She seemed to enjoy the prospect of the meeting. Ellery wondered what on earth he should say to Captain Hammond—that is, provided he was allowed to say anything.
Suddenly a heavier gust of rain and wind beat upon them. The minister struggled with the umbrella. The gust passed and with it the fog. An instant before it had been all about them, shutting them within inky walls. Now it was not. Through the rain he could see the shadowy silhouettes of bushes at the road side. Fifty yards away the lighted windows of the Hammond tavern gleamed yellow. Farther on, over a ragged, moving fringe of grass and weeds, was a black flat expanse—the bay. And a little way out upon that expanse twinkled the lights of a vessel. A chain rattled. Voices shouting exultingly came to their ears.
“Why!” exclaimed Grace in excited wonder, “it’s the packet! She was due this morning, but we didn’t expect her in till to-morrow. How did she find her way in the fog? I must tell uncle.”
She started to run toward the house. The minister would have followed with the umbrella, but she stopped him.
“No, Mr. Ellery,” she urged earnestly. “No, please don’t. I’m all right now. Thank you. Good night.”
A few steps farther on she turned.
“I hope Cap’n Elkanah won’t know,” she whispered, the laugh returning to her voice. “Good night.”
Ellery stood still in the rain and watched her. He saw her pass the lighted windows and open a door. Into the yellow radiance she flashed and disappeared. A minute more and the bulky form of Eben Hammond, lantern in hand, a sou’wester on his head and his shoulders working themselves into an oilskin coat, burst out of the door and hurriedly limped down toward the shore. On the threshold, framed in light, stood his ward, gazing after him. And the minister gazed at her.
From the bay came the sound of oars in row-locks. A boat was approaching the wharf. And suddenly from the boat came a hail.
“Halloo! Ahoy, dad! Is that you?”
There was an answering shout from the wharf; a shout of joy. Then a rattle of oars and a clamor of talk. And Grace still stood in the doorway, waiting.
The lantern bobbed up the slope. As it reached the tavern gateway, the minister saw that it was now carried by a tall, active man, who walked with a seaman’s stride and roll. Captain Eben was close beside him, talking excitedly.
They entered the yard.
“Grace! Grace!” screamed Captain Eben. “Gracie, girl, look who’s come! Look!”
The tall man ran forward.
“Hi, Grace!” he cried in a deep, hearty voice. “Is that you? Ain’t you got a word for your old messmate?”
The girl stepped out into the rain.
“Why! why, Nat!” she cried.
The big man picked her up bodily in his arms and carried her into the house. Captain Eben followed and the door closed.