“Captain Nat sent his regards to you, Mrs. Coffin,” said the minister, moving toward the stairs.
“Did, hey?” was the housekeeper’s reply. “Want to know!”
IN WHICH THE PARSON AND MR. PEPPER DECLARE THEIR INDEPENDENCE
That afternoon, when dinner was over, the Reverend John decided to make a few duty calls. The first of these he determined should be on the Peppers. Lavinia and her brother had called at the Parsonage several times, but as yet he had not paid them a visit. It was not a ceremony to which he looked forward with delight, but it must be performed. Miss Pepper had hinted several times, at sewing circle and after prayer meeting, of “partiality” and “only stoppin’ in where they had fancy curtains up to the windows.” So, as it could not be put off longer, without causing trouble, he determined to go through with it.
The Pepper house was situated just off the main road on the lane leading over the dunes to the ocean and the light. It was a small building, its white paint dingy and storm beaten, and its little fenced-in front yard dotted thickly with clumps of silver-leaf saplings. A sign, nailed crookedly on a post, informed those seeking such information that within was to be found “Abishai G. W. Pepper, Tax Collector, Assessor, Boots and Shoes Repaired.” And beneath this was fastened a shingle with the chalked notice, “Salt Hay for sale.”
The boot and shoe portion of the first sign was a relic of other days. Kyan had been a cobbler once, but it is discouraging to wait three or four weeks while the pair of boots one has left to be resoled are forgotten in a corner. Captain Zeb Mayo’s pointed comment, “I want my shoe leather to wear while I’m alive, not to be laid out in after I die of old age,” expressed the general feeling of the village and explained why custom had left Mr. Pepper and flown to the more enterprising shoemaker at “The Corners.” The tax collectorship might have followed it, but here Lavinia kept her brother up to the mark. She went with him on his rounds and it gave her opportunity to visit, and afterwards comment upon, every family in town.
The minister walked up the dusty lane, lifted the Pepper gate and swung it back on its one hinge, shooed away the three or four languid and discouraged-looking fowls that were taking a sun bath on the clam-shell walk, and knocked at the front door. No one coming in answer to the knock, he tried again. Then he discovered a rusty bell pull and gave it a sharp tug. The knob came off in his hand and he hurriedly thrust it back again into its place. Evidently, that bell was solely for ornament.
He came to the conclusion that no one was at home and felt a guilty sense of relief in consequence. But his conscience would not let him depart without another try, so he clenched his fist and gave the cracked door panel a series of tremendous thumps. A thin black cat, which had evidently been asleep beneath the step, burst from its concealment and fled in frantic terror. Then from somewhere in the rear of the house came the sound of a human voice.