- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. This e-text contains dialect and unusual spelling. -
HARBOR TALES DOWN NORTH
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WORKS OF NORMAN DUNCAN
The Soul of the Street The Way of the Sea Doctor Luke of the Labrador The Mother Doctor Grenfell's Parish The Adventures of Billy Topsail The Cruise of the Shining Light Every Man for Himself The Suitable Child Going Down from Jerusalem Higgins: A Man's Christian Billy Topsail and Company The Measure of a Man The Best of a Bad Job Finding His Soul The Bird Store Man Australian By-Ways Billy Topsail, M.D. Battles Royal Down North Harbor Tales Down North
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HARBOR TALES DOWN NORTH
Author of "Doctor Luke of the Labrador," Etc.
With an Appreciation by Wilfred T. Grenfell, M.D.
New York Chicago Fleming H. Revell Company London and Edinburgh
Copyright, 1918, by Fleming H. Revell Company New York: 158 Fifth Avenue Chicago: 17 North Wabash Ave. London: 21 Paternoster Square Edinburgh: 75 Princes Street
APPRECIATION BY WILFRED T. GRENFELL, M.D. 5
I. MADMAN'S LUCK 17
II. THE SIREN OF SCALAWAG RUN 59
III. THE ART OF TERRY LUTE 91
IV. THE DOCTOR OF AFTERNOON ARM 115
V. A CROESUS OF GINGERBREAD COVE 141
VI. A MADONNA OF TINKLE TICKLE 165
VII. THE LITTLE NIPPER O' HIDE-AN'-SEEK HARBOR 189
VIII. SMALL SAM SMALL 223
IX. AN IDYL OF RICKITY TICKLE 255
Norman Duncan Title
"Well, I'm off, whatever comes of it" 48
"'You're a coward, God help you,' Skipper Tom groaned" 108
"If he comes by the bight he'll never get here at all" 126
"We found Skipper Sammy squatted on a pan of ice" 250
An Appreciation by
WILFRED T. GRENFELL, M.D.
As our thoughts fly back to the days when the writer of these stories was a guest aboard our little hospital vessel, we remember realizing how vast was the gulf which seemed to lie between him and the circumstances of our sea life in the Northland. Nowhere else in the world, perhaps, do the cold facts of life call for a more unrelieved material response. It is said of our people that they are born with a netting needle in their hand and an ax by the side of their cradle. Existence is a daily struggle with adamantine facts and conditions; and quick, practical response, which leaves little encouragement or opportunity for dreamers, is, often enough, the only dividing line between life and death. As I write these lines the greatest physical battle the world has ever seen is being fought. Yet here, as my eyes wander over the great ocean around me, nothing but absolute peace meets my view. But it too has its stormy times and its days when its strength and its mighty depths of possibilities are the most insistent points about it. And this spirit of the deep Norman Duncan seems to have understood as did no other of our visitors.
Our experience of the men from the hubs of existence had led us to regard them all as hardened by a keener struggle than ours, and critical, if not suspicious, of those who were satisfied to endure greater physical toil and discomfort than they for so much smaller material return. In the Labrador even a dog hates to be laughed at, and the merest suspicion of the supercilious makes a gap which it is almost impossible to bridge. But Norman Duncan created no such gap. He was, therefore, an anomaly to us—he was away below the surface—and few of us, during the few weeks he stayed, got to know him well enough to appreciate his real worth. Yet men who "go down to the sea in ships" have before now been known to sleep through a Grand Opera, or to see little to attract in the works of the Old Masters. And so we gather comfort for our inability to measure this man at his full stature.
All who love men of tender, responsive imagination loved Duncan. It was quite characteristic of the man that though he earned large sums of money by his pen, he was always so generous in helping those in need—more especially those who showed talents to which they were unable, through stress of circumstances, to give expression—that he died practically a poor man. He was a high-souled, generous idealist. All his work is purposeful, conveying to his readers a moral lesson. He had the keenest appreciation of the feelings of others and understood the immense significance of the little things of life—a fact evidenced by his vivid descriptions of the beauties of Nature, which he first appreciated and then, with his mastery of English, so ably described. His own experience of poverty and struggle after leaving the university opened to him channels for his sympathetic portrayal of humble life. Physically he was never a fighter or an athlete; but he proved himself possessed of singular personal courage. He fought his best fights, however, on fields to which gladiators have no entry and in battles which, unlike our physical contests, are not spasmodic, but increasing and eternal. Norman Duncan's love and affection for the people whom we also found joy in serving naturally endeared him to us. He was ever a true knight, entering the lists in behalf of those principles which make up man's real inner life; and we realize that his love for men who embody characteristics developed by constant contact with the sea—fortitude, simplicity, hardiness—died only with his own passing.
The stories here brought together are woven out of experiences gathered during his brief periods of contact with our life. But how real are his characters! Like other famous personalities in fiction—Mr. Pickwick, Ebenezer Scrooge, Colonel Newcome, Tom Jones, and a thousand others—who people a world we love, they teach us, possibly, more of high ideals, and of our capacities for service than do the actual lives of some saints, or the biographies of philosophers. And how vivid the action in which his characters take part! In the external circumstances of his life and in his literary art and preferences he was singularly like his elder brother in romance, Robert Louis Stevenson. Both were slight in physique but manly and vigorous in character and mission in life. Both were wanderers over the face of the globe. Both loved the sea passionately, and were at their best in telling of the adventures of those who spend their lives on the great waters. Both, finally, died at the height of power, literally with pen in hand, for both left recent and unfinished work. And the epitaph of either might well be the noble words of Stevenson from his brave essay on the greatness of the stout heart bound with triple brass:
"Death has not been suffered to take so much as an illusion from his heart. In the hot-fit of life, a-tiptoe on the highest point of being, he passes at a bound on the other side. The noise of the mallet and chisel is scarcely quenched, the trumpets are hardly done blowing, when, trailing clouds of glory, this happy-starred, full-blooded spirit shoots into the spiritual land."
In the blood of Norman Duncan lived a spirit of romance and a love of adventure which make the chronicle of his short life a record of change and movement. He was born in Brantford, on the Grand River, in Western Ontario, July 2, 1871, and though he passed most of the years of his manhood in the United States, he never took out citizenship papers in the Republic. After a boyhood spent in various towns in Canada, he entered Toronto University, where in his four years of undergraduate life he participated eagerly in all forms of social and literary activity.
In 1895 he joined the reportorial staff of the Auburn (N.Y.) Bulletin, which position he held for two years. Then followed four years of congenial work on the staff of the New York Evening Post, where he served successively as reporter, copy editor on city desk, special writer for the city, and, finally, editor of the Saturday supplement. The editors of the Post were quick to recognize Duncan's ability in descriptive writing and character delineation, and under the spur of their encouragement he did his first important literary work, a series of short-stories of life in the Syrian quarter of New York City, published first in The Atlantic Monthly and McClure's Magazine and gathered subsequently into a book entitled The Soul of the Street. About the time of the appearance of this book the author's temperament reacted against the atmosphere which it embodied, and in the summer of 1900 by an arrangement with McClure's Magazine he went to Newfoundland to gather impressions and material for a series of sea-tales. Up to this time he had never spent a night on the ocean nor been at sea on a sailing vessel; in his boyhood he had rather feared the great gray ocean, and only later in life did he become so strongly attracted by its power and mystery and by the impression of its eternal struggle against those who must wrest a precarious living from its depths that it provided the background for his most striking and characteristic stories. Three summers in Newfoundland and one on the Labrador Coast resulted in The Way of the Sea, Doctor Luke of the Labrador, and other books and short-stories, including those of the present collection.
In 1901 Duncan was appointed assistant to the professor of English at Washington and Jefferson College, and one year later he was elected Wallace Professor of Rhetoric at the same institution, a post which he held until 1906. His duties were comparatively light so that he was able to devote much of his time to literary work. While occupying this position he enjoyed the companionship of his brother, Robert Kennedy Duncan, Professor of Chemistry at the college and later President of the Mellon Institute of the University of Pittsburgh, and the prominent author of a well-known series of text books in chemistry, who died in 1914.
In 1907 and 1908 Norman Duncan was special correspondent for Harper's Magazine in Palestine, Arabia, and Egypt, and in 1912 and 1913 he was sent by the same magazine to Australia, New Guinea, the Dutch East Indies, and the Malay States. Between these travel periods he acted for two years as adjunct professor of English at the University of Kansas. Not any of Duncan's foreign travel seems to have impressed him as did his visits to Newfoundland and the Labrador coast, and some of his best tales are those of the Northland—powerful stories of life reduced to its elements. Of these tales those of the present collection are a good representation.
The creator of these great stories was cut off at the height of his power; he died very suddenly of heart-disease while playing a golf-match in Fredonia, New York, on October 18, 1916. He lies buried in Brantford, Ontario, the town of his birth.
Few modern writers of tales and short-stories have drawn their materials from sources as scattered as those which attracted Norman Duncan. Among the immigrants of the East Side of New York, the rough lumber-jacks of the Northwest, and the trappers and deep-sea fishermen of Newfoundland and The Labrador he gathered his ideas and impressions. But though his characters and incidents are chosen from such diverse sources, the characteristics of his literary art remain constant in all his books, for the personality of the author did not change.
Norman Duncan was a realist in that he copied life. But his realism is that of Dickens and Bret Harte and Kipling rather than that of Mrs. Freeman and Arthur Morrison and the Russian story-tellers. He cared less for the accuracy of details than for the vividness of his general impressions and the force of his moral lessons. Like Bret Harte he idealized life. Like Harte, too, he was fond of dramatic situations and striking contrasts, of mixing the bitter and the sweet and the rough and the smooth of life; his introduction of the innocent baby into the drunkard-filled bar-room in The Measure of a Man is strikingly like Bret Harte's similar employment of this sentimental device in The Luck of Roaring Camp, and the presence of Patty Batch among the soiled women of Swamp's End in the same tale and of the tawdry Millie Slade face to face with the curate in The Mother is again reminiscent of Harte's technique. Like Dickens and like Bret Harte, Duncan was a frank moralist. His chief concern was in winnowing the souls of men and women bare of the chaff of petty circumstances which covered them. His stories all contain at least a minor chord of sentiment, but are usually free from the sentimentality which mars some of Harte's sketches. He is not ashamed to employ pathos, but his tragic situations are rarely overstrained and maudlin. He has all the tenderness of Dickens; his Christmas Eve at Topmast Tickle may well be compared with A Christmas Carol. Norman Duncan never married, but few Canadian or American authors have understood women as did the creator of high-spirited Bessie Roth and her noble mother in Doctor Luke of the Labrador, of naive little Patty Batch, and of Millie Slade, glorified by her love for her son. In the delicacy and sensibility of his delineation of women he undoubtedly surpasses Bret Harte, most of whose women are either exaggerated or colorless. Moreover, Norman Duncan possessed a very genuine understanding of children, particularly of young boys, of whom he was exceedingly fond. There are few more sympathetic pictures of children in American literature than those of David Roth and the Lovejoy twins in Doctor Luke of the Labrador, and of Donald, Pale Peter's lad, in The Measure of a Man; and in Billy Topsail Duncan has created a real boy, a youngster as red-blooded and manly and keen for excitement in his numerous thrilling adventures in the frozen North as are any of Stevenson's boy heroes.
Variety and color in characters and situations, vividness of descriptions—especially in those of the stormy sea—rapidity of movement and dramatic intensity in narratives, genuine sentiment and real tenderness, humor, and pathos, and, above all, a healthy, vigorous, Anglo-Saxon morality—all of these qualities make of Norman Duncan's books and short-stories literature that is distinctly worthy and permanent in character.
* * * * *
* * * * *
It was one thing or the other. Yet it might be neither. There was a disquieting alternative. No doubt the message disposed of the delicate affair for good and all in ten terse words. The maid had made up her mind; she had disclosed it in haste: that was all. It might be, however, that the dispatch conveyed news of a more urgent content. It might be that the maid lay ill—that she called for help and comfort. In that event, nothing could excuse the reluctance of the man who should decline an instant passage of Scalawag Run with the pitiful appeal. True, it was not inviting—a passage of Scalawag Run in the wet, gray wind, with night flowing in from the sea.
No matter about that. Elizabeth Luke had departed from Scalawag Harbor in confusion, leaving no definite answer to the two grave suggestions, but only a melting appeal for delay, as maids will—for a space of absence, an interval for reflection, an opportunity to search her heart and be sure of its decision. If, then, she had communicated that decision to her mother, according to her promise to communicate it to somebody, and if the telegram contained news of no more consequence, a good man might command his patience, might indulge in a reasonable caution, might hesitate on the brink of Black Cliff with the sanction of his self-respect. But if Elizabeth Luke lay ill and in need, a passage of Scalawag Run might be challenged, whatever came of it. And both Tommy Lark and Sandy Rowl knew it well enough.
Tommy Lark and Sandy Rowl, on the return from Bottom Harbor to Scalawag Run, had come to Point-o'-Bay Cove, where they were to lie the night. They were accosted in haste by the telegraph operator.
"Are you men from Scalawag?" she inquired.
She was a brisk, trim young woman from St. John's, new to the occupation, whose administration of the telegraph office was determined and exact.
"We is, ma'am," Sandy Rowl replied.
"It's fortunate I caught you," said the young woman, glowing with satisfaction. "Indeed it is! Are you crossing at once?"
Sandy Rowl smiled.
"We hadn't thought of it, ma'am," said he. "I 'low you don't know much about Scalawag Run," he added.
The young woman tossed her red head.
"When you have thought of it, and made up both your minds," she replied tartly, "you might let me know. It is a matter of some importance."
By this time Tommy Lark had connected the telegraph operator's concern with the rare emergency of a message.
"What you so eager t' know for?" he inquired.
"I've a dispatch to send across."
"Not a telegram!"
"Somebody in trouble?"
"As to that," the young woman replied, "I'm not permitted to say. It's a secret of the office."
"Is you permitted t' tell who the telegram is from?"
The young woman opened her eyes. This was astonishing simplicity. Permitted to tell who the telegram was from!
"I should think not!" she declared.
"Is you permitted t' tell who 'tis for?"
The young woman debated the propriety of disclosing the name. Presently she decided that no regulation of the office would be violated by a frank answer. Obviously she could not send the message without announcing its destination.
"Are you acquainted with Mrs. Jacob Luke?" said she.
Tommy Lark turned to Sandy Rowl. Sandy Rowl turned to Tommy Lark. Their eyes met. Both were concerned. It was Tommy Lark that replied.
"We is," said he. "Is the telegram for she?"
"From Grace Harbor?"
"I'm not permitted to tell you that."
"Well then, if the telegram is for Mrs. Jacob Luke," said Tommy Lark gravely, "Sandy Rowl an' me will take a look at the ice in Scalawag Run an' see what we makes of it. I 'low we'll jus' have to. Eh, Sandy?"
Sandy Rowl's face was twisted with doubt. For a moment he deliberated. In the end he spoke positively.
"We'll take a look at it," said he.
They went then to the crest of Black Cliff to survey the ice in the run. Not a word was spoken on the way. A momentous situation, by the dramatic quality of which both young men were moved, had been precipitated by the untimely receipt of the telegram for Elizabeth Luke's mother.
* * * * *
Point-o'-Bay, in the lee of which the cottages of Point-o'-Bay Cove were gathered, as in the crook of a finger, thrust itself into the open sea. Scalawag Island, of which Scalawag Harbor was a sheltered cove, lay against the open sea. Between Point-o'-Bay and Scalawag Island was the run called Scalawag, of the width of two miles, leading from the wide open into Whale Bay, where it was broken and lost in the mist of the islands. There had been wind at sea—a far-off gale, perhaps, then exhausted, or plunging away into the southern seas, leaving a turmoil of water behind it.
Directly into the run, rolling from the open, the sea was swelling in gigantic billows. There would have been no crossing at all had there not been ice in the run; but there was ice in the run—plenty of ice, fragments of the fields in the Labrador drift, blown in by a breeze of the day before, and wallowing there, the wind having fallen away to a wet, gray breeze which served but to hold the ice in the bay.
It seemed, from the crest of Black Cliff, where Tommy Lark and Sandy Rowl stood gazing, each debating with his own courage, that the ice was heavy enough for the passage—thick ice, of varying extent, from fragments, like cracked ice, to wide pans; and the whole, it seemed, floated in contact, pan touching pan all the way across from the feet of Black Cliff to the first rocks of Scalawag Harbor.
What was inimical was the lift and fall of the ice in the great swells running in from the open sea.
"Well?" said Tommy Lark.
"I don't know. What do you think?"
"It might be done. I don't know."
"Ay; it might be. No tellin' for sure, though. The ice is in a wonderful tumble out there."
"Seems t' be heavy ice on the edge o' the sea."
"'Tis in a terrible commotion. I'd not chance it out there. I've never seed the ice so tossed about in the sea afore."
Tommy Lark reflected.
"Ay," he determined at last; "the best course across is by way o' the heavy ice on the edge o' the sea. There mus' be a wonderful steep slant t' some o' them pans when the big seas slips beneath them. Yet a man could go warily an' maybe keep from slidin' off. If the worst comes t' the worst, he could dig his toes an' nails in an' crawl. 'Tis not plain from here if them pans is touchin' each other all the way across; but it looks that way—I 'low they is touchin', with maybe a few small gaps that a man could get round somehow. Anyhow, 'tis not quite certain that a man would cast hisself away t' no purpose out there; an' if there's evil news in that telegram I 'low a man could find excuse enough t' try his luck."
"There's news both good and evil in it."
"I don't know," said Tommy Lark uneasily. "Maybe there is. 'Tis awful t' contemplate. I'm wonderful nervous, Sandy. Isn't you?"
"Think the wind will rise? It threatens."
"I don't know. It has a sort of a switch to it that bodes a night o' temper. 'Tis veerin' t' the east. 'Twill be a gale from the open if it blows at all."
Tommy Lark turned from a listless contemplation of the gray reaches of the open sea.
"News both good an' evil!" he mused.
"The one for me an' the other for you. An' God knows the issue! I can't fathom it."
"I wish 'twas over with."
"Me too. I'm eager t' make an end o' the matter. 'Twill be a sad conclusion for me."
"I can't think it, Sandy. I thinks the sadness will be mine."
"You rouse my hope, Tommy."
"If 'tis not I, 'twill be you."
"'Twill be you."
Tommy Lark shook his head dolefully. He sighed.
"Ah, no!" said he. "I'm not that deservin' an' fortunate."
"Anyhow, there's good news in that telegram for one of us," Sandy declared, "an' bad news for the other. An' whatever the news,—whether good for me an' bad for you, or good for you an' bad for me,—'tis of a sort that should keep for a safer time than this. If 'tis good news for you, you've no right t' risk a foot on the floe this night; if 'tis bad news for you, you might risk what you liked, an' no matter about it. 'Tis the same with me. Until we knows what's in that telegram, or until the fall of a better time than this for crossin' Scalawag Run, we've neither of us no right t' venture a yard from shore."
"You've the right of it, so far as you goes," Tommy Lark replied; "but the telegram may contain other news than the news you speaks of."
"She said nothin' t' me about a telegram. She said she'd send a letter."
"She've telegraphed t' ease her mind."
"Why to her mother?"
"'Tis jus' a maid's way, t' do a thing like that."
"Think so, Sandy? It makes me wonderful nervous. Isn't you wonderful nervous, Sandy?"
"I am that."
"I'm wonderful curious, too. Isn't you?"
"I is. I'm impatient as well. Isn't you?"
"I'm havin' a tough struggle t' command my patience. What you think she telegraphed for?"
"Havin' made up her mind, she jus' couldn't wait t' speak it."
"I wonder what——"
"Me too, Sandy. God knows it! Still an' all, impatient as I is, I can wait for the answer. 'Twould be sin an' folly for a man t' take his life out on Scalawag Run this night for no better reason than t' satisfy his curiosity. I'm in favor o' waitin' with patience for a better time across."
"The maid might be ill," Tommy Lark objected.
"She's not ill. She's jus' positive an' restless. I knows her ways well enough t' know that much."
"She might be ill."
"True, she might; but she——"
Sandy Rowl, who had been staring absently up the coast toward the sea, started and exclaimed.
"Ecod!" said he. "A bank o' fog's comin' round Point-o'-Bay!"
"That ends it."
"'Tis a pity!"
"'Twill be thick as mud on the floe in half an hour. We must lie the night here."
"I don't know, Sandy."
"Tommy," said he, "'tis a wicked folly t' cling t' your notion any longer."
"I wants t' know what's in that telegram."
"So does I."
"I'm fair shiverin' with eagerness t' know. Isn't you?"
"I'm none too steady."
"Sandy, I jus' got t' know!"
"Well, then," Sandy Rowl proposed, "we'll go an' bait the telegraph lady into tellin' us."
* * * * *
It was an empty pursuit. The young woman from St. John's was obdurate. Not a hint escaped her in response to the baiting and awkward interrogation of Tommy Lark and Sandy Rowl; and the more they besought her, the more suspicious she grew. She was an obstinate young person—she was precise, she was scrupulous, she was of a secretive, untrustful turn of mind; and as she was ambitious for advancement from the dreary isolation of Point-o'-Bay Cove, she was not to be entrapped or entreated into what she had determined was a breach of discipline. Moreover, it appeared to her suspicious intelligence that these young men were too eager for information. Who were they? She had not been long in charge of the office at Point-o'-Bay Cove. She did not know them. And why should they demand to know the contents of the telegram before undertaking the responsibility of its delivery?
As for the degree of peril in a crossing of Scalawag Run, she was not aware of it; she was from St. John's, not out-port born. The ice in the swell of the sea, with fog creeping around Point-o'-Bay in a rising wind, meant nothing to her experience. At any rate, she would not permit herself to fall into a questionable situation in which she might be called severely to account. She was not of that sort. She had her own interests to serve. They would be best served by an exact execution of her duty.
"This telegram," said she, "is an office secret, as I have told you already. I have my orders not to betray office secrets."
Tommy Lark was abashed.
"Look you," he argued. "If the message is of no consequence an' could be delayed——"
"I haven't said that it is of no consequence."
"Then 'tis of consequence!"
"I don't say that it is of consequence. I don't say anything either way. I don't say anything at all."
"Well, now," Tommy complained, "t' carry that message across Scalawag Run would be a wonderful dangerous——"
"You don't have to carry it across."
"True. Yet 'tis a man's part t' serve——"
"My instructions," the young woman interrupted, "are to deliver messages as promptly as possible. If you are crossing to Scalawag Harbor to-night, I should be glad if you would take this telegram with you. If you are not—well, that's not my affair. I am not instructed to urge anybody to deliver my messages."
"Is the message from the maid?"
"What a question!" the young woman exclaimed indignantly. "I'll not tell you!"
"Is there anything about sickness in it?"
"I'll not tell you."
"If 'tis a case o' sickness," Tommy declared, "we'll take it across, an' glad t' be o' service. If 'tis the other matter——"
"What other matter?" the young woman flashed.
"Well," Tommy replied, flushed and awkward, "there was another little matter between Elizabeth Luke an'——"
The young woman started.
"Elizabeth Luke!" she cried. "Did you say Elizabeth Luke?"
"I did, ma'am."
"I said nothing about Elizabeth Luke."
"We knows 'tis from she."
"Ah-ha!" the young woman exclaimed. "You know far too much. I think you have more interest in this telegram than you ought to have."
"I confess it."
The young woman surveyed Tommy Lark with sparkling curiosity. Her eyes twinkled. She pursed her lips.
"What's your name?" she inquired.
The young woman turned to Sandy Rowl.
"What's your name?" she demanded.
"Alexander Rowl. Is there—is there anything in the telegram about me? Aw, come now!"
The young woman laughed pleasantly. There was a romance in the wind. Her interest was coy.
"Would you like to know?" she teased, her face dimpling.
Sandy Rowl responded readily to this dimpling, flashing banter. A conclusion suggested itself with thrilling conviction.
"I would!" he declared.
"And to think that I could tell you!"
"I'm sure you could, ma'am!"
The young woman turned to Tommy Lark.
"Your name's Lark?"
"Yes, ma'am. There's nothin'—there's nothin' in the telegram about a man called Thomas Lark, is there?"
"And yours is Rowl?"
"I'm new to these parts," said the young woman, "and I'm trying to learn all the names I can master. Now, as for this telegram, you may take it or leave it, just as you will. What are you going to do? I want to close the office now and go home to tea."
"We'll take it," said Sandy Rowl. "Eh, Tommy?"
"An' we'll deliver it as soon as we're able. It may be the night. It may not be. What say t' that, Tommy?"
"We'll take it across."
* * * * *
With that the young woman handed the sealed envelope to Tommy Lark and bade them both goodnight.
Tommy Lark thrust the telegram in his waistcoat pocket and buttoned his jacket. Both men turned to the path to the crest of Black Cliff, whence a lesser foot-path led to the shore of the sea.
"One o' the two of us," said Sandy Rowl, "is named in that telegram. I'm sure of it."
Tommy Lark nodded.
"I knows it," Sandy proceeded, "because I seed a flicker in the woman's eye when she learned the two names of us. She's a sly one, that young woman!"
"You is chosen, Tommy."
"No, 'tis not I. 'Tis you. You is selected, Sandy. The woman twinkled when she named you. I marked it t' my sorrow."
"The maid would not choose me, Tommy," Sandy replied, his face awry with a triumphant smile, "when she might have you."
"She've done it."
In advance, on the path to the crest of Black Cliff, Tommy Lark was downcast and grim. Of a faithful, kindly nature in respect to his dealings with others, and hopeful for them all, and quick with an inspiring praise and encouragement, he could discover no virtue in himself, nor had he any compassion when he phrased the chapters of his own future; and though he was vigorous and decisive in action, not deterred by the gloom of any prospect, he was of a gray, hopeless mind in a crisis.
Rowl, however, was of a saucy, sanguine temperament; his faith in his own deserving was never diminished by discouragement; nor, whatever his lips might say, was he inclined to foresee in his future any unhappy turn of fortune. The telegraph operator, he was persuaded, had disclosed an understanding of the situation in a twinkle of her blue eyes and an amused twist of her thin lips; and the twinkle and the twist had indicated the presence of his name in Elizabeth Luke's telegram. Rowl was uplifted—triumphant.
In the wake of Tommy Lark he grinned, his teeth bare with delight and triumph. And as for Tommy Lark, he plodded on, striving grimly up the hill, his mind sure of its gloomy inference, his heart wrenched, his purpose resolved upon a worthy course of feeling and conduct. Let the dear maid have her way! She had chosen her happiness. And with that a good man must be content.
* * * * *
In the courtship of pretty Elizabeth Luke, Tommy Lark had acted directly, bluntly, impetuously, according to his nature. And he had been forehanded with his declaration. It was known to him that Sandy Rowl was pressing the same pursuit to a swift conclusion. Tommy Lark loved the maid. He had told her so with indiscreet precipitation; and into her confusion he had flung the momentous question.
"Maid," said he, "I loves you! Will you wed me?"
Sandy Rowl, being of a more subtle way in all things, had proceeded to the issue with delicate caution, creeping toward it by inches, as a man stalks a caribou. He too had been aware of rivalry; and, having surmised Tommy Lark's intention, he had sought the maid out unwittingly, not an hour after her passionate adventure with Tommy Lark, and had then cast the die of his own happiness.
In both cases the effect had been the same. Elizabeth Luke had wept and fled to her mother like a frightened child; and she had thereafter protested, with tears of indecision, torn this way and that until her heart ached beyond endurance, that she was not sure of her love for either, but felt that she loved both, nor could tell whom she loved the most, if either at all. In this agony of confusion, terrifying for a maid, she had fled beyond her mother's arms, to her grandmother's cottage at Grace Harbor, there to deliberate and decide, as she said; and she had promised to speed her conclusion with all the determination she could command, and to return a letter of decision.
In simple communities, such as Scalawag Harbor, a telegram is a shocking incident. Bad news must be sped; good news may await a convenient time. A telegram signifies the very desperation of haste and need—it conveys news only of the most momentous import; and upon every man into whose hands it falls it lays a grave obligation to expedite its delivery. Tommy Lark had never before touched a telegram; he had never before clapped eyes on one. He was vaguely aware of the telegram as a mystery of wire and a peculiar cunning of men. Telegrams had come to Scalawag Harbor in times of disaster in the course of Tommy Lark's nineteen years of life. Widow Mull, for example, when the White Wolf was cast away at the ice, with George Mull found frozen on the floe, had been told of it in a telegram.
All the while, thus, Tommy Lark's conception of the urgency of the matter mounted high and oppressed him. Elizabeth Luke would not lightly dispatch a telegram from Grace Harbor to her mother at Scalawag. All the way from Grace Harbor? Not so! After all, this could be no message having to do with the affairs of Tommy Lark and Sandy Rowl. Elizabeth would not have telegraphed such sentimental news. She would have written a letter. Something was gone awry with the maid. She was in trouble. She was in need. She was ill. She might be dying. And the more Tommy Lark reflected, as he climbed the dripping Black Cliff path, the more surely was his anxious conviction of Elizabeth Luke's need confirmed by his imagination.
When Tommy Lark and Sandy Rowl came to the crest of Black Cliff, a drizzle of rain was falling in advance of the fog. The wind was clipping past in soggy gusts that rose at intervals to the screaming pitch of a squall. A drab mist had crept around Point-o'-Bay and was spreading over the ice in Scalawag Run. Presently it would lie thick between Scalawag Island and the mainland of Point-o'-Bay Cove.
At the edge of the ice, where the free black water of the open met the huddled floe, the sea was breaking. There was a tossing line of white water—the crests of the breakers flying away in spindrift like long white manes in the wind. Even from the crest of Black Cliff, lifted high above the ice and water of the gray prospect below, it was plain that a stupendous sea was running in from the darkening open, slipping under the floe, swelling through the run, and subsiding in the farthest reaches of the bay.
From the broken rock of Black Cliff to the coast of Scalawag Run, two miles beyond, where Scalawag Harbor threatened to fade and vanish in the fog and falling dusk, the ice was in motion, great pans of the pack tossing like chips in the gigantic waves. Nowhere was the ice at rest. It was neither heavy enough nor yet sufficiently close packed to flatten the sea with its weight. And a survey of the creeping fog and the ominous approach of a windy night portended that no more than an hour of drab light was left for the passage.
"'Tis a perilous task t' try," said Tommy Lark. "I never faced such a task afore. I fears for my life."
"'Tis a madcap thing t' try!"
"Ay, a madcap thing. A man will need madman's luck t' come through with his life."
"Pans as steep as a roof out there!"
"Slippery as butter, Sandy. 'Twill be ticklish labor t' cling t' some o' them when the sea cants them high. I wish we had learned t' swim, Sandy, when we was idle lads t'gether. We'll sink like two jiggers if we slips into the water. Is you comin' along, Sandy? It takes but one man t' bear a message. I'll not need you."
"Tommy," Sandy besought, "will you not listen t' reason an' wisdom?"
"What wisdom, Sandy?"
"Lave us tear open the telegram an' read it."
"Hoosh!" Tommy ejaculated. "Such a naughty trick as that! I'll not do it. I jus' couldn't."
"'Tis a naughty trick that will save us a pother o' trouble."
"I'm not chary o' trouble in the maid's behalf."
"'Twill save us peril."
"I've no great objection t' peril in her service. I'll not open the telegram; I'll not intrude on the poor maid's secrets. Is you comin' along?"
Sandy Rowl put a hand on Tommy Lark's shoulder.
"What moves you," said he impatiently, "to a mad venture like this, with the day as far sped as it is?"
"What drives you?"
"The maid's sick."
"Huh!" Sandy scoffed. "A lusty maid like that! She's not sick. As for me, I'm easy about her health. She's as hearty at this minute as ever she was in her life. An' if she isn't, we've no means o' bein' sure that she isn't. 'Tis mere guess-work. We've no certainty of her need. T' be drove out on the ice o' Scalawag Run by the guess-work o' fear an' fancy is a folly. 'Tis not demanded. We've every excuse for lyin' the night at Point-o'-Bay Cove."
"I'm not seekin' excuse."
"You've no need to seek it. It thrusts itself upon you."
"Maybe. Yet I'll have none of it. 'Tis a craven thing t' deal with."
"'Tis mere caution."
"Well, well! I'll have no barter with caution in a case like this. I crave service. Is you comin' along?"
Sandy Rowl laughed his disbelief.
"Service!" said he. "You heed the clamor o' your curiosity. That's all that stirs you."
"No," Tommy Lark replied. "My curiosity asks me no questions now. Comin' up the hill, with this here telegram in my pocket, I made up my mind. 'Tis not I that the maid loves. It couldn't be. I'm not worthy. Still an' all, I'll carry her message t' Scalawag Harbor. An' if I'm overcome I'll not care very much—save that 'twill sadden me t' know at the last that I've failed in her service. I've no need o' you, Sandy. You've no call to come. You may do what you likes an' be no less a man. As you will, then. Is you comin'?"
"Tommy," said he then, reluctantly, "will you listen t' what I should tell you?"
"An' will you believe me an' heed me?"
"I'll believe you, Sandy."
"You've fathomed the truth o' this matter. Tis not you that the maid loves. 'Tis I. She've not told me. She've said not a word that you're not aware of. Yet I knows that she'll choose me. I've loved more maids than one. I'm acquainted with their ways. An' more maids than one have loved me. I've mastered the signs o' love. I've studied them; I reads them like print. It pleases me t' see them an' read them. At first, Tommy, a maid will not tell. She'll not tell even herself. An' then she's overcome; an', try as she may to conceal what she feels, she's not able at all t' do it. The signs, Tommy? Why, they're all as plain in speech as words themselves could be! Have you seed any signs, boy? No. She'll not wed you. 'Tis not in her heart t' do it, whatever her mind may say. She'll wed me. I knows it. An' so I'll tell you that you'll waste your labor if you puts out on Scalawag Run with the notion o' winnin' the love o' this maid with bold behavior in her service. If that's in your mind, put it away. Turn with me t' Point-o'-Bay Cove an' lie safe the night. I'm sorry, Tommy. You'll grieve, I knows, t' lose the maid. I could live without her. True. There's other maids as fair as she t' be found in the world. Yet I loves this maid more than any maid that ever I knowed; an' I'd be no man at all if I yielded her to you because I pitied your grief."
"I'm not askin' you t' yield her."
"Nor am I wrestin' her away. She've jus' chose for herself. Is she ever said she cared for you, Tommy?"
"Is there been any sign of it?"
"She've not misled me. She've said not a word that I could blame her for. She—she've been timid in my company. I've frightened her."
"She's merry with me."
"Her tongue jus' sounds like brisk music, an' her laughter's as free as a spring o' water."
"She've showed me no favor."
"Does she blush in your presence?"
"She trembles an' goes pale."
"Do her eyes twinkle with pleasure?"
"She casts them down."
"Does she take your arm an' snuggle close?"
"She shrinks from me."
"Does she tease you with pretty tricks?"
"She does not," poor Tommy replied. "She says, 'Yes, sir!' an' 'No, sir!' t' me."
"Ha!" Sandy exclaimed. "'Tis I that she'll wed!"
"I'm sure of it. I'm content t' have her follow her will in all things. I loves the maid. I'll not pester her with complaint. Is you comin' along?"
"Tis sheer madness!"
"Is you comin' along?"
Sandy Rowl swept his hand over the prospect of fog and spindrift and wind-swept ice.
"Man," he cried, "look at that!"
"The maid's sick," Tommy Lark replied doggedly. "I loves her. Is you comin' along?"
"You dunderhead!" Sandy Rowl stormed. "I got t' go! Can't you understand that? You leaves me no choice!"
* * * * *
When Tommy Lark and Sandy Rowl had leaped and crept through half the tossing distance to Scalawag Harbor, the fog had closed in, accompanied by the first shadows of dusk, and the coast and hills of Scalawag Island were a vague black hulk beyond, slowly merging with the color of the advancing night. The wind was up—blowing past with spindrift and a thin rain; but the wind had not yet packed the ice, which still floated in a loose, shifting floe, spotted and streaked with black lakes and lanes of open water. They had taken to the seaward edge of the pack for the advantage of heavier ice.
A line of pans, sluggish with weight, had lagged behind in the driving wind of the day before, and was now closing in upon the lighter fragments of the pack, which had fled in advance and crowded the bay. Whatever advantage the heavier ice offered in the solidity of its footing, and whatever in the speed with which it might be traversed by agile, daring men, was mitigated by another condition involved in its exposed situation. It lay against the open sea; and the sea was high, rolling directly into Scalawag Run, in black, lofty billows, crested with seething white in the free reaches of the open. The swells diminished as they ran the length of the run and spent themselves in the bay. Their maximum of power was at the edge of the ice.
In Scalawag Run, thus, the ice was like a strip of shaken carpet—it's length rolling in lessening waves from first to last, as when a man takes the corners of an end of the strip and snaps the whole to shake the dust out of it; and the spindrift, blown in from the sea and snatched from the lakes in the mist of the floe, may be likened to clouds of white dust, half realized in the dusk.
As the big seas slipped under the pack, the pans rose and fell; they were never at rest, never horizontal, except momentarily, perhaps, on the crest of a wave and in the lowest depths of a trough. They tipped—pitched and rolled like the deck of a schooner in a gale of wind. And as the height of the waves at the edge of the ice may fairly be estimated at thirty feet, the incline of the pans was steep and the surface slippery.
Much of the ice lying out from Point-o'-Bay was wide and heavy. It could be crossed without peril by a sure-footed man. Midway of the run, however, the pans began to diminish in size and to thin in quantity; and beyond, approaching the Scalawag coast, where the wind was interrupted by the Scalawag hills, the floe was loose and composed of a field of lesser fragments. There was still a general contact—pan lightly touching pan; but many of the pans were of an extent so precariously narrow that their pitching surface could be crossed only on hands and knees, and in imminent peril of being flung off into the gaps of open water.
It was a feat of lusty agility, of delicate, experienced skill, of steadfast courage, to cross the stretches of loose ice, heaving, as they were, in the swell of the sea. The foothold was sometimes impermanent—blocks of ice capable of sustaining the weight of a man through merely a momentary opportunity to leap again; and to the scanty chance was added the peril of the angle of the ice and the uncertainty of the path beyond.
Once Tommy Lark slipped when he landed on an inclined pan midway of a patch of water between two greater pans. His feet shot out and he began to slide feet foremost into the sea, with increasing momentum, as a man might fall from a steep, slimy roof. The pan righted in the trough, however, to check his descent over the edge of the ice. When it reached the horizontal in the depths of the trough, and there paused before responding to the lift of the next wave, Tommy Lark caught his feet; and he was set and balanced against the tip and fling of the pan in the other direction as the wave slipped beneath and ran on. When the ice was flat and stable on the crest of the sea, he leaped from the heavy pan beyond, and then threw himself down to rest and recover from the shudder and daze of the fate he had escaped. And the dusk was falling all the while, and the fog, closing in, thickened the dusk, threatening to turn it impenetrable to the beckoning lights in the cottages of Scalawag Harbor.
* * * * *
Having come, at last, to a doubtful lane, sparsely spread with ice, Tommy Lark and Sandy Rowl were halted. They were then not more than half a mile from the rocks of Scalawag. From the substantial ground of a commodious block, with feet spread to brace themselves against the pitch of the pan as a man stands on a heaving deck, they appraised the chances and were disheartened. The lane was like a narrow arm of the sea, extending, as nearly as could be determined in the dusk, far into the floe; and there was an opposite shore—another commodious pan. In the black water of the arm there floated white blocks of ice. Some were manifestly substantial: a leaping man could pause to rest; but many—necessary pans, these, to a crossing of the lane—were as manifestly incapable of bearing a man up.
As the pan upon which Tommy Lark and Sandy Rowl stood lay near the edge of the floe, the sea was running up the lane in almost undiminished swells—the long, slow waves of a great ground swell, not a choppy wind-lop, but agitated by the wind and occasionally breaking. It was a thirty-foot sea in the open. In the lane it was somewhat less—not much, however; and the ice in the lane and all round about was heaving in it—tumbled about, rising and falling, the surface all the while at a changing slant from the perpendicular.
Rowl was uneasy.
"What you think, Tommy?" said he. "I don't like t' try it. I 'low we better not."
"We can't turn back."
"No; not very well."
"There's a big pan out there in the middle. If a man could reach that he could choose the path beyond."
"'Tis not a big pan."
"Oh, 'tis a fairish sort o' pan."
"'Tis not big enough, Tommy."
Tommy Lark, staggering in the motion of the ice, almost off his balance, peered at the pan in the middle of the lane.
"'Twould easily bear a man," said he.
"'Twould never bear two men."
"Isn't no 'maybe' about it," Rowl declared. "I'm sure 'twouldn't bear two men."
"No," Tommy Lark agreed. "I 'low 'twouldn't."
"A man would cast hisself away tryin' t' cross on that small ice."
"I 'low he might."
"Well, then," Rowl demanded, "what we goin' t' do?"
"We're goin' t' cross, isn't we?"
"'Tis too parlous a footin' on them small cakes."
"Ay; 'twould be ticklish enough if the sea lay flat an' still all the way. An' as 'tis——"
"'Tis like leapin' along the side of a steep."
"Wonderful steep on the side o' the seas."
"Too slippery, Tommy. It can't be done. If a man didn't land jus' right he'd shoot off."
"That he would, Sandy!"
"I'll go first, Sandy. I'll start when we lies in the trough. I 'low I can make that big pan in the middle afore the next sea cants it. You watch me, Sandy, an' practice my tactics when you follow. I 'low a clever man can cross that lane alive."
"We're in a mess out here!" Sandy Rowl complained. "I wish we hadn't started."
"'Tisn't so bad as all that."
"A loud folly!" Rowl growled.
"Ah, well," Tommy Lark replied, "a telegram's a telegram; an' the need o' haste——"
"'Twould have kept well enough."
"'Tis not a letter, Sandy."
"Whatever it is, there's no call for two men t' come into peril o' their lives——"
"You never can tell."
"I'd not chance it again for——"
"We isn't drowned yet."
"Yet!" Rowl exclaimed. "No—not yet! We've a minute or so for prayers!"
Tommy Lark laughed.
"I'll get under way now," said he. "I'm not so very much afraid o' failin'."
* * * * *
There was no melodrama in the situation. It was a commonplace peril of the coast; it was a reasonable endeavor. It was thrilling, to be sure—the conjunction of a living peril with the emergency of the message. Yet the dusk and sweeping drizzle of rain, the vanishing lights of Scalawag Harbor, the interruption of the lane of water, the mounting seas, their declivities flecked with a path of treacherous ice, all were familiar realities to Tommy Lark and Sandy Rowl. Moreover, a telegram was not a letter. It was an urgent message. It imposed upon a man's conscience the obligation to speed it. It should be delivered with determined expedition. Elsewhere, in a rural community, for example, a good neighbor would not hesitate to harness his horse on a similar errand and travel a deep road of a dark night in the fall of the year; nor, with the snow falling thick, would he confront a midnight trudge to his neighbor's house with any louder complaint than a fretful growl.
It was in this spirit, after all, touched with an intimate solicitude which his love for Elizabeth Luke aroused, that Tommy Lark had undertaken the passage of Scalawag Run. The maid was ill—her message should be sped. As he paused on the brink of the lane, however, waiting for the ice to lie flat in the trough, poised for the spring to the first pan, a curious apprehension for the safety of Sandy Rowl took hold of him, and he delayed his start.
"Sandy," said he, "you be careful o' yourself."
"I will that!" Sandy declared. He grinned. "You've no need t' warn me, Tommy," he added.
"If aught should go amiss with you," Tommy explained, "'twould be wonderful hard—on Elizabeth."
Sandy Rowl caught the honest truth and unselfishness of the warning in Tommy Lark's voice.
"I thanks you, Tommy," said he. "'Twas well spoken."
"Oh, you owes me no thanks," Tommy replied simply. "I'd not have the maid grieved for all the world."
"I'll tell her that you said so."
Tommy was startled.
"You speak, Sandy," said he in gloomy foreboding, "as though I had come near t' my death."
"We've both come near t' death."
"Ay—maybe. Well—no matter."
"'Tis a despairful thing to say."
"I'm not carin' very much what happens t' my life," young Tommy declared. "You'll mind that I said so. An' I'm glad that I isn't carin' very much any more. Mark that, Sandy—an' remember."
Between the edge of Tommy Lark's commodious pan and the promising block in the middle of the lane lay five cakes of ice. They varied in size and weight; and they were swinging in the swell—climbing the steep sides of the big waves, riding the crests, slipping downhill, tipped to an angle, and lying flat in the trough of the seas. In respect to their distribution they were like stones in a brook: it was a zigzag course—the intervals varied. Leaping from stone to stone to cross a brook, using his arms to maintain a balance, a man can not pause; and his difficulty increases as he leaps—he grows more and more confused, and finds it all the while harder to keep upright. What he fears is a mossy stone and a rolling stone. The small cakes of ice were as slippery as a mossy stone in a brook, and as treacherously unstable as a rolling stone; and in two particulars they were vastly more difficult to deal with; they were all in motion, and not one of them would bear the weight of a man. There was more ice in the lane. It was a mere scattering of fragments and a gathered patch or two of slush.
Tommy Lark's path to the pan in the middle of the lane was definite: the five small cakes of ice—he must cover the distance in six leaps without pause; and, having come to the middle of the lane, he could rest and catch his breath while he chose out the course beyond. If there chanced to be no path beyond, discretion would compel an immediate return.
"Well," said he, crouching for the first leap, "I'm off, whatever comes of it!"
"Mind the slant o' the ice!"
"I'll take it in the trough."
Tommy Lark waited for the sea to roll on.
"You bother me," he complained. "I might have been half way across by this time."
"You'd have been cotched on the side of a swell. If you're cotched like that you'll slip off the ice. There isn't a man livin' can cross that ice on the slant of a sea."
The pan was subsiding from the incline of a sea to the level of the trough.
"Now!" Sandy Rowl snapped.
When the ice floated in the trough, Tommy Lark leaped, designing to attain his objective as nearly as possible before the following wave lifted his path to an incline. He landed fairly in the middle of the first cake, and had left it for the second before it sank. The second leap was short. It was difficult, nevertheless, for two reasons. He had no time to gather himself for the impulse, and his flight was taken from sinking ground. Almost he fell short. Six inches less, and he would have landed on the edge of the cake and toppled back into the sea when it tipped to the sudden weight. But he struck near enough to the center to restrain the ice, in a few active steps, from sinking by the edge; and as the second cake was more substantial than the first, he was able to leap with confidence for the third, whence he danced lightly toward the fourth.
The fourth cake, however, lay abruptly to the right. A sudden violent turn was required to reach it. It was comparatively substantial; but it was rugged rather than flat—there was a niggardly, treacherous surface for landing, and as ground for a flight the cake furnished a doubtful opportunity. There was no time for recovery. When Tommy Lark landed, the ice began to waver and sink. He had landed awkwardly, his feet in a tangle; and, as there was no time for placing his feet in a better way, he must leap awkwardly—leap instantly, leaving the event to chance. And leap he did. It was a supreme effort toward the fifth cake.
By this time the ice was fast climbing the side of a swelling wave. The crest of the sea was higher than Tommy Lark's head. Had the sea broken it would have fallen on him—it would have submerged and overwhelmed him. It did not break. The wind snatched a thin spindrift from the crest and flung it past like a squall of rain. That was all. Tommy Lark was midway of the sea, as a man might be on the side of a steep hill: there was the crest above and the trough below; and the fifth cake of ice was tipped to an increasingly perilous angle. Moreover, it was small; it was the least of all—a momentary foothold, to be touched lightly in passing on to the slant of the wide pan in the middle of the lane.
All this was clear to Tommy Lark when he took his awkward leap from the fourth cake. What he feared was less the meager proportions of the fifth cake—which would be sufficient, he fancied, to give him an impulse for the last leap—than the slant of the big pan to which he was bound, which was precisely as steep as the wave it was climbing. And this fear was justified by the event. Tommy Lark touched the little cake with the toe of his seal-hide boot, with the sea then nearing its climax, and alighted prostrate on the smooth slant of the big pan. He grasped for handhold: there was none; and, had not the surface of the pan been approaching a horizontal on the crest of the sea, he would have shot over the edge. Nothing else saved him.
Tommy Lark rose and established his balance with widespread feet and waving arms.
"'Tis not too bad," he called.
"No trouble beyond."
There was more ice beyond. It was small. Tommy Lark danced across to the other side of the lane, however, without great difficulty. He could not have paused on the way. The ice, thick though it was, was too light.
"Safe over!" he shouted.
"Mind the leap for the big pan. 'Tis a ticklish landin'. That's all you've t' fear."
* * * * *
Sandy Rowl was as agile as Tommy Lark. He was as competent—he was as practiced. Following the same course as Tommy Lark, he encountered the same difficulties and met them in the same way; and thus he proceeded from the first sinking cake through the short leap to the second more substantial one, whence he leaped with confidence to the third, landed on the rugged fourth, his feet ill placed for the next leap, and sprang awkwardly for the small fifth cake, meaning to touch it lightly on his course to the big pan.
But he had started an instant too soon. When, therefore, he came to the last leap, with the crest of the wave above him and the trough below, the pan was midway of the side of the sea, its inclination at the widest. He slipped—fell; and he rolled off into the water and sank. When he came to the surface, the ice was on the crest of the sea, beginning its descent. He grasped the edge of it and tried to draw himself aboard. In this he failed. The pan was too thick—too high in the water; and the weight of his boots and clothes was too great to overcome. In the trough of the sea, where his opportunity was best, he almost succeeded. He established one knee on the pan and strove desperately and with all his strength to lift himself over the edge. But the pan began to climb before he succeeded, leaving him helpless on the lower edge of the incline; and the best he could do to save himself was to cling to it with bare, striving fingers, waiting for his opportunity to renew itself.
To Tommy Lark it was plain that Sandy Rowl could not lift himself out of the water.
"Hang fast'" he shouted. "I'll help you!"
Timing his start, as best he was able, to land him on the pan in the middle of the lane when it lay in the trough, Tommy Lark set out to the rescue. It will be recalled that the pan would not support two men. Two men could not accurately adjust their weight. Both would strive for the center. They would grapple there; and, in the end, when the pan jumped on edge both would be thrown off.
Tommy Lark was aware of the capacity of the pan. Had that capacity been equal to the weight of two men, it would have been a simple matter for him to run out, grasp Sandy Rowl by the collar, and drag him from the water. In the circumstances, however, what help he could give Sandy Rowl must be applied in the moment through which he would remain on the ice before it sank; and enough of the brief interval must be saved wherein to escape either onward or back.
Rowl did not need much help. With one knee on the ice, lifting himself with all his might, a strong, quick pull would assist him over the edge. But Rowl was not ready. When Tommy Lark landed on the pan, Sandy was deep in the water, his hands gripping the ice, his face upturned, his shoulders submerged. Tommy did not even pause. He ran on to the other side of the lane. When he turned, Rowl had an elbow and foot on the pan and was waiting for help; but Tommy Lark hesitated, disheartened—the pan would support less weight than he had thought.
The second trial failed. Rowl was ready. It was not that. Tommy Lark landed awkwardly on the pan from the fifth cake of ice. He consumed the interval of his stay in regaining his feet. He did not dare remain. Before he could stretch a hand toward Rowl, the pan was submerged, and he must leap on in haste to the opposite shore of the lane; and the escape had been narrow—almost he had been caught.
Returning, then, to try for the third time, he caught Rowl by the collar, jerked him, felt him rise, dropped him, sure that he had contributed the needed impulse, and ran on. But when he turned, confident that he would find Rowl sprawling on the pan, Rowl had failed and dropped back in the water.
For the fourth time Tommy essayed the crossing, with Rowl waiting, as before, foot and elbow on the ice; and he was determined to leap more cautiously from the fifth cake of ice and to risk more on the pan that he might gain more—to land more circumspectly, opposing his weight to Rowl's weight, and to pause until the pan was flooded deep. The plan served his turn. He landed fairly, bent deliberately, caught Rowl's coat with both hands, dragged him on the pan, leaped away, springing out of six inches of water; and when, having crossed to the Scalawag shore of the lane, he turned, Rowl was still on the ice, flat on his back, resting. It was a rescue.
Presently Sandy Rowl joined Tommy Lark.
"All right?" Tommy inquired.
"I'm cold an' I'm drippin'," Sandy replied; "but otherwise I'm fair enough an' glad t' be breathin' the breath o' life. I won't thank you, Tommy."
"I don't want no thanks."
"I won't thank you. No, Tommy. I'll do better. I'll leave Elizabeth t' thank you. You've won a full measure o' thanks, Tommy, from Elizabeth."
"You thinks well o' yourself," Tommy declared. "I'm danged if you don't!"
* * * * *
An hour later Tommy Lark and the dripping Sandy Rowl entered the kitchen of Elizabeth Luke's home at Scalawag Harbor. Skipper James was off to prayer meeting. Elizabeth Luke's mother sat knitting alone by the kitchen fire. To her, then, Tommy Lark presented the telegram, having first warned her, to ease the shock, that a message had arrived, contents unknown, from the region of Grace Harbor. Having commanded her self-possession, Elizabeth Luke's mother received and read the telegram, Tommy Lark and Sandy Rowl standing by, eyes wide to catch the first indication of the contents in the expression of the slow old woman's countenance.
There was no indication, however—not that Tommy Lark and Sandy Rowl could read. Elizabeth Luke's mother stared at the telegram; that was all. She was neither downcast nor rejoiced. Her face was blank.
Having read the brief message once, she read it again; and having reflected, and having read it for the third time, and having reflected once more, without achieving any enlightenment whatsoever, she looked up, her wrinkled face screwed in an effort to solve the mystery. She pursed her lips, she tapped the floor with her toe, she tapped her nose with her forefinger, she pushed up her spectacles, she scratched her chin, even she scratched her head; and then she declared to Tommy Lark and Sandy Rowl that she could make nothing of it at all.
"Is the maid sick?" Tommy inquired.
"I knowed it!" Tommy declared.
"She says she's homesick." Elizabeth's mother pulled down her spectacles and referred to the telegram. "'Homesick,' says she," she added.
"I can't fathom it. I knows what she means when she says she's homesick; I've been that myself. But what's this about Squid Cove? 'Tis the queerest thing ever I knowed!"
Tommy Lark flushed.
"Woman," he demanded, eager and tense, "what does the maid say about Squid Cove?"
"She says she's homesick for the cottage in Squid Cove. An' that's every last word that she says."
"There's no cottage in Squid Cove," said Sandy.
"No cottage there," Elizabeth's mother agreed, "t' be homesick for. 'Tis a very queer thing."
"There's no cottage in Squid Cove," said Tommy Lark; "but there's lumber for a cottage lyin' there on the rocks."
"What about that?"
"'Tis my lumber!" Tommy roared. "An' the maid knows it!"
* * * * *
THE SIREN OF SCALAWAG RUN
* * * * *
THE SIREN OF SCALAWAG RUN
Scalawag Run suspected the sentimental entanglement into which Fate had mischievously cast Dickie Blue and pretty Peggie Lacey and there abandoned them; and Scalawag Run was inclined to be more scornful than sympathetic. What Dickie Blue should have done in the circumstances was transparent to every young blade in the harbor—an instant, bold behavior, issuing immediately in the festive popping of guns at a wedding and a hearty charivari thereafter; and those soft devices to which pretty Peggy Lacey should have resorted without scruple in her own relief, were not unknown, you may be sure, to the wise, whispering maids of the place. It was too complacently agreed that the situation, being left to the direction and mastery of Time, would proceed to a happy conclusion as a matter of course. There would be a conjunction of the light of the moon, for example, with the soft, love-lorn weather of June—the shadows of the alders on the winding road to Squid Cove and the sleepy tinkle of the goats' bells dropping down from the slopes of The Topmast into the murmur of the sea. There had been just such favorable auspices of late, however—June moonlight and the music of a languorous night, with Dickie Blue and pretty Peggy Lacey meandering the shadowy Squid Cove road together; and the experience of Scalawag Run was still defied—no blushes and laughter and shining news of a wedding at Scalawag Run.
Dickie Blue, returning from the Squid Cove road, found his father, Skipper John, waiting at the gate.
"Well?" Skipper John demanded.
"'Tis I, sir."
"I knows that. I been waitin' for you. How'd ye get along the night?"
"I got along well enough."
"How far did yer get along?"
"What did ye do?"
"Who, sir?" Dickie replied. "Me?"
"Ay, you! Who else?"
"I didn't do nothin' much," said Dickie.
"Ha!" Skipper John snorted. "Nothin' much, eh! Was you with the maid at all on the roads?"
"Well, yes, sir," Dickie replied. "I was with her."
Skipper John spoke in scorn. "You was with her!" said he. "An' you didn't do nothin' much! Well, well!" And then, explosively: "Did you do nothin' at all?"
"I didn't go t' no great lengths with her."
"Well," Dickie drawled, "I——"
Skipper John broke in impatiently. "What I wants t' know," said he, "is a very simple thing. Did you pop?"
Skipper John was disgusted.
"Ecod!" he ejaculated. "Then you didn't!"
"I didn't pop," said Dickie. "That is—not quite."
"Did you come into peril o' poppin'?"
"Well," Dickie admitted, "I brooded on it."
"Whew!" Skipper John ejaculated. "You brooded on it, did you? An' what happened then?"
"Well, well! Now that was cautious, wasn't it? An' why did you—hesitate?"
"Dang it!" Dickie complained, "t' hear you talk, a man might think that Peggy Lacey was the only maid in Scalawag Run. I'm willin' an' eager t' be wed. I jus' don't want t' make no mistake. That's all. Dang it, there's shoals o' maids hereabouts! An' I isn't goin' t' swallow the first hook that's cast my way. I'll take my time, sir, an' that's an end o' the matter."
"You're nigh twenty-one," Skipper John warned.
"I've time enough yet. I'm in no hurry."
"Pah!" Skipper John snorted. "'Tis a poor stick of a man that's as slow as you at courtin'! No hurry, eh? What ye made of, anyhow? When I was your age——"
"Have done with boastin', sir. I'll not be driven. I'll pick and choose an' satisfy my taste."
"Is Peggy Lacey a wasteful maid?" Skipper John inquired.
"No; she's not a wasteful maid."
"Is she good?"
"She's pious enough for me."
"Is she healthy?"
"Nothin' wrong with her health that anybody ever fetched t' my notice. She seems sound."
"Is she fair?"
"I'm not askin' if she pass. I'm askin' you if she isn't the fairest maid in Scalawag Run."
"'Tis a matter o' taste, father."
"An' what's your taste—if you have any?"
"If I was pickin' a fault," Dickie replied, "I'd say that she might have a touch more o' color in her cheeks t' match my notion o' beauty."
"A bit too pallid t' suit your delicate notion o' beauty!" Skipper John scoffed. "Well, well!"
"I knows rosier maids than she."
"I've no doubt of it. 'Tis a pity the good Lord's handiwork can't be remedied t' suit you. Mm-mm! Well, well! An' is there anything else out o' the way with God Almighty's idea o' what a fair maid looks like?"
"Dang me!" Dickie protested again. "I isn't denyin' that she's fair!"
"Ah, well, isn't I got a right t' my notions? What's the harm in admirin' rosy cheeks? Isn't nothin' the matter with rosy cheeks, is there?"
"They fade, my son."
"I knows that well enough, sir," Dickie declared; "but they're pretty while they last. An' I'd never be the man t' complain, sir, when they faded. You'd not think so ill o' me as all that, would you?"
"You'd not—complain when they faded?"
"I'd not shame my honor so!"
"Ah, well, Dick," said Skipper John, having reflected a moment upon this fine, honest sentiment, "'tis not the pallid cheeks o' the maid that trouble you. I knows you well, an' I knows what the trouble is. The maid has been frank enough t' leave you see that she cares for you. She've no wiles to entangle you with; an' I 'low that she'd despise the use o' them anyhow. Did she cast her line with cunnin', she'd hook you soon enough; but that she'll never do, my son—she's too proud an' honest for that. Ay; that's it—too innocent t' conceal her feelin's an' too proud to ensnare you. You was always the lad, Dick, t' scorn what you could have an' crave that which was beyond your reach. Do you mind the time when you took over the little Robin's Wing from Trader Tom Jenkins for the Labrador fishin'? She was offered you on fair credit, an' you found fault with the craft an' the terms, an' dawdled an' complained, until Trader Tom offered her t' Long George Long o' Hide-an'-Seek Harbor; an' then you went flyin' t' Trader Tom's office, with your heart in your mouth, lest you lose the chance afore you got there. Had Trader Tom withheld the Robin's Wing, you would have clamored your voice hoarse t' get her. Speak me fair, now—is you sorry you took the Robin's Wing?"
"Is you ever repented a minute?"
"No, sir. Why should I?"
"Then there's a hint for your stupidity in that matter. Take the maid an' be done with it. God be thanked I isn't a widower-man. If I was, I'd bring your chance into peril soon enough," said his father. "'Tis t' be a fair day for fishin' the Skiff-an'-Punt grounds the morrow. Go t' bed. I'll pray that wisdom may overcome your caution afore you're decrepit."
Skipper John thought his son a great dunderhead. And Dickie Blue was a dunderhead. No doubt about it. Yet the failing was largely the fault of his years. A strapping fellow, this young Dickie Blue, blue-eyed in the Newfoundland way, and merry and modest enough in the main, who had recently discovered a critical interest in the comparative charms of the maids of the harbor. There were so many maids in the world! Dang it, it was confusing! There was Peggy Lacey. She was adorable. Nobody could deny it. Had she worn roses in her cheeks she would have been irresistible altogether. And there was the new schoolmistress from Grace Harbor. That superior maid had her points, too. She did not lack attractions. They were more intellectual than anything else. Still, they had a positive appeal. There were snares for the heart in brilliant conversation and a traveled knowledge of the world. Dang it, anyhow, a man might number all the maids in the harbor and find charms enough in each! Only a fool would choose from such an abundance in haste. A wise man would deliberate—observe, compare, reflect; and a sure conviction would come of that course.
* * * * *
Well, now, pretty Peggy Lacey, pretty as she was, was not aggressively disposed. She was a passive, too sanguine little creature; and being limpid and tender as well, and more loyal than artful, she had failed to conceal her ardent attachment and its anxious expectancy. Had she loosed a wink of challenge from her gray eyes in another direction, the reluctance of Dickie Blue might have been reduced with astonishing rapidity, and she could have punished his stupidity at will, had she been maliciously inclined. Conceiving such practices to be both cheap and artful, however, and being, after all, of a pretty sturdy turn of character, she rejected the advantages of deceitful behavior, as she called it, and in consequence lived in a state of cruel uncertainty. Worse than that, she was no longer sought; and for this, too, she was wholly responsible. In a spirit of loyalty to Dickie Blue, who deserved nothing so devoted, she had repelled other advances; and when, once, in a wicked mood of pique, as she afterward determined, she had walked with Sandy Watt on the Squid Cove road, the disloyalty implied, mixed with fear of the consequences, made her too wretched to repeat that lapse from a faithful and consistent conduct. She was quite sure that Dickie Blue would be angered again if she did (he was savagely angry)—that he would be driven away for good and all.
"You must not do it again, Peggy," Dickie Blue had admonished. "Now, mind what I'm tellin' you!"
"I won't," the soft little Peggy promised in haste.
"Now, that's sensible," said Dickie Blue. He was in earnest. And his purpose was high.
"Still an' all," Peggy began, "there's no harm——"
"What does a maid know about that?" Dickie interrupted. "It takes a man t' know a man. The lad's not fit company for the likes o' you." It was true. "You must look upon me, Peggy, as an elder brother, an' be guided by my advice. I'll watch over you, Peggy, jus' as well as an elder brother can."
"I'm grateful," Peggy murmured, flushed with pleasure in this interest. "I thanks you."
"There's no call t' thank me," Dickie protested. "'Tis a pleasure t' serve you."
"Thank you," said Peggy.
Skipper John Blue was a hearty old codger. Pretty Peggy Lacey, whose father had been cast away in the Sink or Swim, long ago, on the reefs off Thumb-an'-Finger of the Labrador, loved and used him like a father and found him sufficient to her need. To pretty Peggy Lacey, then, Skipper John cautiously repeated the substance of his conversation with Dickie Blue, adding a whisper of artful advice and a chuckle of delight in it. Peggy Lacey was appalled by the deceitful practice disclosed by Skipper John, whose sophistication she suspected and deplored. She had no notion at all, said she, that such evil as he described could walk abroad and unshamed in the good world, and she wondered what old mischief of his youth had informed him; and she would die a maid, loveless and childless, she declared, rather than have the guilt of a deception of such magnitude on her soul. Moreover, where were the means to be procured for executing the enormity? There was nothing of the sort, she was sure, in Trader Tom Jenkins's shop at Scalawag Run. There was nothing of the sort to be had anywhere short of St. John's; and as for sanctioning a plan so bold as sending a letter and a post-office order to Skipper John's old friend in St. John's, the lively widow o' the late Cap'n Saul Nash, o' the Royal Bloodhound, pretty Peggy Lacey jus' pos'tively would not do no such thing.
Skipper John found his head convenient to assist the expression of his emotion. He scratched it.
"Well, I'm bewildered," said he, "an' I'm not able t' help you at all no more."
"I'll have nobody's help," Peggy Lacey retorted.
"Why not, Peggy?"
"I've my pride t' serve."
"My dear," said Skipper John gravely, "you've also your happiness t' gain."
"I'll gain it alone."
"Aw, now, Peggy," Skipper John coaxed, with a forefinger under Peggy's little chin, "you'd take my help in this an' in all things, wouldn't ye? You is jus' so used t' my help, maid," he added, "that you'd be wonderful lonesome without it."
That was true.
"In most things, Father John," Peggy replied, "I'd take your help an' be glad. Whatever an' all about that, I'll have nobody's help in the world t' win the mastery o' Dickie Blue. Mark that, now! I means it."
"I've showed you the way t' win it."
"Still an' all——"
"I'll not do it."
Again Skipper John scratched his head. "'Tis an old sayin'," he protested, "that all's fair in love an' war."
"'Tis a false sayin'," Peggy declared. "Moreover," she argued, "an I took your advice, an' done the schemin' wickedness that you said, 'twould never win Dickie Blue."
"Jus' you try it, maid!"
"I scorn t' try it! I'll practice no wiles whatsoever t' win the likes o' Dickie Blue. An' what would I say when he discovered the deception thereafter?"
"He'd never find out at all."
"Sure, he've eyes t' see with, haven't he?"
"Ay, but he's too stupid t' notice. An' once you're wed——"
"No, no! 'Tis a thing too awful t' plot."
"An you cared enough for the lad," said Skipper John, "you'd stop at nothin' at all."
Peggy's great eyes clouded with tears.
"I cares more for he," said she, "than he cares for me. My heart's jus' sore with grief."
"Ah, no, now!"
"Ay, 'tis!" Peggy sobbed. She put her dark hair against Skipper John's shoulder then. "I'm jus' sick with the need of un!" she said.
* * * * *
Summer went her indifferent way, and Winter blustered into the past, too, without serving the emotions of Scalawag Run; and a new Spring was imminent—warm winds blowing out of the south, the ice breaking from the cliffs and drifting out to sea and back again. Still pretty Peggy Lacey was obdurately fixed in her attitude toward the sly suggestion of Skipper John Blue. Suffer she did—that deeply; but she sighed in secret and husbanded her patience with what stoicism she could command. There were times, twilight falling on the world of sea and rock beyond the kitchen window, with the last fire of the sun failing in the west like a bright hope—there were hours when her fear of the issue was so poignant that her decision trembled. The weather mellowed; the temptation gathered strength and renewed itself persistently—the temptation discreetly to accept the aid of artifice. After all, what matter? 'Twas surely a thing o' small consequence. An' who would ever hear the least whisper about it? For a long time Peggy Lacey rejected the eager promptings of her love—clenched her little red fists and called her pride to the rescue; and then, all at once, of a yellow day, having chanced to glance out of the window and down the harbor in the direction of Cottage Point, and having clapped eyes on a sight that pinched and shook the very heart of her, she was changed in a twinkling into the Siren of Scalawag Run.
Peggy Lacey sped forthwith to Skipper John, whom she found alone in his kitchen, oiling his sealing-gun.
"Father John," she demanded, "what's all this I sees goin' on on the tip o' Cottage Point?"
Skipper John glanced out of the wide kitchen window.
"Ah," said he, "that's on'y young Dickie at labor. He've selected that pretty spot an' is haulin' his lumber afore the snow's gone."
"Haulin' his lumber?" Peggy gasped.
"Mm-m. I sees he've ol' Tog in harness with the rest o' the dogs. Well, well! Tog's too old for that labor."
"Who's the maid?"
"What's he haulin' lumber for?"
"I 'low he's haulin' lumber jus' for the same reason that any young fellow would haul lumber for in the Spring o' the year."
"'Tis a new house, isn't it?"
"Ay; 'tis a new house. He've been plannin' t' build his house this long time, as you knows very well, an' now he've gone at it in a forehanded way."
"Well, then," Peggy insisted, finding it hard to command breath for the question, "who's the maid?"
"No maid in particular that I knows of."
"Well, I knows!" Peggy flashed. "'Tis the new schoolmistress from Grace Harbor. That's who 'tis!"
"Ah-ha!" said Skipper John.
"Yes, 'tis! She've cotched his fancy with her eyeglasses an' grammar. The false, simperin', titterin' cat! Oh, poor Dickie Blue!"
"She'd never do for un, Skipper John."
"Never. They're not suited to each other at all. He'd be mis'able with her."
Skipper John grinned.
"Poor Dickie!" he sighed.
Peggy Lacey was in tears at last.
"Father John," she sobbed, "I'm jus' desperate with fear an' grief. I can't bear it no longer." She began to pace the floor in a tumult of emotion. "I can't breathe," said she. "I'm stifled. My heart's like t' burst with pain." She paused—she turned to Skipper John, swaying where she stood, her hands pitifully reaching toward the old man, her face gray and dull with the agony she could no longer endure; and her eyes closed, and her head dropped, and her voice fell to a broken whisper. "Oh, hold me!" she entreated. "I'm sick. I'll fall."
Skipper John took her in his arms.
"Ah, hush!" he crooned. "'Tis not so bad as all that. An' he's not worth it, the great dunderhead!"
Peggy Lacey pushed Skipper John away.
"I'll not yield t' nobody!" she stormed, her soft little face gone hard with a savage determination. Her red little lips curled and the nostrils of her saucy little nose contemptuously expanded. "I've neither eye-glasses nor grammar," said she, "but I'll ensnare Dickie Blue for all that."
"I would," said Skipper John.
"An' without scruple!"
"Not a twinge!"
"I'd have no mercy."
"An' I'd encourage no delay."
"Skipper John, do you write that letter t' St. John's this very day," said Peggy, her soft, slender little body magnificently drawn up to the best of its alluring inches. She snapped, "We'll see what comes o' that!"
"Hoosh!" Skipper John gloated.
"Waste no time, sir. 'Tis a ticklish matter."
"The answer will be shipped straight t' you, Peggy. 'Twill be here in less 'n a fortnight." Skipper John broke into a wild guffaw of laughter. "An' Dickie himself will fetch the trap for his own feet, ecod!"
Peggy remained grave.
"I'm determined," she declared. "There's nothin' will stop me now. I'll do it, no matter what."
"Well, then," said Skipper John, "I 'low 'tis all over but the weddin'."
Skipper John privately thought, after all, that a good deal of fuss was being made over the likes o' Dickie Blue. And I think so too. However, the affair was Peggy Lacey's. And doubtless she knew her own business well enough to manage it without ignorant criticism.
In the Winter weather, when the coast was locked in with ice, and continuing until the first cruise of the mail-boat in May, to be precise, Dickie Blue carried his Majesty's mail, once a fortnight, by government contract, from the railroad at Bottom Harbor to Scalawag Run and all the harbors of Whale Bay. It was inevitable, therefore, that he should be aware of the communication addressed to Miss Peggy Lacey of Scalawag Run; and acutely aware of it he was—the communication and the little box that seemed to accompany it. From Bottom Harbor to All-in-the-Way Island, he reflected occasionally upon the singular circumstance. Who had sent a gift to Peggy Lacey from St. John's? Could it have been Charlie Rush? Charlie Rush was in St. John's to ship for the ice with the sealing fleet. Pausing on the crest of Black Cliff to survey the crossing to Scalawag Run, he came to a conclusion in relation to Peggy Lacey's letter that was not at all flattering to his self-esteem.
The letter mystified Dickie Blue—the author of the communication; but he had no difficulty in surmising the contents of the box to his own satisfaction.
"'Tis a ring," he determined.
By that time the day was near spent. Dusk would fall within the hour. Already the wide flare of light above the wilderness had failed to the dying ashes of its fire. Prudence urged a return to the cottage at Point-o'-Bay Cove for the night. True, it was not far from Black Cliff across the run to the first rocks of Scalawag. It was short of a mile, at any rate. Dickie could glimpse the lights of the Scalawag hills—the folk were lighting the lamps in the kitchens; and he fixed his eyes on Peggy Lacey's light, in the yellow glow of which, no doubt, pretty Peggy was daintily busied with making a supper of no dainty proportions; and he cocked his head and scowled in deliberation, and he stood irresolute on the brink of the cliff, playing with the temptation to descend and cross, as though a whiff from Peggy Lacey's kitchen stove had invited and challenged him over. It was not so much the visionary whiff of Peggy Lacey's supper, however, that challenged his courage: it was Peggy Lacey's letter in the pack on his back, and Peggy Lacey's suggestive packet, that tantalized him to reckless behavior. Ah-ha, he'd show Peggy Lacey what it was to carry the mail in a way that a man should carry it! He'd put the love-letter an' the ring in her hand forthwith. His Majesty's mail would go through that night.
"Ha!" he gloated. "I'll further her courtship. An' that'll settle her, ecod! I'll show her once an' for all that 'tis no matter t' me whom she weds."
There were stout reasons, however, against attempting to cross the run that night. The lane was filled from shore to shore with fragments of ice. Moreover, fog was blowing in from the east in the wake of the departing day, and rain threatened—a cold drizzle. All this being patent, the rain and peril of the passage in contrast with the dry, lighted kitchens of Point-o'-Bay Cove, Dickie Blue crossed Scalawag Run that night notwithstanding; and the mere circumstance of the crossing, where was no haste that he knew of, indicated at least the perturbation of his emotions. Well, Peggy Lacey might wed whom she pleased, an' he'd further her schemes, too, at the risk of his life. She should have her letter at once—her ring without delay; an' as for Dickie Blue, 'twas a closed book of romance—there were other maids at Scalawag Run, fairer maids, more intellectual maids, an' he'd love one o' them soon enough.
When Dickie Blue entered, Skipper John looked up, amazed.
"Did ye cross the run this night?" said he.
"I'll leave you, sir," Dickie answered curtly, "t' solve that deep riddle for yourself. You'll not be needing my help."
Skipper John reflected.
"Was there a letter for Peggy Lacey?" said he. "She've been eager for a message from St. John's."
"Nothin' else, I 'low?"
"There was. There was a packet."
"Whew!" Skipper John ejaculated. "That's a pity. I been fearin' an outcome o' that sort. An I was you, Dick," he advised, "I'd lose no time in that direction."
"'Tis not my purpose to."
"Ye'll wed the maid?"
"I will not."
"Ye obstinate dunderhead!" Skipper John scolded. "I believes ye! Dang if I don't! Go to! Shift them wet clothes, sir, an' come t' supper. I hopes a shrew hooks ye. Dang if I don't!"
* * * * *
In gloomy perturbation, in ill humor with the daft dealings of the world he lived in, Dickie Blue left the soggy road and sad drizzle of the night for the warm, yellow light of Peggy Lacey's kitchen, where pretty Peggy, alone in the housewifely operation, was stowing the clean dishes away. Yet his course was shaped—his reflections were determined; and whatever Peggy Lacey might think to the contrary, as he was no better, after all, than a great, blundering, obstinate young male creature, swayed by vanity and pique, and captive of both in that crisis, Peggy Lacey's happiness was in a desperate situation. It was farther away at the moment of Dickie Blue's sullen entrance than ever it had been since first she flushed and shone with the vision of its glorious approach.
Ay—thought the perverse Dickie Blue when he clapped eyes on the fresh gingham in which Peggy Lacey was fluttering over the kitchen floor (he would not deign to look in her gray eyes), the maid might have her letter an' her ring an' wed whom she pleased; an' as for tears at the weddin', they'd not fall from the eyes o' Dickie Blue, who would by that time, ecod, perhaps have consummated an affair with a maid of consequence from Grace Harbor! Ha! There were indeed others! The charms of the intellect were not negligible. They were to be taken into account in the estimate. And Dickie Blue would consider the maid from Grace Harbor.
"She've dignity," thought he, "an' she've learn-in'. Moreover, she've high connections in St. John's an' a wonderful complexion."
Dickie meant it. Ay. And many a man, and many a poor maid, too, as everybody knows, has cast happiness to waste in a mood of that mad description. And so a tragedy impended.
"Is it you, Dick?" says Peggy Lacey.
Dickie nodded and scowled.
"'Tis I. Was you lookin' for somebody else t' call?"
It was almost an interrogation. Peggy Lacey was puzzled. Dickie Blue's gloomy concern was out of the way.
"Well," said Dicky, "I'm sorry."
"Well," Dickie declared, "if you was expectin' anybody else t' come t' see you, I'd be glad t' have un do so. 'Tis a dismal evenin' for you t' spend alone."
Almost, then, Peggy Lacey's resolution failed her. Almost she protested that she would have a welcome for no other man in the world. Instead she turned arch.
"Did you bring the mail?" she inquired.
"Was there nothin' for me?"
Peggy Lacey trembled. Confronting, thus intimately, the enormity she proposed, she was shocked. She concealed her agitation, however, and laid strong hands upon her wicked resolution to restrain its flight.
"Nothin' else?" said she.
"Ay; there was more."
"Not a small packet!"
"Ay; there was a small packet. I 'low you been expectin' some such gift as that, isn't you?"
"A gift! Is it from St. John's?"
"Then I been expectin' it," Peggy eagerly admitted. "Where is it, Dickie? I'm in haste to pry into that packet."
The letter and the package were handed over.
"'Tis not hard," said Dickie, "t' guess the contents of a wee box like that. I could surmise them myself."
"Wh-wh-what!" she ejaculated. "You know the contents! Oh, dear me!"
"No, I don't know the contents. I could guess them, though, an I had a mind to."
"You never could guess. 'Tis not in the mind of a man t' fathom such a thing as that. There's a woman's secret in this wee box."