Cover image for Daniel Plainway, or, The holiday haunting of the Moosepath League
Daniel Plainway, or, The holiday haunting of the Moosepath League
Reid, Van.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, 2000.
Physical Description:
x, 385 pages ; 25 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 7.5 27.0 55293.
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Great fun . . . escapists will be charmed," enthused The New York Times about Van Reid's last outing. The Christian Science Monitor relishes his "lemonade-at-the-fair freshness that will delight readers of all ages . . . encouraging them to enjoy a good old-fashioned yarn." Here, for fans of page-turning but gentle fiction is his latest in this picaresque series.It's Christmastime in nineteenth-century Maine and Daniel Plainway makes it truly a season of good will. Portly, jovial Tobias Walton and his guileless companions in the Moosepath League are caught up in a rollicking adventure with a panoply of vivid, charming characters whose paths cross that of country lawyer Daniel Plainway. When Mr. Plainway learns that the stolen portrait of a deceased friend has been recovered and that her lost son may still be alive, he begins a search that leads him to the kidnapped boy and several life-changing experiences.

Author Notes

His family has lived in Maine since the eighteenth century, and for the past ten years he has been assistant manager at the Maine Coast Book Shop in Damariscotta. He lives with his wife and children in Edgecomb.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

The rollicking adventures of Tobias Walton and the jovial Moosepath League continue in Reid's (Cordelia Underwood; Mollie Peer) engaging third novel set in 19th-century Maine. Reid ingeniously incorporates local color and history in a fast-moving tale that introduces the reader to dedicated attorney Daniel Plainway and the Dash-It-All Boys, three men who aspire to the camaraderie and renown of the Moosepath League. As the people of Portland prepare to celebrate the evolving rituals of Christmas, Walton and company become involved with Frederick and Isabelle Covington. The couple seek help from the League in searching for some mysterious runes, hoping they will prove that the Vikings preempted Columbus's discovery of the New World. At the same time, Plainway discovers that a few months earlier, Walton and the Moosepath League rescued a young boy who had been kidnapped by a group of hooligans (fans will recognize the characters from Mollie Peer). Recovered along with the boy was a portrait of a young woman, presumed to be his mother. Plainway believes the boy, now called Bird, may in fact be Bertram Linnett, the son of his goddaughter, Nell. After a hasty marriage to a handsome boy from an unscrupulous family, Nell died in childbirth, her husband was found drowned and one year later the boy was abducted, along with a portrait of Nell. Supporting characters include Capital Gaines, Pacifa Means and Ergo Define, otherwise known as "Therefore." In addition to having fun with wordplay, the author has a knack for injecting the right balance of humor and seriousness into a story detailing the sad dissolution of the Linnett family. The Covingtons' mission brings a sinister element into the plot when yet another private clique, the Broumnage Club (an actual secret society unearthed in Reid's research), attempts to foil their efforts with threats to their lives. On the way to the inevitable happy ending, Reid captures the old-fashioned charm of turn-of-the-century New England in a suspenseful narrative encompassing ghost stories, tall tales, delightfully eccentric characters and an adequate dose of romance. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-It's 1896, and the mem-bers of the Moosepath League find their lives taking an adventurous turn when they acci-dentally meet up with lawyer Daniel Plain-way. He seeks help from the club in solving the disappearance of an orphaned boy known as "Bird." In the process, the Moosepathians become entangled in solving a mysterious rune attributed to Vikings, experience ghostly visitations, enjoy thrilling tales of Maine folklore, and provide entertaining episodes along the way. Although this is the conclusion to the story told in Cordelia Underwood (Viking, 1999), readers can easily pick up the story line through the sections entitled, "Daniel's Story." Reid deftly intertwines plots and subplots, providing a complex, yet involving story filled with comic scenes and engaging wordplay as well as serious moments. He picturesquely captures the snowy cold Maine winter, but is just as quick to describe the dangers of the weather, which plays a major role in the story. In sharp details, the author offers clearly defined portraits of the myriad char-acters, their manners, and customs. All of the figures become memorable individuals as they enter the story, distinctive in their personalities and mannerisms. An exciting and fun adventure.-Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One December 3, 1896 1. Not to Be Confused     "Am I very much deceived in thinking that the object above us, just now, is a hat?" said Aldicott Durwood.     "If you are deceived," said Roderick Waverley, "then I am every bit as deceived for thinking you are correct in thinking that that object above us, just now, is a hat."     "And I equally deceived in my agreement," said Humphrey Brink.     One would not guess from their indifferent, almost weary tones that a great deal of excitement surrounded these three men. On the upper bank of the Eastern Promenade in Portland, Maine, an army of revelers (not all children) were plummeting the white slope on sleds and toboggans and vehicles unnamable of every shape and size; more figures made the long trudge back to the top, and the air was large with shouts and laughter. The brilliant remnants of a perfect December afternoon seemed willing to linger, even as shadows lengthened and the sun reddened over the western ramparts of the city.     To the south, at the mouth of Portland Harbor, the sails of an incoming schooner caught this radiance, and many at the top of the slope paused to watch this vessel round the northernmost point of Cape Elizabeth. It was identified, at first, as a three-masted vessel, but by the time a tug met her, it was clear to veteran seamen and armchair sailors alike that she was of the four-masted variety, limping into port without her full complement of sails and rigging. Soon a flag was raised at the observatory to indicate the ship's business connections, and several people spoke the name of the Caleb Brown , which was overdue.     But Durwood, Waverley, and Brink were oblivious of the drama evidenced by these sights, even as they were inattentive to the general gaiety about them. Hands clasped behind their backs, they peered up at the floating hat so that each seemed to be playing the identical role in a formal tableau. "It does seem to be staying up there a very long time," continued Durwood, who was darkly handsome, with a pencil-thin mustache. "For a hat," he added.     "It isn't some sort of kite, is it?" wondered Waverley, who was lighter, taller, clean-shaven, and every bit as handsome.     "I never saw a kite like it," asserted Brink, who wore a close-cropped beard and winged mustaches. He was the shortest of them and perhaps the most dashing.     A great shout went up as a toboggan race commenced. More people arrived at the crest of the hill, and voices rose in pleasure and surprised greetings. Durwood, Waverley, and Brink, however, were oblivious of everything but that single object.     "Is it a very nice hat?" wondered Durwood. "I might like to have it if it is a very nice hat."     "I think not," opined Waverley. "It looks to me like a very lowly hat."     "It's very high for a lowly hat," said Brink.     "I hope you thank me for making that so easy for you."     "You meant nothing of the sort, I am sure."     "Who do you suppose belongs to it?" wondered Durwood.     "I'm not in the habit of recognizing people by their hats," informed Waverley. "I have enough difficulty recognizing most people, if you must know, and sometimes I confuse the two of you."     "Confuse the two of us with what?" queried Brink.     "Is the hat descending?" asked Durwood.     "Blast the hat!" said Waverley.     "No, really," said Durwood, "the hat is coming down." And so it did, right into his hands.     "And here, I think," said Brink, "is the attendant--or, as it were, nonattendant--head approaching us now." Brink snatched the hat from Durwood and stuffed it under the back of Waverley's coat.     They took note of a hatless fellow who was hurrying along the ridge of the hill and excusing himself as he weaved through the crowd. Just ahead of the bareheaded man, there was a younger man (still in possession of his own headgear) who appeared to be searching the sky for the truant hat. "He has a friend, I think," said Durwood.     "Ah, yes," said Waverley. "Perhaps his friend will lend him his hat."     Durwood, Waverley, and Brink took such interest in these two that the younger man addressed them with a "Good afternoon."     "Hello," said Durwood. It was a greeting that had gained some vogue, since the advent of the telephone.     "There was a hat," said the young man, even as the hatless individual caught up with him.     "A hat?" said Durwood.     "Was there?" said Waverley.     "A hat and no head?" wondered Brink.     "The head is here," said the bareheaded fellow. Indeed, he was bareheaded in almost every sense of the word, for without a hat he was left with only the slightest fringe of brown hair; a portly man of middle age, he wore round spectacles that sat at the end of his nose. He smiled as he pointed to his bald pate, which shone rather handsomely in the light of the westering sun. "It is a head that must harbor some aversion to hats," he admitted, "since it does so little to hang on to them." He laughed as several young children nearly bowled him over in their hurry to reach the hilltop.     "You have lost hats before," said Durwood.     "The very same, in fact," said the jolly fellow. He extended his hand and introduced himself. "Tobias Walton." There was some need to speak above normal tones with such a raucous crowd about them.     "Durwood," said the man who had caught the hat. "Aldicott Durwood."     "Roderick Waverley," said the man who had the hat beneath his coat.     "Humphrey Brink," said the man who had put the hat where it presently resided.     "I am Mister Walton's gentleman's gentleman," said the young man.     "He is my good friend," said Mister Walton, indicating good-humored disagreement with his companion.     "Sundry Moss," said the young man.     Durwood, Waverley, and Brink did not formally beg the young man's pardon, but their frowns made it clear that further elucidation was necessary.     "My name is Sundry Moss," explained the young man.     "You don't say," said Durwood.     "He did," said Waverley.     "Do you speak to your parents?" wondered Brink.     Sundry smiled with one corner of his mouth.     "Do you know his parents?" asked Waverley of Brink. He was a little concerned that the shaking of hands, prompted by these introductions, would loosen the hat from beneath his coat.     "I confess to an unfamiliarity with mosses in general," said Brink, who was wondering how he might actually cause the hat to drop.     "Walton," Durwood was saying. "The Walton whose family once owned the shoe factory?"     "Yes, indeed," said that man, who was doing his best to show polite attention to the conversation, though he was still concerned with the whereabouts of his hat and more than a little distracted by the flurry of activity around them.     Sundry had been watching the progress of an odd expression as it crossed Brink's face, and finally he asked, "Is something the matter?"     "There was a Walton, I think," interrupted Waverley, "who recently drew the chairmanship of a new society." He regarded his companions. "A club, in fact. The Beaverwood Guild!"     "No, no!" declared Brink. "It was a bigger animal than that, the White-Tailed Deer Society, I am certain of it!"     "No, no, no!" contradicted Durwood. "It was a moose, I am sure, the Moosejaw Lodge!"     "I have the honor of being the chairman of the Moosepath League," said Mister Walton, with a bow. "We meet on Thursday nights at the Shipswood Restaurant. You must drop by sometime."     "We have our own club, actually," said Brink dryly.     "Do you?" asked the hatless man.     "Do we?" chorused Durwood and Waverley.     "Our club!" said Brink, as if wounded by the question.     "Ah, yes!" said Durwood.     "Our club!" said Waverley.     Mister Walton and Sundry were more than a little suspicious by now. "And the name of your club?" asked Mister Walton.     "The name?" said Durwood.     "The name!" declared Waverley.     "We are the Dash-It-All Boys!" announced Brink.     "Good heavens!" said Mister Walton with a laugh.     "How very right!" agreed Durwood.     "Couldn't have said it better myself," said Waverley.     "Not the temperance group?" said Sundry.     "Not at all," said Brink, "that's the Dash- Away Boys."     "And you are?" said Sundry.     "The Dash-It- All Boys," said Brink again. "Not to be confused."     "We are very glad to make your acquaintance," said Mister Walton.     "Are you here for the commotion?" wondered Waverley. He waved a hand toward the activity on the slope.     "Alas," said the portly fellow with surprising sincerity, "we did not bring our sleds," and he touched his bare head to indicate that he must continue his search.     "I did think there may have been a hat," said Durwood suddenly. "It went over the slope, I think."     "Did it?" asked Mister Walton.     Sundry looked skeptical, but he wandered to the brow of the hill.     "I think Durwood may be right," said Waverley. "There was something floating about."     "Thank you for your help," said Mister Walton, and he reached up to tip his hat before remembering that it wasn't on its customary perch.     Sundry was considering the busy slope when Mister Walton joined him. "It would be hard to say," he opined. The hill was alive with swift sleds, overburdened toboggans, and mid-hill collisions. Dark coats peppered the snowy bank.     Mister Walton beamed at the sight of it all. "The breeze might have taken it down there."     "I'll go down," said Sundry. "Someone may have seen it."     "Look, over there? said Mister Walton, pointing.     "Your hat?"     "No, a very sparsely populated toboggan! Quick, Sundry, we may be able to catch the train!" The portly man was hurrying along the ridge, past several groups of people readying their vehicles, to the place where two youngsters eyed the course of their imminent descent. "Boys!" he shouted. "Young fellows!"     The two children with the toboggan did not at first connect Mister Walton's shouts with themselves, but as he drew closer, they looked with alarm at his approach and would have fled down the slope if not for the absolutely pleasing smile upon his face. One of the young fellows in fact was a little sister, and after a gracious apology for his error he revealed his purpose in hailing them, saying with a laugh, "I was always told that a toboggan will run faster with more weight in the front. What do you say?"     The children gaped at the portly fellow. Sundry drew up beside his employer. "You want to take the hill?" wondered the brother. He could not have been more than nine or ten, his sister perhaps seven.     "I do, indeed," said Mister Walton, who was a little out of breath. "I have been told that my hat may have blown down there, and I should like to retrieve it."     "We'll get it for you," offered the boy.     "It is splendid of you to offer, said Mister Walton sincerely. But I haven't ridden a toboggan in years!" Clearly the portly fellow thought this state of affairs had gone on long enough.     "All aboard!" cried out the little girl.     With surprising agility Mister Walton leaped to the fore of the toboggan and sat down heavily. The vehicle tipped a little at the crest of the slope. "Climb on, Sundry!" declared the older fellow. He resituated his glasses upon his nose. Several people in the vicinity shouted with surprise to see him take his place on the toboggan.     "Hang on," said Sundry to the children, who hunkered behind Mister Walton. Sundry took hold of the rear of the toboggan and gave it a proper shove before jumping on. The snow on the hill was well packed by now, and the toboggan was not long in realizing a startling velocity.     Mister Walton had forgotten the dizzying effect of skimming the ground with one's head leading in a flying dive for the bottom of the slope, and he let out a great joyful whoop. They were passing sleds and toboggans that had taken off before them, and the crowded slope suddenly seemed a more difficult path to manage. Occasionally they struck a dip in the hill that sent showers of white over their bow and prompted a series of happy shouts from them all, so that many climbing the bank heard them above the general din and leaped aside to clear the way.     Durwood, Waverley, and Brink watched all this from their position at the top of the hill. "They are showing a good deal too much energy," said Durwood, "when one considers the hour at which I retired last night." The sight seemed to give them all a headache.     Waverley led the way to their carriage, slipping the hat from beneath his coat. "It's not such a bad hat."     "It's a very wayward hat," said Durwood.     A cab was trotting past when they reached the road, and Waverley gave the hat a spin in the air. The hat met the head of the horse and bounced between the animal's ears, then slid to one side, only to catch on the buckle of the animal's browband. It made the horse, which was otherwise a rather ordinary creature, appear vaguely rakish. The driver, who had been turning into traffic, straightened in his seat and was startled to find his animal sporting a very neat homburg. Durwood looked after the chapeaued equine as if something in the sight made him melancholy.     "We never did find out if Mr. Moss speaks to his parents," said Durwood.     "The Dash-It-All Boys," said Brink. 2. Meeting the Caleb Brown The toboggan continued to gain speed, and Sundry wondered if they would break through the drift of snow at the bottom of the long slope and find themselves merging with the traffic on Fore Street. They came to a hissing halt, however, some yards short of the snow heap but several yards further than anyone else had reached.     The brother and sister were awed with the effect of Mister Walton's mass on the velocity of their vehicle, and though his hat was nowhere to be found once they reached the foot of the grade, the bespectacled fellow was so very exhilarated by their descent that he suggested a second run. Fast friendships were quickly formed among this unlikely quartet, and soon every child with a toboggan was looking for a portly pilot. Not a few unlikely participants were encouraged by Mister Walton's example, and despite the lateness of the hour, the revelers upon the slope were galvanized to action.     Finally, at the foot of the hill (was it after the third or fourth run?), the two men bade farewell to the children; by this time the hill's population and the level of noise seemed to have tripled.     The eastern twilight had softened the brilliant hill to a dusky blue, fiery clouds of pink and orange hung in the west, and this last blaze limned the western ramparts of the city. But Mister Walton and Sundry's attention was drawn to the waterfront and the arrival of the crippled schooner at the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Wharf. They were not a great distance from this business, and as the fortunes of all seafaring ventures are of interest to those who live in a seafaring town, they joined the crowd gathered there.     Lamp and lantern light was gaining precedence on the wharf, and as the darkened sky drew down and the dockside buildings loomed on either side, Mister Walton and Sundry had the impression of walking into a vast room, the many voices echoing from walls and hulls lending credence to the notion. The damp harbor air formed a frosty mist as the temperature declined with daylight, and the surrounding shapes glinted with condensation.     The tug was easing the Caleb Brown along the wharf as Mister Walton and Sundry walked among the disparate figures common to the waterfront: businessmen and idle onlookers, old salts and opportunists. The crowd thwarted their view of the ship from the gunnels to the waterline, but the remaining masts rode by, as well as a mare's nest of lines and broken spars. A sudden gust blew past the crowd, as if the schooner had brought with her the very storm that had taken her mizzenmast and foresail; Mister Walton, with his bare head, was particularly chilled by it.     A gangplank was raised from the wharf, and as people moved aside to facilitate this work, an older gentleman turned slightly and met Mister Walton's eye. "Toby!" he said in surprise.     "Mr. Seacost!" replied the jovial fellow after only a moment's hesitation.     The two men shook hands with great warmth of feeling. Lawrence Seacost was taller than Mister Walton, unbent by his seventy-some years and evidently undaunted by the winter night. He had a grand beard, though no mustaches, and creases beneath his eyes that expressed (and had no doubt been caused by) an immense sympathy with all things. Mister Walton introduced the man to Sundry, saying, "I was a member of Mr. Seacost's congregation some years ago."     "I retired many years ago, Toby," said the older man.     "I am very pleased to meet you, sir," said Sundry.     "Without the able tutelage of my former parson," continued Mister Walton, "I would not have known a cedar waxwing from a tufted titmouse. He is an amateur ornithologist of extraordinary learning."     "We must have our hobbyhorses," explained Mr. Seacost to Sundry. "Men of the cloth most especially, it seems. I am glad to meet you, Mr. Moss."     "You will be glad to know, Mr. Seacost," said Mister Walton, "that Sundry has made a career, these past few months, of keeping me from trouble."     "Have you?" said the older man, as if this might be an extraordinary thing.     "When humanly possible," admitted Sundry.     "I shouldn't be surprised to find you here, Toby," said Mr. Seacost. "The papers have you everywhere and all about!"     "Oh, dear," said Mister Walton, abashed at this unintentional notoriety.     "Buried treasure," continued Mr. Seacost. "Rescuing children. Is Mr. Moss a member of your club then?"     "He is indeed."     "The Moosepath League," said the minister, almost to himself.     "Yes, sir," said Sundry with evident humor as well as pride.     The old man laughed. "Come, come. What I have to offer will pale before your recent adventures, but you will find worthy company in my friends who are just debarking now."     Several men whose concerns regarding the Caleb Brown were notably monetary had boarded the schooner and were talking with the captain at the rail, but the captain hailed past them to a man and a woman at the head of the plank, saying, "It's been a pleasure having you aboard, ma'am, sir. I pray our misadventure with the wind hasn't inconvenienced you."     The man at the gangplank tipped his hat, and the woman said something to merit a laugh from the captain. The man turned, after a step or two down the plank, and called out a name, whereupon a dog of fairly large parts bounded over the rail and trotted alongside them to the wharf.     "Here is a man after his own hobbyhorse," Mr. Seacost was saying as he stepped up to the end of the plank. "And his wife along, thankfully, to keep his feet in the stirrups."     "Lawrence!" said the man, once he had scanned the crowd and set eyes upon the retired clergyman.     "Frederick!" replied Mr. Seacost. "Izzy!" and he embraced the woman, who was first off the plank. He bent down to stroke the dog's head. "Ah! It was you, Moxie, dear, that I wished to see."     "I knew it!" said the woman with mock hauteur.     Mister Walton introduced himself when the man from the ship nodded to him, and the man took Mister Walton's hand, saying, "Frederick Covington, sir." He was of medium height, and his movement and firm grip evidenced some athletic ability and physical strength. He was somewhere between Mister Walton and Sundry--that is, between forty-nine and twenty-seven years in age. He wore a short round hat, but his clothes, including a fine cape, were black, with something of the cavalier about him that was contradicted only by the clerical collar at his neck. His eyes were dark, and when he took his hat off to greet Mister Walton and Sundry, he revealed curly dark hair and disclosed a good-humored, clean-shaven face from beneath the shadow of its brim. "This is my wife, Isabelle."     Mrs. Covington thrust out her hand and proved to have a strong grip as well, much practiced no doubt in the receiving lines outside church every Sunday. She had a humorous way of lifting her chin when she regarded a person, and Mister Walton found himself beaming back at her. Isabelle Covington had wide-spaced blue eyes and a nose that turned up handsomely at the end. Her complexion was fair, and her hair that darkened blond that accompanies near middle age, but her eyebrows were dark and expressive. "I am pleased to meet you, Mister Walton," she said, "and trust you are here to see someone other than our dog."     "I had no idea that I was going to see a dog," he admitted.     "That is all you need to say, thank you, sir."     Sundry was introduced to the Covingtons then, but it was clear that he was interested in their dog.     "And this," said Frederick Covington, "is Moxie."     Moxie was a large collielike creature with a beautiful white face and expressive black-lined eyes. She had regular markings of tan and black, though she was predominantly white from her spotless breast to her shining pantaloons. She sat and offered a polite paw to her new acquaintances. Sundry, whose family was famous for its numerous dogs, realized how much he had missed these animals, and he made a great deal of her.     Frederick meanwhile embraced Mr. Seacost and declared how pleased he was to be there.     "Let us help you with your bags," said Sundry when these arrived at the end of the plank.     "A rough passage?" Mr. Seacost inquired.     "We had our troubles," said the younger clergyman. "A squall off Cape Ann, the day before yesterday, carried away the mizzenmast at the masthead. Then, as soon as they had the rigging cut away, the rest of the mast between the masthead and the deck went. Captain Matthews put her before the wind, and we thought we were done with the damage till the foresail was carried off later in the day."     "Frederick thought a poor cook was the worst of it," said the woman.     "I will warn you, Toby," said Mr. Seacost, "that Frederick's prime hobbyhorse rides on a dining table."     "Hobbyhorses are we talking?" said Mrs. Covington. She pretended to pinch Mr. Seacost's shoulder.     "Man does not live by sermons alone," said the husband with an attempt to look serious.     "Then we are in accordance as regards our needs, sir," said Mister Walton, "since Sundry and myself are meeting friends at the Shipswood Restaurant within the hour."     "We wouldn't want to interrupt your club's arrangements, Toby," said the older man.     "Nonsense!" said Mister Walton. "I can't overstate what a pleasure it would be to have you as our guests!"     Mr. Seacost turned to his friends and apprehended, in the husband, a hesitant expression. "You had other plans perhaps."     "Not a plan of my own, actually, but a task I promised to fulfill, and perhaps I can further put upon Mister Walton to help me with it."     "Why, certainly," said Mister Walton, with only a brief glance toward Sundry. "I would be more than happy, whatever it is you need."     "I hadn't thought to get this done the moment I stepped from the wharf," said Mr. Covington, "but it seems a shame to lose the opportunity. There is another passenger on the Caleb Brown just now, quite an elderly man by the name of Mr. Tempest. His original destination was Portland, but for reasons he prefers to keep mysterious, he has decided to stay aboard and return with the ship to Rhode Island. That is all that I know of his story, but he has charged me with finding someone who would write a short letter for him, which he will dictate in his cabin."     "Why, certainly," said Mister Walton again, though he was a little confused that Mr. Covington himself could not carry out this duty, and the thought was as clear as if he had spoken.     "Frederick offered to help the man in this capacity," explained the wife with some delight, "but it seems Mr. Tempest's tolerant nature could not forbear the disrepute of my husband's vocation."     "Oh, my!" said Mister Walton.     "So it is no use your volunteering, Lawrence," said Mr. Covington to Mr. Seacost. "He'll have absolutely no truck with the clergy."     "Good heavens!" said Mister Walton.     "Bad habits will catch up with you," said Sundry. He maintained a bland expression as he reached back to adjust his own collar. "My mother used to tell me that."     "She is a wise lady," said Isabelle.     "He doesn't like the captain either," said Frederick.     "Every man with his own hobby," said Sundry.     "He sounds a challenge," said Mister Walton with more humor than trepidation. 3. The Man Who Would Not Come Ashore The first mate of the Caleb Brown paused before a low door at the bottom of the companionway and knocked softly.     "Yes!" came a craggy voice.     "Mr. Tempest?" said the first mate.     "I haven't changed my name."     The sailor glanced at Mister Walton to see if he appreciated the seriousness of his endeavor. "There is a Mister Walton here to see you."     "I don't know a Mister Walton."     "Mr. Covington asked me to come," said the portly fellow, his voice clear and untroubled.     After some moments, during which the first mate and Mister Walton exchanged shrugs, the voice called out again. "Are you waiting for an invitation?"     The mate shot daggers at the door, but Mister Walton lifted a hand to indicate that he was up to the test. The bespectacled man's expression was mild as he opened the cabin door and stepped inside. "I was, actually," he replied, and seeing the mate's hesitation, he said, "I'm fine," before he pulled the door shut.     The room was small and dark; a lantern swung from the low ceiling. In a berth against the outer bulkhead sat an old man who glowered fiercely. "So what did the preacher send? Not one of his cronies?"     "I met Mr. Covington only ten minutes ago," said Mister Walton.     "You are not a preacher then?"     "I have not answered that calling, no."     "I couldn't bear people thinking I had some sort of conversion," said the old man testily.     "I will be pleased to inform anyone who is interested that that is not the case," said Mister Walton with a sort of steely humor. As his eyes grew accustomed to the dark quarters, he became aware of some trunks beneath the bunk, a writing table hinged to the wall to his left, a small mirror and personal tackle hanging in a net on the right. The lantern swayed and shadows shifted with the ship at anchor; there was the sound of movement on the deck above and the occasional rub of the hull against the wharf.     Mr. Tempest too was revealed in the lamplight. He was a large-boned man with outsized hands and feet. His features had been roughened by time and cast by temperament into perpetual night. He was well dressed; a tailored coat hung at a bunkpost. "You needn't fear me," he said. "I may be dying, but I'm not diseased, if that's what you want to know. It's just that my hand won't remain still." He raised his right hand, and Mister Walton saw it agitate the air.     "I don't fear you at all, Mr. Tempest."     "You will take a letter that I dictate," said Mr. Tempest, his tone only slightly less combative.     "That is why I came," said Mister Walton with a small nod.     "And you will deliver it."     "Here in Portland?" Mister Walton was wise enough to know the details before he made a promise to deliver personally some letter to Shanghai.     "The City Hotel," said Tempest.     Again Mister Walton nodded, his curiosity up. He went to the table, which was designed to accommodate a person sitting at the bunk; there was a hard-cased trunk beneath the berth, however, and for a seat he upended this, then lowered the hinged tabletop from the wall. Tempest had a small case of writing things at the foot of his berth, and soon Mister Walton was poised with pen and ink above a sheaf of paper.     "To Ezra Burnbrake, City Hotel, Portland," said the old man. Mixed with the creaking of the ship and the comings and goings of the crew above, there came the sound of a pen nib scratching its way through Tempest's words. You were surprised when I searched you out for the purposes of securing certain holdings, and in fact I have been less than candid with you as to why those holdings are of interest to me. Suffice it to say that in the intervening days my interest has waned, and I should ask your pardon for causing you an unnecessary trip; you do have my assurance that this transaction was the makings of a queer deal. There are others unnamed who will take up my intended mission and press you, when you might have needed no pressing before this letter, but from one whom you have never knowingly met, save by post and telegram, to one who has no reason to think of the sender as anything but a weak-minded old man, I suggest that you resist all overtures on the subject. There are many, unknown to you and me, who would benefit from your firm stance, and likewise lose if these other people acquire what they want. If you find my motives elusive, I shall simply say that I tire of those unnamed and that your niece once did me a kindness that she will not remember. I am not interested in hearing from you and shall consider all business between us to be terminated. For all intents, and to all your purposes, I am dead.     What trepidation Mister Walton had not felt when he entered Tempest's cabin descended upon him now, and he wrote the last sentence hesitantly, as if it would only come out of the pen by way of gross labor. The words I am dead in particular fought his intentions, and the final letters shivered as they reached the paper.     He raised his face, feeling beads of sweat on his brow; his hand had cramped.     Tempest sat unmoving in his berth. His hand shivered before him. Mister Walton considered that he was observing some atavistic force, self-perpetuating and self-sustaining, yet barren.     "I have acquired an imagination in my age," said Tempest quietly, "and that has been punishment enough for anything I have done."     After a silence Mister Walton leaned toward the man slightly and said, "Am I to write that?"     "What?" said the man, as if he had not heard himself. "Let me sign it." He shifted his feet, which thumped upon the deck, and bent over the table. His shivering hand took the pen from Mister Walton, and with some effort he scrawled an unreadable signature. "He will know who it is."     Mister Walton had never written anything so extraordinary, and though they were not his words, they had physically come from his hand, and they troubled him. Mr. Tempest troubled him as he leaned back in his bunk with a dark sigh. "Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr. Tempest?" he asked. He felt as if he had one brief moment to offer Tantalus a drink of cool water.     "Sympathy for a crazy old man?" said Tempest. "I can imagine that too."     Mister Walton took off his spectacles and peered at Tempest with great dignity.     "I can imagine it," said Tempest, "but I can't feel it."     "It is a beginning."     "Is it? One without the other is simply confusion. There is an envelope in the writing case there. You don't need to address it if you give it to Burnbrake personally."     "I understand."     "I was going to offer you recompense for your trouble."     "I wouldn't take it."     "That occurred to me. I trust Covington wasn't too offended."     "More amused than offended perhaps."     "Then I did him an injustice."     Mister Walton replaced his spectacles, then took an envelope from the little box and folded the note into it. His curiosity was not entirely assuaged; the note, though plain in its unhappiness, was yet cryptic in its details. But if the unhappiness of the man before him might linger, the letter of his words were all but forgotten before he reached the door.     "Didn't you have a hat?" asked Tempest.     "It was the loss of my hat that brought me here, sir," said Mister Walton.     Tempest's eyebrows raised. Curiosity, as Mister Walton could have told him, is not a low sensation. "I can't imagine that , but you look cold without it."     "I am Tobias Walton, Mr. Tempest," said the portly fellow with a cautious bow. "I live on Spruce Street, here in Portland, and I am at your service."     "Good-bye, Mister Walton. I trust we shall not see each other again."     Mister Walton was almost surprised that it was night outside. Then he remembered that Sundry, and Mr. Seacost, and the Covingtons were awaiting him in a carriage just off the wharf. The cold air above decks was welcome, even on his bare head. The stars were out. 4. The Assembled League Mr. Pliny, owner of the Shipswood Restaurant on Commercial Street, was always happy to see Mister Walton and the members of the Moosepath League, for a single jolly customer is like the bit of sand around which the oyster grows the pearl. Most who knew him thought Mister Walton was himself a pearl, and good things did seem to surround him.     The members of the Moosepath League were unaware of the interest they had caused in the public at large. The papers had outlined their exploits, both in the "Affair of the Underwood Treasure" and in the mysterious "Gunfight on the Sheepscott River," and the small size of their club (which was imagined by many to indicate a sort of exclusivity) only increased the notoriety of each of its constituents.     Neither were they aware of bringing fame to the Shipswood Restaurant by making it their meeting place every Thursday evening at seven. Mister Walton, who was perhaps more cognizant than the three charter members, would not have presumed to imagine, and perhaps only Sundry Moss wondered at the increasing crowds and the moments of silent eavesdropping from nearby tables.     The unannounced purposes of the Moosepath League served only to heighten the mystery, and truth to tell, this lack of an express mission continued to be an issue of some trouble for the membership. Theirs was not particularly a sporting fellowship, though years ago one of their number had gone fishing in the Presumpscot River and very fortunately was pulled out of the stream just above the falls below Pleasant Hill. They did not share political persuasions, nor did they attend the same churches. They were not tradesmen or merchants. What they did share was a great goodwill, an admiration of Mister Walton, and unbounded curiosity.     This, as it happens, was enough.     Mr. Pliny, then, was pleased to see Mister Walton arrive some minutes before seven with Sundry Moss, two new gentlemen, and a lady, all of them as cheerful as they could be. A pretty air was singing from a pair of violins in the back of the main room as their coats and hats (discounting Mister Walton's, of course) were taken and they were escorted to the club's usual table. "I'll be back with more chairs and your menus," said Mr. Pliny with a bow.     Frederick Covington pulled out a chair for his wife, then sat down with a satisfied noise. The restaurant's atmosphere was redolent of good food as well as sweet music, and he had made no pretense regarding the state of his stomach.     "Then you are Portland's answer to the great detective himself!" Isabelle was saying. Mr. Seacost had been describing to her what was public knowledge of Mister Walton's recent adventures.     "Good heavens, no!" said Mister Walton, blushing. "We were very much accidental in our involvements, believe me."     "How do you like to snowshoe?" asked Frederick offhandedly as they received menus from Mr. Pliny, but the question remained in the air unanswered as other conversation was forwarded.     "I trust the remaining members will be here," the owner was saying hopefully.     "It is their plan, I believe, yes," said Mister Walton.     "I am anxious to meet these gentlemen," said Isabelle.     "They will be agog to have such a lovely addition at our gathering tonight," said Mister Walton.     Mrs. Covington did not blush, but she raised her menu before her, looking as if she had thought better of Mister Walton.     He laughed because she had no idea how accurately he had spoken.     It was Matthew Ephram who arrived first, and he was agog. A single male guest would have warranted great enthusiasm on his part, but to meet three new people and one of them a female raised the night's gathering to the level of the historic.     If the Covingtons and Mr. Seacost had expected a man of heroic aspect, then they were not disappointed in Matthew Ephram, who was tall and well-proportioned. He had dark hair and fine black mustaches, and he wore an impeccably tailored suit of gray herringbone. He held the day's edition of Portland's Eastern Argus beneath his arm. He carried three or four watches on his person at all times, and he consulted one of these, even as he shook Isabelle Covington's hand, which she had offered. "Three minutes past the hour of seven," he announced, as if to mark the very instant.     "Izzy's very interested to meet you and your colleagues, Mr. Ephram," said Frederick.     "Is he?" said Ephram. "I am sorry, I wouldn't know."     The clergyman hesitated. He and Ephram considered each other for a moment: Frederick with a look of near laughter, Ephram with honest wonder. "I'm sorry, I don't know either," said Frederick.     "Oh, please, don't apologize," said Ephram.     Smiling, Mister Walton had cleared his throat as preamble to sorting this out when there came another voice. "Good heavens!" it said, and the men stood again and Mrs. Covington watched with amusement as Christopher Eagleton was introduced. He shook hands with everyone, including Ephram, at least once, and Ephram was inspired also to shake Mr. Covington's and Mr. Seacost's hands again.     Though the oldest of the three Moosepathians (he had already celebrated his fortieth birthday), Eagleton looked the youngest, owing perhaps to his full blond hair and lack of beard or mustache. As was usual he wore a tan suit, and he held his customary copy of the Portland Advertiser in one hand as he shook with the other. He himself was agog at the sight of a woman at their table and expressed to her how unprecedented and how welcome was this circumstance. "Continued clear tonight," said Eagleton. "Overcast tomorrow, with possible flurries. Moderate temperatures foreseen." He was something of an amateur meteorographer, and it was not unusual for him to inform others of expected weather patterns.     "Five minutes past seven," said Ephram.     There was a sudden crash nearby, and all tables halted to see Joseph Thump (of the Exeter Thumps) pick himself up from the floor. There did not appear anything in his immediate vicinity that might have tripped him, so he may simply have been upended by the sight of Mrs. Covington. He was not a tall man, but very broad of shoulder, and his expression was difficult to read, since it was hidden behind a remarkable profusion of brown beard and mustaches. Wearing his habitual black suit, he carried with him the latest issue of the Portland Courier . Clearly he too was agog.     Another round of handshakes began, joined by Eagleton and Ephram; Frederick Covington thought he must have shaken Ephram's hand five times and could foresee doing so several times again before the night was out. The thought made him laugh.     "High tide tomorrow morning at five-fourteen," said Thump at a juncture that did not strictly call for this information. Weather prognostication and the exact moment in time (eight minutes past seven) were also repeated by Eagleton and Ephram, to the mystification of Mister Walton's guests.     Eagleton had no more than sat down (again) when he announced, "I met a dog outside the restaurant."     "As did I!" exclaimed Ephram, somewhat astonished at this coincidence.     "A dog!" stated Thump. He nodded emphatically, and after some discussion (which was so involved that others at the table had not the heart to break in) they decided that they had all seen the same dog, and this appeared to raise the coincidence (in the Moosepathians' eyes) to the altitude of the near miraculous.     "I suggest the pine bark soup," Mister Walton was saying, "for anyone starting with a hearty appetite. There are three kinds of freshwater fish in it!"     "I wonder what her name is," said Thump about the dog. Among his friends, his questions were known for their gravity.     "Moxie," said Frederick Covington finally. He happened at this moment to be lifting his water glass for a drink.     Thump directed his attention to the clergyman and thought about this. He knew that Moxie was a beverage--a nerve tonic, actually--sold at soda fountains and advertised in the Portland Courier with the picture of a man pointing assertively and declaring, "Drink Moxie!" (Thump had actually tried the drink once and liked it very much two or three weeks later.) The word had also recently come to mean "indomitable pluck and spirit," and now Thump thought it was being used as a toast, which he liked very much. He raised his own water glass to Mr. Covington and said, in his deep voice, "And to you, sir!"     "Moxie!" said Eagleton, who raised his own glass.     "Moxie!" said Ephram, following suit.     Mister Walton thought he heard a bark from outside. (Continues...) Copyright © 2000 Van Reid. All rights reserved.