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The Woman-Haters

Joseph Crosby Lincoln

  Produced by Donald Lainson


  By Joseph C. Lincoln


  (By Way of Explanation)

  A story of mine called, like this, "The Woman-Haters," appearedrecently in one of the magazines. That story was not this one, except inpart--the part dealing with "John Brown" and Miss Ruth Graham. Readersof the former tale who perhaps imagine they know all about Seth Atkinsand Mrs. Emeline Bascom will be surprised to find they really know solittle. The truth is that, when I began to revise and rearrange themagazine story for publication as a book, new ideas came, grew, anddeveloped. I discovered that I had been misinformed concerning thelightkeeper's past and present relations with the housekeeper at thebungalow. And there was "Bennie D." whom I had overlooked, had notmentioned at all; and that rejuvenated craft, the Daisy M.; and thehigh tide which is, or should be, talked about in Eastboro even yet; allthese I had omitted for the very good reason that I never knew of them.I have tried to be more careful this time. During the revising process"The Woman-Haters" has more than doubled in length and, let us hope, inaccuracy. Even now it is, of course, not a novel, but merely a summerfarce-comedy, a "yarn." And this, by the way, is all that it pretends tobe.


  May, 1911.
















  XIV.-- "BENNIE D."







  The stars, like incandescent lights fed by a fast weakening dynamo, grewpale, faded, and, one by one, went out. The slate-colored sea, with itstumbling waves, changed color, becoming a light gray, then a faint blue,and, as the red sun rolled up over the edge of the eastern horizon, abrilliant sapphire, trimmed with a silver white on the shoals and alongthe beach at the foot of the bluff.

  Seth Atkins, keeper of the Eastboro Twin-Lights, yawned, stretched,and glanced through the seaward windows of the octagon-shaped,glass-enclosed room at the top of the north tower, where he had spentthe night just passed. Then he rose from his chair and extinguished theblaze in the great lantern beside him. Morning had come, the mists hadrolled away, and the dots scattered along the horizon--schooners,tugs, and coal barges, for the most part--no longer needed the glareof Eastboro Twin-Lights to warn them against close proximity tothe dangerous, shoal-bordered coast. Incidentally, it was no longernecessary for Mr. Atkins to remain on watch. He drew the curtains overthe polished glass and brass of the lantern, yawned again, and descendedthe winding iron stairs to the door at the foot of the tower, opened itand emerged into the sandy yard.

  Crossing this yard, before the small white house which the governmentprovided as a dwelling place for its lightkeepers, he opened the door ofthe south tower, mounted the stairs there and repeated the extinguishingprocess with the other lantern. Before again descending to earth,however, he stepped out on the iron balcony surrounding the lightchamber and looked about him.

  The view, such as it was, was extensive. To the east the open sea,the wide Atlantic, rolling lazily in the morning light, a faint breezerippling the surfaces of the ground-swell. A few sails in sight, farout. Not a sound except the hiss and splash of the surf, which, becauseof a week of calms and light winds, was low even for that time ofyear--early June.

  To the north stretched the shores of the back of the Cape. High claybluffs, rain-washed and wrinkled, sloping sharply to the white sandof the beach a hundred feet below. Only one building, exceptthose connected with the lighthouses, near at hand, this a small,gray-shingled bungalow about two hundred yards away, separated from thelights by the narrow stream called Clam Creek--Seth always spoke of itas the "Crick"--which, turning in behind the long surf-beaten sandspitknown, for some forgotten reason, as "Black Man's Point," continued tothe salt-water pond which was named "The Cove." A path led down from thelighthouses to a bend in the "Crick," and there, on a small wharf, was ashanty where Seth kept his spare lobster and eel-pots, dory sails, nets,and the like. The dory itself, with the oars in her, was moored in thecove.

  A mile off, to the south, the line of bluffs was broken by anotherinlet, the entrance to Pounddug Slough. This poetically named channeltwisted and wound tortuously inland through salt marshes and betweenmudbanks, widening at last to become Eastboro Back Harbor, a good-sizedbody of water, with the village of Eastboro at its upper end. In theold days, when Eastboro amounted to something as a fishing port, themackerel fleet unloaded its catch at the wharves in the Back Harbor.Then Pounddug Slough was kept thoroughly dredged and buoyed. Now it wasweed-grown and neglected. Only an occasional lobsterman's dory traversedits winding ways, which the storms and tides of each succeeding winterrendered more difficult to navigate. The abandoned fish houses along itsshores were falling to pieces, and at intervals the stranded hulk ofa fishing sloop or a little schooner, rotting in the sun, was a dismalreminder that Eastboro's ambitious young men no longer got their livingalongshore. The town itself had gone to sleep, awakening only in thesummer, when the few cottagers came and the Bay Side Hotel was openedfor its short season.

  Behind the lighthouse buildings, to the west--and in the directionof the village--were five miles of nothing in particular. A desolatewilderness of rolling sand-dunes, beach grass, huckleberry and bayberrybushes, cedar swamps, and small clumps of pitch-pines. Through thisdesert the three or four rutted, crooked sand roads, leading to andfrom the lights, turned and twisted. Along their borders dwelt no humanbeing; but life was there, life in abundance. Ezra Payne, late assistantkeeper at the Twin-Lights, was ready at all times to furnish evidenceconcerning the existence of this life.

  "My godfreys domino!" Ezra had exclaimed, after returning from a driveto Eastboro village, "I give you my word, Seth, they dummed nigh etme alive. They covered the horse all up, so that he looked for all theworld like a sheep, woolly. I don't mind moskeeters in moderation, butwhen they roost on my eyelids and make 'em so heavy I can't open 'em,then I'm ready to swear. But I couldn't get even that relief, becauseevery time I unbattened my mouth a million or so flew in and choked me.That's what I said--a million. Some moskeeters are fat, but these don'tget a square meal often enough to be anything but hide-racks filled withcussedness. Moskeeters! My godfreys domino!"

  Ezra was no longer assistant lightkeeper. He and his superior hadquarreled two days before. The quarrel was the culmination, on Ezra'spart, of a gradually developing "grouch" brought on by the loneliness ofhis surroundings. After a night of duty he had marched into the house,packed his belongings in a battered canvas extension case, and announcedhis intention of resigning from the service.

  "To the everlastin' brimstone with the job!" he snarled, addressing Mr.Atkins, who, partially dressed, emerged from the bedroom in bewildermentand sleepy astonishment. "To thunder with it, I say! I've had all thegov'ment jobs I want. Life-savin' service was bad enough, trampin' thecondemned beach in a howlin' no'theaster, with the sand cuttin'furrers in your face, and the icicles on your mustache so heavy yougot round-shouldered luggin' 'em. But when your tramp was over, you hadsomebody to talk to. Here, by godfreys! there ain't nothin' nor nobody.I'm goin' fishin' agai
n, where I can be sociable."

  "Humph!" commented Seth, "you must be lonesome all to once. Ain't mycompany good enough for you?"

  "Company! A heap of company you are! When I'm awake you're asleep andsnorin' and--"

  "I never snored in my life," was the indignant interruption

  "What? YOU'LL snore when you're dead, and wake up the whole graveyard.Lonesome!" he continued, without giving his companion a chance toretort, "lonesome ain't no name for this place. No company but greenflies and them moskeeters, and nothin' to look at but salt water andsand and--and--dummed if I can think of anything else. Five miles fromtown and the only house in sight shut tight. When I come here you toldme that bungalow was opened up every year--"

  "So it has been till this season."

  "And that picnics come here every once in a while."

  "Don't expect picnickers to be such crazy loons as to come here inwinter time, do you?"

  "I don't know. If they're fools enough to come here ANY time, I wouldn'tbe responsible for 'em. There ain't so many moskeeters in winter. Butjust LOOK at this hole. Just put on your specs and LOOK at it! Not aman--but you--not a woman, not a child, not a girl--"

  "Ah ha! ah ha! NOW we're gettin' at it! Not a girl! That's what's thematter with you. You want to be up in the village, where you can gocourtin'. You're too fur from Elsie Peters, that's where the shoepinches. I've heard how you used to set out in her dad's backyard, withyour arm round her waist, lookin' at each other, mushy as a couple ofsassers of hasty-puddin'. Bah! I'll take care my next assistant ain'tgirl-struck."

  "Girl-struck! I'd enough sight ruther be girl-struck than always ravin'and rippin' against females. And all because some woman way back inMethusalem's time had sense enough to heave you over. At least, that'swhat everybody cal'lates must be the reason. You pretend to be awoman-hater. All round this part of the Cape you've took pains to get upthat kind of reputation; but--"

  "There ain't no pretendin' about it. I've got brains enough to keepclear of petticoats. And when you get to be as old as I be and know asmuch as I do--though that ain't no ways likely, even if you live to benine hundred and odd, like Noah in Scripture--you'll feel the same way."

  "Aw, come off! Woman-hater! You hate women same as the boy at thepoorhouse hated ice cream--'cause there ain't none around. Why, Iwouldn't trust you as fur as I could see you!"

  This was the end of the dialogue, because Mr. Payne was obliged to breakoff his harangue and dodge the stove-lifter flung at him by the outragedlightkeeper. As the lifter was about to be followed by the teakettle,Ezra took to his heels, bolted from the house and began his long trampto the village. When he reached the first clumps of bayberry bushesbordering the deeply rutted road, a joyful cloud of mosquitoes rose andsettled about him like a fog.

  So Seth Atkins was left alone to do double duty at Eastboro Twin-Lights,pending the appointment of another assistant. The two days and nightsfollowing Ezra's departure had been strenuous and provoking. Doingall the housework, preparation of meals included, tending both lights,rubbing brass work, sweeping and scouring, sleeping when he could andkeeping awake when he must, nobody to talk to, nobody to help--theforty-eight hours of solitude had already convinced Mr. Atkins that thesooner a helper was provided the better. At times he even wished thedisrespectful Payne back again, wished that he had soothed instead ofirritated the departed one. Then he remembered certain fragments oftheir last conversation and wished the stove-lifter had been flung withbetter aim.

  Now, standing on the gallery of the south tower, he was conscious ofa desire for breakfast. Preparing that meal had been a part of hisassistant's duties. Now he must prepare it himself, and he was hungryand sleepy. He mentally vowed that he would no longer delay notifyingthe authorities of the desertion, and would urge them to hurry insending some one to fill the vacant place.

  Grumbling aloud to himself, he moved around the circle of the gallerytoward the door. His hand was on the latch, when, turning, he castanother glance over the rail, this time directly downward toward thebeach below. And there he saw something which caused him to forgethunger and grievances of all kinds; something which, after one horrifiedlook to make sure, led him to dart into the light chamber, spring at areckless gait down the winding stair, out of the tower, rush to the edgeof the bluff, and plunge headlong down the zigzag path worn in the clay.

  On the sand, at the foot of the bluff below the lights, just beyondreach of the wash of the surf, lay a man, or the dead body of a man,stretched at full length.