THE PLACE BEYOND THE WINDS
BY HARRIET T. COMSTOCK
Illustrated by HARRY SPAFFORD POTTER
GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY 1914
The In-Place cannot be found; you must happen upon it! Hidden behind its rugged red rocks and hemlock-covered hills, it lies waiting for something to happen. It has its Trading Station, to and from which the Canadian Indians paddle their canoes—sometimes a dugout—bearing rare, luscious blue berries invitingly packed in small baskets with their own green leaves. And to the Station, also, go the hardy natives—good English, Scotch, or "Mixed"—with their splendid loads of fish.
"White fish go: pickerel come"—but always there is fish through summer days and winter's ice.
There is a lovely village Green, around which the modest homes cluster sociably. Poor, plain places they may be, but never dirty nor untidy. And the children and dogs! Such lovely babies; such human animals. They play and work together quite naturally and are the truest friends.
A little church, with a queer pointed spire and a beautiful altar, stands with open doors like a kindly welcome to all. Back of this, and apologetically placed behind its stockade fence, is the jail.
To have a jail and never need it! What more can be said of a community? But you are told—if you insist upon it—that the building is preserved as a warning, and if any one should by chance be forced to occupy it, "he will have the best the place affords"—for justice is seasoned with mercy in the In-Place.
If you would know the aristocracy of the hamlet you must leave the friendly Green and the pleasant water of the Channel, climb the red rocks, tread the grassy road between the hemlocks and the pines, and find the farms. For, be it understood, by one's ability to wrench a living from the soil instead of the water is he known and estimated. To fish is to gamble; to plant and reap is conservative business.
Dreamer's Rock and One Tree Island, Far Hill Place and Lonely Farm, safely sheltered they lie, and from them, in obedience to the "Lure of the States," comes now and again an adventurous soul to make his way, if so he may; and never was there a braver, truer wanderer than Priscilla of Lonely Farm. Equipped with a great faith, a straight method of thinking, and an ideal that never faded from her sight, she, by the help of the Poor Property Man, found her place and her work awaiting her. Love, she found, too—love that had to be tested by a man's sense of honour and a woman's determination, but it survived and found its fulfilment before the Shrine in the woods beyond Lonely Farm, where, as a little child, Priscilla had set up her Strange God and given homage to it.
Harriet T. Comstock.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"It was a beautiful thing, that dance, grotesque, pagan and yet divine" Frontispiece
"'And now,' she cried, 'I'll keep my word to you. Here! here! here!' The bottles went whirling and crashing on the rocks near the roadway"
"'You mean, by this device you will make me marry you! You'll blacken my name, bar my father's house to me, and then you will be generous and—marry me?'"
"In one of those marvellous flashes of regained consciousness, the man upon the bed opened his eyes and looked, first at Travers, then at Priscilla"
"'It's past the Dreamer's Rock for us, my sweet, and out to the open sea'"
The Place Beyond the Winds
Priscilla Glenn stood on the little slope leading down from the farmhouse to the spring at the bottom of the garden, and lifted her head as a young deer does when it senses something new or dangerous. Suddenly, and entirely subconsciously, she felt her kinship with life, her relation to the lovely May day which was more like June than May—and a rare thing for Kenmore—whose seasons lapsed into each other as calmly and sluggishly as did all the other happenings in that spot known to the Canadian Indians as The Place Beyond the Wind—the In-Place.
Across Priscilla's straight, young shoulders lay a yoke from both ends of which dangled empty tin pails, destined, sooner or later, to be filled with that peculiarly fine water of which Nathaniel Glenn was so proud. Nathaniel Glenn never loved things in a human, tender fashion, but he was proud of many things—proud that he, and his before him, had braved the hardships of farming among the red, rocky hills of Kenmore instead of wrenching a livelihood from the water. This capacity for tilling the soil instead of gambling in fish had made of Glenn, and a few other men, the real aristocracy of the place. Nathaniel's grandfather, with his wife and fifteen children, had been the first white settlers of Kenmore. So eager had the Indians been to have this first Glenn among them that it is said they offered him any amount of land he chose to select, and Glenn had taken only so much as would insure him a decent farm and prospects. This act of restraint had further endeared him to the natives, and no regret was ever known to follow the advent of the estimable gentleman.
The present Glenn never boasted; he had no need to; the plain statement of fact was enough to secure his elevated position from mean attack.
Nathaniel had taught himself to read and write—a most unusual thing—and naturally he was proud of that. He was proud of his stern, bleak religion that left no doubt in his own mind of his perfect interpretation of divine will. He was proud of his handsome wife—twenty years younger than himself. Inwardly he was proud of that, within himself, which had been capable of securing Theodora where other men had failed. Theodora had caused him great disappointment, but Nathaniel was a just man and he could not exactly see that his disappointment was due to any deliberate or malicious act of Theodora's; it was only when his wife showed weak tendencies toward making light of the matter that he hardened his heart.
In the face of his great desire and his modest aspirations—Theodora had borne for him (that was the only way he looked at it) five children—all girls, when she very well knew a son was the one thing, in the way of offspring, that he had expected or wanted.
The first child was as dark as a little Indian, "so dark," explained Nathaniel, "that she would have been welcome in any house on a New Year's Day." She lasted but a year, and, while she was a regret, she had been tolerated as an attempt, at least, in the right direction. Then came the second girl, a soft, pale creature with ways that endeared her to the mother-heart so tragically that when she died at the age of two Theodora rebelliously proclaimed that she wanted no other children! This blasphemy shocked Nathaniel beyond measure, and when, a year later, twin girls were born on Lonely Farm, he pointed out to his wife that no woman could fly in the face of the Almighty with impunity and she must now see, in this double disgrace of sex, her punishment.
Theodora was stricken; but the sad little sisters early escaped the bondage of life, and the Glenns once again, childless and alone, viewed the future superstitiously and with awe. Even Nathaniel, hope gone as to a son, resignedly accepted the fate that seemed to pursue him. Then, after five years, Priscilla was born, the lustiest and most demanding of all the children.
"She seems," said Long Jean, the midwife, "to be made of the odds and ends of all the others. She has the clear, dark skin of the first, the blue eyes of the second, and the rusty coloured hair and queer features of the twins."
Between Long Jean and Mary Terhune, midwives, a social rivalry existed. On account of her Indian taint Long Jean was less sought in aristocratic circles, but so great had been the need the night when Priscilla made her appearance, that both women had been summoned, and Long Jean, arriving first, and, her superior skill being well known, was accepted.
When she announced the birth and sex of the small stranger, Nathaniel, smoking before the fire in the big, clean, bare, living-room, permitted himself one reckless defiance:
"Not wanted!" Long Jean made the most of this.
"And his pretty wife at the point of death," she gossiped to Mrs. McAdam of the White Fish Lodge; "and there is this to say about the child being a girl: the lure of the States can't touch her, and Nathaniel may have some one to turn to for care and what not when infirmity overtakes him. Besides, the lass may be destined for the doing of big things; those witchy brats often are."
"The lure don't get all the boys," muttered Mary McAdam, cautiously thinking of her Sandy, aged five, and Tom, a bit older.
"All as amounts to much," Long Jean returned.
And in her heart of hearts Mary McAdam knew this to be true. The time would come to her, as it had to all Kenmore mothers, when she would have to acknowledge that by the power of the "lure" were her boys to be tested.
But Priscilla at Lonely Farm showed a hardened disregard of her state. She persisted and grew sturdy and lovely in defiance of tradition and conditions. She was as keen-witted and original as she was independent and charming. Still Theodora took long before she capitulated, and Nathaniel never succumbed. Indeed, as years passed he grew to fear and dislike his young daughter. The little creature, in some subtle way, seemed to have "found him out"; she became, though he would not admit it, a materialized conscience to him. She made him doubt himself; she laughed at him, elfishly and without excuse or explanation.
Once they two, sitting alone before the hearth—Nathaniel in his great chair, Priscilla in her small one—faced each other fearsomely for a time; then the child gave the gurgling laugh of inner understanding that maddened the father.
"What you laughing at?" he muttered, taking the pipe from his mouth.
"You!" Priscilla was only seven then, but large and strong.
"Me? How dare you!"
"You are so funny. If I screw my eyes tight I see two of you."
Then Nathaniel struck her. Not brutally, not maliciously; he wanted desperately to set himself right by—old-time and honoured methods—force of authority!
Priscilla sprang from her chair, all the laughter and joyousness gone from her face. She went close to her father, and leaning toward him as though to confide the warning to him more directly, said slowly:
"Don't you do that or Cilla will hate you!"
It was as if she meant to impress upon him that past a certain limit he could not go.
Nathaniel rose in mighty wrath at this, and, white-faced and outraged, darted toward the rebel, but she escaped him and put the width of the room and the square deal table between them. Then began the chase that suddenly sank into a degrading and undignified proceeding. Around and around the two went, and presently the child began to laugh again as the element of sport entered in.
So Theodora came upon them, and her deeper understanding of her husband's face frightened and spurred her to action. In that moment, while she feared, she loved, as she had never loved before, her small daughter. If the child was a conscience to her stern father, she was a materialization of all the suppressed defiance of the mother, and, ignoring consequences, she ran to Priscilla, gathered her in her arms, and over the little, hot, panting body, confronted the blazing eyes of her husband.
And Nathaniel had done—nothing; said nothing! In a moment the fury, outwardly, subsided, but deep in all three hearts new emotions were born never to die.
After that there was a triangle truce. The years slipped by. Theodora taught her little daughter to read by a novel method which served the double purpose of quickening the keen intellect and arousing a housewifely skill.
The alphabet was learned from the labels on the cans of vegetables and fruits on Theodora's shelves. There was one line of goods made by a firm, according to its own telling, high in the favour of "their Majesties So and So," that was rich in vowels and consonants. When Priscilla found that by taking innocent looking little letters and stringing them together like beads she could make words, she was wild with delight, and when she discovered that she could further take the magic words and by setting them forth in orderly fashion express her own thoughts or know another's thoughts, she was happy beyond description.
"Father," she panted at that point, her hands clasped before her, her dark, blue-eyed face flushing and paling, "will you let me go to Master Farwell to study with the boys?"
Nathaniel eyed her from the top step of the porch; "with the boys" had been fatal to the child's request.
"No," he said firmly, the old light of antagonism glinting suddenly under his brow, "girls don't need learning past what their mothers can give them."
"I—do! I'm willing to suffer and die, but I do want to know things." She was an intense atom, and from the first thought true and straight.
A sharp memory was in her mind and it lent fervour to her words. It related to the episode of the small, fat mustard jar which always graced the middle of the dining table. They had once told her that the contents of the jar "were not for little girls."
They had been mistaken. She had investigated, suffered, and learned! Well, she was ready to suffer—but learn she must!
Nathaniel shook his head and set forth his scheme of life for her, briefly and clearly.
"You'll have nothing but woman ways—bad enough you need them—they will tame and keep you safe. You'll marry early and find your pleasure and duty in your home."
Priscilla turned without another word, but there was an ugly line between her eyes.
That night and the next she took the matter before a higher judge, and fervently, rigidly prayed. On the third night she pronounced her ultimatum. Kneeling by the tiny gable window of her grim little bedchamber, her face strained and intense, her big eyes fixed on a red, pulsing planet above the hemlocks outside, she said:
"Dear God, I'll give you three days to move his stony heart to let me go to school; if you don't do it by then, I'm going to worship graven images!"
Priscilla at that time was eight, and three days seemed to her a generous time limit. But Nathaniel's stony heart did not melt, and at the end of the three days Priscilla ceased to pray for many and many a year, and forthwith she proceeded to worship a graven image of her own creation.
A mile up the grassy road, beyond Lonely Farm and on the way toward the deep woods, was an open space of rich, red rock surrounded by a soft, feathery fringe of undergrowth and a few well-grown trees. From this spot one could see the Channel widened out into the Little Bay: the myriad islands, and, off to the west, the Secret and Fox Portages, beyond which lay the Great Bay, where the storms raged and the wind—such wind as Kenmore never knew—howled and tore like a raging fiend!
In this open stretch of trees and rock Priscilla set up her own god. She had found the bleached skull of a cow in one of her father's pastures; this gruesome thing mounted upon a forked stick, its empty eye-sockets and ears filled with twigs and dried grasses, was sufficiently pagan and horrible to demand an entirely unique form of worship, and this Priscilla proceeded to evolve. She invented weird words, meaningless but high-sounding; she propitiated her idol with wild dances and an abandon of restraint. Before it she had moments of strange silence when, with wonder-filled eyes, she waited for suggestion and impression by which to be guided. Very young was she when intuitively she sensed the inner call that was always so deeply to sway her. Through the years from eight to fourteen Priscilla worshipped more or less frequently before her secret shrine. The uncanny ceremony eased many an overstrained hour and did for the girl what should have been done in a more normal way. The place on the red rock became her sanctuary. To it she carried her daily task of sewing and dreamed her long dreams.
The Glenns rarely went to church—the distance was too great—but Nathaniel, looming high and stern across the table in the bare kitchen, morning and night, set forth the rigid, unlovely creed of his belief. This fell upon Priscilla's unheeding ears, but the hours before the shrine were deeply, tenderly religious, although they were bright and merry hours.
Of course, during the years, there were the regular Kenmore happenings that impressed the girl to a greater or lesser degree, but they were like pictures thrown upon a screen—they came, they went, while her inner growth was steady and sure.
Two families, one familiar and commonplace, the other more mystical than anything else, interested Priscilla mightily during her early youth. Jerry and Michael McAlpin, with little Jerry-Jo, the son of old Jerry, were vital factors in Kenmore. They occupied the exalted position of rural expressmen, and distributed, when various things did not interfere, the occasional freight and mail that survived the careless methods of the vicinity.
The McAlpin brothers were hard drinkers, but they were most considerate. When Jerry indulged, Michael remained sober and steady; when Michael fell before temptation, Jerry pulled himself together in a marvellous way, and so, as a firm, they had surmounted every inquiry and suspicion of a relentless government and were welcomed far and wide, not only for their legitimate business, but for the amount of gossip and scandal they disbursed along with their load. Jerry-Jo, the son of the older McAlpin, was four years older than Priscilla and was the only really young creature who had ever entered her life intimately.
The other family, of whom the girl thought vaguely, as she might have of a story, were the Travers of the Far Hill Place.
Now it might seem strange to more social minds that people from a distant city could come summer after summer to the same spot and yet remain unknown to their nearest neighbours; but Kenmore was not a social community. It had all the reserve of its English heritage combined with the suspicion of its Indian taint, and it took strangers hard. Then, added to this, the Traverses aroused doubt, for no one, especially Nathaniel Glenn, could account for a certain big, heavy-browed man who shared the home life of the Hill Place without any apparent right or position. For Mrs. Travers, Glenn had managed to conjure up a very actual distrust. She was too good-looking and free-acting to be sound; and her misshapen and delicate son was, so the severe man concluded, a curse, in all probability, for past offences. The youth of Kenmore was straight and hearty, unless—and here Nathaniel recalled his superstitions—dire vengeance was wreaked on parents through their offspring.
With no better reason than this, and with the stubbornness he mistook for strength, Glenn would have nothing to do with his neighbours, four miles back in the woods, and had forbidden the sale of milk and garden stuff to them.
All this Priscilla had heard, as children do, but she had never seen any member of the family from the Far Hill Place, and mentally relegated them to the limbo of the damned under the classification of "them, from the States." Their name, even, was rarely mentioned, and, while curiosity often swayed her, temptation had never overruled obedience.
The McAlpins, with all their opportunity and qualifications, found little about the strangers from which to make talk. The family were reserved, and Tough Pine, the Indian guide they had impressed into summer service, was either bought or, from natural inclination, kept himself to himself.
So, until the summer when she was fourteen, Priscilla Glenn knew less about the Far Hill people than she did about the inhabitants of heaven and hell, with whom her father was upon such intimate and familiar terms.
Once, when Priscilla was ten, something had occurred which prepared her for following events. It was a bright morning and the McAlpin boat stopped at the wharf of Lonely Farm. While old Jerry went to the farmhouse with a package, Jerry-Jo remained on guard deeply engrossed in a book he had extracted from a box beneath the seat. He appeared not to notice Priscilla, who ran down the path to greet him in friendly fashion.
The boy was about fifteen then, and all the bloods of his various ancestors were warring in his veins. His mother had been a full-blooded Indian from Wyland Island, had drawn her four dollars every year from the English Government, and ruled her family with an iron hand; his father was Scotch-Irish, hot-blooded and jovial; Jerry-Jo was a composite result. Handsome, moody, with flashes of fun when not crossed, a good comrade at times, an unforgiving enemy.
He liked Priscilla, but she was his inferior, by sex, and she sorely needed discipline. He meant to keep her in her place, so he kept on reading. Priscilla at length, however, attracted his attention.
"Where did you get the book?"
"It's for him up yonder."
And with this Jerry-Jo stood up, turned and twisted his lithe body into such a grotesque distortion that he was quite awful to look upon, and left no doubt in the girl's mind as to whom he referred. He brought the Far Hill people into focus, sharply and suddenly.
"He has miles of books," Jerry-Jo went on, "and a fiddle and pictures and gewgaws. He plays devil tunes, and he's bewitched!"
This description made the vague boy of the woods real and vital for the first time in Priscilla's life, and she shuddered. Then Jerry-Jo generously offered to lend her one of the books until his father came back, and Priscilla eagerly stepped from stone to stone until she could reach the volume. Once she had obtained the prize she went back to the garden and made herself comfortable, wholly forgetting Jerry-Jo and the world at large.
It was the oddest book she had ever seen. The words were arranged in charming little rows, and when you read them over and over they sang themselves into your very heart. They told you, lilting along, of a road that no one but you ever knew—a road that led in and out through wonders of beauty and faded at the day's end into your heart's desire. Your Heart's Desire!
And just then Jerry-Jo cried:
"Hey, there! you, Priscilla, come down with that book."
"Your Heart's Desire!" Priscilla's eyes were misty as she repeated the words. Indeed, one large, full tear escaped the blue eyes and lay like a pitiful kiss on the fair page, where there was a broad, generous space for tears on either side of the lines.
"Hist! Father's coming!"
Then Priscilla stood up and a demon seemed to possess her.
"I'm not going to give it back to you! It's mine!" she cried shrilly.
Jerry-Jo made as if he were about to dash up the path and annihilate her, but she stayed him by holding the book aloft and calling:
"If you do I'll throw it in the Channel!" She looked equal to it, too, and Jerry-Jo swore one angry word and stopped short. Then the girl's mood changed. Quite gently and noiselessly she ran to Jerry-Jo and held the opened book toward him. His keen eye fell upon the tear-stain, but his coarser nature wrongly interpreted it.
"You imp!" he cried; "you spat upon it!"
But Priscilla shook her head. "No—it's a tear," she explained; "and, oh! Jerry-Jo, it is mine—listen!—you cannot take it away from me."
And standing there upon the rock she repeated the words of the poem, her rich voice rising and falling musically, and poor Jerry-Jo, hypnotized by that which he could not comprehend, listened open-mouthed.
* * * * *
And now, again, it was spring and Priscilla was fourteen. Standing in the garden path, her yoke across her shoulders, her ears straining at the sound she heard, the old poem returned to her as it had not for years. She faltered over the words at the first attempt, but with the second they rushed vividly to her mind and seemed set to the music of that "pat-pat-pat" sound on the water. An unaccountable excitement seized her—that new but thrilling sense of nearness and kinship to life and the lovely meaning of spring. She was no longer a little girl looking on at life; she was part of it; and something was going to happen after the long shut-in winter!
And presently the McAlpin boat came in sight around Lone Tree Island and in it stood Jerry-Jo quite alone, paddling straight for the landing-place! For a moment Priscilla hardly knew him. The winter had worked a wonder upon him. He was almost a man! He had the manners, too, of his kind—he ignored the girl on the rocks.
But he had seen her; seen her before she had seen him. He had noted the wonderful change in her, for eighteen is keen about fourteen, particularly when fourteen is full of promise and belongs, in a sense, to one.
The short, ugly frock Priscilla wore could not hide the beauty and grace of her young body—the winter had wiped out forever her awkward length of limb. Her reddish hair was twisted on the top of her head and made her look older and more mature. Her uplifted face had the shining radiancy that was its chief charm, and as Jerry-Jo looked he was moved to admiration, and for that very reason he assumed indifference and gave undivided attention to his boat.
With skill and grace Jerry-Jo steered his boat to the landing-place at the foot of the garden. He leaped out and tied the rope to the ring in the rocks, then he waited for Priscilla to pay homage, but Priscilla was so absorbed with her own thoughts that she overlooked the expected tribute of sex to sex. At last Jerry-Jo stood upright, legs wide apart, hands in pockets, and, with bold, handsome face thrown back, cried:
At this Priscilla started, gave a light laugh, and readjusting her yoke, walked down to the young fellow below.
"It's Jerry-Jo," she said slowly, still held by the change in him; "and alone!"
"Yes." Jerry-Jo gave a gleaming smile that showed all his strong, white teeth—long, keen teeth they were, like the fangs of an animal.
"Where are the others?" asked Priscilla.
"Uncle's dead," the boy returned promptly and cheerfully; "dead, and a good thing. He was getting cranky."
Priscilla started back as if the mention of death on that glorious day cast a cloud and a shadow.
"And your father, Jerry-Jo, is he, too, dead?"
"No. Dad, he is in jail!"
"In—jail!" Never in her life before had Priscilla known of any one being in Kenmore jail. The red, wooden house behind its high, stockade fence was at once the pride and relic of the place. To have a jail and never use it! What more could be said for the peaceful virtues of a community?
"Yes. Dad's in jail and in jail he will stay, says he, till them as put him there begs his pardon humble and proper."
Priscilla now dropped the yoke upon the rocks and gave her entire thought to Jerry-Jo, who, she could see, was bursting with importance and a sense of the dramatic.
"What did your father do, Jerry-Jo?"
"It was like this: Uncle Michael died and the wake we had for him was the most splendid you ever saw. Bottles and kegs from the White Fish and money to pay for all, too! Every one welcome and free to say his say and drink his fill. I got drunk myself! Long about midnight Big Hornby he said as how he once licked Uncle Michael, and Dad he cried back that to blacken a man's name when he was too dead to stand up for it was a dirty trick, and so it was! Then it was forth and back for a time, with compliments and what not, and if you please just as Dad sent a bit of a stool at Big Hornby, who should come in at the door but Mr. Schoolmaster, him as had no invite and was not wanted! The stool took him full on the arm and broke it—the arm—and folks took sides, and some one, after a bit, got Dad from under the pile and tried to make him beg pardon! Beg pardon at his own wake in his own home, and Schoolmaster taking chances coming when he was not invited! Umph!"
Jerry-Jo's eyes flashed superbly.
"'I'll go to jail first and be damned,' said Dad, and that put it in the mind of Big Hornby, and he up and says, 'To jail with him!' And so they takes Dad, thinking to scare him, and claps him into jail, not even mending the lock or nailing up the boards. That's three days since, and yesterday Hornby he comes to Dad and says as how a steamer was in with mail and freight and who was to carry it around? And Dad says as how I was a man now and could hold up the honour of the family, says he, and moreover, says Dad, 'I'll neither eat nor come out till you come to your senses and beg pardon for mistaking a joke for an insult!'"
Jerry-Jo paused to laugh. Then:
"So here am I with the boatload—there's a box of seeds for your father—and then I'm off to the Hill Place, for them as stays there has come, and there are boxes and packages for them as usual."
Jerry-Jo proceeded to extract Mr. Glenn's box from the boat, and Priscilla, her clear skin flushed with excitement, drew near to examine the cargo.
"More books!" she gasped. "Oh, Jerry-Jo, do you remember the first book?"
"Do I?" Jerry-Jo had shouldered the box of seeds and now bent upon the girl a glad, softened look.
"Do I? You was a wild thing then, Priscilla. And I told him about the slob of a tear and he laughed in his big, queer way, and he said, I remember well, that by that token the book was more yours than his, and he wanted me to carry it back, but I knew what was good for you, and I would not! See here, Priscilla, would you like to have a peek at this?" And then Jerry-Jo put his burden down, and, returning to the boat, drew from under the seat a book in a clean separate wrapper and held it out toward her.
"Oh!" The hands were as eager as of old.
"What will you give for it?" A deep red mounted to the young fellow's cheeks.
The book was in the outstretched hands, the hot kiss lay upon the smooth, girlish neck, and then they looked at each other.
"It—is his book?"
"No. Yours—I sent for it, myself."
"Oh! Jerry-Jo. And how did you know?"
"I copied it from that one of his."
Priscilla tore the wrappings asunder and saw that the book was a duplicate of the one over which, long ago, she had loved and wept.
"Thank you, Jerry-Jo," the voice faltered; "but I wish it—had the tear spot."
"That was his book; this is yours." An angry light flashed in Jerry-Jo's eyes. He had arranged this surprise with great pains and had used all his savings.
"But it cannot be the same, Jerry-Jo. Thank you—but——"
"Give us another kiss?" The young fellow begged.
Priscilla drew back and held out the book.
"No." She was ready to relinquish the poems, but she would not buy them.
"Keep the book—it's yours."
Jerry-Jo scowled. And then he shouldered the box and ran up the path. When he came back Priscilla was gone, and the spring day seemed commonplace and dull to Jerry-Jo; the adventure was over. Priscilla had filled her pails and had carried them and the book to the house. Something had happened to her, also. She was out of tune with the sunlight and warmth; she wanted to get close to life again and feel, as she had earlier, the kinship and joy, but the mood had passed.
It was after the dishes of the midday meal were washed that she bethought her of the old shrine back near the woods. It was many a day since she had been there—not since the autumn before—and she felt old and different, but still she had a sudden desire to return to it and try again the mystic rite she had practised when she was a little girl. It was like going back to play, to be sure; all the sacredness was gone, but the interest remained, and her yearning spurred her to her only resource.
At two o'clock Nathaniel was off to a distant field, and Theodora announced that she must walk to the village for a bit of "erranding." She wanted Priscilla to join her, thinking it would please the girl, but Priscilla shook her head and pleaded a weariness that was more mental than physical. At three o'clock, arrayed in a fresh gown, over which hung a red cape, Priscilla stole from the house and made her way to the opening near the woods. As she drew close the power of suggestion overcame the new sense of age and indifference; the witchery of the place held her; the old charm reasserted itself; she was being hypnotized by the Past. Tiptoeing to the niche in the rock she drew away the sheltering boughs and branches she had placed there one golden September day. The leaves had been red and yellow then; they were stiff and brown now. The leering skull confronted her as it had in the past and changed her at once to the devotee.
Before the dead thing the live, lovely creature bowed gravely. After all, had not the image, instead of God, answered her first prayer? Nathaniel's heart had not been softened and school had not been permitted, but there had been lessons given by the master when she told him of her new god. How he had laughed, clapping his knees with his long, thin, white hands! But he had taught her on hillside and woodland path. No one knew this but themselves and the strange idol!
A rapt look spread over Priscilla's face; the look of the worshipper who could lose self in a passion. But this was no dread god that demanded unlovely sacrifice. It was a glad creature that desired laughter, song, and dance. Priscilla had seen to that. A repetition of her father's creed would have been unendurable.
"Skib, skib, skibble—de—de—dosh!"
Again the deep and sweeping courtesy and chanting of the weird words. The final "dosh!" held, in its low, fierce tone, all the significance of abject adoration. With that "dosh" had the child Priscilla wooed the favour and recognition of the god. It was a triumph of appeal.
And then the dance began—the wild, fantastic steps full of grace and joy and the fury and passion of youth. Round and round spun the slight form, with arms over head or spread wide. The red cape floated, rising and falling; the uplifted face changed with every moment's flitting thought. It was a beautiful thing, that dance, grotesque, pagan, and yet divine, and through it all, panting and pulsing, sounded the strange, incomprehensible words:
"Skib, skib, skibble—de—de—dosh!"
While the rite was at high tide a young fellow, lying prone under a clump of trees beyond the open space, looked on, first in amaze mingled with amusement, and then with delight and admiration. He had never seen anything at once so heathenish and so exquisite. To one hampered and restricted as he was in bodily freedom, the absolute grace was marvellous, but the uncanny words and the girl's apparent seriousness gave a touch of unreality to the scene. Presently, from sheer inability to further control himself, the looker-on gave a laugh that rent the stillness of the afternoon like a cruel shock.
Priscilla, horrified, paused in the midst of a wild whirl and listened, her eyes dilating, her nostrils twitching. She waited for another burst that would make her understand.
Having given vent to that one peal of mirth, Richard Travers pulled himself to a sitting position, and, by so doing, presented his head and shoulders to the indignant eyes of Priscilla Glenn.
"Oh!" cried she; "how dare you!"
And now Travers got rather painfully upon his feet, and, with fiddle under one arm and book under the other, came forward into the open and inclined his uncovered head. He was twenty then, fair and handsome, and in his gray eyes shone that kindliness that was doomed later on to bring him so much that was both evil and good.
"I beg your pardon. I did not know I was on sacred ground. I just happened here, you see, and I could not help the laugh; it was the only compliment I could pay for anything so lovely—so utterly lovely."
Priscilla melted at once and fear fled. Not for an instant did she connect this handsome fellow with the crooked wrongdoer of the Hill Place. Jerry-Jo's long-ago description had been too vivid to be forgotten, and this stranger was one to charm and win confidence.
"Will you—oh! please do—let me play for you? You dance like a nymph. Do you know what a nymph is?"
Priscilla shook her head.
"Well, it's the only thing that can dance like you; the only thing that should ever be allowed to dance in the woods. Come, now, listen sharp, and as I play, keep step."
Leaning against a strong young hemlock, Dick Travers placed his fiddle and struck into a giddy, tuneful thing as picturesque as the time and occasion. With head bent to one side and eyes and lips smiling, Priscilla listened until something within her caught and responded to the tripping notes. At first she went cautiously, feeling her way after the enchanted music, then she gained courage, and the very heart of her danced and trembled in accord.
"Fine! fine! Now—slower; see it's the nymph stepping this way and that! Forward, so! Now!"
And then, exhausted and laughing madly, Priscilla sank down upon a rock near the musician, who, seeing her worn and panting, played on, without a word, a sweet, sad strain that brought tears to the listener's eyes—tears of absolute enjoyment and content. She had never heard music before in all her bleak, colourless life, and Dick Travers was no mean artist, in his way.
"And now," he said presently, sitting down a few feet from her, "just tell me who you are and what in the world prompts you to worship, so adorably, that hideous brute over there?"
Between fourteen and twenty lies a chasm of age and experience that ensures patronage to one and dependence to the other. Travers felt aged and protecting, but Priscilla grew impish and perverse; besides, she always intuitively shielded her real self until she capitulated entirely. This was a new play, a new comrade, but she must be cautious.
"I—I have no name—he made me!" She nodded toward the grinning skull. "On bright sunny afternoons in spring, when flowers and green things are beginning to live, he lets me dance, once in a great while, so that I can keep alive!"
Priscilla, with this, gave such a beaming and mischievous smile that Travers was bewitched.
"You——" But he did not put his thought into words; he merely gave smile for smile, and asked:
"Did he teach you to dance?"
"No. The dance is—is me! That's why he likes me. He's so dead that he likes to see something that is alive."
"The whole world would adore you could it see you as I just have!"
Then Travers, with the artist's eye, wondered how dark hair could possibly hold such golden tints, and how such a dark face could make lovely the blue, richly lashed eyes. He knew she must be from Lonely Farm—Jerry-Jo used to speak of her; lately he had said nothing, to be sure, but this certainly must be the child who had once cried over a book of his. Poor, little, temperamental beggar!
"Come up and deliver!" Travers gave a laugh. "I'm Robin Hood and I want you to explain yourself. Why do you bow down before that brazen and evil-looking brute?"
Priscilla hugged her knees in her clasped hands, and said, on the defence:
"He's the only god that answered my prayer. I tried father's God and—it didn't work! Then I fixed up this one, and—it did!"
"What was it you wanted?"
"I wanted to learn things! I wanted to go to school. I prayed to have father's heart softened, but it stayed—rocky. Then I began to worship this"—the right hand waved toward the bleached and grinning skull—"and my wish came true. I told the schoolmaster. Do you know Mr. Anton Farwell?"
"I've heard of him."
"I told him I wanted to learn, and after he got through laughing he said he'd been sent by my god to teach me all I wanted to know; but of course he can't do that!"
"Do what?" Travers was fascinated by the child's naivety.
"Teach me all I want to know. Why, I'm going to suffer and know many things!"
"Good Lord!" ejaculated Travers; "you won't mind if I laugh?"
"I don't think there's anything to laugh at!" Priscilla held him sternly. "Have you ever suffered?"
The laugh died from Travers's face.
"Suffered!" he repeated. "Yes! yes!"
"Well, doesn't it pay—when you get what you want and know things?"
"Why, see here, youngster—it does! You've managed to dig out of your life quite a brilliant philosophy, though I suppose you do not know what that is. It's holding to your ideal, the thing that seems most worth while, and forcing everything else into line with that. Now, you see I had a bad handicap—a clutch on me that made me a weak, sickly fellow, but through it all I kept my ideal."
Priscilla was listening bravely. She was following this thought as she had the music; something in her was responding. She did not speak, and Travers went on talking, more to himself than to her.
"Always before the poor thing I really was, walked the fine thing I would be. I thought myself straight and strong and clean. Lord! how it hurt sometimes; but I grew, after a time, into something approaching the ideal going on before me, thinking high and strong thoughts, forgetting the meannesses and aches—do you understand?"
This was a fairy story to the listener. Rigid and spellbound she replied:
"Yes. And that's what I've been doing—and nobody knew. I've just been working hard for that me of me that I always see. I don't care what I have to suffer, but—" the throbbing words paused—"I'm going to know what—it is all about!"
"It?" Again Travers was bewildered and bound.
"Yes. Life and me and what we mean. I'm not going to stay here; when the lure of the States gets me I'm—going!"
Things were getting too tense, and Travers yielded to a nervous impulse to laugh again. This brought a frown to Priscilla's brow.
"Forgive me!" he pleaded. "And now see here, little pagan, let us make a compact. Let us keep our ideals; don't let anything take them from us. Is it a go?"
He stretched his hand out, and the small, brown one lay frankly in it.
"And we'll come here and—and worship before that fiend, just you and I? And we won't ever tell?"
"And now will you dance once more, just once?"
The girl bounded from the rock, and before the bow struck the strings she was poised and ready. Then it was on again, that strange, wild game. The notes rang clear and true, and as true tripped the twinkling feet. With head bent and eyes riveted on the graceful form, Travers urged her on by word and laugh, and he did not heed a shadow which fell across the sunlighted, open space, until Priscilla stopped short, and a deep voice trembling with emotion roared one word:
There stood Nathaniel Glenn, his face twitching with anger and something akin to fear. How much he had heard no one could tell, but he had heard and seen enough to arouse alarm and suspicion. In his hand was a long lash whip, and, as Priscilla did not move, he raised it aloft and sent it snapping around the rigid figure.
It did not touch her, but the act called forth all the resentment and fierce indignation of the young fellow who looked on.
"Stop!" he shouted. Then, because he sought for words to comfort and could think of no others, he said to Priscilla, "Don't let them kill your ideal; hold to it in spite of everything!"
"Yes," the words came slowly, defiantly, "I'm going to!"
"Go!" Nathaniel was losing control. "Go—you!"
Then, as if waking from sleep, the girl turned, and with no backward look, went her way, Nathaniel following.
Travers, exhausted from the excitement, stretched himself once more upon the mossy spot from which Priscilla had roused him. He was sensitive to every impression and quivering in every nerve.
What he had witnessed turned him ill with loathing and contempt. Brutality in any form was horrible to him, and the thought of the pretty, spiritual child under the control of the coarse, stern man was almost more than he could bear. Then memory added fuel to the present. It was that man who had conjured up some kind of opposition to his mother—had made living problems harder for her until she had won the confidence of others. The man must be, Travers concluded, a fanatic and an ignoramus, and to think of him holding power over that sprite of the woods!
He could not quite see how he might help the girl, but, lying there, her dancing image flitting before his pitying eyes, he meant to outwit the rough father in some way, and bring into the child's life a bit of brightness. Then he smiled and his easy good nature returned.
"I'll get her to dance for me, never fear! I'll teach her to love music, and I'll tell her stories. I must get her to explain about the lure of the States. What on earth could the little beggar have meant? It sounded as if she thought America had some sinister clutch on the Dominion. And those infernal-sounding words!"
Travers shook with laughter. "That 'dosh' was about the most blasphemous thing I ever listened to. In a short space of time that child managed to cram in more new ideas, words, and acts than any one I've ever met before. I shouldn't wonder if she proves a character."
The day of warmth and song and dance changed to a cool evening. There was a glowing sunset which faded into a clear, starry night.
Dick Travers, encased in a heavy sweater, lingered, after the light failed, on the broad piazza facing the still purpled sky, and looked out toward the Georgian Bay, which was hidden from sight by the ridge of hill through which the Fox and Secret Portages cut. The mood of the afternoon had fallen, as had the day, into calmness and restfulness. The fiddle, which was never far from Travers, lay now beside him on the deep porch swing, and every few moments he took it up and began an air that broke off almost at once, either to run into another, or into silence.
"Choppy," muttered Doctor Ledyard as he sat across the hearth from his hostess and looked now at her fair, tranquil face and then at the cheerful fire of hemlock boughs.
"He's always happiest when he's—choppy." Helen Travers smiled. "I wonder why I take your words as I take your pills, without question?"
"You know what's good for you."
"And so you really think there is no doubt about Dick? He can enter college this fall?"
"As sure as any man can be. He'll always be a trifle lame probably, though that will be less noticeable when he learns to forget the cane and crutch periods; as for his health—it's ripping, for him!"
"How wonderful you have been; what a miracle you have performed. When I recall——"
"Don't, Helen! It's poor business retracing a hard road unless you go back to pick something up."
"That's why—I must go back. Doctor Ledyard, I must tell you something! Now that Dick's semi-exile and mine are to end in the common highway, he and—you must know why I have done many things—will you listen?"
From under Ledyard's shaggy brows his keen eyes flashed. There had been a time when he had hoped Helen Travers would love him; he had loved her since her husband's death, but he had never spoken, for he knew intuitively that to do so would be to risk the only thing of which he was, then, sure—her trusting friendship. He had not dared put that to the test even for the greater hope. That was why he had been able to share her lonely life in the Canadian wilds—she had never been disturbed by a doubt of him. And this comradeship, safe and assured, was the one luxury he permitted himself in a world where he was looked upon as a hard, an almost cruel, man.
"I do not want you to tell anything in order to explain your actions now, or ever. I am confident that under all circumstances you would act wisely. You are the most normal woman I ever knew."
"Thank you. But I still must speak—more for Dick than for you. I need your help for him."
Outside, the fiddle was repeating again and again a nocturne that Helen particularly loved.
"Dick is not—my son!" she said quickly and softly from out the shadows. She was rarely abrupt, and her words startled Ledyard into alertness. He got up and drew his chair close to hers.
"What did you say?" he whispered, keeping his eyes upon her lowered face.
"I said—Dick is not my son."
"And—whose is he—may I ask?"
There was a tenseness in the question. Now that he saw the gravity of the confession Ledyard wished beyond all else to cut quick and deep and then bind up the wound.
"He is the child of—my husband, and—another woman."
In the hush that followed, Dick's fiddle, running now through a delicious strain of melody, seemed like a current bearing them on.
"Perhaps you had better—tell me," Ledyard was saying, and his words blended strangely with the tune. "Yes, I am sure you ought to tell me."
Helen Travers, sitting in her low wicker chair, did not move. Her delicate face was resting on the tips of her clasped hands, and her long, loose, white gown seemed to gather and hold the red glow of the fire.
"I suppose I have done Dick a bitter wrong, but at first, you know, even you thought he could not live and so it would not have mattered, and then I—I learned to love the helpless little chap as women of my sort do who have to make their own lives as best they may. He clung to me so desparately, and, you see, as he grew older I either had to accept his belief in me or—or—take his father from him. They were such close friends, Dick's father and he! And now—I must lay everything low, and I am wondering what will come of it all. He is such a strange fellow; our life apart has left him—well, so different! How will he take it?"
Whatever her own personal sorrow was, Helen Travers made no moan, exacted no sympathy. She had come alone to the parting of the ways, and she had thought only for the boy whom she had mothered tenderly and successfully. Ledyard did not interrupt the gentle flow of her thoughts. There was time; he would not startle or hurry her, although her first statement had shocked and surprised him beyond measure.
"I've always thought of myself as like one of those poor Asiatic hornbills," she was saying. "It seems to me that all my life long some one has walled me up in a nice, safe nest and fed me through my longings and desires. I cannot get to life first hand. I'm not stupid exactly, but I am terribly limited." Helen paused, then went on more rapidly: "First it was my father. He and I travelled after mother's death continually, and alone. He educated me and interpreted life for me; he was a man of the world, I suppose, but he managed to keep me most unworldly wise. Of course I knew, abstractly, the lights and shadows; but I wonder if you will believe me when I tell you that, until after my marriage, I never suspected that—that certain codes of honour and dishonour had place in the lives of those closest to me? The evil of the world was classified and pigeon-holed for me. I even had ambition to get out of my walled-up condition and help some mystical people, detached and far from my safe, clean corner. Father left me more money than was good for any young woman, and my simple impulse was to use it properly."
"You were very young?" Ledyard interrupted.
Helen Travers shook her head.
"Not very. I was twenty-four when I married. I had never had but one intimate friend in my life, and to her I went at my father's death. It was her brother I married—John Travers."
Ledyard nodded his head; he knew of the Traverses—the older generation.
"This thing concerning Dick occurred some three or four years before my marriage. My wedding was a very quiet one; it was not reported, and that accounted for Dick's mother—Elizabeth Thornton—not knowing of it.
"It seems that there had been an alliance between John Travers and—and Dick's mother, and it had been terminated some time before he met me, by mutual consent. There was the child—Dick. The mother took him. There was no question of money: there was enough for them, but she had told John that should anything arise, such as illness or disaster, she would call upon him. They had sworn that to each other.
"Well, my own baby came a year after my marriage and died a month later. When I was least able to bear the shock, the call came from Elizabeth Thornton. John had to tell me. I shall never forget his face as he did it. I realized that his chief concern was for me, and even in all the wreck and ruin I could but honour him for his bravery and sincerity. I think he believed I would understand, but I never did; I never shall. The shock was more surprise than moral resentment. I could not believe at first that such a thing could possibly happen to—one of my own. I felt as if a plague had fallen upon me, and I shrank from every eye, from every touch with the world.
"Doctor Ledyard, you can understand, I hope, but John Travers was not a bad man, and that girl, Dick's mother, was good. Yes; that's the only word to use, strange as it seems to me even after all these years. You see, she was not a hornbill. She came in touch with life at first hand; she took from life what she wanted; she had, what were to me, unheard-of ideas about love and the free gift of self, and yet she never meant to hurt any one; and she had kept herself, amid all the confusion, the gentlest and sweetest of souls.
"When she sent for John she was dying and she did not know what to do about the boy. She had no family—no near friend.
"I went with my husband to see her. There did not seem to be anything else to do. I had no feeling; it was plain duty. Even with the touch of death upon her, Elizabeth Thornton was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I cannot describe the sensation she made upon me; but she was like an innocent, pure child who had played with harmful and soiled toys but had come wearily to the day's end, herself unsullied.
"When she knew about me she was broken-hearted. She wept and called to little Dick, who sat in a small chair by her couch:
"'Oh! little son, we could have managed, couldn't we? We would not have hurt any one for the world, would we, sonny?' And the boy got up and soothed her as a man might have done, and he was only a little creature. I think I loved him from the moment I saw him shielding that poor, dying mother from her own folly. 'Course, mummy, course!' he repeated over and again. Then he looked at me with the eyes of my own dead baby. Both children were startlingly like the father. The look pleaded for mercy from me to them—John, the mother, and the little fellow himself. And I, who had vaguely meant to help the world some day, began—with them! Just for a little time after Elizabeth Thornton's death I became human, or perhaps inhuman. I resented the wrong that had been done me; I wanted to fling John and the child away from me; but then a sense of power rallied me. I had never tasted it before. I could cast the helpless pair from me, or—I could save them from the world and the world's hideous pity for me. I accepted the burden laid upon me. I think John thought I would forget, would forgive. I cannot explain—my sort of woman is never understood by—well, John's sort of man. I am afraid he grew to have a contempt for me, but I lived on loving them both, but never becoming able to meet John's hope of me. I knew he was often lonely—I have pitied him since—but I could not help being what I was.
"I tried, but it was no use. We lived abroad for years, and little Dick forgot—I am sure he forgot—his mother, and when I felt secure I gave him all, all the passion and devotion of my life.
"John died abroad; I came home with my crippled boy; came home to—you. That is all!"
Ledyard bent and laid a handful of boughs upon the fire. The room was cold and cheerless, and the still, white figure in the chair seemed the quiet, chill heart of it all. And yet—how she had loved and laboured for the boy! Was she passionless or had her passion been killed while at white heat?
"And—and I suppose Dick must know?"
"Yes. Dick must know."
There was no sternness, but there was determination in the strong, even voice. Then:
"Helen, let me do this for you!"
For a moment the uplifted eyes faltered and fell away from the man's face. Very faintly the words came:
"God bless you! I could not bear to see—him fail me. If he must—fail, I cannot see him until—afterward."
The blaze rose higher, and the dark room was a background for that deathlike form before the hearth.
Ledyard left the room silently, and a moment later Helen Travers heard his heavy footfall on the porch outside. Presently the erratic violin playing ceased and there seemed no sound on the face of the earth.
After what seemed hours, Pine, the guide, entered the room to replenish the fire, and Helen told him he need not light the lamps. After his going another aching silence followed through which, at last, stole the consciousness that she was not alone. Some one had come into the room from a long window opening on the piazza. Helen dared not look, for if it were Ledyard she would know that things were very bad indeed. Then came the slightly dragging step that she had learned to be so grateful for after the helplessness of crippled childhood. Still she did not move, nor deeply hope. The boy was kind, oh! so tenderly kind, he might only have come because he must!
The red glow of the fire made the woman's form by the hearth vividly distinct, and toward that Dick Travers went as if led by a gleam through a new and strange experience. He knelt by her side and, for a moment, buried his face against her clasped hands; then he looked up and she saw only intensified love and trust upon his young face. She waited for him to speak, her heart was choking her.
"You thought, dear, that I did not know—that I had forgotten? I wonder if any lonely, burdened little chap could forget—what came before you lifted the load and taught me to be a—child? Oh! she was so sweet; such a playfellow. I realize it now even though she has faded into something like a shadowy dream. But I recall, too, the loneliness; the fear that she might leave me alone with no one to care for me. I can remember her fear, too; always the fear that one of us might leave the other alone. The recollection will always stand out in my memory. I shall never forget her nor her sweetness. Afterward you came and my father. Only lately have I understood all of—that part of my life and yours—but I knew he was my father, and I wondered about you, because I could not forget—my mother!
"I learned to love you out of my great need and out of yours, too, I realize now, and slowly, far too early, I saw that the happiest thing I could do for you, who had given me so much, was to seem to forget and rest only on one thought—you were my mother! Can I make you understand, mother, what you are in my life—to-night?"
He kissed the cold hands clutching his hot ones, and with that touch the barrier broke down forever between them. Travers took her in his arms, but she did not burden his young strength as the earlier mother had done. Even in her abandon, they supported each other bravely.
* * * * *
The days that followed were busy ones. Dick's tutor came from New York, plans were laid, and there was small opportunity, just then, for the red-rock shrine.
"You see," Dick said to Ledyard one afternoon, "I've never voiced it before—it seemed presumptuous—but now that I'm going to have the life of a fellow, I can choose a fellow's career. I want, more than anything else, to be a physician."
Ledyard's eyes flashed, but he lowered his lids.
"It's a devil of a life, boy."
"I think it's the finest of all."
"No hours you can call your own; never daring to ask for the common things a man cares for. You see, women are mostly too jealous and small to understand a doctor's demands. They usually raise hell sooner or later. I had a friend whose wife used to look through the keyhole of his consulting-room door. A patient tripped over her once and it nearly cost my friend his practice. Doctors are only half human anyway, and women can't go halves with their husbands."
"Between a wife and a profession," he said, "give me the profession."
"Besides," Ledyard went on; "you get toughened and brutal; most of us drink, when we don't do something worse."
"How do you know?"
"I do know, and I'm sure you wouldn't let any one else say that about your associates; they're the noblest ever and you know it!"
"Well, we're bound and gagged, and that's a fact. We're not given much leeway. We are led up to a case and forced to carry out the rules. While we're doctors we can't be men."
Dick recalled that years later with a bitter sense of its truth!
"All the same, if the profession will have me, I'll have it and thank God. When I think of—well, of the little cuss I was, and of you—why, I tell you, I cannot get too soon into harness. I'd like to specialize, too. I've even gone so far as that."
"Good Lord! In what?"
"Oh, women and children, principally—putting them straight and strong, you know."
"Umph," grunted Ledyard. "Well, at the first you'll probably be thankful to get any old case that needs tinkering."
Dick Travers did not see Priscilla again that summer. After a while he went to the rocks, and once he laid sacrilegious hands on the strange god with a longing to smash the hideous skull, but in the end he left it and, after a time, forgot the girl he had played for, even forgot the fantastic dance, for his thoughts were of sterner stuff.
There were guests at the Hill Place, too, for the first time that year, and some entertainment. There were fishing, and in due season, hunting, at which Ledyard excelled, and the family returned to the States earlier than usual, owing to Dick's affairs.
Nathaniel Glenn had said some terrible things in Priscilla's presence the evening of the day when he drove her before him while Richard Travers implored her to hold to her ideal. Fortunately, youth spared Priscilla from a full understanding of her father's words, but she caught the drift of his thought. She was convinced that he feared greatly for her here on earth, and had grave doubts as to her soul's ultimate salvation. There was that within her, so he explained, which, unless curbed and corrected, would cast her into eternal damnation! Those were Nathaniel's words.
"She looked a very devil as she danced and smirked at that strange fellow," so had Glenn described the scene; "a man she says she had never laid eyes on before! A daughter of Satan she seemed, with all the witchcraft of her sort." To Nathaniel, that which he could not understand, was wrong.
Theodora spoke not a word. Certain facts from all the evidence stood forth and alarmed her as deeply—though not as bitterly—as they did her husband. There certainly was a daring and brazenness in a young girl carrying on so before a total stranger. In all the conversation the name of the stranger was not mentioned, and oddly enough Priscilla did not even then connect her friend of the music and laughter with the boy of the Hill Place. How could she, when Jerry-Jo's description still stood unchallenged in her mind? Indeed, the stranger did not seem wholly of the earth, earthy. She had accepted him as another phase evolved by the mysterious rite—a new revelation of the strange god.
From all the torrent of misinterpretation Nathaniel gave vent to, one startling impression remained in Priscilla's mind. Sitting in the bare, unlovely kitchen of the farmhouse, with her troubled parents confronting her, a great wave of realization overpowered the girl. She could never make them understand! There was no need to try. She did not really belong to them, or they to her, and she must—get away!
That was it, of course. The lure had caught her. They all felt as she was now feeling—the Hornbys, all the boys and men who left Kenmore. Something always drove them to see they must go, and that was what the lure meant.
As usual, this angered Nathaniel beyond control.
"You—laugh—you! Why do you laugh?"
Priscilla leaned back in her hard wooden chair.
"The lure's got me!" she panted.
"Yes. It means getting away. You have to follow the lure and find your true place. Some people are put in the wrong place—then the lure gets them!"
At this Theodora gave a moan of understanding. They had driven the child too far, been too hard upon her, and the impulse to fly from the love that was seeking to hold her was the one thing to be avoided.
"I'm tired of things. Once I wanted to go to school, but you wouldn't let me." The blazing eyes were fixed upon Nathaniel. "You're always trying to—to hold me back from—from—my life! I want to go away somewhere! I want"—a half-sob shook the fierce, young voice—"I want to be part of—things, and you—you won't let me! I hate this—this place; I'm choking to death!"
And with this Priscilla got up and flung her arms over her head, while she ejaculated fiercely: "I want to be—doshed!"
The effect of this outburst upon the two listeners was tremendous. Theodora recognized with blinding terror that her daughter was no longer a child! The knowledge was like a stroke that left her paralyzed. What could she hope to do with, and for, this new, strange creature in whose young face rising passion and rebellion were suddenly born? Nathaniel was awed, too, but he managed to utter the command: "Leave the room, hussy!"
When the parents were alone they took stock of the responsibility that was laid upon them. Helplessly Theodora began to cry. She could no more cope with this situation than a baby. She had never risen above or beyond the dead level of Kenmore life, and surely no Kenmore woman had ever borne so unnatural a child. She feared hopelessly and tremblingly.
With Nathaniel it was different. He was a hard man who had forced himself, as he had others, along the one grim path, but he had the male's inheritance of understanding of certain traits and emotions. Had any one suggested to him that his girl had derived from him—not her colourless mother—the desire for excitement through the senses, he would have flung the thought madly from him. Men were men; women were women! Even if temptation came to a girl, only a bad, an evil-natured girl would recognize it and succumb. His daughter, Nathaniel firmly believed, was marked for destruction, and he was frightened and aroused not only for Priscilla herself but for his reputation and position. He had known similar temptation; had overcome it. He understood, or thought he did!
He gave the girl no benefit of doubt; his mind conceived things that never had occurred. He believed she had often met the young fellow from the Hill Place. God alone knew what had gone before!
"What shall we do?" sobbed Theodora. "We cannot make a prisoner of her; we cannot watch her every move—and she's only a bit over fourteen!"
Had the girl died that night Nathaniel would not have mourned her, he would have known only relief and gratitude.
"She was unwelcomed," he muttered to his weeping wife; "and she has become a curse to us. It lies with us to turn the punishment into our souls' good; but what can we do for her?"
Priscilla did not die that night. She slept peacefully and happily with the red, pulsing planet over the hemlock shining faithfully upon her. The next day she reappeared before her parents with a cloudless face and a willingness to make such amends as could be brought about without too much self-abnegation. In the broad light of day the mother could not hold to the horrors of the evening before. She had been nervous and overwrought; it wasn't so bad as they had thought!
"I want you to go erranding," she said to Priscilla soon after the midday meal and by way of propitiation. "It's one by the clock now. Given an hour to go, another to return, and a half hour for the buying, you should be back by four at the latest."
Priscilla looked laughingly up at her mother, "Funny, little mother," she said; "he's made you afraid of me. Hadn't you better tie a string to my foot?" But all the time the girl was thinking. "An hour for both going and coming will be enough, and that will leave an hour for the schoolmaster."
Aloud she said: "I was fiercely angry last night, mother, for he read me wrong and would not believe me, but it made me feel the lure; it really did."
"You must never speak so again, child," Theodora replied, thinking she was impressing the girl; "and, Priscilla, what did you mean by saying you wanted to be—be doshed? That was the most unsanctified word I ever heard. What does it mean? Where did you learn it?"
At this Priscilla doubled over with laughter but managed to say:
"Why, it means just—doshed! Haven't you ever wanted to be doshed, mother, when you were young, and before father took the dosh out of you?"
Theodora was again overcome by former fears, and to confirm her terror Priscilla sprang toward her with outstretched, gripping fingers and wide, eager eyes.
"It means," she breathed, advancing upon her mother's retreating form, "it means skib, skib, skibble—de—de—dosh!"
At this she had her mother by the shoulders and was seeking to kiss the affrighted and appalled face.
Theodora escaped her, and realized that a changeling had indeed entered her home. An unknown element was here. It was as if, having been discovered, Priscilla felt she no longer needed to hide her inner self, but was giving it full sway.
If they could only have known that the spring of imagination and joy had been touched in the girl and merely the madness of youth and the legitimate yearning for expression moved her! But Theodora did not understand and she tried to be stern.
"You are to be back in this house at four!" she cried; "at quarter after at the latest."
So Priscilla started forth. The mother watched her from the doorway. Suspicion was in her heart; she feared the girl would turn toward the woods; she was prepared for that, but instead, the flying figure made for the grassy road leading to Kenmore and was soon lost to sight.
Three miles of level road, much of it smooth, moss-covered rock, was easy travelling for nimble feet and a glad heart. And Priscilla was the gladdest creature afield that day. Impishly she was enjoying the sensation she had created. It appealed to her dramatic sense and animal enjoyment. In some subtle fashion she realized she had balked and defeated her father—she was rather sorry about her mother—but that could be remedied later on. There was no doubt that she had the whip hand of Nathaniel at last, and the subconscious attitude of defiance she always held toward her father was strengthened by the knowledge that he was unjustly judging her.
There were many things of interest in Kenmore that only limited time prevented Priscilla from investigating. She longed to go to the jail and see if the people had prevailed upon old Jerry McAlpin to discharge himself. She admired Jerry's spirit!
She wanted to call upon Mrs. Hornby and question her about Jamsie, her last boy, who had succumbed to the lure of the States. She longed to know the symptoms of one attacked by the lure. Then there was the White Fish Lodge—she did so want to visit Mrs. McAdam. The annual menace of taking Mrs. McAdams' license from her was man's talk just then, and Mrs. McAdam was so splendid when her rights were threatened. On the village Green she annually defended her position like a born orator. Priscilla had heard her once and had never got over her admiration for the little, thin woman who rallied the men to her support with frantic threats as to her handling of their rights unless they helped her fight her battle against a government bent upon taking the living from a "God-be-praised widow-woman with two sons to support."
It had all been so exactly to Priscilla's dramatic taste that she with difficulty restrained herself from calling at the White Fish.
There was a good hour to her credit when the erranding was finished and the time needed for the home run set aside, so to the little cabin, built beside the schoolhouse, she went with heavily loaded arms and an astonishingly light heart.
Since the day when Anton Farwell had undertaken Priscilla's enlightenment, asserting that he had been ordained to do so by her god, he had had an almost supernatural influence upon her thought. For her, he was endowed with mystery, and, with the subtle poetry of the lonely young, she deafened her ears to any normal explanation of the man.
Reaching the cabin, she pushed gently against the door, knowing that if it opened, Kenmore was free to enter. Farwell was in and, when Priscilla stood near him, seemed to travel back from a far place before he saw her. Farwell was an old-young man; he cultivated the appearance of age, but only the very youthful were deceived. His long, dark hair fell about his thin face lankly, and it was an easy matter, by dropping his head, to hide his features completely.
He was tall and, from much stooping over books or the work of his garden, was round-shouldered. When he looked you fully in the face, which he rarely did, it was noticed that his eyes were at once childishly friendly and deathly sad.
The older people of Kenmore had ceased to wonder about him. Having accepted him, they let matters drop. To the children, to all helpless animals, he was an enduring solace and power. When all else failed they looked to him for solution. For this had Priscilla come.
"To be sure!" cried Farwell at length. "It's Priscilla Glenn. Bad child! It's many a day since we had a lesson. There! there! no excuses. Sit down and—own up!"
While he was speaking Farwell replenished the wood on the fire and brushed the ashes from the hearth. Priscilla, in a chair, sat upright and rather breathlessly wondered how she could manage all she wanted to say and hear in the small space of time that was hers.
Anton's back was toward her when she uttered her first question and the words brought him to an upright position, facing her at once.
"Mr. Farwell, where did you come from—I mean before the wreck?"
For a moment the master looked as if about to spring forward to lock the door and bar the windows. Real alarm was in his eyes.
"Who told you to ask that?" he whispered.
"No one. No one has to tell me questions; I have more of my own than I can ask. I never thought before about you, Mr. Farwell, we're so used to you, but now it's because of me. I want to know. Somebody has got to help me—I feel it coming again."
"Feel what coming?" Farwell sat limply down in the chair he had lately occupied.
"Why, the lure. It comes to the boys, Mr. Farwell. They just get it and go off to the States, and it's come to me! I've always known it would. You see, I've got to go away; not just now, but some time. I'm going out through the Secret Portage. I'm going away, away to find my real place. I'm going to do something—out where the States are. I hoped you came from there; could tell me—how to go about it. Do you know, I feel as if I had been dropped in Kenmore just to rest before I went on!"
Farwell looked at the girl and something new and changed about her startled him as it had her parents, but, being wiser, he felt no antagonism. It was an amazing, an interesting thing. The girl had suddenly developed: that was all. She was eager to try her wings at a longer flight than any of her sex in Kenmore had ever before dreamed. It was amusing even if it were serious.
Years before, Farwell had discovered the girl's keen mind and her quaint originality. As much for his own pleasure as her advantage he had taught her as he had some of the other village children, erratically, inconsequently, and here she was now demanding that he fit her out with a chart for deep-sea sailing.
How could he permit her to harbour, even for an idle moment, the idea of leaving her shelter and going away? At this the thin, dark face grew rigid and stern. But too well the man knew the folly of setting up active opposition to any young thing straining against the door of a cage. Better open the door even if a string on the leg or a clipped wing had to be resorted to!
"Did you ever see the States?" The tense voice was imploring.
"Oh, yes. Why do you wish to go there?"
"Why do the boys?"
This was baffling.
"Well, there was Mrs. Hornby's oldest boy, he went to the States, got the worst of it, and came home to die. He did not find them happy places."
"Yes, but all the other Hornbys went just the same, even Jamsie. It's the chance, you know, the chance to try what's in you, even if you do come home and die! You never have a chance in Kenmore; and I don't mean to be like my mother—like the other women. You see, Mr. Farwell, I'm willing to suffer, but I am going to know all I want to, and I am going to find a place where I fit in, if I can."
So small and ignorant did the girl look, yet so determined and keen, that Farwell grew anxious. Evidently Nathaniel had borne too hard upon her, borne to the snapping point, and she had, in her wild fashion, caught the infection of the last going away—Jamsie Hornby's. It was laughable, but pathetic.
"What could you do?" Farwell leaned forward and gazed into the strange blue eyes fixed upon him.
"Dance. Have you ever seen me dance? Do you want to?" She was prepared to prove herself.
"Good Lord! no, no!"
"Oh! I can dance. If some one would play for me—play on—on a fiddle, I could dance all day and night. Wouldn't people pay for that?"
This was serious business. By some subtle suggestion Priscilla Glenn had introduced into the bare, cleanly room an atmosphere of danger, a curious sense of unreality and excitement.
"Yes—they do pay," Farwell said slowly; "but where in heaven's name did you get such ideas?"
The girl looked impishly saucy. She was making a sensation again and, while Anton Farwell was not affected as her parents had been, he was undoubtedly impressed.
"It's this way: You have to sell what you've got until you get something better. There isn't an earthly thing I can do but dance now; of course I can learn. Don't you remember the nice story about the old woman who went to market her eggs for to sell? Master Farwell, I'm like her, and my dancing is my—egg!"
She was laughing now, this unreasoning, unreasonable girl, and she was laughing more at Farwell's perplexity than at her own glibness. She must soon go, her time was growing short, but she was enjoying herself immensely.
Looking at her, Farwell was suddenly convinced of one overpowering fact: Priscilla Glenn was destined for—living! Hers was one of those natures that flash now and then upon a commonplace existence, a strange soul from an unknown port, never resting until it finds its way back.
"Poor little girl!" whispered Farwell, and then he talked to her.
Would she let him go to her father and mother?
"What's the use?" questioned Priscilla, and she told him of the experience in the woods. "Father saw only evil when it was the most beautiful thing that ever happened."
Farwell saw a wider stretch and more danger.
"But I will try, and anyway, Priscilla, if I promise to help you get ready, will you promise me to do nothing without consulting me?"
This the girl was ready enough to do. She was restless and defiant under her new emotion, but intuitively she had sought Farwell because he had before aided her and sympathized with her. Yes, she would confide in him.
That night Farwell called at Lonely Farm. Followed by his two lean, ugly sledge dogs he made his way to the barn where Nathaniel was doing the evening's work. While the men talked, the dogs, behind the building, fought silently and ferociously. Farwell had fed one before he left home and a bitter jealousy lay between the animals. It was almost more than one might hope that the master could influence Glenn or change his mind, but Farwell did bring to bear an argument that, because nothing else presented itself, swayed the father.
"You cannot get the same results from all children," Farwell said, looking afar and smiling grimly; "there's no use trying to make an abnormal child into a normal one. Priscilla is like a wild thing of the woods. You may tame her, if you go about it right; you'll never be able to force her. She's kind and affectionate, but she cannot be fettered or caged, without mischief being done. Better let her think she is having her own way, or—she may take it!"
"I'll break her will!" muttered Glenn.
"And if you do—what then?"
"She'll fall into line—women do! Their life takes it out of them. Once I get her on the right track, she'll go straight enough. There's no other way for her sex, thank God!"
"She'd be a poor, despicable thing if she was cowed." Contempt rang in Farwell's voice.
"She'd serve her purpose." Glenn was so angry that he became brutal. "Spirit ain't needed for her job."
"Purpose? Job?" Farwell repeated.
"Yes. Child-bearing; husband-serving. If they take to it naturally they're all the better off; if they have to be brought to terms—well, then——"
Gradually the truth dawned upon Farwell, and his thin face flushed, while in his heart he pitied Theodora Glenn and Priscilla.
"I wish I'd kept to my first ideas!" Glenn was saying surlily, "and never let the limb learn of you or another. I gave her her head and here we are!"
"Had she been taught regularly by some one better fitted than I she would have done great credit to you. She has a bright mind and a vivid imagination."
To this Glenn made no response, but the energy with which he applied the brush to his horse caused the animal to rear dangerously.
"Come, come," Farwell continued; "better loosen the rein and let her run herself out—she may settle happily after a bit. If you don't, she may run farther than you know."
"Run? Run where?" Nathaniel, safe from the horse's heels, glared at Farwell.
"To the States. There is no sex line on the border."
"But there's good, plain law. I'd have her back and well cowed, if she attempted that!"
And then Farwell played his card.
"See here, Mr. Glenn, you do not want to drive this girl of yours to—to hell! Of course there is law and of course you have the whip hand while Priscilla is in your clutch, but with a wit like hers, if she slipped across the border she could lose herself so completely that neither your hate nor legal power could ever find her. Do you want to drive her to such lengths?"
Some of the truth of what Farwell was saying dashed Glenn's temper with fear. Hard and cruel as he was, he was not devoid of affection of a clammy sort, and for an instant Priscilla as a helpless girl wandering among strangers replaced Priscilla, the rebellious daughter, and pity moved him.
"Well, what do you suggest?" he asked grudgingly.
"Simply this: You can trust me. Good Lord you surely can trust me with her! Let me teach her and bring a little diversion into her life. What she wants is what all young things want—freedom and fun—pure, simple fun. Don't let her think you are expecting evil of her; let her alone!"
The extent of Glenn's confusion may be estimated by the fact that he permitted Priscilla thereafter to go, when she chose, to Kenmore and learn of Farwell what Farwell chose to give her, and, for the first time in the girl's life, she felt a glow of appreciation toward her father.
With this new freedom she became happier, less restless, and her admiration for Farwell knew no bounds.
The schoolmaster managed to procure a violin and laboriously practised upon it until an almost forgotten gift was somewhat restored. He did not play as Travers did—he had only his ear to depend upon; he had never been well taught—but his music sufficed to accompany Priscilla's nimble feet, and it gave Farwell himself an added interest in his dull life.
"She'll marry Jerry-Jo McAlpin some day," the schoolmaster thought at times; "and have a brood of half-breeds—no quarter-breeds—and all this joy and gladness will become a blurred, or blotted-out, background. Good God!"
Mrs. McAdam of the White Fish Lodge came out upon the village Green one evening in late August and, in a loud voice, hailed Jerry McAlpin:
"I've heard it said," called she, "that you, you Jerry McAlpin, are not against the taking away of my license; not against the making of Kenmore a teetotal town!"
There was menace in the high-pitched voice; warning in the accusation. But Jerry had not taken a drop to drink since his self-releasement from jail (after an apology from Hornby), and he was uncannily clear headed.
"I've said that same!" he replied, and stopped short in his walk.
Two or three other men, followed by dogs, paused to listen. Then a boat, coming in loaded with fish, tied up to the wharf, and the crew, leaning over the sides, waited for developments.
"And for why?" called Mary, hands on hips and her sharp eyes blazing.
"For this: The drink turns us mad! I'm late finding it out, but I've found it! It sent me to jail with my wits all afire. My boy drank that night, drank like a young beast, and lay on the floor of the cabin, they tell me, after I went away; and he only sixteen, and his dead uncle stark there beside him for company!"
By this time a goodly gathering was on the Green, and Mary was in her element.
"And so," she said calmly, waxing eloquent as her power grew, "you and the like of you would take an honest woman's living from her, and she a God-be-praised widow at that, because you can't control the beast in yourselves and can't train the cubs of your kennels!"
This was going to great lengths, and many a listener who sided with Mary was chilled by her offensive words.
"Come! come!" warned Hornby, the father of the recently lured Jamsie, "them ain't exactly womanly terms, are they?"
But Mary was on her high horse. Availing herself of the safety her sex secured for her, she struck left and right without grace or favour, and her audience gaped while they listened.
"Oh, I know! 'Tis this year a dry town with me ruined, and it's next year a wet town with McAlpin, Hornby, or another creature in trousers taking my place; and after that there will be no more dry town for ever and ever! It's not morals you are after, but a man-controlled tavern. Blast ye!" A sneer marked Mary's thin, dark face. "You want your drinks and your freedom, but you say you fear for your lads. Shame on you! Have I no lads?"
"Have I not trained them in the way they should go? Do I fear for them?" A grave silence, and McAlpin glared at Hornby, while an irreverent youth, with a fish dangling from his hands, laughed and muttered:
"Play a man's part, Jerry McAlpin. 'Tis not for Jerry-Jo you fear; it's my business you'd get from me, and you know it! Teach that lad of yours to be decent, as I've trained mine. I have no fear for my boys! I know what I'm talking about, and I tell you now, if my lads were like yours I'd fling the business over, but I don't see why a decent woman, and her a God-be-praised widow, should lose her living because you can't train your brats in the way they should go. But this is mine! If you don't stand by me and swear to do it here and now, it's not another drink one of you shall get in my place till after things are settled."
This was going farther than Mary McAdam had ever gone before. She had threatened dire restrictions against them who failed to support her cause should her cause be won in spite of them; she had even hinted at cash payments to insure her against want if, possibly, her license was revoked, but this shutting down upon human rights before election came off was upsetting to the last degree. Hornby looked at McAlpin and McAlpin dropped his eyes; there was a muttering and a grumbling, and a general feeling prevailed that every man should be his own keeper and the guardian of his own sons, and it would be a bitter wrong against a God-be-praised widow to let family affairs ruin her business.
In the end Mary McAdam, with a manly following of stern upholders of individual rights and the opportunity for mutual good fellowship, retired to the bar of the White Fish and, waited upon by Mary herself and her two exemplary sons, made merry far into the evening.
Tom and Sandy McAdam, handsome, carefree boys of sixteen and eighteen, passed the drinks with many a jest and often a wink, but never a drop drank they, not until the Lodge had closed its doors on all visitors, and then Tom, the elder, with a final leer at Sandy the younger, drained off a glass of bad whisky with a grace that betokened long practice.
"Hold, there!" cautioned Sandy, filling a glass of beer for himself; "you'll not be able to hide it from the mother, you galoot."
"Oh, the night's long before the day breaks, and it's yourself as must take the turn at house chores the morning."
The following day was cloudy and threatening, and why Mary McAdam should take that time for suggesting that her boys go over to Wyland Island and buy their winter suits, she herself could not have told. Perhaps, from the assurance of last night, she felt freer with money; perhaps she thought the boys could not be spared so well later; be that as it might, she insisted, even against Sandy's remark that "a lad couldn't put his mind to a winter outfit with the sweat rolling down his back," that they should set forth by eleven o'clock.
"Make a lark of it," said she generously; "take that scapegoat Jerry-Jo McAlpin with you and have it out with him about being a young beast and worrying the heart out of old Jerry, who means well but ain't got no kind of a headpiece. Take your lunch along and——"
Here she pointed her remarks with a lean, commanding finger: "You take that sail off the launch! It's quiet enough now, but it ain't going to last forever, and I couldn't rest with three flighty lads in a boat with a sail and an engine."
Mrs. McAdam always expected to be obeyed. Her personality was such that she generally was; but always, when disobedience followed, it was hidden from her immediate attention, and she was never one to show the weakness of watching to see her orders carried out. That was why she, of all the people in the little village, did not realize that her boys often drank more than was good for them—always managed, by clever devices, to escape her eye.
"A glass of harmless stuff now and again," she would say with a toss of her head; "what's that but a proof of the lads' self-control? That's what I'm a-telling you: make your lads strong and self-respecting."
Tom did not take the sail from the boat that day, neither did he expect to use it. He furled it close and shipped it carefully, but it was late, and, in the last hurry, he kept his mother's caution in mind, but did not carry out her command. Then Sandy, when they were about to start, did a bold thing. Stealing into the bar, he took a bottle of whisky and a bottle of brandy; these he hid under his reefer, and, with a laugh at his own cunning, put into the empty places on the shelves two partly filled bottles, and ran to the wharf.
Mary McAdam waved them a farewell from the steps. She had packed the hamper and stowed it under the very sail she had ordered off. In the excitement of preparation she overlooked it entirely.
"You, Sandy, see to it that you buy a suit that you won't repent when the winter nips you!" she called.
"And you, Tom, get a quiet colour and no checks! When yer last year's suit shrank and the squares got crooked ye looked like a damaged checker-board!"
Jerry-Jo McAlpin from his seat in the stern roared with laughter at this, and just then the sturdy little engine puffed, thudded, and "caught on," and off went the three with loud words of good-bye.
The Channel was as smooth as a summer brook, and the launch shot ahead.
"It's a bit chilly," Sandy said as they neared the mouth opening at Flying Point into the Little Bay.
"Put on your storm coat," cautioned Tom, "and you, too, Jerry-Jo; we'll get the wind when we pass Dreamer's Rock and strike the Big Bay."
The boys got out their coats and put them on, and then Sandy said:
"See what I've got! Snitched it from under the mother's eye, too!" He held up the bottles. Tom laughed, but Jerry-Jo reached out for one.
"A nip will ward off the cold better than a coat," he said.
They all three indulged in this preventive.
Beyond Dreamer's Rock the wind fulfilled Tom's prophecy; it was not a great wind, but it was a steady one, and, perhaps, because the whisky had warmed Tom's blood too hastily and hotly, he grew reckless.
"What do you say, fellows, to eating our lunch and then trying sail and engine together? We could beat the record and surprise folks by our time in coming and going. The wind's safe; not a puff! What do you say?"
Jerry-Jo was something of a coward, but by the time he had eaten his lunch and washed it down with more whisky than he had meant to take, he was ready to handle the sail himself and proceeded to do so.
Little Bear Island was the last one before the entrance to Big Bay, and when the launch passed that, either the wind had changed, or Tom, at the engine and Jerry-Jo at the sail, had lost nerve and head, for the boat became unmanageable. Sandy, keeping to the exact middle of the boat, called to Jerry-Jo to lower the sail, but Jerry-Jo did not hear, or failed to clearly comprehend. The little craft shot ahead like an arrow, but Tom knew that when they went about there would be trouble. They were fully a mile from either rock-bound shore. Wyland Island was a good two miles before them, and home seven miles to the rear.
A biggish sea was rolling and the sky was clouding threateningly. The liquor had done its worst for the boys: it had unnerved them, while at the same time it had given them a mad courage.
"Keep straight ahead," shouted Tom, "until we get near shore, and then pull in that infernal sail!"
What happened just then Jerry-Jo could never tell, and he alone remained at the day's end for the telling!
They were in the water, all three of them! For a moment Jerry-Jo, thoroughly sobered and keener witted than he had ever been before in his life, believed he was the only one of the party ever again to appear in that angry sea. Then he saw the over-turned boat, heard the last sobbing pants of the engine as it filled with water; then Tom's black head and agonized face appeared; then Sandy's red head. They all made for the boat and the wide sail lying flat in the water!
They reached the launch, chilled and desperate, climbed upon it, and gazed helplessly at each other. Through chattering teeth they tried to speak, but only a moan escaped Tom's blue lips. The wind was colder; the sun had gone behind a bank of dull storm clouds. After a long while Sandy, looking over the expanse of ugly choppy waves, shuddered and panted:
"It's going to be dark soon; it can't be more than a half mile to yonder rock—I'm for swimming to it! Once on land we can move about, get our blood going, and perhaps find a sheltered spot—till—morning!"