Nat groaned aloud.
“A minute, dad,” he stammered. “Just give me a minute, for Heaven sakes! Keziah—”
“Keziah!” repeated Eben. “Keziah? What are you talkin’ to her for? She knows there couldn’t be no better match in the world. You do know it, don’t ye, Keziah?”
“Yes,” said Keziah slowly. “I guess—I guess you’re right, Eben.”
“Keziah Coffin,” cried Nat Hammond, “do you tell me to marry Grace?”
“Yes, Nat, I—I think your father’s right.”
“Then—then—what difference does—All right, dad. Just as Grace says.”
“Thank God!” cried Captain Eben. “Doctor, you and Mrs. Coffin are witnesses to this. There! now my decks are clear and I’d better get ready to land. Gracie, girl, the Good Book’s over there on the bureau. Read me a chapter, won’t you?”
An hour later Keziah sat alone in the dining room. She had stolen away when the reading began. Dr. Parker, walking very softly, came to her and laid his hand on her shoulder.
“He’s gone,” he said simply.
IN WHICH KEZIAH BREAKS THE NEWS
It was nearly five o’clock, gray dawn of what was to be a clear, beautiful summer morning, when Keziah softly lifted the latch and entered the parsonage. All night she had been busy at the Hammond tavern. Busy with the doctor and the undertaker, who had been called from his bed by young Higgins; busy with Grace, soothing her, comforting her as best she could, and petting her as a mother might pet a stricken child. The poor girl was on the verge of prostration, and from hysterical spasms of sobs and weeping passed to stretches of silent, dry-eyed agony which were harder to witness and much more to be feared.
“It is all my fault,” she repeated over and over again. “All my fault! I killed him! I killed him, Aunt Keziah! What shall I do? Oh, why couldn’t I have died instead? It would have been so much better, better for everybody.”
“Ss-sh! ss-sh! deary,” murmured the older woman. “Don’t talk so; you mustn’t talk so. Your uncle was ready to go. He’s been ready for ever so long, and those of us who knew how feeble he was expected it any time. ’Twa’n’t your fault at all and he’d say so if he was here now.”
“No, he wouldn’t. He’d say just as I do, that I was to blame. You don’t know, Aunt Keziah. Nobody knows but me.”
“Maybe I do, Gracie, dear; maybe I do. Maybe I understand better’n you think I do. And it’s all been for the best. You’ll think so, too, one of these days. It seems hard now; it is awful hard, you poor thing, but it’s all for the best, I’m sure. Best for everyone. It’s a mercy he went sudden and rational, same as he did. The doctor says that, if he hadn’t, he’d have been helpless and bedridden and, maybe, out of his head for another year. He couldn’t have lived longer’n that, at the most.”