JANET OF THE DUNES
HARRIET T. COMSTOCK
Author of Joyce of the North Woods, A Son of the Hills, Etc.
Grosset & Dunlap Publishers :: :: New York
Copyright, 1907, By Little, Brown, and Company. All rights reserved
LOVINGLY I Dedicate this Book TO CARRIE LOUISE SMITH.
HER FRIENDSHIP WAS, AND ALWAYS WILL BE, A LIGHT TO ME UPON MY WAY. THE CHART SHE SAILED BY WILL GUIDE MY COURSE AND BRING ME, I HOPE, AT LAST, TO THE HARBOR WHERE SHE HAS GONE.
HARRIET T. COMSTOCK. FLATBUSH, BROOKLYN, N.Y. June 15, 1907.
In this story of the dunes, the Hills and the Light, I have not attempted any character drawing, although on the easterly shore of Long Island there are many people who have retained, together with the plain old English names which they brought with them by way of Connecticut and Rhode Island, a simplicity and sturdiness of character not to be found elsewhere, I believe, so near the great cosmopolis, and which is worthy a place in song and story.
It has been my good fortune to mingle for many summers with these kindly folk, and particularly with a little group of gentle, rather bashful and silent men forming a crew, with their captain, of one of the United States Life Saving Stations.
It is my hope that this story, if it does nothing else, will in some small measure enhance the not-too-strong interest in which the poorly paid, obscurely enacted heroism of the men in this service is held by the general public.
They have not the advantages, like our soldiers and firemen, of dressy uniforms and frequent parade before us. They would be greatly embarrassed by anything like public homage; yet how beneficent is their service! The lonely isolation of the Government Houses; the long, ofttimes dangerous patrols every night from sunset to sunrise; their detachment from home and social ties,—all speak for the dignified bravery of these men along our coasts, and should call forth from us a grateful and appreciative tribute.
HARRIET T. COMSTOCK. FLATBUSH, BROOKLYN, N.Y. JUNE 12, 1907.
page "The two men stood spellbound before the easel" 117
"'What do you know of my mother?'" 187
"'They're on the outer bar! Two rockets! I've answered!'" 267
JANET OF THE DUNES
A sweeping curve of glistening beach. A full palpitating sea lying under the languid heat of a late June afternoon. The low, red Life Saving Station, with two small cottages huddling close to it in friendly fashion, as if conscious of the utter loneliness of sea and sand dune. And in front of one of these houses sat Cap'n Billy and his Janet!
They two seemed alone in the silent expanse of waste and water, but it in no wise disturbed them. Billy was industriously mending a huge fish net spread out upon the sands. Janet was planning a mode of attack, in order to preserve unto herself the very loneliness and isolation that surrounded them.
In Janet's hands Cap'n Billy knew himself a craven coward. Only by keeping his eyes away from the face near him could he hope for success in argument. And Cap'n Billy, with all the strength of his simple, honest nature, meant to succeed in the present course—if Janet would permit him!
It was yet to be discovered how beautiful was the girl, crouching upon the sands. So unlike was she to the young people of the Station that she repelled, rather than attracted, the common eye. Tall, slim, and sinewy was she, with the quick strength of a boy. The smooth, brown skin had the fineness and delicacy of exquisite bronze. Some attempt had been made earlier in the day to confine the splendid hair with strong strands of seaweed, but the breeze of the later morning had treated the matter contemptuously, and the shining waves were beautifully disordered. Out of all keeping with this brown ruggedness were Janet's eyes. Like colorless pools they lay protected by their dark fringes, until emotion moved them to tint and expression. Did the sky of Janet's day prove kind, what eyes could be as soft and blue as hers? Did storm threaten, a grayness brooded, a grayness quite capable of changing to ominous black.
Cap'n Billy, trained to watching for storms and danger, knew the signals, and now, for safety, lay low.
The eyes were mild and sun-filled, the face bewitchingly friendly; but when Janet took to wheedling, Billy hugged the shore.
"You don't really mean it, Cap'n, now, do you?"
"I do that!" muttered Billy, and he pulled the twine energetically.
"What, send your own Janet off to the mainland to stay—except when she runs back?" This last in a tone that might have moved a rock to pity.
"Yes, that, Janet; and ye mustn't come on too often, nuther."
"Oh! Cap'n, and just when we've got the blessed beach to ourselves! Mrs. Jo G. and her kind gone; only the crew and us! Why, Cap'n, this is life!"
"Now, Janet, 'tain't no use fur ye t' coax. Ye're goin' on seventeen, ain't ye?"
"Seventeen, Cap'n, and eleven months!"
"It's distractin' the way ye've shot up. Clar distractin'; an' I ain't been an' done my duty by ye, nuther." Billy yanked a strand of cord vigorously.
"Yes, you have, Cap'n," Janet's tone was dangerously soft; "I'm the very properest girl at the Station. Look at me, Cap'n Daddy!"
But Billy steeled himself, and rigidly attended to the net. "Well," he admitted, "ye're proper enough 'long some lines. I've taught ye t' conquer yer 'tarnal bad temper—"
"You've taught me to know its power, Cap'n Daddy," warned Janet with a glint of darkness in the laughing serenity of her gaze; "the temper is here just the same, and powerful bad, upon provocation!"
A smile moved the corners of Billy's humorous lips.
"An' the bedpost is here, too, Janet. Lordy! I can see ye now as I used t' tie ye up till the storm was over. What a 'tarnal little rascal ye war! The waves of tantrums rolled over ye, one by one, yer yells growin' less an' less; an' bime by ye called out 'tween squalls, 'Cap'n Daddy, it's most past!'" There was a mist over Billy's eyes. "Ye 'tarnal little specimint!" he added.
"But, Cap'n, dear!" Janet was growing more and more dangerous; "I've been so good. Just think how I've gone across the bay, to the Corners, to school. My! how educated I am! Storm or ice, I leave it to you, Daddy, did I ever complain?"
"Never, Janet. I've stood on the dock and watched yer sail comin' 'fore the gale, till it seemed like I would bust with fear. An' the way ye handled yer ice boat in the pursuit of knowledge-gettin' was simple miraculous! No, I ain't a-frettin' over yer larnin'-gettin'; it's the us'n' of the same as is stirrin' me now. With such edication as ye've got in spite of storm an' danger, ye ought to be shinin' over on the mainland 'mong the boarders!"
"Boarders!" sniffed Janet, tossing her ruddy mane; "boarders! Folks have gone crazy-mad over the city folks who have swooped down upon us, like a—a—hawk! Every house full of those raving lunatics going on about the views, and the—the artistic desolation! That's what those dirty, spotty looking things on the Hills call it. Cap'n, you just ought to see them going about in checked kitchen aprons, with daubs all over them—sunbonnets adangling on their heads, little wagons full of truck for painting pictures—and such pictures! Lorzy! if I lived in a place that looked like those—sketches, they call them—I'd—I'd go to sea, Cap'n Daddy—to sea!"
"But they be folks, Janet, an' it's a new life an' a chance, an' it ain't decint fur ye, with all yer good pints, t' be on the beach along with the crew, all alone!"
"Cap'n, I do believe you want to marry me off! get rid of me! oh, Daddy!" Janet plunged her head in her lap and was the picture of outraged maidenhood.
"'T ain't so! An' ye know it!" cried Billy. "But Mrs. Jo G., 'fore they sailed off, opened my eyes."
"Mrs. Jo G.!" snapped Janet, raising her head and flashing a look of resentment, "I thought so! What did she suggest—that I might come to her house and wait—wait, just think of it, Cap'n, wait upon those boarders?" She had suggested that, and something even worse, so Billy held his peace.
"It's simply outrageous the way our people are going on," the girl continued; "they are bent upon beggaring the city folks! Beggaring them, really! they have no consciences about the methods they take to—to rob them!"
"Janet, hold yer tiller close!"
"Oh! I know, Cap'n, but I do not want to take part in it all. I want to stay alone with you. Think of the patrols, Cap'n Daddy! I'll take them all with you. Sunset, midnight, and morning! You and I, Daddy, dear, under the stars, or through storm! Ah, I've ached for just this!"
Billy felt his determination growing weak.
"I've made 'rangements, Janet; Cap'n David he's goin' to board ye, an' ye can look about, an' if ye see an openin' t' get a chance t' better yerself—not in the marryin' way, but turnin' a penny—why it will all help, my girl, an' ye ought t' be havin' the chance with the city folks, what all the others is havin'."
"Oh! you sly old Cap'n Daddy! And do you realize that Cap'n Davy's Susan Jane isn't any joke to live with? You don't hear Davy tattling, but other folks are not so particular. Daddy, dear, I just cannot!" And with this the girl sprang into the net, rolled over and over and then lay ensnarled in the meshes at Billy's feet, her laughing eyes shining through the strands.
"Ye 'tarnal rascal!" cried Billy.
"You think you've caught me!" whined Janet, "you think you've got me! Oh! Cap'n, I'm afraid of the city folks!"
"Fraid!" sneered Billy. "My Janet 'fraid o' anythin'!"
"Yes, honest true! I do not want to be near them. I scent danger; not to them, but to me!"
Billy, bereft of his hands' occupation, looked out seaward. He was well-nigh distracted. Always his duty to this girl was uppermost in his simple mind; but his love and anxiety mingled with it. He no more understood her than he understood the elements that made havoc along the coast and necessitated his brave calling. He waged war with the sea to save his kind; and he struggled against the opposing forces in Janet that he in no wise understood, in order that she, as a girl among others, should have her rights.
Wild little creature as she had always been, Billy had used all the opportunities at hand to tame her into a similarity to the other children of the Station; and when he had failed, he gloried in the failure, and grew more distracted. Braving opposition in the girl and the dangers of Nature, Billy had forced the child across the bay to the school at the Corners. What there was to learn in that primitive institution, Janet had learned, and much more besides in ways of which Billy knew nothing.
For years the quaint seaside village had lain unnoticed in its droning course. Ships, now and again, had been driven upon the bar outside the dunes, and at such times the bravery of the quiet crew at the Government Station was sung in the distant city papers.
Now and again the superiority of the Point Quinton Light would be mentioned. But Captain David never knew of it. He tended and loved the Light with a fatherly interest. It was his life's trust, and David was a poet, an inarticulate poet, who spoke only through his shining Light. The government was his master. David thought upon the government in a personal way and served it reverently.
Then an artist had discovered Quinton-by-the-Sea. He took a painting of it back to the restless town, a painting full of color of dune, sea, bay, and hundred-toned Hills, with never a tree to stay the progress of the unending breezes. That was sufficient! The artist was great enough to touch the heart and Quinton was doomed to be famous! But it was only the beginning now. Every house in the village had opened its doors to the strangers; and every pocket yawned for possible dollars. Tents were pitched in artistic arrangement on the Hills, but the hotel was not yet. Managers waited to see if the fever would last. While they waited, the village folk reaped a breathtaking harvest. Mrs. Jo G., the only woman who had lived at the Life Saving Station in her own home, packed up and went "off," with baggage and children, to open the old farmhouse on the mainland and take boarders. Before going she left food for Billy to digest.
"This be Janet's chance," she said, standing with her hands on her hips, and her sunbonnet shading her fair, pinched face—nothing ever tanned Mrs. Jo G. "She can turn in an' help wait on table, or she kin take in washin'. It won't hurt her a mite. Washin' will have t' be done, an' the city folks will pay. Janet can make them fetch and carry their own duds. She can stand on her dignity; an' wash money is as good as any other."
Billy experienced a distinct chill at this last proposition. Why, he could hardly have told. During Janet's babyhood and early childhood he had assumed all household duties himself. Later he and Janet had shared them together over tub and table, but that Janet should wash for the boarders was harrowing!
"You think she's too good, Cap'n," sneered Mrs. Jo G., "but she ain't. She's wild, an' she ought t' get her bearin's. She ain't any different from my girls nor the others, though you act as if you thought so. You ain't as strong as you once was, Cap'n, an' come the time when you pass in your last check, who's goin' t' do for Janet? An' how's she goin' t' know how t' do fur herself? You ain't actin' fair by the girl. It's clear Providence, the way the city folks has fallen, as you might say, right in our open mouths. There'll be plenty of chances on the mainland fur Janet t' turn a penny, an' get an idea of self-support. But she ought t' be there, and not stuck here!"
Mrs. Jo G. had hardly turned the Point, after this epoch-making speech, before Billy was starting for the Light and the one friend of his heart.
"David," he explained, viewing his friend through a fog of thick, blue smoke, "I want that ye should take my girl! Once Janet is here, she'll be mighty spry 'bout gettin' in t' somethin'. I don't want her t' take t' washin' or servin' strangers, 'less she wants t', but when 'sperience an' money is floatin' loose, my girl ought t' be out with her net."
"Course!" nodded David; "an' Janet's a rare fisher fur these new waters."
"Ye'll keep yer eye on her, David—knowin' all ye do?"
The furrows deepened on Billy's brow. David took his pipe from his mouth.
"God's my witness! I will that!" he said.
Thus things stood while Janet, coiled in the meshes, lay laughing up at Billy.
"What do you think of your haul, Cap'n Billy Daddy?" The man sighed. "You wouldn't let those dreadful old sharks—they are sharks, Cap'n—you wouldn't let them hurt your poor little fish, now would you?" The rippling, girlish laugh jarred Billy's nerves. He must take a new tack.
"See here, Janet, do ye mind this? Ye ain't jes' my child—Lord knows ye ain't—yer hers!"
"Ah! you mean my mother." The net lay quite still. Having no memory of the mother, Janet was not deeply impressed. "I know, Cap'n; when you are in a difficulty you always bring—'her'—in,—what she would like, and what she wouldn't. It's my belief, Cap'n, she'd have done and thought exactly as we told her to."
"'T ain't so, nuther! She had heaps of common sense, an' as she got near port, she saw turrible clear, an' she talked considerable 'bout larnin', an' how it could steer yer craft better than anythin' else; an' she 'lowed if ye was gal or lad, after ye got larnin', she wanted ye should go out int' the world an' test it. She wasn't over sot 'bout the Station. She'd visited other places."
Janet sat up, and idly draped the net about her.
"I suppose if my mother had lived," she said, "I would have listened to her—some. But, Cap'n Daddy, I reckon she would have gone off with me. Like as not we would have taken boarders, but, don't you see, Cap'n, I would have had her?"
"True; an' it's that what's held my hand many's the time. Yer not havin' her has crippled us both. But a summer on the mainland ain't a-goin' t' swamp us, Janet. With the Comrade tied to David's wharf, an' me here, what's goin' t' happen to a—a girl like you?"
Janet looked across the summer sea.
"What? Sure enough, Cap'n Daddy, just what? And I ought to be earning my keep."
"I'm goin' t' set ye up with some gal fixin's what I've saved fur ye. Yer mother's things! Ye ain't never seen them. S'pose we take a look now. A summer, with runnin's over t' the Station, will be real interestin', Janet. An' ye must tell me everythin'. There ain't no reason why ye shouldn't sail over every little while, but I do hope ye'll make yerself useful somehow. It will help bime by. An' I'm gettin' stiff." He arose awkwardly and strode toward the tiny house. Janet followed, trailing her fish net robe and humming lightly.
The house was composed of three small rooms with a lean-to, where of late years Billy had slept. From the middle room, which was the living room, a ladder, set against the wall, led to the loft overhead. The man slowly climbed upward, and Janet went after.
The space above was hardly high enough for an upright position, so man and girl sat down upon the floor, and it happened that a locked chest stood between them.
"Janet, ye ain't never seen these things, have ye?"
"No, Cap'n Billy." The mocking laugh was gone from the face.
"Ye ain't got no sense of curiosity 'bout anythin', Janet—not even yer mother. Most girls would have asked questions."
This seemed like a rebuke, and Janet kept silent.
"Ain't ye got no curious feelin' 'bout yer mother?"
"Cap'n Billy, you haven't ever let me miss anything in all my life. I s'pose that's why I haven't asked. I never knew her, did I, Cap'n Billy? You made up for everything."
This unnerved Billy.
"That's logic," he nodded, "an' it's good-heartedness, as well; but, Janet, I'm goin' to tell ye somewhat of yer mother." He took a key from his pocket, unlocked the chest and raised the lid.
"Them things is hers!" he said reverently. "Little frocks—" Three he laid out upon the floor. Cheap, rather gaudy they were, but of cut and fashion unknown to the beach-bred girl. "And little under-thin's, an' a hat, an' sacque; shoes—just look at them, Janet! Little feet they covered, but such willin' little feet, always a-trottin' 'bout till the very last, so turrible afraid they wouldn't be grateful enough. Lord! but that was what she said." The pitiful store of woman's clothing lay near Janet, but she made no motion to touch it.
"And this is her!" Captain Billy took a photograph from the bottom of the chest, unwrapped it from its covering of tissue paper, and handed it to the quiet girl opposite. "This is her, an' as like as life! The same little hat on, what she set such store by! I ain't had the heart t' show ye this before." Janet seized the card eagerly. The light from a small window in the roof fell full upon it.
"Oh!" she breathed, "she was—why, Cap'n Billy, she was more than pretty! I think I should have felt her more if I had seen this."
"Am—am I like her?"
"Like as not, if ye was whiter an' spindlin'er, there'd be a likeness." An uneasiness struggled in Billy's inner consciousness as he viewed the girl. "Ye're more wild-like," he added.
"I wish I had asked a lot about her," Janet whispered, and there was a mist in her eyes; "I have been careless just because I've been happy. It seems as if we had sort of pushed her away, and kept her still."
"Well, it's her turn t' speak now, girl, an' that's what I've been steerin' round t'. Ye're hers an'—"
"And yours, Cap'n Billy, even if you have taught me to say Captain, instead of Father."
"It was her word for me, child, an' ye added Daddy of yer own will. 'My Cap'n,' she use t' say. It sounded awful soothin'; an' her so grateful 'bout nothin'! Sho! An' she wanted ye to be a help long o' me. Them was her words. An' Lordy! child, I'm willin' t' work an' share with ye—but savin' is pretty hard when there ain't nothin' much t' save from, an' if this summer-boardin' business is goin' t' open up a chance fur ye, it ain't cause I want help, but she'd like ye t' have more things. Don't ye see? An' I jest know ye'll get yer innin's on the mainland."
"I have been a selfish girl!" Janet murmured, holding the photograph closer, "a human crab; just clinging and gripping you. Then running wild and fighting against you when you wanted me to learn to be useful! I think, Cap'n Billy, if you had shown me—my mother, and talked more of her—maybe it would have been different. Maybe not,"—with a soft sigh,—"I reckon every one has to be ready for seeing. I don't just know how to—how to get my share from those—those boarders. But I'll find a way! I mean to be helpful, Cap'n. I can't bring myself to wait on them. Mrs. Jo G. doesn't seem to mind that, but I do. And I hate to see them eat—in crowds. But I'll find something to do. Put the clothes in the carpet-bag, Cap'n Billy Daddy; I may not wear them over there, but I'd like to have them. May I take the picture?"
"Yes, only be powerful careful o' it. An' don't show it round. Somehow she seems to belong to nobody but jest us two."
Captain David began to climb the long flight of iron stairs. It was his custom to start early, in order that he might stop upon each landing and take a view of the land and water on his way up. As David got higher and higher, his spirits rose in proportion. Below were duty and care; aloft was the Light, that was his pride and glory, and the freedom of solitude and silence!
When David began his climb—because it was the manner of the man to face life with a song upon his lips—he hummed softly:
"I would not live alway, No, welcome the tomb."
He paused on the first landing and took in the satisfying prospect of his garden, edged around by summer flowers and showing a thrifty collection of needful vegetables.
"And only man is vile!" panted David, starting upward, and changing his song. By the time the third landing was reached care and anxiety were about forgotten and the outlook upon the rippling bay was inspiring.
"And we put three shots in the lobster pots, Three cheers for the witches three"
Davy remembered only snatches of this song, but its hilarious tunefulness appealed to his state of feeling on the third landing. David chuckled, gurgled, and puffingly mounted higher.
"Looks like it might be a good crab season," he muttered, "an' I hope t' gum! the city folks won't trifle with the isters out o' season.
'Brightly gleams our Father's mercy, From His lighthouse evermore; But to us—'"
puff, pant, groan!
"'He gives the keepin' of the lights alon' the shore!'" David had reached the Light! He always timed himself to the moment. When the sun dropped behind the Hills, David's Light took possession of the coming night!
He stepped inside the huge lamp, rubbed an imaginary spot off the glistening glass, turned up the wick and touched it with the ready match. Then he came forth and eyed the westering sun. That monarch, riding through the longest day of the year, was reluctant to give up his power; but David was patient. With hand upon the cloth covering he bided his time. It was a splendid sunset. Beyond the Hills the clouds were orange-red and seemed to part in order that the round sun should have a wide course for his royal exit. The shadows were coming up out of the sea. David felt, rather than saw, the purpling light stealing behind him, but he had, for the present, to do only with the day.
"There was glory over all the land," quoted the man, "a flood of glory." Then the sun was gone! On the instant the covering was snatched away, and David's Light shone cheerily in the glory that at first obscured it.
"Your turn will come!" comforted the keeper as if to a friend, "they'll bless ye, come darkness!"
With that he stepped out upon the narrow balcony surrounding the tower, to "freshen up."
From that point the dunes, dividing the ocean and the bay, seemed but weak barriers. The sea rolled nearer and nearer.
"Thus far and no farther," whispered David reverently; "the Lord don't need anythin' bigger than that strip o' sand to make His waters obey His will. No mountains could be safer than them dunes when once the Lord has set the limit. That looks like the Comrade off beyond the P'int!" he went on; "I'll take my beef without cabbage, if that ain't Janet a-makin' for the Light, an' as late as this, too! Billy's told her 'bout the change, an' she wouldn't wait, once she was convinced. She might have stayed with Billy till mornin', the impatient little cuss."
The sailboat was scudding before the ocean breeze. Its white wing was the only one upon the bay, and David watched it with a new interest.
"Comin' over t' make her fortune," he muttered, "comin' over t' help fleece the boarders! By gum! I wonder, knowin' what Billy knows, an' havin' the handlin' of a craft like Janet, he didn't hold the sheet rope pretty snug as he headed her int' this harbor."
The boat made the landing without a jar. The girl sprang out, secured the Comrade, then shouldered a carpet-bag, boy-fashion, and came up the winding path toward the lighthouse. David watched her, bending over the railing, until she passed within; then he straightened himself and waited.
The purple gloaming came; the Light took on courage and dignity; the stars shone timidly as if apologizing for appearing where really their little glow was not needed. Then softly:
"Cap'n David, are you on the balcony?"
"Who be ye comin' on the government property without permission?" growled David. Janet came out of the narrow doorway and flung her arms around the keeper's neck.
"Cap'n Davy, I've come off to be adopted! I had to stop downstairs to make my room ready and pay Susan Jane two weeks in advance, but I've got business with you now. Bring out a couple of chairs, Cap'n, this is going to be a long watch."
David paused as he went upon the errand.
"The money is what sticks, Janet. Money atween me an' Billy is a ticklish matter. Don't lay it up agin Susan Jane, girl, the conniverin' in money ways an' the Holy Book is all that Susan Jane has, since she was struck."
"It's all right, Cap'n David, if it were only my money! And it soon will be, Davy; it soon will be. I've just waked up to the fact that I ought to be helping along, instead of hanging on Cap'n Billy. Seventeen, and only just waking up! I've come over to the gold mine, Davy, and I'm going to do some digging for myself."
David sighed and laughed together; it was a rare combination, and one for which he was noted. Presently he came out with the chairs. The two put their backs to the Light. David took out his pipe, and Janet, bracing her feet against the railing and clasping her hands behind her head, looked up at the stars. Next to Captain Billy, this man beside her was her truest friend.
"Goin' t' help wait at some table?" asked David between long, heartsome puffs.
"Anythin' in mind, special?"
"I'm going up to the Hills and learn to paint pictures!"
"Yes. I can at least see things as they are. All I shall have to do is to learn to handle the brushes and mix the paint."
"And, Cap'n David, I know what you all think. You think me a useless kind of girl, willing enough to hang on Cap'n Billy and take all he can give. And I know that you think him soft and, maybe, silly, because he hasn't been sterner with me. But you're all wrong! Cap'n Daddy and I haven't been wasting our time. We've got awfully close to each other while we've lived alone and had only ourselves. I've been thinking a long time of how I could help him best. I didn't want to come over and—and—what shall I say?—well, plunder the city folks. That's what every one is doing. Sometimes I'm sorry for them, the city folks. It seems like we ought to treat them more as visitors, than as ships that have been tossed up."
"Lord!" spluttered David through his smoke; "they know how t' look after themselves."
"Yes, and when I think of that, I'm afraid of them. They'll get something out of us for all the money they spend. And, Davy, I don't want them to get it out of me!"
"Get it out of you!" David struck his pipe on the railing and the sparks fell into the night like a shower of stars. Janet nodded her head.
"Yes, get it out of me! All the same if I'm going to help make my living, this seems the only way, so I'm going in with the rest. But I want to choose my own path. Davy, did you ever see my mother? Of course you did! She was pretty, but I'm a lot better looking. Cap'n Billy's been telling me about her."
"Tellin' ye about her, all?" David asked faintly.
"Oh! I reckon not all; he was choking while he talked, and I hated to ask him particulars. How old was I when she died, Cap'n Davy?"
"Ye warn't no age at all, child; as yer little skiff hove int' sight, hers set sail. Ye didn't any more than hail each other in passin'."
"Oh! tell me more, Davy."
"'T was an awful night ye chose, Janet. Wind off sea, an' howlin' like mad. Sleet an' rain minglin', an' porridge ice slammin' ont' shore! Billy had the midnight patrol, an' fore he started out, he 'ranged that we should keep one eye out toward his cottage,—I happened t' be on that night,—an' if we saw a light in the lean-to winder, I was t' rouse Mrs. Jo G. 'Long 'bout two, I saw the light, an' I made tracks for Mrs. Jo G.'s. The wind almost knocked us down as we set out for Billy's. I waited in the lean-to, an' Mrs. Jo G. she went int' the bedroom."
"Go on, Cap'n Davy. I wish I had known always about Mrs. Jo G. She didn't mind the storm? Somehow I never thought of her like that."
"'T was only human, Janet, her an' yer ma was the only females at the Station. 'Long 'bout four, Billy came a-staggerin' in. He had seen the light shinin' in the winder. He was coated over with ice, ice hangin' to his beard an' lashes, but Lord, how his eyes was glitterin'! I couldn't say a blessed thin'. Gum! there wasn't a thing t' say. I just gripped him like a looney, an' he gripped me, an' thar we stood a-starin' an' a-staring'! 'Why don't ye go in?' I asked."
"And why didn't he?" Janet was struggling with an inclination to cry, "why didn't he?" David, fearing he had ventured upon dangerous ground, muttered:
"He said he couldn't! Them was his own words. Billy was always queer. Just then Mrs. Jo G. came int' the living room. She had you—we didn't know it then, fur ye was just a round bundle—in her arms. Mrs. Jo G. always speaks to the p'int when she does speak," Davy continued, "an' all she said was, 'This is all that's left, Cap'n Billy—the mother's gone!'"
"Oh! my Cap'n!" murmured Janet; "and only to-night I have heard this!"
"Now don't take on, Janet!" David clumsily stroked the pretty head that had found a resting place upon the iron railing. "It was because Billy hated any takin' on that he kept mum. Him an' me an' Mrs. Jo G. we have always acted as if nothin' unusual had happened. Ye had a stormy voyage, child, an' Billy wanted that ye should have calm, while he was in control."
"Oh! Cap'n Billy, my poor old Daddy! And I've been a wild, uncaring girl, David. Never taking hold like the others! Just following Daddy about, and being a burden! And to think it was—it was boarders that aroused me! Oh! Davy, it makes me sick."
"Now see here, Janet!" David got up and walked twice around the little gallery. "I ain't a-sayin' but what ye ought t' be helpin' yerself an' takin' anxiety off o' Billy: but I do say that it ain't goin' t' ease Billy any, if ye go gallivantin' off to the Hills with any fool notion that good looks is goin' t' help ye."
"They always help, Cap'n David, always!" Janet's assertion came through a muffled sob. "You mustn't think I care for my looks myself. I'd just as soon be as peaked and blue-white as Mrs. Jo G.'s Maud, but I know pretty looks are just so much to the good—"
"Or bad!" broke in David.
"Well, have it that way. But it is according to how you use them. I'm going to use my good looks wisely!"
"By gum!" muttered David. This was his escape valve. When other words failed, "by gum" eased the tension. "Ye ain't much on looks, Janet, when ye come to that," he said presently. "Ye ain't tidy, nor tasty; ye ain't a likely promise fur what a handy woman ought t' be. Yer powerful breezy an' uncertain, an' yer unlike what folks is use t'."
"Davy!" Janet came in front of him and the light fell full upon her. "Davy, you just listen and see how wise I am! Do you know why the city folks have come to Quinton? We never, at least not many of us, saw anything very splendid about the Hills, the dunes and the bay, now did we?"
"The fact is, we didn't!"
"Well, these people are wild about them because they are unlike the common things they are used to. I am like Quinton, Davy; I know it way down in my heart. You won't catch me fixing up like city folks and looking queer enough to turn you dizzy. Quinton and I are going to be true to ourselves, Davy, and you'll soon see if my looks do not help!"
"By gum!" sighed David; and remembering his vow to Billy to watch over this girl, he sighed again and ordered her below in no very gentle voice.
Janet was aroused the next morning by hearing Captain David creaking across the floor of the living room with his daily burden in his arms. The girl was neither deep asleep nor wide awake. She was never uncertain of her whereabouts or identity, once she had crossed the border land.
The early sun was creeping into the east window of her tiny room on one side of the living room of the lighthouse; on the opposite side was Captain David's sleeping apartment, into which he carried his helpless wife every evening before he had to go up aloft, and out of which he bore her to the chintz covered rocker, every morning after he had come below.
For ten long years David had known this sorrow; and he knew that it was to be his until Death spake the final word.
"It seems to me, David," the querulous voice was saying, "that the sun, up your way, rose mighty late to-day."
"There, there, Susan Jane, 't is the same old sun as rises an' sets fur all. Had a bad night, Susan Jane?"
"Bad night! that shows what sympathy you have for me, David. All my nights are bad. Bad as bad can be, unless they be worse!"
"Well, Susan Jane, let's hope that a bad night argers a good day. There! are ye fixed, reasonably comfortable? P'r'aps the pillers ought' be a mite higher. How's that? An' now, if you want t' read a bit I'll fix the brekfus. I sot some biscuits overnight."
"Give me the Bible, David, an' my money box! There, open t' the same old chapter. Thank the Lord, that chapter is all on one page! Since He thought wise to take the usefulness from my members, I'm glad He made folks print my favorite chapter so there's no need of turnin' over. Land knows, who'd ever think of waitin' on me!"
"Come now, Susan Jane, I'm always willin', when I ain't on government duty."
"Government duty or sleep! Men is all alike. How would you feel if you was stricken like me?"
"Powerful bad, Susan Jane, powerful bad. Ye bear yer lot uncommon patient, Susan Jane; I'm never overlookin' that. But if ye put yer mind to it, wife, ye'll see that if I do my duty, I must sleep—some. Howsomever, Mark Tapkins will have his turn to-night, same as usual; an' I can set with ye this evenin'. The government is powerful generous, Susan Jane, t' give this every other night shift."
"Generous, umph! There, David, do get the meal. I guess if you had laid awake all night, you'd have considerable cravin' in yer stomach fur victuals. I've a real sinkin'."
"Sho! I must get a double wriggle on, Susan Jane." David stumbled over a stool on his way to the stove; he was dizzy from sleepiness, and he, too, had a sensation of sinking.
"Sho! I be gettin' monstrous awkward!" he muttered apologetically; "I hope I ain't waked Janet!"
"S'pose you had!" snapped his wife; "you think that more important than my nerves? I don't more'n half like Janet comin' here. If it hadn't been fur me, I know you'd taken her fur nothin'! No matter if I do have t' go t' the poorhouse on account of yer shiftlessness. I, stricken an' helpless! She can come here fur nothin'! I jest know, David, that it would be a real release fur a great, strong man like you to be rid of a poor stricken wife; but I guess you'll have to bide the Lord's will whether you want t' or no!"
At this point David spilled a kettle of water he was bearing from the pump, outside the door, to the range.
"By gum! Susan Jane," he said cheerily, "I guess no one but you could put up with a blunderin' old feller like me. Ye better reconsider an' stay t' see the game out. Two eggs, this mornin', wife, or one?"
"Two, David! You didn't think t' scrimp me, did you? If one egg has got t' be given, you'd better begin on yourself, or Janet!"
"Come, come, Susan Jane; there is two apiece, an' six fur company!"
"Company! David, have you had the heartlessness t' invite company here without askin' me?"
"Lord! Susan Jane, can't ye take a joke? I only meant eggs is plenty. The draught's good this mornin'; that's a sign of clear weather. The biscuits is riz fit t' kill, Susan, I never had better luck. That comes of havin' a handy wife t' train ye."
"I'm glad you can see some good in me, David!" Susan Jane was sniffling. "I think Janet is downright lazy an' triflin'. Lyin' in bed when a struck woman like me can have ambition enough to be up an' doin'."
"You're one in a hundred, Susan Jane, but then it ain't more'n fair t' state that Janet's a boarder, 'cordin' t' yer own placin'."
"Oh! that's right. Blame me fur miserliness, an' excuse her fur slackness! She's perfict: I'm the sinner!"
"Now, Susan Jane!"
"Oh! I can see through a person if he ain't too dazzlin'!" Susan Jane drank from the cup of coffee that David held to her lips. "I s'pose you'd like t' take a tray int' her, David?"
"Now, Susan Jane, don't be so amusin'! It's wonderful how ye keep yer spirits."
"Spirits! David, I s'pose you're speakin' sarcastic. You think my mind ain't right. You're treatin' me like a child!" The woman turned from the cup, weeping audibly.
Janet at this point noiselessly arose and made a hurried toilet. Sickness, physical weakness of any kind, was repulsive to the girl of perfect health and outdoor nature; but one thing she realized. While she stayed at the lighthouse she must share David's burden. Her sense of loyalty to David made this imperative. She must help him how and when she could; and she must be as silent as he in regard to it.
"Good morning!" she cried presently, going into the living room. "Here, Cap'n David, take your place at the table. I'll do the rest. You won't mind, Susan Jane, will you, if I boss a little? I'm so used to bossing my Cap'n Billy."
"'T ain't decent fur a great girl like you, Janet, t' call Billy in that fashion. Father seems good enough for the other girls around here."
"I like my way better;" Janet smiled over the plate of biscuits she was bearing from the range. "I'm saucy and bossy, Susan Jane, but I've good points, too. Here, I'll spread your biscuits and fix your eggs. David, you finish your breakfast and go to bed. I'll feed Susan, and tidy up."
David cast a grateful look at her and Susan Jane turned to her breakfast with an appetite that was one of the few pleasures left to her stricken existence.
All that morning, to the accompaniment of Susan Jane's complaints, praise of herself, and disapproval of Janet's appearance and manners, the girl did the housework, prepared the midday meal, and thought her busy thoughts. At twelve o'clock, David issued forth from the bedroom. He was heavy-eyed from sleep and dishevelled as to looks.
"By gum!" he exclaimed, going out to Janet on the porch; "I s'pose ye wanted t' go up t' the Hills this mornin', an' peddle yer good looks. I clean forgot yer ambitions, I was that sodden with weariness."
"No, Davy, it's all right. I want to get my breath first. I'm going to Bluff Head this afternoon. I may not have many more chances. I hear Bluff Head is going to be opened, too."
"Yes: Mr. Devant sent word down to Eliza Jane Smith t' have the place ready, bidin' the time he might come. But seems like I heard that Eliza Jane ain't goin' t'-day. She's takin' washin' in fur the boarders an' makin' money out of it. Eliza Jane'll get top lofty if she finds she ain't naturally dependent on James B. It don't do fur some women t' know their wuth."
"It helps others!" she answered lightly.
When the dinner dishes were disposed of, Janet took her sunbonnet and started off for Bluff Head. The day was hot and the road dusty. The sunbonnet, as a feminine requisite of old Quinton, was desirable; but Janet swung hers from her arm, thereby satisfying Mrs. Grundy's demands and not interfering with her own rights. At one o'clock, in the Quinton of that day, the city boarders were eating en masse, and the Quintonites, in various capacities, were serving them; so the girl on the highway had the place to herself. The lighthouse rose red and gleaming from Cap'n David's garden spot; the bay, blue and rippling, spread in and out of its tiny sub-bays where the land stretched like five fingers of a hand, with the blue water in between. To the west lay the Hills in their "artistic desolation," and to the north of them The Bluff, with Mr. Devant's long-closed house gracing the summit. It mattered little to Janet whether Eliza Jane Smith was in command of Bluff Head or not. The past would never have been as sweet as Janet knew it, had she depended upon Eliza Jane's movements to govern her ingress and egress to the place.
Going rapidly along, the girl presently came to the grounds of the big house. Years ago attempts at landscape gardening had been indulged in, while the master of the place fancied to pass his summers there, but years of recent neglect had all but obliterated the marks of culture. Wildness was over all, but it was the wildness of former refinement.
Past the sundial ran the girl, and around to the rear of the house. Then she burrowed under a dense rosebush and pushed her way through a basement window, almost hidden by the undergrowth, the sash of which swung inward at the familiar pressure.
It was but a moment's work to scramble through, and then run up the dark, disused stairway. The place had a mouldy smell, but it was neat and orderly, and the weekly airings, given by Eliza Jane, saved it from dampness. The silence and absence of human nearness might well have daunted one; but Janet, the only living thing, apparently, in the deserted house, felt no qualms. She went directly to the library: there was little else of interest in the place to her. For years this spot had been her secret treasure nook. When, as a little child, she had entered the place with Eliza Jane, it was not as other children, but with an inborn yearning to see and touch those wonderful rows of books. She was permitted to dust those she could reach, and her touch was reverent and gentle. The pictures had at first fascinated her; later, the district school teaching had given her power to understand the words; then had dawned the new heaven and the new earth. Like a miser with his gold, she guarded her joy. She discovered the unfastened window and timed her visits when she was sure of privacy; and so she had trod, undirected and like the wild creature she was, the paths of literature.
The Devant library, gathered through generations, was stored in the country house that had originally been built as a family home. But the sons of the race were rovers and often years would slip by without a personal inspection. James B. and Eliza Jane were the guardians, and there was little need of a master's anxiety while those two were in command.
Janet glanced about the library and her face grew radiant. She inhaled long breaths. The odor of the leather and old paper thrilled her. She mounted the little steps and took a book, with unerring touch, from the fifth shelf, then she sprang lightly to the floor and went with her prize to the shelter of a deep bay-window. Softly she raised the sash and drew in the sweetness of the June day.
"It's good!" she murmured; "heavenly good!" Then she nestled among the cushions on the window seat, and, shielded by the heavy curtains from the emptiness of the room, she entered her paradise.
The key that opened the gateway was a rare edition of Shakespeare; the play, "Romeo and Juliet." A tiny scrap of paper marked the place of the last reading. The girl's eyes, blue now as the summer sky, fell upon the words of delight, and instantly Quinton was forgotten, Quinton, and all its familiar worries and small pleasures. Janet of the Dunes was Juliet of Italy.
A crunching of gravel upon the driveway startled the girl cruelly. "I believe I have a key, Saxton," said a deep, firm voice; "yes: here it is, I can let myself in. Drive back to the station and wait for the baggage train. See that everything is carefully loaded on the wagon from the livery. You can get me a bite when you return. Stop at the Corners and bring back enough food for to-night; to-morrow we'll set up housekeeping. I'll make myself comfortable. And oh! Saxton!"
"Stop at the post office and ask for mail."
Janet's blood rose hotly.
"Caught!" she whispered; then she smiled feebly. She could not see the speaker; he was at the front of the house. She heard the wheels outside turn and go rapidly away. A grating of the lock of the long unopened front door sounded next: then a rapid stride brought the stranger to the library!
"Rather a quiet welcome home!" The man, believing himself alone, spoke aloud and laughed unconcernedly.
"There's always a feeling of companionship in books. Everything looks in good condition." He gave a comprehensive glance around the room.
This was no stranger, but the master of Bluff Head!
When Janet was six she had last seen this man, and he had changed less since then than had she. From her shelter she eyed him as he flung travelling coat, hat, and dress-suit case upon a divan and himself in a deep leather chair. He was tall, handsome, and elegant. The iron gray head pressing the chair-back was one to draw the second glance from a stranger as a matter of course. The clear, blue-gray eyes took in the walls lined with books. The white hands, clasped in front of the broad chest, showed nerve force and strength.
Janet, trapped and desperate, first contemplated a leap from the open window, but that method of exit was discarded upon second thought. It would definitely end all further expectation of reaching the world of books! While there was hope in other directions, she must choose more sanely. She ventured a cough. So slight a sound in that silence might well have shaken the strongest nerves. The man in the chair, however, did not move, but his eyes fell instantly upon the alcove. The parted curtains, now that the girl raised herself forward, gave a full view of the slight form and vivid face. The calm eyes from the chair wavered an instant and the nostrils twitched; then the man laughed carelessly.
"Won't you come out and be friendly?" he said.
"Thank you." Janet came forth, book in hand, with eyes full of amusement. There was an awkward pause while the man gazed steadily at her. Then Janet spoke.
"I, I suppose you've come now, to stay?" It sounded brusque and unmannerly, but it was the only remark that occurred to her.
"I had thought of making rather a stay,"—the eyes rested upon the bright face,—"however, possession is nine-tenths of the law. If you say the word I'll skedaddle!"
"Oh!" panted Janet, "I pray you pardon me!" The sentence sounded Shakespearean in the gathering confusion. "I only thought—do you not see? I suppose you are Mr. Devant and I knew you would end—end—"
"What, pray? I'm not uncompromisingly final. I've been known to let things run on."
"Why, you see, I've been in the habit for years of crawling in your cellar window, coming up here and—reading your books! I began it when I was a very little girl; it's come to be a kind of habit."
The man laughed with keen relish.
"You quite flatter me, Miss—Miss—?" he paused.
"Oh! Janet. Janet of the Dunes, you know, Cap'n Billy's Janet. You may not remember me, but I saw you once, years and years ago. I was at the Light, David's Light; you came visiting there. I called you Mr. Government!"
"Miss Janet, do take a seat! Permit me!" He arose and with courtly grace placed a chair for his companion. "I recall you perfectly. The mistake you made in my name came to be a joke and byword after I went home. You saw me snooping around the Light and thought I was the Government, inspecting Captain David's domain. It all comes to me quite clearly. I remember, you put your back against a certain closet and intimated in no doubtful language that it was private property. You were a bewitching small child, Miss Janet, if you will pardon an old man's freedom of speech. I am delighted to renew our acquaintance." Janet flushed. "I presume, counting upon your memory of my inspection of the lighthouse, you felt free to inspect my house. Are the books to your taste, Miss Janet?"
"They have been my greatest joy in all these years." A serious tone and a sudden moisture of the blue eyes touched the man. He spoke in a sincerer manner, looking more sharply at the glowing face.
"You are a book-lover by nature, I see."
"Yes, I never see a book but I feel as I do when I stand by the sea on a foggy morning. I can see nothing, but I know that everything lies hidden in the fog. I wonder what kind of a day lies there, and what the day bears. So it is with a book, I open the covers,—and the fog slowly melts away!"
"Yes." A smell of the sea stole into the open window and the man took a long breath. "You have read wisely, I hope?" he said.
"I began with the pictures. Then I spelled out the words in the books on the bottom shelf; I've worked my way up. I'm on the fifth shelf by the door now. I do not seem to be able to get any further than this—" She passed the book to him. "I've been at this book three whole months! I sort of hoped—please forgive me, but I sort of hoped—I might get to the sixth shelf before you came back!"
"Shakespeare!" mused the master of Bluff Head, "and he's held you three months, Miss Janet, after you've waded through heaven only knows what?"
"Yes: he makes me forget everything. I cannot explain, only he sings to me, and he talks to me, and he makes me a hundred people all in one."
"Miss Janet, heaven forbid! that a mere master of Bluff Head should close the gates to this Genius' Eden to such a lover as you! Allow me." He handed out the key that had given him entrance to his home. "Permit me to give you royal freedom to what, surely, is more yours than mine. A cellar window has been honored enough; the doorway is not wide enough for so true a worshipper."
"I do not understand you! I fear you are laughing at me."
"Heaven save us! No, my child, I mean simply this. Come at your own sweet will and read to your heart's content. If you will graciously permit me, I most gladly will wander with you through these—" He waved his hand toward the shelves. "I may be able to point out some new pleasure-paths; I am certain you can make me love old ones better. If I am absent from Bluff Head, I will leave orders that you are to be undisturbed while you honor this room! I trust my old friend of the Light is well?"
"Yes. But, oh! how can I thank you?"
"By returning, my dear child! There I hear Saxton, how the time has flown!" He arose and Janet slipped to her feet, and passed from the room. Devant called after her.
"Good bye, for the present, Janet of the Dunes!" For a moment the girl paused.
"Good bye, Mr. Government!" she replied, and was gone, leaving a trailing ripple of laughter as a memory of the strange meeting.
"Janet, where you goin'?"
"Over to the Hills, Susan Jane."
"Everythin' rid up?"
"I never felt my powerlessness so much as I have since you come."
"I'm sorry, Susan Jane. It must be hard to see others active, if one is tied as you are. Try not to look at me."
"Not look at you? Huh! Gals need watchin'. I know it would suit more'n you, like as not, if I'd been struck blind as well as helpless. But I ain't blind. I see all that's goin', an' more, too!" Janet sighed. The atmosphere of the Light, below stairs, was depressing.
"What's Mark Tapkins hangin' round fur?"
"It was his turn at the Light last night, Susan Jane."
"Land sake! I know that. Didn't I hear David snorin' fit t' bust, till mornin'? But Mark didn't use t' lap his turn clear on t' the next forenoon. Janet, do you know what I think?"
"No, Susan Jane."
"I think Mark Tapkins is shinin' up t' you!"
"Do you, Susan Jane?" Janet was struggling with her hair.
"Yes, I do. An' I feel it's my place t' tell you that it ain't a bad chance fur you. Mark's a steady, slow fellow, but he ain't lackin'. You're dreadful giddy an' don't take t' house ways. Mark's father is the best housekeeper I know on. He's sort of daft; but all the sense he has left is gone t' cookin' an' managin' a house. He ain't old an' the soft-headed kind last longer than keener folks: it would fit int' your ways right proper. Mrs. Jo G.'s girl couldn't stand it. She is so brisk an' contrivin', an' Mrs. Jo G., being right here on hand, has hopes of workin' Maud Grace off on some boarder; but you ain't got nobody t' pilot you, Janet, an' you're queer an' unlikely, 'cept in looks, an' some doubts the worth of them! As long as Mark is leanin' toward you, I think it my duty to head you toward him."
"Thank you, Susan Jane, but I'll pilot myself, please." The girl's face showed an angry flush. "Shall I open the Bible for you before I go?"
"Yes; you know the place?"
"It falls open to the page, Susan Jane."
"Thank you. An' please put the money box where I can see it. Was it one or two weeks you paid fur?"
"Two, Susan Jane. Now I must be off. Tell David not to wait dinner."
"Wait dinner!" sniffed Susan Jane; "well, listen t' them airs! Wait dinner! I'd like t' see any one, boarder or saucy jade, as would make me wait dinner!" Janet had fled before the rising storm.
"There she goes, sails set an' full rigged, an' Mark Tapkins followin' on ahind like a little, lopsided tug after an ocean steamer!"
Poor helpless Susan Jane looked after the two, all her irritable, action-checked misery breaking through her eyes.
"Lord!" she moaned, "I don't want t' live; an' yet fur all I know, this may be better'n nothin'! I don't want t' be nothin'! Jest lookin' on is better than that!"
Janet, striding along the wood-path beyond the Light, heard the shambling steps behind her. She turned and saw Mark. He was tall and lank. He leaned forward from the shoulders loosely, and his face had the patient, dull expression of a faithful, but none too fine breed, dog.
"Where are you going, Mark?" The girl turned.
"'Long o' you, Janet. I've—I've got t' say somethin'!"
"Oh! please don't, Mark. I've been hearing things since sun-up, and you've been in the Light all night. You are in no condition to say things."
"Yes: I be, too, Janet. I always feel keener after a night awake. Since I've sot up in the Light I've been considerable spryer, or maybe it's you!"
Janet heaved a sigh. "Mark," she pleaded, "there isn't an earthly thing you can say that I want to hear this morning. I'm going to the Hills on business, and I must be as calm as I can!"
"It's them Hills, as has made me come t' the p'int. Them Hills is bristlin' with city folks, men an' women! I've heard what you're aimin' at. Goin' up t' the Hills t' get a job of some sort! Yer innercint, an' yer a gal, Janet, an' I'm a man an' I've spent six months in the city an' I know its ways, an' I know men! Yer too good lookin', Janet, t' mix up with what's on the Hills."
The mixture of foolishness and wisdom, the effort to protect in man-fashion what was weak, moved Janet strangely.
"Mark," she faltered, "you need not be afraid. I know I do not understand, and that helps. If I thought I did, there might be danger. It's just the same as if I were James B. going up there to peddle—well—clams! You need not fear a bit more for me than for him."
Mark gazed stupidly at the glowing face.
"I guess I must love you!" he said at last. "Things come kinder slow t' me. I was allus one t' drift 'long with the tide; but when I plump int' a rock I get some jarred, same as others. I went t' the city that time t' see if I could get my bearin's at a distance; but when I come back I sorter lost the channel an' took agin t' driftin'. But this here Hills business has livened me up considerable. Did you ever think what I left Pa fur an' went t' the city, Janet?"
"I thought you wanted to see the world, Mark."
"Well, I didn't. Quinton is world 'nough fur me. I went t' see if I could git, off there alone, a proper sense of jest what I did want. I wanted t' choose a course fur myself, independent of Pa, but save us! I hankered arter Pa so, an' I came nigh t' perishin' fur his cookin'. I come nigher, though, t' perishin' frum tryin' t' get somethin' like it once, while I was away!" A gleam of thin humor crossed the dull face.
"What was that?" Janet asked, thankful for any side path that led away from the danger point.
"Crullers!" Mark laughed a rattling, unmirthful laugh. "Crullers. I got thinkin' of Pa's one day; an' I went to a pasty shop an' I says, 'Have you got crullers?' The gal behind the counter says, 'Yes: how many?' I, recallin' Pa's, an' feelin' weak in the pit of my stomach frum hunger, I answered back, 'Three dozen!' The gal leaped back a step; then she hauled out a bag 'bout the size of a bushel an' begins shovellin' in round, humpy things, most all hole in the centre but considerable sizable as t' girth. I was up t' city ways by then, an' I warn't goin' t' show any surprise if she'd loaded an ister boat full of cakes on me. So I paid up 'thout a word an' went out of the shop shoulderin' the bag. It took me 'bout a week t' get rid of them crullers," groaned Mark; "an' I've told Pa since I come back, that he better learn to make city crullers fur the city trade this summer. Countin' holes an' puffy air, they pay better than Pa's solid little cakes."
Janet was laughing merrily.
"Why, Mark!" she said presently, "you've got an idea. Tell your father to make his crullers for the city trade. He'll make his fortune. Put a sign on your gate and teach the boarders what crullers really are!"
Mark was not heeding.
"I vum!" he went on presently, "while I was down t' the city, what with poor food an' not 'nough of it, an' homesickness fit t' kill, I thought I seed my course clear. I had a job openin' isters; an' I worked, I kin tell you! 'Bout all the city folks eat isters an' I seed a good bit of life down at my shop, an' I learned city ways an' badness! Then I got sick an' come home, thinkin' I was ready t' settle down, an' then I got t' driftin' an' so it went till now. An' when I heerd 'bout you goin' up t' the Hills an' knowin' what I do 'bout city ways, I just reasoned out that I must love you, else I wouldn't mind so much. I ain't no great shucks, but I can watch you, an' no one sha'n't harm you; an' Pa's more'n willin' t' see t' the house, an' cook, no matter who comes in as my wife; an' you kin run wild, an' no one will have the right t' hinder, an' I'll stand off an' watch, an' that's somethin'!"
"Oh, Mark, please, please don't!" The poor fellow's dumb effort to protect her was an added heartache to carry to the Hills. "You must not, Mark, dear. You don't want a woman to watch; you want one to watch with you, one whom you love and who loves you. Put that sign out for crullers, Mark, I know you can make money, and some day a good, helpful girl will come your way."
"No, Janet,"—Mark's patient voice sank drearily,—"if you won't let me watch over you, I'll watch without yer leave. I won't bother you none, but I thank God I've got city ways t' meet city ways! I'm plum 'shamed of the way our gals is actin' with the boarders. I'm a good watcher, Janet!"
They had come to the dividing of the ways.
"Can't I go on, Janet?"
"No, Mark, you must go home and sleep!"
"Good bye, Janet, till t'-morrer!"
"Good bye, Mark!" She watched the slouching figure out of sight.
"With all my watchers," she faltered, "I feel like a ship riding near the bar, with the crew's eyes upon it!" And then she went, less courageously, on the upward way.
The path ran up hill and down dale, with always a steady rise. The water of the bay lay blue and smiling roundabout the Hills: the scrub oak, the blueberries, the luxuriant wild rose, and variegated grasses made color so exquisite and rare, that the only wonder was that the Hills were not crowded with adoring Nature-worshippers. The never-ceasing breeze came caressingly over the flower-strewn stretches. Nothing stayed its course, and there was health-giving tonic in its breath.
Beyond, where Brown Brother raised its superior height, the artist colony had pitched its tents. Toward that settlement, with her daring request, Janet walked. As she neared it, her brave heart grew weak and weaker. How was she to word her proposition? What was she to offer in return for instruction that was to help her to fame and fortune? She feared every moment that she might meet a little wagon drawn by a sunbonneted, long-aproned woman, or a man not less picturesque. She sat down to consider; then, to make thought easier, she lay at full length, closing her eyes and dreaming luxuriously. The summer day lured her senses deliciously. Even the late experience with Mark was mellowed by the present delight. The memory of the recent encounter with the master of Bluff Head stirred her pulses to a quicker time. Ah, life was glorious! Life was full, in spite of all. It was like the sea in a fog or an unopened book. She had only to wait and smile and love, and life would expand into a perfect day.
Something drew the girl to a sitting posture; a nameless fear was upon her. She glanced around, and near her, upon a knoll, sat a man, a young man! No little wagon put its seal upon his calling, but the broad hat, set well back from the handsome face, had a distant but fatal mark of the artist colony upon it. The stranger had a board firmly placed upon his knees, and even as he gazed at Janet with a devouring intensity he was working rapidly with a long, slim brush.
"What are you doing?" The question was torn from the girl without reason or forethought.
"Painting a picture!" The voice was solemn, almost to absurdity.
"A picture of what?" Outraged imagination arose to the fore.
"The Spirit of the Dunes. Keep still a minute; then I'll let you see it if you want to."
"Yes: I do want to." Dignity of a new order was born within Janet at that instant.
This probably was a lesser being than the wagon-loaded geniuses. Their work was not unknown to the girl nor had it escaped her scorn. If this meaner devotee of art had mangled her into a hideous likeness of herself, she would resent it, and with reason. Slowly she arose and went up behind the man. What she saw stayed anger and all other emotions save wonder. Surely the Hills, with all their real color and outline, were ensnared upon that square of paper! Never was there a truer reflection of the bay. Janet could almost feel the breeze that swayed the scrub oaks and wild roses in the picture. But that marvel was the least. Who, what was that in the soft dimple of the little hill? A being of grace, of beauty, and of a wildness that was part of the Hills and wind!
In the final estimate of any picture two artists must bear part, the one who has wrought and the one who appreciates! These two looked now upon the exquisite sketch.
"How do you like it?" The man did not turn or raise his eyes, but his voice brought the quick color to the smooth, brown cheeks.
"Do—do—I look like that?"
"As near as mere man can reproduce you. If I had a magic brush and heaven's own paint pots, I believe I could have done better. I wish you had stayed a half hour longer, but thank God, I've at least caught a hint of you!"
"I—look—like—that!" Amazement thrilled through and through the low voice.
"You—look—like—that! And I am grateful for the best criticism I could ask. What's the matter? What in thunder is the matter?"
For Janet had sunk down beside him, hid her head in her folded arms, and was sobbing as if her heart would break.
"What—in—I say! Miss—Miss—What shall I call you? For heaven's sake, tell me what I've done?"
"Oh! you've dashed every bit of hope I had to—to earn money—and—and fame—for Cap'n Daddy and me!"
The young artist laid his sketch tenderly aside to dry. It was too precious to endanger, even in this disturbed moment. Once it was safe, he stood his full height of six feet two, put his hands in his jacket pockets, looked down upon the heaving body of the Spirit of the Dunes, and said firmly:
"You've got to explain yourself, you know. I don't want to use force, but really you must look me in the face and try to make me understand."
Janet lowered her hands at once and gazed upward with her eyes full of distress and apology.
"I do not know what you will think of me! I'm ashamed, indeed I am. But, well, you cannot understand. I never minded so much when I saw the things—the others did! Their pictures didn't look like anything real—anything like our dunes and the Hills, and I thought I could learn, at least, to do such pictures as theirs, and get money! But you've shown me—another kind! I can never, never learn to make such pictures as that!" Her sorrowful gaze fell upon the sketch, drying near by. "And, you—you seem to be taking something away from us. Something that is ours, not yours at all! What right have you to take the Hills—and me, without paying well for the privilege?"
During this harangue the man had stood motionless, gazing in growing astonishment upon the radiant uplifted face which was swept by passion's clouds, as the June sky was swept by softer ones.
"By Jove!" he muttered at last; and a smile broke upon his handsome, browned face. "You Quintonites make us pay well for all we get. You swoop down upon us like a cloud of vultures, or witnesses; but it's driving the bargain pretty hard, when you set a price upon what we see in it all, and what heaven meant should be free. As for you—" he paused, and threw himself full length upon the sand and laughed good humoredly, "I beg your pardon. I really had no right to put you in the picture without your permission. I thought, as true as heaven hears me, that you were like—well, the other girls of the place, and they coax to have themselves 'taken' as they call it. Now that I hear you speak, I see that you are different, and I beg your pardon, 'pon my word, I do. And what's more, the sketch is yours, unless you give me the right to keep it. I'm afraid I cannot make you understand my position, but the temptation to put you in the picture was too much for mortal painter-man!"
Janet's face cleared slowly.
"If you mean I'm different from the other girls, because I speak differently," she said slowly, "I can tell you that it is simply because I've listened and read more. I hate to use words badly, when they sound so much better right. I practise, but I'm just a Quinton girl."
"Oh! I see. You have higher aspirations? That is why you wanted to learn to paint?"
"No! At least, that isn't the real reason. I want money!"
There was mockery and a new pleasure in the man's voice now. He was open to revelation in regard to Quinton characteristics, and he sensed an original type before him.
"You to tell me in this brutally frank manner that you want money! You with that face!"
A flush tinged the bronze of Janet's cheeks again.
"Yes: I want money!" she said defiantly. "Some get it by waiting on table. Some feed you and wash for you. I cannot do those things, I just cannot!"
"But there must be some way?"
The frank, almost boyish tone disarmed the listener. His smile fled and when he spoke the mockery had departed. His better nature rose to meet the blind need in the girl's desire, and his artistic sense guided him to a possible path.
"I wish you would give me some name to call you by," he said. "You have mentioned Cap'n Daddy, am I to understand that your name is—is—"
"My Captain's name is Morgan: I'm Janet."
"Thank you, Miss Janet. I haven't a card, but Mr. Richard Thornly presents his compliments."
The humor of the situation began to dawn upon the girl.
"We are all captains down here," she explained, "we each have our captain. Mine is over at the Station on the beach. I'm staying just now with Captain David at the Light, while I'm looking for something to do."
"Miss Janet, I have a business proposition!" Thornly folded his arms. "I've had an inspiration. During the three-quarters of an hour that you lay upon the sands, I saw you, not only as I saw you then and caught you, but I saw you flitting through several pictures. I even named the pictures, Spirit of the Dunes. I advise you for your own good, Miss Janet, do not struggle to learn to make daubs! It never pays. It's hard enough to make the best go. But you can help me, and together we'll create some pictures that will set the town gaping. What do you say?"
"I do not understand."
"Well, sit for me; be my model! Let me put you in my pictures. I'll pay you well, and if I sell the pictures, you'll have a kind of fame to offer your Cap'n Daddy that no girl need be ashamed of. Have you caught my meaning?"
"You mean, if I sit here upon the Hills—"
"Sit, stand, or lie among them," Thornly explained.
"You'll paint me, and pay me, and then take your pictures to the city and sell them?"
"Try to," Thornly laughed easily. "I'm one of the few fortunate devils who has sold a picture or two. My hopes for the future are good."
"I'll do it!" cried Janet. "It's about the easiest way to get the boarders' money I've heard of yet!" The laugh that rang out made Thornly stare.
"I did not know any one could laugh in quite that way," he said. "It sounded—well, it sounded like part of the air and place. Miss Janet,"—he spoke slower, feeling his way as he went,—"I'm going to ask you to keep this business arrangement private. The other artists would be quick enough to filch my prize if they could."
"No one else shall paint me," Janet assured him. "If I see a little wagon, I'll pull down my bonnet."
"Thank you. And those on your side, too, Miss Janet! Your Cap'n Daddy, and that Captain of the Light, I'd like to surprise them by and by. Is it a go?"
"Oh! yes!" The frank innocence in the girl's face again stirred Thornly. "It's a go, if my watchers do not interfere."
"Yes. I'm considered rather a—well, something like a ship that's likely to be wrecked. I don't know why folks are always thinking I may go on the bar, but they do. And several of them have an eye on me. I can almost feel Daddy's eye way over from the Station; and there's Davy! I shouldn't wonder now, if he were looking at me as he hauls the oil up to the lamp; and Susan Jane, chair-ridden as she is, has eyes that go out like a devilfish's feelers; and then there is Mark Tapkins! I'm afraid you'll have trouble with Mark's eyes!"
Thornly was laughing uproariously. "You open a vista of human possibilities that makes me about crazy," he said. "Your associates must all be Arguses; but I like not Mark! Just where does Tapkins come in?"
"'Most everywhere!" Janet joined in the care-free laugh. She felt perfectly at her ease with this stranger now. Born and reared where equality and good-fellowship existed, she knew no need of caution. To dislike a person was the only ground for suspicion. To like him was an open sesame to heart and confidence. And Janet liked the stranger immensely.
"Mark comes in 'most everywhere," she repeated. "You'll have to look out for Mark."
"He loves you, I suppose?" Thornly forbore to laugh, and he searched the frank face near him.
"Now whatever made you guess that? He is not quite sure himself. He's never sure of anything, and I never suspected it until lately—you're rather keen."
"Well, we'll escape Tapkins's eagle eye. Forewarned is forearmed. Now see here, partner, can you blow this whistle?" Thornly took a small golden watch charm from his fob. It seemed a toy, but when Janet placed it to her lips and blew, it emitted a shrill, far-reaching call that startled her.
"I'll prowl in these parts every day, when it doesn't pour cats and dogs," Thornly explained; "and when you can escape the watch,—come to the Hills, blow the whistle and presto! change! I'll be on the scene before you can count twenty. Miss Janet, fame and fortune yawn before us—actually yawn. And now may I keep this?"
He picked up the sketch and came close to the girl, his shoulder touching hers, as they looked at the picture together. "Yes!" Janet said softly, the beauty of the thing holding her anew, "yes! You've made them your very own, the Hills, and me, and the sky and the water! It's very wonderful. I never saw anything like it. If you only forget, it is easy to imagine that this is a reflection!"
"Thank you!" Thornly moved away. "Thank you! That's about the greatest praise I've ever had. This is only a water sketch, too; wait until you've seen it in oil! I've a shanty over there—" he pointed below them, where a hollow, opening toward the bay, held a tiny building in its almost secret shelter, "I'm generally there, when I'm not tramping the open. Would you, eh—well, would you mind letting me pose you there some day?"
"Oh, no!" Janet beamed delightedly, "I'd love to see the inside of your shanty. I dare say it's enchanted, and besides,"—she showed her white teeth deliciously,—"I do not believe Mark could watch me there!"
She rose and picked up her sunbonnet. "The sun has passed noon," she said ruefully, "and I've a good three miles to walk. Good bye, Mr. Thornly, it's been a wonderful morning." She started rapidly down the hill. Thornly waved to her as she went, until a friendly hillock hid her.
"Well, my boy! To think of you drifting down here. Have a cigar, and put your feet on the railing. I tell you, you may travel the world over, and there isn't an easier posture known, than the Yankee one of 'feet higher than head.'"
John Devant and Richard Thornly sat upon the wide veranda of Bluff Head; and Thornly, being thus given the freedom of Yankee position, planted his feet upon the high railing, tipped back his broad-armed chair, and inhaled the smoke of his host's good cigar.
"You've caught the language of the place already I see, Mr. Devant. Had we met anywhere else, another word would have done; 'drifting' applies here. No one 'runs down' to Quinton, or 'happens' down; one just naturally 'drifts.' It's a great place."
"You like it, eh?" Mr. Devant let his eyes rove over the wealth of color and wildness, and puffed enjoyably.
"It's immense! Strange, isn't it, how a place can lie slumbering for generations, right at our doors, and no one has sense enough to look at it? And after all, it is while it is sleeping, or beginning to stir, that it charms. Two years from now, when the rabble get onto the racket, the glory will be gone. Think of picnics on the Hills! Imagine a crowd rushing for the dunes, and the bay thick with sails! No! Let's make the best of it while we may."
Mr. Devant laughed. "I'll give it five or ten years," he said. "My grandfather had a vision of its future prosperity. He bought acres here for a mere song. He built this house, hoping the family would find it comfortable for the summers. My father liked it so well that he settled the library and general fixtures for a home, living winters at a hotel in town. But the old place was too lonely for me in the past. I'm just beginning to have visions, like my forebears. I'm sick of travel. Town life ought never to charm a natural animal except during the months of bad weather. My boy, I believe I'll settle down at fifty and take to land speculation! I'll buy up round here, keep the grip of the rabble off, and preserve this spot for the—pure in heart and them who have clean, hands!"
"'T would be a missionary work," Thornly rejoined lightly.
"Who turned your eyes hitherward, Dick?"
"Why, John Mason. He saw Chatterton's famous picture and came down and discovered this garden spot. Poor old Mason! With his money pots and his struggling love for beauty and simplicity, he is sore distressed. He wanted to build a cabin on the dunes and live here summers, but Madam and the girls almost had hysterics. They have just built a gingerbread affair at Magnolia, and so Mason added a den to the structure. A huge room overlooking the sea! It has space left on the wall for a big picture, and Mason gave me an order. 'Go down to that heaven-preserved spot,' he said, 'get the spirit of the place, and put it in my den. I don't mind the price. Stay down all summer, but get it!'"
"Do you think you can?" asked Devant. Thornly's gaze contracted.
"I think I have," he replied, slowly flicking the ashes that had accumulated upon his cigar.
"Good! That means more glory. In this sordid age, and with an uncomprehending public, you've had rare fortune in getting rid of your work, Dick. Your pictures are sellers, I hear. How proud your father would have been! My old friend was one of the few men I have known who set a price upon genius above money."
"Yes: I wish father and mother could have known. It's often a bit lonely."
"But there is Katharine. At least, I suppose, there is still Katharine?"
"Yes," slowly, "there is still Katharine; and our relations are the same. She's watching my stunts in art."
"She's proud of you?"
"She's proud of my success." Thornly smiled. "There's a difference, you know."
"Oh! yes. But Katharine is young. I'd like to see the child again. Is she as pretty as her childhood promised?"
"She is very handsome."
"Full of life and dimples?"
"Oh! she's giddy enough. Superb health, and undiminished scent for pleasure! Katharine is an undoubted success."
"I must have her down. My sister is coming at the month's end. I'll write to Katharine to-night and plead my friendship for her parents. Where is she? And I'll tell her you're here."
"She's at South End, with the Prescotts."
For some moments the older and the younger man smoked in silence. The sun set in due time and Captain David's Light appeared.
"What a living thing a lighthouse is!" said Thornly; "that and an open fire have the same vital, human interest."
"I believe you are right. When I find myself bad company, I always have a fire built if the temperature is below seventy. Since I came here I've taken to this side of the veranda, late afternoons, and I grow quite chummy with Cap'n Davy's Light."
Mr. Devant got up, stretched himself and took to pacing the piazza slowly.
"You know David of the Light?" asked Thornly.
"As a boy I knew the characters roundabout here, somewhat. I'm trying to reinstate myself in their good graces. This place produces strange and unexpected types."
"Yes, I found a pimpernel flower on the Hills to-day," said Thornly irrelevantly. "Even the flora is startling."
"You found what?"
"A pimpernel. It's a common wild flower in some sandy places, but a strange enough little rascal to be seen just here. It's called the poor man's weather glass. Where it grows most common, it is not especially noticeable; but it almost took my breath this morning. It's in keeping with the surprises of the surroundings."
"Well," he said presently, "it must be a relation, same family, you know, of a pimpernel of a girl I've discovered here."
Thornly again contracted his brows.
"Solitary flower? Shutting up at approach of storm, and all the rest?" he asked.
"Solitary flower, all right," Devant rejoined. "I'm not up on plant-ology, but I've studied humans, off and on, and I cannot account for this one. I don't know whether, in my position as friend to you, I should bring this odd specimen to your notice, but I'd like to have you, as an artist, pass judgment upon her beauty."
"I might have the storm's effect upon this pimpernel of yours," Thornly put in, "make her hide within herself."
"I fancy storms would not daunt her. I don't know but that she would rather enjoy them."
Thornly yawned secretly.
"Handsome, is she?"
"Not only that," said Devant, "I suppose she is wonderfully handsome. She has grace, too, and a figure, I should say, about perfect. But it is her mental make-up that staggers me. She talks in one way and thinks in another. She clings to her g's, too, in spite of local tradition. She hasn't a passing acquaintance with 'ain't,' or the more criminal 'hain't.' Her English is good, she reads like a starved soul, for the pure pleasure of it; and she thinks like a child of ten. By Jove! she was here in my library, the day I arrived. She had a secret method of getting into the house by a cellar window,—had done it for years. She almost froze my blood when I saw her. I thought I'd struck a ghost for certain. She was reading Shakespeare! Said she hadn't been able to get beyond him for three months. She began to read when she was little, at the bottom shelf, and has worked her way up to the fifth. And yet with all that, she's a simple child, Dick. Smollett and Fielding and heaven knows who else are on the third shelf!"
"Lord!" cried Thornly, and laughed loudly; "who is this pimpernel?"
"Janet of the Dunes. Cap'n Billy's girl! Been brought up like a wild thing! Sails a boat like an old tar! Swims like a fish! Motherless—old Billy, a poor shote, according to the gossip! The women have a sort of pitying contempt for him; the men keep their mouths shut, but you can fancy the training of this girl. I'm always interested in heredity and I'd like to know the girl's mother. Something ought to account for my pimpernel." Thornly was rising.
"I'll try to account for my flower, Mr. Devant," he said. "I dare say some untoward wind bore it from its original environment; it may be that the same reasons exist in the case of this flower of yours. Good night!"
"Stay to late dinner, Dick! You know you don't want to go back to a dish of prunes and soggy cake. Better stay."
"No. Thank you, just the same. I'm going to bunk out in my shanty to-night. I've got a chafing dish there. The prunes were undermining my constitution. Good night!"
Devant watched him until the shrubbery hid him.
"I'll get Katharine down as soon as I can," he mused; "and for his father's sake, as well as his own, I'll try to keep him and the pimpernel apart until then. His engagement to Katharine is a safe anchor."
But while Davy's Light shone friendly-wise upon Bluff Head, it also did its duty by a lonely little mariner putting off from Davy's dock.
It had been a hard day for Janet. Susan Jane, with almost occult power, had seemed to divine the girl's longing to get away.
"Boarder or no boarder!" the helpless woman had snarled, "I reckon you've got somethin' human 'bout you. If you can't stop an' do fur me, I'll call David. I've had a bad night an' I ain't goin' t' be left t' myself. There's stirrin' doin's goin' on; but no one comes here t' gossip."
"I'll stay," Janet had sighed, remembering David's worn, patient face when he staggered toward the bedroom an hour before. "But I cannot gossip, Susan Jane, I don't know how; and all the other folks are busy cooking, feeding, washing for, and waiting on the boarders. City folks come high, Susan Jane."
"Well, if you can't gossip, Janet, there is them as can. Thank God! when He took the use of my legs an' arms, He strengthened my eyes an' ears. I can see an' hear considerable, though there is them who would deny me that comfort if they could. What ails you an' Mark Tapkins?"
"Nothing, Susan Jane."
"Yes, there be, too. He's more womble-cropped than ever. They say his Pa is makin' a mint of money sellin' them crullers of his'n. Who would have thought of Mark's bein' smart enough to set his Pa on that tack? The way these city folks eat anythin' that is give them is scandalous. They must have crops like yaller ducks. Have you heard 'bout Mrs. Jo G.'s Maud Grace?"
"No, Susan Jane." Janet stirred the cake she was making by Susan's recipe energetically.
"You're deef as a bulkhead, Janet! I bet you're envious."
"Envious, Susan Jane, envious of Maud Grace?"
"Oh! you have had yer eyes open, eh?"
"You just asked me about her, Susan Jane."
"Did I? Well, it's simply amazin' how Mrs. Jo G. is developin' a business talent. Actually keepin' her girl dressed up t' entertain the boarders, evenin's! She's got some one t' help wait in the dinin' room, an' she cooks. Jo G. sails the boarders, when they pay him enough, an' that girl just sparks around an' acts real entertainin', evenin's. I shouldn't wonder, with such a smart ma, if she caught a beau. I do wish, Janet, since you ain't got no one but Billy,—an' every one knows he's got 'bout as much gumption as a snipe,—I do wish you could land one of these boarders. They must be real easy from what I hear."
"I don't want them!"
"Course you don't! An' you don't want t' work fur your livin', an' Mark ain't good enough fur you. You'd better look out, Janet, I tell you fur your good, it ain't safe fur you t' trust yer leanin's too far."
So the day had passed. The afternoon had brought Mark Tapkins with his gloomy face, too, so Janet had been obliged to give the Hills a wide berth and only darkness brought relief.
Susan Jane was bewailing her woes in David's patient ears,—it was Mark's night in the Light,—so, unseen and unsuspected, Janet loosed the Comrade, unfurled the white wing before the obliging land breeze, and made for the Station.
It was a glorious summer night; full moon, full tide, and a steady west wind heavy with the odor of the Hills.
As the little boat darted ahead, Janet's spirits rose as poor David's did, when once he parted company with the burden of Susan Jane's peevish egotism. She looked back at the Light and thought, with a little sigh of weariness, that she was free from the watchfulness of the three within its walls.
"Only the Light has an eye upon me! Kind, good Light! Cap'n Daddy and I do not need you to-night, but, come storm, then God bless you!"
It was not the girl's intention to run up to the Station dock. She knew that Cap'n Billy had the midnight patrol, going east; so she planned to make for the little cove, midway between the Station and the halfway house, and take Billy by surprise and assault.
She chuckled delightedly as she constructed her mode of attack. She was hungry to feel the comfort of Billy's understanding love and trust. The more she had to conceal from Billy, the more she yearned to be near him.
The Comrade, responding to the steady hand upon the tiller, shot into the cove. The girl secured the boat and ran lightly over the dunes to the seaward side; then she lay down among the sand grasses and waited.
She seemed alone in God's world. The moon-lighted ocean spread full and throbbing before her. The sky, star-filled and blue-black, arched in unbroken splendor. The waste and solitude held no awe for this girl of the Station. They had been her heritage and were natural and homelike to her. Under summer skies and through winter's storms she knew the coast's every phase of beauty or danger. It was hers, and she belonged to it. A common love held them together. She crouched close to the sandy hillock. The night was growing old, the tide had turned, and still she sat absorbed in thought and tender memory. How beautiful the world and life were! She took from her bosom the tiny whistle, which had been for five long, delicious weeks her power of summoning unlimited joy to herself. What a new element had entered into her existence! How powerful and self-sufficient she felt as she recalled her part in those wonderful pictures that were growing day by day in the shanty on the Hills!
Her blood rose hotly in her young body, as she lived again, under the calm sky, those weeks of perfect bliss.
Suddenly the girl sat upright, put the whistle in its hiding place, and strained her eyes toward the Station.
Yes: there came Billy! He was striding along; head bowed, except when conscientiously he gazed seaward, scanning with his far-sighted eyes the bar where danger lay, come storm or fog. But could there be danger on such a night as this?
Billy, faithful soul, had not a nature attuned to the glory of the night, but he had a soul sensitive to a brother's need. If he gave heed at all to the summer beauty, it was merely in thankfulness that all was well.
"Help! help!" Billy stopped suddenly and raised his head. "Help! help! Here's a poor, little brig on the bar!"
A smile of joy overspread the man's face, a smile that drove all care and weariness before it.
"Ye little specimint!" he called, "what ye mean by burrowin' in the sand an' scarin' one of the government officials clar out o' common sense? Come here, ye varmint!"
"My Cap'n!" The strong young arms were about the rugged neck. "You were just going to send up a Coston light, now weren't you, Daddy?"
"No. I war not! I don't waste nary a Coston on a wuthless little hulk like ye. Come on, girl, I've been takin' it easy. I ain't as young as I once was. We must make the halfway in season. 'T ain't the fust time we've took the patrol together, is it, Janet?"
He held the girl's hand in his, and she accommodated her step as nearly as possible to his long, swinging gait.
"Kinder homesick?" he asked presently.
"Kind of you-sick! I wanted to be near you. I wanted—you," Janet whispered.
"Durned little cozzler!" chuckled Billy. "I know what yer up t'. Ain't got nothin' t' do yet, over on the mainland; just a lazy little tormint; an' ye want t' cozzen yer Cap'n Billy. Why can't ye jine the army that's plain fleecin' the city folks? They be the easiest biters, 'cordin' t' what I hear, that has ever run in t' these shoals. Reg'lar dogfish one an' all."
"Oh! I pick up a penny now and then;" Janet pursed her pretty mouth and set her head sideways. "I made enough to pay Susan Jane for last week and this. Susan's an old leech, Cap'n Billy. It's simply awful to see her greed in money matters. Sitting in her chair, she can manage to want more, strive to get more, and make more fuss about it, than any other woman on the mainland. You have to live with Susan Jane to appreciate her. Oh! poor Davy. We never really knew what a hero he is, Daddy. He's splendid!"
It had been necessary, unless Susan Jane was to receive double pay for her boarder, that Janet should inform Billy as to her money-getting; but once the fact was stated, the girl hurried to other thoughts, in order to divert Billy.
"How'd ye get yer money, Janet?" A serious look came into the man's face. "It's uncommon clever of ye t' help yerself on; if the money only comes in a God-fearin' way!"
"Cap'n Daddy!" Janet drew herself up magnificently. "Do you take me for Maud Grace?"
"No, I don't, I'm takin' ye fur my gal, an' it's my duty t' see that ye don't furgit yer trainin' over on the boarder-struck mainland! But what's wrong 'long o' Mrs. Jo G.'s gal?"
"Nothing. Except she keeps dressed up to entertain the boarders, and takes tips. That's what she calls them."
"Tips?" Billy wrinkled his brows.
"Yes. Money for doing nothing. Cap'n Daddy, I work for my money."
"Doin' what?" Billy's insistence was growing vexatious.
"Daddy, don't you ever tell!" Janet danced in front of him and walked backward as she pointed a finger merrily.
The moonlight streaming upon the girl showed her beauty in a witchlike brightness. It stirred Billy in an uneasy, anxious fashion.
"There ain't no call t' tell any one," he said, "you an' me is enough t' know. Us an' them what pays ye!"
"Cap'n Daddy; I'm—a—model!"
Janet's laugh rose above the lapping water's sound.
"Why, Daddy! Don't you think I'm a model everything?"
"No," Billy shook his head; "I ain't blind, gal, ye ain't what most folks would call a modil, I'm thinkin'!"
"Well, the artists think I am!"
"The artists? Them womin in bonnets and smutchy pinafores? Gosh!"
For a moment Janet's truth-loving soul shrank from deceiving Billy, but her promise to Thornly held her. She stopped her merry dance and came again beside him, clasping the hard hand tenderly within her own.
"What do they think ye a modil of?" asked the man, and his face had lightened visibly.
"Oh! just what their silly fancy tells them. Only don't you see, Daddy, dear, they don't want any one to know until the pictures are done. It would spoil the—the—well, I cannot explain; but they want to spring the pictures upon folks by and by."
"'Cordin' t' what Andrew Farley tells," grinned Billy, all amiability now, "no one will be likely t' know ye from a scrub oak stump when the picters is done. Andrew says when he thinks of all it costs t' paint a boat an' then sees the waste of good, honest paint up on the Hills, it turns his stummick sick. Well, long as it is innercent potterin' like that, Janet, I don't know but as yer considerable sharp t' trade yer looks fur their money. It rather goes agin the grain with me t' have ye git the best of them. But Lord! as the good book says, a fool an' his money is soon parted, an' so long as they're sufferin' t' part with theirs, I don't know but what ye have a right t' barter what cargo yer little craft carries, as well as others what have less agreeable stores on board." Janet laughed merrily.
"Mark Tapkins was on yisterday," Billy continued; "he says Bluff Head's open an' Mr. Devant an' a party is there. Must be quite gay an' altered on the mainland." Janet's face clouded.
"Cap'n Daddy," she faltered, "I'm going to tell you something else."
"Yer considerable talky, it seems t' me." Billy eyed the girl.
"Cap'n Billy, have you ever wondered why I talk better than most of the others at the Station?"
"I don't know as I would allow that ye do," Billy replied; "ye talk differenter, somewhat, but I don't know as it's better."
"Well, it is. And it isn't all the teachers' doings either, Daddy, for Maud Grace and the rest never changed much; but for years, Daddy, I've been crawling in the cellar window of Bluff Head, when no one on earth knew, and I've read five shelves of books! I've thought like those books, and talked like them, until I seem to be like them; and, Daddy, the day Mr. Devant came home, he found me in his library-room, reading his books!"
"Gawd!" ejaculated Billy, and stood stock still. "Did he fling ye out, neck and crop?" he gasped at last.
"Daddy! he's a nice old gentleman!"
"Old? He ain't dodderin' yet. An' he use t' have a bit of pepper in his nater. What did he do?"
"Do? Why, he gave me the key to his front door. He reads with me and tells me what to read. We're great friends!"
"Yer 'tarnal specimint!" Billy was shaking. "I see ye've caught the mainland fever, eh, gal? Ye don't want t' bide on the dunes 'long o' old Billy, now, eh?"
"You blessed old Cap'n!" Janet struggled to hold her prize. "I'm perfectly happy! And I had to come over here to-night and tell you."
"Janet,"—Billy's eyes were dim,—"I keep wishin' more an' more that ye had a ma. I ain't never thought openly on it fur years, not since ye was fust borned. But as ye grow int' womanhood, ye seem as helpless as ye did then. I wish ye had a ma!"
The little halfway house was in front of them. Andrew Farley, who served on the crew at the Station beyond, was in the doorway.
"What ye got in tow, Billy?" he called jovially.
"Jest a tarnal little bit of driftwood, Andy." Billy rallied his low spirits.
"Hello, Janet!" Andrew recognized her. "How comes ye kin leave the mainland? I thought every one who could, stuck there t' see the show. By gracious! Billy, ye jest oughter see how things is altered." The two men exchanged the brass checks, then, before returning to their stations, they stood chatting easily.
"Been up to the Hills lately, Janet?" The girl flushed.
"Not very," she replied. "Come on, Cap'n Daddy, I'm going to stay on and sleep in the cottage to-night."
"Them artists," Andrew continued, turning slowly in his own direction, "them artists is smudgin' up the landscape jest scandalous. One of them wanted t' paint me, the other day, an' I held off an' let her. Lord! ye should jest have seen wot she done t' my likeness! I nearly bu'st when she showed me. I ain't handsome, none never accused me of that crime, but I ain't lopsided an' lantern-jawed t' the extent she went. She said I had a loose artistic pose; them was her words, but I ain't so loose that I hang crooked."
Janet slept in the cottage on the dunes that night; and when the men rose to go through the sunrise drill, she ran down the beach, across the sand hills, and set her sail toward the mainland. She had had her breakfast in the Station with the men and, recalling her difficulty in escaping Susan Jane the day before, she headed the Comrade away from the Light and glided toward the Hills.
Mark Tapkins, turning down the wick as the sun came up, saw the white sail set away from home; and something heavier than sleep struck chilly upon his heart. He knew from past spying where Janet was going!
Janet, used as she was to the keen, sweet air of the Hills, stood, after securing her boat, and drew in deep breaths of the fragrant morning. She had taken off her shoes and stockings, for the dew lay heavy upon the ground; and these, wrapped in a fish net, were flung across her shoulder. There was a good half mile to tread before the little hut could be reached bodily, but the whistle's call, going on before, would open the gates of Paradise if Thornly were there! The girl did not put her doubt to the test just yet. There was bliss in dallying with the joy, the bliss of youth, innocence, and unalloyed faith.
Thornly might have stayed, as he generally did, at his own boarding house or at Bluff Head. Janet had learned of his intimacy there, although she had never imagined Mr. Devant's ingenuity in trying to keep them, at first, apart. If Thornly were away from the shanty, Janet knew the hiding place for the key; she could enter at will and the secrets of the treasure house were not hidden from her.
"Lock the door after you, whether you are in or out," was Thornly's command. "No one must know, until the very last!" And the girl would have cheerfully defended the place with her life. Over sandy hillocks she went gleefully. The artist in her was throbbing wildly, she had a new inspiration for Thornly's brush! She led his fancy in riotous joy. Where his genius grew slack, hers urged him to renewed effort.