Part 22 (1/2)

”I have been over three years away from home,” interrupted the stranger.

”Then you are t.i.te--the old man's son,” resumed the boatman, ”well, well!” Turning to him who pulled the bow-oar: ”Stop pullin' a bit, Tom,”

said he, ”stop pullin'.”

The man now rested his oar, and rising from his seat, extended his hand to the stranger, saying: ”There's a hard old honest hand that welcomes you safe back. John Flint is my name--called old Jack Flint generally.”

And he shook t.i.te's hand again and again. ”A heap o' people round here reckoned how you was dead--they did. I can't tell you how glad I am to see you, my boy. Its fifteen years since you and me sailed comrades on the sloop. Bin all round the world an' aint above shakin' the hand of an old fellow like me. That's what I like.” Again and again the old boatman shook t.i.te's hand, and gave expression to such sentiments of joy as showed how true and honest was his heart.

”Yes, this is me, Jack, and I am as glad to see you as you are to see me. But I wanted to get across without being recognized.”

[Ill.u.s.tration: ”Wouldn't take it amiss, would you,” said he, ”if a man like me was to ask what your name was?” Page 266.]

The old boatman felt in his pocket, and drawing forth the two Spanish dollars, insisted on returning them. ”Them goes back into your pocket,”

he said, shaking his head, ”Never shall be said Jack Flint charged an old comrade a sixpence for settin' him across stream.”

”Keep it, keep it, Jack. I have enough for both of us,” replied t.i.te, motioning his hand for the boatman to return the money to his pocket.

”Well, if you insist--an' I have to accept it, you see, it'll be out of respect and to please you.” And he looked at the money doubtingly, shook his head, and reluctantly returned it to his pocket.

The man now resumed his oar, and they proceeded on with increased speed.

In less than half an hour from that time, they had landed at Nyack, and proceeding up the road had reached Bright's Inn, the two boatmen carrying the valise. Here they came to a halt, the men setting the valise down, while t.i.te seemed in doubt what to do next. Bewildered with the position he found himself in, hesitating and nervous, almost overcome by anxiety, his throbbing heart beat quicker and quicker the nearer he reached his home. But there was now a more violent struggle going on in his feelings. It was a struggle to decide between love and duty. Now he looked up the road in the direction of his home, and advanced a few steps. Again he paused and looked up enquiringly at the house. The old boatman had told him that Chapman lived there, when all the embers of that love he had so long cherished for Mattie seemed to kindle again into a living fire. And yet what changes might have taken place since he left? If, however, she still loved him, and was true to him, how could he pa.s.s the house, even at that late hour, without at least letting her know he was in Nyack?

It was indeed late, and there was still a mile before he reached the home of his parents. He could have more time in the morning to meet Mattie, to unfold his heart to her, and to give her an account of the many strange things that had happened to him since he left.

There was a bright light in two of the upper windows, but below the house was nearly dark, and Bright was in his bar-room, settling up the business of the day. Suddenly the light in the windows became brighter, then the shadow of a female figure was seen crossing and recrossing the room every few seconds. t.i.te watched and watched that flitting shadow, for he read in it the object of his heart's love, read in it the joy that was in store for him, perhaps--perhaps the sorrow. The figure was Mattie's, and it was her shadow that was causing him all this heart-aching. Now the figure took the place of the shadow, and stood looking out at the window, as if contemplating the moon and the stars, for nearly a minute. Yes, there was Mattie, watching and wondering what had become of the man who was at that moment contemplating her movements. Then the figure and the shadow disappeared, but it was only to increase t.i.te's impatience to see her.

The three men now proceeded to the door and the bell was rung. A moving of chairs and unlocking of doors indicated that the house had not gone to bed. The door was soon opened by t.i.tus Bright, in his s.h.i.+rt sleeves and slippers, and holding a candle in his hand. ”What's up, Flint?” he enquired, for he saw only the boatmen; ”what brings you over at this time of night?”

”There was a s.h.i.+llin' to be made, you see, Bright, and a pa.s.senger what wanted settin' over, you see,” said the ferryman, his face beaming with good nature. ”Know you'd like to see him, you know, Bright, and to make him as comfortable as you could for a night or so. Tom and me pulled him across.” t.i.te now advanced towards the inn-keeper, who gazed at him with an air of astonishment, and held the candle above his head to avoid the shadow.

”Come in, come in,” said Bright. ”We will make the gentleman as comfortable as we can.”

”You have forgotten me, I see,” said t.i.te, smiling and extending his hand.

”G.o.d bless me!” exclaimed Bright, grasping his hand in a paroxysm of delight; ”if here isn't t.i.te Toodleburg c.u.m home. Come in, come in.

Welcome home.” After shaking him warmly by the hand and leading him into the parlor, the inn-keeper ran and brought his wife, who welcomed the young man with the tenderness of a mother. The good woman would have had a fire made and supper prepared, and indeed entertained him for the rest of the night, expressing her joy over his return, had he not told her how great was his anxiety to see his parents.

”I know who it is the young man wants to see,” said Bright, touching him on the elbow and nodding his head suggestively. ”And there'll be a flutter up stairs when it's told her you're c.u.m home.”

The boatmen had remained in the hall. Bright now invited them into his bar and filled mugs of ale for them, and joined them in drinking the health of the young man who had been round the world. He then dismissed them, saying he would take care of the young gentleman's baggage; and stepping up stairs, tapped gently at Chapman's door. ”We were all retiring for the night,” said Mrs. Chapman, opening the door slightly, and looking alarmed, for Bright was in a flutter of excitement, and it was nearly a minute before he could tell what he wanted. At length he stammered out: ”There, there, there--there's a strange gentleman down stairs, mam--and he would like to see Miss Mattie, I am sure he would.”

”Mr. Bright,” replied Mrs. Chapman, tossing her head and compressing her lips, ”he can't be much of a gentleman to come at this hour of night. My daughter has no acquaintance who would presume to take such a liberty.

Etiquette forbids it.”

Mattie now made her appearance, with a book half open in her left hand, and looking anxious and agitated. Then resting her right hand on her mother's shoulder, ”Mr. Bright,” she enquired, in a hesitating voice, ”what does the gentleman look like?”

”A nice gentleman enough, Miss--”