Read CHAPTER XIII - SCOOTSY’S EPITHET of The Tides of Barnegat, free online book, by F. Hopkinson Smith, on ReadCentral.com.

Lying on Barnegat Beach, within sight of the House of Refuge and Fogarty’s cabin, was the hull of a sloop which had been whirled in one night in a southeaster, with not a soul on board, riding the breakers like a duck, and landing high and dry out of the hungry clutch of the surf-dogs.  She was light at the time and without ballast, and lay stranded upright on her keel.  All attempts by the beach-combers to float her had proved futile; they had stripped her of her standing rigging and everything else of value, and had then abandoned her.  Only the evenly balanced hull was left, its bottom timbers broken and its bent keelson buried in the sand.  This hulk little Tod Fogarty, aged ten, had taken possession of; particularly the after-part of the hold, over which he had placed a trusty henchman armed with a cutlass made from the hoop of a fish barrel.  The henchman ­aged seven ­wore knee-trousers and a cap and answered to the name of Archie.  The refuge itself bore the title of “The Bandit’s Home.”

This new hulk had taken the place of the old schooner which had served Captain Holt as a landmark on that eventful night when he strode Barnegat Beach in search of Bart, and which by the action of the ever-changing tides, had gradually settled until now only a hillock marked its grave ­a fate which sooner or later would overtake this newly landed sloop itself.

These Barnegat tides are the sponges that wipe clean the slate of the beach.  Each day a new record is made and each day it is wiped out:  records from passing ships, an empty crate, broken spar or useless barrel grounded now and then by the tide in its flow as it moves up and down the sand at the will of the waters.  Records, too, of many footprints, ­the lagging steps of happy lovers; the dimpled feet of joyous children; the tread of tramp, coast-guard or fisherman ­all scoured clean when the merciful tide makes ebb.

Other records are strewn along the beach; these the tide alone cannot efface ­the bow of some hapless schooner it may be, wrenched from its hull, and sent whirling shoreward; the shattered mast and crosstrees of a stranded ship beaten to death in the breakers; or some battered capstan carried in the white teeth of the surf-dogs and dropped beyond the froth-line.  To these with the help of the south wind, the tides extend their mercy, burying them deep with successive blankets of sand, hiding their bruised bodies, covering their nakedness and the marks of their sufferings.  All through the restful summer and late autumn these battered derelicts lie buried, while above their graves the children play and watch the ships go by, or stretch themselves at length, their eyes on the circling gulls.

With the coming of the autumn all this is changed.  The cruel north wind now wakes, and with a loud roar joins hands with the savage easter; the startled surf falls upon the beach like a scourge.  Under their double lash the outer bar cowers and sinks; the frightened sand flees hither and thither.  Soon the frenzied breakers throw themselves headlong, tearing with teeth and claws, burrowing deep into the hidden graves.  Now the forgotten wrecks, like long-buried sins, rise and stand naked, showing every scar and stain.  This is the work of the sea-puss ­the revolving maniac born of close-wed wind and tide; a beast so terrible that in a single night, with its auger-like snout, it bites huge inlets out of farm lands ­mouthfuls deep enough for ships to sail where but yesterday the corn grew.

In the hull of this newly stranded sloop, then ­sitting high and dry, out of the reach of the summer surf, ­Tod and Archie spent every hour of the day they could call their own; sallying forth on various piratical excursions, coming back laden with driftwood for a bonfire, or hugging some bottle, which was always opened with trembling, eager fingers in the inmost recesses of the Home, in the hope that some tidings of a lost ship might be found inside; or with their pockets crammed with clam-shells and other sea spoils with which to decorate the inside timbers of what was left of the former captain’s cabin.

Jane had protested at first, but the doctor had looked the hull over, and found that there was nothing wide enough, nor deep enough, nor sharp enough to do them harm, and so she was content.  Then again, the boys were both strong for their age, and looked it, Tod easily passing for a lad of twelve or fourteen, and Archie for a boy of ten.  The one danger discovered by the doctor lay in its height, the only way of boarding the stranded craft being by means of a hand-over-hand climb up the rusty chains of the bowsprit, a difficult and trousers-tearing operation.  This was obviated by Tod’s father, who made a ladder for the boys out of a pair of old oars, which the two pirates pulled up after them whenever an enemy hove in sight.  When friends approached it was let down with more than elaborate ceremony, the guests being escorted by Archie and welcomed on board by Tod.

Once Captain Holt’s short, sturdy body was descried in the offing tramping the sand-dunes on his way to Fogarty’s, and a signal flag ­part of Mother Fogarty’s flannel petticoat, and blood-red, as befitted the desperate nature of the craft over which it floated, was at once set in his honor.  The captain put his helm hard down and came up into the wind and alongside the hulk.

“Well! well! well!” he cried in his best quarterdeck voice ­“what are you stowaways doin’ here?” and he climbed the ladder and swung himself over the battered rail.

Archie took his hand and led him into the most sacred recesses of the den, explaining to him his plans for defence, his armament of barrel hoops, and his ammunition of shells and pebbles, Tod standing silently by and a little abashed, as was natural in one of his station; at which the captain laughed more loudly than before, catching Archie in his arms, rubbing his curly head with his big, hard hand, and telling him he was a chip of the old block, every inch of him ­none of which did either Archie or Tod understand.  Before he climbed down the ladder he announced with a solemn smile that he thought the craft was well protected so far as collisions on foggy nights were concerned, but he doubted if their arms were sufficient and that he had better leave them his big sea knife which had been twice around Cape Horn, and which might be useful in lopping off arms and legs whenever the cutthroats got too impudent and aggressive; whereupon Archie threw his arms around his grizzled neck and said he was a “bully commodore,” and that if he would come and live with them aboard the hulk they would obey his orders to a man.

Archie leaned over the rotten rail and saw the old salt stop a little way from the hulk and stand looking at them for some minutes and then wave his hand, at which the boys waved back, but the lad did not see the tears that lingered for an instant on the captain’s eyelids, and which the sea-breeze caught away; nor did he hear the words, as the captain resumed his walk:  “He’s all I’ve got left, and yet he don’t know it and I can’t tell him.  Ain’t it hell?”

Neither did they notice that he never once raised his eyes toward the House of Refuge as he passed its side.  A new door and a new roof had been added, but in other respects it was to him the same grewsome, lonely hut as on that last night when he had denounced his son outside its swinging door.

Often the boys made neighborly visits to friendly tribes and settlers.  Fogarty was one of these, and Doctor Cavendish was another.  The doctor’s country was a place of buttered bread and preserves and a romp with Rex, who was almost as feeble as Meg had been in his last days.  But Fogarty’s cabin was a mine of never-ending delight.  In addition to the quaint low house of clapboards and old ship-timber, with its sloping roof and little toy windows, so unlike his own at Yardley, and smoked ceilings, there was a scrap heap piled up and scattered over the yard which in itself was a veritable treasure-house.  Here were rusty chains and wooden figure-heads of broken-nosed, blind maidens and tailless dolphins.  Here were twisted iron rods, fish-baskets, broken lobster-pots, rotting seines and tangled, useless nets ­some used as coverings for coops of restless chickens ­old worn-out rope, tangled rigging ­everything that a fisherman who had spent his life on Barnegat beach could pull from the surf or find stranded on the sand.

Besides all these priceless treasures, there was an old boat lying afloat in a small lagoon back of the house, one of those seepage pools common to the coast ­a boat which Fogarty had patched with a bit of sail-cloth, and for which he had made two pairs of oars, one for each of the “crew,” as he called the lads, and which Archie learned to handle with such dexterity that the old fisherman declared he would make a first-class boatman when he grew up, and would “shame the whole bunch of ’em.”

But these two valiant buccaneers were not to remain in undisturbed possession of the Bandit’s Home with its bewildering fittings and enchanting possibilities ­not for long.  The secret of the uses to which the stranded craft bad been put, and the attendant fun which Commodore Tod and his dauntless henchman, Archibald Cobden, Esquire, were daily getting out of its battered timbers, had already become public property.  The youth of Barnegat ­the very young youth, ranging from nine to twelve, and all boys ­received the news at first with hilarious joy.  This feeling soon gave way to unsuppressed indignation, followed by an active bitterness, when they realized in solemn conclave ­the meeting was held in an open lot on Saturday morning ­that the capture of the craft had been accomplished, not by dwellers under Barnegat Light, to whom every piece of sea-drift from a tomato-can to a full-rigged ship rightfully belonged, but by a couple of aliens, one of whom wore knee-pants and a white collar, ­a distinction in dress highly obnoxious to these lords of the soil.

All these denizens of Barnegat had at one time or another climbed up the sloop’s chains and peered down the hatchway to the sand covering the keelson, and most of them had used it as a shelter behind which, in swimming-time, they had put on or peeled off such mutilated rags as covered their nakedness, but no one of them had yet conceived the idea of turning it into a Bandit’s Home.  That touch of the ideal, that gilding of the commonplace, had been reserved for the brain of the curly-haired boy who, with dancing eyes, his sturdy little legs resting on Tod’s shoulder, had peered over the battered rail, and who, with a burst of enthusiasm, had shouted:  “Oh, cracky! isn’t it nice, Tod!  It’s got a place we can fix up for a robbers’ den; and we’ll be bandits and have a flag.  Oh, come up here!  You never saw anything so fine,” etc., etc.

When, therefore, Scootsy Mulligan, aged nine, son of a ship-caulker who worked in Martin Farguson’s ship-yard, and Sandy Plummer, eldest of three, and their mother a widow ­plain washing and ironing, two doors from the cake-shop ­heard that that French “spad,” Arch Cobden what lived up to Yardley, and that red-headed Irish cub, Tod Fogarty ­Tod’s hair had turned very red ­had pre-empted the Black Tub, as the wreck was irreverently called, claiming it as their very own, “and-a-sayin’ they wuz pirates and bloody Turks and sich,” these two quarrelsome town rats organized a posse in lower Barnegat for its recapture.

Archie was sweeping the horizon from his perch on the “poop-deck” when his eagle eye detected a strange group of what appeared to be human beings advancing toward the wreck from the direction of Barnegat village.  One, evidently a chief, was in the lead, the others following bunched together.  All were gesticulating wildly.  The trusty henchman immediately gave warning to Tod, who was at work in the lower hold arranging a bundle of bean-poles which had drifted inshore the night before ­part of the deck-load, doubtless, of some passing vessel.

“Ay, ay, sir!” cried the henchman with a hoist of his knee-pants, as a prelude to his announcement.

“Ay, ay, yerself!” rumbled back the reply.  “What’s up?” The commodore had not read as deeply in pirate lore as had Archie, and was not, therefore, so ready with its lingo.

“Band of savages, sir, approaching down the beach.”

“Where away?” thundered back the commodore, his authority now asserting itself in the tones of his voice.

“On the starboard bow, sir ­six or seven of ’em.”

“Armed or peaceable?”

“Armed, sir.  Scootsy Mulligan is leadin’ ’em.”

“Scootsy Mulligan!  Crickety! he’s come to make trouble,” shouted back Tod, climbing the ladder in a hurry ­it was used as a means of descent into the shallow hold when not needed outside.  “Where are they?  Oh, yes!  I see ’em ­lot of ’em, ain’t they?  Saturday, and they ain’t no school.  Say, Arch, what are we goin’ to do?” The terminal vowels softening his henchman’s name were omitted in grave situations; so was the pirate lingo.

“Do!” retorted Archie, his eyes snapping.  “Why, we’ll fight ’em; that’s what we are pirates for.  Fight ’em to the death.  Hurray!  They’re not coming aboard ­no sir-ee!  You go down, Toddy [the same free use of terminals], and get two of the biggest bean-poles and I’ll run up the death flag.  We’ve got stones and shells enough.  Hurry ­big ones, mind you!”

The attacking party, their leader ahead, had now reached the low sand heap marking the grave of the former wreck, but a dozen yards away ­the sand had entombed it the year before.

“You fellers think yer durned smart, don’t ye?” yelled Mr. William Mulligan, surnamed “Scootsy” from his pronounced fleetness of foot.  “We’re goin’ to run ye out o’ that Tub.  ’Tain’t yourn, it’s ourn ­ain’t it, fellers?”

A shout went up in answer from the group on the hillock.

“You can come as friends, but not as enemies,” cried Archie grandiloquently.  “The man who sets foot on this ship without permission dies like a dog.  We sail under the blood-red flag!” and Archie struck an attitude and pointed to the fragment of mother Fogarty’s own nailed to a lath and hanging limp over the rail.

“Hi! hi! hi!” yelled the gang in reply.  “Oh, ain’t he a beauty!  Look at de cotton waddin’ on his head!” (Archie’s cropped curls.) “Say, sissy, does yer mother know ye’re out?  Throw that ladder down; we’re comin’ up there ­don’t make no diff’rence whether we got yer permish or not ­and we’ll knock the stuffin’ out o’ ye if ye put up any job on us.  H’ist out that ladder!”

“Death and no quarter!” shouted back Archie, opening the big blade of Captain Holt’s pocket knife and grasping it firmly in his wee hand.  “We’ll defend this ship with the last drop of our blood!”

“Ye will, will ye!” retorted Scootsy.  “Come on, fellers ­go for ’em!  I’ll show ’em,” and he dodged under the sloop’s bow and sprang for the overhanging chains.

Tod had now clambered up from the hold.  Under his arm were two stout hickory saplings.  One he gave to Archie, the other he kept himself.

“Give them the shells first,” commanded Archie, dodging a beach pebble; “and when their hands come up over the rail let them have this,” and he waved the sapling over his head.  “Run, Tod, ­they’re trying to climb up behind.  I’ll take the bow.  Avast there, ye lubbers!”

With this Archie dropped to his knees and crouched close to the heel of the rotting bowsprit, out of the way of the flying missiles ­each boy’s pockets were loaded ­and looking cautiously over the side of the hulk, waited until Scootsy’s dirty fingers ­he was climbing the chain hand over hand, his feet resting on a boy below him ­came into view.

“Off there, or I’ll crack your fingers!”

“Crack and be ­”

Bang! went Archie’s hickory and down dropped the braggart, his oath lost in his cries.

“He smashed me fist!  He smashed me fist!  Oh!  Oh!” whined Scootsy, hopping about with the pain, sucking the injured hand and shaking its mate at Archie, who was still brandishing the sapling and yelling himself hoarse in his excitement.

The attacking party now drew off to the hillock for a council of war.  Only their heads could be seen ­their bodies lay hidden in the long grass of the dune.

Archie and Tod were now dancing about the deck in a delirium of delight ­calling out in true piratical terms, “We die, but we never surrender!” Tod now and then falling into his native vernacular to the effect that he’d “knock the liver and lights out o’ the hull gang,” an expression the meaning of which was wholly lost on Archie, he never having cleaned a fish in his life.

Here a boy in his shirt-sleeves straightened up in the yellow grass and looked seaward.  Then Sandy Plummer gave a yell and ran to the beach, rolling up what was left of his trousers legs, stopping now and then to untie first one shoe and then the other.  Two of the gang followed on a run.  When the three reached the water’s edge they danced about like Crusoe’s savages, waving their arms and shouting.  Sandy by this time had stripped off his clothes and had dashed into the water.  A long plank from some lumber schooner was drifting up the beach in the gentle swell of the tide.  Sandy ran abreast of it for a time, sprang into the surf, threw himself upon it flat like a frog, and then began paddling shoreward.  The other two now rushed into the water, grasping the near end of the derelict, the whole party pushing and paddling until it was hauled clean of the brine and landed high on the sand.

A triumphant yell here came from the water’s edge, and the balance of the gang ­there were seven in all ­rushed to the help of the dauntless three.

Archie heaped a pile of pebbles within reach of his hand and waited the attack.  What the savages were going to do with the plank neither he nor Tod could divine.  The derelict was now dragged over the sand to the hulk, Tod and Archie pelting its rescuers with stones and shells as they came within short range.

“Up with her, fellers!” shouted Sandy, who, since Scootsy’s unmanly tears, had risen to first place.  “Run it under the bowsprit ­up with her ­there she goes!  Altogether!”

Archie took his stand, his long sapling in his hand, and waited.  He thought first he would unseat the end of the plank, but it was too far below him and then again he would be exposed to their volleys of stones, and if he was hurt he might not get back on his craft.  Tod, who had resigned command in favor of his henchman after Archie’s masterly defence in the last fight, stood behind him.  Thermopylae was a narrow place, and so was the famous Bridge of Horatius.  He and his faithful Tod would now make the fight of their lives.  Both of these close shaves for immortality were closed books to Tod, but Archie knew every line of their records, Doctor John having spent many an hour reading to him, the boy curled up in his lap while Jane listened.

Sandy, emboldened by the discovery of the plank, made the first rush up and was immediately knocked from his perch by Tod, whose pole swung around his head like a flail.  Then Scootsy tried it, crawling up, protecting his head by ducking it under his elbows, holding meanwhile by his hand.  Tod’s blows fell about his back, but the boy struggled on until Archie reached over the gunwale, and with a twist of his wrist, using all his strength, dropped the invader to the sand below.

The success of this mode of attack was made apparent, provided they could stick to the plank.  Five boys now climbed up.  Archie belabored the first one with the pole and Tod grappled with the second, trying to throw him from the rail to the sand, some ten feet below, but the rat close behind him, in spite of their efforts, reached forward, caught the rail, and scrambled up to his mate’s assistance.  In another instant both had leaped to the sloop’s deck.

“Back! back!  Run, Toddy!” screamed Archie, waving his arms.  “Get on the poop-deck; we can lick them there.  Run!”

Tod darted back, and the two defenders clearing the intervening rotten timbers with a bound, sprang upon the roof of the old cabin ­Archie’s “poop.”

With a whoop the savages followed, jumping over the holes in the planking and avoiding the nails in the open beams.

In the melee Archie had lost his pole, and was now standing, hat off, his blue eves flashing, all the blood of his overheated little body blazing in his face.  The tears of defeat were trembling under his eyelids, He had been outnumbered, but he would die game.  In his hand he carried, unconsciously to himself, the big-bladed pocket knife the captain had given him.  He would as soon have used it on his mother as upon one of his enemies, but the Barnegat invaders were ignorant of that fact, knives being the last resort in their environment.

“Look out, Sandy!” yelled Scootsy to his leader, who was now sneaking up to Archie with the movement of an Indian in ambush; ­“he’s drawed a knife.”

Sandy stopped and straightened himself within three feet of Archie.  His hand still smarted from the blow Archie had given it.  The “spad” had not stopped a second in that attack, and he might not in this; the next thing he knew the knife might be between his ribs.

“Drawed a knife, hev ye!” he snarled.  “Drawed a knife, jes’ like a spad that ye are!  Ye oughter put yer hair in curl-papers!”

Archie looked at the harmless knife in his hand.

“I can fight you with my fists if you are bigger than me,” he cried, tossing the knife down the open hatchway into the sand below.  “Hold my coat, Tod,” and he began stripping off his little jacket.

“I ain’t fightin’ no spads,” sneered Sandy.  He didn’t want to fight this one.  “Yer can’t skeer nobody.  You’ll draw a pistol next.  Yer better go home to yer mammy, if ye kin find her.”

“He ain’t got no mammy,” snarled Scootsy.  “He’s a pick-up ­me father says so.”

Archie sprang forward to avenge the insult, but before he could reach Scootsy’s side a yell arose from the bow of the hulk.

“Yi! yi!  Run, fellers!  Here comes old man Fogarty! he’s right on top o’ ye!  Not that side ­this way.  Yi! yi!”

The invaders turned and ran the length of the deck, scrambled over the side and dropped one after the other to the sand below just as the Fogarty head appeared at the bow.  It was but a step and a spring for him, and with a lurch he gained the deck of the wreck.

“By jiminy, boys, mother thought ye was all killed!  Has them rats been botherin’ ye?  Ye oughter broke the heads of ’em.  Where did they get that plank?  Come ‘shore, did it?  Here, Tod, catch hold of it; I jes’ wanted a piece o’ floorin’ like that.  Why, ye’re all het up, Archie!  Come, son, come to dinner; ye’ll git cooled off, and mother’s got a mess o’ clams for ye.  Never mind ’bout the ladder; I’ll lift it down.”

On the way over to the cabin, Fogarty and Tod carrying the plank and Archie walking beside them, the fisherman gleaned from the boys the details of the fight.  Archie had recovered the captain’s knife and it was now in his hand.

“Called ye a ‘pick-up’ did he, the rat, and said ye didn’t have no mother.  He’s a liar!  If ye ain’t got a mother, and a good one, I don’t know who has.  That’s the way with them town-crabs, allus cussin’ somebody better’n themselves.”

When Fogarty had tilted the big plank against the side of the cabin and the boys had entered the kitchen in search of the mess of clams, the fisherman winked to his wife, jerked his head meaningly over one shoulder, and Mrs. Fogarty, in answer, followed him out to the woodshed.

“Them sneaks from Barnegat, Mulligan’s and Farguson’s boys, and the rest of ’em, been lettin’ out on Archie:  callin’ him names, sayin’ he ain’t got no mother and he’s one o’ them pass-ins ye find on yer doorstep in a basket.  I laughed it off and he ’peared to forgit it, but I thought he might ask ye, an’ so I wanted to tip ye the wink.”

“Well, ye needn’t worry.  I ain’t goin’ to tell him what I don’t know,” replied the wife, surprised that he should bring her all the way out to the woodshed to tell her a thing like that.

“But ye do know, don’t ye?”

“All I know is what Uncle Ephraim told me four or five years ago, and he’s so flighty half the time and talks so much ye can’t believe one-half he says ­something about Miss Jane comin’ across Archie’s mother in a horsepital in Paris, or some’er’s and promisin’ her a-dyin’ that she’d look after the boy, and she has.  She’d do that here if there was women and babies up to Doctor John’s horsepital ‘stead o’ men.  It’s jes’ like her,” and Mrs. Fogarty, not to lose her steps, stooped over a pile of wood and began gathering up an armful.

“Well, she ain’t his mother, ye know,” rejoined Fogarty, helping his wife with the sticks.  “That’s what they slammed in his face to-day, and he’ll git it ag’in as he grows up.  But he don’t want to hear it from us.”

“And he won’t.  Miss Jane ain’t no fool.  She knows more about him than anybody else, and when she gits ready to tell him she’ll tell him.  Don’t make no difference who his mother was ­the one he’s got now is good enough for anybody.  Tod would have been dead half a dozen times if it hadn’t been for her and Doctor John, and there ain’t nobody knows it better’n me.  It’s just like her to let Archie come here so much with Tod; she knows I ain’t goin’ to let nothin’ happen to him.  And as for mothers, Sam Fogarty,” here Mrs. Fogarty lifted her free hand and shook her finger in a positive way ­“when Archie gits short of mothers he’s got one right here, don’t make no difference what you or anybody else says,” and she tapped her broad bosom meaningly.

Contrary, however, to Fogarty’s hopes and surmises, Archie had forgotten neither Sandy’s insult nor Scootsy’s epithet.  “He’s a pick-up” and “he ain’t got no mammy” kept ringing in his ears as he walked back up the beach to his home.  He remembered having heard the words once before when he was some years younger, but then it had come from a passing neighbor and was not intended for him.  This time it was flung square in his face.  Every now and then as he followed the trend of the beach on his way home he would stop and look out over the sea, watching the long threads of smoke being unwound from the spools of the steamers and the sails of the fishing-boats as they caught the light of the setting sun.  The epithet worried him.  It was something to be ashamed of, he knew, or they would not have used it.

Jane, standing outside the gate-post, shading her eyes with her hand, scanning the village road, caught sight of his sturdy little figure the moment he turned the corner and ran to meet him.

“I got so worried ­aren’t you late, my son?” she asked, putting her arm about him and kissing him tenderly.

“Yes, it’s awful late.  I ran all the way from the church when I saw the clock.  I didn’t know it was past six.  Oh, but we’ve had a bully day, mother!  And we’ve had a fight.  Tod and I were pirates, and Scootsy Mulligan tried to ­”

Jane stopped the boy’s joyous account with a cry of surprise.  They were now walking back to Yardley’s gate, hugging the stone wall.

“A fight!  Oh, my son!”

“Yes, a bully fight; only there were seven of them and only two of us.  That warn’t fair, but Mr. Fogarty says they always fight like that.  I could have licked ’em if they come on one at a time, but they got a plank and crawled up ­”

“Crawled up where, my son?” asked Jane in astonishment.  All this was an unknown world to her.  She had seen the wreck and had known, of course, that the boys were making a playhouse of it, but this latter development was news to her.

“Why, on the pirate ship, where we’ve got our Bandit’s Home.  Tod is commodore and I’m first mate.  Tod and I did all we could, but they didn’t fight fair, and Scootsy called me a ‘pick-up’ and said I hadn’t any mother.  I asked Mr. Fogarty what he meant, but he wouldn’t tell me.  What’s a ‘pick-up,’ dearie?” and he lifted his face to Jane’s, his honest blue eyes searching her own.

Jane caught her hand to her side and leaned for a moment against the stone wall.  This was the question which for years she had expected him to ask ­one to which she had framed a hundred imaginary answers.  When as a baby he first began to talk she had determined to tell him she was not his mother, and so get him gradually accustomed to the conditions of his birth.  But every day she loved him the more, and every day she had put it off.  To-day it was no easier.  He was too young, she knew, to take in its full meaning, even if she could muster up the courage to tell him the half she was willing to tell him ­that his mother was her friend and on her sick-bed had entrusted her child to her care.  She had wanted to wait until he was old enough to understand, so that she should not lose his love when he came to know the truth.  There had been, moreover, always this fear ­would he love her for shielding his mother, or would he hate Lucy when he came to know?  She had once talked it all over with Captain Holt, but she could never muster up the courage to take his advice.

“Tell him,” he had urged.  “It’ll save you a lot o’ trouble in the end.  That’ll let me out and I kin do for him as I want to.  You’ve lived under this cloud long enough ­there ain’t nobody can live a lie a whole lifetime, Miss Jane.  I’ll take my share of the disgrace along of my dead boy, and you ain’t done nothin’, God knows, to be ashamed of.  Tell him!  It’s grease to yer throat halyards and everything’ll run smoother afterward.  Take my advice, Miss Jane.”

All these things rushed through her mind as she stood leaning against the stone wall, Archie’s hand in hers, his big blue eyes still fixed on her own.

“Who said that to you, my son?” she asked in assumed indifference, in order to gain time in which to frame her answer and recover from the shock.

“Scootsy Mulligan.”

“Is he a nice boy?”

“No, he’s a coward, or he wouldn’t fight as he does.”

“Then I wouldn’t mind him, my boy,” and she smoothed back the hair from his forehead, her eyes avoiding the boy’s steady gaze.  It was only when someone opened the door of the closet concealing this spectre that Jane felt her knees give way and her heart turn sick within her.  In all else she was fearless and strong.

“Was he the boy who said you had no mother?”

“Yes.  I gave him an awful whack when he came up the first time, and he went heels over head.”

“Well, you have got a mother, haven’t you, darling?” she continued, with a sigh of relief, now that Archie was not insistent.

“You bet I have!” cried the boy, throwing his arms around her.

“Then we won’t either of us bother about those bad boys and what they say,” she answered, stooping over and kissing him.

And so for a time the remembrance of Scootsy’s epithet faded out of the boy’s mind.