Archie P. McKishnie
Some months ago we accepted “In Harbour,” having in mind the needs of our Christmas number. In presenting it in this issue we are confident our readers will not be disappointed, for it is a Christmas story in every sense, and yet it also has the element of romance. The characters are quaint—just such people as one likes to read about in the festive season of good will. And withal there’s humor in it, too.
CAPTAIN STUBBS sat before his roaring box-stove eating pea-nuts and throwing the shells at the cat. It was a cold windy day outside, with a wild sea booming on the shore and a wild sky bending threateningly above the winter world. But inside all was snug and cozy and comfortable. “Ship-shape and tight as a fiddle,” was how the captain described his bachelor’s home.
The last pea-nut demolished, the captain sighed and rolling the paper bag into a round pellet shied it at the blinking tabby.
“The captain was short, squat and bow-legged. His face was round as an apple, red as an apple and adorned with a tuft of sandy chin-whisker that looked like a bunch of corn-silk after an October frost. This was hardly to be wondered at considering the fact that the good captain had spent most of his life on the deck of a ship and had been through near-frosts, white-frosts and black frosts a many, when the shooting spume, frozen to tiny invisible teeth, bit and gnawed and numbed the hands gripping the wheel.
“Thank the Lord I’m through with it,” sighed the captain as his blue eyes surveyed the white-capped waves rolling in from the heaving sea. ‘Who wants a ship and dangers when he kin have a snug little home like this un an a cat to
keep him company? Let them as wants ’em have ships and dangers, for my part give me a cozy fire to crackle and a cat to sing. I don’t ask fer nothin’ more.”
Suddenly the captain gave a start and peered closer out through the darkening gloom. A woman was coming down the street, a little, slender woman with a plaid shawl about her shoulders and her head bent before the gale. As she reached the opposite corner the rain began to fall in driving sheets while a fiercer gust of wind than its fellows swept through an alley and threatened to throw her from her feet.
The captain scratched his head and glanced at the wide-eyed cat. Then he glanced out of the window again. “By mackerel, if she ain’t fly in’ distress signals,” he growled and reached for his oil-skins, hanging beside the stove. The woman was leaning against the wall shielding ber face with her arm.
“Here marm,” shouted the captain, rushing up, with all the grace of a towtug about to pick up a derelict, “put these here onto you.” He threw the oil-skin coat about her head and shoulders, and stood puffing and embarrassedlv swinging the other part of the suit in his hands.
“Thank you,” she said weakly. “This will do nicely. I couldn’t think of depriving you of all your suit.”
“No marm,” shouted the captain, in want of something better to say. He shook the rain from his hair and combed his goatee with his fingers. “You’re sick,” he asserted, catching sight of her white face. “Come along marm, I’ll tow ye inter dry-dock.”
She made as though to demur but the captain grabbed her by the arm and in less than no time had her sitting beside his red-hot box stove. The cat stretched herself, yawned and climbed up on the visitor’s lap.
“Not much of a dockin’ place, marm” apologized the captain, “but any port in a storm say I, and I guess we didn’t make harbour any too soon. Look at them hail-stones cornin’ adown. I declare they be as big as the eyes of a caught stow-away. Lucky I saw you, marm.”
“Indeed it is,” she said, smiling. “I was foolish to venture out to-day because I have been ill. I don’t know what I should have done if you had not seen me and come to my assistance.”
“Wall now,” grinned the captain, “I’m awful glad that I was lookin’ out of the winder jest as you took bad. If I hadn’t noticed that you needed a pickup taint likely I’d of ever steamed your way at all, marm. And that don’t seem jest right seein’s we’re neebors and should know one another better. You see marm I’m a re-tired sea captain. Stubbs is my name, Capin’ Eli Stubbs. I’ve been livin’ here for two months now and most every day durin’ that time I’ve seen you goin’ out and driftin’ in like. It’s got to be a sorter habit with us tew keep an eye out fer you morn in’ and evenin’.”
“Meanin’ me and Sarryann, marm. She takes an interest in everythin’ that I do, ye see. I’ve got her trained that way. She’s a troublesome old beggar and an awful snoop but she makes a mighty good shipmate jest the same.” The woman was looking into the fire. The smile had faded from her lips. Her face was white and just a trifle wistful. lt; Looking at her, Captain Stubbs mentally commented on her charms. “A leetle
past middle age but still young and allars will be. Yes, like sea-stars and ha’r
Here his meditations were interrupted by her question.
“Do you think it right to say such things about her?”
The captain sat down weakly in a chair and combed his goatee miserably.
“Wall marm, ye see, she don’t mind m the least and she knows that I wouldn’t hurt her fer the world. Only once in my life did I lick her and then she deserved it.”
“You licked her!” in a voice of horror.
“Yes, marin. I cuffed her right well, but,” with a dry smile, “I ain’t never goin’ to lick her ag’in. You see she scratched me up somethin’ awful.”
“I think I must be going,” said the visitor hastily. “Let me thank you for your assistance and hospitality, Captain Stubbs, and permit me in turn to introduce myself. My name is Simpson, Mrs. Annie Simpson. I live in the little green cottage below the bridge.”
“Oh yes marm, I’ve seed it lots of times,” nodded the captain, “but ye ' needn’t be in no hurry to go,” he added hastily, “it’s liable to come on rain ag’in.”
“No,” smiled the woman, “it’s snowing now. Isn’t that glorious? We’ll have sleighing for Christmas, likely.” “Christmas? Wall now if I hadn’t forgot all ’bout Christmas. Why I’ll be everlastin’ anchored if Christmas aint due right soon. Jest when is it, marm?” “Why,” she laughed, “'it’s to-morrow Captain. That’s why I have braved the elements to-day. Simply had to come on Jack’s account. *He kept at me and scolded me until I couldn’t stand it any longer. He simply drove me forth to buy him his Christmas present.”
The captain turned with a heavy frown on his face. “Does he really scold ye, marm,” he asked.
“Oh yes, frightfully. He fairly chased me out of the house to-day.”
“Humph.” The captain’s fingers were beating a tatoo on the chair back. “Drove her outer the house,” he was
thinking, “the tarnation villan ! Wish I had him in hand I bet I’d make him walk the plank!” Aloud, he said, “If you’d be good enough t’ allow me t’ see you home, marm, I’d be right glad to do it. It jest might be as ye’s be takin’ another weak spell, if you’ll permit my savin’ so.”
“Oh, I’m sure I shall be all right now,” she replied, “and you see I am not going directly home, captain. I have to go on to the store and buy Jack’s present.”
She smiled up at him again and the captain’s heart thumped against his ribs. He had never expected to meet the woman who could make his heart flutter like a. captured sea-swallow, in this way. Perhaps the ardor in his eyes communicated itself to her, for there was just the slightest and softest tinge of pink in her cheeks as she held out her hand.
“I want you to come over to-morrow,” she said sweetly, “to come over and have Christmas dinner with us. I am sure Jack will like you, and—” she hesitated —“and I want you both to come.”
“Ye mean I’m to bring Sarryann with me, marm?”
“Wall, if that’s yer orders, I’ll tow her across, but I won’t insure that she’ll conduct herself proper, marm. Ye see she don’t never leave her leetle dock much, and strange surroundin’s might make her a leetle pitchy. Howsomever, I’ll be thar to take a reef in her if she starts sailin’ wild.”
The next moment she was gone and the captain was left alone, conscious of a great and strange longing in his empty old heart. He sank into a chair and picked up the tabby cat from the floor.
“Think of her wantin’ you over to her. Christmas dinner, you scratchin’ old reprobate !” he grinned. Then he leaned back in his seat and laughed until the marine water colors on the wall rattled. “And think of her man driven’ her out in the rain to buy him a Christmas present,” he groaned, “Oh Lord.”
That night Captain Stubbs waded through the snow over to the big general store of Smith & Perkins and made some Christmas purchases. Two yards of green silk ribbon for Sarryann’s neck, “in honor of her invite,” a blue tie, a new derby hat and a few other trifling things. lie stood a long time before a stand of silk umbrellas, felt carefully over some ladies’ gossamers piled on a counter, stood for a full hour before a jewelry case and sauntered through the green house a number of times. Towards closing time he sought the private office of Mr. Smith.
That gentleman was busily engaged in totalling up long lines of figures on a piece of foolscap and glanced peevishly over his shoulder at the intruder. But his looked changed to a smile of welcome when he saw who his visitor was.
“Why Cap,” he called cheerily, “glad to see you. Come in and sit down. Here, sit in this chair it’s softest. Why man, I was just this very minute thinking of you and trying to add a lot of swimming figures at the same time. Suppose you want to know how the business is progressing eh? Well, it never has been better. I’m preparing a statement here and we’ll have a shareholders’ meeting at the end of the year. I know you’ll be glad -that you put a few thousands into a growing business, Captain.”
The captain grinned and sat twirling his thumbs. “Oh, that’s all right,” he said, and swallowed hard.
“What’s the matter cap?” asked the bewildered merchant. “Perhaps you’re* not just satisfied with the investment? If that’s it, just say so and I’ll take your shares right now. Here’s me hand and here’s me check-book,” he laughed, “but I guess maybe it isn’t that what bothers you.
“Well old friend, just tell me wrhat it is then. You remember the time you piloted the ‘Bessie Bell’ through Devils Hobbles and you remember what I said to you then.”
“I remember,” sighed the captain, “and I’m here”
“And I’ll be as good as my word, cap. What can I do for you?”
“You can be my chart, my compass and my pilot all in one,” said the captain, wiping his brow on his handkerchief. “I’m all at sea lad. I’m in a fog and that’s no mistake. I feel like a derelict with her seams sprung and her rudder gone. I’ve gotter be given a line or I’ll flounder around till I’m swamped sure and plenty.”
“I’m here with the line cap,” laughed the merchant, “line, lifebuoy and everything that’s needed for a rescue. Now what’s the trouble?”
“I’m wantin’ to know what kind of a present to buy for a lady,” stammered the captain. I’m dizzy with tryin’ to think it out. I kin close my eyes and see a whole fleet of overshoes, parasols, handkerchiefs and other things sailin’ past, but I’m blest of I know what to grapple onter.”
“Oh, that’s easy,” laughed Smith. “Is the lady married or single.”
“Married,” growled the captain. “Aha, I see. A little present for your wife, eh, Cap?”
“I aint got no wife,” sourly.
Mr. Smith twisted about in his chair. “That’s just what I told her,” he affirmed, “but she declared you had.” “Who?” asked the wondering captain.
“Why, Mrs. Simpson. She’s my wife’s sister, you know, and she’s a plucky little woman, let me tell you. She has been our head bookkeeper here, since her husband died three years ago. She won’t let me help her at all. She even insists on paying rent for the cottage she lives in and which I happen to own. Yes, she heard me mention your name this afternoon. We were having a little visit, you see, she has been ill and has not been to the store for a week. She told me how you took her in out of the storm. She says you told her that your wife’s name was Saryann.”
Captain Stubbs had settled lower and lower in his chair until his sandy goatee was standing at right angles against his chest.
“And she,” he said, wetting his lips,
“she told me that her husband’s name was Jack.”
“No, his name was Thomas, but her little boy’s name is Jack.”
Captain Stubbs wriggled slowly erect and slowly arose from his seat.
“I guess that’s all now, thanks,” he said. “No, there’s somethin’ else. I want to buy that cottage.”
“You mean the one Mrs. Simpson is living in?”
“Why Captain, I’m sorry, but I can’t sell that cottage. I want her to live there just as long as she wishes.” “Well, what’s that got to do with it’” stormed the Captain. “So do I want her to live there as long as she wishes. Do you think I’ll molest her?”
“Oh well, that being the case—but you won’t pay the price I’m asking Cap. You’ll think it too high.”
“Name it,” growled the captain, reaching for the check book on Mr. Smith’s table.
He filled in the figures Mr. Smith named without so much as a flutter of the eye lashes and handing the check to the astonished merchant said, with his old grin, “Now where’s the deed?” “Right here in the vault,” replied Smith, “here you are Cap, I tell you, you’re a wonder !”
“I’ll see you again when I’ve somethin’ wuthwhile tellin’ you,” said the captain as he shook hands, ‘so long, and Merry Christmas.”
He put the deed in his inside pocket and walked out, leaving the merchant shaking his head in perplexity.
Next morning when the glad Christmas bells were pealing out on the frosty air and the beech and hickory sticks in the box stove were crackling merrily, Captain Stubbs sat smoking his pipe and gazing thoughtfully at Saryann, curled on the rug at his feet.
“If I don’t take that cat she’ll think I ain’t a man of my word,” he ruminated, “and if I do take her, she’ll likely think me an idiot. What I relly ort to do is throw rny anchor and stay right here. But I jest can’t stay, that’s all
there is to it. I want to see that little woman so much that I’m goin’ to hist sail and get goin’ pretty soon. If I
go on the rocks it’ll prove I aint no good as a navigator, but I always was game to take a chance and I’m game yet!
“Here you, Saryann,” he commanded, “come on here and get your holliday buntin’ on. Look at this here
green ribbon. People seein’ it will sure call ye Irish but, bein’ a cat, you shouldn’t mind what they call ye.
There now you look like Mary Queen 0’Scots and you should make some impression on the little widder. Get inter that basket and if you make any fuss or try to eat your way out, I’ll never take ye to another Christmas dinner.”
Along about ten o’clock, the captain, basket in hand, crunched his way along the street, bound for the green cottage on the hillside. Now and then a grin crossed his round face and occasionally a chuckle grumbled low in his throat, but for all that there was something akin to apprehension in his eyes. He was mad at himself one minute and pleased with himself next. “A year ago er no further away than yesterday if any lubber had told me that I would be driftin’ round where shoals and rocks lay hid, I’d have batted ‘em, by the great smocked mackerel, I would,” he told himself, slackening his pace as he neared the valley foot bridge. “But then agin’ if anybody had told me that I’d meet a little wumman with eyes like sea stars and hair brown as the shell of a horse chestnut—oh pshaw, think of my failin’ in love at my time of life. I’ve a good notion to turn right round and go hum, but no, I’m goin’ to steer this think through if it leaves me stranded high and dry.”
He branched across the bridge unconsciously quickening his pace as the curve in the road brought the little green cottage into view.
It stood on the side of a great hill that swept upward until its timbered crest brushed the low-hanging snow clouds. Below was the valley, now blanketed in snow, its little tinkling brook locked in the clutch of frost, but such a valley ! The captain knew, for he had seen it when the velvety green of spring rested upon it, and beyond it lay the big booming sea, he knew and loved and understood. He knew that he would never drift far beyond the sound of its voice or the kiss of its salt spray.
His eyes travelled from the speartipped hill to the deep valley and the wide cove that marked the brook’s mouth, and he sighed. If only he owned a spot like this, he thought, for-
getting for the moment that he did own it, one that commanded such a view of the ocean and held such a perfect little natural harbor as that cove wherein he might keep his own dingy, how great his joy would be. They would sail out through the purple mists of morning or cruise far up the coast when the day was creeping out behind the mountains, they--
He brought his thoughts up with a start. They? He grinned foolishly and lifted the basket up under his arm. “Saryann,” he whispered, “there’s no fool like an old fool. All fools dream, 1 guess, only I reckon wakin’ up is harder on an old fool than a young un. You best lay quiet now and not muss your ribbon ’cause we’re most there.”
A. thin spiral of blue smoke was ascending from the chimney of the green cottage and, as the captain passed through the gate, the smell of onions and savory drifted out to meet him. He slipped quietly up the lane and around the cow-stable until he found a door. This he opened cautiously and, placing the basket holding Saryann on a pile of straw, he closed the door again and walking around to the front of the cottage rang the bell.
The door was opened by a small boy with a rocking-horse, almost as large as himself, under one arm. He had brown eyes and brown hair.
“I guess you’re Mr. Santy Claus,” he said, “come in. I’m much obliged for the* rocking-horse.”
“You are very welcome, I’m sure,” said Captain Stubbs, seating himself by the fire and combing his goatee with his fingers. “But, you see, I’m not Mr. Santy. I’m Captain Stubbs.”
“Oh, I see,” nodded the boy, “mother told me that you were coming and she said that I must entertain you until she was able to* do so herself. She’s in the kitchen, basting the turkey. Here she is now.”
“Good morning, captain,” spoke a pleasant voice behind him, “a very merry Christmas to you. I see that you and Jack are already friends.”
The captain arose and bowing low
took the hand extended to him. Perhaps he unconsciously pressed it the slightest little bit, for his heart thumped strangely, as he noted the flush mount to the smiling face before him. “Thankee, marm,” he stammered. “The same to yourself. Ye see marm, I have come over.”
“We are glad,” said his hostess. “It would have been a dull Christmas dinner for Jack and I all alone, but,” she added, glancing around, “you were to bring-” She hesitated and the cap-
tain nodded. “Oh, I brought Saryann, all right,” he grinned. “She’s out in the cow-stable.”
“In the cow-stable?” she repeated in amazement.
“Yes, marm. In a basket. Ye see cats is queer critters and I thought I’d find out if you kept a canary afore I brought Saryann inside.”
“But I thought—” she commenced.
“I reckon I know what you thought, marm, but I ain’t married. Never was for that matter. Ye see I’ve been too busy sailin’ to settle down afore and now I reckon I’m most too wind-blistered and warped to ever find a wumman that’ll have me. Nope, there ain’t no Misses Stubbs, marm, otherwise I’d likely have brought her instead of Saryann.”
“Please go and bring Saryann in,” said the widow, with an effort. “I-—I think I smell my turkey scorching.” Then she fled to the kitchen.
“Sáy,” spoke Jack, from astride his wonderful yellow horse. “If you want a wife, Captain Stubbs, why don’t you marry my mother. I haven’t got any father now and I do want one. You’d make just a dandy father too, cause you could build me boats and tell me rippin’ sea stories. Ma says you could and ma knows a whole lot.”
“Jack, dear,” called a stifled voice from the kitchen, “come here, I want you.”
All good things must come to an end. B was early twilight, a short lonesome winter’s twilight. Outside the snow
was falling and the gray slate sea was booming. The Christmas dinner was over; the wonderful Christmas day was nearly done. On the cot little Jack lay sleeping, one arm thrown about the arching neck of his yellow charger. Before the glowing fire sat Widow Simpson and Captain Stubbs. On the mat at their feet lay Saryann, fed, happy and contented.
Silence had fallen between the two but twilight always invites silence. Besides, each of them was busy with his and her own thoughts. The captain was smoking. She had fairly commanded that he smoke and she was first officer of the brig, he reasoned. She had said that the smell of tobacco in a room made it more homelike. He didn’t know anything about that but he did know that he wanted to smoke and so, after some coaxing, he had lit up.
They had had one of the most glorious of dinners. He had carved the turkey and, well, he had made himself pretty much at home. That was what .he widow had begged him to do 'and somehow it was easy to make himself at home there with just her and Jack. Jack! What a charming little chap Jack was, to be sure. How he had laughed at the captain’s funny stories and clapped his hands at his tales of adventure.
The captain was thinking it all over now. So was the widow. The captain was thinking of Jack’s bit of advice. “If you want a wife why don’t you marry my mother.” Well, the widow was thinking of the very same thing so that it was perhaps natural for her to meet the foolish grin of the captain with a shy smile, when he broke away from his meditations to glance across at her.
The firelight played about her face and the grey eyes, that reminded him of sea-stars, were very soft.
The captain knocked the ashes from his pipe in the stove pan and cleared his throat. “Misses Simpson,” he said hesitatingly. “I’ve had very few glad days in my life, but after this I can
always say that I’ve had one real happy day. Sometimes an old salt, arter bein’ on the water for months, gets a scent of a land breeze and it sorter makes him cry inside, cause it’s jest a leetle taste of a great deal he’s missed. That’s how this day gets me, marm. I’ve allars been lonesome fer jest such a home as this, hungry fer,—well, fer somebody who could talk with me and understand me. I’d be ashamed to tell this to anybody else but you, but somehow I don’t mind tellin’ you at all. I’ve missed a whole lot out of life, I guess, but I ain’t goin’ to complain' now. Pretty soon me and Saryann’ll be goin’ out and back to our leetle cabin across the bridge and afore we go I want you to know jest how glad and happy you and Jack have made me feel. It’s the fust Christmas I ever ate on land but I’m not fool enough to think that all Christmas dinners on land are like this * one. What I was goin’ to say is this. I’ve been more or less of a roamin' craft. I’ve never headed fer any particular harbor and I’ve picked up a good deal of the yaller cargo durin’ my tramp v’yages. In other words, I’ve got a leetle money that ain’t doin’ me no particular good and likely never will.
“Now then, seein’s you and Jack has been so good to me, it’s only right and proper that I should try and throw a leetle happiness your way if I kin, not that I feel I’m under any obligation to do it understand, but jest because it gives me happiness to be able to do it. I’ve got here somethin’ I want you to accept as a leetle Christmas box from me and—here it is, marm.”
Captain Stubbs took from his pocket a long envelope and held it towards the widow.
She took it wonderinglv and leaning forward so as the firelight would fall upon it, drew from it a folded paper which she spread on her knees.
“Why—why—” she faltered, “it’s the deed to this cottage! What does it mean, captain?”
“Wall, ye see, marm,” grinned the delighted captain, “I bought this here
cottage last night and I’m turnin’ the deed over to you. It’s your cottage now, ye see.”
“Mine,” she repeated, her face growing white and her eyes large. “Mine I Oh, how I wish it were.”
“But it is, jest as sure as anythin’ it is !” exclaimed the captain.
She shook her head and slowly folding the deed put it back in the envelope.
“Thank you just the same,” she smiled, “but I can’t accept it. Don’t you understand it is impossible for me to accept this cottage from you. Why, it would—people would;—Oh, no, you must forgive me for refusing your generosity, Captain Stubbs, but I simply can’t take your gift much as I would love to.”
“I see,” said the captain miserably. “I guess I understand, marm. I’m a leetle bit behind the times, I reckon, but I kin see now that you be right. You can’t accept anythin’ from me so,” he hesitated and glanced towards the sleeping boy, “so I’ll give the cottage to Jack,” he grinned. “That’s it, I’ll give it to leetle Jack.”
She shook her head. “You can’t do even that,” she said gently. “Jack is me, don’t you understand? He is me. To allow him to accept would be the same as accepting myself.” She handed the envelope back to him and went on, a little choke in her voice. “It was very thoughtful and generous of you to "do this for us, Captain Stubbs. I appreciate it deeply because I know what feelings actuated it. But you must allow me to pay you rental for the cottage each month, providing you will allow us to remain in it.”
“Of course you kin stay,” said the captain absently. He put the deed in his pocket, looked out of the window at the darkening landscape, at the boy with his arm about the wooden horse, then back to the little woman who was now softly crying, her face between her hands. The captain noted that they were very slender, weak-looking hands. A strand of brown hair clung across them, reddish-brown it was in the fire-
light. He sighed and the slightest audible sob came from between those slender fingers. Then the captain did the only right and proper thing under the circumstances. He made towards the door. You see, the little woman with the brown hair was between him and the door and when he took those little hands in his big, hard ones and drew them down and saw that blushing face, why the inevitable simply had to happen.
It may have been half an hour, an hour or several hours later that Jack woke up. He yawned and rubbed his eyes and stared across at the pair in the firelight. Then he pushed the yellow horse out of the way and said:
“I want Captain Stubbs to take me on his knee, too, mother. I want him to tell me the story of the tramp ship.”
“Jack,” said the captain, reaching down for the boy, “I’ll tell you the story of how the tramp ship found a harbor.” So closed one happy Christmas day. It was late when the captain, his round face fairly glowing with joy, laid little Jack on the cot and bringing forth the covered basket gazed down at Saryann sleeping peacefully on the rug.
“I sorter hate to wake her up,” he grinned. “She seems so contented.” “Why not let her stay,” whispered the woman, coming close to him and hiding her head on his shoulder, “you —you will only have to carry her back here again soon, won’t you, captain?” “Why, shiver me, if you ain’t right,” he laughed. “I forgot jest fer the second that me and Saryann had found harbor.”