Keziah’s nearest neighbor leaned toward her.
“I guess it’s somebody to see you,” she said. “Your name is Coffin, ain’t it?”
“No, no. That is, it can’t be anybody to see me. I don’t want to see anybody. Tell him so, whoever it is. I can’t see anybody. I—Nat!”
He stood in the doorway, beckoning to her.
“Keziah,” he said, “come here. I want you. I’ll tell you why in a minute. Come!”
She hesitated. In a measure she was relieved, for she had feared the man at the door might be her husband. But she was greatly agitated and troubled. Everyone in the place was looking at her.
“Nat,” she said, trying to speak firmly, “I can’t see you now. I’m very busy. Please go away.”
“I can’t come. Go away. Please!”
“Keziah, I’m waitin’. And I’m goin’ to wait if I stay here all night. Come!”
She obeyed then. She could not have a scene there, before all those strangers. She stepped past him into the little room. He followed and closed the door.
“Nat,” she said, turning to him, “why did you come? How could you be so cruel? I—”
He interrupted her, but not with words. The next moment his arms were about her and she was pressed tight against the breast of his blue jacket.
“Keziah,” he whispered, “I’ve come to take you home. Home for good. No, stay where you are and I’ll tell you all about it. Praise be to God! we’re off the rocks at last. All that’s left is to tow you into port, and, by the everlastin’, that’s what I’m here for!”
When Upham came up the stairs after his long interview with “the boss,” he found the door at the top closed. When he rattled the latch that door was opened by a stranger.
“Are you Mr. Hallett?” asked Captain Nat briskly.
“No, I’m not. Mr. Hallett is in his office on the first floor. But what—”
“On the main deck, hey? Well, all right; we won’t trouble him. You’ll do just as well; I judge you’re one of the mates of this craft. You tell Mr. Hallett that this lady here has decided not to cruise with him any longer. No fault to find, you understand, but she’s got a better berth. She’s goin’ to ship along with me. Ain’t that so, Keziah?”
Keziah, pale, trembling, scarcely realizing the situation even yet, did not speak. But Captain Nat Hammond seemed to find his answer in her silence. A few minutes later, her arm in his, they descended the gloomy, dusty stairs, and emerged into the sunshine together.
That afternoon Mr. Abner Stone again “washed his hands” of his poor relation—this time, as he indignantly declared, “for good and all.”
IN WHICH KEZIAH’S PARSON PREACHES ONCE MORE