Us and the Bottle Man/Chapter 12

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CHAPTER XII

 

IT was the queerest topsy-turvy morning I ever spent. After Mother came down and told us that Gregs was fixed and that Doctor Tapham had given him something to make him sleep, we all went in and had lots of breakfast.—Mother and the Bottle Man, too, for neither of them had had any. You would never have thought we'd eaten the bread and potted beef there on the Monster, if you'd seen the way we devoured the eggs and bacon and honey and toast that Katy and Lena kept bringing in. They both brought the things, because they were so glad to see us and so afraid that it had been their fault that we went to Wecanicut. But we told Mother that it was n't.

While we ate, Mother told us everything that had happened at home. She and Father came in on the six o'clock train and found Katy and Lena quite worried because we had n't come back yet, but no one got really frightened until later. Father thought of Wecanicut and went to the ferry to ask, but Captain Lewis was n't there, and of course the cross new captain that we'd seen looking at the book had n't even noticed us and would n't have known us if he had. Our nice Portuguese man remembered our going over and was perfectly certain that he'd seen us come back, too, which of course he had n't. So, after setting the policeman and every one else to search town, Father and Captain Moss went to Wecanicut on the chance. They reached the point at a quarter after nine, which was when we saw the lights, and they never for a moment thought of the Sea Monster, because no one had missed the old dinghy from the ferry-slip and they did n't imagine that we could get there. They did n't find any trace of us at the usual picnic place on Wecanicut, because we had everything with us, and though some of the Fort soldiers searched, too, nothing could be found. Father had been up all night and was still out, telephoning to all sorts of places.

If I deserved any punishment for its being my fault, I think I had it when I thought of how hard Father had been working and how wretched and anxious they all were. I had n't quite realized that before.

Strangely enough, right after breakfast Jerry and I began to yawn tremendously, and Mother bundled us off to bed. We hadn't had time to think of it, but of course we had n't slept particularly well on the Sea Monster. Just as we were going upstairs, Aunt Ailsa came running in with her hat on, crying:

"Is Katy telling the truth?"

And then we both leaped on her from the stairs. When she ducked her head up from our hugs, the Bottle Man was standing in the doorway, looking queer.

"Ailsa!" he said; and that really did floor us, because we knew we'd never even mentioned her existence to him. She stood staring, and then put her hand up against her throat, exactly like somebody in a book.

"Andrew!" she said, in a faint little voice.

Mother looked at them, and then said:

"Bedtime, chicks! Come along!" and went up with us.

It was quite weird, going to bed at nine o'clock in the morning. We pulled down all the shades so we could sleep, though I don't really think we needed to, because I know that as soon as I shut my eyes I was sound asleep.

When I woke up the room was quite dim, and Mother and Father were standing at the door talking. Father looked awfully tired, but dear and glad, and he would n't let me tell him how sorry I was about it all. Mother said that even more surprising things had been happening, and that if I'd slept enough for a time, I'd better come down to supper. That was queer, too,—dressing in the twilight and coming down to supper, instead of to breakfast.

We all talked a lot at supper, of course, and people kept asking questions. I had to do most of the answering, because Jerry always left out the parts about himself, and yet it was he who did all the wonderful things. We had bottles of ginger-pop, because it was a sort of feast, and Father got up and proposed toasts, just like a real banquet. First he said:

"Jerry! I'm glad to have a son with a level head."

Then he said:

"Christine!" and looked at me very hard, till I wanted to turn away. But they all drank it just the same as Jerry's, though I did n't deserve it at all. Then Father held up his glass and said very gently:

"Greg!" And when I tried to drink it, the ginger-pop choked me, and Jerry banged me between the shoulders, which, of course, only made it worse, because it was n't that sort of choke.

Then Jerry jumped up and said:

"We ought to drink to the Bottle Man, I think. And, by the way, 'Bottle Man' looks all right in a letter, but it's queer, rather, to say to you. Have n't you really a real name?"

Our man and Aunt Ailsa looked at each other as if they were going to say something, and then the Bottle Man twinkled, and said:

"Very soon you'll be able to call me Uncle Andrew."

This part seems to be nothing but explanations, which are horrid, but there were lots, and I can't help it. Of course Jerry and I sat staring in surprise, and there had to be explanations. And what do you think! Our own Bottle Man was that "Somebody Westland" that Aunt Ailsa had wept so about. The casualty list was perfectly right in saying that he was wounded and missing (though it came very late, because by that time he was in America), and she thought, of course, that he was dead, because she did n't hear from him. And he'd written to her from the French hospital and the letter never came. When he came back, all sick and wounded, to America, somebody who didn't know anything about it told him that Aunt Ailsa was going to marry Mr. Something-or-other, so our poor man went off sadly to his island and did n't write to her any more. He'd never heard of us, because of course her name is n't Holford. And she'd never heard of his aunt, nor Blue Harbor, nor the island, so of course she did n't know anything about it when we read his letters to her. Oh, it was very tangly and bewildering and it took lots of explaining, but at the end of supper there was just enough ginger-pop left to drink to both of them.

Afterwards she and Father played the 'cello and piano, because we asked them to, and the Bottle Man sat with his arm over Jerry's shoulders, watching, with the light on his nice, brown, kind face. And Father sat with his head tucked down over the 'cello, just the way I remembered there on the Sea Monster, and the candles shone on Aunt Ailsa's amberish-colored hair, and I thought she was the beautifullest person in the world, except Mother. I thought about a lot of things while the music went on, and wondered whether we'd ever want to picnic on Wecanicut again. But I knew we would, because Wecanicut is a kind, friendly, safe place (and we do go there now lots, only we don't look at the Sea Monster much). I thought, too, that perhaps if we'd never thrown the message in the bottle into the harbor, Aunt Ailsa and Uncle Andrew would never have been married and lived happily ever after,—that is, they've lived happily so far and I think they'll keep on. Because if we had n't, the Bottle Man would never have come sailing down to see us, and he might still be thinking Aunt Ailsa had married the Mr. Thingummy, when she had n't at all.

He was such a nice Bottle Man! I sat there on the couch and thought how splendid it would be when he was our own uncle, and I laughed when I remembered how we'd imagined that he was an ancient old gentleman. The wind began to rise outside. I could hear it whisking around and bumping in the chimney, and I thought how glad I was—oh, how glad, glad I was—that we were all at home, and I listened hard to the 'cello and tried not to remember the horrible old Sea Monster.

Mother slipped in and sat down beside me, and when the music ended, she said:

"Greg wants to see the 'Bottle Man'."

We asked if we might come, too, because we had n't seen Greg since they carried him up to the house, all bloody and rumpled and dirty. So we all went up, and Mother tip-toed in first with the lamp. He looked almost quite like himself, with clean pajamas and his hair brushed and all the frightened, hurt look gone out of his face.

The Bottle Man (I almost forget to call him that, because we've been calling him Uncle Andrew for months) leaned over and said:

"Lots better now, old man?"

Greg said "Lots," and then, "But what I did want to ask you is, how you sailed all the way from the Mid-Equator to here in such a little boat?"

The Bottle Man laughed, and then said very soberly:

"But are you sure you measured it right? To-morrow I'll show you on the map."

We only stayed a minute, and then said good-night and went out. I was the last one, and just as I was going through the door, Greg said:

"Chris! Come back!"

So I went and sat on the edge of the bed in the dark, and Greg put his good arm around my neck when I bent down.

"Do you know, Chris," he said, "sometimes that night I think I thought you were Mother. Oh, Chris, I do love you awfully much!"

And I was happier then than I'd been since—oh, it seemed centuries ago.