Captain Zeb stepped beside the stage and put one foot on the wheel.
“Say, Thad,” he whispered, “is that all you know? Where did he go to?”
“Can’t tell you, cap’n. The conductor says he see him afore they got to Cohasset Narrows and not after. Naturally, we s’pose he got off there. Pretty good joke on old Daniels, I call it. Serve him right, figgerin’ to take a passenger away from me. He, he!”
“But you do know more, now don’t you? Tell a feller—come! I don’t like Elkanah any better’n you do.”
“Well,” the driver’s voice dropped still lower. “Well,” he whispered, “I did hear this much, though don’t you tell none of them: A chap I know was on the train and he said he see Cap’n Nat get off the cars at the Cohasset Narrows depot and there was a woman with him.”
“A woman? A woman? What woman?”
“Blessed if I know! And he didn’t nuther. So long! Git dap!”
The reception committee and its escort drove slowly back to Trumet. The Daniels following was disgusted and disappointed. Captain Elkanah had figured upon keeping Hammond under his own wing until he was safely deposited at the old tavern. Grace was there and Elkanah meant that these two should meet before any inkling of Ellery’s story reached Nat’s ears. Incidentally, he could drop a few damaging hints concerning the minister’s character. To hurt Ellery all he could and prejudice Hammond against him—that was the plan, and now it was frustrated. The captain had not put in an appearance and no one knew where he was or when he would come home. Obviously, there was nothing to do except give up the reception and await further news from the missing man.
Some of those present wished to remain in Bayport until night. Another train was due in Sandwich and, possibly, Nat might come on that. They could telegraph and find out whether or not he did come, and if he did, could send a carriage for him. But this suggestion was overruled. The reception was off.
The homeward journey had some unpleasant incidents. Several Come-Outers had driven over. Nat belonged to them, so they felt—he was the son of their dead founder and leader—and they determined the Regulars should not have him all to themselves. They had come to bid him welcome on behalf of the worshipers at the chapel. Now they took advantage of the general disappointment to make sarcastic and would-be-humorous remarks loud enough for the majestic occupant of the decorated carriage to hear.
“Seems to me,” said Thoph Black, “that them flags ought to be ha’f mast. That craft’s in distress.”
“S-sh-h!” counciled his companion, another Come-Outer. “Don’t be irreverent. Look who’s cruisin’ under ’em. That’s the King of Trumet. Let’s you and me go ahead and fire salutes, Thoph.”
Captain Elkanah wrathfully ordered the flags to be removed from the horses’ heads and from the dashboard.