The Tides Of Barnegat
F. Hopkinson Smith
I THE DOCTOR'S GIG II SPRING BLOSSOMS III LITTLE TOD FOGARTY IV ANN GOSSAWAY'S RED CLOAK V CAPTAIN NAT'S DECISION VI A GAME OF CARDS VII THE EYES OF AN OLD PORTRAIT VIII AN ARRIVAL IX THE SPREAD OF FIRE X A LATE VISITOR XI MORTON COBDEN'S DAUGHTER XII A LETTER FROM PARIS XIII SCOOTSY'S EPITHET XIV HIGH WATER AT YARDLEY XV A PACKAGE OF LETTERS XVI THE BEGINNING OF THE EBB XVII BREAKERS AHEAD XVIII THE SWEDE'S STORY XIX THE BREAKING OF THE DAWN XX THE UNDERTOW XXI THE MAN IN THE SLOUCH HAT XXII THE CLAW OF THE SEA-PUSS
THE TIDES OF BARNEGAT
THE DOCTOR'S GIG
One lovely spring morning—and this story begins on a spring morning some fifty years or more ago—a joy of a morning that made one glad to be alive, when the radiant sunshine had turned the ribbon of a road that ran from Warehold village to Barnegat Light and the sea to satin, the wide marshes to velvet, and the belts of stunted pines to bands of purple—on this spring morning, then, Martha Sands, the Cobdens' nurse, was out with her dog Meg. She had taken the little beast to the inner beach for a bath—a custom of hers when the weather was fine and the water not too cold—and was returning to Warehold by way of the road, when, calling the dog to her side, she stopped to feast her eyes on the picture unrolled at her feet.
To the left of where she stood curved the coast, glistening like a scimitar, and the strip of yellow beach which divided the narrow bay from the open sea; to the right, thrust out into the sheen of silver, lay the spit of sand narrowing the inlet, its edges scalloped with lace foam, its extreme point dominated by the grim tower of Barnegat Light; aloft, high into the blue, soared the gulls, flashing like jewels as they lifted their breasts to the sun, while away and beyond the sails of the fishing-boats, gray or silver in their shifting tacks, crawled over the wrinkled sea.
The glory of the landscape fixed in her mind, Martha gathered her shawl about her shoulders, tightened the strings of her white cap, smoothed out her apron, and with the remark to Meg that he'd "never see nothin' so beautiful nor so restful," resumed her walk.
They were inseparable, these two, and had been ever since the day she had picked him up outside the tavern, half starved and with a sore patch on his back where some kitchen-maid had scalded him. Somehow the poor outcast brought home to her a sad page in her own history, when she herself was homeless and miserable, and no hand was stretched out to her. So she had coddled and fondled him, gaining his confidence day by day and talking to him by the hour of whatever was uppermost in her mind.
Few friendships presented stronger contrasts: She stout and motherly-looking—too stout for any waistline—with kindly blue eyes, smooth gray hair—gray, not white—her round, rosy face, framed in a cotton cap, aglow with the freshness of the morning—a comforting, coddling-up kind of woman of fifty, with a low, crooning voice, gentle fingers, and soft, restful hollows about her shoulders and bosom for the heads of tired babies; Meg thin, rickety, and sneak-eyed, with a broken tail that hung at an angle, and but one ear (a black-and-tan had ruined the other)—a sandy-colored, rough-haired, good-for-nothing cur of multifarious lineage, who was either crouching at her feet or in full cry for some hole in a fence or rift in a wood-pile where he could flatten out and sulk in safety.
Martha continued her talk to Meg. While she had been studying the landscape he had taken the opportunity to wallow in whatever came first, and his wet hair was bristling with sand and matted with burrs.
"Come here, Meg—you measly rascal!" she cried, stamping her foot. "Come here, I tell ye!"
The dog crouched close to the ground, waited until Martha was near enough to lay her hand upon him, and then, with a backward spring, darted under a bush in full blossom.
"Look at ye now!" she shouted in a commanding tone. "'Tain't no use o' my washin' ye. Ye're full o' thistles and jest as dirty as when I throwed ye in the water. Come out o' that, I tell ye! Now, Meg, darlin'"—this came in a coaxing tone—"come out like a good dog—sure I'm not goin' in them brambles to hunt ye!"
A clatter of hoofs rang out on the morning air. A two-wheeled gig drawn by a well-groomed sorrel horse and followed by a brown-haired Irish setter was approaching. In it sat a man of thirty, dressed in a long, mouse-colored surtout with a wide cape falling to the shoulders. On his head was a soft gray hat and about his neck a white scarf showing above the lapels of his coat. He had thin, shapely legs, a flat waist, and square shoulders, above which rose a clean-shaven face of singular sweetness and refinement.
At the sound of the wheels the tattered cur poked his head from between the blossoms, twisted his one ear to catch the sound, and with a side-spring bounded up the road toward the setter.
"Well, I declare, if it ain't Dr. John Cavendish and Rex!" Martha exclaimed, raising both hands in welcome as the horse stopped beside her. "Good-mornin' to ye, Doctor John. I thought it was you, but the sun blinded me, and I couldn't see. And ye never saw a better nor a brighter mornin'. These spring days is all blossoms, and they ought to be. Where ye goin', anyway, that ye're in such a hurry? Ain't nobody sick up to Cap'n Holt's, be there?" she added, a shade of anxiety crossing her face.
"No, Martha; it's the dressmaker," answered the doctor, tightening the reins on the restless sorrel as he spoke. The voice was low and kindly and had a ring of sincerity through it.
"Why, Miss Gossaway!" His hand was extended now—that fine, delicately wrought, sympathetic hand that had soothed so many aching heads.
"You've said it," laughed Martha, leaning over the wheel so as to press his fingers in her warm palm. "There ain't no doubt 'bout that skinny fright being 'Miss,' and there ain't no doubt 'bout her stayin' so. Ann Gossaway she is, and Ann Gossaway she'll die. Is she took bad?" she continued, a merry, questioning look lighting up her kindly face, her lips pursed knowingly.
"No, only a sore throat" the doctor replied, loosening his coat.
"Throat!" she rejoined, with a wry look on her face. "Too bad 'twarn't her tongue. If ye could snip off a bit o' that some day it would help folks considerable 'round here."
The doctor laughed in answer, dropped the lines over the dashboard and leaned forward in his seat, the sun lighting up his clean-cut face. Busy as he was—and there were few busier men in town, as every hitching-post along the main street of Warehold village from Billy Tatham's, the driver of the country stage, to Captain Holt's, could prove—he always had time for a word with the old nurse.
"And where have YOU been, Mistress Martha?" he asked, with a smile, dropping his whip into the socket, a sure sign that he had a few more minutes to give her.
"Oh, down to the beach to git some o' the dirt off Meg. Look at him—did ye ever see such a rapscallion! Every time I throw him in he's into the sand ag'in wallowin' before I kin git to him."
The doctor bent his head, and for an instant watched the two dogs: Meg circling about Rex, all four legs taut, his head jerking from side to side in his eagerness to be agreeable to his roadside acquaintance; the agate-eyed setter returning Meg's attentions with the stony gaze of a club swell ignoring a shabby relative. The doctor smiled thoughtfully. There was nothing he loved to study so much as dogs—they had a peculiar humor of their own, he often said, more enjoyable sometimes than that of men—then he turned to Martha again.
"And why are you away from home this morning of all others?" he asked. "I thought Miss Lucy was expected from school to-day?"
"And so she is, God bless her! And that's why I'm here. I was that restless I couldn't keep still, and so I says to Miss Jane, 'I'm goin' to the beach with Meg and watch the ships go by; that's the only thing that'll quiet my nerves. They're never in a hurry with everybody punchin' and haulin' them.' Not that there's anybody doin' that to me, 'cept like it is to-day when I'm waitin' for my blessed baby to come back to me. Two years, doctor—two whole years since I had my arms round her. Wouldn't ye think I'd be nigh crazy?"
"She's too big for your arms now, Martha," laughed the doctor, gathering up his reins. "She's a woman—seventeen, isn't she?"
"Seventeen and three months, come the fourteenth of next July. But she's not a woman to me, and she never will be. She's my wee bairn that I took from her mother's dyin' arms and nursed at my own breast, and she'll be that wee bairn to me as long as I live. Ye'll be up to see her, won't ye, doctor?"
"Yes, to-night. How's Miss Jane?" As he made the inquiry his eyes kindled and a slight color suffused his cheeks.
"She'll be better for seein' ye," the nurse answered with a knowing look. Then in a louder and more positive tone, "Oh, ye needn't stare so with them big brown eyes o' yourn. Ye can't fool old Martha, none o' you young people kin. Ye think I go round with my eyelids sewed up. Miss Jane knows what she wants—she's proud, and so are you; I never knew a Cobden nor a Cavendish that warn't. I haven't a word to say—it'll be a good match when it comes off. Where's that Meg? Good-by, doctor. I won't keep ye a minute longer from MISS Gossaway. I'm sorry it ain't her tongue, but if it's only her throat she may get over it. Go 'long, Meg!"
Dr. Cavendish laughed one of his quiet laughs—a laugh that wrinkled the lines about his eyes, with only a low gurgle in his throat for accompaniment, picked up his whip, lifted his hat in mock courtesy to the old nurse, and calling to Rex, who, bored by Meg's attentions, had at last retreated under the gig, chirruped to his horse, and drove on.
Martha watched the doctor and Rex until they were out of sight, walked on to the top of the low hill, and finding a seat by the roadside—her breath came short these warm spring days—sat down to rest, the dog stretched out in her lap. The little outcast had come to her the day Lucy left Warehold for school, and the old nurse had always regarded him with a certain superstitious feeling, persuading herself that nothing would happen to her bairn as long as this miserable dog was well cared for.
"Ye heard what Doctor John said about her bein' a woman, Meg?" she crooned, when she had caught her breath. "And she with her petticoats up to her knees! That's all he knows about her. Ye'd know better than that, Meg, wouldn't ye—if ye'd seen her grow up like he's done? But grown up or not, Meg"—here she lifted the dog's nose to get a clearer view of his sleepy eyes—"she's my blessed baby and she's comin' home this very day, Meg, darlin'; d'ye hear that, ye little ruffian? And she's not goin' away ag'in, never, never. There'll be nobody drivin' round in a gig lookin' after her—nor nobody else as long as I kin help it. Now git up and come along; I'm that restless I can't sit still," and sliding the dog from her lap, she again resumed her walk toward Warehold.
Soon the village loomed in sight, and later on the open gateway of "Yardley," the old Cobden Manor, with its two high brick posts topped with white balls and shaded by two tall hemlocks, through which could be seen a level path leading to an old colonial house with portico, white pillars supporting a balcony, and a sloping roof with huge chimneys and dormer windows.
Martha quickened her steps, and halting at the gate-posts, paused for a moment with her eyes up the road. It was yet an hour of the time of her bairn's arrival by the country stage, but her impatience was such that she could not enter the path without this backward glance. Meg, who had followed behind his mistress at a snail's pace, also came to a halt and, as was his custom, picked out a soft spot in the road and sat down on his haunches.
Suddenly the dog sprang up with a quick yelp and darted inside the gate. The next instant a young girl in white, with a wide hat shading her joyous face, jumped from behind one of the big hemlocks and with a cry pinioned Martha's arms to her side.
"Oh, you dear old thing, you! where have you been? Didn't you know I was coming by the early stage?" she exclaimed in a half-querulous tone.
The old nurse disengaged one of her arms from the tight clasp of the girl, reached up her hand until she found the soft cheek, patted it gently for an instant as a blind person might have done, and then reassured, hid her face on Lucy's shoulder and burst into tears. The joy of the surprise had almost stopped her breath.
"No, baby, no," she murmured. "No, darlin', I didn't. I was on the beach with Meg. No, no—Oh, let me cry, darlin'. To think I've got you at last. I wouldn't have gone away, darlin', but they told me you wouldn't be here till dinner-time. Oh, darlin', is it you? And it's all true, isn't it? and ye've come back to me for good? Hug me close. Oh, my baby bairn, my little one! Oh, you precious!" and she nestled the girl's head on her bosom, smoothing her cheek as she crooned on, the tears running down her cheeks.
Before the girl could reply there came a voice calling from the house: "Isn't she fine, Martha?" A woman above the middle height, young and of slender figure, dressed in a simple gray gown and without her hat, was stepping from the front porch to meet them.
"Too fine, Miss Jane, for her old Martha," the nurse called back. "I've got to love her all over again. Oh, but I'm that happy I could burst meself with joy! Give me hold of your hand, darlin'—I'm afraid I'll lose ye ag'in if ye get out of reach of me."
The two strolled slowly up the path to meet Jane, Martha patting the girl's arm and laying her cheek against it as she walked. Meg had ceased barking and was now sniffing at Lucy's skirts, his bent tail wagging slowly, his sneaky eyes looking up into Lucy's face.
"Will he bite, Martha?" she asked, shrinking to one side. She had an aversion to anything physically imperfect, no matter how lovable it might be to others. This tattered example struck her as particularly objectionable.
"No, darlin'—nothin' 'cept his food," and Martha laughed.
"What a horrid little beast!" Lucy said half aloud to herself, clinging all the closer to the nurse. "This isn't the dog sister Jane wrote me about, is it? She said you loved him dearly—you don't, do you?"
"Yes, that's the same dog. You don't like him, do you, darlin'?"
"No, I think he's awful," retorted Lucy in a positive tone.
"It's all I had to pet since you went away," Martha answered apologetically.
"Well, now I'm home, give him away, please. Go away, you dreadful dog!" she cried, stamping her foot as Meg, now reassured, tried to jump upon her.
The dog fell back, and crouching close to Martha's side raised his eyes appealingly, his ear and tail dragging.
Jane now joined them. She had stopped to pick some blossoms for the house.
"Why, Lucy, what's poor Meg done?" she asked, as she stooped over and stroked the crestfallen beast's head. "Poor old doggie—we all love you, don't we?"
"Well, just please love him all to yourselves, then," retorted Lucy with a toss of her head. "I wouldn't touch him with a pair of tongs. I never saw anything so ugly. Get away, you little brute!"
"Oh, Lucy, dear, don't talk so," replied the older sister in a pitying tone. "He was half starved when Martha found him and brought him home—and look at his poor back—"
"No, thank you; I don't want to look at his poor back, nor his poor tail, nor anything else poor about him. And you will send him away, won't you, like a dear good old Martha?" she added, patting Martha's shoulder in a coaxing way. Then encircling Jane's waist with her arm, the two sisters sauntered slowly back to the house.
Martha followed behind with Meg.
Somehow, and for the first time where Lucy was concerned, she felt a tightening of her heart-strings, all the more painful because it had followed so closely upon the joy of their meeting. What had come over her bairn, she said to herself with a sigh, that she should talk so to Meg—to anything that her old nurse loved, for that matter? Jane interrupted her reveries.
"Did you give Meg a bath, Martha?" she asked over her shoulder. She had seen the look of disappointment in the old nurse's face and, knowing the cause, tried to lighten the effect.
"Yes—half water and half sand. Doctor John came along with Rex shinin' like a new muff, and I was ashamed to let him see Meg. He's comin' up to see you to-night, Lucy, darlin'," and she bent forward and tapped the girl's shoulder to accentuate the importance of the information.
Lucy cut her eye in a roguish way and twisted her pretty head around until she could look into Jane's eyes.
"Who do you think he's coming to see, sister?"
"Why, you, you little goose. They're all coming—Uncle Ephraim has sent over every day to find out when you would be home, and Bart Holt was here early this morning, and will be back to-night."
"What does Bart Holt look like?"—she had stopped in her walk to pluck a spray of lilac blossoms. "I haven't seen him for years; I hear he's another one of your beaux," she added, tucking the flowers into Jane's belt. "There, sister, that's just your color; that's what that gray dress needs. Tell me, what's Bart like?"
"A little like Captain Nat, his father," answered Jane, ignoring Lucy's last inference, "not so stout and—"
"What's he doing?"
"Nothin', darlin', that's any good," broke in Martha from behind the two. "He's sailin' a boat when he ain't playin' cards or scarin' everybody down to the beach with his gun, or shyin' things at Meg."
"Don't you mind anything Martha says, Lucy," interrupted Jane in a defensive tone. "He's got a great many very good qualities; he has no mother and the captain has never looked after him. It's a great wonder that he is not worse than he is."
She knew Martha had spoken the truth, but she still hoped that her influence might help him, and then again, she never liked to hear even her acquaintances criticised.
"Playing cards! That all?" exclaimed Lucy, arching her eyebrows; her sister's excuses for the delinquent evidently made no impression on her. "I don't think playing cards is very bad; and I don't blame him for throwing anything he could lay his hands on at this little wretch of Martha's. We all played cards up in our rooms at school. Miss Sarah never knew anything about it—she thought we were in bed, and it was just lovely to fool her. And what does the immaculate Dr. John Cavendish look like? Has he changed any?" she added with a laugh.
"No," answered Jane simply.
"Does he come often?" She had turned her head now and was looking from under her lids at Martha. "Just as he used to and sit around, or has he—" Here she lifted her eyebrows in inquiry, and a laugh bubbled out from between her lips.
"Yes, that's just what he does do," cried Martha in a triumphant tone; "every minute he kin git. And he can't come too often to suit me. I jest love him, and I'm not the only one, neither, darlin'," she added with a nod of her head toward Jane.
"And Barton Holt as well?" persisted Lucy. "Why, sister, I didn't suppose there would be a man for me to look at when I came home, and you've got two already! Which one are you going to take?" Here her rosy face was drawn into solemn lines.
Jane colored. "You've got to be a great tease, Lucy," she answered as she leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "I'm not in the back of the doctor's head, nor he in mine—he's too busy nursing the sick—and Bart's a boy!"
"Why, he's twenty-five years old, isn't he?" exclaimed Lucy in some surprise.
"Twenty-five years young, dearie—there's a difference, you know. That's why I do what I can to help him. If he'd had the right influences in his life and could be thrown a little more with nice women it would help make him a better man. Be very good to him, please, even if you do find him a little rough."
They had mounted the steps of the porch and were now entering the wide colonial hall—a bare white hall, with a staircase protected by spindling mahogany banisters and a handrail. Jane passed into the library and seated herself at her desk. Lucy ran on upstairs, followed by Martha to help unpack her boxes and trunks.
When they reached the room in which Martha had nursed her for so many years—the little crib still occupied one corner—the old woman took the wide hat from the girl's head and looked long and searchingly into her eyes.
"Let me look at ye, my baby," she said, as she pushed Lucy's hair back from her forehead; "same blue eyes, darlin', same pretty mouth I kissed so often, same little dimples ye had when ye lay in my arms, but ye've changed—how I can't tell. Somehow, the face is different."
Her hands now swept over the full rounded shoulders and plump arms of the beautiful girl, and over the full hips.
"The doctor's right, child," she said with a sigh, stepping back a pace and looking her over critically; "my baby's gone—you've filled out to be a woman."
For days the neighbors in and about the village of Warehold had been looking forward to Lucy's home-coming as one of the important epochs in the history of the Manor House, quite as they would have done had Lucy been a boy and the expected function one given in honor of the youthful heir's majority. Most of them had known the father and mother of these girls, and all of them loved Jane, the gentle mistress of the home—a type of woman eminently qualified to maintain its prestige.
It had been a great house in its day. Built in early Revolutionary times by Archibald Cobden, who had thrown up his office under the Crown and openly espoused the cause of the colonists, it had often been the scene of many of the festivities and social events following the conclusion of peace and for many years thereafter: the rooms were still pointed out in which Washington and Lafayette had slept, as well as the small alcove where the dashing Bart de Klyn passed the night whenever he drove over in his coach with outriders from Bow Hill to Barnegat and the sea.
With the death of Colonel Creighton Cobden, who held a commission in the War of 1812, all this magnificence of living had changed, and when Morton Cobden, the father of Jane and Lucy, inherited the estate, but little was left except the Manor House, greatly out of repair, and some invested property which brought in but a modest income. On his death-bed Morton Cobden's last words were a prayer to Jane, then eighteen, that she would watch over and protect her younger sister, a fair-haired child of eight, taking his own and her dead mother's place, a trust which had so dominated Jane's life that it had become the greater part of her religion.
Since then she had been the one strong hand in the home, looking after its affairs, managing their income, and watching over every step of her sister's girlhood and womanhood. Two years before she had placed Lucy in one of the fashionable boarding-schools of Philadelphia, there to study "music and French," and to perfect herself in that "grace of manner and charm of conversation," which the two maiden ladies who presided over its fortunes claimed in their modest advertisements they were so competent to teach. Part of the curriculum was an enforced absence from home of two years, during which time none of her own people were to visit her except in case of emergency.
To-night, the once famous house shone with something of its old-time color. The candles were lighted in the big bronze candelabra—the ones which came from Paris; the best glass and china and all the old plate were brought out and placed on the sideboard and serving-tables; a wood fire was started (the nights were yet cold), its cheery blaze lighting up the brass fender and andirons before which many of Colonel Cobden's cronies had toasted their shins as they sipped their toddies in the old days; easy-chairs and hair-cloth sofas were drawn from the walls; the big lamps lighted, and many minor details perfected for the comfort of the expected guests.
Jane entered the drawing-room in advance of Lucy and was busying herself putting the final touches to the apartment,—arranging the sprays of blossoms over the clock and under the portrait of Morton Cobden, which looked calmly down on the room from its place on the walls, when the door opened softly and Martha—the old nurse had for years been treated as a member of the family—stepped in, bowing and curtsying as would an old woman in a play, the skirt of her new black silk gown that Ann Gossaway had made for her held out between her plump fingers, her mob-cap with its long lace strings bobbing with every gesture. With her rosy cheeks, silver-rimmed spectacles, self-satisfied smile, and big puffy sleeves, she looked as if she might have stepped out of one of the old frames lining the walls.
"What do ye think of me, Miss Jane? I'm proud as a peacock—that I am!" she cried, twisting herself about. "Do ye know, I never thought that skinny dressmaker could do half as well. Is it long enough?" and she craned her head in the attempt to see the edge of the skirt.
"Fits you beautifully, Martha. You look fine," answered Jane in all sincerity, as she made a survey of the costume. "How does Lucy like it?"
"The darlin' don't like it at all; she says I look like a pall-bearer, and ye ought to hear her laughin' at the cap. Is there anything the matter with it? The pastor's wife's got one, anyhow, and she's a year younger'n me."
"Don't mind her, Martha—she laughs at everything; and how good it is to hear her! She never saw you look so well," replied Jane, as she moved a jar from a table and placed it on the mantel to hold the blossoms she had picked in the garden. "What's she doing upstairs so long?"
"Prinkin'—and lookin' that beautiful ye wouldn't know her. But the width and the thickness of her"—here the wrinkled fingers measured the increase with a half circle in the air—"and the way she's plumped out—not in one place, but all over—well, I tell ye, ye'd be astonished! She knows it, too, bless her heart! I don't blame her. Let her git all the comfort she kin when she's young—that's the time for laughin'—the cryin' always comes later."
No part of Martha's rhapsody over Lucy described Jane. Not in her best moments could she have been called beautiful—not even to-night when Lucy's home-coming had given a glow to her cheeks and a lustre to her eyes that nothing else had done for months. Her slender figure, almost angular in its contour with its closely drawn lines about the hips and back; her spare throat and neck, straight arms, thin wrists and hands—transparent hands, though exquisitely wrought, as were those of all her race—all so expressive of high breeding and refinement, carried with them none of the illusions of beauty. The mould of the head, moreover, even when softened by her smooth chestnut hair, worn close to her ears and caught up in a coil behind, was too severe for accepted standards, while her features wonderfully sympathetic as they were, lacked the finer modeling demanded in perfect types of female loveliness, the eyebrows being almost straight, the cheeks sunken, with little shadows under the cheek-bones, and the lips narrow and often drawn.
And yet with all these discrepancies and, to some minds, blemishes there was a light in her deep gray eyes, a melody in her voice, a charm in her manner, a sureness of her being exactly the sort of woman one hoped she would be, a quick responsiveness to any confidence, all so captivating and so satisfying that 'those who knew her forgot her slight physical shortcomings and carried away only the remembrance of one so much out of the common and of so distinguished a personality that she became ever after the standard by which they judged all good women.
There were times, too—especially whenever Lucy entered the room or her name was mentioned—that there shone through Jane's eyes a certain instantaneous kindling of the spirit which would irradiate her whole being as a candle does a lantern—a light betokening not only uncontrollable tenderness but unspeakable pride, dimmed now and then when some word or act of her charge brought her face to face with the weight of the responsibility resting upon her—a responsibility far outweighing that which most mothers would have felt. This so dominated Jane's every motion that it often robbed her of the full enjoyment of the companionship of a sister so young and so beautiful.
If Jane, to quote Doctor John, looked like a lily swaying on a slender stem, Lucy, when she bounded into the room to-night, was a full-blown rose tossed by a summer breeze. She came in with throat and neck bare; a woman all curves and dimples, her skin as pink as a shell; plump as a baby, and as fair, and yet with the form of a wood-nymph; dressed in a clinging, soft gown, the sleeves caught up at the shoulders revealing her beautiful arms, a spray of blossoms on her bosom, her blue eyes dancing with health, looking twenty rather than seventeen; glad of her freedom, glad of her home and Jane and Martha, and of the lights and blossoms and the glint on silver and glass, and of all that made life breathable and livable.
"Oh, but isn't it just too lovely to be at home!" she cried as she skipped about. "No lights out at nine, no prayers, no getting up at six o'clock and turning your mattress and washing in a sloppy little washroom. Oh, I'm so happy! I can't realize it's all true." As she spoke she raised herself on her toes so that she could see her face in the mirror over the mantel. "Why, do you know, sister," she rattled on, her eyes studying her own face, "that Miss Sarah used to make us learn a page of dictionary if we talked after the silence bell!"
"You must know the whole book by heart, then, dearie," replied Jane with a smile, as she bent over a table and pushed back some books to make room for a bowl of arbutus she held in her hand.
"Ah, but she didn't catch us very often. We used to stuff up the cracks in the doors so she couldn't hear us talk and smother our heads in the pillows. Jonesy, the English teacher, was the worst." She was still looking in the glass, her fingers busy with the spray of blossoms on her bosom. "She always wore felt slippers and crept around like a cat. She'd tell on anybody. We had a play one night in my room after lights were out, and Maria Collins was Claude Melnotte and I was Pauline. Maria had a mustache blackened on her lips with a piece of burnt cork and I was all fixed up in a dressing-gown and sash. We never heard Jonesy till she put her hand on the knob; then we blew out the candle and popped into bed. She smelled the candle-wick and leaned over and kissed Maria good-night, and the black all came off on her lips, and next day we got three pages apiece—the mean old thing! How do I look, Martha? Is my hair all right?" Here she turned her head for the old woman's inspection.
"Beautiful, darlin'. There won't one o' them know ye; they'll think ye're a real livin' princess stepped out of a picture-book." Martha had not taken her eyes from Lucy since she entered the room.
"See my little beau-catchers," she laughed, twisting her head so that Martha could see the tiny Spanish curls she had flattened against her temples. "They are for Bart Holt, and I'm going to cut sister out. Do you think he'll remember me?" she prattled on, arching her neck.
"It won't make any difference if he don't," Martha retorted in a positive tone. "But Cap'n Nat will, and so will the doctor and Uncle Ephraim and—who's that comin' this early?" and the old nurse paused and listened to a heavy step on the porch. "It must be the cap'n himself; there ain't nobody but him's got a tread like that; ye'd think he was trampin' the deck o' one of his ships."
The door of the drawing-room opened and a bluff, hearty, round-faced man of fifty, his iron-gray hair standing straight up on his head like a shoe-brush, dressed in a short pea-jacket surmounted by a low sailor collar and loose necktie, stepped cheerily into the room.
"Ah, Miss Jane!" Somehow all the neighbors, even the most intimate, remembered to prefix "Miss" when speaking to Jane. "So you've got this fly-away back again? Where are ye? By jingo! let me look at you. Why! why! why! Did you ever! What have you been doing to yourself, lassie, that you should shed your shell like a bug and come out with wings like a butterfly? Why you're the prettiest thing I've seen since I got home from my last voyage."
He had Lucy by both bands now, and was turning her about as if she had been one of Ann Gossaway's models.
"Have I changed, Captain Holt?"
"No—not a mite. You've got a new suit of flesh and blood on your bones, that's all. And it's the best in the locker. Well! Well! WELL!" He was still twisting her around. "She does ye proud, Martha," he called to the old nurse, who was just leaving the room to take charge of the pantry, now that the guests had begun to arrive. "And so ye're home for good and all, lassie?"
"Yes—isn't it lovely?"
"Lovely? That's no name for it. You'll be settin' the young fellers crazy 'bout here before they're a week older. Here come two of 'em now."
Lucy turned her head quickly, just as the doctor and Barton Holt reached the door of the drawing-room. The elder of the two, Doctor John, greeted Jane as if she had been a duchess, bowing low as he approached her, his eyes drinking in her every movement; then, after a few words, remembering the occasion as being one in honor of Lucy, he walked slowly toward the young girl.
"Why, Lucy, it's so delightful to get you back!" he cried, shaking her hand warmly. "And you are looking so well. Poor Martha has been on pins and needles waiting for you. I told her just how it would be—that she'd lose her little girl—and she has," and he glanced at her admiringly. "What did she say when she saw you?"
"Oh, the silly old thing began to cry, just as they all do. Have you seen her dog?"
The answer jarred on the doctor, although he excused her in his heart on the ground of her youth and her desire to appear at ease in talking to him.
"Do you mean Meg?" he asked, scanning her face the closer.
"I don't know what she calls him—but he's the ugliest little beast I ever saw."
"Yes—but so amusing. I never get tired of watching him. What is left of him is the funniest thing alive. He's better than he looks, though. He and Rex have great times together."
"I wish you would take him, then. I told Martha this morning that he mustn't poke his nose into my room, and he won't. He's a perfect fright."
"But the dear old woman loves him," he protested with a tender tone in his voice, his eyes fixed on Lucy.
He had looked into the faces of too many young girls in his professional career not to know something of what lay at the bottom of their natures. What he saw now came as a distinct surprise.
"I don't care if she does," she retorted; "no, I don't," and she knit her brow and shook her pretty head as she laughed.
While they stood talking Bart Holt, who had lingered at the threshold, his eyes searching for the fair arrival, was advancing toward the centre of the room. Suddenly he stood still, his gaze fixed on the vision of the girl in the clinging dress, with the blossoms resting on her breast. The curve of her back, the round of the hip; the way her moulded shoulders rose above the lace of her bodice; the bare, full arms tapering to the wrists;—the color, the movement, the grace of it all had taken away his breath. With only a side nod of recognition toward Jane, he walked straight to Lucy and with an "Excuse me," elbowed the doctor out of the way in his eagerness to reach the girl's side. The doctor smiled at the young man's impetuosity, bent his head to Lucy, and turned to where Jane was standing awaiting the arrival of her other guests.
The young man extended his hand. "I'm Bart Holt," he exclaimed; "you haven't forgotten me, Miss Lucy, have you? We used to play together. Mighty glad to see you—been expecting you for a week."
Lucy colored slightly and arched her head in a coquettish way. His frankness pleased her; so did the look of unfeigned admiration in his eyes.
"Why, of course I haven't forgotten you, Mr. Holt. It was so nice of you to come," and she gave him the tips of her fingers—her own eyes meanwhile, in one comprehensive glance, taking in his round head with its closely cropped curls, searching brown eyes, wavering mouth, broad shoulders, and shapely body, down to his small, well-turned feet. The young fellow lacked the polish and well-bred grace of the doctor, just as he lacked his well-cut clothes and distinguished manners, but there was a sort of easy effrontery and familiar air about him that some of his women admirers encouraged and others shrank from. Strange to say, this had appealed to Lucy before he had spoken a word.
"And you've come home for good now, haven't you?" His eyes were still drinking in the beauty of the girl, his mind neither on his questions nor her answers.
"Yes, forever and ever," she replied, with a laugh that showed her white teeth.
"Did you like it at school?" It was her lips now that held his attention and the little curves under her dimpled chin. He thought he had never seen so pretty a mouth and chin.
"Not always; but we used to have lots of fun," answered the girl, studying him in return—the way his cravat was tied and the part of his hair. She thought he had well-shaped ears and that his nose and eyebrows looked like a picture she had in her room upstairs.
"Come and tell me about it. Let's sit down here," he continued as he drew her to a sofa and stood waiting until she took her seat.
"Well, I will for a moment, until they begin to come in," she answered, her face all smiles. She liked the way he behaved towards her—not asking her permission, but taking the responsibility and by his manner compelling a sort of obedience. "But I can't stay," she added. "Sister won't like it if I'm not with her to shake hands with everybody."
"Oh, she won't mind me; I'm a great friend of Miss Jane's. Please go on; what kind of fun did you have? I like to hear about girls' scrapes. We had plenty of them at college, but I couldn't tell you half of them." He had settled himself beside her now, his appropriating eyes still taking in her beauty.
"Oh, all kinds," she replied as she bent her head and glanced at the blossoms on her breast to be assured of their protective covering.
"But I shouldn't think you could have much fun with the teachers watching you every minute," said Bart, moving nearer to her and turning his body so he could look squarely into her eyes.
"Yes, but they didn't find out half that was going on." Then she added coyly, "I don't know whether you can keep a secret—do you tell everything you hear?"
"Never tell anything."
"How do I know?"
"I'll swear it." In proof he held up one hand and closed both eyes in mock reverence as if he were taking an oath. He was getting more interested now in her talk; up to this time her beauty had dazzled him. "Never! So help me—" he mumbled impressively.
"Well, one day we were walking out to the park—Now you're sure you won't tell sister, she's so easily shocked?" The tone was the same, but the inflection was shaded to closer intimacy.
Again Bart cast up his eyes.
"And all the girls were in a string with Miss Griggs, the Latin teacher, in front, and we all went in a cake shop and got a big piece of gingerbread apiece. We were all eating away hard as we could when we saw Miss Sarah coming. Every girl let her cake go, and when Miss Sarah got to us the whole ten pieces were scattered along the sidewalk."
Bart looked disappointed over the mild character of the scrape. From what he had seen of her he had supposed her adventures would be seasoned with a certain spice of deviltry.
"I wouldn't have done that, I'd have hidden it in my pocket," he replied, sliding down on the sofa until his head rested on the cushion next her own.
"We tried, but she was too close. Poor old Griggsey got a dreadful scolding. She wasn't like Miss Jones—she wouldn't tell on the girls."
"And did they let any of the fellows come to see you?" Bart asked.
"No; only brothers and cousins once in a long while. Maria Collins tried to pass one of her beaux, Max Feilding, off as a cousin, but Miss Sarah went down to see him and poor Maria had to stay upstairs."
"I'd have got in," said Bart with some emphasis, rousing himself from his position and twisting his body so he could again look squarely in her face. This escapade was more to his liking.
"How?" asked Lucy in a tone that showed she not only quite believed it, but rather liked him the better for saying so.
"Oh I don't know. I'd have cooked up some story." He was leaning over now, toying with the lace that clung to Lucy's arms. "Did you ever have any one of your own friends treated in that way?"
Jane's voice cut short her answer. She had seen the two completely absorbed in each other, to the exclusion of the other guests who were now coming in, and wanted Lucy beside her.
The young girl waved her fan gayly in answer, rose to her feet, turned her head close to Bart's, pointed to the incoming guests, whispered something in his ear that made him laugh, listened while he whispered to her in return, and in obedience to the summons crossed the room to meet a group of the neighbors, among them old Judge Woolworthy, in a snuff-colored coat, high black stock, and bald head, and his bustling little wife. Bart's last whisper to Lucy was in explanation of the little wife's manner—who now, all bows and smiles, was shaking hands with everybody about her.
Then came Uncle Ephraim Tipple, and close beside him walked his spouse, Ann, in a camel's-hair shawl and poke-bonnet, the two preceded by Uncle Ephraim's stentorian laugh, which had been heard before their feet had touched the porch outside. Mrs. Cromartin now bustled in, accompanied by her two daughters—slim, awkward girls, both dressed alike in high waists and short frocks; and after them the Bunsbys, father, mother, and son—all smiles, the last a painfully thin young lawyer, in a low collar and a shock of whitey-brown hair, "looking like a patent window-mop resting against a wall," so Lucy described him afterward to Martha when she was putting her to bed; and finally the Colfords and Bronsons, young and old, together with Pastor Dellenbaugh, the white-haired clergyman who preached in the only church in Warehold.
When Lucy had performed her duty and the several greetings were over, and Uncle Ephraim had shaken the hand of the young hostess in true pump-handle fashion, the old man roaring with laughter all the time, as if it were the funniest thing in the world to find her alive; and the good clergyman in his mildest and most impressive manner had said she grew more and more like her mother every day—which was a flight of imagination on the part of the dear man, for she didn't resemble her in the least; and the two thin girls had remarked that it must be so "perfectly blissful" to get home; and the young lawyer had complimented her on her wonderful, almost life-like resemblance to her grand-father, whose portrait hung in the court-house—and which was nearer the truth—to all of which the young girl replied in her most gracious tones, thanking them for their kindness in coming to see her and for welcoming her so cordially—the whole of Lucy's mind once more reverted to Bart.
Indeed, the several lobes of her brain had been working in opposition for the past hour. While one-half of her mind was concocting polite speeches for her guests the other was absorbed in the fear that Bart would either get tired of waiting for her return and leave the sofa, or that some other girl friend of his would claim him and her delightful talk be at an end.
To the young girl fresh from school Bart represented the only thing in the room that was entirely alive. The others talked platitudes and themselves. He had encouraged her to talk of HERSELF and of the things she liked. He had, too, about him an assurance and dominating personality which, although it made her a little afraid of him, only added to his attractiveness.
While she stood wondering how many times the white-haired young lawyer would tell her it was so nice to have her back, she felt a slight pressure on her arm and turned to face Bart.
"You are wanted, please, Miss Lucy; may I offer you my arm? Excuse me, Bunsby—I'll give her to you again in a minute."
Lucy slipped her arm into Bart's, and asked simply, "What for?"
"To finish our talk, of course. Do you suppose I'm going to let that tow-head monopolize you?" he answered, pressing her arm closer to his side with his own.
Lucy laughed and tapped Bart with her fan in rebuke, and then there followed a bit of coquetry in which the young girl declared that he was "too mean for anything, and that she'd never seen anybody so conceited, and if he only knew, she might really prefer the 'tow head' to his own;" to which Bart answered that his only excuse was that he was so lonely he was nearly dead, and that he had only come to save his life—the whole affair culminating in his conducting her back to the sofa with a great flourish and again seating himself beside her.
"I've been watching you," he began when he had made her comfortable with a small cushion behind her shoulders and another for her pretty feet. "You don't act a bit like Miss Jane." As he spoke he leaned forward and flicked an imaginary something from her bare wrist with that air which always characterized his early approaches to most women.
"Why?" Lucy asked, pleased at his attentions and thanking him with a more direct look.
"Oh, I don't know. You're more jolly, I think. I don't like girls who turn out to be solemn after you know them a while; I was afraid you might. You know it's a long time since I saw you."
"Why, then, sister can't be solemn, for everybody says you and she are great friends," she replied with a light laugh, readjusting the lace of her bodice.
"So we are; nobody about here I think as much of as I do of your sister. She's been mighty good to me. But you know what I mean: I mean those don't-touch-me kind of girls who are always thinking you mean a lot of things when you're only trying to be nice and friendly to them. I like to be a brother to a girl and to go sailing with her, and fishing, and not have her bother me about her feet getting a little bit wet, and not scream bloody murder when the boat gives a lurch. That's the kind of girl that's worth having."
"And you don't find them?" laughed Lucy, looking at him out of the corners of her eyes.
"Well, not many. Do you mind little things like that?"
As he spoke his eyes wandered over her bare shoulders until they rested on the blossoms, the sort of roaming, critical eyes that often cause a woman to wonder whether some part of her toilet has not been carelessly put together. Then he added, with a sudden lowering of his voice: "That's a nice posy you've got. Who sent it?" and he bent his head as if to smell the cluster on her bosom.
Lucy drew back and a slight flush suffused her cheek; his audacity frightened her. She was fond of admiration, but this way of expressing it was new to her. The young man caught the movement and recovered himself. He had ventured on a thin spot, as was his custom, and the sound of the cracking ice had warned him in time.
"Oh, I see, they're apple blossoms," he added carelessly as he straightened up. "We've got a lot in our orchard. You like flowers, I see." The even tone and perfect self-possession of the young man reassured her.
"Oh, I adore them; don't you?" Lucy answered in a relieved, almost apologetic voice. She was sorry she had misjudged him. She liked him rather the better now for her mistake.
"Well, that depends. Apple blossoms never looked pretty to me before; but then it makes a good deal of difference where they are," answered Bart with a low chuckle.
Jane had been watching the two and had noticed. Bart's position and manner. His easy familiarity of pose offended her. Instinctively she glanced about the room, wondering if any of her guests had seen it. That Lucy did not resent it surprised her. She supposed her sister's recent training would have made her a little more fastidious.
"Come, Lucy," she called gently, moving toward her, "bring Bart over here and join the other girls."
"All right, Miss Jane, we'll be there in a minute," Bart answered in Lucy's stead. Then he bent his head and said in a low voice:
"Won't you give me half those blossoms?"
"No; it would spoil the bunch."
"No, not a single one. You wouldn't care for them, anyway."
"Yes, I would." Here he stretched out his hand and touched the blossoms on her neck.
Lucy ducked her head in merry glee, sprang up, and with a triumphant curtsy and a "No, you don't, sir—not this time," joined her sister, followed by art.
The guests were now separated into big and little groups. Uncle Ephraim and the judge were hob-nobbing around the fireplace, listening to Uncle Ephraim's stories and joining in the laughter which every now and then filled the room. Captain Nat was deep in a discussion with Doctor John over some seafaring matter, and Jane and Mrs. Benson were discussing a local charity with Pastor Dellenbaugh.
The younger people being left to themselves soon began to pair off, the white-haired young lawyer disappearing with the older Miss Cromartin and Bart soon following with Lucy:—the outer porch and the long walk down the garden path among the trees, despite the chilliness of the night, seemed to be the only place in which they could be comfortable.
During a lull in the discussion of Captain Nat's maritime news and while Mrs. Benson was talking to the pastor, Doctor John seized the opportunity to seat himself again by Jane.
"Don't you think Lucy improved?" she asked, motioning the doctor to a place beside her.
"She's much more beautiful than I thought she would be," he answered in a hesitating way, looking toward Lucy, and seating himself in his favorite attitude, hands in his lap, one leg crossed over the other and hanging straight beside its fellow; only a man like the doctor, of more than usual repose and of a certain elegance of form, Jane always said, could sit this way any length of time and be comfortable and unconscious of his posture. Then he added slowly, and as if he had given the subject some consideration, "You won't keep her long, I'm afraid."
"Oh, don't say that," Jane cried with a nervous start. "I don't know what I would do if she should marry."
"That don't sound like you, Miss Jane. You would be the first to deny yourself. You are too good to do otherwise." He spoke with a slight quiver in his voice, and yet with an emphasis that showed he believed it.
"No; it is you who are good to think so," she replied in a softer tone, bending her head as she spoke, her eyes intent on her fan. "And now tell me," she added quickly, raising her eyes to his as if to bar any further tribute he might be on the point of paying to her—"I hear your mother takes greatly to heart your having refused the hospital appointment."
"Yes, I'm afraid she does. Mother has a good many new-fashioned notions nowadays." He laughed—a mellow, genial laugh; more in the spirit of apology than of criticism.
"And you don't want to go?" she asked, her eyes fixed on his.
"Want to go? No, why should I? There would be nobody to look after the people here if I went away. You don't want me to leave, do you?" he added suddenly in an anxious tone.
"Nobody does, doctor," she replied, parrying the question, her face flushing with pleasure.
Here Martha entered the room hurriedly and bending over Jane's shoulder, whispered something in her ear. The doctor straightened himself and leaned back out of hearing.
"Well, but I don't think she will take cold," Jane whispered in return, looking up into Martha's face. "Has she anything around her?"
"Yes, your big red cloak; but the child's head is bare and there's mighty little on her neck, and she ought to come in. The wind's begun to blow and it's gettin' cold."
"Where is she?" Jane continued, her face showing her surprise at Martha's statement.
"Out by the gate with that dare-devil. He don't care who he gives cold. I told her she'd get her death, but she won't mind me."
"Why, Martha, how can you talk so!" Jane retorted, with a disapproving frown. Then raising her voice so that the doctor could be brought into the conversation, she added in her natural tone, "Whom did you say she was with?"
"Bart Holt," cried Martha aloud, nodding to the doctor as if to get his assistance in saving her bairn from possible danger.
Jane colored slightly and turned to Doctor John.
"You go please, doctor, and bring them all in, or you may have some new patients on your hands."
The doctor looked from one to the other in doubt as to the cause of his selection, but Jane's face showed none of the anxiety in Martha's.
"Yes, certainly," he answered simply; "but I'll get myself into a hornet's nest. These young people don't like to be told what's good for them," he added with a laugh, rising from his seat. "And after that you'll permit me to slip away without telling anybody, won't you? My last minute has come," and he glanced at his watch.
"Going so soon? Why, I wanted you to stay for supper. It will be ready in a few minutes." Her voice had lost its buoyancy now. She never wanted him to go. She never let him know it, but it pained her all the same.
"I would like to, but I cannot." All his heart was in his eyes as he spoke.
"Someone ill?" she asked.
"Yes, Fogarty's child. The little fellow may develop croup before morning. I saw him to-day, and his pulse was not right, he's a sturdy little chap with a thick neck, and that kind always suffers most. If he's worse Fogarty is to send word to my office," he added, holding out his hand in parting.
"Can I help?" Jane asked, retaining the doctor's hand in hers as if to get the answer.
"No, I'll watch him closely. Good-night," and with a smile he bent his head and withdrew.
Martha followed the doctor to the outer door, and then grumbling her satisfaction went back to the pantry to direct the servants in arranging upon the small table in the supper-room the simple refreshments which always characterized the Cobdens' entertainments.
Soon the girls and their beaux came trooping in to join their elders on the way to the supper-room. Lucy hung back until the last (she had not liked the doctor's interference), Jane's long red cloak draped from her shoulders, the hood hanging down her back, her cheeks radiant, her beautiful blond hair ruffled with the night wind, an aureole of gold framing her face. Bart followed close behind, a pleased, almost triumphant smile playing about his lips.
He had carried his point. The cluster of blossoms which had rested upon Lucy's bosom was pinned to the lapel of his coat.
LITTLE TOD FOGARTY
With the warmth of Jane's parting grasp lingering in his own Doctor John untied the mare, sprang into his gig, and was soon clear of the village and speeding along the causeway that stretched across the salt marshes leading past his own home to the inner beach beyond. As he drove slowly through his own gate, so as to make as little noise as possible, the cottage, blanketed under its clinging vines, seemed in the soft light of the low-lying moon to be fast asleep. Only one eye was open; this was the window of his office, through which streamed the glow of a lamp, its light falling on the gravel path and lilac bushes beyond.
Rex gave a bark of welcome and raced beside the wheels.
"Keep still, old dog! Down, Rex! Been lonely, old fellow?"
The dog in answer leaped in the air as his master drew rein, and with eager springs tried to reach his hands, barking all the while in short and joyful yelps.
Doctor John threw the lines across the dash-board, jumped from the gig, and pushing open the hall door—it was never locked—stepped quickly into his office, and turning up the lamp, threw himself into a chair at his desk. The sorrel made no attempt to go to the stable—both horse and man were accustomed to delays—sometimes of long hours and sometimes of whole nights.
The appointments and fittings of the office—old-fashioned and practical as they were—reflected in a marked degree the aims and tastes of the occupant. While low bookcases stood against the walls surmounted by rows of test-tubes, mortars and pestles, cases of instruments, and a line of bottles labelled with names of various mixtures (in those days doctors were chemists as well as physicians), there could also be found a bust of the young Augustus; one or two lithographs of Heidelberg, where he had studied; and some line engravings in black frames—one a view of Oxford with the Thames wandering by, another a portrait of the Duke of Wellington, and still another of Nell Gwynn. Scattered about the room were easy-chairs and small tables piled high with books, a copy of Tacitus and an early edition of Milton being among them, while under the wide, low window stood a narrow bench crowded with flowering plants in earthen pots, the remnants of the winter's bloom. There were also souvenirs of his earlier student life—a life which few of his friends in Warehold, except Jane Cobden, knew or cared anything about—including a pair of crossed foils and two boxing-gloves; these last hung over a portrait of Macaulay.
What the place lacked was the touch of a woman's hand in vase, flower, or ornament—a touch that his mother, for reasons of her own, never gave and which no other woman had yet dared suggest.
For an instant the doctor sat with his elbows on the desk in deep thought, the light illuminating his calm, finely chiselled features and hands—those thin, sure hands which could guide a knife within a hair's breadth of instant death—and leaning forward, with an indrawn sigh examined some letters lying under his eye. Then, as if suddenly remembering, he glanced at the office slate, his face lighting up as he found it bare of any entry except the date.
Rex had been watching his master with ears cocked, and was now on his haunches, cuddling close, his nose resting on the doctor's knee. Doctor John laid his hand on the dog's head and smoothing the long, silky ears, said with a sigh of relief, as he settled himself in his chair:
"Little Tod must be better, Rex, and we are going to have a quiet night."
The anxiety over his patients relieved, his thoughts reverted to Jane and their talk. He remembered the tone of her voice and the quick way in which she had warded off his tribute to her goodness; he recalled her anxiety over Lucy; he looked again into the deep, trusting eyes that gazed into his as she appealed to him for assistance; he caught once more the poise of the head as she listened to his account of little Tod Fogarty's illness and heard her quick offer to help, and felt for the second time her instant tenderness and sympathy, never withheld from the sick and suffering, and always so generous and spontaneous.
A certain feeling of thankfulness welled up in his heart. Perhaps she had at last begun to depend upon him—a dependence which, with a woman such as Jane, must, he felt sure, eventually end in love.
With these thoughts filling his mind, he settled deeper in his chair. These were the times in which he loved to think of her—when, with pipe in mouth, he could sit alone by his fire and build castles in the coals, every rosy mountain-top aglow with the love he bore her; with no watchful mother's face trying to fathom his thoughts; only his faithful dog stretched at his feet.
Picking up his brierwood, lying on a pile of books on his desk, and within reach of his hand, he started to fill the bowl, when a scrap of paper covered with a scrawl written in pencil came into view. He turned it to the light and sprang to his feet.
"Tod worse," he said to himself. "I wonder how long this has been here."
The dog was now beside him looking up into the doctor's eyes. It was not the first time that he had seen his master's face grow suddenly serious as he had read the tell-tale slate or had opened some note awaiting his arrival.
Doctor John lowered the lamp, stepped noiselessly to the foot of the winding stairs that led to the sleeping rooms above—the dog close at his heels, watching his every movement—and called gently:
"Mother! mother, dear!" He never left his office when she was at home and awake without telling her where he was going.
No one answered.
"She is asleep. I will slip out without waking her. Stay where you are, Rex—I will be back some time before daylight," and throwing his night-cloak about his shoulders, he started for his gig.
The dog stopped with his paws resting on the outer edge of the top step of the porch, the line he was not to pass, and looked wistfully after the doctor. His loneliness was to continue, and his poor master to go out into the night alone. His tail ceased to wag, only his eyes moved.
Once outside Doctor John patted the mare's neck as if in apology and loosened the reins. "Come, old girl," he said; "I'm sorry, but it can't be helped," and springing into the gig, he walked the mare clear of the gravel beyond the gate, so as not to rouse his mother, touched her lightly with the whip, and sent her spinning along the road on the way to Fogarty's.
The route led toward the sea, branching off within the sight of the cottage porch, past the low, conical ice-houses used by the fishermen in which to cool their fish during the hot weather, along the sand-dunes, and down a steep grade to the shore. The tide was making flood, and the crawling surf spent itself in long shelving reaches of foam. These so packed the sand that the wheels of the gig hardly made an impression upon it. Along this smooth surface the mare trotted briskly, her nimble feet wet with the farthest reaches of the incoming wash.
As he approached the old House of Refuge, black in the moonlight and looking twice its size in the stretch of the endless beach, he noticed for the hundredth time how like a crouching woman it appeared, with its hipped roof hunched up like a shoulder close propped against the dune and its overhanging eaves but a draped hood shading its thoughtful brow; an illusion which vanished when its square form, with its wide door and long platform pointing to the sea, came into view.
More than once in its brief history the doctor had seen the volunteer crew, aroused from their cabins along the shore by the boom of a gun from some stranded vessel, throw wide its door and with a wild cheer whirl the life-boat housed beneath its roof into the boiling surf, and many a time had he helped to bring back to life the benumbed bodies drawn from the merciless sea by their strong arms.
There were other houses like it up and down the coast. Some had remained unused for years, desolate and forlorn, no unhappy ship having foundered or struck the breakers within their reach; others had been in constant use. The crews were gathered from the immediate neighborhood by the custodian, who was the only man to receive pay from the Government. If he lived near by he kept the key; if not, the nearest fisherman held it. Fogarty, the father of the sick child, and whose cabin was within gunshot of this house, kept the key this year. No other protection was given these isolated houses and none was needed. These black-hooded Sisters of the Coast, keeping their lonely vigils, were as safe from beach-combers and sea-prowlers as their white-capped namesakes would have been threading the lonely suburbs of some city.
The sound of the mare's feet on the oyster-shell path outside his cabin brought Fogarty, a tall, thin, weather-beaten fisherman, to the door. He was still wearing his hip-boots and sou'wester—he was just in from the surf—and stood outside the low doorway with a lantern. Its light streamed over the sand and made wavering patterns about the mare's feet.
"Thought ye'd never come, Doc," he whispered, as he threw the blanket over the mare. "Wife's nigh crazy. Tod's fightin' for all he's worth, but there ain't much breath left in him. I was off the inlet when it come on."
The wife, a thick-set woman in a close-fitting cap, her arms bared to the elbow, her petticoats above the tops of her shoes, met him inside the door. She had been crying and her eyelids were still wet and her cheeks swollen. The light of the ship's lantern fastened to the wall fell upon a crib in the corner, on which lay the child, his short curls, tangled with much tossing, smoothed back from his face. The doctor's ears had caught the sound of the child's breathing before he entered the room.
"When did this come on?" Doctor John asked, settling down beside the crib upon a stool that the wife had brushed off with her apron.
"'Bout sundown, sir," she answered, her tear-soaked eyes fixed on little Tod's face. Her teeth chattered as she spoke and her arms were tight pressed against her sides, her fingers opening and shutting in her agony. Now and then in her nervousness she would wipe her forehead with the back of her wrist as if it were wet, or press her two fingers deep into her swollen cheek.
Fogarty had followed close behind the doctor and now stood looking down at the crib with fixed eyes, his thin lips close shut, his square jaw sunk in the collar of his shirt. There were no dangers that the sea could unfold which this silent surfman had not met and conquered, and would again. Every fisherman on the coast knew Fogarty's pluck and skill, and many of them owed their lives to him. To-night, before this invisible power slowly closing about his child he was as powerless as a skiff without oars caught in the swirl of a Barnegat tide.
"Why didn't you let me know sooner, Fogarty? You understood my directions?" Doctor John asked in a surprised tone. "You shouldn't have left him without letting me know." It was only when his orders were disobeyed and life endangered that he spoke thus.
The fisherman turned his head and was about to reply when the wife stepped in front of him.
"My husband got ketched in the inlet, sir," she said in an apologetic tone, as if to excuse his absence. "The tide set ag'in him and he had hard pullin' makin' the p'int. It cuts in turrible there, you know, doctor. Tod seemed to be all right when he left him this mornin'. I had husband's mate take the note I wrote ye. Mate said nobody was at home and he laid it under your pipe. He thought ye'd sure find it there when ye come in."
Doctor John was not listening to her explanations; he was leaning over the rude crib, his ear to the child's breast. Regaining his position, he smoothed the curls tenderly from the forehead of the little fellow, who still lay with eyes closed, one stout brown hand and arm clear of the coverlet, and stood watching his breathing. Every now and then a spasm of pain would cross the child's face; the chubby hand would open convulsively and a muffled cry escape him. Doctor John watched his breathing for some minutes, laid his hand again on the child's forehead, and rose from the stool.
"Start up that fire, Fogarty," he said in a crisp tone, turning up his shirt-cuffs, slipping off his evening coat, and handing the garment to the wife, who hung it mechanically over a chair, her eyes all the time searching Doctor John's face for some gleam of hope.
"Now get a pan," he continued, "fill it with water and some corn-meal, and get me some cotton cloth—half an apron, piece of an old petticoat, anything, but be quick about it."
The woman, glad of something to do, hastened to obey. Somehow, the tones of his voice had put new courage into her heart. Fogarty threw a heap of driftwood on the smouldering fire and filled the kettle; the dry splinters crackled into a blaze.
The noise aroused the child.
The doctor held up his finger for silence and again caressed the boy's forehead. Fogarty, with a fresh look of alarm in his face, tiptoed back of the crib and stood behind the restless sufferer. Under the doctor's touch the child once more became quiet.
"Is he bad off?" the wife murmured when the doctor moved to the fire and began stirring the mush she was preparing. "The other one went this way; we can't lose him. You won't lose him, will ye, doctor, dear? I don't want to live if this one goes. Please, doctor—"
The doctor looked into the wife's eyes, blurred with tears, and laid his hand tenderly on her shoulder.
"Keep a good heart, wife," he said; "we'll pull him through. Tod is a tough little chap with plenty of fight in him yet. I've seen them much worse. It will soon be over; don't worry."
Mrs. Fogarty's eyes brightened and even the fisherman's grim face relaxed. Silent men in grave crises suffer most; the habit of their lives precludes the giving out of words that soothe and heal; when others speak them, they sink into their thirsty souls like drops of rain after a long drought. It was just such timely expressions as these that helped Doctor John's patients most—often their only hope hung on some word uttered with a buoyancy of spirit that for a moment stifled all their anxieties.
The effect of the treatment began to tell upon the little sufferer—his breathing became less difficult, the spasms less frequent. The doctor whispered the change to the wife, sitting close at his elbow, his impassive face brightening as he spoke; there was an oven chance now for the boy's life.
The vigil continued.
No one moved except Fogarty, who would now and then tiptoe quickly to the hearth, add a fresh log to the embers, and as quickly move back to his position behind the child's crib. The rising and falling of the blaze, keeping rhythm, as it were, to the hopes and fears of the group, lighted up in turn each figure in the room. First the doctor sitting with hands resting on his knees, his aquiline nose and brow clearly outlined against the shadowy background in the gold chalk of the dancing flames, his black evening clothes in strong contrast to the high white of the coverlet, framing the child's face like a nimbus. Next the bent body of the wife, her face in half-tones, her stout shoulders in high relief, and behind, swallowed up in the gloom, out of reach of the fire-. gleam, the straight, motionless form of the fisherman, standing with folded arms, grim and silent, his unseen eyes fixed on his child.
Far into the night, and until the gray dawn streaked the sky, this vigil continued; the doctor, assisted by Fogarty and the wife, changing the poultices, filling the child's lungs with hot steam by means of a paper funnel, and encouraging the mother by his talk. At one time he would tell her in half-whispered tones of a child who had recovered and who had been much weaker than this one. Again he would turn to Fogarty and talk of the sea, of the fishing outside the inlet, of the big three-masted schooner which had been built by the men at Tom's River, of the new light they thought of building at Barnegat to take the place of the old one—anything to divert their minds and lessen their anxieties, stopping only to note the sound of every cough the boy gave or to change the treatment as the little sufferer struggled on fighting for his life.
When the child dozed no one moved, no word was spoken. Then in the silence there would come to their ears above the labored breathing of the boy the long swinging tick of the clock, dull and ominous, as if tolling the minutes of a passing life; the ceaseless crunch of the sea, chewing its cud on the beach outside or the low moan of the outer bar turning restlessly on its bed of sand.
Suddenly, and without warning, and out of an apparent sleep, the child started up from his pillow with staring eyes and began beating the air for breath.
The doctor leaned quickly forward, listened for a moment, his ear to the boy's chest, and said in a quiet, restrained voice:
"Go into the other room, Mrs. Fogarty, and stay there till I call you." The woman raised her eyes to his and obeyed mechanically. She was worn out, mind and body, and had lost her power of resistance.
As the door shut upon her Doctor John sprang from the stool, caught the lamp from the wall, handed it to Fogarty, and picking the child up from the crib, laid it flat upon his knees.
He now slipped his hand into his pocket and took from it a leather case filled with instruments.
"Hold the light, Fogarty," he said in a firm, decided tone, "and keep your nerve. I thought he'd pull through without it, but he'll strangle if I don't."
"What ye goin' to do—not cut him?" whispered the fisherman in a trembling voice.
"Yes. It's his only chance. I've seen it coming on for the last hour—no nonsense now. Steady, old fellow. It'll be over in a minute. ... There, my boy, that'll help you. Now, Fogarty, hand me that cloth. ... All right, little man; don't cry; it's all over. Now open the door and let your wife in," and he laid the child back on the pillow.
When the doctor took the blanket from the sorrel tethered outside Fogarty's cabin and turned his horse's head homeward the sails of the fishing-boats lying in a string on the far horizon flashed silver in the morning sun, His groom met him at the stable door, and without a word led the mare into the barn.
The lamp in his study was still burning in yellow mockery of the rosy dawn. He laid his case of instruments on the desk, hung his cloak and hat to a peg in the closet, and ascended the staircase on the way to his bedroom. As he passed his mother's open door she heard his step.
"Why, it's broad daylight, son," she called in a voice ending in a yawn.
"Where have you been?"
"To see little Tod Fogarty," he answered simply.
"What's the matter with him?"
"Is he going to die?"
"No, not this time."
"Well, what did you stay out all night for?" The voice had now grown stronger, with a petulant tone through it.
"Well, I could hardly help it. They are very simple people, and were so badly frightened that they were helpless. It's the only child they have left to them—the last one died of croup."
"Well, are you going to turn nurse for half the paupers in the county? All children have croup, and they don't all die!" The petulant voice had now developed into one of indignation.
"No, mother, but I couldn't take any risks. This little chap is worth saving."
There came a pause, during which the tired man waited patiently.
"You were at the Cobdens'?"
"Yes; or I should have reached Fogarty's sooner."
"And Miss Jane detained you, of course."
"Say rather 'Good-day,' mother," he answered with a smile and continued on to his room.
ANN GOSSAWAY'S RED CLOAK
The merrymakings at Yardley continued for weeks, a new impetus and flavor being lent them by the arrival of two of Lucy's friends—her schoolmate and bosom companion, Maria Collins, of Trenton, and Maria's devoted admirer, Max Feilding, of Walnut Hill, Philadelphia.
Jane, in her joy over Lucy's home-coming, and in her desire to meet her sister's every wish, gladly welcomed the new arrivals, although Miss Collins, strange to say, had not made a very good impression upon her. Max she thought better of. He was a quiet, well-bred young fellow; older than either Lucy or Maria, and having lived abroad a year, knew something of the outside world. Moreover, their families had always been intimate in the old days, his ancestral home being always open to Jane's mother when a girl.
The arrival of these two strangers only added to the general gayety. Picnics were planned to the woods back of Warehold to which the young people of the town were invited, and in which Billy Tatham with his team took a prominent part. Sailing and fishing parties outside of Barnegat were gotten up; dances were held in the old parlor, and even tableaux were arranged under Max's artistic guidance. In one of these Maria wore a Spanish costume fashioned out of a white lace shawl belonging to Jane's grand-mother draped over her head and shoulders, and made the more bewitching by a red japonica fixed in her hair, and Lucy appeared as a dairy-maid decked out in one of Martha's caps, altered to fit her shapely head.
The village itself was greatly stirred.
"Have you seen them two fly-up-the-creeks?" Billy Tatham, the stage-driver, asked of Uncle Ephraim Tipple as he was driving him down to the boat-landing.
"No, what do they look like?"
"The He-one had on a two-inch hat with a green ribbon and wore a white bob-tail coat that 'bout reached to the top o' his pants. Looks like he lived on water-crackers and milk, his skin's that white. The She-one had a set o' hoops on her big as a circus tent. Much as I could do to git her in the 'bus—as it was, she come in sideways. And her trunk! Well, it oughter been on wheels—one o' them travellin' houses. I thought one spell I'd take the old plug out the shafts and hook on to it and git it up that-a-way."
"Some of Lucy's chums, I guess," chuckled Uncle Ephraim. "Miss Jane told me they were coming. How long are they going to stay?"
"Dunno. Till they git fed up and fattened, maybe. If they was mine I'd have killin' time to-day."
Ann Gossaway and some of her cronies also gave free rein to their tongues.
"Learned them tricks at a finishin' school, did they?" broke out the dressmaker. (Lucy had been the only young woman in Warehold who had ever enjoyed that privilege.) "Wearin' each other's hats, rollin' round in the sand, and hollerin' so you could hear 'em clear to the lighthouse. If I had my way I'd finish 'em, And that's where they'll git if they don't mind, and quick, too!"
The Dellenbaughs, Cromartins, and Bunsbys, being of another class, viewed the young couple's visit in a different light. "Mr. Feilding has such nice hands and wears such lovely cravats," the younger Miss Cromartin said, and "Miss Collins is too sweet for anything." Prim Mr. Bunsby, having superior notions of life and deportment, only shook his head. He looked for more dignity, he said; but then this Byronic young man had not been invited to any of the outings.
In all these merrymakings and outings Lucy was the central figure. Her beauty, her joyous nature, her freedom from affectation and conventionality, her love of the out-of-doors, her pretty clothes and the way she wore them, all added to her popularity. In the swing and toss of her freedom, her true temperament developed. She was like a summer rose, making everything and everybody glad about her, loving the air she breathed as much for the color it put into her cheeks as for the new bound it gave to her blood. Just as she loved the sunlight for its warmth and the dip and swell of the sea for its thrill. So, too, when the roses were a glory of bloom, not only would she revel in the beauty of the blossoms, but intoxicated by their color and fragrance, would bury her face in the wealth of their abundance, taking in great draughts of their perfume, caressing them with her cheeks, drinking in the honey of their petals.
This was also true of her voice—a rich, full, vibrating voice, that dominated the room and thrilled the hearts of all who heard her. When she sang she sang as a bird sings, as much to relieve its own overcharged little body, full to bursting with the music in its soul, as to gladden the surrounding woods with its melody—because, too, she could not help it and because the notes lay nearest her bubbling heart and could find their only outlet through the lips.
Bart was her constant companion. Under his instructions she had learned to hold the tiller in sailing in and out of the inlet; to swim over hand; to dive from a plank, no matter how high the jump; and to join in all his outdoor sports. Lucy had been his constant inspiration in all of this. She had surveyed the field that first night of their meeting and had discovered that the young man's personality offered the only material in Warehold available for her purpose. With him, or someone like him—one who had leisure and freedom, one who was quick and strong and skilful (and Bart was all of these)—the success of her summer would be assured. Without him many of her plans could not be carried out.
And her victory over him had been an easy one. Held first by the spell of her beauty and controlled later by her tact and stronger will, the young man's effrontery—almost impudence at times—had changed to a certain respectful subservience, which showed itself in his constant effort to please and amuse her. When they were not sailing they were back in the orchard out of sight of the house, or were walking together nobody knew where. Often Bart would call for her immediately after breakfast, and the two would pack a lunch-basket and be gone all day, Lucy arranging the details of the outing, and Bart entering into them with a dash and an eagerness which, to a man of his temperament, cemented the bond between them all the closer. Had they been two fabled denizens of the wood—she a nymph and he a dryad—they could not have been more closely linked with sky and earth.
As for Jane, she watched the increasing intimacy with alarm. She had suddenly become aroused to the fact that Lucy's love affair with Bart was going far beyond the limits of prudence. The son of Captain Nathaniel Holt, late of the Black Ball Line of packets, would always be welcome as a visitor at the home, the captain being an old and tried friend of her father's; but neither Bart's education nor prospects, nor, for that matter, his social position—a point which usually had very little weight with Jane—could possibly entitle him to ask the hand of the granddaughter of Archibald Cobden in marriage. She began to regret that she had thrown them together. Her own ideas of reforming him had never contemplated any such intimacy as now existed between the young man and her sister. The side of his nature which he had always shown her had been one of respectful attention to her wishes; so much so that she had been greatly encouraged in her efforts to make something more of him than even his best friends predicted could be done; but she had never for one instant intended that her friendly interest should go any further, nor could she have conceived of such an issue.
And yet Jane did nothing to prevent the meetings and outings of the young couple, even after Maria's and Max's departure.
When Martha, in her own ever-increasing anxiety, spoke of the growing intimacy she looked grave, but she gave no indication of her own thoughts. Her pride prevented her discussing the situation with the old nurse and her love for Lucy from intervening in her pleasures.
"She has been cooped up at school so long, Martha, dear," she answered in extenuation, "that I hate to interfere in anything she wants to do. She is very happy; let her alone. I wish, though, she would return some of the calls of these good people who have been so kind to her. Perhaps she will if you speak to her. But don't worry about Bart; that will wear itself out. All young girls must have their love-affairs."
Jane's voice had lacked the ring of true sincerity when she spoke about "wearing itself out," and Martha had gone to her room more dissatisfied than before. This feeling became all the more intense when, the next day, from her window she watched Bart tying on Lucy's hat, puffing out the big bow under her chin, smoothing her hair from the flying strings. Lucy's eyes were dancing, her face turned toward Bart's, her pretty lips near his own. There was a knot or a twist, or a collection of knots and twists, or perhaps Bart's fingers bungled, for minutes passed before the hat could be fastened to suit either of them. Martha's head had all this time been thrust out of the easement, her gaze apparently fixed on a birdcage hung from a hook near the shutter.
Bart caught her eye and whispered to Lucy that that "old spy-cat" was watching them; whereupon Lucy faced about, waved her hand to the old nurse, and turning quickly, raced up the orchard and out of sight, followed by Bart carrying a shawl for them to sit upon.
After that Martha, unconsciously, perhaps, to herself, kept watch, so far as she could, upon their movements, without, as she thought, betraying herself: making excuses to go to the village when they two went off together in that direction; traversing the orchard, ostensibly looking for Meg when she knew all the time that the dog was sound asleep in the woodshed; or yielding to a sudden desire to give the rascal a bath whenever Lucy announced that she and Bart were going to spend the morning down by the water.
As the weeks flew by and Lucy had shown no willingness to assume her share of any of the responsibilities of the house,—any that interfered with her personal enjoyment,—Jane became more and more restless and unhappy. The older village people had shown her sister every attention, she said to herself,—more than was her due, considering her youth,—and yet Lucy had never crossed any one of their thresholds. She again pleaded with the girl to remember her social duties and to pay some regard to the neighbors who had called upon her and who had shown her so much kindness; to which the happy-hearted sister had laughed back in reply:
"What for, you dear sister? These old fossils don't want to see me, and I'm sure I don't want to see them. Some of them give me the shivers, they are so prim."
It was with glad surprise, therefore, that Jane heard Lucy say in Martha's hearing one bright afternoon:
"Now, I'm going to begin, sister, and you won't have to scold me any more. Everyone of these old tabbies I will take in a row: Mrs. Cavendish first, and then the Cromartins, and the balance of the bunch when I can reach them. I am going to Rose Cottage to see Mrs. Cavendish this very afternoon."
The selection of Mrs. Cavendish as first on her list only increased Jane's wonder. Rose Cottage lay some two miles from Warehold, near the upper end of the beach, and few of their other friends lived near it. Then again, Jane knew that Lucy had not liked the doctor's calling her into the house the night of her arrival, and had heretofore made one excuse after another when urged to call on his mother. Her delight, therefore, over Lucy's sudden sense of duty was all the more keen.
"I'll go with you, darling," she answered, slipping her arm about Lucy's waist, "and we'll take Meg for a walk."
So they started, Lucy in her prettiest frock and hat and Jane with her big red cloak over her arm to protect the young girl from the breeze from the sea, which in the early autumn was often cool, especially if they should sit out on Mrs. Cavendish's piazza.
The doctor's mother met them on the porch. She had seen them enter the garden gate, and had left her seat by the window, and was standing on the top step to welcome them. Rex, as usual, in the doctor's absence, did the honors of the office. He loved Jane, and always sprang straight at her, his big paws resting on her shoulders. These courtesies, however, he did not extend to Meg. The high-bred setter had no other salutation for the clay-colored remnant than a lifting of his nose, a tightening of his legs, and a smothered growl when Meg ventured too near his lordship.
"Come up, my dear, and let me look at you," were Mrs. Cavendish's first words of salutation to Lucy. "I hear you have quite turned the heads of all the gallants in Warehold. John says you are very beautiful, and you know the doctor is a good judge, is he not, Miss Jane?" she added, holding out her hands to them both. "And he's quite right; you are just like your dear mother, who was known as the Rose of Barnegat long before you were born. Shall we sit here, or will you come into my little salon for a cup of tea?" It was always a salon to Mrs. Cavendish, never a "sitting-room."
"Oh, please let me sit here," Lucy answered, checking a rising smile at the word, "the view is so lovely," and without further comment or any reference to the compliments showered upon her, she took her seat upon the top step and began to play with Rex, who had already offered to make friends with her, his invariable habit with well-dressed people.
Jane meanwhile improved the occasion to ask the doctor's mother about the hospital they were building near Barnegat, and whether she and one or two of the other ladies at Warehold would not be useful as visitors, and, perhaps, in case of emergency, as nurses.
While the talk was in progress Lucy sat smoothing Rex's silky ears, listening to every word her hostess spoke, watching her gestures and the expressions that crossed her face, and settling in her mind for all time, after the manner of young girls, what sort of woman the doctor's mother might be; any opinions she might have had two years before being now outlawed by this advanced young woman in her present mature judgment.
In that comprehensive glance, with the profound wisdom of her seventeen summers to help her, she had come to the conclusion that Mrs. Cavendish was a high-strung, nervous, fussy little woman of fifty, with an outward show of good-will and an inward intention to rip everybody up the back who opposed her; proud of her home, of her blood, and of her son, and determined, if she could manage it, to break off his attachment for Jane, no matter at what cost. This last Lucy caught from a peculiar look in the little old woman's eyes and a slightly scornful curve of the lower lip as she listened to Jane's talk about the hospital, all of which was lost on "plain Jane Cobden," as the doctor's mother invariably called her sister behind her back.
Then the young mind-reader turned her attention to the house and grounds and the buildings lying above and before her, especially to the way the matted vines hung to the porches and clambered over the roof and dormers. Later on she listened to Mrs. Cavendish's description of its age and ancestry: How it had come down to her from her grandfather, whose large estate was near Trenton, where as a girl she had spent her life; how in those days it was but a small villa to which old Nicholas Erskine, her great-uncle, would bring his guests when the August days made Trenton unbearable; and how in later years under the big trees back of the house and over the lawn—"you can see them from where you sit, my dear"—tea had been served to twenty or more of "the first gentlemen and ladies of the land."
Jane had heard it all a dozen times before, and so had every other visitor at Rose Cottage, but to Lucy it was only confirmation of her latter-day opinion of her hostess. Nothing, however, could be more gracious than the close attention which the young girl gave Mrs. Cavendish's every word when the talk was again directed to her, bending her pretty head and laughing at the right time—a courtesy which so charmed the dear lady that she insisted on giving first Lucy, and then Jane, a bunch of roses from her "own favorite bush" before the two girls took their leave.
With these evidences of her delight made clear, Lucy pushed Rex from her side—he had become presuming and had left the imprint of his dusty paw upon her spotless frock—and with the remark that she had other visits to pay, her only regret being that this one was so short, she got up from her seat on the step, called Meg, and stood waiting for Jane with some slight impatience in her manner.
Jane immediately rose from her chair. She had been greatly pleaded at the impression Lucy had made. Her manner, her courtesy, her respect for the older woman, her humoring her whims, show her to be the daughter of a Cobden. As to her own place during the visit, she had never given it a thought. She would always be willing to act as foil to her accomplished, brilliant sister if by so doing she could make other people love Lucy the more.
As they walked through the doctor's study, Mrs. Cavendish preceding them, Jane lingered for a moment and gave a hurried glance about her. There stood his chair and his lounge where he had thrown himself so often when tired out. There, too, was the closet where he hung his coat and hat, and the desk covered with books and papers. A certain feeling of reverence not unmixed with curiosity took possession of her, as when one enters a sanctuary in the absence of the priest. For an instant she passed her hand gently over the leather back of the chair where his head rested, smoothing it with her fingers. Then her eyes wandered over the room, noting each appointment in detail. Suddenly a sense of injustice rose in her mind as she thought that nothing of beauty had ever been added to these plain surroundings; even the plants in the boxes by the windows looked half faded. With a quick glance at the open door she slipped a rose from the bunch in her hand, leaned over, and with the feeling of a devotee laying an offering on the altar, placed the flower hurried on the doctor's slate. Then she joined Mrs. Cavendish.
Lucy walked slowly from the gate, her eyes every now and then turned to the sea. When she and Jane had reached the cross-road that branched off toward the beach—it ran within sight of Mrs. Cavendish's windows—Lucy said:
"The afternoon is so lovely I'm not going to pay any more visits, sister. Suppose I go to the beach and give Meg a bath. You won't mind, will you? Come, Meg!"
"Oh, how happy you will make him!" cried Jane. "But you are not dressed warm enough, dearie. You know how cool it gets toward evening. Here, take my cloak. Perhaps I'd better go with you—"
"No, do you keep on home. I want to see if the little wretch will be contented with me alone. Good-by," and without giving her sister time to protest, she called to Meg, and with a wave of her hand, the red cloak flying from her shoulders, ran toward the beach, Meg bounding after her.
Jane waved back in answer, and kept her eyes on the graceful figure skipping along the road, her head and shoulders in silhouette against the blue sea, her white skirts brushing the yellow grass of the sand-dune. All the mother-love in her heart welled up in her breast. She was so proud of her, so much in love with her, so thankful for her! All these foolish love affairs and girl fancies would soon be over and Bart and the others like him out of Lucy's mind and heart. Why worry about it? Some great strong soul would come by and by and take this child in his arms and make a woman of her. Some strong soul—
She stopped short in her walk and her thoughts went back to the red rose lying on the doctor's desk.
"Will he know?" she said to herself; "he loves flowers so, and I don't believe anybody ever puts one on his desk. Poor fellow! how hard he works and how good he is to everybody! Little Tod would have died but for his tenderness." Then, with a prayer in her heart and a new light in her eyes, she kept on her way.
Lucy, as she bounded along the edge of the bluff, Meg scurrying after her, had never once lost sight of her sister's slender figure. When a turn in the road shut her from view, she crouched down behind a sand-dune, waited until she was sure Jane would not change her mind and join her, and then folding the cloak over her arm, gathered up her skirts and ran with all her speed along the wet sand to the House of Refuge. As she reached its side, Bart Holt stepped out into the afternoon light.
"I thought you'd never come, darling," he said, catching her in his arms and kissing her.
"I couldn't help it, sweetheart. I told sister I was going to see Mrs. Cavendish, and she was so delighted she said she would go, too."
"Where is she?" he interrupted, turning his head and looking anxiously up the beach.
"Gone home. Oh, I fixed that. I was scared to death for a minute, but you trust me when I want to get off."
"Why didn't you let her take that beast of a dog with her? We don't want him," he rejoined, pointing to Meg, who had come to a sudden standstill at the sight of Bart.
"Why, you silly! That's how I got away. She thought I was going to give him a bath. How long have you been waiting, my precious?" Her hand was on his shoulder now, her eyes raised to his.
"Oh, 'bout a year. It really seems like a year, Luce" (his pet name for her), "when I'm waiting for you. I was sure something was up. Wait till I open the door." The two turned toward the house.
"Why! can we get in? I thought Fogarty, the fisherman, had the key," she asked, with a tone of pleasant surprise in her voice.
"So he has," he laughed. "Got it now hanging up behind his clock. I borrowed it yesterday and had one made just like it. I'm of age." This came with a sly wink, followed by a low laugh of triumph.
Lucy smiled. She liked his daring; she liked, too, his resources. When a thing was to be done, Bart always found the way to do it. She waited until he had fitted the new bright key into the rusty lock, her hand in his.