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The Belted Seas By Arthur Colton Characters: 11779

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

One day I left Pemberton's and took the road to Adrian. It was an afternoon in November. The church in Adrian stands on the edge of the graveyard, in the middle of the village, and there I went about looking for the McCulloch lot, and found it, and there was Madge's stone. It's a flat grey stone. There's many more like it, set along on rows. It seemed a neighbourly sort of place to rest in, if a man chose, after a roaming life. I stood there till the shadow came along across the churchyard from the church steeple. Then it grew dusk, and it seemed like now and then I heard a bell tolling. Aye, it was like a bell tolling. It seemed to me I could hear it. But there was no bell.

Then I came out and went to look for Andrew McCulloch's house. It stands north of the Green, looking across the churchyard. I knocked at the door, then I backed off the step, when it opened, thinking there must be a mistake about the date, and maybe inscriptions on gravestones was exaggerated; there was a girl in the doorway that looked and acted like Madge Pemberton complete. Moreover an old seaman falling off the doorstep didn't seem to upset her balmy calmness. She says:

"What is it?"

"It's Tom Buckingham come home," I says. "But I guess you're the next generation," and I asked for Andrew McCulloch.

He's a red-faced man with short side whiskers, a chunky, fussy, and hot-tempered man, but whether Madge Pemberton had managed him, or whether he'd worn her out, I couldn't make up my mind about the likelihood. I sat a while talking with him, and watching Madge McCulloch, his daughter, lay the tea table. I thought how I'd give something to get her to lay the tea table for me as a habit, and I didn't see how that was likely to come about.

Andrew McCulloch appeared to think most people in Adrian would be more to his mind if buried with epitaphs describing them accurate.

It was eight o'clock when I came out and started for Pemberton's. I came past McCulloch's fence, and heard some one speak near by, and there was a man sitting on the top rail near the corner. It was considerable dark.

"Been in to see King Solomon?" he says.

"What's that?" I says.

"Major General McCulloch," he says. "Why, I believe you stayed to tea! Why, I haven't fetched that in three months!"

"Why not?"

"Oh," he says, "why, you see, the venerable ecclesiastic he's afraid I'd want to come to breakfast too. He thinks I am a grasshopper and a burden."

I thought it looked like a promising conversation, and climbed on the fence beside him, and took a look at him in the starlight.

He said his name was "Billy Corliss," and explained why he sat on the fence. He said it was on account of Andrew McCulloch. He said he and Madge McCulloch were agreed, but Andrew McCulloch wasn't agreeable. That was partly because Andrew wanted Madge to stay where she was, partly because Corliss had no assets or prospects, and partly because Andrew had an unreasonable low opinion of him, as a roaming and unsettled sort. He spoke of Andrew by various and soaring names, implying a high opinion of him, and especially in speaking of Andrew's warm temper, his respect got remarkable. He'd call him maybe, "St. Peter," in that connection, or maybe "Sitting Bull." For candour, and opening his mind, and asking the world for sympathy, I took him to be given that way. He said the town of Adrian was divided into two parties on the subject of him, and Madge, and Andrew McCulloch, so I took it Andrew's temper had had some reasonable exercise.

"St. Peter's got a good run of warm language," he says, "but his fence is chilly. He's got a toothache in his shoes, he has, that man."

"Why don't you elope?" I says.

"That's the trouble," he says. "When I ask Madge, 'Why not?' she says, 'Where to?' I'd been thinking I'd take a look around the world and see."

"Don't you do it," I says. "When you get around the other side, it's a long way back. It took me thirty years."

"You don't mean it!" he says. "Why, that wouldn't do."

"Assets take time," I says, "but you might get some prospects."

Then I fell to thinking how it could come about that Madge McCulloch might get into the habit of making tea for me, seeing I was too old to marry her, besides her being spoken for. Then I thought she might do it by keeping a hotel, and I says:

"Speaking of keeping hotels-"

"Who's speaking of it?"

"I am. I kept a hotel once."

"Seaside?" he says.

"No. Inland a bit."

"Summer hotel?"

"Aye, summer hotel. Always summer there."

"Why, she must have paid!"

"Aye, she paid. She was put up in New Bedford," I says, "and run in South America."

"You don't mean it!"

"It's a good business if tended to," I says. "But you don't tend to business, you don't. That's the trouble with you. That hotel fell into the river more'n twenty years ago, and it ain't to the point, but here Madge McCulloch's been jerking the window shade up and down like she had something on her mind."

"It's a signal," he says, and with that he dropped off and disappeared toward the back of the house. He left me on the fence.

I thought of the four men that had stood by me most in my time; now one was a miser and smuggler, and got himself hung; and one was a thief, and died of a split wishbone, on what he called "a throne;" and one was a fighter and gambler and poet, and he had a heavy fist, and he turned remorseful into a Burmese monk; and one was Stevey Todd. And Madge Pemberton thought at one time I was all right, but she was wrong there. And I thought how here was Andrew and another Madge, and here was Billy Corliss, and here was the world galloping along lively. I couldn't but admire the way it was so made as to keep going, and me thinking it had come pretty near to a standstill.

By-and-by, Corliss and Madge McCulloch came across the yard from the back of the house, a

nd climbed on the fence, and Madge hooked her feet on the lower rail and talked cheerful. They spread out what was on their minds pretty confident. I never knew a couple so open-minded.

"Billy wants to run away," she says, "but he doesn't know where to yet, unless it's to be a summer hotel in South America that fell into a river. He thinks it was an interesting hotel," she says. "Do you think it would be nice? But how would we get there?"

"It's wrong side up now," I says; and Billy Corliss says, "Why, there's a chance for housekeeping ingenious! Let's be social! 'Sure Mike!' says the dowager duchess, wishing to be democratic. Why, look here!" he says. "What right's a chimney got to be haughty over a cellar?"

"Oh, keep still, Billy!" says Madge McCulloch, and he closed up, sudden but cheerful, as if he'd been hit by a kettle.

I said I wouldn't recommend the Helen Mar now, but I'd recommend hotel keeping as a good and sociable business.

"For," I says, "the seaman travels around the world seeking profit and entertainment, but the hotel keeper sits at home comfortable, and they come to him. I've been a hotel-keeper in South America" I says, "and might have been one in Greenough for the asking. I chose to be a seaman, and take a look around the world, being foolish and curious. Now, that was a mistake, for the man that bides in his place for the main of his life, has the best of it. He knows as much of the world as another; for if a man goes romping and roaming, and knows no neighbours and no family of his own, why, sure there's a deal of the world that he never knows. That's the moral of me," I says, "that's the moral of me. Now, as to hotel keeping," I says, "I liked that business as well as anything I ever did. I liked it well," I says, and I looked around both sides of me, and stopped, for no Madge and no Billy Corliss was sitting on the fence. Nothing there but lonesome sections of fence.

"Why," I says, "here's an open-minded couple. And it's an energetic couple. Where in the nation did it go to?"

Then I saw Andrew McCulloch coming down from the front door to the gate, but he turned to the right at the gate, and went stumping away up the street, and Madge and Billy Corliss got up from crouching beside the fence, and Madge says:

"Let's go in and get warm."

And I says to myself, "It's a couple that's got good sense, too," for Andrew's fence was chilly.

We went in the house and sat down by the stove.

"As to hotel keeping," I says, "I've talked that over with Pemberton, and Stevey Todd, who was the man that run the emigrant hotel with me, and Pemberton's agreeable, and Stevey Todd don't argue against it. I've been thinking of building on to Pemberton's, and making a big summer hotel. It stands in sight of the sea, and it's a likely spot. Now," I says, "hotel keeping is a combination of hospitality and profit. The secret of it is advertising and a peaceable mind to take things as they come. A good hotel keeper is a moderate man. He sees folks coming and going from day to day, and how many does he see as comfortable as himself? Hotel keeping is a good life, you can take my word."

Then there was a noise in the hall outside, but I went on:

"It's a good life," I says, and I looked around on both sides of me, and I saw no Madge McCulloch and no Billy Corliss. Nothing but empty chairs, and two open doors behind me.

I says, "That's a singular coincidence."

By the noise in the hall I judged Andrew McCulloch was come back unexpected, and I judged he might come in ambitious and inquiring, and not easy to take as he came. I started for the open doors, and got through one of them hasty, and shut it behind. It was soon enough to escape Andrew, and too soon to see if it was the right door. It was dark there except for the starlight through a window, showing crockery on shelves. The place was no more than a pantry.

I've been in different circumstances by sea and land, but I didn't recollect at that moment ever being planted in just those, and it seemed to me a couple, that could plant an experienced seaman that way must be ingenious as well as open-minded. I heard Andrew McCulloch talking to himself like the forerunnings of an earthquake, and I says:

"An experienced seaman might get out, but not that way. Experienced seamen don't put off on the windward side. But," I says, "it seems to me experience and ingenuity could keep a hotel."

With that I put up the window softly and climbed out and dropped to the ground. I went round the house looking for ingenious couples, and then across the yard, and there they sat on the same fence, with their feet hooked as previous, and they appeared to feel calm and candid.

"As to hotel keeping," I says, climbing on the fence, "it's a good life,-" and there I stopped.

I looked over at the old churchyard on the Green. It was dark and still over there. The rows of flat tombstones were grey, like planted ghosts. "Hic Jacet" means "here lies," as I'm told. Those folks that once got their "Hic jacets" over them wouldn't ever get up to argue the statement; but those that left good memories behind, I guessed they were glad of it. As for the living, if they were elderly, they'd best go to bed. With that I got down from the fence.

"Madge," I says, "do you know why I'm backing you?"

"Yes," she says, "I know."

How the nation did she know?

"Happen Billy Corliss may want to run away still" I says, "and maybe you'll be asking, 'Where to?' and maybe he'll remark, 'Pemberton's.' Then if you and he should drop into Pemberton's most any time, with a notion of connubiality, I guess likely he'd have prospects to modify Andrew McCulloch with afterward, 'Pemberton's seaside Hotel. Peaceful Patronage Welcome. No Earthquakes nor Revolutions Allowed.'"

Then I left them on the fence and came back to Greenough.

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