead a headache and leave him to his own devices. Besides, he isn't so very dreadful, is he?"
Caroline shook her head. "No," she answered, "he is a good man. I understand him better than I did and--yes, I like him better, too."
"Oh!... Indeed! Well, good-by, dear. Good-by."
The yellow car roared as the chauffeur cranked it, then moved off up the crowded avenue. Mrs. Dunn watched it until it was out of sight. Her brows were drawn together, and she seemed puzzled and just a bit disconcerted. However, when she returned to the drawing-room, her gracious smile had returned, and her bland condescension was again in evidence.
Captain Elisha had been standing by the window. She begged him to be seated. He thanked her, but looked dubiously at the Louis XVI chair indicated. She noticed the look.
"Suppose we go into the library," she said. "It is much less formal. And there is a fire--for us old folks," with a slight accent on the word.
The library was more homelike. Not as many books as at the Warrens', but a great deal of gilt in the bindings and much carving on the cases. The fire was cheery, and the pair sat down before it in big easy chairs. Mrs. Dunn looked intently at the glowing coals.
Captain Elisha cleared his throat. Mrs. Dunn leaned forward expectantly. The captain coughed and sank back in his chair.
"Yes?" purred the lady. "You were about to say?"
"Me? Oh, no, I didn't say anything."
Another period of silence. Mrs. Dunn's foot tapped the rug impatiently. She wished him to begin the conversation, and he would not. At length, in desperation, she began it herself.
"I suppose you find New York rather different from--er--North--er--"
"From South Denboro? Yes, ma'am."
"Do you like the city life?"
"Well, I don't know, ma'am."
"Not as well as you do that of the country, doubtless."
"Well, you see, I ain't had so much of it."
"No, of course not. It does so depend upon what one is accustomed to. Now I fancy I should be perfectly desperate in your village."
One corner of Captain Elisha's mouth curled upward.
"I shouldn't be surprised," he admitted.
"Desperately lonely, I mean."
"Yes'm. I judged that was what you meant. Still, folks can be lonesome in New York."
"Perhaps. But really I don't see how. With all the whirl and the crowds and the glorious excitement. The feeling that one is at the very heart, the center of everything!"
"Yes. If you belong to the machinery, I s'pose it's all right. But if you've been leanin' over the rail, lookin' on, and get pushed in unexpected, maybe you don't care so much about bein' nigh the center."
"Then why stay there? Why not get out?"
"If you're caught in the wheels, gettin' out's somethin' of a job."
"But, as I understand it, Captain Warren--I may be misinformed, for, of course, I haven't been unduly curious concerning your family affairs--as I understand it, you were not obliged to remain among the--among the wheels, as you call them. You could have gotten out quite easily, couldn't you?"
"I presume likely I could. But, you see, ma'am, I had a feelin' that I'd ought to stay."
Mrs. Dunn laughed lightly. "Ah me!" she exclaimed; "you felt it your duty, I suppose. Oh, you New England Puritans!"
She shook her head in playful mockery. Then she added, "But, at all events, it cannot be so very disagreeable--now. I have no doubt it was--well, not comfortable for you at first. Steve and Caroline were quite impossible--really quite furious. Your sudden appearance in the capacity of guardian was too much for them. They were sure you must be a perfect ogre, Captain. I had to use all my eloquence to convince them they would not be devoured alive. But now--what a change! Why, already Caroline accepts you as--well, almost like an old friend, like myself. In the last few days this change in her attitude is quite marked. What have you done? Are you a wizard? Do tell me!"
This appeal, delivered with eloquence and most engaging play of brow and eye, should have been irresistible. Unfortunately the captain did not appear to have heard it. Leaning forward, his hands clasped between his knees, he was gazing into the fire. And when he spoke, it was as if he were thinking aloud.
"I s'pose 'tis a sort of disease, this duty business," he mused. "And most diseases ain't cheerful visitations. Still a feller ought not to growl about it in public. I always did hate for a man to be goin' about forever complainin' of his sufferin's--whether they was from duty or rheumatiz."
Mrs. Dunn's lips snapped shut. She pressed them together impatiently. Evidently her questions, and their diplomatic prelude, had been unheard and wasted. However, she did not intend to be sidetracked or discouraged.
"One should not prate of one's duty, of course," she agreed. "Not that you do--far from it. But, as I was saying, our dear Caroline has--"
"Thank you, ma'am. I hope I don't groan too loud. Do you know, I believe climate has a bearin' on duty, same as it has on rheumatics. I s'pose you city folks"--and there was almost contempt in the words--"are sort of Christian Science, and figger it's an 'error'--hey? Somethin' to be forgot."
The lady resented the interruption, and the contempt nettled her.
"Not at all!" she retorted. "We city dwellers have our duties, also."
"Is that a fact? I want to know!"
"Certainly it is a fact," tartly. "I have my duties and many of them."
"Um! So? Well, I s'pose you do feel you must dress just so, and live just so, and do just such and such things. If you call those duties, why--"
"I do. What else are they, pray?"
Mrs. Dunn was finding it difficult to keep her temper. To be catechised in this contemptuously lofty manner by one to whom she considered herself so immensely superior, was too much. She forgot the careful plan of campaign which she had intended to follow in this interview, and now interrupted in her turn. And Captain Elisha, who also was something of a strategist, smiled at the fire.
"We do have our social duties, our duties to society," snapped the widow, hotly. "They are necessary ones. Having been born--or risen to--a certain circle, we recognize the responsibilities attached to it. We are careful with whom we associate; we have to be. As for dress, we dress as others of our friends do."
"And maybe a little better, if you can, hey?"
"If we can--yes. I presume--" with crushing irony--"dress in South Denboro counts but little."
"You wouldn't say that if you ever went to sewin' circle," with a chuckle. "Still, compared to the folks at your meetin'-house this morning, our congregation would look like a flock of blackbirds alongside of a cage full of Birds of Paradise. But most of us--the women folks especial--dress as well as we can."
"As well as you can!" triumphantly. "There! you see? And you live as well as you can, don't you?"
"If you mean style, why, we don't set as much store by it as you do."
"Nonsense! We are obliged to be," with a slight shudder at the vulgarism, "stylish. If we should lapse, if we should become shabby and behind the fashion or live in that way, people would wonder and believe it was because we could not afford to do otherwise."
"Well, s'pose they did, you'd know better yourselves. Can't you be independent?"
"No. Not unless you are very, very rich; then it might be considered an eccentricity. Independence is a costly luxury, and few can afford it."
"But suppose you can't afford the other thing?"
"Then we must pretend we can. Oh, you don't understand! So much depends upon a proper appearance. Everything depends upon it--one's future, one's children's future--everything."
"Humph!" with the same irritating smile, "I should think that might mean some plannin'. And plans, the best of 'em, are likely to go wrong. You talk about the children in your--in what you call your 'circle.' How can you plan what they'll do? You might when they was little, perhaps; but when they grow up it's different."
"It is not. It can't be! And, if they have been properly reared and understand their responsibilities, they plan with you."
"Land sakes! You mean--why, s'pose they take a notion to get married? I'm an old bach, of course, but the average young girl or feller is subject to that sort of ailment, 'cordin' to the records. S'pose one of your circle's daughters gets to keepin' company with a chap who's outside the ring? A promisin', nice boy enough, but poor, and a rank outsider? Mean to say she sha'n't marry him if she wants to."
"Certainly! That sort of marriage is never a happy one, unless, of course, the girl is wealthy enough not to care. And even then it is not advisable. All their customs and habits of thought are different. No! Emphatically, no! And the girl, if she is sensible and well reared, as I have said, will understand it is impossible."
"My soul and body! Then you mean to tell me that she must look out for some chap in her crowd? If she ain't got but just enough to keep inside the circle--this grand whirlamagig you're tellin' me about--if she's pretendin' up to the limit of her income or over, then it's her duty, and her ma and pa's duty, to set her cap for a man who's nigher the center pole in the tent and go right after him? Do you tell me that? That's a note, I must say!"
Mrs. Dunn's foot beat a lively tattoo on the rug. "I don't know what you mean by a 'note,'" she commented, with majestic indignation. "I have not lived in South Denboro, and perhaps my understanding of English is defective. But marriages among cultivated people, society people, intelligent, ambitious people are, or should be, the result of thought and planning. Others are impossible!"
"How about this thing we read so much about in novels?--Love, I believe they call it."
"Love! Love is well enough, but it does not, of itself, pay for proper clothes, or a proper establishment, or seats at the opera, or any of the practical, necessary things of modern life. You can't keep up a presentable appearance on love! If I had a daughter who lacked the brains to understand what I had taught her, that is, her duty as a member of good society, and talked of making a love match, I would... But there! You can't understand, I suppose."
She rose and shook the wrinkles from her gown. Captain Elisha straightened in his chair. "Why, yes, ma'am," he drawled, quietly; "yes, ma'am, I guess I understand fust-rate."
And suddenly Mrs. Dunn also understood. Her face, which had grown almost too red for one attached to a member of polite society, grew redder still. She turned away and walked to the window.
"What nonsense we've been talking!" she said, after a moment's silence. "I don't see what led us into this silly discussion. Malcolm and your niece must be having a delightful ride. I almost wish I had gone with them."
She did wish it, devoutly. Captain Elisha still remained by the fire.
"Automobiles are great things for hustlin' around in," he observed. "Pity they're such dangerous playthings. Yet I s'pose they're one of the necessities of up-to-date folks, same as you said, Mrs. Dunn."
"Surely," she asked coldly, "you don't condemn automobiles, Captain Warren? What would you--return to stage coaches?"
"Not a mite! But I was thinkin' of that poor Moriarty man."
"His death was due to an accident. And accidents," she turned and looked directly at him, "when they involve financial damages, may be paid for."
The captain nodded. "Yes," he said.
"And when arrangements for such payment is made, honorable people--at least, in the circle of which you and I have been speaking--consider the matter settled and do not refer to it again, either among themselves--or elsewhere."
"Yes, ma'am." He nodded again. She did know; Malcolm, evidently, had told her. "Yes, ma'am. That's the way any decent person would feel--and act--if such a thing happened--even if they hailed from South Denboro."
He pushed back his chair and stood up. She continued to look him over, much as if she were taking a mental inventory of his character, or revising an old one.
"I hope," she said, lightly, but with deliberation, "our little argument and--er--slight disagreement concerning--er--duty will not make us enemies, Captain Warren."
"Enemies! Land sakes, no! I respect anybody's havin' opinions and not bein' afraid to give 'em. And I think I can understand some of how you feel. Maybe if I was anchored here on Fifth Avenue, same as you are, instead of bein' blown in by an unexpected no'theaster, I'd be feelin' the same way. It's all accordin', as I've said so often. Enemies? No, indeed!"
She laughed again. "I'm so glad!" she said. "Malcolm declares he'd be quite afraid of me--as an enemy. He seems to think I possess some mysterious and quite diabolical talent for making my un-friends uncomfortable, and declares he would compromise rather than fight me at any time. Of course it's ridiculous--just one of his jokes--and I'm really harmless and very much afraid. That's why I want you and me to be friends, Captain Warren."
"Sure!" Captain Elisha nodded emphatically. "That's what I want, too."
But that evening, immediately after his return to the apartment, when--Caroline having gone to her own room to remove her wraps--he and the butler were alone, he characteristically unburdened his mind.
"Mr. Warren, sir," said Edwards, "a young gentleman left a note here for you this afternoon. The elevator man gave it to me, sir. It's on your dressing table, sir."
The captain's answer had nothing whatever to do with the note. He had been thinking of other things.
"Commodore," he said, "I've got the answer."
"To the note? Already, sir? I didn't know you'd seen it."
"I ain't. I've got the answer to the conundrum. It's Mother!"
"Mother, sir? I--I don't know what you mean."
"I do. The answer's Mother. Sonny don't count, though he may think he does. But Mother's the whole team and the dog under the wagon. And, Commodore, we've got to trot some if we want to keep ahead of that team! Don't you forget it!"
He went to his room, leaving the bewildered butler to retire to the kitchen, where he informed the cook that the old man was off his head worse than common tonight.
"Blessed if he don't think he's a trotting horse!" said Edwards.