* * * * *
- Transcriber's Note: Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
* * * * *
PRINCESS POLLY AT PLAY
PRINCESS POLLY AT PLAY
By AMY BROOKS
AUTHOR OF "Princess Polly," "Princess Polly's Playmates," "Princess Polly at School," "Princess Polly by the Sea," "Princess Polly's Gay Winter," etc.
A.L. BURT COMPANY Publishers New York Printed in U.S.A.
Copyright, 1915, by THE PLATT & PECK CO.
Printed in U.S.A.
I POLLY, ROSE AND GWEN 9
II WHO WAS IT 28
III LITTLE SEA NYMPHS 48
IV WHAT MAX DID 68
V WHAT MAX FOUND 87
VI THE SEA KING'S NYMPHS 106
VII A WEDDING AT CLIFFMORE 125
VIII AUNT ROSE CALLS 144
IX AT AVONDALE 163
X THE SHIP COMES IN 182
XI LITTLE PITCHERS 201
XII MAX A STOWAWAY 220
PRINCESS POLLY AT PLAY
POLLY, ROSE AND GWEN
A Summer at Cliffmore!
Princess Polly and Rose Atherton could think of little else.
It was true that Avondale was a charming place in which to live, and there were pleasant schoolmates and merry times when Winter came. There were fine lawns and beautiful flowers everywhere, but Polly and Rose loved the shore, and surely the salt air was delightful, and the beach a lovely place on which to romp. There was Captain Seaford, whose little daughter, Sprite, had spent the winter at Avondale, and a pleasant little playmate and classmate she had been.
She had returned to her home at Cliffmore, and now was counting the days when Princess Polly and Rose would arrive, and every morning she would stand in the doorway of her home on the beach, and look in the direction in which Avondale lay.
It happened one morning that at the same moment that Sprite opened the door to look out, Princess Polly and Rose were talking of her. They, too, were out in the sunshine.
"How pretty Sprite looked last Summer when she played that she was a little mermaid, and lay on the rocks looking down into the water, her long yellow hair hanging down over her shoulders," Polly said.
"And the day that she invited me over to her house," said Rose, "her dress was light green, and she wore a string of coral around her neck. I thought she looked sweet then."
"How we did enjoy her house! We never saw one like it. It was a ship's hulk, turned upside down, and divided up into rooms. Oh, but it was cosey!" Polly said.
"And it won't be long before we'll be there at the shore, playing with Sprite just as we did last Summer," said Rose.
A long time they stood talking. There were such delightful memories of Cliffmore, and so many pleasures to anticipate. There would be sailing trips on the "Dolphin," the yacht belonging to Captain Atherton, and Captain Atherton himself had hinted at some sort of merry-making that would occur at his fine home on the shore.
"Uncle John doesn't say whether it is to be a party, or what it will be, but when I asked him if it would be fine, he took me on his knee, and he said:
"'Rose, little Rose, it will be the brightest, the happiest event that I ever attended,' so I guess it will be fine, for Uncle John always means what he says," Rose concluded.
"Oh, we can't help wondering what it will be like, and just when it will be," Princess Polly said, her hands tightly clasped and her eyes bright with excitement.
"It's a lovely place to stay in, even if there wasn't a single thing planned for amusement, but when you know there'll be ever so many good times happening during the Summer, it makes us wild to start for Cliffmore."
The sound of footsteps running made them turn, just as Gwen Harcourt came racing toward them.
She was a little neighbor, so bold, so regardless of the feelings of others, so apt to tell outrageous stories, that Polly and Rose were not fond of her. She never stopped to question if she were welcome, but entered any house where the door stood open, and at once made herself quite at home, always remaining until she chose to go.
She was evidently quite excited. Her short, curling hair blew about her face, and her cheeks were red.
"What do you think?" she cried. "I've just come from that big house over there, where the people have just moved in. I couldn't tell if I'd like to know them, unless I went when I could see them, so this morning I went right up to the door, and as it wasn't locked, I opened it, and went in."
"Why, Gwen Harcourt!" Rose exclaimed.
"Well, what?" Gwen said pertly.
"S'pose I was going to wait and wonder what those people were like? I guess not. I went right straight in and looked at them, so now I know.
"The lady isn't much to look at, and she wasn't dressed up the least bit, and the baby that the nursemaid was holding was awful homely.
"Its face was red, and its hair was sort of straight and stringy, and when it cried, and that was most all the time I was there, it made a perfectly horrid face.
"There's a boy there, too, and I didn't like him very well," she continued. "He talked to me some, but he wants to do all the talking, and I don't like that. I want to talk most of the time, myself."
Polly and Rose managed not to laugh.
"Perhaps if you had been willing to listen, and let him talk more, you might have liked him better," Polly said.
"No, I wouldn't!" Gwen said, stoutly, "for what little he did say made me mad. Think how rude he was! When I told him my whole truly name was Gwendolen Armitage Harcourt, he just said:
"'H'm! Is that so? Well, my name is Jona Jonathan Ebenezer Montgomery, and that beats your name all hollow.' The lady laughed, but she said: 'Don't tease the little girl. That is not your name at all. Why not tell her what your real name is?'
"He didn't do it. He just said: 'Oh, bother!' and ran out doors. I didn't like the boy, but the big room seemed duller after he went out, so after a while I slipped out, and when I saw you two talking, I came over here. What were you talking about?"
"We were talking about the fine times we'll have at Cliffmore this Summer," Polly said, "and we can hardly wait to enjoy them."
"I'd not care to go there," Gwen said, with a toss of her head.
"Well, then," said Rose, "it's lucky you don't have to go there."
"Yes, isn't it?" Gwen said, cheerfully. "I could if I wanted to. Mamma will go wherever I wish, that is if I just act horrid enough."
"Why, what do you mean?" Polly asked, and Gwen laughed.
"You're funny girls," she said. "Don't either of you know that the way to get your own way is to scream and be just as horrid as you can until your mamma 'gives in?'"
"I'd not care to act like that," Princess Polly said, and Rose said: "Neither would I."
"Well, I want my own way, all the time and everywhere, and that's the way I get it," declared Gwen, and she danced off down the avenue, humming as cheerfully as if she had told of doing pleasant things.
"Isn't it queer'?" Rose said. "Gwen tells of being disagreeable, as if she felt proud of it."
"Mrs. Harcourt does the same thing," said Primrose Polly. "She's always telling of horrid pranks, and rude things that Gwen says, and she tells them as if she thought Gwen very smart to act so. It isn't odd that Gwen behaves so badly, for she likes to act just perfectly horrid. She says so, and if she thinks her mamma likes it, what is there to make her stop?"
"And Uncle John says, oh, I'd not tell exactly what he says, but he said only yesterday that he could not understand how any woman could let her little daughter grow up like a weed. He said Gwen was pretty to look at, but as unpleasant as a nettlebush. I'd not like anyone to say that of me," Rose said.
"Well, no one ever would say that about you," Polly said lovingly.
"Nor you," replied Rose.
Then, their arms clasping each other, they slipped down the sidewalk.
It was but a few days longer that they must wait before sailing to Cliffmore.
The year before, they had made the trip by train, but this time they were intending to go a short distance by rail, and then, on Captain Atherton's yacht, complete the trip by water. It would be a delightful sail, and as every member of the party loved the water, it was sure to be a merry little sailing trip down the bay.
Gwen Harcourt had not spoken truthfully when she had said that she would not wish to go to Cliffmore. Indeed, that very morning she had used her unpleasant method in an effort to coax her mother to go to Cliffmore, and for the first time in her little life, it had not worked.
She had heard from Polly, Rose, and Sprite of the pleasure that they had enjoyed there, and she had at once decided that no other place could be as delightful.
"I guess I can go there as well as they can," she had whispered to herself, and then, running up to the big living room she had first asked, then coaxed, and there, as a final effort, had screamed for a half hour. Mrs. Harcourt would, as usual, have quickly agreed at once to spend the Summer as Gwen wished, but it happened that other plans already made, rendered it impossible. The silly woman offered everything that she could think of to pacify Gwen, but Gwen declared that nothing would make up to her for the refusal to go to Cliffmore.
Then when she found her screaming wholly useless, she dried her eyes, and rushed out and down the avenue to tell Polly and Rose that she would not care to go there.
If she had waited a day longer to tell them it would have been as well, because Mrs. Harcourt, lest the disappointment might be too hard for Gwen, had, at great inconvenience, changed her plans, and on the following day she told Gwen that Cliffmore would be their summer home.
Gwen did not rush out this time to tell the news.
Had she not just said that she would not care to go there?
"I'll say nothing about it, and when they get to Cliffmore, they'll be s'prised to find me there, but I'll act as if I'd known all along that I'd be there," thought Gwen.
Mrs. Harcourt and Gwen went the next day, and thus it happened that when the "Dolphin" sailed up to the pier, the first person that Rose and Polly saw was Gwen, sitting high on the top of a tall post! It was a most successful surprise.
"Hello!" she cried, with impish laughter, "I got here 'fore you did!"
"Why so you did," Polly replied. "When did you come?"
"Oh, I've been here some time," she said, laughing again.
"Well, you've not been here a month, Gwen Harcourt!" said Rose. "It was only three days ago that you were in Avondale, and you said then that you'd not care to go to Cliffmore!"
"Well, I didn't go," cried Gwen, "I've come, and I'm going to stay!"
Of course Sprite had come to meet them, and as the three walked up the pier they saw that Gwen made no attempt to follow.
She wished them to know that she was at Cliffmore, but having enjoyed their look of surprise, she preferred to keep her position on the post.
It was so conspicuous that she knew that everyone coming up from the boats would surely see her, and beside that pleasure, she could stare at all the arrivals. Oh yes, her perch on the post delighted her.
Not satisfied with staring at the people, she commenced to make remarks about them as they passed. As her remarks were largely directed at their clothes, they were not much pleased.
"Oh, what big feet!" she said, when a big woman passed her, and to another she said: "What a funny hat."
A fat man turned to frown at her when she said: "My! He must weigh a ton," and a girl with long red braids blushed hotly when Gwen cried:
"Red! Red! Fire! Fire!"
Her mother would have thought any other child uncouth and ill-bred, if she did any one of the many outrageous things that Gwen was always doing. In Gwen she thought it bright and smart, and Gwen held the same opinion, but a young sailor, happening along just in time to hear her say something about a Jack Tar, that was not quite pleasing, stopped for an instant, and looked into her bold, blue eyes.
"Do you know what you need, you little Monkey?" he cried. "You need to have someone give you a big ducking, and then you'd learn not to be so smart."
Gwen was too frightened to speak. She thought the sailor meant to give her the ducking that he said she needed, and she turned so pale that he let go his hold upon her, leaving her still sitting upon the post, but as he turned to go he shook his finger at her.
"Not another word, sissy, or someone'll duck you, if I don't," he said.
A long time she sat motionless upon the post until not only the sailor, but all of the people had left the pier. Then, looking cautiously around to learn if anyone was near, she slipped to the ground, and ran at top speed toward the hotel where she told a most remarkable tale of the sailor's rudeness to her, winding up by telling that he had been so mean as to duck her.
"My dear little Gwen!" said her fond mamma.
"Her serge frock seems rather dry for one that has just been plunged into the water," said a lady who sat near them on the piazza.
"Oh, look at her shoes! They're dry too!" cried a small boy. "Say! When did you get your ducking?"
"You stop laughing, Max Deland!" cried Gwen. "I guess I could tell whether he ducked me or not better than you could, for you weren't there!"
"Oh, yes, you could tell!" cried the small boy, "but it might not be so, for all that, Gwen Harcourt."
Mrs. Harcourt rose quickly, and taking Gwen by the hand, left the piazza, and went up to her room.
"Strange that any woman would be so foolish as to credit a yarn like that even if it is her own child that tells it," said the lady who had spoken of the dry frock that Gwen declared had just been plunged into water.
"Yes, it is strange, but I've known other women who were nearly as blind to their children's faults," her friend replied.
"The child is really pretty, but so bold, and pert that although she arrived less than a week ago, there is not a guest at this hotel who does not feel relieved when she leaves the piazza. Only think," the lady continued, "she was out here this morning, sitting in that big chair that old Mr. Pendleton likes to have. He's ill, and Gwen knew that he came out expecting to sit in it, but she looked up at him, and did not stir. 'Gwen, dear,' Mrs. Harcourt said; 'I think Mr. Pendleton would like that chair.' 'Well, I like it, and I'm going to keep it,' Gwen said, swinging her legs, and settling back in the chair. 'You really musn't mind her,' Mrs. Harcourt said.
"'I don't intend to,' he said, and Mrs. Harcourt looked as if she wondered what he meant."
WHO WAS IT
Captain Seaford sitting in the sun, and mending nets, was aware that something was causing great, and unusual excitement in his house.
He sat just outside the door, but the sound of hurried footsteps, of eager conversation, of furniture being moved about, betokened something disturbing in the atmosphere.
"Comp'ny coming, or some kind o' storm brewing!" he muttered with a knowing wink, although no one was near to see the comical grimace.
Mrs. Seaford, usually calm and cheerful, now appeared in the doorway, a frown puckering her forehead, and a troubled look in her eyes.
"I've been over to the village," she said, "and while I've been gone, someone has been through the house, opened every drawer, pulled out the contents and strewn them on the floor, and made a general mess that I've worked an hour to clear up. Have you noticed anyone around the place?"
"Haven't seen a soul," declared the Captain, "and I've been busy right here since before you went out.
"Seems to me I did hear someone moving about at one time, but I'm not even sure of that."
"Well, whoever it was managed to move about enough to make work for me to clear up," Mrs. Seaford said.
"There's only one door to this house so how could anyone get out without passing me? You must surely be mistaken."
"The person, whoever it was, didn't care to pass you coming in, or going out of the house, so climbed through the window. On his way out, he knocked some plants from the window-sill. Nothing has been stolen, so I can't see the object in ransacking the house."
"'Taint poss'ble you're nervous, and imagine someone's been in, is it?" he asked, anxiously scanning her face.
"Imagine?" Mrs. Seaford said. "Well, come in, and see what you think. I've cleared the worst of it, but here's enough left to convince you."
He dropped the net on the sand, and went in. One look was enough.
"What in the world——!" he said, and no more, but his face spoke volumes.
It remained a mystery. Who would care to disturb the contents of the odd dwelling of the Seafords? Not a thief, surely, for it was well known that while the genial Captain had, at one time, been well to do, he had, for the past few years, had a struggle for existence. The old ship's hulk, inverted, and furnished for a home, held but one treasure, love, and that, priceless as it was, could not be stolen.
Who was the intruder? How had he come, and how had he vanished?
Dwellers at Cliffmore talked of it, at their homes, at church, and on the beach, but no one could give the slightest clue that might help in detecting the intruder.
Excitement usually lasted regarding one matter until another subject was suggested, when the villagers would turn with fresh interest to the latest bit of news.
Generally, it was a happening of small importance, that gained its prominence from having been frequently described, but one morning something occurred that shook the little fishing village, as Captain Seaford said, "from stem to stern."
When Mrs. Wilton, the housekeeper at Captain Atherton's Summer home, "The Cliffs," arose early one morning, she noticed that the Captain had forgotten the French window that opened on the porch. It evidently had been open on the evening before, and, by an oversight, had remained open all night. At a glance she saw that someone had been through the lower part of the house.
Drawers were wide open, their contents strewn upon the floor.
Flowers had been taken from the large jars that held them, and left with their wet foliage and stems lying upon the polished table.
Delicate pieces of china had been lifted from the lower shelves of the china closet, and placed upon the table, the window seats, and even the piano boasted two dainty cups that the visitor, whoever it might be, had placed upon the keyboard.
"Nothing is stolen," the housekeeper said, in reporting the mischief to Captain Atherton, "and all the queer doin's are on the first floor. Do you see that it looks as if the same person that went all over Captain Seaford's house, has been roving through this one? Nothing was stolen there, but everything had been handled and pulled around."
"I'll go out into the garden and think it over," he replied.
He left the house, but as he reached the lower step that led from the piazza he saw that the bold intruder, not satisfied with the mischief perpetrated in the house, had tried his hand at the garden. Beautiful plants had been lifted from their pots and thrown onto the walk, the hose lay beside them, running a stream, the fountain had been set running, and an old broom, used by the gardener, to sweep the walks, lay in the lower basin of the fountain.
The housekeeper followed him out onto the piazza.
"If you please, sir, I'd like just to say that I locked every door and window, except the one that opens onto this piazza, from the library. I went upstairs, knowing that you were still reading, and thinking you'd like that window open 'til you went to your room for the night, when you'd be sure to shut and lock it."
John Atherton nodded, and walked along the path. He knew that the housekeeper was anxious to shift all responsibility from her broad shoulders onto his.
"I guess I left that French window open, so that fault is mine, but who would be interested to rove through a home, pulling things to pieces, and making disorder, solely for the fun of doing it? Whoever it is, does not care to rob. It's a puzzle that must be looked into."
The children were greatly excited, and inclined to look upon Polly and Rose with envy.
It was interesting to listen while older people talked and argued as to how it happened, and what sort of person played the pranks. Before the Summer guests had half finished discussing the happening at Captain Atherton's house, they were again startled.
It was early one morning, a half hour before breakfast would be served, when a big, florid woman came down the stairway to the lower hall, declaring that someone had been in her room, doing a deal of mischief.
"Every article in my bureau drawer has been pulled out and thrown upon the floor, gowns have been removed from my closet, and are piled up on chairs in a heap, and my hats have been taken from their boxes and packed up on my bureau. Something must be done about it!" she declared in anger, and really one could not blame her.
The proprietor appeared, and promised all sorts of things to pacify the woman and there the matter appeared to end, for search as they would, no trace of the culprit could be found. The other guests felt uneasy.
"Who could possibly guess whose room will be ransacked next?" said one lady, to another who sat beside her at breakfast, to which the other replied:
"A few more happenings of this kind, and I'll pack my trunks, and leave for a place where I can, at least, expect law and order."
The guests of the hotel found it an interesting theme for conversation, and talked of it morning, noon and night, until old Mr. Pendleton, the invalid, became so tired of hearing about it that his patience at last gave way.
"What a fuss! What a nuisance of a fuss! I declare. Women are upset if their finery is tossed around a bit. Nothing was stolen, so why complain? Why get excited?"
No one replied to his outburst. It was well known that to reply to Mr. Pendleton was apt to provoke a torrent of abuse, so he was allowed to sit in his big chair in the corner of the piazza, looking with sharp, black, bead-like eyes from one woman to the other, silently amused, because he believed that they dared not answer.
He was a tough, wiry old man, not really ill, but believing himself to be an invalid, and enjoying the belief. Some one had heard a physician say that an event, or happening of any sort that would startle him into quick action would teach him that the health that he believed lost, was still in his possession.
One morning the queerest thing happened, and as it was just after breakfast, all the guests of the hotel were present to share the great excitement.
While the guests were at breakfast, the maids had put their rooms in order, and as it bid fair to be a hot day, nearly everyone decided to spend the morning on the broad piazza.
Mr. Pendleton, as usual, sat in his favorite corner. He was talking with another man about some distant city that each had often visited. Evidently there was something about which they could not agree, for their voices rose in angry dispute.
"I'm right in my opinion!" shouted Mr. Pendleton, in his thin, shrill voice.
"And, sir, let me tell you that I am right!" boomed the fat man in a growling bass.
"I'll get my map and prove what I say!" cried Mr. Pendleton, springing from his chair, and starting toward the hall.
The big man's laugh made him increase his speed. The other guests were amused, but they were not prepared for the next thing that happened.
Old Mr. Pendleton came tearing down the stairs, at the risk of breaking his neck, his cheeks flushed, and his small, black eyes blazing.
"It's an outrage! It's disgusting! It's not to be endured!" he shouted. "My room has been entered, and my belongings tossed about! My pajamas are spread out on the floor as if someone meant to take a pattern of them! My watch is soaking in the wash bowl, and my brush and comb are each in a slipper. My topcoat is out of the window and sprawling in the sun on the roof of this piazza, and every neck-tie I own is hanging from the chandelier! I won't stand it!"
He paused for breath, and the woman whom he had vexed a few days before, was so unwise as to speak:
"It might be well for you to realize just now that women are not the only ones who are upset when their finery is tossed about. As nothing was stolen, why complain? Why get excited?"
"Madam! You haven't the least idea of tact," he cried. "If you had you'd——" but before he could complete his speech, the proprietor arrived, and a much harder task he had to appease the wrath of Mr. Pendleton, than that of the fat woman whose room had been entered a few days before.
The mystery might never have been solved but for something that occurred on the following morning.
A room on the second floor had windows looking out upon the sea. The door stood open, and a maid passing along the hall, paused to look in. Guests were not in the habit of leaving their room doors wide open. What she saw made her tip-toe softly away to a screen in the hall.
From her position she could watch the inmate of the room.
That room had been hired by the fat man with the big voice who often talked, and oftener disputed with Mr. Pendleton.
It was easy to touch a button on the wall close beside her, and the bell-boy responded in a few seconds. The maid held up her finger, at the same time pointing toward the open door, and whispering:
"Sh—! Go quick and get Mr. Buffington. Tell him somebody is in his room. Don't make a sound here. I'll watch while you're gone. Rush now!"
Mr. Buffington, big and ponderous, soon appeared, puffing like an engine. The maid saw him as he appeared above the stairs, and quickly held up her finger, as a signal to him to make no noise.
Puzzled, yet impressed, the big man tip-toed along until he stood in the doorway.
The intruder stood, back toward the door, and for the moment, was so occupied with pulling over the contents of a large trunk that footsteps outside the door were unnoticed.
"You little rascal!"
These words shouted made the intruder actually jump.
"Ah, now, Miss Gwen, how happened ye in there?" said the maid.
Gwen, thoroughly frightened, tried to rush from the room, but it was useless. The big man filled the doorway. He did not intend to hurt her, when he firmly grasped her arm, but he did intend to give her a lesson, and he proceeded to do it, walking her along the hall on the way to the stairway.
Usually, Gwen's boldness was equal to any emergency, but this time she was too frightened to object, to wriggle in the firm grasp, or indeed, to do anything other than allow him to take her wherever he chose, and he chose——the piazza filled with guests.
Mrs. Harcourt, at the farthest end of the piazza, busy with her embroidery, did not look up when the two appeared.
"I found this in my room!" said the angry man. "Anyone who owns it may claim it. This is what has been entering rooms, and handling other people's property."
"Oh, mamma! Why don't you come and tell them I don't do such things!"
Of course Mrs. Harcourt dropped her embroidering frame, and rushed forward, snatching Gwen from the big man's grasp.
"'Twould be useless, because I caught her just as she had opened my trunk, and was examining all my belongings. The best thing to do with your smart girl, is to keep her away from hotels, unless you can keep a chain on her to keep her from prowling," growled Mr. Buffington.
"You don't understand children!" declared Mrs. Harcourt, as with Gwen, she went up the stairway to her room, to which the big man responded: "I shouldn't want to if they're all like that!"
Of course the piazza was alive with buzzing voices.
"What a perfectly horrid child!"
"I'd be ashamed of her if she were mine, the little imp!"
These and similar remarks were to be heard on all sides.
Gwen had been pert and saucy, bold, and annoying in many ways, but that a little girl could be the person who had boldly entered any house, or any room at the hotel, poking her impudent little nose into any house or room that remained unlocked, was really a surprise.
They had all believed it to be the work of a man, but no one could understand what prompted him to handle every article in the place that he entered, yet never steal a thing. Now it was easier to understand. Gwen had everything that love could think of, or that wealth could provide, but her curiosity was great, and she could not keep her mischievous hands off from things belonging to others.
Mrs. Harcourt, angry over what she thought was "outrageous rudeness," packed her trunks, and in an hour's time, left the hotel.
LITTLE SEA NYMPHS
Polly and Rose were walking along the beach on the way to call for Sprite. They had not decided how to spend the morning, but whatever they chose to do, they surely would enjoy themselves, for never were three playmates happier in each other's company.
"A long time ago when you first came to Avondale to live at Sherwood Hall, we named you Princess Polly. We never seemed to think of you as Polly Sherwood, your truly name," Rose said.
"And I liked you the first day I met you by the brook," Polly said, "and I thought Rose Atherton was such a pretty name."
"Sprite's name just fits her," said Rose, a moment later, "for she looks like a sprite, or a sea nymph, and so Sprite Seaford seems just the name for her.
"There she is now, coming toward us. Let's run to meet her."
"I took the telescope, and looked up the beach," Sprite said, when they met, "and kept looking until I saw you. Then I put it back on the mantel, and ran to meet you. Now come over to the place I call the bay."
She led the way, and they followed. The bay, as Sprite called it was a place where a ledge projected into the water in such a way that the incoming waves rushed past it, sweeping up onto the sand in a curving line.
It was not much of a bay, but it served as a name, and they always knew what she meant when she spoke of it.
Its shallow water was fine to play in, and when the tide went out, there always remained a little pool that reflected floating clouds.
On its clear surface they skipped flat stones, and they marvelled to see how skillful was little Sprite.
"Nine skips, and then a hop! That makes ten," said Polly, "and I can only make mine skip seven times."
"Oh, but you can do as well as I if you practice enough. I've always lived here at the shore," Sprite said, "and the flat stones have been my toys."
It was fine to compete with her, and Rose and Polly worked very hard in their effort to make a better fling.
"Eight!" declared Polly, and for a number of times, she sent the stones skipping eight times across the glassy little pool.
"Seven!" cried Rose, "and it almost went eight, and then didn't. Wasn't that provoking?"
"Eight!" she shouted a moment later.
"Nine!" squealed Polly. "Nine! Who'd have believed I could?"
"I would," replied Sprite, "because you're trying so hard, and because you can do anything."
"Oh, I can't!" Polly said.
"Well, you sing, and play, and you dance beautifully; after all that, just skipping stones doesn't seem so very much," Sprite answered quickly.
"It does to me because I've never done it before. It's great fun."
The sun was higher, and warm from exercise, they sat down in the shadow of the cliff to rest, and cool off.
They talked of the ships that appeared on the horizon, wondering what their cargoes might be. They talked of all sorts of things, but it was Sprite who gave a surprise.
"Guess who has gone way, way over in that big yellow house on the cliff to live. Guess!" she said, and her eyes were twinkling.
"Oh, tell us," said Polly.
"Yes, you'd better tell us," said Rose. "We couldn't ever guess."
"Won't you guess?" Sprite asked.
"What's the use," said Polly. "We couldn't guess who it is in a month!"
"Well, it's Gwen Harcourt," Sprite said.
"Gwen Harcourt!" cried Polly and Rose in the same breath. "Why, how funny. Her mamma said she was tired of Cliffmore."
"Yes, and she said she didn't like any of the people that were here for the Summer," said Rose.
"Gwen said her mamma said that, but she said the reason was because she was provoked, and Gwen said she teased and teased her to stay, so she did, and they truly are in that big yellow house on the cliff. There's only about a dozen people boarding there, and Gwen said it seemed more select than the place where she'd been staying."
"I said: 'You like Polly Sherwood and Rose Atherton,' and she said, 'Yes, I like them, but it's the grown people that we don't care for,'" concluded Sprite.
"It was the grown people that didn't like Gwen, and no wonder," said Rose. "Who would like to have her trunks and boxes emptied on the floor, and all the hats and dresses pulled over? I don't believe anyone in that yellow house, or any other house will like to have her do that."
A cool breeze blew in from the ocean, and the three sprang to their feet.
"Let's pull off our shoes and stockings and dance on the thin edge of the water," cried Sprite.
"I'll sing a song mamma taught me."
They clasped hands, and gracefully they skipped in time with the pretty song.
"We are water nymphs so free, We are merry sisters three. When the sunbeams kiss the foam From our coral cave we roam, And we float up to the strand Where we dance upon the sand.
"When the moon with silvery ray Glistens on the tossing spray, Then upon the beach we dance, Fleet of foot we whirl and prance. Whirling, swaying, gay and free, Merry water nymphs are we."
It was a pretty sight.
The three lovely faces, bright eyed, and rose tinted cheeks, their graceful forms swaying, swinging, whirling, their white feet nimbly keeping time to the song that Sprite sang.
The guests at the big yellow house on the ledge had already found that Mrs. Harcourt was a pleasant woman to talk with, but they also had learned that she permitted her small daughter to be as rude and unpleasant as she chose. It never required a great length of time for anyone to learn that.
At the breakfast table, the first morning after they had left the hotel and had engaged rooms at the big house on the ledge, Gwen showed her rudeness by declaring that she could not eat any of the food that was served.
Mrs. Harcourt looked around at the other guests, remarking:
"Gwen has such refined taste that quite often really good food fails to tempt her."
Thus encouraged, Gwen spoke for herself:
"But there's nothing on this table that is good. I wonder any of you can eat it."
The guests were disgusted with the silly child, and sillier mother. She had acted in about the same manner at every meal.
It happened that she had been up in her room over the piazza on the morning that her three little friends were dancing upon the beach.
They were too far distant for her to guess who they might be.
The field glasses lay on the dresser, and Gwen snatched them, ran to the window, and peeped at the dancing figures.
"Oo—oo! It's Princess Polly, and Rose and Sprite. I'm going right over to see them, and dance with them, too!"
She flung the glasses down into the nearest chair, and ran down the stairs, across the lawn, and then commenced to make her way carefully down the rough steps that had been cut in the ledge.
Even Gwen could not descend those steps at high speed.
Once on the sand she believed she could hasten, but the tide never reached the ledge upon which the house stood, so the sand at its base was dry, and anything but easy to hurry over.
At last she reached the damp part, and then how her feet flew over the firm, level surface.
She seemed tireless as she sped along, and she ran without stopping until she stood before them. They had not seen her approaching, because a high cliff had hidden her until she sprang out from behind it.
"Hello!" she cried.
"Hello!" they replied. "Going to dance with us?"
"Of course," Gwen said shortly. "That's why I came here."
She was a fine little dancer, and soon the four were tripping lightly over the sand, the three bare footed, but Gwen with shoes and stockings on, splashing as gaily through the shallow water as if she did not know that she was ruining a fine pair of new shoes.
Her pale blue stockings would hardly be improved by a drenching in salt-water.
The others had urged her to take them off, but for that very reason, she stubbornly refused, and laughed as the water rushed about her ankles at the first step.
She knew that no reproof awaited her. Mrs. Harcourt hailed each new prank as a sure sign of her small daughter's originality.
Tormenting the pets that other guests had brought to the shore, hiding the embroidery frames that any lady might chance to leave lying on a chair, throwing hats or wraps over the piazza railing to drop at the foot of the cliff, all these things Mrs. Harcourt thought extremely amusing.
A pair of wet shoes would, of course, be very funny. Gwen was sure of that.
"Where's that new girl?" she asked when they paused to rest.
"She's gone out fishing with her brother," Rose replied, "and they intend to be out all day."
"Oh, well, I only asked for fun," Gwen said quickly. "She's pleasant, and I like her, but she can't keep still a minute, and that makes me tired."
"Why, Gwen Harcourt, neither do you," said Rose, laughing.
"Me?" said Gwen. "Well, who wants to keep still? I didn't say I wanted to. I said it made me tired to watch her, because she,—because she doesn't keep still. That's different!"
A shout made them turn to look down the beach.
A boy, using his hands as a speaking tube, stood looking toward them, and calling loudly, "Gwen! Gwen!"
"Oh, that's Max Deland," said Gwen. "I'll go and see why he's calling me."
Without saying "Good-bye," she turned, and raced down the beach, and Polly and Rose and Sprite stood watching her flying figure.
On, on she ran until at last, they saw that she had reached the boy who had shouted to her.
Then Princess Polly spoke:
"I wonder why he didn't run to meet her," she said, "instead of standing stock still and waiting 'till she'd run every step of the way?"
"I don't wonder," Sprite said, "because I've seen him do that so many times, and he tells her to 'do this,' and 'do that,' and 'come here,' and 'go there,' and she does just as he says every time."
"That's queer," Rose said, "because she never lets us tell her even how to play a new game. The minute we start to tell her how it is played, she says: 'Oh, I know all about it,' so of course we stop, and it is Gwen who is always saying, 'Come and do this,' and 'You must do it,' till we get tired of being 'bossed,' and never doing as we wish. She didn't do that way to-day. She danced with us, and never once told us how to do it."
"Why, Polly!" cried Sprite, "she has always known that you were trained for dancing, and that you know the prettiest dances."
The three little friends still stood watching Gwen and Max.
They seemed to be discussing something upon which they could not agree, for as they watched, Max violently pointed toward some distant point on the shore, and stamped his foot, and each time Gwen would shake her curly head.
The boy seemed determined, and the girl obstinate.
"I wonder what he is telling her to do?" said Sprite, to which Polly replied:
"I don't. I wonder why she doesn't do it?"
"Yesterday he dared her to go out on an old plank, and she did it and got a ducking," said Sprite. "P'r'aps it's something like that."
The two figures still stood out clearly, the boy evidently insisting, and the girl still shaking her head as if unwilling to do as he wished.
Some bathers came running down to the water, their gay colored caps covering their hair, their sandals tied with ribbons.
Polly, Rose, and Sprite turned to see them take the first dip, and for a few moments watched them romping in the surf.
When they turned Max and Gwen had disappeared.
"I do wonder what they were planning to do?" said Polly, "and why Gwen seemed unwilling to do it, whatever it was."
"So do I," said Rose, "because Max always wants to do the wildest things," to which Sprite added; "And you can't often find anything wilder than Gwen would enjoy."
It happened that Max and Gwen had disappeared behind a rough shanty that laborers were using for a toolhouse.
"Now don't be a fraidie-cat!" Max was saying. "What makes you act so? I called you a 'brick' the other day because I said you dared to do things that any girl but you wouldn't dare to do. Now here you are, acting just the way other girls act. 'Fore I'd be 'fraid to sail in a tub!" He hoped to make her do it.
"Well, if you're not afraid to, why don't you do it, instead of asking me to do it?" snapped Gwen.
"Oh, so I can tell the other boys how brave you are," replied Max.
"They wouldn't think anything of me a doing it," he continued, quite regardless of his grammar, "because I'm a boy, and I'm s'posed to be brave, anyway, but you're a girl, and that's different.
"Come! Get in! I'll shove it!"
Gwen paused for a moment, then:
"Give me your hand!" she said.
She was afraid, but her silly vanity prompted her to do it. She knew that neither of her playmates would dare, and Max had promised to tell the other boys of the brave feat.
Max took her hand, and she sprang into the tub, crouching on the bottom, as he shoved it off into water a bit deeper than that in which they had been standing.
The tub was roughly made and anything but clean. The workmen had used it for holding cement, but had emptied it, and left it on the beach where Max had found it.
He was very fond of coaxing others to do things that he himself would never have done. Now, safe on dry land, he stood cheering Gwen for her bravery.
"Well, come and wade out here and get me back," she cried. "I've proved that I dared to do it, and that's enough!"
"Wait till I get the fellows to come and see you out there in the tub. They might not believe me if I just told them!" shouted Max, and he raced off at top speed, paying no heed to Gwen's shrieks. No one could have guessed if Max heard her and yet kept on running, or whether the sound of his own footfalls drowned her cries.
WHAT MAX DID
Max ran up the beach at top speed, intent upon finding his "chum," and telling him that Gwen was actually in the tub, and then, daring him to race back and see her floating about in the shallow water.
Max and Jack had wagered a quantity of marbles that no girl, not even Gwen Harcourt, would dare to float in the rough old tub.
When Max reached the place where Jack had promised to wait for him, Jack was no where to be seen.
"Scamp!" cried Max. "He's gone off so as not to pay over those marbles I won. Well, he'll not get off so easy, for I'll find him, and make him pay!"
With never a thought of Gwen, he started along the beach to search for Jack.
"Well, I'd not be mean enough to skin out like that," he cried as he hurried over the hard, damp sands. He thought it very mean to elude paying the little bet, and as he ran, he told himself that he would have promptly paid the marbles if he had owed them to Jack, which was true.
Jack was mischievous, but he would never have left a little girl in the plight in which Max, with all his boasting, had left Gwen.
And although Max Deland searched in every place where Jack was likely to be, he did not find him.
"I'll not hunt for him!" he cried at last, "but I'll make him pay when I catch him!"
"Max! Max Deland!"
The voice was shrill and piping.
"Hello! Where are you?" Max shouted in reply, and the trim waitress from her position on the ledge, cried back;
"It's not where I am, but where you are that's worrying your mother. You're the first boy I ever saw that had to be called to dinner. Come in!"
She turned and ran into the house, while Max rushed toward the big dining-room.
He thought of Gwen during dinner, but he felt no fear for her safety. He believed that she had soon become tired of floating in the shallow water, had sprung from the leaky tub, and for hours had been playing with her friends.
That was not the case, however. Gwen, crouching in the tub, had waited quite patiently, watching for Max who was to return with Jack, while the tub bobbed and danced on the shallow water, and for a time she had found it rather amusing.
The clumsy craft had floated lightly, now toward the beach, now away, and she felt no fear because as often as a receding wave took her a few feet from the beach, an incoming wave brought her back.
Then the unexpected happened.
The tide had been turning, and a big wave snatched at the tub, bearing it farther out than it had yet been, while the next inrolling wave went up onto the beach without so much as touching it.
Gwen screamed with fright, when she saw that now the tub was steadily going away from the shore.
There was no one in sight, and she sank in a little heap on the bottom of the tub, too tired to continue shouting, and frightened at the thought of drifting out to sea.
The gulls flew down and looked at her as if wondering what she might be, and Gwen cowered, afraid of their great, flapping wings.
No one could say what might have happened, but just at the moment when her last bit of courage had fled, a fortunate thing occurred.
A tiny fishing craft was coming in, and as it neared the shore, one of the crew spied the floating tub, then a few moments later the man exclaimed:
"Why, there's a child in that leaky old tub, as true as I live!"
"Hi, there!" he shouted, and Gwen looked up, and wildly waved her hands.
"Sit still!" he commanded, "or something'll happen. Keep still, an' we'll pull ye in when ye come 'long side."
Very thankful was Gwen when later, she found herself safe on the deck, the rough tub bobbing away across the waves, while the fishermen listened to her story of the trick that Max had played.
"If that boy was mine I know what he'd get, for doing a mean trick like that!" said one man, to which another responded:
"And I'd be glad ter help ye give it ter him."
One would have thought that Mrs. Harcourt might have been anxious because of Gwen's long absence, and her non-appearance at the noon meal, but such was not the case.
Some one at the table spoke of Gwen, asking if she were ill.
"Oh, dear no!" Mrs. Harcourt said, with a light laugh; "Gwen is never ill, but she is so very popular that when she does not appear at meal time, I know that someone has urged her to lunch at her home. Gwen is dearly loved, and so is constantly being coaxed to remain at this house or that."
The other guests could not be blamed if they wondered who it might be who continually longed to have Gwen as a guest.
When the noon meal was over, the guests made their way out onto the piazza, seating themselves in little groups for an afternoon of chat and gossip.
Some of the ladies were doing fancy work with gay colored silks. Mrs. Harcourt always brought her embroidery frame to the piazza. Not that she did much needlework, but she thought it looked well to have it with her, even if she talked for hours, while the frame lay idle in her lap.
Someone said that the same piece of work was in the frame that was in it on the day of her arrival weeks before.
She had taken a seat at the far end of the piazza, and she now looked about her to see who might be near her.
A tall matron, standing at a short distance, turned, and seeing a large rocker behind Mrs. Harcourt, walked slowly over, and seated herself in it. She had just arrived, and so had not yet seen Gwen.
Here was a chance to talk to a listener who did not know her little daughter, and Mrs. Harcourt grasped it.
"You doubtless heard me telling the others how everyone loves my small girl," she said.
"Yes, I heard what you said," the woman replied, in a manner that implied her lack of interest, but Mrs. Harcourt did not notice that.
"Well, really, when you see Gwen, you will not wonder, for you, like everyone else, will enjoy her. She's so original."
Just at this point those who sat near the railing noticed two odd looking figures toiling up the rough-hewn stairway on the cliff.
Those who watched them turned to exchange amused glances, and then look toward Mrs. Harcourt.
Quite unaware of what was going on, Mrs. Harcourt continued:
"As I was saying, Gwen is really very unusual, and original, and at the same time, she is so very sweet tempered, that——," but the sentence was interrupted by the appearance upon the piazza of a rough looking fisherman, and a drenched, and very dirty small girl, whose sailor frock was wet with sea water, and be-daubed with cement. Her eyes were red and swollen with crying, her hair had lost its ribbon, and hung about her face. Truly she did not look attractive.
"Could any of you fine ladies put down your needles long 'nough ter hear where I found this little lass?" said the man, "fer she looks like she needed 'tendin' to."
Gwen could at once have run to her mother, but she chose to cling to the fisherman's rough hand, and be gazed upon as an abused child. Mrs. Harcourt, trying to decide which shade of silk to use, did not even look up. She did not dream that Gwen had returned.
So surprised were the guests that, for the moment, no one spoke, and the man continued:
"Me'n' my mates found her floating out ter sea in a ol' tub what the carpenters had been usin' fer cement, an' we pulled her in. As the tub was a leakin', I guess 'twas 'bout time 'less ye wanted her ter be drownded."
A shrill cry from Mrs. Harcourt followed by the sound of hurrying feet, and then:
"Oh, Gwen, my dear! Come away from that rough man!" she cried, and the instant silence showed the disgust that her words had provoked.
"Wal, I s'pose that's the kind of thanks that a poor feller can expect from a lady 'ristocrat!" said the fisherman as he turned to go, "but I'll say one thing more, an' that is that the young lad named Max is 'sponsible for the mischief. It was him what coaxed the little lass inter that ol' tub, an' then run off ter play."
"Three cheers for this man!" cried a young fellow who had listened intently, and the guests responded with a will, and Mrs. Harcourt from the hall whence she had vanished with Gwen, wondered what it was all about.
She considered herself a cultured woman, yet she had not spoken one grateful word to the man who had rescued Gwen from her perilous position!
Of course Max denied that he had intended to play a trick on Gwen. He was a coward, and a coward rarely cares to "own up" when guilty.
Instead, he insisted that he only "dared" her to get into the tub, but that he never thought she would stay in it a moment after he was out of sight.
His mother believed him; the guests did not, but little cared Max. So long as she thought him perfect, he was quite happy, because he could do, at all times, exactly as he chose. That he usually chose to be very disagreeable was not to be wondered at.
His mother thought his pranks most amusing, and his saucy speeches, smart, so he was quite content.
The oddest part of all was that Gwen really liked Max Deland. He was always getting her into scrapes, and as soon as she had escaped from one, she was ready for another.
Max never helped her. Instead, he left her to help herself. Gwen was wilful with all of her girl playmates, but she would agree to anything that Max proposed, so when, in the afternoon of the following day, he told her that he was going to take a long tramp, Gwen was wild to know just where he was going, and coaxed to go too.
"Where are you going?" she asked for the third time.
"Oh, somewhere great!" Max said with a provoking chuckle.
"It would serve you just right if I said I didn't care where you went, but I do care, because I want to go too," Gwen said.
"I only wanted to tease you," Max replied, "and I'll let you go with me, Gwen. Turn 'round and look at that high hill over back of the house where we're staying. I'm going to climb to the top of that hill, and go down on the other side, just to see what there is 'round behind that hill."
"Then why don't you walk around it, instead of climbing?" questioned Gwen.
"Smarty!" Max said, at he same time looking very unpleasant.
"Oh, I don't care," Gwen hastened to say. "I like to climb. Come on!"
It did not look like much of a hill, but it proved to be hard to climb, for its sides were steep, and covered with wiry grass.
The sun was hot, and long before reaching the top, Gwen wished that she had not started at all.
Twice she stopped to take short pieces of stems or dry twigs from her slippers, and often the thorny branches of the low bushes scratched her bare arms.
Her sleeves were short, and thus her arms were unprotected. Max's arms were covered by his jacket sleeves.
"What a fuss you make over a little scratch!" he said, sharply.
"I'm not fussing over a scratch!" snapped Gwen. "I'm fussing over 'bout a hundred scratches!"
"Oh,—o—o!" Max drawled, as if he doubted the number.
"Well, look!" cried Gwen, holding her little arms red with scratches.
"Too bad," Max said, and Gwen, surprised, and pleased, followed him, as he made his way just ahead of her, holding back the bushes.
"Oh, Max, you're good," she said, and Max blushed at her praise. He thought himself exceedingly good, but he was delighted that Gwen thought so.
"This hill didn't look so very high, when we stood on the beach and looked back at it," said Gwen.
"N-no," admitted Max, "but all the same I'm glad we started early, and we'll reach the top 'fore long. Then we'll see what's on the other side, and when we climb down, we can just run around on the level ground, and tell the folks where we've been, and what a climb we had!"
"Oh, yes," agreed Gwen, and once more they pushed forward, and up toward the summit, that seemed, no matter how long they climbed, to be not the least bit nearer.
For a time they climbed in silence, when, all at once, Gwen tripped over a loose root, and promptly sat down.
"I'll have to rest a few minutes," she said.
"I'll sit down because you do," Max said. He would not say that he, too, was tired.
He was not contented long to sit resting, and soon the two were once more trudging up the steep incline, Max leading the way, and Gwen, following close behind him.
"We're 'most to the top," he said, at last, to which Gwen replied:
"I don't believe it! The more we climb, the farther away it seems, and I do believe that horrid old hilltop moves away as fast as it sees us coming!"
"Now, Gwen, you know better! Just look!" Max said, and Gwen looked.
"Well,—the top isn't any farther off than it was the last time I looked up," she said, grudgingly.
She knew that it looked nearer, but she could not bear to say that.
"It's nearer, and you know it!" Max declared, stoutly. "Come on!"
"Wait till I fix my shoe," wailed Gwen.
"I'll bet that's the tenth time you've stopped to pull your shoe off since we started to climb this hill," Max cried in disgust.
Gwen was about to say that she should stop again if she wished to, but a glance at Max caused her to change her mind. His face was far from pleasing, so without a word, she fastened her shoe, and silently the two tramped on.
Max was wishing that he had taken the trip alone.
Gwen heartily wished that she had remained on the beach.
She was not only tired, but her feet were sore and blistered.
Max walked ahead, and Gwen found it hard work to keep up.
"Oh, Max!" she cried at last, "Do wait for me!" but Max either did not hear, or hearing, refused to wait, and Gwen, unable to take another step, sank down on the coarse grass and burst into tears.
WHAT MAX FOUND
Gwen was very angry. Max had taken her on the long tramp, and now had become impatient because she was tired, and had left her to choose between immediately following him, or lagging behind.
It was almost twilight, but Gwen was forced to rest for a few moments, at least, before taking another step.
"P'r'aps I can run, and catch up with Max, if I sit here and rest a while," she said.
Max, careless boy that he was, walked straight ahead, not even turning to look back, to learn if Gwen were following.
Gwen watched his sturdy little figure as it stood out against the sky, and envied him because he seemed not the least bit weary, while Max, sure that she was watching, took extra long steps to show what a vigorous fellow he was.
When he had reached the top of the hill, he would have been glad to rest, but he wished to prove that he was tireless, so he at once commenced to make his way across the level plain upon which he found himself, and then to descend the rugged hillside.
Sometimes a twig snapped overhead, and then he would next be surprised by stepping upon what proved to be a rolling stone, that would slip from under his foot, and go rattling on ahead of him.
The long walk down the far side of the hill was less cheerful than the upward climb had been, and while he would not for the world have admitted it, he missed Gwen, and her constant chatter.
He was beginning to feel tired, and he would have been glad to sit down and rest, but lest Gwen should be on her way to overtake him, and laugh at him for resting, he kept on.
Once he looked over his shoulder hoping to see that she was now following, but she was not in sight, and again he pushed forward. Not a bit cared he if Gwen were afraid.
"If she'd kept up with me, she needn't have been afraid. Nothing would scare her if I—— Oh—oo—oo!"
With a frightened yell, he tripped over what appeared to be a long bundle, which, however, proved to be the legs of a sleeping tramp.
"Ye little varmint! Walkin' all over a man! I'd serve ye right if I tied yer arms an' legs tergether, and pitched yer down inter the valley beyant there!" howled the angry man, as he turned over for another nap.
Max, believing that the man was chasing him, raced down the steep hillside, stumbling over roots, and twigs that lay in his way, sliding on rolling stones, and catching at low hanging branches to save himself, he at last, from weariness, stumbled, and fell sprawling over a stump that the darkness had hidden.
It happened that Gwen, becoming a bit timid because of the shadows of twilight, had risen stiffly from her seat on a low rock, and was hastening after Max, when she heard the boy's shout, and then the angry words of the tramp, and quickly as she had come, she ran back to her perch upon the rock.
Now, indeed, she was afraid. Alone on a wooded hilltop! Would she have to stay there all night? Would some one come for her? How would they know where she was?
She tried to think that Max, on reaching the house would tell of her plight, and urge someone to come for her, but she knew that Max was a coward, and that he never liked to tell anything that might cause others to blame him.
Meanwhile the tramp slept soundly. No thought of the frightened boy troubled his dreams, and of the little girl who had drawn back into the shadow of the trees, he knew nothing.
* * * * *
At the big yellow house on the Cliff, there was great excitement. Mrs. Harcourt was so nearly frantic that the best efforts of her friends failed to comfort her.
Earlier in the day she had gaily laughed at Gwen's absence at the noon meal, and if she was at all disturbed because of her sailing trip in the leaky cement tub, she did not show it.
But that twilight should be hanging over the sea, and night fast approaching, and Gwen out of sight for the second time was really enough to frighten any woman, even if she were far less nervous than Mrs. Harcourt.
A searching party was formed, not one of whom had the slightest idea where to look, when, just as the men were about to start out, a small boy appeared in the driveway; a boy who seemed to wish to be unnoticed.
"Hello! I say, Max! You usually know where the little Harcourt girl is. Do you know now?" said a little man on the outside of the group.
"Le'me go!" snarled Max, "I want some supper," and he tried to squirm out of the firm grasp of the little man's hand.
"Not till you've answered," said a tall, athletic fellow.
"Come now, little chap, speak up!" Mrs. Deland, faultless dressed now appeared.
"Oh, it is really absurd to think my little son has the least idea where——"
"It may be, Madam," the young man replied, "but I'll just ask him again, and we'll see how he answers. Say, Max! Do you say you don't know where she is?"
"I don't know where she is just now," the boy answered sullenly.
"Did you know a little while ago?"
"Oh, dear! Max is so sensitive. This sort of thing will quite upset him I'm sure," said Mrs. Deland.
The tall young man made no reply, but to Max he said:
"Tell us where she is, and we'll go and get her, but if you won't tell us, we'll take you along to show us the way. Which will you do?"
More tired than he would have cared to admit, Max dared not refuse to tell, for he had no desire to repeat the fearfully long walk that he had taken.
And when he told how little Gwen had declared herself unable to follow him, the disgust of his listeners was complete.
"So as the small girl was tired out with the long trip on which you had taken her, you left her to be a little tenant of the lonely wooded hilltop for the night!"
"A brave act, truly. Your mother must be proud of such a manly boy!" said a stout man who had joined the group.
"I told her to come along, and I guess she could have if she'd wanted to," Max said stolidly.
In disgust, and without another word to the boy or his mother, the group, with one accord, turned toward the sandy road that led toward the narrow path up the steep hillside.
They were sturdy men, well used to long tramps over rugged paths, and soon they came upon Gwen, huddled close against a high ledge, in an effort to keep warm.
She had been too frightened to cry. She had heard the angry shout of the tramp when Max had stumbled over him, and now, although he had not uttered a word since, nor had she heard a footstep, she trembled and constantly looked about her to learn if he were approaching.
As the searchers made their way toward the crest of the hill, the dry twigs that lay upon the ground broke under their feet, and the underbrush snapped as they pushed the low branches back. As they approached the rock where Gwen was sitting, she heard their voices, and believing that instead of one tramp, an entire band of tramps was coming toward her, she screamed with fright, and slipping from the rock, cowered on the grass, trying to make herself as small as possible.
They had heard her outcry, however, and now they called her name.
"Gwen! Little Gwen! Where are you? We've come to find you!"
Crying out to them, she hurried forward, her arms outstretched, as she stumbled over the rough, coarse grass, over roots, and dry sticks that lay in her path, until, in the effort to run, she pitched and would have fallen, had not the big man of the party caught her, and swung her to a safe place upon his shoulder.
For once Gwen was truly grateful, and closely she clung about the big man's neck, so glad was she, that he and his friends had clambered up to her lonely perch on the big rock at the summit of the hill.
Once she whispered in his ear. "There was a big, horrid tramp up on that hill. I know, because I heard him shout at Max. I wonder if he hurt Max, and I wonder where Max is now. Did some other men go hunting for him, just as you hunted for me?"
"No need of hunting for Max," the big man replied, "for he took good care of himself, and came sneaking home, safe and sound, while he left you, little girl, to look out for yourself as well as you could."
With care they made their way down the rugged hillside, and Gwen was so happy that she sang snatches of songs, and someone in the rear whistled to keep her company.
Arrived at the house, Gwen had a fine welcome.
She was not generally liked, because of her pert, saucy ways, but the fact that she had been lost, and now had returned was surely a reason for rejoicing.
"Where's Max?" queried a young man who had been one of the searchers.
"The dear boy was so tired with his tramp that he asked to go at once to bed. He was really fatigued, for usually he coaxes to remain up," Mrs. Deland said, "and really," she continued, "the only reason that he did not take Gwen along with him was because she said that she must rest a while."
"I suppose it was impossible for him to wait with her," said someone in the crowd.
"Max is very tender hearted," Mrs. Deland responded, "and he said he thought if he waited, she might start before she was sufficiently rested."
With much dignity, Mrs. Deland turned from the piazza, and entered the house. She knew that Max was at fault, and that everyone in the group thought so.
She would not acknowledge that her little son could be in the wrong. Max, according to her ideas, should be praised, and approved of at all times.
Gwen was the center of interest, and that pleased her greatly. Mrs. Harcourt was delighted, fairly beamed upon those who crowded around her small daughter, to ask all about her long tramp and how it seemed to be alone on the wooded hilltop.
Of course the story lost nothing in the telling.
Gwen made it really thrilling, but after a time, even her mother felt that the tale was becoming rather lurid for a strictly truthful account, and she dragged Gwen away to the hall, and up the stairway, but she made herself absurd.
"Really, Gwen, you should be a bit careful," she said, as gently as if afraid of offending her small girl. "If your wonderful imagination made you think you saw eyes peering at you from behind those tree-trunks, you should remember that common people might not believe you. Ordinary people could not understand."
"I don't care if they don't!" Gwen said stoutly. "I shall tell what I want to, and they can believe it or not, just as they choose."
"I surely am the mother of a genius," murmured the silly woman.
* * * * *
A few days later, great excitement prevailed among the children of the Summer colony at Cliffmore, and their elders were sufficiently interested to talk of the news on the piazza, the beach, the little park, at breakfast, at lunch, and at dinner.
"It is really to be quite an affair," said one lady, to which her friend replied:
"I wouldn't miss it for the world, for I heard that no expense had been spared, and that the whole thing will be as beautiful as a dream."
"Who planned it, or who is managing it?" questioned another, to which yet another who now joined the group replied:
"Captain Atherton is 'backing' it, I hear, and so, of course, Rose will be the central figure in the pageant."
Yes, that was the cause of the excitement. There was to be a grand pageant, and the children would be the principal actors.
"Is Gwen Harcourt to be in the pageant?" someone asked, but before anyone could reply Mrs. Harcourt joined them.
"Is my little Gwen to be in it? Why, what a question!" she said. "They would hardly have a pageant without her."
"I suppose not," someone said, in a tone of disgust, but Mrs. Harcourt did not notice that.
"Well, no," she responded. "I hardly think they could, because beside the part that Gwen will actually take, she will be a great help in other ways. Her ideas are so original, and she is always so willing to tell others how things should be done, that she, really, is a wonderful help. The committee arranging the pageant constantly ask her advice."
"I wonder if they asked Gwen's permission to have the pageant at all?" grumbled a small boy who stood near the ladies who had been talking.
Yes, it was to be a great event at Cliffmore, and everyone was interested.
"What are you going to be, and what are you going to wear?" were the questions oftenest asked, and groups of merry, laughing children sat chatting on the piazzas, or strolling along the beach, talking, always talking of the pageant.
It was, indeed, to be a grand and beautiful procession that would make its way along the beach.
The children were greatly excited, and each was interested in the costumes that her playmates were intending to wear, as well as that in which she would herself appear.
There had been an odd happening. Captain Atherton had chosen the list of characters to be represented, and Mrs. Sherwood had written a clear description of the costumes to be worn.
All were pleased with the parts assigned them, save Gwen Harcourt and Max Deland.
"I shall not be one of the mermaids," Gwen had boldly declared. "If I can't be the Water Queen, I'll not be a water fairy at all!"
"Very well," Captain Atherton had said quietly, "I will find someone to take your place."
Gwen was surprised. She had felt sure that Captain Atherton would beg her to remain, and that he would also give to her the part of the Water Queen.
Max had had a similar experience. He had expressed his dislike for the part given him, and had been told that the parts once given out could not be changed.
"Come on, Gwen!" he had said. "We can get up something for ourselves!"
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Come on over to the big lodge, and I'll tell you. We'll have fun enough. You'll see!"
THE SEA KING'S NYMPHS
Everyone, everything was ready for the grand carnival and pageant.
The children were more than ready. They were eager.
Their costumes were completed, and they knew exactly how they were expected to pose, so that each should do her part to make the procession beautiful.
Even the sun seemed intent upon doing his share, and as he rose from the water, appeared to be smiling upon sea and land.
At the far end of the beach was a huge canvas tent, and all of the "trappings," or "properties" were stored beneath its shelter. From this tent the procession would start, and pass along the beach, where hundreds of spectators would be watching from the tiers of seats that had been erected along the route.
Princess Polly, Rose, and Sprite stood waiting to take their places.
"What do you suppose Gwen and Max meant?" Polly asked.
"When they said they'd get up something of their own?" said Rose.
"Why, yes," Polly said. "Don't you remember how they spoke?"
"Oh, yes, I know," Rose replied, "but Gwen and Max often say they'll do things, and then they don't do at all as they say they will. They speak like that when they're provoked, and then they forget all about it."
"Do you know," Sprite said, "I think this time they'll remember what they said, and I'm just wondering what they will do."
A trumpet called the children to order, and soon all was bustle and excitement.
Then when all were ready, the long line of lovely children attired in rainbow hues, with here and there an adult figure to add dignity to the pageant, slowly made its way along the beach, receiving cheers and applause from the delighted on-lookers.
First came a group of thirty of the village children, dressed as water sprites, and blowing on soft-toned silver horns.
Their tunics were pale rose, and their cheeks were as pink as their draperies.
Gilded sandals were on their feet, and they blew their silvery notes with a will.
Following the water sprites, came a troop of small boys tripping along, and dressed as little mermen, their green scales glittering in the warm sunlight, their caps of braided seaweed bordered with tiny scallop shells.
They carried triangles, and gaily they marked the time, laughing as they tramped along.
There were floats upon which were grouped children and grown-ups in tableaux representing historical events.
There was a tall may-pole carried by a man dressed as a jester, and boys and girls in early English peasant costumes held the ends of the long fluttering ribbons, laughing as the crowd applauded.
Group after group passed along, and one that called forth loud cheering was composed of boys and girls dressed as little farmers and their chubby wives.
The small boys wore overalls and straw hats, the girls wore pink sunbonnets, pink gowns, and blue aprons, but both boys and girls carried rakes on their shoulders, and gay companions they seemed to be.
The greatest delight, the loudest cheering greeted the great gilded chariot, drawn by six white horses hired for the occasion by Captain Atherton.
Each steed boasted a white harness, and from the head of each floated streamers of green ribbon.
Who would ever have dreamed that the imposing Sea King who stood so proudly in his chariot firmly grasping the reins, was none other than Captain Seaford, the father of little Sprite.
A white wig and beard had changed him completely, and his costume of sea-green draperies was most becoming.
In his left hand he carried a gilded trident.
In the chariot with him as his nymphs were Princess Polly, in pink, Rose Atherton in blue, and little Sprite in yellow, three charming nymphs, surely.
Brownies, elves, gnomes, a crowd of small boys dressed to represent any number of different kinds of fishes were followed by girls among whom might be seen Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and a host of other fairy tale heroines.
There were little hunters, and fishermen, but all agreed that the Sea King with his nymphs, his chariot and his fine horses was best of all.
Polly, Rose, and Sprite were just saying that Gwen and Max had kept out of sight in spite of their declaration that they would be in the procession, in costumes of their own choosing, when Polly happened to turn, and look back.
"Oo—oo—oo! Look!" she cried, and Rose and Sprite, and even the stately Sea King turned to learn what had startled her.
Too surprised to speak, they watched a little team with two occupants, approaching at headlong speed.
A smart cart drawn by a gray donkey came tearing down the beach. Max dressed as a farmer, with blue overalls and straw hat, was making a desperate effort to control the donkey, while Gwen in a chintz frock and pink sunbonnet sat close beside him, clinging to her seat in abject fear.
Evidently they had been late in getting started, and had endeavored to gain sufficient speed to "catch up" with the procession.
Max had been vexed that at first the balky little beast could not be induced to hasten, and for a long time he continued to walk at a fearfully slow pace, paying no heed to shouting, or a taste of the whip.
Then, when Max put down the whip, and let the reins lie loosely across the little creature's back, Neddy suddenly decided to go, and go he did, galloping along at a rate that set the light cart swaying from side to side, and threatening, at any moment, to throw Max and Gwen out.
"Stop him! Do stop him!" cried Gwen, "He's running away!"
"I cant!" screamed Max. "First he wouldn't go, and now he won't stop!"
The procession halted, and a big boy sprang forward, endeavoring to snatch at the bridle.
The intention was good, but the donkey, maddened that anyone should try to stop him, shied, and the boy and girl were hurled out upon the sand.
Max turned a complete somersault and came up on his feet, declaring himself unhurt, but Gwen took an entirely different view of the matter.
She was not hurt, but her temper was decidedly ruffled.
"Well, I declare!" she cried, "I do think everyone is horrid, but I think Max is just a little horrider than the rest!"
"Why, Gwen, he did his best to stop, but the donkey just wouldn't," said Sprite.
"Well, I wouldn't have been spilled if I hadn't been riding with Max, would I?" cried Gwen. "Something always happens when I go anywhere with Max. Funny I don't ever remember it. Just as soon as something's happened, away I go somewhere else with him."
Gwen could not imagine why they all laughed.
Meanwhile the donkey having run as far as he cared to, stood far down the beach, looking out across the waves, as calmly as if he could stand there for hours. Indeed one could hardly think that he was the same little beast that, a short time before, had bolted so furiously.
Captain Atherton, who had left the crowd, and quietly followed Neddy, now quickly approached him. He made no attempt to escape, but instead, allowed himself to be led as gently as if he really preferred to go that way.
Very meek he looked, as with the Captain's firm hand on the bridle, he approached the crowd that had watched him when he ran wildly along the beach.
Max was more than willing to clamber into the cart, and for the remainder of the route, be a part of the procession. Gwen, first flatly refused to ride, but after much coaxing she finally consented, and took her place beside Max, and so odd was the expression of her face that Max afterward said that he could not tell whether she was "mad or scared."
"Half mad and half scared," Gwen replied. "Mad to have to ride again with you, and scared for fear Neddy would run away again."
The donkey behaved very well, however. He had run all he cared to for one while, and he walked along behind the Sea King's chariot, as quietly as if he had never once dreamed of running away.
After a while, Gwen began to be so glad that she was indeed, in the pageant, that she looked about her, and actually smiled when some of the other children spoke to her.
At the end of the route, a fine lunch was served in a pavilion that looked out on the beach.
Captain Atherton had provided it, and it was heartily enjoyed by all who had taken part in the pageant, as well their friends who were also invited.
After the good things had been partaken of, the little guests danced to the music furnished by an orchestra that had been playing during the feasting, and eyes sparkled, and cheeks grew rosy with excitement.
It had been a delightful day, and for days afterward the children and those who had been spectators, talked of the lovely pageant, that had made its glittering way along the beach.
Captain Seaford sat just outside the door of his house, mending a net, or rather, attempting to mend it, for his mind was not upon his work, and from time to time he let the net lie on his knees, while he looked out across the dancing waves as he was hoping to see a vessel appear on the horizon.
He would sit thus for a time, and then shake his head and resume his work.
A dancing, springing footstep brought Sprite to the door, and as soon as she saw how eagerly he scanned the sea, she crept softly toward him, and laying her hand upon his shoulder, peeped around into his eyes.
"What you thinking of, Pa?" she asked quickly.
"Nothing much little girl," he said gently.
She lifted her fore-finger, nodding wisely as she spoke.
"It might not be much," she said, "but it's enough so you worry about it. Tell me, Pa, what's vexing you."
After a moment in which both were silent, she spoke again, but with her soft little arms about his neck.
"Was it about Ma, or me you were thinking?" she asked. "You looked so sober, that I know it was about someone that you cared for."
"I was thinking of you both, Sprite," he said, as he drew her closer, "and of the vessel that is almost a week overdue. If she comes in, the venture that I made on her cargo, will bring what some folks would call a small sum of money, but to us, it would be a small fortune."
"A week overdue! I'm not so selfish that I don't give a thought for those on board that have perished if she's lost. That's simply doubled the worry."
A warm tear fell on his rough hand, and he looked up quickly.
"Tut, tut! Little Sprite! Don't cry yet. It may be that she's only delayed, and will sail into port, with all hands on board and her cargo safe. You're too young to worry now. Cheer up! Pa's not really worrying yet, only wondering, little Sprite, wondering."
That would have settled the matter for some children, but Sprite saw more clearly, thought more deeply than does the average child, and she knew that he was trying to cheer and comfort her while at heart he was deeply concerned, for the fate of the vessel for which he had been eagerly waiting.
"But she could come in now and be all right, couldn't she?" Sprite asked. "Or is it so late that you almost know that something has happened to her?"
"No, no, Sprite. It's not too late for her to arrive safe and sound, but as the days pass I catch myself watching a bit closer for her coming. Why did the tears come, Sprite? I never like to have you grieving, dear."
"The tears always come if I think anything has disappointed you, or Ma," Sprite said, softly. "That's why I tried so hard to win the prize last Spring, when all the other pupils were working for it, too. I didn't care half so much about getting it for myself, as for you."
He drew her yet closer.
"Dear little Sprite," he said.
"And now I'm going to hope that the vessel will come sailing in with a big load of luck on board. I'll tell you one thing; I saw the moon over my right shoulder last night, and all the sailors say that's lucky."
Captain Seaford laughed at this bit of superstition offered to him as a crumb of comfort.
She laughed with him, and stooping, picked up a small star fish.
"I'll toss this up three times. If it comes down on the sand, twice out of three times right side up, it will be the same as saying that the vessel is safe, and will return all right."
Three times she tossed it up, only a few inches from the sand lest it break.
"Once! Right side up!" she cried, a rippling laugh following her words.
"Twice! Wrong side up! Oh, Pa, which will it be next time?"
A moment she stood irresolute as if half fearing to test their luck the third time. She turned the star fish over and over in her hand, then, as if she thought waiting useless, she tossed it lightly up.
"Oo—oo! Look! Look Pa!" she cried, "It's right side up! Pa, I do believe the vessel will come in safely. My! Wouldn't it have been awful if the star fish had fallen the other side up?"
"My little Sprite is a great comfort," he said, "and the tossing of the star fish is harmless fun, but I'd not like to think that you'd believe all the superstitious yarns that the sailors tell."
"Oh, no," was the earnest reply. "I know that some of them could not be true, but there's one funny one that a sailor down on the pier told yesterday.
"He said you could go down stairs backwards after dark, and look into a mirror you held in your hand, and see something, I don't know what, but I'm going to try it. I'll try it just to know what I'd see, or to find out what would happen. He said something was sure, just sure to happen."
"The something that would happen would be that you'd fall, and perhaps break your pretty neck," Captain Seaford said, "but as to what you'd see in the glass! Why, that is all nonsense. Here and there is a sailor that's as full of such silly notions as a weather vane.
"That sort of sailor listens to all the yarns he hears, believes them all, tells them all, and generally he isn't any too careful to tell them just as he heard them.
"He's apt to add just a little of his own nonsense to the yarn he heard to make it interesting."
A WEDDING AT CLIFFMORE
The playmates who were at Cliffmore for the Summer were having a delightful time, but in a quiet way, John Gifford, or "Gyp," as he was still called, was very happy, and also very busy.
At the end of the school year in June, he had stood at the head of his class, and now, employed by Captain Atherton, he knew that he was respected, and that he had honestly earned that respect.
"I'm to be the hired 'man' on his place," he said, "so I'll be earning something, while I study evenings, for I mean to get somewhere worth while. I don't mind if anyone in Avondale who likes me, calls me "Gyp." It sounds friendly, but I'll not always be known as Gyp, the gypsy boy. When I get out in the world I'll be John Gifford, and I mean business. I don't know yet just what I'll do, but Captain Atherton will advise me, and with his help, I'll be able to decide."
Of course there were a few who continued to shake their heads, and say that "A gypsy is always a gypsy, and what can you expect of a boy brought up, or rather permitted to grow up, as Gyp has been?"
The larger number of the people of Avondale seemed determined to take a more cheerful view of it, and to believe in the boy, even as he now seemed to believe in himself.
Gyp proved that he needed no watching, for he commenced work early each day, and never stopped until night.
The lawn was carefully clipped, the flowers and lawn were given an abundance of water, vines were trained, and shrubs were trimmed, until after a month of Gyp's care, the place looked finer than ever before.
Captain Atherton left Cliffmore one day to visit Avondale, and get some papers that he remembered having left in his safe.
As he walked up the path he noticed what fine care the place had received during his absence. The lawn had never looked so green, the plants and shrubs had never blossomed so freely.
As he stood looking about him the click of the lawn mower caused him to turn just as Gyp came around the corner of the house.
"You've worked wonders here, Gyp," the Captain said. "I always had a fairly good lawn, and much could be said of the vines and the flowers, but everything looks far better than it ever did before. Where did you get the knowledge to do the work so well, and so successfully?"
"I asked the gardener down in the Center, the one who takes care of the parks, to tell me how to do my best for you, and then—I did it," Gyp said, simply.
"Work like that at whatever you undertake, and you'll be pretty sure to achieve success," said Captain Atherton.
"I mean to," Gyp replied, firmly, and as he looked after the fine figure ascending the steps to the porch he murmured:
"I'll do my very best for him," while Captain John Atherton said, as he opened the door of his safe to take out the papers that he needed: "That boy is worth helping, and I'll help him."
With the genial Captain away, the housekeeper felt free to enjoy a bit of gossip, and seeing the cook in the garden of the next house, she slipped out of the rear door, and across the lawn, where, that her coming might look like a mere happening, she took a bit of paper from her pocket, and commenced scribbling upon it.
She wished the cook in the next garden to think that she was jotting down a few things that she wished to remember.
Curiosity was at once aroused, and the cook moved toward the hedge.
"E'hem!" she coughed softly.
The housekeeper turned coolly.
"Oh, good morning," she said. "I just come out here for a bit of a rest, there's so much going on just now, that I'm nearly wild with the planning."
"Do tell!" cried the cook. "I've heard there was to be great doings of some sort over at 'The Cliffs,' but I haven't yet heard what it is. What's it all about? I'm wild to know."
Mrs. Wilton sighed, as if she were already very weary.
"We're not more than half ready for the great event," she said, "but Captain Atherton does not wish me to tell anyone the least thing about it."
"Mercy sakes! Why I came out purpose to hear!" said the cook, her round face very red, and her little eyes snapping.
"Well, you'll hear later," Mrs. Wilton said, and turning, she walked across the lawn and entered the house.
Inside the door she whispered:
"There! I guess that paid her for being so private that she wouldn't tell me a thing about the company that left their house in such a hurry one day last week, and hustled off before daylight at that!"
The cook, still standing with her fat arms akimbo, stared wrathfully at the closed door where the housekeeper had vanished.