The lock turned; the door opened and closed. Grace, clinging to the balusters, heard Captain Hammond cross the room, slowly and feebly. She heard him enter the sitting room. Then she heard nothing more, not another sound, though the minutes dragged on and on, endlessly, eternally, and each with a message, a sentence repeated over and over again in her brain. “If she really cares for him, she won’t let him ruin his life.”
By and by, pale, but more composed, and with her mind made up, she came down into the hall. Drawing a long breath, she turned into the sitting room to face her uncle. By the light shining through the dining-room door she saw him on his knees by the haircloth sofa. She spoke his name. He did not answer nor look up. Alarmed, she touched him on the shoulder. At her touch his arm slid from the couch and he fell gently over upon his side on the carpet.
IN WHICH CAPTAIN EBEN MAKES PORT
Half past eight. In the vestry of the Regular church John Ellery was conducting his prayer meeting. The attendance was as large as usual. Three seats, however, were vacant, and along the settees people were wondering where Captain Elkanah Daniels and his daughter might be. They had not missed a service for many a day. And where was Keziah Coffin?
At the Come-Outer chapel the testifying and singing were in full blast. But Ezekiel Bassett was leading, for Captain Eben Hammond had not made his appearance. Neither had Grace Van Horne, for that matter, but Captain Eben’s absence was the most astonishing.
“Somethin’s the matter,” whispered Josiah Badger to his right-hand neighbor. “Somethin’s wrong d-d-d-down to the tavern, sartin’ sure. I’m goin’ down there just soon’s meetin’s over and f-f-f-find out. Eben wouldn’t no more miss leadin’ his meetin’ from choice than I’d go without a meal’s v-v-vi-vittles. Somethin’s happened and I’m goin’ to know what ’tis. You’ll go along with me, won’t ye, Lot?”
The answer was an affirmative. In fact, almost every worshiper in that chapel had determined to visit the Hammond tavern as soon as the service was at an end.
In the Regular parsonage Keziah sat alone by the sitting-room table. Prayer meeting and supper she had forgotten entirely. The minister had not come home for his evening meal, and food was furthest from the housekeeper’s thoughts. What should she do? What ought she to do? How could she avert the disaster so certain to overwhelm those two young people the moment their secret became known?
It was in vain that she tried to encourage herself with the hope that Kyan had exaggerated—that the meetings in the grove had not been as frequent as he said they were, or that they had been merely casual. She knew better. She had seen the pair together and the look in John Ellery’s eyes. No, the mischief was done, they loved each other; or, at least, he loved her. There was the great trouble.