A few hours later Deacon Latham came into the house with a milk-pan full of pease. He set this down on one end of the kitchen table, with his straw hat beside it, and then took a chair at the other end and fell into the attitude of the day before, when he sat in the parlor with Lydia and Miss Maria waiting for the stage; his mouth was puckered to a whistle, and his fingers were held above the board in act to drub it. Miss Maria turned the pease out on the table, and took the pan into her lap. She shelled at the pease in silence, till the sound of their pelting, as they were dropped on the tin, was lost in their multitude; then she said, with a sharp, querulous, pathetic impatience, "Well, father, I suppose you're thinkin' about Lyddy."
"Yes, Maria, I be," returned her father, with uncommon plumpness, as if here now were something he had made up his mind to stand to. "I been thinkin' that Lyddy's a woman grown, as you may say."
"Yes," admitted Miss Maria, "she's a woman, as far forth as that goes.
What put it into your head?"
"Well, I d'know as I know. But it's just like this: I got to thinkin' whether she mightn't get to feelin' rather lonely on the voyage, without any other woman to talk to."
"I guess," said Miss Maria, tranquilly, "she's goin' to feel lonely enough at times, any way, poor thing! But I told her if she wanted advice or help about anything just to go to the stewardess. That Mrs. Bland that spent the summer at the Parkers' last year was always tellin' how they went to the stewardess for most everything, and she give her five dollars in gold when they got into Boston. I shouldn't want Lyddy should give so much as that, but I should want she should give something, as long's it's the custom."
"They don't have 'em on sailin' vessels, Captain Jenness said; they only have 'em on steamers," said Deacon Latham.
"Have what?" asked Miss Maria, sharply.
"Stewardesses. They've got a cabin-boy."
Miss Maria desisted a moment from her work; then she answered, with a gruff shortness peculiar to her, "Well, then, she can go to the cook, I suppose. It wouldn't matter which she went to, I presume."
Deacon Latham looked up with the air of confessing to sin before the whole congregation. "The cook's a man,—a black man," he said.
Miss Maria dropped a handful of pods into the pan, and sent a handful of peas rattling across the table on to the floor. "Well, who in Time"—the expression was strong, but she used it without hesitation, and was never known to repent it "will she go to, then?"
"I declare for't," said her father, "I don't know. I d'know as I ever thought it out fairly before; but just now when I was pickin' the pease for you, my mind got to dwellin' on Lyddy, and then it come to me all at once: there she was, the only one among a whole shipful, and I—I didn't know but what she might think it rather of a strange position for her."
"Oh!" exclaimed Miss Maria, petulantly. "I guess Lyddy'd know how to conduct herself wherever she was; she's a born lady, if ever there was one. But what I think is—" Miss Maria paused, and did not say what she thought; but it was evidently not the social aspect of the matter which was uppermost in her mind. In fact, she had never been at all afraid of men, whom she regarded as a more inefficient and feebler-minded kind of women.
"The only thing't makes me feel easier is what the captain said about the young men," said Deacon Latham.
"What young men?" asked Miss Maria.
"Why, I told you about 'em!" retorted the old man, with some exasperation.
"You told me about two young men that stopped on the wharf and pitied Lyddy's worn-out looks."
"Didn't I tell you the rest? I declare for't, I don't believe I did; I be'n so put about. Well, as we was drivin' up to the depot, we met the same two young men, and the captain asked 'em, 'Are you goin' or not a-goin'?'—just that way; and they said, 'We're goin'.' And he said, 'When you comin' aboard?' and he told 'em he was goin' to haul out this mornin' at three o'clock. And they asked what tug, and he told 'em, and they fixed it up between 'em all then that they was to come aboard from the tug, when she'd got the ship outside; and that's what I suppose they did. The captain he said to me he hadn't mentioned it before, because he wa'n't sure't they'd go till that minute. He give 'em a first-rate of a character."
Miss Maria said nothing for a long while. The subject seemed one with which she did not feel herself able to grapple. She looked all about the kitchen for inspiration, and even cast a searching glance into the wood-shed. Suddenly she jumped from her chair, and ran to the open window: "Mr. Goodlow! Mr. Goodlow! I wish you'd come in here a minute."
She hurried to meet the minister at the front door, her father lagging after her with the infantile walk of an old man.
Mr. Goodlow took off his straw hat as he mounted the stone step to the threshold, and said good-morning; they did not shake hands. He wore a black alpaca coat, and waistcoat of farmer's satin; his hat was dark straw, like Deacon Latham's, but it was low-crowned, and a line of ornamental openwork ran round it near the top.
"Come into the settin'-room," said Miss Maria. "It's cooler, in there." She lost no time in laying the case before the minister. She ended by saying, "Father, he don't feel just right about it, and I d'know as I'm quite clear in my own mind."
The minister considered a while in silence before he said, "I think Lydia's influence upon those around her will be beneficial, whatever her situation in life may be."
"There, father!" cried Miss Maria, in reproachful relief.
"You're right, Maria, you're right!" assented the old man, and they both waited for the minister to continue.
"I rejoiced with you," he said, "when this opportunity for Lydia's improvement offered, and I am not disposed to feel anxious as to the ways and means. Lydia is no fool. I have observed in her a dignity, a sort of authority, very remarkable in one of her years."
"I guess the boys at the school down to the Mill Village found out she had authority enough," said Miss Maria, promptly materializing the idea.
"Precisely," said Mr. Goodlow.
"That's what I told father, in the first place," said Miss Maria. "I guess Lyddy'd know how to conduct herself wherever she was,—just the words I used."
"I don't deny it, Maria, I don't deny it," shrilly piped the old man.
"I ain't afraid of any harm comin' to Lyddy any more'n what you be.
But what I said was, Wouldn't she feel kind of strange, sort of lost,
as you may say, among so many, and she the only one?"
"She will know how to adapt herself to circumstances," said Mr. Goodlow. "I was conversing last summer with that Mrs. Bland who boarded at Mr. Parker's, and she told me that girls in Europe are brought up with no habits of self-reliance whatever, and that young ladies are never seen on the streets alone in France and Italy."
"Don't you think," asked Miss Maria, hesitating to accept this ridiculous statement, "that Mrs. Bland exaggerated some?"
"She talked a great deal," admitted Mr. Goodlow. "I should be sorry if Lydia ever lost anything of that native confidence of hers in her own judgment, and her ability to take care of herself under any circumstances, and I do not think she will. She never seemed conceited to me, but she was the most self-reliant girl I ever saw."
"You've hit it there, Mr. Goodlow. Such a spirit as she always had!" sighed Miss Maria. "It was just so from the first. It used to go to my heart to see that little thing lookin' after herself, every way, and not askin' anybody's help, but just as quiet and proud about it! She's her mother, all over. And yest'day, when she set here waitin' for the stage, and it did seem as if I should have to give up, hearin' her sob, sob, sob,—why, Mr. Goodlow, she hadn't any more idea of backin' out than—than—" Miss Maria relinquished the search for a comparison, and went into another room for a handkerchief. "I don't believe she cared over and above about goin', from the start," said Miss Maria, returning, "but when once she'd made up her mind to it, there she was. I d'know as she took much of a fancy to her aunt, but you couldn't told from anything that Lyddy said. Now, if I have anything on my mind, I have to blat it right out, as you may say; I can't seem to bear it a minute; but Lyddy's different. Well," concluded Miss Maria, "I guess there ain't goin' to any harm come to her. But it did give me a kind of start, first off, when father up and got to feelin' sort of bad about it. I d'know as I should thought much about it, if he hadn't seemed to. I d'know as I should ever thought about anything except her not havin' any one to advise with about her clothes. It's the only thing she ain't handy with: she won't know what to wear. I'm afraid she'll spoil her silk. I d'know but what father's been hasty in not lookin' into things carefuller first. He most always does repent afterwards."
"Couldn't repent beforehand!" retorted Deacon Latham. "And I tell you, Maria, I never saw a much finer man than Captain Jenness; and the cabin's everything I said it was, and more. Lyddy reg'larly went off over it; 'n' I guess, as Mr. Goodlow says, she'll influence 'em for good. Don't you fret about her clothes any. You fitted her out in apple-pie order, and she'll soon be there. 'T ain't but a little ways to Try-East, any way, to what it is some of them India voyages, Captain Jenness said. He had his own daughters out the last voyage; 'n' I guess he can tell Lyddy when it's weather to wear her silk. I d'know as I'd better said anything about what I was thinkin'. I don't want to be noways rash, and yet I thought I couldn't be too partic'lar."
For a silent moment Miss Maria looked sourly uncertain as to the usefulness of scruples that came so long after the fact. Then she said abruptly to Mr. Goodlow, "Was it you or Mr. Baldwin, preached Mirandy Holcomb's fune'l sermon?"