SARA, A PRINCESS
THE STORY OF A NOBLE GIRL
BY FANNIE E. NEWBERRY
A Princess she, though not by birth: Her title's from above, Her heritage the right of worth, Her empire that of love.
I. OMENS, GOOD AND ILL
II. STORM AND TROUBLE
III. A SEARCH AND ITS ENDING
IV. UNCLE ADAM AND MORTON
V. MADAME AND "THE PRINCESS"
VI. HAPPY DAYS
VII. A TEA-PARTY
VIII. NEWS FROM THE NAUTILUS
X. ROBERT GLENDENNING
XI. BETTY'S QUILTING-BEE
XII. NEW FORTUNES
XIII. FROM KILLAMET TO DARTMOOR
XIV. NEW FRIENDS, NEW DUTIES, AND A NEW LOSS
XV. MORTON HAS A PICNIC
XVI. THE PRINCESS HOLDS A "DRAWING-ROOM"
XVII. MOLLY GIVES A PARTY
XVIII. A VISIT FROM MISS PRUE
XIX. BERTHA GILLETTE
XXI. THE PRINCE COMETH
XXII. GOOD-BY TO KILLAMET
SARA, A PRINCESS
OMENS, GOOD AND ILL.
The high, petulant voice rose shrilly through the steep, narrow stairway, and seemed to pierce the ears of the young girl who sat under the low, sloping roof, nearly bent double over the book in her lap.
She involuntarily raised both hands to her ears, as if the noise distressed her, then dropped them, straightened herself resolutely, and answered in a pleasant contralto, whose rich notes betokened power and repression,—
"Your fayther's got to hev them nets mended right away, he says, an' my han's is in the dough. Be you at them books agin?"
"Yes," said Sara; "but I'll come," rising with a sigh, and carefully slipping a bit of paper between the leaves of her book, before she laid it on the rough board shelf at one side of the little garret room.
As she passed directly from the stairway into the kitchen, or living- room, her father turned from the hopeless-seeming tangle of soiled and torn netting on the floor before him, and looked at her half wistfully from under the glazed brim of his wide hat.
"Was you studyin', Sairay? Ye see, I've got into a bad sort o' mess here, an' we may git our orders fur the long fish any day."
"That's all right, father! No, baby, sister can't take you now," as the little fellow on the floor crept to her feet and set up a wail; but her smile, and a replaced toy, silenced the cry, and brought back comfort and complaisance to the puckered little face.
Sara then stepped to her father's side, and drew the large soiled fish- net towards her, looking with dismay on the broken meshes; but her voice was still bright, as she said,—
"You must have had a big haul, father, to make such a rent!"
"Waal, 'twas partly thet, but more the ice. Ye see, it's jest breakin' up now, and it's monstrous jagged-like; 'twas thet did it, I reckon. Kin ye fix it, Sairay?"
She was soon seated, the dirty mass across her knee, and the large bone shuttle in her hand flying rapidly in and out. But while her young stepmother went and came, talking a good deal, and the baby pulled and scrambled about her knees, her thoughts were far away, in the large schoolroom at Weskisset.
For one short, happy year she had been an inmate of the seminary there, and in her thoughts this year was the Round Top of her life! All events dated from before or since her "school-time." All paths with her led to Weskisset, as with the ancients all roads led to Rome: it was her Athens, her Mecca, almost her Jerusalem.
Sara's own mother, though born inland, had come as schoolmistress, some twenty years since, to the little fishing-village of Killamet (now Sara's home), where she was wooed and won by the handsome, honest, daring young fisherman, Reuben Olmstead.
Sara was their first child, and upon her the young mother lavished untold tenderness. When, at the birth of the twins, nearly seven years later,—two infants having died between,—she yielded up her own gentle life, her last words had been,—
"Don't forget, Reuben, that Sara is to have an education. I can see already that she is going to care for books, and she'll need it more than ever, now—promise me, husband!" and the good man would sooner have cut off his weather-beaten spear-hand than break his promise to that dying wife.
In fulfilment of it he had struggled with what, to his fellow-villagers, seemed most foolish persistence, in order to give his oldest child immense and needless advantages, though it had been difficult enough to find the ways and means for these. Even after the usual annual three months of the "deestric" for several years, he had felt that his solemn promise still bound him to allow her at least one year at the seminary.
Nor did the loss of his aged mother, who had been housekeeper since his wife's death, weaken this resolution; and it was, perhaps, partly to make it possible for Sara to leave home, that he had married the young woman of the shrill voice, two years ago. She could look after the house and children while "Sairay got her finishin' off," as he expressed it.
But Sara, like many another scholar, found that her one poor little year was but a taste of wisdom, but one sip from the inexhaustible stream of learning, and, back once more in her childhood's home, was constantly returning to those living waters, with an unquenchable thirst.
It was her stepmother's pet grievance that "Sairay was allers at them books," which was hardly true; for the girl took all the care of her younger brother and sister, and much of the baby, while not a few of the household duties devolved upon her. But she undoubtedly was apt to hurry through her tasks, and disappear within the little attic room above the kitchen in cold weather, or under a certain shady cove down by the sea in summer, as soon as these were finished.
She had been netting but a short time when Morton and Mary came tumbling in, two lively youngsters nearing eleven years, whose bronzed and rosy cheeks betokened plenty of sunshine and fresh air.
"Say, pa!" they cried in a breath, almost stumbling over the baby in their excitement, Mary, as usual, in advance, "is it true you're going out for the long fish to-morrow? Jap Norris told us so on our way home from school."
The father's kindly eyes rested upon them with an indulgent twinkle in their depths.
"Waal, naow, if there's a bit o' news in this hull taown thet you younkers don't pick up, I'd like to find it! Yes, ef Jap Norris said so, I s'pose it's true; he oughter know, bein' as his fayther's the cap'n. How long'll it take to finish up thet air net, darter?"
"Not much longer; but isn't it early to start, father? The ice is hardly broken up, is it?"
"Waal, it's breakin' fast, Sairay; another day or two like this'll fetch it, an' it's 'first come best haul,' ye know, nowadays, sence all creation's got to runnin' to the Banks. Seems like it ain't skurcely fair for them sportin' men to go out jest for fun; they might leave cod an' herrin' to them what makes a business o' catchin' 'em, seems to me; but there, 'tain't so easy to keep a mortgage on the sea!" and he laughed good-humoredly. Meanwhile Molly, as they called the little Mary, had flung off her hood, and now was down on the floor playing with baby Ned, who welcomed her with crows of delight, for when she felt good-natured she was his favorite playmate.
The room would have seemed overflowing to a stranger, with its curtained bed in the alcove—or rather square projection—at one side, its fireplace at the end, and cradle, table, spinning-wheel, reels, and nets, to fill every available space left over.
Even the ceiling was made useful; for along the rafters were hooks which supported spears, oars, and paddles, while one wall was prettily tapestried with a great brown net, its sinkers hanging like ornamental balls along one edge.
The windows were small and the ceiling low, but the fire shone merrily, and gave light, warmth, and cosiness to the crowded apartment.
It was Sara who had pleaded for the restoration of the open fireplace, and the removal of the cook-stove to a bit of shed just back; and though at first the young mother had fretted at the innovation, she found it so much more cheerful, and such a saving of candles in the long evenings, that she had ceased to grumble.
As the night closed in, after their quickly disposed of supper, they all drew closer about the drift-wood fire, and no one, not even Mrs. Olmstead, seemed inclined to talk.
Sara's eyes wandered often from her book to the rugged face of her father, and each time she saw his eyes gazing thoughtfully into the flames.
In fact, the only sound in the room was the sleepy simmer of the water- soaked logs, and an occasional giggle from the twins, who were absorbed in some game which they played with horn buttons on a bit of board, marked off with chalk into the necessary squares. Once the baby gave a sweet, low laugh in the midst of his dreams in the cradle, and then honest Reuben Olmstead turned and smiled towards the little one in a sad fashion, which made Sara feel the tears near.
"Poor little goslin'!" he said tenderly. "Daddy hopes there'll be suthin' for him to do not quite so tough as facin' March sou'-westers; but then, who kin tell? He's a likely little chap, eh, Sairay?"
"Yes, father; he's a dear baby!"
He turned a little, and glanced back at his wife, who stood across the room reeling off twine, and, hitching his chair a trifle nearer the girl, said in a lower voice,—
"Sairay, ef 't should ever happen 't they was left to you to look arter, all three on 'em, would ye be good to the little fellar too, eh?"
"You know I would, father!"
"Waal, waal, yes, I s'posed ye would, Sairay. I really did, naow; only he ain't jest the same to ye as the twins, to be shore, so I jest thort I'd ask, thet's all, Sairay." He nodded at her once or twice in a conciliatory way, then turned back to his fire-gazing for a long moment, after which he rose stiffly, with a half moan of reluctance.
"Waal, s'pose I must go daown to the boats, an' help 'em a while. Guess likely Nick Hornblower ain't good fer much to-night; too much grog aboard, I'm feared. Hand me them boots, sonny."
Morton, having just risen from his game badly worsted by Molly, who could never refrain from taunting her conquered foe, was glad to make a digression by bringing both the hip-boots and a long worsted scarf, as well, and after the father had passed out came to his older sister's side.
He gave the outer log one or two gentle kicks, which sent the sparks flying upwards like a covey of fire-flies, and finally said in a voice too low for Mrs. Olmstead to hear,—
"Sara, I got a licking to-day!"
"Morton! What for?"
"'Cause I sassed the teacher. He don't know beans, Sara, he don't; and I can't help grinning in his face when he tells us things just the opposite of what you do."
"But I may be wrong, Morton. What was it?"
"It's lots of things, all the time. Guess when you tell me a river runs west I ain't a-going to say it runs east, am I? No, sir; not for anybody!"
"Well, Morton, we'll have to be pretty sure about things then, won't we? Where's your geography? Let's go over the lesson together. Oh! you're on Russia, aren't you? I was just reading something about that country myself. Think of its being so cold they chop up the frozen milk and sell it in chunks; and they go to bed in a sheepskin bag, which they draw up all about them, and fasten around the neck."
"I'd like that!" laughed the boy. "Tell me some more;" and he dropped upon a low seat, which was simply a square block of wood in the chimney- corner, while Molly, her face all alight with eagerness, joined the group.
These true stories of Sara's were the children's delight; for she had the faculty of making them more interesting than fiction, as she told them in simple, vivid language, with her sweet, full voice, pointed by her intelligent face.
But after a time they were sent off to bed, and Sara was left alone with her mother, who now sat knitting before the fire. The wind had risen outside, and was wailing mournfully around the cottage. The young girl shivered to hear it.
"Sounds like a death-wail, don't it?" said Mrs. Olmstead, noticing the movement. "When the wind hes thet sorter long scream in it, it allers means trouble, and your pa off for the long fish to-morrow!"
She shook her head dismally, and went on in a lugubrious tone, "Besides, didn't ye notice the windin' sheet in the candle las' night, an' didn't ye hear the howl o' thet dog along towards mornin'?"
Sara's eyes were fixed upon her with an interested, yet half-doubtful look. She had heard these superstitions from babyhood, till they had become almost a part of her religion. Yet she sometimes questioned, as now.
"But, mother, mightn't these things happen, don't they happen often, and nothing come of it? I'm sure there are winding-sheets always if the tallow is poor, and that dog of John Updyke's howls every time they go away and leave him alone. It seems to me, if God is so great that even the winds and the sea obey him, he might warn us in other finer, higher ways if he wished to; besides, why should he warn us when he knows he is doing everything for our best good? You don't warn the baby when you give him medicine, even though you know he won't like taking it."
"Sairay! Sairay!" her mother lifted an admonishing finger, "be careful how you talk about the A'mighty! Babies is different from growed-up folks, and, besides, I guess ef the Lord ain't too good to count the hairs of our heads, he can even take notice of a dog's howl!" and Sara, who had the reverent soul of a little child, was once again silenced, if not convinced. Just then, too, her father entered, bringing a great gust of cold air with him as he opened the door.
"Up yet?" he asked in his big, cheery voice, as he unwound the gorgeous worsted comforter from about his throat, and shook off the sleety rain from his tarpaulin. "Waal, this fire's a purty sight, I vum, for it's a dirty night out, an' no mistake. But we'd better all turn in naow, for we must be stirrin' early to-morrer; we've got our orders, an' I'm second mate o' the Nautilus."
"O father, the Nautilus? That old tub? I thought you said she wasn't sea-worthy."
"Oh, waal, not so bad as thet, quite. To be shore she's old, an' she's clumsy, but I guess she's got a good many knots o' sailin' in her yet, Sairay. I guess so. Leastwise thet's whar I'm to go, so it can't be helped, thet's sartin. Now, wife, ef you'll git out my kit," and he turned with some directions concerning his departure, while Sara, feeling she was not needed, crept silently up to bed, her soul distracted between gloomy forebodings, and the effort to trust in God and hope for the best.
The next morning, however, broke clear and fine, which was a great comfort; for whatever storms and dangers her father and friends must and would, doubtless, meet on the great ocean, it was something to have them start with fair winds and sunny skies.
All were up before dawn, except the baby, who slept on in blissful unconsciousness of any impending change; and soon the women stood, with their shawls over their heads, down on the sandy, crescent-shaped beach, watching the last preparations.
It was an impressive scene, and never lost that quality to Sara's eyes, though she had been used to it since infancy. As she stood now, near but hardly a part of the noisy throng, she was about midway in the crescent, at either end of which there gleamed whitely through the morning mist the round tower of a lighthouse.
These were only nine miles apart as the bird flies, but over thirty when one followed the concave shore; and the eastern light warned of treacherous rocks jutting out in bold headlands and rugged cliffs, while the western served to guide the mariner past quite as treacherous shallows, and a sandy bar which showed like the shining back of some sea-monster at low-tide.
Within this natural harbor was the little fleet of sloops, smacks, and schooners, getting up sail, and shipping some last half-forgotten supplies, while numerous smaller craft were paddled or rowed about, closer in shore.
The wide white beach, unbroken for a considerable sweep by even a headland, was now alive with an excited crowd—talking, laughing, weeping, and gesticulating, while back on the higher ground could be seen the small, straggling village, of but little more than one street, where nearly all the houses turned a gabled end to the highway, while a well-trodden path led through a drooping gateway to a door somewhere at the side or rear.
There were few trees to hide their unpainted homeliness; but some windows showed house-plants and muslin curtains within, while the most noticeable architectural features were the long, open sheds, used for cleaning and packing fish, and a bald, bare meeting-house, set like conscious virtue on a hill,—the only one to be seen, just back of the village, and only worthy the name because there was nothing whatever to dispute its claims in the way of highlands in that region.
As Sara stood half dreamily taking it all in, more by imagination than eyesight, for it was still mistily gray, except off to the east beyond the Cliff light, where the sky was brilliant with the first crimson blush of the morning, a man approached her, a young fellow, still tall, trig, and ship-shape in figure, as few seamen are apt to be after thirty.
"Good-morning, Sairay," he said respectfully; "we've got a fine day for the start, a'ter all." "Yes, Jasper, very fine, and I'm glad enough. The last start was dreadful! I cried all the next night, for, don't you remember? the wind kept rising till it was a perfect gale, and I couldn't help thinking of that dreadful Mare's Head Point. Mother was sure you'd get there about midnight, and saw signs and warnings in everything."
He laughed cheerily.
"Oh, she enjoys it, Sairay; don't 'grudge her that comfort, for a'ter all we mostly gets home safe, barrin' a broken rib perhaps, or a finger. I've had three falls from the rigging, and one wreck, and I'm pretty lively yet!" A general movement seawards interrupted them. This was the final scene, the actual start. He held out his hand quickly.
"Well, good-by, Sairay."
"Good-by, Jasper. You'll look after father? That is, he's getting old, you know, and if anything should happen"—
"I won't forgit, Sairay. I'm on the Sea Gull, but I'll see him now and then. Good-by."
His voice was wistful, but his eyes even more so, as he clasped her hand in a quick, strong pressure which almost hurt her, then turned, and went with great strides towards his father's long-boat just about pushing off; for this was Jaspar Norris whose father was captain of the fleet, and by far the richest and most consequential man in Killamet.
Sara turned from the young man's hand-clasp to her father's embrace.
"Waal, Sairay, we're off, an' good luck goes with us, ef a man kin jedge by the weather. Good-by. God bless you, darter!"
Sara could not speak, but she held him close a minute, then stood with tearful eyes and watched him embark, telling herself he had always returned safe and sound, and surely he would again. Even her heartache could not dull the beauty of the scene, as, with all sails set, the white-winged vessels glided smoothly out toward the open sea, and suddenly her face grew bright, and she caught her breath in excitement, for just as the leader rounded the lighthouse, the tips of the masts caught the first rays of the rising sun, and gleamed almost like spear- points in the strong light, which soon inwrapped the whole fleet in a beautiful glow. Others saw it as well as herself, and some one shouted, "A good sign! A good sign!" while a hearty cheer rose from the little group of women, children, and old men upon the beach.
Sara joined in it, and felt glad as well as they; for while she might have doubts of howling dogs and dripping candles, this seemed an omen that heaven itself might deign to send as a comfort to their anxious hearts.
STORM AND TROUBLE.
They turned homewards presently, and Sara, walking between the now momently subdued Morton and Molly, heard her name called with a purity of pronunciation so seldom accorded it in Killamet that she knew at once who spoke.
"It's Miss Prue, children; run on home, while I stop and see what she wants," she said, turning from them and passing through the little gateway in a neat white paling fence at her side. Then she followed the path to the door, as usual near the rear of the cottage, but here prettily shaded by a neat latticed porch, over which some vines, now bare of leaves, clambered, while a little bay-window close by was all abloom with plants inside. Between the plants she caught a glimpse of a smiling face, which presently appeared at the door.
"Good-morning, Sara. Come in a minute, child. I haven't seen you this fortnight!"
Sara smiled up into the kind elderly face, around which a muslin cap was primly tied.
"No, Miss Prue, I've been very busy getting the nets and father's clothes ready; he's been expecting the start every day."
"Yes, I suppose so. What a fine morning for it! I've been watching them from the skylight through my binocle; 'twas a brave sight!"
"Yes, beautiful, only that father is getting old for such hardships. I dread his going more and more every time."
"Ah! but where will you find a stouter heart, or a steadier hand and eye, than belong to good old Reuben Olmstead? He can put many of the young men to shame, thanks to his temperate life! Your father is one of the best types of his class, Sara,—brave, honest, and true,—did you know it?"
As she spoke, she led the girl from the tiny entry, with three of its corners cut off by doors, into a pleasant room lighted by the aforesaid bay window. It had a bright red-and-green square of carpeting in the centre, with edges of fine India matting; a large cabinet of seashells and other marine curiosities occupied one end; a parrot was chained to a high perch near an open Franklin stove at the other, and the walls between were decorated with queer plates and platters of dragon-china, while great bunches of tassel-like grasses and wings of brilliant feathered fowl filled the odd spaces.
Motioning her guest to a small easy-chair, Miss Prudence Plunkett took her own, one of those straight-backed, calico-cushioned wooden rockers dear to our grandmothers, and drew it up opposite the girl's.
"No, child, you musn't worry! Reuben Olmstead's a good sailor yet, and, better than all, a good man. His Father will look after him more tenderly than you can," giving her cap an odd little jerky nod, which caused the parrot to suddenly croak out,—
"'Taint neither!" "Hush, Poll, nobody's talking to you! It's astonishing, my dear, how much that creature knows. She thinks when I nod my head I'm trying to convince her of something, and it always makes her quarrelsome."
"'Tis too!" croaked the bird again, determined to get up an argument, if only with herself.
Sara had to smile in spite of her sadness, at which the creature gave such an odd, guttural chuckle, that she laughed outright.
"That's right; pretty Poll, nice Poll! Cheer up, cheer up!" she rattled off, looking, through all these merry outbursts, so unutterably solemn, that the effect was ludicrous in the extreme.
"Silly thing!" said Sara, wiping her eyes. "She always will be heard; but while I think of it, I must tell you how I've enjoyed your 'Studies in Russia' that you lent me, Miss Prue. It must be fine to travel and see the world!"
"Yes; and it's decidedly comfortable, too, to sit by a good fire and see it through other people's eyes, Sara. These thrilling adventures, these close shaves from shipwreck, fire, frost, and robbery, are much pleasanter to read about than to realize, I imagine. Do you know, I always feel like adding a special thanksgiving for books to my daily prayer. What would my lonely life be without them?"
Sara's eyes kindled.
"I've felt so, too, Miss Prue; and another for you, because you have helped me to enjoy so many!"
"All right, my dear, remember me in every prayer, if you will. It's doubtless better thanks than I deserve, but I won't refuse anything so good; and now what shall it be to-day, more Russia?"
"You said something about one,—'A Trip through Siberia,' wasn't it?"
The elder woman stepped across the room, and opened a glass door screened by a thick red curtain, thus displaying several book-shelves thickly packed, from which she selected the volume named; then handing it to Sara, who had risen to depart, said gently,—
"My dear, I don't like that little line between your eyes; it looks like discontent; or is it only study?"
"Something of both, perhaps."
"Smooth it out, child, smooth it out! No one can hope for wisdom until he has learned patience; now is your time to cultivate your own. Did you ever see a mountain top that could be reached without a hard scramble, Sara?"
"I never saw a mountain top at all, Miss Prue," smiling whimsically. The elder woman laughed.
"Then you have so much the more in store for you; for I'm sure you will see one some day, if it is only the Delectable Mountains above. Meanwhile, climb on, and keep looking up."
"I'll try," said Sara humbly, and took her departure, comforted and inspired, as always, by this cheery old maid, whose lover had lain over twenty years beneath the waves, never forgotten, never replaced, in the strong, true heart of his unmarried widow.
When Sara reached home she found need for her patience at once, for the baby was crying, and her mother looked cross and fretful.
"Wall," she said in her shrillest tone, as the door closed behind the girl, "you've come at last, hev you? An' another book, I'll be bound! Pity you couldn't turn into one, yourself; you'd be about as much use as now, I guess!"
"Then we'd both be 'bound,' mother, wouldn't we?" trying to speak lightly. "Give baby to me, won't you, you're tired."
She held out her arms to the screaming child, who went to her at once, growing more quiet the moment he felt her tender clasp.
"There! Now I hope I kin git a minute to myself. Where you been, anyhow, Sairay?"
"At Miss Prue's—she called me in. Mother, there's been a pin pricking him! See here, poor little fellow!" and Sara held up the bent bit of torture, then threw it into the fire, while the relieved baby smiled up at her through his tears and cooed lovingly.
"It beats all how he likes you, Sairay!" said the mother in an apologetic tone. "I never thought of a pin, an' it allus makes me ready to fly when he yells so. What did Miss Prue hev to say?" "Oh, not much; her parrot kept interrupting," laughing a little. "I always talk with her about her books or curiosities, nearly; how pretty it is there!"
"Miss Plunkett comes o' good stock. Her folks hev been sea-captings ever sence they was pirates, I guess. And she's rich too; she must hev as much as two thousand in the savings bank down to Norcross, 'sides her nice home."
"She's good!" said Sara with emphasis, as if nothing else counted for much.
"Wall, nobody's goin' to say she ain't in Killamet, Sairay, leastways, not many. In course she's ruther top-headed an' lofty, but it's in the blood. Ole Cap'n Plunkett was the same, and my! his wife,—Mis' Pettibone thet was,—she was thet high an' mighty ye couldn't come anigh her with a ten-foot pole! So it's nateral fur Miss Prue. Now, Sairay, I'm goin' over to my cousin Lizy's a while, an' if baby—why, he's gone to sleep, ain't he?"
Sara nodded smilingly, and her mollified mother said, more gently,—
"Wall, my dear, lay him in the cradle, an' then you kin hev a good time a-readin' while I'm gone. I s'pose you kain't help takin' to books arter all, seein' as your ma was a school-ma'am."
"Thank you," said Sara, more for the kindness of the tone than the words, and the little domestic squall that time passed over quite harmlessly.
But these were of daily, almost hourly occurrence. Sara's larger, broader nature tried to ignore the petty pin-pricks of her stepmother's narrower, more fretful one; but at times her whole soul rose up in rebellion, and she flashed out some fiercely sarcastic or denunciatory answer that reduced the latter to tears and moans, which in time forced from the girl concessions and apologies.
To do the little woman justice, she was often sorely tried by Sara's grand, self-contained airs,—unconscious as they were,—and by her obliviousness to many of the trivialities and practicalities of life. Mrs. Olmstead loved gossip, and Sara loathed it. The woman delighted in going to tea-drinkings, and afterward relating in detail every dish served (with its recipe), and every dress worn upon the momentous occasion; the girl could not remember a thing she had eaten an hour later, nor a single detail of any costume.
"But, Sairay," her mother would urge, after the former's visits to Miss Prue or Mrs. Norris, places to which she was seldom asked herself, except with great formality once a year perhaps; for the early and life- long friendship these families had extended to Sara's own mother was not so freely bestowed upon her successor. "But, Sairay, think! You say Mis' Jedge Peters from Weskisset was there; kain't you tell what she wore? Was it black silk, or green cashmere? and was the sleeves coat, or mutton-leg? and do think if she had on a cap, kain't you?"
"I know she looked very nice," Sara would reply helplessly; "but, really, I can't think, mother. You see, she was telling about the work in the hospitals,—the Flower Mission, they call it,—and I was so interested I couldn't take my eyes off her face."
"Wall, then, the supper, Sairay. You must know what you was eatin', child! Did Mis' Norris use her rale chany that the cap'n brung over, or only the gold-banded? And did she hev on them queer furrin' presarves, with ginger an' spices in 'em, or only home-made?"
"Well, let me see. I think they had spices, that is, I'm not quite sure, for Captain Klister was there, and he got to 'reeling off a yarn,' as he said, about the mutiny at Benares in '57, when he was buying silks and shawls there, and I didn't notice just what was served, I was listening so intently."
At which the poor woman, greedy for news, would flare up and abuse her stepdaughter roundly, bringing up, each time, every former delinquency, till Sara either turned under the weight of them and felled her with a sarcasm, or, more wisely, fled to her attic and her books for solace.
Thus some weeks slipped by, bringing milder and more settled weather; but, as if winter and spring had roused all their forces to repulse the irresistible oncoming of the summer, along towards the beginning of May there was a cold storm of wind and sleet, lasting three days, which blasted the too confiding and premature fruit-buds, and ruthlessly cut off the heads of all the peeping, early wild-flowers.
Sara, surrounded by the children, stood looking from the window one afternoon, soon after this storm broke.
"How glad I am she didn't take baby!" she said, pressing the little fellow's cheek against her own. "I felt those last two sultry days were weather-breeders. Do you remember whether she took her heavy shawl, Molly?"
"No, I don't b'lieve she did; wait, I'll see."
The little girl, always alert as a bird, ran and peeped into the wardrobe, then called out,—
"No, here it is! I thought she didn't have it. She took her other, 'cause it's newer. She'll be awful cold to pay for it, won't she, Sara?"
"I'm afraid she'll take cold," said the older girl, with a worried look. "Put another stick on the fire, Morton, and shut the shed door tight when you come through. How the wind does blow!"
Mrs. Olmstead had gone early that afternoon, with a neighbor, to attend the funeral of a friend in the next village, and must return through this storm in an open wagon, very insufficiently clad.
It was dark before the party arrived; and as she came in shaking her wet clothes, and trying to make light of her shiverings, Sara looked at her in alarm.
"You've taken cold, mother," she said, handing the eager, crowing baby to Morton, and hurrying to divest the little woman of her wet wrappings.
"No, I guess not," she answered hoarsely, her teeth chattering so that she could scarcely speak; "but I'm ch—chilly now."
She huddled over the fire, while Sara and Molly brought warm, dry clothing, and chafed her bloodless hands. Their solicitude touched her.
"You was allus good to me, girls!" she said gratefully. "I feel lots better now. This fire's rale comfortin'!" bending almost into it in her desire for warmth.
But the vociferous baby would no longer be silenced; and she took him from Morton's arms to her own, hugging him close, and growing warmer at once from the contact of his dear little body.
"It's good to be home agin," she murmured sleepily. "I hope your pa's safe at anchor to-night: it's terrible bad weather, Sairay."
"Where did the rain overtake you, mother?" asked the latter, as she hurried about preparing a cup of hot tea and a plateful of food.
"Jest this side the cross-roads; and, my! how it did drive! We got it e'enamost in our full faces, an' it cut like a knife; but 'twas jest as fur back as 'twas forwards, an' Mis' Ruttger was as anxious to git home to her young uns as I was. Yah-h! but I'm sleepy!" with a long yawn.
"You'd better get right to bed, mother, as soon as you've eaten this; and I'll undress baby and bring him to you. You're warmer now?"
"Rale comf'able, thank ye. I do hope they ain't got any such wind out to the Banks! You ain't asked me about the funeral, Sairay."
"I was so busy, mother; were there many there?"
"E'enamost a hundred, I should think; they come from as far away as Norcross an' Weskisset. P'fessor Page of the seminary was there, an' he asked after you; he said you was a fine scholard. Then there was the Pettibones, an' the Hornblowers, an' the Scrantouns. Oh, 'twas a grand buryin'!"
"Did they all wear crape tied round their arms? and how many white horses did you see?" broke in Molly. "If you saw seven in a row, it means you'll die 'fore the year's up. I never saw but five."
"Hush, Molly! Don't talk such foolishness! Come, mother, your voice sounds very hoarse and tired. Hadn't you better get right to bed?"
"Wall, I guess so; but don't hurry me so, Sairay! I kain't a-bear to be hurried! An' I'm tryin' to think how many horses I did see, but—I've— forgotten."
Another long yawn, while her head drooped wearily; and Sara, alarmed at her white face and the purple rings about her eyes, hurried her away without more ado, in spite of her drowsy and fretful resistance. She had scarcely touched the pillow, however, when she dropped into a heavy slumber; and the girl, filled with vague forebodings over her, and also because of the storm, sent unwilling Molly up-stairs alone, and camped down, fully dressed, before the fire, with a pillow and comforter.
The next thing she realized was the feeling that she was rising out of unknown depths of nothingness; and, after one bewildered glance about the room, she finally became conscious of a faint, hoarse voice calling, "Sairay! Sairay!"
She dragged herself to her feet, all cramped and stiff from her uncomfortable position, and at last, fully aware of her surroundings, answered, "Yes, mother, I'm coming!" as she hastened to the bedside.
Bending over it, she fairly started at the pallor of the face upon the pillow, from which the dark eyes seemed starting with an expression of pain and anxiety which set her heart to beating heavily.
"Sairay," whispered that strange voice, "I'm sick—I'm awful sick—in here."
The hand, already at her side, pressed it more closely, and her brows contracted with pain.
"O mother! what is it? your lungs? You've taken a dreadful cold."
She nodded; and Sara flew to call Morton, and send him for the doctor, then heated the flannels her mother asked for, and vainly tried to soothe the now frightened and crying baby.
It seemed an age till the doctor came stamping in,—a pudgy little man, with an expression of unquenchable good-humor on his round, florid face.
"Well, well," he said briskly, rubbing his hands before the freshly kindled blaze, "caught cold, has she? Lungs sore? That's right! Plenty of hot flannels. Now, let me see."
Having warmed himself, he proceeded to examine the sick woman; and Sara saw that his face was more serious as he turned away. He gave her careful directions about the medicines, and said he should look in again after breakfast (it was now towards morning); then tied his hat down with an old worsted tippet, and prepared to depart.
Sara followed him outside of the door, unmindful of the sweeping gusts of wind, and his admonitions to stay indoors or she too would be ill.
"Yes, doctor, but just a moment; what is it?"
"Oh! and is she very sick?"
"Well, you look after her just as I tell you, and, God willing, we'll pull her through. Now go in and dry yourself quick! I don't want two patients in one house."
He pushed her in, shut the door behind her with a bang, and was gone.
The memory of the next three days was always like a troubled dream to Sara,—one of those frightful dreams in which one is laboring to go somewhere, to do something, without success. Work as she would, day and night, assisted by the kindly neighbors and the frightened children, she could not stay the progress of that fatal disease; and on the fourth it terminated in the going out of that life which, with all its faults, had been kindly in impulse at least.
As Sara bent over her mother at the last, trying to win a word, a look, the closed lids were raised a moment, and the dying woman said feebly, "Sairay, you've—allus—been good! Don't leave—the baby. There's—the— money;" and, unable to finish, her voice ceased, her tired lids closed for their last, long sleep. She would never find fault, never give commendation, again. How the thought smote Sara as she stood helplessly gazing down upon her through her blinding tears!
"O mother, mother! I ought to have been more patient," she moaned as they led her away; "but I will try and make amends by my goodness to baby."
"Yes, that's right," said Mrs. Ruttger, wiping her eyes. "We kain't none of us help what's passed atween us an' the dead, but it oughter make us better to the livin'. Not thet I blame you, Sairay; some folks, even good ones, is dretful tryin' at times; but I know jest haow you feel, fur I've been thar myself."
There is among these honest fisherfolk a strong feeling of communism, which shows itself in the kindliest ways. They may be close-fisted, hard-headed, and sharp-tongued with each other when well and prosperous; but let poverty, wreck, illness, or death overtake one of their number, and the "nighest" of them at a bargain will open heart and purse with an astonishing generosity.
Sara found all responsibility taken out of her hands. In fact, Miss Prue, finding her standing in the midst of her room with her hand pressed to her head, gazing bewilderedly about, and asking softly, "Where am I?" took her vigorously in hand, and soon had her in bed, where, exhausted as she was, she slept for hours without dreams or movement,—a sleep which doubtless saved her an illness, and brought her strong young body into excellent condition once more.
Through all this Sara longed inexpressibly for her father, but knew it was hopeless wishing.
All she could do was to intrust the news to a fishing-smack which was about leaving harbor, and might possibly run across the Nautilus somewhere on the broad highway of the ocean. Yet, even then, he could only return in case of some lucky opportunity; for the fleet would not put back for weeks yet, as this was their harvest-time, when even the dead must wait, that the necessities of the living might be supplied.
After a few days things were strangely quiet and natural once more.
Morton and Molly, thoroughly subdued for the time by recent events, helped her about the house, the short winter's term of school having closed for the long vacation.
Even the baby seemed less fretful than before; and the lengthening, softening days went by in a quiet that left Sara many hours for her beloved books.
But the children were needing clothes, and she herself must have a cotton gown; so, as the little store of silver in the old blue teapot had been almost exhausted by the simple funeral requirements, she put on her sunbonnet one afternoon, and leaving the baby, with many injunctions, to the care of the twins, started to call on Squire Scrantoun, who had for many years been her father's banker.
The old gentleman's office was in a wing of his big yellow house of colonial architecture, and was entered by means of a glass door, which now stood open in the balmy warmth of an early June day.
Stepping within, she found him reading a paper, from which he glanced up to scowl inquiringly at her over his glasses, afterwards relaxing his brows a trifle as he observed,—
"Oh, it's you, Sara: come in, come in! Here's a seat. Now, what can I do for you?"
"Thank you, squire; I came to get some money if you please."
"Money? Oh, yes, certainly. Want to borrow a little, eh? Well, I guess I could accommodate you; how much?"
She looked up inquiringly. "Not to borrow, squire; but I've had extra expenses, as you know; and, as father always leaves his money with you"—
The squire put down his paper, and looked at her so queerly the sentence died on her lips.
"I haven't any money of your father's—don't you know? He drew it all just before he sailed, and took it home; said his wife wanted him to. She had dreamed of a good place to hide it in, I believe."
He smiled sarcastically as he made the explanation; and Sara, in her new tenderness toward the dead mother, resented this smile.
"Mother was a good manager," she said warmly, "and father always trusted her."
"Oh, of course! Reub Olmstead always trusts everybody; he's born that way. But didn't she tell you where she'd put it before she died?"
"No; but now I remember, she tried to, I'm sure. She began something about the money, but was too weak to finish—poor mother!"
"Quite likely; it's a pity she couldn't have finished. But then, you'll find it somewhere. Look in all the old stockings and sugar-bowls,— there's where these people generally stow away their savings,—and if you don't find it, why, come to me; I can let you have a little, I guess, on interest of course."
He took up his paper again; and Sara, feeling sore and resentful, rose, said a curt "Very well," and walked out.
Two years ago she might not have noticed his contemptuous reference to "these people," nor to her father's innate trust in human nature; but now, for some reason, they rankled, and she was glad to get beyond the reach of his small, keen blue eyes and rasping voice.
A SEARCH AND ITS ENDING.
Sara had not walked far, however, before she began to feel the silent, irresistible influences of the day. It was the balmy blossoming time. The whole atmosphere was rich with sweet scents and sounds, while the sky had that marvellous depth and tone which makes the name of heaven seem no misnomer.
The sea, limpid and tender, wooed the shore with gentle whispers and caressings, which seemed to have no likeness to the wild rushes and blows of two months before. She looked towards it wistfully,—for Sara loved the sea,—then, yielding to the homesick impulse, turned from the narrow street to the beach, and walked briskly away towards a spur of rock which jutted into the water sharply at some distance away.
Arrived here, she sought with assured footsteps a certain zig-zag way— it could hardly be called a path—which wound in and out among the bowlders, skipping some, leaping others, trenching on the edges of little pools left in some rocky hollow by the high tide, and finally led her, after a last steep scramble, into a niche of the sea's own hollowing, which she had always claimed as her own.
Seated just within, she could look down upon a narrow causeway, into which the water came tumbling through an aperture in the rocks much like a roughly shaped gothic window, and, having tumbled in, tumbled out again, with much curling and confusion, leaving its angry foam in sudsy heaps along the rocky edges which opposed its farther advance.
This bit of nature was named the "Devil's Causeway" by the natives, who have a way of bestowing all particularly grand and rugged sites upon that disagreeable personage; but Sara, having no mind to give up her favorite spot to his satanic majesty, always named it to herself the "Mermaid's Castle," and had a childish legend of her own about an enchanted princess confined here and guarded by the sea until the coming of the prince,—her lover.
Happy to be here once more, Sara leaned back against the rock, which felt warm, kindly, and familiar; then, removing her sun-bonnet, fanned her flushed face, and looked dreamily away to the pale opaline horizon, against which some sails showed inkily, like silhouettes.
She was wondering vaguely why sails should look so white in shore and so black far out to sea, when she was startled by a sharp tap! tap! apparently at her very elbow.
She jumped a little, then listened wonderingly. It came again—tap! tap! tap!—then a pause; and then an unmistakably human exclamation of impatience, while a bit of rock went whirling past her, to plunge with a resounding thud into the torrent below.
She leaned just the least bit forward and looked around the side of her alcove to see a funny sight. There stood a little man in the attitude of the Colossus of Rhodes, his bare bald head red and perspiring, and his eyes glaring through huge gold-bowed glasses at a bit of rock in one hand, which he had evidently just broken off with the hammer in the other.
He was muttering something unintelligible to Sara, and looked altogether quite queer and cross enough to be a denizen of this ill-named locality.
Sara, laughing to herself at the funny apparition, was drawing into the rocky shell again, when a mischievous puff of wind suddenly caught her gingham bonnet from her limp grasp, and sent it flying down the chasm after the piece of rock.
She heard the exclamation again, louder and more guttural than before, then the full moon of a face peered around her sheltering wall, and the voice said,—
"Hein! A yoong mees! Beg pardong, then—have I deesturb you?"
"No, sir," rising to her feet; "only I've lost my sunbonnet!" looking ruefully down to where it hung tantalizingly in sight, but far out of reach, on a jutting point of rock. He looked too, then shrugged his shoulders with a sympathetic air.
"If I have only been some tall now, mees, or if I could some climb down there—but, alas!"
He shook his head, and threw out his hands with a helpless motion, and just then a clear whistle rose from the base of the cliff, giving the tune of "Annie Laurie." The two looking down then caught a glimpse of a strong white hand, issuing from a black coat-sleeve, which was extended towards them, as the nervous-looking fingers grasped a ledge of rock preparatory to a spring, when the little man burst out,—
"Ha! Mine nevew! Robare, Robare, look! look dis way!"
The whistle ceased, and a head was thrust forward,—a well-cropped, chestnut head,—while a voice as clear as the whistle sang out,—
"Hello, uncle! That you, up there? How did you make it? Haven't got a rope to give me a lift, have you?"
"No, no, vait! Dat—dat—zing—Oh, you tell he!" turning impatiently to Sara, for, in trying to speak quickly, his limited English had quite deserted him.
She called out obediently, in her rich young voice,—
"Wait, please! Do you see the sunbonnet just above your head? If you will get it and go around to the beach, I'll meet you, and point out the way up here." "Indeed I will!" was the quick and courteous response; and she saw the fingers tighten, then the head give a little spring upwards, when the hand clutched the bonnet, and all disappeared.
"I have it," was called up an instant later. "Now for the beach!" Sara turned with a smile to the little man, who nodded kindly, raising his head to lift the hat that was not there, then, with a bewildered look, he whirled around two or three times and gazed at her helplessly.
"Los'!" he murmured, with so comical a look of dismay that Sara could scarcely keep from laughing outright. "Los'! an' it ees tree now of dose hat that ees gone, alas!"
"Perhaps I can find it," she said encouragingly. "Why, what's that?" suddenly catching sight of a bundle of things in a hollow just below.
Sure enough, there was the hat, also a coat, and a round tin box Sara was afterwards to know as a specimen-case. She sprang lightly down, handed them up to the absent-minded little geologist, and went on her way, meeting the nephew on the lower ledge.
He lifted his hat politely as he saw her, and, holding out the bonnet, said,—
"I presume this is your property?"
"Yes, thank you," she returned, flushing a little as she received it. "You were very kind to get it for me."
"Indeed, no; it is you who are kind, rather! Did you pilot my Uncle Leon up that steep place?"
"Oh, no, sir! He found the way. See, after you get around this rough ledge it is easy till the last climb; that is quite steep. Just follow me a moment, please."
"As long as you wish"—he began gallantly, but she did not wait to hear; and, having led him to a spot whence he could see his uncle, she pointed out the further way, slightly bowed her head in adieu, and, waiting for no further parley, turned about and walked briskly homewards, remembering it was high time to return to the baby, and begin a search for that hidden money.
* * * * *
It was late afternoon of the next day, and poor Sara stood in the midst of her family and household treasures, looking the picture of despair. Around her was collected every description of bag, box, and bundle, also the baby, while Morton and Molly (the latter secretly delighted with all this excitement) were turning things upside-down and wrongside-out, with vim enough to have furnished Pinkerton's whole force.
But now they had come to a halt; for so far, though everything on the premises had apparently been emptied, no money had appeared, and the three stood confronting each other, with dismay written on their faces.
"Can't you think of another place, Molly?" asked Sara in desperation. "She couldn't have torn up the floor, could she?"
Molly's eyes danced.
"What if we had to take up every board! My! 'twould tear the old house all to pieces, wouldn't it? But, Sara, there isn't another place anywhere; we've been everywhere that even a mouse could get, I'm sure!"
"Then it must be among these things, and we have overlooked it. Here, Morton, you take that pile; you this, Molly; and I'll attack these rags; though it doesn't seem possible that she could have put it in a rag-bag."
For a moment there was silence, as each delved and peered, the baby more industrious than all the rest, snatching at everything, to clap to his mouth, only to toss it aside for something else when he found it was not eatable.
"Well, Sara, say what you will, I'm sure 'tisn't in my heap," said Morton. "What shall I do with all these bits and papers, anyhow?"
"Let's see, it is nearly tea-time. Put them right into the fireplace, and light them to boil the kettle."
"All right; and O Sara! do let's have some crisp fried potatoes with our herring: this work has made me as hungry as a black bear!"
"Yes, yes, do, Sara!" cried Molly, hopping up and down. "And some molasses on our bread too; the butter's all gone."
"Well, Molly, you'll have to slice the potatoes then."
"Of course I will; where's the knife?" whirling about over the thickly strewn floor, glad of any change from what was becoming a wearisome and fruitless task.
"Molly! Molly! You're making everything fly! Do be more careful!"
"Yes'm," dropping suddenly into a ludicrous imitation of the waddle of a goose; "I'll stop flying, and paddle."
"You need a paddle!" muttered Morton, contemptuous of such antics; and he proceeded to stuff the rubbish into the chimney-place, adding a light stick or two.
Soon there was a leaping blaze under the squat black kettle, which the boy watched with satisfaction.
"There!" he said, "we won't have to look those over again. Why, what's baby got? It looks just like a wad of tobacco. Here, Neddie! Neddie! don't put that in your mouth; give it to brother, quick!"
But master baby had no idea of giving up his treasure-trove, and resisted so stoutly that a regular scramble ensued. For his dimpled fingers were shut so tightly over the wad that Morton could not at first undo them, and the baby, wrenching his hand away, crept rapidly to Sara, half crying, half laughing, then, with a sudden thought, turned when in front of the fireplace, and with a wild little giggle of mischief and rebellion tossed the thing into the very midst of the blaze.
The three were all laughing in sympathy, Sara on her knees before the rag-bag, Molly with knife and potato suspended in air, and Morton just as he had tipped over sidewise on the floor when the baby broke away, when suddenly Sara gave a quick, piercing cry.
"See! see! O Morton! Morton!" and reached out her arms in a desperate way, too paralyzed for the instant to rise.
Morton, following her wild glance, echoed the cry, for the supposed wad of tobacco, uncurling in the heat, was now plainly seen to be—a roll of greenbacks!
Morton sprang forward and made a lunge for them; Sara, regaining her wits, did the same, while Molly shrieked and whirled like a dervish, but alas! it was too late! Their scorched fingers clutched only a crumbling blackened roll, which fell to pieces in their grasp, and the day's search for that money, which meant all the difference between comfort and privation, had ended in a tiny heap of ashes, which a breath would blow away.
For one long, dazed, dreadful minute Sara and Morton stood gazing at each other, the boy's blue eyes large as saucers, and Sara's brown ones turned to black by desperation; then the baby, frightened at the silence and their strange expressions, began to cry and tug at Sara's dress, demanding to be taken up.
This broke the spell. Molly gave way to an agony of crying; Morton said brokenly, "Oh, what will we do?" and Sara, stooping mechanically to lift the unconscious little cause of all this trouble, gave a long, quivering sigh, and murmured helplessly, "God only knows!"
And, indeed, the prospect was dark enough. Those greenbacks meant the savings of months, doubtless, put by bit by bit, for just this occasion, and to have them thus destroyed in one careless instant seemed too cruel!
After a little they could talk about it.
"Where could it have been?" sobbed Molly, making a dab at her eyes with the potato, but remembering in time to substitute the corner of her apron.
"I don't know," said Sara; "it was wrapped in brown paper, I think. Even if we had seen it, we would have thought it but a twisted scrap. Did either of you see Neddie when he picked it up?"
No one had, until Morton spied it on the way to his mouth, and all conjectures were useless so long as the little fellow could not explain.
Instead, Morton said more hopefully, "But, Sara, perhaps this isn't all there was. She might have hid it in two or three places."
Sara shook her head dubiously; such wisdom was more than she could hope for in the young mother.
"No, Morton, I don't believe there would be enough to divide. We must look this trouble squarely in the face."
"But, Sara," persisted the boy, "Jap Norris always says father's the most forehanded among them all, and rich for a fisherman. You know he never spends a cent for grog."
"Yes, Morton, I know. Poor father! it's too bad, when he works so hard for us!" and for the first time tears trembled on her eyelashes. Then, dashing them bravely away, "Well, what's done can't be undone. O baby, baby! if you knew the mischief your bits of hands have done!" holding them up, and spatting them gently together till he crowed with delight. "But come, Molly dear, where are those nice fried potatoes we're to have for supper? 'There's no use in crying for spilt milk,' you know."
Molly gave a last sob, then looked up with the sun breaking through her tears. "Burnt money's worse'n spilt milk, Sara; but I'll tell you what, when the coddies are all gone, I'll go lobster-catching, can't I? It's awful fun!"
There were few circumstances in life out of which Molly could not extract "fun" in some shape. Indeed, in less than five minutes she was laughing gayly, and caricaturing the whole scene just passed, from the baby's wilfulness, to Sara's shriek of dismay and rush for the burning greenbacks.
Sara, oppressed with care and forebodings as she was, could not help smiling, and the smile seemed to ease her of her burden just a trifle. "Well, we haven't come to want yet, thank God!" she thought hopefully.
Not want as they knew it, though the most of us might consider them little short of it. There were still herring, "coddies," and potatoes in store, and some groceries, while the pile of wood back of the shed was large for that village. Then, too, summer was near, when their needs would be fewer. To be sure, the new dresses must be given up, but they still had one change apiece, and there were some things of the dead mother's which could be used, for poverty does not admit of morbid sentimentality.
"Oh, we can live, surely, till father comes home," was Sara's summing-up that night, as she lay wide-awake in her bed after all the rest had long been sleeping. Then, turning over with the resolution to trust and fear not, she clasped the naughty baby (whom she had never thought of blaming) in her arms, and, with a last uplifting of her soul in prayer, dropped gently into slumber.
UNCLE ADAM AND MORTON.
The days slipped quietly away, and Sara managed, in the midst of all her duties, to read with the children at least one hour of each, and to get a little time besides for her own deeper studies.
She found she could take the old school-books which she had thought once so thoroughly learned, and dig new treasures from them; while the books from Miss Prue's, nearly all of a scientific character, were read and re-read with ever deepening interest.
But it was not the printed page alone that Sara studied. She had always been fond of long walks, and in these her keen eyes, directed everywhere, lost nothing that nature had to show her.
The shapes of the clouds, and their relation to the weather, the different phases of the sea, all the queer collection of weed and mollusk that it cast ashore, the formation and colors of the cliffs, the different shades and granulations in the sands of beach and pine grove; everything gave her active, hungering mind food for thought and speculation.
She seldom returned empty-handed from these strolls, and a rude little set of corner shelves she and her brother had managed to nail together, was rapidly filling with the oddest and prettiest of her findings. She managed, also, to interest the children in these things, and taught them a lesson some people never learn,—how to use their eyes.
Thus, living close to nature's heart, they could not be absolutely miserable, though want did press them closely.
Sara had enjoined secrecy on the children in regard to the money. She was naturally reticent, and dreaded the gossip of the little town, which made a nine-days' wonder of every small happening; and had besides that self-respecting pride which dislikes to thrust its misfortunes on a careless world. But perhaps more than all, a certain loyalty to the dead mother closed her lips. She would not have her blamed for her foolishness now she could not defend herself, poor thing! And they would manage somehow till father returned.
If worse came to worst, she could borrow of Squire Scrantoun, though she felt she could not resort to that humiliation except in case of actual necessity. So long as a potato or herring was left in store, she would wait for relief; but one thing did cause her most anxious thought, and that was how to procure milk for the little one.
As she stood one morning counting over the few pennies left in the old blue teapot, and wondering what she should do when they were gone, the door was flung open, and Morton, flushed and bright-eyed, entered and threw something at her feet.
It was a wild goose, limp and drabbled, and Sara looked up in surprise at the boy.
"You didn't shoot it, Morton?"
"No; but I killed it!" exultantly. "I've got the 'honk' so I can do it nearly as well as Uncle Adam Standish; and this morning I was down in a nice little cove, when I saw this old fellow light on the water close by. Then he paddled out and began feeding along the beach. So I 'honked' to him, and he answered, and I kept on, and he came closer. I'd first broken off this piece of rock to bring home and show you that bit of crystal in it, when I thought I'd use it, and I rose up and let fly! Well, it toppled him over, and I jumped out and caught hold of him before he could get away, and wrung his neck—and there's the goose, and here's the rock!"
He pointed triumphantly to each, while Molly executed a sort of scalp- dance about the group, snapping her fingers and smacking her lips, as she cried, "Won't we have a dinner, though? And I'm so sick of herring! You'll cook it for dinner, won't you, Sara?"
The young girl hesitated a moment, her eyes going from one eager face to the other with a deprecating glance. No one knew better than she how delightful this change of diet would be; but she quickly put aside her own desire, and said gently,
"I'm so proud of you, Morton! Molly and I can't complain with such a man to look after us, can we? But look at this. I have only a few pennies left, and I was wondering what we should do for milk for baby. Now, if we can all be unselfish, and let you sell this goose to Mrs. Norris or Miss Prue, it will buy milk for some time yet. Don't you see, dear?"
The boy's face flushed darkly, and all the brightness died out of it, while Molly's became as blank as the wall.
"It's all the baby's fault," he said bitterly. "We'd have had plenty of money but for him. Let him suffer too!"
His head drooped at the grave tone, and Molly choked back something she was about to say.
"Could you really bear to see that little darling suffer, Morton? You know you couldn't! We all know he never meant to do such mischief. Look at his innocent little face this minute; could you see it grow thin and pale for lack of the food he craves?"
Morton gave one look, and melted.
"I didn't really mean it," he stammered; "only I'm awful hungry, Sara."
"My brave soldier! I know you are. But you're going to be the help and standby of us all till father comes home. I'll bake the potatoes to-day, you like them so, and you may have a wee bit of baby's milk to eat with them."
This appeal was not lost. The boy straightened up proudly. "Well, give me the goose," he said resolutely; "I'll take it to Mrs. Norris. I saw company driving up as I came by, so I guess she'd like it."
Molly made no remonstrance to this, except to draw down her round face to a doleful length, and drawl out a ridiculous wail common among the sailors,—
"'I'm bound away to leave you— Good-by, my love, good-by! I never will deceive you No never, Mary Ann!'"
which she pointed by giving the stiffened foot of the defunct goose a last fond shake in farewell. So it was with laughter and good feeling, after all, that their dinner for that day was renounced.
But the little episode had given each a spirit of self-sacrifice, which was to help them through many hard times, while it had put an idea into Morton's head that he was not slow to act upon.
As soon as he had disposed of his goose to Mrs. Norris (who snapped it up eagerly, and paid him well, its opportune arrival saving her the great mortification of giving her friends a fish dinner), he sought out old Adam Standish, the acknowledged sportsman of the village.
As usual, he found the heavily bearded, long-haired, keen-eyed old man sitting on a bench before his cabin, and at the minute gazing down the long barrel of a shot-gun which he had just been cleaning. "Hello, uncle!" was Morton's greeting.
Every man is an "uncle" in Killamet, unless he is a "cap'n," or a "squire."
"Hello!" said Adam, lowering his gun. "Oh! it's you, sonny? Come up and have a seat," sweeping together the empty gun-shells, bits of rag and wadding, small tools, etc., at his side. "How's your folks?"
"All right," remembering with a sudden sense of pleasure the money for baby's milk safe in his pocket. "Been gunning lately?"
"Waal, some, a brace or two o' brants; jest hand me them pincers, Mort. Why? Want to buy?"
"No; I want to shoot."
"Hey? You! He, he!"
"I killed one this morning, Uncle Adam."
"Whar'd ye get yer gun?"
"Didn't have none."
"Hey? Little boys shouldn't tell squibs."
"I'm not squibbing; I 'honked' to it from behind some rocks, and then knocked it over with a stone."
"Ye did? Waal, purty good! purty good! Goin' to hev it fer dinner, I s'pose?"
"N—no, I sold it to Mrs. Norris."
"Did, hey? What'd she giv ye?"
Morton told him, and the old man ruminated a while, as he industriously cleaned, primed, and loaded his gun, while Morton waited, watching a long, plume-like line of smoke along the distant horizon, which he knew was from a Portland steamer. Finally Adam set down the gun with a contented air, and observed,—
"Haow airly kin ye git up?"
"At three, if you say so."
"Waal, come along abaout four ter-morrer mornin', an' I'll take ye 'long o' me."
"But I haven't any gun, Uncle Adam."
"Don't need none! I'm a-goin' to show ye what guns Is fer. When you've got that idee bagged, it'll be time enough fer the weepon. I ain't no patience," he went on, putting his hands on his knees and bending forward impressively, "with these fellers what mangles their game. I s'pose it's plain that the A'mighty made wild fowl to be shot, but the man what breaks their wings and leaves 'em to crawl off an' die in misery ain't human, he ain't! Make clean work o' it, or let 'em alone, I say," and he began gathering up his traps in a manner that convinced Morton the conference was over.
So he said good-morning, and went whistling down the village street, the wind from off the sea tempering the downpour of the sun on white cliff and sand, and lifting the wide rim of his torn straw hat to caress his ruddy cheek.
Away out on the bay was a schooner tacking against the wind, while just rounding Rocky Point was a trim little yacht with all sail set, flying straight in for Killamet beach.
"How pretty she rides!" he thought, and wondered, boy-like, if when he was a big man he would sail his own craft,—the end and aim of every fisher-boy along the Atlantic coast.
As he dreamed, he turned and walked down over the satiny sand of the beach to the water's edge, and now could see that there were three people in the yacht,—a little round man with big spectacles at the rudder, a taller one, young and trim-looking in his tourist costume, who stood boldly out on the bowsprit, while a beautiful woman with blond hair leaned gracefully back in a steamer-chair.
With native courtesy Morton hastened to assist in securing the boat, and was rewarded by a hearty "Thank you, my boy!" from the younger man, and a brilliant smile from the lady, which covered him with blushes and confusion. The older man seemed in a brown study, and only glared at him absent-mindedly through his large glasses.
"Ah, Robare!" said the lady with an odd little accent, "I have now a thought; it may be this boy could to us tell of some public-house near by, to which we could go for this night."
All turned to Morton, who said hesitantly,—
"Yes, there is one, or at least there's Miss Zeba Osterhaus; she keeps store in her front window, and has rooms up-stairs that she doesn't use. Sometimes she takes in a painter fellow, or the goose-men."
"The what?" laughed the young man, advancing with a large portfolio, which he had taken from the yacht as soon as she was made fast.
"Why, the men that come for the wild geese—gunning, you know."
"Ho, yes indeed! I'd like to be a 'goose-man' myself, for once in a way. What do you say, uncle and aunt; can you make yourselves contented with your geological and artistic prowls to-morrow, and let me off for a bit of a shoot?" Both gave a ready assent, and the speaker turned to Morton.
"And now, my boy, can you add to your favors by showing us the way to this—What's her name?—you mentioned, and telling me, as we go along, where I can get hold of a good guide and sportsman about here?"
As he spoke he attempted to slip a half-dollar into the boy's hand, but it was sharply withdrawn.
"I'll tell you all I can, sir, without pay," flushing as he spoke; for a sudden memory of the cruel needs at home made him almost regret yielding to his first impulse of pride and self-respect.
The young man flushed a little also, and slid he silver piece back into his own pocket rather quickly.
"Pardon me," he said in a graver tone than he had yet used. "I shall be very grateful for your information."
"Well, sir, there's old Uncle Adam Standish, he's the best I know," said Morton, as they led the way towards the village, followed by the others. "He can hit his bird on the wing every time, and he can 'honk' so's to fool any goose alive, and find the best blinds of anybody 'longshore."
"Really? He must be a genius!"
"Yes,"—wondering what a genius might be,—"if he'll only let you go with him you'll have a good shoot."
"If he'll let me! Why shouldn't he? I expect to pay him for his trouble."
"That wouldn't make any difference. He doesn't seem to care much for money; all he notices is how a man handles his gun. If you hold it just to suit him, he'll go, and if you don't, he won't."
"How ridiculous! Well, do for goodness' sake tell me in what manner I must handle the gun that I may please this Criticus."
Morton bridled with indignation.
"He ain't a cuss, Uncle Adam ain't. He's a nice man, and he knows what he's about too. If you'd see some o' the fools that come down here to shoot you'd be particular too, I guess. They're a good deal more apt to hit their guide than the birds, I can tell you."
The young man laughed heartily.
"My boy, I hadn't the slightest intention of calling your relative names; that was simply a title many men would be proud to bear."
"That's all right." in a mollified tone; "but he isn't any relation to me. Everybody calls him uncle."
"Ah, I see. You make me feel wonderfully interested in this wise Adam, and only in a fright for fear I won't hold my weapon to suit him; couldn't you give me a lesson or two, now?"
Morton looked at the stranger askance; was he making fun of him? then straightening his boyish shoulders, he said proudly, "I can tell you something better than that. I'm going gunning with Adam to-morrow morning at four o'clock, and perhaps I can get him to take you along too, if he likes your looks."
"Let us hope he may!" observed the other fervently. "What! is this the place we're bound for?" looking dubiously at the weather-worn cottage opposite, in whose gable end was a primitive bay-window, through which could be seen half a dozen jars of barber-pole candy hobnobbing sociably with boxes of tobacco, bags of beans, kits of salted mackerel, slabs of codfish, spools of thread, hairpins, knives and forks, and last, but by no means least, a green lobster swimming about in a large dishpan.
Morton wondered what this stranger could have expected better than this, and remarked encouragingly,—
"She's got carpets on most all her rooms, and she hooks the nicest rugs in Killamet,—all big flowers, or cats lying down,—the prettiest you ever saw!"
"Aunt Felicie, do you hear that?" flinging the question over his shoulder. "We are about to meet your rival! You paint flowers, and she,—just hear the alarming word,—she 'hooks' them! Cats, too, and dogs, did you say? Does the verb have a dishonest meaning here in Killamet, my boy?"
Morton stared back wonderingly, not understanding much except that in some way either he or Miss Zeba, or perhaps Killamet in general, was being held up to ridicule, and that it was his business to resent it.
"I don't know, sir," he answered stoutly, "what you mean: but if you want to know whether Miss Zeba is a nice woman, I can tell you that; she's just as good as gold, sir! and I suppose if folks don't like our ways in Killamet they needn't come here, there's plenty of room outside, I guess."
The young man turned and gave him a critical look, which soon grew approving, then held out his hand. "This is the second time I've had to ask your pardon; will you make up, and be friends? I like you, and if they've got any more of your sort here, I shall like Killamet!"
Morton extended his hand readily enough, and felt it seized in a close, strong pressure which pleased him, though he could not have told why, and the young man turned again to his aunt.
"Here we are at—now, what is that name, my lad?"
"Miss Zeba Osterhaus, sir."
"Oh, yes! I believe I could remember it if I could once see it spelled, however"—
The rest of his sentence was broken off by the sharp jangle of the bell above the door, as Morton opened it; and the warning note brought Miss Zeba herself from an inner room.
Whatever of fun had been dancing in the young man's eyes suddenly died out at the sight of her. She was small, like a little child, but had the wan, drawn, yet sweet-looking face of a middle-aged woman, while between her shoulders she bore that fleshy symbol of Christian's burden, that painful affliction, that almost intolerable deformity for a woman to endure, a hump back.
Instantly the young man's hat was off, and the young man's voice grew almost tender, as he said,—
"We beg pardon for disturbing you, but is this Miss Osterhaus?"
"Yes, sir," she responded, with a quaint little old-time courtesy, directed with much precision, so as to include the three adults, beginning with the lady.
"And have you a spare room, or two; do you ever take in strangers for a few days?"
"Sometimes, sir, when they do be gentlefolk, like you," with a smiling little nod; "a lone woman can't be too keerful."
The blond lady stepped forward and took up the word in her sweet foreign voice.
"Ah, it will be such a kindness, and we are most easy to bear, I hope you will find."
"Yes, as my aunt says, you will not find us hard to suit; we can put up with a few inconveniences, if necessary. Might we look at your rooms?"
These were found to be so neat and cheerful—in spite of low roofs and small windows—that a bargain was quickly consummated; and having planned with Miss Zeba for a dinner in half an hour, the young man turned to his little guide.
"Now," said he, with the fun leaping to his eyes again, "now for the ordeal! Will you conduct me to this Diogenes of a gunner, and have him tell you, without a lantern, whether I am the man he is looking for, or no?"
"Yes, we'll go," said Morton in a matter-of-fact tone; "but I don't think he's looking for you. He never goes a-nigh the post-office, because he says he hates a crowd; so even if you'd written some one that you were coming, he wouldn't know it."
"Ah, yes, I see; we will take him entirely by surprise, then; well, 'lead on Macduff!'"
"My name's Morton Olmstead, if you please, sir."
"And a good name too, laddie; I like it, and what's more I like you! You're going to make a fine man some day, did you know it?"
Morton's eyes kindled.
"I mean to, sir. Sara says I can if I will; she says the good God started me with a sound brain and a healthy body, and I ought to be able to do the rest."
"She does, eh?" opening his eyes surprisedly. "And who may this wise and epigrammatic Sara be, I'd like to know?"
Morton concluded to let the suspicious word go unchallenged. "Yes, sir, she is wise and good. She's been to school lots, and she's my oldest sister."
"Ah, indeed? That accounts for your unusually good English, I suppose. I had wondered at it here."
Morton felt this to be a compliment, so turned red and squirmed, not knowing just how to acknowledge it, and his friend, perhaps to relieve him, asked kindly, "How old is Sara?" having already decided she was nearing the thirties, at least.
"She's seventeen, sir."
"Is that all?" quickly. "Such a mere girl, and yet talks like a wise- acre, eh? How does she look?"
"Well, she's tall, and walks straight and proud-like, and her hair's kind of copper-colored where the sun shines on the waves in it, and her eyes are big and brown, and can drag a lie right out of you, sir; but when she laughs her teeth shine, and there's a dimple in one corner of her mouth, and she looks pretty well."
"H'm, I should think likely," said the young man in a musing tone, then, as Morton turned a sharp corner, "What, that way?"
"Yes, sir; there's Uncle Adam now, sitting on his bench smoking, and he looks good-natured; aren't you glad?"
MADAME AND "THE PRINCESS."
For once the old man was sitting quite still, doing nothing, unless you can call smoking a very dirty and ill-smelling pipe an occupation. He nodded to them and puffed away, saying between his whiffs,—
"How d'ye do, stranger? You agin, Mort? Set daown, both on ye; settin's jest as cheap as standin' raound here," indicating the bench on the other side of the door with a blackened thumb.
But neither cared to sit, and Morton lost no time in coming to business.
"He wants to go gunning with us in the morning, Uncle Adam, may he?"
Adam eyed the young man, who returned his gaze with frank, smiling eyes, without speaking.
"Kin ye shoot?" asked the old sportsman at last.
"A little," modestly.
"Waal, what—tame turkeys?" contemptuously.
"No: I have shot wild ones, as well as prairie-chickens, quail, and— deer."
"What! Be thet some o' your college sass, naow? I git so full o' thet every season, it makes me sick!"
"I'm not a college student, and I generally tell the truth. I've lived West for some years, and have had some good hunting at odd times; but, to be honest, I don't know anything about your bird-shooting here, and I'm hankerin' after an experience!"
The homely native word pleased the old man, and he smiled leniently.
"Waal," he said, removing the pipe to knock out the ashes and put it in his pocket (much to the other's satisfaction), "waal, I guess we kin fix it. Mort, here, an' me, we was goin' out airly in the mornin'. Ef you kin turn out in time, ye mought go with us. I've got a gun for you, but you'll hev to pay fer the powder an' shot, an' give me my share o' the birds."
"We won't quarrel about terms," laughed the other. "I'll be on hand without fail, and am much obliged."
"Oh, ye're welcome; good-day. Remember, four sharp, naow!" as they turned to go.
"You see," said the young man to the boy, as soon as they were beyond ear-shot, "he didn't put me through the manual of arms, after all. I feel almost defrauded of my just rights. Do you suppose I knocked the conceit out of him with my talk of big game?"
"I don't know," said Morton, "but I guess he took a liking to you. He's queer about that. Sometimes he won't look at these fancy fellers that come down from the city, no matter how much they offer. He says he can't abide 'em—that a fool of a loon is too good to die at their hands!"
"And he isn't far wrong, I'm thinking. Are you going that way? Then you will pass near the yacht, won't you? Have you any objections to taking a look at it, to see if it is safe? Oh, and by the way, there's a basketful of eatables stowed away under the stern-seat that we won't need now; couldn't you dispose of them in some way?"
"I think I could, sir," said Morton demurely, dropping his lids, not to show too strongly the joy in his eyes, for if he had been hungry in the morning, he was ravenous now.
"All right, then; good-by, my little friend—or, rather, au revoir. I'll see you in the morning," and the two separated, mutually pleased with each other.
A few minutes later Morton entered the home kitchen, joy beaming from his countenance, and a large basket hanging from his arm.
"Sara," he cried, "have you been to dinner?"
"No, we waited for you; but how late you are. It's after two."
"All the better, for here's a dinner to match the biggest kind of an appetite! See here, and here!"
He spread out with intense satisfaction sandwiches, fried chicken, cakes, doughnuts, and cheese, besides jellies and fruit, while Molly fairly howled with delight, and even Sara's eyes shone happily; for, unless you have lived for a week on salt herring and potatoes, topped off by a long fast since breakfast, you cannot understand how good those things looked to the hungry children.
"But, Morton, you didn't tell Mrs. Norris, did you?" Sara asked in a distressed tone. "I didn't want"—
"Now, don't you worry, Sara! I sold her the goose, and got my money— here it is; but this is another kind of game, and while we're eating, I'll tell you the whole story," which he at once proceeded to do, for, hungry as they were, they all fell to with scant ceremony.
The next morning the blond lady, being bereft of both escorts, started out for a stroll on her own account.
You have before this, doubtless, divined her to be the wife of that same little man Sara had met on the cliff; and we now formally introduce her as Madame Grandet, wife of Professor Leon Alphonse Grandet, of the Academie des Sciences at Paris, who was now prosecuting his geological studies in New England.
She herself was endowed with no mean artistic talent, her specialty being the painting of flowers in water colors, and, as she always sketched from nature, she had become almost as much of a botanical student as her husband was a mineralogical.
But this morning the quaintness and quiet of the village tempted her into a stroll down its long street, before she should seek the pine woods farther back, in search of hidden beauties, and one picture that she came upon held her spell bound for a moment. This was a small, poor cottage, painted only by the sun and rain, before which, on a tiny square of green, a baby was rolling about—a cunning little fellow with rings of silky light hair, while on the low doorstep sat a girl of such unusual appearance that the lady stared in undisguised admiration.
Her head was bent above a book, and the auburn shades of her luxuriant hair caught the sunlight in every wave and tendril; her eyes were cast down, but the dark lashes curled upward from the slightly flushed cheek thick and long, while the brows were as daintily perfect as if laid on with a camel's hair brush; the nose was straight and delicate; the mouth, now set with deep thought, firm and sweet, while the chin carried out this look of decision, and would have been almost too square but for the coquettish little cleft which gave it the needed touch of femininity.
Her complexion, unblemished, except for the sun-tinge which showed an out-of-doors life, was of that peculiar tint, neither blond nor brunette, which is usually found with hair of that coppery hue, and the whole artistic head but crowned a form whose grace and roundness not even her ill-fitting gown could conceal.
"One of nature's gems!" whispered the on-looker in her native tongue. "And what a cherub of a baby! I must make their acquaintance."
She took an orange from the satin bag hanging on her arm, and held it towards the little one, who had now toddled to the open gate, and was gazing shyly at her.
He looked at the tempting yellow apple, then back at sister, oblivious in the door-way, then once more at the coveted fruit, and was conquered.
As Madame Grandet stepped towards him, he did not retreat, but reached up his dimpled, dirty little hands (he had been making sand-pies) and caught the fruit she dropped into them.
Then he gave a delighted little laugh, which roused Sara, who raised her large eyes, now dreamy with far-away thoughts, but which flashed into pleasure at sight of the two.
"Pray pardon me," said madame with a gracious little nod; "I would not deesturb you, but the babee, he ees so sweet! You will let me give to him the orange?"
"Oh, certainly; thank you! It will be a great treat for him," rising and coming forward, with her book in her hand. "Won't you come in and rest a moment? The sun is warm this morning."
"Thank you, mooch; it ees indeed most warm! May I not here sit on the step of the door by yourself?"
"Oh, let me bring you a chair," running to get one. "There, this will be more comfortable," placing it just within the open door.
"That is true; t'anks! Come, mine babee, let me to you show how an orange is to eat, when one has no care for the appearance—it is nature's own way." She cut a tiny hole through the thick rind with her pearl-handled penknife, then put it to the child's lips and bade him suck out the juice, as the little bees suck honey from the lily-buds.
Sara watched her delightedly. How graceful, fair, and easy she was! What a beautiful dress she wore—perfectly simple, yet with an air of taste and style even her unaccustomed eyes could note. How delicate her features, how refined her voice, and with what a small white hand she managed the little knife!
She felt at once that here was a woman different from any she had ever seen before—perhaps the first one for whom she felt the word "lady" was no misnomer.
Her admiration showed so plainly in her honest eyes that the madame was inwardly amused, as well as pleased, yet not at all discomfited, for she had been used to admiration all her life.
"What is the book you read, my dear young lady, may I ask?" she said presently.
"It is Hugh Miller's 'Testimony of the Rocks,'" answered Sara.
"So?" It was the French lady's turn to look undisguised astonishment. "And does it for you have interest then?"
"Yes, indeed; did you ever read it? Don't you think it is wonderful how those long-buried veins of rock are made to tell us God's own plans and workings? I can never see a cliff that I don't begin to wonder how it was formed, and what secrets it may contain. I am like baby with his toys," smiling till her dimples deepened, "I want to break it in pieces and find out how it was made!"
"But that is joost like my Leon! Always he goes about with his hammer tapping, tapping, at every bit of stone. Is it then that you, too, are a geologist?"
"Oh, no, not that! I do not know enough, only sometimes I find a specimen; I have a few inside, if you would care to see them?"
"Indeed I care," rising at once; and when she stood before the well- filled shelves we have before mentioned, she cried out in astonishment,—
"But, surely, my Leon must see these. You have here some greatly rare bits. Ah, what a beautiful pink rubellite! I have not seen ever a finer. And this geode is most perfect. Did you yourself find them?"
"Yes, nearly all, except what my brother has brought me, and in this neighborhood too; I've never been more than twenty miles away in my life."
"And I do see you have them labelled and classed so neat as my Leon could do. You must indeed let me bring him to see you. He is my husband, and a—a—I forget now your English word how to say—but he eats and sleeps and dreams over dose minerals, and he would almost forget of me, the wife whom he adores, for one fine new piece of old rock with the print of a bird's toes therein!" Sara laughed with a merrier sound than she had known lately; and the lady, delighted to have pleased her, joined in.
"Oh! it is laugh we can now, my child, but some days it ees not so funny, for he does come home too often with no hat, or perhaps even his coat that is left behind; but the hammer—ah, he would never from that to part did he not have a single clothes left!"
Sara suddenly turned, her eyes dancing with merry interest.
"Wait! Was he here about a month ago? Does he wear glasses, and is he short and"—
"It is, it is! You have then seen him?"
"Yes, indeed!" and she related the meeting on the cliff, to the madame's genuine enjoyment.
She kept nodding her bright head, and finally burst out, as Sara told of the lost sunbonnet and its rescuer:—
"He vas my nevew, Robert Glendenning" (she pronounced it however Robare Glendneeng); "and is he not one handsome, fine young man?"
"I did not look at him long, but I think he is," blushing a little. "And are not you the party my brother told me of yesterday? I did not think then it was the two gentlemen I had met who were so kind to him. Morton is not any too good at description!"
"Morton, ah, yes, that ees the bright youth who did put my brave Robare to the rout! And he is thy brother, then? May I not know thy name also, my fair young mees?"
"It is Sara Olmstead, ma'am, and I am a fisherman's daughter."
"And I, my fisher-lass, am name Madame Grandet now, though my girl name it was Felicie."
"Oh, how pretty!"
"You t'ink? Do you know it mean 'happy,' 'fortunate,' and I am that, for I have few cares, and my husband does indulge every wish I can make. And your name, does it mean something good also?" "I have read somewhere that it means 'a princess,'" blushing more than before; "but that is hardly the meaning my name should have," giving a quick glance about upon her homely surroundings. "I do not know. You have the grand air, and—ah, I have it! I have it! You must be a King's daughter, a princess indeed!"
"But, madame, my father is plain Reuben Olmstead, a good and honest man, yet only a fisherman."
"But, no, my child, you do not yet comprehend. The King, it is thy Father in heaven, and thou must be one of those who call themselves the King's Daughters. It is a great society which does extend over the whole world of Christians, and each one of the members does take her pledge to do some good each day, for the help of mankind. It is 'in His name' that they do this, and their reward it is in heaven!" She spoke with great earnestness, and Sara listened breathlessly.
A princess, a daughter of the King of kings, endowed with the birthright of high thoughts and noble deeds, enrolled in the royal order of the Saviour of men! Surely here was a destiny grand and glorious enough to satisfy the highest ambition.
Her eyes darkened with the rush of thoughts that kept her silent, and finally she drew a long breath, looking up with such humility, yet kindling joy, that her words seemed but an echo of her glance.
"I will be one; teach me how!"
As she spoke, the baby who had been sitting on the doorstep contentedly sucking his orange, now broke through the rind of his yellow globe of sweets, to find nothing left but a bitter shell, and thereupon set up a wail and toddled over to Sara.
She lifted him up with tender words of comfort, applied a dampened towel to his sticky face and hands, then brought him in her arms to the doorstep again, where she seated herself near the madame, who had resumed her chair just within.
The absence of any adults in the house suddenly struck the latter, and she asked, "Where is then the mother, Mees Sara?"
"In heaven," said the girl softly. "She died when I was little; and poor baby Ned's followed her a few weeks ago, since father went for the long fish."
"Ah, how sad! how sad! And have he not hear of this trouble?" "I do not know; not unless he got the word I sent by Captain Smalley. But, you see, his smack may not have sighted the Nautilus at all. It seems as if father would have tried hard to come, if he had heard," she added, her eyes growing misty; "we need him so!"
"Poor child, poor little one!" murmured the lady in her own language, then in English, "But what is it you speak,—the 'long fish'? Do not all your ships return each Saturday?"
"No; not now. That's the way they do at many of the fishing-villages, I have heard, but we are a long way from the Banks, and there's Mare's Head, which every vessel must round to make our harbor, so dangerous a point that our fleets used scarcely ever to get by all in safety; for when a man is hurrying home to his own fireside on a stormy Saturday night, he is not as careful as he should be. So now our boats stay out through the season, and when they have a big haul put into Gloucester or Annisquam to sell their fish, only bringing home such as they cannot find a market for. It saves many wrecks, and they make more money, but it is often hard on those left at home!"
"Yes, yes, that is true, I make no doubt! But do you live here quite alone, you and the babee?"
"Oh, no; there are my brother and sister,—the twins. Morton is the one I spoke of; he has gone gunning with Uncle Adam Standish, and the young man who must be your nephew, I'm sure; and Molly has gone on an errand."
"That Morton—it ees one fine boy! His air do say, 'Behold the American citizen in me!' is it not?"
Sara smiled and sighed.
"He is a good boy, and my mainstay now, for it is hard sometimes to manage for so many; but will you not please tell me some more about the King's Daughters, madame?"
Her new friend, nothing loath, went into further details of that marvellous organization, telling of the silver cross, which was a passport to the best society and gentlest treatment the world over; describing its growth by tens, its circles within circles, its active benevolences and astonishing influence—all that of which the world has been hearing, almost as a child listens to a fairy-tale, with wonder and delight, yet only half credulous.