Up Shipyard Way
The story oi Aunt Abby Hayden, of how she came to the city with murder in her heart and what she found there
MARTHA BANNING THOMAS
ABBY HAYDEN was prepared to go to prison as penalty for her revenge on French Mackintosh. The fortitude of her imagination could drive through to a hard, as well as a happy fate. Yet those people who might have observed her walking along the busy city street, would merely have seen a small, slight woman of sixty, whose neat, inconspicuous dress gave off an unmistakable country aroma.
Her cheeks were rosy, her skin clear. She wore highbuttoned kid boots, and carried an umbrella as if it were a stick caught up in a pasture to brandish at a cow. And though she had never been in this city before, she was neither afraid nor bewildered People to Abby Hayden were just people, whether they swarmed in crowds through narrow streets or baited trawl on the fish-wharves along the Nova Scotia shore
She had made a long journey to see French Mackintosh in his own office of the steamship company. She had come for the deliberate purpose of lying to him about her relationship, above all to make him remember by cautious suggestion the scenes oí his boyhood; to remember so vividly that remorse would shatter him as he gradually comprehended the full value of his treachery to his own people. When he had reached the lowest pit of self-hatred, she would mete out to him what had been meted out to her son. Lome.
That final retribution had not been perfected, but she would know what to do when the proper time came.
Surging across the street with a hundred others,
Abby suffered a sharp, sudden taste of confinement; of iron bars pressing against her breast, of four cramped walls closing her in. Well, imprisonment or worse, her son had tasted death and she would be a poor thing to shrink from it herself. She wondered, a little wistfully, if she would be allowed to wear her usual clothes. She would feel forlorn without her white afternoon aprons, trimmed at the hem with crocheted lace.
Now, as sire reached the opposite curb, she felt the shoving pressure of hard muscles under a blue-coated sleeve. She looked up under a policeman’s helmet and met a gaze of puzzled astonishment.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” said the policeman moving aside.
(“He’s taking the heft of what’s on my mind as soon as this!” Abby marvelled to herself. “These city Mounties has sure got it canny.”)
But it wasn’t that. This straight, old-fashioned woman, in the midst of the city throng but not of it. had brought back to the man a half-forgotten, salty whiff of the sea. Long ago he too had lived on the windy shores of the Fundy. He hesitated, still looking down at her, and felt pushed into speech. “Anything I can do for you?” he enquired.
Abby’s eyes were blue. So were his. “Not yet,” she answered, and smiled grimly at the flavor of her own bleak humor.
So the officer went on and never saw her again. “Funny thing.” he said to his wife that evening, “how folks sort of get you, right off quick, just seeing them a minute. That little old lady I saw today had it written all over her she come from home. Seems like 1 could almost smell the sea and the apple blossoms a funny thing.” He shook his head and ate his supper in silence.
Abby reached the street where the offices of the steamship company were located. She had carefully looked up the address in the telephone book. And the name of French Mackintosh was included. She was quite sure of that. Just seeing the name. French Mackintosh, had given her a quiver of excitement. This was his firm, and here she would begin her campaign.
She peered at the brass plate on the pillar beside the entrance. Yes, there it was. She went in.
THE GIRL at the outside desk felt her own cool, superior stare being skimmed over by the thin ice of Abby’s glance.
“Is Mr. French Mackintosh here?” the visitor asked.
“Have you an appointment?”
“You mean, does he know I’m coming?”
“No, he don’t. I’m his aunt from home, Mrs. Abby Hayden.”
After a brief interval of waiting, the visitor was admitted to the manager’s office. She made short work of the introductions, and, sitting in the leather-bottomed chair with the harsh light from the big window falling full upon her, Abby somehow gave the impression that a grey kitten should be worrying a ball of yarn at her ieet.
“If isn’t likely you’d remember me,” she began as the man sitting behind the desk waited to hear her errand. “I know you have an awful dose of business on hand, and I won’t bother your time long. My name is Abby Hayden.
I come from over the Mountain, up Shipyard way, Nova Scotia—same as you.”
French Mackintosh was affected like the policeman; he became aware of inner springs long hidden and forgotten.
“I’m an aunt of yours, once-removed by my father’s second marriage. I'm in the city on business, so I thought I’d just ...” She gazed at the manager out of level blue eyes, and her black gloved hands were crossed over a purse in her lajo.
“Why, of course. I’m delighted to see you. What’s the—er—news up there?” He hardly knew how to deal with this visitor from Nova Scotia.
Abby Hayden’s mouth came down long at the corners. “Nothing you’d be specially interested in. When a person has been gone from home as long as you have, there’s lots of changes.” Stern reproof tinged her voice. Then her tone lightened. “That’s a right down handy little gate you got outside the door there, aswinging back and forth so smart every time a body goes through. Seems like you’d ought to have flowers heaving through the pickets, though. Looks real kind of lonesome, that gate does, so far away up here from the ground.”
The man was pleased with her fancy. “You’re right, Mrs. Hayden. I mean,” he smiled at her, “Aunt Abby. Gates do need flowers. Are you still living at the old ...” He groped for the right words, keeping his eyes on her.
“You needn’t to make polite speeches at me,” she said tartly. “All that don’t make no odds now. I just wanted to ask if you’d come to see me some time, or maybe”—she would not smile to gloss over her deceit—“walk with me down to the fish-wharves, where the dories come in. I’ve been here just a day, and already I’m homesick for the smell of low-tide and dulse.”
“Why, of course. It would be a pleasure. I like those sea smells too.”
His caller rose, shaking out her skirts with a brisk stamjD of one foot, as if there were many full petticoats beneath. “I must be making a muster to go now. That girl out there”—she whisked her umbrella at the door—“looks real grouty. She don’t seem to take the good of being young and pretty. What ails her?”
The manager was by way of being very much taken with this aunt who lived over the Mountain, up Shipyard way on the Fundy shore. “You mean she looks unhappy?” I'rench Mackintosh was a busy executive, anxious over recent trouble with crews on the comjaany's boats. No less than three captains had been in to see him, advising the firm to do better by their boats or there wouldn’t be a hand left to swab down decks. Complaints, disorders, worries. But this small valiant woman suddenly made him think of ginger-cookie baking. He leaned forward to ask with earnest gravity; “Do you. by any chance, burn spruce wood in your kitchen stove. Aunt Abby?”
“Yes, I do. Awful sparky, but the smoke smells kind of sweet, you take it nights when it baffles down the chimney.” “Yes,” said the man slowly. “Yes. it does. I remember that smell, cold winter evenings when the chores were done Haven’t thought of it for years. We have oil-burners down here; no stoves. No wood except in fireplaces. You and I ought to have some pleasant times together.”
Abby bad her hand on the doorknob. “Your work going good, French?”
“Yes, it's going good.” He quoted lier phrase.
“Moderately.” He wondered at the colder light in her eyes.
“I thought that girl by the little gate might be worrying about things.” Abby’s statement was a ruse; she knew the girl had nothing to do with running the company's business.
“Oh, no; we have nothing serious to worry about. Her expression is merely the current mask of boredom.”
(“So,” thought his caller, “even though they lost a packet, French Mackintosh says his work is going good. Men don't matter; it’s just the business.”)
Abby opened the door and was about to leave when the man asked her how she had found him.
“Always heard you was in this kind of work. 1 found your name in the telephone book.”
Abby glowed over the ease of her first victory. Befare sleep that night in the soft hotel bed, she decided that even were she sent eventually to prison, she must have her white afternoon aprons. “Ella’s girl will go to the house and get them for me,” she thought. The house was empty now. She had removed Lome’s Sunday hat from the peg in the closet off the kitchen, the last thing before leaving. She could not endure the thought of returning and seeing it there. In the dark she chuckled. “Maybe I ain’t ever going hack.” The door key, she would write Ella's girl, was hanging on a nail just above the pile of dry kindling in the woodshed. Lerne had split a great heap between trips, so that when he was away on the freight packet, his mother would have it easy—not like some of the other women, who sawed and hauled in heavy armfuls of sticks while their men were out fishing. She always shrank from burning that kindling; it was like destroying the work of her son, who would never work again.
Abby, lying there in the dark, felt she was well away on her adventure. “French is going to feel every last living inch of torment, same as Lome done. I’m standing by to see that he gets it.”
DURING THE following weeks it became an accepted joke at the office that the manager was taking his funny old aunt places almost every evening.
“What’s the idea, French?” the vice-president teased him.
“Simply can’t explain, but it’s like having a vacation just to hear Aunt Abby go on. She talks with a flavor I haven’t heard for years. She’s good company; she's a trip to my boyhood home.”
“Never knew you came from Nova Scotia.”
“Oh. yes; years ago. And. by jolly, I’d like to go back there too.”
Before coming down, Abby Hayden had made careful enquiries concerning the Mackintosh family. She had known of them all her life. They were scattered now, and she felt quite safe in her feigned relationship.
Sometimes these two walked along the river embankment. “Nice enough,” Abby would grudgingly concede, “but tco perked up with trimming. Those strings of lights look like beads onto a girl's neck.”
“It is considered,” stated the man, “very beautiful.” “All right for city folks, but not when you’ve got a hankering for something with salt and wind into it. Now just listen to the water.” They stepped close to the railing. “See what I mean? You got to stand stock-still before you can even hear it. What kind of works is that? Buzzles along like a baby, sickly and weak. At home you can hear the big seas pounding on the shore with your window's and doors shut tight. And at home”— she waved her hand contemptuously at the illuminated bridges—“we got a light that is a light—out on the Boint.” Her tone softened. “Maybe I oughtn’t to brag like this; don’t sound polite when you’re so good to me.”
Her "nephew,” indulgent and amused, begged her to tell him more.
“That light on the LYint is three miles away. You must have watched it time and again when you was a boy; you can see it for miles up and down the shore. It revolves, and when you’re walking the hills and everything is black as the inside of a cow, you wait and steer for where the light hits next. Real handy for folks on land as well as sea. And when it’s right down foggy, my, my”—she gave a long wistful sigh—“ain’t it handsome? Swings like a scythe cutting a harvest of weather.”
On other evenings, perhaps French would conduct his “aunt” down to the fish-wharves. “Not exactly the place I should think you’d enjoy,” was his usual mild remonstrance.
“No? Well, I do. Hark. Hear those fishing dories tied down there and pulling at their repes, restless and hankering to get clear. Smell!” She inhaled deeply. “Don’t it make you fierce to go?”
“On a vessel, man ! Where else?”
He made a sound curiously like a laugh.
“Don’t do that,” she said sharply.
Continued on page 26
Up Shipyard Way
Continued from page 15 Starts on page 14
One evening when they had returned to the hotel where Abby was staying and were comfortably resting after a ramble, French enquired of his aunt if she had any family.
“I had a husband and son,” she answered shortly.
“Oh,” replied the man. not liking to press her further.
Abby went to the window of her sitting room and stood looking over the city. “Both of them gone now,” she added.
Her nephew came to join her. “I’m sorry,” he said.
(“You’re going to be sorrier yet,” thought the woman.) Aloud she asked her companion how old he had been when he left home years before.
“Ten or eleven, perhaps. My mother died when I was six, and my father was lost at sea.”
“So? That’s too bad, French. I didn’t rightly remember.”
“I was more or less farmed out at first. Then a relative who lived near here took charge of me. We didn’t hit it off very well. She wasn’t like you. Aunt Abby. And so I ran away.”
“You done just right,” declared the woman, feeling a quick sympathy for his misunderstood, lonely childhood.
They stood together then, looking down on the shiny tops of motor cars streaming by. "Beetles,” said the woman. “Sometimes I feel like squashing them with my foot—so!” She rubbed her buttoned boot on the floor with vindictive force.
Her nephew laughed. “I’d hate to have you down on me. I’d be scared stiff.”
“Do I look so savage?”
“No. You look exactly right. It’s just something that seems to burn and crackle behind what you say, like dry twigs.”
She grew straight and prim. “I never had the name at home of being ugly.”
THE DAYS went on. Abby Hayden did not grow fat on hotel fare; instead she seemed lighter, quicker, more alert. And, like an artist who works with slow skill to remove layers of new paint in order to bring out the original picture, so she worked on the memory of French Mackintosh. He must see and feel and smell his
boyhood years until they glowed with stronger colors than his present life.
On their rambles by the river and on the wharves, Abby talked to her companion of home, of the people there, the rigors they endured, craftily inserting the nostalgic flavor of taste and smell. And her nephew’s nostrils would widen as they sniffed, not dusty streets but the shore she described.
Once she quietly asked him if there was a jail handy. He laughed and enquired if the hotel was getting too much for her.
Out m the harbor a bell buoy rocked at its forlorn ringing. “Sounds mournful as a cat, don’t it? Now offshore to home, we got a groaner. On the first of a nor’west swell, it rumbles away like a big man waking up from sleep and turning over.”
Amused,. French wondered how much Abby knew about a man waking up from sleep, and then remembered that this straight old-fashioned woman had been married many years.
“Fishermen has it hard, French. Up all times of the night when the tide suits. Sometimes out on the bay tending their trawls twenty-four hours hand running; maybe losing them too, or all chewed up by dogfish.”
“Yes.” His voice sounded sympathetic. “I can see that they do. You make everything so vivid, it’s almost as if I were back home again.”
She gave a satisfied cluck. “The men who work the ¡jackets, too.” She slid in the next words with sly ease. “But of course it ain’t likely a big shipping firm like yours handles boats as small as packets. ’Tain’t likely you’d even heard tell of ’em.”
“Oh, yes. There are a few left. Used as a side line only. Rather old tubs which hardly earn their keep.”
“I suppose, being old like that, it wouldn’t hardly pay you to overhaul ’em and put ’em in first-class shape?” Her question was bland with innocence.
“Well,” he admitted, “we don’t intend to throw money away on sieves. One or two are in service up your way, I believe.
And one ran into bad luck.” For no reason he could describe, he was feeling a trifle uneasy under this crisp examination.
Abby dared say no more about the packets for the present, lest he grow suspicious. “Your family always followed the sea, French. Ever had any hankering yourself that way?”
“Only enough to get into a steamship company.”
“So you don’t right down know what it is to take your watch in heavy weather, nor sleep in a wet bunk, the bilge sloshing under you every time the boat buries in a big sea?”
“Good lord, no. Why should I?”
The small woman by his side answered nothing.
“Surely, Aunt Abby, you don’t expect every man on land to leave it and sail the seven seas?”
She took her small measured steps beside his, and had no answer.
“What would become of business? There’s business behind every ship that leaves port.”
“Business!” She had spoken softly, yet he was startled into strict attention. "I know I’m unhandy about making speeches, but, French, you’d ought always to play straight and fair with those who do go to sea. You’re beholden, boy. You’re beholden. They’re your kind of folks. They’ve always been your kind of folks. They’re good ones too, and you’d ought to keep true.”
“You’re sounding very serious, Aunt Abby.”
“I’m meaning it, every word. It’s bitter enough when the boats is all shipshape, but when the timbers is rotten, and nothing done to make ’em sound--it’s murder.” Her voice had once more grown soft, like cotton hiding a thorn.
'-TWO WEEKS. Three weeks. A month.
By this time Abby had so saturated the imagination of her companion with salty tales of home that he began to feel as if he had actually participated in the recounted
events. Layer after layer of his older years was being painlessly peeled away.
And yet Abby herself was curiously unhappy over her success. She liked French Mackintosh. Fiercely she thought of Lome and the slow way those four men had walked up the hill when they brought him home. Their knees had bent and straightened in unison, as if they marched to some awful dirge of death,. She had watched them pause at her gate to unloose the bit of marlin that held it closed—and then they had come down the grassy path. Abby waited for them at the door, opening it wide so they could all pass through with their heavy and pitiful burden. Somewhere deep within her, she had known that this would some time happen to her son.
They had lifted Lome from the shutter to the hard kitclien couch. They had dragged off their caps, those four men, and they had stood looking at her in dumb misery. Then they had left, saying nothing. It was enough to see him dead . . . Lome, twenty-four years old, his hair matted on his forehead, the buttons on his blue shirt which she had sewed tightly only two days before.
But the childlike stepping of French Mackintosh into every trap she laid for him, tarnished the fine lustre of her achievement. It was about this time that she made a pact with her conscience. If once her “nephew” displayed a sign of anxiety about the men who worked on his firm’s boats, she’d delay judgment until certain of his guilt.
One evening in her hotel sitting room, Abby asked French concerning his life after he had left home. “Set down, and take off. There’s lots of time.” Thus she soothed him with the phrases of home hospitality. She lifted her hat from her head, and with a swift gesture sent it whirling into the next room, where it spun on a bedpost and settled there.
“Good shot.” This always delighted him.
“Why, boy, I used to throw the lines of my father’s fishing dory fair as any boy. Say, French, would you think I’d gone clean daft if I put on one of my white aprons? I kind of miss ’em.”
Continued on page 28
Continued on page 26 F rench told her it would look very homelike. so with a basket of yarn on the floor she “set. up" a pair of white mittens, and led her caller into talking of himself. No,
I he'd never married.
“That's a right, down good thing." Seeing his glance of surprise, she laughed. “A lone wolf goes farther." But she had not meant that.
“There was a girl once,” said the man. "She had beautiful hair, and eyes like pieces of sky."
“What happened to her?”
“Died. Pneumonia. And it nearly finished me. Never cared for anyone else.” “Mmmm,” said his aunt from up Shipyard way. The crocheted lace at the hem of her apron was plainly patterned over her black skirt.
“You know,” explained the man, leaning forward, “I suppose I’ve had the usual amount of pleasure and comfort, but just lately I've grown conscious of thin spots. 1 think you’ve made the difference. Just seeing you there, knitting, white apron, basket of yarn on the floor—well, somehow 1 feel stripped stark naked down to my Nova Scotia boyhood hide. 1 want other roads to walk, other air to breathe. 1 feel cooped up, confined.”
Abby soared on exultant wings. She had done her work well. Yet remorse must pass over him. Remorse can be neither casual nor superficial; it must have the push and pull of emotion. Was lie ready for it?
ONE LATH afternoon before dinner, they walked along the embankment and watched the boys in swimming. “My, they have it a lot easier here than the boys up Shipyard way.” remarked the. woman.
“Don’t the children at home know howto swim?” He used the word “home” quite naturally.
“Not many. It’s too cold, and the. tide runs strong.” Then she asked politely: “Is the water handy where you go vacationing summers?”
“Yes, but i don’t swim. I’m really afraid. I was born up there too. where the water is cold, and I never learned. Too late now.”
Under the rim of her small suitable hat. Abby watched the boys in the water. “No more could Horne.” she said.
'Ehe man leaned nearer. “I’m sorry. I didn’t quite hear.”
“1 said, no more could Lome. Swim, I mean. He might have had a chance.” “Was he—did he lose, his life at sea?” She looked up at the tall man beside her, and her eyes were the color of dark water eating through ice. “Yes. The boat sank before help could get to her. The driving shaft tore a hole in her. Timbers was rotten.”
“Forgive me; I did not mean to hurt you.”
Abby was thinking, “French can’t swim. That’s just right. He’s d fra id of the water too. That’s just right again.”
At dinner they had fried scallops. “Whenever I eat these. 1 can hear the draggers going out on smooth cold mornings. The engines is powerful, and they racket all day long.” A cameo pin nested in the scrap of lace at Abby’s throat, and now it moved with her quick breathing. “I been meaning to ask you. French, more about your work. Do you have much to say about the company’s boats? Where the money can best be laid out for repairs, and such?”
"1 know pretty well where the money I goes, and what for.”
i Abby waited, half hoping, half afraid ! he might speak of the comfort of the men.
! But lie did not. And from his own lips she ! had heard about the packets. “Rather old Í tubs, hardly earn their keep. Two are in I service up your way. 1 believe.” Guilt lay I upon him thick as slime.
Eater, in her hotel sitting room, Abby’s ! brisk manner had noticeably softened.
: This would be her last flag waved to an : enemy she had traitorously learned to like.
I She seemed to be hailing him, not from
the short distance between her rocking chair and his but across windy miles of water.
French had something on his mind. At last he spoke, eagerly, boyishly shy. “Aunt Abby, why don’t you stay down here with me winters? I’ve a comfortable apartment, a maid to help. A sort of home together, you and I.” His eyes were beseeching her.
Abby rose abruptly from her chair without answering. She walked into her bedroom beyond the sight of her guest. Her voice came to him from there, sounding curiously choked. “You’re awful good. I’ll think about it. I’m real obliged.”
She was caught up by a new suffering. She shut her eyes and whispered. “How can I. Lome? How can I—he being so kind and all?” For a moment she weakened in her design. But late that night she decided that this new development had no bearing on the purpose of her errand. Sorrow had been sealed long before she had left home up Shipyard way, never to be righted.
ONE EVENING soon after this they were again on the wharves. It was a misty night, and beneath them the water moved in blackness. The timbers were slippery with damp. “Watch out there, Aunt Abby! I’d better steady you a little.”
They walked to the wharf-end. A few lights were smeared on the dark. The place was deserted, and the very elements of solitude encompassed them.
“French, that girl you told me about. Did you sorrow long after her?”
“Yes, I sorrowed long.”
“And nothing to do about it? No way to get clear?”
“No. I still miss her. She was so young, so lovely.”
The softness of the mists touched their faces with dolorous fingers.
“No one ever harmed nor hurt her so that she died of it?”
The man’s voice sounded shocked. “Of course not. She died of pneumonia.”
“Oh yes, you told me that. You’d felt a lot worse if she’d died because someone forgot or neglected her.”
“She had the best of care. Every possible thing was done to save her life.” His tones were heavy with reproof.
Abby was wondering if 120 pounds could cope with 180. “The timbers here is right slippery. A feller could lose his balance easy.” Now she was mounting the last weary steps of her retributive hour. Where was the bitter anger on which she had relied? The fiery joy of dealing as she had been dealt by? She felt nothing but the chill dreariness of long resolve dragging her back.
She moved nearer the wharf-edge. “Leery, ain’t it? But I like it.”
“Look out, there,” French warned her. “You’ll step right off into the fog.”
Aunt Abby drew away from his grasp. Her body tightened to a tense straightness in the gloom. “French, you’ve been awful good to me. Better than you was obliged.
I thank you kindly.”
“Good heavens, you’re solemn as Judgment Day ! You don’t have to trumpet about it ”
“Yes, I do have to trumpet. I shan’t forget a thing. On windy nights at home, when the gales sound like stone walls walking—I’ll remember.” She stopped short as quick reflection warned her that she might not be up Shipyard way ever again. “I shan’t forget,” she added, “how good you’ve been to me—no matter where I am.”
“Come, come, this dreariness is getting into your soul. Let’s go home to my apartment. I’ve always wanted you to see it, but you’d never come.” His voice reached her in warm urgency.
Abby clenched her hands among the full folds of her skirt. (“Now,” she charged her courage. “Now is the time!”) Then she swayed, jostling with her full weight* against the man. He staggered slightly, but as the woman fell forward, she lurched off in a half-whirl. Struggling to regain her
balance, she wrenched her ankle. “Oh,” she cried at the stab of pain.
French caught her by the edge of her coat. It pulled open, and by some swift and fateful contortion. Abby slipped partially out of it. Then she crumpled at the waist, like a mismanaged puppet, and pitched over the edge of the wharf. The second sleeve slid free, and she fell with a splash into the moving darkness below.
“Good lord!” gasped the man. “She can’t have gone like this !”
BUT FIE HEARD her down there floundering—his aunt from up Shipyard wpy, Nova Scotia. No one near to help. Nothing but empty boats, and bright smears of a few lights on the fog.
“I'm coming,” he yelled. “Keep up your courage! I’ll be there in a minute. Here’s an iron ladder. I'm coming, Aunt Abby!” French climbed awkwardly down the wet rungs of the iron ladder. Each one shone like the barrel of a gun; and the dank smell of seaweed came out at him and made him reel with giddiness. (“What’ll I do if she isn’t near? I can’t swim a stroke. We’ll both drown like rats, and no one to lift a hand,” he thought. And curiously he heard his aunt’s voice telling him of her son, Lome, lost at sea. “Poor chap,” he said aloud, and did not know he spoke.)
French lived through an eternity of horror before he realized that the gurgling close to the wharf must be Abby. Quickly he reached down with one hand and made blind clutches for her clothes. At last he caught something and held on. “I’ve got you. Don’t be afraid. I’ve got you!” He was panting from exertion, but he drew the figure, slinky as a cat. up and out of the water. In another moment they were again on the wharf.
Anger and relief warmed him. “I nearlylost you,” he stormed. With his overcoat wrapped about her and half-supporting her, they walked to the street. In the taxi he said: “I'll get a nurse to stay with you tonight. Just like you to get pneumonia. I'm not going to lose my second chance of happiness; of having a home and a family." Reaction had set in. He was ready to hug and to shake this aunt from up Shipyard way.
Abby Hayden was shivering. She shed tears saltier than her beloved Fund y waters. They coursed down her cheeks and into her hands. “Don’t be so good to me. French. Don’t touch me!” She shrank into the corner as far as she could. “Every drop of water that’s trickling down my spine is like a shower of thistles. I’ve been mean to you. I’ve been harboring evil thoughts against you.”
Thinking to quiet her, the man reached out impulsively and touched her.
“Don’t you ... I might let myself off easy. I might not tell you the truth. I’m no more your aunt, French Mackintosh, than that policeman waving his arms at the traffic ! I just said so, to make things easier to see a lot of you.”
The man said “Oh,” and the monosyllable was filled with surprised disappointment.
■ “Don’t interrupt. I’ll tell you the whole yarn, and you can heave me overboard afterward.” Her tone settled into more natural steadiness. “I’ve always heard tell of your folks. Some of ’em is living along the shore now. And I knew you was into a steamship office here, and was doing fine for yourself.”
The taxi slid across the corner into the next street. “I come down here a-purposc to kill you, French. To push you off the wharf, like it was an accident. I wanted to watch you drown. And I wanted you should die slow and hard. I was glad when you told me you couldn’t swim and that you was afraid of the water. I wanted you to die—-like my son, Lome, did —choking to death on salt water, and nary a hand to help you. My son”her voice was colder now—“my only son, that went down on one of your rotten packets, that wasn’t worth being overhauled. I thought of you as a murderer. Them boats was too old to spend money on—but my son was too
young to die. I was willing to murder, too. and take my punishment. But first" —she was no more than a thin, straight shadow in the corner of the taxi “I wanted you should remember your life back home, and the folks there. So you’d understand solid what a traitor you’d been to your own. Your making money meant me losing my boy. That's the straight of it. French. But I see now. I been half-crazy and right down bad.”
The silent man was a bulkier shadow in his own corner.
“I’ve touched my own tongue to the death I planned for you. I feel somehow clean and quiet, as if anger and hate had passed out of me. It ain’t for me. a blind sorrowing woman, to take on the Lord’s business, and send you into eternity. You saved me from the very death I wanted for you. Ain't it strange,” she whispered, “and ain’t it awful, how your own hate catches up and overhauls you !”
The man had no answer for this.
“And likely, you was terrible afraid yourself, tonight.”
“Yes, I was afraid."
“But you come down the slippery ladder to help me just the same.”
“What else could I do?”
“But if I hadn’t of floated near the wharf—but was way off drowning?”
“I suppose I would have tried to get to you. I couldn’t let you die like that. Don’t be silly."
Abby wilted under a blasting remorse. “I can’t stand it. I can’t stand my own shame. Serves me right ... I deserve the worst.”
The man slid over close to her. “Never mind. I say, never mind!” He scolded her in a furious affection. “We’re going home. What does it matter?”
“Don’t you care,” she shrieked back at him, “that I come down here a-purpose to drown you if I could?”
“Sometimes I did feel, somehow, that you had it in for me. But I didn’t worry. There’s something sterling about you— an integrity. I had to trust you.” He was shouting at her, trying to make her understand something he could not understand himself.
ABBY HAYDEN would neither be put to bed nor have a nurse. Wrapped in blankets, she sat before the open fire, choking pleasantly on hot water and brandy. Her grey hair was sleek with wet. Her hand holding the glass, trembled. “You got it real nice into your house, French.” she murmured.
Her host leaned on the mantel, gazing down at her with thoughtful eyes. One lock of dark hair stood up from the crown of his head like a paintbrush. “There are just one or two more questions, aunt. We’d better get them right out on the carpet. now we’re at it.” His manner was hesitant, however. “What was the name of the packet on which your son—the one that went down?”
“Haven’t I spoke the name to you?” She looked incredulous.
He shook his head, trying not to look too sorry.
“The Daniel B. Holly, it was.”
French took several turns about the room, digging his heels into the rug as he swung around the corners. “Aunt Abby, the Daniel B. Holly does not belong to us now.”
I-Iis guest jerked up straighter in her blankets. “Of course she don’t. She’s been at the bottom of the sea these many months.” Then seeing that the man still hesitated, her voice grew shrill with suspicion. “What are you trying to say to me, French Mackintosh?”
“It’s true that we did own that particular packet for many years. But she got old and we sold her.”
Slow horror licked across Abby’s face. “When?” she demanded.
The man gestured apologetically. He could not bear to hurt this brave, stricken woman sitting before his fire. “Oh, about six or seven months ago. We still have a
couple of packets up there, as I told you. but we thought it unwise to subject the men any longer to the insecurity of the Daniel B. Holly. We supposed she would lie junked for what she was worth. Unfortunately some owners will push a boat to the last dangerous hazard. I heard later that she had foundered and several men were lost.” He could not say “drown” to this stark woman, who watched him from such a pit of misery.
“So, I’ve been wrong the whole time,” she mourned. “I was careful, too, about finding out the name of the company, all proper. Folks up Shipyard way told me they knew it was your firm that owned the Daniel B. Holly. I looked it up in the telephone book when I come, and there was your name just as they said. And you did own the boat my son went down on; but you sold her before she foundered. You wa’n’t responsible. And I near drowned you.” Her voice sounded like thin hail beating on dry leaves. “A man come to my house, talking about some kind of insurance for Lome’s going. When 1 got the heft of what he was clinging at, I bunted him out of the door. ‘Money,’ I says to him, ‘Money to pay for a son?’ He give me one scairt look and h’isted himself off.” She laughed shortly. “Then, the more
I thought about it, the madder I got. ‘Money’ I says to myself, ‘don’t pay a mother for a son. I’ll make the man who owned the boat, pay for it himself.’ ” Her eyes were holes of wretchedness. “It was wicked enough before, but now ...”
“I tell you, never mind! I won’t have you feeling like this.” French Mackintosh was surly with sympathy. “Don’t you see. aunt, it might have been I? Just good luck that it wasn’t. The man you wanted, I mean. Have something more to drink. And how about staying here? The place needs you. So do I.”
His friendly anger warmed her, and dried the surface of her self-abhorrence. “Tell you what, I’ll soon have this place clean. Awful dose of dirt around. And my other white aprons are coming.”
The man threw back his head and bellowed with pleasure. “We’ll soon have a home out of this dreary, lonely dump. Get after my lazy bones of a maid ! Lift her good, as you say up Shipyard way.” Lie began to clap his coat pockets for a match.
Aunt Abby ran a righteous and disapproving finger along a dusty chair arm. “I’m fixing for a good cry, French, but don’t pay no heed. When I get clear of it, I’ll begin by h’isting that cobweb down, over there in the corner,”