“And all to once the water deepened. Hammond swung her up into the wind.
“‘Now you can anchor,’ says he.
“’And ‘bout time, too, I guess,’ says ’Bije. ’I cal’late the skipper’s right. This is Horsefoot and we’re right between the shoals. Yes, sir, and I hear breakers. Lively there!’
“They hove over the mudhook and dropped the sails. Nat shook his head.
“‘Breakers or not,’ says he, ’I tell you I’ve smelt home for the last half hour. Now, by the jumpin’ Moses, I can taste it!’
“And inside of a couple of shakes come the rain. It poured for a while and then the fog cleared. Right acrost their bows was Trumet, with the town clock strikin’ ten. Over the flat place between the hills they could see the light on the ocean side. And they was anchored right in the deep hole inside the breakwater, as sure as I’m knee high to a marlin spike!
“’Bije just stared at Hammond with his mouth open.
“‘Nat,’ says he, ’you’re a seaman, if I do say it. I thought I was a pretty good bay pilot, but I can’t steer a vessel without a compass through a night as black as Pharaoh’s Egypt, and in a thick fog besides, and land her square on top of her moorin’s. If my hat wa’n’t sloshin’ around thirty mile astern, I snum if I wouldn’t take it off to you this minute!’
“‘Nat,’ stammers Zach, ‘I must say I—’
“Nat snapped him shut like a tobacco box. ‘You needn’t,’ says he. ’But I’ll say this to you, Zach Foster. When I undertake to handle a vessel I handle her best I know how, and the fact that I don’t own her makes no difference to me. You just put that down somewheres so you won’t forget it.’
“And this mornin’,” crowed Captain Zebedee, concluding his long yarn, “after that, mind you, that lubber Zach Foster is around town tellin’ folks that his schooner had been over the course so often she couldn’t get lost. She found her way home herself. What do you think of that?”
The two members of the parish committee left the parsonage soon after Captain Mayo had finished his story. Elkanah had listened with growing irritation and impatience. Zebedee lingered a moment behind his companions.
“Don’t you fret yourself about what happened last night, Mr. Ellery,” he whispered. “It’ll be all right. ’Course nobody’d want you to keep up chummin’ in with Come-Outers, but what you said to old Eben’ll square you this time. So long.”
The minister shut the door behind his departing guests. Then he went out into the kitchen, whither the housekeeper had preceded him. He found her standing on the back step, looking across the fields. The wash bench was untenanted.
“Hum!” mused Ellery thoughtfully, “that was a good story of Captain Mayo’s. This man Hammond must be a fine chap. I should like to meet him.”
Keziah still looked away over the fields. She did not wish her employer to see her face—just then.